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I.

Fuck, is the first thing Lucas Lallemant thinks when he reaches the front of the line and stammers as he forgets exactly what he’s about to say. All he sees is the new barista standing right behind Imane, laughing to himself as he pulls down a lever and steam flies right into his face. Lucas is still watching curiously when the barista turns around, mischievous eyes alight with the hidden fact that he’s done something completely, utterly stupid. But adorable, Lucas thinks. And as the barista looks around for any witnesses, his gaze lands straight on Lucas.

Lucas goes blank, knees wobbly.

Fuck, he’s hot.

And unfortunately for Lucas, because of course something like this would happen, Imane is not having it. She waves her hand in front of his face, crossing her arms as she receives no response. “Lucas. Lucas? Hello?”

Lucas snaps back to attention and stares blankly at Imane, blushing. “Sorry.” He sneaks another quick glance at the barista behind the counter and feels his heart actually wince because the barista’s already turned back around, fussing with a complicated coffee order with far too much milk and something about diluted water.

“Uh,” Lucas manages, “what?”

The glare Imane gives him could cut ice, and Lucas vaguely makes a note to never cross her. Not like he was ever planning to. “Your order, dumbass. Come on, there’s a line.”

Despite himself, Lucas shakes his head and smiles. He can’t help it. His biology partner turned out to be one of the coolest people he knows. “Noisette.” He grins, “coffee with a drop of milk.”

Imane rolls her eyes but can’t keep the edges of her mouth from turning up. And a little bell rings in Lucas’ head because that’s four times now that Imane’s smiled at him in the past week. “Three euros,” she says.

Lucas digs in his pockets and scrambles to drop three coins in the palm of Imane’s hand. “You’re warming up to me,” he teases. “By the end of summer, we’ll be like, best friends.”

“Okay, bye.” She shoos him off impatiently, turning to mutter his order to the hot barista behind her. The one Lucas can’t seem to keep his eyes off. He thinks he hears Imane calling him an idiot.

And as she does, the barista turns around, his eyes meeting Lucas’ for the second time that day. And Lucas is drowning all over again, joints frozen, unable to breathe, and he doesn’t understand how suddenly he finds himself very interested in the white tiles beneath his shoes.

He’s startled by the voice calling his name minutes later, and the voice is sweet, and Lucas snaps up, entranced. It’s the barista, and fuck, he’s just said Lucas’ name.

Lucas manages to shuffle toward the counter and shakily meets the barista’s gaze as he hands him his coffee.

“One noisette,” the barista says, smiling. And then, “for Lucas.”

Lucas nods and manages to make a barely distinguishable smile, ducking his head and nearly bolting out the café. As soon as the air hits his face and he starts walking across the street, regret washes over him.

It’s only now that he realizes he hasn’t got the barista’s name. Only the inkling of a silhouette and those striking eyes, and that sweet, sweet voice. He needs to go back, Lucas thinks, needs to find out who he is, needs something —

He’s interrupted by an arm wrapping around his shoulders.

“Aw, there’s our Lulu,” is Arthur’s voice behind him.

Next to him, the same person whose arm is shaking him, is Yann. “Come on, man, really? No coffee for me?”

“What? I want coffee!” Is Basile, shoving his way in the middle of him and Yann, staring at Lucas with wide eyes.

Lucas scowls. “Really?”

Arthur laughs, his glasses misting up and nudging further down his nose. “So grumpy.”

Yann agrees, and Arthur, the dick, reaches over Lucas’ head to meet Yann in a perfectly planned fist bump.

It’s Basile that notices it first. “What’s that?” he reaches for Lucas’ coffee, and oh no, that was not a good idea.

“Hey,” Lucas scrambles away, “hands off!” Call him selfish, but he’s not letting Basile of all people ruin the feeling of the barista’s fingertips lightly brushing against his.

“No, no, no,” Basile interrupts again, and Lucas feels the intense need to throttle him. “There’s something on your cup, right there.” He manages to stick his finger towards the side of the cup away from Lucas. “See?”

Lucas turns his cup and freezes. “Oh my god.”

Because sure enough, there’s something there. Drawn in black sharpie right underneath his name. It’s a raccoon holding a cup of coffee, a smile stretching upon his face.

“Oh my god,” Lucas says again. Because how the hell did the barista manage to draw this between making coffee and calling his name?

“What is it?” Arthur strains to see, fussing with his glasses. His smile grows. “Ah, who’s your secret admirer?” He waggles his eyebrows.

Yann sneaks a peak of the coffee cup, too. “Cute. What does it mean?”

And Lucas can’t seem to say anything else. “Oh my god.”

Basile groans, exasperated. “Yes, we know. You already said that, like ten times.”

“The — the barista,” Lucas manages, already feeling like his eyes are turning into little hearts. “He, he works in the coffee shop.“

“What’s his name?” Arthur grins, slinging an arm around Lucas. And then he turns to Yann and Basile, doing a very poor job of disguising his excitement. “Guys, guys, Lucas is falling in love before our very eyes.”

And then Lucas is drowning all over again because he doesn’t even know who the barista is. “I don’t know,” he admits. “I ran out.”

Yann groans and smacks his hands over his face. Basile has a similar reaction, but it instead involves tripping over his laces and stumbling to grab onto Arthur, who rolls his eyes in exaggerated exasperation.

And then Lucas’ eyes widen. “I didn’t even thank him.”

He pushes past the boys and runs back to the coffee shop, pulling the door open with a little too much force. It’s at this moment that he realizes it might be a little weird to apologize to a person he’s never even met. In fact, he thinks he’ll just thank him tomorrow, and wheels out of the coffee shop, thoroughly embarrassed. He doesn’t even notice the ‘hey’ Imane sends his way and the curious glance from the barista that follows him out of the shop.

II.

Lucas stops by the coffee shop again the next day and doesn’t see Imane. This time someone else takes his order, and he sits on the stool next to the window and sticks earbuds into his ears. He’s absent-mindedly tapping his foot as he listens to the Clash and faintly realizes that the barista is calling his name.

Lucas scrambles up to the counter a bit too quickly, his earbuds dangling out his ears. “Thanks,” he says. “I mean for yesterday. And today, too.”

The barista laughs, and Lucas thinks that if he could listen to this laugh forever, he would actually melt. “You left so quickly yesterday.”

Lucas blushes, but the barista isn’t finished. Hot barista smiles, and Lucas notices the little dimples that form in his cheeks. “I didn’t even get a chance to tell you my name. It’s only fair, since I know yours.”

Lucas doesn’t think it can be possible. That someone this gorgeous, someone this brilliant is asking for Lucas’ name. Maybe even flirting with him. And the shocking part is that this is someone Lucas really, really likes.

“Okay. Then what is it? Your name?” He manages.

The barista’s eyes soften, and his smile grows. “Eliott. I’m Eliott.”

Lucas forms the name on his lips, whispering it. “Eliott. I’m Lucas,” he says, finally. And then blinks stupidly. “Oh. You already know that. From my order.”

Eliott only laughs, handing him his coffee. “See you around, Lucas.”

And this time, as Lucas takes his coffee, he really doesn’t think he’s imagining the warmth of Eliott’s fingers brushing against his own.

I’m so screwed.

He walks back to his seat by the window and pulls out his laptop from the backpack he slumps against the window ledge, absent-mindedly studying his coffee cup. He’s hoping there’s another drawing, feels his heart thumping in his throat, feels his breath catching in his throat. And as he turns the paper cup, his heart starts beating faster and faster, and he knocks over the flash drive connected to his laptop.

There’s another drawing on the cup, yet this time, it’s different. There’s a hedgehog running out the door, a raccoon staring at the empty space. The text bubble above the raccoon reads plainly, “i wish you’d stayed.”

Lucas buries his face into his hands. A strange sort of feeling flutters in his stomach.

No. Fuck.

He meets Eliott’s gaze from across the room, and Eliott smiles that sunshine smile, yet this time there’s something a little more, and Lucas looks down at his laptop before he can try to understand what it means.

The ding from his message app startles him, and he turns red, quickly silencing his notifications and opening up the google doc of his essay. He will not look back up to stare at Eliott.

Hours later, there’s a plate that slides into his vision, and Lucas stares at it, confused. Then he looks up, heart fluttering as he sees Eliott standing beside him.

“Hi,” Eliott says, cheerful.

“Hi,” Lucas manages, terrified that Eliott can hear the way his heart is beating in his chest. Erratic and loud. “I, uh, didn’t order anything.”

Eliott tilts his head and widens his eyes mischievously. “Well, as part of my exceptional barista abilities, I’m giving you scones. On me.”

Lucas looks back down at the plate, oddly touched.

“And,” Eliott teases, “you’ve been sitting there doing nothing for a really long time.”

Lucas raises an eyebrow. “So you’ve been watching me, hm?”

Eliott doesn’t have the audacity to appear even a tad bit embarrassed. Instead, he shrugs, and Lucas swears under his breath because is Eliott smirking?

“It’s hard not to,” Eliott smirks, and oh, it’s definitely a smirk, “especially when you look like that.”

“Kidding,” Lucas says, choosing to ignore both Eliott and the blush racing across his face as he looks back at his laptop. “Actually, I’m writing an essay.”

“Writing or hitting your head against the table?” Eliott quips, stepping around to look at Lucas’ screen. “What’s your essay on?”

“French culture,” Lucas grumbles. “It’s so fake.”

Eliott points to the screen. “I had to do that.”

Lucas shuts his laptop. “Well, mine’s terrible.” He folds his hands and looks at Eliott with his full attention. “So, what’d you bring me?”

Eliott leans to motion at the scones, and his shoulder brushes against Lucas’. “They’re blueberry,” Eliott smiles proudly, “but I added cinnamon to the second if you want to try. It’s an experiment.”

“An experiment?” Lucas repeats, raising an eyebrow, daring to let a little bit of tease tug at his voice. “Sounds shady.”

“Yes,” Eliott affirms, nodding, “an experiment.” And then, smile delving into something that again nearly resembles a smirk, “you scared?”

Lucas gasps, affronted. “Me? Scared?” He grins. “Nope. Not me.” Lucas turns to Eliott, poking him on the shoulder. “I was going to offer to share my scones, but just for that, now I won’t.”

Eliott pouts. “Pity.” He reaches out, messing with a strand of Lucas’ hair, then smiles, bounding back to the counter, already fussing with a new coffee order.

Oh my god.

Lucas reaches up to touch his hair, then smiles, reaching for a scone.

He eats the first one, which tastes absolutely delicious and then forgets what Eliott’s said about an experiment as he bites into the second one. And he nearly loses it. Because despite what he thinks going into it, blueberry scones do taste quite well with cinnamon. Although he’ll never tell Eliott that.

Lucas sticks his tongue out at Eliott who’s stirring milk and matcha behind the counter, but Eliott only smiles, and Lucas already knows that Eliott sees right through his act.

III.

When Lucas returns to the coffee shop the next day, he frantically looks around the counter. He searches again, standing on his tiptoes behind the people in front of him to hopefully glimpse one inkling of messy brown hair and that gorgeous, gorgeous smile. But he can’t find it.

And with a heavy heart, Lucas realizes that Eliott isn’t here.

He reaches the front of the line, glum and annoyed, and he grumbles, fiddling with his sleeves. Imane raises an eyebrow at him expectantly.

“One noisette?” She asks, face indistinguishable.

And Lucas thinks, fuck it. “Who made my order last time?”

Imane looks at him like he’d suddenly started speaking Gaelic. “What?” And then suspiciously, “why?”

Lucas stammers out some excuse that he doubts Imane believes. “Because he’s not here? And my coffee was really good?”

Imane rolls her eyes, and Lucas thinks they might get stuck there. “Okay, listen up.” She leans forward. “That’s Eliott Demaury.” And then, she adds, rather smugly, “works on Monday’s, Thursday’s, and Friday’s. Sometimes Saturday’s.”

Lucas blushes but gives Imane an unimpressed look. “So … why’re you telling me this?”

And Imane matches him right back. “Don’t play me, Lucas.” And then, “are you buying coffee or not?”

Lucas looks at her like she’s crazy.

“Then get out of line.”

Lucas rolls his eyes. “Imane,” he whines. “So mean.”

Imane rolls her own and pushes him away. “Bye, Lucas. Come back Monday.”

IV.

On Monday morning, Lucas thinks he might go broke by his newest obsession with the coffee shop. He hasn’t got a job, and at this rate, he’ll be broke by the end of summer. At least then, school’ll start, and he doubts Eliott and Imane will still be working. Then he’ll be able to take a break and beg his dad for more money, which he probably won’t receive.

He walks up to the counter and smiles at Imane, placing a paper bag and pushing it towards her. “Here.”

Imane looks at the bag, eyebrows raised. Lucas thinks proudly to himself that she looks really, really suspicious. “What is it?” She opens it, then smiles, and the same bell rings in Lucas’ head. Five times. “Lucas!”

Lucas shrugs. “Apology for being grumpy. It’s lunch.”

And it’s so out of character, so utterly unexpected, that Lucas freezes, jaw-dropped, as Imane reaches over to give him a hug. “Coffee?”

“Who are you?” Lucas manages, confused.

Imane rolls her eyes. “Okay, enough. Coffee or not?”

Lucas takes the time to look around and catches Eliott’s piercing gaze from across the counter. He can’t help but smirk. “No,” he says. “But what about scones?”

Imane punches in the order to the register, and looks up at him expectantly. “Type?”

My type? Tall, messy hair, works at a coffee shop and goes by the name Eliott.

When Lucas doesn’t say anything, still busy staring at Eliott, she reverts right back to her normal expression. “Lucas. What type of scones?”

Lucas grins right at Eliott. “Blueberry. But with cinnamon, please.”

Imane startles him back to attention as she places her hands on the counter and leans forward. “What?” The way she’s staring at him makes Lucas feel like he’s sprouted a pair of horns, or something. “Okay, Lucas, you’ve been acting weird all day, but this is weird. Like, really, really weird.” She turns to see Eliott approaching, and raises an eyebrow. “Can you believe this guy?”

Idiot, she means.

But then Eliott starts laughing, and Lucas stares at him, entranced. Eliott laughs with his whole being, eyes scrunched up, beaming smile, stature lightly bent over. And when he speaks, his eyes land on Lucas, and Lucas only. “Sounds shady, no?”

Lucas thinks he’s going to die.

Imane looks at Lucas, then Eliott, then back at Lucas. If Lucas had any qualms about whether Eliott was smirking or not, he is completely certain about Imane. The expression across her face is clearly a smirk. And a smug one.

Imane gives one last look at Lucas, takes his money and pushes it in the register, then grabs the paper bag he’s given her and walks into the back room.

