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Steak

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There's something to be said about how often Anson finds himself smiling lately, mostly to himself and with no apparent cause.

Except, of course, he knows why. 

Today, the catalyst for the flush in his cheeks stems from a single sticky note carefully pasted to the inside of his locker door:

See you at 5. Can't wait :)  

LCO

The man has decently tidy handwriting for a doctor, Anson notes with a low chuckle.

4:47 PM

He slips out of his scrubs and into his regular clothes, relieved to no longer be reeking of antiseptic cleaning detergent and cheap vending machine coffee, then chucks the pale blue material into the staff laundry basket. Barely having finished buttoning up his jeans, he hears the locker room door swing open; a firm pair of arms slink around his naked waist, and eager lips tease at the nape of his neck, gently nibbling.

"It's not like you to be early," Anson sighs into the touch.

"Sorry, I couldn't wait any longer," the gentle voice whispers smoothly in his ear.

Anson spins around, his upper half still bare, and pretends to shirk away at the tickling sensation that still ghosts at his shoulder. 

"You're shameless," he says almost breathlessly, because the other man is close enough to hear it.

Anson takes in the handsome face that's looking back at him with immense adoration; large, kind eyes and a tall nose bridge on which a pair of gold-framed glasses sit. He sneaks a careful glance around the otherwise empty room before tilting his head forward in a furtive kiss. Sweet, lingering and washing his entire body with a tidal wave of warmth, Anson sighs against Edan's lips, hands pulling at the starch-white material of his coat. 

He'd been looking forward to this all week, his entire body blushing to match the festering seafood allergy rash that had appeared in the emergency room waiting area when he'd come in at the start of his shift. Edan had sent him multiple texts of a philandering nature from across the cafeteria, all under the watchful eye of Joyce, who'd been on her break from the nurses' station as the resident surgeon had sipped on his coffee in such a sultry manner that she'd almost felt she should excuse herself. 

I'm...really happy, Anson had told her when she'd cornered him in the break room with her queries. And she'd believed his meek confession, not having ever seen him in such a good mood in the three years she'd known him. 

"Are you ready to leave yet?" the doctor plants one more kiss on Anson's mouth before pulling back. 

"Almost," Anson rubs the back of his neck, pink as steak. "I just need to put a shirt on."

"No, leave it," Edan places a warm hand on his smooth chest. "I like you like this."

"That's inappropriate conduct, Dr. Lui." 

He tuts with a laugh, then pulls the white T-shirt over his head as Edan shrugs off his coat and pulls his lanyard over his head. 

They'd had far friskier encounters within the walls of the hospital, especially after a successful surgery during which they would have to employ incredible self-control and concentrate on mending the insides of whichever body laid on the table that day. 

Tonight, though, Edan has taken due advantage of their shifts ending at the same time, inviting Anson over for dinner and…perhaps more? It would undoubtedly be a pleasant change from sweating and groaning into the lumpy mattress of the on-call room's squeaky bottom bunk, trying to stay as quiet as humanly possible until one of their pagers inevitably start sounding. Of course, they would have bigger fish to fry if they continued their shifts still so slick with their desire that someone would certainly sniff their activity on them without a shower.

It's been three months since Edan had finally worked up the guts to buy Anson a coffee during a break, which had eventually led to a stolen kiss in the elevator, followed by a longer rendezvous in an empty examination room. 

They slip past the all-knowing eyes of their colleagues, Anson rolling his eyes when one of the other anaesthesiologists, Stanley, wolf-whistles after them down the corridor, a smatter of laughter echoing in response. 

Only when they step out into the parking lot does Edan slip his hand into Anson's, exchanging a fond smile with him before leading him to his car. Anson has been inside the sleek five-seater before, although it's never actually set into gear, and as Edan puts the key into ignition and pulls out of the hospital car park, they settle into a comfortable quiet.

Anson's silently buzzing with nerves, although he thinks it's silly. Edan inviting him over to his place feels like a new stage in their — well, funnily enough, they'd never actually talked about what their exact relationship was. 

"So…you can cook?" he says quietly, mainly for the sake of saying something.

"Of course," Edan smirks, fiddling with the air conditioning vent on the dashboard. "Kidding; I mostly just pile a bunch of things into a slow cooker and press a few buttons. I've never made myself sick, if that reassures you."

"Still. I'm…excited about tonight." 

He smiles into his hand, leaning his elbow against the windowsill as he averts Edan's gaze. 

"Well, don't get your hopes up too much; I'm actually very meat-and-potatoes."

"Right," Anson snorts. "Like the Italian leather in this car."

"It's a simple colour," Edan muses, gesturing vaguely at the sleek, black material. They don't have it half bad, as far as bringing home the bacon goes.

They spend the rest of the drive chatting comfortably about something or other that had happened in the ward that week, the conversation only dwindling down when the car's headlights shine on a large wooden gate that begins sliding open when Edan hits a button on a remote controller that's tucked away in the door handle. As they pull into the driveway—yes, a driveway—Anson notes the lavish, modern construction, a far cry from many of the other simple village blocks he'd seen along the way. 

"Meat-and-potatoes, huh?"

"It's—" Edan starts, but then yields. "It was my parents' house. I just live here."

"Okay, okay."

As the car shifts itself into place, Anson raises a curious eyebrow at the multiple large, white freezers lined up along the side of the garage, each bolted shut with a large padlock. Before he gets the chance to ask, though, Edan has scurried over to the other side to open the door for him. He rolls his eyes at the corny gesture, but takes the doctor's hand anyway as he steps down from the passenger seat. 

"I," Edan walks him backwards by both hands into the main living area, the lights flickering on automatically to reveal a warmly decorated space. "Am so glad you're here."

The sound of the garage door can be heard behind them, sharply closing like a cleaver to a butcher's block. Anson smiles, allowing himself to be walked around the corner of the kitchen door, from which he sniffs the aroma of something cooking.

"It actually smells good."

"Doesn't it? And it'll be ready soon," Edan pulls them towards the living room, ignoring the man's amused roll of the eyes and instead guiding Anson to sit on the large grey sofa, then sliding himself into the man's lap and straddling his hips in such a fashion that can only mean one thing. "In the meantime…"

They waste not even a second, their kisses smooth and heated and travelling southwards, Edan's breath harsh against Anson's neck, licking, gently gnawing, then soothing with his tongue again to leave searing flushes of pink on pale skin.

This is perhaps Edan's favourite part of their routine, covering every inch of Anson's body with devoted attention, sometimes nipping the skin between his teeth and grazing it to leave an impressive rash that Anson always complains about, but arches into all the same. 

The doctor's affection leaves Anson with a warm buzz in his chest, feeling unquestionably cared for and unabashedly attractive, and Anson finds himself in awe of how genuinely happy he is, how it almost seems too good to be true that they'd met. 

He has the beginnings of an arousal, trailing a hand down Edan's front to reach the button of his pants, when three insistent beeps sound from the kitchen. Pulling apart with a quiet wet noise, Anson tilts his head back to glide their noses together as they collect their breaths.

"That's dinner," Edan says against his mouth. "I guess we'll have to wait for dessert."

Chapter Text

"This…actually doesn’t look or smell too bad." 

Anson tilts his head, inspecting the plate before him; neatly arranged with an assortment of mixed vegetables, buttered new potatoes, and what looks like stewed beef in a rich gravy. Certainly not of restaurant quality, but undoubtedly edible, given that his wide-eyed companion has yet to suffer food poisoning from his own homemade lunches. 

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Edan rolls his eyes as he sets a wine glass down carefully on the table. "I can make edible food!"

"We’ll see about that."

"Who was it that almost started an explosion in the pantry last week?" 

"That wasn’t my fault! I got distracted because I received a call, and then I was stirring with the spoon, and then I just—you know what?" Anson pinches the bridge of his nose with mild mortification at his companion’s shit-eating grin. "Fine, fine. I’m a walking disaster." 

"Yes, you are," comes the amused response. "And it was adorable…you know…until we had to evacuate the entire ward."

"You—!" 

"Okay, okay! I’ll stop." He plants a kiss between Anson’s furrowed brow to smooth out the irritated crease. "Come on, sit down." 

Anson harbours mild resentment for himself for the way he gives in so easily at times. Still, it’s with good reason that nurses on just about every floor pass around Dr. Lui’s shift arrangements like hot gossip, hoping to catch even a brief glimpse or weasel in a flirtatious word. 

He’s all sizzle and no steak, he’d told Joyce when she'd questioned his indifference. The appeal had been lost on him at first, supposing only at most that the man had a striking side profile when deep in focus (an observation he’d passively made when he’d absolutely not been staring at him from across the operating room). 

Until, that is, Edan had looked up from the table to meet his coincidental gaze. And instead of sporting a smug look of arrogance that seems cliched of most handsome men, the doctor had startled in surprise, flushing pink at the tips of his ears and nearly dropping the steel forceps into the patient’s open body.  

Then, and only then, had Anson begun to think fondly of him, smiling to himself from behind his mask at the way the supposedly suave and promiscuous Dr. Lui would fumble for words stumble over his own feet in his presence. And as Edan pulls his chair out for him, Anson’s look of disdain melts away with whatever teasing remark they’d just been bickering over.

"Wow, such excellent service."

"You can tip me handsomely later," Edan winks, then briefly strolls back into the kitchen, returning with another plate. Anson frowns in question as the man joins him at the table, where he’s set two places adjacent from each other. 

"Why…are we eating different things?"

Such a question would be an oddity in the context of dining out, but for that experience to be simulated in a domestic setting seems an odd stretch, even for someone as particular about details as Edan. He pauses for a moment, eyeing his own plate, which consists of some sort of pasta dish, goopy with a thick red sauce, and what appear to be several meatballs. 

"Um…" he trails off, rubbing the back of his neck.

"You…made two separate meals?"

"Uh…yeah. I originally made this for both of us. But then…I got a bit heavy-handed with the chilli flakes, and I forgot that you can’t eat spicy food…so I made you something else," he says slowly, watching carefully as Anson’s face morphs from confusion to scepticism. "Anyway, I don’t like wasting food." 

As far as explanations go, Edan’s reasoning paired with his unsettled glance has Anson reeling with suspicion, but he does, in fact, recall making frequent remarks about the fiery stench that occasionally makes its way out of Edan’s mouth—or, as the man puts it, 'travels up from his stomach'. 

Nobody cares where the smell is coming from, exactly. The gas ultimately still comes out of your mouth.

"O…kay?"

"Sorry, is that weird?" Anson watches the man before him start to fidget, running his thumb repeatedly over the corner of the table. "I—I can eat what you’re having and just have this another time."

He begins to stand up, only to be gently pulled back into his seat.

"Hey, no, no. It’s fine. That’s not what I meant. Just…I was just curious." 

Edan huffs a short laugh of relief. "Sorry, I’m just…really nervous." 

