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i own the space besides you

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The first time it happens, Reki is on his way home. His skateboard is tucked underneath one arm, and he’s humming the lyrics of a sugary pop song that got stuck in his head thanks to Miya. He isn’t thinking of much—just dinner, some homework, and that one horrifying movie clip he watched that involved a rather grotesque usage of kitchen cutlery. It’s been a tiring day, and he’s all beat, ready to hit the hay, when he hears a familiar voice just as he rounds a corner. 

“—excuse me?”

“Y-You heard me.”

Reki comes to a stop a considerable distance away, far enough that he won’t be seen, close enough that he can hear things. Vaguely, he’s aware of how stalkerish he must seem: here he is, hiding behind a bush, like some dude in sunglasses scoping out the daily habits of his latest victim.

Only, this scenario is totally different, because it concerns Langa.

Langa, who is his friend, who looks more like a deer in headlights than someone being stared at intensely by a girl—a very pretty one, if Reki might add. She’s got that doe-eyed look to her, all flowing hair and long eyelashes. She also seems the type who would never bother sparing Reki a single glance, if past endeavours are anything to go by.

“Please go out with me,” the girl says to Langa, and there it is.

The moment Reki knew would come and was waiting for.

Objectively, the confession isn’t a surprise. Because it’s—well, Langa. Calm, collected, pretty-boy Langa. This should hardly matter at all; it is just the way things are. Who cares if half of the class is mooning over his friend? It would probably be more offensive if they weren’t, because Reki has eyes and can totally see how great of a catch Langa is. Really. Anyone would be lucky to like and be liked by him.

There is a muted silence, like the calm before a dramatic reveal. Langa continues staring, like the weight of the words has yet to sink in. Fair; Langa is probably thinking about the best way to phrase his acceptance of her confession. A moment like this comes along, you’d want to make sure you get it right. Come to think of it, it would be really anticlimactic to just say “okay”. If Reki were in Langa’s shoes, he’d come up with something suave, too.

Reki doesn’t know why, but a stab of severe annoyance hits him. Maybe it’s the fact it’s just taking way too long. If Reki were the one confessing, he’d want Langa to make up his mind already. But if it were up to Reki, he wouldn’t be saying, “Please go out with me,” in the first place. Maybe the girl should’ve consulted Reki for advice to avoid the rather awkward scenario this is quickly turning into: Langa staring, looking deeply uncomfortable.

If it were Reki, he’d make sure Langa wouldn’t be looking like that.

Reki blinks. His heart stumbles for a moment, and he does not know why. He pinches his cheeks. Today was more tiring than he thought.

Just when Reki thinks Langa is about to voice out a reciprocation, Langa says this instead: “I’m sorry. I can’t.”

Reki’s breath catches in his throat. And—okay. That was unexpected. But also not, at the same time.

The girl blinks. Slowly. “Why not?” she says.

Langa looks around, left and right, helpless. It is becoming more apparent he never wanted to be in this situation in the first place. Reki admits he made a misjudgement. Langa has so far shown no signs of actually wanting to accept.

“Because—because there’s … someone else,” Langa murmurs.

Oh. That’s why: Langa already has another person in mind, and it’s the reason he’s always been largely indifferent to the giggling whispers thrown his way. It’s either this, or the idea that he lied to get an escape route but Reki is not about to consider the validity of his words at this moment.

“Huh. Really,” the girl continues, undeterred.

Langa averts his gaze to the side, his hand fidgeting at his side, and that’s how Reki knows it’s quickly going downhill. He’s seen that particular mannerism of his crop up in stressful moments; like that one time Reki smashed into a tree from a half-assed backside heelflip and Langa worried over whether Reki had passed out, and Reki stared at him for so long afterwards Langa eventually looked away and went all red, whether from embarrassment or something else entirely, Reki doesn’t know.

“Really,” Langa says.

“Okay. What’s her name?”

Reki is starting to feel bad for Langa. He doesn’t look like he wants to be there at all. Even worse: he’s having trouble handling this situation. It’s thrown him in for a loop. At this point, Reki is left with no other choice but to stage an intervention. But what?

Langa’s gaze returns to the girl. “His name,” he corrects evasively, and that’s when the idea hits.

It’s genius. It has to work. There can be no better idea than this. With that, Reki steps away from the bush, schools his features to make it seem like he’s winded, and starts nonchalantly running towards Langa.

