They were running. They’d been running for almost two days now— maybe not all the way through, but in a metaphorical sense. Paiman doubted they’d ever really stop running.
Feda had one hand in his and one on his luggage, which albeit wasn’t much. They’d barely had time to grab clothing and essentials before they were running again: ducking and weaving through the people in the airport, going through the security, which Paiman was surprised didn’t turn them in immediately, and then they were home free.
Feda had said it over and over. “ We get on the plane, and then they can’t stop us. Maybe we won’t stay in this world.” It really did feel like they were leaving behind their world, being transported to another. He remembered the story of the boy who flew, the boy who danced so hard he lifted off the ground and disappeared. He wondered if this was them, dancing on air, escaping.
Feda’s hand gripping his wrist broke his concentration. He looked over in a panic. Was someone here for them? Jahandar? Were they caught? But then Feda cleared his throat, dropping his hands to his lap again, looking embarrassed.
“Are you— Are you scared ?” There was a hint of amusement in Paiman’s tone. Sure, he could feel butterflies in his gut, but he wasn’t sure if they were because he was nervous or because he was around Feda. He decided not to think too hard on that.
“I’m not scared.” Feda muttered, gripping at the edge of the seat instead, his hands shaking a bit. Paiman reached out, taking the other boy’s hand again, surreptitiously. His fingers brushed against his thigh for a moment. It was shaky, almost bouncing.
Lacing his fingers through Feda’s, Paiman couldn’t help a soft smile. “It’s okay to be scared.”
And then the announcements overhead started. About seatbelts, and keeping still, and all of that stuff. Paiman felt his feet tracing steps on the minimal floor he got between his seat and the one in front of him. Or, well, one foot. One was still healing. He felt sick even thinking about it. What if he never danced again? That hurt too much to think about for real. So he focused on the different languages overhead. He vaguely wondered if he knew enough English to get him by. He doubted it, but he had to try. They had to try.
He squeezed Feda’s hand as the plane took off, and a kind of cold relief washed over him. They were leaving. They were going to get away, to somewhere where they didn’t have to hide away what they felt, who they were, what they were. He had Feda’s hand in his, and that was enough.
Paiman didn’t remember much of the plane ride. Halfway through, he fell asleep on Feda’s shoulder. Feda graciously didn’t move, just flipping through the small English dictionary they’d purchased from the airport shop. They figured that as far as they got away, the better. No one expected them to go to America. Who wanted to go to America?
After hours and hours, they finally touched down in a small airport. Paiman still felt those butterflies in his gut, and he had to keep looking over his shoulder anxiously, as if expecting the guests from his failed wedding to pour from the posters on the walls, the other planes, the bathrooms.
He was pretty sure the only ones in the bathroom were Feda, who was throwing up, and him.
“No more planes.” Feda mumbled, and Paiman couldn’t help but smile a bit in the mirror.
“No more planes.” He agreed, digging in his bag for one of the water bottles. “But we’re— we’re out of there, for real. We made it.”
The sentence hung in the air between them for a moment, until Feda pulled the door of the stall open, wiping at his mouth embarrassedly. “Like I said, get on the plane, and then we’re home free.” He took the water bottle, taking a swig of it.
Feda looked up at the mirror, at their smudged faces. Paiman’s was a little red from where he’d scrubbed at his face, but god, it made his stomach do flip-flops again. Not like he was going to be sick again, just the pleasing sort of butterflies that made him want to kiss him until his lips hurt. He leaned in, before catching himself, pulling away with his cheeks red.
Paiman glanced over at him, before he leaned in and kissed Feda’s forehead, making both of them look flustered. “We should go.” He said with a sigh.
Feda’s hand was in his again. Paiman never wanted to let go, he wanted to keep his hand in Feda’s forever. Something inside him felt… empty, hollow, like he was missing Feda when he was right there. He shook it off, tightening his grip. Feda’s hand was warm and alive and— of course it was alive. Why wouldn’t it be? He froze for a moment, other hand gripping the bag he’d used as his suitcase.
“Something wrong?” Feda asked, eyebrows furrowed in that oddly adorable way he had.
“I—“ Paiman faltered for a moment. “No, it’s fine. Just… lost in thought, I guess.”
Feda still looked skeptical, but he let it slide. “Okay, well.” He dug in his pockets. “We have enough money for a hotel, probably for a couple of nights.” American currency was odd to him, but he was sure he’d get it in a bit.
“We should get something to eat, too.” Paiman pointed out, relishing in the disgusted face Feda made.
