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the heart haunts what it haunts

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Pran had been home for two months when he walked into his room to see Pat laying on his bed.

"What," he hissed, hurriedly closing the door behind him, "are you doing?" 

It wasn't even a casual pose, like Pat had just been in here for some reason and happened to sit down on the bed. He was sprawled out on the blanket and had clearly just been sleeping, judging by the dazed look on his face as he blinked up at Pran. And then he kept looking up at Pran, apparently not feeling any need to actually respond.

"Hey!" Pran stepped towards the bed, waving a hand in Pat's eye line. "What if my mom had seen you, huh?"

"Your mom?" Pat finally spoke, but he sounded just as lost as he looked. 

"Yes. The one that will kill both of us if she catches you in here." Pran watched as Pat's eyes slid to the door behind him, and then back to Pran. He seemed completely unworried at the prospect of getting caught, still staring up at Pran from the exact same position on the bed. With a frustrated sigh, Pran took another step forward, moving to start physically pushing Pat off the bed. This, finally, seemed to wake him out of his stupor, and Pat pushed himself up into a sitting position before Pran could reach him.

"Oh, right. Sorry," Pat said, grinning at Pran.

"That's the least sincere apology I've ever heard." Pran waved his hands at Pat, attempting to shoo him away. "What are you even doing here? Who said you could use my bed?" 

"Why can't I?" The grin spread even wider, and Pat's eyes turned playful. Something in Pran's stomach flipped at the unbearably familiar expression. "Someone should get some use out of it while you're off at boarding school."

"I'm not off anywhere anymore, so you can stop-"

"Really?" The note of excitement in Pat's voice was hard to ignore, but even harder was the way he leaned towards Pran. Almost without thinking, Pran took a step back. "Are you going to university around here?"

"My parents wanted me nearby." The conversation was rapidly spinning out of Pran's control, and he hadn't even managed to get Pat off his bed yet.

"Are you living at home? I haven't seen you."

"I have a dorm. Were you-" Were you looking? Pran bit down on the question, refusing to let it leave his mouth. It wasn't important. Pat probably just meant that it was odd that they hadn't run into each other, which it was. There had been a moment, back in the first couple weeks he came back, when he'd thought he'd seen Pat walking away from their houses. But it had been at night, and only his back, and Pran hadn't seen him return. Or seen him at all, actually, ever since. Not even through their shared windows.

Because Pran, unfortunately, had been looking, as much as he tried not to. And he couldn't deny the bitter weight of disappointment that had lodged in his chest when he hadn't been able to find him. 

"You still haven't told me why you're here," Pran said. "More than that, get out!" He made a wide gesture towards the window, and Pat's eyes tracked his hand before coming back to meet Pran's. 

"You haven't seen me in so long and the first thing you do is scold me." Pat's grin melted into an exaggerated pout as Pat spoke, although his eyes still sparkled with amusement. "No one's here, you can admit you missed me." Pran swallowed.

"Why would I miss you?" The words came out harsher than he intended, his tone sharpened by the way his heart skipped a beat in his chest. For a split second, Pat's mocking pout dropped. There was something else on his face, something Pran wasn't used to seeing. It was tired and kind of- and then it was gone, and Pat was smiling again instead.

"I guess you wouldn't," Pat said. Pran opened his mouth to retort, but then Pat's eyes darted to the door behind him again and widened in fear. "Is your mom coming?" The panic in his voice made Pran whirl around, excuses already prepared on his tongue, but the door stayed closed, and he didn't hear anyone beyond it.

"There's no one-" Pran started, turning back around to find himself faced with an empty room. Stubbornly, he pressed his lips together, fighting off the smile that was threatening to break his composure. "Asshole," Pran said to the now unoccupied bed.

Then, because he was alone, Pran let himself relax into a grin. The whole interaction had left him feeling an odd mix of adrenaline and relief, like popping a joint back into place. Somehow he always felt like that with Pat, although Pran had kind of hoped that three years of distance might've given him a little bit of a defense. He'd spent those years reminding himself why falling for Pat had been a terrible idea, that it had led to nothing good, that Pat wasn't even all that great to begin with anyway.

Clearly he'd needed to work harder on it.

