Eye to Eye

Chapter 10

On the way home, Isaac's mom suggests fried chicken tenders with French fries for dinner, which both of the boys enthusiastically agree with. She drops them off at home and goes to pick up the required stuff from the store. As soon as she closes the door behind her, Isaac unstraps his shoes and removes his socks, carrying them to his room where they go in their specific spots. Vin more or less follows Isaac around as he does so; when Isaac puts his shoes down in his room, Vin asks, "Should I...take my shoes off? I dunno what the rules are, here."

Isaac looks at him, uncomprehending for just a moment. "Yes, Vin. I mean, um, you can take your shoes off. You can put them right next to mine."

A small smile grows on Vin's lips as he kneels down to unlace his shoes, putting them in line next to Isaac's.

Isaac sits on his bed, which is decidedly lower to the ground than Vin's, and sighs.

Vin sits down next to him, resting his arms across his knees. "What's up? What's botherin' ya?"

"I wish Mom wouldn't treat me like a kid."

Vin shrugs and says, "Yeah, you 'n me both."

Isaac frowns. "Does your mom treat you like a kid, too?"

"No no, I meant your mom. I see how she acts like you're not a teenager. I mean, mine sometimes forgets I'm almost 14, but not like...well, yours."

"She always talks about me like I'm not there or, or like I can't say it myself. And then she, when I wanted to get the Newton's Cradle, she told me I couldn't, because I broke the last one."

"Right, I heard her say that."

"But I did that when I was eight, Vin."

"...Oh. Five years ago, and she's still...?"

Isaac just sighs. "I know that, that I still need help with some things sometimes, and then, and then th-that I'm...different, but...but Mom won't let me even try."

Vin nods, puckering and twisting his lips in some weird side angle. Isaac isn't sure he could do that if he tried. He doesn't respond, though; they just sit together in a moment of silent commiseration.

"So..." Vin finally stammers, "do you wanna do something? Play piano, cards, maybe a board game or something if you have any...?"

"I can show you our board games," Isaac suggests, slipping off the bed and heading out to the hallway. As Vin rounds the corner, Isaac opens up a closet door to reveal a general closet: vacuum cleaner, suitcases, and a couple of shelves of various entertainments. "We have Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit -- that one is Mom's game with friends. Um, Quiddler; it's like Scrabble but with cards. And then we have checkers, back-gammon, chess, Clue --"

"Oh, you have chess?" Vin remarks. "I used to be in the chess club at my old school back in like third grade. Then baseball kinda took over, but still, heh."

"I don't really know how to play, Vin."

"Well, I could teach you. It's not that bad."

They get out the chess set: a nice, foldable, polished wood board with hand-carved wooden pieces. Bringing it to the kitchen table, Vin explains the basic setup of the board and the names of the pieces. "Now, the goal of the game is to capture the other person's king in something called 'checkmate.' The tricky part is that each kind of piece has a different kind of move.

Isaac stares intently at the board, not acknowledging anything. Vin waits a moment longer, then continues, "So, a'right. These front row ones, the pawns, are like...think like old-school Mario. They can't ever go backward, and they can't just walk into something. They can only attack and take a piece diagonally, like Mario jumping on them, yeah?"

"Yeah, Vin," Isaac says, still intently staring down.

"A'right, then the bishops are like snipers. They hide and then attack from long range. They can go diagonally only, though, so...like this." He sets the board up to demonstrate the various ways a bishop can move.

"The rooks here are the opposite. You know the Thwomps from Mario games?"

"Are those the rocks that squish you?"

"Yeah. That's basically this. Straight lines, as far as he wants, but not through other pieces. You good so far?"

"I'm good so far, Vin."

"Great. So the queen can do anything those two can. She's like, a sorceress or something; she has ALL the power. The king, though, likes to pretend he does. He can move anywhere he wants, 'cept he's really old, so he goes one square. Hop...hop."

Isaac laughs through his nose at the explanation. "But what about the horses?"

"Oh, the knights? First off, I dunno why they are just a horse head if it's a knight...they coulda made like a helmeted guy or something. Anyway, so...the guy on a horse gets to go where he wants. Kinda. See, nobody's gonna stand in the way of a guy on a horse, right? So he's the only one that can move past other pieces, just straight past, no touching, no taking, nothing. He moves like an 'L' shape, two out, and one to the side of that." He spends a moment demonstrating the various moves the knight can make, when Isaac makes an interesting connection.

"So, if...if the knight starts on one color, he goes to the circle of the oller color -- um, the other color two squares away."

Vin stares at the board for a moment. "Wait, say that again?"

Isaac puts the knight in the center on a black square. "He can go here, here, here..." he demonstrates by hopping the knight in a complete circle of white squares around the black one.

"Um...yeah, basically. I guess I never thought of it like that. Nice." Vin nods with the "not bad" face. "So, uh, you wanna try giving it a run, see how you like it?"

"Yes, Vin. I wanna give try giving it a run."

They set the board back up; Vin goes first, and moves his king pawn two steps forward.

"They can do that?" Isaac asks.

"OH!" Vin smacks his forehead. "Yeah, sorry, each pawn can do a double jump on its first move. So yours can do that, too, yeah."

Isaac and Vin play through a match; Vin wins, but Isaac manages to make only one illegal move mistake, even after the rules for check and checkmate are explained. Eager to play another, Isaac helps Vin set up the board and goes first. About halfway through, on Isaac's turn, Vin offers, "I'd move your queen if I were you. Can you see why?"

"Yes, Vin, because the knight can get her. But if I move her h-here, you can kill her with your sniper, um, bishop, and if I move her over here, your rook can do it. So I have to move her...um, here." He moves her counter-intuitively forward, out of all current lanes of attack.

"Right, right." He nods, frowning at the board as he mutters, "...didn't even see that move. Hm."

The game goes on, and Isaac is able to take a few more pieces, though he still gets cornered and checkmated. The loss doesn't frustrate him, though: he finds the concept of the game fascinating, and it entertains him just looking at the board in any given state and analyzing all the possible moves that can be made. He's not quick at it, particularly, but it's neat to him all the same.

Vin stretches. "Those were good games. You're picking it up pretty quick, man -- you think maybe you might wanna join the chess club at school?"

Isaac's eyes go wide. "I don't...want to, um, join the chess club, Vin." Strange people...unfamiliar place...not good.

"Aw, why not? Everyone there loves the game, and seriously, if you kept at it for just a little bit, you'd probably be pretty dang good at it. I'm jussayin'." He scoops all the pieces off onto the table, and carefully flips the board over to pack it up.

Isac ponders the idea. It sounds just as exciting as it does scary. "Maybe, Vin." He can't commit to it, but he can at least say that.

"Cool. I'll check it out, let you know what I find out on Monday." Vin smiles as he collects the remainder of the pieces and closes the board, latching it on the other side.

"So what do you want to do now, Vin?" Isaac asks.

"I dunno. I guess we can --" He stops as he hears the car horn honk in the garage. "...We can help your mom with groceries?"

"Oh." Isaac slides out of the chair and opens the garage door. The boys help bring in the groceries, which include a few vegetables, some bread, and the like, rather than just dinner foods, and Ms. Brooks gets to cooking dinner shortly afterward. Vin wanders into the living room, Isaac closely tailing, and he stands at the keyboard. "Hey, so I've been workin' more on 'Shevat,' but there's another one I kinda got the beginning to that I wancha t'hear."

Isaac takes a moment to parse the end of Vin's sentence. "Okay, Vin."

Vin powers it up and starts playing the new song. The slowly plodding block chords, two unresolved chords followed by resolved ones, immediately paint a picture to Isaac of a shimmering curtain of blue and purple, like the Aurora Borealis, and a desolate land. The melody, a high, plaintive cry of hopelessness, falls on his ears like sparkling, pale blue snowflakes.

After the melody runs through its sixteen measures, a short bridge section presents itself as a cold, pale wind picking up quickly and dancing across the landscape, slowing just for a moment before diving down into a beige-yellow reprise of the original melody down the octave as the block chords suddenly become a deep, undulating mahogany wave of pressure washing up and down underneath the bleak melody.

Vin attempts another chord but hits the keys wrong, shattering the image in Isaac's mind. "Agh," Vin growls, "I keep messing that chord up. This part is not easy -- I still gotta practice a bit."

"It's very good," Isaac says reverently.

Vin smiles. "Heh, thanks. Wish I could play it. Oh, here, lemme play the full thing on my phone."

"What's it called?"

"Oh, right. It's 'Terra's Theme' from Final Fantasy Six, or 'FFIII' in the US -- they released them kinda weird. Anyway, it's the official piano version of the song. Here we go."

He plays the song; as it gets past the part where he messed up, it continues through the original melody with the new rolling waves in the accompaniment. The next section brings the sun out over the landscape, warming up in a major key modulation as the left-hand waves wash gently higher and higher, from dark mahogany to floral yellows, before one last visit to the melody before arriving at a regal marching section, not unlike in the "Arabesque."

Eventually, it calms down in the final section, dying away in a quiet, last rise and fall, and a final, dismal burgundy chord. Isaac thinks back through the song and its landscape, and finds himself sighing.

"Hah!" Vin barks, "you got goosebumps!"

Isaac looks down at his arm. "Only on this side." He presents both of his arms to prove it.

Vin looks at his arms and squints. "How...do you only get them on one side? That's weird."

Isaac contemplates this; it happens quite often to him that he only gets then on one side. "I only get g-goosebumps on both sides if I'm cold. If it's from music, it's on one side. This side." He waves his left hand over his right side to show.

"You...I mean I've heard of people getting chills or goosebumps from art, music, stories, that kind of thing, but...just one side? That's weird."