“Langa! There you are!” Reki says, plastering on his usual bright smile, waving his hand around. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

Two pairs of eyes turn to Reki—both equally surprised.

“I was starting to really miss you,” Reki says to Langa once he reaches his side, lacing their hands together in what he hopes is an affectionate show of display. “You didn’t tell me you went ahead without me—and oh, who’s this?” He glances at the girl, and attempts to fake cheerful curiosity. “Ehh, I didn’t know you were meeting up with someone? You should’ve told me!”

The girl blinks rapidly, stunned. Langa seems taken aback for a moment, but then for some reason his shock quickly passes. He only looks vaguely dazed, now.

“I was just about to leave,” Langa says, slowly, looking at Reki the way he has never looked at him before.

It makes Reki’s heart pound, vaguely. But there’ll be time later to dissect that particular expression.

“Okay, if you say so. That’s great,” Reki hums, now manoeuvring his position so that he’s behind Langa when he places his chin on Langa’s shoulder. “Sorry about this!” he says to the girl. “But – uh, we really have to go. Places to be, and all that. So if you’ll excuse us …”

And then Reki is tugging Langa away, hoping that it looks very much like a lovesick stumble to get somewhere alone.

 


 

“Langa, stop looking at me like that,” Reki whines, pouting. “You’re making me feel like I’m under a microscope. Tone down the intensity a little, will you?”

The mattress dips from Langa’s shift in movement. “What did you think I was about to say?” he says.

They’re at Reki’s place, and Reki feels stupid for forgetting that Langa would want to discuss the move Reki pulled back at the courtyard. Because what he did back there—Reki can’t be blamed for feeling slightly embarrassed. He just sprung it up on Langa with no warning at all!

He flops down on his back, head sinking into his pillow. “I don’t know. Maybe, ‘Hey, Reki, um, what the fuck was that all about? Weirdo.’” He lets out a dry chuckle that Langa doesn’t even humour with an expression.

For a moment, there’s an awkward silence between them, full of unspoken words. There are so many questions Reki wants to ask—and he’s sure that Langa has the same idea, too. But neither of them makes any move to initiate an actual conversation, and you know what? That’s fine as well. They can just sit here forever. Wait it out until this planet is on the precipice of nuclear annihilation. Where are the aliens when you need them?

“Forget it. And look, I’m sorry about what happened, okay? So, whatever already,” Reki groans, burying his face into his hands.

Another creak; it can only mean that Langa has moved in closer. For some reason, the thought makes Reki’s face burn, fever-bright. “Reki,” he begins softly. “You don’t have to apologize. It really doesn’t matter.”

“Oh yeah? Maybe you’re just saying that.”                                        

“Reki,” Langa repeats. “Come on.”

Just as Reki is about to make another retort, there are fingers wrapping themselves around his wrists, and then Langa is prying his hands from his face. His touch is gentle. Reki looks up.

There is an odd expression on Langa’s face. Reki can’t really make sense of it, other than the fact it’s the exact same expression he’s caught Langa give him a few times in the past. Whatever it is, it makes Reki feel dizzy. Exhilarated.  Like there is maybe lightning and engine and wind-crackle in his chest.

Huh. Langa’s eyes are even bluer from this angle.

And his hair. It looks so soft, framing his face like that. Reki wonders what it would feel, running his fingers through the strands. They’d probably feel silky. Smooth.

And then there’s a knock on the door. They spring apart.

“It’s dinnertime, boys,” Reki’s mom calls out, before the sound of footsteps starts again and disappears into another room.

They hurriedly get to their feet, and the matter is forgotten for now.

 


 

They don’t speak about the confession incident again until more of Langa’s admirers come along, which is to say the very next day.

Honestly, it was beginning to slip his mind a little, because Langa hadn’t brought it up at all, and Reki was making a conscious effort to put it on the backburner for the time being. But, as it transpires, the deal with Langa is not over yet. There are still others to contend with.

“To your right,” Langa says to him when they’re leaning up against the wall besides the vending machines.

Reki thumbs the tear strip of the can, digs his nail underneath the pull tab. Idly, he follows the line of Langa’s gaze.

It leads to a small group of whispering students. Some kids from the year below them. It’s clear they have yet to notice that Reki knows they’re totally staring. They aren’t doing a very job of hiding it.