Pran shook his head, schooling his expression into something more neutral. This was ridiculous. Pat had been here because- shit. Okay, so he hadn't actually managed to get a straight answer out of Pat about that, but that was fine. Pran could guess. Maybe Pat just liked the privacy. After all, no one was going to be looking for him here of all places. If he wanted to escape his parents or something, then Pran's room was easily accessible. It was also, of course, kind of stupidly risky, given that Pran's parents could walk in at any point. The door hadn't even been locked, and yet Pat had been fully asleep, as if he wasn't at all worried. Had he somehow forgotten that their families had a whole feud? Or that, if Pat was caught here, Pran would be the one to get punished? Was he just being selfish, hoping to get Pran in trouble? But he hadn't even known that Pran was back, apparently. 

So why, exactly, had Pat been in his room?

It didn't matter. If Pran kept telling himself that, it would become true. Pat knew he was back now so there was no way he was going to just hang out in Pran's room again. If they'd managed to avoid seeing each other for the past two months, then they'd probably be able to keep on doing that. This was just an anomaly.

The fact that this made his shoulders droop with disappointment again wasn't something Pran needed to acknowledge. It was for the best. He just had to stop thinking about Pat.

-

"Why'd you stop?" Wai asked, just over Pran's shoulder. Pran glanced back at him, then looked over at the group of engineering students that had caught his attention. For a split second he'd thought he'd seen Pat sitting next to the one with the ponytail, but Pran had blinked and he'd been gone.

"Hey!" Wai waved his hand in front of Pran's face, and Pran tore his gaze away and looked back at his best friend. "What's up?"

"Nothing," Pran said, shaking his head. "I just thought I saw someone I knew."

"You know someone in engineering?" Wai peered over Pran's shoulder, then stepped back, arching an eyebrow at him. "Really?"

"I don't think it was them."

"Good." Wai grimaced. "They're a bunch of assholes. They've calmed down since their student council president left, but they're still dicks."

"What happened to their president?" Pran couldn't help but look over at the group one more time, but the person he was looking for still wasn't there. It must've been a trick of his mind. Actually getting to see Pat in the flesh again had made him hyperaware of anywhere Pat could potentially be. But then again, if they were in the same university, surely he would've run into him by now.

"I don't know," Wai said. "Some kind of accident." Pran let out a hum of acknowledgment, but couldn't deny that he wasn't listening very closely to Wai.

"That's too bad," Pran said, finally turning to start walking again. Wai nodded and continued alongside him. They walked in silence, Pran lost in his own thoughts. It was ridiculous to think that Pat was going to school here. Sure, it was the closest university to their houses and also the one Pat's dad had gone to, but it had been two months. If Pat was here, and especially if Pat was in engineering, there was no way Pran wouldn't have seen him before. Engineering and architecture had some shared classes, even. It was wishful thinking and Pran had already told himself he was going to be putting a stop to those kinds of thoughts. Pat wasn't here and Pran shouldn't want him here. Pat was nothing to him, not even a friend. 

Pran managed to put Pat out of his thoughts completely. Classes, and the overload of homework, certainly helped. By the time he was returning to his dorm, Pran was too distracted trying to figure out how to maintain his impeccable schedule to think about Pat. He fumbled with his keys at the door to his room, brow furrowed.

"You live here?" Pat said in his ear. "Really?"

"Shit!" Pran jumped, the keys slipping from his fingers and dropping to the floor as he whirled around. Pat was already stepping back as he did, looking entirely too amused. "Pat?"

"Ta-da!" Pat said, spreading his arms out. He was smiling and wearing a tank top, and his arms were flexing as he held them out. It was an interesting combination. Pran looked away.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, distracting himself with the logistical problem of how the hell Pat was standing in front of him right now. "Wait, how did you even- this is my dorm. Do you-"

"I saw you outside," Pat said and Pran frowned at the interruption. "So I decided to come say hi."

"You decided- did you follow me up here?" Pat didn't answer, so Pran let himself look over at him once again. When their eyes met, Pat gave a small smile and shrugged a little. "You did. Why, exactly, did you think stalking me to my room was a good idea?"

"Stalking is harsh," Pat said, sticking out his lower lip.

