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Smoke Signals • EarthMix AU

Chapter Text

Mix swears he isn't falling for this one.

Actually, Khaotung said not to fall for anyone he meets on the app.

He has a nice built, a stellar built, if Mix is being honest. His tanned chest peeks through his blue button-down shirt & although Mix did not intend to, his eyes eventually scan an area that isn't deemed appropriate by anyone's standards.

He immediately looks away but the man has caught on. And smirks.

Mix wants to play it cool. Unlike dates (if he could call this that) he's been to before, he knows what this man is after, and for the first time ever, he wants it, too.

Well, sort of.

He promised his best friend that he's going to try. Just to see what the hype is all about. Heck, he just wants to go out and not wallow for another night. Try his hand at something new this time. Mix recalls Khaotung saying that with his social skills, if he waits for an 'organic' dating opportunity to present itself, then he'd end up in a massive dry spell his whole life.

He convinces himself that there is nothing wrong with wanting to have a little bit of fun every once in a while and casual sex offers a kind of novelty that Mix, against his better judgment, is kind of eager to experience.

 

- - -

 

Earth knew what he was looking for. But he wasn't sure if it's the man in front of him.

He lives by one rule and one rule alone when it comes to dating:

'Find a player if you're looking to play'

Easy. No strings attached. No awkward conversations. No pillow talk. No sappy breakfasts the next day. Even his Hooked Up profile states this clearly: Here for a good fuck and nothing else.

And he's usually gone first thing in the morning after his escapades. Sometimes, when it's so bad, he just ups and leaves immediately after he showers or soon after the other falls asleep.

Whenever he's free, Earth prowls most nights, looking to satisfy a primal need. Shrouded by the possibilities presented by the night and looking for men willing to play with him. With the other's consent, of course. He may be into this whole serial hook-up thing, but he isn't a douchebag. Forcing himself on another man takes the fun out of sexual encounters. And Earth loves sex too much to be disillusioned by guilt.

He could sense the hesitation on the other man. Which is sad, considering Earth's already taken a liking to his deep-set eyes, thick eyebrows, and handsome face. A face he's very much keen on seeing contort in both pain and pleasure—hopefully within the next hour.

Earth moves forward and levels his head with the man, studying him closely. He leans in so the other hears him over the music, "I don't want to speak on your behalf since, well, we just met," Earth starts, "but I'm pretty sure you don't want this."

 

- - -

 

Mix looks at him, stunned. He knew this would happen. He wonders how he comes off to this man. Scared? Nervous? God, desperate? He might as well have carried a sign that says "hook-up culture neophyte". They hadn't ordered anything yet and he wasn't exactly sure if food is on the menu for tonight. 'There's still time to back out,' Mix thought to himself.

But he didn't go through all the trouble of setting up an account at Hooked Up, sat in traffic for almost an hour, or dress up—too well, if you'd ask him—to back out now.

Absolutely fucking not.

And besides, his father would kill him if he discovers that this is the 'prior engagement' that made Mix cancel on family dinner. His other father would, well, probably laugh while teasing and grilling him for details. Gun and Off complement each other like that. Still, Mix is not sure whose reaction he's dreading more.

His mind is going into overdrive and he feels his hands getting clammy, shaking a bit, like it always does when he's flushed. And then, a sudden wave of nausea hits him. Is it this place? The music's too loud and the bodies bumping on the dance floor are certainly not helping. And he's closer now. Too close. But amidst his physical response to this encounter, what the man said has ignited his defensive side.

And damn if he's going to let a stranger corner him like that.

He collects his thoughts and pinches his leg to try to snap back to reality before saying, "I'm Mix,"

In his mind, he's downing an imaginary drink, an elixir of sorts, and slowly but clearly pushes the next words out of his mouth:

"You don't know me but I'm pretty sure you don't need to know me to fuck me good. Or do you?"

 

- - -

 

So he's feisty.

Earth's been on this game for years. Jumping from one partner to another, with the highs easily dulled after a few routine fucks. Naked bodies merging into a mush of faceless, moaning lulls. Earth's no longer easily impressed with men he meets from the app, but he admits that this encounter's starting a little different from the others.

And he's liking it.

Suddenly, there is a shift in the air and he's angling his vision to accommodate this man whose character has surprisingly warped in the few minutes that they stood there, sizing up each other.

He's suddenly seeing potential. Liking the sharpness of the other man's jaw and the way he challenged Earth like that. A little bit of challenge wouldn't hurt, would it? And he sure is up for one.

"Hi, Mix. I'm Earth," he stops for a second, offering Mix a hand—their contract for tonight—and continues:

"I hope you're ready to play."

 

Chapter Text

Earth sees the bathroom light on. It's past four in the morning and in his unwritten book for hook-ups, it’s already past the perfect time to get up and get packing.

So, why isn't he moving?

He figures it’s exhaustion. Which is normal, especially since last night's quite... something else. He couldn’t help the sly smile that has formed on his lips as he recounts how hungry they both were for each other.

All that time, Mix kept his eyes glued to Earth’s, like he was studying Earth’s every move. As if afraid that once he closes them, he'd miss the experience altogether. Mix tried his hardest to keep his eyes open—only failing when he finally came. Earth suddenly feels hot thinking about those eyes; how they looked at and roamed Earth’s body like a shrine he wanted to imprint in his memory somehow. How Mix was so ready, so eager to take it all in.

Take all of Earth in.

Stop fucking reminiscing and get moving, Earth.

Tired and satisfied, Earth fell asleep almost immediately, rolling his body away from Mix who, breathless and flushed, kept his eyes to the ceiling, taming his thoughts and racing heart.

That must be it. I'm just fucking beat.

Earth closes his eyes for a second, massages his temples, and contemplates—for the third time—leaving as soon as he clears his head.

But then he suddenly wonders what Mix would do when he realizes he's gone.

From how uneasy he looked last night and the way his hands shook, Earth knew it was Mix's first time hooking up with someone from the app. Possibly the first time he'd welcomed the prospect of casual sex ever. His actions in bed, however, proved that he's not a virgin.

When Earth studied Mix closely at the bar last night, the other's hands were shaking badly and he looked as if he was ready to pass out. It was clear that Mix was having an internal battle and that Earth was caught in the crossfire. One part of him was so ready to bolt while the other—the part that eventually won, much to Earth's delight—fought to stay.

Earth starts dressing up quietly, careful to shrink his movements so as not to disturb the early morning peace that has settled nicely into the hotel room. He hesitates for a bit near the bathroom, wanting to check up on Mix who, Earth realizes, hasn't made any noise since he's woken up.

"Leaving so soon, Cinderella?"

Earth was startled for a second before drawing his eyes to where the voice emanated from. So Mix was on the balcony all this time, smoking. Earth wonders if Mix saw him put on clothes—if he knows that he's trying to bolt. He hesitates for a second, looking like a killer about to flee a murder scene, before he remembers that he's done this countless times before.

So why is he hesitating now?

"I don't mind. You do you," Mix looks away from Earth and takes a long drag off his cigarette. He looks over the balcony's railing and into the light traffic below. The air is heavy with the promise of another day. In the distance, Mix could see headlights pierce the dense morning haze and he likes how, with a few minor differences, this mirrors the view from an old apartment.

It almost felt as if he's home.

He shakes his head and abandons the thought before it dives into a territory he doesn’t want to relive just yet. No need to be sentimental this early.

Earth hangs back for a moment before deciding to sit next to Mix. He wonders how long the other has been there, sitting on the chilly balcony, visibly shaking in his thin long sleeve shirt.

Hell, it's already morning. He already caught me. Might as well extend this... game a little longer. Earth motions to Mix and asks for a cigarette, but the other offers him the one he's smoking instead.

"Last one. Sorry."

Earth takes the cigarette and inhales. He's an occasional smoker but believes casual sex to be his biggest vice, so the first drag brought a sudden haze that he isn't ready for. He waits for the rush of calm that he knows follows soon after before saying, "I didn't take you for the smoking type."

"I have an attachment with smoking," Mix starts, "It's a respite." He stretches his arms and rubs his hands together to quell the cold that has started creeping to his body.

"So I wasn't the only one trying to escape this early."

Mix looks at the other man, watching him take another long drag from their shared stick. "Yes, I guess you could say that. We caught each other trying to escape."

Stripped of pretenses, of the fake bravado which he reserved for last night, Mix realizes that he likes the company. Earth's company. A man who was basically a stranger a few hours ago—a man who still is.

Before doing this, he asked Khaotung what 'norms' to follow for "the morning after" and his best friend laughed before telling him that some men leave almost immediately. That if he’s lucky, he may not even have to worry about "after-sex niceties".

And that would've been awesome.

Hell, Mix would've wanted that. It’s why he decided to isolate himself and spent all those hours on the balcony. He figured it'll be less awkward if he doesn't see Earth leave, especially since sleep never came even though he was exhausted.

So when he saw Earth moving so quietly and stealthily, a calculated move that was a far cry from the proud and sure alpha he's gone to bed with last night, Mix couldn't help himself from calling out. It’s like catching Cinderella leaving the ball.

But this time, Cinderella stayed.

"It's what's— I mean, I've— I have always... done this. Or the other man does. It's routine. It's not yo—"

"I feel like you've never had to explain yourself to others before." Mix sees Earth struggling with words and thought it surprisingly adorable. ‘Adorable’, the last thing you’d probably use to describe a chiseled, dark-skinned man like him. “You don't have to start now."

Earth chuckles; caught once again. He’s right, Earth never had to explain himself to anyone before. He didn’t have the urge, the interest nor the energy to do so. And oddly enough, Mix didn't even ask. Neither did it look like he wanted any explanations. But for some reason, Earth felt compelled to come clean.

Mix is pretty good at reading people and by the way Earth is massaging his neck and grinning, he knows he's right.

“I mean, I figured as much. 'Here for a good fuck and nothing else'. Your brevity is amusing, you know?" Mix lets out a silent laugh and looks furtively at Earth, who by then was already looking at him. Smiling.

"Ah, yes. That's exactly the vibe I was going for in a hook-up app. Amusing.” Earth emphasizes the last word with meek sarcasm, which Mix reciprocated with a smile.

Before they know it, it’s almost five in the morning and everything is starting to stir. The sun is starting to peek through the mist and with it came a jumble of noise from a world waking from its slumber.

Mix puts out the cigarette they shared and took his phone out. He needed something to delay the inevitable day from coming, something to capture this empty—albeit safe—space they're sharing at this moment.

Mix plays one of his favorite songs, chosen from a playlist he aptly titled 'tracks for the empty'. Surprisingly, Earth starts humming along.

"I didn't know anybody else who knew this song." Earth was surprised to hear the song as well. It's true that not many people knew about it, because although sang by a popular band, the track is almost always obscured by their more popular collections.

"They play this a lot at the bar I work at when there aren't many people. Especially on lazy afternoons."

Mix imagines Earth at a bar. He's not sure what the other does exactly (and there’s no way he's going to ask, lest he breaks one of the "unspoken rules of casual sex”). Still, he envisions him behind the counter, tending to patrons, concocting drinks and interacting with people, flashing them the easy smile he's showing Mix right now.

"I see."

Soon after the second verse, Mix joins in, singing the lyrics this time while Earth continued to hum along. Earth never did bother to memorize the lyrics, but the melody was infectiously calming for him to forget. This time, he listens intently and feels a strange warmth overcome his senses.

And you better bring a change of clothes

So we can sail our laughing pianos

Along a beam of light

But I'm quite alright hiding tonight

Earth and Mix were caught in a trance. Wordlessly, they've agreed not to disturb the peace they're both basking in. They stayed like that until the song ended, until the world around them became too loud and too boisterous to ignore and delay any longer.

Earth and Mix sat not touching, not talking, and not looking at each other.

But not leaving either.

Chapter Text

“Hey, da—”

“P’Mix, how was your date last night?”

“Date? What date? You said you had an event out of town.” Eyebrows already furrowed in confusion, Gun looks up at his eldest son, waiting for an answer. Mix could only shoot daggers at Chimon, who was already mouthing ‘sorry’ from across the room.

“Honey, calm down.” Off saunters over to his son and pats Mix’s head before shielding him from his husband who was already going off about ‘the value of honesty’.

“…I’m just saying we agreed on a family dinner last night. This one’s leaving. The other’s leaving in a year. And the other one can barely hear us over his loud music. Can’t we have one night where we all sit down togeth—”

“P’Mix, pssst.” Win, his other brother, motions Mix to his room and he gladly sneaks past their parents, but not before catching his dad Off point threateningly to himself and then to him which, in the Phunsawat-Adulkittiporn dictionary, only means one thing—we’re not done here.

“Help me pack your things, I’m moving here on Sunday.”

“That excited to get me out of here?”

“No, just excited to finally have a room for myself. Chi’s been a pain in the ass. If I stay one more week with that kid, I’d go crazy. He’s been singing KPOP songs a lot lately. Off-key.” Win emphasizes the last word and rolls his eyes before sighing.

Mix is finally moving out of their family home to find a place in the city. He’s been working as a graphic designer and all around “design guy” at a small design company for over two years now and the commute is just killing him. His fathers wanted to buy him a car and they’ve been persistent, but Mix insisted he wanted to move out—anticipates it even—so he declined their offer until they finally yielded.

“So how was your first Hook Up experience?”

“It was goo— wait, how did you know?”

“Khaotung.” Mix and Win say in unison. “I sometimes forget you guys are friends, too.”

Mix watches his brother load a few of his stuff inside a box. He sits next to him, wondering how best to describe the experience without scarring his brother for life.

“We stayed until morning.”

Win stops what he’s doing and looks at Mix like he swallowed a cat. “Wait, so you lingered?”

“Why? Is that bad?” Mix asks, but from Win’s tone, he already surmises that it is.

“I mean, for casual sex… definitely? Lingering is kinda intimate. And you told me you’re not ready for any of that just yet, Phi.”

“Well we didn’t stay and have breakfast together, you know.”

Win raises his eyebrows and asked, “What then?”

“We uh… we listened to music on the balcony and waited for the sun to rise.” Mix wished he worded it differently and regretted even saying anything as soon as the words were out of his mouth. Even he knew that sounded too sappy—too intimate—for casual sex.

Mix watches his brother grimace and this made him blush even more.

“Oh, dear god.”

As if on cue, Mix’s mind then wanders to Earth and the vivid memory of this morning. A curious, interesting epilogue to a rather intense evening. After the song ended, he and Earth kept sharing that comfortable space, sitting next to each other, each of them lost in their own thoughts.

Bound by a singular moment suspended in time. Together but also, not really.

After a while, Earth stood up and nodded at him. Mix gave him a small smile, his version of ‘thank you for not making this awkward’. He understood then that the ‘contract’ has ended. And that they’re ready to part.

He watched Earth walk out of the hotel room, stopping only once when he reached the door to look back at him, offering him a surprised little smile when he saw Mix looking. Then as if a passing ghost, leaving no trace of ever being there, Earth was gone.

Mix feels his cheeks flush, realizing how well everything unfolded when he expected it to suck real bad. For the first time ever, he was glad to be proven wrong.

He tries to push the memory of last night further from his mind and focuses only on the  pure encounter that played out this morning, afraid that if he gives last night’s memory a free rein of his thoughts, he'd be blushing more than he already does right now.

After Earth left, Mix stayed in the room for a little while longer, not ready to go back to civilization just yet. And also wanting, if he could, to drag Earth back inside so they could stay suspended in that space—together.

“So are you seeing him again? Wait, was there pillow talk? Did you exchange numbers? Made plans?”

“We didn’t do any of that. And no, I won’t be seeing him again. I’m deleting the app today. So Win? Chill.”

“Good.”

Mix crossed his arms over his chest, suddenly feeling defensive but also incredulous about being interrogated by his younger brother. “Is there a role reversal going on here ‘cause I’m not liking it. Remind me again who’s older?”

Win laughs easily, enjoying his brother’s flustered look before saying, “Okay, okay. Get your ass moving.”

“Am I allowed to at least shower, Phi?”

“Yes. But do it quick. We have a long day ahead of us.”

 

- - -

 

Earth sits inside the clinic and waits for his appointment to begin.

“Mr. Watthanasetsiri? She’s ready to see you now.” The assistant smiles warmly at Earth before going back to her table. While he’s never been attracted to women that way, he notes the endearing personality of this nurse, especially appreciating the comforting vibe she welcomes each patient with when they visit.

Earth gets up and walks inside the room where he was greeted by his cheerful doctor.

“How’s my favorite patient doing?” Earth tries to dodge her embrace but she locks him in a firm grip. “You missed your appointment last week."

“I wasn’t supposed to see you last week,” Earth says flatly, shaking himself out of the hug.

“I meant the dinner.”

“Oh that. I was busy.”

One thing Earth is firm about—as firm and disciplined as he is with his penchant for casual sex—is being safe. He knew what risks he opens himself up to by choosing an active sexual lifestyle, so he vowed to follow two things religiously: one, a non-negotiable stance about using protection every single time and two, getting himself tested regularly.

It took a while for Earth to be immensely comfortable about discussing his sexual behaviors and history with a professional, but finding someone with who he can be totally open greatly helped.

“You seem different. Something interesting happened?”

“Are you supposed to pry into your patients’ businesses?”

“One: as your doctor, I have a front row seat to your promiscuous business. And two: I’m a sister first before I am a doctor. Your sister, Earth. So yes, I’m prying.”

“Right.”

Earth scoffs but offers his older sister a warm smile. He wonders how Sara would react if he tells her about the interesting encounter he’s had the evening before. Knowing her, she’d definitely find it hard to quell her curiosity. She’d prod him for more than he’s willing to share. But she’d also be glad. And he wouldn’t hear the end of it, so Earth decided against saying anything.

He then wonders how he and Mix might've looked like to imaginary onlookers. The sex must’ve been like a competition more than anything else, and to be honest, it felt like a competition, especially at the beginning.

In the beginning, they weren’t two people surrendering to the pleasures of casual sex, but rivals caught in a match of tenacious minds and bodies. They pushed and pulled and aggressively came onto each other. His mouth marked Mix’s body, his territory for the night, as he allowed the other to leave a trail of kisses all over him, before Mix finally took him in his mouth.

Untamed, sure and craving. Melding and fusing and refusing to let Earth go until he’s had his fill.

And then his mind wanders to Mix’s eyes and Earth suddenly feels warmth spreading inside him, like the sun reaching into his and Mix’s body this morning.

He could think of one word to describe it—tender. Something too good and also fleeting. One he’d romanticize for days to come, something to warm him on cold nights, until he’s over it. Until he’s again, looking for another man to fill that gap.

And a tender experience is rare. He’s used to the theatrics of men; used to men putting on a show they reserve only for clandestine affairs. So he wonders. Earth wonders if and when he’d have a tender experience like that again.

He could call him. Earth still has a way to connect with Mix if he wanted to. But he shakes his head, not giving it a second thought. ‘It was good and nice. But that’s it. Over.’

‘…is that it?’

“Mom wants to see you,” Sara’s voice takes Earth out of his daze and he vacantly stares at his sister before mulling over what she said. “Come home this weekend. Mike will be there, too.” She draws a needle to Earth’s arm, standard procedure for his blood work.

“Tell mom I’m busy but that I’d drop by once the renovations are over.”

Sara rolls her eyes and scoffs at him, unconvinced.

“And Mr. Chinnarat. Is he proposing? Is that why you've been bugging me about dinner?”

“What do you mean is he proposing?” Earth watches his sister blush as she prods his arm.

“I could you see blushing from behind that mask, doctor.” He looks mischievously at Sara, who was trying her hardest to look occupied.

“No. And please don’t ever bring that up when you see him. You’ll scare him.”

“What’s there to be scared of? You two have been together for 8 years. Don’t tell me you’ve never talked about getting married? Settling down?”

“Marriage isn’t always a natural conclusion to these kinds of things, Earth. You know that. And besides, I could ask you the same thing, you know.”

The room then falls in an uncomfortable silence. Earth knows his sister cares about him. And while she’s the last person who’d judge him for his lifestyle, he knows that if Sara could, she’d rather not have him fooling around on a regular basis.

And Sara knew what Earth’s silence meant. It means he’s no longer interested in the conversation, but she pushes.

“I worry about you. And I’m allowed to be worried. I know you have all these… contrarian beliefs about love and relationships, but I still think it’d be nice for you to find a good man. Someone you’d want to welcome each day with.”

Earth looks at his sister and was surprised at whose face those words willed into his consciousness.

 

- - -

 

Mix takes a stack of papers from a box and skims through it. Birthday letters from his best friends. He takes one from the pile, a list of 20 things they liked about him. He smiles at the distant memory of all four of them—Jane, White, Khaotung, and him—fresh-faced 20-year-olds sharing boxes of pizzas and soda in his room, this very room, and laughing hysterically at the entries.

Mix’s eyes caught one line, this one written by Jane:

I like that you’re independent. And that while you thrive in your solitude, you still carve a space for us in your life.

He knows exactly what this entry meant and was impressed with how Jane ingeniously snuck that remark within a compliment—how she managed to poke fun at his “annoying hyper-independence”, as she’d like to call it.

Jane, being the longest to know him in their friend group, always has to remind Mix that it’s okay to ask for help. That there’s no shame in letting people in, especially when the going gets rough.

Especially when the going is rough.

“Are you taking this with you?” Win’s voice takes Mix out of his stupor and he looks up from the letters to see his brother holding up a book. Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’. He feels his chest tighten and looks away.

“I’ll just put it inside, Phi. I’m— I’m sorry.” Win suddenly realizes what distant memory is attached to the book, who this memory belongs to, and proceeds to sit next to his brother, patting him softly on the back.

“Don’t be.” Mix offers Win a small smile and ruffles his brother’s hair.

“But I could take it off your hands and donate it if you like. Or we could burn it. Like a long overdue cleansing ritual. What do you say?”

Mix entertains the idea for a split second but realizes that he can’t let go. At least, not yet. With disgust, he realizes that he’s still hoping.

That maybe, just maybe, they could laugh and reminisce about how they got the book again.

Together.

“Is that true? Yes! Okie dokie yo— RIPTIDE INCOMING!” Chimon dives into Mix’s bed and crashes onto his brothers who struggled to push him off. Chimon’s still playing the “riptide game" they used to play when they were younger, where they basically break awkward and tense moments by diving in each others’ unwitting bodies.

“Chi!” The two older men wrestle Chimon off them playfully before hitting him with a pillow.

“What’d I miss?” Chimon finally rolls off the bed and away from his brothers before collapsing on the floor, still singing along to a KPOP song on his iPod. 

“That’s it. You’re helping. Come on.” Win kicks an empty box to Chimon and the younger brother groans but nonetheless starts piling things inside.

Mix watches his brothers and realizes that while he’s excited to finally have his own space, he’d definitely miss the familiarity of having his family around. Especially his brothers, who he’s been with even before Off and Gun adopted them.

'I’m gonna miss this.’

 

- - -

 

Earth marches to his bed and collapses into it, drawing out a deep sigh as soon as his body hits the soft mattress.

Today’s appointment felt too consuming that he dozed off a few times on his drive home. He didn’t have to be in the bar until six and right now, it’s only two in the afternoon. Earth usually burns these hours inside the gym, spending his energy on intense workouts, his entire body under a kind of tension he allows himself to feel. Or he walks around his neighborhood, a hip site dotted with quaint little shops where antiquity meets contemporary at every turn. And lately, when he feels like it, he goes directly to the bar, helping man the ongoing renovations.

But he didn’t feel doing any of the usual just yet.

Earth closes his eyes and tries his best to sleep. But he couldn’t. ‘And to think I almost fell asleep on the wheel,'

So he stays there, eyes half-open and staring at his glass window. He’s motionless, but strangely feels movement in parts that he can’t readily see. Like plates shifting underneath and him standing just above it, quaking and at its mercy. His mind feels completely blank as he laid there on his bed, and Earth wonders if this is a good thing. A slight case of tabula rasa where he feels light, airy, empty but also curiously invincible—all at the same time.

But a clear, blank head demands to be filled, one way or another. And today, it filled itself with memories of his latest encounter.

And a pair of eyes he just couldn’t shake from his memory.

Earth finds himself back in that hotel room. He indulged the retrospective thoughts of last night to encapsulate him, his mind vividly drawing him back to last night, in bed with Mix.

Him struggling to open the buttons to Mix’s shirt and Mix unbuckling his belt hastily. He remembers how he pounced but also how he waited for the unfamiliar feeling to set in when Mix’s plump lips grazed his body. For his body to acknowledge this new sensation and for it to be repulsed—if only for a second—before it finally surrenders to the pleasure.

But it didn’t come. There was none of the split-second aversion that he normally feels when a stranger’s body traverses his own.

For some reason, Earth felt a familiarity that he hasn’t felt in a long time.

Memories of this morning follow soon after. Mix calling him Cinderella when he found him getting ready to leave, sharing a cigarette with him, smiling at the other’s quips, and then the two of them welcoming the day with nothing but music to fill that cavity in time.

He finally remembers standing hesitantly and then being greeted by Mix’s knowing smile. Mix looked grateful, for some reasons, and so he nodded in return before slowly walking away. Earth stopped only when he reached the door to steal a final glance at Mix’s figure in the balcony, but was surprised when he saw the other man already looking.

Earth finally exits the room, and unsure of exactly what he needs to do, but knowing full well what he wanted to do, he smiled weakly in surrender and whispered to the door:

‘Good bye, Charming.’

He walked down the hallway, entered the elevator and finally rejoined the waiting world.

Chapter Text

“Are you awake?”

“Awake now,” Mix groans and breathes heavily to his phone, annoyed at being disturbed this early. He steals a quick glance at the time displayed on the screen and closes his eyes.

‘8:16. Less than four hours of sleep.’

“Are you decent?”

He massages his temples with one hand and forgets all about White at the other end of the line so Mix was momentarily startled when he finally spoke.

“What do you mean am I dec— of course I am.”

“I mean, did you sleep naked?”

“I know what you meant and no, I’m clothed. Why are you asking me th—”

“We’re coming in.”

“Wait what?” It took a split second for Mix to realize what’s happening. What’s happening again.

“I’ll take him. Khao—shoes.” White orders Khaotung before walking over to Mix. He watches White’s sly grin settle on his face before he makes his way to him. In no time, he corners Mix and takes him from the bed in one fell swoop.

Struggling is no longer an option at this point because while he’s taller, White’s bulkier and physically overpowering. Once he holds on to something, White doesn’t let go easily. He slings Mix on his shoulder like he weighs no more than a few pounds and locks him in a firm grip.

Khaotung scans the open boxes lying around the room and finally found the one with Mix’s shoes. Mix watches Khaotung zeroing in on a pair and grinning cheekily.

“No, not those. Khaotung!” His eyes widen at the sight of Khaotung picking up a pair of black leather Oxfords, the type one wears with suits at formal events—not a white sleeveless top and grey sweatpants at random getaways.

“Khao, shoes? We’re good? Mix, stop squirming, man!” Mix tries to free himself from White’s grip in an attempt to grab his favorite chunky sneakers by the door but eventually fails.

“Got ‘em.” Khaotung raises the Oxfords and grins. He looks so satisfied with himself but so, so ruthless in Mix’s eyes.

‘Asshole.’

Mix could only sigh and weakly object at this point, letting his friends have their way. The trio soon emerges from Mix’s bedroom and was greeted by Off who was busy making breakfast in the kitchen.

“Bring him back in one piece!”

“Can’t promise anything, pa, but thanks for letting us in!” White shouts from the door before he and Khaotung salutes the old man.

Gun, who has just woken up, gives his husband a back hug, burying his head on the curve of Off’s back. They hear Mix protesting faintly outside. Off chuckles before facing his husband and giving him a small forehead kiss.

“Good morning, my Gun Bun.”

The other crinkles his nose, seemingly annoyed at the endearment which they both know he secretly loves.

“Was that White? Khaotung?” Gun stifles a yawn and melts into his husband’s embrace.

“Uh-huh. Your son just got kidnapped.”

Gun chuckles and shakes his head. It wasn’t the first “home invasion” and he hopes it wouldn’t be the last. He loves his son’s friends like his own and is grateful that Mix has them to count on.

He finally looks up at Off, squinting his eyes and noticing something for the first time. “They’re greying, papi. Your hair,” Gun’s hand parts Off’s hair, eyebrows furrowed in concentration.

He expects his husband to get irked by this, or be defensive even, but Off just catches Gun’s traversing hand, cups it, and brings it to his lips for a peck. Off then whispers the words that reminded Gun why he chose to fight for their love all those years ago.

“See? I told you we’d grow old together,”

 

- - -

 

Mix’s friends love to take him places. Being the least spontaneous among the four of them, they perfectly balance his more reserved nature. And he loves the adventure when it presents itself, because it allows him a spontaneity that he himself can’t seem to find on his own.

But the thing about his friends is that they love doing things out of the blue.

So these days, he just likens the whole fiasco to a kidnapping—he’s taken from the comfort of his space, dragged against his will, and left with nothing to protect himself with.

Not even a pair of decent shoes that’d at least match an old white sleeveless top and a pair of grey sweatpants that has honestly seen better days.

‘Unlawful’.

“Get in losers, we’re getting coffee.”

Mix sees Jane behind the wheel and the backseat door already open for him and Khaotung. White slides on the passenger side after depositing Mix on the backseat and gives his girlfriend a quick peck on the lips before buckling in.

“You could’ve waited for me to freshen up, you know.” Mix sharply remarks but proceeds to pat Jane’s head affectionately, “Hey, love. This is your idea, isn’t it?”

Jane nods happily and tosses a sealed toothbrush at Mix, “Figured you’d make a deal out of this so we came ready, sir.”

White fiddles with the car’s dashboard and connects the AUX cord. ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’, their official rudimentary car ride anthem, starts filling the car after a few seconds.

Mix shakes his head in meek surrender but smiles, finally relaxing into the seat. He braces himself for what looks to be a long drive and joins in on his friends singing.

 

- - -

 

Working at the bar lends one glaring reality for Earth: he’s become so unfazed by the theatrics of everyone and everything that nothing held surprise anymore.

But the current renovations downstairs are a welcome respite to the monotony of his every day. He suddenly feels excited to be there again. Likes seeing their space evolve into something more than he and his friends initially thought it would be.

He reminisces about the very first time they walked into that leased space; three 23-year-olds carrying nothing but their skills, love for good food, drinks, and music, and the zealous determination to live as the bosses of their own time.

Earth is presently organizing some papers but sees, through the glass walls of their shared office, Bright walking towards him. The part-timer motions if it was okay for him to enter and Earth nods. He pokes his head in through the crack of the door and says, “P’Podd needs you downstairs, Phi. Said he wants your two cents on the accent wall.”

“Down in a minute. Thanks, Bright.” The young man curtly nods and closes the door.

Earth removes his eyeglasses and pinches the bridge of his nose. He doesn’t usually wear it outside of work, but it’s getting more and more difficult to maneuver around the bar without it these days. All those years of working under artificial lighting have finally caught up on him. And while he did try contact lenses for a while, it didn’t grow on him. So he went back to good old prescription glasses.

He stands at the landing and scans the area downstairs, appreciating the open layout interior of their industrial-themed bar. He wonders how long it has been since he has taken in the entire view like this, with a renewed perspective and possibly, new eyes.

Earth is aware of just how disenchanted he’s become; every day, he feeds into this disillusionment and lets it cripple him. It latches on as everything loses its glamor. And he often wonders what dulled his light but agrees that it’s his defeats, the hopelessness, the world just burning all around, and the disappointments—in himself and others.

But he knows he has to start somewhere. To bring at least a semblance of charm back into his life. So lately, he’s been trying to revive the feelings he had about this place. How he liked that it’s not just his workplace, but also his home, an amalgam of a shared dream that he and his friends have been fortunate enough to will into reality.

He finds Podd looking through a paint brochure and starts descending to meet his best friend.

 

- - -

 

“Who should I thank for that?” Jane motions to Mix’s shoes and they watch as Khaotung clicks his tongue and points to himself, looking overly satisfied.

“Nice.” Mix glares and flips him the finger, which the other cheekily reciprocated with his own.

The gang is seated in a rather curious cafe—aptly called “The Curio”. Jane informed them that the coffee shop side is new, but that the bigger section of the ground floor is really a bar with a second floor that doubles as a club at night.

“Sorry, man, she’s been wanting to check this place out.” White nods to Jane who’s already sipping her hot coffee and offering Mix a peace sign.

“But seriously though, we never see you anymore.”

We almost never see each other,” Mix points to him and White before continuing, “I’m always with these two.” Mix gestures to Khaotung and Jane and quickly recalls the last time the three of them are together, also having coffee at another cafe just outside town, the same afternoon Khaotung talked Mix into setting up a Hook Up account.

“By the way. That. Heard everything went well with Cinderella,” Khaotung crosses his arms over his chest, challenging Mix to elaborate.

“Put a pin on it. I’m not talking about that here.”

“Okay, Virgin Mary.”

The four friends went back to their coffee and Mix closes his eyes for a few seconds. He feels the onset of a pretty serious migraine looming and presses the heel of his palm on his throbbing temple.

“Four hours. I had less than four hours of sleep.”

“Freelance?” Jane inquires and checks Mix’s temperature.

“That. And I was packing.”

“Oh, yes. About that. When are you moving out again?”

“Win has already booted me out of the room. Gave me until before the week ends to finish packing. Help me bring over my stuff to the condo?”

“Sure. But when exactly?” Jane repeats.

“I get a copy of my contract tomorrow then they said I could start moving in on Saturday.”

“Shit, sorry. No can do, love. White and I are meeting my parents for lunch. How about your family?”

“No one’s available. Dads are going to this couples’ retreat thing, Win said he has to be in the university, and Chi would be on a trip with his friends for the whole weekend.”

Everyone on the table looks at Khaotung, who was busy fiddling with his film camera to notice everyone’s eyes on him.

“Khaotung?”

“Free food?”

“Yes.”

“Then yeah, I’ll go with.” Khaotung finally looks up, looks through the viewfinder, and takes a picture of a smug-looking Mix.

He smiles at an irked Mix and scans the whole cafe for anything else he could capture. His breath hitches for a second and slowly, he brings the viewfinder to his eyes, zeroing in on something that finally piqued his interest.

Mix follows Khaotung’s gaze and saw two men talking on the opposite side of the room.

He momentarily froze, feeling like his insides are combusting, when he caught the other man looking.

 

- - -

 

“...right? Earth? Earth to Earth Pirapat.

“Huh?”

“I’m asking you if this color looks good on the accent wall. Do you think it compleme—”

“Yeah, yeah. Green. Perfect.”

Podd creases his eyebrows and watches Earth nervously dodge his stare. He looks past his best friend, already knowing that something—or someone—must’ve startled him.

“Who’s that?”

“No one.” Earth dismisses the question and tries to look busy by flipping through the brochure, his mind clearly elsewhere.

‘It’s him. It’s definitely him.’

“When did you sleep with him?”

“What are you even asking?” Earth tries to play it cool and gets on with the task at hand. He attempts to take Podd’s attention back to the accent wall but it was too late, his best friend’s already invested in investigating something else.

“Don’t act coy with me, dude.” Podd smirks and continues, “But just to clarify. It’s the one with the Oxfords, right? Not the cute guy he’s sitting next to?”

“What do you mean Oxfor— oh, that’s a choice.”

Earth finally glances at Mix again. He has to be sure it is him. At this point, he wasn’t sure if he could trust his sight anymore. This could very well be a play of the light. But why his mind would manifest Mix, he has no idea. So he studies the man at the other end of the cafe. Next to the bar counter.

He only saw Mix for about an hour basked in the light that morning. But the image was vivid. Soft, coal hair that looks dashing under the sun. Marked, defined jaw. Lidded eyes that seemed to speak.

‘It is him.’

‘And he’s beautiful in this light.’

Even if he’s fidgeting and was aggressively sipping his iced Americano, looking everywhere but Earth’s direction.

But he knew there was no way Mix could’ve missed him. Judging by his demeanor, Earth was sure the other man has already seen him. Their eyes meeting for a half-second must’ve been enough for Earth’s presence to register.

“I’m not paying you two to stall,” Jennie comes over and drapes an arm on Earth and Podd’s shoulders, checking out the ongoing renovation herself.

“You’re not paying us, Jennie, period.” Podd takes the brochure from Earth’s hand and levels it on the wall, assessing how it would look once painted on.

“Right. Anyway, do you need me here?”

“God, yes. This one’s distracted.”

“I’ll be at the counter,” Earth excuses himself and tries to avoid looking at Mix’s direction. Already, he is finding the whole situation surprisingly ironic. Funny, even.

‘Who knew.'

Who knew he’d see Charming here of all places.

 

- - -

 

Podd fixes his eyes on a man balancing a film camera on his hands. He has in his a box of cookies that he took from the counter before sauntering over to a table at the other end of the bar—now also a cafe once they’ve completed the renovations.

“Hello. How’s everything?” Podd begins, “I’m Podd, by the way. Me and my partners welcome you to the soft opening of The Curio’s Cafe.”

“Hi. It’s good,” the man with the film camera says, his eyes smiling along with his lips. Podd makes a mental note to compliment him on that endearing quality. Probably later. If he gets a chance to speak to him.

Everyone nods and smiles warmly at him, except Oxfords guy, who is presently fidgeting and avoiding eye contact.

