Actions

Work Header

the insufferably cruel life of Theo Raeken: an anti-love story

Work Text:

 

 

 Art by Brett ( Tumblr | AO3 )

 

 

 

It's actually pretty simple.

Love doesn't really scare him, even if that's what Corey keeps saying over and over as a mantra each time he kicks out a one night stand.

Or blocks a number.

Or just flees right away from a scene where emotional attachment is involved.

It doesn't disgust him either. At least not to make the exaggerated performance that involves fake gagging and grimacing at sickening sweet couples, including Corey and his date of the moment, something indiscreetly real.

And he's not exactly aromantic or any other role in the spectrum. He had those kind of feelings before. He still does. The whole puppy love and newly-couple love and every other nickname slash description that a relationship from not over a year could get from everyone except the ones living it.

And Theo.

Because he just doesn't see the appeal now.

He did before, when he decided that he wanted it in his life. That he deserved to experience it, like everyone else in the world, because having a significant other was a phase in your life ready to be cherished. And everyone promised that’s exactly what he wanted. Exactly what he needed. Exactly the point.

That was before he saw the cracks in the flawed system.

He sees them now.

How you suddenly have to think about someone else's necessities besides your own, cut a hole with their shape in your life and if that's not enough, you have to plan with them a whole universe that's most likely going to last, what? Months of your precious time on earth?

Yeah, no.

That's too much of an investment.

Totally not his thing.

In fact, it's never going to be his thing.

He has his system where flirting, making out and one night stands are the accepted norm and the afterward is composed by nothing else but the exit door and Theo very adamantly showing how it should be used. He gets to keep his time, his money, his emotional luggage all to himself and no need whatsoever to make room for someone else.  

It perfectly works, fuck what Corey thinks.

Having a plant is way easier.

And he doesn’t even own one to being with.


*


"You can't just keep detached from people and live off of one night stands," mutters Corey while mixing ingredients inside a heated pan with an almost violent passion.

It's the same chit chat from every night, like a rerun of a TV show just that without the whole interesting parts of it and just all the crappy refill going on. Seconds after dinner and right before going to sleep, the dessert talk that takes place in the strange space-time warp where Corey cooks the food for his strangely demanding pet while Theo just thinks it would be easier to put the content of a bag or a can on a plate for the beast to enjoy and call it a day.

"What else can I ask for?," Theo replies sweetly, with that voice that screams customer service ready to kill or late night TV ads that undoubtedly summon satan.

It's the rehearsed answer, because he knows that his best friend hates it with all his soul, but if Theo’s in for a ride then so is Corey with his predictable replies involving some degree of reason like Theo being alone and feeling lonely and his whole existence being a big bold emotional wreck.

"I don't know, stability? Emotional support? Someone there to cuddle you at night?"

And there it is.

Thankfully for him, Corey is a little predictable. In the best of ways, as in letting a smidge of space for Theo to safely disconnect his brain out of this non-consensual conversation focused solely on his lack of romantic interactions. Not for long, but enough to keep his sanity.

When he connects back to earth, the silence has been going for who knows how long so Theo tears his gaze away from the pan over the fire, that smells way better than whatever thing they usually have for dinner, turns and looks at Corey, that has strangely mastered the passive aggressive mixing of ingredients. There's a vague memory of Corey saying that what his homemade food owns that a can or a bag lacks is the extra love he puts into his cooking.

Love that Theo’s not exactly seeing in this moment.

But since he doesn’t really want to be the first person ever to be stabbed with a wooden spoon, he’s going to keep his mouth closed.

"Isn't that what you're here for?"

Or not.

Maybe he wants to get stabbed with a wooden spoon, who knows.

Corey glares his way for a moment and Theo can see the threat, very clearly, and tries really hard to not be afraid of it. There’s a thin line that will snap someday and Corey will go from Sunshine boy to Murder Spree and Theo can only hope it doesn’t happen while in the middle of his stubbornness.

"One day you'll find the love of your life and--"

The worried mama speech strikes again and he has to put a stop to it before he takes the spoon out of Corey’s hands and stabs himself with it right in the middle of the chest and call it a day.

"Ah-ah, no," replies Theo, leaning against the kitchen counter, "I'm going to stop you right there."

"You can stop me from saying it," Corey replies easily, putting on the floor the food plate for that mixed breed of pomeranian and pug bench pressed together that his best friend treats as gold and calls a pet, "-- but you can't stop love. Right, Woofpert?"

It's the most ridiculous name he ever heard and it's stupid how much it actually fits the little beast.

The thing doesn't reply, because it's too worried filling his muzzle with whatever organic food is there to torture him now and trying to breathe at the same time, when he can barely do it without food involved, but his best friend still looks up at him. There's a smugness on his face that has no reason to be there and that Theo wants to erase as fast and quick as possible.

And that's making that atrocity of a dog break its diet.

"Oh, I can stop it," Theo replies easily, flicking a piece of fry that's been on the kitchen counter since lunch, and watching how the dog ignores the healthy food to go swallow down the piece of fat and carbs with much gusto. "I've been doing it this whole time, I'm nailing it."

Corey scoffs and shakes his head, in that way that's not exactly amused but it isn't annoyed either. Mildly disturbed. Ready to slap the back of your head but also to ask if it hurt too much.

"Keep telling yourself that."

"Thanks for your concern, Corey, as usual," Theo replies, ignoring the half smile on Corey’s face that shows how worried he actually is for all this.

There’s nothing to worry about. Not really. He’s just not going to fall in love to avoid being the emotional wreck that he’s falsely accused of being now . There's no way for that to happen if he keeps your fair distance and keep on doing everything in his power to stop it first.

He’s just being cautious.

It has nothing to do with fear.

Not at all.


*


Theo is very adamant about the fact that someone should start giving out 101 book guides on how to avoid daring life to fuck you over once you get to adulthood or whichever middleground between having acne and having to deal with taxes he is in.

That’s stuff they don’t teach you at school and he very much would appreciate the knowledge.


*


A one in a million chance.

That’s what Theo thinks when he sees the prettiest baby blue eyes being owned by the most beautiful guy ever, who’s not even paying attention to his surroundings but rather to the numbers and letters ebbed to the sides of the rooms, pass by his side on the corridors.

It sort of sits weird in Theo’s stomach because he’s not usually the one looking up randomly at the string of people coming and going. That’s more of a Corey thing to do featuring elbowing Theo’s ribs with that secret code of his that’s so secret no one else understands until either Theo looks in the right direction or gets a hole at the side of his body.

But this time it’s like some random entity took his face in its hands and made him look to that exact place at this exact time.

And the weirdest thing is that now he can’t tear his gaze apart from the guy because he looks like the personal checked list of every physical trait Theo finds attractive. How very dare he. It should impossible for a person to look so perfect, this is an outrage.

Even if he’s a bit offended by the beauty thrown his way in the one and only day he couldn’t care less about dressing in sweatpants and a hoodie, he knows that the best thing to do would be bask in the sight of natural beauty but it somewhat just seems off.

Like a gut feeling of something that’s not quite right.

Theo doesn’t exactly follow gut feelings because that’s for people who still think that if you wish really hard to the cosmos, things will come your way. And he’s more of a factual kind of guy.

But he has to admit this feels weird.

Even more now, with the corridor getting emptier by each passing minute and that’s a clear sign that he’s starting to run against the clock here. Like every thursday. And if that happens, he knows that Mrs. Thomas isn’t going to fall for his pretty face and a bunch of half assed I’m sorry, not going to happen again . Been there, done that, it didn’t work. He still doesn’t know why because it usually works on everyone else with the one and only exception of his thursday’s professor.

He should test it but the truth is that he really, really has better things to do than stay after class to get the fake pretense of a pep talk that’s actually a lecture about how his pretty face can’t be an excuse each and every time if he wants to go far in life. Like going back home, to sleep a couple of hours more. Or eat. Or even stay in a corner in complete silence and pretend he’s a plant. He got the memo of that first talk. And that’s enough for a lifetime.

It’s pinned right under the things he doesn’t give a shit about, side by side with everything love related.

And he’s still not moving.

Something stirs wrong in his stomach but that could go hand in hand with the lack of breakfast in the morning.

His mind goes off with the warning sign of wrong wrong wrong anyways.

Theo clicks his tongue, watches the pretty boy with the pretty eyes for a last time and resumes his path to one of the most boring classes ever. With each new step he can’t help but notice that the awry feeling is still there, sitting heavy on his bones.

But he tries to shake it off because that was nothing but a fleeting moment that would be by no means going to repeat itself.

Because that’s how the world works.

And he likes the reliability of it.


*


Some would surely say that life finally decides to smile his way.

Theo is pretty sure that fucker is having a blast on his expense.


*


“Is this seat taken?”

It’s the most cliché and stupid question you could ever make to any other human being if the seat at their side is clearly empty and there’s nothing in the proximity of it to note that it might be occupied. There’s no other explanation for it than to make small talk and Theo hates with his whole being making small talk of any kind, so he huffs and looks, a list of each and every sarcastic response he has on the book for moments like this, just to stop dead in his tracks and almost swallow his own tongue in surprise.

It suddenly clicks what the wrongness sense was about.

The pretty guy is standing right there and his baby blue eyes are piercing through his soul with no shame whatsoever. Plump lips parted and cheeks rosy surely by running around until finding the right room, trying to not get late to class, and Theo could maybe pretend that he didn’t hear the question and that he just turned around by a weird body spasm and shamelessly allege that he got momentarily blind and no sir, I never saw him standing there looking like he was worth all the money in the world, not at all.

It will most likely not work, but he can try, unless the guy owns the superpower of reading his mind or decides to just sit at his side.

Which he does.

A chill runs down his back like the ominous signal it is.

The guy isn’t even careful when he sits, the chair scraping over the floor with his weight like a DIY version of a horror movie theme. It still doesn’t pop the bubble of living a real life nightmare. Theo grimaces for a moment, feeling every gaze in the room over both of them, but the guy barely notices he still has Theo at his side. And other classmates both at the front and the back surrounding them, like a classroom is supposed to work. He instead keeps moving around, causing so much noise that it sounds more like a whole punk band sitting in that chair than just a boy that clearly doesn’t know how to handle his own body.

And why is he even thinking about the guy’s body?

The surprise wears off somewhere in between the boy’s sneakers screeching over the linoleum floor and the very hasty way he keeps throwing his things on the table, ignoring how they fall or where or on whom.

“I didn’t say you could sit,” is what comes out of his mouth when finally his brain decides to connect with his mouth and stop the goldfish impersonation. One sentence. Concise and mean. Worthy of a five year old. And he doesn’t even feel sorry because this is a desperate situation that require desperate measures.

The guy looks at him, baby blue eyes surprised for a moment, as if he didn’t really expect that Theo could actually talk and breathes a deflated ‘oh’ . A couple of seconds pass by and Theo is expecting for the guy to do the natural thing and shove everything inside of his bag again and leave for good riddance.

He does not.

The boy looks at him for a second longer, enough to make Theo’s skin crawl, and shrugs. “Didn’t say I cared.”

Theo wants to retort that he actually asked which means by social standards that he cares, but the professor is looking their way, like every other person in the room. Not at him. Not at the guy. At them , like a package deal. As if he had been bickering instead of internally weighing the idea of just letting his inner five year old take control and push the guy out of the chair.

It’s frustrating, but Theo knows when he lost a battle.

He still huffs, wanting to at least have the last word, because if there’s something he learned with Corey is that battles are formed by other small battles as important as the big one and you can always be petty enough to win at least a couple of them. It should work but it doesn’t because not only did the guy win the bigger battle but he also snorted really loudly, making Mrs. Thomas look their way in a disapproving manner. With that, taking the last word too.

And that’s it, this is the one and only recipe to get a totally not perfect thursday even more ruined than before.

By a boring class, check.

A boring professor, check.

And a perfect guy that he didn’t want near in the first place, check.

His will to kill everyone and complain the whole time, double check.

He can hear the faint hah hah of life at the back of his mind.

And he can’t help but hate everything a little bit more with all his might.


*


It’s at night, with a shared box of pizza that Theo finally decides to address the blue-eyed annoying problem he had and tell with extra details how he got not only rudely attacked by his classmate’s presence the whole time but also how he was unable to win one of the petty fights. Which he should have, because petty is silently embed into his name.

Corey laughs at his face with no shame whatsoever and claims that karma got its kiss for him. And that’s enough to decide that Corey is also going to get a kiss from karma, even if it’s by his hand.

After all, he needs an excuse for trying to choke his best friend with a slice of pizza.


*


Theo was sure that the end was near.

That at some point in life, he’d hear the sweet call of death.

“I hope you all get really amicable with your seat partner,” says Mrs. Thomas, clutching a bunch of paper sheets dear to her chest and smiling widely, with the promise of mayhem. “Because you’ll be working as a team for the rest of the semester.”

He just never expected for it to have Mrs. Thomas voice and the call to be something as oddly specific that.


*

 

Blessings can happen in the small things too.

Like finding out that being a team for the rest of the semester only involves in-class work.

 

*


From them on, every thursday. Like a clock.

Theo sits, waits and waits and waits and when he’s sure that life decided to bless him with some peace of mind for a little while since the guy isn’t coming, the door bursts open and his classmate marches to his side, like a solo man orchestra but with really ordinary and annoying noises.

Who would have thought that the sound of someone breathing would sit on his nerves.

The guy will asks “is this seat taken?”, because of course he would pour salt into the wound. And Theo replies that yes, that it’s very taken and that he should search for other place to sit. The guy never listens. It’s ridiculous. He just sits down, with all the force a human being can muster, and the previous noises are nothing compared to the ones that are now to follow.

Because the guy knows what he’s doing, Theo is sure.

It’s a follow up of sneakers against the floor, a bag being thrown and the chair’s legs scraping. The noisiest jacket being shrugged off, the sleeves either smacking the table or the own chair. Sometimes even Theo’s body.

The guy clears his throat.

Then the sound of pen and pencils falling over the table, the clack of a portable mug, the slap of a notepad. Two notepads. How many notepads does this guy even need, he doesn’t even take notes most of the time.

The guy sniffs.

Something, probably his knee, hits the table.

The guy gives out some very colorful curses.

A leg jumping.

A pencil tap tap tapping over the notepad. Over his arm. Over his leg. Over every surface available to be tapped on.

The guy clears his throat again, loud enough to make the whole room look at him and force Theo to be concerned of catching whatever lethal illness this dude has.

More tapping.

Theo just knows he’s not going to last to the end of semester, because he’s gonna be busy getting on the news.

'Guy kills his classmate who was obnoxiously noisy.'


He’s sure that if he explains his case, no one will be able to blame him.

Who knows, he might even get an award out of that.


*


Annoyance shifts too quickly into something resembling a routine, which he gets.

The guy is a pain in the ass, even if they don't talk to each other except to play a step by step reenactment of how they met in the first place. Or to ask for a borrowed pencil. Or, on Theo’s side, to just hiss to the other one to stop before I decide to become a serial killer right here and now .

It never works, but he still tries.

But what Theo really likes out of this is that he can be a real pain in the ass back and be as mean as he wants to without the kick of guilt that comes in the form of Corey’s voice inside his head like a personal Jiminy Cricket saying how wrong he was.

It’s not that that stopped him before, but it’s kind of a nuisance to have that small pang of shame for the rest of the day.

But this?

This is cool, this he likes.

