A/N: Just a one-shot I was randomly inspired to write and drunkenly inspired to post here. :P Enjoy! And remember, reviews are my crack, dears.
Written in the Stars
Out of the corner of his eye, Paul saw Sebastian glaring into space over the top of his laptop.
"I'm done," Sebastian grunted with a huff.
Paul blinked. "Done? I don't even have all of my... Oh," he laughed. "Yeah, it's kicking my ass, too."
Sebastian shut his computer down with a few quick keystrokes, got up from where he was sitting on Paul's bed, and shoved the computer into his bag. "I hate appraisal," he grumbled, "I hate Africa, and I hate textiles." Paul smirked as he glanced down at the assignment sheet next to his keyboard, proclaiming in large block letters, "Research Project #6: Appraisal Techniques for African Textiles."
It was Sebastian's idea to take the course in the first place. Art history was always a small major, but Paul and Sebastian were the only two in their year. As such, they spent their first three years of college receiving almost too much individual attention from professors and advisors. After they'd each completed four independent studies, their advisors had suggested they start taking graduate level courses. Paul was skeptical of the idea, but not to be outdone by his boyfriend, quickly agreed to register when "Survey of Non-Western Art," the most introductory of the graduate art history classes, appeared on the list of available classes for the next term.
Paul yawned and stretched. Noting that it was past one in the morning, he decided to follow Sebastian's lead and shut his computer down. He'd made decent headway into the project, he decided. Decent enough. They still had a week. He stood and started turning out the lights as Sebastian began undressing. Trying not to stare (and failing), Paul rested his hand on his hip as he watched Sebastian pull off his t-shirt and jeans. Sebastian threw back the warm cotton sheets and jumped into the embrace of Paul's cushy bed.
"Knock it off," he said with a grin when he finally noticed Paul staring. "Your turn." He propped up a couple of pillows behind his head and stared expectantly at his boyfriend, who flushed a shade of vermilion that Sebastian couldn't help but think the ancient Chinese would have envied.
"Ohhhhh," he groaned, "this class has taken over my brain. I can even stare at my hot boyfriend without thinking of East Asian pigments." Paul quirked an eyebrow as Sebastian rolled onto his stomach and buried his face in the pillows. Paul took the opportunity to quickly strip down to his boxers and joined his lover in bed. Sebastian peeked out from the pillows at him with green eyes veiled behind long black bangs.
"Y gn t n lrt ow, ruh?"
"Excuse me?" Paul asked.
Sebastian lifted his face from the pillows. "You're gonna turn the light out, right?"
Paul glared playfully. "I'm getting to it!" He made an ostentatious show of fluffing his pillows and making sure the sheets were pulled up around him just so, Sebastian trying his best the whole time to set fire to his boyfriend's hair with his glare. Finally, Paul leaned over and pressed a kiss to Sebastian's cheek before reaching over to turn out the last light in the room, the lamp on the nightstand.
As soon as Paul was lying down again, Sebastian moved like a lightning flash to lay his body across Paul's, draping a leg over his and an arm over his chest. For five months, this was the only way they could fall asleep: together, intertwined. From the first time Sebastian spent the night at Paul's as his boyfriend, they refused to sleep apart. The feeling was mutual. Some nights they'd spend at Paul's and other nights at Sebastian's. The entire weekend had been spent at Sebastian's apartment since his roommate was gone, so the two headed to Paul's after classes simply as a matter of course. Paul slid his arms around Sebastian's back and pulled him even closer, savoring the electric sensation of their skin coming into contact.
Paul was halfway asleep when Sebastian stirred, lifting his head from Paul's chest. "What's wrong?" Paul asked, instinctively finding Sebastian's hand with his own to comfort him.
"Nothing," Sebastian said with awe in his voice. "When did you do THAT?"
Paul smiled. "I was wondering if you'd notice."
The walls of Paul's room were painted to match the sky. It was one of the things that Paul loved about living there: lying in bed during the day, he could look around him and see the painted sky, and then out the window, past the garden, to the downtown Manhattan skyline. It felt like flying. But once it was night, the magic of lying amidst the clouds faded. To make up for it, he'd affixed glow-in-the-dark stars to his ceiling so that as day transitioned into night, a variant of the sky illusion remained. It was these stars, a recent addition to the room, that had so transfixed Sebastian.
"I did it before we headed to your place this weekend," Paul answered.
"It's pretty," Sebastian answered with childlike glee.
