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Until today, Sorey never thought it would be possible to sit at Mikleo’s family’s table and feel so distressingly uncomfortable. He’s been at this table so many times that he has his own designated chair to compensate, but never has he felt so targeted under the gaze of his near-parents. It’s deathly silent; nobody can do as much as pretend the elephant in the room doesn’t exist.

“Mikleo,” he whispers to his best friend, the most normally-acting person in the room. “Mikleo, do something.”

Mikleo stares intently into his mashed potatoes, the only thing on his plate he hasn’t stress eaten yet. Desperate, Sorey shoves a hand on Mikleo’s thigh so hard that Mikleo jerks up and finally meets the eyes of his awaiting family. Recomposing himself, he continues with a calm, very Mikleo-esque voice, “So, today we went to the museum to see a visiting lecturer about—”

“How long have you been dating my son?” Muse finally blurts, receiving a collective groan from the table around her. Mikleo, in his part, drops his fork onto his plate and holds his head in his hands

“Muse, come on, they already told us that five uncomfortable conversations ago,” Uncle Michael says, looking much more like himself slung back over his chair and making disappointed expressions at his sister.

Mikleo, for the first time in his life, sighs in relief at the presence of his uncle. “Yes, Mom, we already told you that this is a recent thing, and we’re still getting accustomed to it—”

“Which is bullshit,” Michael says, just so Sorey can watch every trace of whatever remaining love Mikleo had for his uncle disappear. “You’ve seen the way they act around each other. What on earth would they need to get accustomed to? Pet names?”

“Mikleo I don’t want to be rude, but I really want to leave right now,” Sorey whispers.

“…What?” Mikleo’s father, Daniel, says, as he has been for the past couple hours since they told him.

Mikleo grabs Sorey’s hand and pushes himself to his feet. His grip expresses every little regret he’s had since walking through the door. “Excuse us, everyone.”

 


 

“I can’t lie to them,” Sorey tells Mikleo the moment they escape to the bathroom. A very horrible choice of meeting places, but an area of privacy nonetheless, which they need so very much.

Two thin hands clasp Sorey’s shoulders. Mikleo’s gaze is direct, bold, such as it is when he’s trying to convince Sorey of doing things he probably wouldn’t normally. It works horribly well, but Sorey really isn’t aware of any that don’t. “I know,” Mikleo says.

“Mikleo, I know you’re usually brilliant, and I love that about you very much.” What is he saying, what is he saying. “But you know how I was raised; if we go out there, I cannot guarantee that I won’t end up telling them everything the moment I speak.”

“So just do as I told you when I asked you to do this and don’t speak.” Mikleo sighs. The warm tingle of his touch is still present on Sorey’s shoulders, but he doesn’t seem to notice that Sorey basically just confessed his love for him right there, so the situation’s at a 50-50. “If you have to speak, just answer as simply as possible and then let me do all the talking for us, okay?”

“Listen, I know the face you make when you’re stressing out.” Sorey tells him, remembering Mikleo’s kaleidoscope of distressed expressions throughout the night. It was like watching a light show. “I’m getting worried about you.”

I’m trying!” Mikleo snaps, clenching Sorey’s shoulders hard enough to hurt, and releases him the moment Sorey winces. “I-I’m sorry.” He nervously brushes Sorey’s shoulders, as if he’d left traces of guilt on him and could rub it away. “It’s only until Uncle Michael goes back home and he doesn’t have anything to hang over my head anymore. Trust me, it wouldn’t have been you if I could have helped it.”

Sorey knows that. As far as he knows, he is the worst possible candidate for Mikleo’s fake boyfriend. Sure, he has a lot of redeeming traits for the position from knowing Mikleo since birth to being favored by Mikleo’s parents, but he is also a) infamously bad at lying, b) inexperienced at anything related to dating, and c) actually in love with Mikleo, which isn’t so much bad for the job as it is for Sorey’s emotional health.

“He’s just here to give lectures at the university, and then he’s gone,” Mikleo says, more to himself than anything; Sorey already knows. If it’s Mikleo’s family’s news, it’s his news. “Can you please date me for just the week?”

Sorey gives a long, exhausted sigh. Mikleo’s hands have slid down from his shoulders to his biceps to where his fingers ghost over Sorey’s bare forearms. For someone who has never been interested in romance his entire life, the painful tightness in his chest makes far too much sense.

“Alright,” Sorey says, stupidly.

 


 

“So will I have to watch for you banging my nephew in every other bathroom in the university?”

The entire table erupts into groans, except it’s the kind that makes Sorey aware that they’ve all been worrying the same. He’s too constricted by tension and liar’s guilt to do so much as breathe as Muse screams “Michael!” and Mikleo grabs Sorey’s hand again to drag him out of the dining room again, this time just to escape.

 


 

There’s a story behind this. Sorey loves stories, so he could start way back with how his grandfather and teenage mom were friends with Mikleo’s family, who raised Sorey as their own. Or how he and Mikleo have never separated since kindergarten. Or how he first realized he was in love with his best friend in high school when he discovered what that actually meant, and he couldn’t think of anything but their sleepless nights reading about tales from long ago, the way they used to hold hands until they learned it wasn’t normal, or how he couldn’t care for anyone as much as he did Mikleo.

But that’s a long and tragic tale, one that ends with Sorey spending the next few years keeping his comfortably platonic relationship with Mikleo in check all while convincing himself it’s for the the best. Which it is, really. It wasn’t as if anything about his feelings toward Mikleo had changed, just that he’d understood them in a different nature. It wasn’t necessary to scare Mikleo with his feelings. Especially the ones that make Mikleo’s mouth look a lot more prominent than normal.

So the real story probably starts with Uncle Michael.

“Two words, Sorey: Living. Disaster,” Mikleo says while driving them home from the family weekend. “But you already know that.”

“I know you like emphasizing it,” Sorey replies, receiving a glare to his very true answer. “But yes, I know how much trouble he is.”

“But you like him anyways.”

Sorey shrugs. “Well, he taught us a ton of stuff when we were younger about the Asgards, the world’s wonders, I mean, he basically got me into archaeology. He’s a smart guy.”

“No, he’s an intelligent guy,” Mikleo snaps back, obviously blinded by resentment. Since middle school, he hasn’t been as favorable of his uncle as Sorey has, it’s a popular subject of their bigger conflicts. He’s listed many reasons for his disapproval, including: “He’s reckless, socially idiotic, never stops arguing with Mom, hates my dad, and I don’t even know what to say about the alcohol problem! He’s just— Calling him smart would imply he knows how to make good decisions. I don’t care where he’s been!”

“Road!” Sorey snaps the moment the car jerks, grabbing his seat.

“Sorry! Sorry, dammit.” Mikleo’s whole figure tenses, guarded. It’s the first time he meets Sorey’s gaze during the entire trip, and the look in his eyes confirm everything Sorey’s guessed about his current state. “You okay?”

“Yeah, but you aren’t.” Mikleo slumps at Sorey’s words. He’s already looking back at the road when Sorey pulls a concerned expression. “You’ve been acting up all week and I’ve been out of my mind worrying about it. If it was just about some uncle you hate, then why do you care if he knows who you’re dating?”

“Because—” Sorey knows he’s got him when Mikleo cuts off a ‘because.’ He can’t help but hold back a smirk as he listens to Mikleo struggle for words, though his victory would feel much better if he weren’t so curious for a real answer. Mikleo, wordlessly accepting defeat, sighs. “I wasn’t thinking straight. Let’s just… Let it go. If it makes you feel better, we can break up earlier—”

“I don’t want to break up,” Sorey says with a little too much honesty in his voice. Luckily they’re already playing this game, or else he would have given himself away twenty screw-ups ago. “Just worried about you.”

And then he glances over, daringly, to see the effect of the evening sun on Mikleo’s soft expression. He watches his best friend’s shoulders rise and fall with relief, his lithe fingers curl loosely around the steering wheel. Sorey hasn’t let go of how much Mikleo has been worrying about this too, how much stress and anxiety he’s trying to push down to be the stronger one of them here. He usually is. It doesn’t make Sorey any stronger himself to Mikleo’s quiet smile, no more to the breathy “Thanks” that follows. Luckily, they leave it at that.

Sorey instead sinks in his seat, blood roaring in his ears. Maybe he’s just overqualified for this job.

 


 

Sorey would say he and Mikleo aren’t known to be smart people, except they are. It makes devising this entire plan feel like a complete shift in dimensions from how horrible it sounds. At least, that’s how it feels to Sorey.

But it all comes down to one basic fact: Sorey is a terrible, horrendous liar. How do they remedy this?