Podd then focuses on him and says, “I hope you don’t mind me coming over.” Oxfords finally looks at him and forces out a tight-lipped smile, still looking very distracted.

“Anyway, here are cookies to go with your coffee. On the house. Baked them myself.”

Podd again glances at everyone, but his stare lingers on Khaotung. Everyone on the table acknowledges this. Who he’s here for. And Khaotung sits there, eyeing Podd and definitely enjoying the attention.

Jane finally breaks the silence and starts, “No, it’s fine.” She kicks Khaotung softly under the table to break their gaze before continuing, “We like what you did with the place. My officemates used to come here for drinks on Friday nights and they love it. That’s why I brought my friends—”

“—and boyfriend,”

and boyfriend today.” Jane rolls her eyes but proceeds to pat White’s face softly. “But why a cafe all of the sudden? Are you closing the club upstairs? The bar?”

“Oh, no. The expansion has something to do with my partner getting married soon.”

Mix looks up from his drink at this point and asks, “Your— your partner’s getting married?”

“Well, yes. A few months from now. And they’re already trying to get pregnant, so a cafe that only operates until 5 PM is more convenient for them. No more late nights once the baby arrives.”

‘Partner’s getting married. And by partner does he mean...’

‘He does, right? He definitely means—'

“Hey, Earth. C’mere,”

Mix tries to look around for something to do until he realizes that aside from his shoes, he wasn’t given the chance to bring anything else this morning.

‘Fucking kidnapping.’

Khaotung watches the agitated Mix and raises an eyebrow at him but says nothing.

“Sorry I dove right into the conversation without even asking for your names,” The four friends took turns introducing themselves to Podd who shook their hands.

“Excuse me, I’ll just get something to eat.” Mix gets up from the table just as Earth nears them. He turns to Khaotung before walking away and says, “You. You’re paying for my meal,” Khaotung makes a face but continued munching on his cookie.

“I’ll take that.” Earth signals to Podd who was about to stand and circles back to where he came from. He shadows Mix until they got to the counter where they were greeted by Bright.

“Hi. What can I get you?”

Mix pretends to scan the menu for a few seconds but decidedly orders the first thing he saw, “Just a plate of Aglio e Olio, please.”

“Sure. Anything else?”

“Just that. Thanks.” Earth motions to Bright and whispers a quick instruction before facing Mix again. The two feel an awkward silence hovering between them so Earth decides to break it.

“Nice shoes,” He starts, raising an eyebrow and giving a little nod to Mix’s Oxfords.

“Wasn’t my idea,”

‘And I am so not in the right headspace for this.’

“No, it looks good. I must say you carry it well.”

Mix could see Earth trying to suppress a smile. No one seems to be giving Mix a break today. To be honest, he planned a lazy Sunday. Movies, probably a few productive hours dedicated to a logo redesign he was doing, and just bonding with the family. But here he is, talking to a man who he thought he’s seen the last of just two days ago.

But Earth with glasses. Mix was trying very hard not to stare. He wonders how someone could look this wise and cunning but also subdued and… pulsating with life. All at the same time.

And breathtaking.

‘God, stop looking.’

Mix could go back to his friends and wait for his order there, but somehow his feet are planted firmly. Both are waiting on how this encounter will play out, with a shrewd curiosity only given to such chance meeting.

Mix breathes deeply and says nonchalantly, “Anyway, congratulations on the wedding.”

“Excuse me?” Earth has to check if he heard it correctly. ‘Wedding?’

“I heard from your friend, Podd,” Mix nods to their table’s direction, where Podd is still comfortably sitting and chatting with his friends.

“A wedding?”

“Yes.”

“Wait did yo— oh, you did.” Earth bites on his lower lip, trying to keep himself from breaking into a smile. “So you thought I was the one getting married?”

“Well if not you then who’s—”

“I am, bub. Me and my girlfriend’s getting married soon.” Mix’s head snaps to the voice’s direction and sees a woman coming at them, draping an arm at Earth who, right now, was beaming.

“I’m sorry, I overheard. I don’t believe we’ve met, but I’m Jennie.” Jennie starts, beaming at Mix, “I’m unfortunately friends with these two and a co-owner of this place.” Jennie extends her hand out for Mix to shake, but Mix was busy gaping to even notice it.

“I think he’s glitching, Earth.”

“I’m sorry, I just—” Mix stammers and tries to focus on Jennie’s words.

“It’s fine, I get that reaction a lot when people hear about me and my girlfriend anyway.”

“No, oh no. It’s not because of that.” Mix wants to clear the air, lest they brand him clueless, which is the last thing he wants. But he’s honestly still stuck on one piece of information.

Earth’s not getting married.’

Mix shakes his head and offers his hand to Jennie, “I’m sorry, Jennie. I’m— I'm Mix.”

“Nice to meet you, Mix. You’re very charming,” Jennie’s voice hints at a slight but friendly sarcasm. She excuses herself shortly after and leaves Mix and Earth on the counter.

“You look relieved,” Earth teases.

“Relieved, my ass. Why would I be?”

“I dunno. You tell me.” Earth is now acting coy, clearly enjoying this light banter with Mix.

“Are you always this flirty with your customers?”

“You think this is me flirting?” Earth scoffs and proceeds to level his head with Mix’s. He’s dangerously close again. He leans in, plants both his elbows on the counter, and looks Mix straight in the eyes.

Mix catches a whiff of the other’s perfume. Familiar. Very, very familiar. So familiar can still taste it in his mouth. He feels himself blushing but kept his eyes on the other man.

Earth continues, “But to answer your question, no.” He tentatively looks at Mix’s plump lips, the same lips he devoured just days ago. “I’m only like this to those I’ve already gone to bed with…”

“Ssshhh!”

Earth lets out a hearty laugh, amused at the glare Mix is giving him. Bright then softly lays the plate of pasta in front of Mix and says, “I could take this to your tab—”

“No need. I have it. Thank you.” Mix curtly nods at Bright, takes the tray and starts walking back to their table.

‘Cute.’

 

- - -

 

Mix finds Podd still glued to their table when he came back from the counter, but everyone’s now huddled and engaged in what looks to be a deep conversation. He tries to make sense of what they’re talking about but it doesn’t take long for him to be invited into it.

White acknowledges Mix and begins, “I’m telling Podd about your work. Apparently, they’re looking for a UI Designer to revamp The Curio’s website.”

Jane speaks up this time, “Love, I’m developing it. Khao’s taking the pictures. What do you say?”

“Really, in that short amount of time you’ve already discussed all these?” Mix scans everyone at the table and he could see them looking at him expectantly. Mix catches Khaotung side glancing Podd and mouthing ‘please’.

“And White?”

“I’m already doing a lot of freelance projects on the side. I can no longer squeeze this into my schedule without sacrificing my time with Jane.”

Khaotung then immediately quips, “And besides, you’re moving around the area soon. It’d be more convenient for you.”

“Wait, you’re moving around the area?” Podd asks.

“Yeah, around 30 mins from here.”

“Not true, it’s just 10 mins from here to your condo. 20 tops on foot.” Mix glares at Khaotung but decides to keep his cool, “Thanks, Google Maps.”

“So?”

“Okay, yeah.”

Khaotung claps his hands together and excitedly looks at Podd, “Great! Maybe we can schedule a meeting for this weekend?”

“I’m moving in on Saturday, remember?”

“Oh, right. Sucks that we don’t have anyone else to help us with that…” Khaotung glances at Podd who immediately catches on.

“Earth and I can help,” He offers, pointing to Earth who already invited himself over to the table as well.

Mix slightly panics but tries to act composed, “No, I don’t want to impose. I mean, don’t you have to be here on the weekend?”

“Not this weekend. Namtan’s going to be here with Jennie then. You in, man?”

Podd looks at Earth expectantly and Mix watches the man take a cookie from the box on their table, bring it over to his lips and bite on it. A small smile plays on his lips. And never breaks eye contact with Mix.

“Sure. I’m in."

Chapter Text

Off languidly bites into an apple and observes three muscular men sitting on their sofa. He wonders who's here for his boy & imagines, to the best of his fatherly ability, the best way to intimidate him.

 

“You’re all here to help my boy move?” He inquires and squints his eyes.

 

Off sees one man, who looks to be the youngest among the three, gazing off into the distance. He bows meekly but avoided Off’s eyes before stifling a yawn. Within seconds, Off watches the boy shake his head as if trying to eliminate the last traces of sleep from his system.

 

‘Disinterested. Not this one then.’

 

He inspects another one. This one carries a box of what seems to be cookies in his hand. Off likes this one already because of that alone. He hopes he’s here for Mix.

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

Cookie guy speaks up and offers the box to Off before continuing, “I’m Podd. These are my friends Earth and Bright.” He notes Podd’s politeness and smiles, but Off soon sees the man break into a wide smile when Khaotung emerges from his son’s bedroom with Mix in tow.

 

‘Okay, so no. Bummer.’

 

”Papa, stop ogling them.” Mix approaches the living room and sees his father inspecting the three. He knew this would happen. It’s clear, what his papa's doing. He’s playing the role of “overprotective father” but Mix knows that the intimidation doesn’t carry much weight in it. Off really does it for the laughs and nothing more.

 

Off’s eyes then trail to the last man. He catches this one staring at Mix and senses a hint of playfulness in his eyes. The old man watches them trade knowing glances. For a few seconds, the two seemed to invalidate the existence of everyone else around them.

 

Only one thing could explain his son’s look and that little pout on his face right now.

 

‘This. It’s this one.’

 

He observes them for a few seconds more and remarks loudly, “Yup. This works.”

 

“Papa!” Mix mutters under his breath and glares at his father, knowing exactly what he meant. He avoids Earth’s eyes. He doesn’t want to know if the other has caught on.

 

“We’ll be late, papi. Let them be.” Gun waltzes into the room carrying a dog in his arm and greets everyone. Mix takes Bibii from him and Gun proceeds to cup Mix’s face in his hands before planting little kisses all over it.

 

Mix laughs and embraces his dad, “It’s two hours away, dad.” Gun pouts and goes in for another extended hug.

 

“Still,” Gun starts, “We’ll try to come and visit soon with enough food to last you a full week, okay? Promise me you wouldn’t live off take-outs until then?”

 

“Yes, dad. I’m learning how to cook.”

 

“I don’t think boiling water for noodles counts as cooking.” Khaotung teases Mix and the latter could only glare. He’s been glaring a lot already and it isn’t even 10 AM yet.

 

Mix could suddenly feel Bibii’s body stiffen as she inspects the three visitors. Within seconds, she’s growling and barking at them, her little body shaking immensely.

 

Gun laughs this off and takes Bibii from Mix before apologizing to their guests, “Don’t mind Bibii, she gets feisty around tall people. For some reason.”

 

“Which means she hates me as well,” Win carries one of the boxes into the living room. As if on cue, Bibii turns to Win and directs a subdued growl at him. The boy laughs but proceeds to pet their dog.

 

“I’m Win.” The three men took turns shaking Win’s hand and introducing themselves. Podd and Earth observe Bright, who is usually very collected, stumbling on his words. And surprisingly, even blushing.

 

“B-Bright. My— I’m, um. Bright.” Bright looks fully awake now and his eyes are fixed on Win. Earth literally had to tap his shoulder so he breaks out of this spell, lest he makes the other uncomfortable with all the staring.

 

“Cool. Nice meeting you, Bright.” Win smirks but doesn’t spare the boy a lingering glance.

 

“See you later?” Mix opens his arms to hug his brother.

 

“If I finish the thesis revisions early, Phi. I’ll call you. Good luck on moving day.”

 

Off and Gun eventually bid everyone goodbye and told their guests to visit again next time, promising to cook them a full meal.

 

 

- - -

 

 

It shouldn’t have been this hard.

 

Mix has been dreaming about homes ever since he was young. It started on those cold nights at the orphanage, where he was lulled to sleep by children like him, all of them waiting on their forever families to finally take them home.

 

And what Off and Gun built for Mix and his brothers is definitely a home. Safe, secure, stable. And while moving out’s a pretty normal step to take for people his age, he couldn’t help but feel sentimental.

 

“You good?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Khaotung pats Mix’s shoulder and helps Podd haul the last of the latter’s box to the pickup truck. Mix runs quickly inside and surveys his room—now also littered with Win’s stuff—for the last time, his nostalgia sporadically broken only by the unexpected fact that he has invited three strangers to share this milestone with him.

 

Particularly one he thought he’d never see again.

 

Mix starts getting into the truck and sees Earth settling into the driver’s seat. Earth stares at Mix and notes the latter’s surprised expression.

 

“It’s my car, of course I’d be driving.” He waits for a few beats and continues, “Am I that bad to look at that you can’t even sit next to me?”

 

‘If I’m being honest, the issue’s quite the opposite.’ Mix, of course, didn’t tell him that. He wouldn’t give this cheeky man any more reason to elevate his much-stoked ego.

 

Earth tips his head closer to the passenger seat and takes his precious time licking his dry lips, making sure he never holds Mix’s gaze so he doesn’t make him feel uncomfortable.

 

But Mix catches the mischievous display nonetheless. Just like Earth wanted him to.

 

Suddenly, Earth drops his voice in a whisper, “If I remember correctly, you seemed to be really into me that nig—”

 

Mix snaps out of his stupor and shushes Earth before the latter could finish his sentence. “Jesus, fine. Shut it. Let’s just go.”

 

Mix looks back to check on Khaotung and his things. He sees his best friend snapping away at the scenery outside with his disposable film camera. From the corner of his eye, he observes Podd watching Khaotung. He remembers seeing how easy the two got along with that day at The Curio. Mix is a sucker for instant connections such as this and wonders if this is what love at first sight looks like.

 

He sees Podd hesitantly reaching out to remove a clump of hair blocking Khaotung’s eyes. Slowly and almost hesitatingly, Podd brushes the back of his hand to the other’s forehead, until Khaotung seemingly gets what he’s doing. He offers Podd a comforting smile, as if egging him on. The two looked as if they’re in a world of their own.

 

And Mix had his answer.

 

He smiles and settles into the car seat, letting sleep finally overcome him.

 

 

- - -

 

 

“Oxfords, where do you want this?”

 

‘So the nickname’s sticking then. Great.’

 

Mix gives a resigned little smile to Podd but rolls his eyes to Earth who had the audacity to snicker next to him. The other immediately clears his throat and whispers, “You were the least unobtrusive in your group that day—”

 

Mix cuts him off sharply before giving him the stink eye. “I don’t remember asking for your input.”

 

Bright excused himself and left for The Curio immediately after helping the four of them get Mix’s things inside the unit. Now the four men found themselves in a decent-sized one-bedroom condo. It wasn't the biggest, with the building itself lodged in a district that gives off a very provincial vibe.

 

But Mix liked that very much.

 

He likes how his new neighborhood feels like a comfortable little crack to the hustle and bustle of a business center just a few blocks away. How it’s accessible but not too imposing.

 

The units of this building are small but the winning fixture is the floor-to-ceiling windows that open into a decent-sized balcony. It allows as much light as possible to filter in, providing a good view of the stunning scenery outside.

 

The windows are massive. And for Mix, who has vowed never to keep himself in the dark again, this was a welcome change to what he’s used to. He promised himself light. And he’s been doing everything he can to find it.

 

”Are you sure you don’t need help unpacking?” Khaotung asks, but Mix shakes his head. He thanked the men before insisting on unpacking and organizing everything on his own.

 

“You’ve all done enough. I’d be fine. Win might drop by later anyway.”

 

The four men made small talk while waiting for the food Mix ordered for them. Earth wasn’t too focused on this, letting his best friend and his obvious object of interest monopolize the conversation.

 

Instead, he watches Mix typing away at his laptop, his back against that floor-to-ceiling window, the light catching and emphasizing his features very well.

 

Earth tried his hardest to keep his eyes on the road on the drive here, only stealing fleeting glances at Mix whenever they stop at traffic. The other almost slept through the majority of the 2-hour ride. And it wasn’t clear if he was doing it because he’s exhausted or because he was avoiding making small talk with Earth.

 

Either way, Earth thought it was okay. And oddly enough, it was comforting just to know he’s there. Next to him.

 

Because the irony of meeting Mix again, of hiring him and his friends for The Curio’s website revamp, still feels surreal. And if he’s being honest, even fun. He feels a strange lightness in their little banters. And while they wouldn’t know this, Earth anticipated the moving day and even offered to use his pickup truck for it.

 

Helping the younger man move to his condo is indeed the cherry on top of this very intriguing bowl of ice cream.

 

Earth lives not far from the area, so he did not expect to find this place any different from his own neighborhood. But he’s honestly awed. A quick scan of Mix’s area reveals a comforting place; one that appeals and arrests you in that old, rustic way.

 

He scoots over to Mix and watches him work.

 

“I’m looking for pegs,” Mix says unprompted, not looking at Earth but registering his presence all the same. Earth notes Mix fully immersed in what he’s doing. He wonders if he’s like this at work as well—biting his lip, sporadically looking up as if deep in thought, before typing away. His eyebrows sloping inwards in concentration.

 

Earth feels a sudden urge to smooth them out, but he says instead, “Do you mind?”

 

Mix shakes his head and slowly directed the laptop to Earth. He starts speaking, slowly at first, finding the right words to explain his design rationale. And Earth sits there, focusing on the task at hand and listening. He loves the other’s design, noting the clear, fleshed-out ideas Mix is presenting to him right now.

 

They stayed glued to their spots until the food arrived. The two are mere inches apart that if one of them leans in, just a little more, their shoulders would start touching.

 

 

- - -

 

 

What they own, things they hold on to, and memories they attach to inanimate objects say a lot about people.

 

And holding Mix’s collection of vinyl records, Earth wonders what his music taste would reveal about him.

 

So far, he’s not seeing any coherent theme. “Eclectic” would be the best term to describe the collection. He could see a penchant for the classics, some jazz, acoustic, and a lot of independent bands and artists he’s never even heard of until today. And Earth grins after finding some KPOP albums in the pile as well.

 

It’s been hours since Podd and Khaotung left Mix’s condo, agreeing to the direction Mix wanted to take the website’s new design. Presently, Mix and Earth are organizing the former’s things together. Win ended up staying later than usual at the university, making it impossible for him to help Mix tidy the unit.

 

Khaotung coaxed Earth into staying behind because of this. They all knew he clearly meant for it to be a joke, but they were all surprised when Mix agreed without any objections.

 

Mix still feels like he’s in this space between a dream and reality. And he’s been on edge lately. He recounts the process of moving, especially him packing away his whole life in boxes. Everything feels like the beginning of a new chapter and this thought brings a strange mix of glee and optimism, with traces of fear of the unknown just bubbling on the surface of his consciousness.

 

Mix’s mind then wanders to these cliched images of men and women relocating when they’re trying to move on; getting away from a place that houses so much of the person they were before. Or a place that shelters memories of another person they’re running away from.

 

He wonders if he’s one of them; he figures that he is.

 

From the corner of his eye, he could see the other man rifling through his records and looking at the titles. He was taking his time with each record and carefully organizing each one in their wooden crates. Not that he was particularly inspecting Earth, but Mix notes his movements and the way he arranges his stuff—intentional. Careful even.

 

Earth stayed behind without qualms but Mix caught his eyes earlier, speaking to him. Asking for permission and his agreement.

 

Will it be okay for me to stay?’

 

Mix says nothing but offers him a little nod. Now, the two of them work in silence. A comforting silence reminiscent of the morning after they first met.

 

The unit is far from complete but Mix figures it’s a task for another day. He steps out into his little balcony for a breather and immediately feels the clean, chilly air embrace him.

 

“Hey,” Earth softly calls out from inside Mix’s living room.

 

“Hmmm?”

 

“May I?” Earth is waving a record in his hand and motioning to the turntable. Mix got this turntable as a moving-out gift from his parents, who used to tell tales of the fond memories they had of using it when they were younger.

 

“Go ahead.”

 

Earth places the record on the platter and manually lowers the stylus. Within seconds, a comforting static replaces the silence that has filled the entire unit. The song eventually starts playing and Mix beams at how appropriate Earth’s song choice is.

 

He feels the other man join him on the balcony. He registers his sudden intake of breath, followed by an exclamation, “Cold. Very cold.”

 

Mix reaches for a pack of his cigarettes and this time offers Earth a stick of his own. But he refused it with a smile.

 

“I don’t really smoke that much.”

 

“Oh yeah? But you did that night.”

 

Earth scoffs, “I didn’t tell you this, but I actually felt really dizzy after that.”

 

“So why’d you continue asking for my stick?”

 

“I was trying to ‘amuse’ you.”

 

‘And because it felt good, sharing something with you that morning.’

 

Mix smirks and shakes his head. He catches Earth hinting at the memory of their conversation that morning and the two share a laugh. They say nothing for a while, letting the song do the talking for them.

 

Everything is brighter than noon

Brighter from the window of my room

And my bed, the sheets are maroon

Napping to the rhythm of this tune

 

“Are you okay with this?” Earth glances at Mix. He sees the young man’s features bathed in the faint moonlight. He catches sight of his prominent jaw and the eyebrows that met in concentration that afternoon, now relaxed. Steady on his face, like his breathing.

 

“With what exactly?”

 

Earth continues, “That we might be seeing a lot of each other from now on.”

 

Mix finally allows himself to look at the other man and remembers the Earth from that morning. The Earth stripped of pretenses. The Earth who made him feel safe when he didn’t even have to. When he didn’t owe him anything.

 

A stranger who is probably no longer one.

 

And remembering all these reels in a guilty feeling about his attitude. How he’s shown Earth nothing but his exasperation, his annoyance since meeting him again at The Curio. As if it was his fault that it even happened.

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

The apology surprised Earth and he doesn’t know where it’s coming from exactly. He sees Mix’s head bowed as if in shame. He’s struggling with words and Earth says nothing for a few seconds.

 

“I know my attitude hasn’t been that great since seeing you again.”

 

Mix takes a moment and keeps his head hanging low. He comes up with nothing but was surprised to see Earth looking at him intently before saying, “Mix?”

 

“Hmmm?”

 

“15 minutes.”

 

“What?” Mix looks at the other man quizzically, not knowing where he’s going with this. Earth leans against the railing, slowly fielding the space to approach the younger man.

 

“My sister Sara and I have this thing. We call it the 15 minutes no-bullshit talk.” Earth raises an eyebrow at him, as if asking if he can follow the drift so far.

 

“Yeah. Go on.”

 

“Basically, for 15 minutes, we talk honestly.” Earth tries to remember the origin of this tradition and recalls him and Sara the day he came out to her. Him, a reserved teenager who needs to be coaxed into talking, and Sara, the great older sister and friend that she is, encouraging him by creating this little tradition. One they’re still doing to this day.

 

“So we’re… raw and vulnerable with each other. We allow each other to talk with no fear of judgment for 15 minutes.”

 

Mix’s eyes are glinting. He’s interested and wants to know more, “Like a safe space?”

 

“Yeah. You could call it that. Our very own safe space.”

 

‘A safe space packaged in 15 minutes.’

 

It’s an intriguing, alluring concept and Mix likes that. He especially likes how, by encouraging him to talk, Earth has given him an opportunity to peek into his world. A world with Sara, his sister. A world with a tradition he’s now sharing with Mix as well.

 

He caught Earth using the word ‘our’ and wonders if he means him and his sister.

 

Or the two of them.

 

Either way, it was enough to make Mix’s heart flutter.

 

“So for the next 15 minutes, you can tell me anything and I won’t judge you for it.”

 

What the tradition requires from him finally dawns on Mix. It’s asking him to talk. Bare himself up to Earth. Be ‘raw and vulnerable’. To expunge from his system the difficulty of moving. Of anticipating and loving and hating it all at the same time.

 

It’s a noncommittal tradition that promises to keep everything safe within that specified timeframe.

 

He willed his breathing to steady. And he starts talking. Slowly at first, the words tripping over, until it starts building up to reveal thoughts Mix didn’t even know he had in him. The words felt big but also so, so inconsequential, bathed in the promise lent by those 15 minutes.

 

A promise of honesty and liberation.

 

And Earth listens. To everything. He discovers how important this move is for him. That Mix is still wondering if the commute to work was really just a veil to blanket his thirst to get away. That it carries something more important than he has initially let on. That Mix did it to escape—yet again—memories he was so careful not to name.

 

At least, not yet.

 

“I’m sorry. For acting the way I did. I’m probably… on edge? I dunno.” He lets out a sigh before continuing. “I guess I just didn’t expect to see you again. I guess, a part of me, wanted for whatever we shared that morning to stay as a beautiful memory. Because you can’t ruin a beautiful memory if it doesn’t lead to anything else.”

 

Earth exhales deeply and looks at Mix. The other has already burned through two sticks since he started talking. Earth imagines the best way to lighten the mood, so he grins sheepishly instead.

 

“You said you wouldn’t judge me,”

 

“I wasn’t judging.” And Earth means it.

 

Mix rolls his eyes and puts out his cigarette on the railing. “But it’s stupid. Petty. And you aren’t even at fault.”

 

Earth breathes deeper and crosses his arms over his chest. “I’ll be honest. I didn’t know there even was... animosity there. I thought you were just trying to amuse me, too.”

 

Mix softly punches Earth’s arm and the other man pretends to get hurt, teasing him again.

 

“Jesus. Fine. Forget I said anything.”

 

“I’m joking.” Mix rolls his eyes and listens to the record behind them receding to a familiar static. He enters the unit and chooses another record before making his way back to the balcony.

 

“You have 3 minutes left,” Earth tells him.

 

“You’ve been timing me?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“This tradition,” Mix starts, hesitantly. “Do actions count? Can I do something and you wouldn’t fault or make fun of me for it?”

 

Earth shrugs. He could feel a smile playing on his lips, wondering what Mix has in mind. “Yeah, I suppose so. I’m sure Sara wouldn’t mind."

 

The sound of the turntable starts filling the room again after a short delay. Mix moves closer to the other man. Until their shoulders are touching, their skins separated only by their shirts. Finally, he rests his head on the other’s shoulder.

 

Mix stayed on the nook of Earth’s neck. Until the album gives off a simmering breath, crackling its familiar and comforting white noise, extending the minutes beyond the initial 15.

 

The two of them, just breathing.

Chapter Text

If Mix has a list of things he wouldn’t expect to see in front of his unit on a Saturday morning, it’d definitely place a wide-eyed Earth Pirapat holding two store-bought cold brews with a film camera slung over his neck at the very bottom.

But that’s exactly the image he woke up to this morning.

“I’m in my boxers,” Mix says slowly, by way of greeting, too stunned and so confused to do anything aside from look at the man suspiciously.

Earth is dressed in a pair of washed denim jeans and a plain shirt that he topped with a plaid flannel long-sleeves for volume.

“I could see that. And also, ‘good morning, would you like to come in?’ is usually the more appropriate greeting,” Earth removes his long-sleeves, almost absentmindedly, and wrestles with the idea of tying it around Mix’s waist himself. But he figures it would be too much so he tosses it to him instead.

Mix hurriedly ties it around his waist, flustering when realization finally dawns. The image is almost comical in Earth’s eyes, but also equal parts enchanting and, well, distracting.

Very distracting.

Earth hopes Mix doesn’t see him flushing.

The younger man breaks out of his dreamlike spell and makes way so Earth could finally enter. Walking slowly behind Earth, Mix tries to remember if he did make plans to meet with him. Thing is, he doesn’t trust his memory anymore. He’s always too sleep-deprived. So the idea that he might’ve actually made plans but has somehow forgotten about it isn’t too far-fetched.

“Do you always open your door in your boxers?” Earth asks, a smile dangling on the corners of his mouth. Mix rubs both of his eyes with the heels of his palms, his eyelids still heavy with sleep.

“I’m—hmmm. I honestly thought I was still dreaming.” He is suddenly very aware that he’s almost naked. Not that the image of him naked would still surprise Earth, but things are a little different now—he thinks.

Platonic. Friendly even.

“Sleepwalking, more like it.” Earth smirks and paces around the room, stopping only when he notices a bundle of overripe bananas on the table. If he’s not mistaken, Khaotung bought it for Mix a week ago when the latter moved in.

“Would be better to throw those out,”

Mix dismisses his remark with a wave but makes a mental note to do it later. He feels his head clearing and proceeds to ask, “Am I expecting you today? Did we honestly make plans to meet? Is this for The Curio?”

“You weren’t. We didn’t. And it’s not.” Earth settles into a chair and answers. Mix waits for a few seconds for Earth to elaborate but after an extended silence, he prompts him.

“I think this is the part where you tell me why you’re at my place at—” Mix glances at the clock and was astonished to see that it’s still too early—much too early for a surprise visit. “—7:30. Holding coffee.”

As if remembering the cold brews, Earth tosses one bottle to Mix who almost didn’t catch it.

“We’re going out.”

“What? Where?”

“On a neighborhood tour.”

Today marks the first week since Mix has moved in, but he hasn’t really gone anywhere yet. And he hates it.

He hates that he’s too holed up in the office. Dejected with the fact that he comes home every night too exhausted to even entertain the idea of a quick evening stroll. He loathes that the news of him moving closer somehow gave their art director even more reason to keep him way past work hours.

As if that justified it. As if he didn’t have a life outside.

Mix pauses, truly tempted. But then he remembers the amount of freelance work lined up for him today. “I can’t today. I really have to do something—”

“Is that for Curio?”

Mix nods and offers an apologetic half-smile, “I’ve been very busy. And I really wanna start with the icons today so I could forward them to Jane.”

“Leave that for later.”

Mix scoffs and crosses his arms over his chest. “Well, sir. I know you own the place but I do take my work seriously,"

Earth catches a hint of sarcasm. A friendly one.

“And I do, too. But it’s the weekend. Surely no one’s dying if you’re gone for… 5-6 hours.” He could see the younger man considering; he’s getting to him. And it might not even have to take much cajoling.

“Come on. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Mix purses his lips and fiddles with the bottle cap. “That’s usually what main characters say before a really big tragedy. You just jinxed us, Pirapat.”

Pirapat. Earth likes the sound of Mix calling him by his full name. Like it sounded better in his mouth somehow.

“Well, I’m not leaving until you exit that door with me.”

“No talking you out of this?” Mix finally opens the bottle and starts drinking his coffee, feeling droplets of water vapor seeping through his fingers and onto the floor.

“Not even if you kiss me,”

Mix almost chokes on his coffee which seemed to amuse Earth even more. Laughing, the older man gets up from the chair and takes the bottle from Mix’s hand.

“I’m joking about the kiss but I’m definitely serious about this tour.” Mix scowls at him but sees Earth’s expression softening.

“Come on,”

The other’s words take Mix from his stupor and he finally agrees, damning his responsibilities for the day to take a much-needed break.

‘What’s the worst that could happen?’

 

- - -

 

Mix eventually comes out of his room in a half-sleeved white t-shirt that he tucked in cream-colored straight pants. He enters the living room, drying his hair with a small towel. He makes brief eye contact with the man on his table and smiles, shaking his head at the fact that Earth managed to get him to agree on the trip. He sees Earth appraising him, smiling playfully when he finally sees his shoes.

“Not the Oxfords today?” Mix hurls the towel to Earth who almost fell on his chair, laughing as he tries to avoid it.

It has only been a week since Mix moved in. And he hasn’t really gone anywhere yet, only flitting to and from work during the day. He keeps uttering ‘soon, I’ll explore all these soon’ every time he started his now short commute to the office. So although surprised, he’s glad that Earth decided to take him out today.

Why the other man felt compelled to do so, Mix doesn’t really know. And he can’t bring himself to ask just yet.

Less than an hour later, they’re out of his unit. Earth informed him that they’d be taking the old-school, probably more exhausting (but exciting) route—walking. And Mix is giddy with anticipation. Soon they were outside and Mix notes the towering feel of calm resting gently on his neighborhood. Even with less than 5 hours of sleep, he feels fully awake now.

It’s a good day to spend outdoors and Mix was thankful that he agreed. It might be too early to say, but he feels safe here. And for now, that’s all that matters.

The two take their time walking. Further into the street, they see a compound filled with little thrift shops and some bars still boarded up. Earth sees Mix’s eyes widen. He didn’t think it possible, but he looks fully awake now, bobbing excitedly up and down like a kid.

Earth hesitates for a second but proceeds to finally take Mix’s hand. This surprises the younger man but he lets Earth lead him away from the throng of people who have accumulated to a shop near them.

“Come. I’ll show you something,”

Earth’s strides are sure. And Mix just knows that he’s been here before. Earth looks back at him and catches his expression before offering an explanation, “I live not far from here,”

“Do you really?”

‘Near me?’

“Does that excite you?”

Mix rolls his eyes but smiles.

After a while, Earth lets go of Mix’s hand. They’re now in front of a small vintage shop. From the glass windows, Mix could see an array of thrift items inside.

They entered the place and the owner welcomes Earth with an embrace. Earth strikes up a conversation with her; a friendly, chatty lady in her late 50s to early 60s, Mix surmises. He feels the two stealing glances at him and he slowly nods at them, beaming.

Mix took his time looking at the vintage collection. The veritable items that carry years’ worth of stories in them. He sees reworked accessories, meticulously curated statement furniture like lamps, retro phones and even working typewriters. He marvels at a shelf filled with zines and leafed through some of them. Mix takes everything in and feels comforted in a way that only a place of such merging histories can offer.

After a while, he feels Earth behind him. He faces the man and sees him holding a pair of vintage glasses. Earth shrugs and motions to the owner, looking defeated but still cordial.

‘He was clearly talked into buying this’, Mix thinks and grins.

“Lemme see,”

“What?”

Mix takes the glasses from the older man and proceeds to put them on Earth himself. He takes a moment to appreciate the whole look on Earth.

“That looks good on you.”

‘You look good,’

“I look good?”

“Don’t push it, Pirapat.”

Earth chortles and proceeds to explore the place some more. It’s been months since he’s been here but the small space still held the same inviting glamor that he felt the first time he went here, all those years ago. A reworked Hermes 3000 typewriter caught Earth’s eyes and impressed as always, he moves through the shelves and tables, admiring the other items. Wordlessly, he vowed to visit the place again soon.

Hopefully, not alone. Like today.

Mix sees Earth’s eyes lingering on a typewriter in the corner but says nothing. They’re both inspecting different things but soon find each other admiring a set of vintage postcards from Europe.

Soon, Mix is leafing through the small crate that held the postcards and stops at one, “It’s The Hofburg Palace. In Vienna.”

“You’ve been there?” Earth asks, taking a closer look.

“Once. It’s beautiful up close.”

Mix starts studying the postcard when he was suddenly reminded of something. He looks at Earth and starts, “Do you know they’re still excavating a portion of The Hofburg?”

“Really?”

“They are. I remember our tour guide saying that they discovered a tunnel that runs two—even four—storeys deep under the pavilion. It wasn’t even accounted for in official blueprints released to the public. It was just lying there undetected—for centuries.”

Earth moves closer, clearly interested to know more. “How was it discovered then?”

“By pure chance. A baby’s shoe fell in a gape that they thought was just a few inches deep. But they heard it hit the ground a full 3 seconds after.”

Earth doesn’t know what to do with this intriguing information but he’s nonetheless captivated by the way Mix is telling the story. The younger man is geeking out and it’s honestly amusing to look at him talk and gesticulate at the same time. Earth smiles, imagining the story unfold as if he’s there with the other.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Mix says after a while, still holding the postcard.

“It is.”

Mix catches himself fixating again. “I’m sorry, I’m just amazed, I guess. At how something could stand like that for centuries and still surprise people with things they hide.”

Earth rolls the thought over in his mind and says nothing.

“Maybe it’s just me, but it’s like a reminder—to be open to possibilities that may lie there. To hope. Have faith. Even if you can’t see it yet.”

“You’re starting to sound like you’re talking about religion,” Earth points out. He inches away from Mix, noticing how close they’ve gotten and wanting to give him space. But the younger man didn’t seem to notice or even mind at all.

Mix mulls over Earth’s words and says after a while, “Well, it could be mine. I’m not religious, but this could be mine. My religion of hope.” Mix scoffs, knowing he’s romanticizing things again. Maybe it’s residual energy from the 15-min no bullshit tradition Earth has shared with him. Maybe, it’s the place itself, acting as a safe haven for his thoughts.

Or maybe, it’s just Earth. Steady and accepting. Making Mix do and say things he’d otherwise overthink; things that he’d pulverize into oblivion before he could say it.

“You’re getting that?” Earth says after a while, seeing Mix holding the postcard closer to his chest.

The younger man moves closer to Earth and whispers, “Yeah. I’m making an altar for my religion.” Soon, he turns on his heel ready to go, but Earth stops him.

“Stay there,” Mix furrows his eyebrows but soon sees Earth point his film camera towards him.

“To commemorate the day you found your religion.” The two share a laugh and finally proceed to the counter.

“You? Just the glasses?” Mix watches Earth appraising the typewriter again. But before he could say anything, Earth just utters, “Just this."

 

- - -

 

The pair soon finds themselves seated on an outdoor table of a small Japanese restaurant, getting ready for lunch. They spent a better half of the day just moving from shop to shop inside that small compound, with Mix buying a few vinyl records for himself and knickknacks for his parents.

Soon after, the server puts down their food, and Mix marvels at the spread. It has everything he likes and Earth, watching him, eventually utters.

