I’m seeing someone.
The words keep playing over and over in Liam’s head, like a record of his stupidest moment. It won’t stop. He keeps picturing Mason’s surprised face, the way he moved closer with interest, and asked for details about Liam’s surprise significant other.
I’m seeing someone.
Liam groans and buries his face in his pillow so that he doesn’t wake up his roommate. He knows the words came out of his own mouth but even he has a hard time grasping that he said something so stupid. Even worse is that he continued the lie, made up things about the person he’s dating, how hot they are, how funny—in an understated, dry kind of way. He listed his ideal person as though he was actually dating them.
The problem here is that Liam is not, in fact, seeing anyone. At all.
To be brutally honest, he hasn’t seen anyone since his junior year of high school three years ago. Now, he’s halfway through his freshman year of college and he is still embarrassingly, depressingly, hopelessly single. But, for some fucking reason, he’s decided to tell the small group of friends he’s made on campus that he’s not. Now, he’s expected to bring this special -and completely non-existent- person to a party this weekend.
Liam could just pretend he’s sick, it’s winter in Vermont and he’s a California kid all the way to the pits of his soul, but he’s evaded every party thrown this semester so far. If he skips out on this one he risks the chance of never getting an invite again. And how sad would that be? To go through college without ever attending a party?
Liam’s phone buzzes on his bedside table, vibrating loudly against the false wooden top. He fumbles for it blindly and drags it beneath his blanket to see who has the audacity to text him so fucking late.
“Fuck,” he grumbles when the screen blinds him in the enclosed darkness. Squinting, he swipes down the brightness before pulling open his text messages.
Received 1:14 I rewrote the last page of our report. Let’s meet tomorrow morning to go over it before class.
Of course, it’s from his Chemistry partner.
Liam rolls his eyes. He’d told Theo several times that the report was fine but that asshole just does not listen. It’s not even a little surprising that it bothered Theo enough to rewrite it the night before the presentation is due.
Liam drops the phone on the floor and ignores it. Now, not only does Liam have to find some fake significant other, but he also has to memorize completely new information thanks to Theo. He shoves his face back into his pillow and just barely bites back the urge to scream. He feels like someone should have mentioned just how rough college was going to be before he applied.
Morning comes entirely too soon in the form of some asshole knocking on his dorm door. Liam knows who the asshole is. How could he not when there are several angry text messages and two missed calls from him on his dying phone. Liam flips the door off even though Theo can’t see it and stays where he is. He’s warm and comfortable in his bed where he doesn’t have to deal with annoying lab partners or finding fake dates. The real world can leave him alone today, maybe even forever.
“Dunbar,” Theo’s irritated voice crawls through the cracks in the door like ants. “Open this fucking door. Now.”
A heavy shoe smacks against the side of Liam’s bed, just barely missing him.“Yes,” his roommate grumbles from his cave of blankets and pillows on the other side of the room.“Before I kill you and then your annoying boyfriend.”
Liam pushes the blankets off his head and throws the shoe back at his roommate. There’s a muted thump as it hits a mountain of pillows and then rolls onto the floor.
“Fuck off, he’s not my--” Liam cuts himself off, mouth snapping shut so quickly his nips his own lip.
A million little thoughts tumble through his brain all at once. He stumbles from his bed, legs tangled in his sheets almost sending him crashing to the floor as he tries to hurry to the door. When he gets there he’s half breathless and leaning hard against the frame as he yanks open the door, “Theo!”
Theo’s eyes drag over Liam’s sloppy appearance starting with his messy hair and ending at his feet where one sock has gone suspiciously missing in the night. He looks unimpressed by Liam’s entire existence as he stands in the hallway looking perfectly put together despite the hellishly early hour. “You were still in bed.”
“Yeah,” Liam says, “obviously.”
“I know you saw my text last night and all the ones I sent this morning. Your read receipts are still on.”
“It’s not even eight yet, Theo. Sane people are still sleeping,” Liam tells him exasperatedly. “How was I supposed to know you would be here this early.”
