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Lost in Transition

Chapter Text

Baguio is a beautiful city.

Sarawat shivers as the cold caresses his skin, the early December morning air filtering through his screen window. He blows on his cup of coffee, the aroma ensnaring his dull senses. It has been a day since he arrived at the City of Pines, and his body is yet to adjust from the stresses of the previous weeks. After all, it has been a while since he had a vacation.

He both likes and hates having spare time.

Spare time means his hands will be busy cutting on wood and painting on empty rooms as he literally work on his dream home. His line of work may be far from fixing homes, but it keeps his hands busy and the end product is not bad in the eyes. Spare time means grocery shopping and cooking his own meals instead of ordering food service or ordering through GrabFood. Spare time means meditation and solitude.

Spare time means reminiscing.

Sarawat places the cup of coffee on the table.

Sarawat prefers to take his coffee black with half a teaspoon of sugar. It keeps him awake and alert, at least for the first half of the day. But days like these, he mistakenly pours a bit of milk with two teaspoons of sugar. The sweet concoction reminds him of another pair of lips that takes his between them on early morning weekends, when he was young and reserved yet every bit of hopeful. Sweetness reminds him of an off-key tenor mingling with the smells of omelette and bacon, leaving his stomach growling in hunger. Sweetness reminds him of twinkling eyes and pale, pale skin that streaks with pink when he manages to steal a kiss.

Sarawat shakes his head.

It has been years since he went home, and yet the memories play in his mind as clear as if it happened yesterday.

He pours the rest of his coffee to the drain.


As his usual first days on vacation go, Sarawat finds himself at a local market.

He saunters down the stalls with familiarity, feeling more comfortable by the minute. He speaks the language, and barters with the shopkeepers with ease. They usually mistake him as a foreigner on vacation, and he charms them with his wit and easy smile. Some of them recognize him from his previous visits, especially one of the strawberry jam sellers, who usually gifts him with a jar whenever he drops by. Sarawat receives the gift graciously every single time and leaves a generous tip for the elderly woman.

He is walking towards one of the exits when he nearly stumbles.

"Sorry," he mutters, catching his balance. He straightens his figure and manages to hold his ecobags properly when a hand encloses on his elbow.

He scowls, trying to brush the person's hand as he eyes him from the side.

For a minute, Sarawat feels the world stop spinning on its axis.


He stood at the entrance of Suvarnabhumi Airport, his hands clenching and unclenching his passport on his right hand. His other hand rested on his suitcase, keeping him in balance. The doctors cleared him for travel, and his mother was waiting for him inside.

He tapped his foot. One more minute.

At the back of his mind, he knew he won't come.

Sarawat couldn't give up on hope.

If he could run, he would have sprinted all the way down to their faorite place. He trusted that he would be there, as he had always been these days. The football field was a cornerstone of their relationship, a witness to their love and losses. It was where they fought for them; where they lost and gained one another; where they cried when things got too much. Hell, he would give up everything for them.

But life always pulled them apart -- in more ways than he would have imagined.

The minute passed, yet nothing changed.

So Sarawat looked ahead, willing both feet to keep on moving forward until the automatic doors closed.

Chapter Text

"You are a sight for sore eyes."

Dim looks at him incredulously, surprise in his features. Sarawat gets tongue-tied, the urge to flee growing by the moment. He has been travelling and moving around for a while now; it is the first time someone recognized him. He can easily deny who he is, but he owes Dim as his friend. The music club was an avenue of self-expression for him, and Dim helped foster that environment. He couldn't discount the fact that Dim has answered his favors.

"P'Dim," Sarawat greets.

"You haven't changed at all, Sarawat. Still a man of few words," the older man laughed, disbelief in his voice.

Sarawat smirks, "How have you been?"

Dim laughs, launching into a story of how he has been on a vacation with some friends. He still does music and has launched a new album with his band, whose name has thankfully been changed upon the insistence of their manager. Sarawat is genuinely happy for him, listening to his story attentively while gripping the bags tighter.

Dim makes him promise to keep in touch and to spend some time with them while they're in the city, which Sarawat obliges.

As he finishes his tale, Dim looks at him thoughtfully.

"And how have you been, Sarawat? We missed you at the club a couple of years back."

Sarawat swallows, hiding his nervousness. He has been spending some time with his old friend already, and there is a sense of impending doom crippling his senses. "Never been better."

Dim gives him a knowing look, reminding Sarawat of the time when he asked him a favor to allow more beginner club members in the music club.

Their conversation was interrupted by a familiar squeal.

"Is this who I think this is?"

A white blur launches himself to Sarawat, and only his reflexes save them from toppling down. From his periphery, Sarawat can see Dim rolling his eyes with a look of affection in his face.

Green loosens his hold on him, continuing his tirade of his observations about Sarawat. As much as he htes to admit it, Sarawat is actually glad to see Green. Sarawat is actually glad to see him and Dim still together.

Something hollow aches on his chest, and it takes him much not to flee.

"I hope my husband invited you to join us. We have a lot of catching up to do!" Green looks ecstatic about meeting up. Sarawat catches Dim's eye.

"I'll check my schedule," Sarawat answers.

He and Dim exchange contact numbers.

"Well, I must go now," Sarawat turns back.

Green looks like he still has something to say, but Dim takes over.

"Don't be a stranger, Sarawat. You've been gone for too long."

Sarawat's legs can't move fast enough for his liking as he walks away.


Sarawat drives.

He drives through the busy streets of central Baguio to a wider country road leading to his destination. The silence reverberates in his car as he tries to reign over his emotion.

Guilt always gnaws on you like a hungry savage, while pain torments you to unravel parts of yourself you keep close. Sarawat is familiar with both, and he lets them break him piece by piece. It has always been a push and pull, and he is comfortable with both to accompany him. These days, the aches of his past are a constant lull at the back of his mind.

Until now.

He reaches his destination in record time, securing his vehicle and striding towards the flower farm in familiarity. The owner greets him.

"You haven't been around in a while, Sarawat," the man greets.

"Work has been busy," he returns as they enter the man's humble abode.

An Alaskan malamute hurriedly perches by him, its paws reaching for Sarawat. He drops down the floor, stroking its belly.

The smell of coffee assaults his senses. Sarawat reaches for the cup.

"You don't look like you've been sleeping well."

"I'm fine, Boss."

"For a moment there, you sounded defensive," his friend laughs for a moment, but he tempers it down when he sees the look on Sarawat's face. 
"What's on your mind, Wat?"

Sarawat knows Boss is observing him. For years, his friend has been a silent support through all his endeavors, be it about his sexuality or his life problems. Man brought color to their friendship, but Boss is the steady rock. He always watches over Sarawat, knowing how fragile he can be. After all, he will not have his own home in another country an hour ride away from his.

"I saw Dim and Green today. They are in vacation in the city." Sarawat continues to rub the malamute's abdomen, pulling the big ball of fur closer to him. "It has been a while, that's all. They wanted to meet up while they're in town."

"That's a good thing, isn't it? You want me to come with?" Sarawat can almost hear the gears in Boss's mind moving. "But that isn't the problem, is it?"

Sarawat smiles sardonically. "Pandora's box."

Boss sighs in defeat.

Of all the places Sarawat has been in the past few years, never has he sat foot in Thailand since he left it. In the past years, Boss has always encouraged him to return, but Sarawat always finds an excuse. A meeting that cannot be rescheduled. An event that requires his presence.

"The Sarawat I knew never backs down from his problems." It sounds accusatory, but Sarawat takes it in.

"That Sarawat didn't know he is about to ruin several lives eventually."

"Oh Wat, when will you accept that it wasn't your fault?"

"When my brother comes back to life."


The malamute joins Sarawat on his way home. Boss complains that the dog loves him more. He has to leave for Bangkok, anyway.

He names him Scrubb.

The dog familiarizes himself to its new home, sniffing on surfaces and exploring every nook and cranny within its reach. Sarawat fixes food for them, and he prepares for the night.

His phone buzzes with a message while on the shower.

Dim never does things halfway.

Sarawat, this is Dim. Green insists you have breakfast with us tomorrow.

Sarawat sighs.

He can always make up excuses, but something in his gut tells him to say yes.

So he does.


He sat at the back of the courtroom, wheelchair-bound and gripping the hand rest tightly. There was steady pounding in his temples, and his wounds are aching more than usual.

His mother wanted him to stay at home, but he insisted. He had to see it with his own eyes. He had to hear it with his own ears.

Guilty. The verdict is guilty.

Relief. He wanted to feel relief. He wanted to feel the chains encircling his ribcage to be gone. He wanted to feel at peace. He wanted to feel victorious.

But it only pained him more.

Sarawat could feel his mother hold him, feel her hot tears staining his shirt. He wanted to wake from this nightmare. He wanted to run to the source of comfort he knew best.

But there is no running from his reality.

Chapter Text

Sarawat wakes earlier than usual, as if some form of unbridled energy forces his body to move at an ungodly time.

 

He does his usual routine, Scrubb trailing behind him. Boss was right when he gave the dog to him; Sarawat needs the companionship. Days he spent by himself sends him down the memory lane, but taking care of someone else keeps him busy. Having the dog requires him to prepare its food, clean after his dust balls, let it out of the house and teach it not to mess, and even build a dog house. Sarawat has always juggled his responsibilities; it is a welcome distraction.

 

He prepares his coffee and manages to prepare some toast. He takes a fleece blanket from one of the cabinets and sits by the porch, the malamute dropping itself by his feet.

 

His phone rings. Sarawat sees the caller's name.

 

"Why are you calling me?"

 

"Not even a hello, Sarawat? I thought we're friends!" He can hear shuffling of papers from the other side of the line.

 

"Hello Earn. To what do I owe this pleasure this early in the damn morning?" Sarawat rolls his eyes.

 

She can hear the other person in line laughing. "That's more like it! I actually called to check in, you know. You're still my boss."

 

"Is the world about to fall into ruins in my absence?"

 

"So dramatic, Sarawat," Earn chuckles. "Nothing I can't handle. But you, is your world falling apart now that you're on vacation?"

 

Sarawat shakes his head. Of course, his snark will not work on Earn. Earn has never been intimidated by Sarawat even when they began working together in the band way back in college. She's smart and quick on her feet as a co-worker, but all tough love as a friend.

 

"Boss gave me dog."

 

Earn squeals. She has been prodding him to buy one, almost settling on placing a hamster or god forbid, a porcupine in their office out of spite. "Send pictures! Can you bring him here when you come back?" Earn continues to prattle on his ear. "What's the guy's name, by the way?"

 

"Scrubb."

 

Earn pauses, inhaling sharply. "That's a cute name. I bet that he's just as cute as his name. Lemme talk to the guy, Sarawat!"

 

Sarawat places the phone close to Scrubb's ear. He can hear Earn cooing while talking with his dog, as if the creature understands a thing she says. Sarawat is grateful that she didn't say anything else.

