Chiang Mai, Three Years Ago
Luke wakes to the sound of sirens. Where is he... He squints his eyes open to unfamiliar surroundings, an alleyway somewhere... And then the recollection comes rushing to his mind, like a film on fast forward – the confrontation, Mond’s injury, the Phunsawat family in a fury like they’ve never seen before, a frantic call for help from one of his men, and Mix...
He sits up and his head spins, but he pushes himself to his feet. Mix!
Mix had been ablaze with thoughts of revenge, demanding that they go after the perpetrators before they hurt someone else, recklessly throwing himself into an ambush.
Luke feels sick, and he knows it’s not from the throbbing ache in his forehead.
He casts his gaze around for a familiar face and has never been more grateful to see Nanon in his life. The quiet young man is leaning on a garbage bin, looking at his phone like there isn’t anything important going on around him.
“Nanon,” Luke calls, his voice a rasp, and he reaches up to his throat and remembers hands wrapping around his neck, trying to choke him...
“Hi,” Nanon greets, putting his phone away and sauntering over to Luke. “Rough night, huh?”
“Mix,” Luke manages, and Nanon steps up to slip an arm around him to help him stay upright. “Is he-?”
“He’ll be fine,” Nanon tells him, and Luke feels the panic subside a little. “He lost some blood, and he probably shouldn’t be planning any beach trips for a while…”
“He was shot,” Luke says, both remembering and confirming. I let him get shot.
Nanon nods. “He’s at the hospital... where you should probably be. Your head looks gross.”
“I’m fine,” Luke says. I let the Boss’s brother get shot.
The men who were supposed to be protecting Mond were severely punished for their failure, and Mond is only a high-ranking member of the family.
Mix is the Phunsawat family heir.
Nanon clears his throat.
“Do you want to see Mix first or...”
Or go back to the house, Luke finishes in his mind. He knows that the Boss will have sent for him.
Bangkok, Present Day
Earth downs his third shot of the night and glares at his friends.
Stay home, Podd had advised, let’s just have a night in. But had Earth listened? No.
And now he’s getting drunk with the friends who are the very epitome of bad decision makers.
“I can’t believe I let you drag me into this.”
Joss slings an arm around his shoulder and gives him a conspiratory grin. “What are you talking about?! Our friend gets dumped and we don’t take him out to celebrate?”
“Orrr-,” Tul declares, “Celebrate orr find someone new to hook up with.”
“Or that!” Joss roars in agreement. He raises his glass and Earth finds himself clinking his fourth shot against it. The vodka burns down his throat and he thinks he understands why people drink away their pain.
“Look,” Tul says. “You go up to the next good-looking person you see and just ask them out.”
“How is that supposed to help me?” Earth demands. “We’ll go out and a month later they’ll suddenly realise they want someone else?”
Joss and Tul both groan in frustration at the same time.
“I give up,” Joss says. “Go get us the next round, Earth, if we have to listen to you whine about your ex all night.”
“That is, if you can even call someone you went out with for a month your ex,” Tul sniggers.
Earth pushes back from the table. “I should have stayed with Podd, at least he would’ve been nicer to me.”
Mix Sahaphap is in the middle of an argument he has had at least fifty times this year.
“I told you, everyone’s meeting up, our results are up and it’s our last chance to celebrate. Of course I’ll be fine! Just – ugh, Khao, talk to him!” Mix thrusts his phone in Khaotung’s direction. Khaotung tilts his head and fits it between his ear and shoulder while trying to park his car.
“Hi, Luke, yeah, I’m here… No, I’m not drinking, I drove… I’ll make sure he gets home. No, you don’t need to come -”
Mix starts grabbing for the phone and Khaotung swats him away, switching the engine off with his other hand. “You really don’t! Okay, okay, I’ll do that! Bye!”
Khaotung hangs up and returns the phone. “Aren’t you glad I’m your friend?”
“You sound like my chaperone,” Mix pouts. “You should stop enabling Luke’s paranoia.”
“You know he’s only worried because –”
“I know, I know.” Mix sighs, then shakes his head to clear it. “Anyway, let’s get going!”
Khaotung gives him an amused look. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so excited for a night out.”
“I dunno, Khao,” Mix grins, tilting Khaotung’s mirror to adjust his hair and make sure he looks good enough to hit the bar. “I just have a good feeling about tonight.”
Earth returns to his table to find that it’s suddenly occupied by strangers. He stands there, blinking for a moment until Joss winds an arm around his neck wheels him over to another table, almost manhandling him onto the seat.
“All right, all right, introductions!” Tul appears to have made himself comfortable in the seat opposite them with a couple of young women. “This sad sack sitting across from me is Earth, he’s recently heartbroken and bumming everyone out, please be nice to him. Next to him is Joss and I,” he smirked, “You can call me Tul.”
“Can we call you jackass?” Joss laughed.
“You can call me whatever you want,” Tul bats his eyelids and makes a kissy face at him and Earth shakes his head.
“Sorry if we’re interrupting your night,” he tells the young man next to him.
“It’s fine, we’re celebrating the end of finals,” he says. He holds out a hand. “I’m Pond. Sorry about your breakup, man.”
Earth shakes the offered hand. “I’ll, uh, get over it.”
They go through a quick round of introductions. Besides Pond, Earth is also introduced to the girls, Jane and Aye, and learns that they're all about to be in their final semester of college.
"We're also waiting for - ah there they are!"
“Heyy sorry we’re late – We brought more drinks!” The two newcomers take a moment to look around the table, obviously wondering who Earth, Joss and Tul are, but they recover quickly enough.
“Mix Sahaphap and Khaotung Thanawat! At last!” Aye gets up to help him with the drinks, passing around bottles and glasses. “We were just about to nominate someone to get another round.”
“Why isn’t anyone drunk yet?” The man named Mix asks, peering closely around the table as though looking to see signs of drunkenness and Earth can’t believe that his first thought is damn he’s cute.
“We were waiting for you!” Pond laughs. “Can’t have a party without our ace student!”
“Ha ha, pull the other one,” Mix responds dryly, but he's laughing too, as they shift around until they have room for the two newcomers too.
Mix ends up wedged between Earth and Joss. "Sorry, it's kind of a tight fit," he says with an apologetic, and unfairly gorgeous, smile.
Podd was wrong, Earth thinks. He definitely made the right decision by coming out today.
Time loses all meaning for Earth pretty soon, with the lights and the low, thumping bar music and the sheer amount of alcohol flowing through his system.
“You know what time it is?” Jane slurs, banging a fist against the table for attention. “I said, do you know what time it is??”
“Don’t say drinking -,” Khaotung begins.
Mix cuts him off, all but yelling in response to Jane's suggestion, “It’s time for a drinking game!"
The suggestion is met by cheers and instructions to bring another round of drinks while Jane and Mix explain the rules. The game apparently involves counting and something to do with the number 21 but Earth is too drunk for math at this point, and there seem to be new rules added with every round.
“Okay new rule,” Aye announces, clapping her hands for attention after two rounds have passed without incident. “If someone messes up, we all have to link arms with the person next to us and finish our drinks.”
They start off, and Joss forgets to clap on the number four – one of the new rules added a couple of rounds ago – and they all raise their drinks. Earth turns to Mix, and they cross arms. Earth is very fascinated by the length of Mix’s eyelashes seen so close up, and this is only because he refuses to focus on the way the other man's lips glisten so invitingly in the darkness.
Earth raises his drink to his lips and Mix does the same, the corner of his lips turned up in amusement as they action brings them even closer together.
The next time they have to do the same action, Earth chooses to bend the rules and, instead of drinking out of his own glass, offers it to Mix, who smiles before leaning forward to accept the drink.
Earth isn’t sure how many rounds pass but there are too many rules and they don’t get through a single round without taking a drink, and Earth finds Mix’s hand coming to rest on his own on the seat. Earth turns his hand so that he can entangle their fingers together. Earth's skin tingles with the contact as Mix's thumb traces idle patterns on his palm.
Maybe Joss and Tul are right - there's more than one way to get over a breakup.
He turns his head so that he can speak into Mix's ear, letting his lips brush the delicate shell as he does.
"Wanna get some fresh air?"
Mix wakes to the insistent ringing of his cellphone.
He blinks his eyes open slowly, surprised by the darkness of the room. It’s the first sign that he is not at home: his room is always flooded with light in the mornings. At least, he assumes it’s morning.
His phone is buzzing insistently next to him, the display picture of a smiling Luke taking on a threatening aura.
“What?” he mutters, answering the call.
“Where are you?!” Luke’s voice sounds at least an octave higher than normal. “I’ve been calling you for hours and Khao told me he can’t reach you either.”
“I’m fine, I’m… Where am I?”
“You got drunk and went off with some guy and how the hell do I know where you are?!”
“I haven’t been kidnapped or anything –”
“That’s not funny!”
Luke is angry, and Mix cringes, because Luke has every right to be angry. He’d been irresponsible last night and should have updated him. “Sorry. But I’m fine, I’ll be home soon,” he promises.
“Text me your location and I’ll send a car.”
Mix hangs up and is trying to un-burrow himself from the bedcovers when his foot comes in contact with something solid on the bed, and he scrambles to sit up just as what he imagined to be additional blankets reveals a dishevelled, dark-haired man who gives him a lopsided smile as he sits up.
“Mm, good morning, sunshine.”
The man is shirtless, and from Mix can see has a toned upper body and distracting muscles but Mix reminds himself to try and put a name to the only somewhat familiar, though pleasant enough, face.
The silence stretches long enough for the man’s smile to dim, though it is still genuine enough to make Mix feel more at ease than he’d’ve thought. There is something... comforting... about the man, though right now he looks distinctly put out. “You remember me, right?”
Mix narrows his eyes as he studies the man, still trying to place him in his vague but gradually growing memories of last night. “Wait... was it… Joss?” No, Mix’s brain says, Joss was the really big guy... Which makes this one - he grins his jubilation, putting fist on palm in an ‘aha!’ gesture - “Earth!”
“Oh, thank god,” Earth says, flopping back onto the bed with a sigh of relief.
Mix notices he has a tattoo down his side, and one on his bicep, and stares distractedly again before gathering himself and asking the next important question. “Uh- about last night,” he begins. He doesn’t feel like anything of that sort happened, and he’s still mostly clothed… but he is also very aware of how clingy he can get when he is drunk, or tired… or just feeling clingy.
Earth laughs as though reading his thoughts, raising a hand to wave his concern away. “Don’t worry. We both got a little too drunk and ended up here, and went to bed and nothing else…” He pauses, his smile turning a little embarrassed. “Ok, I’m pretty sure we made out a little too.”
Mix feels the heat rise in his cheeks. Not that Earth isn’t incredibly good looking but Mix is better than this, he has to blame whoever came up with that damn drinking game.
He has a bad feeling he'd come up with it himself.
“Sorry.” Mix ducks his head. He swings his legs over the edge of the bed, wriggling his toes on the carpet. He is starting to remember that Earth is a stranger and Mix is certainly taking advantage of his kindness. He finds that his jeans, which he had lost sometime last night, have been slung neatly on the back of a chair and he gets up, hoping they’re still wearable and no one threw up on them or anything.
“You could use the shower,” Earth says, lounging on the bed and watching him. “It’ll save you having to do the walk-of-shame back home.”
Mix gives him a surprised look. He’s just been thinking that his hair feels gross and how much he’d appreciate a shower before facing Luke’s righteous anger... Earth’s behaviour is almost impossibly civil, and that is definitely weird.
He narrows his eyes again, this time in suspicion. “Listen. If you think you’re gonna get something out of me just by being nice, you’ve got another thing coming! I – I was really drunk last night and –”
Earth sits up, looking surprised. “Get something?” he repeats. He holds up his hands in a placating gesture. “You’ve got me wrong, I swear!”
Mix doesn’t drop his gaze. “Well, okay then, give me some clothes and I’ll take that shower, and,” he adds, pointing a warning finger, “No funny business!”
“None at all,” Earth nods, not lowering his hands as he inches sideways to a dresser and hands Mix a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants. “Those oughta fit you...”
When he hands the clothes over, Earth’s gaze lingers on him for longer than absolutely necessary and Mix points his finger again. “No funny business!”
Earth waits till the door to the bathroom is shut before dropping heavily onto his bed, head in his hand. Mix is still the most attractive man he’s ever seen, and now he is taking a shower in his apartment, and throughout their conversation Earth couldn’t help but stare at the inadvertent mark he’d left on Mix’s neck, right at the juncture of his shoulder.
Earth can’t believe himself. He has been single exactly one day and he’s already waking up in bed with beautiful strangers without a moment's thought. What a disaster you are, Pirapat.
He groans, feeling sorry for himself for a long moment before getting up and deciding to put on coffee and reply to Podd’s texts asking what he had gotten up to last night and whether he had done something he would regret.
Mix appears a while later, smelling like Earth’s soap and wearing his clothes and, well, he’s already kept himself from doing at least ten things he regretted.
“Feel better?” Earth asks. “I’m making coffee. How do you like yours?”
“No milk, no sugar.” Mix’s expression is still a little wary. Perhaps he’s seen the hickey and doesn’t want to bring it up. Earth understands that.
“This is a nice place,” Mix remarks, looking around the spacious apartment as Earth hands him the coffee. “What do you do, Earth?”
Earth smiles. “I run a small business downstairs. I’ll show you… Do you wanna stay for breakfast?”
Mix shakes his head. “I have to get going my… my brother is sending a car.” He waves his phone to indicate that he’s sent his location to this brother of his.
Earth doesn’t miss the ‘sending a car’ which means that Mix is probably very rich or his family is that overprotective. “Well, while we wait, you can come downstairs and see the shop.”
Earth lives on the top floor of the Brewbells Café and Florist, a cosy café with natural lighting at one side of which Earth runs his little flower shop. The café is still closed though the sounds from the kitchen suggest that Podd is already here to get started on the day’s baking. Mix sips his coffee as he looks around.
“You own the café?”
“I own the building,” Earth says. “I’m technically the florist but I’ve been known to make a fantastic cup of coffee.” He gives Mix’s cup a meaningful look, making the younger man laugh.
“It’s not bad,” Mix admits. “This is a nice place too. Very hipster.”
“That was the idea,” Earth laughs. “… We get a lot of students here.” Earth hopes that it’s not too obvious that he’s trying to entice Mix to come back. “It’s a nice place to work.”
Mix nods thoughtfully but doesn’t say anything, sipping his coffee as he watches Earth sets up his shop for opening.
A black car pulls up outside: a Bentley with a vaguely threatening aura, and Mix sets his coffee mug down on one of the café tables. “That’s my ride,” he says, heading towards the door. He pauses, looking back at Earth. “Thank you. For the coffee.”
“Come back anytime.”
Three days later, Earth is cataloguing the day’s inventory when the café door opens to admit a familiar young man, dressed in a comfortable looking sweater, his hair down and unstyled, who orders an iced americano at the counter and finds a corner table to set up his laptop.
Podd gives him an odd look and he busies himself in his work again, but Earth can’t help but think that this was a definite win.
Chiang Mai, Three Years Ago
“Will you stop crying, it’s embarrassing.”
“It’s my fault,” Mix is still cradling Luke’s hand as if it’s a beloved pet that won’t come back to life. “I should’ve told Gun –”
“How? Sent him a telepathic message while you were recovering from bloodloss?” Luke rolls his eyes. “Besides, I deserve-”
“Shut the fuck up, don’t you dare say you deserved it!” Mix hisses, dropping Luke’s hand and glaring at him. “I was reckless and dragged you and the others into a dangerous situation and – and –” He’s tearing up again, and Nanon sighs loudly.
