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⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐢. —— make it two

 i 

"Please, Pick, this is the last time I'm asking you for anything," Porsche pleaded with his big eyes. Puppy eyes. Damn, he did look like a dog asking for a treat. 

Pick slowly blinked, trying to keep his head upright. It was a little after eight in the morning and still way too early for Porsche's shit. Usually, he'd give Pick about two more hours before nagging because he knew that Pick was not a morning person and, frankly, before nine he was barely even a person to begin with. The weather already started to become hot and it didn't mean anything good, Pick was going to regret the black jeans because while he could take off the leather jacket, his professors probably wouldn't be delighted to see his underwear. The question was: how much did Pick care? 

"This is the sixteenth time I hear those exact words this week and it's only Wednesday. I'm keeping a count," he answered eventually, words slow and drawled out. God, he was tired. The air conditioner was broken in Pick's dorm room and the heat made it almost impossible to fall asleep, not to mention the phone calls from his father who didn't or more likely didn't want to understand the concept of time zones. 

"I... Is it really?" Porsche asked, falling to the bench on the other side of the table. He looked upset and Pick almost felt bad enough to agree to whatever Porsche wanted him to do this time. Almost. It's not that Porsche was manipulative, it's just that Pick sometimes thought he would literally die for Porsche if the boy asked for it and this was a pretty good indicator that Pick should work on his assertiveness when it came to his best friend. He didn't understand why the need to make Porsche happy was so big but it's been like that ever since they've met, sixteen years later Pick was pretty much used to it. He wouldn't do shit for anyone else so it balanced everything out in his opinion. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that."

Pick sighed, resting his chin in a hand and closing his eyes. He was going to regret it; might as well add it to a never-ending list of embarrassing things he did for Porsche. "What is it about this time? If you say any word that starts with E and ends with mma, I'm going to have to deck you, so please do be careful."

Porsche opened his mouth like he wanted to say something but then he closed it and looked to the side, tapping his fingers against the table. 

"I'm leaving," Pick decided, moving to stand up. But then his friend caught his wrist and it made Pick stay put. 

"Please. It's... it's different, this time. She approached me first," the boy said, making Pick open his eyes wider. That was indeed different. "She asked if I could help her with a photography project but she said she's asking me because her friend wants you to help."

Pick frowned at that. "The shorty who always trails behind her with a camera?" he asked, trying to remember if he's seen N'Emma with anyone else when Porsche was following her around the campus and dragging Pick along. 

"I guess so?"

"Mhm, so you do realize she didn't ask because she's interested, yeah? And you want to put yourself through this?" Pick looked at his best friend, raising an eyebrow. Porsche was a kind person and he wasn't dumb, Pick knew that, but sometimes this guy could be so oblivious. Emma didn't pay Porsche any attention since the beginning of the school year, why would it suddenly change now? 

"Are you going to help me? She told me to come to their classroom today because they need to introduce us to their teacher," Porsche said, avoiding answering Pick's question. 

"You already told her I'm going to do it?" Pick really shouldn't be surprised at this point. He still slapped Porsche upside the head though, just out of principle. 

"Come on, I promise I'll buy you food later," Porsche offered, getting up and tugging at Pick's jacket. The boy ran a hand through his black hair and sighed, slowly moving after his best friend.

The photography faculty was about ten minutes away from theirs and by the time they made it, Pick was annoyed even more. Some guy almost pushed him down the stairs and Pick was pretty sure that his ankle was sprained now, but would that stop Porsche from getting to the love of his life? The idiot didn't even look back to ask Pick if he's okay, this was the kind of people Pick had in his life.

"Oh, P'Porsche, you made it!" Emma rushed to open the doors for them once she saw them through the glass. "P'Pick, are you alright?" 

"Well, at least you have manners," Pick snorted, leaning against one of the desks at the back. He inspected his ankle and frowned; well, it wasn't swelling that badly. 

Porsche walked closer to him. "Is it serious? Do you want me to take you to the hospital?" he offered.

Pick raised an eyebrow. "Take me with what? I have a car, you don't have a license. Just fuck off and make it quick, Porsche. I'm not staying here all day."

The teacher came in a few minutes later and the students started to introduce their partners one by one. Pick noticed that almost all of them were older than the photography majors so he figured out that this was one of the requirements. But Emma could've just asked her asshole of a brother instead of playing with Porsche; she must have known he liked her, Porsche wasn't exactly a subtle person. Malice wasn't something Pick would associate with Emma so he couldn't understand her motives. He didn't like to not know things, especially when they were concerning Porsche. It always made him feel uneasy. 

Finally, it was Emma's turn.

"Those are the seniors that are going to help me and Rome. P'Porsche and P'Pick, they're both veterinary science majors," she introduced them. Pick greeted the teacher but then his eyes finally moved to the boy standing next to Emma. It was the shorty, just as Pick had thought. The boy kept nervously glancing back at Pick and something suddenly clicked in Pick's brain.

"It was you!" he said, pushing himself off of the desk he was leaning against. "You almost pushed me down the stairs earlier!" 

The boy looked straight up terrified and he almost hid behind a surprised Emma. "I... I did?" he asked, voice cracking. Pick would probably find his behavior amusing if it wasn't for the fact that his ankle did hurt and he was pissed because he still didn't get an apology. 

"Yes, you did," Pick pointed a finger at him, moving forward only to be stopped by Porsche's hand on his shoulder. "What, you expect me to still help him?"

Porsche tugged at Pick's jacket. "Come on, I'm sure it was an accident. N'Rome wouldn't intentionally hurt you."

"Of course, P'," Rome rushed out. His cheeks were red and eyes kept moving from Pick to Porsche and back, hands clasped in a wai. "I'm so sorry, I was late and I wanted to get here before the teacher. I'm sorry, P'Pick," he said, looking down at his shoes. 

Pick wanted to tell him that he doesn't give a fuck and that he's not going to help with any project, but Porsche was still looking at him with those big eyes and the shorty was practically shaking with fear. Pick couldn't do anything right now.

"Whatever, I'm leaving," he muttered, taking his bag off the desk and throwing it over his arm, not looking back as he left the classroom. He could hear Porsche apologizing to the juniors and then steps behind. 

"You didn't have to be an asshole," Porsche said but there was no bite in his voice. Good, it meant he wasn't mad, and Pick wouldn't have to listen to his rant again. He was still hoping for the food Porsche promised him earlier.

"I had to, I'm just taking care of my reputation," Pick laughed, wrapping an arm around Porsche's shoulders to get some weight off of the hurting ankle. 

Porsche rolled his eyes. "Rome is already scared of you. Does it really hurt? Maybe we should skip the next class and let a doctor look at it?" he asked, looking down at Pick's leg.

"We can skip but first I want to eat."

"You're unbelievable."

"You love me."

— ii —

For some reason, Pick noticed Rome almost immediately which was weird because he had never noticed him before. He was walking in front of the cafe just outside of their campus when his eyes caught a small figure inside, still in school uniform with the sleeves rolled up, still with a camera hanging off his neck. Pick didn't hesitate before walking in.

"One iced cappuccino, please," Rome said to the girl behind the counter.

"Make it two," Pick piped in right after, making Rome jump slightly and look to his left. He needed to crane his neck to be able to look at Pick's face and Pick found it extremely funny, though he did his best to hide the amusement. 

"Hello, P'Pick," the short boy said, immediately raising his hands to wai Pick. "What are you doing here?"

Pick slid hands into the back pockets of his jeans, looking around. "What can I do in a cafe? I just ordered a coffee, didn't I?" he asked, moving his eyes back to Rome to see a light blush on his cheeks. 

"And... how's your ankle?" Rome actually sounded concerned, his hands nervously fiddled with the camera. Pick sighed and caught one of Rome's hands to move it away.

"Stop before you break it. It looks expensive," he said, just then noticing that Rome completely stilled with eyes stuck to Pick's hand that was holding his own. Pick quickly let go of it, clearing his throat just as the girl announced that their orders were ready. "Come on, I need to talk to you," Pick pushed Rome a little towards one of the free tables. He smirked, seeing the scared look on the boy's face. 

"I'm sorry, P'Pick. I didn't want to hurt you," Rome squeezed the plastic cup in his hands, looking down at it. 

"Mm, I don't care. Just tell me why did Emma ask Porsche to help her?" Pick leaned forward, raising an eyebrow. Rome looked like a deer caught in the headlights and it made everything even more suspicious in Pick's eyes. "Spill or I'll really give you a reason to be scared of me."

The boy raised his head, staring at Pick with wide eyes. It was easy to mess with him, something Pick probably shouldn't be taking advantage of but whatever. It's not like he needed to get along with the shorty just because Porsche was in love with Rome's best friend; for now, Pick didn't like the guy, nor did he know Emma enough to have an opinion about her. 

"Porsche told me that Emma said her friend wants my help, I'm assuming the friend is you. But I also know it's not true, we don't know each other at all," he tried to reason, stirring the ice with his straw, eyes not leaving the boy sitting in front of him. 

Rome had this type of beauty people would compliment the way they'd do so with a girl; his skin was smooth, lips were pink, he had nice cheekbones and dark brown eyes. Delicate features. The boy was... pretty, now that Pick actually looked at him. Not handsome, it wasn't a good word to describe him, but just... pretty, what with the long eyelashes and stuff. Pick usually wouldn't waste time on commenting other guys' looks but, well, Rome was just in front of him, and Pick happened to notice. That's perfectly normal. 

"It could be true," Rome muttered, averting his gaze to the side. His cheeks were tainted pink again and Pick slowly started to wonder if maybe the kid just had troubles with his heart, no one blushed all the damn time. 

Pick raised an eyebrow at that, kicking at Rome's leg under the table to make him look at Pick again. "How so?" he asked, curious. 

"Well... I did want to take pictures of you before, P'. But Emma said it would be creepy and I didn't know if you'd even like to be photographed, so..." Rome shrugged, putting straw between his lips to sip the coffee before the ice completely melted. 

Pick swallowed, wondering how that statement made him feel. To be honest, Pick didn't like it when people took pictures of him. He knew he's good looking and girls used to snap pictures with their phones whether on campus or when Pick was out with Porsche, usually he didn't even mind because this was something he was used to. But there were... troubles when people started to spread the pictures that shouldn't have been online in the first place. Pictures that could reach Pick's father. Pick knew that what Emma and Rome asked for was different, the pictures taken for the project wouldn't be posted anywhere else and there was a ban on spreading the photos used for such things, so this wasn't something Pick needed to worry about. 

"Why did you want to take pictures of me?" Pick asked finally, smirking when Rome slid a little bit down on his chair, looking like he'd prefer to be anywhere else, hell included. "Is it because I'm handsome? Do you have a crush on me, N'Rome? I'm not going to stop until you tell me the real reason," Pick informed the younger boy, with satisfaction watching the mess in front of him. 

"I can't tell you!" Rome answered, squeezing the cup in his hands a little tighter. "You can tease me all you want, P'Pick, but I've promised something to my best friend. And if you want to think she asked P'Porsche for help only because I have a crush on you, then it's alright. I'm sorry, I have to go now," he added, quickly getting up. 

Pick leaned back in the chair and sighed, watching how Rome trips over his legs in his haste to get out of the cafe. He didn't even take his coffee with him. This was ridiculous and Rome was starting to get on Pick's nerves. He wasn't a patient person to begin with and Rome seemed to be testing him right now. Well, Pick would not follow him to get his answers; mostly because he didn't care that much but also because this fucking asshole sprained Pick's ankle.

Pick was petty, thank you very much. 

— iii —

Rome was sure that P'Pick already hated him which was stupid considering that they actually talked twice in their life, but maybe Rome was paranoid and for Pick it was enough. He couldn't explain it, there was just something about the way Pick was staring at Rome that made him think the older boy wouldn't hesitate before pushing him down the stairs to get revenge for the sprained ankle (for which, by the way, Rome had apologized about hundred times already).

Rome tugged at the sleeves of his hoodie, they were a little too long on him but Rome was glad that he liked bigger clothes because now maybe he'd be able to drown in them and avoid Pick's gaze. It was a Friday evening and Emma decided it would be a good idea to meet with their partners to discuss the project, so they were sitting at one of the restaurants in Siam and "discussing"; Emma was talking, P'Porsche was staring at her as if she was the one who hung the stars, Rome was trying not to die and P'Pick was... angry, probably. 

"Maybe we should tell them about the trip?" Rome suggested, nudging Emma who was sitting next to him. 

"Well, yeah, I'm getting to that," Emma answered, making Rome raise an eyebrow at her. In that case, she was very bad at staying on the topic. Not that it was news to Rome.

"What trip?" Porsche asked curiously. Rome thought it's kind of adorable how much attention Porsche was paying to Emma, but judging by how Pick rolled his eyes, he thought his best friend is just being ridiculous. Two types of people. 

"I already told you that the project is kind of about your life, right? That's why we needed to find seniors who graduate this year, for a month we have to capture your last year at the university," Emma repeated, taking out the papers their teacher gave them with detailed instructions about the project. She moved them on the table towards the two boys on the opposite side; only Porsche looked at them. "But our teacher figured it might be a little weird for some of you at first, so she decided that we'll spend the first week on getting you all used to us taking pictures. For that we're going on a trip just to the countryside, so we'll have time to spend together and just decide what you want to show us and what you don't want us to photograph. You'd be excused from your lectures, of course, so it wouldn't ruin your attendance."

At that Pick finally looked interested. "A week of vacation? Should've said so in the first place," he said, looking at the watch on his phone screen. That made Rome realize how long they've actually been in the restaurant. 

Emma seemed to notice it, too. "Oh, I have to go now. I'm going to text you the details tomorrow, P'," she told Porsche, gathering her things and getting up. "Come on, Rome. I'll drive you home."

"I still need to buy a few things so you can leave first," Rome said with a soft smile, rolling the sleeves up. Emma looked at him with concern as she flopped back down on the chair. 

"Then how will you get home? You remember what happened the last time you walked there alone," she said, lowering her voice. It probably wasn't enough, seeing as when Rome looked at the seniors, they were both staring at him with curiosity on their faces. Rome wasn't mad at Emma, though, he did remember what happened and she was just worried which was justified. 

"I'll be fine, Emma. I will call you when I get home, okay? Drive safe."

Emma didn't look convinced but she probably didn't want to make a scene in front of Porsche and Pick, so she just nodded and stood up again. "Alright. But once you leave this building, I want you to text me every fifteen minutes," she pointed a finger at him, daring Rome to argue with her.

"Are you my mom?" he asked amused, pocketing his phone. 

"God knows sometimes I feel like I should be," the girl sighed, ruffling his hair and finally starting to walk off towards the exit. 

Porsche jumped from his seat. "I'll walk you to your car," he offered, not even looking back as he followed the younger girl. Rome rolled his eyes and looked towards Pick who was just stretching arms over his head.

"You're not going with him, P'?" Rome didn't feel comfortable being alone with Pick because he knew the older boy probably didn't want to be alone with him either. He wouldn't mind just spending time together, he didn't lie when he told Pick he wanted to take photos of him before, but not if Pick would feel forced to do so because of the project. He had no idea how they're going to work with each other or how the trip will turn out. Sometimes Rome hated himself for not being able to tell Emma no, it was kind of ruining his life right now.

"What for? If I'll have to watch him making heart eyes at your friend for another second I'm going to throw up everything I ate today," Pick answered, slowly standing up. Rome was pretty sure that Pick didn't even go to the hospital to get his ankle checked; the fact that he was studying medicine didn't mean he could take care of his injuries on his own, right? After all, he was a vet student, not a doctor. 

Rome, deciding that he'll be able to outrun Pick if he annoys the older boy too much, took a risk at continuing the conversation even as they both were leaving the restaurant. "You're not happy for him?"

Pick looked down on him with a frown. "I would be. If she liked him back instead of using him for whatever reason," he drawled out slowly, looking around the mall. There was still a lot of people walking around in school uniforms because even though it was getting quite late, it was still a Friday evening.

Rome frowned, feeling offended on Emma's behalf even though he knew Pick's words could be justified. "It's not like that, P'. She doesn't want to use him," the boy bit his tongue before he could say anything else. It wasn't that serious but it was still Emma's secret, not Rome's, and he wouldn't betray his best friend for a senior that hated him. 

"Unless you tell me what she really wants from him, I'm done talking about it. What do you need to buy here?" Pick changed the topic so suddenly that it took Rome a few seconds to understand the question. 

"Um, just some... Just some things for my camera," he answered eventually, looking down at his pink hoodie.

He nervously glanced towards the taller boy next to him; Pick was wearing his usual outfit consisting of black ripped jeans, a white t-shirt, and a leather jacket that was now thrown over his shoulder. His hair was styled up but it didn't look like Pick was using a lot of gel to keep it there, it looked rather soft and Rome always wondered if it is that soft. He liked Pick's hair probably more than he should if he was being honest with himself. But the truth was that everything about Pick was pretty; he didn't look like typical Thai boys, he looked more like he should be cast as the main character in some Korean drama. He was insanely tall and well-built, his lips were nice to look at (not that Rome did it often, he didn't hate himself that much), he had dark eyes and charisma of a bad boy (along with bad boy's manners, Rome was sure), and he rode a motorcycle, for god's sake. He was... Well, okay, if P'Porsche was adorable then P'Pick was simply... hot. He seemed like someone who would beat people like Rome up which wasn't comforting.

"Come on then. Are you just going to stand here all night?" Pick asked, already moving forward. Rome blinked, surprised at the fact that Pick decided to accompany him, but he wouldn't complain so he just ran after the older boy.

— iv —

"You can just stop the car here, P'," Rome muttered, looking straight ahead.

He knew that letting Pick drive him home was a bad idea but for some reason the senior insisted, even though they couldn't seem to agree on anything, even something as simple as whether to take the stairs or elevator (for Rome it was obvious they should take the elevator since Pick's ankle was sprained, but the boy only told Rome to stop telling him what to do). The ride was tense because Rome was aware of how close to him Pick was sitting, he had only one hand on the steering wheel while the fingers of another one were tapping against his thigh and Rome's eyes kept going back to those movements. They weren't talking because Pick still seemed annoyed at Rome for whatever reason so Rome decided he wouldn't push it. 

He was just about to get out of the car when his eyes caught a few boys standing near his house. Rome's hand faltered above the handle and he nervously looked back to Pick; he was staring out of the window, clearly waiting for Rome to go. He didn't say it, but Rome knew that Pick wanted him gone. And god, there was nothing more he wanted than just get out but... Were they waiting for him?

"Your friends?" Pick's voice sounded so close to Rome that it made him jump slightly in his seat, the seat belt digging into his body to keep him in place. When he looked to his right, he noticed that Pick was now leaning forward and staring at the group of guys Rome had been looking at just seconds ago. 

"Yeah, well, you could say that," he said bitterly, unbuckling himself.

Pick frowned at that. "Who are they? Does this have anything to do with what N'Emma was talking about at the restaurant? What happened the last time you walked home alone?" he kept asking when Rome wouldn't give him an answer.

"Thank you for the ride, P'," Rome put his hands in a wai, but then suddenly Pick caught one of his wrists, making Rome look at him with wide eyes.

"Rome—"

Rome wasn't in the best place right now. He didn't want to remember anything and Pick's questions made him see what happened the last time he went home alone, and it was too much. He snatched his wrist out of Pick's grip. "What do you want from me?!" he asked frustrated. He should've left with Emma when she asked, she would know what to say now to make him calm down. He was trying to steady his rapidly beating heart but it was hard.

There was a beat of silence before Pick spoke up again; slowly as if he was talking to a child. "I don't want anything from you. What could I possibly want from someone like you?" 

Someone like you. Those words made Rome immediately stop thinking about anything else. He didn't know if Pick somehow found out he's gay or if he said so only because he thought of Rome as someone worse than him, but it still hurt. It hurt enough to make Rome want to be anywhere else than this close to Pick, so without another word he got out of the car, stumbling over his legs and loudly shutting the doors. He felt a sting behind his eyes but he quickly blinked the tears away because he noticed that the loud noise made the boys in front of his house look up; they weren't going anywhere which meant that they were, in fact, waiting for Rome to get back.

He took a deep breath and forced his legs to move, crossing the sidewalk and getting closer to the gate. Almost there...

"Hello, princess. You kept us waiting," the tallest one of the boys said and a moment later Rome could feel a hand on his shoulder, pushing him forward and making his body bounce off of the gate. 

He grimaced, his body still remembered the old injuries, not all bruises healed. "Please, leave me alone, P'Tul," Rome muttered, trying to open the gate only to be pulled back. He tripped over someone's extended leg and his body fell to the pavement, he tried to secure himself on his elbows but he immediately regretted it when the pain shot through his arms. 

Tul hovered over him with a smirk. "You're not going anywhere until I say that you can. And where's that little girlfriend of yours tonight? Not here to defend you?" he asked, looking around. But then his smile seemed to slip off his face and it made Rome look back to see what Tul was staring at.

"Oh, don't mind me," Pick said with a shrug. There was Rome's camera hanging between his fingers on a stripe and the younger boy realized that he got out of the car so fast that he forgot about his things. As if this night wasn't embarrassing enough. "I'll enjoy doing what you did to him to all of you, maybe adding a crowbar or something to make it more interesting," he took a step forward and Rome flinched when he's heard sudden steps on the pavement. But he wasn't hit this time and after turning his head he could see that Tul jumped back when Pick got closer. "Do I have to count to three or will you get lost without bothering me?" the tall boy asked and it was all it took. 

Rome knew that Pick had a reputation but it seemed like it couldn't be enough for a group of five boys to run away like scared children. What exactly had been true from the rumors about Pick? Rome was breathing heavily and he almost had a heart attack when something touched his arm, and by no means did he calm down when he knew it was Pick who helped him stand up.

"Don't touch me," Rome forced himself to say, even though his voice was cracking funnily. Pick helped him regain balance but then stepped back, extending the camera towards Rome. 

"This happens often?" Pick asked almost conversationally, putting hands in the back pockets of his jeans. 

Rome blinked, if he'd try to catch the quick changes in Pick's moods he would probably snap his neck. "It's not your business, P'. Someone like me doesn't need your help," he stressed. Pick looked surprised at that, as if he didn't even think that the words he told Rome earlier could have offended him. 

Rome couldn't deal with this right now because if he'd keep standing here, he would soon get mad at Emma. He would blame her and it wasn't her fault, she didn't know that it would be this hard for Rome. She knew P'Porsche liked her, but on the other hand, Rome knew that P'Pick despised him. They both needed to face this on their own.

The boy squeezed his camera a little tighter and refused himself another glance at Pick. He quickly turned around and almost ran through the gate to get to his house. 

And he did not spend the following night on googling how to get rid of feelings for people that would never even look his way.

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐢𝐢. —— smile for the camera.

 i 

Rome got on the bus in the last moment, earning a disapproving glance from both the driver and his photography teacher. He waied both of them, still trying to catch his breath after a run. The boy moved between the seats but he was disappointed when his eyes finally spotted Emma only to see that the place beside her was already occupied by an over-eager senior.

"Rome, you made it!" the girl said, catching one of his hands. "I’m so sorry that I didn’t drive you, your brother told me you already left and he wouldn’t let me in. I should’ve waited for you in front of your house but you weren’t picking up and I was afraid that there won’t be anyone to tell the teacher to wait for you," she tried to explain before Rome could even say anything. 

He should’ve known that it was his brother’s fault, that asshole could always find ways to make Rome’s life that much harder. Good thing that this time it was only a stupid ride to school though, god knew that Noh usually aimed for worse things. 

"Don’t worry about it, it’s not your fault," Rome assured, looking towards the end of the bus for an empty seat.

"We saved you a seat next to Pick," Porsche said suddenly, making something clench in Rome’s stomach. He looked back to where Porsche was pointing and sighed; Pick looked like he was sleeping but he had sunglasses on so Rome couldn’t see whether his eyes were closed or not. He wouldn’t risk sitting next to him anyway.

"I should probably find another—" Rome tried, but then the driver started the bus and Rome lost his footing, falling forward. Everything happened fast but Rome could make out the fact that someone caught him by his belt and pulled back, and then suddenly Rome was sitting down instead of lying with his face squished against the dirty bus floor. 

"You’re so annoying so early in the morning, that doesn’t look promising," Pick’s bored voice made Rome snap his head towards Pick.

"I’m perfectly annoying all day long, thank you very much, P'," Rome said instinctively as if he was just bantering with Emma who now burst into laughter, not even trying to deny Rome’s words.

Pick looked surprised but something was tugging at one corner of his mouth and Rome could swear it was a ghost of a smile. Not that he cared, he was keen on keeping his distance from the senior if only his best friend could stop stabbing him in the back. Rome sighed and tried to adjust in his seat, his back and arms were still sore after his encounter with P'Tul, when Rome checked himself in the mirror this morning he could see some cuts and ugly bruises formed on the old ones. Honestly, he was sure that this was the reason he still didn’t have a boyfriend; he was cute, tiny, and very much available, but who would want to date someone who looked like he just came out of a boxing ring? If Rome dies alone, he will blame Tul for that.

The first hour of the ride was quite peaceful, everyone was busy with their things and even P'Porsche quieted down after nagging Emma for the first fifteen minutes. But then Rome could feel a nudge on his shoulder and he realized he’s still been fidgeting.

"What’s your problem?" Pick asked, moving the sunglasses up and pushing the hair that was falling to his forehead back. Damn, was it really that soft? "Quit spacing out," he said, snapping his fingers just in front of Rome’s face and making him flinch back out of habit. Pick looked surprised at the sudden reaction but before he could start asking questions, Rome beat him to it.

"I’m uncomfortable," Rome answered shortly, tugging at the collar of his hoodie. It was way too hot for that but he didn’t want Emma to notice any of the scratches on his forearms so he had to deal with it.

Pick studied him for a moment and this made Rome even more uncomfortable than the heat. "Switch places with me," he said suddenly and stood up without even waiting for Rome's answer.

"Wait, why?"

"Because. We’re going to stop at the station soon and I don’t want to have to jump over you if you fall asleep and I’ll want to go buy snacks," Pick drawled out like explaining anything to anyone was a totally new concept to him. Truth be told, people probably always just went with whatever Pick wanted.

Porsche perked up at that. "Yeah, he’s weird like that. He has to eat exactly at ten or he’s unbearable for the rest of the day. It’s a pain if we have lectures in the morning. Seriously, if he won’t eat exactly when the clock hits ten in the morning, he’s like... falling asleep throughout the day and stuff. I’ve told him it’s a medical condition—" 

Rome has never in his life met a person who could out-talk him but he had to admit that Porsche was close to doing just that.

"I have a medical condition alright, it’s called loving the sound of you shutting up and it’s incurable!" Pick barked out with annoyance, making Rome snicker and quickly try to hide it when Pick looked down on him. "Just move, Buttercup, I don’t have all day."

Rome sputtered. "B-Buttercup?"

"Ah, is that a pet name?" Emma sounded delighted, suddenly losing her interest in a biology book she’s been reading before. Rome wanted to smack her with that book, it looked about heavy enough.

Pick didn’t look fazed though. "He’s small and feisty, Buttercup was the one that was angry all the time, right? The little green one?" he asked, looking genuinely interested in that matter.

"Please, just stop talking," Rome muttered, embarrassed. He moved out of his seat so he could switch with Pick but it didn’t make matters better since he wasn’t able to open the window. Pick sighed beside him and pushed Rome back down to the seat, leaning over him to forcefully open one of the small windows on the bus. "Thank you," he muttered but then Pick took his phone out and started to type something, handing the device to a surprised Rome a few seconds later.

He looked down on the screen, reading the short message in drafts. You can take the hoodie off. N’Emma won’t notice the bruises, it said. Rome’s eyes opened wider when he moved his head towards Pick but the older boy already put the sunglasses down, seemingly losing his interest in Rome. But... still, this was... way too considerate for someone like Pick. He didn’t switch places with Rome only because he wanted to be able to get off the bus easier, he did it to make Rome more comfortable since it was obvious that Emma won’t be able to see him because he’d be covered by Pick so he could take the hoodie off. He did just that, handing the phone back to Pick and trying not to think too much into this. Maybe Pick was just annoyed by Rome’s fidgeting; this sounded more plausible. He still figured out what was wrong though.

Oh, shut up, Rome told himself. He put the blue hoodie on his lap just in case he needed to quickly wear it back and then he sighed with relief, turning a little more towards Pick so he could stop leaning so much on his back. Then everything was peaceful again, until their first stop at a gas station.

"You can stay on the bus or go out for some fresh air, or something to drink. We’re leaving in fifteen minutes," the teacher announced and the students started to slowly pile off the vehicle. 

Pick took the wallet out of his bag and left with Porsche.

"Come on, Rome. Let’s get something to eat. You rushed to school this morning, you probably didn’t have breakfast," Emma suddenly spoke up, standing from her seat.

Rome nodded, his stomach growled as if to confirm Emma’s words. Emma laughed upon hearing it and moved towards the exit, Rome followed almost immediately but then he remembered he’s still in a t-shirt so he quickly grabbed the cloth from his seat and put it on, rolling up the sleeves that were way too long. 

Just then Rome quickly got off the bus.

— ii —

Pick was walking around the small shop at the gas station, throwing things into the basket Porsche carried after him. It was the only thing he was useful for at the moment and he did so without complaining, he knew he fucked up when he told Rome to sit next to Pick this morning, Pick made that very clear through a few Line messages. 

"Do you really need that many packets of seaweed?" Porsche asked.

"We still have two hours left and it’s almost ten, where do you think this good-looking body came from if not eating healthy and on time?" Pick mocked, throwing some chips into the basket. 

Porsche hummed. "On time? Yes. Healthy? Debatable. And this body came from the Korean side of your family, you narcissist asshole," the student said sweetly, smiling when Pick shot him an unimpressed glare. 

Pick was about to answer when he’s heard the bells above the doors ring and then Emma’s voice that made him curiously turn around.

"Whose clothes are you wearing? This isn’t what you came in this morning."

"Oh, right. I guess I accidentally took someone else’s hoodie..."

Emma snorted. "Accidentally? Rome, it’s like six sizes too big."

Pick frowned, moving out from the aisle and towards the juniors. "What are you doing, walking around in my clothes? People will think we’re dating," he clicked his tongue, staring Rome down. N'Emma exaggerated a little but still, Pick's hoodie was about... three sizes too big, it almost reached the middle of Rome’s thighs. Usually, Pick would see girls wearing his clothes, he didn’t particularly like that but it surprised him that with Rome he didn’t mind. Maybe because it didn’t mean anything for Rome while those girls thought that if they wore his shirt once, it meant they’re special to him or something. 

Rome got startled at first but then he rolled his eyes. "Listen up, everyone! Me and P'Pick aren’t—" the boy started loudly, but then Emma quickly slapped a hand over his mouth.

Jesus Christ, at first look Rome seemed so shy but... he wasn’t. Interesting. He was interesting.

"Shut up, Rome! It’s only the first day, stop embarrassing our faculty," some guy shouted from the other end of the shop.

"I’m representing—" Rome looked ready to go and argue but Pick caught him by the hood and tugged back into place.

"Thank you, P'," Emma sighed exasperatedly. "Rome, what do you want to eat?"

Porsche was way too eager, Pick was going to kill him one day for that. "Pick is buying a lot of snacks, we can share later if you want," he offered with a big smile.

"I didn’t realize you’re paying for that," Pick said with raised eyebrows, twirling the wallet in his hands. 

"Oh, it’s fine. We’re going to buy our food," Emma assured.

"Are you rich?" Rome asked instead, looking at Pick with squinted eyes.

Pick heaved a sigh at that, he could feel his stomach starting to growl which meant ten was getting closer. "Yes, and this rich boy is going to eat everything that’s in the basket," he announced, pointing to himself and turning around. "So if you want anything, just get it and bring to the counter yourself," he added lazily, not looking back. Well, he was their senior after all and he wasn’t that big of an asshole. Plus, spending his father's money always put him in good mood. 

"There’s really no need—"

"You’ve heard the rich boy, Emma," Rome interrupted her, already moving to the aisle. Pick rolled his eyes but refrained from commenting on how eager Rome was to use someone else’s money.

"Is it because you didn’t take your wallet? You know, when you said you wanted to find a sugar daddy—"

Pick almost choked on his spit.

"Shut up, Emma!" Rome hissed.

The truth was, Pick felt guilty. He felt guilty about yesterday because if he wasn’t a dick to Rome, the younger boy wouldn’t walk out of the car without him and bump into those idiots in front of his house. Once he saw the bruises on Rome’s arms when the boy took his hoodie off, the feeling only became worse. He didn’t like it, that’s why he tried to lay off from being an asshole to Rome today. But god, was that kid annoying.

