“Gods, I can’t believe I have to work with you.” Berkut groaned as he skimmed the project packet. He wasn’t entirely sure why the psychology teacher thought it was a good idea to put him with someone he seemed to loathe, especially for a project on attraction, and he was going to be very, very vocal about it.
“It can’t possibly be that bad,” Tobin rolled his eyes as he continued, “I’m sure you’ll live. Besides, I don’t even think these questions are gonna work.” He wouldn’t admit it, but he did kind of like Berkut. The only reason Tobin ever put up that sassy front was because Berkut seemed to hate him. He didn’t want to embarrass himself.
Berkut only heaved a sigh, rolling his eyes as well. “Whatever.”
The two of them decided to sit in silence in the classroom as they read over the instructions. They wanted this project done as soon as possible, so it wasn’t even a day after they’d gotten the packet that Berkut had gone over to Tobin’s house.
There, Berkut learned that Tobin lived in a small farmhouse on about an acre of land. There were a couple of horses, though one that stood out was a very large draft horse. Berkut had encountered her on his way to Tobin’s front door.
“Oh, hey…” He put his hand up to hesitantly pat her nose. He caught himself smiling, and apparently so did Tobin.
“Tinker!” Tobin called, then whistling as his horse turned and started to trot towards him, kicking up a little bit of dust in Berkut’s face. Berkut followed slowly.
“Is that really her name? Tinker?” He tilted his head, his dark eyes practically piercing Tobin’s soul.
“Lighten up, I’ve had her since I was like, nine!” Tobin reached up to play with Tinker’s forelock, Berkut finding it oddly endearing. He shook off the strange feeling and cleared his throat.
“So, the project… we want to get that over with, right?”
“Yes, of course!” Tobin was quick to respond, giving Tinker a little push. She ran back off into the field, leaving Tobin and Berkut alone. Tobin motioned for Berkut to follow him. Berkut reluctantly obliged.
Once they were inside, Tobin turned and spread his arms, acting a bit more enthusiastic than he normally would around Berkut. “Make yourself at home!” He said with a grin. Berkut didn’t respond, only sitting down on the living room sofa and pulling the packet out of his bag. Tobin followed suit.
“So, how are we supposed to do this?” Berkut asked, very obviously confused by the instructions. Tobin looked up from his copy of the packet with just his eyes, raising a brow.
“Well, we alternate asking and answering the questions, and then…” He looked back down to check his facts and went wide-eyed. He didn’t know how to feel about the final step.
“Spit it out.” Berkut was already quite frustrated, but was obviously trying to rein himself in.
“Well, uh… we have to stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes, in silence.” Tobin knew his face was turning red, so he put the paper over his nose and mouth as he looked back up at Berkut.
“Sounds simple enough. Let’s begin.” Berkut didn’t give Tobin a chance to call dibs on question one, simply asking: “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”
“Oh, that’s… wow.” Tobin blinked a couple of times as he thought on the question. “That’s a lot of people to choose between.”
“Take your time.” Berkut said, though he didn’t sound like he meant it.
“Well, uh… Alm, I guess? I don’t keep up with celebrities, but Alm is really popular at school… it’d be cool to talk to him more, y’know?” Tobin seemed unsure, but Berkut accepted his answer.
“Now you ask the next one.” He instructed.
“Okay, uh…” Tobin squinted and leaned in to read the small print. “Would you like to be famous? In what way?”
“Easy, I’d love to be a famous artist.” Berkut smirked a little bit.
“Really?” Tobin tilted his head. “I never thought you were that type.” He smiled a little bit.
“Stop smiling like that, we don’t even know each other. We’re just working on a project together.” Berkut rolled his eyes.
“Fine, fine.” Tobin forced his smile into dormancy.
“Next question?” Berkut asked, receiving a nod before speaking again. “Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?”
“Always. I get really bad anxiety about making phone calls.” Tobin looked off to the side, letting his face turn red with embarrassment.
“Interesting.” Berkut silently wondered why Tobin was so embarrassed about that. He wouldn’t admit it, but he was the same way.
