This was back when he still liked the ocean. Its lurching blue waves, crystalline curls, and sweetly salty smell drew Maxie back every time. He’d stand on the shore, gazing out at the wide sea, amazed at how it swallowed even the horizon and devoured the sun at night, leaving behind nothing but a turgid pool of blackness. The ocean was truly a force of nature that was far beyond measure. That fascinated him. The fact that this tiny earth could boast a body of water so large and fearsome excited Maxie as much as his studies in geology did.
Sometimes, when he would go sailing with Archie and they anchored somewhere, Maxie would sit with his feet dangling over the side of the boat, the ankles of his leggings rolled over his pallid calves, inviting Barboach to nibble at his toes. He loved the tickling sensation of the Pokemons’ microscoptic teeth grazing over his skin, the cool water lapping at the tips of the hairs on his legs. More than a few times, Archie caught him grinning down at the water, and more than a few times after that, Maxie caught Archie grinning down at him. Archie would stand at one of the masts, broad, tanned arms folded over his hairy chest, a playful glint in his dark eyes. Maxie could look at the ocean, but it was difficult to look at Archie.
Back then, the ocean was special. The ocean was everything, with its pretty sky-colored stare and its hungry Pokemon and its love.
“Sir?” Tabitha did indeed look like a Makuhita, Maxie realized—chubby but hefty build, almond-shaped eyes, and a small, coy smile that was permanently plastered on his face. The Team Magma admin was holding a tablet, acknowledging his boss, who was standing at the sailboat model that he kept next to his desk with a dusting towel. “The grunts returned from reconnisance at Team Aqua’s base. I have a full report of activities, if you’d like me to read it to you.”
Maxie sighed, glancing first at the towel, then the model, and then Tabitha. He supposed this could wait—work was certainly much more important. “That’s all right, Tabitha,” he said, tossing the rag on his white plastic desk. He narrowly made the shot and the dirty material draped off the red trimming on the sides. “You needn’t do that. I can read it myself. Put the report on my desk and I’ll review it.”
Tabitha nodded quickly and placed the tablet on Maxie’s desk as the Team Magma leader sat down, adjusting his glasses and squinting at the tiny text on the document. Tabitha typed with impossibly small font. Maxie swore he’d never needed reading glasses until he’d hired Tabitha. He almost thought about changing his mind and having his admin read the report aloud as he’d originally offered, but he decided to swallow his pride. But before Maxie could dig through the contents, he heard Tabitha clear his throat. Curiously, the Team Magma leader glanced up at the rotund man.
“Yes, Tabitha, what is it?” Maxie inquired. “Do you have something else?” He noticed the concern written all over the man’s face, very unusual for his normally sunny disposition. “You’re dismissed, if that’s what you want to ask.”
“No, nothing like that, sir,” Tabitha said. “Maxie, sir, Courtney and I have been… worried about you lately. You always seem to be shut in here, either working or cleaning that boat.” He nodded to the sailboat model behind Maxie, tall and regal with its whitewashed sails and immaculate wood varnish. “Ever since we encountered Team Aqua at Mount Chimney, you’ve been sequestering yourself. I mean, if it helps you get work done, I understand completely, but…” Tabitha regarded him with tenderness. Maxie saw the pain in his narrow crimson gaze—he and Tabitha had been good friends since before Team Magma’s founding, so he wasn’t surprised that his admin could read him so well.
Admittedly, Maxie knew that something was very much wrong with him, and it had all been that damn wetsuit-clad bastard and his merry band of foolish pirates back at Mount Chimney. It had been days since the failed attempt to reclaim the meteorite so integral to the Groudon project and Team Aqua’s successful attack, but Maxie could replay each and every second Archie was in the picture as if his memory had recorded each moment for posterity. The man’s smooth, broad hand covering his as he clutched the stone, the low rumble of his bass snaking into Maxie’s ear like a thirsty Seviper, the scratch of his beard against Maxie’s shuddering skin—he’d been close, too close, and Maxie had let Archie get the best of him. He’d succeeded in stopping Team Magma in getting a hold of the meteorite, all because his dark and hulking form had seduced Maxie.
