Pond didn’t think that his knucklehead of a best friend and his handsome, honestly angelic boyfriend had actually realized that they had the most social media-perfect, picturesque, Instagram-worthy, fairytale-like love story that existed in this part of the world.
And the worst part of it all was that it wasn’t even a front; they were actually like that in real goddamn life.
Pond would like to think that he wasn’t the only one who was suffering under the sweetly nauseating reality that was Pete and Ae’s relationship. Sure, he had his own girlfriend, who was beautiful and vicious and made him indescribably happy, but even he thought that they, the straight couple, wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to what was apparently a romance that was brought to life by Buddha himself.
The pet names, for one. The fact that they used them wasn’t anything strange or out of place; most couples had one or two in their arsenal, Pond and his sweetie included. So it shouldn’t feel weird that Ae, of all people, would have one for his boyfriend.
But nope. Pond wouldn’t be able to accurately describe the ringing in his ears the first time Ae called Pete ‘babe’ within earshot of him, the swell of rising disbelief and the amount of legit mental processing he suddenly needed to do, because Ae, for all the years he knew the other, wasn’t the type to be… well, lovey-dovey like that.
He gave Ae shit for it of course, as a best friend was contractually obligated to do, and almost got his ass kicked (which was the typical response, thank fucking Buddha). But shockingly, the pet names still remained to this day, which just plainly told Pond that it was actually Serious Business and it was here to actually stay.
It wasn’t the fact that he had one that was bothering Pond, exactly. It was more of… the way Ae said it towards his significant other. Thoughtless, easy, instinctive. Natural, as if he’d been calling Pete that for years and years and suddenly Pond was the weird one because he brought the topic up just now.
Ae actually didn’t notice he was doing it until Pond mentioned it. He knew Ae was an idiot when it came to romance and all that good stuff, but come on! There were things that you just knew, and there was no way in hell that wasn’t a deliberate attempt of letting the rest of the world know that he was one of the lucky bastards that was currently in a relationship with someone else.
But honest to Buddha, Ae really had no fucking idea, and Pond, at that point, had been so close to tearing his own hair out, because people just didn’t call their other halves with pet names so… so nonchalantly like that.
Like Pete was any better. ‘Honey’, he called Ae, softly and unhesitatingly, like Ae was the sweetest thing in the world, when Pond knew for a fact that Ae was more like the (short) ferocious bear that ate the honey, both grumpy and somehow cuddly at the same time.
But somehow, Pete was even worse in comparison, because how the endearment came from him was basically the way any housewife would refer to their husband of 50 years with their marriage still growing strong, scarily intimate and loving and waaaaaay too TMI when it came to feelings. Even for someone like Pond, who was the most shameless person to ever exist on this planet.
“Honey,” Pete had said one morning during breakfast in the Engineering faculty canteen, apropos of nothing, angling his phone so Ae could see his phone screen better. “Look at this. This washing machine brand is on sale right now. The one we have at home is acting up lately. Do you think we should just buy a new one instead?”
It was like he, Ping and Bow didn’t even fucking exist, probably less distinguishable than microscopic dust during that moment.
At least Bow was enjoying the sight, rotten woman that she was.
“Nah, let me take a crack at it this afternoon,” Ae had answered after scrolling a little, checking the machine specs with a critical eye. “And if I really can’t do anything about it, we can go window shopping this weekend, babe. We just did the laundry, right?”
“We did, so we don’t have to worry about our clothes running out yet,” Pete had confirmed, exchanging a nauseatingly besotted look with one another before returning to their meals, like they hadn’t just finished a whole—whole-ass domestic conversation right in front of their salads.
Which, completely by coincidence, was another part of AePete’s relationship that Pond wanted to complain extensively about. Look, he could understand being swept away by the throes of first love. For his previously plant-like best friend, being attracted to someone else in general was probably a whole new world for him, and Pond, with his large, magnanimous heart, could easily forgive romance-induced foolishness. Love is blind and everything, and when people finally got together after a lot of shit, it was only expected that what would follow was a phase Pond and a few others would appropriately and correctly term as the ‘honeymoon period’.
That would be great and all… as long as people returned to their regularly scheduled programming.