"Why? It’s not like you killed someone or anything," he jokes.

"W-what? No!" 

"I—never mind," Anson waves off whatever he’d been about to say. "I’m joking. I just mean, there’s no reason for you to be this nervous. We’ve had dinner together many times before."

"Oh," Edan pushes his glasses up his tall nose, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. "Well, yes. But microwaved meals and takeout isn’t really the same. I’ve never, like…cooked for someone else before." 

There’s a moment of pregnant silence between them, and from the deliberating gaze that avoids his own, Anson senses that there’s more to the information than meets the eye.

"What is it?" 

Then, a hand reaches across the table to find his own, trembling slightly but with an affection that feels different from the mostly primal touches they’ve shared thus far. 

"You know, my parents wouldn’t let me date when I was in high school. Or university. Actually, they’re still not too keen on it now," he starts, rambling as he plays with Anson’s fingers, longer and thinner than his own, although cool and baby-soft under his own warm, calloused ones. 

"But you’re a grown-ass adult."

"They think it’ll distract me. From my career, I mean," he adds on quickly. "I don’t know. But they don’t live here anymore, so they can hardly tell me what to do or not do. And even if they’re right, I want to take that risk with you. I-if you’re willing, that is."

"What are you trying to say?"

Edan groans into their clasped hands, looking up at Anson with wide, pleading eyes, a look he’s only seen once before, when he’d had the audacity to leave the bed after only a few minutes of cuddling. 

"Do you really need me to put it so bluntly?"

"You don’t seem to have a problem asking for a scalpel in three or fewer words."

"Okay, okay. Fine." He takes a deep breath, pulling his chair closer and taking Anson’s hand in both of his own, no spring chicken at almost thirty, but with all the restlessness of a boy pursuing first love. "I…really like you. Like, so much it’s ridiculous. And I know I have my shortcomings. Shit. This felt so much easier when I was younger…Look, I can’t promise you’ll always be happy, but I’ll try really fucking hard. I asked you to come over today because if there’s even a snowball’s chance in hell that you feel the same way, then—!"

You talk way too much, you know that?  

Anson smiles against Edan’s lips, knowing exactly where this is headed, but tingling with impatience. When he pulls back with a quiet smack, he holds Edan’s face in his hands, brushing his thumbs across his bony, slightly pink cheeks. 

"Didn’t I tell you to get to the point?" he whispers in a low voice. "Do you want to be my boyfriend or what?" 

"I do!" Edan nods, eyes wide with such sincerity that Anson almost feels bad for teasing him. "B-but I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched."

There seems no apparent reason for a man who has people falling at his feet and giggling behind their clipboards at every turn to be so full of doubt that anyone could develop feelings for him. Most are captivated merely by his polite smile and charismatic presentation (or rather, inspect him like the prize pig at the meat market). But Anson’s heart is warmed with the way Edan gently brushes a lock of hair out of his face in the elevator, leaves paper cranes by his patients’ bedside tables, and whispers simple affirmations to him before and after every major operation. 

"Let’s eat then…boyfriend."

He says this down at his plate, suddenly eager to fill his stomach with something other than butterflies. When he looks up, there’s Christmas in Edan’s eyes and an eagerness in the hold around his hand to match. 

If there’s a little too much salt in the gravy, it tastes like honey to Anson’s palate.


"You want some help?"

Anson slinks his arms around Edan’s waist from behind him as he cleans up at the kitchen sink, hooking his chin over his shoulder. His clothes smell faintly of hand sanitiser and laundry detergent, mixed with his natural musk, despite the cold air of December. 

"Nah, I’ve got this," he smiles softly at the embrace. "Why don’t you go and watch TV for a bit? I’ll be done soon."

"But you’re warm," Anson whines quietly into the back of his neck, pressing the words into the small sliver of tanned skin there. "And I want dessert."  

"Well, dessert is washing the dishes at the moment," Edan shakes his head, chuckling at the pout that forms on his boyfriend’s—because he can call him that now—lips. 

Relenting, Anson retracts his teddy-bear grip and props himself up on the empty counter, taking in his surroundings with child-like curiosity, sock-clad feet dangling above the floor. 

"Don’t you live alone?"

Edan nods, rinsing a plate under the tap. 

"Yeah, why?"

"You have two refrigerators. How much food does a person need at home at any given time?" 

"Well, like I said, this was my parents’ house. Both of them and my sister used to live here."

"Where are they now?"

"My parents live in Stockholm, and my sister is studying in London." 

He says this with practised ease, placing the last clean dish on the drying rack and wiping his hands on a towel hanging from the oven door. Then, with equal swiftness, he pulls Anson off the counter by the legs, earning him a squeal of protest and a light smack to the chest before they’re standing practically nose to nose. 

"Hi."

"Hi back."

The moment is of few words, but there’s nothing quiet about it, Anson’s heart pounding like a tenderising mallet in his ears and the smooth hum of Edan’s voice vibrating in the mere inch of space between them.  

But then Edan pulls away, clearing his throat as if awakening from a daydream.

"I…I’m going to brush my teeth first," he says, rubbing at his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Um. Okay…"

Anson furrows his brows in amusement, watching as the man mumbles something nonsensical, a foot already in the bathroom door and the lock clicking shut. Edan’s spontaneous need to deep clean his mouth leaves Anson alone in the kitchen, still a little flustered from what had just been bubbling between them.

The mere month or so since they’d begun their flirtatious rendezvous hasn’t fully acquainted Anson with every one of Edan’s quirks and edges, but he’d never once questioned Edan’s strange habit of religiously brushing his teeth after every single meal. Then again, one tends not to complain about their partner practising exceptionally good oral hygiene or the cool, tingling sensation left on the skin from warm breath mixed with sharp peppermint. 

He decides Edan won’t mind particularly if he helps himself to a cold drink, not to mention that despite the weather, an icy soda might help to calm his nerves. 

The fridge—the one on the left—is well-stocked, a fair selection of canned sparkling water and sugar-free soda packing one shelf, an assortment of fruit and vegetables in the crisper, and various types of coffee creamer. One would think that Edan were a vegetarian at this first glance. 

Ultimately, Anson settles on a can of soda from the middle shelf, and as he pulls the tab open, he makes to ponder over the other fridge, similar in size but with a larger freezer compartment. The door clatters with its empty egg and dairy compartments as he pulls it open to find an equally empty fridge. 

Well, save for a few things.

It takes several moments of bewildered inspection before Anson realises what he’s holding, and when he does, his breath just about leaves him.

LEUNG, T.F   M    2020.19.03

TANG, L.Y.   F    2020.28.09

WONG, C.Y.   F    2021.01.05

NGAI, C.S.   M    2021.07.14

TSUI, H.C.   M    2021.10.20

Each and every ID tag has been snipped carefully right where the label ends, the wristband still looped around the plastic hook. 

The 'unclaimed', they call them at the hospital; with no family or friends to identify them, nor enough money to be cremated or buried by their own will. Anson remembers them all; he’d been the one to whisper soothing words as he put them to sleep in surgery, after all, and the one writing off their reports to the morgue with a heavy heart. And clearly, Anson had not been the only one grieving their isolation.

"Sorry, I just remembered that—what are you doing?"

Edan’s voice trails from the hallway, and he pales as he peers into the kitchen to find Anson’s figure covered from the waist up by the refrigerator door.

Several long, aching seconds pass, and then Anson finally reaches his fingers around the door to close it, meeting Edan’s panic-stricken face with watery eyes. In his other hand, he holds up the several thin, flimsy pieces of plastic. 

"I-I can…I can explain," Edan starts, holding up both hands as he moves with trepidation towards Anson, whose face is unreadable, unmoving. "I…Anson, please. Let me—"

He stumbles backwards a little as a damp face buries itself into his chest and arms cling at his shoulders. Stunned, Edan blinks a few times before reaching up to stroke Anson’s hair and rubbing circles into the small of his back.

"You," Anson pulls back, placing the ID tags on the counter. "Are the sweetest man I know."

"I…am?" 

Edan’s eyes glimpse the pile of labels with vigilance, then looks back at Anson, whose eyes are shining with fresh tears and pure adoration. 

"Yes. And I’d like my dessert now." 

Chapter Text

"For the twentieth time, I’m not saying."

"I hate you." 

Anson chuckles, filling out his clipboard at the end of his rounds. 

Joyce had practically pounced on him the second he’d stepped foot out of the lift, dragging him towards the nurses’ station with a freshly brewed coffee and about a dozen questions, all offered in quick succession. He had, of course, dismissed her ulterior motives with a playful shake of the head.

"I don’t kiss and tell," he simply shrugs, signing off at the bottom of the chart. 

"Please," Joyce rolls her eyes, playing with one of the charms on her bracelet. "There isn’t a single person in this hospital who doesn’t know about what you two get up to in the on-call room. You’re not quiet at all, Dr. Lo. Ah! So good! Yes! Dr. L—" 

Her enthusiastic reenactment is quickly muffled with Anson’s anxious palm just as another one of the nurses pushes an elderly patient down the corridor in a wheelchair. He bows slightly at the old lady in greeting, having just visited her room a mere ten minutes ago. 

"Why don’t you say it so the whole floor can hear you?" he whisper-yells, glaring at Joyce with mock warning once the corridor is mostly empty again. "Now I’m really not going to spill anything." 

"Come on!" his friend whines. "At least tell me what he cooked!"

"He made…he made stewed beef, okay? Are you happy?"

"OoooOOOOOoOOoo stewed beef!" Joyce waggles her eyebrows before pausing to contemplate. "Wait, what does that mean?"

"What do you mean; 'what does that mean?'"

"Well, like with flowers, food has its own language, too," she says, as if it’s obvious. "Hang on, I’m going to look up what stewed beef means."

"Have you been watching K-dramas on your breaks again? Stewed beef is just stewed beef."

Except, of course, it hadn’t just been stewed beef, although Anson gets the feeling that his nosy friend would have infinitely more to say about Edan having made them separate meals than she would about whatever hidden message stewed beef happened to carry. 

That, and the fact that his boyfriend keeps his unclaimed patients’ ID tags in his fridge as an unorthodox way of keeping their memory alive. While Anson had found the sentiment to reveal what he’d known and admired about Edan all along, he has to admit that the average onlooker would find it somewhat macabre, like hosting a makeshift graveyard in one’s own home.

Frankly, despite their increasingly deep familiarity with each other’s mannerisms between the sheets, Anson finds that he knows very little about Edan himself beyond how he carries himself within the hospital walls. The night he’d spent in the man’s house had left Anson with more questions than answers, and once the buzz of heated frisson had worn off several hours after they’d parted ways in the locker room that morning, Anson had found himself meditating over his various observations.

Every person has their own fair share of quirks, he supposes.