The look Theo gives him is an answer all on its own. They both knew Theo was going to be here by 7:30. It’s who he is as a person. Unfortunately.
“That’s unimportant, anyway,” Liam says, waving it away with a hand. He glances over his shoulder at the dark hole that is his dorm room and then steps out into the hallway and closes the door. He turns back to Theo and stares at him with wide eyes. “I need your help with something.”
“No?” Liam frowns. “You don’t even know what I was going to ask you yet.”
Theo shrugs and nods at Liam’s face. “You have a manic look in your eyes. I’ve seen it before. Instinct and history both say not to trust it.”
“Ignore your instincts.”
Theo’s eyes narrow at him, his arms crossing over his chest. “That’s how people die.”
“You’re not going to die—well, you will, one day, obviously, but not from helping me,” Liam says in a rush. “I’ll even pay you for your help. It’s a small favor, really.”
Liam watches as Theo’s fingers tap a quick beat against his biceps consideringly. “How much?”
“I… I don’t know,” Liam thinks it over but he doesn’t know how much pretending to be his boyfriend for a night is worth. He frowns down at himself. It’s probably a lot though. He’s been told he’s a handful before by past significant others.
“What do you want?” Theo finally asks, a long-suffering sigh escaping with the words. His shoulder have slumped slightly, like Liam’s very presence is exhausting him.
“Be my boyfriend” Liam tells him, “just for a night.”
“No,” Theo says again, quick and ruthless. His hands cup Liam’s shoulders so that he can shove Liam through the door back into his dorm room. “You have ten minutes to get dressed and come downstairs or I’m leaving you here and taking your name off this final project.”
The door shuts in Liam’s face before he can come up with a response and he’s left staring at it in the dark of his room.
When Liam finally makes it downstairs, backpack swinging dangerously off one shoulder, Theo is still there. Liam lets out a relieved sigh and slows his run to a walk as he pushes open the glass doors to his dormitory and steps outside into the cold December air.
Theo is perched atop the stone railing to the stairs, hands shoved in his coat and boots thudding against the side in an unknown beat. He looks tired in the soft blue light of morning. Liam wonders when he actually went to sleep last night—if he went to sleep last night.
Liam’s shoes scuff loudly against the concrete. “Am I on time?” he asks when Theo looks down at him.
They both know that he’s not, but Theo is still here, waiting, even though he said he wouldn’t be.
Liam breaths out a quiet laugh. “Is that the only answer you’re giving today? Will there be a variation at some point?”
“Why do you need a boyfriend?” Theo asks instead of answering Liam. He hops off the railing and stretches.
Liam listens to the muted pops of his bones and says, “I don’t need a boyfriend per se, just someone to be my pretend date.”
Theo rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I get that. I’m asking why you need one.”
Liam shrugs awkwardly. “I kind of told some friends that I was seeing someone and I am obviously not.”
“Obviously,” he mutters.
“So?” Liam asks hopefully. “Will you do it? I don’t have much money but I can give you 75. That’s a fair price right? You’re just pretending to be interested in me for a few hours.”
Theo stares at him for a long moment, but he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he starts down the sidewalk, expertly dodging other sleep-deprived students as he goes. Liam sighs but hurries after him until they fall into step. He can tell that Theo is thinking, months of being his lab partner has given him some clues to Theo’s minute expressions. Like the slope of his brow and the tense set of his jaw.
Liam walks next to him quietly, teeth worrying at the skin of his cheek. He hadn’t given himself much time—or any at all—to think this idea over. Maybe he should have. Theo is his partner for class and yeah class is almost over for the semester but…
Liam doesn’t want the remaining two weeks to be awkward. He doesn’t want to lose the tentative friendship between them, because no matter what Theo thinks, Liam considers him a friend. For all his assholish tendencies, Theo isn’t a bad person. He’s smart and studious and he always takes the time to explain the more complex parts of chemistry to Liam. Liam doesn’t want to lose that just because he’s too embarrassed to admit he’s depressingly single.
“Look,” he starts, words catching in his throat as he resolves himself to skipping the party or admitting to his lie.
Liam blinks. “Fine?”
