Moritz couldn’t feel his legs.
He’d been kneeling on them for nearly twenty minutes, and he would have liked very badly to get up and move them. But he was in the last lap of Coconut Mall, and he was this close to passing Thea and making third. He leaned forward even farther in an attempt to see the screen better, as though that would help him, leaned slightly to the right so he could go over one of those rainbow booster things, crashed into the side of a Bullet Bike, and careened off the mall into the parking lot below.
Next to him, someone stomped their foot in frustration.
Moritz grinned, not taking his eyes off the tv. “Was that you I passed?” he asked. “Sorry.”
“I’ll catch up,” said Melchior. From the sound of it, he was gritting his teeth.
Moritz laughed. “Melchi, I lapped you. You’re an entire lap behind the rest of us, and we’re almost done. There’s no way you’re catching up.”
“I’ll catch up!”
“Next time.” Moritz knew he was being slightly condescending, but he couldn’t help but enjoy it. It was so rare that he got to do better than Melchior on anything.
Anna, who was waiting for her turn, patted Melchior on the head. “Aww,” she said. “Widdle Melchi’s upset that he isn’t winning the game.” She made a mocking baby face at him.
Moritz passed the finish line, and the fake people on the screen cheer. He’s in fourth, behind Thea, a NPC, and Georg.
“You know what?” Melchior threw the controller down, apparently having given up on the race. “I don’t need you and friggin’ Less-ritz telling me-“
There is a moment of confusion, then the entire room burst out laughing.
“Lessritz?” Moritz stared at Melchior with incredulity. “Did you just- call me-“
Melchior shrugged. He was trying to keep up the façade of anger, but the corners of his mouth kept pulling themselves into a smile. “Yeah. You know. Moritz. More-itz. Less is the opposite of more.”
“I understand the pun, Melchi-“ Moritz had his hand clapped over his mouth and his eyes squinted shut.
“Lessritz,” said Thea. She was gasping for air.
“I don’t know why you guys are making fun of it.” Ilse grinned at Melchior ecstatically. “I think it suits him perfectly.”
“That’s your new name, Moritz,” said Anna.
“Oh, shut up.” Melchior had regained his good humor, and he tossed a pillow at her.
“You can be Melchiwhore.”
“Oh, yeah, I’ve never heard that one before.”
“Melchi- he’s-never-heard-that-one-before,” Moritz said before anyone else could.
Melchior glared at him.
Moritz and Melchior always got ready for homecoming together. This consisted of Moritz going over to Melchior’s house with his nice clothes in a bag or something about three hours before, both of them eating pizza and hanging out, and then changing half an hour before the dance and having Melchior’s mom drive them over when it’s time.
And every single time, Moritz forgot how to tie a tie.
It’s not that people haven’t showed him- they have, about fifty times. But Moritz always forgot, and his fingers were always too clumsy, and someone always had to do it for him- Melchior’s dad, or one of his brothers, or Melchior himself.
His efforts that year were particularly halfhearted. He told himself that it was because he already knows he’s going to fail, so why even try, that he’ll waste time by tying and retying when he knows he’s going to give up anyway, but he knew the real reason. If he messed up his tie, Melchior might be the one to fix it, and he would stand too close to him, and brush his hands against his neck, and it would almost be like-
“Moritz! You almost ready?” Melchior banged on the door.
“I can’t figure out how to tie my tie!”
Moritz could hear his friend’s amused sigh through the door. “Let me in, then.”
Stomach flipping, Moritz did.
Melchior smiled admiringly at Moritz, all dressed up minus the tie. “Glamour-itz,” he said, moving forward to correct it.
“That’s so bad,” said Moritz, strained. All of the muscles in his neck had tensed. All of the muscles in his whole body had tensed.
Melchior’s touch was soft, and light, and if Moritz closed his eyes, he could imagine that it was a caress, the way Melchior’s fingers slid over his neck, the way he seemed slow, unhurried, and-
Melchior stepped back. “There. Done.”
