It wasn’t a long walk from the trainee dorms to the permanent apartments, but Ronnie took his time. He had even planned to be fashionably late. “You’re still annoyed with him, remember?” He told himself. “It’s not cute to come off desperate.” Was it petty? Absolutely. But Ronnie decided that Taran could cool off a bit.
The rest of his day had been a bit of a blur. He was wiped from the flight training, but he had also been preoccupied with replaying the morning’s events with Taran again and again. One moment they were making out — Taran even initiated! — and the next, he was pushed away to watch his boyfriend run out of the room. Everything was hot or cold, and Ronnie found that he was having a hard time keeping up with it.
So when Taran called asking him to come for dinner, it was a surprise. He hadn’t expected to hear from him for the rest of the day, at least until he had time to recover from his panic. “Maybe he’s getting better about this after all,” Ronnie thought. “Besides, it’ll be nice to have an evening alone.” He pushed the buzzer at Taran’s apartment and was startled when Maya opened the door.
“Ronnie!” She called excitedly, voice echoing in the hallway. “I’m so happy you could make it!” Taran noticed that Maya’s cheeks were a bright red, and she was even more animated than usual.
“Um, Hi, Maya. I didn’t realize you’d be joining us…”
“Taran is taking care of dinner because he owes me for sticking up for him at the debrief today. I brought wine! You should have some.” She stood away from the doorway and gestured with a grand flourish.
Ronnie stepped into the apartment, immediately struck by how cozy everything was. He hadn’t been invited over yet and had been dying to see what the place looked like. It fit Taran’s personality perfectly. Everything seemed to have a home and was orderly, but not sterile. The warm scent of garam masala wafted from the kitchen area. Taran looked up from the stove and gave a wave.
“Make yourself at home! Please have some wine, if only to keep Maya from drinking it all. Dinner should be ready in just a bit. This has been simmering all afternoon.” He threw a couple more things in the pot and resumed stirring.
“Yes, come, Ronald, have a drink with me.” Maya patted the spot next to her on the couch.
Ronnie laughed. “It’s Reynold, actually. If we want to get technical about it.”
“Hold up, really?!” Taran looked up from the stove. “I would have never guessed!”
“Ooooh, you’re so fancy! Well, REYNOLD, let’s catch up.”
Ronnie shot Taran a look, but he only shrugged. Maya was on her way to one hell of a hangover, and it was pretty hilarious. He settled in on the couch with a glass and listened to Taran and Maya banter back and forth. The atmosphere was warm and friendly, and his irritation about the morning was melting away. Ronnie couldn’t remember the last time he had just hung out with friends. Ignore the fact they all had superpowers, and it was downright ordinary, the most normal teenage thing he had done in ages.
His eyes landed on Taran as he moved about the kitchen. He was wearing a crisp white apron over a deep red button-down, sleeves rolled neatly up to his elbows. It was clear he had put in some effort to look nice for the evening, which Ronnie thought was sweet. He watched Taran’s angular face break into a smile, brown eyes sparkling as he laughed at something Maya had said. Taran had had his fair share of wine as well, and a flush was settling into his cheeks. Ronnie couldn’t get over how adorable he looked.
Maya made a choking noise into her wine glass. “Okay, I gotta say something,” she placed her glass on the table and turned to face him. “Ronnie, you are an absolute sweetheart, and definitely a welcome relief from Mr. Emotionally-Stunted over there,” she gestured dismissively towards Taran. “But we have got to do something about the way you broadcast your emotions for everyone to hear.”
Ronnie instinctively glanced at Taran, suddenly tense. Oh shit.
“Relax pal, I already know.” She smiled and tried not to look too flustered.
“You know?! How?”
“I’ve had my suspicions for a bit, but your tangle of thoughts from this morning confirmed it.”
“Woah, that’s kind of invasive, isn’t it?” Ronnie complained.
“Believe me, I’m as thrilled about it as you are. I try really hard to keep from poking around in other people’s thoughts. It’s polite, and it keeps me from getting grossed out. That being said… extreme emotions tend to find me before I can block them out. You,” Maya put a hand on his arm, “You, Reynold, are psychically the loudest person I’ve ever met.”
“Oh god, I’m really sorry, Maya, I didn’t know.”
She waved his apology away. “No, no. Don’t ever be sorry for wearing your heart on your sleeve.” She turned to glare towards the kitchen and declared pointedly, “Lord knows we could all do a little more of that!” Ronnie smiled into his wine glass.
Taran sighed as he lifted the large pot from the stove. “As much as I hate to change the subject, it’s time to eat!”
Ronnie approached the table and peered into the pot. The yellow, spicy-smelling stew was steaming. “This smells amazing!”
“Thanks! It’s an old family recipe. It’s also Maya’s favorite, so I have to make it when I owe her a favor.”
“Which is often, because I am a steadfast and loyal friend!” She replied with a cackle, pouring more wine into everyone’s glass.
They got situated around the small dining table. Taran dutifully served the curry over piles of fragrant rice. Ronnie noticed that instead of digging in, he was staring into his wine glass, brow furrowed.
“Everything okay?” Ronnie nudged him.
“Hmm?” Taran snapped back to the present. “Oh, sorry. I was just thinking…” he cleared his throat. “I wanted to thank both of you for sticking with me as I work through all of this. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy. And I’m sorry if I ever made you doubt yourself.”
Ronnie felt a flutter at the words. This was the side of Taran he had been missing. The side that didn’t feel the need to take on the world’s problems all by himself. That had room for other people to help shoulder the load in an equal partnership.
“I still need to be able to tell my parents on my own terms. My family is scattered, not to mention messy, so it may take a while. But as far as I’m concerned, the most important person in my life already knows.”
Maya tried to cover up a sniffle. “This isn’t fair!” She whined, her chin quivering. “You’re finally being real about your feelings, which just makes him even mushier than he already was!”
“Hey, you said that was a good thing!” Ronnie stuck out his tongue at her. Maya waved him away as she dabbed at her eyes.
The conversation turned to lighter topics. When dinner was over, Taran and Ronnie sent Maya on her way with a to-go container.
“See you tomorrow, drink some water before bed!” Taran called after her. The door slid shut, and he sighed. “What a night, huh?” He wrapped his arms around Ronnie’s waist.
“How are you feeling?”
“Honestly? Like a weight’s been lifted.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Things will only get better from here, I promise.”
“You know? I think you might be right,” Taran leaned in and gave Ronnie a light kiss. “Stay with me tonight?”
Ronnie took a step back, quizzical. He had fully expected to sleep in the dorms tonight. After all, failing to return to his room would only raise questions.
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve never been more sure about anything in my life.”