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It was already way past midnight when Daniel arrived back at his apartment, clumsily unlocking the front door and stumbling into the living room. He had to admit that maybe he had a little too much alcohol that night, but it was a Saturday and the last few days were pure stress, so the Australian felt like he deserved this. He already regretted it though, a headache announcing itself as the city lights blurred in front of his eyes. 

A few cups of water later, and a toilet break after the third one, Daniel was outside on his balcony, looking at the bright lights in front of him. The cold air cleared his mind and erased the dizzy feeling while biting at his nose and fingertips. No matter how hazed his mind was at that moment, or any moment, really, the city still looked beautiful. The place he fell in love with after he first visited it with its high buildings and busy streets looked so peaceful yet so alive in the dark night. He heard the traffic noises and the icy wind around him, but it was still so quiet. He felt like he was the king of the world then, the emotions overwhelming him and almost making him cry. Breathing became hard when his chest was so full of love for the city at his feet and he decided to tear his eyes away and step back inside, carefully closing the door behind him.

His eyes burned now that they were surrounded by the warmth of the flat again and Dan sat down on his sofa to calm down and finally breathe. He felt so relieved then and he didn't know why. Maybe he had a few too many drinks, he thought, when his fingers started to tingle from the higher temperature. It was weird and Daniel didn't want to make his head hurt even more from overthinking, so he got up and made his way to the bathroom.

He didn't even know why he felt the need to shower at two in the morning, but soon the sound of water hitting the tiles filled the room, paired with hot steam that fogged the mirror. It was relaxing though, the warm water relaxing his muscles after he´s been out all night. When a wave of tiredness hit him, Daniel decided that it was enough and turned off the water.

Barely 15 minutes later he found himself slipping under the fresh sheets, sighing contently at the soft fabric against his skin. He suddenly felt more exhausted than he had ever felt before, his limbs heavy. He frowned at his phone screen lighting up when he was about to drift off, interrupting his sweet slumber. He rolled over to lay on his stomach before he grabbed his phone from the nightstand and unlocked it. He squinted to turn down the brightness of the display a little before he opened the only unread message on the sleep-disturbing device in his hands. It was from an unknown number and way too long for Daniel's liking.

Hey, it's Max. 
I know I've been avoiding you a lot lately and I want to apologize for that now. I am sorry for sending you this at 2 am and I am seriously considering deleting this text before I ruin our friendship even more. I don't know what or who convinced me to send you this message (although it was probably Lando), but just know that I am really sorry for ignoring you. I just thought that I could make this easier for myself by simply forgetting about you, but I really can't. The truth is, I love you. Shit, writing this makes it feel even more real. I'm in love with you and I have been for a while now. I don't know how this happened, but somehow between all the late-night talks and our parties I couldn't help it. You're the most wonderful and perfect person I've ever met and you're the most precious friend I have. I know I shouldn't be saying this and I might be a little drunk, but that's how it is, that's the truth. I am helplessly in love with you, you and your cute laugh, your bright smiles and the way you scrunch your nose when you're concentrated. I am ready to get rejected, believe me, but I just couldn't hold it in any longer. It is not fair to you to keep it a secret any longer. God, I am so in love with you, it physically hurts to say this, but not in a bad way. In a good way, like when your chest feels so heavy and your head is full of everything and nothing all at the same time, you know? This is growing more awkward with every word, but at least now you know what's going on. I am so so sorry and I promise I'll leave you alone in the future, but I just had to tell you. You're so special and important to me and I want you to know that your happiness is my highest priority. And if I can't make you happy I want to wish you all the best for the future. Stay as amazing as you are and never ever let anyone tell you how to live your life. I love you.

When the Australian finally finished reading, his eyes falling shut more than once during the process, he blinked a few times in confusion before he focused on the text again. Whoever that message was originally meant for, it was surely not Daniel. He felt sad for the person behind the words, who seemed so sure that it was unrequited love. So being the nice guy that Dan was, he started typing.

Hey dude, I am sorry to tell you this but you messaged the wrong number. I do hope that things will turn out well for you and your love interest. Rest well and don't worry too much. I´m rooting for you! -Daniel

It took him exactly ten seconds to regret the message, but oddly enough the stranger had already read it. Before he could get a reply that would probably make him feel embarrassed he turned his phone off and put it back on its spot on the nightstand. For a while he stared into the darkness of his room, only the lights from outside peeking through the blinds and slightly lighting the room. He was still thinking about the text he received and about the person who wrote it. Who were they? Would they be okay? The message moved something inside Daniel, he just couldn't let it go. Why did he even text back? Was it pure curiosity or just because he felt drawn to that person in a weird way? Was it just sympathy? And when was the last time the Australian received a confession like this? 

Dan groaned then and turned away from the light, trying to silence his thoughts in order to sleep. In the end, it was the alcohol in his blood that put an end to his agony, slowly calming him down and evening out his breath until he was fast asleep.

Chapter Text

To say that Max felt embarrassed was an understatement. Of course, he apologized to that Daniel guy for wasting his time, but for the past few days, he wasn't in the right state of mind. He felt his cheeks grow hot every time he thought about Saturday night and Lando had to drag him to his lectures every day or else Max would probably never leave his dorm room ever again. It would probably only be half as bad if he just got rejected, but this felt way worse than any rejection ever could. Because in a way, it was a rejection. 

His crush told him they changed their number and gave him a wrong one, what a creative way to ghost someone. Max would've been okay if they just told him they didn't want contact anymore and then never talked to him again, but this was wrong. It was cowardly, rude and unfair and his friends have been trying to tell him that for three days now. 

It was now Wednesday and Max had only one lecture that day, so maybe he could just skip it. When his alarm woke him up he was already turning around to hide under the sheets, but he couldn't ignore the annoying noise, so he had mercy on his ears and turned it off. On his homescreen was a new message from Lando, who stated that he had gotten up early just to send a text to Max and force him to get up. Not wanting to make his friend angry he managed to roll out of bed and get dressed before he tried to get ready in the bathroom without looking into the mirror. If he looked as terrible as he felt there was no use of trying to fix it anyways. 

It was cold outside, the first snow had fallen in early November and there was no end near. Max just hid his cold nose in his scarf and shoved his hands into his pockets to keep them warm. It was a four-minute walk to his destination, the icy morning cleared his head and made him forget about his worries for a while. He enjoyed the traffic noise, it was loud enough to fade down his thoughts. 

When he arrived at his university he pulled out his ID and entered the building. A wave of warm air hit him in the face and made his nose and fingertips tingle, but not in a bad way. It was nice to take the hood of his jacket off and unzip the heavy piece of clothing. Max headed up the stairs and almost ran into another student, who he identified as Pierre a few seconds later. He apologized to him and the older student just smiled and reminded him of another inconvenience in his life.

Secret Santa.

Lando talked his friends into drawing names out of a cap and Max somehow became part of it as well, much to his own annoyance. He didn't really know any of Lando's friends and now he had to find a present for some guy named Charles who he had only met about five times in the past. So before Pierre could leave, Max turned around to ask him for help, as he had no idea what to get for Lando's friend. After their short exchange, he continued his way and spent the lecture searching for a record store on Google Maps. Apparently, Charles was an Acting Major with a love for records and Pierre advised Max to get one. What kind of music did the younger student listen to? There was no way for him to find out, he had no contact with Charles and Lando would not help him to make him suffer even more. 

His Google search didn't really help either so after his class was over he hurriedly walked down the street to the next coffee shop, he knew that Pierre worked there and maybe he could grab a hot drink and gather some information. It wasn't too far to walk, but his toes still felt frozen when he finally reached the door and stepped into the small shop. The smell of freshly ground coffee beans and the warmth made him feel way more relaxed than anything else in the past days. It comforted him and he took another second to recover from that feeling before he looked around the area. It was not too loud inside the shop and he noticed that Pierre was not around. He still decided to get a coffee, there was nothing wrong about treating himself once in a while, Max decided. 

The barista introduced himself as Carlos and served Max one of the best coffees he ever consumed. Max sat near the window and looked outside on the snowy street, the glass a little fogged from the difference in temperature. He pulled his camera out of his bag and took a few pictures of the shop, he felt like he already fell in love with its soft browns and the warm atmosphere. He felt at home and sheltered from the cold, he had to admit that it made him smile a little. He made a mental note that he definitely had to return to this place, he even felt slightly jealous of Pierre for working at such a nice place. It was nice for a coffee date too, but the thought made Max more sad than content at that moment and he decided to drown that thought with another sip of the hot beverage to soothe his nerves.

When he finally finished the coffee and went to return the coffee, Max met Carlos again. He figured that his life was already going bad enough, so he should put all his might in getting the perfect present for Charles. So when the barista asked the student if he could help him with anything else, Max spoke up.

"Is Pierre here?"

And Max felt as if he already knew the answer, so when the male behind the counter shook his head he wasn't too shocked by the reply. 

"Alright, that's uh... fine? I know this is awkward and weird, but do you maybe know where I can find a record store? I have to find a Secret Santa present for a friend..." He scratched the back of his head, Carlos was probably going to laugh at his weird request. When he actually did, Max was somehow still surprised.

"Is this about Lando's Secret Santa? I actually participate too, you must be Max, right?"

He did definitely not expect this reaction. Max knew that Lando had way too many friends to keep track of, but this was the biggest coincidence yet. So he just nodded and smiled, his brain still trying to process the new information. Carlos didn't notice how starstruck the younger was, or maybe he was kind enough to ignore it, and just continued talking. 

"I guess you got Charles if you're looking for record shops then, I can give you the address of his favorite one, maybe that helps you. I actually know the shop owner, so you can tell them Carlos sent you and they'll be extra nice."

It took the barista no two minutes to hand Max a piece of paper with an address on it to the student who was overwhelmed by so much kindness. He thanked Carlos at least five times before they said their goodbyes and Max left the small coffee shop and let Google search for the address. It wasn't too far away, so he decided to walk one again, he was slowly getting used to the cold weather and at least it wasn't windy, so that was a huge advantage.

When Google signaled him to turn left and walk another 50 meters, Max could already make out the sign of the shop. He suddenly felt happy, at least he could do one thing right this week. He started walking faster without noticing it, taking bigger steps until he was standing in front of the door. The shop actually looked pretty comfy, it was no surprise that Charles liked it so much. Max then realized that his heart was beating a lot faster than before, but it was probably just from his fast walking. He reached for the door handle and gently pressed it down, taking a few steps into the store before taking off his hood, carefully closing the door behind him. The little bell that announced his arrival stopped ringing then and Max thought it was silent in the store until he noticed the music that was playing, soft 80's tunes filling the room. It smelled like old records and the vanilla scent of a German incense smoker that Max would probably not recognize if his family didn't bring one of those with them to Canada.
He started walking around carefully, trying to stay quiet since he was alone in the shop, which felt incredibly weird. Suddenly he heard a noise in the back and a person emerged from another door, carrying a box of vinyl records and placing it on the counter. The guy didn't seem too intimidating, but he also didn't seem to notice the customer until Max coughed and made the other male lift his head. He first looked surprised, then he smiled at the student and asked what he could help him with. When Max explained that Carlos sent him to this place, the blue eyes in front of him lit up and, if possible the smile grew even bigger. 

"Daniel, come here, we have a customer who is friends with Carlos!" After the blonde shouted that to the door he just came out of he turned back around to look at Max. He assured him that this coworker would help him in a second before he apologized to go and pick up a phone that was ringing somewhere in the back. So Max was left alone again and pretty confused. It didn't stay like that for long though as someone else stepped into the shop room and greeted the student.

"Hey, I'm so sorry for the inconvenience, but Nico is having a pretty busy day... I know it doesn't look like it, but it's true." The young male behind the counter laughed and it made Max feel weirdly comfortable all of a sudden. The other male held out his hand to him and smiled widely. "I'm Daniel by the way and you are..?"

"Max", he replied truthfully and shook the older male's hand. He didn't really notice the short change of expression on Daniel's face when he heard the name, too busy being mesmerized by the charismatic staff member and his happy mood.  He didn't really have the time to do that anyway, because Daniel was already asking questions about what he was looking for. He asked whether the shop assistant knew Charles since he was apparently familiar with Carlos too. It made Daniel laugh and he explained that they were good friends, which Max didn't even question anymore, it just couldn't be a simple coincidence anymore. Picking out a vinyl became easier then and ten minutes later the student handed over the money and left the shop.

Out on the street, it was not only a wave of cold hitting him, but also thoughts that seemed to have disappeared the whole time when he was inside the little store. The name sounded so familiar the whole time and then Max's eyes widened and he stopped walking to process that thought. Could it be that this was the Daniel he accidentally texted a few days ago? But it was impossible, right? He was probably from Vancouver or some other city in the west, or why would he still have been awake when Max texted him at 2 in the morning? It was just a dumb coincidence, like 80 percent of the things that happened on this fine Wednesday. He couldn't let this thought distract him, so he focused on his freezing hand that he had wrapped around the present for Charles. He should try to get back to his dorm safely, then he could still waste his time thinking of the two Daniels and whether they were actually the same person or not. It was probably just his tired brain playing tricks on him.

Max really needed a nap.

 

Chapter Text

It was a slow day after the incidence around noon and Daniel couldn't distract his thoughts from it. Sure, Max was a common name, but the whole situation felt weird, not in a way that was uncomfortable or weird, but in a good way. He had to admit that it sounded stupid, but it took over his mind and erased all the other thoughts. Nico joked about it but his employee couldn't find the energy to care. He continued to help out customers and replace the records on the player after their last songs played, but he really couldn't focus on anything but Max.

It was obviously not the same person, who would confess their love at 2 am? It was ridiculous and Daniel knew it, his Max probably lived thousands of miles away. Daniel didn't feel disappointed, not at all, why should he? But he felt as if he had hope for a minute, hope... Hope for what? Even if it was the same person he probably would not care or he already forgot about him, but that was very unlikely, it was a level of embarrassment that sticks with a person for a while.

When it was finally 6 pm and Daniel was allowed to leave, he turned off the lights and locked the door behind him. He looked at his face that was reflecting on the dark surface, the street lights lighting up his brown eyes. He sighed softly and pulled his beanie down further, walking down the street and past the university to get to the subway station. When he arrived and had to wait, he finally got the time to pull his earphones out of his pocket and untangle them. He grimaced at the cold feeling in his ears, but he soon got used to it and turned the music on. It took his mind off things, except this evening it didn´t. I annoyed him, but soon everything became a blur and he just stared at his feet in front of him as he walked the last meters leading to his apartment building. 

It was hard to unlock the door with his cold hands, but somehow Daniel managed and five minutes later he was able to fall onto his sofa and close his eyes for a second. His back hurt and his limbs were tingling from the change in temperature. It was uncomfortable, so he decided to get back up and make dinner instead. He was never a good cook, but over the few years of independence and no parent near him who could do it for him, he managed to gain some skill. It was good enough for some pasta at least. He set a timer on his phone to remind him when to look for his food and then he paused. That one certain chat was opened, only three messages filling the blank space. He read the conversation again. And again. And then his fingers hovered of the keyboard and he started to type.

After another minute the alarm snapped him out of his trance and he shook his head, deleting the words and putting his phone down. He didn´t touch it until he was done eating and doing the dishes like the responsible adult that he was. He texted Charles, replying to a meme that the younger sent to him and plugged the phone onto its charger in the bedroom before he got ready for bed. While brushing his teeth, Daniel stared at his reflection in the mirror the whole time, letting his thoughts wander as he slowly zoned out. It was a slow process after that until he was finally able to lay down and he felt as if there was no better feeling in the world than laying down and finally getting rest.

He closed his eyes for a while, but then he looked up at the ceiling that was illuminated by the colorful lights from outside. Dan felt dizzy from all the thinking and when he turned around with another sigh, it felt like a deja vu. He took his phone and blinked until he got used to the bright light, then he started typing.

Was it a good idea? Maybe not. Hell, it was most likely a horrible idea and he knew that when Charles and Nico found out, he would never hear the end of it. But on the other hand, writing down what´s on his mind was probably not a bad idea either. Max did so too, didn´t he? It was just a message and honestly, what could go wrong? Daniel felt a little annoyed at himself for making such a big deal out of it, he was not in fifth grade anymore. And if things went wrong, it was not as bad as Max's message, as mean as it sounded.