An old roommate of his had frequently commented on his annoying habit of hogging the only bathroom for hours on end, neither to take a long shower or to actually use the toilet, but simply to perch himself on the edge of the bathtub and listen to music bouncing off of the ceramic tiles while scrolling through his phone.

Another of his friends would become immensely irritated with him for the way he would suddenly space out in the middle of a conversation and seemingly nod along to whatever was being said in faux concentration, only to discover that he’d accidentally agreed to looking after the neighbour’s pet fish for a week. 

No, Anson is certainly no stranger to his own shortcomings.

Even so, he has to admit that Edan’s particular set of eccentricities stem a tad beyond mere annoyances. As he mulls over this, there’s a light, repeated tapping on his arm.

"Oooh! Okay, so I looked it up in English and didn’t find anything on stewed beef, specifically, but apparently, beef itself is symbolic of sexual intercourse," Joyce reads off of her phone. "So, if he made you a beef dish, it probably means he wants to—"

"What does it mean if someone owns several chest freezers?"

He interrupts her inconsequential report, clearly preoccupied with his own curiosities.

"Excuse me?"

"Uh…freezers. You know, like the kind you see in supermarkets that open from the top but without the sliding glass doors."

Joyce twists her lips in serious thought, then slaps the table with affirmation. "You know, when I still lived in Canada, my aunt and uncle had two enormous freezers like that in the garage where they kept all the organic beef they would buy from a farm a few towns over."

Frozen meats? It seems unlikely that Edan would be the type to import large amounts of organic meats, especially when he lives alone, but it’s not a possibility Anson is willing to rule out for the time being.

"I…see."

"Why, does Dr. Lui have chest freezers in his house?"

"Uh…" Anson pauses, wondering if such information is safe in her hands. "Well, I don’t actually know if they’re freezers. Maybe they’re fridges?"

"Are you sure they’re not just washing machines?" she looks at him pointedly, then pats his hand teasingly. "Listen, I know that as a mere peasant, I’m more familiar with the concept of housework than you. A washing machine is a large home device that’s used to—"

"Joyce!"

"I’m just saying!" She taps her chin with an immaculately manicured finger. "Maybe he’s, I don’t know, a diabetic, and that’s where he keeps his insulin supply or something."

"A diabetic?" he says incredulously.

"I’m just saying it’s a possibility," she shrugs. "Anyway, if you’re not going to tell me anything actually interesting, I have paperwork to do."


The hinges of the bed’s steel frame creak rhythmically in the otherwise quiet on-call room. Normally, Anson would be entirely entranced with the gentle nibbling at his chest and warm hands at his hips. And yet, despite his own fingers interlacing with thick hair along Edan’s scalp, he finds himself more fixated with the sight of various moles and faded freckles across the man’s skin, contemplating their potential origins and forming mental constellations between each spot. 

He doesn’t realise he’s staring so unabashedly until warm lips press against his own gently, then right between his creased brows.

"You okay? Do you want to just sleep?"

"Mmm," he hums and shakes his head slightly in response, resting his hands on Edan’s bare shoulders. 

"Something on your mind?"

Edan carefully clambers out from between Anson’s legs, sitting on the edge of the bed and reaching for the T-shirt he’d draped over a chair earlier. The air suddenly feels cold against Anson’s chest, leaving a wash of goosebumps where there’d been kisses just moments earlier. 

Surely, in giving over his heart, it isn’t too much to ask for a piece in return. Surely, his question isn’t so intrusive that it would repulse the man into backing out of his profession.

"Can I…ask you something?" he says timidly, shifting to drape himself over Edan’s bare back. He’s getting thinner lately, Anson notices. 

"What is it?" 

"This…might sound like a weird question, even as a doctor."

Edan’s gaze falls to his lap, then he nods. "Yes, I have tried waxing it off before, but it just keeps growing back. I think it’s just a genetic thing."

"What?"

"The hair…? On my instep? Is that not what you’re asking about?"

"No!"

"Oh."

"You have hair on your instep?"

"Uh…just a bit. I mean—what was it you wanted to ask?"

An expectant grin forms on Edan’s face as he awaits Anson’s peculiar question. 

"Are you…are you diabetic?"

"……………What?"

"It’s just a question!" Anson buries his face into his boyfriend’s shoulder, ears tinged pink with embarrassment. "Are you?"

"That’s what you wanted to know?" Edan breathes a laugh, almost with relief. 

"Well, what am I supposed to think? You made a separate meal for me, you always bring your own lunch, you have a frankly absurd number of freezers in your home, and you were in the bathroom for a long time this morning! It’s not that weird to—stop laughing at me!"

"Sorry!" Edan ducks away from the continuous smacks to his shoulder. "You’re just too cute."

"Shut up! I’m about to get real cute if you don’t answer me!"

"Okay, okay!" he holds his hands up in mock surrender. "No, I’m not diabetic, silly. Even if I were, it’s not something I would hide from you. I already told you that the freezers were for when my parents still lived there. They’re picky eaters and would stock up on the stuff they actually ate because it wasn’t really easy to find. But if it really bothers you that much, I can get rid of them immediately. It’s not a big deal."

Anson is quiet now, mortified with himself for even making such a suggestion. 

"Mm? Is that what you’d like?"

"No," he mumbles quietly. "You don’t have to get rid of the freezers. Sorry for being dumb."

"It’s not dumb," Edan whispers into his hair. "You have every right to be curious." 

He nods, then nuzzles his nose into the crook of Edan’s neck, breathing in the clean scent of fresh laundry. Perhaps, in his deep infatuation, Anson had lost sight of his rationale and allowed his emotions to run haywire with not only desire, but with equal parts paranoia. After all, Edan had shown him nothing but pure affection thus far. 

 

Why should he suspect him of anything else?

Chapter Text

"Jer, have you seen Dr. Lui?" 

The break room feels weary as Anson pushes the door open, the only light coming from sundown peeking through the blinds of a single window. Jer had been lying face down on the faux leather sofa, back aching after a painstaking ten hours in surgery. He briefly lifts his head up at the sound of Anson's voice, then smirks.

"Is that what you call him even now?" he says before rolling onto his side and rubbing at his face. "Yeah, I saw him go into the morgue on my way from the shower room." 

Anson nods, ignoring the teasing remark. "Another one?"

"Yep," Jer sighs. "An unclaimed. Died in his sleep while riding the tram. The poor driver found him at the end of his shift."

He says nothing in return. 

There's never much that can be said whenever a patient doesn't make it or when they've already died on arrival. There'd been a time in his days as an intern when he'd been instructed to attempt manual resuscitation on a patient who'd already flatlined for over half an hour, administering helpless pumps of the defibrillator and shocking the corpse into a horrifyingly fish-like flop with every dose. 

He'd become increasingly frustrated at Ah Fa for seemingly making a joke out of his time, even lightly slapping the lukewarm patient in the face a few times to drive home his point. Only when she'd dragged Anson by the ear out into the waiting room, faced with four tearful faces, had it dawned upon him the sincerity of the words  We did everything we could .

"You should go home," he says to Jer now. "You look like you haven't slept in days."

Jer shakes his head in response. "Ah Fa's called for a meeting with all the A&E residents in about two hours. Or did you not get the memo?"

Anson screws his eyes shut in disbelief. While he'd not had a particularly intensive day—mostly tending to mild asthma attacks and one particularly handsy woman who'd requested that he feel her in various places to properly diagnose her—he'd been looking forward to winding down with a drink or two and perhaps an evening curled up in bed, legs tangled with Edan's.

The man had been inexplicably lacking in his usual energy lately. To Anson's knowledge, his boyfriend had not been particularly busy in the past few weeks, at least no more than usual. 

You're getting so much thinner, he'd remarked one evening. 

Edan had simply shrugged with a weak smile.  Must be all the calories I'm burning with you

But even in his attempt at dismissing the subject, Anson can't help but worry about his boyfriend's seemingly rapid weight loss, sometimes paying a little too much attention to how the spaces between his own fingers would gradually diminish, wedged apart by only bony knuckles. Some evenings, he would turn on the television for them to watch a movie together, only to find Edan dozing off a quarter of the way through, where he would typically be talking animatedly about something stupid the protagonist had done. 

Admittedly, although he enjoys the comfort and lack of pretence that had gradually begun to form between them, he's begun to long more and more for the heated spontaneity that had previously breathed their attraction into fruition. Of course, he can't bear to even hint at a desire for such intimacy whenever Edan slumps into his side of the bed — yes, at some point, they'd each silently claimed a side of Edan's gargantuan mattress — with dark circles under his eyes and a miserable weariness in his bones. Instead, he presses a reassuring kiss into his shoulder and pulls him to nestle in his chest.

And perhaps he'd imagined it, but there'd been one night when he'd almost drifted off when he'd heard a quiet mumble of  Love you . Only then had it occurred to him just how much he wanted it to be true, even if it had been said in a questionable state of consciousness. 

Because somewhere along the line, either in the midst of bickering over which of them would die in a horror movie first or shying away from playful grabs of each other's behinds in the lift…

…he, too, had fallen.

"Right," he mutters in response to Jer. "Yeah, I remember now. At least get a nap in; I'll come and wake you up later."

Jer's reply comes in the form of a grunt as he rolls over to face the sofa back, and Anson takes his leave swiftly through the break room door. He makes straight for the elevator and blurs his way down to the bottom floor and out the hospital entrance.

Every now and then, he gets a sudden craving for something piping hot and fried to a crisp, and his stomach grumbles as he shoves his frozen fingers into his coat pockets, already smelling the warm, familiar scent of salty fries from across the street. He's not here for a taste of something savoury, though.

"An apple pie…and a strawberry sundae, please. Oh, and two spoons. Thank you."

There's something oddly amusing about seeing a doctor walk through hospital hallways sporting a familiar brown bag that most practitioners would prescribe avoidance to their patients. Still, Anson has no qualms about indulging in what he believes he deserves.

He may not be able to cook a meal without having the fire department on speed dial, but he could return Edan's gestures with equal parts sweetness. 

 


 

It's a long walk down an even longer corridor to the hospital morgue, the only other rooms in the same corner of that floor being a staff break room and toilet, the general pharmacy, and a radiology room. Nobody ever truly desires to be making their way down this particular corridor, but with warm food and three words at the ready, Anson finds himself with a slight skip in his step as he turns down the long passageway to the otherwise sombre room.

He smiles to himself when he sees him through the Venetian blinds of the large windows, back turned and standing over the autopsy table at the other end of the room. Edan is deep in a sullen state, having signed off on the results of the earlier autopsy before asking the lab techs for a moment alone, as he always does. Anson could never have thought that a man who so openly talks about the best technique to cleanly pick your nose could have such a deeply sensitive side. If he's being honest, Anson finds it to be his most attractive feature.

Even so, he can't help but admire the tall bridge of his nose and the tortoiseshell glasses perched on top of it. 