Paul uttered a wordless noise of assent. He stared quietly with Sebastian for a moment and then pointed up at a cluster of stars grouped around the fan hanging from the middle of the ceiling. "That's the lyre, right around the fan. Next to it is Hercules, and then to the other side is Cygnus the swan. You can kind of see part of Draco's head right there next to—"
"Wait, these are real constellations?" Sebastian interrupted. "You didn't just...put stars up? This is an actual snapshot of the sky?"
Paul smiled in the dark, wondering if Sebastian would take his bait. Sebastian's insatiable curiosity was one of the many things that endeared him so much to Paul.
"Yup," Paul answered simply.
"Cool." The two resumed lying there, staring up at the stars on the ceiling. A minute or so passed by before Sebastian asked, "Why'd you pick those constellations?"
Paul's smile grew, though he knew Sebastian couldn't see it. "And there we go," he thought to himself. His only answer to Sebastian, though, was a shrug that he knew his boyfriend would be able to feel in the darkness.
"What do you mean? Come on, why'd you pick those instead of some other ones? Like...I don't know, your horoscope or something?" Paul just shrugged again.
He could feel Sebastian sit up and knew that Sebastian was glaring at him again. "Paul..."
"Yes, love?" he answered sweetly.
"Secrets don't make friends."
Paul could hear the pout in his lover's voice and did his best to stifle a laugh. "Figure it out," he offered. Sebastian sat glaring for a few more moments at where he knew Paul's face lay in the darkness. At long last, he heaved a melodramatic sigh and returned to his position halfway on top of his boyfriend, knowing that was the best he'd get out of Paul if Paul wasn't going to tell.
"I love you. Bitch."
"I love you, too, Sebastian," Paul replied, grinning like a madman into the night.
Four o'clock rolled around the next day, and with it, the end of classes for the afternoon. Paul and Sebastian packed their things along with the other students, recklessly cramming pens and notebooks into already overstuffed backpacks before making their way out of the classroom more like a herd of wildebeests than a group of art history students. Paul turned with a yawn in the direction of the subway station but noticed Sebastian turning the opposite way.
"Hey," he called out, "where are you going?"
Sebastian turned and shrugged with an air of affected nonchalance before heading away again.
"Secrets don't make friends," Paul mocked. Sebastian shot a one-finger salute over his shoulder, making Paul collapse against the wall in laughter.
Collecting himself, Paul ran to catch up. "I'm going to the library," Sebastian said shortly.
"You need MORE books for the paper!?" Paul exclaimed. They'd each taken three armfuls of books on African textiles out of the library already. Paul couldn't imagine finding any more room for books in his apartment or in Sebastian's.
Sebastian turned the same haughty face as before toward Paul and said simply, "Not for the paper." Paul smiled as understanding dawned.
"Okay, then," he said, "I'll be waiting for you at Nicoletti's." A hot coffee would be welcome on this gusty autumn day, and Nicoletti's put Starbucks to shame even on their worst days. Paul looked forward to relaxing for a while in the comfort of the cozy coffee shop while Sebastian went to unravel the heavenly mystery.
Two caramel lattes and seven Sudoku puzzles later, Sebastian had yet to appear in the coffee shop. Paul was starting to worry when he finally felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket. "On my way. Sorry for taking so long 3" read the text message.
"Perfect timing," he thought. He ordered another caramel latte for himself and a white chocolate mocha with cinnamon for Sebastian. He wasn't sure how much headway Sebastian had made in the library toward solving the puzzle of the stars, but he knew that any frustration would melt away if he walked in to see his favorite espresso drink waiting for him.
Taking the drinks from the barista, Paul returned to the black leather couch and buried himself once again in those accursed 81 digits. He'd halfway finished the puzzle when the couch sank next to him. Paul looked up to see a ponderous look on Sebastian's face, as though he were still trying to work things out in his head. The crease in his brow faded as his green eyes settled on the paper cup on the table in front of them.
"There is totally a reason I'm still your boyfriend," he lilted as he reached for the drink.
"Good to know," Paul replied. "If I buy you an entire espresso machine, then, will you marry me?" Sebastian just rolled his eyes and took a long sip. With a deeply contented sigh, he settled back and lay his head against Paul's shoulder, still holding the cup to warm his cold hands.
"So?" Paul asked finally.
"So, you're a bastard," Sebastian answered before taking another sip of coffee. Not deterred, Paul stared Sebastian down until he relented. "I met up with Alicia. That's who I was with this whole time."
"Alicia?" Paul blurted. "I thought you hated her."
"I do," Sebastian grumbled, "but you can bet your ass I will exploit every resource available to me to figure this out."
Paul cocked his head to the side, making some of his dark brown bangs fall into his face. "But...why Alicia?" Sebastian looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "Oh! She's a physics major, isn't she?"