“Dig in.”

The two men enjoy their food silently but Earth notices Mix looking at him in between bites as if he’s got something to say.

“I could see you looking. What is it?”

“That night,” Mix washes down his ramen with water before continuing, “You never said you lived just around the area.”

Mix mumbles, without needing to remind Earth about what night he’s talking about exactly. But Earth’s mind still traveled back to a week ago, the night after they helped Mix move in and that moment in the balcony.

Somehow, the two of them have found themselves sharing more of themselves in the comfort of small balconies. Soon, he’s drifting back to the moment Mix leaned in and eventually settled on the crook of his shoulder as the turntable crooned them into submission—as both of them yielded to that brief moment of sentimentality.

Earth breaks his thought and tilts his head slightly, “I wanted to surprise you,” he leans in and looks at Mix from across their table. “But who knew I’d be surprised instead.”

“Pirapat!” Mix glares at Earth and tries to kick him under the table.

The two resume eating and soon enough, they’ve wiped out their table. Full but not yet ready to leave, Earth orders the two of them beers and sat in comfortable silence. The two watches as the other bars—which were boarded up when they came in a few hours ago—start opening. Soon, Earth was telling Mix about what bars served which food the best, even waving at some people who’ve noticed him.

“But of course, I’d recommend The Curio if you’re looking for something better,” Earth sits back and crosses his arms over his chest, a grin playing on his lips.

Mix mirrors him, and asks, although feeling like he knows exactly what the other’s about to say, “And that is?”

“Me, of course.”

Mix brings his beer to his lips and retorts, “Really? I mean, I could name a few bars with far better servers…”

Earth pretends to take an arrow to his heart and collapses into his chair, earning a peal of laughter from Mix.

Mix looks on into the street and sees people slowly crowding the area. But somehow, the whole place seems to wait on people. Everyone is like little ants minding their own businesses, the city unaware & unperturbed by its forays.

And Mix watches with the gaze of an onlooker wanting to belong to this place and its people; hoping he already does.

“I love it.”

“Hmmm?”

“This place. Would it be stupid to say that I honestly already feel at home here?”

“Not at all. That’s how I felt when we moved in. It’s why we chose this place.”

“We?”

‘Us. Me and—’

Earth drops his gaze and takes his drink. He gulps down his beer and avoids the other man’s eyes.

“Jennie and Podd. Us three.”

Mix notices a slight change in Earth’s expression, the mood is suddenly heavy and overcast, as if they’ve somehow entered a territory closed off to people. He feels like there’s more to it than Earth was letting on. But Mix drops the thought, not wanting to pry.

 

- - -

 

Earth said 6 hours, but here they stand at the foot of Mix’s building almost 11 hours later.

“Hey, if Jane asks, tell her the ‘boss’ demanded you go out.”

“Calling you boss was not part of the deal.”

“I’d settle for the ‘best looking server’ then.”

“Not even,”

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear you.”

Earth and Mix looked on into the night and found that, surprisingly, his building and its periphery settle in too early than most. When they left the compound, it was just starting to attract people looking to drink and socialize. Even its nightlife still looked subdued compared to ones they’ve experienced in busier districts. Still inviting and unimposing.

Occasionally, cars would dart by, never taking long enough for the two to inspect them. After a while, Mix gets ready to enter his building.

“I enjoyed today," The younger man starts, "Thanks for another escape.”

“Is that gonna be our thing now? Escapes?”

Earth regards Mix’s eyes and wraps his head around what he said: their thing. They have a thing now. But while “escape” rings like a good promise, it also looms like a warning.

Earth buries the thought deep and decides not to say anything. The last thing he needed was fuel to something he doesn’t want to name just yet. Or even entertain.

Mix says his goodbye and Earth watches him retreat back to the building. He doesn’t leave yet and soon sees the younger man turn on his heels to face him again.

“There’s a roof terrace in the building,”

“Huh?” The older man breaks out of his thoughts and asks.

Mix looks at Earth hesitatingly but takes a sharp intake of breath before continuing, “Will the 'best looking server’ in town agree to a few drinks?”

Earth breaks into a delighted grin but slowly drops it. He minds Mix standing in front of the huge doors of the building. He walks a few steps but stops by the door.

Hesitating again. Like he did that morning after their first encounter.

But this time, after an extended prologue, Earth finally goes in.

For another escape.

After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Chapter Text

Mix didn’t want to do this again but right now, he doesn’t care.

He didn’t want to go through the trouble of finding men on the app again. Didn’t like agreeing to meet with the first man who showed interest. Detested the fact that he’s at the bar, making small talk with the said man who he isn’t even the least bit interested in and who’s clearly just here for one thing.

But what Mix didn’t like more than this—a stranger’s hand on his thigh, the loud and deafening music on the speakers, feigning interest—is seeing Nammon walking hand in hand with another man that morning.

Irrational. It made him irrational. That image of Nammon holding another man’s hand, happy, sure, and carefree—finally looking free—just teased the bitterness he always knew was there but has always been afraid to admit to himself.

So now, he doesn’t care.

Not about the stranger’s hand on his thigh, creeping dangerously close to his manhood. Not about the rippling discomfort he feels, like there’s bile rising on his throat. Not about how this man is leaning closer and closer still and how Mix didn’t really want him to.

And not even about the fact that they’re at The Curio, seated on the bar where Earth was just serving them drinks a few minutes ago.

“Excuse me,” Mix begins. He needs to get out. At least, step out for a while. All sorts of conflicting emotions that he thought he has shelved and sealed are hitting him squarely now. And he wants an out before he explodes.

“Where are you going?” The man, whose name is Luke, asks.

“Out for a smoke.” Mix avoids Luke’s eyes and stands up to leave.

“I’ll go with—”

“No.” He cuts Luke sharply and adds, “I’ll be back.”

Earth watches Mix exit The Curio and retreat to the back alley. He wondered if it’d be okay to follow him, but the man Mix was with motions for Earth before he gets to decide.

“Hey,” the man taps on the bar counter, looking very annoyed, “Get me two more glasses.”

Earth didn’t want to intrude but he couldn’t help but observe the pair from the moment they entered. And he could feel Mix wasn’t into this date—if this is even one.

It’s in the way he wasn’t looking at the other man; Mix looking as if he’s someplace else. Eyes vacant, with a wounding tight-lipped smile reflecting something else entirely.

And Earth doesn’t like the look of the man he came in with.

Not one bit. He’s seen enough of these men crawling their bar to know who passes the vibe check and who doesn’t. Knows exactly who the bad seeds are and he is certain, almost too certain, that this one is.

As if to confirm his suspicions, Earth sees bad seed taking something from his breast pocket. He observes him through his peripheral vision, careful not to be noticed. Bad seed takes what looks to be a pill from a clear plastic and briefly scans his surroundings, before dropping it in one of the glasses Earth gave him just a few seconds ago.

Earth is sure this is meant for Mix and he feels his rage flicker—hot and heavy.

But before he could do anything or step in, Mix circles back to the counter. Bad seed swivels in his chair and turns to Mix. Within seconds, he has Mix by the waist and in what looks to be a tight, uncomfortable grip.

“I ordered you another drink.”

Mix doesn’t say anything but slightly angles his body and frees himself from the man’s hold. He swivels in his chair and faces the counter again and when he did, catches Earth’s eyes. Mix goes on to pretend he didn’t see how worried the other looked and immediately focused on his glass.

It was bad enough that he has to do it again, rely on the shaky promise of casual sex to forget about his problem, but Luke insisting on meeting him here, where Earth is, somehow made it worse.

Mix sits in silence, clinks Luke’s glass, and downs his drink.

The quick break did little to appease his rage but Mix feels all the drinks they had for the past hour getting to him.

Still, the nagging discomfort is starting to sober him. He’s beginning to see how wrong this was for him; trying to cope like this. Shoving all his pain and unresolved issues and seeking a modicum of comfort in the arms of strangers who doesn’t even make him feel safe. Losing himself over and over again just because he refuses to acknowledge his wounds.

“Luke,” Mix faces Luke and removes the arm the other has on his thigh.

“I’m sorry for doing this but I don’t actually feel good tonight.” He feels vulnerable and the need to leave is kicking into high gear. He has to go. Not home, exactly.

But he has to be anywhere but here. And quick.

“Seriously?” Luke didn’t even try to mask his irritation but recovers soon enough to lean into Mix, possibly in an attempt to still tip the events in his favor. Luke whispers in Mix’s ear, “We can leave instead. Let’s go somewhere. Just us two.”

Mix elbows him firmly, trying to wedge a space between them. But Luke retaliates by digging his fingers on Mix’s shoulder, almost threateningly.

“I can make you feel good.”

Mix winces from the pain and contemplates punching Luke if he doesn’t stop. But the other finally loosens his grip and Mix could see him shaking his head, looking disoriented.

Not long after, the man collapses on Mix’s chest.

“Luke?” Mix shakes him but sees Earth and Bright walking towards them. Even in the dim light, he could make out Earth’s expression and how terrifying he looks. Jaw clenching. Closed fists. Strides sure and steady, as if ready to fight.

Bright gives a confused-looking Mix a nod and takes Luke from him. “Where is he taking him?” Mix inquires, shifting his focus to Earth.

“In our office,” Earth announces. The two watch as people on the bar part to make way for Bright, who was struggling to carry Luke. Soon enough, Mix sees Podd coming to aid the part-timer.

“But why’d he pass out is he ok—”

“I’ll explain later. But first,” Earth takes Mix’s face in his hands and peers at him, “How are you feeling?”

Mix is speechless. He swivels in his chair and looks at their glasses. He notices the remaining alcohol on Luke’s glass and notes that it looks different. Almost cloudy. Even in a state of shock, it didn’t take long enough for Mix to put two and two together.

“Did he try to—” Mix trails off, his voice strained. He roughly takes a clump of his hair in his hands. Realization hits him and he feels his anger stoked once more.

While he didn’t expect his encounter with Luke to be the same with Earth, he never anticipated for it to be this bad either. Stunned to say or do anything, Mix sits there wondering if he deserves it; if this was karmic payback for his recklessness.

Earth softly takes Mix’s hands away from his head and proceeds to cradle the younger man’s face. He peers into his eyes, as if trying to make sure Mix is aware of his surroundings. That he’s there with him.

His hands are calloused but nonetheless soft and gentle. Earth rubs Mix’s cheek with his thumb and the latter feels his rage slowly dissipating.

“Do you want to leave?”

Mix nods and the two make their way out.

 

- - -

 

When Khaotung said the distance from The Curio to his apartment was a mere 20-min walk, Mix believed him. But walking his streets tonight, each step heavy with regret, it feels longer. The ground unsteady and his thoughts, even more so.

Earth was decidedly quieter than usual. The only sound that accompanied them is the sound of occasional cars passing by. Earth offered to drive him home, but Mix insisted on walking.

“I don’t really want to be alone yet.”

And so, they walk; delaying the hours, hoping for light beyond the streets, light bright enough to wash away the gloom eating away at him.

The comforting figure beside him did so much to diminish some of the intrusive thoughts from Mix’s mind, but he’s still buzzed. And right now, he refuses to acknowledge what would happen later. When he’s all alone in his room, with nothing but his thoughts swimming in his head.

“Well that was stupid, huh?”

Earth doesn’t say anything but walks closer to Mix. He notes a strain in the other’s voice, how Mix coughed up that sentence possibly hoping it comes out in a way that would mask his sorrow.

It didn’t.

Earth catches on but does nothing.

Mix abruptly stops and takes his cigarette case from his pocket. The irony didn’t escape him, really. How he’s trying to evade the pain with another form of destructive escape that he made himself believe would make it hurt a little less.

But now his clumsy hands fail him as well, and he drops the box on the sidewalk and everything spills out. Nothing seems to be working for him tonight; not the cheap tricks he has depended on for so long.

In frustration, Mix threw the cigarette case and slumped on the curbside. Hands on his head, hitched breathing, the weight of everything muddying his mind even further.

Earth silently picks up the cigarettes from the ground and throws every single one on a trash bin nearby. Mix observes him. He sees the older man take the silver cigarette case before finally sitting next to him.

“I’m here if you want to talk about it.”

It’s been so long since Mix has acknowledged his feelings that he honestly doesn’t know where to begin. But he wants to let it out. And he could see Earth ready for whatever’s coming.

“15 minutes?” Earth smiles at him. Encouraging and comforting. Mix feels his defenses disintegrating.

And so he finally starts to remember. No pauses this time. No breaks. No bodies squirming, moaning under or above him. He’s remembering on his own and it’s painful and exhausting and just agonizing.

Earth places the cigarette case on Mix’s hand and the latter feels it cold against his skin. The other man’s hand lingered on Mix’s. Not taking long enough to be treated as something else, but with enough intimacy to calm Mix’s nerves.

He takes a deep breath and invites Earth to a trip down memory lane.

 

- - -

 

Everything was dark with Mon.

He carried with him an intensity Mix had never seen in other people. And for an impressionable teenager, he thought that was everything he needed for a love that persists against all odds. An intensity that charges every fiber in his body.

He didn’t want anybody else. He wanted Nammon and he believed he’s all the other ever wanted as well. At least, in the beginning. When everything was hot and fiery and intoxicating—as young loves often are.

Shortly after making their relationship official, Mix moved into Nammon’s apartment. He thought everything would go according to this plan he had in mind. And it didn’t matter if Mon insisted they keep quiet about their relationship.

That was okay. He was and is in no position to force someone to come out. But just like anyone in love, Mix hoped. He made himself believe Nammon would eventually be ready for him. For them.

But the truth, which he realized a little too late, is that Mon never had any intentions of ever introducing Mix to anyone outside of their circle. But Mix couldn’t deny that the signals were already there, early on, and that he chose to ignore them.

It was there, however, in the way Nammon had to sneak in quick kisses in empty corridors. In the way he fronted as a straight man, never flirting with girls but also never outrightly dismissing their advances, even in front of Mix.

But finally, Mix felt it in the way Nammon talked about a future without him—without them—in it, even in quiet mornings after they’ve made love with each other. When they lay there, stranded, breathless and still charged with emotions and feelings only visible to them like a haze after sex. When Nammon turned away from him immediately after coming, as if disgusted. Spiteful that he allowed his body to feel such gratification with Mix—a man just like him.

So Mix often wondered, in those quiet cavities in time, when he embraced Nammon from behind, his head on the curve of his lover’s back and as he kept his tears in. He wondered how it would feel if they’re loud about their love.

That… gratifying, aching love.

He thought about how beautiful it would be. To hold Nammon’s hand in public. To kiss him out in the open, without feeling like they’ve done the world a great injustice just because they exist and decided to love the way they love.

Outside of that safe space, Nammon was a mimic. He did what he could to blend in. Tried to manifest a level of strength sealed with pretenses so he could go on loving Mix in the dark.

But the years didn’t work in Mix’s favor. By the second, Mix felt Nammon finally drifting. Disengaging. Mon started inviting men to their apartment whenever Mix was not around, under the guise of schoolwork.

There was a question begging to be asked during those times, but Mix couldn’t bring himself to ask them.

So, he kept it all in.

Because he was scared. Of all these silent deaths mounting. Of disturbing the waters. Of losing the one man he has truly loved then. Losing his home.

But even in the midst of all these little heartbreaks, he tried to be the other’s rock. He was Nammon’s rock when the latter came home drunk one night, telling Mix he doesn’t want to be gay and that he loathed himself because he is. His rock when Nammon sought and held on to every part of Mix as he mumbled apologies in between his sobs. A yielding yet steady rock as Nammon took his clothes off, clawed at his body, bit his skin with a mixture of lust and hostility that Mix knew it would bruise in the morning.

Mix allowed him to do anything the other wanted on his body, yet the unsaid words rang true and loud in his ears.

‘He doesn’t want me.’ ‘He doesn’t want this.' ‘He doesn’t want us.’

But everything about Nammon, even when he’s hurting Mix, was begging to be loved—to be loved fast and deep and honest. Even if he’s not. Even if he cannot do the same for Mix.

And when the light touched his bruises the morning after, as he was sure it would, Nammon cried again. He apologized for not loving Mix the way he deserved to be loved. He apologized for his shortcomings. For hurting him. But not once did he ever make any promises to be better.

And Mix should’ve left then. But he didn’t.

Instead, he held on for the sake of the good times. Because while it was dark, it wasn’t always so bad with him. It was good that first day Nammon kissed him inside the bookstore, using Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” to hide their faces from other people. It was beautiful, the first day they moved in on Mon’s apartment, which he called his own for two years.

It would’ve been so easy to forget about him if not for the good times.

But when Mon started inviting men over even when Mix was home, he thought it was hell. Witnessing the man you love seek and find comfort in other men, brazenly acting as if Mix isn’t needed or wanted anymore.

So one day, as was to be the case eventually, Mix just exploded.

And Nammon looked at him like he was a stranger. At that moment, Mix probably was. Mon considered Mix’s words for a few seconds to see if there’s any weight in them and when he figured that there was, he did one of the last things Mix thought he’d ever do.

He laughed.

And he took his time laughing. At him. In that light, Nammon looked maniacal. There was a dissonance between what Mix was hearing and what he was seeing and it scared him. Watching Nammon laugh at his pain.

“Fine. You don’t want this anymore? Then let’s end this. But don’t knock on my door and beg me to take you in again.”

Mix’s heart sank as Nammon stormed off out of their apartment. It took him every bit of his energy to not go after him and kneel, beg, and cry. To not tell Nammon that it was a mistake and that he was willing to put everything behind him again. Just like everything else from before.

He always thought movies exaggerated a breakup scene until he found himself in a similar situation that evening. He already downed about 6 bottles of cheap vodka, smoked more than half of his new pack of cigarettes and cried about a liter of tears.

When Nammon arrived at his apartment, Mix felt the other’s eyes boring into his figure in the balcony—their balcony. He heard the other man sighed deeply, sounding so exasperated, before finally sensing his presence on the balcony with him.

“We started so many things here, remember?”

‘Please do, please remember.’

It was Mix’s last plea but Nammon wouldn’t take it.

“Please,” Nammon said, their break-up imminent in his voice. Mix refused to look away even when it was killing him.

“Don’t do this. Please. Stop doing this to yourself already.”

Shortly after, Mix moved out and he has never seen Nammon again.

Chapter Text

“I didn’t want to hate him,”

Earth waited for Mix to finish his story.

“I really thought I didn’t. Until this morning.” An agonizing pause follows Mix’s last line and Earth took it as his cue to ask.

“What happened?”

“I saw him. He’s happy now. He’s… proud.” Earth hears Mix take a sharp intake of breath before continuing, “He’s no longer hiding.” He says the word ‘hiding' like it’s filled with venom that he wanted to eject from his system.

Mix remembered their moments with piercing clarity, events that are now adulterated by his own biases. He knows that each time he remembers, when he does allow himself to make that vicious trip down memory lane, he foregoes a certain chunk of the whole experience and breaks it down to fit his narrative.

A narrative that leaves him unflawed, the victim, the ‘true survivor’ from the wreckage that was him and Nammon.

But if there’s anything to be said about what he feels tonight—the spite and anger—it’s this: he’s not as flawless as he wanted himself to be. He’s spiteful, selfish, mad—so fucking mad—and it shows.

“And I know it sounds awful, but I hate it.” He’s chuckling but Earth could sense his infuriation.

“He looks lighter. So sure and so free to love. I couldn’t force him to come out then; I didn’t want to. And it’s not right. It wasn’t my place to decide that for him,” Mix rolls over the thoughts overlapping in his mind before continuing, “But it just… feels unfair. Insulting. Why now? Why couldn’t he do it when we were together?”

The questions that soon followed are questions he can’t answer. Questions he evaded for the longest time.

“What’s with me? What wasn’t?”

He feels foolish, saying those words out loud. But he knew this is part of the healing process—the ugly, uncomfortable part. The part where he embraces his hurts and sees them for what they are. Long overdue, but here now.

“I’m pretty sure the 15 minutes is over,” Mix smiles and lifts his chin. “Floor is yours. Go ahead. Judge me now.”

He swiftly wipes a tear that managed to fall from the corner of his eye as he waits for Earth with bated breath.

A few minutes passed but Earth hasn’t said a word and Mix begins to wonder if he has overshared again and made the other uncomfortable. Earth finally breaks the silence just as Mix contemplates telling him that he’d just go home.

“It wasn’t you, you know.” Earth begins, “He just wasn’t ready then. It was his journey to make and nobody could’ve done it for him.”

Earth knew that he isn’t the best man for moments like this; hell, he isn’t the best talker. In their friend group, there’s the soft-spoken Podd for that. And even the brutally honest and bold Jennie could possibly be more helpful.

But Earth? Earth likes to keep quiet about these things. It sounds petty, but he thinks he does his best talking only when he flirts—when he’s trying to get someone to sleep with him. There, he recklessly lets out sweet nothings. Empty words that don’t really linger.

Just there, staying safe and innocuous at that moment. Never to be wielded against him later on.

But tonight, he wants to try and see if his words could ease the other’s burden, if only a little.

So Earth continues talking, words slow but deliberate, “That journey to self-acceptance? That was all on him.”

Earth worded everything in a way that doesn’t feel like he’s judging Mix for whatever he feels that it almost feels lenient. Forgiving.

“But he didn’t have to put you through that hell, Mix.”

Mix breathes out. He was scared of this happening; of people feeling sorry for him. Again.

“I’m not fishing for sympathy,”

Earth continues, “I know. But all I’m saying is this: what you’re feeling right now? It’s valid. Your pain is valid. While his journey was difficult for him, it doesn’t invalidate the shit that he put you through. And from the looks of it, he put you through so much.”

The familiarity of Mix’s situation is dizzying to Earth, but he continues. “He didn’t have to hurt you the way he did, is all I’m saying. But he did. And he’s an ass for that. And you’re allowed to be mad about that, Mix.”

Mix feels the weight of Earth’s words. It should have been comforting to hear that, someone validating his feelings. But honestly, he’s just… exhausted.

He was tired of the constant show of strength, his innate resolve to be the “bigger person”. For once, he wanted to feel like he belonged to his feelings and that they belonged to him as well. He did not want to shrink them anymore or look at them as if they’re unforgivingly petty, invalid, and disgusting to be called his own.

“You can make your peace with what happened but still get hurt by it sometimes. And that’s… normal. And okay. It’s human to feel that way.”

Earth takes the cigarette case from Mix’s hand and lightly taps on Mix’s hand with two of his fingers.

Mix could see that Earth isn’t putting that much thought into what he’s doing but oddly enough, it’s helping him calm down.

Earth continues after a while. “It’s possible to remember all that and survive it every day. All the guilt, the pain, what you lost.”

Earth feels like he’s oversharing, overstepping boundaries he shouldn’t cross. But also, there is a staggering need to just let it all out.

“It’s time to put your religion into action. Hope again. For something better. Even if you can’t see it yet.”

Earth now wonders who these words are meant more for—Mix or himself. He folds his legs and moves them closer to his body, almost like he’s cradling himself. Mix observes him with keen eyes. His words were a lot to process but the younger man tries his hardest to imprint them in his memory.

Earth tears his eyes away from the concrete in front of him, away from his own intrusive thoughts. He looks at Mix again and sees a small smile playing on the other’s lips. One that reaches his eyes this time.

He still looked beat, but also calmer now. And Earth starts breathing easy as well.

“Who knew it’d be so easy to talk to you about these things?”

Earth knits his eyebrows and touches Mix’s shoulder with his own. “Should I be offended?”

“No, I mean. I just didn’t expect it. That it’d be you of all people…” Mix feels grateful for whatever cosmic intervention has allowed for their connection to happen and flourish. He wonders how long until he stops being so sentimental about surprising connections such as this.

‘Maybe, not soon.’ He looks at Earth and smiles. ‘Hopefully, never.’

Earth couldn’t help but return the smile but soon sees a deep grimace appear on Mix’s face. “By the way, how’d you know Luke spiked my drink?”

“I saw him,” Earth tells him. “And I was about to do something, but then you came back looking so upset. So I just did the first thing that came to mind—I swapped your drinks.”

Mix’s grimace morphed into a look of worry, “Would you be okay? The Curio?”

Earth feels himself smiling. ‘How could this man possibly be worried about us when he should’ve been more concerned about himself?’

“We’ve dealt with worse. And don’t worry, pretty sure Podd’s already dealing with him. You don’t have to be scared anymore.”

“I’m not scared,” Mix narrows his eyes on the other man, concern evident in his features, “What if he presses charges against you?”

Earth barks a laugh, looking unbothered. “I wanna see him try.” Mix looks unconvinced, still looking very worried so Earth elbows him softly, “Don’t worry about me.”

Earth sees Mix pursing his lips. He softly taps on Mix’s hand, the second time he’s done it tonight. “I’ll be okay.”

Mix looks at Earth’s fingers on his hand, tapping lightly again. Comforting.

“Come on. I’ll walk you home.”

Mix takes a sharp intake of breath. He feels better now than he did earlier but knows himself well enough to know that he’d probably break down the minute he’s left alone with his thoughts.

And he doesn’t want to bring that energy back into his place. He wants his new sanctuary to be that; a place for him to heal. Start over. Breathe. He doesn’t want to soil it with memories he’d have difficulty getting away from again.

So, Mix shakes his head.

“Well, is there anywhere you want to go?”

“Why, the cold concrete isn’t comfortable for you anymore?” Mix says teasingly.

“I’m honestly starting to lose feelings on my butt, Mix.”

Mix couldn’t help but laugh then. He immediately stands up and offers Earth a hand.

“Come on. Let’s get ice cream.”

Earth looks at Mix’s hand quizzically and knots his eyebrows. Ice cream is the last thing on his mind, especially when it’s this cold.

“Ice cream?”

“Best hangover cure. For me, at least. And my head’s still spinning.”

Earth takes Mix’s hand and for a moment, wonders what would happen if he doesn’t let go.

 

- - -

 

“What’s one secret you can’t tell your parents?”

The two find themselves sitting on a table outside a 7/11. It’s been so long since Earth’s been inside a convenience store like this and it honestly feels nice.

Earth regards Mix, who was busy eating his ice cream. He looks like a little kid and Earth couldn’t believe that this was the same man who bared his pain to him just moments ago.

You wouldn’t think it if you look at him now. Here. But Earth now knows a bit of what he’s hiding behind the facade. And knowing made the difference.

“I think there are an awful lot of secrets we keep from our parents, Mix.”

“Yeah, I mean... the biggest. Let’s go with the biggest, heart-wrenching thing that’d break them if they know. Come on.”

“What’s this? Are you ice cream drunk right now?”

‘Not really,’ but Mix needs something to fill the void. Something to chew on. And now’s a good time as any to start uncovering the enigma that is Earth Pirapat.

Of course, he doesn’t tell him this. But Mix pushes, “Please? Come on.”

“You go first.”

“I asked you first.”

“I need coaching. And it’s your idea.”

Mix rolls his eyes. Earth isn’t budging. They wouldn’t go anywhere with this if he doesn’t begin.

“Fine. Okay.” Mix takes a few moments to collect his thoughts. He already knows what he’d say but needed to brace himself somehow.

“They don’t know that I smoke.”

Earth raises an eyebrow, “Seriously? Would it be a big deal of they knew?”

Mix takes a moment and dives into his story, “Well, my papa’s dad died because of lung cancer. Second-hand smoking. My papa he… he used to be a heavy smoker. But he loved his father very much. They were close, because he’s okay with papa being gay. Which was uncommon, especially during their time. That’s why it kills him knowing he might’ve been one of the reasons why my grandfather—who never smoked a stick in all his life—got sick and eventually died.”

“That can’t be entirely true though,” Earth adds.

“Yeah, we tell him that. Daddy insists. It was pretty common for people before to smoke inside their offices anyway and my grandfather’s basically holed up in one of those, working in advertising and all.”

“But it’s what’s keeping papa up nights. Even to this day.”

Mix recalls a particular memory. Him at 12, hearing sobs from his parents’ room, watching his dad calm his papa through a crack on their door. When he asked the next day, his dad was kind enough to explain why.

‘But don’t ask him anymore, okay, Mix? It hurts papa to remember.'

“Guilt’s a very strong force to defeat.”

Silence. Earth mulls Mix’s words over.

‘Guilt’s a very strong force to defeat.’ He knows. Earth knows that it is.

Mix plays with the ice cream stick in his hand, jabbing it on the wrapper at the table. Recalling the story took him places and for a while, he forgot why they’re here in the first place.

“But like I said, it’s a respite. I need it for me.”

Earth scoffs, “Need? No, you’re trying to justify it.”

“Yeah, I am. I’m aware of that. And I’m not a saint. It’s selfish. That’s why they call it a bad habit, I guess.”

Mix finishes his story and looks at the older man.

“You? Something you can’t tell your parents?”

Earth breathes out. No running away this time. “Just my mom. I’m with just my mom and Sara.”

“Okay, just your mom then. What is it?”

Earth wonders how best to put it. He feels himself panic and hopes Mix doesn’t notice. But amidst the rising agitation, Earth realizes that he doesn’t want to hide from Mix. So, he begins.

“I killed someone,”

The younger man stops fiddling with the stick in his hand. “You don’t mean that literally, don’t you?”

Earth notices the fear in Mix’s voice. A smile plays on the corners of Earth’s lips and he regards the younger man playfully. “If I do, would you leave?”

“Absolutely. As much as I like hanging out with you, I think I’d like it better if you weren’t a criminal.”

Earth laughs. The panic dissipates and he wonders why he was even worried in the first place. This is Mix. He has proven himself a dependable friend; Earth could tell him things.

But then Earth realizes that’s exactly why he’s worried; because this is Mix.

“I’m joking,”

The air feels heavy again. Mix strains his ears and begins to wonder if Earth would tell him anything. Ever since he has met him, Mix’s stories almost always end up being the center of their conversations. And while he didn’t want to push the older man, he feels this urge to get to know him better. But he wonders, every time, how to do it without scaring him off. Or without being too forward and bold to push him into a shell.

But after a few beats, he hears Earth sighing.

“I told someone I didn’t love them. After everything he’s been through for me. I told him I never did and that… I didn’t care about what happens to him. I left him knowing how much he loved me.”

Silence again. There has to be a better way to end this, so Earth circles back to the word he used a while ago. “I killed the light in him. And it would break my mom’s heart to know that she raised an asshole.”

Mix thinks that Earth’s words sounded like a warning and he wonders if it is. If it’s meant to ward him off. Mix pushes the thought aside and says instead, “I thought you never do relationships.”

'Not after him, no.'

Earth shrugs. “It doesn’t feel right.”

“Well... why’d you do it then? What happened?”

Earth shakes his head. Probably next time. But right now, he doesn’t want to remember. They’ve already dealt with too much tonight and he, unlike Mix, is still capable of restraint. At least, for now.

“I’m not ice cream drunk enough for that.” He pushes all his skeletons back into the closet and shuts the door.

Mix knots his eyebrows and pouts. But he could very well use the 15-min no BS on him and Earth knows that he’d have to honor it. It sounds stupid, but he does honor their tradition. He could see the younger man clearly considering it and Earth starts getting worried.

But in the end, Mix says nothing.

He gets him. And Earth thanks Mix wordlessly.

Mix settles more comfortably on his chair and feels the cold seat seeping on his back. Stars. He could see some dotting the sky. It feels nice to see stars in this neighborhood. Earth follows Mix’s gaze and revels at the stars. He finds it difficult to recall the last time he did this; look at stars. With not a care in the world.

“Guilt’s a very strong force to defeat, am I right?”

Earth breathes deep and agrees silently with the younger man’s words.

Chapter Text


"So?"

"So what?"

"Were you ever planning on telling us?"

"Tell you what, exactly?"

"About you and him?"

Khaotung looks up from his camera and nonchalantly says, "We're having fun."

'Fun.' Mix scoffs at his best friend and waits for the other to elaborate. Khaotung scoots closer to Mix and whispers, "I like him, okay? And I really think he likes me, too."

"Did he tell you?"

"I mean, does he really have to?"

'Cocky.' Mix thinks to himself. But even he can't deny the truth in that. Podd doesn't really strike Mix as someone who'd deny anything if he comes right up to him now and ask. He's transparent—achingly transparent, really—about his feelings for Khaotung. Mix finds it adorable.

Mix looks at Podd, who was looking at him and his best friend. He raised his eyebrow at the older man before giving him a knowing smile. Khaotung doesn't really tell them anything lately, but he could wager a guess about what's going on between the two, just basing it off of their recent closeness.

However, he couldn't help for his overprotectiveness—which the gang always teases him for—to kick in. But before Mix could say anything, Khaotung lightly hits his arm and says, "Trust me on this, sir. And no, we haven't slept together."

"...yet." Khaotung adds with a wink.

Mix tousles Khaotung's hair and shakes his head.

The three are the first ones inside a rented studio that Khaotung booked for the day. They were scheduled to take portraits for The Curio's website and social media assets and they're expecting everyone to arrive any minute now. In the meantime, Mix and Podd help Khaotung set up his equipment. Khaotung opens the speakers, connects his laptop, and puts on a playlist he made. He does this to help set the mood and help his subjects feel more comfortable in front of the camera.

A few more minutes passed before Jennie arrives with a beautiful woman in tow, which Mix guesses is Namtan, her fiancée. Podd introduces Mix and Khaotung to the couple and Namtan immediately goes in to hug the two.

"God, you boys are so cute! Can I adopt you both?" Everyone chuckles and the three start getting ready. A few minutes later, Bright arrives as well with coffee for everyone.

"So we're now just waiting for Earth. Did he say anything about being late?" Jennie asks and scans the room, waiting for an answer. Podd takes his phone out in a bid to call his best friend when Jennie suddenly quips.

"Ah. Speak of the devil."

"I'm here. Sorry,"

Mix did his best not to stare but it was impossible not to when Earth arrived looking sharp in a fitted black open collar long sleeves shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He has on a brown, crisp suit pants and his hair styled simply parted on one side. Mix could see the man blinking rapidly and that's when he notices that Earth doesn't have his glasses on.

'Contact lenses. He's wearing contact lenses today. Like he did then.'

Mix could also make out a single chain necklace tucked neatly inside his shirt, resting gently on his neck, an accessory that completed his look.

"Close your mouth before they notice you drooling,"

Mix side-eyes Khaotung and immediately clears his throat before turning his back. He feels Earth come up behind him and oddly feels his breath hitching when the other spoke.

"Hey,"

"Yo." Mix quickly says.

'Yo? Who says 'yo' these days? Jesus.'

"Yo?" Earth softly chuckles and adds, "Good morning." Mix murmurs a response and hands the older man a coffee.

Earth softly bumps his chest onto Mix's back and goes on to get ready for the shoot. Mix tries to calm himself down but he knows exactly why he's bothered; Earth was wearing that necklace the night they first met. The night they—

"...fooled around." Mix freezes and spins in Khaotung's direction, wide-eyed.

"He fooled around with the settings of my 35mm. Took me a while before I got it back to my original settings. I can be quite finicky with these things."

Mix sees Namtan and Khaotung talking about the cameras next to him. He sighs and finishes off with the preparations.

With everyone dressed and ready, Khaotung starts communicating his pegs for the shoot with the subjects. Mix, who was there as a support more than anything, takes out his laptop and starts to work as well.

First up was Bright. Bright carries the guitar he uses to play during music nights at the bar. Mix watches the part-timer timidly take the platform. With the way he is fidgeting and tugging at his shirt, it's clear that the boy isn't really used to being photographed.

To ease his nerves, Khaotung starts asking him random questions about his music journey. Bright starts warming up and before long, he's shedding off his initial stiffness and posing naturally for the camera.

This is what models and his subjects love about Khaotung—his way of connecting with them. Watching him work is like watching magic happen. He knows exactly what topic would naturally get them talking and uses that as a jump-off point to break down their walls. He especially loves taking unchoreographed profiles such as these as he believes it better to let the subjects dictate the shoot, so they could better connect to their photographs after.

Not long after, the door to the studio opens to Jane and White who arrive with snacks for everyone. Mix goes on to welcome the couple and he watches White almost trip over himself, distracted.

"Man, he looks so good. Such fine... specimen."

Jane and Mix follow White's gaze and see him appraising Earth, who is busy talking on his phone. Mix could make out deep creases on Earth's forehead and wonders what the call was about. He makes a mental note to check up on him after.

"Babe, should I be concerned?" Jane teases White and cups both her hands to his face, trying to get her boyfriend's attention.

White plays along, "You should. Baby, I'd tap that—"

Jane lightly punches her boyfriend's arm and White laughs it off. The three proceed to the table and watch the shoot unfold.

After Bright, Namtan, and Podd, the group decided to take a short break for lunch. Everyone's in a small cafe just below the photo studio, chattering. Mix looks on at their group with a smile, happy that everyone seemed to get along really well with each other.

Earth catches Mix staring from across the table, looking pensive. He mouths 'what?' and sees the younger man mustering up a smile. He mouths back 'are you okay?'

Earth figures Mix noticed him spacing out earlier. He smiles and decides he'd tell him about the call from Sara after the shoot.

After lunch, Earth gets ready. Everyone watches Earth move to the front, looking confident. The man knows what to do in front of the camera and required little to no coaching from Khaotung. Plus FKJ and Masego smoothly playing in the background? Perfect. 