"What would you call it, then?"

"Reconnaissance?"

"Oh, you're a spy now."

"I would make a good one, you have to admit."

"You'd be a terrible spy!"

"I just snuck up on you, didn't I?"

"That-" Pran scoffed. "That doesn't count."

"Why not?" Pat looked honestly offended at the idea and Pran couldn't help but laugh. A second later, Pat joined in and something warm and familiar settled into Pran's chest. Fuck. He'd really missed this. After a few moments, the laughter petered out, but Pran still felt lighter and the smile stayed on his face. Pat was smiling too, in the way that made his eyes soften and his cheeks crinkle. 

"You're way too obvious to be a good spy," Pran said.

"But I am handsome." Pat winked and Pran pressed his lips together to suppress another laugh.

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Haven't you seen a movie? A great spy is always handsome."

"So you're a great spy now."

"I've always been great."

"Seriously, do you have the right to be this confident?" Pran shook his head. "What an asshole."

"What's wrong with being confident?" Pat said. He was still smiling, but it was sharper now, a little less soft. He leaned in towards Pran, not close at all but still closer, and winked again. "You should try it. I bet it'd look good on you." 

Pran swallowed. The lightness in his chest was replaced by a solid thump of his heart, and he could feel his brain grind to a halt. It would look good on him. Being confident. Pat wanted him to be confident because it would look good? Pat wanted him to look good? 

"I am confident," Pran said and turned towards his door, blindly reaching for the knob. It turned but didn't give way, and he stared at it in momentary confusion. Behind him, he heard Pat snort, and silently cursed as he remembered that he'd never actually gotten around to unlocking the damn thing. Quickly Pran crouched down and grabbed his keys, thanking whatever good luck he had that he managed to get them on the first try. He stood up and fumbled to the right one, resolutely ignoring Pat's laughter as he did so.

"I can see that," Pat said, just as the lock clicked. Pran scowled and shoved his door open.

"Don't follow me again," he snapped, looking back over his shoulder at Pat.

"What if I'm lonely?" Pat was leaning against the wall, eyes sparkling with amusement as he looked at Pran.

"Find someone else to talk to!" With that, Pran marched inside his room and slammed the door behind him. He leaned against it, trying to even out his breathing and slow his heartbeat. The giddy sense of joy was still thundering through his veins, making it hard to keep himself centered. He half expected Pat to start knocking, but there was only silence out in the hallway. Giving up on dignity in the privacy of his own room, Pran turned to look through the peephole, hoping for one last glimpse.

The hallway was empty, Pat nowhere to be seen.

Disappointed, Pran pushed himself away from his door. 

How could Pat just say things like that? Didn't he realize what he was doing? But, of course, to Pat it was just a joke. Pran had to remember that. It wasn't real. It was a joke.

That didn't stop him from smiling his way through his homework, but it never did.

-

It took Pran until the next morning to realize that Pat had once again managed to get through a whole conversation without actually answering any of his questions. Pran still didn't even know if Pat went to school here, although he couldn't think of any other reason Pat would just be hanging out on campus. So he did, probably, go to school here. Whatever faculty he was in must've been entirely separate from architecture, because Pran knew for a fact he hadn't seen him in any of their classes. So did that mean he had just imagined seeing Pat with the engineering kids? Or maybe Pat was just friends with them. It wouldn't surprise him. Pat had always been very sociable, and could even be charming when he wanted to. Pran found him charming most of the time, but he knew that he was more than a little biased. 

Still, Pran found himself keeping an eye out during his classes. As if he would have somehow missed Pat the past couple months and if he just paid attention, there the other boy would be, smiling at him across the classroom.

Pat wasn't there.

Pran told himself not to be disappointed by that, and wasn't at all surprised when it didn't work.

It was ridiculous. There was no reason to look for Pat. Even if he did find him, what was Pran going to do? It wasn't like they could be seen talking to each other. And he didn't have anything to talk about anyway. They weren't supposed to interact beyond competition, so if there was nothing to compete in then there was no excuse. 

Even if Pat had seemingly forgotten that when he decided to follow Pran to his dorm room. Probably, by now, he'd remembered that they were rivals and nothing more. Maybe he'd leave Pran alone. Maybe Pran would finally be able to get over this stupid crush and focus on more important things.

