After the sex trafficking ring is exposed and those responsible are brought to justice, Bun’s life in Viangpha Mork finally settles down into something approaching relative normality.
He wakes up every morning in Tan’s arms and at the end of the day after a long shift at the hospital he gets to crawl back into them. Bun never realised you could spend your entire life missing someone you hadn’t met yet until fate led him to Tan. Every time he catches Tan looking at him from the other side of the couch, whenever they stand side by side at the sink to do the dishes, and with each cup of coffee thoughtfully left by his elbow, he’s hit with an overwhelming sense of rightness, like this was always where he was meant to be.
The kids come and go as they please, popping round for dinner or to just laze in front of the TV. With Sorawit and Nam both wanting to go into medical profession, he often finds himself guiding them through their homework. He’s not the best teacher, Tan has him beat there, but watching them learn and grow has been an unexpected joy.
As for That, when he’s not working at The Mist with Tan or ferrying Sorawit to and from school, he often helps Bun around the house. Bun’s actually grown rather fond of That. Out of all the horrors he’d witnessed since arriving back in Viangpha Mork, it’s That’s desperate pleas of “Kill me first!” that still has him gasping awake at night dripping in sweat. Knowing that one of their guestrooms has band posters decorating the walls and motorbike magazines strewn across the floor is one of the only things that helps him fall back to sleep.
It’s not just within the four walls of Tan’s sprawling mansion that Bun has found peace. Oat is a steady, reliable presence by his side at work. Now that Bun’s not fearing for his life every second of the day he can actually spend time with the other man, regularly allowing himself to be dragged along to fancy restaurants and cute cafés the young doctor is desperate to try. Bun always got on well with his colleagues at the hospital, but now they’re practically family, something he’d always felt foolish for dreaming about when he was just a starry-eyed med student.
He mourns for Jane, of course, and for the countless other girls they couldn’t save, but he’s happy. Perhaps for the first time ever. Yet he still feels like something is missing, something crucial.
And he thinks he knows what it is.
Or should he say who it is.
He sees Inspector M perhaps even less than he ever did before. Intellectually, Bun knows it’s because the Inspector is busy. Having been promoted, it has fallen to him and him alone to reform the entire police department. That in itself is no small task, but he’s also still very much recovering despite being technically cleared for work, too. If Bun had his way, he would have signed him off for at least six months but the man is nothing if not stubborn and the fact it’s mostly desk work is of little comfort to him.
When Bun catches M leaving one of the hospital’s appointment rooms at the beginning of the week he feels something in him that had been previously pulled taught slacken before easing entirely.
“Inspector!” He calls out in greeting.
“Commander,” M corrects, turning to him with a small smile.
Most of their friends think Bun’s refusal to use his new rank is done purely to annoy him, all of them used to their push and pull relationship, but they’d be only half right. He does it to annoy him and to make him laugh. Bun’s of the opinion that everyone looks better smiling and M is no different. As far as he’s concerned, they could all do with a little more laughter in their lives after what they went through.
“Of course, of course,” Bun waves away. “Just finished this week’s physical therapy session?”
“If I didn’t know any better I’d say your colleagues were trying to kill me,” M says, rolling his shoulder with a wince. “I haven’t had this many aches and pains since I was a cadet.”
“That’s good, it means it’s working,” Bun says, receiving a doubtful scoff in response. “How are you, otherwise?”
“So tired that sometimes I don’t even know if I’m awake,” M admits bluntly.
Bun frowns. “I could prescribe something to help you sleep,” he says, hand already reaching for the pen in his shirt’s front pocket. “Something stronger than what you’d be able to get over the counter.”
“Thank you, Doctor, but I’m okay,” M replies. “I’m actually sleeping relatively well when I can grab the time. There’s just so much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it, that’s all.”
Bun crosses his arms and clicks his tongue. “You’re still recovering,” he reminds him. “No one would think any less of you if you handed over some of your duties for a while.”
M gives a sharp bark of laughter that Bun tries and fails to find any genuine amusement in. “To who, exactly? There’s no one.”
