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ne'er saw true beauty (till this night)

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Even while just sitting on the steps, not having moved for the past half hour, Pat feels his head spin, and spin, and spin. He wonders if he should've just stayed back, locked himself in his room with his mountain of realisations while his friends partied on without him. He wouldn't be drunk that way, sure, but he wouldn't be feeling any better, either. And if he hadn't gone along, there surely would've been a legendary scuffle at the restaurant.

 

That's one thing he did for Pran today, at least. Not that it matters much.

 

With a sigh, Pat grabs the bottle of water, uncaps it hastily, and takes a gulp. He distantly wonders if he should just wait out here the whole night, then realises how dumb that sounds and wipes his weary face.

 

Get it together, moron, resounds the chide in his own head, just as tired, you can leave it at his door, later.

 

On instinct, he grabs for his phone—to check Instagram for the millionth time that night—but he turns the thing off instead. He doesn't need reminders that Pran's having a good time. He especially doesn't need reminders that Pran's having a good time with his friends. His real friends.

 

In his hands, he holds the second thing he did for Pran today: a replacement tube of condensed milk. A bright light shines over him, and when he looks up, he sees a bike pull up with two familiar figures in tow.

 

Pran. And Wai.

 

Pat shakes his head. Of course.

 

The two step off, at the tail-end of some faraway conversation of their own. Pat gets up too, wipes the dirt off his clothes, and stares.

 

Then he sees it, Pran's expression going tight and guarded in recognition. It hurts, just as it hurt before. Just as much as when Pran told him just how much his mom likes Wai. Just as much as when he sweetly talked over the phone. Just as much as when he played their song to someone else.

 

Pat wants to be mad, but he's just tired.

 

Quietly, he beckons, “Come here.”

 

Pran does so, hesitant, and pushes his approaching friend back. “No, I'll talk to him.”

 

Pat shakes his head, again. If he wanted to fight Wai, he would've done it earlier. He would've had a better chance of kicking his ass— and a better excuse to do it, too. He wouldn't have to justify anything.

 

“What the hell do you want?” Pran's asking him, looking back briefly in concern. Pat knows, for a fact, that Pran's just keeping up appearances—carrying on their friends' and departments' petty rivalries even in the dead of the night—but he still questions it. Wonders just how much of the snark and the anger Pran really means. If that I hate you was true, or not. “Why, is it so hard to accept defeat?”

 

Pat couldn't give less of a shit about losing the contest if he tried. What he does give a shit about is Pran introducing his own winning song as theirs, calling Pat his friend for the first, probably only time, and then directing the lyrics at Wai, of all people. It's not hard to accept that he lost the competition, but it is hard to accept that maybe he's lost Pran, too.

 

And Pat wants to be mad at that, he really does. He wants to say ugly things, make fun of their— his song, to rile Pran up to get a reaction, any reaction. Just a real one, not one manufactured for their little pretense. He wants to wave his hands in the air at Wai, all drunk and silly, get his attention, and yell for him to hear: We're friends, too, actually. Didn't you know?

 

He can't do any of it. He's either had too much to drink, or too little, because he can't muster up the energy to fight. He's just tired.

 

Instead, he steps forward, and holds out the bag to Pran. “Here.”

 

Pran frowns, clearly not expecting him to do that, of all things. He walks closer, and then whispers loud enough for only Pat to hear, “What are you doing?”

 

“I got this for you,” Pat says, decidedly not a whisper, instead of answering the question. When Pran just looks at him with his brows furrowed, he puts on his best smile—like he would've some days ago before this little crisis of his.

 

He's not doing anything. He's just giving Pran a gift, like friends do. That's not a crime, is it? If he doesn't get to say that they're friends, then he's going to show that they're friends. And if Wai's here to witness it, that's just even better. Pran can't cover that up.

 

“Take it.”

 

“Pat, you— God,” Pran starts, and just ends with an exasperated sigh that makes Pat smile even more. There's the Pran he knows, just a little.

 

“Come on,” he nudges the bag forward, and sways on his feet as he does. The headache comes in waves. “You don't wanna cause a scene in front of your dear pal here, do you?”

 

Pran blinks, and in that instant he closes off almost entirely. Pat knows then that he hit a nerve, one that Pran can't do anything about because of his own stupid rules, because they have a script to stick to, because they're in public.