“We’re going to lie to everyone,” Mikleo tells him at their kitchen table meeting. It’s not anything special in the slightest; they live together. It just so happens that they’re dating now. Or at least, that’s the idea, apparently.

“Why is that helpful?” Sorey says, about ten times more nervous than he was two seconds ago.

“You remember that psychology class I took last semester?” Sorey nods. He’d opted to take a lab course on osteology instead, and Mikleo didn’t have the required classes to take it with him. “If you want to lie well, you have to convince yourself that the lie doesn’t exist. Believe it yourself. You just have to make the lie true; then it’s as if you’re not lying at all. It’s perfect for you.”

This isn’t going in a direction Sorey likes at all. “So… you’re saying that we’re basically going to be dating for real for the next week. As in everyone knows, including our friends. For my sake.”

“Exactly, then you wouldn’t be lying. The more real, the better.” Mikleo pins him down with a hard, determined gaze that would make Sorey weak at his knees had he not been sitting down. “It’s just for the week; we’re going to have dinner with my Uncle on Saturday, and then he leaves for the Amazon. You just have to be in love with me for seven days to convince him.”

That’s a lot easier than Mikleo is making it out to be. Sorey himself has become pretty expert at not pushing things as far as Mikleo is comfortable with, but it was the whole idea that it would all end by next Sunday that made things difficult. Simply getting introduced to the idea of a closer, more intimate relationship with his best friend-turned-boyfriend wouldn’t be lost in their fake breakup. Mikleo is usually wonderfully smart about things like these, a lot more than Sorey is, which is saying something, but Sorey’s not sure if Mikleo really thought out the repercussions of this whole charade before spilling to his uncle.

He stares at Mikleo’s hands, curling his own tight. This brick in his stomach won’t be going away for the next week, so he’d better get used to it. “So this means we’re going to be doing things. Like… being together all the time and going on dates.”

Mikleo blinks blankly. He must have not thought this far. “…Oh! Right, of course. So… we could go to the library, or the coffee shop, get lunch together…”

“But we already do those things.”

With a defeated groan, Mikleo buries his face in his hands, much like he did at his family dinner table yesterday. Sorey, by instinct, reaches over to rub his back to comfort him, and then realizes how much of a problem this really is.

And Sorey, because apparently he’s going to be filled with stupid ideas for the entire week as long as Mikleo is his boyfriend, says, “We’ll have to take it up a notch.”

 


 

They decide to skip hand-holding entirely. Well, not skip out on it, it’s probably Mikleo’s favorite thing to do, but just the level of hand-holding. They’ve done more confusingly intimate stuff before all while giving their peers the assumption they thought they were just friends. Both of them realize this on one Sunday morning listing different couple activities and coming up short of casual things they haven’t done. It’s a pretty daunting fact for them both.

So Monday becomes the sacred Day of Establishment. Sorey walks Mikleo to his classes hand-in-hand, Mikleo buys him coffee, and Sorey, under the artificial assumption that they really are dating, is very, very touchy-feely. Mikleo has a really hard time taking it in stride, which only prompts Sorey to take one look at his face and hug him tightly. Every time.

It’s alright, he convinces himself as he presses his face into Mikleo’s neck, Mikleo patting his back and hushing him. We’re dating. I can do this. Because they are. Sorey just has to believe that.

Just… they’re dating even more when their friends are watching. Like when Alisha walks up to them and Mikleo presses his shoulder into Sorey’s, or when Edna and her brother are in the park and Mikleo will pull Sorey over so that his head’s on his lap. Very suddenly, with no warning at all.

“Look relaxed,” Mikleo whispers to him, fingers running through Sorey’s hair.

Sorey’s a little busy trying to steady his breathing, but this is it, right? They’re dating now, Mikleo is staring at him like it’s just them, and all he has to do is give in.

“Hmm,” Sorey hums, taking Mikleo’s free hand and twining it with his own.

“Oh my god,” Eizen’s voice come from somewhere in front of Mikleo. Sorey’s too busy looking at Mikleo to notice. “What!?”

“Gross,” Edna says in a very Edna way. Sorey finally snaps out of his trance when her umbrella swings in and whacks him on the head.

“Ow!” Sorey flinches, but doesn’t move from his place on Mikleo’s leg, protective of his position.

“Stop making googly-eyes at your boyfriend,” Edna tells him.

And the first thought Sorey has is, It worked! He’s so ecstatic that he grins wide and grips Mikleo’s hand tight, looking up at him with a starry gaze. Mikleo stares down at him as if Sorey did something endearingly stupid, so he probably noticed that Sorey is already screwing up and acting like they’re only fake dating. It gets Sorey a hand pressed into his face just to hide the smile.

So he misses out on Edna whacking Mikleo on the head when she says, “What did I just say?”

“What!?” Eizen says again, much like Mikleo’s father.

The others take it a lot better when they hear, which isn’t too long after. Not because Edna told them (she’d never spoil the surprise so easily) but because when Zaveid walks into their study group room that afternoon and sees Mikleo and Sorey sitting dangerously close, Mikleo’s hands on Sorey’s face in some unnecessarily intimate way to fix his bangs, he says, “What’s up kids?” and Sorey blurts, “Mikleo and I are dating.”

The cleanup is a lot less disastrous than they thought, albeit just as tiring. Everyone takes it positively, Dezel doesn’t even react at all, just sighs and throws his bag on the table with an “It’s going to be a long day” sigh, while Rose screams and smacks Sorey with her bag multiple times for not telling her the minute “it happened.”

Still, the only thing Sorey regrets is making Lailah cry (she’s like his second mom, but maybe she’s a little too happy for them), until they go home and Sorey sprawls over Mikleo on the couch like they always do to watch movies, and Mikleo says, “Why are you good at this?”

Sorey blinks up at him, head resting over Mikleo’s leg again. It’s for practice, of course. Sorey likes to go back to just pretending they’re dating when he’s at home just to keep himself grounded. “At what?”

“Being my boyfriend.” And it all comes to smack Sorey in the face then. He swallows, breaks eye contact, does every little thing that Mikleo is sure to notice that he’s lying. Mikleo narrows his eyes, leaning forward just enough to make the room feel ten times smaller. “I know you haven’t dated anyone before.”

“I’m—” Don’t lie Sorey, don’t lie, he’ll know. “I’m just believing the lie, right? That’s what I’m supposed to do!”

“…Oh,” Mikleo says, somehow believing Sorey though this entire mess. “Well… Well good. Keep it up.”

Sorey grins a brief victory grin before turning and burying his face into Mikleo’s stomach. For affection practice. Mikleo gets the idea and turns on some anthropology documentary he’s been interested in since last week while Sorey indulges himself a little more in Mikleo’s far too comfortable body.

Mikleo sighs and strokes Sorey’s hair. They’re getting pretty good at this. 

 


 

 Sorey snaps out of it the minute he wakes up the next day.

“I’m having second thoughts,” he tells Mikleo. It doesn’t help that Mikleo’s making breakfast for the two of them, like always, but twice more domestic than usual.

“What?” Mikleo says, shoving the omelet onto Sorey’s plate with far too much force. “What happened? You were fine yesterday! Great, even! It was your idea!”

Well, today I woke up at 4am and realized I would only be dating you for six more days, which left me awake in bed for the next four hours until I pretended to just wake up. Thanks, Mikleo! For teaching me how to lie, I couldn’t have been able to cover up my feelings without you. “I’m freaking out,” Sorey says.

Sorey expects more rebuttals, but Mikleo’s expression is pained. Oh god. Were Sorey not already a certified Mikleo Expert, he would have missed it and fallen for Mikleo covering up his mouth and saying. “Oh. I see.”

“It’s not you! Or the relationship, or anything, I swear! I like the relationship.” Too honest. Back up. “And I don’t want to break up.”

“Are you worried about me again?” Mikleo asks flatly, much less pained and much more unimpressed. It’s an improvement. “Wait… am I not doing a good job?”

“What?” Sorey says.

“I mean, you’re almost too good at this. It can’t be you. I’m not making dating me awkward, am I?” He’s panicking now. Sorey grabs his shoulders to steady him, but Mikleo grabs Sorey’s shirt in response with a determined look flashing in his eyes. “This isn’t over. Don’t think you’ve won this, Sorey.”

“Mikleo, trust me, I don’t want to win anything,” Sorey urges, but then Mikleo’s yanked him down, close enough so that he can press his lips to Sorey’s jaw. He kisses him in a quick yet loving fashion on Sorey’s blind side that leaves him reeling back the minute Mikleo sweeps past him, face flushed but eyes forward, ready for another day.