Lucas takes his time to walk over to the other side of the counter, only to lean against it. Eliott’s already spreading cinnamon icing atop one blueberry scone, perking up as Lucas saunters over.

“You’re here,” Eliott says, cheerfully. He steps closer to Lucas, scones forgotten on the table. “I was hoping I’d see you again.”

Lucas laughs, and his grip against the counter tightens. If Eliott keeps saying things like this, Lucas will go into cardiac arrest. He also thinks if he lets go of the counter, he just might melt on the spot. “I’m not here for you,” is what he ends up saying, and he smacks himself for it later. “I’m here for the scones.”

“Oh,” Eliott says, raising a brow. “Of course you are.” He turns around to grab the scones, a devilish smirk on his face as he shoves them toward Lucas, winking. “See you.”

And Lucas stands there with his scones, shock written all over his face. He whirls around and heads back towards the same window seat, doing his best to focus on the arithmetic glaring up at him.

Hours later, and he’s slamming his head against his summer assignments when Eliott slides a coffee cup towards him.

“For you,” Eliott says, leaning against Lucas’ countertop table. He’s still towering over Lucas, biting his lip as he looks at the papers Lucas has been trying so hard to make disappear over the past hour. “You should take a break,” Eliott remarks.

Lucas only smiles, sighing. “I wish. But,” he motions to his assignments scattered across the table, “no luck.”

Eliott hums, then takes back the coffee cup he’d so graciously offered Lucas and wheels back to the counter. Lucas stares after him, confused.

“Wait,” Lucas calls, heartbroken because he wants that coffee, and did he say something wrong? Instead of figuring out what’s going on, he flushes and keeps his head down, eyes burning holes into the math problems he just can’t seem to figure out.

Minutes later there’s a tap on his shoulder, and Eliott is holding two paper cups of coffee, grinning. He’s wearing a jacket and black hoodie this time, instead of the t-shirt and apron Lucas is so accustomed to seeing him wearing.

“Don’t you dare take those back,” Lucas whispers.

“Come on,” Elliot’s fingers wrap around Lucas’ wrist and tugs him out of his chair. “We’re going.”

Lucas can’t speak. He can’t even bring himself to function because Eliott’s fingers are all over his wrist and he’s going into overdrive. “Where,” he finally manages to breathe, staring up at Eliott with eyes that he hopes aren’t too blissful.

“Out.” Elliott hands Lucas his coffee, and Lucas thinks quietly that the warmth of the coffee doesn’t feel as nice as the warmth that used to be around his wrist.

Lucas feels his heart sink as he looks back at his stuff. “I can’t just leave —“

And just when he needs her, Imane is there. She smirks, setting down a reserved sign atop his table. “Yes, you can.”

Lucas is beyond confused. “What?” He says, voice weak. And Lucas feels so weak because he’s overcome with all these feelings and nearly all of them are about Eliott, standing beside him.

Imane winks at Eliott, then finger salutes Lucas as she walks back to her post at the register. “Thanks for the lunch, Lucas.”

Eliott is beaming beside him and he bounds toward the door, holding it open. “Coming?”

Lucas nods blindly and follows, grinning. “If I have to.”

I’d follow you anywhere.

They walk out the coffee shop and into the streets, and Lucas laughs as Eliott jumps up to the raised curb and swings himself around the turn in the sidewalk with his arm wrapped around the lamp posts. Despite it being summer, it’s a rather cold day.

Lucas turns to look at Eliott. “Where’re we going?”

Eliott shrugs, eyes twinkling. “I don’t know. Wherever we want.”

Apparently, ‘wherever we want’ is wherever Eliott Demaury wants, because Lucas clearly suggested the ice cream parlor, and Eliott shook his head, grinning at Lucas with that stupid smile that he knows Lucas can’t resist. And then he’d grabbed Lucas’ hand and pulled him across the street, running with the wind blowing through their hair and stinging their eyes.

When they enter the nearby park, they keep walking, side by side, until they reach a place where Eliott decides to stop.

“We’re here?” Lucas crosses his arms. He gazes up at Eliott with a grin. “I still think we should’ve stopped for ice cream. We’re in the middle of like, nowhere.”

Eliott snorts. He points up, raising his eyebrows. “Up there.”

And Lucas nearly dies. “No. No way.”

Eliott chuckles, nimbly hoisting himself up the tree. Once he’s settled on the branch, he reaches a hand out to Lucas. “Coming?”

Lucas breathes in, then looks back up at Eliott. He must look terrified, because Eliott softens, tilting his head while gazing at Lucas with that same unfamiliar expression. But it feels nice. It feels warm.

“I won’t let you fall,” Eliott says.

“I’m not worried about falling,” Lucas lies, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Eliott raises an eyebrow and Lucas sighs. “Okay, okay, maybe a little.”

Eliott’s hand remains hanging in the air between them, and Lucas thinks of all the paths that’ve led up to this moment. One Lucas’ for sure still sitting in the coffee shop, working on that god-awful arithmetic, and another Lucas’ probably sitting and playing video games at Yann’s. And he’s sure there’s another Lucas out there, who’s refusing to step foot up the tree. But dimly, Lucas hopes he’s the one who dares to climb up and reach for Eliott.

“Coming?”

Lucas nods, then reaches for Eliott’s hand, using his other hand to scramble up the trees, pushing himself up with his feet. And when he sits next to Eliott on the branch, he feels Eliott’s hands steadying his shoulders.

“You okay?”

Lucas laughs. “Never better.” And it’s half true, as he doesn’t want Eliott’s hands to ever leave him. He peeks a look down at the ground and covers his eyes. “Ah, fuck.”

Eliott tilts up Lucas’ chin, then lets his hand fall back to his side. “I find it better to not look back.”

Lucas furrows his eyebrows. “Hm?”

“Don’t look down.”

“That makes me want to look down even more.”

“Well, don’t.”

“Why not?”

Eliott pouts. “Well, don’t you want to look at me?”

And Lucas feels his stomach fluttering, and he nearly falls. He latches his hands onto Eliott’s shoulder, steadying himself, and he blatantly realizes that he can feel Eliott’s chest shaking from laughing and he’s so warm, so warm.

Lucas can’t help his own laughter and everything feels so right, being up here with Eliott. He tucks this memory away and fiercely thinks to himself that right now, he never wants to leave.

When Lucas sneaks a glance back at Eliott, Eliott’s eyes are closed, his head tilted up towards the sky. Lucas looks at the way Eliott seems so serene, so peaceful, and he has to stop his heart from bursting as he looks at the hollow of his cheekbones and the way the sides of his lips are bunched up like he’s trying to suppress a smile. And then those blue-gray eyes flash open, and Eliott’s smirking. “Enjoying the view?”

Shit.

Lucas raises an eyebrow. “I was, actually.” Lucas feels a rush of pride at the way Eliott nearly blushes, obviously not expecting that. “But there’s this big oaf who’s rudely blocking the Tour d’Eiffel —“

Eliott pokes him in the side, laughing. “Fuck, you’re so mean! You couldn’t let me have my moment?”

Lucas grins, staring up at Eliott like he’s his whole world. And in a way, he is. “Nope.”

Yes.

V.

When Lucas walks back to the coffee shop with Eliott to get his stuff, he says hello to Imane and smiles so brightly that Imane fixes him with the strangest look possible.

“Oh, sorry,” Eliott says, “we’re closing up?”

Imane nods, tossing him the keys. “You are. I’m out of here.”

Lucas thinks to himself that he really, really owes Imane. If this is what happens when he brings Imane lunch once, he’s going to bring her lunch again. And again.

The doors of the coffee shop shut, and Eliott looks around. “I guess it’s just us now. I’ll just clean up real quick.” He heads back behind the counter, out of sight. “You can go if you want.”

Lucas shrugs, hopping up on the counter and swinging his legs. He fiddles with the edge of his hoodie, shivering into it. He’s not going to leave, not unless Eliott actually kicks him out.

When Eliott finally emerges from the back room with a rag, his eyes widen as he sees Lucas. “You’re still here?”

Lucas shrugs again. “Don’t have anywhere else to go.” He freezes, breath caught in his lungs. “I mean, I meant, I don’t have anywhere else to be. At the moment.”

Eliott looks at Lucas for a while, running his fingers across his lips, contemplating. And then he turns, wiping crumbs off the counter.

“Need any help?” Lucas asks, anything to break the silence. It’s unlike him to feel so nervous, and he doesn’t know why he keeps pulling at his fingers and his sleeves.

“No,” Eliott looks back up. “Just sit there and look pretty.”

“Shut up,” Lucas laughs, pulling out his phone. He scrolls through the notifications, and dimly realizes that he doesn’t have Eliott’s phone number. He looks up at Eliott, pondering. And then he shakes his head, scrolling back through his phone.

A notification unfolds from the top of the screen because Yann’s texted him, and he opens up his messages to see a string of chats between him and the rest of the boys.

The message is clear. All three are wondering why he’s been at the coffee shop the entire day instead of playing video games at home. And all three think he’s hooked up with the mysterious, hot barista.

He sighs, typing out a message.

Lucas: I’m fine. We’re just talking.

He shuts off his phone and slips it back into his pocket. Lucas looks at the paintings hanging above the coffee shop, and he hums as Eliott stares momentarily at the one with the clouds and the sea.

“What would it take for you to go to an art museum with me?” Eliott asks out of the blue, turning to look at Lucas. He hums, thinking to himself. “Actually,” he chuckles, “that wouldn’t work.”

Lucas has a stroke of boldness, and he shakes his head. “I’d go,” he says. “But only if you promised to make out with me and hold my hand.”

What.

He blinks. He doesn’t know why he said that.

Fuck. He needs to disappear. Like now.

Eliott’s eyes widen, and he pauses, stunned. Then he walks closer, smirk building at the corners of his lips. He’s standing right in front of Lucas, hands falling to land on either side of the smaller boy. “Hm. As much as I’d love to, I told you it wouldn’t work.” Eliott smiles sweetly. “They said not to touch the masterpieces. And you, baby, are definitely a masterpiece.”

Oh my god. He didn’t.

Lucas squeaks. Every ounce of him is on fire, burning with Eliott’s words and his gaze, and right now they’re so close that Lucas can see all the small flecks of blue in his beautiful eyes. “You’re the masterpiece,” is all he can manage, looking down at his shoes. He can’t look up at Eliott as he says it and thinks it’s strange that he’s speaking to the grubby tiles and his scuffed shoes.

Eliott tilts Lucas’ head back up, gazing softly at him. And Lucas is met again with those brilliant eyes. “You’re adorable. Did you know that?” Eliott’s words wash over Lucas, and he’s about to actually melt until he registers exactly what’s been said.

Oh, fuck no.

And then he brings his knees up, blocking Eliott from moving forward.

“Adorable? I’m a fucking masterpiece.” Lucas glares, affronted. “Don’t touch.”

It completely ruins the moment, and Eliott falls away from the counter, doubling over with laughter. He’s smiling so hard it looks like he’s brimming with happiness, and he leans against one of the coffee tables, chuckling. “Are you always so mean?”

Lucas sticks his chin up and stares up at Eliott, raising his eyebrows. “Keep hanging out with me, and you’ll see.”

“Ah,” Eliott hums, reaching to mess with a strand of Lucas’ hair. “I just might.”

“And,” Lucas adds, boldly, “don’t use cheesy pick-up lines.”

Eliott merely winks.

Lucas leaves the coffee shop that night with a promise of art museums and the lingering regret of an almost kiss. If only he’d managed to keep his damn mouth shut. But then he remembers the way Eliott messed with his hair, and he doesn’t really regret a thing.

VI.

When Lucas next walks into the coffee shop, he nearly drops his backpack. Because right before his very eyes are the three people Lucas has been trying to avoid: Yann, Basile, and Arthur. And all three are currently leaning against the counter, bombarding Eliott with questions.

“Are you making my coffee?” Comes from Arthur who leans forward, with wide eyes.

“How long’ve you worked here?” This is Yann, now.

And then, “draw me a picture, Eliott, please, please, please? I love art.”

Eliott laughs, the same beautiful sound, and Lucas nearly swoons right then and there. But then he remembers what’s going on, and he marches over, dragging Basile away from the counter. “He’s not drawing you a picture,” Lucas grumbles.

Elliott perks up at this, eyes widening as he sees Lucas.

Lucas doesn’t notice, for he’s far too busy pushing Basile, Arthur, and Yann toward the table in the back of the shop. He distinctly avoids the seat by the window.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Lucas scowls, exasperated. “And why are you talking to, no, bothering Eliott?”

“Ah, first name basis,” Arthur grins.

Yann laughs, passing Arthur a euro. He then turns to Lucas. “How’d it go, yesterday?”

“Fine,” Lucas says. “Nothing happened. We just talked.”

“For the entire day?” Yann looks at Lucas with glee. “Okay. That’s great.”

Arthur rolls his eyes and dramatically passes the coin back to Yann, who waggles his eyebrows and holds up a triumphant middle finger.

Basile yawns. “I hope he draws me that race car I told him about.”

Arthur looks sideways at Basile. “Well huge warning, Baz? If he does you’d better run. I think Lulu here might throw fists — and he’s got a mean punch.” He taps the frame of his glasses, and Lucas scowls.

Basile shrugs, perking up as Eliott calls all three of their names. Basile is about to run toward the counter, but Yann grabs him by the hood. “We still have to talk about that girl,” Yann says pointedly.

Lucas thinks this is very dumb, as Basile is so obviously already dating Daphné.

Arthur nods vigorously. “Yes. Sit down, Basile.”

“Get our coffee, Lucas?” Yann looks at him innocently, but Lucas knows better. He sees the glee behind Yann’s eyes.

Basile looks blank. “Huh? What girl?”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Sit down, Baz.”

“I want to see if he likes Lucas!” Basile whispers a little too loudly. “That’s why we’re all here, remember?”

Arthur sighs. “You will, babe, just wait. Besides, I don’t think Daphné would be too happy to see you so excited about Eliott.”

Yann snickers.

Lucas walks over to the counter, shaking his head. He wishes he hadn’t heard that conversation.

“Hi,” Eliott says, amused. He smiles as he sees Lucas, leaning forward. “Are those your friends?”

Lucas nods, sighing. “Yeah. They’re a handful.”

“No, they seem cool,” Eliott says. “Really cool.”

“Sorry if they bothered you.”

“Oh no,” Eliott says quickly. “Not at all.” He grins, “in fact, they were telling me all about you and your invisible friend.”

The color drains out of Lucas’ face. “I was twelve! I’m going to kill them —“

“I was joking,” Eliott teases as he bursts into infectious laughter, “but that was cute.” He reaches out to mess with Lucas’ hair, pushing four paper cups of coffee toward him.

“Oh,” Lucas says, still not entirely recovered from embarrassment. “Only three. I didn’t order coffee.”

