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The Unbearable Lightness of Bae-ing

Chapter Text

 

         Katipunan Avenue is notorious for being one of the most traffic-prone streets in the metro. It has been known to drive even the most peace-loving of motorists foaming in the mouth with frustration, the turtle-like pace of vehicles grating away at even the longest of tempers.

 

        Fortunately enough, the jeepney that a certain tall drink of a human being was riding in sped through the infamous street without any problem. It was a sweltering afternoon, and pockmarks of sweat start to blossom on the young man’s red shirt, the wind whipping through his hair and face providing some respite from the heat.“Thank God for small mercies…”  Phil thinks to himself. He considers it lucky that the traffic was at least cooperating with him, because he needed to be somewhere pronto.

 

        “So how’s he doing?” he asks worriedly to the cellphone plastered to his ear, never mind that the left side of his face was sweaty and sticky. The other person on the line squawked on without any reservations, her words audible enough even if he put the phone a good distance away. Phil winces a bit as he heard Mia’s rant.

 

         “Phil, I swear, I am so very close to slapping this idiot back to his senses! This has gone on long enough! Last Friday pa siyang ganito!” He could feel a sweat drop forming on his temple as he listened to Mia rage on.

 

          “Hang on, malapit na ako. I’m near Regis na,” Phil hurriedly replies in hopes of placating his friend.

 

           “Ok great. Please hurry, or else I won’t be responsible for my actions!” And with that threat, Mia hangs up. A heavy sigh escapes from the Iskolar ng Bayan.

 

            Time to be the voice of reason once again…

 

~ * ~ * ~

 

           One of the tables inside Starbucks found itself littered with at least 3 Frappuccinos and two empty plates of what seemed like cheesecake a few minutes ago. In between was the head of one moping Blue Eagle. His hair was not as combed as it usually was, and the trademark long sleeved polo was folded with one sleeve longer than the other. Neo lets out a moan and rolls his head to face his companion.

 

            “…just leave me alone, Mia.” Neo dejectedly mutters.

 

           Clearly Mia was having none of this bullshit. After all, she was the mistress of calling out something as bullshit and shutting it down. “So let me get this straight,” she says in an authoritative tone. She had a feeling that if she was wearing her glasses she would’ve adjusted it to go with that statement.“You’ve been throwing yourself this pity party all because of something you saw on Snapchat.”  

 

              Neo peeks up from his folded arms. “Cut the crap Mia, you know the answer to that very well.”

 

             And she did know the answer. The green idiot had his arm around a flustered Don (and no, she will NOT call him Mappy, because she is a sophisticated lady, thank you very much. She finds the nickname cute though.) Salle had hooked his arm around plenty of people before (she suspects it’s to flaunt those “bara arms” of his, as Tomas calls it), but what was different was the caption. She didn’t really think much of, knowing how much a flirt Salle can be, but then again she wasn’t part of the love-hate, cat-dog, Archie-Betty/Veronica, weird as heck dynamic Neo and Salle had going for them.

 

             She was actually with Neo when he saw the pic, having roped him into carrying her shopping bags as they strolled around UP Town. She remembers how Neo suddenly stopped walking, and just…stood there. She remembers how his face went through a flurry of emotions, from the widened eyes to frowning eyebrows to neutral passivity.  He suddenly made a beeline to the nearest bench, plopped down, and started researching on all the connotations, etymology, and lexicography of the word “bae”.

 

             Bothering the bae.

 

             “Well clearly more than one bae was bothered…” Mia mutters to herself.

 

              Time for some tough love, then.

 

             The girl in green crosses her arms and legs, her not-so subtle cue to Neo that she’s on serious mode now. “Ok fine, I know what triggered this funk of yours, so let me rephrase my question: what exactly are you sulking about?” Neo sits up straight but doesn't look at his friend in the eye. He puts his elbows on his knees and laced his hands together, seemingly deep in thought.

 

             Mia continues with her barrage of questioning. “Is it because you haven’t heard from him in a while?”

 

             Neo snorts at that. “Yeah right, that’s not th--”

 

             She cuts him off. “Is it because he had his arm around someone else?”

 

             “The idiot had had his arm around lots of peop-”

 

             “Is it because he’s paying more attention to someone now?”