Mix tried to focus on his task but found himself just observing Earth, mesmerized by the way he was commanding the shoot. Which he's certainly very good at.

"He did model a lot when we were in the university," Jennie, who was seated on the couch next to Mix, says after a while.

"Really?"

Jennie nods. "He didn't have to. His family's loaded. But he came up with the idea for The Curio. He's its... originator. And he was bent on building it with his own money. Money he worked hard for. That's why he took modeling jobs."

Mix suddenly feels a warm feeling spreading inside him as this admiration he has for Earth burgeon even more.

"He's a great catch, that one." Jennie makes a point to smirk while looking at Mix, as if she knows something he doesn't.

After a few beats, she adds. "Especially if he stops running."

Before Mix could ask what Jennie meant with that, Khaotung calls her to the front.

The shoot finally wraps up and Bright, Jennie, and Namtan left for The Curio. Earth excused himself immediately after he was done, said he needed to be somewhere. He looked more bothered than before, which worried Mix. A few minutes after he left, Mix received a message.

 

[ dinner with us @ curio? invite your friends over. namtan's cooking up a feast. ]

[ sure. i'd tell them. ]

[ cool. see you, mix. ]

 

With time to spare before their rented hours ran out, the group decided to take a few photos for fun as well.

Podd, who stayed to help Khaotung with his equipment, invited the group over to The Curio after. Maybe it's the cafe itself or just the "coffee shop effect" but Khaotung and Mix agree that they feel very productive there, so they agreed, hoping to get more work done and possibly move up their deadline.

"If I am dating a baker slash bar and cafe owner slash part-time barista as good-looking as Podd, I'd honestly enjoy working there, too." Jane says with a smirk while shrugging.

Khaotung blushes profusely at Jane's words. He knew what was coming. While he did manage to evade Mix's questions, Khaotung, of course, wouldn't be able to dodge Jane's.

"We're listening if you wanna tell us,"

Mix and White raise their arms in surrender, as if telling Khaotung he's on his own.

Seeing no way to avoid it any longer, Khaotung begins.

"Yes, we've been hanging out. Mostly at Curio. Dinner too, sometimes." Khaotung purses his lips, trying to hide a smile. He fails. The man of the hour looks at Podd, who was busy organizing his camera equipment for him.

His eyes never leave Podd as he continues. "He picks me up for lunch at work. Drives me to my street." The boy is beaming now. The gang notices this and smiled as well.

"Honestly, that's it. We haven't... you know. Not even kissed." Khaotung slowly shakes his head, as if coming out of a trance.

"So courtship?" White inquires.

"I dunno. No labels, I guess. It's... I don't think it's that important anyway."

Jane knots her eyebrows at this but listens in. "Why not?"

"Jane, I can't remember the last time I dated properly and I honestly just want to take things slow now."

"And you know me. I'm not the biggest fan of taking things 'slow'." Khaotung puts the word 'slow' in air quotes and laughs. Khaotung has quite the reputation in their group and he's actually the one who got Mix to try Hooked Up.

"But he... he's nice. He makes me wanna do this properly," Khaotung chuckles and avoids his friends' eyes. He wonders if he sounds stupid. He probably does. But seeing Podd smiling from across the room, organizing his—Khaotung's—things without being asked to, Khaotung doesn't really care.

"I feel good and safe with him. And nobody else actually made me feel that way before."

This, too, the gang knows perfectly. So Mix's next words, he knows he's speaking for everyone.

"We're happy for you. Whatever it is you have going on with Podd, you look happier. And I love that for you."

Khaotung hopes Podd doesn't notice this light banter between him and his friends. But he answers anyway, "I love that for me, too."

Everyone finally starts packing up and Mix decided to ride to The Curio with Podd and Khaotung. In the car where he's riding shotgun to Khaotung, Mix keeps checking his phone. This did not go unnoticed with Podd, who was seated behind.

"Don't worry, Oxfords. He'd be there. He told me he already left the clinic."

Mix blushes at Podd's words but tries to downplay the obvious teasing. He asks instead. "The clinic?"

"Yeah. He went to Sara, his sister. She's a doctor."

"Oh,"

"He didn't tell you he's seeing her?" Podd inquires.

"But does he have to?" Khaotung glances in Mix's direction to tease his best friend.

Mix rolls his eyes and says, "Shut up."

 

- - -

 

The Curio did stay close for the whole day. Mix immediately scanned the ground floor when they arrived. When he didn't see him downstairs, he figures Earth must be in their shared office on the second floor. Suddenly, he sees Jennie from the bar motioning to the back alley. Mix took this as a signal that that's where he'd find Earth and immediately goes outside to look.

As expected, he sees Earth there, leaning on a wall. Smoking. Mix remembers Earth telling him he doesn't really smoke that much, so Mix believes that the meeting with Sara was probably stressful enough. He slowly approaches Earth, who immediately offered him the stick. Mix declines.

"How are you?" He inquires, looking at the older man, concerned.

Earth takes another drag off his stick before crushing it on under his shoe. The two looked at the ash marking on the ground. "It's my sister. She called me crying during the shoot."

Mix waits for Earth to elaborate and leans on the wall himself. He recalls the last time he was here, almost two weeks ago, trying to borrow strength from these very walls, the narrow back alley that has probably seen so much already. How he realized that he can no longer run from the haunting memories of Nammon. A night that feels like ages ago now.

"Apparently, she proposed to her boyfriend last night. And I feel kinda responsible for it. Because I planted the idea on her mind when we last saw each other. Teased her about it."

"I assume her partner said no?"

"Yeah."

"How is she?"

"Devastated. During the call, she was crying. But when I got to the clinic, she's... calm. Which scared me more, honestly."

Earth recalls the conversation he had with Sara, not even an hour ago. How his sister assured him that she'd be fine, but also how he saw her eyes filled with pain. He wanted to assure her that everything would be fine, but he stopped himself. He's never really sure about these things, so he doesn't feel the need to give her false hopes. And Sara honestly just needed a comforting figure to be there, so Earth just stayed and listened.

"Thing is Mike, her boyfriend, he's struggling to put himself through architectural school. He's still in school because he had to work early for his family. He was the sole breadwinner; mom and dad died when they were young and he's the eldest of five children. And I guess last night's proposal kind of scared him,"

Earth knew Mike loves his sister, and while he's pissed, he does understand where the man was coming from.

"He apparently told her he still wants to finish school and establish himself before settling down. Sara did assure him that she could wait. He said he didn't want to make her wait. But they couldn't break it off completely, so he asked for a time off."

Earth knew it wasn't his issue, but the push and pull was frustrating him. Although he does acknowledge that unlike him, who's really pessimistic about love and all that jazz, Sara and Mike were built differently. And he feels hopeful for them; he has to be, for his sister's sake.

"They've been together for eight years now."

"Wow. Eight years."

"Right? Sara, she's... the committed type. So unlike me." Earth scoffs.

Earth knew that that's not the only thing that's been bothering him though. Sara and Mike's problem made him realize that he's probably on the road to doing something similar; leave a person devastated because of his own issues. Especially this inability to properly reciprocate.

Earth has vowed never to start a fire he wouldn't be able to put out. Or handle. He looks at Mix and realizes he doesn't want to do the same with him.

Mix feels the air around him shift. It's quieter. When he decided to look at Earth, Mix realizes that the other's eyes are already fixed on him. Mix senses something big is coming and starts bracing himself.

A chilly feeling of familiarity winds its way on his body; he's seen enough break-ups, confessions gone wrong, to know that something as big—as eventful—is coming his way.

"I'm sorry..." Earth trails off and starts breathing deeper. Mix leans in closer to Earth and softly bumps his shoulder to the older man's.

"I have to know what you're being sorry for to forgive you,"

Earth lets out a joyless chuckle before continuing, "I know we started there. Sex. And this has already evolved into a good friendship,"

Mix crosses his arms and follows up with, "But?"

Earth pauses for a second to look at him, "How'd you know there's a 'but'?"

"Oh please, it's written all over your face." Mix tries to sound reassuring and adds, "You can say it."

Mix knows they'd have to address the elephant in the room sooner or later. The flirting. The simple comforting gestures. The intimate nights they've spent talking. Earth making him feel oddly safe, enough for him to be honest—awfully honest—about what he feels.

Surprisingly, they've avoided the conversation long enough without actually talking about the two of them; where they're going with... this. Whatever this is. But he figures you could only avoid something for so long before it starts creeping up on you.

And it's creeping up to them—now. And fast.

"Let's not cross that line." Earth finally says. He slowly glances at Mix but he can't read his expression. So, he continues.

"I like us like this. As friends." The older man raises his eyebrows in anticipation and before he could realize what's happening, Mix lets out a laugh. Earth looks at him, surprised.

"I'm sorry. You looked so serious I can't—"

"Because I am being serious." Earth couldn't help but pout, although he did feel lighter after seeing Mix's reaction.

"I know. I know." Mix composes himself and continues, looking more serious this time. "I know, Earth. And we're okay, alright? I'm not expecting anything from you. From this. I..."

"I want you as a friend, too. And yeah, I'm not going to deny it. The thought did cross my mind. Because I honestly can't remember the last time I felt this... free and good and honest with someone,"

"But I know that not everything has to be romantic,"

While he did say everything he said earlier, Earth oddly still felt a pang of dismay with Mix's response. He shakes the thought out of his head.

Mix continues, "So don't worry, okay? Worry about your sister, Mr. just-here-for-a-good-fuck-and-nothing-else."

"Hey!"

Earth rolls his eyes but ends up tackling the younger man. Mix laughs along with him. The banter ends and Earth lets go of Mix.

Earth playfully runs to the backdoor and looks back at Mix who, by then, was deep in thought. Mix breathes out.

“Dinner would probably be ready soon. Namtan's a greater cook than all of us combined, so get ready.”

He's grateful that Earth's far enough to not see his face. Because if he'd look closely, he would probably see his expression morph into one of disappointment.

'Is this you running?'

 

<:>

Took me longer than I intended to upload this new update but here you go! As always, thank you for reading 🤗

 

🎶

Masego, FKJ - Tadow (imagine this playing while Earth is being photographed)

Nemo - Video Games

Steve Moakler - Hesitate

 

Chapter Text

Earth wakes up to a blurry image of Mix smiling.

And a serious hard-on.

He scratches his head. ‘What the fuck was that about?’ He tries to get up, sees the hard-on again, and collapses on the bed. ‘And what the fuck is this?’

Sweat rolls from his forehead as he tries to steady his breathing, trying to distract himself. Thinking about anything aside from Mix. Or that smile. Or the way he looked at him in that dream. The exact same way he did that night—demanding, steely. Ready to take ownership. To take all of Earth in, if only for a night.

Earth has never dreamt of Mix that way before. Hell, he never dreams of Mix—full stop. But that he did the first day after he asked to just be friends with him feels like karmic revenge somehow.

The universe’s fucking joke. Something to shake him; pushing, until he falls to the wayside.

But Earth knows his decision’s for the better.

That’s the only way he could keep Mix with him longer.

So Earth waits for the erection to go away calmly. But it’s weird, he thinks, how time seems to expand whenever he’s in shitty, confusing situations such as this.

Suddenly, his phone notifies him of a message from Hooked Up. It’s been a while since he’s gone on the app; longer still since he’s met up with someone for casual sex. He tries to recall when exactly he stopped snooping around and realizes it’s about the same time after he met Mix.

Earth scoffs and shakes his head. Seeing no way to calm his erection down but relieve himself, he finally gets up to do his ‘business’. And after a cold shower and a pretty serious headache from trying really, really hard to erase that image of Mix from his head, he decided to respond to an offer from a man on the app.

‘Guess I’ll see you tonight then, Gawin.’

 

- - -

 

Bright lays down Mix’s iced Americano in front of him and the latter nods at the young man, muttering a small ‘thanks’. The Curio is, quite possibly, their group’s new hangout spot, what with Khaotung dating Podd and Mix… well, being friends with Earth.

“Plans for tonight? We’re checking out this new club a few blocks down. Do you want to come with?”

Khaotung asks from the bar where he and Mix sit. Podd and Bright are preparing orders for a group of customers who just came in.

Podd side-eyes Bright before saying, “You can maybe invite your brother, too.”

Mix offers a knowing smile. “I’d ask Win, it’s a holiday tomorrow anyway.” Mix raises an eyebrow at Bright who sheepishly grins in return.

“But I can’t tonight. Earth offered to teach me how to cook.”

“He did?” Podd asks, momentarily stopping.

“Yeah. Why’d you sound so surprised?”

Podd takes a moment to focus on Mix and levels his eyes with the latter’s. “Because he’s not nice. He doesn’t do things like this for just anyone, Oxfords.”

“He’s not so bad,” Mix nonchalantly says before looking away. Podd sneaks a quick glance at Khaotung who responded with a shrug.

Mix waits for Earth to arrive so they could do a quick grocery run for his ‘lesson’, which the latter was kind enough to offer after he said he loved Namtan’s cooking from the day before.

‘I know how to cook that, too. I could teach you.’ Earth had said and Mix, who’s honestly so done with take-outs or the occasional (burnt) egg and hotdog combo he whips up for himself, agreed.

A text from the man himself takes Mix’s mind away from his coffee.

Mix sighs and turns to Khaotung. “So what time are we going?”

 

- - -

 

“Hi there, Cinderella. So where’s the prince?”

Earth feels the hair on his neck prickle. He doesn’t need to look to know exactly who came up to him from behind. He’d never mistake that voice for someone else. Still, it surprised him that the man is here as well.

“You’re here,” Earth says excitedly. Almost too excitedly for his liking.

“Yeah. With Khaotung, Podd, and Bright. We’re at one of the VIP rooms, waiting for my brother.”

Earth doesn’t say anything anymore but clinks Mix’s beer bottle with his own. Mix tries to make conversation, but the loud music drowns his voice. So, he inches closer to Earth. So close that the older man gulps at the proximity. But Earth doesn’t move away from him.

“Seriously where’s your date?” Playfully, Mix adds. “Did you get stood up?”

“Oh you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Earth chuckles. “Bathroom.”

After a while, he quips. “And I don’t call these encounters ‘dates’, Mix.”

Mix rolls his eyes at Earth, but the two eventually share a lighthearted chuckle. Earth regards Mix under the dizzying artificial lighting. The dim lights did not conceal his features, taking Earth back to the very first night he laid eyes on him; the first moment he has seen Mix’s sharp jaw. The thick eyebrows. And his eyes, eyes that seem to know exactly how to disarm anyone that crosses him.

Like he’s disarming Earth, right now.

Earth stops these thoughts and downs his drink.

“Easy. The night has barely started.” Mix flashes him a smile again. Warm but beguiling.

Like the one he woke up to this morning. Exactly like the image that stirred him. Earth feels the blood rush to his cheeks so he looks away from Mix, but his eyes catch the man he came here with, Gawin, walking back to where he is.

Why that irked him when he should be excited, he doesn’t really know why. But Gawin coming back means Mix has to leave then.

And Earth… kinda like to keep Mix here longer—even for just a few seconds more.

He reluctantly nods at Mix, signaling Gawin’s arrival. Mix raises an eyebrow in understanding and gets up from the stool. He leaves without saying another word or sparing him another glance.

“Who’s that? I saw you two talking,” Gawin asks as he motions to the bartender for another drink.

Earth looks at Mix’s retreating figure before facing the man.

“Charming,” Earth begins, smiling.

“That’s Charming.”

 

- - -

 

Earth gets ready to leave. He could feel the other man’s eyes boring into his back as he puts on his shoes, so he faces him again. He moves closer and plants a slow kiss on Gawin’s neck, nipping at the skin softly, before shoving him on the bed roughly. Earth kisses him on the mouth before he could even respond. He feels Gawin responding to the kiss and then biting his lower lip, hands already roaming Earth’s back. Digging at his skin.

But Earth pulls back and stops, much to the other’s disappointment. He visibly wants more. Earth smirks but shakes his head, signaling the end of that curt make-out session. Quickly after, he gets up from the bed and looks at his reflection on the mirror, smoothing out the slight creases on his clothing before fixing his hair.

“You were great last night,” the man says from the bed, still focused on Earth.

“You’re not so bad yourself.” Earth replies.

“Stay for a while. The bed feels nicer with your body here…” Gawin drawls, patting the space on the bed next to him. After a while, he adds, “Or let’s head out together. Grab breakfast or something.”

Earth scrunches his nose teasingly while shaking his head. “I don’t do breakfasts. Sorry,”

Gawin scoffs and reaches for his cigarettes on the bedside table. Cigarettes. A pack of lights. Mix’s favorite. Earth realizes he has to stop associating things with people. Especially with Mix.

Gawin brings a stick to his mouth and Earth watches as the light flickers. “Suit yourself.”

He winks at Gawin and finally exits the hotel room without uttering another word.

A sense of triumph always succeeds these encounters. But Earth oddly feels jaded today. He wonders if he’s getting too old for this; he knows he can’t do this forever.

And a part of him—a small, almost non-existent part—is beginning to loathe the chase.

Some days, he finds himself entertaining the idea of “settling down”. Of grabbing one man in the sea of many and saying, “This. I want you. Let’s stay here for a little while,” and then allowing himself to imagine that ‘little while’ stretching into days, months (hell, even years) until he’s firmly anchored. To a routine. To a person. To what seems to be a “natural order of things”.

But these... he doesn’t want to say “dreams”, but mere “idealizations”—these idealizations end up tightening an imaginary noose around his neck. Suffocating. Signaling a defeat he’s not ready to accept just yet. And before he realizes what he’s doing, he’s on a prowl again, searching for another warm body to be with for the night.

This is not to say that he’s repulsed by the very idea of traditional relationships. He’s been in several relationships before, especially in college. But nothing that actually worked out for long. He found that after a certain time, he starts to disengage, which of course left his partner disinterested as well until the relationship naturally tapers off.

Earth knew what this meant for his ex-boyfriends. While mutual and peaceful break-ups are aplenty, there were messy ones, too. And after the last one, he figured it’d be best to just keep things casual.

Still, he’s only ever been in love once. And as always the case, he also fucked that one up. Now, he’s just no longer sure if he’s capable of that and all it entails anymore.

An ex-boyfriend once blamed his parents, in a fit of rage, for how Earth handles his relationships. That must’ve figured into it, but after a certain time, he realized that it’s not their fault that he’s 'emotionally stunted'. After all, just until when can he blame his parents’ fucked up marriage for his own twisted ideas about love and relationships anyway?

Earth hails a cab and pushes all these thoughts to the back of his head.

 

- - -

 

Mix gets out from a meeting. He decides to smoke and possibly insert a few minutes of pleasure reading on their building’s rooftop—the 20th floor.

He always brings a book with him. Mix finds that it helps take his mind away from the heavy work. But ironically, he barely does any reading and can only do it when he’s smoking. He used to wonder why he goes up, really; was it to smoke or to read? Either way, Mix gets to do both on the 20th.

He starts reading once his cigarette is lit then continues until he has burned his way to a stick or two. When he gets to an interesting part and he’s not really busy, he takes the party inside the adjoining dining area, occupies the nearest table to the patio, and gets on with his reading.

Sometimes there’ll be people inside. This doesn’t make him nervous anymore, unlike the first days when he feels a sense of urgency to hide from the eyes of people he shares the space with. Nowadays, it’s easier to just ignore everyone as he continues to bury himself in others’ prose.

The temperature unexpectedly drops today, so he sees more than the usual number of people at the patio, seeking warmth from their cigarettes and coffee. Scattered groups from other companies as well as a few of his close acquaintances. Mix decides to join the group and sees that they’re with the newest member of their team, who Mix hasn’t really spoken to that much yet aside from work-related conversations, on account of him working outside most of the time.

Mix, who’s really bad at remembering names, racks his brain for the man’s name.

Everyone greets him as he walks outside to the patio. His eyes quickly darts to the man and he raises an eyebrow at Toptap, another senior graphic designer he works with, who catches on and introduces him to the new guy.

“Ah, Mix this is Ter. Ter, Mix.”

‘Ter. Yes, okay get that into your head now.’

“He’s my lead, of course I know him.” The man, Ter, says. Mix offers his hand and notes how firm the other shook it.

Joss, who works in the marketing department but is best friends with Toptap, quips. “I hope he’s not tiring you out,”

“Hey, I’m not so bad.” Mix hits Joss’s arm and the tall man laughs.

Ter stands there, amused at the little banter. “He doesn’t. I love learning the ropes with him and Ciize. They're great mentors.”

“Well, I wouldn’t really call myself your mentor, you know. I haven’t really focused on you yet. I’m sorry about that.” Mix gives an apologetic smile.

“Do something about it then,” Ciize, who’s also a part of Mix’s team, nudges Ter. “Invite our team lead for coffee.” Mix notices something in Ciize’s words but decides not to mind it.

Ter’s face flushes, which did not go unnoticed. “Stop teasing him,” Toptap interrupts, “The boy’s already blushing.”

This little teasing almost feels like an initiation, a way to get into their little group. And while Ter looks as if he doesn’t take offense, he still looked bashful. Or maybe, that’s just how he is, Mix thinks. Shy and calm. He looks like a good person. And while Mix knows that looks are deceiving, something about Ter gives him a pleasant aura.

Mix feels they’d get along well; he’s hoping they do.

The group chats for a while as they finish their cigarettes and coffee. Mix stays behind to read for a few minutes before heading back to their floor himself.

 

- - -

 

It is difficult to follow a routine in Mix’s line of work.

When not planning for brands, he’s out directing shoots for said brands in and outside studios. Office rumor has it that he’s about to get promoted to art director soon—a role he really wanted even if it entails more work and possibly, longer hours. A ghastly responsibility, really, but Mix just thinks that his dream life deserves his grit and persistence. So he pushes himself.

Part of his job as team lead is relaying details of his meetings with clients and their bosses to their small team of graphic designers, like he’s doing now.

“They need the keynote before Thursday’s presentation, so the mock-ups have to be finalized tomorrow. I don’t want to keep you here longer than needed today so let’s just focus on this tomorrow, okay?” Mix finishes the meeting and stretches.

Toptap, who’s next in line if Mix’s promotion pushes through, then says, “Class dismissed!” The group, although drained, laughs. Ter bids everyone goodbye and gets up to leave first. Once out of earshot, Ciize scoots closer to Mix and whispers, “He has a crush on you,”

Mix looks at her surprised, more so at Ciize’s energy after a draining meeting than the “revelation” she’s telling him now.

“Who, Ter?”

“Isn’t it obvious? He walks on eggshells when you’re around.”

“He’s probably just afraid of me. He’s new, I’m his lead.”

“You’re my lead but you don’t scare me,” Ciize raises an eyebrow and crosses her arms.

Mix chuckles, “Nothing scares you, Ciize.”

Ciize is always animated, booming with life. So while the work is heavy, they could count on her to brighten their day at the office. But she could be persistent when something piques her interest.

From his peripheral vision, Mix could see Ciize regarding him carefully.

“You don’t really date, do you? Are you that picky?”

Mix regards Ciize’s words and realizes that yes, he could be picky, but he has never denied himself a romantic opportunity with people he has felt a connection with. There’s Jane during the second year of high school, Chanya just before he graduated, Fluke who’s more of a fling than anything else, Tu who shared his love for Korean music, and of course, Nammon. But his pendulum swings from one end to the other and never... just right. He’s either too engaged or not at all; either giving too much or too little. But not enough.

Never enough.

“We’re too busy to date,” Mix says curtly, hoping that’s the end of it. But Ciize wheeling her chair closer signals that the conversation’s far from over.

“But wouldn’t that be nice if you actually date him? I mean he’s already busy doing the same work that you do—you two could be busy together!”

“You need to calm yourself down,” Mix laughs and pats Ciize’s head softly.

“And besides if that’s true, I’d want for him to tell me himself. That isn’t yours to tell, okay? Don’t make the man uncomfortable, he’s still adjusting.”

“Okay… Sorry,” Ciize says with a pout.

Mix heads to the bathroom and dabs water on his face, trying to wash his sleepiness away. They were out earlier than usual today but the heavy work drained him. It’s still just Tuesday but his body’s so ready for the weekend already—a weekend that, to be honest, is still pervaded with freelance work.

Mix deeply sighs in defeat. He wonders how long until he’s disillusioned about work itself because of his own doing.

A bathroom stall suddenly opens, taking Mix out of these thoughts. He sees Ter who looks surprised to find him there, too.

“Hey, Mix.” Ter starts.

“Leaving now, too?” Mix asks. He watches Ter nod and walks to the sink next to him. He feels the man shifting from one foot to the other, as if about to say something.

“That book,” Ter says. Mix takes the thick copy of the Bantam edition of Sherlock Holmes from his open bag.

Mix asks, “Are you a fan of Holmes, too?”

The man nods and says bashfully, “I have the second volume but I can’t find a copy of that one anymore,”

Mix grins and faces Ter, “And I don’t have the second volume. When I’m done with this, do you wanna trade?”

“Oh, but I read really slow.”

“That’s fine, we work together anyways. It’s not like you’d run away with my book.” He laughs then adds, “Just don’t dog-ear the pages. Or annotate.”

Ter raises both hands as if in surrender, “I wouldn’t dare! Don’t worry.”

Mix sees a smile dangle on the side of Ter’s lips. He doesn’t know what came over him at that moment, but he tells him. “Listen, I know we joke a lot. Ciize’s pretty unstoppable when she latches on to someone, but she’s a good person. Still, please know that you can tell me if we make you uncomfortable, okay?”

This surprises Ter but he chuckles, “No, it’s fine. No offense taken. I’m fine, Mix.” He regards Mix’s eyes and sees how sincere he is, suddenly feeling warm with gratitude. “But I appreciate the concern. Thank you.”

The boy realizes he’s been staring and nervously looks at his shoes. Ter hesitates and massages the nape of his neck. Mix, alerted by the other’s sudden discomfort says, “What is it? Are you okay?”

“Yeah um…” The man stammers and massages the nape of his neck. “Okay, I promise I am better than this. I’m not usually this nervous around people,” He waits for a few beats and breathes deeply before continuing, “Can I invite you out for coffee? And it’s just coffee. We can talk about… work. Or not, it’s better if we don’t right? Or if you want, we can. Work-talk is definitely not off the table. We can just sit idly or whatever. Anything you want really, I—”

Mix thinks it’s cute how he’s stumbling on his words like that and decides to interject, lest Ter combusts in front of him. The poor man looks like he’s about to.

“Coffee?”

Ter stops and nods. He waits hopefully for a response. Already, he’s regretting even daring to ask. He’d look so stupid if Mix says no. But he has to take this shot.

Finally, Mix replies with a small smile.

“Coffee sounds nice.”

Chapter Text

“No, not those. Take ones that aren’t going ripe in at least three days.”

Podd turns to Earth and raises an eyebrow. “May I ask why?”

Earth looks at his best friend’s confused face. “Because he keeps his food stored for days. If you buy him something that’s already ripe, it’d go bad before he gets the chance to eat it.”

Podd stops Earth’s cart from moving down the aisle. He scans his best friend’s eyes and backs away a little when he sees him clearly irritated. Still, he doesn’t take his eyes off of Earth.

“What now?” Earth grimaces, showing his displeasure at being stalled. “Why are you looking at me like that?” Earth regards Podd’s expression. His best friend seems to be pondering; Earth feels as if he’s cornered all of the sudden.

Podd plants both of his hands on the cart, trying to get Earth’s attention. He’s looking too eager to begin a conversation that Earth isn’t really in the mood for.

“You’re suddenly noticing things.”

Earth scoffs and tries to get the cart to move but fails. He huffs; Earth knows that he needs to give Podd some sort of answer to get him off his back.

“He’s my friend. I tend to notice things about my friends.”

“Bullshit,” Podd begins, unconvinced. “Took you a year to even spell my surname correctly. And we fucking lived together in college.”

Earth crosses his arms in front of him and finally looks Podd straight in the eye. “And your point is?”

“Point is—you’re whipped,”

“Whipped?” He scoffs, “Stop with the internet talk, man.”

Podd smiles teasingly and finally raises his hands in surrender. He takes a bundle of bananas that looks as if it wouldn’t go bad for at least a week and places it inside the cart.

“I’m just saying.”

Earth shoots him a glare and moves down the aisle, taking more items from the shelves. “I’m never taking you grocery shopping again,”

“Let’s not forget that you dragged me here this early—excited, may I add—because you’re cooking for Mi—”

Earth cuts Podd off. “I’m not cooking for him; I’m teaching him how to cook.” He looks away from Podd and concentrates hard on the list in his hand. “Besides, I need to know if I’m getting the right ingredients. You remember Namtan’s recipe better than I do.”

“Yeah okay let's pretend phones don’t exist for a second.”

Earth wishes he has a good response to that, but he’s out. He could’ve called him. Or shoot Podd or Namtan a message. But the plan was to ask Podd to come over so he wouldn’t have to go grocery shopping alone. In his head, going alone would feel like he’s too eager.

And he certainly doesn’t want that. But looking at Podd right now, he’s slowly realizing that the plan isn’t really going the way he imagined it in his head.

Earth closes his eyes. All this inconsequential thinking’s making him dizzy. Now he’s wondering why he’s even overthinking this in the first place.

“…or the fact that you just got him a banana.” Podd goes on, taking Earth’s mind away from his mushy thoughts. “Clearly not on the recipe.”

Earth wheels the cart fast, surprising Podd. “You said you don’t have plans today. Why do I feel like you’re itching to leave?” He asks, trying to deflect Podd and keep the conversation going in another direction.

Podd pouts, much to Earth’s astonishment. The other man doesn’t have to talk for Earth to know exactly what—or who—he’s thinking about right then. The smile on Podd’s face is enough to betray his happiness.

“Khaotung’s clients canceled their shoot today. I wanna surprise him,” Earth tries not to show that he’s glad for his best friend. So, he pretends to take an arrow to his heart, doing the teasing this time.

“What happened to ‘bros before boos’?” Earth says, “Is nothing sacred for you anymore? Is this how we raised you, boy?”

Podd snorts a laugh and drapes an arm over Earth’s shoulders. “Oh, please. As if you didn’t bail on Mix last week for a man.”

“I— wow, Podd. Love has definitely changed you, huh?” The other man shrugs him off. Earth wheels the cart in front of them, but not before hearing Podd say:

“I’m sure glad it did,” Podd pauses, considering his next words. “That’s what love has to do, right? Change you for the better.”

Earth reaches out and tousles Podd’s head. “Weird. Love has made you this weird,” Earth wonders if Podd would take offense with his joke; Podd’s gleaming eyes say he doesn’t really care.

'God, he's in deep.'

Earth rechecks their list. “I think we’re done here. Go,”

“Are you sure? Did we get everything?” Podd eyes the list on Earth’s hand and dives into the cart’s content, making sure they covered everything.

“Just leave, lover boy. I’m done anyways.”

Podd accompanies Earth to the checkout line and pats him on the back, signaling that he’s about to leave.

Earth watches Podd walk to the sliding doors before turning. “Hey man, I heard Khaotung’s best friend is single!” Podd shouts and winks at Earth.

Earth flips him the finger which the other fondly reciprocated. An old lady lined up in front of him looks at Earth disapprovingly. The man gulps and immediately puts his hand down. He sees his best friend stick a tongue out before finally walking out of the store.

Earth shakes his head and smiles, waiting for his turn at the cashier.

‘People in love are so fucking weird,’

He looks at the bundle of bananas inside his cart and sighs.

 

- - -

 

Earth makes his way to the parking lot carrying two full ecobags.

Earth likes to think he’s a decent cook. Although he’s not really one to experiment in the kitchen, he does know how to whip up dishes beyond simple meals. Living with Jennie in a shared apartment in college meant enjoying Namtan’s cooking whenever she comes to visit; living with Podd in the same place meant more desserts than his stomach could handle.

And living with him meant breakfasts in bed and warm dinners.

Earth stiffens at a distant memory. At a face blurry but still recognizable. He begins to wonder why he’s being reminded of so many things and faces lately.

He settles on the driver’s seat and starts the car, preparing to drive over to Mix’s place.

 

- - -

 

[ There’s a problem with the water tank on our building, we can’t cook here. ]

Earth stops in his tracks, straining his ears to listen to Mix who he’s on the phone with right now.

[ So is this a rain check? ]

Mix murmurs a muted response followed immediately by an apology. The older man imagines him nodding to his phone, lips formed in a pout.

[ Sorry. ]

Earth’s shoulders slumped without him noticing at first. When he did, he clears his throat.

[ Are you sure this isn’t payback for when I bailed on you last time? ]

He hears the younger man laughing over the phone. Light, honest. A sound soothing enough to warrant a small blush from the older man.

[ No, silly. ]

Mix falls silent. To say that he’s disappointed because of this unwelcome development was an understatement. Hell, he took his time cleaning his place. Slept early the night before so he could get his bearings straight and focus on today’s “lesson”. Even made sure he has enough kitchen equipment (surprisingly he has; gifts from his dads) so Earth could work with ease.

When he woke up to shower that morning, he realized that the water pressure is low. After an hour, the water finally ran out. A message from their landlord explaining the problem came shortly after.

Mix is bummed. A part of him even contemplated asking Earth if they could do it in his home instead but Mix decides against it. He doesn’t want to appear imposing. He wasn’t really sure how someone as elusive as Earth would take a request like that.

It takes a while before Earth speaks again, but what he said next surprised both of them.

[ Let’s cook at my place. ]

[ What? ]

[ My place. Let’s just do it there. ]

Earth, not wanting to sound weird or anything, immediately follows up with:

[ It’s better for me anyway. I’d have everything I need. It’d be easier to teach you. ]

[ Are you sure? ]

[ Yeah. Besides I already bought everything we need. I don’t want this to go bad. ]

The younger man catches his reflection on a mirror. There is a smile that wasn’t there before.

[ Great! Okay, text me your address. I’d be there in an hour. ]

[ No need. Let’s drive there together. Just let me in. ]

[ Oh are you almost here? Are you downstairs? ]

‘Right outside your door, more like it.’ But Earth doesn’t tell him that. Doesn’t want to seem too eager. Earth considers waiting for another 3 minutes before knocking so it’d look as if he’s just coming up to Mix’s building.

Why something as trivial as this even matters, he doesn’t know. And Earth seems not to know a lot lately.

[ I’d be there in 3. Make sure you’ve your pants on. ]

[ You’re never letting me live that one down, huh? ]

Mix hears him chuckle.

[ No, never. ]

He hears the boy huff and imagines Mix rolling his eyes. Somehow, the image was enough to calm him down.

‘You’re overthinking again. Just knock and get this over with.’

Earth’s dizzy from all the thinking he’s doing and just as he was about to knock, he sees the door to Mix’s unit fling open, revealing a wide-eyed Mix.

Earth watches as the initial surprise morphed into a playful expression. He feels all of his intrusive thoughts, a second ago just clamoring to overwhelm him, slowly dissipating.

“You said 3?” Mix playfully eyes the older man and crosses his arms, almost challenging.

“I meant 3 seconds,” He ruffles Mix’s hair and enters the apartment.

 

- - -

 

“Did the recipe call for… bananas?”

“That’s yours.”

Mix stops rummaging the eco bag and focuses on Earth who’s seated on his table. The older man sips the coffee Mix made him.

“You bought this for me?” He inquires. “Why?”

Earth takes a sip of the coffee, evading the other’s eyes. “Just ‘cause.”

‘Just ‘cause. Okay. Casual.’

‘Jesus, calm down.’

“Thanks,”

Earth puts down his coffee and watches the view outside Mix’s window. The more he stares, the more he’s reminded of the day Mix moved in and how cold the other was to him then. Now, they’re trading recipes. Who knew they’d get to this point?

“You’re overthinking,”

Mix’s voice transports him back to reality. “Hm?”

“You’re frowning.” The boy adds. “You probably don’t realize it, but you frown a lot when you’re overthinking.”

Mix walks towards Earth, steps sure and heavy with intent. Earth hopes the other man doesn’t catch him stiffening. The older man leans back on the chair and waits for Mix, who’s moving closer and closer still.

Mix stands in front of the other man and proceeds to smooth out Earth’s frown, his thumbs gingerly massaging his head.

Earth closes his eyes and thinks about how nice it feels—Mix’s thumb on his forehead, the man near enough for him to get a whiff of a familiar body wash.

He wonders how it’d feel to snake his hands on Mix’s waist and he very slightly shudders at the thought before waving it away.

But he keeps his eyes closed, waiting for Mix to stop but also…

Also hoping he doesn’t. At least, not yet.

He doesn’t hear the ringing of his thoughts. Feels none of the hesitation that jumps out at him like a warning whenever he gets close, too fucking close for comfort. All he feels are Mix’s thumbs running along on his head, the boy’s familiar scent on his nostrils.

So Earth basks in this rare moment when his mind doesn’t fight his body; a time for surrendering.

After a while, Mix starts to loosen his hand. Earth, still with his eyes closed, sighs but reaches out a hand to Mix’s. As if asking for a little bit more time.

‘Just a little bit more.’

Earth doesn’t say it out loud but hopes Mix catches on nonetheless.

The younger man’s breath hitches. He feels the gentle tapping of Earth’s finger. It was barely present but Mix was sure he felt it there, the way he did that night after telling Earth about Nammon. Seated on the sidewalk, sobering up under the streetlight, his guts spilled out in a moment of vulnerability, and Earth’s hand gently tapping his in what he believed was a bid to calm him down.