“Mix, it’s just the tip of his finger, he’ll be fine.”
“Maybe we could do with some alcohol,” Luke gives Nanon a meaningful look. The young man rolls his eyes but gets to his feet anyway.
“I’ll go on a beer run,” he mutters, heading out of the room.
“I’m really okay,” Luke tells the quietly sniffling Mix who has still not let go of his hand. “This is something we’re all supposed to be prepared for the eventuality of –”
Mix looks up at him, holding his gaze determinedly. “I’m sorry, Luke. I’ll never let this happen again.”
There are times when Luke understands why people fall in love with Sahaphap Wongratch, when his eyes shine like this, and there’s a determined set to his jaw that demands attention. Luke nods.
“I trust you,” he tells Mix.
He’s not surprised when Mix shifts closer, wrapping his arms around Luke’s shoulders and all but clambering into his lap like a child, like he used to when they were both younger and Mix counted on Luke to keep him safe. Like Mix still does, Luke reminds himself.
“I won’t let this happen again, either,” Luke says softly, running his unmaimed hand through locks of soft hair. “I made a promise too, you know. I’ll protect you, no matter what.”
Bangkok, Present Day
Podd and Earth had started Brewbells two years ago in what was more or less a leap of faith, pooling all their money into renovating a floor of Earth’s family home into a hybrid florist-café that should not have worked, but somehow did.
“I’m thinking we need to bring in someone else,” Podd says as Earth rearranges the pastry tray one evening.
Earth straightens up to look at him. “Not again –”
Podd flicks him with the towel he was using to wipe down the counter. “Maybe someone you’re not dating so there won’t be a scene when they quit.”
“I didn’t ask him to quit,” Earth says petulantly. “And it wouldn’t have been awkward forever…We weren’t awkward after we broke up!”
Podd laughs. “That’s because we weren’t actually dating. Anyway, I’m putting out an ad online.”
“Maybe if I can get them to handle the flowers, I can help in the kitchen more.”
Podd shakes his head, taking a step back as though about to protect their kitchen from Earth. “I like the kitchen the way it is, untouched by you,” he says. “We can afford a new employee but not a new oven.”
“I’m way better at cooking now,” Earth protests.
“Boiling instant noodles is not cooking.”
Earth opens his mouth to defend himself, but Podd raises a warning finger to stop him.
“Don’t tell me about your cake decorating class – you can’t decorate a cake if the cake is a lump of charcoal.”
Podd interrupts him by thrusting a tall glass of iced coffee into his hands. “Here, your friend probably needs a refill by now.”
Earth takes a second to realise what Podd means. “This doesn’t mean we’re done with this discussion, okay?”
He takes the americano to the corner of the café that Mix has made his own over the past week, switching it out for his empty glass. Mix is texting someone rather furiously, a frown wrinkling his brow. “Can I get you something else?”
“No,” Mix mutters, putting the phone down with more force than necessary. “Do you have any siblings? Have you ever wanted to smack them?”
Earth chuckles. “I have an older sister, and no, not really…?” He takes a breath, hovering uncertainly. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Don’t you have work?”
“Not unless another customer comes in.”
Mix gestures with his chin towards the chair opposite him, a gesture that’s so oddly endearing that Earth hides his charmed smile by turning his head as he pulls up the chair. Mix takes a long drink of his coffee.
“I have this annoying brother – actually my whole family is annoying. They’re too protective just because of one – one stupid thing that happened a few years ago.” Mix focusses on his coffee instead of looking at Earth. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be whining at you.”
“Hey, we’ve spent a night together, I think we’re close enough for you to whine.”
Mix glares at him. “I slept in your bed, that’s all.”
“Yes, but you gotta admit, it’s a start, right?” Earth smiles wryly. “Right now, we’re having coffee together, that’s practically a date.”
Earth can’t quite decipher the surprised expression on Mix’s face – whether it’s because he hadn’t expected Earth to say something so forward, or something else entirely.
“I don’t see you drinking anything,” Mix states, pursing his lips. “You can’t just bring me a coffee and randomly say it’s a date, that’s too half-assed.”
“Hmm, you’re not wrong, this isn’t my style,” Earth agrees. He holds up a finger. “I’ll be back in a second.”
He hurries back to the counter, getting himself an espresso as a bewildered Podd watches. On the way back he takes a detour by his florists’ counter, picking out one of the daisies from the display vase.
“Can this be officially marked as a first date now?” Earth asks, presenting the flower to Mix, and he’s sure that the glitter in his eyes is amusement.
Mix takes the daisy, twirling it between his fingers thoughtfully. “Did you just grab the first flower you saw?”
“Of course not!” Earth scoffs. “That,” he says, his fingers dancing on Mix’s where he’s grasping the stem, “That’s a daisy. In the language of flowers, it means new beginnings, fun and affection.”
Earth lets his fingers linger for a moment longer before pulling away. “Let’s start with new beginnings for now,” he smiles.
Mix seems to consider it for a moment, then nods, holding up his coffee. “To new beginnings.”
The problem with having a thesis semester is that it means Mix is required to supervise more family activities than he normally would have on a school day. Not that he minds – it’s part of his duty as a member of the family, and his brothers trust him to take care of things on his end. However, today this interrogation is running too long, eating into the time that Mix likes to spend at Brewbells, and it’s annoying him.
The man tied up in the chair is a member of a small mafia family that’s been trying to move into their land in South and South Eastern Bangkok, Mix’s territory. He refuses to reveal where their funding is coming from, whether they have businesses or shell corporations to their name, and Mix is tired of waiting for him to crack.
He sighs, pushing back the sleeves of his shirt and stepping up to the man in the chair, bidding the two who’ve been questioning him to step away. From his pocket, he withdraws the slim, elegant handle of the folding scalpel blade that Luke gave him for his sixteenth birthday. Sure, firearms are weapons of choice for most people in their world, but Mix likes the subtlety of this blade and the way it presents him with a quiet way of dealing with a problem.
“We’ve been here for four hours,” Mix complains, reaching out and grabbing the man in the chair by his hair, yanking his head back and looking down at him.
“I have better things to do than wait for you to give me answers.” He raises the small knife to the prisoner’s eye level, letting the blade catch the dim light just so. “Did you know the Chinese have a method of killing called the Death of a Thousand Cuts?”
Mix lets the blade rest on the man’s cheek, tilting it ever so slightly so that it pricks the skin, a bright red line of blood trickling down from the cut. He’s spent years learning how sharp it is, what different levels of pressure would do. “I don’t have time for a thousand, but maybe a handful should do the trick…” He trails the knife to the man’s neck. “Actually, I think I can manage with just one more.”
The man’s Adam’s apple moves as he swallows, and Mix smiles a little bit, watching the sweat bead up on his skin. So much for the brave martyr act. “What?” he hisses, “Why do you look so scared now?” He lets the tip of the knife pierce the skin of the man’s neck, again only enough to break the skin, but not so much that he’ll bleed out. “I thought you weren’t afraid to die for your family.”
Earth starts getting used to the routine of Mix’s visits to the café.
Mix comes to the café at three every afternoon, sticking around until closing. By seven thirty, if there are no new customers, Earth grabs a cup of tea or coffee and a daisy – always a daisy – and joins him. They talk about the café and how they came up with the idea for it, Mix talks about his thesis – he’s a history major in his final semester of grad school, working on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Earth has never read a book that is more than fifty years old, so he just listens as Mix relates how Cao Cao deserves justice and how if people had just listened to Zhuge Liang… and is charmed by how excited he is by his dusty old book. Sometimes Podd hangs around to listen too, apparently to know what the fuss is about but – as Earth learns when Podd joins for weekend drinks with Joss and Tul – more to see Earth make puppy eyes at Mix.
After a week of daily flower and coffee ‘dates’, Earth manages to get Mix’s Line id out of him, and it takes all his self-control not to text him inane things through the day.
“You know your problem right?” Tul asks him over drinks.
Earth waits patiently for his friend to expand on the problem he has most recently identified as requiring attention.
“You’re not used to being single,” Tul says, and Joss and Podd make general sounds of agreement that Earth frankly finds offensive.
“That’s ridiculous,” he retorts. “I’m single right now!”
“Are you?” Podd asks, looking at Earth’s phone that has just lit up with a text – a tired cat emoji in response to Earth’s ‘didn’t see you at the café today, how are you doing?’. It’s adorable, Earth can’t help but smile, and he looks up just in time to see Podd roll his eyes. “Are you sure you’re single?”
“And if you are,” Joss interjects before Earth can answer, “Are you sure you wanna be?”
Earth opens his mouth to protest, then closes it again as he sees the notification for Mix’s ‘good night’ cat emoji pop up on his screen because, well, they have him there.
“But really, this guy you’re not dating,” Podd says, “Chauffeur driven fancy car and a daily pick up… Do you think he’s like rich rich?”
Earth laughs. “Either that or he’s in the mafia.”
The Phunsawat Family base is a century-old house in central Bangkok that had once been a royal residence. It’s huge and luxurious with enough room to house most of the main members of the family and provide a space from which to control their major operations. Outwardly, it is the home of a reclusive billionaire who controls his overseas business from the comfort of his palatial home. Mix has spent nearly half his life growing up in the mansion.
When Mix’s car pulls up into the compound, he is surprised to see a silver Range Rover parked beside the Boss’s sleek red BMW.
“Nanon’s back?” Mix hops out of the car and half jogs inside, waving and nodding quickly at men who join their palms in greeting in the veranda and foyer as he heads straight into the living room.
The opulent living room of the Phunsawat Mansion has been left as it was when they bought the house, with uncomfortable but expensive sofas on either wall of the large room, imported tapestries adorning the walls, and a tacky but extremely detailed tiger carved out of wood standing threateningly just inside the door. At the head of the room, like the throne of a king, is the armchair that seats the Head of the Family.
Mix automatically raises his hands to wai the Boss, his brother Attaphan Phunsawat, referred to as Gun by close and high-ranking members of the Family, and known as ATP to everyone else. Not a lot of people had seen him face to face – or survived to talk about such a meeting – but Mix always marvelled at how his brother, so slight in build it made him look like a child, could have built up a reputation as one of the most dangerous men in Bangkok.
Gun notices Mix’s arrival immediately, and smiles. “I was wondering when you’d get here! Look who’s back from Chiang Mai!”
The grin is already growing on Mix’s face as a tall young man extricates himself from among the many seated on the sofa and leaps forward to wrap Mix in a warm hug. “I missed you!”
“I missed you too! When did you get here! Why didn’t you text?”
Nanon was Mix’s first ‘man’, the first person recruited to work as Mix’s direct subordinate. He’d stayed behind in Chiang Mai after the incident three years ago to handle the Phunsawat withdrawal from those territories and Mix is ecstatic to see him again.
“Nanon has some news.”
Mix only now notices that most of the upper echelons of the family are already gathered. He cringes inwardly thinking that they must have been waiting for him while he was chatting over coffee with Earth, but Luke catches his gaze and winks, then moves to one side so that there’s place on the sofa beside him, and Mix releases Nanon to sit down.
“Now that we’re all here,” Gun says, looking around the room, “Nanon, would you like to report the news from Chiang Mai?”
Nanon nods, swallowing. “We’ve successfully shut down all our operations in Chiang Mai and moved them to Lampang,” he says.
Mix feels a little tug of nostalgia – Lampang had been home for him once, before all of this – and pushes it away. Gun always did tell him not to be so emotional.
“When we began setting up in Lampang, we clarified, as you know, Boss, that there were no major players already present there, but a couple of weeks ago, we lost one of our gambling houses to the Ruangroj.”
There is a hiss of apprehension from someone in the room. The last time they’d been in conflict with the Ruangroj in the north, they’d lost, badly. Mix’s eye flickers to Luke’s hand – the omnipresent glove hiding the maimed finger – a marker, like the scar on Mix’s hip and the memory of a lost friendship, of his own incompetence.
“Are they really trying to move in on our property again?” Mond demands.
Mond Tanutchai is, as far as Mix is concerned, de facto the next head of the Phunsawat family despite what everyone believes. Like the current head, and like Luke, Mond is Mix’s brother in all but name and blood, and he’s been part of the household for as long as he remembers. Mond knows pretty much everything there is to know about their operations. If it hadn’t been for the injury three years ago…
Luke nudges him slightly, bringing Mix back to the present, where Nanon is outlining the state of their businesses in Lampang.
“We can handle the north, we’re confident,” Nanon says, “But I had to come back because of what I heard is happening here. The Ruangroj are planning an alliance to take Bangkok from us –” He swallows again, looking too nervous for it to have been for effect, “– and they’re willing to take our heads to do it.”
Another murmur passes through the room as the weight of Nanon’s words sinks in.
“What do they even think they can do?” Gun asks calmly.
Nanon swallows again. “I don’t know, Boss.”
Gun nods. He indicates that Nanon can sit, and then looks around the room. “We don’t know how the Ruangroj will move from here on, but we’re going to be careful and we’re going to secure our properties. Mond, Luke, Mix, I know you all have your information networks, I need the three of you to identify areas that you think are sensitive to takeover – focus on territory that other groups have been eyeing, in particular, the Ruangroj will try to swallow them first.”
He waves a hand, indicating dismissal, and Mix follows Luke and Mond outside.
“Mix,” Luke begins immediately. “I think you need to stop spending time at that café of yours.”
Luke’s mouth is a thin line of displeasure. “It’s too dangerous – you heard Nanon – what if another civilian…” He trails off, realising what he’s said.
Mix’s vision flashes red. He is usually slow to anger, but now rage shoots through him, tears pricking his eyes. “How dare you use what happened with Ter against me,” he hisses.
“I’m just reminding you of what can happen if you’re careless!”
It hurts more than he thought it would. “Careless? Listen, Luke, you –”
Mond steps in between them before he can continue, a hand on each of their chests holding them back even though they aren’t actually going to fight.
“Let’s not focus on that now, okay?” Mond says calmly. “We have our assignments, we should get to that and –” He looks at Mix. “Make good decisions?”
Mix nods at him, though he turns a lingering glare in Luke’s direction before turning away, despite how petty it may seem, and despite the fact that he knows that there are still tears welling up in his eyes. It’s only when he’s walked away, back to the privacy of his rooms in the mansion, that he lets go of the breath he’s been holding and lets the tears fall.
Chiang Mai, Three Years Ago
The bar is surprisingly full for a weeknight, the crowd drawn by the board that says ‘open mic’, and in particular by the young man with the guitar on the small stage. His voice is light and soulful, and there’s a sparkle in his eyes as he looks out at his gathered listeners, flashing a wink and a smile at one of the tables in the corner. “This one’s for my special guest.”
Mix knows he’s blushing even before Nanon elbows him. Mix had tried to leave his new subordinate home many times, but no one would allow it, especially with the rumours of the Ruangroj family ready to risk everything for control of Chiang Mai. Mix can’t care less about all that right now, not while he’s listening to the man singing an old English song on stage, just for him.
“Looks like he’s noticed you, little boss,” Nanon teases, the lighting in the room deepening the shadows of his dimples.
Mix gathers himself. “Ter knows I’d never miss a performance.” Especially not tonight, which would mark two months since they’d first met right here in this bar.