 

             “Mia, that’s neither here nor--

 

             “Or is it because he called someone else his bae? Do you have any right to be jealous?”

 

             This is worse than any Philo orals I’ve ever had. Neo thinks to himself.

 

              “Look, Mia. I’m supposed to be the generous guy here. He puts a whole new meaning to ‘Man-for-others’!”

 

              The corner of the raven haired beauty’s lip turns up a bit; the line was ready, all she had to do was to cast it.

 

               Hook…

 

               “You know the first step to solving any problem is to acknowledge that it exists, right?” Her companion nods his head weakly. Neo felt tired and defeated, despite having three frappes’ worth of sugar coursing through his system now.

 

                                ..line

 

                  "This is clearly having a detrimental effect on you, and I’m sure you don’t want that.” Another nod.

                                               

                                                     …and sinker.

 

                “And are you going to let that guy have the upper hand and affect you this way?” Mia asks while checking her nails. She knows very well what the response will be.

 

              “…oh HELL NO!!! ” Neo shouts, causing a few other patrons to look over their table. Mia is happy with the reaction though, as it rekindled Neo’s (fighting) spirit.

 

                Men are so easy,Mia thinks to herself. She reaches out and ruffles Neo’s hair, earning a ‘hey watch it!’ protest from her newly-revitalized friend. “There we go! That’s the Neo we all know and weirdly enough, love!”

 

              Neo grabs her hand off his hair, but doesn't let go immediately. He brings his other hand and claspz Mia’s tightly, as if trying to convey his emotions through contact. He looks at her with utmost sincerity in his eyes and he couldn’t stop a soft smile from forming.

 

               “Thanks, Mia.”  And he means it.

 

               She stares back with wide eyes and feels her cheeks heat up a bit. “A-anyway!” she coughs. “Let’s wait for Phil and talk about our plan.”

 

                Neo raises an eyebrow at that. “Wait a minute…what do you mean ‘our’?!”

 

            “Of course! You mess with one Katip Kid, you mess with all of us!” she says like that was the most obvious thing in the world. Neo, on the other hand, thanks St. Ignatius that the girl in front of him was his friend. Meanwhile, Mia cracks her knuckles and brought out a piece of paper.

 

               “Alright, first let me teach you how to tie him up…”

Chapter Text

 

          The library that afternoon was full of students in various states of stress levels. Laptops frantically clacked, pages of books of ruffled, and every so often the tearing of paper followed by sobbing can be heard.

 

          So all things considered, it was pretty much an ordinary afternoon.

 

          Despite all the background noise, the people in the library seem to have an unspoken understanding to maintain the sanctity of the building by keeping quiet.

 

          If you were going to cry over the unfairness of professors, you do it quietly.

 

          If you were rushing through writing a paper due in 30 minutes, you do it quietly.

 

          If you were going to take a quick nap, you get someone to nudge you in case you snore.

 

         If you were going to sneeze, you…

 

         “AH-CHOOOOOO!”

 

         People glared at the offender as he smoothed his once slicked-back hair into place. Salle wonders why he was sneezing his lungs out today, especially since he was feeling perfectly fine that morning. He was always the healthy specimen (eye bags notwithstanding), rarely afflicted by sickness despite keeping late hours. A tissue magically appears before him, and he takes it gratefully. “Thanks, Mappy…” Salle says, sniffling.

 

        His companion studies him for a minute, eyes unreadable due to his thick glasses. Putting his book down (Advanced Level Physics by Nelkon and Parker), the brainiac turns towards his friend. “Salle, while I have no objections towards having your company at this moment, I must pose this inquiry: Why are you here?”

 

       The Archer continues to sniffle, mutilating the proffered tissue while Don winces a bit at Salle’s general lack of hygiene in that instance. “Awww, can’t a bro hang out with his bestie? It’s not as if you—AHCHOOOO!” Another tissue appears before his face, which he snatches before things get messier.

 

      “A ‘bro’ indeed can, but this ‘bro’ has always held the opinion that libraries are for ‘boring people who have nothing to do with their boring lives’. Thus this current situation raises a bit of a conundrum for me. Besides,” Don says while adjusting his glasses, “…don’t you usually pester someone else? Vociferously too, if I may add.”