Keep them on, he'd told him the first time, taking them from Edan's hands and placing the delicate frames back on his face before smoothing his hair out with his fingers.  I want you to see me clearly

He thinks he should be past the point of becoming a blushing mess at everything little thing, but he can't complain about how, for once in his life, he feels safe in his partner's company.

The sundae is melting slightly now, droplets of condensation leaving a darkened wet patch in the side of his trousers, but still, Anson decides to watch from afar for just a moment longer before he alerts Edan of his presence. He's not appropriately dressed to enter the morgue anyhow.

Finally, the man straightens up a little, pulling back the white sheet to take one last look at the body, a shade of pale almost as stark as the fabric that had been covering it. 

Then, to Anson's confusion, Edan pulls a scalpel out of his coat pocket, rubber-gloved hand hovering over the body for a few moments before making an incision. There's not a single logical reason that Anson can think of for making further cuts into a patient's body after an autopsy has already been complete, especially without the proper equipment. 

Certainly not as the corpse is literally about to be pushed into a freezer. 

The sliver of flesh is no larger than a credit card; it hangs flimsy and a deep, rosy red between Edan's gloved fingers as he holds it up to the light as if to inspect it, as if he might find something that the pathologist had missed. 

What, exactly, is he doing? 

Anson expects the man to pull a sample bag out of his coat pocket any moment, to sneak it away for further investigation. 

For peace of mind. 

For…he doesn't know.

 

And then, as if all his previous apprehensions and questions all become clear and muddled in one fell swoop, he watches in horror as Edan unloops one side of his mask…

 

…holds the flesh above his mouth…

 

 

…and eats the entire thing in one gulp.

 

 

 

When Edan finally emerges from the morgue, he finds on the floor a brown paper bag soaked through with oil, a plastic cup spilling over with melted ice cream, and Anson's back rapidly disappearing down the corridor.

Chapter Text

If there's one trait that Anson had never quite acquired, it would be his ability to remain focused. That would not be to say that he can't sit still or spontaneously feels the urge to be scrolling through his phone in the middle of a meeting. Rather, his mind is a loose cannon, firing spiralling thought after vexing anxiety until it consumes most of his mental capacity at any given moment and pulls him away from the present moment. It's a habit that his parents, teachers, and friends alike have all remarked on, frequently having to drag him back down by the balloon string.

Where his cerebral function best centres on the present is in a state of emergency or immense pressure, his often worry-struck mind pulling out all the stops to tackle a matter at hand. This one particular trait has pulled him through many a difficult exam and mind-boggling operation, waiting, waiting until he's alone in his room to choke out heavy sobs or melt away his tension under a scalding shower.

Now, his panic response kicks into high gear, sending him down dozens of hospital corridors with tunnel vision with only one aim — to leave the premises and be as far away as possible from the morgue, from the clinically white lights that glare in his eyes, from…Edan.

From what he'd seen.

What had he seen? There's no time for him to ponder over the details and piece together the seeming absurdity of what he'd witnessed, though, because if he stops, then he'll have to think about it, and if he thinks about it, then he'll spiral, and if he spirals…well, that never led to anything good.

As luck would have it, though, he's speed-walking down another corridor when a tall figure that he vaguely recognises as Stanley steps out of the break room, obstructing his bull-like journey.

"Hey, where are you going? The meeting's about to start."

Anson stands with great unease, eyes trained on the exit signs ahead and feet fidgeting with the need to move. Away, away, away.

"I—"

"Anson!"

He hears his name being called down the corridor with a hint of alarm, enough to kick-start him on his path again, this time practically jogging away. He doesn't turn to see who it is. 

He doesn't have to.

"Anson, please! Listen to me!"

This time, he hears the crack in the man's voice, heaving with the chase and perhaps lament. He runs, snaking past nurses with their clipboards and dodging wheelchairs with almost trained agility until he's out in the open air. 

The stillness of the hospital entrance, the quiet of the night, the cold of January. 

Flagging down the first taxi that pulls into the driveway, his eyes meet the moon, watching as it follows him all the way home.

 


 

Anson wakes with a start and a sharp inhale when the mattress buzzes from under his arm. For the first time in a while, he'd slept in his own bed, the sheets feeling familiar but simultaneously strange against his skin. He'd become so accustomed to the warm, homey scent of brown sugar and gardenias gently cocooning him to sleep, and had found himself at war with the too-soft material of his childhood pillow, not one corner of it comforting enough to soothe him. In the end, he'd downed perhaps an entire bottle of wine with some trashy soap opera playing on his laptop before he'd felt buzzed and drowsy enough to fall into slumber.

His tongue tastes foul in his mouth, and despite the sun barely having risen, he has a hard time forcing his eyes open and inhaling a sore breath before peeking at his phone screen. It had rung and sounded a number of times since the night before, although he'd ignored every single message and call, shoving the device under the other pillow to mute its urgent vibrations.

 

5:46 AM

Whatsapp: 42 new notifications

Phone: Missed calls (28)

 

Most of the messages come from Jer, who'd frantically demanded to know his whereabouts after he'd made a beeline for the exit the night before. 

 

dude, where are you?

meeting is starting

ah fa is about to explode

edan's not here either…are you two in the on-call room again?? 

seriously?!! get your dick out of his ass for just a MINUTE and check your phone!

stanley said you weren't feeling well? :/

ah fa was arranging the CNY shifts…you weren't here so you're stuck with new year's eve

lmk if you need anything

Stanley's messages are no less concerned, albeit less panicked.

 

you okay? you just bolted off earlier

still coming to the meeting?

kid…what happened with edan? did you two fight?

istg if he's done something to hurt you…

i told ah fa you weren't feeling well. don't know where edan is though. 

text me when you get the chance

There are a handful of other messages from a number of different people, including a tipsy voice message from Joyce and his sister asking for his thoughts on the family dog's new leash, but none of them are of any significance at this point. 

All twenty-eight missed calls, however, are from Edan.

Edan. 

He'd pushed all thoughts of the man far out of his mind until now, and with good reason, because the mere mention of his boyfriend's name sprouts an inexplicable aching in his chest until he's rolling over to choke out a sob into his pillow, the only comfort being that fresh tears soothe aching in his eyes.

It had seemed too good to be true, and for the first time in his life, he'd admonished all doubts with the prospect that perhaps, he had been the right one. Except, of course, he'd been far from right with his instincts and with no reason that he could give those who would inevitably ask when they notice their lack of interaction.

What would he even say? 

He's basically perfect, except I saw him eat a human being's raw flesh like it was a piece of toro sashimi, so it didn't really work out.

Nobody would believe him, anyhow. A cannibalistic doctor? Those are the kinds of things that only seem possible on television or in some novel one would find in an airport bookstore. It would certainly explain the man's peculiar fastidiousness when it comes to food, as well as why he would very seldom choose to eat out despite being just an average cook. 

But Anson isn't looking for answers right now. Just silence and time.

"Hello?" he garbles into the phone. "This is Dr. Lo….yes. I need to take sick for the day. Thank you." 

For the second time that day, he tucks himself under the covers, with no arms around his middle nor a kiss to wish him the sweetest of dreams.

 


 

"Where is he?"

"Hmm?" Anson looks up from his coffee, having stirred in enough sugar for it to no longer resemble anything remotely close to caffeine. "W-who?"

Joyce rolls her eyes, pulling the cup away from him, the now-cold liquid sloshing over the edges to spill into the saucer. 

"Edan. Dr. Lui. Your boyfriend? He hasn't been in all week. Is he sick or something?"

"Oh," is all he says in response, placing the teaspoon down on the table. It's a good question, and he'd be lying if he hadn't been contemplating the answer himself. He'd thrown himself into work since he'd returned, although he'd admittedly be somewhat distracted, asking the patient their third favourite reptile as he counted them backwards into a state of unconsciousness and then sitting in a distracted daze, thinking about everything and anything except the one thing that he would naturally be expected to contemplate. "Um. He's…on leave, I guess."

"Yes, thank you, I gathered that much," Joyce squints at him, clearly exasperated with his non-answer. "Did you two fight?"

"No…not exactly."

A fight would've been easier than whatever this is. A fight, at least, would help him clarify what was the problem actually was, or what they were both feeling or thinking. 

"Look," says Joyce with a sigh. "I don't know what's going on with you two, but I've never seen you this sulky or so…mentally absent before. You two were practically attached at the hip! You picked fleas out of each other's matted fur like monkeys! And now you barely mention him at all. I'm worried about you."

"You're just upset because you have nothing to gossip about lately."

"I have plenty to keep me occupied, thank you very much," she says with mild offence. "I'm just concerned about you and your hot, nerdy…distressingly skinny boyfriend. You've clearly not been getting it on lately; your skin isn't as glowy." She pinches his cheek, the complexion indeed somewhat duller than it had previously been. 

"Joyce…" He swats her hand away. 

"Fine, fine. But seriously. Did he cheat on you or something?"

"No."

"Did he say something racist or sexist or otherwise socially unacceptable?"

"No."

"Is he suddenly deeply obsessed with trading Bitcoin or Ethereum and ditching work, dates, and life in general to keep an eye on his stocks because his best friend who's some bigshot banker has decided that NFTs are the future of investment and is now in possession of some trippy holographic GIF that serves no purpose other than as a symbol of fictitious wealth and an advertisement for a massive carbon footprint?"

"That's…incredibly specific. But no."

"Is his cock finally broken from the wild rabbit sex y'all keep having?"

"There are children in this cafeteria!" he whisper-yells with a hand clamped over her mouth. "And for fuck's sake. No!"

"I don't get it, then! Do you just not like him anymore?"

If only it were as simple as a fire having fizzled out, Anson could perhaps move forward with his life following a period of awkwardness. 

"It's…just complicated, okay?" he sighs. "Anyhow—"

He's cut off by the insistent buzzing of his phone in his pocket.

 

Incoming call: 193

 

Of all people he'd expected to be calling him, the freakishly tall pathology lab tech had been among the last few. He'd only had a few brief encounters with the peculiar man, the first being in the emergency ward when Anson had been responsible for tending to his broken wrist. 

"H-hello?"

"Anson? It's me. Denis. From pathology."  The voice comes across stern and exaggeratedly mysterious, akin to a kidnapper in some generic crime film on HBO. 

"Yes…I have caller ID on my phone." Anson shrugs at Joyce's curious frown, then clears his throat. "Um…is everything okay?"

"Meet me in the parking lot in five minutes. Don't bring anyone with you. I'll text you the license plate."

"What? What are you—" 

He's abruptly cut off by the dial tone. Anson pulls the phone away from his ear and stares at it for a moment as if at any moment, Denis might crawl out of it to make any additional remarks to explain his intentions, or state his demand for ransom money. When it inevitably doesn't happen, Anson clicks the phone screen off. 