Isaac looks at him for a moment and then shrugs. He suddenly looks to the right as he catches sight of his mother peeking her head around the kitchen wall. "Gentlemen," she announces, "your fried fare will be ready in a minute. Please prepare for dinner."

Isaac leads the way to the kitchen sink where he washes his hands and dries them on the nearby towel, Vin following suit. Isaac helps set the table, and in short order, Ms. Brooks brings over two steaming plates, one with golden-fried chicken strips and one with crispy shoestring fries, Isaac's absolute favorite. She follows up with a bowl of long-cut garlic green beans.

"So have you boys been enjoying yourselves, today?" she asks.

"Yes, ma'am!" Vin responds energetically. "This's been a lot of fun."

"But I made you miss the rest of the movie," Isaac reminds him.

Vin rolls his eyes. "I told you I don't care about that. Besides, we still have the rest of the night, right?"

"...Right, Vin," he says, the realization painting a smile back on Isaac's face.

Ms. Brooks inquires, "What do you two have planned for the evening? Are we going to receive a serenade? Oh, by the way, I could hear some of what you were playing over the sizzling going on in here. You play very beautifully, Vin."

"Ah, I'm no wizard or anything at it. Isaac here just picks up music like nothin'. Makes me jealous, not gonna lie."

Isaac's eyes go wide. "I make you jealous?!"

Vin smiles over a bite of chicken. "Maybe a little. Heck, I bet you can already play that song you just listened to."

Isaac reviews the song in his head, surveying the landscape, remembering the breath of wind and the snowflakes, and his mind automatically translates each color and movement into a plan for his fingers to follow, no more complex to him than if someone were tasked with copying a sentence from a board. After a moment, Isaac nods. "I think so, Vin. Um, some of the, uh, the big jumps might be hard."

Vin shakes his head slowly. "Somethin' else, I swear."

Isaac quickly adds, "But, but you play basketball really well!"

"Yeah, well, I mean, being almost 6 foot already doesn't hurt on that, heh, but..." He pauses for a moment, but he raises an eyebrow and adds, "...but I can't do math instantly like you can, or even understand it half as fast."

Isaac isn't sure whether Vin is actually upset, so he takes a moment to look directly in his eyes; with his regular glasses on, he feels his worry come back to him, along with those same feelings of playfulness he often feels from Vin. He decides overall that Vin is probably not actually upset, so he takes him up on the contest: "But you can play chess really well, too!"

"Oh, yeah, sure, played for years, I hope so. But when I was a newbie, I was making mistakes left and right for months. You already know how to play, and you caught a move that I didn't even see!"

"...I did?"

"Yeah! Man, you tore that board apart like a robot!" In a nasal, flat tone, Vin says, "Analyzing board...determining best move...checkmate."

Isaac starts laughing just as he tries to take a sip of water, blowing bubbles in his glass and splattering his face. He practically slams the glass down in surprise, laughing twice as hard about it, which gets his mom to break a bit as well. Vin looks over and his eyebrows shoot up. "Oh crap, I'm sorry!" he laughs over a covered mouth. "I didn't see you were drinking!"

"You made me spit!" Isaac cries through peals of laughter, his voice cracking at the end. He takes a moment to wipe the spatters off of his glasses and clean up a spot on the table.

After things calm down a bit, his mom asks, "Well, going back to the music, are we going to get to enjoy some performances, this evening?"

The boys look at each other. "Sure," Vin answers.

Dinner takes priority over conversation, and the boys both eat their fill. As they clean up, Vin takes a deep breath and says, "That was the best homemade fried chicken I've ever had."

"Well, thank you," Isaac's mom says. "That's very kind."

Vin just smiles as he hands her his plate. Afterward, they head to the living room; Ms. Brooks takes her place on the couch as Vin sets the keyboard up for regular piano sounds. He introduces his performance: "So, here's the song that I was playing when I, well, when Isaac and I found out we both like music." He plays through "Arabesque No. 1," putting great care into the expression of the music. The song comes out almost as a professional performance, with only a few little slips and a forgotten note. Still, the song paints once again the beautiful waterfalls and wooded scenes that it always has in Isaac's mind, and it leaves him in a state of profound peace by the end, which is somewhat annoyingly interrupted by his mother's clapping. He wishes that applause weren't so sharp and loud.

"Bravo!" she says, grinning. "That is a very beautiful song. How long did you have to practice on that?"

"It wasn't easy, ma'am," he admits with a small grin and an eyeroll. "About maybe a month, total, coulda been less if I practiced more, I'm sure."

"Still, that was very nicely done. Thank you for that performance."

Vin grins larger. He looks over at Isaac and asks, "So...your turn?"

"Okay, Vin," he says, suddenly feeling nervous. "Um, do you want me to do the new one, Vin?"

"Oh, I dun' care whatcha do. Just do something you know, yeah?"

"Actually," his mom interrupts, "You said you had learned how to play 'Shevat,' the song you painted and showed me. Would you play that for me?"

Isaac considers it, his heart rate picking up a little bit more. "Yes, ma'am."

As Isaac walks over, Vin changes the settings on the keyboard to match the reverberating harp sound they had created for the song. Isaac takes his place behind the keyboard, and Vin has a seat. Isaac, though, doesn't start immediately; he finds himself extremely nervous, more than he ever really has been before, almost to the level he would be if he had to give a full presentation in front of a class. He darts a glance at his mom and at Vin, and back to the keyboard, trying to figure out if he will be able to do this.

"Hey, Isaac," Vin says.

"Yes, Vin?"

"Look at me a sec."

Isaac looks up at Vin; a wave of confidence and encouragement drowns out his anxiety as Vin takes a deep breath and slowly releases it. "Breathe. You got this."

Isaac, still looking at him, breathes deeply with him a few times. "Okay, Vin. ...I got this."

He closes his eyes and imagines the song in visual format, from starlight sparkles through emerald rains, soaring winds, all the way through to the meandering, sinuous ending. Just thinking about the song helps calm him down, and he spreads his fingers and begins to play. Once in the zone, he no longer thinks about messing up, or not getting it right, or even the act of playing it. He just tunes in and zones out, letting his fingers play for him a wondrous landscape of sparkling gemstones, sandy winds, and soulful, longing beauty.

When he finishes, he realizes he has had his eyes closed the entire time. He opens them to see his mother once again in tears, wiping her face with a tissue that she places next to her open purse on the coffee table. Before he can react, she says, "It's infinitely more beautiful when you play it, Isaac. Thank you."

Isaac hurries over to her and hugs her, hoping that it helps her stop crying. He knows this is just more "tears of joy," but it still makes him feel bad inside when he sees someone crying, regardless of the reason. Unless it's crying from laughter, which is a very different thing to him, not really crying as much as just laughing the tears right out of your tear ducts. He's never spent the time to verify that, but it works for him.

His mom hugs back tightly, whispering, "I love you so much, Isaac."

"I love you too, Mom," he replies, both because he does, and because that's the response he's supposed to give.

When she finally lets go, she says, "Well, any other songs you boys would like to showcase?"

"Not to put Isaac on blast," Vin says with a smirk, "but did you wanna try playing 'Terra's Theme'?"

His eyes go wide. "I don't think I can do that yet," he admits. He knows that he could play it, most likely, but he's not confident about the long jumps and wide chords in it, and without that confidence, even an audience of one is too much.

"Is it the left-hand jumps that gotcha worried?"

"...Yes, Vin." He is too distracted by nerves to repeat it in a complete sentence.

"Hm," Vin thinks aloud, "what if you listen to it again and just focus on one side? I mean I can totally play everything on the right hand no problem, but like the left hand is kinda complicated, so...you could do the left-hand side, but with both hands. Whaddya think?"

"I..." Isaac had never considered that option. Two people playing the same song on the same piano? He knew that some songs were designed that way, but he had never considered something like this. After some hesitation, he says, "I can try."

Vin loads it up again on his phone. Before it starts playing, though, he holds up a finger. "Wait," he says, hurrying over to his pillow and rummaging through for an item. He pulls out a small, rectangular plastic case and takes a set of earbuds out of it. He plugs them in -- Isaac notices that the earbuds plug into the charging spot, since there doesn't seem to be a typical headphone jack on Vin's phone -- and hands one to Isaac. "Here's the right ear one." He puts the left earbud in his own ear. "Ready?"

"Yes, Vin."

He plays the song, and Isaac pays close attention to which parts the left hand plays, since the accompaniment does jump up past where the right hand often does. There are a few spots where Vin points out, "You can just use both hands on that part instead of jumping up with just one hand," or, "If you wanna take that part, I'll just stay over here," that kind of thing.

After one run-thru, he asks, "So you wanna give it a try? I mean, it might not work, but I wanna take a shot at it. I've never done a song with someone else before."

Isaac's mind goes back to the moment with Juan, playing the "Für Elise" together, and it brings an immediate heat to his head. He's about to play a song together with Vin, for his mom; the rush of emotion leaves him lightheaded. "Yes, Vin," he says, though just the act of saying that seems to take most of his breath.

"Okay," Vin says, "you start us out at a nice tempo. Don't worry about doing, like, the little tempo speedups and all that that the guy did; just keep it steady, and I'll do...what I can, heh. A'right, go ahead."

Isaac takes a deep breath and puts his mind to the bleak, snowy landscape that begins the song. He ignores his heartbeat as much as possible, seeing as it's almost (but not quite) twice as fast as he needs to take the song. Once he feels the song, he reaches across Vin and begins playing the slowly ringing chords of the beginning of the song.

Vin joins in right on cue, getting used to Isaac's rhythm over the course of a few beats and timing it much better. Isaac looks over and watches Vin's hand dance across the keys, but he has to focus much more closely on his playing than he usually would.