That, he knows. What he realizes now is that it’s meant to calm Earth, too.

So Mix resumes. Softly rubbing circles on the older man’s temples. And he wonders, for a split second, how nice it would be to run his fingers along Earth’s scalp.

‘Must be nice,’ he thought to himself.

But alas, he didn’t. Wouldn’t dare. Mix feels as if he’s sobering up. Again. Sighing, he finally lets go of Earth’s head and puts his hands down.

Softly, he says. “Let’s go now so we could finish up before lunch.”

Earth finally opens his eyes, still a bit spaced out, and nods. He sees Mix retreat back to his room, hears him packing stuff into what Earth supposes was a backpack.

Earth scoffs and shakes his head. He runs a hand through his hair. He finishes his coffee and imagines how it’d feel to have Mix’s hand there, running along from the top of his head, tugging at his hair, instead of his own.

He knows they couldn’t.

‘But god,’ Earth thought. 'Wouldn’t that be nice?’

 

- - -

 

The two got off of Earth’s car and walk into a massive building. Earth owns a unit in one of those posh condominiums around the area, one Mix sees on his daily commute to work. The low rumble of cars outside follows them into the equally massive lobby, the sound muted only once they’re inside.

The two get on the elevator leading to Earth’s floor and walk into his unit without saying anything. Before they move even further down the hall, the older man faces Mix and raises a hand to stop him.

“I’m not sure I actually cleaned up before I left so the inside might be dirty.”

Earth says, by way of a heads-up. And with that, Earth unlocks the door to his unit.

Mix’s eyes widened at the sight of the inside: if this is his idea of dirty, then Mix’s place is definitely a pigsty.

This is dirty? Have you actually seen my place?”

Earth lets out a hearty laugh and proceeds to place the grocery bags on his kitchen counter.

“Make yourself at home. I’d get everything ready,”

So Mix begins a small tour of the inside. A simple loveseat divides the room into the living area on the right and a small kitchen on the left side. A big potted plant sits next to a massive wooden rustic table. Said table is in front of a sofa, occupying a space where a television is usually placed. It’s accentuated by a narrow floor-to-ceiling bookcase that stands next to a door, which Mix wagers leads to Earth's bedroom. His feet drag him over to the table, which is stacked with loose papers, pens, and more notebooks, tattered with age and use.

This is what he imagines a writer’s den would look like. He then begins to wonder if Earth himself writes and is reminded of that day in the thrift shop, of catching Earth looking at a typewriter.

The rest of the unit complements the living room. He feels Earth's eyes on him as he observes cups and plates and little containers with pasta noodles and cereals on them. Mix smiles at how adorable everything is.

He likes it. It looks lived in and carries an old, rustic charm.

‘Definitely Earth’s place.’

“Done with your tour?”

He faces the older man, who’s leaning on the sink with his arms crossed over his chest, and nods enthusiastically.

“Let’s begin?” Mix smiles gleefully and nears Earth, only to see the older man frowning again.

“This won’t do.”

“What won’t?”

“Your hair.” Earth parts Mix’s hair and observes him, like a barber observing a client would. “It’s getting in your eyes.”

“Oh. I’m overdue for a haircut.” Mix smiles sheepishly. “Do you have a headband or a clip— anything to get this off my face.”

He does, really, but Earth’s face lights up when he thought of something else.

“I’ve a better idea,”

Moments later, Mix finds himself inside Earth’s bathroom. Seated in front of a mirror with Earth behind him—getting ready to give him a haircut.

“Are you sure about this?”

“Don’t worry, I used to give him a haircut.”

“Him?”

Earth hears Mix’s question about his slip-up but pretends he doesn’t. Instead, he takes his scissors in one hand and a trimmer in the other.

“Are you ready?”

Mix looks concerned but sighs in surrender.

“Are you ticklish?” Earth asks, his eyebrows knitted in concentration. Definitely not the first time he’s doing it. Knowing that is enough to calm Mix.

“A bit.”

“Okay, but don’t move. I can’t promise not to chop your ear off if you do.”

“Pirapat!”

Earth laughs and begins chipping away at Mix’s hair with his scissors. Mix watches Earth's reflection in the mirror, how he tugs at the ends of his hair. He hears the scissors snip snipping away and feels Earth softly patting his neck to wipe away loose hair; feels his calloused palm, hard but gentle nonetheless.

“Don’t move,” Earth repeats as he angles his head and begins moving the hair trimmer. Mix listens to the steady whir and closes his eyes. Earth sees Mix trying his hardest not to move; eyes closed, biting his lip hard.

It doesn’t take long for Earth to finish up. He holds up a mirror behind Mix’s head to show the latter how it looks from behind.

“Not bad.”

Earth smiles proudly and pats Mix’s shoulders. “Thanks,”

And with that, the two begin cooking.

Mix watches the man working in the kitchen. He observes Earth chopping vegetables and flavoring the meat. Earth begins doing the broth and asks Mix to continue chopping the rest of the vegetables.

“Please be careful with that knife.” The two continue working side by side, with Earth continuously stirring the pot and looking at Mix while he navigates the knife, just to check his progress—and to see whether he’s still got all fingers accounted for.

Mix asks questions about the whole process and listens to Earth's instructions with keen interest. Earth lets him put the vegetables and meat into the pot. The younger man carefully puts everything on the ready broth. He feels the heat hit his face, along with the scrumptious scent of everything coming together.

After almost an hour, the dish is ready. Earth sets the table, taking two pieces of each dinnerware from his cabinet, the first time he did in a long while.

Earth waits for Mix to dig into the dish and smiles when he sees the latter’s eyes widen. “This tastes exactly like Namtan’s cooking! It tastes so good, Earth.”

“Is this the first dish you made?”

“First complicated one. I mean, I can cook eggs. And sausages.”

“And you don’t burn them?”

Mix looks up from his plate and glares at Earth, who’s looking at him cockily. “Just eat.”

The two eat, swapping stories while they do. Earth tells Mix about his favorite dishes and Mix sits there, just listening to him talk.

‘He’s uncharacteristically chatty today. Must be in a good mood.’ Mix thinks to himself as he watches Earth animatedly recounts stories from when he, Podd, Jennie, and Namtan were in college.

After a while, Earth says. “Maybe,” he begins, trying to find the next words. “Maybe I could teach you something else next time.”

“I’d love that.”

Mix insisted on doing the dishes while Earth clears the table. He proceeds to draw the curtain covering the windows to his balcony, letting some of the light from the outside filter it. After a quick cigarette break, Mix gets down and sets up his laptop.

“What’re you doing?”

“Working, if you don't mind.”

“Is that for us?”

“Yes. We’re almost done wi—”

Earth closes his laptop and sighs, sitting next to Mix on the rug. “If it’s for The Curio, don’t bother with it today. You folks are way ahead of schedule. Live a little.”

Mix looks as if he’s about protest but only breathes out in relief. Earth gets up and sets up a home projector.

“Fancy,” Mix comments.

“Choose the movie. I’d get us drinks and some chips.”

“Do you watch horror movies?”

“I love them.”

An hour into the movie, Earth feels Mix steadily breathing next to him. He peeks a glance at him and sees the man already fast asleep, his head resting a few inches from his shoulder. Earth very slightly moves his body closer, until he feels Mix's head touch his shoulder. He stays there, unmoving for a few minutes. It doesn’t take long before he finally moves away.

He lets the younger man drift off and gets up to cover his body with a throw blanket. Mix stirs but doesn’t wake.

When he wakes up, the afternoon heat finally getting to him, Mix sees the unit empty. He finds a sticky note stuck on his forehead and sees Earth’s neat scrawl.

[ Stepped out for a while. I’ll be back. ]

And under it, written in smaller characters, is a postscript: Wait for me.

Mix gets up and observes the room again. He notices a stack of paper on Earth’s desk and a loose page that he was pretty certain wasn’t there before. He didn’t want to pry, but notices a date written on the paper—today’s date.

‘No, that’s an invasion of privacy, Mix.’

“Go on,” Mix almost jumps out at Earth’s voice. He was so engrossed with wanting to read Earth’s writing that he didn’t notice the man come in.

“Go read if you want.” Earth repeats, walking to his desk.

And so Mix did. The boy notes an attachment with Earth’s words, like the writer penned everything down with the weight of sentimentality in them. Seamless, but also a bit disjointed—filled with full stops and strong, curious metaphors. A beautiful mess, really. Everything is a calculated jumble that looks convoluted on paper but is nonetheless strong on the drawback.

“I didn’t know you write. This is good.”

“On good days,” Earth replies, offering Mix a beer from the bag he carried with him when he entered.

‘So this is a good day?’

“On good days like today.”

Earth offers Mix a small smile before sitting on the rug again, this time with his own beer bottle.

The two sit in silence, drinking beer. Earth was the first to break the stillness. “I have never once written something I feel deeply connected to,”

Mix knits his eyebrows and asks. “What do you mean?”

“I dunno, really. It’s… as if someone’s doing the writing. I sit down and words come at me and I try to catch them. Try to tame them. Arrange them. It sounds good; it looks good on paper. But also…” Earth trails off and takes a swig from his bottle.

“I don’t feel like it’s mine.” Earth is aware that he might not be making any sense, but he goes on, saying anything that comes to mind. He knows Mix would understand. For some reason, Mix seems to just understand.

Mix ponders on the other’s words. After a while, he asks. “Then why bother?”

“Because when I write, I’m not here.”

“Hmmm.” Mix leans further on the sofa, “Another escape then.”

“Yes. You could say that.”

Earth follows, leaning on his sofa. He watches Mix trace a crack on his ceiling, a crack he never really noticed there until today.

“Maybe someday,” Mix begins, eyes still glued on the ceiling, a hand reached out. “Maybe someday you’d write something that doesn’t feel this far removed from yourself.”

Earth doesn't know what to feel about that. The idea of finally penning something he actually resonates with.

You see, he’s not really sure he’s keen about seeing himself—all repressed desires, all guilt, the selfishness—reflected on paper. Mix’s voice breaks his thoughts.

“And I would love to read that,”

Earth responds with a soft murmur.

“Have you written something longer than this?”

“No, not really. Just snippets. Poems.”

“Why?”

Earth shrugs, “A problem with commitment.”

Earth meets Mix’s eyes. He doesn’t say anything else, but Mix feels the weight of what Earth said nonetheless. The two fall silent and allowed the words to hang in the air.

 

- - -

 

Ter hums. Most days, when he feels stressed, he picks up the guitar and plays music. Covers mostly, but also original compositions. Sadly, he can’t really do it here in the office because they don’t really have a lot of downtime to begin with. So here, he copes by listening from his phone, singing along to relieve his stress. Humming.

He sees Mix looking at him and immediately clams up. But Mix sure knows how to put people’s defenses down. Maybe it’s his smile. Or his innate glow. Or the fact that he listens—really listens—when you talk to him.

Ter isn’t sure if it’s all these or something else unknown to him. But Ter—timid but determined Ter—would like a chance to know.

“What are you listening to?” Mix asks, wheeling his chair closer.

He offers him an earphone and continued the song.

“I know this,”

“You do?” Ter asks, looking at Mix.

“Hmmm.”

Mix hums along to the track and thanks Ter before going back to his side of the long table. “You have a nice voice, Ter. It’s calming.” And with that, Mix goes back to work.

But Ter is anything but calm right now. He catches Ciize sheepishly grinning across him but pretends he doesn’t notice.

 

- - -

 

[ Music night @ Curio tonight. If you wanna come. Bright invited your brother over. ]

Mix looks up from their table and sees his team looking stressed, their faces drawn out, wearing almost identical frowns. The week has been stressful for their team, what with a new account coming in. They could definitely benefit from a short break; a change of scenery to fracture the drowning monotony of every day.

So, an idea hits Mix.

[ Is there a table for four people @ Curio rn? ]

[ I'd reserve you one. Or do you need more space? ]

[ One's enough. Give us 15 mins. Thanks, Earth. ]

Earth grins and puts a reserved sign on a table near the counter. Podd sees the sign and asks, “Who’s coming?”

“Mix.”

Podd doesn’t say anything but shoots Bright a weighted smile that did not go unnoticed.

“Probably coming with his officemates.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

Earth aims a towel at his best friend and prepares fresh ingredients for Aglio e Olio.

 

- - -

 

Mix arrives a little later with three people in tow. Earth welcomes the group and brings them over to the table he reserved for them.

“Hey,”

“Hi.”

“Thanks for the reservation.”

“No problem. What can I get you?”

“I’d have the usual.” Mix begins. “Let me come back later for their orders.”

“Just call me over. I’d take it.”

“No, it’s fine. I wanna say hi to Bright and Podd anyway,”

Earth glances over to Mix’s company. He catches one of the men eyeing him and Mix with more apparent interest than the others. When he caught Earth glancing over, the man has resumed talking with the other two as if nothing happened.

Mix begins walking back to their table when Earth catches his arm. He lets it go almost immediately.

“Wait here,” Earth circles back to the counter and hands Mix a plate of Aglio e Olio. “Almost forgot that I already made you this,”

Mix tries to mask his surprise but fails. He thanks Earth before going back to their table.

“The food here’s great.” He tells the group who are busy perusing the menu.

“Order whatever.”

“Your treat?” Ciize playfully asks, nudging Mix.

Mix laughs. “My treat.”

“You’re being exceptionally good to us today. Should we expect more work?” Toptap eyes Mix and raises an eyebrow.

“As if we aren’t already swamped,” Mix replies. “Take this as my thank you for all your hard work lately.”

After the meal, Toptap and Ciize excused themselves and went ahead, leaving Mix and Ter at The Curio. Mix watches as Bright and Podd set up the little stage in front of the bar.

“Oh, right. Earth mentioned a music night happening later.” Mix says, nodding his head to the stage.

“Earth?” Ter inquires.

“Man I talked to when we came in,” Mix looks over the counter at Earth, who was busy drying some glasses. “A friend.”

“I see,” Ter responds. Mix sees a smile form on his face but thought nothing of it.

“If you’re not busy tonight, stay and watch. Some of my friends are coming over, too.”

“Are you sure that’s okay?”

“Yeah, it’d be fun! Unless you already have plans?”

“No! I’ll stay,” Ter responds enthusiastically.

“By the way, they do open mics. Do you wanna give it a try?” Mix threw the question nonchalantly, never really expecting Ter to say yes. But despite his timid nature, Mix sees Ter’s eyes light up with the enthusiasm of someone who’s been allowed to do what he loves.

Ter nods before getting back to sipping his coffee. Already, Mix could see the man tapping on their table, absorbed in the sound he’s making. Mix could only assume that he’s already thinking about what song to play. He’s a few years older than Mix, but the latter swears he could make out a juvenile excitement on Ter’s face—endearing to look at. Like a kid being handed gifts on Christmas morning.

Mix then surveys The Curio, a place that has already morphed into his little oasis. He breathes out. Suddenly, like he always feels every time he's remotely free, the temptation to begin working jumps out. Mix knows he has to allow himself time to breathe. He needs to curb a compulsion to run himself aground with work, drowning himself in the daily grind. Needs to stop anchoring who he is as a person to who he is as an employee—a working tool of this massive machinery.

‘People and their obsession with work.’

Mix breathes out, still listless, but trying to pacify himself. Someday, he hopes he could escape the mill. But right now, it’d do him well to alter his thinking.

He watches Earth working on the stage, helping Podd and Bright finish setting up. Mix’s eyes follow the man, what the latter told him a few days ago, ringing loud in his ears: live a little.

A call from Freen, one of their bosses, breaks Mix’s musing. The man listens as she recounts concerns over a blunder with something his team has worked on. Mix paces around the cafe, distracted. Ter watches him, equally concerned.

“Do you need me to go back now? I could be there in 15 minutes.”

“No, it’s fine. Let’s discuss this on Monday. Don’t worry.”

“Freen, I’m sorry.”

Freen giggles over the phone. “Mix, it’s fine. It happens. This is just a heads-up. I’d send you the details tomorrow. Jesus, go enjoy your weekend!” The call ends, but Mix’s anxiety doesn’t leave him just yet.

Mix hopes he could get back to a few minutes ago when he’s so eager to defy the idea of letting work swallow him whole. Because now, now the impulse is kicking in high gear.

 

- - -

 

While Earth frowns when he’s overthinking (or stressed, as he begins to notice), Mix’s distress signals are more obvious—hands behind his head, jaw clenching, eyes closed. Or he gets up to smoke. Earth notes that he takes longer when something’s bothering him, eyes vacant, every drag of the cigarette done without any conscious thought.

Earth sees Mix discussing with the man he came in with. From the looks of it, he figures it has something to do with work. He motions to Bright, asking the younger man to take his place for a while.

Not long after, Mix hears a familiar intake of breath from the speakers. He recognizes the song even before the voice permeates the whole cafe. He steals a glance at Earth, who he sees walking back to the counter. The other man meets his eyes for a split second before looking away.

Mix could’ve missed it altogether if he wasn’t looking.

But he was looking. And he knows.

He knows that the song is meant for him. Within seconds, Mix feels himself calming down, transported back to that morning—the very first one with Earth. A time already succeeded by so much, yet still so vividly alive in his psyche.

Mix feels a blush creep to his face. And a more ardent vibration of something he’s so afraid to name but feels surging inside him nonetheless.

“Fuck,” He mutters under his breath as he discreetly drives the heel of his hand to his chest, trying to slow the beating of his heart.

“Mix? Are you okay?” Ter looks over at Mix with concern. He hands the other man a glass of water and pats his back softly.

“I’m fine. Thanks.”

But Mix isn’t really sure. And Ter doesn’t really have to know that.

Because fuck.

 

- - -

 

Mix heads to the back alley to smoke. He keeps his eyes glued to the high wall separating this side of Curio from the next establishment.

“Rough day?”

Mix’s head snaps to the sound of the voice and sees Earth walking towards him. He stands straight and offers Earth the stick. The older man gladly takes it this time.

“Just thinking why I’m built to stress about work this much. I sound like a workaholic.”

“Oh yeah, you are.”

Mix whips his head to Earth and pouts. “You’re supposed to say I’m not.”

“But dude, you are.” Mix hits Earth’s arm lightly while they laugh, passing the cigarette between them.

Earth observes Mix’s face almost instantly go back to looking downcast, like how he found him here just moments ago. “What is it?”

Mix meets the other’s gaze and decides to tell Earth about the call from Freen. How a change in their client’s management led to the scrapping of an idea they’ve worked on for almost two weeks, even if the original lead signed off on it.

“They didn’t even let us explain the changes before scrapping the idea.”

Earth considers everything and faces Mix. “Sounds like a snap judgment. And snap judgments are made without the need for… an ounce of expertise. Or talent.”

Mix doesn’t tear his eyes away from the wall in front of them, but Earth knows he’s listening.

“And I’m not just saying this because I like you— your work.” Earth stiffens but finishes with, “You have your team with you. You got this.”

They spend a bit more time just standing there, watching the afternoon give way to the night. Curio’s music nights are a highly anticipated event. They could hear the sound of more people entering the cafe from where they are, some of them already crowding the back alley as well, greeting Earth.

“Is there anything more you want to say?” Earth asks.

‘Yes.’

Mix wanted to say. But he’s reminded of the last time they shared a conversation in this very alley.

So Mix shakes his head and crushes the cigarette with his shoe. “No.”

And with that, the two head back inside and wait for music night to officially begin.

 

- - -

 

Earth insisted on closing up Curio that night. He doesn’t tell them why, exactly, but he wanted time alone to think about things. He wanted to clear his head here, so he could go home without his mind running amok with thoughts he wasn’t really sure how to handle on his own.

Before he left, Podd placed a bottle of whiskey in front of him. He must’ve noticed. Being friends with the man for more than a decade means Earth couldn’t really hide from him. Even if he wants to.

“Don’t down the whole bottle,” Earth nods and watches his best friend exit the cafe, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

Earth sits at a bar stool, recounting moments from that evening. He dials back to the moment Ter—Mix’s officemate, as he comes to know later on—took to the stage. How the man would take some time just looking at Mix while he was singing as if he's dedicating the song to the latter.

'It doesn’t really take deep detective work to know what’s with that look’, Earth thinks.

In his mind, he sees Mix singing along. Bobbing his head and smiling at Ter. He looks merry, encouraging Ter when the latter forgot some of the lyrics halfway through the song.

Why he felt such an inexplicable unease from seeing that exchange, Earth doesn’t really know.

And Earth seems not to know a lot these days, good god.

He hears the damned song playing in his mind right now, and in a moment of uncertainty, decides to look it up and play it.

“I think that possibly, maybe I’m falling for you. Yes there’s a chance that I’ve fallen quite hard over you.”

Earth smirks at how fitting the lyrics were. For Ter, of course. Guitar-playing, singing Ter. Earth bets the man writes his own songs; he bets he’s already writing one for Mix—if he hasn’t already. He keeps the music on, swirling the whiskey in his glass.

“No one understands me, quite like you do. Through all of the shadowy corners of me.”

Earth jeers at the bottle. He wonders if he’s already drunk. Maybe. Maybe not. He sees the bottle half empty. At this rate, he may have to sleep upstairs in their office. Earth feels like laughing for no reason at all other than he feels light—so, so light—right now.

“I never knew just what it was, about this old coffee shop I love so much. All of the while, I never knew.”

Oh but he knows. Earth downs the whole bottle without really noticing it. He slides an arm over the counter and smiles drunkenly to no one in particular.

Because he knows.

Because fuck, he knows.

Chapter Text

Mix used to think Jane is weak.

She was crying the very first time he saw her. It was on the neighborhood playground, a few months after Gun and Off brought him and his brothers home. If he closes his eyes now, Mix could still see an image of little Jane hunched over, trying to blow on a bruise on her knee, her small body shaking slightly as tears stream steadily on her face.

As the eldest child, it was in Mix’s nature to be caring, so he did what he thought was right at that moment. He dismounted the swing he was on and approached the crying girl by the slide. Without hesitating, he asked her what was wrong.

Jane observes the boy. She’d been warned about the dangers of talking with strangers so she stared at him for a while, not really saying anything. When she finally decided that he’s trustworthy, she slowly eases into her story. She tells the little boy that she snuck out during nap time because her parents never let her out, always afraid for her safety.

'Why?'

'My heart is weak. There’s something wrong with it.'

Mix didn’t really understand it, but he didn’t say anything anymore. He remembers asking little Jane if she wants to go home and she nodded through her tears. Mix felt the need to carry her but knows he couldn’t. He’s small. He couldn’t already carry Win, and the little girl looks bigger than his brother. They’d probably topple over if he tries. So, he approached his papa, who was surprised to find his little son holding the hand of a crying little girl, asking him if they could go with Jane to her house.

They’ve arrived to Jane’s mother looking frantic and saw her immediately looking relieved when she finally spotted her daughter. Jane hid behind Off, one hand tugging at his shirt before she lets go to embrace her mom, apologizing as she did. Papa Off explained what happened, and after getting her bruise cleaned and bandaged, he decided to stay with Jane’s parents so the kids could get acquainted, too.

For the first time ever, Jane had someone to talk to.

She told Mix that at night, she could hear her parents crying. She told him about her check-ups; about doctors prodding her arm with needles and her chest being hooked up with these scary things that kind of send what feels like electricity coursing through her body. She said it tingles; makes her uncomfortable. But her parents tell her she needs it to be strong. And Jane, despite her protestations, also wants to feel stronger.

Finally, Jane told Mix that she’s tired of seeing her parents always afraid. When Mix asked her why, she responded with: 'Because it makes me afraid,'

When they were old enough to understand things, Jane learned that she has to live with this condition all her life; that there is no escaping it. She has resigned to her fate but vowed to make the most of her life. Her diagnosis says nothing about her strength; none of the fight and grit she has embodied in order to endure her illness.

Mix grew up witnessing everything Jane had to endure and he’s come to realize that he’s wrong about some things: first, crying doesn’t necessarily mean weakness, and second, his best friend—his soulmate—is anything but weak.

All these things were swirling in Mix’s head as he and Khaotung wait outside Jane’s room in the hospital. She was rushed early that morning after blacking out in the shower and hitting her head in the bathtub, leading to a minor concussion.

“How is she? We came as soon as we heard,”

“Doctor says she’s stable now. Still waiting for her to regain consciousness though. She hit her head pretty badly when she collapsed.”

White observes Mix and Khaotung looking grim as they observe Jane on the bed.

“Hey, cheer up, you two. She’d get through this. She always pulls through. Our girl’s tough.” Mix hears a tinge of worry in White’s voice; he isn’t sure if the man’s trying to convince them or himself.

“I know,” Mix nears Jane’s body on the bed and caresses her face with the back of his hand. He sees a few wrinkles on her face and wonders when exactly did she begin looking this fragile.

“But she hasn’t had an attack in so long. I’m just worried,” He shares a look with White who eventually takes a deep breath. It must be hell for him. Mix could see that White is scared shitless but trying his best to remain strong.

“You’ve been here since this morning and I’m sure you haven’t eaten anything,” Khaotung tells White while pulling a chair closer to Jane’s bed. “I’ll look after her. Go eat something.”

White moves closer to his girlfriend’s bed again. He’s hesitating.

“You?” He asks Khaotung.

Khaotung offers him a smile. “I’m fine, I came from a team dinner. You worry about yourself.”

Khaotung nods at Mix and the latter tugs at White’s arm. “Let’s go.”

“Call me as soon as she wakes up,” White walks a few steps and stops, hesitating by the door, “Call me for anything, okay?”

“Of course. Just go.”

 

- - -

 

White absentmindedly pokes at the food on his plate. Mix observes his best friend; he’s here but his mind is definitely with Jane in that room; he couldn’t really blame him.

Mix takes a spoonful of rice and pushes it on White’s mouth.

“Aaaahhh…”

White jerks a little and chuckles, the first time he did that day.

“You have to eat so you could get back to Jane, okay?”

White sighs and finishes his food. White calls Khaotung to check on his girlfriend before asking Mix if they could get some air. Outside, the man stretches and sucks in a deep, slow breath.

“How are you feeling?” Mix asks. He examines White’s expression and although tranquil, Mix could nonetheless sense the agitation brewing inside. It’s in the way he’s sighing deeply and embracing his arms, as if trying to calm himself down. Mix could see that he’s still a bit shaken.

“Afraid,” White begins. All day, he tried his hardest to erase the image from that morning, but if he closes his eyes now, he can still see Jane lying unconscious inside the bathtub, the space around her head already pooling with blood. “Every day, I feel like her heart is inching her closer and closer to—”

Death.

White stops. He doesn’t say it out loud, probably afraid that he’d will it into reality if he dares.

“And I feel like I can’t do anything about it.”

Mix holds one of White’s hands and squeezes. “This is out of your control, White. And you’re doing your best, looking after her. Being with her. We both know this.”

White doesn’t say anything. Mix doesn’t know if he even got through to him. Nothing probably will, at this time.

“I want more,” White begins after a while, trying to form words in his head.

“Hmmm?”

“I just want more time with her.” ‘More time to be with her here. More time to achieve our dreams together. More time to hold her.’

“You’d have more time with her. You will, White.”

Mix isn’t really sure about that. No one is, really. But he’d like to think that by throwing it out there, he could speak it into reality. That by voicing it out, he could maybe even convince the universe, too.

The man offers him a tight-lipped smile and closes his eyes. They let the silence settle between them, occupying the wide space, mingling with the cold air. Both men worried—one for his best friend and the other for his girlfriend.

 

- - -

 

Jane and White decide to drop by The Curio the day she was discharged from the hospital. Hearing what happened, team Curio decides to hold a small feast for her, inviting all of their friends over, including Mix and Khaotung.

“Focus on your recovery, okay? The website can wait.” Jennie says, handing Jane a plate of Namtan’s winning carbonara.

Jane takes a bite and her eyes widen. “Who knew I’d get this because of that little accident. I should probably get myself in the hospital more—”

“Babe, no! That’s morbid!” White pouts and holds one of his girlfriend’s hands in his. Jane cups his face with one hand and plants a small kiss on his nose.

“Baby, I’m kidding.” She says in between laughter.

“That’s not funny,” White huffs but tightens his hold Jane’s hand, squeezing tenderly. Jane feels White’s cold hand and she squeezes, mouthing ‘I’m okay,’ as she did.

“Oh, what would you even do without me?” Jane says, chuckling. She looks at her boyfriend, the one she never thought would stay by her side all these years, and feels love and comfort ebbing inside her.

“Probably nothing so I should die before you—”

“White!”

“I can’t joke?!”

Everyone looks at the exchange and laughs. Everyone except Earth, that is. The man isn’t really present to laugh with them.

“By the way, where’s Earth?” Namtan finally says, looking around the cafe which they decided to close that Sunday. Mix looks down on his plate. He doesn’t know.

Podd finally speaks up. “Messaged him this morning and he said he can’t come. He’s with Sara, visiting their mom.”

Mix keeps silent. He checks his phone to see if Earth also replied to his message from that morning.

[ Will you be @ Curio? Jennie invited us over for lunch. ]

Nothing. Mix realizes he hasn’t really heard from Earth since the music night, although he’s been sending him the usual messages. Mix figures that he’s busy, but Earth’s radio silence has made him a bit hesitant to drop by The Curio as often as he used to.

He thinks it was odd, but didn’t want to overthink it anymore. He went back to his food and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon with his friends.

 

- - -

 

Earth eats a popsicle and leans on the doorway of their kitchen. He watches his mom and their house helper prepare the food while Sara sets the table in the dining room behind him. It has been a while since he’s been home, so when Sara said she’s visiting their mother that weekend, he immediately said he’d come.

After a while, he feels Sara’s sharp elbow jab on his side, which made him almost drop the popsicle. He sees his sister pass by him, her tongue sticking out.

“What are you, six?” He glares at his sister while rubbing circles on his aching side.

“Says the man eating a popsicle.” She sticks out her tongue again at him before hugging their mother from behind. “I missed your cooking, ma.”

“As you should. My cooking’s the best.” Their mother, a stern yet lovely woman, remarks without looking. “And you are both acting like kids.” She wiggles and says, “Sara, get off me. I won’t finish with you clinging to me like this.”

It was Earth’s turn to tease her sister but their mother caught him making faces.

“I want both of you out, you’re distracting us. Go.” She says as she stirs the pot, giving them a look.

“Yes, ma’am.” The two say simultaneously before walking out, still shoving each other.

At the table, their mom sits and looks at both of her children. She could only imagine what lives they’ve been leading in the city. But here, they’re still children. Her children. Here, she’d keep both of them safe and happy, even if she can’t most of the time.

“You’re distracted.” Earth’s mom says, looking at him with concern evident on her face. “And you’ve lost weight, Earth.” She has already noticed Earth’s vacant gaze the moment he walked in—that and the fact that he’s lost a few stones since the last time she’d seen him.

“It’s probably boy problems, ma.” Sara teases.

“Shut up.” Earth gives Sara a stern look but softens immediately when he addresses his mom. “It's nothing, ma. I’m just tired. Renovations at the bar are still going on.”

Their mother doesn't say anything, but Earth knows she isn't convinced. She drops the matter altogether but demanded he comes home more often so she could cook him his favorites.

After lunch, Earth steps out to smoke. He didn’t know what came over him when he picked up cigarettes at a convenience store on the way over, but he did.

He looks at the last message from Mix and sighs.

Maybe he is distracted.

He begins lighting up the stick when Sara came out, taking it from his mouth. “You know she doesn’t like you smoking,”

Earth sighs as he watches Sara break the stick in half and toss it on a bin. He lets her; it’s probably for the best anyway.

“15 minutes?”

Earth chuckles and stretches. “You know me so well, don’t you?”

“Please, I changed your diapers when you were a baby.” The two share a laugh before sitting at their outdoor chairs.

“It’s happening again.”

“What is?”

The words were out of his mouth, but Earth doesn’t really know what it is he wants to say exactly. But he knows he needs to organize his thoughts instead of drowning in them. So, he says what he feels instead and hopes Sara could somehow piece it together like she always does.

“I feel this itch to… run again,”

“Run?” Earth nods. He steals a glance inside their house and spots an old family picture. One taken before his father left. Their mother never really bothered to remove it, although they’re pretty sure she doesn’t mind it. The two of them never really asked, afraid they’d be opening a wound that she’s trying to heal from.

Earth spots the image of their father. Blurry. Almost unrecognizable. “Guess the apple doesn’t really fall from the tree, huh?”

Earth’s parents separated twice. And both of these times were related to him in some way.

First was when his father brought him home from his mistress’s house—Earth’s biological mother. He wasn’t kept in the dark about his lineage, but the fact that he was never made to feel any different from his sister made this easy for Earth. He loves his mother so much and respects her immensely. And while the woman isn’t very vocal, he knows that she loves him, too.

On days when he needs to be reminded of his mother’s love for him, he remembers a story that Sara told him when they were younger, 'You know when dad brought you home, mom embraced you almost immediately. She didn’t ask who your real mother was, neither did she care, really. She just straight up asked dad if you’ve already been named and then calmly asked him to leave. She didn’t even look at him!' The hilarity of that story never fails to make Sara laugh, even to this day.

Their parents did get back together after some time but were more distant with each other than ever. And it wasn’t as if they were in love in the first place anyway; the fact that they were together for mutual economic gain was an open secret. It was a marriage borne out of convenience. After Earth came, they were together just to keep up appearances and quell the rumors circulating around their very judgemental circle. And while they weren’t openly hostile with each other and never with Earth and Sara, the house fell into an irritating silence when they’re both home. Which just gets too much most of the time.

The second and final time his parents separated, Earth was 17 years old. He brought a friend home one night, hoping to finish a project due the next day. At that point, Earth already knew he’s into boys and his friend knew about it, too. But unlike him, Max wasn’t gay. They did end up kissing, however, out of mere curiosity and raging adolescent hormones than anything else, but were interrupted by his father who walked in on them.

His father, a quiet and reserved man, was taken aback for a few seconds before hitting Earth square in the jaw—for the first and last time ever. His father looked more confused than mad at Earth during that time, as if his mind found it impossible to process the image of two boys kissing.

Earth’s mother heard the commotion and ran into the room, putting herself between his father and Earth who was already nursing a busted lip. She looked at Earth, eyes wild with concern. After making sure that he’s okay, she said: 'Get out and never come back. You will never ever touch my son again.'

The finality in her voice and her steely gaze was enough to wake his father from that initial shock. He paused for a second, looking so repulsed, and left. A few days later, he came to collect what little things he had inside the house and drove away, not even sparing Earth a glance as he walked out the door.

They’ve never heard from him again.

He still wonders if his being gay was the final nail in the coffin; his father’s last straw. If he’s being honest, he doesn’t actually hate the old man. And more bitingly, he doesn't really care. What his father thought or thinks about him is overshadowed by everyone else’s support.

But Earth sometimes wonders.

He often wonders if he’s anything like his father. Running away when things get so hard; when it gets awfully real. Hiding when things get a little too much for him.

And Earth doesn’t really want to be like that coward.

Sara follows her brother’s gaze and catches him looking at their family picture. “You’re not him, you know.” She begins, leaning deeper into her seat. “There’s no… ‘generational curse’ to be afraid of, Earth. You create your reality.”

Earth doesn't say anything for a while and casts his eyes on the skies. Wanting to lighten the mood, he taps her sister’s knee. “You could be an inspirational speaker if the sex doctor thing doesn’t work out.”

“I’d give that a serious consideration. But please stop calling me a sex doctor.” She retaliates by flicking a finger on his forehead and running towards their mom who was busy watering her plants. Earth follows closely behind, laughing as well.

 

- - -

 

“How was home?”

“Good.”

One of the cons of knowing someone is knowing exactly when they’re interested and when they’re not. Right now, Mix could sense that Earth, for whatever reason he may have—one that is unclear to Mix—is not into this conversation.

‘But he’d have no reason to avoid me. I must be overthinking.’

Mix watches Earth give quick instructions to Bright and then get back to checking their alcohol stash behind the counter. He wonders if Earth’s doing this on purpose so he wouldn’t have to face Mix. Every so often, Mix would see him raise his eyes to him before focusing on something else when he catches Mix looking.

“Jennie said you live near the beach. Must be nice, huh? I love the beach.” Mix knows that he’s babbling; it’s somehow the best he could do to hide his confusion and pretend that everything’s alright.

After all, why wouldn’t it be?

“Hm,” Earth doesn't meet his eyes but murmurs a quiet response. If you could even call it that. Mix would’ve missed it altogether if he wasn’t focused on him.

But Mix is, and right now, he could sense Earth’s a little indifferent.

‘Maybe something happened at home?’ The younger man thought. He’d make sure to ask him if he gets a chance to hang with him alone later on.

Earth finishes his inventory and looks around, as if looking to do something else so he’d keep busy. He spots a towel and picks up a glass. The older man starts wiping it, which catches Bright’s attention.

“Oh I just dried everything, P’. That’s clean—”

No response. The part-timer wasn’t sure Earth even heard him. Bright shrugs his shoulders and goes back to preparing Mix’s order.

“By the way, Namtan’s carbonara is really nice. If you know how to make it, maybe this weekend we could also—”

“I’m quite busy with things.” Earth’s first complete sentence this day and said with a hint of indifference that didn’t quite escape Mix.

