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Save Me, Save You

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The first time Jonas met Mikael, it felt like a thousand tiny sparks leapt out from his heart and skittered over his too-long limbs, the ones he hadn’t fully grown into, at sixteen.

 

Mikael was standing beside Even, who was Isak’s boyfriend. Jonas was still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Isak had a boyfriend; not because Isak was gay, but because Isak, who for the last three years had been so closed-off and angry, wasn’t those things anymore. Not really. This tall, smiling person, Even, had turned Isak back into the nerdy and excited boy Jonas had known at seven, ten, and thirteen. That was the thing Jonas couldn’t quite believe.

 

But that was besides the point, that day. Even had brought his friends to the park, where Jonas and his friends usually played soccer every Saturday afternoon, weather permitting. Because Isak and Even were serious, Jonas guessed. Because Even had hung out with them, and Isak had hung out with Even’s friends, but there hadn’t been a time that they’d all been together, both friend groups at one time.

 

And so Jonas had been lacing up his soccer shoes when he’d heard the sound of loud, overlapping voices approaching. There was Even, out front, who rushed to Isak and caught him up in a passionate kiss, so open, so wildly emotional, that Jonas had to look away, though he wasn’t quite sure why. The sight of it hit him in the stomach, and he turned his eyes to the other boys, who were roughhousing and yelling as they came up behind Even and Isak with wolf-whistles and shouts.

 

There was Elias, who Jonas had met before, when he’d been with Sana. And Yousef, who Jonas had seen once or twice, also around Sana, obviously infatuated with Jonas’ sharp-tongued friend. The rest of the boys, Jonas didn’t know. He stood, Mahdi and Magnus behind him, and poked Isak once, hard, on the shoulder.

 

“Do you guys *mind?*” Jonas said, pouring sarcasm into his voice. Everyone around him laughed as Even and Isak broke apart, Isak with a deep scarlet blush and Even with a cheeky smile, pink rolling down his neck.

 

Jonas rolled his eyes, and then they fell on the boy standing closest to him, shoulder to shoulder with the newly disentangled Even. And then, the sparks. Like tiny electric shocks, rolling down his back, his arms, his legs, pricking goosebumps in the mild afternoon light. The boy was taller than Jonas, almost even as tall as Even was, all lean limbs and brown skin. He had a smattering of moles and freckles on his cheeks, dark brown against light brown, and his eyes, staring right back at Jonas, were the same. His hair fell long and soft over his ears, and his mouth was quirked up into a surprised smile, directed at Jonas.

 

There had been times in Jonas’ life when he’d thought Maybe I’m Not As Straight As I Thought I Was. The first time had been at twelve, when he found himself staring at his soccer coach, who had been around sixteen at the time. Then again when he’d been fourteen, and one of Thea’s friend’s older brothers had come to pick his sister up from Jonas’ house, and his curly black hair and bright blue eyes had made Jonas’ heart race faster. Then there had been the whole Isak thing. The moment when Jonas had looked at his best friend, who had been looking back with want in his eyes, and wondered if there could be something more between them.

 

But none of those instances had knocked Jonas over like this one. None of them had reinforced the lingering thought of “maybe I’m bi…” in his head like this one.

 

He forced himself to look away from Even’s friend, towards Even himself, who was making introductions.

 

“Elias, you guys know him because he’s Sana’s brother,” said Even, as Elias clapped Mahdi’s hand with a ghost of a smile on his face. “Then that’s Yousef, he’s in love with Sana.” This was followed by a protest and a lot of loud heckling, and Jonas couldn’t help but smile. “Then that’s Adam, he’s our resident artist/casanova, and Mutta–”

 

“The life of the party,” Mutta, tall and with thick black hair, broke in. Even rolled his eyes and Adam shoved Mutta on the shoulder with the ease of an old friend.

 

“And then that’s Mikael,” Even continued, and Jonas forced himself to look back at the boy, feeling again the tiny pinpricks of sparks spread over his skin. “Most likely to be rich and famous by the time we’re twenty-five.”

 

“Even….” Mikael groaned, and rolled his eyes. “I told you to stop saying that to people.”

 

Even shrugged his shoulders as Isak introduced Mahdi, Magnus, and Jonas to the other boys. When it came Jonas’ turn, he raised a hand in greeting, letting his eyes slide over the group of boys in front of him, determined not to let them rest too long on Mikael. Even though they wanted to. Even though he kind of wanted to let them.

 

“So,” Mutta said, stepping forward with a soccer ball in his hands. “Five on five?”

 

“Yes! But Isak and Even can’t be on the same team,” said Magnus, stepping forward and wedging himself in between the boys in question.

 

“Agreed,” Elias and Mahdi said at the same time, which led to a lot of squabbling, loud voices overlapping and shouts rising above the general cacophony. Jonas was watching with a small smile when he felt a bump at his shoulder. He started and turned his head to see Mikael standing there, closer than Jonas expected him to be. Jonas’ breath caught in his throat.

 

Mikael held out a stick of gum to Jonas. “I think this is going to take them awhile,” said Mikael, and his voice was low, with a musical quality to it. Jonas laughed.

 

“Nothing is ever easy,” he said.

 

“No, not with this bunch either,” said Mikael, smiling fondly at his friends. He nudged Jonas on the shoulder again, offering the gum a second time.

 

Jonas reached forward, then hesitated, looking at Mikael’s face, wondering, well, so many things about this person in front of him, who had caught his attention for no particular reason. Mikael was attractive, yes. But so were a lot of people. And Jonas didn’t know Mikael at all, so there was no reason for him to be more attracted to him than to anyone else. But still. The feeling couldn’t really be ignored. Jonas felt himself being drawn towards this boy. And he wasn’t sure if he liked the feeling. Wondered if maybe he should try to push it away.

 

Then Mikael laughed, a bright, happy sound, and his eyes crinkled up at the edges.

 

“Go on, take it,” he said. “I won’t bite, I promise.”

 

So Jonas did, and instead of pushing the feeling away, he let himself soak in it. Fully submerged.

 

~

 

Two Years Later

 

“Mikael!” Jonas shouted, as he saw his friend step into the Arrivals section of the airport. He jumped once and waved his hand, the one that wasn’t holding the “Welcome Home, Mik!” sign that he and Adam had made the night before.

 

Beside him, Adam and Even waved too, their smiles nearly as big as Jonas’.

 

When Mikael saw them there, holding their dumb sign and their cheesy balloons, his face broke out into that signature Mikael smile, the one that no one on the planet could resist. It consumed his entire face in sunlight, and every single time he saw it, Jonas felt like that sixteen year old kid falling head over heels for Mikael over and over again.

 

Not that Mikael *knew* Jonas had fallen head over heels for him, starting from the day they met. Not that he would ever know. As far as Mikael knew, Jonas was just his friend, whom he’d grown close to over the past couple of years. Jonas, who went with Mikael to see obscure foreign movies, who ate pizza with him and talked about politics and art, who went on long walks and listened to Mikael talk about his dreams. They’d become fast friends after that first day playing soccer, and Jonas cared about Mikael as a person, even before he cared about him as something more.

 

Mikael approached them, dropping his bags at their feet and pulling Even and Adam into a hug first, then breaking away and throwing both arms around Jonas. Jonas tried not to analyze the fact that Mikael held onto him for much longer than he did Even and Adam. Tried, and failed. But that’s the way it had always been between them. Jonas liked Mikael so much, and he knew Mikael liked him too, but he wasn’t sure in what way. Mikael was his best friend, really. Besides Isak, his best in the world. And Jonas wanted to be more. Jonas secretly harbored the hope that one day they would *be* more. But he wasn’t sure if that was what Mikael wanted too. And since Mikael had gone through a weird time, in coming to terms with his own sexuality, and had turned to Jonas in those two years to talk it out, Jonas didn’t want it to seem like he was taking advantage of Mikael’s trust. Or trying to push him into something he didn’t want.

 

So he held his tongue. But he still wondered. And he still wished.

 

He knew that all of that wishing was probably not the healthiest thing in the world. And if it were someone other than Mikael, he would probably try to distance himself, mitigate the inevitable heartbreak. But the problem was that it *was* Mikael. And Jonas loved Mikael as a person, first and foremost. Too much as a person, and as a friend, to put space between them.

 

So he was stuck between a rock and a hard place, either he could push Mikael away, which would hurt both of them. Or he could confess to Mikael his feelings, and get hurt when Mikael inevitably didn’t feel the same way. Or he could continue as he always had, which hurt, but in a dull way that Jonas had grown used to.

 

A voice pulled Jonas out of his memories.

 

“You look so tan!” Even said, looking Mikael up and down.

 

“That’s what Southern California does to you,” Mikael said with a self-conscious laugh, pulling the sleeves of his sweatshirt down over his forearms.

 

“How was it?” Jonas said, shouldering one of Mikael’s bags, despite his friend’s protests, as they turned to walk towards Adam’s car.

 

Mikael’s face went dreamy in the late afternoon light. “It was… fucking amazing, Jon. I think you would have loved it. I mean, I know you’re not a ‘Young Filmmaker,’ but the people were incredible. They were all so passionate and politically involved. It was like being around 25 Jonases, all summer.”

 

He bumped Jonas on the hip with a grin, and Jonas blushed and ducked his head. It had been February when Mikael had received the letter. The one welcoming him into the University of Southern California’s summer intensive Young Filmmaker’s program. Jonas and the rest of the boys had secretly submitted some of Mikael’s most recent projects, knowing that Mikael would never have done something like that himself, and Mikael had been at first furious, and then the most excited Jonas had ever seen him. It was a world-class program. And Mikael was a world class director, and writer, and producer, and sometimes even an actor.

 

So, in May, while Jonas was finishing up his third year at Nissen, Mikael had packed up two duffel bags and a backpack and gotten on a plane to America, to California, and there he had stayed for the last twelve weeks.

 

It had been a long and lonely summer for Jonas. He’d tried to keep busy, tried to throw himself into hanging out with his friends, reading his books for his first semester at UiO, hiking, running, going to the beach, writing. But nothing had fully helped. He skyped Mikael every now and then, and they texted at much as he could, but the fact of the matter was that Jonas missed Mikael. He missed Mikael’s constant presence in his life. Missed their movie nights and coffee runs and the long, twisting conversations they always had in the dim light of Mikael’s living room. He had grown used to Mikael being there, nearly every day, and the summer had shown him just how much of his time Mikael had filled.

 

But now Mikael was back, and back for good. So Jonas sat beside him in the back seat of Adam’s car, listening to him talk about the projects he worked on and the people he met. Their knees bumped together as the car made its way into the city, and after a particularly hard turn by Adam, Mikael didn’t move his knee away, but instead left it resting there, skin to skin with Jonas.

 

Jonas glanced at Mikael, who was looking back with a different kind of lightness in his eyes. It wasn’t his usual carefree joy. It was something more tentative, as if he was asking Jonas’ permission for their knees to brush like this. Jonas blinked once, but didn’t look away. Forced himself not to.

 

They only broke eye contact when Adam said something and Mikael turned to answer him. But their knees stayed pressed together. And Jonas stared at Mikael’s profile, wishing, not for the first time, that he could get into that brilliant mind and figure out what Mikael was thinking.

