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illusion of bliss

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“So, what this says, is that people want to be liked and have a need to belong,” professor Barrière is saying as he paces back and forth in front of the class. Lucas glances to the clock for the umpteenth time in the past thirty minutes, glaring at the ticking hands as if his burning gaze could defeat the laws of time. Not so shockingly, it wasn’t working, was maybe even causing the minutes to drag on at an even slower pace.

Lucas sighs, the enmity he feels towards the matter of social psychology is palpable, and rightfully justified, in his opinion, because its classes like these that suck every ounce of life out of him. Bone dry lectures comprising of social constructionism and behaviourism, Pavlov and whatnot. It’s agonizing. Lucas tends to find more of a fascination in the biological aspect of his course, because he adores the science edge it has. The intricate workings of the brain have always avidly intrigued him, how our behaviour can be shaped by things like genetics and neuroscience and such. The content just seems to make more sense to Lucas, there’s a logic there.

“And I’ll actually go as far as saying that our need to belong is in some ways, more fundamental to our survival than food, water or shelter,” Barrière holds two hands up as if to say I said what I said. Lucas squints at him, he doubts when it comes to a life or death situation he’s really going to forego food in order to impress Cécile from his Wednesday lab class.

Consequently, it’s no surprise that Lucas is the first one out the door the second the clock hits four and his professor dismisses them, finally. Lucas immediately spots Yann leaning casually against a wall on the campus grounds when he exists the psychology building, his phone pressed against his ear.

“Who’s that?” Lucas mouths as he approaches. Yann smiles, nodding along to whatever is being said to him on the other line and inaudibly enunciating back, “Eliott.”

Lucas grins, “Hi Eliott!” He rises onto his tiptoes to yell into the phone pressed to Yann’s ear, who recoils backwards, batting Lucas’ nuisance of a face away.

“Eliott says hi back,” he mumbles reluctantly. Lucas chuckles at Yann’s evident annoyance while purposefully ignoring the way his stomach flutters at the thought of Eliott possibility smiling to himself on the other end of the phone.

“Yeah, sweet bro,” Yann is saying, as they begin to walk towards the campus gates, “We’ll see you there. Yeah, bye. Bye.” 

Yann pockets his phone. Lucas waits an appropriate five seconds until he can’t take not knowing what the two were conspiring about any longer. He glances sideways, speaking nonchalantly, “What was that about?”

There’s a bus stop right on campus, where the buses swing right past the apartment Lucas shares with Yann, Arthur and Basile. But it’s also a convenient ten minute walk, so days as pleasant as today, where Lucas and Yann finish class around similar times, they will usually wordlessly opt for the brief exposure of fresh air. The breeze that sweeps through Lucas’ hair and the sun that licks at his skin is an amiable disparity to the airless lecture hall he had just spent two hours woefully suffocating in.

“Eliott was just asking if we’d come to the party Marco is having tonight,” Yann explains, stepping to the side slightly as a panting runner loiters up behind them.

The scowl that forces its way onto Lucas’ face is something he refuses to be held accountable for, because fucking Marco, of course. Marco, who Eliott had met in his first year of university, Marco who is hot, and half Italian and has a smile Lucas doesn’t trust with a single bone in his body. Not even the infinitesimal ones that barely make up his ears.

Eliott and Marco had gotten together rather quickly, one day Eliott had been worried that he wasn’t making any friends in within new and daunting college environment, the next he was gushing about the guy in his literature class who ‘looks like he’s been carved by Greek Gods’ and ‘walks me back to my dorm after every lecture’.

Lucas had swallowed his pride at the news and tried to be as happy for Eliott as he could, after all, it’s not like he had to see Eliott falling in love with someone right in front of him. Lucas and the guys still had another year of high school to endure, so aside from the self-asserting Instagram posts he had to aversely double tap, it was tolerable. But just about.

So hearing about it was one thing. But once Lucas finished up high school and made his own leap to the college grounds, actually seeing Eliott fall in love with Marco right in front of him was, to a notable degree, so much worse.

“I thought they broke up?” Lucas questions, trying his hardest to feign indifference. Because he remembers patently, the night a mere few weeks ago when Eliott had shown up to their flat in tears because they decided to end things. He specifically recalls Eliott incessantly emphasising how it had been a mutual decision, but by his demoralised demeanour, Lucas wasn’t so sure. And that was correspondingly just as difficult for Lucas to watch, to sit back and act like his heart wasn’t lurching at the sight of Eliott’s heart breaking into millions of shatters of pieces over someone who never deserved him in the first place.

Yann only shrugs, “They did. I guess they’re still cool though.”

Quite frankly, Lucas files that as bullshit. Because Marco has been an utter asshole to Eliott, to put it in shorter terms (Lucas could probably go on about it for days if he was given free reign of a working microphone and an only moderately willing to listen crowd).

“Well don’t look too pleased,” Yann’s sardonic tone is infuriating, because Lucas thinks his animosity towards the guy is rightfully justifiable, given the circumstances.

He can’t help it, really.

Because Marco doesn’t deserve Eliott. He persistently takes Eliott for granted, and Eliott can’t see past the empty promises and tepid apologies, but he deserves so much better. Because Eliott is a pure joy, really. He deserves someone who will wake him up with warm tea every morning, someone who makes sure their schedule is always clear to go to his art exhibitions, who will be there right by his side when he has his down days.

Someone who lives to give him the world.

Not someone who undermines his passions and cute interests, or forgets about plans, or fucks off for days when Eliott is clearly in need of company.

It’s not like Lucas is jealous or anything, he’s not. And it’s not like he’s madly in love with Eliott or anything, he’s not.

He’s not, massively. Just a little.

“You know,” Yann begins slowly, cautiously, “Now that Eliott is single—”

“No.” Lucas cuts him off promptly, foreseeing the direction of his sentence and offended that Yann would even think of using his accidental knowledge of the situation against him. Accidental because Lucas refuses to take responsibility for his drunken confessions. This particular one had happened at the age of seventeen, after seeing Eliott making out with some girl at one of Emma’s notorious parties. He’s not proud of it, but it happened. So Yann knows.

“Oh come on! You’ve been pining over him for years, Lucas.”

Lucas huffs as they reach the apartment building, “I’m tired of talking about this, Yann. You know why I can’t go there, Eliott and I have been friends for way too long to jeopardize that.”

Yann swipes his key card into the slot by the door before pushing it open for Lucas to enter ahead of him, “How do you know it would jeopardize things? Eliott could feel the same.”

“He doesn’t.” Lucas knows Eliott doesn’t.

Their friendship had blossomed an impressive twelve years ago, way long before Lucas had met Yann and the others on his first day of high school. Eliott and his parents had just moved into the house next door, and even though he was a solid two years older than Lucas, they hit it off immediately. From the day a nine-year-old Eliott had rattled on Lucas’ bedroom door and announced that his mother was downstairs making pleasantries with Lucas’ mother and that he was bored of adult talk, do you want to come outside and play Pokémon? Lucas had known instantly that they were going to be great friends.

Rightfully, they became the best of friends. Inseparable to the point their mothers would tease them relentlessly for being so co-dependent. Lucas isn’t exactly sure when the lines between just friendship and wanting more than friendship became so blurred for him. He recalls sitting up in Eliott’s rickety treehouse at the age of fourteen, the moon casting a silver glow onto the highest points of Eliott’s face. He remembers the pure awe swimming within Eliott’s blue-grey eyes as he gushed about how beautiful the full moon looked, how his entire entity radiated a childlike wonder as he watched the stars paint the night sky above.

And in that moment, all Lucas could think was I think I love you.

Maybe the feeling could be classified as misconstrued, as teenage infatuation getting the best of him. Because there’s no doubt that Eliott is an attractive person, it was evident in the way all the girls at school would unabashedly fawn over him. But the fact that the feeling had stuck to him like a cat’s tail. It had become a deep-rooted desire, an insistent niggling. And it’s not like it was embedded in his need to survive. Losing the feeling, growing out of it wouldn’t be the end of the world, it would only deter his balance marginally, could even possibly help him live his life a little easier. He wouldn’t have these feelings of unrequited love, he could live contently with being just friends.

The thing is Lucas never grew out of it, because here he is, at the age of nineteen, still wholly and undoubtedly in love with Eliott Demaury.

So, alas.

Thankfully, Yann drops it, most likely catching onto Lucas’ cutting tone and not wanting to get his head bit off like he usually does during these kinds of conversations.

Basile and Arthur are in the living room arguing over a game of FIFA when they step into the flat, barely acknowledging their existence with the petulant back-and-forth they have going on.

“Are you serious? You can’t just steal my controller because you’re losing! It’s cheating!” Arthur is proclaiming, arms reaching out to snap the controller from Basile’s grasp. Basile huffs audibly, “It was only a joke calm down!”

“You’re just a sore loser,” Arthur grumbles. Basile goes to respond, but Yann clears his throat.

“You guys good?”

“Fine,” Arthur narrows his eyes at Basile, who jerks his head forward in challenge. Lucas chuckles at their infantile behaviour, falling down onto the sofa in a sigh, fuck he’s exhausted.

“So,” Yann begins, flopping almost on top of Lucas, who groans and shoves him away. “Who’s up for a party tonight?”

Arthur and Basile abandon their bickering and glance up like stunned meerkats, “Party? Where?”

“At Marco’s. Eliott invited us.”

Basile scrunches his face up, “They’re still together?”

“No,” Lucas mumbles, a little too quickly probably. He ignores Yann’s eyes burning into the side of his face as he knocks his head back against the sofa cushions. He’s really not in the mood to endure an entire night of watching Eliott pine over Marco, like at all.

“I don’t know if I’ll go, I have work in the morning,” he mumbles.

If looks could kill, Lucas thinks.

“Bullshit, dude!” Arthur argues, “C’mon! You don’t even need to drink.”

Lucas goes to protest, but the look Arthur throws him is scary. He’s pretty certain the idea of watching Eliott pine over Marco while sober sounds a whole lot worse, but he’d also like to keep his life for a little while longer, so he rolls his eyes as a wave of surrender.

So that’s exactly what’s going to happen then. Amazing.

Reluctantly, Lucas tries to enjoy himself as much as possible during pre-drinks with the guys, all while deciding to sacrifice the saviour of alcohol. Because, contrary to popular belief, he loves himself way too much to have to agonisingly suffer through an entire eight hour Saturday morning shift with a hangover.

All hopes of such fly completely out of the window, however, once they arrive at the party and Lucas spots Eliott in the kitchen speaking into Marco’s ear. They’re standing unnecessarily close for two people who have just broken up, Lucas thinks.

And fuck, he needs a drink. Like right now.

He loses Yann, Arthur and Basile somewhere amongst the midst of sweaty bodies swarmed together within the apartment. The florescent strobe of purple and blue lights and the overcrowding only act as a scapegoat to Lucas’ aggravation because he’s within Marco’s vicinity, who now has a hand on Eliott’s waist. Lucas’ need for the numbing effects of alcohol becoming increasingly more difficult to abstain from with every snail dragging second that goes by.

Their conversation doesn’t seem to last long—or it could have, Lucas doesn’t know, he’s only just arrived after all—as only a few minutes later, with Lucas already halfway through an unidentifiable pink concoction of something (something strong and nauseatingly sweet) Eliott pounces over to him.

“You came!”

Eliott is definitely tipsy, if not drunker, if his lazy smile and pink shaded cheeks are anything to go by. Lucas smiles, because although he aches for Eliott in ways unimaginable, they’re best friends first and foremost, and he’s been refining the art of hiding his feelings for five years now. He’s basically a pro at this point.

“Of course,” Lucas says sincerely, “Of course I’d come.”

“What are you drinking?” Eliott steals the plastic cup from Lucas’ loose hold, before taking a sip and scrunching his nose. “Oh fuck, tastes like straight sugar.”

Lucas chuckles, “I know, s’too sweet.”

“Just like you,” Eliott winks, with ease, like he isn’t completely ruining Lucas for anyone else in his stride.

“Come on,” Eliott sets the drink aside, and grabs onto Lucas’ hand to guide him through the crowd gathered in the kitchen, “I’ll get you something nicer.”

Eliott stays true to his word and finds Lucas something nicer to drink, or several nicer drinks. But Lucas isn’t counting, probably doesn’t even have the required brain capacity to count further than three. So he feels contently buzzed, a little giddy. Whether it’s due to the alcohol lacing in his bloodstream, or Eliott leaning against the kitchen counter beside him laughing at another one of Lucas’ dumb jokes, he can’t be too sure.

But probably the latter, if he had to guess.

Lucas shuffles in his seated position on top of the counter, bringing one leg up to his chest as the other dangles over the edge. His mother would probably slap him over the head for putting his scruffy shoes all over someone’s kitchen counter, but this is Marco’s house, Lucas reminds himself, so quite frankly he doesn’t give a fuck.

Be it petty or whatever.

“Eliott,” Lucas snickers, pulling on his sleeve, “Did you hear about the kidnapping at school?”

Eliott squints, “What?”

“Don’t worry, everything’s fine. He woke up.”

The cackle that erupts out of Eliott is incandescently beautiful, stunning. His head tilting back as a euphonious melody of laughter tumbles from his lips, his eyes squeezing shut to depict little half-moons, faint crinkles detailing his soft skin. Lucas thinks that being the inducement behind such a mesmerising fold of events is his calling in life, wants to be the reason Eliott laughs and smiles for as long as he’s alive. It’s fruitful reward is eminently thrilling.

“You’re an idiot,” Eliott chuckles once his laughter has subdued.

His face falters then, the upwards tilt to his lips fading downwards, and Lucas frowns because come back. Smile.

“Are you okay?” He asks. Eliott shakes his head so slightly Lucas almost misses it, there’s now a prominent frown on Eliott’s face. Lucas follows his line of vision across the kitchen until it lands on Marco, who is chatting rather flirtatiously with a tall blonde dude. Fucking asshole, Lucas thinks.

“Hey,” he mumbles, pulling Eliott’s eyes away from the two, “Did you two get back together?” Lucas hates that he has to ask, but it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve broken it off and then gotten back together shortly after without Lucas’ knowledge.

“No,” Eliott turns around to lean his elbows on the kitchen counter, dropping his chin onto his hands. Lucas tilts his neck, resting his own head against the cabinet behind him so he’s able to get a better view of Eliott’s face. “He says this is it. I don’t know, I think I can get him back.”

Lucas’ heart plummets. Don’t, he wants to say, he doesn’t deserve you. The idea of Eliott feeling sad over Marco, the thought of Eliott crying, or losing sleep over someone who clearly doesn’t give a damn about how Eliott feels right now, causes anger to curl inside Lucas’ stomach. Harsh waves of fury churning within him. Why do you want him back when he isn’t good to you? Lucas aches to scream out, why do you love him when he doesn’t give you the entire world like you deserve?

But it’s not his place. Eliott is an adult, can make his own decisions. It’s none of Lucas’ business, really. But it doesn’t stop the throbbing in his chest, the anguish and the hurt he feels seeing Eliott so upset.

“How are you going to do that?” Lucas asks instead, pushing the unwelcome thoughts into the furthest corner of his mind, because he isn’t that drunk. Eliott glances up to Lucas, his lips pursed in thought. A few beats pass where he looks as if he’s contemplating something, weighing up pros and cons, sussing a situation. Lucas waits.

Eventually, Eliott stands up straight, his gaze flicking around the room briefly before ultimately landing on Lucas.

“I have to make him jealous,” Eliott says, assured determination lacing his tone.

Lucas narrows his eyes, not fully able to control his involuntary expressions at such level of intoxication. “How’d you mean?”

“Like I need to make out with someone. Right now.” He glances around the room again, this time with more urgency.

“Right now?” Lucas only laughs because he’s so taken aback, shocked by the abruptness of Eliott’s outburst.

Eliott huffs out a breath, “Yeah.” He’s still looking around the kitchen, a little desperate and a little unsatisfied. And Lucas couldn’t have possibly prepared himself for what comes out of Eliott’s mouth next, no amount of preparation in the world could have made the words slap him over the face any less forcefully. Any less unexpectedly.

“We should make out.”

In essence, Eliott is considerably wasted, maybe even more so than Lucas. But it still doesn’t soften the load. And Lucas isn’t shocked, per se, Eliott has always had a tendency to come up with terrible, terrible ideas, it's been like that since they were kids. Like the time he convinced Lucas to come to school kitted in Mario and Luigi Halloween attire during March, which was just plain stupid because they weren’t even in the same year never mind the same classes. So in the end they both just looked like unpaired fools. Or the time he talked Lucas into climbing one of the highest trees in the park they would always hang out in, but Lucas had gotten stuck and they ended up having to call Eliott’s dad to come and help him down. Which was immensely embarrassing. Eliott calls his ideas hilarious, Lucas calls them a pain in the ass.

But wholeheartedly, Lucas thinks this one might just be simultaneously his worst and his best.

Because of course Lucas wants to kiss Eliott, has so since he was fourteen-years-old, and of course he wants to rub it in Marco’s dumb face, but he also only wants to kiss Eliott if it’s real, when it would mean something.

However, when he really thinks about it, Lucas can’t say no. To say no would insinuate something is wrong, that he thinks it would be weird. And it shouldn’t be weird, because it shouldn’t have to mean anything.

Then what would Eliott say if Lucas did deny? Why don’t you want to kiss me? Is there something you’re not telling me? Or, Oh okay, I’ll just go ask someone else. Maybe he’d go seek out Arthur or Yann, who in their own drunken states would agree unhesitatingly and then just laugh about it the next morning. Or maybe Eliott would find a nameless stranger who would jump on the offer without a question, would maybe even take Eliott home and do more, because look at Eliott. He wouldn’t blame them. And to Lucas, that possibility sounds so much worse.

So, so much worse.

In the end, it’s why the next words to leave Lucas’ mouth are only partially justified. Just about.

“Okay, if you think that will work.”

Eliott grins. “It will,” it’s confident, “But only if that’s okay. With you.” He’s watching Lucas inquisitively now, almost giving him a free pass out, if he wants it. Really, Lucas should take it, for his own sake. But he’s already established the fact that he’s a complete besotted idiot when it comes to Eliott. (There’s also the several spirit based drinks he’s chugged down in way too short of a space of a time to be considered healthy). Thus, a very bad, immature decision is made.

“Yeah, it’s okay.”

Eliott doesn’t look back over to Marco before he moves to face Lucas, simply locks his eyes onto Lucas’, searching for any signs of retrogression. He places a hand to Lucas’ bent knee, removing it from the counter and then spreading his legs so he can fit between them.

“Okay?” He whispers lowly. Lucas only nods, unable to form words that would even sound borderline coherent.

He blinks and Eliott’s hands are on his face, cupping his cheeks. They’re warm and large, engulfing him in their secure hold.

“I’m gonna kiss you now,” Eliott mumbles, moving closer, closer, closer.

Lucas shuts his eyes, feeling eternities shutter past before he finally feels Eliott’s lips brush against his own. It starts off soft, testing. Like the first dip of toes in the sea’s shore, but then Eliott is pressing firmer, and he’s parting his lips and Lucas feels like he’s just been submerged head first within the deepest darkest depths of the ocean’s waves. He clenches his eyes together harder when Eliott slides his tongue along Lucas’ bottom lip, and he rests his hands on Eliott’s shoulders to ground himself. A reminder to himself. This isn’t real, it’s only for show, don’t let yourself drown.

As Eliott licks into Lucas’ mouth, he finds himself aching to savour it in a way. Mainly because he’s aware this will never happen again, and maybe it’s almost like a taste of what could be, a moment of self-indulgence. A selfish insight into what it would be like if he could kiss Eliott anytime and anywhere he wanted for everyone to see.

He’s vastly aware of that now, the fact that people are most likely staring at them— the couple unashamedly making out by the bread bin. And he’s even more acutely conscious of the fact that this is Eliott’s ex’s party, and most of the people here know him, and his relationship with Marco.

Lucas is merely treading water at this stage, he’s staying afloat but his limbs are aching. Eliott’s hands are tugging the hair at the nape of his neck to move him closer and it’s only a matter of time before he can’t keep up with the thrashing waves, the tugging of his heart.

It’s only a matter of time before he drowns.

After what feels like hours, days, weeks, Eliott pulls away, but only a fraction. Lucas can feel warm breath ghost his face as Eliott speaks, “Is he looking?”

And right. Not real.

Lucas ignores the sinking in his stomach and discreetly as possible glances over to where Marco had been standing. He’s not looking. But Lucas doesn’t want to disappoint Eliott, doesn’t want him to regret this, to think it was all for nothing.

So Lucas only tells a small white lie. Just a little one.

“Yeah.”

Eliott kisses Lucas again. Perhaps, deep down, right at the bottom of the seabed, it’s what Lucas had furtively hoped for. Quietly wishing to feel the brush of Eliott’s lips against his own just one last time.

This time Eliott’s hands go for Lucas’ thighs, his grip firm as he pulls Lucas closer to him, a muffled grunt spilling from the back of his throat. Lucas tries tremendously hard to suppress the moan that threatens to surge from his own mouth, only half succeeding as the sound comes out as a satisfied hum. Which is moderately less embarrassing, but is still.

Nevertheless, Lucas has a job to do, so he pushes past it and wraps his arms around Eliott’s neck, tiling his head just so to give Eliott better access. Because selfishly, Lucas wants more.

It ends far too soon, Eliott pulling away with a slow dragging bite to Lucas’ bottom lip. Realistically, Lucas shouldn’t feel this disappointed at the loss of Eliott’s lips. But he can’t deny the sudden lack of warmth he feels, the vast emptiness overcoming him as Eliott moves further and further. Ominous.