"Who was that?" Joyce peers over his shoulder, intrigued, though not more than she is by picking imaginary dirt from under her perfectly manicured nails. 

"Um…Denis Kwok. From pathology."

"The really tall guy? What does he want?"

Anson shakes his head in bewilderment. "I guess we'll find out."

 


 

As requested, he knocks three times; twice in succession, followed by a brief pause before the third.

Denis drives a beaten-up grey (or perhaps it had once been silver) Honda that has an oil leak that leaves a semi-permanent stain in his parking space and a gaping crack in the tail light. The driver's seat window rolls down with a difficult squeak until it stops midway.

"Nobody's with you?"

"Nope," Anson scans the otherwise empty parking lot just for good measure. "Just me." 

"Door's unlocked."

If one were to be a parfumeur to the unique scent of Denis's car, they would describe it to be an initial burst of supermarket-brand baby wipes, drying down to the inside of a college student's laundry basket after a night of drunken festivities, laced with the base notes of a joint smoked a few days ago with its ashes lightly dusted across the room. 

Anson winces as he climbs into the mangy vehicle, delicate fingers extended as he pulls the creaky door of the passenger seat shut. 

"Thank you for coming to my office," Denis starts, peering into the passenger seat.

"This is your 2001 Honda Civic," Anson scrunches his nose, before straightening his expression at the sight of the man's glare in the rearview mirror. "I mean, uh…any time, man."

He sucks in a breath as he hears the child lock click into place, suddenly very wary of the enclosed space that he's encased in, his knees pressed up against the glovebox and Denis' head practically hitting the ceiling. 

"So," Denis turns to face him for the first time since he'd stepped into the car, a somewhat worrying action as he puts the car into gear and pulls out of the hospital driveway. "You've been avoiding Edan."

Anson blinks back in surprise. The remark, coming from a mere professional acquaintance, had not entirely been what he'd been expecting, although, with the way things had been going lately, it seems that anything is within the realm of possibility.

"I… it's complicated."

"I'm guessing you found out that he's a cannibal."

"I—you…you  know  about it?!" Questions, questions, questions, pouring in by the dozens to fill an ocean as if the past week hadn't baffled him enough. 

"Mm." Denis looks completely unfazed, nodding as though he were commenting on the weather. "I've known him since we were kids. He always has been."

"…I…I don't even…huh?!" 

"Don't you want to know why?"

The car suddenly feels even smaller, and while Anson has never been particularly claustrophobic, his need to leave the vehicle multiplies. And yet, he remains put, still stunned and feeling small under Denis's determined stare. That, and the car is still puttering noisily down the street, jolting at the smallest of dips and bumps in the tarmac. 

"U-um…"

Does he even want to know? What possible explanation could there be to justify such a ghastly act of morbidity? 

"Okay, maybe you don't want to hear it from me," Denis says slowly, then quirks an eyebrow at Anson's vacillating reaction. "But you should know that he doesn't want to be. It's just a biological need. He'll literally die of starvation if he doesn't."

"S-starvation?"

"Yes, Anson, the man is literally putting aside his biological needs just so he doesn't scare you off or put you in danger. I knew he was stupidly in love with you, but man.  I wouldn't give up barbecue pork rice for any girl, if you catch my drift."

Anson is quiet now, recalling now how Edan had gradually shrivelled in size as the weeks passed, his ribs poking through his sides and his skin clinging to his collarbones and sunken cheeks like shrink wrap. He's certain he must be mad, knowing full well that his boyfriend's actions are obscene beyond imagination, and yet still reserving a space to feel heartache at the sight of him.

"You love him, too, don't you?"

In his state of distress, Anson hadn't noticed where the car's toilsome journey had been leading them, and when he peers out of the thin layer of dust coating the window, he gulps. The house he'd come to call his second home in the past few months now looks stark with an ineffable stillness. 

"I… don't know," he says, mostly to himself. Denis pulls up to the end of the driveway, then pulls the car to a sharp stop, almost shaking Anson out of his daze as his head bumps against the headrest. His eyes never leave the house, though.

"Not that anyone asked, but here's what I think," Denis leans forward over the steering wheel to peer up at the house, one hand smoothing down the back of his mullet. "I think that if you weren't in love with him, you would've called the police by now. You would've reported him without a second thought, whether or not anyone believed you. But you haven't, have you?"

Indeed, Anson had, in the midst of his coffee break daydreaming, felt pangs of longing in the pit of stomach at passing images of Edan holding his face in his hands before a kiss, or the earnest jitters he'd had when he'd reached across the table for his hand, and the way he would listen attentively to every word of his nonsensical rambling and respond to it like Anson were speaking the sacred words of the gospel. 

But surely, there comes a time when sound judgement should grab the love-frenzied horse by the reigns and speed in the opposite direction. Right?

Or perhaps his horse had long run wild to graze unchartered fields, as Anson finds himself stepping out of the car, pulling out the keys he'd subconsciously continued to place in his back pocket every morning, and turning the door handle.

Chapter Text

There's a unique feeling of catharsis that is reserved for the specific moment that you enter into a space that you once frequented each day, but after some time, has become foreign to the senses. 

Anson can only compare it to the feeling he'd gotten from running into his favourite primary school teacher on the way to work one day. They'd both stood planted at a distance, in awe of how the years had matured and aged them to the emergence of a strong jaw and silvering hair. And yet, she'd recognised him in an instant, as though he were still only as tall as her waist, wearing the same carefully ironed grey shorts pulled up high on his waist and the plastic but practical Baby G watch hanging too loosely on his tiny wrist. 

But unlike the warm, familiar smile his teacher had greeted him with, Edan's stately shell of a home is still with a cold beyond the weather's control. The man's shoes—the same pair of faded sneakers he'd worn every day since the day they'd met—have been kicked to one side in the hallway, and what looks like the trails of a flu-ridden child scatter the living room sofa and coffee table with crumpled tissues and the baby-blue fleece blanket they would drape over their legs on nights in. The room is dimly lit by the television that still displays the spell-binding DVD logo bouncing ceaselessly from one edge of the screen to another; pink, yellow, blue, orange, white. 

Only the kitchen appears completely untouched.

It remains so unmoved, in fact, that Anson can glimpse the coffee mug he'd used the morning they'd left together for work, still unwashed in its corner by the sink. His lip is almost chewed raw as he walks past, shivering at the sight of the two tall fridges filled with…well, come to think of it, he'd only ever found drinks and vegetables in there. 

And the name tags. 

How strange it would be if, in one's lifetime, they penned in their will for their remains to be put in the hands—or stomach—of a cannibal. Anson himself had always imagined that when the time came, he would give himself over to scientific research; to the nurturing of future doctors' minds. Not, certainly, to become the key ingredients to someone's sinister smorgasbord. 

You are the sweetest man I know, he hears his own naïve words echo from months before. Just how many of Edan's supposed charms and wits had he so sorely misinterpreted? But, he supposes, he wouldn't have stepped foot back within these walls if he didn't still believe in his own claim. 

He'd expected to hold more trepidation upon entering the bedroom, or at least to be holding his breath with caution. After all, with the knowledge that he has now, one would shudder to imagine the possibilities of what an anthropophagite being might do in the face of hunger. And yet, Anson had conjured up no wild, savage visions of his boyfriend whipping out an axe or ripping out chunks of his flesh with his bare teeth. Not only does the entire matter seem far too cinematic to be within the realm of reality, but more importantly, Anson has trouble associating Edan with any form of violence, especially when the man cowers behind a cushion even at scenes that are coloured a cooler hue or where the music thrums a touch too suspenseful. 

Sure enough, as he stands in the open doorway of the bedroom, he feels only pity. The bedside lamp remains lit on his side of the bed, as though he'd merely gone to the bathroom in the wee hours of the night, yet to return. His faded black jeans are still draped over the back of the chair by the dressing table. 

I'll do a load this evening. Do you have any other darks to wash?

He'd not, of course, done any laundry. But what strikes his attention more than this particular fact, is that when he finally brings himself to look back at the bed, is that his pillow is gone from its usual spot. Instead, it's tightly clutched within the grasp of longing arms.

Anson sucks in a breath.

The man looks near skeletal, the bones of his elbows and wrists practically jutting out of his paler skin. Once a shining knight in the eyes of all who looked upon him, the admirable doctor lies weak, curled up in a fetal position and tangled into a pile of blankets that bury his frail body under their weight. No, Anson thinks as a sharp pang emerges in his chest. This is not at all a man who could ever deliberately hurt anyone. 

He shucks off his white coat, laying it carefully beside him as he slowly sinks his weight into the side of the mattress. There's something child-like in Edan's expression, his brows creased with tension and his breaths short with disquiet, as though dreaming vividly of a wild chase. Above his nose forms a line that Anson is tempted to gently smooth out with his thumb. 

He doesn't get the chance, though, as Edan shifts in his sleep with a quiet groan, slowly rolling over onto back and bumping gently against Anson's hip. The soft collision startles him, though, and with a sharp inhale, his eyes, puffy and swollen, blink rapidly as he takes in his surroundings. 

"I…huh?" 

It takes a few moments, but when he finally realises that he's not, in fact, hallucinating Anson's presence, Edan sits up quickly, then scrambles to pull the covers up to his chin. If possible, he appears even smaller, eyes wide and trembling slightly in the dim glow of the bedside lamp. He averts Anson's gaze, as though afraid that he might crumble into mush under it in the agonisingly long seconds that pass between them. 

"Hi."

It's Anson who finally breaks the silence, chewing at his own lip with apprehension. 

"Um…hi."

There must be a joke in there somewhere. 

A doctor and a cannibal walk into a bar. They fall in love and one day the bartender says

No, that's not it. 

Knock knock! 

Who's there? 

Doctor. 

Doctor who? 

Doctor…

For a man who usually always knows the right things to say or the best joke to melt away the atmospheric tension, Edan now struggles to form any unique, coherent words that could possibly begin to convey his mind's unrest.

"How…how are you?" 

Anson says after another stretched-out silence, fingers toying with the quilt beneath him as though with a mind of their own. Indeed, he'd made the bold decision to even enter the house upon Denis's persuasion, and yet now that he's here, he has no agenda to serve as his lifebuoy. 

"I… I'm fine." 

Lies.

"You haven't been at work all week," Anson says, more as a matter of fact than as a counterpoint to Edan's superficial claim. "Um…J-Jer said he misses you." 

He can feel the man's gaze on him now, searching, searching. Then, he nods.

"Oh."

"And…I miss you, too." 

For the first time in almost ten days, they look at each other. Properly, because there is undoubtedly far more to Anson's uncharacteristic confession than simply the words themselves. But the moment washes over when Anson's own vision blurs with tears welling up in his eyes, one of them spilling hotly down his cheek. As though by reflex, a cold hand reaches up to wipe it away, and Anson shrinks away slightly in surprise at the sudden touch. 