When he’s finally gone, Sorey sinks to the floor. His face burns where Mikleo’s lips touched. He feels so lovestruck that he has no idea how Michael could possibly think they were faking it now.

This didn’t go according to plan at all.

 


 

Today is the day of Uncle Michael’s first lecture. Sorey attends, quite excitably, while Mikleo goes with him for the sake of method acting. At least, that’s what he says. Mikleo’s too interested in Michael’s study in general to let his resentment get the better of him. He sinks back in his chair unhappily, leans against Sorey for comfort, and takes notes fervently throughout the lecture. For Sorey, it’s a good thing he has something to distract himself with from the kiss. God, he loves archaeology.

It’s probably the only reason Mikleo can kind of forgive Michael, for teaching that to Sorey.

Still, Sorey knows why Michael isn’t Mikleo’s favorite family member all too well. Uncle Michael is, well…

“Mikleo, Sorey,” Michael greets with an uncontained amount of smugness in his voice. “How would the lovely couple like to adopt a puppy?”

“Absolutely not,” Mikleo says, to Michael, Sorey, and the two puppies yipping needily at him from Michael’s arms. It would have been a lot more effective had Mikleo not been half behind Sorey, clutching his hand like a lifeline. “Sorey, don’t even think about it.”

Sorey takes a long, deep breath. It all gets worse when Michael holds a small pup to his face. “Come on, Sorey, you’re like a nephew to me. Technically, you’re a nephew-in-law now. That’s even better, right? Because you’re dating my real nephew, right?”

The puppy is close enough to try and lick his nose. “I-I think I’ll pass,” he says with all his remaining strength, to the puppy’s sad face.

Michael sighs. Enough of torturing his sister’s son, he sets the puppies back in the box where they can scramble over their siblings. Mikleo finally steps out from behind Sorey, letting go of his hand so that he can smooth out his clothes and regain his dignity. “That was extremely unpleasant.”

“Tell that to the puppies,” Michael says, looking down at the litter. They all seem very eager to greet Mikleo from the way they look at him.

“You… You just finished a lecture. You’re supposed to be answering questions for the students. Why on earth are you in the park selling puppies?”

“Mikleo… Mikleo, Mikleo…” Michael shakes his head, of course. There’s no way to win against Uncle Michael. Mikleo said it himself; he’s an intelligent guy. “I’m still doing those things, obviously. How could I not take the gracious opportunity to find homes for these sweet kids? What kind of poor, sad college student doesn’t want a puppy?”

Me,” Mikleo says, smacking Sorey on the shoulder when he stifles a laugh. He turns, to Sorey then, aggravated. “Why do you like him?”

“He let me borrow his copies of the Celestial series when I was twelve,” Sorey says proudly, giving a nod to Uncle Michael. Michael gives him a thumbs up. “Besides, everyone deserves a second chance.

Mikleo gives Sorey a long, serious look before sighing and shoving Sorey’s shoulder when he actually does laugh. His expression, somehow, is much softer when he turns back to Michael. “So? Who here wants to buy your dogs?”

Michael shrugs, takes one look glance over Mikleo’s shoulder, and says, “They do.”

Behind them, Rose and Eizen try to look as casual as possible to contain their excitement. It’s overdramatic and working as well as it can with Rose fanning herself with her own puppy money, eagerness flashing in her eyes. “Hey losers,” she says, while Eizen waves, jittering in his place.

Mikleo, tired, pushes his bangs back and gives in. Sorey makes the best possible decision, puts a hand on the small of Mikleo’s back, and leads him away so Rose and Eizen can attack Michael.

“You’re lucky I love you,” Mikleo says, and Sorey stiffens. He then gives Sorey that look that says, this is how we’re supposed to act, remember, and Sorey wonders if maybe he made a mistake not pushing his second thoughts on Mikleo that morning.

He shouldn’t be remembering that morning. In fact, this entire week is something he should be forgetting entirely. He keeps getting ideas that he’s not particularly against fighting. It makes him do stupid things, like kiss the crown of Mikleo’s head.

“Glad we’re working on that,” Sorey tells him.

Mikleo, after a pause, scoffs and brushes his hair where Sorey’s lips touched. “You’re not the one who should be saying that,” he replies, but makes Sorey hold his hand anyway.

 


 

Sorey doesn’t know how things keep on getting worse.

“Sorey.” A blurry figure that Sorey knows is Mikleo shakes him awake. “Sorey, get up.”

Sorey glares at the figure and pulls his sheets back over him. Mikleo pulls them off in retaliation. “What? It’s not even seven yet—” Sorey squints at a foggy red color that appears to be the same color as one of Mikleo’s dress shirts. “What are you wearing?”

“A date outfit,” Mikleo says despairingly. “We need to make a plan; we’re going to the park with Rose and Dezel after astronomy today.”

“What?” Sorey quickly sits up and searches for Mikleo’s irritable face. “Why?”

Mikleo makes a sound equivalent to grinding teeth. “I don’t. Know.”

 


 

“I would like to commemorate this double outing to the union of our two disgusting gay lovelords! May their days be filled fulfilling the unresolved tension they had smothered all over their friends! The overwhelming nausea of their domestic filth!”

“Rose, you make it sound like we got married,” Sorey tells her, finally able to see lines and color properly again, unfortunately, so he’s equally able to see the embarrassment that was his friend raising a soda can into the sky in the middle of Ladylake park. “People are glaring at you.”

“Why,” Mikleo hisses, as one of people glaring at her, “did you bring the dog?”

Far on the other side of the park, Dezel is coddling an army of dogs, one of which is his. The puppy, somehow looking even bigger than it did yesterday, had bared it’s sharp, white teeth at Mikleo and everyone else he’d met just in the hour they’d been here. He’s actually a pretty cool dog, in Sorey’s opinion, aside from the extreme tendencies. Dezel is teaching him how to fetch.

“Maotelus doesn’t need your sass, Mikkey,” Rose says, and finishes her soda in one swig. She hops off the fountain edge she’d been standing on and walks up to Sorey and Mikleo, solidifying the assumption that they were the two disgusting gay lovelords. What a good friend. “You know how much your uncle was trying to mooch off Eizen for Normin? Dude just wants to get his little sister a pup, of course he’d overpay like that. Luckily I was there to save him.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Mikleo says, but Rose smiles.

“Okay, real talk, I think you’re both going to be really surprised by this, but I was lying up there,” she tells them in a more hushed voice, albeit ecstatic.

“We know,” Sorey tells her. Rose frowns at the sheer prospect of being distrusted, to which Sorey just laughs. “It’s a good chance for a double date!”

“I know, right!?” Rose brightens up again, laughing even harder than before. Maybe too hard. Mikleo is giving her that look. “Nothing like a little sun to freshen up anyone’s day! Right? Especially for Dezel. You know how he’s been feeling down lately, right?”

There it is. “Right,” Sorey says.

“Dezel sure seems excited about being on a double date,” Mikleo drawls, watching over where Dezel is buried in a pile of dogs and trying to ignore them in every way.

“Please stop calling it that,” Rose says in a voice much less strong than before. Her smile twitches. “Come on, guys, he just needs to get out and face the world a little more. I finally got to get us a dog. He would have never agreed to that outloud. Help me out here!”

“So much for the date,” Sorey says, a little sullen. Mikleo, albeit hesitantly, takes Sorey’s hand in compensation and decides to indulge Rose.

“Fine, what’s the plan for today?” He asks, and glares at her as if to say that despite everything, this was still going to be whatever date Sorey wanted. Rose brightens. Sorey wishes he didn’t weaken so easily.

“Yay! Cool, okay so first we’re gonna find that good outdoor restaurant, then we’re gonna find a way to sneak Maotelus on one of those sweet lake boats, and then I’m going to kidnap Mao for myself and you two can figure out why Dez is so gloomy!”

“What was that last part?”

 


 

The thing about Dezel is saying he’s not the most open person in the world would be an understatement. The only reason Sorey even got allowed to interact with him in the first place was because they had the same extracurricular back in freshman year. Mikleo says Sorey can be friends with anyone who lets him. Dezel makes Sorey think Mikleo might be onto something.

Rose had taken Maotelus down to chase geese by the lakeshore, leaving Mikleo and Sorey to team up and save a lonesome-looking Dezel from sinking away into the shadows. They find him within hearing distance of Rose and his new pup on a park hillside. If it weren’t for the sunglasses and white cane, one can almost mistake him for watching over the two, like a dutiful knight. A sullen, downcast knight who looks as if he might eat someone’s hand if they so much as touch him.