In the end, Pick paid almost three times more than he would if he bought food only for himself.

"You eat a lot, Buttercup," Pick pointed out once they were back on the bus because he was feeling petty.

Rome shrugged. "I’m a growing boy, I’m actually wearing insoles to make me look taller," he answered around a mouthful of seaweed. Pick’s seaweed, that idiot!

"Wait, are you serious?" Pick opened his eyes wider. If Rome was this short in fucking insoles–

"Oh my god, I’m kidding! Your face!" Rome laughed, earning a hard shove on the shoulder. "Nah, with insoles my head would reach your chin, P'. But they’re bothersome and I’m usually with Emma who’s shorter than me, so it makes me look taller."

"Are you trash-talking me again?" Emma peeked at Rome, leaning over from her seat. 

Pick sighed and rubbed his temples, putting the earphones in. He’s had enough of these two already.

— iii —

"Alright, wait. Repeat it slowly, so I can understand you, professor," Pick said carefully, staring straight at the teacher as if she just grew a second head. He clearly wasn’t the only one baffled by her words, Rome and Emma looked equally dreadful.

The photography teacher smiled apologetically. "Due to the recent downpours, the houses that are closer to the river got flooded so we needed to change the accommodation a little. Because I don’t know the seniors, I simply put you in groups by how you paired up. In your case with the exception of Emma, since she’s a girl she will stay with a few other students that are paired with boys," she explained once again.

Pick blinked at her, trying to process that. Staying with Porsche was fine, it was what Pick had expected. But Rome?

"So I’m supposed to stay with... him?" Pick didn’t mean for it to sound the way it did, he usually had a good way with words but it always came out wrong regarding Rome. 

"This again? Alright, I’m done," Rome said with annoyance, suddenly grabbing his bag and walking past Pick (not without shouldering him roughly), still in Pick's hoodie, might he add. 

Pick looked towards Emma with confusion but the girl only pursed her lips, clearly upset with Pick too. Quite understandable.

"Is he going to—" Porsche started softly.

Emma nodded. "He’s going to lock the doors."

"No, wait, I need sleep!" Pick yelled after the short boy but once Rome heard him, he made a run for it. Pick would be able to catch up in no time if the shorty didn’t get a head start on him, but seeing as things were right now, Pick only bounced off of the locked doors to the small summer house by the river. "Open the doors, you can’t treat your senior like that!"

"An asshole is what you are, I’ll gladly let P'Porsche in," Rome answered. It sounded close so he was obviously standing by the doors. Pick quickly looked around and... bingo! A window was opened, he only needed to get Rome’s attention long enough to climb. 

"I bought you food today," he pointed out, already moving to his left.

"I'll pay you back tomorrow. If you have such a big problem with staying with me, sleep outside. I don’t have to listen to your bullshit, P'Pick."

Rome kept talking, not even noticing that Pick stopped replying. God, he was just like Porsche when he started to rant, it was impossible to shut him up. And Pick was supposed to survive in one house with them? If he’s not arrested for homicide by the end of this trip he’s going to treat himself to something nice for being a literal angel among men.

He quickly threw his bag in through the window and before Rome could catch on to what Pick was doing, he already climbed into the room. The look of utter betrayal on Rome’s face was priceless but then the boy quickly tried to open the lock to get out, Pick didn’t plan on letting him off this easy though. He crossed the distance between them and slammed his hand on a door, keeping them shut and successfully pinning Rome’s body in one place. The smaller boy almost jumped with surprise as his big eyes stared up at Pick.

"Were you not going to let me in?" he asked quietly, getting into Rome’s personal space. Their faces were close enough for Pick to notice small freckles on Rome’s nose, something he didn’t see before.

Rome slightly shook his head, keeping his hands up as if he was ready to push Pick away if he tried to get closer. Pick kind of wanted to see how far he could take this, how red could Rome’s face get but... then he noticed that his breath quickened too and that wasn’t something he liked.

"You don’t want to stay with me anyway, P'," Rome uttered out with a frown like he was trying to figure something out. 

But Pick was trying to figure something out, too. "You... last time you weren't like this. You were scared of me and today you seem like a different person," he pointed out, not sure where to go from this. It's just that this has been nagging at his mind ever since they came back to the bus after the stop at the gas station. Yesterday he probably wouldn't look at Rome twice if he saw him on the street, today the younger boy picked Pick's interest and it was uncommon for the senior.

Rome choked out a laugh, slowly moving his hands down to his sides, eyes still not leaving Pick. "I'm not a pushover, P'. I know I may look like one, sometimes I even act like one to make people like you leave me alone. But I'm not a pushover. I've spent all my life adjusting to the way others treat me, I'm nice when people are nice to me, I'm quiet when my friends need quiet. You've made it clear that you think of me as someone who is somehow below you, but I don't intend to let you walk all over me. But I need to finish this project," Rome tried to explain, pausing every so often to find the right words.

"So... this is you adjusting? To me?" Pick slowly pushed himself off of the door, still facing Rome and trying to understand it. He had to admit Rome did look like a pushover type to him at first, sometimes even now, but did Pick really act like he's better than Rome? He thought back to Friday; they were shopping together and Rome spent an unbelievable amount of time choosing new lenses (boring), then Pick drove him home and... "Wait, is this because I said I don't want anything from-"

Suddenly there was a loud knock on the door. Rome immediately moved forward and pushed Pick a little back, it was almost too easy to startle him. 

"Are you guys going to let me in or not?" Porsche asked loudly, still banging on the door as if people on the other side were actually in China and not just behind thin wooden doors. Pick rolled his eyes, knowing that he won't sort anything out with Rome right now. He wasn't quite sure why would he even need to, it's not like he cared about it that much but if they were going to work together for a month (very unlikely that Porsche will change his mind and let Pick live for once), Pick would like to have... well, if not peace then at least something more indifferent than hate. He didn't have time for that.

"What good will it do for us?" Pick shot back, moving closer to the door. He could literally feel Porsche's whiny face.

"Don't be an asshole, Pick. There are mosquitoes here," his friend answered. The words were followed by a distinct sound of a slap on naked skin, like Porsche wanted to prove that he didn't just talk shit. 

Rome already moved towards one bed with his bags so Pick just shrugged and opened the doors for Porsche, turning around and putting hands on his hips. "Why did you get to choose the bed first?" he asked, just to be difficult. 

"Knock it off, Pick. You're not going to bully a freshman, are you?" Porsche teased, throwing his bag to the bottom bunk bed. Pick did not like this setting; why did Rome get the only single bed and just assumed that Porsche and Pick would want to share the bunk bed? He wouldn't get a single night's sleep like that, the bed looked too fragile to be able to survive Porsche's snores. 

Well, in any way Pick would be on the top so if the bed falls apart, maybe Pick crushing Porsche would shut him up. "I'm not bullying anyone, I've never bullied anyone in my life."

Porsche raised an eyebrow at that. "What about P'Dew?"

Pick couldn't stop the grimace that appeared on his face just then. "He was scum," Pick muttered. He couldn't understand why Porsche would bring him up right now, Pick certainly did not want to see his sister's tear-stained face and the way she held onto him on the airport before deciding to flee the fucking country just to be away. Why the fuck would Porsche even bring that up?

"P'Pick?" Rome's voice suddenly woke Pick up, making him turn his head towards the owner. Rome was sitting cross-legged on his bed, fiddling with the camera. "Are you alright?" he asked, soft but expression unreadable. Pick hated people he couldn't understand and it was getting hard with Rome. Who would've thought?

"Peachy," he answered, words laced with sarcasm. He unceremoniously threw his backpack to the top bunk bed and racked hands through his hair.

"Oh, come on, Pick. Smile for the camera," Porsche urged funnily. He probably didn't even realize that bringing Dew up would affect Pick in any way, Pick shouldn't have gotten mad at him. It's not like Pick told Porsche much about that case.

"Fuck off, Porsche."

When the shutter of the camera went off, Pick looked towards the small boy on the bed. Rome was already looking down at the picture he took, head lowered and black hair covering his eyes. Pick was still just standing in the middle of the room, not quite sure what to do with himself. He felt uncomfortable but couldn't tell the reason for that; it wasn't Rome taking pictures of him, it wasn't... anything in particular, really. 

It was just this nagging feeling at the back of his mind, telling him that something in his life was shifting. Making a place for something new. 

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐢𝐢𝐢. —— want to see my lenses?

— i —

Pick woke up relatively early, mostly because it was too hot to sleep comfortably anyway. Porsche didn't seem to have such problems, he was loudly snoring on the bed below Pick and when Pick sat up, he almost burst into laughter at what he saw. Rome was sitting on his bed with crossed legs and chin propped on his hands, eyes wide and staring at Porsche; the kid looked like he didn't sleep at all. Good, that's what he gets for taking the better bed. 

"Good morning, sweetheart. Couldn't sleep for some reason?" Pick asked sweetly, jumping down from the bunk bed and stretching arms over his head. 

Rome blinked slowly, furrowing his eyebrows. "Is he even able to breathe like that? Is he okay? You know, P', I've had a roommate once during summer camp and he was snoring almost as loud as P'Porsche and... I do not think he's even alive right now," Rome went on, already spitting out more words than necessary at a speed that made Pick's head hurt. He sighed and looked back to his best friend, lightly kicking Porsche. The other boy muttered something, blindly swatted at Pick's leg, and turned around in bed.

"Seems fine to me. Did the teacher tell you when we're getting breakfast?" 

"Um, around nine, I think? I'm pretty sure before ten so you should be fine," the boy answered with a slight shrug, turning around to reach for his phone. Pick rolled his eyes at that, damn Porsche and his big mouth. It's not like Pick couldn't survive without food exactly at ten, it's just that it was... hard for him, for some odd reason. It wasn't his worst habit anyway, people shouldn't treat it so strangely, he just liked his food on time. 

"Is there a bathroom here somewhere?" he asked lazily, reaching for some clothes from his bag.

"I think it's the big building we passed yesterday, the one before all those houses," Rome said somewhat tiredly, clearly not in the mood to pick a fight the way he did yesterday.

"You're telling me that if I'll want to pee during the night, I have to walk all over there?" Pick just wanted to be difficult now, he had to admit. Even though he was quick to get angry himself, teasing others seemed like a great past time activity. He practiced a lot on Porsche so by now his friend was mostly ignoring his antics, it wasn't as fun. 

Rome sighed and turned towards Pick, taking his clothes and a towel. "You can just walk out and piss on the grass, I'm sure your morality wouldn't suffer too much," he said, walking out of the small house.

It took Pick a moment to realize he was being insulted and so he ran after the younger boy, ready to yell.

— ii —

"So, how was the first night? Anything interesting happened?" Emma asked with a smirk when they were sitting by the river after breakfast. Rome shot her an unimpressed glare and continued to wipe his camera, getting it ready for the day even though he doubted he'll actually get any pictures. "What? No pillow talks?"

"The only pillow talk was your boyfriend's snoring, thank you very much," he answered, making her squeal and cover his mouth with a hand, frantically looking around to see if anyone could hear. He sighed patiently and swatted at her arm. "Honestly, I'm not going to survive this and I do not recommend sleeping with—"

"Shut up, Rome!" she yelled, repeatedly hitting his back. It wasn't hard but she unintentionally picked a spot with the biggest amount of bruises and so Rome grimaced, trying to play it off as being annoyed. "I don't... I don't want him to know. It's embarrassing," Emma muttered, looking down at her hands with a frown.

Rome didn't like seeing her upset and even less being the one to make her feel like that, so he slightly bumped her shoulder and smiled. "Sure it is, but at least you're brave enough to do something about it. And by something, I mean using me and making me go through terrible, terrible things—"

"Oh, please. Like this isn't an opportunity for both of us? I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't know you like him, Rome. You can just tell me when it gets too hard, you know? I'll quit, I'm serious," she added when Rome raised his eyebrows. He didn't want to talk about it, it was his problem that he was so used to jerks in his life that he fell in love with one.

Alright, love was maybe too strong of a word. He didn't know Pick enough to be able to say that, but he did feel a strong sense of infatuation towards the older boy which was ridiculous, it was and he knew it. There was absolutely nothing likable about Pick and Rome would be happy if he could say it was just because of Pick's looks, but he knew himself enough to tell he wasn't that kind of person. There was just something... something about the senior that made Rome want to try to get to know him better, something was pulling him in. Not that he'd ever say that out loud, he would prefer to die. 

So, in conclusion, Rome was just dumb. He decided to blame it on the moon. 

"What are you doing over there, love birds?" Pick asked loudly from somewhere behind, making Emma almost jump in her place. Of course, Pick got his food so he was his terrible self again.

"I'm going to drown him," Rome muttered, adjusting the camera around his neck. "None of your business, P'!" he said louder and a second later there was an arm around him when Pick flopped to the place beside him on the grass.

"Oi, why so mean? Didn't you ask me to help with your project? I'm doing something for you out of the goodness of my heart, you know?" Pick bullshitted, making Rome roll his eyes. 

"Yes, and I'm sure P'Porsche had absolutely nothing to do with it," Rome said sweetly, looking towards Pick's friend who sheepishly sat next to Emma and now blushed furiously at Rome's comment. Okay, maybe he shouldn't be teasing him, P'Porsche was a good person. "How are you two even friends?" he asked, genuinely curious. Then he tried to shake Pick's arm off.

"What do you mean, N'Rome?" Porsche asked, leaning a little forward to look at Rome.

Rome shrugged. "Well, you're an angel, P'. And that one..." he nodded towards Pick who in return slapped him lightly upside the head. 

Porsche laughed at that. "Believe it or not, Pick is actually a very good friend. We've known each other since we were kids, so I guess it would be hard to just stop being friends now even with all his weird antics," the boy answered, waving a hand around and making Pick snort. 

"Yeah, fine, tough guy. Try and see if anyone else will treat you this good," Pick pointed a finger at Porsche, almost hitting Rome in the face in the process. 

To be honest, it was quite nice to watch them interact, Rome thought. You could tell how long they've known each other by the familiarity between them and how comfortable they were. Earlier during breakfast Pick chose food for Porsche along with his favorite drink and when later Pick turned sideways on the bench and leaned against Porsche, Porsche simply adjusted his position so his best friend wouldn't be uncomfortable; all that without the other having to ask or without any complaints. This was something that came from long years spent together. Well, Rome didn't have any friends when he was a child, he met Emma in middle school so maybe he wasn't fully able to understand the bond between the seniors, but it was still nice to see it.

Before Rome could comment on it, though, someone called him from behind. 

"Rome, could you take a look at my lenses?" It was Din, one of their classmates. Emma always insisted that he's interested in Rome, but Rome honestly couldn't see it. Why would anyone be interested in him out of all people? "I think there's something wrong with them," the boy added shyly, chancing glances at the two seniors.

"Of course, I'll be right there," Rome answered with a smile. Din nodded and slowly backed out, seemingly scared of Pick who wasn't even doing anything now, just sitting with his arm still around Rome for some reason. 

"Is that some secret pick-up line among photography majors?" Pick asked curiously, half-teasing, and half-serious. 

Emma frowned. "What are you talking about, P'?"

Pick hummed. "You know, want to see my lenses? Every major has weird people, it could be a euphemism," he shrugged, making Rome choke on his saliva. 

Emma burst into laughter at that, pointing a finger at Rome. "I told you he's onto something!"

"Shut up! He doesn't like me and it's not a euphemism for anything, you idiot," he turned towards Pick, pushing him off a little. "Would you honestly use that on anyone?"

"I wouldn't have to, I can just say hello and they'll be the ones using pick-up lines on me," Pick mocked, raising an eyebrow when Rome blushed. Damn that, Pick was too close while talking about those dumb things.

"Well, good for you," he muttered, standing up. "I'm gonna go help Din. With the lenses. Nothing else," he emphasized, making Emma laugh even more. Some friends Rome had.

For some reason, Pick insisted on tagging along and it was very uncomfortable for the next fifteen minutes since Din seemed to be terrified of Pick. Rome tried to understand it because Pick didn't exactly look scary now, he acted rather civilized (he didn't make any comments about lenses so Rome had to give him some credit because he knew the senior is holding back a lot) and he was wearing a ridiculous pink t-shirt with some cute little frog on the back. How could that be scary? And Din wasn't even that much shorter, honestly. Rome? Yes, Rome could be scared seeing as Pick could literally step on him, but come on. Rome sighed and just helped Din putting on the lenses correctly, Din bought some new ones and they were slightly different from his usual, so he had some troubles with adjusting them and therefore thought they're broken. Rome put them on and let Din take a picture of him to see that they're working properly. Din thanked him and almost ran off with face as red as a tomato. 

"He really is into you," Pick decided a few seconds later, leaning his cheek on a hand and slowly moving his gaze from Din's back to Rome.

Rome snorted, playing with his fingers. "He's not. Emma keeps saying this but it's not like that, you shouldn't listen to her," he muttered, embarrassed for some reason. 

"Hmm, yeah, I'm not listening to her. I saw it with my own eyes just now," Pick nodded towards Din. Rome couldn't decipher Pick's expression and it was making him slightly anxious. He could assume earlier that maybe Pick doesn't know that Rome was interested in boys, but now it seemed unlikely and Rome wasn't sure how to feel about it.

"Does that... Would that be a problem for you? I mean... not that you would care but..." Rome rambled and trailed off terrified. What the hell? He did not want to stutter in front of Pick like a teenager on their first date. So maybe it was better to just shut up and not make things worse than they already were.

"Would that disgust me?" Pick prompted, tilting his head. Rome swallowed and forced himself to look at Pick before slowly nodding. "Maybe. But if yes then only because it's you, specifically. I mean, why would anyone like you when I'm here? Am I not attractive to gay guys?" he sighed dramatically and Rome thought his jaw is going to fall off from how fast it dropped.

He punched Pick in the arm. "Stop being a jerk! This is serious! And he doesn't like me!" 

"He does and you're an idiot. Serious my ass, who the fuck cares who you're banging? Or who is banging you, for that matter? It has nothing to do with me, why should I bother?" Pick asked, stretching his arms and slowly standing up. 

Something pulled at Rome's heart just then. Of course, it had nothing to do with Pick, Rome knew his place well enough. But still...

"Thank you," Rome said quietly, making Pick look down on him with a frown. "For not... I don't know, I just thought that once you know, you're going to punch me or something so... Yeah, thank you," he added, standing up too. "And for all it matters, I think you are. Attractive to gay guys, I mean. Some of them, at least. Maybe. Probably."

He smiled and turned around to go back to Emma and Porsche. Maybe it was just his imagination, but he thought he could've seen a faint blush on Pick's cheeks.

— iii —

Pick quickly decided that photography majors lacked not only a sense of humor but also any kind of decency; and he could appreciate a good prank when he saw one, this just wasn’t it. Well, at first he did think it’s funny when some guys threw Rome into the river, he was thinking about doing it himself because the constant clicking of the camera behind his ears was making him go crazy and it was only the second day of their trip, he needed to survive five more like that. 

But then Emma started to panic when she noticed what the boys have done. It was getting dark already, they were all sitting around the campfire so at first, no one paid attention to some students fooling around until they’ve heard the sound of water.

"No, no! He can’t swim!" Emma yelled, getting up so fast that she stumbled and almost fell into the fire. Pick instinctively caught her wrist and pulled her back before she could hurt herself but his eyes were stuck on the water. The shorty wasn’t coming up.

That was when it stopped being funny, Pick—even being the person that he was—wouldn’t risk having fun at the expense of someone's life and it was improbable that those students didn’t know Rome couldn’t swim, from what he had learned from Emma, the trip to the countryside was something the photography majors did quite often during their projects so it must have come up at some point. 

Someone was already running towards the water and after a moment Pick recognized the weird guy that asked Rome for help with lenses yesterday; Dan or something. Emma was almost in tears when Rome was pulled onto the side of the river and Pick noticed that the stupid camera was still hanging around his neck. He coughed up water and Dan was patting his back to help him, Emma fell to her knees next to them.

"Are you okay?" she asked quietly, wrapping her arms around him. Rome was breathing heavily, he hid his face in the crook of her neck, making her shirt wet with water that was dripping from his dark hair. 

"Rome, is everything alright?" the teacher asked concerned, crouching next to the boy. Pick didn’t even notice her before, too focused on the shorty who was shaking now with hands clenched in fists. 

"I’m fine," Rome muttered finally, probably more for the sake of being left alone. He did not sound fine. "It’s nothing, really. I just need to go and change into something dry," he added, forcing himself to look at the teacher with a small smile. 

"Alright, love. Make sure to dry your hair, too, so you won’t catch a cold. And please tell me if you’ll need anything," the woman said, next turning towards the students that thought they’re exceptionally funny. "You two come with me, right now," her voice changed drastically and even Pick took a step back even though this time he was completely innocent. 

Emma slowly helped Rome get up but his legs gave out at first and he stumbled. The Dan kid quickly caught his arm to help and Rome forced another smile.

"Thank you. Thank you for helping me and for getting me out of the water, Din. You should go change, too. I wouldn’t want you to get sick because of me," Rome said softly. Pick frowned at that, so it was Din, not Dan. Whatever, close enough. 

"You don’t have to thank me. I’m glad you’re okay," Din answered sincerely. 

"Fantastic, you can get dinner together later. Shorty, you’re getting water all over your best friend, she can get sick too," Pick interrupted them, tired of the sweetness.

Rome immediately looked towards Emma and gasped, trying to move away. "Oh god, I’m so sorry, Emma. You’re getting sick easily, I’ll go alone. I’m just going to change my clothes and I’ll be back, okay?" he asked though he was still shaking so much that Pick doubted he will be able to walk to their house. Judging by Emma’s expression she thought the same thing. "I’m fine—"

"Don’t even start, Rome. You almost drowned there, your fine doesn’t mean anything," she hissed and it seemed like this was something they argued over before already. Suddenly the girl turned towards Pick and frowned. "P', can I bother you? Please, take care of him for me for a while. I should change my shirt, too, and I wouldn’t want to make you and P'Porsche uncomfortable by staying with Rome when it’s already so late," she explained, making Pick snort. Of course, he could tell her that Porsche would be over the moon if she stayed but he wouldn’t risk being choked to death at night.

Rome's cheeks suddenly became red and for Pick, it was quite fascinating how fast it happened. "Emma, I don’t need anyone to take care of me, I’m not dead yet, can you just..."

"Alright, shorty, you should probably check on your camera," Pick noticed and Rome’s attention was immediately elsewhere. He caught his camera with shaky fingers and didn’t even notice when Pick took off his hoodie to wrap it around Rome. Pick tugged the hood on Rome’s wet hair and started to guide him towards the house with one arm around the shorter boy who was too busy with the camera to care about anything else. "Is it broken?" Pick asked curiously, absentmindedly moving his hand up and down Rome’s arm to warm him up a little. 

"Well, it’s not waterproof," Rome said bitterly, hitting the small screen with his palm when it wouldn’t work. 

"Woah, okay there, this won’t make it better," Pick quickly put his hand over the screen when Rome was getting ready to hit it again. Rome slowed down in the last second and his cold hand softly fell over Pick’s, like he was just tired. "Is the water that cold?" 

Rome huffed out a laugh and nodded, looking up at Pick. "Yeah, it sure is," he answered. There were small lamps with soft blue lights spread on both sides of the path back to the houses and their light seemed to reflect in Rome’s dark eyes. Pick realized that they both stopped, one of his arms was still wrapped around the shorter boy and Rome’s palm was lying flatly over Pick’s on the camera, but what surprised Pick the most about all of it was that he didn’t really mind. 

They’ve been fighting even before this trip and it didn’t get better after they had to share one house, Rome was continuously getting on Pick’s nerves with the smallest things and Rome was getting annoyed at Pick quite often, too. But in this one moment Pick didn’t mind having him close and he allowed himself to think it’s because he was worried before; when Emma yelled that Rome can’t swim, it reminded Pick of that one time Porsche almost drowned when they were kids. It was scary but Pick knew he didn’t want Rome to get hurt so, yes, maybe Porsche was right in saying that Pick isn’t as terrible as he wants to appear. But he still thought that emotions are useless and confusing, so he wouldn’t try to understand what he felt now. That was easier.

"Oh, sorry," Rome muttered finally, quickly taking his hand off of Pick’s and moving slightly to the side. Pick let him go and swallowed, nodding. "You... you can go back to the fire if you want, P'. I can go alone."

Pick stretched out his arms. "Mmm, no. Emma asked me to help you and she’s kind of scary. Gives me my sister’s vibes, I feel like I don’t want to get on her bad side. So you’re stuck with me for the evening, shorty."

"I didn’t know you have a sister," Rome said carefully like he wasn’t sure if he’s allowed to ask anything about it or Pick in general. "Is she older or younger?"

Pick shrugged and slowly started to walk again, waiting for Rome to follow him. "Older by two years. She’s living with our dad abroad, I haven’t seen her for quite some time. What about you, huh? Any siblings or are you your family’s only disappointment?" he asked jokingly, opening the doors to their house and letting Rome through first. 

The boy took his camera from around his neck and gently set it on the drawer. "I have an older brother," Rome muttered, clearly not thrilled to talk about it. Pick decided to leave it at that, family issues weren’t something they needed to discuss. They weren’t friends, after all. 

"Change your clothes before you really catch a cold," he said instead, flopping down on the bed Rome was sleeping in. The shorty shot him an unimpressed glare but Pick only made himself more comfortable, ignoring Rome. "And don’t forget to dry my hoodie, too. It seems like you’re making a habit out of wearing my clothes," he mocked, crushing the thought that came to his head right after. So what if the kid looked nice in Pick’s clothes? Pick looked good in his clothes too, Rome wasn’t special. 

Ridiculous. 

"I didn’t ask you to give me the hoodie, P'," Rome complained, already taking it off and putting it on the back of the chair to let it dry overnight. Then he started to rummage through his suitcase to search for something else to wear. He took out a yellow sweater and gray sweatpants along with a towel to dry his hair. "But your clothes smell nice," he added after a moment but it sounded as if he didn’t even realize he said it out loud. His cheeks tainted with soft pink again and Pick’s eyes widened.

"Hey, remember when you thanked me for not punching you? Don’t push it, buttercup," Pick muttered, throwing a pillow at Rome who caught it so it wouldn’t get dirty by falling to the floor. "Your little boyfriend’s going to get jealous."

"Oh, shut up. He’s not my boyfriend." Rome turned around from Pick and took off his wet shirt without even a word of warning or asking Pick to not look. 

So Pick did look, mostly because he was surprised. There were dark bruises on Rome’s skin, some older and some quite fresh, most of them went from the boy’s right arm and spread on the shoulder. Rome quickly put on the sweater, tugging it down over his body. Pick turned his head to the side when Rome changed his pants and bit his tongue, this wasn’t any of his business and he shouldn’t even care. It was Rome’s life and how he dealt with the people who left those bruises was also Rome’s decision. Pick had nothing to do with this and he had no right to ask. That’s it. He wasn’t like Porsche, he couldn’t care about everyone.

Rome took the towel and walked back to the bed, getting under the covers and pushing Pick a little to the side to make a place for himself. The boy reached for his wet camera and instead of drying his hair, he started to take off the lenses and wipe them. Then he sneezed, it sounded like a sneeze of a cat. Pick snorted at that.

"You’re so dumb, just dry your hair first if you don’t want to be sick," Pick pointed out, fixing the pillow under his head. It was weirdly comfortable even though they were alone in one bed, for some reason it wasn’t as weird as Pick thought it might be. 

"Maybe I can save the lenses, I don’t know when I’ll be able to buy a new camera. It’s expensive and now I’m left with the old one that’s broken, too. Something’s not working and the colors are always off even when I try to adjust the saturation," Rome kept muttering, by now more to himself than to Pick. 

Pick sighed and sat up, snatching the towel from Rome’s hands. "Why are you so annoying?" he asked exasperated, it was honestly like taking care of a child. It’s a wonder Rome was even still alive at this point, it was probably all thanks to Emma. 

"What are you—" Rome started with a frown. But then Pick put the towel over his head and started to rub it on his hair, not even trying to be subtle. "Ouch, I don’t think this is what Emma had meant when she told you to take care of me!"

"Tough luck, buttercup. Shut up now," Pick moved the towel in steady motions, and, to his great surprise, Rome did shut up then. It took Pick a few minutes to dry Rome’s hair enough to be satisfied with it. He threw the towel on the chair where his hoodie was and then lied down again with hands under his head. "Now you should thank me."

Rome snorted at that, slowly putting parts of the camera back on the drawer and then carefully lying down too, as far away from Pick as the bed allowed without falling to the floor. "You almost ripped my head off, P'. I don’t think it’s something I should thank for."

"Always so ungrateful, I’ll have you know that I’m way nicer to you than to most people," as soon as Pick said it, it occurred to him that this was true. Why, though, he had no idea. And so he couldn’t answer when Rome asked that. "Hm, you’re like that ugly stray cat that everyone feels sorry for but still no one wants to take it home. I’m a veterinary major, it would be wrong of me to just let you be," he said instead, as always preferring teasing over honesty. He didn’t feel safe enough to be honest right now. It was weird. 

Rome turned his head towards Pick with annoyance on his face. "You’re an asshole, P'Pick. Go to your bed and leave me alone."

"Oh no, this bed is way more comfortable, I’m staying," Pick decided with a sigh.

"Well... a man got in my bed willingly, so no one can say I took advantage of him," Rome said dramatically.

Pick was out of bed in a second, making Rome laugh loudly. Pick thought it was the first time he heard Rome laugh. He looked down with annoyance, crossing arms over his chest. 

"You’re pushing it, shorty," he informed the younger boy, making Rome glare at him with daring eyes.

"Then punch me."

And normally Pick probably would. But now he knew he won’t be able to bring himself to do it; whether it was because of the bruises on Rome’s back or because there was something about him that made Pick softer without him even realizing that. He had no idea and it was unsettling.

"Just... just go to sleep already," Pick sighed resigned, waving a hand and turning around to go to his bed. He was way too tired to bother with changing clothes. And where even was Porsche? 

There was a beat of silence before Pick could hear a soft voice again.

"Goodnight, P'."

"Shut up."

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐢𝐯. —— can i take a picture of you?

— i —

"Okay, everybody please gather around!"

Rome looked up from his phone at the teacher's voice. It was a little after nine and they all just finished their breakfast, still sitting by the tables near the river. The weather was especially nice, the sun was already shining down on them and Rome was able to avoid being annoyed by it only because Pick was sitting opposite to him and blocking the rays of sunshine—turned out the senior could be useful sometimes, even though he probably didn't know why Rome picked this place to sit. But despite the weather, Rome felt terrible; his head felt heavy and he kept sneezing around, interrupting everyone that tried to have a conversation with him. Getting sick when it was so hot outside was just his luck, not to mention the broken camera Rome had a breakdown over when he remembered about it in the morning. Pick made fun of him while Porsche tried to cheer Rome up, business as usual. 

"I've noticed that some of you are too distracted to even start on the project," the teacher said once everyone was close enough to hear her without her having to raise her voice. She looked towards the students that threw Rome into the river the previous night, making it obvious who she was talking about.

Rome wasn't really mad at them, they probably honestly thought it was funny to pull a prank on him and didn't want to... kill him, or anything. Rome didn't have enemies in his own major (and he hoped it applied to the rest of the university, too), if he wasn't the victim of yesterday's incident, someone else would probably get wet either way. It was better to think that than hold a grudge and be miserable for the rest of the trip, Rome didn't have the energy for that nor did he want to worry Emma even more; it seemed like lately worrying about him was a part of her daily routine. 

"I understand that it might be difficult for some of you because this is the first time we're doing something on a bigger scale. I'm also aware that not all of you had friends who are seniors at our university so you're practically being paired up with strangers, and it's going to be awkward to spend so much time together and take pictures of them. As for the seniors, I also understand not all of you might be used to it and I'm grateful that you've agreed to help my students. I hope you'll guide them so that they can make our university proud once you leave in a few months. I was thinking about how I could help you get started, seeing as this trip was supposed to help you get to know each other and figure out in which direction you want to push your project. So I've decided that I'm going to give you a daily set of words. By the end of each day, you'll have to submit at least one photo on which all those words will be included, along with a short note on how it was to work with each other. From both my students and the seniors."

Upon hearing that most of the students yelled their "oh no, teacher!" in the most disappointed tone ever. Rome kept quiet because he didn't think it's such a bad idea; well, the set of words, not necessarily the note since he doubted he'd be able to be honest. His teacher probably wouldn't be too thrilled to read "P'Pick is an asshole" in the different formats every day. 

