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Petals and Stars

Gabriel locks the door behind him, falling back against it as soon as he can. He takes a deep breath, dragging a hand along his face.

What are the fucking odds.

He sets his grocery bags on the counter, surveying their contents. Not nearly everything that was on his list, and a few things that weren’t on it. Not that he blames himself. He barely left with his head, let alone his beers.

He’d just been trying to do some regular, routine shopping. Just trying to find some semblance of normality in the aftermath of his old life in Bucharest. That’s all he wanted. To leave the past in the fucking past.

Funny thing about the graveyard of Gabriel’s memories- the bodies there never seem to stay buried.

There he’d been, just trying to get some orange juice so he could make a Screwdriver at the end of a long day. And Cyrus Ward had the nerve to be in the same aisle. Looking older, wiser, and every bit as beautiful as the last time they’d seen each other- nearly twenty years ago. Gabriel recognized him the very moment he’d laid eyes on him, reaching for a bottle of organic apple juice without paying him any mind. And his whole body just froze, glued to that spot.

Cryus had cleared his throat awkwardly, like Gabriel was nothing more than an inconvenience. “Could you move your cart? It’s blocking the aisle.”

That voice. Gabriel’s heart was in his mouth at the sound of it. “Um, sure. Yeah, sure,” he’d stammered, too awestruck to say much more.

Cyrus. Fucking. Ward. Here, now, after all these years.

And he had no idea who Gabriel was.

The first time Gabriel met Cyrus, they were both six years old. Cy’s dad had been taking him sightseeing, and he’d gotten overwhelmed by all of the unfamiliar locations, so they took a break at a park. A park that just happened to be close to Gabriel’s neighborhood. Like fate.

The details are fuzzy from there, by virtue of it being thirty fucking years ago. According to his Ma, the two played together all afternoon, talking like best friends right away. She got to know Mr. Ward a bit. Found out that Cyrus wasn’t the most socially competent kid- well, Gabriel wasn’t either. That the two of them were visiting a relative who had an estate in Romania for a few weeks. A great Uncle, from Cy’s late mother’s side of the family. Something about his dad wanting to keep a piece of his mom in his life, about it being what she would’ve wanted.

The story goes that Cyrus threw a tantrum when they had to go back to his uncle’s place at the end of the day, and the only way to calm him down was to promise that he could come back to the park and see Gabriel again before they went back to the States. Gabriel’s Ma must’ve been over the fucking moon that he was actually getting along with another kid, because she invited them for dinner after that. Though she might’ve just felt for Mr. Ward- that wasn’t long after Gabriel’s Father had the fucking decency to hit the bricks, so being a single parent was still fresh for her. She sent the kid home with their address, and insisted that Cyrus write Gabriel a letter when they got home to New York.

And the rest is history. Cy came to Bucharest every summer. For two weeks, then for the whole season once Cy’s dad felt comfortable putting him on a plane by himself. And Gabriel saw him, every single year. His Ma would make Cyrus dinner and they would stay up all night playing video games, making Gabriel’s older brother Petre beat the parts they couldn’t do on their own. Cy’s uncle would let Gabriel come over and they’d go ‘camping’ in the backyard, which really was just them stargazing while lying on an old quilt and then inevitably coming back inside when Cy was too uncomfortable to sleep on the ground.

Cyrus pointed out the constellations in the night sky and Gabriel responded by making up his own. It annoyed the other boy at first, but soon they had a little notebook filled with new names for the stars- their stars. They explored his uncle’s flower garden together. Gabriel would hold out a closed fist and ask Cy to hold out his hand, always a bug or a lizard inside. He started learning to identify different plants, and told Cy about the secret meanings hidden in the flower beds.

One June evening, Cyrus met Gabriel with a small bundle of pink peonies, having stolen them from that garden. Gabriel kept them in a vase on his windowsill until they started to wilt, and then picked off the petals and put them in a jewelry box.

Peonies are perennial plants- meaning that with proper care, they will bloom again and again, every summer. They can’t be persuaded to blossom out of season no matter what you do, but under the right conditions they can survive for nearly a century. A guarantee of soft pink petals, their whole life long.

And between those summers, they wrote back and forth. Talked about school, and friends, and their families. Made plans for what they’d do the next time they saw each other. Whether or not those plans actually came to pass was secondary. It was the planning, the dreaming, that nourished him. The thinking about Cyrus, and the knowing that Adam was thinking of him in return.

Twice, they managed to convince Cy’s dad to let him come to Bucharest for New Years. The first time was when they were eleven. The second time was when they were fifteen.

When they were eleven, Cy told Gabriel about the American tradition of a New Years Kiss. That it was good luck, kissing someone at midnight. And when the old grandfather clock in his Ma’s library rang through the house, Cyrus leaned across the sofa and kissed his cheek. Innocent as could be, and yet when Petre came in the room with his friends holding a glass of sparkling cider, he teased Gabriel over his flushed cheeks until they were burning bright red.

When they were fifteen, Gabriel beat him to the punch and kissed Cy on the lips. His lips were soft and he froze up for a second before kissing back nervously. And Cyrus had looked at him, wide-eyed and blushing to his ears and confessed that he’d never kissed a girl on the mouth before, and nervously asked if they could do it again.

Gabriel was in love with Cyrus Ward. In that innocent, idealized way that stupid little girls always fall in love. The way that made him write Cy’s name in the margins of math textbooks and surround it with hearts. The way that made him pick petals from a fallen blossom and daydream about Cy coming in through his window like a fairytale prince and asking Gabriel to run away with him.

The way that made it so fucking hard to swallow when Cy just disappeared one day.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault, really. Cyrus’ uncle in Romania died when Gabriel was sixteen, and Mr. Ward couldn’t afford to send his son to Romania on his own. They kept up the letters, though. And Cy made all sorts of promises that a lovestruck teenage boy couldn’t hope to keep. Promises that they would see each other again, once Cy could afford it. Promises that he would let Gabriel teach him to speak proper Romanian, and buy him a house- one with a big yard where they could plant a garden together and set up a telescope. To get him out of Bucharest before the place could poison him like it had so many others. Before Gabriel could wind up marrying some deadbeat like his Ma had.