He bites his lip. Especially not tonight.
They listen to the last of Ter’s set list, the audience applauding as the last strings of the guitar fade away.
Ter grabs a beer from the bartender and heads straight for their table, waving and nodding to his fans and regular listeners. “Mix," he smiles, "Thank you for coming, as always.”
He’s radiant, he always is after a show, and Mix finds himself unable to hold his gaze. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he says into his drink.
Nanon clears his throat. "I'll go get some us some snacks-"
“Actually,” Mix says, holding Nanon’s wrist before he can leave and giving his subordinate a pointed look. “You can head on home, I’ll walk back with Ter –” He glances across at Ter, to make sure that this is okay, waiting for the approving nod.
Nanon frowns, hesitating. Mix knows what he wants to say – the usual spiel about safety and rival families – but he'll listen because Mix is his superior, his 'little boss', and he has no choice. Mix needs Nanon to go on ahead because tonight, tonight he has something he needs to tell Ter, and he can’t have an audience for it.
Ter’s family runs a small guest house in town, and it’s only a half hour’s walk away from the bar, which with the right company is not too long at all. Mix thinks it might be too short.
It rained earlier that night, the road is damp and a little humid, but they walk close enough for their hands to brush. Ter is talking about how he got a call from someone who may be interested in signing him for a label, in Bangkok, and Mix is excited for him.
“I was thinking of moving to Bangkok too, maybe go to university there,” Mix says, watching their shadows mingle on the street as they walk.
“And your family will be okay with that?”
Mix stops. “They might be,” he says. They would have to be, he thinks, because Mix wants to go where Ter goes. He has to tell him.
“You look like there’s something on your mind,” Ter says, giving him that soft, questioning look that Mix finds so difficult to resist.
Mix nods. He knows the words, he’s planned them out, played and replayed them in his mind. He’s just not used to being the one doing this; it’d have been so much easier if Ter had gotten the hint and gone first. Mix needs to tell him though, he can’t live with himself if he doesn’t.
A breeze picks up around them, ruffling the messy curls of Ter’s hair. It’s perfect, except Mix can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong.
The breeze, when it picks up again, brings with a hint of something in the air, a scent that mingles with the fragrance of ylang-ylang – sharp and unpleasant, like sweat or –
It makes Mix’s hair stand on end. They are being watched, they’ve been followed, and he is unarmed and unprotected.
Hyperaware, Mix hears the sound of footsteps on asphalt and he knows they’re in trouble. He reaches out and grabs Ter’s wrist, surprising the musician. “We need to go.”
Ter blinks, but allows Mix to pull him out into one of the side streets between two houses. Mix is already going for his phone, cursing his fortune that tonight of all nights someone is following them. He fires off a text with his location to Nanon, his heart racing. He can’t believe he’s gotten Ter into this.
“Mix, what’s going on?” Ter asks. He sounds as afraid as Mix feels, and Mix wants to cry because this is his fault.
Mix lifts a shaky hand to his lips, signalling that Ter be quiet, trying to catch his breath. There’s definitely footsteps approaching them now. He considers his options, but behind them is a wall and he’s not sure if they’ll have time to scale it or even what’s on the other side.
Someone is at the end of the street.
It all happens very quickly, so quickly that Mix barely has time to react.
The click of a safety going off, a shout and the deafening bang of a gunshot.
Bangkok, Present Day
The café’s new employee is a young man with a quiet presence and a pleasant smile named Khaotung, who claims to have met Earth before, but Earth has no memory of him whatsoever. Podd seems impressed with Khaotung’s knowledge of coffee blends and his opinions on cold brews, which is sufficient for Earth to consider him an asset to the team.
This is why Earth is surprised when Mix, on entering the café the first weekday after Khaotung joins them, makes a beeline for their new employee, looking enraged.
“Khao, what the hell?” Mix demands, grabbing the man by the wrist and dragging him outside the café, presumably to yell at him.
Earth gives Podd, who has just come out with the day’s batch of muffins, a helpless look.
“Did your boy kidnap our staff?” Podd asks.
“No… I don’t think so…?” Earth says tentatively.
Around ten minutes pass before Mix and Khaotung return, the remains of a flush on Mix’s cheeks as he goes to his regular table. Khaotung’s lips are twisted in something of a smile.
“Is everything okay?” Earth asks Khaotung.
He nods, the smile growing again. “Just the young master throwing a bit of hissy fit, he’s fine.”
Earth glances over at Mix, who doesn’t look fine, but is glaring at his laptop screen.
Earth chews thoughtfully on his lip. On the one hand, he should rightfully man his counter and take customer orders. On the other, he just can’t put his finger on what it is, but he can’t help but think that Mix is more troubled than he’s letting on. And Earth, for reasons beyond himself, can’t let that thought go.
He puts together a bouquet he’d been planning for a while now, daisies – of course – and a few lilies, tying them with a simple ribbon. He takes off his apron and turns off his register – committing now to his plan.
As he usually does, he lays the bouquet on the table beside Mix’s computer and sits down in the seat opposite him.
Mix looks up, frowning. “It’s midday.”
“I know,” Earth replies. “Do you want to go for a drive?”
Mix is not sure why he says yes other than the fact that he can give Khao a self-satisfied smirk when he follows Earth out to the back of the café where his car – a shiny grey SUV – is parked. Khaotung denied that he took a job at the café because Luke or someone put him up to it to keep an eye on Mix, but Mix isn’t fully convinced. Khaotung is his closest friend but he’s also been peripheral part of the Phunsawat family for years.
It’s only when they pass the airport and stay on the Bangkok-Chonburi New Line, and Earth starts really throttling the gas, that Mix decides to ask the question he should have from the start.
“Where are we going?”
Earth doesn’t look at him. “I have a meeting with an orchid farm who’s interested in becoming a supplier and I thought I’d ask you to come with me.” He smiles a little. “I was only half expecting you to say yes.”
Mix doesn’t want to admit that he’s partly motivated by his rebellious mood and plan to avoid Luke for a few days. He examines the bouquet Earth gave him earlier. “The lilies are new,” he comments.
“Yeah… I was saving them for when I asked you out for real.”
“Oh…” Mix blinks. “So this is a date?”
“Our fifteenth, if you count all of the ones in the café,” Earth laughs. He flicks his gaze in Mix’s direction, catching Mix looking at him. “What? Am I coming on too strong? Should – should we go back?”
Mix shakes his head. “I – I guess no one has actually taken me out on a date before.”
“What’s so hard to believe?”
Earth looks away from the highway to stare at Mix. “You’re so smart, and you’re fun, and you’re so…” He looks a bit self-conscious and turns back to the road. “I’ll count myself lucky that I got to do it first, then.”
Mix feels warmth bloom in his chest at the earnest way Earth praised him, like he’d really meant it. “You’ve known me a total of three weeks, Earth.”
Earth shrugs. “Does that make a difference?”
“Well, yeah. I could be a criminal of some sort. A serial killer. Or – or a smuggler. Or even…” He’s counting out on his fingers, carefully avoiding the true nature of his association with crime. “I could be trafficking animals for fur.”
He looks at Earth, who has an eyebrow raised. “You, Mix, who said just last week that if you’d had the time you’d have gone to vet school, would traffic animals?”
Mix pouts despite himself. “I didn’t think you’d remember that, about the vet school thing.”
The car has taken the exit off the highway and through an arch into private land, a gravelly drive that leads up to a small house. Mix can see the roof of a greenhouse up ahead and knows this is their destination. Earth parks the car, and nods his head in the direction of the building.
“And of course I remember. I remember things about people I like.”
Mix trips on his own feet, and Earth is suddenly right there beside him, a strong hand holding his elbow to keep him from falling because of a line that Earth himself had just said.
Mix shakes him off. “You’re ridiculous.”
The orchid farm doesn’t take as long as Mix thinks it will. Earth chats with the owner while Mix wanders through the rows of the greenhouse, admiring the stalks of flowers, some of which grew nearly as tall as he stood. He touched one of the delicate yellow petals on one of the flowers, belatedly realising that he’s smiling. When did flowers start making him smile, he wonders, and shoots a glance towards the florist still immersed in his conversation.
He pulls out his phone to take a picture with the flowers, sends it to Khaotung with the caption, ‘I’ve been kidnapped 😉’. The response comes immediately: ‘1. Don’t joke about that and 2. You look happy 😊’
Mix just putting his phone away when he sees Earth walking back to him. “Did you manage to get your deal?”
Earth nods brightly. “A very good deal,” he says. “Better than most suppliers I’ve met recently. Must be because you’re here too.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Maybe you’re just my lucky charm.”
Mix stares at him, wondering how this man can possibly be real. He pokes him, just for good measure. “Did you really just say something that cheesy?”
“Cheesy is something I’m very good at.” They head back to the car and Earth stops just before getting back in. “Mix… is there somewhere you have to be tonight?”
Mix thinks that, for the first time all afternoon, Earth looks uncertain.
“I mean…” Earth raises a hand to his neck, a nervous gesture for sure. It’s oddly endearing, because Mix doesn’t think he’s seen Earth look anything but confident and mildly annoying. “We’re about an hour away from Pattaya…”
Mix recalls telling Earth that he loves the sea during one of their ‘dates’, an aside during a conversation about seafood. He is willing to bet anything that Earth not only remembers this, but also that bringing Mix to this farm halfway to the sea is something he’s deliberately planned.
And yes, Mix is a ranked member of the Phunsawat family, he is used to having people hanging on to his every word and willing to do as he says. He’s used to getting his way as long as it doesn’t endanger the family or himself. But he hasn’t asked Earth for anything, Earth is simply offering to drive him to the beach because – because he likes him.
“I’ve got nowhere else to be.”
Reminding my readers that this fic is rated M :)
When Mix was five years old, he’d slipped on a rock and nearly drowned in the sea. He’s had a fear since then, of being swallowed under the waves and never found again.
The sun is setting when they, not at the Pattaya of tourists and party-trips, but to the small town of Bang Saray. It’s quieter and emptier when they walk down to the seaside, the gentle waves gleaming golden in the light from the setting sun, just hidden by a small hill in the distance. Bursts of laughter come from some way down the beach, where a man is bringing his two small children to the waterside.
Mix smiles to himself, watching them.
He feels Earth come up beside him, standing close enough for their hands to brush, and he reaches out to entwine their fingers together, his mind flashing back to the first night they’d met, at that bar so many weeks ago.
It feels like a lifetime, and at the same time like just a few days.
He looks up at Earth, whose tanned skin looks like burnished gold in the light. He is undoubtedly of the most handsome men he has ever met, tall and statuesque, but Mix is more endeared by the laugh lines at the corner of his eyes, the way his lips quirk because he knows Mix is watching him.
“Why do you like me?”
Earth gives him a sidelong look but doesn’t say anything at once. Mix watches as he licks his lips, as though thinking of the best way to answer the question. He can almost pinpoint the exact moment Earth decides to bullshit the answer, the way the spark changes the light in his eyes.
“Why do you like me?” Earth asks back.
Mix makes a face. “I never said I like you.”
“Hmm, true,” says Earth. “I guess I gotta try harder then.”
He can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous little eyebrow wiggle Earth does to accompany that. “So ridiculous,” he huffs, rolling his eyes.
The water is starting to lap at his feet now, and he takes a tentative step forward, only to startle back when an unexpectedly large wave, stronger than he’d been expecting, hits him and drenches the ends of his rolled-up jeans. Mix feels Earth’s grip tightens on his hand, holding him fast as though afraid Mix will lose his footing.
The action was simple, and, Mix thinks, must have been instinctive, the steady way Earth holds him in place.
Mix feels a tightness in his chest, like he wants to cry, just because a man who should rightfully be a stranger is making sure he doesn’t slip in the undertow of a wave barely as high as his knee. His free hand comes to his heart, feeling it pound against his ribs as though trying to tell him a coded message that Mix is not sure he wants to accept just yet.
“Are you okay?” Earth asks, and Mix winces at the concern in his voice.
He lets go of Earth’s hand, takes a step away, folding his arms together. Let Earth think what he wants, this is too much for Mix right now.
Earth is watching him, clearly wondering what he’s done wrong, and Mix wants to tell him it’s nothing, he was just too nice for a moment. Mix takes a deep breath and lets it out, casting his gaze out at sea, centering himself. Earth doesn’t deserve to face the aftermath of too many years Mix has spent guarding his heart against people being overly good to him. And Mix… Mix wants to know him.
“Can – can you talk to me for a while?”
They check-in at a resort that Earth knows and get coffee and lunch at a nearby café before they walk back down to the beachside which has grown more deserted as the evening wears on. Mix listens as Earth talks about so many things: he is from Bangkok, the house that Brewbells Café and Florist occupies the ground floor of is Earth’s own home, he’d grown up there but now his parents have retired to somewhere up north to be closer to nature. Earth tells Mix how he and Podd had been planning the café since they were in college, despite Earth being an Education major and Podd in Engineering. Joss and Tul, who Mix remembers from their first meeting, were old friends of theirs too, they meet every weekend at one of their houses to catch up over drinks.
Mix likes hearing about the lives of people who don’t constantly have to think about Families or alliances. Khaotung is his closest non-underworld friend, and even his father had done some tertiary operations with the Phunsawat. He hasn’t let anyone else near, not after Ter.
“I’m boring you now,” Earth laughs, interrupting his thoughts.
Mix shakes his head. “No, I was the one who asked you to talk in the first place.”
“But you weren’t listening anymore –”
“Who said?” Mix demands. “I know that Tul is the flirty drunk in your group, that you had a cat named Mangkhud when you were a child, that you’re afraid of spiders and fermented fish. That’s weird, by the way.”
“Lots of people are afraid of spiders.”
“No one is afraid of fermented fish.”
“How can you say that when you know me!” Mix can barely see Earth’s face but he looks so scandalised that it startles a laugh out of him and suddenly, it’s the funniest thing he’s ever heard, a grown man afraid of fermented fish. Actual fear, not dislike like one would expect with food. Earth said he’s afraid of it.
Mix laughs so hard he feels his legs give way and –
- and there is Earth’s hand on his elbow, steadying him again. Mix sits down in the sand, still giggling at the image of Earth fighting spiders armed with fish, and Earth sits down next to him.
“I had no idea my terror was so amusing to you,” Earth says at length, once the last of the laughs die down. “But I’m glad you’re laughing again, I thought I’d lost you halfway there.”
Mix smiles, slipping his feet out of his sandals and digging his toes into the damp sand. “I think I’m not used to people liking me.” He means it as a tease, is betrayed by the tone of his own voice. “You – ” he swallows, adjusting his tone. “You still haven’t told me why you do, by the way.”
“I don’t remember you saying you like me at all, so I think you don’t deserve to know why I like you yet. Except… I knew from the first time I saw you, in that little bar, that you were the one I’d been waiting for.”
“Hadn’t you just been dumped?”
Earth raises a finger to his lips. “Ssh, let me tell the story… I knew that this boy – with a smile that can light up a room, and eyes that can look into my soul – would steal my heart. And then he got drunk with me and we went home and didn’t sleep together sleep together, but that’s okay, I still like him. The end. Or…”
Mix can’t understand why he’s smiling, he pulls up his knees and ducks his head into them. “Okay, maybe I like you a little bit. But you are the biggest dork I’ve ever met.”
Earth laughs now, it rings loud against the dull roar of the sea. “But you do like me a little bit?”