Theo glances over at him and then away again. “I’ll do it.”
“Seriously?” Liam is surprised. He’d thought Theo was going to say no again. Who wants to pretend to be someone’s boyfriend? For 75 dollars? Liam would never.
Rolling his eyes, Theo hooks his finger into Liam’s backpack strap and tugs him towards the cafe door. “If you keep looking at me like that it’s going to be no .”
Liam memorizes the new information for their report with Theo’s help and a lot of espressos. They don’t have time between finals and classes and the general rush of December to come up with a backstory for their relationship. So, they stick with an almost truth. It’s a recent development. They met in class. They got to know each other through their chem project. The relationship just sort of… happened.
It’s perfect as far as lies go. It gives Liam an adequate enough reason to say they broke up later on when the spring semester starts. They won't have any classes together, they’ll be too busy studying and doing assignments. They’ll drift apart and then Liam can probably put some actual effort into finding someone who is interested in him, instead of paying Theo to pretend.
The party is an end of semester bash—one last hurrah to them all making it through dead week still alive and mostly sane. It’s held where all the biggest parties on campus are held, Eichen House.
Liam hates the party from the moment he steps onto Greek Row Dr. There are cars littered up and down the street, taking every spare space and filling it. Students are everywhere too, laughing and drinking as they merge into bigger groups all heading to Eichen. Liam wants to turn back around and go to his dorm.
“Keep walking,” Theo says and pushes him down the sidewalk, hands weights on Liam’s shoulders anchoring him. “We’re almost there.”
“Yeah, I know, that’s why I want to turn back,” Liam says as nerves begin to twist and tumble in his stomach.
“Too late,” Theo says, leaning into his back and muttering in his ear. “We’re almost there and you told your friends you would show. Besides, you owe me 75 dollars and I’m not letting you get out of paying me.”
Liam rolls his eyes. “You don’t even want to go to this party.”
Theo’s hands tighten on Liam’s shoulder minutely. “How do you know?”
I know you. Liam doesn’t say it, but he thinks it. He says, “You’re an antisocial asshole.”
Theo huffs. “Shut up.” He lets Liam go and Liam stumbles several steps but manages to stay upright.
Liam doesn’t let himself think about how his shoulders feel oddly cold without Theo’s hands gripping them tight.
“Dude!” Mason says after Liam and Theo have completed two circuits of the downstairs. He bumps into Liam and crooks an arm around his neck to tug him closer. “You came!”
Liam tries to struggle out of Mason’s hold and Mason lets him go with a laugh. “Last party of the year. Had to.”
Mason’s cheeks are flushed with alcohol, eyes bright in the strobe lights hanging from the ceiling. “So,” he says excitedly, “Where’s this mystery lover of yours?”
Liam goes warm, from the lie or from the way that Theo obviously leans into Liam at the question. “Uh, Mase, this is Theo.”
Mason’s mouth parts in surprise. “Liam…” he says and then his fingers are wrapping around Liam’s elbow to pull him away from Theo and into a small crowd of people. “You’re dating Theo Raeken?”
“Uh,” Liam freezes under Mason’s suddenly intense gaze. “Yeah… is that bad?”
“No, Dude. Do you have any idea how many people want to get into that boy's pants?”
Mason whistles, the sound barely carrying over the heavy bass. “A lot—like, a lot, a lot. ”
Liam glances over his shoulder at Theo and bites down on his lip. Yeah. He gets it. Theo’s hot, like really hot with the half-smirk and the finger tattoos. Liam isn’t blind. He knows what Theo looks like, always has, but… He’s never thought about Theo in the context of other people before. He’s only ever seen Theo in class or during their study sessions in the library and dorm. Theo’s always so serious about science, or he's irritatingly sarcastic and abrasive about everything else. Liam’s never stopped to think about how many people would be interested in Theo because the Theo that Liam knows is a huge fucking dork. He wears the ugliest glasses when they’re together, and he gets quietly excited about scientific facts and he owns so much Star Wars merch that he could open his own store.
