Actions

Work Header

the sea washes you away

Chapter Text

Phupha closes the laptop with a soft thud- a content sigh escapes his thin lips, barely there, loosely hanging. Another day of work has ended, the once-vibrant orange sun is setting at the horizon; Phupha can see the picturesque view from the second floor of his office. Shades of blue, purple and pink are decorating the sky in delicate streaks, beautifully draping the once lighted world with colours of twilight, a sign to retrieve home and call it a day. 

 

It is peacefully quiet in the office this evening, and Phupha wonders if Yod and Rang have returned home. Phupha would always be the last to leave the office, too busy checking and editing the documents of illegal fisheries occurring in the seas of Andaman before he can submit to the higher-ups. Working in the Department of Fisheries, Legal Affairs Division, it is Phupha's job to carry out legal matters concerning the law on fisheries. Furthermore, being the assistant director, Phupha is busier than most of his subordinates, but he does not mind. He truly enjoys working here because it reminds him of his roots, his parents, and nature. 

 

Pushing the chair with a creak, Phupha walks toward the majestic windows and stops. He traces the lines of the cloudless sky with his fingertips, smiling slightly at the mesmerizing sundown. Phupha has always enjoyed watching the sun and the nature surrounding him with his late parents. Phupha can dare say they are nature lovers; they enjoyed volunteering every weekend at the nearest park or beach, a small deed to ensure the perseverance of nature.

 

Phupha will bask into the serene view of green trees and emerald sea, the rustling of leaves against leaves, and the calming sound of the tides washing the shore. He remembers the smile on his parents' faces, their pinkies intertwined together, three pairs of footprint appearing and disappearing on coarse sand, jubilant laughter booming in between planting new trees, and it was beautiful.

 

They would travel to Tien Beach to watch the sun transform into a moon. Those memories are still fresh in his mind, the sand beneath his feet still tingles his spine, and the grin on his parents' faces are like dreams Phupha will look forward to seeing every night. Ten years have passed, but those unforgettable yesterdays will always shine brightly in his heart and mind. 

 

"Oh, Sir Phupha, you are still here?" 

 

Phupha, taken by surprise, turns around immediately to the source that disrupts his train of thoughts. Yod and Rang look at him questioningly, mouth slightly agape, and Phupha does not know the reason behind their conflicted expression.

 

"I had just finished my work," Phupha tries to come up with an excuse, "why are you both still here? It is already a quarter past seven," it is Phupha's turn to ask his subordinates.

 

"Oh, I was waiting for Rang," Yod acclaims, "he was in the toilet for 30 minutes, and I was worried. I thought he fainted or anything," the other says, and Rang punches his chest with much force, Yod howls in pain.

 

"Ah, sir," Rang sheepishly rubs his nape, "I ate Dr Nam's tom yum goong yesterday and maybe, my stomach could not handle the spice," 

 

Yod laughs at his friend, teasing Rang by saying he currently smells like poop, and Phupha smiles while shaking his head. "That is enough for the day," he announces, "you can ask for medicines from Nam. He should be responsible for that stomachache," 

 

Rang shakes his head instantly, "no, Sir Phupha, it is okay! There is no need to bother Dr Nam," he answers. "I will get a good rest. Tomorrow is the weekend after all," 

 

Oh. Phupha almost forgot. Tomorrow is Saturday. Time sure flies when you are busy working and trying to make ends meet. Phupha hardly remembers the time and date these days- an endless pile of work and information is the only thing filling every space in his mind. 

 

"Okay then," Phupha says, "both of you can go now. Have a great weekend," he reverts his eyes to the windows anew. The sky is completely dark now, and the gleaming stars are scattering on the black canvas prettily.

 

"Uh, sir?" Yod intervenes, and Phupha answers with a low hum. 

 

"Would you like to join us tonight? We are planning to eat out at this new French restaurant downtown," he continues, an attempt to invite their introverted boss out for dinner, letting loose of his uptight life once in a while.

 

Phupha ponders for a second, French food does sound great, but he prefers being alone on days like this. Besides, Phupha is not a fan of big crowds and neon lights; Bangkok is all that, a city that never sleeps and full of life. Phupha prefers staying in the comfort of his four walls, enjoying the sight of silver spheroids and the crescent moon even more.

 

"I think I will pass," he says, turning around to face his subordinates again, "but thank you for inviting me." 

 

Yod and Rang nod respectfully at him; the previous-hopeful and bright smile dim as Phupha rejects their offer for the nth time. 

 

"If one day, you are searching for something fun and exciting, you can always count on us, sir! We will be at your service," Rang salutes at Phupha, and he mirrors the action with a grateful smile. 

 

As they exit the office, the room falls into silence again. Phupha gazes at the window for the last time, releases a heavy sigh and marches to his table. He gathers all his belongings and switches off the lights, locking the door behind him. 

 

Phupha presses the buttons of the lift and waits. He taps his feet to the familiar jazz tune and ponders on what to do next. The clock strikes at eight, and Phupha is certain the traffic is clear now. He arrives at his car, one of the few cars left in the parking lot. He remembers Nam and Torfun saying they are working night shifts today, and so he decided to visit them for a brief. Starting the engine, he heads out from the building and drives to Vibhavadi Hospital.

 

The familiar images of tall trees, orange streetlights and a sea of people decorate his view. He smiles as he whistles the familiar tune with a heart beating at ease and contentment.

 

 

 

He enters the hospital after informing Nam and Torfun of his whereabouts. Phupha waits for them at the cafeteria with three cups of coffee and a plate of freshly made sticky rice. 

 

"Phu!" 

 

Phupha sees Nam and Torfun walking together; the smile on their faces remind him of the crystals floating on the sea, and instantly, his heart blossoms into a full-grown flower. These two are the closest to what he calls family, and seeing them all healthy and cheery hurts him, but in a good way.

 

"P'Phu, I did not expect to see you here!" Torfun takes a seat on his right and Nam on the left. Phupha pushes the cups closer to them, and Nam quickly takes a sip of the dark, bitter liquid with a satisfied moan.

 

Nam elbows him with a cheeky smile, "you are the best, Phu! How did you know I was craving coffee?" 

 

"I have known you for ten years, Nam. How could I do not know? You would always ask me to make you one," He teases back, and Nam curls his body into a ball in embarrassment.

 

"I am surprised both of you did not end up dating," Torfun casually remarks, taking a bite of the rice cake along the way.

 

Phupha is so used to this, but it will always hit differently according to the situation. When he is happy, Phupha does not mind about it; he will let it slide and laughs along with Torfun. But now, as he feels the familiar prick of solitude exploding in his chest, the void doubles in size, he starts to wonder about the origin of loneliness stored in the deepest part of his heart. 

 

"Hey! N'Torfun, we have made it clear that I do not have feelings for Phu, even though, yes, he is handsome and charming," Nam side-eyes him, but Phupha is too distracted to notice. "I have a girlfriend, remember?"

 

Torfun nods lazily, picking the sticky rice with her fingers. She purses her lips as she utters, "yes, you do, but P'Jeab ships you both, so...?" 

 

Nam ruffles her hair playfully, remnants of laughter falling from his lips still. "She does, but I do not see Phupha more than just a friend, best friend, right, Phu?"

 

He feels eyes boring holes on him, and when the fragile reverie breaks, Phupha shakes his head slightly to discard the remnants of yearning from engulfing his heart. "Huh?"

 

Nam pushes his hair back, eyeing him from top to bottom, looking at Torfun, who is doing the same thing.

 

"Phu, are you okay?"

 

I am not. "Of course, I am! Why would I not be okay?" Sadly, Phupha is never good at lying.

 

He feels Torfun's small palm resting on his hand. The ick from the sticky rice settles on his hands like imprints. The warmth scorches his skin with hints of assurance and understanding. "P', what is wrong?"

 

Phupha does not like being interrogated. He does not like when people tried to pop the bubble surrounding him; he feels wholly hopeless, and nothing can comfort him rather than the memories stored in his gallery of thoughts. Call Phupha a fool or an imbecile, but he has always been afraid of opening up to others; Nam, Torfun, Yod and Rang are his only exception. They are his family, but sometimes family can be strangers too. At times, Phupha cannot help but think all he has at the end is himself and nothing else.

 

He hates putting the mood down, but now the ambience is sombre and no longer lively. Nam is correct: he is indeed a party-pooper. Therefore, he tries to lift the spirit again by flashing the most sincere smile he can muster. "I am okay. I am a bit tired with works, that is all."

 

Nam pats his shoulder with a knowing smile, "hey, Phu," the other starts, "you can lie to others, but you can never deceive us, and you know that, right?" 

 

"If anything is bothering you, do not be scared to tell us, P'," Torfun adds, caressing his knuckles with feathery touches that reminds him so much of his mother. God. Phupha does not want them to see this broken side of him ever again. Ten years ago was enough to shatter the walls he built with much difficulty; he does not want to go through that agonizing phase again.

 

He does not trust his voice, let alone his words. He nods thankfully, hoping that whatever is trying to drown him before will cascade with the wind.

 

"Ah, Phu," Nam calls, his face a few inches away from Phupha as he asks, "what are you doing tomorrow?"

 

The question rekindles a sense of hope in his broken heart, inviting a smile to reside on his face. "I am going to Tien Beach tomorrow,"

 

Nam, who is now busy devouring the sticky rice, jumps slightly in his seat as realization hits. "Ah! I forgot! You will always go there on the weekends. My bad," 

 

"Why did you ask, Nam?"

 

"Tomorrow, we have a charity event at the children's unit. I was wondering if you can come and visit us? The kids would like to see you," Torfun clarifies, but she does not have to wait for the answer.

 

"Oh, Torfun," Phupha calls, guilt is evident on his face. "I am sorry. I do not think I can make it," he pauses, "but maybe I can visit you later in the evening?"

 

Torfun shakes her head in denial. "It is okay, P'Phu! It is a long drive to get to Tien Beach. You do not have to come. I do not mind at all," she adds, reassuring him again and again. Phupha believes he does not deserve a sister as kind and understanding as Torfun in his life.

 

"She wanted to introduce you to this guy- what is his name? Dr Aroon? I forgot-"

 

Torfun smacks Nam on the back of his head, and the other shrieks in pain, but she is quick to cover his mouth with her hands. "Nothing! Nothing, P'Phu! Do not listen to Dr Nam! He is talking nonsense," she glares at him, and Phupha laughs out loud as Nam looks at him with eyes crying for help.

 

He exhales a deep breath as he says, "I would like to meet this guy one day, Torfun."

 

She smiles at him, the sparkle in her eyes is blinding, and Phupha is ecstatic to know that someone managed to steal his sister's heart. He hopes that gentleman will bring a smile to Torfun's face for eternity. 

 

The night drifts away with loud bickering, Nam shouting at Torfun, Torfun gripping a chunk of Nam's hair teasingly, and Phupha smiling from time to time upon seeing them fighting over the pettiest of things. 

 

For a second, he forgets the hollow spaces growing in his heart, the profound yearning, and the desire to love and hope for better days with someone special by his side, someone that will not go away with the tidal waves.

 

 

 

The white sand underneath his feet rekindles the old flame in his box of recollections, and the turquoise sea embellishes his view, reminiscing the time when happiness was a promise of forever and separation was not in those happily-ever-after bedtime stories. 

 

Phupha revels in the coldness of seawater crashing on his feet, slowly bringing him closer, nearer to the centre of the ocean. He stands there, admiring the scene, glad that he is the only soul currently on the beach. Tien Beach is perfectly remote, secluded, with fewer visitors than other beaches in Thailand; this is why he loves coming to this coast. It is private, quiet and tranquil. Time ticks slower here, and Phupha has full access to cherish nature at its defined, most raw beauty. 

 

Without notice, the previously calm waves are now violently smashing the shore; the blue sky turns grey rapidly, the wind hurriedly blows, pushing Phupha further and further until he falls to the wet sand. The sea ripples like water reaching its boiling point, folding and unfolding into a massive tsunami. Phupha watches everything with nothing but overwhelming fear pulsating in his veins, but he has no energy left in his legs to run. 

 

Thunder strikes the earth in one zap, and the sea turns and churns haphazardly until something, a creature, a body, ends up on the sand. The wind stops blowing, and things are back to normal.

 

He exhales a grunt as he stands up, dusting the sand off of his body, and the lifeless body lying on the sand catches his attention. With heavy footsteps and increasing doubts, Phupha takes a step closer to the being. His heart abruptly stops beating as the creature is a young man, pale skin and bluish lips, eyes closed and chest no longer heaving. The clear water turns crimson as Phupha approaches the man.

 

Phupha runs and kneels beside the man. He examines the body, trying to search for any wound or injuries- to stop the bleeding momentarily, but what he sees next is something that will change his life forever.

 

A tail?

 

He sees a tail instead of human legs at the lower part of the young man's body. He is bleeding profusely; a deep cut slashes the tail open, the scales are in bloodied pieces, and multiple wounds scattered on his face and body. The young man, or anything this creature is, is severely injured.

 

Phupha shakes the body frantically to wake him up, but there is no response. "Sir? Sir? Can you hear me? Sir?" He tries again and again, but the young man does not budge. Phupha remembers the steps Nam taught him before and starts performing CPR on the other.

 

Beads of sweat cling onto his forehead, the panic rises in him as the young man is still unresponsive, but Phupha does not give up. He will not stop until the latter regains consciousness. Phupha presses onto his chest, breathing the oxygen into those lungs, praying that miracles will happen today and he can save this young man from dying.

 

After endless attempts, the young man chokes up, water flows out from his mouth, and a part of Phupha dies from relief. The man continues to cough out the saltwater, and Phupha helps him sit straight, leaning his limp body against his. The blood taints his shirt, but he has no time to care as he pats the young man's back now and then.

 

Phupha cups the latter's face delicately with shaky hands. His lips are heavy with words of worship to God as the other's eyes are fluttering open, staring at him.

 

"Sir? Can you hear me?" Phupha calls, patting the young man's cheeks ardently.

 

The young man's eyes are half-open, his lips are trembling, and the grip on his forearm tightens. 

 

Desperate and mortified, Phupha tries to call again, "sir? Please, can you hear me?" 

 

"I... I- h-hurts..." the latter hardly says, eyebrows scrunching together, and Phupha acknowledges the pain he is going through.

 

"I will take you to the hospital, okay? Hang in there, please," Phupha carefully lifts the body again, but this time, to his surprise, he sees a pair of legs and not a tail. 

 

Phupha has so many questions swirling in his chaotic mind, but the only prominent notion now is to bring him to the hospital. The young man holds onto him like his life depends on Phupha; he feels the other's heartbeat pulsating thunderously against his, ice-like skin stings his flaming ones, and Phupha runs to his car in the speed of light, attentively laying the body on the seat. He covers the man with his jumpsuit and hopes it is enough to warm him up before they reach the nearest hospital.

 

While on the long ride, Phupha holds the young man's hand tightly. The sight of almost-pristine skin, blue lips and sunken eyes breaks his prudence into cinders. His heart is heavy with perilous prayers, afraid if the latter will drift away to oblivion again. His heart palpitates anxiously as the fingers entwined with his grows colder and colder as the seconds pass by. 

 

"Stay with me, please," Phupha whispers helplessly, doing everything that he can to keep the young man awake. "Stay with me."

 

The young man clasps Phupha's hand as a response, and Phupha finds himself finally breathing.

Chapter Text

He listened to the waves washing his tired body along with the gushing seawater, coiling and rupturing like firecrackers flickering on the night sky. He felt the burning ache on his body, patches of fire emblazing, dancing sluggishly on his scar-stained skin. He smelt his blood, overwhelming, pooling around his tail, swirling with the tides, attracting one, two, twenty sharks to haunt him down. He swam through the coral reefs; his body stuck in between one stony coral to another, but he needed to be quick. Those sharks would devour his flesh and bones if he stayed in hiding. 

 

Between the haze and daze, he lost his way in an endless route of outgrown seaweed and clear sand; he never did before. He called the sea his home; home is where the heart is, they said, but how could he possibly lose both at the same time?

 

The ocean gurgled in anger- a massive tidal wave brought his body to the shore after a neverending voyage. The coarse sand tickled his skin, like water bugs bite, but his pulses were slowing down, thoughts were no longer coherent, and the future was always bleak. For once, he prayed for his weak heart to stop beating permanently. Take me away for the pain to subside, his heart vowed. It was over.

 

When he started to lose his senses, he felt warm hands pressed on his chest frantically, fumbling but certain, ebony galaxies stared into his half-lidded ones, tried to pry them open with sheer desperation and hope. 

 

Hope. Hope was always ambiguous and heartbreaking. Hoping was another form of wanting, and he despised the notion of hoping for something he could never have.

 

But, those warm hands were still on his chest, an attempt to bring him back to life, to insert wishful tomorrows into his lungs. He should be thankful for those magical hands. He should, but it was easier said than done. 

 

His throat growled monstrously as the seawater cascaded away, hot and flowing; he could only taste the salt and regret. His eyes fluttered open slowly, and he saw those universes were searching for something, anything, but he was so tired to keep up. It was hard to breathe on land, and those pleading eyes were not of help either. 

 

He was in great pain, but it disappeared miraculously as the man embraced him in his strong arms, placing his body on a soft bed, even better than the coral bed he owned at home. Something sweet lingered in the air, and it calmed his drowsiness like a lullaby. It was from him, and it was beautiful.

 

Stay with me, he listened to the man's voice, as sweet as his scent, and for once, he gathered the remnants of strength left in him to clasp those hands. I will- he intended to say. 

 

 


He paces back and forth and in circles; the loud taps of his sandals against the mosaic fill his eardrums. Phupha has lost count of how many times he exhaled a worried sigh, but it is the only thing he can do now, a vain attempt to ease the tension.

 

It has been three hours since he brought the young man to the hospital. He busted through the doors, limp and cold body in his hands, disintegrating with time. Blood tainted his shirt, and he was trembling. He was afraid; he could not let the man die in his arms. He just could not.

 

He could not even fill in the document because he did not know anything about the other. He has left in a trance again. The pen felt burdensome in between his crimson fingers. Helplessly, he scribbled Tien on the paper, and that was all he could do.

 

His prayers were solely for a young man, or maybe something else, nameless but still so important and significant to Phupha. He prayed and beseeched until he was suffocating in fear and despair. Not another soul, dear tide, he pleaded, do not take another life with you again.

 

Phupha texted Nam and Torfun about this. He could not bring himself to speak on the phone as he did not trust his voice to answer their questions. He tried his very best to keep himself together and built more walls around his heart.

 

He told them everything, minus the tail. He needed to ask the young man himself- if the latter wanted to. He would wait. Waiting is in one of his expertises.

 

The door to the operation theatre opens with a swoosh, and Phupha stands up too abruptly; the blood flows exceptionally fast to his brain. He stumbles in his stand, but the door is his support, so he holds onto it tightly.

 

"Dr, how is he?" He asks, lips quivering in anxiousness.

 

The doctor smiles at him, and Phupha takes this as a good sign. "Thank God. We managed to save him,"

 

That is all Phupha has been hoping for since the start. "Thank you, dr," he pauses. The familiar cloud is filling his eyes anew, "thank you so much."

 

The doctor pats his shoulder. The crinkles at the corner of his eyes remind him of his father. "You are most welcome," the doctor replies, "please do not let him shower for the first two weeks after surgery. His wounds were quite deep, and it needs ample time to heal. Also, we need to have some follow-ups with him, but any hospital is fine. I will give the referral letter to you soon. No worries,"

 

Phupha is speechless in thankfulness. Only God knows how he feels right now; he can finally breathe again, and his mind now resumes working efficiently like before. "I appreciate your hard work, dr. Thank you for saving him," he sincerely says with utmost gratitude. 

 

"When can I see him, dr?" He finds himself asking rather impatiently.

 

The doctor rubs his nape in embarrassment, "Oh! I forgot to tell you that! Silly me," he answers and scans through the board again, "We will transfer him to the normal ward now. You can visit him right away. But he needs to stay here for three to five days, depending on his progress, of course,"

 

Phupha nods his head understandingly. "Is there anything else I should be keen of, dr?" 

 

The doctor nods at him comically, and the way his eyes softened as he looks at Phupha makes him feel weird on the inside. It is hard to explain, and Phupha does not want to know the reason too. 

 

"His legs are weak in the first place. Therefore, he will find difficulties in walking. I advise you to request for a wheelchair, or perhaps, you would like to buy one for him?" 

 

"I will," Phupha answers, but realization hits a second too late for him. The young man cannot walk, his legs are weak, and his wounds are deep; that information somehow breaks his heart into embers.

 

"Good," the doctor acclaims, "I believe he will recover well with you by his side."

 

When Phupha wants to reply, a nurse stands in between them, and she bows to them both respectfully. "Dr Winai, the patient has been transferred to the normal ward." 

 

"Okay," Dr Winai whistles, "you can go now. Hurry!" He signals Phupha to go, and he can only smile at him appreciatingly.

 

He bows at the doctor for the last time and follows the nurse obediently to the ward. They pass through rows of bed and curtains and finally stops. The bed is at the furthest corner of the room, close to the windows, and from there, he can see the distant emerald sea glimmering under the evening sun.

 

On the bed, the young man is lying soundlessly, laid into a fragile plank. Phupha thanked the nurse, and they are left alone. There is not a lot of patients in the ward today. Only a few beds are lively with people; some with their family members, happily chatting together, and others are alone, watching the world unfolds in front of them.   

 

Phupha pulls the cushioned chair closer to the bed and takes a seat. He examines the young man, Tien as he calls him now, and realizes how dark those circles are resting underneath his closed eyes. His skin is milky, pale, and marred with blemishes. When he looks again, Phupha finds multiple strands of green and blue hair falling delicately to his eyes, swaying with the rhythm of dusk. His hair reminds him of coral reefs, and seaweed, and the sea. A pearl necklace is around his neck, shimmering as the sun waves at his sleeping figure.

 

He has his assumptions about Tien. Some of them are wild, while others do not make sense if he takes the tail into account. Maybe Phupha already knows the answer, but he will wait for the latter to wake up and clarify his questions. There is no harm in waiting anyway.

 

For now, he allows his fingertips to glide along Tien's arms, poking playful holes, lively indents on his skin. He takes Tien's cold hands, heating them with his relatively warmer ones. Only this time, he lets himself bask into the feeling of being with someone, someone that shares the same destiny as he is.

 

In this sea of loneliness, Phupha watches in awe as those lithe fingers grips and releases his hold in a steady beat. He is alive, and that is all matters. 

 

 


Carefully opening his eyes, he tries to adjust to the blinding light piercing into his irises. The ray is different from the orange sun he used to watch after a long day of swimming, but the intensity is the same or might be more acute.

 

He releases a grunt as he sees white walls in front of him, with coral-coloured curtains hiding him away from the world. His hands feel rigid and warm. What he sees next takes his breath away in a jiff.

 

The man who saved him is here by his side. 

 

His head is on the edge of the bed, but those magical hands hold him with an ardent force that leaves butterfly prints on his knuckles. He remembered that day all too well, but he is unsure of the present.

 

Sensing his slightest movement, the said man wakes up with a sigh falling from his lips. He repositions himself on the chair and stretches his weary limbs wholeheartedly. All awhile, he does not let go of his hand, and his heart shatters at that fact.

