“I want to be serious. I want to be in a serious relationship,” Khai says. They are both more than a little tipsy. Third has been crashing in Khai’s spare room for the past few weeks since his own apartment was flooded. Well, the apartment was properly deflooded last week, but Third has had a hard time telling Khai, and Khai hadn’t asked about it, so.
Now they’re both on the couch, practically folded over each other, too lazy to get up. Khai was the one who wanted to go out in the first place. He’s had a lot of extra energy lately for a reason Third hasn’t quite been able to figure out.
“I want to be better,” Khai says earnestly.
Third can’t help let a nervous giggle escape.
“Are you sure?” It’s hard to tell if Khai is being serious or regrets not going home with the bartender that kept giving him free drinks. She was cute, with a full sleeve of tattoos and looked ready to eat him alive. For the most part, Khai had looked like he wouldn’t have minded if she did. But, Khai didn’t go home with her, even when she purred that her shift was ending at the hour.
“Why’d you pass?” Bone asked when the four of them packed into the taxi, Third half on Khai’s lap. He seemed kind of put out, perhaps a little disappointed that no one of them had scored that night.
Khai had shrugged. “I don’t do bartenders.” He said it so matter of factly. Third hadn’t been aware that there was any type of woman out there that Khai wouldn’t do. That had been the first odd moment in the night.
Now there is this. Khai huffing into his neck before disentangling his limbs and leaning back against the couch. He tips his head back and stares up at the ceiling. The only light on is the dim kitchen lamp and it casts a soft hue of orange across his cheeks, heightened by the soft red on his skin drawn out by the alcohol. He looks like a dream. Third wants to reach out and run his fingers through the sweaty post-bar mess that is Khai’s hair, but he doesn’t.
Instead, Third focuses on the fact that they both reek of vodka and simple syrup and how the sweat has dried on his skin and he desperately needs a shower.
“I’m sure,” Khai says, frowning at the ceiling. “But,” he trails off. “I don’t think I’m ready for one right now.”
“Oh,” Third says, not sure how to respond. He feels suspended in an odd sort of limbo. What should he say? Encourage him to continue treating women like scraps of paper for his jar? Tell him to just pick a fish and reel it in and settle down? What—to pick him instead? “Ok.”
“Yeah,” Khai says and grimaces. He looks, Third realizes a moment later, embarrassed. As if Khai wanting more for himself and his partner is embarrassing. Third backtracks.
“That’s great,” he says, even though it sounds slightly strangled. “I think a serious relationship would be good for you.”
What can he say? What can he do with the way Khai’s eyes cut across Third’s face, his eyebrows pulled together and his lips pouting ever so slightly with sincerity glistening from his brown eyes? Third wonders briefly if staring at his best friend will ever not feel like being drowned.
“You do?” Khai asks.
“I do,” Third says. “And you don’t have to rush into anything. You can just wait until you find the right person. You don’t have to marry the first person you see.”
“Is that what you’re doing?”
Third blinks, caught off guard.
“Are you waiting for the right person? Is that why you haven’t dated anyone?” The sincere look hasn’t left Khai’s eyes. He sits up and scoots closer. Third’s tongue feels all heavy and twisted in his mouth. How did this get turned on him?
“I don’t—” he sputters.
“I’ve never seen you date anyone since we’ve met.” Khai says it almost like an accusation.
“I’m not the dating type,” Third fumbles.
“Oh,” Khai says and looked down again, and Third feels sort of blindsided. “So you don’t, like, want to be with someone?”
“Like,” Khai says, the light flush on his cheek darkening. Third would be intrigued by the novelty of Khai being embarrassed if he wasn’t so overwhelmed by the curiosity in his eyes. “Don’t you wish you had someone to be with?”
Khai leans forward even closer, close enough that Third can all but taste the Absolut on his breath. He catches Khai’s meaning. Oh. be with someone like that . Third feels his own face heat up.
“I’m sure they’ll be worth the wait,” he manages to choke out.
Khai’s gaze breaks and he nods as if this is sage advice, but for a moment, Third thinks Khai looked disappointed by his answer. He’s never sought Third’s approval over his dating habits in the past, so he doesn’t understand why he’d want it now. Is that why he turned the bartender down?
“It’s just,” Khai says, looking down at his fingers. “I don’t think I could wait very long.”
“Like?” Third prompts, not quite knowing how to form the words.
“Yeah,” Khai says anyhow, knowing. “I want to be better. It’s just… hard. A man has needs.”
Third nods as his mind whirs. Part of him can’t even believe they are having this conversation drunk on Khai’s couch. Third can’t believe they’re having this conversation at all. Sure, Khai likes to brag about his conquests, but he’s never been so earnest about his needs . It makes Third feel all backwards and messed up inside. Why does Khai even care what he thinks?
What does he even say to the other man? Why is he telling Third this? Bone or Two would know what to tell him. They are both far more experienced than Third will ever be. But then Third thinks, maybe it isn’t an accident Khai is telling him . Maybe it isn’t an accident they’re pressed close, so close that Third would just have to lean up a few inches to capture Khai’s lips with his own. Maybe it isn’t an accident Khai is telling him this. Maybe he wants Third to say. Maybe he thought. Maybe he—
“I could help,” Third blurts.
“With your needs. I could help you, y’know,” Third says quickly, his face burning but unable to stop the words from spilling out. “It would just be to help you out so you can focus on finding the right girl.”
Khai stares at him blankly and for a moment Third thought he might burst out laughing or get up and leave, but Khai says nothing. He just stares at Third like he’s never seen him before.
“You’d do that?”
“Of course,” Third breathes out. “Anything for you.” And maybe that’s too much but Khai looked genuinely touched, so he doesn’t think too hard about it. But then his expression falls.
“What about you? What if you meet someone?” Khai asks carefully. Third notes how he doesn’t settle on a gender. They’ve never talked about it, but his friends have always been careful to never assume things with Third.
“It’s fine,” Third brushes off, going for casual. “We’re just friends anyhow. It wouldn’t mean anything.” The words taste like ash in his mouth, but more than that, he has to say it to remind himself. For Khai, it wouldn’t mean anything.