And maybe that’s the problem. That he likes it. He likes this happening to him every thursday and, most importantly, he likes the guy that sits at his side and that waste no time before starting to bitch at him. Because Theo very intelligently kept his distance from people too nice to be real, but he never, not even in his wildest nightmares, would have thought that an asshole would give him this kind of problem.

In retrospect, he should have see it coming.

The only positive thing is that even if he's starting to feel strangely drawn to his classmate, he still doesn't know his name. Are they forced to share seats and see each other’s face for the rest of the semester? Well, yeah. Do they have to partner in class works? More than necessary, actually. They joke and make snarky remarks about class and Theo has seen one too many glances towards his side of the table, most of the time when he’s doing the same exact thing, but they don't really know each other.

There wasn’t a rule that explicitly told them to be nice and introduce themselves.

It’s a small loophole that Theo abused to his heart content more than once.

And while that barrier stays up, he's safe.


*


He should have expected, more than anything, the metaphorical kick in the balls to his ego.


*


Exams aren't even close to happening, but Theo still enjoys going to the library. It’s the only place around campus that somehow looks safe from whatever crap life is pulling on him and has the bonus of being nicely quiet.

“Is this seat taken?”

Of course.

Of fucking course.

Theo looks up from the book in his hands to the amused baby blue eyes that look back at him and then around the library, that's just almost completely empty. He saves himself the two seconds of reply knowing that the guy is just going to sit down and ignore the negative.

Which is exactly what he does.

“Who would have known I'd see you here,” Theo drawls, closing the book, that has no more business being open, and looking pointedly at the guy in front of him, that barely moves the corner of his mouth in amusement. There’s no books in his hands, which makes Theo wonder why he’s even here in the first place. “I didn’t know you could read,”

A small flare of annoyance flickers in those blue eyes and it would be stupid to find pride in such a tiny thing, but Theo can’t help himself. This is the closest thing he’ll get to revenge.

“I need your help,” the guy mumbles with a clenched jaw.

“I’m not letting you copy my work.”

It’s not that he has any work done anyways. In fact, he’s just starting. But he needs to settle ground rules if he’s going to outlive this guy until the end of semester, and that means not sharing work whatsoever.

“I need that book.”

“This one?,” mumbles Theo with fake surprise, pointing down at the cover with fancy letters. “This very one book right in my hands that I was just reading before you decided to pop by?”

“Well, you’re not reading it now,” the guy tries to take the book but Theo smacks his hand away with little to no shame.

“Neither are you.”

“I just need it for a second!”

It’s a plea.

The guy is pleading and Theo is finding a strange sense of fulfillment out of it because if he’s been suffering for the last few weeks, this guy can feel the same pain for something as dumb as a book. One that Theo doesn’t really need. He took it just to skim between the pages, just to have something to do while waiting for Corey’s shift across the street to end. But it’s a bit of confidential information that he’s very adamant in not sharing.

Blue eyes look at him with the whole bundle deal of The Puppy Look™, pout and all included.

“Well,” Theo sighs for a moment, before smirking, “tough luck, baby blues.”

A bright and wide fake friendly smile is the only goodbye he gives before getting up and going to the register, just to check it out.

He doesn’t need it. He’s going to have to pay for a membership and having this huge monster sitting on his kitchen counter for as long as the library allows and probably even forget and pay a late fee for something he doesn’t need.

But damn if setting boundaries doesn’t feel empowering.


*


“So you stole his book.”

“I didn’t steal his book.”

“Then what is that thing on the counter,” Corey asks and points at the object in question with a spoon filled with rice residue.

Theo looks at the thing and yes, it is a book. It’s the same one he checked out and the same one he will keep under his claws, clutched tight to his chest, because the only way he’s going to give it back and let his classmate have it would be if they rip it off out of his cold dead fingers.

“It’s called setting boundaries.”

“You checked it out,” repeats Corey, mixing Woofperts food with so much care that Theo would actually believe he has a thing for cooking, if it wasn’t that the microwave is full of Chipotle leftovers, “--because he politely asked you for it and you decided this was a good opportunity for-- what?”

“A get back for annoying me each and every thursday by sitting at my side.”

Corey looks at him this time, the sizzling of the food long forgotten for a couple of seconds, and Theo would feel judged if it wasn’t that he knows that look. Which is the judging look, so he indeed feels judged but resolutes himself into not allowing that to sink in just because Corey doesn’t seem to understand how the whole revenge thing works. Corey just clicks his tongue and tips his head to the side, looking back at the food and that’s it. Theo’s great plan is going to get ignored now.

It should be annoying, but it doesn’t really matter.

Great ideas are always crossed as craziness anyways.


*


The late fee is $15.

And okay, maybe he did forgot the book past the due date. Way past the due date. But this is insane.

Who would have thought that teaching lessons would cost him this much.


*


Since of course having classes together and probably sharing closeness in their college lives, the library would be no other thing than a logical step right?

Theo is starting to hate logical steps.


*


Someone standing on their tiptoes tends to take more attention than anyone else. It actually surprises Theo that this is not the case.

“Here,” he says, bringing down the book that his classmate has been trying to reach for over five minutes, getting completely ignored by everyone stepping into that corridor.

The guy looks at him and maybe that look of distrust should be offensive, but having in mind that the last time they saw each other in the library, he took a prized book with him, Theo doesn’t mind.

“Thanks,” mumbles the guy and gets his sights back onto the bookshelf, this time the book is closer to him. “Even if last time you took my book away.”

“Your book?,” Theo scoffs at the audacity, while his brain doesn’t pick up on the fact that he’s actually offended by Liam’s comment yet his very own traitorous hand gives the guy the new book. “Last time I saw, it was part of the library’s property.”

There’s a heated glare aimed at him, to which Theo smiles sweetly back before following the other boy around the next shelf.

“I asked for it nicely.”

“While I was reading it.”

“You weren’t reading it, you were using it as a magazine and I needed it.”

The thing is that Theo doesn’t like being called out on his shit. Corey does but Corey is like a brother to him. And he still pays the consequences, that comes in form of salt instead of sugar in his coffee. Or sausages being fed to the fart machine that is his dog.

But with this guy it's different.

Theo actually feels strangely warm inside at the fact that this guy paid enough attention to him to get that. And that is wrong in so many ways. He needs to set it back right.

“Did you learn your lesson?”

The guy is trying to reach for another book and Theo watches the show amusedly for a second or two before stepping in and grabbing it himself.

“That you’re an asshole?,” his classmate replies and gives back the same sarcastic smile that in no way gives Theo palpitations. “Of course I did.”

Theo smiles back amused and, somehow, unexpectedly happy. And that is totally not what he should be feeling right now. There’s a glint of something in those baby blue eyes, like gratitude. Which makes everything even worse. And without thinking twice, Theo shelves the book higher up.

“Good luck getting that one.”

The array of insults and swearing is louder than he expects and it doesn’t exactly sit right in his stomach but Theo will take it as proof enough that things are not so bad.


*


“One inch,” his classmate whispers, leaning closer to him in the middle of a damn exam.

“What,” Theo frowns and looks at the other boy, who’s jaw is clenched tightly and the pen is definitely doing too much pressure on a paper that’s already dead.

“You’re just one inch taller than me.”

And Theo loses it.

It’s a mixture of deep annoyance and full amusement at the absurdity of it all, that ends with him loudly snorting and biting down his lip hard while trying his very best to not just spew whatever curse he can in between an ugly fit of laughter.

Mrs. Thomas shushes him and he most likely will need to stay after class to have another chit chat about the future and his awful decisions, but the outraged face of his classmate is worth every second spent.


*


“Are you stalking me?,” Theo drawls and arches a brow over his book, watching the presence that’s been hovering at the end of his table, who’s no one else but his classmate, with his ears in a shade of red that Theo’s sure he never saw before.

“No, I-- uh--,” he looks around enough times to make Theo, worry about motion sickness, before stopping and pointing at a guy sitting a couple of rows away, looking at them both funny. “I came with him and just happened to see you.”

Theo can’t help himself and he snorts out loud, completely amused. This is not at all what he’s used to. Besides Corey and sometimes Tara or Tracy, most of the people try to be as collected and cool as possible because he seems collected and cool. Which is a lie. And a terrible one, for that matter. He’s not collected and cool, but no one needs to know that.

Especially not the one and only guy that seems to move his world more than what Theo is comfortable with.

“If you’re here to ask for this book,” Theo says, getting his gaze back down onto page 64, “Your luck isn’t going to be much different from last time.”

“No, I don’t-- I don’t want the book.”

Theo looks back up at his classmate and arches a brow. “So you are stalking me.”

“You can prove nothing. Maybe I just wanted to know more about your book stealing behavior and--” replies his classmate, his gaze pointedly going past Theo’s figure to the guy he pointed to, before settling back on Theo. “Y’know what, I’m gonna go. I’m gonna save myself and I’ll be seeing you on thursday--”

Finding this adorable is just one step closer to fucking things up, Theo knows it. But he can’t really stop the smile spreading on his face at the bunch of awkwardness just sitting right in front of him. Or more like squirming in place, trying to look nonchalant but at the same time ready to bolt right the fuck away.

It’s doing things that he’s aware are warning signs all over but at the same time it's doing things and--

“I’m Theo.”

He doesn’t know why he does it.

It’s like some external entity decided that his mouth should move and he should introduce himself because this guy right in front of him is giving his dignity away and if there’s something Corey taught him it’s that the lack of dignity should be rewarded by kindness.

Or laughter, if it involves any of them both.

His classmate’s stage of panic stops and he can see the baby blue eyes glint with something that goes past just normal gratitude for saving his ego from a further strike, but Theo doesn’t exactly know what it is. Besides that and the dopey smile, he doesn’t reply.

It’s the slap of something on one of the tables that finally brings the guy back to earth, but before Theo can turn and look at whatever happened that scared the shit out of them, one of his hands is getting caught in a really awkward and sped up handshake.

“Liam. I mean, I-- my name-- I’m Liam.”

Theo smiles and shakes the hand back once, twice, before Liam finally reacts to the fact that he has taken hostage of one of Theo’s appendages and lets it go. Theo immediately misses the warmth of it and then soon after slaps himself mentally for thinking that.

The air suddenly feels charged and this isn’t his first rodeo. Liam is clearly attracted to him too, it just sort of feel a bit off. The gazes are there and the lip bite too and Theo is ready to hear an invitation somewhere more private. More just them both and less world around. And he can do with a one night stand. It’s going to be awkward the next thursday, but Liam is pretty good looking and maybe the strange squirm inside of him will stop if he gets dicked down once and for all.

Except it doesn’t come.

Liam looks back towards whoever is behind Theo. It doesn’t last long before those baby blue eyes are on him again and Theo sees the glint again. The one he doesn’t recognize, the one that goes deep enough to make his skin crawl.

Something feels off.

“It was nice seeing you,” Liam mumbles, the flush quickly spreading towards his nose and Theo really tries to keep himself in place and not watch him go, but he still does it anyway.

Not flirty, but completely dumbfounded.

Gaping like a fish.

This can’t be real.

This shouldn’t be happening to him.


*


“You don't understand, he was doing that thing!”

“That's very enlightening, yes. The thing. How dare him.”

“That thing with the smile and the sparkly eyes and just-- it made me introduce myself.”

Corey blinks.

Of course, that's the only thing he can do without actually saying to him that he lost his mind, but Theo know what he saw and he's going to stand by it.

“So, the thing-- I think that's called being polite . Actually proud you tried it for once and--”

“No, no, not polite” Theo cuts in, pulling his hair backwards while trying to not collapse mentally. “He was flirting but not. He was smiling too much to be just flirting, I felt it.”

“I think that what you felt is paranoia,” Corey replies without missing a beat. “He was polite and nice but you are so scared to fall in love that everything seems--”

“He almost didn't let go of my hand,” Theo cuts back again, convincing himself that his best friend, more than anyone, would finally get it. “And he didn't ask me out. I thought he was going to ask me out.”

“I see it now,” Corey mutters, surprise written all over his face. Theo can almost feel himself cry from relief. “You completely lost your mind.”

Groaning never fixed a problem but Theo still relies on it to vent out as loud and hard as he can because who cares about looking like a kid now.

“He was a polite awkward turtle and you're just seeing soap operas where there isn't.”

Great advice to underline the you are crazy and need to see a specialist sentence that’s laying there between the words with all the politeness possible.

The nerve.

There’s only one single thing that Theo can do now, that he has learned with the pass of years and ingrained it deep in his being but never decided to act on it.

And that’s to seek for a new best friend ASAP.


*


Theo stops understanding the sort of routine they have going when he catches himself feeling excited on a wednesday night by nothing but the prospect of a thursday morning. Because to this day, he hates thursdays. The whole twenty-four hours of it. And all the classes he has on thursdays. With their respective professors. And all the people he sees on thursdays, known or unknown. Even Corey’s face seems more annoying than usual on thursdays. His own face is annoying on thursdays.

Except for him.

The guy.

Liam.

The one name that’s been strangely making butterflies attempt to flutter in his stomach when he wants nothing but to digest them quickly.

It doesn't take too much to know what he needs to do.


*


“I'm going to fail my thursday’s class,” Theo mumbles, strategically filling his mouth with too much food just for the sake of making Corey think he heard another completely different thing and slip into the blessed grey area of I did tell you, you just misunderstood me that he so much loves.

He also might have miscalculated that, after several years, Corey must know every trick in the bag because it doesn't work.

“You're going to fail the class that you literally begged to be able to take?”

He didn't beg.

Not exactly.

Asking Mrs. Thomas very adamantly to get another chance instead of having to take the course next year all over again doesn’t count as beg . He might be also a little bit offended how quick Mrs. Thomas decided to give him the new opportunity as long as she didn’t need to see his face next year.

“It was practical at that moment,” Theo mumbles, shrugging and looking at Corey directly in the eye because the key to lying perfectly is to seem like you aren’t lying. “Now it's not.”

“It's for your classmate, right?”

This is what he gets for having a best friend. He always knew it'd be a bad idea in the end.

“It's not him, I'm not that stupid.”

“Might want to repeat that three times, maybe it works like the Candyman call.”

The grunt that Theo gives is nothing pretty and actually very similar to how teenage girls in TV try to get their way in life.

It works for them, maybe it will for him too.

“In case it wasn't clear,” Theo mumbles, “it's kind of a life or death situation.”

“In case it wasn't clear,” Corey parrots back, leaning over the table towards Theo and smiling amusedly, “this is the stupidest thing you could do and you know I'm right.”

Theo thumps his head down on the table and groans again, this time to himself.

Of course Corey is right.

And he hates him a little bit for that.


*


His plan now is asking Mrs. Thomas for a special exchange where he misses the classes but writes a Harry Potter saga length of an essay to make up for his absence.

With as much flirting and begging he can slip in between to make it work.


*


It doesn’t work.


*


He has to do the essay anyways, as punishment for even trying in the first place.


*


Between the essay he fooled himself into writing and having to see Liam not only in class but also as his semester team partner, Theo needs a break.

Of all and any kind really.

And even if walking Corey's dog isn't exactly his responsibility, the little ball of grease and hair has been running around particularly excited with the leash in between its teeth and the whole puppy eyes and who even is he to deny such a simple request to the barking maniac in front of him.

He's not a monster, after all.


*


Maybe it’s not too late yet to decide to be one.