 

The man turns to him, and those slanted eyes are widening, gleaming in streaks of black and brown. He looks at him like he is the most precious thing on the planet, and he is undeserving.

 

"You are awake," he says, voice still raw from sleep. But it is endearing, and it chimes in his ears like seashell bells he used to hear. "You were unconscious for two days. I am glad that you are finally awake," he confesses, and he hears the relief lacing in his voice.

 

Does that mean the said man has been waiting here by his side all the time?

 

The latter pulls his chair closer to the bed, and those hands are searching for his body or anywhere it can reach. Trails of comfort adorn his skin as he rests his palm against his forehead, the back of his ears, and his neck. All the while, he watches him with nothing but reverence. 

 

He stops and pulls his hands away. He wishes it could stay. "How are you feeling?" 

 

He fails to find his voice to reply, too conflicted and drained with everything that happened. He can only muster a brief nod, which the other understood immediately. 

 

The other examines him again with eyebrows furrowed together, eyes darting everywhere discovered and undiscovered, and he likes how his heart stops beating when a smile blooms on his face. "I am glad that you are okay. You were injured quite severely. But, you do not have to think about that anymore. Now, you have to focus on recovering, okay?"

 

To him, nodding is as easy as breathing. He has always been like this; a yes man, someone that takes orders from his parents and never listens to his heart. But contrary to the man sitting in front of him, he wants to listen to him, look at him, and touch him. There is this feeling of longing encircling his heart more and more as the other continues to observe his every move.

 

The other smiles at him, a kind of smile that reminds him of the kids back home he loves and misses the most, and his heart blossom in delight. 

 

"I am Phupha, by the way," he introduces. "I thought maybe you would want to know my name, at least."

 

Phupha. He mouths those syllables, imitating the way Phupha's lips move when he introduces his name. Phupha. He acknowledges the information with a huff of breath.

 

"If it is not too much to ask, may I know your name too?"

 

He breathes in and tries to remember only the pretty things. Maybe, along the way, Phupha is there too. 

 

"T-T..." he halts, feeling the same coarseness of sand rubbing along his windpipe. He gulps as much saliva he can. Phupha gives him a glass of water, and he dully accepts. The cold water washes the particles away from his throat, clearing the pathway. 

 

He tries again, "T-Ti-Tia-Tian," he lets out with much restraint, his name comes out like a broken whisper.

 

"Tian?" Phupha asks again, cocking his head from right to left.

 

He nods.

 

"Tian," Phupha echoes, and he tries to ignore the zap in his chest upon hearing his name recited by the other.

 

Phupha looks into his eyes again with child-like excitement, "I wrote your name as Tien on the documents. I cannot believe my guess was almost correct,"

 

Tian does not know what to say or how to react. Instead, he offers Phupha a small but earnest smile.

 

 

 

Phupha is hesitant this time, and Tian wonders for a reason. But soon, those fingers are smoothly combing his hair, sedating him to a world of serenity.

 

"Are you hungry?" He asks in between his actions. Phupha's eyes are always on his, jumping from one orb to another, and it is a phenomenon Tian has never witnessed before. No one has ever looked at him with so much attention and care like this. It is mortifying but pleasantly welcomed.

 

Tian shakes his head. He must have done something funny or silly because the latter is chuckling. "Are you sure?" he pauses, standing slightly from his seat, his ear is close to his stomach, "I can hear rumbling noises, though," Phupha finishes with another airy chuckle, and fear strikes him again. I want to listen to that laughter forever. The naive notion haunts him menacingly.

 

Tongue-tied, brain short-circuiting, heartbeat speeding, Tian remains silent, letting the chaos unravels freely in his mind instead. 

 

Phupha stands up and disappears into the curtains for a brief. The countdown starts immediately; one, two, three, and when it reaches seven, the latter has not yet returned. When it hits twelve, Phupha retires with something on his hands. And amazingly, the foreign anguish sprouting in his heart fades away with the wind.

 

He sits on the chair again, and it looks so natural. It is as if he always belonged there, close to Tian. 

 

"I do not know what you can eat or not eat, but I hope you can enjoy this," 

 

Tian watches the unfamiliar-looking creature on the silver platter; it is chubby, whitish and orangish at the same time. It does not look like any seafood he has ever eaten. It smells delicious, but he is reluctant to have a bite of something he has never seen before. 

 

Phupha watches him, and the big smile on his face makes the rumbling intensify. "Oh," he pauses, amused, "it is chicken. You have never tried this before?"

 

Tian mouths a no, and the latter nods. "It is okay. It tastes good. Trust me,"

 

He shakes his head at first, but Phupha urges him to at least try. You have to eat, he persuaded. He agrees after contemplating, and Tian cannot believe how weak he is for Phupha's tiny smile. Whatever he is about to go through feels worth it.

 

He chews the 'chicken', accustoming the grainy texture, the fiery and milk-like notes that hit his five senses right away. Surprisingly, Tian enjoys the new flavour bursting in his mouth. He might as well let a shattered giggle out of nowhere, but Phupha smiles at him too, and it feels good. His heart feels light.

 

When he finishes, Tian feels full and contented. He burps. Wide-eyed, Tian closes his mouth with his palms as scarlet begins to dust his cheeks. 

 

All the while, Phupha watches him with an emotion he recognizes as affection, like moonbeams in his eyes. Phupha's eyes are charming, so much like a black hole, and Tian finds himself falling deeper into that friendly abyss. 

 

"You finished the food," Phupha exclaims in astonishment, with a tinge of teasing, "the plate is spotless. No grains of rice left, no drops of gravy unlicked, and the chicken is now flying happily in your stomach."

 

Tian wants to ask so many questions, but Phupha disappears into the curtains again. But this time, Tian knows Phupha will return.

 

 


"I am doing fine, Nam. Why are you nagging at me? Do you miss me that much, huh?" He laughs at his friend whilst shaking his head in pure fondness. The night breeze blows his short hair, seeping into his t-shirt.

 

On the other side of the world, Nam is spitting out words faster than lightning, and he can only grasp some of them. Torfun joins him soon afterwards, asking about his condition and also Tian. He proudly assures everything is okay and under control. Nam is back with his teasings as soon he ends his report to Torfun. Phupha is glad that Torfun, the wisest amongst them three, gives Nam a piece or two advice on joking and making a fool out of oneself. 

 

The phone call ends with Nam reminding Phupha to include fruits and dairy in Tian's diet and Torfun saying she cannot wait to meet Tian in person.

 

Flawlessly, the thought loiters in his mind longer than anything else. What will happen next? Will Tian stay with him in Chatuchak, or will he stay here in Chon Buri? It is still uncertain, and Phupha does not want to think about it much tonight.

 

He returns to the ward. The lights are out, casting dark shadows below stiff beds and glass windows. Silently, Phupha passes through the stillness and finds his way to Tian's bed again.

 

Tian is awake, and he is looking out to the window. He looks smaller now than he already is. He holds onto the pearl necklace around his neck with glistening eyes. He appears lost, so far away, out of reach. He rests his back against the metal headboard, and in a few heartbeats, those brown eyes are on his again.

 

Phupha offers a small smile as he approaches the other. He pulls the blanket and covers half of Tian's body, tucking him deeper into the warm nest. Tian hums in tune, and it cuts the calamity commencing in his heart. Phupha looks at him, their eyes colliding, two worlds merging into a single entity.

 

It is impossible to describe the sensations erupting in his chest. To put it into words, Phupha feels lightheaded again.

 

Tian does not pry his eyes away, and Phupha lets him be.

 

The sudden urge to stroke Tian's hand, running his fingers through those soft black locks, catching some strands of green and blue in his palms engulfs him like the tsunami he saw a few days ago. The dangerous tide brings Tian to him without notice. 

 

Deep down, his little heart wants to reach out to him. A profound notion dangles in his mind, a constant reminder that blares in front of his eyes like a total eclipse, shades of yellow and green of his nonsensical, cocooned emotions.

 

He wants to, but this time around, he does not. 

 

He feels like he should not.

Chapter Text

Phupha notices the intense sparkle in Tian's eyes whenever he looks at the distant sea from the glass windows, and he appears so peaceful that way. 

 

Whenever he catches the other in his most vulnerable state, his heart instantly melts. There is nothing special about it, just Tian staring at the emerald ocean, inhaling and exhaling the fresh air, the glistening pearl caught in between his fingers, but Phupha is breathless.

 

There are times when flashes of sadness and despair highlight the brown of those orbs, and Phupha secretly yearns to seek for a reason, to discard the ugly thoughts circulating in Tian's pretty mind.

 

He comes up with a definite conclusion- Tian looks better when he smiles; doe-eyes crinkling, a brush of pink caresses his cloud-like cheeks. 

 

Phupha must have gone out of his mind.

 

It has only been a week since they met, but already, he has this strange and mindboggling notion of wanting Tian to smile forever. Honestly, this is not who he is and how his heart has been for the past ten years. But nowadays, mortifyingly, the exception is Tian, and Tian is an exclusion. 

 

If Nam and Torfun know the thoughts in his head, they will be laughing at him and calling him a hopeless romantic non-stop. Yod and Rang will surely tease him, stick their nose to his business, only stopping when Phupha threatens them to work overtime and on the weekends. 

 

Eventually, he cannot help it. 

 

He questions them subtly when Tian is awake but loudly when the other is fast asleep. Phupha does not understand either; he knows nothing about Tian but his name, and it scares him how much his heart desperately wants to learn more. There is an emotion so bizarre and foreign gnaws on his skin whenever he stares into Tian's eyes. He fails to word them into coherent sentences. 

 

Therefore, he can only exhale multiple sighs whenever the latter looks questioningly at him. Do not look at me like that- his heart begs- I do not even have the answer.

 

When his head is clear of those notions (this happens rarely), he realizes that Tian's eyes are like the sea; deep and discoverable. It is possible. Maybe Phupha does not have to suffer, or he does not have to deny it. He needs to accept and see how it will turn out in the future.

 

If there is ever a chance, if Tian willingly opens the door to his heart someday, Phupha would like to enter and see what the latter has installed for him. 

 

 

 

One thing that amazes Phupha is how fast the other is recovering and adapting to his new environment. 

 

Phupha is not oblivious. A tail, small scales appearing on his skin whenever he wipes Tian's body with a wet towel, the blue and green strands of hair, his wounds are 60% healed by now; every detail of Tian leads to one result. Tian cannot be human, at least not entirely human. Or Phupha is overthinking things. Either or.

 

Still, it surprises him how Tian's love for chicken continues to grow and flourishes every day. It is amusing to see Tian devouring every chicken dish the hospital provided for the patients with so much passion and zest.

 

"Tian," he calls, interrupting the other from spooning the food into his mouth, "do you like chicken that much?"

 

Tian blushes, and Phupha smiles at this. He wonders why Tian is so easily embarrassed when it comes to him. Or maybe Phupha's mind and heart are playing tricks with him.

 

Tian attempts to wipe the corner of his mouth with the sleeve of his hospital gown, but Phupha beats him first. He slaps the hand away and dabs the wet tissue on Tian's lips. The coconut gravy stains the tissue, and scarlet taints Tian's cheeks even more. 

 

"I- I enjoyed it," he confesses, "is it wrong for me to like chicken?" Tian asks, doe-eyes blinking rapidly at Phupha, and he almost coos out loud. That is dangerous, his heart murmurs. 

 

He shakes his head, "Of course, it is not wrong," Phupha claims, huffing a breath, "but you have been eating chicken since the first day you regained consciousness. You have to take other proteins too. Nam will be mad at me if he knows you are skipping the fruits and milk." 

 

The latter releases a grunt and looks at Phupha dejectedly, "I have been eating seafood my whole life, Phupha! I have never tasted chicken before, and it is..." Tian stops abruptly.

 

Quirking his eyebrows, Phupha asks, anticipating, "It is?"

 

Tian looks down at his clasped hands, like a child who has to admit his wrongdoings, "Delicious..." he timidly answers, and if Phupha does not pay attention, he would have missed it. 

 

Phupha bursts out laughing. He can no longer contain the bubbling ripple in his chest. Does Tian know the sorcery he cast on his heart? How is it affecting Phupha in so many ways?

 

Amid his boisterous laughing session, Tian meekly asks, breaking the moment, "Are you mad at me?"

 

He shakes his head, vestiges of giggle flow from his lips still. The fondness steadily claims the throne in his heart, luring him into new blissful territory, "Why would I be mad at you?" 

 

"Because I am not eating fruits or drinking milk," Tian answers, looking at the cubes of honeydew on the square compartment left untouched, gazing at the glass of milk on the table attached to the bed. 

 

"Well," Phupha picks the honeydew with a fork and touches Tian's lips with it, "I should be mad at you. Dr Winai has been nagging at me too," he explains, all the while trying to hold the fizzy laugh in his throat at Tian's sour but adorable expression.

 

"Here, try this. It is sweet," 

 

"Are you sure?" Tian eyes the fruit and back to Phupha, wanting confirmation, always curious.

 

"Yes," Phupha smiles, perceiving how stubborn Tian can be at times, "have I ever lied to you?"

 

Tian stares at him, contemplating what to say, but he shakes his head instead. "No," he affirms confidently.

 

Phupha taps the fruit on Tian's lips again, signalling the latter to open his mouth. Tian refuses with a pout; Phupha hums in a rather authoritative manner, and he gives in immediately. He chews the food properly this time (courtesy to Phupha for scolding and explaining the dangers of indigestion, Tian takes it seriously) and swallows. 

 

All the time, his eyes never leave Phupha. And Phupha does not stop assuring Tian with his own.

 

"Is it good?" He asks after the last cube of fruit disappear into Tian's mouth.

 

"It is sweet," Tian answers, pondering, "if all fruits are like this, maybe I will like it."

 

"I can give you more fruits like this, even sweeter," Phupha certifies with a suggestive wink, and his words invite a grin to reside on Tian's face. He is beaming, and he looks mesmerizing this way. 

 

He places the empty tray on the table and retrieves the glass of milk, "Aside from Nam, Dr Winai also advises you to drink milk and consume dairy products. It is for your legs, Tian,"

 

Tian looks afraid for a second, but those eyes transform into bewilderment, "My legs?" 

 

He nods, "Yes. You have legs now," Phupha says rather calmly, but his heart is beating so fast. He feels the blood gushing into his eardrums as Tian relentlessly looking at him and down to his legs. 

 

"Oh," he exhales, avoiding Phupha's intense gaze buzzing with pent-up questions since the day he found Tian at the beach.

 

Tian is not ready. Phupha does not want to force Tian into confessing. It is the last thing he has in mind, of cornering Tian and making him uncomfortable. 

 

Therefore, he lets the topic slide and helps Tian by wrapping his slender fingers around the glass. He gulps it down in four continuous swallows and hands the empty glass back to Phupha. 

 

"Tian," 

 

Fearfully, Tian meets his eyes, "Hm?"

 

He instantly abates at this. I did not mean to scare you, Tian.

 

Phupha reluctantly places his hand on top of Tian, pulling the other close before his mind can wander to remote places Phupha never knows existed. 

 

"Do you want to go out and get some fresh air?"

 

Tian's eyes flickers, a thousand star sparkling from those globes, the afternoon sun cascading their orange luminance brightly, "Am I allowed?"

 

"Of course," Phupha confirms, "if someone is there to look after you, they will be okay," he says.

 

"Are you coming with me?" He asks, unfiltered and honest. His eyes are both expecting and hoping for something Phupha cannot comprehend with a sane mind. He needs to be tipsy if he does not want to jump to conclusions this fast. 

 

Tian is back to being his usual self, soft around the edges, at times cheeky and, most of the time, mysteriously welcoming. Phupha exhales the breath he has been holding onto with a relaxed smile.

 

"If you want me to, I will be there," Phupha answers nonchalantly, but God knows the exciting tremble, the wishful happiness sprouting, churning in his chest.

 

Tian rests his back against the metal headboard, a serene smile loops vividly on his lips, "That will be nice." 

 

And it is enough to make Phupha smile until his cheeks hurt. But he is not complaining, though.

 

 

 

Phupha brings Tian to the hospital's garden later that evening.

 

From here, Tian can listen to the far-flung waves crashing the shore, the birds (the feathery-like creatures flying above his head are birds) chirping melodiously, the raucous peals of laughter from other visitors, and his heart thumping as Phupha smiles at him.

 

The sun casts its golden glows on Phupha's face, enhancing his dark eyebrows, deep eyes and charming smile. Tian does not want to look at him, it is for the sake of his heart, but Phupha effortlessly pulls him in without even trying. 

 

"Is not it nice to be here, Tian?" Phupha asks, looking at him, and Tian loses his voice to muster a reply. Hopelessly, he nods.

 

Phupha pushes the wheelchair closer to him, and the tides are crashing in a lull that puts Tian into calmness. He enjoys this moment so much; warm rays of the sun kissing his skin, the neverending song of the current chiming in his ears, and Phupha's constant sighs engulfing his soul into a hug. 

 

Tian dares himself to look at Phupha; the scar on his chin, the small, reddening dot on his cheeks, and the wrinkles at the corner of his eyes make up a beautiful picture in his mind. 

 

"Phupha," he calls. The name escapes his lips too well now, naturally.

 

The other quickly kneels in front of him. Phupha's eyes dart from his own and down to his body, constantly inspecting, always making sure Tian is okay. "Hm? Why? Are you okay?"

 

His heart is aching, but the pain feels nice. Too great. "I have something to tell you," he whispers, feeling confident and scared at the same time. 

 

Phupha seems to understand this. Those eyes are glimmering with assurance, patience and everything Tian does not deserve to witness. 

 

"The day you found me, did you see something different about me?" Tian starts, testing the waters. Phupha nods anxiously, biting his lips.

 

Phupha saw me, his heart claims. It will be easier then- Tian does not have to come up with lies or excuses. 

 

"Tian," Phupha circles his fingers around the armrest, pulling the wheelchair closer to him, "you do not have to tell me if you are not ready. I can-"

 

"I have to," Tian cuts him off, "you deserve to know." You have been so patient with me; those words left unsaid, lingering in his box of thoughts.

 

The latter finds his eyes again as if asking, are you sure? And Tian is clear of his choice.

 

Phupha waits, and Tian inhales all the strength the wind brings him, "I am a merman." 

 

Tian expects Phupha to run away, to look puzzled or afraid with his revelation. But instead, all he sees right now is a delicate smile dangling from his lips and an accepting nod. 

 

"Okay," the other answers.

 

"Okay?" Tian mirrors, confused, "what do you mean by okay?"

 

Phupha looks scandalized, surprised even, "Um, I am okay with you being a merman?" 

 

"How can you be okay with it? I am not you. I am not human. I do not belong here," Tian explains, feeling the burn of anxiety emblazing in his chest, crushing his ribcage into ashes.

 

The smile on Phupha's face cracks open into a grin. His eyes twinkle in silver, complimenting the lilac sky as he says, "I am okay with it, Tian. I had my guesses, and I was right," he pauses. 

 

This time, his fingers are ghosting above Tian's own, spreading warmth all over his body even without touching him, "I see no problem in this. You are a merman, and I am a human. It is what we are, so how can we change it?"

 

Unexpectedly, tears are welling in his eyes. Tian has never felt this comforted before, never appreciated his destiny of being a merman this profoundly before Phupha came into his life. 

 

In this universe, maybe something up or down there wanted Tian to meet Phupha. They want to put a stop to his roaring speculations once and for all. 

 

"Are you not scared?" He asks the question that bugs his mind since Phupha came into his life without notice.

 

Phupha looks amused, his lips are twitching, and the smile on his face looks playful, "Of what exactly?

 

Tian blinks the unshed tears away, channelling the worry to his eyes as he speaks, "Me." 

 

"Why would I?"

 

"You have not seen my true form, Phupha," Tian says, almost at the brink of crying because of Phupha's relaxed demeanour. "When I am underwater, I do not look like this. My fingers will look like gills, attached. My scales are sharp, and my skin glistens like a fish. I-"

 

"But you are still Tian," Phupha interferes, "you are still you." 

 

Tian does not know what to say. 

 

Phupha finally takes his hand, entwining their fingers together, and Tian's heart shatters and mends at this. 

 

"Look, Tian, some humans are not even humans from where I came. They look like it, but they are not," he says, "your looks, or whatever you are, does not determine your identity. It is here," Phupha points at his chest, where his human heart is beating, "that makes you distinctively you." 

 

Tian wants to touch Phupha, trace the stubbles on his jaw, runs his fingers through his short hair, feeling his warm skin under his pulse, but he cannot. At least, for now, it is a line Tian has yet to cross.

 

"Even if you turn into your real form someday, I will still accept you." 

 

And Tian knows it is a sealed promise between them.

 

Finally feeling the gruesome burden disintegrating with the wind, Tian nods with teary eyes and a thankful smile. 

 

Tian chooses to believe in Phupha's words. A part of him wants to trust the latter, albeit the shapeless risk awaits his forthcoming. 

 

 

 

After a short meet-up with Dr Winai, Tian is free to discharge tomorrow morning. 

 

Phupha has settled some affairs with the hospital, signed some documents, and takes the slip of medicines prescribed for Tian, a reminder to stop by at the pharmacy before leaving tomorrow. 

 

He passes through the corridors, bowing slightly at the nurses and doctors along the way. Somehow, all staffs have already known Phupha and Tian from ward 2-B well. The reason? They stayed in the hospital for a week now, all nurses love pampering Tian with food and affection, and the doctors will always check on their favourite patient (Dr Winai and Dr Kit are Tian's regular visitors, the top of the list).

 

It warms his heart to know that everyone accepts Tian and loves him. Especially Dr Winai, knowing who Tian is, does not stop checking on him and adds physiotherapy sessions in Tian's future appointments to strengthen his 'new' legs.

 

Tian spoke of this matter only to him and Dr Winai, proclaiming they are the people he trusted. Phupha respects that, and his heart flutters unusually.

 

The ward is almost empty now. Tian no longer has friends he talk to; all the aunts and uncles have discharged. Phupha assumes that Tian loves making new friends, and he wonders if the latter will accept his friends back in Chatuchak.

 

He brings the subject up as the crescent moon hangs from the vast sky. Phupha tucks Tian into the blanket, their fingers touching ever so slightly, "Tian," he whispers, and those eyes are waiting for his words anticipatingly.

 

"Tomorrow, you are discharged from the hospital. You are free to go anywhere you want," 

 

Tian's lips take a downturn, the usual summer glint on his eyes turns cold, "But, I do not have anywhere to go." 

 

The way he said it, Phupha cannot help but make a wild guess again. Something terrible must have happened back home, and Tian was severely injured when he found him that day. Sadly, this time, things do not add up in his mind the way he hopes.

 

Little do Phupha knows, what he is about to say next will change the course of their lives forever. 

 

"Do you want to come with me?" 

 

Intrigued, Tian asks, "Where?"

 

"Chatuchak. It takes almost two hours to get there," he answers, "it is where I live." 

 

A lot is going on in Phupha's head, all the consequences he needs to weigh, the aftermath of his decision, and judging from the way Tian is looking right now, both of them are on the same page.

 

"Phupha," Tian calls, his voice sounds terrified and uncertain, "will it- will it be okay? I," he halts, breathing sharply through his mouth, "I do not want to burden you anymore."

 

"Tian, do you think I will let you wander alone in this condition? At least, until you learn how to walk, let me help you," let me take care of you; he washes down those fruitful words in such difficulty. 