Daniel took a deep breath, shrugged and hit send. It felt as if a weight was lifted off of him, like breathing through the nose for the first time after an especially bad cold. It was weird, but not unwelcomed. He set his alarm for the next morning and decided to let it be for today, he could wait for a reply, he was a grown-up, not some high school freshman texting his crush. Not a crush, just some random stranger he couldn't seem to get off his mind because of a message that wasn't even meant for him in the first place.

Sometimes, his life was surely strange, but who was Daniel to complain about some more or less lucky coincidences?

Chapter Text

Hey Max, it's Daniel again. I know this is kind of awkward considering we don't know each other, but today I met someone whose name was also Max (and probably still is) and I couldn't help but think of you. How are you doing? I hope you're feeling better already.

Max, again, really didn't want to leave his warm bed the next morning and his alarm was slowly turning into a song of torture and a signal of bad happenings that tried to kick his ass because Lando was not there to do it (or else he definitely would). With a groan, he removed the charger from his phone and turned off the annoying noise. When he was about to put it back down and return to his dreams, he noticed a message on his display that has not been there the last night when he went to sleep. Sure, there was Lando's daily morning threat but he ignored it like always and went right to the next one.

He sat up straight in his bed when he saw the name of the person who sent it to him and unlocked his phone to read it. After he finished reading the message for at least five times, he noticed the smile that was spreading over his tired face and the realization that he didn't know how to reply to that hit him. So he decided to get up instead, which was a miracle itself, and get ready for the day. He grabbed his phone without a second look, put it in his pocket and left the dorm, his bag slung over one shoulder and the smile still glued to his lips. Suddenly it did not seem as cold anymore when he stepped onto the busy streets and even though it was still dark outside, Max felt as if the world became a little brighter overnight. He was extraordinarily early, so he decided to visit the coffee shop again, which did in fact only add to his good mood. Lando would probably think that he was sick, it was unusual for his friend to smile like that. 

Max checked his watch to notice that he still had enough time, so he sat down at the same table as the day before and hummed quietly before taking a sip of the hot coffee that burned his tongue in all the right ways and filled his stomach with warmth and comfort. He pulled out his phone and stared at Daniel's text for a while before he figured there was nothing bad about replying, it was just polite. So he started typing, his eyes glued to the screen and his fingers flying over the keyboard, stopping once in a while when he had to think and hitting backspace to remove the mistakes his autocorrect couldn't find. He hit the button and it took a while, but then he was informed that his message arrived. He read it again and nodded, pleased with what he put together before he put the phone back down and focused on his coffee.

Good morning Dan! Sorry for the late reply, but I was already asleep when you texted me. It sounds like you had a good day then, even though my name is not that uncommon. I am glad you thought of me, it's an honor. To answer your question, I do feel a little bit better now that you texted me and things have been going well for the past days. If you want this to be less awkward, why don't we get to know each other?

Max was too occupied with his beverage to notice that someone was approaching him until the person cleared their throat. The student looked up from the table and was met with a wide smile, the expression of surprise written all over his face. It was Daniel from the record store.

"Do you mind if I sit here?" He asked politely, still smiling down at the younger male who couldn't bring out a single word. Max just nodded instead and watched as the other male sat down and placed a cup of tea in front of him, explaining that he wasn't much of a coffee drinker but couldn't disappoint Carlos by not showing up once in a while before his phone distracted him, quietly signaling to read the message he just got.  He apologized and replied to the text and suddenly it was pretty silent. When Daniel's monologue ended, Max got the chance to finally take a closer look at the kind-of-stranger-but-not-really in front of him. He looked quite young, probably Max's age or a few years older and the student thought he saw a tattoo peek out under the soft baby blue of Dan`s sweater that didn't really match the winter mood that led most people to wear dark colors rather than the bright ones. His dark hair was hidden away under a grey beanie, only a few curls managing to break free and decorate his forehead. He seemed concentrated when typing the message, but there was a small smile on his lips when his dark eyes scanned the phone screen that was lighting up his face and producing weird shades on his cheeks. Max couldn't help but take a picture of it, showing it to the other male when he finished typing. Daniel looked at it as if it was some piece of art and complimented Max for his skills, which left the Photography Major a little flustered, even though he was quite aware of his good work. He had to admit that it did come out good though, not only because of Daniel's looks but because of the whole atmosphere that he had already captured the day before and the male across the table just really fit into the picture. The blue of his sweater was maybe not as mismatched as Max thought before.

When he looked at his watch the next time he realized that he would run late for his lecture if he didn't hurry, so he apologized to Daniel, finished his coffee and left the small coffee shop as fast as he could. Somehow he managed to enter his class two minutes before it started, without slipping on the icy sidewalks or tripping on the stairs. He found a free spot and took out his laptop, trying to catch his breath as he sat down. When he unlocked his phone he first looked at the picture from the coffee shop, which made him smile enough for the guy next to him to look at Max as if he was crazy. He then opened his unread message and smiled even more, if that was possible.

Good morning Maxy, it's great to hear from you and it is good to know that you're doing better. I am quite busy most of the day due to work, but text me whenever and I will make sure to take some time to reply. Good luck with whatever you're doing today!

Max felt relieved, this worked out better than he thought it would. He really wanted to reply but his wish to graduate someday took over and he focused on the class instead, his messenger only annoying him twice more. It was Lando, complaining about getting ignored for his efforts and asking him to meet up for lunch at some fast-food restaurant, which Max agreed to with an eye roll.

What Lando didn't mention was that Pierre and Charles would also join them and Max was a little worried at first that things might get awkward, but Pierre started talking to him as if they've known each other for years and it was relatively easy for Max to engage in the conversation. He was happy to get some distraction so he couldn't let his thoughts wander and with a group of people like this one, there was no way to be sad. That was until Charles, who has been looking at him for a while, spoke up.

"What happened between you and A-"

But Lando threw a chicken nugget at his head from across the table, glaring at his friend to silence him. Charles just murmured an apology before he ate the nugget, but Max didn't really hear that. Suddenly everything around him turned blurry and all the voices and the noise sounded like he was underwater and everyone was so far away. He felt his heart beat fast and hard against his chest, felt his hands grow sweaty and his eyes burn. Max swallowed but his throat was still dry and he tried to avoid crying at all costs. 

He felt bad for Charles who didn't mean any harm by asking and Pierre tried to tell him that too, but Lando still looked way too outraged. He was always happy and giddy and fun to joke around with and no one has ever seen him sad in university. Right now though he looked angry and intimidated the other students. He grabbed Max's hand underneath the table and squeezed it gently while the older male was just trying to eat his fries to avoid talking and eye contact with everyone. It was not fair, Max ruined their lunch. Weirdly enough all he wanted to do at that moment was text Daniel. He could pour his heart out without getting judged and the stranger knew a lot more about the whole situation than Lando's friends that Max barely ever talked to.

Daniel was just different, he could not explain why.

Chapter Text

Nico had the amazing idea to rearrange the store and of course, his employee had to do while he was out for business meetings or whatever he called his lunch dates. Deep down Daniel knew that he was not just giving him all the work and doing nothing instead, he knew that Nico sometimes worked until the sun came up again and he didn't want to complain. He really liked his job and enjoyed the atmosphere in the small shop, he even lit Nico's silly incense smoker when he was not around. When he arrived at work this morning, he put on some music and danced through the shop to the soft music for a few minutes before he got some boxes from the back and started to carefully put the records into them, labeling them and making a list with all the items in stock. It was a relatively quiet day, only a few people visited the shop and Dan was able to help all of them out, smiling kindly and joking around with them. Most of the customers were students from the nearby university, so most of the people Daniel talked to were some kind of Arts Major, just like Charles with his love for acting or his friend Pierre who was a Film Major if Daniel remembered that correctly.

Since he was alone in the shop that day, he brought some lunch from home and ate it behind the counter around noon. He scrolled through his phone while munching on the salad in front of him, stopping to chew when his eyes landed back on the chat with Max, frowning slightly when he saw him typing. What a coincidence.

Thank you, Daniel, but today is not going as well as I thought it would go at first. It's weird you know? I was happy all morning and now at lunch, a friend mentioned my crush. I feel angry at myself for letting it ruin my day and I don't want that friend to feel bad for the mention, it was not on purpose after all. I don't know what to do so I texted you. I just needed to talk to someone about it. I'm sorry if this overwhelms or annoys you...

Daniel read the message carefully and sighed quietly, feeling sorry for the stranger. His fingers hovered above the screen but then he put the phone down to think some more about a reply, continuing to eat his lunch and staring out the shop window. He didn't want to tell Max that he knew how he felt, that was the worst thing he could do in a situation like this. It was difficult for Dan to cheer people up because he really didn't want to hurt them even more. It took him another five minutes before he began typing, trying to be as careful as he could.

Oh, Maxy... I'm sorry, this must be a difficult situation. But I am glad that you are still going out, it is good to distract yourself in situations like this. The bad thoughts will always be there, but believe me that it will get better. Right now it looks like there is no way out, but in a year it won't matter anymore. I'm not saying that it doesn't matter right now nor that your feelings aren't valid. It's just... you have to endure the pain to see better days and I am always here if you need help, thank you for telling me about your thoughts. I apologize, I'm not good at comforting people, but I hope that talking about it can support the healing.

When his alarm signaled him that it was time to continue working, Daniel sighed and put his phone and lunchbox away. He got up and went back to carrying boxes around. He had the instructions on what had to go where and after some time he figured the system out and started putting the records on the shelves, gently swinging to the music. He was still thinking about the text, but he tried to focus on his work instead and put on some Christmas music, humming along and smiling softly when he looked outside on the snowy street. It sure felt like Chrismas, even if it was still a few weeks away. Maybe Daniel could force Charles or Nico to go ice skating with him or he could find someone to go on an ice hockey date with him. Nevertheless, someone could probably go sledding with him in the park. He had to admit that some of those things were a little childish, but he couldn't really bring himself to care about what other people would say. He was just trying to have fun and make his life something he could look back on and be proud of, so as long as he didn't harm anyone in the process, he would be as childish and awkward as he wanted to be.
Maybe he could ask Max to join him. The one who's friends with Carlos and Charles, not the one he has been texting, even though that dude could use some happy moments too. But the other Max would probably enjoy taking some pictures of the snowy scenery and maybe even some more of Daniel, he should really ask him for them afterward so he could print them out and keep them as a memory. He smiled at the idea until he was interrupted by the bell chiming over the door. He looked up from his box and smiled when he saw a familiar face standing in the shop.

It was Charles who gently shook his head to get rid of the snowflakes covering his dark hair before he returned the smile and walked over to his friend who was just getting up from the floor now. The student took off his jacket and handed it to Daniel so he could put it away before he put down his bag and sighed, finally being able to breathe for a while after all the events of the day. After the disaster at lunch, he got two new assignments and barely any time to finish him and Christmas break was still not coming to save him. He felt all the tension in his body leave the moment he stepped into the shop that already felt like home to him and he knew that this afternoon would be fine, even if he had to do some late-night work because of it. Sometimes he would just come to visit Daniel and Nico, and sometimes he would stay to help out, which was his plan for today. After Daniel explained the system to him, he easily found a way to start working, putting the records on the shelves and arranging them in a way that would look nice.

He always had a thing for all forms of art, but music was one form that excited him a lot more than the others, besides acting or course. He first listened to a record when he was ten and he instantly fell in love with it. It was fascinating, the way he had to be so careful when moving the needle over the record before he could drop it and turn on the music. He used to dance to the songs the whole day until his last record broke and he moved out from home. When he started university in the big city, so far away from what he was used to in Cap-Santé. Sure, it wasn't too far away from Quebéc, but now he went to a university that was way further away from his home than just a 40-minute car ride. Finding this shop when he was still new to the whole living alone thing gave him some sort of security and he visited the store so often that Daniel became one of his best friends and Nico acted like some kind of substitute mother, always trying to take care of the student. It was weird at first, but by now Charles really appreciated their relationships, which was why he turned around now and looked at Daniel, chewing on his lip before speaking up.

"Hey Dan, can I ask you something?" Instead of giving a real reply, the Australian just hummed affirmatively, nodding slightly while trying to focus on his work. Charles took this as a sign to continue talking and he felt a little stupid for asking in the first place, he knew that he could always talk to Daniel, even if he didn't give any kind of advice sometimes he was a great listener.

"Today I made a friend of mine sad by saying something untactful. I didn't mean to and I would never do it on purpose, you know that, right? I was not even going to ask them about that, but they misunderstood and it hurt them. I feel horrible, I really didn't mean to do that, I couldn't even finish my question to clear things up. I should apologize to them, but I don't think they want to have anything to do with me right now. Or ever, really, we're not even that close."

Daniel just continued humming every once in a while, signaling Charles that he was still following his story and when the younger male was done, it was quiet in the store. The Australian got up to turn on some other music and even when he returned he didn't say anything. Five minutes later, he finally broke the silence, clearing his throat before speaking.

"I know that you wouldn't do that on purpose, that's too much unlike you, Charles. But I don't think that's the question you wanted to ask. I agree you should indeed apologize to your friend and if you do it as sincerely as you told me right now, you'll be fine. If you're really friends, it will be okay. Believe me, sometimes it's better to just talk about things."
Charles smiled then and nodded, Daniel was right. He would apologize as soon as possible, in person though, and then things would be alright for sure. At least he really hoped so, he still felt pretty bad about the situation. After that, they both went quiet again and continued their work. It didn't feel uncomfortable though, more like a peaceful silence, the music was still playing in the back as well. After another two hours, they were finally done with cleaning and organizing and Daniel thanked his friends a dozen times for the help before they locked up the vinyl store together and said their goodbyes, parting ways at the next corner.

It was a little after 7 pm when Daniel entered his apartment, setting down a pizza on the kitchen table before he put his jacket away, basking in the warmth of the room for a second. Then he took his dinner to the living room and turned on the tv, falling down on the sofa and sighing contently. His arms hurt from carrying around the boxes all day, which was reason enough for Daniel to relax now. It was quality time with himself in a way and who was he to deny himself that pleasure? He zapped through the channels for a while before he decided to use a streaming service instead. It was comfortable like this and Daniel enjoyed his food as well, it was good enough to cover up the fact that he was a little lonely. After two episodes he took a short break to throw the now empty pizza box away and step out onto the balcony to take the air, smiling at the sight of the bright city lights. Every time he stood out there, he felt lucky to live in this place and blessed to see the buildings and the cars underneath him. It grounded him and made him appreciate the life he had.

When he went to bed later that night, he only had one notification.

Thank you, Danny. I don't know what I would do without you.

And somehow, he knew that things were going to be okay.

Chapter Text

"Hey, Max! Max! Wait a second!"

It was 8 am and the student was really not up for a conversation at that moment, especially not as he identified the owner of the voice as Charles. The younger student was basically shouting across the hallway, making Max cringe and people turn around to give him weird looks. The Acting Major did not seem to care at all though, continuing to cut his way through the crowd until he finally stood next to Max, breathing heavy and pushing his fake glasses up to rest on the bridge of his nose. He smiled at the older male and took another second to catch his breath. Max just looked at him, one eyebrow lifted as if to question „what?“ without actually talking to Charles, which was a thing he would gladly do right now.

"I just wanted to apologize for what happened yesterday, it was not my intention to hurt you."

As if Max didn't know that already. He rolled his eyes and turned around to continue walking. Charles didn't give up though, following him like a puppy and talking to him while Max tried to throw him off. He really didn't want to hear any more empty apologies.

"I wasn't even trying to talk about- about you know who. Lando misunderstood and his reaction made you draw the same conclusion. I would never try to be this rude!"

Max walked and walked, took an unexpected turn and ran up some stairs, but he couldn't get rid of the other student. He was already getting trouble breathing again and for a second the Photography Major felt bad, what if Charles had asthma? Apparently not, because he continued rambling apologies and weird explanations.

"Dude just cut the shit. I forgive you or whatever, but please leave me alone, I don't want to talk."

It silenced Charles when Max stopped abruptly and turned around to face the other male who was now nervously fiddling with his sweater paws, but still looking into Max's eyes with hope. He cleared his throat and swallowed down his fears, Max did look pretty intimidating in this moment. It took them another few minutes of staring at each other in silence before Charles dared to speak again.