“Scared that they’re going to confess to you?” Reki says with a cheeky smile, popping open his soda.

There’s a hiss of fizzling bubbles. Somewhere, a whistle blows; track practice.       

Again, that odd, calculating expression flits across Langa’s features like a shadow. Again, Reki has no clue what it might mean. But it has to be serious: the glint in Langa’s gaze can only be described as thoughtful. “Yes,” Langa agrees. “I don’t want any of them to.”

“But they’re not going to get the hint,” Reki says, slowly, “unless—”

The scene from yesterday. The girl’s reaction. The way Langa had looked at him afterwards. Reki lets the trailing end of the sentence fill in the rest. Because he knows what Langa is thinking, knows what he must want. And, like, it’s perfect. It’s smart. It holds up.

“Are you going to do something about it?” Langa says, and the implication is not lost on Reki at all.

“Hell yeah, my guy,” Reki says, feeling more pleased than he ought to be. “I’ve got the perfect plan. Hold on: are they still looking?”

“They are,” Langa insists, but his gaze never strays from Reki’s face.

Reki almost points out this simple fact, but ultimately refrains from doing so. Instead, he decides to put his idea into motion before he can overthink the whole thing. “Okay, good,” he says, and then he is reaching out with his free hand to cup the curve of Langa’s jaw.

And—it works.

Or, at least Reki assumes it does. The whispers behind them come to a sharp halt. Some pointed coughing ensues. Reki didn’t even have to strain his ears to pick those particular sounds out. It means that people saw, and there are only so many ways one could interpret this gesture. This can’t be mistaken for anything less than what it overtly seems.

Langa’s eyes go wide. He’s frozen for a moment. The sharp bob of his throat grazes Reki’s finger. And then, the stillness gives way into something less hesitant and more … curious. His pale lashes dip, casting spidery shadows on his cheekbones, and then his head is tipping forward—

And—holy shit. Holy shit.

(Is Langa nuzzling his hand? For real? Because if he is … fuck, it’s so cute.)

“Uh,” Reki blurts out, hoping he doesn’t sound too alarmed. At this point, his brain is full of only caveman sounds. It’s a synesthesia of a world rendered in unintelligible noise. “Langa, you—ah, are you tired? You’re kind of falling asleep on my hand,” he jokes.

Langa blinks. The action is languid, idle. Reki is trying not think about it. “Hm? Oh,” Langa says, and then Reki just pats his cheek, laughing nervously, as though it can mask the discordant symphony of his pulse.

“Wanna head back inside?” Reki finally says, retracting his hand.

Langa’s mouth parts, slightly, but no words come out. Instead, he nods.

And then Reki’s fingers are curling into his own palm, nails digging crescents into the skin there, as though the action can retain the warmth Langa’s skin has left.

 


 

Reki is hiding behind yet another corner. It’s quickly becoming his thing. Sort of. In his defence, he has just cause. He has a right to know if people are talking shit about him. It’s not like he actively stalked the school grounds for any mention of his name: he just happened to stumble in at the right place, right time.

“No way. They’re actually together?” someone exclaims.

A locker slams shut. A bag rustles. “Right? I didn’t think he was Langa’s type.”

Reki notices a smudge of dirt on his hand. Annoyed, he rubs it away.

“How would you know what the Prince’s type is? You’re not even friends with him.”

The sound of pens clattering onto the ground. A fourth voice: “You’re all idiots. I mean, have you seen the way Reki’s always touching him? I knew they were dating, like right off the bat.”

“Right? Also, do you not see the way Langa looks at him?”

“Lucky Reki, huh?” The conversation veers off into other topics Reki is unfamiliar with, so he stops listening and goes on ahead.

As he makes his way back towards the classroom, he uses the moment alone to unpack this particular discovery. Langa will be pleased; because they believe Reki is Langa’s, and word has had a chance to go around, so there are no secret admirers who are going to bother him anymore. And if it does turn out Langa has his heart set on someone, Langa can just say the word, and then they won’t have to pretend anymore. Langa is handsome and smart and nice. He deserves someone nice.

Lucky Reki, huh?

For some reason, the thought bothers him for the rest of the day.

 


 

It’s only Miya and Shadow. They don’t have to keep up the act around them. And yet.

Langa’s head is resting on his shoulder. One arm is curled around his waist.