Again. Not again, dammit.
As Maxie regarded Tabitha’s worry, he knew that his administrators had no idea about how the failure had really come about. He was certain both Tabitha and Courtney merely assumed that Team Aqua had relinquished the meteorite by force, overpowering Maxie and thereby thwarting their plan. Tabitha almost certainly didn’t know about how much Maxie wanted to press himself into the Aqua leader’s thick build and melt into him, dissolving into the man’s ocean like insignificant, sifting sand.
“Thank you for your concern, Tabitha, but I’m fine,” Maxie reassured. “I’ve just been trying to figure out our next course of action, because Team Aqua set the Groudon project back quite a bit from their success. Cleaning my sailboat is just a way for me to relax.” He took the tablet and buried his face into it. “You’re relieved, Tabitha.”
“But---” Tabitha tried to speak up again, not fooled by Maxie’s stony dismissal.
“You can leave, please,” Maxie said, still softly, but more firm this time.
Sighing heavily, Tabitha nodded and crossed his arms behind his back, turning on his heel and walking out of Maxie’s office. As soon as the door shut behind his admin, Maxie put the tablet down, picked the towel up, and went back to his sailboat model, checking it for any dust that may have settled during his conversation with Tabitha. Every time he stood near it, breathing its the musty smell, he was reminded of younger days. Sometimes, if he closed his eyes and listened just hard enough, he could hear the sound of waves caressing the sides of a boat and the chirruping of Wingull swarms, skirting the surface for food.
Gingerly, he took one of the paper sails between his thumb and forefinger. For the first time, in the back of his memory, he could hear that familiar, breathy laughter.
Archie’s hair was perfect. The black tendrils always seemed to be flawless against the seaman’s scalp—kinked and wavy in the heavy air surrounding the sea, stuck against his tawny skin after he’d gotten back on the boat from a dive, or feeling like utter heaven when Maxie threaded his fingers through it. It was almost a shame that he chose to hide it under a blue bandana most of the time, but Maxie didn’t complain much—it was the same color as his eyes, and Archie’s eyes were just as beautiful. He felt flustered but blessed to be looked at so warmly by such an attractive man, especially because he wasn’t much of a looker himself.
“God, Maxie, you’re so hot,” Archie rasped one afternoon when Maxie took off his shirt to go swimming one afternoon. They’d anchored near a Wailmer herd and Maxie was excited to splash around with the friendly Pokemon, but even out in the middle of the ocean, he was self-conscious about his appearance. All he could do was shrink into himself when he saw his bleach-colored skin and the outline of his ribs, protruding from his slender torso as if he were malnourished. Maxie hated his figure—he wished he could be tanned and muscular like Archie.
Maxie glanced up from his t-shirt, which he’d balled up in his hand in frustration, seemingly surprised. “What? No I’m not,” he mumbled. “I mean, I’m nothing compared to you.”
He remembered that familiar, breathy laughter as Archie threw back his head and guffawed, making the few Pelliper that had landed on the edge of the boat scattered in surprise at the loud bellow. “Cripes, Maxie, can you do anything except put yourself down?” He chuckled. Approaching the thinner man, Maxie quivered as Archie slid his broad hands around his waist and tugged him closer, ever so gently. “As a matter of fact, I find you to be very sexy, and you ought to think the same.” The fingers ghosted over Maxie’s sides and his legs suddenly felt weak. Archie’s plump lips tickled Maxie’s neck, showering him with butterfly kisses. Maxie squirmed in Archie’s grip, making a half-hearted and fruitless attempt to wriggle away from the man.
“W-what about the Wailmer?” Maxie asked, his glasses fogging up from Archie’s breathing. His own disposition was about as cluttered and aroused as the lenses he saw through.