Mix nods into his knees.
“Now that that’s settled,” Earth gets up and Mix watches as he pulls off his t-shirt and drops it in the sand.
“What the hell are you –” He watches as Earth slips off his jeans and deposits them on top of the t-shirt.
Now stripped down to his boxers, he looks at Mix. “Coming for a swim?”
Mix blinks up at him, though he’s sure Earth can’t really see the action now that there’s only moonlight to light them. It is a full moon, though, hanging gibbous above them. He shakes his head. “I’m – I’m a little afraid of the –”
Earth nods, understanding. “Are you okay if I take a dip?”
Mix follows the man to the side of the water. The sea is calm tonight, and Mix feels brave enough to sit closer, watching Earth wade deeper into the water. He watches Earth hold his breath and submerge himself fully under it, before bursting out like some kind of animated merman. Mix laughs, raising his phone – thus far forgotten and ignored – to take a picture. The flash of the camera draws Earth’s startled attention.
“If you’d warned me I’d have posed better.” He slicks his hair back and strikes a model’s pose that should have been ridiculous but Earth is dripping wet, his movements flexing the toned muscle of his arms, his too thin shorts clinging to his skin… Mix feels his heart skip a beat. He takes another picture, just to hide his face, burning with a blush that he can feel creeping down to his neck.
If Earth noticed Mix ogling, he doesn’t show it. Having satisfactorily posed, he goes back for another dip underwater.
“Mix,” Earth says, wading back up towards him, and Mix is careful to keep his gaze fixed on Earth’s face and not on his shorts. He holds out a hand. “I promise not to let you slip.”
And Mix is not sure why, but he takes Earth’s hand and allows the man to lead him until the water is waist deep, soaking through the cotton of his pants. He plays his fingers on the surface of the water, cupping his palms and letting it run out of them. There is still the lingering fear in the back of his mind that something is about to pull him under, but the moment that thought comes to him, he looks to Earth, and their eyes meet for a second.
The decision is quick.
With a small war-cry, Mix whirls his hands in the water, splashing Earth with as much water as he could move, laughing as Earth retaliates in kind after a split second’s surprise. They’re lucky it’s late evening and the beach is more or less deserted or more people would be concerned about two men scrambling about trying to chase each other down and fling sea water at each other.
Mix is drenched by the time they stop to catch their breath, still laughing with the exhilaration and not quite able to stop. Earth comes to him and Mix leans against him as the last chuckles finally die away.
Earth’s hand comes to move the locks of wet hair that have fallen into Mix’s eyes, his touch lingering and Mix’s skin tingles where his fingertips trace a path down from his forehead to his cheek. Mix leans his head into the touch, feeling Earth’s hand gently cup his cheek, the slightest movement prompting Mix to turn his head up, and Mix does, so that he can meet Earth’s lips in a kiss.
It is careful at first, as though both of them are giving the other the chance to step away if they don’t want this, but Mix puts his hand on Earth’s chest, feeling the hard planes of his muscles and the thudding of his heart beyond, and they deepen the kiss. It’s salty with seawater, but Mix can also taste the remnants of their afternoon coffee on Earth’s tongue, he wants more. He lets out a surprised gasp when Earth’s hand goes to his thigh, pulling, and Mix understands his intent. He wraps his arms around Earth’s neck, still mouthing at his cheek, his jaw, everything in reach, bringing his legs up around Earth’s waist.
He feels drunk on starlight and seawater, and he doesn't want it to end.
Mix is expecting it, but still squeaks a little when Earth lifts him up out of the water and carries him back onto the sand, which is when Mix bites Earth’s ear and they fall, unceremoniously, tangled into each other.
Earth raises himself above Mix, his face amused in the darkness, and Mix can’t help but think about how gorgeous he looks against the stars shimmering in the seaside sky. They kiss again, slowly, but when Earth shifts so that he’s straddling his hips, Mix can feel the heat of him through the thin layers of wet clothes and he reaches down to take them both into his hand, swallowing Earth’s gasps into the kiss. He’s not sure how long they spend in the sand, moving together, hands clasped in the sand as they reach for the climax, Mix biting in to Earth’s shoulder to keep from crying out as he comes and that sends Earth over the edge as well.
They lie still, still soaked to the bone from earlier and now perhaps too tired to move, Earth gently stroking Mix’s hair as they come down from their high.
“I can’t believe we have to go back to the resort like this,” he sighs, and Mix chuckles, looking up at the stars again, wondering how long it would take if he were to stay here and count them. Whether Earth would stay to count with him.
He probably would, Mix thinks, he hasn’t seen Earth deny him a thing yet.
It’s a thought that makes him happier than it should.
‘You look happy’ Khaotung’s message had read, earlier that day.
They go back to the water to get cleaned up, carefully not looking at each other now that the situation has turned from sexy to mildly embarrassing, before walking, hand-in-hand, back to the resort. The person at the reception looks sufficiently horrified at their state, covered in sand and seawater and probably with hair that looks like they’d had a romp on the beach which… well, isn’t far from the truth.
The room is decent, not overly luxurious, but the showers have warm water that they make more than enough use of, washing out the sand that feels endless, taking longer than it should because they keep distracting each other with teasing kisses.
They fall into bed and come together again, tangled legs and searching fingers. Earth is warm and he’s safe and he’s eager to comply with everything Mix requests of him. When Earth reveals that he’s had condoms and lube in his jeans all along, Mix laughs at how presumptuous he’s been, and Earth laughs with him, and Mix pulls him back into bed, eager to make the most of the night.
Khaotung was right, Mix thinks. He is happy.
Earth wakes to the sound of his phone ringing. He sleepily waves his arm about, futilely seeking his bedside table before remembering that he isn’t home. The phone rings out while he opens his eyes and lets his heart do that funny little flip-flop it tends to do when he looks at Mix. His companion is cocooned in the comforter, only his face and the fluff of his hair visible outside it but Earth can’t help but find it the most endearing thing he has ever seen. He gently ruffles Mix’s hair before forcing himself out of bed.
There is a lit screen somewhere near his feet and belatedly realises that it’s Mix’s phone, with a cat wallpaper and what appears to be several missed call and message notifications. He doesn’t pry, however, and places the phone within arm’s reach of Mix before finding his own phone on the floor. The call that he missed is from Podd, which isn’t surprising: he was supposed to be back from an orchid farm last night.
“Yeah, sorry, I’m in –”
“Pattaya?” Podd’s voice is both amused and tired. “I’m not saying anything.”
“How did you even know?” Earth asks. He moves to the balcony now, leaning on the railing and looking out at the sea.
The memory of the previous night brings a smile that he can’t quite keep from his lips, and he barely hears half of what Podd is telling him, until he catches the word ‘property’.
Podd sighs. “Were you even listening? Some guys came over yesterday asking if we had paperwork for the property.”
“Paperwork?” Earth frowns. “It’s my house!”
“I dunno, man… they didn’t look… above the board, if you know what I mean?”
“Above the board?”
“Aah, you know, they had something shady about them… If this were a movie, I’d say they looked like yakuza or something.”
“Yakuza? Like – like mafia?”
Somewhere behind him he hears a quiet thud. Mix and his blanket cocoon are now closer to the edge of the bed, and Earth watches in amusement as he swipes at the floor looking for the phone that he’s apparently just dropped.
Earth moves the phone away to greet the boy now smiling across at him, looking almost unreal in the morning light. “Good morning, sunshine.”
From in his phone there’s the quiet retching sound that Podd is making. “Don’t say anything,” Earth says, returning to his call. “So these people who’ve been talking about property, where did they say they’re from?”
“The card they gave me was from a finance company of some kind… It’s probably nothing, maybe they’re trying to buy up property in the area.”
Earth nods, belatedly realising Podd can’t see it. He leans on the railing again, letting the wind ruffle his hair as he thinks about what possible interest anyone could have in his house and the café. “I hope it’s –” He is interrupted when arms come to wrap around his waist, just above the waistband of his boxers. Mix leans his head against Earth’s back, and Earth feels coherent thought start to leave him. “Gotta go,” he tells Podd. “We’ll talk about it when I get back.”
He hangs up and lays a hand on Mix’s arm, squeezing gently.
“Did I wake you?”
Mix’s response vibrates against his back, and he feels Mix’s lips move against his skin. “Mm, you woke me up. It’s all your fault.”
Earth smiles, turning his head to look back at Mix. “Oh? What should I do then?”
Fingers trace the edge of his waistband, just tickling the skin below the elastic. Earth gasps in surprise when Mix, having risen on tiptoe, bites into the flesh of his shoulder-blade. “Take responsibility,” is the whispered instruction.
Earth finds it very difficult to say no.
It’s late afternoon when they finally return to Bangkok.
“Why did Podd call so early in the morning?”
Earth had completely forgotten how his day had begun, with the call from Podd, and the question catches him off guard.
“Oh, it’s probably nothing. He said some shady guys were asking about the house. He’s probably just overthinking it.”
Mix nods. “Maybe it’s property developers.”
“That’s what I thought!” Earth says with a laugh, giving Mix a sidelong glance. “Podd said they looked like yakuza.”
Mix laughs too. “Maybe they are, out to establish their territory in the area.”
“You and Podd would get along, he’s watched too many mafia movies too!”
“You never know,” Mix points out, and Earth wants to kiss the smarmy grin off his face. Too bad they’re still in traffic.
“Where do I drop you off?” he asks, realising he doesn’t know where Mix lives.
“Oh, uh, you can drop me off at Central,” he says. “Someone will pick me up there.”
“I could take you home –”
Mix shakes his head. “I live with my family, and you might’ve figured out that they’re really weird about some things.”
Earth nods, already navigating in the direction of Central. He spots the Bentley that usually picks Mix up from the café idling outside the shopping centre and parks his car a little away from it.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Mix says, leaning across to kiss him, not a peck on the lips as Earth is expecting it to be, but hard and urgent, sucking on Earth’s bottom lip and nipping it ever so lightly before pulling away.
Earth is more than a little dazed as he watches the man let himself out of the car and head down the road towards the Bentley. Mix shoots him the briefest of glances before getting into the forbidding dark vehicle, and even at this distance Earth can tell he’s smirking. Tomorrow, then.
Leaning back on the plush leather seats of his family car, Mix lets his mind travel through the possible explanations for the ‘visitors’ at Earth’s café. It frightens him how close to the truth Earth and Podd had probably gotten with their ‘yakuza’ guess, because, try as he might to pretend otherwise, Mix doesn’t think for a moment that it doesn’t have anything to do with him.
His head is spinning with thoughts and connections and he wants nothing more than to tell his driver to turn around and take him back to Earth, to Bang Saray, to a beach where none of this exists.
Mix takes a deep breath.
This is what he knows: The Ruangroj have interests in Bangkok – this was what Nanon said. The Ruangroj, who know Mix only too well from their run-ins in the north.
He cannot deny the possibility that they have been watching him, and if they have been watching him… then they know the café he visits nearly every damn day of the week–
- just as Luke warned they would.
Something clenches in his chest as Mix realises that if the café is being watched, he can’t go back there. His fingers unconsciously trace his lips, reliving, relishing the phantom memory of being pressed against Earth’s…
Tomorrow, he’d said, and now he realises it’s a lie. He can’t meet Earth tomorrow, and maybe not even the day after. Not until Mix knows for sure the identities of the people who’d asked about the property and neutralises the possible threat.
The unfairness is not lost on him.
He opens up the pinned conversation on his phone, the last texts he had sent to Ter three years ago, another person he had inadvertently dragged into this mess, just letting it serve as a reminder or how stupid he’s being, and centres himself.
He will not let the situation escalate like it had in Chiang Mai, he’ll make sure Earth is kept as far from this mess as possible. But Mix does not think he has it in him to completely let the other man go.
No, it’s not that. He doesn’t want to let him go. So he’ll protect Earth, no matter what it takes.
By the time the car brings him home, he’s ready to do something about this. He finds Luke in Gun’s office, a mug of strong coffee steaming beside him as he does up the family’s accounts. The Phunsawat family have, as many groups such as theirs do, a number of shell corporations and holdings, and Luke has a brilliant mind that keeps a tab on all the comings-in and goings-out.
Luke looks surprised to see him. “Mix-”
“Do you know where Mond is?” Mix interrupts.
Luke gives him the look that’s reserved for when he knows Mix is being childish or unreasonable. “He’s probably in the training yard… Mix, we need to talk.”
Mix realises that he does not want to fight with Luke, especially not now that he’s increasingly sure that he doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. He sits down, plopping into the armchair across from Luke.
“Mix,” Luke sighs. “You went off the radar yesterday. I almost sent someone to look for you until I got Khaotung to confess that you were off with your boyfriend.”
Mix wants to protest to the use of the word. He and Earth haven’t talked about anything like that, and given the way things can possibly turn out now…
“I think I’m old enough to make my own choices.”
“Of course you are, but I warned you about putting civilians in danger-”
Mix sits up, narrowing his eyes. “What do you know? Do you know who the people who went to Brewbells yesterday were?”
Luke holds up a calming hand, as though afraid that Mix will jump to unwanted conclusions. “Now, I need you to know that I only had people watch the café because I needed to know when you came home-”
“You had people watch the café?”
“Just yesterday, and the Boss agreed that it’s necessary.”
Mix finds it hard to believe that Gun would ever be all right with something that was such a clear invasion of privacy, and he does not drop his glare from Luke.
“I just had Nanon and some of the others patrol the area periodically and they identified the men as employees of Starling Real Estate.”
Mix plans to give Nanon a stern dressing down later – Nanon is Mix’s direct subordinate, not for Luke to order around as he pleases. But first, he needs information. “Are they Ruangroj?”
Luke shakes his head and Mix lets out a mental sigh of relief.
“From our information, I’m guessing the Ruangroj have approached them for a possible alliance – real estate is a great front if you want to move money around.”
“A possible alliance?” Mix asks, leaning forward in his chair. “… What if they joined us instead?”
Luke laces his fingers beneath his chin, his lip curling in thought. “Hmm, I don’t know what we could use to bargain with them,” he says. “And the Boss would have to be convinced. We also need one of our best talkers to go negotiate –”
Mix is already ten steps ahead, texting Gun to find out where he is. “I’ll do it.”
He gets up, smiling at the bewildered expression on Luke’s face. “I said I’ll do it. If the Boss lets me, that is, I’ll negotiate.”
“Mix, negotiation isn’t something you take so lightly. You need training, and experience, you need to find their weaknesses and try and exploit them without them knowing…”
Mix reaches out and lays a hand on Luke’s shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “Just trust me, I’ll come up with something.”
Earth hates that he has become the clingy kind of person who freaks out when he doesn’t get a reply to texts or calls from his – not-boyfriend – for two entire days, but here he is, doing up bouquets mechanically while waiting for his phone to chime with a notification or a call. Anything to reassure him that Mix hasn’t randomly dropped out of his life and that he hasn’t done anything wrong for that to happen.
It is Khaotung, most likely instructed by Podd who has been giving Earth increasingly threatening looks, who tells him that Mix has been busy with some family affairs and his graduate thesis. Earth has no reason not to believe this, and decides that he can support Mix by sitting on his hands and focusing on his work.
It’s a week since their trip to the beach when Earth sends a text with a picture of a small bouquet of forget-me-nots that a dealer had recently given him. He thinks the message should be clear, the ‘I miss you’ is written into the name of the flower itself. He’s not expecting a reply: Mix hasn’t even seen his last few texts.