“I guess we should.”
They were out in the evening air, and Feda clearly was trying not to shiver. Paiman rolled his eyes. “Great tough mountain man, huh?” He teased, taking the beanie off of his head and dropping it onto Feda’s.
“Oh, shut up.” Feda said, laughing a bit and batting at his hands. “It surprised me! That’s all!”
And then they were both laughing, and Paiman wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like anything was particularly funny, but he found himself wheezing with laughter, Feda holding onto his arm like a lifeline.
“We did it.” Feda breathed out, his grin wide and a little lopsided. He had a tiny birthmark by his lip. Paiman had never noticed it before.
He blinked, and it was gone.
“Come on, we should find a hotel.”
It took them a while, and by the time they found a small hotel— a little ramshackle thing at the edge of town, run by a woman who could not give less of a damn— they were absolutely exhausted.
Feda fell back onto the bed, only to sit up immediately, coughing. A cloud of dust had wafted up from the sheets. “Oh, God, that’s awful.” He coughed out, waving his hand in front of his face.
“You okay?” Paiman asked, eyebrows furrowed as he made his way over, and Feda gave him a tiny grin.
“Aww, you worried about me?” He asked, looking oddly smug.
“Ah, shut up.” Paiman laughed, rolling his eyes at the other boy. He looked oddly ethereal in the moonlight from the broken blinds, even among the dust cloud still drifting from the sheets.
It took barely a moment for Paiman to oblige, pressing his lips to Feda’s. It was quiet, and careful, and he felt that hollow bit inside of him ache. It made him feel warm and fuzzy and… homesick? No, that wasn’t it. Mournful. Who was he mourning? His old life, maybe? Everything felt so confusing.
He pulled away, and it took Feda a moment or two to open his eyes. “You’re crying.”
Paiman brought a hand to his face, and sure enough, his cheeks were wet. Why was he crying? “I… don’t know why.” He said, his voice soft. Something about this all felt… wrong, in an odd way. He was probably just imagining things.
“We should go to sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.” Feda’s hand wrapped in his, pulling him closer.
“Do you— want me to sleep on the floor, I don’t want to…”
And then Paiman was laying next to Feda, their faces so close. Why did kissing not fluster him, but this felt… so intimate? He wanted to stare at his face forever, memorize it— he pulled away, laying as far from the other boy as he could.
“I’m not going to bite.” Feda said softly, his voice oddly… choked up? Paiman turned on his side to look at him. For a moment, his edges seemed to blur, but he blinked, and they were sharp again. He was probably just tired.
But he shifted closer, obliging the other boy as he hesitantly wrapped his arms around his waist, Feda’s head resting on his shoulder. For some reason, he wanted to hold him, never let go, as if he was going to turn to smoke and slip away.
“I—“ He started, wanting to force the words out. I’ve never cared about anyone more in my life. If you were gone, I don’t know what I’d do with myself. I need you, I care about you. I love you.
But Feda reached up, pressing a finger to his lips, looking up for a moment. “Sleep, you can tell me in the morning.
And so Paiman closed his eyes, holding Feda close.
When he opened them again, he was staring at the ceiling. Not the cracked ceiling with the mold in the corner of the hotel room— he was home. He looked over to find… his wife. He sat up, rubbing at his eyes. His hands came back wet. They weren’t the hands of his younger self, they were well worn and calloused and strong. For a moment, he tried to remember the feeling of Feda’s hand in his, soft and warm and— no. He couldn’t think of him.
He pushed himself out of bed, even if it was the middle of the night, stumbling to the washbasin, staring at himself in the mirror. “What have you done to me?” He breathed out, his voice breaking.
There was a rustle of bedsheets, and his wife was behind him, hand gentle on his shoulder. “Are you alright?”
Paiman stared at his reflection, the rumpled hair, the tired eyes, the scruff of hair at his chin that he’d never thought he’d be able to grow. “Of course. I’ll be back to bed in a moment.”
Her dark eyes were concerned, even as she slipped away, back into their shared bed. They reminded him of Feda’s, in his dream. Of Feda’s, moments before he pleaded him to go shut the door. Of Feda’s—
He splashed water in his face. He had to forget. He was gone, he was never coming back. It had been— what, a decade? He tried to pretend as if he wasn’t counting the exact years, months, days since… his wedding. He took a deep, shuddering breath, giving himself one last moment of imagining. And then he went back to bed.
And if he closed his eyes with the hope of reappearing in Feda’s arms in the tiny hotel room in America, no one would be the wiser.