They are sitting in a cafe in Amsterdam, and Theo is two hours out of a suicide attempt, and both of them are crying.
It was very frightening, finding Theo like that, pale and laid out on his bed in that hotel, like he was already dead. Boris thinks if he had been a half hour later, twenty minutes later, it would have been too late and Theo would have been gone. To lose him so soon after recovering him? Theo, the blood of his heart. And then what? What then for Boris?
He had always felt that Theo would be fine as long as the painting was fine. That they were linked, obviously. The painting was Theo, Theo held close though miles apart, and then lost. Horrendous, when it was lost. And if the painting had been destroyed, some part of Theo would go too. Maybe all of him. The painting mattered that way, beyond it's intrinsic importance. It's objective value.
But Theo is not dead, and the painting is safe. The painting is back in the world, back in the light, and so can be Theo now. Boris thinks, he wants to be part of the world Theo is in. Wants Theo to be in the world and wants to be there to see it. Wants him to be happy and free like he has never known him.
Theo won’t eat; Theo is crying. Crying and smiling. Boris is crying too.
Sometimes good can come from bad, he’d said. He’d meant it, he believed it. Bad brought them together all those years ago, Bad brought them together again in New York. Bad has saved Theo’s painting, and all the other paintings. Bad has saved Theo’s life, and Boris’s too, by extension. Is not so bad then after all, maybe. Nothing is either all or the other. Not all good or all bad. Bit of each, Boris thinks. Like him, like Theo.
Boris had laid out the newspaper with Theo’s painting in it. Not the same in print. They are both crying. Theo is safe, his bird is safe.
It’s early in the morning, and Theo is pale, and sick, but smiling. Not angry.
He reaches across the paper, reaching over the picture of the painting as if it was nothing to him, or everything, but it’s over now. The painting was Theo, was Theo's entire life, but now Theo is free of it. The painting is free and Theo is free. His little chain clipped so he can fly. Boris wants to fly with him, be near him. He will give up everything he has to see Theo smile every day.
For a time, in Vegas, he thought he would give up Theo if it meant Theo would have less pain. A world where Theo’s mother never died so Theo never came to Vegas, so they never met. For a time Boris thought he would accept that, would want it, even. A happier life for Theo, free of his painting, his burden, his pain. Better no Theo at all then a Theo so miserable he lay down in the street and wandered off into the desert. Wouldn't it have been better?
But now he doesn’t think that way. He is glad, not for Theo’s pain, but that they are together. They have found each other twice now, and it has been for good. He cannot solve the past, so why even think about it? If you hadn't-- if I hadn't-- Their lives are not beautiful and have not been easy, but perhaps their lives will be fine.
Just life, no? Just life. No need to put a name on it.
Blown together by a storm too big to see. Placed side by side to lift each other up. Boris is sure of that-- that they can lift each other up. Theo has always done that for him, made him better than he was. Now Boris wishes to do it for Theo, if Theo will let him.
Theo reaches over the little bird, the bird that is him and is not him, is him and is all the pain he has ever felt, and puts his hand on Boris’s.
They are sitting in a cafe in Amsterdam, and Theo takes Boris’s hand.
“Thank you,” Theo says, his voice shaking. “Boris, thank you.”
Perhaps he thought Theo would be mad. The boy, Potter, might have been mad. The boy Potter as good as leapt out of a moving car to get away from him, not two weeks ago. So angry that he ran away in the street. The man sitting in front of him now has come through the storm. The man is Theo. Fyodor. Theo is only happy the bird is safe and back in the light. Some massive change in perspective has overtaken him, and it is beautiful to see. What happened, Boris wonders, during those lonely days locked in that hotel room? What did he see?
“Theo,” Boris says, his teeth feeling too big in his mouth. Stupid fake teeth. Theo smiles at him, weakly, still with tears tracking down his face. He thinks of all the things he has never said to Theo, never had the chance to say. Was too scared to say as a kid, too scared to say in that garage. “Theo, I...you know, I...” The winter sunlight is bright but thin where it comes through the windows behind them. Theo’s glasses glint in the glare, the tears streaking down his cheeks glow. Boris says, “I love you.”
Theo inhales sharply, then folds in on himself, bending forward over the counter. He buries his face in one hand, but doesn’t let go of Boris’s either. If anything, he holds slightly tighter. He does not recoil, not exactly, like Boris had half feared.
“I love you,” Boris says again. Theo shudders, a shake that rattles down each vertebrae of his spine. “Always have, I think. Love you now more than ever.”
Theo doesn’t remove the hand from his eyes, just sits there.
“Is different, now that we are all grown, but love all the same”.
Boris takes hold of the back of Theo’s neck with his free hand, pulls him close. Just as Theo removes the hand from his eyes, Boris pulls their foreheads together. His skin is hot and clammy at once, and Boris loves him.
Theo says, “Boris, I....”
Theo says, “Yeah... yes.”
Boris does what he wanted to do standing by the curb in Vegas, saying goodbye to his heart. Does what he wanted to do in that garage, Theo next to him and the painting between them. Foreheads touching then, the wonderful intimacy of their success. He’d been nervous though, still on edge. Adrenaline still pounding through his heart and in his ears. It’s easier now. So much trouble over such a little thing. But worth it, yes? He says what he always has wanted to say, which is, “I love you, of course.”