A part of him is worried, despite Khaotung’s assurances. Something doesn’t feel right, but Earth can’t put his finger on it.
Of course, this unsettling feeling might have nothing to do with Mix and more to do with the property dealers who’ve been lurking around his neighbourhood.
After his return, the ‘shady men’ that Podd mentioned turned up two more times, once asking for details of Earth’s parents’ ownership of the house and another asking if he knew anything else about the area. He’s also very sure that he spots them in the area on a few other occasions, but he doesn’t approach them as long as they don’t approach him.
The only other visitor to the café who really stands out is the pale, very good-looking man who comes in for a cup of coffee on Friday. Earth notices him because he takes a seat at the table that has been unofficially reserved for Mix, and doesn’t order anything other than a black coffee with an unsettlingly stoic expression. Earth is certain that the man watches him prepare his flower arrangements for the day, but when Earth looks up he’s absorbed in his phone.
When Earth’s gang of friends meet for dinner and drinks that weekend, they are quick to tell him that he is being insane.
“Some new guy comes in for a coffee,” Joss is laughing. “And you’re worried he’s after your boyfriend.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about!” Earth says defensively. “Podd agrees with me, there’s something weird going on.”
“I do agree with him, but I also think it’s mafia, so…” he shrugs, while the others laugh, entirely at Earth’s expense.
“I hate you all,” he says, glaring around the table.
Joss throws an arm around Earth’s shoulder and smacks a wet kiss against his cheek. “C’mon, bro, you know we love you. You’re just frustrated because you haven’t gotten any this week, it’s perfectly understandable.”
Earth shoves him off and downs his drink in one go. “Hate. You. All.”
“We should have more backup. What if you get stabbed?”
“I won’t get stabbed,” Mix says tersely. “I’m only going to negotiate.”
“You are going to negotiate. You.”
“And why not?”
Nanon studies his own hand with an exaggerated pout. “And I was getting attached to my little finger.”
“That's not funny, Nanon, and I won’t get stabbed!” Mix snaps, just as they pull up to the small building that houses Starling Real Estate.
Nanon watches as Mix adjusts his appearance before stepping out of the car, fixing his hair in the rear-view mirror. Mix then turns to him with a meaningful look and Nanon realises that the Mix is young master of the Phunsawat family today, and as such, he needs the car door to be opened for him. Nanon hops out of the car and does as he needs to, and he swears that the Mix Sahaphap who steps out of the car is a different person, shedding any sign of nervousness like a second skin.
Nanon has heard that Mix is very good at getting information out of people, so maybe the negotiation won’t go as badly as he thinks.
They step into the offices of the real estate company and are quickly ushered into the boss’s office.
Boom Tharatorn looks more like a Japanese yakuza than any real estate agent, as though he has completely taken the concept of ‘shady’ and run with it. He is a handsome man, despite all the bright printed clothes and slicked back hair, the scar running down his cheek. According to what Mix has told Nanon, Boom has a loyal gang of men who will follow him through anything, even though he isn’t formally allied to any of the big mafia families.
Nanon steps closer to Mix the moment Boom’s own bodyguards move to flank their boss. They won’t be armed, in all likelihood, but Nanon readies himself for anything. He can’t help but compare Mix and the other man, study how different they look. Dressed for business, in a waistcoat over fitted pants and a flashy leather jacket, his hair carefully styled, Mix still looks like a runway model. He stands like one too, with the jut of his hip just so and a charming smirk on his lips.
Boom gives the man standing opposite his desk a long, appraising once-over. “I have to admit, you’re not what I expected, Phunsawat.”
Mix shrugs. “It’s Wongratch, but get that a lot,” he says, lowering himself into a chair and putting his legs up against Boom’s desk. Nanon is about to at least clear his throat meaningfully to suggest that this isn’t the wisest idea until he notices how Mix arranges himself, leaning back in his chair so that his jacket falls open, highlighting how his shirt is unbuttoned just enough to reveal a sliver of pale skin and the beginnings of a collarbone.
Nanon suddenly knows what he is planning: because if there is one thing that Mix knows, it’s how to work an audience. Nanon has seen Gun Attaphan at negotiations, fully capable of using his intimidating presence to his advantage, having honed it into a weapon over the years. Mix has a different kind of presence, one that Nanon can now see is probably equally persuasive, perhaps more so in current circumstances.
Mix’s smile is right off a magazine cover. “I’m so thankful you agreed to negotiate with me, Mr Tharatorn.”
“The pleasure is all mine,” Boom says, and Nanon believes him.
Negotiating with Starling Real Estate takes over an hour. Mix likes to think it would have taken longer without his tactics, but Boom doesn’t back down easily. Mix knows that the alternative – the usual knifeplay and intimidation – might have worked too, but Gun has always told him to play smart and remember there’s more than one way to win a fight.
Mix has never doubted that he’s good looking, and his informants have told him that Boom Tharatorn is a sucker for a pretty face. They start at a couple million baht price to keep from buying out the area where Brewbells Café is, and Mix has practically had to climb into the other man’s lap to get him to bring it down and give the Phunsawat exclusive rights over it, and the possible swinging of Starling Real Estate to their family rather than the Ruangroj.
He can’t keep the triumphant grin off his face when he and Nanon leave the building, but it’s only when they have gotten into their car that he lets out a laugh.
“I can’t believe it worked!” he all but shouts, leaning his head back on the seat and glancing sideways at his companion. “And see? No stabbing or anything!”
Nanon lets out a little laugh as well. “No stabbing,” he agrees. “I just hope you don’t plan on seducing people in all your negotiations.”
“I wasn’t trying to seduce him,” Mix protests. “Just distract him a little bit.”
“But this is great! The Boss will be excited to hear we were successful!” Nanon is beaming. “Taking an area from right under the Ruangroj’s noses! I can’t wait to tell him.”
Mix knows he should rightfully go home, give Gun a full report. But he knows that it’s not anyone in the whole Phunsawat household that he wants to see right now.
“Hey, can you drop me off somewhere first?”
Earth is starting his daily closing up shop checklist when he notices the black Bentley pull up on the opposite side of the street. He freezes on the spot, his hand still halfway through flipping the ‘we are open’ sign to ‘closed’. The passenger side door is out of his view, and holds his breath until he sees Mix’s head emerge above the level of the car, which drives away. Mix looks straight across the street at Earth, who pulls the café door open and steps out.
Mix looks good. And different. Earth has usually seen him dressed casually on his café visits, all baggy sweaters and unstyled hair, he has even had the pleasure of seeing Mix undressed completely, but Earth has never seen him look like this, like someone out of a movie, fitted jeans and an actual leather jacket and a shirt that’s distractingly unbuttoned.
Earth is so distracted that he barely resists when Mix walks right past him and into the café, waiting for Earth to follow before crowding him up against the door and kissing him hard.
“Sorry,” Mix says, breaking the kiss, breathless. “I just needed to –”
Earth shakes his head, pulls him in again, traces Mix’s ear with his lips. “You know how good you look tonight, don’t you?” he asks. “You came here just so I can see you.”
Mix nods. Earth feels him shudder in his grasp as his hand traces a path down the open collar of Mix’s shirt, already starting to unbutton the waistcoat and pausing just at the fly of Mix’s jeans. “I don’t know who you dressed up for, but…” he murmurs, grazing his teeth against the soft skin at the juncture of neck and shoulder, drawing a hiss from the man in his arms. “You’re here because you want to be mine tonight.”
The last of the lights in the café are turned off as the couple disappear up the stairs.
The man melts out of the shadows of the building opposite Brewbells Café. The Phunsawat heir hasn’t come in to this ship in about a week, and the man has started to think he’s lost interest in the florist.
His phone lights up with an incoming call, and the lion on the caller id tells him who it’s from. “Right on time,” he says. “The Wongratch boy is here.”
Prachaya Ruangroj’s voice is light and pleasant, just as the man himself often is. “He’s been busy. I’ve been informed that he convinced Starling to join the Phunsawat so he can secure his boyfriend’s property... Maybe you should acquaint yourself with him, N.”
N tilts his head, his gaze travelling up to the second storey of the café. He can, if he chooses, let himself into the property and leave Wongratch a message, but N prides himself on the element of surprise.
“I have time,” N says. “The Phunsawat can think they’ve won this one, you don’t mind, do you?”
“Just as long as you give me results soon, N, you can do whatever you like.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.” N smiles as he hangs up.
Warnings for some genre-typical violence and blood in this chapter :)
It has been a long time since Mix has spent time with anyone other than Earth or his family, so when Khaotung informs him that they’re meeting up for drinks again, he is excited to agree. He texts Earth that he will not be going over to the café that evening, and figures Earth will put things together when Khaotung requests for a day off too. Sure enough, Earth’s text in reply is a ‘Have fun’ followed by a heart emoji that makes Mix feel unnecessarily warm inside.
“You know, little boss,” Nanon says as Mix put his phone away and turns back to the work at hand – working out unobtrusive patrol routes for his men – on a map of the city on his ipad, “You’re really starting to look like someone in love nowadays.”
Mix gives him a noncommittal look. “Maybe I am,” he shrugs, zooming in on a 7/11 that can be used as a vantage point. He can feel Nanon’s gaze on him but he keeps from looking up although he thinks his ears might be turning red and giving him away completely.
Nanon leans in to speak to him now, in a half conspiratory, half concerned tone. “Does Boss ATP know?”
Mix shakes his head. “He’ll want to meet him, and I’m not sure if Earth…” He looks at Nanon. “You were there to pick up the pieces the last time this happened, you remember.”
Nanon frowns. “But back then… you never looked like this, little boss. You look a lot surer now.”
“That’s because I am,” Mix murmurs, making another circle on an outdoor food court. He is sure about Earth but that doesn’t stop him from being scared of something happening that could change that. In Chiang Mai, that night had been the start of it all, and Mix remembers how focussed he’d been back then on finding the Ruangroj leaders for the attack of that night, for putting Ter in danger.
He lost Ter anyway, despite everything. A part of him wants to believe that Earth is different, that Earth is not the kind of person to be frightened off if he really cares about Mix, because Mix has gotten closer to Earth than he ever has with anyone outside the family.
The possibility that Earth will also just shut him out, block his number and refuse to acknowledge his existence again, scares Mix more than he ever wants to admit, and more than he ever wants anyone else in the family to know.
He marks a final spot – a park – and hands the tablet to Nanon. “Coordinate patrols at these locations for this week. You know what to do.”
The younger man flashes him a dimpled smile. “I held up in Chiang Mai just fine, little boss.”
Mix can’t help but smile back. “I trust you,” he says. He gets up, stretching his back and his arms. “I’m going out with friends tonight, but call me or Khaotung if there’s an emergency.”
“Do you have begonias?”
Earth blinks up at the man at his counter. It’s the same handsome stranger that he’s noticed before – the black-coffee drinker who sometimes sits in Mix’s seat – his face still unsettlingly devoid of expression.
The man nods. “There’s a bouquet I’d like sent. I’d appreciate begonias, if you have them.”
Earth gives him a smile. Clearly, this stoic stranger isn’t too familiar with flower language. “I think you should probably avoid begonias… They usually don’t feature in bouquets because they mean –”
“They represent a warning, in flower language.”
The customer is always right, Earth tells himself, even if the customer looks really good but creeps you out.
“A warning, yes. So… not something people want to send to friends and loved ones,” Earth says with a laugh that he hopes does not sound as forced as it does to him. “Can I recommend another flower, perhaps?”
The man smiles now, a crooked little twist of his lips. “No, I can pick one… How about…” He trails pale fingers across the blooms on display, settling on a bunch of daisies that Earth has kept aside for Mix. His eyes flick in Earth’s direction. “Mm, yes, these will do. He likes them, doesn’t he?”
Something is wrong. The sentence is innocuous enough but it sends a chill down Earth’s spine. He knew it, just knew this man has something to do with Mix. He wishes he could be happier about having been right. “… He?”
“I think you already know who I mean. The Wongratch boy... Oh,” the stranger’s smile returns now. “I forgot to mention, didn’t I? My mistake…I would like these delivered to young master Wongratch at this address.” He slides over a piece of paper with a neatly handwritten address that looks to be somewhere outside the city.
It doesn’t sit well with Earth. Mix is always so private about his life, even after everything, and Earth doesn’t know how he’ll react if Earth turns up with this stranger’s flower delivery.
Speaking of stranger… He looks up, realising he doesn’t have a name to put on the card – if there is one at all. “Who should I say it’s from?”
“They call me N.”
Jane and Aye are insufferable once Khaotung lets slip that Mix is seeing someone. They form a united front of teasing, making it that he can’t get a single word through before they turn it into an innuendo of some kind. It’s annoying, but Mix can’t be angry, he’s missed his friends too much.
“Wait!” Mix holds his hands up to stop their incessant flow. “How come none of you are talking about Khao and his hot baker boyfriend?”
The girls give him identical looks of surprise and Mix can’t help but smirk as he sees Khaotung try to hide behind his beer mug.
“Ask him!” Mix urges. “Ask him how much time he’s spent texting me about Podd’s arms.”
The diversionary tactic works and Mix is able to finish a drink while engaging in the schadenfreude of watching Khaotung be grilled by Jane and Aye. It also gives him the opportunity to text Earth and ask what he’s doing. He tries not to smile at the ‘Have fun’ message that Earth had last sent, but knows he’s failed the moment he hears Aye’s “Ohoo, and who are you texting alreadyyy?”
Mix resolutely ignores her but is aware of Khaotung giving away too much information about Earth’s daily gifts of flowers while he texts the man himself. He starts typing out ‘Do you miss me’, but realises he would much rather hear Earth’s voice, and slips out of the booth to make the call, mumbling about the toilet.
The air outside is crisp and chilly, but somehow the moment Earth says hello Mix feels a lot warmer.
“Why are you calling me instead of hanging out with your friends?” Earth chuckles, and Mix smiles into the phone.
“I missed you,” Mix says truthfully. “Did you manage okay without your best employee and favourite customer?”
“Mm, I missed having Khaotung to distract Podd from nagging me about unpaid bills.”
“Oh is that all?”
“Why? Should there be something else I’m missing?”
Mix feels himself flush. “Maybe there should,” he begins. “Maybe I should come straight back and –”
He is cut off because someone screams.
Khaotung rarely gets a chance to drink when he’s out with his friends because he’s usually appointed as the designated driver. While this means he’s usually the one politely smiling along when his friends get steadily drunker, it also means that he’s never quite built up a tolerance for alcohol. Even two drinks down he’s pleasantly buzzed while discussing the weird new professor in their faculty with Jane and Aye.
Khaotung is more than a little drunk, which is why he doesn’t realise what he’s hearing are gunshots until Jane screams.
He is vaguely aware that there is a term called ‘paralysed with fear’ but he’s never experienced it until that moment when Aye grabs his arm and pulls him under the table, hard, just as chaos erupts in the bar.
“We should call the police,” Jane hisses, her eyes wet with frightened tears. She and Aye are gripping each other’s arms so tight Khaotung can see the whites of her fingertips behind the manicured nails. He reaches out a hand to comfort them, the haze of his drunkenness being replaced with very palpable fear as he realises there are actual armed men in the bar.
“My phone is in my bag,” Aye mutters.
“I have mine,” Khaotung says reassuringly, pulling it out and dialling a number.
Khaotung knows what he should do is call the police. There is also a part of him that knows that he should call someone from the Phunsawat family.