 

He met Earn again a few years after college, when his career as an international relations officer was steadily getting to its peak. She recognized him at first glance, and blatantly defended him from her old boss for not trusting the policy he formulated simply because he was too young too his liking. Earn snapped, reminding Sarawat of how she set their old band members in place. After resigning from her old job, she sent her curriculum vitae to Sarawat and the rest is history

It feels nice to have a familiar face in his line of work.

 

Sarawat can hear Earn bidding goodbye to Scrubb, so he places the phone closer to his ear again.

"I hope you haven't ruined my dog's hearing with your shrill voice."

 

"Shut it, boss. Between the two of us, I am nicer and more attractive." Earn retorts.

 

"I still give your paychecks."

 

"I am signing those paychecks on your behalf while you're away." Earn sighs. "But I'm glad you're taking a break, Wat. It's nice to see your office the way it is instead of the makeshift condominium unit you turned it to."

Sarawat smiles.

 


He arrives at the breakfast place a few minutes before eight.

 

Dim has sent him a message that they are on their way, requesting that he reserve a table for four. Sarawat obliges, wondering about the extra seat. Something is niggling at the back of his mind, but he clears his thoughts quickly.

 

Sarawat has always been good at wishful thinking; it hasn't brought him any good.

 

He orders hot chocolate, a specialty of the restaurant to calm his churning stomach. He stares at the open window overlooking central Baguio, a mountainous terrain dotted with numerous houses and establishments. Baguio feels like a second home, but the deluge of tourists during the summer and even during the holidays can be too much. He is quite thankful of the comfort his job was able to pay for in the form of his house, granting him the solitude and security he craved from the moment he stepped off his company's building.

 

He closes his eyes and sighs.

 

He hears heavy footsteps walking towards his direction, thinking it is the waiter about to serve the complementary drinks he wanted the Dim's group to try.

 

"Saraleo!"

 

Sarawat opens his eyes in surprise as he hears the loud whisper following a thud. It must be a dream.

 

But the smell of perfume accompanying the person is unmistakable as he neared Sarawat's table.

 

Sarawat freezes and waits.

 

He waits until a tall, lanky figure drowns his vision. The person stands across him, lack of recognition in his eyes. He looks uncertain and sheepish. Sarawat swallows.

 

His dreams never did justice.

 

"Are you Sarawat?"

 

Sarawat can only nod. The person smiles, and something heavy grips his ribcage. He can feel his heart thudding erratically.

 

He still looks like an angel.

 

"Green is still paying for the cab. Sorry for intruding in your breakfast. I am Tine." Tine offers a hand.


Sarawat doesn't know how he managed to survive that breakfast.

 

Green arrives as soon as Tine settles himself on the chair beside him, citing the Dim and Green will prefer to sit beside each other. Green looks at him apologetically, but Sarawat only diverts his eyes.

 

Dim follows, and he looks at Sarawat with resolution.

 

Green tries to dissipate the tension between the group, engaging the men into a conversation about their upcoming trip to Sagada the next day. Sarawat doesn't talk much, but he knows something is up.

 

He recalls how heavy Tine's footsteps were, and how he almost tripped on his own feet. He remembers how the doctors discussed the surgeries Tine had to go and the rigorous therapy he will undergo to achieve optimal mobility.

 

The last time Sarawat went to Sagada, the trip included long trails and cave explorations. Sarawat doesn't want to believe in coincidence; everything about the situation he is about to be stuck in screams otherwise.

 

"I can amuse myself, and this gives me time to catch up with work!" An enthusiastic reply comes from his side as Green continues to nag about their trip.

 

Sarawat sips on the water in front of him.

 

"Tine! I told you, no work on vacations!" Green pouts, and even if he isn't looking, Sarawat can imagine the look of frustration on Tine's face.

 

"But--"

 

"No buts, dear. You have to take a break sometimes, Tine. Look at how thin you are!" Green chastises, prompting Sarawat to shift his eyes to the man.

 

Tine -- this Tine -- looks so different from the last he has seen him. He still has the signature "Mr. Chic" look that he proudly flaunted on him, but the eyes that one crinkled in laughter are now shadowed with sleep deprivation. His cheekbones appear starker than it used to, and even with his sweater, Sarawat can see how thin Tine has been.

 

God, he is still the most beautiful creature he has seen in his life.

 

"Does your leg bother you?" Sarawat's voice was quiet when he asked, yet in his ears it sounds deafening. Tine scoffs at Green before looking at him.

 

A shy smile graces his lips. "Ah, well, usually it wouldn't have unless I stretch. It has been a while since I had a proper exercise.

 

Of course, Tine will forget. Sarawat is well aware of that. Tine will spend all-nighters to finish readings or practice guitar just to do well; work is no exemption.

 

Sarawat knows he has no choice.

 

"I can offer you some company while they're in Sagada."

 

Tine's mouth gapes, looking flustered. "That's too much--"

 

"There's a jogging trail near my house you can go to, and I can make some calls so you can still tour around without sacrificing your leg."

 

Sarawat can see the blush on Tine's cheek beginning to bloom. His own heart is thudding like a bird's, the roar of blood rushing drowning the background noise. Dim's eyes are piercing on him; he can feel Green squeezing his hand under the table.

 

His attention is all on Tine, who bites his lip.

 

Tine looks at him from under his lashes before nodding.


He stared at Tine's sleeping form.

 

Sarawat rolled his wheelchair as close as possible to the glass partition, grateful that he was allowed inside the intensive care unit. It was almost midnight, but his discharge papers were already signed for tomorrow. The final trial would be by the end of the week, and the weekend after--

 

Sarawat didn't want to think of the after.

 

Sarawat reached for his phone. Turning on the volume, he played his recorded version of his own composition. He placed his hand on the glass, and for a moment, he could imagine them in the safety of their own home, their bodies entwined under the sheets.

 

He couldn't even touch him one last time.

 

As the song finished, he eyed the nurse who helped wheel him into Tine's room. She placed a hand on his shoulder before taking him away.

Chapter Text

Sarawat visits the hotel his friends were staying at and contacts Green from the hospital lobby.

Before parting ways that morning, Green has sent him a skeptical look. The man almost appeared as if he were pleading for Sarawat not to react. Fury for their manipulation boils beneath his skin, and the only balm to his fouling mood is Tine.

Tine, whose relief is evident in his face upon the knowledge that he will not spend an entire day climbing and exploring caves in Sagada. Tine, whose infectious laugh keeps him from tipping over the edge. Tine, always Tine, saving him from his eventual misery. Tine, whose face blurs into his younger self. Tine, always Tine, who anchors him to the now. For years, god damn for the past seven years, he hasn’t asked about Tine despite knowing how close their social circles are. His self-imposed isolation is for everyone’s best. This set-up is better. He hasn’t seen his mother for years; the occasional e-mail he receives is the only connection they had. His father – god forbid he dabbles in his family drama now – has been mum about the matter whenever he calls. Boss is the only friend he has kept in touch with along with Earn out of her secretarial duties. Sarawat has picked brick by brick of his old life and tried to create a semblance of it in the comforts of his own vacation home. Seeing Tine – the root and fruit of it all – is a mistake

He needs fresh air.

The cold nips on his exposed skin as Sarawat walks by the empty path leading to the hotel’s garden.

Sarawat spent the day gardening and cleaning his house, channeling his pent-up emotions to the task. He has needed something methodical yet monotonous, otherwise he will be forced to drown his sorrows in alcohol, something he hasn’t done in years. Either that or he won’t be sleeping. Sarawat knows he will need his presence of mind if he will be spending the entire day with Tine tomorrow.

Gods, he is just not prepared for what is about to happen.

He hears footsteps approaching him, and Sarawat waits until the person reaches his side.

“Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?” Sarawat almost growls, tears stinging

“We didn’t know you’d be here of all places, Wat.” Green answers in defeat. “Tine is starting to ask questions. He has been remembering things for a while now, but these days, it just scares him. Dim and I, well, we thought we can bring him along so he can unwind.” Salt mingles with air, and Sarawat realizes that he is not the only one crying.

A hand tugs on his sweater. “Wat, say something,” Green coaxes. “Isn’t this the universe telling you that there is another chance?”

Sarawat shakes him head as he sniffs. “It doesn’t work that way, Green.” Sarawat turns his head to his companion. “It doesn’t.”

“Oh, Wat.”

Green takes him to his arms, and for the longest time, Sarawat cries.

He cries for his parents, who couldn’t even look at him straight to the eye after the accident. He cries for his brother, whose future was stolen in the blink of an eye. He cries for their friends, their ragtag company of misfits, whose unknowingly had their lives changed. He cries for Tine. He cries for the emptiness that he cannot seem to fill from the moment he left Thailand.

The entire time Green holds him like a babe on his chest. Green, for all his drama and flair, has remained a sounding board to whoever who needs it. It was to Green that Tine confided to their early days at the music club as beginners. Beyond the chasing and jealousy act, Tine and Green became great friends, something Sarawat witnessed years prior. Sarawat remembered days during their hospitalization when Green would visit a sleeping Tine just to tell stories about their school or bring color to the room by placing flowers. Green has always been there, and it was to Green that he left Tine’s care to on days when even he couldn’t look at his lover’s face out of too much guilt.

“He still remembers you – remembers parts of you, Wat. In his actions. In his choices. You are a ghost that haunted him, Wat. Maybe it’s time to change that,” Green tries to convince him.

Sarawat can only hope to believe in him.


Sarawat sips on his coffee as he stares by the window.

His friends arrived at five in the morning, ringing the doorbell impatiently. He almost kicked the perpetrator earlier, but the Dim and Green has pushed Tine in front of them. Lucky bastards.

Tine has brought a backpack with him, citing that he will need a change of clothes for the entire day. He blabbers out an apology for intruding his home, not noticing how Sarawat has been holding his breath.

He is really here.

Suppressing a yawn, Sarawat moves aside, letting Tine inside. He glares at Dim and Green, who only waves at them goodbye.

Tine awkwardly shuffles on his feet as he stands in the middle of his living room. His mouth has kept on opening, as if he is searching for the right thing to say. Tine tries to avoid his gaze, but he fails. He gives him a gummy smile. “You have a beautiful home.”

Something aches in Sarawat’s chest. He tries to return the smile.

He points to the table at the corner of the room, motioning to Tine that he can put his bag there. He gives instructions – where the restroom is, where the cabinet for his blankets are, the kitchen in general, his study, and the door leading to the back. He points at the road he had to follow for his morning jog.

A sleepy Scrubb exits Sarawat’s bedroom, and he introduces him to Tine.

The malamute jumps for him. Sarawat is about to take a step forward when Tine drops to the floor, taking the dog in his hands. Tine giggles the way he once did when he teases him at their old home; Sarawat has to look away.

He goes to the kitchen to prepare their breakfast.

He hears Tine moving around. The bathroom door closes. Sarawat imagines how Tine used to change in his usual outfit, and how he carefully manages his laundry. He used to chide Sarawat into properly sorting his clothes and keeping his stuff clean.