As if hearing Rome's thoughts, Pick tapped his shoulder to get his attention.

"You know I'm not going to write anything, right?" he asked lazily, leaning a little closer so the teacher wouldn't hear him. Pick smelled nice today but it wasn't his perfume that Rome could often smell on his clothes (usually the ones Rome was wearing), it was his shampoo that Emma referred to as the one single girls buy to feel like they have a boyfriend; whatever that meant. 

"Yeah, I figured. I'm just going to write Rome is an amazing photographer and pretend like you wrote it," Rome whispered back, earning himself a light slap on the back of the head. 

"The set of the words for today," the teacher continued, ignoring all the whining that came her way. "Something easy so you won't get discouraged early on... Hm, let it be sunshine, water, friends, and fun. Pretty simple, right? Then stop complaining and go capture something pretty!" she clapped her hands, dismissing them all.

Rome snorted quietly. "Capture something pretty... What if the model doesn't meet your standards?" he sighed.

"Then you should raise yours, buttercup. Come on, take your standards out of the gutter, I think it's time," Pick answered, pretending to be concerned and only laughing when Rome tried to push him but ended up sneezing again instead. 

"Oh, P'Pick, I keep telling him that," Emma shook her head solemnly, making Rome gasp at the obvious betrayal. She wasn't supposed to side with Pick, what was that? 

"Where's P'Porsche? He's the only person that's nice to me," Rome complained, swiftly turning around. This made him almost bump into Din who was just a step away from Rome with a small smile on his face. "Oh, sorry, didn't see you there."

"It's alright. I just wanted to see how are you?" Din said, fingers clutching the camera he was holding. 

Rome smiled and shrugged lightly. "I'm fine, really. Once more, thank you for helping me out yesterday. You didn't catch a cold, right?" he asked. He tried to ignore Emma's words that kept echoing in his head; Din didn't like him. God, Rome hoped he was right because he didn't want to hurt Din and he just knew he wouldn't be able to reciprocate even if what Emma had said was true. 

Din quickly shook his head, seemingly nervous. "No, don't worry, I'm glad I could help. Um... I noticed that you had your camera with you so... It's probably broken?"

"Oh... yes, I've managed to more or less save the lenses but... Well, things happen," the boy answered, blindly kicking back at Pick when the senior snorted. Okay, so maybe Rome did sound finer with it than he was considering that he kept asking Pick throughout the whole morning if his camera really is broken, but why dwell on it? It's not like he could do much about it now anyway. 

"I'm sorry about that," Din said, looking down with a faint blush. "I... I wanted to ask if you'd like to borrow mine? For the project, I mean. Or at least while we're here? I have two," he rushed out to explain once Rome opened his mouth to protest. "So it's not a problem since I don't use this one anyway," he pointed to the camera he was holding. When Rome briefly looked at it, it seemed to be one of the better models. "The one you helped me with the last time is my favorite and I just thought I'd offer," he ended, shrugging awkwardly. 

Shit. Rome should turn him down, he knew it. Nothing good would come out of being nice now if all he could do was hurt Din later, but Rome didn't have it in him to send Din away when the boy had been so kind. He saved Rome's life, after all, Rome could do at least that much for him.

He took a deep breath and smiled, reaching for the camera in Din's hands. "Thank you so much, Din. I don't know what I would do without your help. Please, let me know if there's any way I can make it up to you," Rome said, watching how Din's face gets even redder. Oh boy. 

"Oh, no! It's fine, it's... I mean... you don't have to... I'm happy to help, I should go now," Din quickly put his hands in a wai when he turned towards Pick and then he almost ran away, making Rome sigh loudly. 

Rome looked back to see both Emma and Pick raising their eyebrows at him with crossed arms. Like they were some sort of allies now, set on annoying the hell out of Rome. 

"Jesus, fine. Even I am not that dense," he muttered, moving his gaze down to the camera.

Well... it didn't feel so bad to be liked by someone.

— ii —

Pick looked towards the river bank and sighed. Rome was sitting alone under one of the trees, as always fiddling with his camera; there were multiple tissues scattered around him. Pick told Porsche he'll be right back, then slowly swam back and got out of the water, shaking it off his hair and getting some of it on Rome when he sat next to the younger boy. 

"Ugh, didn't I suffer enough?" Rome whined, wiping his cheek with a long sleeve of his hoodie. 

Pick snorted at that. "Why are you sitting here alone like a loser? Where's Emma?" he asked, getting a towel to dry his hair a little. 

Rome looked towards Pick but then quickly turned his gaze, he seemed to have some troubles with the fact that Pick was shirtless—and it's not like the senior found it amusing. Not at all. 

"She went to buy a few things with some other girls," Rome answered, cheeks turning light pink. Rome had spent the whole day outside and his face was a little more tan now, it made the freckles more visible. For some reason, Pick thought they looked nice, he liked looking at them. 

"Why didn't you go with them?"

"Because my head hurts. I've asked Emma to buy me some painkillers," he shrugged, putting the camera to his eye and taking a picture of some bird that just sat on one of the branches. 

Pick quickly snatched the camera from Rome's hands and leaned back when the boy tried to reach for it, Rome had to put one palm on Pick's chest so he wouldn't fall over. His hand was cold despite the weather and it made goosebumps appear on Pick's skin, Rome immediately sat back, getting even further away from Pick with a blush; it made Pick laugh. This kid really was a mess. 

"Can I take a picture of you?" Pick asked curiously, looking down at the camera to figure out how it works. 

"I don't like taking pictures of myself."

Pick frowned. "You let Din take a picture of you before," he said, just because. Rome twisted his fingers and then sighed, nodding his head. He turned a little more towards Pick and waited, Pick raised the camera and then quickly snapped a picture before Rome had the chance to change his mind. "Hm, you're not that bad," Pick decided, looking at the photo he just took. 

Rome looked like he wanted to punch Pick. Honestly, why was it so much fun to tease Rome? Maybe because of his reactions.

"Did you put on the sunscreen?" Rome asked suddenly, frowning. Pick looked at himself, the skin on his shoulders was a little red now since he spent most of the day swimming with Porsche.

"Why? Do you want to put it on me?" he asked sweetly, bumping Rome's shoulder with his own. Rome snorted and pushed Pick back.

"You can burn for all I care," the boy muttered, taking his camera back and wiping the screen from the water that dripped from Pick's hair. 

"Ah, you're so mean to me. If you feel better later, do you want to go to the store with me? I've asked Porsche but he's lazy and I wanted to buy some drinks," Pick said, stretching his arms. The way Rome tried so hard to not look at Pick was honestly the best thing ever, Pick could barely suppress his laugh. 

"Alright. Is it okay if I take pictures of you when you're in the water? I still don't have anything to submit to the teacher today."

"You want to take pictures of me when I'm half-naked? Shouldn't we leave it for the bedroom, Nong'Rome?" Pick teased, ruffling Rome's dark hair with a hand. 

"Well, in the bedroom you wouldn't be only half-naked, would you?" Rome asked back, raising an eyebrow.

Pick almost choked on his spit. 

— iii —

Rome couldn't believe that he got the perfect picture that day; he even managed to include all the words from their teacher's set and he was insanely proud of himself. He did brag about it to Emma already since she still didn't have the picture of P'Porsche until she said that Rome is basically bragging about how pretty Pick is. That definitely made Rome shut up.

He took the picture when Pick was swimming with Porsche earlier, they were splashing water on each other and laughing. Rome captured Pick when the older boy was half-turned with an arm in front of his face to protect it from water that P'Porsche splashed at him; both seniors were mid-laugh, the sun was shining at them from the left side and it made the picture a little lighter there, Rome even captured the water droplets in the air. He had sunshine, water, friends, and fun—all in one! It was so worth sitting under this stupid tree for hours (and he could watch shirtless Pick, did he win or what?). 

"You seem weirdly happy," Pick noticed suspiciously when they were walking back towards the camp. When he said he wanted to buy some drinks, Rome didn't think he meant alcohol but he didn't mind much. He already told the senior that he won't help if they're going to throw up later so it was fine. 

"Oh, I didn't show you the picture yet, did I? It just looks really good, I didn't think I'll succeed so yes, I'm kinda happy about it," he explained, shrugging. 

"What do you mean, you didn't know you'll succeed? With me as your model? Can't say I'm not offended," Pick sighed. Rome opened his mouth to say something but then Pick suddenly pulled at his shirt and Rome lost his balance, bouncing into Pick's chest with a quiet shriek. The next thing he could hear was squeaking of car tires behind him as the driver sped up even more after almost running Rome over. "Fucking asshole, who even gave you a license?!" Pick yelled after the car, still keeping an arm around Rome. "And you, can't you be a little more aware of what's happening around you?" he looked down at Rome with a frown.

Rome thought it's the first time he saw Pick this angry. He looked up with wide eyes and only managed a nod, squished against Pick's chest, he probably should have heard the car that was behind him especially if it was so close to the sidewalk, but he was honestly too distracted. It was his fault. 

Pick sighed and loosened his hold a bit. "Sorry, it's just... Emma would kill me if something happened to you. Pay attention," the senior muttered, pushing Rome away a little. Then he started to walk again without waiting for Rome. 

Rome nervously tugged at the sleeves of his shirt and took a deep breath, then he jogged after Pick. "It's okay if you're worried about me, P'Pick. I think it's cute," he said, trying to ease the tension. 

"Who's worried about you, idiot?"

Oh, Pick definitely blushed. Rome was having a field day with this. 

"You even bought my favorite drinks."

"I did not, all this is for me. I'm getting drunk tonight and you're just going to watch," Pick answered, not even looking at Rome. 

"That's so not true, I told you my favorite flavor and you bought four more bottles," Rome whined, catching the back of Pick's shirt to make him walk a little slower. "Wait, you have longer legs, I can't keep up."

"I already said you're annoying and I stand by that statement," Pick decided. But then he still wrapped an arm around Rome and pulled him closer so they could walk at the same pace. 

Drunk Porsche wasn't very different from normal Porsche, Rome decided. He pretty much still talked only about Emma but he was bolder now, saying how pretty she was when she did this or that. Luckily Emma decided to go to sleep about half an hour earlier once she said that being alone with three drunk boys was way too much for her—rude, Rome wasn't even drunk yet. He tried to write the note for his teacher earlier and he could only say that it wasn't bad to work with Pick, he had no idea what the teacher would want them to write, it's not like she was the one to choose their partners so they couldn't complain about who they worked with. 

"P'Pick, did you write the note for my teacher?" Rome asked before Pick could get too drunk to even properly answer him. Rome was sitting on his bed while Pick and Porsche occupied the bottom bunk bed, playing cards; the loser always had to take a shot, and Pick was just simply better at this game than Porsche. 

"Mm, I told you I won't write it. You can write whatever you want," the senior answered, briefly looking towards Rome. He didn't seem mad anymore about what had happened earlier but Rome still didn't feel comfortable, he didn't want Pick to be mad at him for something this stupid. Okay, Rome should have been more careful but it's not like he died or anything. 

"Can't you just write that it was okay? Or that... it wasn't if that's what you think?" Rome took another sip of his drink; it was vodka mixed with something else, the drink was blue and Rome was sure that it colored his tongue, too. But it tasted really good. "I need to go and give it to my teacher before she goes to sleep," he added, looking at the clock on his phone. It was almost eight in the evening, he hoped it wasn't too late already. 

Pick sighed and stood up, looking for a pen and piece of paper. He quickly scribbled something and threw the paper Rome's way, going back to bed. Rome looked at the paper with a frown, it said: "working with Rome was a DELIGHT, teacher"—it sounded ironic even for Rome. But he didn't have it in him today to fight with Pick, so this would have to be enough. He took the camera and both notes with him, leaving the house and loudly shutting the doors; not because he was annoyed, it's just... the wind. Right. 

The teacher liked his photo, so that was always something. Rome was slightly tipsy by now so this was enough to make him feel good again, he just hoped the teacher didn't notice, he wouldn't want to get punished for that. She kept him for longer than he expected since she wanted to talk about the picture and if it was good to work with Pick, apparently she knew what kind of opinion he had around the campus even though she had never been his teacher. She seemed worried that it will bring troubles for Rome if he got involved with the senior, but Rome assured her that they weren't even friends, they were just working together for the project and they wouldn't meet outside of school. 

Once Rome finally made it back, P'Porsche was completely gone—he kept whining about something Rome couldn't understand, and Pick was lying on Rome's bed as if he owned it. 

"P'Pick, get off my bed," Rome said, kneeling on the free side and trying to push Pick off. Then Pick caught Rome's wrist and pulled at it, making Rome fall forward and land across Pick's stomach. "Oh, that hurt. What the hell are you doing?" 

"'M sleeping here tonight," Pick muttered incoherently. Rome could smell alcohol from the senior and it made him feel slightly uneasy; he knew Pick was going to get drunk but Rome kind of thought he would be too drunk to care by then. But he was still sober and he had no idea what kind of person Pick was when he was drunk. 

"Absolutely not, what if you throw up? I'm not sleeping with you," Rome protested, pushing Pick and sitting up on his side of the bed. 

Pick whined, sitting up too and looking at Rome. "What if I ask really nicely?" the senior tried again, tilting his head and faking an innocent look. 

Rome did not have a good feeling about this. 

"And how would you do that?" 

Pick suddenly moved closer on the bed, leaning forward towards Rome. "How would you like me to do that?" he asked quietly, his nose almost touched Rome's. Rome swallowed and instinctively looked down to Pick's lips, but then immediately scolded himself and focused on Pick's eyes that were looking back at him with amusement. "N'Rome, have you ever thought what it would be like to kiss me?" Pick raised his hand to Rome's cheek, slowly moving his fingers along Rome's freckles. 

"Y-yes," Rome stuttered before biting his tongue. Why the hell would he even say that? He wasn't drunk, he couldn't blame it on the alcohol. 

Pick looked surprised at Rome's honesty but then he smirked, catching Rome's chin to tilt his head a little back. Rome could feel how hard his heart was beating; he didn't understand what was happening. Why was Pick doing this? Was it fun for him? Even if he... even if he figured out that Rome liked him, or even if he was just drunk... this still wasn't okay, was it? 

"Do you like Din, Rome?" Pick asked suddenly and it took Rome a moment to realize what the question even was.

"Why are you asking me this?" Rome frowned, trying to calm down. Pick's face was still too close for him to be able to think clearly. 

"Or is there someone else you like?" Pick wondered, his lips were almost touching Rome's at this point. Rome put his hand on Pick's chest as if he wanted to push him back, but he didn't even try. He was... well, slightly curious as to what Pick would do. "You're kinda really pretty, you know?" 

Rome didn't think it's possible for him to blush even more but here he was. "Do you really think so?" he asked even though he knew Pick would never say it while sober.

"Yeah, but don't tell this to anyone, it's a secret," Pick muttered, bumping Rome's nose with his own. Rome's breath hitched in his throat and he was staring at Pick with wide eyes, waiting when Pick tilted his head just a little bit...

"Why doesn't Emma like me?!" Porsche's sudden shriek made Rome move back so fast that he ended up on the floor, hitting his elbows and whining out in pain. Pick burst out with laughter, flopping down on the bed and covering his eyes with an arm. 

Rome decided to just stay on the floor with a hand over his rapidly beating heart. He thought that being so close to Pick wasn't very good for his health. 

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐯. —— i definitely don't like rome.

— i —

Pick woke up with a pounding headache and very vague memories of last night; the most vivid one being Porsche acting like a bitch baby and crying throughout the evening. Well, it's not like Pick didn't know that his best friend is a whiny kind of drunk, this was something he could handle and that's why he always made sure that Porsche didn't get drunk when Pick wasn't there with him—it was easier to avoid problems that way.

Pick wiped his face with hands and sighed loudly, slowly sitting up and looking around. His gaze fell on a small bundle on the bottom edge of the bed, he'd think it's just a pile of clothes if not for the fact that said pile was breathing steadily. Rome was curled up as far away from Pick as he could get without having to sleep on the floor, with the hood pulled over his head and arms hugging knees. Pick moved a little closer and he could hear Rome muttering something in his sleep, the senior instinctively touched Rome's forehead with the back of one hand, touching his own with the other to compare it; the shorty had a fever again. Pick stretched his arms out and then stood up from the bed, taking the covers and slowly putting it over Rome. God, Pick needed water. 

"P'Pick," Rome muttered so suddenly that Pick almost jumped. Almost. He looked back to the kid, Rome's eyes were still closed. "Emma bought the pills for me yesterday, they're in my suitcase. You can take some if you have a headache. And give some to P'Porsche when he wakes up," the boy offered just when Pick thought he's still sleeptalking. 

"Oh, thank god," Pick sighed, dragging his feet to the suitcase in the corner of the room. "Did she buy any cold medicine?"

Rome grunted something before answering more clearly. "Why? Do you have a cold?"

"Jesus, you're so dumb," Pick huffed. He took out the headache pills but couldn't see anything for cold; Emma probably didn't think that Rome will actually get sick. "I wanted to go buy something cold to drink anyway. Shorty, you want anything?" he asked, turning around.

"For you to stop calling me that," Rome forced out, moving a little up on the bed to get more comfortable. 

Pick snorted. "There's a pecking order, no can do. Porsche, you good for nothing, I'm going to the store," he said louder, pushing at Porsche's arm to wake him up. "Want me to buy you something? A bottle of wine? Condoms?"

"My will to live," Porsche mumbled with difficulty, putting a pillow over his head. Rome laughed and Pick rolled his eyes, these two were equally terrible right now. 

"If I manage to find mine I'll think about yours, too," Pick promised, ruffling Porsche's hair. He took his wallet from the drawer and walked towards the doors, completely ignoring the fact that he still had yesterday's clothes on. But then he stopped in the doorway, turning back towards Rome. "Buttercup, did I do anything weird last night? I don't remember."

Something quickly passed across Rome's face, it made Pick raise an eyebrow but it was too fast for him to decipher it. He wouldn't even try, his head was way too heavy right now. But then Rome softly shook his head, dragging the covers up to his chin. 

"No, P', you fell asleep almost as soon as I came back from talking to my teacher," Rome answered eventually. 

Pick didn't quite believe him, but... well, maybe he didn't want to know after all. 

— ii —

"You're taking really good care of him."

Pick got startled and almost lost his grip on the water bottle. He looked to his side to see Porsche sitting down next to him on one of the benches; it was so visible that Porsche got drunk last night that it would probably be funny if it wasn't so pitiful at the same time. Poking fun at Porsche wasn't even amusing anymore, this boy was just a walking disaster.

"Good care of who?" he asked even though the question was rather unnecessary, seeing as Pick had been staring at Rome and Emma for the last five minutes. They kept talking about something between themselves, completely ignoring Pick and not giving him any attention which was just rude. Pick was bored, they should entertain him, shouldn't they? It's not like he was here out of his own will. Stupid Porsche. 

"Nong'Rome. At first, I thought you don't like him. You know, after he sprained your ankle," Porsche answered with a shrug. "Did his fever get better now?"

Pick ran a hand through his black hair and then pushed his sunglasses up to keep it away from his face. "He's better. And... I don't know, there's just something about him that makes me not want to be mean to him. It's so annoying because he's annoying but I can't even tell him off because he doesn't take it seriously," Pick said, shaking his head. Honestly, if he had to explain why he didn't punch Rome yet, he wouldn't be able to do it; he was never good with words to begin with, let alone when it came to something this complicated. Pick didn't like complicated. "I think I told him he's pretty when I was drunk," Pick added eventually, furrowing his eyebrows. He tried to think about what had happened last night; he was pretty sure he didn't do anything stupid but as for what he said... well, this could be a problem. 

Porsche looked suspiciously like he was trying to hide a smile and Pick punched him in the arm, making Porsche finally let out a laugh.

"Well? Do you think he's pretty?" Porsche asked amused.

"He's decent," Pick said carefully, not liking where this was going. Well, to be honest Pick didn't think about other guys like that before; if he talked to Porsche about anyone, it was just one of Pick's new girlfriends of the moment but maybe... maybe it wasn't because Pick wasn't open-minded enough, maybe it was just because he didn't find any guy interesting. This thought was put on the very edge of Pick's mind, in the box of things that weren't ready to be considered as of now. The box was pushed far, far back. 

"Do you like him, Pick?" this time Porsche sounded more serious and when Pick looked at him, his friend had a look of concern on his face. 

Pick snorted at that. "Like him... Are you stupid? Are you saying that I like men?"

"No, I wouldn't say that. You like girls fine enough," Porsche assured and it was quite funny to watch him panic. "But... you know, liking Nong'Rome wouldn't be a terrible thing. He's a good person."

"Porsche, this doesn't have anything to do with it," Pick laughed, shaking his head and turning a little more towards his friend. "Listen, I agreed to help you because you like Emma, not because I was harboring a secret crush on Rome. If he's a good person or not, this doesn't concern me. I have a girl that's waiting for me to get back from this trip. I don't like guys and I definitely don't like Rome, so—"

"P'Pick."

This time Pick did lose his grip on the water bottle, making it fall and roll across the table. A small hand caught it on the other side before it could fall to the ground. Pick slowly looked up to see Rome with an indifferent expression staring back at him. Shit.

"I just wanted to ask if you're okay with trying to take some pictures now. But if you're busy, I can come back later," he said evenly, moving his gaze towards Porsche and smiling faintly. Pick didn't even need to ask how much Rome has heard, it was all on his face. It's not like Pick said anything that wasn't true but he still felt like a jerk.

Pick quickly shook his head. "No, now's fine, I'm—" 

Rome already turned around to walk back towards Emma that was waiting for him a little further away. 

"N'Rome," Porsche called out, making Rome stop. Pick could see the way his shoulders raised when he took a deep breath and then slowly looked back. "This..." Porsche glanced at Pick as if he wanted him to say something, but was there even anything Pick could say right now? 

"Emma wants to start now, too, P'. If that's okay," Rome interrupted, nodding towards his best friend. When the boy walked away, Porsche angrily pushed at Pick's shoulder. 

"You need to apologize to him."

"Why should I?" Pick asked, standing up. "I only said the truth."

Porsche seized him with a look, shaking his head. "You're my best friend but you're a terrible person sometimes. Do you even have eyes? You've been spending so much time with Nong'Rome lately, how can you still be this stupid?"

By now Pick was completely lost. But that day everyone just decided to walk away from him like some main female protagonists in a drama. Damn that.

— iii —

Why did it hurt so much? 

It was so stupid because Rome knew, he knew Pick didn't like him and that he would probably never like him, this wasn't some big news to him. He shouldn't let Pick's words affect him so much to the point of not being able to focus on work at all. Maybe finally hearing it from Pick was worse than when Rome told himself that he shouldn't get his hopes up. After last night... after the things Pick did, it was even harder. But Pick was drunk, Rome was extremely stupid to even dare to think that it meant anything. 

"Rome..." Emma's quiet voice woke Rome up from his thoughts. The girl reached across the table and gently wiped a tear that rolled down Rome's cheek when he blinked. 

Rome quickly let go of his camera to wipe his face. "Sorry, what were you saying?" he asked, clearing his throat. This wasn't something worth crying over, Rome was just being dramatic again. He had so many problems that were far more important, his love life—or lack of it—was far from being a priority. But sometimes he just got sad and there wasn't much he could do about it. Today it was because of Pick, tomorrow it would be because of something else. Rome was quite used to that. 

"You know I hate seeing you like this. He's just a jerk, he's not worth it," she muttered, catching one of his hands in both of hers and squeezing. When Rome was upset, Emma treated him like one of her cats, she held his hands, played with his hair and talked in a quiet voice as if she was scared he'll run through the window the moment she raises the volume of her voice. But, well, it was comforting for Rome. Maybe he did have something from cats. "Would you like to change partners? I'm sure the teacher will understand."

Rome took a moment to think about it; that definitely would make things a lot easier. Distancing himself from Pick seemed like a good idea, too. But then Rome thought it would be just like running away and he was running from too many people already. He didn't want to hate himself even more because of it, so he shook his head and smiled at Emma.

"It's alright. We already asked them for help and they agreed, let's not be childish. I can finish this project, I just need to stop trying to be friends with P'Pick and simply treat him like a project partner, because that's all he is," Rome took a deep breath and nodded to himself. "And... I deserve someone that will treat me better, right?"

"Of course you do, Rome. And I promise you that you will find that someone, it just might take some time," she smiled at him. Rome was grateful that Emma didn't mention Din even though Rome himself thought about the boy; it just didn't seem fair to treat Din like a rebound even though Rome and Pick never had any relationship to begin with.

Rome wasn't delusional, it wasn't like that. He wasn't mad at Pick either, he had no right to expect anything and he felt kind of stupid now for being this hurt because... Pick didn't even do anything wrong. Well, maybe except for what he did when he was drunk, but Rome knew all too well that alcohol could change a person, he's seen it happening for years in his own house. 

"Rome, Emma, are you going with us?" one of the photography major students ran towards their table with a smile. 

"Going where?" Emma asked curiously, looking behind the student. Rome could see some commotion a little further away and he sniffed, wiping his face again so it wouldn't be obvious that he cried; he was an adult already, thank you very much. 

"There's a drive-in theater set up not too far away and the teacher said we can go watch a movie if we submitted our photo for today," the student explained, waving a hand at them and running back to the group of people that were getting ready to go.

Emma sighed with relief. "I'm so happy that we got the work done early," she said, smiling at Rome. "You could use some relaxing. Come on, we're going."

"Yeah, but we should probably ask the seniors if they want to go, too," Rome sighed, picking up his camera and standing from the bench.

"No, we don't have to. I said you need to relax, I doubt it's possible if P'Pick will be there."

"It's alright, Emma. I'll go put the camera back and ask them if they want to go. Can you get us something to drink for later?" he asked, already walking towards the house he shared with Pick and Porsche. 

Rome was looking down through the pictures he took that day, something was bothering him about them but he couldn't quite say what it was; something about Pick... Rome blindly reached forward for the door handle only to touch something soft instead, he frowned and slowly moved his hand up—this definitely wasn't wood. The boy snapped his head up to see that his hand was just feeling up Pick's chest; the senior must have opened the doors earlier and was now looking down at Rome with amusement clear in his dark eyes. Rome snatched his arm and took a step back, stumbling over something and almost falling on his ass. Pick caught Rome's wrist to prevent him from tripping and Rome gasped, instinctively clutching at Pick's hand. 

"How are you even still alive, buttercup?" Pick sighed, pulling Rome up and almost absentmindedly brushing a stray strand of hair from Rome's forehead. 

"Ask Emma," Rome muttered, feeling how his cheeks heat up again. He cleared his throat and stepped away from Pick. "We're going to a drive-in cinema not too far away, would you like to go too?" he asked, looking over Pick's shoulder at Porsche that was inside the house. 

"That sounds fun," Porsche agreed with a smile. He's been very careful with words around Rome ever since Rome accidentally overheard the conversation this morning, and it made Rome feel kind of bad about it. He hoped that by spending more time together, Porsche would feel comfortable again so it would be easier for him to work with Emma. "But how are you feeling, N'Rome?"

"Oh, I'm fine. My fever is almost completely gone, it's just a cold now," he assured the senior, putting his camera away. "P'Pick, are you going with us?"

Pick looked surprised that Rome asked him, but he quickly nodded, wisely choosing to keep his mouth shut for now.

— iv —

Horror movies apparently weren't Rome's cup of tea. To be honest, Pick quite liked the old ones; they were playing The Invisible Man from 1933 so he was watching it with interest, or at least he planned to. The students occupied places on blankets in front of the cars with pairs that came here on their dates to watch the movie, too. Porsche and Emma were sitting in front of Pick and Rome, quietly talking about something, and Pick was going to tell them to shut up because he can't focus when something hit his shoulder. 

Pick looked to his left side to see Rome's head leaning against him. Pick frowned and gently shook his shoulder to try wake Rome up, he would be stiff if he sat in this position for too long, but the shorty only mumbled something incoherent and nuzzled his head against Pick, apparently not intending to move. Pick sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Pick wasn't an affectionate person, he hated holding hands and he was always very clear about his boundaries; even with the girls he dated, but Rome seemed to be an exception to a lot of things. It wasn't even Rome, it was Pick who liked to have him close because for some reason he felt comfortable with it, he was getting used to Rome and it wasn't necessarily a good thing. It was kind of scary, actually.

"Oh, sorry," Rome muttered about halfway through the movie when he suddenly woke up startled and noticed where his head was. He moved too fast and something cracked in his neck, making him whine. "I... I'll be right back," he added and before Pick could even try to answer, Rome stood up and quickly moved to the side so he wouldn't interrupt the people that were behind them. 

Pick frowned, looking at Rome's back. It was already quite dark and there wasn't anywhere Rome could go right now, there was just a small stand with drinks and snacks not too far away, but Rome walked in the opposite direction. Pick decided to follow him, apologizing for covering the screen. 

"Hey, you okay?" Pick asked once he got closer to Rome who was sitting by the edge of the river just a little further from the big screen set up for the cinema. 

Rome almost jumped in his place, looking back with wide eyes. "You scared me, P'," he sighed loudly, looking back to the river. "I'm fine, just a little tired. I would probably fall asleep again if I stayed to watch the movie," he explained, wrapping arms around his knees. 

Pick looked around and then slowly sat down next to Rome. Next to the river, the wind was a little stronger, it was quite chilly even though the day had been so warm. 

"My dad called me today," Rome said suddenly after a moment of silence, making Pick turn his head towards the younger boy. "We've been here for three days already and he just noticed that I was gone because he wanted me to do something for him and couldn't find me," he laughed humorlessly. "Are you in good terms with your parents, P'?"

Pick thought about it for a moment and shrugged. "They're divorced, my dad lives in America. I don't talk to him much, he just sends me money. But he's taking care of my sister, so I guess it's all good," he said. When Pick did talk with his dad, the man only nagged at Pick to go study abroad because he thought it's obvious Pick would want that since he could get better education outside of Thailand. Maybe it was true but Pick was satisfied with his life so far, he just wanted to finish school here, he wasn't thinking far into the future yet. 

"What about your mom?" Rome asked curiously, tilting his head towards Pick and resting his cheek against the arms he had over his knees. His face was only slightly lit by the light from the screen, but Pick's eyes were getting more used to the darkness with each second. 

"She's always busy with work but... we're in good terms, I guess. I eat dinner with her every week, she worries about me a lot," Pick admitted with a frown, not even sure why he's telling Rome all of this. Maybe to just talk, to fill the silence. 

Rome chuckled at that. "I can understand why."

"Oh, shut up," Pick lightly pushed Rome's shoulder. "What about you, buttercup? How are your parents?"

Rome fidgeted for a moment before finally answering. "It's only my dad. He's a good person," Rome said quickly, like he wanted to justify the man even though Pick hasn't said a word yet. "It was just difficult for him after my mom... He works a lot, too. He cares about his reputation so I'm just trying to not cause any troubles," the boy shrugged.

Pick took a moment to actually think about it; Rome was gay and even in a country that was progressing it wasn't very good to be open about it, even less if Rome's father valued reputation so much. The man was so busy that he didn't notice his kid was gone for three days, he probably would still go about his days without knowing it if he didn't need Rome for something. Pick admitted that he did have problems with his own family but... even if he thought his parents are annoying, they always cared about his life. 

"That sounds tough," Pick said quietly. His hand almost involuntarily raised towards Rome's cheek, fingers ran over the freckles—and Pick suddenly stilled, thinking that this gesture seemed too familiar. Did he... Did he do it last night, too? Pick quickly moved his hand back and cleared his throat. "Listen... Uh, about what I said this morning..."

"We don't have to talk about it," Rome interrupted, sitting straight. "But if you feel uncomfortable being with me because I'm... Because of who I am, I wish you'd say so," his voice sounded indifferent, and Pick didn't like it. He preferred when Rome was annoyed with him, when he was teasing or even fighting Pick. He didn't like it when the shorty treated him like a stranger, which was weird considering that this was what they were a week ago. 

"I don't feel uncomfortable with you, Rome," Pick said sincerely, making Rome look at him with surprise. "It's kind of the opposite, actually. But it's weird for me and I didn't want anything to get confusing. What I told Porsche is true but I didn't intend to make you feel bad about it," he tried to explain, looking for the right words.

There was a girl back in Bangkok but she meant as much as any other did to Pick. He didn't like guys and he... he didn't like Rome. Those were the facts.