And then Cy graduated and went away to college. The letters slowed down, and as much as he tried to empathize, to understand that the other boy was adjusting to a whole new way of life, it hurt to feel him pulling away.

Gabriel couldn’t afford to go to college without a scholarship, and between school and working two jobs to help his Ma pay bills, he barely made it out of high school. He couldn’t fucking stand the idea of working a mindless, dead-end job that paid like shit, wasting away. So he got involved with some people he shouldn’t have. Did things he wasn’t proud of. Forced himself to grow the fuck up and make peace with his place in the world. He’s never going to get a garden, or a prince, or a constellation of his own. All he has is his pride, and his identity, and whatever he can pry from the world’s dirty fucking hands.

Life did what it always does, after that. Kept moving. Cyrus would send one letter, maybe two, and when Gabriel didn’t answer he didn’t come in through the window. Didn’t ask him to run away. So Gabriel stayed put.

Evidently, Cy stayed put too. Because when Gabriel moved to New York on a whim after shit in Bucharest hit the fan, there he fucking was.

Gabriel shakes his head. He forgot to get beer at the store, so he makes a rum and coke and sinks into the chair at his table. He wonders how Cyrus would’ve reacted, if he’d recognized him. Would he have lit up with a bright grin, insisted that they catch up soon? Probably not. Still, the thought pulls a smile to his lips.

It’s for the best, though, that Cy didn’t know who he was. Gabriel didn’t come out until he was twenty, couple years after the other boy fully fell off of his radar. Cy still remembers him as a loudmouthed, cocky girl with crooked teeth and curvy hips. What a difference a few decades and a half-decent doctor can make.

No point in telling him. He didn’t need to give the poor kid a sexuality crisis by revealing that his first love hadn’t so much as used a women’s bathroom in almost fifteen years.

New York’s a big city. The odds are low that they’ll ever see one another again, either way.

Which must be why Gabriel runs into Cyrus not three weeks later. He’s walking through the park, just after sunset, observing a patch of small flowers near the path. Lilacs, he reckons. A gust of wind passes by, and Gabriel hears the sound of pages fluttering in the air. He looks up, and there’s Cyrus Ward. Scrambling to pick up the documents now scattered all around them. One catches a draft that sends it right in Gabriel’s path. Like fucking fate.

He picks it up, gripping it a bit too tightly, and tries to calm the wild racing of his heart as he approaches.

“You dropped this,” he says, hoping beyond hope he sounds calm. His voice comes out a bit louder than he’d expected. Shit.

Cyrus smiles, barely sparing him a glance before taking the paper. “Oh, thank you.”

A part of Gabriel begs to keep moving. To just resign himself to seeing the other man from time to time and never saying a word. Why not, when people do it every day? Sure, it would fucking hurt, seeing Cyrus always at a distance. But it would also fucking hurt being rejected by the first person he ever really loved.

Cyrus opens his messenger bag, taking the time to fish a stray paper clip from the bottom and reorganize the pages before gently stowing them away.

Gabriel notices a large case resting at his side and speaks without thinking. “You want some help with that?” He prods.

The other man follows Gabriel’s gaze and smiles again, reaching for the case. “I can carry it. It isn’t as heavy as it looks, and I’m only taking it to the top of that hill, there,” he explains, pointing to a small hill not far from the path.

“What’s inside?”

“A telescope,” Cyrus replies, and starts for the hill. Gabriel grins. All these years, and his sweet Cy still has his head in the clouds.

“Would you like to see it?”

And Gabriel, because he must be a fucking masochist, nods and follows him.

“I’m Cyrus, by the way,” he tosses over his shoulder.

And there’s his last chance. His final opportunity to say ‘I know who you are, Starboy. You were everything to me, a lifetime and a half ago.’ To clear the air and brace for impact and give Cyrus a chance to break his heart all over again.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Gabriel.”

Cyrus nods, observing the stars above as he walks. “Are you interested in space, Gabriel?”

He certainly used to be. Who’s to blame for that? “I’m always keen on learning something new.”

“I could teach you a few things, then.”

Gabriel watches him kneel in the grass, popping the case open. A panicked little voice in his head is saying that he should go. Should run for the bus and take the first one back to his shithole apartment. But why? What does he have in that empty building that’s calling his name?

He sits beside Cyrus, watching fondly as he fiddles with knobs and adjusts angles. “Sure, sounds good.”

Cy has changed over the years, of course. Not as much as Gabriel, but then again he has changed more than most people do in their lives. Cy is a bit more reserved than he was as a kid, though that might be because he sees Gabriel as a stranger now. It takes some time for him to warm up to new people. Still, it aches to feel that distance, after being so close.

Smarter now, though. Of course. Cy’s always been smart but it feels like the gap between them in that regard has only gotten wider over time. He rattles off facts and figures with perfect recall, like he’s a damn scientist. Gabriel wouldn’t be surprised if he was, though he vaguely remembers discussions of Cy applying for an engineering degree during his senior year.

And lord, every bit as fucking blunt. Cy was never polite with Gabriel, only ever polite when an adult was watching. It’s nostalgic, hearing him pull almost none of his punches.

Gabriel only picked up smoking just before their last summer together, but Cy fucking hated it. He asked Gabriel not to smoke when they were together, and he’d rolled his eyes and brushed it off, a cigarette in one hand and Cyrus’ soft palm in the other.

He complained about the smell, the taste. It wasn’t enough to keep him away. He still kissed with that eager, inexperienced abandon. Still huffed into Gabriel’s neck and tried to calm himself before he fell apart just from some heated necking and awkward heavy petting.