“Sarawat, I’ll be going for a run now.”

Sarawat turns to acknowledge him, but his greeting is caught on his throat.

The jersey fits his lanky form the way it used to, stretching on his broad shoulders and loosening at it covers his abdomen. He pairs it with black joggers that looks suspiciously like something he owned a long time ago.

Sarawat nods at him before turning back.

He prepares their breakfast. Sarawat toasts the bread. He grates some cheese and adds it to the omelet. He cuts the fruits he brought the other day. Coffee drips from the filter. Sarawat recalls how Tine hates coffee; he prepares a pitcher of fresh juice.

Now there is nothing left to do, so he watches Tine run.

Between the two of them, Sarawat is evidently the more athletic. Although Tine watches his figure and keeps his body in good shape, he hates being subjected into rigorous exercises. But now, seeing how Tine puts an effort in his jog did Sarawat realize that it is not merely a matter of maintaining his figure that had Tine dedicated in physical activity.

Tine running is similar to an arrow gracefully flying in the air.

Sarawat is afraid its tip is headed right at him.


He has been reading one of the reports Earn sent to him when Tine came in from the back door.

Scrubb – the shameless dog that he is – trots after Tine. He takes his towel and dries the sweat that lingered on his skin. Sarawat averts his gaze as he hears Tine go to the bathroom and take a shower.

The thought of Tine peeling his old jersey off his body sends a tingle down his spine. He strains beneath his boxers; Sarawat brushes his face, as if to remove the idea encroaching his mind.

He motions for Tine to sit across him once he appears – thankfully dressed – from shower.

“Sarawat, you didn’t have to—”

“Just eat, Tine.” Sarawat insists, taking a piece of toast and slathering a generous amount of strawberry jam on it.

Tine eyes the food he prepared. He pours juice on the glass first, contemplating what to each first. Tine has always had a good appetite, and it appears it hasn’t changed. Sarawat is certain there will be no leftovers left, if Tine had anything to say about it.

Tine takes a serving of the omelet first. A look of delight graces his features at first bite.

Sarawat sips on his coffee to hide his smile.

“Wat, I don’t think I’ve thanked you for accompanying me today,” Tine says in between bites. “This is probably the best breakfast I have had.”

“You like food in general,” Sarawat retorts. “You’d eat anything placed in front of you.”

Sarawat catches Tine’s gaze. “What else do you know about me, Sarawat?”

Chapter Text

The silence that followed is deafening.

Sarawat stares blankly at the spreadsheet before him. He can sense Tine gazing intensely at him, waiting. The truth burns on his tongue and threatens to spill; Sarawat has to bite on his inner cheek just to keep his mouth shut. It takes him everything not to kneel beside him and just tell him everything he wanted to know.

Desperation bleeds on his voice as Tine speaks again, “It’s just…you’re so familiar, Sarawat. Just like everyone else around me – Green, Dim, my brother, my group of friends. You are all there, just within my grasp, but everything is too cloudy. You know about my bum leg, but all I remember is how I woke up with it, not why. They keep on telling me that it was a freak accident, that no one is to blame, but something is there. I don’t remember it, but I can feel it.”

Of course. Something is there, Tine. You can feel it because you are facing that one person you can blame about it.

Self-deprecation is a habit Sarawat hasn’t shaken in the years since he left Thailand. Something about hating himself is so addictive. Hindsight is 20/20, they say, and memories always resurface when you thought you’ve moved on already. Sarawat has had that to battle for the past seven years.

Sarawat takes a deep breath before standing. “You were my roommate, Tine.” He takes his mug and empties it to the sink, washing and replacing its contents with drinking water. Through the window, Sarawat sees the first rays of sunlight encroaching the dense forest beyond his house.

He doesn’t know what to say, really. He doesn’t know how he can go through it without breaking.

“I got you off some problem in college and we just…clicked? You’re nosy and persistent, I couldn’t shake you. We always joke about how we pester each other, but that’s how it always is with us. But then the accident happened.” Sarawat starts, closing his eyes. He imagines the first time he set eyes on Tine on the concert; the time he laid eyes on him the year after; the first time he saw him again after years; and now, sitting at his dining area as if he always belonged here. Tine always manages to make his heart skip a beat. Saraleo indeed, Wat.

Tine looks at him with wonder and sadness. “I really wish I can remember, Sarawat. It seems like we had the time of our lives.”

Sarawat keeps his mouth shut because if he doesn’t, he wouldn’t be able to keep it all in anymore. No one – not even Boss – dared to open that can of worms. He doesn’t owe it to them. And Tine…Tine, he can spare from the pain.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there,” Sarawat mumbles, swallowing.

He feels a hand on his head, patting on his hair. “It’s okay, you’re here now.”


Sarawat instructs Tine to bundle up as he showered.

The early morning drive through the city is quiet, with tourists and locals yet to start their day. Sarawat cannot blame them; the air nips like ice shavings these days, something that fascinates him. Walking through the busy streets of Thailand for the better half of his life had him wanting for something cold.

Sarawat parks in front of a structured concrete building. He waves at the figure peaking from the glass. The wooden doors opens as he and Tine goes down his car.

“Mr. Guntithanon, always the early riser.” The museum owner greets him jovially. “And you brought company.” He eyes Tine with the same warmth. Sarawat feels Tine relax.

Sarawat learns that this Tine has been as comfortable with himself compared to the cheerleader he once met, unless he is in the company of someone he knows or is familiar with. He misses that Tine, but at the same time, he wants to cocoon this one in his blanket of protection.

The museum owner leads them to the elevator. He can sense Tine’s relief of resting his leg. Sarawat boldly takes his hand, giving it a squeeze. Tine squeezes back.

As the elevator door opens, they are led to one of the open rooms in the museum.

Numerous mixed art pieces line up the black painted walls of the room, contrasting with the colors used by the artist. Sarawat may not have the eye for art, but he has tried his best to have each piece contribute into the story his brother wished to tell. Looking at what his brother created, Sarawat is certain he did the right thing. It simple cannot gather dust in their old home.

The museum owner signals to Sarawat that he will prepare something for them before leaving him and Tine alone.

His eyes follow Tine as the latter walks around the room. There is a look of worry in his face. Sarawat closes the distance between them.

“What do you think?” Sarawat bites on his lower lip. “I don’t think you’re some patron of the arts, but if you want to leave—”

Tine shushes him for a moment. “The painter – this Phukong guy – he is your brother, isn’t he? Almost the same height as you but with a rounder face and smaller eyes? Well, anyone will have smaller eyes than you—”

Tine laughs when he notices Sarawat’s eyes get bigger while describing him.

“Better have bigger eyes than look like a bunny,” Sarawat bites back, and Tine scoffs.

“Why are you the one minding his exhibit?” Tine inquires. Sarawat approaches the last of the artworks, a painting made of various shades of red. Angry lines converge to form a face at the edge of a canvas.

“He really can’t arrange all these from the grave, can he?” Sarawat whispers.

“Shit, I’m sorry I asked—”

“Don’t be.” Sarawat chides.

Tine looks at him warily, but as always, his curiosity wins. “Would you mind telling me what happened? Looking at his artworks just make me sad and angry. I want to know why.”

Sarawat isn’t surprised that it made Tine feel that way, because those are the exact emotions that he felt when he first unearthed Phukong’s work. Anger. Fear. Despair. Guilt. It gnawed on his chest and fed on his mistakes. He wanted to burn them so bad, but at the same time, doing so will reduce his brother’s memories into ash. Instead he displayed it for the world to see. Those artworks – they are facets of a person that they want so badly to hide, yet it eats them alive.

It tore Phukong’s soul once into pieces, and Sarawat has been its prey for the past few years.

“Let’s just say that my brother died of suicide.” Sarawat inhales sharply, a clog forming in his throat as he keep the tears at bay. “I wasn’t there when they learned about it. I was too preoccupied with my own life. I was his brother! I was his big brother! But I am selfish fucktard who can’t even give a minute of his fucking time—“

The smell of fresh pine and musk envelopes Sarawat in a warm embrace, his cries muffled by his face on Tine’s chest. Sarawat wails and wails, walls breaking as Tine secured him in his protection. He wants to flinch at Tine’s touch because he doesn’t deserve this comfort – he doesn’t deserve this kindness. He doesn’t deserve having Tine with him again—

He feels Tine dropping a kiss on his hair.


They do not talk about Phukong for the rest of the day.

It has taken time for Sarawat to regain himself. He found himself almost sprawled on the floor with Tine. After wiping his tears and offering another sweater to Tine at the car, the latter simply smiled and shrugged off the tear-laden top. Sarawat had to swallow when he came face to face with Tine’s chest, reveling on how his top stuck to it. Gods, he missed touching him.

The museum owner offered them snacks and tea before leaving, reminding them of the exhibit’s opening by the end of the week.

They explore Baguio, Sarawat leading him like a local in his hometown. They go to the strawberry farm so that Tine can experience picking strawberries. They even buy fruit-based wine; Sarawat has to stop Tine because the sweet aftertaste of one of the products has the latter craving for a bottle. Sarawat had to bribe Tine with taho, a local delicacy, with strawberry sweetener just to appease him. Unsurprisingly, Tine ordered two servings. They buy some wood figurines and try on some local delicacies. They take pictures of places they go to. For the first time in years, Sarawat changes his lockscreen.

Sarawat is about to drive Tine back to the hotel when the latter asks if he knows a good place for dinner. Sarawat, as usual, obliges.

Sarawat takes Tine to a local restaurant, where the owner gives him a salute.

“How come you know all these people?” Tine looks at him with amazement.

“I used to come here to play and drink.”

They order a serving of sizzling pork and pinakbet, another local cuisine. Tine’s nose scrunches as the taste of shrimp paste hits his tongue, then nods in satisfaction. The two eat in a comfortable silence.

Halfway through their meal, the owner approaches him.

“Here’s my Thai boy. What’s up Sarawat?” The owner places two cans of soda on the table. “Who’s your friend?”

“This is Tine. He’s on vacation with some of our old friends.”

The owner looks at Tine approvingly, giving Sarawat a smirk. Sarawat elbows the man, who guffaws.

“Meal’s on the house then, if you play us something nice,” the owner barters. Sarawat sees Tine nods at him in encouragement.

Sarawat walks toward the podium. The owner claps and hoots, grabbing the attention of the other customers. The crew sees his familiar form taking the makeshift stage, and they all cheer from behind the counter.

“Good evening everyone. I am Sarawat. Let me serenade you for a free meal tonight.”

The audience laughs. Tine smiles from their table.

Sarawat strums on the guitar, caressing it like a lost lover. He hasn’t held the guitar for a long time, locking it at the attic of his home, but he still remembers the chords of the song he is playing. He wonders if Tine remembers, but Tine appears engaged and ecstatic listening to him sing. He catches his eyes as he performs the song he once wrote for him, hoping that maybe, maybe this time, things will be alright.


His parents decided to leave Thailand.