 

Pran looks mad when he plucks the package out of Pat's palm, and that's good enough. He can be mad for the both of them.

 

That's when Wai decides to make himself known again, one hand on his hip as he stands next to Pran, all defensive. As if Pat's gonna hurt Pran, of all people. Dumbass. “What's going on?”

 

“N—nothing,” Pran replies. Pat watches him clutch the bag tightly from the top, in a way no one could peer in to see what's inside. “I, uh— I remembered earlier that I really needed some supplies for the bus stop today, so I told Pat to get them for me.”

 

His friend looks like he doesn't buy it entirely, eyes cautiously darting between Pran's concerned face and Pat's smiling one. Just to go along, let Wai believe it, Pat steps back with hands surrendered in the air, and returns to his seat on the stairs.

 

One day, Pran will run out of lies to tell. Pat just wonders when that's gonna be.

 

“Look, just go home, please,” Pran says softly to Wai, “I'll handle it if anything happens.”

 

He takes a sip of water. The bottle's beyond half empty.

 

Wai struggles to say something, and settles on a hand on Pran's shoulder and a, “Be careful, dude.”

 

He takes another sip of water. There's nothing left.

 

“I will. See you tomorrow.”

 

He crushes the empty plastic bottle under his hand, and pretends not to notice the looks he gets as he stares at the broken thing.

 

Soon enough, Wai gets back on his bike and drives away. Pran stands in that spot, watches the trail of dust left behind, and then finally looks down to check the bag.

 

Pat doesn't get any reaction, besides a “thanks” so quiet he almost misses it, as Pran walks past him and to the elevators.

 

With a sigh, Pat grabs the bottle of water and walks towards the nearest trash bin to throw it away. He distantly wonders if he should've just picked the fight he wanted to—gotten mad at Pran, and Wai, and Pran and Wai, like he wanted to—then realises how jealous he sounds and pulls at his hair.

 

Get it together. It sounds like his mom. Get it together. It sounds like his dad. Get it together. It sounds like Pran.

 

He's just about to curse Korn out loud for putting this fucking idea in his head in the first place when he hears it again, the whirring of motor engines from behind him.

 

Wai drives back, shines his bike's lights right on him, and steps off. Pat chucks the bottle in the trash and turns around casually.

 

“You—” Wai says, takes some aggressive steps forward. “What was that?”

 

“Hm?” he tries for a smile, though it doesn't come as naturally as before. It barely masks just how much he wants to beat the shit out of this guy right now. The only thing stopping him, really, is the memory of Pran's disappointed face from behind their string telephone. He doesn't want to see it again.

 

“What you gave Pran,” says Wai, “That wasn't supplies, was it?”

 

“I don't remember,” he says back. Shoves his hands in his pockets to stop them from shaking. “I'm really drunk, you know.”

 

“Of fucking course,” Wai scoffs, “Listen, if you're trying something funny, I swear to God—”

 

“Chill,” Pat butts in. He doesn't need to hear these threats. It's really a waste of time. “I just got him a little thing. If anything looks funny to you tomorrow, I'll give you full permission to kick my ass. Won't even fight back.”

 

Wai just eyes him suspiciously for a solid few seconds. “Why?”

 

Pat tilts his head. Pretends not to understand.

 

“Why do something like that for Pran?” comes the golden question. “You engineering assholes all hate our guts, don't you?”

 

“You tell me,” Pat says, and the accompanying smile this time is bitterly genuine. “Why would you do something nice for someone, Mr. Best Friend?”

 

“That's—” Wai starts, opens and shuts his mouth like a very lost fish, and ends up with nothing to say.

 

“Maybe we all hate your guts because some of you are too dumb to understand simple things,” he continues.

 

With that, Wai's back to glaring at him. “Watch it.”

 

“Whatever,” Pat replies. He wants to go to sleep. He also wants to spend the night on the roof and stare at the city, to turn his brain off for a bit. In any case, he's done talking to this guy. “Think about it, hey. Maybe you'll get to the right answer.”

 

With that, he starts walking off empty-handed towards the dorm building silently. When he turns around, he finds Wai slowly climbing onto his bike again, a strange expression on his face.

 

“Hey,” he calls out.

 

Wai looks up, surprised.

 

“I'm sorry about earlier today.” He's not really. Pat only dragged his friends away because Pran was there, and he didn't want to ruin Pran's night of celebration. He had earned it. “And that other day, too.” That, he's a little apologetic about, if only because it got Pran into trouble alongside his friends for no reason, and Pran had to burn himself up for weeks to save the three. And, a little because Wai didn't entirely deserve that.