"With an emphasis in astronomy," Sebastian finished. "She's gonna bring her laptop tomorrow so we can browse star maps. But you make this difficult."
"Difficult how?" Paul leaned back, brushing his hair out of his face and taking a sip of his own drink.
Sebastian sighed a long-suffering sigh. "According to Alicia," he began, "there are three things that determine the stars above you at any given time: the date, the time, and the location." Paul nodded as Sebastian recounted what he'd learned. "The date is important because of the season and the Earth's tilt. The time is important because of the rotation of the earth and which part is facing where. The location is important because of a combination of the Earth's revolution about the sun – that would be your latitude mattering, offsetting the planet's inclination along with the time of year – and the Earth's rotation about its own axis – that would be your longitude, which tells you what time zone your whatever-o'clock is in."
"So far so good," Paul said, impressed as always by his boyfriend's eloquence, even when discussing something he'd only just learned.
"But," Sebastian said after a deep breath, "because those three factors all affect each other, a single star map can come from a few different combinations of the three variables."
Paul raised his eyebrows. "Never thought I'd see the day my art major boyfriend would be talking like a mathematician."
"I love math. You know that," Sebastian retorted. "You want me to get hardcore on you? Fine. The function mapping date, time, and location to a star map isn't bijective, so there's no inverse function. The best I can do is come up with the entire domain for the range you've given. From there..." He sighed again. "I don't know. I guess I'll have to see exactly what we come up with. I'm hoping a few will rule themselves out, but I honestly have no idea what you're doing with those stars."
Paul half-followed that rant and knew Sebastian intended for Paul to follow it only halfway, with all the math jargon. He understood what Sebastian meant, though, having figured it all out for himself: a particular patch of sky would also show up elsewhere at a different time. Going from time and place to a star map was easy enough, but going the other direction posed difficulties. Paul didn't mind making Sebastian's task difficult, in this instance.
"We should probably get to work on the paper," Paul said after a moment.
Sebastian let out something between a moan and a roar that garnered a few looks from other patrons. He turned his head into Paul's shoulder. "I have spent enough time researching today," he grumbled into the fabric of Paul's shirt.
"Not my fault, love," Paul chided, ruffling Sebastian's black hair. "Shall we go back to your place?"
"No," Sebastian said immediately. "We are going back to YOUR fucking apartment, and we are going to sit in the fucking dark until I have copied your ceiling onto my own sheet of paper."
Paul laughed as he stood up. "All right, then." He offered his hand to help Sebastian to his feet. Hand-in-hand, they left the coffee shop and braved the autumn winds of Manhattan as they made their way toward the subway.
They went back to Paul's fucking apartment and sat in the fucking dark until Sebastian had copied Paul's ceiling onto his own sheet of paper, just as Sebastian had said. There was enough of the dying sunlight seeping through the closed venetian blinds for Sebastian to see what he was doing with his pencil on the graph paper but not so much that the stars on the ceiling didn't glow.
Paul lay with his eyes closed on the bed as Sebastian, sitting cross-legged on the floor, did his best to transcribe the star map above them. The soft sounds of graphite skittering across paper soothed Paul into a meditative state.
"Hang on," Sebastian said, breaking Paul's reverie.
"The fan in the middle of the ceiling," Sebastian said, pointing. "That's the zenith, right? The 'straight up' middle part of the sky?"
Paul murmured an affirmative, and Sebastian continued with his sketch. Paul was pleased that Sebastian was asking all the right questions so far. Even though he had always been sure that Sebastian would figure it out, he was surprised that Sebastian had come across so many answers so quickly. The idea for the stars had first struck him during a conversation he and Sebastian had had about fate and soulmates a few weeks ago. It took him a few nights on Wikipedia and Google to reach the level of understanding Sebastian had reached with Alicia's help in a few hours. Paul didn't think it would take Sebastian long to reverse-engineer the star map and find the significance.
"Do you believe in God?" Sebastian asked out of nowhere.
"Excuse me?" Paul said dumbly, turning away from a sketchpad on which he was drawing figures that all seemed to vaguely resemble his boyfriend. "Um... Is this a test?"
"No," Sebastian answered, "I'm just curious."
"Um..." Paul said again. "I don't believe in a person up there deciding everything. I believe in...love. Stop laughing! You asked! I believe in a network of love that connects every living thing on the planet. Not a person... Just...something bigger than all of us."
"Connected to the Force, you are, my young padawan." Paul threw a pencil at his boyfriend. "I think that's cool," Sebastian conceded. Paul was nervous. It was the first time in their friendship and subsequent relationship they'd ventured into religion and spirituality. "So you don't believe in destiny?" Sebastian continued.