*


It takes him 30 minutes to finally take the damn leash out of the dog's mouth, full of slobber and with no safe place whatsoever to hold it.

Theo is actually surprised how much packed energy has the bastard child of a teddy bear and a bag of chips that probably barely surpasses the height of a phone. It’s unnatural. Yet again, every detail in the little beast is unnatural and that seems to be its ongoing charm.

This is clearly the answer to the never asked question of how Corey have such strong arms if the only weights Theo ever saw him lift were shopping bags.

The man's best friend, folks, making you buff one walk at a time.


*


All in all, the dog is somewhat well trained.

It poops in the grass, as it should, and stays still when Theo stops before crossing the street. It doesn't bark to other dogs and comes back when it's called. It lets kids scream near its ears and practically tear them off, with not even a hint of teeth in sight.

He's a good dog, Theo will concede Corey that.

So it's only natural that he decides against doing the extra work of going back to the apartment, leave the dog and get back to grocery shopping, right?

The little ewok already proved itself as a worthy companion.

It’s just a quick supply restock, after all.


*


What he should get an award for is the amount of terrible ideas he gets.


*


"Look at you!"

Theo's getting out of the store, paper bag after paper bag piled on his arms and ready to retrieve the dog, when that voice that he came to have nightmares wrapped as sweet dreams about fills his ears.

"You're like a baby Chewbacca! So pretty!"

Theo barely bites down his tongue to avoid retorting that no, he got it all wrong. Chewbacca is a self sufficient being that can fly a ship, for fucks sakes, while the leashed creature does nothing but bark in the middle of the night at invisible moths and raid the kitchen trash as if it had been starving for centuries.

At best, the dog would count as the failed attempt of an ewok. Especially now, filled with mud and leaves.

"Where's your family buddy, huh? Who are you with?"

It doesn't take much to see where this is going.

The fucking 101 Dalmatians effect.

Theo turns around so quickly that he almost throws half a bag of groceries. It’s mostly the ridiculously healthy food Corey asks for, he doesn't really mind about that and who even cares about the plausible noise drawing the attention. This is a flee scene and his years of exercise have prepared him for this moment.

Running as fast as possible.

He’ll not fall this time, life.

Not this time.


*


Sent 13:04hs
You have to pick up your ewok

From: Corey
???

From: Corey  
what ewok??

From: Corey  
i didnt hve a 1-n-stand last night??


Sent 13:08hs

Your dog

Sent 13:08hs
I walked it out

Sent 13:08hs
Had a situation

Sent 13:08hs
Left it on the grocery store


From: Corey

U LEFT WOOFPERT DEFENSELESS N ALONE??


Sent 13:09hs

It's not alone and defenseless

Sent 13:09hs
That thing's barking is like an alarm system

Sent 13:10hs
It's also tied to a pole

Sent 13:10hs
Very docile

Sent 13:10hs
Don’t think it will get snatched


No more answers.

He checks the phone but nothing.

Zip.

Zilch.

Nada.

Theo isn't really sure why, but the lack of answer feels more like a death threat than an actual step by step stated one he expected.


*


It's twenty minutes later when Corey finally walks into the apartment with Woofpert cradled into his arms as some war survivor.

"He's terrified," Corey mumbles scornful. "I'm sure he'd have been assaulted by all that people if that nice guy wasn't with him."

Theo looks from his best friend to the bundle of hair in his arms and arches a brow. “He looks fine to me.”

“Well, he’s clearly not,” Corey replies before laying his little defective ewok over the kitchen counter, where it starts to yip as if possessed. “See? He’s stressed.”

“I’m stressed,” Theo grumbles, taking the dog down to the floor, “Your dog is just terrified to see the world from up high.”

“Whatever,” Corey mumbles, “I invited him to dinner tomorrow as a thank you.”

Theo stops every and all movement and turns to look at Corey, who’s equally statue-like with the added bonus of glaring daggers at him. The only sound is the scratching of Woofpert’s claws over the floor, going round and round on Theo’s legs, as if the failed walk had been nothing but a bonding tactic.

Theo is this close to kick it away, but the very promised wooden spoon to the eye seems more like a reality right this moment.

"Corey, you can't keep adopting strays."

The very sharp glare switches to a I’m trying to see if I can finally kill you with my mind one swiftly and Theo finds himself strangely relieved to know that his childhood being crushed by the fact of people lacking superpowers is nothing but a blessing now.

“Good thing is that I’m kicking you out so he fills your place.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

"Watch me," Corey says before leaving the kitchen.

Woofpert keeps doing the strange tap dance around Theos legs as if the whole chaos that came out of walking him was just a strange delusion and he was just waiting for the second round, the little devil.

Man’s best friend indeed.


*


Corey asks for payback in a sort of exchange for goodies way, giving Theo half his tasks around the house and special responsibilities towards the little barking monster. Like washing its fur with a very specific and pricey shampoo that gives Theo allergies. Or walking it for specifictly 45 minutes to 1 hour max, so it doesn’t faint by lack of proper breathing .

The dog is delighted by the newfound attention.

Theo’s sure this is a circle of hell that Dante forgot to mention.


*


Actually getting kicked out never happens but Theo doesn’t stop from wishing.


*


Hours go by and Theo's mind finally settles that it's just a stranger going for dinner to their apartment.

Besides the possible homicide profile or just a creeper, in the best of cases. What can even go wrong?


*


If in the past he hated surprises, by this point Theo can thoroughly admit that he despises them with all the strength of his soul now.

Even more if they start with an L and end with -iam .


*


With the first knock on the door, Theo thinks that maybe Corey is right and there’s nothing to be scared of. How many possibilities are out there that the nice guy that kept company with the little ball of stress and fat that Corey calls a dog would end up being Liam?

None, right?

Very slim.

Definitely slim.

Okay, maybe not that slim, but life surely would cut him some slack and the high chances of Liam being the knight in shining armor of Woofpert the heaving monster would be cancelled for the night.

There’s another knock and that’s when Theo notices that things aren’t exactly the way they should, because there’s clearly someone at the door but Woofpert is not reacting.

In fact, he’s laying over the couch, snoring peacefully.

Which is unusual, to put it lightly.

And Corey is not around because of some crap about not having all the ingredients for tonight’s dinner. For the dog, obviously. They are supposed to eat chinese take out.

So it all sums up to him, the door, and someone still behind it. Kocking.

His luck isn’t that bad, right?

With a huff, he goes from the couch to the door and opens it in one go, finding a fist halfway in the air to knock on it again and the bluest eyes he ever saw.

His luck is the worst of them all.


*


It’s the 13th time his phone rings.

He’s actually not sure why he took it with him in the first place, knowing pretty well that he wasn’t going to answer. Not for as long as the name ‘Corey’ flashes on the screen like an angry neon advertisement of how fucked up his life is starting to turn.

But it’s been four hours already.

And he’s kinda hungry. Because of fucking course he’d take his phone, that had no reason whatsoever to be used, instead of some money to make his escape somewhat more logical and less tantrum looking.

Who is he kidding, money or not it would have looked the same.

The 14th time the stupid ringtone of HSM that Corey programmed for himself sounds, Theo picks up.

“Hey, Corey--”

DID YOU REALLY JUST CLOSE THE DOOR IN HIS FACE AND RUN DOWN THE FIRE ESCAPE?

There’s many things Theo isn’t proud off.

But hanging up on Corey right in that second is not one of them.


*


It's a feisty battle between his stomach growling and his pride, but his mom always told him he was a strong willed boy.

She might have used the word ‘stubborn’ but Theo knows what she really meant and he stands by that.


*


The hunger wins.


*

 

Because in his haste to flee he decided to take his useless phone with him instead of his wallet or maybe even his keys in what would have been an intelligent move but was not meant to be, Theo has to climb the fire escape ladder to get in.

And even if he clambered up swearing and promising that he will never do this again even if there’s a real life of death situation to run from, he isn’t so sure this is what really hurts his pride.

Yes, every neighbour is watching him and he knows he looks like a stray begging for shelter, but there’s a taped note on his window with Corey’s very recognizable hand writing stating that Liam lives in the 4B.

And maybe fleeing through the fire escape doesn’t sound so bad anymore.

Maybe it can be his new workout routine.


*


They’re neighbours.

Theo doesn’t even know how it’s possible that living there for four years, he never got to cross paths with Liam until this exact moment in life. Corey easily fills the gaps of Liam’s existence with the explanation of changing routines and shared stories of a whole different life that doesn’t sound like neither their neighbour downstairs slash the guy that sits at his side in class.

Because in the lapse of four hours, not even a full night, Corey came to know Liam’s life like the back of his hand.

The life of a stranger.

Just one floor.

They are neighbours.

And all Theo wants to know is when exactly he lost control over his life and it became one of a main character of a fucking rom-com.


*


He doesn’t use the fire escape again after last night.

Not because he doesn’t want to, but because the landlord has explicitly forbidden him to do so.


*


Everyone owns a small space in the world that helps unwind their souls and take away all the stress gnawing at their bones that can be related to a certain mop of blondish brown hair or not.

Theo’s is the coffee shop four blocks away from the building he lives in, passing the sketchy ‘Buy all, Sell some’ shop that Corey thinks is undoubtedly related to human trafficking instead of gold and antiques, and right at the side of the small maroon house with the pretty balcony full of plants where an old lady screams at everyone that ‘love will get you’ like the ominous threat that it is.

It’s his coffee shop.

Not quite exactly, because he doesn’t own it, but spiritually enough to be known by almost every barista working in there and some of the patrons. It’s the one and only place he goes to escape for the world a little while, taking a book as his sole companion and his emotional battery to be charged. With no panting for life dog or a meddlesome best friend and no strange emotional ambush from his neighbour slash classmate slash possible stalker.

It’s his.

His place.

His little piece of heaven on earth. The one that he would protect at all cost. It’s not beyond Theo to resort to murder if needed.

No one will take it away from him.

No, sir.


*


Or so he thought.


*


Coffee shops are for three things.

One , getting coffee. Obviously.

Two , getting some work done, if every time he goes inside and the amount of laptops open being equal to pairs of eyes means anything.

And three , people deciding that the cheesy romantic media that’s ingrained in their mind is real and they can find true love at the end of whatever weird concoction that may or may not have some coffee they ask on the counter for.

An interesting aspect if he has in mind that people from time to time sit at his table and make unwanted small talk with him way too much for being just casual and that saying ‘thanks but no thanks’ seems to be a personal offense to some. And let’s not forget the amount of people turning around in line to chit chat some nonsense about the weather or how ‘the line is so slow right? haha’ that seems like the standard procedure before asking for his number. Or people asking to buy him coffee when he has one in hand already.

Interestingly annoying, that's what it is.

Thank goodness the coffee here is enough of a blessing to ignore all that.


*


At some point in life, he’ll get to understand that blessings can soon become curses.

Even more if baby blue eyes are involved in the equation.


*


He’s on the third sip of his espresso and at the last fifteen pages of the book he’s reading, internally cheering for Ted to kiss Lyall now that they’re hiding in the elevator, before the rogue hunters get to them, when a clicking noise over the table takes his attention.

Pulling the book down is the last thing he wants to do now, because Ted just said Lyall he’s not dying for him, even if the evidence says quite the opposite, but he still does because the warm smell of just baked chocolate is hitting his nose---

And that’s exactly what it is.

A big chocolate muffin, still steaming, and inviting him to take a nice big bite.

And he would.

He really would.

But he didn’t ask for one.

And he’s still a student struggling with money, so treating himself with one is not on the list.

He can see the barista starting to walk away and Theo finds some resemblance, something known in the figure, but he also knows that’s probably his brain trying to trick him into letting the guy walk away and eat the muffin before everyone notices the mistake.

“Excuse me, I didn’t order this.”

The barista turns around with a smile, one that Theo came to recognize far too well for his disgrace and it doesn’t take long to know that his brain wasn’t trying to trick him.

It was trying to warn him.

“I know,” Liam replies, lightly tapping the tag over his blue apron that reads ‘pastry boy’, “It’s on the house.”

This time Theo doesn’t stop him when he walks away, still dumbly looking at Liam’s back.


*


Accepting the pastry wasn’t part of his plan.

But stress eating seems to be a thing with him now.


*


“He's everywhere!”

“I'm not sure if you're having a mental breakdown or a religious moment here,” Corey says, a cup of one of those sickening sweet teas cradled between his hands.

“My classmate,” Theo exclaims, passing right by Corey's side to the kitchen, ready to drown his sorrows in more caffeine. “Liam. Our neighbour. He's everywhere!”

“You mean your prince charming?”

Theo grunts as his only answer while he keeps opening and closing cabinets that he doesn’t really need just for the sake of doing so while at the same time prepping everything for a nice cup of coffee. Who knows which one at this point. Maybe the third one.

Corey sighs loudly and  walks up to him, taking the mug out of reach and then Theo's hands on his own.

“I think that's enough coffee for you today.”

“I think you're not seeing the problem.”

“No, I do,” replies Corey, “The guy keeps crossing your path and you're losing your mind over it.”

“What if he's stalking me!?”

“What if you're unconsciously stalking him?”

Theo looks at Corey for a second, frowns in confusion and, strangely, relaxes. Corey pats his hands before letting them go.

“Is it possible?,” Theo asks, while trying to get back the air that at some point abandoned his lungs in the middle of his mental chaos.

“It's not,” says Corey easily, now rubbing a hand down his back. “Same as him stalking you. I really think it's just meant to happen--”

Theo grimaces at that, leaning to get another cup and more coffee because maybe if he overdoses in caffeine, he’ll get a new perspective. Like a deathbed perspective.

“Can we go back to the stalking theory?”

“No, you-- Theo, no more coffee.”

Corey pulls the new mug away and gives him the Tara Look™, the one his sister uses to break him down and bring back every memory of him owing her hundreds of favors until Theo decides that he can be a good brother and willingly subject himself to 5 hours of nothing but window shopping.

“Maybe if I take enough, I'll overrun my brain and collapse,” Theo confesses. And that is a major problem. Because he’s confessing that something is happening, that he’s losing, that he’s not having control anymore over what happens.

And by Corey’s trying to be sorry, but completely failing, and smiling amusedly face, he knows.

Oh god, he knows .

“That'll just give me the extra work of taking you to the hospital and then taking care of you. Final weeks is coming, I don’t have time for a funeral. Now, for a wedding--”

Groaning, Theo lets his head fall down Corey's traitorous shoulder, receiving small pats on his back that are as reassuring as a card congratulating him for getting kicked by life.

At least with a card he could throw it away.

He’s still got to figure out where he can get a best friend refund.


*


A night out drinking is mandatory , Corey said.

You need to be brain dead ASAP , Theo heard and he’s 100% up for it.


*


“Catching feelings is bullshit,” his voice is starting to slur and he can notice it not only by how heavy his tongue has suddenly become but also because Corey is doing that thing with his nose that makes him look ridiculously close to a bunny. He hates the times Corey does it because it either means that he’s about to fuck it up or he’s fucking it up right this instant.

He also hates the fact that he’s finally realising he’s starting to feel things and feeling things is a major fuck up. Enough to be almost illegal for him, so he does the only thing he deems logic and signals in the air for someone, anyone, to bring another drink.

“I’m just eating french fries why I gotta think about kissing you?,” Theo grumbles, trying to inhale the fries in his plate without the chewing part and induce a quick death to kick in. “Fuck you.”