Not being able to see M as much as he would like means Bun’s worrying has been sort of abstract in nature. With every police car that whizzes past with its siren blaring he finds himself thinking about how M’s restructuring of the police department is going, and whenever a patient comes in needing rehabilitation after a nasty break or tear, he can’t help but wonder about M’s own recovery.
But with the man standing right in front of him, that vague, distant worry spikes sharply into something tangible. Because now he’s able to see the dark bruises under each eye and how his clothes hang off his frame when they used to cling tightly to defined biceps and strong shoulders.
“At least let me grab some multivitamins for you,” he offers almost desperately.
M sighs, shoulders slumping. “Okay, sure,” he relents. “Lead the way, Doctor.”
By the time they reach the hospital pharmacy, Bun already has a plan.
The next day Bun only has a few morning appointments and by lunch he’s completely free from all work related obligations. Barring any emergencies, of course.
When he gets home, he immediately gets to work making phat phrik khing with steamed rice using a recipe he was gifted by an elderly neighbour back in Bangkok. When it’s neatly packaged away in a couple of tightly sealed plastic containers, he fills a thermos up with tea and cuts a slice of the mango layer cake he’d made at the weekend, carefully wrapping it up in a paper napkin. He puts it all away in a cute little tote bag covered in daisies Nam had left the last time she was round and sets off back out into town.
It isn’t a long drive to the police station, ten minutes at most, and before he knows it he’s being ushered through the building to M’s fancy new office like he’s some sort of celebrity. His new found fame among the local law enforcement is still a little hard to swallow. He may trust M but he certainly doesn’t trust the criminal justice system or the type of people it has a habit of attracting.
He gives a stiff nod to the young officer tasked with showing him the way, only relaxing with a deep exhale once he’s finally left alone. He knocks twice on the door before pushing it open, not bothering to wait until he’s invited in. “Delivery,” he announces.
M looks up from the file he’s reading, eyes immediately narrowing. “What’s wrong, what have you done now?”
“Is that any way to talk to the man who has brought you a home cooked meal?” he says, holding up the bag.
M’s eyes dart between the bag of food and Bun’s face, his brow scrunched up into a confused knot.
“You’ve brought me… food?”
“You said you’ve been busy. I can’t even begin to imagine when the last time you ate something that wasn’t out of a vending machine was.”
Just as M’s about to reply, his stomach growls. Bun grins broadly in triumph and shakes the bag. “Well?”
“Fine, sit down,” M relents, gesturing vaguely to the chair in front of his desk.
He watches silently as Bun takes out the containers, thermos and cake and sets them in front of him.
“You didn’t have to go to the trouble,” M says, looking a little overwhelmed.
“I know, but I wanted to,” Bun says simply. “Here,” he adds, sliding him a pack of plastic utensils he’d swiped from the hospital canteen.
“You’re not going to eat with me?” M asks.
“I ate earlier, I made this is for you.”
“It isn’t poisoned, is it?”
“I’m flattered you think I’d be brazen enough to walk straight into a police station and kill their commanding officer.”
“See, the fact you’re flattered is why I’m worried.”
“It isn’t poisoned,” Bun assures him. “I wouldn’t ruin good food that way,” he adds with a smirk.
With a sigh of reluctant acceptance, M digs in his fork and takes his first bite.
After a few seconds, M’s eyes widen and he looks back up at Bun. “This is really good,” he says through a mouthful of food, manners fallen by the wayside.
“There’s no need to sound so surprised,” Bun grumbles, forcing a petulant pout onto his lips so M doesn’t see his pleased smile. “Wait, have I never cooked for you before?”
M gives him a complicated look. “No. Why would you have?”
He cuts himself off.
Are they friends? They had got on relatively well before Jane’s murder, but right up until M helped them fake their deaths most of their interactions had been tinged with suspicion, anger and frustration. He’d said some pretty awful things to him and though he stands by most of them in regards to the police department as a whole, M was ultimately just a pawn in a game of chess that ended up being much bigger than any of them could have ever imagined. He’s a good man, Bun sees that now, and he’s slowly killing himself trying to prove it to the rest of the town.