"But to clear things up, I just wanted to know what happened between you and Antonio? I hear that you guys were in a study group together but apparently, you didn't show up for a while now. So I heard from a friend who's friends with a friend of Antonio that something was going on. That's all I wanted to know, I thought he was a pretty decent guy."

Suddenly it felt as if a weight was lifted off of Max's shoulders and he started to feel bad for being so mean to his new acquaintance. Charles really didn't mean any harm after all. Max sighed at the question though and moved closer to the wall so students could pass by without bumping into him all the time. A short glance at his watch told him that he had to hurry up, but he felt as if he owed Charles a reply now.

"Oh no, I don't have any problems with him, but everyone in that group had kind of a best buddy of some sort and I always felt left out, so I just thought it would be better for my own sanity if I left the group before I received a price for being the third wheel of the year. There's no drama going on, I was just lonely. I think that maybe I should apologize to you now, right? I shouldn't have been so mean earlier, it was not your fault and I took it out on you, that was wrong and not fair to you. Maybe we all make mistakes."

"Except for me of course", Lando interrupted their conversation, slinging one arm around Max's shoulder and giving the two of them a loopy smile. He probably stayed up all night doing last-minute assignments again and slowly it seemed to show. Caffeine was not good for children, Max should've known. Charles murmured something about running late for his lecture and left them alone, shouting an "Apology accepted!" before he was gone in the crowd. Max and Lando smiled at each other, maybe there was still some hope for the older student to join his buddy's weird friend group after all.

My friend apologized to me just now and I forgave them. I think that was one step in the right direction, after all, at least I feel a little better. I should focus more on keeping those relationships up rather than chasing one that I shouldn't hope for in the first place.

He sent the text just before class and he kept checking his phone continuously from then on, without success. Daniel was probably not awake yet. It still bothered him somehow, the messages from his number were always a thing the student looked forward to and it distracted him from the lecture, it was hard to take notes while staring at his phone at the same time. He made a mental note to install his messenger on his laptop so he could access his texts during class without having to check the phone every five seconds. He then proceeded to actually write it down, letting out a quiet sound of despair when he realized that it was the only note he took so far, which earned him an amused look from the guy next to him. Max tried to focus, he really did, but it was so hard to listen to his professor whose voice would probably lull him into a deep sleep if he paid attention anyways. It was a vicious circle. Somehow he survived the lecture though, a sigh of relief leaving his mouth as soon as it was over. 

His day went by slowly, seconds turning into minutes, minutes turning into hours and the hours feeling like years he had to spend in school. It was horrible and all Max wanted was a break. He started feeling really tired around noon, so he used the lunch break to visit his new favorite coffee shop in order to buy a beverage that could give him some energy for the rest of the day. Carlos greeted him with way too much enthusiasm for Max's current mood, but it still made him smile weakly, ordering his usual coffee and taking it to the table next to the window. Somehow it was always free when he was there, what a weird coincidence. 

When he checked his phone the next time, he had a few unread messages, but one stood out to him and he unlocked his phone in a matter of seconds to read the text. It was childish of him to get this excited over a few dumb words, except they weren't dumb and it was impossible not to feel giddy when Daniel replied, even if it was just a tiny little bit.

That's great Max, I'm proud of you! You're definitely right, sometimes friendship is more important than love, at least the serious kind of love. Love has many forms, but I can't think of any other word right now... You get what I mean, you're smart after all.
Anyways, it's Friday! Do you have any plans of going out tonight?

May smiled at the message and tried to think of an answer, but he couldn't come up with anything at that moment, so he just decided to check his other notifications first and come back to that later. Lando sent at least two dozens of messages that could've been a simple two or three texts as well, but the younger student decided to send a new message after every sentence, complaining about the way Max treated Charles earlier, a detail that he had apparently missed when he interrupted them earlier. After raging for a while, he proceeded to congratulate them for making up and texting more details about the Secret Santa mission, which Max read carefully, trying not to miss any details.

He looked up when the door opened, bringing cold air and laughter into the coffee shop. He watched as Pierre stepped inside, Charles a few steps behind him. The younger male started whining when his glasses fogged from the warm air inside, which made his friend laugh even more. Either Charles was incredibly funny and Max hadn't noticed that before, or Pierre was drunk. It was probably neither, the Film Major had to work after all, maybe he just had a fixation on Charles that didn't allow him to notice his odd behavior. The younger seemed to enjoy the attention though, taking a seat at the counter and continuing to talk about something that was either art-related or a complaint about a Tumblr user, Max wasn't really sure.

His phone buzzed, reminding him that it was time to go. He finished his coffee and sent a picture of Pierre and Charles to Lando via Snapchat, adding three thinking emojis as if to say "Do you see what I see?" before he got up and put his jacket back on, gathering his belongings and leaving the shop, waving goodbye at Carlos who was the only one not too busy impressing a crush at that moment. 

My plans for Friday night are finshing assignments and sleeping before 2 am for once, not exactly ecxiting if you ask me. I hope your evening will be less boring?

May sent his reply to Daniel right before his lecture, smiling at the display of his phone for a second before he put it down, trying to pay attention. It was not easy though, it was his last class for the week and he still felt drained despite the caffeine in his blood. He managed to take some notes though, rewording them to avoid more work while pretending to be productive. After another ten minutes, his phone screen lit up, signaling that someone sent him a text on Snapchat. Lando had simply replayed, screenshot and then replied to Max`s stalker picture with a short knew it. Maybe he should not get too involved with it, but it was good enough to distract him from his own problems for a while. 

Oh, so you're still in university? I dropped out after two years, physics was just not for me after all. What's your Major though, if I may ask? I'm not really doing anything tonight, maybe going out with my boss for dinner (it's not what it sounds like really)...

The message appeared on the display right before Max was going to put the device away, so he spent the rest of his class trying to figure out if telling a random stranger on the internet his Major was a good idea. Then again, Daniel knew everything about his sad love life already, it couldn't get worse, really. Besides, the other male had already revealed that he used to study physics, so it couldn't hurt to tell him. So when Max was dismissed for the week, the first thing he did was take out his phone again, typing the second it unlocked.

Image Arts Photography, that's pretty much the opposite or sciences. Have fun tonight!

Max didn't expect to see Lando after his lecture, moving out of the way before he could be tackled to the ground. He couldn't avoid getting dragged into a bone-crushing hug though, he was barely able to breathe and he could bet all his money, which wasn't a lot, sadly, that his friend was well aware of that. After another two minutes and a death threat directed at Lando, he was finally able to inhale again, rolling his eyes at the satisfied grin that was spreading over the younger male's face.

This was how his plans were ruined in the end as well. Instead of studying and dedicating his night to his grades, he ended up on his bed with Lando, watching a random movie on Pierre's Netflix account that his best friend (and probably five other people) used as he couldn't really afford it. Then again, no one besides Pierre actually had a job, so it was a rather obvious arrangement. 
At 4 am, Max woke up with Lando's head on his chest and tried to remove his laptop from the bed before he went back to sleep. At least he was able to forget about everything for a while this way.

Even Daniel, who was usually always on his mind lately.

Chapter Text

At 7 pm Daniel opened the door of the place Nico sent him to, stepping inside the warm restaurant in hopes of spotting his boss already, but he would probably be late. So he busied himself with taking off his jacket and the dark beanie when a cold hand touched his neck and almost made him jump. When he heard the familiar laugh behind him, he rolled his eyes before putting on a smile and turning around. Instead of letting his friend say something dumb though, Daniel just complained about being hungry before he dragged his boss away from the entrance so a waiter could take them to the table that Nico had reserved for them, apparently he knew the owner of the restaurant or something, Daniel didn't pay too much attention to that.

Their dinner together was partly a thank you for the store clean up Dan had to do, partly a celebration of the weekend and partly just old friends spending time together. Ever since they started working together they talked less about their private lives and worries, focussing their conversations more and more on work-related stories or problems. It was weird, spending all day together without knowing what was going on in each other's life. So they went out to eat lunch or dinner together once in a while in order to keep up, which was exactöy what they were currently doing.

"I think we should have an office Christmas party", Nico declared after they touched glasses, while his employee was still taking a sip of his beverage. It was a weird suggestion, especially since they agreed not to talk about work during those dates that weren't actually dates. So instead of replying Daniel looked down at the menu, trying to read it while continuing to think about that statement. 

"You are aware of the fact that we're only two people working at the shop, right? It would be a pretty sad party."

Nico laughed at that question, getting distracted by the waiter returning to their table. After they both ordered, he turned back to look at Daniel, a smile on his lips. He seemed really determined to realize his idea though, it was visible in his eyes. It was not really a good sign, it was hard to impede him once he had something on his mind. So his friend just sighed and raised his eyebrows, waiting for an answer.

"I thought we could invite some friends over, maybe Charles could bring his gang or whatever weird thing those college kids call their friend groups these days, I think Carlos mentioned that they were doing some kind of Secret Santa, maybe they could bring their presents and we'll drink some hot punch and have fun. What do you say?"

His boss sounded so hopeful and it was almost impossible to say no. Maybe it was not a bad idea, it was better than not celebrating Christmas at all. He knew that Charles would spend the holidays with some of his friends, so it didn't seem like a lot of people he knew were spending Christmas with their families. He would have to rearrange the store once again if they wanted to celebrate there, but that wasn't too hard and a good excuse to avoid actual work. Maybe he could give in for once, it was Christmas time, he should be nice anyway. So he sighed once again and nodded.

"Sounds wonderful, Nico. Let's do it. Next Friday?"

Judging from the older male's surprised expression he didn't expect this reply, but after processing it he nodded enthusiastically and grinned like a Cheshire cat. Dan couldn't help but smile back, it was good to see his boss happy after all the stress he had lately.

They first met in university, when Daniel just started studying physics, still motivated and with dreams about the perfect university life as an independent person. Nico, already in his fifth semester of International Economics and Finances was way less into the whole straight As student kind of thing, he gave up on that after the first few weeks of university. They somehow ended up fighting over a stupid book in the library, which was maybe not the best start, but this was how they met. All good friendships start with disfavor, Nico said every time someone asked them about it now, but back then they just tried to avoid each other until they ended up with too many mutual friends to live in ignorance. Somehow, Daniel never figured out how, they ended up liking each other then and they grew closer over time until they were basically inseparable. At that time the younger male had at least three part-time jobs, trying to save some money so he could survive. So when Nico asked him to work at his shop, he couldn't really say no.

A few months later he dropped out of university, tired of the long nights and crying sessions over topics he couldn't understand, all the anxiety and stress that had built up becoming too much for his mind. He used his savings to rent his own apartment and that was that. Things didn't really change a lot after that. He was still working for Nico, without needing any side jobs though, he could afford life a little bit better now. He was happy with how things turned out, he wouldn't have wanted it any other way. His fascination with sciences has always been big, but he loved music even more, he could not imagine a life without music in it. It was a part of him that he would never want to miss.

The waiter brought him back to reality when they brought plates of hot food to the table, making Daniel's mouth water after he accidentally skipped breakfast this morning by oversleeping slightly. The two of them started eating then, talking about how the past weeks had been, joking around and laughing together. They discussed relationships, mostly Nico's, and video games, tv-series and sports. It was in moments like this that Dan noticed how close they actually still were, their topics were still the same too. It felt good, knowing that he had so many amazing friends that brought happiness to his life.

His thoughts wandered to Charles and his bubbly mood, his creative ideas and their serious conversations they sometimes had. From sharing a bed to pizza on Daniel's couch, they had a lot of good memories as well. He remembered dancing to The Beatles with him in his living room at 2 am, singing very off-key to Lady Madonna and Hey Jude on repeat, only changing songs after the eighth time. They both knew they would wake up with sore throats the next morning, but it was worth seeing the bright smile on the student's face.

Max. He didn't really know which one he was thinking of at that moment, but he really enjoyed both acquaintances. It was weird, but worrying too much about it would give him a headache. Maybe the Max he met at the coffee shop would come to the party though if he was friends with Charles. It made Daniel smile, he knew that letting Nico throw a party was not as bad as it seemed at first.

"You're very quiet lately, I'm not used to it. You think too much, Dan."

Nico's words startled him and he felt bad about being lost in his thoughts so often. He just continued to eat his pasta, murmuring an apology. Somehow thinking of Max made the whole thing worse and he suddenly couldn't wait to leave so he could text him.

He spent another hour with Nico before they left, both exhausted from the long week. Maybe they were just growing old, he didn't feel like that comforted him though. They parted ways soon, Daniel still had some meters in front of him but he decided to walk instead of taking the bus, this way he could try to burn some of the Christmas season fat off while enjoying the walk outside. It was even colder at night, but the way the snow crunched underneath his feet made up for it. He felt as if it was pretty quiet, there was no traffic jam or loud parties, it was nice actually. Daniel loved walking around the city, it made him connect to it on a whole different level and it was something else than going to work, now he just wandered the streets on his way home, he had all the time in the world.

When he finally arrived in his bed that night, he had no messages from Max, so he decided to text him instead, feeling maybe just a tad too bold after the bottle of wine he emptied together with his boss. He fell asleep as soon as he hit send, putting his phone away just before his eyes fell shut.

Chapter Text

I did have fun, thank you. May I ask where you live? You don't have to tell me if you don't want to though...

Max had been staring at the message for a few minutes, gently biting his lower lip while debating whether he should reply or not. Daniel was surely not going to murder him and the city was still pretty big, the possibility of them meeting by accident was relatively small. Lando was still snoring quietly next to him, his limbs all over the place and clinging to Max like a koala. The older student sighed and put his phone back down, staring at the ceiling to think.

He really liked the city, having everything near enough to reach it by walking or just a short ride with the public transit. The people were extremely kind and tolerant, always helping each other out and treating every stranger with respect. He didn't feel the anonymity of living in a big city, there was no complete ignoration and looking away whenever something happened. It helped him out a lot when he first started university. He was not used to the big city and especially using the subway was a bit tricky at first, but everyone was considerate of his situation and made him feel more at ease in situations that would usually make him feel panicked.

It was easy meeting new people at a place like this where everyone was open and genuine. Max spent his evenings at bars or parties, but he never felt unwelcomed, even if he was the new guy that no one knew. Gaining knowledge and broadening his horizon was an everyday thing, he was confronted with so many different beliefs, hopes, dreams and views of life whenever he left his dorm. People were not afraid to be their true selves, it inspired Max and gave him so much material to take pictures of. All those kind souls around him were beautiful and unique in ways he never saw before and he had to admit that his life started to change in a positive way ever since he left home to study. He felt more confident, braver and more in line with himself. Max was pretty sure that it helped him to grow more open-minded and develop a healthier and more realistic view of the world. 

Besides that, all his friends lived there too and they spent their free time together exploring the area, new food and activities that Max never heard of before in his life. They had a lot of fun together, even if things changed quite a lot lately. He liked roaming around the city on his own too, walking between huge skyscrapers that glistened in the sun, watching expensive cars drive by and cyclists complain about the traffic. He enjoyed the smell of food at the markets, the sun on his skin in summer, the cool water, the bright reds of autumn and the quiet white world in winter. Max watched trees blossom, the buildings becoming higher and higher, his friends maturing (except for Lando). Over time he learned to love this place, the concrete and the green parks, the artists and the businesspeople, the enthusiasm and the positive energy around him.

Maybe Daniel wouldn't understand the love for his new home that Max never wanted to leave again. It was probably stupid and weird, but the student couldn't really bring himself to care, as long as Dan wouldn't tell him that it would be fine. Of course, there were bad sides too and he didn't have to agree with Max, although it would be nice, and that was what this place had taught him over the years.

He looked over at Lando who murmured something in his sleep, his head still resting on Max's chest, his breath even and calming. He looked peaceful like this and innocent, like a child that fell asleep on the car ride home. Home. Lando grew up in this city but he still moved into a dorm instead of continuing to stay with his parents, which was probably a little stupid, but he had been craving independence ever since he started thinking about his feature. It was hard for him at first, forcing him to grow up a lot faster than he was used to and putting him in difficult situations. Somehow he still managed to turn things around and now he was the guy that everyone wanted to be friends with, funny and just all in all a really great friend and person to be around. 

