“Tew is a very lovely young man,” Dae’s mother says as she pets down a section of his hair at the breakfast table.
Dae pouts. “So? It’s Father and his father who are business partners, why do I have to be friends with him too?”
His mother caresses her thumb across his cheek gently. “We work so closely with them, it would be even better if you two got along too. Besides, you’re both going to continue the business in future, so it would be wonderful if you were already friends before you have to work together.”
Dae huffs. “I don’t want to, Mother,” he sulks.
“Please, Dae, just write him a letter,”
Dae makes a face, but doesn’t protest further.
He doesn’t agree to it either though, and so Dae thinks he has successfully avoided having to make friends with some strange boy he doesn’t know.
Tew thwarts that plan when a letter arrives for Dae in the mail.
It’s in a deep green envelope, Dae’s full name written across the front in curled ink lettering. It’s sealed in wax with a small stem of baby’s breath. Maybe it’s the tiny white flowers that prompt Dae to open the envelope.
I hope you are well and this letter reaches you safely.
I know our fathers are business partners, but I hope we can become friends, regardless of the relationship between our fathers. I hope this is not too presumptuous of me.
Father recently took me with him to the southern cities. It was very sunny there, and they have many exotic foods, but I’m glad to be home.
If you like, if you ever come to my town, I'll show you around to all the specialty foods. There's a lot of wonderful treats that are special here.
P.S. I saw these flowers growing on the side of the road when we were travelling, so I thought it would be nice to include with my letter. They’re my favourite flowers. I hope you like them too.
Dae carefully folds the letter back into the envelope, ignores the curious look from the housekeeper, and disappears into his room.
He reads over the letter three times before he sits at his desk and writes a reply.
Thank you for your letter. I hope the southern cities were nice.
The flowers are very pretty. I don’t have anything like that to give you in return though. Our gardens aren’t blooming at the moment.
I did find a nice feather from a small bird that stopped by our bird bath this morning. I hope you find it pretty.
Dae tucks the letter into the sky blue envelope with bated breath. He seals it with wax over the calamus of the small yellow and red feather that he cleaned and dried off earlier that morning.
The letter goes out the next morning. Dae chews his lip as he watches it disappear into the mailman’s bag and they disappear around the corner.
Tew’s reply comes a week and a half later, when Dae is with his tutor, learning history that he grew bored of an hour ago.
He sees the green envelope and jumps out of his seat. Anything to save him from learning about another scholar’s supposedly famous writing.
On the back, in the seal of the envelope, there is a different flower. This one has little yellow flowers and long thin green wisps around it. It complements the deep green envelope beautifully.
His tutor clears his throat. “You have 15 more minutes, Master Dae. Let’s leave your letter for after the conclusion of the lesson?”
Dae resists the urge to talk back. He does need to finish his lesson.
“Sorry sir,” he says, trying his best to sound sheepish as he obediently sits back down. But the sealed green envelope at the end of the table remains in the corner of his eye, and fills all his thoughts until he has waved goodbye to his tutor and runs back into the study. He carefully opens the seal, and pulls out Tew’s letter.
The feather was beautiful, thank you. Do you have many birds visit the birdbath at your house? I hope I can see it one day.
Today we visited a merchant in the city, who told us about ...
Dae doesn’t even realise he never told his mother until one day she says, while taking a sip of her tea at breakfast, “I heard you’ve been getting letters lately, Dae,”
Dae pauses, about to shove a larger-than-elegant amount of food into his mouth.
“Yes, Mother,” he says demurely. She doesn’t even have to raise an eyebrow to signal for him to continue. “Tew and I have been writing to each other for the last few weeks,” he says.
“Oh?” she says, smile on her lips. Dae is pretty sure she already knew, long before, but she masks it well, looking pleasantly surprised. “What have you been talking about?”
Dae shrugs and shoves food in his mouth. He’s still hungry, talking about Tew can wait.
Dae swallows his mouthful of food and sighs, resigned. “He told me about the southern cities,” he replies, “I told him about our town. I tell him about my lessons, and he tells me the different people he meets while he’s following his father.” He shrugs, like it’s not that big a deal. He tries not to think it is, even though his mother knows as well as he does - this is a huge deal. Dae doesn’t just talk to anyone.
