Bouncy

Prompt by @crimsonfool on Twitter.

Arthit likes to consider himself proficient in the art of self-control. 

It’s evident in the way the way he’ll grumble at his laptop screen as he’s up late finishing another assignment, disallowing himself to indulge in the icy pink drink in his fridge until he’s finished. It reveals itself when his peers are snickering at their professor’s jiggling underarm skin as she cleans a patch of the chalkboard, and Arthit merely mashes his lips together and looks down at his notes, messy but complete. 

But the most boast-worthy example of his ability to resist temptation comes in the form of successfully dodging his boyfriend’s admittedly enticing advances before they can manifest themselves into yet another sleepless night that has both of them rubbing at sore muscles the next day. 

Because Arthit knows…if he gives in, he’ll lose himself to the feeling of warm hands against his pale skin and hot breath whispering sweet nothings in his ear, and that will be the end of his credibility as the more disciplined one, the more mature one, and he’ll hate himself for the way he can barely keep his eyes open in class the next day. 

So he shoves his hands in his pockets and turns his head when Kongpob’s eyes cloud over with a certain want, afraid that his own expression will give away his equal desire.

Now, it’s a weekend, and they’re strolling back to campus side by side, separated only by a ghost’s whisper of space between their forearms; nothing to drawn in suspicion from prying eyes, but close enough to share each other’s warmth as intimately as they can manage. 

It’d been a good evening, as many of their dates are. They’d gone to the local planetarium to look at stars, just as Arthit had promised Kongpob after they’d unfortunately missed a meteor shower. Arthit had fallen asleep on Kongpob’s shoulder under the giant dome theatre as they linked their fingers together in the dark, and Arthit had swiped blue ice cream off the corner of Kongpob’s lips with a laugh as they sat in an inconspicuous corner of the museum’s cafe. 

They’re leaving now, buzzing with the adrenaline of each other’s uncomplicated company.

And then Kongpob stumbles briefly, and Arthit snaps out of his date-happy daze to grab his elbow.

“Ah, my shoelace,” his boyfriend clicks his tongue before walking over to the side of the pavement and raises his foot onto the edge of large concrete planter to re-tie the loose cord into a tidy bow.

He takes his time, as he always does, and Arthit finds himself suddenly with his attention unoccupied and with no place to direct it…until his gaze falls on Kongpob. Or, more specifically, a part of him that sticks up and out now, that wouldn’t otherwise be so prominent to Arthit’s view when they’re walking side by side. 

Arthit blinks a few times, and gulps. He knows Kongpob is attractive, but he rarely takes a moment to admire just how so when they’re both fully clothed, and certainly not in public.

Yet here he is; mouth hanging slightly open as he traces the deliciously curved outline of his boyfriend’s glutes, snugly wrapped in fitted khaki trousers.

Date attire, Kongpob calls it.

Arthit calls it (in his head) bubble wrap.

He wonders briefly, a ghost of a smile forming on his lips, what it would be like if he could play Kongpob at his own game. Just sneak a hand out and—

“P’Arthit!” Kongpob suddenly yelps, turning around to face him, cheeks slightly reddened. “You just…”

“What? What did I do?”

Arthit treads back a few steps, blinking rapidly.

Shit. He’d managed to let his hand take on a mind of his own, and if the growing smirk on Kongpob’s face is any indication, he won’t get away with this one quite so easily.

And then his back meets the cool concrete of the exterior of the building they’d stopped outside, in the dim shadows just out of the street light’s warm glow, and mischievous thumbs come to hook themselves in his front belt loops.

“P’Arthit,” Kongpob says, in a low growl that Arthit hates for…reasons. “If you were this eager to get back to the dorm, you could’ve just said.”

“I’m—don’t be ridiculous,” he says, craning his neck as far back as possible, as if a mere inch would put him out of kissing range.

“Tell me, P’Arthit, why did you do that then?” Kongpob is so close now that Arthit can smell the peppermint he’d eaten earlier. And it’s all he can do to resist now, his eyes wandering desperately over every curve, edge, pore and freckle he can make out in the dark.

“B-bouncy,” he manages to blurt out, still dazed with the hypnosis of Kongpob’s closeness.

“Bouncy?” Kongpob chuckles with amusement, then bites his lip, leaning in to whisper hotly, “You can uh, bounce it again if you want.”

Eyes wide with realisation, Arthit swats Kongpob’s hands out of his belt loops before side-stepping out from between him and the wall.

Kongpob shakes his lead with a laugh as Arthit rubs at his reddening ears, clearly flustered. He lightly kicks at a tiny stone on the pavement, before—

“Kongpob! Are you coming or what? Hurry up, or I’m going back to my own room.”

He snaps his gaze up, taking in Arthit’s words.

A few seconds, and then he catches his boyfriend’s hidden smile, and it’s all they need to sprint back, laughing between pants for breath.

Arthit sleeps in the next day, but not before planting soothing kisses to sore muscles.

Especially the bouncy ones.

After the Beep

Warnings: Implied MCD.

Kongpob leaves Arthit some voice messages.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“P’Arthit, you really need to change your voicemail greeting. Anyway, I’m guessing you’re in a meeting or something. I’m just getting off work right now, and I’m about to head to the market to buy dinner. Do you want anything specific? I was thinking that maybe if you’re up for it, we could go to that noodle shop you like. The one with the really good meatballs? We haven’t been there in a while. Right, well, call or text me when you get this. Or…maybe I should’ve just texted you. But I’m an exception, right? You won’t just ignore or delete my voicemails? I’m kidding. See you later, P’Arthit. Love you!”

Message recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“You’re really going to give people the wrong idea about you with that message. Please let me help you record a new one. Anyhow, I’ve just finished dinner, but you’ve probably gone to bed by now. I hope you’re at least taking the time to have a little fun on this business trip! You always did say you wanted to go to Seoul, you closeted koreaboo. Don’t think I haven’t heard you singing Into The New World in the shower when you think I’m not home yet. Don’t worry; you sound great, P’Arthit. You have a nice voice. I bet the food there is great. Bring me back some snacks, please? I think I deserve a reward for having to be away from you for a whole week. Other types of rewards are always welcome, too….you’ll probably have woken up by the time you hear this, so good morning, my love. I hope you have a great day ahead. Bye, now. Love you!”

Message recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“I—never mind. P’Arthit you need to come home. Like, right now. There is a monster in our kitchen. It’s enormous, and hairy, and its antlers—is that what they’re called? Feelers?—ah, who cares? The creepy things on their heads! They’re like, a foot long! I can’t remember where you told me the bug spray was. In any case, I’m pretty sure that it would still survive whatever I throw at it. I read somewhere that cockroaches will outlast even humans because they adapt too easily. Why?! Who decided that we need their existence?! Never mind, just please come home ASAP! I’ve locked myself in the bathroom and stuffed the crack under the bathroom door. Do you think I should’ve turned on the exhaust first? ….Ha, you know, it feels kind of weird standing in the shower fully clothed. The last time I did that was, well, you know about that. Kidding. I love you. Oh, you’re almost out of shampoo, by the way. I’ll get you the nicer kind next time I’m at—”

Message recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“P’Arthit……I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. You’re right. I shouldn’t still be doubting that you love me. I guess I just got insecure because M and May are now engaged, and Knot and Tob got married, and…I want that, too. I know we can’t, legally anyway. And I know it’s silly to whine all the time about something that we can’t even do. I just…I want that for us. I don’t mean a wedding or a ring, or any of the fancy parts. I want…I want to grow old with you, and share a life with you forever. I realise now how crazy it was to suggest we move to a completely foreign country just to be legally recognised, especially when we don’t speak the language….

…I love you. So much.

…I hate this couch. It’s so lumpy. But I deserve it.

…Are you asleep yet? I hope you’re not still ang—

Kongpob! Just get in here if you’re going to mutter to yourself all night.