“Have you ever...?”
Third shakes his head.
“Not really,” he says. He doesn’t want to talk about other people right now. His few past fumbles in high school aren’t worth thinking about when he has Khai in front of him looking at him like that.
Khai just nods again, looking slightly dazed.
“Thanks,” he says before suddenly pulling back. Third catches himself from leaning forward to chase Khai’s warmth. “I’m going to go shower.”
Third nods jerkily.
“Right,” he says uselessly. “Good.”
Khai stares at him for another moment before he turns and beelines it to the bathroom.
Third sits frozen until he hears the shower turn on. He slams his head back into the couch and lets out a deep breath.
What the fuck was he thinking?
They don’t talk about it. By the time Khai gets out of the shower, they’re both a bit more sober and Khai suggests putting on a movie even though it’s past midnight. They pick a light comedy and Khai makes boisterous commentary the whole time that leaves Third clutching his side and he thinks that the moment has passed.
The memory all but slips his mind the next week except for one thing. There are no new girls. The usual slew of new numbers and flirty conversations Third has to put up with when hanging out with Khai has diminished. It’s odd. Khai’s talked about taking a break from dating in the past, but he never really means it. He always ends up with a new girl on his arm by the end of the week. Third doesn’t hold his breath. Except, a week comes and goes and Khai doesn’t falter.
When they meet with the boys for lunch, Khai doesn’t even so much as mention the opposite sex despite how Third witnessed a first year approach him that very morning. Usually Khai is quick to boast a new opportunity to go out or get laid, but it’s as if the thought has completely left his mind.
At first he thinks he’s hallucinating it but then Two pulls him aside one day after lunch.
“Is Khai ok?”
Third shovels the food he didn’t quite finish into the bin. He cocks his head at Two’s question.
“Khai? I think so. He had a cold a few weeks ago but it’s past.”
Two looks at Third like he’s being dumb, which isn’t fair because Two isn’t asking a very specific question.
“No, I mean like. Have you noticed anything weird about him lately? He’s not dating anyone...”
Third fidgets. There’s this odd stubborn feeling inside of him that refuses to admit it for some reason. Like admitting that Khai is acting abnormally would be acknowledging that Khai’s normal self is a playboy. He likes that Khai hasn’t been talking to girls. He likes that his attention hasn’t been so flighty that he forgets what Third is saying mid conversation like he sometimes is prone to doing.
If anything, this Khai has been more attentive. He always looks at Third when he’s talking instead of his phone and he laughs at Third’s anecdotes and jokes—full-bodied laughs where he reaches out and grasps Third’s arm sending tingles up it. He tangles his ankles with Third’s under the lecture tables. He grabs his hand when they’re walking somewhere even though it’s unnecessary to direct Third to the bathroom, but Third likes it. He doesn’t want to think of the other colder version of Khai that Third has been trying so hard to adjust to. The version that always has something better to do than spend a moment longer with Third.
He turns to Two and smiles tightly.
“I don’t think he’s been acting strangely. Maybe you just haven’t seen him in a while.”
It’s not true, but Two looks startled by the bite in Third’s tone, so he doesn’t say anything more about it and Third is glad for it.
He almost forgets about their conversation until two weeks later. Bone’s been slammed working the late shift while trying to finish an editing side gig for the department and he demands they go out and celebrate his hard work. Which, really, is just code for I’m not paying for drinks tonight but no one protests. What goes around comes around and all that. Besides, Two and Khai are never ones to turn down an opportunity to go out and Third’s never been one to turn down Khai.
Although, Third almost wants to. It’s been a long week and he’s been roped into leading workshops on screenwriting for high schoolers and while it’s been fun to talk about writing with younger kids, the lesson planning has been a bitch. He just wants to sleep for a whole week.
He’s napping when Khai gets back from campus that Friday. Third’s so deep in his slumber that he doesn’t hear the usual rustle of Khai moving around the apartment. Instead, he’s gently shaken awake by Khai leaning over him. He blinks the fuzziness out of vision, so groggy it takes a moment to register where he is and whose hand is petting his sleep-warm neck.
“Third,” Khai whispers gently. Third blinks again and remembers who he is and why he’s not in his own apartment.
Khai’s face is close enough that he can pick out the few moles and the flecks of light in his iris. He reaches out, still in his sleep-heavy brain and runs a gentle hand over his cheek. Has his skin always been so soft? Khai sucks in a breath and Third’s actions catch up to him. He sits up, snatching his hand back. He nearly rams his head into Khai’s but he catches himself and scoots back until he’s flush against the headboard and there is a safe distance between them.
“What time is it?” he croaks, suddenly aware of the fact that he’s in just his boxers and they’ve ridden up his thighs. From the way Khai’s eyes dip, Third realizes Khai has noticed it too. He pulls up the blanket around him and Khai’s gaze flickers away.
“Seven. We’re meeting at the cafe before we go to the club. I thought you might want time to get ready.”
“Yeah, thanks,” he says and then clears his throat to try and diffuse some of the croakiness. The nap really revives him but his breath taste like ass. He leans back a bit self-consciously. Khai is still staring at him with a strange look in his eyes and Third feels himself flush. He needs to be in the shower or in clothes and definitely not in this room a second longer.
“Great,” Third says stupidly, a hot feeling that he can’t identify bubbling in his stomach. “I’ll, uh, shower.”
“Yeah,” Khai agrees.
All awkwardness seems to have been forgotten by the time they make it to the cafe to pregame. Bone and one of the baristas keep a stash of liquor in one of the cabinets. They’re all in university and can’t always go for the pricey drinks.
They walk in as Bone is lining up espresso shots with what looks like whiskey, but the bottle is unmarked so it fits in with all the other syrups. Third tries to pretend he’s not hyper aware of Khai’s stupidly long limbs hanging over him, but he can’t help but lean into the touch, can’t seem to unstick himself from the other man even as they start doing shots. If Bone or Two notice, they say nothing of it.