“You’re good at that,” Eliott pants, noticeably out of breath. Lucas desperately wants to question him. What? Good at what? Good at kissing? Good at pretending?

Instead he chuckles lightly, because in truth, maybe he doesn’t really want to know the answer, maybe he can just take it as the first one and then be good at pretending that way.

With the way Eliott is looking at him— their faces perfectly level because although Lucas is sitting on a high surface, Eliott is so damn tall it barely even makes a difference, with the small tugging of his swollen lips and the crimson dusting of his cheeks—Lucas is almost able to let his mind believe this is real. That Eliott wants to kiss him because it’s him, not because he wants to make another person jealous. For a second Lucas allows himself to savour the moment, to take a picture of the pretty glint in Eliott’s eyes and lock it away into the safe possession of his heart.

Although, it isn’t real, he reminds himself. Because Eliott doesn’t feel the same. It could never be real.

It’s just pretend.

______________

 

The events after that become somewhat blurred to Lucas, lines of memories merging together, losing time and orders and recollection.

Ideally, the next morning Lucas would have woken up an hour before his shift, well rested after a healthy eight hours. He’d fade out of dreams naturally as the sun peaks her rays through his curtains, then he’d stumble into the kitchen to make himself a steaming hot coffee that would awaken his mind just that little bit more, an extra push for the day ahead.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal world.

Lucas had somehow made it home with Yann and Arthur sometime around three in the morning, he’s not particularly sure yet where Basile ends up in the equation, God knows. He had still been relatively intoxicated by the time he flopped onto his bed, the room spinning as he lay on his back willing the feeling of nausea to disappear.

And regrettably, Lucas doesn’t wake up unprovoked to the natural light beyond his window. Instead he is forcefully ripped from his imperative slumber by a heavy weight collapsing on top of him, the force of it knocking a sprout of air from his stomach. It leaves him winded and groggy, the most insufferable dull pang pulsating through his head when he only as much as tilts it slightly.

”Ow!” Lucas tenses under the weight, attempting to free his arms from the infinite tangle of sheets and limbs roping around him.

He’s fully prepared to come face-to-face with an intruder of some sort, an axe murderer or a cat burglar. What Lucas isn’t expecting, however, is for Eliott’s way too smiley, dumb face to pop up from the covers and beam down at him. 

Lucas grimaces, “Eliott. What the fuck.”

Eliott must find Lucas’ sleepy disorientation absolutely hilarious, as he chuckles brightly. “Well good morning to you too, sunshine.”

The effort it takes to shove Eliott off him and over to the side is just plain disrespectful at such an ungodly hour. But Eliott moves eventually, opting to shuffle under the covers next to Lucas and humming contently.

”What fucking time is it?” Lucas asks, shutting his eyes again because it’s early, and too bright. “And how did you even get in?” 

He hears Eliott shifting around to make himself more comfortable. “You guys didn’t lock your front door,” he laughs again, Lucas thinks if he were a little more awake right now he’d be more worried that his stomach swoons at the sound, but he also still feels considerably nauseous, so. “And it’s just gone 7am.”

Lucas snaps his eyes open at this, “7am!? Why would you wake me up this early? Are you some kind sadist?” He slaps Eliott across the chest, because he doesn’t start work until nine, which means he could have afforded another hour of sleep, at least.

Eliott only shrugs diffidently, catching Lucas’ flailing hand and linking their fingers together. The action should be anomalous, should feel incongruous, because Lucas and Eliott are just friends after all. But it’s just that. They’ve always been like that, close. Eliott has little to no perception of personal space, to be frank. And it’s not like Lucas would object, he loves it when Eliott holds his hand. It’s something they’ve always done, a comforting gesture that says, ‘are you okay?’ Or ‘I’m a little worried’, ‘I need to tell you something’, sometimes it’s a, ‘I don’t feel so good, but I don’t really feel like talking about it’.

Then sometimes, seldom, there is no apparent reason other than, ‘I just want to’.

Lucas coyly wonders what it means this time, why Eliott has decided to anchor their hands together and set little scorching flames alight to Lucas’ fingertips, burning his palm, warming his skin.

“I wanted to talk about last night,” Eliott voices after a short silence.

Lucas frowns, Last night, last night, last night. He racks his brain for memories of anything particularly significant, an event worthy enough that would cause Eliott to deem it necessary to wake him up so goddamn early. The last few hours are still a little blurred in his mind and he tries, really hard to remember. Tries to replay the scenes in his head, thinks back to how he had arrived to the party feeling pissed off, how he had abandoned all hope of staying sober, how he had spent most of the night sat on top of the counter in Marco’s kitchen with Eliott and— Fuck.

“Shit,” Lucas gasps, his face more than likely illustrating that of sheer scandal. 

And Eliott actually has the audacity to giggle, like Lucas’ world hasn’t completely tipped over on its axis and done a full one-eighty.

“Ah! There it is!” He continues to giggle at Lucas’ evident shock, the sudden realisation settling in, “He remembers.”

Yeah, like fuck Lucas remembers. He remembers kissing right in the middle of Eliott’s ex-boyfriend’s kitchen, he remembers how Eliott had ran his tongue painfully slowly along Lucas’ lips, remembers the burning feeling of Eliott’s fingers digging into the flesh of his thighs, how Eliott had hummed into the kiss, sending vibrations straight down Lucas’ throat and unfurling throughout his entire body, spreading through his limbs and pouring out through his fingertips. His fingertips which had found their home firmly within the soft strands of Eliott’s hair, resting, tugging, aching. The feeling had been disseminating.

Even still, as now, when Lucas really thinks about it, he can maybe still feel the tingling reminiscence of Eliott’s lips against his own. That soft but firm pressure lingering, longing to be remembered.

But along with all that comes the feeling of dread, of his stomach sinking like he’s just been submerged in quicksand, his body descending under thick, sticky liquid as the realisation of what he has done sets in place. The walls of Lucas’ mind almost collapse then, panic rumbling through his brain in shockwaves, the only thing stopping complete annihilation being the solid presence of Eliott’s hand in his, grounding him back to earth.

Lucas had always thought, if the slightest possibility, even the microscopic chance of him kissing Eliott were to ever occur it would feel like nothing on earth— like asteroids colliding in galaxies above in an explosion of sparks and stardust. It would be a feeling like no other. A feeling so sensational and unfathomable because it’s all he’s ever wanted, all Lucas has ever dreamed about.

Eliott is the only person Lucas has truly ever wanted to kiss. And he hates to admit it, but even when kissing or sleeping with other guys, most of the time all Lucas is thinking about is Eliott.

I wonder if Eliott would bite my lip like that, he probably would, but he’d do it softer, he’d be gentle about it. I wonder if Eliott would grip my hips like that, I bet the pressure would feel so much better under Eliott’s hands.

It’s incessant in that sense, and hereby unsettling.

Right now though, Lucas doesn’t feel alleviated in the slightest. He’s not really sure what to say, he’s pretty certain he looks stunned out of his damn mind. Does he laugh? Does he panic? Apologise? Cry?

Fuck knows at this point, he’s clearly way beyond being able to exhibit any semblance of rationality in the slightest. That’s what you get for drinking yourself stupid, he supposes.

“Yeah I remember,” Lucas settles on saying, because it’s the safest thing he can think of, and he doesn’t really trust his voice enough to say anything more.

Eliott is chewing on his bottom lip, his eyes wandering around the room, landing on every surface and object bar Lucas. It’s unnerving, the pauses he’s deciding to take between his responses, as if he’s nervous, as if he’s walking on eggshells.

“I think it kind of worked,” Eliott eventually speaks. He glances back to Lucas again, his hair dishevelled against the pillowcase, the sun filtering in through the window behind Lucas and painting his face in gold.

Not for the first time in the past twelve hours or so, Lucas’ stomach drops, the nausea that had been intermittently teasing him churning at an alarming rate. He swallows thickly, willing the feeling of disappointment to ease down.

“Oh,” he tries his best to appear nonchalant, tries to keep his voice casual, “So you’re back together?”

Eliott is shaking his head, “No, no.” Lucas actively ignores the relief that overcomes him. He isn’t yours to feel jealous over, the logical part of his brain reminds him. “But Marco’s been texting me about it. A lot of people saw.” Lucas fucking bets, it had escalated into something pretty heated fairly quickly, anyone who didn’t see must have been on a whole other planet.

“What’s he saying?”

“Just asking whether I’m into you now and stuff, like since when…” Eliott trails off, his eyes fixated on the area behind Lucas’ head and his hand fluttering up to tug at his bottom lip.

“What did you tell him?” Lucas asks, because he has a death wish, clearly. And maybe a small part of him wants to let himself believe Eliott’s visible apprehension is due to nerves, wants to pin it down to maybe he is into me now, maybe the kiss made him realise things, maybe he’s loved me all along.

“I haven’t responded yet,” Eliott admits, falling silent for another few moments before eventually huffing out an exaggerated exhale of breath. His eyes snap back to Lucas’, “Okay, so I’m gonna ask you something, and you can totally say no, because it’s just an idea. But I really think it could work, since Marco’s already acting clingy after us just kissing, but again, there’s no pressure, it could be really dumb. I don’t know—”

“Eliott,” Lucas cuts his insufferable ranting off, “What are you saying?”

Eliott takes another breath, “Do you think we could do it again, but like, for longer. Pretend to be together, I mean.”

That’s— that’s not what Lucas had expected. In the slightest. But it wouldn’t be the first time in the past twenty four hours Eliott has thrown a ticking time bomb into his hands. It’s faint but persistent countdown deafening, unnerving. Tick, tick, tick. The incessant reminder that that these kinds of things never have a good outcome (Lucas has seen Pretty Woman, several times) And Lucas is just left stunned, stuck between diffusing the loose cannon so he can make it out the other end alive, and just watching it count down to zero. To see if it will explode in his palms, his world combusting, or if he’ll be met with an edge cutting muteness. Silence.

Lucas freezes, his eyebrows knitting together, “You want us to fake date?”

Eliott chuckles lightly, untangling his hand from Lucas’ to run a thumb along his forehead, “You’re gonna get premature wrinkles if you keep frowning at me like that,” he says, master of deflection.

The sudden loss of Eliott’s hand in his shouldn’t feel as disheartening as it does, but at the same time he’s thankful for the space. He ignores Eliott’s comment with a blasé look, “Eliott.”

Eliott deflates, “Never mind. It’s a bad idea, sorry.”

In hindsight, this should have been the point in the conversation where Lucas agrees, because Eliott is absolutely right, it is diabolically the worst idea he’s ever had. But once again, Lucas lacks the ability to function as a sagacious human being, hence, “No it’s not.”

“What?” Eliott looks taken aback.

Lucas sighs, “You really like Marco, don’t you?”

He nods, it only marginally crushes Lucas’ heart. Be happy for him.

“What would this entail then?” Lucas regrettably asks, “Us pretend dating?”

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Eliott purses his lips, “I haven’t really thought about it. I guess it would be a bit like last night, you know, kissing, holding hands, the kinds of things couples do.” Lucas only laughs because otherwise the clench in his throat would probably escape as a sob, or a whimper. Something mortifying.

He contemplates the offer, tries to weigh up the pros and cons. By agreeing what would Lucas gain from this, really? Sure, he’d get to kiss Eliott, he’d get to hold his hand in public, and rub it in Marco’s face in the process. But really, truly, what will he achieve? A broken heart, most likely, when Eliott inevitably drops him to get back with Marco.

Because that’s the end goal, isn’t it?

So in the end Lucas doesn’t know why he agrees, if you asked him why he probably wouldn’t even be able to articulate his reasoning.

“Alright then.”

Eliott’s eyes widen slightly, “Alright?”

Lucas nods, “Yeah. I mean, it’s no big deal, right? We go to a few parties and kiss or whatever. Like you said, Marco is already sweating it, less than two weeks max, no?”

“I hope so.”

Ignoring, again, the tiny pin prickles at his heart, Lucas lifts his head to rest on his palm, Eliott still looking softly stunning beside him. “Well, we need terms then.” He’s not sure when it became his role to negotiate the planning of said terrible idea, but here they are.

“Yeah,” Eliott rolls onto his back, crossing his arms over his chest above the duvet, “We can’t tell anyone about it, word will find its way around. It’s too risky.”

Lucas frowns, “Not even the guys?”

“Especially not the guys. No offence, but Basile can’t keep a secret for shit.”

“None taken,” Lucas chuckles, falling back into the sheets. “So what do we tell people then? We can’t just start dating out of nowhere.”

Eliott makes a vague gesture with his hand, “We just say it’s been manifesting for a while, friends gone lovers or something. People eat that shit up, trust me.”

Too right, Lucas thinks, if only you knew the half of it. Eliott turns his head to look at Lucas then, waiting for his approval, or dismissal. Lucas purses his lips in deep contemplation, “And what about when Marco wants you back, what do we do then? Fake a breakup?”

It’s an indispensable question, something that desperately needs to be set in stone. Because realising you’re in love with your childhood best friend but then breaking your neck to get back with your ex soon after isn’t exactly normal behaviour. It definitely isn’t something Eliott would ever do either.

“I don’t know,” Eliott pauses briefly, “Fuck, this seems so much easier in the movies. Maybe we should just cross that bridge when we come to it.”

They’re playing a dangerous game, toeing on hazardous territory. Lucas is fully expecting Eliott to bring fire into the ring next, may as well raise the stakes— suspend Lucas’ heart from a three thousand foot tightrope, wait for it to fall off and then cheer as it spatters to the floor.

Lucas wants to tell Eliott they should be thinking of these things, this isn’t a high school mock exam that they can just waltz into with no preparation. They can’t just wing it and guess as they go along, hoping for the best that no one gets hurt and everything turns out okay.

But that would insinuate that Lucas is thinking about it too much. He is. But that’s not the point. The point is that Lucas can’t have Eliott thinking he’s worried about getting his heart broken, that this has to mean anything other than one friend helping another friend out. No strings attached, strictly platonic, meaningless, pretend.

So Lucas shuts his mouth and nods, “Yeah, okay then.”

Eliott exhales through his nose, a gust of realisation, “Fuck, so we’re really doing this then? Do I have to formally ask you to be my pretend boyfriend now? Is there a system for this?”

Lucas flicks him on the nose, smiling when Eliott scrunches his face in response. It’s fucking cute. “Of course not you dumbass.”

“Okay, you have to promise you won’t fall in love with me though,” Eliott teases.

I already am in love with you, Lucas thinks, his heart thudding a terrifying rhythm in his chest that makes him feel lightheaded, as if Eliott has the power of telepathy and would somehow be able to read his thoughts.

“You wish,” Lucas sticks his tongue out a little childishly instead. Deflect, deflect, deflect. If only Eliott knew how deep his words cut, how far gone Lucas already is, how gravely his heart already aches for it.

Eliott hums, faux unconvinced, “I know it may be hard for you, you know with my staggering looks and ten out of ten personality and everything.” He rises onto his elbow, grinning devilishly down at Lucas, “I’ll understand if you can’t contain yourself. So, I’ll give you a safe word. Daffodil. Just in case.”

Lucas sqints, “Daffodil?”

“Daffodil.”

Lucas chuckles at Eliott’s assertiveness and abrupt head nods. So they really are doing this then, Lucas isn’t sure whether he should be terrified or excited at the prospect of being Eliott’s boyfriend. Or fake boyfriend.

Details.

“Are you sure you’re okay to do this?” Eliott asks then, his wicked smile fading into uncertainty.

Deflect, deflect, deflect, Lucas reminds himself.

“Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”

Eliott shrugs, “Just making sure.” His voice is a lot more weighted next, his eyes lacing sincerity, “And I’m serious, if at any time you get sick of it and want to stop, just tell me. I won’t take offense.”

“I know,” Lucas says, not expecting his voice to come out so quietly.

He knows Eliott would never intentionally hurt him, Eliott wouldn’t harm a fly. If Lucas gets his heart broken it’s his own fault, really. Because he doesn’t have to do this, Eliott isn’t forcing him, nobody’s forcing him. It’s his own choice. So he’ll take full responsibility for any repercussions, although he highly doubts there will be any. He’s been existing with these feelings for Eliott for years now and Yann is still the only person to know. He’s good at pretending.

Which strikes his next thought, the dreaded realisation that Yann knows, and is more than likely to say some unfavorable things that could put Lucas in an extremely undesirable position.

Lucas can just picture it: “Finally! You know Eliott, Lucas has been fawning over you like a lovesick puppy for years! I told him you’d feel the same. I knew you two would get together eventually. Did I mention the fact that Lucas told me he’s in love with you?”

Yeah, Lucas can’t have that. Absolutely not. He’ll need to speak to him before Eliott does and things go pear shaped real fast.

He glances at the clock on his bedside table, noting the considerable jump in time and deciding he should probably start getting ready for work. He tells Eliott as such, who lets out an exasperated groan, “Ugh. Can I stay here? ‘m so tired.”

The way Eliott buries himself into Lucas’ covers is hands down the most adorable thing Lucas has ever seen, his heart physically melts. He rolls his eyes while forcing himself out of bed, “Knock yourself out.”

Eliott hums, satisfied, pulling Lucas’ duvet entirely over his shoulders and letting his eyes fall shut. And Lucas doesn’t, repeat doesn’t, stand with his hand hovering over the door handle watching the gentle rise and fall of Eliott’s breathing under the covers. He doesn’t smile to himself at the adorable furrow between Eliott’s eyebrows and the slight parting of his lips as he tucks his nose into the material of the pillow.

He doesn’t.

Lucas gets ready for work on autopilot, his mind racing like crazy. And once the apartment door clicks shut behind him, he lets out a strained breath that he hadn’t realised he had been holding in all morning.

And as soon as he’s on the bus, en route to work—admittedly twenty minutes earlier than necessary, because his chest couldn't have handled another torturous second of thumping as he lay next to Eliott in bed—he pulls out his phone to send Yann a text. (Since he had still been sound asleep when Lucas left the apartment).

Hey, I really need to talk to you, he types a little desperately. Please don’t say anything to Eliott about last night or if Eliott tells you anything please just go along with it. I’ll explain everything later. Please.

As Lucas hits send, he rests his pounding forehead against the cool glass of the bus window with a sigh, and he really hopes Yann has the decency to keep his mouth shut.

Chapter Text

The vivid evocation of the first time Lucas came out is etched into the walls of his mind, the prominence of it carved against his most sacred memories, engraving itself into both conscious and unconscious. He remembers it so clearly. He was fifteen, he and Eliott had just raced up the steepest hill in the park near their houses. Realistically, it wasn’t that high of a mound, but it was still precipitous enough to have them panting out strained breaths and collapsing to the ground upon reaching the top.

The sun had just begun to set, gold painting the sky as an orange glow fell over them and warmed their skin. It was a refreshing polarity against the slight dampness of grass beneath them. And as they lay side-by-side, Lucas remembers the distinct feeling of Eliott’s patent nerves emitting like a wildfire next to him as he searched for Lucas’ hand.

“Are you okay?” Lucas breaks the silence between them.

Eliott hums, lacing his fingers with Lucas’ and letting them fall onto his chest, every so often running his thumb along the back of Lucas’ hand, leaving internal trails of fire in his path. He’s silent for a few more moments before speaking again, barely a whisper.

“Do you know what pansexual means?”

Curiously, Lucas watches Eliott’s side profile, “I’ve kind of heard of it, but not really. Why?”

“I read about it in an article. It’s like… when you’re attracted to someone regardless of like, their sex or gender identity, is the gist of it.”

“Oh.”

Eliott lets out a shaky breath, finally glancing over to Lucas, “I think that’s what I am, pansexual.”

“Okay,” Lucas whispers, his eyes adhered to Eliott’s, their gazes solid and unwavering as he squeezes Eliott’s hand.  “Thank you for telling me.”

The smile that paints itself across Eliott’s face is mesmerising, a burst of radiance Lucas wants to write sonnets about, to hang in museums, parade at the forefront of The Louvre and then ink into a summer’s sky.

“I feel like that too,” Lucas murmurs next, a wave of confidence rippling within him. “I mean, with boys,” because he has felt it for a while, how he finds himself avoiding relationships with girls, how his thoughts drift to boys and strong arms and deep voices more often than not. “I think I just like boys.”

Or he just likes Eliott, he doesn’t say that part out loud though.

Eliott smiles, warm and earnest. “That’s cool, Lucas. Thanks for telling me too.”

And that was that.

Lucas smiles as he refills the muffin tray in the counter window display, reminising on the memory, of how nervous he and Eliott had both been in that moment. So young and innocent. For Lucas because he’s never worried about the fact that he’s gay, he loves that part of himself; because he doesn’t care about telling people, doesn’t care who knows, but telling Eliott held that little bit more significance. Because having Eliott’s support is all Lucas had really cared about. His opinion paramount.

“Lucas, you’re going to squash all the muffins if you fuss over them any more!” Daphné’s voice pulls Lucas from his reverie. She bats his hands away before sliding the glass door shut.

“Sorry,” Lucas mumbles, realising how zoned out he had become.

It’s eerily empty in the coffee shop Lucas works at, save for two students taping away on their laptops at separate tables. The quiet is unwonted for a bright Saturday morning, usually the place is thriving at this time— the thick scent of coffee overpowering everything in its path and the chatter of customers adding to the lively atmosphere. Although, it’s not like Lucas is complaining about the lack of movement or anything, it means he doesn’t have to think too much, which is especially convenient given his mind is currently elsewhere.

Elsewhere, as in complete Eliott overdrive.

“It’s fine,” Daphné leans against the counter, exhaling dismally. “I wish it was two o’clock already,” another sigh. “I’m meeting Elena for lunch, you see. There’s this new bagel place in… uh, I actually can’t remember where, definitely somewhere in the Latin Quarter anyway. I think… or maybe…” She trails off, eyebrows furrowing in perplexity.