“Petală,” he sighed, breathless, and Gabriel tipped his head back with a smile. He’d always hated his birth name, even before he understood why. So he insisted Cy choose a pet name, despite his lack of interest in terms of endearment. Gabriel expected a simple ‘baby’ or ‘darling’- something common that could take the place of his given name in Cy’s vocabulary with minimal effort.

Cyrus was never simple or common.

Petală, he would say. Frumoasa mea petală. His Romanian was terrible, the nuances of the accent lost on him. It didn’t matter, the words were enough.

Petal. My pretty Petal.

“Yes, Starboy?” He teased, smiling around an endearment of his own.

Cyrus kissed his neck, took his hand-

And snatched the cigarette from his grip, grinding it into the grass beneath them.

“Smoke when I leave next week.”

Gabriel laughed, pulling him close. “I’ll need them, when you’re gone,” he says between messy, uncoordinated kisses. “And much more, to numb the ache.”

Cy ran his fingers through long strands of sandy hair, sighing when Gabriel nipped at his lower lip. “You shouldn’t do that,” he said softly. “It’s bad for you, and you aren’t old enough to buy cigarettes. Or alcohol,” he adds with a pointed look. He nodded in the direction of the half-empty bottle of vodka Gabriel had purchased from a shady man in the liquor store parking lot. “You need to stop. You could get in trouble.”

“Don’t be such a prude, Cy,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “I keep trying to tell you, you’d like it if you tried it.”

“If you have to smoke, please blow it in the direction of the wind,” Cyrus mutters, looking down at his notebook and jotting down some quick notes. Gabriel’s heart flips, observing the all-too-familiar handwriting. Yet another thing that has barely changed since they saw each other last. That sharp, rushed script that once carried with it endless sentiments. Now, his focus doesn’t waver. Seems like he’s moved even further away from romanticism than before, not that he was ever too good with big emotions. Gabriel finds himself mourning the loss.

He obliges, exhaling and letting the breeze carry it swiftly away. He watches Cyrus peer into the eyepiece of the telescope and smile.

“Jupiter is nearing peak visibility,” Cyrus says, excitedly scribbling down more notes. He scoots to the side, gesturing to the telescope. “Here, take a look.”

He falters for just a moment before taking the offered place in front of the eyepiece. Cyrus is still close beside him, making minute adjustments to give Gabriel an ideal view. He smells like old books, and ivory soap, and store-bought vanilla extract. It’s all he can do to keep from burying his face in Cy’s sweater, holding him tight and never letting go.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Gabriel sighs. “Fucking breathtaking.”

When he leans away, Cyrus doesn’t wait for him to move. He reaches over and starts shifting the telescope, talking all the while. “I’ll show you some constellations, too. Sagittarius is visible for most of the summer, on a clear night.”

Gabriel sits with Cyrus for the better part of the night, listening to him talk about the stars and feeling almost painfully wistful. It’s wrong, what he’s doing. He knows it’s wrong. Indulging in a piece of the past while withholding it from the other man. But there, resting on the hilltop with sweet Cyrus Ward by his side, he can’t imagine letting him go again.

Quite the sticky fucking situation he’s landed himself in, but he feels powerless to stop it now. Irresistible as gravity, heaven fucking help him.

One thing certainly hadn’t changed, even after all this time. Cy is indescribably beautiful. The same head of dark curls, though they’re more tamed now. It makes him look more put together, but Nigel is all but begging to run his fingers through them again. Bring back that unruly boyish mess he used to sport. The same soft little smile and curved pink lips, forming excited words that float so pleasantly through the air to meet him. And Christ, the same big blue eyes, staring in wide wonder at the stars above. Cyrus belongs there, he used to say. A boy from the stars who fell to Earth and stole poor Gabriel’s heart without even trying.

Cyrus speaks and Gabriel listens, lulled into a blissful comfort by the voice that colored his youth with intimate, tender moments just like this one. And the other man must feel that comfort, because as gentle hours pass he speaks more softly, with more warmth, until it seems to Gabriel that Cy wouldn’t want another soul to hear. As if he only wishes to share the stars with Gabriel.

“And there, in the Southern sky,” Cyrus murmurs, “Just above the horizon, that’s-”

“Ophiuchus,” Gabriel says. “The Serpent Bearer.”

Cy pauses, just for a moment, and looks back into the eyepiece. “Yes, that’s right. Like most constellations, its name has roots in Greek Mythology.”

Gabriel nods along, eyes slipping shut as he recalls a far-off memory. “Apollo’s son saw a snake place healing herbs onto its dying brother, and became one of the first plant-based healers.”

Cyrus leans back, and Gabriel looks sidelong at him with a fond smile. “Hades had Zeus strike him down for trying to raise the dead, and Apollo hung his body in the stars- still clutching the serpent who inspired his hubris. Funny how we get away from ourselves, isn’t it?”

His sweet Star’s eyes are wide, staring at the curve of Gabriel’s lips. For a long, silent moment the two of them are suspended on the summer breeze. A foolish part of him almost leans in, to close the space between them and kiss Cyrus Ward for the first time in twenty long years.

And then Cy’s pretty blue eyes flick back to the sky, the spell broken at least for now.

“Something like that. I’ve always been more interested in the science than the symbology.”

Gabriel laughs heartily, knowing that to be true. “Mind in the clouds but feet on the ground. Haven’t you realized yet that there’s a reason so many people look to the stars and dream?”

He doesn’t think about what he’s said until Cyrus frowns at him. “What do you mean?”

Shit.

Gabriel coughs awkwardly, face growing hot. “I just meant that, uh- intellectual types like you have a tendency to get caught up in facts, when the really beautiful part is the fantasy. The big, indescribable romance of it all.”

Cy fidgets somewhat awkwardly, thumbs rubbing across his fingers. “I prefer to keep myself where gravity wants me,” he says.

He smiles. “Talk like that won’t land you a spot in the stars, Cyrus.”

His heart feels almost painfully full when Cy laughs softly. He looks up at the sky, brows furrowing in thought.

