“What?” Sebastian winced as static crackled from the other end of the line. Sighing in exasperation, he pressed pressed the cellphone closer to his ear. “Where?”
“Almost to--“ another crackle of interference from Julian’s end of the line. “—n a minute!”
“J, I can’t hear you!” Sebastian snapped as he looked around and saw nothing but a few people minding their own business down the walk, and no sign of his wayward companion. This was ridiculous, they were supposed to meet over fifteen minutes ago and yet they couldn’t even have a long-enough conversation to say where the other was. “Look, just text me where you are, there’s just—”
“No, no! I’m almost—” when the actor’s voice cut off again, Sebastian stopped walking at the foot of the steps and groaned in frustration. If Julian got lost in this city, there was going to be hell to catch especially after the last time fangirls discovered him.
“Julian!” he snapped when no other statement followed from the phone. “Are you still—”
Sebastian blinked, the line suddenly crystal clear. “J?”
Sebastian raised his eyes to the top of the steps. Julian smiled down at him, resplendent in a well-cut coat, a cell phone pressed to his ear with one hand, and a plastic candy wrapper with the other. As their eyes met, Julian grinned even more, and rustled the candy wrapper to this cell phone—Sebastian heard the same static.
Julian’s evil grin broadened at the indignant expression Sebastian’s face suddenly possessed.
“Oh you are just such a—!”
The boy from Paris charged furiously up the stairs and the actor turned tail and fled, laughing hysterically as the former raced after him.
People from plurk said that it would be a Larythe Day. Because it’s in France and there’s going to be fireworks. I’m doing a special project for it. Hope you guys like it.
“Don’t you ever get tired of seeing all these beautiful things all the time?”
“Well I like only the best.”
Julian laughed softly and just shook his head at Sebastian. They sat staring at the twinkling lights, as they had done so many times. Maybe he knew what Sebastian saw in this place—it was beautiful in the way that you don’t get tired of it. When you stay long enough in a place like this, you feel it saturate your skin. And you can’t help but become used to all this beauty. And then you don’t want anything less anymore.
“I try to see as much of it as I can…” Sebastian’s voice was barely over a whisper as he stared at the lights, “…but it’s always a little bit brighter when you see it with company.”
They didn’t know why they spoke so softly. No one was near them no one was listening. Life was still churning away, and the city wasn’t at all still. But they couldn’t bring themselves to speak loudly that evening.
“…if…” Julian began and hesitated. His eyes flickered over the city lights that reflected in his eyes. “…if I were to stay here…”
Sebastian turned his gaze to him, mildly surprised. He wasn’t sure of what Julian was going to say, but whatever it was, it held more weight than he’d expected it to. Julian didn’t look at him, just at the lights.
“…if I were to stay…how long do you think before…I crack and get sick of all the beautiful things…?” Julian managed an awkward laugh. When he lowered his eyes to gaze at the river, Sebastian squeezed the hand in his. “I’ve seen so much of it all this time because of all the places you practically dragged me to—”
“I don’t recall you complaining—”
“—no, I didn’t, but…” Julian’s eyes met Sebastian’s. And Sebastian realized for the first time that what he was looking at was fear in the headstrong California boy’s eyes. “…I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with…” he swallowed, steeling himself. “…this city.”
Sebastian stared at him, beginning to feel a little frightened himself. He turned away from the fear he saw in the other boy’s face, unprepared for it. “It…has a way of doing that to you. It creeps up on you.”
“…wasn’t part of the plan,” Julian sounded almost irritated now, as he looked at the twinkling tower. “…ridiculous.”
“Only for American brats who don’t know any better.”
“You’re one too,” Julian smirked slightly. “You may have found your way to this place…but you were one too. And it crept up on you.”
Sebastian returned the smirk but it had little strength. “I guess so.”
When their hands squeezed each other’s, they shook with the cold and the fear. In a way, the idea comforted them. Because love, in its essence, was supposed to feel right. And this…just frightened them. It wasn’t how love was supposed to work…
But in a city full of art…in a city that was art…where they say, “Art is meant to be disturbing”…
…was this art? Between them, in the beat of the pulse through clenched hands, through the fear in their eyes as they looked at those beautiful lights?
