Pran is six days older than Pat. It has forever been something of a pain in Pat’s side, knowing that his biggest rival is older than him. 144 hours. 8640 minutes. Sometimes it feels like a lifetime.
Of course, he doesn’t let the other boy know how it makes him feel. Just the opposite.
“How do you feel knowing that you were beaten by someone your junior Mr Pran?” Pat jibes, sidling up to the boy collapsed in an exhausted heap on the grass, stretching after their sprint.
Pran looks up at Pat with sweat soaked fringe covering his eyes and sighs. He pushes himself off the ground to sit, shaking his damp hair. Pat watches a bead of sweat slide down his flushed face and proceeds to tease the other boy again.
“Should have used those 6 days to keep working on your leg development. Maybe with stronger muscles you wouldn’t have lagged those last 10 meters.”
“Maybe with a couple less days in the womb, your head wouldn’t have developed so big,” Pran shot back, with a glare that would have been more heated if he wasn’t still breathing so hard.
“And deprive the world of this gorgeous face?” Pat smirked, “it’s just as well, beauty takes time.”
“Why don’t you take that beauty and bother someone else Mr Pat,” said Pran with an eye roll that did nothing to hide the growing smirk on his face.
“As you wish,” Pat grinned, heading off towards where the first place ribbon was being handed out.
Six days. Not a lot, but enough that he will turn twenty six days before Pat. Which means that Pran will know his soulmate six days before Pat. Hence, the month before Pran turns twenty, and almost 5 weeks before Pat turns twenty, Pat is having a minor breakdown.
First of all. They had only just fallen into the whole /we’re not friends because it’s not allowed but really we might actually be friends… thing. They do not need the added pressure of romantic fate.
Fate. (Thats something to think about)
For some reason Pat is very worried about who’s name is going to appear on Pran’s wrist. Or ankle. Or thigh. Pran’s thigh…
Pat breaks out in a cold sweat. It’s not that Pat cares who Pran’s soulmate is. But what if it’s Ink? It would break Pat’s heart if Ink were Pran’s soulmate. Because he liked Ink.
The second thing. Fate had always had it out for Pat and Pran. Their families seemed like they were destined to be at eachothers throats, fighting over things big and small. Pat and Pran were destined to always be in competition with each other, their parent’s using every small victory to hold over their neighbours’ heads. Each loss of face by Pat being punished with chiding, chores, and on one outstanding occasion, a month with a confiscated phone. At least he didn’t have it as bad as Pran.
Pat can still remember the devastation of Pran’s transfer. The elation of playing together, being able to have one small excuse for peace, actual conversation, working with each other, not against each other. The look on Pran’s face, falling from the high of playing, crumpling as they saw his parents pushing through the crowd of students. It wasn’t like they had done anything wrong, but Pran was still punished for the audacity to be friends with someone like Pat.
So no, Pat and Pran were no strangers to fate. It was still weird though, the idea that fate would determine who would be best suited to spend a life with Pat.
His mother was sure it would be some beautiful girl, someone charming and funny. Paa was eager for Pat to find someone to do his laundry. His father was sure that Pat’s soulmate would be someone that would “put that boy Pran’s girl to shame.”
Pat had grown up with these two ideas swinging in tandem. There is someone out there for him to love, and to hate.
“Praaaaaan,” Pat drawls from where he is sprawled on the other boys’ couch. His legs are so long they’re hanging off the edge, and Pat is trying to tread the line between being unnoticed so that Pran allows him to stay, and being the centre of Pran’s attention. It’s a very difficult line to tread, especially with feet as big as Pat’s.
The way he is attempting to stay in Pran’s room this time is to claim that his lights aren’t working. Which means that if he wants to read the next volume of the comic he and Pran are reading, it has to be in Pran’s room. On Pran’s couch. As Pran attempts to work on an assignment at his desk.
Pat is a little disappointed that he can’t see the cute scrunch of Pran’s face as he concentrates on his work from this angle, and contemplates the chances Pran will allow him to spin the couch around. The odds aren’t great though, so he proceeds to call Pran’s name until the other boy lets out an adorably exasperated sigh and answers the annoying interloper.
“What?” snaps Pran, annoyed but still cautious enough to place the charcoal he’s working with down rather than tossing it onto the desktop.
“I’ve finished this volume….”
“And what do you want me to do about it? You promised that you would stay quiet if I let you stay here.” Pran was stressed. Pat didn’t like it when Pran was stressed.
“I’m too comfortable here. I don’t want to get up to get the next one. Could you pleeeease get it for me?” Pat sits up to see over the edge of the couch, blinking at Pran in what he knows is an adorable fashion.
Pat knows his tactic is working when he sees Pran’s begrudging smile worm its way across his lips. Pran tries to keep it down, but his cheeks betray him, and Pat flashes a winning grin.
“Pretty please?” another battering of his eyelashes. Paa has confessed envy over Pat’s eyelashes before. They are adorable eyelashes.
Pran groans and pushes himself out of his desk chair, grabbing the next volume from the pile of books next to the wall and throwing it at Pat. Pat catches it just before it crashes into his face, and wiggles his head in gratitude.
Pran is still stressed though, so Pat’s job isn’t done yet.
“Wait,” he catches Pran’s arm as the other boy goes back to sit at his desk. “Would you read it with me?”
“You are almost twenty. You have shown proficiency in reading. Read it yourself.”
Hmmm. A different route then.
“But you do the voices so well! You know I’m no good at accents.”
“You don’t need to do accents to read in your head Pat!” Pran retorts, trying to tug his arm from Pat’s grasp. Pat holds fast, tugging Pran closer still to the couch.
“But you know you’re great at drama. You were the lead in Hamlet that time in 10th grade!”
Pat can see the second Pran relents, reminding him of his previous victories always buttered up the other boy. Chuckling evilly internally, Pat accepts his own victory in their argument. Pran rolls over the back of the couch, landing heavily on Pat’s legs, and raises his eyebrows mockingly as Pat groans in pain. Pat kicks the boy from underneath in retaliation, instantly regretting it as Pran takes advantage of his close proximity to Pat’s feet, tickling them until Pat can’t breathe, let alone complain.
Once they calm down somewhat, and Pat has caught his breath, Pran grabs the comic from Pat’s hands, opening it to the beginning.
“You’ll leave after I read one chapter? I really do have to do this assignment Pat.”
Pat nods fervently, shifting so that he’s seated next to Pran, head on the back of the couch, as close to Pran’s shoulder as he can get.
Pran rolls his eyes, and begins to read.
Pat loves his friends. Most of the time. Sometimes they are absolutely a bunch of idiots. Right now they are all sitting around a table at their favourite haunt on campus, empty glasses littering the table and a warm buzz in their stomachs.
“Alight, alright. Our magnificent cohort captain is turning twenty in a few weeks - so you know what that means!” Korn says, alcohol flushed and grinning.
“Soulmate!” Mo almost screeches, and Pat blanches back, laughing alongside the rest of the boys.
“What do you think Pat? Do you have someone in mind?” winks Korn, suggestively raising his eyebrows as Pat laughs again.
“Your soulmate will definitely be super hot dude. Like. There is no way that she won’t be stunning.”
“You know what I heard?” Korn leans forward, lowering his voice like he is sharing a secret, “sex with your soulmate is apparently mind blowing. Like, the best sex you’ll ever have.”
“Duude,” slurs Chang, “you know that it’s simplistic to reduce soulmates to just sex and romance.”
Korn lets out an embarrassed laugh and pats his friend on the back.
“You know we don’t think any less of you for being ace dude, that’s like, the chillest thing.”
The others pile around Chang, eager to affirm him in the way that drunken boys do.
“Yeah, hugs with your soulmate will be like, mind blowing as well!”
“Bro, a platonic soulmate sounds like the chillest thing ever. Just, like, a friend who is, like, an uber friend.”
“The bestest best friend.”
Pat doesn’t think he’s ever heard of a platonic soulmate before, and nudges Chang as Korn and Mo keep discussing the best hugs they’ve ever had. The sounds of the bar are loud, and Pat has to raise his voice somewhat to be heard over the thumping bass.
“What’s a platonic soulmate?” he asks, and Chang chuckles in response.
“It’s like what Korn just said - a platonic soulmate is someone who is perfect for you, but you don’t want to stick your tongue down their throat. A bestest best friend.”
“The ying to your yang, man!”
“Without your wang!”
A chorus of rambunctious laughter fills the group, and they fall together again, calling for another round of drinks and cheersing to future soulmates.