Day and night, his mother busied herself sorting items for donation, selling, and packing while his father arranged their papers. They were already able to secure a home, and his mother had engaged him into researching schools with good liberal arts program and the requirements he needed for transfer. Everything was moving so fast, yet Sarawat wasn’t inclined to do anything to hinder it.

Maybe he deserved this.

That afternoon, his mother instructed him to sort his brother’s things. His mother was able to account for almost everything except for that room. Sarawat knew that she couldn’t. She could hear her coming in Phukong’s room late at night and bawling her eyes out. Some mornings, he would find his father shaking his mother awake, and they would be joined in a prayer in that room. Sarawat wanted to spare her fromt the image of disassembling her youngest son’s life.

It was the first time he entered the room since the accident.

The sheets remain neatly folded. The last batch of laundry is folded neatly and laid at the bed. The study table remained organized. The room smelled clean. The room felt empty.

Sarawat dragged the empty boxes inside. He filled it with Phukong’s clothes, emptying the cabinets. He folded the sheets and added them to the box. Next were his other trinkets and art materials. He disassembled the shelves and the painting tripod. He searches under the bed where he was able to find several cartons. He opened one of them.

Painting after painting after painting of reds and blacks and blues swim into his vision.

Sarawat remembers Phukong’s body, bleeding into asphalt as he gasps for his last breaths. He remembers trying to pull himself off the car. He remembers Tine’s body halfway sprawled across the dash board, his pale face marred with scrapes. He has to save them both. He has to—

Sarawat screams.

Chapter Text

He was wrong.

Temperatures drop to tens past midnight in Baguio, with the crooning of animals enveloped by the dark of the night. Sarawat sits at his kitchen at two in the morning, heart still pounding heavily in his chest from the nightmare he barely managed to wake himself from.

Good things always come before the bad.

Smoke swirls from the cup of chamomile tea he prepared.

The dream was vivid and all-consuming to his senses. He tasted metal in his mouth. His sweat ran cold down his back, to which he removed his soaked shirt. He tried washing the remnants off his body by taking a shower, but even under the onslaught of warm water he could feel the bumps that marred his pale skin. He would look in the mirror and see the marks on the side of his brow and lip. He would look at his side and see the incision where they accessed his organs to control the internal bleed. There was a smaller cut, just by the side of his thorax, where the chest tube once drained the blood building up on his lungs. They said the impact on the steering wheel caused damage to torso, and he was lucky to have been saved.

Death has his hand on him; why didn’t he die?

He would have deserved it. He has been a lousy brother, a neglectful son, and a selfish partner. Why did he live?

Maybe for penance. Maybe for suffering. Sarawat has kept on surmising for the past few years, yet he hasn’t found the answers.

He used to scratch on his skin after his nightmares. He has scars to prove it.

Tonight, the sheets are the ones that suffered. Even Scrubb is hesitantly looking at him, but the dog has nudged his hand with its wet nose. Sarawat takes him to his arms in apology.

He stares as he brushes Scrubb’s coat because if he closes his eyes, he will re-imagine it all once more.

How pitiful, to replace the feeling of reuniting with Tine with the memory of losing him in the first place.

So Sarawat keeps on staring until the sun begins to peak from the foliage of leaves protecting his home.

Then he stands. He puts his phone on silent and lets Scrubb out to relieve himself. He changes into work clothes. He takes a packet of seeds and shovel under the sink.

He fixes the garden at his backyard.

He has always planted a variety of flowers there, seedlings straight from Boss’s flower garden up north. The man would usually come over and has listened to him as he lashes his frustrations on cold-hardened soil. Sometimes, they share drinks and spend the day simply lounging around. He isn’t sure if he has returned from his trip overseas, so Sarawat does the tending by himself. He takes the grown flowers and keeps them off of Scrubb’s reach. The dog traipses between the shrubs and rolls himself on the mound of soil he was creating.

He finishes his manual work with a bath for his furry friend.


He runs.

The gardening hasn’t exhausted him as much as he expected. Sarawat wanted to sink into sleep the moment he takes his hands off the dirt, but all it gave him is the rush of untapped energy he has conserved in a while.

Sarawat does his stretches and discards his dirty shirt as he runs.

He runs from his house up the cliff-like slope he once pointed to Tine when he asked for a route for him to follow. He runs to the houses dotting the landscape that made the backdrop of his home. He runs to the edge, admiring the sunlight as it spills over majority of the city. He runs as his lungs burn and his legs protest. He runs as the cold strings his sweat-laden skin.

Then he runs his way back.

A figure waits by his porch, walking back and forth as if in worry. From a distance, he can only guess who is waiting but something tells him it is that one person he wouldn’t expect to come to him.

He closes the distance between them.

Tine’s eyes widen like a deer in the headlights, and Sarawat wonders if he appears as a predator to him. A stinky, sweaty one.

Tine blinks rapidly, then he swallows.

"What are you doing here, Tine?” Sarawat asks, putting the key on its slot as he opens the front door. He keeps it open as Tine allows himself in.

“W-Well,” Tine stutters. Sarawat prevents a chuckle that dares to bubble from his lips. He approaches the fridge to get some water. “Dim and Green has been calling you to ask if you’re free, but you weren’t answering. I volunteered to visit.” Sarawat glances at Tine as he speaks again. “I had fun yesterday. I was wondering if I can return the favor. You were my roommate, after all.”

“You don’t have to,” Sarawat interjects. “I haven’t really slept a wink last night—”

Tine stares at him in aghast. “You didn’t? But you were running like a kid on a sugar rush!” The man approaches Tine and places the back of his hand to his forehead.

Now Sarawat is left speechless.

Sarawat is ever grateful for Tine’s lips because now, the latter’s lips hover above him the way it used to before he teases a kiss from him.

Sarawat always argued that he is a better kisser than Tine. Now, with a few inches and years of memories separating them apart, Sarawat thinks otherwise. Tine is a better kisser.

Tine is a better kisser because he learned how Sarawat wanted to be kissed to match it, even take his breath away. Tine kissed landmarks in his body like a map he has thoroughly studied. He peppered languid kisses in the spaces that Sarawat hasn’t known will excite him. Tine explored Sarawat in a way he hasn’t expected anyone to have patience for, and he exceeded Sarawat’s expectations.

Sarawat hasn’t noticed Tine moving away. He was too absorbed with the memory of him.

He couldn’t live that way.

Tine is here. Is finally here.

Sarawat turns his back at him. He needs a moment to compose himself.

“I didn’t know you have a tattoo.”

Sarawat can feel his hand hovering over his shoulder blade, Tine’s finger gliding on the characters inked on his skin. He remembers the night he had it done, wanting a tangible reminder of what he caused and what he wanted to redeem.

Remember what you are.

Sarawat wants to take Tine and take him right there and then at the kitchen.

“Lapse of judgment,” Sarawat mutters, his member badly straining at his shorts. He cannot turn around, for fear of Tine noticing his predicament. “Are you hungry? I can prepare—”

Tine rests his entire palm on his shoulder.

Sarawat inhales sharply, his eyes meeting Tine at the frost of his window. Tine holds his stare with an intensity he hasn’t seen for the longest time. It takes everything for Sarawat not to fall on his shaking knees.

“Let me return the favor,” he feels Tine’s breath against his ears. “Go take a shower, Wat.” The voice urges.

Sarawat follows, and when he finished bathing, the food is set on the living room table. Tine waits, the remote control of the television on his hand.

Sleep has visited him as soon as he felt Tine’s fingers brushing on his hair.


He receives the call the day prior to Phukong’s art exhibit.

Since Tine left his house after returning the favor of spending time with him, Sarawat has been dragged by Green and Dim to their itinerary. They did a lot of sight-seeing, with Sarawat acting as an almost local in the City of Pines. He brings them to his favorite places – the military academy, the night market, the souvenir shops. They wined and dined, making up for the past few years.

Tine keeps on smiling. The coils in Sarawat’s chest unfurls by the moment.

But duty calls, and Sarawat has to heed it.

“Earn.”

“I think you need to come back, Wat. For some goddamn reason, we’re in a shitshow.”

Sarawat hears the strain in Earn’s voice. Earn has always kept her grace under pressure.

“What happened?”

“Somebody is calling on international security on our asses. I’ve gone through every nook and cranny on each of our deals, but not once have I been questioned. Until now. They want you in their doorstep otherwise they’re suing us.”

This has happened before, but this is the first time Sarawat wants to throw it all away.

“Give me a flight schedule from Clark. I’ll drive.”


His lungs burned from the sprinting he did to reach the intensive care unit as soon as he could.

Sarawat was at the final leg of his physical therapy session when he received the call.

Recovery was a slow process, and Sarawat’s injuries had left him thinner and weaker than before. At the beginning, he couldn’t even sit up in bed without heaving breaths. His parents had always been there, assisting and making things easier for him, but his body couldn’t match the disuse it had gone through the past weeks he was asleep.

At least you’re alive and getting better, that was what his mother always told him.

He treated therapy like a marathon athlete aiming for the fastest run he will in his life. He owed his parents that much.

Sarawat paid attention. Followed the drills. Strived to make progress after every single session. Some days were better, some were just downright ugly. Yet Sarawat walked on, knowing that this was nothing compared to the recovery Tine is going through. Compared to Phukong's lost chance.

And today…today is the beginning of another chapter.

The nurses greeted him as he approached them, showing them the pass Tine’s parents lent him. He slowly walked to the glass door, taking a deep breath. He couldn’t wipe the grin off his face.

  He slid the door.

  The breathing tube that once obstructed his view of Tine’s face was gone, replaced by the cannula snaking his nose. Tine’s eyes remained closed. He was paler than he used to be, if that were possible, but it didn’t diminish the awe Sarawat showed at the sight of him.

  Sarawat scooted closer to his bedside and reached for his hand, drawing circles at the back of his hand the way he used to when he – by some reason – wakes earlier than the man at the bed.

 Tine opens his eyes and their eyes meet.

  Something is wrong.

  He felt Tine flinching at his touch, confusion painted in his features. His eyes were narrowed as he looked as Sarawat’s face.

  “Who are you?”

Chapter Text

His plane touches down roughly half a day since he left Baguio.

Earn is waiting for him beyond the luggage counter, sky high heels clicking as she walks back and forth. She looks incensed, pressing on the screen of her phone like a mad woman. Sarawat notice the change in features as she presses on another button, probably canceling an incoming call When her eyes met Sarawat’s, she looks ready to kill somebody.

Hopefully not him.

“Remind me again why I let you give my personal number to Boss?” Earn starts as he approaches her. “He won’t stop calling me after I told him why you had to leave right before the exhibit. Can he not understand that?” Earn’s phone vibrates in her hand, and she growls when she sees the name of the caller on the screen. “Goddamn it!”

Ëarn answers the call, and begins the conversation with a well-worded expletive. Sarawat has always known her to have a bit of temper, but never has he seen her explode like she is doing now. The most people can get from her is a roll of her eyes, even a snort when ideas are too ludicrous in her opinion. Sarawat is just glad he isn’t on the receiving end of the line.