The melody completes, going through the dancing bridge section, and it makes its way to the meat of the song, the rolling arpeggiations that span an octave and a half up and down; with Isaac's short fingers, it really is much easier to perform the left hand with both of his own, though he could probably manage it with practice. He loses himself in the beauty of the song for a bit, reveling in the power of the accompaniment's moving, swaying harmonies.

Then the song's next section snaps him back to reality when he realizes that each time he plays a chord, he has to climb up the piano past Vin's left arm and back down; each time he does so, he feels a little more hot, and when Vin starts playing the lower-octave echo of the melody, reaching into Isaac's territory, it makes him immediately aware of how uncomfortably erect he is. He has no idea why it makes him so excited, but every time he has to get close to Vin, it triggers a micro-rush of euphoria in him.

He gets flashbacks of the night he spent with Vin, when Vin was playing with his hair; he feels himself reaching that emotional threshold again, making his arms slightly shaky and his head almost spin. Distracted, he misses a note, but the jarring dissonance snaps him back to focus. Hissing in frustration, he keeps playing without missing a beat.

Isaac tries to calm himself down in the marching middle section of the song, but as soon as he takes a deep breath, Vin accidentally tries to play the same chord with his left hand that Isaac thought he was supposed to take with his right hand, leaving Vin's hand directly on top of his for just a quick moment. Somehow, the chord gets played, with a tiny sounding of an additional note in there, but the shock of it freezes Isaac in place for just a beat.

"Sorry, heh," Vin says with his little laugh, "didn't mean to squash you there. Uh, pick up from the beginning of that section?"

Meanwhile, Isaac's brain is a cascade of thoughts. I feel so excited right now -- I just want to do things with Vin -- Why does Mom have to be here -- I don't know if I can finish this song -- I'm so erect it hurts -- Why does this make me so excited -- I don't understand it -- I can hardly breathe -- I never want to stop this -- I --

"Isaac?"

He inhales sharply through his nose as Vin's hand rests on his shoulder; he quickly pulls it back, saying, "Uh, sorry. You...okay?"

"...Y-yes, Vin. Pick up from the b-beginning of that s-section." With that, he takes another deep, shuddering breath and plays the first marching block chord. Vin joins him immediately, and they play through the section without problem. Still, even with that momentary break, the emotions and sensations continue to build in Isaac as they play through the reprise of the first sections into the tense, climbing finale (reaching past Vin multiple times), all the way down to the final, quietly powerful chord. When Isaac strikes the final keys, Vin adds in a higher-octave copy of it, stretching the sound across the piano.

As his mother starts clapping, Vin says, "Not bad!" He looks down at Isaac, but he says, "Hey, you okay? You're shaking."

Isaac doesn't answer, as he is frantically trying to assess a new, weird situation for himself: his excitement levels crest the point where he doesn't just want to do something sexual, it's not even just a need; he sincerely feels like he might end up having an orgasm even if he doesn't do anything about it. Eyes wide, he darts around the piano and dashes off into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. He quickly unbuckles his pants, shucks them down immediately, and begins to jack off as fast as he can -- it's the only thing that he can think of to do at the moment.

It takes less than three seconds before he clamps his fist over his glans and starts cumming, accidentally shooting one glob out past his thumb before he tightens his grip to seal the breach; the contractions themselves aren't that powerful, but the sensation of it brings him to his knees and stars to his vision. He sits there, mind reeling, groin still pulsing, head swimming, and tries everything he can to make sense of the situation.

He hears his door open behind him, and he immediately yells out breathily, "MOM!" in the 'How dare you!?' tone of voice.

"It's just me," he hears Vin say. "I just wanted to see if you --"

"Close the door," he says quickly. "I don't want Mom to know."

"O-okay," he says while closing the door behind him. "You okay? What happened?"

"I had an orgasm."

"You -- like right now?"

"Yes, Vin." He opens his hand to show the semen.

Vin sputters a few syllables, but nothing intelligible comes out at first. "I, uh, wow. I...I'm glad it was good for you? Heh."

He almost always masturbates in the shower, so it takes him a moment to come up with a solution to his current problem. "Can you get me a sock, Vin? You can give me a dirty one."

He goes to the hamper and tosses Isaac a sock, which he uses to wipe himself off. As he does, Vin asks, "I gotta know -- how did that give you an orgasm? That's insane! I mean, God, I wish I could orgasm from music. What --"

"Please stop talking, Vin. I can't answer you if you keep talking."

"...Right." Vin stops. He sits down across from Isaac, who finishes wiping and zips back up his pants, erection pointing straight upward (and not diminishing quickly). "Sorry," Vin says more quietly. "Go ahead."

"When...I played music together with Juan yesterday, I got an erection. He was playing his violin, and then we played the 'Für Elise' together, and then it gave me...I got an erection. Right now, we were playing, and when you reached over across me, and when I did on you, and, and the time you had your hand on mine...I just kept feeling more and more like, like...like I do when I masturbate."

He glances up near Vin's mouth to judge his reaction; Vin's eyebrows shoot up, and he says, "Whoa. So...you can cum from...playing a song together with someone? That's wicked." Vin picks at his own crotch a bit.

"I don't like it," Isaac admits as his eyes mist over from frustration and overstimulation. Granted, the feeling was intense, but the emotions were almost overwhelming, definitely uncomfortable, even if he felt like he wanted more and more of them. His brain still struggles to make sense of it all.

"I...can't say that I would like it either if I didn't, I guess, have control of when I came. Well, I mean like...you know what I mean."

A weird, irrational pang of fear hits Isaac as his brain decides to connect this episode with his nocturnal emission. He says nothing, but his hands start to shake as he wonders if other things are going to cause this, or if it might happen in public, or if maybe someone will find out and think that he's even more of a freak...

A knock at the door rips Isaac out of his spiral. "Is everything okay?" he hears his mom ask.

"Yes, Mom," he replies automatically, only afterward realizing that it's a lie. A lie he doesn't want to correct.

"Are you sure? You ran out pretty quickly. Did you need to go to the bathroom or something?"

"NO, Mom," he snaps, "I didn't need to go to the bathroom."

His mom opens the door, bumping Isaac in the back. "Oh, sorry," she says quietly, "didn't know you were there. But I want you to stand up and listen to me right now, young man."

Isaac stands up and catches Vin making a strange face, where he's looking up over Isaac's shoulder, presumably at his mom, with a grimacing face and his flat hand waving back and forth near his neck, as if it were a blade trying to chop his head off. Isaac turns, but does not look into his mother's eyes.

"I have been getting quite a bit of attitude from you all day today, and I don't deserve to be treated like that. Do you agree or disagree?"

"Mom. I disagree." He says it in an even, slow tone, using a method he developed with his old therapist to show that he was not being aggressive.

She doesn't reply immediately. "Why do you feel that way?" she asks quietly.

"I feel that way, Mom, because you keep treating me like I'm a baby. I'm not a baby. I'm thirteen years old, and...and you need to let me be a teenager."

His mom stays silent for a long time. With each passing second, Isaac feels the likelihood of Vin having to leave climbing higher and higher. She takes a slow, deep breath, and says, "It seems that we have a misunderstanding," she says. "We will need to have a discussion about it later. I apologize that I have made you feel that I treat you like a 'baby.' ...And, since you are not a baby, I expect an apology for the immature way that you handled the problem."

"...I'm sorry for the immature way that I handled the problem, Mom."

"Do you mean it?"

"I mean it, Mom." He nods his head, a pang of guilt and shame weighing down on him for making his mom feel bad.

"Then give me a hug, and we'll both move on for now." She holds out her arms.

He hugs her, but he pulls away and asks, "Are you mad at me?"

"Hm," she ponders, "I'm not happy with you right now, but I have some things that I need to think about, too. I'm going to head to bed early and read for a while to calm down and...and think."

Isaac has known his mother for longer than anyone else, and this sort of reaction is definitely not one he expects from her. It's not that she usually yells at him or argues, but the way she answered him feels...off, somehow. Isaac wishes he could tell more, but he's still too ashamed to look her directly in the eyes. "Okay, Mom," he says, instead. "Good night, Mom."

"Good night, Isaac. You two don't stay up too late. Vin, why don't you go get your pillow and turn off your keyboard?"

"Yes, ma'am," he says, springing to his feet. He walks past the two, and Isaac's mom closes the door behind her as Vin leaves. "Isaac," she says. "I love you with all my heart. You've always been my baby, and you always will be. But up until...well, this year, you've been my little child, as well. Do you understand me?"

"...No, Mom." He's not a baby at all, first off, and he's not really a little child, either.

"I treat you like I do because I want the best for you. I want you to feel safe and loved, and protected. But you are growing up and..." She heaves a long sigh. "...That means that things have to change for me, too. We'll talk more about it later. Just remember that I do it because I love you."

"I know, Mom. I love you too."

She leans in and hugs him one last time before opening the door to let Vin back in. "Isaac, you know where the extra blankets and such are, so once you two are ready for bed, why don't you get some out for Vin to sleep with? He can sleep on the floor, or on the couch in the living room if he likes."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Good. Good night. Oh, and pick up that sock off the floor." She smiles and heads down the hallway to her own room.

Isaac and Vin look at each other; Isaac gets a feeling of relief and that heady I'm-trying-not-to-laugh type of mirth from Vin. Vin grabs the sock and tosses it underhand directly into the hamper, and then they go to the hall closet and get out a sheet and a blanket for him. "Do you want another blanket to sleep on?" Isaac asks.

"Nah, I was gonna sleep on this one and just use the sheet. I don't really need much."

"Oh, o-okay, Vin."

They set up a sleeping pallet on the floor for Vin; Isaac looks at his cellphone clock and remarks, "I usually take a bath in an hour."