“I know,” Eliott says. He pushes the fourth coffee back toward Lucas. “But still. It’s for you. You know, exceptional barista abilities.”

“You don’t have to,” Lucas says.

“Take it,” Eliott insists. “And I want to.”

Lucas smiles softly and takes the coffees between his arms, stumbling to carry everything as he walks back toward the table.

Yann is grinning at Lucas. “Oh, yes. He likes you, dude.”

Arthur nods excitedly. “Did you see the way he messed with your hair? He’s totally gone.”

Basile laughs. “Lucas, the guy gave you free coffee! Free coffee! Please date him.” He turns to Yann, “you know what this means, guys? We get discounts!”

Lucas looks down at his coffee and smiles, cheeks still pink. The table grows silent, thrumming with nervous excitement.

Arthur breaks it, howling with laughter. “Oh my god, guys, guys look, he’s blushing.”

Lucas scowls. “Shut. Up.”

But then his eyes catch sight of the little hedgehog peeking out from beneath his paper coffee cup, paint-splattered across his spikes. And then in a little speech-bubble, ‘i’m a fucking masterpiece. don’t touch.’

He remembered. He actually remembered.

Lucas stares at the cup and goes completely into bliss. Distantly he hears the boys whistling and laughing, but right now they’re so far away, and he can’t bring himself to care.

“His eyes just turned into little hearts,” Yann chuckles, poking Lucas’ cheeks. “I can’t believe this.”

Basile lights up. “He gave me a smiley face.”

“And he gave Lulu a gorgeous hedgehog. But,” Arthur turns to Lucas, still grinning stupidly, “we knew you were a masterpiece, but like, what does this even mean?”

Yann smirks. “And Lucas said romance was dead.”

Basile jumps up from the table and pumps his fist. “Yes!” He turns to Arthur and Yann, “Eliott’s a keeper.”

“For sure,” Arthur says.

Lucas smiles, melting, clutching the coffee cup in his hands. He thinks he could get used to this Eliott thing.

There’s a little number on the corner of the design, and Lucas faintly distinguishes it as the date three days from now.

VII.

Lucas meets Eliott at the art museum, and the two of them walk through the galleries and through the millions of paintings. Lucas makes fun of most of them, because Eliott, really, don’t they all look the same? But Eliott just laughs and points out interesting facts he’s able to rattle off from the top of his head. Or, as Lucas likes to put, read from the information signs at the bottom of the portraits.

“Ah,” Eliott says, “Baldassare Castiglione.” He’s staring at the painting, pensive, his fingertips trailing over his lips.

There’s no way he knows that. No way.

“He looks like a chef from a zombie apocalypse.”

Eliott bursts out laughing, then pretends to look at Lucas seriously. “Could be you. His eyes are the same color as yours.”

“Get out,” Lucas pushes Eliott, unable to contain the grin spreading across his face. “Don’t compare me to that.” He’s about to say more, but suddenly his eyes catch sight of a sign hanging from the ceiling, and he quickly shoves through people, pushing to get towards where he’s so clearly trying to reach. He manages to grab onto Eliott’s hand before he darts out the section of the gallery.

Elliott lets out a muffled yelp and is pulled into multiple people. He’s struggling to follow Lucas because he’s so tall, and Lucas feels a tiny bit of remorse. But when he turns around to peek at Eliott, there’s a grin on his face, and Lucas knows he’s definitely curious, probably wondering what in the world has gotten him so excited. Especially considering Lucas has been groaning every time Eliott pushes him into a different part of the museum.

When Lucas finally slows down, his eyes catch on the gilded plaque that reads ‘La Galerie d’Apollon’ and he steps inside, his head leaned up to look at the ceiling. He walks aimlessly around, searching for something. He looks past the names of Pisces and Aquarius and walks further and further, neck straining and eyes burning. And he finds Cancer up on the ceiling surrounded by a small circle of cerulean. He smiles, satisfied. “Found it.”

Eliott smiles down at Lucas, who’s still staring up at the ceiling with dazed eyes. “You like astrology?”

Lucas shrugs. “Sure.”

Eliott raises an eyebrow, eyes mischievous. “Sure?”

“I guess.”

“You guess?”

“Are you just going to copy everything I say until you get an answer you like?”

Eliott grins bashfully, shrugging. “Maybe?”

Lucas stares at Eliott for a moment, then sighs and laughs softly. “Okay, okay. Yes.”

Eliott gazes at Lucas with a curious expression, and Lucas doesn’t know what it means. He realizes he’s still holding Eliott’s hand and reluctantly lets go.

But Eliott doesn’t. Eliott’s still holding onto Lucas’ hand, and when he notices Lucas staring, he interlaces their fingers, eyes crinkling.

What?

Lucas looks up at Eliott, his eyes wide. Wide and wondrous. He’s yelling at himself to say something, say anything, but he can’t bring himself to speak. He’s utterly speechless. And it’s all because Eliott’s holding his hand, holding his hand, holding his hand.

“Is this okay?” Elliott asks, actually concerned, and bless him, Lucas thinks. Now he’s about to actually die.

Lucas is surprised when he nods. Because apparently his body’s decided that it can nod impulsively, but not speak. At least, not until now. “More than okay,” he croaks.

Eliott smiles, and he’s so close to Lucas. And Eliott’s looking down at him with eyes full of adoration. Adoration, Lucas thinks. That’s what it is. Adoration. Eliott’s voice startles him, and he jumps, shaky.

“Step one,” Eliott says, “hold your hand.” He’s so close now, and Lucas doesn’t know what to do with his other hand, which he shakily holds in front of him. “Step two,” Eliott says, looking at Lucas with those beautiful, beautiful eyes.

And Lucas realizes that he can smell Eliott’s faint cologne, but most of all he smells coffee beans, and Lucas’ suddenly grateful for the hand interlaced with Eliott’s that’s keeping him grounded. “You can’t, you can’t touch —“ He can’t bring himself to finish.

Eliott’s so close that Lucas’ hand is now resting right against his chest, and he can’t breathe, everything’s so warm, so right, so perfect.

“Fuck the rules,” Eliott whispers, his thumb reaching to brush against Lucas’ bottom lip.

And Lucas doesn’t know who makes the first move, who breaks the spell that’s settled around them, but suddenly he’s leaning up on his tiptoes and Eliott’s surging forward, and Eliott’s lips are against his, and he’s being kissed.

Eliott’s lips are soft, and the warmth swirling through Lucas’ entire body is enough to make him melt at the spot. Eliott’s hands come up to hold Lucas’ face, and Lucas tugs Eliott closer, running his hands through that gorgeous hair he’s wanted to touch for so long. There’s a soft sound when Eliott hums against his lips, and Lucas shivers.

When he pulls away Eliott is staring at him softly, eyes warm, everything warm. “Step two,” Eliott says, in that sweet, sweet voice. “Make out with you.”

“Step three,” Lucas says impatiently, “kiss me again.”

Eliott laughs, and Lucas pulls him closer, kissing him again.

VIII.

Three days later, Lucas returns to the coffee shop and bounds straight up to the counter. He’s not even here to buy coffee and doesn’t bother standing in that long, unnecessary line. He already sees Eliott grimacing as steam flies into his face, and he watches as Eliott grabs another silver container and fills it with hot water.

“Eliott,” Lucas breathes. “I need you for like, a second.”

Eliott walks over, eyes crinkled and curious. “Lucas?” And then, “only a second?”

And Lucas holds his phone up to Eliott’s face.

It takes a moment for Eliott to understand what Lucas has so abruptly shoved in his face. He blinks, then laughs, as he realizes it’s the standard blank contact. Because despite them knowing each other for weeks and going on what Lucas thinks might actually have been dates, he doesn’t have Eliott’s phone number.

“Okay,” Eliott says, reaching over to instead grab Lucas’ face, pulling him in for a short kiss. He smiles and darts away, this time with Lucas’ phone, and enters his number. When Eliott gives Lucas’ phone back, Lucas receives a new contact along with a chocolate chip muffin.

Honestly, he’s still half confused to how Eliott’s able to just give him free coffee and free dessert whenever he likes, but hey, Lucas doesn’t question it. He’s very, very broke, and he’d take anything for free. Especially if it’s food, and especially if it’s given to him by a very gorgeous barista by the name of Eliott Demaury.

“Why am I a hedgehog?” Lucas asks, leaning against the counter to stare up at Eliott.

Eliott leans forward to nuzzle his nose against Lucas’. “Because you’re adorable. And sweet.” He nuzzles Lucas’ nose again. “And because you’re scared.”

Lucas wrinkles his nose, pulling away. “Scared? Of what?”

Eliott smiles teasingly. “Of heights. Scones with cinnamon. Me, at first.”

Of being alone.

Lucas shakes his head. “That’s nothing. I was … concerned. You’re a shady guy.”

“Oh really, me?” Eliott laughs, and Lucas wants more than anything to keep making him laugh. But instead, he scrunches up his face and buries himself into Eliott’s shoulder. “Why’re you a raccoon?”

“Because they have masks,” Eliott grins, although Lucas thinks there’s something else shining in Eliott’s gaze. But before Lucas can figure out what it is, Eliott swipes two fingers across his eyes, laughing. “See?”

Lucas thinks Eliott almost looked — no. A trick of the light.

“Do you wear a mask?” Lucas asks quietly, daring to look up at Eliott.

Eliott looks down for a second, biting his lip. And then he smiles again. “Everyone wears masks, Lucas.”

Lucas shakes his head. And he thinks at this moment he feels very, very certain. “No. No, I don’t.”

But the look Eliott sends Lucas is very different than the expressions Lucas has seen before. It’s full of sadness, a little bit of glee that’s all Eliott, and hopeless misunderstanding. “You don’t?”

Lucas doesn’t meet Eliott’s gaze and shrugs his shoulders. He doesn’t respond. Because maybe the certainty he felt was just his overwhelming urge to block everything out. It’s happened before, Lucas thinks, before he came out. And despairingly, he realizes it can definitely happen again.

Back home as he lays on the couch, Lucas thinks Eliott must believe he’s impossibly naive. He sighs, stuffing his pillow over his face.

Kill me now.

He can’t think properly around Eliott. It’s like someone’s taken his wires, pulled them out the openings of his system, and jabbed them together, so that whenever he catches sight of the boy with the cheerful smile and beautiful eyes, he short circuits. Like a broken machine.

He feels a little better when he looks up Eliott Demaury on the Internet and watches a clip of a short film called Polaris, and he sighs as he sees Eliott smile. That sunshine smile. Eliott’s talking about his project and about two people who’re afraid of the dark and the light, and Lucas thinks he wants Eliott to be happy like this forever. Dimly, he realizes that Eliott looks at him like that, and a warm feeling bubbles in his throat.

Mika breaks the peace and barges in, only to jump on the small area of couch beside Lucas. Then, he peers at the laptop screen that Lucas is, unfortunately, a little too slow to shut.

Mika waggles his eyebrows. “Who’s that cutie?”

Lucas groans. “Mika. Seriously?”

“What?” Mika shrugs, inching closer and fixing Lucas with what he obviously thinks is an innocent gaze. But Lucas thinks Mika should know that no one in this flat thinks he’s innocent, so he can stop. Preferably like, right now.

“It’s Eliott,” Lucas finally gives in, much too tired to put up a front.

“New boy toy?”

Lucas fixes Mika with the driest look imaginable. “No. No, Mika. Not a boy toy.”

Mika holds up his hands in surrender.

Lucas sighs. “Okay, okay, relax. I don’t know what we are.”

Mika looks at Lucas for a long time, and it seems he’s finally serious. “Lucas, that’s natural. But, what do you want to be?”

Lucas looks back at the laptop screen again, his eyes softening as he watches Eliott wave at the camera. “I think I’m falling in love,” he whispers. “But I don’t know.”

“That’s great, kitten,” Mika says, but by now Lucas is miles away, floating in a space full of variations of coffee grinds, porcupine quills, and raccoon masks.

He can’t sleep that night, and he stares up at the ceiling and watches the curtains turn lighter and lighter until the sun peeks out from the clouds and soon it’s morning.

IX.

Weeks later, Lucas makes a coffee run and underestimates the weather, showing up to the coffee shop in a t-shirt and jeans, shivering and soaking wet. Because of course, his phone decided to tell him the skies were windy and breezy, and clearly forgot to mention that there would be afternoon showers. Of rain. Cold, cold rain.

Eliott nearly drops the coffee he’s making, and there’s a cluttering sound as he quickly pushes aside the mixing containers and sugar containers to rush over to Lucas. His hands rub at Lucas’ arms, and Eliott frowns as his efforts do literally nothing. “You’re freezing.”

Lucas shivers, teeth chattering. “Yeah,” he says dryly, “I’d noticed.”

Eliott mumbles something underneath his breath, eyes darting around. “Stay here,” he says seriously, eyes boring into Lucas. “And don’t leave.”

Lucas raises an eyebrow and stares at Eliott with as much sass as he can muster at this moment. But he’s sure it’s not much because his teeth are still chattering and he’s so, so cold. “Where else am I gonna go?”

Eliott goes back behind the counter into the back room, and when he returns, he’s pulled on his hoodie and wraps his brown jacket over Lucas’ form. Lucas drowns in the jacket, face softening as he realizes the jacket smells exactly like Eliott.

“I’m cold,” Lucas whines.

Eliott smiles down at Lucas, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “Come on, we’re going back to my place.”

“Don’t you have to work?”

“Yes,” Eliott shrugs, “but it doesn’t matter. You’re more important.”

He walks Lucas toward the bus stop, and Lucas nestles closely to Eliott because thankfully Eliott had decided to bring an umbrella to work, and they take the bus until the fourth stop, hopping off and climbing up a few stairs to reach Eliott’s apartment.

Eliott fiddles with the key and opens the door, quickly ushering Lucas inside. Lucas slips his shoes off because they’re all muddy, and he dimly realizes that his socks are completely wet. He follows Eliott to his room, embarrassed as he turns behind him to see a track of wet footprints heading up the stairs. He watches as Eliott rifles through the closet, searching for warm clothes.

Eliott turns around, holding a hoodie and joggers over to Lucas. “Here,” he says, looking down at the clothes, “they’re warm. Actually, one second.”

Eliott leaves the room, and Lucas looks around, making a note to compliment the drawings scattered across Eliott’s wall. He shivers, and peels off his wet shirt, making certain to keep his eyes averted from the mirror near the corner of the room.

When the door creaks open and Eliott returns with a towel, Lucas freezes. He sees Eliott’s slightly wide eyes, flushed cheeks, and hears him stammer, but all he can feel is shame. He turns around so that his back is to Eliott, and he can already feel the heat in his face. “Um,” Lucas says quietly, “did you need something?”

Shit, shit, shit.