 

     Salle slouches in his seat, head thrown back, and a defeated sigh escaping inadvertently. “I dunno Mappy…” Salle replies. “It feels like everything I do lately manages to piss him off.”

 

     Don raises an eyebrow at this. “But isn’t that the result you wish to achieve? Your antagonism towards him is rather well documented.”

 

     “Oh yeah? Like wha—AHCHOOOO!” Another sneeze, another tissue.

 

      Ever the meticulous record keeper, Don whips out his Kindle and turns to his notes. “Well, there was a time you threw fried chicken at him when they lost to your athletes in basketball…”

 

     “Heh, yeah that was a good one. He managed to catch it before it hit the floor though. We ended up eating the whole bucket after.”

 

      “The time when you posted a picture of him when you doodled on his face…”

 

      “Well he said that it takes him a long time to grow a moustache, I thought that I’d help him out to see how it would look at him!”

 

      “…or when you spiked his drink when you were in the club...”

     

      "He needed to loosen up! That guy takes on too much sometimes. People need to chill!”

 

      “You’ve said that to me as well but you’ve never attempted to have me imbibe alcohol,” Don responds in a deadpan tone.

 

      “That’s because I know that if messed with you, you’d send killer androids after me and leave no trace behind.”

 

      “I am glad that you are aware of that,” Don says with a chilling smile.

 

       “Okay hold up, why do you have those on record though?” Salle asks, just realizing that his friend took note of those moments. He'll have to ask if the android thing was actually real at a later time.  

 

       “I wouldn’t be much of a researcher if I did not take down notes,” Don says in a matter-of-fact tone. “You never know when they would be of use, like this situation for example.”

 

       Curse him and his of gift foresight, Salle mutters to himself. He had to admit that Don was right though.

 

       “Oka—AHCHOOO!” The tissue was right in front of him even before he could ask for it.

 

       “But to bring this discussion to a close,” Don says peeking from behind the textbook he used as a shield against the gale-type sneeze, “…and since I have run out of tissue, might I offer some insight?”

 

       “Of course, Mappy. You’re like the smartest person I know.” Salle looks at the tissue in his hand. “Don’t worry, I’ll replace your tissues.”

 

       “The way I see it, your actions are ill-conceived attempts at establishing a more intimate relationship. I would like to advise that before taking a course of action, sufficient research about the subject must be done.” Don sagely advises.

 

       Salle gasps at this and leans forward. “Why Mappy! Are you saying that I should stalk him?!” he says with a mischievous grin. “Does this mean you’ll hack his FB for me?”

 

       As If you haven’t already, Don thinks to himself, rolling his eyes behind his glasses. “What I am trying to say is that you should give your actions a bit more thought. Especially since this is of importance to you.” Don flips through his book, his current page lost due to Salle’s sneezes. “You don’t get too many chances at happiness, Salle. They’re rare and if luck is on your side, you get to catch one.” Having said his piece, he goes back to reading. He barely completes reading one page when he feels eyes on him. Looking up, he sees his friend staring at him fondly.

 

      “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

 

      Salle lets out a little laugh. “You know, most people see you as this workaholic student who only cares about acads, and like you totaaaally are,” he says putting his chin on one of his hands, “…but you’re actually a big ball of…of…mushy and sappy feelings deep inside.”

 

      Don cringes at Salle’s choice of vocabulary. “I notice a lot of things. I just act like I don’t.”

 

     Because it’s for the best, Don adds internally, but Salle doesn’t need to know that.

 

     His friend packs his stuff and makes to depart, seemingly like a man with a mission. “Thanks Mappy. You helped me a-a-AHCHOOOO!” Hands fly up to cover his mouth before things got anymore unhygienic. “I swear to God I was fine this morning…” Salle grumbles while wiping his hands on his jacket. Don makes a mental note to buy Salle some hankies for his birthday.

 

     Arranging his notes for the nth time, Don exhales in surrender. “You know, superstition dictates that sporadic sneezing suggests that someone is talking about you right now.”

     Salle thinks about it for a while,  eyebrows furrowed quizzically.

 

    “Huh. I wonder who that could be.”