Ae and Pete… were not just regular people, but they had the whole Netflix and cable subscription all at damn once, because the ‘honeymoon period’?
It was basically their day-to-day life.
Never, in all of Pond’s life, had he seen someone so stereotypically ‘husband material’ until he had the unwitting first-row seat to his best friend’s dating life. Ae was, admittedly, a real dependable guy. Despite their diverging personalities, they came for each other when the time counted, and Pond, on more than one occasion, was genuinely grateful to have Ae as a friend and not an enemy.
But never had he seen a man so whipped by his own boyfriend. Ae was so gone for his ‘Koon Chai’ that Pond would easily bet a thousand bhat that Ae would never let Pete’s feet touch the ground if he could help it. Ae was willing to do everything, and Pond really did mean everything, for the other, determined to make his boyfriend a pillow princess, no matter that even without Ae’s constant doting Pete was already one by virtue of his sheer wealth alone.
Fetching each other in the mornings. Breakfast in the engineering cafeteria, almost every day. Lunch too sometimes, if they could find the time to go to each other’s faculties in between classes. The pick-up in the afternoons, after classes. Football practice sometimes, with one playing in the field and the other waiting in the bleachers with the rest of the football wives. Then taking the other back to the parking lot, or the two of them going back to the apartment—oh, excuse him, Pond meant their home, for the night.
Yeah, even the dorm room he shared with Ae when they were first years only had him sleeping in it more than half the time, because Ae was already more than ready to move in with his boyfriend with most of his things already stashed somewhere in Pete’s large apartment.
This was domesticity taken to a whole new level. They talked about what chores they had to do after school, the groceries they needed to buy, hell, even starting to plan out their meals, since Pete was apparently interested in learning how to cook and Ae had already declared himself as the official taste tester even if the chances of getting food poisoning for the first few days was very, very huge.
Ugh. The things people did for love.
Don’t even get him started on the other stuff, because Pond would be there all day just listing all the cringey, goosebump-inducing things Ae and his boyfriend were doing. And he hadn’t even talked about the worst case scenarios, which was so adorable and terribly romantic Pond’s gag reflex was already triggered by merely thinking about it.
Ae and his Koon Chai had a set routine whenever they ate as a group. Ae would get the food, Pete would get the drinks. Okay, that was whatever, Pond and ChaAim did that too because it was easier to divide and conquer food when there were more people around.
But it was when Pete came back that things always became almost unbearable to watch. Pete would always put Ae’s drink on his side of the table, and place his own in between them before taking his own place at the table, usually by Ae’s side.
But the guy wouldn’t even be on his seat properly before Ae was grabbing the said drink, checking it quickly, using the appropriate method to open said beverage, and placing it back onto the table without even looking back or saying a single word.
Like Pete was a girl whose extended, acrylic fingertips were just recently done at a nail salon and could not be ruined for any reason.
“Thank you, honey,” Pete would say in that gentle, adoring tone solely reserved for Ae’s ears, with a brief touch to the other wrist. Ae would just glance back with a quick smile, cover Pete’s hand with his own to briefly squeeze back, before returning to what he was doing, all in front of Pond’s (shamelessly staring) eyes.
Truly disgusting, the both of them.
It didn’t stop with just drinks. Bottles, jars, plastic cups and paper bags, anything and everything that could be opened through physical means went through Ae's bare hands first before they even reached Pete, uncapped, poked through, ripped apart, or unknotted, ready for the other’s use. It was like Ae became a kitchen utensil all of a sudden, at his wife’s every beck and call, and Pond would absolutely call out this blatant attempt of emasculation, if it weren’t for the fact that this was actually what guys were supposed to do for their significant others.
Not even Pond did that for ChaAim, but only because his girl was a strong, independent woman who decided that he would be her man. Sure, she asked him to open things for her if she couldn’t, and Pond would happily show off the strength of his hand grip by then, but that was his entire fucking point; she always asked beforehand.
With Ae and Pete, there was nothing. No looks, no words exchanged between them, as if it was the truth of the universe that Pete could simply place something in front of Ae and it could be assumed that Ae would do everything in his power to make sure his boyfriend would have the easiest access to it.