“Because I’m what, Doctor?” M prompts, fists tightening around the plastic fork until Bun can hear it creaking in his grasp.
“Because you’re my friend,” he finishes, chin raised defiantly. “Or, at least, I’d like you to be. I don’t see why we can’t pick up from where we left off that night at The Mist.”
M looks down at his food, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “It feels like it’s been years.”
“A lifetime ago,” Bun agrees gently. They’ve all aged way beyond their years over the last few months, the trauma settling heavily on their shoulders and bending their spines beyond repair. He’s not the same man who arrived back in Viangpha Mork after a decade away, eager to catch up with old friends and dance the night away with strangers. But maybe that’s for the best. “I never thanked you for dragging my drunk ass home that night, did I?”
M laughs loudly, the first genuine one Bun’s heard in a while. “Better late than never,” he says. “You’re lucky I had Dr. Oat’s number otherwise I would have had to take you home with me and I can’t imagine you would have been too happy about waking up in my bed.”
Bun leans across M’s desk, a smirk firmly in place. “Aw, you’d have given me your bed?” He teases. “Then again, you did take off my shirt and make me porridge. I forgot how nice you were to me those first few days.” The tips of M’s ears darken and he looks away. “What?” Bun prompts, delighted by the uncharacteristic show of embarrassment.
“Nothing,” he says. “It’s just… Well, for a Doctor, you can be incredibly dense sometimes.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he assures him. “It’s all in the past now, anyway.”
Bun hums, unconvinced. “Come on, eat up,” he urges, tapping the top of M’s desk before settling back down into his seat. “I didn’t slave away over a hot stove for it to go to waste.”
“Yes, Chef, sorry, Chef,” M quips, taking another forkful.
Bun braces an elbow against the desk and leans his head on a fist, happy to just watch M eat. “You need to let me know what foods you like and dislike for next time. I don’t want to go to the trouble of making you, I don’t know, ratatouille only to find out you have some weird childhood trauma related to aubergines.”
M chokes on his mouthful of rice and pounds his chest until it goes down. “Next time?” He croaks.
“Of course. This wasn’t a onetime deal. I’m not cruel enough to give you a taste of my cooking only to snatch it away.”
“Mushrooms,” M says after a while and Bun cocks his head to the side. “They weird me out.”
And so begins their first tentative steps towards an actual genuine friendship.
Once M’s commitments to restructuring the police department begin to ease, they make the effort to meet for drinks after work a couple of times a week.
It’s easy, this new camaraderie of theirs.
Unlike many of the other professionals he’s encountered over the course of his career, Bun finds M delightfully receptive to his bitchier side. His scathing remarks about the snooty business men and rude foreign tourists who often pass through the town that Bun inevitably ends up having to treat matched by the equally less than complimentary comments about M’s own colleagues and the local attorneys he has to deal with on an almost hourly basis. It’s nice to have someone to talk to who isn’t Tan or his friends at the hospital, someone removed from those other parts of his life.
Slowly, as they become more comfortable with each other, Bun starts to see the man behind the uniform. During one particularly lengthy text chain, he learns that M has an insatiable sweet tooth after waxing lyrical about the mango cake Bun brought him and it only continues to snowball from there. He finds out that he has two cats, listens to British punk music when he’s at the gym, and enjoys romantic-comedies. He’s close to his mom but not his dad, has an older brother but always wanted a sister, and is still in touch with all his college friends. Bun hordes away every little detail of M’s life gifted to him like they’re precious gems and by the time a couple of months have passed, he has a proverbial treasure trove. Bun’s never felt so rich.
Eventually, before even Bun realises it, they’re having movie nights every weekend. It’s probably the healthiest relationship Bun’s ever had. He tells M as much and gets a deadpan “well, that’s depressing” in response.
Bun was happy before, but now he feels complete.