“Fuck the Wailmer.” Archie bit his earlobe. “I have a much better idea about how to spend our time."
If there was one thing Maxie especially loved about the ocean, it was that in spite of its constant motion, it could be silent. The silence let him listen to other things that he loved, like Archie’s soft moaning and the whistling blowholes of the Wailmer herd just beneath the surface, unknowing witnesses to their own amnesia.
If there was one thing Maxie especially hated about the ocean, it was that in spite of its constant motion, it could be silent. He stood on the sand, scowling at the wide sea, hating every molecule inside it. He was here on the land and he preferred it that way. Somehow, he wished the ocean would burst suddenly into calamitous noise, an orchestra of his anger, so that he wouldn’t have to think so much. Instead, it was silent, daunting him with its size and endlessness. Even land had an end—he despised the ocean because it seemed it never did.
Maxie glanced down at his watch. He’d agreed to meet Archie halfway between their bases on the beach, far removed from the prying eyes of their teams, possibly to reach a compromise about the Mount Chimney debacle. If he could get Archie to agree to stop meddling in his plans for the time being so he could collect his thoughts, he’d stop bothering Team Aqua until they both got sick of the lack of action. He figured something like that wouldn’t be too difficult for that dopey pirate follow—and besides, he would rather it was him making these terms with Archie rather than Courtney and Tabitha. Unlike them, he knew how to work the man. He wasn’t proud to admit it, but their history haunted him, following his shadow like a Gengar, and it would behoove him to at least use it to his advantage.
“He’s late,” Maxie muttered under his breath. The setting sun cast a shade on his wristwatch, the long black streak sneaking beneath the sleeve of his red sweater. Somehow, it made him think of dark fingers, working their way under his clothes, grazing his skin and—
“No I’m not.” The familiar rumbling tone interrupted Maxie’s daydream and Maxie turned around to face Archie’s hulking form. The man’s brown eyes blazed fire—strange, considering his water affinity—at the Magma leader, his hands on the hips of his skintight blue wetsuit, clutching the looped gold belt. By force of habit, Maxie’s eyes traveled to the bulge at the front of Archie’s suit, before a lump formed in his throat and he snapped his gaze back up to meet the bearded pirate’s. Maxie, you fool.
Foolish as he was, Maxie was not going to be sucked into Archie’s quicksand. He knew better—after all, he’d fought it off before, and it didn’t matter that he’d failed at it. “Yes, you are,” he corrected. “By five minutes and thirteen seconds, precisely.”
Archie’s sharp blue eyes, oceanic in their color and depth, rolled almost to the back of his head in exasperation. “Fine, so I’m late by five fucking minutes,” he said. “Arceus, Maxie, I forgot how anal you were.” When Maxie opened his mouth to protest Archie’s uncouth language, he was unsurprised to find the man speaking over him. “So why did you ask to meet me here? Kind of a secluded place to get together for a compromise, don’t you think?” The statement was followed by a small smirk, almost undetectable.
It was as if one of Maxie’s legs was already swallowed in the invisible quicksand surrounding Archie. He’d forgotten how utterly mesmerizing Archie’s gruff tone could be, laden with testosterone and ocean-like endlessness that Maxie just wanted to swim in. Of course, though, Maxie noticed the connotation in Archie’s voice. Muscle memory caused him to frown. “What are you getting at?” Maxie inquired, playing along for the moment. He knew exactly what Archie was “getting at,” but he’d let him play. Let him think he had the upper hand.
However, Maxie’s imaginary upper hand was cut down immediately as Archie drew closer, the pirate’s breath thick on his neck. Maxie pretended he wasn’t flustered. “You know what I mean, babe,” he murmured. Maxie dared to look up and shuddered at the sight of Archie’s dilated pupils, all-encompassing and terrifying. Briefly, Maxie remembered the fear of the night sea, and that’s what he saw deep in Archie’s soul at that moment. “I mean I think you want to do a little more to me than just talk.” He gasped when he felt pressure on his backside as Archie leaned in further, closing the already impossibly narrow gap between them. Maxie felt everything through that stupidly thin wetsuit—every familiar rippling muscle, his hardening nipples (Maxie remembered that they were strangely light compared to—stop, Maxie), and the growing thickness against his thigh.