Theo glances his way and pauses, red solo cup partially raised to his mouth. He arches a brow and Liam feels himself go warm at being caught staring.
Liam jerks his eyes back to Mason and swallows around the sudden lump in his throat. “Lucky me.”
“Yeah,” Mason thumps him on the shoulder. “Lucky you. How did you two even meet?”
“We have chemistry.”
“I bet you do,” Mason says with a lewd waggle of his brows and a high laugh.
Liam shoves him lightly. “You can go now. Be a host. Bug other couples.”
“Fine, I guess I’ll let you go back to your man.”
Liam groans and pushes Mason again in a direction that's away from him. “Go, shoo," Liam says, and then without waiting to see if Mason listens he turns and makes his way back to Theo. He lets himself look again with the excuse of heading towards him. He can see that several people keep glancing over at Theo, obviously appreciating his appearance, but Theo doesn't notice them at all. His fingers tapping out a beat against the two cups he's holding as he waits for Liam.
"Please say one of those are mine," Liam says nodding down at one of the cups, eager to let alcohol wash away his nerves and let him relax enough to actually enjoy this party.
"One of them are yours." Theo holds the cup out to him. "What was that about?”
Liam brings the cup to his lips and wrinkles his nose when he smells it. Tequila. He does not take a drink. “You.”
Theo’s brows raise at him inquiringly. "Why?"
“Because you're Theo Raeken, apparently." Liam frowns. It’s such a stupid question, but he has to ask it. “Are you popular?”
Theo shrugs in a way that’s too nonchalant. “How would I know?”
Liam stares at him hard, takes in the way Theo isn’t meeting his eyes anymore and the way he sips at his drink. “You are,” he says and covers his face with his free hand. “Fuck. You’re super popular. Why would you agree to--” he lowers his voice to a distressed whisper-- “Fake date me? ”
He hears Theo’s soft puff of laughter. “Liam—”
“Everyone is going to know this is fake,” Liam tells him, hand dropping from his face to stare at Theo balefully.
Theo’s eyes roll. “No one is going to know.”
“Because,” Liam stresses, “You’re too hot.”
Theo’s mouth opens, closes and then he reaches for Liam’s drink and takes it. “No more liquor for you.”
Liam tries to snatch it back and gets tequila on his sweater sleeve for his trouble. “I haven't even taken a drink yet.”
Theo drops the drinks onto a random table and hooks his fingers into the hem of Liam’s sleeve-- the same spot dampened by the tequila-- to pull him away from them. “You don't need one, you’re dumb enough as it is. I don’t need you drunk too.”
Liam makes a face at the back of his head as they struggle through the crowd. He doesn’t know where Theo is leading him but he hopes it’s somewhere with less grinding bodies and sweat.
They’re halfway to the kitchen when someone calls out Theo’s name.
Theo pauses, head cocking to the side as he looks for the person.
A thin guy, taller than Liam, but not by much slips free of the crowd and joins them. “You’re actually here,” he laughs. “I thought Mason was seeing shit when he told me. You never come to these things.”
Liam hopes Theo can feel the smug look he’s directing at the side of Theo’s face. He knew Theo hated parties.
Theo’s fingers pinch at his arm and Liam lets out a startled yelp.
The guy tips his head towards Liam and smiles easily. “I’m Corey, you must be Liam. I have heard so much about you.”
“From Mason?” Liam asks and sees the way that Theo goes tense from the corner of his eye.
Corey laughs. “From Theo. Seriously, thank you for finally agreeing to go out with him. If I had to listen to him whine about you one more time I was going to throw him off the math building. Twice.”
Liam feels like his brain is lagging, his thoughts moving too slow to keep up with the conversation. Does Theo talk about him? “What?”
Corey bobs his head. “Dude, that first study session you two had? He came straight back to the dorm and--”
“Mason is being hit on by Brett,” Theo says dryly, cutting Corey off before he can finish his sentence.
Liam watches as Corey’s eyes go wide before Liam is once again being dragged off by Theo away from secrets Liam would really like to know. Liam stumbles as he tries to keep up, and Theo’s hold curls around his wrist instead of his sleeve like a warm brand.
