In Ae’s defense, he really didn’t think much of it.
But then again, if he was going to use that as an excuse, then he had no ground to stand on at all, because he wasn’t thinking.
What was he even doing? Why wasn’t he conscious of it in the first place? Everything that concerned Pete should always be at the forefront of his every thought, but somehow, this was the one thing that slipped out. Right in front of Pond, of all people. Ae’s fucking asshole best friend, who would take the mile if he gave the other a damn inch, and Ae had pretty much given him ammunition to use against him for the rest of their lives.
There was no way around it now. He was going to kill Pond, hide his body, and destroy his phone before he could spread it to everyone else. He’d even ask that bastard Tin for a favor if necessary. ChaAim would probably be upset if he killed her boyfriend, but Ae thought he was doing her a favor anyway; there were a lot of better men than his perverted best friend.
And he was really going to do it. No matter how much Pete begged him not to.
The thought of his sweet, gentle boyfriend had Ae both calming down and frowning at the same time. It didn’t matter much if Ae was the only one getting the brunt of it; he was used to Pond’s shitalking, that was the very foundation of their friendship. But the thought of his precious Ai’Koon Chai getting sad and upset because Pond couldn’t keep his damn mouth shut around him was enough to make Ae feel murderous.
It started as any normal morning. Ae had woken up at his usual time, before the sunrise, went for his morning jog around the campus, and since he finished earlier than usual, offered some food to the nearby monks. Then he went back to the dorm, attempted to wake Pond up, and prepared for the day, putting the day’s lectures in his bag and showering. Once he got out of the bathroom, he put on his uniform, kicking out Pond out of bed this time because the bastard hadn’t even moved at all.
As the other whined and groaned at being woken up so violently (like always), Ae ignored him, checking his appearance in the mirror. He didn’t used to, but being in a relationship with such a tall, gorgeous guy had Ae feeling more self-conscious about his appearance. He wouldn’t be able to do anything about his face, that was already set for life, but at least he could make the attempt to look half-way human when standing beside the, to him, human personification of beauty.
It was during this time that he would get a text, and once he deemed himself presentable, he grabbed his things, made sure everything was in his bag, and left the room after yelling at Pond to meet them at the Engineering cafeteria for breakfast if he wanted to.
On the way out of the dorm, he would answer the message he received, and Ae would go as fast as he could to the dorm’s parking lot, getting his keys to unlock his bicycle, black and old and always dependable, from around its pole. By now the sun was already out, its rays still weak but enough to make the morning fog around the campus dissipate.
After a few minutes, he was on his way, pedaling towards the IC building.
Traffic always picked up at this time, as students started to come in for the day. If he was lucky and was fast enough, maybe he would get there first, and Pete wouldn’t have to wait for him.
And today Ae seemed like he was just on time, as he spies the familiar white Mercedes-Benz already backing up into a free packing space at the IC building. He stopped his bicycle, placing one foot on the ground as he watched the car finally stop, engine quieting, the driver’s side door opening to finally reveal the love of Ae Intouch’s life.
Pete looked resplendent in the sunlight, his hair shining like spun copper, his skin whiter than milk, white shirt and black tie crisp, black trousers hugging his hips and legs to perfection. Ae could honestly just look at him forever and die happy, of course, after making sure that Pete was loved and cherished and taken care of for the rest of his life.
“Good morning, Ai’Ae,” Pete greeted him as he approached, voice sweet and still having that note of shyness that never really seemed to disappear even as their relationship became more intimate. Often, it just made Ae feel more endeared to him.
At times, it made Ae feel completely ravenous.
“Morning.” Ae said, helpless as he smiled back. God, he was so in love with him Ae was totally and completely done for. He couldn’t resist, reaching out to pinch at a rosied cheek. “Did you sleep well?”
Pete nodded, expression turning shyer as he touched the part where Ae had just pinched him, as if not believing that Ae liked him enough to do that still. “Yes, I did, khrap Ae.” He said, glancing at Ae from under his long eyelashes and, yeah, they should go now before Ae became tempted to skip morning classes.
Ae swallowed thickly, voice managing to come out steady. “That’s good. Come on then, I’m starving.” He waited until Pete was sitting securely at the pillion, his arms properly wrapped around Ae’s waist, before leaving the parking lot.
Pete was getting heavier these days, and Ae was fiercely glad for it as they circled back towards the Engineering building. Pete looked less like he was going to be blown away by a breeze these days, looking much happier and more confident of himself, and even if they weren’t in a relationship, it was something Ae would always want for the other. Pete deserved to be happy, he deserved the whole damn world and if there was any way Ae could give it to him, he would.
Ae felt Pete’s head rest against his shoulder, arms squeezing his middle briefly, and Ae didn’t stop himself from smiling, keeping carefully to the side of the road. Sometimes they talked during these moments, sometimes they didn’t, depending on what they were both feeling on that day. Today, it was the latter, and Ae didn’t mind as he cycled on, content to feel Pete’s warmth on his back and the cool wind caressing his face.
If they had the time, sometimes Ae would ‘forget’ that they were supposed to be at the Engineering building and completely pass by it, needing to take another round inside the campus. But Pete would never say anything about it, on why they were taking such a long time to get to where they were supposed to eat, on why they would pass the IC building again.
They would simply share a secretive, knowing glance once Ae had finally parked his bike at the designated spot.
By the time they finally got to the Engineering cafeteria, it would be late enough that most students would be already up and occupying the tables. Pond would already be there, saving them a table, and to Ae’s mild surprise, he was joined by Ping, Bow, and ChaAim, who was still yawning around her cup of iced coffee. The latter was unexpected, considering she often stayed up late as a nursing student. But still, she was never unwelcome, and they took their seats, not really caring where it was, as long as they sat beside each other.
Mutters of morning greetings were abound, and Ae was already standing up and placing his bag on the empty seat, turning to his boyfriend immediately.