 

Pran's friend looks at him like he's waiting for an explanation, but it never comes. Instead of elaborating, Pat goes right back to walking away, and eventually gets to the elevator and back to his room.

 

He looks at the little hanger on Pran's doorknob, the face turned south and sorrowful. Thinks about why, thinks if it's him, for just a second, and stumbles into his own room.

 

He takes a long, long shower. He goes up to the deserted roof for five minutes, staring at the blurry lights and replaying the events of the day in his head. He goes back and keeps his phone switched off, falling into bed with a headache, wondering why he asked Pa for any advice at all.

 

☹          ☹          ☹

 

Him and Pran don't see each other until a few days later. Sure, Pat notices him across their shared lecture hall, and the cafeteria, and their dorm building, and all those other places they usually find each other, but he doesn't approach. He hangs back, watches as Pran leads his usual life with the friends he's supposed to have, and feels the memory of Pran's anger that night burn his eyes.

 

Which is why, it takes him by surprise when Pran suddenly sits in the unoccupied seat across him right now, while he's in the middle of shoving wontons down his throat.

 

“Wh—” he starts to say, but promptly coughs and nearly chokes on the food still in his mouth. By the time he's done gulping down water and looking up at the newcomer again, Pran's already giving him a weird look.

 

“You're acting like I'm a ghost,” he points out. “You good?”

 

“Yep,” Pat says, though he's very much not good. His stomach's doing that thing again—those flips whenever Pran's around. It's nothing new, sure, but it's definitely a lot more noticeable now. Pat can't believe it took him so long to realise something so obvious.

 

Seemingly satisfied with the response, Pran gets back to comparing his chopstick lengths. While he does, Pat takes a sneaky glance at their surroundings. There's a very empty seat on a very empty table, just next to theirs. Plenty of people still sitting on the other chairs, though.

 

Pran gets handed his own bowl of food, and he digs in. For a bit, they just eat in silence.

 

“Wow. You're not eating like an animal, today,” Pran comments eventually, with a smirk.

 

People who like you can't be themselves around you, echoes Pa's voice, like the world's most annoying reminder. Yes, he knows he's been acting weird around Pran. Yes, he knows it's because he likes Pran. Yes, he can't do anything about it. The voice of Pa in his head should take a break, sometime, really. He knows.

 

“Yet you're still eating like a damn snail,” Pat retorts, because that's still something he can do. “So who's winning, exactly?”

 

Oi,” Pran huffs, and kicks him under the table. It sends chills up Pat's leg for the completely wrong reasons, but he grins anyway.

 

That's when Pran notices something behind Pat and freezes. Instantly, he sits up straight and goes back to eating.

 

“Not to concern you,” he starts, barely a whisper, “but the chef's giving you a really confusing look, right now.”

 

Pat blinks, tries to think of possible reasons for it. Did he forget to pay, or something? Is he accidentally eating someone else's order? Or is it because he's sitting with—

 

Then it hits him, the real reason—that little talk Pat had shared with the man last time he was here.

 

He can't help the groan of frustration that he lets out at remembering that conversation. Seriously, it's like the universe just doesn't want to let him forget his situation. He knows! He really, really does! He doesn't need more reminders, especially in front of Pran!

 

Pran, who's now looking at him with bewilderment. “What did you do?”

 

“I didn't do anything,” Pat blurts out, offended. “I just told him last time that I'd tell him when I start dating Ink, and, well.”

 

Now he's realised he doesn't even like Ink. Yay.

 

“Oh,” Pran says. Takes an almost deliberately slow sip of his soup. “So now he thinks you're cheating on her.”

 

Pat snorts. “I'd have to be dating her first to do that.”

 

“You should,” Pran tells him, “Date her, I mean. Not cheat on her.”

 

But I don't want to date her, Pat thinks, and says instead, “But I can't date her.”

 

Pran raises an eyebrow.

 

“I asked her out, during Freshy,” says Pat, “She said no.”

 

“Oh,” Pran says again, looking oddly surprised. As if he can't comprehend the idea of Pat not landing a girlfriend. “That sucks. I'm sorry.”