Maxie tried to push him away. “Unhand me, you oaf,” he spat, his teeth gritted in anger. “I’m here to discuss proper terms with you abou—mm!” He couldn’t finish because Archie was on him, lips connecting with lips and body flush against him. Lost in his throat like a trapped nightingale, his words faded and were replaced entirely by Archie’s salty taste. As soon as Maxie swallowed, all the old memories came back and he wanted more. More, more, more. He wanted to swim with the Wailmer, and it was as if Archie had them inside him at that particular moment.
There was a mild pang in Maxie’s heart when the Aqua leader pulled away, a single strand of saliva connecting them. “Fuck discussions,” he purred. “I have a better idea of what we can do with our time.”
Blushing, Maxie huffed, barely able to gather himself. “We’re not out on a boat in the middle of the ocean and we’re not young and clueless again, Archie,” he snapped. “We are the leaders of very strong organizations. I’m not here to fraternize with you. I’m here for Team Magma. Archie, if you leave us be for a while, we’ll—fuck!” Archie pressed his mouth against the area where Maxie’s neck and jaw connected—where he was most sensitive—and began sucking gently, his sharklike teeth nipping playfully. He hated this blasted pirate and his ability to reduce him to a puddle. It had been this way years ago and even now, in middle age, nothing had changed.
“If you insist, Max, I’ll make sure my people don’t… antagonize you for a while,” Archie said against the Magma leader’s body, his voice muffled. “But if that’s your side of the coin, I have my own terms, too.” He bit Maxie’s neck again, causing the man to moan loudly and slap a hand over his mouth in deep frustration. “Team Aqua will leave you alone for the next month, but if—and only if—I get to visit you every other day and have fun with you. I think that’s pretty simple, if you ask me.”
Immediately, Maxie’s first reaction was to reject that proposal. “That’s idiotic!” He sputtered. “Why in the world would I whore myself out for—”
“Mm, I love it when you curse, Maxie,” Archie interrupted. A beefy hand found its way beneath Maxie’s belt and into his shorts, and as it found its destination, Maxie completely forgot any reason why he was resisting. “I wouldn’t say no if I were you. Think about it, Max.” One strong stroke. Maxie whined and then summarily detested himself for doing so. “We both benefit from this. Your team gets a month to figure out what to do next with your dumb plans, and you and I get our rocks off. It’s perfect. And besides…” Another stroke. Maxie wanted to kick Archie, but found no strength within him to do so. “You’re in no position to refuse right now.”
In a fog of cloudy judgment and skilled, warm hands bringing him to nostalgic release, Maxie realized that Archie was right, for once.
The sailboat model had been a birthday present. Archie had always been a fan of woodworking, but Maxie had never seen any of his products sans a few pointy sticks and unfinished blocks. He’d simply assumed that Archie didn’t have the skill to make anything complex, so his surprise was strong when Archie led him onto the deck of their boat on the morning of his birthday, blindfolded, and revealed the gorgeous statue, its cloth sails startlingly white against the cracking dawn in the distance.
“Archie, she’s…” Maxie’s breath was sucked from him. “She’s beautiful. How long did this take you?”
“Oh, just a few months,” Archie boasted, hands on his slender hips, a proud grin stretching across his face. “She’s a precise model of the African Queen, from that one cheesy old flick you like so much. I’ll tell ya, she sure was a challenge to build, but I sure enjoyed the time I spent on her.” Though he tried to sneak, Maxie felt the broad arms around his waist long before they even got there, and he was happy far in advance. “I even made an identical one for me,” Archie whispered in his ear. “So every time I look at her, even if we’re far away, I can think of you. You know that one old wives’ tale that when you see the moon, your lover is watching it with you?”