“Really? With what?”

Earth stops and looks at Mix, eyes suddenly fixed on the other’s. “Why do you have to know?”

It was such an unexpected response that Mix wasn’t able to process it quicker. But he knows that it feels… off. Malicious even. As if he’s talking to a stranger all of the sudden; as if this wasn’t Earth. At least, the Earth he has come to know and admire these past few months.

Suddenly, he’s terrified to keep pushing.

Mix’s shoulders sag and Earth, seeing this, immediately wishes he could take his words back. The younger man holds Earth’s gaze and while clearly confused, manages to let out a scoff. Almost challenging.

“Don’t bother plating. I’d just have it to go, Bright.” Mix instructs Bright. There was an edge to his voice that he didn’t mean. It just slipped out. Finally, he takes the take-out paper bag from Bright and thanks him, making sure his voice is soft this time. Bright smiles; he understands.

Podd, who came from the kitchen, asks. “Really? Leaving already, Ox?” His eyes dart between Mix and his best friend, sensing a heaviness in the air.

Mix gives him a small smile and nods before finally walking outside. He doesn’t spare Earth another glance.

“What was that?”

“Not now.”

“Earth—”

“I’d be upstairs.”

Earth doesn’t say another word. He could feel Podd’s and Bright’s eyes on him as he ascends the stairs leading to their office. Inside, he collapses on his chair and runs both hands on his head frustratingly.

He knows exactly what he’s doing.

‘Real mature, Earth.’

 

- - -

 

Mix exits Curio and flags a taxi. He could walk back; he loves getting his early weekend walk to and from his apartment to the cafe. He adores feeling the warmth of the sun on his body; loves being present at that moment. Being aware of his surroundings. It’s his slowdown—a reward for a hectic week.

But not this morning.

This morning, he just wants to get back to his place, his solace, as soon as possible.

He phones Jane, wanting to hear a familiar and comfortable voice. Hoping it could stop the swirling of thoughts in his head.

“How’ve you been?” He asks as soon as she picks up.

“I’m doing okay. You don’t have to worry. Still on an extended leave, love.” Jane says, voice soft over the phone. Mix hears White mumble a greeting from somewhere inside Jane’s condo unit.

“That’s so good to hear. I’d drop by one of these days, okay? Tell White I said hi,” Mix recalls the last time he’s seen Jane that afternoon at Curio. Color is finally back on her face and she looks better than she did at the hospital.

“I’m doing really well. White’s been staying with me more nowadays. Mostly because my parents and my brother nagged him.”

“Baby, no. I was just waiting for the perfect opportunity to finally move in.”

“How about you marry me first?”

“Challenge accept—”

Mix hears Jane protesting as she laughs. His best friends are giggling and he knows that White is probably on his knees right now, pretending to whip out an engagement ring. Not the first time he has joked about it.

“We’re basically joined at the hip at this point.” Jane says.

“Good. I’m really glad,” Mix’s voice trails off. He walks over to his balcony and sighs. He looks out and sees a few people dotting the street below going about their day.

“Mix? You okay, love?”

“Just confused.” Mix begins. He tries to undo whatever knot his head has been in these past few days. If anything, the exchange with Earth this morning just confirmed that something’s wrong and Mix doesn’t really know what that is.

And it makes his head spin—all the ‘not knowing’.

“I might’ve… offended someone. And I don’t really know why or how I did.”

“Did you talk with them already?”

“They’re evading me,” Mix starts. He tries to remember the last time they actually talked without this apparent friction. Music night. He remembers Earth brushing him off when he tried to say goodbye then, but he didn’t mind it. He thought nothing of it. After all, didn’t he just play him the song that afternoon? Didn’t Earth, in his own subtle way, tried to calm him down that day?

“And how is that making you feel?”

Mix sighs. ‘How does it make me feel?’

“Shitty. I feel shitty and I’ve no idea why.”

Jane takes a few seconds before responding. “You can’t sit on your feelings, Mix. That has never worked out for you before. You know this.”

Mix knows what Jane’s talking about. She knows about Nammon and how Mix tried his very best to quell his feelings all on his own when they were together. How intrusive his thoughts could get and how he used to implode—alone. Feeling everything on his own, bad seeds just festering inside him. Collecting, filling him, until he explodes and is left to pick up the pieces.

But with Mon, it was different. They were together; were supposed to get through all that mess, together.

But Earth… well, Earth’s a friend. Just a friend. He can’t expect anything from him now, can he?

“Maybe I’m overthinking this.”

“Do you really think that?”

Mix pauses. ‘No. No, I don’t think so.’

“No. God, no. I feel shitty and confused and I don’t even think I deserve this,”

“Which means you probably don’t. Mix, I know you. If you think you haven’t done anything to warrant… whatever it is they’re making you feel right now, then don’t let it fester inside you. Go talk with them, if it’s possible.”

Mix leans his back on the balcony and catches his reflection on the glass wall separating him from the inside. He spots a bundle of bananas on his table, one he picked up himself, but is nonetheless reminded of the last bundle and who he got it from.

 

- - -

 

Ter paces inside his room. He tries to calm himself down, looking nervously at this phone as he bites on his thumb’s nail.

“Please don’t judge me, Sherlock.” He stops and tells his dog. The latter’s beady eyes follow Ter’s every move as he makes a display of what he could only describe as a full-blown gay panic. Not his proudest moment.

“I mean, it’s just coffee, right? We’re just getting coffee. Swapping books. Making conversation.” Ter picks up his dog and embraces him.

“It’s only coffee.”

Ter finally gets around to responding to Mix’s message and decides to meet the latter at a coffee shop near their office. It was a weekend, and Ter hopes he could say he didn’t panic when Mix messaged him, but he did. It wasn’t even a date. But what do you do when someone you’ve been crushing on asks to see you on a weekend?

Aside from panic, that is.

Ter walks slowly. He’s always thought of things ahead. And right now, he’s feeling something more than panic.

Meeting Mix again—this time as his team lead—almost feels serendipitous. Ter isn’t known for his boldness but something about Mix emboldens him, for some reason. He’s like fuel; fanning the flames inside him.

He enters the coffee shop and sees Mix waving him over to a table by the window.

“Sorry, I’m late. I almost went to Curio thinking that’s where you wanted to meet up.” Ter watches Mix’s face drop at the mention of Curio. He recovers almost instantly although he doesn’t say anything. Ter wonders if something happened.

The two order their coffee—an iced Americano for Mix and a double shot of espresso for Ter—and began swapping stories. Nothing heavy. Ter thinks it was a nice and welcome break from work; he loves the idea of sitting with Mix here and wonders how great it would be to do it again.

‘Although—’

“By the way, here.” Mix’s voice snatches Ter away from his train of thought. He sees the younger man take a book from his bag—the first volume of the Bantam edition of Sherlock Holmes. He takes the second volume from his own bag and reaches over the table to hand it to Mix.

“No dog-eared pages, okay?” Mix warns, wagging a finger at him jokingly.

“Yes, sir.” Ter salutes in turn. He observes Mix sipping his coffee and notes how comfortable the latter looks in this light. The older man could only imagine what thoughts must be evading his mind right now. He hopes it is, at least, good.

Watching Mix here, Ter’s suddenly reminded of the first time he saw him. Two years ago. Neat bones. A voice with a nasal twang that kind of lingers when he finally said ‘thank you' on stage, nodding to the crowd who was clapping for him. Mix looked confident in his strides, but somehow his eyes are also self-conscious—even when he didn’t have to be. Ter saw it then; he has always been good at observing and remembering the minute details.

“Do you remember the Graphic Guild conference from two years ago?”

Mix looks up from his coffee. “I do actually. Why? Were you there, too?”

“I was. It was actually the first time I saw you.”

“It was? How’d you remember me?” A surprised smile creeps to Mix’s face and he leans into the table, listening to Ter.

“Well, it was hard to miss the man who led the team that won an award for the impromptu design contest that day.”

Mix shakes his head and smiles. He could still vaguely remember it; winning with his team, faking confidence on stage, feeling elated.

“And I…” Ter’s voice trails off. He takes a deep breath. This is probably a now or never moment. He braces himself and finishes the sentence.

“I have liked you since then,”

 

- - -

 

Earth looks up from his desk and sees Jennie leaning on his door frame, hands crossed in front of her.

“Heard you’ve been acting stupid again.”

He’s been sitting on his chair for a few hours now, torn between wanting to call Mix and wanting the ground to just swallow him whole. He observes his best friend’s look, a familiar sight, and Earth knows exactly what’s coming. He’s pretty sure he deserves whatever it is.

“One’s enough, don’t you think? One… major fuck up is enough for you in this lifetime.”

Earth doesn’t say anything but keeps looking at his best friend.

“He’s a good man. I wasn’t there to see it, but I know you. And I don’t think he deserves whatever petty game you’ve been playing.”

Earth exhales. “I know that.”

“But?”

Earth stalls and plants his elbows on his table. ‘But what, exactly?’

‘But I’m not a good man. But I always tend to fuck it up, one way or another. But he could do better.’

“He could do better.”

Jennie scoffs and nears Earth. She sidles up to him and places a bottle of whiskey in front of them.

If there’s anyone to call if you need a good scolding, Jennie’s definitely the woman for that. All of her friends fear her for two things—one, she never gets drunk; count on her to remember the stupid things you do when you’re shit-faced and then use it as arsenal when the situation favors her. And two, she’s unsparing; she’d give it to you straight with no sugarcoating.

“Ohhh, drinking on the job… Is this okay, boss?”

“Shut up, you’re closing up tonight.”

Earth pours both of them a drink and toasts Jennie’s glass with his own. He watches her down the glass and cracks her knuckles before she meets his gaze.

“But you could be better, you know.” Jennie finally says after a while.

“I tried that before. We all know how that went down.”

“So what?”

“What do you mean, ‘so what’?”

Jennie shrugs and bumps her shoulders with Earth. “Just try again.”

It’s Earth’s turn to scoff. He pours himself a drink again and downs it without waiting for Jennie.

“It’s not that easy.”

“Not easy, yes. But possible.” Jennie’s words linger in the air. “But you have to want it.”

Earth’s demons follow him around, like his own shadow. Tethering Earth. A strong force, masquerading as comfortable when in reality, it has done nothing but keep him in a cage. He’s gotten so good at embracing that feeling of emptiness—all the fleeting fancies—that he’s starting to believe that that’s all he’s ever going to be good at.

“What, you think you haven’t suffered enough for it?”

Earth’s eyes follow Jennie. There was a glimmer of sadness there and Jennie knows she’s fielding a territory that the other has been closing off to others for a long time now. She catches the shadow of familiar guilt jump out before Earth casts his eyes down.

Jennie touches Earth’s hand. “I’m not letting you off the hook. I’m still pissed about what happened.”

After a while, she goes on. “But do I also believe you’re capable of becoming better? Do I think you deserve another chance at something… real? I do. But Earth…”

Jennie squeezes her best friend’s hand, while her other hand settles on his chin, lifting it up so he meets her gaze. “You have to believe it, too. You have to believe in you, too.”

‘You have to want it You have to believe it.’

Nothing is said for a while but the two continue drinking, bathing in a pleasant silence. Earth finally corks the bottle of whiskey and sets it aside. “How’d you know?”

“Please, you couldn’t be more obvious.” Jennie rolls her eyes and laughs, poking Earth’s cheek. “He’s a great man, Earth. I could see it.”

“I know.” Even at this moment, Earth couldn’t help but smile fondly. He doesn’t seem to know a lot of things lately, but he’s sure about Mix being a great person.

“It’s probably why you’re so afraid.”

“Hmmm.” Earth wonders if he is, indeed, afraid. The thought of Mix excites but terrifies him at the same time. There is that strong pull to be honest with him, but Earth figures that honesty could mean losing Mix.

“But that’s good. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Use that fear to get your head in order.”

Jennie checks her watch and stands up. She smiles and walks away, lingering by the door to say one last thing.

“Don’t lose him, too.”

 

- - -

 

Mix stops and looks at Ter. This bit was not something he expected. He feels a jumble of words just stuck at the back of his throat, inching to get out.

“But I promise, meeting you again was coincidental, I didn’t know that’s where you’ve been working. Just putting it out here in case you think I’m a creepy stalker who has followed you for two years.”

Mix pinches his leg through his pants. A nervous habit. He tries to think clearly, but it’s definitely not easy when you’re in the presence of someone who’s confessing to you.

“I like how competent you are. I like how in-tune you are with people’s feelings. How you make sure everybody feels included. The way you value our opinions. Your grit. Your passion. Just—”

Ter observes Mix and sees this Mix melding with the idea of Mix in his head; something he had for two years. Like two versions coming together.

‘Everything,’ Ter thinks.

“You.”

Mix breathes out, still at loss for words. He’s never been good at handling confessions. He doesn’t want to say something that’d sound patronizing because he knows exactly how it feels to be at the receiving end of that.

Ter feels his heart beating loudly on his chest, more so from the weight of honesty that is surging inside him right now. Maybe there’d be better days for a serious tell-all, sure. But maybe, there wouldn’t be. He doesn’t know exactly what came over him. But it’s out and now that it is, Ter lets it. No reason to cry over spilled milk anyway.

Mix feels a strange compulsion to touch his hand, but decides against it, lest it’s treated as something else entirely. But he keeps his eyes on the older man and somehow, it feels as if his—Mix’s—thoughts on the matter mean little to Ter. But in a good way.

For a split second, Mix allows his mind to wander. He begins thinking how this, if given the chance, could actually work. Ter with his quiet charm. Ter with his beautiful voice. Ter with his beautiful songs. Ter with his love for Sherlock Holmes. Shy yet determined Ter. Him with his pleasant aura; one that’s comforting, assuring.

—ready.

But he couldn’t move past a figure; couldn’t imagine anything other than two fingers, gently tapping on his hand. The same hand holding out a plate of pasta, the sound of scissors chip-chipping away at his hair, store-bought ice cream on a cold night, a bundle of bananas that was there—even if the recipe didn’t call for it. Calloused but gentle hands on his cheek and a quiet voice asking 'Do you want to leave?'. Resting his head on a shoulder after moving day. 15 minutes of honesty. A man who hummed softly on the car ride to his new place. A playful grin that he never seems to get tired of, amidst his whining. A figure with him on a lone balcony, sharing a cigarette with him, listening to music as day breaks.

A man—he realizes now—that he is so, so ready for.

But one not ready for him.

“Ter,” Mix begins after a long pause. “The streets here during this time are so inviting. It’s warm out; it’s the best.”

Ter catches on and smiles. “Do you wanna take a walk?”

Mix nods slowly and the two walk outside.

 

- - -

 

“Thank you,”

Ter slows down, hanging back a few steps to watch Mix in front of him. “For what?”

“For seeing all that.”

Being outside feels more freeing, at least for Mix. He observes everything and anything his eyes could land on. A little kid toddling while he holds on to his father’s hand. Leaves moving gently with the slight afternoon breeze. The sound of their footsteps on the sidewalk.

“It’s easy to fall for you. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can see all that and more,”

A tentative smile creeps on Mix’s face and he faces Ter behind him. Before long, he finds himself falling back to match the other’s strides. “You know, I never pegged you for the confident type.”

It was Ter’s turn to blush. “I’m— I’m not usually like this.” The older man massages his nape. “Mix, you don’t have to say anything.”

Mix pivots and spots a bench a few steps from them. “I think I do.” He motions to Ter, asking the man to follow him.

Once seated, Mix begins going over the thoughts in his mind. He doesn’t owe the other an explanation. He was given a pass and if he doesn’t feel comfortable, he could use that, too. But maybe it’s the other’s brazen confession or something else entirely, but Mix felt the need to respond with the truth; at least the truth that he’s slowly embracing.

“I feel something for someone.” It’s odd, finally voicing it out, but the words feel right on his mouth. The admission somehow gives him a gush of strength that wasn’t really there before.

“And I’m saying ‘feel’ because to be honest, things are a little complicated right now. But I still think you have to know.” Mix shakes his head. He wonders if he’s making sense. “You’re a good person, Ter. And I’m not just saying this to cushion the blow or anything. I say this because I really think you are. Anyone would be lucky to have you.”

Mix’s eyes are downcast, but his lips try their hardest to keep the smile on.

“It just couldn’t be me,”

Ter hears him. Mix’s words ring loud and clear. But seeing him like this makes Ter want to fight. But Ter knows that the fight was over for him before it even began. The older man learns further into the bench and tilts his head upwards. He squints his eyes and holds up a hand to shield himself from the sun bearing down on him.

“I figured.”

“Wait. You know?”

“Let's just say... 'It’s elementary, my dear Watson.' Ter tries his best to lighten the mood with a quote familiar to both of them. He knows; he has braced himself for the impact—for the heartbreak that he honestly saw coming.

After all, Ter has always been good at spotting the littlest details.

Like the look Earth gave Mix when they entered the cafe. How the man looked at Mix the way Ter did. He remembers seeing them at the back alley, through a small crack on the door, sharing a smoke and a look—one that Ter could only describe as comfortable. He recalls seeing Earth’s longing stare when he catches Mix singing along with him. Sensing, along with everything else, the other’s hesitation.

“I’ve seen it. I tried to look past that because I’ve never been… brave to try anything. But…”

Ter did wonder if he was overthinking that part; he thought maybe, he imagined it.

But a bigger part of him knows he didn’t.

“But I wanted to try for you. If there was even a sliver of hope, a little flame I could fan so it gets bigger—I was willing to take it.”

But for Ter, it felt like a “hello” and a “goodbye” fused into one afternoon of boldness.

“And I only wanted to let you know. Because you make me brave. I’m not really sure how, but you do. And I feel like you should know.”

Mix leans into the bench, copying Ter who still has his hand up. “You do have a way with your words, Ter.”

The two spend the remainder of the afternoon just hopping from one shop to another. The longer they stayed out together, the lighter everything felt. Soon, they’re talking as friends would; joking, too. Swapping stories and tidbits from lives they never talk about in the office. The two were together until the skies bled a purple hue. And before long, just before the last stirrings of the day gave way to the night, they’ve arrived at Mix’s place.

“This is me,” Mix says, pointing to his building. Suddenly remembering something, Mix quips, holding out the book Ter lent him. “Wait, do you have my book?”

Ter takes Mix’s book from his bag and shows the younger man. “No annotations or dog-eared pages. Got it.”

Mix manages a small smile. Finally, he asks. “Ter. Are we good?”

“Of course, we are. We’re okay.”

“Good because I had fun this afternoon and would like to do this again, hopefully with the others next time.”

Ter lets out a laugh. “I did, too. If you don’t count my heartbrea— ow! Mix hits Ter playfully, shaking his head as he looks at the older man who continued laughing.

“Kidding.”

They didn’t say it, but both men feel at least some weight off of their shoulders. Their reasons may be different, but the feeling of ease has crept and settled back into place. They knew they’d be fine. While it marked an end to a possible romance, it did open a door to a very good friendship.

Ter gets ready to leave, but before parting, he leaves Mix with a remark that the boy brought with him to bed that night.

“Mix? You deserve a love that’s ready for you.”

 

- - -

 

Earth wakes up and sees a total of 6 missed calls from Mix. He spots the time on his phone. It’s almost 3 AM, so the calls worried him. He jolts from his bed and rubs the sleepiness from his eyes and just as he was about to call back, he sees Mix calling again. This time, he promptly answers.

“Hello? Mix?”

“Earth, are you home? I’m sorry I— I’m outside.”

The older man grabs a shirt he has draped on his table and walks outside of his room, leaving a slipper behind in his haste. He opens his door to Mix, who was shaking in his thin night clothes. Clearly he, too, seemed to have left in a hurry.

“Hey…”

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to be here at this time but do you know where Podd is?”

Earth hears desperation in the other’s voice so he kept his answers short, still confused about what’s happening and why Mix is looking for his best friend at 3 in the morning.

“No. He took the day off.”

Earth feels the intense urge to put wrap Mix in his embrace but settles for both hands on the younger man’s shoulders instead, trying to calm the agitated man.

“I know you don’t wanna see me, but please I need— number. D-do you have—”

“Mix, breathe… Please.”

Earth begins breathing slow and deep, trying to get the other to do the same. He keeps his eyes to him and holds up one hand to Mix’s chest to see if his heart—which Earth feels hammering loudly—is finally slowing to normal. Mix follows for a little while before he looks up to the older man, voice still shaky but more intentional this time.

“Please, I just need to talk with Podd. We think Khaotung’s with him.” Mix feels the tears pushing in his eyes, worry mixing strongly with desperation. “He’s not answering any of our calls and White said they spoke this morning and Khao says he’s coming out to his family today. And his family aren’t—”

‘Good people?’ Khaotung’s family is all sorts of twisted, Mix and their friends know this for a fact, which makes his silence even more terrifying.

“I just feel like they’re together now but we have to know for sure.”

Earth tries to piece together the bits of information he’s hearing right now but could focus on nothing but the look of exhaustion on Mix’s face. He holds up a finger to Mix and quickly turns on his heel.

“Wait here,”

Within seconds, the older man’s back outside again, holding a bottle of water.

“Please, drink first. And focus on your breathing…”

Mix, already too worn-out to protest, does exactly as he was told. He holds the bottle with shaky hands and feels one of Earth’s on his back, patting it slowly. “Slowly. Don’t guzzle it down at once.”

“Please, Earth. Podd’s number. I just need to know Khaotung’s safe.”

A tentative smile creeps up to Earth’s face, and without really thinking about it, he’s already closing the door behind him, tugging at Mix’s arm.

“Let’s go.”

 

- - -

 

Mix gets home at around 6 AM. He has already put on an all-nighter and wonders if he should just begin his day now; get ready to get to work. But his steps feel heavier than usual.

He makes a mental note to call in sick for work, something he never really does but feels warranted today.

He recalls everything from a few hours ago. The running around looking for Khaotung. Finding him and Podd getting out of the latter’s car from the hospital, his best friend’s face bruised and bandaged. The feeling of dread that has consumed him then. Discovering that Khaotung was chased out of their house—one that never really felt like a home—but not without taking serious hits from his father and brothers. He listens as they recount how he ran to Podd who was waiting for him a few streets away.

Mix remembers his fists curling on their own as he listens to Khaotung, the blood rushing to his face, warm and heavy with intent to hurt whoever cause his best friend this much pain. He closes his eyes and sees it again, Khaotung’s tired, resigned expression from that morning; the small, sloth-like grin that they know him for. He looks tired, but also free—for the first time ever.

Mix wanted to offer him his place. But before he could, Podd sweeps in with an offer of his own.

‘You can choose to stay with your friends, if that’d make you comfortable. But Khao?’ He lifts Khaotung’s chin and kisses his forehead. ‘You can stay with me. Be with me. For as long as you want.’ He could still hear Podd’s voice, how it trembled with worry but also love; so much of it for his best friend, just spilling out—loud. Ready.

Not even an hour later, Khaotung asked to get some much-needed rest. Khaotung walks up to Podd, who was then talking to Earth, and embraced him from behind, as if deriving his strength from the latter. The gentle giant turns his body to accommodate Khao, whose small body just melted in Podd's embrace. He sees Podd sniff-kissing the top of his best friend's head and without really meaning to, he overheard his best friend tell Podd—

‘Let's go home.’

The sun settles in its place in the skies as Mix's body sinks deeper into his bed. His last thought, before sleep finally overcomes his senses, is that finally, his best friend’s home.

 

Chapter Text

Earth swipes harshly at his shoulders all the way home. He struggles to walk the remaining steps to his condo and wants nothing but to get under the covers and surrender to the warmth it could offer his trembling body.

But oddly enough, Earth remains awake long after plopping himself down his bed. He feels that he'd be for a few hours more. Compared to Mix, whom he supposes—who Earth hopes—is now getting his rest after a very overwhelming start of the day, Earth is wide awake. His senses are heightened, ready to welcome a foreign warmth that has yet to spread to his whole body; one that is nonetheless searing inside of him.

By now, he knows that there is always a better alternative to lashing out. A more sensible reaction to feelings he's beginning to harbor but one he cannot name just yet.

But old habits die hard. Especially ones that have made themselves comfortable in his bones; bones that he wants to bend and break so he could create a ditch where he can place him in. Fill it with all that warmth. All that fire waiting—begging—to be set ablaze.

So until he knows, until he really knows that he's ready, Earth doesn't tell the other anything yet.

Not that morning, when they stopped at a convenience store on the way home from Podd's—Podd's & Khaotung's now, it would seem—and got themselves warm cups of coffee from the vending machine.

Probably not the most ideal place for reconciliation, Earth thinks in retrospect.

He remembers Mix sniffling. Instead of sitting down, the other preferred to stand up as his eyes surveyed the street in front of them. Mix needed something to reel him in; needed to feel that he could stop worrying about Khaotung from now on.

'He'd be okay,' Mix thought then, mind still with his best friend. 'He's safe at home.'

Mix felt something on his shoulders and saw that Earth draped his jacket on him.

"You're cold," Earth has said then, hands careful not to linger on the other. As if on cue, Mix shuddered, only realizing the fact after Earth mentioned it. But he's not very cold; he could wager that Earth was feeling the effect of the weather worse than him.

The younger man didn't spare him a glance but said: "It's fine, I already have a jacket on."

"Well, one more wouldn't hurt," Earth muttered, voice so small and soothing, carrying with it a softness that Mix has missed hearing.

It was impossible not to look at him then.

Mix felt like he didn't have the strength to untangle the mess between them yet. At least, not this morning, when he's still reeling from what happened to Khaotung. But he wants to see how this would play out—being here with Earth. Having coffee like old friends. Acting as if everything's okay between them.

Mix tried to hold the other's gaze but saw that Earth was no longer looking. Instead, he was clenching and unclenching his fingers. Mix squints his eyes; he could see that the poor man was shivering.

'I knew it.' Mix knows Earth doesn't take too kindly to the cold. His mouth formed into a small smile. "You're cold," he said, pointing the obvious to the older man, who was trying his best not to mind the cold but nonetheless failing miserably.

Earth didn't need to look at the other to know that Mix was smiling then. This made him wonder when exactly he began to notice the small nuances and cracks in the other's voice. How Mix could say one word and Earth would eventually just know; that he could tell when Mix's voice is mouthed through a smile or a grimace.

"You're shivering. Take your jacket back," Mix removed the jacket and draped it back on Earth's shoulders, guarding the older man against the cold.

Earth breathed out. Well, he is cold. But he wanted Mix to have his jacket. Earth pouts without really meaning to, which did not go unnoticed by the younger man.

Earth heard Mix chuckle and suddenly, everything felt right in the world.

"Stop trying to look cool, Pirapat." Earth imagined an eye roll from Mix. A glance confirmed his guess. Mix smirked and blew on his coffee before taking a sip.

Earth missed hearing his name out of the other's mouth. One of the many things he missed about him.

"I could take it, you know. The cold. I'm strong." Mix quips.

"Are you saying I'm weak?" Earth showed a familiar smirk but dropped it immediately. He sighs and takes a sip from his own cup. It was so easy to forget his offenses when he's just overcome by the familiarity of their easy banters.

But Mix quipped back, erasing Earth's reservation. "Hey, your words. Not mine."

A gust of wind blew over their bodies. Earth mutters 'fuck' under his breath but tried his hardest not to shiver. "I-I could s-see that's what you m-meant." He barely managed to get the words out. Earth wished he didn't stutter, but he couldn't help it. It was cold.

'So much for looking impressive, huh?'

"We could go inside," Mix mumbled and broke Earth's thought.

"It's worse inside. Their air conditioning unit's whack, trust me. We've been going here for years and they haven't done anything about it."

Mix scooted closer to the older man. Regardless of whether he did it to keep Earth warm or just because he wanted to, Mix succeeded: Earth is beginning to feel warm; the feeling in his chest, even more so.

Mix worried. The longer they stayed out, the longer the latter would have to brave the cold—or 'fake brave' it.

'This won't do,'

"Come on. I'll walk you home."

"No—" Earth interjected, eyes suddenly big and pleading. It took him a few seconds to realize that his free hand was gripping Mix's arm. But he panicked; part of him was afraid that if he lets go, the younger man would leave.

And he really doesn't want him to leave just yet.

"No? You... don't want to walk home with me?" Earth was already shaking his head before Mix even finished his sentence.

"No! I mean, it's still dark out. Let's at least wait for the sun to break." Earth saw Mix's eyes scan his own, possibly wondering if there's anything behind that seemingly innocuous request. But Earth doesn't care now; he didn't hide the truth even if he couldn't say it out loud. He held Mix's gaze and knew that a part of him wanted the latter to see and understand.

'Stay.'

"Please?" Earth finally managed to say, his voice soft but certain. "Let's... stay here for a while."

And so, they did.

Mix felt the air tense with unspoken words. Apologies and explanations. While he wasn't trying to evade the older man, Mix doesn't exactly know how best to begin a conversation that has stalled for over a month now—for reasons that are still unknown to him.

In a desperate bid to break the silence, Earth suddenly asked, "How's Jane?"

"Better now. White's staying with her." Mix took another sip of his coffee, hand steady. Earth can't say the same about his own hand, which trembled slightly before he even gets it to his mouth.

"It's been a while since I've seen you with them."

'Been a while since I've seen you.' Was what Earth wanted to say. But saying that meant opening floodgates and he wasn't even sure if Mix was ready to swim those tides then; Earth wasn't exactly sure if he was.

The same thing crossed Mix's mind. He gave the other man a sad little smile but didn't respond to his comment. Instead, he said: "Did you know I wanted to marry Jane when we were younger?"

Earth wondered if this was Mix's way of getting them off the hook. Maybe he, too, doesn't want to talk about it yet.

So Earth inquired, deciding to see where Mix would lead this conversation. "Really? How?"

Mix fished his mind for that memory and launched his story. He now sees a seven year-old version of himself, hugging a crying Jane and telling her, 'I'm gonna marry you when we're older,'

He paused and smiled, lost in the fond image of his juvenile innocence. And to Earth, he said, "I must've heard my daddy joke around when we're younger. He always said that he married my papa because he was always crying." Mix pauses to giggle and continues.

"So in my little mind, I used to think that you need to marry someone if you wanna stop them from crying."

"That's hilarious."

"It is. Was."

Earth quietly chuckled, careful not to disturb the peace that has settled on Mix's face which was then painted with a look of nostalgia.

"Maybe it's also why I asked her to be my girlfriend when we were in high school,"

Earth scooted even closer to Mix. This wasn't something he had prior knowledge of, so it intrigued him. Mix continued with his story and that's how Earth discovered that being neighbors, Mix and Jane did almost everything together when they were growing up.

That the two were playmates, classmates, and prom partners. That Mix was Jane's first boyfriend and that she was his first girlfriend. That while he felt—feels—a tenderness for Jane, unmatched and unparalleled by anyone he's ever met, they both felt that their familiarity with each other went beyond anything romantic. That their feelings are nothing but familial love, bound by comfort and unconditional care, never to be severed by something as transitory as romance.

So, the two went back to being friends. And Jane met White when she visited Mix in his university. And the rest, as it often goes, is history.

One morning jumped out to fuzz this streak of memory. It was of Mix, then 15 years old, telling Jane that he had begun developing romantic feelings for a male classmate. He wasn't exactly sure if he was gay. Being brought up by two fathers, it wasn't as if the term was foreign or even terrifying to him. Still, Mix thought that the best person to tell all these brewing feelings to is none other than his best friend—a woman who had already proven herself to be wise beyond her years.

'You don't have to know now,' He remembers Jane telling him, both hands cupping his. 'You'd figure it out in time.'

Mix stopped talking then and Earth moved even closer to him, as close as that space would allow him to. He nudged him with a shoulder and hoped Mix knew that he wanted him to keep talking—that Earth wanted to delay this morning as best as he could.

If it meant being with Mix here longer, then the cold could actually go fuck itself.

The younger man relaxed. He breathed in and took his time breathing out. "I thought I needed to take that relationship one step further so I could take care of her better." Another small sip. Mix held the paper cup with both of his hands. Earth felt the air tense.

"And I did the same with Mon. I thought he needed me so he could 'fix' himself. I took that upon myself. And thinking about it now... disgusts me,"

"But I loved him, don't get me wrong. I loved him. But it's all so... twisted and selfish and nobody should feel satisfaction from that. But I did."

He shook his head and added, eyes drawn to the ground. "Fucking hero complex, am I right?" It was one of the hardest pills Mix had to swallow about himself, one that he's still trying to overcome to this day.

Earth listened to everything without uttering a word, only nodding and murmuring a silent response whenever Mix pauses.

"That must be exhausting," Earth finally says after an extended silence, his voice steady. "Trying to live your life feeling as if you need to save the people around you."

Mix looked the other dead in the eye that it stopped Earth.

"It is. It's exhausting. I never wanna do that again. Nobody has to feel as if they're somebody else's savior," Mix pauses. "That's not how I want to love again."

Earth's eyes surveyed the sky. It wouldn't be long before the sun finally breaks through the clouds, although it does look like today's going to be overcast; that the sun would hide and rest comfortably as the clouds guard it.

Mix has moved an inch away from Earth that their shoulders aren't touching anymore. After a while of looking at the older man, Mix spoke: "You know you don't have to say it,"

'It.'

Earth knew exactly what that 'it' pertains to. He's giving him a pass again. Like their first morning together. Earth remembered that Mix said something similar then: 'I feel like you've never had to explain yourself to others before. You do you.'

He knew everything that Mix said earlier was a preface to everything that stayed unmentioned up until that moment. Something that has festered for weeks now. Earth felt like he was given an opening—that he just had to take it, talk to him, apologize for being an asshole and...

'And what, exactly?'

"If you're not comfortable talking about it now, I understand. We don't have to talk. But..." The younger man finished his coffee and chucked the paper cup in the bin nearby.

"Stop making me feel shitty." Mix says all these with a small smile, Earth could nonetheless feel the bite in his words. "It's not a good feeling." But it's aggressiveness that is dissipating, almost like morning haze that paves the way to light, one they're about to witness a few minutes from now.

"Clearly, there's something here that I'm not seeing. But I don't want to walk on eggshells around you, Earth." Earth felt his heart sink with Mix's words. The last month has been difficult for him, what with lugging around all that unsaid guilt in his chest. But knowing that Mix felt this way too just made it ten times heavier. It made it worse.

But Earth kept quiet. He knew he had to make it okay, sooner or later, but the shame had overshadowed everything then. Earth doesn't tell him that he's sorry. Earth doesn't tell him that he's afraid that he has probably lost Mix already. He doesn't say that he saw him with Ter, about 2 weeks ago, walking. He doesn't say that they looked good together or that he wished—that he wishes—Mix was with him instead.

"And I'm there. I don't think I have it in me to say it. At least, not right now. But I'm... there."

A wave of warmth settled in the pit of Earth's chest.

'He's there.'

Earth felt elated—dizzy—at the indirect confirmation. A confession, if he ever heard one.

But the joy was immediately overtaken by guilt, the fucking guilt that was always just sitting there, waiting to pounce. Telling him he doesn't deserve it after everything he did; everything he didn't do.

He kept his eyes to the ground. He doesn't want to feel all that anymore. But Earth didn't say anything. Instead, he let his hand slowly creep to the younger man's. Not enough to be deemed conspicuous but tender enough to mean:

'And I'm there with you.'

Earth's fingers laid on top of Mix's. All five of them were just there, occupying the spaces between Mix's own hand. One that is splayed and welcoming, ready to accommodate him. Everything, about him.

Ready just for him.

Not long after, a gentle, familiar tapping ensued. This time, Mix's eyes landed on Earth's, too. Earth had hoped that the younger man could see it there, in the space between his gaze, in the way that he doesn't let go of his hand. Mix smiled and Earth was able to make out a small nod. He found it difficult—too difficult to articulate anything as he looked at the glimmer of Mix's beautiful face, his sharp jaw, a pair of eyes, disarming Earth right now. And his lips, curled into an inviting smile.

In his silence, Earth had hoped. He wished Mix knew that he really meant to say: 'Wait for me.'

And when the two parted that morning, Earth was certain that the other will.

 

- - -

 

Mix wasn't a difficult child.

Off remembers that. Off remembers how polite he was, how eager he was to meet him and Gun.

But while Mix wasn't a difficult child, he was nonetheless curious. He has always been. He asks the hard questions and waits out the answers—no matter how painful and difficult it is—all with a wide-eyed curiosity that impresses his fathers to this day.

And he's only ever seen him go mellow once. With Nammon. As a father, Off hopes he'd never see that side of Mix again.

After much nagging from his dad, the boy was finally back home for a quick visit. As much as he was glad to have him in the home again, Off couldn't help but wonder if Mix came carrying something heavy inside him. Because it does look like it.

Off sits on a chair next to his son and hands him a cup of hot chocolate. Mix bows and takes the cup. "Thanks, papa." He stares out into the pouring rain, clearly preoccupied.

"Who broke your heart this time?"

Mix chuckles, "What?"

"Should I be asking whose heart you've broken this time—" Off exaggerates his expression and brings a hand to his heart in fake disbelief. "That's not how we raised you!" Off faces Mix, wagging a finger to the boy with a pout visible in his face.