“Sorey, Mikleo,” he says, as the couple walk up. Mikleo sucks in a breath, not as used to Dezel’s weird ability to identify footsteps, but takes a seat next to Sorey anyways, keeping close. Understandable; the only person who even has the ability to sneak up on Dezel is Rose, anyway. “What do you two want?”

“Making you talk on the double date,” Sorey says, as casually as possible. Mikleo, trying to distract himself from the conversation, works on fixing Sorey’s uneven sleeves. “You looked sad.”

“It’s not a double date,” Dezel responds immediately.

“It kind of is,” Mikleo adds, quickly entering and leaving the conversation.

“Rose said it was,” Sorey agrees.

“Rose is an idiot who never thinks before she speaks.” Which is a lie. Rose is an expert business woman, and judging by her trash talk at her volleyball games, she’d have to be thinking through every insult to swear that colorfully. “Did she tell you to come talk to me?”

“Yes,” Mikleo says, at the same time Sorey says, “She was just worried!”

Dezel sighs and kicks out his legs so he can lean back in the grass. “Of course she’d notice.” He grumbles, pushing his glasses up just so slightly to rub his tired eyes. Sorey feels an ounce of empathy. “So what would be the point of telling you?” He indicates Sorey, next to him. “You can’t even lie.”

“Yes I can,” Sorey says, at the same time Mikleo says, “He’s learning.” They’re getting pretty bad at this.

It doesn’t go unnoticed by Dezel. “Ugh— God, what is up with you two? It’s like you’re so pent up over not being allowed to be so handsy with each other for so many years that you’re trying to do it all in one go.”

That’s exactly it, Sorey thinks. All he left out was the part about the five-day deadline and Sorey’s conflicting feelings about boyfriend-ship. Mikleo doesn’t respond, instead focusing more on unraveling and reraveling Sorey’s sleeves uncomfortably. “It’s… It’s kind of hard to hold back,” Sorey says.

It’s actually good for them, in this case, that Sorey’s feelings toward Mikleo are real, because Dezel’s the human lie detector. It’s like he can smell them or something. Defeated, the older just scoffs. “Whatever,” he says, and then turns to Rose’s direction when Maotelus begins barking loudly at a small crowd of frightened swans, Rose laughing loudly over him. “I’m going to regret this, but why did you two decide to get together?”

Mikleo’s head shoots up. “What do you mean?” he asks immediately.

“I mean, after bullshitting us all for over two years, how did you guys decide you weren’t going to play the whole ‘best friends’ game anymore?” Dezel asks, much stronger this time. He almost seems distressed, though definitely annoyed.

“Um,” Sorey looks at Mikleo. He is really, really glad Dezel can’t see them right now because their conversation is all freak-out and screaming via eye-contact. Mikleo waves his hands, grabs Sorey’s face, and mouths, “Get sentimental” at him before shoving Sorey right back into to the conversation, holding his hand tight for good measure. “We’re just…” How does he do this without flat-out lying? “It’s kind of like… wishing you weren’t blind?”

“I’ll accept that just because it’s you, Sorey,” Dezel says in a warning tone. “Keep going.”

“Right! So… you’re partially blind, so you know how if you look closely enough, you can see a little light? But one day, you just kind of want to wake up and see it all. Nothing is held back anymore. Except when it comes to stuff like feelings, you actually have the choice to… you know. Give them something. I guess I was tired of pretending the opportunity wasn’t there.”

They sit in silence after that. Sorey really hopes it’s because Dezel’s actually taking his words seriously, because Sorey is too. He’s learning a lot from this whole charade. From the way Dezel’s looking out at the shore, he probably is thinking hard about it. Mikleo’s gone from fixing Sorey’s sleeves to merely tugging at them, resting his head on Sorey’s shoulder in a tired, yet affectionate gesture. Sorey shifts so that he’s more comfortable.

“Only you would understand something like that,” Dezel tells him finally. “You’re saying that you just gave up on trying to hide it. Like it’s easy.”

“Why do you think it took so long?” Mikleo says, too relaxed to raise his voice. He has a point. They all have good points, which kind of scares Sorey.

Dezel scoffs. “This is useless.” And really, it’s his defeated tone that gives it away.

Sorey knows he’s the last person who should be asking, as someone who’s been pining for his best friend since high school. He’s been considerate more than enough times. He still believes he should be, but in light of recent events, he wonders if maybe he should be approaching it differently.

“Dezel,” he begins, quite normally, “is this about you being in love with Rose?”

“What. The fuck,” Dezel growls, and god, if Sorey could see his glare. “How would you get that out of this—”

“It’s really obvious,” Mikleo says, not moving from Sorey’s shoulder.

Sorey shrugs apologetically. “We, uh, kind of all know.”

Dezel’s jaw drops. “…Who is we?”

“Um, well, Mikleo and I… Alisha… Edna, of course, so Eizen too… Zaveid… Lailah… You know, I’m not sure about Sergei, he doesn’t go here but I’m trying to include everyone—”

“Basically the whole study group,” Mikleo concludes. He pauses. “So, this is about Rose.”

“What this is, is a mistake,” Dezel hisses, running his hands through his hair. He groans. “It’s all your guy’s fault. Making me think that this was possible, giving me this bullshit ideas and pulling out my last hope that, ‘Oh, if those two can stay best friends, then how impossible is it for me?’ Goddammit.”

Mikleo and Sorey don’t say anything and pretend as if Dezel is talking about something else, like bunnies. Sorey is almost sure Dezel can hear how fast his heart is racing right now, though Mikleo sure as well can. He’s as stiff as a statue. Sorey tries to calm them both by wrapping an arm around his waist. Oddly enough, it works.

In the distance, Rose screams with laughter when Maotelus tackles her down. Children run in to watch while the angry geese run around, looking for a peaceful place. Dezel’s expression grows soft, forlorn.

“She’s so damn loud,” he says. “Sometimes she’s the only thing I can hear, even if it’s only a whisper.”

Sorey stares at Dezel’s face for a while, comparing that look of longing to his own. He turns to Mikleo, looking thoughtful from his place curled up next to Sorey. It’s a common expression of his, one that makes Sorey tired of being blind to him.

He presses his lips into Mikleo’s hair. His best friend inhales sharply, and then gives a long, exhausted sigh before curling his fingers with Sorey’s. “You’re impossible,” he mumbles.

Sorey begins to rethink the next five days.

 


 

“Hey, Mikleo.”

“Mmh, what?” Mikleo turns in bed and looks up at Sorey. “What is it?”

“Can I sleep here tonight?” Sorey asks, with all seriousness.

Mikleo sits up, looking far more frazzled without his glasses and fixed hair. “What? Why? Did Rose say something?”

“No.” Sorey gives him a small, honest smile, and sits down on the edge of the bed. “Just, we’re dating now, right?”

Mikleo shakes his head and reaches out to ruffle Sorey’s already-mussed hair. “You know that’s not—” After second thoughts, he sighs. “Yes, you’re right. But why now?”

Sorey holds back a chuckle. He hopes Mikleo can’t see his blush in this darkness. “Just feels right.”

Even so, Sorey can see Mikleo’s own smile, the one that says Sorey’s doing something very Sorey again, and it’s okay. It lightens the feeling in Sorey’s chest, especially when Mikleo bats Sorey off the bed to pull the covers back. “Don’t kick.”

Sorey flops down and Mikleo throws the covers over him. It’s strange to feel Mikleo’s warmth like this. They’ve shared beds before, when they were younger, older, before and after Sorey knew of his feelings. But it’s a little different now. This time Sorey has the guilty pleasure of being able to pull Mikleo close and bury his face in his neck. Breathe him in, sleep easy.

Mikleo’s still for a moment, but Sorey doesn’t explain. It’s impossible for him to lie now, and this is no time to tell the truth.

Then, Sorey hears a sigh, and feels tentative arms wrap around his frame. “I don’t know what to do with you,” Mikleo says, and presses his face into Sorey’s hair.

Four more days of this, Sorey thinks to himself, and hopes for the best. 

 


 

Thursday, Mikleo and Sorey decide to go on a real date. Just at the museum Uncle Michael is visiting, because there always has to be a reason when you’re fake dating.

Still, that doesn’t stop it from being, well, a nice date.

“I would say it isn’t a place where we’re going to have fun, but for once, it is,” Mikleo tells him as he fixes Sorey’s jacket before they leave. From what he’s saying, it’s a big step for Mikleo; museums are taken as seriously as term papers in their relationship. It’s the first time they’ve come here to do something other than argue.