 

“It's fine,” Pat shrugs. It had honestly gone better than his half-dazed brain had expected back then, still in the fresh fumes of his newfound realisation. The worst case would actually have been if Ink had accepted. Actually, maybe he could mention that, just casually— “I kinda realised I don't actually like her like that.”

 

Pran coughs mid-bite, recovering quickly. “You don't?”

 

“Nah.”

 

“Huh,” Pran says, going eerily silent for a bit. Probably remembering how just a week ago Pat had proudly declared, next to Pran on his bed, that he does like Ink. That he's going to ask her out. The sudden change would confuse him, too. “You sure that's not just your bruised ego speaking?”

 

Seriously. Believe me,” Pat whines. He had walked into that confession with an already bruised ego. It couldn't possibly get worse. “I didn't feel bad at all when she said no. You know, she even told me my confession sounded like I'm just getting something off my chest.”

 

“Getting something off your chest,” Pran repeats, very slowly. “Weird wording.”

 

“Right?” Pat says, and feels the urge to throw in what he’s almost certain her words meant. He can tell Pran about it, right? For no particular reason. Not at all. “I guess she thinks I like someone else, and just confessed to her to get those feelings for that someone else out.”

 

All the reaction he gets from Pran is him looking away and blinking, like he’s trying to compute the sentence he just heard. “I’m so confused.”

 

“Me too,” Pat sighs. He’s only been aware for less than a week, and it’s already drained all the energy out of him. “This feelings shit sucks.”

 

“Yeah,” Pran swallows. Pushes back his now empty bowl. “Sounds like it.”

 

The pair take off towards their dormitory after they're done, falling into idle chit-chat and catching up on what they’ve both been up to. Normally, Pat would already know, because he would’ve been poking his nose into Pran’s business himself, but he hasn’t been doing it recently. He regrets it a little now.

 

Somehow, they wind up back at the topic of Pat's failed confession attempt. As if he hasn't been through enough.

 

“What now, Mr. Heartbroken?” Pran asks him under the street lights, “Gonna go ask out this hypothetical someone else Ink mentioned?”

 

Pat was going to. If Wai hadn't been there, that day, he would've. Well, he was still drunk, so there would've been some sort of an attempt, at least. Actually, maybe it's good he didn't get the chance after all. It really couldn't have gone well.

 

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” he asks back, wiggling his eyebrows excessively.

 

Pran grimaces, shoves him away. “I could not care less, Pat. I just wanna not get involved in it this time, thanks.”

 

But you’re literally the someone else in the scenario, he immediately thinks, and nearly smacks his own face. Ugh. “Fine. I won’t barge into your room and ask questions this time.”

 

“Good.”

 

“But I'll still barge in for other things—”

 

Pran kicks his leg so hard he has to partially limp into the elevator and up to their floor. He doesn't even look sorry about it. Jackass.

 

While Pat battles his room's lock to get it to open, he can sense Pran hovering at his own entrance, for some reason. He's just about to throw some half-assed quip into the air when he turns around and catches the look on Pran's face.

 

Conflicted.

 

He frowns. “What is it?”

 

Pran looks away quickly, fiddling with the doorknob. “Wai told me you apologized to him.” 

 

He told you that? Pat nearly asks, but he shouldn't be surprised, at this point. That doesn't stop the sinking feeling in his heart. “I did.”

 

Pran doesn't look him in the eye when he asks, “Why?”

 

“I was drunk,” he says, which isn't a lie. He wouldn't have done that sober, that's for sure.

 

“Right,” Pran mutters, adds after a pause, “I think he's getting suspicious.”

 

Pat sighs. So much for getting into Pran's good graces with kind actions, and all. “Sorry.”

 

“I didn't mean—” he tries. Stops. “Wai was kinda—” he tries again. Groans. “Argh, whatever. I'll deal with it. Night.”

 

With that, Pran is gone just as quickly as he appeared earlier, not even giving Pat a chance to respond. Or do anything at all.

 

The little face on Pran's door swings as it gets shaken. It's still on the sad side, as it has been since their impromptu sleepover. Pat wonders if he's the one doing something wrong.

 

☹          ☻          ☹

 

The second time Pat has to make his way to the Architecture department, he does so a little more carefully. Sure, it would be nice if Pran dragged him away out of nowhere again, but he doesn't want to push it—especially with how weird they've been lately.

 

He's not here because Pran asked, anyway. This is official business. Mostly. So he can't fuck it up.