“Stay here, I’ll get food for us. Is there anything you want today?”
“Ah, Ae, can you please get the congee that you got for me the last time?” Pete asked with a brief touch on his arm, always so formal and polite. “It tasted really good; I’d like to eat it again.”
“You don’t have to be so polite with me. Sure, I’ll get it for you, babe,” Ae answered easily, with a light ruffle of Pete’s hair, not wanting to completely mess up his boyfriend’s put-together appearance. Even if Pete pouting at him afterwards would be cute as hell. “Anything else?”
Pete’s expression turned into something bashfully pleased as he stared up at him. “Maybe a glass of iced tea?”
Ae frowned at him. “Too sugary. You should stop drinking things that are too sweet in the morning, it’s not healthy.”
Pete nodded after a moment of consideration, as if it was perfectly within Ae’s right to tell him what to drink or not.
“Then I’ll drink anything you buy for me, khrap,” he smiled, sweeter than the drink he wanted to buy, and Ae had to take a moment to stop the palpitations that suddenly struck his heart.
The implicit trust there, that Pete was all right with Ae looking after and taking care of him, was huge, important, and Ae quietly swore to himself to never abuse that privilege.
“All right, I’ll get you something else.” Maybe fresh fruit juice instead, Pete didn’t really drink coffee at this hour. “Just wait for me, okay babe? I’ll try to be quick.”
“Yes, Ae. I’ll wait.” Pete nodded, eyes bright, cheeks still lightly rosy, and Ae smiled back briefly before moving to leave.
He paused at the sight of the rest of the table.
All of their friends were staring at them with wide eyes, completely struck dumb. Pond’s jaw was hanging open, Bow had a hand clasped on her mouth, ChaAim’s hand pausing midway in its attempt to grab at her coffee, and Ping’s drink was actually spilling from his grip and onto his clothes.
“Ai’Ping, your drink—”
“Wha—Oh, shit!” Ping cried, standing up in alarm, shaking off the liquid already seeping into his trousers. “Damn it Ae, now I’m all sticky!”
The girls suddenly burst into loud squeals, looking and starting to chat with each other excitedly, and Pond still looked like he was questioning everything he knew of his existence.
Ae turned to his boyfriend in question, and they exchanged similarly lost expressions, Pete also looking at the rest of them in quiet concern.
“What’s gotten into you guys?” Ae asked, looking at one face to another, brows furrowed. The hell? Did something happen that he didn’t know about?
The sound of his voice apparently brought Pond back to wherever plane he was coasting on, jumping out of his seat to promptly get into Ae's face.
“Ae! Fucking Ae Intouch!”
“... What?” Ae blinked, pointedly looking at the hands shaking his shoulders. God, had all the porn his best friend watched finally gone to his brain and turned it into mush?
But Pond was still shaking him, eyes wild and slowly filling with a mixture of disbelief and unholy delight.
“What?! What was that?! Ai’Ae, what the fuck was that?!”
“What was what, Ai’Shit Pond?!” If Pond didn’t start making sense right now Ae was throwing hands, and he didn’t care how early it was. Beside him he could see Pete standing up, glancing between them in obvious worry, and Ae immediately held his arm out, calming his boyfriend down before he got involved.
“It’s fine, babe. Pond’s just turning crazy right now, for some reason.” Ae said soothingly, caressing the other’s wrist in a gentle grip. “I’m used to it, don’t worry. Oi, Pond, if you don’t start talking—”
“That’s it! That!” Pond interrupted, gesturing wildly at him and Pete with hands, as if that would help explain what he was saying. “You— and Ai’Pete— since when—?!”
Ae was completely, utterly baffled by this turn of events.
“Ha?! What about me and Pete?” If Pond started saying nonsense about their relationship again Ae was strangling him.
But Pond was continuing to babble right in Ae’s face, as if the other wasn’t hearing him at all.
“Babe!? Babe?! The hell, Ai’Ae? Who are you and what have you done to my insensitive beast of a friend?!” Pond demanded, pausing in the middle of his tirade to poke Ae in the chest.
“Since when do you call Ai’Pete with such sappy nicknames?” The absolute glee in his best friend’s face was disturbing.
“I didn’t—” Ae started, but instantly stopped, rewinding the past few minutes of conversation in his mind. He quickly glanced at Pete, but the other was looking away, biting his lower lip, face completely red, which was all the confirmation Ae needed.
He… really did just call his boyfriend ‘babe’ in front of their friends.
Which was completely and totally fine. They were a couple, in a steady relationship, and everyone knew it. It just slipped out from Ae’s lips sometimes, when they were together, always out of love and fondness. And so far, Pete hadn’t said anything against it, simply replying (albeit with a more flustered expression) and continuing their conversation like it was totally normal.
Ae could call his Ai’Koon Chai whatever endearment he wanted, as long as Pete was okay with it.
In fact, this probably wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if it weren’t for the fact that one of them (read: Pond) was an utter asshole.
… But what if Pete wasn’t all right with it? What if this was Ae once again forcing his wants on his boyfriend, and Pete was simply going along with it because he was so good and kind and he wanted to make Ae happy, even if it wasn’t something he liked?
“Shut up.” Heat was gathering under his collar, both out of embarrassment and anger at himself. Stupid. He was so stupid. God, he was such an idiot. “Shut the fuck up, Pond.”
“But Ai’Ae, you’re such a lover boy now~” Pond cooed, making kissy faces and noises at him. “So soft~ calling your boyfriend your babe—ack!”
Ae had grabbed Pond by the collar of his shirt, dragging him closer to his level with a dangerous glint to his eye; he didn’t give a fuck if he was short, knowing that he could throw down with the best of them when provoked.
“Hey, Ae!” He heard Ping say in alarm, but Ae ignored him, keeping his eyes on the other, stone-cold serious.