But at that moment he can only think of calling Podd, so that’s who he dials. There is a click of the call connecting but at the same moment the table they’re hiding under is roughly shoved away and a man peers down at them.
“We don’t have any money!” Aye’s voice is shrill with fear.
“We don’t need money, just this little master here –”
Khaotung barely has time to register what’s happening when he’s pulled roughly up by his arm until he’s standing –
- and then he’s staring down the barrel of a gun.
Time seems to slow down for Khaotung. The man is saying something to him, which Khaotung only vaguely understands in his haze of fear and drunkenness. Something about property, and alliances, and he realises that this man has mistaken him for Mix. His instinct, the part of his brain that is working hard on self preservation, wants to correct him and run, say that Mix is right outside the bar. The other part makes him clench his fists and stand his ground because Mix is his best friend and Khaotung knows what that means to someone from a family like his.
When Khaotung doesn’t resist, the man begins to drag him towards the entrance of the bar. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the girls slip behind the booth and hopefully towards the back entrance where they can go for help.
The hand gripping Khaotung’s arm suddenly lets go, and he looks up to see Mix, but not like he’s ever seen Mix before.
Khaotung’s best friend Sahaphap Wongratch is one of the nicest people he knows, usually full of energy, ready to help out his friends, a bit of a goofball except for the occasionally moody phases.
The man who has entered the bar, amidst the chaos and residual smoke from warning gunfire, is also Sahaphap Wongratch, but the one that Khaotung expects makes an appearance when the Phunsawat family needs something done. He isn’t sure what exactly has changed in his friend, except the look in his eyes – hard and cold – and the gleam of the scalpel blade that he’s casually twirling between his fingers.
The music in the bar has long since stopped, which means that when Mix asks his question, even his quiet voice cuts through the room. “Who’s running this operation?”
No one answers him, and he looks around, almost cat like in his movements as he tries to find the leader. For a fraction of a second his eyes meet Khaotung’s sending a silent message, and Khaotung starts backing away, because he needs to get help. Any help. Holding his breath, he manages to inch his way into the corridor with the toilets and flat out sprints to the back door.
Every ounce of alcohol in his system has been replaced with pure fear, but his blood runs cold the moment he looks down at his phone and sees that the call with Podd – the one he’d made at the beginning of all this – is still going.
His hand is shaking when he brings the phone up to his ear. “P-Podd?”
“Khao! Fuck! Are you okay?” Podd’s voice is urgent and breathless, like he’s been running too.
“I’m – I’m fine – have –”
There’s a shuffling sound on the other end of the line. “What’s going on, Khaotung?” Earth sounds just as bad as Podd, perhaps even worse. Khaotung’s heart feels like it’s in his throat.
“There’s been an attack at the bar… it’s a mafia dispute… the police are on the way.” He needs to hang up. He needs to call the Phunsawat family.
“We’re almost there,” Podd says on the other end of the line.
“What?! No! It’s dangerous, don’t-”
The line cuts off and Khaotung stares blankly at his phone, wondering what else can go wrong tonight.
Mix gets his answer to who’s in charge not long after he notices Khaotung get away to hopefully get in touch with Luke or Mond, or the Boss. God, Luke is going to kill him.
If the man with the kukri who lunges at him doesn’t. He dodges just in time, ducking under the swinging blow and rolling back up to his feet.
On the up side, Mix has brought a knife to a knife fight, which is great.
On the down side, the kukri is three times the size of Mix’s folding switchblade, even though the scalpel blade on his weapon is probably sharper. If he can get within range of his opponent, he knows exactly where to aim to end this fight quickly. But it’s getting in range that’s the problem.
Mix manages to avoid most of the attacks – using a kukri requires wider stances and bigger swings, but the man is fast and knows what he’s doing, and Mix has been slacking off from training because he has a thesis and a boyfriend – but he falls for a feint and pays for it, the kukri opening up a painfully deep gash in his upper arm. Mix grits his teeth against the pain and kicks a table at the attacker before vaulting over the bar to take a look at the damage. He knows the man with the kukri has seen him, but he doesn’t follow. Mix peeks from behind the bar and sees him waiting calmly for Mix to return.
Mix takes a deep breath, holding his arm up and tying a hopefully clean bar towel to the wound to staunch the bleeding, and gets up again.
“Oh?” the stranger says, “I thought you were catching your breath.” He is casually examining the elaborate hilt of his blade. “I should have collected a receipt on that warning, clearly you didn’t get it if that’s the only kind of weapon you’re carrying. We could’ve had a real fight.”
Mix is offended on behalf of his scalpel, but slides over the bar and addresses the man anyway. “Who are you?”
The man gives Mix a look devoid of expression. “My name is New Thitipoom, but they call me N. I’ve been contracted to… deal with you.”
By the Ruangroj, of course. But if it’s a contract… Mix opens his mouth to suggest a counter offer, but the man called N is already shaking his head.
“I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not how I work. Now,” he raises the kukri to eye level. “Shall we?”
Mix has exactly one trick up his sleeve - the bottle of tabasco sauce he found behind the bar -and he hopes he can hold off until help arrives.
Podd and Earth have to park two blocks away from the bar because some very dangerous looking men in suits tell them they can’t go onward down the road due an ‘incident’. Since the men don’t look like police, Earth realises with growing horror that there is truth behind the idea of it being a mafia dispute.
Earth knows there’s mafia families operating in the city, he’s about ninety percent sure that the people who wanted his property belonged to one of them, but the idea that there could be a violent incident so close to his own home is terrifying, and more terrifying is that Mix is caught up in it.
He starts towards the bar, but Podd holds him back. “I think we should call Khaotung again,” he says. “If this is a mafia dispute it could get dangerous.”
“That’s why we need to go!” Earth snaps. “Mix is in there! Khaotung too!”
Podd still doesn’t let go of Earth’s arm, holding his phone up with his free hand. “Khao? Where are you? The road is blocked, we can’t get to the place – what? Where?” He turns his head around, looking up and down the road and Earth spots Khaotung jogging up the road, coming up to them, doubling over to catch his breath once he does.
“Where’s Mix?” Earth asks at the same time that Podd asks, “Are you alright?”
Earth shakes his head clear. Of course, that’s the first thing he needs to ask. “Sorry,” he mutters, even though neither Podd nor Khaotung had heard him in the first place. He scans the road again, as though expecting Mix to come following Khaotung’s path.
“They represent a warning, in flower language”
Earth feels his stomach drop. This has to be connected somehow, right? It can’t be coincidence?
“Khaotung,” Earth asks, looking at the young man now leaning with Podd against the hood of his car. “Can you tell me what’s going on?”
Khaotung gives him a long look, but shakes his head. “That’s – it’s for Mix to tell.”
Earth nods. “I’m going to find him, then.”
He shakes off Podd’s hand this time, resolutely heading towards the bar and to whatever answers he’s going to get.
The tabasco sauce succeeds in winning Mix one opportunity, the spray from the bottle stinging N in the eye to give him the opening to disarm him, slashing up at the wrist holding the kukri. But N must be some kind of superhuman because he switches hands, easy as anything, and lunges towards him with a spinning kind of swing.
Mix reels back, out of range, dropping to the floor and going for the side of N’s knee. It doesn’t knock him down, but it throws him off balance and Mix takes the opportunity to jab his scalpel blade deep into N’s thigh.
Mix realises his mistake – he’s stabbed the scalpel too deep and he can’t retrieve it – the same moment N recovers from the shock of the attack, reaching down and grabbing Mix by his hair, jerking his face up.
“It’s a pity I haven’t been asked to kill you,” N hisses, his face damp with sweat, shoving Mix hard to the floor, holding him down with the knee of his wounded leg. He brings the kukri to Mix’s throat and slides the blade down to Mix’s chest, just above his heart. “I wanted to send you a message, you know, even told your boyfriend which flowers I wanted.”
Mix’s breath catches for a completely other reason. Earth was involved in this?
“But I suppose the timing wasn’t right,” N continues. The knife is now poised lower over Mix’s stomach, as though N is wondering if a stab there would be lethal or not, but Mix can’t get his mind off the fact that N has gone to see Earth.
N knows who Earth is, and he’s still talking about him. “I did enjoy meeting him, though, so handsome, isn’t he. He has the best –”
Maybe it’s the adrenaline, maybe it’s the bloodloss, but Mix manages to yank his scalpel out of N’s thigh and slash up at him in the same motion, aiming for his neck but getting his face instead, a gash of bright scarlet against the pale skin. N lets out a yell and Mix scrambles on the floor for purchase before running for the back door, practically throwing himself out into the back alley beyond.
Exhaustion is already catching up with him but he bars the door behind him so N can’t follow this way. He can hear shouting and cars approaching the building and he knows that backup is probably here, which is a relief. He hopes they get N before he escapes.
Mix is tired.
He needs to go home. To rest.
He wanders out of the alley and nearly gets run over by a taxi.
The driver screeches to a halt just before he hits Mix, and Mix, half leaning on the vehicle and leaving bloody handprints on it, clambers into the backseat.
“Which hospital, sir?!” the driver asks, eyes wide with fright.
“No hospital,” Mix whispers, his eyes already drifting shut. “Home.”
The closer Earth gets to the bar, the more he thinks this is a bad idea. He’s only heard about mafia conflicts in movies, never actually seen it himself, but it’s clear that this whole part of town is now a completely different world. Maybe the police didn’t come because they knew what was going on and wanted to stay out of it, or maybe they’ve been paid off.
He tries to steer clear of any of the groups of people in scuffles on the street, and past those who are clear lookouts, keeping an eye out for trouble or reinforcements – at least that’s what he thinks. It’s all too surreal for him and the only thing keeping him from going back is that he needs to find Mix. If he can just get to the bar…
Earth is about a block away from the bar when he finds his way barred by a line of cars. There’s a man snapping orders into his phone, and the look he gives Earth is like he’s seen a ghost.
“What are you doing here?” the man demands in slightly accented Thai, hanging up his phone and stepping up to Earth.
Earth has never seen this person in his life, but he doesn’t need to be a genius to know a member of a mafia family when he sees one – the suit and the hint of a gun holster are signs enough – so he only stares blankly while he tries to come up with a suitable answer.
“You’re Earth, right?”
He nods dumbly. “How do-”
“My name is Luke. I'm the guy Mix is always trying to avoid when he spends time with you.”
Of course Earth recognises the name. Mix talks about Luke getting on his case about this and that all the time. Earth’s brain is putting things together now, pieces of a puzzle that he does not want to accept that he is solving.
“Mix,” Earth begins.
“He’s got backup,” Luke says. “You weren’t actually going up there, were you?”
“I need to know he’s okay! There’s an attack…”
Luke shoves him back roughly enough to knock the rest of the words out of Earth’s mouth. “Listen here, you are a civilian, and Mix was stupid to involve you in his life, but you can’t be stupid enough to go running into the middle of a conflict?”
“Conflict?” Earth asks. “Civilian? What are you talking about?”
Luke curses in English. “He really hasn’t told you anything, has he? Look, Earth, I’m going to reason with you. Do you see what’s going on here?” His tone sharpens with each word, a threatening finger jabbing at the centre of Earth’s chest. “This is Phunsawat Family business and Mix is our young master and a target for all our rivals. What he needs is family, you get it? We take care of him. He does not need you.”
The final ‘you’ is pronounced with such a tone of disgust that Earth feels it sting in his chest, past the numbness that is settling in on him, spreading from his hair to the tips of his fingers, a dull echoing in his ears. Luke has turned back to his phone, maybe even talking to Mix.
Earth doesn’t even realise he’s retracing his steps back until Podd and Khaotung shout for him from where his car is parked. Mix…
‘Mix is our young master’
‘He does not need you’
Earth stumbles to the car and into the back passenger’s seat, vaguely aware of Podd and Khaotung asking him something. He doesn’t register, just shakes his head, leaning back on the seat as he tries to process what he knows.
Khaotung said before - before Earth went looking for Mix - that it was for Mix to tell Earth what was going on.
“Khaotung,” Earth rasps, his throat feeling like it's closing in. “You knew about this. About the –” He can’t bring himself to say it. “The Phunsawat family. The mafia.”
He sees Khaotung and Podd exchange a look and he realises that they had both known and hidden this from him. Even Podd, who has known Earth for longer than he's known Khaotung.
And Mix, whom Earth has begun to l-
Earth gets out of the car, already feeling the sting of tears in his eyes as the weight of betrayal replaces the numbness from before. Podd gets out of the driver's seat, reaching to put a hand on Earth's shoulder but he shakes it away.
“I can't - I’ll find my own way home,” he says, before Podd can say anything. “Don’t come to the café tomorrow. We’re closed.”
Earth is not sure how long he walks until he gets back to the café, his head is too full, a tempest of confused thoughts. He doesn’t know – he doesn’t know how to come to terms with the fact that Mix is part of one of the only mafia families he’s ever heard the name of. Everyone who ran any kind of business in Bangkok knew about the Phunsawat. They didn’t interfere in matters that weren’t directly tied to them or their many shell corporations. But that didn’t stop them from being actual mafia.
It should be laughable – my boyfriend is a prince of the criminal underground – but Earth is still struggling to come to terms with the Mix he knows and the Mix that is a member of the Phunsawat family.
He remembers joking with his friends about it when they saw the Bentley that came to pick Mix up from the café, laughing ‘maybe he’s mafia’.
He remembers the way Mix came to him that night, dressed for business, proud of himself, confident, desperate for Earth’s touch.
The way Mix kept avoiding calls from his ‘family’ saying they were too protective.
But Earth could never have put these together, not at all…
The door to the café is open.
Earth and Podd had left in a hurry but they can’t have forgotten to lock up, can they?
Earth cautiously approaches the door, recoiling at the sight of blood against the wooden pane. His heart in his throat, he pushes open the door. After the night he’s had, it could be anything –
Like Mix, sitting propped up against his worktable, panting heavily, a trail of blood leading from the door to the wound in his side.
Earth’s heart stops beating. It takes him several long moments to force himself to start breathing again and rushes to him, every single thought of hurt and betrayal immediately replaced with blind panic.
“Mix!” he calls, kneeling by his side and gently reaching for his face. “Mix, can you hear me?”
Mix smiles at him, weakly blinking his eyes open. “You’re here.”
Earth nods, scrambling for his phone to call an ambulance, but Mix lays a hand on his wrist, stopping him. Earth does not focus on the blood on his fingers.
“No hospital,” Mix insists. “We can’t –”
Earth nods. Even in the haze of panic he understands. He doesn’t know how he understands, he just does.
So he calls Joss.
Joss isn’t a practicing doctor, not anymore, but he did work on the field with the royal military for three years. Ever since he'd left service, he has been Earth, Tul and Podd's go-to for any kind of injury that was either too stupid to warrant a hospital visit or they were too broke to pay for one.
Earth trusts him to save his boyfriend from bleeding out on the floor. Maybe there’s something in his voice that makes Joss say that he’s coming straight over, no questions asked, when any normal friend would have cursed him out for calling in the dead of the night. Earth sits beside Mix on the floor while they wait for him, holding his hand despite how cold and clammy his own fingers are, listening to Mix's quiet murmurs - apologies, for the most part, but also a very delayed, but also snatches about the family.
"Sorry - this - I should've been smarter, 'm so sorry, Earth. My brother will be so mad about this..."