Krub, P’Arthit!”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“Phiiiiiiiii…….did you knowwww? Margheritas have…*hic*…alcohol in them. I thought it was…a pizza? Anyway…I drank a lil’ bit…hehe, okay more than a lil’ bit….oops, oh my gosh, sorry…no…no, I’m goooood, thank you…you’re fantastic. Bye! …Aaanyway, where was I?….Hehehe…Tew brought some of his work friends today, and one of ’em tried to…to hit on me! Me! I…ha…I told them that my boyfriend is the most wonderful on Earthhh. Iz truuue! I even showed ’em a picture…hehe the one where you sent me a kissy face…I love that pictuuure…..you’re soooooooo handsome. You’re extra pretty without clothes…hehe…they all agree! You shoulda come with me…so I can show you off. But iz ok…I know you’re tired after work. Did I tell you marg..marga…something. It’s not a pizza! Funny that…I looooove you. I…oh no…I need to…I…—”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“Okay, I know you’re still at work, and I really hope your presentation went well. You deserve every bit of recognition you get, and no matter the outcome, I’m so proud of you. About dinner tonight, I’ve got a little surprise waiting for you. Nothing elaborate, don’t worry. But I think you’ll really like it. I’m excited; I think this is a new beginning for us. Can’t wait. See you soon. Love you!”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“Hi, P’Arthit. Is everything okay? I’m…just at the restaurant. Did something happen at work? Or are you stuck in traffic? I hope you didn’t drive. You never manage to stay awake in the taxi, I don’t want to imagine you behind the wheel after work. Anyway, call or text me. I’ll be here. Love you!”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“P’Arthit? I…don’t know if you got my texts. Where are you? It’s been almost an hour. Let me know what’s happening, please? Love you.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“Gah, this damn message. P’Arthit, please. The restaurant is closing. Where are you? I’m starting to get worried. Did you forget we had plans or something? …Anyway, I’m on the way home. Maybe you are, too. Please call me back…..love you.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“P’Arthit, I don’t know what happened, but I’m calling the police. Please, if you’re okay, just please…please call me or let me know in any way. I-I’m…I need to hear your voice. I just need to know you’re okay. I love you.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“…….”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“…….”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“…….”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“I miss you.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“I know you don’t like seeing me cry. But I can’t help it…I’m…it’s not fair. It’s not fair. I was going to—you were going to…sorry, I just…I miss you so much, P’Arthit. I wish you were here…The bed feels so empty……I love you. I always will.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“Hi, again, P’Arthit. I know I shouldn’t, but I just wanted to hear your voice. I miss bickering with you. You always stood so firmly in your opinions and I always admired you for it. Everything seems duller now. I miss you. Nothing is the same. Except that I love you.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“Mae thinks I’m silly for still paying your phone bill. She doesn’t get it. She thinks I’m willingly wallowing instead of trying to get back on track with things. I don’t know, maybe she’s right. But I can’t just forget. We were going to apply for civil partnership, P’Arthit. I don’t care what anyone says. You think I’m being childish, don’t you? Well, allow me this one, because I’m never taking my ring off, and I’m taking your gear with me to the grave….Anyway, I miss you every day. I love you.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“You have a ridiculous amount of stuff, you know? Your parents gave me full permission to do what I wanted with your belongings, including your childhood stuff. I had no idea you had this many Pokemon cards. I’m definitely keeping those, by the way. Why do you have so many books on baking? You don’t even bake. I miss your cooking. I tried to make myself breakfast the other day and set off the smoke alarm. It was a mess. The smell didn’t subside for a week! I ended up buying food in the end. Maybe I should go home for meals more often. But you always made the best omelettes. Anyway, love you.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“P’Arthit, I got a cat! I found her stuck in a drain hole on my way home yesterday. I was going to drop her off at the shelter, but then she put her paw on me when I was bathing her and that was it. I was gone for her. She doesn’t have a name yet, but I’ll figure it out soon. She’s so tiny, but she’s got a little temper. She gnaws—not hard—on my hand when I try to pet her or give her kisses. Ha, kind of like you. I hope you don’t mind, but I moved some of your comic books to the study to make room in the living room for a cat tree. I don’t think she can use it just yet; she’s too small for that, but I know she’ll love it eventually. You would’ve loved her. Say hi to P’Arthit, kitty! Anyway, I love you.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“I took the cat to the vet today. I…may have made a slight error in judgment. It’s a boy kitty, it turns out. Anyway, I’ve named him Oon. He’s taken a liking to your sock drawer. He’s fantastic. Just like you, P’Arthit. I love you.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“You would’ve made a great father, Arthit. I remember how my nieces loved you immediately and it was like they’d forgotten all about their biological uncle. Oon can only meow, but I’m sure he agrees, don’t you, Oon?

Mreow….

Right. See? By the way, did you know that cats have nine lives? I know it’s dumb to be thinking about that when he’s still pretty young, but I hope you’ll look after him before his next life until I get there. He’s tripled in size since I found him. Sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like for us to have a kid together and watch them grow up. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?…I’m okay. I’m not sad. I just miss you. Having Oon helps when I feel lonely. He would love you, I just know it. Because I do. Anyway, I love you.”

Message Recorded.

He-hello? Is it recording? —Yes, P’Arthit, it’s recording—Oh, right. Um, this is Arthit. I’m…busy or something so leave a message. Maybe I’ll get back to you. —P’Arthit, you can’t say that!— What? It’s not a guarantee I’ll reply! —Well, no, but—BEEP!

“The funniest thing happened today. Not funny like, humorous. Funny like weird. I was on break at work today and went to get pink milk at the café downstairs. You know, the one with the gossipy barista. Anyway, it’s crazy, but I could’ve sworn…I thought I saw you. I don’t know, I’m probably just imagining things because…wow, it’s been two years now, hasn’t it? …Sometimes it feels like just yesterday. But I’m getting better, P’Arthit. It doesn’t hurt as much most days now. I still miss you every day, but like…I don’t feel like crying all the time anymore. You won’t get jealous if I don’t call you anymore, will you? I’m joking. I’ll still talk to you when I can, until the day I can kiss your face and make you turn red again. I love you, P’Arthit.”

Message Recorded.

Not proofread. I know I’m technically supposed to be on hiatus, but I just felt like writing something sad-ish this morning. Anyway, have a great week!

True Love’s Kiss

AU Setting: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (the original fairytale, not the Disney film). That being said, I’ve used the nicknames from the film just to distinguish between the different dwarves. Genre is humour/fluff/crack. I don’t know if I need to put a warning for character death seeing as I imagine all of us know how the story of Snow White goes already…?

For your reference:

Grumpy:Arthit
Happy:Kongpob
Bashful:M
DopeyBright
DocKnot
SneezyOak
SleepyTutah
Snow White:Prae
Prince(ss) Charming:May

Following the death of their beloved Snow White, the seven dwarves mourn in their own ways. Grumpy takes it particularly hard, and Happy tries to comfort him.

The cottage had grown incredibly quiet since that fateful night.

The seven dwarves had laughed and sung working songs as they trudged home with their pick axes slung over their shoulders. It had been a long, tiring day in the coal mines, but they knew that their hard work would come to fruition when the court jeweller would come to purchase their findings.

Knot had been the first to open the creaky wooden door, being the responsible keeper of the cottage keys. A few others had trickled into the living room after him, before stopping in their tracks, their song and laughter dying down as they’d taken in the scene in front of them.

Oak had immediately pulled Bright and M back outside into the open, knowing that they would get increasingly upset if they were to stay.

Kongpob, for a change, had wiped his usual cheery demeanour from his face, hands trembling as he watched Tutah and Knot rush to Prae’s side, trying gently to shake some consciousness into her lifeless body, and pulling Arthit’s angry, tearful face into his shoulder when Knot had looked up at them mournfully after placing his short, stubby finger shakily under her nose. Tutah had solemnly picked up the apple that had fallen out her grasp, just after she’d taken the smallest of bites.

When Bright and M had finally realised what had happened, they had been inconsolable, sobbing and sniffling late into the night until exhaustion had finally overtaken all of them. It had been especially difficult to have to tuck themselves into bed that night, having grown accustomed to being lulled to sleep with Prae’s gentle song, and gentle kisses to each of their forehead as she brought the blankets up to their chins.

Over the next few days, they’d worked on building their beautiful caregiver an equally pristine coffin to rest in. Tutah and M carve out intricate patterns of vines and birds into the mahogany base of the coffin, while Doc busies himself with hammering a large concave of glass into crystalline shape, that would serve as the coffin’s lid. Even in death, Prae’s beauty deserved to be fully on display, for anyone who would come by to witness the purest of souls being preserved in her element.

They’re working on the final touches now, M brushing a coat of varnish onto the wood to give it a gleaming finish. The others rest after hours of hard work, sipping on clay mugs of hot tea that Kongpob had brought them to warm their hands in the nipping air of dusk in the forest clearing where they’re building the coffin.

Barely any of them have said a word to each other since Prae’s death, and the silence breaks in the most inelegant of manners.

“I can’t believe it,” Arthit says through clenched teeth. “After all we told her about not talking to strangers, she goes and does this.”

Tutah is the first to look at him, incredulous. Being generally fatigued by nature, he’d become even more lethargic in the last few nights, lying wide awake at night while trying to stifle his yawns.

“How could you say that, Grumpy? Are you trying to say that Snow did this to herself?”

“I’m not saying it’s her fault, Sleepy, but honestly!” he narrows his eyes. “Who takes an apple from a complete stranger who passes by the window?”

“I’m sure she was just being polite,” says Knot. “You know what she’s like. She even fed every bird who sat on our windowsill.”

“That’s exactly what I mean, Doc,” Arthit shakes his head in exasperation. “Maybe if she’d learned to say no once in a while, she wouldn’t have ended up like-“

“You know what, Grumpy? We don’t need your negativity right now,” Oak stands up, pointing an accusing finger at him. “We just lost our Snow and all you can do is complain and talk like you’re any better than the rest of us.”

“Yeah! Sneezy’s right!” M pipes up. “You’ve barely helped us with the coffin, and now you’re basically blaming her for her own death!”

Bright, who’d been crying up to this point, looks up at Arthit with angry, tearful eyes.

“Now look what you’ve done. You’ve gone and upset Dopey,” Knot sighs in exasperation. “Look, Grumpy, if you don’t have anything remotely helpful to say or do, just go back to the cottage.”

Arthit takes in the five angry glares surrounding him, and bites back the tears welling up in his eyes.

“Fine, I guess I’m not needed here.”

He dumps his empty mug on the ground next to the log he’d been sitting on, and stomps back towards the cottage as quickly as his short little legs will take him.

Kongpob watches after him, and his stomach sinks. He turns to the others, and sighs, picking up the fallen mug.