Max never realized how lucky he was to study and live in a city he adored together with an amazing and popular best friend and how many people were probably only dreaming off being in that position, maybe even jealous of Max's life. All the thinking made his head ache, overwhelming him with questions and worries, inspiration and gratitude.

He couldn't help but feel grateful, laying in a tiny dorm room on top of an uncomfortable mattress with a mess of a friend clinging to his hoodie in the soft morning light. It was all he ever wanted and he didn't need anything else to be happy. He could be proud of his life, really. Even if other people might not agree with him, Max just knew that this was right, everything was good. And maybe he was finally able to let go of things that made him sad, people that treated him badly and thoughts that didn't benefit his life and personal growth. Sometimes letting things go was the best thing someone could do, he figured. 

All the thinking made his eyes heavy and his mind fogged and when he woke up the next time Lando was already awake, quietly scrolling through his phone with his back resting against the wall and his legs laying on top of Max's. He smiled when he noticed his friend waking up, putting down his phone to ruffle his hair. When he received a glare for his actions, the younger male just chuckled softly and shifted his legs to make sitting up a little easier for Max, who just really wanted to turn around and continue sleeping. After an internal struggle, he decided against it and grabbed his phone, remembering the message Daniel sent him last night.

He read it again and started typing, deciding on a simple reply that wouldn't give away too much information about his weird obsession with his home. If Dan cared he would probably ask more questions anyways and after all that happened talking about it couldn't really do any more damage.

Toronto, what about you?

Chapter Text

Daniel woke up around noon, a slight headache reminding of the night before. He groaned and forced himself out of bed, goosebumps covering his arms as soon as the cool air hit his skin, making him want to crawl back under the warm bed sheets. He hurried to get dressed, it would warm him up soon enough, before he opened the blinds to let the daylight into the bedroom. Soon the apartment was filled with the smell of tea and scrambling eggs, a soft humming bringing life to the otherwise quiet place. 

It was a nice view from his kitchen, Daniel thought. He usually ate on the counter which made it possible to look into the open living room, the window front bathing the area in soft light. He could see the Harbourfront from there, at night the colorful lights of the CN tower soothed him after a long day of getting annoyed by Nico at the shop. It was particularly noisy in summer during baseball games and due to the nearby airport, but in winter everything was quiet, the soft snow swallowing all the sounds. Even though it was the most hectic time of the year, he felt more at peace and in harmony with himself, all the bright lights around him suddenly turned golden and silver, turning the city into a Christmas paradise. The traffic was pretty bad, he had to admit that, but if he saw it all with less seriousness, the stress reduced quite a lot.

After his brunch, Daniel decided to go out and try to find a Christmas present for Nico. He thought that he deserved one and if the kids were going to do a Secret Santa, at least his boss wouldn't come away empty-handed. After doing the dishes like the responsible grown-up he was, Daniel grabbed a bag and his wallet, putting on his jacket and the dark beanie before he left the apartment. It was less busy on the streets during the weekend, but not in the malls. He knew that it was probably the worst day for a shopping trip, but he went anyway. 

He walked down Yonge Street, burying his hands in the pockets of his jacket and watching his hot breath form little white clouds in front of his face. He felt his nose tingle from the cold, but besides that, he didn't really feel cold, the walk was a perfect balance between sweating and shivering basically. Daniel was still glad to get inside when he arrived at the Eaton Centre though, enjoying the warmth surrounding him. There were a little too many people around for his liking, but that was the trouble of visiting places like this during the weekend in a big city. 

He was lucky enough to find a good gift for Nico without wasting too much time, proud of what he came up with, so he decided to treat himself and eat some lunch before he would go back home. He found something he considered edible and sat in the peaceful situation of eating alone. It was not like he disliked eating with friends or family, but over time he got used to being alone and eating in silence, so sometimes he was quite happy when he could relax a little and enjoy his food without having to focus on anything else but the taste and the smell. After he finished his lunch, Daniel took out his phone, realizing that the last time he checked it was before he went to sleep, so he had quite a few new messages appearing on the display.

When he saw that Max texted, he immediately clicked on the chat and reading the short reply. He smiled when he read the name he grew to love so much and felt his heart beating faster than before, for what reason he didn't know. He decided to read his other messages before replying though, he didn't know if anyone had urgent requests after all. Mostly it was just Nico thanking him for the nice evening and Charles begging him to go sledding with him and some friends. Daniel agreed to join his friend, maybe getting to know some new people wouldn't be too bad. He continued to text for a while before he finally sent an answer to Max, put his phone away and prepared to go home so he would be punctual later.

What a coincidence, so do I! It's a great place to be, I personally love it quite a lot. I assume you do too, considering that you chose to study here?

Riverdale Park was surprisingly less crowded than Daniel expected, only a few parents with their children and some students of different age groups were having fun in the snow. They decided to meet up at 4 pm, which gave them a little less than an hour before the sun would set, it was probably the reason why less people were there. After a few minutes, he spotted Charles with two other people and his friend started waving in excitement as he noticed the Australian walk over.

One of the other guys introduced himself as Pierre, someone Daniel knew well enough from all the texts Charles sent him where he would either complain about him or do the thing he called "soft hours", which were way worse and almost made Dan vomit sometimes. When he turned to greet the other person, he paused. It was Max smiling at him, mirroring his surprised expression when he recognized the older male. 

"You two seem to know each other apparently. No worries, I'll let Lando do the snooping around. It makes things easier though, we only have two sleds so we have to share a little. Shouldn't be a problem then!"

It took a while for the surprise to wear off, but when it did they had a lot of fun racing each other down the hill and running back up together, laughing and enjoying the time. It was nice, being boisterous for once and not having to worry about anything besides falling over and landing face-first in the cold snow. Daniel felt quite exhausted after walking up the hill for what felt like the millionth time, breathing a little harder than before and giving Max a weak smile. They both agreed on taking a break, sitting down next to each other on the sled and watching Charles and Pierre clown around on their way back up the hill.

Daniel told him about the messages Charles always sent him and they laughed together, cringing at how painfully obvious their behavior was. When the group was finally reunited on top of the hill, the new arrivals copied the way Dan and Max sat on the sled and continued their silly discussion about a topic that was probably very irrelevant, while the others watched the sun disappear behind the trees, turning the sky a bright yellow, blending into red and deep royal blue on top of the buildings in the distance. The world was peaceful and quiet around them then, the cold air filling Daniel's lungs and making his head spin. His chest felt so full of love and a strange kind of yearning that brought tears to his eyes. He noticed Max looking at him, inspecting the tear that made its way down the older male's cheek, leaving a wet trail behind that turned cold in a matter of seconds. The student didn't comment on it though, instead turning back to look back at the breathtaking view in front of them. Then he carefully rested his hand on top of Daniel's as if to comfort him, his touch light as a feather, even with the gloves separating their skin. Weirdly enough the feeling that made his chest hurt was now fading away like the light in the distance and he noticed that the other conversation also came to an end, now it was just the faint noise of traffic and their breathing filling the silence.

They continued to sit there in the quiet evening, everyone lost in their own thoughts and dreams, their hopes and the feelings of freedom and completeness filling their hearts. When the last rays of sun finally disappeared, the cold settled in and forced them to move and it was only then that Daniel noticed Max's hand still on top of his. They did not talk about it when they got up and followed Charles and Pierre, instead focussing their conversation on sports and their hobbies. It was nice, getting to know the other male better now that he was finally a little more talkative, Dan thought. At some point, they had to part ways and say their goodbyes, but he couldn't forget about all the tiny details he noticed that day. He really tried to, telling himself that he was being silly, texting Nico to distract himself, reading the spam of messages Charles sent him, but nothing really helped.

He couldn't get Max out of his head this easily and maybe he was not as annoyed by that as he should be.

Chapter Text

Max really didn't know what to think anymore. Lando would probably tell him to stop thinking to avoid his head from exploding, and it made his Sunday a lot more difficult than planned. Instead of studying for the last exam that stood between him and his well-deserved break, he stared at the wall for at least twenty minutes before he even turned his laptop on. He tried to work like that for a few hours until it finally got too much. He turned the electronics off and shoved all of it into his backpack that was lying under the desk, discarded after class on Friday. 

Studying was a whole lot easier if one did it in a motivating environment and Max's small dorm room was really anything but that, so he decided to visit Carlos and Pierre and study there, maybe with some coffee to reward himself for the good idea. Maybe he should consume less caffeine, but he could worry about that on a different day. He made his way through the cold weather and entering the warm coffee shop was the best feeling he experienced in his life so far, or at least that was what he thought when warm air and the smell of coffee embraced him on the threshold. It was good to be back and after a short chat with Carlos about his plans for Christmas, Max carried his coffee to the table and set it down carefully before he got rid of his jacket, shivering slightly when he adjusted to the temperature.

After the first few sips of coffee, he really noticed an upward trend in his focus and motivation. Even without headphones, he was able to blend out the loud chatter behind the counter and work his way through practice problems, flashcards and more pages of notes. He repeated some stuff he didn't understand until it finally clicked, cheered internally when he got a hard question right and all in all he felt pretty productive for a Sunday. He still had to finish the things Lando kept him away from two days ago, so he ordered another coffee and started to get creative. Two assignments later he was done with all the things he had to do and even after all the caffeine he felt pretty exhausted. Max let out a heavy breath, stretching his tired arms and yawning before he got up to return the empty cup.

When he got home it was already dark outside and he had decided on eating out, also known as sad Tim Hortons food, actually close to achieving his goal he set for Friday. He rewarded himself with a shower before bed and he was actually impressed when he was able to lay down at 9:30 pm, checking his phone one last time before he would go to sleep. His eyes stuck to the chat he pinned, not Lando's or his mom's though, until he noticed that he actually was the one who forgot to reply. He took his time to read through some old messages first, then he finally started typing.

It took a little time to get used to it since I spent most of my time living in Mississauga after I moved to Canada (even though it's not exactly a small city either) but I do love this place. I guess it's not only the buildings and the scenery that make you enjoy living somewhere but also the people. Especially the people! The ones you're friends with and the strangers that make your day, you know? It's weird but I think you mostly start liking the place if you connect good memories and nice people to it.

He contemplated whether the essay he just wrote made sense before he nodded, satisfied with what his tired brain produced. The people really did make a difference, he was overwhelmed with the large number of them at first, but it was less problematic once he started to find friends. He wouldn't consider himself very popular, but he didn't really need a lot of friends either. Max appreciated the people he had in his life and the good times they would spend together. His mind wandered back to the day prior and he felt his cheeks grow hot with embarrassment when he remembered his weird way of comforting the other Daniel, which was also a weird way to refer to someone, he thought. At least the other male didn't complain and if he felt uncomfortable he didn't tell Max about it. The soft vibration of his phone snapped him out of his thoughts, so he focused his attention on the incoming message rather than his annoying feelings.

You're right, Maxy. I think making good memories and good friends are two of the most important things in life, it's kind of shitty without them. Sometimes I prefer my alone time though and especially here in Toronto it is very easy to do things on your own without appearing lonely, that's pretty great.

Max couldn't help but smile at the message, putting his phone back down on the pillow, rolling on his back to stare at the ceiling. The light coming from his phone display was soothing in a way, less bright than actual light but still enough to bathe the room in soft blue. He thought about the message for a while before his mind started to wander to- oh no. He shook his head and sat up, instantly feeling goosebumps on his skin where the blanket couldn't warm him anymore, but it helped to distract him before he could think about things that would make him sad. He looked down on his phone and when he saw Daniel come back online he decided to text back.

I know this is pretty random, but I haven't felt sad for a few days now, things do get better over time I guess. Thank you for reminding me of that.

No problem, I'm glad you're feeling better. Feel free to tell me when it gets worse though, it's okay to be sad sometimes. 

With that thought on his mind, Max managed to fall asleep. Daniel's words somehow always managed to calm him down, comfort him and distract him from the dark thoughts. 

It's okay to be sad sometimes.

 

Chapter Text

Daniel hated Mondays. Most people probably did, considering that it was the first day of the week and put a sudden and cruel end to the peaceful days off. He didn't hate a lot of things, but Mondays were simply the worst. It was cold and dark outside and there was no valid reason to leave the cozy bed he was currently hiding in. Sometimes Dan really missed being a child and not having to get up at this ungodly hour of the day, then again he was lucky enough to not have children himself, just yet at least, which would lead to getting up even earlier. With that weird thought in mind, he finally rolled out of the warm blankets and got up to start his day with a hot shower and some bircher muesli, which didn't really help his motivation, sadly.

It would've been okay if the week got better after that, but around Christmas was the time where it was the darkest outside and the windy cold weather was only adding to the uncomfortable feeling. Cramped subways, busy streets and people buying gifts for their families made life a little harder and the wait for the few days of vacation Daniel allowed himself for the following week worse than it already was. Max didn't really text him either, apparently busy with autumn finals or whatever he called it, Dan couldn't remember. It felt lonely without him, it was ridiculous and the Australian tried to ignore that, but he was simply not able to distract him.

It was only on Thursday evening that he finally took his mind off things when he agreed to go shopping for the party that would be the last event before he would have eleven days off to spend as he pleased. Nico wrote a list with things he wanted Daniel to buy which was now a little wrinkled in his hand, confirming that he still had a lot of things to collect. He took the line that his boss was taking this whole thing way too serious but he didn't dare to tell him actively avoiding complaining on his last real day of work. He sighed quietly and continued to stroll around the store in a sad attempt of finding the requested gingerbread, looking for the right juice for hot punch and trying to figure out which candles Nico would prefer. It was a struggle, but in the end, he was able to tick off all the points on the unremarkable piece of paper and finish his trip to the store with a triumph.

They promised each other that they would get some work done the next day before preparing, but it was a plan destined to fail and they both knew it. Nico was way too excited and running around the small shop with a Santa hat the whole day, which earned him a few amused looks from the customers, singing and humming along to the Christmas music he forced his employee to endure. The incense smoker was giving Daniel a headache already, but who was he to ruin Nico's party? They worked pretty hard the whole year and he deserved to be happy and enjoy this day, there was no doubt, so the younger one just tried to make the best out of the situation. Around noon he finally gave in and helped Nico to close the shop and push some of the shelves away to make space for the guests. They hung up some fairy lights and other decorations, placed the candles and started making the hot punch. It took them a while to arrange everything but in the end, Nico looked pleased and it was all Daniel needed to feel proud of his work.

Charles was the first one to arrive, his arm slung around the neck of the guy Daniel met the weekend prior, Pierre, if he remembered correctly, with a bright smile decorating his face. The art students busied themselves with the gingerbread, chatting away in a corner while their friends arrived. Whenever someone stepped through the door, Nico collected the Secret Santa gift they brought and put it on a pile with the other ones in order to avoid exposing the buyer of the gift. Soon the shop was filled with the smell of Christmas, soft music and laughter from the people gathered there on a Friday afternoon. Carlos and Lando were discussing some uninteresting things with Nico when the door opened again and brought a wave of cold air inside, which made Daniel face the door.

Standing there with red cheeks and an equally red nose, hair ruffled from the beanie he just took off, was Max. He smiled when his eyes met Dan's and he handed him the badly wrapped present so he could get rid of his jacket. Seeing the younger one there filled the Australian with a weird kind of excitement and he suddenly felt for being so annoyed by Nico's behavior earlier. He dragged his new friend along to drink punch and eat some gingerbread and the self-made Christmas cookies that Charles placed on the counter, decorated with too much frosting and ugly patterns. It was fun, forgetting about the sorrows of everyday life like this for a moment and just laughing together about school, professors and roommates from hell and other things they would usually complain about. It was then that Nico interrupted their conversation to hand Max a present. It was small and neatly wrapped, a white and golden pattern hiding the surprise. He looked at Daniel, who signaled him to open it with a nod of his head.

The older one couldn't help but smile when he saw Max's happy expression, his eyes sparkling when he held up a gift card for the coffee shop they all frequently visited. There was no way to figure out whether it was Pierre's present or an idea that came from Carlos, but it was a nice present for a broke university student. They both watched how Charles unwrapped his present and started jumping around while cheering, obviously thankful for the new music. Daniel and Max looked at each other, smiling knowingly and continuing to analyze everyone's reaction to the gifts they received. Sometimes it was obvious who the gifts came from, like the one Lando gave to Carlos, but mostly it stayed a secret, which made the afternoon a real success.