Moritz blinked. His tie was completely mangled. He had expected Melchior to take a considerable amount of time to fix it. But it had been a second. Or it had seemed like a second. He tried to remember how it felt, to have Melchior so close to him, but it was gone; the sensation was gone, and Moritz was stabbed with a fierce longing.
“You okay?” Melchior was looking at him strangely.
“Yeah,” said Moritz. “Yeah, I’m fine. Let’s just go to the dance.”
Moritz couldn’t believe this was happening.
His English class read The Great Gatsby that semester, and it had been short enough that Moritz had actually gotten through it. One scene that stuck out to him in particular was the one where Gatsby and Daisy have just reunited after five years of separation: they go back to Gatsby’s house, and see all of his shirts and swim in the lake, and Nick is there too, and he asks if he should leave, because he should obviously leave; there’s no reason he should be there on Gatsby and Daisy’s long awaited date, but Gatsby says no, Nick needs to stay; they’re friends, right? So Nick stays, and it’s the most awkward thing ever.
Make that the second most awkward thing ever.
Moritz had always kind of thought that it seemed like Nick was in love with Gatsby.
Melchior and Wendla had finally gotten together, after years of people saying how cute they were together, that they couldn’t really be just friends, that wasn’t it such a shame that they weren’t a couple? And they were going out for ice cream, and Melchior had told Moritz that he should come, and it wasn’t their first date or their anniversary or anything super romantic or anything, but it was weird, and Moritz had tried to refuse, but Melchior had insisted, and he had no idea how Moritz felt about him, and now he was stuck with them, and it was terrible.
Okay, so it was only terrible for Moritz. Melchior and Wendla seemed to be having a good time, and they were even incorporating him into the conversation, and even Wendla was happy to have him there. But they weren’t the ones who had to be on a date with the person they were in love with and his girlfriend.
Moritz was stirring his spoon around in his ice cream, which had long since turned into a vanilla-y chocolate-y soup. It looked like that ice cream that they gave out in those little cardboard containers in all the middle schools, and all the cool kids mixed the two sides together before they ate it.
Moritz had never mixed them together. He hadn’t seen the point.
“My mom doesn’t have that much free time to teach me,” Wendla was saying. “But I’m still learning, however slowly. And pretty soon, I’ll be good enough to sign up for Driver’s Ed.”
“That’s great.” Melchior was smiling at Wendla. It was too bright. It hurt Moritz’s eyes.
Wendla caught his eye, and she directed her attention towards him. “What about you, Moritz? When are you going to learn to drive?”
Her kindness towards him bothered him. It only confirmed what he already knew. Wendla didn’t see him as a threat at all, because she knew Melchior didn’t feel that way about him, so much so that she felt totally secure inviting him on their dates and having him sit across the table from them.
“Um…” Moritz’s throat felt very dry all of a sudden. Melchior was looking at him, too, now, and he was overcome by the sudden urge to stuff a spoon of ice cream in his mouth. “Um-“ he repeated, around the ice cream. “I don’t know. Soon, probably.”
“Don’t you care?” asked Melchior, leaning across the table to talk to him. “Don’t you want to be able to be independent? Go where you want to? Not be tied to your parents’ schedules all the time?”
Moritz didn’t have very many places he wanted to go, besides Melchior’s house. And he could always walk there when it was warm enough. He shrugged.
“When I get my license,” said Wendla, “My mama is still going to make me ask her before going anywhere, even just the corner store. Still. It will be nice, to do things by myself.”
Moritz couldn’t hate her. He couldn’t even remotely dislike her. Guilt settled itself in the pit of his stomach. A girl like Wendla shouldn’t have other people coveting her boyfriend. She didn’t deserve it.
“I’m sure you’ll learn quickly,” said Moritz. “You’re really smart.”
Wendla beamed. “That’s so nice of you to say.”
“You’re smart too, Moritz,” said Melchior. This was a much-beleaguered point. “Just because you aren’t always good at school doesn’t mean you aren’t smart.”
“No,” said Moritz. “Me not being smart means I’m not smart.”
