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greatest and most tempestuous

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Afterwards, that is, sometime after his sixth glass of champagne and his tenth round of an increasingly profane rendition of Happy Birthday (the last one boozy and slow and Peter looking at him with his wild eyes and that shock of grey hair as he sang, “happy birthday, Mr. Pigman” in a voice so low it rumbled down into the very depths of his sternum), and then, again, after a bump of coke in the bathroom that he probably should blame for the numbing in his fingertips more than the hours of banging out deranged birthday love songs on the keys, and still, again, after midnight ticked over and someone decided that the only way to commemorate starting your forties was by showering the whole lot of them with a crate of champagne, so that he couldn’t tell if it was sweat or champagne glistening on Peter’s cheekbones, after all of it – Peter finds him on the balcony, cigarette jammed between his fingers and another behind his ear and the moon hanging crooked in the sky above them, like someone haphazardly swung it up there as an afterthought, careless and a little reckless after all.

He doesn’t say hello, or even look over his shoulder, but he knows it’s Peter all the same – would know him, probably, in any incarnation of the long love song of their frenetic and incapably intertwined lives.

“Are you out here being all moody, then?” Peter scuffles over, tipping down to rest his forearms on the balcony in parallel, mirroring each other or Peter molding himself around Carl, he’s never been sure, not since they were nineteen and meeting for the first time at a party with bad music and far too many pastel-colored shirts and Peter leaned forward, wordlessly, for Carl to light his cigarette, hip cocked out in perfect counterpart, both of them going for unconcerned or at least un-self-conscious but instead landing on the kind of chaotic vulnerability that they’ve been chasing or running from for a very, very long time. “That’s my job, I’m the birthday boy.” He looks over lightly. Carl passes him the lit cigarette, the tips of their fingers brushing.

Neither of them, really, thought he would make it to forty.

“Could work up a sulk if you wanted,” he says around an exhale, both of them remembering the year Peter locked himself in the bathroom all night on Carl's birthday while Carl sat outside the door and first pleaded and then shouted for him to come out, finally falling asleep on the threshold, boots pressed against the opposite wall and thinking about how goddamn small that house was, too small, way too fucking small for the two of them and their collective army of demons. He’d only woken when Peter had come out the next morning, eyes red-rimmed and mouth a bruise, and crawled into his lap, whimpering, “M’sorry, m’sorry, forgive me, I’m terrible,” and of course, Carl had. Forgiven him, that is.

Peter looks at him, and Carl should look back – but he can’t, not yet. He wants to burnish this moment in amber and if he looks over, if he looks over –

“Come back inside,” Peter says. “They’re going to do cake soon, I think, or summat.” He takes a drag off the cigarette. “You can feed me and make fun of my arse.”

“Well,” he says, “there’s just – so much of it to make fun of, dearest one.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Peter grumbles, even though he’s vain as all hell and phoned Carl the first night his old trousers fit again, sent him a terrible, grainy mirror picture that Carl still can’t bring himself to delete. “Fuck right off.”

He sniggers, tugging the second cigarette from behind his ear and lighting it. “I’ll come in in a second,” he’s saying, but Peter’s already turning away, then turning back to look out over the wide sprawl of blue yellow lights below them, the village sparkling in reverie at nighttime.

“You uh,” he says, “haven’t give me my birthday kiss, yet, you know.”

This is profoundly a lie. Carl kissed him once on the brow this morning, at breakfast when he arrived, and again on the high point of his cheekbone for a picture, earlier, right when the party had started to pick up and they’d already managed to crack their way through the first crate of champagne.

“Oh,” Carl says, voice even. “Hm, oversight, that.” From inside he can hear the first strains of Can’t Stand Me Now starting up. Maybe he’ll have the person who requested it thrown out. He could, if he wanted to.

“Rather a big oversight,” Peter says, affecting nonchalance. His feet are bare, and he’s slouching against a rather conveniently positioned column.

“Hm,” Carl says, voice dropping low. He flicks his cigarette over the balcony and watches it hiss out of sight before drawing closer to Peter, who is looking at him, gaze going from his ankles to the tips of his curling hair, and Carl wonders how anyone could ever pretend this isn’t exactly what it is. “Sorry about that,” he says, murmuring now, as he reaches up to cup the sweet shape of Peter’s face. “Can you forgive me?”

Peter make a soft sound – he’s all softness right now; eyes sweet and wild with it, hands coming up to tug Carl closer to him, softening against the shape of him. “Could do,” he says, and even his mouth is a soft shape of longing.

Carl doesn’t say anything else – he simply presses his mouth to Peter’s, the familiar curve immediately responsive and returning under his own nudging kiss. Peter smells like champagne and menthols and a little bit like bar soap, and his hands hook comfortably into the pockets of Carl’s jeans like they’ve been doing off and on since they were nineteen and furtive. They’re a little less furtive now, but they’ve been forgiving each other for twenty years. I’m sorry I was the only one for you.

Inside, a new song is starting. Carl can’t quite exactly place it, and mostly he’s not really concerned. He’s going to kiss the love of his life for a few more sweet minutes under the moon, breathe him in, hold on to him for another minute, another hour, another year, thank god, and that’s how life goes for a little bit longer – on.