 

Pat walks around in complicated circles in the building, going up floors and peeking into rooms to see if he can find the other in any of them. All he sees is a sea of red jackets, but no Pran.

 

Then he pulls out his phone to see if Pran responded to his earlier text. Still nothing.

 

He sends some more.

 

Pat: dude im risking my ass looking for you here

 

Pat: where are youuuu

 

Sent. Delivered. Pat slumps where he stands, idly scrolls through their old chat. They haven't even texted much recently. There's been the usual location updates of their friends, as is necessary, but nothing much else.

 

Pran had reminded him last week that he's going home for the weekend, so Pat didn't have to worry about Wai on Saturday because he was coming along. Pat had typed out have fun, deleted it, then cool dont care, deleted that, too, then when is it gonna be my turn, definitely deleted that, and got so frustrated that he ended up saying nothing at all.

 

Maybe him not getting a reply right now is some kind of karma.

 

Pat gets lost enough in reading their old conversations that he doesn't notice the three familiar figures walking his way, almost as if summoned, until it's far, far too late.

 

“You,” he hears Wai say, in front of him, and his head whips up so concerningly fast he thinks it might sprain. He nearly drops his phone at the unexpected sound.

 

Pran's friends now stand right in his face, glaring him down like predators. Their leader is nowhere in sight.

 

Shit. Pran's going to kill him.

 

Pat straightens his back and blinks a couple times. Keep it cool. No fighting. “Can I help you?”

 

“We should be the ones asking you that,” says Louis, and puts his hands on his hips.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” pipes in Safe. “It's not everyday that one of you Engineering folk end up here, of all places.”

 

Wai speaks up, too, with a smirk. “It's especially not everyday one of them walks our turf while trying not to be seen.”

 

Shit, shit. They noticed, then. Pat had thought that wearing a jacket similar to theirs would help him blend in and hide this time. It was a foolproof plan in his mind. Clearly not.

 

Wai grabs the front of his weak disguise and pulls him forward roughly. Pat's instinct tells him to smack the hand off, yell out a threat, but he doesn't move or speak. Just frowns and hopes nothing violent starts in the next minute. His trip here would end up an entire waste.

 

“Don't start shit,” he warns. There's students and professors and cameras all around them.

 

Wai just keeps looking at him with that infuriatingly smug expression. “I won't. I just have a question.”

 

“What?”

 

“Why are you sneaking around?” he asks, “Are you here for Pran?”

 

Shit, shit, shit. It's only Pat's years and years of experience in pretending that keeps him held together in the moment, as he replies calmly, “I'm looking for him, yeah. I need to deliver something.”

 

“Hm,” Wai says, “Supplies, again?”

 

Pat does not appreciate the knowing tone of that sentence, but he ignores it. “Documents, actually.”

 

At that, Wai looks confused at first, letting go of his clothes, before breaking into another grin. “Sure, documents.

 

There's an inkling of an idea in Pat's head of what Wai might be thinking, but he doesn't want to dwell on it. He pulls out the plastic file from his bag and waves it in front of the other's face. “Yep, documents, without which you three are gonna get suspended.”

 

“Oh, shit. He wasn't kidding,” Louis mumbles under his breath.

 

“My professor needs one of yours to look over it, so he sent me to hand it to Pran,” Pat explains simply. “That's why.”

 

It's not entirely true. His professor had wanted Pran to deliver the papers, but Pat had made up a lousy excuse of heading near the Architect department anyway, so he could take up the chore. He'd gotten the praise of being responsible for his initiative, but he was really just making sure Pran didn't have a repeat of the last time he bumped into Pat's friends alone.

 

And he was hoping he could see Pran's face again, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards today, either.

 

“Oh,” the other three say in unison, even stretching the syllable out exactly the same.

 

Pat sighs. What a bunch of clowns. “You know where he is?”

 

Safe shares a look with the others, and shrugs in response. “No clue. He left a while ago.”

 

“Maybe the library?” Louis suggests. “I remember he was saying something about assignments.”

 

There's a chorus of ah yeah's and nodding heads amongst them.

 

“He's a busy guy, you know,” Wai tells him, “Super responsible. Always does things on time.”

 

What's Wai trying to get at? Pat knows, already. He's seen Pran at work since he could physically see. The guy's a perfectionist through and through. It's endearing most times, annoying some other times. But Pat still likes that about him.