Wendla furrowed her eyebrows at that. “I refuse to believe that’s true.”
Moritz gave her a small smile.
“See,” said Melchior. “Wendla agrees with me.”
Moritz smiled at him, too. “You both sound like my father. Telling me I’m smart; I just need to apply myself.”
“You do apply yourself, Mor-Ritz Cracker.”
Wendla snorted, coughing up a little bit of her sundae. That was the appropriate reaction to the nickname. It was funny, and stupid, and Moritz wanted to laugh, he really did. He should laugh, and then Melchior would act outraged that he thought it was funny.
But he wasn’t laughing. Melchior wasn’t looking at Wendla anymore; he was looking at Moritz, and his mouth was turned up in a way that suggested amusement but the rest of his face looked too earnest for that. Moritz was staring back, and he could feel himself blushing, and oh god, he was actually biting his lip.
Wendla cleared her throat. Melchior turned back towards her hurriedly, and she was looking at him then Moritz then at him again. Her pleasant expression had turned to a questioning, almost suspicious one. Moritz felt a stab of triumph at finally making Wendla Bergmann insecure about her relationship with Melchior, then immediately felt bad about it.
“Well,” said Wendla, effectively ending the moment. “The place near the mall has better ice cream, don’t you think?”
Neither of them was paying much attention to the movie.
It was a good movie, and both of them really liked it, but they had both seen it multiple times, allowing the movie to become a sort of background noise for their conversation. Moritz didn’t mind. Having the movie on meant that awkward pauses felt less awkward, and they always had something to turn to when there was a lull in the conversation. Whenever he was alone with Melchior, like he was then, he was always terrified that he would accidentally blurt out the worst possible thing and alienate him permanently. And he had been alone with Melchior a lot lately. Sure, they had always spent a lot of time together, more even than the average person would spend with their best friend, but ever since Melchior and Wendla broke up, it had seemed like more and more of that time had been with just Moritz and not the rest of the group. Moritz tried not to read too much into it. He was trying to avoid Wendla, or their breakup had caused awkwardness between Melchior and the people like Anna and Thea who were closer to Wendla than they were to him, or he just wanted his relaxation time to be more lowkey. It didn’t mean anything.
“I’m always slightly dubious about how people interpret this scene,” Melchior said. He was sitting next to Moritz, on the couch, legs extended onto the coffee table. He turned his focus on the tv, watching it with a scanning intensity.
“What do you mean?” asked Moritz. He licked salt from the chips from his fingers. “There’s not much to interpret, right? I mean, Steve’s driving his plane into the arctic so the bombs don’t go off. He’s sacrificing himself to save a bunch of people.”
“Yeah,” said Melchior slowly. “That’s definitely part of it. But I don’t think it’s as heroic as that.”
Moritz bristled. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not saying anything bad about Steve Rogers,” said Melchior. “Trust me. I think he’s great. And it’s an act of heroism. But…” He was searching for words, almost. That didn’t happen to Melchior a lot. “You have to take his state of mind into consideration.”
“His state of mind?” asked Moritz hesitantly. This conversation had a weight to it that he didn’t quite understand.
“His best friend just died,” said Melchior. “Or Steve thinks he’s dead, anyway. He’s grown up with Bucky, he means the whole world to him. He’s completely devastated. I’m not saying that he wanted to die, but it had to have eased the transition.”
Moritz considered for a second. “I guess you’re right.” He put another chip into his mouth. But Melchior wasn’t done.
He looked like he was about to start talking, but he didn’t. He opened his mouth, and closed it again, and then opened it. “Do you agree, with what people say?”
Moritz looked at him questioningly.
“About Steve and Bucky?”
“What people…say,” said Moritz haltingly. He didn’t like the direction this conversation was going.
Melchior turned away from the television to face Moritz. “You know.” He started rapidly tapping his fingers on the table. “The internet thinks they’re in love. Or whatever.”
They were treading on dangerous territory. Moritz didn’t want to talk about this. He really didn’t. “I don’t know.” A pause. “I hadn’t heard that, before.” He had heard that before. He hadn’t given much thought to it, but he had heard it.