“Hey, what—what are you doing?” Reki half-whispers, half-exclaims, nearly dropping his phone.

“I’m cold,” Langa says.

Reki stifles a laugh. Right. Like he’ll believe that. “Dude. You’re from Canada. This should be like a desert to you. I’m not even cold,” he says. “What will people think.”

Langa makes an idle sound. “Let them think.”

Reki blinks. Odd; his world is going hazy. Like he has entered a bathwater-warm stupor. He’s unable to think of much beyond this: the weight of Langa’s cheek pressed into the crook of his neck. The clutch of Langa’s fingers on his hip.

“Ah—am I really just that comfortable?” Reki teases. “Big baby.”

Normally, Reki would be the one initiating this sort of gesture. Not Langa. But it seems that his influence on Langa goes beyond just kickflips and tailslides.

“You make me feel warm,” Langa says simply.

The next inhale Reki takes is sharp. He’s not sure if Langa meant that to have a double meaning. Maybe not, but still. Reki can’t stop himself from digging into every little detail. Even when he shouldn’t. Even when it’s likely there’s nothing there at all.

“Thank you? I guess,” Reki says, and he means it to sound casual, but it comes out as a cough instead.

Stupid.

Miya looks up from where he’s playing his Switch. His green eyes are narrowed. “Why is your PDA getting worse?” he grumbles. “Not in front of my salad!”

“That’s a burger,” Langa points out dryly.

There is no salad, and Miya goes green at the lack thereof, because apparently, he has a delicate internal constitution that he needs to maintain, that he can’t desecrate with “corrosion-inducing” chemicals fast food contains. Shadow has been mostly preoccupied at the front, busy chatting up the cashier.

When they finally leave the establishment, Langa continues being clingy, but no one makes any comments that indicate it’s a particularly shocking revelation.

And it’s when Reki is lying down in bed, staring up at his ceiling in the dark, that it occurs to him.

They never said that they were dating to either of them.

It’s like they just assumed.

 


 

Joe and Cherry definitely had a thing going on in the past. Exhibit A: they act like a married couple that divorced years ago but still care about each other. Exhibit B: just last week, Cherry yelled at Joe about a mysterious keepsake that apparently belonged to him but Joe point-blank refused to relinquish.

Reki normally is never this observant, he thinks. But there are times where he just develops suspicions about a particular order of the world, and the act of putting the pieces together naturally follows. When Reki brings up this theory to Langa, he just shrugs.

“It’s possible,” Langa offers.

“Right?” Reki snickers, happy that Langa is also seeing its credibility.

He continues talking, and he gets a little too carried away that he doesn’t realize that Joe has caught wind of what Reki has been spewing and is now hovering at his shoulder.

“Oi, Reki,” Joe says loudly, “you kiddos should stick your nose out of our business and focus on your own relationship instead.”

Reki half-shrieks in surprise. Langa barely flinches; the only part of him that is ruffled is his hair, windswept from the impact of Reki’s outburst.

Once Reki calms down, it registers in a hazy burst of clarity that Langa has had a hand on Reki’s own the entire time. Reki wonders if that’s truly what gave them away, or perhaps it’s something else everyone has been privy to except, well, Reki. Anyway, they’re not together, not really, so it shouldn’t matter.

(But why doesn’t it feel that way?)

 


 

They’re watching a movie in a mostly comfortable silence when it all changes.

Langa is pressed up against him, eating slices of fruit. Reki is intently watching an important monologue unfold on the laptop screen between them, his arm littered with orange peel stickers that Langa made sure to place there. It’s a typical Friday night. No obligations; just Reki hanging out with Langa.

His friend. His best buddy.

The movie had a strong start. Had. But now that it’s moved on to the arc where the rival slash ex-best-friend is confronting the protagonist about her insecurities, about how everyone told her she was never good enough in comparison, it’s become a little hard to power through.

Combined with what Reki overheard not too long ago, it feels like grating on a fresh wound.

Once the credits start to roll, and Reki is left to process that depressing ending, where the protagonist and rival part ways for good, Reki just wants to call it a night already, even though they’ve still got plenty of time.

“That was … sad,” Langa says.

Reki absently picks at a stitch on his shirt. “Mhm.”

“I think the protagonist was in love with her.”

“Yup,” Reki says, faking a yawn.                                                    

“She just never had the chance to say it.”