Tobin composed himself to start talking again. “Yeah. Anyway, the next question is, what would constitute a “perfect” day for you?”
“I’m not too sure. It depends on my mood.” Berkut shrugged. Tobin nodded a little, wanting his classmate to elaborate. “Right now, I’d say a day alone on my porch with some tea would be nice. Maybe with my family if I got bored.”
“Nice!” Tobin smiled again, though Berkut didn’t scold him for it this time. Berkut wouldn’t admit it, and Tobin couldn’t tell, but Tobin’s smile was starting to grow on him.
“Alright. Next up is: When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?” Berkut was starting to enjoy this a little bit.
“Just last night, actually! I sing in the shower.” Tobin wouldn’t talk about how he was singing cheesy love songs, but otherwise, he was pretty confident in that fact about himself. Berkut nodded a little.
“Of course. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?” Tobin found himself very interested in the answer to this one.
“I think I’d pick the body, not too sure why. Maybe being wise and attractive sounds just a little fun.” Berkut seemed amused by the thought.
Well, you’re already attractive… Tobin thought, averting his eyes as his cheeks tinted a bit. “A-Anyway, next?”
“Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” Berkut asked with no hesitation. Silence filled the room and it grew tense. They both remained quiet before Tobin started to open up a little.
“Not really… maybe alone? I’m not too close with anyone from school, and even then, do high school friendships really last once you graduate?” He looked legitimately afraid of that, but his tone was calm.
“I liked you better when you were happy, go back to that.” Berkut looked a little disturbed, but Tobin quickly changed his demeanor to a bit of a frustrated one.
“I’m serious, Berkut, that’s a really scary thought to me.” He sounded more stern than usual. Berkut somehow knew to back off.
“Oh. Okay.” Berkut looked off to the side, now feeling a bit concerned for someone he never would have considered his friend in the past. Just as he started to think about how he really might feel about Tobin, he was prompted to speak.
“Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.” Tobin was really curious about what Berkut would say to this, as he couldn’t think of an answer himself.
“Well, we’re both pale.” Berkut raised his brows as he looked Tobin over. “We’re both guys.” He then looked down at the packet. “And we’re both doing this stupid project.” Tobin couldn’t help but find that kind of adorable, a little smile on his face. Berkut looked up and smiled back just a little bit. He really did like it better when Tobin was happier, and he wasn’t sure why he felt that way.
“Very true.” Tobin laughed softly. Berkut found himself chuckling along. He cleared his throat to stop himself.
“Okay, next question. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?”
“My family.” Tobin answered before Berkut had a chance to think. “Without them, I wouldn’t live on this beautiful plot, I wouldn’t have Tinker, and…” Tobin had an idea, a thought, that he could’ve said. If only he was brave enough. “Nevermind.”
“Noted.” Berkut was a bit frustrated with himself for growing so casual, but he kept his struggle on the inside. “What’s next?”
“If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?” Tobin recited the question.
“I don’t think I’d change anything, but maybe I’d want my parents to be a little less strict. Maybe it’s cliche, but it’s how I feel.” Berkut shrugged, not giving Tobin a chance to reply before reading off the next prompt. “Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.”
Tobin’s eyes lit up. He was very excited to tell about himself and his life, as no one was ever really that interested, and his family already knew since they watched him grow up. He started talking before Berkut even started the four minute timer, meaning that he might’ve rambled for maybe five or six minutes, but that was fine. Berkut was tempted to show that he was enjoying Tobin’s ramble, but he decided to keep quiet about it. He couldn’t keep his small smile hidden, though, which made Tobin talk even faster.
When the timer went off, Tobin finished up and ended up panting a little. He tried to fit so much detail in that it was actually kind of comedic. Berkut was just a little amused.
“Alright, now you tell me: If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?” Tobin looked down for maybe a second just so he could pick up the words. Berkut’s answer was unexpected.
“Maybe a bit of a soft side? I never really had one growing up, everyone tells me I’m really intense.”