 

"Only if you want to," Phupha adds, knowing at the end, Tian is the decision-maker. Phupha is only laying out the options.

 

The way Tian is staring at him embraces only the pretty tomorrows, hailing the hopeful days into his book of life.

 

Tian does not say anything, but the glimmer in his eyes and the smile on his face is enough for Phupha to understand the whirlwind dwindling from his heart as the night whiff bleeds into their unspoken vows. 

 

 

 

Phupha does not expect to see everyone waiting at the porch of his house.

 

As he parks the car safely, Phupha glances at the sleeping Tian on his right. Tian has been sleeping the whole journey, saying that he felt dizzy. He instructed Tian to lie on the seat, covered his body with a blanket and smeared a generous portion of Tiger balm on his neck and forehead. The latter dozed off right away afterwards, and Phupha felt relief washed over his heart.

 

"Tian," he shakes his shoulder lightly. No response. He tries again, exerting more force, and Tian hums in dissatisfaction for waking him up.

 

Phupha shakes his head in disbelief, "Tian, we are here. Wake up," 

 

With that, his eyes open in a flash, taken aback by the different view surrounding him.

 

Phupha unbuckles his seatbelt and proceeds with Tian. They are so close, and if Phupha moves a bit to his left, their lips will meet. Both of them stop moving or even breathing, as their worlds are merging painfully slow, getting to know each other. 

 

Tian continues to stare, and Phupha cannot take his eyes away.

 

"Phupha~!" Nam sing-songs out of the blue, knocking on the slightly tinted windows (luckily), breaking their tension-filled reverie. Phupha backs away, lips trembling as flowers blossom in his chest. Tian coughs the awkwardness away, but his eyes are stealing glimpses at him still. 

 

He exits the car, and immediately Nam pulls him into a hug. Torfun, Yod and Rang come into the picture afterwards, crowding him while asking questions upon questions that takes his breath away in suffocation. 

 

"Everyone, please!" he exclaims, stopping his friends from uttering another word, "Tian is still in the car,"

 

"Oh!" Torfun quickly pushes everyone out of the way, giving access for Phupha to move.

 

"I cannot believe we are meeting Khun Tian!" He hears Yod stating, but he is busy retrieving the wheelchair from the backseat to paying attention to their conversation.

 

"Yes! We have been waiting for a week to meet the person that makes Sir Phupha's heart flutter!"

 

"Rang, Phu's heart is no longer fluttering but racing!" 

 

"Nam!" Phupha backfires, not having this tease-Phupha session at all. 

 

"What?" Nam retorts, teasing him, and Torfun needs to step in before someone ends up on the ground, either laughing or hurting.

 

"Dr Nam, can you please let P'Phu breathe for once?" Torfun glares, a warning, and Nam gulps the bile clinging in his throat. 

 

"I was just teasing him," Nam defends himself quietly.

 

"Well, you can wait for him to help Khun Tian first, then you can tease him,"

 

Phupha mouths a sincere thank you to Torfun, which she gladly accepts with a salute. He opens the door and startles Tian at first. But the latter smiles at him nervously, so Phupha tries to still the time for him. He takes the blanket, folds them neatly and straightens the seat to its initial position. 

 

"Are you ready?" Phupha asks. His heart is swimming in Tian's deep orbs as he waits for a reply.

 

Tian looks reluctant, but there is a determined shine in those eyes that Phupha admires. 

 

He nods, and Phupha takes this as a sign to continue. Carefully, he lifts Tian's body bridal-style and places him on the wheelchair. All the while, Tian's arms encircle perfectly around his neck like it always belongs there.

 

Immediately, everyone swarms around Tian, introducing themselves while respecting Tian's space, and the latter seems scared, but Phupha assures him that it will be okay, trust me.

 

Torfun pushes the wheelchair into his house, and Phupha stops, admiring the view of his family with a grateful smile. However, now, there is a sweet addition to his small family. His smile nurtures into a grin.

 

 A new start, his heart says.

Chapter Text

He is never good with words.

 

People say one of Phupha's weaknesses is he does not quite understand the mechanism of expressing his thoughts or feelings in words. 

 

Often, it can be suffocating, mindboggling even, when they try to force out his deepest feelings in the open, squeezing those notions from his brain dry when his lips continue to utter nothing but breathless gasps and wordless sighs. 

 

Maybe it is in his nature after all, but Phupha is nowhere near oblivious. He understands people and situations more than they think. Although there were moments when his brain decided to betray him, most of the time, Phupha knows and acknowledges. But he decides it is best to let those thoughts seep into his system where they can linger for as long as they want. He finds refuge in keeping his feelings all to himself.

 

But when it comes to Tian, Phupha somehow wants to change. 

 

He finds himself wishing to be more eloquent and expressive. That mere idea scares him, catching him off-guard in the oddest situation possible. 

 

Tian's eyes sparkle when he listens to Yod and Rang's jokes, Torfun's first date with Dr Aroon, and Nam's wedding plans with Jeab. It is a phenomenal sight, a scene that his brain can only fantasize but never imagine coming to life. But Tian proves him wrong.

 

In his mind, Phupha wants to say those words out loud, your eyes are beautiful, but something inside of him prevents those syllables from spilling out. An invisible force guards his beating heart in a locked cage, pulling Phupha further from Tian's elusiveness. Who has the key to his heart? Phupha does not know either.

 

Tian looks puzzled at times, but the smile on his face is sincere and stagnant, always there, blaring prettily in front of Phupha. He appears even more mesmerizing under the moonlight; the night breeze whirls suavely around him, the faint smoke of the BBQ adds a mysterious touch to his magical features, and Phupha wants to enclose the harrowing gap between them.

 

Those strands of blue and green sticking out messily as Torfun ruffles his hair, the cherry on his cheeks as Nam teases him, the distinctive tune of airy giggles when Yod and Rang push his wheelchair around the garden; Phupha sees them all, and his heart bursts into embers. 

 

He watches from the sidelines, edging these quaint moments into his exhibition of memories, savouring the unfiltered glee deep in his cracking heart. Phupha feels unworthy, as if one day, everything will disappear again. Because happiness is indeed a fleeting feeling, and nothing lasts forever. 

 

From that faithful day onwards, Phupha has braced himself for the worst. It is a neverending curve- letting go of someone so dear and near to him. Eventually, one day, if fate decides to deceive him anew, Phupha wishes for the heartbreak to be less painful this time.

 

Along with those peals of laughter and endless conversations, his eyes meet Tian, and there, time stops ticking momentarily. 

 

There is it again. 

 

The same force that protects his heart is now pulling Tian to him, binding them together in a string of entangled destiny. Phupha is terrified- the hope growing in his chest is dangerous as Tian smiles at him, completely forgetting the people that once had his full attention. Those doe-eyes are on his, silver spheroids twinkling vividly, and neither of them looks away.

 

Phupha blinks, running his fingers through his short hair, but Tian's eyes remain. Those orbs are tentatively following his every move, and it takes his breath away. The open adoration oozing from Tian's eyes wrecks him senseless and mindless. 

 

The more he looks at Tian, the more gravity defies the law of stability. Somehow, the universe is mocking him. Do not be afraid, they say, he is right there, they persuade, hold him, they assure. Phupha has always been a fighter, but in this battle, he is uncertain. What if he loses? What does he have to sacrifice this time?

 

Tian's vibrant smile transcends into a lively grin, and Phupha falls, utterly powerless. 

 

 


"Tian, I will surely pay a visit again! Soon!" Torfun smiles at him, waving her hands energetically at her new friend, and all the while glancing at Phupha. Her heart bubbles in delight upon seeing the content smile lacing the latter's lips and the knowing look on Phupha's face. 

 

Exerting the same intensity, with droopy eyes and a sleepy smile, Tian replies, "Okay, Torfun! I will wait for that day to come!"

 

Torfun pushes Nam towards the car, with Yod and Rang trailing behind them as they called it a day. Although Torfun wants to spend more time with Tian, she knows both of them are tired. She has so many things to ask, but there is always another day to learn something new. 

 

Phupha is good at hiding his feelings, but Tian is more like an open book. And now, she finds herself chuckling at Tian dozing off while holding onto Phupha's fingers. The sight makes her happy, especially for Phupha. 

 

"Torfun!" Phupha calls, startling both her and Tian.

 

She stops in her tracks and turns around slightly. Her fingers are dangling around the grab handle, "What is it, P'Phu?"

 

"Next time when you come, do not invite Nam, Yod and Rang with you," Phupha answers playfully, a smirk adorns his handsome face afterwards.

 

Yod sticks his head out of the window, hurriedly saying, "Sir! Do not be so selfish! Khun Tian enjoys our company!" 

 

"That is right, Sir Phupha! We want to know more about Tian and-" Rang fakes a cough, "your feelings for him," and he ends with another exaggerated cough. Yod laughs out loud, and Torfun follows suit. 

 

Torfun then glances at Nam, holding back the remaining giggle as the doctor glares at Phupha. "Hey, Phu! No matter what the obstacles are, I will try my best to come here! No one can stop me!"

 

"I can," Phupha replies, "this is my house after all," and Nam is tongue-tied.

 

Face-palming, Torfun shakes her head and ushers Nam to enter the car immediately. "That is enough for today, gentlemen. Tian needs a good night rest, and P'Phu too," she gazes at Phupha and Tian, nodding understandingly. 

 

"As always, I can only rely on you, Torfun," Phupha replies, and Tian looks up to meet his eyes. There is a smile decorating his face- a smile Torfun has not seen for a long time. Her heart is aching, but the sting feels wonderful, welcoming. 

 

Nam starts the car, and they are ready to leave the house. The doctor's eyes are tenderer now. His smile is earnest and hopeful as he says, "Phu, take care of him, okay?"

 

Those words struck a chord in Phupha as the other falls into a daze. From here, Torfun witnesses the shine from his eyes, and she tries not to let these unfamiliar emotions get the best of her. Torfun wants to hug him. Maybe she will when they meet next time.

 

Phupha looks at Tian for a brief and back at Nam, "I will."

 

Torfun knows it is an eternal promise made under thousands of glimmering stars.

 

They exit the house, a pregnant silence filling the ambience. Yod breaks the light tension with a sigh, "I am so happy for Sir Phupha. I cannot recall when was the last time he smiled this widely."

 

She turns her head slightly to meet Yod's eyes, "I am happy too, P'Yod, truly happy for him," and she speaks only the truth.

 

Rang nods automatically, the cheekiness disappear as he agrees to every word uttered by Yod and Torfun. "It has been such a long time since we see him like this. I am glad and thankful."

 

As she looks at Nam, Torfun knows Phupha's best friend must have felt the same, even more than they do. "I want him to be this way for good," Nam honestly confesses, "he went through so much. I wish this time- forever will stay by his side," his eyes are busy looking at the cars in front of him, but Torfun sees the yellow relief all too well. 

 

Phupha holds a special place in everyone's heart. He is someone that they cherish a bit too much but too embarrassed to admit. They bicker a lot as siblings do, and that is the core foundation of their unbreakable bond. They are a family, after all.

 

And now, Tian came unexpectedly into the picture, but things do not happen precipitously. Any occurrence in life happens for a boundless of reasons. That is something all of them will have to wait and see. 

 

Tonight, Torfun believes that good things happen to kind people, and Phupha rightly deserves only the beautiful instances in his life. 

 

 

 

Phupha pushes Tian's wheelchair into the house, closing the door behind him with a soft thud as he guides the other to the living room. 

 

He walks around the latter and kneels in front of him, "Do you want something to drink?" Phupha asks, smiling when Tian's drooping eyes meet his.

 

"No," he shakes his head adorably, "I am so full, Phupha. My stomach is bound to explode if I drink even a sip of water," he adds, and this time, Phupha chuckles heartily.

 

Tian mirrors his smile, crimson tainting the tip of his ears as he looks at Phupha. His lips are quivering as if he wants to say something, but Tian does not speak a word, and Phupha does not dare to ask.

 

"Well," he coughs, the lump spreading in his throat, "are you sleepy? Do you want to hit the hay now?" 

 

Tian nods enthusiastically. The lazy smile blooms into a shy grin, and for the nth time, Phupha gravely wishes the latter does not affect him this severely. He is just smiling, but why Phupha's world turns upside down haphazardly?

 

Closing his eyes for a moment, inhaling the fresh night air and Tian's intoxicating scent, Phupha listens to his heart. He listens to every strum and pound and exhales in defeat. "Okay. Let's get you to bed." 

 

Standing up, he pushes the wheelchair to one of the rooms in the house. It is a guest room, specifically for his aunts and uncles when they visited him. He is living in his parents' house anyway, one of the few treasures they kept in store just for him. A spacious sanctuary fit for the family of three, but it gets bigger as Phupha lives alone for the past ten years. Therefore, Tian's presence anyhow fills the spot once occupied by his deceased parents. 

 

Turning the doorknob with one hand and pushing the wheelchair with his other, the familiar sight of beige walls greet them. Memories are coming back at him, one page to the other.

 

He switches on the light, and immediately, the custom-made lamp made from seashells flares in gentle orange rays. Tian looks amazed, and Phupha feels proud for baseless reasons.

 

"It is beautiful," he whispers in complete awe. Tian's eyes are on the shells suspended from the ceiling, mouth gaping, and Phupha exhales in satisfaction.

 

His eyes follow the unseen thread connecting Tian to the lamp and answers, "My father made it as a gift for my mother."

 

"Oh," Tian huffs, stupefy, "that is very sweet of him."

 

"He might not look like it, but he was a hopeless romantic," Phupha replies, and Tian's smile flourishes like flowers blossoming in spring. A sight to hold on to, a memory too precious to forget. 

 

Phupha lightly taps on Tian's shoulder, "If you want to see more of these lamps, I can show you. All the lights in this house are custom-made, dedicated for mae."

 

Expectantly, Tian nods, "I would like to, Phupha."

 

Silence engulfs them in a warm hug as Phupha allows his hand to rest on Tian's shoulder. The other does not say anything, but the glow in his galaxies is enough to make him feel lightheaded. 

 

"But, you are tired. So, I will bring you on a house tour next time," Phupha announces, pushing Tian close to the queen-sized bed. 

 

"Tian," he calls, bending his body to the front slightly, "this will be your room." 

 

"My room?" Tian asks, fluttering his eyes questioningly.

 

Confused, Phupha echoes, "Yes? It is now your room. You will be staying here," for the time being, Phupha cannot bring himself to speak of those words. It hurts a bit too rooted, hits a bit close to home.

 

"I will not be staying with you? In the same room?" Tian asks. His eyes are wide in bewilderment, and Phupha does not quite understand the specks of turmoil spiralling in those orbs. 

 

Phupha respects Tian, and he wants the other to have his own space, but did he make the wrong decision? "Oh? Do you want to be in the same room with me?"

 

"Will it not be easier? Since I cannot walk and-" he pauses, and Phupha's heart halts as well, "I will need your help from time to time..." 

 

Oh. Why did Phupha not think of this beforehand?

 

Phupha pulls the wheelchair to face him, and he places his hands on top of Tian, hesitantly still, "Are you okay with me staying in this room?" Because Phupha does not want Tian to be uncomfortable. He only wants Tian to feel at home and at ease without Phupha barging into his private zone.

 

"Only if you want me to, Tian."

 

He nods. Phupha has no idea why his heart is pulsating at an inhumane speed.

 

"Until you can walk, I will stay here with you, okay?" 

 

Under the mellow light, Tian's smile glitz fascinatingly. "Okay," he answers, and it is more than enough for Phupha to feel whole again.

 

 


Tian inhales the sweet scent coming from Phupha as the latter settles his body on the soft bed. It is more supple than at the hospital, and when his head hits the pillow, Tian's soul instantly transports to another dimension. He almost falls asleep right away if it is not for Phupha's fingers fixing the position of his body, straightening his legs, placing a round pillow underneath to support them. 

 

"Is this okay? Are you cosy enough?" Phupha asks, his eyes travel from one orb to the other worryingly.

 

He laughs, and Phupha's twisted expression intensifies the giddiness in his heart. "Yes. Thank you, Phupha."

 

A light dusting of scarlet appears on his cheeks, and Tian soaks in the heart-stopping scene like a sponge, wanting this piece of memoir to stay in his mind for a long time. 

 

Those fingers loiter under his head for more than a heartbeat before Phupha pulls away. "Okay then. You should sleep now," Phupha gazes at the round object on the table, "it is almost two in the morning."

 

"What is that, Phupha?" Tian asks, inspecting the foreign object, ticking sounds vibrate in his eardrums.

 

"It is a clock," Phupha explains, "it displays the time." 

 

"Time?" He asks.

 

Phupha grabs the 'clock' and takes his hand, pointing his index finger to the moving stick, "Yes. Look here," his fingers point at a symbol so foreign and new to Tian, "this is one, two, three..." 

 

His voice sounds like a distant lullaby, and his eyes flicker like the scorching sun on a hot day. The more Tian looks at Phupha, the more he plunges into a complicated trance. 

 

Tian follows Phupha's fingers, looking at those 'numbers', trying to understand them, but all his mind wants to register is the ardent radiance of brown from Phupha's skin and the healthy pink of his lips, his sweet voice serenading him; Tian wants to cry

 

Phupha teaches him time and numbers, but will those elements keep him by his side? 

 

He feels so useless. Phupha offers him only the great things, but Tian cannot even make a promise to himself.

 

Here, in Phupha's house, on land, is not where he belongs. Tian resides in the vast sea, the colourful coral reefs, and the group of mermen and mermaids. Sooner or later, he has to leave, but can he? Can he go when his heart finally finds a new place he calls home?

 

"Tian, why did you not stop me? I almost bore you to death, did not I?" Phupha's voice awakens and pulls him back to reality. 

 

Phupha is pouting, but a smile gracefully loops his lips into a cute bow, and Tian lets his guard down again. Only for this man in front of him, only for Phupha.

 

"I am sorry, Phupha," Tian apologizes, "I lost focus too," he answers, masking the tremble in his voice with a smile.

 

"Okay, okay," the latter puffs the sides of his pillow again, "you can sleep now." 

 

Phupha looks at him for one last time with a smile before he lays himself on the thin mattress covering the floor. He presses onto something, and the room darkens.

 

If possible, Tian wants Phupha to sleep by his side, but the other insists, saying he does not want to cramp up space. He complies, nonetheless.

 

As he catches the fragile hum escaping Phupha's lips, the wave rippling steadily as his chest heaves up and down, Tian tries to reach out. Closer, just a bit more-

 

Phupha seems too far away, slipping from his fingers like he was never there in the first place.

 

 


"Sir, I apologize, but we lost track of Sakda and his men again," Yod announces as he points at the missing red dot on the laptop screen. Only green lines blazing from the screen, mocking him almost, and Phupha has an overwhelming urge to throw the laptop away.

 

"We lost him again!" Phupha grunts, clasping his hand into a tight fist as he tries to contain the boiling anger and disappointment. 

 

Sakda is currently on the list of most wanted. For years, the Department of Fisheries and the Royal Thai Marine Corps have been trying to track him down, but he is fast and cunning. He is responsible for the majority of illegal fishing in the seas of Andaman. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing threatens the marine, puts food security and regional stability at risk. 

 

He always managed to escape before they can make their move. Phupha is beyond frustrated. Sadly, this is not the first time they had lost track of Sakda.

 

"It is okay," Phupha tries to reassure himself. He pulls the seat closer to Yod and scans through the screen again, "Rang, help me get the file on my desk,"

 

Rang quickly retrieves the brown file and hands it to Phupha, "Here you go, sir." 

 

Phupha nods gratefully. Rang also takes a seat close to Yod's table and starts searching for more info, contacting the base and jotting down crucial data from the other departments.  It is a taxing job that requires the utmost amount of concentration, but Phupha loves and willing to do this. It is his responsibility to keep marine life safe.

 

There is something he wants to protect, a gift that is valuable and dear to his heart. Phupha vows to do as best he can to shelter that gem, even if his life is at stake.

 

 


Time flies extremely fast these days.

 

According to Phupha, it has been two weeks since they met, and although Tian is still confused with the concept of time, he knows every moment spent with Phupha worths more than the pearls back home.

 

As they enter the hospital grounds, Tian inhales the same omnipresent whiff of antiseptic from weeks back, the buzzing chatter of nurses and doctors, and the muffled sound of the plasma tv. Every hospital looks and smells the same, he claims.

 

"We are here again," Phupha says as he pushes the wheelchair, heading towards the lift.

 

"Yes," Tian answers, "we are here again."

 

Phupha glances at him, trying to read his face, "Are you scared? Today is your first physiotherapy session," 

 

He plays with his fingers for a moment and grabs the single pearl around his neck absentmindedly, "I am a bit nervous. I am not sure if my legs are strong enough to support my body. Well," Tian licks his bottom lip, "I do not know how to use my legs."

 

Miraculously, Phupha eases the tension by rubbing soothing circles on his shoulders. "It is going to be alright," he pats his head, "you will be fine. I am here to help you. I will be there when you need me." 

 

And Phupha stays true to his words.

 

Phupha lends a helping hand whenever the doctor asks to stretch his legs or when Tian needs to be on the 'treadmill'. In his life, Tian has never been on a platform that moves or have legs, to begin with, but it is an experience he will never forget. Continuous energy flows to his legs with every smile Phupha gifts him, the occasional thumb up with a sheer grin expanding on his face. It is his motivation to keep going, and he follows the doctor's instructions until his session ends.

 

The doctor asks him to rest before he calls Phupha in for today's result. Tian rests his body, making himself comfortable on the wheelchair as beads of sweat adhere to his forehead. He closes his eyes, catching his breath, but a swift wipe on his skin surprises him.

 

Tian opens his eyes, and like magic, Phupha is right by his side. The latter hands him a bottle of water, "You did great, Tian. You are like a pro, despite having these legs for the first time,"

 

"Do you think so?" He asks, genuinely curious.

 

Phupha smiles, and all doors to heaven open without restrictions, "I know so."

 

Those words resound profoundly inside of him, shattering the concrete walls, and all hell breaks loose. There is no way out. Tian is captivated, entranced, captured in this pool of helplessness.

 

"Mr Viriyanon?" The nurse calls abruptly, stopping the waves from washing Tian away from the shore.

 

"Yes?" Phupha answers. The nurse signals the other to enter the doctor's room, and he nods.

 

"Wait for me here, okay?" He says, and Tian has no strength in him to answer. 

 

He watches Phupha's figure disappearing into the room and exhales a heavy sigh. Tian observes the quiet hallway, but someone, in particular, catches his attention.

 

The person is sitting at the end of the hall, only a few steps away from Tian. He sees the similar strands of green and blue, the pearl necklace around his neck, and faint scales bedeck his skin.

 

Is he a merman too? His heart wonders.

 

Tian does not expect the other to approach him. When the stranger takes a seat next to him, he senses the peculiar scent of saltwater floating in the air. 

 

"Hello," the stranger greets him with a smile, "perhaps, are you a merman too?"

 

Shell-shock, Tian is voiceless. 

 

"I am Tul, by the way, and I think you are a fellow merman too?"

 

Why is this discovery scares him so much? Should not Tian be happy to find a friend on land?