“…I’m not usually this comfortable with strangers,” he whispers.

And Gabriel feels a strange stab of panic lurch up his spine, so strong that he bolts upright and stands. Too close, he’s already letting himself get way too fucking close.

“It’s getting late,” he says, fishing in his pockets for his cigarette case. He brings it to his lips with shaking fingers, fumbling with his lighter. “Should really get goin’-”

“I want to see you again,” Cy blurts, so suddenly and with such conviction that Gabriel freezes in place. His heart starts flipping like mad before his brain can make it get with the fucking program and suddenly the only thought in his head is ‘he wants to see me, Cy Ward still wants to see me’.

He sighs, shaking his head. “Cyrus…”

Cy worries his lower lip between his teeth, looking at Gabriel’s shoes. “Do you…want to see me?”

He tries to say no. Tries to find that frantic little part of himself that has been screaming all night. Telling Gabriel to run away, to keep Cyrus in the past before he gets hurt again.

This could only end in heartache. He grabs onto the way he felt when his ex-fiance Alexandra left him for that little American prick without so much as a farewell. How it ate away at his insides and made him fall deeper into despair than he’d ever been before. So much of that time is clouded, drenched in a haze of things that dulled the pain.

And being abandoned by Cy had hurt enough the first time, when they were still just misguided kids who barely knew what love was. What if he abandoned Gabriel again, when the truth came forth? What if Cy resented him, hated him for ruining that honeyed memory of summer romance by changing so much? Gabriel couldn’t bear it.

Fuck, but Gabriel does want to see him again. Terribly, in fact. The years of distance haven’t done a thing to dampen their chemistry- being with Cy still feels as natural and lovely as always. They’d been good friends, before. Best friends, since they were barely old enough to read. They could be good friends again, couldn’t they? What was the harm in that?

“Yes. I do.”

Cy lets out a quiet sigh of relief and smiles. Oh, that smile. “Okay. When?”

Gabriel realized he was sweet on Cyrus Ward when they were twelve. They went to the Midsummer Festival together, like they did every year. Ate and chased each other through the streets and watched girls in white dresses dance in circles. Listened to Gabriel’s Ma go on and on about the Solstice and the prosperity brought along with it. And because his Ma was a traditional woman until the day she died, Gabriel threw a yellow weed wreath onto the roof.

“Yellow weed Flowers are good luck,” Gabriel said, watching the wreath settle on top of the dormer near their guestroom, where Cyrus slept for a few blessed days of the year. “They symbolize friendship and joy.”

“Why do you throw them on the roof?”

“Girls throw them if they want to get married,” his Ma explained. “If it falls to the ground, it means you’ll meet your future husband before the next Solstice.”

Cyrus frowned at him. “You want to get married?”

“Of course she does!” his Ma said, ruffling Gabriel’s hair affectionately. He rolled his eyes, but she didn’t pay him any mind.

“Don’t you?” Gabriel prodded.

He simply shrugged. “I never really thought about it. Do you want to meet your future husband soon?”

Gabriel laughed, gesturing to the roof. “Looks like I’ve got another year to wait, anyway.”

Without a word, Cyrus knelt to the ground, picked up a fallen branch, and threw it toward the roof. Gabriel grimaced, awaiting the sound of it breaking a window, only to see it skid across the top of the dormer and knock the yellow weed wreath to the ground. Cyrus smirked.

“There. Now you can introduce me to him next summer.”

Gabriel punched his shoulder, giggling. “That’s not how it works, Cy!”

The other boy strode across the lawn, picking up the wreath with a triumphant smile. The flowers were crumpled from the toss and the branch and the fall, but Gabriel still felt prettier than any Sanzienele when Cyrus placed it gently on his head, like a golden crown. Gabriel caught the way he blushed, stepping back with a slight nod, and all of the sudden, he just… knew.

Gabriel ambles along the winding paths of the Botanical Garden, observing cheerful clusters of Marigolds. Annual flowers, those. They’ll die soon, no matter what the gardeners do.

Cy wrinkles his nose. “Why would someone plant a flower that smells like that?”

Gabriel chuckles, admiring the curled petals. “It keeps animals away,” he replies. “Lot of people plant them in their gardens, so the vegetables don’t get eaten by rabbits or birds.”

Cyrus frowns. “Still seems like a weird choice for a Botanical Garden. Isn’t the whole point supposed to be making everything pretty?”

“You don’t think they’re pretty?”

He shrugs. “I have…mixed feelings about botany.”

Gabriel watches him. They’ve been spending a lot of time together lately. One evening stargazing led to another, then a movie at Cy’s place where Gabriel spent a solid two hours acutely aware of how the other man’s knee was pressed to his own, even on the large sofa. And Gabriel knows it’ll end poorly, worse than last time. But Cy keeps asking, asking, asking.

‘When can I see you again?’ he says. And every fucking time, Gabriel can’t stop himself.

‘Soon, Cyrus. You’ll see me again soon.’

Gabriel’s falling head over heels for him, all over again. And Lord help them both, he thinks Cyrus might be falling, too.

Which only makes this whole facade feel that much more cruel. Only made him feel more rotten about lying.

And now here they are, indulging in Gabriel’s pet passion instead of Cy’s.

“Well, I’m not that keen on botany, myself,” Gabriel admits. “Floriography, on the other hand, that’s the interesting bit.”

Cyrus quirks a brow. “Fantasy over facts?”

Gabriel nods. “Take these marigolds, for example. Fascinating little things- not so special on their own, but people have made so much more out of them.”

He tilts his head, tracing the edge of a petal. “Explain it to me.”

He smiles to himself. “Their meanings are all over the place, depending on who you ask. Nowadays they’re mainly associated with positivity, light. For obvious reasons.”

Cy nods.

“But since they’re used in decorations and offerings for the Day of the Dead, they can also communicate mourning in some cultures.”

He scoffs. “Well, any flower could be a symbol of death.”