Chapter Text

          “You know, Buddha once said that inner peace begins when you choose not to allow another person to control your emotions…”

 

Both Mia and Neo pondered over what the third member of their trio said. Heaven knows that they’ve both had their tempers get the better of them (Mia especially), and Neo recognized how relevant that saying is to his life right now. It’s just that…

 

          “Phil, that saying would have had more impact if it was said by someone that, I dunno…someone who looks like they didn’t just go under a waterfall? Anyare ba sayo?” commented the Blue Eagle. He marveled at the fact that even though Phil was sweaty, he didn’t stink. In fact, he just smelled kind of grassy, like he just camped out in the Sunken Garden (he probably did). He figured that if anyone smelled like plants it would’ve been Mia, their uniform being teased as an inverted tree for so long now the insult has lost all bite to it.

 

          “I tried to get here as fast as I can, which, by the way, you’re welcome ha,” the scholar mock-glared at his friend. It was only then that he noticed the number of plastic cups on the table, a sure sign that Neo was trying to drown his sorrows in caffeine and sugar. Not really a pretty combination, but people deal with their stuff in different ways.

 

         “But honestly, how’re you holding up, buddy?” Phil asked, voice full of concern. His eyes sought out Mia’s, whose take-no-prisoners brand of honesty has ebbed to a concerned sister-figure (‘the family relative, not the religious order’, Mia clarified the first time he made that reference) mode. She was looking at Neo with worry clearly evident on her well-maintained eyebrows.

 

Mia placed a hand on Neo’s shoulder and squeezed it gently, a non-verbal gesture of support. The distraught man looked at the two people who seem to know him better than himself, and decided to really make an effort to sort his baggage out.

 

         “Actually…nalalabuan din ako e. I’m not sure how to explain it? You know what Eminem said? ‘I can’t tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what It feels like’.”

 

         “So what does it feel like then?” Mia asks while continuing to rub soothing circles on Neo’s back. “…but if you rap your answer so help me God…,” she warned in a deceptively sweet voice. Neo felt her hand pressing in to his shoulder growing stronger. 

 

He took a deep breath and tried to organize his thoughts, not only because his collarbone was on the line, but some outside perspective may help him out. “I guess…” he started, his wide vocabulary abandoning hm. “…I guess it feels like…like my day is incomplete if I don’t hear him tease me. I suppose I just got used to him always being around, whether I wanted his company or not, and now that he’s not here, it’s  like…a frappuccino without the whipped cream…” he says solemnly.

 

Time seemed to have moved to crawl, each second sending an echo to the trio’s minds. They each processed the information that was just revealed, trying to figure out the best thing to say.

 

A few moments of silence, a deep sigh, and something inside Neo snapped, the weight of his problem finally consuming him. “AAAARGH why is this so damn HARD! I DON’T NEED THIS SHIT!” he screamed, furiously scratching his head. Mia and Phil nervously looked around the room, seeing that the other customers were giving them weird and disapproving stares.

 

       “It’s not as if I don’t have enough on my plate already! I don’t want to deal with this..this…whatever the hell this is!!!”

 

Silence. And in a defeated whisper so soft that they almost didn’t catch it: “…I miss him.”

 

The two kept quiet, processing what Neo just confessed. His metaphors may have been weird, but if there’s one thing that they’ve learned from years of being friends with the guy, it’s that he is one proud mofo. For him to admit being affected by someone outside of their trio is already an earthshaking deal, something like a miracle actually. Phil decides to text Tomas later and have him check if there are any horsemen flying in the sky right now, or if the sun is dancing, because this certainly counts as one.

 

He goes first in breaking the silence, sitting up straight and adjusting his glasses. “Turgenev said that people need unhappiness, poverty and illness because without them, people become conceited.”

 

Neo doesn’t even look up at him. “Phil, I love you man, but what the fuck are you saying?”

 

         “What I’m saying is, hindi mo malalaman kung paano maging masaya kung hindi mo alam kung paano malungkot.”

         

        “Jusko naman Phil, ang bigat naman nun,” reacted Mia. Phil cheerfully ignored her.

 

        “So what you’re saying is that you’re going through some sort of withdrawal symptom.”

 

        “Huh? Adik ako kay Salle?” Neo asked with a raised eyebrow.