The boys bander around taunts and jibes, describing their dream soulmate, all of the things that they can’t wait to share and experience, and Pat feels somewhat isolated. In 2 weeks he’ll have the name of someone on his body, and he has no clue what a soulmate looks like to him.
When he stumbles home that evening, he glances over to the door opposite his in the hall, and thinks about annoying Pran, thinks about asking Pran who his soulmate will be. He dismisses the thought, not knowing why the idea of Pran’s soulmate makes his stomach turn. Pat turns the key to his apartment, discarding his shirt to the messy floor and collapses onto his bed, out like a light.
It’s Pran’s birthday tomorrow. Pran will be twenty tomorrow. Pran will know his soulmate tomorrow.
Pat is lying in his bed, staring at the ceiling. He tries willing himself to sleep, but it doesn’t work. He has too many thoughts running through his head. Mainly the fact that Pran is turning twenty tomorrow and will discover his soulmate. Six whole days before Pat does.
Pat is very annoyed. Pat wants to know his soulmate before Pran.
He just knows that Pran will shove whoever this mysterious person is in Pat’s face, and he will never hear the end of it (for the next six days).
Sighing, Pat turns over, his gaze landing on the wrapped present on his desk.
He had ordered a new set of guitar strings for Pran’s guitar, a good set, one that he remembered the music store guy had talked up for a good half an hour. He hoped that Pran would like them.
Maybe Pran would play him a song once he had restrung his guitar.
Or maybe Pran would play a song for his soulmate.
Pat scrunches up his face and turns away again.
Sleep. He has to sleep.
The next day, when Pat finally rolls out of bed, he grabs the present and heads to the door before he can stop himself.
One knock, then two.
When Pran still doesn’t answer after a solid minute of knocking, Pat assumes he must have left early, and leaves the present in front of his door.
When he returns from class that day, the present has been placed back in front of Pat’s door. Unopened. Pat furrows his brow, but brings it in when he unlocks the door anyway.
Pat assumes that Pran will be going out to celebrate that evening with his friends, and he has yet to see Pran in person that day, so he sends him a quick message.
which bar are you guys at tonight? I think the guys want to get a drink and I don’t
want them to get in the way of your celebrations tonight *drinks emoji* *partyhat
didn’t get to see you today - So HAPPY BIRTHDAY
i hope you’re enjoying being OLD
Pat receives no reply. Pran doesn't always respond to his messages immediately though, so he’s not too worried. And if his group winds up in the same place, that means he has a convenient excuse to wish Pran happy birthday in person.
The group chat is blowing up a couple of hours later, with Korn and Chang already having had pre-drinks at Korn’s apartment. Pat is amused by the misspellings and corny jokes as he walks towards the bar, the warm summer wind caressing his face.
He is wearing one of his iconic sleeveless tees, tye-dyed to an inch of its life and perfect for a night out. As he catches his reflection in the window of a shop front he pauses, flexing. Pretty good if he says so himself.
When he runs into Mo out front of the bar, it’s busy enough that people are already spilling out of the doorway. The bass is strong, and as they shoulder their way into the building, he can feel it thrumming through his body.
“Pat! Mo!” Korn calls out, beckoning over his friends and thrusting a beer into each of their hands. He cheerses them in tandem, and Chang hangs over his shoulder to offer them both a fist bump.
“This place is banging tonight! I didn’t know there were so many cute girls in our area.”
Pat takes a chug of his drink, enjoying the taste of mediocre beer. He also takes a minute to observe the room, which definitely is more full than usual. He catches sight of a face that he recognises and knows instantly why.
“Dude - that chick over there is in the architecture faculty!” Mo apparently saw the same girl. The rest of the guys' faces flush with realisation, and now that one architecture student is spotted they seem to appear like worms in the woodwork.
“Oh crap! Have we crashed an architecture party??”
Korn is immediately less enthused, and takes a sullen drink from his beer. Pat wishes he had waited for an answer from Pran, because there are many more people from his cohort than he anticipated, and it’s a little worrying.
He hopes he can trust his friends not to start a scene when they are obviously so outnumbered, but by the look on Korn’s face - eyebrows starting to join in the centre of his forehead - he doesn’t have a lot of faith.
Luckily he hadn’t had much to drink, and so at least could do some damage control.
With that thought, one of the most responsible thoughts he has had in a while, he orders a water and tries to corral the boys to a table at the back of the bar, where they wouldn’t be able to cause trouble.
Maybe they should have just left.
Pat is drinking a green tea, something that does not remind him of a certain birthday boy, when he spots Wai.
Wai is glaring daggers in their direction. Pat does not know why, as they hadn’t actually done anything yet, but he catches Wai’s eyes anyway.
Everything inside him is screaming “don’t antagonise him!” but Pat has never really paid much mind to his internal monologue, so he raises his eyebrows in challenge.
Wai, for all his lack of self control and probably an incredible amount of alcohol, seems to shake in anger, and moves forward as if to confront Pat and his friends. Which is when Pat notices Pran for the first time.
He’s leaning against a table, wearing a button-up shirt that is wrinkled in a way that is decidedly not Pran, top three buttons undone to reveal his collarbones. His fringe is hanging over one of his eyes, and when he goes to sweep it away from his face the glossy black catches the low mood lighting with a glint. He is gorgeous. Someone says something to make him laugh, one of the several people that are surrounding him, and he throws his head back. Pat almost wishes he were close enough to hear his joy.
The joy disappears quickly though, when Pran notices something is up with Wai, who turns back to Pran.
Pat doesn’t catch everything, but he does hear “mumble mumble engineering boys mumble mumble Pat.”
Pran’s face seems to fall, and his response is audible even through the din.
“Look,” he says, looking down and grasping his beer, “I do not want to talk about Pat! Would you let it go already!”
Pat knows it’s part of the deal, that Pat and Pran aren’t friends outside of their rooms, but the rejection still stings him. He doesn't like hearing his own name said with such disgust, by Pran of all people. But when Pran catches Pat’s eyes, it’s not the usual ‘we’re in on something that no one else realises’ glint that he has grown so familiar with, it seems like genuine anger. And hurt.
Had Pat done something to Pran without realising?
He wracks his memory, trying to think of anything antagonistic that would be deserving of such a look, but nothing springs to mind. Pran’s response to his tomfoolery was always a charmed grimace, dimpling cheeks and a wry sigh, or laughter that Pat had teased out of him.
Had he stepped over the line with the present? Had someone seen it and been curious as to who was giving Pran gifts? But Pran was popular, evidenced by the crowd of people here to celebrate his birthday, so it wasn’t too out of the blue for someone to leave him a present.
So no, Pat had no idea why he was receiving such a heated look. He tries to send Pran a telepathic message, asking what he had done wrong. He probably just looked tele-pathetic. Pran winces away from him and returns his attention to the group he was talking with, dragging Wai back around by his arm.
Pat keeps observing Pran throughout the rest of the night, much to the chagrin of his friends. But the next time he catches Pran looking in his direction, it’s with a face of such sorrow that Pat just cannot compute.
It’s just past 2am when the boys shuffle out of the joint, pushing each other and laughing. Pat, still sober but very much not wanting to be, shepards them through the throngs of architecture students, apologising every couple of seconds at disgruntled yelps. When the fresh air of the outside hits his face, Pat breathes in deeply. It’s then that he is pushed from behind.
The impact jolts his forward, and Pat staggers for a few steps before regaining his balance. When he turns to face his attacker, he sees the red and flushed face of Wai, not surprising him at all.
“What the fuck are you doing here, engineering?” sneers the boy, who must have been raring to go for hours. Not entirely appropriate for supposedly celebrating his best friend’s birthday, but Pat doesn’t have time to respond before Wai launches forward again. This time when Wai’s hands land on him he is prepared. With a swift sidestep, Wai is falling forward with redirected momentum, and fails to catch himself before he sprawls on the road.
Pat’s friends are now conscious of the altercation, but Pat is quick to wave them away from joining. Wai picks himself up, a graze on his chin from the asphalt, pure murder in his eyes.
“Dude, look, calm down,” Pat tries to reason, hands up subtly in a display of peace, “we were here, we had some drinks, now we’re leaving. Nothing needs to happen here.”
Wai just scoffs.
“And what about Pran? Just wanted to make his night even more miserable?”
“What?” Pat has absolutely no idea what Wai is talking about, but Wai is quick to keep monologuing.