“If you speak another word I’m kicking your ass so hard you’ll be tasting my shoes in your mouth,” Ae said, voice dropping low so quickly the air instantly turned freezing around them. Even Pond realized that he had pushed too far. Ae shoved the other away, releasing his collar, and as ChaAim started to do damage control, twisting Pond’s ear and dragging him back to his seat, immediately scolding him.
He didn’t realize he was shaking until he saw that his still clenched hands were unsteady. Ae took a slow breath, trying to reign in his temper; it wasn’t about Pond, at least, not entirely about him, but his best friend had the uncanny ability to poke his nose into sensitive issues that even Ae wasn’t aware of.
He’ll apologize later, once he didn’t feel like killing the other with his bare hands.
Still beside him, Pete started to speak, voice gentle and concerned as he tried to reach for Ae’s wrist again. “Ae—”
“I’ll get your food, Ai’Pete. Stay here.” Ae interrupted, voice more curt and clipped than he would have liked, and the way his boyfriend’s face fell just added to the guilt already writhing in his gut. But he left anyway, because he had to feed his boyfriend first, and he didn’t want to stay any longer, lest he blurted out something he didn’t mean and inevitably hurt his Ai’Koon Chai.
The rest of the morning was filled with tension. Ping looked wary, glancing between him and Pond, Bow was trying to fill the silence with nonsensical chatter, with ChaAim joining her; the latter completely ignoring her boyfriend, who was between trying to get ChaAim’s attention and begging for Ae’s forgiveness at the same time. Pete was also quiet, stealing glances at him every so often while slowly picking at his food.
And despite the almost-nausea rolling in his stomach, Ae forced himself to finish his plate, because he disliked wasting money and he knew that he would need the fuel for the rest of the day. The others bid a quick goodbye afterwards, splitting off instantly towards the direction of their respective classes. Ae could follow them, but first he had to drop off Pete at the IC building, and once again got his bike for the trip.
Pete was still tense, obvious in his stiff and rigid arms, the way that he held himself away from Ae’s body, as if afraid that he might provoke Ae’s bad mood further. Ae could feel the other’s worried gaze on him still, and Pete’s continuing regard for Ae’s well-being, even while he was acting like a complete jerk, was making Ae’s chest ache fierce.
When they finally arrived at the front of the IC building, Ae watched as Pete got off the back of his bike, fidgeting, playing with the strap of his backpack. They stared at each other for a moment, Ae hesitating, if he should say something now, if the timing was right.
But then his boyfriend probably thought that Ae had nothing more to say to him, because Pete turned around and started to leave, with a slump to his shoulders that made Ae feel like he just kicked a helpless puppy.
Without thinking, Ae instantly reached out to grasp the other’s wrist, stopping Pete from taking another step away from him.
As his boyfriend slowly turned to look at him, glancing down at their linked hands with wide eyes, Ae took a deep breath.
“I need to get this out before you leave, because I don’t want you to misunderstand.” Ae sighed, because knowing his boyfriend, Pete would just overthink and fret and inevitably blame himself for something he didn’t do. Again.
He knew this was a conversation better done in private, with the rest of the IC students coming into their building, but Pete had been hurt too many times by different people for different reasons, and he refused to be an additional name to that list.
Let them listen in, if they wanted to. Ae wasn’t ashamed of his boyfriend, and he would never be.
So he gentled his tone and loosened his grip, sliding his hand down so his fingers held the other’s hand instead, allowing Pete to pull away if he wanted to. “I’m not mad at you, all right? You didn’t do anything wrong.”
His boyfriend’s surprised face turned into tentative relief. “... You’re not?”
“Of course not. You’re perfect, Ai’Pete.” Ae said firmly. “And I promise, it’s not you. It’s me.” He offered his boyfriend a self-deprecating smile, shrugging. “It’s stupid. I’m stupid. I’m just upset right now, and I’m sorry for taking it out on you. But I promise I’ll get over it soon.”
“But Ae isn’t stupid.” Pete frowned, now sounding more upset than Ae was, as if the mere thought of him being less than perfect was unacceptable to the other. “Please don’t talk about yourself like that.”
His other hand moved up to cover Ae’s instead, rough, tanned knuckles sandwiched by pale softness and warmth. Ae could feel his ears heating up as he stared down at their hands, feeling bashful for some reason.
“Will Ae please tell me what is making him so sad?” Pete asked, voice earnest in its quiet concern.
Ae opened his mouth, then slowly shook his head. As much as he would like to sequester himself and Pete into some quiet corner, just to help ease the troubles in his mind, he couldn’t afford to skip any more lessons unless he wanted to fail a subject. Life wasn’t considerate like that.
“Not now. I have to go to class. But… later, okay?” He clarified quickly, once he saw his boyfriend’s shoulders droop down again, reminiscent of a puppy’s ears folding on its head. Even his disappointment was adorable, in Ae’s eyes. “We can talk once everything is done for today.”
“Then Ae, please stay the night with me.” Pete said, tone surprisingly firm, still not letting go of his hand. “We can talk in my apartment. You can tell me anything you want.”
It was so rare that Pete sounded so determined, insistent really, and his boyfriend’s newfound self-assurance was a balm to Ae’s soul.
Pete was beautiful like this.
So Ae found himself agreeing eventually, never really able to deny the other of whatever he wanted.
“Okay, Ai’Koon Chai. Whatever you want.”
With a final smile and squeeze to his hand, Pete finally left for his class, leaving Ae there on his bike still, left with the faint scent of flowers and a lingering heat on his palm.
Football practice found Ae blinking at the sight of his tall boyfriend standing at the corner of the football field, his black and white uniform standing out against the deep green of the grass and the white and blue uniforms of the football team. Ae had waved at him as he ran past, and Pete waved back, before disappearing, only to appear at the bleachers this time, taking a seat alongside some of the students who were also hanging around the field.