"Cool. I can just take a quick shower after that, before we go to bed or whatever." He plops down on the bed and crosses his legs. Isaac joins alongside him, near his pillow, and Vin points to the door with his thumb. "Y'know, your mom...she's somethin'.

"She's a person."

"It's an expression," he explains with a smile. "I just don't know what to make of her. Like, she seems really nice, but I can tell there's a tiger in there."

Very little of that makes any sense to Isaac, so he just keeps listening, hoping for something that works for him.

"Still, though, good on you for standing up for yourself. For 'advocating' for yourself, heh. ...Not gonna lie, though, I totally thought she was gonna send me home and tear you a new one."

"Me too," Isaac admits. "I was scared you would have to go home."

"But hey, I mean, I dunno what it's normally like, but you got her to listen to you a couple o' times today, and I'm still here, so double bonus, yeah?" He grins broadly, making Isaac grin in turn.

"Yeah, Vin." He smiles at Vin a moment longer, looking sidelong at his eyes. "Um, Vin? Can I ask you a question?"

"Yeah, 'sup?"

"How did you get your black eye?"

He sighs. "Oh yeah, I did say we'd talk about that. It was my brother."

A cold fear flies through Isaac as his irrational fear of Brandon is justified. "Did he hurt you?!" Isaac asks, leaning forward as if to...Isaac isn't sure what he would do about it, honestly.

"I've had way worse. Gave him a couple of bad bruises, though, so we're even. He deserved it."

"But why did you fight?" Isaac asks, worried that it might happen again, or even get worse.

"Because he wouldn't keep his asshole mouth shut, and because he seems to think that something that happened years ago is important to keep bringing up over and over again." Vin turns to Isaac, and between them flows a river of concern, fear, protectiveness, and, for just a small moment, Isaac can tell that a piece of that tight bundle of emotions in the corner of Vin's mind feels like guilt. Vin puts his hand on Isaac's arm and shakes his head. "Don't worry about it. We're not gonna kill each other or anything, but hopefully he'll realize that I'm not some little chump like I used to be."

Isaac reaches out slowly toward the bruised eye socket. "Does it hurt?"

Vin, whose eyes cross as he watches the hand get closer, replies, "Nah, not really. It was a little tender, but I've taken a baseball to the face. A 'baseball faceball,' heh. Now that was tender."

Isaac gently touches the bruise; it's in full color by this point, from black through purple, all the way through yellow, depending on the place. Touching Vin's face fills Isaac with a complicated batch of emotions and feelings, something Isaac has had in spades today.

Vin sits and lets Isaac touch the bruise and the surrounding area for a moment. "Oh," he says, "speaking of which...those sunglasses."

Isaac pulls his hand away and sits down, but he doesn't respond; he's not sure what to respond to, after all.

"Why are you really wearing them? They're not just for the sun, and you never needed 'em before."

"I wear them because..." he begins, but he stops when he realizes that he was going to try to lie to Vin. He starts over, "I wear them because someone told me --" Oh, wait, I'm not supposed to tell anybody! Isaac quickly shuts his lips as his eyes pop wide open.

Vin turns his entire body to face Isaac. "Somebody told you...what?" he asks in a smoother tone of voice with his eyes narrowed a bit.

Isaac looks at the bed, warring with his impulses. Do I tell him? What if they find out? What are they going to do? Will they hurt Vin, too? What...what if Vin can help me? Maybe they won't find out if I tell Vin.

"Isaac?" he asks again.

"Do...do you promise not to, not to tell anybody?" Isaac pleads, clenching his hands unconsciously.

"Of course, Isaac. You gotta tell me what's goin' on, though."

"Okay, Vin. I found the sunglasses in the piano room..."

"Right, you told me that part."

"...and then I found a letter, um, a note, in them. It said..." He takes a breath, feeling the abject fear of that moment coming back. "...It said, 'Stop looking at people / voodoo freak / don't tell anyone.' And then it had some eyes on it, and then..." Isaac doesn't really have anything else to say, so he lets the sentence hang.

Vin's eyes narrow further. "Who the fuck would do that? That just doesn't...wow. That's fucked up."

There's a short silence, broken by Isaac saying, "I'm scared, Vin."

Vin shakes his head, first just a little bit, then more vigorously. "No, don't be. This is some pussy shit right here." Isaac gasps a bit at Vin's language. "The people that would do something like this won't come after you. If they're just writing little 'love notes' to you like that, they're way too chicken shit to do anything else."

Isaac ponders his words, but says nothing. Vin continues, "And you know what? Let 'em. Let 'em write their stupid little shitty notes until they get caught. It doesn't hurt you, right?"

"But what if they do something?" Isaac asks, though he still hasn't devoted the time to think about what might be done, or even who could be doing it.

"Then they'll regret the day they ever met you. Or me. 'Cuz if I find out who's doing this..." he grits his teeth and shakes his head.

Isaac makes careful effort not to look in his eyes; Vin is almost as intimidating as the notes were. "Don't hurt them," Isaac asks Vin.

"I'm gonna do some detective work, see if I can't figure somethin' out. If all they're doin' is little notes or whatever, they can still get suspension for bullying. But if they lay a finger on you, God help them."

Isaac pulls his legs in and rocks on the bed. "I don't want..." He can't figure out the rest of the sentence.

Vin sighs. "Look, my man, just don't worry about 'em. If they're gonna do something, they'll do it. If not, then they won't. No biggie. You can't just worry all your life about it, or you're letting the bullies win. Hell, you know what you should do?"

"What, Vin?"

"Throw the sunglasses away. In the piano room, or the locker room. Somewhere they'll see it."

"But won't that make them mad?" Isaac asks into his knees, rocking a little more vigorously.

"If it makes 'em mad, then fuck 'em. They deserve it. You don't deserve to be afraid. You deserve to live a happy life." Vin looks down at the bed, and off toward the wall for a moment. "And you know what the world deserves?" he asks with a smile.

"What, Vin?"

"The world deserves to see those gorgeous eyes of yours instead of hiding them behind shades. They're too beautiful to keep hidden."

Even through his stress, even though he knows what Vin said isn't funny, Isaac still finds himself giggling. The way he feels when Vin compliments him is still foreign and new to him, but he could quickly get used to it.

Isaac stops rocking, but he keeps his arms around his legs. In his peripheral vision, he can see Vin look over at him once or twice. "So..." Vin says, clearing the air, "I saw your painting."

Isaac whips around to look at Vin with wide eyes. "You did?!"

Through Vin's eyes, he feels amusement, surprise, shame, awe, pride, and wonder all mixed together from them both. Vin smiles and nods, "Yeah. It's pretty awesome. So that's what you were seeing when you heard 'Shevat,' huh?"

Isaac feels his face heat up as he looks to the bedsheets. "Yes, Vin. I mean, kind of. It's not exactly what I see, but I can't get it to be speficic -- specic...I can't get it exactly right."

"Still, though, that's just freakin' awesome. Kinda blows my mind to think about, seein' all that when you're listenin' to a song. I mean how do you even concentrate if all that's goin' through your head?"

Isaac never really thought about it before. If anything, the visuals help him play. "I just do," he shrugs.

"God, I wish I could just be in your brain, sometimes," Vin says with a head shake. "I mean," he adds quickly, "y'know, more than just the eye thing."

Isaac finds himself strangely comfortable at the moment, a sort of peace not unlike when Christian lets loose with his wall of speech, but this time from Vin's occasional commentary. He doesn't need Isaac to say a lot in response; Isaac knows that Vin won't get loud and obnoxious about things that Isaac says; and Isaac is finally convinced that Vin has his best intentions in mind. So, in this moment, even with the two now-silent boys sitting at odd angles to one another, even with Isaac picking at the lint on his blanket, he feels content.

Isaac sees a small half-smile bloom on Vin's face as he snorts a small laugh and slowly shakes his head. "So...really sucks that there was a fire alarm in that movie. I mean, what're the odds?"

Isaac briefly considers how one would even calculate the odds of a fire alarm showing up in a movie, but he knows he's missing way too much information to make a reasonable judgment. "I don't know if we can figure that out," he responds.

He smiles larger. "No worries. You okay now, though?"

"Yes, Vin. I'm okay now." thinking back to it sends a shudder through him, but only if he thinks directly about it.

"Still, been a pretty crazy day. I had a lot of fun. Hopefully it wasn't too stressful for you."

"I had a lot of fun, too, Vin. And then, um, it wasn't too stressful for me."

Isaac revels in his contentment a moment longer before Vin asks, "Hey, question: how heavy of a sleeper is your mom? Does she wake up real easy?"

"I usually have to go in and shake her shoulder to wake her up. She has a fan and then a dehumidifier, and then they both make a lot of noise."

"Cool, cool. Um, just curious, 'cuz I know the day was kinda stressful for you and all...have you ever had a shoulder rub before?"

"Yes, but it wasn't very good." They had no idea what they were doing and it hurt like nobody's business.

Vin shrugs. "Well, I have been told I give very good shoulder rubs...Care to give it a try?" He hangs his hands in front of him as if Isaac's shoulders should already be underneath them.

The idea repulses Isaac at first from prior experience...but then, it would be an excuse to have Vin's hands on his shoulders and back, and that thought alone makes it worth it for Isaac. "Okay, Vin," he says with a grin as he spins himself around to face away from Vin, nestling himself in between Vin's spread legs. Thoughts of the dreams he's had and the things they've done pick his heart rate up a bit as he situates himself.