 

But he couldn’t. So he just sat there, his knee tingling with contact, laughing when Mikael said something funny, his mind racing with all of the feelings he had for this boy in front of him, which had come rushing back stronger after laying dormant for the entire summer.

 

~

 

That night, there was a welcome back party for Mikael at Isak and Even’s apartment.

 

About an hour after Jonas and Even had left Mikael at Even at their shared apartment, Jonas’ phone rang, and the truly hideous picture of Mikael that was his contact ID in Jonas’ phone popped up. Jonas answered on the second ring.

 

“Hey,” he said, panting. He’d been running in the park near the apartment he shared with Mahdi and Magnus, but stopped by its small pond to take Mikael’s call.

 

“Oh, hey! Is this a bad time?” Mikael’s voice sounded worried. “I mean, are you in the middle of…. Something?”

 

Jonas actually burst out laughing, scaring a nearby duck.

 

“I’m on a run,” he said, once he’d gotten his giggles under control.

 

Mikael laughed then, too. “God, Jonas. I was concerned for a minute. And hey, wait. Since when do you run?”

 

Jonas decided to answer honestly. “Since you fled the country and I realized how much of my days you took up,” he said, trying to make it sound more like a joke, rather than the sad truth it actually was.

 

Mikael breathed in sharply. “Oh,” he said. “Sorry.”

 

“I’m joking, Mikky!” said Jonas, feeling a twinge of guilt. “I mean, I did miss you. But the running was unrelated. I swear.”

 

“Okay…” Mikael said, and Jonas winced.

 

“Anyway!” he said brightly. “What’s up?”

 

“Hmm? Oh! I was calling to ask if you wanted to go over to the party tonight with me. Adam’s working late so he can’t come until later and I really don’t want to show up alone.”

 

“Sure,” said Jonas, bending to take a sip from the nearby water fountain. “I can come by your house around eight and we can walk over together?”

 

“Perfect,” said Mikael. “Thanks, Jon.”

 

“No problem. I’ll see you then.”

 

And that’s how Jonas found himself in Mikael’s apartment at ten til seven that night, sitting at Mikael’s desk chair while Mikael tried to figure out what to wear.

 

Jonas had hated being in Mikael and Adam’s apartment that summer. It had felt cold and empty without Mikael, even with Adam there, and even with most of Mikael’s stuff there. But now, with Mikael back, filling up the place with his presence again, Jonas felt at home. He’d spent so many hours in that apartment, crashed on the couch countless times, and now that Mikael was back it felt like its old self again.

 

Mikael faced Jonas wearing only his jeans, holding up two shirts and looking at Jonas with pleading eyes. Jonas drew his eyes up, with effort, from the strip of skin, slightly less tan than the rest of Mikael’s stomach, which showed at the waistband of Mikael’s jeans, and met Mikael’s eyes. The older boy stared at Jonas with an intensity that Jonas didn’t remember him having, before.

 

Jonas cleared his throat. “I think the green,” he said, gesturing to the shirt on the right and turn turning towards Mikael’s desk to hide the blush on his cheeks.

 

He heard the sound of Mikael pulling the button-down on.

 

“Ugh,” Mikael said, and Jonas turned back around. Mikael was twisted at the waist, grasping for something at his collar. “I hate this tag. Can you cut it out for me? There’s scissors in the top drawer.”

 

Jonas opened the drawer and drew out the scissors, keeping his eyes down as he went over to Mikael. Ever since Jonas had gotten to Mikael’s house, the air between them had been charged and strained, for a reason that Jonas didn’t know and couldn’t understand. It was making him panicky. The charge crackled as Jonas stepped behind Mikael, tugging at the collar and going onto his tiptoes so that he could maneuver the scissors to the tag, snipping it away with one motion, careful to avoid the soft brown skin of Mikael’s neck.

 

He wanted to press a kiss there. Right at the spot underneath Mikael’s long mop of hair, where neck met shoulder. But he resisted.

 

Instead, he dropped back to his natural height as Mikael turned around, the space between them minimal.

 

“Thanks,” Mikael said, but his voice was low, and Jonas felt like they weren’t really talking about the tag anymore. His breathing was shallow as he found himself rooted to the spot, staring at Mikael, always slightly taller than Jonas himself. They stood like that for a beat longer than would have been natural, which is when Jonas lowered his eyes.

 

“No problem. You ready?” he said, busying himself with throwing the tag away and putting the scissors back in their drawer. When he turned back around, there was a blush on Mikael’s cheeks as he pulled his shoes on.

 

“Yeah! Ready!” Mikael said, with what Jonas could tell was false cheerfulness. He wasn’t sure what that was about, but now wasn’t the time for questions. If Mikael was late to his own party, Even would kill Jonas.

 

So they walked into the cool air of the late summer night, angling towards Even and Isak’s apartment, the silence between them unnatural. Before Mikael had gone, they’d had no problem talking, but they’d also had no problem just spending time in the same space, quiet and comfortable as they read or wrote or watched tv, no words exchanged between them. It was one of the best things about Jonas’ friendship with Mikael. But this silence was different. It was tight and strained, and Jonas hated it.

 

They got to the party after a walk that had felt like it had gone on for ages, even though Jonas knew well that the distance between the two apartments was only fifteen minutes walking.

 

They pushed through the door of the apartment, and a wall of noise greeted them, hello’s and cheers and shouts of “Welcome home!”

 

Mikael broke into a smile, the tense, awkward version of himself from just a moment before gone. He allowed himself to be wrapped up in hugs and conversations almost immediately, Mutta breaking through the crowd to lift Mikael and spin him around in a bear hug. Jonas quietly slipped away, mind still running over everything he’d done and said since Mikael had gotten back earlier that day, looking for whatever it was that he’d done to piss his friend off.

 

He rummaged through the fridge, pulling out a beer and downing half of it in one sip.

 

“Whoa,” Isak’s voice came from the door, and Jonas spun around, halfway through another long drink from the bottle. “What’s going on?”

 

Jonas shook his head. “I don’t know.”

 

“I thought you’d be happy now that Mik’s back?” said Isak, after looking around to make sure they were alone. Isak was the only person who knew about Jonas’ feelings for Mikael, after he’d drunkenly confessed them six months after they’d met Mikael and the rest of Even’s friends.

 

“I was,” said Jonas, finishing the beer and hiccuping before throwing it in the recycling box and grabbing another. “And it was fine, at the airport. But I went to his house before this, because he asked me to walk over here with him, and things are just weird.”

 

“Weird how?”

 

“Weird like, I forgot how to be around him, or something. I can’t think of anything to say, and the silence is just awkward. Not like it usually is.”

 

“Did you do something to him?”

 

“No!”

 

“Okay, breathe,” said Isak, patting Jonas on the shoulder. “I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. Forty-five minutes of awkwardness after a three-month absence isn’t the weirdest thing. I’m sure it’ll be back to normal soon.”

 

Jonas breathed in and out, slowly, three times. “Yeah,” he said. “I know you’re probably right.”

 

“I’m always right,” said Isak.

 

“I’m still going to get really drunk though,” said Jonas.

 

Isak laughed once and held out his hands. “What kind of friend would I be if I stopped you?”

 

The rest of the night passed slowly for Jonas. He tried to get drunk, but after his third beer, the taste of it made him feel a bit sick. So he stopped himself and retreated to a corner of the room, where Noora and Sana were talking with their heads close together. He plopped down beside them and tried to make himself to fully listen to their discussion of intersectional feminism, but his eyes kept drifting to where Mikael was in the room. Talking to Mutta, drinking with his friend Ben, who he worked with, arm around Even’s shoulders as they lipsynched to the ABBA song playing through Even’s speaker. Jonas’ eyes traced Mikael’s path, wanting and wishing he didn’t.

 

As the party wound down, Jonas pushed himself off his chair and waved goodbye to the girls, making his way over to the door. Before he got there, though, Mikael was in front of him.

 

“Are you leaving?”

 

“I think so,” Jonas said. “I’m tired, and I have to work tomorrow.”

 

“I didn’t even get to see you tonight though!” Mikael said. His voice sounded tipsy, but his eyes were clear, and Jonas thought that he was probably more sober than not. Like Jonas himself was.

 

“I know. I’m sorry. But we’ll hang out later this week, yeah?” Jonas hated the stilted way his voice came out. He needed to get back to his apartment. Regroup. Remember how to be Mikael’s friend.

 

But as he pushed past Mikael, his friend’s hand came to rest on his shoulder. “Wait, Jonas. I want to leave too. But let me say bye to everyone first?”

 

Jonas shrugged and waited by the door, hearing Mikael shouting his farewells to all of his friends. A moment later, he was back at Jonas’ side, opening the door and stepping into the hallway, and then into the cool night.

 

Jonas stuffed his hands in his pockets and fell into step beside Mikael, silence settling around them like a blanket again.

 

Finally, after a block of this, Jonas couldn’t stand it anymore. “Are we okay?” he said, stopping in the sidewalk and turning to Mikael. “I mean, did I do something to piss you off?”

 

Mikael’s eyes widened in shock, and he cocked his head to the side, searching Jonas’ face.

 

“No, Jonas. Of course not.”

 

“But you were fine earlier, with Adam and Even around. And then again at the party. But the minute it’s just us, you get all weird and quiet. And that makes me weird and quiet.”

 

Mikael sucked in a breath through his teeth, the sound of it hissing between them as Jonas shifted from foot to foot and waited for Mikael to answer him.

 

“I missed you,” Mikael said, his voice quiet and full of some emotion that surprised Jonas. It wasn’t what he had been expecting Mikael to say. But before he could say anything, Mikael was talking again.

 

“I meant it earlier,” he said, looking Jonas full in the face. “When I said it was like being around 25 you’s all summer. Nearly everyone in that program reminded me of you in some way or the other. And some of them were nothing like you! So I started thinking to myself, why am I seeing Jonas everywhere? And… I guess it was because I was looking for you. I’m always looking for you. I just didn’t realize it until I left.”

 

Jonas stared at Mikael, who was looking at him through his long eyelashes, hope in his light brown eyes. Jonas blinked several times, in quick succession, trying to convince himself that this was real.

 

“Wh-what do you mean? Looking for me?”

 

Mikael took a deep breath and reached for Jonas’ arm, tugging him along. They started walking towards Mikael’s apartment again, and Mikael spoke rapidly, words tumbling out and over themselves.

 

“We talked so much this summer about how making films, making art, is all about risks. You have to risk things in order to gain things, you know? They kept telling us that, if we really want things, we have to put ourselves out there. And obviously they meant like, in filmmaking, because it’s a cutthroat business and nothing is guaranteed, you know? But I kept on thinking about you. About how everything kept reminding me of you. About how I’d think about how much you’d have both hated and loved California. About how much I missed you. And I realized that the advice about risk could apply here too?”

 

By this point, they’d reached Mikael’s building, and Mikael was panting as if he’d been running, and Jonas’ mind was a mask of white noise, because nothing that Mikael was saying was making sense to him.

 

But Mikael stopped outside of the door and spun around to face Jonas, putting his hands on Jonas’ shoulders.

 

“I got weird today because I didn’t know how to tell you that I’ve been wanting to kiss you. That I think there’s something here, between us, and I want to see what it is.”