“You all know that he doesn’t actually mean any of that, right?”

“Happy, he basically said that it was Snow’s fault. How could he?” Oak pinches his nose as he holds in a quiet sneeze.

“I don’t think that’s what he meant,” Kongpob replies, standing up now, dusting moss off the back of his trousers. “Anyway, I’m going to go and check on him.”

The others bite back muted huffs of irritation as Kongpob, too, makes his way down the path leading back to their humble cottage. Kongpob had always been the only one among all of them who could tame Arthit’s ever-grumpy outbursts, and it’s only natural that this is the case now.

When Kongpob reaches the cottage, he sees Arthit standing at the edge of the pond that stretches out in front of their home. He’s kicking pebbles, watching as they plop with a resounding bloomp! into the mossy green water.

“You want to tell me what’s really on your mind, Grumpy?”

Arthit sighs, glancing sideways at his companion, whose usually sparkling eyes are now dim with a mask of sadness. Kongpob sits on a nearby log, patting the space next to him, into which Arthit slowly settles after a moment.

“I didn’t mean that I thought it was her fault,” he says, almost bitingly. “The others always just assume that I’m being horrible.”

“I know,” Kongpob shuffles closer to him and stretches his own small arm over Arthit’s narrow shoulders. “So what’s going on?”

“I guess…I’m just mad at myself, Happy. She’s always been so pure and kind, and always thought nobody could do her wrong, even me.”

“You never did anything to her, Grumpy,” Kongpob reassures him.

“I did! I knew how innocent she was and I knew someone should have stayed with her at the cottage, especially after her crazy stepmother tried twice with the suffocating bodices and the poisoned comb. I…I could’ve stayed with her, Happy, and I could’ve-“

“You could’ve what?” Kongpob reaches out to wipe a stray tear that’s rolling down Arthit’s cheek. “Grumpy, if not this time, the Evil Queen could have found another way. There’s nothing any of us could have done. We were all at the mine, like we always are, and it’s nobody’s fault, especially not yours.”

He pulls Arthit in closer, gently brushing a speck of dirt off the tip of his nose. Despite his nickname, Kongpob knows, looking into Arthit’s wide, scared eyes, that under all the snarky remarks, he, too, has a heart of pure gold.

“She’s at peace now, Grumpy,” Kongpob whispers, pulling Arthit’s crying face into his chest, the entire length of his arms cradling his head.

As he holds him, Kongpob looks up briefly to see Knot, whose shoulders are slumped over with guilt at having chastised their friend, who is clearly hurting just as much as the rest of them.

Knot walks over to them, frowning slightly before he, too, wraps his arms around Arthit, resting his head on his back. Arthit startles a little at the contact, but soon nestles his face further into Kongpob’s chest. As the others make their way back from the clearing, they join in on the collective embrace, crying silent tears together at the loss of their lovely Prae.

It takes all seven of them to carry Prae’s body to the coffin, but with some careful and calculated teamwork, they manage to heave her onto the bed of the casket, Tutah smoothing out her skirt and folding her hands on her abdomen. Despite almost a week having passed, she still looks as fresh as the morning they’d last seen her, almost as if she were merely deep in sleep. The only sign of her lifelessness is the colour gone from her cheeks, leaving her skin as white and pale as, well, snow.

As they stand around the casket, they each pull their caps off of their heads, clasping them in their fists as they silently say their goodbyes. Kongpob silently reaches for Arthit’s hand, and he takes it wordlessly, gripping it tightly as he looks down at his feet.

As Knot moves slide the glass top over the casket, they hear the trotting of a horse in the distance, causing several of them to look up. They watch in amazement as the stallion in question slows to a halt when it reaches the clearing.

The rider of the white steed, a broad-shouldered woman with large eyes and raven-black hair, gracefully slides off of the saddle, her long riding boots thumping onto the ground with the crunch of leaves. M immediately cowers, stepping backwards towards the coffin as though this sword-wielding, strikingly handsome rider could cause any further harm to their beloved Prae.

“I’m not going to hurt any of you,” she says, noticing the fear in some of their eyes. “I’m Princess May, daughter of King Tew from the neighbouring kingdom.”

The dwarves, upon realising they’re in the presence of royalty, immediately kneel in front of the princess, who quickly ushers for them to stand.

“Please, good men, there’s no need for that. I simply noticed that there were people in this clearing, and wondered what the commotion was.”

Knot, although somewhat reserved, speaks up.

“We’re holding a funeral, your Highness,” he says, gesturing to the coffin behind him. “Our caregiver was taken from us too soon.”

Princess May’s brows furrow with concern, and she moves towards the coffin, her sturdy armour scraping with every step. She sighs gently, taking in the features of the young woman, the gentle slope of her nose, her still-pink lips and the ebony hair swept off of her face.

“She’s beautiful,” she says, almost a whisper. “What happened to her?”

“She bit into a poisoned apple. The Queen of our kingdom has been trying to kill her for some time now. She’s incredibly jealous of her beauty.”

“Your queen? Queen Paga?”

“Yes,” Oak squeaks at the sound of her name. “We think she’s the one who disguised herself and gave our Snow White the apple.”

“She was too pure!” Bright wails suddenly, and Tutah pats his back.

“Oh, Dopey,” he says, an attempt at comforting his usually scatterbrained friend.

“You know,” Princess May stands up straight, still looking at Prae. “There’s an old legend that says that Queen Paga is actually a witch. She was once the most beautiful woman in all the land. But her first love broke her heart, and she grew bitter. From then on, she conjured a spell that could kill any woman who dared to surpass her beauty. I imagine that that’s what she’s done with the apple.”

“Like a curse?” Kongpob tilts his head up at her in wonder.

“Exactly,” May nods at him.

“Well, every curse can be lifted, can’t it?” Arthit finally speaks for the first time. The others look at him curiously as this realisation dawns on him. “Is there any way we can bring her back?”

“There is,” May speaks slowly now. “But I don’t know if it will be so easy to accomplish.”

“What is it? We’ll do whatever it takes!” M says, eyes pleading.

“Well, the legend states that the only way that the curse can be lifted is if she receives a kiss from her true love,” she sighs, pushing her sword hilt behind her. “The problem is that we don’t know who that is.”

A moment of silence hangs among them, until suddenly, Bright breaks it with a loud outburst.

“I volunteer myself!” he cries. “I will kiss her!”

Knot smacks him in the chest with the back of his hand.

“Nobody asked for a volunteer, Dopey. And anyhow, she loved us all equally.”

“No, she loved me best!”

“No, I was her favourite!”

“She said I was handsome!”

“She said I mined the best diamonds!”

May tries to stifle a giggle at the way the miniature men around her are bickering.

“Gentlemen,” she says, trying to bring the focus back to the matter. “Look, I’m sure she loved all of you very much. And in such a case, I don’t think it would hurt for all of you to try.”

They exchange hesitant glances at each other, before nodding.

“I’ll go first!” Bright says, stepping closer to the coffin and climbing onto the edge to prop himself up so that he’s tall enough to reach. Despite his initial eagerness, his heart drops upon seeing Prae lie motionless, and a tear trickles down his nose as he gently presses a kiss to her forehead. The others hold their breaths as they wait for some sort of miracle reaction.

But none comes even after several minutes, and Bright eventually lowers himself back down to the ground, clearly disappointed, both with Prae’s persisting unconscious state, and with the fact that he was not, in fact, her true love.

“Um…I guess I’ll go next,” Knot mumbles. He, too, quickly pecks her forehead, and anxiously watches for any sign of awakening. Nothing.

The others follow after, each placing furtive kisses on her cheeks and forehead, each leaving disappointed when she doesn’t so much as flinch. Her skin remains cold and lifeless.

“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” May looks glumly down at her feet. “I wish I knew how else I could help. But there’s not much we can do when we don’t know who her true love is.”

They cling tighter to their hats, all solemn with defeat. Kongpob, however, who still has a teary Arthit’s face buried into his shoulder, looks up at her.

“Princess May, if I could, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt for your highness to try as well? There’s no saying that her true love must be a man.”

At this, the others snap their heads up in surprise, trying to comprehend his meaning. Even Princess May takes a moment to ponder his words. Eventually, all the others are nodding in agreement, and gaze up at her with pleading eyes.

“Please?” Arthit says through a sniffle. “It’s our last hope for now.”

The handsome princess looks from them, to the resting maiden in the casket, and then back at the crying dwarves. For them, she would try. And if one as beautiful as the fair one lying before her were to be her true love, she can’t say that she minds terribly.

She steps forward, tucking her hair behind her ear, before slowly bending down, until her face nears Prae’s, observing the curve of her eyelashes and the ethereal glow of her pale skin. Then, her breath hitches as she gently presses her lips to the young girl’s, surprised by the softness, nothing like the lips of the nobleman with whom her mother had tried to arrange an engagement for her.

A few seconds pass, and she pulls away, her own cheeks slightly rosy.

She and the dwarves peer closely, breaths shortened as they wait eagerly.

Then, a miracle happens.

Kongpob thinks he might be seeing things, but he gasps when he realises that indeed, the colour in Prae’s cheeks flush a gentle pink, and her lashes flutter ever so slightly.

The others soon realise, too, and May grasps at Prae’s hands, feeling the warmth return to them gradually. A few more rises and falls of her chest and Prae’s eyes slowly flutter open, hazily taking in her surroundings.