“No superpowers or anything?” Tobin teased, but it was Berkut’s turn to give Tobin a look. He stared at Tobin with sad eyes, sighing softly.
“Everything else would make everyone think I’m even more intense, I think.” He shrugged.
“Well, you can be intense, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. You just need to work on opening up, and I think you’re doing pretty well, Berkut!” Tobin put on his best encouraging smile, earning a very defensive reaction from Berkut.
“Cut the shit, Tobin.” His face was turning red. It was Tobin’s turn to be amused.
“Anyway!” Tobin cleared his throat. “Next?”
“Moving onto section two: If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?” Berkut was seemingly feeling a bit better about being Tobin’s partner for this project now, reading the questions with a bit more expression than before.
“Oh! I’d like to see my soulmate. Cliche, I know.” Tobin rolled his eyes, but Berkut didn’t seem to have a problem with this answer.
“It’s just how you feel, right?” Berkut’s words made Tobin’s face start heating up again.
“Well, yeah… it is.”
“I get that.” Berkut nodded a little bit. “You ask next.”
“Okay. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” Tobin didn’t look up this time.
“Not that I can think of. Maybe riding a horse? It seems fun, but I’ve just never thought about it much.” Berkut shrugged.
“Well, Tinker can probably handle you. She’s very nice to beginners.” Tobin laughed softly. “If you wanted to try, that is.”
“Maybe I’ll take you up on that offer someday.” Berkut didn’t seem to loathe Tobin so much anymore, but Tobin was afraid that it was just a front for the project. “Anyway, what is the greatest accomplishment of your life?”
“Training Tinker, definitely. I did it all by myself, the only help I had was learning how to actually ride.” Tobin nodded to himself.
“That’s… cute.” Berkut hesitated, but that was the only word he could really think of. Tobin grew flustered and shook his head.
“Did you just?--”
“Ask me a question.” Berkut didn’t give Tobin a chance to process that.
“Fine… what do you value most in a friendship?” He was very obviously still embarrassed, but he didn’t want to admit anything just yet.
“I’ve never really had many close friends, but in the few I’ve made and lost over the years, I’d say I valued our time together more than anything.” Berkut smiled a little, though Tobin could tell it was bittersweet.
“That’s sweet.” Tobin wondered silently if Berkut appreciated their time together at all.
“Anyway, Tobin, what is your most treasured memory? No answers about Tinker.” Berkut added the last part on his own, and he was mostly joking, but Tobin came back with a surprising answer.
“My first day of freshman year. I felt absolutely like a dust mite, but it was all so new and refreshing. Everything fell into place so fast, it was like watching one of those jigsaw puzzles being solved without having to do anything!” Tobin laughed. “I didn’t even need friends yet, I just thought it was awesome, seeing so many things I’d heard about starting to make sense!”
Berkut had no comment--or at least no comment he was sure enough to make. Tobin was definitely growing on him, and he did find Tobin quite cute before when he really thought about it. He kind of just always saw the boy looking up to the popular kids like Alm, who was Berkut’s cousin, so he was just a little bit jealous. He couldn’t tell what he was feeling right then, though.
Berkut came to his senses when he heard Tobin’s voice. “What is your most terrible memory?”
Should I take this risk? He wondered, deciding to maybe try his hand at some hinting. “Well, I think it might be the day I realized how my, um… crush, I guess, likes my cousin so much better than me.” Berkut never admitted to anybody that he had a crush, because he hadn’t entirely realized until that moment that he did. He even found the word leaving a bad taste in his mouth. He’d rather use a different word, but he didn’t really know another.
“Oh?” Tobin looked disheartened for a moment, but quickly covered it up. He was really starting to get his hopes up, but hearing Berkut talk about a potential crush kind of hurt. He had no idea who they were, but he assumed it might’ve been Rinea. Tobin had seen the two of them talking in the past, and they seemed to get along quite well--better than he and Berkut.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m fine.” Berkut sighed. “Next up we have: If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?”