Paul had to pause to think. "I really don't know." He looked up to see Sebastian looking at him intently. "I like to think that everything happens for a reason. If Harvard hadn't rejected me, I wouldn't be here, and we wouldn't have met."
"And so instead of Harvard, you ended up at NYU. Boo-fucking-hoo," Sebastian teased. He ducked as another pencil flew past his ear.
"But do you see what I mean? I think it's the network of humanity and human choices that governs our lives. Some things are in other people's hands, and we can only influence them so far. But everything is driving us toward a future. A good future."
"So you believe you have a destiny?"
Paul shrugged. "If you want to call it that. I just know that wherever life takes me, it's what was meant to be, and it's the best possible way things could have happened. I know that the choices I made were crucial to getting me there, and I know that the people around me were just as crucial."
"Then I'm assuming you feel the same way about soulmates," Sebastian said quietly.
Paul had no way to hide his blush. He'd used that word so many times in his mind about the two of them that hearing it out loud, from Sebastian's lips, no less...
"I believe you make someone your soulmate," Paul said, fighting down the color in his cheeks. He studied the figures on his sketchpad, noting how this one had Sebastian's hair, that one the curves of his torso. "I don't think anything is written in the stars. I don't think it's about what some God decides; I think it's about what we believe. If you're so in love with someone that it hurts when you spend a night apart, and you have to sleep right next to each other because that's the only way to make the thought of spending eight hours not talking or doing something together bearable...and if you can hold on to that feeling...then I think you've found your soulmate." His fingers traced the outline of a three-quarter sketch of a face whose eyes and cheekbones could have been cut from a photograph of Sebastian's.
He looked up to see a peaceful smile on Sebastian's mouth, a smile that revealed happiness and pride and love and so much more that Paul couldn't find words for. Sebastian nodded to himself. "I like that," he said simply before picking up a pencil Paul had thrown at him and going back to work on his own sketches.
"All right," Sebastian declared triumphantly. "Got it." He set his pencil and graph paper down on the wood floor and heaved a sigh. He looked over at Paul lying on the bed. Paul still lay with his eyes closed, still reminiscing about their conversation from weeks ago.
"You never told me what YOU think," Paul said.
"Think about what?"
"Destiny. Soulmates. That stuff."
"Oh," Sebastian said. "Well..." He looked up at the ceiling again before standing and walking over to the bed. He sat on the edge of the mattress and gazed past Paul out the window. "I guess I believe a lot of the same stuff you do, only more mathematical."
Paul chuckled. "Of course."
"I think the universe is governed by chaos and randomness. Our choices interact with those random events to create our destinies." As Sebastian paused, Paul finally opened his eyes and watched Sebastian thinking. "Remember two years ago, we had that course that went over Tarot cards from all over Europe over the centuries?"
"That was a really weird unit," Paul recalled.
Now it was Sebastian's turn to blush. "Well, the more we studied Tarot cards, the more I got into it. I had a friend teach me how to read them." He could tell by the look on Paul's face that he had 100% of Paul's attention at this point. "Don't get me wrong... I don't think the Tarot is prophetic. If you're going to live your life by what a pack of cardboard tells you, you need to rethink some of your priorities. At the same time, though, there's some frighteningly meaningful stuff that comes out of those cards once in a while, way more often and more consistently than you might think. It's really scary sometimes.
"I think that the Tarot is so strongly connected to our lives because it's governed by the same things. The random act of shuffling the cards is like the random events we face every day, but the fact remains that YOU are shuffling the cards. It's a conscious, human action. You have control over when to stop or how to shuffle them. It's all a combination of random chaos and human choice."
"Huh," Paul said thoughtfully after a moment's silence. "That makes sense. I like it."
Sebastian nodded. "Not too different from what you believe."
"Will you do a Tarot reading for me sometime?" Paul asked.
Sebastian chewed on his lower lip as he considered it. "Normally, I would say no. But you're my boyfriend, and I love you. And...I guess I'm kind of excited to show you the kind of crazy stuff you can pull out of the cards sometimes." He reached into his backpack and came out with a small, purple pouch with that kind of cheesy Oriental embroidery you find in Asian gift shops. Sebastian noticed Paul's glance and shrugged. "She likes it."
"She?" Paul asked.
Sebastian nodded sheepishly. "Her name is Sara."
Paul's jaw dropped. "Your Tarot deck has a gender and a name?"
"Hey," Sebastian said sharply, "don't fuck with the Tarot, or the Tarot will fuck with you. Sara has come to me in my dreams before. I shit you not. It's all part of the lore. Just...go along with it."