“Oh, looks like someone is here to fetch our N’Ae~” Ae’s senior, Type, had teased when he was finally caught up to each other during their jogging cooldown, an arm slinging around Ae’s shoulders. Because of his height, his seniors deemed it a free-for-all pass to rest their limbs anywhere near his head or shoulders. Ae usually didn’t mind, his seniors were nice and good people, but it could get annoying at times.
“Like you can talk, P’,” Ae said, shoving the older away playfully. “We see P’Tharn at the bleachers waiting on you at least three times a week.”
The mention of his boyfriend’s name had Type rolling his eyes. “Forget him, he’s just clingy.” Ae smartly did not mention how widely the other would smile whenever his boyfriend arrived at the field and would immediately jog to meet him at any time during the session, barring a practice game. Technically it wasn’t allowed, but P’Type was best friends with the team captain, and P’No had about the least commanding presence for a team captain ever.
All of them knew who had the real power behind the club, anyway.
Ae glanced at the senior, considering. The older had been with his boyfriend ever since their freshman days, and they were the most stable, committed (if not outwardly loving) couple Ae knew. Ae had heard through the grapevine (Pond) that they had started their relationship rocky, antagonistically at first, but somewhere along the way that changed into something deeper and different and more.
He could also ask Can, the other person in the team dating a guy, but that meant the risk of Tin Medthanan knowing, and Ae really didn’t want to deal with the rich jerk (still a jerk, but significantly less of an asshole now that Can had gotten through to him, somehow, someway) ragging on him for making Pete upset. And if Can knew, Tin would definitely know as well, and the chances of Pete knowing before Ae could even talk to him properly would increase. Ae didn’t want to take that risk.
If there was anyone more knowledgeable about how dating between men worked, it was going to be P’Type.
Making up his mind, Ae approached him again once he was done with his stretches, sitting beside the other, who was taking sips from his water bottle, watching the rest of the team finishing up their cooldowns. “P’Type, can I ask you a question?”
P’Type’s eyes slid sideways to him briefly. “Shoot.”
“Do you and P’Tharn call each other with special nicknames?”
Type instantly choked on his drink, coughing, and Ae immediately patted the other on the back to help him out as the older tried to gasp for a breath.
“P’! You all right?!”
“Oi! The hell are you asking, you brat?” P’Type glared at him once he managed to hack out most of the liquid in his lungs, with a light tinge to his cheeks. “And why ask me, of all people?”
“It’s important. P’, you’re the only one I can ask. It’s about me and Pete.” Ae said plainly, not embarrassed with asking for help, since this was for his boyfriend. He saw the other understand immediately, scrutinizing him, clearly thinking if he should answer Ae or not.
Ae just looked back steadily, hoping that his sincerity would be enough.
Finally, the senior sighed, looking down at his bottle. “Urgh. How has my life come to this?” He heard P’Type mutter under his breath, pinching the bridge of his nose, before finally facing him.
“Hell. We have some time anyway. What’s wrong?”
And so Ae related everything that happened that morning, the incident between him and Pond, the idea of endearments in a relationship like theirs, his own worry about stepping over Pete’s personal wishes and likes.
“I mean… P’, is it strange? I know that it’s common with guys who date girls, but with us, it’s…”
“Look, Ai’Ae, it’s completely normal. It’s not just something guys who date girls do, but for people who are in a relationship in general.” P’Type shrugged. “You shouldn’t let something like that stop you from calling your lover whatever you want, just because the person you’re dating happened to be a man.” The senior glanced at the field again, making sure that no one was approaching them.
“And if other people have a problem with it, feel free to slug them in the face. It’s none of their business but yours and N’Pete’s.”
Ae cracked a smile. “P’, you shouldn’t be teaching your nongs to solve things through their fists.”
Type snorted. “Fuck that. Some people need more than a punch to get something through their thick skulls. That being said, don’t throw the first punch unless you have a good reason.”
Ae’s smile widened. “Yes, P’. I’m still worried though. I know Pete, P’. He really… He prefers to keep things to himself because he thinks he’ll be bothering me with them.” Ae exhaled a breath, looking at his hands with furrowed brows. “It frustrates me sometimes, because all I want is to help him, but he doesn’t let me.”
A flash of recognition, no, something darker, deeper, passed over the senior’s eyes.
“If N’Pete doesn’t say anything about it, then you shouldn’t worry about it so much. That boyfriend of yours might look delicate, but he knows where to draw the line when it’s needed. Trust in him more. Your Pete is tougher than you think.” The other clasped a hand on Ae’s shoulder, squeezing in reassurance.
“And if you’re really worried, talk it over with your boyfriend. Buddha knows how many fights Tharn and I would have avoided if he or I just opened our mouths and told each other the truth straight out.” The senior rolled his eyes again, but seemingly towards himself this time. “N’Pete is a smart and a patient boy, he’ll listen to you.”
“But… what if he tells me that he doesn’t like it when I call him like that?”
“Then you apologize and move on.” P’Type answered simply. “Explain your side, hope he accepts it, and if it’s something he really doesn’t like, you have to stop doing it, or find something else that would make you both happy.” The senior dropped his hand, finishing off the rest of his bottle.
“Compromise, nong. A relationship wouldn’t work without it.”
Ae stayed silent, mulling over the wisdom in the other’s words.
Knowing the senior, P’Type… probably had to compromise a lot to make his relationship with P’Tharn work the way it did. And if someone like P’Type, whose personality was similar to Ae’s, could find ways to have a long, stable relationship with the person he loved, then Ae could too.
He just needed to work hard on it.
“... Thanks, P’.”
“Don’t mention it. Seriously, don’t.”
“I promise I won’t tell P’No and P’Champ that you have a heart, P’Type,” Ae said sincerely, and quickly ducked as the other attempted to swipe at him, growling that kids these days didn’t have an ounce of respect for people older than them.
He settled back into the bench, feeling lighter, more settled, and more confident than he had been all day.
“... So P’Tharn does call you something else, P’?”