They reach the car, the driver assisting Sarawat with his luggage. Earn is still arguing with the person on the phone. Once they’re on the road, Earn passes the phone to you.

“He wants to speak with you,” Earn grumbles, massaging her temples.

Sarawat takes the phone, “Boss.”

“What did you feed that woman, Wat? I can feel her breathing on my neck even if she’s miles away.” Sarawat can imagine Boss almost shuddering.

The quietness in the car makes Boss’s voice audible even if he isn’t on speaker. “I am just doing my job, asshole. Stop harassing me.” Earn speaks, glaring at the phone before staring back at the window.

“Stop pissing her off, Boss. I’ll be taking the brunt of it,” Sarawat complains.

“Payback’s a bitch, my friend. You just threw me to the wolves.” Boss says with snark. “You didn’t tell me that I have to deal with an enraged, amnesic Tine Teepakorn.”

Sarawat inhales sharply.

“You didn’t tell me you reunited,” There is accusation in his voice. For a moment, Sarawat feels the air become heavier. “Dim and Green, I can deal with. I’ve been in touch with them in social media. Scrubb, I can always adopt. But I don’t do secrets, Wat. You know I can’t.”

Sarawat brushes his hand on his face.

A part of him denies that he intended to leave without a note. For all the good the last few days with Tine and their friends has brought in his life, he knows his priorities. Sarawat is more than just the guy whose world revolved around Tine. He has to learn that the hard way. It makes him an asshole, but he should have had the decency to say goodbye.

But he can’t. Saying goodbye will mean their ties are back.

It hasn’t been a difficult decision. In the time he parted with Tine, he has slaved away in his studies and in working for this company. He is not simply Sarawat, the prodigal lover of Tine. He is also Mr. Guntithanon, the chief operating officer of an international relations firm. He is not a child anymore. There is more at stake – the company, its reputation, and the millions of lives under his helm.

“Please apologize to him for me,” Sarawat requests.

“No, you have to apologize to him yourself.” Boss sighs from the other end of the line. “You’re making me a very frustrated man, Wat.”

“Just try to brush them off, I’ll deal with them when I get back,” Sarawat compromises.

“Stop treating with people like a business deal, Wat. It doesn’t fit you.” Sarawt can hear the anger in Boss’s voice. “It doesn’t become you. Heck, you haven’t been you in years! Do you think Phukong will want you to be miserable?”

Something stirs within Sarawat, and he almost growls on the phone. “Mind your tongue, Boss. I am about to have very important meeting in a few minutes, and I cannot afford to plunge into this shitshow angry.”

“More important than the very reason you isolated yourself the past few years?” Boss bites back. “Fuck it, Wat. Clean your shit here. Tine deserves better.”

The line ends. Sarawat doesn’t know if it’s him or his friend that ended the call, but whoever did it definitely has better judgment.

Tine deserves better.

Of course, he does.

He doesn’t deserve me.

But it’s not a matter of deserving. It’s a matter of wanting.

Tine hasn’t wanted me in a while.

Earn takes the hand holding his phone as the car stops. They catch each other’s eyes.

“Clear your head, Wat. Let me handle Boss.”

Earn takes Sarawat’s phone before stepping out of the vehicle.


The meeting has been grueling, and the investors have driven a hard bargain. After all, it was their privacy that has almost been breached, had it not for Earn’s quick eye. Sarawat shakes the hand of the last of them as they leave the conference room.

The city skyline is alive with light and moving vehicles on an early night rush hour, towering buildings still bustling with employees doing last minute touches for todays work and popping knuckles for overtime. A build-up of traffic is beginning to form in the nearest intersection.

Earn knocks on the door and slips her head in. Sarawat ushers her inside, staring back to the window.

“I’ve had the penthouse cleaned up before you arrived. I’m locking your office and keeping the key card.” Earn rattles off as she deleted list after list in her tablet. “You’re not due for a week so your schedule is clear. I’ll keep it blank just in case—”

“No need,” Sarawat interjects. “Rearrange my schedule. I will need tomorrow cleared, but I’ll be back in the office the next day.”

He can hear Earn moving around the room, sitting at the right-hand side of the table.

Her defiance is audible in the silence that followed. She will not rearrange his schedule; Sarawat has known her well enough that Earn will not be budged when she thinks – knows – she’s right.

“If you will not change my schedule, I will just—”

“I am keeping track of Tine’s flight schedule. He’s due to return to Bangkok tomorrow.”

Sarawat clenches his jaw, knowing that Earn has gotten her nose on his business. Damn, Boss. For all their arguing, they always agree to keep Sarawat in his toes.

“And that matters, why?”

“Before I am your right-hand woman, Wat, I am your friend. I’m tired of seeing you punish yourself.” Earn remarks. Sarawat turns to see her looking steadily at him, as if resolved with her stand. “How were the last few days with Tine?”

Sarawat closes his eyes, remembering how Tine’s face reflected on the window of his humble kitchen. Remembers how his body responded with the smallest of touches from Tine. His body – their bodies – will always be familiar territory with each other. Sarawat recalls how easy it is to elicit a laugh from Tine, who is left innocent from their grievances in the past. As if time removed every trace of why they almost lost each other – physically, mentally, emotionally.

Their relationship, which has once stagnated, has been fired up once more. Everything seems to fall into place after his years of waiting.

But is it worth the cost?

“It was the happiest I had been since I left Thailand,” Sarawat finally answers, guilt storming in his chest like an unwanted visitor.

“Then why are you depriving yourself of that?”

“I had my hands on that wheel, and had I taken better control of the situation—"

“Wat!”

“Tine was already holding him back, but Phukong was pushing for both of us so he had to remove his seatbelt—”

Sarawat crouches on the floor, folding his legs and hugging them to his chest. Earn stands from her seat—

“I should have stopped the car in the middle of the street. I should have insisted for help when we got Phukong out. I should have noticed him getting drunk almost every night—"

and turns Sarawat to face her. Earn holds his face in her smaller hands.

“Why haven’t I seen the signs? Why?”

Sarawat feels Earn take him into her arms as she tries to muffle his tears. “You’re as much as a victim as them, Sarawat,” he hears her saying.

“But you’re here. You’ve lived to tell the tale. You remembered. You’re alive, and it’s time to start living again.”

She cradles him like a babe, quietly hushing him as he breaks piece by piece.


Sarawat wakes to his bed.

He doesn’t know how Earn managed to bring him at his penthouse – probably with a lot of threatening – but she has always been efficient with her job.

His limbs are heavy, and his eyes hurt from all the tears he shed last night. The bed feels too big as he tries to move around; Sarawat misses the homier feel of his bad in his cabin. He peels his day-old clothes and strips for a shower.

He prepares his coffee and decides to drive.

Phukong’s resting place lies at the outskirts of the city. Their family cannot leave him behind, and has brought his ashes across oceans so that he won’t be left alone. His parents have been resolved in not returning to Thailand, instead building their life in a foreign land because going back is too painful.

Sarawat can’t not go back now. Something – someone – is calling him back. Someone he needs to give answers to.

But first, he needs to say goodbye.

Fresh flowers sit by the side of his brother’s urn. His mother has visited recently, as she always does. Parents should never bury their children, and yet his mother almost buried two. Sarawat has observed her ritual, and has avoided going at the mausoleum with her even when they first came here.

Maybe he should visit with her next time.

Sarawat stares at the urn, recalling his brother’s mischievous smile.

His brother had always been a happy child. Always ready. Always aiming to please. Phukong had his fair share of defeats, but never had his failure broke him so bad than the last one, leading him to a downward spiral of seclusion and sadness. Sarawat always perceived him as the stronger one for him to hold his emotions at bay, not knowing the cracks slowly growing.

For years, Sarawat has tried to patch his own cracks. All it took was Tine’s smile to tip him over the edge.

Sarawat lets himself fly.


Thailand is buzzing with natives and visitors as he finds his way through its familiar streets. Driving in his hometown is like muscle memory. He remembers the routes and the old establishments that served as landmarks in his old haunts. The buildings are still there, tall and a bit worn with time. Unfamiliar establishments also dot the neighborhood; Sarawat promises to drop by this side of town whatever happens.

He reaches the outskirts of the city and finds himself driving into a modest two-story house.

Sarawat sees movement from the window.

He parks his car across the street.

Sarawat pockets his hands, which are sweaty and shaking in nervousness. A part of his mind is arguing for him not to leave the car and just drive away.

Sarawat shakes his head.

He crosses the walkway and stands by the porch, his eyes hesitating to ring the door bell. Sarawat takes a deep breath, pushing the last of his hesitations away. The heat is sweltering, and Sarawat thaws under its touch.

He is about to knock when the door opens. Sarawat raises his head.

“Tine.”


The first thing he recalls was the smell of disinfectant that seeps through his nose, even with the cannula in place. He tries to lift his arm to brush his nose, but they are heavy and numb.

He felt tightness on his chest, the rough texture of gauze wrapped in his torso. He breathes deeply, but the air was glass on his lungs. He swallowed, but his mouth is dry and his throat parched.

He tried to open his eyes.

Dim lights welcomed his vision, the outline of the room slowly coming together. His mind felt foggy as he tried to recall where he is. There were tubes going in and out of his body, and the cardiac monitor beeped as the minutes passed by.

From the corner of the room, he could see his mother’s sleeping form nestled at his father’s side.

The older man was looking at him.

“Da—,” Sarawat croaked, his voice breaking the man from his stupor.

His father woke his mother, and the woman yawned as the last vestiges of sleep left her senses. His father pointed to his form at the hospital bed.

Sarawat’s mother cried.

“I thought you wouldn’t wake up,” she took his hand, pressing kisses on his palm. “Oh my boy, you’re the only one we have now.”

His father patted her back, in comfort. Sarawat could see an older version of him watching him in sadness, answering an unspoken question.

Chapter Text

He was sitting by the dining area, several files waiting to be scanned when the door opens.

  It was almost one in the morning.

  Sarawat raised his head as Tine shuffles in, almost tripping on his long legs. The latter pressed a hand on his mouth to hide his giggle. Tine held himself against the edge of the dining table, flinging his bag on Sarawat’s properly stacked notes. Papers were almost sent flying to the ground.

  Tine flinched when he noticed the movement.

  Sarawat swallowed the disappointment bubbling on his throat.

 B oth he and Tine had been finishing their internship programs. They already graduated from their respective courses, and had been living together for almost four years. Tine was recruited as a paralegal for a renowned law firm, and Sarawat snatched a starting position at an international relations firm. Given the hierarchy in their respective jobs, both of them had been pulling overtimes in their schedules.

  This day marked the fourth year of their relationship.