“If we’re talking about crushes now, I’d confess to mine right away. I’d stop caring about rejection. I’d push through my anxieties. I’d just… maybe I’d rob a bank.” Tobin looked a bit conflicted. He knew they were nearing the end of the second set, but he absolutely couldn’t wait.
“That’s amusing.” Berkut chuckled.
“Thanks. For you: What does friendship mean to you?” Tobin tilted his head.
“Another friendship question? Geez.” He was very obviously amused, but he was pretending to be annoyed. Hiding things around Tobin was getting quite a bit harder for him. “Anyway, I think of it as a mutual exchange, I guess? Like, friends compromise for each other. They give and take equally, and if they don’t, it falls apart.”
“I like that answer. Can I say I agree? Because I agree.” Tobin seemed nervous, but Berkut didn’t question it. He didn’t think it was his business.
“Sure, why not?” Berkut chuckled.
“Good.” Tobin crossed his arms.
“Anyway, next is: What roles do love and affection play in your life?” Berkut was anxious to hear Tobin’s answer.
“Important ones, definitely! I think I’m pretty affectionate to everyone, platonically and romantically! The only real difference is I’d kiss and… maybe do more with someone I liked like that.” Tobin laughed sheepishly.
“Interesting, interesting.” Berkut nodded, then awaiting Tobin’s next question for him.
“Oh, this one’s for both of us! Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.”
“I suddenly don’t want to do this anymore.” Berkut joked.
“I’ll start. I think something positive about you is your sarcastic personality. I find it funny!” Tobin grinned, almost completely forgetting about the earlier disheartening event that had transpired.
“Okay, my first one for you is your optimism.” Berkut didn’t offer an explanation.
“Number two for you is your laugh. It’s kinda contagious.” Tobin kept his explanation brief.
“Your laugh is my second too, then, since we’re allowed to say that.” Berkut started to laugh a little bit.
“I like your intense stare too! You’re all like…” Tobin made a mock-serious face, causing Berkut to laugh harder.
“I like your impression of me. That’s three for each of us.” Berkut raised a brow. “You got two more?”
“Your hair. It looks soft.” Tobin reached to try and pat, but Berkut swatted his hand away.
“Your eyes. They’re easy to read. That’s four.”
“Your smile is my fifth.” Tobin got a little bit risky. Berkut didn’t seem to mind, though.
“How about I switch things up and say your determination is mine?”
“I like that.” Tobin nodded. They spent a moment thinking about everything the other had said, Tobin realizing that he was falling farther in love, while Berkut was just realizing how deep he already was.
Berkut cleared his throat. “Next question?” He earned a nod. “Okay. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?”
“Very close and warm. That’s why I’m scared to go off into the real world. I hope I can find something similar. My childhood wasn’t too much happier, but I’d say it was average.” Tobin found himself smiling.
“Now you ask me the last question of set two.”
“Okay. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” Tobin looked up as he read it off the sheet, and Berkut looked a little nervous.
“I… don’t think our relationship is bad, but it's not necessarily good either. We’re just distant.” Berkut sighed.
“Do you want to change that?” Tobin asked, unprompted.
“A little, maybe.” Berkut answered without hesitation. Silence fell upon them once again. It wasn’t tense this time, though, just contemplative. That was the final question of the second set, and that meant that they only had twelve left. Then, the final step.
“Would you care to make three ‘we’ statements?” Berkut broke the silence.
“Oh, sure.” Tobin nodded, looking at the example in his packet. “Well, we’re both working on this project. We both have crushes. We’re both getting to know each other better.” He looked up after he said them. “Is that good?”
“Yeah, that works.” Berkut found himself smiling.
“Now, you finish the sentence. It goes like this: I wish I had someone with whom I could share… blank!”
“This sounds like a question suited better for you, but I think I’ll say… I wish I had someone with whom I could share my secrets.” Berkut didn’t look at Tobin when he said that.
“You hide a lot?” Tobin raised a brow.
“A bit, yeah.” Berkut sighed. “Anyway, my turn to prompt. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.”