His mother smiles, perfectly elegant and graceful. “That’s great, Dae,”
Dae chews his lip to stop himself from saying anything further. He doesn’t want to admit to his mother that she was right - Tew is lovely and seems genuine and Dae actually feels relatively comfortable talking to him.
Dae has never really had many friends. He kind of hopes Tew can be one.
Over the next few months, Tew writes to him, long letters in deep green envelopes, and Dae replies equally long letters, in sky blue envelopes.
Tew sends flowers in the wax seal of his letters each time, and Dae sends feathers most of the time - whenever birds stop by the birdbath in their garden and leave behind a brightly coloured feather. Sometimes he doesn’t have one to send back to Tew though, so Dae draws one on the back of the envelope, where one should have been sealed.
It’s been nearly a year since they started writing letters when Tew’s letter arrives with a single page - a stark contrast to their latest correspondence exchange of several pages of words.
Father says he needs to meet with your father on a serious contract matter urgently, and is coming to visit your town. I’m accompanying him.
I don’t have much time, as I have to pack my bags, but I wanted to let you know before we turn up in your town.
We leave tomorrow and will be there in a week.
Will you still show me around and take me to eat all your specialty foods?
I can’t wait to meet you in person.
See you soon,
Dae nearly drops the letter. The letter would have only been a day or two ahead of Tew, travelling with his father.
Tew was coming to his town. Dae was going to meet him.
There are exactly three seconds before Dae panics.
In the painstaking two days before the arrival of Tew and his father into their town, Dae furiously convinces himself that Tew doesn’t speak as eloquently as he writes, and he’s meaner than he comes across in his long letters to Dae. That it’s all just a farce and in person Tew is more likely to push him into a pond since he doesn’t actually want to be Dae’s friend.
Dae tries to convince himself that Tew isn’t the wonderful, genuine friend he has made him to be in his head.
This means the burying of expectations goes completely out the window when Dae is watching a small brown bird in the birdbath from a bench in the garden, and Tew steps up to the bench and asks if he can join him.
Dae looks up, confused at the unfamiliar voice, and takes a second to connect the curled swirl of Tew’s handwriting to the handsome beaming face in front of him.
“P’Tew!” Dae splutters, hastily getting to his feet and Tew chuckles.
Tew is dressed impeccably, despite clearly having travelled for days, hair short and unassuming, and yet still stylish. He’s taller than Dae, though Dae is short for his age, despite all his grumblings.
Dae can’t stop staring at Tew’s smile. He had tried to bury all his hopes and expectations, and yet Tew seemed to have met them and also surpassed them, just by existing.
“Hello, Dae, lovely to finally meet you in person,” Tew says, eyes crinkling as his smile widens.
Dae mumbles something in return - if he tries to remember this day later, he’ll mostly just say it was a blur of Tew sitting with him and watching birds come and go as Tew asks about them, of walking to town and Dae pointing out the main shops, Father’s office, the square.
They have dinner that evening with Tew’s father and Dae’s parents, so they don’t get time to try any specialty foods, but Tew playfully nudges Dae on the street just before Dae’s house and says they’ll have plenty of time tomorrow to go eat all the delicious food.
Dae smiles, nods, and hides the flush in his cheeks. He swears it was the sun.
The next day, when their fathers are meeting over serious business, the two of them sit in for the first few meetings, and then are dismissed sometime just before lunch. Tew easily beckons for Dae to leave the office with him and Dae eagerly shows Tew the special foods of his town, the two of them eating non-stop until mid-afternoon, where they sink down into a bench in the square, sighing with satisfaction.
Dae is holding his belly, worrying it would explode, when he realises Tew is looking at him. He turns to his companion and finds Tew grinning.
“That was amazing. Thank you, I really enjoyed all of it,”
Dae turns back to look around the square. “You’re most welcome. It was great you could see more of our town. Maybe we should get something for your father since he was in meetings all day?”
Tew waves a hand in front of his face, dismissing it. “Pfft, he comes here often enough, he can eat it next time,”
Dae swallows the question of if Tew would come with his father again next time.
Three days later, after exploring the alleyways of Dae’s town and playing several rounds of chess in Dae’s father’s study, Tew leaves, waving energetically from the coach. Dae is waving just as animatedly from the front door.
He doesn’t see his mother watching him with a smile.
Over the next year, they exchange more letters; pages and pages describing their days, their families, their fears and their hopes and dreams.