“Pran’s been pretty tight-lipped, but I just know you said something. Or did something. There’s no other reason for him to be so upset about his soulmark without someone having antagonised him. And the way he was looking at you tonight? My money is on you.”
“Dude, I have no clue what you’re talking about. I didn’t even know it was Pran’s birthday today,” a lie, “and even if I did, I don’t give a damn about who his soulmate is,” another lie.
It’s then when he turns around to see Pran standing at the door, a look of pure mortification on his face.
Pat can’t think of why Pran would care what Pat thinks about his soulmate, and can’t figure out why Wai thinks Pat has something to do with it. He doesn’t get a chance to ask though, because Pran is brushing past him to help Wai. Wai leans against him, using the back of his hand to wipe the blood off his chin.
Pran remains silent, but Wai spits a threat at Pat.
“Stay away from Pran, and stay away from us.”
They turn away, heading up the street, and Pat and the rest of his group are left confused in the shadow of the bar.
“Dude. What. The. Fuck,” the ever eloquent Korn says, looking lost.
“I have no idea. Let’s go.” Pat turns the opposite direction from where Pran and Wai were headed, taking his friends home.
Tomorrow he would ask Pran about whatever the hell that was.
Pran isn’t in his room when Pat knocks late the next morning. He had to rush to an 8am lecture, so hadn’t been able to catch Pran before his class. Pran is obviously still at studio though, so Pat sends a text asking if he wanted to grab something to eat at the noodle bar. For the next several hours, Pat double checks his phone every couple of minutes, waiting for Pran to send something in response, but he doesn't even receive an emoji.
Pat doesn’t like the cold shoulder.
Pat was working on some homework, solving complex mathematical equations that he could do with a program but was made to do by hand, when his phone pings. He leaps for it, almost dropping the phone in haste and certainly messing up the sheets in front of him.
He’s a little disappointed to see that it’s not Pran responding to his earlier enquiry, but lights up again to see Ink’s name, inviting him to dinner and drinks that evening to catch up.
Pat thought about a couple of weeks earlier, when he had coerced Pran to let him stay in his room, when he admitted he had a crush on Ink.
Hmm, maybe Pran was being weird because Ink had ended up being his soulmate, even if he didn’t like her like that. He dismissed the thought though, it was a little too far fetched. On the other hand, it would explain why Pran was being weird about it around Pat.
He sent back a smiley face, asking for the time and the place, and continued with his homework with a grin on his own face.
When Ink had re-emerged in Pat’s life, he thought it was fate.
(No comment about Pran re-emerging in his life please.)
Here was the girl that he had spent the last years of highschool fawning over. Who had given him a friendship bracelet, made with love. Who was stunning, and sophisticated, and oh so different from Pat but who loved to laugh with him.
Ink was a vision. And she was back, taking photos and inviting him for coffee and cake.
Just as he had told Pran, he liked Ink. He was sure of it. Not one to shy away from confrontation, he was going to tell her.
So when Ink invited him out for dinner and a drink, after the past week that he had had, he was eager to take her up on it.
The atmosphere was nice at the little Sake bar when he met her inside, warm fairy lights strung inside and some indie band playing in the corner. Ink had found a small bar table, and she was sitting on one of the two stools. When he came over she looked up from the menu and smiled, pulling him in for a brief kiss on the cheek.
“Hey Ink, anything good?” Pat asked, returning the affectionate smile.
She glanced back down at the menu and shrugged.
“They’ve got sushi, which is all I’m concerned about,” they laugh and he takes a seat opposite from her.
Pat browses the menu for a minute, surreptitiously glancing at Ink over the top. As she said, there was sushi, but he ends up going for a simple bowl of Udon. They both order a glass of sake, and sit sipping while they wait for their food to come.
Ink starts them on a journey reminiscing from highschool, causing somewhat of a scene when she laughs about a particularly embarrassing incident in the school cafeteria involving a bowl of noodles and Pat’s unsuspecting head. Pat chuckles alongside her, and tries to catalogue her reactions when he brushes against her leg with his foot.
Unfortunately there was nothing to catalogue, unless you counted a slight shift in the other direction.
Pat was not one to give up though.
Ink mentions her disappointment at Pran’s moving away during their last years, and her excitement at their meeting again at uni over the bus stop project. Pat is quick to share in her excitement, happy to have someone to talk to Pran about without worrying about what his friends or family might think.
He regales her with their escapades trying to sort out their friends, the argument they had last week about a TV show, the jam sessions they’ve had preparing for the freshy competition. Through it all, Ink giggles and smiles, a glint in her eye that Pat doesn’t know how to interpret.
She does pause when he brings up the scene at the bar the previous night, and the fact that Pran still wasn’t responding to his messages.
“I know it has to be something about his soulmark, because he was acting fine before his birthday, but I can’t figure out what it might be.” He complains, looking to his friend for advice, or an answer.
Ink looks like she might say something, sighing a little and eyes darting upwards, but she gives a slight shake of her head instead.
“I don’t know Pat. I guess you’re just going to have to ask him when you get the chance. Go easy on him though, we both know how sensitive he is at times, underneath all of that composed air.”
Pat nodds contemplatively. Pran did have a tendency to run away from things, which is why he wasn’t too concerned about a couple of days of silence. He didn’t have to like it though.
“But anyway, enough about that. Have you done any interesting photo shoots recently?” Pat changes the subject, and Ink is happy to let the topic fall, talking instead about a project with a local LGBTQIA clothing brand doing a soulmate collection.
“One of my friends is really invested in this particular collection,” she says, leaning forward to show Pat some pictures on her phone, “he went through a rough period with his family when his soulmate turned out to be another guy, so supporting local brands like this is his way of giving back to the community.”
Pat swipes through the photos Ink shows him, impressed by the soft gauzy vibe of the photos. One particularly catches his eye, two men centered in the frame, one leaning his head on the other's shoulder while both stare directly at the camera. They’re both wearing lipstick, even the one with a dark moustache, who is wearing a sheer pink shift. The other is wearing what Pat might consider actual clothing - a matching orange jean and jacket set. They seem comfortable, and not entirely impressed with the viewer. Like they were just interrupted, and would like to get back to their conversation. The man in pink has a soulmark on his ribs, and the other man seems to be tracing it subconsciously. The subtle suggestion of movement and intimacy draws Pat in, he wants to know their story.
“Ink..” Pat breathes, looking up with awe, “these are beautiful.”
Ink blushes and looks down, pride filling her voice when she finally answers.
“Yeah, they’re pretty special aren’t they?”
“That’s for sure!” Pat is only excited as he complements his friend, amazed at how talented she is, and impressed at how passionate she is. The sight of it makes him think of how Pran is when he talks about architecture, and Pat smiles softly to himself as he thinks about how lucky he is to have friends like them.
Throughout the conversation of the project, Pat forgets about his ulterior motive to the night, and is instead drawn to the way that Ink keeps rubbing a thick ribbon bracelet on her wrist.
Ink notices Pat’s attention on the action and sighs under her breath. The mood changes instantly, from the light atmosphere to something heavier, something important.
“Pat, you’re one of my best friends.” Ink’s voice catches, and it sounds like she is about to make a confession. Pat’s heart is jackrabbiting in his chest, and he shifts on his seat, trying to find a comfortable position, uneasy suddenly.
“I’m really glad you’ve come back into my life. It certainly feels like it has been fate.”
Pat finds himself nodding. Fate. He feels a thing or two about that, and Ink.
“I want you to be happy for me about this right? And you can’t tell anyone. Not yet.”
This doesn’t really feel like it’s going the way that Pat thought it would go. He knows that Ink is a couple of months older than him - all of this subterfuge has to be about her mark. Pat promises his silence nonetheless, eyes caught on Ink’s hands.
Slowly Ink uncovers her wrist, the folds of the fabric falling away until her skin is bare, until the only thing covering her smooth skin is the black print of her soulmark.
The script is beautiful, tidy, like Ink. She proffers her wrist closer, so Pat can read the words.
It’s Paa. His sister.
A beat later and Pat lights up. A weight suddenly comes off his chest and he is out of his seat, pulling Ink out of hers and twirling her in a giddy circle. She beats his chest softly until he puts her down again, and she laughs into his neck.
“Ink! I’m so happy for you!”
Ink is obviously relieved at his reaction, and when they sit down again she is beaming. Pat gives her a second to recollect herself as she reties the bracelet, covering her soulmark and his sister’s name.
Slyly he nudges her shoulder, a mischievous grin on his face.