“You’ve already said that, but you’re going to be the one who makes it a lecture,” Sorey says, rolling his eyes. Mikleo just smacks him in the shoulder and pulls him out the door.

As frequent museum regulars, they’re able to get into the building pretty swiftly. The only thing different is how the regular receptionist, Sindra, the one Mikleo and Sorey pay almost every other week, sees them holding hands, sighs, and mumbles a “Congratulations,” before waving them along. She loves them; Sorey’s the one that got her the job.

“I can’t believe this place never gets old,” Sorey says as they pass through the first exhibit. “Remember when we first came here and found the statue that looks like Gramps? Mom lost it when she saw it herself.”

“It’s the art style,” Mikleo scoffs. “Everyone in that era was in love with the old, philosophical look, it just so happens that Gramps fits their ideal perfectly. I bet we could find at least five more kings that look like him. If you just take a look at—”

“See? See? You’re doing it again.” Sorey pinches Mikleo’s cheek, to which Mikleo slaps his hand away, annoyed. “If I take you to Angel, it’s going to be like a debate on post-war religious politics. Not that I don’t love them, but let’s focus on enjoying ourselves.”

“That is how we enjoy ourselves,” Mikleo tells him, eyes narrowed. “You just admitted it yourself.”

 Sorey rubs the back of his neck nervously, because Mikleo’s right, really. The only reason Sorey brought up Angel is because he knew he would want to argue about it just as much, and they’d never get through anything else. “We should just do something different today. It’s a date, right?”

Mikleo opens his mouth to say something, probably protest, but takes one look at Sorey’s pleading eyes and shuts up. He takes a deep breath in, squeezes Sorey’s hand, and lets out a large sigh. “There’s an Eastern tattoo exhibit we can buy tickets for up front,” he tells Sorey, and then with a small smirk, “I can tell you why they would all look stupid on you.”

“I think that’s just bullying me, Mikleo,” Sorey says, but allows himself to be dragged away anyway.

They spend a lot of time at the special exhibit. Though they’re never able to completely stop themselves from geeking out over them, they end up having a lot of fun. A good first half is spent comparing them to Zaveid’s, and then arguing on who would get the more outrageous ones. Afterwards they sit down and talk about the importance of placement and culture, spending a lot of time tracing over each other’s skin and forgetting about everything else.

They’re in a much different mood after that. It kind of has to be, when Mikleo doesn’t stop Sorey from mimicking every painting in the Renaissance exhibit. An impeccable amount of time is spent as a follow up of their Zenrus theory, trying to figure out how the statues would look in different time periods, one that they get far too excited about. They finally get to sitting down and eating after a long discussion about the curation, on a bench by some closed-off area.

“You would think they'd know how to set up a Viking panel,” Mikleo says, finishing off his snack from the museum café. “Someone should tell them about the Rolance museum, they could learn a thing or two.”

“I think the manager here is too proud to take any examples from Rol U,” Sorey says. It’s an on-campus museum, so they share the same resentment for their rivals. “But the armor exhbit, really, who did they hire to put that?”

“Right? You could have made Rose model for all of them, and at least she would have made them look better than the crap they threw up there.”

The image of Rose getting up on a podium, fully clad in Viking armor and scaring all of the museum guests with her vigor, causes them to burst out into laughter. The worst part is that she would agree to it, even. Sorey grabs Mikleo so he doesn’t stumble off the steps, and Mikleo steadies him, chuckling out a brief, “Are you okay?”

“We need to do this again,” Sorey blurts out, though it takes them all but a few second to realize the implications of that.

Their laughter dies out. Sorey lets go of Mikleo and sets his trash aside, while Mikleo’s left staring at the ground. This was why Sorey’s been so cautious. For all the lying they’ve been practicing, Sorey’s not sure how he can keep up lying to himself after this week is over.

Before he can ponder about this more, Mikleo grabs him by the shoulder and pulls him close.

“Ak—!”

“He’s here,” Mikleo whispers urgently.

Sorey glances over Mikleo’s shoulder, and Michael’s there, talking to some suits and looking haughtier than ever. Mikleo pulls Sorey’s gaze back to his eyes, in a position where the heat of Mikleo’s breath is hot against Sorey’s mouth, and their noses can just brush.

The breath in his lungs is weak and heavy and fading quickly.

“Act natural,” Mikleo tells him in a low voice.

Sorey kisses him.

And the first thought he has, immediately after, is that he screwed up. But it’s fought strongly by the realization of how kissing Mikleo feels. The sharp gasp of breath against Sorey’s mouth, the brief jerk of Mikleo’s knee when he leans forward. Against all assumptions, Sorey’s never dared to imagine what it would be like to kiss his best friend; he’s never given himself permission to. It makes kissing Mikleo now filled with pleasant discoveries; an exciting feeling, considering he thought he knew everything about his best friend.

But at the sudden touch of Mikleo’s hands, pulling at his neck, running through his hair, Sorey realizes he’s kissing back. The confidence he has fades, along with the power and drive he had to kiss him in the first place, and he finds himself submitting himself to Mikleo’s kiss.

Though by doing so, it’s over like that. Mikleo pulls away, short of breath and scarlet to the tips of his ears. His hands still linger on Sorey’s shoulders, but it’s as if he needs to take every ounce of self-control he has left to keep meeting Sorey’s gaze.

“Smile at me,” Mikleo says.

Sorey pulls off an expression of wonder instead.

“Close enough,” Mikleo says, so close to stammering. He stares at Sorey’s frozen expression for a few moments longer, before frowning and poking Sorey in the side instead, making him yelp. “We… We shouldn’t look back at him. He’ll know. And warn me next time, Sorey. Agh…”

This time, Sorey does smile, hoping it’s not as partially regretful as it feels. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Mikleo tells him, and flicks his feathered earrings. “Come on, let’s go home.”

“Okay.” 

 


 

That night, Sorey tries to calm himself by returning to his own bed. It’s a good, preferable plan that leaves Sorey feeling lonesome for the first time this week, but maybe that’s the kind of discipline he needs. He just needs to get his thoughts together.

Or, of course, maybe not.

“Move over,” Mikleo says when he arrives not too long after Sorey’s hidden himself away. Sorey, mind blank, slides aside by instinct alone, and Mikleo tucks himself under the covers. He keeps himself faced toward Sorey, probably hoping he can get something out of the puzzled lines of his expression. “Hey, are you okay?”

Sorey, afraid he might say something stupid, keeps his mouth shut and nods. Mikleo’s expression tightens, and he brushes the bangs out of Sorey’s eyes.

“You’re not the only one who gets worried, you know,” he continues. “It was my idea to get us into this mess. You have the right to tell me if you want to stop.”

“It’s not your fault,” Sorey tells him with an assuring smile. It’s small, but something he can manage. “A lot of this is new for me, is all.”

Instead of accepting it, however, Mikleo’s touch softens. His hand traces down Sorey’s temple, thumb brushing across his cheek. Sorey wishes he could see him, but like this, he doesn’t have to. It’s apparent, the ease he gets from Mikleo’s closeness, the slight hum in Mikleo’s voice when he breathes.

“That’s what I worry about,” Mikleo tells him, in a tone just over a whisper.

“Don’t,” Sorey tells him. He shuts his eyes, and as he does, Mikleo pulls him close. 

 


 

“Have you two discussed setting boundaries?”

Sorey and Mikleo look at Zaveid, and then each other. They’re supposed to be studying math; that’s the whole point of the study group, after all, even if they’re doing it far too close than appropriate. Still, when important subjects arise, like the prospect of dating rules, it does call for some significant attention. Like why they didn’t do it in the first place.

Honestly, Sorey’s pretty ashamed he didn’t think of that earlier. The whole part of Mikleo asking him to (fake) date him kind of threw him for a loop. Maybe Zaveid should have asked before they were holding hands, sharing beds, and kissing in the middle of museums.

Oh, right, because they already did everything less than that. It was Sorey’s idea.

So, “No,” Sorey says. “We haven’t.”

“It’s kind of strange you think we’d do anything disrespectful to each other in the first place,” Mikleo adds, which sounds like a valid excuse. Sorey thinks he’ll take that. It wasn’t like it was wrong. “I don’t see how it’s any of your business anyway.”

“Wha— No, not between you two, that’s obvious as hell, it’s like you have some horrible telepathic communication or some bullshit. I meant here!” Zaveid waves around their reserved study hall, where the entire gang is gathered. “I came here to teach you guys some math, not watch my just-married friends go honeymoon on me in the middle of group study!”