And Ae watched with rapt fascination as his usually brash and outspoken senior ducked his head, a bright red blush completely overtaking his face. It was funny, and honestly adorable, to see the older look flustered at such a simple, innocent question.
But after a long moment of silence, P’Type finally spoke, voice low, quiet, and almost shy, his tone filled with utmost dreamlike wonder.
“... He calls me ‘wifey’.”
But the glare the senior leveled out to Ae afterwards was enough for Ae to look away and straighten out his spine, as fear spiked and his instincts immediately screamed danger.
“And if that ever gets out to anyone else, I’m killing you, kid.”
Ae quickly nodded, swallowing thickly as his palms sweated, knowing that the older meant every single word he said.
P’Type truly was an alpha wife, able to terrorize anyone to complete submission.
And Ae just found his admiration for P’Tharn increasing, relieved that his own boyfriend was so very agreeable and sweet. He couldn’t imagine being in a relationship with someone like P’Type.
“Thanks for picking me up. You didn’t have to,” Ae said, slipping into the passenger side of his boyfriend’s Mercedes, freshly showered and back in his school clothes, his school and sports bag already at the back. It was already evening, and Pete had brought his car to the football field parking lot so they could ride back together to Pete’s apartment. Ae was ribbed non-stop by a few of his teammates on the way out, but Ae summarily ignored them all, the love of his life taking instant priority over everyone else.
“It’s nothing, khrap Ae.” Pete demurred, looking to be in more cheerful spirits compared to this morning. “I was able to do some schoolwork while waiting anyway, so please don’t worry about it.”
“Are you hungry?” Ae asked as he put on his seatbelt. “We can stop somewhere to eat first.”
“Don’t worry about it, Ae. I’ve already bought us dinner.” His boyfriend told him, which made Ae blink. Seeing this, the other’s face became unsure.
“If… that’s all right?”
“No problem,” Ae answered easily. Pete knew his preferences, he wasn’t a picky eater, and he wouldn’t begrudge the other the opportunity to pamper him a little, especially since he messed up this morning. He didn’t even care if it came from some expensive, 5-star restaurant he wouldn’t be able to afford in his lifetime, because Pete needed this, and Ae had enough of feeling like an asshole today. “I’m sure it’ll be delicious, Ai’Pete.”
Expectedly, a light flush appeared on his boyfriend’s cheeks. “But Ae, I just bought it. It’s not anything special.”
“Still, I’m sure it’ll be good, because you picked it for us, Ai’Koon Chai.” Ae disagreed, just to fluster the other more. “I'm ready to go when you are.”
The drive back was quietly pleasant. Somewhere along the way his boyfriend’s free hand had migrated on top of Ae’s thigh, fingers laced with Ae’s own, while Ae was scrolling through his phone with his other hand, occasionally changing the music through the bluetooth connection, or talking with Pete on something he saw online. The car was automatic, so it was perfectly safe for the other to drive with one hand, with Pete sometimes tugging on his hand to draw his attention to something else.
They ended up like this often when they used Pete’s car, if not the other way around, with Ae’s arm stretched out so his hand would lay on top of Pete’s leg as he drove. Like everything else, it was an adjustment, since Ae didn’t want to be a distraction to the driver, but Pete had always been careful on the road, and his presence beside the other apparently helped Pete become calmer and more focused during traffic.
So Ae didn’t say anything more, always happy to hold his boyfriend’s hand, no matter how short that time might be.
By the time they finally pulled into the apartment block’s parking spot, Ae was starving. A quick elevator trip, and Pete was unlocking the door to his room, with Ae following behind with his bags and the plastics of food Pete brought for them.
The apartment had changed a little the more Pete (and soon enough, Ae) had made themselves at home within the space. Decorations were slowly and surely added to the walls and shelves, and in just a brief time, pictures as well, of Pete’s family, of Pete, and eventually of Ae as well, two of them separate and together in different frames.
A picture of a slightly smiling young Pete and his beaming mother, during his high school graduation. Childhood photos of Pete, with both his parents and eventually just his mother, strewn around in various corners of the apartment. A picture of a younger Ae during his birthday party, blowing out the candles with his family surrounding him.
A vibrant photo of Ae kicking a football in the middle of a match. A soft-colored picture of Pete working hard during a handicraft workshop. A picture of the current Pete, unexpectedly smiling at the camera, holding a tanned hand whose owner was outside the frame. A photo of Ae looking up from his phone in Pete’s living room, visibly surprised.
Then an enlarged photo of Pete and Ae, taken on the sly, in their school uniforms, holding each other’s elbows and looking at one another with unquestionable affection.
A small amount of Ae’s clothes had its own drawer in the bedroom closet. His worn running shoes and a pair of outside flip-flops were now an often enough sight beside Pete’s leather school shoes and fluffy indoor slippers.
Two toothbrushes in the main bathroom. Two personalized coffee mugs in the kitchen cupboard. Two towels, drying outside on the balcony. Ae’s body spray and deodorant, beside Pete’s small basket of skin care products at the vanity table.
Eventually, this place didn’t feel like just Pete’s apartment anymore.
(It felt like a home that they now shared together.)
“Ai’Pete, I’m doing laundry!” Ae called out as he pulled out his dirty football uniform from his sports bag, deciding to make a whole production out of it by carrying in the almost-full hamper inside his boyfriend’s bedroom.
“It’s fine, Ae!” Pete answered as he busied himself in the kitchen, the clattering of utensils following afterward. “Dinner will be ready soon!”
They split off to do their current tasks, with Ae loading the wash with their clothes, while Pete placed their food for the night in more proper plates and bowls. Once the timers were set, Ae eventually wandered back to the kitchen, already out of his uniform and wearing a much more comfortable shirt and pair of shorts.
“I can take care of this,” he said, taking the plastic bag away from Pete’s hands. “Relax and take a shower, I can finish up here.”
“But Ae, you’ve been at football practice this afternoon…” Pete tried to tug his hand back, clearly reluctant, but Ae shook his head.