“So… this explains why you always want to hang out with me,” Pat says with a wink, and she scoffs.
“You know that I also enjoy your friendship Pat, I was friends with you first…” Ink trails off, but still blushes.
Pat lets Ink haltingly tell him about the growing friendship between her and Paa since Paa has started university, and about how she’s still nervous to tell Paa about her soulmark. Pat knows that when it comes to his friend, Paa is all giggles, but he promises again not to say anything to her. It’s not his role.
“Just know, as her older, manly, brother,” Pat starts, and Ink starts to gawaff, rolling her eyes, “if you do end up hurting my sister, being my friend won’t save you from my wrath.”
“Paa has told me how hard it is to get you to clean your room, I don’t think I have anything to be worried about when it comes to you following through with that line of thinking.”
Pat pretends to be hurt at her casual dismissal of his brotherly love, and he jabs her softly under the table to punctuate his feelings.
“So…” Ink drawls, changing the subject again. “It’s your birthday soon. How are you feeling about the daunting prospect of fate?”
Pat looks down at his own bare wrist and shrugs, a little self conscious.
“You know, when you first got here today, I was a little worried that you were gonna, like, confess feelings for me.”
It’s Pat’s turn to blush now, and he turns away from her gaze slightly.
“I’m not gonna lie, I did think about it. I’ve had feelings for you since highschool.”
He looks up, and sees Ink looking at him with such a gentle face that it’s a little too much.
“Pat, I know you. It doesn’t really feel like that is a confession though - especially since I saw your reaction to my own soulmate reveal.”
Pat takes a second to sit with the feelings he feels welling in his stomach. The small bar has filled out during the time they have been there, the band in the corner has changed, and he feels... Okay.
Not quite like he has been rejected. But like something has slid out of place, something he had tried to fit into a space in a puzzle where it really didn’t belong.
“I…” he falters, trying to find the right words. “I think you might be right.”
Ink grins, with a self assured expression.
“Of course I’m right.”
Something grabs Ink’s attention over Pat’s shoulder, her eyes flicking from his face to the entrance of the bar, and back to him again. Her posture changes slightly, leaning towards him, head coming forward.
“What about…” and she cocks her head in the direction she had been looking.
Pat furrows his brow, but turns to see who she is gesturing to.
Pran had just waltzed in, his annoying friend Wai hanging off his shoulder as they were followed by the rest of his architecture friends. They’re laughing about something together, Pran sweeping his fringe out of his face. They don’t notice the two people in the corner with fixed gazes.
After a panicked second, Pat swivels back to Ink, shaking his head fervently, a prickling feeling welling up in his chest.
“No, no. I don’t like boys like that… unless you’re talking, like, platonic?” he says, pulling the word from a previous conversation, hoping that Ink is not insinuating what he thinks she is insinuating.
Ink takes a second and nods.
“Okay, okay,” she says gently, backing off. Not pushing.
Pat is grateful she doesn’t continue, happy to let the conversation drift to another topic.
For some reason though, for the rest of the evening, he has a slight feeling of disappointment. As if maybe, if she had kept pressuring him, he might have had something different to say.
Friday is uneventful, with Pat still having caught no sight of Pran. He has high hopes for the weekend though, as they will surely have a chance to talk when they are both at their parents, even if Pat has to crawl through Pran’s bedroom window to do so.
His perfect plan was ruined Saturday morning though, a frantic text from Chang interrupting his packing for the weekend.
SOS, fight going down right outside ur building
Of course there was a fight. Pat’s reputation for fighting had been limping recently, his first few months of uni brawls being metered by study and Pran’s friendship. He wasn’t particularly eager for this one either, but his friends needed him. And it was his home turf.
Once the elevator dinged and he was out front, he was hit with the sight of brawling men in the carpark. And he recognised every single person, including the boy who had just launched into a spectacular flying kick, aimed right at Korn.
Pat can hear the impact over all the yelling, and rushes forward to catch Korn’s fist as he goes to retaliate. Korn swings out of his way though, sending a confused glare at Pat before grappling with Pran, and Pat could only watch as his two friends hurled hits at each other. Pat goes in a second time, grappling with Pran to release Korn, and Pran elbows him in the solar plexus. Pat falls back, grasping his front and gasping for air as the wind was knocked out of him. Pran doesn’t even spare him a glance.
Pat was the one who was now confused. Pran didn’t want them fighting just as much as him, and yet here he was, actively engaging in the fight. Chang was off to the side, holding his ribs with one arm and his phone with the other. Pat charges forward to make sure he wasn’t filming anything, but he just had the messages with Pat still open.
“What is going on here? Why are we fighting the architecture group again?”
“I don’t know man, all I know is that an insult was thrown, some one’s honour (or ego) was threatened, and it was no-holds-barred.”
Pat shakes his head in frustration. What the hell was going on with everyone this week?
Cautious to make sure he was facing the main group, so that no one could sneak up behind him, Pat circles the fight. Seeing an opportunity he hurls himself in, standing in between Pran and Korn, who seemed like the main opponents.
“Stop!” he shouts, “right now. This is where I live! I do not want to get in trouble here.”
“This has nothing to do with you Pat, you can just leave,” spits Pran, edging around the taller boy.
“This has everything to do with me, since I’m the head of the engineering society. Just as you are the head of yours. So cool. off,” he says, punctuating the last two words.
Pran looks like he is going to take a swing at him, disgruntled and nose flaring. The other fights around them cool down, everyone watching the exchange with rapt interest.
“Fine.” says Pran, spitting some red tinged saliva onto the ground. “Be Mr. responsible for once.” For once? Pat cocks his head quizzically.
“Fine. I’m happy to be Mr Responsible,” Pat retorts, putting sarcastic emphasis on the name, “if you guys stop making fools of yourselves. Are you going to tell me what this is all about?”
Pat turns to look at Korn, who had been silent throughout the exchanging of barbs. Korn looks to the ground.
“It’s not important,” he mutters, raking his hands through his messed up hair and redoing his ponytail.
“Well if it’s not important, everyone can get the hell out of here.” There were a few insults and mutterings disguised with coughs, but slowly the crowd of banged up students were filtering away from the parking lot.
When Pran was about to head back up to the apartment, Pat grabs his arm.
“Pran. What’s up?” then looking around and realising he hadn’t seen a certain someone during the fight he asks, “and where’s Wai?”
“I said before. It’s none of your business. And why do you care about Wai anyway? You’re the one that beat him up on my birthday.” Pran was still facing away from him, and even a further tug from Pat didn’t get his face visible. “Just leave me alone.”
With that, he tugs his arm out of Pat’s grasp and goes upstairs at a deliberately fast pace, not even giving Pat a chance to refute the comment about beating up Wai.
That night at their parents, Pran keeps his curtains closed the whole time, not responding to the rocks that get thrown at his window.
Paa and Pat are lying on his bed, some random K-pop band playing from her speaker that is far too cheerful for how confused he is feeling. The air is full of a chemical smell as Paa paints her nails a gaudy shade of purple. It looks nice, but he’s a little worried she will spill polish on his bed sheets. He says as much and she just huffs.
“You know that it will be me cleaning the sheets anyway since you are a child,” Paa refutes, waving the polish brush in his face, “so don’t you fret your big head about it.”
He knocks her hand away and laughs, before sinking back into his thoughts. He was scrolling on his phone, but keeps seeing pics of Pran and his friends on instagram. He doesn’t get why Pran is acting the way he is. His soulmark can’t be that bad right? Thinking about Pran and his soulmark makes Pat think about his conversation with Ink earlier, and he sighs.
Paa looks over at her older brother, and whacks his head gently.
Pat is hesitant for a second, but remembers Paa’s name on Ink’s wrist and starts to breathe again.
“Paa, what do you think our parents would do if one of us were gay? Like, how would they react?”
Paa is silent for a second, and then breaks into a grin.
“Do you have something to tell me bro?”
Pat is quick to refute her.
“No! I was just thinking about a conversation I had with Ink earlier.”
Paa perks up at the mention of Ink, and Pat had to suppress a smile.
“Ink has this friend, and his soulmate is a man. When his parents saw, they kicked him out. Disowned him and everything. He hadn’t even met his soulmate yet!”
It was so horrible to Pat. To have your family abandon you over something that was meant to be so happy, so perfect. And he knew just how much his parents wanted everything to be perfect, wanted him to be perfect.
Paa leans forward and wraps her brother in her arms, careful to not get him with her wet nails.