As he seals a letter with a bright blue feather in the wax, Dae wonders if anyone knows him better than Tew.
Dae doesn’t have many friends his age, and most of the time they have to be quiet and obedient at a dinner table, rather than playing like children and truly being friends.
Dae watches the mailman disappear around the corner with the sky blue envelope in his bag, as he thinks Tew is the best thing to have come into his life.
Dae is just past fifteen when he accompanies his father to Tew’s town, where they’re to stay for a week as Dae’s father visits merchants and other traders.
Dae can barely sit still the whole coach ride. It’s been just over a year and a half since Tew and Dae started writing letters to each other, and they’ve only seen each other in person a handful of times. Dae has never been to Tew’s town, and Tew has promised to take him to eat all the specialty foods, just like they did when Tew visited Dae’s town.
Dae watches the fields and forests pass by the coach window, focusing on all the flowers they see and wondering if Tew wanted to send them to him in the wax seal of a letter.
Dae has to hold himself back from stumbling out of the coach and running to Tew, who stands by his father’s side. Dae can see the smile he’s trying to keep normal and pleasant, but there’s a twinkle of his eye, especially when his eyes meet Dae’s. He’s grown taller since Dae last saw him, and his hair is a little longer.
Dae politely greets Tew’s father, biting the inside of his cheek as he looks at Tew. After their fathers have discussed the trip and a few concerning business items, the two young men are dismissed and Dae excitedly grabs Tew’s wrist and pulls him into the garden.
“Dae!” Tew laughs as he stumbles after the teenager. Dae, nearly bursting at the seams from the excitement, pulls out the bunch of flowers from behind his back.
(His father had rolled his eyes everytime Dae asked to stop the coach to grab a bunch of flowers from the side of the road. He had let it happen each time though, until Dae was positively beaming, delighted with the bright handful of assorted flowers in his fist.)
“Oh Dae, are these for me?” Tew asks, accepting the fistful of flowers pushed into his hands. Dae’s cheeks are pink. “They’re beautiful, thank you,”
Dae sneaks a peek at Tew, sees the soft gaze in Tew’s eyes as he looks at the flowers, and thinks every moment taken to stop for those flowers were absolutely worth it.
True to his word, beyond the meetings they have to accompany their fathers for, Tew takes Dae to all the local shops to try the specialty foods. Quite a few of the shopkeepers give them free samples either because they love Tew, or because they find Dae adorable.
Dae gets a decent amount of cheek pinching from the lady selling candied apples, and Dae is pouting while rubbing his cheek as they sit in the square with their sugar dipped fruit in the warm afternoon sun.
Tew finds it hilarious, and laughs loudly, open mouthed and completely free.
Dae tries not to stare, tries not to take in the bright twinkling eyes that crinkle as Tew laughs, the red tinted lips from the candy apple that hold Dae’s favourite smile in the world.
Dae tries to calm his racing heart.
Around a mouthful of sweetened apple, Tew points out a small yellow bird that is sitting on the edge of one of the benches in the square.
“Look look!” Tew manages when his teeth aren’t stuck together by the syrupy candy. “That’s a songbird.”
“How pretty,” Dae murmurs. “What’s its song like?”
Tew hums, brows furrowing as he thinks. “I don’t know,” he says. Dae is busy watching the bird hop around, he doesn’t see the fond look Tew is giving him as he says. “I think it’s like you,”
Dae turns to him, surprised. “Huh? Me?”
Tew nods, grin blooming on his face. “Yeah, it’s like you,”
“How?” Dae splutters.
“It’s small, and cute, just like you,”
Tew laughs, loud and free and Dae scowls.
“I’m not little,” Dae huffs.
Tew grins. “You are," he says. He pauses for a moment and then says, "I’m going to call you 'little bird' from now on,”
Dae gasps dramatically, mock horror on his face. “You wouldn’t dare,” he whispers.
“Watch me, little bird,” Tew smirks and gets to his feet, walking into the middle of the square, a confident skip in his step.
Dae struggles to still seem annoyed when his heart is doing tumbles over the nickname.
He tells himself to get used to it, as the two of them run back to Tew’s home in the late afternoon sun. Tew was going to call him that for a long time, he could tell; and Dae could never show that he wanted to hear Tew call him that for a long time.
Tew’s first letter after Dae returns home is shorter than usual.