And he did. Constantly.
It was appalling, it was horrendous, it was sickeningly adorable to observe as an outsider. Some part of Pond still believed that they were just indulging a kink or something, because Pete wasn’t a helpless baby that needed attention and looking after every second of the day. In true fashion, he asked them about it bluntly, both separate and together, and while he got two bright red faces, to his immense satisfaction (and a literal jab to the ribs, courtesy of his wild dog best friend), further observation had him eventually discovering that nope, this wasn’t a goddamn kink, this was just how they acted around each other all the damn time.
Diabetes through the eyes had to be a thing now, right? Because watching those two act all shy and cute around each other was making Pond’s teeth ache and his blood sugar rise.
It didn’t stop at just the actions, oh no. Did people actually think that the illustrious AePete couple would stop at such mild displays of blatant affection? Child’s play. Once again, Pond would accuse them both of showing off for the ‘gram, or just simply gloating about their absolutely perfect relationship to the rest of the world, if he wasn’t painfully aware that neither party involved in the said relationship knew what they were actually doing.
They had a couple bracelet, worn on their wrists in such a way that if they held hands the leather bands and charms would be both visible to anyone who was interested enough to look. Pete had a well-kept collection of Ae’s football jerseys, all of them, scarily accurate down to the smallest details, usually worn in support when the university team was playing a match. It hadn’t gotten to the point of Pete buying Ae clothes (yet, Pond was still helping Pete to convince his stubborn as a mule best friend), but somehow, they always manage to coordinate their clothes whenever they went outside (either on dates or if they were on a group outing, Pond religiously checked their social media for any updates).
It wasn’t so on the nose, like literally wearing the same shirt or having the same outfits. But while they still did their respective clothing styles, the colors of their outfits were either complimentary (e.g. if Ae was in a mostly-black outfit, Pete would be in mostly white), in the same color gradient (e.g. darker tones for Ae, pastel shades for Pete) or inverted (e.g. Ae in a white shirt and blue jeans would inevitably have Pete with a blue sweater and white pants). It was maddening, and Pond had squinted suspiciously towards Pete every time this happened, totally convinced that this was completely done on purpose.
Naturally, Pete would admit to nothing, always insisting it was a coincidence or an accident, with a bright pink flush to the tip of his ears. Pond was so close to having him cave and confess, but Ae was always around and saw their utterly innocent conversations as him bullying the Koon Chai, so Pond wasn’t able to grill the other as much as he wanted.
Still, Pond knew he was on to something, dammit.
And speaking of social media… it wasn’t just the outfits. If it was Pond wouldn’t be foaming at the mouth, because he and ChaAim also did that sometimes, making sure their clothes didn’t clash when they went out on dates. Ae was absolutely the type to not care about posting on his social media unless it was important, more of a sharer and a lurker, but Pete, for all his bashfulness in real life, was surprisingly active in the online sphere, occasionally making updates and posts on his account.
And again, Pond would absolutely declare everything they did as a show for everyone else, if he didn’t know who it was exactly that was being discussed right now.
Because all of those trending couple tags and vlogs and challenges? In TikTok and Instagram everything?
They actually do it. All the time. Not because of the millions of views and potential ad revenue, but because they were a legit couple who just… liked doing those things with each other.
But to give credit where it was due, Pete was very subtle and low-key in his posts compared to the couple influencers who actually do all those things for a living. Unlike, say, a post containing a photo of the said person making kissy faces at the stuffed teddy bear their significant other managed to get for them somehow, with multiple emojis and hashtags, Pete’s post just contained the pictures of the stuffed toy itself, large and in charge, sitting obediently on the couch with its large, round eyes and its rather dashing plaid bow tie.
There was a message alongside it, without all the cursed hashtags, but of course, everyone instantly knew who the toy was actually from.
Thank you for winning this for me during our time at the amusement park, honey. It’s very cute.
(Pond had seen the teddy bear in real life. It was even larger compared to the photo it was in, easily taking a third of the living room sofa. According to his sources, a certain young, rich housewife-to-be, cough, Ae had taken it as a personal challenge after missing all of the shots in the free throw carnival game, and managed to win it after four more tries.