The first thing she sees is the most dashingly beautiful woman she’s ever seen, and the small, dimpled smile on her face is lovely.

“Hello,” May whispers to her. “You must be Snow White.”

They stare at each other admiringly for a few more moments, before Prae finds herself surrounded by the hugs and kisses of her seven little friends, who are crying tears of joy and singing songs of praise.

Another week passes, and Kongpob and Arthit find themselves sitting at the window inside the cottage, gazing out into the front yard, where Prae is blushing and giggling at something Princess May whispers into her ear.

The two dwarves have just finished sweeping all the kitchen dust out the door, and after Oak’s complaints of it worsening his allergies, they decide to take a breather.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Kongpob says, watching the two girls.

“What is?” Arthit rests his chin on his hand, elbow on the windowsill.

“How love is so powerful that it can bring someone back to life,” he clarifies. “A simple kiss brought our Snow back to us.”

“Yes, well…what are the chances, though? Not all of us can find our true love in this lifetime.”

Kongpob smiles at his friend, an aching tightness forming in his chest as he observes the soft features of Arthit’s face, a complete juxtaposition to his nickname. He’s always thought that Arthit is just as, if not more, beautiful than Prae.

“What are you looking at?” Arthit suddenly feels awfully shy, blinking rapidly as the tips of ears redden with embarrassment.

“Would you kiss me to save my life, Grumpy?”

“Wh-What?” Arthit stutters. “Who says I’m your true love? And besides, you shouldn’t be taking poison apples from strangers anyway!”

He exhales sharply, a slight pout forming at Kongpob’s cheeky suggestion. The cheerful dwarf simply chuckles, leaning in closer, sending Arthit’s already thumping heart into overdrive.

“But hypothetically, if you were my true love, would you kiss me to bring me back?”

Arthit glances sideways at him, leaning away from the mischievous smirk.

“No,” he huffs, earning a slightly dejected look from Kongpob, who now moves away to rest his chin on his hands, palms laid on top of each other.

The corner of Arthit’s mouth turns up slightly. Feeling a hint of bravery wash through him, he leans in close enough to whisper in Kongpob’s ear.

“I’d kiss you even if you weren’t dead.”

Then he stands up, picking up the broom again and heading into the kitchen where Knot and Bright are stirring something in a large pot.

Looking over his shoulder briefly, he sees Kongpob’s shocked expression, and smiles slightly as Kongpob’s own mouth breaks into a wide grin, the sparkle in his eyes returning for the first time in two weeks.

True love does come in all genders, shapes, and sizes, after all.

Great Heights

Kongpob finds himself in an unusual predicament one afternoon when he seeks comfort at his favourite place on campus.

On days following heavy storms, a cool breeze sifts through the area, the humid weight of dark grey clouds having dissipated from the skies.

On days like these, Kongpob likes to spend time alone under his favourite spot on the university lawn. Actually, to call it a lawn would be a bit of stretch, seeing as it’s really more of a 200 meter-squared spread of dried-up grass that is rarely maintained, leaving sporadically exposed patches of dirt and the occasional mud hole. 

But it’s not the grass to which Kongpob feels attached. In the far corner, behind the faculty building, there’s a giant monkey-pod tree, a marvellous creature in its own right, like a mushroom overgrown a by a thousand times. From afar, with its branches spidering almost endlessly outwards into densely packed leaves, it looks sort of like nature’s brain emerging out of the ground. 

It’s special to Kongpob, not just because he’d discovered it on a particularly difficult day in his freshman year, but also because it’s the perfect cool shade from the blazing heat without the dryness of air-conditioning, and has a sturdy trunk right in the centre that supports his back in the most optimal way. 

Today, after a particularly long lecture on game theory, he seeks comfort under nature’s giant umbrella, allowing his things to fall beside him as he leans back and stretches his legs out. He thinks there’s nothing that could ever interrupt his blissful moment alone, away from freeloading classmates and the droning sound of his professor’s voice. 

That is, until he hears a cough.

Or at least, he thinks it’s a cough. 

But that can’t be, because there’s nobody seated around any other side of the trunk, nor can he see anyone else within a twenty-metre radius. 

I’m probably just tired and hearing things.

He resumes his position, leaning his head back against the smooth central stem of the tree, closing his eyes and taking deep, calming breaths.

Until he hears it again.

He stands up this time, properly walking a full circle around the base of the tree, trying to source out the origin of the sound. Suddenly, he hears a brief rustling of the leaves above him, and only when he looks up, does he startle in surprise.

It’s a…person.

An actual, living, breathing person, just…sitting in the tree, on a high branch at least three or four metres off the ground. He’s wearing a crimson red workshop jacket, the colour of the university’s engineering faculty, a black t-shirt, jeans, and…one shoe?

“Hi,” he calls out finally, overcoming the initial shock, now simply bewildered at the fact that there is a person! In the tree! His tree!

The guy doesn’t look down at him. Instead, his eyes remain trained straight ahead, and occasionally above him.

“H-hi,” he responds, his fingers gripping tightly onto the branch. He’s nestled at the nook of the branch, right where it meets the main trunk.

“Um…sorry, I don’t mean to bother you,” Kongpob scratches the back of his neck. “But…w-why are you in the tree?”

There’s a slight irritation to his voice. He doesn’t like the idea of sharing his beloved tree with anyone, especially note in such a way where someone feels entitled to just climb its branches like monkey bars. Kongpob doesn’t get a response at first, the engineering student seemingly refusing to look down at him. 

“I…my shoe,” he finally says after a moment, pointing vaguely upwards at a branch a little further away from him. “It got stuck up there.” 

Kongpob squints at where the guy is pointing, and sure enough, a greyish-blue sneaker with white laces and a thick, flat rubber sole is sitting on one of the larger branches, about a metre’s grasp away.

He glances back at the guy now. He’s still shaking a little, holding onto the branch he’s sitting on, legs curled under and around the branch like any slight movement would cause him to fall to his death. 

“Are you stuck?”

The guy simply nods a little, biting his lip as he gulps slightly. 

“I…don’t know how to get down,” he says, voice cracking a little. “I didn’t think it was this far up.”

The poor guy is afraid of heights, Kongpob realises. Suddenly, the previous indignation he’d held about the intruder dissipates into sympathy, and he looks down at his own feet for a moment, then visually scans the length of the tree trunk, trying to map out how the tree-sitter had managed to get up so high in the first place.

And then he’s placed one foot in a ridge between two of the main, thicker branches that stem from near the bottom, and pulled himself upwards until he can reach even further.

“Wh-what are you doing?” Kongpob hears the guy’s shaky voice.

“Getting your shoe.”

“Wait, don’t-” he starts in protest, but Kongpob is already clambering his way towards the isolated target.

“It’s fine.”

The process reminds him of the times he’s been indoor rock climbing, except maybe a little easier, as there are sturdier surfaces for him to place his footing, and deeper crevices for his fingers to curl around. He easily climbs and leaps his way up to where the lone sneaker is, carefully grabbing it off the branch, and holding it out, waving it at the other boy in triumph.

“Got it!” he grins, clearly proud of himself.

He looks over at the guy now, who’s sort of smiling, but it’s more a grimace as he nods slowly. He’s kind of cute, Kongpob notices, taking in his large, slightly nervous doe eyes and the sharp slope of his nose that meets a pair of shapely, rosy lips. 

“You shouldn’t have come up here,” the guys says quietly, eyes closing in a sigh.

“Why? I got your shoe,” Kongpob clings on to a smaller branch hanging above him, standing on one of the sturdier branches a little less than adjacent to the one the other guy is sitting on. 

“Yes, thanks…but, um,” he gestures vaguely downwards without looking. “How are we going to get down now?”

“What do you mean? We’ll just climb back down.”

Kongpob chuckles in amusement before allowing his gaze to fall below him, and only then does he suck in a short gasp. 

Like before, he mentally maps out how he’d managed to get up so high off the ground, except this time, he’s struggling to find an appropriate route downwards. While he’d had no trouble leaping and bounding upwards, jumping up and grabbing whichever low-reaching branch he could hold on to, the realisation now dawns on him that jumping down onto the narrow widths of said branches was a whole different story. 

There’s no way he can get down without breaking at least one limb. Suddenly, the ground looks much further away than it initially had. 

“Crap…” 

“Yep…pretty much.”

Kongpob exhales deeply and slowly lowers himself into a crouch, pawing cautiously at a branch in front of him to do so, before seating himself onto the fork in the almost completely vertical length of wood, not unlike the one his companion is currently situated on. 

He allows the shoe to fall below him, just to see how long it takes to reach the grass below, and only confirms his dread when it lands after two seconds, bouncing several times across the soil before rolling away, stopping several meters from the base of the trunk. 

“Do you…have your phone?” Kongpob rubs a finger across his chin, slightly embarrassed.

“It’s out of battery. You?”

“In my bag,” he sheepishly points down at his belongings, now seemingly far tinier than they had been before.

Kongpob looks over at the guy now, who’s still trying to calm himself with deep, steady breaths, and willing himself not to look down.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

The boy returns his gaze momentarily, surprised by the question.

“Arthit,” he replies after a dazed few seconds.

“Ah, looks like I couldn’t escape the sun after all,” the corner of Kongpob’s mouth turns upwards, faintly teasing. “I’m Kongpob, from the faculty of economics.”