Then, Boris tilts his head and kisses Theo. An adult kiss, chaste and important. Kissed him as a child but too fast. He couldn’t say it. Now he can. Theo’s lips are chapped. Boris kisses him.
Theo is still, then moves. He melts against Boris over the corner of the counter, still holding his hand. He shudders again and Boris puts an arm around his shoulders and shushes him, like old times.
“Boris, thank you. Thank you.” He doesn't quite know what the thanks are for-- thank you for your love? Thank you for saving my painting? It doesn't matter.
“Love you. No need for thanks.”
Theo huffs out a laugh against Boris’s neck. Boris holds him close, over the picture in the newspaper, the little yellow bird looking out at them from it's perch.
“You saved my life.”
“Anything for you,” Boris says, and he means it. For Theo, anything.
Then, Theo kisses him. He puts one hand on Boris’s jaw and kisses him.
Boris feels his heart fill to bursting. Theo, the blood of his heart, pumps through his veins. Intoxicating and miraculous. Reciprocated. Impossible for all these years, now not only possible but true.
“I missed you,” Theo murmurs. “Thought about you for years and years. I wish you’d have come. To New York with me. Back then. I wish—“
Boris shushes him again, rubbing his nose up and down Theo’s nose. Feeling the wetness still on his face. He wishes too, sometimes, that he had followed Theo to New York like he'd said he would. But then, who knows? Might have all gone wrong.
“Can’t go back,” he says. “Only forward. Together now, yes?” Theo is smiling.
They are sitting in a cafe in Amsterdam, on Christmas morning. Theo is crying and Boris is crying, and they are holding hands. They are smiling. Their future feels unbelievably bright, a glowing room in a dutch masterpiece; anything is possible now, just out the door. They are all safe.
“Will you come to New York now?” Theo asks.
Boris nods. “If you want me.”
Theo, free, finally free, clipped free from the painting and the pain, nods. “Yeah, Boris. Yes.” He smiles and he is crying. “Love you.”
Boris says, “Thank you.”
He's smiling so hard it hurts, hurts his face, and he's crying, and he's never been happier. A life of sorrow slips away in this one bright moment, burns away in the light of Theo's affection and Theo's damp smile. It has all come together, finally. Not perfect, but they are finally on solid ground. A good place to start. Theo grins and taps Boris' teeth with a fingernail.
"These are nice," he says.
"Shut up, Potter," Boris laughs, still grinning around his too-big, too-straight fake teeth. "Very expensive, these."
"At least you put your money where your mouth is," Theo jokes, horribly, and leans in to kiss Boris once again.
"A joke?" Boris laughs against Theo's mouth. "Is that a joke? Since when do you joke?"
"Shut up," Theo sighs, still smiling. "Christ, just... shut up."
They go back to Theo’s hotel and grab his clothes and tear up his letters and then they leave. They go to a different hotel, with no bad memories, overlooking a different canal.
The room is cold, and they undress each other quietly. Boris flinches when Theo pulls his shirt down over his bicep, which still hurts from where he was shot.
“Christ, Boris,” he sighs. The wound is little more than a scrape, a graze, but it still hurts. It stings, it burns. It burned worse two days ago. He has a bruise on his back from hitting the concrete, but that too will fade.
“Is nothing,” Boris says, waving it away as he pulls off Theo’s shirt. He's nervous to do it-- it's been a long time since he and Theo were shirtless together. The stained cuff of Theo's shirt is barely pink any more. When he tosses it across the room, the cuff is gone completely.
They get into bed together, like old times. Theo is solidly built these days, no more sunken bellies or sharp ribs. Boris too, is not a skeleton anymore. Theo finds his waist and pinches at the softness there. Theo is shaking again, so Boris puts his body over top of him. Warmth together.
“Ssh, Potter,” Boris whispers. It’s not even noon, but they’re both tired. Ready for rest.
“Is only me,” Boris sighs against Theo’s neck.
They are in Amsterdam and it is Christmas day. Theo’s glasses are smudged but he doesn’t take them off. He's hesitant, staring at Boris across the pillow.
"Stop thinking," Boris says, tapping Theo on the temple. "Heart now," he says. "Let the head rest."
Theo kisses Boris again and again, though not with tongue. Time for that later. For now it’s not about that. Now is about tenderness, gentleness. Communion. They are cold, and sober, and together. Toes touching, stomachs touching. Theo is sick, still, and Boris holds him.
The world is just there, in their white hotel room, among their white sheets. No more tension, no more fear. Safe and warm and free.
They sleep, wrapped up in each other.
Later they will go to Antwerp for two days, where Boris will pack a bag and take Theo to his favorite bar. Then they will go on to New York, and Theo will introduce Boris to Hobie, to Mrs. Barbour, to Pippa eventually. Later they will discuss logistics, work, Boris’s alcoholism and Theo’s pills. Later they will kiss in Washington Square park after a drunken stumble ("Like the movie!" Boris exclaims, kicking his feet out playfully, tossing his hands in the air) and later still they will soberly and tenderly and a bit awkwardly make love in Theo’s bed. Later they will fight and even later than that they will make up.
But now, in Amsterdam, on Christmas, their find each other’s hands and hold tight. They are safe. They sleep.