 

Tul outstretches his hand, a simple start in every friendship, but Tian is reluctant. Not wanting to be rude, he shakes Tul's hand, and it is cold and coarse. It reminds him of the sea, the constant chase, the grotesque blood war and the excruciating pain of separation. 

 

Tian is back to square one again.

Chapter Text

"Phupha, are you sure this is a good idea?"

 

The said man looks up to witness the puzzling expression on Tian's face, sometimes doubtful and often questioning. Phupha's smile stretches into a grin, and his chest ripples as soft chuckles fall from his lips. It is easier to laugh these days; with Tian staying in his house and sharing days bedecked with surprises, everything bleeds into a single entity, almost difficult to differentiate with unkeen eyes. 

 

Tian is effortlessly funny too, clumsy but delicate around the edges, a tease at nature (a shocking discovery Phupha still needs time to comprehend since Tian was quiet and conservative initially), and so brazenly competitive. 

 

There was this one time, Tian challenged Phupha on an eating showdown, and the winner would receive a full body massage as a reward, a solid one hour of intense screaming caused by twisted limbs and cracked bones. Phupha never backed down from a battle; his father raised him well as a fighter of all odds and obstacles. Therefore, he accepted the challenge even though he knew how stupid they would look in the end. 

 

Tian won, and Phupha was genuinely happy for him, but he did not show it. Alternatively, Phupha faked annoyance, grunted and acted out all the anger that was never his friend to begin. Phupha should have become an actor instead of an assistant director in DOF. 

 

But the smile on Tian's face was blatant, sizzling like the big piece of tomahawk steak, the latter chowed down in less than twenty minutes without stopping (or even breathing from Phupha's close judgement). The victorious smirk, the crimson triumph dusting on his cheeks, was all Phupha could see, and that sight was enough to blind him.

 

That chaotic night ended with Phupha massaging Tian's whole body, putting more emphasis on Tian's healing legs, and the other regretted winning because Phupha was lowkey trying to break his legs into two. Tian playfully smacked him on the head, and it was painful, but Phupha did not feel the sting. He felt something weird growling in his stomach, gurgling in his chest, and he liked the sensation a bit too much.

 

He let the smile on his face dangles lazily like the sun on top of their heads, "I am always confident with my works, Tian. It is a splendid idea, trust me," Phupha ends the sentence with a suggestive wink. 

 

Tian eyes him from head to toe and back to the stick-like equipment he sees at the hospital. Phupha quirks his eyebrows, but Tian still finds it hard to believe. The merman takes a step closer, the crutches guides him to the front, and Tian leans against the wall as he resumes looking at Phupha.

 

"Phupha, is not this what I used at the hospital? For my legs?" Tian asks, inspecting the two parallel poles and down to the rubber mat covering the marbled ground.

 

Phupha stands up and mirrors the latter's action, leaning against the wall, close to Tian with his arms crossed, "Yes, and do you know who sent this equipment?" 

 

Tian shakes his head adorably, lips slightly pouting, "No. Who?"

 

He smiles, "Dr Winai," he briefly answers.

 

Phupha enjoys seeing the glimmer in Tian's eyes whenever he heard the doctor's name; for Tian, Dr Winai is like his father on land, a person he trusts and cherishes wholeheartedly. Without Dr Winai's help, Tian would not survive that day. 

 

Sometimes, when Phupha was a bit bold and delirious after a long and stressful day of work, he would ask Tian, what about me? A part of him would be hopeful, but another half of him would regret it the next day. It was so unlike him to be this way, to bear his heart open and allowed himself to appear fragile and buoyant. 

 

But Tian would look at him with tomato cheeks, soft brown eyes and a shy smile. Phupha did not understand that, and Tian did not bother to explain. Nonetheless, it felt great. Astounding, downright heart-aching, and all beautiful things.

 

Tian heaves a deep sigh, the smile loiters on his face still, "I have to meet Dr Winai and thank him personally. He helped me a lot in this process," his eyes travel to Phupha for a second, and he wonders why Tian is smiling, "and you too, Sir Phupha."

 

What a way to take him off-guard, and Phupha does not fight the lively beam from gracing his lips anymore. Something injures in his heart because Tian will only call him Sir when he truly means something. Whatever magic or spell Tian tries to cast on Phupha's heart and whole existence, it is working brilliantly.

 

Phupha fixes his position, standing straight like a statue and outstretches his hands for Tian to take. "Do you want to have a try?" He asks, pausing.

 

Without a doubt, the merman gently places his hands on top of Phupha's, and Phupha rests them on his shoulders instead. His hands are around Tian's waist, protecting him. 

 

There is this mutual understanding and trust they have built after almost a month of being together. Phupha offers, and he waits. Tian reciprocates, and he accepts. That is their dynamic, and it amazes Phupha how it feels as natural as breathing these days.

 

He takes the metal crutches and stores them away from Tian as both of them approaches the gait-training zone. All the while, Tian does not let go, and Phupha hopes he will not.

 

"Okay," Phupha stops as both of them are standing on the rubber mat, "hold them tight, and start walking like you normally do, whenever you are ready, Tian."

 

Carefully, Phupha removes Tian's hands from his shoulders and guides them to the posts. Tian looks up to meet his eyes, seeking confidence, and Phupha gives him everything he has. 

 

Phupha takes a few steps back, waiting at the end of the track. Tian's fingers are shaking, but the determined look on his face, the focused pout on his lips, and the fiery passion in his eyes bring him forward. Although Phupha knows the latter is still afraid, Tian is braver than he appears. He adores that side of Tian, and Phupha tries to let him know once in a while.

 

Tian toddles, and his feet do not move, but Phupha assures him that it will be alright. I am here, he says. I am waiting for you, Tian, and the merman inhales a deep breath as he continues with difficulty. Since this is the first time Tian tries to walk without a hoist or crutches, the merman still tries to understand how much strength he needs to exert on his legs. All doctors advised Tian to practice walking without assistance, and he is doing well. Phupha will update the latter's massive progress to them soon. 

 

"A few steps more, Tian! You can do it!" Phupha cheers him on, clapping his hands as the merman only needs two strides more to reach the line.

 

Heaving a deep sigh, Tian walks, confidently now, and stops when he reaches the end. Tian jumps a little, a bit too excited with his achievement, but his jelly legs give up on him. Luckily, Phupha catches Tian just in time before he falls to the ground, face first. 

 

Wrapping his arms securely around Tian, Phupha warns softly, "Hey, be careful."

 

Tian looks dazed, his lips slightly parted, and his eyes are illusory. Tian is trying to reach out for something as his fingers land on the tip of Phupha's nose, and for the love of God, Phupha stops breathing eventually. 

 

"Tian?" Phupha calls, breaking the merman's reverie, and Tian squirms in his hold. Phupha has no choice but to let go, and the other falls to the rubber mat with a loud thud.

 

"Ow!" Tian scowls, rubbing his elbows and knees from the grazing friction. 

 

Phupha does not know whether to laugh or sympathize with Tian, but he chose the latter since it is a better option. He sits in front of Tian, crossed legged, remnants of laughter resides still, "Are you okay? What happened?" He asks, all the while wanting to tease Tian.

 

Tian ignores him completely, but the scarlet on his cheeks suggest other possible reasons and silly outcomes. Phupha decides to reward him instead, "Since you have successfully walked without my help, let me get you a glass of water and the sweet rice cake Khama gave us this morning, okay?"

 

Food always makes things better, Phupha affirms. Especially Tian, since the merman is somehow a food lover, anything food-related appeals to Tian the most. He pats Tian's knee twice and heads to the kitchen.

 

As he pours a glass of cold water, he hears loud coughing from the living room. Phupha does not pay much attention initially, knowing how easily tired Tian can get after his sessions. But the coughing continues, more vigorous, earth-shaking than before. He storms out, crouching in front of Tian as the latter continues to cough. Phupha pats his back repeatedly and waits for Tian to steady his breathing. He gives Tian the glass, and the merman finishes in a few loud gulps. The coughing stops, and Tian looks tired and dishevelled.

 

Smoothening the wet bangs of blue and green, Phupha asks worryingly, "Tian, are you okay? Do you need anything?"

 

Tian shakes his head. Phupha feels his heart shrinks as Tian's usual pink lips are a shade paler, "I am okay. I am just tired, I guess."

 

"Okay," Phupha tries not to panic, "that is enough practising for the day. You need to rest." 

 

Without asking for permission like he usually did, Phupha carries Tian to the room, earning a surprised shriek from the other. He places Tian on the bed, straightening his legs and pulls the blanket to cover half of his body. 

 

All the while, Tian hums in delight, nestling comfortably into the warm blanket. But once or twice, he clutches on the fabric of his shirt, where his beating heart lives, a weak attempt to suppress the pain from further growing. Phupha rubs his chest cautiously; his five-pointed star moves up and down, hoping that it can ease the burn Tian experiences.

 

Phupha searches for Tian's half-lidded eyes, the caramel glint fades away, and he is scared, "Tian? Are you okay? Do you want me to call Nam or Torfun?"

 

Phupha attempts to retrieve his handphone, but Tian's lithe fingers stop him from moving, a gentle force that renders him motionless, "No," he says, "I am fine, Phupha. You do not have to worry about me."

 

Ardently, his voice whiffs like a whisper, "How can I not worry about you, Tian?"

 

Tian smiles, and all the stars are shining from those brown galaxies anew. 

 

"I want to sleep," Tian says, "am I allowed to sleep, Phupha?"

 

"Of course you are, Tian."

 

Phupha fixes the blanket draped around Tian's body, wipes the sweat clinging onto the merman's forehead and circles his chest for one last time. 

 

Tian falls asleep instantly, and Phupha wishes he can see the sparkle in his eyes again. Do not let him fade away, dearest sea, his heart prays. 

 

 


"Tian, I am sorry I cannot accompany you today. I have an urgent meeting with my bosses."

 

Phupha has never missed his physiotherapy sessions, no matter how busy he is- the latter will always try to accompany him every Saturday. But today, Phupha has to attend the meeting since they need to discuss Sakda's latest agendas and whereabouts. 

 

Tian understands. Phupha is indeed a busy man and a responsible one too. He already feels bad for causing the latter more trouble than good. So, he has no rights to be sad, does he? But Tian does feel the tiniest bit of disappointment, and he is never a good liar. The frown on his face heightens Phupha's guilt even more.

 

Masking his displeasure with a smile, he answers, "It is okay, Phupha. I understand. You should go now, or else you will be late!" He shoos Phupha away, squeezing the fake laughter out from his throat for better measures, but Phupha knows him more than anyone else.

 

"I will be here when I am done with the meeting, okay?" 

 

Tian wants Phupha to promise, but he stops. Who is he to make Phupha promise him anything? Tian could not even be truthful to Phupha of his condition and secrets.

 

Distrusting his voice, Tian nods instead. Phupha smiles with fondness.

 

"Hello, lovebirds!"

 

Tian turns around and sees Nam approaching them with happy steps. Tian likes being friends with Phupha's friends, they are good people, and they love Phupha earnestly. He acknowledges that even though they bicker over the silliest things more than reconciling. 

 

"Nam," Phupha growls, and Tian wants to laugh at the other's expression. Only Nam can get on his nerves like that, Tian being in second place.

 

"Okay, Phu," Nam claps his hands together, "you can go to that meeting of yours. I will be here with Tian. Run along!" Nam gestures Phupha to go, pulling his body and pushing him away, but Phupha freezes his limbs from moving.

 

"Where is Torfun? I thought she would be here too?"

 

"Oh!" Nam dramatically exclaims, "I am offended, Phu! Do you not trust me?"

 

"Honestly, I do not," Phupha answers a second too early, and Nam fakes sadness right away. Tian, who witnesses the soap opera in front of him, can only laugh at their silly antics.

 

He hears loud footsteps coming their way, and when Torfun stops right in front of the three, he hears Phupha exhales a breath of relief.

 

"I am sorry for being late!" Torfun says, holding her kneecaps as she tries to inhale a breath, "The kids did not let me go. I had to ask for help. I am sorry, P'Phu and Tian."

 

"Oh," Nam whistles, "did you ask for Dr Aroon's help?"

 

"Dr Nam, I swear to God-"

 

"Okay, everyone!" Phupha stops them from having a wrestling match in the middle of the hospital hallway. "I have to go now. Please help look after Tian, okay?" He says hurriedly, eyes almost pleading and filled with remorse.

 

"No worries, P'Phu," Torfun takes Tian's hand, intertwining their fingers, "Tian is safe with us- I mean me," she finishes with a light giggle.

 

Phupha salutes at Torfun and stares at Nam, to which the doctor replies with a wink. He walks away but turns around to meet Tian's eyes, "I will be here soon, okay, Tian?"

 

Tian's heart flutters, butterflies are expanding their wings all over his chest. "Okay," he mutters, smiling at Phupha and waves.

 

"Phu! It will only take a few hours! Do not act like you will not see him forever!" Nam half-screams. Tian giggles at how Phupha glares at his best friend while hardly trying to avoid his awaiting eyes.

 

Torfun shakes their entwined fingers, trying to catch Tian's attention, "Tian? Are you ready?" 

 

Tian looks up and smiles widely at his best friend, "Yes!"

 

Nam approaches them and helps Tian to stand up. Today, he came to the hospital without the aid of a wheelchair or crutches. Tian can now walk without the equipment, and it is all thanks to Phupha's intensive training and patience. He still staggers and wobbles, but it is better than the first time he visited the hospital.

 

Nam and Torfun stand by his side, holding his waist and enters the doctor's room. The last session starts without Phupha by his side, but somehow, Tian feels the other is always present, always there to encourage him.

 

 


Tian no longer has to attend physiotherapy sessions. 

 

He can walk now, it will take time, but he succeeded. There is no need for helping aids, no more one-hour session every Saturday, no more. Tian does not have to depend on Phupha anymore. He can finally walk without Phupha carrying or pushing his wheelchair wherever he goes. Phupha will no longer complain about the back pains he had starting from the day they met, although Tian knew Phupha was only joking. 

 

Absent-mindedly, tears pour from his eyes. And when a merperson's tears fall to the ground, it will become a pearl. Those pearls shine like the yellow sunlight and akin to the lustre of Phupha's mesmerizing black orbs. 

 

It is all thanks to Phupha. Tian does not know what else to say because the only emotion swirling in his heart is gratitude, with a mixture of sadness and hope.

 

He coughs. He coughs until his chest hurts, his throat feels coarse and gritty like the sand underneath his feet, and his head spins in vigorous circles. Tian coughs into his hands, tears brimming as tiny seashells and vibrant blood paints his palms. 

 

Tian coughs, and he loses consciousness with Phupha's smile decorating his blackened vision.

 

 


"Tian? Tian? Can you hear me?"

 

He listens and waits. He waits for the waves to engulf him in their gripping embrace. He waits for the sharks to swim away before moving to another coral reef and for the moon to replace the sun before he continues his destination to somewhere new. 

 

Instead, as he opens his eyes, he sees the same white light and the coral curtains protecting him from the world. Instead of Phupha, he sees Nam and Torfun with perturbing and watery eyes. 

 

"What happened?" Tian finds himself asking, holding his tightening chest with a hand. 

 

"Tian," Torfun looks the most worried. The flowery sheen in her eyes vanishes as she looks at the metal tray on her hands and back at him, "How long has this happened?"

 

Confused, his eyes seek for an explanation from Nam. Nam gestures to Tian to look at the tray, and when he does, his world crumbles rapidly.

 

The day has finally come. The day that Tian has to reveal his identity to other people aside from Phupha and Dr Winai. It has bound to come, Tian has been running away from it, but no secrets can remain untold forever.

 

With a heavy heart, he says, voice low, "I am a merman."

 

The room is silent. Tian hears the birds chirping, the wind waltzing, the patients talking, but none of those sounds come from Torfun or Nam.

 

"Tian," Nam calls, "that is not what concerns us the most. You were coughing out seashells and blood. What is the meaning of that? Tell us, Tian," Nam takes his trembling hands and delicately rubs his frozen knuckles, "maybe, we can help you. Right, Torfun?"

 

Torfun sucks a sharp intake of air, wiping away the tears from her eyes, "Yes. We can help you, and P'Phu will help you too-"

 

"Do not!" Tian explodes, holding onto Torfun and Nam perilously, tears are helplessly falling again, the suffocating melody of pearls meeting the ground rings in his ears, "Do not tell Phupha, please..."

 

"Tian, he has the rights to know!" Nam states in disbelief. It is hard to decipher how Tian wants to keep this a secret from Phupha of all people.

 

Tian trembles, his body shakes as waves of silent sobs escape his ivory lips, "I do not want to hurt him even more, Dr Nam..."

 

Torfun quickly engulfs Tian in her embrace, "Oh, Tian," she exclaims, letting her tears fall without restriction.

 

 

"How did you end up on land, Tul?" Tian asked, anxiously waiting for Tul to answer his running curiosity.

The look on Tul's face was hard to understand, but there were shades of longing and regret. It reminded Tian of how he looked like when he first came to land. "I was running away from those heartless humans," Tul started, "They killed my parents; they took my friends and everything from our kingdom with their big ships. I managed to run, but what is the point? I could not save my family, my people, everything."

Tian took Tul's cold hands, trying to channel all the energy he has, just like how Phupha would do to him, "I am sorry, Tul."

Tul shook his head, the smile on his face greeted him again, "it is okay, Tian. It is my destiny."

Tian was tongue-tied, he was never good at comforting people, but he wanted Tul to know that he understood the turmoil in his heart. He felt awful for having doubts about Tul when the merman went through more than he did, and he was only concerned about a fellow merman trapped on land.

"Tian, who is that gentleman sitting beside you just now?" Tul asked, shifting the topic elsewhere.

It came out naturally, the smile on his face whenever someone mentioned about the other, "His name is Phupha. He saved and took care of me up to this day."

"Oh," Tul expresses, and he was no longer smiling. "Tian, do not get attached, and do not let him harbour feelings for you. It is dangerous."

There was this sudden anger rupturing in his heart, a scandalized sensation lacing his ribcage as Tul proposed those hurtful words. Why could not he rely on Phupha? Phupha was his everything. Phupha was the reason he was still alive.

"Tian, I know this will hurt you," Tul paused, holding his hands tightly, "but merpeople can never be on land. The land is not where we belong."

"But Tul! I have legs now, and I am getting used to them more than my tail. I can walk. I do not have to swim or be underwater-"

"We could not be on land for too long, Tian," Tul interrupted, rubbing his knuckles in a vain attempt to calm him down, "our heart could not stay away from water for more than two moons. Our legs will work well," Tul took their clasped hands and planted them on Tian's left chest, "but our heart hardens, and we will die."

Die?

"Tul-"

"That is our curse, Tian," Tul helplessly answered, "we are born in water, so how can we defy our origins and live on land?" 

Tian wanted to scream, but he was on mute, voiceless gasp resounded by the hot tears cascaded from his eyes, formed a stream of regret and resentment on his cheeks. 

 

 

"I do not have much time left," Tian whispers, his heart shattering, his eyes prickling, and his soul wafting in the air.

 

Nam pats him on the back, soothing the tidal waves crashing the coast of his heart. His phone rings, and he mouths Phupha to Torfun. Torfun understands. She pulls away from the hug, dries the tears and snot away from Tian's face.

 

"Tian, if the pain gets too much, come to us, okay? We will help you," Torfun assures, drawing encouraging shapes on Tian's fluffy cheeks.

 

"Okay," Tian answers meekly, "but, Torfun, do not tell Phupha? Let me-" Tian coughs again, fragile seashells fall from his lips, and Torfun picks them all away, "I will tell him when the time is right."

 

Torfun does not know when that time will come for Tian to confess, but in this case, she respects Tian and his decisions. No matter the results, Torfun will have his back for sure. 

 

She nods and embraces Tian in her arms again. Her sweet, sweet Tian, why is the universe being so cruel to him? How can they bestow such heartless destiny on him? And how about Phupha? Her precious, precious Phupha? Oh. Her heart mends and repeatedly breaks, a ceaseless cycle that puts her at the edge of a cliff. 

 

Nam approaches the bed again, "Phu is here. He is waiting at the lobby," he informs, and Tian nods in gratitude.

 

"Tian," Nam calls, his eyes softening, his lips quivering slightly, "we are here. Do not forget that, okay?"

 

With a smile, Tian leaves the ward. He grants his legs full access to take him wherever they desire.

 

 


Phupha waits, tapping his feet in a rhythm that Tian always sings whenever he eats a delicious meal made by Khama and Longtae, or when Phupha shampooed his hair with the coconut and daisy scented concoction. 

 

As his eyes scan the spacious hall, he sees Tian walking towards him. No crutches under his armpits, but Tian is taking one definite, fearless step at a time. Tian is smiling, and the white fluorescent lights hanging on top of his head creates a heaven-like halo, his delicate features laced with utter perfection. There is red from his eyes and lips, but he looks beautiful, and Phupha no longer breathes.

 

Tian walks faster, and by time, distance seems to decrease between them, Tian is already running, and he lands perfectly in Phupha's expectant embrace, his finish line.

 

Phupha, taken by surprise, exhales a loud whoop. The innocent joy grows in his chest as Tian tightens his arms around Phupha's body, tip-toeing to engulf him closer. He chuckles at this, "Tian? What is wrong?"

 

Tian shakes his head in denial, squeezing his body, and it feels nice. "I just want to hug you," Tian answers, an ardent hush blowing to his ears like a spring breeze, tingling his spine in sheer delight. 

 

And Phupha does not question him further. Instead, he hugs Tian, letting their bodies fuse into one- a smile loops his lips in a bow of happiness and infatuation.

Chapter Text

Tian hears the monstrous rattle of Phupha's car entering the porch. His senses are tingling as foreign excitement washes over his heart, lips forming a shy grin once the vrooming stops. Tian feels the overwhelming urge to run and open the door, enveloping Phupha in a tight hug and inhales the scent of applewood with a tinge of sweat after a long day of work. He wants to do it, but he remembers the seashells covering his weakening heart and the numbered tomorrows he has left with Phupha; he is afraid. Tian is scared of hurting Phupha. Phupha deserves to love someone that will stay by his side for life and not a merman that will leave once the sea calls upon his name. Tian ponders, tears are forming in his eyes as sadness grows in his chest; is he afraid of hurting Phupha or himself?

 

His chest tightens, and the familiar burst of battered coughing resounds in the house. Tian runs to the nearest bathroom and spits out the seashells, hot blood and cold water whirling in the sink. He picks as many seashells as he can and keeps them in his pocket, helplessly scrubbing away the trickles of crimson at the corner of his lips and sighs in defeat. How long will he hide his condition from Phupha? Sooner or later, the latter will know, and Tian fears the elusive outcome that situation can bring. What if Phupha despises him after discovering the truth? How will Tian live with Phupha hating him? 

 

Even if death greets him afterwards, he will never die in peace, not when someone he cherishes no longer smiles at him. Tian does not want Phupha to hate him. He wants Phupha to smile at him, ruffle his hair and hold his hand whenever they watch horror movies together. He does not want to lose something so precious, one in a million, Phupha.

 

"Tian?" 

 

Tian closes his eyes for a brief. His heart pounds wildly in his chest from the adrenaline of being caught and hearing his name falls melodiously from Phupha's lips. Both sensations are mind-boggling and make his knees buckle. Tian realizes; only Phupha can make him feel this way.