Pete had adored it at first sight, and had now taken to buying clothes and different accessories for it, changing its outfit every so often, depending on the occasion. Even Pond had to admire the dedication and admittedly, the bear, now dubbed as 'Nong Khun' because of its dapper, gentlemanly look, did look very cuddly and huggable in its current form.)
Of course, the case in point was that Ae, in all of his gruff, straight-laced glory (well… maybe not so straight. ha), was completely okay with doing these excessively affectionate gestures in real life with his boyfriend, in front of other people. Hell, even he started it sometimes, which just totally blew Pond’s mind when he found out about it.
The how was through a sudden online post Ae had made in the middle of an ordinary day, which had gotten Pond’s attention at once. Going through Ae’s account, the latest update had Pond almost retching instinctively, because it was too saccharine for his immediate consumption.
There wasn’t anything special about the post, initially. Just a picture of the sidewalk in the main university road, surrounded by trees, during that hour in the day where the sunlight just went through the canopy of leaves just so.
And Pete was smack-dab in the middle of it all, surrounded by bright green foliage, standing out in his white and black university uniform. He half-way turned towards the camera lens with a half-surprised, half-pleased look on his face, with a small smile on his full, pale pink lips. The warmth of the sun managed to shine on him at that exact time too, making his hair look like spun copper, his skin appearing flushed and dewy like the dawn of a new day, eyes warm and bright and a little crinkled at the sides in an attempt to not make him look too perfect.
What are you doing, his expression seemed to ask towards the person holding the camera, affectionate and indulgent, and Pond would agree with anyone who said that the shot was so obviously set up, that it was a staged photograph…
… If he wasn’t physically there to confirm that the picture was taken on an absolute whim. It was as candid a photo could get, with Ae standing a few feet away, phone camera out and pointed towards Pete’s direction, on the way to meet the latter after their respective classes. Pond couldn’t believe the audacity of all, because of course Pete had the power to make the stars and planets align just for the camera shutters to capture this less-than-a-second moment of utter perfection.
No amount of face-tuning on an app could replicate the way Pete looked at that moment, natural and lovely and bare-faced in all of his glory. People would think he was bullshitting of course, and Pond would be inclined to agree, because there was no person who looked that flawless under the sun with their best features highlighted without at least consciously thinking of how their body was angled towards the camera.
… But then again, it was Pete, and the laws of the universe apparently didn’t apply to him, so Pond was more than willing to throw down with anyone who claimed the picture was fake.
This, by itself, wasn’t anything to talk about. People posted things about their other half all the time, Pond did it with his sweetie, and Ae sometimes indulged the rabid people who followed his account with pictures of Pete doing simple, mundane things.
It was actually the text that accompanied the picture that made it so undeniably mushy.
Don’t go too far from me, babe.
After reading it Pond almost lost his entire lunch in one go. It was so sappy and wistful and low-key possessive and irritating, because his best friend was surely raising the standards for the rest of men in Thailand, maybe even the world. Ae, think about the other single people around for once! Now people would have unrealistic expectations for their ideal man and it was totally his fault.
Who would think that Ae Intouch Wiphuratchawong, one of the most serious guys Pond had the privilege (and misfortune) of knowing, was actually a sweet, sincere, earnestly romantic guy, just very well hidden inside his violent, hot-tempered, tiny-ass heart?
Certainly not Pond, who closed the app on his phone immediately and did a full-body shudder.
He suddenly felt like he was living in an alternate universe where he knew everyone, but nothing made sense to him anymore.
But Pete, Pete of all people, had to encourage this moment of insanity too, because the next thing Pond knew, there was a new post on his account. And against all sensible warnings screaming in his head right now, Pond couldn’t resist the call of being a busybody, and opened the social media app again to see what Pete was showing to the rest of the internet right now.
What greeted Pond was the innocuous, innocent photo of two people holding hands. Well, to be more accurate, it was a picture of one tanned hand grasping long, pale fingers gently, delicately. It was as if they were drawing the person who held the camera closer, or perhaps leading them to go somewhere else, the other just out of frame, with matching leather bracelets in full view.
Never, honey, was the heartfelt, accompanying caption, and Pond had never been more tempted to throw away his phone by that point, because everything about that response was absolutely sickening.