"Hey Danny, I thought about going ice skating at Nathan Phillips Square later, would you want to join me? Everyone else has other plans already or doesn't want to come...", Max murmured when they started to clean up, giving the older male an irresistible hangdog look. Daniel was not what one would call a professional at ice skating, but he knew how to do it without slipping every few meters and he knew how to control his speed, which was good enough, he figured. After handing over his present to Nico and hugging everyone goodbye, he got dragged down the street, feeling the heat of Max's palm against his wrist as they stumbled around and laughed together. Soon the fresh air cleared their minds though and they continued their walk along the bright lights, roaring engines and crowds on Yonge Street until they turned left and reached their destination, laying in front of them in the golden Christmas lights. 

It was Friday night but a lot less jam-packed than Daniel expected, so he was already putting on a pair of rented skates and stepping onto the ice before he could really think about it. Max wouldn't let go of his hand at first, laughing and complaining about having to get used to it before he could do it on his own. The older male just rolled his eyes and tried to help his friend hold his balance, slowly making his way around the rink. After a while, Max finally let go and tried on his own, not yet fast enough to keep up with the Australian who passed him a few times before slowing down and falling into Max's speed. He could still feel the warmth of his hand against his own and how his hand was now growing cold, reminding him of the absence of touch.

"Come on, even sloths are faster than you Max!", Daniel exclaimed, which made the student laugh and lose his balance, almost falling down on the hard ice. Luckily Dan was fast enough to hold onto him and pull him back up, which only caused them to laugh even more. They somehow managed to survive this adventure, their stomachs hurting from laughing too much and their muscles sore from the unexpected sports. They decided to part ways then, awkwardly hugging goodbye before they each went home, alone in the cold dark night.

Daniel couldn't stop thinking about everything that happened in the past hours, but especially his exchanges with Max. The younger male never failed to cheer him up and make all kinds of situations more fun and enjoyable, even though they didn't really know each other that well. Hell, Daniel didn't even have his phone number or any other way to contact him, they only ever talked in person when coincidence let their paths cross. It was pretty old school, he thought. They didn't know much about each other apart from how they spent their days and who their friends were, yet Daniel could still feel the tingle and the warmth in his fingers, he could hear the familiar laugh in his head and the contagious smile he couldn't help but return whenever he saw it. It was weird and maybe he shouldn't overthink the situation too much, he was probably interpreting it all wrong. They were just starting to become friends and it seemed to be a special friendship too, just not what Daniel was used to apparently. Why else would he feel so weird all of a sudden now that Max was gone?

Hey Dan, sorry for not texting you in a while, but I had a pretty busy week. Today I attended a Christmas party and had fun with my friends, it really helps to take my mind off things. I also made a new friend recently and weirdly enough I can't help but feel happy around them. They just radiate positive energy, you know? It makes my stomach feel funny. 

Chapter Text

The next time they met was another coincidence. It was Sunday and Max had decided to go out and have fun with his friends, which is why he agreed on going to an ice hockey game with Lando and Charles. The Maple Leafs were competing against the Detroit Red Wings that night, playing in their home arena and bringing many of their local fans to their arena. Charles somehow managed to get them tickets, some friend of his knew someone who managed to get them in for free, which was probably the best and most unexpected Christmas gift. They didn't have the best seats, but at least they each saved 80 dollars and still had a good time.

Max was never too much of an ice hockey fan, but he still enjoyed watching the game and seeing Lando get exited was something that warmed his heart. During the first break, he risked leaving his seat and going on an adventure to look for food, making his way around people until he was finally able to stand comfortably again and breathe for a moment. He heard someone call his name but didn't think anything of it, it wasn't like it was an uncommon name. When the calling continued though and he recognized the familiar voice, he turned around to look into Daniel's smiling face in front of him. The older male was dressed in one of the way too expensive blue jerseys, the big white maple leaf decorating his chest and the number of a player Max didn't know written across his sleeves. The bright smile was contagious and soon he found himself returning it, leaning in closer to hear the other properly when he started asking things about the game. 

"Hey, by the way, there will be a New Year's Eve party at my place and some of your friends will be there, would you want to join us? Charles can give you all the information and it's better than partying alone."

The suggestion caught Max off guard, but after processing the invitation he nodded slowly, watching as Daniel's smile seemed to become even brighter. He mirrored the expression once more until he spotted someone behind his friend coming closer and he immediately felt his stomach sink. A weird kind of pain settled in his chest, making it hard to breathe and his eyes burned with tears blurring his vision. Everything started to sound so far away again and he felt cold sweat all over his body, goosebumps and fear creeping upon him. Why did this have to happen and why did it have to affect him so much? He could hear his heart beating, loud and fast and almost exploding, heard the familiar laugh that made his stomach flutter and all he wanted to do was run as far away as he could.

"Max? What are you doing here? Do you guys know each other?" But there was no reply other than a faint "Sorry, I have to go" before he turned around and hurried away, trying to look as calm as possible while trying to force his tears back down, one already leaving a hot trail on his cheek. This was not supposed to make him cry, he should stay calm and collected, shouldn't let this sight ruin his evening and make him behave like a teenager with mood swings. But he coul not stand it, he was too weak to deal with it after all.

"Thanks for ruining Dan's conversation, George. Very helpful, you should become a professional wingman."

It hurt, seeing them happy, walking arm in arm and apparently going on cute hockey dates with Daniel as a third wheel, even though it shouldn't. This was why Max started talking acquaintance online in the first place, the reason why he couldn't sleep at night and had to deal with random crying sessions in the library. It made him feel sick, but somehow he managed to swallow his tears before he returned to his seat to continue watching the game.

Lando seemed to notice that something was off, but decided not to comment on it, only giving his friend a worried look once in a while. Max couldn't really focus on the game after that, only cheering along without knowing what was happening, the time going by in a blur. In the end, the Leafs managed to win, leaving behind a crowd of happy fans plus Max, who felt everything besides happiness. He said goodbye to his friends and left without waiting for them, deciding to walk all the way back to his dorm on his own. He felt the cold night air embracing him, joining him on his journey and the street lights keeping him company. His mind was screaming at him, his thoughts messy and loud in the dark. There was no way to escape the overwhelming feelings, except maybe there was.

Good evening, Daniel. I'm on my way home right now, I spent another night out with my friends. I know you haven't texted me back yet and double texting is annoying and so on, but I really need to let this all out right now, I am sorry if it's too much. Earlier I met the person that kicked our whole conversation off, you know, my crush. They were at the event we attended and I ran into them and their partner. It felt horrible and even though I should probably be able to deal with it by now, I'm really not. I remember your words about being sad, but I don't feel as if I should feel sad now, I should move on instead. Being jealous of their partner is stupid because they were never mine to begin with but somehow my heart won't accept it even though it is all my brain talks about. I don't know what to do and it overwhelms me so much, all the thoughts and the what-ifs and I can't get it out of my head no matter how hard I try. I don't know what to do, please help me. I don't who else could do it.

His fingers trembled when he sent the message, but not just from the could. He felt angry at himself for being this weak, for letting something this small affect him. It was none of his business, but somehow knowing both of them made things worse than he thought. He had his suspicions, the confirmation made things harder to accept. Max felt as if someone ripped his heart out and stepped on it as if someone hurt him so badly he would never recover from it. He was lost and had nowhere to go, he could just cling to that last bit of hope now. Somehow Daniel always found the right words to calm him down and helped him to see light in the darkness. No one else understood him in that way, not even Lando who was usually able to communicate with him without any words. 

When he finally got home he went through his usual routine, bland and boring and he stared into the bathroom mirror, looking at his crying self brushing his teeth. There was no way to save anything now, so he just got changed and crawled under the sheets of his bed, his safe haven. His phone lit up with a notification and for a second his heart skipped a beat and the world turned quiet and calm around him.

When he read the message and realized that it was in fact from Charles, with the facts about the New Year's Eve party, he just let out a long sigh and dismissed it. Before going to sleep he checked up on the chat with Daniel again, feeling new tears welling up when he looked at the little symbol confirming that he had read the message without replying. He tried to breathe calmly, maybe he would get a reply later. He shouldn't feel this dependant on a stupid message. He forced himself to put his phone away, closing his eyes and trying to fall asleep. His thoughts got louder and he groaned, annoyed by his own feelings. After trying to finally sleep for at least an hour, Max gave up and went to look for his phone again. Maybe he could find some memes on Instagram to ease his nerves.

Maxy, hearing this hurts. I don't want you to be sad anymore, but I can't change your feelings. It is hard to get over someone you genuinely love but you're strong and I know how hard you are fighting. You are almost there, you just have to believe me. Trust me, Max, I just know you will be fine. It doesn't feel like it right now, but there are better times coming your way. Keep your head up, show them that you're fine without them and accept your feelings. You endure the pain so well, don't tell yourself that what you are experiencing is weak or stupid. I believe in you and I think of you a lot, just see this as my support from afar.

Just hang in there buddy, someone will save you, and if it has to be yourself, that's fine too.

Chapter Text

It was Christmas, the time of the year that somehow always scared Daniel the most. The year was ending soon, which was a realization that hit him every time when he heard the first Christmas songs and had to think about the first presents. Usually, he would fly home to Australia over the holidays to spend a few weeks with his parents and his sister, to soak up some sun and make his friends back in Toronto jealous. This year he would spend Christmas alone, just like some of his friends. Which was a little stupid he had to admit, they could celebrate together after all. 

He was not surprised when he found himself sitting at the counter at Rosie's bar, a beer in front of him and his empty plate long forgotten. It was a tiny bar, consisting of a space that had maybe the size of his living room, and usually, it would be very crowded. It was less busy on Christmas Eve though. Charles worked as a bartender at said location, which was one of the reasons Daniel liked to go there, plus the drinks were cheap for a bar in downtown Toronto and he didn't really know any other bars that were opened during the holidays. Of course, there were a few bigger ones, but he really didn't need too many other lonely people around him. Charles just gave him another drink for free and downed two shots with Daniel before returning to wiping the counter.

The music was not as loud as usual, it would have been awkward with such a little number of people present, but still loud enough to annoy the Australian. He paid Charles with a rather generous tip and went home, not really in the mood to stay up and party until the sun came up again. His walk back to the Harbourfront was not too long and he admired the lights reflecting in the water of the lake as he made his way past it. He was really lucky to live in this area, affording to live right in the heart of downtown Toronto in a spacious apartment with a view on both Lake Ontario and the CN Tower was a real privilege. Daniel saved up enough money from his part-time jobs and putting back money every month to make this dream come true and he definitely did not take it for granted. He was very proud when he first moved in and every time he unlocked the door he was reminded of that moment. He had to admit that the flat was a little too big for one single person, but it was good for hosting parties like the one he planned for New Year's Eve. 

This train of thought brought him back to the one constant in his current life, Max. After the incident at the hockey game, he wasn't too sure about whether his friend would show up or not and Charles didn't receive a text from him, so he couldn't help Daniel to figure it out either. He didn't know why, but the thought of not having Max at the party disappointed him a little bit. He could just wait for news from his friend now and hope to see the student in a few days.

He turned on a movie on Amazon Prime and went to look for some ingredients he needed to bake some cookies. He had to admit that baking cookies on Christmas Eve was probably a little weird, but he decided he didn't really care, it was not a usual Christmas anyways. Baking took his mind off things and even though he wasn't the best at it, he still enjoyed it. When he finally put the baking sheet into the oven his phone screen lit up, signaling him that he just got a new text message. He was quick to set the timer after that, rushing to read it.

Merry Christmas, Daniel. I hope you're having a good day, are you celebrating?

It was not the message from Charles he was hoping for, but it still made him smile. Maybe there were two constants in his life and weirdly enough they both had the same name. He took one more look at the cookies before he returned to the couch, paying attention to the movie he put on earlier for a good five minutes before he tried to reply to his online friend.

Merry Christmas, Maxy! I'm celebrating on my own this year, nothing too fancy. I'm baking some cookies now and watching a movie. Are you doing fine today?

I'm in Mississauga to visit my family for the holidays, but I'll be back in Toronto before New Year's Eve. I missed them and spending time with them is great, I bet you get what I mean. I'm doing okay, it still hurts but especially in times like this being with my family helps me.

I'm glad you get to visit your family, mine lives too far away to simply just go there once in a while, but Mississauga is close enough. I think it is good to realize that you're doing okay without them, it helps you move on. Being happy with the people you love and who love you too is amazing and it can help your mental health a lot (as long as your family is open-minded and so on)... Sorry, I have to take care of my cookies real quick.

As soon as he hit the tiny button that would send his message to Max, Daniel got up and hurried back to the kitchen to take his late-night snack out of the oven, moving around awkwardly to avoid getting hot air in his face and burning any limbs. It was difficult but somehow he managed to do it successfully, letting his amazing work cool down before he put the pastries in a bowl. They smelled just the way cookies were supposed to smell like and surprisingly they didn't look too burned either. Maybe this was Daniel's personal Christmas miracle after all.

The rest of the night was spent watching another movie and devouring the cookies, drinking some tea to calm down and testing Max for a while until he ended up standing outside on the balcony to look at CN Tower and the bright Christmas lights. Even though Daniel was alone he didn't really feel like it, how could someone feel alone in a city with 2.5 million inhabitants?  Especially in his neighborhood that had a bigger population than Monaco it was impossible to feel lonely. There were loads of things to do, bars to go to or parks to enjoy the summer days at, the Harbourfront blossoming with all kinds of people and art Daniel had never seen before. It was exciting and fun to spend the warm days outside to meet new people, which was really not something he was bad at, and even in winter it never got boring. Once more he realized how lucky he was, smiling in the cold as the icy wind ruffled his hair, bringing a few tiny white snowflakes with it. 

Since it's Christmas I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for having you. Sure, the circumstances we met under are a little fucked up, but I'm kind of glad it happened. Sometimes I don't know what to do or where to go, I don't see light at the end of the tunnel, but you're always there to show me the way and keep pushing me until I get there.

It made Daniel smile and he read the message a good ten times, feeling this weird tingle in his stomach. He brushed it off and blamed it on the alcohol Charles allowed him to down earlier, making his way to the bathroom to distract himself with a round of toothbrushing and a hot shower. He didn't waste any time after that, making his way to bed before he could start freezing. When his head hit the pillow he did feel kind of tired, after all, yawning and his eyelids fluttering shut. His thoughts were still with Max and for some reason, he just couldn't fall asleep without replying to him. It was weird, it annoyed him, but he really couldn't help it.

It's good to hear that, usually I'm a little awkward when it comes to comforting people. But if the chaos in my head helps you to deal with your own chaos, then I guess that's enough. I am happy to know you too, by the way.

He wasn't too proud of that message, a little dry and sad and boring, but he knew that Max wouldn't care too much about that. Somehow they were both just happy when the other texted, that fact made Daniel smile a little in the darkness. It felt like being fifteen again, in a way.

Chapter Text

It was 10 pm when Max climbed up the stairs next to Charles, a little nervous with the champagne bottle in his hands, holding onto it tightly as if it could protect him from the party ahead. He agreed kind of last minute to join Daniel's party, unsure whether he would see some familiar faces he would rather avoid. When the door opened though and he looked straight into Daniel's smiling face, all his sorrows were gone in a matter of seconds. He handed over the alcohol and received a hug in return, which probably made his stomach feel warmer than the alcohol could, not that he was complaining.

The party was not too big, only a small group of people gathered in the expensive looking living room. Max was amazed, one part of the window front faced the Harbourfront, the bright lights of the skyscrapers and the tower shining majestically, the other one facing towards the lake, dark and mysterious in the night. Most of the people at the party had familiar faces, Lando was there too, chatting with Carlos, and some were strangers he had never seen before. Daniel introduced him to his other friends, handing him a champagne flute filled with the bubbly beverage while they started talking to Max.

It was not as bad as he had imagined it to be, Nico was there too to save him from unwanted conversations and hand him more alcohol, which was maybe a little irresponsible considering he shouldn't get the younger guests sloshed. At least it helped to make the conversations a little funnier and lighter, next to Max some guy named Lewis made a joke that was not funny at all, but the alcohol pushed that fact out of everyone's minds and made them laugh uncontrollably.