“That is the strangest statement I’ve ever heard you say,” Rose says, in the middle of doodling meat buns on her worksheets.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Zaveid!” Alisha slams her fist on the table, pushing aside her full workbook. “I’m sure you will find love one day as well! Don’t give up!”

“Aw, Zaveid, are you lonely?” Lailah giggles from where she’s folding her paper hats.

“No!” Zaveid snaps in a voice two octaves too high. Edna snorts with laughter. Realizing his little overdose of drama, Zaveid slumps back in his chair and glares at Sorey and Mikleo. “You know, bad things happen when inter-team romances happen.”

“Really, Zaveid, you’re going to say that to Sorey and Mikleo? Like, honestly?” Rose waves her hands at them, as if to illustrate some unspoken point. Sorey keeps his mouth shut to keep himself from saying anything that proves Zaveid right, because, well, Zaveid is a little right.

“I’m sure we’re not the only ones,” Mikleo says.

From the other side of the table, Dezel hears. He doesn’t turn, but behind his glasses, there’s a fire raging, and it’s directed right at them. Sorey bites his tongue and starts writing over his notes.

“Whatever,” Zaveid says, finally leaving them to their work. Sorey, when he calms down, holds Mikleo’s hand under the table as he works. One of the few times being left-handed has its pros.

 


 

Sorey’s left alone later when Mikleo leaves for one of his Anthropology classes. This a great opportunity for others to corner him, while he’s vulnerable.

Zaveid traps him in the courtyard, the same one full of people, gossiping, playing football, cycling past them, all within hearing distance.

Well, trap is a pretty strong word, more like Sorey has a very hard time getting out of situations he gets himself into. Zaveid catches Sorey’s arm just as he’s going down one of the staircases and stares him down until Sorey is unable to move.

“I can’t believe I’m the one that’s saying this, but something weird’s going on with you and Mikkey,” Zaveid tells him, and Sorey can’t believe it either. “I don’t know if it’s because everyone else was expecting it, or you’re just too in love with each other to actually lie about anything, or whatever, but I’m not buying it.”

“Well,” Sorey says in a pitched voice. When he thinks about it, of course it’d be Zaveid who noticed. He was the oldest, most realistic, and probably had much more free time than any of them could guess, which was saying something. Plus, he wasn’t wrong. At all. “…well…”

“Also, when you’re not coddling your boyfriend, you look like you’re trying to hide a knife wound. Either you really, really don’t want to be in a relationship with him, or you really, really do. And I don’t think I’m wrong about this but the only reason you could possibly lie this well is if you did.” Zaveid pauses and stares at Sorey’s broken expression. “I picked the wrong person; it’s like I’m kicking a puppy.”

It’s at times like these that Sorey is 100% sure that Mikleo chose the wrong person. Nothing beats, right now, how awfully he wants to get this off his chest. “If I tell you, will you pretend you didn’t notice?” Sorey pleads.

“Not really,” Zaveid tells him with full confidence. “Go ahead.”

“It’s… just for the week. If we don’t date for real, then it’s going to be the same as that time when Sergei caught Rose and I at Rolance that one time and Rose made me pretend I was her fiancé.” Zaveid opens his mouth, but Sorey waves him off. “Except we’re trying to convince someone who won’t believe us for an entire year.”

“Who?”

“Um… Uncle Michael.”

“Oh shit,” Zaveid says, glancing around the area. “That guy scares the shit out of me. He’s like wicked smart; why on earth did you think it was a good idea to trick him?”

“Mikleo says he screwed up, and I can’t just let him down! He was desperate when he asked me!” Sorey argues, and quickly turns down his tone. “And all of that stuff about me being in love with him—”

“Yeah, I know, you can skip that.” Zaveid waves it off. Sorey is getting awful déjà vu from that moment in the park with Dezel. He bites his lip, and suddenly, Zaveid’s expression falls. “Wait… don’t tell me… Oh, of fucking course—”

Sorey narrows his eyes. “What?”

“You’ve probably been convincing yourself of some weak-ass unrequited love of yours and that this is all going to end by next week, haven’t you?” That’s not good. “No wonder it’s taken this long for you two to do anything. Do you even… have you noticed literally nothing this week?”

Sorey knows where this is going. “Mikleo… I can’t just be in a relationship with him, Zaveid—”

“That’s so—” Zaveid throws his hands in the air. “Why? Is this the only way you’re going to allow yourself to be in a relationship with him, because I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a really shitty way to treat yourself.”

“Wha… No— I don’t care about the relationship!” Sorey says. “I care about him, and making sure he’s safe and happy and doing what he loves. Being in love with him wasn’t agonizing, Zaveid, that was the longing. Being in love with him is just a part of me that needs him by me. And I can’t do that if we make it and then realize that maybe we’re just not meant to be this close and then we can’t go back. And he's suddenly off doing his own thing, and I’m left with mine, and we’re both miserable—”

“Blah, blah, blah, you don’t want to lose Mikleo,” Zaveid says, and then smacks Sorey upside the head. Maybe a little harder than he intended.

“Ow!”

“Sorry, kid, I like you. You’re one of my favorite people in this dump, but are you literally going to stand there and tell me that your guys’ relationship can be ruined by making kissy-faces at each other?” Zaveid mimics his mind being blown, eyes wide and hands flailing. “I mean— As a witness to this whole, gross affair, and the uncomfortable sexual tension prior, has this week taught you nothing?”

“It’s a little different when you’re under the premise that everything is an act,” Sorey grumbles, rubbing his head. He blinks a couple times, testing his vision. Ouch.

“But you two— You stare at him all the damn time and you don’t even know how he looks at you when you’re not looking at him. And I actually have a theory about this, you wanna hear?”

Sorey nods through his blurred vision, just because anything that would help him is welcome now, and Zaveid is making a lot of good points.

“Maybe, you’re just so used to him looking at you like that, and you looking at him like that, that you don’t even notice that something’s going on. Maybe compare how he looks at you to someone else and you think, ‘Oh, that’s just how Mikleo looks at me. It’s always been like that.’ Well newsflash, loverboy, maybe he’s just always been in love with you. Maybe he wants the same things you do, and both of you are just too caught up in protecting each other to do something about it!”

Sorey stares at Zaveid, who’s heaving from how much emotion that took to get out, finally. There’s a brief silence, and then Sorey licks his dry lips and says, “Is that the end of your theory?”

“God, I don’t know what to do with you kids,” Zaveid groans, and for a moment, Sorey flashes back to when he shared a bed with Mikleo for the first time. I don’t know what to do with you.

And then, it’s all falling dominos from there. The first time Mikleo told Sorey he loved him, just a passing mention at the park. The way Mikleo kissed back at the museum. Every time they shared a bed together, and he’d wake up, still in Mikleo’s arms as if he’d made sure Sorey was always there. And it makes Sorey think, maybe he already knew how Mikleo loved him. It was just like realizing his own feelings, back in high school. Nothing had changed, just he understood how they worked. What he wanted.

“Zaveid,” Sorey says.

“Yeah?”

Sorey sighs, sadly. “I’m really in love with him.”

“I know.” Zaveid ruffles his hair, shaking Sorey’s rattled head just a bit more. He then throws his hands behind his head, turns his heel, and says, “Why doesn’t your Big Bro Zaveid treat you to some street food? Must be feeling pretty lonely without your pretty boyfriend, right?”

That probably means Zaveid’s finally going back to pretending the relationship is real. It makes Sorey a little disappointed; it felt good to finally get his feelings out. Freeing, even. He manages a grin, finally, and moves to join him, when someone across the court yells, “BALL!” Zaveid’s eyes widen, and Sorey is still trying to blink light back into his eye when something smacks him in the head and sends him straight down the stairs.

 


 

Sorey wakes up to one working eye, a world full of pain (but no broken bones, as far as he can tell), and two figures standing over him.

“Sorey? Sorey!” Mikleo’s voice calls out, so he’s most likely the person to his left. “Can you see my hand?”

Sorey doesn’t see anything. “Hn… no?”

A hand moves to his field of vision, a blurry set of fingers right above his eye. “How many fingers?”

Sorey blinks, once, twice, and shakes off the stars he sees. Not perfect, but better. “Three,” Sorey says, blinking again, and then hears Mikleo’s sigh of relief.

“She said you shouldn’t have a concussion, thank god,” Mikleo says, and smooths Sorey’s bangs back. It’s at this time that Sorey realizes that he’s in the nurses office, and Mikleo’s other hand is holding his on the side of the bed. “Don’t move too much. Zaveid said you got hit by a football and fell down the stairs.”

“Is that what happened?” Sorey asks, memory a mess. Mikleo glares at Zaveid.