"Sorry," Edan mumbles as he pulls his hand back. He gulps, then tucks his bony arm back under the blanket like a snake recoiling into its charmer's basket. "I… didn't know how to face you. Or even explain. After…what happened, I mean."

Right. Most people ultimately discover somewhere along the line that their partner has a secret Keung To shrine in their closet with a statue moulded of candy wrappers, or god forbid, that they pour the milk before the cereal. And Anson, as luck would have it… he's not certain he would get the same sort of sympathetic reaction from Joyce upon sharing his boyfriend's particular quirk.

"I…well, Denis kind of gave me the gist of it."

"Are you…you must think I'm completely barbaric."

Edan meekly pulls the covers back up to his shoulders, lowering his head, but still watching for every minuscule change in Anson's expression. A confirmation, an elaboration, an explanation…? Yet, he simply shakes his head.

"No," Anson finally says after a pause. "But there's a lot I don't understand, you know? It's not exactly something I ever imagined in my entire life that I would encounter. I at least know how to feel if you're like, cheating, or ignoring me, or whatever. This is… I'm still…even now, I don't even know if being here is a good idea."

"I didn't want to scare you. But I…I can't control it. I've tried, but—"

"Is that why you've been starving yourself?"

Edan tenses under the blanket, suddenly hyperaware of his gaunt frame, now worryingly like the stark images of malnourished patients that one could find among the pages of his med school textbooks. The last time he'd grown this thin was at twelve years old, deliberately eating around the slivers of meat in his lunch box and dumping them in the bathroom trash can until his mother had cried at his bedside, begging him to make peace with his fate.

He can't bear it, having the first person he's loved in so many years see him in this state. But he doesn't get much chance to hide, as Anson tugs the covers away from his body. Edan suddenly feels naked, and certainly not in the way he wants to be when it comes to being in Anson's presence. 

"You…" 

It's about all that Anson manages to sputter out before any remaining words he might have had are muffled by a deep sniffle and a choked sob. 

"No, no! Don't cry, I'm fine—"

Edan's concerned hand is promptly pushed away, and one muted, mostly painless smack after the other lands on his thigh in quick succession, which has him blinking rapidly and dodging the half-hearted attacks with confusion and alarm.

"You!" Smack. "Look like!" Smack. "A broomstick!" Smack. "You call this fine?! You're not eating!" 

Anson concludes his frankly adorable exertion of discontent with another few loud, exasperated sobs as if relieving himself of an emotional fever he'd been fostering for some time and filling his lungs with much-needed air. 

"I'm sorry," Edan says slowly, hesitantly. He can only watch, for what good would it do for him to try and offer comfort when he's the very source of agony in the first place? "I'm so sorry," he says again, because there's nothing else that makes sense. Feeling helpless, he shifts forward in his seat, reaching to his right for a tissue before slowly, carefully wiping Anson's wet cheeks, then holds the crumpled paper under his nose for him to blow into. 

"Thanks," Anson mumbles, gradually regaining his composure and steady breathing. He sniffs as Edan discards of the used tissue, his own nose red with both his crying and with mild embarrassment. He'd never broken down this way in front of anyone other than his own mother. 

Edan sighs, then rubs his own eyes of any built-up crust from tears that had never quite made it out of the corners of his eyes, simply welling and idling as some sort of cruel mockery of his loneliness with which he'd had no one to share.

"You…you must have a lot of questions."

"I don't know what to believe from you anymore."

"Yeah, of course. I wouldn't expect you to trust me anymore, either."

Even so, he holds a bony hand out, a pleading invitation to listen, at least for the last time. Anson stares at it for several long moments. He'd come all this way, and surely, after all this time, there must still be something left to love of the man he'd looked upon with rose-tinted glasses, now barren and stripped to the bone.

Gingerly, he places his own comparatively warm hand in Edan's. There it is, the mnemonic trace of fluttering in his stomach akin to once more holding his childhood pillow. 

"You have no reason to trust me, I know," Edan says gently, tangling their fingers together like they'd done hundreds of times. "But if you'll let me, I'd like to tell you everything. And if you still can't stomach the thought, then…then you can report me. I won't resist. What do you say?"

Frankly, the thought of reporting him had never even crossed Anson's disturbed mind, despite the obviously illegal nature of Edan's actions. Could there possibly be any justification for them? Could he still bring himself put aside all sensibilities to love a…cannibal?

His answer almost escapes the tip of his tongue when their watery exchange of glances is abruptly disturbed by the sudden ringing of the doorbell.

 

 

Twice in succession, followed by a brief pause before the third.

Chapter Text

"Wow, you look like shit!"

Denis balks at the sight of his malnourished friend when the door pulls all the way open.

"Uh…thanks?

Edan gives a short laugh and steps to one side to let the tall, gangly man in. Despite their long history, he'd admittedly not met with Denis in some months, his macabre need for the man's unique connections diminishing with his restricted dietary consumption.

"When was the last time you ate?" Denis looks him up and down, then nods to Anson, who waves briefly from the living room. He leans forward a little, then sniffs. "Or showered?"

"I, uh…what can I do for you, man?" Edan calls out, voice still hoarse from sleep, as Denis pokes his head into the fridge, helping himself to a can of something fizzy, as well as picking out an onion from the back of the crisper and tossing it in his hand several times.

"Just wanted to check in on you," he emerges from behind the fridge door, pushing it shut with his foot. "But you weren't answering the door or your phone, so I figured your boyfriend had keys on him. Y'all good now?"

He slurps loudly from his can as he glances back and forth between Anson, whose nose is still pink from crying, and Edan, who tucks his hands under an old sweatshirt he'd thrown on top of his T-shirt, though he's still in his grey sleep shorts, his thin legs forming goosebumps with the gust of cold that had washed in the front door. When neither of them responds, Denis sucks at his teeth and nods.

"How about you kids go talk it out, and I'll make us lunch?" he vaguely nods towards the living room, then raises an eyebrow at Edan. "The usual?"

He doesn't respond right away, instead glancing over to Anson as if to seek consent to the tune of Please, sir, may I have some more? only to be met with a questioning expression.

"Well…you should eat, right?" Anson says after a moment, smiling weakly. "You need to."

Edan had long surpassed the point of being just hungry, his insides queasy and weak enough that he mostly feels both delirious and on the verge of unconsciousness in equal parts. He'd been rationing his consumption into smaller and smaller portions, eating only just enough to sustain his life by a thread and with little regard for his vitality. It had drawn in a number of curious stares from his co-workers, asking if he would consider undergoing a series of tests, if only to rule out any major, possibly terminal illnesses. One would think that as a doctor, his dietary health would be high among his priorities, even if a regular sleep cycle were beyond his control. Still, Edan had long known that his affliction was not a physical one, but rather one in which his mind and heart were at war.

Not waiting for further affirmation, Denis makes his familiar way around the kitchen, pulling out various pots and pans off their hooks and a number of aromatic vegetables from the fridge. Then, twirling a key ring with a single key around his finger, he whistles his way to the garage, returning with a freezer bag of—

Anson looks away sharply, suddenly making the palpable connection with the eerie set of garage freezers by which he'd been intrigued enough in the early days to ask about.

 

They're picky eaters and would stock up on the stuff they actually ate because it wasn't really easy to find.

 

Indeed, he supposes, it would not be terribly easy to find this particular ingredient in most supermarkets.

 

"Aren't you going to sit?"

Edan's voice trails closer now, and it takes Anson a moment to snap out of his daze, nodding quickly as he perches himself carefully on the sofa, as though it were the first time in a stranger's home. In an attempt to ease his restless state, he busies his mind with scanning his eyes over the coffee table…then squints.

13 Beloved, his personal Blu-Ray copy that he'd brought over some weeks ago in an attempt to get his squeamish boyfriend to watch one of his favourite horror films with him. Naturally, the fretful mess of a man had outright refused, claiming that Thai horror films were infamously among the most terrifying of the entire genre. It would seem darkly comical now, that Anson, who loves watching some bloody gore, would have any repulsion towards an actual man-eating…man…in the flesh. Then again, he'd always revelled in the fact that such occurrences were purely fictional, and he would never have to encounter those gruesome and terrifying events outside of a screen.

Until he had, of course.

"You watched this?"

He picks up the plastic DVD case, flipping it over to read the description and credits as though he'd not seen the film at least once every year since he'd first stumbled upon it; as though he might discover something new about what he thought he'd known like the back of his hand.

"I did…kind of." Edan scratches his ear, leaning over the gap between the sofa and the coffee table to grab the remote controller, putting an end to the colourful, never-ending screensaver. "I got about half an hour in, and then got too scared…so I just read the entire synopsis online. I even found a research paper on it by some film student in Australia."

This gets him a short chuckle from Anson, who finally seems to relax into the sofa just a little, pulling his socked feet up onto the seat.

"What…did you think of it?"

Edan hums in contemplation, then pulls the fleece blanket tighter around his freezing legs.

"I think…it really highlighted the fact that…people do stupid, crazy, shit not because they're bad or greedy. But sometimes, when life deals you a set of cards that you can't do anything to change, taking shortcuts or cheating your way out of that state seems like your only hope. That's not true, of course, because all it ends up in is hurting others…like I've hurt you."

Perhaps Anson had mostly been anticipating some variation of I'm never watching another horror film ever again that he'd heard dozens of times before. Then again, the last week and a half had shown him that expectations are, by nature, designed to be missed. He returns Edan's sincere gaze with a watery stare, unsure of how to respond.

"My offer still stands," Edan continues, wringing the soft material of the blanket in his bony hands in anticipation. Several moments pass before Anson sighs noisily and places the DVD case back on the coffee table.

"Okay," he says, nodding mostly to himself. "I'm ready."

 


 

I was eleven years old when I first found out what my parents had been feeding me. They were young and career-driven and hadn't the foggiest clue about childcare beyond the medical stuff. I was kind of an accident that they'd decided to run with. Growing up, they never let me share my lunch with anyone, claiming that it was extremely unhygienic and that I should be grateful for the food that I was given.

They never let me into the kitchen unless they were there with me, and they bred it into me that I was a very smart boy, and so I would one day become a doctor, just like them. I was put into all sorts of after-school academic classes and was so busy learning things beyond my age group that I knew more numbers of pi than the names of people at school. They would warn me to be cautious of making friends with anyone, because you never know who might try to harm you. I kept my head down and maintained the shallowest of acquaintances with my peers, always nodding politely and engaging in conversation without ever sharing anything about myself. I never questioned any of my parents' quips because the way they explained everything to me made complete sense to me as a child.