His boyfriend still looked skeptical but nodded his cooperation. From the pouch, Sebastian drew what Paul could tell was a deck of large cards wrapped in a bolt of fabric. Sebastian unrolled the fabric to reveal a deck of cards with brown backs and beautiful scenes of nature and mythological creatures on their faces. "She's beautiful," Paul said in awe. As Sebastian moved to put the scarf and pouch aside, a single card fell out of the deck in his hand. Paul searched the florid script to find the words, "Three of Cups."
Sebastian laughed. "She says, 'Thank you.'" Paul simply stared on in mystified disbelief. "So...what is it you want to ask?"
"Yeah," Sebastian said, "you usually ask a question or something. Or I guess I could just do a reading about you in general and see what she wants to talk about."
"I don't even know what to ask a deck of cards," Paul said. "Just...do that second thing." Sebastian's shy laugh rang through the air yet again. Paul still noticed how, after all these months, his heart sped up a little bit every time he heard that laugh.
"All right," Sebastian said. "Then shuffle." He handed the squat deck to Paul, who took it in both hands reverently. "Just shuffle the damn cards. She likes it rough," he added with a wink.
Paul cut the deck a few times and then riffled the cards. "How will I know when I'm done?" he asked Sebastian.
He shrugged in response. "Whenever you feel like you've shuffled enough. Remember, human choice and random chaos working together." Paul nodded and cut the deck a few more times before setting it down on the bed between them.
"Okay," Sebastian said, taking the cards into his hands. "Let's see what she has to say about you." He lay the top three cards in a row and then set the fourth above them, making a kind of four-card pyramid. Paul's inexperienced eyes saw only pictures and the standard mystical names of the cards; he had no idea what to make of their meaning.
"Let's see..." Paul muttered, "The Ten of Cups, the Ten of Pentacles, and the Lovers... And then on top, the World."
He was so engrossed in trying to make out the names of the cards that he didn't notice Sebastian's reaction.
"Let's try that again," Sebastian said, quickly gathering up the four cards and returning them to the deck. He pushed the deck of cards toward Paul, who looked up in surprise.
"What was that?"
"I don't know," Sebastian said, trying to keep the blush from his face. "I couldn't interpret those. Try again." So he did. A few cuts, a few riffles, and another cut satisfied Paul that the deck had been adequately shuffled. He expectantly handed the deck to Sebastian once again. Sebastian accepted the cards with a deep breath. As he drew the first card, his hand hesitated. It took a second for him to make himself flip the first four cards over in the same formation as before.
But this time, when Sebastian moved once again to sweep the cards up, Paul batted his hand away with one arm and covered the cards with his other. "Sebastian, darling, you're going to tell me what these cards say."
"Yes, you do," Paul asserted. "You have the same look on your face you had when you first asked me out. Like you want to tell me, but you're afraid to. So just say it." He could see that Sebastian was in no way reassured. "It's not like I'm going to break up with you because of a Tarot reading, love." He took Sebastian's hand and kissed it gently. "What does it say?"
At long last, Sebastian took a deep breath. "The bottom three cards are the meat of the reading. The one on top is called the focus. It sums up the central idea of the other three, or sometimes puts them into context if you don't really know what they're talking about." He began by pointing at the bottom row of three cards. "The Two of Cups is about...being in love."
"That makes sense," Paul said with a smile. Sebastian only made a strangled noise in the back of his throat.
"The Six of Wands is the victory card, and the Ten of Pentacles..."
"Wait," Paul interrupted, "didn't that show up last time?"
Sebastian looked up at him with a grimace. "Yes, it did."
"Oh. Is that bad?" Paul cocked his head in confusion.
"No," Sebastian admitted grudgingly.
"One of the readings of the Ten of Pentacles is...the home card." Paul waited for Sebastian to continue. "The tens are all about the end of the story. Some are happy endings, some aren't. The Ten of Pentacles is about finding permanence and success and happiness and family and...home." Sebastian sat back and waited for Paul to put it together. When Paul looked up, though, it was with confusion.
"Paul, just put it together," Sebastian said, his anxiety and embarrassment creeping into his voice more and more. "Love. Victory. Home." He made a gesture with his hands that said, "And it follows logically that...?"
Paul's head whipped up suddenly, throwing his brown hair into complete disarray. Were Sebastian less on edge, he would have laughed at his boyfriend's appearance.
"Oh," was all Paul could find to say.
"Oh?" Sebastian mimicked, unease settling into his gut.