I hope you have arrived home safely, and are settling back into your life back home.
I don’t have much time to write this week, as I’m to accompany Father to an eastern town tomorrow for three days. I think he wants me more heavily involved in the business now that I’m sixteen and have finished my studies. I’m sure your father will ask you to do the same soon.
He’s also talking about some of the girls my age in my town, and how I should settle down and get married soon. It’s all very sudden, and rather strange and I don’t really like it. Can you imagine - me? Married? What a joke.
I would much rather run around the town and eat candied apples with you.
I have to go, but I’ll write you another letter soon.
Stay safe and well, little bird.
Dae takes the letter to his room and re-reads it, each word one by one.
Dae rereads that paragraph again.
Dae swallows, carefully folding the letter back into its envelope. He can feel his heart slowly sinking to the vicinity of his stomach. Why?
He stares at a corner of the wall and tries to imagine the next time he sees Tew in person, there’s a pretty girl standing beside him, arm looped in his.
Dae sinks onto his bed from the sudden heavy pressure on his chest. He almost feels like he can’t breathe. Why?
His fingers start to clench around the envelope, but the crinkling sound stops him and he stares at the envelope in his hands.
There isn’t a flower in the wax seal. It’s the first time Tew hasn’t put a flower in the wax seal. He must have sent it in great haste - and yet, still, Tew wrote to him.
Dae remembers the last line above Tew’s sign off, and he gently presses the deep green envelope to his chest.
It wasn’t teasing like when Tew called him that in the square, saying he was small and cute like the yellow songbird. It sounded gentle, affectionate.
It felt special.
Dae puts Tew’s letter on his desk and curls up on his bed.
While the heavy pressure on his chest is still there, albeit lighter, there’s a warmth there too.
Dae falls asleep imagining Tew sitting by his bed, smiling at him.
Over the next few months their letters become shorter and less frequent as Dae undertakes more study and Tew begins to travel more with his father for the business.
Dae complains about all the papers he has to write and how his tutors are being unreasonable. Tew laments the business and marriage pressure his father is starting to mount on him, particularly since he is taking to the business with fervour and interest, while steadfastly ignoring the marriage discussion.
I just don’t see why there’s such a rush to get married Tew says in one of his letters.
Dae folds that letter carefully back into its envelope, lies down on his bed and doesn’t move until the next morning.
It’s another few months before they see each other again, this time both of them being taken to one of the western cities by the sea, as their fathers meet to organise a warehouse for the trade that would come through the port.
Dae and his father arrive a few hours after Tew and his father, tired after days of travel.
Dae is starting to unpack his bag in the adjacent bed to his father when there is a knock on the door. It’s Tew, smiling warmly as he greets Dae and his father.
“What can I do for you, Tew?” Dae’s father asks.
“I was wondering if Dae wanted to share a room with me?” Tew asks. Dae nearly drops the shirt in his hands. “It’s two separate beds much like this one, but I thought you might like the privacy,” he smiles at Dae’s father.
Dae’s father chuckles. He waves at Dae. “Go on then, you two can chat away all night if you’d like and you won’t bother your old man.”
Dae exchanges glances with Tew and they have matching grins on their faces as Dae packs back the two shirts he’d taken out and hurries out of the room. He follows Tew down the corridor to another room at the inn. True enough, there are two beds, just like he had with his father, and he can see Tew’s bag unpacked on one of them.
“Now we can spend more time with each other,” Tew beams as Dae unpacks.
Dae laughs, steadfastly ignoring the little spark in his chest. “We would have spent heaps of time together, we’re here two weeks!” Dae says.
Tew makes an overexaggerated pout. “Don’t you want to spend time with me too, little bird?”
Dae’s heart does a somersault.
“I never said that,” he chides gently.
Tew grins. “I know, I’m just teasing.”
Dae makes a face at him and continues to unpack, while Tew tells him about the food store he already found earlier that afternoon that sells fried shrimp snacks.
They head downstairs soon after, soaking in the afternoon sun before they join their fathers for dinner.
As Tew continues chattering away - of the journey on the way to the seaside town, about all the things he’s discovered in his couple of hours in town - Dae watches and can’t help the warmth that spreads across his chest. It’s the same one that comes whenever a deep green envelope comes for him in the mail. The same one he gets whenever he’s around Tew, seeing Tew’s bright smile directed at him again.