Arthit presses his lips into a thin smile, blushing slightly at the comment. 

“Engineering,” he pulls slightly at his jacket to emphasise the embroidered gear on the right chest pocket. SSU ’57, Kongpob can just about make out the small print. So he’s a senior.

“How did your shoe end up in a tree anyway?” 

It seems the most obvious question to ask, and one with the least obvious answer. Arthit snorts, shaking his head in mild annoyance.

“One of my friends…he thought he saw a fruit up here and wanted to knock it down.”

“Fruit?” Kongpob quirks an eyebrow. “If there were seedpods, they’d be all over the tree and the ground.”

“Yes, well, my friend isn’t all that bright…. ironically,” Arthit seems slightly more relaxed now. “His name is Bright,” he clarifies, noting Kongpob’s slightly confused expression at his previous remark. 

“Why didn’t he use his own shoe?”

“He said mine had a heavier sole and therefore would have a greater impact. That,  and he didn’t want to ruin his Air Jordans.”

Kongpob grins in amusement at this, glad to see Arthit slightly more relaxed now. 

There could be worse ways to spend his afternoon than sitting in a tree with a cute guy, Kongpob can admit. He chuckles to himself, a familiar childish rhyme popping into his mind.

“What?” Arthit eyes him curiously.

“Nothing, it’s just…this whole situation is kind of ridiculous,” he breaks into a wide smile. “I meant to spend my afternoon just reading and instead, we’re both stuck in a giant tree, you’re only wearing one shoe, and honestly, I’m not even mad.”

“You’re not? Because the minute we get down from here, I’m carrying out a murder plot,” Arthit snickers, shaking his head. “It could be worse, I guess. You could’ve just left me here to fend for myself.”

“I would do no such thing,” Kongpob reassures him. 

He gazes out beyond the leaves, at tiny figures passing by along paths in the distance. For a moment, he considers just screaming at the top of his lungs for help, but admittedly, he’s not exactly in a rush to leave his current position, practical predicament aside.

“I’ve always liked the view from this tree,” Arthit leans against the trunk now, his legs dangling on either side of the branch he’s sat on. “But honestly, this is a whole new perspective.” 

Kongpob turns to Arthit, who’s staring in the same direction that his own line of vision had just been, a small smirk on his face. 

“Yeah, I like the view up here,” he agrees quietly and with a soft smile, and Arthit briefly shifts his gaze towards him. 

It takes a few moments for Arthit to fully register the double meaning of his words, and when he does, his cheeks flush slightly, and he bites back a smile of his own. He turns his face away but pales again when he realises he’s looking down still, sucking in another sharp breath. 

“So you’re here often, too?”

“Yeah, although I’m usually here in the mornings between classes to nap.”

“No wonder,” Kongpob carefully shifts himself so he’s seated more firmly on the branch. “I’m usually here in the afternoons after longer lectures.”

“Wait, are you the one who carved Kong into the side of the tree?” Arthit suddenly recalls a vague image of the name he’d noticed one day a few months ago. 

“Yeah,” Kongpob laughs. “I guess I’m a little possessive that way. I don’t like being sharing this space. Unless the company’s good, of course,” he adds pointedly. 

“And here I thought this tree was mine,” Arthit says jovially. “I’ll make a note to carve my own name.”

“I suppose we can have shared custody,” Kongpob quips, earning another shy silence.

They remain like this for another hour or so, continuing their coy banter as the sky begins to haze over with the fall of dusk. As the sun goes down, so gradually does Arthit’s previous anxiety over their predicament.

Soon, though, they hear the shuffling of footsteps and glimpse the rays of a flashlight briefly glowing beneath their dangling feet, shining onto Kongpob’s abandoned belongings at the base of the tree. 

The stream of light then moves upwards, and the confused, furrowed brows of a campus security guard stare back at them.

“You boys okay?” the man calls out, flashing his torch between each of their faces, causing both of them to squint.

“We’re stuck!” Arthit calls down, relieved that someone had finally found them.

“Okay,” the guard clicks his flashlight off. “I’ll be right back with a ladder. Hang tight,” he says, making his way back out of the shade. “Kids these days…”

The climb down still has Arthit’s knees shaking, but it’s far less terrifying than having to risk navigating the uneven network of sloped branches of the monkey-pod. As soon as he joins Kongpob back on the ground, he crouches for a moment, patting the ground below him in relief. 

Then, he stands back, dusting the back of his jeans off and thanking the rather miffed security guard, who just shakes his head and manoeuvres the collapsible ladder back under his arm.

Kongpob begins to gather up his things and pulls his phone out of his bag. He has a good thirty unread notifications, but he ignores them, pulling up the dial pad instead.

“Arthit,” he bites his lip nervously. “You don’t have to, but…uh…” he trails off, but meekly holds his phone out to him. “You know, just in case you want some company the next time you’re here.”

Arthit stares at the glowing screen for a moment, glad that the overall dimming glow of sunset makes it difficult for Kongpob to see his flustered face. He hesitates just a moment longer before taking the device and pressing in his number with a reserved smile and then hands the phone back. 

Kongpob looks down at the digits, a shy smile forming on his lips as he saves the contact. 

A few weeks later, they’re leaning against the trunk of the tree, Kongpob with his book and Arthit snoozing with his head tilted back. Sure that Arthit is at least mostly asleep, Kongpob pulls a small Swiss Army knife out of his backpack, pushing himself up to stand and move to where he’d etched his name into the bark months before.

+

Arthit

He adds under his own name.

Juice of Weapon

Kongpob is alone at home, until an intruder breaks into the apartment, and he has to think quick on his feet.

It’s been awfully quiet for the past week. 

Kongpob finds himself still momentarily confused when he wakes up to find the space on the mattress next to him cold and empty. There’d been one night earlier in the week when he’d completely forgotten that he was alone, and had accidentally bought dinner for two. Not being able to stomach spicy food, he’d given the other meal to a homeless woman instead. One time, he’d forgotten to bring his towel into the bathroom, and had called out from the shower, only to remember that there was nobody to help him. He’d poked his head out cautiously to check that he wouldn’t be exposed through any windows before carefully traipsing his way, naked and dripping everywhere, to the bedroom. 

It’s not often that he has the apartment all to himself. Frankly, he’s not even upset about it. Of course, it had taken some getting used to, but towards the end of the week, Kongpob had found that it allowed him room to do things that he wouldn’t normally be able to, like eating all the blandest foods that brought him comfort, watching historical documentaries and gardening shows, and going to bed early. 

By Friday, he’s bored enough in the evenings that he goes to the market and buys an absurd amount of fruit and vegetables, filling the fridge to the brim with an array of produce. He’d read somewhere about the different benefits of juicing, and had decided that a minced pork omelette with rice probably wasn’t bringing him the most balanced nutrition. Tonight with dinner, he makes himself a strawberry, apple, pear and carrot juice.

He marvels at the reddish-pink colour, and smiles fondly, as it reminds him of something –  or rather, someone – else he’s fond of. 

Arthit’s supposed to be home from his trip tomorrow afternoon. Sometimes his work takes him to other provinces for a day or two, or occasionally, to Laos or Cambodia. This time though, he’s been invited to attend a conference in Tokyo and is gone for a full ten days. 

Kongpob resists the daily urge to bombard him with messages of How’s it going? and Are you eating alright? or even just I miss you <3 , knowing that his boyfriend prefers some space from time to time, especially when he’s busy with work. And so Kongpob finds a myriad of ways to distract himself in the evenings. He starts by mopping the floor so clean you could eat off of it,  making every combination of juice he can think of until he feels their blender getting warm, or taking extensive notes as he watches Animal Planet. Literally anything to keep his hands too busy to overwhelm Arthit with texts. 

Tonight, he puts in the extra effort to have the latest episodes of all of Arthit’s favourite animes lined up in their TV, puts a couple of bottles of pink milk in the door of the fridge, and refills the drawer of their bedside table with the appropriate supplies (they’d been running low anyway).

He has a somewhat restless night of sleep, waking every half hour or so to the slightest noises or disturbances, turning in his sleep so often that the bed sheet begins to crease from the movement. The room is both too warm with the blanket on, but too cold without. It’s uncomfortable sleeping on his side, but he can’t fall asleep lying on his back, and yet lying on his front hurts his neck. After he’s woken up yet again by the muted slam of a car door outside the building, he finally accepts defeat and sits up in bed, rubbing his eyes as he peers at the wall clock. It’s three in the morning. 

Maybe he’s just dehydrated. Yes, the irritation in his throat might do well with a cold glass of water. So he pulls himself out of bed, making his way to the kitchen in darkness, the only light coming in from the windows, with the vague glow of warm white street lights that line their neighbourhood. 

He opens the fridge, moving aside a few cucumbers and peaches to grab the water jug, before feeling around the kitchen counter for a glass. The icy cold fluid does soothe his dry throat, sending a pleasant chill throughout him, and he moves to pour himself another glass.

Just as he’s about to pick up the jug again, he hears a sudden click coming from the front door, followed by the faint shuffling of footsteps.

His entire body freezes for a moment, panicking at the thought of an intruder. He’d read the news lately about burglars in their district, stealing anything and everything they deemed worthy of reselling. 