When they get to the club, they dutifully buy Bone a few fancy drinks to honor his hard week. They cheer and dance for a bit and Third pretends like he can’t feel Khai’s gaze following him as he moves on the dance floor. He’s not doing anything impressive, just swaying with the beat and giggling along to Bone and Two’s antics but Khai’s staring at him like he’s just whipped out a stripper pole and the giggles die in his throat.
Bone and Two wander off to talk to the girls who have been checking them out by the bar and suddenly it’s just Khai and Third on the dance floor surrounded by a bunch of other young sweaty bodies.
They’re not even touching, just dancing right next to each other, flailing their arms with little grace but plenty of enthusiasm but the way Khai is looking at him makes it feel like his hands are all over him.
He understands, suddenly, why girls fall for him so fast. His love for Khai was so immediate and innocent in its inception that he never really entertained this part of him, the part of him that wanted to reach out touch and kiss and bite .
As if sensing his thoughts, Khai gets closer and suddenly they are touching. Khai leans forward so his lips are right by Thirds ear.
“I think I’m going to need your help tonight,” he whispers, his breath hot over his ear.
Third blanks trying to understand what Khai is talking about but then he remembers.
“Yeah,” he whispers back. “Ok.”
Khai nods against his neck and leaves just the barest hint of a kiss before pulling away. The other boys wander back over to them a few minutes later and Third wonders if he just imagined their interaction. Khai smiles and suggests another round of shots even though they’re all about reaching their limits. He pulls Two over to the bar and wraps a friendly arm around Bone’s neck like he didn’t just light Third’s insides on fire.
“You good, Third?” Two asks when Third stares frozen and quiet as the bartender moves to prepare their order.
Third shakes himself out of his daze and nods weakly.
They’re barely in the door before Khai’s on him.
“C’mon,” Khai says, pulling his arm toward the couch. Third goes willingly enough, but his brain is faster than his sluggish body. He grabs Khai’s arm and thinks he can feel his own pulse beating through his fingertips. Khai pauses at Third’s hesitance, but there’s heat in his eyes. Now that he’s tuned into it, Third doesn’t understand how he ever missed the look in Khai’s eyes when he’s looked at his girlfriends. How Khai looks at someone he wants .
Well, Third thinks distantly, Khai doesn’t really want Third. He wants a warm body and Third is here, but Third doesn’t dwell on the thought. Thoughts like that will end the night before it can even begin. And Third wants it to begin. He can’t believe he gets to stand in front of Khai when he’s like this. He’s almost vibrating with energy as if he’s been saving it all up for now. All for Third. The thought has Third’s pulse spiking.
“What are you doing?” he asks breathlessly despite himself.
He feels a small fire in his belly and the look Khai is giving him is doing nothing to temper it. He’s always wanted Khai in an abstract way, in an all encompassing way. But right now it’s completely physical. He can’t stop looking and noticing. Khai’s plush lips, his broad shoulders and tapered waist and his legs. Just the sight of his fingers alone rob Third of his breath, especially as he uses them to gently pull Third to the couch, pressing the backs of calves against the cushion until Third willingly falls back.
It’s overwhelming and Third can barely think, can only stare as Khai climbs on top of him, bracing over him. His hair falls slightly down in a way that Third thinks is unbearably hot and then he thinks jesus christ because this is best friend and he’s been in love with him for three years and a few strands of hair are getting him hard.
“Is this okay?” Khai asks, voice lower than Third has ever heard it. Khai runs a gentle hand over Third’s cheek and he nods into it.
Third waits for it to get awkward but it never does. Not when Khai leans forward to suck on his neck. Not when his fingers find the button on his tight jeans and expertly work at getting them off with one hand while the other runs up Third’s arm. He drags his nails across his skin with just enough pressure and it feels like Khai is everywhere at once and they haven’t even kissed and all Third can think is more more more .
He’s embarrassingly overwhelmed, he can’t do much but just breathe and gasp as Khai’s wandering fingers pull him free of his briefs wrap around his length. Third practically lurches off the couch. Third bites his lip, but a whimper escapes anyways.
Khai’s hand doesn’t move, just holds him with a firm grip. He pulls back and looks at Third, his eyes hazy and dark, roaming over his neck and face.
“Look at you,” Khai says lowly, something like wonder in his voice. “You look so wrecked and I haven’t even done anything yet.”
“Please,” Third gasps, not sure what he’s asking for. He’s fooled around with boys in his high school class, even went all the way with one of them, but it was always rushed and a bit insincere. None of them ever looked at Third with the fire in Khai’s eyes. None of them ever just looked at him. Right now, Third could do with a bit less looking. He just wants Khai to move. “Please.”
“I got you,” Khai murmurs and leans forward. Third expects him to go back to his neck, but then suddenly Khai’s mouth is pressed to his, hot and demanding. He almost forgets that Khai's hand is wrapped around his dick. Khai kisses him with intent, like he wants to lick into the core of him. Third kisses back as enthusiastically.
Khai’s hand suddenly starts moving again and Third gasps into his mouth. He’s not going to last much longer and suddenly the small space between them is too much. He pulls back just enough so he can fall back lengthwise on the couch, pulling Khai on top of him. Khai goes willingly with the movement, in sync with Third before he even gestures.
“Off,” Third mutters, trying to fight the distraction of Khai’s lips and tongue.
Third fumbles for Khai’s own buttons.
“Take these off. I want—” he gasps again when Khai’s hand twists just right.
“What do you want?”
“Together,” Third manages to get out.
Khai pulls back, confusion breaking through his gaze before he seems to understand what Third wants. He pulls back and works quickly at his belt and pants and then he’s got his hand wrapped around both of them and Third all but keens at the sensation.
“Is this what you want?” Khai breathes hotly.
They’re not kissing anymore, just breathing hot air between them, faces close and staring. There’s not enough oxygen in Third’s brain to formulate a real response but he nods. He can’t believe this is happening. He can’t believe Khai is touching him. He can’t believe they were kissing. Khai looks even more beautiful like this—in a wild way Third’s dreams could never have conjured up, too real to ever feature in a dream and god, Third’s so in love with him and—
“Khai,” Third gasps and then he’s coming.