It’s the same one that becomes burning and heavy when he thinks about Tew getting married, smile directed at a pretty girl who hangs onto his side.
In the months since that first letter where Tew said his father mentioned marriage, Dae has been overwhelmed and confused why he gets this warmth, why he has this burning, and why it was only when it concerned Tew.
But here, walking by the water, Tew animatedly describing a forest they travelled through, Dae understands easily. The warmth is love, the burning is jealousy, and he’s just naming the feelings he’s had for a long time.
He smiles at Tew and vows to bury both deep beneath the sea when he leaves in two weeks. But he’ll indulge himself in the feelings while Tew is here, in front of him, and that smile is directed at Dae.
The setting sun rays cast an orange glow across the skyline. Their feet hanging just out of the water’s reach, Tew and Dae sit at the end of the pier and watch the birds flying around.
They’ve been in the seaside town for nearly a week, and today was a particularly long day - they followed their fathers from meeting to meeting, discussing things with the warehouse owner, between themselves, with the transport company.
Tew sighs and leans back on his hands, closing his eyes as his hair is ruffled by the wind. Dae turns to look at his face, aglow in the sunset.
“I wish I could just stay here,” Tew says after a moment, opening his eyes.
“Do you like this town that much?” Dae asks. Dae specifically remembers Tew saying in several letters that he loved his town and never wanted to leave it.
Tew laughs. “No, I mean, stay here, on this pier, in this moment,” he says.
Dae’s nose scrunches in confusion. “Why?”
Tew turns to look at him and smiles so, so gently. “Cause I’m here, with you,” he says simply.
It’s moments like these that make Dae wonder if Tew does see him the same way. Moments like these that make hope bloom in Dae’s chest that the small, tiny chance that Tew likes him the way Dae likes him, might not be as small as he thinks it is.
But just like Tew can make hope bloom in Dae’s chest, he can squash it flat in an instant.
He does this as he sighs and turns back to look at the sea. “Father wants me to meet the warehouse owner’s daughter tomorrow. She’s our age, supposedly. Pretty too, I hear,” Tew sighs again. “I don’t want to go.”
Dae feels his chest constrict like someone is pressing down on his lungs.
A hand clenches into a fist. Tew sighs again. “I thought I would be free from all the marriage talk down here, but it seems like it never ends,”
Dae looks at Tew and Tew’s brows are furrowed, clearly conflicted. He knows Tew doesn’t want to go but it’s the conflict in his expression - the fact he’s considering it, the possibility of him accepting - that makes Dae open his mouth.
“You should meet her,” Dae says.
What are you doing?! his brain screams at him.
Tew turns to him, and if he wasn’t so focused on making sure he didn’t sound upset, Dae would have noticed Tew’s wide eyes and the shock on his face.
“It’s not her fault. And she’s probably nice,” Dae says. “Your father didn’t say you had to marry her, just that you had to meet her, right?” Dae smiles and puts a hand on Tew’s shoulder, misses the expression of torment on Tew’s face. “You should give her a chance. It’s not her fault,”
Tew makes a non-committal noise, and Dae withdraws his hand.
The two of them watch the sun set, the sounds of both their hearts shattering in their chest swallowed by the waves.
The next day, Dae wakes up late in the morning, sun spilling bright light through the curtains. He wonders why Tew didn’t wake him up, usually wanting to fit a morning adventure before any meetings their fathers dragged them to - but Dae sees Tew’s bed is already made, his jacket missing from the atop his bag, and Dae remembers.
Tew was meeting the warehouse owner’s daughter today.
Slowly, Dae forces himself out of bed and gets ready for the day. He feels like he’s just running through the motions, not really aware of what he’s doing until he’s standing outside the inn.
Since Tew isn’t there, Dae doesn’t have to attend this morning’s meetings, and so he turns left and just starts walking. And he keeps walking, and walking.
It takes until he passes the inn for the third time that Dae realises it’s nearly sunset, he hasn’t eaten anything all day, and he’s walked every street of the town.
His brain isn’t any less tangled than it was when he left. Clearly the walk hasn’t helped. Dae sighs, rubs the back of his neck and heads inside.
He finds his father and Tew’s father standing just inside the front door, discussing something, but they stop as soon as he enters.