“What makes you say that?”

Cyrus looks up at him. Sighs. “They’re just so…temporary. I don’t understand putting so much weight onto something so transient. It’s why I understand the appeal of astrology, even if none of it is based in science. Stars take millions of years to die. Flowers only last a season, if you’re lucky.”

Gabriel looks to another cluster of blossoms. Different variants of Hibiscus. “Not all flowers.”

“You’re talking about perennial flowers,” Cyrus says, and Gabriel smiles. “They die and bloom again the following year, under the right conditions.”

He nods. “Just another cycle. Seasons changing. Circadian rhythms telling Hibiscus blossoms to open and close with the passing of the moon. Celestial bodies, redshifting, blueshifting. It’s all just cycles.”

People falling in love, out of love- and if they are lucky, back in love again. Just another cycle.

“I’m scared.”

“Don’t be a pussy, Cy,” Gabriel said, suring his grip on the stolen pocket knife. His older brother never kept a close enough eye on his fucking things. Gabriel had been known to swipe twenty leu from his wallet from time to time, though he suspects in hindsight that Petre always knew.

“Petre says that girls aren’t supposed to swear.”

“Yeah, well Petre’s a cunt. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Do you want to do it or not?”

Cy frowned, chewing his lip anxiously. “I…yes. I want to do it.”

“You’re sure? Because I don’t wanna do it if you’re gonna chicken out at the last second.”

He eyed the knife, looking larger than it actually was in the grip of Gabriel’s small hand. Swallowed, hard. Closed his eyes tight. “Okay. I’m ready.”

Gabriel nodded. He cut a shallow line across his own palm, hissing at the pain as blood leapt to the surface.

“Are you okay?” Cyrus asked, voice wobbling with fear.

“I’m fine, it didn’t even hurt,” he lied, reaching for the other boy’s hand. “Your turn.”

Cy bit his lip harder, tears making shimmering tracks along his face.

“Take a deep breath, okay? I’ll do it on three.”

He held the blade near Cy’s clammy palm, his grip on the handle slipping in his bloody hand.

“One,” he counted, and sliced Cy’s skin.

Cyrus yelped, pulling his arm away. “You lied to me! You said you were gonna do it on three!”

“I thought it’d be better if you didn’t see it coming!”

“You’re a liar!” Cyrus yelled, sobbing. He stood, started to storm away. “I don’t want to be your friend anymore!”

“Cy!”

Gabriel caught up to him easily, grabbing the other boy’s wrist and leaving red fingerprints on his pale skin. Cy looked up at him, trembling and teary-eyed, and Gabriel took his hand, pressing their bleeding palms together.

“You and me are friends forever, Cy. Until we both die, and then after that. You can’t change your mind now.”

Cyrus sniffed, threading their fingers together. “Can too,” he mumbled.

“No you can’t, because you promised me that you wanted to be friends forever. If you stop being my friend, then that makes you a liar, too.”

He looked at their joined hands. The blood was getting tacky, sticking Gabriel’s skin to Cy’s like their wounds might heal together and fuze. A watery smile rose to Cy’s lips.

Cyrus reaches out and takes Gabriel’s hand, squeezing gently. Gabriel’s heart flies to his mouth.

“I’ve never done well with cycles,” Cy says. “I’m very attached to routines. Change doesn’t suit me.”

He sighs, watching as a honeybee buzzes near a hibiscus flower.

“When someone leaves my life after I’ve gotten used to them being around, it takes a long time for the space they took up to stop feeling empty.”

Gabriel feels his gut twist when he detects a strain in Cy’s voice, like he’s fighting back tears.

“My father and I were very close. He…he died, five years ago. Sometimes I-” he pauses, takes a shaky breath. Gabriel strokes his knuckles with his thumb. “S-Sometimes I catch myself trying to call him, while I’m on the bus home from work. Trying to see if he needs me to pick anything up from the store or s-stop at the bank for him.”

Gabriel sighs, a wave of guilt overtaking him. Mr. Ward was a good man. They didn’t know each other all that well, but he was always kind to him. Even offered to send some money his Ma’s way, when things got tight.

“Shit. I’m sorry, Cy.”

Cyrus looks down, observing their joined hands. “It’s okay.”

Gabriel can’t shake the feeling that he should’ve been there for Cy, when his father passed. After everything he’d given Gabriel, he owed him that much. To stand beside him and make sure he was loved and supported. He realizes, then, how much he wishes Cy would’ve been around for him during the worst times of his life. How much he hopes he’ll stick around, now.

Cy sniffs sharply, shaking himself out of his thoughts. “Everything ends in loss, though. Even if people don’t die, they still leave empty spaces. Mine just don’t go away as quickly as other people’s.”

It’s too much. The guilt and the longing and the fucking awful love he’s still harboring like a stubborn little flame- It’s un-fucking-bearable. He braces himself and speaks, voice wavering.

“…Maybe that could be a cycle, too.”

He frowns. “What do you mean?”

His heart is pounding, he’s dizzy with how anxious and fragile he feels. Liar. He’s a fucking rotten liar.

But Cyrus lied, too, hadn’t he?

“Maybe the empty places we leave behind are only empty for a while, until we circle back around. Come back home.”

Cy said they would be friends forever, and they both made a promise. Swore it in fucking blood. Forever. No going back.

The air around them seems to freeze, even in the summer heat. Cy’s hand is warm and soft and Gabriel doesn’t know what he’d do if it ever stopped fitting so perfectly in his own.

“…I’m still in love with you, Cyrus.”

“I love you,” Cy whispered, tears gathering in his big blue eyes. They sparkled in the light of the airport, glistening and alive and endless. Gabriel’s own night sky, with countless stars for him to map and name and gaze at for the rest of his life.

Gabriel grinned, kissing him tenderly. He’d been waiting all summer for Cy to say that, if not his whole fucking life. Cyrus pressed their foreheads together when they parted. “I love you too, Starboy.”