 

With one last glance, he splashes water onto his face and wipes them dry. He practices the sweetest smile he can muster and heaves a nervous breath. Tian inhales, sucking all the air into his lungs and prays for the coughing to stop when he faces Phupha. 

 

He turns the doorknob and exits the bathroom. Phupha is on the sofa; two buttons of his dress shirt are open, the black-tie lies lifelessly on the console table along with his briefcase. Even with his eyes closed, chest moving up and down in a continuous stream of tiredness, Phupha still looks breathtaking, ethereal. Tian feels his cheeks reddening, loving the electric motions that tingle his already trembling hands. But he decides to approach the half-asleep Phupha and discards the jitters away.

 

Softly, Tian calls, "Phupha?"

 

Phupha opens his eyes, and the smile on his face transcends into a relieved grin. Phupha is naturally handsome, unmistakeably attractive, and downright charming. At this moment, Tian can no longer deny the powerful pull Phupha exerts whenever they are near. Constellations are dangling from Phupha's slanted eyes; a mixture of brown and black explodes in specks of delight as he looks at Tian with nothing but tenderness. Tian's heart skips multiple beats; senses are numbing as Phupha's eyes embrace him in a dream-like hug. 

 

"Tian," the other calls, his eyes crinkling into adorable crescents as he repositions himself on the sofa, "I was looking for you. But there was no reply. I thought you were asleep."

 

"Why? Are you worried about me?" Tian asks, testing the waters, weighing out the possibilities behind his impromptu question. Tian likes riddles, and Phupha knows how to answer them. Phupha knows the answer Tian wants to hear, the confirmation his heart needs.

 

The other scoots closer to Tian, invading his personal space, and from this close, he can see the small mole on his cheek and the star in Phupha's eyes. He is beautiful.

 

Phupha quirks his eyebrow, smirking, "What if I am?" 

 

The sudden, suffocating urge to cough makes his body tremble, but Phupha's warm hands patting on his back, concerned whispers of are you okay, calms his senses immediately. He feels safe and protected in Phupha's hold. The pain in his chest decreases whenever Phupha hugs or touches him. Phupha is a phenomenon Tian cannot explain with words, let alone with actions. No scientific studies or mathematical equations can describe the magic Phupha has on him. 

 

A warm, five-pointed star rests on his beating heart, and Tian looks up to meet Phupha's worried orbs, "Do you want me to call Nam or Torfun?"

 

Tian feels the same ache in his heart as Phupha continues to pat his chest, moving from left to right comfortingly. Those eyes, so much care and infatuation shining from those orbs. Will those splashes of pink and red change to purple and blue once he knows everything?

 

He shakes his head. Swallowing the seashells from escaping his throat, Tian blinks the grief and asks, "Have you eaten?"

 

Phupha wears the youthful smile on his face- a smile Tian envisions the young Phupha would have whenever he visited the beach with his parents. He shakes his head almost adorably, pursing his lips, "No. I wanted to eat with you."

 

Tian lightly pinches his clothed thighs, pressing his free hand on his chest to stop the butterflies from escaping, "Luckily, Khama stopped by and gave us something to eat."

 

"Really?" He asks, sitting up straight in anticipation.

 

Tian nods ardently, now letting the butterflies flutter away, "Yes. Let me reheat them for you."

 

When only Tian wants to stand up and head over to the kitchen, sturdy, familiar arms engulf him in a back hug. His back flushes against Phupha; his whole body is on fire as the other presses their souls together, connecting them with a red thread. His heart stops, seashells threatening to explode from his throat, but Phupha's rough fingers enclosing on his stomach pulls the tension away. 

 

"Tian," The other calls, every breath that he exhales tickle his ears, "you can rest. I will prepare dinner for us." 

 

Tian turns around to protest, but Phupha pushes him back to the sofa, firm hands massaging his shoulders as he smiles, "Sit. Let me do it."

 

With that, Phupha disappears to the kitchen, and Tian disintegrates with the night gust. A blazing fire burns his heart, shells clawing the walls of his throat, but he cries the pain silently. Tian is not sure what hurts more, the seashells sticking on his heart or the feelings he has for Phupha. 

 

When Phupha comes with a tray of food and a tired but blinding smile, Tian wants to hold and love him. He wants to drown in his scent, his existence, his warmth. If only he can, if only it will not hurt Phupha, Tian will gladly love him and promise the sea. But Tian cannot even promise to live within the next few weeks. It is better this way- it is better to forget that his feelings for Phupha. No one will get hurt. 

 

Even if someone does get hurt, it should be him. It should be Tian and no one else. Not Phupha. 

 

 

 

The twilight sky approaches the once-vibrant blue canvas. The orange sun now shines in rays of red and pink, mildly illuminating the dimming world. Another tiring day has come to an end. Before he existed in his life, Phupha never looked forward to anything. Life was mundane and stagnant, always the same clouds and stars. But Tian breathed life into his universe, streaks of wondrous colours bedeck his heart as Tian fills the hallowing gaps. With Tian, Phupha no longer feels lonely. Tian exits in his life as the sun, a field of white daisy in Phupha's once-apocalyptic world. 

 

It is no use to deny his feelings. Emotions that fill his heart are more than just love. He never experienced this rush, this ecstasy with anyone before, but every override is possible because of Tian. Like the ocean, his feelings for Tian runs deep and infinite. 

 

"Sir? Are you okay?" Rang asks, breaking the beautiful illusions in his mind. 

 

He blinks the trance away and turns around to meet Rang's eyes, "I-I am okay," he answers, stuttering for no exact reason.

 

Yod intervenes, a playful smirk graces his lips, "Hey, Rang, why did you bother asking? Of course, Sir is okay. He is about to meet Khun Tian at home!" 

 

"Yod!" Phupha explodes, delicate strokes of rose appear on his cheeks as he inhales a stolen breath.

 

"Sir, you do not have to pretend. We all know your feelings for Khun Tian are more than just platonic," Rang says. The smile on his face is genuine and teasing. Yod agrees to this, nodding his head enthusiastically.

 

Phupha brushes their wild (but true) guess, arranging the brown files on his table and places them on the shelf. "You guys should focus on Sakda's case rather than my personal life," he answers, avoiding their gaze as nervousness gnaws on his skin.

 

Yod follows his every move, inspecting the change of emotion on his face, the slight tremble on his lips, "Sir, we are! But your love life is so interesting! Whenever we gather, our main concern is your relationship with Khun Tian!"

 

Rang extends his hand for a high five in which Yod gladly reciprocates. They are lucky that Phupha loves (and hates) them. If not, Phupha will surely kick them off of this building.

 

Rang nudges his shoulder expectantly, "So, Sir, when are you going to make the next move?"

 

Phupha huffs an exaggerated breath, dismissing Rang's question by faking annoyance, but the smile on his face contradicts his actions, "What are you talking about, Rang? We are just friends."

 

"Yes, friends," Yod echoes, "friends that have feelings for each other. Is not that what lovers have, Rang?"

 

"Of course! There is no better explanation than that! You have connected the dots, P'Yod!" 

 

As both of them are laughing heartily (but Phupha does not know why), he stops them immediately with a menacing glare, "I would like to see the progress and strategy report on my table first thing in the morning next week. Understand?"

 

"Ah, Sir! You are so heartless!"

 

He leaves them both with a mocking salute, ignoring the wails of unsatisfaction and strings of profanities coming from the duo. Phupha presses the button and taps his foot in a steady rhythm. Another day has ended, but another day starts as soon he arrives home where Tian is waiting for him. He cannot wait to live another portion of his day with Tian by his side.

 

 

 

Tian watches the flowers blooming in Phupha's eyes, green leaves caressing his lips as he whistles a tune Tian is so used to hear. Phupha woke him early this morning and asked Tian to pack some clothes. Tian did not know the reason, and he should be asking. But when he saw the gleeful smile and expectant eyes, Tian decided to obey without much thought.

 

He feeds his curiosity, processing new images and discoveries by looking at the growing trees, endless roads and multiple traffic lights. His heart races, looking forward to another journey he will embark on with Phupha. Wherever the other takes him, Tian will follow. Before everything comes to an end someday, Tian will relish every moment wholeheartedly. 

 

Surprisingly, this time, Tian no longer feels sick or sleepy. He is awake most of the time. Once or twice he dozes off, but he wakes up again whenever he hears Phupha chuckling. Tian pinches his arms, earning a low scowl from the other. Phupha cannot fight back as he is driving, and Tian considers himself lucky because he escapes the hell Phupha's pinches can bring (yes, it is painful). 

 

But, the truth is, Tian is awake because he does not want to miss any second spent with Phupha. Most of the time, he will throw secret glances at the other. He smiles to himself whenever Phupha pushes his short bangs behind, grazing the stubbles on his chin; he is doing the bare minimum, but Tian still finds him attractive. It is impossible to not fall for Phupha, and Tian is not an exception.

 

"Do I have something on my face?" Phupha asks out of the blue, catching Tian off-guard for the nth time.

 

Leaning closer to the window, Tian hides his face behind his hands, "What are you talking about?"

 

He feels Phupha's eyes lingering on him for a while and back to the road, "You have been staring at me. I thought I had something on my face."

 

Tian masks the giddiness with a huff of annoyance. He can hear the happiness in Phupha's voice as he utters, "Do you like what you see?" 

 

Tian does not reply. He allows the ambience to drown them in a sea of questions. But the smile on Tian's face and the glint in Phupha's eyes is enough of an answer.

 

 

 

"Phupha..."

 

Phupha sees the crystals in Tian's eyes as it reflects the continuous motion of Tien beach. Tian is happy, and Phupha wants to savour the sunshine on his face in his mind forever.

 

The breeze blows their hair in chaos; strands of blue and green cover Tian's almond eyes, but the sparkle still prevails behind closed curtains. Phupha turns to look at Tian, hands reaching out to hold those trembling, cold fingers, "I know you have been missing the sea," he pauses, looking at the ocean and back to Tian, "this is all for you."

 

A teardrop cascade from Tian's eye, falling to the coarse sand as a pearl, glimmering under the spring sun. Phupha wipes them away with his sinful fingers, "I hope you will enjoy yourself today, Tian. A gift because you can walk on your own now." 

 

Phupha does not expect a hug, and he does not expect Tian to pull him to the sea. Waves engulfing their bodies, coldness seep into his skin as Tian takes him on a dive. Their fingers entwined, five meets five and equals to infinity. Phupha wants to hold Tian's hands until the end of time. The recognition comes in a vicious tsunami, knocking the limited oxygen from his lungs that Phupha loves Tian. From the day he met Tian, it has always been love. 

 

Underwater, Phupha sees Tian. He sees Tian as a merman; his red and blue tail glisten, fingers attached like gills, but he is still breathtaking. His smile still belongs to the Tian on land, the star in his eyes twinkle as he swims with the small fishes. They look like long-lost friends, and now Phupha realizes; this is where Tian belongs. Has Phupha been confining Tian to his world all this while?

 

He witnesses the twirl of his tail, bubbles of pearls floating to the surface as Tian meets another set of old friends. Phupha struggles to breathe, but he wants to see the rainbow in Tian's smile more. Their eyes collide, and Tian looks so happy, alive, glowing. Phupha wants him to be like this forever. 

 

Phupha waves at Tian, signalling that he has had enough swimming for the day. Tian nods and resumes exploring the sea. Phupha swims to the shore where he belongs.

 

His body feels heavy, the seawater pulls him along with the tides, but Phupha clenches on the wet sand for leverage. As his body falls flat on the sand, he smiles. He smiles because of happiness, love and Tian. Closing his eyes, he draws in the air into his expanding lungs and bathes under the sun.

 

 

 

Tian emerges from the sea. It has been so long. Tian does not even remember the last time he swam with his friends. Phupha makes his dream come true. He feels new and fresh. He can now conquer the world again as his lungs are full of seawater. Tian no longer has to be afraid of those seashells. Tian has nothing to fear.

 

He sees Phupha lying on the beach, eyes closed and chest heaving up and down. The wet shirt clings onto his body, and he does not bother taking it off. Tian approaches the serene-looking Phupha cautiously, "Phupha?"

 

Phupha wakes up instantly, his eyes are red from the saltwater, but the smile on his face is sweet and welcoming, "Did you have fun?"

 

Tian nods, tongue-tied. Phupha tucks the coloured strands behind his ears, letting his fingers linger on Tian's face, "I have seen the real you, Tian." 

 

Time ticks slower when the universe around them unfolds into uncertainty. A ripple of anxiety gushes over his thundering heart, triggering his most profound fear anew. 

 

Warmth seeps into his body as Phupha rests his hand on Tian's cheek, rigid but so soothing, "You are beautiful, Tian."

 

His world combusts, his sanity snaps and repeatedly mends as Phupha continues to look at him like he hangs all the stars and moon in the galaxy. 

 

Tian does not fight the feeling anymore. He allows the tears to flow, creating wiggly tracks on his cheeks, pearls puddling around him, but he is so happy. Tian wants to swim and retrieve the best pearl for Phupha, a present for being his saviour and everything in between. But nothing can ever compare to the sacrifices Phupha made for him.

 

"Phupha," Tian calls as he rests his hand on Phupha's, "I... I..."

 

Closing the distance between them, Phupha leans forward. With a swift breath, he plants a long kiss on Tian's forehead, branding Tian's existence as a part of Phupha. 

 

Tian closes his eyes, edging the warmth erupting everywhere on his body, succumbing to the scent of applewood and home, feeling an overwhelming sensory concoction as Phupha's lips scorch his skin. 

 

I love you, his heart whispers, reaching out to Phupha's heart. I love you, Phupha.

 

But words are never enough, and fate is always cruel in deciding the route of his life. His throat gurgles, seashells scratching their way to escape his mouth, but Tian tries to swallow them all. Phupha watches him with worry and fear, holding on to Tian and pats his back, encouraging the hurtful shells to fall from his compressed lungs. 

 

He coughs out the torment, the seashells, blood, and it swirls with the sea. Tian cannot breathe, but he clutches onto Phupha, tears endlessly falling because he does not want to die. He does not want to die in Phupha's arms. 

 

Before he blacks out, he sees Phupha's eyes, beautifully crafted in tears, staring at him with so much love and fear. Tian prays to God, perilously hoping those tears will never taint Phupha's life with gruesome pain anymore. 

Chapter Text

Phupha's hands are trembling. It is cold and shaking. Icicles are dangling from every finger, worry and fear freeze his whole system as the sight of Tian on the stretcher haunts his wake and dreams. 

 

He did not remember how they arrived at the hospital, but he heard his voice, strained and desperate, calling for aid. Tian stilled in his arms, lips as purple as the twilight sky, and his skin was so pale Phupha thought he had become a ghost. His luscious blue and green strands laid flat against his forehead, no longer swaying with the evening gust. For a split second, Phupha thought he had lost the merman for good. But Dr Winai was there, and he held his bloodied hands and muttered some affirming words. He will be alright. He will survive. For once, Phupha believed that things would be better. Tian was in good hands, and he did not have to be afraid.

 

Phupha waits. 

 

Time continues to tick, the moon replaces the sun, but the world around Phupha paused when Tian entered the emergency room. He waits for a miracle to happen, God, he does, but nothing happens, and Phupha is dying out of dread, curiosity and multiple questions flaring in his mind. The sight of Tian coughing out blood and shells petrified him, filling his view with nothing but blaring red. Has Tian been sick for a long time, and Phupha does not know about it?

 

It feels like yesterday when he caught the blinding smile on Tian's face, the life in his eyes as he swims with those fishes. Now it is a distant memory, a mirage that transcends into a nightmare, and Phupha does not know what to do. Phupha has always been good at waiting, but why now? Why does his heart want to betray him now? Why is it so hard to be strong?

 

Phupha swears that he will not let these tears fall. Giving in to this sadness means he has given up on Tian. And he has not given up. Whatever it takes, no matter how long it will be, Phupha will wait. After all, Phupha is good at waiting.

 

 


"P'Phu!"

 

Phupha searches for the familiar voice, stretching his body upwards from crouching. He sees Torfun and Nam approaching him with hurried steps, seemingly afraid if Phupha starts to run away or crumble if they are not quick enough to gather him in their arms. Torfun hugs him tight, patting his back with soft strokes, and Nam does the same thing, rougher but so pleasant and calming. The tsunami in his heart dies down, a part of his broken heart glues itself back to place. 

 

He does not find any words to say, or any emotions to offer, because a world without Tian is bleak and muted. Phupha is tired of the devils spewing nonsense in his head. Each syllable creates sentences that only means nothing to Phupha but giving him a massive headache instead. Somehow, his efforts to silence the voices in his head is in vain. He paid the price. He now has nothing to say. 

 

"Phupha," Nam calls, breaking the hug to look into his eyes. Lifeless, dimming and hollow. A part of Nam shatters at the sight of his distraught-looking friend. 

 

Torfun continues to rub soothing circles on his back, and her kind gesture invokes a feeling deep inside of him, unknown and unwanted. It breaks his heart and mends it back again, and the process continues until Phupha finds it hard to breathe. 

 

He is standing, breathing, living, but how can he feel so empty and lost? How can he ever feel so lifeless when he can still feel Torfun's touches and Nam's concern stares? How can the world be so cruel to him- to take Tian away from him and let Phupha live normally? Did the world expect Phupha to be okay after witnessing Tian battling between life and death? How can they be so heartless?

 

"I-" Phupha finds himself saying, voice cracking around the edges, rough and hoarse and quiet, "I do not want to lose him." 

 

Phupha does not want to cry.

 

Crying means that he gives into sadness and accepts that Tian will never come back to him.

 

Phupha does not want to cry because Tian will hate him if he does. Tian will tease him for the week and call him a crybaby. Tian will poke fun and tell on him to embarrass him. Tian will use it against him, and Nam and Torfun will gang up with the merman, joining forces to annoy Phupha. Tian will tell Rang and Yod, and the duo will laugh at him until they start crying. Tian will do all that if he knows that Phupha did. 

 

Phupha does not want to cry, but why is his vision blurring, and what is this familiar hotness cascading to his cheek? Why is Torfun wiping something away from his eyes and Nam holding onto him desperately? Why is his universe begins to shake? Why?

 

"You will not lose him, P'Phu," Torfun whispers into his ears. Her voice strains, pulling the wrong chords, and Phupha knows the other has been crying. Somehow, the sadness in her voice mirrors his own, and he realizes, he too, is crying.

 

Phupha wants to laugh and cry. He wants to punch the wall until his fist bleeds. His whole body begins to convulse as the rage, confusion, fear, and disappointment hits him all at once. And as he tries to deny them all, more tears start to fall. Phupha curses under his breath, feeling like a total loser.

 

Nam holds him, his eyes are red, and his usual playfulness disappears. Phupha wants to assure them that he is okay, but he cannot bring himself to come up with a simple lie. He wants the pain to end, but how?

 

Nam keeps on muttering something about Tian, along the lines of he will be okay, and Dr Winai is an expert in this, and Phupha prays to God that whatever Nam said will come true. 

 

 

 

It is so dark here.

 

Tian does not know where he is at the moment. But it is cold, and Tian cannot see anything in this pitch darkness. He tries to call for help, but nothing comes out from his throat, not even the huff of his breath. Or maybe, he is already dead?

 

But then, all of a sudden, a trail of warm, yellow light opens a new space in front of Tian. He sees his friends, the familiar colourful corals, the white sand, and the life he is so used to seeing. The knot in his heart untangles, happiness blooms like a flower as he catches the sight of his parents waiting for him, smiling and urging him to come home. 

 

He swims closer to them. Relief washes over him as his mother's smile bedecks his vision and his father's face, a familiar sight that he is happy to see again. Closer and closer, he is getting near, just a little bit more-

 

Tian.

 

Tian turns around, searching for the said voice. The same ache ties his heart into a tight bow, stopping him in his tracks. He stops in between two worlds, in the middle of now and then, indecisive. He is drowning in his longing for home and the voice that he misses dearly. 

 

Tian.

 

Tian hates this. He does not want to choose. Why cannot he get both of them? Why must he choose between the two things that he loves the most?

 

Tian.

Tian.

Tian.

 

Tian closes his eyes. He cries, allowing himself to drown in those shapeless emotions until his existence fades away with time.

 

 

 

"You guys knew about his condition and did not tell me about it?"

 

Phupha tries to ignore the pang of betrayal in his heart, but he has always been honest with his feelings, and this is something he has never expected to happen. 

 

He looks at Nam and Torfun, searching for answers, wanting to know their stand so he can argue, fight them back. But both of them are silent, looking anywhere but at him, and Phupha lifts his hands in defeat and frustration.

 

Phupha huffs a growling sigh, running his fingers into his unkempt hair as he asks, intentionally increasing the pitch, "Nam? Torfun? You guys knew about Tian's sickness and did not tell me about it?"

 

No answer. Phupha has enough of it. Stomping towards them, Phupha holds Nam on his shoulders, gripping them tightly, forcing his best friend to look at him, "You knew?!"

 

Nam, shaken, meets Phupha's reddening eyes, anger exploding in those orbs, and he swallows the bitter lump in his throat. 

 

"I- I do," Nam answers, and the grip on his shoulders loosens. Torfun hides behind him, holding onto his t-shirt, lithe fingers trembling in horror. 

 

Phupha goes back and forth, round and round, trying to let everything sink in. A few days after Nam and Torfun's visit to the hospital, a week after Tian is in a coma, two months and a half since he found the merman at Tien Beach, his best friends decided to break the news to him today. Now, when no more tears are falling, and desperation follows him like a shadow, Nam and Torfun told him that Tian has been coughing seashells since a month ago, after his last physiotherapy session. 

 

Tian is still unconscious, and Dr Winai asks him to pray for the best, all hopes crumbling as there is no sign of Tian waking up. It angers him how he is in the dark all along, while all of them know that Tian is sick. A merman's curse that is unbeknownst to Phupha.

 

"How can you guys do this to me?!" Phupha asks, looking at his friends deep in their eyes, trying to understand their motives, wanting to weigh their reasons. But it hurts and hurts and cuts so deeply into his heart. He falls to the ground, legs betraying him as they melt under the scorching agony.

 

He holds the pavement with both hands, steadying himself as the world begins to spin, and the urge to vomit scratches his throat with no mercy. "How can you guys do this to me..." Phupha whispers, the burden on his shoulders feel heavier and sturdier and bigger. 

 

At this moment, Phupha wishes to die. 

 

At times like this, Phupha prays that he will not breathe again.

 

A hesitant touch lingers on his shoulder, but Phupha is too tired to slap it away. Warmth seeps into his skin, but he feels sick in the stomach and thoughts jumbling wildly in his head.

 

"P'Phu," Torfun calls, reluctant and afraid of Phupha's unpredictable reactions. When the other remains silent, Torfun continues, "We respect Tian's wish. He did not want us to tell you."

 

Phupha looks up, and their gazes collide. Torfun wants to hug him, reassure him that things will be better. But for someone who is in pain, someone who is going through a hard time, reassuring words can both heal and kill. Now, Torfun knows her words will only slit Phupha's heart into two. 

 

Phupha's eyes are deep, so deep that Torfun can no longer see the glow in them. They disappear without notice, following Tian to a place so remote and obscure. Phupha is stuck in the same cycle, reliving the anguish from ten years ago. The day he lost his father and the moment he witnessed his mother's peaceful death, everything is coming back to him. And all Phupha wants right now is for God to take this pain away. 