"Okay, let me know if I push too hard or whatever." Shortly, Isaac feels Vin's long fingers drape across his shoulders, overlapping his collarbone; even through his shirt, he can feel the warmth of Vin's palms. Then Vin pushes his thumbs into Isaac's trapezius muscle, causing two simultaneous reactions: one, the feeling of the massage itself is divine, causing Isaac's muscles to cry for more; and two, his shirt grinds against his skin, causing him to make a strangled, painful gasp. "Stop!" he pleads, hunching down to escape the torture.

"Sorry!" Vin quickly breathes out, his hands instantly off of Isaac's shoulders. "I'm sorry -- I didn't mean to hurt you."

Isaac, now hyper-aware of the feeling on his skin, quickly pulls off his shirt from the bottom up, nearly flinging his glasses off his face in the process. He lets the air from his ceiling fan cool off the burning on his shoulders for a moment. "It was just the shirt, Vin," he explains, tensing up his shoulders and rubbing at them with his crossed arms to try to get the feeling to go away.

Vin begins popping his knuckles as he watches Isaac. "I really didn't mean to hurt you, man. I feel bad."

"It's...okay, Vin." After his skin calms down, he adds, "...Um, but I liked the way the massage felt."

"Do you...want me to try again?"

"Yes, Vin, I want you to try again. Without the shirt."

They situate themselves back in place, and Vin presses his thumbs once again into Isaac's muscles. Isaac finds himself exhaling as if Vin were pushing the air out of him. The feeling is intense; there is pain involved, but it's a thick, heavy pain that comes with a thick, heavy dose of pleasure wrapped around it. Somehow, the pain in his muscles seems to turn directly into relaxation as Vin works them.

After what feels like both eternity and not nearly long enough, Vin pauses and asks, "How you likin' it? Is it okay?"

"It's...really okay."

"Hah!" Vin barks, moving his hands down a bit. Still using his thumbs, he pushes into Isaac's spinal muscles, sending radiating waves of bliss throughout Isaac's back. He keeps moving down, kneading each spot inch by inch; by the time Vin's hands are practically wrapped around Isaac's abdomen, his tickle response is completely suppressed, and his attention is completely focused on following the pattern of painful pleasure moving down his spine. The feeling is very different than a scalp massage to Isaac, but it does seem to have the same general effect, especially when it's Vin's hands doing the work. Since he's not in public, he reaches into his pants to adjust himself.

Vin remarks from behind Isaac, "Heh, that happens to me, too. Massages always make me chub."

He heard Vin use the word before, but he still doesn't know what it means. "Chub?"

"Get a boner, erection, whatever."

"Oh." Isaac laughs a bit at the silliness of the word.

Suddenly, the massage stops, leaving Isaac both wobbly and wanting. Vin stretches his arms out into Isaac's peripheral vision, stretching his long fingers out. "Sorry, gotta take a break on it."

"It's okay, Vin." Isaac turns around and begins to say, "That felt..." but he is distracted when he notices that Vin is definitely tenting his chinos. "...You have an erection, too."

"I didn't say getting massages makes me chub...though I guess that does too, depending on the person. And the massage." He shrugs. "So you were saying? How did it feel?"

Isaac smiles, looking into his blue-and-browns. "It felt amazing."

Vin blinks, and Isaac feels a wave of something from him like when Isaac hears his mom finally use a curse word, though without the fear and dread attached. "Wow," Vin says with a smile, "I got an 'amazing' from you? That's the first I've ever heard you use that word." His eyes tell a story of pride, and of something similar to how Isaac feels when he passes a reading test, like winning a game, almost.

Isaac knows what he wants at this point, but he's not about to make the mistake that he did last time. "Vin."

"Yeah?"

"Do you...want to go farther?"

"Go farther?" he asks, eyebrows down. "OH! Heh." He leans over to look at the door, asking, "You sure your mom won't wake up or anything?"

"She sleeps really deeply," Isaac assures him. "Let me close the door, um, just in case."

As he does so, Vin takes his shirt and pants off, leaving him sitting cross-legged on the bed in a pair of tented dark red boxer briefs. Isaac takes off his clothes and puts them in the dirty clothes hamper, leaving him in his white briefs. He rejoins Vin on the bed and alternates his stare between Vin's eyes and his dick; he idly notices that Vin's dick throbs in rhythm -- with his heartbeat, he assumes.

When their eyes meet, there is a swelling of excitement, desire, curiosity, connection, and a tangle of other minor emotions between the two. Isaac wants to do...something, but he's not sure where to begin, and he doesn't want to screw things up like before.

Finally, Vin says, "So I basically did most of the stuff last time, right? What do you wanna do? I'm pretty much down for whatever."

Isaac thinks about it for a moment. Suddenly, he comes up with an idea, one that he wouldn't have thought of at first in this kind of situation. But it does work for other things, he considers, so he asks Vin, "Can I...explore you? Like a tour, but...not a place. You."

He smiles, but his eyes betray confusion and curiosity more than happiness. "Sure...what do you want me to do?"

Isaac crawls over to Vin and begins to look at the closest part to him, his leg. He takes his hand and places it gently on Vin's knee, but not so lightly as to tickle; he slowly moves it down his shin, feeling the the golden-brown hairs that lightly cover his legs below the knee. Vin accommodates by stretching both his legs out, adjusting his dick to point out the band of his boxer briefs in the process. Isaac makes his way to Vin's feet, rubbing his hand smoothly over the top of his foot. The act of moving his hands along Vin's body gives him a sense of familiarity he didn't have before. Even last time, it was more about Vin telling him what to do, Vin taking control. While Isaac liked that -- a lot -- Isaac didn't feel like he really knew Vin's body, and that somehow made it still feel foreign, strange. Now, though, as he looks at every ridge on his shins, the length of his toes, the fact that his middle toe is longer than his second toe by just a tiny bit -- every inch makes Isaac feel a little more comfortable.

He examines his way up Vin's other side; he notices a small scar on his left knee, and takes a moment to admire the musculature of his thighs. Isaac's just seem round, but Vin's legs have grooves in them where the thigh muscles have clearly been toned from years of athletics. He continues past his boxer briefs to his abs; as he places his hand on Vin's obliques, Vin repositions himself to lie down lengthwise on the bed. Isaac silently marvels at all the little muscle details; he had seen bodybuilders with their sharp contours and bulging muscles, and he had seen people more like himself without any of those things, but he finds Vin to be a nice middle-ground exemplar with his obvious muscle tone, but with a smoother, softer feel between the muscles. Vin's pecs are also toned, definitely enough to stand out against his abs; just running his hand along Vin's pecs makes Isaac more excited than he expects.

Vin props himself up on his elbows to keep watching Isaac's journey. "Whaddya think so far?" he asks with a half smile and a playful feeling in his eyes.

"I like it," Isaac simply replies. Vin laughs a bit, making his belly contract and bounce almost hypnotically to Isaac.

Vin sits up as Isaac explores his shoulder; comparing to himself, Vin's shoulders are both much broader and decently larger than Isaac's, the product of hours upon hours of throwing basketballs and working out. His arms have a mesmerizing set of contours among the triceps and biceps, the elbow, the flexors and extensors in his forearm. Isaac spends his time tracing the various grooves, admiring their sinuous beauty. He finally moves to Vin's long-fingered hand, often the object of Isaac's attraction; he takes his time tracing the lines in his palms, running his fingers up and across Vin's, and enjoying the warmth of holding Vin's hands.

"Y'know," Vin says as Isaac moves around toward his back, "your hands are really soft." Isaac stops to examine his own hands, not really ever aware of that trait. Vin adds, "it actually feels pretty good with you...doing what you're doing. Kinda like a gentle massage."

Isaac smiles and continues on his journey. He explores Vin's neck and back, marveling at the landscape, enjoying the smoothness of his skin, getting to know and understand the body that makes up Vin. Finally left with only two last places to explore, he opts for Vin's head; he reaches up with both hands and cups Vin's skull, running his hands against the grain of Vin's hair as lightly as he can, the sort of thing that always gets him excited.

"Mm, that's nice," Vin says softly.

Isaac's penis is throbbing so hard it hurts by this point, but he's not done with his explorations. He traces his fingers along Vin's ears, feeling the tiny, fuzzy hairs on the outside, noticing that his lobes hang a little lower than where they connect, different from Isaac's ears.

On a whim, he traces his hands down to rest on Vin's broad inner shoulder area. Using his thumbs as Vin did, he pushes into his muscles and squeezes upward, trying to imitate the feeling that was on the back of his own neck.

"Heh, that's actually not too bad," Vin says, nodding a bit. "You can definitely push harder, though."

Isaac obliges, trying to dig his thumbs in deeper. Vin's back muscles are tense and thick, though, and Isaac tires quickly from it. "Your back is...tough."

A laugh ripples through Vin's back, bouncing his shoulders a few times. "Yeah, basketball and baseball, they'll do it to ya. I mean you could probably literally stand on my shoulders and it'd feel good. Wouldn't even hurt."

"Doesn't that mean that you're stressed out, though?"

Vin shrugs, turning around to face Isaac. "Could be part of it, I guess. But seriously, you got me droolin'. Look." He points down to his groin, where the head of his penis, sticking out of the top of his boxer briefs, glistens with precum. He smiles at Isaac, sending waves of playfulness and that tugging sensation that Isaac has identified as "I want to do things with you" just before he reaches his own hands out and starts to do the same to Isaac's hair.

Isaac reflexively takes a shuddering gasp as Vin's fingers light up every nerve in his scalp. Vin, who is still staring deep into Isaac's eyes, breathes, "Damn, that's awesome." Isaac just sits, paralyzed by the extreme sensation, as Vin repeats it a few times.