“As much as I find that one pretty flattering, I don’t think--”

“Liam,” Theo grumbles in what hopes is something resembling a quiet murmur but most likely was a shout in the air by how half eaten fried spray across the table, “I’m talking about Liam.”

“Oh,” says Corey, with the calm of a man that knew the answer and was just trying to fish it out of Theo’s lips because even if he has the face of an angel, he’s pretty much into torturing people. And not even in the funny way. “So you think about kissing him now?”

“I’m always thinking about kissing him,” Theo complains loudly, “that’s the whole problem. I can’t even wash my teeth in peace right now without thinking about-- about-- him . And he’s not putting-- he’s not trying either, you know how hard is it for me to not kiss him? He waltzes around with that pretty mouth of his, pink and-- and-- pretty and pink and looks at me with his big sparkly blue eyes and-- ugh.

No, he’s sure Corey doesn’t know. But his best friend nods anyway, to who knows what because he most likely never experienced what Theo is going through. Corey would never be wailing on his own misery because of a cute guy that’s giving him palpitations and an urge to go on a kissing spree. Corey would own it and go take matters into his own hands and--- and---

“What should I do?,” Theo’s eyes snap to Corey in hope, again and again because his face is either slowly melting or slipping from its place in his hands, but he ignores that small and least important trouble in sight of his best friend holding the answer to his bigger and more important concern now.

“Well, this is going to sound surprising--,” says Corey, playing with the only glass he has had the whole night that’s filled of nothing else but water, “-- but kissing him sounds like the best option.”

Theo glares from his place over the table, where he’s no longer pretending that his arms are supporting his head, that’s gotten ten times heavier in the expanse of drink number 3 and drink number 10.

“You are not helping.”

Corey smiles, charming and sweet and full of I’m not going to get hangover in the morning but guess who will that stirs a bit of annoyance in Theo’s stomach. He doesn’t know why he’s surprised in the first place.

He’ll have to remind his hangover self in the morning to find a new best friend.

Maybe on Craigslist, so he gets another weirdo and doesn’t really miss Corey too much.


*


He forgets all about it in the next five minutes, when Corey comes back with a new order of fries.


*


Corey doesn’t share, so he types the reminder on his phone for the next day.


*


Theo knows he shouldn’t drink too much, because he’s still supposed to go back home in one piece and not just die at the side of a dumpster. He knows , okay? It’s a knowledge and he has it, so there’s that.

But he still has the issue of deep rooted thoughts of baby blue eyes, sandy brown hair and the most ridiculous pout he’s ever seen. And the feelings that go hand in hand with those things.

So clearly the response is to do the opposite of what he shouldn’t.

And drink it all.


*


He’s still not sure how he got home, after all.

There’s a very fuzzy memory at the back of his mind of Corey last night, saying something about how you’ll regret it in the morning . Theo doesn’t know exactly what because there wasn’t any specifics going hand in hand with that piece of wisdom, but he does regret it. Everything. Or whatever it was. But most importantly, Theo truly regrets waking up, with his phone buzzing as if possessed and when even did it get the upgrade of vibrating like a jackhammer.

He groans and slaps his hand multiple times over the bedside table just to finally notice he’s not touching anything but the back of the couch, because he’s not in his bed.

Of course he’s not in his comfortable and very warm and nice bed. That would have meant for Corey to worry about neck kinks or about Theo choking on his own vomit and carry him towards the safe den that is his room instead of being the sadistic little shit that calls himself a best friend and throw him over the first surface available.

It’s actually surprising that he’s not laying over the coffee table actually.

The phone keeps buzzing, each second vibration making his brain feel like a one way trip inside a blender that got a renewed licence every two seconds, and it takes him a little bit too much to understand that it’s not happening on a table but on his halfway to zombie leg.

When he finally gets it back from inside the pant pocket that’s under his very drunk and dead weight, that requires for him to actually gracefully move and fish it out but instead ends with him face down on the floor and sort of groping himself, is to see a reminder that reads ‘rlepeac coruey with a gnew ebskt friedn frzom cgiralist’ .

One word is Craigslist, for sure. There’s ‘with a’ too. The other six words are basically the definition of a brain fart, if there’s one.

So he does the only thing that’s acceptable.

Throw the damn thing as far away as fucking possible.

 

*


If there’s a very clear and concise definition of hell, it’s the next day.

Or the hours following after he woke up for the first time, to be more specific.

He doesn't exactly know what happened, because he's pretty sure that the night before when he was outside with the chill, cold wind huffing and puffing and his new set of found emotions, he was fine.

It could maybe have something to do with the fries he ate.

Or the drinks he had.

Or his allergies to feelings that decided to act up once and for all, a very real and absolutely dreadful thing.

On the other hand, maybe the whole chill, cold wind is to blame.

It doesn't matter, because either way, he now has a runny nose and he's pretty sure that he has a fever too. A harsh 39°C one. Or at least that’s what the thermometer said. And maybe leaving the house in the morning to go to class hadn't been a really good idea to begin with. But then again, going to classes when he could pretty much run into Liam at any possible moment is never a good idea, he still sucks it up and does it because responsibilities .

Now, forgetting his keys is definitely just the cherry on top to heavily confirm this isn't his day to begin with.


*


"Corey," he grumbles, sniffs and follows up with a coughing fit over the phone, unwillingly giving the whole sickness show a ride. "Where are you?"

He's been pounding on the door far too much for someone who actually lives there, and Corey hasn't moved a single finger from the other side because there hasn’t been any noise to confirm that yes, his roommate is coming to his rescue. Not even if the barking monster is dialed to full potential on the other side of the door, conveniently forgetting how he smells and sounds all together. So the call was both a prudent measure to see if his best friend was still alive and if so, why the fuck the door wasn’t open for him yet.

“What do you mean where am I?,” comes Corey's reply and Theo would point out that the question isn’t really that hard to get, but that would probably lead to a snarky remark fight and his throbbing headache right now pretty much doesn’t allow it. “I’m on a date, remember? I told you yesterday.”

No, he doesn’t remember.

He was too worried being drunk out of his mind and trying to forget about a certain shade of blue eyes that haunted him to no end and how it all needed to stop before his whole life plan went to shit even further. Corey getting a date was not one of his priorities.

“Yeah, of course,” he lies in between a groan and rests his whole body weight against the door, before his legs decide to give up on him sooner than expected. “But can’t you come by really quick, open the door for me and then go back to your dream date?”

He knows he’s being selfish, but that’s how he’s always been. And this is definitely not a time to lie and pretend he never was in the first place.

“Can’t do,” replies Corey and Theo can hear the damn smile over the phone, “I shouldn’t even be picking up the phone to begin with. So unless you have an actual emergency--”

“I’m locked out! With fever! I am at the verge of dying right now!,” he’s not, but he could be. Corey doesn’t know that.

“--you don’t call me and knock on Liam’s door.”

“I’m not knocking on his door, that defeats the whole purpose of last night, Corey!,” he grumbles before a coughing fit strikes again and threatens to make him spit out his own lungs. He may also be adding a bit more extra, for a guilt strike to work into Corey’s heart.

It doesn’t.

“Theo? Theo? Are you there? I can’t-- shit, I can’t hear you, I can’t--”

“You can’t use that trick on me!,” Theo sniffs halfway through his complaint and it sounds like he’s somewhat crying, which isn’t real but he will not debunk in case it helps with Corey. “Doesn’t work on the person that knows you do this to--”

“I can’t-- No, I can’t hear you, dude-- Oops, call you back later-- Bye!”

And like that, the call ends

It’s not even necessary to look at the phone before letting his arm fall at the side of his body, because there’s no doubt about Corey hanging up on him and the only solution available being to either stay there in the hallway, bunched up like a kicked and really snotty dog, or go knock on Liam’s door.

He moves the doorknob for a last time, just to check and nope, still tightly shut. The only difference is that now Woofpert is doing nothing but scratch under the door as if his useless paws and ant sized claws would be able to dig a hole for Theo to pass through. He sighs deeply and walks away for the door because they’re not in a financial position to pay the landlord a new fucking door, and heads for the stairs again.

Of course, when he really needs a slip, Corey decides to be a responsible person and lock the door to avoid people getting inside.

What a way to be inconsiderate.


*


Is he sitting in the stairs that lead to his apartment, waiting for Corey to return from his date, curling up on himself to try to catch some warmth?

Yes.

Is he going to do something about it, and not just grumbling insults to both his roommate, the scheduled date, and Liam, just for the sake of it?

No, of course he’s not.

The only way this can possibly work is if he keeps adding the little extra bits of guilt to stab Corey’s heart once he comes back.

The world revolves around pettiness, after all.


*


“Oh, yeah, he’s here.”

Theo grumbles out of slumber and blinks at the sight of Liam, in front of him, holding a blanket with a phone squeezed in between his shoulder and face.

“Okay, yeah, I’ll deal with it.”

It.

He’s the it , Theo’s sure.

“No, you’re not dealing with me, a person and not a thing.”

Liam laughs, because of course he would, and then drapes the blanket carefully around Theo’s frame, who doesn’t shrug him off because the blanket is actually really warm, as if someone had been previously covered with it, and he’s not going to keep freezing until Corey decides that it's finally time for him to come back home.

“I am dealing with you, a person and not a thing, because Corey isn’t coming back tonight,” says Liam. Theo opens his eyes, that he doesn’t know in which second fell shut, and glares at the shorter boy in front of him.

“I’ll wait, thank you.”

“You can’t wait all night in the stairs, dude,” Liam replies and somehow his hand lands on Theo’s back and starts rubbing in a soothing way and okay, yeah, Theo could maybe enjoy it for a little bit longer before slapping him away. “It’s like sleeping in the middle of the road, but with pointy corners and a lack of cars”

“So it’s nothing like a road then.”

Liam snorts and this time, it feels closer to his face. Theo blinks his eyes open once more and really, he could do with his eyelids actually working the way they should instead of just closing whenever they want. Liam is indeed, closer, but the hand on Theo’s back also drifted to his forehead in a strange and intimate setting that has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the damn fever.

By Liam’s grimace, it’s higher than it was this morning.

“Why don’t you wait for Corey in my apartment, where it’s warm and cozy?,” Liam whispers and Theo can’t find it in himself to complain at the extra softness that shouldn’t really be there, not when the headache makes his whole skull throb like a ticking bomb.

“Because that would still be dealing with it , just with the fake sense of being in charge of the situation.”

“Is it working?”

It has been working since the beginning, if he’s honest. The fever has lowered down his walls pretty much all the way down and Liam’s closeness now is nothing but a wrecking ball to the remains. And thanks to his halfway to be melted brain, now he can’t stop singing the damn song internally.

Theo huffs and gets up with a groan and wraps himself even tighter with the blanket, using it as a sort of shield because if one of these things could protect him from imaginary monsters when he was a child, it will protect him from emotional attachment now.

“Aren’t we going?”

He tries to ignore the way that Liam’s face goes from worriedly playing it cool to clear relief in just a second, going down the stairs in a frenzy while texting who most probably is Corey, and letting Theo be in fate’s hands to either go down the stairs as gracefully as possible with his shaky, just born, baby fawn legs or break his neck while trying to do something as basic as walking.

He also tries to ignore how strangely lightheaded he feels, that has nothing to do with his fever and everything to do with Liam’s smile.

It’s almost unbelievable how much he sucks at both.


*


“Going to bed seems to be the best option now,” Liam mumbles, pulling away the thermometer from Theo’s armpit, who giggles a bit, and looks at the digital numbers. There was no way Theo would have put the thing in his mouth and even less of a chance of using it somewhere else.

The small wave of tickles was just a price to pay.

“Really? Not even a date first, Dunbar?”

Liam blushes so quick and bright that for a moment Theo fears that all the blood of his body went straight up to that brain and he’d end up stuck taking care of the unconscious human version of a tank when he doesn’t even have the strength to deal with himself right now.

“I meant, to rest. You. You should go to bed to rest so the fever goes down.”

The snort hurts more than he expect to and it’s almost laughable how he doesn’t even fight now the fact that waiting for Corey is long forgotten and instead being the worst possible guest with a stuffy nose and fever, of all things, he can be is his main goal now.

“Lead the way then.”

The goal now is just to lay down and sleep it off as long as possible.

Maybe if he’s lucky, death will call his name in his sleep this time.


*


Death doesn’t call his name.

But Liam does.


*


“Theo, are you awake?”

It’s the worst whisper someone could have ever done. Liam is just straining his voice, but the rest of his whole self is being as loud and obnoxious as ever so the whole purpose of trying to not wreak havoc with his voice is kinda defeated anyways.

“I am now,” Theo grumbles, turning and squinting at Liam who’s peeking through the half open door of the dark room, stabbing him with the pouring light from outside.

“Do you want something to drink?”

“No”

Turning around so his back is facing the door, Theo has the small wish of it to be over. But it’s not. As soon as the door clicks, it’s open again. This time with a concert of loud steps like a sort of weird dance of killing invisible bugs on the floor. He wants to see what is happening but the fact that maybe if he keeps ignoring it, Liam will go away soon is stronger than the mild curiosity he owns at the moment.

The clacking noise on the bedside table is the only thing that makes Theo look over his shoulder.

“I brought you a glass of water.”

And yes, there it is. A freshly poured glass of water that Theo didn’t want but now is there and will be there later because he doesn’t want to drink it. But Liam is warmly smiling at him and the fever must be really melting his brain, because Theo smiles back and murmurs a quiet ‘thank you’ before turning back again.

The steps are still loud but now getting further away towards the door, soon after clicking it shut.

Maybe Liam is not so bad after all. Maybe he’s just exaggerating. He just brought a glass of water just in case he got thirsty later and isn’t that considerate of him?

Theo sighs, sleep pulling him in slowly. Just at the brink of sweet Dreamland and--

“Theo?”

He blinks awake, wondering how long he slept, but when he looks up at the clock at the other side of the bed it confirms that the sensation of just sleeping for a couple of minutes is the exact same reality he’s living.

“What?”

“Do you want some soup?”

“No”

“It might help you with the fever.”

“Liam, I swear I’ll--”

Theo doesn’t even get to deliver his perfectly crafted in the moment death threat before the door falls shut again and he’s met with nothing but the complete darkness of the room.

Great to know Liam understood quickly.

Turning yet again, he tried to find the comfortable position he was in seconds before with no luck. So he twists again. And again. And again. By the 20th twist, he finds the needed comfort and sighs in pleasure, nuzzling the soft pillow and enjoying the nice silence of the room engulfing him slowly--

“I brought the soup,” Liam’s voice is extremely too cheerful for his taste.

Theo groans, this time trying to suffocate himself with the pillow for a short moment of insanity, before looking over his shoulder and look at the steamy mug of what’s surely the famous soup that he can’t even smell to pick up the flavor.

But Liam is nowhere in sight.

Theo looks at the mug for a little longer before huffing obnoxiously at it and turn back to sleep, burrowing deep under the cozyness of the blanket burrito-ing him.

Maybe this time he’ll be able to cram up a bit more than a breath of sleep.


*


His stomach is a very traitorous thing when it’s been empty since the morning, Theo realises.

It also might have something to do with the lack of his sense of smell and the possible death of his taste buds due the overdose of take-out Corey and he have daily.

But the soup is actually quite good.


*


“What was that soup made of?,” he asks when Liam pops in again while Theo’s halfway thru the remainings in the cup.