Lucas lets her ramble on, it’s a common theme for them—for Daphné to chat about her life at an unfaltering rate for the majority of their shared shifts while Lucas passively listens. Someone a lot more with it would probably find it discernibly more annoying— having to constantly endure rants about her friendship dramas, wardrobe malfunctions, the essays she can’t keep on top of, the weekend she had just spent with her girlfriend. But Lucas just finds himself thoroughly amused, it helps the time go by quicker at least.

“How are things? With you two, I mean,” Lucas asks, wiping the stickiness of icing from his fingers with a damp cloth.

Daphné’s face lights up at this. Lucas envies her slightly, and the happiness she’s found in her relationship. Not that he isn’t pleased for her, he is, tremendously so. It’s just when someone has something you’ve been aching to be able to get a taste of for so many years, when you long for something so desperately it almost becomes the predominance of your existence—as unhealthy as it sounds, almost as fundamental as your need for air— it’s a little difficult to not feel disheartened.

Lucas internally sneers at himself, thinking back to how he had mocked his professor for suggesting something along the same lines only yesterday.

“It’s amazing! Thank you for asking!” She gushes, “We were talking about maybe moving in together next year, but we aren’t too sure yet. I wouldn’t want to leave Imane, Alexia and Emma without a forth flatmate, you know? That would be shitty, rent is extortionate enough as it is. And with Manon in London now it’s unlikely they’ll be able to find someone that’ll be completely reliable.”

Lucas nods along, pretending he’s able to keep up with the rapid speed of her words, “Yeah, how are the girls by the way?”

“Oh! They’re good. But hey! It’s been quite a while since we all got together as a group, you know, you guys and us girls. We should definitely organise something!”

He tries not to visibly wince at her vocal enthusiasm. Not that he’s majorly hungover— he definitely deserves to feel a lot worse than he currently does after last nights antics—but his head just feels like it’s in turmoil. He feels a million things whirling about his brain that, to be honest, he really wants to pretend don’t exist.

Despite this, Lucas smiles, “Yeah that sounds good, Daph. You can think of something though, I’m no good at planning things.”

She lets out a little squeal at this, bursting with excitement at the suggestion. “Of course! I’ll text you when I speak to the girls.”

“Great,” he chuckles at her animated exhilaration, “I’ll let the guys know.”

It’s an hour or so later that the chime of the café door opening has Lucas rising up from where he had been brushing some rogue coffee beans into a dustpan behind the counter. He plasters on his most exquisite customer service smile, preparing himself to be met with a stressed caffeine deprived student, but instead finds Yann standing opposite him.

“I got your text,” Yann announces, foregoing the need for greetings and raising his eyebrows expectantly.

And right, of course. Lucas had been simultaneously trying to forget about the fact that he needed to have this conversation with Yann, while also frantically trying to think up what he was going to say. Because what does he say? Hey, just letting you know Eliott and I are going to pretend to be dating for a few weeks so he can get back with his ex. It’s no big deal. Also please don’t tell him that I’m actually in love with him.

Admittedly, those are the exact words that would explain the situation perfectly, but they also sound like the most ridiculous words that have ever entered Lucas’ brain. Thus, it should act as another red flag, should send alarm bells blaring inside of Lucas’ mind as a reminder that this is singlehandedly the dumbest thing he has ever let Eliott drag him into. Yet, Lucas doesn’t find himself wanting to back out in the slightest, which is a little scary, makes him feel somewhat worried for his own wellbeing.

Clearly he has a thing for self-destruction.

“Yeah,” Lucas sighs, “I go on break in ten minutes, you wanna wait?”

Yann nods, “Sure, I’ll take one of those muffins though,” he points to the arrangement of chocolate treats. Lucas picks him out the largest one then mumbles a covert, “It’s on me,” in hopes Daphné doesn’t hear and scold him for it.

Maybe it’ll ease the brunt of the burden he’s about to dump onto him.

Ten minutes drag by slower than a snail’s pace, and Lucas can feel Yann’s eyes on him the entire time as he takes and prepares orders. But as soon as the clock hits twelve, Lucas is hanging his apron up on the rack and allowing Daphné to take over the till without a second glance back. He makes his way over to where Yann is sitting in one of the corner tables, dropping down opposite him.

“Hey,” he says, dragging Yann’s attention away from his phone.

“What’s up?”

Lucas glances to the painting on the wall behind Yann’s head, a particularly melodramatic scene of a ship trashing in the waves, the people on board looking panicked and frantic. Lucas has never been one to feel connected to pieces of art like this (although the occasional drawings Eliott will present to him cause his heart to pang with pride, that’s only really because they’ve been specifically done by Eliott for him. For Lucas).

But now, eyes skimming over the catastrophe of the sinking ship, Lucas feels like he can empathise. Feels like a Titanic chamber about to explode with the heavy impact of gushing water. And Yann is looking at him, bored expression on his face because it’s been a solid forty seconds and Lucas still hasn’t said anything.

“Last night…” Lucas trails off, Yann hums. “You know what happened right? With Eliott?”

“What happened?” Yann looks confused, Lucas sees his ears perk up slightly like he’s secretly itching to find out if there’s any notable drama to be aware of.

Oh boy, Lucas thinks, he has no idea what’s coming.

“You didn’t see?”

Yann shakes his head. And Lucas inwardly groans, because now he has to fucking say it, has to repeat the words. He swallows thickly, “Uh. Eliott and I... we uh… we kissed.”

The last word is muffled by Lucas’ hand and his reluctance to actually let it escape into the space between them. But Yann must hear him crystal clear, because Lucas has never seen someone’s eyes jump so far out of their sockets. He almost wouldn’t be surprised if they had fallen out onto the table and splattered across the tiled floor.

“You kissed Eliott!?” He exclaims, much too piercing for the quiet of the café. Lucas hushes him, “Not so loud, oh my god! It’s not what you think.”

“What? You both get drunk and realise you can’t hold back anymore? It happens Lucas, it’s no big deal. Maybe now I won’t have to watch you two pine over each other like a bunch of sad puppies.”

Lucas rolls his eyes, “We do not pine over each other.”

Yann looks like he’s about to intervene, but Lucas silences him again, “And like I said, it’s not what you think.”

“What do you mean?” Yann questions, fiddling with his empty muffin case, tearing it into small pieces and letting them float onto the table. Lucas watches them, his own hands itching to toy with something, nerves reeling through him.

“Eliott only asked me to kiss him because he wanted to make Marco jealous. He thinks it’ll help get him back or something.”

Or something.

The look Yann gives him is equally hilarious and terrifying, it makes Lucas want to crawl under the table out of fear of being laughed or yelled at. He’s not quite sure which one Yann is leaning more towards.

“And did you know that?” Yann finally speaks, “Did you know before he kissed you it was for that reason.”

Lucas looks to the table again, with his eyes downcast it maybe doesn’t feel as daunting explaining the situation to Yann. He nods once, “Yeah, I knew.”

Yann drops his face into his hands with a groan, “Lucas, what the fuck?”

And Lucas is only partially scared for his life, because he hasn’t even told Yann the worst part yet. He nudges Yann’s shin with his foot, “Hey, it’s not a big deal.”

Yann drops his hands, tilting his head to look at Lucas pointedly, “Oh no?”

“No.” Lucas shakes his head stubbornly.

“So the text you sent, when you told me to go along with whatever Eliott tells me, what did you mean by that?”

Lucas nibbles on his bottom lip, glancing over to the old rickety clock above the café door. He notes that he still has fifteen minutes of his break left and there is no way in hell he’s going to be able to wiggle himself out of the conversation at this point. So he sighs, and he takes the final leap of faith from the sinking ship into the furious ocean.

“Eliott asked if we could pretend to be together for a while, to help him get back together with Marco.”

This time, Yann’s face is the epitome of impassive. Lucas thinks he could give Jim Halpert a run for his money, probably. It also looks like he’s stuck between slapping Lucas over the back of the head and standing up to leave. Lucas wouldn’t really blame him, but instead he only sighs.

”And you agreed?” Lucas nods. “You know how fucking stupid that is, right? You remember when you told me how you’re in love with Eliott? Do you think this could end well? For either of you?”

Lucas wants to remind Yann he has no right in telling Lucas what to do with his feelings. But he’s also acutely aware of the fact that Yann knows more than anyone else about this, he has that leverage over him. And even though Lucas is confident Yann would never tell anyone about Lucas’ secret— because Yann isn’t like that, he keeps his word and Lucas wholeheartedly trusts him with his life. But he can’t help but feel a little vulnerable knowing that part of him is rested somewhere else, somewhere out of his control. Hates that there’s a small, infinitesimal chance it could find its way out into the world and fall right into Eliott’s hands.

Into Eliott’s hands, which have the power to completely crush Lucas in a single heartbeat.

“You can’t tell him about that,” Lucas says, because he just has to be clear. He needs to make sure.

Yann shakes his head, the hard lines of his face softening slightly, “I would never. You know I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“I know,” Lucas whispers, feeling a little shameful that he had even slightly harboured the thought.

“So are you pretending to be dating in front of everyone or just Marco? How does this work?”

Lucas purses his lips, thinking back to his conversation with Eliott just this morning. They hadn’t really discussed it in that much depth, there’s definitely more details in need of being ironed out. But the basics they had covered, at least.

“Everyone. Eliott thinks telling people could only come back to bite us in the ass.”

Yann chuckles lightly, “Does he know you’re telling me?”

“No,” Lucas mumbles ashamedly, “And you can’t tell him that either.”

The look Yann throws him is comical, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing.

“Yann,” Lucas pleads, “Please. You can’t say anything.”

“You know… when this all goes to shit—” He starts to say. Lucas huffs out a frustrated breath.

“It won’t.”

They stare at each other, almost challengingly. Yann squints as if he’s trying to wheedle his way into Lucas’ mind and grasp his thoughts, make sense of the hurricane spiraling within his brain. Good luck with that, Lucas thinks, he can’t even apprehend the mess going on up there himself. Can only just about think past the savage, unyielding winds lashing at the shore and the roof tiles thrashing from the walls of his mind. Shattering and spinning. Furious and terrifying.

“Look,” Yann sighs in surrender, “I’m not here to tell you what to do, I’m not your mother. But as your friend, I just need to make sure you know how dumb this is. The last thing I want is to see you get hurt.”

Lucas frowns, he does know it’s dumb. It’s already all he can’t think about. But he knows Eliott, and he knows their friendship. He knows it like the back of his hand, all their secrets and memories engraved into his skin. Permanent reminders of happy, carefree days and tougher, draining ones. Of sleepless nights spent confessing internal struggles within the safe haven of Eliott’s treehouse. They know things about each other nobody else does, they understand each other, they trust each other. “Eliott would never hurt me.”

“Not intentionally, no. But he doesn’t know how you feel, Lu.”

He’s right. And maybe it’s neighbouring on selfish on Lucas’ part, how he’s allowing himself to fall into this— this thing with Eliott. All while Eliott is completely oblivious to Lucas’ true feelings. Maybe it’s self-serving of him to kiss Eliott and tell people Eliott is his when Eliott is ignorant to the fact that Lucas is completely in love with him. Maybe that’s inconsiderate, reckless, perhaps. Because in that way Eliott has no say. If Eliott was aware of Lucas’ feelings there’s no chance on earth he would suggest they do this, he wouldn’t even entertain the possibility. And Eliott isn’t his, never will be.

So it is selfish, because to Eliott this is meaningless, there’s no emotions attached, no deeper sentiment. But to Lucas, being able to kiss Eliott is the world—which is the most dangerous part, because it shouldn’t mean anything, it shouldn’t hold that weight.

But it still means everything. Stupidly so.

“I’ll be okay,” Lucas says sincerely. He only half believes his own words.

______________

                 

“Lucas! You have to at least look like you want to be somewhat near me,” Eliott whines, moving his phone away from their faces to glare at Lucas.

They’re in Eliott’s apartment, more specifically his bedroom. Since Idriss and Sofiane are both home and admittedly, trying to negotiate the logistics of a fake couple selfie in the presence of others is for one, embarrassing, and two, the first dead giveaway that they are, in fact, not in a real relationship.

“What do you want me to do!? I’m smiling! Look!” Lucas throws Eliott his most shit-eating grin, teeth coming out to play and everything. Eliott doesn’t seem impressed.

He scrunches his eyebrows together, “No don’t smile! Just look happy.”

Lucas squints, “I’m pretty sure smiling equals happy.”

Eliott just seems more annoyed by Lucas’ inability to grasp and follow his directions. He sits up, leaving Lucas lying stomach down on the bed by himself. Lucas follows the movement over his shoulder.

“I mean smitten happy, you know? Like you wanna jump my bones.”

And fuck, this is really going to be the death of Lucas, isn’t it? There’s no coming back from this level of self-sabotage.

Lucas raises his eyebrows, puffing out an amused breath, a little affronted and taken aback, “You think I wanna jump your bones?”

He does, but whatever.

Eliott just rolls his eyes, clearly over it. “Come here,” he demands, “I’ll show you.”

Cautiously, Lucas sits up as well, staring at Eliott who is sat against his headboard, holding his arms out. Lucas crawls closer apprehensively, a bit awkwardly since he doesn’t really understand what Eliott wants from him, where he wants him.

But once he’s close enough within Eliott’s reach, he’s being pulled by the waist right into Eliott’s lap. He lets out an oouff sound at the abruptness of it, all traces of oxygen leaving his lungs stranded and gaping.

He certainly has no clue what to be doing now that he’s practically straddling Eliott, who has his arms wrapped around Lucas’ waist firmly.

“Now turn,” Eliott instructs.

Lucas gulps, “Huh?”

Eliott sighs again, taking things into his own hands and practically manhandling Lucas until he’s positioned between Eliott’s legs, facing forwards with his back to Eliott’s chest. Lucas can only steady out his breathing and his rapid heartbeat so stealthily because he’s done it so many times before.

He feels Eliott rest his chin to the crook of his neck then, his face close, so close. “And we take it like this,” Eliott mumbles, holding his phone up again.

Lucas studies their reflection in the front facing camera, watches how Eliott’s face fits almost perfectly into the curve of Lucas’ shoulder like the space was made just for him, how his smile is soft, his eyes shifted sideways to land on Lucas, also just as soft. Lucas swallows the thickness in his throat and does his best to mirror Eliott’s expression, to a muted down extent. Because he can’t, just can’t allow himself to lose that mask he has tried so hard over the years to paint on. Especially not in a photo for everyone and anyone to click on. A moment like that, so intimate and real should be reserved for Eliott only, if he ever wanted it, if Lucas ever decides to let his walls tumble down.

Which he won’t, anytime soon at least.

So as Lucas smiles back, slight and gentle, he allows himself to enjoy the fleeting moment. A lightning quick second where he can pretend this is something that it’s not for just a heartbeat. Like Eliott is looking at him like he’s the most precious grace on earth for anything other than for what it really is.

A transient glimmer of wishful thinking.

“There!” Eliott exclaims, pulling away from Lucas just as quickly, the vast emptiness of it alarmingly forbidding.

Lucas crawls forward to face Eliott, feeling a lot more composed with a decent foot between them now. He clears his throat, willing his voice not to crack upon speaking. “All good?” Eliott only hums happily, smiling down at his phone and tapping away at the screen.

“You think this is the best way to do this? Telling people with an Instagram post? It’s extremely millennial of us.”

Eliott’s laugh is brighter than the sun, “I think so. It’s easier than having to tell loads of people individually, you know? We can just put the photo out there and let it work its magic for us.”

Lucas bites his bottom lip, smiling teasingly, “In other words, you’re lazy.”

Eliott looks affronted by the mere suggestion, finally looking up and narrowing his eyes at Lucas. “Fuck off. It’s not lazy, it’s tactical.”

“Whatever.”

“Well I don’t see you coming up with any better ideas. So quiet please, I’m working.” He nudges Lucas’ knee with his socked foot. Lucas catches his ankle, for no reason other than just to hold it.

“What are you going to caption it?” Lucas asks, running a thumb lazily along the bones of Eliott’s ankle as he goes back to staring at his phone.

His response takes a while, too consumed in whatever he’s doing, “Uh…” He furrows his eyebrows, still not looking up, “I was just gonna put like, a heart? A red heart?”

“A read heart?” Lucas deadpans.

“Yeah,” Eliott’s eyes glance up, “What’s wrong with that?

“It’s boring.”

“It’s romantic!”

They stare at each other, testing, but Lucas is the first to break his charade with a loud cackle, because he can’t take Eliott’s fake angry eyes seriously. Never really has been able to. 

“Okay, you do you, I guess.” 

Eliott stares down at his phone hopelessly, eyebrows knitted in contemplation. “Well what else could I write?”

Lucas hums triumphantly, knowing he’s won this one. But to be honest he doesn’t really have an answer, he had only gone into this one with the intention of teasing and inducing Eliott’s captivating smile. 

”Caption it...” he screws his face up in thought, “Uh.”

It’s now Eliott who’s laughing, gleeful and ebullient. Beautiful. “Ha! See you don’t even know.”

Lucas gives up, falling back onto Eliott’s mattress to just let him get on with it. A few minutes pass, Lucas gazes up at the ceiling, Eliott’s ankle still held in his grasp, tries to convince himself there’s a need. 

”Done.”

His voice causes Lucas to look back over, “What? You posted it already?” Eliott grins, nodding. Lucas turns onto his side, “What did you caption it then?”

Eliott looks down at his phone, reading the words aloud, “It says, him, with a red heart.”

Of course it would take Eliott that long to come up with one word, he looks far too pleased with himself for such minor accomplishment. Lucas giggles lightly, “It’s one word more than a red heart, at least.”

”It already has forty-two likes so you can stop complaining.”

Lucas watches the small satisfied smile tugging at Eliott’s lips and feels an aching twinge in his heart. Because Eliott isn’t smiling for the reason Lucas wants him to be smiling, he’s smiling because this works, because it’s believable and he knows it will have Marco crawling back in no time. And it shouldn’t hurt Lucas as much as it does. It shouldn’t.

It’s what he signed up for, after all.

There’s a commotion of footsteps and voices travelling down the hallway then, and before Lucas knows it Eliott’s bedroom door is being flung open, Idriss and Sofiane standing in the entryway. They look frantic, if not a little thrilled. 

Idriss holds up his phone, from the distance between Eliott’s bed and where his two flatmates are standing, Lucas can just about make out the selfie he and Eliott had just taken open on the Instagram app.

“Guys…” Idriss pants, pointing to the screen, “Is this what I think it is?”

The two boys share the same expression, radiating clear anticipation, but holding back slightly in disbelief. Their eyes wide and curious, limbs itching to flail in excitement.

Lucas should find their enthusiasm concerning, but instead he’s just amused. He’s always had an immense appreciation for Idriss and Sofiane, how they’ve stuck by Eliott the way they have. And Lucas will admit, he was greatly relieved when Eliott had moved out of his dorm to live with the two for his second year of university, because it meant he would always have someone around that got him, that would be there for him when Lucas couldn’t— because quite frankly he’s never trusted Marco to do jack shit.

When Eliott was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Lucas was the first person he had told. Sixteen-year-old Eliott had been terrified foremost, but then he was telling Lucas how relieved he was, because he had been living with this cloud of uncertainty over his head for so long, and now he finally had something to define it as.

There’s a word for these things I’m feeling Lucas, Eliott had said, wet smile slapped across his face. I thought I was going crazy, you know? I couldn’t understand why I was acting the way I was, why I was thinking certain things. But I wasn’t going crazy. There’s other people who feel like this, too. And I just feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, because I know now. I’m not crazy.

You’re not crazy, Lucas had mumbled back sincerely, pulling Eliott into his arms, you were never crazy. He wholeheartedly meant it, and to see Eliott in that moment—someone who had just been told they have a lifelong mental illness crying tears of happiness and relief—made Lucas feel a pride like no other. Because Eliott is hands down the strongest person Lucas has ever known.

So having Idriss and Sofiane there for him too, who are supportive and patient and kind, is everything to Lucas.

He glances over to Eliott to find him already looking right back, a private smile on his lips just for Lucas. He then shrugs once, “Maybe,” he mumbles shyly.

By their vibrating elation, Lucas had prepared himself for a chaotic pile on of some sort, but instead he’s met with the two boys just sharing deliberate, knowing looks.

“That’s so amazing, honestly. Happy for you guys,” Sofiane says earnestly while Idriss grins like a fool.

Lucas suddenly feels a wave of guilt pool over him. He can’t quite fully grasp how effortlessly Eliott is able to just lie to his friends like that, indifferent to the fact that Sofiane and Idriss are good people who don’t deserve to be lied to. Just like everyone else they’re inevitably going to have to deceive. And Lucas hates lying, it’s something he’s always been so avidly against, hates being at the brunt end of it. So his conscience is screaming at him currently, because this feels wrong, immoral.

It isn’t him, it isn’t Eliott.

Yet somehow he still finds himself smiling timidly— not that he’s able to quite meet their eyes— but he smiles nonetheless, and he keeps his mouth shut.

He thinks that’s probably the worst part.

______________

 

Lucas doesn’t arrive home from Eliott’s until much later that evening. It’s maybe close to midnight, but he isn’t surprised to see the guys still awake in the living room, an episode of That 70s Show playing idly on the television as they chat between themselves.

“Hey,” Lucas announces, leaning against the door frame.

Their heads snap up, chatter dwindling down until all that’s audible is a deep slow motion sequence of Eric pronouncing his love for his father while his mother drops a plate of jelly all over the floor.