Mix bursts out laughing. "Papa please, as if could do that,"

Off eyes Mix but was grateful to eke out an amused response from him. "I mean it's okay to break hearts once in a while. You're young, you don't know everything yet. Learn from your mistakes."

"I don't even— you're giving me mixed signals right now, papa. If daddy hears about this you'd be in big trouble, sir."

"And that's why daddy doesn't have to know about this." Off smirks and stiffens when he sees Mix raising an eyebrow before taking a sip of his chocolate drink. His eldest son's silence was enough to alarm him.

"...you're not telling daddy, right Mickey?" Mix sticks his tongue out to tease his papa.

Mix missed being home and all these little banters with his papa and brothers. Not to mention his daddy's home-cooked meals. He couldn't help but wonder if leaving home was even a good idea in the first place.

But then again, being on his own is teaching him so much about responsibility, something he wouldn't trade anything for. Still, it was nice to be back home; it is always good to be surrounded by people who know him, especially when everything feels confusing and overwhelming. He needed an anchor—a tether. And his family will always be it for him.

"Mickey," Mix mouths a childhood nickname that only ever surfaces when he's playing with his papa, especially when he was younger.

"I missed hearing that nickname."

"Hey, you could be 84 & I'd still call you Mickey."

"That is, if you're still here—"

"Hey!"

The two continue laughing. After a while, the boy quiets down and stretches. He stifles a yawn and leans into his chair. Off notices the sudden shift and asks, "What's up? You know you can tell me, right?"

Mix rolls his eyes; he knows what his papa always follows this up with.

"Come on, say it with me. You can tell me because...?"

"You're a 'cool dad'—"

"I'm THE 'cool dad'—"

Off smirks, a huge grin plastered on his face. "I knew I trained you well,"

Mix shakes his head but ponders. He does have a lot on his mind. But inviting his father to a conversation would mean willing into existence some things he's still trying to untangle on his own.

But Mix could feel it ticking.

Like a time bomb that refuses to stop, until all he's left with is the burgeoning of his feelings for someone who can't—won't—reciprocate.

He shakes his head and instead, asks. "Papa,"

"Hmm?"

"Why did you choose me?"

Mix knows his 'origin story'. He knows where they got him. They still visit the orphanage every year as a family during the anniversary of their adoption, bringing food and necessities to the children still trying to find their forever homes.

Off purses his lips and clears his throat. "Because dad said you look like me."

Mix chuckles, planting both elbows on his thighs, leaning in closer to his papa so he could hear him over the steady pattering of rain. "That's it?"

"Yeah! Dad said he saw you outside on the swing when we arrived and said that you look like me. So I figured, yeah, we'll take that kid."

Mix laughs. He never asked his fathers this question before. And although it sounds shallow, he likes it—it is so his parents' nature to do something like that.

Off smiles at the fond memory, nostalgic about a past that doesn't really feel that far off for him.

"But imagine our surprise when you fought to bring Win and Chimon along with you. Everyone tried to tell you that you can't. But you said you can't leave your brothers behind. And they couldn't figure out how you decided to just take two boys under your wing, but you did. God, you were five! And you were already lugging around two younger boys like a mother hen. Refusing to part with them. And you fought hard to be with them, too."

Mix knows this bit of the story, too. But to this day, he wonders about the 'why' of it all.

Off glances to his side, where Chimon was busy playing with his phone. Loudly, he says, "But between you and me, I think you could've done better than Chimon—"

"Papa, I heard that." Chimon looks up from his phone and glares at their papa. He huffs and gets up, still sending daggers to his old man.

"I was joking!"

"I don't care, daddy would hear about this." Chimon runs to the kitchen and nuzzles up to their dad. Off and Mix watch the interaction with smiles on their faces and went back to staring at the rain, now a mere drizzle, on their porch.

"I guess daddy and I fell in love with you more because of that. We were so curious about what went on in that little head of yours; how it was possible for you to have... massive and unconditional love at that age."

Mix feels connected to his younger self then and smiles. "That's... too much. I'm surprised that you didn't go for another kid at that point,"

With a huge, warm smile on his face, Off says. "Nah, of course I'm taking home the kid who looks like me. I mean, how awesome was that!"

The smell of food from the kitchen wafts towards the porch. Mix and his papa turn their heads behind and see Win emerge from his room. He does a little stretch just outside his door and removes his glasses before waving them over and pointing to the dining room.

Off raises a hand to inform Win that they'd soon follow him to the table. He stands up, offers a hand to his eldest son and says: "You don't always need to have a complicated reason for doing things, Mix. You just need to want it. Want it enough to fight for it. Every day."

 

- - -

 

It took a while, a little beyond their intended timeline, but Mix and his friends finally finished their deliverables for The Curio.

To show their gratitude, Jennie invited everyone over to spend a night at a resort in Earth's hometown. Earth brought his sister Sara along and Mix watches as Podd, Jennie and Namtan welcome her with a group embrace.

"His loss, not yours." Podd whispers softly into Sara's ear, with all the women still wrapped in his big arms.

Sara doesn't say anything but tightens her embrace.

From the exchange, Mix could speculate that Sara isn't back with her boyfriend yet.

Podd steps away to introduce Sara to Khaotung and the rest of their friends. Mix feels the woman's lingering stare. It wasn't intimidating, neither did it feel malicious, although it did make Mix feel like he's being sized up for a reason. He offers her a smile, which she reciprocated readily.

"How was the drive going here?"

Mix stops rummaging through White's car for his things and whips behind him. There, the man stands, one hand on the back of his neck, acting coy. Earth looks great in his light blue linen shirt, unbuttoned at the top, and his cream-colored pants. The look was made complete by a shy smile, one as inviting as the sea.

And Mix... Mix needs to stop staring.

He clears his throat and answers. "It was fine. Drive was smooth. White's a great driver." Earth gets a whiff of Mix's familiar scent, blending perfectly with the salty smell of the nearby sea. Earth thinks Mix smells fresh; comfortable. Like fresh sheets in the morning, one he cannot leave, one that almost justifies a few more minutes in bed.

"O-okay." Earth purses his lips and nods. Mix looks at Earth and a muted laughter emanates from within him. He leans closer to the older man and sheepishly grins. "Stop acting weird."

Earth tenses. He wonders if he's blushing; Earth turns his head away and hopes Mix doesn't notice.

Pouting, he quickly retorts. "I'm not—"

Earth wishes he never looked at Mix's face then, because now, now he's certain that he's blushing.

Mix softly cuts him, "We're okay, Earth." Earth meets Mix's eyes and backs away a little. If there's anything that always gets to him, it's Mix's stare. It carries with it a softness but also a look of certainty that terrifies Earth to a degree. It always feels as if Mix could read him and Earth is still wondering how he actually feels about that.

There wasn't much opportunity to meet after that morning at the convenience store; Curio—both the bar and cafe—is getting more customers lately, what with it being the holiday season. And Mix's company is on edge, trying to win over old and new clients in a bid to survive year-end audits and secure contracts for the next year.

But the air is clearer now, easier to navigate in a way. Still a little charged but no longer volatile. Like sea that has finally calmed down after a storm.

After initial introductions to Sara were made, everyone retreated to their rooms, agreeing to meet for an early dinner in an hour at a restaurant inside the resort.

"And drinks at the beach, okay? Everyone has to drink." Jennie pointedly says to everyone.

"I drink for Jane, she can't drink." White raises his hand to get Jennie's attention before pointing to his heart to signal Jane's condition.

"Oh shit yes, almost missed that. Okay no drinks for you, ma'am. More for us then."

Mix thrives in solitude, but he did feel a little slighted after realizing that everyone came in pairs. Although he does know that his friends would do everything so he doesn't feel left out, Mix still wonders how nice it would've been to have a buddy with him, someone to appreciate all the scenery with.

Mix shudders when a face surfaces in his mind.

He shakes his head and starts settling in his room, which was a little too big for one. Mix smiles, mind still filled with an image of a man.

One in a light blue linen shirt, unbuttoned at the top. And his shy smile, one as inviting as the sea.

 

- - -

 

They're sitting in front of the beach. Laughter fills the air as the heat from the bonfire warms everyone. But outside that small circle, it is admittedly colder than anyone anticipated, so some of them decided to huddle.

Khaotung fiddles with his guitar and after much cajoling from his friends and Podd, he begins singing, choosing songs familiar to everyone. Soon, it was a chorus. Everyone chimes in—some in tune, others in jovial inflection.

Earth scans everyone's faces; even Sara looks like she was enjoying herself, starting small conversations with the new faces she met earlier that day. Earth takes a swig from his bottle, eyes inevitably landing on Mix.

He thinks about a term to capture Mix—the man that he is—but all Earth's mind can come up with, at least at that moment, is breathtaking. He's breathtaking in his silence and especially in moments like this one; engaged in conversation with people he cares about. Present. Fully aware of... everything.

He watches Mix's smile reach his eyes and hears him laughing. He looks at the upward curve of his plump lips, the intermittent rise and fall of his chest, and finally, Mix's eyes meeting his.

'Yes,' Earth thinks to himself. 'Breathtaking.'

Podd soon whips out a box with small shot glasses from behind him. Earth knows exactly what that means.

"Drinking game!" The man excitedly calls out to an expecting group. "Everyone except Jane, get one." he passes around the box. Mix notices Namtan shaking her head when offered one as well. The younger man couldn't help but ask. "Namtan, you're not drinking?"

Namtan shares a look with Jennie, who interlaces her fingers with her girlfriend. A small nod was passed between the two, and without anybody expecting it, the woman takes out a small thing from her bag.

Namtan waves a pregnancy test in her hand and excitedly utters. "Offer me a glass after 9 months?"

It doesn't take long for everyone to excitedly get up and squeal in excitement, which the couple welcomed with giggles. Earth could see both women holding back happy tears. Knowing exactly everything they've been through to get here—the journey to discovering who they are, freezing sperm so they could eventually conceive, Jennie's eventual transition, the ridicule from strangers, the failed IVFs Namtan had to endure a few years back—all of that seems so small now; hurdles conquered. They're here and they're happy.

Complete.

Earth allows his own tears to fall, feeling immense joy for his best friends.

"Took it here this morning. Actually took 3 to make sure." Namtan says when everyone finally settles down.

"We're getting a baby!" Jennie exclaims, before kissing her girlfriend, soon wife, on the forehead.

"Hey, the game. Enough about us. Get on it, I'm here for tea," Namtan says to the group, who exploded in laughter.

Team Curio decides to go with a modified version of Never Have I Ever, one without the ten fingers bit. Here, everyone only has to throw a question around and those who have already done the thing must drink.

Mix doesn't mind; he figures that they're desperate to get drunk—and fast.

Questions were thrown around and soon, very soon, much to his liking, Mix begins to feel buzzed. They're dealing with vodka here, and for a man whose beer limit is only two bottles, a few shots were definitely enough to get him drunk. He gets drunk as fast as he sobers up, and if that light feeling in his feet is any indication of his state now, then yes—Mix is absolutely drunk.

But in his drunken state, Mix begins to complain a little, realizing that most of the questions seemed to end with him drinking.

"H-heeeey... I've been drinking to everything, except—" He squints his eyes and brings a finger to his lips, as if looking for his next word, "—questions I... asssked myself," Mix points to himself as he addresses the group, "No fair!" He pouts, face red from all the alcohol he has been consuming.

Earth, also flushed but definitely not as bad, watches the silly little display from Mix. He thinks it was adorable; the crease on the younger man's thick eyebrows, his mouth protruding a little in a small pout, his nasal voice slurring the words he's trying to get across. He even catches that small birthmark, the one just below his jaw, alive and darkened. Earth moves closer to the younger man, who surprisingly manages to get himself up on his feet, shadowing him in case he falls backward and hurts himself in the process.

So drunk Mix is funny, Earth discovers.

Everybody else guffaws, especially Jane, Namtan, and Jennie, the only sober people in the group.

"Okay then," Sara begins, trying to wave Mix down while she laughs. "Let's go with something that you don't have to drink to." White tugs at Mix's shirt to get him to sit down. They watch as a drunken grin settles on Mix's face. The boy looks triumphant somehow, earning another round of cackle from the group.

Sara closes her eyes for a second and bobs her head, wondering exactly what to ask to get Mix, who's now clearly drunk, off the hook on the next round. She looks around their little circle and her eyes light up.

"Never have I ever... slept with anyone in this group!"

White, Podd, Jennie, and Khaotung expectedly down their shots. Just as Khaotung deliberates on his question for the next round, they notice Mix bringing the glass to his mouth, avoiding eye contact with anyone until he is done with his shot.

As Mix finishes, his gaze settles on Earth's eyes and on the shot glass that hovers just below the latter's mouth. The older man feels the air tense for a split second, but looking at Mix's eyes, now clear as if he hasn't been drinking, Earth finally brings the shot glass to his own mouth.

'Fuck it,'

They'd deal with the questions in the morning.

Everyone was too stunned to say anything at first, their eyes moving from Mix to Earth and back to the other, sensing the tension in the air, waiting for either one to say anything, something to confirm whatever's running through everyone's heads.

Khaotung jogs his memory and remembers the knowing gaze shared between the two that 'first' meeting at Curio... He somehow manages to put two and two together and exclaims, "So the shoe fits!"

Their friends look at Khaotung, questions evident on their faces. Khaotung lets out an exasperated sigh and shouts "Cinderella!" while pointing at Earth.

Earth closes his eyes and shakes his head. For now, he'd just avoid everyone's astonished reactions and get on with the night.

'But yes, questions in the morning for sure.'

 

- - -

 

Everyone decides to end a little before eleven; drinking immediately after sundown meant they had just enough time to get shit-face drunk and retire earlier than usual. Earth did feel a little buzzed, but still capable of walking the flight of stairs that led to his room. But first, he needs to make sure he gets Mix—who by then has fallen asleep on Jane's lap—to his room.

White shakes Mix and asks him to get up. Earth motions to the couple and playfully talks into Mix's ear.

"If you don't get up, I'm carrying you bridal style into your room."

Mix finally stirs and shudders. He swats Earth's face softly, "Pirapat?"

"C'mon, we're all going up. Jane's legs must be dying now," Mix immediately moves his head and looks up drunkenly at Jane. He mumbles a quick 'sorry' before lying down, this time burrowing comfortably on the sand. Earth scratches his head at Jane who smiles apologetically at him. The older man mouths to Jane, telling her he'd take care of Mix so they could retire to their rooms.

'Sure?' she mouths back.

"Don't worry. I'd get him to his room safely," And with that, Jane and White left along with everyone else.

It took a little more convincing for Mix to even stir. When he finally did, he tells Earth. "I love the beach," A sheepish grin settles on his face as Earth struggles to get him to his feet.

Earth chuckles. "I know, you told me."

"Then let's swim!" Mix shouts and quickly digs his heels on the sand, startling Earth who had to keep their balance. He loosens his grip for a millisecond, but that was enough for Mix to swagger drunkenly to the beach. Earth's eyes widen but he manages to catch the younger man's waist. Mix exploded in a fit of giggles.

"Ticklish." Mix says in a drunken mumble, trying to free himself from Earth. "I'm ticklish!"

Earth laughs and gingerly cups Mix's face. He balances Mix's head on his hand and tries to make out his features, using the faint moonlight to observe the younger man. Every day feels like an opportunity to discover so much about Mix. All the good, soft parts he's so ready to share with the world. Earth sighs and thinks the world's a little easier to navigate with all that light—with all of Mix's light—around.

But Mix is also... messy. Possibly broken, rough on parts Earth cannot and probably will never see. Heavy with all the pain he's had to carry all these years.

He acknowledges all these but Earth, Earth doesn't look away.

"I see you," he whispers, feeling the taste of the words in his mouth. "I see all of you." Earth slowly dips his head but stops. Instead, he squeezes the other's cheek, suddenly remembering that his goal was to get Mix back into the other's room. Safely.

"I'd bring you to the beach. Just us two. For now, you need to get some sleep. Okay? In your room."

Mix's eyebrows furrowed. He eyes the older man suspiciously and says, "Promise?"

Earth dials back to the very last time he made a promise to someone. He tries not to think about it too much and whispers to Mix, with all the sincerity he could muster at that moment.

"I promise."

 

- - -

t e x t   m e s s a g e

 

e: you're awake

m: and good morning to you, too, pirapat

m: also was that a question or

e: i was trying to see if you were

e: what are you doing up?

m: got up to drink water, now i can't sleep

e: okay

e: meet me in the lobby in 5 minutes

m: wait what

e: i'll be waiting

m: BUT IT'S 4 AM?????

e: 5 mins, mix

m: PIRAPAT???

 

- - -

 

"What would you have done if I didn't show up?" Mix nears Earth and crosses his arms in front of his chest. He arrives at the lobby to see the older man waiting for him with a grin. He should've been used to it by now, but apparently the little skip his heart made after seeing Earth says Mix really isn't. He knows this, this will always feel new.

Mix slows his walking. He's practically sober now, but still feeling a bit lightheaded. Possibly a little sleepy, too.

"Well I know you'd come."

"Where are we going?" Mix raises an eyebrow at Earth who didn't say anything. It was cold out and looks as if it'd be a while before the sun breaks through the dark.

Earth practically jogs to his car, excited. Mix follows, more because he's interested to see what the other has up his sleeve. But he finally halts when he sees the older man climbing into his car.

He eyes Earth skeptically and asks. "Wait. Are you even sober enough to drive?"

"Yes, sir. And compared to someone, I can actually hold my liquor." Mix rolls his eyes and gives Earth the finger. Earth pats the passenger seat and extends a hand out to Mix, waiting for him to settle next to him.

"Come on, we need to catch something."

Mix eyes the older man a little more. He does look okay. Better than him, Mix supposes. Convinced that he's actually sober, Mix finally climbs into the passenger seat.

He wanted to ask again. The curious part of him wants to know where they're headed. But a part of him is also excited to just see; to just let Earth lead the way. Wherever they're going, he knew he'd be safe anyway.

Because he's with him.

So Mix and Earth drive out, windows down. They drive at a slower pace than normal and Mix wonders if Earth does it for his sake. After all, he probably still looks a little hungover. Mix takes a hand out and extends it outside the window. He doesn't really focus on anything yet, still a bit groggy to discern specific shapes in the dark. But after the blurry expanse of trees, he finally notices the narrow strip of water appear on Earth's side again.

He takes his phone out and plays a song, realizing then how fitting it is to the moment.

"So then we'll drive like the devil's caught on to our plans.

So put back your head and rest a while if you can.

Oh, 'cause we won't be stoppin' 'till our tires reach the sand."

Mix looks at Earth, hoping he doesn't mind the music. Earth's humming proves that he doesn't. The younger man draws his eyes back to the scene flitting outside and extends his hand out again, slowly unfurling his fist this time, feeling the chill running from his palm and snaking its way into his arm. He allows himself to feel like a kid again.

Earth drives with only the faintest idea of what Mix was doing. But he does know that the boy has his hand out. He hopes he isn't boring him.

"You can sleep, you know?" Earth says, stealing a quick glance at Mix's direction.

"And miss the view?"

"Do you like the view?"

Mix doesn't say anything but instead, stares at Earth and smiles.

He does; he loves the view.

Nothing much has changed in this place but Earth loves it. He loves the calming aura of their seaside town. Regardless of everything he felt and experienced there when he was younger, he now realizes that he actually loves being here—back home.

Earth tries to imagine what Mix's face must've looked like at that moment and before he realizes it, he quietly whispers, "I could get used to this," more to himself than to his company.

"Hm?"

"Huh?"

'Fuck, did I say that out loud? Pirapat, get a grip. A literal grip. Jesus.'

"You said something."

"Nothing."

Mix shakes his head and sighs. The other doesn't see it, but Mix wonders if Earth could sense that he's looking at him.

"Earth?"

"Yeah?"

Very softly, to match the older man's whisper, Mix says. "I could get used this, too."

The car eventually rounds a curve and moves into a narrow dirt road. It doesn't take long for Mix to see a massive stretch of the beach in front of them, water glinting in the dark.

"There's a perfectly good beach at the resort, you know? We didn't have to drive up here."

Earth pouts and parks his car. "I know but this spot's my favorite,"

He looks like a kid, Mix thinks. Adorable. "Why?"

"You'll see."

Mix supposes this place is special to Earth. Knowing he's there with him now made his heart flutter. The spot is indeed better than the resort, which was obstructed by cottages and dotted by campfires. This portion of the beach looks cleaner, possibly undisturbed by human activity.

Mix sucks in a breath. It feels liberating. Being here. Toes deep in the sand. Next to a man he admires.

Mix feels Earth's warm hand cup his. He lets the older man guide him a little closer to the shoreline before they plop down on dry sand.

"Probably an hour more before sunrise,"

"Is that what we're catching? The sunrise?"

Earth nods. "You get an unobstructed view of the sunrise here. It's breathtaking."

The image begins to excite Mix—that and the idea of seeing it with Earth. "How'd you find this place?"

"I drive up here when things— when silence gets a little too much at home." The place holds warm, happy memories for Earth. He wanted to wait until this moment to bring Mix here, but he hasn't stopped thinking about it since yesterday. He doesn't really understand why, but the idea of sharing this little paradise—this slice of his heaven—with Mix feels right to Earth.

He used to just sit here for hours, not wanting to leave until his father leaves the house. He couldn't stand the silence that gloats at him—at them—the heavy, awkward air filling their house when they're all together.

He knows he couldn't take that against them now. Possibly, not even then. After all, how do you expect two people who bear resentment towards each other to be okay living together?

But a part of him, one he never readily acknowledged, wished that they at least tried harder.

So Earth sits there, truly in awe of his surroundings. A place that bore witness to his juvenile pains. The pains he doesn't talk about. His sanctuary. He looks at Mix and sees the younger man just looking out at the sea, too. He focuses on his eyes and sees the glint of the waters reflected into them.

Amidst all this reverence to the sea, Earth would still take the mountains over it any day, if he's being honest. And while he does love this sanctuary, Earth must admit that there's something about the sea that scares him, too.

So Earth sits there, quietly reveling at how beautiful the sea truly is—but also how terrified he is of it.

He wonders how it is possible for him to love something and be terrified of it at the same time. Maybe, he thinks, maybe it's the endlessness of it. Everything he cannot see; everything it leaves to the imagination. Everything that could go wrong. He thinks about how suffocating it is; the stilling infiniteness stretching miles and miles ahead. He shudders at the knowledge that at some point, as he goes further and further from the coastline—his safety blanket—the sand—would eventually give way to the water. Water that sucks him in; water that drags him further down until air finally leaves his lungs. Until he gives up swimming.

In quiet moments like this, looking out and pretending none of the demands of his everyday matter, Earth wonders how long it'd take for him to drown.

But he looks at Mix and realizes that he's already drowning.

Mix, on the other hand, wonders if Earth's up for a morning swim. Just a quick dip into the water. He has done it before and remembers how awesome it felt. The water cold but nonetheless inviting. He imagines himself floating—aimless. Unsure. Unsteady.

But also expectant.

'Will the waves take me this time?' Mix wonders. 'Do I let it?'

Earth digs his toes deeper in the sand and mutters. "You know I never really learned how to swim properly."

"What?"

"I mean, I could dive. But swimming with my head above the water? That I can't do."

Mix chuckles and asks. "Then why'd you bring me here?"

'Because this is my slice of heaven. And I want you to see it, too.' Earth wanted to say, but instead, he utters. "Because you love the beach. And because I made you a promise last night."

Last night. Mix remembers very little about last night. After the game, everything was a fuzzy memory. He could recall tidbits, but that's it. Hell, he doesn't even know how he got to his room safely, but somehow, he did.

"Shit, please tell me I didn't embarrass myself last night."

Earth laughs, confirming Mix's worst fears. He pouts and buries his face in his hands. "Please, what did I do this time?"

"Well you said you love the beach and almost ran to the sea. I guess you wanted to swim?"

"Oh god. No more. I don't wanna hear it," Earth guffaws, remembering Mix's drunk antics from the night before. He recalls another specific memory and clears his throat. That one they probably have to talk about.

"And they know about us. About the one-night stand."

Mix sighs and lets his hands fall limply on his side. He takes a handful of sand on both hands and plays with them nonchalantly. Earth wonders if he'd avoid the conversation, although he is hoping that Mix wouldn't.

In that stretch of silence waiting for Mix to say something, Earth imagines himself swimming. This time, he's swimming towards Mix.

After some time, Mix finally whispers. "I know."

"You do?"

"That part was hazy but I do remember, yes." Mix avoids the other's eyes. He could blame it on the alcohol, and to be honest, that'd probably explain the unabashed courage. But now that he's sober, he begins to wonder if it was the right thing to do, considering their... confounding relationship right now.

But suddenly, he remembers a crucial part of that memory. An image of Earth holding his gaze—and him downing his own glass as if in solidarity.

"I hope that was okay?" Mix doesn't want to make Earth feel like he's trivializing what happened last night, but seeming too eager might push him away. Again. And he doesn't want that.

"It's fine. I never wanted to keep it under wraps anyway."

In fact, what he initially wanted was just to keep it there—compacted with all the numerous one-night stands he's experienced in his life. Because a world, Earth's world, demands certainty. It demands order; things shelved and compartmentalized. He liked—likes—things clean. No clutter.

Always making sure he can put out all the fires he has started.

So what began as a one-night stand should've stayed there; one night with a man he never intended to name or meet again. One he never wanted to welcome the morning with.

But Earth now looks at the said man, his gaze never leaving his face; that chiseled jaw, the hair that looked and felt soft under his touch, big eyes that reflect the massive, terrifying sea back to him, and realized that no—

He can't do it.

This isn't something he wants to forget; he isn't someone he wants gone the morning after.

They watch the last blanket of darkness ebb gracefully beyond the horizon. The light very slowly replaces the dark, looking majestic out over the ocean, fighting for the spotlight, for its time, until the dark finally concedes. Until all that's left is light, heavy with its promises.

Here's why this place feels like heaven for Earth.

Earth should be focusing on that now, but his eyes never leave Mix's face. He watches the younger man watching everything unfold beautifully; registering the big smile on the other's face, basking in that blissful silence. Earth smiles, knowing that the other feels it, too—that slice of heaven, here for them now before it retreats back into nothingness.

It feels pastoral, in a way. And Earth suddenly remembers that afternoon at the thrift shop. Telling Mix to wait for possibilities that lie there, in the crevice of uncertainty. To hope and have faith—even if he can't see it yet.

But Earth... Earth could see it now, too.

He hears Jennie's words, clear as this morning, asking him to try again. That it isn't going to be easy. But that he needs to want it; he needs to believe in it.

Earth's gaze shifts to Mix, with his toes buried deep in the sand, looking out into the waters, eyes cast over the horizon, looking as beautiful, as dashing, as breathtaking as that first morning together.

And he realizes that he does; he wants him. He believes in this possibility.

Mix breaks through the fog that is Earth's thoughts and says, "15 mins."

"Huh?"

The moment feels ripe for honesty. More honesty. While he loved the overall silence, Mix wants to hear Earth talking; he wants to feel him there, with him. More than he already does. So he repeats himself, voice clearer and a little louder this time, battling with the waves.

"15 minutes. No BS. Tell me... whatever. Talk to me," Mix nudges the older man with his shoulder. Then, he braces himself for honesty that he feels is coming.

15 minutes.

Earth wants to tell Mix that he always wondered how it would feel like to kiss his little scar, that small indentation just below the latter's left eye. Kiss it softly; kiss it with intent. Press his lips on that scar and have it travel down his birthmark, the one on his jaw. He wonders if Mix is ready to welcome him that way—that way again.

He sucks in his breath. There is only one way to find out.

"I think I want to kiss you."

Mix stiffens. There is warmth surging inside him now, a welcome replacement for the cold. The younger man offers up a smile and, in a playful voice, says, "You think?"

Earth giggles. He tries to recall the last time he giggled like a kid excited for candy. Or a boy caught looking at his first love. He is surprising himself. But then again, Mix has been making him do things he has sworn on himself to never do again.

So Earth repeats himself, now with a resolve permeating the early morning haze. "Mix," He faces the younger man now. The sea. He can still see the sea in his eyes.

It doesn't terrify him now.

"I want to kiss you."

A small nod. An invitation. Earth leans in closer to kiss him—his smile, their smiles, mingling.

Earth can almost taste the sea on the other's mouth and it's salty but he keeps pressing into Mix's lips. Softly. The initial rush in his lips melting with Mix's slow movements, calming him. He keeps kissing him as if he's air and Earth's expected to continue breathing. And he has to keep breathing. Has to keep going. Has to keep at it for... this. Him. This—them.

He doesn't realize that he's been waiting; that he's been feeling cold for too long. Now, set ablaze. By a kiss. By a man, personifying a sea—everything that terrifies him. Everything that threatens to take him under.

That morning, Earth lets it.

 

- - -

 

Mix doesn't remember falling asleep. Especially not on the beach, inches away from the water. But he wakes up nonetheless, the sun pressing down on his body and—

The warmth of Earth's body, next to him. He slowly faces him and looks up to see the older man still sleeping. He looks comfortable, lying in the sand with the sun baring down on him. Mix reaches out to pat his head softly and smiles.

The memory from a few hours ago comes rushing back on Mix's mind, replacing sleep. Slowly, it begins dawning on him that he's locked in an embrace, with one of Earth's arms wrapped gingerly on his waist, the other acting as a cushion for his head. The realization made him ticklish but the boy kept himself from laughing or moving; if this was a dream, then he wants to preserve it. Just a little longer.

But reality comes roaring in the form of two little boys kneeling next to them. Mix feels conscious at the little, inquisitive eyes fixed on them and tries to angle his body. One of the boys pokes Mix's leg and slowly nears him. He cups his chubby hands on his mouth and his voice cracks through a whisper, "Are you boyfriends?"

Mix chuckles and finally (begrudgingly) frees himself from Earth's embrace, careful enough not to stir him. He looks around the area and spots some people a few distance away from them, enjoying the morning sun. It isn't crowded but Mix could make out, from a distance, a smorgasbord of vendors selling trinkets and food near the road.

He holds up a finger to his mouth. To the boys, he smiles. "Where are your guardians?" It is usually easy to deflect kids, but evidently not these two. Both boys looked as if they have more questions about them and are not budging unless Mix satisfies them with an answer.

Mix surveys the area again, hoping to spot parents who are looking for their children or something. Mix doesn't realize that Earth has woken up until he hears him moving next to him. To the children, the older man says, "No,"

"But do you think we should be boyfriends?"

That probably isn't a conversation they should be having in front of the children, Mix supposes. Although that's definitely a conversation they should be having after, well, that kiss.

The children swapped looks of disbelief. One of them was bold enough to say, "You're not?!"

Earth erupts in laugher and Mix could only join in. The two boys eventually get up, waving to both men as they make their way into the water.

"Children these days," Earth says, leaning back on the sand. He watches Mix looking out on the beach, pensive. The older man feels a blush creep on his cheeks, the event from a few hours ago faint in his memory but not forgotten.

"Do you mean that?"

"Hmm?"

Mix looks behind him and catches Earth already staring, a glint of mischief in his eyes. Mix rolls his eyes at him. "Don't make me say it,"

"Are you blushing?" Earth says teasingly.

"You wish," Mix says. They both know that he is.

Earth positions himself behind Mix and moves his body closer. He positions his legs on Mix's sides, like an enclosure. He breathes in. Slowly, his arms circle Mix's waist; his head on Mix's shoulder. And to his ears, Earth whispers.

"Be my boyfriend, Mix Sahaphap."

Mix hopes.

He hopes that Earth knows that his kiss is the answer.

The morning drifts to noon and the two decide to survey the area before they go. The sea breeze was immensely pleasant. Earth knows that the spot would be teeming with people in the morning, but appreciated that all that activity was a safe distance away from the shore.

Ahead of him, he spots Mix observing a row of tables selling handmade accessories. He observes the other as Mix moves from table to table, decidedly lingering on one before moving on. Before Earth could follow him, the old lady from that accessory stall stops him. He looks at her and bows. She does the same and says, "The boy was eyeing this necklace,"

She picks up a necklace from the neat row and puts it on her palm so Earth could inspect it. It was a seashell locket, held together by a simple leather cord.

"It is believed that if you put two people's pictures inside, they're bound to stay together forever. Like the sea that never falters,"

Earth smiles and sees Mix now talking to the two boys they met earlier.

After a while, he rejoins him and they leave the beach.

 

- - -

 

They got back to the resort in the afternoon, sure that everyone's out by the restaurant near the shore having lunch. They could dine with their friends, but they've more pressing... issues to take care of.

Like a shower. To remove the smell of saltwater from their hair, of course.

The two excitedly make their way to Mix's room. Smiling and giggling like high schoolers. Maybe it is stupid, but Mix wants more time with Earth. More time with him alone. More time to soak in the bliss. They arrive outside his room and Mix kisses Earth, the faint taste of salt in his mouth, and finally opens the door to his room.

The room doesn't feel as massive and unfilled with Earth inside with him now. "Your room's nice. Nicer than mine, really." Earth says as he walks to the window that leads to the balcony. Mix does a double-take of his room himself, and after a while, utters. "Let's get lunch downstairs. The others are probably still there."

Earth nods but doesn't say anything.

Mix adds, "But first, let me take a shower." He made a point to look at Earth for a second. His stare was quick but heavy with meaning.

He steps into the shower and begins.

Not even a minute later, he hears the door to the bathroom creak slowly. A paddle of feet on the tiles says he's here—finally there, too.

Earth steps behind Mix. He begins with a gentle tap on his waist. Within seconds, Mix feels Earth's chest on his back and he involuntarily leans into it. In the midst of all that water bearing down on their bodies from the shower, he feels Earth's hot breath on his neck.

Mix hopes he doesn't buckle.

Earth starts with a gentle tap, a familiar habit. He didn't have to overthink this; he knows full well that his body would know exactly what to do. Soon, Earth is clutching Mix's waist like he would something he wants to break. He begins to wonder if he's hurting him. In all that charged haze of lust, Earth makes a mental note to do it softly next time—and all the times thereafter.

But not yet; not now. Not when Mix's hands begin aggressively balling Earth's hair.

He stops thinking after that. And all that's left is their lips crashing against each other's. Wordlessly, they're wrestling for control. The urgency tucked in their bodies. Wanting more.

'More', one imagines the other say.

'Give me more of you.'

And there really isn't anything more to do but yield.

Soon, they're a whirlwind of body and water and soap. Skin on skin and more skin. Kisses going deeper and deeper. Muffled moans under the shower. Their intensity shattering the steady ring of the shower, breaking into their bodies.

They don't know how, but within minutes, they're on the bed. They'd worry about soaked sheets later.

But now—this. Earth thinks. 'Now, him.'

Mix under him. Squirming. Finding an angle on the bed that works for the both of them but never abandoning the kiss. Mix's hands on Earth's back, digging into the latter's damp skin. Earth takes a moment to surface from that kiss and sees a scowl on Mix's face. Clearly, he doesn't want to let go. And while Earth doesn't really want to himself, he felt the urgent need to see this. An intense desire to revel in all of Mix's glory.

So he takes a moment to just soak it all in; Mix's naked body on the bed. Body damp from a shower they never really finished. Flushed and reddening in all the right places. Chest heaving up and down. If Earth squints hard enough, he could see the steady hammering of the other's heart from inside his chest. And further down, the unobstructed view of Mix's naked legs, wrapped around his waist. Finally, he sees Mix's shaft—hard and pulsating. Ready.

This view is enough to drive Earth insane. And in the mess of all his lecherous thoughts, Earth's mind begins to linger on that first night. The first night of them together. Together but not together this way. He begins to wonder if Mix still remembers.

Earth steals a final glance at Mix's face and slowly crouches down. Mad intent on his eyes. And so much more in his touches. He firmly removes Mix's legs from his waist and brings himself down, positioning himself in between Mix's legs.

He sees Mix looking. Eyes wide in desperation. One hand on the bed frame, the other clutching the sheets. Earth grins and licks his lips.

He closes the gap between his mouth and Mix's already hard member.

He would make sure Mix remembers.

It doesn't take long for Mix to react to Earth's mouth on his shaft. Within seconds, he's a writhing mess. Body twisting from underneath Earth's touch.

"Slowly," he whispers, voice hitching. He knows that it sounded like a plea and Earth, Earth feels the hair on his body stand up. Prickling. He wanted to keep going but he knows Mix would want to enjoy this longer. So, he hastens his pace. He responds by circling Mix's dick with his tongue for the last time, making sure he grazes his teeth along his shaft before excruciatingly bringing his mouth to the tip. And finally, he brings it out with a dulled 'pop'.

Not wasting any second, Mix brings Earth's body up to his eye level and ravishes him with a hungry kiss. Earth always thought that sex has to have control—a certain tension that slowly disintegrates when body meets body and bodies meet a cacophony of mixed desires. He explores that tension and pushes into Mix's body; pushing until it's wide open. Exposed.

Mix's raspy breathing deepens as Earth licks his neck. The older man moves up and nibbles on his jaw, tongue traveling to his birthmark and up to plant a soft kiss on the scar under his eye. A romantic yet brief break from the ecstasy he's sure they're both feeling.

Below, he feels Earth's hand grappling for his dick and before he realizes what the other is doing, Earth's takes his own cock, positioning it atop Mix's. And soon, Earth's big hand is holding and rubbing their dicks together, picking up a steady rhythm.