Eliott walks closer to tap Lucas on the shoulder, and when Lucas doesn’t budge, when Lucas actually winces, Eliott wraps the warm towel around Lucas’ shoulders. “I forgot to give you this. I thought you’d want to dry off.”

Lucas nods, holding the towel tighter around his body. “Okay. Thanks.”

When he’s sure that Eliott’s actually left, Lucas reaches for the towel and dries his hair and the rest of his body, then quickly slips the hoodie over his form. Despite initial embarrassment, he melts, breathing in the warmth of the hoodie and relishing in the way it fits over his frame and feels so soft. Then he pulls on the joggers, rolling up the edges because as he can already tell, he’s barely going to be able to walk in them without tripping.

He takes a breath before reaching for the door handle, then runs a hand through his damp hair, stepping back down the stairs.

Breathe. It’s okay.

When he finds Eliott again, he’s rummaging through vinyls, humming underneath his breath. He seems to find one he likes and pulls it out, mumbling an adorable, ‘aha’, and slides the vinyl out the slip and carefully puts it on the record player.

There’s a blip and familiar static fills the room, but now something else is playing too, and Lucas nearly falls over. “What,” he begins, actually feeling horrified, “what is that?”

Eliott’s eyes widen as he sees Lucas, and he brightens. “You look nice,” he says, smiling. “I like the rolled-up pant cuffs.” Then he shakes his head as if clearing cobwebs away, and looks at the record player. “This,” he grins, “is dubstep.”

“I know what fucking dubstep is,” Lucas smiles slightly, sitting down on the side of the couch. “And I look terrible because your clothes are so big.”

Eliott pauses the dubstep and tilts his head to the side. “You don’t look terrible. I was thinking the contrary, actually.” When Lucas says nothing, Eliott smiles. “You’re hot. I didn’t say it before, but you are.”

Lucas flushes, burying his frame even further into the couch and Eliott’s hoodie. “Stop.”

“You stop,” Eliott says.

Lucas furrows his eyebrows. “Stop what?”

“That.” Eliott walks over, sinking into the spot beside Lucas. When Lucas says nothing, Eliott sighs. “Okay. Do you know why I drew you as a hedgehog?”

Lucas faintly nods.

Eliott raises a skeptical eyebrow. “You do?”

And Lucas thinks he wants to disappear. “Because I’m small,” he whispers.

Eliott makes a sound in the back of his throat and vehemently shakes his head. “No.” He reaches to fuss with a strand of Lucas’ hair. “No, of course not. You’re a hedgehog because I think you’re strong. And you’ve got so much energy and it’s,” Eliott smiles softly, “it’s beautiful, Lucas.”

Lucas dares to peek at Eliott with wide eyes.

What?

“So you see?”

“I don’t see how you get that from spikes.”

“Well, I don’t,” Eliott says. “The spikes are different.”

Lucas swallows, uncomfortable. “What’re the spikes?”

It takes Eliott a while to respond, and when he does, his eyes look really far away. “I thought you were defensive. Because you wanted to protect yourself.”

“Oh,” Lucas says. Because he doesn’t really know what to say. Oh, thanks, Eliott, you’re right? I’m insecure and afraid of letting people in because I think they’re going to leave? And he can’t say Eliott’s wrong, because that’s a lie, and then they’d just be at square one. Again.

Lucas doesn’t feel like lying today. Preferably, never. But he thinks, darkly, that it’s only a matter of time until everything falls to shit. Because really, Lucas never quite got over his self-destructive tendencies.

“I protect myself, too,” Eliott adds softly. “I wear a mask.” He swipes the same two fingers over his eyes, smiling. “I’m like you, a little. See?”

Lucas nods, and part of him feels a little relieved. Because it seems like without him saying anything, Eliott just knows.

“But,” Lucas ends up saying, “I don’t think I’m anything like you.” He motions to Eliott. “You’re you. You’re so … gorgeous and funny, and so sure of yourself, and … that’s not me.” Lucas thinks he wants to disappear. “I’m just me.”

Eliott’s eyes pierce Lucas’, and Lucas regretfully thinks that Eliott looks really, really sad. Which is absurd. “Lucas,” he murmurs.

Lucas shrugs. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Lucas,” Eliott repeats, begging him to understand, “It does matter. You’re, ” Eliott looks at Lucas for a moment, trying to put some strange emotion into words, “you’re not, ‘just you’. I don’t understand how you could even —”

Lucas hops up from the couch, resuming the dubstep. He blinks quickly and composes himself, staring sullenly at the wall. The music thrums through the room, and Eliott deflates.

“So what is this?” Lucas calls from across the room.

Eliott looks clearly dissatisfied from not finishing the conversation, but takes one look at the plea in Lucas’ gaze and welcomes the distraction.

“That,” Eliott stands up, walking closer to Lucas, “is ‘Don’t Stop’.”

And Lucas watches, flabbergasted, as Eliott starts performing the strangest series of moves that only Eliott would consider an actual dance. But somehow, and this is only something Eliott could achieve, he makes it look cool.

The music keeps playing and Lucas laughs because he finds himself grooving along to the beat, slowly at first, and as the tracks end, Eliott continues to put more and more vinyls on the record player and they’re dancing all around the room, wildly.

Hours later, they’re finally sitting collapsed on the couch, and Lucas finds himself somewhat snuggled into Eliott’s side. “Did you mean it?” Lucas finally whispers.

“Mean what?”

Lucas feels the familiar feeling crowding up his throat. “What you said earlier?”

“Of course I did.”

Lucas settles back against the couch and smiles at his feet, folding his hands together. He feels so warm, everything’s really, really warm, and Lucas closes his eyes.

He wakes up, exhausted, and Lucas thinks he could write an entire poem about the little galaxies he sees in Eliott’s eyes.

“Lu,” Eliott whispers, voice raspy, “wake up. It’s late.”

Lucas feels his heart clench at the name, and he whimpers, snuggling further into the couch and shutting his eyes.

He’s wavering in and out of sleep, fading into nothingness and then catching sight of Eliott’s amused eyes, and then nothingness again, and then Eliott’s smacking him with a pillow.

“Tired,” Lucas mumbles grumpily, rubbing his eyes.

Eliott takes one look at Lucas, then finds his phone and looks at the time. “There’s no way you’re going home right now,” Eliott says, shaking Lucas again. “You can stay here if you want?”

Lucas nods sleepily, not really realizing what’s happening. He blindly follows Eliott who walks into a room. Lucas thinks that this room must be Eliott’s, because of the abundance of drawings and more vinyls, and all the art supplies scattered atop the desk in the corner.

Eliott’s busy fluffing pillows, and when he folds over the sheets, he taps on Lucas’ shoulder.

“Hm?”

“Bed’s ready.”

Lucas sighs and collapses onto the bed, already beginning to fall asleep. He doesn’t even bother to snuggle into the blankets.

Eliott chuckles then smiles at Lucas for a long time. “Sleep here, okay? I’ll be on the couch.”

Lucas vaguely feels alarmed at this. He’s so tired, and he just knows he’d be totally mortified about this in the morning, but he does it anyway. “Please stay?” Lucas doesn’t even know what he’s saying anymore, just anything to make Eliott stay. “It’s so dark, and it’s cold, and I don’t want to be alone.”

“I’ll leave the light on,” Eliott says softly, gaze warm. “And you’re cold because you don’t have any blankets.” He reaches for the duvets and drapes them over Lucas’ form, making sure the blankets are tucked to his ears.

Right as he’s about to leave, Lucas grabs Eliott’s wrist. “Please, Eliott?” He blinks lazily and stares up at Eliott with as much might as he can for being fucking exhausted. “I can sleep on the floor, and you can sleep on the bed.”

Eliott makes a sound in the back of his throat, and he’s laughing, Lucas realizes. Why’s he laughing?

“You’re not sleeping on the floor, baby.”

“Then sleep here.”

Eliott swallows.

Lucas feels his eyes widen and he pouts, and he thinks he’s won by the expression softening its way across Eliott’s face. And then there’s a dip on the side of the bed next to Lucas, and Lucas feels warm all over.

“Goodnight, Lucas,” Eliott whispers, reaching to brush a strand of hair away from covering the smaller boy’s closed eyes.

Lucas nods, snuggling into Eliott. He dimly thinks that he molds right into Eliott, almost like they were made for each other before he drifts back to sleep.

He wakes up to Eliott’s arms wrapped around his waist, sees the sunlight peeking through the blinds and the warm light of the lamp shining from Eliott’s ceiling.

Lucas takes a moment to admire the moment, lets his eyes take in the way Eliott’s lashes look lighter in the early sunshine, the curve of his nose, how absolutely messy his hair is.

Lucas smiles, tucking this memory away for later, and snuggles closer to Eliott, closing his eyes.

When he wakes up again, he sees Eliott’s eyes, this time wide and blue-gray and twinkling from late morning sunshine.

“Morning baby,” Eliott says, pressing a kiss to Lucas’ forehead.

Lucas smiles. “Can we stay here forever?”

“We can try.”

Lucas presses a kiss to the tip of Eliott’s nose. “Okay.”

X.

Eliott texts Lucas at eleven o’clock one night and tells him to look outside. Lucas yawns, rubbing his eyes, because why, why is Eliott texting him so late? He doesn’t mind, though. He wouldn’t even care if Eliott was calling him at three in the morning, but it doesn’t stop confusion from running through his veins.

He pulls open the door and widens his eyes.

What the fuck?

Eliott’s standing with a huge smile, a happy sound emerging from his throat when he catches sight of Lucas. And he pulls Lucas in for a kiss, his lips soft, and warm, and when Lucas steps back for more air, Eliott’s eyes are sparkling.

“Eliott?”

Eliott looks at Lucas’ gaze and brightens. He tugs Lucas out into the open, and Lucas swallows. There are roses everywhere. His eyes travel out the door and watches as roses line the carpet of the apartment complex.

It’s not Valentines Day, is it? He checks his phone and furrows his eyes because it’s summer.

“Why are there so many roses?”

Eliott only grins. “Do you like them? I saw them and thought of you,” he says sweetly.

Lucas follows the roses and goes down the stairs, out the door of the apartment complex, and shivers as the night air hits his arms and goosebumps trail up his skin.

There are still roses, everywhere. And when the wind starts to blow, Lucas watches as red rose petals flutter down the street.

“How much did this cost?” Lucas asks, stupefied. Because really, it’s all he can say. This is crazy. Actually insane. No one’s ever done something like this for him before.

How the fuck is he ever supposed to do something like this for Eliott? How is he ever supposed to pay Eliott back because he’s actually perfect, and Lucas is just … Lucas.

Eliott looks at him and bursts into laughter. He shakes his head and kisses Lucas again.

And normally Lucas would oblige, would entertain the idea of any chance of free kisses from Eliott, but this is different.

“Eliott,” he starts.

“We should travel around the world,” Eliott murmurs, staring at Lucas with fondness and adoration and something else.

“Eliott,” Lucas repeats.

Eliott tilts his head, and he’s so bright. Burning with so much intensity, and Lucas doesn’t know how much more he can take. Eliott’s a fucking supernova, and he’s just a small star in the nighttime sky.

“We’ll leave and dine at restaurants in Peru. Oh, and then we’ll climb up mountains in Japan and, and we’ll swim on beaches in Hawaii. We’ll leave and never come back.” Eliott’s smile is so bright, and when he laughs, it’s different than what Lucas’ used to. “We could get married, too. We’d have cake, so much cake, and it’d just be you and me.”

Married?

Lucas smiles, still staring at Eliott. He doesn’t know what to say. He settles with, “my mom would murder me if she wasn’t invited to our wedding.”

Eliott laughs. “When can I meet your mom?”

And Lucas doesn’t know why he does it. He thinks of what happened last year, last year when he came out, and he doesn’t want anyone else to know. He can’t use her as an excuse anymore. He can’t let his lies spiral out of control, not again. He tells himself that he’ll just say his mom’s going through a hard time, but she’s getting through it. Which is true. But the old lie slips from his lips, and it’s so easy. “Never. She’s crazy.”

“Crazy?”

Lucas swallows but doesn’t say anything. And suddenly, it’s so hard to entertain the idea of lying. Not to Eliott, please no. But it’s too late. He watches, regretfully, as Eliott seems to actually deflate. There’s something building up, something Eliott looks like he wants to say, wants to ask, but he doesn’t.

And Lucas has to go ruin everything again, when Eliott bends down and picks up a red rose, handing it to Lucas solemnly, something indistinguishable burning in his eyes. “For you.”

“Eliott,” he says softly, “Eliott, this is,” he searches for words, “this is insane.” Lucas looks around him, and from the windows to the complex, it looks like the carpet is red from all the roses. “You’re, this is insane. I mean, how long did this take?”

Eliott falters, the rose hovering in between the two of them. “Insane?”

“Well, yeah. But it’s cool, really cool.” Lucas nods, reaching to cup Eliott’s cheek. “God, Eliott, you’re freezing. Come inside with me.” He lets his voice soften, staring up at Eliott with concern. “Your hands are all swollen.”

Because they are. His hands are cut from rose thorns and Lucas tries to reach for Eliott.

But Eliott swallows, then shakes his head. He shakes his head again, tucking the rose in Lucas’ hand and bends down to press his lips against Lucas’ knuckles.

And then he’s gone.

XI.

Lucas texts Eliott immediately after he leaves, his fingers trembling against the keypad.

Lucas : ty for the roses

Lucas : but text me when u get back home, ok?

Lucas : please eliott?

Lucas doesn’t get a response, and he stays up for hours, eyes bleary as he stares at the blank messages and the read response that blinks up at him. He keeps refreshing his messages, despair growing as each minute passes.

Shit.

The next day, Lucas goes back to the coffee shop and frowns. He double-checks his phone, then walks up to the counter and catches Imane.

“Hi,” he says, and he means it, but the worry in his expression must be evident because Imane interrupts him.

“What’s wrong?”

“Can’t I talk to a friend?” Lucas smiles, but then he mutters something under his breath and looks around the counter. “Is Eliott okay?”

Imane fixes Lucas with a sympathetic look. “He hasn’t been here for a few days.”

Lucas’ eyes widen. “Did he say why?”

“No.” The answer he receives is immediate, but most of all firm, and Lucas knows he’s not getting any more out of Imane. But he watches as she softens, fixing him with a half-smile. “I’ll text you when he gets back,” she offers.

“He hasn’t been answering my texts,” Lucas admits. “You don’t think that’s weird?”

“I don’t know, Lucas. Maybe he’s busy?”

Lucas nods, handing Imane a few coins. “I’ll have an espresso.”

He gets his espresso moments later from a different barista, and Lucas wonders why he even bothered to get coffee if he wasn’t going to see that brilliant, brilliant smile.