“Ah, there you are, Dae,” his father says. “Tew has been looking for you all afternoon. Let’s have dinner, I’m sure Tew will be back soon,”
Dae’s stomach squirms but he puts it down to hunger and nods and follows the two men into the restaurant.
Sure enough, not long after, Tew runs back into the inn, looking hot and flustered, like he’s been running non-stop.
He sees Dae sitting innocently at a table with their fathers and his eyes go wide.
“Dae!” he stumbles to the table. Dae doesn’t answer, just stares at him. “I’ve been looking for you all afternoon,”
“Sorry,” Dae mumbles, lowering his gaze to the napkin in his lap. “I just went for a walk,”
“For hours?!” Tew cries. He’s still panting, cheeks flushed. He must have been running a lot.
“There there now, Tew,” Tew’s father says, “Dae’s here now and he’s fine, so sit down and let’s have some food,”
Dinner is nothing less than an awkward affair. Dae barely lifts his eyes from his plate other than to answer his father or Tew’s father with one word answers - usually yes or no. He doesn’t look at Tew, while Tew barely stops looking at him, but never says anything.
Dae still feels ill, and barely manages to eat half of his plate.
His father notices, of course. “Dae, are you okay?”
“Not hungry,” Dae mumbles. He chews his lip for a moment before he says, “Can I be excused please?”
“Do you feel unwell?” Tew’s father asks, looking concerned. Dae just nods. “Oh, you’d better go back to the room to rest then,”
The idea of going back to the room, and being trapped in there with Tew, who will ask him a million questions, only makes him feel more sick.
“I’ll just get some fresh air. I’ll go back when I feel a bit better,” Dae says. He nods to all of them and gets up from the table.
Within moments he’s outside, taking large lungfuls of air. The sun has set and the light is fading from the sky as Dae heads to the pier. The image of Tew with flushed cheeks from running around town looking for Dae all afternoon makes his chest burn.
This is so, so hard. He shouldn’t have come with Father on this trip. He doesn’t know how he’s going to be around Tew all the time for another week.
He sinks into the sole chair on the pier, and takes deep breaths as the wind rustles his hair. Dae watches the ebb and flow of the waves crashing into the shore for a while before closing his eyes and letting the sound envelop him.
So that’s probably why he hears the footsteps first.
He opens his eyes and turns to see Tew walking slowly towards him, hands in his pockets.
The edges of Tew’s mouth quirk into a small, hesitant smile. “Hey, how are you feeling?” he asks.
“Just wanted some fresh air,” Dae says, sitting up straighter on the bench, “I’ll be fine, you can go back to the inn,”
Tew hesitates as he gets close enough to the bench. “Can I sit?” he asks.
Dae looks at the sea again. He shouldn’t stay near Tew, not for too long, not if he can help it. His chest twists as if in response to the mere thought of staying away. It hurts. God, it hurts. But staying near Tew hurt too. He just couldn’t win.
“Go ahead,” Dae says, but as Tew moves towards the bench to sit, Dae gets up. “I’ll go back,”
Tew is startled at first, then recovers enough to grab Dae’s arm as he tries to walk past Tew.
“Dae, what’s going on?” he asks, pulling Dae back so that they’re standing in front of each other. Dae stares at their feet.
“Nothing, I’m fine,”
“You’re clearly trying to avoid me, but I can’t figure out what I have done to upset you,”
“It’s not nothing, you’re upset,”
“Leave me alone, P’. I want to be alone.”
Tew sighs, clearly frustrated, and Dae wonders if he has to make Tew angry for Tew to let him be miserable on his own. But how does he make Tew angry at him?
Tew puts his arm on Dae’s shoulder and tries to meet Dae’s eyes, but Dae turns his head to look away. It only takes a moment, before Tew lets go of Dae’s shoulder to cup his face with both hands and guide his face to look at him.
"Talk to me, little bird," he murmurs. Dae’s eyes flicker to Tew’s at the nickname. Tew’s eyes search his earnestly, looking for an answer. He clearly doesn’t find it, as his eyes change to pleading.
“You’re hurting, and I don’t want you to hurt. If I have done wrong, I’m sorry. I want to make amends,” Tew says softly.
Dae squeezes his eyes shut and he hates that he can feel the tears sliding down his cheeks. He hiccups, feeling like a fool. He's not a child anymore, but whenever he's with Tew, whenever Tew calls him little bird, he thinks of those deep green envelopes with little flowers in the wax seals, and how his heart would flutter when he read Tew's curled writing inked into pages, intended for him and him alone.