“Well,” said Melchior.
Moritz shouldn’t have said he hadn’t heard it before. Now Melchior was going to want to explain.
“They’re best friends; they’ve clearly been best friends for quite some time, and they care about each other immensely. Steve embarks on an incredibly risky mission just because he’s desperate to free Bucky, and he’s overcome with grief when he dies. Then, in the second movie, Steve puts Bucky, even a brainwashed, assassin version of him, over his mission and his friends and his own life. He’s so confident that Bucky’s still in there, even though all evidence suggests otherwise, and he’s right. Even though Bucky’s been tortured and brainwashed for years, he still remembers Steve, and then he rescues him at the end.”
Moritz didn’t understand where Melchior was going with this. “I…I don’t think you need my opinion. It sounds like you have your mind made up already.”
“Well,” said Melchior. He was retreating. Pulling back. He could tell that Moritz is overwhelmed. “I haven’t been firmly convinced one way or the other. I just find it to be an interesting dilemma. Plenty of people would say that Steve and Bucky do love each other, but it’s completely platonic. My question is…” He had resumed tapping his fingers, this time against his upper thigh.
Moritz steeled himself for what comes next.
“Where do you draw the line?”
“The end of the line,” said Moritz, attempting distraction. He couldn’t handle this. He didn’t know what Melchior was saying, he didn’t want to know what Melchior was saying, he’d wanted Melchior to see him as more than a friend so badly for so long, and now this conversation was going to make him delude himself into believing it might actually be possible.
“Ha,” said Melchior. He cracked a smile. “I’m serious, though. If two people are best friends, and they’re that devoted to each other, and they’d be willing to do anything for each other, and they’re incredibly close and they want to spend all of their time together and they feel more connected to each other than they do to anyone else-“ He was staring to the side, then, not at the tv but at the wall next to it. “Are they really just friends?”
It was too much. It was too much.
“Well,” said Moritz. His voice was dry. “I guess that would depend on whether they’re romantically interested in each other.”
Melchior caught his eye, finally. “I guess so,” he said. The conversation was over.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, staring at the credits on the screen. Melchior kept glancing over at Moritz, quickly, like he thought Moritz wouldn’t notice. Moritz pretended not to.
“Well then,” said Melchior. He casually punched Moritz on the arm. It didn’t work. They’d never been into the whole ultra-masculine buddy-buddy “we’re bros” type of friendship that so many of the boys at their school felt bound to so they did’t compromise their manliness. Moritz couldn’t remember the last time Melchior made that type of gesture unironically with him. “Do you want to do something else, Mor-it’s Johnny?”
The nickname was forced, but it was bad enough that Moritz snorted anyway. Melchior seemed relieved. “Really?”
Melchior grinned, safe now that they’re off of the topic about weird analogies about movie friendships. “Yeah. You know, like in The Shining.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s ‘Here’s Johnny.’” Moritz was genuinely laughing at that point.
“Is it?” Melchior’s eyes slid to the side for a second while he thought. “You’re right. Crap.”
They settled back into their previous positions. Moritz hadn’t even noticed that they had moved. “Why do you only make puns out of my first name?”
“I can make puns out of your last name.”
“No, that wasn’t what I-“
“In an alternate dimension, where everything is switched, you’d be Lessritz Stierise.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.”
“It makes perfect sense.” Melchior dug a pretzel out of the bowl, threw it in the air, and attempted to catch it in his mouth. Instead, it landed in the cracks between the couch. Melchior shrugged. “Mor sounds like more. Less is the opposite of more. Fel sounds like-“
“I get the pun,” Moritz said, cutting him off. “But it doesn’t work. My name isn’t More-ritz. It’s Moritz. Only one r. If you’re going to make a joke about the ‘Mor’ part, you have to say Less-itz and not Lessritz.”
Melchior stared at him for a second. “That just sounds stupid, though.”
“And Lessritz doesn’t? Come on.”