XII.

Eliott ignores Lucas for weeks. It’s like he’s disappeared, gone completely off the grid. Lucas visits the coffee shop every, single day, and returns to the flat glumly. He’s continued to text the boy with the sunshine smile, even gone to the extent of knocking on Eliott’s door.

But Eliott doesn’t answer. And Lucas doesn’t know what to do.

Then, one day, he gets a text from Imane.

Imane : Eliott came in late this morning

Lucas jumps off from the couch and pulls on his hoodie, already slipping on his shoes. There’s an inkling of doubt in the back of his mind, wondering if it’s even worth it. If maybe this means that Eliott really, really doesn’t want Lucas to see him.

But Lucas sets his jaw and walks out the front door, sticking his hands in his pockets because fuck, he needs an answer. Needs closure, if Eliott’s doing what Lucas is terrified he’s doing.

When Lucas walks past the familiar glass windows, he gets another text from Imane.

Imane : r u and eliott even still together?

Lucas : yeah why

Imane : don’t come

Lucas : ???

Imane : he’s not here

Imane : he just left

Lucas looks up from his phone and sees Imane texting him, her face worried. And then he looks to his left and sees Eliott behind the counter, and his heart aches. Because Lucas has been worried sick and misses Eliott beyond anything. He just wants to see him again.

Lucas : girl, i can see him right through the window

So he sticks his phone back in his pocket and shakes his head, walking through the front door.

It immediately smells like fresh pastries and coffee beans, and Lucas desperately realizes that he’s missed this place. He’s missed the coffee and the foam art and the little drawings that Eliott likes to put on his to-go coffee cups.

He just misses Eliott.

Except it’s not the Eliott he wants. Not his Eliott.

He watches, and it’s like he’s drowning all over again. Like he’s sinking in water and his motions are slow and heavy, and he can’t fucking breathe.

This Eliott hands coffee to another girl, his hands reaching to clasp her face, and Lucas watches, devastated, as he leans over to press a quick kiss to her lips. And the way he smiles at her makes Lucas turn to ice, cold water splashing all over him.

He swallows, and the flame’s extinguished, and Lucas thinks he wants to curl up in a ball and disappear. It’s over, isn’t it?

He tears his gaze away from Eliott and immediately sees Imane, who’s standing with her phone in her hands, horrified. And then she’s making her way over to him, ushering him out the coffee shop with her arm wrapped around his back.

She guides him toward the benches outside the coffee shop, the one furthest away from the window, rubbing his back as he stares blankly at his feet, his phone clenched in his hand.

“Damnit, Lucas,” Imane whispers, “I told you to leave.”

And Lucas feels numb all over. “How long?”

“I don’t know.”

What happened? What did I do?

“Was I just some joke to him?” Lucas whispers, freezing from the inside, and he doesn’t try to stop the whimper that escapes his lips.

Imane kicks the ground with her feet, shaking her head. She tries to stop Lucas as he abruptly stands up and rushes away, tears pricking his eyes and that same familiar feeling gnawing at his throat.

XIII.

Lucas stays on his couch, clutching his head in his hands as he lays and stares up at the ceiling. His head hurts, everything hurts, and he tries to stop the way his mind keeps circling back to Eliott. He’s hurting and his heart feels like it’s splitting in half.

Just man up, he thinks.

But he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to forget the way Eliott’s smile seemed to make everything warm, so warm. He doesn’t want to forget the way Eliott feather kissed across his jaw that one morning and how for once in his goddamn life, he felt important. He felt loved.

In fact, he thinks he actually wants to remember the fluttering in his stomach as he saw those first few drawings and the electricity that ran across his skin when he first felt Eliott’s fingertips against his.

He’s shaking before he gets to the morning spent at Eliott’s house. He can’t think about that morning, not if he wants to relive the sunshine on his face and the simplicity on Eliott’s face in the early hours — not now. Not ever, he thinks viciously.

He dimly feels Manon tumbling on the couch next to him, wrapping her arms around him as he sits stiffly on the couch, eyes red and puffy and one single tear tracing down his face. He couldn’t help that one.

“I thought it was real,” he finally chokes out, because Manon’s not leaving until he talks, and once Manon decides something, it’s final. “It felt so real.”

Manon squeezes him tighter. “That’s why it hurts, Lucas. Because it was real. For you, it was, and it was beautiful.”

He can’t fucking breathe. It only makes Lucas feel worse, but he welcomes the comfort from Manon’s arms and tries to forget the way it felt to lay in Eliott’s arms, to fall asleep beside Eliott and feel his soft breathing against his neck.

He gathers the coffee cups arranged on his desk the next day and sweeps them to the floor. He feels like he’s gone mad, shouting at inanimate objects, and he swears a string of words as he sees the familiar drawings that he’s already memorized to heart.

i wish you’d stayed.

don’t touch. i’m a fucking masterpiece

It makes his heart hurt to see the familiar black sharpie marks that are all Eliott, and he gathers them and throws them into the nearest trash bin, grabbing the black sharpie from his desk and throwing that away, too.

It makes him feel a little better, because fuck Eliott, but then a second passes and he feels terrible. He feels like shit. There’s a second where he has a half mind to quickly gather the coffee cups and hold them to his chest and apologize, but he tears his gaze away and storms from the trash bin, forcing himself to sit still on the couch with eyes trained on the blank tv.

Mika tries to talk to him a day later with the fucking coffee cups held in his hands. Lucas screams at him and tells him to give them back.

“I threw them away, why the fuck are you looking through my own trash!” And then, “they’re mine, give them back, don’t touch them! They’re mine!”

Mika shakes his head and tries to comfort, but Lucas slams his head against the side of the couch and with a tired, small voice tells Mika to just throw them away. Maybe then he’ll feel better.

Obviously, Mika doesn’t listen, as Lucas sees the coffee cups arranged neatly in Manon’s room, most likely to be given back to him when he cools down.

He won’t. And if he does, he won’t want them back.

He doesn’t go to the coffee shop, and he doesn’t respond to his texts, and he hasn’t talked to Imane in weeks.

So he doesn’t have a clue why Mika and Manon are staring at him with identical guilty faces, until the boys barge into his flat with blankets and pillows and arrange themselves on his couch, spreading assorted bags of crisps and tubs of ice cream on the floor.

Yann shrugs when Lucas raises an eyebrow, “Emma always says to eat ice-cream when you’re sad.”

Emma. Another person Lucas screwed over when he couldn’t keep his fucking mouth shut.

“I’m not sad,” Lucas retorts, but gets immediately shut down with Yann’s ‘I’m calling your bullshit’ look.

“Your eyes are red and puffy, dude, you’re definitely sad,” states Arthur, and Basile nods vehemently.

“You’ve also been ignoring us,” Basile adds, “so we thought we’d come to cheer you up.”

Arthur finishes fixing his blankets and pillow on the floor and jumps up, turning to Lucas with a half-smile. “We’re here now.”

Basile opens the bag of crisps, holding it out to Lucas in a sort of peace offering.

Lucas shakes his head, about to refuse, but Yann fixes him with a cold glare and Basile looks like he might actually tackle Lucas if he says no.

“Lucas, you haven’t eaten in days. Eat.”

And Lucas pushes a handful of crisps in his mouth, chewing obnoxiously. “See? Happy?”

He feels like he wants to cry.

Yann rolls his eyes but Basile shrugs and laughs. He reaches in the bag, shoving another handful of crisps in his mouth. “I can do that, too. I do it better, in fact.”

“Baz,” Arthur rolls his eyes, sighing. “Let Lulu eat how he wants.”

Yann slumps on the spot next to Lucas, grinning as Basile tosses a long blanket towards him. Yann sprawls into the side of the couch, and Arthur rummages for the remote, pushing a DVD into the tv. Basile returns from the kitchen, passing everyone a spoon and a Haggen Daz ice cream tub. He gives Lucas the brownie flavored one, smiling. “Here.”

Lucas grabs the spoon and the ice cream, returning Basile’s fist bump half-heartedly.

Arthur and Basile squish into the couch, and Arthur pushes play, and soon they’re watching the most ridiculous movie that Lucas has seen in his entire life.

He doesn’t even know what it’s called. It’s terrible.

“What the fuck is this?” Yann manages between laughs.

Arthur shrugs, leg still tapping against the ground unable to contain his enthusiasm. “Fuck if I know. I looked up the best film to watch when you’re sad, and ta-da, here it is.”

Basile snorts. “You decided to trust the internet?”

Arthur looks at Basile with small, small eyes. “Yes? What else am I supposed to do?”

Lucas laughs bitterly, and the three boys snap back toward him, grinning.

“He smiled!”

“Baz!” Arthur nudges Basile’s ribs, still grinning at Lucas. “Oh my god. You’re right. Code red, code red, he’s laughing.”

Basile pumps his fist. “Mission accomplished.”

Lucas slumps further into the couch, grateful for the darkness covering his eyes that convey zero joy and hiding his face that appears completely pissed. He’s tired, so tired, and he just wants Eliott back.

When the film ends the tv goes dark and Arthur’s half asleep, hand searching for the remote and sighing. “Guys? Where’s the remote? I can’t fucking see.”

“Probably on the floor,” Yann yawns.

“Can someone get it?”

“Get it yourself,” Lucas mutters darkly.

“Hello? I have glasses. Glasses.”

There’s silence as no one moves, and Lucas watches through the window as the lamps shine dimly through the curtains.

A buzz rings from his phone and he picks it up, eyes squinting as he makes out Eliott’s name. His heart starts fluttering because there’s Eliott’s name, and as soon as he reads what’s highlighted on his notifications, his heart sinks.

There’s something gnawing at his throat, and Lucas thinks he’s going to break apart.

Eliott : I think we’re moving too fast. i’m sorry.

Something must reflect upon the room because suddenly the boys are absolutely silent, and Yann creeps up to sit on the couch. “You okay, man?”

Lucas actually feels the silence stretch out over the room, and now he can’t stop his hands from trembling or his upper lip from shaking. He’s so tired, so confused. So sad. “Eliott doesn’t want to be with me anymore.”

“Shit,” Basile whispers.

Arthur smacks Basile in the head and whispers something furiously to him.

“Lucas,” Yann says after a while, “fuck. I’m sorry.”

Lucas shrugs, biting his lip so hard he’s afraid he’s drawing blood.

Basile looks at Lucas, nudging his foot. “But dude, what do you mean? Eliott’s head over heels for you.”

Lucas swallows, shutting his eyes now. “No. I think he has a girlfriend, now.”

“No!”

“A girlfriend?” Arthur asks carefully, glasses forgotten somewhere on the floor.

“Yeah,” Lucas says, and this time he can’t control the whimper in his voice, “I saw him kissing her last week.”

“He cheated?” Basile gasps, pushing at Arthur to sit up on the couch. “But, but —”

Lucas slumps further into the couch. “I don’t know.” And right now he hates the way his voice wobbles. “Maybe we stopped seeing each other. I don’t fucking know.”

Arthur pats Lucas’ back softly. “Have you talked to him?”

“No.”

“You should, Lucas,” Yann says finally. He shrugs, staring down at his hands. “If I know anything, you just need to talk to him.”

Lucas nods blankly. He supposes this is some sort of well-deserved karma for what he did to Yann and Emma nearly a year ago.

“And if he cares about you,” Basile smiles, “you’ll figure it out.”

Lucas’ heart snaps. He feels a tear slipping from his eyes and he furiously wipes it away, hiding his face. “He doesn’t give a fuck about me.”

Basile looks at Lucas quickly. “Yes, he does.”

“No,” and Lucas can’t do it anymore. “No, he —“

And he freezes. Three sets of arms are wrapping around him one by one, and Lucas doesn’t believe it. Is he getting hugged? By all three of them?

He’s shaking and he’s sure he’s crying right on Yann’s shirt, but it feels a little better, with the ice cream and the film and the three friends that are holding and attempting to press his shattered pieces back together the best they can.

“But Lucas,” Yann says finally, pulling away. “He does give a fuck. I know love when I see it.”

Love?

Lucas shakes his head, but Basile moves Lucas’ head in a nod. “Just accept it, Lucas. Eliott loves you.”

And then they’re yawning and returning to their blankets on the ground, exchanging tired, half-hearted ‘goodnights’.

“Are you okay, Lucas?” Basile asks after a while, his voice echoing in the room.

Lucas says nothing for a while. And then, “yeah. I’m okay.”

And for the first time in a while, Lucas lets himself fall asleep.

XIV.

His friends are already up when Lucas wakes, and to his relief, they’re still here. He hears the pans clattering against the stove and cereal pouring into bowls, the same laughter echoing through the house.

He shrugs off the blanket and rubs his eyes, padding over to the kitchen.

“Monsieur Lucas!” the boys whoop and holler as he walks into the room, pushing a bowl of cereal his way and Arthur brings over the pan on the stove and clumsily slides one egg onto Lucas’ plate. It flops pathetically.

“Ew,” Basile comments, eyes wide.

Lucas smiles and digs into his cereal.

The boys talk but Lucas isn’t really listening. He’s staring at his phone, eyes sad. There aren’t any other texts from Eliott.

“You okay?” Arthur asks, adjusting his glasses.

“It’s your egg,” Basile buts in, “it’s so terrible you’re going to make him cry.”

Despite himself, Lucas lets out a snort. “You’re terrible,” he manages.

Arthur stares at Basile with narrow eyes. “You can make your own breakfast, Baz.”

Basile groans, staring at Arthur. “C’mon, serious?”

Yann snorts and reaches to tap Basile’s nose. “Don’t insult the chef.” His eyes land on Lucas and he frowns, eyes sympathetic. “Has he texted you?”

“Who?” Basile asks.

Lucas thinks he couldn’t feel more pathetic. “No.”

“You’ve got to freak him out,” Arthur calls from across the kitchen, returning with a plate of scrambled eggs. “At least you’ll know.”

“So what,” Lucas says, annoyed, “I just tell him to fucking text me or else?”

Yann and Arthur exchange a look. “Absolutely.”

Lucas slumps his shoulders and stares at them impatiently. “Seriously.”

Basile sighs. “Text him.”

Lucas stares at his phone for a while, fingers hovering over the keypad. But then he shakes his head, shutting his phone off. “I’ll just leave it. He doesn’t care, I’ll just embarrass myself.”

“You’re embarrassing yourself by not texting him,” Arthur says, unhelpfully.

“Yes,” Basile adds, “if you talk to him, maybe it’s all a misunderstanding.”

Lucas nearly growls. “So what you’re saying is that my feelings are just me being dramatic? Wow, wonder how I didn’t figure that out on my own.”

Yann sighs, leaning over to look at Lucas. “We’re saying you need to clear things up with him. It doesn’t have to be now, or tomorrow, but soon. Ideally when you’re ready, but you know.”