Basile is the first to speak, an insinuating grin splashed across his face, “Where you at Eliott’s?” He quirks his brows comically. Lucas wants the ground to swallow him whole, of course they’ve seen the post. But maybe Eliott had been right, perhaps it is easier this way, he doesn’t have to lie as much with actual words.

“Yeah,” Lucas mumbles, moving into the room to fall onto the sofa next to Yann, whose gaze is burning, stressful.

“So… Are you two like...?” Arthur nudges him with an elbow. Lucas inwardly sighs.

“I guess so.”

Lucas has never heard Arthur squeal before, but the sound that comes out of his mouth, all high-pitched and deafening, is too much for Lucas to handle this late at night.

“I knew it would happen eventually,” Basile grins.

The sentence causes something unidentifiable to churn in Lucas’ stomach. Something he can’t quite pinpoint. Panic? Worry? Something.

“You did?” He asks, because he has no self-control, he has to.

Basile shrugs simply, “Well yeah, it’s obvious. You’re always all over each other.”

Lucas wants to correct him, tell him it’s not like that, it was never like that. It’s just the way he and Eliott are with each other. But that would completely defeat the purpose of making this whole façade believable, so he snaps his mouth shut and smiles.

“Yeah, well we don’t want to make a big deal out of it, really.” It’s a lie, they hadn’t discussed doing as such at all. But quite frankly Lucas just doesn’t feel like talking about it anymore.

Thankfully they take the hint, and instantly go back to watching the TV, Red now giving Eric the run down on the only few times it’s acceptable for him to use the words I love you.

“—other than that, it’s just a given,” he’s saying. Lucas feels like he can relate, he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to tell Eliott he loves him in that way. But it is a given, it’s there. It will always be there. Unspoken and whatnot, there nonetheless.

The rest of the reactions to the momentous Instagram post come in the form of Lucas’ phone dinging relentlessly while he tries to sleep later that night (because he hasn’t quite figured out yet how to turn off his tagged notifications). He ends up just turning the app notifications off altogether, with the buzzing and brightening of his screen becoming so incessant in the dimness of his room.

Closing out of the app, he decides to take a flick through his texts. There’s quite a few, but the most recent from Daphné.

Hey Lucas! I spoke to the girls, they said they’d love to get together soon. How does next weekend sound? We could go out to a club or just do something more chill like order pizza? Whatever you guys feel like, let me know! xx

Something chill sounds good, Lucas texts back, not even bothering to mull it over with the guys. He’s not in the mood for another party anytime soon, he still hasn’t quite recovered from the disarray that was last night.

Daphné is quick to respond. Great! Also, just seen Eliott’s post… Very cute! Looking forward to hearing all about it during our next shift together!!

Lucas grimaces, Daphné’s text isn’t even the worst of them. There’s a bunch from Imane, Emma, and Alexia. The most trouncing, however, is the single winking face emoji he gets from Manon. Because it’s so insinuating, yet so harmless. And it shouldn’t cause Lucas to feel so terrified, unnerved at the lack of shock from his peers, almost as if they had all been expecting it to happen eventually. Which is not helpful to Lucas’ case whatsoever, clearly he isn’t as good at masking his adoration for Eliott as he thinks he is. Clearly he has some work to do on that front.

______________

 

A week later Lucas finds himself squished in between Emma and Alexia on the living room sofa at the girls’ apartment, some miscellaneous playlist of obscure 90s hits playing from the bluetooth speaker. All his other friends are dispersed about the room, talking idly between themselves and sipping on beers.

“How much longer did Eliott say he was going to be?” Alexia whines, “I’m starving.”

Lucas checks his phone, his last text from Eliott from ten minutes ago still reads, be there in 5. He sends back a string of question marks, a plead for him to hurry up. Because Lucas feels on edge.

It’s been a busy week with uni work and the extra shifts he’s taken at the café. Things have been so hectic that he’s barely had the chance to speak with Eliott beyond texts— which isn’t ideal, considering they’re supposed to be dating now, but more realistically, Lucas misses him.

But it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing about their relationship has necessarily changed within that space of time other than the perception people have over them, the fact that they now think they’re together. But it also means they haven’t had the opportunity to talk things over, like how they’re going to navigate the whole ordeal around their friends. Truthfully, Lucas hadn’t really taken into account the fact that they can’t just flick the switch on and off whenever Marco isn’t around. They’re lying to everyone, which means they have to constantly keep up an appearance.

Which sucks for Lucas, because it means there’s no escape, really.

“I’ll run downstairs and wait, see if he needs help carrying the pizzas up,” Lucas announces to nobody in particular. He gets a few grunts of acknowledgment in response, as well as a “That’s so damn cute,” from Alexia. Lucas purposely ignores it.

He waits on the pavement outside the building for another five minutes until he finally sees Eliott approaching in the distance, several pizza boxes stacked in his arms.

“What are you doing out here?” Eliott peers over the rim of the boxes as he reaches Lucas.

Lucas shrugs, “Thought you might need help with those.” Eliott smiles, distributing half of them into Lucas’ waiting arms.

“Thanks, cute of you,” Eliott grins, knocking his hip into Lucas’ as they make their way into the apartment building.

They’re halfway up the four flights of stairs when Lucas’ steps falter. Eliott pauses a few steps above him, furrowing his eyebrows, “Okay?”

Lucas sighs, “Yeah just… I also wanted to talk about this, you know, this thing we’re doing.”

Eliott walks down the couple of steps separating them until he’s standing closer. “Of course, what about it?”

A beat of silence falls over them, Lucas looks to the floor. “We never spoke about how we’re going to do this around them.” He gestures his head in the vague direction of the apartment filled with their friends above him.

Eliott follows the movement like looking would have him find something at the other end, he glances back soon enough, “Yeah okay, we should probably discuss that. Sorry.” He chuckles lightly.

“Don’t apologise.” Lucas is shaking his head, but then frowns, speaking timidly, “I hate lying to them.”

It’s a good thing he’s carrying four pizza boxes in his arms, otherwise Lucas would have nothing to hide behind while he exhibits the very furthest semblance of deflecting his feelings humanly possible.

But Eliott doesn’t seem to catch onto Lucas’ evident panic. Instead he seems unperturbed, glancing down to his own occupied hands, shifting the pile slightly with a shake of his head before he looks up again to meet Lucas’ eyes. “The last thing I want is for you to feel uncomfortable—”

Lucas cuts him off a tad too abruptly, “I’m not.”

“Okay,” Eliott nods, “Well we don’t need to go all over the top PDA or anything, it’s just chill.”

“Chill,” Lucas whispers.

“Chill.”

Eliott chuckles then, “Look, I think as long as we know where each other stand, everything will be fine. This is probably one of the most ridiculous things we’ve ever done, we’ll probably laugh about it in a few weeks.” He shrugs nonchalant. “We shouldn’t think too much about it.”

Deciding to ignore the fact that Eliott in truth, does not know where Lucas stands whatsoever, he grins teasingly. “I don’t know, that phase we went through a few years ago where we’d only talk to each other in our own made up language was pretty ridiculous.”

Eliott’s laugh is dazzling as he throws his head back with bliss, “You’re right. That was something else.”

They resume climbing the stairs, a brief silence engulfing them until Eliott speaks again, his voice sincere. “I meant what I said last time, though. If at any time you wanna stop, just let me know. I realise how shit this might be for you, you know? If you ever wanna get with someone.” He stops walking again, “And we don’t have to do this, it’s not too late to back out.”

Lucas swallows down the words that claw at his throat, that itch to tell Eliott he doesn’t want to get with anyone unless that anyone is Eliott.

“I don’t mind,” he says instead. “I know how much Marco means to you, if I can help you be happy then of course I’d want to do that.” The words taste bitter on his tongue, wrong.

Deflect, deflect, deflect.

Eliott smiles, “Okay.”

Eventually, they reach the apartment door, Lucas goes to twist the handle but Eliott is quick to place a hand to his arm. Lucas looks up, inquisitive look on his face.

“Just do whatever feels right, okay? No pressure. Natural.”

Natural. Okay, Lucas can do natural.

______________

 

Lucas, for the life of him, cannot do natural. It’s been two hours of his friends cooing over them and making smug comments whenever Eliott so much as wraps an arm around his waist or rests his head on Lucas’ shoulder.

And it’s aggravating in a way, because to Lucas it isn’t even too farfetched from how they would usually act in each other’s presence. Yet somehow with the new defined knowledge that they’re now an item, his friends seem to have taken that and ran with it. Now Lucas feels like he can’t even look in Eliott’s direction without it being pinned down as heart eyes, afraid of it looking too real, too much.

What if Eliott starts to notice? What if he starts to question the evident lack of surprise from their friends? Asks himself if there’s a reason they aren’t fazed? It would only be a matter of time before he catches on, Eliott isn’t stupid.

The prospect of it makes Lucas feel like he can’t breathe. He feels like he’s suffocating under their watchful gazes, the fear of Eliott finding out, the inevitability of being rejected, of making things awkward. 

And he’s definitely thinking too much about it again.

“Everything okay?”

Lucas peeks up from where his head had been shoved into the back of the fridge in search of more beer. Imane is standing in the doorway, small smile on her face.

He sighs, “Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?”

Imane shrugs, raising her eyebrows dubiously, “Just you’ve been acting pretty quiet out there.”

Finally retrieving his beer, Lucas kicks the fridge shut with his foot. “I’m just—” He shakes his head, lost for words as he flicks the cap of his beer off with a bottle opener.

“I get it,” Imane says, moving closer, “When Sofiane and I started dating, as much as I appreciated all the support, you know, seeing the girls so excited. It was a bit much sometimes. Sometimes we just need some space, time alone to get to know each other properly, especially when something is so new.”

Lucas looks to the bottle in his hands, running his finger along the condensation that’s caused the label to corrode. He doesn’t really know what to say, she isn’t too far off, but Imane is someone Lucas has never really been able to lie to. She’s too observant, will never let anyone pull wool over her eyes. So he’s terrified one wrong word will have her seeing straight through him.

“I was shocked, you know?” She speaks again, Lucas glances up, questioning glint in his eyes. “When I heard about you two getting together. I was shocked.”

“Why?”

She shrugs, smiling slightly, “I didn’t think it would ever happen.”

It’s a first, the only response Lucas has been hearing all week is complacent I told you so’s and I knew it’s. He’s not entirely sure what to make of this.

Lucas frowns, “No?”

“Nope,” she shakes her head incontrovertibly.

Lucas chuckles nervously, looking off to the side, “I don’t know what to say.”

Imane grins, shaking her head, “Don’t say anything. I’m happy for you, okay?”

There’s something to her words, something Lucas can’t quite pinpoint, something with more depth that he so desperately wants to explore. But it sounds like intimidating territory, like something from the Bermuda Triangle—a good idea to delve into at the time, to pry for more, why are you shocked? Why didn’t you think it would ever happen? But in hindsight, it’s a perilous journey. There’s a looming risk that he might lose his sense of direction, lead his feelings astray.

There may be no coming back from that.

So instead he smiles, “Thanks. I might do that.”

“Hm?” Imane tilts her head in question.

“Get out of here,” he supplies, “Get some space. With Eliott.” Because he’s tired and he needs some time to be alone, to think. Although not entirely alone, he still wants Eliott’s company, albeit not in the way he truly aches for, it’s enough.

Imane’s grin flourishes as she takes in Lucas’ words, winking encouragingly, “Go for it.”

“There’s no way you’re going to fit all of that into your mouth,” Yann is jeering when Lucas re-enters the living room.

Basile is sitting on the floor, a pizza box of now cold leftover pizza moulded into a questionable ball on his lap. Lucas scrunches his nose as he flops down onto the sofa next to Eliott, who’s giggling brightly at their friends’ antics.

“Clearly you’re underestimating my abilities,” Basile retorts back, narrowing his eyes in challenge.

Eliott snorts, “Baz, I bet you ten euros you won’t be able to do it.”

“Ten euors!?” Basile yells, affronted. “Lucas, tell your boyfriend he’s a thief. If I’m going to do something as revolutionary as this I expect a lot more than that.” He scoffs, “Ten euros. That’s robbery.”

Arthur slaps him over the back of the head, “Dude, stop stalling and just fucking do it.”

As Basile begins to shove the mound of food into his widened mouth, Lucas flicks a glance over to Eliott, who’s still grinning in amusement.

Lucas captures his hand, which had been rested on the sofa between them. The touch causes Eliott to snap his head over instantly, turning his palm over to lace their fingers together. He squeezes once. Are you okay?

“Can we go?” Lucas whispers, quiet enough so only Eliott can hear.

Eliott grips his hand tighter, it sends shocks of electricity through Lucas’ skin, latching onto his veins and running up his arm, sparking blazing currents in his heart.

“You want to leave?” Eliott asks, eyes comforting. Lucas nods. “Okay,” Eliott smiles, warm, kind, understanding.

If he thinks rationally about it, asking Eliott to come with him is unnecessary and ridiculous, because Lucas doesn’t need someone to walk him home, realistically. If Lucas has had enough he can go on his own, he isn’t a child. But maybe he doesn’t want to be entirely alone right now, maybe he just wants Eliott to himself, if only for a while. Because they’ve barely seen each other all week, and the girls’ apartment is far too small for nine people, and Lucas’ mind is such a mess he thinks one more second spent in such vigorous company might just cause him to snap. Say something he’ll regret.

And that’s the last thing he wants.

With once last reassuring smile, Eliott looks away. “Hey guys, Lucas and I are gonna go,” he announces to the group. Because he’s so good, such an angel, Lucas isn’t really sure what he’s done to deserve a friend so attentive and accommodating, even when Lucas’ demands are bordering on unreasonable and selfish. 

Basile snaps his head up, “Already?” There’s pizza falling from his mouth onto his lap, Lucas would probably find it a lot more hilarious and tease him relentlessly about it if he didn’t feel so uneasy right now.

“Yes,” Eliott stands, pulling Lucas up with him by his hand. “Watch you don’t choke on that,” he teases, ruffling Basile’s hair and meeting Yann and Arthur in fist bumps.

Vaguely, Lucas can hear Basile splutter, followed by the laughter of Yann and Arthur. But Eliott is already efficiently tugging him towards the front door. Lucas allows himself to be dragged among pliantly, only smiling as Eliott shares quick goodbyes to the girls as they pass, not able to muster up any words.

They go back to Lucas’ apartment, it’s quiet when they enter, Lucas finally feels like he can think. He heads straight for his room—assuming Eliott will either follow him or just find something else to entertain himself with.

However, Eliott follows, of course, flopping down onto the bed next to Lucas.

”Are you okay?” Eliott whispers. They’re lying on their sides, facing each other. An incoherent murmur falls past Lucas’ lips as he nudges his nose into his pillow, feeling the soft linen against his cheek. Sudden exhaustion falls over him as he yawns weakly.

“I just wanted to be alone,” he admits.

“Oh.” An apprehensive frown falls onto Eliott’s face, “Do you want me to go?”

Fuck. That’s the last thing Lucas wants, the thought of being completely alone right now sounds awful, lonely.

I wanted to be alone with you, Lucas thinks. The words play over and over in his mind, niggling at the back of his head, aching to be heard.

”No,” Lucas whispers, meeting Eliott’s eyes, wide and entreating. “Can you stay?”

A small smile works its way back onto Eliott’s face, faint dimples etched into his skin. It causes warmth to surge into Lucas’ bones, with how Eliott’s eyes glisten, how they radiate such a pure brightness that when Lucas tries hard enough he can just about see his own reflection in them. Or the stars, he can definitely see stars.

“Of course I’ll stay,” he says, reaching for Lucas’ waist and pulling him into a hug. It’s bone crushing and warm. Safe. Lucas thinks being wrapped up in Eliott’s embrace is probably his favourite place on earth, because it’s so familiar— from the way Eliott’s hands always soothe up and down his spine, down to the fresh mint scent of the body wash he’s been using since he was seventeen.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Eliott speaks again, it’s gentle, not prying at all. He leaves it open, like he always does. It’s another unspoken thing they do: if you want to talk about it I’m here, but if you don’t, I’ll still be here.

Lucas exhales shakily, feeling a lot less on edge now that he’s entirely engulfed within Eliott’s comforting hold. But not completely, not when all he wants is to tilt his head back and have Eliott in ways unattainable. “Not really,” he eventually murmurs into Eliott’s chest.

“That’s okay,” Eliott understands, always understanding. I’ll still be here.

He feels Eliott press a chaste kiss to the top of his head. It’s fleeting, the pressure of it losing its spark between the barrier of his hair. But it’s there nonetheless. And it feels so alarmingly like a home Lucas shouldn’t be making himself feel this comfortable in, feels like a candle burning at both ends. Treacherous. 

And It’s scary, what desire can make people do. The lengths it will push us to. Lucas just hopes he hasn’t lost complete rationality, hopes he’ll be able to make it out of this wreckage alive.

Hopes he can salvage something, at least.

Chapter Text

The problem with living the greater proportion of your teenage years in an abiding state of unrequited love, is that it starts to ingrain itself into even the most negligible parts of your life.

Clichés are the worst, especially when they’re served to you on a silver platter of two hour long movies comprised of excessive pining and eventual happy endings. Unfortunately, Lucas has seen enough of these movies to know that for him, that kind of outcome is elusive, so to even entertain the hope of such would be stupid and naïve.

And he’ll admit, maybe he’s being pessimistic, maybe he’s a glass half empty kind of guy, but he’s just being realistic. Somebody has to at least, in an over-romanticised world, Lucas thinks at least one neutral party is a necessity.

Or perhaps he’s the furthest thing from neutral you could possibly find. Because right now, as he watches Eliott from the other side of the room— strobe lights flickering inordinately across the faces of inconsequential people, highlighting their features in multi-coloured intervals— he’s the only person Lucas can really focus on. His presence preeminent in comparison to everyone else.

It’s just the way it is, the way it always has been— Eliott overriding his every thought, his every movement, like he’s a magnet caught on a rope. Pulling, tugging and pulling.

And Lucas isn’t even that drunk.

One upside of partying in college that Lucas is particularly fond of, is the fact that it’s never just a weekend ordeal like it was back in high school. There’s always a shindig of some sort happening somewhere. Which is how Lucas finds himself on a Wednesday night, in the flat of someone he only knows through a friend of a friend of Eliott’s, glaring petulantly as Marco marches in through the front door with several of his minions in tow.

But Lucas had been prepared for that, it’s the reason they’re here after all. When Eliott caught wind of Marco attending this particular party, he had accumulated as many of their friends as he could, Lucas included, to tag along last minute.

So here Lucas stands, back against the wall watching as Eliott throws his head back in glee at something Idriss has just said, heedlessly pining. They make eye contact then, Lucas means to look away, to immerse himself back into his conversation with Emma and Yann, but of course he can’t. Of fucking course, because Eliott’s eyes are inexorably magnetic.

Eliott smiles, warm and bright, then motions for Lucas to come over. And Lucas will be damned if he believes his body could even think about resisting the pull. He excuses himself from his two friends, winding his way through the crowds of people until he’s right next to Eliott.

His smile is poised, because after the emotional outburst of last week, Lucas has come to the conclusion that acting like a despondent stray is probably drawing too much attention to the fact that something is wrong. He’s only making things harder for himself by letting something that shouldn’t be a big deal become a big deal. He can’t let his emotions get too involved in this plan with Eliott.

So after much careful deliberation (admittedly, an unnecessary two weeks worth) Lucas has decided to espouse a brand new approach— he needs to act normal.

Albeit somewhat counterproductive, since acting normal in this situation means acting as Eliott’s boyfriend, like he’s madly in love with him, and that’s the exact thing he’s trying to avoid. So there’s a middle ground to be established— he’ll only go as far as matching what Eliott does, he’ll stay within the same playing field of affection. That way everything he does can be easily brushed off as just a façade, an act

So whatever normal entitles, he’ll do that.

And Lucas can do normal, he’s been doing normal for five years now. He needs to stop overthinking things, just like Eliott had said. He can so do that, he’s a veteran of masking his feelings, after all.

Eliott grasps Lucas’ forearm lightly when he approaches, slipping them both away from Idriss and Sofiane and into a more secluded corner of the flat.

“He’s here,” Eliott informs him. Lucas stares back blankly, he wants to tell Eliott he’s already hyper vigilant of the matter, but that’s not normal, it’s not unperturbed behaviour. Eliott must take his silence as confusion, as he deems it necessary to supply further clarification. “Marco’s just got here.”

Lucas nods, “We’re doing this now then?”

Surprisingly, they had actually planned things this time. Lucas had sat Eliott down and told him they needed a game plan, under the guise that they have to be prepared in order to make it as believable as possible. (Certainly not because Lucas had been internally freaking out over the prospect of kissing Eliott again.)

“Guess so.” Eliott bounces his eyebrows provocatively, preamble unnecessary, apparently, as he surges forwards and connects their lips together with no clear warning. Unlike last time, where it had started off slowly, a little tentatively, perhaps—this time it’s a full force slap across the face, a tsunami of water flooding into Lucas’ lungs leaving him breathless, and they’re kissing.

Lucas doesn’t allow himself to appear too thrown off guard, however. Normal, he reminds himself as he pulls Eliott closer by his waist before he can overthink it. He allows his eyes to shut against the touch of Eliott’s hands cradling his cheeks. Eliott’s lips are warm, Lucas falls pliant under the drag of Eliott’s tongue as it slips past Lucas’ parting lips and tilts his head back, allowing Eliott to deepen the kiss if he wants. Lucas wants Eliott to take the reins, afraid of losing himself too much under the addictive swipe and pull. This way if anything gets too much, Lucas maybe won’t feel as guilty.

Because all he’s doing is playing along.