Cy’s arms weaved around him, hugging him close. He buried his face in Gabriel’s shoulder, voice thick where his emotions were too much to swallow.

“I don’t want to go home.”

Gabriel reached up, running his fingers soothingly through his messy curls. “I don’t want you to go, either,” he said, and fuck, he was about to start crying too. Every year, this moment got harder and harder. All he could do was pray that one day they wouldn’t have to say goodbye anymore. That Cy Ward would be his to keep, until they both die and even after that.

Cy sobbed quietly, fingers curling around the back of Gabriel’s T-shirt. “I-I’ll talk to my dad about coming back for New Years, okay? Or Spring Break, maybe? I don’t want to wait another year to see you.”

“Hey.”

Gabriel gently coaxed Cy to look at him, smiling softly. He reached up and wiped the tears from the other boy’s cheeks. “It’s gonna be okay, yeah? I’ll be here when you get back, even if I have to wait a whole year for it.”

Cy nodded, hugging him again and pressing a kiss to the top of Gabriel’s head.

“And I’m always just a letter away, right? Just write to me, and I’ll answer.”

They held each other for what must’ve been minutes but felt like centuries, Cy warm and soft and so, so wonderful.

“I’ll miss you, Petulă.”

Gabriel laughed to keep from sobbing, leaning up to kiss Cy’s cheek. “I’ll miss you too. Come on, you’re gonna miss your flight.”

If he’d known, then, that it would be the last time they saw each other, he would’ve dug his heels into the unforgiving pavement and made Cyrus drag himself away.

Cy pulls back, looking deeply confused. “What?”

Gabriel can hardly hear over the sound of his own heart. “It’s me, Starboy.”

He takes a step backwards, looking Gabriel up and down. “I…I don’t-”

It’s either laugh or cry, so Gabriel laughs. “I know, I know. I’ve changed a real fucking lot. But-”

Cy shakes his head, reeling. Gabriel feels panic setting in.

“Y-you used to call me Petal, Cyrus,” he says, words tumbling out in a desperate rush. “You’d sneak out of your uncle’s house in the middle of the night and walk through my empty neighborhood and we’d talk about what we wanted to do when we were older.”

He takes a step forward, trying to breathe. Just trying to fucking breathe before the whole world caved in. “I still have the necklace you got me for my fourteenth birthday. It’s got a pendant- a gold star. It was buried in an old shoebox in the back of my closet, but fuck, I packed it up and took it with me when I moved to America.”

A tear falls, slipping down his nose. Two. “Please, Cy. It’s still me-”

“You lied.”

He stops in his tracks. Cy’s hands curl and uncurl, balling into fists. He scowls at the path underfoot. “You pretended to be a stranger. You acted like you’d never seen me before, you tricked me!”

His heart drops to the pit of his stomach. A bubbling chorus of ‘No, no, no’ builds to a crescendo, drowning out his thoughts. “I just didn’t know how to tell you-”

Cy pushes his hands into his curls, gripping at them frantically. “You knew who I was the whole time, and you didn’t tell me! Did you think it was funny? Were you laughing at me, all along? ‘Oh, stupid Cyrus! He doesn’t know I’m a man now! It’s so easy to lie to stupid, gullible Cy!”

Cy’s crying now. They both are. He reaches out, the weight of his emotions threatening to bring him to the ground. “Cyrus, no, it wasn’t-”

“You were right. You are different now. You used to think about my feelings,” he spits. He’s shaking with anger. “But now…now you’re just another mean man who smokes too much and only thinks about himself, just like your dad.”

He doesn’t mean it. Gabriel knows he doesn’t. That’s the only thing that keeps him from lashing out in return. Cyrus feels things more deeply than people give him credit for, it’s something Gabriel’s always loved about him. But fuck, he cuts deep when he’s upset. It’s cruel. Gabriel can’t exactly say he doesn’t deserve it. Still, he almost wishes Cy had slapped him in the fucking face. Would’ve stung less.

When Cyrus walks away, Gabriel lets him. He knew, of course. Knew all along how Cy would feel. How sensitive he always was about honesty, how afraid he was of being made to look like an idiot. And yet he’d lied, again and again. For good reasons, sure, but Cy’s vision always turns narrow when his pride is feeling wounded. And all Gabriel can do now is pray that this isn’t another goodbye.

“Cy?”

He was just sitting on the old creaky merry-go-round, the one with chipped paint in the center of the shitty playground near Gabriel’s neighborhood. Knees pulled close to his chest, frowning at nothing.

“Cy, hey, talk to me-”

“Go away.”

Gabriel sighed, grabbed one of the handles of the merry-go-round and sent it spinning as hard as he could before jumping on with him.

“I said go away! I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Okay. Then let’s not talk.”

Cy scowled at him for a moment before curling into a tighter ball. They sat in silence, Gabriel watching the view of ugly dilapidated houses and rickety swingsets drift in and out of view with their revolutions. When the merry-go-round stopped spinning, Gabriel got off and grabbed a handle before running at full speed, gaining momentum. When he jumped back on the old metal groaned, and Gabriel sat beside Cyrus in the middle.

“I’m still mad at you,” Cy said.

“I know.”

He looked at Gabriel- really looked at him- for the first time since their screaming match at the movie theater.

“I’m not going to stop being mad at you, either.”

“Okay. Don’t.”

Cy huffed, stretching out his legs and lying flat on the metal, staring up at the afternoon sky. “It was all your fault. My dad is going to ground me when he finds out.”

Gabriel sighed in exasperation. “He won’t find out, Cy. They didn’t even ask for our names. They don’t arrest you for sneaking in, just kick you out.”

Cyrus just watched the clouds spin overhead. Gabriel got up to push the handles again, hoping to make Cy dizzy. “I’m sorry, alright?” he said, taking out his frustration on the old equipment.

Cy looked up at Gabriel, still frowning. “I don’t know if I want to forgive you right now.”