"It's alright, P'," Rome assured, gently putting a hand on Pick's shoulder. Pick looked at it with a frown when his heart did a weird thing at the touch. "I understand it. Even if I would like you, I'm not stupid. People like you don't end up with people like me, it's all fine. I'm sure that your girlfriend is very nice. Come on, the movie is probably going to end soon," he added quickly, standing up before Pick could answer. The shorty smiled at him before walking back towards the drive-in cinema.

Everything seemed to be explained and clear between them. 

Then why didn't Pick feel good about it?

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐯𝐢. —— what's the story?

— i —

The last few days of the trip were slightly weird for Rome; he focused on his work more than he did before, this trip was supposed to get them acquainted with their partners so Rome knew their teacher didn't actually expect them to start working on the project right away, but Rome was quite good at distracting himself from things he didn't want to think about. Right now he didn't want to think about Pick and his anonymous girlfriend, or how clear Pick needed it to be that he already had someone as if anything Rome did would suggest that he was flirting with Pick—and that made Rome kind of scared that he unintentionally let Pick know he likes him.

So overall, it was better to keep his distance, wasn't it? Rome liked to think he's being smart.

But fate had different plans for him. Fate or, how Emma would call it, Rome's incredible stupidity—he preferred to think about it as the desire to capture everything beautiful; and if that beautiful thing made him climb a tree and hang from a branch above the river, was that really his fault?

"Shorty, you're going to fall from there," Pick called out, looking up at Rome with doubt on his face. It was the last day of the trip and most of the seniors used it to swim around, knowing that from the next Monday they will have to go back to school again. Pick was in the water directly under the branch that Rome climbed on, there was a big tire hanging from a rope as a swing; Emma tried to convince Rome to sit in it a few times but for him, it was way too close to the water. Apparently, a branch was far enough.

He just wanted to photograph a pretty bird, he did not deserve to suffer like that. Not to mention that the bird flew away because one of the students accidentally threw a ball this way, scaring it. 

"Screw you, P'Pick. I won't fall," Rome answered, slowly turning around. He carefully handed the camera back to Emma, swinging it on a stripe so she could catch it, just in case he did fall. It was Din's camera, he couldn't break it the way he did with his own. 

"Hey, watch out!" someone yelled suddenly, just when Rome was extending his arm to hold onto the trunk of the tree. The same damn ball that scared Rome's bird hit the branch again, making it move under Rome. He didn't even have the time to think about yelling when he was falling; he just hoped it wasn't the same student that made the bird fly away because otherwise Rome would have to commit premeditated murder during this trip and his teacher wouldn't be too happy about it—though she probably knew he was capable of doing it. 

The water wasn't as cold as the last time Rome fell into the river which was comforting considering the fact that Rome went under immediately and his head didn't have to suffer from a shock. He wasn't far from the side of the river, he knew that and he tried to think logically instead of panicking again; the thing was that the river was deeper here, that's why the swing was situated exactly above this part — people used it to jump to the water all the time. Rome uselessly moved his legs, he couldn't touch the bottom. His heart was beating rapidly when suddenly someone pulled him up by his wrist, and then there was an arm wrapping around his waist to keep him steady. 

"Hey, hey! Stop moving, I'm holding you!" a familiar voice yelled when Rome kept thrashing around for a few more seconds, trying to find anything to hold onto. Finally, he clutched onto the person next to him with one hand, wiping the water from his eyes with another to see Pick's face a few inches away from his own. "You're safe already, stop moving before you drown us both," Pick added and Rome nodded immediately, looking at the senior with wide eyes. "You're... you're really scared of water, aren't you? I told you you're going to fall, why the hell did you climb the tree?"

"It was..." Rome started, his voice was shaking so much that he needed to take a deep breath before he could even continue. "It was a Chinese Grassbird," he muttered like it could explain all the stupid things he ever did in his life.

Pick sighed, shaking his head. "Just hold onto me."

Rome didn't need to be told twice, his fingers were already squeezed on Pick's shoulder so hard that they would probably leave bruises on the boy's skin. Pick took Rome back to the river bank where Emma was already waiting with a lecture that lasted three hours.

Keeping distance be damned, Rome just wanted to feel safe so he didn't let go of Pick's arm unless necessary for the rest of the day. 

Well, Pick didn't seem to mind that much.

— ii —

"So what's the story?" Pick asked, looking towards Rome who was playing some stupid game on his phone. They were driving back at night and most of the students were already fast asleep; this time Rome wasn't even mad that he had to sit with Pick again after Porsche took the place next to Emma with an excuse that they have to discuss some things about the project. Rome probably expected that and he was good at adapting to whatever Emma wanted. 

"Story?" Rome hummed with a frown, eyes not leaving the screen. Pick put another Pocky stick in his mouth and sighed loudly when Rome just moved his head closer, letting Pick know he wanted to eat, too. As if he couldn't use his hands. Or buy his pack, for that matter, those were the strawberry flavored ones, Pick's favorites and he had to share? After two seconds of considering it, he slowly moved one stick closer to Rome's lips, letting the shorty bite it.

"Yeah, your story with water. You're not just scared because you can't swim, there's something more," Pick answered thoughtfully, feeling the way Rome stiffened next to him. The boy was honestly terrified when Pick pulled him out of the water earlier and then he didn't want to leave Pick's side, even though he's been avoiding him during the last few days of the trip unless he had to take pictures of Pick. Pick knew it was because of their conversation by the drive-in cinema and he didn't like it, but there wasn't much he could do.

Rome cursed quietly, pouting at his phone. "See? The butcher killed me because of you," he muttered, lightly shoving Pick with his elbow. "I... why do you want to know?" he suddenly sounded sheepish, finally looking up at Pick instead of the screen. 

Pick shrugged noncommittally. "I like to have approximate knowledge of a lot of things. For example, the fact that Emma is scared of dogs... that can be quite troublesome for Porsche."

"Yeah, I thought about it too," Rome sighed, scratching the tip of his nose. He had a lot of antics that appeared whenever he was nervous and Pick was still surprised at how many things he noticed about the shorty just in one week of living together. "But I guess they'll have to figure it out on their own. That is... if P'Porsche finally asks her out. Really, he's your best friend, can't you help him a little more? I think you've dated every possible girl from our university, you should give him a bit of advice or something," Rome raised an eyebrow. Pick could tell that the kid was trying to change the topic but it surprised him that Rome sounded quite... bitter when he talked about those girls. Why was that?

"It's not the same," Pick said carefully after a moment of thinking. "Porsche genuinely likes Emma, as I'm sure you can tell by now."

Rome laughed involuntarily, nodding his head. "So you don't like the girls you're going out with?" he tried to understand. Pick sighed, absentmindedly giving Rome another Pocky stick to bite, even though Rome wasn't focusing on the game anymore and could take the snack on his own. 

"I do, it's just... I like it when I approach them, you know? But then when we actually start dating, it's different."

"Hm, so you like the thrill of chasing a girl but it disappears once she's yours? Aren't you a bit superficial?" Rome frowned. Pick usually didn't care what other people thought about him, the worse he was in their mind the better, but strangely enough, he didn't want to be misunderstood by Rome, so he shook his head.

"This isn't about them. It's that they agree to date me because they have those weird expectations about me and then when I can't meet those expectations, they just try to pretend that I'm the person they think I am," Pick said with a shrug. It's not that it bothered him a lot, he did change his girlfriends quite often so it's not like any of them was important enough to make him feel bad about who he was, but it's just a fact that none of them knew what he was like. 

"Oh. Well, you do have quite the reputation, P'," Rome told him and then covered his face when he yawned. "I've heard it usually takes time to find the right one."

Pick looked towards the younger boy, Rome was smiling softly with a head slightly tilted to the left. "Did you find the right one?" he asked without much thinking. He was just curious because Rome sounded as if he had experience with this kind of thing, which would be quite surprising for Pick.

"I'm... I'm still trying to figure it out, I guess," the shorty blinked quickly, moving his gaze towards the window. He probably couldn't see much there because the bus was driving through the woods now, but he suddenly seemed uncomfortable with this topic, so Pick decided to go back to what he originally wanted to know. "It's nothing that serious," Rome said when Pick wouldn't let it go, which was weird considering how unwilling Rome seemed to talk about it. "It's just... I was pushed into the water when I was a little kid."

Pick frowned at that. "The same thing happened to Porsche. Well, he slipped and fell into the pool because he's an idiot, but then he just decided to learn how to swim instead of avoiding the water. Why didn't you?" 

Rome tugged at his too-long sleeves; this was the thing he did the most when he was anxious—probably that's why he seemed to enjoy wearing Pick's clothes so much, they fit on Pick just fine but Rome was considerably smaller, not only shorter, he was just... really small. 

"I've tried. My mom used to like swimming and she tried to teach me," Rome answered, fiddling with his phone now. "I just couldn't force myself to do it. When they pushed me into the water, they held me under for a while, you know? It was probably fun for them," he shrugged as if he was talking about someone else and it didn't have anything to do with him.

Pick frowned, not able to tear his eyes away from the younger boy. How could he just act as if none of this concerned him and his life? Pick suddenly understood why Emma could have been frustrated with Rome's definition of being fine; if Porsche pulled shit like that, Pick would beat him up himself and then ask if he's still "fine."

"P'Pick, have you ever went through something so traumatic that you've had nightmares about it even though you knew it's very unlikely that it will happen again?" Rome asked quietly, slowly putting a hand on his neck. "Sometimes I still wake up at night because I feel like I can't breathe."

Suddenly a few things clicked in Pick's brain, finally making sense. During a few nights, Pick could hear Rome waking up and coughing, as if he was trying to catch his breath, and then the shorty would walk out for a few minutes, probably to spend some time on fresh air. Pick didn't ask about it because he thought it might be uncomfortable and, honestly, he wasn't that interested in it back then—he just thought Rome is weird like that or maybe he got scared of Porsche's snores, that was also plausible. 

"But I'd like to learn how to swim one day, maybe you could teach me," Rome said jokingly before Pick could even answer. Then Rome's eyes moved back to his game, making it clear that he didn't want to talk about it anymore. 

Pick sighed, he didn't know what to do with Rome. How could Emma even sleep at night knowing that Rome can literally die while being left alone for a second? 

"How do you play this game?" Pick asked resigned, leaning over to look at the phone screen. He wouldn't push it, Rome probably already told him more than he wanted to and definitely more than Pick needed to know if he wanted to keep their relationship strictly as project partners. 

"Oh, it's easy. You can be either the survivor or the psycho, the psycho's task is to catch all the survivors before they can escape," Rome started, showing Pick different characters he could choose from. "Look, now I'm a survivor along with three other people. We need to fix five generators to escape."

Pick frowned, catching Rome's hand to turn the phone a little more towards himself. "But how do you know where the psycho is? You don't have a map here."

"You... you need to..." the boy stuttered and when Pick looked at him, he noticed that Rome was staring at Pick's hand holding his own. Well, wasn't that interesting? Pick didn't let go, after that serious talk, he felt like messing with Rome again. "You need to look at the-the heartbeat... It's on top of the screen. If... if the heartbeat is getting faster, it means that the psycho is close."

Pick hummed thoughtfully, moving his hand down so he could catch Rome's wrist and feel his pulse. "Do you think I'm the psycho? Your heart sure is beating fast right now," he noticed with a smirk.

Rome's eyes were quickly looking over Pick's face as if he was trying to find something, but then he pushed Pick away with a frown. "Stop teasing me, P'. It's not funny," he huffed out annoyed. "You're such a jerk," he added when Pick only laughed, leaning back on his seat. 

But apparently, Pick wasn't that big of a jerk, seeing as Rome's head still found its way onto his shoulder when Rome fell asleep an hour later. It wasn't even amusing anymore because Pick kept playing and losing the stupid game, all because he sometimes couldn't tell the difference between the quickened heartbeats of the survivor and his own heart.

Pick kept telling himself it's not because of how Rome's small hand was clutching at Pick's sleeve as if even in his sleep he felt safer knowing that Pick was next to him. But it's not like anyone else was asking Pick about the reasons for his fast heartbeat—why would he need to convince himself so much?

— iii —

Looking through old pictures was something that always could calm Rome down; he kept all of them, even the bad ones since he liked to see how much his skills have improved since he first became interested in photography. It's been already nine years and he's still embarrassed when he looks at blurry and overall crappy pictures of street animals and his neighbors he took as a kid. But when his mind was especially messy, he would sit on the floor and put them all in order from the oldest to the newest one; he had a habit of numbering the pictures for some reason, and later on, he just found it useful for situations like this one. Putting them side by side was a task he didn't need to think about, he could keep his mind empty and just let his hands do the work.

From the old to the newest ones, he could see his growth as a photographer—it was good, it meant he wasn't stuck in one place at least in this aspect of his life. Through old works, he saw the moments where he started to learn how to edit pictures and play with colors to make something look better, and when it was best to leave the picture as it was because it had the biggest effect in its original form. He liked to photograph people, Rome had been quite introverted while growing up mostly because of his older brother that made him think others were just... scary to be around, really. And so he learned how to see them through pictures.

Now Rome's fingers hovered above pictures of Pick he took during the trip, some of them without Pick's knowledge. And those were the ones that bothered him the most; he could feel something wrong in them, it was like he felt itchy but didn't know where exactly. Uncomfortable. 

Rome frowned and put two pictures next to each other; on one Pick was smiling at something Porsche said, if Rome remembered correctly, and even now he could feel how happy and relaxed Pick had been at that moment. The second picture was different and Rome couldn't help but wonder if it's because Pick didn't know Rome was photographing him. The senior was sitting alone at one of the lunch tables, he was hunched over and kept the phone in both hands, staring down at it with a frown; he seemed worried and... really sad.

Rome started to put aside the pictures he took secretly, just because he wanted to check something when suddenly the doors to his bedroom flew open.

"Get out of my room," he said immediately when he noticed his older brother. 

"Watch your mouth, princess," Noh snorted. Rome quickly tried to cover pictures with his hands but Noh's attention was already on them and he managed to snatch a few, crumpling them a little in the process. "Is that why you were too busy to help your dad?" he asked with a grimace, waving the photos at Rome. He just had to take the ones where Pick was shirtless, didn't he? "Isn't that... this guy called Pick? What, he's your boyfriend now, or were you just creeping on him?"

"He's nothing," Rome answered quickly, standing up and trying to get his photos back. He didn't want Noh to spread useless rumors about Pick or tell people that his younger brother is not only gay but also a pervert. "He's just helping me with a project and it's none of your business. Give that back."

Noh pushed Rome back harshly and then ripped the pictures in half, throwing the pieces at Rome. "I don't give a fuck, go tell your dad you're back already. He set you up with someone but you might not like it. Maybe it's the highest time to let the old man know that his son is a little fag—"

"He's your dad too," Rome interrupted before Noh could start with the slurs again. Rome was putting up with princess, he didn't want to hear the other ones. "And why don't yo... wait, what? What did you say?" the boy frowned with confusion.

Noh smirked. "Oh yes, sweetheart. You have a date. With a girl. Like, you know, normal guys."

Suddenly Rome thought he would've been better off drowning during the trip. 

— iv —

Pick broke up with his girl. 

Well, at least he thought they broke up. He wouldn't exactly say it was something they talked out peacefully but the outcome let him think that she wouldn't bother for a while; if Pick doused someone with a glass of water in a restaurant full of people, he wouldn't show himself to that person for a while to make it more dramatic. God, he was starting to think like Rome.

Pick's relationships usually ended because of one from three reasons: he was bored, they cheated, or their jealousy was becoming obsessive. This time it was the last one. Pick liked girls that knew what they wanted and he liked knowing that they care but treating him like their possession was a don't while being in a relationship with him. Nong'Lamai was a very nice person but after Pick came back from the trip she was acting quite unreasonable, accusing him of spending this time with other girls just because he ignored her phone calls a few times when he was busy. The funny thing was that Pick told her she can go and check at the Faculty of Photography that he did attend the trip with them, but that was when Lamai spilled the water and walked away, telling him not to call her.

Oh, she wouldn't have to worry about that. Lamai must have changed her status fast though because approximately fifteen minutes later Pick's LINE started to crash from how many messages he got; most of them from girls asking if he's okay and if he wants to meet someone to cheer him up. Maybe later. There was also one message from Porsche that only said "again?

Pick snorted at that, he was just about to call his best friend to ask if he wanted to watch a movie with Pick, but then he needed to do a double-take in front of the cinema. 

Was that... Rome? With a girl? And that girl wasn't Emma? Now that was groundbreaking, especially when she kissed Rome's cheek before walking away. Pick quickly tapped on messages with Rome.

[7:12pm] what are you doing?

Pick watched the way Rome took out his phone to check the message and a few seconds later he got a reply.

[7:13pm] ROME:  dying. none of ur business 

[7:13pm]  yeah i can see that

Rome first frowned at his screen and then started to look around, spotting Pick and waving a hand at him. Pick walked closer, looking into the direction where the mysterious girl went. 

"Please don't ask," Rome muttered, already knowing that Pick must have seen him.

Pick smirked. "You know I will. Does Emma know you're cheating on her?" he mocked, wrapping an arm around the shorty.

"Stop being annoying. Remember when I told you that my dad was looking for me because he needed me for something?" Rome asked with a blush, making Pick frown. "Well, this was that something."

"What? He wanted you to go on a date? Parents really do that?" Pick laughed. Rome pushed him away, groaning with displeasure. He was probably embarrassed that Pick saw him which only made the whole situation even funnier for the senior. "Alright, alright. Why did he set you up? Does he... does he know about you? And hopes that a pretty girl will change your taste?"

"No! No," Rome frantically looked around like he was scared someone will hear. "It's business. Her father owns a big company and apparently, the only thing he adores more than that is his daughter, so I'm supposed to make her like me so that her dad will consider being business partners with my dad. It's messy," he sighed, running a hand through his dark hair. 

"That sucks," Pick summed up. 

"Yeah, well... at least she's nice, you know? She knows why my dad wanted me to meet her, otherwise, I wouldn't do it. She said we can just go out a couple of times for the appearances," the shorty shrugged, but he looked like it bothered him even if he had been somewhat honest with the girl. "I've never even had a real boyfriend and I already have a girlfriend, what the hell?"

Pick burst into laughter, ruffling Rome's hair. "Stop being dramatic, buttercup, it will be fine. I was just about to go see a movie, wanna come?"

"Why would I do that to myself?" Rome deadpanned, suspiciously squinting his eyes. Pick sighed, why did he have to be so difficult? It's not like Pick was an asshole to him, right?

"Because at least I'm a guy?" Pick tried, rolling up the sleeves of his black and red flannel shirt. 

"Are you saying you're taking me on a date?" 

"Call it however you want. But I'm choosing the movie," he decided, turning around and walking towards the cinema without waiting for the shorty.

He didn't know what he was doing; he wasn't used to being nice to anyone that wasn't Porsche or Pick's closest family. But Pick wasn't stupid, during the trip he noticed that Rome was at least on some level interested in him, it was in the way he'd get nervous when Pick got too close, or the way Pick would catch Rome staring from time to time. There were guys before that flirted with Pick and he simply ignored them, but the frustrating thing about Rome was that he didn't even try. If he did like Pick, why didn't he act on it? Was it because of the things Pick said or because Rome was scared? 

Pick felt... something towards the shorty but the fact that he couldn't name it was driving him crazy and he just wanted to know. So at that moment, he decided that if Rome won't do anything, Pick will. 

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐯𝐢𝐢. —— it was totally a date.

— i —

"Honestly, I don't even know what this movie was about."

Rome rolled his eyes at Pick's remark, looking towards the senior when they were both walking out of the cinema hall. It should be Rome saying those words, it was so hard to focus on the movie when Pick was next to him in the dark that he should get an award for not being caught staring even once; Pick's hair was messy and in a red flannel he looked like a model straight from the cover of a magazine, and his profile was just nice to watch. Well, Rome was very gay, sue him. But despite all that he still managed to actually watch the movie, one would think that if Pick was the one to choose it, he'd pay more attention to it. 

"That's because you kept trying to steal my popcorn, P'," Rome sighed, throwing the bucket from said popcorn to the trashcan in the hallway. 

"Your popcorn? I paid for it! You're so mean. People on a date are supposed to share, aren't they?" Pick asked, lightly bumping Rome's shoulder. Rome almost choked on his spit at Pick's words, turning his head away to hide a blush.

"You didn't say it was a date so screw you, you could've bought your popcorn," Rome snorted, starting to walk faster. 

"I did buy it!" Pick yelled after him, quickly catching up and absentmindedly wrapping an arm around Rome to pull him closer. "Do you want to grab something to eat? It's still early."

Rome hummed with approval, looking around for a place they could go to. "Oh, I didn't even get to ask you before, but what were you doing here? Did you bring your car? If not, I can give you a ride home later, P'," he offered with a shrug, finally letting Pick decide where he wanted to eat. 

"I was just meeting my girlfriend," Pick answered with nonchalance. Rome's body immediately stilled but he tried to make it look natural when he slid out of Pick's embrace to put some distance between them. This just wasn't something he wanted to hear. Pick seemed to notice his mistake because he cleared his throat, before adding: "Ex-girlfriend, shorty."

"It's not my business," Rome muttered, taking his phone out to have anything to do with his hands. 

It really wasn't, he didn't have the right to be jealous. But knowing that Pick came to hang out with him right after he met his girlfriend didn't make Rome feel particularly good. He didn't want to make anything obvious though, so he just smiled and quickly walked into the restaurant before Pick could say anything else, like give Rome his girl's name or, even better, list all the ones he's been with. God knew Pick was stupid enough to do it. 

"I'm paying for the dinner," Rome announced once their food came, making Pick frown at him. "It's only fair," he added, not letting the older boy argue. It would make Rome feel less like he's on a date which was a good thing. Being delusional never did anyone anything good. "P', can you let me know when you'll be free? We could work on the project. Oh, and I'm also probably going to photograph you on campus so don't think I'm being creepy," Rome warned, thinking back to what his older brother had said the other day. 

"You're spacing out, buttercup," Pick lightly pushed at Rome's forehead, making him blink quickly. "I said I'm free whenever you want. As I've mentioned I don't have a girlfriend anymore. I'm a totally free man," he emphasized. Rome raised an eyebrow, was Pick just... letting him know he's available? 

Shut up, Rome. Right, it was better to shut up. Once they stopped talking about girlfriends and ex-girlfriends, the dinner went quite well. Rome was surprised to find out that he could have a normal conversation with Pick, without teasing or anything, and it was really nice. But at the same time it was very bad for Rome's heart; why was Pick not only attractive but also interesting? Fuck him. 

On their way to Rome's car, the shorter boy accidentally bumped into someone and he was just about to apologize when he saw his brother's face right in front of him. Oh no, not now...

"Princess? Weren't you supposed to be on a date with... a girl?" Noh asked with a frown, looking towards Pick when he said his last word. Well, Pick certainly did not look like a girl. Though Rome thought it could be a funny sight. He probably shouldn't be thinking about it now.

Rome instinctively moved a little away from Pick. "I was, she went home already. P'Pick, this is my brother, Noh. P'Noh, this is my... project partner," he muttered, avoiding Pick's questioning gaze. He really had the worst luck in the entire world. 

"Pick... the guy you creepily photographed?" Noh mocked, crossing arms over his chest. 

"I told you he's my project partner! I'm a photographer, photographing is my fucking project," Rome snapped, making Noh blink at him with surprise. The older boy caught Rome's shirt to pull him closer but suddenly there was a hand on his wrist.

"If I were you, I'd keep my hands to myself," Pick said evenly, prying Noh's hand off of Rome and pushing him a little back. 

Noh looked like he was ready to go for it but Rome knew that his brother had always been better with words than fists, he had his friends to do the heavy stuff for him. 

"So I was right, huh? He is fucking you?" Noh snorted at Rome, raising an eyebrow and smirking as if he wanted to let them know that he will not keep this to himself. Rome felt panic and he was just about to protest when Pick wrapped an arm around him, pulling him close to his side.

"And what if I am? Have a problem with it, asshole? Would you like me to fuck you?" Pick teased with a vicious smile. Rome thought his heart was going to literally jump out of his chest, this just couldn't be happening right now. He was so dead, so dead. What in hell was Pick even thinking? 

Noh grimaced with disgust, taking a step back. "Don't fucking come near me, you faggot," he said loudly, next pointing his finger at Rome. "You're a fucking dead man if your dad finds out, just keep that in mind," Noh sneered, turning around and quickly walking off towards the elevator in the underground parking lot. 

For a moment Rome was just standing there and staring at his brother's back until the older boy disappeared from his sight, then Rome felt how the panicky feeling was growing inside of him. He moved away from Pick and frantically started to look for his car, trying to calm his breathing down. 

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," he kept muttering, almost running towards his vehicle. 

"Rome, wait a second," Pick called after him. He put a hand on Rome's shoulder but Rome immediately shook it off, looking around as if there was anyone who could see them.

He knew it's ridiculous but he just couldn't let his father know, he didn't have a clue how bad it would turn out but maybe Noh wasn't exaggerating. Reputation was the only thing that kept their dad going after Rome's mother died, the man engulfed himself in work and company, it seemed like this was all he had left. He always went on about proper image and Rome tried to go with it, he tried to be the perfect son even when it was so hard. He wasn't even allowed to cry too much after the funeral—"we already buried her, Rome, get over it." As if he could, as if it was that easy. But he tried. He did everything his dad asked him to do. There was only one thing he wasn't able to do, even though god knew he tried as hard as he tried with everything else, and that was being straight. Being... normal. His dad couldn't know.

Rome angrily kicked the tire of his car, still cursing under his breath. 

"Hey, buttercup, cool it down a little, will you?" Pick caught Rome's arm and turned him around, pushing him against the car and putting a hand on his chest to keep him there. Rome was breathing heavily but he didn't move anymore, looking up at Pick with wide eyes. 

"You shouldn't have said that to Noh," Rome said quietly, raising one hand and wrapping his cold fingers around Pick's wrist. The older boy briefly glanced at Rome's hand and swallowed, next looking back into his eyes. "He's going to tell everyone. He'll spread rumors that you're... that you're like me," his voice broke a little at the end and he turned his head away, ashamed that Pick saw him like this. He wasn't a weak person, he wasn't. It's just that Noh always brought out the worst in him and Rome didn't want to be rude to Pick because it wasn't his fault, so he tried to somehow deal with his own emotions on the inside. 

Pick caught Rome's chin, forcing the shorter boy to look at him again. "Do I look like I care about that? Rome, if I cared about everything that people say about me, I'd go nuts in a matter of days," he answered sincerely, raising an eyebrow. 

Rome shook his head, tugging at Pick's flannel and pulling him just a little bit closer. He was too agitated to even notice it and Pick didn't protest. 

"It's not the same, P'. They won't only talk about you and I don't want anything to happen to you because of me," Rome talked from experience. Even though Pick probably was capable of defending himself, he wasn't indestructible.

"You idiot, are you really worried about me right now?" Pick asked with a laugh, leaning over so their faces could be on the same level. "You're so cute, buttercup. I'm twice your size, I can step on your brother if you want. Would that make you feel better?" he asked, gently flicking Rome's nose. 

"Actually, yes," Rome said without hesitation, making Pick burst into laughter. God, Rome really wanted to kiss him. "I... I'm sorry, I freaked out a little bit," he muttered, playing with a button on Pick's shirt. Just then he realized how close he pulled Pick, the tips of their shoes were touching and Rome would be able to count Pick's eyelashes if he wanted to. He swallowed, trying to breathe slowly. 

"That's alright. Actually..." Pick started, leaning closer to Rome's ear. "Listening to you curse was kind of hot," he whispered, his breath tickling Rome's neck.

"P'Pick!" Rome yelled, feeling how his cheeks started to heat up. 

He was going to kill Pick one day.

— ii —

"Uhm, yeah. So... it was totally a date," Emma concluded, solemnly nodding her head as if she just found the cure for cancer. She was so annoying, Rome didn't even know why he was telling her everything. 

Aside from the fact that she was like his only friend. 

"Oh, come on, Rome!" she laughed once she saw his face. "He took you to see a movie out of his own free will? He told you that he doesn’t have a girlfriend anymore and defended you against your idiot brother? Though he could kick his ass, god knows somebody should," Emma muttered above her glass of tequila. She might have been a little bit drunk already if Rome was being honest. She was stressing over her additional curses and she had to prepare for her very first photography exhibition next week so Rome offered to take her out to relax. It’s been quite a while since they just hanged out like that, too. 

"Why would he do that, Emma?" Rome asked genuinely, finishing his drink and looking around the club that was getting more and more crowded as time went by. Rome frowned once he caught the sight of some guy by the bar; he seemed to be looking at Emma and Rome didn’t feel good about it but he decided to ignore it for now. 

Emma hummed thoughtfully, tilting her head and pressing a finger against Rome’s nose. "Because you, my friend, are a catch. You’re cute, witty, extremely annoying... which could be a charm for some," she added quickly when he quirked an eyebrow at her. "Is it so hard for you to believe that someone could actually like you?"

"You know what? I’ll go get us more drinks," Rome sighed, getting up only to be stopped by Emma’s hand on his wrist.

"Do you think he’s playing?" she asked, downing the rest of her drink in one go. "I will kill him if that’s the case. I didn’t do anything back when P’Chit was around but I won’t let it happen again, Rome. I will murder him for you."

Rome snorted at that, trying to ignore how something tugged at his heart when she mentioned Chit. "Alright there, punisher. Maybe slow down a little. I’ll be right back," he promised, ruffling her hair slightly.

Rome wasn’t thinking much about Pick, really. He didn’t know if the senior was playing or if he wanted to try things out with a guy, all Rome knew that flirting was very natural for Pick so he couldn’t take it for anything more. They’ve texted a little bit but Rome tried to avoid meeting Pick alone and he kept Emma close at all times. It was easier and Rome was quite busy with all assignments. Oh, not to mention that apparently, he had a girlfriend now so he needed to pay attention to her. 

He thanked the barman and took the tray with his drinks, trying to walk between the people without spilling all of it. Though he almost forgot about the drinks when he saw that the guy he previously spotted by the bar was now leaning against the table where Emma was sitting. 

"Excuse me, you’re blocking my way," Rome said louder, making the guy turn around. He was taller than Rome but he was also rather skinny, so that was always something. 

"And who the hell are you, shorty?" the guy asked in a slurred voice, he clearly had one too many already. Rome frowned, the nickname just didn’t sound right if it wasn’t Pick saying it; just a very stupid thought. 

"It’s my boyfriend I was just telling you about," Emma said, looking extremely uncomfortable. How was it that some straight guys just couldn’t get a damn hint? Emma did get hit on a lot but usually saying that Rome was her boyfriend was enough to make them go away. 

This one wasn’t so easy though. 

"Boyfriend, huh? Well, you can spend the night with me, and tomorrow you’ll decide if you still want that shrimp for a boyfriend," the drunk guy laughed in the most disgusting way. Rome slammed the tray with drinks on the table and pushed the taller boy a little back. 

"She’s not interested, smartass. Are you deaf or something?" Rome asked with a frown.

Emma tugged at his sleeve a little, making him distractedly look down at her. "Babe, I can take him on my own. Just hold my earrings," she muttered, reaching for her earlobe like she really would take off the pretty earrings Rome bought for her. 

"Hold what?!" Rome squealed. He did not want to see Emma fighting anyone. She distracted him and that’s why Rome didn’t see the hit that came his way; he just felt the pain in the side of his head that left his ears ringing for a few seconds. 

Rome was quite good at calculating his odds; he was small and his best friend was drunk off her ass, but the other guy was drunk too. So Rome, without much thinking, caught one of the glasses from the tray and turned his body, slamming the glass into the drunkard’s head. Alright, not the smartest decision seeing as some of the glass cut his palm—but at least the stranger was too stunned to react, so Rome caught Emma’s wrist and dragged her into the crowd before she really could take off her earrings. He was pretty sure that the drunk guy wouldn’t bother with chasing them but Rome still took Emma out of the club into the cold air of the night. And she was laughing, Emma was laughing like a lunatic until she saw the blood dripping from Rome’s hand.

"What the hell, Rome? I was supposed to fight him, not you," she sniffed, trying to catch his hand. Rome kept pulling it away because he didn’t want to get blood on her but Emma was very annoying when she got drunk. "You need a hospital."

"I do need a hospital and you need sleep. Oh shit, I’m dizzy. Come on, Ems, we’re not dying here tonight," he said, trying to cheer Emma up. She swayed a little on her feet and then threw her fist up in the air.

"Bad bitches don’t die!" she yelled, getting attention from a few other drunk girls next to the entrance. They, too, started to yell. Rome huffed out a laugh, Emma only ever cursed when she was drunk, and then she would get extremely embarrassed when Rome was telling her about it the next day. It was fun, really. She was a fun kind of drunk. 