Was love this disturbing art that they made between them, in the puffing breath, lights, stolen kisses, broken deals, and the ever-lingering thought that this was all temporary?
And if it was, Julian wondered as he looked to Sebastian, who didn’t return his gaze, staring intently into the lights he had so promised to show him since the very first day, can they ever bring themselves to name it…?
Did they really have to…?
“I thought I’d lost you for a minute there,” Sebastian smirked as he came up to the boy who was leaning his elbows on the edge of the decadent railing. “I turn around for a minute and then I’d suddenly lost my stray.”
Julian glanced back at him and laughed softly. “I saw something I liked.” He nodded up to the vast ceiling overhead. Sebastian raised his eyes, glancing for only a moment before he had to laugh.
The Parisian looked at his friend and grinned. “Do you really have a thing for ceilings with religious images on them? Kind of strange for a kink, don’t you think?”
“Well apart from what I’ve told you…maybe it’s because I believe in heaven,” Julian smiled, looking up again. He gazed at it in rapt admiration for a long moment before turning his gaze back to his “guide”. “Not that I’ll ever see what it looks like.”
“That’s the problem with you movie stars: you get one Golden Globe and you think you’re immortal,” Sebastian rolled his eyes. Julian burst out laughing and elbowed him sharply.
“You know what I mean!” he protested, but Sebastian only shrugged in that self-satisfied way of his, saying, “For the record, I don’t believe in heaven.”
“No?” Julian raised an eyebrow.
“No,” Sebastian nodded. He sipped his coffee. “Not in the kind that happens after you die, anyway. If you want heaven, you better make it yourself right now. I mean…if now is all we have…we might as well make sure to get some heaven here in the off-chance that there isn’t anything up in that sky.” He smirked, nodding to the ceiling.
“Ah, hence the reason you’re going crazy and doing as you please and when you please?” Julian smirked at him. “You do realize that some of the stuff you do will land you straight to hell.”
“All the more reason to make some heaven now!” Sebastian’s laugh echoed off the walls.
Julian laughed with him, eyes bright. “Ah, we are both going to hell, laughing in a church.”
“And that’s not why we’re going to hell,” Sebastian smirked, eyes glinting in challenge. “We’re going to hell because…” he leaned forward and met Julian’s lips with his. The other boy smirked into the kiss and returned it—it was fleeting, silent, and sinfully light. “…of that.” His eyes penetrated to Julian’s core.
“Odd…” the actor murmured, a breath away from him. “…I could’ve sworn that was us making some heaven.”
They smirked at each other and burst out laughing again. “Damn, we suck,” Julian laughed. “That was horrible!”
“We clearly need more coffee, desperately.” Sebastian smirked.
“Yes, let’s go do that, then!”
Sebastian shushed him as they started to draw some attention—and grinning broadly as the two of them grabbed hands and fled the chapel.
“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”
― Ernest Hemingway
He had seen a photo once, of Paris at night, taken from a satellite in space. The city looked like a galaxy: millions of glimmering pinpricks and twinkles, against the darkness of night, converging in a central star-like point.
It didn’t just glow, it radiated; it breathed as though it were alive. It was ablaze in light, burning and spreading its golden scars into a dark body. It looked as though it were unraveling something hidden, something so much brighter, exposing it to the world.
He remembered that photo, that galaxy burning through the darkness, as he felt hands race over his naked skin, blackened by the night, and felt as though each rake of blunt nail and each touch of hot fingertips tore away at the darkness on him. It tore more than clothes away—it tore at the skin, and revealed something bright, searing hot, and desperate to breathe.
Desperate to breathe, much like the hard pants that caused breath to explode over their skin as their lips parted against each other’s in the darkness; the sound of living, of the heat and the burn, tearing from their throats. Hands touching every bared inch, fighting the shadows and creating paths that gleamed under the moonlight; light that breathed under the touch.