 

He peered at Jonas through some hair that had fallen into his face. Jonas opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again. Mikael wanted to… kiss *him?* After all this time of Jonas thinking that everything was completely one sided? Granted, Mikael wasn’t in the full-on love stage that Jonas had progressed to about a year ago, but he thought there was something there. He wanted to see? He liked Jonas?

 

Jonas could tell the moment his silence stretched on too long. Mikael dropped his hands from Jonas’ shoulders and turned to go back into his apartment.

 

“Okay, maybe not. Maybe I’m just crazy,” he said, his voice losing the luster and excitement it had held a moment before.

 

Panic rose in Jonas’ throat. Mikael couldn’t walk away. Instinctively, he reached out, his fingers closing around Mikael’s wrist. He tugged, spinning Mikael towards him as quickly as he could, catching the older boy in his arms and pulling him in, pressing their mouths together in the way that Jonas had dreamed about so many times.

 

Mikael made a sound of surprise, and Jonas pulled back, losing the feeling of Mikael’s soft lips on his. But he stayed on his tiptoes, and he stayed close to Mikael’s face. He knew he had to say something too, now.

 

“I thought about you every day you were gone,” he said, his voice rasping out of his throat. “I started running to try and outrun those thoughts. But it didn’t work. Nothing did. I thought about you, and about this, all summer. But I thought I was the only one.”

 

As Jonas spoke, the clouds had cleared away from Mikael’s face, and his hands had slid slowly, slowly up and into Jonas’ hair. Now they were anchored there, fisting around clumps of Jonas’ curls. Mikael was in complete control here. Could do with Jonas whatever he wished, just so long as Jonas could live in that moment forever.

 

Mikael used his grip on Jonas’ hair to angle his face towards Mikael’s, smiling the whole time.

 

“What did you think about?” he said, his voice light, and teasing, as he bent forward and ghosted his lips over Jonas’, not fully touching. Jonas shivered.

 

“You,” he said, honestly, craning forward, chasing Mikael’s ever elusive lips, still not fully believing that this was happening.

 

“What about me?” Mikael said, then kissed Jonas once, hard.

 

“About kissing you,” said Jonas, the need seeping into his voice. “But I don’t want to push you into doing anything you don’t–”

 

Mikael cut him off with another brief, hard kiss, and then he pulled away, Jonas had to stifle a gasp. His hands were trembling from the want of this moment.

 

“I know, Jon. But I’ve had three months to think about this, on top of two years of knowing you, and twenty years of knowing myself. I’m telling you that I want this. At least to try it, at least to see if it can be as great as it is in my head.”

 

Jonas felt lightheaded at the thought of Mikael thinking about him. About being with him.

 

“Okay,” Jonas whispered.

 

“So, do you want to come up?” Mikael asked. When Jonas’ eyes widened, he said, “Not for *that.* At least, not yet. But more kissing? Where the whole block won’t be watching us?”

 

Jonas laughed and felt the easiness slide back in between them. He nodded, and Mikael released his hold on Jonas’ hair, instead slipping his hand down to Jonas’, threading their fingers together.

 

They burst through the door of Mikael’s apartment, and Mikael pulled Jonas into his bedroom not bothering to turn on the light, just shutting the door behind them and turning to face Jonas. They stared at each other in the semi-darkness for a moment, and then, almost at the same exact time, reached for each other, chests heaving and mouths crashing together. For Jonas, it was the culmination of the longest crush of his life, and it was everything he’d thought it would be, and more. Soft lips met with the rough scrape of teeth on skin, and fingers trailed over faces, into hair, and under shirts, scratching paths on chests and backs. Jonas’ heart thumped wildly as Mikael kissed a line down past his jaw, mouth hovering over the very spot Jonas had wanted to kiss on Mikael’s neck earlier.

 

Mikael pushed Jonas onto the bed, pulling his shirt off and pushing Jonas’ off his shoulders as well, and then their chests were touching. Jonas knew that they wouldn’t go further than this furious kissing tonight, and he wasn’t sure if his heart could handle it, even if they wanted to. Because the kissing was already better than anything he had ever felt in his life. He felt his skin come alive under Mikael’s fingertips, and every time Mikael responded to Jonas’ touch, the flick of his tongue, the slide of his hips, or the skin of his palms on Mikael’s neck, Jonas felt a thrill.

 

Mikael rolled over so that Jonas was on top, and he rolled his hips up to Jonas’ so that their entire bodies were flush, their faces centimeters away. Jonas impulsively pressed a kiss to Mikael’s forehead, and when he pulled away, Mikael was grinning like an idiot.

 

“You okay?” Jonas whispered. “Is this okay?”

 

“Better than anything I could have imagined,” Mikael said, tugging Jonas down for another long, lingering kiss, their tongues sliding along each other languidly.

 

Mikael pulled away again, and Jonas whined, which made Mikael laugh.

 

“Stay here,” Mikael said, and Jonas froze. “Please?”

 

The want in Mikael’s eyes cut through to Jonas’ heart, threatening to expose absolutely everything he’d been pushing down for the last two years. But he couldn’t dump all of that out now. Maybe not ever.

 

So he just nodded, pressing kisses to Mikael’s chest and neck.

 

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. I will.”

Chapter Text

Jonas woke up before Mikael

 

It wasn't unusual. Mikael was a notoriously late sleeper, and impossible to wake up. Jonas had learned this in countless ways: Mikael falling asleep on Jonas' couch in the middle of the day. Jonas crashing at Mikael's place and waiting around for hours for Mikael to wake up. Weekend trips to someone's uncle's cabin with the boys.

 

But this morning, it was like learning it all over again

 

It was like learning everything all over again

 

Jonas woke up with his face pressed into Mikael's chest, the soft brown skin filling his entire field of vision as he blearily blinked sleep out of his eyes. He tentatively lifted his head, taking in Mikael's long body, which was curved around Jonas in sleep. They'd fallen asleep in the early hours of the morning, talking and kissing and laughing, facing each other, knees bumping together and faces close. Now it was early, probably 7:30, if Jonas had to guess, and Mikael was still beautiful, his face smooth and soft.

 

Jonas ran a tentative hand down Mikael's bare arm, images of last night flashing through his head. He bit his lip to keep his smile from bursting into something uncontrollable, shaking his head in disbelief. This was at once everything he'd ever imagined, and also so much more. Because it was real.

 

Jonas slipped out of the room and into the kitchen, fiddling with Mikael and Adam's fancy coffeemaker. While he waited for it to brew, he leaned on the counter, looking out the window and feeling, in the form of those sparks he knew well, and would always associate with Mikael, all the places where Mikael had kissed him the night before.

 

"Jonas?" Adam's voice came from behind him, and Jonas jumped about a foot in the air and spun like he'd been caught in the middle of a crime.

 

"Hey," Jonas said, trying to keep his voice casual, rubbing the back of his neck. Adam was dressed in his scrubs. He was in school for nursing and worked at a pediatric clinic when he wasn't in class, and that must have been where he was headed. He cocked his head at Jonas.

 

"I didn't know you were here. You weren't on the couch."

 

Jonas willed himself not to blush, willed himself to think of some excuse that would explain why he was in Adam's kitchen at 7:45 in the morning, probably looking like a truck had run him over.

 

Jonas and Mikael hadn't talked about Them, last night. Mikael had said that he wanted to try them out, to see where it went, but that didn't necessarily mean he wanted to date. Didn't mean he wanted to tell people. Didn't mean anyone should know without Mikael giving it the okay. Jonas slowed his breathing. He didn't even know if Mikael really wanted to be with him, or if last night was a one time thing.

 

He cleared his throat. "Oh, uh, yeah. Mik and I walked here after the party, and, uh, we were watching a movie in his room. And then, you know, I just crashed on the floor in there."

 

Adam looked at him for a beat. Two beats. Eyebrow raised. Jonas forced himself to look back.

 

Then Adam broke into a laugh. "Damn, Jonas. You must have been really wasted to crash out on the floor when the couch is right there."

 

Jonas nervously laughed along, shrugging his shoulders. "Yeah," he said, with mock regret. "I guess I was."

 

Adam was still chuckling when the coffeemaker beeped and Jonas leapt for it.

 

"Coffee for the road?" he practically shouted, and Adam nodded. Jonas poured it into a travel mug and waved at Adam as he stepped out the door, collapsing against the counter in relief when he was gone.

 

He was still in that position, elbows resting on the counter, hands tied up in his hair, trying not to freak out, when he heard footsteps in the hallway.

 

His first thought was that Adam must have had a girl over, and she was leaving now. But when he raised his head, it was Mikael standing there, still just in his boxers, hair sticking out at odd angles, a look of sleepy grumpiness on his face. Jonas felt all of the tension leave his body.

 

"Hey," Jonas said, as Mikael walked towards him. "It's so early! I wasn't expecting to see you before I left."

 

Mikael didn't say anything. Just kept approaching.

 

Jonas was nervous, and his mouth opened of its own accord, words falling out.

 

"Mik, listen. We probably should talk about last night? I understand if you just want it to be a one time thing. I don't want to put any pressure on you to continue–"

 

Mikael was in front of him then, and flush against him, knees knocking against Jonas' lower thighs, and his hands were on Jonas' face, and the words died in Jonas' mouth.

 

Mikael cradled Jonas' face in his hands, gentle fingers moving in circles on Jonas' jaw. Jonas shivered.

 

"I woke up because I was cold," Mikael said, his voice a whisper, raspy from sleep. "Why'd you leave me?" Now his voice tipped into a whine. Jonas smiled, and Mikael returned it.

 

"I'm sorry," said Jonas.

 

"Just," Mikael said, moving his hands to Jonas' sides, where he poked the skin there, making Jonas squirm. His eyes danced with teasing as he said, punctuating his words with small pokes, "Don't you ever do that again."

 

Then they were both laughing, faces close together, Mikael leaning his lean body on Jonas', who in turn leaned on the counter. Touching in so many ways.

 

"Kiss me?" Jonas said, surprising himself with his own boldness.

 

Mikael leaned in, smirking, and stopped just short. "No," he said.

 

Jonas scoffed, offended. "Why not?" he said, the words from his mouth going straight into Mikael's, so close were their faces.

 

"Because," said Mikael. "I like it when you kiss me."

 

Now it was Jonas' turn to smirk, and to slowly move himself forward, pushing off the counter so they were both standing upright, faces still inches apart. Jonas could feel Mikael's breathing, could feel the way his chest rose and fell in small breaths, could feel the lines of his body and the way his toes overlapped Jonas' own. It was new, and fragile, Jonas knew that. But nothing in his world had ever been so right, so perfect, like the satisfying snap of the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place.

 

He threw his arms around Mikael's neck in a sudden motion and yanked the older boy's face down towards his own, crashing their lips together.

 

Mikael groaned into Jonas' mouth, and Jonas felt it gladly, pulling Mikael closer and closer, feeling like he could open his heart and swallow the whole room up. The thought surprised him. Mikael was the artistic one, the one who wrote lines of poetry that made Jonas shiver, the one who painted sets with the colors of a sunset and who wore his heart on his sleeve. Jonas had never been like that. But maybe kissing Mikael so fully meant that Jonas could absorb some of his poetry, meant that these spinning thoughts in his head, which formed verses he knew he'd never remember, was a side effect of kissing such an extraordinary person.