A muffled hum falls into the non-existent space between them, Lucas isn’t sure who makes it, but the vibration it creates cuts deep and they’re kissing, kissing and kissing. Then Eliott pulls away slightly, Lucas’ bottom lip caught between his teeth, his thumb pressing firmly against the point of contact.  

They blink their eyes open to stare at each other, Eliott’s eyes are dark against the lowlight of the room, neon painting his pale skin. The thud of music plays concurrently with Lucas’ heartbeat— heavy and loud, long, slow thumps that latch onto his pulse points and make his head feel fuzzy and light. He exhales against Eliott’s lips when his teeth let loose, expecting Eliott to extract himself fully, but he stays close, his fingers not moving any further than Lucas’ jawline and cheeks and the corner of his lips.

It’s barely anything, but it’s so fucking hot. Like the hottest thing anyone has ever done to him, he can’t breathe. And Lucas had already felt like he and Eliott were the only two people to exist within the confinement of the party, but now, with Eliott completely surrounding him, consuming him, Lucas feels like they’re the only two people to exist within the entire world.

“You good?” Eliott murmurs against his lips, it takes Lucas’ a second to catch up and make sense of the words, but soon enough he’s nodding. And then, persistent and gentle, Eliott is kissing him again.

Lucas lets Eliott run his tongue over his swollen lips, lets him lick into his mouth, allows himself to get walked backwards until his back presses into the wall with a thump. The only thing keeping him sane being the grounding pressure of his fingertips digging into Eliott’s sides, reminding him of who, what and why.

That this is an act, that boyfriends making out at a party is normal, and that Eliott isn’t his real boyfriend, so he really needs to keep himself under control.

Just as Lucas is beginning to trail his hands up the length of Eliott’s back, the sound of someone clearing their throat behind them causes Lucas to pull away slightly, very reluctantly. He shifts to peek over Eliott’s shoulder and tries his hardest not to let out a groan when he sees Marco standing there. Eventually, Eliott glances over his own shoulder, hands falling away from Lucas’ face in the process. The sudden lack of warmth is ominous. Lucas wants to tackle Marco to the ground for interrupting something so bliss, clearly on purpose, but he’s never been one for acts of violence, so instead he fists his hands into the material of Eliott’s t-shirt.

“Hey Eliott,” Marco greets once Eliott has fully twisted to face him. His eyes flicker over to Lucas, he nods once, curtly, “Lucas.”

“Marco,” Lucas acknowledges, just as wryly, but he doesn’t think Eliott notices as he wraps an arm around Lucas’ shoulders. Marco’s eyes follow the movement, causing a ripple of satisfaction to surge through Lucas and he smiles, smug but sweetly.

(Although he’s vastly aware of how stupid that probably is, he’s definitely setting himself up to look like a fool later when the inevitable happens and Marco takes Eliott back, leaving Lucas as the once hopelessly watching on.)

“So,” Marco starts, deciding to ignore Lucas’ presence, “this is all very cosy.”

Eliott speaks for the first time, “Yeah, well, it’s a really great party. Isn’t it?” He directs the question to Lucas, turning his head and smiling, it takes Lucas a second to catch up, but then he’s nodding enthusiastically, because the plan, stick to the plan. “Yeah, babe.”

“How have you been?” Marco asks. Lucas wants to snarl, he’s ninety-nine percent sure Marco doesn’t give a fuck how Eliott has been doing, he’s more concerned about what Eliott has been doing when it doesn’t involve him. But of course Eliott knows this, knows exactly which strings to pull to get the reaction he wants.

For why? Well, Lucas is still in the dark with that one.

Eliott grins, far too widely and way too sweetly, “Good.” His eyes flit down to Lucas again, nodding slightly, “Really good,” he says it softer, words muted under the blasting of music. But Marco hears it, he was meant to hear it. “You?” Eliott questions shortly.

“Great,” Marco’s smile is stiff. He then purses his lips, smile growing sly like knows he’s about to stir shit up. “You know, Eliott, I’m a bit shocked. I’d never have pegged you to be into the emasculate type.” He finally spares a glance at Lucas, “No offense,” then back at Eliott. “But I guess you always have been a little unpredictable, no?”

Lucas can’t help but visibly scoff at this, fuck indifference. He’s not even mad that Marco had just made a dig at the fact that yeah, maybe Lucas isn’t the most masculine of guys, maybe he enjoys having Emma paint his nails and for Imane to braid sections of his hair when it gets too long in the winter. Maybe he isn’t tall and muscular or spend every morning in the gym like Marco does, maybe he radiates cute gay energy, as Arthur likes to inform him. But to be honest he doesn’t give two fucks about what Marco thinks about that, or anyone for that matter. What does irk Lucas, however, what really fucking gets under his skin, is the subtle dig Marco makes at Eliott.

I guess you always have been a little unpredictable.

And Lucas isn’t one to jump to conclusions, but it sounds pretty close to a quip at Eliott’s fluctuating moods— the moods he literally has zero control over. It’s a low blow, and it has Lucas seething.

Although when Lucas looks up at Eliott, his face is still polished with nonchalance. He shrugs once, small smile working its way onto his lips, “You think fragile masculinity is my type?”

Marco rolls his eyes, “Come on, Eliott. You don’t think this is out of character for you? You were always the one telling me how you two are ‘just friends’, that I have nothing to worry about.”

“Maybe I lied.”

Lucas only feels moderately uncomfortable at the fact that Marco has questioned Eliott about their relationship before, has maybe seen in Lucas what all of his friends have. His feet itch to leave the conversation, something telling him he shouldn’t be overhearing this stuff, it’s private, it should be between Marco and Eliott. And he has to try exceptionally hard to remind himself that Eliott doesn’t mean it, he doesn’t.

He’s being tactical, smart.

When Marco only scoffs in response. Eliott continues, “Plus, you don’t have anything to worry about. It’s none of your business what I do anymore, you broke up with me, remember?”

Confusion spreads over Lucas at Eliott’s words, because if he was in Marco’s position right now, hearing this would be enough to get him to back off and never look back. It would be a clear cut indication that Eliott isn’t interested. Although, Lucas also knows that Eliott is aware of what he’s saying and its implications, he knows what will get Marco riled up and dripping in jealousy.

Eliott knows what he’s doing.

Marco chuckles bitterly, “So you keep reminding me.” He looks like he wants to say more, but instead shakes his head, clearly threatened, “Well, I hope you two are very happy together.” It’s forced, sarcastic even.

Lucas bites back the string of unpleasant remarks that sit at the tip of his tongue. Why is he helping Eliott get back with this asshole again? Why is he giving Marco the chance to break his heart all over again?

As Marco walks away, he hears Eliott sigh as he turns to face him again. “Sorry for what he said about you.”

“I don’t give a fuck what he thinks about me.” What he said about you was so much worse, why are you apologising on his behalf? Lucas wants to say. Why do you want him back?

Lucas hesitates before his brain catches onto a thought and his mouth decides to betray him, “Why do you let him speak to you that way?”

Because Lucas knows Eliott, he’s no feeble opponent, there’s no way in hell the Eliott Lucas knows would stand for a comment like that being thrown at him.

“He doesn’t mean it, he’s jealous.” Eliott looks like he wants to elaborate, his lips parting then snapping shut again, the moment falling short. “Shall we just stick to this plan?”

Lucas waits a few beats, tries to read Eliott’s thoughts but gets lost in the creases of his forehead and the downturn of his lips. So instead he nods, “Yeah.” Because they do have a plan to stick to, for Lucas to back out now would suggest something is off, and that isn’t acting normal.

So Lucas lets Eliott kiss him again, he lets Eliott kiss him for practically the remainder of the party, he almost forgets his bearings for the duration of it, completely forgets that he’d left his beer with Yann, that he’d promised Basile a game of beerpong and that Marco is probably watching them. He’s surprised his poor hammering heart survives the rush of it for so long.

When Lucas arrives home, it’s around two in the morning and his lips feel raw. He falls onto his bed, thinking of how Eliott’s lips had felt pressed against his own, how he can still feel the residue of tingling on his skin, fingertip shaped scars engraved into his cheeks. He feels a swirl in his stomach, the pulsating throb he had miraculously managed to keep at bay the entire night thrashing to the surface. Now it’s prominent. Lucas clenches his eyes shut and exhales heavily, because he will not get himself off to the thought of Eliott kissing him—his best fucking friend. He won’t. He’s gone five years without having to resort to that and he isn’t about to start now.

Lucas won’t.

He won’t think about the way Eliott had pulled him closer by the hips, or the hot breaths he panted into Lucas’ mouth upon every separation. Lucas doesn’t think about how Eliott’s large hands had felt on his smaller cheeks, or how his tongue had felt intertwining with Lucas’ own, the sensitive bite of his lips, the quivering drag of his moans.

He won’t.

When Lucas comes thinking of how Eliott had pressed a thumb to the wet parting of his lips, a firm but gentle pressure, he hadn’t even realised he had started to palm himself through his jeans. He shudders out a heavy breath, kneading himself through it as his teeth clench onto his bottom lip. When he closes his eyes, it almost feels like he’s back at the party, and it’s Eliott’s teeth and lips and hands still touching him everywhere.

“Fuck,” Lucas pants, staring blankly up at his shadowed ceiling, his lids heavy and his breathing irregular.

So much for acting normal.

______________

 

It goes like that for a while. Eliott drags Lucas to a new party every couple of nights and they do something disgustingly coupley like make out or dance together. It almost becomes a routine: how they’ll be all over each other for that small three hour window, then when it’s over far too soon for Lucas’ liking, they’ll go their separate ways home. It’s manageable, Lucas is surviving. But somehow, somehow as soon as Lucas arrives home, the minute he shuts his bedroom door and the second he falls onto his bed, the memory of Eliott’s lips and hands as they kiss and grind on the dance floor are inescapable, and the only thing that can fend them off is to find a release.

So Lucas goes home, and he gets himself off.

And he isn’t proud of it, it’s a bit embarrassing, but it’s enough to get him through, to stop the persistent niggling at the back of his head. Maybe it makes it a little harder to look Eliott in the eye sometimes, knowing where his own thoughts have ventured— but it’s the only thing keeping him from cracking, Lucas thinks. Because kissing Eliott, having Eliott all over him is frustrating, Lucas has to force himself to hold back since there’s clearly a boundary there, since it’s not actually real.

Don’t get him wrong, he’d love to arch into Eliott’s hold as he licks into his mouth, he’d die to let out the moans he has to use everything in him to swallow down when Eliott so much as tugs on the hair at the nape of his neck.

But he can’t. He can’t touch and feel like he wants to, he can’t make things progress further like he aches to.

So Lucas makes do with what he can get. Sometimes, after the adrenaline and the alcohol in his blood have simmered down, once he’s lying alone in his bed in the aftermath, with the thoughts of Eliott and Eliott’s mouth in the places it’s been and the places it could have been still lingering, Lucas can’t help but experience the throat cutting dread. The guilt that sits like gasoline in his gut, no more than a single spark needed to set it ablaze. The flames burn Lucas from the inside out, leaving just a shell in its wake, the outline of a person. But somehow, Eliott fills the void, he’s the reason for the gaping hole in Lucas’ heart, the reason for the tightness in his throat, but somehow, it’s okay.

Because the longer it goes on the guilt becomes less frequent and softer in duration. It still cuts deep, but instead of wallowing in it, Lucas just does, it unfolds into a familiar kind of groove.

That’s the worst thing about it, Lucas has decided— the fact that he’s maybe become too comfortable with using Eliott for his own benefit. But then Lucas’ thoughts will drift to well, aren’t we using each other, then? Because in a way, Eliott is using Lucas too, not that he objects in any way, he’s happy to play along with whatever they’re doing. It’s that thought that keeps him going, and it’s an ugly mind set to be in, well he’s using me too, so it’s okay for me to do this, there’s no way Eliott will find out. But he doesn’t allow himself to overthink it too much, that’s when things get complicated, when he makes it into a bigger deal than it has to be.

On top of that, Lucas has no idea how things with Marco are progressing, whether this thing they’re doing is actually working. Because Eliott never talks about it and Lucas doesn’t ask. The key is just to do what Eliott needs him to do and deal with the consequences of that alone, when it’s safe and appropriate, when there’s no way anyone will find out. That’s how he’s getting through it.

But just about.

“Baby, you’ve got ketchup on your cheek,” Eliott mumbles. Lucas looks up from the burger he has his mouth enclosed around, a muffled grunt the only noise he’s able to suffice in response.

Eliott laughs, using his thumb to swipe the smudge from Lucas’ cheek before pressing the pad of his thumb to his own lips to lick it off. Lucas rolls his eyes and tries not to blush.

They’re at some 50s inspired diner, he has Eliott to one side of him and Basile to the other, Yann and Arthur in front of them in the booth.

“How do you two manage to be disgusting and cute at the same time?” Arthur grumbles around a mouthful of fries.

Eliott slings an arm around Lucas’ shoulders, “You mean just cute.” He presses a quick peck to Lucas’ cheek, smiling sweetly down at him.

Basile groans, “You know, I’m really happy for you guys and everything, but we’re trying to eat. Stop being so in love.”

Lucas almost chokes on his burger, but Eliott doesn’t seem fazed as he grins even wider, a playful glint in his eyes. And okay, so they’re playing that game then, Lucas can so do that.

“You’re cute,” he turns to Eliott, mumbling fondly.

Eliott’s smile grows. “Nope,” he shakes his head, “you’re cuter.”

He deliberately ignores Yann’s stare from across the table, and unlike the last time, Lucas finds himself falling into a back and forth with Eliott a lot more effortlessly. He isn’t sure whether it’s to do with the fact that there are less people around this time, or if it’s because he has decided to completely stop overthinking things, or because he’s been able to rid himself of a degree of pent up frustration, (which, to make clear, he is not thinking about, like whatsoever).

Either way, it’s nice, fun almost.

He leans into Eliott’s side, tilting his head back as if to ask for a kiss. Eliott obliges with no hesitation, just like it’s that fucking easy. Lucas mind feels a little disorientated, but he isn’t overthinking things anymore. So he smiles when Eliott pecks him on the lips, one, two, three times, finishing with a single kiss on the tip of his nose. Lucas scrunches it in response, giggling softly.

“Enough!” Basile clanks his fork against the table, which only causes them both to laugh.

“Baz you’re just jealous,” Lucas teases, stealing a fry from his plate even though he still has an entire pile of his own, bouncing his eyebrows, “because my boyfriend is so hot.”

He doesn’t know where the sudden assertiveness sprouts from, but a small part of him is enjoying it, how Eliott squirms slightly under it.

“Baby,” Eliott bites his bottom lip as he smiles, quietly bashful.

Lucas hears Basile sigh again from beside him, but his brain tunes it out, because it’s the second time Eliott has called him baby today and the word makes Lucas’ stomach flutter.

They mutually decide to give Basile a break for now, and for a while the conversation around the table floats mindlessly. Nothing of relevant significance really surfaces until Arthur perks up, almost choking on his drink as he rushes to form a sentence that’s so abrupt it causes the four other boys to jump slightly.

“Did you guys hear about the neon party?” His words are half-spluttered, half-yelled.

Eliott seems to find Arthur’s outburst hilarious. Lucas watches as he leans over the table in hysterics while Arthur narrows his eyes at him, and concludes that they are in fact, both idiots.

“The what?” Yann elbows Arthur in the side to get his attention.

Arthur breaks away from the glare he had fixed on Eliott. “The neon party,” he insists, his expression animated with excitement, “at Jacob’s parent’s place, which is basically a mansion by the way, because they’re like filthy rich and went away to Dubai for the week or something.”

Lucas pushes his empty plate further into the middle of the table so he can rest his elbows on it. “Who’s Jacob?” he asks, because not once has he ever heard Arthur talk about a rich friend named Jacob.

He gets a disgruntled face in response, “Jacob! My friend from camp volunteering? I told you guys about him!”

Lucas shakes his head, “You definitely didn’t.”

It’s Yann who interjects next, “You have friends that aren’t us?” he quips, “sounds fake.” That earns him another one of Arthur’s death glares, and another cackle from Eliott, who seems to be in a particularly chirpy mood today. Lucas glances over to him, smiling in question. But it isn’t enough to elicit an explanation, maybe Lucas isn’t as good at speaking with his eyes as he thinks he is, as Eliott only grins back at him, eyes bright and happy. And fuck, it’s the most stunning thing Lucas has ever seen.

“Fuck you guys,” Arthur is saying next, pulling Lucas’ eyes away from the metaphorical, and literal sun beside him. “Are you coming or not? He needs to know numbers.”

“Yeah I’m in,” Basile chimes, “But what exactly is a neon party?”

Arthur rolls his eyes, speaking to no one in particular, “Is he serious?”

“What!? I’ve never been to one!”

Vaguely, in his peripheral vision, Lucas sees Eliott drop his face into his hands in another spurt of laughter. Giggles tumble from his lips in such a heavenly melody that Lucas feels like he could get high off the sound of it alone, probably.

Yann throws the wrapper of his straw at Basile’s face, “The clue is in the name, you idiot.”

Lucas forces himself to look at Basile, “It’s just a normal party only you show up wearing neon clothes or paint.”

“What’s the point in that? Just throw a normal party, why would he want to get paint everywhere?”

Eliott finally composes himself and looks over Lucas’ head to address Basile, “They’re rich, does it matter?”

“Yeah,” Lucas chuckles, “If it gets messy they’ll probably just throw the house away and get a new one.” It makes Eliott laugh too, Lucas relishes in the sound again, leaning a little into the other boy, brushing it off as his own laughter keeling him to the side.

Basile raises his eyebrows slightly, “They’d do that?” Idiot.

“Obviously not!” Arthur whines. “Guys, I’m serious. Are you going or not?”

“Yes, we’re all going. It’ll be fun, no?” Eliott directs the question at Lucas for some reason, it’s only slightly odd since Lucas was never against the idea in the first place, but he nods anyway.

Yann agrees as well, and Basile makes another comment that lacks brain cells, so Lucas sighs. “I have to pee,” he announces, poking at Eliott’s arm so he can get out from the booth.

Once he’s very ungracefully climbed over Eliott’s lap— because the dumbass had complained he was too full to stand up— Lucas crosses the diner and finds himself in one of two toilet stalls. A minute later, when he unclicks the lock and steps out into the main bathroom area, he almost jumps out of his own skin when he sees Yann leaning against the sinks in front of him.

“Fuck,” Lucas breathes with a hand to his pounding heart. “What are you a ninja? I didn’t even hear you come in.”

“What the fuck was that?” Is all Yann says, expression solemn.

“Hm?” Lucas plays dumb, moving to begin washing his hands at the sinks. Yann turns around with him, narrowing his eyes through the mirror.

“Don’t be annoying. You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Lucas twists the faucet to adjust the temperature, mainly to have something else to focus on other than Yann’s kind of terrifying stare.

“Not really,” he lies. He knows exactly what Yann is talking about, the thing with Eliott. He’s talking about the way they had acted back out in the diner, the flirting and the pet names and the kissing. He’s thinking that Lucas is being an idiot, which is only partially true.

Steadily, Yann exhales with two hands pressed firmly into the granite of the bathroom sink, before speaking calmly. “You don’t need to do all of that around us, you know. You could tell Basile he was part gorilla and he’d believe you. Isn’t this only supposed to be helping Eliott get back with Marco?”

“Technically, Basile could be considered part gorilla,” Lucas tells Yann, “You know with evolution and all that being—”

“Lucas,” Yann interrupts his deflecting ramble. “Why are you doing this to yourself?”

Turning off the tap so he can face Yann, Lucas tries not to get too agitated. He knows Yann means well and is only looking out for him. But Lucas can’t help but feel irritated, because they’ve already been over this, Lucas knows what he’s doing is reckless and dumb, he doesn’t need Yann as a constant reminder of that every single time he hangs out with Eliott around them— which is a lot, so Lucas really, really doesn’t need that.

“I’m not doing anything to myself, I told you. Everything is fine, people will get suspicious if we only act like a couple when Marco is around, that’s all.”

Yann sighs, “And what’s Eliott saying about all of this?”

Not much, Lucas thinks, Eliott doesn’t say much to be honest, he’s more of a just do kind of person. But telling Yann that would only cause his glare to darken, and Lucas already feels like a small child under his gaze enough as it is.

“The same,” Lucas shrugs, “We’ve spoke about it, we know where the boundaries lie. Nothing bad is going to happen.”

“Except you don’t know where the boundaries lie, because he doesn’t know how you really feel,” Lucas’ head snaps around to the toilet stalls at Yann’s words, afraid that somehow Eliott might have snuck in overheard. They’re both empty, obviously. Yann continues to lecture Lucas, “And saying everything is fine now is all and well. But what happens when you want more, huh? When pretending isn’t enough?”

Lucas wants to tell Yann that it’s probably too late for that, he already wants more, so much more. But again, saying as such would send him straight to his own grave, and Lucas is too young and pretty for that, so instead he rolls his eyes. “Yann, I really don’t want to fall out over this.”

Because that’s the very last thing Lucas wants, that would crush him almost as much as losing Eliott would. Yann is shaking his head vigorously, “Neither do I. You know I’m just worried, it’s hard watching you two act like that and knowing it’s not real. I’m in an awkward position, you know? Because I’m in on it, but I’m also not, you’re making me have to lie to Arthur, Baz and Eliott.”

Lucas slumps against the sink, guilt pushing him over. “I’m sorry,” he says, “You know that’s not what I want, I hate lying to them too. But I’m doing this for Eliott, okay? He wants to get back with Marco and I promised that I’d help him. If you want me to tell him you know about it, then I will, he’ll get over it. But I’m not backing out of this, Yann. I have to help him.”