Vin finally releases Isaac from his prison of sensation and, looking down, notes, "Looks like I'm not the only one drooling, heh." Isaac looks down and sees that he has left a spot in his briefs; so as to not make more mess, he wiggles out of his underwear and tosses them across the room into the laundry hamper. Vin follows suit, leaving his on the floor, and both boys sit, cross-legged, pointing out and up at each other's faces. After they both stare at each other for a moment, feeling the heady mix of feelings that comes with this sort of situation, Vin finally smiles and says, "So? Whaddya wanna do next?"

Isaac feels his heart pick up as a euphoric rush of excitement washes through him. Thoughts keep flashing back to the last time he and Vin "messed around," but this time it's less about showing him things and more about experimenting as equals. The thought is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking to Isaac, who is far more accustomed to others setting the routines and procedures, everyone else dictating what to do.

He thinks for a moment and finally says, "I want to try more things."

Vin grins. "I'm game."

Isaac crawls toward Vin, who spreads his legs in a V shape. Sitting on his knees, Isaac takes Vin's dick in his hand and explores it again, fascinated by how much his skin can move, interested in the thicker part near the upper middle, intrigued by the little curve upward. He grips it with both hands, one over the other, and notices that it still pokes out a little over that. "Your penis is one hand longer than mine," Isaac proudly asserts.

Vin snerks, shaking his head. He flexes his dick a few times, making Isaac all the more interested in his current object of exploration. Isaac moves both of his hands up a bit until the skin stretches a bit, then back down, in a slow jacking motion that elicits a soft moan from Vin. Isaac notices that he occasionally squeezes out a drop of pre-cum from Vin, leaving a glistening spot on his glans; he figures it was probably best that Vin took his underwear off, or he probably would have made a mess.

On a whim, Isaac decides to try something that he has heard people talk about, often as insults to each other, but sometimes as just something that people do: he leans in farther, almost doubling himself up over his knees, and puts his lips on the tip of Vin's penis.

"Whoa, oh," Vin sputters as Isaac goes down an inch or so on his dick. Isaac finds the taste of the precum interesting; a bit salty, but no weirder than mucus or the like. He pulls back and licks the pre-cum off Vin's glans and foreskin.

"Uh, here," Vin suggests, "why don't you lay down, y'know, on your stomach, and I can scoot back over here." Vin positions himself near Isaac's pillow, and Isaac obliges, laying down to where he is eye-level with Vin's dick. He cannot fathom why, but something about it is just as enthralling to him as Vin's eyes, or his long-fingered hands.

He props himself up on his elbows and leans forward, taking Vin's penis and wrapping his lips around it again. He tries to put more into his mouth, but he feels Vin flinch as Isaac's teeth scrape against the top of his glans. He quickly sits up and says, "I'm sorry, Vin!"

"It's cool," Vin says with his characteristic half-smile, "just watch out a bit for the teeth."

Isaac nods and situates himself again, opening his jaw as wide as he can to avoid the problem. He goes down a little further, his tongue dragging a little bit along the bottom of Vin's head, giving Isaac another taste of precum. He finds that he can open his mouth wide enough even for the thicker spot in Vin's penis, but going down that far makes Isaac start to gag, and he quickly pulls off again. "I'm sorry, Vin," he mumbles. "I don't think I can do that."

"You don't gotta go down all the way to make it feel good," Vin assures him. "It actually felt pretty good even at the start. But you don't, y'know, have to do that if you don't wanna."

Isaac chews on his lip for a moment. "I want to, but...it's hard."

Vin shrugs and suggests, "Well, how about we switch? I kinda wanna give it a try."

The thought makes Isaac's eyes widen. "O-okay, Vin," he stammers while scrambling into a similar position.

Vin switches positions, putting himself between Isaac's bent legs. Isaac, for his part, lays back completely, his head on the pillow, but Vin helps him to more of a sitting position so that Vin has more room to lay down -- "Part of the problem of being tall," he points out.

Isaac stares in awe and anticipation as he watches Vin go down on him, sliding his lips down Isaac's shaft halfway. The moment he feels Vin's lips and tongue on the underside of his penis, it sends a wave of euphoria and pleasure through him. "Whoa..." he breathes.

Vin continues to slowly bob up and down on Isaac's dick; Isaac can't decide whether this is a better feeling than his hair being played with or not, but either way, it's close. He stares, transfixed by the sight and the feeling of his friend, his idol, giving him a blowjob.

Vin slows down for a moment, looking up between Isaac's legs at him. Their eyes meet, and suddenly Isaac feels Vin's tongue start flicking at his frenulum. The stimulation makes him squirm and his scrotum draw up; Vin blinks and pops Isaac's dick out of his mouth. "Wow! Okay, that feels cool," he says with a laugh. He keeps his eyes locked on Isaac's and, with a smile, rasps his tongue up Isaac's penis, sending waves of pleasure and warmth throughout Isaac's groin. "Yeah, that's really good," Vin says with a nod. "Heh, I think I might be better at this than I thought I was."

"Yeah, Vin," Isaac breathes, smiling. "That's really good."

"Oh yeah?" Vin says, and Isaac feels a surge of playfulness from Vin's eyes just before he slides his lips all the way down Isaac's penis, eliciting a wide-eyed gasp from Isaac -- his entire penis is in Vin's mouth. I can't believe this is really happening. he thinks with awe. I'm having oral sex with someone. With Vin. And I know it's against the law...and I don't care. This is the best thing ever.

Vin slides back up slowly, then all the way back down again, though Isaac sees Vin's stomach heave a few times. He tries to say something, but Vin puts a hand up before he can open his mouth. "I'm good," he says, sitting back up. He wipes his mouth off and sits back on his legs, his erection still pointing straight out. "I, uh, I guess if I didn't think I was bi before...I really like doing that, heh."

"I like doing it too. Um, at least, what I did. And what you did." That didn't sound like it made any sense, but Isaac just hopes it comes across correctly.

Vin just smiles, scooting himself closer. "So...I really liked the idea last time of jacking each other off," he says. "I was thinking maybe we could do that."

A flare of passion and excitement lights up Isaac's brain at the idea. He scoots closer as well, and they navigate their legs to a comfortable position. Vin reaches over and engulfs Isaac's dick in his hand, slowly moving up and down as he watches Isaac's eyes, adjusting his grip and motion as he goes. "There we go," he says with a smile.

Isaac looks down and takes Vin's dick in his own hand, looking back up and trying to mirror Vin's movements. Eventually, they reach a mutual cadence that amplifies the feeling, both of being jacked off and feeling their own sensations in feedback. The emotions running through the link blaze with connection, excitement, and a lusty desire for release.

Eventually, the rush of the doubled feelings compounds on itself high enough, and Isaac starts to whine in response to the overwhelming feelings and sensations. Very shortly afterward, both boys feel the kick of reaching the point of no return, and Vin speeds up his pace. Isaac tries to keep up, but there's not much time to do so before they feel their muscles begin to tense.

The moment that the first throb of orgasm hits Isaac, his breath catches and he is unable to maintain eye contact as his abs pull him forward. His free hand flies reflexively to his penis, grabbing Vin's hand tightly as the feeling overtakes him. He can feel Vin grab his other hand and pull his dick to point more upward; as he feels the dribbling of semen between his thumb and index finger, he notices he can feel each pulse of Vin's own orgasm, counting them automatically as his brain often does. He watches his own penis pump out a little bit, already having expended most of it earlier; an idle thought passes through his mind how much he likes the image of Vin's hand around his penis, but it passes as the orgasm clears.

Isaac finally looks up to see Vin take a deep breath and shake his head a bit. "Wooh!" he breathes, "that was a good one. Damn." Vin looks into Isaac's eyes and for a brief moment, Isaac cannot tell whose sensations are whose at all, save that everything is made of bliss. Vin continues with a laugh, "And seriously, you have a really strong grip. Like, damn dude."

Isaac lets go of Vin's hand quickly. "I'm sorry!" he says, though it comes out more as laughter than worry. He realizes he also still has a death grip on Vin's penis, so he tries to let go, but Vin keeps his hand there. He brings Isaac's hand up to his mouth and laps at the cum, licking it up and tickling Isaac's hand in the process.

Isaac yanks his hand away, rubbing the spot that Vin licked. "That tickles!"

"Sorry," he shrugs, "but I didn't wanna make a mess."

"You have a big tongue."

Vin blinks at Isaac. "That seems to be a thing with me. Being big." He shrugs as Isaac laughs.

They look at each other again, and the overwhelming feeling Isaac gets, so much so that it's hard to know from whom, is comfort. There is also Isaac's own primary desire, those that he's sure Vin is aware of but that Isaac can't find the words, or the confidence, to express: he is certain that he wants Vin as a boyfriend. Never in his life has he felt more strongly about anything, even beating out "how much haircuts and showers suck."

Isaac looks down, trying to imagine the scenario in which he could confidently ask Vin to go out with him, but every time he gets to the point where he'd open his mouth, he gets a visceral fear of what might happen at or after that point, and the whole activity proves to be nothing but frustrating and discouraging. What if I mess up what I say? he worries. What if I can't figure out the right way to say it, or I say it the wrong way, and he laughs at me? ...He wouldn't laugh at me or make fun of me, but maybe it would make him think...bad of me. What if...he says no?

Then another, more important thought pops into Isaac's mind. "I need to take a bath."

"Oh yeah," Vin nods, "right. I could use a quick shower or something, too. I can wait for you, if you want."

Isaac's mind presents him with the memory of that one fantasy, where Vin's hands were the ones washing his hair, and he feels his face flush. In an impulsive surge of confidence, he replies, "You can c-come take a bath with me, if you want, Vin."

Vin raises his eyebrows a little bit and nods. "Yeah, I could do that. I'll try not to take up the whole bathtub, yeah? Heh."