Paul cleared his throat and looked at the cards again. "Well, it sounds like she's optimistic about our relationship." When he looked up at Sebastian again, he was beaming. Sebastian almost melted with relief. He'd never expected three pieces of cardboard could be so overwhelming. "Calm down, love," Paul said softly, shifting on the bed so that he could put his arms around Sebastian's shoulders. "You said yourself it's not a prophet. It's not like we have to get married next week because your Tarot cards said so."
"I know," Sebastian said quietly.
"Oh," Paul said, his arms dropping to encircle Sebastian's waist, "what's the focus card? The Chariot?" He gestured toward the last card with his chin.
Yet again, Sebastian laughed. This time, Paul was happy to note that the tension was gone from his voice. "It doesn't really have anything to do with the reading. That's Sara being a bitch." Paul gave him a questioning look, to which he answered, "Part of the Chariot is about winning through sheer determination and effort. The first reading was...actually even more strongly worded than this one. I didn't read it and tried to get her to say something different. Throwing the Chariot out there is her way of saying, 'Hey, fucker, I'm gonna say what I want to say, and you're gonna tell your boyfriend what I said.'" Paul laughed with Sebastian, pulling him closer.
"So she said the exact same thing twice? But the first time, it was an even bigger deal than the second time?"
Nodding, Sebastian gathered up the cards and set them on the nightstand.
"Hm. Cool." Without warning, Paul took his arms from around Sebastian, launched himself off the bed, and started turning off the lights.
Sebastian started in surprise. "What—"
"African textiles can go appraise themselves for a while," Paul said matter-of-factly as he locked the door. "We have plenty of time to work on the paper later." With a pounce, he was back on the bed, now pushing Sebastian back against the pillows. Sebastian thought he had had some kind of protest, but it was lost in Paul's lips and soon completely forgotten.
Paul finally realized there wasn't a whole lot of typing noise coming from where Sebastian sat in the corner of the room. That's how Sebastian always sat when they were at his place: with his back wedged into the corner opposite the door. That left Paul free to take the desk chair, but he always thought it felt disrespectful somehow to sit in what was clearly someone else's chair, regardless of their desire to occupy it (or not). Instead, Paul sat on Sebastian's plush bed, once again propped against a mountain of pillows as he added page after page to the research paper. "Besides," he always told Sebastian with a smirk, "I like the idea of being in your bed."
"Making good progress over there?" Paul finally asked, noticing Sebastian staring intently at his screen. Sebastian started, and Paul noticed his left hand quickly Alt-Tab out of a window. "Tsk, tsk," he said jokingly, "watching porn while you're supposed to be working on a paper? And while your boyfriend's in the room, no less."
"I am not!" Sebastian stammered indignantly.
"Chill out, hun," Paul chuckled. "Your screen is ten feet away and facing the other direction. But...what ARE you doing?" After a moment of hesitation, Sebastian switched back to the window he'd been in and turned his laptop around to show a program with a map of the world and a handful of dots arranged across the map. Paul just smiled and went back to writing his paper, and Sebastian went back to pondering the map.
"You're not going to give me any hints on which one of these it is, are you?" he finally asked Paul. Paul shook his head, smiling but not looking up from his computer. "It's impossible," he said. "There are too many possibilities. And if you Wikipedia hard enough, you can attach a significant date to any of these places."
"But what place and time would be significant to ME?" Paul asked.
"I have no idea!" Sebastian threw his hands up in exasperation. "You're an art historian! Places all over the world all throughout history have meaning to you."
"I mean to me, personally."
Sebastian paused. "Personally?"
Paul nodded. "There's the only hint you're gonna get." Even as he said it, he was sure he'd given away too much. Glancing up, he could almost see the gears turning in Sebastian's head.
"So...it's either going to be here in Manhattan, or back with your family in Los Angeles. So if I take the dates for those two..." He was now clicking and typing furiously while talking to himself. Paul thought it was adorable at the same time as he thought it was a little disturbing. "That's definitely not our anniversary, and it's not a birthday I know of. Facebook, Facebook, Facebook," he mumbled, hunting through birthdays and records of past events. "Nope... No luck there. Not unless you have secret feelings for Nina Bell that I need to know about. Uh... No holidays. Oh, Wikipedia, you are useless. This list is entirely too long. I don't have time for this."
"Why the rush now?" Paul asked.
"BECAUSE!" Sebastian nearly shouted. "I think I've got it narrowed down to two possibilities! I'm so close!" He resumed his frantic searching through Wikipedia's lists of important events that happened on certain days.