“She’s our moon?” Maxie confirmed.
“Yeah,” Archie agreed. “I know you’re going back to college next week, so… I thought this would be a nice surprise.”
In spite of the melancholy, Maxie couldn’t help but laugh. “We can’t just give each other a phone call?” He chortled. “Or what about smoke signals?”
Archie smirked, but that playful grimace disappeared rapidly and Maxie felt Archie squeeze him ever closer, as if Maxie would turn to sand and vanish at his feet. “We can send smoke signals,” he said, hushed, like people were listening to them, despite the desertion of the Slateport marina. “But I though this might be a little bit better.”
Comforted by the cheerful scratch of Archie’s wispy beard against his cheek and the steady heartbeat of the massive man behind him, Maxie basked in the love he was being given. Just slightly enough, so Archie couldn’t feel it, Maxie gave the rarest of smiles, gazing out across the vast orange sea beneath his feet, tinged sweetly by the morning sun, peeking out from behind the horizon. For the first time in a while, the horizon didn’t seem to be consumed by the sea—instead, the sun’s glare became a gentle, rising heat, touching the surface of the ocean with the gentle composure of a friend. For a moment, they were one.
Reaching down, Maxie wrapped his fingers around Archie’s forearms and leaned back. “Yes, Archie,” he said, closing his eyes. “This is better.”
“Sir, you are spending a disproportionate amount of time staring at that model boat.” Courtney’s robotic voice cut through Maxie’s reverie, his hand balancing his angular chin, his elbow propped up against his desk. Snorting, Maxie glowered at the petite form of his other admin, her unwavering gaze piercing him with clear-cut focus—and, thankfully, a lack of judgment.
“Why does that trouble you, Courtney?” Maxie demanded. “I’ve solved our problems with Team Aqua for the time being. You should use that to your advantage and get some work done.” And work was indeed being done—Tabitha, Courtney, and the grunts were on overdrive with the samples collected from Mount Chimney with Maxie overseeing the progress. The hope spreading among Team Magma was to construct a replica meteorite with possible pieces found among the rubble that Team Aqua had left in their wake. No sudden assaults or unpredicted hackings by their antagonist team was incredibly helpful in getting the Groudon Project back into full swing, just as Maxie had planned. And, clearly, he was glad.
Too glad. A shiver crept up his spine as he remembered that the next day’s tryst with the Aqua leader was coming up—Archie was not slacking in forcing Maxie to hold up his end of the bargain. Like clockwork, the monolith appeared at his door every night around nine o’clock (without triggering any of the alarms or grunts’ attention—perhaps this was an indication that he needed to perform a security check of the base) and within minutes, had him a sweating, panting mess on his desk. Time and again, this occurred, with Maxie trying to reassure himself that he was making this personal sacrifice for his team, but his complacency with the entire situation told him otherwise. He constantly ignored the merciless whisper in the back of his mind: you like it.
And perhaps he did. It was Archie, after all—certainly, Maxie was no longer a nubile young college student eager to jump on a boat with the first rugged, tanned sailor he met, but having Archie reclaim his role as his lover made him feel no differently than he did back then. Every morning, when he rose from bed and looked in the mirror, he saw wrinkles, permanent furrows in his brow, the definition of his cheekbones, and the slight recede of his hairline in the front. He was, by all means, getting old. Yet Archie’s muscular figure showed no signs of age—even the lone gray hairs in his beard were barely noticeable. Other than these slight changes, Maxie felt as if he were looking into a time machine every time Archie unzipped his wetsuit, kissed him a certain way, or even smiled. Altogether, everything had changed, and yet nothing had.
He was eighteen again, rocked by the sea and forever in love with a heady pirate.