Khai just strokes him through it, his movements getting a little sloppier and harsh as he chases his own release. Not a moment later, he’s grunting into Third’s neck. His weight sinks forward a bit and despite the messiness between them, Third wants him to never leave.
They lie on the couch, breathing hard. As the seconds pass and the haze clears, Third realizes how silent the apartment is. He realizes how dark it is outside of the low shine of the kitchen light. The longer they lie there, the more what they just did begins to dawn on Third.
He waits for regret or horror to wash over him, but he finds himself pleasantly calm. Maybe it’s the wonders of post orgasm satisfaction warmth, or maybe it’s the literal warmth of Khai’s body sprawled on top of him—as boneless as Third feels. Either way, Third thinks he could fall asleep here.
But then he thinks of the next morning, and awkward it would be when they woke up on top of each other with the crusted come between their half naked bodies. He thinks of the look of horror on Khai’s face when he realizes what they’ve done.
“We should shower,” Third whispers.
Khai hums, but doesn’t seem in a hurry to move.
“Tomorrow,” Khai mutters. He sounds sleepy. If they don’t move now they never will.
“Khai,” Third presses. “I’m not waking up covered in come.”
“Fine,” Khai sighs and then pulls back, wincing when he seems to realize the physical discomfort of drying come. By some miracle, they’ve managed to keep the couch clean. Third tries not to blush when he thinks about the fact that this couch will now forever be marked in his mind.
“Fine, fine,” Khai mutters, “let’s go shower.”
Third doesn’t expect it when Khai drags him off to the bathroom, but he doesn’t protest. He just follows along, almost robotically as Khai strips off the rest of his clothes. Again, Third waits for some sense of awkwardness to settle in him, to light at the fact that he’s getting into a shower naked with his best friend who he just jerked off with on the couch, but it doesn’t.
Khai’s arms rest gently on Third’s shoulders as he works shampoo into his hair. It somehow feels more intimate than what they just did and Third finds himself averting his gaze.
“Third,” Khai says and Third looks up just in time to meet Khai’s mouth leaning in for a kiss. Third sinks into it and they kiss under the warm spray, not pulling back until the shampoo begins to run down Third’s face.
It’s the longest shower Third’s taken in a while not that he minds. He tries not to think about whether or not this is usual for friends with benefits. That’s what this is, right? That’s what Third offered—anything Khai needed to tide his body over so he could open up his heart to the right girl. Yet, the kiss doesn’t feel that way. It feels nice and stupidly sweet. Is this how Khai is with his girls?
After the shower, Third expects them to go back to their separate rooms, suddenly conscious of the fact that Khai didn’t take him to the bedroom. Maybe the bedroom is off limits, reserved like his motorcycle for real dates and not whatever Third is to him. But then before Third can even make it half a step toward his own room, Khai is pulling on his arm.
“Where are you going?” He yawns. He looks sated and happy and Third can’t help but smile because he did that. It’s a fragile sort of pride, but it’s his.
“I was just…” Third trails off.
Khai rolls his eyes and continues toward his bedroom, dragging Third with him. Third waits for him to explain, but he just pulls Third on to the bed and wraps himself around Third like an octopus. Which isn't all that strange Khai behavior, but Third can’t help but feel the air is slightly different, can’t help but feel like Khai’s arms around him have a different weight to them.
Third laughs but can’t help but snuggle back into his embrace, awed and pleased in equal measure by the fact that he can feel Khai’s steady heartbeat on his skin. They settle into a more comfortable position and the night and alcohol begin to do their work as sleep overtakes them. Just when Third is about to drift off he feels Khai sigh against his neck.
“This,” Khai whispers. “This is what I want.”
It feels equally like the best thing and the worst thing Khai could possibly say. It should light him up but it just makes him want to sink into the bed. Because Khai doesn’t really want this with him. Third is just the placeholder for whoever will come after, for whoever Khai will ultimately welcome into his bed to hold. He wants this but not with Third. And it makes Third want to curl up into a ball, but he can’t do that with Khai wrapped around him.
“You’ll have it,” he promises gently. “You’ll find the right person to give it to you.”
He feels Khai’s lips against his bare shoulder and can’t tell if the shape is a frown or smile.
Third thinks he’s living in some strange version of hell that’s caught between moments of joy and pleasure so intense he might burst followed by feeling like a fly caught in a wire. Khai comes to him again. It’s only a few days later, after a long day of classes. He just slips up beside Third while he’s washing dishes.
Third near jumps when he feels arms wrap around his waist and a chin on his shoulder.
“Are you busy?” Khai asks, voice low and Third doesn’t recognize it then but he will come to be familiar with that particular tone.
Then Third feels something hard pressed against his back and he thinks, oh. He definitely recognizes that. He tries not to drop the soapy plate. He sets it down in the sink and takes a moment to gather himself before he says,
“Hmm,” Khai says and then nuzzles the back of Third’s neck and goosebumps break out along his skin. “Good. I was thinking you could help me out with something?”
“Yeah?” Third asks and sue him if his voice is going high and breathy.
And that’s how Third finds himself on his knees in the kitchen, wiping his soapy hands on his thighs as he does his best to take in as much of Khai as he can. He’s only given a few blow jobs before and he’s worried for a moment that he’s doing it wrong but then Khai lets out a moan. His fingers tangle in Third’s hair and it sends tingles through his scalp.
“You’re so,” Khai breathes. Third could die happy from the way Khai’s eyes, dark with lust are staring at him. He lets out a moan of his own, his free hand slipping down the front of his sweatpants.
After when Khai sinks down beside him instead of pulling Third up and moves to pull at Third’s waistband, Third just shakes his head.
“You don’t want…?”
He flushes. “I already.”
Khai looks shocked. “You already?”
Third nods, trying to hide his embarrassment.
Khai just looks at him with hooded eyes. “That’s so hot.”
“Khai,” Third whines.
And then they’re making out against the countertop until Third is breathless.