“Oh Pat, I don’t think our parents would do something like that. They would probably be confused at first, and have an adjustment period, but they love us. They would get over any hesitations,” Paa looks to the side for a second, and then offers a shy grin. “And they know all about interesting soulmate situations.”
“Huh?” Pat questions, confused at the direction his sister had taken the conversation. “Aren’t our parents soulmates?”
"You mean you haven't asked them?" Paa asks, incredulous.
"No, I mean, I always just assumed they were?"
"Oh my gosh," Paa rolls her eyes and shoves her brother, "this is why boys are so oblivious."
"So you've asked them?" Pat leans forward, eager to hear more about this secret history of his parents, which apparently wasn’t as secret or simple as he had assumed.
"Yeah! As soon as I was old enough to know about soulmates I asked ma. We've talked about them plenty of times since then. She told me their full story when I was 15."
"So… are you gonna tell me or not?”
Paa pretends to think for a second before laughing. The speaker had changed tracks again, and a somber song started playing. Pat thinks it’s oddly fitting for the circumstance. He nudges his sister again.
"They're not actually soulmates,” Paa repeats, flicking a strand of hair out of her face, “but ma thinks that fate brought them together anyway. Dad's soulmate was one of his friends at university. She died when they were in their last year, a tragic car crash apparently, and he was understandably heartbroken. Ma was her best friend, and they got closer in their grief, and like five years later they fell in love and got married."
"Huh." His heart hurt for his dad, to find his soulmate and lose her at such a young age. But to find his mother through that too…
Paa wasn’t done yet though.
"Yeah, but get this,” Paa continues, “ma was her soulmate too. Her platonic soulmate. So ma and dad both lost their soulmate at the same time. And then they found each other."
"That's…" Pat didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t like a soulmate story he had ever heard before, and he had heard some weird ones.
"Weird right! But also romantic!”
Weird. Tragic. Romantic. Confusing.
Pat couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been for his parents, to have all this grief inside them, to find comfort in each other, to love each other despite knowing how quickly it all could end. Surely that would mean they would hold each other closer, knowing how vulnerable love can be.
Surely that means that no matter who Paa and Pat’s soulmates end up being, they’ll be supportive.
Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.
Maybe they would just prove that you don’t need to end up with who fate says you should.
In anycase, his conversation with Paa just left him with more questions than before.
Pat drives home after dinner with his parents, both encouraging him to come home on Tuesday for his birthday. He says he’ll think about it with a chuckle, kisses them both, and tries not to think about what his birthday will bring.
When he reaches his apartment, he realises he left the windows closed, so his room is cloying in the late summer heat. He ditches his bag on the bed and opens the windows, inhaling the cool night air. The room is still too warm for now, so he leaves his door unlocked and heads up to the roof.
The roof is already occupied when he pushes the fire door open. He sees he figure in the very corner, shadowed but utterly recognisable as his long time competitor, neighbour, fellow person with too many complicated feelings. Also, the person who has been avoiding him for nearly a week.
Pat doesn’t say anything as he walks over to stand beside Pran, leaning on the railing and looking out to the city at night. The muggy sounds of cars and crickets fill the air, and Pran stiffens with his presence.
“You’re really thick, aren’t you Pat.” It’s more of a comment than a question, and throws him for a second.
“Well my neck has been described as such before, and the girls have never complained…” he says, trying for humour despite the flatness in Pran’s oddly rough voice.
He gets a scoff in return, but not one accompanied by a smile. Pat still doesn’t know what he has done to receive this much disdain from Pran, and without an audience, this time he says as much.
“What have I done, Pran, why are you being like this?” He moves closer to Pran, brushing his arm against the other boy. “Please just tell me what you’re thinking. Don’t you want to be friends anymore? Is it something about your soulmark?”
Pran pulls away from the contact with Pat, swivelling quickly so that Pat can see his eyes. They’re wet and glinting, his face is red as if he’s been crying. Pat is quick to try and comfort Pran, but Pran is having none of it. He steps back, so that he’s right at the corner of the roof, holding himself for a second.
They stand there, Pat with his hand outstretched, Pran making himself infantimalsy small in the corner.
Pran seems to gear himself up for something, taking a couple of big breaths, and a foreign look flashes across his face. Then his face is hard, mouth set into a straight line and not looking anything like a boy that was just crying on the roof by himself.
He looks angry.
“You want to know what I’m thinking?” Pran starts, dropping his arms and stepping forward into Pat’s space so that Pat has to take a step back.
“I think you are an egotistical asshole that gets everything handed to him on a silver platter.
“I think that you are immature, a manchild that is incapable of doing his own washing, the type of man that will expect his wife to have dinner ready when he gets home but flirts with the receptionist at his firm.”
Pran takes a ragged breath, and Pat feels like he has been punched in the gut. It’s too much, he doesn’t know where this is coming from, doesn’t know why Pran is saying these things, but Pran isn’t finished.
The boy is still shaking with rage as the words that pierce continue to spit from his mouth.
“I think that the only thing that matters to you is instant gratification, that you expect everyone to pay attention to you and can’t stand it when they don’t. I think that you can’t stand up to your father, but it doesn't matter because you are the perfect son that holds up his misogynistic and toxic legacy.
“I think that anyone who has been interested in you has been after your money and your body, because there is nothing else of value. I think that I can’t stand the sight of you, and you just can’t get it through your thick head. I think that you follow people around like a street dog that can’t tell when they don’t want him. I think my life was better when I was transferred away from you, and that my life will be better still if I never see your face again. That’s what I think.”
It’s a solid minute of verbal barrage, and Pat feels hot tears fall down his cheeks. It seems like Pran has picked the words that hide in the depths of his mind and smeared them over his chest. His deepest insecurities. Pran broke through the facade that was Pat, dredged up his worst thoughts about himself, about how others view him, and said they were true.
Pat always thought that Pran could see through the walls he put up, that he was most comfortable with the boy next door. And Pran had just said yes. I see you. And I hate you.
Pran was still standing there, heaving. Shaking with pent up energy. Still looking straight at Pat.
It doesn’t make sense. Pran doesn’t always make sense, that’s true, but all of this stuff - he’s said some of it before it’s true. But not like this. Always in a joking tone, so Pat knew he didn’t mean it. Or if he did mean it, it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Pat feels a sob work it’s way up his throat. Cars drive and honk in the background, and the city lights around him are a silent witness to his heart breaking. He tries to hold himself together, not wanting to seem even more pathetic in front of the other man. The man he thought was his friend.
Pran’s mouth was cruel. A snarl in physical form. Pat can’t stand the look on his face anymore, dropping his eyes to the concrete floor as his tears continue to pour. He stands there, breath hitching, without moving.
Pat hears the rustle of fabric as Pran starts to move, and for a second Pat thinks he might be coming towards him. To what? To hit him? Hug him? But he doesn’t. Pran just passes by, heading to the fire door and leaving Pat all alone on the rooftop, sobbing, with a heart cracked into pieces on the floor.
Pat doesn’t know how long he stands on that roof, trying to compose himself. At one point, he finds himself seated against the railing, head in his hands, uncomfortable hard ground digging into his legs. Long after his sobs had subsided, and the anger has started to prickle through him, the sun starts to creep across the sky.
He feels empty. He feels full.
Full of anger.
What. The. Fuck.
Anger is easier to work with than the hurt. He can direct the anger outwards, to the person who said all of those things. Hurt only makes him feel sorry for himself, hurt only makes him think about how despicable of a person he supposedly is.
Anger however, hot and weeping, can be centered on one man. How dare he? The audacity? Who came and stomped on his penis, that he would say something like that to Pat?
When he heads downstairs, he pauses out front of Pran’s room. Three thumps on the door, and there is no answer. As fucking expected.
“Pran! I know you’re in there!”
“Go away Pat!” he hears muffled through the door. “Didn’t you get the message last night? I don’t want to talk to you!”
“You don’t get an option. I heard what you had to say last night, now I have something to say.”
There’s nothing from the other side of the door, so Pat just continues. If Pran wants their dirty laundry aired throughout the hall, so be it.
“That was really fucking rude. And cruel. Whatever bee in your bonnet you have, you could have talked about it earlier. But I get it. Pat is an idiot who gets what he wants but no one loves. I get it. I just thought you were a bigger man than that.
“Well you have your wish. I won’t bother you anymore. But don’t think I’m sticking my neck out for you anymore. Because, surprisingly, this idiot who’s face you hate has been going out of his way to protect someone he thought was a friend.
