I: the piano

the first time alexander found himself aware of his hands, it was when his tutor had rapped his fingers at the piano. he was seven years old, still fidgeting his way through chopsticks. his fingers ached and hurt as he was forced to go through the routine again, and again, until the timer for the session finally rang.

she had looked at him with disappointment, expression tight and sour. alexander had felt nothing except burning embarrassment as she had packed up her things, her reedy voice expressing disappointment sharply, "a waste of hands, if you cannot keep up with such a piece."

by the time she had left, alexander hadn't moved from the piano. the nanny would be down in a few minutes to offer an after lesson snack, and all he wanted to do was try again. most things came to him simply enough: finishing problems on the board, keeping up with the language lessons given to him, being able to sing in the choir even if he personally found no joy in it. alexander was used to being good, to pleasing people, and after several lessons, he still had not managed even a smile from his tutor, jessica pope.

that had never happened before. she would probably talk to his father, his father would talk to his mother. and they would probably be displeased with him in a way they had only threatened to be before, whenever the school year started, or whenever he seemed to not do anything as well as he did. it had never happened before, had never been an issue.

but there was always....

always a what if. what if he truly was not good enough.

he wasn't sure if he wanted to please her, to please his parents, please himself or to simply escape punishment. only that the embarrassment was deep, chipping at his own self the more he thought about it. the more he considered what would happen if he didn't measure up. the pain was almost secondary to it all, the feeling of disappointment.

so he moved his fingers, stiff, and played over and over again. played and played until a hand was placed on his shoulder, and he was gently told to stop.

normally, he would go. this time, he shrugs off the nanny, and forces himself to keep playing. playing over and over again until the call for dinner comes and his legs are as stiff as his fingers are. he eats, keeps his failure to himself, and as soon as his parents depart for their own meetings, he smiles at his nanny, and makes his way back to the piano.

he plays and plays, until he is ushered to bed.

for a whole week he does nothing but try. pays attention to the boys' who's fingers play at the elementary school, pays attention to how his fingers move over the keys, repeating notes, scales, to himself.

and when his jessica pope comes back, and sites beside him, he plays for her as perfect as he can.

she does not smile. but she does nod approvingly, and he feels as if he has cleared a hurdle.

II. lucky strike

the second time alexander considers his hands, he is sixteen years old. his roommate, a boorish peter knox, has never liked him. he has always pushed alexander down hallways, has been crueler than most of the boys who seem to realize that he is different from them.

his mother says that he is poorer than alexander and that he is jealous that alexander will be graduating in spring ahead of the other boys. alexander accepts that he is poorer; but he does not think that it is a matter of character that informs his wealth.

he does not say that to his mother. that conversation is useless.

what matters more is that alexander has been doing small things to get back at peter knox in the past year. he has been moving things slightly in the room: putting his school supplies a little further than normal. placing his letters in different parts of the room after watching peter passing out from drinking. replacing his cigarettes with hollowed out ones, absolutely useless to knox. small annoyances that are comparably nothing to the pain that peter knox has dealt him over the years.

he used to tell himself that it was enough to do such things. he's finding more and more, as the date looms, as he's bodychecked during sports, as he spends nights uncomfortable, dreading when peter comes in from drinking or being out with friends, it's not enough.

so maybe, he'd gone a little far this time when he had taken the peter's shoes over a long weekend where peter had gone to his parents for an emergency. peter was a good soccer player. aggressive. the cleats he used were expensive, and something he'd been proud to earn.

alexander had gotten useful with pocketknives. it had been a good weekend, keeping the windows open as he smoked the pack of lucky strike that peter had seemingly lost a week before, wedging the knife in the shoes, purposely separating the soles form the bottom. the work felt good, to use his hands in a way that felt more of his own--and to take part in what he thought was a small act of revenge. he'd gotten the sole mostly parted from the bottom when he was satisfied. the shoes went back into the closet, and waited.

the wait was disappointing. peter came back with a broken leg, and the only thing that alexander took with him were the lucky strikes in the months after. he smoked them on and off, slowly getting used to the taste, and then buying them on his own off of the other boys at college.

he had forgotten all about the cleats until that summer, when his mother had phoned him. he had been half paying attention to her, more focused on searching for a book when she her voice, half suppressing glee, expressed, "--knox, that made for an interesting turn. i remember you told me that he was an athlete, but you never told me that he had rivals."

alexander frowned on the other end. "rivals?"

his mother's voice is practically dripping with glee, "alexander, you really should pay more attention. someone tampered with his cleats. they went to pieces during a game." alexander finds his heartbeat quickening. "i heard the fall was bad enough that teeth were knocked out." she gives a tsk, and alexander wrestles with his emotions for a moment, with the thought of how fall must have hurt. how wounded peter might have felt.

his teeth cut against his tongue. he tastes blood, and hastily says, "i'd like to talk more--"

"would you?"

"--but i have class. i promise i'll call back," he shifts, turns the phone off with shaking hands.

III. bound

"i think you should have been a surgeon," luna intones sleepily beside him.

alexander is wide awake beside him, still not sure how to feel about this day. the rainbow on his cheek is still painted there, his fingers still brushing the stiff paint. lightning hasn't come to strike him down, nothing is on fire. he just went to his first pride parade, and he is in bed with his boyfriend, and the world is still turning.

he sends luna a quizzical look from his space on the bed, feeling a little punch drunk from his position, from the day. it still feels so much to be here, to be out. to have memories of holding luna's hands in public, to kiss his stubbled cheek despite the hammering of his heart, to be with other people who felt the same. he thought maybe the conversation here would be different, feel different.

not this, to have luna yawn at him, smiling with his overcrowded, crooked teeth that alexander could never love enough in it's imperfection. "you have steady hands, you know. i know you've never done a lot of work with them," luna yawns again, reaching over to grasp alexander's hands with his rougher ones, "but they're-- steady. confident."

"i've played piano, you know," alexander intones softly, shrugging his shoulders. "i wouldn't have been a good surgeon, though. i think--"

luna presses his mouth against alexander's, sloppy and sleepy. alexander squeezes his hand in his, and he's never felt so bonded to this man, to anyone else in his entire life in that moment, his fingers clutching so tightly to luna's.

speaking is overrated. kissing luna, holding onto his hand is more important.