It comes at strange times. It’s usually never more than a few days in between before Khai is sidling up next to him, in his room, in the kitchen, at his desk, while they’re watching movies.
Third notices that Khai never tries to push past hand or blow jobs. Once, Khai gives him a rim job and Third comes so hard he cries. He never realized his body was capable of so much pleasure. But even so, he can’t help but wonder why they haven’t, well, really gone all the way. They’ve done just about everything from here to the sun, but when it comes down to it, Khai never takes it any further. Third doesn’t linger on the thought for too long. Part of him wonders if Khai just isn’t willing to go all the way with another man, but a deeper darker part of him wonders if Khai just doesn’t want to do that with him .
But Third quashes those thoughts. He tries not to be greedy. He tries to be grateful for what he has.
They’re both naked on Khai’s bed. Third is perched in Khai’s lap. They’re making out almost feverishly despite how Third literally blew Khai this morning, but the fire doesn’t dwindle. Third thinks that eventually Khai’s touches should feel normal, routine even, but instead they just stoke the flame inside his belly like fresh kindling.
Khai’s hands are running up and down his sides like he can’t settle on where to place them. Finally, they slip under him, squeezing his cheeks. His fingers start to knead in a way that has Third jerking forward so that Khai’s fingers brush his entrance.
Then suddenly there’s nothing and Khai all but launches Third across the bed. Third tries to contain the hurt in his face, confused by the embarrassed look in Khai’s eyes.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“I didn’t mean to…” Khai trails off and stares at Third hard as if willing him to understand. Third does not.
Khai looks away. “I know you said you’re like, holding out for the special one.”
Oh. Oh. What?
“My virginity?” Third asks, incredulous.
Khai nods miserably. “You said you’re waiting for the special someone.”
And maybe Third should take this as an out. He can tell Khai he’s right. He can stop things here before they get too deep. Khai will find a girlfriend soon enough and then Third will just be the best friend like always. Whatever this is between them will halt and everything will go back to the way it was.
But Third doesn’t take it as an out. Not when he’s already this deep. Not when he’s already ruined, has already been ruined for anyone else for a long time.
“I’m not,” Third says.
“I’m not a virgin. I’ve had sex before.”
“But you said—”
Third shakes his head. “It was only once and it wasn’t great. I don’t think it really counts, but I’m not like, waiting”
“So you mean?”
“Yeah,” Third says.
“So we can?”
“Yeah,” Third says, and god dammit if he can’t keep the smile off of his face.
Khai smiles and picks up Third and carries him off to his bedroom and that’s that.
After that, it’s almost every day. It turns out Khai really is insatiable. Even if it’s quick, it’s there—the small touches, the hands, tongues, fingers, mouth.
Third feels pity for the girls that have dated Khai, thinks he finally understands why they go so rabid when Khai dumps them. He can’t imagine losing this. He can’t imagine looking at anyone else after being with Khai. Third thinks, when I lose this, it’s going to be over. I’m never going to be able to look at another person again.
“I noticed Khai is still on his dating break,” Two comments.
Third hums but doesn’t look up from his laptop. They’ve been at the library for the past three hours working on a report. Exams have made it all but impossible to think about anything else.
“Seems like you might have something to do with it,” Two goes on, but Third still doesn’t really hear him, eyes scanning over the stock images he can use for their posters for their project. Two’s words catch up with him a moment later and his head snaps up.
“Excuse me?” Third sputters only to find Two giving him a nonplussed look.
“Did you really think we wouldn’t notice?”
Third flushes. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Two rolls his eyes.
“C’mon, it’s not like you and Khai are subtle. Khai has to be the least subtle person I’ve ever met. Besides, we saw you two at the club that one night.”
“You’ve known since?” Third flushes. He’d been taking time each morning to cover up his hickeys and Khai doesn’t act any differently around him at school or when they were all hanging out together. He thought they were being sly. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Two glares as if Third has said something particularly offensive. “Because I was waiting for you guys to tell us. You don’t have to hide the fact that you’re dating. We’re not going to judge you or anything,” Two says and then Third feels bad because he can hear the thinly veiled hurt in Two’s voice.
“Two,” he says, unsure of what to say.
“We’re not mad or anything. You know Bone’s brother is married to a man, right? And I was with a guy in high school.”
“No, I know. It’s not a secret or anything it’s just…”
Third sucks in a breath. He stares at his laptop keyboard and thinks of why he’s been so meticulous about covering up the marks Khai leaves and buttoning his uniform all the way up. It’s not that he and Khai explicitly agreed on keeping their situation a secret, but it was somehow mutually accepted that trying to explain it would be more complicated than the trouble was worth. And more than that, Third has been trying to put off the way his stomach has begun to tighten with a familiar anxiety. Because the truth isn’t one he wants to confront.
“We’re not dating,” Third says.
They’re not. Khai’s never even suggested it. Sometimes it feels like they could be. Sometimes Khai comes back from campus and Third has laid out a meal for them and Khai comes up and places an innocent kiss on Third’s lips before he moves on to his room to get changed and Third has to pretend it doesn’t give him heart palpitations. He has to stand in the kitchen staring off into the hallway reminding himself that the kiss means nothing, that it’s just the intimacy Third promised to tide his friend over until he found the real person he wanted to be with.
Two’s eyebrows furrow. “I’m pretty sure it’s too late to deny it.”
Third heaves in a breath.
“We’re not like dating. It’s just like a friends with benefits thing,” Third says and he hates the way his voice seems to shrink. He toys with the sleeve on his coffee, avoiding Two’s gaze when he sees the pity color his expression. “It’s casual.”
“Third,” Two says, his voice soft. “Is that good for you?” He looks upset as if he knows the storm brewing in Third’s mind. But Two can’t know the storm. Third doesn’t even know the full extent of it.
“It’s not hurting anyone,” Third says, defensive almost. “It’s not like I don’t get anything in return.”
Two doesn’t look convinced
“I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’m not going to,” Third all but snaps but Two doesn’t seem deterred.
