notes: this is part of a series of short stories surrounding the universe of Orion's Belt. Involves three best friends, leading to an eventual OT3 (F/M/M).
A lot of people might think of best friends as discrete points in the sky. A star here, a star over there— twinkling in sync, sending secret messages via cosmic rays.
Aiden has always thought of best friends as constellations. Interconnected. Intertwined. No way to separate one from the other. Always requiring each piece to finish the puzzle. The hollow incompleteness when two stars connect and the third is left alone.
Orion's belt is made up of three stars, sometimes called the Three Kings, or the Three Sisters. When Aiden first identified them, he sat and stared for hours, tracing it with his fingers. Writing the names into his history. Into his future.
He's Mintaka. The furthest right in the belt. Quiet, shy, a little too sensitive. Anxious as a child. Throwing tantrums whenever someone steps on an ant in the sidewalk. Demanding an appropriate burial. Crying when he sees an especially nice rainbow. Having a meltdown over ("everything!" Brie teases years later, cuffing his neck) bad hair days and early mornings.
Rey is Alnitak. The furthest left in the belt. She's vibrant, bright-eyed. Reads a lot of books under sunny library corners. She's always been a bit matter-of-fact (years later, she would say, "I love you" in the same matter-of-fact tone, tears leaking from the corners of her eyes). Straight A's and messy hair and dark circles. Gets admitted into the gifted program, then begs to stay in regular classes.
The star in the center - Alnilam - is the brightest star. That's Brian, or as they like to call him, Brie. Brie is confident, observant. Even as kids, he's the one who's leading, always looking over his shoulder to make sure Aiden and Rey are following. Knows the city by heart, every corner, every crevice. Knows them by heart, too. ("Rey, have some water. You're thirsty" he would say, tossing a bottle at her. Rey would notice her voice was hoarse, and wonder how he caught it before her).
It's raining and the sky is getting cloudy. Aiden glances at Orion's belt one last time. Then he heads inside, trying not to remember.
"Let me put a dandelion in your hair."
Brie shrieks, eleven years old, long-limbed. He crawls away. "Get away from me."
Rey grins. "But Brieee. You'll look like a beautiful princess."
"I'm not a girl," Brie spits out.
"What's wrong with being a girl?" Rey, ever fierce. "You should take it as a compliment."
Brie blinks, contemplating this new way of viewing the world. Rey takes the moment to attack. She climbs on top, wrestling him to the ground and weaves the dandelion into his curly black hair.
"Get. Off. Me." Brie grunts, pushing her off. He glares, but the flower in his hair makes it look unthreatening. Rey is on the ground in a fit of giggles.
Brie's face softens. He gives up. "So, how pretty do I look?"
"Like Princess Tiana."
"That means I need a frog to kiss."
Rey makes a face. "I still don't know how any person would kiss a frog willingly."
"True love knows no bounds."
"Frogs are my boundary," Rey says, and Brie knows she learned that word in therapy. She talks about boundaries a lot.
He frowns, pulling at grass. He wishes he could take the terror away. Ten years old and in therapy. Even at his own young age, he knows there's something wrong with that. But then - they'd known each other forever. He'd seen the way her dad had been.
The sun beats down in waves. Rey tucks a dandelion behind her own hair. "Can we go buy lemonade from the store?"
"I don't have money."
"I have some." She pulls two wrinkled bills out of her pocket. "I want to go but I don't remember how to get there."
Brie rolls his eyes, standing up and brushing the grass stains from his pants. "We've been there, like, an infinite amount of times."
"Shut up Brie."
"I demand you show me the way."
"The flower in your hair activates you as my soldier."
Brie balks, but he pretends to fake salute. "Yes ma'am."
They grin at each other, and then walk down the neighbourhood streets. The sun dips below the horizon, dandelions still stuck in their heads. They dream of lemonade and riding bikes and forever days; salt-flecked ocean skin and big city futures.
They're eleven years old and on a class trip to the amusement park. Brie looks next to him on the rollercoaster, and stifles a deep, heavy sigh. "Dude, can you stop… doing that?"
"Doing what," Aiden whines. "This is scary. Can we get off?"
"Fidgeting. And it's not that bad. I don't get why you came on here if you're scared of everything."
"I'm not scared of everything."
"Yes. You're a baby."
Aiden glares at him. "Take that back."
Brie looks away, and crosses his arms. "No. Big baby," he says in a singsong voice. Laughs when Aiden hits him on the shoulder.
The speaker comes on, announcing that the ride is about to start. Aiden sweats on the seat next to him, face white. The coaster whirrs to life, vibrating on the tracks. "Brie, I'm scared. Hold my hand."