“I didn’t whine about you,” Theo says stiffly as he guides them away from the kitchen and down a slightly less crowded hallway. They come across a set of stairs and without pause Theo starts up them putting more and more distance between them and the party raging on.
Liam feels like he’s fallen into an alternate universe. The last several minutes feeling way too real and yet entirely fake.
“Corey would not agree,” Liam says slowly, still feeling caught off guard.
“I mean…” Liam says and can feel his smile curling the edges of his mouth when Theo glances back at him. “You could but Mason might fight you.”
Theo gives a short, almost reluctant laugh. “Shut up, Liam.”
“If I do, will you tell me what you did after our first study session?”
Liam rolls his eyes. There’s that word again. “Come on.”
Theo glances over his shoulder at Liam and then cuts his eyes back to the front as they step off the stairs onto a landing. “I tried to drop the class.”
“What?” Liam croaks, his heart stuttering in his chest. “Why?”
“Because,” Theo says and he sounds exhausted as they pass rows of doors. “You chew on your pencils too much. It was distracting and I have a perfect grade point average. It would be embarrassing if it dropped a point just because I couldn’t stop staring at your mouth long enough to focus.”
“My… mouth,” Liam's face goes impossibly hot when he realizes what Theo is saying. “Seriously?”
Theo doesn’t answer him, but Liam can see that the tips of his ears are red.
“You like me.”
“I hate you,” Theo grumbles, finally coming to a stop in front of a set of double glass doors. He pushes them open and leads Liam out onto a large balcony.
“Yeah,” Liam says, closing the doors behind them. “Except you don't hate me at all. You think I’m—”
He turns to face Theo.
Theo’s head is tipped back to the sky, his body leaning against the stone railing, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jacket. They aren't dressed to be outside, but Liam isn’t complaining, it’s quiet here. Empty save for them. Liam stares at Theo for a long moment, watching the shift of moonlight across his hair as clouds pass through the sky. The way he looks at ease but there’s nervous tension in the lines of his shoulders and the set of his jaw.
Liam steps closer, his shoes bumping into Theo’s boots. “What about now?”
Theo’s head drops to look at him and Liam elaborates when he looks confused. “You said I was distracting and Corey said you talked about me to him… what about now, though? Do you like me?”
Liam wrinkles his nose. It sounds so juvenile phrased like that. He shoves the embarrassment away and asks, “Do you want to be with me—for real, I mean, not just as a pretend date?”
Liam’s heart is running its own race in his chest as he stares at Theo, waiting for him to say something.
Theo knocks his foot into Liam’s, once, twice, and then he pushes away from the railing. Standing like this, they’re close, chests grazing with every deep breath. Liam swallows heavily, drops his eyes to the hollow of Theo’s neck. He waits for the inevitable No . Theo’s favorite word and tries to steel himself for the hurt he knows will swallow up his lungs and heart. For all of Theo’s assholish tendencies, Liam does actually like him. A lot. Has for a while now despite his best efforts not to.
Liam’s gaze shoots back up to Theo’s face. There’s a soft blush of pink on Theo’s cheek and nose, the cold settling in deeper around them as time crawls further into the night hours.
“Oh,” Liam whispers, body swaying into the warmth rolling from Theo.
Fingers curl into the side of Liam’s sweater and tug, pulling Liam in even closer. “Yeah, oh ,” Theo murmurs and then kisses him. His lips are cold but his mouth is soft and almost hesitant, asking, searching, wanting. Another hand, warm from Theo’s pocket, curls around Liam’s jaw.
Liam falls into the kiss easily, like he’s been waiting for it for years.
When they pull away, Liam’s hand finds Theo’s on his face and he tangles their fingers together. “Come on,” he murmurs and leads Theo back towards the balcony door.
“Where are we going?”
“The party,” Liam says, his serious tone at odds with the way his mouth refuses to stop smiling. “I need to go tell Mason you’re my boyfriend.”
“I think he knows that already,” Theo says with a fond roll of his eyes, still he lets Liam guide him back to the party anyway and hold his hand the entire way.