Half an hour later, he'd exhausted the lists of world events, births, and deaths and had to admit that he'd found nothing at all that could be personally significant to his boyfriend. Deep-linking through Wikipedia had yielded no treasure, and Facebook was useless (as he'd expected...but it was worth a try anyway, he told himself). He was running out of ideas. Personal significance to Paul?
Maybe it was in a past conversation they'd had. He went into his email account, which also logged his instant messages. Sebastian ran a filter for Paul's email address and screen names, then filtered by the two dates. Sure enough, there were five hits for the Los Angeles date and three for the New York date in the four years they'd known each other. One by one, he went through the conversation logs and email messages, poring over every word, only to find...nothing. He slammed his head back against the wall in frustration.
"Sebastian... It's not that serious," Paul said, worried that Sebastian was getting so worked up over it. "Really, it's not a big deal. It's just...a stupid thing I wanted to do to decorate my room."
"But I have to figure it out!" Another bang against the wall, another cringe from Paul. "I know you, Paul, and you know me. You knew I'd want to figure this out, and now I have to."
"Okay, but if you keep doing that, I'm going to tie you down to something."
Sebastian looked up with a twinkle in his emerald eyes. "Oh, are you?" Paul ignored his insinuation and went back to writing his paper with a sigh.
The eight search results stared at Sebastian, taunting him. He canceled the filter that limited his search to messages from those two days and instead searched the bodies of all his conversations with Paul for the dates. Neither date showed up in any conversation. Sebastian growled again in frustration. Maybe he'd talked about the day with someone else? Canceling the other filter constraining his search results to conversations with only Paul, Sebastian ran a search through all of his emails and instant messenger conversations for the two dates.
There were fifteen results. Sebastian's fingertips tingled. He knew it was somewhere in one of those messages. Some instinct deep inside him had awakened to tell him that he was close.
A sale at the Gap? Old news, and nothing too noteworthy. An email from his mother from years ago reminding him about some paperwork he had to fill out for high school. So much junk mail... Nothing else from anyone he knew. One notice from NYU from four years ago inviting him to the undergraduate orientation for art history majors. He smiled at that, remembering the first time he met Paul.
August 18, four years ago. Eight o'clock at night. Sebastian had skipped all the day sessions for orientation, having decided that all the topics were boring, but opted to come to the mixer for the entire school of arts that evening. Throwing all of NYU's incoming artists, filmmakers, musicians, dancers, and actors together amassed enough people to constitute quite a party. But when Sebastian walked into the room, he was struck with a wall of emotion. He knew none of these people. In spite of the crowd, he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so alone. Maybe he SHOULD have gone to those orientation sessions... Too late to change the past now. And now he was here... Maybe he'd just sit and see what happened? "Yeah, great plan, dumbass," he thought sarcastically to himself.
Nine o'clock. Sebastian had made a friend: a girl named Alicia who was a physics major but had sneaked into the party with some friends. Sebastian didn't consider her a friend so much as a resource as she revealed the flask strapped to her leg, which she proceeded to empty into the punch bowl. "How...high school," he thought. With a shrug, he grabbed a cup and filled it with the spiked punch. With a clinking of glasses, he, Alicia, and her friends welcomed themselves into college.
Nine thirty. Alicia and her friends had ditched Sebastian, and he wasn't holding his breath for them to return. There wasn't nearly enough rum in Alicia's flask to make the whole bowl of punch suitably alcoholic, so after three cups, Sebastian was left with only the slightest hint of a buzz and a huge sense of disappointment with the evening as a whole.
Sebastian watched some guy walk up to the punch bowl, which still held a couple cups' worth of spiked punch at the bottom, and pour himself a cup. He took a sip and made a face, first of surprise and then of disappointment. Sebastian couldn't help but laugh out loud. The young man looked over and started laughing, too.
"Are you the one responsible for this?" the stranger asked.
"No. Some chick who ditched me half an hour ago. Alicia."
"Oh, HER," said the stranger. "That doesn't surprise me. I hope you'd at least have the sense to keep the flask and just empty it into your cups as you go. That way you're not wasting all that perfectly good rum, diluting it with that shitty excuse for punch."
Sebastian was just buzzed enough that he found this hilarious.
"Looks like it did the trick, though," the stranger said with a grin. He threw back the cup in one gulp and went to get another. At the punch bowl, he gestured toward the dregs of the punch, asking if Sebastian wanted the last of it. Sebastian shrugged a "why not" and accepted the cup. "I'm Paul," the stranger said.
Sebastian smiled, returning the introduction after downing his punch.
"Great to meet you, Sebastian."
"Likewise." They sat looking at each other for a moment before Paul broke the silence.
"This mixer blows."