“This is nothing.” He waved his boyfriend’s concerns away. “Go on, I know you want one. Even if I think you still smell nice.” He leaned over and gave a quick sniff at the other’s cheek, chuckling when his boyfriend smacked him in the shoulder, mortified.
“Ae! I haven’t showered yet!”
“Like I said, you still smell nice. Go, dinner will be ready once you get out.” A proper kiss to the cheek this time, Ae managed to usher the other away from the countertops, and Pete eventually relented, giving him a look of mild exasperation for a brief moment before going inside the bedroom.
“You can add your slacks and tie in the wash, I started with the colored clothes first,” Ae added through the open door as he tore the bag open and poured the tom yum soup into a small metal pot. “Place your shirt with the other white ones, I’ll get to them later.”
The next minutes were relatively quiet as Ae worked the stove, warming up the various dishes his boyfriend got for them both. True to his words, once Pete finally exited the bedroom, Ae had finished setting the table and had sat down in his usual seat, browsing through his phone, waiting for the other to arrive.
Ae smiled as he saw his boyfriend wearing his cozy, light blue pajamas, rubbing a towel through his hair. Pete looked so cute and small in his overly large clothes, despite his height. It made Ae want to keep him in his pocket.
Dinner wasn’t a rushed affair. They ate their fill, Ae insisting on Pete getting more portions since, knowing the other, he would probably just have a sandwich for lunch instead of a full-course meal, and he hardly ate anything for breakfast. Ae, on the other hand, demolished everything else, making sure there were no leftovers at the end of the meal.
Clean-up was also relatively easy; this time it was Pete who forced Ae out of the kitchen to tend to the dishes, which Ae went along with willingly. He still needed to wash the white-colored clothes after taking out the dried ones, separating pieces for ironing or folding. It was a familiar, grounding process, with Ae familiar with their clothes enough to know which went where.
Once most of the chores were done, they both retreated to the living room to finish some urgent schoolwork they needed for the next day, sitting together on the couch, busy with their respective classes. Ae knew that Pete mostly had papers to do, pages upon pages of documents written in both Thai and English that had Ae’s mind spinning when looking at it, while he was stuck with figuring out math equations and formulas. They occasionally caught each other’s eye, but apart from offering smiles, maybe even reaching out to squeeze an arm or a leg, they didn’t disturb the other from his work, the soft rustling of sheets, the scratch of a pen on paper, and the constant click-clack of fingers on a laptop keyboard the only sounds breaking the silence of the room.
This was their routine; quiet, constant, arguably boring. But for Ae it spoke of security and assurance, the knowledge that his boyfriend was close enough for Ae to perceive with all his senses enough to calm the primitive, caveman-like part of his brain that demanded the safety-comfort-warmth of his mate.
Pete was here, he was fine, and he was safe. And for Ae, that was enough.
But tonight, there was still a lingering… well, not tension, per se, but something weighted, hanging between them. While it wasn’t enough to currently disturb their carefully constructed routine, it was enough to make Ae aware of every move and gesture he made.
The earlier conversation he had with P’Type still lingered in his mind.
It had never left, really, just resting at the back of his head, waiting to be addressed. Ae had the time to think long and hard about what he needed to say, and how he had to say it, because Pete tended to jump to conclusions if he didn’t make things clear at the start. As much as Ae would like to get the morning incident out of the way and return to their blissful dating life, everything else in the world needed something from him first, and his boyfriend deserved nothing less than his complete, undivided attention.
Finally, as an hour or two passed by, the night growing darker and deeper, Ae had finally decided to stop studying, tossing his worksheets down on the nearby table. His exhale caught the other’s attention, who lowered his laptop screen a little to glance at him with his gentle but expressive eyes.
“Ae?” Pete asked, voice tentative.
Ae eventually moved to the other side of the couch, letting his back lean against the armrest as he moved his legs to rest on top of the leather seats.
For a moment, neither of them spoke.
Then Ae raised a hand, palm up.
“Come here?” He asked, voice quiet.
Without another word, his boyfriend closed his laptop, placed it carefully on the coffee table, and crawled over to Ae’s side of the couch, arms wrapping around Ae’s torso as Ae gathered Pete into his arms, right on top of him, tangling their legs together and letting their combined weight sink fully on the couch underneath them.
For a few minutes, Ae just enjoyed the sensation of being close to his heart again. Under his touch, he felt the tension completely leave Pete’s body, completely trusting Ae to catch and hold him up, and Ae would never give the other a reason to believe otherwise.
“... I’m sorry.” Ae finally said, contrite, burying his face into dark, silky hair. He breathed in the wonderful scent that always clung to Pete’s skin, his body a weighted blanket that kept him calm and centered. “I haven’t been very good today.”
“It’s all right. How are you feeling now, Ae?” Pete asked softly, cheek resting against Ae’s collarbone, palm pressing lightly on his chest, right on top of his heart. Did Pete know, the way he held Ae’s heart completely in his hands, that it was beating solely for him? “Are you still upset?”
“Better that you’re here.” Ae admitted, a hand running through his boyfriend’s hair, relishing in the silken smooth texture sliding through his fingers. “I... should explain what happened this morning. Why I reacted that way.”
This time, Pete raised his head to look at him, eyes wide. “Ae, you don’t have to—”
“No.” He shook his head firmly. “You deserve to know. This concerns you too.” His other hand moved to pinch the other’s cheek, half in reprimand, half in affection. “So listen to me, okay?”
When Pete shifted slightly, completely attentive now, Ae cradled the other’s jaw on his palm, studying his boyfriend’s handsome features, admiring the curve of his eyebrows, his full cheeks, the plumpness of his pink lips, thinking how lucky he was to have this in his life. His thumb slowly stroked pale, rosy skin, watching it turn red under his touch.
“Ai’Koon Chai, before I start, I want you to promise me something.”