Isaac opens his door and peeks outside to see if his mother's bedroom door is open. When he finds it safe, he and Vin head to the bathroom; Isaac gets the water ready while Vin finds himself a towel from under the sink. When Vin looks over in the bathtub, Isaac is lying down on his back as he usually does. "You, uh, wanna...scoot a bit so I can join you?"

Isaac realizes he is running his routine as if he were the only person in the bathtub, which has always been the case, of course. He sits up at the farthest end from the faucet, letting Vin in on the other side. "I'm sorry," he says sheepishly.

"S'aright," Vin says, getting himself situated. As the water continues to fill the tub, he muses, "Man, I haven't taken a bath in years."

Isaac focuses on the water line, though it takes a different path on his body this time than usual. While he waits, Vin holds his hands under the faucet, letting the rushing water flow across his arms. Isaac takes the opportunity to admire the soft grooves of his back muscles while he's turned away.

"Turn it off now," Isaac directs once the water is deep enough to his liking.

"Aye aye, Cap'n!" Vin says in an attempt at a deep, gruff voice. It's closer than Isaac could get, but Vin's voice still doesn't sound "adult" enough. It's still only a deep tan, nowhere near the deep, chocolate baritone-bass of his older brother. He shuts off the faucet, turns back around, and starts to scoop the water up his arms, giving himself a basic rinse.

Isaac watches him intently, for myriad reasons all jumbled together. For one, he always finds it hard not to watch Vin do just about anything; for another, he bathes decidedly differently than Isaac, which fascinates him. He's never seen any other "bathing techniques" before, much less even being aware that there were other ways to do so. He finds himself wondering if he himself has been doing it wrong; he knows that most other people tend to do things differently than him, and they often call him out on it. Maybe I bathe weird, too, he contemplates.

Vin pauses when he sees Isaac staring at him. "What, is there something on my face?" he asks, splashing water in his own face immediately afterward.

"No!" Isaac cries, laughing at his antics. "I was just looking!"

"Oh, 'cuz I thought maybe there was, like, something on my face. Oh well." The look from his eyes gives Isaac the feeling of when he used to run around with his underwear on his head -- at first, his mother thought he was confused, but really, it was just fun. Granted, he did it for much longer than perhaps he should, but it didn't matter to him if he was five or ten years old -- it was still entertaining.

Still smiling, Isaac takes the body wash and squeezes a glob into his hand, rubbing it into his face and armpits, down his arms, and across his chest. Vin follows suit, using a much larger blob; it's clear he definitely has more armpit hair to deal with, but otherwise it's just that he's got that much more surface area. They rinse off, doing the same on their legs and the like.

Vin pours a bit of shampoo into his hand and begins lathering it into his hair. Isaac's heart picks up; now is the time he can put his vaguely-defined plan into action. "Vin."

"Yeah?" he says, pausing.

Isaac stands up, realizing he already has another erection thanks to what he's thinking. "I can wash your hair, and then maybe you could wash mine?"

Vin furrows his eyebrows. "I mean, I got it, it's no biggie."

"Please?" Isaac asks, a touch of desperation in his voice.

Vin narrows his eyes for a moment, but then both eyes and eyebrows go wide. "Ohhh," he breathes. "Heh...sure." He faces away from Isaac.

Isaac kneels behind him, his hands feeling light as air, as if they'd blow away if he moved them too fast. He begins to work the shampoo into Vin's hair, making sure to get behind his ears and all around his scalp. He tries to mimic the way that Tom always massages his scalp, but he knows he's not getting it correct; still, he takes a few minutes, at least until his knees start to hurt, massaging Vin's hair as thoroughly as he feels capable. When he finally has to sit down, he says, "You can wash it out now, Vin."

Vin says, "Well, easiest way to do that is to lean back, so...tim-berrrr!" He leans back, catching Isaac off-guard. Isaac squeals a bit as he scrambles to get out of the way, but he still ends up with Vin's head directly in his lap. Vin moves his head in the water back and forth to get the shampoo out, but he stops mid-rinse and asks, "Dude, are you hard again?"

Isaac doesn't answer except with a poorly-suppressed laugh.

Vin snorts a small laugh. "I mean, you kinda got me chubbin' again, too, so...yeah. But anyway," he says, sitting up and wicking the excess water out of his hair, "I guess it's your turn, right?"

Isaac's eyes involuntarily open wide. He eagerly turns around and waits; soon, the cold shampoo plops down on his crown. Vin's fingers begin to work it into a lather throughout Isaac's hair, filling Isaac with giddy happiness, the kind that comes with a kid's wish coming true. Vin is shampooing my hair, he thinks with a heady rush of excitement.

Vin's spidery fingers reach across most of Isaac's head, leaving him trying to track ten separate points of sensation as they glide about his scalp and through his hair. Then, suddenly, the stimulation stops. Just as Isaac is about to ask what happened, he feels the tips of Vin's fingers slowly caress the bristles on the back of his head, raising goosebumps all over his body and sending a shiver up his spine. It feels erotic to him, but for once it does not make him feel like he needs to jack off; it's simply the best feeling ever, alternating between the blissful moment before falling asleep and intense, electrical stimulation running the length of his spine and head.

Vin keeps it up for a moment or two, or maybe forever -- it's hard for Isaac to tell -- but when he finishes, he scoots back and tells Isaac, "Okay, you can rinse now."

Isaac leans back, but before his head dunks into the water, it is stopped by something poking directly into the back of his skull. Isaac quickly sits back up and turns around to see Vin with a foolish grin on his face and a full-on erection. Vin says, "I told you giving massages makes me hard!"

Isaac laughs at the absurdity of what just happened. He swats at Vin's dick playfully, making it bounce.

"H-hey!" Vin laughs as he scoots a little farther back to let Isaac wash his hair out. Isaac lays down with his eyes closed and rinses his hair in the water. When he opens them afterward, he experiences a disorienting moment where he stares up at an upside-down Vin, with his penis looming in just at the top of Isaac's vision. Before Isaac sits back up, he bats at it a time or two, watching the shadow it casts wobble across his field of vision. Vin just laughs.

They finally finish up and dry off. Vin goes to get his toiletries out of his pillowcase while Isaac completes his nighttime routine. After he finishes, he climbs up on his bed to wait; Vin joins him in the bedroom a bit later, sitting down on his own pallet on the floor. Isaac can't help but be a bit disappointed by this.

"So," Vin asks as he fluffs his pillow, "did you have fun today?"

"I did, Vin!" he says exuberantly. "I really, really liked today."

"Yeah? What was the best part?"

Isaac thinks for a moment. "I don't think there was a best part, Vin. ...I liked it because I like being with you." Saying those words fills Isaac with an uncomfortable mix of glee and anxiety.

Vin looks up at Isaac, and his baby-blue and chocolate-brown eyes overflow with warmth and connection, until Vin looks away a moment afterward. "Yeah, well, I really like hanging out with you, too."

Isaac's thoughts begin to race. He said he likes to be with me, and I like to be with him, and he likes boys, and I like boys, and we could be boyfriends, but maybe he doesn't want to be boyfriends, but -- but I know how he feels when I look at him. He feels like I do. Does that mean he wants a boyfriend, too? Me? I don't know what it means, but --

"What's up?"

Isaac focuses his eyes back over at Vin, whose emotions have morphed primarily to curiosity, though that warmth still underlies everything. If he says no, then I can just...I don't know what I will do, but if I don't, I will never know. His heart gets the better of his nerves, and he croaks out, "Vin." His voice feels suddenly much drier than it did before; when did he get so thirsty?

"Yeah?"

"D-do...you want to, um, be b-boyfriends?" he asks with a parched, shaky voice, staring straight at his own legs.

There is a long, uncomfortable silence; Isaac looks at Vin, whose eyes search the carpet for something. Finally, Vin takes a deep breath and looks up at Isaac, but his words catch in his throat as the emotions surge between the two: desperate hopefulness, vulnerability, and rising panic from one direction; fuzzy yellow fear and a thin slick of acrid shame from the other. Isaac gets a hint of longing before it gets choked out by the other emotions.

"I..." Vin begins, but he has to look away, himself. "I really don't think it's a good idea, Isaac."

Isaac's entire emotional self sinks into the pit of his stomach. He says nothing.

"Look," Vin stammers out eventually, "I really do like being with you, and -- and the things we've done together are...well, badass, but...I just dunno if I'm ready for that."

With tears in his eyes, Isaac manages to sputter, "...O-okay, Vin." He can feel his emotions rising high, and he is not sure at all if he'll be able to control them.

Vin looks up and catches Isaac's gaze again; the viscous, slimy shame has all but overtaken everything else as it butts up against the sting of rejection, amplified by how high of a pedestal Isaac has put Vin on. Vin quickly hops on the bed and turns toward Isaac, who tries in vain to wipe his eyes clean. Vin leans in and engulfs Isaac's shoulders with his hands. "Hey man, look, it's not you. I just...have a lot of things I have to do and, and deal with, and I just...don't think being in a relationship is a good idea."

"Why not?" Isaac asks with that annoying squeal of a voice that croaks out when the tears take over.

"Honestly, my man, I got a lotta things I need to work through. I don't...I don't wanna drag you through alla dat, y'know?" Vin's voice itself begins to sound a little shaky. Isaac cries silently for a moment; though the pain of rejection hurts him deeply, it only crests to a certain point as Vin's words leave a mark on him. "I'm sorry," Vin says in a soft voice as he rubs his hands up and down Isaac's arms a bit.

Isaac would normally leave it alone by this point, but a few pieces don't seem to add up in his head. Normally, people aren't supposed to feel ashamed about relationships. They might be afraid -- Mr. Coleman talked to a classmate once about that -- but not ashamed.

He slowly regains control of his breathing and the sobs dwindle a bit as Vin squeezes his shoulders and holds his arms. After he feels he can speak again, he speaks at Vin's legs. "Vin."