 

The Fighting Maroon continued with his explanation. “Maybe hindi kay Salle mismo, pero sa attention that he gives you. I can’t blame you naman, halos magkadikit kayo all the time. So now na hindi ka na niya…masyadong pinpansin, ayun…hinahanap mo na siya.” Or baka style niya lang ‘to para ikaw ang lumapit sa kaniya. Phil filed that thought away for later.

 

Neo kept quiet, contemplating what his friend just said. He hid his face behind his hands, an almost symbolic attempt to hide from reality.

               

        “Can I ask a terrible question?” Mia chimed in. Neo gave a small nod, not removing his hands from his face. Given permission, she carried on with her query. “Why don’t you just tell him that you like him?”

 

Phil had to smile at that. Leave it to Mia to get to the heart of the situation. He knows that a lot of things can be resolved if those two just dropped all pretenses of pride and one-upmanship and just get together, goddammit.

 

It took some time before Neo could reply, but the other two patiently waited, giving him the silence to think. Finally, still in a subdued voice, Neo answered. “I just admitted that I miss him, Mia. I-I don’t think I’m ready to deal with that…”

               

Yet, Phil added to himself mentally. In a way he understood where Neo was coming from. To admit that to himself would have given Salle the upper hand over Neo’s emotions and their ‘relationship’. It would leave the eagle much too vulnerable, something that he cannot afford right now.

         

        “That’s okay, sweetie...,” Mia said while combing through Neo’s hair. “Pero Neo…”she added while scooting closer to him, rubbing soothing circles on his back, “I hope you realize…wala kang hawak sa kaniya. If he wants to make landi with Don, then he has all the right to do so. Despite how he acts…acted…towards you, you really weren’t together. I know it sucks so bad right now, but you have to buckle up and pull yourself together.”

 

Phil followed suit in moving closer to Neo and put his arm around him as a show of solidarity. “Men must be free to do what they believe. It is not right our right to punish one for thinking what they do, no matter how we disagree.”

 

         “And who said that?” Neo mumbled from behind his hands.

 

         “Assassin’s Creed.”

 

         Neo put his hands down, but doesn’t look at the other two. He kept his gaze straight ahead, face a mixture of pride, determination, and if the other two is able to read his expression correctly (which they can)…resignation. It was then that both Mia and Phil knew that Neo finally admitted to himself that he was not in a good place right now, and the reason behind that was Salle.

 

         “Guys thanks ha…I’m just tired of it all I guess. I don’t know if he’s being serious or just flirting, and when I think of emotionally investing myself, he pulls shit like this…”

 

He looked at his two friends, Mia to his left and Phil to his right. “Ayoko na.  I don’t want to be this way over him anymore.”

 

          “So what are you planning to do, then?” Phil asked to clarify exactly what Neo’s epiphany entailed. Really, there were two options: one would be for Neo to admit his feelings for the Archer so that they can be together officially (assuming Salle felt the same way, which Phil was pretty sure that he was), or…

 

           “Make that idiot realize what he’s going to miss out on.”

 

            Phil laughed out loud at that. He tried to hold it in, really he did, but that was just such a Neo thing to say that Phil was certain that his friend was already starting to feel better. Apparently, Mia was also the same way, giggling demurely. “Yeah I agree with that," she added. "But above all else honey…do it for yourself, and not just because you want to show Salle up. That will just be an unintended side-effect.”

 

            “Thanks guys…” Neo said with all the sincerity that he could muster, and hooked his arms around the neck of the other two.

 

Amidst their group hug, Mia and Phil's eyes locked onto each other. Neo’s eyes were closed, perhaps reveling in this bonding moment, but the others’ were dead-set serious. Mia gave a small nod, and Phil nodded back. They didn’t need to speak in order to get their message to each other across, for it was clear what they had to do:

 

Hunt. Salle. Down.

 

But then Neo released his hold on them, and the plan was put on hold for the meantime.

 

Phil spoke up again, index finger wagging the way it usually does when he drops information. “No one person can make their way through life without help. But that’s okay, because people show their greatest strength when they banding together.”

 

            “Okay Mr. Motto-mania, kanino naman galing yun?” Mia said while poking Phil’s chest. It amused her that her friend was such a fountain of information. Phil smiled.

 

             “Oh. That one was from me.”