 

Nam settles by Phupha's side, taking his shaky hands and intertwine their fingers together. Torfun does the same. 

 

Inhaling heavily, Nam musters the courage to say, "He must have done this for a reason, Phu. He must have his reasons."

 

Phupha sneers, chuckling sadly, "He does not trust me," he exclaims, slowly losing himself to the devils in his head, "he never trusted me."

 

"Of course, he does, Phu," Nam insists. "He-"

 

"But why did not he tell me, Nam?!" Phupha barks back, losing all control his body once hold, succumbing further and further into the abyss. 

 

"He should have told me everything! I was there the whole time. I was there with him..."

 

It hurts. Betrayal hurts, especially when it involves someone so dear to us. And Tian is his world, his centre, his turning point, his reason and answer. But how can someone Phupha think so highly hurts him the most? How can Tian be so ruthless?

 

"P'Phu, stop thinking that you mean nothing to him," Torfun says, channelling every ounce of energy into his body with her touches, "we all know how much he treasures you."

 

"If he does treasure me, he should have told me rather than keeping it a secret!"

 

Torfun pulls Phupha into her embrace, and even though their current position is awkward, with Phupha stuck in between Torfun and Nam, she does not mind. Phupha has always been like this. Phupha has always tried to find more ways to hurt himself, doubting everything he did, and burst when things get overwhelming. 

 

Phupha's laboured breathing eases into steady ripples, battered but calmer than before. Nam looks at her as if she has cast magic onto Phupha. All Torfun did is she tried to stop the notions in his head before they can overpower him. 

 

"Do not let those voices control you, P'Phu," Torfun whispers into his ears, and it is calming, like the sound of the waves, the giggle of his mother, the honey in his father's voice, the glee in Tian's chuckles. 

 

Sighing, Torfun rocks their bodies together and caresses Phupha's back, "I want you to know that Tian values you more than anything, and his decision of not telling you the truth comes with a good explanation. Now, all we need to do is pray for him to recover. You want him to wake up, do not you?"

 

Phupha nods, clutching onto the fabric of Torfun's blouse perilously, afraid if he does not, he will fall, and no one will catch him. 

 

The silence around them breaks when Dr Winai greets them, out of breath, but there is a smile on his face, foreshadowing a piece of good news coming their way.

 

"Tian is awake," Dr Winai announces, "he is stable now. All of you can visit him within the next hour. He is now moving to the normal ward. Thank God, he is alive."

 

Torfun looks at him, searching for his eyes, and Nam is so surprised he is speechless. But Phupha feels empty, so empty that his body is now just a shell left by his wandering soul. 

 

After days of waiting, hoping, praying, God has finally listened to his prayers. He should be happy. Phupha should be excited to see Tian again, but no. It is so messy there, where his heart is, and Phupha does not know what to do. No one will understand what he is feeling. Phupha does not want them to understand, either. He wants to sleep and wake up to find everything is just a dream, and Tian is only a fictional character in his story. Tian never existed, and Phupha has only been dreaming.

 

Tian is awake. Tian is alive. Tian is real. Tian has finally come back to him. Phupha should be happy, but why he is not?

 

 

 

Beneath his closed eyes, Tian sees the stream of lights again, and he wonders about the start and the end. Curious, he wants to see them with a better perspective. He wants to follow them on an adventure. Carefully, he opens his eyes, and the lights are both blinding and welcoming.

 

Trying to familiarize himself with the brightness of his surroundings, Tian squints and flutters his eyes repeatedly. He continues the routine for a few more seconds before the world around him pauses, no longer seeing only white. He takes in the room, the colours, the high ceiling, the machine beside his bed that looks so familiar, the couch, the faces, Phupha-

 

"P-P-Phu-Phup-ha?" He calls, testing if it is another dream that has been haunting him endlessly. 

 

Phupha looks at him, but his eyes are no longer friendly. It is cold and out of reach. A shiver runs down his spine, and he has never felt so far away from Phupha before.

 

"Tian?"

 

Tian follows the voice, and his eyes land on Torfun. She flashes the sweetest smile. Her eyes teary, her smile honest, and tears flood in Tian's orbs.

 

"Torfun," He calls, smiling at her as his sight breaks into multiple windows. His eyes feel hot all of a sudden, but Torfun is there to wipe them away. Nam is by her side, waving at Tian. The same cheekiness that he adores is still there. Tian sighs in relief. He does not regret his choice of following the light. 

 

When he looks at Phupha again, he is surprised to see the other is avoiding him. It is obvious, and Phupha is so forward and persistent with it. Tian hears his heart shattering, but he tries to swallow the anguish with a smile.

 

"Phupha?" Tian calls, wanting to grab Phupha's attention. He wants to do everything, anything, to make Phupha look at him again. He misses Phupha's smile, his laugh, his warm touches, his soft gazes, everything. He wants to feel Phupha near to him, holding his hand and listening to his thumping heartbeat. He wants them all, but it seems like Phupha does not want anything to do with Tian.

 

When Phupha meets his gaze, it is sharp and piercing, slicing into his chest, stomping over his heart. 

 

"Do I mean nothing to you, Tian? Why did not you tell me?" Phupha asks. His voice is like ice and fire, freezing and burning him simultaneously. In between flame and water, Tian does not know where he stands.

 

Puzzled, Tian cocks his head sideways. His mind is still hazy, limbs still numb, lungs still full of seashells. Maybe that is why he finds it hard to understand what Phupha meant. 

 

Phupha's gaze is venomous, killing him slowly. "You are dying, and you still want to keep it a secret?"

 

When reality hits, it hits hard. And Tian is not ready for the downfall.

 

"P'Phu! Do not be so selfish! Give Tian some time to explain! He has only regained consciousness!"

 

Phupha laughs evilly as if he finds Torfun's words amusing. "Me? Am I selfish? Then, what about him? He is not selfish for keeping everything a secret from me?!"

 

"Phu! Tian has his reasons! You should understand him too!" Nam retorts, fierce and unshaken.

 

"Tell me!" Phupha screams, and the air around them becomes dense. "Tell me! Why must he tell everyone but me?" Phupha is on the verge of crying, and Tian wants to hold him.

 

Tian wants to hold him. He wants to apologize for everything.

 

"Phupha, I-"

 

"Do I mean nothing to you, Tian?" Phupha breaks down, holding on to the wall, slowly cracking, "Everything that we went through, did it not mean anything to you?"

 

He sucks in a sharp breath, stopping the tears from falling as he tries to find the courage to answer. But words are not coming out of his mouth. Phupha is fading away, and the once spacious room is enclosing around him. He cannot breathe. He needs air. 

 

Tian coughs, and blood stains the oxygen mask. Dainty seashells are falling from his pale lips, bringing him back to the day where Phupha has witnessed it all for the first time. He hears a painful howl resounding in the room, knowing it too well that it is coming from Phupha.

 

He sees nothing but unfamiliar faces huddling close to his bed, replacing the bloodied oxygen mask with a new one, and Dr Winai frantically checking on his condition. Amid the chaos, his eyes travel to Phupha, and he witnesses the hurt reflecting with his. 

 

When Phupha leaves the room, Tian wants to follow him. 

 

Phupha...

 

When his breathing returns to normal, Phupha is no longer in the room. Whenever Phupha went, Tian wants to follow him. He wants to apologize and set things right again. He wants to go wherever Phupha goes. 

 

But Phupha left him without a goodbye. And truthfully, Tian wants nothing more but to die.

Chapter Text

It hurts.

 

Tian should have known the consequences of his choices and actions. 

 

He thought that he was ready to face them all. 

 

He had everything well prepared; one day, he would confront Phupha while sitting on the sofa together, a slow Saturday where they would watch a movie before going to bed. He would tell Phupha about everything, leaving no information behind. He would tell Phupha that his existence was a curse, and he would die because of it. He would confess that he was on borrowed time, waiting for the moment to perish. It was his destiny to die like this, especially if he was on land for too long. He was supposed to die like this, alone and cold, waves bringing his corpse for the fishes to devour. 

 

Phupha gave him a touch of life. 

 

Phupha made him feel human. 

 

Phupha made him feel wanted. 

 

Phupha made him feel loved. And it was all Tian had ever wanted. 

 

However, Tian was, is selfish for thinking that it would not hurt Phupha. How foolish of him to extract the happiness, love, from Phupha without realizing that he could not give the latter as much in return? 

 

Forever was never a concern to Tian. He has never thought of it before. Even though he loves his parents, family, friends, the sea, he knows it is not forever. They are all cursed beings waiting for the right time to die. It is their destiny, a cruel fate they have to accept.

 

Tian becomes greedy. He wanted a forever when he met Phupha. He wanted it so bad that his hands would tremble after every cough, praying so hard that the God of water would give him another chance to be with Phupha. Let it be a minute, second even, to look at Phupha and smile at him. Because Phupha is a precious soul, the brightest pearl in the sea, and Tian loves him. He loves Phupha more than everything. He loves Phupha more than his life.

 

If only he could turn back time, he would like to take Phupha's hand and place it on his chest. Even if he had to face the ache of coughing blood and seashells, at least he knew he was honest. At least at that point, Phupha would not be in the dark. Phupha would not feel like a fool. Phupha would not hate him.

 

If only he could turn back time. If only.

 

 

 

A surging pain runs through his veins, forcing Tian to wake up from a sleepless dream.

 

He opens his eyes, takes in the white lights blinding him, squinting a bit when he starts feeling dizzy. He sucks a deep breath and releases it with a sharp exhale. When he has found his centre, Tian lets his eyes wander everywhere. From his memory, he is still in the same room as before.

 

The windows are open, and it is dark. A blanket of night sky tucks the stars into sleep. Only the half-moon dangles from the canvas, lonely. Tian feels a connection to the moon and sighs, utterly defeated and hollow. 

 

"Tian?"

 

He looks around and sees Torfun. Her eyes are puffy and red. Dried tear tracks corroded her flawless skin, a sight that Tian had never seen before. 

 

Torfun has been crying, but Tian does not know why. The sudden urge to hug her intensifies, but the needles pierced into his skin limits his every move. Therefore, Tian urges Torfun to come closer, wanting to feel her near, hoping that it can comfort her even the slightest.

 

Torfun immediately takes a seat by his right. She places her hand on top of Tian's, free from the needle, holds it, gentle and sweet. She caresses the scaly skin of Tian's hand, smiling at him from time to time. Wordless exchange lingers in the air, waiting for those loud bubbles to pop. Tian knows a lot is going on in her mind. But he, too, does not know how and where to start. 

 

Her soft hand travels to Tian's hair, and she pats his head. It reminds him of Phupha. Tian tries to swallow the tears, the coughing, the seashells from escaping his chapped lips. He inhales and let her gentle touches soak into his body.

 

"Tian," Torfun calls. Her voice trembles, but she is smiling. Tian does not want Torfun to smile if it kills her inside.

 

Tian too smiles at her, and he feels the pain clawing in his chest when he does. "Hm?"

 

"How are you feeling right now?"

 

"I am okay," I feel like dying. "I think I am getting better," it hurts so much, Torfun.

 

However, as if Torfun can see right through him, she holds onto Tian with such strength that makes her hand turns white. It pains Tian to see her like this- struggling to be strong, fighting a battle alone. It hurts.

 

"I am glad, Tian," she whispers, and tears begin to fall. She no longer hides it, and Tian does not want her to, either. 

 

"I am sorry."

 

Tian, choking up, eyes her with confusion, "Why are you apologizing?"

 

She shrugs, shaking her head. "Just because I feel like apologizing to you, Tian. That is all."

 

He places his hand on top of hers, patting them, mirroring her previous actions, "You have nothing to apologize, Torfun."

 

Tears that cascade from her eyes are like droplets of water that fills the sea. Every bead is valuable, but Torfun is wasting it for Tian. Torfun does not deserve to feel sad, guilty or apologetic. Tian should, and not her.

 

With much difficulty, Tian attempts to wipe away the tears. His movements are rough and restricted, but he tries his best. The more Tian wipes them, the more it falls, and it crushes his heart so much. It is even harder to breathe now.

 

He realized it, the reason behind her tears. It should not sting as much, but it still did, and Tian is hopeless this way.

 

"Phupha hates me now," he utters with a broken smile. She meets his eyes, and it has all the answers Tian needs. It is more than enough.

 

"Tian-"

 

"I should just," he stops abruptly. A wave of fire is about to emblaze his whole existence if he continues. "I should just disappear from his life now, right?"

 

There is desperation in her eyes, a mist that Tian does not expect to witness. 

 

"No, Tian, please," she holds onto him like Tian is her air, fearful if the sea washes him away. "Please. Do not do that. P'Phu needs time to take it all in. Can you please give him more time?"

 

"He deserves more time, Torfun," Tian gazes at her, "but I do not. I had too much time, but I have wasted it."

 

Tian has never felt anything like this before. It hurts so much that it is numbing. Tian cannot feel his limbs or anything. His heart is still beating, but it is not there. Not in his chest or body. It vanished.

 

"No, Tian, please. P'Phu will understand. He was just shocked! He would not be if he could digest everything for a few days more. So please, Tian, do not say that you want to disappear. Please..." 

 

Sobs are filling the room in fragments and shards. Tian now realizes he is crying. 

 

"I love you both so much, and I am so thankful that you brought happiness back into P'Phu's life. I cannot imagine the pain he has to experience again if you leave him..." Torfun is a crying mess, securing Tian in his place with her deathly grip, stopping the merman from going astray. 

 

"I do not want to leave him too, Torfun," Tian mutters, shattered, hopeless. "But he does not need me anymore. Why should I stay?"

 

And the world continues to darken. Torfun is still crying, tears cold on Tian's skin. But Tian knows he has scarred Phupha to death, and there is no way he can heal it. It is over for them both.

 

 

 

"Sir! The GPS shows that Sakda and his people are in Koh Larn Island, near Tien Beach. They are now resting in one of the chalets there!"

 

Phupha runs to the monitor, inspecting the blaring red dot. Beads of sweat are trickling down to his chin as he waits for the next signal.  They are at Tien Beach. They have finally lurked them into their trap.

 

"Excellent! Have we informed other units of their whereabouts?"

 

Yod looks up from the screen. Determination fills his eyes as he reports, "Yes, sir!"

 

Phupha looks around, eyeing his teammates one by one. He gives them a nod and gestures to the door, "Let's go! Now!"

 

 

 

Tian has lost track of time.

 

Days has been a blur, and numbers are dismantling in his brain, making zero to no sense at all. Tian sometimes forgets his name, but he never forgets Phupha. 

 

When Torfun and Nam visited him a few days ago, Tian did not recognize them. They looked so familiar, but Tian could not pinpoint where did he meet those two. But he remembered asking, do you know Phupha? and Torfun was crying. At that point, memories came back to him, and Tian despised himself. He felt guilty because he could not remember anyone but Phupha.

 

Is this another curse he has to accept? Tian ponders. As if hurting Phupha is not enough, now he only remembers him and forgets everyone else? 

 

Phupha does not pay him a visit after that day. It has been too long, an eternity. But according to Nam, it has only been three weeks. The doctor said Phupha was busy handling a big case, and Tian figured it must be Sakda. 

 

Even though Torfun tries to assure that Phupha still cares for him, the truth is, Tian does not believe her. He does not deserve a second chance. 

 

He lives his life every day, hoping and anticipating the angels from the old folk stories he read as a child to take him away, into the pit of hell or heaven. Anything is fine.

 

His whole body is weakening, and his legs are wobbly, no longer in use. He stays in bed and looks at the ceiling, thinking of all those beautiful yesterdays spent with Phupha. In every piece of memory, Phupha shines the brightest, and Tian feels sorry for taking them away. 

 

At the hour of twilight, he watches the sun glides into the skyline as the moon appears from the horizon. At night, he counts the stars, up to a thousand, two, then it becomes a million. All of them are for Phupha. He believes in that. 

 

Then he realizes- he is just a lone merman appreciating a distant star. Phupha is close but never near. Phupha exists but is never there. And it hurts. God. It does. 

 

 

 

There are so many of them.

 

Phupha finds it hard to breathe.

 

The clicking sound of cuffs dangling around their wrists is a deafening crescendo, but the screeching of these merpeople pushes the air out from his lungs. Phupha sees Tian in them, deeply hurt and wounded. The smell of blood wafts in the air, drowning him, and he remembers the day he saw Tian. He remembers the shock and fear he felt because he did not want Tian to die.

 

He does not want these merpeople to die. They must be closely related to Tian. They must be a family to Tian- Phupha is waltzing in a soundless fear, paralyzed. 

 

"Call the ambulance! Now!"

 

"But sir!" Rang stops him, "They are not human! Is there any hospital that would treat them?"

 

Phupha nods, frantic. His hands are shaking, holding onto Rang's shoulders, "There is! Call the Bangkok Hospital Pattaya! Now!"

 

 

 

A group of paramedics came an hour after. They are rushing to move the merpeople into the ambulance. Phupha makes sure that everyone is on board. 

 

He sees Dr Winai a few steps away from him, instructing the paramedics to move faster. "We do not have much time! Please, hurry up!"

 

Like air, Phupha floats aimlessly around the sea of people. He is lost, tired and scared. When only Phupha feels his body tumbling to the ground, a firm grip holds him up. 

 

Dr Winai looks at him, eyes teary, "Thank you for saving them, Sir Phupha. You have saved another Tian. Thank you." 

 

Phupha wants to cry. And he does.

 

Dr Winai engulfs him in a brief hug, patting his back as he utters, "Tian is waiting for you. He wants to meet you."

 

Phupha wipes away the tears, nodding.

 

"Go. Before it is too late."

 

And Phupha hurries to the hospital, feeling sorry that he kept Tian waiting for him.

 

 

 

"It is not your fault, Torfun," Nam caresses her shoulder, easing the tension from building up. Torfun has been beating herself ever since, blaming herself for everything that is happening. Nam has a hard time trying to convince her otherwise. Even Jeab could not convince her, let alone Nam. 

 

"How can it not be my fault, Dr Nam? I had so many chances to tell P'Phu. But I was scared!"

 

"You respected Tian's decision, Torfun," he implies, "and it was what Tian wanted. We could not do anything!"

 

"At least, I should have given P'Phu a sign! Anything!"

 

When only Nam wants to refute, he sees Phupha at the hospital entrance. Blood trickles from his arms and smudges his t-shirt, but his eyes are everywhere, searching for something like a madman. 

 

Nam races to his best friend, out of breath as he asks, reluctant, "Phu?"

 

"Nam," Phupha croaks, voice hoarse as if he has been screaming or crying. 

 

From this close, Nam can see tears welling in his eyes. Some are trailing down, dried and forgotten. His heart constricts. It will always hurt the same whenever he sees his best friend like this. 

 

"Where is Tian?" Phupha searches for something in his eyes. An answer, a confirmation, anything. Nam wants to hug him because this was the sight he witnessed ten years ago. The same broken Phupha that had to digest the news of his mother's sudden death. As much as it is breaking Phupha, Nam feels them immensely.

 

"He is in his room," Nam answers. 

 

When relief washes over Phupha, and when his eyes are no longer dark but glimmering, in tears, Nam finds himself suffocating from them.

 

"Nam, I am sorry," Phupha apologizes, closing the distance. Nam meets him halfway, hugging his best friend tight. 

 

"I am so sorry, Nam..."

 

"You are so stupid, Phu!" Nam smacks the latter's back. "How could you do that to Tian, huh? You are not heartless. But the Phupha I saw that day was a jerk!"

 

"I know," the other agrees, frustrated, "I have hurt him."

 

Nam pulls away, looking at Phupha dead in the eye. "Not only Tian, Phu. Torfun has been blaming herself too."

 

Right on time, Torfun approaches the duo. When only she intends to speak up, Phupha pulls her into his arms, and the three of them are hugging in the middle of the lobby.

 

They need no words. Those ten years of childish fights and late-night talks had given them the chance to understand each other without talking. It is more than enough for the three of them. 

 

Amid the battered, I am sorry, Torfun, and I wish I could punch you in the face- they are laughing the pain away. The rain has finally stopped. The heavy clouds in their life are lifting away as the sky turns a vivid blue. 

 

The three of them pulls away. Remnants of laughter fill the gaps in between them as flowers begin to blossom. Then, Torfun breaks the silence, looking at Phupha, "You should see Tian too, P'Phu. He misses you a lot."

 

The mention of Tian's name brings a sharp sting to his chest. "How is he?"

 

Phupha waits for them to answer. Nam looks unsure, but he braces himself for the worst. 

 

"Dr Winai said his time is almost up, Phu."

 

Words can be comforting when a person needs them. But at times, words can be horrifying, gruesome, a bitter pill that not everyone wants to swallow. 

 

Often, Phupha finds comfort in words. Now, he despises them. He hates them with everything he has.

 

 

 

The breeze washes over him as Tian wheels his wheelchair close to the big window. Luckily, this room belongs only to him, and he is free to do anything. 

 

He loves feeling the breeze on his skin. It reminds him of those happier times, a yesterday that Tian can never live in again. It is all in the past now. There is no space for regret. He needs to live even though it hurts. It will hurt. Until the day he dies, it will. Phupha hates him, and it is a price he has to pay. 

 

Tian relishes the cold gnawing all over his thinning body. A part of him wishes for the flurry to take him away. He hopes that the waves will crash over him. He will follow them without much thought, knowing it is his destiny. 

 

When he hears the door creaks open, Tian suspects it must be either Torfun or Nam. He let them be. He does not have the strength to face them. Too vulnerable, too open, wounds are bleeding again in his heart.

 

It is quiet and calming. The night gust continues to bring him elsewhere, and he smiles. It feels nice. 

 

The person standing behind him is silent, but it feels welcoming. The aura, the energy this person exudes, is akin to Phupha. 

 

When Tian starts hoping, he knows it is dangerous. But, it cannot be. It is impossible. It cannot be Phupha.

 

"Tian."

 

Instantly, without restriction, Tian cries.

 

He closes his eyes, overwhelmed with everything. 

 

His senses are exploding. 

 

He feels, smells, hears, sees Phupha. Everywhere, anywhere. 

 

Tian breathes in the familiar scent of mint and home. It warms his body immediately.

 

He feels the comforting heat around his shoulders. It awakens the butterflies in his stomach anew.

 

He listens to the soft, honey-glazed voice chiming in his ears. A lullaby that makes him sleep peacefully at night.

 

He sees those dark eyes beaming with unshed tears, mirroring his own.

 

"Tian," Phupha kneels by his side, gripping onto the armrest, "I am sorry. I am sorry for not listening. I am sorry for not giving you a chance to explain. I am sorry," he breaks down into a puddle of tears. And all Tian wants right now is to hug him.

 

But he does not deserve this. 

 

"Phupha," Tian breathes out. The more he allows himself to hope, the more it will hurt. 

 

"I am sorry too. I should have told you before things get worst. I am sorry, Phupha. It is better if you did not save me that day. You would not be in pain if I-"

 

"Tian!" Phupha stops him. He clutches onto his hand, urgent, horrified if Tian continues to detest himself. "Please, do not say that. Please..."

 

Phupha is crying now, out in the open. Crystals are pouring from his eyes, and God, in Tian's perspective, Phupha looks breathtaking. He is beautiful. Has Phupha always been this gorgeous?