 

And then Mikael's hands were on the backs of Jonas' upper thighs, bearing him up, putting him on the counter, and that poetry flew out of his head, replaced but nothing except for the feeling of Mikael's body and the desire, and, truly, lust, that wracked his body. He put his legs around Mikael's waist, trapping him, so that Mikael's stomach was pressed to Jonas, his face upturned, like Jonas was the sun. Jonas liked it, the feeling of this impossible boy underneath him, reacting to him, wanting him. Over anyone else that Mikael could have had, he wanted Jonas in this moment. And that was enough to make Jonas' head spin.

 

Hours later, after they'd broken the promises they'd made about not moving too fast, they were laying in Mikael's bed again, Mikael halfway across Jonas' body, his hair tickling Jonas' bare skin.

 

Jonas was in a haze of joy, feeling like the last fourteen hours had been a fever dream that he could never hope to recover from. But he knew that, in order to protect himself from heartache later on, he needed to establish some concretes with Mikael. He moved to prop himself up, and Mikael groaned.

 

"Nooo," Mikael said. "No leaving."

 

He made his head heavy on Jonas' chest, then climbed on top of him, flattening his body over Jonas', trapping him against the mattress.

 

Jonas laughed and squirmed as Mikael kissed him on the chest, right over his heart, lingering, darting his tongue over the smooth skin there. Jonas almost lost his train of thought.

 

"I have to leave eventually," he said, amusement in his voice. "I do have to work at noon."

 

Mikael groaned and snuggled closer to Jonas. "I hate that place," he said.

 

"You hate... the center for homeless LGBT youth?"

 

Mikael rolled off of him and splayed on his back. "If they're taking you away from me when I just got you back? Maybe."

 

"You're impossible."

 

"It's the cornerstone of my charm."

 

Jonas rolled his eyes and, taking advantage of the fact that Mikael wasn't distracting him with his touch, sat up, gathering the duvet on his lap to create a barrier between them.

 

"So," Jonas said, and something in his tone made Mikael look at him sharply, pushing himself into a sitting position as well. "We've.... done some things."

 

Mikael burst into laughter.

 

"Yeah, you could say that."

 

Jonas took a deep breath. "And I meant what I said before," he said, rushing to get the words out and picking at a loose thread on the duvet, not looking at Mikael. "I don't want you to feel like you have to continue this if you don't want to. But, I mean, if you want to, then I'd be, you know, down for that."

 

Mikael snorted, and Jonas looked up. Mikael was looking at him with so much fondness on his face. "Jonas," he said, gentler than he'd been all morning. "You know I'm not the kind of person who goes for one-time things."

 

Jonas sighed. "I know," he said.

 

Mikael reached out and grasped Jonas' hand in his own, squeezing gently. "I don't really know where this is going to go. If we'll end up as boyfriends, or go back to being friends, or neither, or both. I can't tell the future. What I do know is right now, I can't stop thinking about you. I like kissing you. I like doing everything else with you, too. So I want to keep doing those things."

 

"I want to keep doing those things too," Jonas said.

 

"So let's just do that, for awhile. Just us."

 

"Not tell anyone?"

 

"Do you want to be the one to tell all of the boys that we hooked up?" Mikael said, raising his eyebrows and widening his eyes.

 

Jonas considered, thinking of the bombardment that they'd surely get if they told the boys. Thinking of Isak's wide eyes and snickering, thinking of Even, who would probably start planning their wedding on the spot. Of Adam's quiet consideration, of Elias' threats, Mutta's excitement, Yousef's surprise, Mahdi's disbelief, Magnus' bouncing cheer. It all seemed like a lot, in that moment. A lot of factors, a lot of things that could become too much for Mikael.

 

He shook his head. "Yeah, no. Maybe it would be better to keep it between us for awhile."

 

Mikael grinned at him. "It'll be fun," he said, waggling his eyebrows. "Exciting. Sneaking around. Getting one over on Isak."

 

Jonas laughed. That much was true. His best friend had eyes like a hawk, and usually never missed anything. If they could trick him, it would be almost as good as getting to kiss Mikael.

 

Mikael went onto his knees in front of Jonas, their eyes at the same level. He reached out and tugged on a curl that hung in Jonas' eyes. "I like you, Jonas Noah Vasquez. Just in case that wasn't abundantly clear."

 

Jonas raised his face for a kiss, and Mikael obliged. It was softer than their earlier kisses, slow, closed mouths. A sign that they had time for other, deeper kisses.

 

"I like you too," said Jonas, pulling away. And even though it was a half truth, because Jonas more than liked Mikael, it was enough for now.

 

~

 

The next few months were the best of Jonas' life.

 

Mikael was back in town, and around all the time, which would have been amazing in itself, but the fact that they were... well, whatever they were, was even better. But further than that, Jonas started his first semester at UiO, which he loved, kept working at the Youth Center, which was pretty much the perfect job for him, and joined the school newspaper, where he got to write about politics and activism. Even without the added bonus of kissing Mikael, his life was going pretty well. Better than it had when he was at Nissen. More fulfilling. All that jazz.

 

But when he was being honest, the best part of it all was Mikael.

 

At first, it had been a little weird, figuring out how to be around each other after so much had passed between them.

 

They'd be around their friends, just like usual, and Mikael would catch Jonas' eye across the room and wink, and Jonas would just go completely still, hoping that no one saw and suspected, sure that if someone found out, it would scare Mikael away.

 

Or they'd be talking, and Jonas would be worrying about whether he was acting normally, or if he was standing too close to mikael, or laughing too much at the funny things he said, or being too eager to help him with his films.

 

Jonas confessed this to Mikael one night when they'd snuck away from both of their apartments, instead climbing a hill in Jonas' favorite park and making out on the grass there.

 

While they were kissing, Mikael put a hand on the side of Jonas' neck and pushed him gently away.

 

"Are you going to tell me why you've been acting so weird the last couple of days?" Mikael said.

 

"I haven't been!"

 

"Not when it's just us, no. But the minute someone else is around, you're all stiff and formal. It's weird. And Adam is starting to notice."

 

Jonas sighed and hugged his knees to his chest. "I guess I'm just worried that I'm acting differently towards you. I don't want to give anything away. And then because I'm worrying so much about acting weird, I start actually acting weird."

 

Mikael nodded. "I get that. I've been trying to be careful about that too. Sometimes I get the urge to just come up behind you and kiss your neck? But then I remind myself, 'Okay, Mik, we're in the library. You should probably chill.'"

 

Jonas laughed at that, and Mikael touched his elbow. "Don't worry about it so much, Jon. If people find out, they find out. It's not a super big deal. They're more likely to suspect something if you keep acting like this, though. So you gotta chill."

 

Jonas turned toward Mikael, climbing onto his lap so that his knees dug into the grass on either side of Mikael's hips. He smirked and moved his hips, just slightly. "Okay," he said, then ground down onto Mikael's lap, causing Mikael to groan. "I'll chill." He repeated the motion, then moved away from Mikael, feeling the thrill of knowing just how to tease Mikael. Sure enough, a moment later, Mikael was grabbing for him, pinning him to the grass and kissing him soundly.

 

"You're killing me."

 

"I was just trying to have some chill!"

 

Mikael growled and bit Jonas' ear, and then they were both laughing, limbs tangled up and lips pressed together.

 

After that, it was easier. Jonas stopped worrying so much about people finding out, and was able to at least pretend to relax when he was around Mikael in public.

 

And actually, it became something of a game between them, seeing how they could make the other crazy when they were around their friends.

 

It started out with Mikael, sitting beside Jonas at a movie they were seeing with Even, Isak, and Magnus, hooking his foot around Jonas' ankle and caressing the soft skin there, moving the armrest from between them and grasping for Jonas' fingers in the darkness between their thighs, where no one could see them.

 

But it moved from there. Their feet entangled under the table when they went out to dinner with the boys. Jonas talking to a beautiful boy (whom he knew for a fact was in a happy relationship with one of Eva's friends) right in front of Mikael at a party, meeting Mikael's eyes over the boy's shoulder and raising his eyebrows.

 

Mikael pretending like Jonas' tag was sticking out of his sweater, running his cool hands over Jonas' neck to tuck it back in, making Jonas shiver.

 

Things like that, all the time.

 

Usually it culminated in the two of them kissing in the bathroom of the restaurant, or leaving the party early so they could take advantage of one of their empty apartments, desperate to touch after so long pretending they didn't want to.

 

It was after one such time, when they'd been at a club and Mikael had danced with a pretty boy with golden hair, while Jonas chugged his beer and held his breath, that they burst into Jonas' apartment, kissing so fiercely, it was like they wanted to devour each other.

 

"I can't believe you did that," said Jonas, his voice a gasp as they made it into his bedroom, Mikael kissing his neck and already reaching for the buttons on his shirt.

 

"What? He was pretty," said Mikael, looking up at Jonas with amusement in his eyes.

 

Jonas stopped in his tracks, his hands pushing Mikael's away from his shirt buttons. He was breathing heavily. "But you wouldn't– I mean. Are you seeing other people?"

 

Mikael looked at Jonas with confusion on his face. "What are you talking about?"

 

"I know all of this is like, joking between us. The teasing, or whatever," said Jonas, pacing the room. "But I know we don't have, like, a label, and I know that you can see whoever you want to see, but I guess I never thought that you might be doing that?"

 

Suddenly, Mikael was there, catching Jonas' wrists in his hands and pressing his forehead to Jonas', so close it looked like he had only one eye. "Breathe, Jonas," he said, his voice soft. "I'm not seeing anyone else. That boy was objectively attractive. But he's not the one I'm with, is he?"

 

Jonas took a deep breath. "I guess not," he said. They sat on the bed, the passion between them dimmer now.

 

"Sorry," Jonas said, into the silence. "I didn't mean to freak out. I guess I just... I like you so much, Mikael. And it's making my brain malfunction."

 

Mikael hummed. "Don't apologize," he said, then pushed himself up, stripping to his underwear. He rummaged in Jonas' closet for a sweatshirt, pulling it over his head and then climbing into Jonas' bed. "Come here."

 

Jonas stood and did the same, pulling on sweatpants but leaving his chest bare. He crawled under the covers with Mikael, snuggling close, savoring the warmth of this body, which belonged to the only person he'd ever loved.

 

"Can I tell you something?" said Mikael suddenly.

 

"Yeah," said Jonas. "Anything."

 

"I know you've probably convinced yourself that this is just about hooking up," said Mikael. His voice was a low rumble, and his fingers played with Jonas' hair as he spoke, his eyes faraway. "And to that, I say: for someone so smart, you're pretty stupid sometimes."

 

Jonas opened his mouth to protest, but Mikael put a finger on his lips to silence him.

 

"Don't bother denying it! I know you, Jonas. I know it's true."

 

Jonas considered for a moment, and then nodded. Mikael frowned.

 

"Do you know what I made films about this summer?"

 

Jonas paused, thinking back to the things Mikael had told him about his time in LA. "You just said it was a lot of different genres, and you worked with different people each time," he said.