“He might move on for good,” Basile says. “So sooner is better.”

Arthur elbows him in the ribs.

“What? I’m right!”

Lucas rolls his eyes. He brings the phone up to his face and carefully types out a message.

Lucas : fucking explain yourself, eliott. i’m serious.

He looks up at the boys. “Send it?”

They nod.

He hits the arrow and the message sends, instantly flooding Lucas with guilt.

He watches Eliott’s text bubble go up, then go back down, and he sighs. “He’s not responding.”

Yann raises an eyebrow. “It hasn’t even been a minute.”

“So?”

“So wait a bit,” Arthur explains, reaching to sling an arm around Lucas’ shoulders. “Relax, Lucas. He cares about you, he’ll text back.”

“When he’s ready,” Basile grins.

Arthur and Lucas glare at him.

“Shut up,” Arthur says.

XV.

There’s a knock at the door, and Lucas scowls, pulling himself off the couch. It’s probably one of the guys, thinking they’ve forgotten something. By that, he means it’s probably Arthur, who’s always losing his glasses. Well, Lucas knows for a fact that Arthur left with them on the bridge of his nose. He violently pulls the door open, words already blurting from his mouth.

“I don’t have your fucking glasses, Arth—“ He pauses, stunned.

Eliott stands with his hands in his pockets, staring at Lucas with a half-smile.

Lucas stands there, blankly, eyes widening as the seconds pass by. And then everything catches up to him, and his hands clench the door. He nearly slams it in Eliott’s face. But something in Eliott’s eyes makes his motions falter, and before he can react, Eliott’s foot is in the door.

“Can I come in?” Eliott says, and this time Lucas doesn’t miss the obvious hurt that echoes in Eliott’s voice.

Lucas doesn’t know why, though. For all he knows, Eliott doesn’t care and is happy to be back in a relationship with his girlfriend.

Lucas nods blindly, stepping inside for Eliott to enter. Lucas can hear Manon and Mika in the kitchen, and he curses, because oh god, this is awkward.

Sensing the arrival of someone, Manon peeks her head out to look at the doorway. Her eyes widen a fraction as she sees Eliott, and she glances at Lucas.

Lucas stares at her pleadingly. Please help me.

And Manon nods, smiling at Eliott. “Tea?”

Eliott smiles, but it’s not nearly a sunshine smile because he still looks sad, and he nods. “Sure. Tea is good.”

Lucas stands frozen in the doorway, and can’t seem to move. He doesn’t think he’s ready for Eliott to see his roommates, isn’t ready for his roommates to see Eliott just because he knows that they know that Lucas has been moping about Eliott for weeks. He doesn’t want Eliott to meet his roommates now.

Eliott stares at Lucas for a while, tilting his head. “Are you okay?”

Lucas thinks he could answer that many different ways, and they all sound extremely bitter in his head. He settles with staring at Eliott blankly for a while and then shaking his head.

“How about we go outside?” Eliott offers, sticking his hands in his pockets.

Lucas doesn’t think there’s anything better than what Eliott’s just suggested. He follows Eliott out the door, calling to Manon that sorry, no, they don’t want tea anymore.

Eliott doesn’t talk to Lucas until they reach the same tree in the park, and Eliott scampers up like this is somehow easy for him. Lucas follows, taking a deep breath and pulling himself up.

The city looks beautiful from this time of day, and Lucas wonders in the moment why he never goes outside anymore. He can see the faint outline of the Tour d’Eiffel in the distance, sees the familiar red roof of the coffee shop, sees the clouds covering the horizon and watches as the sky turns a light shade of pink.

“What do you think it’d be like if we were born years ago?” Eliott says finally, looking sideways at Lucas.

“I’d be a lot older.”

Eliott laughs, then shakes his head. “I think I’d be an artist in the Renaissance. Like Michelangelo. Or Da Vinci. Van Gogh, maybe.”

Lucas sighs, still staring at the sky. “Eliott —“

“Please don’t.”

Lucas stares at Eliott with confusion. “What?”

Eliott runs a hand through his hair, then runs his nails across his lip. “Let’s not talk about that. Not here.”

“But I told you that I need to talk to you.”

“Later?” Eliott’s voice is strangely soft. “This is a happy place, Lucas. I don’t want to ruin it.”

“A happy place?”

“Yes,” Eliott smiles, and Lucas thinks he looks half sad. “I almost decided to kiss you, here, you know.”

Lucas looks at Eliott and swallows. “Why didn’t you?”

“I thought I’d surprised you too much that day.” He laughs softly, “I think you would’ve actually fallen off the tree if I did.”

The edges of Lucas’ lips quirk into the beginnings of a smile, and he looks down. “Probably.”

“Don’t look down,” Eliott says quickly. “Don’t, Lucas.”

Lucas feels his voice grow bitter. “I already did.”

Eliott sighs, chewing on his lip. “Could you imagine me missing an ear? If I were really like Van Gogh, I’d be missing an ear.”

Lucas doesn’t look up, still absorbed in his thoughts. “Since we’re really out here doing this whole sharing our feelings thing, I guess I’ll go. When we came here I thought you could’ve been my entire world.”

Eliott tilts his head, eyes pained. “Not anymore?”

Lucas feels his throat clench. He shrugs, then climbs down the tree, not even waiting for Eliott. Completely forgetting about how terrified he always feels whenever he has to climb back down and jump to reach the ground. “Can we head back, now? I think my roommates are gone.”

Eliott nods quietly. “Sure.”

“I really need to talk, Eliott.”

“I know.” Eliott looks down, eyes dimming. “I know.”

XVI.

When Lucas walks back in the door, he looks around at a complete loss. At least his roommates are gone for the night or shut in their rooms. He doesn’t really care, not right now. “Do you want anything? Tea, something to eat?”

Eliott shrugs. “Tea is fine.”

Lucas pads into the kitchen and rummages for the tea bags in the bottom drawer, remembering to replace them because he’s stealing straight from Manon’s stash. He’ll tell her later, he thinks to himself.

After the water heats, he finds himself leaning against the counter and holding his warm cup of tea, thankful to have something to hold in his hands. Honestly, tea’s not his favorite, but it’s better than nothing. At least now he won’t be aching to run his hands through Eliott’s hair or trace his cheekbones or just touch him.

Eliott just looks at Lucas. Lucas scowls, because Eliott isn’t saying anything. Only staring at Lucas with those beautiful, beautiful eyes. And he feels himself blush because Eliott’s eyes are tracing the contours of his face, almost as if he’s trying to put everything into memory, which is stupid because Eliott’s the one who didn’t want Lucas in the first place.

“I’m glad things are good with you,” Lucas finally says. And he’s so tired, so confused, that his voice just feels quiet. Not bitter anymore, just resigned.

Eliott chokes on his tea. He frowns and even has the audacity to look hurt. “What?”

Lucas looks Eliott in the eyes. “Your girlfriend?”

“Girlfriend?”

“You do have a girlfriend, don’t you?”

“Lucille? She’s not my girlfriend,” Eliott repeats. “She’s my ex.”

Lucas sets his tea down on the counter beside him. “Really? Because I saw you two,” he swallows, biting his tongue. “I saw you at the coffee shop.”

“Shit,” Eliott breathes. “I’m so sorry, shit. Lucas —“

Lucas thinks he wants to curl up and disappear. “It’s okay.”

Eliott pauses, uncertain. “What?”

“I mean it’s okay,” Lucas repeats. And it slices at his heart. “I mean, I wish you’d told me.” And he’s so surprised by the way he’s able to keep his temper, but he guesses Eliott just means that much to him. “But I’m just glad you’re,” he chokes on his words, “happy. I’m … really glad you’re happy.”

Eliott steps closer, and he’s so close that Lucas grabs his tea and holds it, desperate to keep some sort of boundary between them.

“I’m not happy,” Eliott says, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the entire world. “I’m not happy at all.”

Lucas doesn’t know what to do anymore. “Eliott,” he says and he feels his throat prick in frustration. “Eliott, I’m so confused.”

“I miss you. I miss us,” Eliott whispers. “I miss you because you make me happy.”

What?

Lucas holds his mug tighter to stop the trembling in his hands. He doesn’t know what to feel, and he thinks that if Eliott continues like this he’ll actually break apart.

“Then why’d you leave?” Lucas hates how weak his voice sounds, how absolutely broken he sounds. “You’ve been ignoring me for weeks. Weeks, Eliott!”

“Because we wouldn’t work out.” It sounds strangely rehearsed, sounds absolutely resigned.

Lucas thinks Eliott’s ripped him apart.

“No,” Lucas says.

Eliott looks at Lucas curiously. “No?”

“No. You don’t,” Lucas swallows, keenly aware of the pain in his throat and the pricking in his eyes, “you don’t get to decide that. You don’t just get to leave me and ignore me for weeks. You didn’t give me an explanation, and damn it, I’ve been absolutely fucked up, Eliott. Do you even know what you did to me? I —“

Eliott’s thumb brushes against Lucas’ cheek, smudging a tear that’s fallen from his eye. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

“But you did!” Lucas explodes. He stares at Eliott with large eyes, begging for him to understand. “You did,” he repeats softer.

“You hurt me, too,” Eliott says.

“Because I was scared,” Lucas whispers, staring at the wall and the chipped paint where he’d knocked over the dish rack while moving in. “I was scared and didn’t think that I’d ever measure up to you. So I lied. I lied about my mom, and I lied about the roses, and I pushed you away.” He rubs at his eyes, turning away. “And I know that’s fucked up, but I’ve never felt so,” he stammers, “so unworthy, and just … desperate to make you happy, and I —.”

He feels Eliott’s arms wrapping around him. “No. No, Lucas.”

“I was so afraid of screwing things up,” Lucas whimpers, not caring about the way his voice sounds so shaky, and the tears building up in his eyes. “And I screwed everything up anyway because I’m shit.”

“No.”

“How was I ever supposed to compare to that, Eliott? You gave me the entire world, all those roses, coffee, scones, the drawings, and the way you were looking at me felt like I meant everything. How am I supposed to give that all back to you? I —“

“Lucas.”

Lucas swallows and shuts his eyes.

“You don’t owe me anything. Anything, okay? You’re not unworthy, or, or any of that bullshit you just said about yourself. You’re Lucas, and you’re beautiful and brave, and really, fucking gorgeous, and you’re …” Eliott falters off, voice catching in his throat. “I wouldn’t care, if you were running on only an hour’s worth of sleep every day, or failing literature of all things, or if you decided to wear neon spandex every single day because you’d always be everything to me. I wouldn’t care about any of that because I l—“

Eliott shuts up, pausing to brush a tear away from Lucas’ cheek.

Lucas whimpers, leaning into Eliott’s touch. “I can’t give you everything. I can’t even afford to pay rent for that stupid fucking couch.”

“Lucas, baby. I don’t want everything.” Eliott smiles softly, gazing at Lucas. He nuzzles his nose against Lucas’. “You already are everything.”

“Then why’d you leave?”

Eliott stiffens, but he runs a hand through Lucas’ hair. “You won’t want to know.”

Lucas feels his world drop away at his feet. “Eliott.”

Eliott smiles softly. “We’ll talk about it later.”

Lucas stares up at him blankly.

Eliott pulls Lucas in for a kiss, using his thumbs to brush patterns against his cheeks. “I promise we’ll talk about it. But later.”

“Eliott.”

“Please, Lucas.”

Lucas stares at Eliott who ruffles his hair and wanders for the door. A jolt of panic races through him and he lunges for Eliott, impulsively reaching for his wrist.

“No! Don’t leave. Not like last time,” he breathes out.

Eliott presses a kiss to Lucas’ forehead, gazing at him with the hint of a smile. “You’ll never be alone again.”

XVII.

When Lucas dares to finally venture back into the coffee shop, he waits in line and orders an espresso this time, and sits at his familiar spot by the window.

There’s barely anyone here today, and Eliott walks to the familiar window seat where Lucas likes to sit, leaning against the side of the window with the biggest smile. “You’re here.”

“Yeah,” Lucas says, “about that.” He immediately wants to wrap his arms around Eliott because, in that one sentence, Eliott looks absolutely terrified.

“What are we?” Lucas asks.

Eliott lets out a relieved breath of air, setting the espresso down next to Lucas’ laptop. There’s a foam hedgehog atop his espresso, and Lucas laughs because of course Eliott’s been practicing coffee art. And he’s really good at it, too.

“I thought it was obvious,” Eliott grins, and he looks like actual sunshine. “You’re my boyfriend. If that’s what you want.”

Boyfriends.

Lucas smiles softly, daring to look up at Eliott. “Yeah,” he says, “I want that.”

Eliott pulls Lucas closer and crashes his lips against Lucas’, pulling away to pepper kisses all across Lucas’ face.

“But,” Lucas begrudgingly pushes Eliott away, “what about Lucille?”

Eliott shrugs, fussing with a strand of Lucas’ hair. “What about her?”

“Do you,” Lucas searches for words, “do you still love her?”

Eliott looks at Lucas and tilts his head, smiling. “She doesn’t matter anymore. Only you.”

And Lucas melts. He thinks the little feeling in his heart that’s been burning and building up ever since that first day in the coffee shop might just have been right all along.

He keeps working on his summer assignments and sometimes pauses to look up and gaze blissfully at Eliott, wondering how in the world he ever got so lucky. It’s like Eliott can read his mind, and the smile that Eliott sends back to him makes Lucas feel unimaginably warm.

Eliott manages to pop over to Lucas’ table whenever he has a five-minute break, and with him, he brings little purple macarons dusted with lavender, which he says are supposedly divine. After five minutes Eliott leaves Lucas with a lingering kiss and retraces his steps to bound back to mess Lucas’ hair up again.

Lucas missed this. So much.

Hours later, Lucas gets bored and walks behind the coffee counter to wrap his arms around Eliott’s waist.

Eliott startles and dribbles a bit of milk out the cup he’s holding, but his eyes light up as soon as he sees it’s Lucas, and he chuckles. “I don’t think you’re allowed back here.”

“I don’t care.”

Eliott laughs, and he leans into Lucas’ embrace, angling his torso in order to kiss Lucas on the forehead. Right now, Lucas doesn’t think he could be happier.

They stay like that for a while until Imane comes out from the backroom with two trays of croissants for the window display. “Gross. Get a room,” she teases.

Lucas just buries his face in Eliott’s back, unable to keep the grin from his face.

“I’m glad you’re happy,” she says, honestly, then playfully swats Lucas in the back of the head with a dishrag. “But get out of here. You might be my friend, but you’re still a customer.”

“So we’re friends, now,” Lucas grins, begrudgingly unwrapping his arms from Eliott and walking back to his seat, “I told you we’d be like, best friends.”

Imane just glowers at him.