“But I know how you feel about me now, so I won’t darken your door again. The truce is off.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to call you names, or say just what I think of you being a mummy’s boy, or your fastidious room and obvious issues. Because I can be the bigger man, despite what you think of me. Because, I once thought of you as a friend.
“So goodbye. Have a great life.”
He hadn’t thought about what he was going to say beforehand, and the anger that had coursed through him drained with his speech. He means it though. With his last words, he spins and enters his room, which had been unlocked all night, and slams the door closed.
He doesn't look out of the eyehole to see if Pran emerged. He doesn’t.
What he does instead is send a message to Ink, seeing if she is free for breakfast. Or lunch. Anytime really.
And then he busies himself until he has an answer, showering and making food so that his complaining stomach would calm down.
Ink responds while he’s showering, saying she would be happy to get a late breakfast at the pancake place, while Pat tries to scrub the hurt and anger off his skin, like it’s something that can come off like makeup, and not ingrained and pulsing through his veins.
It obviously doesn’t work, and by the time he’s seated with Ink in front of him, he feels like he could start crying again.
“I was surprised to get your text so early this morning! Don’t you usually sleep in? Especially on a Monday?” Ink is trying to seem positive, but Pat knows she can see how his shoulders are hunched, and he lets her when she takes his hand in hers.
“I talked to Pran last night,” he says, and Ink looks up, a little confused at what could put him in this state.
“Well, he hates my guts and never wants to see me again, basically.”
“Yeah, and apparently I’m a misogynistic egotistical asshole,” Pat continues, quoting the man directly. Or near.
Ink looks taken aback, shock drawing her features wide.
“That doesn’t sound at all like Pran!” she responds, quickly following it up with, “I mean, I believe he said that, I just am surprised! And horrified!”
“Yeah.” Pat sighs, “but it was true wasn’t it? I am privileged. All the girls that I’ve been with do just use me, because I’m just not anyone worth having a relationship with. Even Paa has said that about me. I’m a dick who gets into fights all the time. I scare people.”
He isn’t fishing for compliments, but for some reason he doesn’t want Ink to hate Pran for what he said. Especially if it’s true.
“First of all,” Ink begins, “none of that is true. Paa is your sister and sisters say mean stuff with love. Sure you’re privileged, but that doesn't say anything immediately about your character. Secondly, I love you, and love being your friend. Don’t you trust my judgement?”
Pat looks up at her, with desperate and wet eyes, and finds her looking warmly back at him.
“I’m your sister’s soulmate. I have some cred here. And I’ve been friends with you both since you were teens still dancing around having emotions.
“I also know that you are an incredibly caring and giving young man. I have seen the way you look out for your friends, and for strangers. I saw the way that you responded to my soulmark, which wouldn’t have been many people’s reactions if you ask me.
“So even if Pran has had some kind of personality swap, and no longer wants you in his life, you will always have me.” She punctuates her statement with a squeeze of his hand, and a smile that almost makes him cry.
“Speaking of Pran’s personality swap, go through everything that has happened, I want to understand.”
And so Pat goes through everything, rehashing the moment outside the bar, the weird fight outside his apartment where Pran hit him, the icy encounters, and last night.
He doesn’t skimp on anything, and while it still makes no sense to him, Ink is nodding along, occasionally harrumphing.
He ends with the confrontation through Pran's door, the things he said and Pran’s lack of response, and he can’t tell whether Ink approves or not.
After it all, Pat takes a break to eat some pancakes. The sweetness is soothing. Ink also mulls over the situation while eating, wheels turning behind her eyes.
“I think,” she begins slowly, “that Pran is an asshole.”
“Yep. Definitely an asshole.”
Pat has got to say, he didn’t quite expect that from Ink. Which was stupid of course, because Ink was not shy about calling out unacceptable behaviour.
“Pran is suffering from quintessential ‘I am scared and lashing out’ syndrome. Which does not excuse his shitty behaviour, but does explain some of it.”
“He’s scared?” Pat was confused.
“I thought that he could perhaps have you as a soulmate, because he was being weird to me and knows that I have a crush on you. Had a crush on you.”
Ink shakes her head, dismissing Pat’s thought.
“Nope, that’s not it. I mean, I could be wrong, it has happened before, but nothing about this situation makes me think that. Also, it doesn’t explain the text he sent me last night.”
“He sent you a text? Can I see it?” Pat leans forward eagerly, but Ink doesn’t reveal her phone or the intriguing message.
“No!” she says, swatting him away with her free hand. “That is between me and him. Even an asshole deserves some privacy.”
It was Pat’s turn to harrumph, sulky like a child.
The conversation has eased his thoughts somewhat though, he was still hurt at Pran, but the idea that he too might be scared and hurting made him want to go back on the earlier promise to say goodbye forever.
“You can remain estranged from him if you want, but considering how invested I know you are in this friendship, I don’t think it would be bad to try to move on from this. He’s got to apologise though, because he definitely said some real horrible stuff to you.
“That obviously is if he still wants to be friends with you, which I know may not seem like the case. Just. If he comes to you, I think you should hear him out.”
Pat eats another pancake. It’s really good. He wants to bring Pran here sometime, and then gets annoyed at himself for wanting to bring him here. Because he is angry and hurt. And Pran might not want to see him ever again. (Based on how Ink is reacting, he has some hope that isn’t the case.)
“You’re too good, you know that right?” Pat says, trying to show Ink just how much he appreciates her. “Here, eat this pancake!”
Ink smiles and takes the fork from his hand, taking a bite and savouring the taste with an upturned lip.
“I really am.”
“Okay, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Unless you want to show me the message…?” he gives her his best pair of puppy dog eyes. It doesn’t work. “Okay, Pran is an asshole but scared, I’m not an unlovable human being -” Ink laughs at that “- and I’m not weak if I decide I still want to talk to him after all this. Sound right?”
“No egotistical person could listen and understand another person to that level of comprehension. Go free and figure your shit out. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Ink says with a nod.
“After you’ve finished your food that is.” They both laugh, and Pan feels lightyears lighter than he did at the start of their meal. They move to a conversation about music for the rest of breakfast, and Pat can’t begin to describe how much he loves Ink.
Pat receives a call from his sister on his walk back home. It’s not the most typical thing in the world, so he answers the call with a little hesitancy.
“Why hello brother, I’m good, how are you?”
He chuckles, put at ease by her sisterly mocking.
“I’m great. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Pat can hear her shift on the other end of the line, and he wonders why she’s not in the lecture she regularly complains about.
“Well… Ink may have mentioned it might be a good idea to give you a call, so really that’s your question to answer. What’s up?”
Pat takes back any love he had for Ink. Ratting to his sister? Well yes she apparently didn’t give any details, but still. Not cool.
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with the conversation we had yesterday?”
And that’s exactly why he didn’t really want to talk to his sister about this. Barking up the wrong tree entirely.
Which is exactly what he tells her.
“No. I just had a fight with a friend, and confided in Ink about it,” putting emphasis on the confided to make Paa feel guilty.
It doesn’t work. Paa doesn’t sound ashamed at all as she presses him for more information.
“Look, they just said some mean stuff. I’m an adult. I can handle a couple of insults.”
Paa’s answering hmmm doesn’t sound too convinced, but she does offer to beat up whoever insulted him.
“Thanks for the offer to defend my dignity, but I think I have it handled” - he didn’t - “but I’m home now and need to do some work, so I’ll talk to you later.”
Paa lets him hang up with an “I love you”, and he feels a little more loved than he had this morning.
Pat sits at his desk, playing with a figurine and trying to convince himself to at least do some work. An angsty indie band is playing in the background, some band that Pran had suggested, and Pat feels morose.
Pat is good with maths. He is good with equations. He can figure out how much force makes a steel beam crumple, and how much wattage a switchboard needs to work. He knows how to code a robot to spin around in circles, and is in the process of learning how to make that same robot open doors.
So why is he so confused about how he feels? It should be a simple equation.
- Pran + Insults + Pat x Hurt = Hate
- Pran + Pat ≠ Friends
- Pat - Pran = Freedom
But why does it feel more like:
- Pat - Pran = Emptiness
- Pat - Pran = Loneliness
- Pran + Soulmate = Pat’s Sadness
- Pran + X = Pat’s Sadness (X = someone who isn’t Pat. Someone who isn’t me.)
Pat pauses in the equations he had been doodling. Because the equations may be starting to make sense.