“Leftover powder from chicken ramen.”

This is how he truly dies.


*


A bark wakes him up.

Actually, a series of lots of very high pitched barks that he can pinpoint to exactly one furry beast that lives in the same apartment as him, even if he filled the suggestion box Corey put in the living room with every piece of paper available in regards of taking that little monster out of there.

The thing is that Woofpert is barking to who knows what, maybe its own shadow. And that luckily, the headache that Theo was cradling is long gone and it seems like it took the cold eating his bones with it.

He feels warm and safe, and ignoring the natural alarm system that comes from his apartment seems to be the best decision. That is until he tries to turn and a long sigh tickles at the back of his neck while a set of really strong arms tightens around his waist.

It's only then when he notices that the series of white noise that by now has become Woofpert’s barks is not close like usual. He’s safely far, considering that the thing isn’t slobbering on whatever limb has fallen from the bed or pawing at his bedroom door.

Because that, in front of his very eyes, isn’t the door of his room.

What the fuck.

Memories come tumbling down into his mind of baby blue eyes filled with worry, a cozy blanket, Corey not coming home because he’s a traitor and decided to put getting laid before Theo’s wellbeing. A soup and--

And!?

There’s a blank hole in his mind as to why he can feel Liam’s warmth, that Theo can rationalize that most likely Liam at some point must have seen his I’m not a human anymore but a cocktail maker shiver attack and decided to crawl into bed and hold him close.

Way too close, by the nose tickling the back of his neck.

But he cannot pinpoint when.

Or exactly why Liam thought that was a good decision to begin with.

It takes all his strong will to convince his body to use his now jello limbs to smack the fuck out of whoever is using him as a teddy bear. Or at least that’s what he expects. The truth is that he’s now shaking again, for a whole new different set of reasons, but Liam must have taken it as the fever coming back with a thirst for revenge, hugging Theo even tighter in what feels like a death trap.

So the strong harsh slap that was supposed to happen turns into a series of small and incessant short slaps to break away from this nightmare as soon as possible.

“Liam,” he mumbles, his throat way more hoarse than he expected, “Liam, wake up.”

“Don’t wanna.”

“Liam, wake up, we are spooning.”

“We are?,” Liam perks up at that, squinting up at Theo and then back at where his arms are. He squeezes once confirming that yes, those are his arms around Theo’s middle, before falling back into his pillow and Theo has to fight really hard to not suffocate him with it.

“Yeah, we are,” Theo grumbles, fumbling until he’s now facing Liam instead of being plastered to his back like dead weight.

The exasperation is there as well as the will to claw Liam’s face until he lets him go too, but for some strange reason he’s not doing it. He’s just looking at the soft sleeping features of Liam who isn’t really trying to wake up at all and is making an awful job at pretending he does.

“Naked?”

There’s a blush on Theo’s cheeks, like a billboard sign, that he will gladly blame on his already gone by now fever.

“No”

“Oh shit, clothed spooning," Liam grumbles with little to no remorse in his voice, loosening his grip on Theo’s frame and soon after turning around, setting him free. "My fault, it’s the soup."

Liam’s back is now facing him and Theo isn’t sure if Liam’s expecting to be cuddled back as some sort of payment for all his troubles, but Theo sees it as the escape it is. And yet he doesn’t move. Because now the thought of cuddling back is on his mind while Liam whines and sleepily tries to pat on the bed in a search for Theo’s hand. The want to reach closer surges for a second, before he practically jumps out of bed.

This is bad.

This is very bad.

But not as bad as fleeing without even as much as a goodbye.


*


“--we spooned.”

Corey looks at him from the entrance to their apartment, bleary eyed and frowning slightly at Theo’s crazy looking state, most likely. Because he did run out of Liam’s apartment just woken up and with Liam’s blanket still around him after all.

“Wait until I take a coffee and you can torture me with the details.”


*


"What am I gonna do?"

There’s a whole breakfast in front of him, with toast and bacon and eggs and it’s pretty obvious that Corey is in a good mood because he got laid while Theo can only think of choking on the food to end his misery.

"About what?,” Corey asks in between a very noisy slurp of his hot coffee, but for the first time in forever it doesn’t make Theo want to punch the mug away, which gives away how bad things are right now.

"I should stop seeing him for a while. Like completely. Cut him out of my life."

His freaking out levels might also have reached catastrophic levels at this very point of his life.

"That’s a great idea if you don’t have in mind that you two have a class together,” Corey points out because that’s what he’s good for, right? Crash his dream plan right before it starts. “And that you guys are neighbours, you also--"

"No, not using ‘we’ . It's me and him, two completely different people. Very apart. With nothing in common."

"Right, no ‘we’ because you’re still a very single person that decided being dead inside is easier and you just want him to disappear out of your life until you get back that strange sense of security because you, and I’m just guessing here, want to forget you may have feelings for him," Corey takes another sip of his coffee and arches his brows in Theo’s general direction, daring him to say the opposite.

"There's no feelings,” Theo murmurs, avoiding his best friend’s look, the one he knows is being thrown at him right this second and mocking every atom in his body, and instead focuses on dismantling one slice of toast piece by piece that he’s not really going to eat, just because he wants to do osmosis on the movement and pick his own brain apart. “There's not going to be feelings. I told you, I--"

"Oh, yeah, no, you have told me," says Corey, while setting his now empty cup of coffee aside and taking the tattered pieces of toast that Theo’s been spreading on the table, without even asking if Theo had a plan for them, and eating each one as a perfect metaphor of what is happening right now. “Repeating it like a parrot actually, yeah. But is it true? Because I’m finding it hard to believe a word that comes out of your mouth when you keep glancing at the door so much.”

Oh, he got caught.

Freezing halfway to check back again towards the door waiting for who knows what, maybe the buzzer going off or Liam to magically pop into existence out of thin air, Theo twitches. He doesn’t usually twitch, because that gives away that he’s on edge. But he’s been on edge for weeks now and trying to mascarade his fight or flight instincts from Corey is the last of his concerns now.

His major concern lives one floor downstairs and is now sleeping soundly while Theo is millimeters away from jumping off the edge he’s been emotionally on right into a free fall.

That if he’s optimistic enough to believe he hasn’t already fallen.

Slowly, oh so slowly, Theo turns to look at Corey, and if he’s optimistic enough that smug smile is not that bad and the lit screen that’s being shown at him of Corey’s phone with a chat box open is nothing but--

“Are you talking to Liam?”

He tries to make a move to grab the phone but either his reflexes are lacking because last night he became jello man thanks to the fever, or the chicken ramen powder soup is finally dissolving the connections from his brain to his body because he doesn’t even come near the device.

There’s also the option of Corey already knowing him too much to his taste, but he refuses to accept it in sight of him not being strong enough to accept that all his lies are just transparent glass to the other boy.

“I told him you were too sick and fell asleep as soon as you came back,” comes the reply, while Corey pockets the phone back into his pajama pants. “Someone had to, since you ran out of there without saying a word.”

“I didn’t run.”

“I beg to differ.”

“You didn’t even see me,” Theo scoffs and decides to go from dismembering another piece of toast to tapping restlessly on the kitchen counter. “And how did you even get his phone number in the first place? We’ve been classmates for two months now and--”

And he’ll swallow down his own tongue before whatever emotional, conceited, distressed crap on his clearly still unconscious and very traitorous brain comes out of his mouth.

Corey’s only recognition to that meltdown comes as a raised eyebrow, but Theo knows that there’s no way that his best friend would pass up the free blow to his ego.

No, this is being stashed for later.

“You left your phone there.”

Theo pats his jean pockets that are indeed empty and then his hoodie, just in case the chicken ramen powder diluted the part of his brain where the key points to phone storage in clothes is stockpiled and he decided to hide such an expensive device into the most inefficient pocket he could own.

But it isn’t there either.

Because he forgot it at Liam’s.

“Just because I’m in a very good mood today, I’ll take care of that,” says Corey, locking eyes with him once Theo decides to stop frantically slapping every piece of his body as if trying to open a portal to a new dimension where his phone is exactly in his hand and not the bedside table of the one guy he wants to avoid like the plague. “But next time, work better on those morning after manners.”

That’s an easy promise: he’ll work better on his morning after manners.

By not letting this happen ever again.


*


It takes him fifteen minutes to forget that the one and only precious thing he cares about more than his life isn’t with him and there’s no way he can contact a hitman to shoot himself straight in the head and forget the whole script of things that shouldn’t have happened and yet are now memories branded with fire in his brain.

But to go from sulking on the couch both because there’s no Liam and because he’s missing Liam to snore like a monster?

Only five minutes.


*


When he wakes up, he’s still on the couch but now covered by another blanket that he doesn’t exactly remember Corey or him owning at all.

It’s cozy and soft and the fever must be back again because he can smell Liam on it and strangely, it lulls him back to sleep.


*


Five seconds after, he’s waking up agitated and throwing the blanket away because it wasn’t a hallucination from his brain. That damn thing smells like Liam and he just has one question on his mind.

How .


*


On another note, he’d also like to know when he got his fucking sense of smell back.


*


It takes a bit too long, but once he notices his phone on the coffee table, the freak out stops. His baby is there, with his whole life in it safe and Corey was true to his word.

Or maybe not.

There’s the blinking light of a text notification that makes Theo think for a moment of a warning sign but from what? An essay he forgot to write? A class that got cancelled? An exam? His sister coming to town and he just forgot about it?

That last one sends a shiver down his back and he picks up the device with dread in his heart, just to find a name that wasn’t there before.

 

From: Liam

Now you have me in your phone too

From: Liam

Enjoy the blankets

 

Just two text messages.

And the freak out starts all over again.


*


“Did you add Liam’s number to my phone?”

Theo barely holds on to dear life to the doorframe and okay, yes, stomping halfway sleepy in just socks to Corey’s room wasn’t the best of his ideas, but it was impossible to just sit on the couch and just let this go.

“No,” Corey replies from his place over the bed, his gaze not pulling away from the thick book he’s reading, not even at the promise of his roommate and best friend getting possibly brained by slipping on the damn hardwood floor. “I might have said something about you asking how I got his number and he offered to add it.”

It’s not that it’s a lie.

Theo did ask how Corey got Liam’s number but he expected for the consequences to come somewhere in the far future where he would already have a contingency plan figured out.

This is too soon.

This is his doom.

“I’m going to kill you,” Theo seethes, ready to risk a serious injury just for the vain hope of getting to inflict an even more serious one on Corey.

The same Corey that finally looks up from that hideous book towards him and has the indecency to smile sweetly back.

“Your death threats are getting boring by now.”

That’s it.

That’s the final straw.

Theo’s only hope now is that his future cellmate has the decency to at least read something else besides cheesy romantic books.


*


Corey’s scream of pain and betrayal comes from the kitchen one hour and twenty-two minutes later and Theo’d be a big fat liar if he said that it didn’t fill him with pride.

Salt in the sugar canister is a classic after all.


*


The only thing that takes the pride away is Corey catching him more than once checking his phone later that night.

Theo sets the phone down, trying not let out on the way his fingers twitch in attempt of flipping it and light up the screen again to see if maybe this time there’s another text waiting.

But Corey’s smug smile says how much he’s failing at that.


*


After some very long deliberation, Theo decides that he cannot go knock on Liam's door to give the blankets back.

And sending Corey to do so would be nothing but a demonstration of weakness.

So the only answer left is to keep them.


*


Keeping them is a sentence open to understandment.

They could end up in his closet, right in the corner where the odd stain that could be or not mold exists.

Or in the trash.

Maybe even in Woofpert's bed, that’s basically equivalent to a second and less organized trash can.

The fact that they end up in his bed, doesn't mean anything at all.


*


Classes the next thursday are normal.

Strangely so.

The subject is still quite boring, almost all his classmates are in various stages of braindead sleep, Mrs. Thomas keeps targeting him, and Liam is still his obnoxious self.

Just like that.

No talking about sharing a bed or cuddling or Theo running away. It’s not that he wants to talk about it, because he’d like to never do so, but Liam doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy to let things go without giving his input about the thing.

Except it seems like he does.

It doesn’t matter how many times Theo looks his way or does something to catch his eye, Liam doesn’t budge. He still makes as much noise as a trainwreck and tap tap taps his notepad with his pen and uses his phone a lot but Theo receives no message whatsoever.

And what’s worse, when Liam catches him staring, he just smiles and looks away . Just like that. As if nothing happened. Which is driving him slightly mad.

Soon it clicks.

There’s no other explanation.

There’s a trap.

And Theo will discover it sooner rather than later.


*


Corey assures him there’s no trap whatsoever because he asked Liam and Liam said that there wasn’t one.

Bold of Corey to assume that he still believes in his word at all.


*


He still does, but he’ll deny it to his death bed.


*


Just for the sake of feeling strangely more secure, Theo evades the coffee shop as much as possible.

Or not quite.


*


The good thing about coffee shops having huge ass windows to spy on the outside world like a hamster in its cage is that the outside world can spy back.

And okay, he may have been spying back quite a bit.

For a while.

But at least now he has Liam's regular shift memorized to a T so there’s no way they’ll cross paths out of the blue now.


*


That must have been the creepiest thing he’s done in his life.

No regrets at all.


*


It actually works so well, that he regrets it too fast.


*


Second thursday and still nothing.

No talking.

No texts.

No nothing.

Theo’s one inch away from personally asking Liam what the fuck is happening.


*


At some point, his routine changed from abruptly avoiding Liam to now leisurely doing so but at the same time kind of trying to cross his path more than once but not really.

It’s a strategy that doesn’t make sense at all.

Not even to himself.

But he still does it.

Theo’s sure that at this point he already lost his mind.


*


There’s still small smidge of sanity for him to lose.

Who would have thought.


*


This might be some sort of old Mayan curse that he got glued on his back like a damn piece of gum would do on his shoe and he can’t seem to find the way to shake it off his bones. Theo groans, because what else can he even do to begin with? He just reached the final level of being locked out because it’s not even his own apartment, but the whole building.

And it’s not even his fault, because he has his key there, in his hand, and it should be easy to just, y’know, twist it and go inside. But the keyhole decided that it was time to crush his will to live on a friday night, right after the disgusting uneventful thursday, and there’s nothing worse that could happen to him today.

Except that Liam is there.

Right behind him.

Drunk out of his mind.

And yes, he might have been playing with fire the last couple of weeks, trying to avoid him and then trying to cross his path, just for Liam to actually notice that he was being avoided.

But this is too much for his taste.

Not even all the swearing and praying in the world will work, of course, because he decided to be an atheist, from all the things in the world. Theo’s sure that if there’s a god up there, it’s going to laugh their all omnipresent face and tune Theo’s internal celestial radio on and be all ‘you didn’t believe in me, you can seek your own salvation now’ . And you know what?

They’d be right.

Because Theo is a man who needs no god nor knight in shining armor to save him unless they have baby blue eyes and---

He starts again to furiously twist the key that got trapped but it doesn’t even budge. Not even a teeny tiny bit, to give him the fake sense of hope. To make him believe that maybe, just maybe, he can run away unscathed from this.

But no.

From all the things that could happen, he’s trapped here.

Outside.

With Liam.

A Mayan curse, that’s the only explanation.

“This is fun. Locked out together.”