Lucas turns around to see Imane whispering something into Eliott’s ear, and when he looks back at Eliott, Eliott’s completely red. Imane looks entirely proud of herself.

XVIII.

When Lucas finds himself at Eliott’s place again because Eliott texted and said he found Lucas’ flash drive, Lucas doesn’t quite know how that led to the compromising position he’s currently in.

He remembers stopping at the coffee shop right before they closed, hanging back near the door with his hands tucked in his pocket. A teasing sort of smile hints at his lips, and he immediately searches for that familiar tall stature and messy brown hair that’s all Eliott.

The sight of Eliott makes Lucas’ eyes soften, and he watches in a dazed sort of trance as Eliott cheerfully fixes a little boy’s hot cocoa, making sure to put extra whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles that he reaches up to grab from the tall cabinet above the coffee machines.

Eliott hands the cocoa to the little boy, then looks up, meeting Lucas’ gaze.

Lucas knows Eliott still has about ten minutes before he’s off shift, and Lucas notes, proudly, that Eliott can’t keep his eyes off him. So he grins brazenly, shrugging his shoulders lightly.

Eliott’s gaze is piercing, bold, and honestly, Lucas can’t get enough.

When Eliott’s finally done, he hangs up his apron and returns from the back room with his brown jacket. He wraps an arm around Lucas’ shoulders, pressing a happy kiss to his lips.

“What’re you doing here? I could’ve just dropped it off at your place.”

What? Oh, the flash drive. Lucas couldn’t care less about it right now.

Lucas shrugs, staring at Eliott’s lips. “I wanted to see you.”

Eliott smirks, pulling Lucas closer. And Lucas can see the glimmer in Eliott’s eyes, sees the curve in his lips, and he obliges in the warmth of Eliott’s kisses for a few seconds, then pulls away. “Not here.”

“Is Lucas Lallemant actually denying me kisses?” Eliott nearly pouts, but then grins and tugs Lucas out the door of the shop, and down the street, and then to the bus stop where they wait four stops, and then collide through the front door of Eliott’s apartment.

There’s a moment of hesitation, where the two stare at each other for a long moment. Lucas doesn’t know what it is about Eliott’s eyes that make them look like little galaxies. He swears he could stare at Eliott forever, lose himself staring at Eliott —

And then Eliott’s hands are running through Lucas’ hair, and Lucas lets his arms glide around Eliott’s waist, tugging him closer. When Lucas dares to graze Eliott’s bottom lip with his teeth, he can feel Eliott’s smirk and he grips Eliott tighter when Eliott’s tongue slides into Lucas’ mouth.

It’s different than most kisses Lucas’ had, and he’s burning, burning everywhere.

They’re blindly moving further and further into the house, and Eliott’s foot catches against the table leg, and they’re falling into the couch.

Lucas lets out an irritated ‘oof’ and starts laughing as Eliott’s elbow jabs into his side. Eliott blushes, and Lucas feels relief flood his stomach because Eliott takes the time to shift his weight, meaning he’s not entirely on top of him. Which Lucas really doesn’t mind, but dear god, Eliott is both taller and heavier than him and it’s kind of hard to breathe.

Especially since Eliott looks like that. Which really isn’t helping.

Eliott runs a thumb across Lucas’ cheekbones, then traces the ridges of his face to run his thumb across Lucas’ lips. “You’re beautiful,” Eliott murmurs.

Lucas can feel his heart bursting in his chest, the warmth bubbling and consuming. He tilts his head up, and right now, he doesn’t care if his eyes look utterly blissful.

Eliott’s lips replace his thumb and even after kissing Eliott so many times, Lucas still doesn’t expect the warmth that floods through him and the fluttering in his stomach at just how soft Eliott’s lips are.

Lucas wraps his arms around Eliott’s neck and kisses him harder. He’s gasping for air when he pulls away, and Eliott’s lips turn to the side to press kisses against his jawline, lips moving further and further down until those same lips are pressed against Lucas’ jugular.

Eliott’s teeth brush against Lucas’ neck, and he sucks against the skin there, pressing a series of soft kisses to his skin. Lucas just knows there’s going to be a mark in the morning, and unsurprisingly, he doesn’t care.

“Can we move to your room?” Lucas manages to whisper, and he clutches Eliott, unable to look him in the eyes.

Eliott tilts his head and fixes Lucas with a soft glance. “Are you sure?”

Lucas nods, feeling a strange sort of resolve settling over him. He looks back up at Eliott, bolder. “I want to.”

Eliott rolls off the couch and jumps back up, and he turns back to Lucas, eyes curious. There’s no chance for him to say anything because Lucas quietly grabs his hand and tugs Eliott up the stairs.

Lucas nearly pulls Eliott into his room, and when Eliott manages to close the door, Lucas leans up on his tiptoes and kisses him, pushing him against the door. Lucas can’t get enough of this, of Eliott’s hair beneath his fingertips, of the warmth of Eliott’s skin when he lets his fingers fall to rest behind his neck.

Eliott moves forward, guiding Lucas toward the bed in the middle of the room, and right before Lucas is prepared to fall, Eliott turns, so that Lucas is falling straight on top of Eliott.

Eliott just smiles, bringing up his hand to fuss with a bit of hair that’s falling into Lucas’ eyes. “Tell me again how I managed to get so lucky?”

Lucas smiles and settles with crashing his lips against Eliott’s. He runs his hands through Eliott’s hair, lets his fingers run forward to carefully dance across Eliott’s cheekbones. He grazes his teeth against the bottom of Eliott’s lip, just before he pulls back for breaths of air.

And Eliott lets him.

Lucas doesn’t think it’s possible that someone this gorgeous, someone this perfect, can even exist. And what’s even crazier is that Eliott likes him. Like, likes him.

When Eliott finally shifts, he pulls Lucas closer, his fingers cool against Lucas’ skin as they skim the expanse underneath his hoodie, rising to trace lines up and down Lucas’ back. Lucas thinks he’s going to combust with feelings because now Eliott’s decided to feather kiss across Lucas’ jaw, and Lucas feels like he’s burning.

I’m ready, Lucas thinks. I’m safe.

And Lucas reaches for the hem of his shirt, pausing for a moment. For a minute the familiar insecurities come rushing back, but then he thinks of Eliott. Eliott letting him take control. Eliott setting his mug of tea aside and holding Lucas’ face and telling him that everything’s okay. Eliott holding Lucas’ hand, and Eliott kissing him in the art museum, and Eliott sliding a plate of scones across the table with bits of cinnamon, and Eliott at that very first day, pulling down the lever and smiling as smoke flies straight into his beautiful, beautiful face.

And Lucas thinks that he can hardly contain the feeling bubbling inside of him, the one that feels so warm, so warm and safe and full of belonging.

He pulls his shirt up over his head, tossing it aside and reaching for Eliott, kissing him desperately.

Lucas feels the smile that traces up Eliott’s lips, opens his eyes a crack when he pulls away and watches Eliott gaze at him with soft admiration.

“You’re beautiful, Lucas,” Eliott whispers. “So beautiful.”

Somehow their clothes scatter themselves all over the floor, and Lucas stares down at Eliott with blissful eyes, warmth coursing everywhere. Burning everywhere.

If Lucas ever thought he might have melted before, it was a lie. This, this right now, is melting, completely, utterly enamored with warmth, and love, and for once Lucas feels like maybe he might belong. Maybe, Lucas thinks, maybe this could work. Maybe he’s finally found his forever.

XIX.

Lucas calls Eliott frantically one night, phone dialing with one hand and clutching a pencil in his other. He hears Eliott’s voice on the other line, confused, because when has Lucas ever called him, willingly? Obviously, Lucas avoids telephone calls like the plague.

“I need help,” Lucas breathes quickly, “how do you figure out which animals to draw?”

He can nearly see Eliott’s exasperated chuckle. “I don’t know. It just comes. Why?”

Lucas bites his lip. “It’s my mom’s birthday tomorrow, and I want to do something really nice for her because fuck, she deserves it, but I’m out of my mind, and I don’t know what to do.“

Eliott’s silent on the other line.

“Eliott? Eliott, listen, it needs to be perfect this time —“

“This time?”

“Yes! Because last year I got her a scarf, and it was great and all, but this year I wanted to do something special because,” he falters, wondering why he’s telling Eliott this, and how much he should even tell him. “Because she’s been through a lot, okay. And, help me out here, I’m really lost.”

Eliott’s voice is soft. “Yeah, of course. I’ll, I’ll be over.”

Lucas doesn’t even pretend not to be waiting at the door when he hears Eliott’s footsteps and sees the outline of his stature outside the door. He pulls it open quickly, not bothering to wait for Eliott to knock.

Eliott snaps up, and his eyes are so wide. Lucas quickly grabs his arm and tugs him inside.

“Oh,” Lucas says, finally taking Eliott in, “Woah.”

Eliott’s carrying a large messenger bag and it’s paint-stained and old and leathery, and he’s smiling, and his hair is messy, and he smells nice. He’s also got two cups of coffee in his hands.

“Hi,” Eliott says, taking a step inside. He chuckles at the mess Lucas’ made in the front room and walks over to the carpet. He sets the coffee cups on the table and reaches to unravel a paper Lucas crumpled and tossed onto the couch, a hint of a smile tracing up his lips as he sees a heavily crossed out and indistinguishable figure of an animal.

“Is this a bird?”

Lucas groans, tugging at his hair. “I know it looks like shit, but yeah.” And then he frowns. “Why do you have coffee? I’ll be up until like, five in the morning if I drink this.”

Eliott laughs, smiling at Lucas. He sets his bag on the floor and retakes the coffee cups in his hands. “Actually, it’s cocoa. I even took the liberty of adding extra chocolate sprinkles and whipped cream. So,” Eliott raises his eyebrows, “you should feel special. I don’t give chocolate sprinkles and whipped cream to just anyone.”

Lucas blanks for a second, then bites his lip and feels his mouth curving into a smile. “Oh. Cocoa works, too. Especially if there’s whipped cream.”

Eliott offers one to Lucas, and Lucas takes it, grabbing onto Eliott’s hand, too.

Eliott looks up at him with a soft smirk. “That’s my hand, babe.”

Lucas shrugs. “So?”

“I made you a drawing. See?”

Lucas drops Eliott’s hand in order to closely inspect his cocoa, and he nearly drops his cup.

There’s the familiar raccoon staring at a hedgehog, and there’s a little heart above the two of them.

“Do you like it?” And the way Eliott asks is so cautious, so hopeful, that Lucas sets his cup on the ground and lunges toward Eliott to wrap him in a hug. Lucas hears the startled breath of air being knocked out of Eliott, feels a little cocoa dribble on his sleeve, then feels Eliott laughing and peppering kisses to his forehead.

“I have something for you, too,” Lucas says, almost embarrassedly, burying his head in Eliott’s shoulders.

“Oh?” Eliott’s voice is so curious, nearly teasing. “You do?”

Lucas nods. “Can you like, close your eyes for a second?”

Eliott nods, and when Lucas looks back up again, Eliott’s got his eyes shut and hands folded atop his face.

Lucas goes to the kitchen and climbs onto the counter, standing up on his knees to grab the container that Mika has very annoyingly put on the very top shelf.

Eliott bursts out into laughter and Lucas glares at him. “Turn around!”

Eliott pouts but obliges, and Lucas grabs the container and hops off the counter, returning back to Eliott.

“I made these.”

Eliott peeks open his eyes, and Lucas feels his heart flutter as Eliott actually squeals, then plants a kiss on Lucas’ lips.

“You didn’t!”

Lucas smiles, holding the container of cookies in between the two of them. “They’re chocolate chip,” Lucas shrugs, “not as good as anything from the bakery, but —“

Eliott shakes his head, smiling larger than Lucas’ ever seen before. “No, they’re better. Because you made them.”

Lucas grins, then looks down at his feet. “But I didn’t even add any special ingredients.”

Eliott shushes him. “I don’t care.”

Lucas raises an eyebrow. “The Eliott Demaury, doesn’t care? I’m nearly offended.“

“Shut up,” Eliott laughs, tugging on Lucas’ hand to pull him toward the sofa where Lucas has got multiple art supplies he’s burrowed, no stolen, from both Manon’s room and Lisa’s.

Eliott picks up his messenger bag from the floor and pulls out a bunch of card stock, then paint, then pastels, colored pencils and black ink pens, arranging them carefully on the living room table. “Anything you like?”

Lucas swallows, obviously overwhelmed. “I,” he starts, tugging at his sleeves, “I like the art you drew on your wall,” he stammers, “but I think she’d like color, too.”

Eliott looks at Lucas for a moment. There’s something more in his gaze tonight, and Lucas stares at Eliott for a while, losing himself in the warmth and safety that Eliott makes him feel.

“I think she’d like that,” Eliott smiles, eyes scrunching up into a familiar expression that’s all warmth. All sunshine. “I like that, too.”

He tucks the acrylics and pastels back in his bag and instead pulls out watercolors and watercolor paper and hands another pencil to Lucas. This one looks more professional, Lucas thinks.

“What’s your mom like?”

Lucas looks down at his feet, sitting down beside Eliott. He’s sensing a sort of déja-vu moment, and he swears to himself that he’s not going to mess it up. Not this time.

“She’s kind,” he starts, “and forgiving. And she loves so much, and she,” he swallows, deciding to let go of the lie. He breathes in quietly, deciding to trust Eliott. “She’s schizophrenic. But that doesn’t matter to me, not anymore.” He smiles, looking up at Eliott. “We used to play the piano together, and she used to wear lipstick, and she used to dance around the house and listen to music.”

“Not anymore?” Eliott tilts his head.

“No, she does. Just, not as much.”

“No,” Eliott says quietly. “Her being schizophrenic doesn’t matter to you?”

“Oh.” Lucas looks up at Eliott, and his heart drops. “I’m sorry,” he shifts, “I know people think it’s scary —“

“No!” Eliott says quickly. “I was just surprised, that’s all.”

“Yeah. Um, my friend’s mom is like my mom. Except she has bipolar disorder.” Lucas fiddles with his fingers. “I was going through a shit time before I came out. That’s why I know.” He swallows, throat pricking. “But anyway, he told me that the thing with my mom, that her mental illness, it doesn’t matter. None of it does.”

Lucas dares to peek at Eliott, staring at him with fearful eyes.

Eliott looks like he’s holding in his breath, fiddling with his fingers so much it looks like it physically hurts.

“And what do you think?”

“The same.” Lucas reaches out to unravel Eliott’s hands, interlacing his fingers with his. “It doesn’t define her, obviously, and we get through it together. She’s so strong, Eliott,” Lucas’ eyes take on a far-away look, and he starts to smile, “and brave, and —”

“But isn’t it hard?” Eliott presses. “Aren’t there some times where you get hurt?”