Pat thinks about his parent’s story, about how they both lost their soulmates in such a tragic way, about how hard it must have been to find love again. About how treacherous the whole idea of fate is, and suddenly he understands why Pran is feeling scared. Scared at the idea of soulmates, scared at whoever fate gave him.
His heart starts beating faster. Because things are clicking into pace.
He knows why his heart was shattered when Pran had said all of those horrible things to him. It wasn’t just the words, it was who said the words.
He pushes himself out of his chair and starts pacing.
He knows now why he still longs to talk to Pran, even after how much of a dick he was. He knows why he still wants to protect Pran, to help him through his fear. He knows why he still wants to see Pran laugh, to tease a coy smile out of his face and poke his dimples when they appear.
He knows why being reminded of their separation hurt so much, because of why it happened. Because of who separated them. And why Pran might be so scared of fate.
Because fate had already been working in their lives for so long.
Fate had brought their parents into rivalry, and fate had them born as neighbours, within a week of each other.
Fate had Pran at the lake at the exact moment needed to save Paa, and to instill a secret appreciation of Pran in Pat’s heart, one that their parents couldn’t take.
Fate had brought them closer in highschool, with a love for music.
Fate had torn them apart, only to bring them together at the same university three years later.
Fate had put them across the hall from each other, had them flirt with each other over notes and dumplings, breaking through faculty battle lines.
Fate had let them be friends, secluded in their two rooms, away from the rest of the world that didn’t want to see them together.
And fate, well, fate had made Pat fall in love with Pran.
A fog around Pat seemed to lift, and he was elated for a second with the realisation of his feelings. The next moment he crashes, remembering just how bad the situation between them was. The words they had exchanged, in open air and through wooden doors.
And maybe ftae wasn’t on their side this time, no matter what Pat was feeling. He didn’t even know if he was Pran’s soulmate. It’s not like the other boy had said anything.
He had to go for a walk.
Someone has left a sticky note on his door. Well, he says someone, but there is only one person who would leave a sticky note on his door.
I hope your soulmate knows how lucky she is. Good luck tomorrow. I’m sure your soulmate will be amazing.
Doesn’t Pran realise that he doesn’t want his soulmate to know how lucky she is, he only wants one person as his soulmate? Doesn’t he know that the only amazing soulmate he wants is Pran himself?
Tomorrow is his birthday. Tomorrow is the day that he finally finds out what name fate has for him. Pat almost feels sick. He certainly is sick of all of the hubbub. He just wants tomorrow to come already, to be done with the anticipation, the sly looks, the questioning glances. He wants to be done with the unsure way he is feeling about his neighbour. He wants tomorrow to come.
Pat wakes up to the beeping of his alarm, wide awake in the morning for the first time he can remember. Ripping off his duvet, he runs to the mirror, shedding his boxes while he goes so that there is nothing covering his skin. He sees himself in the mirror, flushed face, hair disheveled, bags ever persistent under his eyes. He rakes his reflection, searching for a smudge of black, a name. The name.
He twists in the mirror. And there it is, on his shoulder. Backwards in the reflection but still recognisable in any script. His heart feels like it will jump out of his chest, it’s beating so fast. But everything else slows down. Of course. Of course. His thoughts slow to be consumed by one single name. The name that fate has thrust upon him before he was even born. Six days before he was born.
Of course it’s Pran.
And then Pat is moving again. He just remembers to pull his boxers back on before he rushes to the door, to the hall, and knocks on the opposite door. The thump of his fist matches the beating of his heart, and he doesn’t know what he will say, just that he has to tell Pran immediately.
He waits a second, a second more, the longest seconds in the world, before the door cracks open and he is met with the fresh face of Pran, still drying his hair with one hand with his towel. Pat has never seen anyone more beautiful.
“Pat,” Pran breathes, surprised, questioning. He has a right to be surprised, just yesterday Pat said he was never going to speak to Pran again. His eyebrows have crept up his adorable face, and Pat can’t help but to grin, wide, elation filling him.
“Pat?” Pran asks again, taking in the dishevelled appearance of someone who was meant to return to being a stranger. He wasn’t closing the door though, which Pat took as a good sign.
And so Pat doesn’t say anything, just turns around, bearing his shoulder, his soulmark, to the other boy.
Pran doesn’t say anything for a moment, and Pat is suddenly nervous, wondering if he had read everything wrong, wondering if Pran still hated his guts, if Pran was disgusted that he was Pat’s soulmate. Cold coursed through him, making his toes curl. He hears a soft thump, as what he assumes is Pran’s towel hits the floor, and he is about to move away.
But then, he feels fingers, feather light, brushing over the words. Almost reverently. Pran’s fingers are calloused, guitar player fingers, catching on the skin of Pat’s shoulder, playing every little groove and divot of his imperfect skin.
Pat turns his neck slightly, and catches the sight of Pran’s face, wonder playing over his features. Soft, eyes wide, lips parted in a silent breath. A tear seems to well in the corner of his eye, and Pat watches as it is caught by gravity, rolling down Pran’s cheek.
He has seen enough.
Pat turns fully, and Pran lets his hand fall to his side. Pat is still transfixed by Pran’s face, capturing his eyes with an almost begging look. Tears are now streaming down Pran’s face, and Pat can feel the familiar sting in his own tear ducts.
It’s his turn now, to breathe Pran’s name, asking for an answer to the unsaid question.
Am I yours too? Do we answer fate?
He reaches forward and grasps Pran’s hands, the ones hanging loosely by his sides, and Pran lets him. Not just lets him, but clutches back, fingers gripping into Pat’s hands with such desperation that he is sure, if Pat just glanced down, they would be white. But he can’t release Pran’s gaze.
Pran still hasn’t said anything, but in another second he is pulling Pat into his room, closing the door with a foot. He lets go of Pat’s hands, and in the next movement, has taken his shirt off, discarded on the floor. The movement breaks their locked eyes, and Pat’s eyes rake down the expanse of Pran’s chest, a flushed red blush creeping up the other boys’ skin. And there, laced along his hip like a confession is his name. Pat’s name.
His grin returns, it’s confident, even as he knows tears drip down his face. And like a miracle, Pran also begins to smile. It’s small at first, just an upturn of his lips, but then true, and wide, and his dimples come out to say hello. Pat goes back on his previous thought. This is the most beautiful sight he has ever seen. The morning light is streaming through Pran’s open window, catching Pran in a sunbeam, and Pat begins to laugh. He can’t stop himself. He’s too happy. Pat’s nose crinkles, his smile even larger than ever, but he doesn't join in on the joyful laughter, instead stepping in close to Pat.
Pran catches Pat’s laughing mouth in a kiss, and it shouldn’t have worked, but Pat goes from laughing one second to kissing Pran back. It’s not perfect, and it takes a second for Pat’s lips to find purchase on Pran’s, but then it’s heaven. Their mouths are open, breath intermingling, and Pat is breathing Pran in. His freshly showered scent wafts over Pat, intoxicating in the way that Pran always is. Before long he threads a hand through Pran’s damp hair, pulling him closer, his other hand finding purchase on the boy’s hip, where his name is burning a mark into his palm. Pran angles his head slightly, and is moving his chin in a maddening fashion, and Pat is going to go crazy. And that is before Pran pulls him closer still, a hand running over Pat’s shoulder, possessively tracing his own name. Pat’s body is alive, nothing is running through his mind but the feeling of Pran’s bare chest against his own, warm skin against skin, their lips sliding over each other, Pran’s tongue finding its way against his own. The taste of Pran is minty, fresh, sending a jolt of nerves down his spine. Pat can’t help but release a groan, which only encourages Pran, who swallows the sound and grasps his neck, nails scraping his sensitive skin in a way that makes Pat see sparks. He can’t help but to pull on the hair he has tousled in his fingers in return, and hears the beautiful sound of Pran’s breath hitching.
They stand there for what seems like eons, pulling exquisite sounds out of each other with each swipe of a tongue or trace of a finger, and Pat never wants to leave the warmth of his soulmates embrace. They have to stop eventually though, and while Pran is the functional of the two of them, Pat is the talker. And they have so much to talk about. After an agonising second, he pulls his lips away from the other boy, still close enough to lean his head against Pran’s, eyes still closed. He releases Pran’s hair, hand coming to rest on the other side of his waist, and knocks his head gently against Pran’s. When he finally opens his eyes, Pran’s are still closed, cheeks still wet with drying tears. Softly, he wipes the stale tears away with a thumb, and Pran’s eyelashes flutter against his finger as the boy opens his eyes.