  It was one of the few times Sarawat and Tine had their schedules in sync. They made arrangements in their own companies just to free their schedules. They rarely went out these days; coffee dates and mall dates transitioned into late night dinners and pad thai take-outs. They still did breakfast, but with both of them in silence as they stirred on their own cups of coffee. Sarawat would be checking his mail early on, and Tine would be sifting through legal proceedings he was tasked to review for their meeting. Before, their mornings would be filled with teasing and laughter, always dotted with a kiss as they parted ways.

  The routine lulled them into a false sense of security.

  Change is gradual, and if not for his innate sensitivity, Sarawat would have missed how he or Tine would miss preparing a meal for two, or how the other leaves their unit without a backward glance at the other. Change is gradual, and Sarawat and Tine were guilty of contributing to that change. They never foresaw this, always too secure in the commitment they once made.

  Maybe that was how relationships work. You would grow into them until there is not much space for the other anymore.

  Tine’s stint was just the tip of the iceberg.

  “Hello,” Tine looked at him warily, bleary eyes trying to focus on Sarawat’s face. “I’m sorry I got home late.”

  Sarawat bit on his inner cheek, as he observed Tine gather himself. He couldn’t take his eyes away off of him, even if betrayal gnawed in his chest.

  Never had Tine ever felt him feel like he has lost his value until today.

  Sarawat dropped his watering eyes on the papers in front of him.

Tine shuffled in the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and pouring cold water in one of the glasses. Sarawat was keenly aware of his every action even if he stares intently at his documents. Tine stopped moving. Sarawat was well aware of the other man burning holes at the back of his head, trying to recall what he missed amidst the haze of alcohol.

  Sarawat couldn’t take it. He created a pile out of his documents and hugged them against his chest, ignoring Tine as he went to their room. Heavy steps echoed in the hollowness of their so-called home. As he reached his side of the study table, Sarawat carefully placed his papers down, restraining the outburst he knew was coming.

  He slipped under the sheets, rolling to his side of the bed.

  He counted the seconds as he waited for Tine to follow him. Sarawat heard the other man strip off his day clothes and enter the bathroom. Sarawat imagined how they would have celebrated under the warmth of the shower, lust outpouring from every inch of their skin. Even the promise of sex couldn’t distract Sarawat from the reality they are facing.

  Tine got out of the shower. Sarawat heard him drying his hair and placing the wet towel in a hanger. Hesitant steps approached their bed. Tine sat on his side of it, his weight familiar yet so unfamiliar at the same time. Sarawat steadied his breath.

  Tine slipped under the covers they used to share, cool arms encircling Sarawat’s torso with the chill that slowly creeped into the cracks of their relationship. Sarawat felt Tine’s breath shaking against his back, his tears wetting his shift. He croaked apologies one after the other. Sarawat didn’t notice his own body quaking as he cried.

  They stayed there, back against chest, without power to face the reason why they are breaking.


His phone kept on vibrating for the past hour.

Sarawat stretched his back as he finished his part for the presentation the next day. The deal they were about to haggle for was the make or break of his position in the company. Entry-level position was the initial target, but the boss was impressed and had given him a higher position because his colleague was promoted. It was a win-win situation, and Sarawat would have done everything to secure his place.

Work was the only solace he had these days.

The anniversary fiasco was the beginning of the end.

Sarawat knew they were both trying to mend it. The next morning found Sarawat alone in his bed, and a post-it placed on top of the files he was loking at the night before. Breakfast is at the table, see you when I get home, Tine wrote in his neat manuscript. Sarawat kept that little paper in his wallet, a small smile creeping on his lips. He went downstairs and was greeted with a freshly made breakfast spread of bacon and eggs. Tine set the coffee maker and had sliced fruit on the side. He even prepared a lunch pack for Sarawat to take to the office. However, Tine was nowhere to be found, the scent of his soap and perfume lingering in the air. Sarawat missed him by a minute.

Tine came late home late again, a new case keeping them busy. Sarawat sent food to his office, to which Tine gave his thanks. His tired body succumbed to sleep even before his lover came home.

It was a cycle. They kept on piling moment after moment to cover the cracks, cementing the broken bricks of their home haphazardly. They filled it in with whatever their hands reached. A bag full of groceries. Doing laundry for the other. Keeping each other’s meals warm. Always by each other’s side, but never addressing the elephant in the room.

The cracks still showed, and yet they kept on trying.

Sarawat was shaken from his stupor by his phone vibrating, Tine’s name on the screen.

“Tine,” he answered, realizing that it has been a while since he spoke his lover’s name out loud.

“Wat, what the hell is wrong with you? I’ve been calling for almost an hour already!” Tine’s frantic voice, sending a jolt of nervousness on Sarawat’s stomach.

“My phone was on silent. I told you I am working overtime tonight.”

Tine sighed, and for a moment, Sarawat felt apologetic. “I know you get absorbed with work, but have you even taken a look at your messages? Your mother has been calling you She was worried you weren’t answering, so she called me. She sounded scared, Wat. I had to come to her.”

Dread filled Sarawat’s senses. His mother never acted panicky. She was the epitome of calmness amidst crises. Way back, when he and Tine weren’t together yet, she had seen them almost on top of the other and didn’t even blink. Nothing fazed her.

Something must have happened.

“I’m leaving the office now. Where are you both?” Sarawat quickly gathered his documents and bag. He waved goodbye to his other teammates, mouthing “emergency” as he hurried towards the elevator.

“We’re at their house now,” Tine answered.

“I’ll be there soon,” Sarawat ended the call.

Ideas came to mind as he set on the drive to his parents’ house. Both his parents are well, as far as concerned. The last time they called, everything seemed peachy. However, there was an undertone in his mother’s voice when he spoke of his brother.

Phukong hadn’t called in weeks.

It was unusual for his brother to go off radar. While Phukong valued his independence, he shared a deeper relationship with his parents, being the youngest in the brood. Phukong would always come home on weekends where Sarawat would forget to come home, unless his mother called him.

He turned around the corner after the twenty-minute car ride, parking across his childhood home. Tine was waiting for him at the front porch.

He closed the distance between them, taking the other man in a hug. Hesitant arms slipped around Sarawat’s body. They stayed there for a moment, enveloped by the croaking of cricket and bathed by the light from the full moon. Sarawat felt Tine’s lips on the side of his neck.

“How is she?” Sarawat asked, still holding to Tine.

  “Scared,” Tine mumbled against his neck, pressing a kiss on his skin before pulling back. “I had to barge in Phukong’s room because he wouldn’t answer us. Why didn’t you tell me what’s going on?” Disappointment flickered momentarily in his eyes.

  Sarawat bit his lip. They used to be communicative, but the distance just grew and they filled the gaps with whatever scrap of affection they could find. However, there were bigger things upon them; this wasn’t their moment.

  “I had my suspicions, but I wasn’t certain. I promised to visit him.” Sarawat explained. “I was about to tell you, maybe you could shake some sense to him.” Sarawat added. Tine had always been compassionate, and Sarawat hoped that he could talk some sense to him.

  Tine searched his face for something Sarawat couldn’t pinpoint.

  “I don’t think I’m in the position to do that,” Tine answered, his statement carefully worded. There was the same undercurrent that he once heard from his mother’s voice.

  “Why?” Sarawat insisted.

  “It’s difficult being a second choice, Wat,” Tine remarked, staring at Sarawat’s eyes.

  He didn’t know if they’re still talking about Phukong or about them.

  “It eats you alive, Wat, whoever or whatever you think your opponent is. You don’t know how long you can take the other person lying to your face or how long you can watch the life you built together fall apart.”

  Tine walked past him and sat by the steps. “We haven’t really talked in a while, right Wat?”

  Sarawat swallowed. At the back of his mind, he knew that this confrontation was bound to happen. He was adamant to initiate it; in the span of their relationship, Sarawat had never been good with words. Tine would always supplement the spaces his music left with explanations. That was how it has always been.

  Now, restraining his words felt like pulling teeth.

  “Is there anything left to talk about, Tine? Will this salvage years’ worth of missed conversations?” Sarawat deflected. “Do you even want to save this – save us, Tine?”

  Tine’s eyes were red with unshed tears as he looked at Sarawat. “Of course, I do. You are the first man I loved, Wat, the only one I will.”

  “Then why does it feel like you’ve given up on us a long time ago?” Sarawat bit back. “I let everything slip by because you are working your dream job. I condoned everything. All I wanted was for you to come home, yet you had to fail me again and again. You missed our fucking anniversary, for gods’ sake!”

  “There are two of us in this relationship. The blame doesn’t solely lie on me,” Tine’s voice was low and simmering with anger. “I am your damn mistress, Wat, and your job is your husband!”

  “Because my job is there for me, Tine! My job makes me feel secure instead of that empty home we share!” Sarawat screamed, his chest heaving as if he ran a mile. “All I wanted was a minute of your fucking time, but you wouldn’t even spare me a second!”

  “Fuck you, Wat. I tried! I did my best to be there! But there are things I can’t control!”

  “Like what, Tine? That drinking spree you came home from on our anniversary? The nights you do overtime when you know I’ll be home early? You always have a choice!” Sarawat cried. He didn’t care if the neighbors heard him. He didn’t care if his parents or his brother suddenly barged outside to stop them.

  “You always have a choice, Tine, yet you didn’t choose me.”

  “You didn’t choose me too,” Tine whispered haltingly.

  Sarawat felt his heart cracking.

  The front door of his parents’ house creaked as it opened, the face of his mother illuminated by the light inside.

  Tine stood from his position, glancing back to Sarawat’s mother. He gave a hug, whispering reassurances before turning away.

  As he passed Sarawat’s frozen form, Tine paused. “I think you should stay here for the night, Wat.”

  Tine walked away without a backward glance.

  His mother’s hug was warm, but nothing could thaw the coldness of Tine’s parting.


  Sarawat stayed at his childhood home for three days.

  With the deal off the table, Sarawat was able to return to his usual working hours. He woke at the crack of dawn, and got home by dinnertime. His parents were understanding about his plight, and had not intervened. He hated their pitiful looks, but spending his time in his and Tine’s broken home was something he wasn’t prepared to live into.

  Staying at home meant living with a ghost named Phukong.

  His brother hadn’t stepped out of his room since Tine’s visit.

  Sarawat would usually find his mother knocking on her brother’s room, begging for him to go out. Their house maid would follow, leave a tray of meal outside his room. Sarawat never caught him taking the food; all he knew was that empty plates and glasses sat outside his brother’s room half an hour after it was placed. His father would air his frustration whenever he passed by his father’s room, but the older man never pleaded. He never made true of his threat to break Phukong’s door.

  Sarawat stood in front of his door before going to work or before going to sleep. Never knocking. Never confronting. Personally, he was at loss.

  Phukong lived with a façade that everyone believed it, but the mask he wore was worn and just about to fall apart. Phukong always spoke of how happy he was with Mil, Sarawat’s rival turned Phukong’s boyfriend. Sarawat always observed, reminding his brother that he was only a call away. He never trusted Mil, not when he slyly infiltrated his own relationship in its beginning stages. He hated the man with ardor.