When Pran got back to his room, Pat was sitting against the opposite door. For a moment, Pran just stood there, trying to figure out if he had the worst luck in the world, or the best. And then he took another moment to just look at Pat. He was staring at Pran's door, but his eyes were unfocused and he looked uncharacteristically thoughtful. He didn't even seem to notice Pran's presence, at least until Pran took another step forward and into his eyeline. At that, Pat's eyes focused again and a smile lit up his face. Why was he always smiling?

"What-" Pran started, ready to begin this conversation just like the last two. But Pat jumped to his feet, already laughing, and Pran got distracted by the way his eyes squinted while he did. Quickly he made his face into a scowl and looked away from Pat again. "I'm not even going to ask this time." It was kind of a terrible cover, since he very much did want to ask why Pat was here again, but it was all he had.

"That means you're getting used to me, right?" Pat teased. 

"It means I'm getting tired of you."

"Mm, guess I'll have to work harder then."

"Have you ever worked hard?" Pran smirked at Pat. "Do you even know how?"

"I've worked at plenty of things," Pat said indignantly. Pran just shook his head and turned to focus on getting his door open. For a few moments, Pat was silent behind him, and Pran started to wonder if he was going to turn around to see Pat gone. Again. "Like our band." Pran froze, key turned in the lock. "Guess that one didn't turn out so well." Pat sounded... apologetic? Regretful? Pran couldn't quite pin it down and he couldn't help but look at Pat, trying to see what he was missing. Pat was standing with his hands in his pockets, a slight smile quirking up one side of his mouth, and his eyes focused entirely on Pran. There was a sincerity in them, of the kind that he knew Pat was capable of but didn't see too often. His words felt like an apology and Pran couldn't tell if he wanted to accept it or tell Pat to fuck off.

"Please," he said. "I worked way harder on that."

"We worked together," Pat replied, his voice amused now. "I own half that song. Legally."

"I don't think there was anything particularly legally binding about you writing your name on my piece of paper." This was familiar territory again. Pran could roll his eyes at Pat, make jokes and tease him and get teased and make all the excuses in the world for why it meant nothing. It was when Pat was heartfelt, burningly so, that Pran found himself losing ground against the feelings he'd been fighting for most of his life. At this point, Pran thought he should maybe have a better strategy for resisting Pat's everything, but nothing stood the test of Pat's eyes.

"We could get it notarized," Pat was saying and Pran snorted.

"That's not how any part of that works." Pat shrugged, the movement making his shoulders flex. Did he not own shirts with actual sleeves?

"We could make it work," Pat said and his eyes met Pran's, and Pran could feel his retorts drying up in his throat. He swallowed them down and took a step back. The door behind him was already unlocked and he turned the handle. 

"I have homework to do," Pran said and hoped he didn't sound nearly as strangled to Pat as he did to his own ears. He watched the smile turn into a frown as Pat watched him back through his door.

"Can I come in?"

"No." Pran slammed the door and stared at it. Every conversation with Pat felt like a seesaw. One minute it was easy and natural and fun, and the next his heart decided to remind him why he had never been able to get Pat out of his head no matter how hard he tried.

Pran really wished he disliked how it felt.

-

The problem with getting Pat's attention, even briefly, was that it was kind of addictive. The warmth that always seemed to surround him, the tricks Pran's heart played when Pat was around, the teasing softened by years of knowing each other. It was electrifying to Pran every single time.

Which meant that when he didn't see Pat for the rest of the week, it felt like an absence even though it rightfully shouldn't. Not seeing Pat was his normal, or at least it had been. Talking to him a couple times over the course of a few days shouldn't be enough to reset three years of separation. But, of course, Pran had never been able to get any part of himself to be logical when Pat was around. So he'd let himself get his hopes up that maybe Pat would pop up without explanation again, smile at him and make a stupid joke and maybe even wink, and now Pat wasn't around and it made sense but it still kind of really fucking sucked. It was also more than a little embarrassing when Wai asked him why he kept peering around when they walked to class and who he was looking for.

Pran didn't answer.