They had dinner together and he sat across Daniel, smiling at the host with red cheeks as they clinked glasses, filled with coke this time instead of alcohol. They shared pizzas and pasta, someone mentioned something about Daniel being Italian, Max didn't really get what was going on. It was still nice, eating together in a big group like that, gathered around the table in the living room, decorated with colorful paper streamers and confetti. They laughed together and reminisced about the year laying behind them, talking about their plans and dreams for the one ahead. Max mostly kept to himself, still engaging in the conversation once in a while, but rather quietly munching on his pasta.

He let his eyes wander around the room, looking into happy faces and bright smiles, until they landed back on Daniel across the table, his eyes glowing in the dimmed light, his smile wide and genuine as he replied to something Lando gave voice to. He looked even more relaxed than usual, at ease and happy. Max felt his face turn hot when Daniel's eyes met his own and he gave him a soft smile before taking another slice of pizza. It was ridiculous.

George was at the party as well, alone this time, which was another thing Max was grateful for. He had to admit that the architecture student was relatively nice to talk to after all, a lot calmer than Lando and apparently really smart as well. It was good to show him how human the guy he felt jealous of was and made the whole situation a little more bearable. He was a great guy and Max had to try very hard not to feel as if he was way better than he was. A better match, a better boyfriend, maybe even a better person. He really shouldn't think like this about himself.

After dinner, they turned on some music, danced in the living room and drank some more alcohol, all in all not a bad end of the decade, Max thought. He needed a break to cool down though, so he left his glass on the kitchen counter and went outside on the balcony, another luxury he marveled at. It was cold outside which helped to clear his thoughts a little and gave his cheeks some time to cool down. He didn't notice how hot and stuffy it got inside the apartment, how dizzy the alcohol and the warmth turned his mind. 

"Hey, are you already fed up?"

Daniel's voice behind him startled Max for a second before he saw him moving next to him to look at the tower rising in the distance. He gently shook his head, not sure whether the older one saw it, so he turned around to look at him properly. He looked soft in the light of the moon and the street lamps, his dark locks loosely hanging in his eyes. 

"I'm glad you decided to come though, I was a little worried after the incident..."

Max took a deep breath and after that, the conversation got easier, they talked about anything that came to their minds, laughing until their stomachs hurt and their hearts felt full. It got a little cold then, Max shivered in the cool air but immediately felt his cheeks burn when Daniel wrapped a blanket from the chair next to them around his shoulders, giving him a charming smile. 

The door opened and alarmed Daniel who took a step back in a matter of seconds, causing a sudden pain to spread through his chest, nothing he could explain. Lando stepped outside, filling the space between Max and Dan. He informed them that it was almost midnight, shooing the host back inside to prepare some things for the countdown. When the door fell shut, he turned back to look at Max, a bright grin on his face.

"I'm sorry for cutting your balcony scene short, Romeo. You look at him the way Charles and Pierre look at each other sometimes and it makes me want to vomit. I mean I'm not better than you guys with the whole crushes thing, but this is kind of sad, I'm not kidding. You should think about it, Maxy. I know you're still not over- you're still a little confused about your own feelings I mean. If you need help or someone to talk you know where you can find me. Any time of the day, we're besties or something after all."

Max didn't reply, but he didn't have to either, it was Lando after all and Lando understood him without any verbal conversation. He just watched as his friend returned to the warm living room, leaving him alone outside with his thoughts. He leaned on the handrail, watching the colors around him change.

Could it be that Lando was actually right? Was he actually developing feelings for his new friend?  They only met occasionally and never really on purpose, they didn't talk much about their lives before the conversation earlier and didn't know too much about each other. Of course, Daniel was kind and charming, always made him laugh and there was no point in denying that he looked handsome, turning heads wherever he went. But a crush? What happened to the whole crying over his rejection thing? He would feel bad for moving on so fast, but for what reason? They never dated and he was the one who got rejected and then there was George. Why should Max not be allowed to find happiness too? He really didn't know what was going on, his heart and mind disagreeing in every aspect possible. There was only one person who could help him, so he fished his phone out of his jean pocket, typing with his cold fingers trembling in the bright light of the display.

I have a problem and I feel like you're the only one who can help me right now, I'm sorry if I'm distracting you from your party. 
So I met this one guy who has the same first name as you weirdly enough. We have only met for a few times so far and we never texted or anything, but I feel as if I might have a crush on him. I know, I literally confessed to someone else like a month ago, but there's just this weird connection I can't explain. I don't know much about him and I feel a little bad for moving on so fast, but I can't help it. I'm so confused, I don't know what to do about it.

When he sent his message, a paragraph appeared under it and he was surprised, he didn't see the other user type. When he started reading the message though, his heart sank and a terrible, terrible feeling filled his stomach, making him feel sick and bringing tears to his eyes. He felt horrible as if he was stuck in a nightmare, it just couldn't be true.

This couldn't be happening to him right now.

Chapter Text

Hey Maxy, I know this might sound weird and awkward, but you know, it's New Year's Eve and you shouldn't start the year with doubt and incompleteness. I'm sorry this is a little unexpected and not very well thought through, the wording not the message itself, but I think I should be honest, no matter the outcome.
The thing is, over the past weeks we got to know each other pretty well I think and there is just this weird bond I can't really explain. I'm happy whenever you text me and I freak out about not knowing how to reply, I try to distract myself from my phone so I won't go crazy waiting for your replies. Somehow, I think the message that started off our conversation is now becoming the one I'm sending you. I feel as if this interaction is becoming just a little bit too serious, at least to me. What I am trying to say is that I have a crush on you, kind of. I can't explain it and I know that this is probably not going anywhere anytime soon, but I just felt as if I had to tell you about it. I understand if you need some time to deal with this and figure your own feelings out, I understand that you might not want to continue talking for a while or maybe forever, it's pretty stupid after all. I'm just glad that I got to make your acquaintance, no matter how this will turn out.

Oh

I'm happy for you Max, you need to tell me about him! 

Daniel bit his lip when he read the incoming message, tears burning in his eyes as the words repeated in his head over and over again like a loop on a record. He felt as if he was in a trance, not really taking notice of Lewis shaking his shoulder gently. Regret filled his head, maybe he really shouldn't have done this, it was silly, stupid, absurd, self-inflicted pain. He shook his head to come back to reality.

"You have five more minutes to snap out of whatever is going with you right now, Daniel. I don't know what's wrong, I can't help you, but it would be bad to end the year in a sad mood, right?"

Lewis was right and when he saw Nico's worried look from across the room he sighed and put the phone down to prepare the champagne for the countdown. George and Lando were trying to set up their countdown on the flatscreen while Lewis prepared some more snacks, laughing when Carlos almost dropped the Bluetooth speaker, scaring Charles and Pierre in the process. Looking at it from that perspective now comforted him, all his friends gathered in the area around the couch, happy and carefree, gentle smiles and eyes full of love filling the room. He was grateful to have them all in his life to light up the dark times and give him new reasons to smile every day. He really had the best friends he could ever ask for.

He smiled and watched them for another minute before they all got up, each grabbing a glass and gathering around the screen to start counting. Max had also returned to the group, standing next to Daniel with a glass of his own. They gave each other an equally weak smile before turning back to the changing numbers on the screen. Lando was already jumping around in excitement, which made Max cringe visibly, somehow he seemed to feel responsible for his immature friend, who stopped jumping when Carlos tried to calm him down.

Ten seconds to go.

Daniel felt weird, the year passed by in the blink of his eyes, a year full of emotions, new friends and memories he would cherish for a long time. He didn't feel ready for a new decade yet, trying to hold onto this part of his life that would be over in just a few seconds. He couldn't stop the time from running out and it made him feel small and helpless.

Nine seconds to go.

Nico was the first and loudest to say the number, grinning and humming with excitement. He had a successful year, balancing a healthy relationship with an unhealthy amount of work while also mothering his employee and his younger friends. Daniel was glad that he would be spending another year working at his friend's side and sharing secrets, dreams and anxieties with each other. There were many fun moments to come and hard work days, quiet dinners and shared salads during lunch break and somehow, he could barely wait for all those things to happen.

Eight seconds to go.

Charles smiled at him, his arm wrapped around Pierre's shoulder and his eyes bright in the dimmed light. He had another year of university ahead of him, late-night art projects, exhibitions and screenprinting tote bags no one needed. Looking at him now, happy and full of love, Daniel was psyched for him and he would definitely be there to support his friend and his talent, through all problems and desperation university would bring to his life. And maybe, if he had to, he would break Pierre's neck, not that he was actually wanting to do that, he seemed like a good guy.

Seven seconds to go.

George was handing one of the glasses he was holding to Lando, joking about giving him apple spritzer instead. Daniel met him a few years before when they met in the bar Charles was working at. Dan had only just dropped out of university and met the then eighteen year old celebrating getting into his desired program. It was ironic and they bonded over that, getting along well. He just recently started dating some dude Daniel couldn't remember the name of, but he joined them for their annual Leafs game and seemed to be kind, so that was good enough. George was surprisingly happy and content with his workload, never late to hand in assignments and dealing well with the stress, Daniel could only hope that he would keep up the spirit in the next year.

Six seconds to go.

Lando rolled his eyes in annoyance at the comment, still leaning down to nose at the glass, scrunching his nose at the smell of alcohol. He wasn't someone Daniel was too familiar with, Max's best friend and apparently the one person connecting the students present. He was the kid of the group, always acting like a bratty five-year-old and Nico loved him for that. He had a weird obsession with Carlos though, always following him when he was around, like a lost puppy. He seemed to know everything about everyone and he also knew how to cheer the people around him up, which was something Daniel admired, although he wasn't too bad at that either. He would probably spend the next year studying and trying to survive it while entertaining his friends. Maybe Dan could get to know him better, too.

Five.

Carlos was busy laughing at Lando's weird expression, gently patting his shoulder and giving him a warm smile. It was cute to watch, kind of at least, and the way Carlos just managed to make everyone around him feel comfortable matched Lando's skills perfectly. They originally met through Nico who grew up with Carlos in Scarborough and frequently brought coffee from his shop. He was a genuinely nice guy, always happy and cheerful, kind and calm when others were completely freaking out. He was successful with his work, pursuing his passion and talent of making coffee every day of his life and never getting tired of it. 2020 would be another year of satisfied customers and people frequently returning to enjoy the aesthetic atmosphere and the good vibes at the coffee shop, Daniel being one of them.

Four.

Lewis took a short video of the people around him, cheering and smiling. He had a rough year and seemed to be relieved for it to be finally over, putting an end to stress and pain, getting a fresh start. Daniel was good friends with him, but not one of those that you are emotionally attached to, just one of those you joke around with and talk about random things. He only knew what Nico told him about Lewis, really, but maybe he would get to know him better the following year. 

Three.

Charles blushed when Pierre wrapped an arm around his waist, apparently something nothing except for Daniel noticed. The older student looked happy and somewhat exhausted, not as loud and cheerful as usual. He seemed more gentle and calm, maybe it was the alcohol. Daniel only got to know him a few months ago when Charles first started talking about him nonstop, but from what he knew about him he was a fun guy to be around. He worked at the coffee shop and studied film, he was hardworking and creative and successful with the short films and videos he produced. Daniel got to see some of them and it was impressing what a kid with a camera could do and probably would continue doing in the next year.

Two.

Speaking of a kid with a camera, Max was still standing next to Daniel, his champagne glass in a tight grip. He seemed a little lost in his thoughts, but there was a small smile decorating his face. They only met occasionally, still considered each other friends and Daniel could only hope to get to know him even better in the next year. He seemed tense and anxious and for some unknown reason the older male reached out to gently grab his hand, squeezing it in an attempt to comfort the student. The new year had good things in store for him, Daniel could feel it.

One.

That was it, the end of a year, a decade and the end of a part of Daniel's life. He made and lost friends, moved to Canada and started following his heart and his dreams and now he was here, surrounded by people he loved and cared for and it almost made him cry, overwhelmed by the feelings spreading in his chest. He finally found his home, far away from his family, with his own family.

Everyone around him started cheering, clinking glasses and hugging each other and he joined in, giving in to the happy feelings and the hope that filled the room. The champagne bubbled in his throat, warmed his stomach and then he felt his phone vibrate.

Happy New Year, Danny!

He smiled and started typing as well, humming when Max came over to put his glass on the counter, giving him an unsure smile.

Happy New Year, Maxy, I wish you all the best!

And then, Max's phone vibrated in his hand, the screen lighting up with a new message coming in.

Chapter Text

It was the second time this night Max felt this weird, as if someone put his life in slow motion and blurred the sounds around him. It took his tired and slightly drunk brain cells a little while until he figured it out, but by then Daniel had already started talking, pointing out the obvious with a mixture of confusion and excitement.

"So let me get this straight. I thought I was texting some random dude and now it turns out that you are actually the same Max I've been talking to on the phone the whole time? I thought I was going crazy because you always seemed so familiar. But wouldn't that mean, or wouldn't it be possible at least, that I am your other Daniel as well? Because if that would be the case-"

"Then there wouldn't be anything straight about it, really", Max interrupted him, nodding and sighing quietly. The whole confusion made his head hurt, or maybe it was just the alcohol, he wasn't sure. Neither of them dared to speak then, just looking at each other for a while before Daniel's laughter filled the kitchen area, startling the student. He wasn't even remotely as relaxed right now, mostly confused and unsure, maybe even a little scared. What would that coincidence change about their relationship and their separate lives? Technically speaking it already changed a few things, but this was a little more important than the happenings before. Because technically speaking they just confessed their crushes to each other, which was a pretty big deal usually. But technically speaking they were respectively crushing on just one of two parts of a whole person or something crazy like that, it didn't really make any sense. Max should stop speaking technically, or thinking for that matter. At least he hoped that he didn't say any of this out loud. 

"We will figure it out, Maxy. We have the whole year in front of us, a whole 366 days to deal with this. We even got a spare day, so it will be okay, don't worry."

Daniel was probably right, there was no reason to be scared of it or overthink the situation, they were both equally confused anyways. "We will figure it out, somehow", he repeated as if it comforted him.

"Together, Max."

"That's great and all, but I'd really like to go home soon and I can't do that without saying goodbye to the host, so could you please hurry up?", George asked behind Max, without a warning and it made the other student jump in surprise. Why was everyone trying to scare him the whole evening? After the shock wore off he remembered his good manners and politely held his hand out to George to see him off, but the architecture student rolled his eyes and hugged Max instead, which was not something he expected if he was being completely honest. He did the same thing with Daniel and left the scene afterward, setting off an avalanche of guests going home apparently. Max and Lando were the last to leave and the hug Daniel gave him was awkward, to say the least, but they smiled at each other one last time before the door closed.

"You have to tell me everything", Lando said like a shot once they stood outside on the sidewalk, not leaving any room for protest. So Max sighed and started talking, repeating the story until his throat felt dry and itchy and they're standing in front of the dorm building. The younger student didn't believe anything his friend told him, even after he said the exact same things three more times. He was desperate and close to giving up, not willing to fight over this with Lando, especially since he knew he wasn't lying. There was nothing worse than fighting with a best friend, but speaking the truth and having the counterpart not believe a single thing was pretty close to that position. 

Since Max didn't really get rid of Lando he just opened the infamous chat on his phone and handed it to him without a word before disappearing to the bathroom to get ready for bed. There was this silent agreement that the younger would stay the night, so he could just read the embarrassing messages if he wouldn't believe Max. Deep down he wanted his friend to feel sorry for not believing him, but now that he was standing in front of the mirror, looking at his own reflection with pale skin and messy hair in the wan light, a toothbrush between his lips and a glimmer of tiredness hooding his usually bright eyes, he couldn't really believe it himself and he probably wouldn't do it if someone told that story to him either. It really made no sense and it was too weird to be a coincidence, things like that just didn't happen in real life, except now they did and Max was caught up in the whole fustercluck as if he was the main character in some bad romance novel.

"I am so sorry for not believing you, Max. It's still hard to understand, honestly. And you're sure it's just a coincidence?"

Max just shrugged, not really sure about the answer. Daniel seemed just as surprised earlier, but somehow the student sensed that there was more to it than they both knew. He snapped out of his thoughts when Lando returned to the bed ten minutes later nudging his friend to move over to make some space for the younger to lay down. They wiggled around until they were finally comfortable, Lando's head resting on Max's chest like usually. It was quiet in the dark room then, neither of them saying a word. Sometimes the blanket would rustle when Lando readjusted his head, but that was about it. The younger student soon fell asleep, the alcohol speeding up the process. His breath was even and calm in the darkness and it weirdly comforted Max, whose thoughts were overwhelming him at that exact moment.