“We both know Khai. You know he’s not good at these things.” Two doesn’t have to clarify for both of them to know that he means feelings . That Khai may be known around campus for being hot in the sack, but he’s also known for the way he breaks girls’ hearts without a second thought. Third’s witnessed it. They all have. Third has been the one to pick up the shattered pieces time and time again.
Fuck Two, Third thinks. Fuck him. What’s between him and Khai isn’t about feelings. It’s just about one friend helping out another and they discussed and it’s always been like that from the beginning. Fuck him for the pitying look he’s giving Third like he can see the vicious feelings crawling up Thirds’ throat that have been trying to escape for three years. He’s not some moony-eyed drama lead who can’t handle a little unrequited love. He knows exactly what he was getting himself into. It’s fine.
“I know,” he chokes out, and Third hates how he sounds—so obviously broken. “It’s fine,” he says. “I’ve got it under control.”
“I hope so,” Two says, but he doesn’t push it any further, and Third is glad for it. He’s glad even though they both know he’s lying.
He knows what he has with Khai isn’t love, will never be anything even close to it. But it’s something sweet and raw and good that he didn’t have before and he tells himself that it’s a good enough reason to hold on to it.
That night, for the first time, Third instigates touch.
So far, it’s been Khai who reaches out or sends a short text inviting Third to his room. When Third gets back to Khai’s apartment, Two’s words won’t stop replaying in his head. He makes and eats dinner (Khai has a meeting and won’t be back until late) and cleans the bathrooms and does his laundry but nothing he does seems to drown it out.
When Khai finally stumbles through the door, tired from a long day, Third all but jumps him. Khai seems surprised, but goes along with it willingly enough. He goes along with it when Third grabs Khai’s arm and pulls him to his bedroom instead of Khai’s. He goes along with it when Third straddles Khai and takes the lead in the kiss, grinding down. He goes along with it until Third’s fingers are at the front of his pants, struggling with his belt. He huffs in frustration and Khai pulls back.
“Need a hand?” he offers in a light voice.
“I got it.” Third tries, but he can’t keep the bite out of his tone.
Khai rears back from Third’s neck where he was leaving small kisses. He really looks at Third and Third doesn’t realize his hands are shaking until he feels Khai’s wrap around them.
“Are you okay? We don’t have to do this.”
Third just shakes his head and wills away the tears he knows will start spilling if he looks at Khai right now. As it is, he can barely handle the sweetness in Khai’s voice. A sweetness that Third had never heard until they started doing this, a sweetness reserved for lovers.
“I want to,” he says, voice almost petulant. “It’s just your stupid fucking belt.”
Khai is quiet for a moment and Third’s heart pounds in his chest like a drum and Third can’t help but think this is it, fuck this is it he doesn’t want me anymore oh fuck why did i—
Khai just squeezes his hand again before he gently moves his hands aside and undoes his belt.
“I got it,” his whispers into Third’s ear.
His voice is gentle. He shouldn’t be surprised when Khai knows just what to do with his hands to calm Third down, to pull him back from the ledge he was heading toward. Third feels himself relaxing as Khai eases his clothes off and then Third’s and allows for them to flip slowly as Khai takes the lead again.
Third’s panic eases.
Things are good for a while. As if sensing that something had spooked Third, Khai has been slower. The touches and kisses turn languid and slow instead of frantic with need. They’re still heady in a way that makes Third’s head spin, but it’s different. He likes it. He likes that Khai is tuned into him like this.
He pushes away the conversation he had with Two. He doesn’t need to dwell on that. Things are good now and he should just focus on enjoying them. He’s so focused on it that he starts brushing off the smaller things that used to rile him up—girls approaching Khai, sending him messages, flirting with him in class. It’s like Third doesn’t even see them anymore, content in the knowledge that it’s his bed that Khai slips into at the end of the night.
Time slips away and Third thinks maybe, just for a while, he can have this.
Of course, that’s when the world reminds him of his place.
It’s Wednesday and Third made dinner for both of them. He usually makes enough dinner for both of them but their schedules are busy enough that they don’t always get to sit and eat together. But Wednesdays, they decided when Third moved in, would be their nights.
Third is so busy chopping and slicing and stirring and distracted by the loud ruckus of the kitchen and its many noises that he doesn’t register Khai’s silence until they are seated across from each other and Khai’s face is oddly blank.
“What’s wrong?” Third asks immediately.
Khai starts picking at the food on his plate.
“Nothing,” he murmurs, sounding distracted. Third tries to temper the immediate tide of thoughts that tell him he is what’s wrong. That the day has finally come that Khai gets sick of him, he doesn’t want him anymore, he doesn’t want him living here, he doesn’t want to be his friend.
Third tries to rationalize with himself. They saw each other a few hours ago. There’s no way that much could have changed.
“You know you can talk to me, right?” Third says carefully.
Khai sighs and sets his utensils down, giving up on his food. He looks up with a guilty expression. “A girl asked me out today.”
Third has been waiting for the other ball to drop for a long time and now that it does, he feels oddly calm. Oh, right, he thinks. This is the feeling he remembers. This is what it feels like to love Khai—to soak up his presence when he can and rescind like the tide so that he has the chance at actual happiness.
“Who?” he asks, impressed by the steadiness of his voice, of his casual tone.
“Yim. From my sound engineering class”
It’s the only class Third doesn’t have with Khai since it’s not his emphasis. He remembers vaguely a few stories that Khai has told him about the girl in question. They’re friends on Facebook. She’s cute. She’s helped Khai with his assignments. The stories Khai tells her are always on the innocent side, about something funny she said or a song or movie she recommends that they decide to put on for the night.
Oh, Third thinks. Because he can think of Yim and she appears in his mind like a full person, someone who has made Khai smile and laugh without the promise of sex. Someone Khai has given his attention to without thinking of anything in return. Like someone important. Like someone worth waiting for. Like someone he could love. Oh, Third thinks again.
“I like her,” Third says.
“You do?” Khai’s eyebrows raise.
“Yeah,” Third takes a bite to hide the way his mouth wants to grimace. “Did you say yes?”