It was a good thing Pat wasn't around. Pran still didn't even know why Pat had been hanging outside his room last time, or what faculty he was in, or anything about what Pat was up to when he wasn't bothering Pran. They were all questions Pat had cheerfully avoided answering, which made it pretty clear that he didn't want to tell Pran. So if they were going to hang out, it would have to be up to Pat and Pat alone. It was bullshit and Pran wasn't going to just sit there and take it.

He glared down at his notebook, which currently held a sketch of Pat sitting in the hallway outside his room. That definitely wasn't his assignment. He had work to do, and Pat haunting his page as well as his thoughts wasn't helping. Neither was the fact that whoever lived across the hall had apparently chosen this weekend as a good time to move literally everything in their room, with no small amount of banging going into it.

There was a crash from right outside his door and Pran shoved away from his desk and marched to his door. If he couldn't tell Pat to get out of his head, he could at least tell his neighbor to be quiet. Pran pulled open his door and saw Paa, kneeling on the ground next to a large cardboard box full of stuff that had just spilled out on the floor. She looked up, eyes widening in surprise, and Pran found himself staring back with what was probably a similar expression. For a split second time seemed frozen, and then Pran realized that the crashing had been Paa dropping the box. Pran hurried over and started gathering up the picture frames that had spilled onto the ground. Paa was still staring at him, holding one of the frames in her hand.

"Pran? You're back?" she said and Pran blinked. Had Pat just not mentioned that they'd seen each other? It made sense not to bring it up to his parents, but Pran had always been fond of Paa and he knew she felt the same way. Pat was well aware of that.

"Yeah. I live right there," Pran replied, gesturing at his room.

"Ah, did I disturb you with all the noise?" Paa sat back on her heels and raised her hands into an apologetic gesture. "I'm sorry!"

"I did tell you to be careful," Pat grumbled and Pran jerked his head up to see him leaning against the wall opposite Pran's room. Not even trying to help Paa. Pointedly, Pran turned his attention back to Paa and smiled at her.

"It's fine, really." He picked up another picture frame, glancing down at it. It was Paa and Pat as kids, arms wrapped around each other and big smiles on their faces. "What is all this, anyway?"

"Oh. Well, I-" Paa stopped and glanced down at the box and Pran frowned. She sniffled and then cleared her throat. "I'm clearing out Pat's room."

Pran looked up at Pat again. He met Pran's gaze, looking resigned. So that was it? That was why Pat had been hanging around. He'd been living in the other room and just hadn't said anything, and now he was moving. To get away from Pran. Fine.

"And he's not helping?" Pran said, his voice icy as he dumped the last of the pictures back into the box. Pat turned his head away, looking down the hall, and Pran couldn't see his expression anymore.

"Pran..." Paa's voice made Pran look back at her, and he saw she was staring at him with horror in her eyes. His stomach dropped and Pran started to feel slightly sick. "Do you not know?"

"Know what?" Pran could feel cold tendrils of dread begin to creep up his spine. Although he wanted to look at Pat again, the expression on Paa's face captured his gaze and refused to let it go. "Paa, what happened?" Had their parents found out about Pran living so close? Was Pat not just leaving the dorm, but university itself? 

"It's- It's about Pat. He- there was an accident." Paa stumbled over her words, eyes beginning to shine with unshed tears. The sick feeling in Pran's stomach twisted into outright fear. "We don't know how it happened but he's- he's in the hospital-" Pran wanted so badly to look over to where Pat was. This had to be some kind of horrifyingly unfunny joke. A prank that Paa had, for some reason, agreed to be involved in. "They're not sure when- when he's going to wake up." There was no other explanation. 

It didn't explain the look on Paa's face. Or the tears that had begun to slip down her cheeks. Or the deafening silence from Pat.

Pat. Who had been right there. Who had met Pran's gaze. Who had been waiting outside of his room just days ago. Who had been sleeping in his bed just last week.

Slowly, with the kind of effort Pran usually reserved for looking away from Pat, he dragged his gaze over to the wall.

Pat was standing there, still looking down the hallway. Away from Pran and Paa. Every muscle Pran could see was tense and he watched as Pat's jaw worked.

And then Pat flickered.

Once.

Twice.

And was gone.