Theo turns around for the first time in the last twenty minutes and looks at Liam, who’s sitting down on the entrance steps and swaying from side to side like one of those really weird toys for toddlers. Just a little more greener and reeking of alcohol than what’s recommended.

“We should do this more often.”

“Be locked out?,” asks Theo, and immediately regrets letting his brain talk without his consent.

“No, just--,” there’s a wild movement of hands that Theo isn’t sure if Liam is slapping an invisible someone or trying a new ASL slang, “--hang out, together.”

Theo looks at him because first, this is completely insane, and second, Liam seems earnest and honest and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. Because the last time they hung out, they shared an intimacy level that even for his melted brain was too quick too much.

It was bad then.

And it is bad now.

Especially when baby blue glazed eyes blink up at him with a sort of longing that makes Theo’s skin crawl and just--

“A kick,” whispers Liam, and Theo blinks, feeling the weird bubble of warmth and bubbling anxiety he was in just seconds before pop right in front of his very eyes.

“What?”

“Try… a kick,” mumbles Liam, pointing at the entrance door with his head and looking like he regrets that decision all together the next second, “Try kicking it.”

Looking back at the door, still very closed and with his key jammed into it, looking pretty sturdy and metal-y and in no way comfortable to be kicked, Theo tries to think about why he should not do it.

He could get his leg broken.

He could get the door broken and then have to pay for it.

But he could also escape Liam and this stream of running emotions that’s coursing through his veins that he lacks all control of, just like he wants to.

And the answer gets pretty simple.

Kicking the door it is.


*


For future references, simple answers aren’t always the best answers.


*


It doesn’t work.

Of course it doesn’t work, because the door is made out of a sturdy metal, exactly the way it should be to protect the people inside from the crazy people outside. People that would try to enter like he did, kicking wildly and with a thirst for vengeance without the actual vengeance, because the only thing he wants is to go from being one of the people outside back to one of the people inside and feel safe and away from Liam’s presence.

Laying down on the floor, back against the cold concrete, Theo keeps his eyes glued to the open sky while trying to get air back into his lungs, just the way it was before he decided that giving the non-moving door a dropkick was the best of his ideas.

Which now with a concussion to allow him to think clearly of his mistake, was not.

But on the bright side, his leg didn’t break. And he doesn’t have to pay for a damaged door either. So yay him.

“Wow, more-- huh, torque than I expected,” mumbles Liam, that soon comes into vision in front of him. He’s bent over, with his hands on his knees and trying really hard to not just land face first into the floor but Theo has to give it to him, at least the concern is there in his face. “You got a surprising-- uh, torque. To size ratio. Yeah, that.”

Theo nods because how else are you supposed to react to that? Take it as a compliment? Say ‘thanks, I’ll put it on my resume next to the other bunch of knowledge no one cares about’ ? Get offended? You do nothing more than smile prettily and nod, because that’s social etiquette, Corey would say. And since smiling prettily is one of his specialities, that’s exactly what he does.

Liam keeps looking down at him, but now opening and closing his mouth the same way Tara’s fish did before it died when he was nine, and he really hopes this is not the exact same case.

Or that Liam’s anywhere close to puking.

Not because he shouldn’t puke, because he’s clearly drunk and still swaying too much to not be weird and also looking an unnatural color for a human, so maybe puke will help him. Who knows, not Theo, he’s not a doctor and is never going to be for that matter. Too many needles and slicing people open to not be creepy.

The thing is puking, may be advisable.

Doing it while looking down at him, a clear and very bold negative.

Thankfully, Liam seems to be thinking the same, because he lets himself fall down at Theo’s side at the next swing of his body. The fall sounds heavy and unprepared, but only a mild grunt of discomfort is what Liam gives away.

Right before he pukes.


*


Retreating to a less wet and smelly corner of the entrance to wait for someone to rescue them is expected.

Having to take Liam’s hand to guide him is not.


*


"I like you."

It’s a whisper and Theo can already feel the itch of cliché crawling up his skin and this is really not the time for that. He’s tired and cold and he just drop kicked a door with the only thing that groaned in pain was his knees and almost got vomit on his pants soon after.

And on top of that, they’re still locked outside, for what feels like millions of years after, if the ache in his kneecaps has a say on it, because no one could bother into worrying about their well-being.

Which means he has no time for the romantic cliché of drunk love confessions. Not now. Not ever, thank you very much.

"Why, you don't even know me," Theo replies monotonously, turning to look at Liam.

The same Liam that’s lying on his side, instead of his back, probably to avoid choking on his own bad choices once he regurgitates once more. Theo knows that saying if would be more sensitive, but by the visual proof Liam will most likely throw up again in the not so far future.

The thing is that that decision would be amazing, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s also doing nothing but look at Theo with adoration before shrugging because clearly that’s the only logical answer his drowned in booze brain can come up with.

"I like you."

And that’s so far from what Theo wants right now.

It’s unacceptable.

“Well, that’s enlightening”

Liam snorts, probably because enlightening isn’t a real word in his brain right this second or maybe because he’s an ass and knows exactly what he did. It doesn’t really matter, because it dies soon after and those baby blues eyes are still fixed on Theo.

“What about you?”

“I can’t like you,” replies Theo too quick for his own taste and tries to push aside the weird thumping of his heart, feeling like needles bursting at each new pump. He looks away, up at the sky again, trying to ignore the burning gaze aimed at his face and focusing only on the stars and the loneliness of space. “I’m allergic to liking people. It’s like peanut allergy, but emotional. I get weird. You’ll get more weird too. And we don't want that. So I can't like you."

Silence settles between them both for a moment.

Theo really hopes that Liam’s brain cells held all that blurting of sincerity that he just did because it’s the most logical way he could have put his aversion to getting close to someone. Corey would clearly disagree, but he’s not here, saving his ass from exponential embarrassment, so who cares.

“It’s okay,” Liam says after a while and his reply is far more cheerful than the one he’d have expected from a just rejected in the weirdest way guy. “I can like you and like me at the same time, I got you covered."

When Theo looks back at Liam, he finds the most corny and sweet smile plastered on his face. With his big baby blue eyes shining and all.

It’s really hard to not want to smile back.

Thankfully, the acidic smell of puke helps with that.


*


Theo should own a 101 manual on how to act like Corey when faced with weird and stressing situations because the getting heart eyes on the 50% of his face that Liam can see is starting to get old and weird pretty quick for his taste.


*


Theo’s been perfectly avoiding Liam’s drunk, full of love face for quite some time in such an exquisite way that he’s expecting an academy award right after this whole shitshow stops because there’s no way anyone would do a better job than the one he’s doing.

“How can I not be gay?”

Or maybe not quite.

“You what now?”

“I see you--,” replies Liam because clearly Theo hasn’t noticed in the whole set of an hour and thirty minutes that Liam has been looking at him non-stop except for the small break of one puke and two false alarms. “-- and how can I not be gay when you exist?”

“Are you hitting on me?”

Liam shrugs because even if his booze boosted brain can come up with really intricate and hard to understand ideas, heaven forbid that he’d be able to give a simple answer back. Not that Theo really needs one, because it’s either that or Liam decided to leave Narnia behind. Something that Theo had not doubt about since, well.

Since the beginning of this all.

“Is it working?,” Liam whispers in that really not whispery way of his.

And no.

It isn’t.

Theo has to give him credit for it though, because Liam’s brain must be mush floating in whichever mix of beverages he had tonight, but he’s still trying. Really hard. At least that’s the only thing that comes to Theo’s mind when he hears the sound of just not yet ripped enough denim from Liam’s pants dragging over the cement floor as the clear indicator that that little blond hair sprouting head of his had the not so wonderful idea of inching closer for who knows what.

Theo, that’s who.

Doesn’t take much to know that Liam is surely trying to go for a kiss, like every other drunk guy in the history of life has tried, and if there’s something that’s not on Theo’s now very ruined friday list is to get an unwanted post-puke drunken kiss.

Adding Liam to the equation is just a nightmare in the making.

But it’s not.

Because it’s not a kiss but a hand that lands in his hair and just pets it. Slow and very delicate strokes for someone that has enough alcohol in his blood to land over on the hard cement floor perfectly on his face and just grunt in disagreement with his body and most likely would punch through a wall just for the sake of trying to kill a mosquito.

“What about now?,” Liam mumbles in a way that makes Theo very certain that he’s either falling asleep just now or his body is finally taking notice of how brain dead he is. “Is it working now?”

There’s really no time to reply, between both his brain short circuiting and Liam just starting to snore while having his fingers still threaded through Theo’s hair.

Yes, this is a thing that is happening.

And Theo wonders if it would be out of etiquette to just break Liam’s hand and call it a reflex.


*


He doesn’t break it.

Not because he doesn’t want to, because he actually really does. But because whatever Liam is doing, between really loud snores and his fingers twitching still nestled into Theo’s hair, is working.

And even if Theo feels utterly disgusted, he doesn’t really want it to stop.


*

 

It takes Corey two hours to get to help him because he’s on another date.

With Liam’s roommate.

Everything makes sense now.

The traitor.


*


“So you and Liam’s roommate--”

“Nope,” cuts Corey, opening the door to their apartment and almost immediately falling down to his knees to greet the breathing prototype of a broken wind up toy of his that’s been barking since they set foot in the elevator. “You can’t make it about me and my boyfriend when you were the one cuddling at the front door like a scene out of Twilight.”

The shiver that goes down Theo’s back is unexpected and he’s not completely sure if it’s the fact that Corey just admitted his treason or for being compared with that movie that has no other motives of existing besides bad decisions and early diabetes.

“We weren’t cuddling.”

“No, sure, his hand happened to get stuck in your hair and you were watching the stars because--”

“Because I drop kicked the front door.”

Theo’s not self conscious. Not really. Or at least he was never in a situation where those kind of feelings naturally oozed out of him. But for the way Corey suddenly falls silent and just looks up at him as if he just confessed a mass murder, well.

Just what he wanted, a new thing to loathe and blame on his best friend.

“You what.”

“Drop kicked the front door trying to get away from Liam.”

It’s not a confession but a statement.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of when you seek your own survival.

Corey blinks again because obviously, he’s amazed by that brilliant plan of his, same as himself right after his back collided with the hard cold floor after such a catastrophic move.

What can he say, he’s a natural.

“I’d say that you need help, but we have known that for years so I don’t know what’s surprising me.”

Maybe too natural.

And it’s not like storming off to his room huffing and puffing in disagreement and shame would make Corey take back his words and give him the love and support he deserves.

But it’s a close call.


*


The good thing about having a Judas as a best friend is that along the way, Corey’s bound to feel somewhat guilty about something. Theo never knows exactly what, because he never talks about it since it’d defeat the whole facade of him not really being angry over whatever they have been arguing about and that has long since left his mind. But it’s not like he cares about whatever that was anyways.

Not when forgiveness has a price.

And tastes like Chipotle.


*


Turns out the best way to shut his brain off is to have his stomach way too full.


*


Signs of life from the one and only person Theo wishes would never come arrives roughly nine hours after the whole pinnacle of whatever it was that happened out there the night before and that Theo still can’t explain beyond a sudden withdrawal on his common sense.

So to say he’s not ready yet for a repeat would be an understatement.


From: Liam

I stand by everything I said

 

There is still to decipher what, from all the things Liam decided to spurt out while inebriated, is being discussed right now. Much of which Theo barely picked up as actual words and not just an assembly of nonsense. But to be fair, whatever comes out of Liam’s mouth tends to be nothing but gibberish to his ears.

 

 

From: Liam

Wait

From: Liam

No

From: Liam

If I said something embarrassing, then I don’t

 


Good thing is that in Theo’s eyes, each and every word being uttered by Liam’s slur was a complete embarrassment. For both Liam, himself and probably every being close enough to even register that mad mix of a human in its more raw state and mix it with another in pure panic.

So he’ll go for the easy fix.

Better ignore it all.


*


He can’t ignore it all.

But he can turn off his phone and ignore the temptation to just reply back.

And that counts as a win.


*


Is there anything more embarrassing that luring your roommate’s poor excuse of a dog into your room  with beef smelling wrapping papers from chipotle just for the sake of cuddling something?

No.

But at least Woofpert has the decency to not judge him or spill his secrets in the morning.


*


He takes it back.

The failure spawn of the devil just cried in front of his door until Corey came to his rescue, exposing him to the biggest traitor in the story of treasons.

Man’s best friend his ass.


*


It takes a combination of the fire escape, the actual stairs of the building and storming into whichever apartment door is open at the moment to avoid Liam’s presence.

And it would be a total success if Theo could just avoid thinking of him as well.


*


Some people say there’s no feeling like missing home.

And Theo would agree.

He still can’t find a coffee shop with a nice expresso as the one he left behind.


*


“Now that we are talking about avoiding--”

They haven’t been talking about avoiding anything.

Corey’s been half baby talking to his dog for the last thirty minutes while cooking its food and half complaining about their neighbour next door that keeps hitting on their door for nonsense like Woofpert being a little bit more vocal than needed for living in an apartment with a security system.

“Have you thought about talking to--”

“Zip it.”

Corey’s mouth closes with a click and Theo’s not sure if he should be more surprised about the fact that his best friend just let the topic die or the one where Woofpert stopped spinning on itself in the middle of the kitchen floor and just sat down looking up at him.

The rest of their little Martha Stewart moment cooking for the dog is spent in silence.

One that Theo appreciates deeply.

Maybe good things can bloom from his misery.


*


Plan Avoidance works successfully for a week until he’s knocked down with the reminder that thursday classes are still a thing.

And that Liam will be there, right at his side.

What a glorious thing to not be excited about.


*


It’s definitely a Mayan curse.

Burning his breakfast when it only consist of a cup of coffee? Losing his keys inside the house? Having the pest kidnap one of his shoes and then run to hide under Corey’s bed with Corey still sleeping in it because it’s his day in? Missing the bus? Getting a bitch-slap from a pigeon with bad perception of its surroundings? The professor changing classrooms without prior advice?

Thursdays tend to be shitty, but not this level of disaster.

No, no, this is a curse.

Beyond his usual why am I even alive to begin with curse.

No, this is the thanks for ghosting me in real life Liam’s curse.


*


To be fair, he might have been a little overboard with putting two and two together and imagining what would even happen in the class if just walking himself toward it was just a nightmare.

It’s to be expected when you carry the weight of your sins and two curses over your shoulders.

He forgot the part where life enjoys throwing him off his feet.


*


“Mr. Raeken, is there anything you’d like to add?”

Theo blinks back into reality by the strange mixture of disappointment and amusement laced in Mrs. Thomas voice, just to see that not only has his professor noticed him spacing out watching Liam’s profile like some sort of movie high-schooler but also Liam being very aware of what is happening right now.

Same as the whole classroom.

And what is he even supposed to say when he just reenacted Bella from Twilight in the most embarrassing way possible? Theo’s sure that he’s violently blushing right about now and the silence of the room feels like it’s engulfing him but what’s even worse is the way Liam just looks at him and--

“I need to go,” Theo blurts before taking all of his crap as quick as possible and just fleeing out of the classroom, his hanging by a thread attendance be damn.

He doesn’t need to go anywhere anyways, but there is no other way to deal with this.

Theo didn’t choose this embarrassing life, after all, even if Corey very adamantly would say the opposite.

To his demise, the embarrassing life choose him.


*


If there’s something even worse that just storming out of a place where you’re suddenly the center of attention is probably being suddenly reminded in mid of your leave that your life is just an endless supply of miseries and pain by the harsh crack of a thunder.