Joss arrives so fast Earth is sure he broke several speed regulations, but Earth has never been happier to see him. It's a testament to his background in the military that doesn't even blink at the sight of the blood on the café floor, instead going straight to Mix, kit at the ready by his side, already muttering instructions to Earth on what he should do.
“We’ve got him,” Joss says, and Earth finally feels his panic start to recede.
“He’s going to be loopy on medication or a while." Joss ruffles Mix’s hair with a fond smile. Mix is laid out on Earth’s bed, now stripped bare of the bloodstained sheets that will probably have to burned in order to avoid too many questions from cleaners. “But he’ll be fine…” He holds Earth’s gaze. “You gonna tell me what’s going on?”
Earth nods towards the café and they head downstairs. He turns the lights on and fetches a mop and washcloth while the coffee machine starts up.
In the fluorescent lights, the trail of blood on his floor is even more stark, and so much more surreal.
Earth cannot believe this is his life.
Joss grabs some coffee mugs and sets them on the counter while Earth mops the floor clean. The blood comes off easily. It’s still surreal.
“So… mafia, right?” Joss says, sipping his coffee, once Earth is done recapping the events of the night.
Earth nods. “Mafia.”
Joss smirks. “Called it. What family?”
Earth frowns. “You know about this stuff?”
“Little bit,” says Joss. “You meet all sorts, when you’re serving.”
“He’s the young master of the Phunsawat family,” Earth says. He finishes cleaning and turns off the light in the awning before joining Joss at the counter. “There was some kind of… fight… at the bar. I don’t know how he got here.”
Joss gives him a meaningful look. “You know why. Your boy wanted to see you if it’s the last thing he ever did.”
Joss is right. Earth realises with frightening certainty, the kind that makes him want to stop thinking at once, that Joss is right. Mix came here, because he wanted to see Earth, even if he was bleeding and not thinking straight.
He lays his head on the counter. This is definitely more than he’s equipped to handle.
Earth… knows flowers. He knows how to put them together in ways that mean things, he likes how they’re soft and delicate but so infinitely capable of uplifting a person’s emotions. What he doesn’t know is how to deal with the man he loves bleeding against his workbench.
There are bloodstained petals among what he swept up.
It’s terrifying. It’s poetic.
“What the hell am I supposed to do?”
Joss pats his shoulder. “The ball’s in your court, bro. You can decide where it goes from here.”
“But… I don’t know where it should go from here.”
“Maybe you should figure that out.”
Earth goes back upstairs. Joss says he’ll hang around in the café, nap in one of the booths in case he’s needed again, and Earth goes to check on Mix. He is surprised to see him awake, weakly staring up at the ceiling. A single tear trail glistens in a line down from the corner of his eye to the pillow, and Earth sits in the chair beside the bed, wiping the wetness away with his thumb.
Mix reaches up to hold Earth’s hand. “You’re here.”
“I thought… you’d go.”
Earth shakes his head even though Mix can’t see it.
“Don’t go, please,” Mix murmurs, raising Earth’s hand to his lips. “Please stay with me.”
“I’m here,” Earth says, running his free hand through Mix’s hair,
“’m so sorry,” Mix is saying, sounding almost drunk. “I keep – keep doing the same thing… won’t let you get …”
“Mix,” Earth urges softly, moving his hand through Mix’s hair in gentle strokes. “Try and get some sleep. You’re tired.”
“Lo… Love you so much…”
Earth’s hand freezes. The words run through him like a current, lighting up every nerve in his body.
“Sorry, Earth… Sorry for this,” Mix’s eyes are filling up with tears again, and they leak down into his hair when he blinks. Earth wonders if he even realises he’s crying. “Won’t do it… again… Sorry I made you… Will - will you stay?”
Earth nods. “I will, Mix.”
Mix’s hazy eyes turn to him. “Won’t go?”
Earth has to blink tears out of his eyes. He doesn’t know what else to do but to hold Mix’s hand and murmur these assurances that he’s there, that he won’t leave, that he –
A woozy smile twists Mix’s lips. “Thank you. Love you, Earth.”
His eyes drift shut and Earth watches his chest rise and fall as he enters into a deep sleep.
Earth wakes up to someone violently shaking his shoulder. His back aches something awful as he straightens up from where he’d fallen asleep beside Mix, twisted into a weird position to avoid waking the sleeping man. He rubs his eyes, frowning at Joss who looks angry and annoyed, and to the man standing a little beyond him who looks even angrier and more annoyed.
Earth knows him, the man named Luke.
“I don’t have time for this bullshit, okay?” Luke snaps. “I’ve spent the whole damn night looking for him, I need to get him back to the house.”
Joss speaks before Earth can, in a tone that suggests that he has probably been arguing with Luke since he arrived. “Hey, Mix came here of his own volition, maybe you should think about that first.”
Something flashes in Luke’s expression – Earth can’t read it – it’s something like sadness? Disappointment? He’s unsure.
“What’s going on?” Earth asks.
“Didn’t I tell you to stay out of our business?” Luke’s voice is something of a growl, and it serves to anger Earth more than intimidate him, and he gets to his feet now. He’s of height with Luke, and he steps up to look him in the eye.
“Your business had my boyfriend bleeding out on my café floor and you think I can afford to ignore it now?”
It takes Luke a second to respond, clearly he wasn’t expecting Earth to protest. “He’s delirious…” he says, in a softer tone of voice. “It’s the blood loss…”
Earth knows what the delirium had caused Mix to say, his heart still skips a beat thinking about it. “What will happen to him?”
“Nothing! The city isn’t going to be safe for him… He’ll be safe at the house.”
“You two – Okay,” Luke sighs. “Tonight is probably the first battle of what could turn into something bigger. They hurt our heir, we won’t let this slide.” He seems to consider for a moment, his gaze flicking to Mix, still asleep in Earth’s bed. “Just try to stay out of trouble until this blows over… And if you want to end this whole thing now and never see any of us again… you’re gonna have to make your call.” Luke’s gaze is distant, as though he’s remembering something else entirely. “A clean break, if that’s what you want. He’ll hurt but he’ll get over it. He’s done it before.”
Earth knows what Luke is saying, it’s eerily like what Joss said to him last night; the ball is in Earth’s court. If he wants out, this is probably his chance. He can go back to running his business, there will be no more blood on his floor, no mysterious shady characters trying to buy his shop, no panicked calls about dangerous situations…
He can go back to the way things were before Mix walked into the café, all fluffy and annoyed at his family, and changed Earth’s life forever.
Luke sighs again, looking tired as moves to stand by the bed. “Are you awake?”
Mix blinks his eyes open, revealing that he has been awake for some time already. He turns a pout up at Luke. “I’ve been stabbed. I need to sleep it off.”
Luke’s smile is reluctant but fond, and Earth’s heart does that clenching thing it has been doing since last night, but this time he knows it’s because he doesn’t want Luke to be the one Mix is waking up to, the one helping Mix up to his feet. Earth shouldn’t be jealous, he knows he shouldn't be, but there it is, misplaced jealousy, bitter on his tongue.
“We gotta get to the house, we’re moving on the Ruangroj tonight.”
Mix nods. “Luke, wait.” He gently dislodges the supporting arm that Luke has over his shoulders and straightens up. “I can walk.” He glances at Joss, then Earth. “Can you wait for me downstairs?”
Luke frowns, like he definitely doesn’t want to, but Joss clears his throat and steps forward. “Why don’t I buy you a coffee before you go, friend. I already hear Podd downstairs and his scones are to die for.”
Earth watches Joss usher Luke down to the café, then lets out the breath he was holding when Mix all but hurls himself into his arms.
“Mix! Your wound!”
“Don’t care, it doesn't hurt,” Mix mutters, wrapping his arms around Earth’s waist. “’m sorry for dragging you into this.”
Earth sets a hand on the nape of Mix’s neck and another around his shoulders, holding him close. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Did Joss patch me up?”
“He did. He was a surgeon with the army.”
“He did a great job. We could use someone with his skills –” Mix cuts himself off, shaking his head as though he hadn’t intended to bring up the ‘business’. “Earth, about – about all of this…” Mix hugs him tighter, just for a second, then lets go. “Luke is right. If… if you want this to be it – if – ”
He casts his gaze about the room, as though unwilling to look Earth in the eye as he says it. Mix's arms are folded in front of his chest now, and Earth doesn’t miss the way his fingers clench against his bicep. “I know that this – that my family, the job – you probably want nothing to do with any of this. And – and I understand. It’s dangerous, it’s –” a soft, bitter laugh “- well, it can be too much for anyone. It’s not worth it.”
When Mix looks up now, his eyes are rimmed red but they’re clear, and he manages a weak smile. “I will understand if you never want to see me again.”
Liar, Earth’s mind says, remembering Mix’s delirious ramblings from the night before. He opens his mouth to offer an assurance, to say no, that could never be the case –
But he needs to think about this, doesn’t he? This isn’t a decision he can take so lightly: this is the mafia, it’s putting himself, his friends, his business in danger.
But it’s Mix, and Earth has never thought twice about his decisions with Mix, not since that first time he made him a bouquet of daisies and declared it to be a date.
Earth realises he hasn’t spoken in almost a minute, and he can already see the way Mix’s smile is starting to slip. Liar, he thinks again, but fondly. He takes two steps forward, and cups Mix’s face in his hands, swiping his thumbs across the soft skin of his cheeks.
“You have a lot to do,” he says, tilting Mix’s head up ever so gently, placing the softest of kisses on Mix’s lips, smiling at the way his eyes widen in surprise. “I’ll be right here waiting for you to come back.”
“Earth…” It’s more breath than voice, and Earth shakes his head.
“You can’t scare me off that easy,” he says, kissing him again, still chaste, still soft. “Now, let’s go downstairs, it’s quiet and I don’t know what Joss and Podd have done to Luke.”
Mix doesn’t get a chance to return to Brewbells even nearly a month after that night, not while there are daily confrontations with the Ruangroj and their allied families. He does, however, text Earth nearly every day, reassurances that he’s okay.
It’s been a long month of patrolling, trying to keep conflicts to a minimum and tightening holds on their property, until Gun finally tells them that they will meet the Ruangroj for official negotiations to end the fighting.
The night has been quiet – Boom Tharatorn and his men have proved to be surprisingly trustworthy and are holding their ground well – and Mix lies down, exhausted, tucked under his blankets with his phone propped up on the bolster next to him, fingers finding Earth’s contact to videocall him.
Earth’s profile photo on his phone is one of the pictures Mix took of him that evening on the beach, soaked and laughing, glowing in the moonlight, and Mix’s heart aches with longing.
He wonders if it’s possible to love someone this much when you’ve only known them for so short a time. Mix would never have been able to predict how completely Earth has taken over his heart – fitting, he thinks, for a florist who knows well how something so beautiful can grow from the tiniest seed.
Earth had done it himself, planted affection and gentleness, unspoken care even in the way he brought Mix flowers and listened to him complain about his family or talk about his thesis. There has rarely been room for flowers in Mix’s world, not since the night Ter had shut him out and broken his heart and his trust.
That day, when he woke up to Luke’s voice the morning after the bar fight, telling Earth to take the out he was being offered, Mix was so sure, so sure that Earth wouldn’t, that Earth wouldn’t bail on him, that Earth felt about Mix the same way Mix felt about him… But it wasn’t enough to be sure, it wasn’t until Earth said it himself that Mix fully believed it. Mix lied to Earth too, kept the truth of the family from him and once again, like an idiot, dragged an innocent civilian into it, but Earth… chose to stay.
Earth is Mix’s treasure, and he won’t ever let him forget that.
When the call request is answered, Earth is also in bed, the room lit with the bedside lamp, one bare arm tucked behind a head of messy hair, smiling softly.
“I miss you,” Mix says, in lieu of a greeting.
“I miss you too.” Earth narrows his eyes up at him. “Have you eaten yet? You look tired.”
“It’s been a long day… No, a long week.”
“Has there been progress?”
Mix nods. “A lot. There’s a meeting of the two family heads tomorrow. The Boss thinks we might be able to resolve this soon.”
“Ohh that’s great! Are you going too?”
“I’m the heir, I have to go.”
“Be careful. It could be a trap.”
Mix chuckles. “We’re not in a movie,” he says. “They can’t just blow us all up, it would be chaos.”
“My perfect history grad boyfriend is a mafia heir. It may as well be a movie, you know… Mix… I mean it. I told you before, I saw what N did to you that night, I never want to see you that way again, especially not when I can’t be there with you. Just… come back safe, that’s all I’m saying.”
Mix feels his eyes already starting to tear up, and he nods, changing the subject to gather himself. “What’s been happening at the café?”
“Podd and Khaotung are starting to get on my nerves,” Earth says, exasperatedly fond. “I swear they spend more time canoodling than making coffee… I’m not complaining too much, they make really good coffee but having to watch them canoodles just makes me…”
Mix manages a tired smirk at the expression on Earth’s face. “You want to canoodle too?”
“Oh I want to do a lot more than just canoodle.” Earth gives him a meaningful look that manages to be sexy even on a semi-dark phone screen, and Mix misses him for a whole different reason.
“Earth,” Mix says before this call takes a turn he isn’t sure he has the energy for. “When tomorrow is over, if it ends well…” He shakes his head. “Let’s not jinx it. I’ll talk to you soon.” He makes blows a kiss at the phone screen, and Earth smiles, amused and a little shy, before returning a ‘muah’.
Mix hangs up and lies back in bed, smiling at the ceiling. Soon.
The next evening, Earth is closing up the café when he receives a text message from Mix. A ‘celebration’ emoji that probably means the negotiation with the Ruangroj went well. Earth sends back a heart emoji, just because. Mix replies almost instantly.
Do you want to visit the house?
Am I allowed to?
want you to.
[location] 5 PM. Dress nice.
Unsurprisingly, Tul, Podd and Joss all want to go see the Phunsawat house, but Earth takes Joss because Joss has experience with at least one member of the family (beyond the fact that he probably saved Mix’s life). As much as he loves the other two he cancels them out immediately: Tul will probably charm everyone and no one will pay attention to Earth, and despite a month having passed he still hasn’t forgiven Podd for opening the café the morning after the bar fight, despite Earth’s strict instruction not to.
“It’s a mafia house, you gotta wear a suit,” Tul tells him.
“I don’t own any suits,” Earth retorts, and he receives entirely unnecessary gasps in response.
He ends up putting on his best jacket over some jeans and a dark coloured shirt which will have to do.
The location that Mix sent him leads to a set of wrought iron gates beyond which is a tree-lined drive way that disappears around a bend in the road. Joss lets out a low whistle. “I knew mafia meant money but damn, bro, this is even more than I thought.”
Earth’s hands are clammy against the steering wheel. “This is way out of my league.”
Joss rolls his eyes expansively. “Should’ve thought of that before dating the gorgeous man with a chauffeur driven Bentley.”
When Earth pulls up to the gate, a young man hops out of the security guard’s cabin and approaches the car, flashing a dimpled smile on his way over to the driver’s side window.
“Earth, right?” the man asks, ignoring Joss’s presence completely. “I’m Nanon, Boss Mix’s first lieutenant. I’ve been asked to escort you up.”
Without waiting for a response, Nanon climbs into the back seat. He presses a button on his phone and the gates swing open. “You can park in front of the house, there’s plenty of room.”
Earth wasn’t sure what to expect from the Phunsawat Mansion, though watching a lot of Japanese and Italian mob films made him expect something with armed men in suits marching about. What he finds is an old but luxurious looking house that he is sure probably once functioned as a palace.