Millions of questions flooded his mind and made the process of falling asleep way harder than it should be at that time of the day after consuming alcohol and experiencing so many things, meeting new people and partying should've been more tiring than this. He couldn't keep his eyes closed for longer than a minute or two, so he sighed and grabbed his phone to check the time and set an alarm, which was something he totally forgot about earlier, so they could get up at a decent time the next day. Right before he wanted to put it back down a notification caught his eyes and conjuring a smile on his face.

Good night and sleep well, Maxy. Thank you for the nice evening.

Good Night, Danny. I'm glad I decided to come!

And Max's statement was in fact not a lie. This night brought him one step closer to the truth and he decided that no matter how bad it might be, he always had Daniel by his side and they would deal with it together because that's what friends did.

Because that's what people did for the ones holding a special place in their hearts.

Chapter Text

Daniel's hands trembled when he sat inside the familiar café, the warmth and the smell of coffee doing nothing to soothe his nerves like usually. He cursed himself quietly, whether it was for being nervous or inviting Max out for a coffee date he really didn't know, before Carlos walked over to him with a shit-eating grin on his face and a cup of hot tea in his hand, which he carefully placed in front of his friend on the table near the window. The older one benevolently ignored the shop owner's advice to keep calm and rather focussed on the door that opened at that moment, shooing Carlos away as to not alarm the student.

He had to admit that he looked pretty cute like this, his hair covered in tiny snowflakes, melting now that he entered the coffee shop, his nose red from the cold and a smile on his face as soon as he spotted Daniel sitting at the same table they met at the last time. When he arrived at their table Dan got up and hugged him, they really had to practice the whole awkward greetings thing a bit, helping him out of his jacket, because that's what a gentleman did. Especially since he would probably get scolded by his mom for not doing it if she ever found out. They sat down on their respective sides of the table and Daniel gently pushed one of the cups in the younger male's direction, clearing his throat before he trusted himself to speak.

"I just asked Carlos for your usual order, I hope that's okay. Actually, I hope that it's not cold yet, I was a little bit early", he explained, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment, realizing that this probably counted as information that would give off a weird impression. Max assured him that it was fine for at least three times before they actually tried their drinks, blowing at the hot beverages before daring to take a careful sip as to not burn their tongues. The student was a little less careful, apparently not able to avoid the hot burn in his mouth, wincing as his eyes started to water from the pain and shock. Daniel was worried at first, but it took barely a few seconds before they laughed about it together and it seemingly helped both of them to grow a little more comfortable around the other.

Max took out his phone after a while to take some more photos of his counterpart and Daniel felt his neck grow hot for a second when he justified his actions by murmuring something about him looking cute in the afternoon sun that was starting to disappear behind the nearby buildings. 

They ordered new cups of tea, Max swore he couldn't drink any more coffee if he wanted to sleep that night, and Carlos was kind enough to give them a slice of cake for free with another teasing smile in Daniel's direction. The two of them ended up sharing the cake, laughing at the ridiculousness of Daniel feeding Max with pieces of it, cheeks red and unable to stay serious for longer than a second. It was adorable though, the way the student tried to lick the icing off his face that landed on his nose by accident when the older one held the fork in front of his face and made Max laugh. In the end, he wiped it off with his hand, rolling his eyes when Daniel complained about wanting to take a picture of it. 

Daniel was a little scared when the whole situation cleared up at first, unsure how it was supposed to work out now that they both kind of had to deal with the "I have a crush on you but not really"-situation. It took a few long late-night talks on the phone with Charles, who continuously whined about his friend ruining his New Year's resolution of sleeping earlier, which, if he was honest, wouldn't have worked out anyway, before the Australian finally asked Max to meet up. As in, going on a coffee date, they both knew it was supposed to be one at least. If he was looking at it now it really didn't feel like one of those uptight dates that consisted of small talk and nothing else, it was more like meeting up with an old friend and catching up after not seeing each other for a long time.

It felt comfortable, sitting in their favorite coffee shop with good company, laughing about the little things and talking about their favorite cake flavors. Daniel didn't even know why he was scared in the first place, it wasn't like they never met before, like they never drank coffee together. They literally met every week before that and spent quite some time together, it was stupid to feel this way. But maybe it was because they suddenly put a label on it, called it a date and were well aware of each other's feelings. 

At least Daniel didn't try too hard to impress the student sitting across from him, it was a little late for that at this point anyways, but he knew that he could just be himself around the younger and that alone lifted a massive weight off his shoulders. It was easier to talk about private topics and feelings with him and even though they were quite different it worked well and they really clicked right away when they first met at the record shop. It was at moments like this one that the older one was thankful for working with Nico. And for knowing Charles and his love for vinyl. And for Lando's Secret Santa. And for Max and his wrong message and for drawing the art student.

He was thankful for this number of coincidences and decisions that led him to sit in the quiet coffee shop somewhere in Toronto with the most beautiful boy he could imagine sitting right there with him, laughing at some dumb joke he just made.

Chapter Text

The worst thing about the start of a new year was going back to school, in Max's opinion. The days started to get longer again but he couldn't really use the afternoons to spend, too occupied by assignments and work he had to do in order to keep his grade up. He spent most of his days in his room or with Lando in the library, studying until he was too tired to keep his eyes open any longer. Daniel sent him at least twenty messages every day to motivate him or simply just to make him smile on a particularly bad day. 

It was just another one of those days where Max didn't want to get up, groaning at his alarm when it forced him to leave his dreams behind and start the day. It was cool in his room and the temperature made him shiver when he lifted the blanket. He hurried up a little then, getting dressed being his top priority to banish the cold before he rushed through the rest of his routine. He checked his phone, smiling at the message Daniel sent him just ten minutes earlier. It gave him some more energy and he felt as if he was finally fully awake.

With a coffee from his favorite shop in hand, he headed to his first lecture, a soft smile on his face and the positive feelings still running through his veins. It was the positive side effect of having a crush, that constant high and a good reason to survive the day. Max tried to focus on his class, keeping that thought in mind and taking a sip of his coffee once in a while. A new message appeared on the screen of his laptop, a reminder from Daniel to focus and take notes, and it made him chuckle quietly, his ever judging seatmate giving him a weird look for it. 

He didn't need any New Year's resolutions to be a better person, he just needed a little help from Daniel.

Said Australian once again saved the day a few hours later when Max as sitting in the library, as usual, sharing a table with Lando but both of them focusing on their own work rather than talking and studying together. He was typing away on his laptop, his earphones entertaining him with soothing music as he filled the document in front of him with words that hopefully made sense later. Lando was trying to figure out something about an editing software with the help of a guide book he bought with his Christmas money, his brows furrowed as he flipped through the pages with a concentrated frown. Max had to admit that he felt way more productive this year so far, planning out his day a little bit better, doing more work and actually putting effort and focus into achieving better grades.

Once again he got distracted from a message popping up and he put on a frown himself when he read the request on his screen, but he shrugged and got up, catching Lando's attention and receiving a questioning look. He explained what was going on, thanking his friend for watching his stuff while he was gone and hurrying to get out of the stuffy building. He put on his jacket while walking, pushing the doors open with his elbow before he ran down the stairs. Excitement filled his body as he walked down the street and he couldn't help but smile widely when he was finally able to make out the familiar sign in front of him.

It was quiet inside the record shop, nothing unusual, but as soon as the doorbell rang a mop of dark hair appeared behind the boxes of the counter and Max laughed at the bright smile in front of him. He took off the beanie he was wearing that day and put it down next to the boxes, unzipping his jacket so he wouldn't feel cold when he left later. „What was so urgent that you needed me to come over now? I was busy too, you ruin my workflow“, the student joked while sitting down on a chair Daniel placed in front of him, watching him as he started rummaging around for a while until he joined Max with a chair and a box in his hand.

"It's a lunch date, Maxy. I know you haven't eaten anything since breakfast, so I'm forcing you to do so now. I hope you like pasta."
The younger male was a little bit taken aback at first, but he did feel kind of hungry when Daniel handed a fork to him before opening the food container, placing in on the counter between them. There was a pleasant tingle in Max's body when their knees touched, neither of them making any effort to move away. 

"Do I have to feed you again or will you eat now?", Daniel asked after swallowing his first bite, grinning when a blush spread on Max's cheeks. The student frantically shook his head and carefully picked some of the pasta up, chewing it slowly before nodding as if to say "not bad", which made his counterpart roll his eyes, smiling with a mouth full of food, making him look like a ruffled hamster; Max really tried not to coo at the sight. It was quiet then, both of them contently munching on their shared lunch, looking up occasionally to smile at each other, silently communicating.

Nico was either not at the shop or kind enough to leave them alone, Max really didn't know, but he decided not to care too much as long as they were able to finish their lunch in peace. Daniel ended up picking up the last pasta left in the container, holding it in front of the student's face with a challenging smile, somehow causing Max's cheeks to grow hot again. The younger one tried to force his awkwardness away though, leaning forward to enjoy the last bite that was offered to him, pleased with the surprise written all over Daniel's face, he was not expecting the student to play along with him.

They talked a while longer until a call interrupted their conversation, Daniel went to pick up the phone while Max checked his own, spammed by Lando's messages asking about when he was planning on coming back and whether he got kidnapped, which made him realize that he's been away for more than an hour by then. He decided to put the chairs back to their original locations, putting his jacket on and waiting for the employee to return.

"It was Nico, he wants me to continue working", he explained with a low chuckle that almost made Max's heart melt before silence settled in the room. They didn't really want to part ways yet, but in the en,d they had to, hugging each other and Daniel laughing at the angry glare he received for ruffling the student's hair. Max really had to hurry up then, not wanting to leave Lando alone any longer, and so he waved goodbye one last time before leaving the store and returning to the hellhole people called a library, not able to leave his smartphone alone much longer.

Thank you for the lunch date, I enjoyed it!

Oh, so you agree that it was a date?

Whatever, idiot.

I'm just teasing you, Maxy. I'm glad you liked it, time to plan the next one!

If Max was being quite honest, he couldn't wait.

Chapter Text

Max was running late.

Daniel wasn't complaining, really. Everyone could be late, maybe he walked or the traffic was bad, it was winter after all. He was not someone to wait at the doorstep as soon as the clock hit the agreed time, but at that moment he was anxiously pacing around his apartment. He was starting to doubt himself, slightly cringing at his own ideas. What exactly was he thinking when he came up with his plan for the night?

It was too late to overthink the situation though, the doorbell suggesting that he might want to let his guest inside. He took a deep breath before he unlocked his front door and waited for Max to walk up the stairs. He managed to put on a smile that grew a lot more comfortable and genuine when he saw the student walking up to his door with a grin on his lips and a backpack slung across one shoulder, his nose once again colored in a familiar red, indicating that winter would stay for another while. His eyes mirrored Daniel's excitement when his cold arms briefly wrapped around the older one's neck, at least that was something they could somehow do by now without awkward movements. 

Daniel closed the door behind Max and relieved him of his jacket, placing it neatly next to his own ones on the rack. The student was quick to kick off his shoes, carefully placing his backpack on the ground before he followed his host into the living room. Despite the temperature not being too high in the room, Daniel felt his neck grow hot when it was time for him to explain his plan for the evening. He tried to ignore it, giving Max a bright smile before he started talking.

"Today we will eat pizza on the couch and watch whatever you want, you deserved it after your long week. I know, that's not a really romantic date but-"

"I still love it, it's beautiful. Thank you, Daniel", Max interrupted him, a soft smile on his lips and he grabbed the older one's hand, which definitely did not make his whole arm tingle, obviously not, gently dragging him towards the white sofa. The flatscreen was already turned on and Daniel swore he never blushed before in his life, but he couldn't help it now that Max's eyes lit up, happiness written all over his face before he kissed Dan's cheek, not commenting on that and instead sitting down on the soft cushions. His features looked soft in the candlelight, Daniel had tried really hard to find some candles in his apartment to make it cozy, the smile still not leaving his face, his blue eyes reflecting the golden flames.

He looked beautiful, he really did. That's a thought Dan feverishly wanted to keep for himself, leaving to get the pizza from the kitchen. It was not like it was illegal to think that, it was not a lie either, but it was still a thought he was not used to yet, even though it probably was somewhere in the back of his mind the whole time. He carefully sat down next to Max, close enough for their thighs to touch, placing the pizza box on his own legs, feeling the heat radiating from it and warming his knee.

Max chose some weird romantic comedy, quietly chuckling at the jokes while munching on his pizza slice. It was not a typical date, they could've gone to the cinema or to a restaurant, but sitting on his sofa with the student's head resting on his shoulder as soon as he put the empty box away felt better than any other date he could've planned.

He was not really running out of ideas, but Daniel really didn't want the younger male to grow tired of him, so he tried his best to make him happy with the things he came up with. Apparently, he was successful with that, judging from the way the younger one hummed contently and gently traced circles on Dan's knee with one finger, absentmindedly enjoying the physical contact. It was comfortable like that, sitting next to each other in the quiet of the apartment, shadows dancing across their faces when the candlelight guttered. They didn't talk, just listened to the main character in the movie holding a monolog as Daniel carefully caught Max's fingers on his knee to link them together with his own ones.

It made his stomach churn, the innocent touch of their digits intertwined as if it was no big deal, not even worth a look or any kind of reaction like an everyday thing. To him, it still felt important and big and special, it was just the effect Max started to have on him. When he felt his grab tighten around his hand he couldn't help but smile, eyes still glued to the screen.

The credits of the movie started rolling a while later and Daniel chuckled at Max's tired sigh next to him, the way he turned his head closer to Daniel to hide away from the bright lights. It was enough to indicate that it was time to go to sleep then before the younger one would do it on his shoulder now. The Australian gently nudged the student to get him to move, turning off the tv before he carefully removed Max's head from his shoulder to get up and clean the living room a little.

A discussion on where the student wanted to sleep and twenty minutes of getting ready later, they found themselves in bed, looking at each other in the dark with content and tired smiles on their faces. It's another one of those awkward moments if one considered the gap between them, but Daniel didn't want to let his guest sleep on the couch, only convincing him to sleep in an actual bed after he agreed to not sleep on the couch either. It was the perfect mess, really, how could a mess not be perfect if it involved Max, after all?

He felt his limbs growing heavy, exhausted from the week at work and his eyes falling shut more often. Max was already drifting off, whispering a good night and snuggling more into his blanket. It looked quite cute Daniel had to admit, smiling once more before he himself started falling asleep, his heartbeat finally calming down and his breaths evening out after giving him a hard time around the student all night. 

When he felt Max's hand reaching out for his own in the dark, he knew that he had nothing to worry about.

Chapter Text

It was the sunlight tickling his nose that woke him up the next morning, filtering through the curtains and bathing the room in a soft glow. Max needed a few seconds to figure out where he was and he felt his cheeks grow hot when he eventually did, burying his face in the blanket and sighing quietly. It wasn't particularly weird and it shouldn't feel like it either, there was no need to fuss about it he thought and it comforted him slightly.

When he looked back up he took his time to get used to the light, realizing that Daniel was still asleep next to him and breathing just loud enough for Max to hear. He looked peaceful, his hair ruffled and loosely resting on the pillow, his face lacking the usual bright smile but still radiating positive energy and warmth somehow. It was almost too much for Max's heart, so he rolled on his back to face the ceiling instead, the thoughts and questions filling his head and making his stomach feel weird.

Doubt. It was the main thing on his mind, the feeling of uncertainty, the what-ifs, his insecurities and indecision loud and scary. He felt guilty for falling out of love so quickly, he didn't want to look like he was just desperate for someone to hold onto, like it was nothing serious to him. When did he start to care about what other people thought of him? Then again, how could he be so sure about his feelings? The last time he read at least fifty articles online about "20 signs you're in love" and similar shenanigans before he kind of figured that researching this was probably the biggest sign of all. He felt scared and jittery when he sent the message that brought them to the current situation, way more nervous than when he told Daniel about his crush. A crush, that's what he called it two weeks ago and he was pretty sure that he couldn't change his mind that quickly.