"I don't want you to get married," Dae chokes out, "because then you'll leave me,"
"Oh Dae, I won't leave you, that's not how marriage works - "
"You don't know that!" Dae cries, pulling away enough to look at him with wild eyes, tears spilling from his eyes, betraying his emotions. "You're not married! You're not with some pretty girl who will give you children that look like you! Not yet at least," more tears fall to the ground but Dae can't even begin to feel the shame of crying where everyone can see; not when the thought of Tew being with someone else is eating him up from the inside. "You don't know what it's going to be like. Don't promise things you can't keep,"
"Dae…" Tew reaches out and Dae doesn’t move. He wipes Dae's tears with a thumb and the ache in Dae's chest only grows.
He pushes Tew away again and steps back, shaky breaths escaping his lips. For a second, they just stare at each other, tears and snot on Dae's face, confusion and shock on Tew's.
Then Dae scrubs at his face, dirtying his sleeve but he hopes this keeps his pride intact, even if only a little.
"I'm just being a child, let's go back to the inn," Dae mumbles, trying to push past.
Tew grabs his arm but Dae doesn't turn around, staring at his feet, while Tew has turned towards him even if Dae won’t face him. "You're not being a child, you're upset and you're being honest about your feelings," Tew says.
"Honest about my feelings," Dae whispers to himself and laughs a little. He's really not - he's trying to shove them down as far as they can go. He’s been preparing to leave them behind in this seaside town when he leaves - but it’s too late now. He’s exploding at the seams.
He wipes at his face to hide the fresh tears.
"Dae?" Tew tugs at his arm and Dae turns back to face him, but keeps his head down. He can't look at Tew; can't see those earnest, beautiful eyes and keep lying.
Tew chews the inside of his cheek a little before shifting to pull Dae towards him, embracing him tightly. It takes Dae a long moment to find his brain - too surprised by the warmth and comfort from Tew holding him.
Slowly, Dae lifts his arms to hold Tew in return, burying his nose into Tew's shoulder. He tries not to cry anymore, even when Tew strokes his hair and promises it'll be okay.
“It’s okay, Dae, we’ll be okay. I’ll be here, I promise. I won't leave you. I care about you and want to be around you, I don't want you to doubt that."
Dae's fingers curl into the material of Tew's shirt. It hurts. It hurts so much, he starts laughing.
Tew pulls away, confusion on his face as Dae steps back and presses the heel of his hands to his eyes, as if trying to push the tears back in, delirious laughter spilling from his lips.
“You don’t even realise,” he manages breathlessly, “how much you’re hurting me,”
“Dae, what do you mean? What am I doing to hurt you?”
Dae looks at him, so beautiful, bathed in warm lamplight, earnest eyes looking at him with so much concern. “You hurt me, just by being you,” Dae grins, fresh tears falling.
"I… I don't understand,"
"Of course you don't," Dae laughs some more and scrubs at his face. Why can't he stop crying? "Because you don't feel the same way I do about you,"
"Dae, I - "
"I love you, P'Tew,” Dae says all at once, like a breath he’s been holding for far too long. “Not as a friend, or a brother. The way people do when they get married, and stay together for the rest of their lives. I'm so in love with you, the idea of you being with someone else kills me, but I know I can't stop it. I know you don't see me the same way, and that I'm just a fool for even staying, clinging onto false hope, but I - "
Dae stops when he sees Tew smiling. He hiccups and tries to hold his heart together from where it’s trying to shatter apart in his chest. "Is this funny?" he asks breathlessly.
He knew Tew wouldn't feel the same way, he knew he was going to be rejected and pitied, but laughter? Ridicule and humiliation? He didn't think Tew would do that. His heart cracks a little more. Maybe he misunderstood. Maybe he was so hopelessly in love, he inflated the idea of Tew in his head -
"Yes, little bird, because it's now obvious to me that it was you who didn't understand,"
Tew steps closer and Dae instinctively steps back. Tew reaches for him and Dae falters long enough for Tew to grab his arm. He's still smiling and Dae is very confused, and rather wary.