 

Mikael nodded. "That's true. But I never told you what they were all about."

 

"What were they about?" Jonas asked, wondering what this had to do with them.

 

"You," said Mikael, simply, his eyes slightly sad as he said it. "They were all about you."

 

Jonas made a sound of surprise. "Are you serious?" he said, in disbelief.

 

Mikael pressed his face into the pillow, blushing for the first time. When he spoke, his voice was muffled. "When I got to LA, the only thing that inspired me was thinking about you. So you kind of... made your way into all of my scripts. All of them."

 

Jonas was reeling. Mikael had made films about him?

 

"Why didn't you tell me?" he said.

 

Mikael turned over and looked at Jonas again. "I was kind of embarrassed," he said. An admission. "And I didn't want to scare you. Like 'Hey, Jon. I want to kiss you and oh by the way I made twelve movies about you this summer. Wanna bang?'"

 

Jonas snorted, and then they were both laughing. "It doesn't scare me," he said, and as the words came out, he knew they were true. He'd probably do the same thing, if he was creative. he couldn't imagine creating anything that wasn't inspired by Mikael. But he hadn't realized that Mikael had those same kinds of feelings. Sure, he'd known that Mikael liked him, or else they wouldn't be hooking up. But Jonas had always assumed that his feelings were infinitely stronger. This was the first time he ever stopped to consider the fact that that might not be 100% true.

 

"What were they about?" he asked.

 

Those were like magic words, because Mikael's face lit up. "Some of them weren't very good," he said. "But I did win the grand prize for one of them."

 

"What?" Jonas said, in disbelief. "You won a grand prize? And you never told us?"

 

Mikael shrugged.

 

"I have to see it!"

 

Mikael groaned. "Noo, Jonas. It'll be so embarrassing."

 

"Mikky, come on! It's just me! You've always shown me your films."

 

"But this one is about you. Or, at least, inspired by you."

 

"All the more reason," Jonas said. And then he tickled Mikael, poking and kissing and pleading, until finally, Mikael relented.

 

"Okay, okay! Fine! Get your computer."

 

Jonas leapt up and grabbed his laptop, passing it to Mikael, who pulled up his google drive and logged in. There, he clicked on a file called "The Savior."

 

He passed the computer to Jonas and then pulled the covers over his head, mumbling about being embarrassed and how annoying Jonas was. Jonas shushed him as the film started. It was short, only twelve minutes, and begun with a shot that panned over LA at night, from high in the hills. The sky was a riot of pinks and purples, and the sound was only of distant cars.

 

The movie played out, over too quickly. Jonas watched as a curly-haired boy, around eleven or twelve, went around the city of LA, fighting monsters and all the while repeating that he wanted to save the world. Each monster seemed to represent something: homelessness, homophobia, gun violence, and with each defeat, the boy shined brighter. When the film was over, Jonas had tears on his face.

 

He turned to see Mikael peeking out from under his blanket, watching Jonas with wonder on his face. Jonas shook his head in disbelief.

 

"Mikael," he said, the full weight of the name heavy on his tongue. "That was incredible."

 

Mikael sat up, wiping the tears off of Jonas' face. "You liked it?"

 

Jonas nodded. "I loved it. But that wasn't about me," he said.

 

"Yes," said Mikael. "It was."

 

"I don't," Jonas started, but Mikael cut him off.

 

"It's my movie, Jon! It's about what I imagined you must have been like as a kid. Wanting to help everyone, wanting to make the world a better place. That's what I see in you now. That's what I l– care– so much for now. You are that kid, to me."

 

Jonas just stared at Mikael, wondering how in the world he'd managed to convince Mikael of that. Wondering how Mikael could see that, but he couldn't see how desperately Jonas loved him. Wondering how Mikael could be so good and brave, where Jonas was still just a coward who never told Mikael the entire truth.

 

"You're that, for me," he said finally.

 

"What?"

 

"You save me."

 

Mikael smiled and pressed his forehead to Jonas'. "That was cheesy," he said.

 

"You loved it."

 

"Yeah," said Mikael, kissing Jonas. "I did."

 

They lay there for a long time after that, awash in new knowledge, and new security, in the tiny thing that was growing into something real between them.

 

~

But it was only a week after that when everything changed again, and not so gently this time.

 

Jonas was sitting in Even and Isak's living room, watching one of the Fast and Furious movies with Even, Isak, Yousef, and Mutta, when there was a knock on the door. Even pushed himself up and out of Isak's arms to answer it, and a moment later, there was a shout from the entryway. Jonas, and everyone else, looked towards the door, and a moment later, Even and Mikael burst into the living room, both beaming from ear to ear

 

"Mikael has some news," said Even brightly, rejoining Isak on the couch. Jonas didn't know why, but something clenched in his stomach, hard and unexplainable.

 

"So," Mikael said, as Even paused the movie. "Before I left LA, and as part of the prize for having the winning film at the end of the summer intensive," here he looked at Jonas, who felt his breathing shallow. "I got the chance to pitch a film to a big producer guy. I gave him the script that Even and I worked on all last year, and I did a big presentation and like, drew up a budget and all of that? And I didn't really think anything would come of it, you know? It was just good practice. And then I didn't hear anything from it, and now it's October, and I'd given up any small hope I had."

 

Jonas felt a "but" coming on.

 

"But! I heard from him just now," said Mikael, beaming brightly. "And… he wants to take it on? He wants to back my film!"

 

The room erupted in cheers as everyone jumped up to congratulate Mikael.

 

"It's not a sure thing," Mikael was saying as he was smothered in hugs. "There's still a lot of hoops to jump through. But it's closer than I ever thought I'd be at twenty-one.”

 

He met Jonas' eyes, then, and Jonas burned with pride. He tried to communicate that with his smile, and Mikael's face opened even further.

 

"So what does this mean?" Jonas asked. "What's next?"

 

They all re-situated themselves on the couches and chairs, each one of them looking towards Mikael. He took a deep breath. "I have to go back to LA," he said, in a rush. He was talking to everyone, but he was looking at Jonas, who felt his heart drop, a sadness creeping in even as he was so, so proud of Mikael.

 

"The producer, John, he wants me to be there to meet with financial backers, and the studio reps, and whoever else. He wants to get this off the ground early in the new year."

 

Even clapped Mikael on the shoulder. "We're all so proud of you, Mik."

 

The words echoed in Jonas' head. LA. Back to LA. Proud of you.

 

The thing was, he was proud of Mikael. Of course he was. Mikael was his best friend, the person he loved more than practically anyone in the world, and this was his dream. Had been his dream since way before Jonas knew him. He wanted it for Mikael, wanted him to become big and bright and make movies that would make people cry and be up there with freaking Meryl Streep or someone accepting award after award.

 

But he hadn't thought about the fact that Mikael would have to leave Oslo to do that.

 

Of course he would. There weren't movies in Oslo. Not like there were In Hollywood, or New York, or even somewhere like London.

 

And so, for Mikael to achieve what he'd always wanted, he would have to go. And Jonas would have to stay. And he didn't know what that meant for them, together.

 

They talked to Mikael for a long time, the movie forgotten, until it got late and everyone started to go home. Jonas stood and pulled on his coat as Mutta was leaving, and he wasn't surprised when Mikael slipped out of the apartment after him, following him into the cold night air.

 

"Hey," he said, bumping Jonas on the shoulder and reaching for his hand. Mikael threaded their fingers together and they walked towards the park without discussing it first. They both knew that they needed to talk, and neither of them had empty apartments that night. So into the park they went, hands clasped together, silent until they reached a secluded bench, where they sat close together, sharing warmth.

 

"Mikky," said Jonas, his voice thick with pride and emotion and the anticipation of missing him. "I'm so, so proud of you."

 

Mikael laughed, but it was a hard thing. "I'm excited," he said. "But not as excited as I thought I would be."

 

"What?" said Jonas, confused. "Why?"

 

Mikael rolled his eyes, his mouth twisting in amusement. "Hello? Because I don't want to be thousands of miles away from you?"

 

"Oh," Jonas said, feeling warm from the admission, even as he knew it was selfish of him. "I don't want that either, Mik. But we both know you have to go."

 

"I don't want to have to choose," said Mikael.

 

"You don't have to," said Jonas, meaning it. "We'll still talk as much as we can! And it's not like you're never coming back, right?"

 

"I don't know how long I'll be gone," said Mikael.

 

Jonas took Mikael's face in his hands, making sure the older boy saw how serious the words Jonas was about to say were. "Listen to me, Mikael. You have to go. That's a given. And you have to throw your entire self into your dream. I will not be the one holding you back from everything that you've worked so hard to accomplish. I'll be here when you get back, but while you're there, you have to be all there. Yeah?"

 

Mikael nodded, his face slipping against Jonas' hands. "Yeah. Okay. I will. But you promise you'll be here?"

 

Jonas kissed him. "Where else would I go?"

 

Mikael smiled and smushed their noses together. "The good news is," he said, voice regaining some of its usual lightness, "That we get to make the most of the two weeks until I leave."

 

Then he gave an exaggerated cackle and smothered Jonas with kisses, which Jonas returned eagerly, despite the way his heart broke at the words "two weeks."

 

But take advantage of them they did, spending basically every spare minute together, usually with their tongues down each other's throats. Jonas tried to avoid anymore serious conversations, mostly because he didn’t want to break down in front of Mikael and make him feel bad about going. He held back most of the things he wanted to say. Things like "I love you so much please please don't forget about me," which was desperate and ridiculous, because of course Mikael wasn't going to forget. Or "I have loved you since the moment I met you, and a few months isn't going to change that," which was just way, way too real. Or "I think you might be the love of my life, and you leaving, even for a little, feels like a broken bone," which was too guilt-trippy.

 

So Jonas filled those gaps, when he might've said something that he regretted, with kisses. With snuggling with Mikael in whatever bed they were least likely to get caught in. With blowjobs and questions about LA and holding hands and distracting Mikael with neck nuzzles, his weakness. Anything to make Jonas forget about how completely he was going to shatter when Mikael left. Even if it was just for a short time.

 

Finally, the day did come. Jonas volunteered to take Mikael to the airport, and no one protested. All the boys came to say goodbye to him the night before, and it was a huge thing. Magnus cried. Even gave a rambling speech. Adam, more practically, gave Mikael a handshake and a wad of cash that the boys had collected among themselves and then converted into American dollars. Mikael got emotional at that, and tried to pass it back, but none of the boys would let him.

 

"Think of it as an investment in your future," Elias said, with a nod of finality.

 

That night, Jonas stayed with Mikael, sneaking back into the house after he'd pretended to leave so Adam wouldn't suspect. Mikael pulled him by the collar into his bedroom and kissed him so hard, he lost his breath, then pulled away and said "Goodbye sex?" in such a matter-of-fact tone that Jonas had to laugh. He nodded and let Mikael pull him down onto the bed, let Mikael's body do the wandering, the leading, let himself be swept up in the feeling of it, let Mikael put his hands over his own mouth and Jonas', to keep Adam from hearing, let him forget, for a minute, that Mikael would be gone in the morning.