Yann sighs again, “You don’t have to tell him, Lucas. Just… be careful, alright? I know how your stubborn ass gets, don’t do anything stupid.”

Lucas flicks his still went hands at Yann, splattering droplets of water onto him, he backs away with a scowl. “Don’t worry, I won’t do anything you wouldn’t do,” he insists teasingly.

Yann goes to throw his own smart remark back, but the bathroom door swings open, a middle-aged man entering and cutting their conversation short. In a way, Lucas is thankful, he doesn’t think he can take any more of Yann’s tedious lecturing.

______________

 

A while later, once they’ve left the restaurant, Lucas decides to walk home with Eliott. They’re wandering along the street aimlessly, Eliott humming softly beside him as he balances on the edge of the pavement. It’s around seven, so the sun has just begun to simmer down, a pale glow peeking past the clouds that take up the muted blue of the sky.

Eliott is smiling, again. The slight upwards tilt of his lips just about visible with his head angled down towards the path. Every so often he’ll look up to the sky, squinting at the last residues of sunshine and grinning to himself before glancing down again.

It’s beautiful, Lucas thinks, how traces of the sun catch onto the highest points of his skin, brightening the dark tips of his hair and painting a sheen of gold over him. Lucas can almost feel the warm rays that bounce off Eliott and soak into his own skin.

“Why are you in such a happy mood?” Lucas asks as they pass a florist shop, the fresh smell of roses and tulips from the outside displays wrapping around them as they walk. Because he’s too curious now, he wants to know what Eliott is thinking.

“I am?” Eliott looks up from where his gaze had been fixated on the pavement to make sure he doesn’t fall of the edge, eyebrows furrowed inquisitively like he hadn’t even realised his own cheerfulness.

Lucas chuckles softly, “Yeah, you couldn’t stop laughing back there.”

“Our friends are just idiots,” Eliott shrugs, his own breath falling into a small laugh.

“That they are.”

A few beats pass, they round the corner that conjoins to the last stretch of path leading to Eliott’s flat. “But yeah, I’m just happy, I guess. Does there have to be a reason?”

“No. Not at all,” Lucas smiles, meeting Eliott’s eye again. Their gazes hold for a few moments too long, Lucas is the first to look away, because he can feel his smile growing so embarrassingly fond at the glisten in Eliott’s eyes.

Of course there doesn’t have to be a reason for Eliott’s sudden happy mood. It’s just really fucking nice to see, to be honest, because it’s been a while since Lucas has seen Eliott smile like this. When Eliott had been in the depths of his relationship with Marco he didn’t seem happy, he’d say he was, and maybe Lucas is somewhat biased considering, but he’s known Eliott for twelve years, he knows what a happy Eliott looks like. And the Eliott that was constantly being let down by the one person who’s supposed to make him the happiest, who’s supposed to give him the world, wasn’t a happy Eliott.

Truly, it wasn’t.

As they enter Eliott’s apartment building and begin to climb the stairs, Lucas thinks back to their conversation with Marco and the way he had spoken to Eliott, how it had caused liquid lead to churn in Lucas stomach. He isn’t sure whether that’s a common thing for them, for Marco to speak down on Eliott like that, or if what Eliott had said was true and it was just his jealousy speaking. 

Either way, something about it just hadn’t sat right with Lucas.

As they disappear into Eliott’s apartment, Eliott wordlessly goes to boil the kettle while Lucas moves into the living room to set up Netflix on the TV. It’s an unspoken ritual for them, to come home from a tiring day out socialising and unwind with tea and a movie. It’s one of Lucas’ favourites, actually, because he loves spending chilled out time with Eliott, he loves tea and he loves Eliott’s absurd taste in movies no matter how much he teases him about it.

And he loves Eliott. Lucas loves Eliott especially when he’s curled up in the corner of the sofa with his cheek squished into the pillows and the soft fabric of his sweater pooling around him like he is now. He loves Eliott when he giggles tiredly at the funny parts of the movie, because even though it’s been a long day and he’s seen the movie twelve times already, he still finds it in himself to laugh.

“This is my favourite bit,” Eliott mumbles, voice muffled by the cushions as he stretches his legs out to sprawl across Lucas’ lap. Lucas stiffens at the weight for only a brief second before he lets his hands fall onto Eliott’s ankles, just to rest there.

Lucas hums from his upright position, his head falling onto the back of the sofa to look down at Eliott who’s lying down, “I can’t believe you’re making me watch Clueless, again.”

“You love Clueless,” Eliott dismisses him.

That’s ludicrous, Lucas screws his face up to show his disagreement. “No, you love Clueless. I’m only here because you enticed me with tea.”

Eliott lifts his head up, “Oh, that’s the only reason?”

“Mhm,” Lucas doesn’t tell Eliott the real reason is that he just loves spending time with him, as simple as that. “Paul Rudd isn’t half bad to look at either,” he says instead.

He watches as Eliott scrunches his eyebrows together, leaning up on one elbow. “Don’t tell me you have a crush on Paul Rudd.”

“What’s wrong with that!?” Laughter tumbles from Lucas’ lips at the scandalised look on Eliott’s face. “Are you kink shaming me?”

A small huff leaves Eliott’s mouth as he slumps back into the couch cushions. “Having a crush isn’t a kink, and Paul Rudd isn’t even your type. He’s so old.”

“Oh he’s not? So what’s my type then, Mr know-it-all?”

Eliott rolls onto his back then, looking up at Lucas through his eyelashes. He shrugs, “You always go for guys taller than you, brunette and usually you’ll end up never speaking to them again.”

Lucas’ brain short circuits, he doesn’t know whether to be worried that Eliott has picked up on his suspicious choice in guys or not. “He isn’t that old, he’s only like twenty-five in this one,” he argues weakly, lack of something better to say.

“So you like older guys, too?” Eliott asks, his voice is low and curious. Lucas has to bite his lip to stop himself from squirming.

If two years older than me is classified as an older guy, then yes, Lucas thinks, his head still resting against the back of the sofa to look down at the other boy. “Maybe,” Lucas whispers.

The air twists into something thick, Lucas is sure the blue of his eyes have darkened as an involuntary response to the way Eliott is gazing up at him. Shivering at the way Eliott licks his bottom lip once and lets a harsh exhale of breath fall from his nose, that is somehow, almost indistinct at the same time.

“I don’t really think I have a type though,” Lucas decides, “I just go for whoever is there.”

I just settle, because I can’t have who I really want, goes unspoken.

Eliott doesn’t say anything, so Lucas tunes back into the movie, Cher is in the middle of a nonsensical debate about Haitians and garden parties and RSVPs. Lucas hates that it kind of makes sense.

Another while passes, ten minutes or so before Eliott speaks again. “You’ve never been in a relationship,” he says it like he’s only just come to the realisation, it falls somewhere between a question and a statement. Lucas breaks his gaze away from the television to find Eliott already looking at him.

“I haven’t, no.” He doesn’t know what Eliott expects him to say. Yeah, I’ve been so hung up on you that I haven’t even as much as looked in the direction of anyone else beyond desperate and absolute last resort one night stands, that always end up being shitty and never actually satisfy the void I had been looking to fill.

Eliott is still lying on his back, his hands absentmindedly fiddling with the drawstrings of his hoodie. The delicate twirls and loops his fingers make are distracting, Lucas almost misses Eliott’s next question.

“Why not?”

Lucas contemplates his answer, decides to choose his words carefully because he can’t lie to Eliott, but he also can’t tell him the truth. He finds a happy medium, “I guess I haven’t really found the right person, I don’t really want to be in a relationship just for the sake of it, you know? I’d like to think fate will guide someone to me eventually, I just have to wait it out.”

He finds himself chuckling softly, it sounds dumb, he’s not really sure fate has been on his side recently. But the answer seems to satisfy Eliott enough, as he hums and goes back to watching the movie.

Although, not even a minute later he’s turning his head again, “Lucas,” he barely whispers, voice deafening in the eerie stillness of the flat despite the movie that’s still running. “Have you ever been in love?”

The sudden thumping that impounds over Lucas’ heart at the question can be heard irrefutably in his own head, it wouldn’t even surprise him if Eliott could hear it, too. He’s acutely aware the soft panic settling alight within him, the soft panic that has the power to either grow or fade, depending on what Lucas chooses to say next. It can only grow if he lets his thoughts swirl into another vortex of overthinking, so he breathes slowly, lets his alarming thoughts float away with the wind and the reverberation of the movie that Lucas’ ears had deserted a few miniature heart attacks ago.

“No,” he lies, swallowing down the harsh lump that coils in his throat with how wrong it feels.

There’s an ever so slight dip in Eliott’s chest that Lucas fails to notice, a brief second where his breathing catches and doesn’t quite know where to go. Lucas sees indifference, because Eliott isn’t saying anything, they’re just looking at each other and Lucas needs something to fill the silence.

“What’s it like?” he asks Eliott, “Being in love.” Because Eliott knows, he’s in love with Marco. And maybe hearing Eliott describe how he loves, how it makes him feel, can plant a little seed of warmth in Lucas, maybe being able to imagine himself as the one Eliott speaks about so fondly can help it bloom into a tiny glimmer of hope.

Eliott’s lips purse into a smile, he looks away for a second, then back to Lucas again. “It’s… strange. Like, it’s overwhelming, but it makes me feel complete, in a way. It’s like that one person never leaves your mind, you always want to be near them, and even when they’re near it’s still not enough.” There’s a break in his words, he isn’t smiling anymore, but he isn’t frowning either. Lucas doesn’t speak, because he can sense Eliott has more he wants to say.

His inkling proves correct, because with a small hum, Eliott falls into another flow. “And it’s maybe a bit frightening, how one minute you’re with this person and the next they’re everything to you, and you wonder how you were ever able to live without them, because you sure as hell couldn’t imagine a day without them now. It feels like, a hole in your heart that you didn’t even know was there has been filled. As scary as that is, it’s the best feeling in the world,” he pauses, smiling down at his fidgeting hands, “it’s everything.”

Lucas blinks, Eliott’s words resonate with every fibre of Lucas’ being, he feels all of that, he understands. When he’s with Eliott he feels like he’s circling a precarious fire, yet he’s completely safe at the same time. It’s like space and time merge into one fine point, like time has collapsed into a tiny speck and implodes at the speed and force of light— almost as if Lucas’ world rotates around Eliott, and everything about him.

But while Lucas is thinking about Eliott in that sense, Eliott isn’t thinking about Lucas. He’s thinking about Marco; that’s how Marco makes Eliott feel, Eliott’s world revolves around Marco, Marco is the person Eliott can’t imagine a world without.

It’s Marco that Eliott is in love with, not Lucas.

“You’ve never felt like that?” Eliott’s eyes flick up. The room is darker now, there’s no sun left in the sky to filter in through the blinds and catch onto the flutter of Eliott’s eyelashes. But there doesn’t need to be, because even in the murk of the evening, even with the only source of light coming from the flash of the long forgotten movie, the intense glisten of Eliott’s eyes still manages to steal every last breath of air from Lucas’ lungs.

Lucas shakes his head, the movement feels onerous, and realistically, such a simple human reflex shouldn’t take so much out of him.

But alas.

Regardless, Lucas doesn’t like how heavy the air has become, so he does the only thing he knows how to. “Besides,” he smiles impishly down at Eliott, “maybe Paul Rudd will come and sweep me off my feet, there’s time yet.”

Eliott scoffs at this, rolling his eyes, “Fucking Paul Rudd. In your dreams.”

“I don’t know what you have against him, that man has aged like fine wine.” He gets a light foot in the stomach from Eliott in retaliation, it causes Lucas to chuckle. But Eliott doesn’t get to respond, as their bickering gets cut short by Idriss and Sofiane entering the apartment covered in gym sweat.

“Evening, lovebirds,” Idriss peeks his head in through the living room door, although his teasing grin disappears as soon as his eyes catch onto the TV screen. “Lucas,” he looks over to them disapprovingly, “don’t tell me you let him watch Clueless again.”

Another burst of laughter erupts out of Lucas while Eliott grunts out a weak protest, “I don’t watch it that much.”

“Oh but you do, my love,” Lucas coos teasingly, squeezing Eliott’s ankle.

The endearment falls from his lips way too easily, and Eliott’s lack of reaction should terrify him, it really should.

“I’m going to shower, and if the football isn’t on by the time I get back I’m revoking your Netflix access,” Idriss points a warning finger at Eliott, who doesn’t even look up at him as he flips him the finger over his head.

Idriss and Sofiane eventually join them in the living room. It’s not very spacious, so Eliott sits up to make room. And Lucas hates football, but with Eliott now pressed into his side, his head resting on Lucas’ shoulder as both of them pay no attention to the tackling and kicking and frustrated shouts of the other two boys, it’s almost bearable.

Lucas falls asleep to the lull of Eliott’s breaths against his neck and the weight of arms circled around his waist. And he dreams about the stars and the sunshine that dance within the blue-grey galaxies of Eliott’s eyes.

And he lets himself enjoy it.

Chapter Text

Yes, right there. That looks sick!”

Lucas is elbowed out the way by a delighted Eliott leaning forwards to get a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror. The neon streaks Lucas has just painted on his cheeks like cat whiskers are, admittedly, a little underwhelming under the shitty yellow toned light. But Eliott seems thrilled nonetheless— if the wide grin plastered across his face is anything to go by.

“Let me do yours now,” he says, turning to face Lucas with sparkling eyes.

Lucas sighs.

He is excited, he is. Just tonight is the night of the neon party, the one Arthur’s friend Jacob is throwing in his so-called mansion, and Lucas is trying to match Eliott’s enthusiasm, but he’s just a little tired, is all. He’ll get over it.

The two of them had escaped to the bathroom in Lucas’ flat to get first use of the big mirror, while the others get up to god knows what in the kitchen over the mad case of beer Eliott had brought over with him.

Lucas moves willingly when Eliott pushes him against the bathroom sink. His shoulders hunch forwards slightly to meet Lucas’ height and get a better angle as he uses a careful finger to paint a trail of neon dots from the curve of his eyebrow down to his cheekbone.

“What’s your inspiration for this one then?” Lucas mumbles into the atomic space between their faces, a teasing edge to his voice. “A bit of Picasso? A little Jackson Pollock?”

“Hmm,” Eliott squints in concentration, unfazed by Lucas’ taunting. “Sven Nilsson.”

Lucas scrunches his nose.

“Who?”

Eliott uses his thumb and forefinger to tilt Lucas’ head back by the chin to admire his work. “He’s a street artist… Well, graffitist. He’s known in Stockholm for spray painting dicks over walls of the city.”

“You made that up,” Lucas squints at him.

“I didn’t!”, Eliott defends. “He did it in protest of the zero-tolerance policy they had on graffiti at the time. So, street artist is a reach, probably, but there was a cause.” He pauses, chuckling to himself lightly, “I think that’s so cool, you know? How he wasn’t afraid of putting himself at risk for something he was passionate about, because aside from the dicks,” another chuckle, “he actually has some really cool works that are all over the city, now that they’ve lifted the ban, and—”

He pauses, lips snapping shut and falling to a frown, “Sorry, I’m rambling. I’m probably boring the hell out of you.”

Lucas is shaking his head faster than he can even fully comprehend Eliott’s words, because God, is he wrong. So, completely, ridiculously wrong. And it stings Lucas’ chest a little, the fact that someone, (someone as in fucking Marco) has made Eliott feel like he can’t freely talk about something he’s passionate about without getting an eye roll or a peeved sigh in response.

“You’re not boring me,” Lucas whispers solemnly, just now realising how close their faces are. “You could never bore me.”

The way Eliott’s eyes had lit up like a celestial body as he spoke, bright grey-blue orbs salient against the thick black of his pupils, is something Lucas continuously finds himself getting lost in. Because Eliott could be talking about the most monotonous thing on earth, and Lucas still thinks his words could reel him into full attentiveness like how the moon controls the tide.

But now Eliott’s eyes are unsure and reticent, and Lucas hates it.

“You sure about that?” A cynical breath of a laugh slips past Eliott’s lips, like he doesn’t believe Lucas could possibly be interested, like he hasn’t hung off every single letter and syllable that Eliott’s voice has made since he was seven years old.

“Yes,” Lucas nods, poking him in the stomach, “Don’t ever think that.”

Eliott smiles, but it’s small, shy. “Okay,” he says.

But Lucas can’t help tease Eliott just once more, because he loves seeing Eliott smile and if he can force it out of him, then he’ll do everything in his power to do just that. “Although, I hope that isn’t you trying to tell me you’ve painted a neon dick across my forehead. I would be thoroughly offended.”

This earns him a real, genuine laugh out of Eliott. One that’s full and beautiful and causes the corners of his eyes to crinkle in glee.

“And what if I have?” Eliott challenges, eyebrows bouncing impishly.

Lucas squints.

“You wouldn’t, you’re not that mean.”

Eliott only laughs again, “Are you underestimating me right now?”

He’s still going between dipping his finger into the paint and dotting patterns over Lucas’ face. The paint is cold, but Eliott’s hands are an inferno setting Lucas’ skin afire, and it not only burns, but it’s intoxicating. Like droplets of liquor catching onto a flame and setting themselves alight as they melt under the curves and dips of Lucas’ face.

And Lucas hasn’t even touched any alcohol, yet, but he already feels drunk on just Eliott’s voice and touch alone.

Eliott is so close, still, only a chin tilt away. His body engulfing and all encompassing as he looms over Lucas with his brows furrowed and the tip of his tongue sneaking past his lips. Lucas forgets that he’s supposed to be teasing, joking around like best friends do, when he whispers again, his words feather light as they echo from the bathroom walls, “I would never.”

Just as softly, Eliott says, “no?” as he focuses heavily on the press and swirl of his finger against Lucas’ skin. His eyes aren’t meeting Lucas’ and he draws his bottom lip under his teeth. Writing it off as concentration, Lucas shakes his head in certitude.

But this only causes a whine to escape from the back of Eliott’s throat, “Stop! You’re messing it.” He moves the hand that isn’t splattered with neon paint to cup the side of Lucas’ face and hold it still. And it works. That gets Lucas to freeze up instantly, suspended in time as if one infinitesimal twitch in the wrong direction will have Eliott’s soft, warm hand falling away like smoke.

And that’s the last thing Lucas wants.

“I know you wouldn’t do that, though,” Lucas murmurs with a cunning curve to the corners of his lips. “Unless you want to go to this party dateless.”

A low gasp leaves Eliott’s gaping mouth, “You’d really just ditch me like that? Make me go all by myself with those loons?” He flicks his head to the side to gesture to their friends, who Lucas can vaguely hear arguing over something indistinct in the other room.

“Yes,” Lucas giggles, jutting out his chin in assertiveness, “No fake date for you.”

“Well that’s a shame,” Eliott tuts, shaking his head, frown a little disappointed. “I was really looking forward to it.”

There must be something avidly fascinating about the art of pressing florescent finger prints onto Lucas’ blazing skin, because Eliott still isn’t meeting his eyes, and his hand still hasn’t moved from Lucas’ cheek. So, out of pure lack of self-restraint, Lucas leans into the touch. He nuzzles his cheek into Eliott’s palm ever so slightly, and this is what finally gets Eliott’s eyes to pull away from his task and meet Lucas’ curious but apprehensive own.

And when Eliott’s thumb brushes Lucas’ cheekbone where it lays, a gesture so transient yet so delicate, Lucas thinks maybe. Deep, deep, deep down, further than he could ever really allow himself to reach for, in a cage barricaded in titanium and wrapped in chains, there’s one tiny crack. And it’s nanoscopic, almost illusive but it’s there nonetheless. In all its glory, shreds of slight pouring out as the crack unfolds.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

“Yeah?”

Maybe, this is it. Lucas thinks, as they stand there in the poorly lit bathroom, with the only sounds palpable being the leaky faucet behind them echoing water thudding against porcelain, the nebulous chatter of their friends in the other room, and perhaps a hitch of breath. With Eliott’s palm warm against his cheek and his eyes like silver balls of fire leaking into Lucas’ innermost fears and wonders, Lucas thinks maybe.

“Yeah.”

A burst of flutters are set loose in his stomach when Eliott exhales through his nose and wets his lips, and Lucas looks up at him, eyes wide and innocent. And he wants to ask, what are you thinking? wants so desperately to know what’s going on inside Eliott’s head right now.

Wants to know if maybe could be a possibility, if even just a small one.

However, just like it always seems to go— like the flickering flame of a candle being released out into the unsettled wind— the door flings open, and Basile is sticking his head into the bathroom, his voice resounding in the stillness that has been ripped from Lucas’ grasp.

“What’s taking you guys so long!? There’s a queue out here, you know!”

Eliott takes one, two steps back, his hand slipping from Lucas’ face like the sun falling behind a cloud. And he’s too far now, the newfound distance between them causes a blizzard cold chill to pour down Lucas’ spine and leak into his bones.

It feels wrong.

“Yeah, we’re coming,” Lucas manages to force out, although he can’t quite compel himself to tear his eyes away from Eliott just yet. Eliott, who had broken eye contact the moment the door handle had twisted and is now busying himself with wiping the paint from his fingers with a tissue.

Basile is still waiting in the doorway, apparently, as Lucas vaguely resisters him speaking again. “Well if you want some beer you better hurry up, because they’re slowly disappearing.”

Eliott glances up at this to narrow his eyes at Basile, “You assholes better not have drank all of my beer.”

Basile seems to take Eliott’s mild threatening tone in his stride, because maybe Eliott is only as intimidating as a ginormous Labrador. He smirks, “Well, you’ll have to get your asses out of the bathroom and find out, then, won’t you? Now shift,” he gestures frenziedly, “You can make out some place else. I have to piss.”