Had he forgotten to lock the door? It couldn’t be that; he always made sure it was the last thing he did before residing in his room for the night. Unless the burglar could pick locks? How else would they be able to enter into people’s homes so easily?

After a few deep breaths, he blindly grabs the first thing he can reach in a moment’s hurry, keeping his eyes trained behind him in case anyone should suddenly sneak up on him. Then he carefully and silently shuts the door of the fridge, turning to make his way towards the living room slowly, his weapon of choice gripped firmly at his side in his trembling hand.

His heart is beating so madly that he can feel it drumming in his ears, and he wills himself to be steady enough to successfully attack the intruder so that they’re at least unconscious for long enough for him to call the police. He almost manages to maintain some semblance of calm, until he sees a dark figure emerge from the front hallway.

And then the lights flicker on.

“AGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH NO NO NO NO! JUST TAKE WHATEVER YOU WANT! PLEASE DON’T HURT ME!” he screams frantically, squeezing his eyes shut and aggressively, aimlessly whacking the air in front of him with whatever is in his hands. 

“Whoa, whoa, what are you-“

“J-Just take the television! Or the wine glasses! They’re brand new! S-Spare my life, please!” 

He yelps in terror again as he feels firm hands grab his wrists in an attempt to stop him from struggling.

“Kong, stop it! What are you doing?!”

Hang on a second…the burglar knows his name? 

Still panting in fear, he slowly peeks an eye open, his entire body seeming to sigh with relief when he sees that it’s just his boyfriend, who looks proportionately alarmed and confused. He pushes his suitcase aside and shrugs his backpack off, raising an eyebrow at Kongpob’s distressed state.

“P’Arthit! You almost gave me a heart attack!”

“What the heck are you doing? And why are you up so late?”

“I was getting some water,” Kongpob groans, shuffling forward to step into Arthit’s slightly outstretched arms. He exhales into his lover’s shoulder, the familiar warmth and strong arms around his back, bringing him immediate comfort. “Why are you back so soon? I thought you weren’t supposed to be back until this afternoon.”

“I caught an early flight because I wanted to surprise you,” he chuckles softly into Kongpob’s hair and playing with the tag hanging out of the back of his sleep shirt. “Now, are you going to tell me why were you trying to attack me?”

Kongpob pulls back slightly, a little embarrassed as he avoids Arthit’s amused expression.

“I…I thought you were a burglar or some crazy murderer. There’ve been some news reports about it lately.”

Arthit’s grin widens now, and he laughs as he looks down at what’s in Kongpob’s hand. 

“And…you were going to try and fight off this psycho with…a head of celery?” he says gently, but with a hint of teasing in his voice. He bites his lip to stifle back a laugh, but snickers a little anyway. 

Kongpob now brings his hand up to look at the somewhat dishevelled looking vegetable before quickly hiding it behind him. Indeed, it would not have made a very effective tool in fighting off a criminal, who might potentially have had a knife or gun. Arthit is properly laughing now, though he’s trying to stifle it behind his hand. 

“P’Arthit!” Kongpob groans. “Don’t make fun of me! I just grabbed the first thing I could!” 

“Aww, I’m sorry,” Arthit pulls him closer again, petting the back of his head. He’s still grinning with amusement, though. “I won’t make fun of your very nutritious weapon. Although, I think a white radish might have made a greater impact.” 

His boyfriend huffs softly into the crook of his neck, but eventually returns the hug, placing the celery aside on the end table near them.

“I missed you, P’Arthit,” he says quietly, breathing in Arthit’s familiar scent. “I really tried not to bother you because I know you were busy, but I just-“

“I know. I missed you too,” Arthit gently unwraps Kongpob’s arms from around his waist and, taking in the sight of Kongpob’s slightly pink cheeks, can’t help but press his lips to his forehead. He’s too cute when he’s embarrassed, something that doesn’t happen often. In fact, he’s usually on the receiving end of Kongpob’s relentless teasing. “Although I’m glad you grabbed celery and not a knife, or this night would have turned out very differently.” He pauses a moment, narrowing his eyes in question. “Why did you buy celery anyway? Please don’t tell me you tried to cook again.”

“No,” Kongpob looks at him pointedly, ignoring the jab at his far from perfect culinary skills. “I’ve just been making some smoothies. Do you want one?”

Arthit peers at the rather sad-looking vegetable on the end table, half the stalks snapped in half from his lover’s violent swinging, and the base looking bruised from where he’d gripped it tightly in fear. 

“I’m not sure I want to drink your murder weapon juice.”

“Fine, then,” Kong says, feigning nonchalance. “I’ve read that celery boosts the release of certain hormones, but…if you’re not in the mood, then we can just go to sleep,” he shrugs, then keeps his eyes trained on Arthit’s as he makes his way back to their room.

His boyfriend stares after him a moment, eyeing the celery again, contemplating what Kongpob is implying. It’s certainly been a long week and a half. 

“Kong, wait,” he calls after him. “Tell me more about celery juice.”

Picture This

A series of pictures in KongArt’s lives that are for Arthit’s eyes only.

“Help me take a picture! Use your phone; it takes good photos.”

Hazers, freshmen, and alumni alike crowd around the table to squeeze into the tiny frame of Arthit’s phone screen for one of the last pictures they’ll probably get the chance to take before the end of the night. The end of a growing process for the freshmen. The end of the hazers’ chapter of leadership. The end of a cycle for the recent graduates. 

The end of an era.

Arthit, though holding the phone as far away from himself as possible to make sure everyone’s face can be seen, turns to look at the one image in his life’s view that he never wants to tear his eyes away from. 

How much time had passed for his junior to grow up like this? The boy had slowly edged his way into infecting every fibre of Arthit’s being, whispering sweet nothings into his ear in the mornings, mastering the art of flirtation via LINE stickers, and sulking for kisses that Arthit would love to grant but won’t allow himself to for fear of getting carried away. 

And on nights when Kongpob would stumble into his apartment, weary from all the hazing activities, or burned out from studying, Arthit would let him have whatever the boy wanted. If he could kiss and hold away all his fears and fatigue, he’s more than glad to tuck his shyness away in a drawer for just a little while. 

He wants nothing more than for Kongpob to have all the joy he deserves, and hides a smile of his own as he takes in his boyfriend’s sparkling grin.

Happiness looks good on him.

Before he realises, Bright has finagled the phone out of his hand to take a look at the thirty or so selfies Arthit had unknowingly taken in his distracted appreciation.

“The photo looks nice…wait, Arthit,” he raises an eyebrow. “Why aren’t you looking at the camera?”

“Yeah, Arthit,” Prem pipes up. “Your eyes were on Kongpob.”

“What?” 

No, they weren’t….were they? 

“No!” he says in protest, his entire face warming at the accusation, knowing full well that this tidbit of information would be the catalyst for endlessly smug teasing from both his friends and the very boy he’d just shamelessly been admiring.

“He mistook Kongpob’s eyes for the camera!” Bright says, followed by loud whoops of second-hand frisson from around the table. 

“I wanted to show off my side profile,” Arthit insists, knowing full well that nobody in his presence believes him. 

Kongpob, watching the entire commotion, blushes to himself, quiet with the satisfaction that the man he loves had momentarily slipped in his facade of aloofness. Perhaps he would allow him to kiss his very red face later on, when everyone else had dispersed.

For now, he links his fingers between Arthit’s under the table to calm the fluttering in his stomach. 

And when the photo gets sent to the group chat, Kongpob makes a cropped duplicate, wanting always to be reminded of how Arthit does, in fact, love him like he loves nobody else. 

The sand crunches wetly between his fingers as the two of them flop down by the water, still laughing and panting from their playful shenanigans. Their shirts cling wet to their backs, and Arthit shakes the salty water out his hair as they turn to face the setting sun. 

A picturesque sight by any standard, but Arthit has his gaze cast elsewhere. 

He’d finally wrangled his shirt back from his mischievous boyfriend, pulling it on as they’d clambered up to shore before anyone unnecessarily saw more of his naked torso. Not that he’s embarrassed or ashamed of his body, but in Kongpob’s presence…it almost feels scandalous to expose himself to him anywhere other than behind a locked door. 

“P’Arthit, do you like the sea?”

“I do.”

The crashing waves and sand between his toes had bore witness to a night of some of the biggest milestones they’d reached in their time together, from a vague confession in which Kongpob had given him his heart, to the making of an appointment which he would later come to realise was a date, and the terrifying realisation that perhaps he, too, wanted his heart in Kongpob’s care. 

If the sun had eyes, they would smile upon this moment.

For now, though, their shared bliss and the smiles that result from it are for Arthit’s eyes only. 

“But there was a moment when I was scared of it.”

“When was that?”

True enough, he’d once panicked at the thought of losing someone he’d had yet to understand the labyrinth of his feelings for. To have crashing waves steal from him the bane—and heartbeat—of his existence. 

“Actually, it was my fault,” he says, watching the water’s steady inhale, followed by a release that tickled the tips of their toes. “I shouldn’t have told you to go cool your head in the sea. Who would’ve known that you would actually do it?”

He’s teasing his boyfriend’s occasional flair for the dramatics, but in a strange way, he’s grateful for the boy’s disappearance under water highlighting for him the extent of the necessity Kongpob held in his heart. 

“But you were looking at me the whole time. So you thought I was drowning.”