*


It’s raining.

Of course it’s raining, because it’s raining season but he’s been too preoccupied with college and his future and maybe mostly with fucking avoiding Liam at all cost just to get him shoved back in the way every thursday morning with no excuse and Theo forgot his umbrella.

Just that.

He forgot his umbrella.

It’s gnawing at his bones because he never forgets a thing. He has everything calculated to a T, everything in time and space. Or at least that’s how things were before Liam decided to ruin his whole existence and now there’s what seems like a fucking monsoon in front of his face and he will get drowned just by trying to breathe while walking towards his cozy and very secluded from mentally scarring situations that is his apartment.

And if that isn’t enough, he’s the only one standing there, waiting for who knows what. Probably for the storm to stop, which isn’t going to happen at all because he also clearly forgot about the forecast alarm that’s been going all week because the real pressuring matter was not having to see--

“Where’s your umbrella?”

--him.

Theo breathes in and out deeply, his hands curling tight over the shoulder straps while every and all curse possible on earth courses through his mind to each and every deity he’s come to learn in the short span of his life, before he deems okay to reply because he’ll not look like someone who’s possessed by rage.

“In my house,” he replies and tries not to look at Liam. Every cell of his body is screaming at him to turn and look but if he does, he fails and he can’t do this. Not after the confession, not after Liam opening his heart and making a nudge on his and definitely not after the humiliating situation in their classroom when--

Something hits him hard on his side, ripping a grunt out of him while successfully stopping his stream of thoughts and what sounds like a hiss of sympathy out of Liam.

An umbrella.

He was hit by Liam’s umbrella popping open because why not add a little bit more salt to the damn wound in his pride?

“Aren’t you going to apologize!?,” he roars, finally looking at Liam. And it’s not hard to tell that he’s not even sorry. Theo can see behind those baby blue eyes that this was the plan, to harm him and make him look.

“I’m sorry,” Liam says after a while, when silence already went from uncomfortable to comfortable to something that feels like they are sharing. It’s too intimate for Theo’s taste so early in the morning. “Let me walk you home?”

Sure, right.

Theo snorts and looks away, back at the rain. He can see the puddles turning quickly into small lakes but it’s not so bad. He could easily walk back home on his own. The idea of the future threats from every neighbour in the building because he got the stairs or the elevator drenched doesn’t sweeten the view per se. And if he thinks of the little beast barking at him in distrust until he dries his hair just so Woofpert can suddenly recognize him again doesn’t make it that much better. That if he ignores the prospect of a having a weekend with a cold.

The sharing an umbrella doesn’t exactly sounds so bad now.

Liam hums and takes a step over the rain, umbrella wide open over his head. The violent tap of the droplets over the fabric both relaxing and completely stress inducing for a second. Liam doesn’t turn to look at Theo again. He doesn’t say a thing. And Theo watches his back as he takes another step forward, careful to not be too far, but still inducing into Theo that overwhelming need to step forward and--- oh.

Oh, he sees what Liam’s doing.

He’s clearly trying to kick that follow me instinct that puppies and kittens and every small adorable creature in the world has towards someone who’s bigger and displays clear signs of protection.

Joke’s on him, because Theo is one inch taller and he ain’t no small adorable creature. No, sir. He’s a force to be reckoned, someone to be feared, someone who---

There’s a louder thunder, that makes Theo’s back be assaulted by a forceful chill running down, before the rain goes up a notch.

He doesn’t really want to get another cold.

Plus there’s without any doubt enough room for two under that thing.


*


They walk in silence for a couple of blocks. Mostly because Theo doesn’t want to dig his grave even deeper from what happened in class and well. Liam for the first time isn’t talking his ears off or making obnoxious noises.

It should be uncomfortable but it’s not.

And that’s what starts making it uncomfortable.

Theo doesn’t exactly looks at Liam but takes furtive glances that are not sneaky at all and he’d feel even more ashamed of how he already feels if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s doing it enough times to actually catch Liam doing it too without the turning aways so it seems like a mistake .

He knows what Liam’s doing, same as Liam knows what he is doing and they both know what they are doing but at the same time they don’t because it’s pretty obvious that something changed. Not something necessarily bad nor inherently good either.

Just something.

And Theo’s not sure what to think of it.

At least until he gets his whole shoulder freezing cold wet.


*


“Just one job, Liam! You had just one job!”

“I wasn’t paying attention!”

Theo can’t really understand how Liam can even find that as a perfectly suitable excuse for what just happened. That’s the least excusing thing someone could ever say. You can’t get out of trouble by saying you weren’t paying attention. No one in their right mind would use that excuse. It’s common sense, surely Liam has at least some common sense lying in there, deep down in his consciousness, right?

No, he doesn’t.

“You never do!”

“You were looking at me in class!”

It’s like a stab in the middle of the chest. A very irrefutable and realistic stab that Theo had all his hopes into not happening ever because some part of his brain decided to fool him into thinking that Liam had a code to not humiliate other people for one tiny misstep when he can easily be humiliated over his own existence.

He refuses to let the fault of it fall on him when evidently Liam is the one who lulled him into a fake sense of mental stability.

“What does that have to do with me getting drenched!?”

“I don’t know! Everything!”

Oh, everything. Sure. You zone out for a couple of minutes looking at someone’s beautiful profile and suddenly it’s all your fault that the sky is taking the piss over you both and that the left side of your body is experiencing what turning into an ice cube feels like.

“Oh so I am soaking wet and will probably get a cold, but it is somehow my fault and not the fact that you can’t keep the damn umbrella over both our heads because you have the span of attention of a goldfish--”

Theo isn’t sure how the sentence was supposed to end.

He isn’t sure either that a punch to the nose is supposed to sound so bad and bleed so much, but here he is now. Sitting in the middle of the street, drenched, with a harsh cold in his near future and a fucking broken nose by the hand of the one guy he can’t keep out of his mind.

And then Corey asks why he hates thursdays so much.


*


Liam’s apologizing act sucks.

Not because Liam sucks at apologizing, which he surely does by the way, but because the whole decision of keeping the umbrella just over Theo’s head, when he already looks like he went skinny dipping into the pool and forgot the skinny part, and got himself drenched in the process isn’t very intelligent of him.

Theo’s fucking cold now and there’s no way that a thin piece of wire and fabric keeping the rest of the falling water away from his soaked body will stop him from just freezing to death.

So keeping in mind that Liam making decisions kinda completely sucks, Theo takes the reins and does the only logical thing possible and snuggles close.

All for the sake of stealing some warmth.

If he very deep within enjoys it a bit too much to be logical after being violently punched in the face for no reason, well.

He can count on the old trick of having blood smeared on half his face to cover for it.


*


The rest of the walk is still silent.

If Theo ignores the tiny detail of his nose wheezing with each breath.


*


When Liam said he was going to walk him home, he thought the boy meant just the building entrance. Right until there was an actual safe and sturdy roof to keep them safe from the storm. Now, standing in front of the door of his apartment, Theo can see how wrong he was to assume that in the first place.

But then again, the bleeding nose that wasn’t probably in the plans to begin with has much to do with it.

“Well, here we are,” Liam says in a whisper. With no reason whatsoever because Theo’s head isn’t hurting, just his nose and his pride and his ass from when he fell, and whispering will do nothing to soothe them.

Theo grunts because that’s the only reply that Liam deserves, but thinking better of it that’s not petty enough to convey the level of rage brewing deep into his core in this moment. He needs words for that to work.

“I can see that,” he adds, pretending to search for his keys even when they’re already secured enough in his left hand, ready for a little stabby stab if needed. “You punched me in the nose, not in the eyes.”

Liam snorts and Theo appreciates it a bit because yes, it was a funny sarcastic comment, but he’s also still very angry so he’s not going to share the enthusiasm that Liam seems to think they do. A very less sharp glare should be enough.

And that’s how they fall into silence again.

Theo comes to the conclusion that Liam isn’t going to talk because he is clearly still ashamed of what happened, as he should be. So it’s up to him to do the first move. And he’s not going to, he’s perfectly fine with just opening the door and having the small ball of adrenaline that’s Corey’s dog stop scratching the door once and for all. He’ll even hug it if it means successfully escaping from this awkward interaction and leaving Liam in the corridor.

His conclusion of Liam not going to utter a word is obviously wrong, because as soon as he puts the key in, Liam clears his throat.

“Does it still hurt?”

It’s like a flashback of war where Theo remembers the complete moronic question that drew him into this whole catastrophic piece of his life to begin with and it clicks.

Liam is one of those people that doesn’t really asks dumb questions.

He’s just a natural with them.

“What do you think,” he seethes and then makes the mistake of turning, ready to give him the full on glare that makes Corey think an extra second before making decisions on his behalf just to find Liam suddenly closer than before. Mere inches from his lips.

And what is even happening right now.

Theo can feel the warm breath over his lips and the lingering invitation to just lean in and put an end to all this series of unfortunate events that’s been taking over his life since the very moment he laid eyes on Liam.

Just a kiss.

He can see baby blue eyes attached to his lips for a second too long before they go back up to meet his gaze with a million different questions and not one single answer. He can see the tip of a pink tongue licking over the ghost of a kiss that hasn’t happened yet.

A quick peck on the lips, maybe.

A short one.

Cease the curiosity.

Lean in and forget that he has his nose broken and that this is the very thing he was trying to avoid since the beginning.

One kiss.

That’s all.

But before he can actually make up his mind to either move away or move forward, Liam stands on his tippy toes and press his lips chastely over Theo’s nose tip. The pressure stings a bit, leaving some static over his skin behind.

In the next blink he’s gone and Theo’s left there, trying to connect his brain back into function with no success in sight.

“Kissed it better,” Liam mumbles, before smiling softly and taking a step back. Theo feels the pull and barely fights it into submission to not just step forward. “Put some ice on it so it doesn’t bruise.”

It’s a stupid advice because that is obviously what Theo’s going to do as soon as he steps into the house. It is what everyone would do after receiving a punch square on the nose.

But for a reason that he can’t pretend he doesn’t know, Theo can’t make words function.

Or his body, for that matter.

Liam’s smile is warm as if he knows what’s happening and they shared a secret now. Theo finds himself equally wanting nothing to do with it and wishing to cherish it dearly close but he settles for wishing that Liam actually doesn’t know about the whirlwind of emotions taking over his body.

Wishing really hard that this is just the concussion.

A hallucination he can wake up from.

Wishing for nothing but salvation.


*

 

The only thing that brings him back to this earth, in the place that is the building he lives in and the exact point in front of his apartment’s door is Woofpert’s very ear breaking cry at the other side of the door.

So no salvation.

And not a hallucination.

Dammit.


*

 

At some point, Liam’s gone.

Theo doesn’t know how long because his mind quit from time and space as everyone knows them and he’s been in front of the door just trying to make life have some sense again.

It’s not like it had had any sense before, but still.

This time, though.

This time he isn’t even going to try.


*


“I take that since that was Liam’s voice and it took you so long to come inside, that you kissed him,” comes Corey’s very welcoming voice from the kitchen while Woofpert hypes in between his too sluggish moving legs.

“He kissed me,” Theo replies numbly, still disconnected from this plane of existence probably for eternity. “On the nose.”

“The nose?”

“Kissed it better.”

He actually didn’t.

Liam just kissed it worse without knowing because now Theo was left with the feeling of static still over his nose and his brain on a full freak out party with existential crisis confetti and emotional constipation neon lights.

When Corey turns around, Theo can see the moment that confusion turns into surprise and then into panic at the sight of blood because he’s still his best friend, his brother from another mother and--

“Oh my god,” Corey gasps, “I didn’t know you were into blood play.”

And just like that Corey’s revoked from every nice title he evidently didn’t earn at all.

The good thing is that the disappointment that’s coursing now through his body is strong enough to break him out of the stupor of getting kissed like a delicate flower in front of the sanctuary that represents his apartment.

“I’m into murdering you slowly,” Theo replies, walking towards the freezer to get something to press over his bruising nose, which turns out to be a bag of frozen beans that he didn’t even know they own in the first place so they might as well have come with the apartment.

Or maybe it’s the definition of a treat and Woofpert is also being tortured by the hands of Corey’s skewed interpretations of how you work in life.

“Kinky.”

Corey turns the stove off and turns to look at him, the unnerving glint of I’ll ask for any possible detail and you’ll just have to amuse me or else you’ll end up at the peek of insanity in his eyes and Theo is by far not ready to play this game. He’s never ready, if he thinks of it, but Corey also has a skewed understanding of consent when it involves him and the knowledge of his personal life.

Keeping questions to a minimum is his main goal here.

“He punched me.”

There’s no smile in Corey’s mouth but Theo can see the gists of one in his eyes and he’s just one second away from having the same hand spasm as Liam not so long before and punch the damn amusement out of Corey’s being.

“I think you guys should go down a notch with your flirting, y’know,” Corey says, taking the bag of not so frozen peas and pressing it a little bit more gentle over Theo’s nose instead of the smothering force Theo himself was applying. “Take it to a normal human being level.”

The worst thing is that the thought actually crosses Theo’s head for a tad bit too long of a moment. Just a bit. Enough to be able to actually think how it would be to get dined and wined properly, maybe get a bouquet or a nice breakfast in the morning and---

And yes, he lost his mind.

He’s not even going to fight that.


*


Maybe, and just hear him out, if he ignores that the whole thing happened in the first place, everything will get back to normal and he’ll not need to worry about Liam and his kisses on the nose.


*


Maybe, and just maybe, Corey is right and he likes to lie to himself a lot.


*


He seems to do a terrible job at that as well.


*


Theo doesn’t expect any special treatment now that Liam decided to invade his personal space and kissed the tip of his very bruised but not yet broken nose.

After all, it’s not like Liam will now come with flowers to knock at his door and recite poetry, right?

Right?


*


“What are the odds?”

“Pretty high,” says Corey dismissively, hair still rumpled from sleeping and eyes barely open, cradling a cup of coffee between his hands. “What are we talking about again?”

“Liam,” hisses Theo, sparing his doubtedly still best friend an assessing look because he did after all explain the situation. For a minimum of twenty times. In the last ten minutes. That if he doesn't count the state of emergency they have been living on for the last couple of months. “Taking the leap and trying to-- to court me or whatever.”

Court you ,” Corey snorts, taking a noisy sip of his cup, even if he knows that Theo hates it. But that's just Corey’s way of payback by doing stuff Theo hates just because he had a crisis and woke him up early, the baby. “From what Jane Austen's fourth handed copycat book did you come from?”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

“No, I absolutely don’t.”

Truth is he shouldn't really blame Corey.

Theo knows he's not making any sense, because only the sheer motivation of a strange set of panic coursing through his veins that’s prompted by the most unnerving and gorgeous guy ever showing clear interest in him is what keeps the words coming in floods. There's a lot to keep up in the ten minutes of verbal nonsense that he's the sole protagonist.  

But does Theo still blame Corey?

You can bet on it.

“It’s--,” Corey looks at his phone for who knows what, maybe reassurance this isn’t a dream, and then back at Theo, who can see for a moment the sparkle of disbelief mixed up with unashamed murder lighting up in his eyes for a second. It's like the wooden spoon all over again  “Theo, it’s six thirty in the morning. Couldn’t you keep your hysterics at bay for a couple of hours more?”

“I’m not in hysterics.”