“We were not making out,” Lucas defends weakly, finally breaking the magnetic force that had trapped his line of vision onto the one focal point that is Eliott’s ethereality. Because they weren’t— despite the fact that he really, really wishes they were.

Basile only gives him a pained look, “There is pee coming out, Lucas!”

“Ugh!” Lucas scrunches his face in disgust, “Alright, alright. We’re leaving.”

He shoves past Basile and into hallway, faintly overhearing Eliott tell Basile that’s he’s disgusting for feeling the need to inform them that, and he sighs.

“Hey,” Eliott’s arm is suddenly slung over his shoulders, guiding him in the direction of the kitchen. “Want a beer?”

And just like that, everything falls back to how it always is and always has been. And again, Lucas is reminded that Eliott is his best friend. They’re friends. Whatever Lucas had felt in that moment, how he feels almost every waking minute of the day he spends with Eliott— it’s not how Eliott feels, and it never will be.

Maybe he’s becoming delusional, imagining things that aren’t actually there, intensifying lingering touches in his own head that really, aren’t very significant at all.

It’s unsettling, Lucas desperately needs to ingrain it back into his own head that he and Eliott could never be together in that way.

Because it used to be set in stone for Lucas, you see. He had things under control for so long, but now it feels like all the work he’s done to conceal and hide and cover up is being reduced to ink on paper. It’s raining and the ink is running, and slowly but surely, what once was safe and solid is now tiptoeing on weak and flimsy. And it’s terrifying.

Lucas can’t have that. He can’t.

“Sure,” he answers, bumping their hips together and willing the emptiness he feels in the pit of his stomach to stop aching as much as it does when Eliott giggles and nuzzles into Lucas’ shoulder.

And he smiles, tight lipped but wide enough that Eliott won’t suspect the clench in his heart or the twisting of his gut. If he does, he doesn’t mention it, Lucas is only maybe a little thankful.

 

______________

 

Arthur really wasn’t exaggerating when he said his friend Jacob from camp lived in a mansion. Lucas doesn’t think he’s seen a house this unnecessarily big like, ever, can’t even imagine having this much dispensable space. He supposes it must be lonely, living in a house with more rooms than Lucas’ entire apartment block put together.

But he’s not complaining, it makes for a great party, at least.

The night time air brings about an unpleasant bitter chill that forces Lucas to walk with his arms folded across his chest as he trudges along the mile-long cobblestoned driveway towards the house. It’s the kind of cold that washes over Lucas’ skin, again and again, meeting the warmth of his blood and turning it ice blue. The kind of cold that tints the tip of his nose red and has his eyes fighting against involuntary tears.

But Eliott feels warm, at least. Or his arm pressed into Lucas’ side as they walk is warm. Yann and Basile are both having an existential crisis over the fact that they should have brought more beer, now looking at the magnitude of the party.

“Shit, Arthur dude. When you said mansion…” Yann gapes, hugging the case of beer closely to his chest in a gesture of protection. Basile speaks next, “Someone needs to keep an eye on our beer, or it’s bound to get nicked.”

“Our beer? My beer,” Eliott corrects.

“You know,” Basile squints, “It was your turn to buy the beer, anyways. I’m going to remember how catty you’re being about it when it comes to my turn again.” It only earns him a laugh and a crude gesture from Eliott in return.

Lucas chuckles at their nonsense bickering, he doubts they’ll be short for alcohol with this many people around. At parties like these, there’s usually booze littered everywhere. Once you enter the lion’s den that is a college party, alcohol is like a no man’s land— if there’s a bottle lying unattended it belongs to no one and everyone at the same time. Plus, Lucas thinks he’s going to need something a lot stronger than beer if he wants to get through tonight, what with Eliott clinging onto him like he is currently. So, if he happens to see a lonely bottle of vodka sitting around, nobody can say he’s breaking any rules if he claims it as his own.

“Chill, we probably didn’t even need to bring the damn beer in the first place. There’ll be more than enough in there anyways,” Arthur voices Lucas’ exact thoughts.

They eventually arrive at the entrance, the house is all windows and barely any brick, which gives them the ability to see inside. Flashes of luminous strobes flicker in intervals of blue, green and purple, a cycle of rainbow spilling out onto the street that has Lucas vibrating from deep within his beer fuzzy bones, and he’s excited.

It’s been a while since he’s found himself entering a party not with his anticipation siding with dread, but with zest. Maybe it’s the pretty lights that does it, or Eliott next to him asking if he wants a drink, or the fact that they don’t have to pretend tonight, because Marco won’t be here. And maybe Lucas is tired of pretending and just wants to have fun with Eliott for real. Not like that (because as Lucas has already established, the chance of such is impossible) but just like how things used to be— Lucas and Eliott not being able to leave each other’s sides at a party just because Lucas finds everyone else boring in comparison, and maybe Eliott feels the same.

They would never say as such, though.

Lucas misses that.

He stands adrift in the living room as Eliott goes to fetch them a drink (the others running off to indulge in the array of pizza scattered in boxes on the kitchen table). Watches how the spectrum of lights cause the neon of clothes and paint to glow in lambent bursts of colour, his eyes following each colour change with avid fascination. There’s a girl dressed in all florescent pink handing out glowsticks, and Lucas accepts two— one for him and one for Eliott, smiles as Eliott returns with their drinks and giggles as Lucas tucks the bright yellow stick behind his ear.

“Thank you,” they say in unison. Lucas for the drink, Eliott for the glowstick. It causes them to burst into another fit of giggles, Lucas steals a high off the moment and lets his bloodstream drink it up paramount to the alcohol he’s consumed. Tucks it away into his pocket and the crevasse of his heart where only he can reach it, where only he knows the reason for his giddiness and sunshine smiles are because of Eliott, not the rum and coke he’s nursing.

But it’s good, this is what he needs. It’s fun.

Then, Eliott is grinning at him again, and he’s asking, “Do you want to dance?” And who is Lucas to deny?

So, they dance, tucked into a space that seems to unfurl to them naturally as they descend further into the crowd. Lucas dances to a beat he can’t recognise and would never listen to on his own accord, but with Eliott practically prancing next to him, it’s okay. And Lucas feels free. Feels so free of everything.

Worries of a love he doesn’t know where to place fade into the flicker of neon lights, stresses of pretending and never enough falling away with the blaring symphony of music, and anxieties of the future get lost in the way Eliott’s eyes seem to glow like scintillating fireworks against the bright colours that circulate the room.

“This is so fun!” Eliott yells into Lucas’ ear after a while, panting from all the jumping around. “Are you having fun?”

“Yeah,” Lucas tells Eliott’s expectant smile and hopeful eyes, with no word of a lie, because Lucas does wholeheartedly mean it. He is having fun.

It’s refreshing, in a sense.

After a while, when the dancefloor becomes a little too populated and the napes of their necks are clinging with sweat, they decide to take a breather.

Now, Lucas has his back pressed against the kitchen counter with Arthur next to him spitting nonsense into his left ear. Eliott had slipped away a few minutes ago mumbling something about seeing a few friends from his course and that he’d be right back. Lucas had nodded in reluctant understanding, acutely aware of every dragging minute that goes by where he doesn’t have Eliott’s dumb smile right beside him.

“Do you not think that’s a little uncalled for?” Arthur is gesturing animatedly with two arms, a splash of his drink spilling over the edge of his cup as he does so, but in his drunken state he plays no mind to it. “Like why would he say that? I just don’t get it!”

Lucas nods along despite having no idea what his friend is talking about, probably something trivial and stupid that not even Arthur himself will remember when he’s sober, anyways.

That’s when he sees him.

Through the open plan of the house, Lucas catches the head of too perfect brunette locks bobbing along as he winds in and out of the crowds gathered in the living room. And suddenly Lucas wishes the ground could just open up into a swarming wormhole that would grip him by the ankles and swallow him whole.

Why is he here? Lucas thinks, angrily, brows knitting together and the grip he has on his drink tightening. This isn’t how tonight was supposed to go. It was supposed to be just him and Eliott. It was supposed to be like old times, when things were easier and happier and before they even knew Marco existed.

“Marco knows Jacob?” Lucas turns back to Arthur, a little desperately, but not really caring at this point.

“Hm?” Arthur is confused at first, but his mouth falls into an oh shape when Lucas gestures over to the figure still looming in the other room. He shrugs, “Everyone knows Jacob.” And then, wiggling his brows in a way that annoys Lucas from the very surface of his skin, “Why? Are you jealous, Lulu?”

With a stubborn tilt of his chin, Lucas huffs, “No.”

Of course Lucas isn’t jealous, he’s just irritated. He isn’t jealous of the way Marco seems to fuck up and yet find himself worthy of Eliott’s forgiveness every single time. Lucas most definitely isn’t jealous of the fact that Marco has a place in Eliott’s heart that will never be shaped to fit Lucas’ love like he wants it to, and he especially isn’t jealous of the ways he knows Marco has been with Eliott that are only attainable to Lucas in the most fanciful, fucked up ways.

Arthur pats a hand between Lucas’ shoulder blades, “Don’t worry bro,” he says, “Eliott only has eyes for one stunning brunette these days, and it’s clearly you.”

It’s not the case, at all. But Lucas smiles anyway.

“I know, just didn’t expect to see him here, is all.” He doesn’t want to see him here, doesn’t want Eliott to see him here.

It isn’t long before he finds Eliott again, sitting midway up the marble staircase that leads to an entire other universe above the already ginormous ground floor. He’s laughing with two other guys and a girl that Lucas vaguely recognises from around campus when he waits for Eliott to finish class sometimes.

Eliott has his head tilted back towards the guy sitting on the step above him, so he doesn’t see Lucas approaching. Lucas stops one step down from him and kicks his ankle lightly to get his attention, mumbling out a small, “Hey.”

“Lucas!” Eliott grins after twisting his head in Lucas’ direction. “Where did you go? I was looking for you!”

Lucas raises his eyebrows, thinks about telling Eliott that he was in fact the one who had wandered off in the first place, and Lucas has been in the kitchen where he left him the entire time. But he chuckles softly instead, “Oh you were looking, were you?”

Eliott bites his lip, smiling coyly, “Uh-huh.”

Although unconvinced, Lucas indulges him anyway, it’s not like Eliott has to spend every second of every minute next to Lucas—he has other friends, too. And it’s only been twenty minutes, after all, it’s not like Lucas can’t survive twenty minutes without Eliott.

Eliott giggles, reaching out to tug on Lucas’ arm and pull him down until he’s sat right on Eliott’s lap on the staircase, his arms wrapping around Lucas’ middle.

“Guys, this is Lucas, my boyfriend,” Eliott says then to the little group surrounding them. “I don’t know if you’ve all met before.” He then turns his head to Lucas, “But these are some friends from my course, uh, that’s Camille, Elias and Alex.”

Lucas mumbles a greeting to each person as Eliott points to introduce them, possibly too immune to the fact that Eliott had introduced Lucas as his boyfriend like it’s his most favourite thing to say on earth.

One of the guys, Elias, speaks first, “Ah yes! We’ve met before, at Carlos’ party at the start of the year? Remember?”

To be honest, Lucas doesn’t remember, doesn’t even know who Carlos is, but he smiles and nods anyway, “Yeah, I remember.” This seems to please the guy, as he grins back at Lucas all chuffed.

“I’m so glad to finally meet you!” the girl, Camille practically squeals. “Eliott doesn’t shut up about you, honestly. If you knew what I had to listen to during our Monday morning lectures without slapping him over the back of the head, you’d be proud of me.”

“Oh yeah?” Lucas’ stomach flips, and he wraps his arm around Eliott’s neck, if only to steady himself.

“Hey!” Eliott whines, “I do not.”

This causes the group to break out into laughter. “Please,” Alex rolls his eyes, “You can’t even deny it, we’re all witnesses.”

Lucas chuckles along with them despite the pool of delighted amusement that surges through him at the thought of Eliott talking to his friends about him. Granted, it’s not in the way Lucas wants to tell himself it is—it’s not like Eliott is going around gushing about Lucas like they’re madly in love or anything. They’re friends, Lucas talks about Eliott sometimes, too. It’s not weird. But still, Lucas finds a small slice of gratification in the knowledge.

“Well isn’t that adorable?” Lucas coos, pinching Eliott’s cheek between two fingers.

Eliott seems almost embarrassed by the claims, as he groans into Lucas’ shoulder. “Alright. We’re leaving,” he announces suddenly, beginning to stand with his arms still clasped around Lucas’ waist.

Lucas, who is practically manhandled into a standing position, whines in protest, because he was actually enjoying Eliott’s friends’ company.

Alex throws his arms up, “Hey! C’mon dude we’re only fucking around.”

Eliott ignores him, “See you losers later.”

Elias tips his head back in another spurt of tipsy giggles, “It’s because he knows it’s true!”

“I can’t hear you!” Eliott yells over his shoulder as he drags a giggling Lucas down the stairs and away, until they’re back in a far corner of the living room.

“Your friends are hilarious, I’m offended you didn’t introduce us sooner,” he tells Eliott with his back against the wall, Eliott stood in front of him.

Eliott rolls his eyes, “Yeah, they’re real hilarious, aren’t they?”

Lucas ignores Eliott’s slightly cutting tone and tilts his head back against the wall, studies how ethereal Eliott’s eyes look contrasted against the neon on his cheeks, and he thinks, why don’t you love me? It would be so good, so easy, if Eliott could just love him back.

He swallows, diverts his gaze away from Eliott and shivers when it lands upon Marco, who is now lingering on the outskirts of the dancefloor.

“Your ex is here.”

He says it casually, like he’d handle a conversation surrounding the weather, because Lucas is so casual about this—the fact that Marco is here, so unbothered it’s ridiculous. Eliott’s eyes snap up from where they had been slightly downcast, and a few moments pass where neither of them say anything, where Eliott nibbles at his bottom lip with his brows furrowed almost unnoticeably.

“You didn’t know?” Lucas asks.

Eliott shakes his head, “No, uh—” He glances around the room, which has almost doubled in capacity during their short absence, people becoming considerably more wasted as the night progresses. “No, I didn’t.”

And if Lucas didn’t know any better, he’d have said Eliott looks almost… disappointed? As when his eyes finally dart back to Lucas again, he sighs, and his eyes find an interest in the ground, the ceiling, and the piece of wall right to the left of Lucas’ face.

Honestly, Lucas understands. He hadn’t really felt like making out with Eliott tonight, either. Not because he doesn’t enjoy it—because fuck, it’s probably his favourite thing to do ever—but because Lucas had hoped tonight would be like old times, and so maybe Eliott had felt the same in that sense.

Then there’s the fact that Lucas isn’t necessarily the person Eliott wants to be kissing, anyways. It’s Marco who holds that title.

“What are we gonna do?” Lucas speaks again, ducking his head to catch Eliott’s eyes and string them back up to where he wants them.

Eliott shrugs, “I don’t know.” Then, after glancing around the room again, facial expression calm but unreadable, “He’s looking at us.”

Oh. Lucas refrains from peeking over Eliott’s shoulder as to not appear too obvious, decides to just take Eliott’s word for it.

Something about the air surrounding them feels heavy, like it had back in Lucas’ bathroom earlier that day. Like someone has placed a lit match between Lucas’ fingers and is watching him struggle and panic as embers of heat flick onto his skin while the match smolders away, concurrently slow and alarmingly fast. Something about the way Eliott leans in without warning, and the fact that Lucas had almost half expected it, is perturbing, yet simultaneously thrilling.

So when Eliott’s lips part against Lucas’ own, as Lucas feels Marco’s eyes burning their own embers into Eliott’s back and Lucas’ hands around Eliott’s neck, Lucas feels himself wanting to make Marco jealous. Because Lucas has lived most of his life being the jealous one, and he hates how that feels, hates that such an unwanted trait has become so accustomed to him now.

But maybe he’s drunk, and maybe Eliott’s lips taste like peach schnapps and melt like warm honey. So maybe Lucas arches into the kiss more than he’d usually allow himself to, maybe he grips the sides of Eliott’s neck a little more desperately than necessary as he lets the kiss deepen and unfold. Maybe Lucas wants to be the couple everyone looks at and wishes they had something like it. 

And maybe he wants that with Eliott.

It’s a little uncoordinated, but it’s to be expected what with how intoxicated they both are. And when Eliott grunts from far down in his throat and pulls away, he drags Lucas into the middle of the dance floor by the hand. Lucas blinks dazedly after him, the harsh pulsation of lights coinciding with the thumping of his heart and the pounding in his head.

It feels like the bodies around them are moving in interludes of slow motion, sluggishly lagging, only to speed up with the beat drop of music and move with the intermittent flash of strobes. It’s disorientating until he feels Eliott’s hands find his own and they’re dancing together, again. And then it’s like everything slows down around them, like they’ve created their own conjunction of space and time where they’re moving at their own pace that nobody else in the world can reach.

They twirl, spin and dip, and it’s so dizzying, yet exhilarating all the same.

Eliott is grinning, and he looks as carefree as the clouds, with the lights dancing across the neon on his face in a way that’s so incredibly pretty. And with Lucas’ vision as blurry as it is, it’s like watching how the city lights glow colours onto the street when it rains at night. So, Lucas fists the front of Eliott’s t-shirt and pulls him down into another kiss. Foolishly doesn’t even look to see if Marco is watching, because he doesn’t care, and he just wants to kiss Eliott again. Somebody will see, probably, it’s fine. And Eliott doesn’t really seem to mind anyway, as he kisses Lucas right back.

It’s good. Lucas feels drunk on peach flavoured kisses and warm hands on his cheeks. Like he’s drowning, but not in panic.

He’s drowning in bliss.

The flailing elbows that dig into their sides and cause them to sway and stumble cause Eliott to huff into Lucas’ mouth. And soon enough, he’s pulling away and he’s pulling Lucas by the forearm out from the swarm and down the hallway, then into the bathroom that’s strangely vacant, but thankfully so.

Once inside, the door shuts behind them like a seal silencing any harsh noise, and Lucas looks at Eliott and Eliott looks right back.

And Lucas wanders aloud, “Is everything okay?”

Eliott doesn’t respond, only stumbles across the room and plops himself down inside the bathtub.

“Eliott,” Lucas giggles, “what are you doing?”

A beautiful giggle erupts out of Eliott’s mouth as he tips his head back over the edge of the tub, “I’m taking a bath! Come here.”

“You can’t take a bath here!” Lucas laughs again, feeling rum spike his blood a lot more profusely now with the blaring of music fading to just a muted lull through the bathroom door and the lights less intense. He’s a little worried that Eliott is going to turn the water on and get his clothes all wet, it wouldn’t even surprise him since Eliott is clearly well along the road of inebriated himself.

“Just come here!” Eliott whines, his eyes now pleading, “I won’t turn the water on, I swear.”

Lucas rolls his eyes and clumsily follows Eliott into the bathtub, so that they’re sat at opposite ends with their knees drawn up to their chests. “See,” Eliott smiles dopily, “It’s comfy, no?”

“It’s really not.” The hard porcelain is digging into Lucas’ tailbone and he can already feel a crick forming in his neck. “What are we doing in here anyways?”

Eliott shrugs, “It was getting really crowded out there. I don’t know.” He looks down then, his fingers pulling at a thread come lose in the knee rip of his jeans. “We can go back out if you want, I just—”

“Hey,” Lucas mumbles, “It’s okay, we can stay here for a bit.” Because Lucas may be drunk, but he also knows how Eliott gets in large crowds—how it can stress him out and sometimes he just needs a little time to breathe.

And Lucas’ vision may be thoroughly blurred around the edges, but he sees it as clear as day when Eliott smiles, incandescent and beautiful.

“Thank you,” he murmurs. Then, as a more guileful grin shadows over his face, “Plus people will probably think we’re fooling around in here, so it’s a win-win.”

It’s like reality splashes across Lucas’ face like ice cold water, then. Because right, not real.

Lucas tries his hardest to smile and not grimace, “Yeah. Win-win.”

Eliott’s head falls back again, the dip of his neck molding perfectly around the edge of the bathtub, and it can’t be comfortable whatsoever, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Lucas watches with his arms folded over his knees and his chin tucked into the crook of his elbow, completely enamoured by the soft shadows that cast from Eliott’s eyelashes onto his cheeks from the lowlight above.

“Do you remember when we were kids, and we’d sneak away during the dinner parties our mothers would have to the most random places?” Eliott mumbles, his voice as soft as the murmur of music coming from outside the small world they have encapsulated around themselves.

Lucas nods despite the fact that Eliott can’t even see him, smiles as he thinks back to times spent huddling together in treehouses, attics and roofs. Easier times when Lucas’ didn’t have to worry about looking at Eliott too fondly because it didn’t matter. Eliott was his world back then, and he’s his world now. Only back then, Lucas was Eliott’s world too.

But now the gates of Eliott’s world have been opened to people who Lucas could never compare to in a million years. He’s merely a visitor at this point.

And it hurts, it hurts more than anything.

It hurts like hell not being Eliott’s everything when Eliott is everything to Lucas.

“This feels like then,” Eliott whispers, “I miss it.”

Lucas wishes he could tell Eliott he doesn’t have to miss it—that things are still the same and they’re still the same—but he would only be lying, and he thinks Eliott knows that, too. Things have changed because Lucas had to go and catch feelings, and even though Eliott doesn’t know about said feelings, Lucas had selfishly let it cause a shift in their friendship because he wanted to protect himself.

Because he was—is—terrified of what Eliott would do if he found out.

Instead he breathes out a small chuckle, “Well, we can add bathtub to that random places list now, can’t we?”

“We can,” Eliott finally lifts his head, his eyes meeting Lucas’ all hazy and bright.