 

"Saving you was the best decision I have ever made," Phupha says, convincing Tian, "and meeting you was the greatest gift from God. So, do not say that Tian..."

 

Those words. Tian is not worthy of those words.

 

"I hurt you, Phupha. I-" a pool of pearls fall one by one to the floor, slicing through the chaos in his head. "-I do not deserve you..."

 

Phupha closes the distance, and he looks at Tian, waiting. He is always waiting. Phupha is always waiting for Tian.

 

When Tian nods, hesitant, Phupha embraces him in his arms, and all walls are crashing down in between them.

 

Tian is drowning in Phupha's scent, his everything. He sinks, further into the abyss, letting the tides wash him away. I miss you, Phupha. I miss you so much.

 

"I do not deserve you either. But I do not want to let you go. Not yet, Tian."

 

Warm hands draw circles on his back, irregular, erratic, but every motion brings solace, pulling him back to reality. 

 

And it is enough.

 

With Phupha holding him close, familiar, so familiar, Tian thinks that it is okay to be selfish for one last time. 

Chapter Text

Phupha almost forgets how cold Tian is. His body, his skin, everything about him. Tian freezes him with every touch, sending chills down to his spine as his soul aches for a speck of warmth. But Phupha found solace in it, regardless.

 

When Phupha holds the merman close, it is akin to the ripple of calm waves kissing his feet on a summer day in Thailand. It awakens his senses, overthrowing them away from reality. 

 

Truthfully, it irks Phupha- how he both loves and despises it. Because when Tian leaves, what is it to him then? Memories will continue to haunt him, and the endless what if's will weigh his heart down in trepidation. Only vibrant yesterdays will mock him in his wake and dream.

 

But maybe, because of that, Tian's existence in Phupha's life is very addicting. A craving that Phupha will always try to fulfil. A guilty pleasure that he wants to savour for the rest of his life. A void that will continue to grow even when Phupha tries to feed them with new memories. In one way or another, Tian will always be there, like a steadfast reminder. Something impossible to forget.

 

Tian melts in his arms, and Phupha finds himself elevated to someplace remote- where the sea and river intersect, no more fragile boundaries parting them. Two worlds collide, with the beginning and end are blurring. And that is where Phupha's heart will reside, along with Tian. 

 

Phupha accepts Tian into his life without doubts and restraints. Even though it seems a bit late- Tian has to leave him soon, either to death or to the sea- but Phupha does not mind. Time is a visceral aspect of their lives, and Phupha no longer wants to play games with the latter. He has had enough. He has learned to accept things as he ages, and Tian is the moment Phupha bounds to cherish. 

 

Deep in his heart, Phupha wants to believe that they are soulmates. Tian fits perfectly in his arms. Their limbs, the curves of their bodies, their body heat complement each other well, like yin and yang, as they exist solely to complete the missing puzzle pieces. How can someone be so perfect to someone as imperfect?

 

But then, they are not perfect- neither of them is. And that is perfection to Phupha. How imperfectly perfect they are together.

 

It feels nice to have Tian in his arms again, and how sated his broken heart is once the same whiff of home soaks deep into his bones. Phupha is only a house, but Tian makes it a home. It is great to be home.

 

The night sky darkens, a blank cloth adorns Tian's brown eyes, a perfect contrast to the green and red of his hair. A star is twinkling from his face; a spheroid is smiling at Phupha, inviting. For the nth time, his heart skips a beat. It is all the same, familiar, but so new that Phupha is taken aback by the power, the control Tian has over him still. 

 

He smiles, and Tian mirrors him. With tears falling from his eyes, transcending into beads of shiny pearls, Phupha wipes them away. He envelopes Tian in his embrace for the rest of the night, with the moon dangling on the clouds of Tian's cheeks. 

 

For once, Phupha believes that things will be alright again.

 

 

 

When Phupha wheels him to the ward on the sixth floor, Tian becomes anxious. Phupha said it was a surprise, and as much Tian likes surprises, but he is never ready for a new forthcoming to burst from the doors of familiarity. He is scared of what is waiting for him on the other side.

 

Phupha opens the door, and the ward is similar to Tian's, except this spacious room reminds him of the first bed he slept on a few months ago. There are rows of beds, occupied by normal-looking people at first glance. But as Tian observes them closer, he realizes, with utter shock, they are mermen.

 

Tian turns his head around slightly, looking at Phupha with utter shock, "Phu?"

 

The other meets his eyes, a soft smile playing on his lips as he says, "Sakda captured them all. We saved them. Who knows what will happen to them if we were late?"

 

His weakening heart picks up pace, and the seashells are threatening to escape. Phupha notices this, and he is quick to take the bag from the side of the wheelchair, holding it so that Tian can let it all out. But the merman pushes the bag away respectfully, denying the help. 

 

"They reminded me of you," Phupha confesses, "and I was scared. Maybe they are your family members. I desperately wanted to save them." 

 

Phupha draws a loop on his back, soothing, encouraging, "Luckily we got to save them, Tian."

 

Tian is more than thankful. He cannot transcribe his feelings into coherent words or reason his gratitude to Phupha and his team. 

 

Phupha wheels Tian to the middle of the room, a narrow vacant space that separates the columns. When Tian meets eyes with every merman, they acknowledge his presence, smiling briefly at him. 

 

Tian feels like an outcast. 

 

For him, he feels more like a human than a merman now. Tian might be a disgrace to the family by having this idea, but he has never felt so ostracised, so different from his kind. They all have strands of green and blue, they are wearing the same single-pearl necklace, but Tian's body is more customed to his human form. Tian does not feel like a merman anymore.

 

It scares Tian. Maybe he needs to be here. A perpetual reminder that he belongs to the sea, the fishes, and not on land, where humans without tails live. 

 

When Phupha stops in between two beds, Tian's heart shatters, so achingly painful that bubbles of battered sob escape his chapped lips like a howling wail. 

 

It is his parents.

 

"Mae," Tian finds himself calling, brokenly, "phaw..."

 

For a moment, Tian wonders if this is what Phupha experienced when he found him unconscious on the beach that day. A profound pain gnawing in his chest, a sudden urge to touch, a monstrous desire to save. Tian feels them all, more intensely so that he launches forward, off of his wheelchair, ignoring Phupha's surprised outbreak as he envelopes his parents in a bone-crushing hug. 

 

He cries. He cries until his lungs tighten, squeezing the last litre of air from them. He bawls until the sound of his weeping drowns the distant waves crashing Tien Beach. Is this his home? Is this where he truly belongs?

 

In their arms, Tian feels like a child again: a stubborn little kid that would always go against his parents' rules. An untamed heart dreamt of lying on the sandy beach instead of on the coral reefs. A soul that was once fearless, believing that he wanted to be human more than a merman. Because he was so jealous of them: they were running on the shore, breathing the formless air, no tails or scales, normal. Tian wanted to be different. He wanted to be human.

 

But he can never be human. It is his destiny, his fate to be a merman. And in their arms, Tian realizes the ugly truth the hard way.

 

 

 

Time is ticking, and he numbers the days before Tian leaves the land for good. 

 

They do not say much, no longer trying to strike a conversation. Tian gets tired too easy these days, and talking has become a chore rather than normality. So, the merman listens to Phupha; he listens to the calming beat of his heart, stories from his childhood, his parents, everything that can fill the space Tian left when he no longer can speak without coughing out seashells. 

 

Sometimes, Tian will laugh, and other times Tian will look at Phupha in disbelief and awe. It is hard to picture Phupha as a trickster when he was little. Tian is so used to seeing Phupha giving so much but receiving so little. Tian sees Phupha as someone beautiful, shining from within, and it reflects from his face.

 

Did you really eat toothpaste when you were little? Tian once asked, trying to squeak out the question because he was so curious. Why did you do that?

 

It tasted like strawberry! It was delicious! Phupha replied, giggling, and Tian echoed his laughter. His whole body vibrated in warm happiness, and his heart continued to expand until there was no expanse left to breathe.

 

Even if time is ticking stupidly fast, Tian never ceases to pray for it to stop. In every upcoming moment, he wishes to be with Phupha longer than forever.

 

 

 

Nam and Jeab visit them on one sunny afternoon.

 

Tian no longer walks by himself. He is getting weaker, relying heavily on the wheelchair and Phupha like how he did back then. Once in a while, he tries to stand, but his limbs, his lungs give up on him instantly. And Phupha does not allow him to move by himself either, scolding him whenever he gets too stubborn. Tian feels guilty all the time. The latter shuts him up with a flick on the forehead, and it works every time.

 

"Tian~" Nam sing-songs, sitting opposite of the merman. Jeab is helping Phupha at the kitchen, unpacking the Aeb Ong Or Khama gave them when they passed his house, Tian's favourite dish. 

 

"Y-yes~" Tian tries to imitate, and they are both laughing. Tian appreciates Nam so much; the doctor and everyone tried their best to make Tian feel welcomed and normal. Nothing changed between them, only Tian's weakening heart and his departure in a few days. It feels the same, but it is not the same.

 

"Um," Nam glances at his girlfriend and back to Tian, alert, "did Phupha tell you anything?"

 

Tian crosses his arms. A smirk lingers on his lips as he asks, "That you are marrying P'Jeab tomorrow?"

 

Nam looks equally surprised, but Tian does not know why. Surely, Phupha will tell him. Nam is his friend too, and Phupha will not keep good things a secret for long.

 

Sighing with a snicker, Nam replies, "Oh, so you do know..."

 

"Of course, he does," Phupha suddenly intrudes, placing the dishes of food on the table. He aligns the fork and spoon on the plate and hands it to Tian.

 

Tian accepts the plate with a smile. "I am happy for both of you," he remarks, half-sincere and half-distracted by the food in his hands. His attention is now on the steaming Aeb Ong Or, and when he meets eyes with Phupha, he cannot help but grin like a child caught in the act. Phupha shakes his head, fond.

 

Jeab nudges Nam on the shoulder, and he gets the sign. The doctor pulls two big bags and gives them to Phupha. Confused, Phupha spins the bags around, inspecting, deducing the contents, "What is this?"

 

"I bought you guys a pair of matching suits," Jeab shyly answers, locking hands with her boyfriend. "We would like you guys to come tomorrow and wear them. Tian has never worn a suit before, and I have never seen Phupha in one too, so..." she finishes with a sincere smile, gazing at the merman opposite of her. 

 

"I did!" Phupha retorts. "That one time!"

 

"Yeah, and it looked horrible on you!" Nam fires back with a cackling laugh. Phupha is ready to stand up and drag Nam outside, but Tian laughs at them, shaking his head in disbelief. 

 

"It could not be that bad, could it?" Tian tries to make a reason, but Jeab looks at him with amusement. She covers her lips with one hand, mouthing to Tian- it was.

 

"At least I have my good looks to cover up the flaws. Unlike you who needs to rely on the suit to look handsome!"

 

"You take that back, Viriyanon!"

 

"Who are you to order me around, Wasan?"

 

When those two best friends are busy fighting over who looks better, Jeab approaches Tian and wheels him outside. It is quieter now. They can only hear the sound of cicada and the faint bickering of two immature men they both love. 

 

She places her warm hands on the merman's shoulder, squeezing them gently, "I hope to see you there, Tian."

 

Tian glances at her and back to the vast greenery in front of him, understanding, "I will."

 

For Nam and Jeab, Tian will be there for sure.

 

 

 

Tian looks dashing in a suit. 

 

As Phupha buttons his white dress shirt, Tian glances at him, unsure, "I think I look weird."

 

Phupha picks a silver tie to complement the velvet black of their suit, and truthfully, it feels like they are going to their own wedding. It is hopeful thinking, but when he sees the merman equally excited about the suit, he is not alone in this elusive fantasy after all. 

 

He ties it around Tian's neck, fixes his collar, and finishes by combing the merman's hair, parting his bangs. Tian is handsome by nature, but the suit, the styling enhances it even more. The attendees will swoon over his good looks for sure, and Phupha should not be jealous at all.  

 

"You look great," Phupha praises, whistling as he turns the wheelchair around. Tian's reflection is smiling at Phupha, cheeks brimming in crimson. Although he looks pale, Tian has a natural glow that makes him stand out even in a sea of other beautiful and handsome people at the wedding. 

 

Tian bites his lips, fidgeting in his seat, but Phupha waits until the other is ready to speak. As Tian exhales a breath, he studies Phupha's reflection on the mirror for a brief before he says, shyly, "You look handsome too. As always."

 

And Phupha laughs. "I know. That is why you cannot keep your eyes away from me," he teases. Tian flushes deeper in red.

 

He stands behind the wheelchair, glancing at their reflection for one last time before asking, "Are you ready?"

 

Tian nods. Phupha squeezes his shoulders for good measure- just because Tian is apprehensive. And they exit the house with a nervous smile, feeling like they are getting married instead.

 

 

 

It is beautiful. 

 

The wedding venue is at the heart of Bangkok, in one of the famous five-star hotels in Thailand. So many people are there, congratulating the newlyweds with presents and praises. Tian enjoys seeing the vibrant smile on Nam and Jeab's face, happy to see two souls that he loves can now have their forever. 

 

They both look good in white. Jeab glows exceptionally; the crown makes her look like a princess, and Nam appears like a protector by her side, like a knight in shining armour.

 

Rang and Yod wheel him to almost every attendee, introducing him as Phupha Viriyanon's lover, and his heart flips in delight, embarrassment. Some women are screaming when they know, and Tian does not deny it either. It is partially true, but Tian likes it better when there is no labelling between Phupha and him. They are only infinite.

 

He enjoys the story Yod and Rang are sharing. Meanwhile, Torfun and Dr Aroon warn Tian to not believe in everything he hears. Tian laughs, all-knowing. 

 

In this sea of people, somehow, Tian finds more reason to stay. 

 

From the other side of the room, he sees Phupha holding a glass of champagne, talking to the couple and a group of friends. He looks happier, calmer, and at peace. Tian prefers seeing Phupha like this. He can never forgive himself if he leaves Phupha with a frown on his face. Phupha is happy, and Tian is happy too. 

 

When the universe stops revolving, and in the dimly-lighted room, Tian can only see Phupha. Pretty ripples of bokeh cover the latter's face, exuding a mysterious and inviting aura. Phupha looks mesmerizing in every bubble, and Tian falls into that same loophole over again.

 

At this moment, as Phupha smiles at him, with too many emotions embedded in that one breathtaking curve of a lip, Tian believes he can never love anyone else. In this lifetime, the previous, and the next, it will always be Phupha.

 

Hopefully, Phupha will love him the same, exceeding every time and space, before and after. 

 

 

 

"Tian, it is time for you to come home," Mae whispered into his ears, cradling Tian into her embrace.

"Mae," Tian called, "can I stay here? I have so many friends here. And I-" his eyes stopped at Phupha, who was standing at the door, "I have someone I want to protect."

Lalita gazed at the said figure. A sad smile painted her face with sorrow, "We do not belong here, Tian. We need to return to the sea."

Tears fell from his eyes like a downpour of rain, and Teerayut cast them away with his scaly fingers. "Tian, I am sorry, but we should go when we still have the chance."

Tian looked at his father with pleading eyes, hoping that they could understand the desperation in his heart, the fear growing in his chest. To leave Phupha alone and never come back were his greatest despair. 

"I- why did the Gods curse us, mae?" Tian questioned, bawling his eyes out in his mother's arms. He felt like a kid again, hopelessly succumbing to his evil fate. 

Lalita kissed the crown of Tian's head, sighing heavily, "It was our destiny, Tian. We could not go against it."

He pondered for a moment, staring far away at the opened windows, desperate to find an answer. "Is there a way for us to break the spell?"

It was all wishful thinking, and there was nothing he could do. His parents were also a victim of this curse. Tian was not the only one. 

He sunk deeper into his mother's arms, a sign of protest, "I want to stay..."

But Tian knew he could not. 

 

 

 

The waves are gentle as the moon shines from the surface of the sea. 

 

It is a windy night. Phupha is there to hug Tian close, allowing the merman to lean against him, feeling everything that makes up Tian with his human body. 

 

They are the same. At least Tian feels the same to Phupha. He is human too, but why he can not stay on land? Phupha is still in denial.  He finds it hard to bid his goodbye.

 

"Phu," Tian calls. His voice appears indifferent. Phupha needs to blink his eyes repeatedly, afraid if the merman is no longer in front of him, scared if everything is another nightmare instead. 

 

"Hm?"

 

Tian contemplates for a while. Then, he takes Phupha's hand from circling his waist and intertwines them. Ten meets ten- even their fingers found their forever home. Why is it so laborious for them to find theirs?

 

The merman coughs the seashells out, blood trickling from the corner of his lips, and he looks weaker than before. Phupha wipes them with tears in his eyes. Phupha lets the sea washes the remnants of blood away from Tian's mouth, his trembling hands, and it bleeds further into the ocean.

 

In between battered breaths, Tian says, "I-I am sorry, Phu. F-for everything..."

 

Phupha wants to be mad at Tian. He wants to scold him and punch him in the face, but he never has the heart to do so. It hurts even by looking at Tian now. Phupha knows, even after this day, even after parting ways, he can never forget Tian. And it will stay this way until he dies.

 

Because, one thing for sure, he loves Tian. But love is never enough to make one stay.

 

Phupha shakes his head. A sad smile laces his lips, hiding the emblazing sorrow in his heart. "There is nothing to be sorry about, Tian."

 

Silence embeds the night sky with tranquillity. Phupha listens to the tides crashing the coast, the coarse sand squishing in between his feet, Tian's uneven breathing, his own thundering heartbeat. Everything feels perfect, but behind his smile, a part of his heart starts to crack, and that is the end for Phupha.

 

"My parents would always bring me here when I was little," Phupha shares, filling his vision with the picturesque view. 

 

He scoots forward, sitting by Tian's side. "And that is why I love the sea so much." 

 

He takes Tian's hand. It is scaly, stiff, shaking, but Phupha is there to hold him, to warm him, there.

 

"I once despised the ocean. They took my father's life without mercy. He was also an officer like me. He would do anything to protect the sea, but the sea did not protect him that day," Phupha recalls that tragic incident, an event that will stay with him for as long as he breathes.

 

Phupha inhales deeply, trying to hold in his tears. "He died due to drowning, and the police found his body a few weeks after his disappearance. Mae was upset, but she did not show it. She was not crying. I did not know why she was not crying."

 

He chuckles sadly. His eyes look distant, his soul no longer attached to his body. "But when we returned home, every night before going to bed, I would hear her cries, and it broke me."

 

Phupha glances at him, smiling, but it does not reach his eyes, "That is why I hate separations. I always do. Even when my mother died a few years after, I still could not put my head around it. I feel like they are still with me."

 

He sighs, letting every remorse out from his crumbling heart. "I come to this beach to live in those moments because I know- I can never have them back. But that is a good thing about memories. It will stay with us. It will continue to live even when we die."

 

Tian cries at this. He wonders how long will Phupha be like this. He questions if Phupha can ever be happy after he retires to the sea.

 

"I am sorry that I- I cannot stay, Phu," he apologizes, and it happens again. The yesterdays he shared with Phupha, so bright and unreal, overflowing every fragment of his imagination, haunting him with nothing but guilt. 

 

Phupha smiles, and it looks sincere now, accepting, free. "It is okay, Tian," he pauses, reassuring, "it is okay."

 

The night deepens, but Tian can not find the strength to leave. Once he sinks into the sea, he will never come back, and Phupha will insist on letting him go. 

 

Phupha holds his shoulders, staring deep into his eyes, "Tian, you do not have to think about me. I will be fine, and you too. There is nothing to be afraid of."

 

"But, Phu-"

 

"I do not want you to disappear into bubbles, Tian. You should continue to live even if it is not on land."

 

"I-" Tian cries even harder, hiccuping, "I want to be with you, Phupha."

 

Phupha shakes his head. There is that sad smile again, and Tian wonders why Phupha even tries to be strong.

 

"If we belong to each other, time will tell, Tian. And I will be here. I will wait for you."

 

And probably, that is enough of a reason for Tian to leave.

 

Therefore, with a heavy heart, Tian tries to stand up. Phupha holds him by the waist, and they are walking closer to the sea. 

 

It is cold, but Tian is even colder, almost freezing Phupha to his bones. They are standing under the moonlight, the waves pulling them somewhere far. But Phupha has to return to land, and Tian's home is here. 

 

Tian turns around for one last time. He envelops Phupha in a long hug, so long that time finally stops ticking. 

 

"I will never forget you, Phu," Tian whispers, and his voice is loud against the silent tides.

 

Phupha nods, not finding the right words to reply.

 

"I will come back to you soon," the merman promises. Phupha hopes that Tian will keep his vows because he will never forget them. 

 

"Okay," he answers, smiling at Tian.

 

Tian flashes his one last smile, beautiful, pretty, something that Phupha can never forget. Then, he jumps into the sea. 

 

Phupha sees his majestic tail appearing and disappearing into the ocean, the flapping sounds, the tides breaking into two as he swims home.

 

The emptiness that surges into his whole system is overpowering. It rattles his body, sucking in every coherent thought in his mind until he has nothing left. He is in vain. Phupha feels the void growing in his heart the second he steps on the wet sand. 

 

When he unlocks the door to his hotel room, soaking wet, Phupha throws himself on the bed. He does not care if they charge him for the damage caused. At this moment, he does not care about anything at all.

 

As Phupha closes his eyes, he hears Tian's tail flapping away, the waves breaking into two, the splash, Tian's heartbeat, his giggles, his shattering heart, everything. 

 

That night, as emptiness embraces him in his dreams, Phupha cries his heart out, losing himself to the sea anew.

Chapter Text

Two weeks after

Phupha realizes, in between coffee breaks and Kao Tom Mud, time flies by so fast. 

 

It is not an exaggeration but a realization. A profound dread fills Phupha's chest with longing, cracking open his broken heart to be more hyperaware, alert, and vulnerable to his feelings. Phupha can still taste the sweetness of the banana filling, the bitterness of his favourite coffee, but there is this emptiness that he cannot quite pinpoint with words. It is so much more than emptiness- it is something that Phupha has been through before, but so foreign that he needs to rediscover those memories in his mind again. 

 

He figured, I have to go through this one more time, and Phupha wondered how he could be in the same position again? How could he let himself fall into that abyss again?

 

Like a jamais vu, Phupha finds himself spiralling at that moment, on that day, and he tries so hard not to break down in front of his friends. It comes in a rush, like the cars huddling close during the 5 pm to 7.30 pm mark, racing towards the traffic light, impatiently waiting for the red to turn green. It pains him to the core- like someone is scraping his skin and stripping him naked, left with only bones and fantasies. 

 

He tries to push them away; feelings, memories, tears, everything that reminds him of Tian. It is not that he wants to forget the merman entirely, but Phupha needs some space to pull himself together, a moment to extract himself from that bitter memory. Since that faithful day, Phupha does not really breathe or live- he is merely surviving. 

 

Phupha is never good at lying, and the emotions on his face indicate that he is not okay, this thing is hurting him, and he wants it to stop. But Phupha does not need their consoling words. He does not. He only wants them to be with him. It will suffice.

 

They do not say anything. It is Phupha's request; to not speak of that day ever again. And they did not. They respected that, and Phupha is forever grateful.

 

The world does not only revolve around him, and Phupha knows, sooner or later, he will be okay. Like what they say, time heals all wounds. Phupha prays that he can prove the legitimacy of that statement someday. 