“Well, I think it’d be important for you to know that I’ve always wanted to be your friend.” Tobin couldn’t bring himself to confess any further. That was the most he could say. “I never show it because I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
“That’s… wow.” Berkut found himself staring at Tobin, shocked. He never expected to hear his heart beating so loudly in his ears. He wanted to deny that the questions were working so, so badly. I’ll chalk it up to late realizations, he thought, yeah, that’s what I’ll do… if I confess.
“Yeah. Anyway, next is: Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.” Tobin didn’t know if he was ready to hear the answer to this one.
“Oh, well… you have a nice figure.” Berkut felt his face flush as he looked off to the side. Tobin nearly choked.
“My what?” He just wanted to hear Berkut say it again.
“I just think it’s--well, you’re pleasing to look at.” Berkut refused to look over at Tobin.
“Okay, I get it. Next question, are you ready?” Tobin received a nod. “Alright. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.”
“I already am.” Berkut groaned, covering his face. He regretted saying what he did.
“I’ll take it. You ask me?” Tobin wanted to distract Berkut now, because he felt like that might’ve been a bit mean.
“Okay… when did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?” Berkut peeked up at Tobin through his fingers, seeing him smile a little.
“The last time I cried in front of someone was probably freshman year, in front of my mom. Not to bring up crushes again, but when I first realized I had one, I didn’t know what to do with the feelings, so I cried.” Tobin paused. “I think the last time I cried alone was pretty recent, but I don’t really remember. The days of this week got all mixed up when we started making plans to get this done.” He laughed softly.
“I understand.” Berkut smiled a bit, taking his now-cooled face out of his hands and patting Tobin’s shoulder.
“Now, I ask you: What’s something you already like about me?” Tobin tilted his head.
“Why so many of these questions? And why am I getting all of them?” Berkut groaned. “The way you dress is cool, though. Not something I could pull off, but you look good.” He forced the words past his lips, but something somehow showed that he was genuine about what he said.
“Thanks!” Tobin grinned. “Now, you ask me!”
“I get it, you don’t have to spell it out for me.” Berkut cleared his throat. “What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?”
Tobin hardly had to think. “If you haven’t gone through it yourself, and it’s something people generally take pretty seriously, I’d say that it’s fair not to joke about it.”
“Interesting. I like that take on it.” Berkut noted.
“Thanks.” Tobin smiled, then proceeded to ask the next question. “If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?”
“I’d regret not telling the truth. Are we going to die this evening? Should I start talking?” Berkut tried to joke, but it wasn’t as funny as his others.
“So you’re lying to me?” Tobin tilted his head, sounding a bit disheartened.
“Not lying, just hiding things.” Berkut admitted.
“I see.” Tobin nodded, wondering what those things might be.
“Anyway, your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?”
“Probably one of my yearbooks. I can’t really think of much else to save.” Tobin shrugged.
“You wouldn’t grab some cash?” Berkut asked.
“I mean, if it really came down to it, I could probably earn it back. I think the sentiment of the yearbook is more important. Maybe I’m just young.” Tobin laughed quietly, Berkut following suit. “You ready for the next question?”
“Lay it on me.” Berkut smirked playfully.
“It’s the second to last one! Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?” Tobin asked that surprisingly cheerfully, revealing that he really didn’t know what he was reading before he started reading it. He looked a bit disturbed himself after speaking the words off the page.
“Probably my cousin’s. It’s weird to say, as jealous of him as I am, but it’d just be so… freaky to see someone my age dying. Even if I didn’t necessarily see it, it’d still be… strange.” Berkut seemed like he was grasping for straws with that answer. Tobin didn’t have any comments. “And with that, I believe I will ask you the last question?”
“Sounds about right. But are you ready for the final step?” Tobin sounded unsure.
“We’ve gotta get it over with.” Berkut rolled his eyes. “So, according to this, you have to share a personal problem with me, and I have to reflect on it. Advice, how I’d handle it, and how I think you’re feeling about it.”