“That’s okay.”

“…Are you going to leave?”

“Not unless you want me to.”

“Why not?”

Gabriel hopped back onto the merry-go-round, smiling down at him. “Because you’re my friend, even when you’re mad at me. And I’m your friend, even when I fuck up.”

Cyrus smiled back. “Okay.”

Gabriel’s been sitting in the grass for the better part of two hours, just smoking and looking at the stars. Cursing himself for being such a spineless fucking fool.

“You really shouldn’t smoke those.”

Gabriel glances to the side and sees Cy, making his way up the hill. He grins, taking another drag. “What can I say, old habits die hard.”

Cy sits beside him, casting his gaze upwards almost immediately, like he’s searching for comfort in the endless stars above. The two of them are silent for a few infinite minutes before Cy finally speaks.

“Do you remember when Petre used to take us to get ice cream? There was a secondhand shop down the street, and we’d walk over so he could buy us a used CD to listen to in the car while we ate.”

He looks at Cyrus from the corner of his eye. He chuckles. “Our Ma would’ve tore into him if she’d known he was spending money on shit like that. He never spoiled me that much when you weren’t around, you know. He liked you better than me. Ma did, too.”

“How is your family?”

Gabriel sighs, taking another drag. “Ma passed about ten years back. Petre’s still back home. Found himself a nice girl and had a couple kids. He’s happy, last I heard.”

“I’m sorry about your mother.”

He shrugs. “It’s alright. We weren’t on the best terms, toward the end. Old fashioned Catholic mothers, trans sons- not exactly a match made in heaven.”

Cy’s brows furrow. “Did you know that you were transgender, when we were together?”

“No.”

Cyrus nods to himself.

“Would you have wanted me to tell you, if I knew?”

“It wouldn’t have bothered me. Looking back, it really isn’t that surprising.”

Gabriel laughs. “That’s what Petre said, too. Said he saw it coming a fucking mile away. Was just waiting for me to put two and two together.”

Cy laughs, too. To his delight, Cyrus lies back in the grass. Making himself comfortable, like he’s sticking around.

“Why didn’t you say anything, when you saw me again?”

He blows out a long breath, putting out the remnants of his cigarette. “Guess I was just scared. Of what you’d say, how you’d feel. Fuck, how I’d feel.” He digs deep and summons one last ounce of courage from his gut.

“You meant a lot to me, Starboy. Still do.”

“Gabriel?”

Oh, something about Cy still using his name feels like a blessing from fucking heaven. Acceptance in its purest form. “Yeah?”

“Come lie down with me.”

The relief nearly knocks the wind out of him. He lies back, settling in the grass beside Cyrus. He notices the way the other man’s brow is furrowed, concentrating on the view. “What do you see up there?” he asks.

Cy extends an arm, pointing upwards. “Do you see that very bright star, Northeast of the Big Dipper’s handle?”

Gabriel follows the instructions and nods. “It’s pretty.”

“Do you know its name?”

He chuckles. “No clue.”

He rolls his head to look at him, frowning. “You know it,” he insists.

He looks back up. Studies the star. He takes a deep breath and, hesitant, he says “Forget-Me-Not.”

Cyrus nods. “Why is it called forget-me-not, Gabriel?”

“It’s pale blue, for starters. Like their blossoms. Right near a cluster of other stars, too. That’s how they grow.”

Gabriel swallows. He can feel Cy’s curious eyes burning a hole into his cheek. “Forget-me-nots are a symbol of loyalty. Respect. Devotion.”

Cy shifts again, points toward a different star. “Then that twinkling one in the Western sky is Marigold.”

He smiles. “Alright. Why’s that?”

“Because it’s bright, but it’s dying, too. Light and mourning, like you said.”

Gabriel points out the head of Ophiuchus, not far from the horizon. “That’s peony.”

“Is it?”

He nods. “Those are my favorite flowers.”

“I know.”

“You brought me peonies once.”

Cy sits up, stretching a little. “I did. I tried to buy you a bouquet of them, the last time I saw you. As a going-away present. I was already out of lei, and the florist wouldn’t take American money. But I wanted to.”

Gabriel sits up too, groaning as he does. “Rasalhague,” he says. “That’s the real name of that star.”

Cy laughs. “You remembered that?”

“Course I did, Starboy. I was hanging on to every word that came out of that pretty mouth of yours. Always do. Always will.”

The silence that follows grows and grows until it fills every empty space in Gabriel’s frantic fucking head. He turns to look at Cyrus and their eyes meet, his heart threatening to beat right out of his chest. Those fucking eyes.

Cy smiles. “Your eyes are still the same, Gabriel. If I would’ve looked you in the eyes the first time I saw you again, I would’ve known right away.”

And before he can fucking think, there are soft lips on his own. Just for a second, but it’s enough to set off fireworks behind his eyes and send Gabriel’s heart ricocheting around his rib cage like a stray bullet.

“I’m still mad at you,” Cyrus whispers when he pulls away.

Gabriel nods. “I’m sorry for lying to you.”

Cy’s hands come up to cup his face, and every inch of Gabriel feels like it’s lighting up like it’s Christmas day.

“I’ll forgive you, soon. I always do.”

When Cy’s lips find his own once more, Gabriel sighs, placing a hand on his shoulder and pulling him closer. It feels like summer fucking love all over again, and he wants nothing more than for it to bloom, and bloom, and bloom.

“I love you,” he whispers, the confession echoing in the shared space they’ve built together.

And Cyrus, whether he knows it or not, is holding Gabriel’s fragile fucking heart in his hands. It’s a mess- broken in a dozen different places and held together with duct tape and will power and not much else. His father made it into a mess when he walked out on them, his mother made it into a mess when she screamed that Gabriel was a murderer, that he’d killed her only daughter. Petre, when he said that he couldn’t see his own niece until he cleaned up his fucking act, and Alexandra when she crushed it under her heel and told him that she didn’t want him anymore. The world is cruel, it’s so God damn cruel and it loves to remind you. Gabriel holds his breath, though, willing to let it get ruined again because he’s still got a tiny piece of that fearless kid with the cocky smile locked away somewhere that can’t be touched.