It didn't occur to me just how lonely I was until in Primary 5. This girl in my class expressed an unusual interest in me, mostly because she'd somehow caught wind of how my parents were somewhat well-off and wanted to know if I would bring an extravagant gift to her birthday party. I knew of this because she wasn't particularly quiet about her gossiping habits, and so I could hear her high-pitched cackle in the corridor outside the boys' bathroom, where she eventually cornered me with her equally obnoxious friends. She offered me a piece of her snack, which I politely refused, and in turn, she asked to have some of mine. Again, I declined, citing that it wouldn't be hygienic because…well, that's what my parents had taught me.

"Why, did you not wash your hands just now?"

I don't think she really intended to ridicule me, but that was what came out of her mouth, and that's what her friends latched onto as part of some sick joke about me being a dirty kid that they would then continue all throughout the rest of our primary school days. Nobody wanted to sit with or talk to me after that. Except for Denis.

Everyone knew him as the weird tall kid, and I was his dirty puppy that trailed in his path for protection. He has the most absurd ways of going about things, and I sometimes wonder how he didn't get into trouble more with our teachers back then. Anyway, we were in Form 1 and I was enrolled in just as many after-school activities as I had been before. Denis and I were on the way to the bus stop after basketball when I got a call from the tutorial centre I was headed to, saying that the teacher had taken sick leave and that class would be rescheduled for another day.

To me, it sounded like Christmas. It was rare for me to have any time to do anything fun, so even a few hours of nothing felt like it held endless possibilities. I immediately asked Denis if he wanted to come over and hang out, something that we'd never really done before. Any time he'd come over before was to study for tests and to do homework together.

It was weird, arriving home before the sun had gone down. I had assumed that my parents were working that afternoon, and that my sister was at my grandmother's. But when I came home, I saw the garage door open, and our car parked inside it. The door of the trunk was lifted, and so were the freezer doors. Curiosity got the best of me, I guess.

When Denis and I looked into the open freezer, we saw…a hand. Like, just an entire human hand that had been cut off from the wrist down and stuffed into a freezer bag and the blood frozen into grains. Sorry, I don't mean to gross you out—

 

It’s…we’re A&E doctors. I’ve heard and seen worse.

 

Right.

But I mean, as a kid, it wasn't something I'd anticipated for. Just…a bunch of body parts lying jumbled together in a box, like in a mannequin warehouse or the remains of an angry child's Barbie dolls. I didn't know how to react. We kind of just stood there staring into the freezer until Mum came back through the garage door, saying, "Maybe we should make filet mignon? I feel like the lower back portions never freeze as well as the—"

She panicked. They must have thought that I wouldn't be home for another few hours. I may have been just a kid, but I did manage to make the connection between everything, and when I did, I ran. I didn't scream or say anything. I simply ran and ran and ran all the way down multiple streets with no real destination, until I was so tired that my legs just gave out beneath me. I'd ended up outside the mall near my grandmother's place, where I just sat on the pavement and cried.

And then someone sat next to me, and I realised that Denis had run after me. He didn't say anything or try much to comfort me. He just sat there with me until I was done crying and patted me on the back when I eventually threw up into a trash can. For me, it was enough. We sat there until it began to grow dark, and I went to go and pick up my sister. She slept in my arms the entire way, and I said nothing to my parents when I got home. I just carried her up to our room and hoped that she never had to find out what I had.

From that day on, I became hyper-aware of everything that I was given to eat. I would eat only the rice and vegetables in my lunchbox, and threw whatever meat there was away. I couldn't bear the thought that I was eating another human being, nor the possibility that my parents might be murderers. For once, I was glad to be so busy that I was rarely home, because a part of me didn't want to know. And Denis never said anything to anyone, either.

I wasn't a chubby kid by any means, but after about a month or two, my parents had begun to notice that I had lost an extortionate amount of weight, and not simply because of puberty stretching me out with height. My class teacher called them because he was concerned about my depleting energy levels and mentioned that my basketball coach could see that I was getting worryingly thin. They realised then that I hadn't been eating what I needed.

I locked my bedroom door that night, listening to my mother weeping and begging for me to eat before I withered away into nothing. It was past three in the morning when I finally opened the door to find her collapsed against the wall in the corridor outside my room. She just looked so…tired. For so long, she'd dreaded the day that I would inevitably find out this horrible secret, and I don't think she was prepared for it to be an accident. When I shook her awake, she cried and held me until she'd run out of tears.

That night, my parents sat me down in the living room, right where you are now. They told me everything, or as much as an eleven-year-old could grasp anyhow. The long and short of it is that I come from a long line of people who have a genetic condition whereby they are unable to produce a certain protein, and so we need it from external sources through dietary consumption. In other words, drinking other people's blood or eating their flesh. I have to eat at least one small portion every day, otherwise, my body can't absorb calories from anything else.

As for where they were getting the bodies…from my grandparents' generation onwards, they'd begun to reject the notion of digging up graves, like our ancestors had done for hundreds of years. Necro-cannibals, they're called. They only eat those who are already dead. It's why my parents became doctors, so they could…claim the unclaimed.

It took me some time, but I came to realise that none of us ever asked to be afflicted with this condition. All they wanted was to survive.

There were times when I wondered if I should've just let myself die off so as to cease the genetic chain of guilt that would inevitably plague any future generations. Not that anyone was begging to date, let alone make babies with, the kid who supposedly doesn't wash his hands after using the bathroom.

 

Edan...

 

No, it's fine. Really. And I guess, fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it—I discovered that I'm not particularly interested in the baby-bearing sex. But that didn't mean that I didn't still have this whole other problem to worry about…the reason my parents were so against me dating or socialising too closely in general.

That wasn't something I particularly worried about until I entered university. It was a fresh start, in some ways. Denis and I both miraculously made it into medical school. I don't think he actually wanted a career in medicine, but he once told me that he doesn't care what he does so long as he's needed. And with his family already working as undertakers, he has connections with one of the local crematoriums. That's usually what happens with the unclaimed after they've undergone all the inspection and paperwork.

 

So…someone else knows, too?

 

Just one, kind of. I don't know his real name. Denis just calls him Fatboy. Whenever an unclaimed gets sent to him, he handles the, uh…disassembly of the various parts. Like a butcher, if you will. And then he sends them to me in air-tight freezer bags with labels disguised as cuts of beef on their way to a delicatessen.

 

Wait, I thought that they usually cremate the body as a whole rather than chop them into parts? Or at least that’s what I see in films—correct me if I’m wrong—when they push the entire body into the cremator? Or is it more space-efficient to cut the body up? Like, you can watch the the flesh burn first and then the bone kind of becomes ashy and—sorry…go on.

 

You seem…weirdly excited.

 

No, I’m just curious. What they show in films isn’t always accurate, I guess. Anyhow…continue.

 

Um…yeah. So that's how I've been acquiring my…supply. It's not easy, and sometimes it doesn't work because ultimately, it's…well, illegal. It means that I have to ration out what I have very slowly. I only eat one small portion a day unless I'm particularly tired.

Anyway…where was I going with this?

Denis and I got a fresh start in university. I even had a boyfriend for a month or so, but it was difficult trying to hide it from my parents, and he eventually got fed up with me, saying he didn't want to date someone who wasn't ready to come out to their family. That's what I'd told him was the issue anyway.

It scared me for a long time, and I would become apprehensive of approaching anyone romantically, because I knew it would only end up in heartbreak or chaos, not just for me, but for my family as well. Then, after I graduated, my parents retired, and it was just my sister and me. They moved to Stockholm after reading several studies on how it would soon grow to be a city with one of the highest percentages of childless adults. Several years later, my sister got an offer at a university in London, where my aunt and her family live.

And then it was just me. I felt like I was in primary school again, left to my own devices and feeling out of place…but for the first time, I realised that without my parents around, I had the opportunity to reinvent myself in the ways I could control. I watched movies and listened to music, and on my days off, I would lay around at home doing absolutely nothing. It was great, but a part of me still hoped for something more.

Then I met you.

I've had many crushes in the past that I let slip by, but you…I was willing to risk everything just for a chance. And I'm sorry that I've dragged you into this mess, and you have every right to find me disgusting or barbarian, but I promise you that I tried to keep you out of it. I hate so much that I'm like this, you know? I thought I could try giving it all up once again, and try and find other ways to work around the problem, if it meant that I could keep you around.

 

"Well, you're an idiot!" Denis emerges from the kitchen with a steaming bowl of what appears to be congee. "Food's ready," he says, placing the bowl carefully on the dining table then taking a seat at one of the chairs. "Extra ginger, as always."

"Thanks, man," Edan turns one corner of his mouth up slightly. "Really appreciate you doing this."

"Fuck, don't get all sappy on me now," Denis mutters, pulling out his phone and scrolling mindlessly.

His throat parched now from talking, Edan coughs dryly into his sleeve, hanging on his arm like laundry on a wire. At some point, Anson had shifted closer to him, their knees and legs pressed up against each other so that Edan can feel the warmth against his skin through the blanket.

"So…yeah," he finally manages, cold sweat forming on his palms both from relief and with hesitancy over what he knew would inevitably come next. "If you want to report me now, I understand. I'm fully prepared to face that, and I won't judge you for it."

Anson sighs deeply, sitting up straight as he wipes away any remaining wetness in his eyes. In his mind's eye, he had made his decision long ago, even before entering the house, even if he hadn't been aware of it. I must be insane, he thinks. But at least I have you to go round the bend with.

"I'm not going to report you, and I'm not going to tell anyone, either."

There's a flicker in Edan's gaze as his mouth falls open slightly, processing his words for a few moments before he finds a moment of supposed clarity and nods.

"Thank you," he whispers, a sincere smile reaching his tired eyes. "That's really all I can ask from you."

"Don't you want to know why?"

He merely blinks in response, his smile fading into a faltering grimace. Pity? Self-protection? Several potential justifications spring to mind, none of them particularly comforting. Then, before he's realised, there are warm, soft hands on his face, Anson's thumb rubbing gently at his cheek.

"I love you," he says, just loud enough so that the two of them can hear. "That's what I meant to tell you before…well, you know. I once thought you were too good to be true, you know? I began to doubt because I figured there had to be something wrong that would send me packing, and yet… I'm here. It feels like everything I know about the world has changed because of you, and I'm sure there's plenty that I've still yet to learn, but one thing I know for certain is that you would never willingly hurt anyone. Especially not me."

For what feels like the thousandth time that week, Edan cries. This time, though, his tears spill hot and easy onto the blanket, blurring his vision and leaving droplets where his lashes brush against his glasses. He cries for a young Edan, a lost child who had lived in fear under the unremarkable care of equally lost parents, running from his own happiness and stumbling along an increasingly narrow path he'd paved for himself…to finally arrive home. Home, where Anson is, not the skeleton of a mansion that he'd penned as his address for almost thirty years.

Their noses bump together clumsily, reaching for...

 

 

 

"Shit!"