“I told her I’d let her know,” Khai says, voice quiet and uncertain.
Third looks away so he doesn’t have to look at his face or he’s certain he will burst into tears.
“Do you like her?”
“I uh, yeah, I mean she’s great and all—”
“So what’s the problem?” Third cuts him off. Khai never trips over his words. That he’s doing it for this girl is evidence enough of what he feared. He told Khai he’d find love and he was right but that doesn’t mean he wants to hear him wax poetry about her.
“Well how do I know if it’s serious?”
The question takes him by surprise and he looks back at Khai to find his expression serious and troubled and he reminds himself that the man sitting across from him is his best friend and he deserves the world.
“You’ll never know until you give her a chance.”
“You think I should?”
“Give her a chance?”
Third nods jerkily because the Khai he knows has never been unconfident when it comes to girls, has never been vulnerable like this. He must really like this girl. It’s good. It’s what he wanted. “I think you should.”
Khai looks at him, and he looks annoyed or something or stunned.
“You really think that?”
Does he want him to spell it out for him? He’s already tearing himself apart inside.
“I think you should go out with her. I think you might really like her. You deserve to be happy.”
“I am happy,” Khai says, almost defensively.
“Then, you deserve to be in love.”
Khai stares at him and says nothing and Third pretends his heart isn’t being shredded to pieces. They finish eating in silence.
Khai comes to him that night. Third is surprisingly dry-eyed but curled up under his duvet. It’s past midnight but he can’t even think of sleep. Khai says nothing but slides into bed and sidles up behind Third, spooning him. Third hums in greeting, not saying anything until Khai’s hand trails down to the strings on his sleep shorts.
“Khai,” he says, glad he’s not looking directly at the other man. “What about Yim?”
Khai’s hand doesn’t move.
“Our date isn’t until Friday.”
Third swallows. What is he supposed to do? Two was right. He shouldn’t have let it get to this.
“I think you should think of her.”
“Oh,” Khai says, hands receding. “Ok.”
Third doesn’t turn around but he doesn’t pull away even as Khai just lies there behind him.
“Can I still…Can I sleep here tonight?”
Third squeezes his eyes shut so hard it hurts.
“I think it would be better for us to sleep apart.”
Then Khai’s hands are really gone and so is the warm presence at his back. There’s a moment of silence.
“Ok,” Khai’s voice is soft. “Good night.”
He slips out of the room and Third lets out a shaky breath into the dark room.
“Good night,” he whispers to the empty room.
Then he cries.
The date happens. When Khai gets back, Third makes sure he’s already in his bed with the lights off and the covers pulled tightly over him. He pretends he’s asleep when Khai pokes his head into his room. It’s still fairly early in the night for Third to be sleeping let alone for Khai to be back from his date already.
“Third?” Khai whispers into the dark room.
Third doesn’t move a muscle. He doesn’t let out a breath. He listens as a moment passes and Khai lets out a small sigh before the door gently closes.
Third makes himself unavailable.
He doesn’t mean to at first. Drama club needed a screenwriter and Third had volunteered and even when the script was just about wrapped up, they needed help picking out costumes and while Third really isn’t really qualified for the job, he agrees anyway when he realizes it means he won’t have to face Khai as often. If he was smart, he’d just move back into his old apartment, but Third is only so strong.
It’s not like Khai misses him. Khai is busy with Yim. He got what he wanted and he’s probably put the whole thing with Third behind him. They are back to being normal best friends and normal best friends don’t kiss each other on the neck or suck each other’s dicks or pound each other into the bed until one of them is sobbing.
But the switch is so sudden. So, it only makes sense that Third takes his time, makes himself unavailable and gives Khai the space he needs to readjust. Gives Yim the space. Because that’s who Khai will be doing those things with, whose name Khai will be calling out to.
Third thinks he’s doing a good job of keeping things until one night. It’s the first night in a while that they’ve had dinner together. Khai picked up takeout and insisted on it. There were no more preparations for the play that Third could use an excuse. Khai had looked vaguely triumphant when Third thanked him weakly ad sat down across from him.
They haven’t really talked in a while. They eat in near silence. Khai tries to ask Third about the play, but Third can’t manage anything but monosyllabic sentences.
Third knows the normal thing would be to ask how Khai’s dates have been going and it kills him because the words sit like razor blades in his throat and he doesn’t know why he should have to spit them out and cut up his mouth in the process but Khai is looking at him with furrowed brows like he’s annoyed and Third knows he’s the one being too quiet. He’s making it weird and it shouldn’t be weird.
Third sucks in a breath, feels the razors tear him up.
“How’s Yim doing?”
Khai’s spoon pauses. He looks at Third and the furrow in his eyebrow deepens.
“How’s she doing? How have your dates been?”
Khai looks at him as if he’s asked him something truly stupid but Third’s already put the words out and there’s no taking them back now.
“She’s good,” Khai says curtly. “We have a lot in common.”
“Yeah, she seems great. Where did you go on your last date?” He tries to keep his voice light and cheery, but Khai’s pursed lips turn into an outright frown. He puts his spoon down.
“Are you avoiding me?”
“Ever since I started dating Yim, it’s like I never see you anymore.”
“I’ve been busy with drama club,” Third says weakly.
“Are you sure that’s it?”
“What else would it be?”
“I just feel like,” Khai says and Third absolutely does not want to hear what the end of that sentence is so he just blurts,
“My apartment is fixed.”
Khai stops. Blinks. “What.”
“The flooding is all fixed. I can move back.”
“Oh,” Khai says, voice oddly tweaked. “That’s good.”
“Yeah, I’ll move out soon. This weekend,” Third promises.
“Ok,” Khai says. After that, neither of them push much for conversation.
Third is an idiot. He doesn’t want to move out. He should have just sucked it up and told Khai about drama club instead of acting like a coward. After he told him he was moving, they hadn’t really talked much. Khai didn’t seem to have anything to say to him which was just as well. What was there to say?
He hates packing. He can’t help but feel like he might as well be tearing strips of himself up as he removes the posters Khai helped him put up when he first moved in.