  He hated Mil for getting under his brother’s skin. If he were to admit it, he hated his brother for making a fool out of himself. Phukong was ruining himself for a man who barely passed him a glance, despite being together for a while now.

  Sarawat always felt that something was brewing in his brother. He just didn’t know when it will happen.


It happened almost a week since Sarawat returned to their place.

Tine kept their unit tidy in his absence. There was a note at the refrigerator telling him that he will arrive later as usual. Sarawat sighed; it felt like nothing changed.

But it was there. Tension simmered even in the absence of his estranged lover.

It was in the stack of papers left on Tine’s side of the study table. It was in the pillow and the folded blanket on the couch they once cuddled in during Type’s visit way back. It was there in the neatly made bed. In the lingering scent that Sarawat can only associate with Tine. In the lone mug waiting to be washed by the sink. In his missing pair of work shoes.

Was this the life they would have lived apart?

Sarawat couldn’t dwell on it. He had a work meeting in the next hour. He only went to their place to drop their things.

He rushed to his office for the afternoon’s activities. There was a meeting to attend to and several projects to discuss with his new team.

They were in the middle of finalizing their schedule for the coming month when he received the call. Tine’s name flashed on screen. It was his first call since they parted ways by his parents’ porch.

“Tine,” Sarawat answered.

“Wat, it’s Phukong,” Tine’s fear was evident in his voice.

“What happened?” Sarawat raised his hand to silence his teammates.

“He called me. He was saying things about how he hated me and how it was my fault. I came to your parents’ house when I caught him, but he told me we’ll talk to Mil once and for all. I don’t have a good feeling about this.” Tine rushed in his words, and Sarawat had to listen intently to understand.

“Why did you come with him? Why didn’t you stop him?”

“He was pointing a knife on me, Wat, then he told me to drive. He’s drunk. I don’t think confronting him is the safest way.”

“Tell me where you are.”

Tine rattled off the address.

“Stay in line, Tine. I’ll be there in a jiffy.

Sarawat patted his pockets for his wallet and keys, rushing towards the elevator. He pressed on the button repeatedly, growling in frustration. He rushed towards the emergency exit, heart pounding on his chest.

Sarawat should have known this would happen. Had he kept his guard up and stayed at their parents’ home, this wouldn’t have happened.

“I’m scared, Wat,” Tine whispered. “I begged him to leave the knife. He did, but he told me to stay in the car. I couldn’t call the police on him. He’s your brother, I couldn’t do that.”

“Do it, Tine. For fuck’s sake, you and Mil are in danger.”

“On what grounds, Wat? There is no evidence—”

“Stop waiting on the fucking evidence, Tine!” Sarawat hit the steering wheel in anger. He was on the last traffic light before arriving at Mil’s house, but the stoplight was yet to flash green.

He almost ran the red light when it hit one second to go.

His car tires screeched as he saw Tine’s car. From the windshield, he could see his unmistakably shaking form. Sarawat threw himself off his seat and almost pulled the door off of Tine’s car. He took the other man in his arms.

“Are you okay? Did he hurt you?” Sarawat held Tine’s face on his hands, searching for any marks or wounds. Tine was pale and shaking; he shook his head. Sarawat pressed a kiss on his forehead before pulling him out.

They walked towards Mil’s home. From outside, they could hear his brother and the other man screaming. Sarawat pushed the door.

Phukong stared at the newcomer with wild eyes. He was unkempt and smelling of alcohol. Mil was pushing Phukong’s hands off of him as they argued. Sarawat lunged for his brother, wrapping his arms on him from behind. Phukong lashed out, almost hitting both men in the face until he dropped on his knees in alcoholic stupor.

Tine apologized to Mil before leaving.

Tine and Sarawat dragged Phukong away, with Sarawat leading them to his car. The knife was still in Tine’s passenger seat; they couldn’t risk it.

They lay Phukong at the backseat, opting to bring him to the hospital.

Tine kept on glancing at the backseat as Sarawat drove, pressing on the car to move near speed limit. They traversed the highway, trying to avoid the traffic of the impending evening rush. Both Sarawat and Tine were getting more nervous by the minute; Phukong was getting agitated, his bloodshot eyes directed on the couple in front.

Phukong lunged Sarawat in the middle of the highway.

“You shouldn’t have stopped me! I would kill him for leaving me!” Phukong yelled, hands reaching for Sarawat as the latter tried to maneuver himself off his way. Tine loosened his seatbelt, forcing the other man back. However, Phukong was persistent, slipping his body between the driver’s and passenger seat as he fought Sarawat for the wheel.

“Why did you stop me Wat! Why did you stop me!” Phukong yelled, kneading Tine on the face as he pushed Sarawat, the latter hitting his head on the window with a heavy thud.

Sarawat’s vision blackened, and he failed to see the concrete barrier his car was directed into.

They said that when you were about to die, your life would flash before your eyes as the last of your essence leaves your body. All Sarawat could remember was the loud thud of metal hitting concrete; the way the glass broke on his windshied and how he felt Phukong’s body slipping forward; the pain in his chest upon hitting the steering wheel—

Sarawat opened his eyes.

His vision was a blur. His breaths were labored. There was pain in his chest and he felt like drowning—

Tine’s body was sprawled halfway across the dashboard, pale face marred with scrape. His head was bleeding profusely. Sarawat’s hand reached for his lover, but he nearly choked on his breath just by reaching his fingers—

There was a shadow of another form outside, lying by the foot of the tree. Sarawat turned his head to get a better view—

Phukong gasped for breath, his mouth spouting blood. He wanted to call his brother. He wanted to yell for help—

Black spots filled his vision, and Sarawat remembered no more.


The tea was already cold.

Tine was looking at him, hands folded on his tea cup. Sarawat’s remained untouched opposite it.

The sun has begun to set.

Sarawat was avoiding his gaze, instead focusing on the pale wood of his dining table.

“Do you have a place to stay tonight?” Tine’s quiet voice shattered his concentration.

“My secretary had arrangements done.”

“Until when are you here?”

“I leave tomorrow night.”

Tine takes a deep breath. “Will you mind if I ask you to stay tonight?”

Sarawat’s eyes widened, finally meeting Tine’s.

“I have a guest room upstairs. It’s just…I don’t know what to say but I know I want you to stay. Even just for tonight.”

Sarawat stares at the stranger that was his lover. He has finally lain his cards at the table. He promised himself that he wouldn’t back down. Seven years’ worth of guilt is enough.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

Sarawat can’t sleep.

It has been hours since he told Tine of their story. Exhaustion has overcome his senses, yet he cannot surrender himself to the lull of Morpheus. There is an empty hole in his chest, contents splayed flat on the kitchen table along with cold cups of tea.

Therapy has helped him move forward from the pain, but guilt is silent fiend that bids its time. That time is now; all Sarawat needed is the strength to tell the tale.

It has been hours since he has last seen Tine. After the other man offered his guest room, Sarawat has taken his overnight bag from the car rental and let Tine lead him to the room. Tine has offered dinner, but Sarawat has said no. He didn’t have the appetite, not with guilt continuing to claw its way out of his middle.

He has kept the door locked, waiting for time to pass. He has heard Tine moving around the house; has noticed the unevenness of his footsteps as he took the stairs; has waited for the knock on the door as Tine shuffled in front of the room he occupies. He can only answer the other man’s question with a sigh, touching the door separating them, as if it will exude the warmth of his hand towards his.

Moonlight bathes the room as he continues to stare outside through the windows. He recalls the lonely nights he spent by himself, keeping himself from anyone’s company. Before, the quiet of the night is filled with chaotic thoughts and unyielding nightmares. Now he is under one roof with the subject of his musings, and Sarawat can only rethink of his impulsive decision-making earlier today.

He needs to drink something strong.

With hesitant footsteps, Sarawat exits the room and finds his way to the kitchen.

He almost jumps in surprise to see Tine by the kitchen bar, a wine glass filled in front of him. Sarawat hasn’t noticed him going back downstairs; he has been too caught up with his thoughts.

Tine raises his head towards his direction.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Sarawat asks as he stops by the foot of the stairs.

Tine nods, biting his lip. “You gave me a lot to think about.”

“I’m sorry—”

Tine shrugs, “It’s not your fault. That was years’ worth of a story I missed out.” He takes another wine glass from one of the cabinets. “You want some? You should fill your stomach first though.”

Sarawat watches as Tine reheats the dinner he prepared. Tine passes one of the stools for Sarawat to sit in as he moves around the kitchen. Sarawat is momentarily struck by another vision of a younger Tine moving around the kitchen they shared as he worried over their dinner, and a his lip curl into a wistful smile.

Tine sets the dish in front of him, and Sarawat cannot control the growling of his stomach.

Tine passes him the utensils, and he digs in.

Sarawat is conscious of how Tine is watching him eat. He used to do that to him, with Tine being more forgetful in taking care of himself. Sarawat will fill his stomach with a quick bite, but Tine can slave away the entire day without minding the hunger.

As soon as the plate is empty, Sarawat empties the wine glass.

Tine fills it again before placing his plates on the sink.

They sit across each other, Tine’s eyes searching his face for something Sarawat isn’t sure of.

“You never told me what happened after,” Tine starts, sipping from his glass.

Sarawat keeps eyes on Tine. “My brother died. I almost did. You woke up later, and you didn’t recall a single thing. I left with my family, and years later here we are.”

“Don’t play smart with me, Sarawat. You know what I’m talking about,” Tine demands, with a hint of irritation in his voice. He always hated it when Sarawat dealt with things nonchalantly.

“I don’t know where to start,” Sarawat confesses. “Too much had gone and passed. I was drowning in a sea of grief. I lost my brother, and the love of my life is lost to me as well. I was living my worst nightmare.” Sarawat sees the hint of surprise in Tine’s eyes when he calls him the love of my life, but he doesn’t take it back.

It has always felt that way. Whenever he will revisit his memories, or even when he has reached the heights his career has been currently experiencing, Tine’s memory is the home that was always out of reach. Sarawat feels like he has journeyed the past few years only to end by his doorstep.

“Therapy was brutal, but my parents and I needed it. We couldn’t get past our griefs. My parents were workaholic, but Phukong’s loss exacerbated that. I was fending for myself, but my friends were quite a force to be reckoned with,” Sarawat smiles, Boss and Earn creeping to his thoughts. He can only imagine their reactions. His friends have stayed, bar for one.

“Man told me,” Tine adds to the conversation. Sarawat’s eyes widen in surprise.

“How did you—”

“Man is my brother’s partner, and he used to talk about a friend he missed a lot. Type would be frustrated whenever he raised that story when I’m in company.” Tine looks at him accusingly. “You are that friend, am I right Sarawat?”

Sarawat has wished that Tine had that degree of perception before, but he wouldn’t be Tine without a hint of naivete. “Man is too close to you. I had to grant him that happiness. He and Type deserved that peace. How is he, by the way?”