The rest of the pictures and videos post-relationship confirmation continued in a similar vein. No hashtags, no sickly-sweet declarations of ‘I love you’s and ‘You’re the best’s and ‘I’m the luckiest person in the world’s, but the rest was equally as gag-worthy.
That viral collection of photos where a guy let his girl lead him by the hand as they travelled around the world? Yep, completely done and done, the landscape changing from Thailand’s beaches to mountain trails to floating markets to temples to riverbanks to building rooftops, showing off the places they were currently visiting.
Short videos of Ae doing completely sporty things? Documented from start to finish, with the occasional couple activities thrown in just for variety. It was clear Ae enjoyed the opportunity to impress his boyfriend any time he possibly could, and Pete was unhesitating in his compliments and praise, obviously proud to show off his boyfriend’s athleticism to the rest of the sorry, weak-bodied crowd.
(The short video of Pete shrieking and holding on for dear life as Ae threw them off a fucking bungee jumping platform during their second anniversary in Pattaya would never stop being hilarious to Pond.
But it was that “I love you,” from Ae to Pete, softly and gently whispered just before they fell off the edge together, that got to Pond somehow, making the left side of his chest feel crushed and wobbly and achy.
Urgh. Even he was getting affected by them, and he was supposed to be desensitized from this crap already.)
Cooking together? Naturally. Out-of-town travel logs that made people feel like they were watching a couple’s honeymoon trip? You got it. Workout challenges, with Ae absolutely flexing his fucking six-pack and solid althete body by doing push-ups while Pete was sitting on his back? You name it, they’ve probably done it at some point or another, not out of fame or recognition, but just because they damn well could.
And the best (or worst) part of it was that it was all completely shot in that aesthetically pleasing, Instagram-worthy manner that stopped everything from feeling too cringe-worthy. Contrary to expectations, there weren’t many photos with their faces on them, but instead, the images revolved around their current surroundings, like a silhouette of someone against a more striking background, landscape photos of the place they went to, and even the gifts given from one person to the other.
So Pond wasn’t surprised when his best friend and his boyfriend managed to accumulate a small, local following, with mostly students from the university. Their internal engineering students page was bombarded with news of them every so once in a while, though Pond had to tell them sternly to not let Ae see any of it because beating someone up wasn’t the worst thing his best friend would do if Ae felt like his boyfriend was threatened by someone else.
The incident at the end of their first year spread so quickly it was now a considered a sort-of legend, to the point that all the seniors who were mentoring the new juniors made a silent agreement to tell the nongs that ‘Khun Pete Pichaya from the IC faculty, if ever you see him around, is off-limits to everyone else’, such as Ae’s reputation within the university.
Still, being the most vicious guard dog didn’t stop Ae from being the lovesick fool he already was, forcing Pond and a hundred or so more people to suffer through his best friend’s unbelievably blissful daily life.
By now, a lot of people, after hearing all of his diatribe, would probably accuse Pond of just being a salty bastard, since he couldn’t even feel happy for his closest friend, who had finally found the person he could be his best with.
And hell fucking yeah he was salty. Saltier than the Dead Ocean, by this goddamn point.
Not because Pond wanted either of them. Buddha no. He was straight, he was absolutely happy with ChaAim, and he wasn’t about to let go of his precious Miyabi and his top grade porn collection, because that had taken years to collect, you hear him? Years. He wouldn’t exchange his girl for anything in the world, so Ae and Pete would have to keep being their happy, content selves without him, even if, in his rather biased opinion, it would be a damn shame.
Then why all of this?
Why, you ask?
Simply because the relationship of his best friend and his boyfriend seemed too good to be true.
The pictures, the videos, the habits, the outfits… everything seemed to paint Ae and Pete as this immaculate, untouchable power couple who had everything already planned out for the rest of their lives together. That they represented the ultimate ideal of what a romantic relationship should be like, loving and supportive and attached to one another by the hip.
Of course, everything that his best friend and his boyfriend showed to the world was real. There shouldn’t be any doubt about it.
But also, that couldn't be further from the truth.