“Right,” Reki says, tone bright and airy, scooting away from Langa and making a big show of fixing the bed.

“The story could’ve turned out differently. If she had.”

“That it would’ve.”

Once that’s over, Reki just flops backwards, curls into himself in the direction away from Langa, and says, “Hey, um, I’m just gonna rest my eyes for a moment, okay? And then we can continue watching more in a bit.”

A rustle. Langa hums. “Okay.”

At no point does Reki actually keep his eyes shut. They remain wide open. He thinks of how fast his heart is pounding, so loud he’s sure Langa must hear it, too. His breaths come and go, shallow and uneven.

A minute passes. Two. Three. And then ten.

Eventually, Langa breaks the silence: “Reki.”

Reki’s breath hitches.

“What if—what if I asked you to be my boyfriend?”

For a second, all Reki can register is the mechanical hum of the air conditioner and the fact that Langa is currently on his bed, a mere arm’s reach away. For a second, all Reki can think about is what Langa had said before—"because there’s someone else”—and the way Langa had looked at him then, and the way Langa has always looked at him, and the way Langa’s smile makes him feel like there is sunlight burning in his veins.

“Eh?” Reki begins, forcing out a laugh. “Aren’t we already together?”

There’s the familiar quiet. And then: “You know what I mean.”

Reki sucks in a sharp breath. “Langa. Don’t—don’t joke about things like this.”

“I’m not.”

Reki turns over. Finds that Langa is watching him very seriously, those lovely eyes blue, blue, blue. He looks so handsome like this: solemn and thoughtful. His features are as fine as jade. “Don’t you already like someone,” he tries, desperate.

Langa’s gaze remains resolute. “I do.”

“Then tell me,” Reki says. “Tell me about him.”

The expression on Langa’s face goes soft. “When I first got here, I didn’t know anyone. He was one of the first people I properly talked to who was around my age. One thing led to another, and he became my first friend here,” Langa says.

Reki sits up, heart pounding.

“He’s amazing. I don’t know where to begin,” Langa continues. “He makes me smile. Makes me feel happy. Sometimes, his jokes are bad—” Reki almost makes an indignant sound—"but they’ll make me laugh anyway, because I know they came from him. He taught me how to skate. He’s got a small mole below his left ear. He doesn’t really like pickles on his burgers but he’ll eat them first anyway to get it over with.” A flush spreads across the pale curve of his cheekbones. “I wish he knew how much I like him. And I never want him to feel like I take him for granted. What I do want him to know is that I’m really lucky to have met him. That he’s one of the best people I know.”

It was always “lucky Reki”. As if it is Reki’s good fortune that someone like Langa even bothers giving him the time of the day.

The fact that Langa is telling him this, that he’s the fortunate one to have met Reki—

It unearths a vulnerable part of Reki, that threatens to leave him shaking. There is softness in its strangeness, like the tender, blue-purple ache of a bruise. It picks at him, bit by it, until he is left fraying at the seams.

Langa’s eyes are this: bright, fond, open and honest, and—fuck, Reki is going Crazy with a capital C.

“Langa, you haven’t really been pretending at all, huh,” he says.

The blush deepening on Langa’s face is all the confirmation Reki needs. Reki almost laughs.

Instead, he reaches out. Clutches Langa’s hands firmly.

“Ask him,” Reki urges. “I want you to ask him how he feels about you. Say it.”

“Reki,” Langa begins in that voice, low and desperate and earnest, “what do you feel about me?”

It is not lost on Reki, the way Langa’s gaze has dipped to Reki’s mouth, to the set of Reki’s collarbones exposed enough by his shirt to entice the heat in Langa’s eyes.

“I really fucking like you,” Reki breathes out. “So, so much,” he adds for emphasis.

The mood shifts, changes.

Langa untangles their fingers. And then he’s leaning in. One hand wraps around Reki’s wrist. The other is tilting up Reki’s chin. “Do you want me to stop?” he whispers, achingly gentle.

“Absolutely not,” Reki says into the space between their mouths, before grabbing the front of Langa’s shirt to bring their lips together.

 

(There isn’t much of a difference, being friends with Langa and dating him, Reki’s come to discover, except for the fact they do hold hands quite a bit now, and that Langa can kiss him whenever he likes—a privilege he’s taken to with great eagerness.)