“It’s temporary,” Third had promised.
“Stay as long as you like. I don’t use this room anyway,” Khai had said.
And Third had stayed. Too long. It’s time to go but Third is struggling to pack things up. After his boxes were all but packed up, Third left it would really be over. His time as a guest would end. He wouldn’t see Khai in the early morning when his voice was low and heavy with sleep and his bedhead a sight to behold. He wouldn’t get to crash into the door late after a night out.
There would be no more frantic kisses, no slow and sweet touches with Third sitting on the counter, his ankles locked around Khai’s lower back.
He’s meant to be gone before Khai gets back tonight, but it’s hard to focus when each item he touches brings a new wave of unwarranted emotions. He barely touched the handle of the mug Khai had all but adopted as his own when he breaks down crying for twenty minutes before he can gather himself enough to continue.
Now he’s down to one final box. It sits on the stripped mattress as if taunting him. It’s packed with his bedding and toiletries. He picks it up and stares down at its content but can’t get himself to seal it.
He’s locked in such a heated staring match with the box that he doesn’t really register when the front door opens until there’s a loud stomping and the bedroom door is torn open.
Third blinks and stares at Khai in the doorway. He’s panting like he ran all the way here from campus. His hair is in messy disarray and Third is struck with the usual inane urge to smooth it over.
“I broke up with Yim,” Khai announces.
Third sets down the box.
“I broke up with Yim, and I think you should stay.”
“You can stay and we can go back to the way things were before. You can move in, like, for real. We can get the rest of your stuff and you can sign on to the lease. It’ll probably be cheaper than whatever you’re paying there anyhow and it’ll be convenient and I live closer to campus anyways.”
Woah woah woah. It’s all a lot to process and Third thinks about how miserable he’s been but he doesn’t want to go back to the way things were. All possibility of that ended the moment Yim was introduced into the picture and popped the fantasy bubble Third was letting himself live in. It doesn’t matter if Yim was out of the picture. There would be another maybe a dozen Yims in the future. Third couldn’t keep putting himself through this, not if he wanted to come out unscathed.
Maybe he was too rash when he told Khai he was leaving. Maybe Khai was afraid Yim was getting between their friendship. That wasn’t fair to Khai or Yim. Third is the one getting between their friendship.
“Why did you break up?” Third asks, trying to keep his voice light. Maybe Khai can go back and explain to her that Third was just being a brat. It’s not a big deal. They can still get back together.
“What—why does that matter?”
“I thought you had a lot in common. I don’t think you should rush things just because I’m...Just because you want sex.”
“She seems like a really great girl and even if you’re scared, it’s worth it. Relationships take time and work to flourish.”
“What? Did you listen to a word I just said? I want you to move back in. I want you to move in with me.”
Third frowns. He didn’t expect the intensity of Khai’s resistance, but he forges ahead.
“I know you want to have sex but I don’t really thing—”
“How did your head get there? No, that's not what I want.”
“Well what do you want?”
“I want you.”
“Khai,” Third says, not understanding. “That’s. What. that’s. What?” He can’t be hearing him right.
“I don’t like Yim. I never liked Yim. I only went out with her because you told me to.”
“But you like girls,” Third says dumbly.
“I don’t know if you recall but I’ve been actively having sex with a man for the past two months and I very much liked it.” Khai laughs but it’s hollow.
“I don’t understand.”
Khai looks frustrated like he wants Third to understand but Third doesn’t. He can’t. He’s been convincing himself for the past three years that Khai is off limits, that even when he had him to hold, he was never his .
The part of him that has always been so hopeful that this moment might come is mysteriously silent, unwilling to offer any guidance.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Third asks quietly.
Khai gapes at him.
“You said that it didn’t mean anything. That it was just between friends.”
Third blinks at him. He did say that. Those were the only words that made sense.
“But you,” Third says, brain still in a daze, “you said you wanted a serious relationship. I didn’t want my feelings to complicate it. I didn’t want you to…” Third trails off.
“What feelings?” Khai asks immediately. “What are your feelings?”
It’s as if his brain catches up and all the pent up feelings Third has been pushing down rush to the surface. His face heats and tears prick the corners of his eyes. His feelings. The feelings he’s kept buried for so long that it feels like a physical labor as he struggles to pull them out again.
“My feelings,” Third says again as if that will explain it.
Khai steps closer.
“Third,” he says, gentle, as if Third might break. “What feelings?”
The tears run down Third’s face because there’s no universe where confessing his feelings for Khai won’t feel like scooping out his heart and serving it raw.
“I’m in love with you,” Third whispers. “I’ve been in love with you since we met.”
Third feels oddly empty now that the words are no longer tucked away inside him, deep where no one can see and hurt them. Now, they’re out. Now he’s laid bare in front of Khai and anything can happen.
But the look in Khai’s eyes doesn’t hold a promise of hurt. Instead, Third sees something akin to wonder—the same look he used to give Third when they were kissing or touching, a look that Third never knew how to interpret. Now, a gentle warmth blossoms in the absence of his secret.
“I love you too,” Khai says. He steps closer until there are just inches between them. One of his hands comes up to brush the tears from Third’s cheek and then rests on it, cradling it.
Oh, Third thinks. That’s what that is.
“Oh,” he says. “That’s good.”
Khai laughs. “So will you please stay? Stop packing.”
“I am never leaving,” Third promises, his voice perhaps too serious, almost grave but Khai smiles and then his other arm is snaking around Third’s waist.
“Can I kiss you?” he asks, face so close, Third can smell the hint of something fruity. Perhaps the mango juice he loves so much.
Third has been in love with his best friend for three years. He recognizes a tenderness in Khai’s eyes that he’s never seen before. He realizes there are a dozen emotions that he’s never seen in Khai before and that he’ll get to see. Three years, Third thinks, is nothing compared to the rest of their lives.
How do you know when it’s serious? Khai had asked him.
You know when it feels like this, Third thinks. When it looks like this.
“Always,” Third says and then they’re kissing and Third stops thinking all together.