Brie rolls his eyes. Glances over and sees that Aiden's eyes have a wet sheen. Groans. He reaches over, grabs his hand, and gives it a squeeze. Feels his trembling palm and wonders how the hell Aiden is going to survive in this world. "You're such a baby," he mutters again.
"I want to get off," Aiden says suddenly. He looks like he's on the verge of a meltdown.
"Dude. The ride's going to start any second."
"No." He's tugging at the belt. "I want to get off." He's practically begging, looks like he's going to have a panic attack at any second.
Brie feels a flash of anger. He's wanted to go on this rollercoaster for ages. It's the best rollercoaster in the park, and they'd been waiting in line for forever. Aiden's always ruining everything.
Even as he chews on his lower lip angrily, Brie searches for the emergency button, finds it tucked in the corner. Presses it. The whirring shuts down and the ride loses its life. Some kid down the line complains about the wait. One of the ride operators comes over, talks sweetly with Aiden, whose face is tear-streaked.
They help him off. Aiden glances back at Brie. "Sorry," he sniffs. He rubs his eyes with his sleeve.
Brie grimaces. Looks down at the ride, at the other kids staring at Aiden like he's a loser. He hates his life. He gets up slowly too. Grabs Aiden's hand, ignores his curious look, and they leave with the exit door swinging behind them.
"Why did you leave?" Aiden demands. "You could have gone on it."
"I didn't want you to be alone," Brie says. Thinks about the fact that the other boys will tease him if Brie hadn't left too. Aiden's always been easy to pick on. He ruffles Aiden's hair. The sun is hot on their faces, and Aiden stares at Brie with his head tilted to the side.
His eyes start to water.
Brie panics. "No. Don't you dare start to cry again."
"But you're such a good friend," Aiden practically wails, glueing himself to Brie's side.
Brie huffs, annoyed, but his heart is warm, and he reflects years later that, yeah, he's always had a bit of a savior complex. Makes him feel good. Like he's worth something. They stop and get ice cream, strawberry for Aiden and cookies n' cream for Brie. Sit on a bench, legs dangling, and play I-Spy.
Aiden's giggling and Brie looks up at the blue sky and finds a cloud shaped like a tear-drop, thinks it fits Aiden perfectly.
Everything is soft and honeyed. The living room is full of golden hour, streaking and highlighting the furniture of Aiden's house.
Rey stands on her tiptoes, measuring out a careful cup of flour. It dusts the counter as she pours.
Aiden counts the chocolate chips.
"What are you doing?" Rey murmurs, bending down to meet eye level with the measuring cup.
"Counting. We should have six chocolate chips in each cookie."
Rey laughs. "That's stupid."
Aiden pouts. "It's not fair if one cookie gets more."
"Do cookies have feelings, Aide?"
Rey shakes her head, laughing again. She's always laughing around Aiden. The hours spent at his house are soft, time melting like butter. They're twelve and making cookies. The counter's a mess and the recipe Rey's mom has written is spotted with brown sugar and egg yolk.
The flour overspills in a sudden miscalculation, tipping over the edges and onto the counter. Rey's heart pounds. She feels herself flinch, hears her father's voice in her head, you're messing up everything.
Aiden's by her side, cleaning it up with a paper towel. He smiles at her brightly. "Oopsie."
Rey swallows, comes down back to earth. It's Aiden. He's safe. His temper is like a baby deer with gentle hands. Her jaw and shoulders relax, and she pokes him on the cheek. "You were distracting me with your chocolate chips."
Aiden grins, and holds up a single chocolate chip. "Hi," he says, talking for the chip. "Did I distract you, Rey? With my chocolatey goodness?"
Rey breaks into a laugh. "Get that thing away from me."
"Nooo! I'm sad and rejected," Aiden says dramatically, waggling the chip.
"Sorry," Rey says to the chip. "It's just, you and your siblings all look the same. You guys might be clones. Sounds dangerous."
"I'm very distinct!" Aiden - the chip - says. "I'm one whole millimeter shorter on the left side."
"Can't tell the difference."
They stare at each other, and dissolve in a pile of laughter, hands covered in flour. Rey turns away to smooth out the measuring cup, but she smiles and says, "I want the cookie with that chip in it."
"The chip is happy to hear that." Aiden sets it carefully aside for her on a napkin. The sun beams in through the kitchen window, shining on their innocent young faces. And it's safe. Rey is safe, and Aiden is safe, and for a moment, everything is okay.
She hopes it stays that way, sunlit and forever warm.