“What? Who was looking at you?”

I was. And I am now. 

He hopes Kongpob will never be too long out of sight.

“What about you? Do you like the sea?”

The answer is prefaced with a smug raise of the eyebrow, and a smirk that Arthit loves to hate. “I do,” he says, and Arthit awaits his reasoning. “It reminds me that someone cares about me.”

And suddenly the view is overwhelming, bringing Arthit to avert Kongpob’s knowing smile. 

“What? I don’t care about you.”

He’s lying.

But Kongpob doesn’t get the opportunity to point this small detail out, as their gossip-mongering colleague comes bounding towards them with her camera.

“Let me take your photo!” she gestures for them to move closer to each other. 

They do, but only as much as would be normal for a senior and junior who happen to be working at the same company. 

“So beautiful!” 

She’s referring to the overall framework of the picture, but the borders of Arthit’s viewfinder are elsewhere. 

“Get closer!”

They shuffle forward just a little, and Arthit can’t deny himself the pleasure of being reminded of Kongpob’s role in his life. He won’t ever let the sea, or anything else, induce the fear of losing him again, if he can help it. He’s selfish like that.

So when Durian asks for a photo with just Kongpob, Arthit tells her that his hands are dirty. A sore excuse if he’d ever heard one, what with the water literally inches away for him to rinse the sand away. 

But as long as Kongpob will allow him, Arthit won’t let a single chapter of their story go by without reserving a page for just the two of them.

Everyone knows now.

I love Kongpob,” he’d said into the microphone in front of a hundred surprised faces, and a few knowing smiles. 

There’s something cathartic, or perhaps self-indulging, about claiming your territory. Not that Kongpob is an object to be possessed by any being, but indeed the object of desire for many, and Arthit no longer wants to allow  the same people whose opinions he’d feared to potentially be options from which Kongpob could choose. 

He doesn’t want Kongpob to even consider those many different options, when Arthit has only ever had one.

“Smile for me,” he says now, his tone teasing, but with sheer satisfaction in the knowledge that the upturned corners of Kongpob’s lips are, indeed, for Arthit alone.

For once, Kongpob is speechless, his smile so wide that his cheeks almost hurt. And so he simply follows his lover with his hand in Arthit’s warm, solid grasp as they make their way home.

At one point, Arthit lets go, allowing Kongpob to trail ahead of him, until he stops to pull out his phone. Kongpob pauses, thinking that the man might be replying to a message, until he’s proven wrong yet again.

“Kongpob,” Arthit calls for his attention. He turns around, blinking in surprise when his usually reserved boyfriend suddenly snaps a picture of him. And then he’s taking another one, and another, angling the phone back and forth to get the best framing and lighting as possible under the dim lighting of the street lamp. 

“Why are you taking pictures of me?” he muses, although he’s not complaining.

Arthit doesn’t answer him, instead holding his hand out as he tucks his own phone away. 

“Give me your phone,” he says, to Kongpob’s confusion, although the boy still hands the device over. He thinks he might like this slightly possessive side of Arthit, but he isn’t sure about the idea of being monitored in this fashion.

“Are you checking my phone?” 

He doesn’t have anything to hide. After all, his friends know him to be notorious for leaving his messages on read except for work-related matters, family, and indeed, for the one whose every word for which he wants to create an album of its own.

“What are you talking about?” Arthit scrunches his brows up at the ridiculous notion. Didn’t the boy know by now that he trusted him more than anyone else? That it was others he held reservations for? “Give me your hand,” he feigns exasperation. 

And for the second time that evening, Arthit takes hold of his hand, snapping a portrait of their grasp, a millisecond frozen in time of a memory only the two of them know the story behind. He makes it Kongpob’s wallpaper, the constant backdrop to his days, and a reminder of his love no matter the obstacles. 

“Whenever you see your phone, you’ll see the picture that I took.”

Kongpob is still finding his footing in this seemingly renewed side of his boyfriend, and thinks that the man may be up to something.

“You’re being so lovely to me…is there something you want from me in particular?

“I don’t want anything,” he refutes the accusation, then, for the third time that evening, pulls Kongpob’s hand into his. “Let’s go.”

He won’t show Kongpob the photos, nor share them online for anyone to see. While most everyone in their lives knew about them now, Arthit is still a private person. He wants to remember this evening as not one in which he’d made a public declaration of his love, but a night on which he’d walked his lover home and held his hand. 

Not too far ahead, nor trailing behind. 

He’ll walk beside him, no matter the distance. 

Picture this, if you will; 

One day, if my eyesight 

Fails me in my old age, or 

I should go blind from staring 

at the sun as it warms our faces, or 

technology fails to preserve the bytes;

I will still have every picture 

I framed with my own eyes, the ones 

of you that were solely for me, the ones 

only we experienced and I take out 

to sift through when the nights are lonely. 

My love is no secret

at least not one kept from you

I have pictures to prove

of a life only we knew.

Wake Me Up Before You Go

Warnings: Slight OOC, Descriptions of Injury and Medical Procedure

Kongpob both anticipates and dreads these visits from a man who disappears as suddenly as he shows up.

Kongpob thinks he should be used to it by now.

Given, it’s only the fifth time it’s happened, but the visits come with a confusing mix of dread at the knowledge that these visits only happen because of an injury, but relief because at least it usually not serious enough to justify an urgent visit to A&E.

After all, this is the blunder of most of those who work in first aid, or very much any medical facet, although Kongpob had never imagined in his meagre years as a high school nurse that he would be tending to more than minor scrapes, a few sniffly starts to colds, and the occasional slacker with a ‘headache’ that somehow morphs into shoulder pain and then food poisoning.

No, this is quite different.

“What’s your name? I never asked.”

The man–because that’s about as simple of a word that Kongpob can use to describe whatever this guy is—hesitates a moment, as if gauging the level of trust he has in Kongpob to share this seemingly private information.

Maybe just a few basic things wouldn’t hurt; after all, he’d been the one who’d knocked on Kongpob’s door at 2AM, asking to be stitched up so he didn’t bleed out and die on the streets, or if not, then of an eventual infection.

“I won’t tell anyone, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Kongpob doesn’t meet his gaze, still carefully tending to the open cut. “I don’t have anyone to tell, anyway. I live alone, and I essentially spend my days in the same room as teenagers with fake leg cramps all day.”

The injured man snorts, shaking his head, then after a pause,

“Arthit.”

Kongpob nods, running a piece of cotton wool soaked with wound disinfectant around the area. He’ll probably need stitches, he thinks.

“I’m Kongpob.”

“You told me that the first time I was here.”

So he had. The first time Arthit had come crash landing onto his balcony was almost three months ago, when Kongpob had awoken in the dead of night to find a man—a whole person— outside the sliding glass door.

When he’d first heard the noise, he’d been convinced it was a burglar, although why someone would choose his bare bones shoebox studio to rob, he has no idea. He has no elaborate or luxury possessions, unless you count his laptop, or the comically large and surprisingly well-equipped first aid kit his sisters had gifted him as a joke at his graduation from nursing school.

But then Arthit hadn’t made any move to attack or steal, only groaning as he laid on his side and clutching as his ribs in agony. And then he’d knocked on the glass, indicating that indeed, this was no burglar.

Nevertheless, Kongpob had had a moment of panicked sweating, perhaps more than he professionally should, before opening the door and crouching down next to the injured man. Arthit had winced painfully as he lifted the side of his shirt to reveal a large scrape across his rib cage, the wound already beginning to cake with blood.

And Kongpob had picked him up to lay on his bed, removed the debris, cleaned and dressed the wound without question, and let him rest there, rambling about this or that (more so to calm himself than Arthit). As he’d gone to the bathroom to wash his hands, he’d returned to an empty room. It had left him in state of unrest about whether or not the mysterious man’s injury would heal properly or not, and with about a million questions about how he’d landed on his tenth-floor balcony to begin with.

He’d been certain he would never see Arthit again, until several weeks later when the man had, like this evening, rung his doorbell and held up a gash along the top of his forearm that looked something like he’d been scratched by a tiger, or, as Arthit soon revealed, a possibly rabid cat that he’d accidentally spooked in an alleyway. Once again, Kongpob had tended to him without query, but now, after three months of administering what was essentially free and illegal use of his nursing registry, he thinks he deserves at least the barest of answers.

“Why can’t you go to a hospital?”

Arthit sighs. “They would ask a lot of questions.”

“And what is it that you think I’m doing?”

“You’re….asking a lot of questions,” he admits with a smirk that Kongpob doesn’t see. “But I’m still here and alive after several visits, so something tells me you’re not about to report me to the government and subject me to being drugged and experimented on.”

Kongpob quirks a smile. “Guess you hit the jackpot by landing on a school nurse’s balcony, then,” he quips, then frowns slightly at the gash on Arthit’s shoulder. “You’re going to need stitches. I don’t have any numbing fluid, though.”

“It’s fine, just do it.”

“It’s going to hurt, though.”

“Not more than being stabbed with a Swiss Army knife, I would guess.”

“Mm,” is all that Kongpob hums in response, digging through the enormous kit that he’s now oddly grateful to have, searching for sutures. “What is it that happened this time? A knife fight?”

“Something like that. The guy was trying to mug a homeless woman and had a Swiss Army knife on him. He backed off, but not before blindly nicking me in the arm. That’s the trouble when he can’t see me, I guess.”

