squeezing the lock shut

The deck at the cabin.

Up North was always a calm place, except for on the Fourth of July, where a few of the adults would flood the fire pit with sparklers and inevitably light some of the trash on fire. If you stood somewhere on the deck that wasn’t about to collapse in on the forest and turned your face to the scintillating river, the sky would open up and greet you with gentle sunlight. And at night, when everybody was either at the cabin or the old farmhouse and either struggling to sleep or laughing the night away with cards, you could stand outside and watch as the sheer amount of stars smeared across the sky offered to envelope you in the vacuum of time halted.

Giles tapped his fingers on Miranda’s shoulder, casting a derisive glance at the scrawls on the page. “Miranda, Anders will be returning home in a few minutes. I suggest that you at least get dressed.”

“I’m fine,” he answered, slipping his left arm out from under his pink blanket that he’d snuggled up in to steal another sip of water. “Do you know that he slapped me to the floor a few days ago because I accidentally pissed him off? Why should I dress nice and pretty if he won’t respect me as a human being?”

“The story he told me was that you were being rude and insolent and needed to return to reality. Should I grab a random dress and make you wear that?”

“I’ll get dressed myself, Giles. Don’t you have to go watch the front doors so that Anders doesn’t get mobbed when he returns?” Miranda waved him off, and Giles reluctantly exited the suite and went back downstairs as Miranda closed the notebook and set it on the floor along with the blanket. He stepped off to the bedroom and, grabbing the short frilly pink dress that he’d set aside a few days ago, began to change. A few minutes passed with Miranda struggling to fit himself in without getting snagged on the seams, and a short knock on the door jolted him into the bedspread.

“Miranda? Are you okay?” Anders opened the door cautiously to find one Miranda picking himself up off the floor, sent there by sliding off the bedspread. Anders hadn’t changed in appearance since he left, with the exception of his hair, which threatened to grow past his ears if not soon met with a haircut.

“Yes, love, I’m fine-”

Anders interrupted him by pulling him close, Miranda temporarily confused at how to respond to the embrace until he cautiously put his arms around as well. “Sorry for my outburst the other day, love. The stress from putting together my presentation and getting a few subjects to cooperate and get into the transfer containers was getting to me. Have you healed well?”

“I…” Miranda pulled away, brushing past Anders to reapproach the armchair and gather his notebook back together. he rubbed his check as he answered, “it bruised for a few hours, but otherwise I’m just fine.”

Anders followed him, picking up Miranda’s cup now void of water. “Is that the notebook I gave you?”

He clutched it closer to his chest. “Yes, it is.”

“Do you mind if I look in it?”

Hesitating at first, the words of Argentina ringing in his head, Miranda slowly surrendered it to Anders. The pages crinkled as they were opened, and as Anders’ eyes scanned over each page, an amused smirk spread over his face. “Well?”

“You’ve certainly been busy during my absence.” Did he stress the word busy, or was Miranda just imagining it? He wasn’t sure.

“There’s been nothing to do while you’ve been gone, and Giles isn’t exactly the entertaining type.”

Anders returned the notebook, his face returning to normal. “His emotions got pretty damaged a few accidents ago. So did the present I brought back, but I got it fixed on my way home.”

“What-” and Miranda dropped the notebook and covered his mouth with his hands in shock as Anders knelt before him and pulled a silver ring out of his pocket. It didn’t have a stone on it, and it wasn’t brilliantly shiny, but it still cast the same effect.

Anders summoned the most innocent-looking face as he began, “Miranda, I know I’m not the best person out of the billions of human beings on this planet, but I’m trying as hard as I can to be. And I know that being stuck in a laboratory your whole life is far from the best life I could possibly give you, and I’m trying to build a nice place where we could raise a family. I’m sorry for my outbursts and my ignoring you far more than necessary. Will you help me build an empire? Will you marry me?

“I…” Anders twirled the ring around in his fingers, waiting eagerly for an answer. “Well…”

“If you need to wait a while to make your choice, I understand.”

…so I might as well pretend to love him to buy his protection.  “Sure, love,” he whispered, accepting Anders’ ring on his own finger and pulling him close for an embrace- although the feeling that he had just made a mortal mistake settled deep in his stomach and refused to be evicted.


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