This semester had been particularly heavy on the workload. Moritz didn’t have a study due to his need to fulfill the PE requirements at his school, and he spent most of his time doing homework and reading the assigned reading and studying for tests. Melchior was there, which made the homework more bearable, partly because of his study skills and willingness to explain the material to Moritz over and over again, but more because of the effect of his presence. Doing homework with Melchior was infinitely preferable to not being with Melchior at all. But Moritz felt like he always had something going on. Between that, and Melchior’s extracurriculars, and Moritz’s extracurriculars that he took so he could look well rounded for college, and the fact that Moritz’s father didn’t let Melchior out of the kitchen or possibly the living room whenever he came over, Moritz felt like they never got any time alone to just be together.
But there had been an unexpected snow day, meaning that Moritz already had all the homework for the next day done, and their parents had to work, and Moritz was able to go over to Melchior’s house without being questioned or supervised. Which he had done. Despite the snowstorm.
Of course, snow had shoved its way into his boots almost immediately, and by the time he reached Melchior’s house, his clothing was completely soaked and he was freezing. But that was alright, too, because Melchior started to fuss over him the minute Moritz walked in the door, carrying him up to his room despite the fact that Moritz’s ability to walk was in no way compromised, and then giving him a pair of Melchior’s old pajamas to change into and making him hot chocolate. Which was terrible. Because it was Melchior, and Melchior couldn’t cook. At all. Even hot chocolate from a packet. Moritz drank the entire mug anyway.
“That was really stupid of you,” said Melchior. The statement wasn’t very convincing. He was kneeling over Moritz on his bed, the inches between them pulsing with a pull that ensured their imminent closure. They had been dating for over a month, but still hadn’t left the “can’t keep their hands off each other” phase. Moritz wasn’t sure they ever would. Melchior’s brows were drawn together in concern, it was true, but he was watching Moritz like one watches the television when the Oscars are on and you’re just about to discover if Leo’s finally going to get one. Except more romantic.
“I wanted to see you,” said Moritz. He brushed his thumb over Melchior’s cheek. “We get to spend a whole day together. That never happens.”
“You could have gotten hypothermia.” Melchior’s hands were braced against the bed, holding him up, and he moved one to the pillow where Moritz’s head was resting, lowering him a bit. He leaned down and pressed his lips to Moritz’s collarbone, then the hollow of this throat. “I was about to drive over there. My brother left his car.”
“Melchi, you don’t have a driver’s license.”
“I have a learner’s permit. It’s basically the same thing.”
Melchior started kissing his neck again, and the rest of the sentence quickly left Moritz’s brain in pursuit of warmer pastures.
“Don’t drive before you have a license when the roads are icy and die,” Moritz managed to get out.
“Okay,” said Melchior. He moved into a lying position, his body pressed against Moritz’s, and Moritz was sure he wasn’t paying attention; he would have to remind Melchior later, he-
“I don’t want you to stay out in the cold for too long,” said Melchior. He kissed Moritz, slowly, and Moritz’s hand fisted itself in the fabric at the front of his shirt. “I worry about you,” he said against Moritz’s lips. “Mi amoritz.”
“What?” Moritz wasn’t really paying attention, but some part of his brain had registered that.
Melchior pulled back for a second, skimming the edges of Moritz’s face lightly with his hand. “You know. In Spanish. Amor is love, and-“
Moritz was laughing, quietly.
“And you’re my boyfriend, and I love you, and your name is Moritz-“
Melchior stopped talking.
“How long have you been waiting to use that one?”
Melchior suddenly started studying one of his posters, and Moritz started laughing again.
“A long time,” Melchior admitted. “Way before we were dating.”
Melchior watched him for a second. His dark eyes were waiting for Moritz to say something, to react, and there was a slight sheepish smile on his face.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, “ said Melchior. He leaned back down to kiss Moritz again.
“I even love your stupid puns.”
“My puns are good,” muttered Melchior. He closed the gap between them, and Moritz stopped thinking and let himself be absorbed into him.