“It’s true! Come on, the guy just hit his head on solid pavement! He’s not credible!” Mikleo looks awfully like he wants to challenge Zaveid for questioning Sorey’s credibility at all, but holds back, clenching Sorey’s hand instead.

“If it helps, I’m pretty sure that’s what happened,” Sorey says, squeezing back. He feels Mikleo relax, so it’s a start.

“Fine.” Mikleo sighs, and touches a sensitive part on Sorey’s cheek, where he scratched himself. “I can’t believe you didn’t break anything. Not even a black eye, god. Why do you love scaring me so much?”

“Yeah, would have sucked if you got a black eye, huh?” Zaveid says, obvious that he’s trying not to make the whole third wheeling situation a lot more awkward than it already is. “Especially with the whole shitty vision thing. I mean, you’re already blind in one eye, right?”

“Zaveid!” Mikleo snaps at the same time Sorey says, “Partially blind.”

“You two are the worst,” Zaveid laughs. “Yeah, Mikkey-boy said your vision might be a little wonky for the next couple days, but it should clear up.”

“My other eye should be fine for seeing things. I thought you already knew,” Sorey says. They’d been over this since he’d met Dezel through the braille club, just in case his other eye acted up. Mikleo decides to finally help him sit up, and wow, his head feels like a cement block.

“Yeah, but Mikkey explained why you’ve got such shit vision. Fun conversations over your unconscious body, after all. He was here as soon as he heard. Is this the crap that happens when you two are apart?”

Sorey turns to Mikleo, narrowing his eyes. Mikleo immediately gets the message. “Oh, come on, Sorey, did you really expect me to stay in class with the way Zaveid called me up? I thought you’d been hit by a truck!”

“I’m fun shit,” Zaveid says, way too proudly, before standing up. “Well, you two have fun. Nice talking to you, kid.” And then he’s out the door. Sorey is left on the nurse’s bed, Mikleo clenching his hand and checking the wounds on his face.

“I don’t know why we’re friends with him,” Mikleo tells him, pushing hair away from a bruise on Sorey’s forehead.

“He’s pretty smart in his own way,” Sorey replies, with a small grin.

“I guess,” Mikleo says. His hand falls from Sorey’s face, leaving nothing for Sorey to pay attention to but the intent gaze meeting his own. It’s almost disappointing that he remembers Zaveid’s words over everything else. Maybe it’s because Mikleo is here. He wishes his vision would get better; Sorey wants to see his face, how Mikleo is looking at him right now.

But he can’t right now. He has to improvise. So he reaches out, curls a hand around Mikleo’s neck, and draws him into his chest, close enough that Mikleo falls into him. It’s easier to sense him, like this, when looking at him feels so artificial. Like this, he can hear Mikleo’s quickened heartbeat, feel his hands rubbing comforting circles into his back, how Mikleo trades the nervous shake in his shoulders for a what-can-you-do sigh in Sorey’s ear.

“Thanks,” Sorey says, short and breathy into Mikleo’s shoulder, and then whispers his name. Just for him to hear.

“You’re such a handful,” Mikleo tells him, amused. He then turns and kisses the corner of Sorey’s jaw. It’s not for anything specific, unlike the last times, when they were practicing or performing or just trying to make sense of things. Just something to tell Sorey he’s okay. Something they’ve gotten used to.

 


 

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Mikleo says outside of the restaurant. “Sorey, you did fall down a small flight of stairs yesterday, I think we’re allowed to dump him.”

“But that would be rude,” Sorey argues, fixing his tie. They’ve dressed semi-formally for this. Though Mikleo’s tried to smooth Sorey’s hair so that it covers his forehead bruise, it still doesn’t help much for the other injuries. Sorey took some painkillers and they covered up the scratches with some first-aid, so they’re as appropriate as they can be for their fancy dinner with Michael.

The one thing on Sorey’s mind, however, is the ‘less than one more day’ rule hanging in the air. Despite this, it’s not scaring him as much as it has been. It’s become a lot easier to do things like reaching out and kissing Mikleo’s forehead, something he likes to do when his boyfriend gets stressed.

Mikleo touches his forehead, and looks up at Sorey’s assuring grin. He calms down, fortunately, but is still stiff, breaking eye contact with Sorey to lead him away. “Come on, let’s get over with this.”

They find Michael at a fancy corner table by a small family of artificial plants. He welcomes them with open arms, pulling his least-unloved expression. He probably practiced for Mikleo.

“Boys,” Michael says.

“Uncle Michael,” Mikleo says, as politely as he possibly can.

“Hey, Uncle Michael!” Sorey greets with an eager wave.

“It’s good to finally be able to talk to you kids,” he laughs as they sit down. Sorey’s missed him, even if he isn’t the perfect uncle.

It’s pretty easy to dive into conversation, with Sorey there to complete the triangle of conversation. It’s not hard to see Michael wants to talk to Mikleo, except Mikleo doesn’t want to talk to him, and Sorey’s the only one they both like talking to, so it’s all well-off for everyone. It’s a good thing he’s had all week to practice not freezing up with his feelings for Mikleo to be able to do this.

It’s especially easy once Michael brings out the pictures from his travels. Sorey needs a little help seeing them right now, but Mikleo’s pretty good at pointing things out for him. It gets him involved pretty well and soon, they’re shooting back and forth some substantial debates about all of the sights and artifacts, with Michael as an enthusiastic mediator. He seems more amused than anything, watching them, but with a faint hint of softness in his gaze.

“Sorey,” he interrupts, as soon as he and Mikleo have wrapped up yet another unresolved argument, “I know I’m a little late in asking this, but is your face alright?”

“Huh?” Sorey looks up from Michael’s phone and remembers his injuries. At the thought, he puts a hand to the bandage on his cheek and says, “Yeah, I’m okay, just—”

“One of our friends accidentally messed with his head, so he couldn’t avoid getting knocked down the stairs,” Mikleo says. Sorey gives him a warning look when he notices the passive-aggressiveness in his voice. Mikleo deflates immediately, but still seems irritated. “He’s fine now. He just needs a little time to recover, but he still wanted to come and see you.”

“Aw, thanks kid,” Michael laughs and gives Sorey a thankful smile, but still stares intently at Mikleo, waiting for something. Sorey realizes he himself, right now, is the only one that notices.

“Excuse me.” Mikleo stands up to leave. He’s going out to clear his head, of course, Sorey knows that. Sorey isn’t exactly sure of Michael’s Mikleo-reading abilities, but from the look on his face, he might need some work.

When he’s gone, Sorey finally turns to Michael and says, “He doesn’t hate you.”

“Yes, he does,” Michael sighs. Now that he doesn’t have to keep his cool in front of Mikleo, he looks twenty times sadder and grabs the bottle of wine he’s ordered for himself. “It’s not like I can help it. I did hurt the most important person in his life.”

“I think that’s a little pushing it,” Sorey says bashfully. “I’m not the only person he thinks about.”

“Sometimes I feel like you are, kid.” Michael takes a swig of his wine glass. Sorey shakes his head. If he wants Mikleo to look up to him more, he’d have to work on that too. “Why else would he hate me even after eight years? Even though you don’t.”

Sorey blinks at him. Did Michael still think about that? “I don’t believe in holding grudges,” Sorey explains.

“And that, Sorey, is why you’re a damn angel. Or maybe you’re just too good for this world, who knows. It doesn’t change the fact that if I wasn’t driving then, you’d still be able to see properly.”

“Well…” Sorey runs a hand through his hair, over the scar on his head, and blinks past his imperfect vision. “It’s not like I don’t miss being able to see properly, but it’s brought me to a lot of great people.”

Michael actually smiles at that, and for once, he looks the slightest bit at peace. He kind of reminds Sorey of why he keeps himself so grounded. Michael has everything Sorey wants: smarts, the dream job, a gateway to anywhere in the world, but never seems completely satisfied with his life. Sorey glances at the empty seat beside him, and thinks, maybe he’s lucky. To be able to hold onto the people he loves.

“You know, he’s not a puzzle,” Sorey tells Michael. “He’s just Mikleo. Be honest with him.”

Michael scoffs. “S’that why he loves you so much?”

Sorey stiffens at the strong choice of words, but accepts them with a smile. “It makes it easier.”

They drown in small talk then, until Mikleo comes back, looking much calmer and prepared for evening conversation than before. When he sits down Sorey takes his hand and holds it tight, sending him a silent cue to talk to Michael. Mikleo opens his mouth to say something, but then looks over at his awkward uncle. Hesitantly, he shakes his head and accepts.