“What is it?” Pete asked, voice equally as hushed, as if unwilling to break the atmosphere between them.
“Promise me that if you feel uncomfortable or if you don’t like something, you’ll tell me. Especially if it’s something I’m doing. All right?“
Pete nodded slowly, expression befuddled, looking so similar to those online kitten videos that Ae couldn’t help but lean forward and give his nose a small peck. “Of course. I promise, Ae. But… why?”
“It’s connected to what happened earlier. When Pond, that dick, asked me when I started calling you ‘babe’, I… realized that I didn’t ask you if it was all right for me to do it.”
Above him, Ae felt Pete jolt, clearly not expecting those words to come up as the topic of their conversation.
“Ai’Pete. Right now, you’re the most special person to me. If you want me to I’ll scream it out loud on rooftops for everyone to hear,” Ae admitted, unashamed, because this was the love of his life, and for him, Ae would move mountains and split the seas. “And the last thing I want to do is to hurt you and make you sad. I want to learn everything about you, but I can’t read what’s on your mind yet.” He continued, sounding a little regretful that he couldn’t, but he would definitely make the effort from now on.
“So you’ll have to tell me. Anything you want. What you like and don’t like. What you need and what you want. What makes you scared or uncomfortable. I’m not as rich as you, not as smart, and I don’t have or really can’t do much. I’m also hot-headed, brash, and I don’t think before I speak. But I’ll work hard and do my best to protect you, and make you happy, now, and in the future. Okay?”
Pete was completely speechless. His eyes were wide, glassy and twinkling like jewels, his lips parted slightly as color bloomed on his cheeks. His expression was still so impossibly shy, but also so incandescently happy, like Ae had just given him something he’s wanted for so long.
“Ae, I like you.”
Ae felt his heart physically skip a beat inside his ribcage.
“It’s embarrassing, but… Ae, every time you call me something special it makes me feel like… I belong somewhere. That I belong to you.” Pete whispered, burying his face at the side of Ae’s neck, warm breath ghosting along his bare skin, bashfulness lacing his every word. “I’ve never liked anyone as much as I liked you, and you’re my first boyfriend, so I don’t know how to react… but Ae, I never thought in my life that I’d have someone who would like me enough to even call me things like that.”
Pete raised his head to meet Ae’s eyes then, pressing their foreheads together. His boyfriend was still embarrassed, but equally determined to say what’s on his mind, and the sight was so endearing Ae could feel his toes curling in utter delight.
“But when you smile… and call me ‘babe’...my heart races, my world stops, and I stop breathing. Then I realize that it’s you, my hero, who’s saying that, and suddenly I feel like it’s all right to let the world move around me again.”
Pete smiled then, wide and beautiful and filled with unmistakable love, and Ae instantly forgot how to breathe.
“So Ae… please don’t stop. Please call me whatever you want. Please... continue to make me feel special.”
It was one of the most heartfelt confessions Ae had ever received in his life. While it would never compare to the first time, when it was just the two of them on a wide stretch of football field, looking at the clear, dark sky together, this came as a close second.
And it was more than enough, for Ae to fall in love with Pete all over again.
Ae had to take a moment to inhale some air, throat tight, to stop the warmth gathering at the back of his eyes.
“Of course.” He whispered. He hitched Pete higher, drawing him closer, until he didn’t know where Pete started and he ended and they would never, ever have to part from each other.
“Ai’Koon Chai, you have all of me. You will never stop being the most special in my eyes.”
Between one breath and the next, their lips met. Closing the gap between them had never been easier, and Ae relished in it, the way that his boyfriend simply opened up to him, yearning and willing and letting him lead them both.
It was long, lingering. Sweet, careful, like Pete was delicate and fragile still. Passion still remained, and would always be there with his boyfriend, but Ae simply let the sensation wash over him, like a hot, lavish tide, not letting it dictate his movements as their mouths and tongues moved against each other, drawing the moment out until it became an almost pleasurable ache that was almost unbearable.
When they finally pulled apart, it was to open their eyes to stare each other with a half-lidded gaze, breathless, mutually adoring.
“So… it’s okay? To call you ‘babe’?” Ae asked, a thumb tracing the swell of the other’s bottom lip. “Honey? Sweetheart? Anything, Pete?”
“Yes,” Pete breathed, hot against Ae’s lips. “Anything Ae wants.”
“Even in front of other people?”
At this, Pete hesitated a little, the flush going down to his neck, but he still nodded.
“Yes. I’d… I’d like that… a lot.”
Oh? Ae’s smile was slowly turning into a grin. Pete’s body was always so honest, telling him more than his words ever would.
“Tell me, then. Who are you then, Ai’Pete? To me.” Ae asked, voice light and completely casual, fingers scratching at the back of his boyfriend’s neck, playing with the short hairs there.
For a moment, the other looked thoroughly confused.
“I’m… your boyfriend?”
Ae shook his head, mirth slowly filling his eyes. “Wrong. Try again.”
Pete’s befuddled expression remained, and as Ae continued to stare at him, waiting patiently, the dots seemed finally to connect, and a fresh wave of embarrassment crossed the other’s face.
His boyfriend immediately looked away, revealing that even his ears were bright red, and Ae resisted the urge to bite them.
When Pete answered, his voice was shy… and completely pleased.
“I’m… I’m Ae’s babe.”
“That’s right.” Ae said approvingly, pulling the other’s face back so he could rub their noses together. It made a giggle burst from Pete’s lips, and it was the most heavenly sound. “But it’s a two way street too, you know? I’m your boyfriend, so feel free to call me whatever you like.”
Pete paused, as if this was a novel idea that never occurred to him. “Ae… is fine with me calling him something like that? Even in front of his friends?”
“Sure.” Ae would probably get the teasing of his life if Pete suddenly started calling him ‘darling’ in front of his friends and teammates, but that was just something he’ll just have to live with. “If it’s you, I don’t mind at all.” He assured the other warmly, voice lightening up in a tease as he squished his boyfriend’s face between his palms. So soft.