“Wait a second, I know this house!” Joss says suddenly. “Tul did that report on luxury houses in Bangkok, remember?”
Earth does not remember because Tul’s reports are not really something he is often thinking about, and he is definitely not thinking about them now that he is going to see Mix for the first time in over a month and he can’t focus on anything else besides that and the fact that he is at a mafia hq of sorts.
Joss makes an impatient noise. “C’mon, he made a whole song-and-dance about how great these houses are. This one was valued at over a billion dollars and belongs to… some overseas rich guy?”
Nanon laughs. “That’s the story,” he says. “It’s been our base of ops ever since Boss ATP took over…” He looks between Earth and Joss. “Sorry, Little Boss only told me to send Earth into the parlour… If your friend can wait in the rec room until we’re done…”
“Rec room sounds good to me,” Joss nods. Nanon waves over another young man – not in a suit either – and tells him to escort Joss to said room, before turning to Earth and grinning at him.
“I’ve been waiting for a chance to meet you,” he says. “Little Boss doesn’t really hide anything when it comes to you.”
It’s only now that Earth realises that ‘Little Boss’ is Mix.
“Ah,” he says, because he isn’t sure how to answer that, but Nanon’s smile only widens as they walk through the front door into a sprawling foyer decorated with antique art befitting the house’s former royal residents. Earth supposes that the Phunsawat are no different from royalty now, controlling a section of the city and its people, able to make decisions about them independently.
“It’s all probably new to you,” Nanon says, coming to a stop by a door. Earth can hear faint voices from beyond. “But I’ve been with him from the start, four years ago… You’re the first guy he’s ever brought home… Good luck.”
The room beyond is something of a monstrosity, all antique furniture and tapestries, and a very angry looking wooden tiger greeting him at the door. There are a few men and women already seated on the elaborate sofas, but Earth only notices two things - one, that Mix isn’t here, and two, the petite man in the giant armchair on the other end of the room.
“So this is him?”
“This is him, Boss,” Nanon confirms. He places a chair near where Earth is standing, urging him to sit, so that he is uncomfortably sitting in the middle of the room, being watched by everyone as though interviewing for a position.
And where is Mix?
“I’m sure you know why you’ve been called here,” the man in the armchair – the Boss – says, leaning forward and fixing Earth with a glare.
Earth thought he did. Now he’s not so sure, so he shakes his head slightly.
“At first, we ignored it, but the evidence is compelling…”
The Boss turns to one of the men, who stands up to speak. “Yes, my informants have been able to compile enough facts to confirm that this man acted in a way to endanger members of our family and is possibly also connected to the violence on our young master inflicted by the assassin hired by the Ruangroj.”
Earth opens his mouth to protest. “I think you –”
“Mond,” the Boss looks at the well-built man in the chair closest to his. “Let Mr Watthanasetsiri know what happens when people cross the family.”
Earth looks around to find Nanon, the one who brought him into what is increasingly looking like a prelude to getting beaten up, but there’s no sign of him anywhere.
Mond steps up beside Earth, standing just a little taller but definitely broader, with a twist to his lips that promises violence. “Permission to get the information out of him?”
Earth shakes his head. “Wait,” he says, holding up a hand. “I have no idea what’s going on here. Mix told me to –”
Mond laughs, and the sound is echoed by some of the men around the room. “Well of course he did, he can’t deny an instruction from his Boss, can he?”
Earth takes an involuntary step back. Something about this is not right. Mix wouldn’t have called him to his house to be questioned by his family, that doesn’t sound like Mix at all. He frowns at Mond. “Where is Mix?”
“Out on an assignment, he didn’t want to be here for this.”
“For… this…?” Earth needs his brain to catch up with the rest of him because he is having difficulty figuring out what he is supposed to do right now. He places a hand on Mond’s chest, pushing his vaguely threatening smirk out of his immediate proximity. “I think your informants are mistaken. I am a florist, I – somehow – ended up meeting that assassin of yours but I didn’t know that till Mix literally told me about it last week. I would never put him in harm’s way willingly and I know that he knows that, so maybe you should stop… this.” Not his best ending but he’s proud of himself for managing to stay coherent through that whole speech.
The Boss’s gaze is fixed on Earth, inscrutable. “I don’t think you’re in any –”
“Oh my god what the hell is going on here?”
Earth spins on his heel to see Mix slam the living room door shut behind him as he marches down to where he’s standing, slipping past Earth to cross his arms down at the head of the Phunsawat family.
“You’re not seriously trying to scare my boyfriend away!”
There is a long pause in which Mix and the Boss glare at each other, and in the next moment, the latter falls into the back of his armchair, laughing. It him look more childlike than before, but Mix is still frowning at him, though Earth can see the beginnings of a pout on his lips.
“And all you guys were in on this?” Mix shifts his glare in Mond’s direction. “Were you going to beat him up? Where’s Luke?”
Mond is laughing too, so are many of the others, and Earth realises this has been what passes for humour in mafia families.
“Luke was against it, surprisingly. He’s doing leftover paperwork instead of joining in the fun!” Mond pats Earth on the shoulder. “Sorry about that, it was his idea.” He points to the Boss, who is still flushed with laughter when he gets up and holds out a hand to Earth.
“Attaphan Phunsawat, but usually people prefer to call me ATP or Gun...” He stands nearly a foot shorter than Earth, but somehow his presence fills the room.
“Pirapat Watthanasetsiri, but you already know that, don’t you?”
Gun grins at him. “I do indeed, Earth.”
Mix makes a noise in his throat, something between a choke and a wheeze, and Gun ignores him in favour of making a gesture with his hand, bidding everyone to sit down again.
Earth is finally given a spot on one of the uncomfortable sofas with the rest of the Phunsawat family’s men. Directly across from him, Mix sits down next to Mond, who immediately flings an arm around his shoulders and squeezes with a smile, whispering something in Mix’s ear – an action that Earth… notices.
“Big brother dearest, respected Boss ATP,” Mix has put on the fakest, sweetest expression Earth has ever seen on him and his most polite tone, “Maybe you can explain to Earth why you just threatened to have him beaten up, if you please?”
Gun, the frightening mafia boss that he is, giggles, waving him away. “Oii, stop making such a big fuss, Mix, it was just a joke. You handled it really well, by the way, Earth.”
“You did,” Mond confirms. “I was just telling our Mix that. I was expecting you to at least throw a punch or something.”
Earth has never thrown a punch in his life, but he isn’t about to tell anyone in this room that.
“I hope you can excuse our little… prank, but… I care about my family, Earth, and if you want to be a part of it, you have to be ready for anything.” He holds up a hand to stop Mix before he protests again. “I’m not saying we’re going to swear him in… I just want to have a little chat.”
This is why Mix sometimes hates his family. They mean well, but they can be fucking insane about some things.
The ‘chat’ goes on for nearly an hour, and by the end of it Mix is sure Earth is regretting ever saying yes to anything, because about three quarters of the time is spent with Gun explaining to Earth the history of the Phunsawat family, the extent of their properties, and their family hierarchy. It is, as far as Mix is aware, the spiel that is given before forming an alliance with another family, which is why he is confused as to why Earth needs to hear it.
When the meeting ends and the rest of the family executives leave the room, leaving only Gun, Mix, Nanon and Mond with Earth, it is the Boss who lets out the biggest sigh.
“Sorry,” he says, to Earth. “We have rules about involving civilians in our business, and since Mix refuses to not involve you, I had to convince the rest of the top brass that you’re worth it… The only way to do that is through a formal procedure like this.”
“Before you arrived, I presented an analysis on how your property is prime real estate and having you in our ranks would add to our value,” Mond shrugs. “And I know you’re not joining us, per se, but so long as you’re tied to our young master, you’re one of us.”
Mix catches his eye, mouths a ‘sorry’, but Earth shakes his head with that little smile – it’s a smile that Mix is so familiar with, it’s the one that Earth gives him whenever he makes what should be an unreasonable request – that means he’s happy to do it for Mix.
It’s pretty much all it takes for Mix to decide he’s had enough of propriety, there’s no one else in the room anyway. He gets up and crosses to sit beside Earth, taking his hand in his, interlacing their fingers. “Sorry,” Mix leans into Earth’s ear, lowering his voice and not caring that Mond and Gun are giving each other wry looks. “If this is too much…”
“I’m just worried that Joss thinks you guys kidnapped me,” Earth chuckles into Mix’s ear. “I’ve been gone for over an hour.”
Mix moves back, surprised. “You brought Joss?”
“Nanon didn’t tell you?”
“Nanon,” Mix takes the moment to glare at his subordinate, “Ignored my instruction to bring you up to my office and took you here instead, and then decided to come call me after this little charade had already begun.”
Nanon holds up his hand, eyes wide and innocent. “Sorry, Little Boss, but I got orders from higher up!”
“I wouldn’t worry about your friend, Earth.” Mix thinks Mond has become ten times ruder ever since he found out about Earth. “He’s making a killing beating our guys at pool in the rec room. Luke just texted me that he’s lost his Rolex to him.”
“O…kay… then…” Earth says slowly. “Tell me straight, what exactly does this mean for me now?”
Gun leans back in his giant armchair, crossing his legs. “It means you’re effectively one of ours… Not that you yourself have to answer to me –” He flashes Earth a cheeky grin, “ – unless you want to, but your café will be listed among those under our protection, but you don’t have to pay us the money… Just take care of our kid.”
Earth squeezes Mix’s hand. “I think I’ve got that covered.”
Mix ducks his head, already feeling his ears burning. Nanon makes a gagging noise in the background, and Mix can’t entirely find it in himself to blame him.
Nothing really changes, as far as Earth is concerned, now that he is officially dating a mafia prince.
But that doesn’t mean everything stays the same, either.
He opens up the shop with Podd and Khaotung on a rainy Saturday morning in July. He’s been up for a few hours already, arranging the new shipment of seasonal orchids that came in the morning, chatting with Khaotung over the plans for the day while Podd stocks the bakery counter, complaining loudly about having to do it himself.
“You see the updates on the group chat?” Podd asks, straightening up and giving Khao an entirely unnecessary Eskimo-kiss of greeting.
“Joss again?” Earth swipes through his phone and finds the latest pictures that Joss has sent of his trip to Chiang Mai with Luke, who apparently invited him along to do some ‘family business’, although it mostly looks like they're trekking through forests, and Earth is fairly sure the Phunsawat don't have properties in the mountains. “Should we be worried they get along so well? Have we lost him to the criminal underworld?”
“You should be happy he’s keeping Luke occupied or you wouldn’t have it this easy getting Mix to stay over,” Khaotung points out, which is a good point.
Their morning regulars drop by around nine. Earth can’t believe they have ‘regulars’ now, especially not of the sort that wear loud (and tacky) shirts and have scarred faces and look somewhat creepy while offering café frappes with whipped cream in the morning, like the man named Boom is doing now.
Khaotung rings up his order and Earth waves a greeting to him that Boom returns, although half-heartedly. Earth still hasn’t figured out what he’s done to insult the man so much, but he’s a good customer and somehow manages not to scare anyone away, so he lets it go.
It’s nearly ten when Earth hears the door from upstairs open and Mix pads down the stairs, wearing track pants and one of Earth’s shirts with so many buttons undone he needn’t have bothered at all. He has on that just barely awake expression as he pads his way straight to Khaotung, evidently drawn by the smell of coffee.
Earth watches the two out of the corner of his eye as he finishes preparing his first (and only) order for the day. He waits for Mix to come over with his coffee mug, vaguely rubbing at a spot on his neck with a rueful expression. Earth can’t keep from smiling at his handiwork, a dark spot right at the juncture of neck and shoulder.
“Do you remember the first night you were here?” he asks, taking a sip of the coffee Mix has offered to him. “You left in the morning with a mark just like that in exactly the same spot.”
Mix rolls his eyes. “I thought you were some kind of creep back then.”
“But you came back anyway.”
“You made good coffee.”
“You know, that morning, I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world because the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen was in my apartment.”
“And now?” Mix leans forward on the worktable, a teasing smile on his lips as if already in anticipation of the answer.
“Now, I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world because I get to do this,” Earth says, closing the distance over the table, pushing Mix’s bangs back so he can kiss his forehead. “Wait, I have something for you.”
Earth ducks under the worktable and brings out the bouquet he was working on that morning – a dozen burgundy roses in an elegant bouquet. “Uh, Nanon texted me only yesterday so I didn’t know – not fair, Mix – but happy birthday.”
Now that he’s holding it out to Mix, it feels a little foolish. What a trite present from a florist, he thinks. He’s been giving Mix flowers nearly every day since they met, he’s not going to –
Mix pulls him back over the table with a hand on the back of Earth’s neck, kissing him hard. He tastes like coffee and his raspberry lip-balm, and Earth savours the taste with his tongue before pulling back.
Somewhere in the café he hears the sound of cutlery clanging to the ground – one of the customers dropped something – but Earth can’t look away from the look in Mix’s eyes, his pupils already wide with want, and he just stops himself from kissing him again.
“Get a room,” Podd complains loudly, as he passes them to replace the croissant that Boom has somehow accidentally flung across the café.
“Oh, we’re about to,” Earth promises, giving Mix a playful little smile. “Do you want to go for a drive?”
It doesn’t stop raining when even when they arrive at the beach, which means it is deserted, and they walk down to their resort, hands still intertwined, getting soaked to the bone but enjoying every minute of it. The sea water is warmer than the rain when they step in it, a fact that makes them laugh as they share kisses, drunk on the rain and each other.
Earth will probably never forget the way Mix looks amidst the scattered petals of the bouquet he made, red against the pale of his skin, the inky black of his hair as he cards his fingers through it to get the tangled petals out. They come together, again and again, as rain patters against the windows and balcony door, drowning out the quiet roar of the sea beyond.
Mix plays with a petal, tracing it along Earth’s cheek, leaving feather-light kisses along the path he makes with it, down his neck and to his chest, where he lays, listening to Earth’s heartbeat.
“Will your family be mad that I whisked you away on your birthday?”
“Mm, probably. But since Nanon told you I guess the party will be later.”
Mix nods, his hair tickling the bare skin of Earth’s chest as he does. “It’s usually very fancy, all the allied families will be there… Not as big as the Boss’s birthday, but… I’m pretty important, you know.”
“Oh, I know. Can I come? I even bought a suit.”
Mix tilts head up. “Do you want to?”
Earth plays with Mix’s hair thoughtfully, the gentle massage on his scalp sending tingles down Mix’s spine. “Liking you means I like knowing more about this part of you, just like every other part of you.”
“And what if you find something about this part of that me you don’t like?”
Earth makes a humming noise that rumbles in his chest, the vibrations tickling Mix’s ear. “It’s still you, isn’t it? Nothing else matters.”
Mix smiles into Earth’s chest, reaching down to pinch the flesh of his side. “You big sap,” he teases, as though he wasn’t fighting the urge to tear up again.
“Your big sap,” Earth reminds him, arms wrapping around Mix’s bare waist, pulling them flush against one another. “I love you, you know.”
Mine. Mix puts a rose petal over Earth’s lip as though to silence him, and he kisses it, lush and red against Earth’s golden skin. “I love you,” he says, simply, honestly, and because he wants to. The words are natural on his tongue, like he’s said it to Earth a hundred times before.
Like he will, a hundred, thousand times from now.