Courtney shrugged. “As I am, sir, but I noticed that you look at that inanimate object with discernable emotion and, in doing so, you waste approximately 59.24% of your time at work with it. I have discussed this with Tabitha and he is in concurrence that you are… how should I say… obsessed?” Courtney carefully unloaded the stack of papers she was holding onto his desk, delivering the information with scathing but unflinching brutality. Maxie frowned. He knew that her precision was one reason why he chose her as his admin, but she seemed rather empty of all emotion. Maxie found it fruitless to use emotion in decision-making, as he believed all women did, but Courtney was the exception to the rule. She seemed to take the opposite to the extreme. At times, especially with his mulling over Archie time and again, he wondered if she would be better in his position.
“I’m not obsessed,” Maxie protested, knowing in the back of his mind that she was probably right. “I’m just… stressed.” Courtney assessed him with that standard visage of hers until Maxie rolled his eyes. “Arceus, Courtney, don’t you have something better to be doing?”
“Affirmative,” Courtney responded. “Tabitha and I are performing analysis on the geological samples you retrieved at Mount Chimney. Thus far, we have determined that the soil is composed of 0.002 grams of meteorite fragments per square centimeter, so logically, if we collect enough dirt, we should be able to fabricate an entirely new meteorite.”
Maxie arched his eyebrows. Two-thousandths of a gram? “That will take quite a bit of soil, Courtney,” he observed.
“Affirmative,” Courtney said again. “But it is our best lead so far, so Tabitha and I will maximize our resources to achieve this secondary plan.” Strangely, Maxie noticed her glance over at the sailboat model, a ripple in her steely exterior present, to the Magma leader’s surprise. And, even more oddly, her voice dropped, almost tender in its sound. “Sir, Tabitha and I have both concluded that you should tell the person who gave you that object that you love them.”
Maxie nearly fell out of his chair in shock. Tabitha had been skirting around the issue when he came to see him earlier, but Courtney had pistol-whipped him with the bluntest end she could find. Of course, Courtney was just that type of person, but Maxie never fathomed that she could be so direct with something as delicate as romance. Her social ineptitude combined with her headstrong, iron will made her sentence sting worse than an assail from a Beedrill. But as he cleared his throat and adjusted his composure, he saw Courtney regarding him with warmth and genuine worry—just as Tabitha had done before.
“Er—Courtney, I appreciate your kind thoughts, but I believe that my—“ Maxie began, but Courtney cut him off.
“If I could continue with your blessing, sir,” she said, and partially due to being stunned, Maxie nodded his consent. “I have hardly any experience in this sort of area, and neither does that exceptional cream puff that I have been assigned to work alongside. However, I can see that this infatuation is troubling you. To increase your work output, it is wise to confess your… feelings to this certain person.”
Maxie snorted. What a very typically Courtney solution—get rid of the problem so it doesn’t hinder your work efforts. If he weren’t having sex with the world’s largest issue, other than too much water, Maxie would be inclined to agree with her. “Is this what this is about, then?” He asked. “Do you think I’m not meeting your standards?”
“Oh, sir, of course not,” Courtney quickly recovered. “Tabitha and I care for your wellbeing. And it appears that those needs are not being met. We… we adore you, sir. We’re just worried about you, he and I.” All of a sudden, Maxie’s contempt seemed to be washed away, gulped by an invisible ocean, and he looked at Courtney with interest. She was blushing slightly and seemed uncharacteristically bashful, one arm tightly around her waist, as if shrinking away from him. “We don’t want you to suffer, that’s all.”
There was a brief silence between them. Maxie felt the need to speak first. “Courtney, do you like the ocean?” He inquired.
As if Groudon’s might had lit her, Courtney brightened. “Why, absolutely. I deeply enjoy swimming in the sea—it’s very fun, and my family partook in it much in my childhood. Fun cannot be quantifiable, but every time I was around the ocean, my interest in enjoying myself increased by a great percentage. My favorite part was seeing all the Chinchou in the shallow waters at night, and swimming with the—” With a gasp, Courtney stopped herself, her face pale as she realized to whom she was enthusing. “O-oh, but of course, the expansion of the land is by far the most important goal, much more so than those foolish Aqua—”
“No.” Maxie held up a hand. “It’s quite all right, Courtney. You see, I…” He paused to glance at the boat. “… I really like the ocean, too.”