Lucas frowns. “Of course it’s hard. But I’d do anything for her.” He shrugs. “And anyway, I’ve gotten hurt worse from other things.” He peeks another look at Eliott, who’s eyes are indecipherable. Lucas looks back at his hands. “It’s stupid to think of people differently because you’re afraid to get hurt.”

Eliott tilts his head. “Is it?”

Lucas nods. “Everyone’s going to hurt you eventually. So you just have to deal with it.”

Eliott’s head snaps up, and he looks horrified. “Lucas?”

“Hm?”

“Baby, not everyone’s going to hurt you.”

Lucas raises an eyebrow, then shrugs again. “Well, everyone has.”

Eliott’s quiet for a moment, and then he squeezes Lucas’ hand. It’s a meaningful gesture, and unspoken words pass between them.

I’m sorry.

Lucas shrugs again, nodding. “Can we start on the drawing?” He sneaks another look at Eliott, eyes softening at the way Eliott looks so interested in everything that makes up Lucas’ life. “Because I think we’ll need a long time.”

Eliott nods shakily, motioning to the paper. “First we draw a circle. Like this, see?” He draws a small circle onto his paper.

Lucas takes his own pencil and poises it above the paper, unsure. “Ah,” he starts, “Eliott? Help … what do I do?”

Eliott smiles. He gently wraps his fingers around Lucas’, carefully guiding his hand in a circular motion. “Like this.”

They continue like that, until somehow Lucas has managed to construct the beginnings of a peacock onto his paper, and Eliott hands him a felt pen.

“And now you trace.”

“I can’t,” Lucas whispers, “I can’t mess it up.”

Eliott presses a kiss to Lucas’ knuckles. “You won’t.”

“But what if I do?”

“You won’t, Lucas. Promise.” Eliott senses Lucas’ distress and he presses another kiss to Lucas’ knuckles. “And okay, even if you do, we’ll just start over. Okay?”

“Okay.” Lucas feels his heart warm, and he feels that familiar feeling again. Except it’s more, it’s so much more. So warm, so safe.

Lucas lets the ink bleed across the paper, and when his hand starts to shake too much, Eliott’s there to softly guide Lucas, and then he lets go when Lucas’ shaking’s subsided.

Then, Eliott takes out the watercolors.

Lucas knows what these are, clearly remembers tearing holes through paper during preschool and how the paint and water ran across the paper, smudging everything into a blobby, wet, mess.

“No,” he says frantically, “I can’t. I’ll ruin it.”

Eliott laughs. “You’d have to be terrible.”

Lucas looks at him deadpan. “Yeah.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll help.”

And Eliott shows Lucas the watercolors, and Lucas points to the circle of paint that’s navy blue because he’s painting a peacock. He also likes the emerald green, and then he points to two other colors, the fuchsia, and the lavender because he remembers the color of his mom’s lipstick and then the color of the dress she used to wear before the institute.

Eliott dips the brush into different circles of paint and mixes them together. He bites his lip when the colors don’t come out just right until he mumbles an excited, ‘aha’ when he gets the exact shade of fuchsia Lucas’ just described. And then the navy blue, which isn’t that navy, because Eliott insists upon an ocean blue because he says he knows Lucas’ mom will like it.

This is entirely bullshit, because Lucas knows exactly what color his eyes are. He also knows exactly how much Eliott likes to ramble about how beautiful they are.

And then it’s Lucas’ turn. He takes a deep breath, carefully dabbing little bits of paint onto the paper. He blinks, then frowns. Contrary to previous belief, the watercolor paint isn’t dripping across the paper, and he’s not making any holes, thank god.

Eliott steps in to help when Lucas groans and covers his eyes, swearing that he can’t paint the spots around the edges, because it’s too scary. Eliott just takes the paintbrush from Lucas’ white-gripped fingers and kisses Lucas’ forehead.

After a while, Lucas sets the paintbrush on the table and jumps up, running away from the painting. “It’s done!” He whoops, pulling at his hair. “Fuck, I’m sweating.”

Lucas sees Eliott stand up, and before Eliott can do anything, Lucas rushes toward him, wrapping his arms around Eliott’s neck and pulling him closer for a kiss. Eliott’s warm and his lips are so soft, and Lucas trembles as Eliott kisses him deeper, more desperately.

Lucas lets his hands move to wrap around Eliott’s waist, and his fingers trace against the bit of skin around Eliott’s hips, craving more. More warmth, more Eliott, more anything.

Eliott smiles and nuzzles Lucas’ nose, and he lets his fingers brush against Lucas’ face. And then Eliott pulls away to start laughing because apparently watercolor pigments are now slightly staining Lucas’ cheekbones.

Lucas playfully punches him in the side, then wraps Eliott in a hug, burying his head in the spot where Lucas feels like he could actually melt into Eliott and it’d all be okay. He’s so happy, so happy that Eliott’s here and —

He pauses his internal monologue, looking up to see Eliott’s blue-gray eyes glassy.

“Eli?” Lucas murmurs, concerned. “What’s wrong?”

Eliott blinks, eyes scanning across Lucas’ face.

Lucas reaches to touch a spot on Eliott’s forehead.

“This won’t be easy,” Eliott whispers. “I’m going to hurt you.”

“I know. And I’ll hurt you, too.”

Eliott shakes his head and opens his mouth. Then he closes it, and opens it again, fighting to get the words out. Lucas thinks he looks devastatingly sad. Exhaustingly sad. And he wants nothing more than for Eliott to be okay again.

Eliott breathes in, and when he speaks, his bottom lip trembles. “I’m bipolar, Lucas.”

Lucas’ eyes widen slightly. His mind frantically goes haywire, thinking back to everything he said about mental illness earlier that night. He reaches for Eliott, partially to make sure he’s still there, partially to make certain Eliott won’t take off and run.

Say something. Say something.

He stares up at Eliott, losing himself in Eliott’s eyes. He feels so warm. So safe. And as Lucas stares into Eliott’s eyes, he realizes that nothing’s changed. Nothing. In fact, Lucas’s thinks he’s burning brighter.

“I love you.”

I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.

Eliott stares at him shocked, a tremor racing up his spine. His hands around Lucas’ arms start gripping him more tightly.

“You’re not going to leave?”

Lucas runs his fingers across Eliott’s face, tracing Eliott’s cheekbones and the ridge of his nose, and the jut of his chin. Lucas gazes up at Eliott with blissful eyes. And what he says next, he means more than anything. He hasn’t been so sure of something in a long time. “I’m not going anywhere.” Lucas smiles softly. “I’m not ever leaving you.” And then, mirroring Eliott’s words, “you’ll never be alone again.”

Eliott swallows and Lucas watches as a beautiful, beautiful smile stretches across Eliott’s lips, tears building in his eyes. “I love you. Fuck, I love you so much.”

Lucas stands on his tiptoes and kisses underneath Eliott’s eyes, kissing away the tears. He places his hands on Eliott’s shoulders and leans up to kiss all over his eyes and the tip of his nose and finally settles back on his two feet to kiss Eliott on his lips.

XX.

Lucas walks into the coffee shop, confused to see Eliott sitting at his spot near the window, wearing the same black hoodie and brown jacket that makes Lucas’ heart go boom.

“What’re you doing here?” Lucas walks over to Eliott, standing up on his tip-toes to rest his head on Eliott’s shoulder. His chin is digging into Eliott’s shoulder blade, and it’s uncomfortable and hurts like hell, but Lucas doesn’t move.

Eliott laughs as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I work here.”

“I know,” Lucas says stupidly. “But like, what are you doing here?”

“Sit down,” Eliott says, motioning to the stool opposite him. “I’ve already ordered coffee,”

“Your coffee’s better,” Lucas pouts, hopping up to the stool and reaching for Eliott’s hand. “I like your foam art.”

The smile that crosses Eliott’s face is everything. “You like it?”

“Of course I do. Not everyone gets hedgehogs and raccoons on their coffee.” Lucas smiles mischievously. “Well, they better not.”

“Only matcha leaves and sometimes cocoa dust,” Eliott presses a quick kiss to Lucas’ lips.

Lucas smiles. “I really do like your drawings,” he says. “I even kept all the coffee cups.”

And Eliott blushes. He ducks his head, and Lucas’ eyes widen, and he laughs. “Oh my god.”

“Shut up,” Eliott mumbles.

“You’re adorable.” He can’t stop the laughter from his mouth. “I’ve never seen you flustered, oh my god.”

Eliott responds by intertwining his legs with Lucas’. “I hoped you kept them. But I didn’t know if you would.“

“I actually almost threw them away,” Lucas says, and he’s met with a sharp kick on his shin. “Hey,” Lucas playfully slaps Eliott’s arms away, “but I didn’t!”

Eliott just nuzzles Lucas’ nose, and Lucas thinks he hasn’t been happier.

When Eliott returns with his coffee, Lucas kisses him and forgets to wait five minutes before drinking his coffee and burns his tongue.

Eliott laughs at him, because Lucas’ got foam on his upper lip, and he’s folding his hands over his face because goddamn it, he did it again. He forgot the fucking five-minute coffee rule.

“What’d you think when I first came to the coffee shop?” Lucas asks, raising his eyebrows, moving his tongue around in his mouth because it stings in that annoying way whenever he drinks something too hot.

“I thought fucking finally,” Eliott smiles at Lucas. It’s an expression that’s so fond, so full of love, and Lucas melts every time.

“Huh?”

“I already knew about you,” Eliott says, interlacing his fingers with Lucas’. “Imane told me about you months ago.”

Lucas jolts up, eyes widening at the new information. “What?” He snaps his head to stare at Imane across the room. When she looks at Lucas, Lucas gives her the biggest ‘what the actual fuck’ look he can muster.

Imane smirks, waving her fingers while raising an eyebrow. But then she shakes her head and gives him a genuine smile, and oh my god, is that a thumbs up?

Lucas smiles and turns back to Eliott. “She told you about me, but didn’t say anything about you to me?”

Eliott laughs, eyes crinkling, and Lucas feels his heart tweak. “I could’ve met you so much sooner,” he says, quietly.

Eliott only shrugs. “I rather like how we met.”

“What’d she say about me?” Lucas interrupts, suddenly curious. He arches an eyebrow and rests his head on his hands.

“Said you were annoying. But she thought we’d like each other.” Eliott smiles. “And then she showed me a picture of you, and you were fucking hot.”

Lucas blushes. “Stop it.”

Eliott laughs. “You were. God, do you know how blue your eyes are? You don’t even know how gorgeous you are. I was done for.”

Lucas blinks and hides his head in his hands. “Shut up.” He dares to peek up from his arms and then widens his eyes because Eliott’s lips are on his, and Eliott’s tugging him closer, his tongue sliding into Lucas’ mouth. Lucas thinks he’s going to lose it.

“We’re going to get kicked out,” Lucas finally mumbles against Eliott’s lips.

“No, we won’t.” Eliott smiles cheekily, “I work here.”

“Then you’ll get fired,” Lucas shoots back, “and I’d get kicked out of my favorite coffee shop in the city.”

“For good cause then. My boyfriend’s much more important than making coffee.” Eliott smiles teasingly, “And, you only like the coffee because I work here.”

Lucas rolls his eyes, but can’t stop the smile spreading across his lips. He pulls away and reaches to take a sip of coffee, pleased to find it warm. In fact, it’s just right.

 

XXI.

Eliott laughs softly when he steps into their shared apartment and sees Lucas sprawled out on the floor, their dog laying flat on Lucas’ stomach.

He hasn’t stopped falling in love with Lucas. Every day that goes by, every minute that passes, Eliott finds something that makes him fall even deeper.

Like this. Like the fact that Lucas falls asleep on the floor because he was cuddling their dog who’s afraid of thunderstorms and heavy rain.

Nowadays, Eliott draws Lucas little designs on coffee cups with a raccoon, hedgehog, and begrudgingly a little dog because he knows how much Lucas adores it.

Eliott doesn’t know what he would’ve done if he hadn’t met Lucas. He can’t imagine what life would be like without seeing Lucas’ soft smile each morning, without seeing those blue, blue eyes, without that insufferable, brilliant personality that’s all Lucas. He can’t fathom the idea of living without his entire world.

He remembers first seeing those bright blue eyes in the coffee shop that one morning, and even then, Eliott knew he wouldn’t be forgetting Lucas any time soon.

Eliott steps closer to Lucas, taking care not to step on the dog toys scattered around the floor and taking even more care not to disturb Lucas.

At least until he kneels down, poking Lucas in the cheek.

Lucas doesn’t stir. But their dog does, rustling up from Lucas’ chest to give the dirtiest look imaginable toward Eliott. To be fair, Eliott thinks, he’d be pretty pissed, too, if someone came and woke him up while he was cuddling with Lucas.

There’s something warm bubbling in Eliott’s throat, and he can’t contain his laughter. He reaches to gently shake Lucas’ shoulder. “Lu, baby. Wake up.”

Lucas stirs at Eliott’s voice, cracking his eyes open a sliver. “Oh. You’re home.”

Eliott smiles. “Come to bed?”

Lucas shifts, rolling over so he’s lying flat, face down on the floor. He mumbles something, and Eliott thinks it sounds a little bit like no.

Eliott sighs, biting his lip to stop himself from laughing. He picks up Lucas because really, it’s not that hard to do considering Lucas’ woozy from sleep, but their insufferable dog keeps lacing through Eliott’s legs, and he nearly trips.

He gets to their bedroom, surprisingly incident-free, and Eliott drops Lucas on the bed.

“What a rude boyfriend,” Lucas mumbles, rubbing his eyes. “But I still love him.”

Eliott smiles, rolling onto his side of the bed. “Go to sleep, Lucas.”

“You go to sleep,” Lucas pouts, rolling over to tuck his head in the space where Eliott’s arm connects to his chest. “You first.”

“If I fall asleep first, you’ll be alone.” Eliott leans over to nuzzle his nose against Lucas’. “And I promised that you’d never be alone.”

“Well,” Lucas argues, actually starting to wake up, “if I fall asleep first, you won’t fall asleep at all.” His lower lip quivers, “and then you might leave.“

“Lucas, baby.” Eliott wraps his arms around Lucas’ waist, pulling him closer. “I’m not leaving you. Not ever.”

“Okay,” Lucas whispers, nodding. “We’ll fall asleep at the same time, then.”

Eliott feels his heart warm, and he nods, pressing a kiss to the base of Lucas’ hairline. “Okay. You say when.”

“Three,” Lucas starts, voice drowsy, “two, one. Go to bed, Eli.”

“I love you,” Eliott whispers, tucking his head against Lucas’ neck. And he does. He means it more than anything.

He thinks he’s fallen in love with Lucas again at least three times tonight.