But it wasn’t much fun anymore when they finally made it to the ER and Rome, almost passed out from bleeding, got a number 72 in the queue because the place was full of people that needed help. Well, it was a Friday night but still, Rome thought it’s ridiculous. He was pretty sure he would die in the next ten minutes and if not, he’ll wish he did. 

"Emma, you know I love you but if you’ll sing Celine Dion one more time I will bury your body in my backyard," he muttered, wrapping his hand in a towel one of the nurses gave him before sitting him down in the hallway. 

"Would you like me to sing something else?" she asked curiously, leaning her head against his shoulder. He was just about to answer that he wouldn’t mind some opening from a drama when his attention was stolen by loud voices somewhere at the front of the queue. 

"I didn’t fucking do anything so get your damn boyfriend off of me, Kao!" that was definitely Pick. And here Rome was, thinking he’ll get a break at least in the ER. 

"I swear to god, Pick, if those guys won’t kill you one day, then I will. Are you even using your head sometimes?" 

Rome didn’t recognize the second voice but he could recognize a person who’s frustrated with their best friend’s idiocy. He thought most of Pick’s friends must have sounded like that daily. Rome wanted to see why Pick was even here and if he was hurt, but suddenly his head started to get too heavy and so he rested it against the wall behind him, closing his eyes. 

"N’Emma? Nong’Rome? Hey, are you alright?" 

Rome briefly could recognize P’Porsche and then someone was lightly hitting his cheek. Rome forced himself to open his eyes.

"Are you okay? You look pale, what happened?" Porsche worriedly looked between the two of them.

"Don’t worry, she’s just drunk," Rome muttered, thinking that Emma must have fallen asleep on his arm for her to be so quiet now. Maybe it was better, god knew what she’d tell Porsche now. 

"Hey, Nong. Open your eyes, look at me—Help, someone help!" Porsche yelled.

Rome was ready to tell him that he’s perfectly fine but then the world turned black around him. 

— iii —

Pick was dozing off every few minutes but he was too uncomfortable to actually fall asleep in the small hospital chair. The bruises on his body didn’t help though he probably deserved them, along with the marks from handcuffs on his wrists. The fact that he got arrested was totally Pete’s fault but Pick wouldn’t say a thing, Kao was kind enough to bail the both of them out even though Porsche was pissed and would let them rot in the cell throughout the night. Rude.

Rome woke up with a start, as he usually did, and it was the one time Pick thought he might fall asleep. He would probably yell at the idiot but, well, it wasn’t Rome who told him to sit here and the shorty already looked pathetic enough. 

Rome blinked quickly and looked around the room, trying to sit up. He was connected to the IV and he whined when he accidentally pulled at it. But then he caught the sight of  Pick on the chair next to the bed and his eyes widened.

"Oh, P’, you don’t look so good."

"Really? That’s the first thing you say when you see me?" Pick snorted, looking over Rome’s pale face. Pick was quite surprised when Porsche started to yell earlier in the corridor but when he saw the shorty, he kind of panicked himself and decided to stay because, well, Emma was too drunk and no one from Rome’s family picked up the phone. 

Rome seemed to finally remember what happened because his face became really anxious just then. "Where’s Emma? Why am I here? And... why are you here?" he asked after a moment, squinting his eyes a little. The kid not only had a bandaged and stitched hand, he also had a bandage around his head because it was bleeding, too. Emma wasn’t able to tell them what happened and under any other circumstances Pick would find it funny, Porsche’s panic even more, but funny things in Pick’s life tended to happen with bad timing. 

"Don’t worry, my friend took Emma home. I didn’t let her go alone with Porsche, Kao took them all back. He’s a perfect gentleman," Pick assured. He smartly kept his mouth shut about Pete for now. "You passed out earlier and Porsche asked me to stay at least until you can call your dad or something," that lie came to him easy. 

He would feel stupid if he told Rome the real reason why he stayed behind even though he certainly didn’t need to and what he did need was sleep. Rome nodded slowly at Pick’s answers and raised the bandaged hand, wriggling his fingers a little and flinching at the pain.

"So what happened? Who did this to you?" Pick raised his eyebrows, moving the chair a little closer to the bed and looking up at Rome. 

Rome shrugged lightly. "A drunk guy was hitting on Emma. She wanted to fight him on her own, I wouldn’t let her."

"Oh my god, drunk Emma is fun!" Pick laughed, shaking his head with disbelief. He couldn’t quite imagine the girl being all rowdy at the club, but he guessed everyone had different ways to cope with stress. She did look quite tired lately which Pick, of course, found out from Porsche. Pick’s best friend was wallowing in misery because of that. "But you needed eight stitches on your hand, buttercup. What did you do to him?"

"I... smashed a glass against his head," Rome admitted, funnily squinting his nose. 

Pick clicked his tongue. "My, my, you tiny boy. You keep surprising me," he hummed, tilting his head when Rome looked at him.

The boy moved slowly, raising one hand and gently touching the bruise on Pick’s cheek with just the tips of his fingers. Pick stayed still, partially because he was surprised by the sudden action and partially because he didn’t want to scare Rome away by doing something wrong. It was hard to figure out what Rome wanted or what he was comfortable with, but Pick wouldn’t say he wasn’t trying. Even if Porsche wasn’t happy about it. 

"And what happened to you?" Rome asked softly, fingers skimming over the bruise towards Pick’s jawline. Pick wasn’t used to liking people touching him; it was new. 

"Kao made one stupid comment at the bar and some guys lost it, let’s just say Pete doesn’t take it well when someone threatens his boyfriend," Pick snorted at this understatement. Pete was ready to kill if you breathed at Kao in a wrong way; and yes, apparently wrong breathing was a thing now. 

Rome nodded. "You must be in pain, you should go home now, P’. I’ll try to call my dad later," he decided, trying to move his hand away only for Pick to catch it and press it back against his cheek. 

"Do you want me to go, buttercup?" 

"No, I—" Rome shook his head with a frown. "You’re being nice to me and... and it’s confusing, P’Pick," he admitted weakly, lowering his gaze with a light blush on his cheeks. 

But Pick just wanted to understand; he wanted to know why it was Rome out of all people that could touch him without making Pick feel like he wanted to flee. What was about this shorty that made him different? Pick could catch onto girls’ feelings pretty well by now but with boys... well, he wasn’t an expert. 

"I’ll stay with you for now, okay?" he offered, lowering Rome’s hand but not letting go of it. 

Rome was looking at him for a moment as if he was trying to find something in Pick’s face, but then he eventually nodded in agreement, biting at his bottom lip and gently squeezing Pick’s hand with his smaller one.

For now was good enough. 

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐯𝐢𝐢𝐢. —— my seven days.

— i —

Apparently having your own exhibition was a pretty big deal at the Faculty of Photography. Pick was quite surprised to see how many people came to look at Emma's photos and Porsche was acting like he was already Emma's proud boyfriend or, even worse, as if he took those pictures himself and people praising Emma were praising Porsche, too. It was annoying, to say the least, and Pick was in a shitty mood because everything hurt from Friday's fight. He would probably just stay in bed if it wasn't for his best friend's nagging.

Pick was trailing lazily behind Porsche, taking some pleasure out of scaring the freshmen who hurriedly ran away whenever he looked down at them—well, at least until Porsche yelled that he should be a good senior. 

"P'Porsche, P'Pick! You came," Emma suddenly appeared at their side with a camera hanging on a stripe around her neck. As far as Pick could tell, she looked nervous. 

"Where's your boyfriend?" Pick rested his elbow on Porsche's arm and looked around the place. There were too many people to spot someone as small as Rome.

Emma sighed and pointed towards the lemonade stand. "He's with Liz but I don't recommend his company today, he's a little bit snappy," she said with a frown. 

Pick looked towards the place she was pointing and barely suppressed a laugh. Rome was standing next to the girl Pick had seen in the cinema the other day; she was a little bit taller than him, her white dress contrasted with long black hair and, well, she was really pretty. Pick kind of pitied Rome by now even if, as the boy had said, the girl was nice.

"Who's Liz?" Porsche asked confused. 

"His girlfriend," Pick mocked, thinking about how he just called Rome Emma's boyfriend. "Nong'Emma, your love life is getting a little crowded, isn't it?" 

"Oh, come on, P'Pick. My love life?" she smirked in a way that made Pick think she knows something he doesn't. God, he hated when women looked at him like that, his mother was an expert in those kinds of looks. "P'Porsche, would you like to see my photos? Some of them have already been bought, but I can show you the rest!"

"You're allowed to sell them here?" Porsche asked interested.

The girl nodded with a smile. "The money goes for charity. The photography club decides where we want to donate after the exhibition."

"Well, you're free to donate to our shelter. God knows we need it," Porsche sighed, making Pick snort. 

"Oh, do you have some trouble there?" Emma was asking, already leading Porsche towards the photographs.

Pick lingered behind and then slowly made his way over to the lemonade stand.

"Anyways, I was too young to take care of him myself so my dad decided to give him to some of his friends," Rome said and shrugged. He paid for two cups of cold lemonade and took them in his hands, turning around. Rome, being the clumsy dumbass he was, didn't notice Pick when he was moving and he bumped into him, spilling the lemonade over the both of them. "Oh, I'm so—P'Pick? What the hell are you doing, standing so close?!" the boy quickly changed his tone when he looked up.

"No, no, shorty, you were doing so good. Apologize to me properly," Pick said with amusement, looking down at Rome's white shirt that now had a yellow stain on it. Pick was wearing black so it wasn't as visible. 

"Piss off, it's cold! I've wasted my lemonade because of you," he whined, trying to drag the shirt away from his body. "Oh, Liz, I'm so sorry."

Why was he apologizing to the girl? It's not like Rome spilled anything on her. Pick rolled his eyes at that.

"No, it's fine, don't worry about it. This is...?" Liz trailed off, sheepishly looking towards Pick. She blushed when he looked back at her and that made him smirk. 

"This is the senior I told you about, the one that's helping me with my project. P'Pick, this is my friend, Liz," Rome introduced them quickly and the girl put her hands in a wai. "Sorry about the lemonade," he added, leaning over to pick up the empty cups from the ground. 

Liz smiled at him and took the cups from his hands. "I said it's fine. But you both should probably change your clothes," she suggested, looking between them. 

"Ah, yeah. The drama club probably has some spare clothes in their storage room. Will you wait here for me? I'll be right back," Rome promised and then absentmindedly reached for Pick's wrist. It was something Pick noticed lately; Rome's hands would wander towards him as if they had a mind of their own, the boy would always tug at Pick's clothes or something like he just wanted to make sure that Pick is still close. It was interesting. 

Liz looked towards their hands and then quickly nodded. "Sure, I'll buy us another cups. P'Pick, would you like something to drink, too?" she asked kindly. Rome was right, she was nice. Pick kind of wished she was more of a bitch, at least then he'd have a valid reason to dislike her, other than the fact that she was spending so much time with Rome. 

"No, thank you, I don't want to interrupt the two of you," Pick cooed, raising his eyebrows when Rome sighed loudly and dragged Pick after himself towards the school building. "What? I wasn't rude!" 

"Yet, but you were about to be. I can feel it," Rome muttered, letting go of Pick when they were out of the bigger crowd. "And, uh, sorry about your shirt. I was rude, too, it was my fault," he admitted.

Pick shrugged at that. "Emma did say you're snappy today. What's up with that?"

Rome ran a hand through his dark hair with agitation, leading Pick towards the storage room the drama club used for their old costumes. Pick briefly noticed that the bandage Rome had on his palm had a small bloodstain in the middle; he concluded that the shorty wasn't taking very good care of himself if he didn't remember to change the bandage, but he wasn't one to talk so he kept quiet. 

"Nothing, it's just... I was supposed to be here to support Emma because it's her first exhibition, but instead, I'm here with Liz. And I'm trying not to get mad at her because it's not her fault, you know? She's doing what her dad wants her to do, like me," Rome shrugged, pushing the heavy doors to the storage room. He held them open for Pick to come in and then started to rummage through the clothes to find something that would fit on them. 

Pick hummed, looking around the room. There was more dust here than anything else, it was quite dark and the air seemed stiff as if no one had opened this room in a long time. Various costumes were scattered around the place, props were covered with white sheets. Overall it looked really creepy.

"Why don't you tell your dad that you don't want to do it?" Pick asked curiously. Maybe it was just his ignorance since he's been refusing his dad almost all his life, but he couldn't imagine letting his parents butt into his private matters so much at his age. 

Rome stopped what he was doing for a moment and looked towards Pick, tilting his head. "P'Pick, do you think Liz is pretty? Objectively speaking," he added quickly like maybe he didn't want to hear the answer. And Pick was too surprised by the question to lie.

"Yeah, she is. So what?" Pick frowned, leaning against the wall. Rome sighed and picked up two identical black shirts with the golden logo of the Hamilton musical; they were both very big but since Rome liked his clothes oversized, he probably didn't mind that. He handed one to Pick.

"How do I explain to my dad that I don't want to go out with a beautiful girl without making him suspicious? He set me up with her, I didn't even have to do anything, she acts as if she likes me... Why wouldn't I want to go out with her? What excuse do I have?" Rome asked quietly, turning around to change his shirt. Pick did the same, thinking about what Rome had told him. 

"So you're going to torture yourself because you don't want your dad to know the truth?" 

"I'm not—it's not... It's not that bad. And it sure is better than the alternative," Rome said shortly and then reached for the doors. "P'Pick, did you lock the doors?" 

"Hm?" Pick asked distractedly, tugging the shirt over his head.

"It's locked," Rome repeated with annoyance. Pick rolled his eyes and pushed Rome a little to the side, trying to open the doors. They were heavy so maybe this midget didn't have enough force...

Nope, Pick couldn't move them either. 

"You let them go when you walked in, right?" Rome accused as if it was Pick's fault that they were stuck in the storage room. "You're supposed to gently close them, those are old doors and they get stuck easily!" 

"How was I supposed to know that?! I've never fucking been here before!" Pick yelled back, hitting the doors with his fist and making Rome flinch back. This immediately made Pick calm down. "Just... It's fine. I'm going to call Porsche and..." he started, feeling his pockets to find out that they're empty. "Shit, I don't have my phone on me. What about you?"

"Emma has mine, her battery died and she asked to borrow my phone earlier," Rome muttered with wide eyes and then started to bang his hands against the doors. "Hello?! Can anyone hear me?! We're stuck in the storage room!" he kept yelling while Pick looked around. There was no window inside, no other doors, nothing. 

"It's okay. Someone will come here sooner or later. Like a janitor, right?"

Rome sent him a skeptical look. "Do you see this dust everywhere? When do you think was the last time a janitor walked in here?" 

"Stop acting like it's my fault, buttercup. You should've told me about the damn doors," Pick pointed out, lightly pushing at Rome's shoulder. The shorter boy furrowed his eyebrows and then pushed Pick back, making him stumble a little mostly due to his surprise. "Listen, you don't want to start with me. You're like a whole foot too short."

"So what? It doesn't mean that my punch won't hurt you, asshole," Rome shot back immediately, but when Pick took a step towards him, Rome took one back, pressing himself against the doors. "What are you doing?" 

Pick shrugged, standing in front of Rome. He rested one hand against the doors next to Rome's head and looked down at the shorter boy. 

"You're locked with me in a small space, you should be happy instead of being angry, don't you think? Lately, all you're doing is going out with Liz. Isn't it kind of boring?" Pick asked, tugging at the hem of Rome's shirt. 

"Are you jealous, P'?" Rome teased, but there were also hints of genuine curiosity in his voice that made Pick sure Rome wanted to know.

Pick remembered how Rome had told him that his behavior was confusing and he wasn't sure what it was that he wanted from the younger boy, but he knew that he felt more annoyed this week whenever he could see Rome and Liz together on the campus; he felt the sort of possessiveness he didn't have the right to feel—Rome wasn't his in any way. 

"What if I told you that I am?" 

Rome's eyes opened wider at that. "I'd say that it's bullshit. I've seen you with at least three different girls this week and it's only Wednesday, you're all talk, P'."

"I don't know why I'm jealous," Pick ignored Rome's remark. There were always girls trailing behind him, there was not much he could do about it and he did like the attention, but he didn't promise them anything. "I know you're not interested in her and I know she's not interested in you, but when I see you two together..." he muttered, trailing off when he felt Rome's hand on the back of his neck. He kind of forgot what he wanted to say because Rome was looking up at him with his big eyes and he kept slowly pulling Pick closer.

See, Pick never really questioned himself before. He liked girls enough to be convinced that he's straight, he honestly never even looked at any boy before, but now he felt like any guy that was straight would have punched Rome by now for being so close. But instead, Pick felt hot when Rome got on his tiptoes so their faces would be on the same level. Rome's eyes flickered to Pick's lips and Pick noticed it, but he still didn't pull away. He should have, he knew that, but he wasn't a coward.

Just when Pick himself was about to close the small distance left between them, something banged on the doors from the other side, making Rome stumble forward into Pick's chest. Pick was left with a sense of déjà vu he didn't understand, it's not like he was ever this close to kissing Rome... right?

"Rome, are you there?" Liz's voice sounded from outside. Pick sighed and moved back, turning away from Rome whose face became red.

"Liz? The door's locked, we can't go out!" Rome answered, clearing his throat when his voice sounded a little too roughly. 

"Yeah, you've been gone for a while so I wanted to make sure everything's alright and someone showed me the way to the storage room. I can't open it from here though, wait a little more, I'll find someone to help," Liz said and then they could hear fast footsteps. It was a wonder they didn't hear her before. 

Rome slowly turned around to face Pick again but his eyes kept wandering like he was too embarrassed to look at him. 

"P'Pick..."

Pick shortly shook his head. "Let's not talk about it here, yeah?" he didn't mean for his voice to sound so harsh but he couldn't help it. Rome pursed his lips and nodded, moving closer to the doors without another word.

What was Pick even thinking? 

— ii —

Rome had been distracted ever since he came back to help with cleaning after dropping Liz off at her dorm. Emma knew that her best friend was an airhead in general and the list of things that could distract him started with bombs going off and ended at the softest rustle of leaves on the sidewalk; but this wasn't his usual distraction. He was so lost in thoughts that he walked into the glass doors and dropped the box of photographs Emma handed him a moment earlier. 

"Oh, oh. I'm sorry," the boy said, quickly crouching to pick everything up before the pictures got dirty. 

Emma chuckled, walking over to help this disaster of a child. "What's wrong with you today, hm? Did Liz say something to you? Or was it P'Pick? I've seen you two walking into the building together earlier," she explained when Rome shot her a surprised look. 

It was so weird for her at first; the... friendship between Rome and Pick, if she could even call it that. She knew that Rome had a crush on the senior way before Emma even noticed Porsche, but she didn't think the senior would give Rome the time of his day—not because Rome wasn't worth it, but because Pick was so busy with his girlfriends and the shelter that he didn't even look at anything else. So she came up with a plan, partly for herself and partly for Rome, because they both were rather clumsy when it came to social situations, so chasing people they liked was a difficult task. But Emma had never thought it would work out so well, or so bad; depending on what the outcome will finally be. 

Now Rome and Pick seemed to naturally gravitate towards each other as if they had trackers on their phones or something. Rome could always spot Pick on the campus and the senior would find Rome in the library or the darkroom, on multiple occasions she caught them laughing at some stupid things no one else understood—like they even had inside jokes now. She wasn't jealous of Pick taking her best friend's time away from her, Emma wasn't that kind of person just like Rome wasn't like that towards her, but she was quite wary. She couldn't read Pick and it was unsettling; he dressed like a delinquent with his leather jackets and a motorcycle, he scared other people away, he got into fights, but then he volunteered at the shelters and stayed with Rome in the hospital after the boy got hurt. He was made of contradictions and Emma didn't expect a university playboy to be so complex.

Rome had been constantly hurt in the past because he let in the wrong people and Emma didn't see it soon enough, she didn't want to make another mistake because despite being the strongest person she knew, Rome had his limits, too. 

"He didn't do anything," Rome assured her after a moment, taking the box and standing up. "He's been acting weird for some time, though. You know... He said he's jealous of Liz."

"He does know you don't swing that way, right?" Emma deadpanned, making Rome shove her lightly with his elbow. "Maybe you should ask him out and see what he says?" 

Rome looked at her as if she had two heads. "I can't just... I mean, I'm pretty sure that he knows I like him by now, otherwise, he wouldn't act like that, right? But is he serious, is he making fun of me? Who knows?" 

"What do you think?" Emma asked gently, opening the doors for him. "When you're with him, do you think he's fooling you? Do you feel weird about his behavior?"

Rome thought about it for a moment and slowly shook his head. "You know my judgment isn't the best, Em. But... I don't think he wants to make an idiot out of me. I thought about it a lot lately and... I think he could like me."

"I told you! Rome, you need to give yourself more credit," she laughed, patting his shoulder. 

"No, I mean... I think I can make him fall in love with me, Emma."

Oh, should she tell him that in her opinion Pick was already halfway there? But what if it was only an act? 

She would kill Pick, that's what.

— iii —

Rome had never been this nervous in his entire life and it said something, seeing how many stressful situations he encountered. If stress really shortens the lifespan, Rome had about two more years to live if everything goes well. 

He was pacing around the darkroom, Pick's pictures were hanging by the wall and slowly drying after he developed them. He actually thought about his plan while doing it and maybe it wasn't his greatest idea ever, but he knew that once it appeared in his head it wouldn't stop bugging him, so he needed to at least try. Worst case scenario? Pick will just stop talking to him and everything will be the way it was before Emma asked them for help with the project.

Rome could live with that. Yeah, that's right. 

Rome jumped when the doors to the darkroom opened and closed. A few seconds later Pick appeared from around the corner, looking around. His eyes needed to adjust to the darkness.

"Buttercup, are you here?" Pick asked and then cursed when he hit his foot against something. 

Rome chuckled, walking a little bit closer. "Yeah, thanks for coming so fast," he stopped before adding that it didn't give him time to change his mind and he was grateful for that. 

"You said it was an emergency, you can be annoying even through texts," Pick informed him, but he didn't sound particularly annoyed. Rome felt kind of touched at the fact that Pick rushed here only because Rome made it seem like it was something urgent. "Well, why did you want me to come?"

"Seven days," Rome said quickly before he could chicken out. His heart started to beat faster because he knew he couldn't back out anymore, he could pray that his dumb idea will work.

Pick was quiet for a moment. "Seven days? What's in seven days?" his voice sounded closer now and a moment later Rome could feel a hand on his shoulder. Pick touched it a few times, moving his palm down Rome's arm as if he wanted to make sure what he touched. Rome rolled his eyes and walked over to flick the red lights on, the ones that wouldn't damage fresh pictures, then he walked back to where Pick was standing and looked up at the senior. 

"There's a rumor around the campus that you give every girl that asks you out seven days to make you like her," Rome answered quietly, reaching for the zipper of Pick's jacket and playing with it to have anything to do with his hands. "You date them for seven days. Is that true?"

Pick raised his eyebrows and caught Rome's chin with his fingers to tilt his head up and force Rome to look into his eyes. "Why are you asking me that? I already told you that I don't have a girlfriend now and it's true."

"No, I..." Rome swallowed. It was harder to say when Pick was looking at him like that. "I want my seven days," he muttered, voice barely above a whisper. It was as good as telling Pick how he felt about him and it was terrifying. 

"You want..." Pick sounded surprised, but then he chuckled and tugged Rome's chin so his face would be a little bit closer. "So what, you will date me for seven days? Is that what you're going to do, shorty?" 

Rome rested his hands against Pick's chest to save some distance between them and then nodded with determination. "I can at least try, can't I?"

Pick's expression seemed to soften at that. "Rome, you don't have to—"

"No, I want to. You never turned a girl down before. Are you saying you won't do it because I'm a boy?" Rome asked, trying to sound daring instead of just anxious. Pick's eyes moved along Rome's face and he let go of Rome's chin to put a hand against his cheek instead, he looked curious.

"Seven days, huh? Alright then, I'll give you seven days, starting tomorrow. Do you think it's enough for you, buttercup?"

Rome smiled at that, feeling a sudden burst of confidence after succeeding with his plan. He got on his tiptoes and moved his face closer to Pick's, their lips almost touching when he said his next words.

"More than enough."

Rome tilted his head and slowly pressed his lips to the corner of Pick's mouth, he could hear how the senior gasped softly with surprise, but he quickly sidestepped Pick and left the darkroom before Pick could react. 

He smiled to himself, putting a hand against his heart that was beating way faster than normal. He was so going to make Pick fall head over heels in love with him. 

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐢𝐱. —— blackout.

— i —

Rome tried his best to not look as uncomfortable as he felt. Noh was sprawled out on the chair opposite to him, looking as disinterested as always, while their dad and the woman were sitting on both ends of the dining table. Rome subconsciously started to think about her like that; she wasn't just any woman, she was the woman, and this emphasis was very much a thing in his mind.

Rome wasn't a little kid anymore, he wasn't going to throw a tantrum at the news of his father having a girlfriend—or at least he'd very much like to say that. It's been eleven years since his mother died, and either way, Rome didn't think that his dad's grieving period had been longer than maybe six months. So it wasn't like Rome wanted to be difficult, it was just that there was something... too pretentious about this woman; the way she smiled was a little too wide for what they've been talking about, she sounded way too eager to know everything about Rome and Noh, almost as if she was going to date them instead of their father. 

"How old were you when your mom died?" the woman asked Rome, probably because she noticed that she wouldn't get any reaction out of Noh. Rome's brother was there because he had to be if he wanted to get his monthly allowance, but no one would force him to talk.

This question, though, got the reaction from both of the brothers. Noh visibly clenched his fingers on the fork, while Rome let go of his; it clattered against the plate and created a loud noise that startled everyone a little bit.

Rome quickly cleared his throat. "Um, I was... I was seven."

The woman solemnly nodded her head and turned towards Rome's dad. "That explains a lot. It's quite obvious when kids grow up without their mother, I think that the presence of a woman has a big influence on how the kids turn out when they're older. Do they cause trouble?" she asked.

Rome tuned her out after that because he knew he wouldn't be able to stop himself from arguing with her at some point. If there was anything wrong with him now it wasn't because he didn't have a mother, but because he didn't have both his parents─his dad was just never there, he didn't care what his kids were doing as long as they didn't get caught. 

When the dinner was finally over, Rome locked himself in his room. Mentioning his mother always made him feel like shit because most of the time everyone acted as if she never existed at all; Rome didn't even have any pictures of her, he barely remembered how she looked like anymore. His father didn't keep anything that would remind them of her and Rome was sure it's because he thought that her death was cowardly, that it was something they should hate her for. Rome was often beating himself up over the fact that he was too young back then to try and hide at least one photograph. He didn't want to forget her, even if remembering hurt so much.

Rome sat on the floor next to his bed and dialed Emma's number, he needed to talk to someone, because being alone wasn't good for him now.

"Rome? I was just about to text you!" Emma's cheerful voice sounded on the other side. Hearing her being so happy gave Rome a pause. "I bumped into P'Porsche while I was shopping and he asked if I want to get dinner with him! He's ordering our food now. Can I finally count this as a date?"

"Ah... I... Yes, I suppose," Rome answered, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. "Congratulations, I thought you will have to ask him out yourself."

"Me too! Oh, I think he's about to come back. Is there anything you need? Why did you call?" she asked, lowering her voice a little. 

She sounded so excited and Rome really couldn't ruin it for her, another opportunity like that could take years to happen again, especially with someone like Porsche. So Rome forced himself to smile to make his voice sound more normal, otherwise, Emma would worry and insist to come over. 

"I just wanted to see what you were doing. Text me once you're home, okay?" 

"Sure, I promise, bye!" Emma finished the call before Rome had the chance to answer. 

He sighed and looked down at the screen of his most recent calls. Right under Emma's contact name was Pick's, and Rome's finger hovered over it for a few seconds before he locked his phone and threw it on the bed. They weren't close enough for Rome to call him whenever he was upset. 

But he couldn't stop thinking that Pick's voice would probably make him feel much better.

─ ii ─

"We need to talk."

Pick stopped putting the cat food in the bowls and sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. It was never a good thing to hear something like that from Porsche because it usually meant one of two things; one was that Porsche had another ridiculous request and wanted Pick to do something embarrassing for him, and two was that he wanted to yell at Pick. So really, Pick was never thrilled to hear that.

"I don't think we do," Pick said slowly, finishing his task just because some of the cats were already bumping their noses against his hands to make him give them food faster. Cats were so bossy and needy, almost like Rome. Pick almost smiled at the thought but then quickly scowled; why would he even think about that shorty?

"Well, you have no choice," Porsche informed him, nodding towards the table he was sitting by. Pick sighed again, wiping his hands against black jeans and walking over to sit on one of the chairs. "It's about Nong'Rome."

Pick leaned back on the chair and raised an eyebrow. "What about him?" he asked lazily.

"Do you like him?" Porsche was closely watching Pick as if his reaction would tell Porsche more than words, and so Pick tried to keep his expression carefully blank just in case this idiot would imagine seeing something there. Pick didn't doubt that Porsche would snitch everything out to Emma, that is if there would be anything to snitch out. "Or did he tell you he likes you?"

"No to both questions, Porsche. How is that any of your business?" 

Well, Pick didn't lie. Though Rome asking him out was as good as telling Pick how he felt... Pick had no idea what to do with it, he agreed because there was really no reason to refuse; it was a challenge, it sounded fun, Rome was brave for asking so straightforwardly. There were a lot of things Pick could say, but the main reason was that he wanted to check his own feelings─was Rome just making him confused, or was Pick genuinely interested? That's why the answer to Porsche's first question wasn't technically a lie either, Pick couldn't say he likes Rome simply because he didn't know if he does. 

Why was it so easy with girls?

"What do you mean, how is that my business?" Porsche asked almost offended. "I'm your best friend! If you like boys, I think I should know that. Just so I can be a good wingman, you know? You're breaking like ten best friends' rules right now."

Pick rolled his eyes. "This is exactly why I don't tell you anything, you drama queen. I do not like boys, and either way, you were so busy with Nong'Emma lately that I didn't think you'd care," his words slowed down a little by the end because Pick didn't mean for it to sound so mean. He knew Porsche did care about him and that he wouldn't just abandon him for a girl, Pick wasn't afraid of that... Or at least he thought he wasn't. There was never a threat like that before. 

Porsche shook Pick out of his thoughts by slapping him upside the head. "You're an idiot. If anything is bothering you, I want you to talk to me! It's just that you never say anything and you keep everything inside, and... Didn't your mom tell you it's not good?"

"Porsche, Porsche, Porsche. My dear child. I'm like fine wine─"

"Bottled up for so long and then can kill if opened incorrectly?" Porsche interrupted, making Pick scowl at him. "Pick, I just don't want any of you to get hurt, you know? Rome is a nice person and if you're just treating him like one of your girls..."

"I don't know, Porsche, okay? I don't know if I like him and... and it's different with him. I just─I don't know," he sighed, wanting to just finish this conversation. It was embarrassing on so many levels. 

Porsche looked at him for a moment and then smiled. "It's fine. Just don't use him as a way to test yourself."

Before Pick could think of an answer, the doors to their club opened and they both could see a very disheveled Rome with Emma trailing behind. Pick's eyes focused on the boy though; the shirt of Rome's uniform was buttoned unevenly and half of it was pushed into black jeans, his dark hair was sticking in every direction, and there was a fresh bruise on his cheek, he also looked like he didn't get much sleep that night, but he was still smiling happily as he waved something that looked like take-out in his hand. 

"Hello, I've brought lunch. Your friend said you're probably still here and it's almost ten now, so I─I mean, we thought we'll stop by," Rome said, nodding towards Emma. Pick was too busy talking to Porsche to even notice the time, but now his stomach seemed to remember that it should be getting food by now. "Well, I didn't know what you like to eat so I took a little bit of everything."

"Oh, thank you so much. You didn't have to do this," Porsche said, quickly standing up and ushering the younger students inside. "Please, sit down. I'll find some bowls."

"I'll help you," Emma offered, pushing Rome down on the chair next to Pick and then walking after Porsche to the next room.

"What happened to your face, buttercup?" Pick asked once they were alone, turning on his chair so he could face Rome. His hand almost automatically went up to Rome's cheek and pressed lightly against it, for some reason he felt angry at the sight of the bruise. It just seemed like Rome couldn't take a break from them, but he never even said a thing. He always brushed Pick off when he used to ask about it.