“He owns a car repair shop downtown, but he works in the government for his day job.” Tine sends him a cautious look. “You should…drop by sometime. He will like it.”

Sarawat doesn’t know how to feel about it. He has been distant to Man since the accident, never pushing because of his connections. Man fought for their friendship, but like all things he managed to ruin, Sarawat has been mum about it until he just stopped trying.

Sarawat misses his friend.

“Maybe next time,” Sarawat answers vaguely. “What about you? How were the past few years?”

Sarawat notices the lines that form on Tine’s forehead as he thinks of what to say. Or maybe how to say it. This Tine has lost his shyness. This Tine has grown into his own skin. This Tine has shed his insecurities aside, so different from the Tine who once gazed at the mirror questioningly, no matter how beautiful he was in Sarawat’s eyes.

This Tine looks at Sarawat with emptiness. But if Sarawat were to be more hopeful, this Tine reflects the same longing he projects in his eyes.

“Rehabilitation was a struggle. It took months before I was able to walk by myself. I lost muscle mass while I was asleep. Moving was a struggle. Everyone was treating me like glass.” Tine wipes his tears with his hands. “The memory thing doesn’t help.”

“You really don’t remember a thing? Anything?” Sarawat tries to prod.

Tine shakes his head. “There are flashes, but they don’t make sense. I know Type always sneaks mango sticky rice home for me, or that my mom insists on cooking because it makes her happy. I know my dad when I saw him, but I can’t recall his name. I know you look familiar, but I can’t recall who you are or where you came from. Or what you were to me. It’s a tricky thing. All those memories, they come, but they’re fleeting.” Tine sobs, covering his mouth with his hand. Sarawat reaches for his cheeks. “No one knows if I will remember. It’s been years, Wat. I don’t know if those memories are still worth looking back into. I don’t even know if I want to know that part of myself because I’m just met by a dead end.”

Sarawat circles the tables and holds Tine, the latter’s tears staining his shirt. His body shakes the same way it did the anniversary night he forgot to celebrate with him, and nostalgia hits Sarawat with a force that sent him buckling.

Sarawat cocoons Tine, and for the first time in seven years, his heart doesn’t crack upon breathing.


Sunrise comes too soon.

Dawn finds Sarawat and Tine seated in the latter’s bed, Tine’s head resting on Sarawat’s shoulder. It has been an exhausting night, filling in each other with the minute details they missed. Seven years may have transformed them, but in their roots, they are still the Sarawat and Tine whose lives were molded by Scrubb songs playing from Tine’s old music player.

Tine’s phone rings, and they are brought back to reality.

Sarawat sighs as Tine answers the call. He crosses his room and checks on his own phone.

Several messages from work fill his inbox, all awaiting his decision. Earn has also left several messages after he told her to cancel the reservation. He sends her reassurances and tells her to adjust his flight schedule. He also receives a message from Boss, reminding him to call him when he gets back.

Sarawat is reminded of the life he paused halfway across the world. It cannot wait anymore.

He fixes the mess he made and places his overnight bag at the bed.

“Leaving so soon? I thought your flight is tonight.” Tine appears by the doorway.

Sarawat doesn’t know how to answer. Something in him is desperate to stay. He may have missed so much time, but his feelings remain as strong as it once was. Beneath the pain and the sadness, it has always been there.

But seven years has brought Tine and Sarawat to different places in their lives. His life is halfway across the world, and Tine’s clients are waiting.

“I’ve done what I went here for,” Sarawat answers. “Thank you for letting me stay the night.”

Tine nods. “At least have breakfast with me. Or take some coffee with you.”

Sarawat obliges.

They eat breakfast in silence. Sarawat notices Tine playing with his bread, and he urges him to take a bite. He praises Tine for his cooking prowess in encouragement.

But then they finish their own meals. Sarawat washes the taste of food with a cup of coffee.

As he walks toward the door, Tine follows.

“What happens now?” Tine suddenly asks, stopping Sarawat from turning the knob.

“We’re worlds apart Tine. I owe it to you to—”

“You don’t owe me anything,” Tine cuts him off. “We are both at fault, Sarawat. You don’t have to carry that weight anymore.”

Sarawat gazes back with tears of gratitude in his eyes. Tine doesn’t know how relieving that felt. For the first time in years, he finds himself placing the backpack full of burdens at the doorstep of the next chapter of his life.

“It’ll take time for me to get used to that,” Sarawat remarks as he gives Tine a small smile.

“Can I wait for you?” Tine asks. “Until you’re completely free from it?”

Sarawat nods shakily. He doesn’t know what is compelling Tine, but Sarawat is certain that he will love no one more than he loves the man whose held his heart all this time.

Tine crosses the distance between them and envelops him in a hug. His touch is foreign against his skin, but his heart beats the same rhythm as it always had. Sarawat’s heart has always sung for Tine.

“For what it’s worth,” Tine whispers. “I may not remember everything, but something tells me I’ve loved you for a very long time, Wat.”

Sarawat smiles against his cheek, and he knows they will be alright.

Chapter Text

Tine

Baguio is beautiful on an early Christmas morning.

The ride north has been quick, with buses zooming towards its destination with few interruptions. By tradition, most of the families are in their homes, waiting for the clock’s hands to align at midnight.

He has received the e-mail the day before Christmas eve, and without thinking has changed his entire itinerary for the coming holidays. Type has insisted that he delay his travel after Christmas, but has begrudgingly allowed him to leave after hours of arguing.

They have waited too long.

He has been preparing for this since Sarawat bid goodbye a year ago, closing the door of his house with a resounding click. The entire time, Tine has been clenching his fingers, wanting badly to grip on Sarawat’s wrist and keep him on his spot. The more answers he got, the more he wanted to ask. The more answers he got, the more certain he is of Sarawat’s place in his life.

The spark has always been there. The first time he saw him – the one he recalls – the brooding man had him all flustered and shy, contrary to the work persona he tends to bring even at the dinner table. He tried to exude confidence, introducing himself politely and ignoring the dull ache on his leg as he hurried to his seat. Tension was evident, mostly from Sarawat, but Green managed to keep things at bay.

It surprised him when Sarawat gave him attention. Something about the way he reacted with barely concealed concern intrigued him. For all his vanity, Tine has learned to read people. It did him good in his job.

And when he came to his cabin, the connection couldn’t be ignored anymore.

He had to ask him who he is.

He had to know who he is to him.

Sarawat dealt with him like a calculated risk. It was evident in every story he told. It was obvious in every activity they did by themselves. It was in every moment Sarawat did something for him, as if he has always done these for him before yet never forgetting to place a barrier between them. Tine had wanted to climb those walls.

And he tried. When he visited Sarawat the morning after a day of exploration, all he wanted was to peel off those layers and leave him undone.

He almost did.

That morning in the kitchen, when he saw his bare back and the inked words speaking to him, he almost lost it.

The scene was too familiar.

Tine never told Sarawat, but he dreamed of him. After their reintroduction in Baguio. After Sarawat suddenly left. After they parted ways. There were nights when his presence would be so palpable, Tine could feel him against his body. He wondered if they were memories, but nothing concrete came out of them. Tine saw it as a consolation, and he held on to nights when the image of Sarawat warmed his bed.

Sarawat might have thought he lost Tine, but the loss is just as palpable on Tine’s part. That kind of loneliness always comes in pairs.

Tine wonders how he managed to go through the motions of his daily life after Sarawat left, but that is how adulthood is. Both he and Sarawat have their own lives in the years they were parted, and the world won’t stop simply because they found each other again. They have a choice in thee things, but decision making is a tricky thing.

In the past year, Tine hasn’t regained much about his old life. He works himself up the corporate ladder and gains the promotion as a higher-ranking partner in the law firm. He has been establishing himself in the community, and has been doing well with the cases he has been handling. It wasn’t bad, but the bed remains cold. The meals remain half-eaten. Tine begins spending an unhealthy amount of Tine sitting by the windowsill, papers sprawled in his coffee table. No rental car comes by, nor familiar shadows with slender form or hair haloed in his head.

The first e-mail comes two months after Sarawat’s departure. Tine, for all his writing prowess, cannot mince a single sentence to reply.

Sarawat has asked how he was and gave him an update about his brother’s exhibit back in the museum. The collection garnered more money and recognition than Sarawat hoped for. The message also included questions about his health and work. It also included an attachment showcasing a painting not included in the museum’s collection.

Sarawat wants to send it over.

Tine has debated with himself again and again, which is a bad thing because Tine tends to out-argue himself. It has taken him days before he mustered the courage to oblige with Sarawat’s request.

The painting stays in his living room, the yellows and greens and browns giving a pop of color to the minimalist design of his house. The painting is its best accessory yet, a reminder of early morning jogs and warm cups of coffee while he and Sarawat hide in the cabin.

They have exchanged messages routinely. Sometimes, they would talk about work. Other times, Tine would ask Sarawat to tell him a story. The man never failed to amuse him, with his favorite story being Sarawat’s friends giving them a bouquet of folded condoms-turned-flowers as their housewarming present.

He has told that to Man when he visited by his brother’s garage.

He never saw Man smile as big as that.

As Tine and Sarawat rebuild parts of their past, so did Sarawat and Man’s friendship recover.

They never talked about when Sarawat will come back, or if he ever will. There are times when Tine just wanted to ignore his messages on read, but that was the impatient part of him. Not remembering is a curse he had to live with.

He has never had the courage to ask Sarawat what happens next.

They parted ways at a crucial moment in their relationship. That Tine and Sarawat has been building their lives apart, so different yet similar to them these days. That Tine and Sarawat has been falling apart, and not even love can salvage the growing gap between them.

They say all things happen for a reason. Tine cannot say that the accident is a blessing in disguise for them. After all, it ruined a family and tore them apart. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a silver lining to look forward to.

Tine knows what he wants, and he will wait for it.

For a moment, Tine can say that he is luckier than Sarawat. He has felt lost, and has wanted to dig deep in his brain so it can remember even a smidge of his past. He has been full of anger. He has felt purposeless.

He has paid with his memories to be spared of the guilt.

The bus arrives in their destination by dawn, streams of light piercing from the pine trees. He hails a taxi and tells the address he has memorized from a long time ago, wiping the sweat in his hand on his pants.

The car stops across a freshly painted cabin. Tine isn’t the only one who has been busy. He pays the driver before exiting the vehicle, taking his bags with him.

The last e-mail he received from Sarawat is a copy of a news article at the business section of a famous news outlet, telling that the main operations of his company will be transferring to Thailand early in the coming year.

Tine doesn’t have to think twice about its implications. Sarawat has made his move, now he has to make his.

He rings the doorbell once.

He hears the excited yelps of the malamute – Scrubb – Sarawat is taking care of. Footsteps drag on the wooden floor until the only thing separating Tine and its owner is the heavy door in front of him.

The door knob turns. Tine drops his bags on the porch.

“Hello Wat,” Tine greets, and the other man’s mouth gapes in surprise.

Tine takes a step forward and seals their reunion with a kiss.