 

Safe's eyes go a little wide, before he's speaking, too. “Oh, yeah! And he's so nice. He did all this to help us out. He didn't have to.”

 

Even that, Pat knows. Pran's kind—too kind. He saved Pa's life. He let Pat follow his trail into the holiday concert. He left bottles of juice at Pat's door and let him stay over, even though he didn't have to. He lost his watch. He lost his old friends and his old school. He lost his pocket money and his shirt. He's probably lost his sanity, too, dealing with Pat. The thought almost makes him laugh.

 

“Great looking, too,” Louis supplies, “Such a nice face.”

 

Pat is well aware. There's a reason he couldn't stop staring at Pran, even before his epiphany. Nice face is a far too simple way of putting Pran's pretty eyes, and his adorable dimples, and his— everything, really. Not just his face, either. Pat remembers staring at a freshly-showered Pran across his home, his own jaws wide open at the sight. It's a miracle he didn't have his awakening right then. To make matters worse, just right before that, Pa had walked in and called them soulmates to his face. Seriously, how did he not know

 

“Sounds like a great guy,” Wai says, breaking his train of thought. “Wouldn't you say?”

 

What the hell is going on, Pat thinks. He feels like he's walked into some alternate dimension. This definitely feels different from throwing punches and kicks, though it does feel similar on a mental level. He shakes his head, mostly to clear his head, and quips back, “Would be even greater if he were here to run this errand.”

 

Wai chuckles, and pulls out his own phone. “I'll call him.”

 

And call Pran he does. And Pran picks up almost instantly. And Pat does not feel jealous about it.

 

Hey, what's up?” Pran says from the other end. It's nice to hear his voice, even if it's not directed at Pat.

 

“There's a situation,” Wai says. Adds nothing else.

 

After a pause, Pran groans. “Wai, please don't tell me you fought those engineer guys again. I really don't have the time or energy today.

 

“Nah, nah, nah. Don't worry,” Wai laughs. Pat crosses his arms and looks away. “There is one engineer guy looking for you, though.”

 

…Who?

 

“Delivery boy,” Wai says simply, with a sly smile. Pat looks back around and squints his eyes. That's his reputation? Really?

 

Huh,” Another pause. “Tell him to meet me at the bus stop.

 

“Got it,” Wai says, “That's all. Wait— send me the guitar tabs, okay?”

 

Pran sighs wearily. “Maybe. Bye.

 

“Bye,” Wai ends the call. Gives Pat a very deliberate look afterwards. “You heard him.”

 

“Yep,” he confirms. Crystal clear. Time to drag his ass to the bus stop, then. Pat puts the file back in his bag, and, without another word, begins to hightail it out of the building, leaving the three behind as if they weren't even there at all. He could convince himself he dreamt up the confrontation in his own time.

 

From behind him, he hears muffled giggles and whispers of dude, you were right, and did you see his face, that smile, and this is some Romeo and Juliet shit, seriously. Pat tries not to think too hard about it.

 

 

 

Pran: Shit.

 

Pran: I had notifs turned off. fuck

 

Pat: and yet the call went through?

 

Pran: because Wai is an impulsive shithead sometimes, and some of his calls are bad news and I have to receive them

 

Pran: And because of you, by the way. You told him to call his friends that day and I didnt see his call and had to be fetched instead

 

Pran: They made fun of me for it for days

 

Pat: wow

 

Pat: sorry i didnt fight your friend unfairly and gave him the chance to get backup

 

Pran: Asshole.

 

Pran: You're on your way?

 

Pat: yea

 

Pran: OK.

 

Pran: Try not to get noticed by anyone else? Please?

 

Pat: too late

 

Pat: every architect related person here is my friend now

 

Pran: Ha

 

Pran: Imagine.

 

Pran: Anyway. Let me know when you reach.

 

Pat: ok mom

 

Pran: I'm getting bubble tea

 

Pran: Which one do you want

 

Pat: brown sugar

 

Pran: Got it

 

Pat: youre the best <3

 

Pran: I know.

 

 

 

Pat finds Pran exactly where expected: leaning against the freshly rebuilt bus stop, holding two drinks. It's bright out with pretty clouds, and Pran looks so ethereal under the shade of the trees and the roof, doing— well, nothing, really, that Pat kind of has to stop in his tracks and admire the sight from afar, unnoticed for now.