Rome's eyes were wide when he looked back at Pick. "It's nothing," he muttered, catching Pick's wrist and putting his arm down. Pick briefly noticed that Rome didn't let go of him later. "Do you have time today, P'?"

Pick decided that there's no use in pushing, Rome wouldn't tell him anything either way. 

"It depends what for," he tilted his head and smirked when Rome blushed before his next words.

"A date. I mean, I only have seven days, I should hurry," Rome explained, playing with the silver bracelet on Pick's wrist. He was avoiding looking directly at the senior and it was really funny how he could go from someone confident into this mess.  

"Hm, okay then. Do you want me to wear something pretty?" Pick teased, watching how Rome's ears were getting redder and redder. It was quite fascinating. 

Rome looked up and smiled softly. "You always look pretty, P'Pick," he said like it was nothing.

Porsche chose this moment to walk back into the room. He took one look at his best friend and frowned with concern. "Pick, why is your face so red?"

Rome chuckled and Pick groaned loudly; he was so going to murder that shorty one day.

─ iii ─

"Come on, get inside."

Pick opened the doors and pushed Rome inside, closing behind them just when another thunder sounded in the distance. They both have run from the car but their clothes were still soaking wet, water was dripping on the wooden floor in the hallway. Pick tried to flick on the lights, but nothing happened.

"Shit, it's another blackout," he explained, using the flashlight on his phone.

"I'm really sorry, I didn't know it's going to rain so much," Rome said quietly and then sneezed in the crook of his elbow.

Pick snorted, leading the younger boy to the living room. "It's not your fault. Besides, the date was fun," he admitted with a shrug because it was true.

"Yeah, but it lasted like half an hour."

They went to the arcade together, but because of the storm, the power went out there, too. Pick didn't mind that much, it wasn't Rome's fault and he did have fun for the thirty minutes or so. At first, he thought it was going to be awkward, but they were getting along pretty well even if Rome seemed a little more nervous than normal.

"Well, how does that saying go? Quality over quantity or something? Anyways, you can light up the candles on the table, I'll bring you something dry to wear," he said, nodding towards the small table in the room. The blackouts were a frequent thing in this area so they always had a lot of candles around, just so they wouldn't have to sit in the darkness. In this kind of weather, Pick wasn't able to say how long it would last.

"Wait," Rome said quickly, catching Pick's arm before he could walk away. Pick moved his phone so the light would be on Rome's face, and he saw that the shorty was looking around anxiously. This made him laugh.

"Come on, don't tell me you're scared of ghosts?" he mocked, flicking Rome's forehead. "The only person in this house you should be afraid of is standing right here, buttercup."

Rome sent him an unimpressed glare and then pushed him away. "Oh, just go. Try not to break your neck on the stairs."

"You're so sweet, Nong, I'm swooning," he cooed.

Pick found some of his older clothes so they wouldn't be that big on Rome, and then he walked downstairs. The shorty was carefully lightning up all the candles in the room he could find; he flinched at the sound of the thunder almost as if he was going to get punched. Pick shook his head at that, this kid seriously had some issues. Pick's mom was a therapist and while most of the time Pick thought it's annoying how she always tried to analyze him, sometimes it was useful because through her he was learning how to analyze others. And with Rome, there was one hell of an analysis to do.

"Here you go, there's a bathroom down the hallway─"

Rome turned around, almost dropping the candle he was holding. "And you expect me to go there alone in the dark? Yeah, no way," he protested, putting the candle away and taking the clothes from Pick's hands. The senior shrugged and flopped down on the sofa, in this light he wouldn't be able to see anything anyway, not that he'd watch. Rome quickly changed into the dry clothes and sat down next to Pick; the sleeves of the sweater were too long and only Rome's fingers were visible, Pick thought it's kind of cute. "Why isn't there anyone else here?"

"The house usually stays empty," Pick answered, leaning back. "We all lived here together before my parents divorced, but later dad moved out and I guess mom doesn't really like being here, but she also doesn't want to sell it because she says me and my sister grew up here so... It's stupid. But it was closer than the dorms, and I don't like driving in the rain," he explained with a shrug. 

Then everything was silent for a moment. Rome was looking at him and his long eyelashes were casting shadows on his cheeks, he looked so soft. Pick's heart did that weird thing again and the boy frowned.

"Why are you staring at me?" he asked, tilting his head that was leaned against the back of the sofa. 

"Because I like looking at you," Rome answered simply, moving a little bit closer. Pick could feel the tension between them, just like the time when they got locked in the storage room, but now he knew that there wouldn't be anyone to interrupt them. 

Pick swallowed when Rome put a hand on his neck and then moved down to finally press their lips together. 

And really, this wasn't Pick's first kiss so he had no right to be so clueless as to what to do next, but it's just that he didn't expect his body to react the way it did. He could feel shivers running down his spine and his heart started to beat faster, he was kind of afraid Rome would be able to feel it when the younger boy put his hand on Pick's chest for balance. It would be embarrassing. 

But maybe it's because Rome was the first boy Pick was kissing. Or rather the first boy that was kissing him. Rome pressed a little bit forward and that finally woke Pick up from his trance. Pick cupped Rome's face in his hands and tilted it to deepen the kiss, then he pulled Rome closer, not even thinking about what he was doing. He didn't want to think because then he'd probably freak out about the whole kissing a boy thing, and for now, it was nice. Really nice. 

Especially when Rome moved on the sofa and ended up sitting on Pick's lap. Rome opened his mouth to let Pick's tongue in; one of his hands tangled in Pick's black hair, while Pick's squeezed on Rome's waist. At first, the kiss was slow, but it quickly turned into a more urgent one when Pick figured out that he really wanted to do it, he wanted to do it a long time ago, he was just too dumb to realize it before Rome was the one who kissed him

The younger boy gently tugged at Pick's hair, making him groan and break the kiss to come up for air. They were both panting heavily and Pick still kept Rome close, he could see his blush even in the dim candlelight, his eyes seemed to sparkle and Pick once again thought that Rome was very pretty. He caught Rome's chin and moved his thumb against Rome's bottom lip, looking all over his face.

"I... I didn't plan to do that on the first date," Rome muttered, resting his hands against Pick's chest. "I should─I should probably go," he added, trying to move only for Pick to pull him down again.

"Where do you want to go? It's still raining and it's already late," Pick hummed. The weather was still awful and Rome didn't have his car, so it was logical that Pick wanted him to stay. "You should just stay for the night, buttercup," he added, playing with the hem of Rome's shirt. 

Rome tried to keep his hands to himself and he seemed a lot shyer than he was just a few seconds ago. "Is that okay?" he asked quietly, and Pick knew it's not about staying the night. 

Pick bit his bottom lip, thinking about it for a moment. Sooner or later he would actually have to face all those things that he kept putting in boxes inside his head, but was now really a good time to do that? With Rome sitting on his lap... Well, maybe everything else could wait a little bit more, right?

"I'm not sure. I think you'll have to kiss me again, just in case," he said, trying to sound serious. Rome's eyes widened for a moment before the boy burst into laughter.

It was a little bit more difficult to kiss someone who was smiling, but Pick didn't mind. It was even better than the first time.

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 𝐱. —— without nightmares.

─ i ─

"This is the guest bedroom, there are pillows and blankets in the closet, so just take as many as you want, this bed isn't very comfortable," Pick nodded towards the furniture, pointing at it with the flashlight on his phone. "My room is just on the other side of the hallway, so if anyone will want to murder you, scream. Maybe I'll wake up," the senior shrugged, making Rome shove him with his elbow.

This wasn't funny at all; Rome loved watching conspiracy theories and creepypastas at nights, so he could tell Pick about at least a hundred cases where people disappeared from their bedrooms. And what about psychos living in the ventilation? Rome didn't want to mention it, but this house was big enough to have an intruder like that. He wasn't being paranoid, it's just that the thought of being alone during the storm and the blackout was freaking him out a bit.

Rome didn't say anything about that, though, because really... he felt kind of awkward right now. If he allowed himself to think about it before, he knew that if there ever would be anything to happen between him and Pick, Rome would have to be the one to take the first step; but he didn't expect it to happen so soon. The boy didn't want to do anything that Pick wouldn't be comfortable with, of course kissing a boy for the first time could be quite the big deal for someone who never even thought about that before, that's why before kissing him, Rome gave Pick an appropriate amount of time to move away if that's what Pick wanted.

But even then, when Pick stayed exactly where he was with eyes stuck on Rome, the younger boy didn't expect Pick to kiss back. Well, that was the outcome he hoped for, but... Yeah, Rome didn't think that far ahead. He was kind of dumb like that sometimes.

Rome knew that he liked Pick well enough before, but after kissing him, the scary realization finally settled in. He didn't just like Pick, he was in love with him. He was so in love with the older boy and it was terrifying because Rome knew, he just knew, that Pick would never be able to reciprocate his feelings with such intensity. Rome didn't even know if kissing back meant that Pick liked him. It was the senior who wanted to do it again, it was Pick who held Rome closer and traced the skin on Rome's hips with his fingers. But it could very well mean nothing to Pick, it's not like he didn't kiss dozens of girls before.

Even if that wasn't something Rome wanted to think about after his moments of happiness, he still wouldn't fool himself like that. He was already too good at being bad for his mental health. But, he wasn't completely negative either. If he thought that there's no chance of Pick falling in love with him, he wouldn't even try. Rome wasn't going to give up that easily, his mom always said that people can't just wait for the life to hand everything to them, that much he remembered.

With all that being said, Rome had no idea how to act around Pick in their current situation, so he thought it's best to sleep on it and see how they'll feel in the morning.

The rain kept hitting against the windowsills, the guest room didn't have curtains, so Rome could see every lightning followed by a thunder. He wasn't really afraid of storms, he simply hated them because they always brought back bad memories, so he had trouble with falling asleep that night. And when he finally did, it wasn't a peaceful sleep.

The palette of Rome's nightmares was quite wide, he often thought about talking about them to someone, and by someone, he meant a therapist, but his dad would prefer to jump out of the window than to send his son to a shrink. Rome knew it's ridiculous, he should do what's best for him, but he was still too dependable on his father to be able to fully decide his life.

The nightmares were always somehow related to water that still was his biggest fear. Sometimes he just saw how his own older brother tried to drown him that one time; Rome forgot about a lot of things from his childhood, but this scene was incredibly vivid in his memories─he remembered how he was walking next to the pool with pretty rocks he picked up earlier in his pocket, he remembered how someone suddenly pushed him even though later everyone would say he slipped. It was Noh's birthday party and he invited all his dumb friends that were laughing at Rome, they were always laughing at him for something; for being so tiny, for having freckles, for his long eyelashes that "made him look like a girl." He remembered how Noh held him by his hair, pushing his head under the water each time Rome tried to desperately come up for air. He remembered how later Noh would cry, saying that he just tried to pull Rome out. Of course, he convinced everyone, after all, Rome was always the clumsy one, the kid that couldn't take care of himself. Rome had a feeling that his mom knew the truth, but what could she do? When Rome got older, he concluded that no mom would want to see a monster in their child.

Sometimes in his nightmares, Rome was older and still so helpless. He could have hated the things everyone said about him, but it didn't make them less true─he couldn't take care of himself, most of the time he just acted confident to hide the insecure person he was. Rome wasn't afraid of Noh anymore, he knew that, but the person in his dreams was terrifying. There was always a hand holding him down, the air was burning in his lungs when he felt like he was going to explode. It always felt so real. The panic, the pain, the fear... But then Rome would just let go. The water would fill his mouth and there was nothing he could do...

The small boy suddenly started to choke, he opened his eyes wide and gripped his throat, catching his breath and blinking in the pitch-black darkness. The water he drowned in was freezing, but Rome felt hot under the covers. He blindly reached for his phone, squinting his eyes when the light from the screen hit them, displaying large 3:12 on top.

This damn rain just wouldn't stop.

Rome took another deep breath to calm down and then threw the covers away, shuffling through the room; his screen was the only source of light. He quickly crossed the hallway and without thinking too much slipped into Pick's bedroom, quietly closing the doors behind himself. He couldn't hear Pick's breathing because of the heavy rain, one of the windows in the room was opened and the chilly air filled the space, making Rome shiver. How could Pick even sleep like that?

"P'Pick?" Rome whispered, uncertainly moving towards the edge of the bed. He knew it's stupid and childish, but still better than being alone. "P', wake up," he said a little bit louder, tugging at the covers. At first, Pick mumbled something incoherent, Rome was pretty sure those were just curse words.

"What? You're being murdered and you told the guy to wait, so you could get back up?" Pick muttered with sarcasm, slowly turning on his back. Rome pointed at Pick with the screen of his phone and the senior squinted at the light.

"Your house is scary, scarier than being in one room with you with the lights off. Can I stay with you tonight? We can put pillows in between us," Rome rambled, stepping from foot to foot.

Pick sighed, as if dealing with Rome at this hour was way over his patience limit. "I'm gonna go and ignore how goddamn rude you are to your senior, shorty. But sure, you can stay with me," he added and his voice seemed to soften a little by the end, making Rome's heart twitch in the weirdest of ways. He locked the phone and put it on the bedside drawer, then slowly getting under the covers as far away from Pick as he could. "Well, a man got in my bed willingly, so no one can say I took advantage of him," Pick chuckled, clearly thinking he's the funniest person on Earth.

Rome moved his hand in the dark until he could feel Pick's bicep underneath it, and then he slapped the boy's skin. "Using my own words against me is illegal!"

"Since when?"

"Since I said so!" Rome whined like a three-year-old, just because he could.

Pick huffed out a laugh, but then Rome could feel a hand on his arm that moved down until Pick touched Rome's palm. "Jesus, kid, you're freezing," the older boy muttered and then tugged at the covers, almost putting them over Rome's head.

"That's because your damn window is opened. What, you're leaving it so your demon friends can visit at three in the morning?" Rome shot back, pushing Pick's hand away. He kind of forgot about the pillows he was supposed to put in between them, and sometime during their banter he involuntarily moved closer to Pick on the big bed.

"Yeah, Porsche sometimes flies in on a broom, you know his dramatic ass," Pick answered sleepily, muffling a yawn. Rome burst into laughter and Pick soon followed, it was so easy to be together. Somehow in the darkness, Rome felt more confident next to Pick. "Alright, I let you stay in my bed, so now you let me sleep, buttercup."

"Fine, you old man. Goodnight, P'Pick," Rome said softly, turning on his side so he wouldn't be facing Pick in his sleep.

Pick hummed, seemingly already half-asleep. "Night, shortcake."

If Rome wasn't so tired, he would probably start to wonder what was so wrong with his name that Pick seemed unable to just use it. But seeing how things were, he just thought shortcake is cute before he drifted off next to the older boy.

─ ii ─

Pick wasn't a heavy sleeper, unfortunately, that's why he hated sleeping in one room with Porsche that could wake up his dead great grandmother with his snoring. That night, though, it wasn't Pick's best friend that woke him up. The sounds weren't as loud and, really, it was more the rustle of the bed covers that broke from reality into Pick's dream. He forced his eyes to open, blinking heavily. The rain seemed to finally stop, the sky had this navy blue color that happened during storms or an hour before the sunrise; the room wasn't as dark anymore.

Pick turned on his back, trying to locate the sound that woke him up. The only thing he noticed was a mess of black hair sticking from under the covers, so he gently pulled them down. Rome's eyes were closed, but they seemed to be moving quickly under the eyelids, the boy's tiny hands were squeezing the sheets, and he was muttering something in his sleep, dark hair was sticking to his sweaty forehead.

Again, Pick knew that Rome had nightmares, but it wasn't the same with actually seeing how it affected him from up close. Pick decided that he didn't like it when Rome looked so scared and helpless, he could use this as a way to tease the boy later, but instead, he wanted to make it stop.

Yeah, Rome was making him soft, it was terrible.

Pick swallowed and slowly moved closer to Rome, not sure if his actions would make things better or worse. First, he put his hand on Rome's hair, stroking it gently. God, this was so weird for him. Pick didn't even know how to be affectionate; one would think that after all those girls he'd learn a thing or two in that matter, but he never had to try before. They didn't want that from him.

Rome's body seemed hot to the touch when Pick wrapped an arm around him to pull him closer, a few seconds later Rome's fingers clutched Pick's shirt instead of the sheets. Pick could feel how fast Rome's heart was beating, and he couldn't help but wonder what appeared in Rome's nightmares this time. Was he drowning again?

Pick blinked heavily, trying not to fall back asleep, one of his hands kept stroking Rome's hair while the other one drew small circles on his back. After a few more moments Rome seemed to gradually calm down, his breath started to even out again, and his fingers loosened their grip, instead lying flatly on Pick's chest. Huh, that wasn't even that hard. Pick felt ridiculously proud of himself.

But then Rome nuzzled his head in the crook of Pick's neck, and Pick's heart started to do those stupid weird things again. While he was holding Rome close, the only thought in his head was, "uh oh, trouble."

─ iii ─

Rome woke up with a feeling that something was missing, but he couldn't for the life of him figure out what it was.

He frowned, touching the bed he was lying on; he didn't remember it being so soft when he lied down at night. After a few more seconds Rome was finally able to open his eyes and his frown deepened. The boy slowly moved his head up to see Pick's sleeping face above, and his heart skipped a beat. That explains a lot, actually─his face was squished on Pick's chest, that's why it seemed so soft.

As Rome's brain started to wake up more, he slowly assessed their position; Pick was lying on his back with an arm wrapped around Rome who was lying on his chest, arm thrown over Pick's stomach, and Pick's free hand gently rested on Rome's forearm. Rome had no reason to smile like a dumbass, he should probably freak out at least a little bit.

The younger boy moved very carefully, trying not to wake Pick up, and freed himself from Pick's embrace. Rome pushed himself up on his elbow and stared down at Pick's face─dark eyebrows, messy black hair falling softly to his forehead, a cute straight nose. Rome really, really liked looking at Pick. And yes, his hair did turn out to be as soft as it looked, Rome was delighted to find out.

"You're being creepy, buttercup."

Instead of focusing on the fact that Rome got caught staring, he focused on the fact that Pick's morning voice was hoarse and it did things to Rome.

"I'm not being creepy, I'm being cute," Rome argued, instinctively moving his hand to push Pick's hair from his forehead.

"Yeah, with that Edward Cullen thing you've got going? I think not," Pick slowly opened his eyes. But before Rome could get offended, they both could hear a dog's bark that sounded suspiciously close.

Rome frowned. "Do you have a dog? I didn't hear it yesterday," he said because even if the animal was locked somewhere in the house, it wouldn't be quiet during the storm. And Pick said that the house stays empty anyway.

"I do, but it stays with my mom while I'm at the uni," Pick answered, and then his eyes widened when he suddenly sat up in bed. "My mom."

"Pick, are you home?! I saw your car in the driveway! If you got drunk here again, I am going to beat your ass, adult or not!" A woman's voice yelled from downstairs, making both boys look at each other with varying degrees of panic written on their faces.

"I'm not ready to meet your mom! We're not even official yet!" Rome whisper-yelled. Pick raised his eyebrows and pushed Rome back down on the pillow.

"Will you shut up? How is that important right now? We're in one bed together! What do you think my mom is going to think when she sees me in one bed with a pretty boy that's wearing my clothes?" Pick asked, throwing the covers away and almost jumping out of bed. "What the fuck are you smiling at, idiot?"

Rome shrugged lightly. "You think I'm pretty?"

Pick threw his hands up in surrender. "Pretty annoying, get your damn brain to work."

"I know you like to curse in the morning, but wow. Slow down. You just called me pretty, I'm recovering," Rome teased, also getting out of bed and stretching. Truthfully, he was incredibly stressed because he wasn't ready to meet Pick's mother, but he didn't know how to deal with it, so he just opted for being cheeky.

Pick shot him an unimpressed glare but there was a hint of a smile tugging at his lips, so Rome counted it as a win. If he could make Pick laugh, it was already good.

The senior caught Rome's wrist and led him out of the room, closing the doors behind. They could hear heels hitting the wooden floor downstairs as Pick's mom was getting closer, but the first one on the second floor was the dog. It wasn't just any dog either, it was a huge, gigantic monster that reached Rome's waist. He wasn't exaggerating, the animal made so much noise that the house seemed to shake, and Rome squealed, hiding behind Pick and clutching at his shirt. The dog immediately went for Pick, barking happily and hitting the wall with his tail that kept moving quickly; even that sounded so loud Rome was scared there will be a hole in the wall. This dog must have been at least three feet tall and it was the largest thing Rome had ever seen, Emma would've had a heart attack by now.

"Here's my baby!" Pick yelled happily, petting the dog's head and making it howl even louder.

"Baby?!" Rome tugged at Pick's shirt, making the senior look back at him with a frown.

"He's just four years old! I thought Emma was scared of dogs, not you."

"I'm not scared of dogs, I'm scared of animals that can kill me by hitting me with their tail!" Rome argued, taking a panicked step back when Pick caught the dog's collar and guided it closer to Rome. "No, please─"

Pick rolled his eyes, holding the excited dog. "Oh, come on. Donut isn't dangerous unless I tell him to be," the boy convinced.

"Donut. You have a dog named Donut," Rome deadpanned. Of course Pick named his monster that. "Tell me, this is the reason all those girls broke up with you, right? You pretend to be this mysterious badass with leather jackets and a motorbike, but in reality, you wear pink shirts with stupid frogs on the back, you have a dangerous-looking dog named Donut, and you probably keep tickets from festivals and cinemas as a souvenir," he said, watching how a blush creeps up Pick's neck. "Oh my god, you do!"

"Shut up, shorty! What's wrong with that?" Pick snapped defensively. Apparently, the change in his voice alarmed the dog because Donut bared his teeth and growled at Rome who took another step back with arms raised in defense. "No, he's good, we like him," Pick muttered to the dog, petting his head again.

"Pick, do you know that you didn't even lock the backdoors? You know it's dangerous to be here alone during blackouts, a lot of houses get robbed on nights like that," a woman's voice sounded closer and a moment later Rome could see Pick's mom. Rome immediately knew that Pick took his beauty after her; she was tall, her long hair was pitch black and she looked like she couldn't be more than thirty years old.

"You didn't lock the backdoors?!" Rome slapped Pick's shoulder, making the older boy roll his eyes.

"Great, now I have two paranoid moms," he muttered, and then it was his mom who slapped his other shoulder. "What are you even doing here, mom? And why did you bring Donut?"

The woman curiously looked at Rome, but then decided to focus on her son first. "He misses you, you know? I'm not about to let him destroy my house just because you're too busy to visit him. I was going to call you and ask if you want to go out for lunch with me, but first I wanted to check how's the situation here. I was afraid that the rain flooded the basements again, and then I saw your car in the driveway. So why are you here? And who is this lovely boy?"

"Ugh, we got caught in the rain and we were closer to this house than dorms. This is my junior, Rome. I'm helping him with a school project," Pick introduced Rome who immediately raised his hands in a wai. Currently, he was more focused on the fact that Donut was sniffing around his sweatpants and Rome was terrified.

"You? Helping someone? With school stuff?" Pick's mom raised an eyebrow with doubt. "Did Porsche force you to do it? That would explain it."

"I'll have you know that I'm a very helpful person," Pick whined, making Rome snort. Pick elbowed him in the side.

"Oh, yes," Rome blurted out, catching the hem of Pick's shirt when Donut pushed him with his head and almost made Rome stumble. "He really is helping me. And it's very nice to meet you," he added truthfully. Pick's mom seemed fun.

"It's nice to meet you too, sweetheart. Would you like to join us for lunch?" she asked kindly, smiling at him. "Donut likes you, it's rare," she added, noticing how the giant dog flopped to the ground, sitting beside Rome's leg and wiggling his tail when Rome awkwardly patted his head.

Rome immediately shook his head, he was so not prepared for that. "I wouldn't want to interrupt you two, besides I have some work to do today. But thank you for the invitation," he said, next looking down at the dog. "What breed is he? I've never seen such a big dog, it must be so hard to take care of it."

"Oh, it is!" the woman laughed. "He's an Irish Wolfhound and he's two feet and nine inches tall by now, you know? We wouldn't be able to keep him if we still lived at this house, the backyard is way too small. If it wasn't for Pick I would never agree for a dog that's this big, but it's a gift from his father," she explained.

"That's the only good thing he ever gave me," Pick muttered, leaning against the wall.

"Don't be rude," his mom scolded, though she didn't sound particularly angry and Rome had a feeling that she agreed with Pick on that one.

Pick now chuckled, looking at Donut next to Rome. "Look, shortcake, my dog's almost as big as you."

"Shut up, P'Pick," Rome grumbled, but then he blushed when he remembered he's literally standing in front of Pick's mom. "Um, I think I should probably leave now."

"I'll drive you home," Pick offered instantly. "Mom, can you wait here with Donut? I don't want this disaster walking alone," he said, nodding towards Rome. The shorter boy needed to gather all his self-control because otherwise, he would just punch Pick.

Pick's mom smiled softly. "Of course, I'll wait. I would feel bad, too, if he would have to walk back alone. But can I talk to you first?" she asked her son.

Rome got the hint. "I'll wait downstairs, P'," he said quietly, gently touching Pick's wrist and then carefully walking around Donut who decided that Rome is a more interesting company now, because he happily shuffled after Rome, almost pushing him down the stairs in the process.

─ iv ─

"He seems nice," his mom said carefully when Rome and Donut disappeared from their sight. Pick realized he's been staring after them with a dumb smile on his face and so he quickly formed his expression into a scowl, looking back to his mother.

It was just quite weird, because while Donut was a good dog he was always a little bit more reserved towards strangers if said strangers weren't little kids, and the dog seemed to already like Rome. Well, maybe because Rome was short enough to mistake him for a child, that could also be the reason.

"Mom, don't start," Pick sighed, looking down at his clothes and thinking whether it's okay to go out dressed like that.

"I'm not starting anything... Was he wearing your sweater?" the smile she sent him was devious at the very least. "Why didn't you tell me about him before? He seems important enough."

Pick frowned at that. She literally met Rome for a total of five minutes. "What do you mean?"

"Just that you look very comfortable around him. Usually, when you're at this stage with your friends, I meet them when they're drunk and singing in our backyard," she pointed out.

"Okay, only Pete did that, you need to stop bringing it up," Pick told her. "Is this what you wanted to talk about? Because he really is only a junior from my university," he added, trying to ignore the memory of Rome sitting on his lap. He could feel his cheeks heating up and that wasn't something he wanted his mom to see, she would definitely use that against him.

She stared at him for a moment, crossing arms over her chest. "And you're sure that you're just a senior for him? Because the way he looks at you... And it's not that I would have anything against it," she assured him quickly before he even had the chance to think about her words. "But god knows how many girls I needed to greet in the morning─"

"Mama, please," Pick whined embarrassed. Were they going to have this conversation right now? "He's... He's a friend, okay? And even if he... I mean, it's not like I can do anything about that."

"True, but you shouldn't encourage it. It wouldn't be fair."

"Oh god, you sound like Porsche."

"Porsche is a nice and smart young man. Sometimes I feel like he should've been my son," the woman sighed dreamily, slowly moving towards the stairs. Fortunately, it meant that the conversation was over.

"Mom, you're being a jerk again," Pick trailed after her, running a hand through his hair. Whenever his mom saw him she would nag that it's already too long and he should get a haircut, but today she was more interested in his business than how he looked.

"Well, I was the one who raised you. That explains why you are a jerk," she said once she was downstairs. "Now go and drive your boy home."

"He's not my boy!"

─ v ─

The ride back was fast and it was mostly Rome who talked; he told Pick about how Noh ruined some of the pictures Rome took, and that he still doesn't know how exactly he wants to do his project, but that he had some vague ideas they could discuss some other day. He spent most of his free time on editing the photos and trying to figure out how they would look the best. He had some that he did with his broken camera before Din borrowed Rome his own; the colors on those pictures were disturbing, but for some reason, Rome didn't throw them away because they felt... real. There was something nice about them.

There was also the thing Rome noticed between pictures he took with and without Pick's knowledge, but he didn't tell Pick about that. He was still too unsure if what he saw there was just his imagination or if that was something he should worry about.

Before he noticed, Pick parked the car on the other side of the street from Rome's house. Rome reached to the backseat for his bag and then smiled at Pick.

"Thanks for the ride, I'll go now. Don't let your mom wait for you," he said, reaching for the doors after unbuckling the seatbelt.

"Wait, shorty," Pick spoke up, making Rome turn back with raised eyebrows.

Suddenly Pick caught the collar of Rome's (well, technically Pick's) sweater and pulled him closer, Rome needed to brace his hand on the steering wheel so he wouldn't fall on the gearshift. But before he could complain about it, Pick kissed him and effectively stopped him from talking. Rome gasped with surprise and Pick used this as an opportunity to slip his tongue into Rome's mouth, deepening the kiss and tilting his head. Rome couldn't stop the quiet moan when Pick gently bit at his bottom lip before moving back.

Rome's heart was beating like crazy and all he could do was helplessly blink at the boy in front of him.

"Have a nice day, shortcake," Pick smirked, clearly pleased with himself. Rome was honestly too stunned to be annoyed. Did Pick really just kiss him first?

"Y-you too," he stuttered, opening the doors and stumbling out of the car. He didn't even feel like he was in his own body anymore, he was so going to brag to Emma about it.

But when Pick drove off and left Rome alone, the short boy finally figured out what was the weird feeling he had after waking up this morning.

It was the first time that he got a few hours of actual peaceful sleep. When he slept next to Pick, he didn't wake up because of nightmares.

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐱𝐢. —— i don't care.

─ i ─

Rome walked into the house and almost immediately bumped into his older brother.

"Well, look at that. Now you're not even trying to pretend that you're normal?" Noh mocked, stepping in front of Rome again once the boy tried to walk around him. 

"What is your problem?" Rome asked with annoyance. 

"It would be a shame if someone walked past that car, wouldn't it? If anyone saw you two being disgusting together," Noh smirked once Rome's expression turned into a panicked one. Honestly, he was too surprised by Pick's kiss to even think about that before, but... If Pick didn't care, then why should Rome? "Or worse, if anyone took a picture. I wonder if your boyfriend would be okay with the whole university knowing. Oh, and what about your girlfriend and her dad? And our dad? Rome, I never knew you were so brave," he added, waving his phone in front of Rome's face.

Rome could have sworn that his heart stopped for a moment. First, he thought about Pick; would he be okay with it? Rome remembered how Pick told him in the parking lot that day that if he cared about what people talk about him, he would've gone crazy by now, but it was one thing to speculate about it, and another to actually experience it. Rome knew all too well how big the difference was, something like this almost ruined his life once before. And then Rome thought about the other people Noh mentioned; if Liz's dad will find out about this, there was no way he'd want to sign the business deal with Rome's father─he'd think Rome humiliated his daughter, it wouldn't go well. 

There were just so many people he could hurt by... by being himself. 

Rome didn't think much about his next actions, he lunged forward and tried to snatch the phone from Noh's hand. But Noh, after three years of basketball training, had much better reflexes than Rome and managed to raise the phone even higher, making Rome's fingers only slide against it. The younger boy felt anger, he never did anything to Noh, there was absolutely no reason for his older brother to hate him as much as he did. It wasn't some sibling rivalry, it went way beyond it. 

So Rome took a swing and a few seconds later his fist connected with Noh's jaw, making the taller boy stumble back probably mostly due to surprise; Rome wasn't very strong and his fingers immediately started to hurt. Noh looked stunned, he blinked back at Rome as if he couldn't believe that he got hit. Noh quickly slid the phone into his back pocket and pushed Rome back, making him bounce against the front doors. Rome tried to defend himself, he knew he got a few good punches before Noh pushed him to the floor and it made him feel slightly better about the whole thing. He had never hit his brother back before.

Noh was sitting on him and his fists kept coming down on Rome's body, Rome could only try to cover his head; he could already feel the blood in his mouth. Then Noh kneeled on his wrists to hold his hands down and Rome had no way of defending himself. 

"Hey, what the hell are you two doing?!" Their dad's voice boomed through the hallway and a second later the weight was gone from Rome's body, and he felt like he can breathe again. He coughed out the blood and grimaced when pain shot through his ribs. He tried to pick himself up from the floor, but it was difficult and he probably wouldn't be able to do it if it wasn't for his dad's girlfriend holding him by his elbow. "Have you lost your mind? What was this about?" the man asked, standing between them to make sure that none of his sons would try anything again, his hand was squeezing Noh's shoulder.

"Ask your faggot son, he started it!" Noh yelled, shaking his dad's hand off and pushing past Rome to storm out of the house. 