Courtney opened her mouth as if to say more, but slowly closed it again. Insight blanketed her, draping around her shoulders as her eyes grew heavy with sadness. Maxie wasn’t sure if she knew exactly why he’d asked her that question, but on some basal level, she understood. “Sir,” she said after a moment. “I will leave you now, if that’s fine.”
Maxie waved her away. “Go on, Courtney. See what you and Tabitha can find. I have someone I need to speak with.”
Courtney bowed. When she raised her body again, Maxie saw the tears tickling the corners of her gray eyes. “Right away, sir,” she complied, turning toward the door, her heeled boots clicking on the tile. It was not until the sound disappeared far down the corridor that Maxie chose to reach for the telephone on his desk.
Archie never called or wrote when Maxie went back to college. It was as if the man had become one with the sea, dispersing into the vital blue waters like he’d always wanted to do. And when Maxie returned to the marina after the end of the next term, Archie’s boat had disembarked and his usual spot in the port was empty. The dock’s master told him that the man had been gone for the last six months. So, Maxie waited. He waited and waited, and as each day passed, he looked upon the sea with a mounting abhorrence. Each hour brought upon him a greater feeling of rage, infuriated that his liquid heaven had demolished the person that had meant most to him.
The days turned to weeks, the weeks to months. Archie had all but disappeared. The next semester was upon Maxie thereafter, so he went back to school. It took all of his strength to not go back to Slateport during winter break. Never another word came—not even a message in a bottle. Maxie would still go to the beach sometimes and press Shellder shells against his ear, listening to the deafening, silent roar of the ocean and thinking that maybe if he listened long enough, he’d hear Archie talk.
The months turned to years, the years to three decades. Maxie founded Team Magma as he got on in his middle age, his knowledge of geology now extensive and mastered enough to continue forward with his ultimate plan of drying the sea, the brutal traitor to his emotions, and it wasn’t until he began the Groudon Project that Archie finally came back to Slateport with an opposing project of his own.
Too late. Far, far too late.
“Hey.” He sounded different over the telephone. “Weird of you to call me.”
“I need to say something, Archie,” Maxie said.
“I know,” Archie said. “And so do I, Max. I was late. Thirty years late. And I’m fucking sorry. I’m such an idiot.”
“Yes. Yes you are,” Maxie assented.
“And I promise I won’t ask you if we can go back. Do things over. It wouldn’t work. We both know it wouldn’t.”
“Yes. Yes, I know,” Maxie said.
“But I never stopped thinking about you, Max.” Archie’s voice quavered. “Never for a minute.”
“Yes. Yes, I know.”
“Can’t you say anything except echo my own stupidity?” Archie said. Though his voice still shook, so weak for such a strong man. “Just say something, Maxie. Anything.”
Maxie’s voice was caught in his throat, thrashing like a trapped nightingale. The sea had stolen his words.
More than a few times, Archie caught him grinning down at the water, and more than a few times after that, Maxie caught Archie grinning down at him. Archie would stand at one of the masts, broad, tanned arms folded over his hairy chest, a playful glint in his dark eyes. Maxie could look at the ocean, but it was difficult to look at Archie. Still, somehow, he found the courage to, and he loved what he did see. Maxie would get up, roll his pants back down around his ankles, and go to meet Archie, falling into his arms and floating away into nothingness, just like he wanted—just like he wanted now. Thirty years didn’t change a damn thing.
No matter how old he got, he was still on that boat. He was still sailing. And Archie was still behind him, walking on water with his hand in Maxie’s. This was back when he liked the ocean. Or, perhaps he still did.
He was forever eighteen years old, rocked by the sea and forever in love with a heady pirate.
“I love you, Archie.”