He actually is.

Corey's very sharp and pointed gaze confirms that there’s no way he could have believed that lie at all. Not even in his wildest dreams.

Six thirty in the morning --”

“I’m just worried that--”

“Theo, you know I love you as the brother I never asked for and hoped I’d never get, but I swear I’ll kill you with my cup of coffee and feel no remorse about it.”

The only thing that Theo finds completely rational from all that is the fact that Corey just mastered a new and unique way of threatening someone to death by making them feel incredibly loved first.

From all the people, of course it would be Corey.

“You’re a special brand of psychopath.”

“Why thank you.”

He doesn't exactly mean it as a compliment, but Corey's clearly beyond all good and evil at this time of the day. And Theo is clearly done with his lack of brotherly support.

Just when he's turning around, ready to leave the confines of a very not friendly kitchen, Corey takes another of his philharmonic sips, forcing Theo to just look back and find the smuggest smile of them all.

“And just to be clear--,” Corey says, stopping halfway to blow at the cup of coffee, where there's no steam and most likely not even coffee anymore, “-- the odds have never been on your favor.”

It's not even a surprise that he got his ass Hunger Game'd, because Corey's been obsessed with the books since his now new boyfriend that's also Liam's best friend lent them to him. Who even cares that they saw the movies first and they both loved them because now Corey loves the books and Theo is wrong for liking such hollywood trash, the traitorous little shit.

What is a surprise is the way Corey almost made it sound like he knew something that Theo didn't and therefore this was all part of an evil bigger plan.

One that Theo's not going to dwell on because it's six thirty in the morning after all and he needs to sleep.

Being so done with the world is exhausting after all.


*


Theo knows that Corey knows that he knows that Corey doesn't know shit and there's no evil plan awaiting for him.

He still sleeps very aware of the door, just in case.


*


Turns out that Theo isn't good at being aware.

Like at all.

Shocking.

And that the very evil plan is nothing else than ramen powder in the head of the shower.

So he gets breakfast and a shower all in one, it seems.


*


Theo’s not going to carry the same mistake to other more harmful individuals that got shoved into his life without his previous consent.

Better safe than sorry , it’s the saying.

What a wonderful life motto.


*


Turns out he’s also quite horrible at following a life motto too.


*


Running out of places to hide at this point isn’t really that unexpected and maybe that's the whole deal. Maybe life is trying to tell him that he can run but he can't hide and that the whole strategy isn't going to work forever.

Or maybe he just needs to try harder.


*


He clearly doesn’t try as hard as he wanted to.


*


The elevator is definitely the worst decision he could have made.

Especially if he has in mind that the last couple of months since they moved in with Corey, some long four years ago, the thing has been stuck on one step behind mortally killing someone very dead . Some days there's no problem whatsoever and it'll diligently move you from one floor to another with nothing but the mild inconvenience of the weird summoning sounds it does in the process. Then there's days where the thing is a death trap waiting to claim its first victim of the day and you have to wish to be in the sporadic 20 seconds it decides to spare your existence and works just fine before it doesn't again.

Calling into the service center always renders to be pointless since it's as if the thing has a life of its own and whenever someone comes to check the issue, it’s back on working as if nothing happened to begin with.

And Theo really expected to never have to experience it firsthand, just hold accountable Corey's word for that time he got stuck for a whole hour with no other company than his own shadow and a phone without battery.

He also definitely didn't expect it to happen when he was trying to smoothly avoid Liam, like the morning routine exercise it ended up being. And even less on the one and only day where he left the house smelling like leftovers of cheese ramen from who knows how many days ago.

But the elevator had different plans.

Because why not make his life a little bit worse for a change.


*


To say the first ten minutes are a complete silent nightmare would be an understatement.


*


“You’ve been avoiding me.”

Theo turns and looks at the barely illuminated profile of Liam, trying to catch some facial expression before noticing that he really doesn’t want to see the face that accompanies the disappointment on that voice and giving up with a scoff.

“What gave me away?,” he mumbles, letting the back of his head hit the elevator wall hard enough to either cause a fainting concussion or a hole big enough for the little bit of sanity he has left to slip away. “Was it the fact that I decided to get into this cursed piece of trash instead of going up the stairs where I knew you'd probably NPC me?”

The elevator suddenly turns more silent than ever and Theo has half the mind to understand that maybe this isn't the best moment to suddenly find his courage and be upfront about the crap he’s been pulling.

The rest of his mind, on the other hand, has been non-stop screaming at him since the beginning of this amazingly shitty experience because they are now caged in the elevator. Together. For who knows how long. And it's all his fault. But also kind of Liam's fault, if he thinks about it really deeply.

And that's where he actually wants to keep his main focus.

Although maybe he can force some of that guilt into Corey, who from all the brother from another mother and best friends talk decided that this was not his call and just bailed, leaving Theo on his own to deal with the calamity his life has become.

“I can't believe you were trying to ghost me.”

Theo could easily point out that he’s been ghosting Liam all along since day one, but the boy is either purposely ignoring that part of the story or doing the exact opposite of Theo and just focusing on the main event of the last couple of weeks that involved lips and a swollen nose.

He could also say that the real unbelievable thing here is the case of Liam sprinting through the hall and then willingly jumping into the death trap they call an elevator just to be caged inside with Theo, from all people, when they could easily talk about this in any other moment.

Or not, because Theo wouldn’t have allowed that to happen so maybe that demonstration of sick Indiana Jones skills wasn’t so unbelievable after all.

“Is it because I punched you?”

Theo turns his face to look at Liam, who seems stuck again in that setting of just intently looking back at him with no shame, fortunately without the vomiting urges this time.

Or at least, that’s what Theo vehemently hopes.

“... maybe because I kissed you?”

It’s funny how six words, especially highlighting the last three, makes Theo be the one with sudden nausea instead. This is surely what people mean by lovesick then.

Butterflies? Yeah, sure.

More like wild pigeons trying to escape.

“Oh, don't flatter yourself,” he mumbles and finally looks away, instead intently fixing his gaze at the door that’s impeding his escape and keeping him captured against his will. Maybe this is the time he will discover he has some amazing superpowers and open the door.

Or maybe not.

With a huff, Theo slides down to the floor and who even cares at this point if it’s clean or not. They could be trapped inside this can of sardines for who knows how long, and Theo needs to save up energy to sprint away once they get rescued.

“A little kiss wouldn’t scare me away, Liam.”

It would.

Actually, it did.

But Liam can live without that tidbit of unnecessary information.

“Are you sure?,” Liam asks, sitting on the floor as well, close enough to have their shoulders brush.

And if he’s honest, Theo knows that in reality there’s no challenge in those words. Liam is not trying to get the best of him and make him react to what he just said. He’s just trying to understand in that puppy brain of his why Theo is efficiently pulling a Houdini time and time again. Maybe even do some small talk to kill the tedious time inside their rent included prison.

But on Theo’s head, that’s not what’s happening.

So he leans closer, ready to kiss Liam’s cheek in some sort of weird proving gesture that he’s not this scaredy cat of each and every PDA possible on the planet, just in time for Liam’s face to turn and look in the precise moment it shouldn’t.

The kiss lands on the corner of Liam’s mouth and Theo reels back as quick as possible, blinking in a mix of a daze and shock.

Probably more dazed than he’d like to admit.

“I--,” he mumbles, trying to avoid thinking over and over about where his lips landed and how moving a couple of inches closer would have felt, “I wanted to kiss your cheek, I wasn’t expecting for you to turn around and--”

This time it’s not the corner, with the scruff of a growing beard, but the full softness of Liam's lip pressing against his. It's not rough, both pair of lips pressed against each other tentatively but not skittish. Just real and there. Still demanding for something.

Maybe an answer.

And Theo doesn't waste any more time before kissing him back.


*


Theo isn’t sure how he got to this point.

He just knows that a couple of minutes ago he was facing the elevator door, and now he’s facing his one and only problem.

Very intently, may he add.


*


Somewhere along the way the tentative pressure of lips turns into something a bit more needy, if he has to sum up in one word how Liam is intently pressing against his body and trying to fuse him with the elevator wall, and a touch more brutal than anticipated, because that’s the only word he can use to describe the bites he’s been giving to Liam’s lips, jaw and neck without calling it softcore cannibalism.

But what’s more surprising, is that the vertigo at the pit of his stomach, the one that turned on all the warning signs and made his skin crawl with the need to flee, is now a welcoming warmth in the middle of his chest.

Or maybe that’s Liam’s hand.

Theo’s mind is still lost in between bite number three and number six on Liam’s plump lips, in the heavy chest pressed against his own and the elaborated breaths mixing in the air.

So who really knows, right?

Not him, that’s for sure.


*


To be really honest, Theo thinks that there isn’t much to think of besides how to keep kissing Liam and not faint by the lack of air.


*

 

It's thirty minutes later when they get rescued.

If it could even be called that.


*


“Nice to know it only took a malfunctioning elevator and lack of signal on both your phones to end months of pining,” comes Corey’s voice after the wrenching sound of metal that made Theo think that at least he got to experience his last moments alive kissing Liam before dying in the process of the elevator reaching its creator down in hell.

“Now please, would you dress properly and get out of there? You're embarrassing me in front of the firemen.”

First of all, they are dressed. Either by Theo’s luck or distress.

And second, Theo knows there’s no way Corey is embarrassed at all. In fact, by that badly hidden note of delight in his voice, he knows that his best friend is now enjoying all of this a bit.

And that just to be modest, because a bit doesn’t cover it.

Having the blast of his life at Theo’s expenses on the other hand.

Accuracy at its best.


*


Liam’s the first to pull away, hastily and embarrassed, because he’s the one keeping Theo very secured in place, right in between his arms and over his lips where he wanted him.

Theo will never say how not okay he is with the new gained space between them.

 

*


The noisy grunt of disapproval that comes out of him doesn’t count.


*


It just takes a couple of seconds to decide, in between dying laughs in the background, a shame that he isn’t sure he really owns and a deep rooted blush in his face that will last for all eternity, that he has been seriously missing in the last few months.

And just one second more to decide to just follow Liam towards his apartment down the hall.


*


“Theo,” Liam moans in between kisses, hands gripping tightly and without any effort on Theo's ass, because clearly Theo is making all the right moves now for him to get such a positive response. So he ruts down ready to hear more of those precious sounds Liam is making and---

“Theo, wait.”

That's exactly the opposite of whatever Theo expected to come out of Liam's mouth.

At least not now, with them on Liam’s bed and Theo straddling Liam’s lap shamelessly. Or any time soon, if they recap on the months that Theo has been trying to put a stop to a thing that everyone tried to yoda his ass into happening and he refused for the sake of, well. He doesn’t even remember for the sake of what. But it happened, much to his regret.

Stopping because consensual before anything, Theo lets his head fall over Liam's shoulder, trying to bring back to his lungs the so much needed air that's been lacking since they first locked lips. Clearing his throat, that feels thick,

“What?,” his voice is hoarse and it's almost impossible for his tongue to not dart out and lick his own lips, that feel pretty raw and somehow, against any logic, with a not so faint taste of Liam over them.

“What is this?,” replies Liam with the same croaky voice near Theo's ear that would undoubtedly give him a pleasurable shiver down his spine if it wasn't for the full panic occupying the spot.

“What is what?,” Theo replies back and okay, yes, playing dumb isn't exactly his best role but it's not his fault he's thrown off. Who would throw a question like that in such a moment?

“This,” Liam replies back as easy as taking a breath. “You said you don't do emotions and I know I said I could like us both but I need to know--”

The panic is settling heavy in his bones and Theo knows this is the moment where he should flee and never look back because what even is happening now.

But he also knows that that’s not what he wants right now.

Not anymore.

“Forget what I said,” Theo mumbles, turning his head enough to press his forehead on Liam’s jaw and keep himself tucked into the small safe place that’s Liam’s neck curve, letting the uneasiness melt with the warm smell that’s purely Liam’s for as long as possible.

“What?”

Or until that question.

A sigh breaks out of him, deep and very drama queen like as Corey likes to call them, but it’s not like Theo can help himself. He gets it, okay? The attempt of drawing Liam away had been incredibly specific and straight to the point, in a sharply lethal way, just to get this exact same reaction. He knows that maybe straddling someone’s lap while the same said someone does a uncertified tracheotomy with his tongue might be a little bit confusing after that.

But that was months ago.

Liam might be a little bit hard on the uptake, as he demonstrated in each and every class project they had together, but this is stretching that too far.

“What I said,” Theo growls between teeth, “that's now in your brain and depriving me of my needed kisses,” he nips at Liam’s jaw not as soft and cutesy, more like intently trying to call his full attention, “forget it.”

And maybe that’s the problem.

That he tried to call his full attention.

“Your needed kisses?,” Liam chuckles, forgetting that Theo is so close to his aorta that he could easily munch it away.

“I said what I said.”

And Theo knows, okay? There’s no room for him to act all high and mighty when he just basically whined about not getting kissed two seconds ago. All his credibility has gone down the drain and who even was that guy that kept crossing roads just to avoid Liam’s insistent ass? Who knows him? All that’s left is this needy boy that will get mocked endlessly when Corey finds out.

If Corey’s finds out, because he can still attempt to keep his dignity intact and pretend that none of that happened.

“Now get on going.”

Or not.

Liam snorts but this time there’s no mock, no joke, nothing except the new pressure of lips on his own and the now new caress of thumbs on his lower back, drawing small circles that not only are sort of hypnotizing him but also making him feel secure. Wanted.

And maybe being vocally needy is not such a bad thing after all.


*


At some point, he knows he will get used to both the feeling and the sight of raw lips and the urge to dive in and keep devouring Liam’s more.

But today is not that day.


*


“Is it okay if we cuddle?”

The I’m not sure if I’m trying to eat your face or express how much I’m into you session of make out has run thin for a couple of seconds enough to make air give a tour in their lungs once again and let the tingling from their lips subdue a little bit.

And, he knows Liam is a little slow on the uptake, but they have been cuddling.

They are actually cuddling.

No matter how many twists on the words he attempts on giving to it or trick to the eye explanation he uses, laying on his back with Liam halfway climbing on top of him with a leg hooked over Theo’s hips is without any doubt cuddling.

“Yeah, sure,” Theo replies doubtfully because maybe this is a trap of some sorts and he just walked right into it.

But Liam just hums happily and tries to get even closer, as if fusing was an option for mere human beings, and this time Theo’s the one who can’t help but chuckle because besides Liam’s tip of his nose tickling his under jaw lightly, this all is like a war flashback from his fatidic but not really fever night.

The same bed with the same covers.

With the same boy pulling exactly the same octopus mimic than before.

Thankfully missing Woofpert’s barks of still haven’t learned how to channel the void of my existence into something less noisy step.

And the near death experience stuffy nose.

Maybe, there’s a god up there after all.


*


With Liam asleep, Theo can admit to himself that the cuddling is exactly as weird as the first time.

And by that, he means not at all.


*


If life has left him with a valuable piece of knowledge it’s that one isolated and unique situation can be nothing more than an incident.

If it happens two times, then it’s more of a coincidence.

Three, well. Three is definitely a pattern.

But four?

There’s no running away from that, even if you try with all your might to evade that gorgeous situation with blue eyes and dirty blond hair. There’s no escape. You’ll end up right in the place where life wants you to be.

Because four is destiny.

And until you fulfill it, life can be insufferable like that.