He didn't want Daniel to be nothing more than a stupid crush though, he really didn't. He felt determined to make this work somehow and to him, it felt like this was the confirmation he needed. Max shouldn't feel guilty for moving on, there was no real reason for him to do so after all, and he felt happy like that, content when he looked at the sleeping Australian laying next to him. Wasn't that the only thing that mattered? Besides Daniel's own feelings, obviously.

And even if he was sure, what if the Australian wasn't? What if he decided that this Max was not the one he wanted?  What if this was the last time they spent their time together? If he would get ghosted once more?

Max was unsure whether he really put his recent heartbreak behind himself already, but he rarely thought about it these days, only when someone reminded him of it. He felt genuinely happy most of the time, especially when he got to spend his time with Daniel. The voice in the back of his head was still trying to convince him of the opposite and he knew that it would probably always be there, but he had no desire to pinch George's boyfriend any time soon, never, really.

He was finally able to calm his mind down a little, turning back to face Daniel, who was still fast asleep and apparently rolled over to lay on his back while Max was busy contemplating life in the same position. It made him chuckle quietly, a barely audible noise in the security of the white walls around him. Looking at Dan now made him feel a little ashamed for being stupid.

There was no way for Max not to be in love with him.

The weird feeling in his chest returned, making it hard to breathe and he could feel his heart beating faster than before, for what reason he really didn't know, but it probably had something to do with the realization hitting him. It was crazy if he thought about it, the way looking at a person could mess him up and make his chest ache. Somehow he still liked it, this was a positive sign after all.

Max sighed quietly, carefully moving closer to Daniel and resting his head on his shoulder. Maybe it was a stupid thing to do, but at that moment it just felt right and he could worry about it later. He grabbed the corner of his blanket to pull it higher in order to feel less cold, although Dan probably radiated enough body heat for both of them. 

Laying there like this should probably feel uncomfortable, but Max didn't feel like complaining about it, snuggling closer to Daniel and closing his eyes to rest some more before he had to leave that position. It didn't take too long, the feeling of security slowly lulling him to sleep.

The next time he woke up he was still in the same position, his hand resting on Daniel's chest and feeling the uneven movement, indicating that the older one was awake now. He blinked a few times to clear his vision and yawned, catching the Australian's attention and giving him a tired smile. They didn't say anything then, just gazing into each other's eyes and smiling like idiots. It made Max's stomach tingle when he felt Daniel's arm wrap around his waist to hold him close and he hid his face on the older male's shoulder to cover up the faint blush on his cheeks.

He could get used to that, the low chuckle he received for his actions, Dan's voice still a little raspy after just waking up, the way his lips felt against Max's temple. It was perfect as if the world clicked into place and the planets aligned or some weird sappy stuff like that, overwhelming the student with positive feelings. He never wanted to get up, just continue to lie there forever, feeling happy and secure and just right. Just him and Daniel, that's all he wanted.

A tingling sensation spread through his body and caused goosebumps to appear on his skin when Daniel started playing with his hair, gently running his fingers through the mess on top of Max's head. The student really couldn't remember the last time he felt that comfortable and at ease around someone who's not Lando and the way Dan treated him, gentle and careful and sweet, always considerate of how Max was feeling and what he was thinking of him, made it almost impossible not to fall in love with him.

When he got up later, kissing Max's forehead and instructing him to stay in bed to wait for breakfast before leaving the room and humming on his way to the kitchen, the student was sure that it was definitely impossible, inevitable in the best way.

He didn't even know why he doubted it in the first place.

Chapter Text

The apartment felt even more quiet without Max now, especially in the evenings when the sky turned black and the red light from the tower and the white one from the street lights illuminating the living room with soft light. Daniel never felt particularly lonely in this flat or in the city in general, not even when he first moved there, but during evenings like this he sometimes considered it, a feeling he couldn't really match filling his chest when he sat on his sofa with a plate of pasta resting on his crossed legs. The tv wasn't enough to drown out that thought anymore, the background noise not even comforting anymore, so he usually left it turned off.

January was a busy month, both at work for him and at school for Max and his friends, so they rarely got the chance to meet up, the student was usually too tired on Friday nights and already returned to studying on Saturday mornings before Daniel even got the chance to make plans. It was fine, not something that should cause him to feel hurt, because school and education were always the highest priority in life, after mental health.

Max didn't seem to struggle too hard with keeping up in university, always handing in assignments on time, after pulling all nighters once in a while to be fair, doing his work and actually understanding what he was talking about, or more importantly what his professors were talking about. Sure, he wasn't George the model student, but also not Charles who started looking for his paint tubes an hour before he had to hand in a row of ten paintings. Daniel still made sure to look out for him and force him to take breaks, usually by calling him to make sure he actually couldn't continue studying and Max never dared to hang up on him or ignore his calls. It was kind of a win-win situation, he got to talk to the student that way while also granting him a break from staring at the flashcards on his laptop for hours.

They met once in the past two weeks, on accident, when Daniel went grocery shopping with a friend and ran into Max who was looking for instant noodles. They didn't talk for long, there was barely time for a hug, before they both continued with their own shopping trips and the Australian swore he wasn't going to hear the end of it anytime soon when he saw Jean-Eric wiggling his eyebrows after the interaction was over. Daniel pretended that nothing had happened, suddenly reading all kinds of weird food names out loud and he definitely ignored the way his hands trembled when he tried to pick out the right milk.

He started visiting the coffee shop more regularly, to the delight of Carlos, although he always stuck to tea instead of the coffeine kick. He tried all kinds of cake and started to talk to Pierre sometimes when the boss was not around to chatter, most of the times their subject was Charles. He even met Lando once during that time, just smiling at him when their eyes met and he could've sworn that he didn't see him pay for his drink when Carlos handed it to him, even without a gift card. He just lifted an eyebrow at that, earning a chuckle from Pierre and he decided to focus on his tea instead of snooping around other people's relationships. If it was to avoid thinking back to the Christmas party no one had to know.

Somehow he managed to invite Jean-Eric over once in a while, every two to three day if he was being honest, and it felt good to spend some time with a friend. At first he thought it was better than spending the evenings alone at least, but they never seemed to run out of topics to talk about and if they did, Jev started talking about his cat, which was enough of a motivation for Daniel to find a new topic of conversation. They cooked dinner together, it was kind of a desaster, ate it on the sofa while crying over some bad romantic movie, Daniel was pretty sure it was only Jean-Eric who cried, and then spent at least an hour arguing about who had to do the dishes, they just had to place them in the dishwasher and turn it on and it shouldn't be so hard to do it but neither of them was willing to accidentally touch food residues on the plates, and then Jev would go home and thank his friend for the great time. Sometimes Daniel would feel bad for occupying his time, he had a boyfriend to spend his time with after all, and so did he, kind of at least, but Jean-Eric told him that it was okay for at least a million times. It wasn't really convincing.

It was another hectic afternoon when Daniel entered the oh so familiar coffee shop, tired and drained from the long week of working and enduring Nico's rants about completely irrelevant topics. He didn't really pay attention to this surroundings, heading straight for his usual bar chair. Pierre didn't say much then, noticing the weird mood the Australian was in, and just placed a cup of hot tea in front of him. It was soothing, the smell and the hot steam enough to calm his nerves even before Daniel took a careful sip, pleasantly surprised when he didn't burn his tongue. He didn't eat any cake that day, just scrolled through his phone while drinking his tea, the mumble of the people around him turning into the background noise he missed so much as he started to relax, unwinding after his last day of work for that week. He almost jumped when someone tapped his shoulder, sitting down next to him.

"Hey, you're Daniel, right? We met at the hockey game."

It took him a second to process the information before he recognized the familiar face next to him, smiling softly and looking way too cheerful for a Friday afternoon. It was George's boyfriend, the one he didn't bring to the party, although Daniel highly doubted that there was more than one, really. He gently shook his head to get rid of that thought, focussing on the situation at hand again. He managed to nod then, taking another sip of the hot beverage Pierre handed him earlier. He remembered to ask the other male what he was doing at the coffee shop, considering that he didn't make a move to order anything. He received an amused smile as an answer before the other one spoke up again.

"I wanted to meet up with an old friend, I'll wait for them before I order anything so it won't turn cold before they get here", he explained and it reminded Daniel of past coffee dates. Apparently, he was smarter than the Australian in that aspect. They talked for a while and the conversation they had, even though it wasn't a very deep one, was enough for Daniel to understand George, in a way. His boyfriend seemed to be a smart guy, polite and kind, treating the people around him with respect and care. He also noticed how the guy checked his watch every once in a while, probably growing a little nervous as his friend still hadn't arrived yet.

Dan grew a little suspicious when he asked about the friend and only got some vague information. Apparently they met at university and then lost touch all of a sudden, somehow managing to get some contact information so that they could meet up now. He seemed genuienly happy about that, although the way he grew more nervous with every passing second was kind of weird. The Australian decided to ignore it so he wouldn't make the student feel sorry, he kind of understood how he was feeling after all. He emptied his tea cup and paid Pierre with a smile on his lips and he was not sure whether it was relief he spotted on the face of his counterpart.

They said their goodbyes, promising to see each other soon, probably in the safety of their friend group, and Daniel took his time with putting on his jacket, checking whether he had all his stuff before he felt ready to leave. He received a forced smile for that, it was truly strange. Barely a few seconds later realization hit him when the door of the shop opened and-

"Daniel?"

"Max? What are you doing here?" He was genuienly surprised to see him and the fact that he didn't look too worn out only added to that feeling. The student just shrugged, glancing past him and swallowing hard, which confused Daniel a little. He turned around to look back to the counter, where his earlier conversational partner stared at them in horror. It clicked then, and the feeling in his stomach was undescribable when he looked back at Max, who looked like he didn't really understand what was going on yet, his eyebrows furrowed and the confusion bright in his eyes.

"Wait, you know Alex?"

Chapter Text

"Maybe it is time to explain some things, right?" Alex laughed nervously, twirling the string of his teabag around one finger and untwirling it right after, repeating that move a few times without really noticing it. They were now sitting near the window again, Max and Daniel next to each other and Alex on the other side of the table. After they successfully blocked the door for a few minutes Carlos forced them to sit down and talk about whatever was going on, wordlessly handing a drink to all of them and keeping Alex in a tricky situation.

Neither of them replied and Max felt extremely weird and itchy, his heart beating hard and he couldn't understand how Daniel could stay this calm considering that there was clearly something upsetting going on, even though neither of them knew what it was yet. Max felt his warm hand on top of his own under the table, resting on top of his knee and acting as an anchor, something for him to hold onto. Maybe he was being overdramatic, but he didn't talk to Alex for at least two months and now he suddenly wanted to meet up with him to talk and somehow he knew Daniel and it was too much for Max and his tired brain, already exhausted and overwhelmed by the past days of studying.

It took another minute of nervous ticks for Alex to clear his throat, breaking the silence once more. He didn't start talking immediately though, opening his mouth to say something before he even knew what he wanted to tell them. He asked them at least five times to not get upset and hear him out first before they reacted to his words and it only added to the bad feeling sitting in the student's stomach and making him feel sick. They did listen to the whole story though and for a second Max relaxed when he felt Daniel's hand gently squeezing his own.

"It's a funny story, actually. Well, not really but... I don't know how to explain this. Max and I know each other from school, you know?" He was looking at Daniel, explaining the backstories to play out some time.

"Same friend groups and similar interests then lead to us becoming close friends until Lando told me that Max had a crush on me one night and I panicked. I was already dating George at that time but no one knew about it and I didn't feel like telling Lando about it either. Instead, I told him that I was not interested, sorry Max, and he mentioned something about the confession. I, being the coward that I am, came up with the idea of pretending to have a new phone number so I wouldn't have to reject you. I told George about my plan and asked him to find someone Max didn't know from his contact list so we could give him the number. We decided on Daniel and it seemed safe, someone who didn't know me or Max and seemingly had no connection to our friend group. We forgot about Charles and then, and that's probably one of the only actual coincidences in this story, Max drew him for the Secret Santa and you guys met for real. How could we have known that you would continue texting after the mistake? We didn't see it coming and Lando was about to tell you what was going on, but he was sure that he would ruin his friendship with Max if he found out that Lando knew about my lie."

He paused then, taking a sip of his tea and letting the story sink in. He averted his eyes and started playing with the teabag again. Max felt empty, at a loss for words and thoughts and emotions. Everything was blurry and foggy and his brain was just not able to process the information. At this moment it seemed as if the whole world was turning against him. Most of it made sense to him, but Alex was right, the whole Lando situation felt like losing the ground under his feet. He felt horrible and the vicelike grip Daniel had on his hand indicated that he was not alone with his mixed feelings. The betrayal laid heavy on their shoulders as Alex continued.

"So we just hoped that everything would work out and you two would just forget about it, but obviously that didn't happen. George went to Daniel's New Year's party where you two figured the whole "we know each other in real life"-thing out and he knew that Max had his suspicions, so he urged me to tell him, hoping that he might understand it. I didn't think I would run into Daniel, so that was an unfortunate coincidence."

The silence returned and while Alex looked at him with a hopeful yet desperate expression on his face Max felt his head explode. He had to repeat the whole thing inside his head, reconstruct the past months and connect the dots himself. After another five minutes of silence, he started laughing. He laughed, pain and fear and anxiety bubbling in his chest, hot tears filling his eyes before they rolled down his cheek and he really didn't know whether he was actually crying. He didn't sleep much the night prior, maybe his eyes just hurt. Maybe he fell asleep in the library again and his brain played tricks on him. Lando would wake him up soon enough.

That didn't happen though and he felt his hand grow cold when Daniel let go of it, which made the panic rise higher in his throat. Even after finding out the whole story he didn't want to lose him, or especially after that. And it seemed like he wouldn't when he felt the older male wrapping his arms around him until he calmed down and the tears started drying on his skin. Even then he didn't let go, offering the student a few minutes of peace and comfort. Alex looked quite ashamed when their eyes met across the table, but he didn't look away until Max sighed and shook his head.

"You guys are terrible matchmakers, seriously."

It wasn't acceptance just yet, it wasn't the same as saying that it was fine, no big deal, whatever. Because it really wasn't. Because their friends lied to them and used them. In the end, it all lead to something good though and maybe Max would be able to forgive them for it, but not straight away, not before he dealt with the doubt and the pain for a little bit. He knew that Daniel would be there for him, comforting while seeking comfort of his own. It would be okay eventually. Maybe in a few years, they could all sit together and laugh about it, without crying, mind you, but now that Max was sitting there in the coffee shop, one of Daniel's arms still around his back and his old crush watching them across the table, he knew that it would take a while. He didn't really feel like talking to Lando then, something that was usually never the case. He just wanted to be alone for a while, maybe not completely, but without his friends. Max needed some distance to forgive them and figure his emotions out because somewhere deep inside his head he knew they did all of this to keep him from getting hurt. Sometimes Max hated being protected.

When he fell asleep that night, his head full of questions and feeling heavy when he rested it on Daniel's chest, he thought that maybe everything turned out alright for once. And maybe there was still some coincidence to it, more than Alex wanted to admit earlier. Because in the end, all of what was happening, the warm feeling in his chest, that was all his own work. And Daniel's, of course. Alex said that neither of their friends thought they would continue texting after that weird message, so it was all their own commitment, their own work and nothing their friends intentionally arranged for them. There was no bet, no forcing them together through drinking games, no one who asked them to be there for and with each other.

He told his thoughts to Daniel when he asked about it, making him laugh softly before he tightened his arms around Max to hold him closer, his heart beating fast in his chest. It made the student smile, his hand resting just on top of it. It reminded him of words he only read before, lighting up in the night on the display of his smartphone.

It's okay to be sad sometimes.

Even if it was his friends making him sad. Even if he was the luckiest person in the entire world for being able to lay there, the lights of the tower barely illuminating the dark room. It was okay to be sad, even if he was loved, even if he was a good student, if he had a good life and a heater in his room. It was okay to be sad, even if he had no good reason for it. It was okay.

He whispered it then, in the quiet of Daniel's bedroom and received a hum of approval, conjuring a smile on his face before his eyelids gave in and sleep finally filled every fiber of his being. Without replacing all the love he felt, of course.

It was going to be okay, as long as they held on to each other.