 

He was reminded though, abruptly, in the departures lane of the airport, early the next morning, helping Mikael with his suitcase. They got it onto the curb and then stood close, Jonas playing with Mikael's fingers, clenching his jaw to hold back the emotion he felt. This was only a temporary goodbye, he knew that technically. But he couldn't help the part of him that thought that this was the start of losing Mikael for good. Losing him to Hollywood, and his dreams, and everything that went along with it. There wasn't room for Jonas in a life like that. He knew it as well as he knew his own name. And though he knew it wouldn't happen overnight, and he'd take as much of Mikael as he could get in the short time he would have him, it still hurt to feel the beginning of that loss.

 

"I'll be back after the new year," said Mikael.

 

"I know," said Jonas.

 

"I wish you were coming with me," Mikael said, and then put a hand over his mouth like he hadn't meant to say it.

 

Jonas nodded. "And I wish you were staying," he admitted, the first time he'd said anything of the sort. "But we both know this has to happen."

 

Mikael nodded, and then, in front of everyone unloading their luggage at seven o'clock in the morning on a thursday, pulled Jonas in for a mind melting kiss. Jonas lost all sense of time and space, his universe shrunk down to the boy in front of him. the boy who had always had a part of him, but who now had it all.

 

"I'll see you soon?" Mikael said, pulling away.

 

Jonas nodded. "You're going to do amazing, Mik. I can't wait to hear all about it."

 

Mikael smiled, kissed him one last time, and then turned to go, looking back only once, with a small wave.

 

Jonas pulled out of the airport, and hadn't even hit the the road back into the city when the tears started to fall.

 

He didn't remember anything about the drive home, just that one minute he was in the car, and the next he was in his bed, calling in sick to work and burrowing under the covers, not realizing how fucking cold it was to be in bed without someone larger than life beside you.

 

Magnus poked his head in later in the night, asking Jonas if he was okay, and Jonas croaked that he was fine, just had a cold. Magnus nodded and bounded off to make chicken soup, while Mahdi, behind him, cast a discerning eye over Jonas.

 

"Sick, huh?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"Interesting timing."

 

Before Jonas could ask what that meant, Mahdi was gone, replaced by Magnus and his enthusiastic, if misplaced, care.

 

Eventually, Jonas did get out of bed. Because he knew he was being dramatic. Because he had to go to class, and work, and see people. But mostly because Mikael texted asking if they could skype and he didn't want to give the illusion that he'd been in bed for two days, alternately aching and crying, and sometimes both at once.

 

Jonas' life settled into a pattern again, one that shifted to accommodate a missing piece. Fall, and late fall, was usually his favorite time of year. But this year, he was immune to the colors, the blustery afternoons, the way the sunsets were orange to match the trees. He didn't see it at all. He went to class, went to work, went to newspaper meetings, and had dinner with his friends when he was invited, just so they didn't worry. He reminded himself that he'd existed without Mikael before, and he could do it again. But it was like that small taste of being with Mikael had ruined everything else for him. Like Mikael left the city and took all of the color with him. Jonas felt like the world was grey. Like he was grey. And though he thought he was doing a pretty good job of hiding it, he knew that Isak and Mahdi especially noticed.  And Yousef too, with that serious gaze of his. But no one asked him outright. Not until it was true winter. Not until New Year's had passed and Mikael still wasn't home.

 

Jonas still heard from Mikael at least once a day, though their skype calls were few and far between because Mikael was so busy. The movie was going forward, to the excitement of everyone who knew him, and even though they'd tweaked the script and given him a co-director, because he was so young, Jonas knew Mikael was ecstatic. Filming would begin in early summer, which meant that Mikael was coming home sometime in February. He hadn't decided exactly when, though, and the last time Jonas had talked to him, it hadn't really sounded like he'd been too concerned about it. But maybe that was Jonas' pessimism slipping in.

 

In any case, it was the second week of January when Yousef pushed through the door of the youth center where Jonas worked with a boy of around fourteen trailing behind him.

 

"Jonas," Yousef said, coming to a stop in front of the front desk, where Jonas had been piling up hats and scarves for the kids to take if they needed them. Jonas spun and plastered a smile on his face. All his smiles felt fake lately.

 

"Yousef!" He said, eyes darting to the boy and then back to his friend, who nodded sadly. "Hi," Jonas said to the kid, who barely looked at him. "I'm Jonas. What's your name?"

 

"Alex," the boy said in a small voice. "Yousef said you could... help me? I don't–" his voice broke. "I don't have anywhere to go?"

 

Jonas' heart broke, as it always did for these kids. In fact, working at the center was the only thing that made him fully wake up to life. The reminder that there were things to do and people who he could help, even if his own life wasn't what he wanted it to be right now. "Of course, Alex. We can absolutely help you. Let's go down the hall and meet some people who you can talk to."

 

Thirty minutes later, with the boy situated, Jonas was back at the front desk with Yousef, who was telling him the story about Alex's home life. Jonas winced and vowed to do whatever he could to help the kid out. Something about him reminded Jonas of Isak.

 

"Thanks, Jonas," said Yousef. "He's a good kid."

 

"I didn't do anything," said Jonas. "But I will look out for him."

 

Yousef nodded. "Is anyone looking out for you, though?"

 

Jonas paused, his hands running over the scarves that he'd folded and refolded nearly ten times. "What do you mean?" he said, careful to keep his eyes away from Yousef's probing stare.

 

Yousef sighed. "Okay," he said. "You don't have to tell me anything. But I just wanted to tell you that you can if you want to."

 

Something about the gentle earnestness in Yousef's voice made Jonas turn, meeting his eyes. "What do you know?" he asked, keeping his voice low.

 

Yousef shrugged. "Only that you've been different, since Mikael left."

 

Jonas raked a hand through his hair, suddenly wanting so badly for someone to know what he'd been dealing with. He gestured for Yousef to follow him, walking into the tiny, empty break room behind the front desk. They sat in low chairs, Yousef looking at Jonas with a concerned expression on his face, as Jonas made his confession.

 

"Mikael and I," he said, "Well. After he got back from LA this summer, something started happening between us."

 

Yousef nodded, and Jonas didn't know if he was happy that Yousef's face didn’t even flicker with surprise.

 

"We never, like, defined it, you know? Like we were never together. But it felt real, to me. And I guess now, since he's been gone, I feel like everything is so unresolved. Like maybe it would have been better if we'd have just put down definitions or boundaries or something. Because it just feels so open, and I don't know what's going to happen, and I miss him so much."

 

Yousef was quiet for a long moment.

 

"Have you told Mikael any of that?"

 

"Any of what?" Jonas said.

 

"That you want to be with him, for real? That the open-endedness of it is making you hurt? That you care about him?"

 

"He knows I care about him."

 

"But have you told him?"

 

Jonas thought about it. He'd told Mikael that he liked him, had shown him through actions that Mikael was attractive to him, that he wanted to spend time with him. But had he ever laid it out, bare bones, really put himself out there with his true feelings? He knew the answer, even as he felt ashamed by it.

 

"No," he said. "I haven't."

 

Yousef gave Jonas a half-smile. "Maybe something to think about, then."

 

Those words rang in Jonas' head a month later, when Mikael walked back into the Oslo airport, the third time Jonas was there for him.

 

Mikael was tanner than Jonas had ever seen him, his teeth stark white against the brown of his face. And his teeth were out, because he was grinning ear to ear as his eyes fell on Jonas, standing there without a sign or balloons this time but with a heart that felt full to bursting.

 

Mikael broke into a little jog and slammed into Jonas, their lips meeting before they'd even exchanged a word, Jonas melting into this boy like it had been five minutes, not nearly five months, since they'd kissed last.

 

A moment later, Mikael pulled away, smiling a different, more private smile.

 

"Hi," he said. Jonas felt his throat thicken with emotion, but he cleared it away. Today wasn't a day for tears.

 

"Hi," he said, too.

 

"I missed you," said Mikael. Jonas knew they should get Mikael's bags and get him home, but he felt rooted to the spot, a tiny bubble of peace in the crowded arrivals lobby. He held onto Mikael's waist and touched their foreheads together, once, erasing the way the last month had been one of the hardest of his life.

 

"I missed you more," he said.

 

"How much?" said Mikael, teasing.

 

"Hmm," Jonas said, considering. "How big is the Pacific Ocean?"

 

Mikael threw his head back and laughed, hitting Jonas on the shoulder and telling him that he was the corniest person alive. Jonas accepted the title and grabbed the handle of Mikael's suitcase, taking Mikael's hand in his other one and walking towards the exit as Mikael chattered on about his flight and his jet lag. Jonas felt the warmth of Mikael's hand in his, and the solidity of their relationship resettling, even after it had gotten more and more difficult to talk as time went on. He felt like it was something real, now, in a way he hadn't back in October. And he felt the excitement and nerves rise in him at the thought of telling Mikael exactly how he felt.

 

But when they got into the car, Mikael turned to him with eyes that were shining with excitement, even as his mouth twisted with something less so.

 

"I have news," he said.

 

"Oh?" said Jonas.

 

"Yeah, and I wanted you to be the first to know, because I honestly don't know what to do about it."

 

"Okay," said Jonas, "Tell me."

 

"So," Mikael said, sitting back in the seat as Jonas pulled out of the parking lot. "A lot of stuff has been happening since I've been in LA, even more than I could tell you over the phone or text."

 

"Yeah?" said Jonas, suddenly feeling nervous. "Like what?"

 

"Well, the producer I've been working with? John? He's been helping me shop some of my scripts around, and a couple people are interested in developing them with me. And also, I've been meeting with some TV people, and they've expressed that there might be a chance for me to co-direct or direct an episode or two of different things. And of course, there's my film, which was the whole reason for me going in the first place."

 

He sounded breathless with excitement.

 

"That's all amazing, Mikky!"

 

"It really, really is. None of it is for sure, of course. It's all so much negotiation and there's a lot of changes that come so fast, but just the fact that people are interested is just, like, beyond my wildest dreams."

 

"Of course they're interested," said Jonas, scoffing. "You're a genius."

 

"Shut up," said Mikael, but his tone was amused. "But that's not really my news."

 

"No?"

 

"No," said Mikael, and took a nervous breath. "No. The news is that there's a chance for me to get a work visa through John's production company. And John wants me to move out to LA. For good. He thinks it'll be the best thing for my career, to be there, getting my work out there, and my face out there, all the time."

 

"Oh," Jonas said, feeling like he'd had the air knocked out of him. Silence fell in the car, and Jonas kicked himself for getting his hopes up about a relationship with Mikael. Hadn't he told himself when Mikael left in October that it was the beginning of the end? Hadn't he reminded himself that Mikael wasn't really his to keep, not while their lives were on such different tracks. He was in school, his life was in Oslo, he wanted a future there, helping the kids in the city, like he and Yousef had talked about. And Mikael's sights were set so, so much higher, on a world that was so far above Jonas' head, he couldn't really fathom it. A world that was within Mikael's reach now, despite his young age and inexperience. And that was a testament to his talent, and how possible it was that he really would become everything he wanted and more. And Jonas could not, and would not, begrudge him those dreams. And so he knew what he had to do.

 

By this time, they were only a block away from Mikael's apartment, and he pulled to the curb and faced Mikael.

 

"Okay," he said, "Let's talk about it. How soon would you go?"