The two startle from their mutual enchantment, ears reddening and clearing their throats from the interruption. Denis scowls as he looks up from his phone, then, realising what he'd done, bows slightly in apology.

"Sorry," he says sheepishly. "Just lost a round."

Chapter Text

"What do you two take me for?!"

Ah Fa tosses her clipboard onto her desk and leans back in her chair. It had been a day of pushing the boundaries of her mental threshold, having dealt with not only an emotionally distraught mother who'd refused to accept the passing of her child, but also two clueless boys, one of whom had somehow gotten a condom stuck up the other's rectum. 

To be fair, the latter would not have been such an issue had the kid not loudly announced this very fact in the pit, likely traumatising other patients into requiring not only medical attention, but also a trip to the psych ward. It doesn't help that the pair had bore an uncanny resemblance to the eyesore of a couple standing before her now. 

"Ah Fa…Fa Fa…" Edan coyly stretches out his vowels as he tiptoes around the desk to stand behind her chair, reaching around her shoulders to rub at tense muscles.

"I'm not relenting," she grumbles, but doesn't push him away. In fact, she tilts her head from side to side, relaxing into the admittedly welcome massage. "A bit higher."

Anson tries to suppress a smile at the scene before him, knowing full well that his boyfriend could charm his way into anything, much least their resident supervisor into granting them time off during what is usually on the busiest periods of the year. 

Strictly speaking, they could very well work through the flu season, but given the choice between being sneezed and coughed on by half the city and taking their annual leave to stay in bed and blissfully lose all track of time…well, one can draw an obvious conclusion. Ever since Edan had gradually begun to regain his health and they'd begun to use every flat surface of the house for something other than sleeping, sitting or upon which to place objects, it had seemed that they never had enough time to themselves.

It had already driven Ah Fa's head in to keep rearranging their shifts week after week so that they could have most if not all their time off together, the two of them had practically stuck their heads in the guillotine by daring to knock on her door and ask for leave at the peak of the A&E department's busiest period.

"Please?" He's on the verge of sticking his lower lip out like a pitiful child in the hopes of winning her favour by simply being adorable. After all, it had worked on Edan a multitude of times before. 

"I'm a married woman, Anson, and your boyfriend is the only one who's stupid enough to fall for puppy eyes," Ah Fa immediately shuts his plan of action down. "Why do you two want to take leave so badly anyhow?"

To be perfectly honest, Anson doesn't have a clue why, out of the blue, Edan had suggested that they take extended leave, especially when he'd always known the man to be a notorious workaholic. 

He watches as Edan glances at him briefly, then leans down to whisper something quickly in Ah Fa's ear. The nervous smile that forms on his face as he awaits her reaction prompts curiosity in Anson, who watches the entire scene with intrigue. The stern woman blinks several times, then turns to raise an eyebrow at her impromptu masseuse.

"Really?"

Edan only pulls a thin smile in response, to which Ah Fa stares at the desk in silence for several moments, then back and forth between the pair.

"Fine," she finally sighs, seemingly at a loss. "But I'm assigning you two the next RFB removal that comes in."

"Um…okay…?" Edan quirks an eyebrow. "That's oddly specific, but yeah, alright. Love you, Fa Fa!"

"Get out of my office, you little shit."

"Yes, ma'am! The shit is leaving the rectum!" he says loudly, before pausing. "Wait, no—I don't mean that your office is an anal cavity—I just mean—"

"Out! Before I change my mind!"

And then he's pulling Anson by the arm and out of the room, scuttling with the alarm of a house gecko shedding its tail in an attempt to distract its predator. As soon as they've reached the end of the corridor, Edan stops, pulling Anson into his embrace and erupting into peals of laughter.

"You are absolutely shameless," Anson says, still chuckling. "What did you even tell her?"

Pulling him closer by the waist, Edan's laugh softens to a low, breathy smile. For a few quiet moments, he says nothing, simply gazing over Anson's bemused face and into warm brown eyes as if admiring a painting. 

"Doesn't matter," he says after a moment. "Let's go for lunch. My treat."

"Oh, how generous of you to treat me to hospital cafeteria food." Anson rolls his eyes, smacking Edan on the shoulder.

"I'll give you some of my rice, okay?"

"As if I'd want your tainted rice," he retorts, shaking his head. "But you can buy me an extra bowl," he adds quietly.

"I'll buy you two bowls. Come on, then, rice cooker."

 



Anson's breath is heavy as he groans, rolling over as he wakes from what's potentially their third nap of the day. He smiles as he slowly blinks his eyes open, face to face with Edan's sleeping figure. The man looks like a small child; his cheek smushed up against the pillow, his mouth hanging open slightly, and his hair sticking up and outwards like a frenzied nest in a typhoon.

Unable to help himself, he leaves a quick kiss to his forehead before pushing himself up to sit. Being their third (or fourth) day of hermitage in the safe confines of their bed, they'd gone through about fourteen movies on their bedroom TV, from which the glow serves as the only major light source to the space. It was as though time had stopped in their cocoon, the days and hours counted by how many times Edan had ducked under the covers to hide from fictional zombies and the ounces of lubricant that had gradually been dispensed from its tube.

In fact, they'd hardly left the bed other than to eat, sitting stark naked at the kitchen counter before Anson would inevitably complain about the poor hygiene of doing so and whipping out the tub of disinfectant wipes to attack the sweat patch he'd left on the seat of the bar stool.

"We're just going to dirty it again later on," Edan would tease him, smacking him on his perky behind before sauntering off to the bathroom to brush his teeth. 

"Is this all we're going to do for our entire leave?" he'd asked, as the man would nibble softly into his neck, peppering kiss after kiss down his chest like stamping warm wax seals, each one as uniquely signature as the next. 

"Is there anything else you want to do?" Edan's lips had closed around a dark, rosy peak, emitting a deep sigh from Anson's mouth. No, he supposes not.

Now, he takes a peek at his phone, which he'd left on silent since they'd begun watching the first in their long chain of films. 

Joyce: Hope you're enjoying your sex holidayyy 🍆 🍆 💦 💦 

Joyce: Jer has been enjoying actually being able to sleep in the on-call room for once

Joyce: But Ah Fa has said "Fuck those two" at least three times in the last hour

Joyce: Drowning in paperwork :(((

Joyce: Mith yewwww 

He laughs slightly, then turns the screen off and places the phone back on the dresser. Next to him, Edan stirs from his sleep, wrinkling his nose slightly as he wakes.

"Morning," Anson runs his fingers through the man's dishevelled head of hair. "Or afternoon. I don't know." 

"Mmm," Edan hums, gently pulling Anson down and back under the covers and sidling up to him, his arms and chest still intensely warm from sleep and his sleepy face nuzzling into the soft material of Anson's shirt.

"You hungry?"

"A bit."

"You wanna get up? I can make us late lunch."

"No…"

"Still sleepy?"

"No," Edan mumbles into his shoulder. "I don't trust you in the kitchen."

"Hey!" Anson smacks him in the arm, the attack cushioned by the duvet. This only results in Edan snuggling closer, laughing as he leaves a lingering kiss that effectively silences Anson's cries of indignance. He's a goner, Anson is, with the way he completely crumbles under the man's every touch and every smile. Some days, he wonders if he'd inadvertently walked into Edan's charming trap, unknowingly lowering all defences for a potentially disastrous decision. After all, if anyone were to find out that he'd willingly continued a relationship with a man who eats human flesh, they'd render him clinically insane and insist he make a run for the hills before he wakes one day to find himself strapped to a chopping board with a butchers knife hovering above him.

But a year had passed with nothing of the sort rearing itself into fruition. In fact, it would seem as though they'd fallen back into their old ways, nothing much changing aside from the fact that now, he knew everything, and had stopped asking questions about Edan's dental hygiene habits or other habits that would be inconspicuous to most. If anything, the exclusive knowledge and sheer honesty had only served to put his mind more at ease, especially because as far as cannibals go, Edan would likely be the world's most considerate (or squeamish) one in existence. 

"For real, though," he says, pulling away from their liplock, lest it progresses into something further. Not that he would particularly mind this development of events, but admittedly, his muscles are still a little sore from their most recent entanglement between the sheets, as is the case with Edan, he imagines. "Are we really going to spend our entire week at home? Are cannibals like vampires where you can't go out and see too much of the sun?"

"No," Edan laughs, rubbing their noses together. "We can go out and photosynthesise if that's what you'd like."

"I'm talking seriously here."

"So am I. Is there anywhere you want to go in particular?"

"No," he admits. "This is nice."

"It is," Edan smiles, drawing circles beneath Anson's collarbone with the tip of his finger. "We can stay here and grow old and fat together."

"Shut up, neither of us are capable of getting fat."

"Fine, then we'll just grow old."

It takes a moment, gazing at Edan's fond smile as he brushes a strand of hair off out of his eyes, for the weight of his words to sink in, but when they do, it crashes into him like a cleaver to a butcher's block.

"Do you mean that?" he whispers, as though afraid he might have misinterpreted the entire thing and that he'd gone and let his delusions run wild. It wouldn't be the first time, after all.

"Hmm?"

"You want us to…grow old together?"

"More than anything," replies Edan, a thumb wiping at a stray tear. "If that's okay with you…Why are you crying?"

"I-it's all your f-fault, asshole!" he snivels, shoving his boyfriend in the shoulder. "You can't just say stuff like that and expect me not to cry!"

"Okay, I'm sorry." Edan smiles, somewhat amused. "But you haven't answered me yet."

"I'm not answering you when you're laughing at me," Anson grumbles, sniffing back more tears. "And your breath stinks. And you haven't shaved in days."

"Sorry. Shall I go and shave and brush my teeth before I ask you again?"

He points behind him, then makes to get out from under the covers, only to be sharply pulled back down with a soft thud, and a damp face buries itself into the crook of his neck. 

"Mm? What's this mean, then?"

Anson presses his lips to the mole on Edan's neck, as if giving his quiet seal of approval. 

"It means you'd better not leave your freezer bags in my microwave, or I'll leave you at the elderly home."

A grin forms on Edan's face, pleased with the response. Wrapping an arm around Anson's shoulders and burying his nose into the man's hair, they fall once again into slumber.

It would seem that the most unlikely of love stories had unfolded between them; each of them desperate for acceptance in their own ways but neither with the courage to believe that it could ever become true. After all, when push comes to shove, Anson knows deep down that for every flaw he possesses and every affliction he may suffer, there exists another imperfect soul to fill the gaps and with turmoils of his own. 

There would be time.

Time for paperwork, for perfectly fitted rings, and time for announcements. And there would be plenty more time for laughter over separately cooked meals followed by celebratory love-making, the kind with glasses being pushed askew across Edan's face, and light rashes across Anson's pale skin where teeth had lightly grazed across the surface to his delight. 

For now, a sweet dream calls to them, one in which they never hear the creaking from the garage door.

 

 

THE END