“Hi,” Pat whispers, not wanting to break the silence that has fallen over them. Pran’s hands are still on his shoulders, and they move slowly, a gentle caress. It seems far too innocent for how they are still pressed against each other, naked and warm skin, but it is so them that Pat smiles again.
“Your breath stinks,” responds Pran, cheeks dimpling and eyebrows furrowing in faux disgust.
A small, swift movement forwards lands a kiss on Pran’s lips, and even Pran can’t keep up the annoyance as Pat peppers his mouth and cheeks with kitten pecks. Before Pran can capture his mouth again, Pat pulls away again, grinning.
“You didn’t seem to be complaining earlier,” Pat says, “and I had more important things to be worrying about this morning than brushing my teeth.”
“Hmm?” Pran asks, quirking his eyebrow in such an infuriating fashion that Pat has to restrain from kissing him again.
“Yes. You see, today happens to be my 20th birthday.”
“Oh is it? I guess I should wish you happy birthday then,” comes the smart reply, and Pat swears that boy is going to be the death of him. His hands haven’t stopped their mission to set Pat’s shoulders on fire.
“I realise that you are eons older than me,” Pat says, brushing his nose against Pran’s, “so you have been through this already,” another brush of the nose, “but I had an important name to find.”
The giddiness seems to slip a second from the other boy's face, eyes darkening somewhat before returning to gaze at Pat.
His eyes flick over to Pat’s shoulder, the one Pat knows bears Pran’s name. Suddenly all Pat can think about is the agonising week that Pran must have had.
“Oh my god, Pran,” he breathes, and then pulls Pran into an embrace, face muffled in the other boy’s neck. Pran grasps him back, and Pat can feel the wet drops as he begins to cry again, trembling slightly in his arms.
His voice is muffled from the position, but he still speaks.
“This week was hell. It must have been hell for you too.”
“No different than the past four years,” Pran admits wetly, and it breaks Pat’s heart.
Pat manoeuvres them over to the couch, pulling Pran onto his lap so he’s leaning back against Pat’s chest, curled into his side, with a hand still on Pran’s hip. His other hand cards through Pran’s hair, which has almost dried.
He gives them a second to sit, not worrying about the rest of the day, just gathering thoughts. Pran is shuddering in his arms, and Pat doesn’t know what to say.
“I knew it would be you. There is no one else fate would be so cruel as to give to me,” Pran said after a while.
Pat’s breath hitches, but he doesn’t say anything. Pran absentmindedly strokes his exposed thigh.
“When I saw your name, it felt like fate laughing at me. It’s been you for as long as I can remember.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Pat knows why he didn’t say anything, but he still needs to hear it from Pran.
“Why didn’t I say anything? How do you think that would have gone? Hi Pat, you know how our parents hate each other, and how we are forbidden from being near each other, let alone friends, and our faculties fight each other on a weekly basis, you’re in love with Ink, and we aren’t even really friends, but guess what? You’re my soulmate! Also I’m gay!” he chuckles darkly, and Pat winces.
“You know I’m not actually in love with Ink right?”
“That’s all you have to say?” Pran turns in his arms, looking up at Pat with wet eyes and an all too honest expression, “how do you think you would have responded?”
Pat has absolutely no idea. If you had told him six days ago that Pran was his soulmate, he probably would have had an apoptotic fit. Combusted on the spot. Been confused, anxious, bewildered. Almost his exact response yesterday ago when he realised the extent of his feelings for Pran. But then again…
“Pran, I think I have been in love with you since the day you saved my sister. If you had told me earlier I would have figured my shit out,” Pat admitted. “I certainly would have been less confused than the way you acted this week made me!
“What made you think that starting fights with my friends, and fucking tearing me to pieces on the roof would help anything?”
Pran has the humility to look embarrassed at his actions, cheeks reddening in shame and looking down at his hands.
“I really do owe you an apology for that don’t I?”
“I’m sorry. I was so terrified that you were my soulmate, and I couldn't handle the idea of me not being yours. I was worried I would spend the rest of my life pining. I couldn’t handle you being in my presence.”
“So you tried pushing me away? Tried to make me hate you?” Pat lifts Pran’s chin so they have eye contact again.
“Yes?” Pran says, grimacing at his own line of reasoning. “I knew that if I just avoided you, you would keep creeping in - like you have already proven. I needed you to not want to be around me.”
“You know that is bullshit reasoning, don’t you?”
“It could have worked?”
“If not for the fact that I am your soulmate! You have to know I would never let you go. Not if I knew that you loved me. Not if I loved you back.”
Pran chokes back a wet chuckle, and pokes Pat in the side.
“So you’re saying you love me?”
“I said nothing of the sort! What I said is that fate says we love each other.”
“That’s not what you said either.”
“But it’s true.” Pat traces his name on Pat’s hip for good measure. “It says so right here.”
“So, um,” Pran worries his bottom lip with his teeth, looking for all the world as a meek boy, “I really am sorry. About all those things I said. I didn’t really mean any of them.”
“Not even the part about being a manchild for not doing my washing?”
“No, I definitely meant that one. But the others. I think that you are amazing. And gentle. And selfless. And not a misogynistic egotistical asshole.”
Pat pretends to mull over Pran’s apology for a moment or two, and then dips forward to press a chaste kiss to Pran’s lips.
“I forgive you. I mean, that doesn’t erase the hurt, and you’re definitely not off the hook totally, but I forgive you.”
Pran looks relieved, and Pat knows with all his heart that all Pran needs to do to fix his heart is to keep looking at him like that. With his heart in his eyes. Because it’s true. He does forgive Pran.
Others might think that he needs more than a moment to get over all the ways Pran pushed him away, but fate had put them together for a reason. And Pat understands Pran. He understands how much what he said was a reflection of all the excuses Pran was making, all the things that he also hated about himself. He understands that Pran is still terrified about their friends, about their families. And as he captures Pran’s lips in a deeper kiss, he understands the desperate sounds his soulmate makes.
He pulls Pran closer, and Pran scrambles up, manoeuvring so that he is seated in Pat’s lap, thighs on either side of Pat’s.
They stay like that for a while, softing exploring each other’s mouths, without the urgency of earlier. Pran’s hands are on his shoulders, one caressing his soulmark, the other slowly moving to cup Pat’s face. Pat savours the feeling of Pran’s hands, of being held by Pran, his warmth seeping into Pat’s skin and making him feel home.
Pat’s own hands are resting on Pran’s hips, just above the waistband of his pajama pants, fingers just slightly digging into the supple skin, holding Pran to himself. He never wants to let go.
If Pat were studying medicine, he could potentially tell you how many nerve endings were in a human pair of lips. He was studying engineering however, so he was presently trying to figure out how to make each and every one of those nerve endings on his soulmate's lips do their job. And by the near silent gasps that Pran was making each time they came up for air, he was doing a pretty decent job of it. He didn’t know if there was a heaven, but he was pretty certain that it was something close to Pran breathing his name like a prayer against his lips.
He would never look at Pran’s lips the same way, especially not after Pran moves down to start kissing the soft part of his neck, just below his chin. The soft, wet, suction is going to be the death of him. Pran takes his time, and before long Pat realises that he is kissing around to reach the soulmark on his shoulder. And honestly. Pat can’t blame him.
The fascination with the marks, the knowledge that his name is etched into Pran’s skin, that he was Prans, that Pran was his. It made holding Pran that much sweeter. He rests his head against Pran’s shoulder as Pran twists slightly in his embrace to get better access to the mark, dropping a kiss to his skin before just settling down, letting Pran feel safe in his arms, safe to touch, to explore, to be home as well.
Letting Pran know that he wasn’t leaving.
A little while later Pran and Pat are lying on Pran’s bed, both back to wearing tees (Pat was borrowing one of Pran’s). They hadn’t ventured any further than making out, and Pat was still in bliss. They still had to talk about the future, about their friends and family, but that was a later discussion. Right now they were ignoring the outside world, Pat’s phone full of birthday wishes and missed calls was in his room, probably having buzzed itself onto the floor. Their legs were entwined, hands clasped together as they faced each other, whispering. They don’t need to be so quiet, but they want to be. And they discuss everything under the sun (apart from the things they were ignoring), like books, Ink, and Pran’s lovesick songs.
“Oh fuck!” says Pran, suddenly sitting up, “I left my towel outside!”
Pat is sure that if someone were to look at his face, they would be blinded with his utterly enamoured expression.
“Ignore it,” he whispers, pulling Pran back down with a hand to the base of his neck.
Pran goes easily.