Once Mikleo is about to speak again, Sorey stands up. “Sorry, bathroom break,” he says, lets go of Mikleo’s hand, and leaves

“Wha— Sorey!” But Sorey is already out of there. It’s probably the longest bathroom break he’ll ever be on since his secret meeting with Mikleo at his family dinner, but this time it’s for a meaningful cause, so he can deal.

When he comes back, Michael has finally lost his cool and is excitably showing Mikleo all of the artifacts he got to see, watching and waiting for every change of expression Mikleo gives him. Mikleo can’t seem to keep his face completely stoic, which tells Sorey that something good happened.

 


 

Once they’ve left the restaurant, Michael grabs them both in a tight group hug. “I’m gonna miss you kids.”

“Same to you, Uncle Michael,” Sorey says, while Mikleo manages a muffled, “You too” into Michael’s shoulder.

“You’re a great pair,” Michael tells them with a lazy grin. He’s acting a lot more laid back now that he’s not relishing in his nephew’s love. Sorey’s proud of him.

So, before he leaves, Michael manages to get one last word in to ruin it all.

“You know, I’m glad I got around to teasing him about you.”

Mikleo chokes.

It’s the tone that catches Sorey’s attention, or else he would have just laughed it off as another common occurrence. Maybe it’s just Sorey’s sixth sense for strangeness in Mikleo’s family. “About what?”

“He didn’t tell you about how I was his miracle worker?” Michael laughs. Mikleo rushes to say something, but Sorey grabs his arm. “When I was talking to him on the phone, going on and on about his stupid crush on you.” What? ” Funny, right? So here I am, trying to get a high rise out of my nephew who I’m trying to win the fucking attention of and before I know it he’s all like ‘Well maybe I’ll ask him out today!’ and then bam!” Michael throws his hands up at the two of them like they’re a finished masterpiece. “Happy, right?”

Sorey looks at Mikleo. Mikleo looks at a crack in the sidewalk.

Michael bites his lip, and then lets his hands fall to his sides. “Probably shouldn’t have mentioned it.”

 


 

The walk home is the longest one Sorey has ever experienced.

Their apartment isn’t very far; if it were they would have drove, but, for obvious reasons, they couldn’t seem to find a good place to, well. Talk.

It’s pretty weird that Sorey’s walking next to Mikleo and they’re not doing something relatively intimate, like holding hands, brushing shoulders, knocking knuckles together. He dreaded doing those at the beginning of the week, but now it just feels like another part of their relationship. Those extra touches.

Though the strangest part is that it all feels different. Every time Mikleo took his hand, he was in love with Sorey. Every time he hugged Sorey back, or held him at night, he was in love with Sorey. When he kissed Sorey, every single time, he was in love with Sorey.

Maybe that’s the other reason for why they’ve been able to keep this relationship so realistic.

We were able to fool even Dezel like this, Sorey thought. He could almost laugh, because the only person to notice was Zaveid, who not only knew of their feelings, but knew how they longed for each other.

Sorey takes a couple more steps before realizing Mikleo’s not walking with him. When he turns around, Mikleo’s stopped, hands in his pockets and gaze distant, yet thoughtful.

“Did you know?” Mikleo asks, and Sorey knows immediately what he’s talking about.

“I think I did,” Sorey says, managing a small laugh. “I… ah, well… maybe I was scared.”

“Well if you’re so scared of it you didn’t have to indulge me!” Mikleo snaps back, and then covers his mouth as Sorey processes the words ‘indulge me.’ “That’s— Stop looking at me like that! You were just as bad as I was this entire week!”

“What!?” Sorey cries, even as Mikleo stomps right past him. “You’re the one that kissed me in the middle of the kitchen! How was I supposed to respond?”

Mikleo turns back to him. It’s as if he’s unsure what he should be doing, with the mess in his head right now. He runs his hands through his hair, pacing back and forth before locking gazes with Sorey once more. Nothing seems to cure the blush spread over his face, though. “Who’s the one who decided to share a bed? Walk me to every class? Kiss me in the middle of the museum, I didn’t even kiss you on the mouth, moron!”

“You’re the one who accepted all of it!” Sorey yells. Mikleo, by this point, has run out of excuses. “Y-You’re the one who just… You kissed back, Mikleo! I would have known if you didn’t want me—”

“You make me lose my self-control!” Mikleo tells him, stepping forward and taking Sorey by the face, so he can pull him down, close enough so that Sorey can feel every bit of Mikleo again. His heavy breath, quickened heartbeat and wild eyes. All of the fight in Sorey pulls back to fuel the fire in his heart. “And I never… know what to do with you.”

“You love me,” Sorey says, breathless.

“Of course I do,” Mikleo says. His thumb brushes the bandage on Sorey’s cheek, fingertips tracing his jaw. He does that a lot, Sorey notices. When he wants to look at Sorey, all of him, just to make sure he’s there. “I don’t know what it’s like not loving you.”

“Did you think I didn’t?”

And there’s a light that sparks in Mikleo’s eyes then. Sorey beckons Mikleo’s hands off his face, so he can hold them in his own. The look on Mikleo’s face reminds Sorey of his own, as if they’d just kissed. Maybe Sorey knew then, too, from the way Mikleo had kissed him back, that it was all real. But then again, Sorey never once thought that Mikleo didn’t love him.

“Is this what you wanted?” Mikleo asks, wonder in his gaze.

Sorey manages an apologetic smile. As if to say sorry for the trouble he’s caused, for hiding. “I don’t know anything about that,” he says, fighting a nervous fit of laughter. “But if we could be like this, I wouldn’t mind.” His smile wavers, fighting a grin. “I’d actually really like it.”

There’s a millisecond, when Sorey can see Mikleo’s dumbfounded before he kisses Sorey. The way he lights up, eyes widening as he stares at Sorey like he’s more wonderful than anything he’s seen in his life. And when he pulls Sorey forward, pressing their lips together like he’s never before, it’s the most amazing feeling Sorey’s ever felt. Not because of the loving warmth, the insistant closeness of the person he loves, or the smile in Mikleo’s kiss, but because of the knowledge that it’s real. This isn’t the end; it was never going to be.

When Mikleo lets go, it’s like a dream breaks. Sorey is left dazed, caught in a vivid memory of something fascinating. Except it’s not gone. Mikleo’s here, in front of Sorey. And he loves him more than he can say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

“So,” Sorey pants, just to reminisce how many stupid decisions he’s made throughout this week. He hasn’t been making a lot of them lately, so he might as well save the best for last. “Who’s breaking it to the group?”

Mikleo, taking a pause from gripping Sorey’s biceps, says, “Excuse me?”

 


 

“It was fake!?”

Dezel’s the last to know, apparently. He’s found Sorey and Mikleo reading in the university courtyard, and looks two seconds away from picking them both up and throwing them across the field. Sorey, too content to even think about being frightened, says, “Yeah, basically.”

“You conniving bastards,” Dezel hisses. “I poured out my fucking feelings to you and this is the bullshit you throw at me?”

Sorey doesn’t know how to tell him that Zaveid was able to figure it out; he feels really bad about the whole thing, really, but has gone well enough being Mikleo’s anchor through the whole post-faking ordeal. He’s already had to keep him from losing it at Edna after they found out she already knew. Mikleo probably wasn’t surprised she knew; Sorey thinks he just wanted to get mad at Edna about something. Still, he’s in a very peaceful mood now that the day’s calmed down. Dezel’s an angry remnant of that.

“Maybe you should try fake dating her,” Mikleo adds in offhandedly, not looking away from his book. He looks pretty comfortable from his place, leaning against Sorey with a copy of one of Michael’s studies on Southwestern cultures.

“I honestly don’t know how you guys are allowed to pull crap like this,” Dezel says, and Sorey just laughs. It gets him kicked. “Was all that stuff you said to me at the lake true?”

Sorey, while in pain, gives him an OK sign. “If it helps, she did fight Mikleo’s uncle to get you a dog.” Next to him, Mikleo scoffs at the mention of the animal. “Did you tell her you were upset because you didn’t know how to tell her about your feelings, or—”

“I wasn’t upset because I couldn’t tell Rose about my stupid crush on her!”

Suddenly, Mikleo shoots upright and grabs onto Sorey. Painfully. Sorey yelps, but something else grabs his attention. A girl. With a dog. A vicious white dog with impossibly sharp teeth that looks all too familiar in this university courtyard.

Maotelus barks.

“Uh,” Rose says, frozen.

“This works too,” Sorey says. Mikleo just pulls his boyfriend up to leave them, the two and the dog.