Cyrus smiles.

“What are you doing here?” Cy hissed, but he took Gabriel’s hand and helped him in through the window all the same.

“I’m running away from home,” Gabriel said, sniffling as he landed in Cy’s guestroom. It smelled like mothballs and lavender, the whole house did.

“Oh.”

Gabriel’s lip quivered. He felt more tears slip down his face. Cy just stood there, looking anxious and unsure.

“Petre and my Ma got into a fight. Again.” Gabriel took in a sharp breath, trying to settle himself.  It was a pointless fucking battle, but he was fighting it all the same. “She found a bottle of vodka in his bedroom.”

Cy frowned. “Petre is eighteen, that’s the legal drinking age here, isn’t it?”

It took a lot of effort to keep from outright shouting at him. “He’s not supposed to spend his paychecks on things like that anymore! We could’ve used that money for groceries!”

“It isn’t Petre’s fault that your mother lost her job-”

“He’s moving out, Cy!” He said, and it finally made him sob. “P-Petre’s leaving.”

Without another word, Gabriel threw his arms around Cy, hugging him close and sobbing into his shoulder. The other boy was frozen for a few seconds before he started slowly weaving around Gabriel’s back in return. He tucked his chin over Gabriel’s shoulder, sighing.

“Kids are supposed to leave home when they grow up. You know that.”

Gabriel shook his head, tears leaving damp patches on Cy’s shirt. “No, I’m not ready for him to leave!” His hands balled into fists, gathering handfuls of fabric. “I don’t want to go back home. If Petre’s leaving, then I’m leaving too. I’m going back to New York with you. You’ll let me come along, won’t you?”

Cyrus was warm. Safe. Comfortable, like good homes always are. He felt like a better home than Bucharest ever did.

“I don’t think my dad would let you do that,” he said quietly.

A watery laugh escapes then, and made a home near Cy’s chest. “I’ll hide in your suitcase, then.”

“How will you get through security?”

“I’ll bribe the airport staff.”

Cy’s arms shifted slightly as he relaxed, picking up on the fact that Gabriel was perking up. “You don’t have anything that they would want.”

Gabriel laughed again, smiling against him. Cyrus always made him feel better, in his own unconventional way. No pretty lies or making sense of the chaos- just an endearing practicality and arms that always hold him when he asks.

“And you can still visit Petre if you go back home. He probably won’t move far. If you come back with me then you’ll only see him in the summer.”

Gabriel sighed, heart heavy with fear and pain and a new longing that still doesn’t sit quite right where it lies. He isn’t used to feeling this way, and certainly not about Cyrus. Sure, he was used to wanting Cy near, to crying when he left and feeling excited for weeks before his return and almost bouncing with joy when a new letter made its way to his mailbox. He never anticipated that he would want to whisper secrets to Cy, though. Never thought that he’d almost enjoy crying, if it meant Cy would hold him like this.

“Cyrus?”

“Yes?”

“Can I sleep in your bed?”

He hesitated, thinking. Always fucking thinking.

“Your mother will be upset when she realizes you’re gone. She’ll know to look for you here, we’ll both get in trouble.”

Gabriel sighed, presses his cheek to the other boy’s chest. Listening to his heartbeat, steady but a little fast.

“Please?”

Cy reached up, stroking through his hair in an attempt to soothe.

“…Okay.”

That night, Gabriel curls his arm around Cy, holding him close and savoring the warmth of his skin. He kisses the back of his neck, smiling into Cy’s flesh when he shivers and laughs softly.

“Hey.”

“Hmm?”

“Did I ever tell you that you’re fucking beautiful?”

Cyrus hums, shifting backwards to press his back flush to Gabriel’s chest. “A few times, yes.”

Gabriel leans close so that he can nip at the shell of Cy’s ear. “Well, you are. Most beautiful thing I ever laid eyes on.”

“Thank you.” He takes Gabriel’s hand from where it lied over his heart, tracing the lines of work-weathered palms. “I think you’re beautiful, too.”

Gabriel laughs. “I’m a lot of things, Starboy. Pretty ain’t one of ’em.”

“I didn’t say that you were pretty,” Cy says.

It takes him a few seconds to elaborate, and Gabriel can almost hear the gears in his head turning.

“…You remind me of a supernova. Beautiful because it’s powerful, and because it’s millions of years in the making. Beautiful because it can destroy everything for thousands and thousands of miles in every direction. Not pretty. None of the most fascinating things in outer space are ever just pretty.”

Gabriel grins so wide it aches, heart fit to become its own fucking supernova. He kisses Cy’s jaw, watches him trace another shape into the old lines of his hand. Constellations. He’s mapping constellations.

“Are you going to sleep here tonight?”

Gabriel leans up to look at him, searching for some inclination of the other man’s feelings. Whether he wants Gabriel to stay or go.

“I’d like to, if you don’t have a problem with it.”

Cyrus rolls onto his back, looking up at Gabriel with eyes that twinkle with a fondness that was built and polished over a lifetime and yet feels brand new. “Okay,” he whispers.

He sits up a few seconds later. “I’m going to take a shower, then, before bed. You can join me, if you want.”

Gabriel makes a sound of agreement, forcing himself to leave the warmth of the other man’s bed. The promise of seeing Cyrus Ward naked and dripping wet is motivation enough to get him moving.

As Cyrus grabs some towels, Gabriel takes a moment to look around. He’s comfortable as he pads through the rooms. Welcome in Cy’s space, like the empty spot he’d carved out was left open for him to reenter. As if he’d never left.

It’s a small apartment. No good spots outside for stargazing, no backyard. But in his dining room, Cyrus has a window box, just begging to be filled with summer flowers.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Fiction, LGBTQ+, Romance

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