"Yeah?"

"Why are you ashamed?" he asks, looking up at Vin's eyes.

The fear and shame surge tall, with the shame winning out, coating everything in its sickly yellowish-green, clinging slime. Vin doesn't say anything for a moment, but he doesn't look away. The ever-present knot in Vin's mind practically throbs, and Isaac realizes that it is the source of both of Vin's current emotions. "I got a lot of things to keep up, and...like, my mom and dad don't know that I'm bi, and they go to church a lot...they take me, too, but y'know, I don't really take a lotta stock in all that, but...I don't know what they would do if they found out. I-I'm just not ready for that talk." As he says this, his fear flares up, but dies down to dormant when he finishes. The shame, though, practically oozes from his eyes.

Isaac considers his answer. He may not be able to see the emotion on people's faces, but he knows how they work. People are supposed to feel ashamed if they do something they're not supposed to do, he contemplates. He thinks back to times he's talked back to his teachers and regretted it later; times where he's made a bad grade and hoped that somehow his mom wouldn't find out; once when he pushing a kid into the bar of a swing set and then blaming him for starting the fight. Each time, he was ashamed when he realized he did something he shouldn't have done. He looks into Vin's eyes, tears forming again in his own as he considers what that means right now: Vin is ashamed of something about being Isaac's boyfriend, and Isaac can't think of many reasons that would be.

"Vin."

Vin looks back, taking a deep breath. "Yeah?"

"Why are you ashamed?"

"...You just asked that."

Isaac shakes his head. "You aren't...are you ashamed that you're bisexual?"

"Oh, no, not at all," Vin replies, waving his hand dismissively. "You love what you love, yeah?"

"Then why are you ashamed?" he asks a third time, emphasizing each word.

Vin's eyes search Isaac's; the emotional link becomes a tumultuous tangle of shame, guilt, panic, anger, and hate, though without aggression. "I...don't...really want to talk about it."

"Is it because it's...me?"

"What?"

"You don't want to talk about it because you're ashamed of being my boyfriend. Because I'm--"

Vin's eyebrows scrunch up quickly, and he interrupts, "What? No! I love you! It's just--I, um."

Both boys freeze, Isaac staring at Vin, Vin staring off with an inscrutable, wide-eyed look on his face. Vin swallows hard, but his eyes remain fixated on nothing.

"You...love me, Vin?" Isaac asks.

Vin blinks, breaking his thousand-mile stare. He doesn't answer for a few long seconds. Finally, taking a slow, deep breath, he looks down a bit and admits, "Yeah. I do. It's only been two weeks, but I don't think I've ever felt this way about anyone else before." He plays with some of the hairs on his shin as he adds, "which makes me even more...nevermind."

"I love you too, Vin," Isaac says, a burst of excitement and warmth flaring in his chest.

"And that makes it worse," Vin mumbles, his voice cracking at the end as his eyes mist over.

Isaac does not expect that answer. His usual response to confusion is to say nothing until someone clarifies, but he only has one more jigsaw piece left in his mind, and this whole puzzle would be complete if only it would fit. "If...you love me and I love you, why can't we be boyfriends?"

Vin's lower jaw begins to quiver. He tightens his lips and clenches his jaw, saying through his teeth in a quivering voice, "Because I'm a terrible person." His face slowly tightens into a grimace before a shuddering breath rips its way unbidden into his lungs.

Isaac watches as Vin slowly breaks down into a full-on sobbing fit, the sort of thing he is quite familiar with. He sits, paralyzed for a moment, watching his idol crumble before him, and for once he realizes that Vin is not invulnerable. He knows that Vin has had fears and such, but he's always been there, in control, knowing what to do or to say in every situation. Now, Vin is just a naked boy crying into his hands. The image strikes him as confusing, almost disappointing in some ways, but in others, somewhat enlightening.

Isaac feels a strong urge to help him out. He doesn't like to see anyone cry, but he feels like Vin needs...something. So he does the only thing he can think of: he scoots over and begins to rub his hand along Vin's back. Vin instantly begins to cry harder, but Isaac knows that he does that in his own meltdowns, depending on when and how they start. He just keeps rubbing Vin's back, hoping that if it works for him, it'll work for other people.

Vin continues crying, making snotty sobs into his palms and occasional whining moans between the catching of his breath, his back muscles spasming in a weird dance underneath Isaac's hand. Isaac rubs a bit more firmly, keeping the pressure as steady as he can.

Eventually the storm passes, and Vin's spasms die down to occasional sobs and mostly normal breathing. Isaac keeps rubbing his back until he's sure it's all gone...and more than a little bit because he has a reason to rub Vin's back.

Vin takes a slow, shuddering deep breath and sighs. "You deserve better than me."

After a pause, Isaac responds, "But you're not bad, Vin."

His back ripples like he's laughing, but Isaac doesn't hear any sound. "Guess it depends on what you consider 'bad.' I'm a coward and an asshole, so that's pretty bad."

Isaac stops rubbing his back and scoots to where he can see Vin's face again, hoping to get some enlightenment there.

"I'm a coward 'cuz I don't want my parents to disown me or whatever for being, for liking boys...and I'm an asshole 'cuz...well. Anyway." He sits up and stretches out the middle of his previously-hunched back. "So I can't...I'm not ready to be boyfriends, but, if you, if it's okay with you or whatever, we could still hang out more."

Isaac keeps listening, but he likes the idea already.

"So I often hang with friends between practice days, and we can go shoot hoops together if you want. I mean, you don't gotta actually be part of the games if you don't wanna, but...maybe you could come hang or something, and then we could, like, I dunno...but you could meet my other friends an' all that. Whatcha think? Sound good?"

"Sounds good, Vin," Isaac says with renewed hope.

Vin turns and glances sidelong at Isaac, a grin and a slight laugh escaping his lips. "I swear to God, you really are somethin' else. Like my damn therapist, alla sudden."

Isaac thinks back to his therapist he used to have. He can't really figure out any particular parallels that would liken him to a therapist; he hasn't taught Vin any coping mechanisms or thought processes, or helped him get over the worst of his sensory processing issues, or showed him how to interact with people. All he can respond with is, "You have a therapist?"

Vin looks at him for a moment and barks a laugh. "Hah! I mean I guess I do now, 'Dr. Brooks.'"

"I'm not a doctor!" Isaac snaps back with a smile.

"A doctor, a succubus, and a hypnotist. An Isaac of many talents."

"I--but--I'm not those things!" He swats at Vin, who just cackles in laughter. At least he's feeling better, Isaac thinks, even if he's completely wrong.

"A'right, a'right, you win. You're just Isaac. And I'm just tired." He barely finishes the last word before a yawn conquers his jaw. "I'm gonna hit the hay. Or, well, I'm gonna go to bed. Sorry."

Isaac has a fleeting image of Vin playing karate with a bale of hay. "Okay, Vin."

Vin turns off the light and slides into his bedsheets, situating himself for a bit before getting comfortable. "'Night, Isaac."

Isaac, already bundled up in his own covers, responds, "'Night, Vin."

 

         ***

 

Isaac is awakened at some time during the night, after having had a dream where he was dodging a clown on a pogo stick around a giant plate of chicken tenders. He doesn't take long to contemplate the dream before he hears the cause of his awakening: Vin mutters something unintelligible into his pillow, and then thrashes a little bit in his sheets. He mumbles something else, making a few grunts at the end.

Isaac watches for a moment, concerned that Vin is having a bad dream. When Isaac would have nightmares, his mom would let him sleep with her and give him "sleep hugs," which she claimed would "squeeze the bad dreams out." Isaac can't remember a time in which he had "sleep hugs" and still had a bad dream, so there had to be some logic to her claims.

With Vin still making utterances and occasional syllables, Isaac squints into the distance; his phone is across Vin, and there's no real reason to know exactly what time it is, so he instead just slips off the bed and takes his pillow onto the floor with him. He puts it next to Vin's, slides under the sheet with him, and scoots up to where he can hug him. It takes a moment to figure out exactly how to manage the logistics, but he finally tucks one arm under his pillow -- he is a side-sleeper usually, anyway, so it's similar to his normal position -- and places his other hand over Vin's arm. Vin is a little broader than he, so it's a bit of a strange position having his arm elevated to that level, but all in all it's not that uncomfortable.

Isaac notices soon that the utterances seem to diminish in volume and frequency, and the fidgetings and thrashes all but abate. He watches Vin's slow breathing, bringing his memory back to the last time they spent the night together (though this time it isn't tickling his hair).

He wonders if he can get the bad dream to stop entirely; if the sleep hug isn't doing the job, maybe a little extra something might help. He wiggles his right arm out from underneath his head and slowly reaches up, running the back of his fingers up Vin's neck and hair. The first time is ignored, but Vin takes in a long, deep breath through his nose as Isaac caresses his neck the second time. Isaac freezes, not wanting to have woken him up.

Vin moves his head a little bit, just far enough to look at his own arm. He looks for just one moment before Isaac feels one hand take his own and move it a bit as Vin adjusts his arm position such that Isaac's is now pinned underneath his. Then, he feels Vin's hand grip his and place it over Vin's heart, holding it there as he takes another deep breath and settles in to go back to sleep. Isaac can feel Vin's heart beating rapidly, sending rapid-fire memories into Isaac's head. However, Vin doesn't respond any further; instead, Isaac can feel his heart slowly relax, beating more and more slowly until it is even lower than Isaac's resting rate. Vin's breathing becomes more measured and deep, and he holds his trophy in place, atop his heart.

Isaac matches his breathing to Vin's, and soon he finds himself drifting back to sleep, glad that even if they're not boyfriends, they can still sleep hug.