Every moan, every stifled sob of need, every touch of fingertips to hungry mouths, every palm on the arch of the spine, every beat of the body against the other, sent a pulse ripping through that golden galaxy, and the haze at the edges of the light shimmered in delirium.
And as their hands tore at each other, sliding, slick, rough, piercing; he never felt more naked than before, he never felt so exposed before, he never felt more ablaze. As though everything about him was bared into the cold night air and the moonlight, set alight by touch and the flicker of a kiss. Pressing his mouth to the other’s, breathing life into him, into every pulse, passed between two unveiled galaxies.
As though every twinkle in the city was brought into their bodies, and released in an explosion of heat and light.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
- CS Lewis, the Four Loves
The group of teenagers on the banks of the glimmering river cheered and screamed in laughter, already well into the effects of alcohol, as the fireworks erupted in a spray of golden light.
Julian leaned over the rail, grinning broadly as he cheered and laughed with them, Sebastian’s arm over his shoulders as the light of the fireworks flickered on all of their delighted faces. He found it fascinating that none of the inebriated teens around them recognized him—or at least didn’t imagine him to be who he was. In fact, at the level of blood alcohol content they were getting to, he doubted they’d even remember anything by tomorrow.
Sebastian grinned, looking pleased with himself and at the fleet of French misfits they had ended up fleeing a bar with. They were clearly out of themselves by this point. They giggled and laughed in the semi-dark, the lights casting eerie glows to their animated faces. He felt familiar fingers entwine his own and saw Julian smiling up at him, brown eyes glittering from the fireworks.
It was a strange way to carry on with the night, after what had happened not more than a couple of hours ago. Julian’s eyes flickered to the lips he’d kissed for the first time, and remembered that it tasted like the drink Sebastian had been sipping.
Sebastian caught the glance and leaned closer, a small smirk ghosting on his lips as he eyed Julian’s own, remembering that he’d already kissed them twice just this night and was certain that before this day was put to bed, he would kiss them again.
Fireworks exploded overhead, their compatriots’ cheering shattering past the sound of the lights overhead breaking to millions of pieces, much like the deal that had bound the two of them against each other.
When Julian’s hand squeezed Sebastian’s, it shook a little. Sebastian wondered if it was out of cold—unlikely, they were both wrapped up warmly in coats—or if he was scared. When he felt his own hand shake slightly when he pulled them both a little closer, he realized that it might be the latter.
And why shouldn’t they be a little scared? Julian wondered, as he stared at Sebastian’s blue-green eyes, a crescent of gold gleaming on them from the lamp lights. This was everything they said they wouldn’t do. On the very first night, they’d sworn it; to each other, to their own egos, to the lights in Paris, and to the cold December wind.
All transient things that, in hindsight, maybe they shouldn’t have sworn to. Maybe they should have sworn to more eternal, higher powers. To laws of nature, to the statues on the cathedral walls, to something… Because now, stripped of the deal that protected them both—
Another great golden burst in the night sky.
—they were vulnerable.
The lights illuminated their faces and they each saw not a spoiled young actor, not an egotistic political son: they saw another boy, young, hardly even a quarter to their lifespans, staring at another boy, wanting to give in to something that they couldn’t understand, that frightened them, that they couldn’t possibly be ready for so soon—
—that stopped all their witty words and pretentious declarations, choking into their throats and making it hurt to breathe. Who was this other person and did he really deserve what he was about to give him, and was he worthy of what he would receive in return?
Cold night air bit them, the warmth of the alcohol haze fled. Hands pulled each other closer and lips met again, as though drawing the warmth from each other.
It would hurt. It would cut them both down. It was everything they didn’t want to happen.
But if it happened anyway, then it must mean something.
Maybe it wouldn’t be like the fireworks that sang through the air and behind their eyes as they kissed, quietly, as their companions, oblivious, cheered at the lights.
Maybe it would last a little longer, maybe it would be beautiful, maybe they would learn, and someday—that day of days—they would find that it was worth whatever hurt it would bring.