"You said you knew I wouldn't feel the same way," Tew says and Dae flinches. He didn't need it to be shoved back in his face all over again. "But you don't know, Dae,"
Dae opens his mouth to argue but Tew's other hand is cupping his cheek and Tew is leaning closer, the space between their faces reducing by the second.
"You don't know that I feel the same, that I want to be with you in a way that people do when they get married for love, when they want to spend the rest of their lives together. And you don't understand that I've been trying to find out how you felt about me for the past two years,"
Dae's mind is reeling, only exacerbated by Tew's face being Right There.
"I - " Dae scrambles for his brain. Two years? But - "We only met in person two years ago," Dae splutters, staring at Tew. Good one Dae, his brain says, respond to a confession of feelings by picking holes in it. Great job.
Tew raises an eyebrow, smile still on his lips as he watches realisation dawn on Dae's face. Tew has liked him for that long.
"Oh my God," Dae mumbles instead of anything coherent, eyes wide as he stares at Tew.
Tew chuckles. "It took you long enough," their noses bump and Dae sucks in a sharp breath, "so, if it's okay, I'm going to kiss you now. Unless you run away from me again,"
"Why would I - ?" Dae starts but gets cut off by Tew crashing their lips together a little too hard.
It takes them a second to adjust and Dae's fingers cling onto the edge of Tew's shirt as Tew kisses him under the light of the lamp post.
Tew kisses gently and yet earnestly, eager and yet patient, reciprocating only as much as Dae is willing to give. Dae pulls him closer, presses closer, drowns in the feeling of Tew kissing him, holding him, wanting him.
Dae presses closer like he can claw back the time they didn't have because they were both too afraid to say anything. The time they have now, now that they understand each other's feelings.
Tew’s hand at the small of his back is both a comforting warmth and also sends goosebumps up his spine. Dae pulls away for breath, but doesn’t move far, Tew pressing their foreheads together again as they catch their breath.
Tew breaks into a grin, laugh soft and relieved. Dae mirrors him, grin bright as he reaches up gently, almost tentatively, to touch Tew’s face, his cheek soft and warm under Dae’s fingertips.
Tew smiles and pecks him quickly. “I love you, Dae,” he whispers.
Dae’s heart does a somersault in his chest. He really hopes he’s not dreaming, because Tew saying that, while holding him close, seems too good to be true. But the wind blows and it’s a little too cold and Dae is suddenly acutely aware that this is definitely real.
He smiles at Tew. “I love you too, P’Tew,”
That night, they lie together in the same bed. They know soon, Dae will have to go back to his own bed, lest they fall asleep and be found lying together, but for now, for now, under the silver moonlight streaming through the window, they just lie there, together.
Dae is resting his head on Tew’s arm, Tew’s hand playing gently, idly, with strands of Dae’s hair.
“So what are you going to do?” Dae asks quietly. Tew hums, indicating for him to continue. “Your father, he’s going to keep asking you to get married.”
Tew shrugs. “I’ll tell him I don’t want to get married. That I’ll live the rest of my life an unmarried bachelor who works with my business partner everyday,” Tew flashes a grin at Dae.
Dae scowls and pokes him in the stomach. Tew retaliates by kissing his forehead, making Dae wriggle in embarrassment.
Tew laughs breathlessly and Dae shifts closer, sighing as he presses his face against Tew’s chest.
“It’s such a shame,” he murmurs, “that we can’t get married, even though we feel the way people do when they get married for love,”
Tew hums and rests his chin on Dae’s head, now running his fingers properly through Dae’s hair, stroking rhythmically and lulling Dae towards sleep.
“In this life, in this world, we probably can’t,” Tew agrees. “We can spend the rest of our days together, but not in exactly the same way,”
Dae tightens his arms around Tew’s waist. “But,” Tew says, “maybe in our next life we can,” he smiles. “In our next life, I’ll find you, and bring you flowers, and we can get married, okay?”
Dae nods into Tew’s chest, on the verge of falling asleep. “Yeah, sounds good,” he mumbles.
Tew runs his fingers through Dae’s hair until he falls asleep, before slowly extracting himself from Dae’s arms, tucking Dae amongst the covers, and making his way to Dae’s bed.
As he settles down, Tew looks across at Dae’s sleeping form - so close, and yet not within his reach. “When we get married,” Tew murmurs to Dae’s sleeping form, “we’ll have so many flowers, Dae,” he smiles. “It will be beautiful, little bird, I promise,”