(Pond had seen them fight. Witnessed them hurt each other, if accidental, and was one of the first people to recognize their tears and sadness and rage. Was there to run a hand over Ae’s back when he broke down after his first legitimate fight with Pete, scared stiff that he had just lost the light of his life, and Pond had needed to figuratively piece him back together again so Ae could gather the strength and will to run after his man.
Pond was also the person Pete often went to when he needed to talk to someone about Ae, continuously working through his feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Pete always had the lingering fear that he would never be enough for Ae, what if Ae found someone else, causing Pond to do quick damage control and make multiple assurances that Ae was utterly gone for you, Ai’Koon Chai, what the hell are you talking about?
Scratch all those allusions of them being absolutely perfect; these two people, in Pond’s opinion, were more than a handful to deal with, both separately and together.
But at the bottom line, it was about having someone who made you feel happy, wasn’t it?
And unbelievably, incredulously, Pete was the person who made Ae feel the happiest.
They shouldn’t even work the way they did. People from two different worlds, complete opposites, star-crossed lovers in every sense of the world. If it were any other time, or place, people might have told Ae that he was shooting for the moon itself, and he would most certainly miss the mark, no matter how many times he tried.
Nevertheless, somehow, someway, they managed to come out of every downswing stronger and more committed to each other, and no lie, the troubles they went through together were more intense and complicated and as close to a tv drama as one could get.
Because seriously, offering to let your son’s boyfriend walk free of charges as long as your son stayed away from said boyfriend until you could ‘prove your devotion for one another’? That was some real, evil father plotline right there.
It was that perseverance, all that hard work, that made them look as settled and as grounded as they seemed to other people.
They remained that way to this day, with most people knowing none the wiser, on how much these two people fought to have the happiness and security they were now both enjoying immensely.
And frankly, it should stay that way.
If asked, sincerely and honestly with no bullshit, Pond was actually happy for his best friend. People deserved the chance to have their person, romantic or otherwise, and he wasn’t about to let Ae spend the rest of his life without having at least attempted to find that special someone in his life.
Suffice it to say, Pond was rather proud that his attempts were not in actual vain. Ae was a tough nut to crack, Pond had been trying for years to find the type of person Ae liked so he wouldn’t be alone and lonely as an old man. And in the end, it only took a gentle, kind, quiet boy to make his best friend open up and change into an overall better man.
Now, it really felt like something else, to freely bicker and swear at your closest friend, knowing that both of your wives were just around the corner, waiting to welcome you back with open arms.)
But honestly, fuck Ae for placing unrealistic dating standards to the rest of them mere mortals living on this Earth.
Pond would be salty, and remain salty, until the day he died.
Besides, it wasn’t like he was telling any of this in front of Ae’s and Pete’s faces. Not if he wanted to see the human personification of a kicked puppy and experience a black eye afterwards. Also, he… did get used to the constant besottedness whenever he found himself in their presence. Eventually. Not without a large amount of exposure and constant conditioning, but they were mostly tolerable, these days.
And recently, they have been really quiet. Make no mistake, the AePete couple was still living in their honeymoon phase… but not so frighteningly intense like in their younger days. Pond may have called them an ‘old married couple’ as early as when they were first years, but it was just now that they truly acted the part, calmer and more subdued with their PDA, but no less tender and doting.
At last, the world finally felt… more in balance, and Pond could be satisfied with things currently as they were.
… At least, until Pond checked on social media one last time before going to bed, just finishing his nightly call with his sweetie, and saw a new post from Pete and Ae, happening around the same time.
Unusual, but not unheard of.
Without much thought, Pond took a quick nip over to both of their accounts, just to see if there was something he missed.
And promptly let his phone smash into his nose, accidentally slipping from his fingers in his shocked stupor. But Pond couldn’t give a damn about the pain right now, quickly rubbing at his watering eyes and squinting to take a better, closer look at what he was actually seeing.
Because, if his eyes weren’t failing him, those silver things he could see on the phone screen were actual, honest-to-Buddha engagement rings.
What. The. Ever. Loving. Fuck.
And then Pond had the terrible idea of reading the captions alongside the posted photos.
A long moment of stunned silence.
“Ae Intouch, you son of a bitch.”