 

 

 

One month later

Tian continues to live. 

 

He continues to live as a merman underwater, swimming with his friends every day, learning new things as he goes through the old storybooks covered in algae, trying to find an answer, a potion, a curse-breaker. To this day, Tian discovers nothing.

 

There is not a single day that Tian ever forgets Phupha. He cannot. And sometimes, Tian wishes that he can, because remembering all those days torments him so much. To not be by his side, to leave him alone on that day, to break the promise he once made, Tian lives his life in grief, contemplating his choices, second-guessing his fate. 

 

Tian knows neither of them is fine, and neither of them is coping well with the separation. 

 

Whenever he swims to the surface and stares at the night sky, the stars disappear from his sight. Tian knows those stars are now residing in Phupha's eyes, and he can never see them again. Will he get to see them someday?

 

In this life, Tian never knew what he wanted. He has always believed that living was only a way to die, and one day, he would go down the same lane as his ancestors. Big fishes will raid their kingdom, and at one point, they will die while trying to protect their country, either or. They will die eventually. Merpeople never live for more than 30 years.

 

He never had the motivation to live. Tian never wanted to be anything. There was no use.

 

But when the sea brought him to the mainland, and the water Gods brought him to Phupha, Tian wanted to live. For the first time in his life, Tian needed to live. He wanted to be human- it was the only way to be with him. 

 

He wanted to hold Phupha's hands, stare into those flickering eyes and listen to his soothing heartbeat. Tian wanted to fill the void in his heart so that Phupha would never be alone again. The image of Phupha he saw that day is still fresh in his mind, and Tian wanted to erase them. He wished to eradicate the fear from Phupha's eyes and fill them with his reflection- because Tian loves Phupha; unconditionally, always, with everything he has. Tian wants Phupha to see only him- the one that will continue to love and wait for him. 

 

But most of the beautiful tales he read shares the same trait; not all of them ends with a happily ever after. 

 

"Tian? What are you doing? Let's go!"

 

Tian closes the book with a loud thud. Not all fairytales end with a happily ever after. Has his story ever been a fairytale? He pushes the thought away, further into his mind, locking them away with all the memories Tian never wants to forget. 

 

 

 

One year later

Phupha cradles Nam and Jeab's little girl in his hands, kissing the clouds on her cheek, cooing at her cuteness as she giggles, eyes lighting up as small hands reach over his nose, tapping them playfully. 

 

Her eyes look like Nam, but her nose and lips resemble Jeab. Phupha feels a sting in his heart, a little prick, once he discerns that this little angel mirrors her parents so much. A beautiful creation, another soul to love and cherish. It makes him tear up for unknown reasons. If Tian is here, he will play with her all day and treat her like his own-

 

Phupha closes his eyes for a brief. 

 

It has been a year, and he still remembers him. Now and then, he remembers Tian. Phupha does not understand why he loves torturing himself.

 

Sometimes, Phupha indulges in his guilty pleasures, succumbing to the alternate universe of what if's. He imagines how his life will be if the merman is still by his side. Will they have their own child? Will they ever marry? Will Phupha find the courage to admit? Will things take a different turn if Phupha confessed his feelings on that day? 

 

There is something that Phupha will constantly regret, and it is this. He allowed Tian to leave him without giving the other a proper goodbye, a sincere confession, a long-due of I love you

 

Phupha lives in that regret for as long as he breathes. 

 

 

 

Two years later

Tian swims up to the surface one night. 

 

He lost track of time as his tail flapped mercilessly, patience growing thin as he wanted to reach his destination faster. But as soon he saw the familiar sight, Tian counted the remaining stars in the sky. One by one, it leads him closer to Tien Beach, and Tian heaves a sigh. 

 

Relief soaks his skin, and a smile graces his lips. Joy permeates his heart as he sees the same sandy beach and tall trees from afar.  

 

When he reaches there, the beach is empty. Usually, humans will sit by the sea and talk for hours. They will light up the fire and grill some meat or fish to enjoy with their loved ones. The smell of sweet and spicy marinade overwhelmed him at first, but when it had become a norm whenever Phupha brought him to this beach, Tian was used to it. Now, he misses the scent, and he misses the silent nights spent with Phupha here. 

 

There is always life on this beach, and it is never this silent before. Where did things go wrong?

 

Tian swims closer to the shore but not far enough like he did before. When he finds the perfect spot to rest, Tian slumps his tired body on the wet sand, letting the waves push and pull him wherever they want. 

 

He listens to the gurgle of the sea, the splashing of his tail, the cicadas clicking from a distance, everything that he misses so dearly. When he looks up, the stars are brighter, closer, and Tian tries to reach for them. His fingers are hanging mid-air, floating with the clouds, touching his elusive dreams with grave hope to see Phupha again. 

 

He is here, and he feels like human again. 

 

Tian touches the pearl necklace around his neck. The single pearl lights up under the crescent moon. An iridescent glow rekindles all the memories he had while on land. He wants to throw it away, but Phupha once told him that it was beautiful, and so, until this day, he keeps it, only for the sake of feeling close to Phupha. 

 

Tian does not know how long he laid on the sand, but when his body starts to ache, his scales are dry, he gets up and braces himself for another goodbye. 

 

He gazes at the vast Tien Beach, praying that miraculously, Phupha will be here and maybe- if Phupha does not hate him- he can hold him for one last time and whisper the secret he has been keeping for too long. 

 

He counts to ten, then it turns to a hundred, and Tian still gets his hopes high when it almost reaches one thousand. But Phupha does not show up, and Tian believes this is the end. 

 

Tian submerges his body into the cold water. His skin begins to rehydrate, scales shimmering in translucent white, his lungs are swelling with life, and the necklace glows in a shade of blue. He casts a last glance to the beach, hopeful still, but Tian thinks it is enough. He needs to get home. 

 

He blinks the tears away, one pearl floating with the waves as Tian swims underwater to where he belongs.

 

 

Phupha approaches the sea with a heavy heart. He thinks that he misses something very crucial, but Phupha does not know what. It irks him so much because Phupha does not know what it is. What is this nameless monstrosity knocking over the serenity of his turbulent heart?

 

As Phupha strolls along the beach, cold water seeping into his shoeless feet, he steps on something. He screams in utter shock, fear of stepping onto a sea creature of any sort. When he bends down to retrieve the small round ball, his heart stops beating. It is a pearl. A white, sparkling pearl that reminds Phupha so much of someone he misses. 

 

Panic washes over him, slapping his sanity away as the need to find the owner of this pearl arises. Deep down, Phupha knows this pearl belongs to Tian.

 

Tian is- was here. 

 

Ignoring the freezing water, ignoring the fact that it is half-past four in the morning, Phupha dives into the underworld, hoping to meet Tian somewhere. 

 

But no matter how far he swims, there is no trace of Tian anywhere. It is dark in here, and the dimming stars are not helping him at all. Where are you, Tian?

 

After a meaningless search, Phupha gives up. He was too late.

 

As he slumps his body to the coarse sand, his chest heaves up and down, trying to catch his breath. Wet hair sticking to his forehead, and his heartbeat blares so loud. Phupha closes his eyes and wonders why the universe is so cruel to him, to them. 

 

A tear escapes his eyes out of anger, frustration and yearning. He was too late. 

 

 

 

Three years later

The twilight sky hovers above his head, covering the summer sun from shining their orange rays to the world. Evening breeze gushes over, swaying his thin white dress shirt to the soundless rhythm, sending chills down to his spine. 

 

Phupha plays with the end of his shirt. There is a stain of red wine on it, a sign of clumsiness and slight trippiness from Torfun's wedding ceremony. 

 

It is a happy day for everyone. And truthfully, Phupha has never felt like this for a long time. Torfun is a wife now, and she will become a great mother soon. When she walked down the altar, dressed in white, a bouquet in between her trembling hands, Phupha smiled so brightly that he ended up crying. She looked beautiful and so happy, in love, and Phupha felt it too. 

 

Nam was there by his side, trying to remain composed, but when Torfun and Dr Aroon said their vows, he broke down in a frenzy of tears. Two brothers, crying over their now-married sister, what a sight to witness. Yod and Rang laughed at them both, but either Phupha or Nam had the will to fight back. 

 

It is overwhelming but in a good way. At least for today, Phupha thinks it is a good kind of overwhelming. 

 

Nam and Jeab are expecting another child soon, a son this time. And now, Torfun already took another step into a new world, a lifelong marriage with someone she loves. Everyone is now happy except for Phupha. 

 

But Phupha asks this question to himself every day; is he not happy?

 

He is. 

 

He is happy to be with his friends. Phupha is thankful to be a part of their special days, sharing their happiness and giving it back. 

 

It has been three years, and never once did Phupha give up. He never stops hoping, praying, and wishing for the day he will meet Tian again. Never.

 

Surprisingly, time does heal wounds, not all of them, though. 

 

Phupha has finally found his common ground, gravity no longer pulling him elsewhere, and his head is not above the clouds anymore. He is here, sitting on Tien Beach, staring at the sea with a smile on his face, a smile of acceptance. 

 

He is all wet now, but Phupha does not care. He excused himself from the party to be alone because things started to turn rowdy once Yod and Rang became the emcees. It was too loud there, in the hall, and Phupha needed some quietness to think again.

 

When the sun glides into the horizon, shades of purple, red, blue transcends into pitch black, another end to a memorable day. The day has come to an end, and now, the stars and moon will take over the world with their gentle luminance. 

 

Phupha fades into the sand, allowing the coarse crystals to engulf him in a tight hug. His lower half is wet, cold, but Phupha smiles at the tingling sensation. It feels nice to be here. Even if he is alone now, the waves have been his most trustworthy companion since that day. He trusts the sea to be by his side and never leaves.

 

Suddenly, the calm waves are now violently smashing the shore; the night sky turns darker, the wind hurriedly blows, pulling Phupha further and further but the sand grounds him close. The sea bubbles like water reaching its boiling point, folding and unfolding into a massive tsunami. Phupha sits up and watches everything unwinds with fear pulsating in his veins, but he does not run the way he did years ago. He waits. 

 

Like a deja vu, it is happening again.


 
Thunder strikes the earth in one zap, and the sea turns and churns haphazardly until something, a creature, a body, ends up on the sand not far from Phupha. The wind stops blowing, and things are back to normal.

 

When the creature emerges from the water, Phupha's legs are now frozen, and he cannot move a muscle. His blood runs dry, and his throat feels so tight that Phupha cannot even swallow his saliva. 

 

Tian approaches him with a soft smile. An angelic halo hovers above his head, glittering in warm yellow, complimenting the green and blue strands of his hair perfectly. 

 

Like on that day, three years ago, Tian is still beautiful.

 

"Phupha," the merman calls- hesitantly, shyly. 

 

And Phupha falls into that wormhole again. 

 

 

 

There is a gap that separates Tian and Phupha.

 

Neither of them dares to cross that border- too scared of hurting, too tired of hoping, too afraid of losing.

 

It is surreal to have Tian by his side, to feel him there, on land with him. He still looks the same, but he is healthier now. His skin glows in pearly white, scales shimmering under the full moon, lips a plush red, and Phupha has always been curious of how it feels, tastes, against his own. 

 

Phupha does not know what to say. He fears if he says something wrong, Tian will leave him again, and this will be another dream of his, a fragment of his burning memories coming back to life. He does not dare to take the risk. He does not want to lose Tian again, even to his imagination.

 

"Phupha."

 

He turns around and meets those awaiting eyes; glowing in the lightest hue of brown, innocent still, hopeful. 

 

He does not say anything. Phupha cannot say anything. If this is a dream, Phupha only wants to listen, and he never wants to speak. He wants to remember the sound of Tian's voice calling his name before he has the chance to forget. 

 

Gravity pulls his body closer to Tian, and when the merman engulfs him in a hug, reality does not sink into him immediately. The long-forgotten emotions gradually grow, building up tension, and it explodes when it reaches its peak. 

 

Tian is hugging him, holding him, snuggling close to him, and he is real. Phupha feels the heat against his body, his breath fanning his neck, his fingers clawing Phupha's back- Tian is really here. 

 

And when the tsunami subsides from flipping his heart over, Phupha faintly whispers, finding his ground again, "Tian."

 

He feels Tian's lips tug into a smile, and Phupha copies him. 

 

They do not say anything in this comfortable silence. Words are never enough to express whatever they are feeling at the moment. But to Phupha, with Tian in his arms, it is more than enough.

 

 

 

Tian smiles when he can finally see the stars again. As expected, they are in Phupha's eyes, twinkling happily, covered in a thin mist of unshed tears. 

 

Phupha still looks as handsome as ever, but there are two sets of darkness dangling underneath his eyes, something that Tian wishes to unsee. He knows- he is the cause of it. 

 

Tian was ready for every possibility. He went back to this beach after finding an answer, but it took him so long. He became fearful. What if Phupha never came back? What if Tian picked the wrong day to swim to the shore? 

 

But fate is something that no one can ever predict, and today is the day that Tian and Phupha met again. 

 

In Phupha's arms, Tian finds his home anew. It is warm, inviting, and Tian never wants to leave this place. 

 

"Phupha," Tian calls, and he wants to call that name forever. 

 

Phupha hums, and the vibration of his voice against his wet hair ignites the fire inside of him, breathing in life to the dead butterflies in his stomach. It settles deep in his bones- how he misses everything about the other. 

 

Tian exhales a breath as he says, "I did not break my promise this time."

 

The latter pushes him slightly to look into Tian's eyes. The merman touches Phupha's cheeks with both hands, and their universes collide with a sudden outburst of untold emotions. 

 

"I promised to come back," he proudly says.

 

And Phupha smiles. "You did," he pauses, resting his forehead against Tian, "you came back."

 

Tian glances at those teary eyes, finding the courage to say everything he has been trying to say. "I tried to find the answer to my questions while I was away."

 

Phupha laughs, curiously looking at Tian, "Did you find it?"

 

"I did," Tian replies, "and it is right here, in front of me."

 

Phupha is taken aback by Tian's answer. Those eyes are dimming, losing their shine. 

 

"Tian, you cannot be on land for long," Phupha reminds, "I do not want you to be in pain anymore."

 

The pearl necklace around Tian's neck shines in soft blue. The merman smiles at him, encouragingly, "There is nothing in this world that will hurt me anymore, Phu. Nothing."

 

"What makes you so sure, Tian?"

 

Tian closes his eyes, listening to their in-sync heartbeat as he confesses, "I can never live another day without you. Even if I die on land, I want you to be the last thing I see before I close my eyes."

 

Phupha bumps his forehead against Tian with more force. He scowls. 

 

When Tian opens his eyes, there is a pout on Phupha's lips, an expression he has never seen before. It takes his breath away. 

 

"Do not say that, Tian," he sternly remarks but still gentle.

 

Tian does not know if his discovery is real and if it can make him human. He has given up on hope, and if he dies as soon as he lives with Phupha again, Tian does not mind. 

 

He had bid goodbye to his parents, and they respected his choice. Tian cried in their arms once he voiced his decision, but they were there to console him. They were there to support him because this is the path he had chose, and Tian will go with it even if he ends up dying.

 

"Phu," Tian rakes his fingers all over Phupha's face, feeling the dip of his eyes, the point of his nose, the curve of his lips. 

 

Phupha watches his every move with hooded eyes, no longer sane, red with longing and love, sparkling with a sense of belonging. 

 

He leans in, close enough to feel the tremble on Phupha's lips, close enough to count the lashes and moles around his eyes and cheeks. Tian leans in as he whispers, slightly lightheaded, "I should have said this a long time ago."

 

Tian does not know if it is his words or expression, but something reflects Phupha's eyes in a flash, akin to the glow from his own. 

 

Before he cowers again, Tian inches closer, closer until it is hard to breathe. 

 

Ardently, Tian says, "I love you. I love you so much."

 

The world oozes in silver streaks, the stars glistening in Phupha's eyes are cheering for him. 

 

And this world turns into heaven when Phupha smiles at him, so bright and lively and beautiful as he answers, "I was about to say that first. You beat me to it."

 

Tian cannot help but laugh. 

 

The waves are crashing their bodies. It is supposed to be freezing, but Tian feels warm- like the sun is still there. Every vein and artery in his bloodstream is pulsing fast. The scales on his skin stand up, too enthraled with this familiar feeling. 

 

And his world crashes when Phupha leans closer, close enough that he can see the stars in those eyes are smiling at him. Tian meets him halfway, pressing his lips against Phupha, and it is more than beautiful. 

 

There are no butterflies in his stomach this time, no fireworks erupting in his closed eyes, but there is this perpetual warmth that resides in his chest, a constant reassurance that whatever they have right now is worthwhile. 

 

Phupha kisses him ardently, lips locking like a wordless promise they made three years ago. Tian chases after him, feeling all of him, tasting all of Phupha, and love is not the correct adjective to express his feelings to the other. It is more than anything, everything he can imagine. 

 

A blinding light pulls them apart, and Phupha watches in horror as the necklace around Tian's neck glows in bloodied crimson. 

 

"Tian? What is happening?!" he asks, panicking.

 

Unexpectedly, Tian cries. 

 

The pearl burns brighter, a darker shade of red, lighting up the whole beach before it explodes into tiny bubbles. His body moves a few steps away from Phupha, the aftermath of the explosion. 

 

"Tian! Tian!"

 

Tian hears the splash, Phupha's voice screaming after his name, but he is too dazed to respond.

 

When Phupha kneels by his side, pulling him to the border, he pats his cheeks with desperation and worries.

 

"Tian? Can you hear me?"

 

He nods. He tries to blink the dizziness away. As he holds onto Phupha for support, Tian looks over to his tail, but what he sees next surprises him more. 

 

Phupha looks at him, trying to find answers, but when he follows Tian's eyes, he too is in utter shock.

 

"Tian..." he calls, breathless. 

 

His tail has disappeared. Now, Tian only sees a pair of legs with no scales adorning his skin. 

 

Tian sits up, feeling his neck, but the necklace is no longer there too. 

 

"Tian? What happened?"

 

He turns to look at Phupha. With glazed eyes, he says, "Phu, help me stand up. I need to be underwater." I need to know if this is happening for real.

 

Phupha does not say much. He pulls Tian up and wraps his arm around his waist. Phupha holds Tian close, and they both dive into the sea.

 

His legs do not transform into a tail anymore. No matter how long he swims, he can only see a pair of legs, ten toes.  

 

When they are back at the beach, Tian breathes out. His lungs are no longer constricting. There is no tail, and he does not have scales on his skin anymore.

 

"Phu," Tian calls. His eyes are turning wild, buzzing with realization. "My hair- can you see any strand of green or blue?"

 

Phupha mirrors his surprise. He covers his mouth and shakes his head.

 

A part of Tian dies but in a good way. 

 

"What does this mean, Tian?" Phupha asks, nervous still.

 

Tian takes his hands, intertwining their fingers together as he says in between shock and tears, "You broke the spell, Phu."

 

"Huh?"

 

"True love," Tian whispers. "You are my true love."

 

As cliche as it might sound, but this is what it is. The only way to turn a merperson into a human is to find true love. As simple as that.

 

"But I did not even say it out loud yet?" Phupha inquires, looking at Tian with guilty eyes and a pout. There- Tian cannot breathe. 

 

He laughs. Tian cannot believe that it works. 

 

He glances at their entwined hands and back to Phupha's eyes, teasing him, "So, you do not love me? Do you want me to change back to a merman-"

 

"I love you!" Phupha screams.

 

From a distance, he can hear the faint voices of children running around the campfire, the meat sizzling on the pan, laughter painting the dark canvas with a rainbow, but his ears chose to only listen to Phupha's voice, shouting those three words that mean so much to him. 

 

Again, Phupha says, a breathless whisper this time, "I love you, Tian."

 

And it is enough. 

 

 

 

When Phupha brought Tian back to the hotel, everyone screamed in surprise.

 

Torfun cried so hard that she ruined her make-up for the after-party. Yod and Rang jumped in happiness, wiping the tears from their eyes as they greeted him warmly. Nam and Jeab immediately approached the merman- oh, human

 

Nam looked at him with so many questions, but Phupha could only smile and give him a nod. The relief that washed over Nam's face made him feel weird, but he pushed those mushy feelings aside as he excused them from the crowd. 

 

They could meet Tian tomorrow. Tonight, Phupha wanted to be with him, just the two of them and no one else. 

 

 

 

Deep in his heart, Phupha religiously hopes for better days with someone special by his side, someone that will not go away with the tidal waves.

 

Phupha meets Tian, a severely injured merman, on Tien Beach one faithful day. Although he never expected Tian to stay, Phupha does not want him to leave either. 

 

Once, he believed that most beautiful tales seem to share the same trait; not all of them ends with a happily ever after. 

 

But tonight, as the moon settles high on the sky, amongst the thin clouds, Tian is by his side, sleeping soundly, free from worries and uncertainties. Tian is by his side, human, forever.

 

Even if Tian is still a merman, Phupha loves him all the same. 

 

Whether Tian is at sea or on land, Phupha still loves him the same.

 

As the flashing stars remain on Tian's cheeks, Phupha thinks that his story will end with a happily ever after. 

 

With Tian by his side, holding his hand, keeping him close, Phupha believes that they can have their happily ever after. 

 

Because even if the swirling sea washes over Tian again, Phupha will never let go of his hands. Never

Chapter Text

 

 

I met you on a summer day,
It was hot, scorching but lovely,
The sea washed you to the shore,
Painted in red, sparkling in pale white,
Then I saw you,
And to me, it was a sign,
Maybe- you are forever.

I met you on a summer day,
The sky was blue with thin, fleeting clouds,
I was seconds away from death,
But you pulled me close and breathed in life,
And then I saw you,
And to me, it was a sign,
Maybe- I was always meant to love you.

I could not ask for more,
With you, happiness was more than smiles and laughs,
In sadness and anger, I found more reasons to love,
It was- is always there,
This feeling in my chest,
It is always for you,
And it is enough. 

I could not ask for more,
With you, freedom was something that filled me up,
In late-night movies and failed cooking attempts,
It was- is always there,
This flower in my chest,
Blooms for you, only because of you,
And I hope it is enough.

Never would I have thought that you could mean so much,
So I was scared of losing,
I was afraid of hurting,
I have lost so many things,
I could not give you up too,
But you were there to hold my hand,
In your smile, your sparkling eyes, I knew- always.

Never would I have thought that you could mean so much,
So I was scared of letting go,
I was afraid of myself,
I have lost my sanity,
I could not give you up too,
But you were there to hug me near,
In your silence, your fond eyes, I knew- endlessly.

Do not let me go,
Hold me down if that is so,
Tell me sweet lies, fruitful promises,
I will not wander elsewhere, I swear,
For this sea will be my witness,
For love in my heart is for you and no one else.

Do not let me go,
Hug me tight and cure my sorrow,
Tell me sweet promises, ardent whispers,
I want to stare into your eyes forever- that beautiful lustre,
For this sea will never wash us away,
For this sea will pull us closer, never astray. 

("Tian! Where is the toothbrush?")

 

("I have already packed them, Phu. We are all set and ready!")

 

("Oh, thank you so much! Let's go! No time to waste! We can still catch the sunset if we go now!")

 

("Let's go!")

 

 

To Phupha and Tian, love might not always be beautiful, but it is constant, always, worthwhile, indefinite