"I've got a liter of vodka and every game system Nintendo has ever made in my room. Wanna go have a party of our own?"
Sebastian nodded, against all his common sense regarding a stranger's offer to get him drunk and take him to his room. At the moment, he was just glad for the company.
Paul stood and offered his hand to Sebastian. Sebastian realized it was a good thing Paul did, as he practically toppled over into Paul when he got to his feet. They both laughed and made their way out into the cold night air.
"You live in the dorms?" Sebastian asked.
"Yeah," Paul answered. "Third floor."
"Cool. I'm on the second. What's your major?"
"Art history. And I don't wanna hear any shit about it."
"Really?" Sebastian was so surprised that he stopped walking for a moment. "Me too! I didn't think anyone else was into that stuff." Paul looked back, similarly surprised. Sebastian caught up, and they made their way to Paul's room.
One o'clock in the morning. "Get in the fucking bed, you drunk ass," Paul growled.
"It's your bed!" Sebastian argued. "You sleep in it! I'll sleep on the floor. Or my room. Except...no. Stairs... Stairs sound really bad right now." He burst into a fit of giggles, which must have been infectious because Paul joined in a second later.
"I don't give a shit, Sebastian. I'm sleeping on the floor, and that's final. I will not sleep in a bed if I have a guest sleeping on the floor. You can sleep wherever you want, but it'd be a damn shame if nobody took advantage of the comfort of that bed."
"You and your fucking manners!" Sebastian half-shouted. "Where were your manners when you kicked my ass the MILLIONTH time at Super Smash Brothers!?"
Paul put on the most pretentious face he could muster after that many screwdrivers and shot back, "Manners doesn't mean losing. Don't be jealous just because my Pikachu can kick your Kirby's ass." The two collapsed onto the floor laughing again.
Two o'clock. Paul was feigning sleep but knew by Sebastian's soft snoring as he lay beside him on the floor that the vodka and the late night had done him in. Dragging himself to his feet, Paul prodded Sebastian with his foot. He'd have gotten more of a reaction from a pile of rocks. "I can out-stubborn you any day, punk," he whispered with a grin. He knelt beside Sebastian and slipped one arm under his neck, the other under his knees. With a grunt, he dead-lifted Sebastian from the floor and heaved him onto the bed. Sebastian remained oblivious. Paul pulled off Sebastian's shoes and pulled the sheets up over the sleeping boy. "Damn, but you're cute," he thought to himself. Shaking his head, he returned to his nest of blankets and pillows on the floor. With a smile and one last look at the boy in the bed above him, he lay his head down and instantly fell asleep.
And they'd spent at least a part of every day together since. Sebastian looked up at Paul with more butterflies in his stomach than he'd had when they first kissed. He quietly set his laptop down on the floor and walked over to sit on the bed, facing Paul.
"You chose that night?"
Paul smiled. "You figured it out, huh?"
"You chose the night we met."
Paul nodded. "What else? What other place and time would mean as much to me as the night I first set eyes on you? That was the night my whole life changed. I can't imagine now what my life would be like if I hadn't met you."
"But...that seems so..." Sebastian tried to search for the right words. "What possessed you to do that?" he finally laughed. Paul set his computer aside and leaned forward to take Sebastian's hands in his own.
"You asked me how I felt about soulmates and fate and destiny and all that. I told you I think we make our own destinies... But at the same time, I think it's kind of poetic and...humbling, I guess, to think that something like the stars aligning a certain way can make two lovers meet down here on Earth. So every night when I go to bed – in my apartment, anyway – I can look up and think that the stars will only do that once a year in Manhattan, and four years ago, it brought me the best thing I've ever found." Paul grinned, somewhat embarrassed to express such blatantly sentimental thoughts. "Sometimes, it's nice to believe that things are in good hands."
Sebastian sat silently contemplating his lover's words. He opened his mouth to respond, but he found he had nothing to say that could measure up to the emotion Paul had just shown him. He decided the only acceptable response was to lean forward and kiss Paul. He could feel Paul smiling into the kiss as Paul leaned back and pulled Sebastian down on top of him. His hands found their way into Paul's soft hair and locked there, holding their faces together as though the first one to break the kiss would break the world. They finally pulled apart to breathe, and even then, Sebastian started kissing down Paul's neck as his hands wormed their way up Paul's shirt.
"I love you, Sebastian," he whispered.
"I love you, too."
"But we have 16 hours until the paper is due."
Sebastian brought his face back up to Paul's and shrugged. "We have 16 hours," he repeated with an entreating smile. He brought his lips down onto Paul's again, and Paul wordlessly agreed that they had plenty of time to work on the paper later.