 

He knows he's grinning like a lovesick girl in a romcom TV drama. He's been doing it for years, not even aware of it. It's nothing new, and it never gets old. He hopes he doesn't ever have to stop.

 

“Hey,” Pat calls out, when he finally decides to make himself known. Delights in the way Pran looks up in surprise, as he always does.

 

“Hey,” Pran says back, and almost begrudgingly hands him his tea. “Where's my package?”

 

He rummages through his bag and retrieves the file, again. “Here you go, sir.”

 

Pran huffs, accompanied by the smallest of smiles. He takes it out of Pat's hand, and their hands brush for a brief moment. It still sends sparks up Pat's nerves.

 

Sign number one: When you two touch, the physical response will give a hint.

 

A smile creeps onto Pat's face, at the memory of Pa's words. She knows too much for her own good, but maybe that's not the worst thing.

 

When Pat looks up, Pran is already glancing his way, though he quickly looks down again. He opens the file and starts going through the papers, looking focused.

 

Sign number two: Eyes don't lie. Look in the eyes.

 

Oh, so his brain is doing this again. Sure! A reminder of his feelings would be great at exactly this moment. It's not like he's had a chance to forget, or anything.

 

“Thanks for the drink,” he says to Pran. “I'll pay you back.”

 

“It's fine,” Pran absently replies. Doesn't notice Pat smiling even wider.

 

“So, where were you, anyway?” he leans in and asks, “Secret date?”

 

Three: Someone who likes you would want to know if you're taken, or not.

 

Pran makes a face. “I'm not like you. I was napping in my room.”

 

The only logical response is for Pat to stick his tongue out at the accusation, so he does.

 

“What about you?” Pat gets asked back, “I doubt you went all the way there just for this little thing. Were you meeting someone?”

 

Three: Someone who likes you…

 

In his head, Pat stomps the traitorous thoughts blooming at those words. In real life, he just freezes for a bit, before recovering and finding his voice again. “Just my honey, who else?”

 

“I thought I filed the divorce papers,” Pran jokes back, though it's only a whisper. Pat laughs anyway. Turning around, Pran beholds the sight of the structure around them, eyes shining brightly. “We came pretty far, huh.”

 

“Yeah,” Pat breathes out. Just weeks ago, there was nothing here but metaphorical rubble and physical trash. But now, the rebuilt bus stop stands tall and proud, a giant improvement from before. People can finally wait for their buses, again. What an achievement.

 

It's their place, Pat has decided. Something they built together—if Pat conveniently removes their friends from the equation. It's not as if they were the ones who pretended to be married just to get ideas for it. Or the ones who presented their concept and got funding for it. Or the ones who managed to make it work despite the tension and rivalry. That was all them.

 

This is all them, in his heart.

 

“You know, as shitty as it sounds, I'm kind of happy the old one got destroyed,” Pat says, quietly. Bumps their shoulders without any of his usual force. “We got to build this one together.”

 

Pran doesn't move, or flinch, but he does give Pat this look—a dazed kind of expression, that's fragile, almost. It sits unfamiliarly on his face. Pat has only seen it a few times before.

 

Then Pran swallows, and without breaking eye contact, says, with full sincerity, “Me, too. It turned out nice.”

 

If you're not sure, there's the last sign: People who like you can't be themselves around you.

 

Under the roof of their bus stop, Pat lets a stray, miniscule hope take flight.

 

It is not some Romeo and Juliet shit, he remembers telling himself, mere minutes ago on his walk here, because it lacks the essential quality of being mutual.

 

But, now, maybe, maybe

 

Just then, Pat reaches forward and takes a sip of Pran's drink, breaking the moment spectacularly. Pran squawks, drags his cup as far away as he can, and starts trying the same to Pat's drink, all while yelling strings of curses. Pat just holds it up high and at an angle Pran just can't quite reach, ever. There are benefits to ending up the taller of the two.

 

Pat can't think about the possibilities too long, yet, because he'll actually explode, but it's not going to be forever. Maybe he'll tell Pran soon. Maybe he'll finally snap from remembering the look Pran gave Wai during the song and do something insane. Maybe he'll plan a candlelit picnic on the roof and serenade him with an original drum solo. The range of options is endless.

 

He's willing to plan something thoroughly, just this once, because he has to make sure it goes perfectly. And judging by the smiley face on Pran's doorknob that greets him the next day, maybe Pran's willing to go along, too.

 

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