They sit in silence for a while, then. A few frantic knocks on the door here and there being the only sounds loud enough to warrant any movement between them. But it never lasts long, considering there are probably twelve other bathrooms scattered around the house anyway. It’s Lucas who speaks first, words still slurred.

“How are things going with Marco?” It’s something Lucas most definitely wouldn’t ask sober, because quite frankly, he doesn’t want to know. But it’s been playing over and over like a niggling loop in his mind for a while, now. Since he had thought this whole fake relationship thing would only last, like, two weeks max—Eliott had made it seem like it would only last that long. However, they’re now hitting the four week mark, and there appears to be no developments whatsoever.

He thinks maybe Eliott doesn’t hear him at first, because he isn’t responding, he’s gone back to toying with the thread of his jeans. But then he’s looking up and he’s speaking, low but there.

“Fine, I think.”

“You think?”

Eliott sighs, “I don’t know.”

Lucas rephrases, “Well do you think this is working?”

It takes another few long seconds before Eliott forms a response, “It’s just taking longer than I thought it would. Don’t worry about it, I’m getting there, okay?”

Again, if Lucas were sober, he’d be more tuned into Eliott’s dismissive tone. But he isn’t, obviously, so instead he nods.

“Okay.”

There isn’t much room in the tub, it makes it so that with their knees bent, the tips of their sneakers touch. Lucas shifts his feet forwards so that both of them are at either side of Eliott’s instead, giving him a little nudge.

It is okay, isn’t it?

It’s quiet for another while, until Eliott lets out a shuddering breath, his hands curving over his knees in a whitening grip. “Lucas,” he whispers, voice upset, “Do you ever feel like everything is like, one big muddle. And you don’t know why, but you know things are just wrong and it plays on your mind so much, too much, but you just don’t know what to do to fix it?”

Yes, Lucas feels his heart panic slightly, because he knows exactly that feeling—it’s all he knows. But he forces the unease to simmer down, cools his features and relaxes his shoulders. He also understands why Eliott is saying these things—because it’s the first time so long he hasn’t been with Marco, and that must feel weird for him, must feel wrong. Wrong to be kissing Lucas and ‘dating’ Lucas when all he really wants is to be with Marco. And it shouldn’t come as a shock to Lucas, because he knew that already, but it doesn’t make the reminder hurt any less.

“Sometimes, I suppose,” Lucas tries to be as vague as possible, not wanting Eliott to ask any questions he wouldn’t be able to answer.

A soft sigh escapes Eliott’s lips, audible enough to be heard over the thumping of Lucas’ heart, but just about. Then, he speaks again, “I just feel like,” another fleeting pause, “Like I should be content with my life right now, because things are good, you know? I’m enjoying my course, I love living with Sofiane and Idriss, I have good friends, and I haven’t had an episode in quite a while, either. But I still feel like something is missing, almost.”

Lucas watches as Eliott has some kind of inward battle with his own thoughts, how his brows knit together, how his teeth pull at the chapped skin on his lips and his eyes remain unfocused on a point of the bathtub to the right of Lucas’ bent knee.

“And I hate that I feel this way, it feels a little selfish, because some people would say I have everything. But it doesn’t feel that way, I don’t—”

Lucas nudges Eliott with his foot again, interrupts his struggle to get words out. “I know things must be hard for you now, you know, not being with Marco, because I know he means a lot to you, I know you love him.” A breath, a willing for himself to keep going despite how much the words burn on his tongue. “But I also know everything will work out, in the end. Because he loves you too, I see that,” who wouldn’t fall in love with you, he hopelessly thinks. “You don’t have to fix anything because you haven’t done anything wrong, Eliott. You haven’t. He’ll come back to you. It’ll be okay.”

Lucas doesn’t like what he’s saying, hates it. But all he wants is for Eliott to feel okay, because although it pains him to admit the harsh truth of the situation, that Eliott is in love with Marco, not him (he had made that crystal clear the other night). What really hurts Lucas the most, is seeing Eliott upset. So, if a sacrifice he has to make is his own feelings, then so be it. He’ll do it if Eliott is happy in the end. For Eliott’s happiness.

It’s all that’s ever really mattered to Lucas, anyways.

“Yeah,” Eliott breathes, his lips pursing to mask a wobble. “Yeah,” he says again, so softly it’s barely there.

“You know,” Lucas murmurs, “You’re quite the emotional drunk, it’s cute.”

This seems to cheer Eliott up slightly, as he lets out a little giggle, a tipsy but pretty one. “You aren’t supposed to make fun of my crises! You’re supposed to offer emotional support, like we’re two strangers sharing a toilet cubicle together crying over boy problems.”

Lucas looks around them, “Is that not what we’re doing?”

He feels Eliott kick his shin lightly in response.

“Hey! Okay! Okay, I’m sorry. I wasn’t making fun of you though, I said it was cute, didn’t I?”

Eliott only hums distractedly, now back to resting his head over the tub.

“How drunk are you?”, he asks.

Lucas takes a second to respond, tries to count how many drinks he’s had, but can’t, notes the ringing in his ears and the heaviness in his head that feels like his brain has gained a ton.

“Your face is all swirly.”

“Really drunk then,” Eliott decides, giggling. “Fuck, me too.”

They laugh at themselves, at their stupidly drunken states. Lucas feels happy, as if he could float to the ceiling like a balloon filled with helium. Light and airy and full of bubbles.

“At least neither of us are the violet drunk type, and at least you didn’t cry,” Lucas teases.

It only earns him a disgruntled protest from Eliott, “You said you wouldn’t make fun of me,” he frowns, lips all plump and adorably pouty.

Lucas melts.

“M’sorry,” he mumbles, reaching forwards to wrap two arms around one of Eliott’s legs. Hugs them close to his chest with his chin pressed into the top of Eliott’s knee. “Sorry,” he whispers again.

Eliott’s hand comes up to brush the few strands of hair that have fallen in front of Lucas’ eyes out of the way, and he keeps it there, running his fingers gently through his hair in a way that has Lucas’ close to purring. His eyes flutter shut, nose nuzzling into the scratchy material of Eliott’s jeans.

“S’okay, baby.”

And Lucas loves this, loves how Eliott can make him feel safe like this. Warm and happy and safe. Here, in a bathtub at one in the morning, Lucas thinks this moment is perfect. With Eliott, like old times, just how Lucas had hoped tonight would go. Because Eliott could be out there with Marco, yet somehow, for some unfathomable reason that Lucas can’t quite understand, Eliott is choosing to be here, with him, instead.

And that sheds a beam of light onto Lucas’ heart, like how the sun warms your skin through the window on a sunny day.

But at the same time, it almost makes Lucas want to scream at Eliott, to tell him it’s not fair to say those things and not expect Lucas to fall in love with him.

Because he will, and he has.

Maybe Lucas wouldn’t be feeling this way if he were sober, he knows Eliott wouldn’t call him baby sober, anyways, not unless other people were around. But he doesn’t really care, not like this, with his blood rushing with alcohol and his heart running on high dosage of Eliott—Eliott’s hands in his hair, his voice soft and his smile as pretty as ever.

Completely and utterly, madly in love.

Lucas waits a few minutes, lets them rest there with their eyes shut, until their breaths even out into a calmer synchronized rhythm of inhale-exhale, then he asks, lifting his head, “Should we go back? Or do you need more time?”

Eliott glances over to the bathroom door, gaze remaining fixed as he responds, “Yeah, okay. I think I’m good now. We should go.”

Lucas goes to stand, but then Eliott is snapping his head back and placing a hand on Lucas’ knee to stop him. “Wait,” he says quickly, urgently, then clears his throat. “I mean, should we like—” He chews on his bottom lip, like he’s contemplating something, it reminds Lucas a little of that first party, when they first kissed. “I could like, give you a hickey? I think most people saw we came in here together, it would make it more believable.”

He sounds unsure, his pupils blown out like he’s scared of Lucas’ response. But Lucas isn’t about to go and make things weird—like he’s already established, it doesn’t have to be weird, because it isn’t real.

So, he says, “Yeah, sure. Go for it,” and watches as Eliott rises onto both knees to shuffle closer. Holds his breath as Eliott places a hand to either of his knees to straighten his legs and create a gap wide enough for himself to fit into. Bites on his bottom lip as Eliott straddles him, and shuts his eyes when he feels warm breath hit his neck and soft hair tickle his jawline.

Then, slowly but also all at once, like an avalanche crashing down on him, Eliott’s hand is cradling the back of Lucas’ head to tilt it back, and his lips are dragging across the skin of his neck, the dip where the beginning of his shoulder peeks through the neckline of his t-shirt. And Lucas feels like he’s on fire.

Honestly, Lucas has never really been into neck kissing, finds it just plain annoying when someone tries to leave a mark on him. But with Eliott—God, with Eliott’s hot breaths hitting his skin, the sliding of his lips and slight grazing of his teeth—it’s like, the hottest thing on earth. And Lucas can feel himself growing hard, just as Eliott laps his tongue over the sensitive patch of skin he’s working on.

Clenching his eyes shut tighter, Lucas tries to think of something, anything, other than what’s currently going on. He thinks about the essay he has due in on Wednesday that he hasn’t started yet, thinks about the stomach bug he had last month that had him throwing up for three days straight, thinks about the time Basile accidently stapled his homework to his own hand. Because he can’t get hard right now, fuck he can’t.

But Lucas is drunk, and he’s foolish and dumb and horny. So he moves his hands from where they had been hopelessly gripping onto the edge of the bathtub to Eliott’s waist and he grips there, instead.

Eliott makes a noise against Lucas’ neck. Whether it’s a hum or a groan or a moan, Lucas isn’t too sure, but it sends a shiver cascading right down his spine, dispersing goosebumps over every inch of his burning skin.

It’s like collisions of stars and asteroids combust throughout Lucas’ mind and deep in his body. Like vibrations of thunder and rain are thrashing at his skin and he never wants his feeling to end. The feeling of his body falling utterly pliant under Eliott’s mouth, like he’s melting into the porcelain of the bathtub, completely boneless.

“Eliott,” Lucas pants, doesn’t really mean to, it just slips out.

Maybe Eliott misses it, or chooses to ignore it, because he doesn’t move away, just keeps going.

It shouldn’t feel as good as it does, it’s not at all like a kiss stolen from a movie scene, it’s one steeped with contrive and get the job done. Because that’s what it is. So, Lucas shouldn’t feel that underlying passion that ignites the pulse point Eliott’s lips have attached themselves to. And if he does, he’s only imagining it.

Because it can’t be real, and it isn’t real.

The warmth that radiates from the spot Eliott’s lips touch Lucas’ neck spreads a firestorm throughout Lucas’ entire body. And he tries to focus on the reverberating thump of music coming from outside the room, like he’s listening to it from underwater, instead of the low pants falling from the boy pressed into the crook of his neck.

Otherwise, Lucas thinks he might just die.

He feels the area throb, almost, a hot red mark more than likely visible by now, that will soon darken to deep purple. There and begging for attention.

The thought makes Lucas shudder, that he could be walking to class on Monday morning, or to the grocery store, and people would see. But they wouldn’t know, nobody but Lucas would know that Eliott put it there, that Eliott marked him up like that.

His Eliott. Or, not his Eliott. His momentary, fleeting, illusioned Eliott. The details aren’t all that important, though.

When Eliott breaks away from Lucas’ neck, it takes a few seconds for the movement to register in his brain. But then all he can feel is the cold hallowness the absence of Eliott’s lips has left behind.

He blinks his eyes back into focus, the first thing resonating being the slight swollenness to Eliott’s lips. A dark, hooded red contrasting vividly against the pale of his skin, and under the bathroom light reflecting from the pristine all white surfaces surrounding them, it’s like a work of art, almost.

“There we go,” Eliott is the first to cut into the silence. His voice sounds almost unorthodox as it echoes from the walls and the ceiling, like words spoken in a moment like this are unnatural and wrong. But then again, it’s not like Eliott kissed Lucas’ neck because he wanted to, it’s because he wants people to see—he wants Marco to see, to get jealous, to want him back.

Lucas swallows. Then, as he clears his throat, along with it he pushes down every thought of what he can’t have, and he smiles.

“Does it look good?”

Eliott studies the mark closely, “Yeah,” he says, pursing his lips through a small smile. Like, in a way, he’s proud of it.

And in Lucas’ still drunken predicament, he wants to ask, why.

Why are you looking at me like that? Why are we in here? Why do you keep hurting me like this? You have no idea, but you’re hurting me so bad.

Although, he doesn’t get the chance to in the end, as suddenly there’s another urgent burst of knocks coming from the bathroom door. Then someone is yelling, “Lucas? Eliott? Are you in there?” It’s Yann. “Arthur and Baz are fighting with some really hench dudes out here! I kind of need some help!”

Then Lucas is scrambling out of the bathtub in a haste, almost keeling Eliott over in the process. And all of a sudden, he’s in the middle of a massive brawl, tugging at Arthur’s arm and dodging the flailing elbows that lunge towards his head.

Eventually, after what feels like hours, but realistically may have only been a few blurred minutes, the five of them are spilling out onto the street. Their laughter bounces from the trees and passing houses as they weave in and out of the narrow streets of Paris in the middle of the night.

The adrenaline only lasts as long as the galivant home, however, as then they’re standing outside their apartment block, Yann fumbling for his keys, and Eliott is there, too.

“You may as well just stay with us,” Arthur is saying, “So you don’t have to walk home alone.”

Lucas thinks that sounds utterly terrifying, because he’s still half-hard from earlier. And with Eliott with him, lying next to him, there’s absolutely nothing he can do about it.

Before Lucas knows it, Eliott is following Lucas into his bedroom—because of course he would stay in Lucas’ room, they’re supposed to be dating, after all—and they’re peeling off their clothes and falling onto the bed.

Lucas stares at the ceiling, tries to keep as still as possible so that in the darkness, maybe Eliott will think he’s asleep, and he can mask the intense thudding of his heart with silence.

It works too, for a while. The spinning of Lucas’ head as he lies there acts as a distraction, he can focus on the nausea clawing at his stomach rather than the warm, unmistakable presence of Eliott’s body next to him.

Lucas turns on his side so his back is facing Eliott and there’s more distance between them. It helps with the spinning, just a little. But then Eliott is grunting, and his arm slings over Lucas’ waist to pull him closer, as if to say, come back.

Lucas’ breath hitches when their bodies align, and he feels the bulge coming from Eliott’s boxers where it presses into Lucas’ ass. And holy fuck. His eyes widen, because he knows what that is, Lucas isn’t imagining things, it’s there and it’s prominent and obvious and Lucas can’t just fucking ignore it.

And Lucas knows that he’s still considerably wasted, will probably wake up in the morning still tipsy at this point, but it doesn’t act in any way to hide the panic that settles deep within his chest.

“Eliott,” he whispers, but all he gets in response is another half-hum, half-grunt. “Eliott,” Lucas tries again, a little louder. This time Eliott doesn’t make any noise, instead he grinds his hips forwards, pressing his obvious hard on into Lucas’ ass.

And Lucas also knows that Eliott is still drunk, too. They’re both tired and hazy and past the point of rationality, clearly. In Lucas head, to rut back into Eliott seems like the only feasible option, because deep down, he knows that’s exactly what he wants to do.

Perhaps, if he were more sober, if he hadn’t necked close to ten drinks or so, Lucas would be more alert to the fact that they both don’t really know what they’re doing, or that they do, and maybe that thought is a lot more terrifying to Lucas.

From then it doesn’t take long before Lucas is growing hard too, because Eliott is tucking his head into the nape of Lucas’ neck, and he’s rutting against Lucas in slow, deep circles that cause lightning bolt shocks to spark at the surface of Lucas’ skin. His little pants are flaming hot and wet at the exposed skin of Lucas’ back. The absence of clothes is palpable, then. And the thin material of their boxers doesn’t leave any room for imagination.

Suddenly, as Eliott lets out a small hitch of breath, Lucas is struck with the realisation that maybe Eliott doesn’t know what he’s doing. Because Eliott doesn’t like Lucas like that, he’s drunk, and he probably thinks he’s with someone else, or Marco.

Lucas has to stop this. He has to. It’s unfair and selfish of him to be aware of the situation when Eliott isn’t. So, reluctantly, Lucas circles a hand around Eliott’s wrist from where it’s wrapped around his waist, and tries to pry him off.

But Eliott’s arm is like a vice grip, and he only grumbles at Lucas’ attempts.

And fuck, this is torturous. The inner battle in Lucas head of knowing this is wrong but not wanting it to stop mocks him, because it feels so good.

“Eliott,” Lucas chokes out.

But with no avail, as Eliott only tugs him closer. And just as Lucas is about to try again, to use every fiber of force he has in him to pull away, Eliott is whimpering, “Lucas,” soft but intertwined with an evident need and want that Lucas just can’t ignore.

Lucas freezes momentarily, his breath catching in his throat as he stills his breathing. He heard that correctly, right? For a few terrifying seconds, Lucas thinks maybe it had been a vivid fragment of his imagination, that he had hallucinated the word in his half-drunken state.

But then, again, louder and with more purpose, Eliott is breathing, “Lucas,” into the hair at the back of his head, and that’s all the confirmation Lucas needs, really.

He loosens his grip on Eliott’s wrist in favour of reaching back until he finds his hip to pull him closer, simultaneously rutting back into Eliott’s crouch.

Eliott moans again, and the sound is heavenly, like the clouds have opened for a spectrum of gold tinged light that washes down onto them, angels singing a beautiful melody throughout the sky.

They grind like that for a while, until Eliott groans deep within the back of his throat, and he’s rising up and pushing Lucas down. Lucas blinks and Eliott is hovering above him, panting and eyes wide.

In the midst of arriving home and stressing about Eliott coming with him, Lucas had completely forgotten to close his curtains, so like this, a sheen of moonlight washes over Eliott’s features. Silver highlighting the darkness in his pupils and the dusting of red across his cheeks.

You’re beautiful, Lucas thinks. Thinks, but doesn’t say.

Instead, as Eliott aligns their crouches in just the right way and grinds down, Lucas’ head tips back, his mouth falling open in a breath of pleasure. Then he’s moving his own hips along with Eliott’s, matching his rhythm, desperate for the friction and the promise of relief.

Yeah,” Lucas breathes again, one hand coming up to fold into Eliott’s hair to push his head down where he wants it, craving that familiar sensation of lips on his neck. Eliott seems to get the hint, as he ducks his head and attaches his lips to the dip where Lucas’ shoulder meets his neck and begins to suck. Lucas’ other hand travels down to the small of Eliott’s back where he kneads the heel of his palm into. Because the dragging of Eliott’s teeth against his sensitive skin, along with the feeling of their hips rutting together is everything and it’s like Lucas’ entire body is made up of one giant nerve ending that is responsive to Eliott, and Eliott only.

Lucas feels it more than he hears it as Eliott mumbles something incoherent into the exposed line of his neck, the vibration of it sinks under his skin and settles deep within his rushing veins.

He’s close, he feels the swirl in the pit of his stomach and the shaking of his thighs when Eliott presses their hips together in a way that causes Lucas’ tip to peek out from the waistline of his boxers, how it slicks against Eliott’s stomach where his t-shirt has bunched upwards. And Lucas knows he exhales something that’s obscene and along the lines of a broken whimper, but he’s so out of his own body that he can’t even bring himself to feel embarrassed about it. He isn’t thinking, can’t think.

Like at all, clearly.

What tips Lucas over the edge, the tension that had been coiling in his stomach unfolding in a cosmic rush, is the solid press of Eliott’s fingertips on his hips, pulling him up and closer. Then a pant of, “Fuck, Lucas, you feel so good,” hot in the crook of his neck against the tingling of the still sensitive mark he had make earlier.

Lucas’ breath shudders, his mouth gaping open with a breathy moan, and then Eliott is moving his head from Lucas’ neck for the first time since he nestled it in there. Lucas’ eyes are still shut, but he can feel Eliott watching him, their hips still chasing the friction as Lucas rides out his orgasm.

And then Eliott is coming, the pace of his hips stuttering, a gasp and, “Lucas,” on the tip of his tongue.

It feels like falling, almost. As they come down from the spike of adrenaline, their heavy breaths lacing together like harsh winds in the silence that has settled around them. Lucas feels his head spin, now not only drunk off alcohol, but off the sound of his name falling wrecked from Eliott’s bright red, swollen lips. He distantly thinks this is maybe how Alice in Wonderland felt as she fell down the rabbit hole, tumbling down and down, spinning deeper and faster in an unremitting descent.

And it would be so easy, right now, in this moment to reach out for Eliott and pull him into a kiss. To say something like, that was amazing, I really, really love you. Then, maybe, Eliott would smile, soft and pretty, and he’d whisper, I love you too, right back. In any other universe, Lucas hopes it goes that way, hopes at least one Lucas out there can get his happy ending.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way things ever play out, not in Lucas’ life, anyways. So Eliott flops down lazily beside him, and Lucas’ eyes droop with heaviness, chasing the promise of sleep. He tries to fight it, to pry them open so he can look at Eliott in the darkness and see what he’s thinking, because Lucas needs to. He’s just got off with Eliott, his brain hurts when it tries to comprehend the knowledge. So he tries to stay awake.

But it’s no use.

He thinks Eliott has fallen asleep too, however, because he lies still and gentle beside him. His breathing softening with each cycle of inhale, exhale until it’s so quiet Lucas would have to strain his ears to hear.

Lucas drifts to that, to the calmness and the warmth. Tries not to think too much about what they’ve just done, what Eliott will say in the morning, how the moon might be judging him.

It’s petrifying, but he thinks, for now, it’s okay. Just about, it’s okay.