“Okay. I think I’ve got this.” Tobin took a deep breath and then let it out before taking in an average one to speak. “I’m feeling really conflicted about something, so it might help to have your input.” Tobin found himself smiling a little. “So, I really like this… person. I’ve been trying not to act weird about it, but it’s just been getting harder and harder not to. I feel like they don’t like me. I don’t know if I should keep it hidden forever, or if I should let it out. Help.” Tobin let his eyes go wide as he smiled eerily when he said ‘help’. They then shared a good laugh before Berkut began to answer.
“Well, not that it’s the better thing to do, but I think I’d keep it hidden. I’d never let it out to anybody, but I know that’s not healthy. So don’t do that. I think you’re feeling really positively about it, though, since you’re even considering telling them.” Berkut’s tone was very curious. He seemed to be wondering what Tobin was talking about--or who, for that matter.
“I mean… I guess you’re right. Maybe I’ll address it later.” Tobin looked up at Berkut, visibly nervous about the final step.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stall the last step? I can help.”
“It’s fine.” He shifted around and leaned forward, urging Berkut to do the same so they could stare into each other’s eyes for the final four minutes of their project.
“Are you absolutely sure? Once I start the timer, you can’t look away.” Berkut was trying to stall more himself, if he was honest. His heart was beating loudly in his ears, hammering against his ribcage as he thought of what might happen.
“Positive.” Tobin swallowed thickly, smiling a little bit to try and reassure both Berkut and himself. Berkut nodded and hit the start button, then leaning in so that the two of them were looking right into each other’s eyes.
Tobin felt his cheeks heating up first. He hoped that Berkut wouldn’t notice, because he knew it wouldn’t die down any time soon. His brows were slanted in uncertainty, and he was sweating quite a bit.
Berkut, on the other hand, wasn’t sweating so much. Instead, he was shaking. The majority of his body wasn’t visibly shaking, but his fingers and lips in particular were trembling. When he got a sudden urge to lurch forward and kiss Tobin, he had to shove it into the back of his mind, as if he were trying to throw it out the back of his head.
They both continued staring nonetheless. Tobin felt like he might have a heart attack, it was so loud and quick and high up in his throat. If he opened his mouth, he felt that he might spit it out in Berkut’s face.
Berkut was trying not to be so nervous about it, but he felt very similarly. His heart was beating through his entire body, but he felt it more in the pit of his stomach. He tried to distract himself from his racing thoughts by thinking of maybe going to the bathroom and seeing his heart in the toilet, but the thought didn’t last long.
The two of them were red-faced and on the verge of panic, and as soon as the timer went off, Tobin tried to look away. He had a momentary success, but Berkut remained still. He did one long blink, and then he grabbed Tobin’s face and kissed him. He couldn’t hold that back anymore.
Tobin didn’t know what to do. He’d never kissed anybody before, so he wasn’t doing too well at keeping up. Plus, he liked Berkut a lot. He wondered if this might make things awkward. It didn’t cross his mind that Berkut might have kissed him because he felt the same way.
Berkut pulled away when he felt Tobin’s struggle to keep up, both of them breathing heavily.
“B-Berkut, I--” Tobin began, but Berkut couldn’t help but kiss him again. Tobin found himself smiling against Berkut’s lips, and he felt a returned smile as well. Once Berkut pulled away again, he decided to finally say something.
“I… I think the questions worked, Tobin.” He sounded embarrassed.
“Really? I mean… I liked you from the start, but… I thought you hated me.” Tobin still seemed unsure.
“Well, I… I don’t know. There’s no real excuse. But does this mean…?”
“Only if you want to.” Tobin started to twiddle his thumbs.
“I’ll want to if you kiss me one more time.” Berkut chuckled. Tobin obliged excitedly, tackling Berkut on the couch and trapping the school papers together between their chests.
Berkut didn’t want to go home after that. So, he spent the rest of the evening at Tobin’s house. They went outside, Tobin introduced his new boyfriend to all of the horses (there were three), and Berkut taught Tobin to make tea. Tobin had no idea he had the supplies in his own house, which made Berkut laugh.
Overall, though, it was a good day.
A good day filled with 36 questions.