"Rome?" His dad sounded surprised, he knew Rome wasn't aggressive and he never started fights. "What was Noh talking about?"

"Why did he call you that?" The woman next to Rome looked down at the beaten boy. 

Rome's eyes kept running between the two adults who were watching him. He was so tired; he was tired of lying, he was tired of pretending, he was tired of being scared of Noh's threats. 

So he finally broke down and told his dad everything.

─ ii ─

"What exactly is your problem?" Pete asked, once Pick downed his sixth shot of vodka in approximately eight minutes. It was kind of terrifying, actually. 

"Rome hasn't texted him back for, like, two days now," Porsche sighed, sitting in the corner. He just came here for moral support. That and someone had to drive them all back later, this time Kao wanted to get drunk, too. 

"See, Porsche, it's important to shut the fuck up sometimes," Pick elbowed his best friend in the side. Of course, it wasn't that, Pick had more important things to worry about. A lot of things. Various things. Unrelated to buttercup.

"Who's Rome? Is it this tiny guy who was at the hospital the last time?" Kao asked curiously, making Pick slide a little down on his place. 

Pete perked up at that. "Oh, I like Rome. He's not annoying."

"He was unconscious the whole time you saw him," Pick deadpanned. "He's very annoying, believe me. He's more annoying than Porsche and talks twice as much, I hate him," he muttered, signaling the waiter to bring them more drinks. 

His three friends stared at him in silence for a few seconds.

"Well, you sound pretty upset for someone who hates him," Kao noticed carefully, knowing very well that if they all start to nag, Pick will just stop talking at all. He never talked and for the first two weeks of knowing him Kao was sure that Pick just hates everyone around him, but then he found out that Pick is the text me when you get home safe kind of person when it came to his friends. He just really hated talking about his feelings, but Kao was used to it─he had Pete, after all.

"I didn't do anything wrong!" Pick said suddenly, already sounding pretty tipsy. "Why wouldn't he text me back?" he asked, looking towards Porsche.

Porsche smiled helplessly. "Sorry, Emma doesn't want to tell me anything about Rome. I kind of assumed you pissed him off with something," he admitted. Pick wanted to argue, but this was fair. 

"Don't you know where he lives? Why don't you just go and check on him?" Pete asked with a raised eyebrow. 

"I can't just... I don't care that much─"

"Pick, we're your best friends," Kao interrupted. "You can drop the bullshit. You stayed with him for the whole night when he was at the hospital and you're upset because he didn't text you back. You do care that much. What's wrong with saying so?" 

Pick was quiet for a moment before muttering, "I was never into guys before."

Pete choked on his drink and Kao had to pat his back a few times. Pete looked up at Pick with raised eyebrows. "Are you seriously going to have your bisexual freak out right now? I'm not emotionally equipped for this," he warned, making Pick kick his ankle under the table. 

"Shut up, Pete. I don't know what to do. I think I like him─I mean, I'm pretty sure I do, but it's not simple," Pick sighed.

Pete and Kao looked at each other with expressions that could mean "you don't say?", and then they both turned back to their friends.

Kao spoke up first. "Does he like you?" he asked and smiled once Pick nodded. "Then you already have it easier than I did. Pete punched me like three times before we became a couple, so I was pretty sure he hates me."

"Okay, well, in my defense: you punched me back and you said that you hate me," Pete shot back, pushing Kao a little.

"Guys, I don't think this is helping," Porsche chuckled.

Pick frowned. "Then how did you end up telling him that you like him?" he asked Kao, making the other boy smile softly. It was what everyone thought after finding out about his relationship with Pete; Pete always looked angry and Kao was more friendly, so people usually assumed he was the one who took the first step.

"Actually, Pete confessed first," he revealed in a dramatic whisper, making Pete groan and hide his face in his hands. He was still embarrassed about it. "I think it was as hard for him as it is for you now, I mean the time before he told me. I knew I was gay, but Pete was never into boys before."

Kao was sure it was the first time Pick listened to them with interest on his face, and that alone would be enough to tell him just how much exactly he liked the boy named Rome. He just hoped that Pick won't go about it the way Pete did, Rome looked like he wouldn't survive Pick's punch.

Pick turned more towards Pete now. "What made you tell him?"

Pete slowly took his hands away from his face, clearing his throat. "Well... I... I didn't like seeing him with other guys. And I knew that if I won't tell him, someone else finally will and then I wouldn't have a chance anymore. If you like that small guy, better tell him sooner than later."

"Oh, I agree. He's so pretty! I'm sure there are already guys going after him," Kao added, making Pete raise his eyebrows at his boyfriend. "Yeah, nice try, Pete. As if you didn't tell me the same thing after that time at the hospital," he rolled his eyes.

"But it's complicated. His father set him up with a girl and I don't think he would be okay with Rome having a boyfriend," Pick muttered, stopping the couple's little quarrel. 

Pete reached over the table to ruffle Pick's hair. "There's always going to be someone who's not okay with it, you idiot. But you should ask Rome what he thinks about it instead of assuming that he wouldn't want to be with you because of his dad."

"Since when are you so smart?" Kao teased.

"I'm not only a handsome face, Kao," Pete announced, wrapping his arm around Kao to pull him closer. Kao laughed and kissed Pete's cheek.

Pick looked at them with judgment. "You guys are gross."

"Oh, would you like me to kiss you too?" Kao cooed, already leaning over the table so he could be closer to Pick.

"Pete, control your boyfriend!"

"Oh no, man, you're alone with that one."

Pick hated his friends.

─ iii ─

"Stupid fucking cat."

"Stop swearing at her, Pick!"

"Stupid fucking Porsche."

Emma rolled her eyes, watching two seniors who tried to clean the mess one of the cats did. She understood the animal, someone brought a dog to the shelter and if it would be socially acceptable, Emma would start to jump on the furniture, too. But the cat destroyed Pick's favorite flower pot by pushing it off the shelve, the senior said it was a gift from his older sister. Porsche cried a little, too, because apparently, this was their lucky flower. Emma thought they're both being ridiculous. 

She was about to say so when her phone started to beep. She looked down at the screen and immediately walked a little further away to pick up.

"Rome? How are you feeling?" she asked quietly.

"I'm alright. I just wanted to ask if you could stop by after classes? I have a few more boxes to pack but I'm scared I won't be able to get them to my car alone, so if you could ask your brother for help, it would be great," Rome answered in a soft voice.

Emma sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Are you sure it's a good idea? I just... I don't like thinking that you're going to live by yourself."

"It's for the best, Ems. I can't stay here anymore. I can't wait for my dad to force me into marrying a girl, or for my brother to kill me. I'm going to be alright, it's fine," the boy said. He always said that. But he wasn't alright and nothing was fine, and Emma wanted to strangle Rome for not telling her anything sooner. 

"If you're sure... I'll come later with P'Eau. I'm at the shelter now and P'Pick is crying over his flower pot, a cat destroyed it," she informed him, knowing that despite not talking to the senior, Rome still wanted to hear about him.

Rome chuckled. "Is there no way of fixing it?"

Emma looked back at the mess on the floor. "I'm not sure, it shattered and there's a lot of pieces."

"Can you pick them up for me? I'm good with stuff like that."

"Oh, are you going to win him over with a flower pot?" Emma snickered, making Rome sigh on the other end. "I like where this is going. But... he looks really pissed lately. Do you think it's because you don't talk to him?" she lowered her voice. Porsche asked her about it a few times, but she promised Rome she wouldn't say anything.

"Why would he be pissed? He's always saying that I'm annoying even through texts, I'm sure he's relieved," Rome said quietly and Emma could hear his sadness. Ah, Rome was such a dumbass sometimes. "Okay, I need to pack, text me when you finish classes."

"Yeah, yeah. Just don't try to lift anything heavy by yourself," she reminded him and ended the call after Rome's sure, mom.

Emma turned around and marched over to the shattered flower pot; she took a plastic bag from one of the shelves and started to gently pick up the pieces from the dirt. Some of them were really small and she wasn’t so sure if Rome would even be able to put them all back together, but she wouldn’t stop him from trying if that would make him feel better.

"Okay, so I have a question," Pick’s voice sounded next to her and she almost dropped the already ruined piece of ceramic. "Did your idiot friend tell you why he’s mad at me?" Pick was trying to make it sound as if he didn’t care, but... he was pretty bad at that if Emma was being honest. 

"Why would he tell me that? Did you do anything to make him mad?" Emma asked curiously, looking back to the flower that was now laying on the floor. She gently picked it up and put it in the bag, maybe Rome would be able to help with that, too. 

Pick rolled his eyes, crouching next to her. They’ve never really had a proper conversation before, which could be considered weird, but it was just that for Emma, Pick was really hard to be around. She did hope it would change if there was anything to happen between him and Rome.

"I don’t think so," the senior started slowly. "But usually when people start to ignore me without a reason, it means I did something shitty without even realizing it. Porsche often says it’s just what I do," he shrugged, looking severely uncomfortable to have this conversation. Emma thought it’s very nice that he was trying. 

"Well, I—I don’t think it’s anything you did. Rome’s just... He needs some time to sort a few things out, but I’m sure that he will talk to you once he’s ready," she assured with a small smile.

Pick squinted his eyes, nodding slowly. "But... Is he okay?" His voice became even quieter and Emma almost felt bad enough to tell him the truth. Almost.

"He’s fine, P’Pick," Emma put the last pieces of the flower pot in the bag, then she quickly stood up. But before she could walk away, Pick gently caught her wrist. 

"Is it his kind of fine?"

Emma couldn’t answer that.

— iv —

Pick was sitting by the lunch table, looking down at the screen of his phone. He didn’t care. If Rome didn’t want to talk to him, Pick wouldn’t beg him to do so. 

Porsche asked him to write down the report on the spendings of their shelter in the last month, but he couldn’t focus on that. Lately, he couldn’t focus on anything, he felt like he just wasn’t able to sit still if he didn’t have Rome in his line of sight, it was stupid. He kept thinking about what could have happened; even if the shorty was mad at him, he wouldn’t skip school because of it.

Pick sighed with a finger hovering above Rome’s name in his contact list, but before he could finally get his shit together, his phone started to ring. He smiled despite himself and answered.

"Hello, my dear baby brother. Why am I always the one who has to call first?" His sister’s voice sounded on the other side of the line, making him laugh.

"That’s because I don’t want to bother you, I never know when you’re free," he explained. This time it’s been two weeks since he last talked to her and in that period their dad said she wasn’t feeling so well, that’s why Pick wanted to give her space. 

"I’m always free for you, you dumbass. I called mom earlier and she told me a very interesting thing," she answered and Pick could practically hear the smirk in Jane’s voice. 

He frowned. "Whatever she told you, it’s a lie."

"Oh, so you don’t have an adorable friend called Rome?" Jane mocked, making Pick sigh loudly. Of course. "There you go. Why did you never tell me about him? Usually, all you talk about are your friends, just so you wouldn’t have to talk about yourself."

"He’s... he’s different," he muttered with embarrassment.

"Oh. Oh," Jane repeated when it dawned on her. "I didn’t know you..."

"I’m not," Pick said immediately. He might have panicked a little. "I don’t—I mean..."

"Hey, it’s fine. It’s totally fine, take it easy. Do you like him?" Jane asked softly. It was his sister, he could tell her. It was alright.

"Yeah. Yeah, I think I do."

"Does he know?" This time her answer was silence. "Do you think he would reject you if you told him?"

Pick didn’t have to think about that one. "Probably not. But it’s not that easy. You know that dad would never... and Rome’s dad is the same."

"Well, yeah, that can be a problem. But if you really like him, and I mean honestly, not the way you usually like people," Jane stressed, and Pick almost rolled his eyes back into his skull. "Wouldn't it be worth a shot? I mean, even if you got together with a girl there would always be someone who wouldn't like it anyway. Then why not go big from the start?"

"Go big or go home, huh?" Pick teased. "I don't know, Jane. He has some... issues, and I think it might be better for him to solve it first before getting into a relationship... or something," he mumbled, feeling stupid. Okay, he didn't think about a relationship with the shorty. It just came out like that.

"Oh, so it's that serious. I'm not going to push you to anything. We've talked about him for two minutes and I already can tell that he really is different, so I'll try not to be too nosy with this one. I miss you though," Jane added after a moment. 

He missed her too, but it was what they always told each other. None of them mentioned a meeting; Pick didn't want to go to America, and Jane didn't want to come back to Thailand. Pick understood that, after what had happened to her here it was good that she was even able to build her life somewhere else and he was proud of her. He just wished she wouldn't have to run away to do that. He blamed himself for not protecting her better; he was two years younger, but she was always so fragile. It should be his job to be there for her and he just... he just wasn't. Not at that time, at least. And now it didn't mean much.

They finished their talk a few minutes later, Jane once again told him that he should try talking to Rome. Pick remembered what Pete had said back at the club—shouldn't it be up to Rome whether he wanted to be with Pick or not? And did Pick want to be with him? 

All he knew was that he missed the shorty in those last two days without talking to him. He missed him and he didn't like to be away. 

"P'Pick?" A voice interrupted Pick's thoughts, making his head snap up to see a girl standing in front of the lunch table. Pick frowned at the sight, this was probably the last person he expected to see.

"Lamai?"

— v —

[4:12pm] emma <3: We're running a little late, sorry about that! But I've sent someone to help you with the heavy stuff, please don't hate me.

Rome squinted his eyes at the text, he could feel that he was going to hate Emma after such opening, but before he could stress out even more and call her, he could hear a motorcycle pulling over behind him. At first, Rome thought Emma wouldn't do it to him. Of course she wouldn't, not after he specifically told her to not do specifically that thing. But then he turned around and saw a boy who was just taking off his helmet to reveal messy black hair.

Pick looked towards Rome with a frown, getting off the bike. Maybe Rome watched too many Korean shows in his life, but he could almost see the wind blowing in Pick's hair. Damn, he sure was dramatic. 

"You shouldn't be here," was all Rome could come up with. He asked Emma to not tell Pick that Rome was moving out, she promised him she wouldn't say. How was he supposed to trust her after this? She was his best friend, not Pick's. 

"You've wasted two of your seven days and that's all you have to tell me?" Pick asked, putting the helmet on the wheel and walking closer to Rome who instinctively took a step back. Pick's eyes were moving over Rome's face and the younger boy knew he was looking at the bruises; this was one of the main reasons he didn't want to meet Pick. There was one under his eye, another on his jaw, some on collarbones and near his wrists—from when Noh kneeled on them to keep them pinned to the floor as he was hitting Rome. "Who did this to you? Was it your fucking brother? I swear, I will—" Pick turned back towards his motorcycle, as if he wanted to drive off, but Rome quickly caught his hand, grimacing at the pain in his ribs from moving too fast.

"He's not worth it, P'," Rome muttered, making Pick look down at him.

"Yeah, but you are," Pick said like it should be obvious. And Rome thought he would just burst into tears; he doubted that anyone besides Emma thought he's worth anything. 

But then he thought about the pictures Noh had—the pictures he would post online if Pick did anything. Rome had no idea what his brother was waiting for now, but the senior's temper surely wouldn't help their case. 

"Well, I don't want you to do anything. It's not your business," the boy answered and then he quickly let go of Pick's hand once he noticed he was still holding it. It just felt so natural. 

Pick turned back to him with furrowed eyebrows, there was genuine confusion on his face. "Like hell it's not. What's going on with you, shorty?"

Rome nervously looked towards his car, he didn't even start to take out the boxes. It was enough hassle to put them there, he kind of wanted to leave it. His new apartment wasn't very big but it still would take him at least a few hours to put everything in place, and he was just so tired already. Damn Emma and her stupid brother. They were supposed to be here to help.

"Why would it be your business?" Rome asked softly, tilting his head back so he would be able to look into Pick's eyes. "Who am I to you?"

The older boy seemed to be at a loss of words. He kept staring at Rome as if he was trying to understand and figure out what was the right answer, but there really was no answer that would be good in that case. Rome didn't need Pick's assurance, he never expected it, he just wanted him to see how little this all meant. This, whatever it was between them, was okay as long as no one else knew about it. No one besides their closest friends, at least. 

"You should go," he said when Pick still kept quiet. "I mean it, just go home, P'."

"This is how you're going to treat me now? I didn't force you to run after me, Rome. You think this is fucking okay? Just pretending like I don't exist?" the senior asked with anger. Rome looked down at his shoes; he knew it wasn't okay, but he was just trying to protect Pick. He didn't deserve any of this just because Rome's brother was a dick. "Why can't you just talk to me?!"

"I'm in love with you!" Rome yelled with frustration, for a moment forgetting that they were standing in front of the apartment building. He quickly calmed down once he saw Pick's shocked expression; well, that didn't exactly go well. "But I can't go through this again," he added softer.

"What do you mean, again?" Pick shook his head.

Rome didn't want to talk about it, he didn't even want to think about it, but he couldn't stop remembering his previous relationship. Pick was nothing like Rome's first "boyfriend," but it was hard to get over it even now. After his last fight with Noh, he kept thinking about P'Chit. He was scared.

"I know how it ends once people find out. Once there are pictures and rumors," he muttered bitterly, wrapping an arm around his ribs. "Especially when it comes to someone as popular as you."

"Shouldn't I have a say in this?" Pick asked taken aback. Rome didn't know what the taller boy was thinking now, the only thing he could see on his face was surprise. 

"And what would you say?" Rome couldn't stop the chuckle that followed his question. This was ridiculous. "Would you tell them I'm your boyfriend? You can't even tell me if you like me, P'Pick. Please, just go. I need to unpack," he sighed, already turning around towards his car. 

There was a moment of silence before Pick finally said something. 

"Fine. It's not like I fucking care."

Rome knew that. But it didn't hurt any less once the words hit him.

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐱𝐢𝐢. —— what would you say?

─ i ─

Rome's mental health was spiraling again and he knew it. But it was one thing to know and another thing to do something about it; he usually just waited the bad times out, trying not to think about it too much. He was good at helping others, not so much at helping himself. It wasn't about anything in particular, too, not really─there was just a lot going on lately, he was stressed and tired. He just moved out of his house and was left alone for the first time in a while. Rome wasn't good at being alone, funnily enough seeing as he spent most of his childhood that way. 

"You know, you will have to talk to me eventually," Emma's voice sounded above his head and Rome sighed. He stubbornly kept his gaze on the lunch tray. "Rome, this can't go on like this. Will you at least tell me why you're so mad at me? Is it because of P'Pick─"

"Oh, you can choose, Emma," he answered because she was pushing him now. "It could be that you told P'Pick where I live after you promised you won't tell anyone. It could also be the fact that you told P'Porsche my whole life story, even though everything I said to you was said in trust," Rome added, watching the way her face fell.

"How do you─"

"It doesn't matter how I know!" Rome raised his voice, standing up to face her. He noticed that the attention of other students was now on them, so he forced himself to calm down before saying anything else. "I understand that he's important to you, but if you have to, then tell him your secrets, not mine. Do you think it's fun for me to dump my problems on others?"

"What, like you dumped them on me?" Emma said and Rome took a step back as if she slapped him. She quickly realized her mistake because she caught his wrist before the boy could run away. "No, I don't─I'm sorry, it was a shitty thing to say. I just─I didn't know what to do. You've been so sad lately and then you got beaten up by your brother, I didn't know how to help you, so I thought─"

"You thought telling your boyfriend will help? You know I’m happy for you, I’m happy it’s working out with P’Porsche and that you’re able to talk about things, but—I can’t do this. I need to be alone for a while so just... Just stay away from me," he muttered, snatching his wrist free and turning away before she could say anything else. Rome was an easily manipulated person and he was aware of that; Emma would talk him into forgiving her and it’s not like he didn’t want to, it’s just that it was too early and he needed time to think. He was a mess and if Emma really felt like he was dumping his problems on her then he couldn’t stay with her. He always promised himself he wouldn’t be that person, he wouldn’t make others be with him out of pity. 

Maybe it was better to stay away from everyone for now. It’s not like he had anyone he could go to right now.

— ii —

"Rome, do you have a moment?"

Well, so much for being left alone. Rome raised his head from his camera to see Din standing next to him with a sheepish smile on his face. His hands were fiddling with a Polaroid that looked really old.

"Of course, sit down," he offered, forcing his face to morph into something that would at least resemble a smile. "I was going to find you anyway, I wanted to finally give your camera back."

"Oh, did you buy a new one?" Din asked, sitting opposite to Rome.

"No, not yet. But I have my old one and I was using it for a while during the trip after mine broke, it kind of messes up the colors but—" Rome rummaged through his bag to take out a photo album. He opened it on the pictures of Pick he took with his broken camera and turned the album towards Din. "Look. They have their charm, I don’t know. I like the way the pictures turned out, besides I’m not sure if I’ll take any more."

Din looked up at him with surprise on his face. "Why? Did P’Pick tell you he won’t help with the project?" The boy sounded as if he was concerned and it made Rome genuinely smile. 

"Not in so many words. I messed up and I doubt he will want to help after that. Anyways, how’s it going with your partner?"

"Ah, that’s what I wanted to talk about. I just—I have no idea how I want to make the project. It’s just that my partner is... really quite boring," Din whispered and they both chuckled. "He’s working at this antique shop with his mom after school and it’s dust everywhere, anyways... that’s why I borrowed my sister’s Polaroid. I was thinking that I could show him like that, Polaroid pictures make the antique shop look ever older and my senior likes being there so... Do you think it’s a stupid concept?" He asked with a light blush.

Rome looked at him for a moment; Din was so nice, he always tried to help everyone and he was thoughtful, too. And he still liked Rome, that much was obvious. Why couldn’t Rome choose to fall in love with someone who wouldn’t hurt him? Someone simple? 

"I think it’s a very nice idea, Din. Can I see the camera?" Rome asked. He had a Polaroid once but Tul broke it a few years ago when he first started to pick on Rome. He loved pictures like that because they captured the moment better than any digital camera ever could.

Din happily handed the device over and Rome looked around for something to photograph. Finally, his eyes stopped and his finger involuntarily pressed the button, snapping a picture that Din caught when it came out. Rome slowly lowered the Polaroid to see the scene he just photographed; it was Pick, he was standing with his back turned to Rome but he would recognize him anywhere. There was a girl with him, a beautiful one. She was holding onto his shirt and she was smiling up at Pick, she was touching him and Pick was okay with it. He told Rome once that he doesn’t like it when people touch him unless he’s used to them. When the girl pressed her lips to his cheek Rome stopped watching them. He quickly turned his eyes on Din who was waiting for the Polaroid to show the scene.

Rome realized he was squeezing the camera harder than he should and he slowly put it down before he could break it. This was none of his business. Pick told him he doesn’t care, he left Rome in front of the flat and drove away. He didn’t even look back.

"Do you want to keep the picture?" Din asked, showing him the photo. Rome looked down at it with a frown.

"No, you can take it," he muttered, taking a deep breath and moving his eyes up to Din’s. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," Din answered with a soft smile. Always so nice.

"Would you like to go out with me?"

— iii —

Telling someone that you don't care was the easy part, really, no matter how hurt they looked after. What was hard was to actually stop caring and Pick never thought he would resent himself so much for having... feelings. It was awful to even think about it and the constant numbness made him snap at everyone that talked to him; so his company wasn't terrible only to himself, but also to all the people who happened to stand on his way for the next couple of days. 

If this was what it felt like to be in love, then Pick didn't want anything to do with it. 

"So what? That's it? You're just going to give up on him?" Porsche asked with a frown as if everything in this world was so easy and Pick was just too dumb to realize it. It was the condescending tone Pick hated, Porsche usually used it on stubborn cats in their shelter. "He doesn't have anyone now, Pick. Emma said Rome doesn't want to talk to her and that it's never good when he isolates himself like that."

Pick sighed, moving the beer bottle around the table. He was just about to answer that there's not much he could do because Rome didn't want to talk to him either, but then his eyes stopped on the boys by the bar. He blinked a few times to make sure he wasn't hallucinating, but he didn't drink that much.

"Well, I guess he does have someone after all," Pick muttered with something bitter in his words. At Porsche's surprised expression, Pick nodded towards the bar. 

Rome was standing there with the Dan kid. Or was it Din? Anyways, they looked like they were having fun while waiting for their drinks. Din was all smiles and his hand was rested on Rome's shoulder, the shorter boy was leaning in to say something. There were still bruises on Rome's skin that Pick could see even from the distance, he looked even smaller in an oversized black shirt, his dark jeans were ripped, hair fell softly above his eyes. Something squeezed in Pick's chest just then because Rome started to look around and his eyes caught Pick's, it was a split second before Rome whipped his head into the other direction. 

"That's... the boy who has a crush on Nong'Rome, right? Wait, where are you going?" Porsche caught Pick's wrist when he stood up.

"I need to talk to him. Come on, I'm not going to do anything stupid," he sighed at his best friend's doubtful stare. 

"You and not doing something stupid? That doesn't go well together. Besides, you're drunk," Porsche insisted, still holding onto Pick. Pick appreciated the fact that Porsche didn't want him to make a fool of himself, but four beers were nowhere near enough to get him drunk. 

"I'll be right back, you drama queen," Pick assured and Porsche finally let go, although reluctantly. 

Pick swerved between some people to get to the bar; Rome noticed him and his expression changed into a more panicked one. Unfortunately for him, Pick got there before Rome could drag Din away. 

"Oh, hello, P'Pick," the Din kid put his hands in a wai, looking between Pick and Rome.

Pick waved a hand in acknowledgment. "Rome, I need to talk to you."

"Sorry, I'm a little bit busy, so—" Rome started, he didn't even look at Pick and that, that pissed the older boy off. He didn't deserve that kind of treatment. Well, okay, maybe after their last meeting it was quite understandable but it's not like Rome was nice to him then too.

"Oh, just come with me. I'm sure your boyfriend can wait," Pick mocked, catching Rome's wrist to drag him out to the hallway where the music wasn't as loud. 

"It's not my boyfriend," Rome clarified, snatching his wrist free and massaging the slightly red skin. "And what the hell do you think you're doing, P'?" he raised his voice, realizing what Pick just did. 

Pick snorted at that. "No, what are you doing? Why are you here with him?"

"I'm—We're... It's none of your business! I'm going back," Rome announced stubbornly, trying to sidestep Pick. Pick wouldn't have any of it though, he blocked Rome's way and looked at him with a raised eyebrow, daring Rome to try and get away again. "I'm on a date, P'Pick. And you're ruining it."

"On a date? With him?" Pick couldn't stop the chuckle that followed his question. He kind of figured that out but it was so ridiculous to hear it out loud. "Why with him?" Why not with me? He would never ask that. 

Rome looked taken aback and then seemed angrier. He took a step towards Pick and pointed a finger at him. "Why Din? Because he's nice," Rome painfully dug his finger into Pick's chest, making him take a step back. "Because he likes me," another step back. "Because he cares," another one. Pick's back hit the wall behind him and Rome was standing so close. 

Pick's eyes were running across Rome's face; dark eyes, pretty freckles barely visible in the dim light, plump lips. God, he was so nice to look at. And Pick missed him, he missed having him this close—his hand almost automatically moved to Rome's neck, his thumb settled on the pulse point. It was fast, almost like a humming-bird's wings moving under Rome's skin. 

Pick lowered his head just a little bit so their eyes would be on the same level. "And can he make your heartbeat this fast, buttercup?" Pick smirked when he noticed how Rome's eyes flickered from Pick's to his lips and back. He knew exactly what he was doing to the younger boy and he absolutely loved every second of it. "Would you prefer to kiss him or—"

Pick knew he probably shouldn't tease Rome when the boy looked like he could murder anyone who crossed him, but maybe he was a little bit jealous despite telling himself it's not true. Being jealous meant being too attached, and being attached meant being hurt once Rome walks away. Pick didn't want to feel even worse than he already did; he knew he should finish this before it became too serious, or he should let Rome finish it if that's what he wanted. Because that would be easier than the alternative. 

But then Rome kissed him and for a moment Pick couldn't care less how much it was going to hurt later. The shorter boy rested both his hands on Pick's chest and moved forward, pressing Pick more against the wall and crashing their lips together. One of Pick's hands was still on Rome's neck and he put the other one on the boy's hip to pull him even closer until there was no space left between their bodies. Rome was leaning against him and Pick knew he was standing on his tiptoes, that thought made something soft settle in his chest. The shorty tasted like sweet colorful drinks with hints of alcohol, his tongue brushed against Pick's bottom lip, urging him to open his mouth, and Pick gladly did so, eagerly kissing Rome back. 

He slipped his hand from Rome's hip into the back pocket of his black jeans and then Rome moved in a way that made Pick groan lowly. He felt hot and he wanted more, he wanted all of it; Pick wanted Rome to be his and it dawned on him just then, in the club's hallway. Maybe Porsche was right, after all—maybe everything in the world was this easy, and Pick was too dumb to realize it. 

Rome slowly broke the kiss but still stayed close enough for their lips to almost brush with his every word. "You said you don't care," he breathed out, looking up with wide eyes as if he wanted to see if Pick will lie to him again.

"Because you didn't want to listen to anything else," Pick answered simply.

He remembered being so mad at how unreasonable Rome sounded; it should be up to both of them how they wanted to see their relationship. Pick wouldn't pretend that it wasn't a big deal for him, being with a boy was never a part of the plan, but his sister always told him that he couldn't live his life for others—she did so once and everyone knew how it ended, she didn't want Pick to waste his time like that. So he promised her he wouldn't care, that he wouldn't go against his feelings just to please others. He had no idea how he would react to rumors and pictures, he couldn't tell Rome that he wouldn't freak out once or twice, but Rome didn't even want to let him talk. It was clear that he didn't want a conversation, he just wanted to say his piece that he thought about before Pick even showed up in front of his apartment building, and so Pick reacted with the only defense mechanism that always worked—he hurt Rome with words more than he ever could with fists. Pick always pushed people away because he didn't want to end up as the pushed one; he left before they could leave him. His mother said it's not healthy, that it won't solve Pick's problems because it will always hurt him; it will damage him little by little until he's eaten by guilt. But it didn't matter to him before, not before he met Rome. 

"And if I did? What would you say then?" Rome asked carefully, clearly scared of the answer. Pick gently brushed Rome's cheek with his thumb, pulling Rome's face closer to kiss him one more time; slower and deeper, their lips moved together perfectly, and Pick wanted to make it last.

But then someone cleared their throat and Rome jumped back as if burned; he was blushing so badly and his chest kept rising with quick breaths. Pick forced himself to tear his eyes away from the shorty and look to his left to see who interrupted them.

It was Din.

— iv —

Rome was angry with himself; there was no point in blaming anyone else now. Asking Din out was already a poor decision on his part and he knew he did it just out of spite after seeing Pick with that girl, but what Rome did later was just... well, it was a dick move. He honestly never meant to hurt this boy but he guessed his head was just too messed up right now to even consider how others would feel because of his actions.

"I'm so, so sorry," he said honestly, sitting next to Din on the stairs in front of the club. The heavy rain was hitting the ground in front of them but they were sheltered by the roof over the entrance. Rome was looking at Din whose eyes were stuck somewhere on the other side of the street; he didn't seem angry and it only made Rome feel worse. 

"Do you like him?" Din asked quietly, wrapping his arms around knees. 

Rome swallowed, thinking about the answer. This wasn't how he wanted things to go but that was the thing with people like Pick; there was no use in planning anything because when Rome was actually with him, he acted instinctively. He still didn't know why he thought that kissing Pick was a good idea, it most definitely wasn't. But... what would Pick say if Rome allowed him to talk back then? Rome never found out, Pick left again and Rome went after Din—he owed him that much.

"I do," Rome admitted finally, his voice almost drowned in the sound of the rain. "But it's not that I don't like you, it's just..."

"You don't like me that way," Din finished, nodding his head. "I guess it's my fault, too."

Rome looked back to him with surprise. "What? Of course it's not your fault, Din. I behaved like an asshole and I'm so sorry, I never meant for it to happen. I didn't want to hurt you, I just couldn't come to terms with my feelings. I don't want it to sound like an excuse though," he added with a frown.

"I knew you like him, Rome. I knew since the school trip," Din's voice was so soft that Rome needed to lean in closer to be able to hear it. "I knew how you looked at him, it was so obvious for me because I acted the same towards you," he chuckled, still avoiding Rome's eyes. "But I thought that... I don't know, maybe there's still a chance because P'Pick had a girlfriend back then. And now you asked me out and I was so happy, but I knew. I knew you were in love with someone else and I still agreed, so I can't put the blame on you only. I'm not mad either."