“Yeah, looks like a pretty clean cut. Shouldn’t be too difficult to stitch up.”

“Can nurses give stitches? I mean, legally.”

“Uh,” Kongpob cleans the tip of the curved needle. “The simple answer is no. But some registered nurses are allowed to do them on non-vital areas, so like, no internal organs or muscles, tendons, or anywhere with a lot of blood vessels.”

“So…not this type of cut, then.”

“No, technically not.”

“Thank you.”

Kongpob simply nods, then pauses. “I’m going to like, do it, now.”

“Okay.”

Arthit visibly tenses, mashing his lips together in a tight grimace as the needle makes its first piercing into the edge of the cut. Immediately, his entire face scrunches up in pain, but he makes no obvious noise.

“You okay?”

“Y-yeah…yeah. Just…uh, could you…talk? It helps.”

“What do you want to know?” Kongpob’s feet become a little numb, trying to keep his breathing steady as he pulls the thread gently through into a tidy stitch.

“Uh…do you have a girlfriend?”

“What?”

“You have sanitary pads in your apartment,” he nods towards at the open suitcase on the floor. “It’s not that far of a stretch to ask.”

“I’m also a high school nurse,” Kongpob counters, wincing at Arthit’s hiss of pain as he carefully pulls the needle through a second time. “And no, I’m single. And gay.”

Arthit says nothing, but stiffens again, although Kongpob isn’t entirely sure whether it’s because of what he’s said, or because the pain is overwhelming.

“Arthit?”

“I’m fine, just…give me a moment.”

He takes several long, deep breaths, sucking the air through his teeth. Kongpob hovers with the suture in his tweezers, gulping as he watches the muscles in Arthit’s back tense with the sharp pain.

“Okay,” he finally grunts after a few moments, although he’s still stiff. “You can keep going.”

“This is the last one,” Kongpob says quietly, to which Arthit nods. This time, as the needle pulls through flesh, Arthit audibly groans, fists gripping the quilt under him so tightly that his knuckles turn white.

And with the final stitch to seal the wound shut, Kongpob cuts off the end of the thread, then whispers a quiet shhhhhh in an attempt to soothe him, like he would with kids who stumble in from P.E. with a particularly nasty scrape.

Then, he cleans the tweezers and pulls off his gloves cautiously, still watching Arthit closely as he exhales through the worst of his excruciating pain. Eventually, though, his breath evens out, and he relaxes a little. Kongpob gets off of the bed from behind Arthit and stands in front of him now, holding his hands up.

“I’m…going to go wash up.”

“Okay,” Arthit nods, leaning back on one wrist. “Thank you.”

Kongpob doesn’t move, though, pondering until Arthit slowly looks up, eyes questioning.

“You’re not going to disappear on me again, are you?”

He finds himself blurting out the question before he can stop himself. Arthit immediately lowers his gaze again, as if having had his mind read.

“I’ve…caused you enough trouble for the night.”

“You shouldn’t be moving around so much with your shoulder like that. You could tear the stitches.”

“It’s fine, I can—”

“I’ll be worried.”

There, he’d said it.

Arthit blinks at him, stunned by the sentiment. Nobody, in his years of dashing around the Bangkok night, had ever shown even the slightest concern for his well-being, and even as his employees would scramble at his feet and leave generic store-bought gifts on his desk vying for his affection, he would return most nights to an empty penthouse, save for when housekeeping staff were on the tail end of the job as he unlocked the door.

A part of him knows that letting anyone in on his secret is a risk that would not only put his life in danger, but hadn’t he been the one to seek help in the first place? As the fates would have it, and as his weakening state that night had almost given him away as he flew home to somehow will away his latest injury, he’d taken a leap of faith and ducked into one of the balconies of the nearest building.

And Kongpob had nursed him, patched up the near-infected scrape, and not asked any questions.

But worry? Perhaps Arthit had assumed that, much like his strange abilities, he could disappear out of sight and consequently out of mind, to become once more a wallflower. Apparently, he’d underestimated this strange friendship he’d formed with the nurse, having decided for both of them that it would be best if he kept his distance beyond necessity.

Now, he watches Kongpob’s pinched brows await his response, and can’t help but feel an odd warmth spreading in his chest.

“Okay. I won’t disappear this time.”

Kongpob nods, seemingly satisfied, although he reaches past Arthit to grab his bloodied shirt. “I’ll wash this for you. You can borrow one of my shirts. In the third drawer over there,” he nods at the plain dresser, the top of which is lined with stacks and stacks of comic books.

Arthit hears the water from the sink running, and gingerly stands to retrieve a clean shirt. He pauses, though, thumbing gently through the tall stacks, most of them seemingly placed in order of release date, many tucked carefully into sealed plastic pouches, not a wrinkle in sight.

“You read them, too?”

Kongpob says, looking over as he pulls a hanger off the rack in his closet and drapes the damp shirt onto it. Arthit carefully replaces the volumes into their tidy pile, then tilts his head side to side.

“A few here and there when I was a kid. It’s…much less glamorous in practice.”

Kongpob chuckles, hooking the hanger on the closet door. “You don’t have a superhero name or a cool lycra suit, then?”

“No,” Arthit lets out a laugh, and Kongpob bites his lip, because it’s the first time he’s seen Arthit smile. Granted, he’s usually bleeding out and in pain, but it’s still a sight to behold. “I’m not some hero. Just a lonely nerd who can fly and become invisible.”

“What about a tragic, rags-to-riches backstory?”

“Oh, I suppose I sort of have one of those, although it’s really not that tragic. Not an orphan, but my parents shipped me off to boarding school at age ten and I essentially haven’t spoken to them since I was eighteen.”

“And the rich part?”

“I…run my own business.”

An understatement if he’d ever made one, but Kongpob doesn’t need to know just how deep his pockets really are.

“Cool,” Kongpob says simply, before remembering that Arthit is still very much shirtless and standing in front of him all muscled and roughed up.

It’s entirely expected, given that most of the superheroes he’s grown up reading about are in top physical condition, but it’s one thing to look at sharply coloured illustrations and an entirely different thing to see the real thing up close, goosebumps from the chilly air forming over warm, pale skin.

He averts his gaze before Arthit catches him staring. “I, uh…I can get you a waterproof plaster if you want to take a shower or something.”

Arthit looks down at himself, noting his somewhat dishevelled, sweaty state. A shower sounds nice, but…

“Are you sure? I don’t want to intrude on you any more than necessary.”

“It’s the weekend. If I had a life, I’d be out on a Friday night, not lying around my apartment ready to nurse an injured superhero.”

“I’m not a superhe—”

“Right, so you’ve said.”

It falls quiet between them, before Kongpob reaches up to scratch the back of his own neck. “Don’t worry, I may never have had another man sleep in my bed, but I’m not desperate enough that I would do anything to you beyond accidentally kicking you in my sleep…you know, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“I wasn’t suggesting anything of the sort,” Arthit smirks at Kongpob’s rambling. “So…you’re…not…you haven’t—”

“I’m a huge virgin, yes, if that’s what you’re getting at.”

“I was going to say ‘haven’t been in a relationship before’ but I guess that works, too.”

“Right,” Kongpob’s blush darkens. “But no, not that either.”

Arthit smiles gently. “Neither have I.”

“I would say I’m surprised, but the way you keep showing up here and bleeding everywhere, I can guess what you’re doing most nights instead of dating,” he nods at the stitched up cut. He swallows, realising that amidst his rambling, he’d indirectly suggested that he found Arthit good-looking. “Uh…well, speaking of which, I’ll get you that plaster.”

It takes everything within him to shake off whatever nerves still linger in his body as he tidies his supplies back into the enormous kit and straightens out the bedsheets while Arthit showers.

No, he has no ulterior motives in asking Arthit to stay other than to make sure he doesn’t accidentally tear open his stitches, but a man in his bed is still a man in his bed, no matter how innocent the context.

An extremely attractive man, at that, and Kongpob has no idea how to behave. The last time he’d shared a bed with anyone had been at camp in high school, during which his classmate had snored all night and hogged the blanket, leaving Kongpob to shiver on the wooden plank of a mattress.

He’d handed Arthit a clean set of clothes before the man had slipped into the bathroom, and now, he flicks the lights off, the way they’d been before the doorbell had rung. Somehow he can’t bring himself to relax, laying on his side as he stares out the window for some time before he hears the bathroom door click open, and the soft padding of bare feet on his tiled floor.

A few shuffling noises here and there, and then the space on the mattress next to him dips down slightly, and there’s a faint warmth behind him as Arthit tucks himself under the blanket.

Kongpob doesn’t move, focusing on breathing, as he imagines the man next to him is, too.

He’s safe, he tells himself. He’s been stitched up, and he’s fine now.

His quiet self-reassurance allows his shoulders to loosen slightly.

“Arthit?” he says softly into the room.

“Mm?”

“I know it’s like, your thing, or whatever…but…don’t disappear again without saying goodbye.”

Arthit turns his head slightly to glance at the back of Kongpob’s head in the dark.

“I won’t.”

“Promise?”

“I promise. Go to sleep.”

“Good night, Arthit.”

Kongpob finally allows his eyes to fall shut. If he doesn’t turn around, maybe he won’t open them in the morning to an empty pillow.

“Good night, Kongpob.”