Mix swears he'd pass out.

Earth's breath is hot and heavy on Mix's cheek. He continues stroking both of their cocks together and losing himself in pleasure. He could hear Mix moaning, the words 'fuck', 'please', and 'oh god' coming in quick, faint successions. It turns him on even more.

And like torture, Mix feels Earth abandon the movement and for a split second, he worries that that's it. He watches Earth leave the bed to take something from his shorts' pocket, which lay discarded on the floor.

Within seconds, he's back on the bed. Earth slams the condom on the bedside table and opens a packet of lubricant. Not wasting any more second, he settles in the middle of Mix's legs again and grapples for his behind. Soon, he's spreading the other's ass cheeks. Mix tries to slow his breathing and nods through the fog of lust, already knowing what's coming.

He's ready.

The lube was cold but Mix's hole adjusts to it almost instantly. Thoroughly lubed up, Earth's finger slips in and out of Mix easily. Not long after, he slips a second finger in and instantly feels Mix tense at the addition. But he feels him adjust fairly quickly and before long, begins to move and angle his waist so he could feel Earth's fingers deeper. Earth could feel him moving with his fingers and it sends his head spiraling from dizzying pleasure.

Earth licks and bites on Mix's milky thighs as he works on his hole. He could come just by doing this—just by ravishing him like this. But he wants more. And his swelling member is begging to join in on the fun.

He withdraws his fingers and takes the condom from the bedside table. He swiftly opens the packet with his teeth and expertly rolls it down on his cock with ease.

"Ready?" He asks. Mix struggles with words.

"I need to hear you say it," Mix breathes out a faint 'yes' and Earth grins.

And then, he goes.

Earth slowly pushes into Mix, feeling as if his head would burst from the ecstasy. His mind pieces together everything—that fateful night with Mix, the dream he had of him one morning, wanting to hold him like this all this time—restraining himself. And now this. A culmination of sorts. A release. Liberation for him.

He thrusts into Mix slowly, enjoying the sounds coming out of his mouth. The twisted mix of obscenities, morphing into pleas. The fucking perfection that is Mix—right now, an epitome of hunger. Ripe for his taking.

Mix would be embarrassed by the sounds he's making right now, if not for Earth whispering, "Let me hear it..." So, he lets it out: the jumble of words, mostly incomprehensible but nonetheless sweet to Earth's ears. He holds Earth in place and opens his mouth even more, an invitation for more. And soon they're again a mix of tongue and saliva and hurried, unrepressed pleasure.

Earth picks up his pace. He has no intention to stop kissing Mix, but his mouth involuntarily has to let go as he feels pressure build from within him. Mix picks up on this change of pace and runs his hand on Earth's toned back, digging into him deeper. The older man swiftly removes his cock from Mix's ass and it leaves the latter feeling empty. But Earth effortlessly grabs one of Mix's legs and slings it over his shoulder. With better access to Mix's hole this time, Earth slams into him harder.

"Fuck!" Mix cries out. He watches Earth's satisfied grin as the man towers over him. 'God, he's—'

Perfect. He thought, but his mind is finding it difficult to be coherent. Not with Earth's cock moving deeper and harder into him. His breaths grew fainter as he feels Earth tensing more under his touch. He knows he's close and senses that he is, too. He could feel the heat pooling inside and then—

"I—"

Mix's cum shoots from his cock to Earth's chest as the orgasm surges all over his body. He feels some of it spill to the side of his pulsating member. His body twitching, hole tightening even as Earth continuously moves inside him. Mix sees Earth smile for a split second, satisfied that he satisfied Mix, before his expression morphs into one of desperation. His thrust harder and even more urgent; his frowns, deeper. Mix could see that he's almost there, too.

Seeing his face made Mix swear under his breath. Earth answers with a moan of his own, and Mix licks the other's neck, making sure that the obscenities ring clear on his ear. He knows Earth's close; he wouldn't last much longer.

"Mix, fuck, I'm cumming—" Mix cuts him off with a bite on his shoulder. He enjoys hearing his name on Earth's mouth like this, like the latter enjoys the sound of him whimpering and moaning.

His hip does a final thrust before Earth is blinded by his own orgasm. He slowly brings himself down on Mix and kisses his forehead, down to his scar, and finally, to the birthmark on his jaw. His own triumvirate.

The two catch their breaths as Mix's fingers play with Earth's hair, their bodies still recovering from the high. Outside, the sun peeks behind a mass of clouds. The intensity muted but there—fighting for its time.

"You never really said it,"

Mix frowns and fixes his eyes on Earth's face, a few inches from his. Whispering, he asks. "What is it?"

"Would you be my boyfriend?"

Mix knows what it pertains to. But it was so nice, so liberating, to hear the word escape the other's mouth. Boyfriend. "Imagine if I say 'no' right now,"

"Oh, you wouldn't dare."

Mix raises an eyebrow and smugly looks at Earth, as if saying, 'watch me.' When the teasing was over, Mix cups Earth's face in his hands.

"Yes, Pirapat. Yes, I'd be your boyfriend."

Earth breaks into a smile. He lowers himself one last time for a quick peck on his boyfriend's lips before gently bringing his weight down on Mix. Earth tries to find comfort in the sound of Mix's heart beating. Steady. Mimicking waves lapping the shoreline.

Within seconds, he's sound asleep. Mix kisses the top of Earth's head—his boyfriend—before locking him in an embrace.

Chapter Text

Turning up unannounced to his boyfriend's workplace—with a bouquet of flowers in his hand, no less—is not something Earth is really used to doing. He stood outside the building where Mix works in for at least three minutes before he finally decided to climb up to the floor where the other said his office is located.

He walks over to the receptionist and deliberates for a second whether he should ask him where to find Mix. Sure, it's less than five minutes before he's out, but there's a huge possibility that Mix could be working late, like he does most days. Mix says he's used to the odd hours, which sometimes stretches to eat up what little time he spends in his apartment, even taking most of his weekends. So of course, Earth worries.

Still, he doesn't want to rush Mix.

But the trade-off is still way better than pacing restlessly inside The Curio, waiting out the hours until he could go and actually spend the night with Mix in his apartment. His friends sure will agree; they had to endure seeing him spend possibly the entirety of the afternoon pacing inside The Curio until Podd has had enough and agreed to let him take the night off.

"Dude, just go. We'd cover your shift."

He immediately lit up, smiled sheepishly and gave Podd an aggressive kiss on the forehead.

"The honeymoon phase is exhilarating and stupid, isn't it, Bright?" Earth caught his best friend smile despite himself. Bright laughs and bumps his fist.

"I owe you one," Earth finally says, looking at both men. He was out of there in less than two minutes.

"Ciize," A petite woman walks by and stops in front of him. She takes Earth's attention away from the memory of that afternoon and offers him a hand. Ciize asks who he's there for, glancing at the bouquet on Earth's hand, which made the man blush.

Earth shakes her hand and tells her his name before adding, "Mix Sahaphap?"

"Oh, P'Mix! He's at the rooftop with the others. It's on the 20th floor," Ciize excitedly tells him. Earth scans the whole floor again, as if waiting for Mix to manifest in a corner somewhere.

"You can come up if you want."

"Is that okay?"

"Yup, it's fine. I think he's about to leave anyway. Brought his bag with him when they came up." Ciize leads him straight to the elevator, not waiting for his response. Earth thanks her and watches the woman retreat back to the office, looking giddy.

Earth decides to wait by the stairwell, thinking how best to explain to Mix why he came out here. They're seeing each other when he gets home anyway. But it's exactly a month after that day on the beach and for some reason, he just couldn't wait to see his boyfriend.

'It is exhilarating AND stupid.' Earth thinks to himself, recalling Podd's parting words that afternoon. He smiles as he looks at the bouquet of flowers in his hand.

He sees people slowly filing out of the rooftop door. They can't really see him from where he stands, which gives him the perfect opportunity to surprise Mix when he finally comes out. He hears the door handle again and sees Mix emerge from inside. Earth lights up, quickly takes his phone out, and comes up from behind him.

"Ah!" Mix lets out a surprised scream and watches as Earth explodes in a fit of laughter. He glares at Earth who quickly grabs his arm, leading him away from the stairs where he was standing dangerously close to.

"I saw an opportunity and I grabbed it. I'm sorry," Earth says. He couldn't hold his laughter in and wasn't really trying to.

"Stop laughing, Pirapat. I almost dropped my phone!" Mix says while he pouts. And glowers. Earth thinks he looks adorable—but honestly also deadly.

The older man grins and closes the distance between them. But before he was able to lock him in an embrace, the door to the rooftop swung open, almost aggressively. Out came three men and a woman. One of them sees Mix and unhesitatingly walks up to him.

"Ter,"

"Was that you? We heard a scream,"

"That was me, yes. But it's nothing." Mix waves a dismissive hand and shoots him a look. "My boyfriend was just being an idiot,"

Earth stiffens. Boyfriend. They've never really called each other that in front of others yet. But he likes the sound of that. He likes how that made him feel like he won at something. Earth looks at Mix and realizes that in a way, in possibly the best way ever, he did.

Ter finally looks at Earth, as if just registering his presence. He falls behind to stand next to the other three while Mix introduces them all to Earth.

"Toptap, Joss, Freen. And you know Ter, right?"

"Yes,"

"This is Earth, my boyfriend."

Everyone shakes each other's hands. Ter gives Earth a firm handshake. Somehow Earth knew that there was no malice there. And if there was, he certainly didn't show it.

The two bade the others goodbye and walk out of the building. Outside, the street was dotted with people moving like ants, flitting to their destinations. The air sears with the energy of subdued excitement, one that marks the end of every workweek. Earth is all too familiar with this energy; it's one that they get from Curio patrons every Friday. The very energy that signals drinks and dances and nights stretching. A chance to unwind after a long week of work. An opportunity to just be.

The two make small talk as they join the horde of people outside. They stand at the pedestrian lane, watching the countdown, a blur of cars passing by them. After a while, Mix offers a hand out to Earth. "Will I get the flowers before they wilt?" he says, grinning. After a few beats, he adds. "Assuming they're mine..."

"See that's where you're wrong. These aren't yours,"

"Ah. I'm so sorry for assuming,"

"Yeah maybe next time, don't do that?" Earth jests, wagging a finger to Mix who lets out a hearty chortle. Earth runs a hand through his hair and fixes his eyes at Mix. He couldn't see the other side of his face and this suddenly made him think about the dark side of the moon. How he knows that it's beautiful—just as beautiful as the side facing earth.

Mix catches his boyfriend looking at him and smiles. Earth reaches out and gingerly cups Mix's hand in his. He squeezes and places the small bouquet in Mix's hand. Five pink tulips wrapped in brown paper, held together by twine.

"Why?"

Earth shrugs, trying to downplay it. Mix doesn't have to know that he spent an hour surveying the rows of flowers from a shop near Curio; doesn't have to know that he spent at least 30 minutes more admiring them while imagining how beautiful everything on the shelves would look, pressed in front of Mix's face as he brings them close for a smell like he's doing now.

"Just 'cause,"

They had dinner at a nearby restaurant and went directly to Mix's apartment. Mix liked the freshness of this Friday evening. How everything pulses with raw energy—a warm, inviting energy that goes in every direction possible. Like the street itself is filled to the brim with live, engaging, moving, lives. Just lives filling on top of other lives; stories converging and diverging and just becoming whole or disintegrating, every minute.

He loves being in the midst of it all, feeling grand but also so, so small relative to everything else.

All because he's here with him.

All because of Earth.

 

- - -

 

Earth observes Mix's body shifting, finding the best position in the bed. The younger man eventually rests his head at the crook of Earth's neck, with an arm draped over his stomach. Earth watches his boyfriend's fingers curl to embrace his waist; soft and tender. His breathing, slow and steady, is warm on Earth's neck.

Earth brushes Mix's cheek with a thumb and kisses him on the forehead, still careful not to wake him.

He stayed unmoving for a few minutes more, listening to Mix snoring quietly next to him. Trying to be present. He's worried that if he moves, he'd disturb him; that Mix would move away from him. And Earth doesn't like that idea very much.

Mix's eyes suddenly flutter open. Glassy and unfocused. Earth observes him for a second and sees that he isn't really awake just yet. He eventually turns his back on him and Earth frowns, slightly disappointed. Earth takes his glasses from the bedside table and wears them, his eyes adjusting for a few seconds. He wraps the blanket on Mix's body and gets ready to leave the bed to begin the day.

Suddenly, he feels the other grappling the sheets behind him. He seemed to be looking for something, stopping only when he finally located Earth's hand. He takes it and tugs lightly and wraps it on his waist. Earth's now spooning the younger man as he listens to his breathing return to normal.

And then, a silent plea. Earth would've missed it if he wasn't already glued to his boyfriend's every move.

"Stay here,"

Earth beams and scoots closer. He lets himself get sucked in the comfort of this morning—this easy, lovely morning with Mix. He plants an inconspicuous kiss on Mix's neck, glances at the bedside clock and figures that a little more time with him here, in their sanctum, wouldn't hurt anybody.

So, he stayed.

 

- - -

 

"Good morning, Charming."

"Charming?" Mix takes a mug and pours himself coffee from the pot.

"Well... Cinderella and Prince Charming, right?" Earth points to himself and then at Mix before winking.

Mix glances at Earth's own mug on the countertop, a drying brown stain already visible on its mouth. Mix motions to the pot and pours Earth's mug when he nodded. The younger man wagers that the other has been up for about an hour or so already.

It's been a month since they've put a label into what they are. In between afterwork hours inside The Curio and all that... crazy sex they've been having (an expected byproduct of the honeymoon stage), most hours they have together have been spent inside Mix's apartment.

Mix abandons his coffee and walks over to Earth, burying his head in the curve of Earth's back. He sees a portion of his tattoo, the one on his upper left shoulder, peeking from his muscle tee and gently kisses it.

He did it because Earth's back looked inviting; him with his strong, broad shoulders. Mix did it because, for some reasons, he was craving Earth's scent. But mostly, he did it because he can—because he finally can.

The smell of his room clings softly against his boyfriend's skin. Freshly laundered sheets with the underlying scent of the perfume he wears. Not too strong. Just enough to tease the nostrils and have you wanting for more. Mix presses his body on the other's back and sighs.

Earth puts the temperature on high and waits for the meat on the pan to sear for a few seconds more. He whips behind him and cups Mix's face. He plants a small kiss on his forehead and nonchalantly makes a move to fix the other's bedhead. A hand hovers in the space between their heads for a second before Earth moves to ruffle Mix's hair instead. He laughs and returns to cooking, leaving a glaring Mix to tend to his hair.

Mix watches his boyfriend do his thing with a singular focus. He observes his jaw clenching, eyes set on the task, hand deft and light and deliberate. He adores the sight of Earth in his kitchen, the way he does whenever he watches him in his element at The Curio.

"What's for breakfast?"

"Aside from me?"

Mix snorts and retorts, "I meant something edible, Earth."

Earth pouts a little and Mix rolls his eyes, smiling as he does.

"I'd go set the table,"

The younger man isn't really big on breakfasts, especially when he isn't at home with his family. Mainly because he's always rushing in the mornings—add that to the fact that he's a disaster in the kitchen. One of the perks of having Earth as a boyfriend, as Mix soon discovered, is that he no longer has to worry about starving himself in the mornings—Earth would drag him if need be (and he did, once) just to feed him, leaving Mix little to no chance of escaping breakfast.

He does this for him every morning after he sleeps over, plus proper meals prepped for at least an hour during the weekends. When he needs to rush somewhere, Earth makes sure to leave him a healthy sandwich on the table, something he can eat en route to the office.

Mix thinks about all these and says, "Isn't this exhausting for you?"

Earth, looking up from his plate, asks. "What is?"

"Waking up early, especially on weekdays, to make me breakfast?"

"Well aside from wanting to cook you proper meals, I also have to eat. It's a win-win."

"So you're just mooching off me?"

"Took you long enough to notice, Prince Charming."

Mix smiles and stares at the tulips Earth got him last night, now on a vase perched on the table. For a moment, he wonders if any of these is real, because it feels surreal. He wonders if it's not just an illusion; being taken care of and not feeling like he has to take care of everything on his own; instead of having to keep the ship afloat all by himself.

He watches Earth scoop some rice into his plate and is brought back to reality. His new reality.

Mix smiles and takes a bite of his food.

He's loving every second of this.

Earth notices Mix smiling and teases him. "What, you think I'm doing all these just for you?" Mix sticks his tongue out and gets back to his food.

But the truth of the matter is, he is. Whether Earth admits it or not. Sure he's had to cut at least two hours from his sleep every time he spends his nights here, just so he could make the trip back to his condo and do his thing before he's expected at Curio.

'But what's a few hours if it means spending my mornings with you?' Earth thinks to himself.

A feeling of dread looms over Earth but he tries hard to keep it down. Instead, he focuses on his boyfriend. Seated in front of him, consuming the food he prepared. It suddenly hits him; how this is his new reality.

Earth smiles but curtails it with a deep subdued sigh, careful not to let Mix see.

He's somehow terrified of this.


- - -

 

"Huh."

Earth looks up from the book he was reading and rebalances the glasses resting on his nose. He whips his head to where Mix, who has his legs crossed on the couch and staring at an open laptop perched on his lap, sits.

"What is it?" He places an elbow on Mix's knee and focuses on his expression, waiting to see what that reaction was about.

Mix moves closer to Earth's body and squints his eyes, still staring at the laptop. He scans the screen and retrieves his planner from his bag. "I actually have nothing lined up for today. ...and tomorrow."

"And that's surprising because...? It's the weekend anyway,"

"Yeah it's— I mean we never really get 'proper' breaks in this industry." He should probably add that he never gives himself a proper break, but it's not as if Earth doesn't know that already.

"Okay that's a gross generalization but I don't really remember the last time I actually did nothing for the whole weekend."

"Not even freelance work?"

"I have one ongoing and another one in the pipeline. But I'm still waiting for the clients to approve the proposals. They'd revert to me with the details next week."

"So nothing urgent?"

Mix shakes his head and gets up. He lets out a low moan and stretches his body, feeling the knots on his back coming loose and cracking. The idea of being free for two whole days excited him. He is quick to notice, however, that one person seems to be more thrilled with the idea. He sees Earth abandon his book, gazing at him from the floor.

"I have an idea," Earth grins playfully and Mix wonders where this conversation is headed. "Let's not waste your free day holed up inside the apartment,"

Mix seems to consider it for a few seconds. "What do you have in mind?"

Earth thinks for a second and a playful expression comes over his face. "We could hit the gym—"

Mix was already shaking his head before Earth even finished the thought. "No I— actually, why don't we just stay here?"

"Just here?"

"Yeah."

"Are you sure you just don't want to go to the gym?" Earth's been bugging him about this for weeks now. Mix says he's been meaning to go, but just couldn't find the time. That and the idea of going doesn't really excite him that much.

"...that, too." Mix smirks. Earth laughs and musses Mix's hair.

Earth suddenly thought about his plans. He could do a general clean up of his condo. Check his bed since it has not been slept in in a long time. But somehow, he doesn't really want to do any of these things. Not when the alternative is being here with Mix.

"Then let's just stay here."

"Are you fine with that? I don't wanna keep you if you have plans."

The older man pouts and crosses both arms on Mix's lap. He begins doodling small circles on the inside of Mix's thigh, not really putting too much thought into what he's doing. Mix hopes his skin doesn't begin forming small bumps; he hopes Earth doesn't realize the effect this innocent act has on him.

Earth finally looks up at him and asks in a small voice. "Don't you want me here?"

"No! I mean, of course I do. I want you here. But you have to work in three hours." What Mix doesn't tell him, is he's afraid. Afraid of Earth suddenly getting tired of this. Of him. Mix offers him a smile and keeps it in, afraid that if he says it out loud, the universe could catch on and will it into reality.

"I actually told them I'd clock in tomorrow. Jennie's coming over after Namtan's checkup anyway."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive. But only if you want me here. I'd understand if you want some time alone to just... rest or do your thing,"

Mix breaks into a smile and brushes his thumb on Earth's mouth. It feels soft under his thumb. He presses his lips on him gently and utters, "No. Stay."

Earth wishes Mix missed the sound of his heart and the way it hammered in his chest.

The two spend some time just watching a movie. Like the last time they did, they never really finished this one, too. After a while, Earth hears Mix snoring beside him. He doesn't wake him but goes to carry Mix to the bed. He draws the curtains close to keep the sun out, allowing Mix to sleep in total darkness and get the rest he deserves.

Earth goes outside to the balcony with his book, thinking how this was a great respite from the static. He is beginning to liken Mix to a place. Imposing but still provincial. Soft around the edges. Mix is like a place you'd want to call home. And with him here, Earth feels safe.

He's drunk in this discovery phase. Seeing and experiencing things he now only knows because they're 'together' together. There are things that Mix allows him to see and experience because he's his lover: the butterfly kisses on his bare shoulder when Mix gets tired, as if he wants to feel present, like he—Earth—is vital to achieving this. Mix closing his eyes before breathing deeply, seemingly taking in Earth's scent before settling on the crook of his neck. Mix kissing with no long preambles, no unnecessary ramblings. Just Mix being Mix with the person he allowed into his home; the man lucky enough to be let into his life.

Earth discovers that Mix's kisses are sure—so ready to take and also able to fully surrender.

It's all the little things, Earth thinks, that magnify the intimacy; all the little things that are enough to drive him crazy. Thawing all the icy blocks surrounding him; ones he spent years forging. Knots coming loose. Bottles unscrewed. Dams open.

He takes his pen, one he always tucks in books that he's reading, and writes on a blank space:

He's my undoing, and I, his.

 

- - -

 

Mix wakes up a little after seven o'clock. He wakes bitterly, realizing that he wasted a good day that he could've spent with Earth—awake. He jolts and runs outside his room, hoping that he hasn't left yet.

"You're up,"

The smile Earth has on his face was enough to calm Mix—but also make his heart pound like crazy.

"I thought you left," Mix groans and embraces Earth, tightening a hand on his shirt.

"I wouldn't go without telling you. Even Cinderella told the Prince she's leaving the ball,"

"You're enjoying that nickname a little too much, aren't you?" Mix crosses his arms and observes the place. He immediately notes that there is something different about his place. When realization dawns, he asks Earth. "Did you... clean my apartment?"

Earth shrugs and looks around nonchalantly. "I had nothing to do,"

Mix cups a hand to his mouth in a bid to suppress a smile. "Oh my god, you're a neat freak."v

"Hey. I just like to keep things clean—" Earth starts. Mix cuts him off with a peck on the lips and a look that is probably the wordless equivalent of 'thank you'.

"What're you craving?"

"Yo—"

"Not me, Pirapat."

Earth rolls his eyes but thought long and hard before speaking again. "KFC sounds good right now."

The older man waits for the food to arrive as he tries to burn through the book he's reading. Mix calls from inside the shower and asks Earth to pay for their meal using his money.

"Babe, can you—"

Earth was outside the shower in a second, "What was that?"

Mix parts the shower curtain and was surprised to find Earth, with his eyes wide, leaning in. Close. Very close to where he stands. "My wallet. Pay for the food with my money. It's on my bag," He sees Earth already shaking his head.

"I mean, what did you just call me?"

'Oh shit,' Mix certainly let slip a word. "...babe."

"Say that again?"

"Babe,"

"One more time."

"Ba— no. No more. The delivery guy's almost here!"

"Come on, one more time. I'm trying to see something."

Mix sighs in exasperation, his cheeks reddening in embarrassment. "What are you even trying to see?"

"You blushing,"

"Pirapat, stop."

"Who's Pirapat? I dunno a Pirapat. I'm 'babe'." Mix sighs and surrenders, glowering at him for just a brief moment, before indulging his request.

"Babe."

Earth reaches a hand to Mix's damp face and his thumb caresses his jaw. "Okay, babe."

'Babe.' Earth likes how that rolled off his tongue.

Earth meets the delivery guy in the lobby. He isn't really the type to snoop and check his boyfriends' wallet, but Mix's pictures inside caught his attention when he took some cash.

He takes a picture out, possibly taken as a requirement for some government document Mix got in the past. He hesitates for a second and pinches the corner of the picture, deliberating with himself.

Earth smiles and tucks the picture safely in his back pocket before walking back to Mix's apartment.

 

- - -

 

Earth was gone immediately after breakfast the next morning. He did want to stay for the whole day again, but they've begun interviewing people for positions at Curio, especially since Jennie and Namtan would soon hand off their duties to focus on their wedding and the baby. They'd need all the help they can get. Khaotung offers a hand when he doesn't have work and helps his boyfriend with bartending. Bright's friend from the university, Dew, also starts part-timing. But they do need at least two more people to man the kitchen, since both Jennie and Namtan are leaving.

This gives Mix some time for himself. He tries hard not to think about work and just give the whole weekend to himself. It's a rare opportunity, one he isn't really sure he'd get again any time soon, so he does everything in his power to keep work out of his mind. Mix decides to call his family and then his friends and realizes he still has a few hours of light to stroll around his neighborhood. A few hours to feel present and connected.

After picking up some groceries, Mix finds his feet dragging him back to the little compound lined with the thrift shops and bars that he once visited with Earth. He gets lunch at the same Japanese restaurant they went on that day and walks, this time deliberately slowing his pace, so he can peek through the shops' windows.

The small vintage shop was open, with the same lady sitting on the counter, fanning herself. Mix removes his black cap and nods at the lady, who gets out from behind the counter to welcome him. He notices the crinkle on the sides of her eyes and smiles in return. She exudes a warm motherly quality which Mix likes very much.

"I've seen you here before, haven't I?" She says, squinting her eyes.

"Yes, ma'am. I went here with Earth last time."

"With Earth, yes! I'm glad to see you back here."

After introducing himself, the old woman walks back behind the counter. Mix appreciates not being shadowed while he looks around. He was careful as he moved around the little shop, making sure he doesn't hit anything. There are new zines on the bookshelf, some created by friends and people he personally knows from the industry. For a second, he allows himself to imagine how it would feel to have his zine there; it'd probably be just a collection of his collages and some sketches. Maybe some landscape photos he took from previous travels.

He knows he'd never do it but still, imagining the possibility excited him.

As he moves through the items, he realizes that he's seen almost all of these already when they first came. He thinks it's probably difficult to find buyers for some of these items, although he gets the feeling that the owner isn't really in this for the money. The place looks more like a museum than a shop and Mix adores that.

The wooden box of postcards is still there. He notices some new retro items displayed on the tall glass cabinets but realizes that more or less, the collection stayed the same.

He sees the Hermes typewriter still placed on the same wooden stool and remembers how Earth looked at it the first time they went here.

"I've been telling Earth to take it off my hands,"

Mix soon finds the lady standing next to him, admiring the typewriter like one does their own child. "My husband, bless his soul, took his time reworking that typewriter. I don't want it to go to just anybody."

"Is Earth interested in this?"

She shakes her head and responds. "Never said he'd buy it, but he always asks about it. Especially when New's still here."

'New,' Mix surmises that was her late husband's name and didn't press her.

Mix takes a closer look at the typewriter and appreciates the work that's been put into restoring it. The keys sound crisp and clean. There is some minor color chipping on the side and it could've used a layer of gloss so it doesn't look dull from use, although Mix thinks it is left to be that way to capture its sentimentality. And it did. Perfectly. Overall, the typewriter is in mint condition. He lets the lady hear what he thinks and watches as her eyes light up, beaming with a look of nostalgia and pride.

He asks her how much the typewriter costs and walks out into the street.



- - -

 

Earth promised to swing by Mix's apartment that evening. The younger man asks Earth to meet him on the roof terrace this time, where he now sits, wrapped in a thick blanket with some cans of beer and chips next to him.

As Mix downs his first can of beer, he realizes that they're recreating the first day they went out together, albeit starting it alone. A trip to the thrift store during the day, ending with a nightcap at his building's terrace. He chuckles and realizes that they've come a long way since that day.

Although it does make him wonder, why Earth suddenly decided to go further. Why, after telling him he wanted them to stay friends, did he take the leap.

'What made him stop running?'

Mix hears the door to the terrace heaving, revealing Earth.

"What would you have done if I didn't show up?" Earth jokes by way of a greeting, echoing Mix's words to him that morning of their beach trip. The same trip that sealed the deal. The older man sits next to Mix on the long bench and wraps his body inside the blanket with him.

"Well, why did you come?" Mix retorts playfully, handing Earth a can of beer. Mix digs his thumbnail on the beer can, seemingly distracted. Earth hears Mix muttering under his breath, a small smile plastered on his face.

"Why did you come?"

Somehow, Earth feels that the other is asking him something more than that. He did make a deal about telling him, that afternoon at the back alley of The Curio, that he didn't want them to 'cross that line'. That he liked them as friends. Just friends.

So, why did he?

'Why did I?'

"I guess I just have to be with you," Earth says reassuringly, this time finding Mix's eyes. Mix feels like he's swimming in those eyes, lost for a second. Mix drinks his beer; the answer suffices for now. He couldn't tell if this is a conversation the other wants to indulge him at this moment. He'd have time to pick his brains for it anyway. But right now, he just wants to enjoy it—no questions asked. No new information divulged. Just the two of them silent under the blanket of stars.

As long as he's there with him.

"Aren't you supposed to be at Curio for another 6 hours?"

"I asked Podd to take the shift for me."

Mix scowls and moves closer to Earth, making sure their skins are touching so the other doesn't feel cold. "Is that okay? You've done that Friday and yesterday, too."

"Well, I literally own the place."

"And you run the place. I'd like to think you actually need to be there to do that, Mr. Capitalist."

Earth begins laughing and takes Mix's hand.

"Khaotung's there with Podd tonight. And I think they'd actually appreciate some alone time. The couch in our shared office is kinda big, you know. If you get my drift."

"Okay that's information I don't need,"

"I'm kidding,"

"To be honest that isn't very far fetched, knowing Khaotung." The two share a laugh and breathe out.

Earth could see that Mix is still a bit apprehensive, so he places his hand on top of his head, smoothing his hair slowly. "I swear it's fine. It's a slow night anyway. Plus, it's rare for us to just be together without both or one of us running our asses off because of work."

Mix knows he has a point and to be honest, even if he didn't want to ask, he'd rather spend the night with him here again.

"By the way, how are the interviews going?" Mix inquires, knowing that the reason Earth had to leave early was because he had to meet with someone applying as a cook.

"Pretty good actually. We had one guy come in for an interview this morning. Jim. Used to own a Hainanese chicken restaurant. Which reminds me—"

Earth takes his phone out and shows Mix a picture. "Dew took this picture in secret because he said Jim looks like me,"

Mix had to stare at the phone and back at his boyfriend, making sure his eyes weren't playing tricks on him. "Jesus, the resemblance is uncanny. I could mistake you two for twins!"

"Really? I don't see it." Earth shakes his head and looks closely, trying to see the picture from a different angle. Whatever he does, he just couldn't see it.

Mix, on the other hand, keeps his eyes glued to Jim's picture. Earth notices and clears his throat. "Okay you don't have to ogle him," He swiftly takes his phone back and pouts.

"Babe, are you jealous?"

'Not really,' The older man thought as he continued to pout, enjoying the attention from Mix, who was now showering him with cheek kisses.

Earth stares at the canopy of stars twinkling above their heads. He feels at peace here, but thoughts run through his mind. Mix was quick to notice that Earth isn't really present so he presses, worried that he's not okay. "What's on your mind?"

"A lot," Earth retorts, drumming his fingers on Mix's thigh. When Mix doesn't respond, he continues. "It's... Khaotung moving in with Podd. Jennie and Namtan about to get married with a baby on the way. The Curio growing. Even Bright's spending a lot of time with your brother lately, do you know that?"

'And us. I can't stop thinking about us. You.'

Mix nods, as if remembering something. "Thank you for reminding me that I have to ask Win about this when I visit home. He's been dodging my calls."

"Bright's a good kid, you've nothing to worry about."

"I'm not worried because of him. It's Win. My brother's leaving soon. I was just wondering if Bright knows,"

"I just... I'm worried. Starting something when you're not sure or ready could backfire in the long run." Mix adds, without any prompting. Earth sees a faint smile stretching on his mouth before Mix downs his beer.

'I'd know,' Earth thinks to himself but doesn't add anything. He carefully sets his beer back on the bench between him and Mix.

Mix sees the slight switch on Earth's expression. He tries to place what it is he sees there right now: 'Guilt? Disappointment? Distress?'

Somehow, it feels as though it's a mix of all three and more. The two fall silent for a while. Mix faces Earth and takes both of his hands in his, rubbing them together. He doesn't look at Earth but asks, "What're you thinking?"

The older man didn't realize he'd been tense for a few moments, if not for Mix's gesture.

"I dunno," Earth begins, trying to bring the conversation back to his point as he warms up to Mix's touch. "Like things are beginning to fall into place."

"And how does that make you feel?"

He stops Mix's hands from moving and tightens his hold on them. 'Like I'd eventually find a way to fuck it up, like I always do.'

He, of course, can't tell him that. He can't curse their relationship this early although everything in him—the bad, the worse, the absolute shitty parts of him—is dying to do just that.

"Good." Earth manages to say after some time.

Mix could sense that there's a string of unsaid words, just resting at the tip of Earth's tongue. He feels the shift in the air and the way he sucked in a deep breath; the way his face fell. Mix intertwines their fingers, not pressing him for more.

"Come on, stand up." Mix, who was suddenly hit with an idea, says.

Earth looks at him questioningly but does as he's told. He watches his boyfriend fiddle with his phone and starts playing a song. The track begins with the slow sound of the piano, gently coaxing the two of them so they fall into a soft rhythm. Earth didn't need to be told what to do next.

He closes what little distance separates his and Mix's body and starts swaying to the raw female voice serenading them. Their hands meet where they need it to, cheeks cold but also warm against each other the longer they stay there, swaying.

Earth isn't familiar with the track, but captures a sentence that stood out.

'Why try to change me now?'

He sinks deeper into Mix, now resting his head on the other's neck. He closes his eyes and tightens his embrace. He feels like they're in a bubble. Safe. That nothing can hurt them as long as they stay here. That even he can't hurt the other. Earth wonders if there's anything better than this out there, outside this bubble; anything better than slow dancing to a melodious ballad with the man he adores.

Mix pats Earth's back and hums along to the song. They wait for the song to end as the slight vibrations from Mix's chest envelop them both.

The two get back to Mix's apartment and start removing their clothes. Mix feels as if he's still listening to the same song, serenading the two of them as they deepen their kisses, as they move slowly from his door to his waiting bed.

Earth breaks the kiss to look at Mix's face and sees longing there, playing just below the surface of hunger. Hunger for him. Mix pins Earth on the bed and tongues his body, making sure to mark and bite all of his tattoos in the process. He revels at the sound of Earth's sharp cries, one he lets out every time Mix's teeth grazes the sensitive areas of his body—every time he nips at the sensitive skin. The intense heat spreads from his cheeks to his stomach as he mounts Earth, making sure he charts his body well, leaving no skin, no indentation, nothing and everything, untouched.

Mix angles Earth so he's below him and goes to spread Earth's behind. He watches closely for changes in Earth's expression, making sure he's okay with what he's about to do. Earth did say he's a verse, like him, but that he mostly tops.

Mix waits to hear the other consent. Earth, catching on, mutters a low response. "Go..."

The younger man lubes up his fingers. All the time, he fixes his eyes on Earth's face. He'd stop, no questions asked, if the other doesn't want this. But Earth just angles his body, making it easier for Mix to slide into him. Earth hooks Mix's head with his arms, clasped together on the other's neck as if in prayer.

In all that haze, Earth begins observing all the little details on his boyfriend's face. Just soaking in everything he can see, as if he's about to lose it, too. He begins kissing Mix's forehead, his scar, and finally, his birthmark. Earth bites into the other's birthmark and hears him grunt in response.

"I see you," Earth manages to get out, making sure to lock Mix's eyes with his. "I see all of you."

Earth thinks that it's more than just sex. How he's his shrine and this—him under him—is worship. He sees the familiar expression on Mix, the same pair of eyes that sends shivers all over Earth's body. One that told him he didn't have a chance to let this go, let him go, from the very beginning. Not from the moment he locked eyes with him.

Mix sinks deeper into Earth, still watching his face for signs of discomfort, and resuming the kiss that has been interrupted for way too long already. Or so he feels.

Earth takes him in. It has been a while since he's taken someone in. He waits for the pain and is unnerved by the slight discomfort, but it was one that passed as soon as it came. Mix takes his time, sliding in slowly, feeling Earth tensing and slowly easing and then finding the rhythm that works for the both of them.

The older man sinks in the euphoria, feeling Mix inside him, with just one word swimming on his head as Mix moves inside him:

Undoing.

Undoing.

Undoing.



- - -

 

Mix wakes up alone in his bed but finds a sticky note on his forehead.

'sandwich on the table + an ice cream in the fridge. p.s. i still think ice cream's an odd choice for a hangover cure. — babe'

Mix smiles at nobody in particular and places the note on his bare stomach. The high from last night is replaced by calm. Even his mind feels at ease and appeased. He gave himself a few more minutes in bed; whether to collect himself or to stay in that compelling tranquility, he's not really sure.

After a while, Mix folds the note and stands to begin his day.