"You should be," Rome protested. Why was Din so stupidly nice? Rome didn't deserve that at all! "You have every right to be mad at me. It doesn't matter if you knew, it's not important that I'm in love with someone else. I shouldn't have asked you out but if I did, then I shouldn't have done what I did. Why aren't you mad at me?" Rome asked helplessly.

Finally, Din turned to him with a small smile. "I used to see you both on the campus sometimes and you always looked happy. It was quite surprising that you weren't scared to be around him considering what he did in the past, but he seemed to treat you nicely. And if you're happy, then it's all that matters."

"What do you mean? What did he do in the past?" Rome was confused. He knew that Pick didn't have the best reputation at their university but the rumors also weren't enough to make people scared of Pick, at least not actually scared. 

Din frowned. "You know, after what happened to his sister? And what P'Pick did to the guys who hurt her? It was quite a big deal, you must have heard of it," he added, seeing Rome's lost expression. "Oh, you really don't know? Well, I... I think P'Pick should be the one to tell you about this, but all those guys ended at the hospital. I assumed you knew that..."

Rome didn't know. He was never a very social person and he wasn't interested in others' business; he always thought that if people wanted him to know something about them, they would tell him themselves. So it must have meant that Pick didn't want Rome to know about what had happened, but when Din mentioned it, Rome couldn't stop thinking about it. They talked a little bit more and parted ways with no hard feelings; Din took a taxi back to the dorms but Rome said he wanted to walk, he needed some time to think.

All those guys ended at the hospital. Rome thought back to the first time Pick saw Tul; he remembered how all the bullies ran away even though they outnumbered Pick. Maybe they knew what he had done and they had a reason to be scared of the senior. And what happened to Pick's sister? Rome didn't even know her name and now he thought it's ridiculous—he was in love with Pick and there was so much he didn't know, so many secrets. How was this even supposed to work between them?

The rain made Rome's loose shirt cling onto his body, he put a hand over his eyes and looked up; he didn't even notice when he walked back to the dorms of his university. He'd like to say that he had no idea why he came here but it would be a lie, he knew exactly who he wanted to see. His legs carried him until he was standing in front of the right room, his fist hesitated a few inches away from the doors. It was late, he didn't even know if Pick went back to his room or if he stayed with Porsche. Maybe he went back home for the weekend. 

But those were excuses. He knocked softly three times, partly hoping that it was too quiet to even hear on the other side. A few moments passed and Rome could feel his own pounding heart. It was quite surprising that you weren't scared to be around him. Rome was surrounded by violence his whole life and he didn't want to associate this with Pick; up until now he didn't, he remembered how he dared Pick to punch him during the trip and the older boy just told him to go to sleep. He certainly was capable of doing terrible things but he never even got mad at Rome. The only time he raised his voice was in front of Rome's apartment building when Rome told him to go home. 

Rome had already been hurt by the people that were supposed to protect him; by his dad and brother. Would Pick ever hurt him like that too? 

The doors opened and Rome's head snapped up to see Pick; the senior was tiredly rubbing his eye and his black hair was sticking in every direction, he must have been asleep. He looked surprised to see Rome.

"Shortcake, you're soaked. What the hell are you doing here so late?" There was something that sounded like worry in Pick's voice and Rome uncertainly stepped from foot to foot. 

You weren't scared to be around him. Wasn't he? Rome was always terrified but not for the reasons Din would have thought; he was scared of how strong his feelings were. He was scared that Pick didn't feel the same. He was scared of so many things, but he wasn't scared of Pick.

"What would you say? If I wanted to listen?" Rome's voice was gentle. There was water dripping from his hair and his clothes, he was cold and tired. But he needed to know the answer and that determination carried him through the rain to end up here after midnight.

This clearly wasn't what Pick had expected, Rome could see it in his expression. Pick sighed and for a few seconds, he was just looking down at Rome with disapproval, but then he slowly caught the front of Rome's shirt.

"I would tell you how fucking scary it is how important you are to me."

And when Pick pulled Rome into his room, Rome didn't even try to protest. 

Chapter Text

⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀𝐱𝐢𝐢𝐢. —— the most awkward triple date. and pete.

─ i ─

Pick slowly guided Rome further into the room and left him to rummage through one of the drawers. Rome was trying to calm down his beating heart; he didn't want Pick to know how much his words meant, he didn't want to scare the senior off by being too much. Maybe it was too late to think like that, seeing as Rome walked in the rain after midnight just to ask a stupid question. 

He let his curious eyes wander around the room; it was less messy than he expected it to be considering Pick's personality. There were some papers scattered around the desk but that's really it from things that seemed out of place, no clothes on the floor, no empty bags from snacks. On one of the walls there was a hanging shelf full of cacti in colorful flowerpots and underneath it was a corkboard with various pictures on it, Rome was too far to see what was on any of them though. It all seemed more like Porsche's idea. Before Rome could walk closer, there was a towel thrown into his direction which he barely caught, flinching at the sudden movement.

"Go take a hot shower before you get sick again. Honestly, couldn't this wait until tomorrow? Or couldn't you take a taxi? Or call me?" Pick kept asking, but it felt more like he was listing all the things Rome would have done if he had a working brain. Possibly. "Why did you walk in that weather?"

Rome shuffled from foot to foot, squeezing the soft towel in his cold hands. "Because I'm stupid and gay, what else is there?" he huffed, making Pick burst into laughter. And god, what a beautiful sound that was. Proving the second part of Rome's sentence; he was very gay. 

"That does sound like you, buttercup. Go, I'll get you some clothes," Pick walked closer to Rome and caught his shoulder, steering him in the direction of a small bathroom. Rome braced his feet on the carpet and looked up at the senior.

"Do you think I'm selfish, P'?" Rome asked quietly because this was something that had been bothering him for quite a while now and the situation with Din only made everything worse. He liked to think he's not, but it would never be intentional on his part, so Rome knew he's not the best judge.

Pick, though, looked genuinely surprised to hear it.

"You? Selfish?" his eyebrows furrowed, head tilting to one side while his hand still rested on Rome's shoulder, now not pushing him forward though. "Ever since I've met you, you've been doing what Emma asked you to do. It was her idea to ask me and Porsche to be your project partners, even though she told Porsche it was yours. You didn't ask her to sit with you on the bus, but I know you wanted to. You always adapt yourself to whatever she wants and I know you do, because I've been doing the same for Porsche ever since we were kids," the senior said slowly, moving his palm down Rome's arm to finally catch his smaller hand in his. It was gentle, just enough for Rome to pull back whenever he'd want to. He didn't.

"Why do you think we’re the ones to do so?"

Pick shrugged, but he seemed a bit uncomfortable with that topic. "I guess there are very few people that actually know you and still want to be around, so you just wanna keep them or something," he said slowly, next clearing his throat. "I told you to go take a shower."

Rome blinked and then nodded quickly, he felt like it wouldn’t be okay to push it now since Pick already probably said more than he wanted to. More than Rome had expected, that's for sure. Pick gave Rome his clothes and when Rome came out of the bathroom, the senior was back in bed, scrolling through his phone─he left a place for Rome next to him with the covers pushed down and the sight of it made Rome feel... soft because it seemed so natural and it shouldn't be. It shouldn't be because they weren't... anything, really.

"Why did you ask?" Pick put the phone down on the drawer and turned towards Rome, leaning his head on a hand. Rome frowned slightly, tugging the covers upon his body. "If I think you're selfish," the older boy prompted.

"Oh... Well, it's nothing," Rome muttered.

"It's hardly ever nothing with you, though, isn't it?" the senior noticed with a raised eyebrow, reaching out to push the wet hair away from Rome's forehead. He was too tired to even towel dry it and he hoped Pick wouldn't be mad about the damp pillow. 

Rome sighed. "I just feel bad about what I did to Din," he admitted. Because even though the boy wasn't angry with him, it didn't mean Rome wasn't angry with himself. He behaved like a total idiot, like one of those people he always cursed out while watching dramas with Emma. Oh, and now he couldn't even talk to her about it because he managed to ruin that relationship, too. Statistically, he supposed it had to happen sooner or later.

"Look at that, I suddenly lost interest," Pick mocked, making Rome slap him lightly on the chest.

"Don't be mean, P'. He's one of the nicest people I know─"

"Yes, I've heard. He's nice, he likes you, he cares. Got that right, didn't I?" 

Rome felt slight annoyance but he tried his best to stay calm, he probably deserved that after all the things he said in the club. He knew he wasn't fair towards Din, but then again, he also wasn't fair towards Pick. He remembered what the senior told him in front of Rome's apartment building; "I didn't force you to run after me"─it was true, he wasted Pick's time and then told him to leave without any kind of explanation. All those things were torturing him for days and he wanted to talk about it all, he really did, but the words just wouldn't come. It was like he got choked up each time he tried to express himself and he was tired.

"I was the one who asked him out only because I saw─I mean, it's just... I shouldn't have done that," he said, sitting up because of agitation. "And he wasn't even mad at me, you know? He said it's okay and it wasn't!"

Pick snorted. "What wasn't okay? Putting yourself first for once?"

"No, you don't understand─"

"Why are you here, Rome?" Pick interrupted, and it was so weird for him to just call Rome by his name that it immediately gave the younger boy a pause. "You could've stayed with him," he continued, also sitting up. "But instead you came here just to ask one question that you could've easily texted me about. Why?"

Their eyes were locked in the dim purple lights that were hanged above the bed and Rome felt a whole new level of uncomfortable. He wanted to look away but he couldn't, because Pick asked him a direct question and Rome had no idea how to avoid the answer. He swallowed, feeling like a blush was creeping up his cheeks; he could only hope Pick wouldn't notice.

"I... It's because you're different than Din, P'," Rome's voice was barely above a whisper and he knew his hands were shaking, so he gripped the covers tighter. "You know you are. I do feel bad about what I did and I am angry at myself, but... I just wanted to see you. Oh dear, I am selfish, aren't I?" he asked with wide eyes, but before he could outright panic, Pick's hands cupped Rome's face, making him take a shaky breath in.

"My mom would probably say you're just human. Besides, who wouldn't want to see me? Come on," Pick hummed and Rome couldn't help but laugh at that. When Pick smiled, the younger boy realized that this was what Pick was trying to do─make him laugh, relax. He was indeed stressed and it showed but seeing Pick's considerate side never ceased to amaze Rome.

"I do like looking at you," he admitted, sounding a bit dazed and this time it was Pick who laughed. His hands were still on Rome's face and the younger boy caught Pick's wrists, moving forward to press their lips together. It was just an impulse, he loved hearing Pick's laugh because it used to be such a rare occurrence when they first met.

He seemed to laugh more whenever he was with Rome and Rome thought that maybe this was what Pick had meant when he said that there are very few people that really know you and still want to be around—very few people you can be yourself with, without any pretense or feeling like you have to be careful with everything you do or say. Rome was aware that there’s still so much he doesn’t know about Pick, but he liked to think that even with things unsaid between them, they felt comfortable in each other’s presence because that was the case for him. Growing up as an introvert who always had been hiding behind the lenses of his camera, Rome knew how important it is for him to cherish those he can look in the eye without that glass between them. And he didn’t mind taking the time to get to know everything about Pick; good or bad, as long as he learns it from the senior himself instead of the nasty rumors. There was also the careful thought he started to hesitantly consider, not daring to let it take a constant place in his mind—that maybe one day he wouldn’t feel like telling Pick about himself would be a bother. That not everything about him was damaged goods.

His thoughts stopped when he felt Pick pressing back, deepening the kiss and changing it from gentle to more urgent as if he was afraid they’d run out of time again. Rome didn’t mind because he missed Pick every single day and having him close enough to touch was exactly what he needed to feel better. He tangled one of his hands in Pick’s soft hair and that earned him a contented sigh from the older boy; it seemed as if Pick liked when Rome played with his hair which, honestly, worked for both of them, what with the little obsession Rome always had. After a moment Pick slowly pushed Rome down on the bed, following after him without disconnecting their lips, until he moved his along Rome’s jaw and towards his neck, leaving behind a trail of soft kisses. 

Rome tilted his head back a little when Pick started to suck on his skin and then he groaned quietly at the pleasurable pain pulsing under Pick’s lips.

"Ah, P’Pick, you’re going to leave a mark," he whined, fingers still gently running through Pick’s black hair that slightly tickled Rome’s neck. Pick moved away only a few seconds later, blowing at Rome’s skin to soothe it.

He smirked, catching Rome’s chin and moving a thumb along his bottom lip. "That was kind of the point, buttercup. I do hope our dear Din won’t be mad about it, though," he added solemnly, making Rome roll his eyes.

"You’re honestly so mean and for what?"

"Do you want me to stop then?" Pick hummed, looking as if he was seriously considering moving away, and Rome’s eyes widened as he quickly caught Pick’s shirt with his free hand, squeezing it.

"I didn’t say that," Rome breathed out and it was a bit embarrassing how needy he sounded. But, well, being under Pick wasn’t something he wanted to give up that easily if there was a way to avoid it. "Kiss me again, please."

Pick was looking down at him with an intensity that made Rome feel as if someone was squeezing his heart in a steady rhythm. 

"You look so good like that," Pick muttered, voice low and a little raspy. That alone was enough to send shivers down Rome’s spine and he blushed deeply, trying to turn his face away only for Pick to steer it back with fingers still on Rome’s chin. "And I like how you ask, too," he added, leaning down so their lips were brushing with his every word.

It was so unfair how smug Pick could be since he knew exactly what kind of effect his words had, but what was even worse was the fact that Rome didn't mind it in the slightest. On the contrary, he loved Pick's confidence because someone so sure of himself still chose to be here with Rome out of all people; and that, that was boosting Rome's poor self-esteem a lot. He looked into Pick's dark eyes that seemed to glisten in the dim light, and then he moved his head slightly up to close the small distance left between them, putting one hand on the back of Pick's neck to keep him close a bit longer.

After all the previous times they kissed, their lips seemed to find their rhythm and naturally move together, but the feeling of excitement rushing through Rome didn't change one bit─it was still as strong as the first time he kissed Pick back after their first date. Pick slowly started to trace Rome's body with his hand; his fingers grazed Rome's neck and then outlined his right collarbone, making the younger boy instinctively clench his hand on Pick's white shirt. All Pick's actions were making him feel hotter with each second, so he finally broke the kiss and pushed the senior back a little.

"Wait, if you keep this up I'll─" he breathed out, trying to calm down his rapidly beating heart. 

"It's fine, buttercup, just tell me what you want me to do," Pick whispered, kissing Rome's jaw and inching closer towards his lips, while his hand still moved down to Rome's stomach. Rome's breath hitched in his throat when Pick's fingers teased the waistband of his shorts. "Should I stop?" he asked and Rome knew that Pick wouldn't do anything Rome wasn't comfortable with.

The thing was, Rome had always thought that it would be Pick who would be hesitant when it came to things like that. Rome had been with other boys before, one way or another, but Pick? Rome was scared he would be uncomfortable with it and he'd hate to make him feel like that, so he wasn't thinking about taking things further with the senior at least until they establish their relationship. Obviously, he did think about... doing some stuff, but that was all theory. But now Pick was there and he seemed completely fine with it, and Rome... well, Rome was weak.

"No, I..." Rome swallowed, moving his hand up to softly touch Pick's cheek. "I want you to touch me, P'."

Pick nuzzled his face into Rome's palm. "Yeah, I can do that," he hummed quietly, sneaking his fingers under Rome's waistband. The younger boy gasped at the cold touch on his skin and Pick shushed at him. "The walls are thin and I know it's asking for a lot from someone like you, but I need you to keep quiet, shortcake."

Rome sputtered. "You literally have a hand in my pants, you have no right to be an asshole right now, P'. I'll have you know I'm perfectly capable of being qui─"

His next words got muffled when Pick kissed him and Rome sighed softly, closing his eyes. Okay, he liked to talk, but he decided that he liked kissing his senior more, so that worked, too, he guessed. 

Rome was already hard even before Pick touched him, so he couldn't completely stop the groan when Pick's long fingers wrapped around him. And, really, Rome knew there was a reason he liked Pick's hands so much. He had the fingers of a pianist and there was actually a piano at his old house, Rome remembered, but he somehow doubted that Pick had ever stepped close to it. Before Rome could imagine Pick playing the piano and get even more off track, the senior's hand started to slowly move, effectively cutting off any coherent thought Rome's brain might have come up with.

At first Pick's strokes seemed slightly unsure, even though every single part of Rome's body was practically vibrating with pleasure. He needed to break the kiss because he couldn't catch his breath properly, so instead, he pressed his face in the crook of Pick's neck to at least try muffling the moans that were escaping his lips from time to time. 

"Shit, P', this feels so good," he muttered into Pick's skin, tightly closing his eyes. The senior smelled like something sweet and Rome tried to remember what was written on the body wash bottle in the bathroom; it looked like a whiskey bottle, but the smell was nice and it somehow fits perfectly to the image of Pick in Rome's mind─his appearance screamed badass but his personality screamed softie. He knew it was reserved for very few people, but the sweet smell was definitely more Pick than... cigarettes or something.

Pick started to switch the pace in which his hand moved on Rome's cock depending on the younger boy's reactions. Rome liked when it was fast, but the slow and long strokes were what was driving him to the edge, and it looked as if Pick noticed the subtle differences in the way Rome would tug at Pick's collar when the tension was building inside him or how he'd just press his nose more into Pick's neck when the senior slowed down again. He was learning how to adapt to Rome and what to do to make him feel even better.

"You're doing great, Rome," Pick said in a husky voice, moving back so he could look down on Rome. And the way he said his name made everything stir inside of Rome; it was so strange after all the nicknames, but it did things to Rome, things he didn't know simple words could ever do. 

"P'..." Rome moaned, tilting his head back when the senior teased the tip of Rome's erection to gather the pre-cum on his thumb and then use it as lube to get the friction he needed to finish Rome off. But it wasn't that easy with Pick; he was moving his wrist faster but just when Rome was almost there, he'd slow down, observing Rome's face with a smirk. "Fuck, P'Pick, you're being a dick again."

Pick chuckled at that. "No, I'm holding a dick, babe," he replied in a patronizing way. And if Rome hadn't been denied his orgasm for the third time in a row, he'd probably punch his senior in the face by now. But, well, Pick was holding his dick and Rome was way too sensitive by now to do much besides holding onto the senior. 

"Please, P', I'm so close," Rome whined, cupping Pick's face in his hands and bringing him closer. "Please, let me come," he asked, pecking Pick's lips between each word. Their quick breaths mingled together and Pick's eyes widened a little as he softly nodded his head, pushing Rome down on the pillows with his free hand. 

His hand picked up the pace again. "Alright, be a good boy and come for me, yeah?" 

At that moment Pick squeezed the base of Rome's cock before slowly stroking it all the way down with a thumb lightly teasing the vein under his erection. Rome groaned loudly when his body finally shook with the sweet release Pick had given him and the senior quickly kissed him again, swallowing all the cries that would definitely defeat the walls of the dorm. Rome's hand found Pick's free one and he intertwined their fingers tightly, letting Pick press his palm into the mattress as he gave Rome a few more strokes to guide him through the orgasm. He let go when Rome calmed down and let his head fall on the pillow with closed eyes.

"Oh god," Rome sighed tiredly, feeling more content and relaxed in that one moment than he had in the last month or so. 

"Nope, still Pick," the senior answered cheekily, wiping his hand on Rome's shorts and earning himself a halfhearted slap on the arm. "But I've heard that a lot. You know, magic hands and all."

Rome snorted. "Your girls told you that often?"

"Sure they did. First time hearing it from a guy though, hits different," Pick offered dramatically, moving around on the bed.

"You're such an asshole," Rome laughed lazily.

"Not the first time hearing it from a guy. Or the first time hearing it from you, specifically. Go wash up before sleeping, I'll change the sheets," the senior said, making Rome open his eyes and look at him with a frown. "It's fine," he added before Rome could even say anything. "You were already tired when you came here. And now after... coming a second time, you'll probably fall asleep in a minute. You can return the favor the next time, buttercup."

"Jesus Christ, just for that pun you should be denied orgasms for the rest of your life, P'. Honestly, how did you ever fool anyone into thinking you're cool?" Rome whined, feeling personally offended that he had to listen to anything that came out of Pick's mouth at that point. 

Pick hummed, shrugging his shoulders. "The motorcycle pretty much does the job."

Rome slowly moved off the bed, dragging one foot after the other towards the bathroom. He just took a shower, too. Damn Pick and his hands.

"Yeah, you probably named it something stupid, too. Like croissant or some shit," he kept muttering, rolling his eyes.

"Hey, shortcake, do you have a praise kink?" Pick threw after him, making Rome immediately blush in a deep red color as he stumbled and almost hit the doors with his head. Pick was probably the pettiest person Rome had ever met in his life.

"I'm not saying anything, P'. I'll go wash up like a good boy."

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

As Rome had said, damn Pick.

─ ii ─

Rome was singing along to the tune from his phone, absolutely nailing Momo's rap part in Do It Again, when someone knocked on the doors to his apartment. He froze with a piece of ceramic in his one hand and a tube of very strong glue in another, wondering if whoever was there would just go away if ignored long enough. The list of people who knew his new address was very limited and since Rome was sure it wasn't Pick (the senior was still whining through texts about being dragged to some shelter stuff by Porsche), he didn't want to see anyone else that could bother him right now.

When the knocking only got louder, Rome sighed and turned the music off, mentally preparing for the fact that human interaction couldn't be avoided anymore. He slowly shuffled towards the doors, pressing the knob with his elbow just in case there was some of the glue on his hands—being stuck to the doors wasn't something he wanted to do on Saturday. 

"Oh, hello Emma," he said, tilting his head when she stepped from foot to foot like a kid waiting for a scolding. "Do you want to come in?"

"If that's okay," Emma smiled slightly, walking past him into the apartment. She looked quite tired and Rome immediately felt bad; she was probably stressing out over their situation and he just kept declining her phone calls. 

Rome thought back to what Pick had said last night about them adapting to their best friends. It was true, Rome was always ready to change his plans whenever Emma needed something, he usually thought about her before making any important decisions—like what would she think about it or something similar. But it's not like Emma wasn't there for him, too, when he was in need. It wasn't some master-servant relationship, they were best friends and between the two of them Rome was the damaged one, the one who always caused more troubles, so because Emma was enduring it all so well and because she stayed with him despite everything, he wanted to make her life a little bit easier because he didn't want to lose her. Just like Pick wouldn't want to lose Porsche. Rome knew Pick didn't see it as a sacrifice either, they just needed to put more effort into their relationships than others, and that was fine, too. They weren't a burden because if they were, neither Porsche nor Emma would stay.

Maybe it took Rome too long to figure it out but he was getting there.

"I'm sorry for ignoring you, I just needed some time. And I think you did too, I know I can be... a lot," he muttered, sitting at the edge of the bed and patting the place next to him.

"You don't have to apologize for anything, Rome," she assured him quickly. "Maybe it's true that we both needed time, but it's not because you're a lot. And I feel terrible about what I said to you the last time we talked, you didn't deserve that."

"No, Emma, you were right. I didn't think about how you must feel while watching me like that... Beaten up almost every single day. And I kept asking you to not talk about it to anyone," he chuckled, shaking his head and looking down at his hands. "You're not my therapist and sometimes I feel like I treated you like that. Maybe I just thought that if I won't talk about my problems, they will just eventually disappear. It seemed to work when I was a kid, but I'm not one anymore and I'm... I really need help, you know? Professional help," Rome took a shaky breath in, trying to keep his voice steady. He thought about it a lot and for a long time, he was just too scared because admitting it out loud made it more real.

Emma gently took his hand in both of hers, holding it tightly on her knees. "Oh, Rome..."

"There's something wrong with me, always had been and I think it goes back to my mother, but I was never allowed to talk about it and without it..." he trailed off with a shrug.

"Without it, you won't be able to start healing," Emma finished for him, making him nod. "Rome, it's not that there's anything wrong with you. You went through so much and you're still hurting, you were enduring it all alone for years and there's absolutely nothing wrong with needing help. And maybe I can't help in every way, but I'm still here for you. I will always be and I'm going to support you. You're my best friend, Rome," she sniffed. Rome looked up to see big tears rolling down her cheeks.

"You're such a crybaby, you know that?" he asked, reaching his free hand to start wiping her face with the sleeve of a sweater. "Come on, you know your face gets puffy when you cry."

Emma swatted at his shoulder. "Stop being an asshole, Rome, I'm crying because of you," she laughed, but when she tried to let go of his hand it felt like they were stuck together. Quite literally.

"You glued your hand to mine, didn't you?" Rome asked, making her nod and laugh even louder through her tears. "You're a disaster, kiddo."

"Like you're one to talk. And I'm older by seven months, shut up. You didn't even tell me you have glue on your—oh, is that P'Pick's flower pot? Wait! I was going to ask from the moment you opened the doors but I was afraid you'll slam it in my face," Emma spit out all the words in less than five seconds and Rome sighed. The attention span of a mosquito, of course. "That hickey on your neck—"

"Oh my god," Rome groaned, standing up and tugging at Emma's hand. Fortunately only a part of their palm was glued together so it wouldn't be very painful to remove the glue.

"No, wait, at least now you can't run anywhere. Did P'Pick do it? Rome, stop pretending you can't hear me, our hands are joined together forever!"

One peaceful day. That's all Rome wanted and yet here he was; with his hand glued to a person whose dramatics could challenge The Phantom of the Opera. He didn't deserve any of that.

— iii —

"Well, this isn't awkward at all..." Pete concluded, standing by the table with a notepad in his hand. He was carelessly twirling the pen between his fingers and Pick decided to focus on that movement and count to ten in his head before he even tried to speak up.

"What the hell are you even doing here? Since when are you actually working?" he asked with a frown because that was kind of groundbreaking. Pete's dad was probably the only man in existence that took care of his kid so Pete and work didn't go well together. 

Pete shrugged at that. "Kao's sick, I'm just filling in for him. So be generous with your tips, I have a boyfriend to feed," he winked, taking a step back and bumping into Rome who just came back from the bathroom. "Oh, sorry, didn't see you down there," he laughed.

Rome crossed arms over his chest. "Weren't you just saying you wanted good tips? Maybe I've heard wrong," the boy sighed, sliding into place beside Liz and opposite to Pick.

"That one's petty, Pick," Pete decided with a solemn look on his face before sending Pick a cheeky smile. "But it's my kind of petty, so he's getting a free pie today."

"I'm literally your only friend, I should be the one getting the free pie," Pick snorted, leaning back on the chair. "And no, Kao doesn't even like you, he doesn't count," he added when Pete opened his mouth to protest.

"You know what, I'm not even gonna—Just call me when you clowns decide what to order," Pete dismissively waved a hand and turned back to walk towards another table with new customers.

Pick sighed, feeling a headache coming as he looked around the table. He had never wanted to kill Porsche more than right now because that situation was so improbable and yet thanks to Porsche here they were. Porsche with Emma, Rome with Liz and Pick with... well, Lamai. It was messy, every single thing about it was messy, but Pick couldn't even talk to Rome right now. He thought that after moving out of his father's house, Rome wouldn't have to go out with Liz anymore and Pick could understand that they would still meet as friends—Rome did say she was nice, but when Pick met them in the cafe Liz very clearly implied that it was a double date. And, okay, Pick knew Rome is gay so none of this should be a problem. 

Pick still didn't like it.

"So what did you say you two were doing before coming here?" Rome asked, turning a little bit more towards Lamai.

Pick noticed with a great amount of horror that his ex-girlfriend took a liking to Rome even though she knew. She knew because Pick had told her that there's someone else he likes and she almost immediately asked if it was that short photography student who was often hanging out with Pick around the campus. She wasn't stupid; yes, she often let her emotions control her, just like that time when she doused Pick with water, but usually, her judgment was a bit better and that's why she was the only ex that he was still on actually good terms with.

As for Rome... well, he tried to be nice to Lamai even though Pick could see that the misunderstanding was there. Neither Pick nor Lamai said they were on a date, too, it was Liz who asked if they wanted to join, and then she called it a triple date. A terrible idea, really, it sounded like the name of some sketchy indie band and, just as Pete had said, it was simply awkward.

"P'Pick was helping me with a gift for someone," Lamai smiled happily, taking a small box out of her purse and handing it to Rome over the table. 

"Pick was helping anyone with anything?" Porsche finally decided to shift his attention from Emma where it had been for the last ten minutes or so. Porsche, out of all people, had no right to sound like it was so unbelievable because there wasn’t a thing Pick didn’t help him with; he helped him in the shower for almost two months when that idiot broke his leg, come on. Pick thought he deserved some slack for that. 

"What did I tell you about shutting up sometimes, Porsche?" Pick sighed with annoyance, though his eyes were stuck on Rome who was now fiddling with the box Lamai gave him. 

"Hm, P’Pick can be very helpful if he wants to be," the younger boy hummed, more like he was talking to himself than to any of them, but the suggestion in his voice made Pick choke on his spit. He lightly kicked Rome’s shoe under the table, but the asshole only looked at Pick from under his long eyelashes; all innocent. "I mean the school project he’s helping me with," he answered to the curious glances of Lamai and Liz. 

Rome took the silver necklace out of the box and the girls immediately started to gush over it; it was quite simple, really, a small pendant in the shape of the crescent moon. Inside the moon was a name and it was that name that seemed to draw Rome's attention the most.

"Sasithorn?" Rome asked, raising his head to look around as if he wanted to find someone. "Isn't that also the name of the waitress who works here?"

Pick quickly moved his gaze towards Lamai whose cheeks were becoming increasingly red and he picked up the menu to open it in front of her. She was honestly terrible at hiding anything and it kind of reminded Pick of Rome when they first met; the boy, too, kept blushing at every single thing. Pick promised Lamai he'd help her, but it wasn't looking too good for them now. 

"Oh, is it because Sasithorn means from the moon?" Emma excitedly leaned closer, looking down at the necklace. 

"Ah, y-yes," Lamai answered quietly, slowly moving the menu down. "Do you think it's stupid?"

Porsche was the first one to shake his head. "I think it's sweet! And if Pick helped you choose it, there's nothing to worry about," the asshole added, just because he couldn't let Pick live even for a second. Pick reached over the table to slap his best friend on the arm. "What? With the number of gifts you had to buy—"

"Okay, no one asked you, Porsche. Pete! The clowns want to order," Pick said louder, not wanting to get anywhere near that topic right now. "Porsche will take whatever is big enough to choke on it," he decided once Pete finally walked over to their table. 

"P'Pete, is Sasithorn working today?" Rome cut in, dismissively waving a hand at Pick to let him know he should be quiet now. Rude.

Pete frowned. "Sasithorn?"

"The redhead," Emma provided.

"Oh, you mean that bitch," the waiter sighed and Lamai almost let go of the menu. Pick snorted, shaking his head. Were all bisexual people walking disasters? Pete, Lamai, Pick. It was a little bit like a curse; they were cursed with flannels, blue jeans, and finger guns. "Nah, she's not here today. I can ask Kao about her shifts, why?"

"For the greater good," Pick muttered, making Lamai shove him with her elbow.

Pete seized Pick with a long look. "You're not her type and you're literally here on a date," he deadpanned, nodding towards Rome even though Lamai was the one sitting next to Pick. 

"I'm everyone's type," Pick answered immediately, almost like a reflex. Both Rome and Liz slightly nodded their heads at that, though, and Pick started to wonder how they all even ended up in this situation. "And I'm not here on a date."

Pick thought Rome would say something about that, too, since Pete heavily implied that he was Pick's date, but then Pick could feel Rome resting his shoes on top of Pick's under the table and for some reason he was relieved. It meant that despite this weird setting they've met in, they were still okay. Rome always did that—he always made Pick more sure of himself with the smallest things.

"Alright, anything else?" Pete looked down on his notepad once everyone finally told him the order.

Pick leaned back on his seat. "Can you get us Sasithorn's number with that?" he smirked, stretching his arm and putting it on the back of Lamai's chair.

"P'Pick!" the girl squealed, covering her red face with hands. But the way Rome's expression cleared with sudden understanding was priceless and Pick almost burst into laughter.

It took Pete a moment longer, but then he smiled widely, crossing arms over his chest. "Yeah, you might be her type."

At this point, Lamai was sliding down on her chair but Pick didn't think it was all that bad. Now they knew that Lamai had at least some chance with her newfound crush; besides, Rome was still lightly pressing the tips of his shoes on Pick's in some kind of rhythm, so the senior wasn't thinking about much else. Honestly, this was a win-win situation.

At least until half an hour later when Pick got a message from an unknown number.

One picture, actually. Just like Rome had warned.