 

"A couple months, I think? Enough time for the visa stuff to go through."

 

"And why aren't you leaping at this chance? This is everything you've ever wanted, Mikael. This is a clear pathway to getting to do the thing you love more than anything, on a huge scale. The chance to touch lives, to make magic, to do all of those things you and Even never shut up about. Why are you saying you don't know what to do about it?"

 

Mikael looked at him with a soft expression on his face, and Jonas held up a hand.

 

"Don't even think of saying it's because of me," he said.

 

"But!" said Mikael.

 

"No, Mik," said Jonas, swallowing down his tears and hardening himself to the fact that he was about to break his own heart, and maybe Mikael's too. He consoled himself by thinking that Mikael would get over it soon enough. He'd have everything he needed, and wanted, in LA. He would do wonderful, amazing, larger than life things, because he was a wonderful, amazing, larger than life person. And Jonas loved him, that was true. But jonas would never forgive himself if he kept Mikael from all of that which was waiting for him. And it was because he loved him that he had to do this.

 

"You can't stay in Oslo because we hooked up for two months. That can't even be a factor in this decision. I'm saying this because you're my friend and I care about your future. But whatever this was between us? It's nothing, compared to all of that."

 

Jonas saw hurt flash over Mikael's features, and even though it wasn't true, even though the thing between them was the opposite of nothing, Jonas knew he had to do this, had to push Mikael away, for his own good.

 

"Nothing?" Mikael said.

 

"I mean, not nothing," said Jonas. "It was great! And fun! But Mik, you know as well as I do that it's not a reason to give up a future."

 

Mikael looked at Jonas steadily, and Jonas tried not to see the tears in the corners of his eyes. "You know what? You're right, Jon. Thank you for being honest with me."

 

And fuck, if that didn't hurt. Because Jonas hadn't been honest. Not ever. not fully. But he just leaned over and gave Mikael a hug. "You're still my friend. you always have been and you always will be. And believe me when I tell you how proud I am of you."

 

Mikael nodded. "Thanks," he said, and pushed out of the car, grabbing his bags from the backseat and disappearing without a second look. Jonas laid his head on the steering wheel for a moment, allowing himself one heaving sob before he drove away.

Chapter Text

Things were both worse and better, after Jonas pushed Mikael aaway and out of his life.

 

Worse because Jonas was full of heartbreak, and heartbreak that he'd known all along was coming, heartbreak that he himself had inflicted, heartbreak that didn't hurt any less for those facts. Worse because things were awkward around Mikael, and Jonas missed him more than he had when he'd been in LA. Worse because Jonas didn't know how he would ever move on from Mikael, whom he'd loved since he was sixteen. Worse because he didn't think he wanted to.

 

But better, because Mikael left again soon after. Better, because Jonas really did feel like he'd done the right thing. Better, because despite everything, life really did go on. It was a different kind of life, something that was altogether less than it had been before, but it was life all the same. And Jonas adapted, as he always did. Like when he'd come out at sixteen, and his father had stopped speaking to him, even as they lived in the same house. Like he had when he'd moved out a year later, and learned to fend for himself. Like he had when he lost Eva, like he had when the hope he'd had with Isak died, like he had, like he had, like he had. Everything kept going. He knew it, and yet it still surprised him.

 

Mikael had only been his for a short time, but it had been more than Jonas had ever expected. And even though they'd never really been together, never been on a date, or endured the teasing of their friends, or called each other what they really were to each other, Jonas knew that it had been real. Temporary, but real.

 

~

 

He heard from Mikael occasionally over the next year.

 

In group texts with all the boys, Mikael sent updates about the movie. He invited them all to the premiere, but Jonas ended up having two of his final exams on the day of the premiere, and couldn't go. He looked at all the snapchats and instagrams of the boys that could, though, and noticed how Mikael seemed older, taller, more proud in his velvet maroon tuxedo. Jonas ignored the way his heart ached to be there.

 

Mikael sent him a few messages too, and Jonas returned the favor. But it wasn't anything personal, really, or consistent. It was just keeping up the appearance of being friends so the rest of the boys didn't wonder too much. No one knew what had happened between them, except Yousef, who looked at Jonas with pity every time Mikael's name came up in casual conversation. Jonas appreciated the thought, and didn't have the heart to tell Yousef that those pitying glances made everything a hundred times worse.

 

He had hope, though. Hope that the hurt, and the want, and the missing, would fade eventually. Hope that he would meet someone else that would erase Mikael from his mind. Hope that one day, he'd be able to look back and feel, maybe not nothing, but at least a peace about what had happened between them.

 

The fucked up thing was that Jonas knew that, if they hadn't had those two months of being together, this would be so much easier. If he'd just kept feeling those unrequited feelings, he would never have known what it felt like to be with Mikael. He never would have known what it could have been like.

 

But even in his worst moments, he knew he would never give those two months up. Not for anything.

 

Yousef asked him that, once.

 

"No," Jonas said, automatically. "They were worth it."

 

"Really?"

 

"I can't regret it," said Jonas. "I can't regret a thing that made me so happy, you know?"

 

Yousef had nodded, and didnt bring it up again.

 

And so, armed with his regrets and his non-regrets, Jonas went on. Time, as he knew it would, passed. He kept up with Mikael, barely and through their friends. Heard about him directing episodes of huge TV shows, writing a movie that got picked up by Ryan Coogler, getting to direct his second movie, at only 23, solo this time. It was all surreal, to think that he'd once known that person so well. It was surreal to hear all the things Mikael was doing, and even more surreal when, one day as Jonas was scrolling through twitter, he saw an article written by Variety magazine entitled "MIKAEL BOUKHAL: WHERE DID THE WUNDERKID COME FROM?"

 

It had been three years since Mikael had left, and by then, and the pain was less sharp, more a dull ache that flared whenever Jonas heard Mikael's name.

 

"What's this new movie about?" he asked Even one day. "Has Mikael told you?"

 

Even looked at him with an odd expression on his face.

 

"Hasn't Mik told you himself?"

 

Jonas cleared his throat. "Uh, no. I've been meaning to ask, but I keep forgetting."

 

Even shrugged and turned back to the potatoes he'd been peeling. "The only thing he's said to me about it is that it was inspired by a short film he made that summer he was at USC."

 

The entire fucking world stopped.

 

"What?" said Jonas.

 

"Yeah, apparently some producer saw the short film which gave him his whole start, and asked him to develop it into something feature-length, and Mikael didn't know if he wanted to do it because he told me it was really personal and something that he still didn't really know if he could write about, but in the end it was too good an opportunity to pass up."

 

Even kept talking, but Jonas couldn’t hear him.

 

Mikael was making a movie based on a short film he made about Jonas, nearly four years ago now? A film that he’d once shown to Jonas when they’d been snuggled in bed together, during the happiest months of Jonas’ life? A film that he’d said had been based on how much he cared about Jonas?

 

“Jonas? Jonas!” Jonas blinked, and saw Even in front of him, waving his hand in front of Jonas’ eyes.

 

“What? Sorry,” he said, shaking his head.

 

“You okay? You went super white for a minute there.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. What were you saying?”

 

“I was saying the trailer for the film is coming out on Friday or something. So you can see for yourself what it’ll be about.”

 

The wait until Friday was agonizing.

 

Jonas saw that the trailer had come out on twitter, people that he knew, that knew Mikael, retweeting it with comments like “Readying myself for the tears!” “I can’t WAIT for this, @MBoukhal!” “HOLY SHIT MIKAEL THIS SHIT IS REAL” (that was from Magnus), but Jonas himself didn’t watch it until all the boys gathered around the Smart TV in Isak and Even’s living room to watch it together.

 

“Okay, okay!” said Adam, holding the remote. “Is everyone ready?”

 

A chorus of yes’ followed his question, and Mutta turned off the lights so that they could see better. Adam pressed play, and Jonas held his breath. The first thing they saw was a blank screen, with the words “Save me, Save you” across it in a scratchy font that Jonas recognized immediately as Mikael’s own handwriting. After that came the words “a film by: Mikael Boukhal,” and Adam had to pause it there because everyone was screaming too much.

 

Then, the trailer started in earnest. Unlike the short film, it wasn’t a little boy anymore. Instead, it was a young man in his early twenties, and the first time he appeared onscreen, silhouetted against a dark Los Angeles night, every eye in the room swiveled towards Jonas.

 

To be fair, the actor really did look like Jonas. The same curly hair and color-changing eyes, wide mouth and tan skin. Jonas felt himself blush, felt all of the eyes on him, but forced himself to keep his eyes on the TV. The trailer progressed, the young man being put into dangerous situations, the whole world a blend of the gritty reality of LA and a different, magical world, layered overtop. It was visually spectacular, strange and lovely, just like everything else Mikael did, and Jonas nearly lost it when the onscreen main character, after fighting his way out of a tight spot, was picked up off the ground by another young man, this one with long hair that was pulled back from his face. This actor looked less like Mikael than the first one looked like Jonas, but the subtext was clear.

 

The trailer picked up speed, cutting between snippets of scenes rapidly, fighting, a field of flowers, a night sky, two boys kissing, one boy crouched and screaming, and then, a white screen. A date flashed, three months in the future, when the movie would be coming out, and then the trailer ended.

 

The room was silent, and Jonas felt like he was frozen. Finally, it was Mutta who spoke.

 

“Uh, is it just me, or did that guy look a lot like Jonas?”

 

There was a murmur of general agreement, and Jonas felt all eyes on him again.

 

“Jon?” Isak’s voice, shaking Jonas out of his reverie.

 

“Hmm?” he said, blinking.

 

“Do you know if Mikael meant for that guy to look just like you?”

 

“Oh,” Jonas said, feeling lightheaded. Not knowing what any of this meant. Not knowing if he wanted to know what it meant. “No! I have no idea. I don’t think he looked that much like me.”

 

“Did anyone see the film that Mikael said this one was based on? He never showed me,” said Adam. Everyone shook their heads, and Jonas held himself perfectly still.

 

“When’s the premiere?” he blurted out. “Does anyone know?”

 

It was Yousef that answered. “There’s a bunch of premieres,” he said. “Like LA, New York, London, you know. Mikael told me they’d be about a month from its wide release. And he also told me that he was requesting the first premiere be here, in Oslo.”

 

And with that, Jonas lost his ability to breathe. All the boys were questioning Yousef, excited that they would get to see Mikael without having to go to America to do it, but Jonas hadn’t moved. Mikael hadn’t even been back to Oslo since he left three years ago. That was mostly good, because then Jonas didn’t have to worry about running into him, but now, the thought of seeing Mikael again, and seeing him *here,* made Jonas’ head spin.

 

The premiere was two months away, then. And Jonas graduated from university a month before that. Graduated university without a clear plan for the future. He shivered, then.

 

He’d go to the premiere. He’d watch the movie, as he had watched everything else Mikael had been involved in since he moved to Hollywood.

 

And once he did that, he would talk to Mikael. Find out if Jonas still meant anything to him at all. Maybe admit that Mikael still meant something to him. Maybe it was time for that. Maybe with everything out in the open, his feelings would fade away for good.

 

Jonas watched that trailer every single night after the first time he saw it. After he finished studying for his last final exams, he watched the trailer. On the morning of his graduation, he watched the trailer. All the way, up until the day before the Oslo premiere of the movie, Jonas watched it, so many times that he knew it by heart, saw it playing behind his eyes when he went to sleep at night.

 

He’d started and erased countless messages to Mikael, all of them full of questions, all of them too much to send through Facebook. In the end, Jonas had sent him a short one, “The trailer is incredible, Mikael. I’ll see you in Oslo for the premiere?”

 

Mikael had responded almost immediately, which had surprised Jonas. “You will. I’d love to talk, if that’s something you’d be open to.”

 

Jonas’ heart had leapt, and then fallen. “Talk” could mean anything. Talk could be good, or bad, or indifferent. He tamped down his hopes. Had responded. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

 

The day of the premiere, Jonas had pulled on a rented dark blue tuxedo with a matching bow tie, walking into his living room to see Mahdi and Magnus in similar attire.

 

“I can’t believe this is happening!” Magnus said, bouncing up and down.

 

Mahdi was looking at his phone. “The car is here,” he said, “Adam and Mutta are riding with us.”

 

Jonas was quiet on the way to the theater, listening to the sound of his friends chattering around him. When they pulled up, Jonas’ mouth fell open. On the side of the building was a poster for the movie, black background with wild, colorful designs surrounding the two actors from the trailer. The one who looked like Jonas, and the one who looked like Mikael. Jonas swallowed and tore his eyes away from it.

 

They fell onto a media circus that bordered a red carpet, where Jonas could see people, presumably famous people, posing for pictures. The boys piled out of the car and someone with a clipboard met them, leading them around, behind the line of cameras and towards the theater.

 

Jonas followed, as their group joined up with Even, Isak, Yousef, and Elias, who had ridden in a different car. They snaked along behind the frenzy, avoiding the press and the stars altogether.

 

It was when they reached the end of the carpet that Jonas saw him.

 

Mikael. Different than the last time Jonas had seen him, but still Mikael, altogether.

 

He was wearing a deep green suit with a small ace pride button and a small gay pride button, both pinned to his lapel. He looked incredible, and Jonas stopped in his tracks, unaware of anything outside of Mikael. His hair was shorter than the last time Jonas had seen him, but it suited him. His skin was still that deep California tan, and his eyes still had that softness that Jonas had loved. Still loved, he realized with a jolt. Three years had passed between them, and seeing him standing there for the first time since then, Jonas felt like he was nineteen years old again, loving Mikael so desperately but not seeing any way that he could keep him.

 

And Jonas knew he’d been right. If he hadn’t told Mikael to go, none of this would be happening. Maybe Mikael would still have achieved success, but it wouldn’t have been like this.

 

At that moment, Mikael’s eyes locked onto Jonas’, brown on hazel, and Jonas had the feeling of being at the top of a very steep hill, knowing he was about to tumble down its side. Mikael’s eyes crinkled in a soft smile, just for a moment, and he turned back to the interviewer that he’d been talking to.

 

“So, Mikael, tell me what the inspiration behind this film was! There’s been so much buzz about it, everyone trying to guess what it means!”

 

Mikael smiled at the woman and nodded. “I can see where people might wonder. It’s such a strange little film,” he said, and laughed self-deprecatingly. God, his voice took Jonas back to late nights in a shared bed. “But the inspiration was really very simple. I knew someone, once, who I loved very much, who was always looking to save the world. So much so that he didn’t really ever stop to think about who was saving him.”

 

“What happened to this person, that you knew?”

 

Mikael looked right at Jonas, then. “We lost each other,” he said. “I made this movie to see if we could find a way back.”

 

Jonas felt tears prick at the back of his eyes as he realized that Mikael was so, so much better than he would ever be. Braver, and surer, and just so Good, that Jonas felt like he could collapse under the weight of all the ways he fell short. Mikael wore his feelings. Mikael was honest. Mikael fought for the things that he wanted and the people he loved.

 

And what did Jonas do?

 

He existed.

 

He just drifted from thing to thing, never really fighting, never really allowing himself to feel too deeply. He wanted to help people, but he couldn’t, he knew, because he always held himself apart. He didn’t fight for Mikael, didn’t even tell Mikael what he wanted. He’d lost and lost because he never stayed long enough to try.

 

Something hardened in him, then.

 

It wasn’t going to be like that anymore.

 

He opened his mouth to call something to Mikael, but then someone was there, at his back, herding him into the movie theater, into the row near the middle where all of his friends sat, looking at him quizzically.

 

“Where’d you go?” Elias hissed as Jonas sat down beside him.

 

“I got lost in the crowd,” said Jonas absently, fidgeting in his seat.

 

Time crawled by, but eventually, the entire theater was filled. Jonas looked for Mikael, but hadn’t seen him yet. Then, suddenly, the lights dimmed and there was a spotlight at the front, where Mikael, the producer John, and the two lead actors were standing.

 

“Thank you so much for being here,” Mikael said, first in Norwegian, and then in English. “This film is very personal to me, and I’m so happy to be showing it for the first time in my hometown. I really, really appreciate everyone who helped me get this strange little thing made. It’s a story about love and loss, and what you can and can’t do to save someone, the world, yourself. I want to thank John,” he looked at his producer, “And Brandon and James, my brilliant stars. This movie would not exist without them. And to my family, and my friends, who have stood by me for nearly all my life. I may live in LA now, but my heart will always be in oslo. Thank you so much, again. I hope you enjoy.”

 

And then the film began, and right from the very beginning, Jonas was crying. Elias looked at him sidelong, but said nothing, and Jonas cried freely. Because he was overwhelmed. Because he hadn’t realized how much he still loved Mikael. Because he felt like he’d been sleepwalking through his life, and felt the loss of years because of it. Because the film was about him, sort of, and also not about him, and about Mikael and him, but also not, and wrapped up in such a lovely and strange package that only Mikael could have come up with it.

 

By the time it was over, Jonas was completely spent. The lights came up in the theater and people were on their feet, clapping and yelling and whistling, and Mikael was pushed to the front by John again, where he took a bow and then quickly moved away, and then the theater was emptying, and Jonas was looking for Mikael, needing so badly to talk to him. But he didn’t see him anywhere, and Jonas was being herded back to the car, which was taking him to the afterparty, and he wanted to scream because he needed everything to stop so that he could find Mikael and tell him how much he needed him in his life.

 

They got to a tall building and were ushered to the top floor, where a party was in full swing. Jonas stood by the entrance for awhile, looking for Mikael intently, but he didn’t see him, even when he saw John and the stars. Eventually, he grabbed a glass of champagne and wandered, still looking for Mik, wondering if he’d missed him, making his way finally to the back corner, where there was a little door that led to a balcony which wrapped around the building and to a small alcove.

 

Where Mikael was sitting, on the ground, back to the stone of the building, his face in his hands.

 

“Mikael?” Jonas said, surprised to find him here, of all places.

 

Mikael’s head flew up, his eyes landed on Jonas, where they widened in surprise, and then he was scrambling up, standing in front of Jonas, in the flesh, for the first time in what felt like forever.

 

“Jonas,” Mikael breathed, brushing his hands over the fine green of his suit. “Let me explain, please. I totally understand if you’re mad at me.”

 

“Mad at you?” Jonas broke in. He laughed, because he was so very the opposite of mad that the notion was hilarious to him.

 

“You aren’t?” Mikael asked, looking Jonas in the eye for the first time. “Even though I made a film about you without your permission?”

 

“It was a very, very good film,” said Jonas, trying a tentative smile.

 

“You liked it?”

 

Jonas opened his mouth, but couldn’t form the words to tell Mikael how deeply the film had touched him. There was so much he wanted to say, so much he’d been feeling for the past three years, so much Mikael needed to hear. He didn’t know where to begin.

 

In his confusion, the only thing he could think to say was, “I love you.”

 

He slapped a hand over his mouth with a small gasp, and Mikael’s mouth fell open.

 

“What?” Mikael said, his voice shaking slightly, to match the tremble that Jonas could see in his hands.

 

Jonas took a deep breath, thinking of everything he’d thought but never said to Mikael. He realized that, in all of the time he’d been thinking about Mikael, he’d always thought that he was the selfless one, he was the one who had done what was best, he was the one that cared more and suffered for it. But now, he thought that none of that was actually true. Mikael had told Jonas exactly what he’d felt. He’d put himself out there, time and time again, making the confessions and willing to take the risks. Jonas had never done any of that. But now he would.

 

He squared his shoulders.

 

“I love you, Mikael. I always, always have. The first day I ever met you I felt like I was being electrocuted over and over again. I never thought you could feel the same way about me, and so when you told me that you did, I tried to be casual, to hide the depth of what I felt, so I wouldn’t scare you off. And then I just, I don’t know, kept hiding it. Telling myself that it was better for you if I did. Telling myself that I’d be standing in your way if I told you how I really felt.”

 

Jonas shook his head and was horrified to feel a tear at the corner of his eye.

 

“I pushed you away because I thought it would be better for you. But I don’t know if that was right anymore. Because I was never fully honest with you, and I think I should have been.”

 

Mikael blinked, an then said, “Why are you telling me this now?

 

“Because you’re my inspiration,” said Jonas, simple. “And this film? It inspired me too. So I’m just telling you, no matter the consequences, that I love you. I have loved you since I was sixteen years old, and no matter how hard I tried not to, it never went away. I love every single part of you. You’re the best person I’ve ever known, and my life feels sadder, and emptier, without you in it. Those months we were together were the happiest of my life. I want to be with you, Mikael. If you’ll have me. I’ll go wherever. I’ll do whatever. I just want to be with you.”

 

There was a long silence, then. Jonas was crying, Mikael was crying, and Jonas didn’t know if they were crying for the same reasons.

 

“You know I love you too, right? I mean, I made a whole ass film to try and tell you that.”

 

“You do?”

 

Mikael rolled his eyes. “I never stopped.”

 

And then they were kissing, and the air was warm on their faces, and the sound of the party was muffled, and Jonas knew there were things that they needed to talk about, and they probably should get inside because this was Mikael’s party after all, but at that moment, he didn’t care.

 

It was like their first kiss all over again, all the breathless newness and nervous jitters. But then it mellowed into something long, and slow, and Jonas’ back was pressed to the stone of the building and Mikael’s hands were on his chest and Jonas could feel that they were both short of breath. And they drew apart, and then back together, and between those kisses they whispered apologies and promises and whatever else they could think of through the haze of desire and reunion, and Jonas knew that, whatever he had to do, he wasn’t going to lose Mikael again. Not this time. Not now that he’d finally woken up.

 

He didn’t know how much time had passed when he heard a wolf-whistle off to the right. He and Mikael turned at the same time, breaking the kiss abruptly and blinking at the interruption. Jonas groaned when he saw Magnus there, in front, and behind him all of their friends, wearing expressions of shock, surprise, happiness, confusion, and, in the case of Yousef, a knowing gladness.

 

“What the fuck?” Even said. “You guys are together?”

 

Jonas looked at Mikael, who ducked his head into Jonas’ chest with a smile.

 

“That,” he said, taking Mikael’s hand in his and raising it to his lips. “Is a very long story.”