“Got anything in mind for me, Ai’Koon Chai?”
At the question, Pete’s went absolutely quiet, body stilling at the thought. For a long while Ae thought the other wouldn’t answer, with the other's eyes sliding to the side, avoiding Ae’s gaze completely.
But then Pete’s mouth moved, lips working almost soundlessly, almost against his will, as his face lit up in another blush.
Ae blinked. Had Pete just said something right now?
“Hm? What was that?”
“Nothing!” Pete squeaked, burying his face into Ae’s chest instead, fingers curling around Ae’s shirt. His body language was utterly mortified, to Ae’s bemusement. “Nothing, Ae. Just thinking.”
Nothing? Ae had a feeling it wasn’t nothing.
“Nothing? Are you sure?” His hands slipped down, slowly, with purpose, before his fingers dug into the sensitive flesh of the other’s sides.
Pete did a full-body shudder, and a yelp escaping his lips as Ae started to tickle the other mercilessly.
“Ae! No! Stop!”
“Not until you tell me. You promised.” Ae threatened playfully, locking his knees around his boyfriend’s hips, keeping him caged until the other finally told him the truth. “Come on, tell me. What were you thinking about?”
A shriek, and then bright, unrestrained laughter.
“No, it’s really nothing! Ae!”
Much later on tonight, Ae, sated and pleasantly tired, would pull the bed covers back to join his boyfriend in peaceful slumber, after the usual post-coital cuddle and cleanup.
There was no better way to end Ae’s day than this, to be surrounded by Pete’s scent in their large, warm bed, to hold him skin to skin and flesh to flesh, to feel the other’s steadily slowing heartbeat against his own. Pete would have latched on to him the moment he felt Ae’s weight sink on the bed, but Ae wouldn’t have minded at all, simply arranging their bodies and limbs so they could lie more comfortably, surrounded by fluffy pillows and thick blankets.
It was only when Ae was sure that Pete was as cozy and snug as he could be would Ae allow himself to lay down beside him, putting an arm around the other, pulling him closer, tighter, as sleep started to tug at his consciousness.
“Ae, I love you.” Pete would murmur against the column of his throat, now littered with a few bites and bruises that would hopefully be hidden tomorrow by the collar of Ae’s shirt.
And Ae would look down at his boyfriend, very much in love, and completely, utterly content.
“Love you too, babe,” he would whisper back, pressing a kiss against the other’s head, before finally drifting off himself.
Khrap Ae, you forgot your cleats at home. Should I go pick it up for you?
Oh, shit. Ae knew he forgot something when he got to class today. Glancing at his phone, he saw there was still some time before the start of this subject, so Ae replied immediately.
It’s fine, you don’t have to. I have a spare in my locker. You still have afternoon classes, right?
The professor cancelled her class, so I should be free! Besides, you like using that pair more, don’t you? Since it fits your feet better.
Pete was right about that, and Ae allowed fondness to fill his chest. His boyfriend knew him so well.
Only because you bought it for me first. Is it really alright? Sorry about this, Koon Chai. I’ll make it up to you.
Don’t be. I’m happy to do it for you!
See you at the football field then, babe?
I’ll meet you there, Ae!
A string of emojis followed.
“Oh, what’s this? Is Ai’Ae texting his precious wife again?” Pond’s voice snickered at his side as the other finally took his seat beside Ae.
“Shut the fuck up, Pond.” Ae answered instantly, not even looking up from his phone as a smile lingered on his face. “Don’t think I’ve forgiven you for yesterday, jackass.”
“Come on, I already said I’m sorry,” Pond whined, putting his bag on the table. “I didn’t think it was that serious. You’re both married to each other at this point, it’s not a big deal. Besides, you and Ai’Pete are okay again, right? You wouldn’t wake me up at the dorm if you were still pissed at me.”
“Don’t make me regret it, you ass.” Ae deadpanned at his best friend, still too much in a good mood to really be irritated by the other right now. Since Pond, as usual damn him, was right, though Ae would never admit it under the pain of death.
“Okay, geez! So touchy,” Pond tutted, and this time Ae almost grabbed at him again if it weren’t for the professor coming in at that exact moment.
The day proceeded normally. Ae went to his classes, hung out with his friends, and texted his boyfriend throughout the day. When his last class ended, Ae went to the football field immediately, but he was too late; Pete was already there, sitting at the bleachers with a paper bag resting on his lap, chatting pleasantly with a group Pond and a few people had secretly and unofficially dubbed ‘the football club wives’.
Pete was one of them, naturally. Another one was P’Tharn, who was doing his usual thrice-weekly visit to wait for his own boyfriend, and surprisingly, Tin was also there, who still looked like he would rather be anywhere else but here, but also didn’t look like he was going to budge from his seat anytime soon. There were other people too, some Ae knew and some he didn’t, depending if one of his teammates had a new relationship or not.
But Ae was there for one person only, and immediately hurried to meet him.
“Ai’Pete! Ah, hello, P’Tharn,” Ae said, offering a wai to the handsome music major, who returned the greeting, eyes crinkling as he smiled. “Here for P’Type?”
“Always, N’Ae,” The senior answered cheerfully, waving towards the field when he caught a glimpse of his boyfriend, before turning back to him. “How are you?”
“I’m doing fine, P’. Sorry, but could I talk to Pete for a few minutes? I just need to get something from him real quick,” Ae said apologetically, and waited for the older to nod at them before offering his hand to his boyfriend, leading him further away from the group for a more private talk.
His boyfriend looked as gorgeous as always, and seeing his usual sweet and happy self eased the small twinge in Ae’s heart that always ached whenever he missed the other, never mind that they just saw each other this morning. “Sorry, did I make you wait?”
“Not at all, Ae. Here.” Pete assured, passing him a paper bag with a shoebox inside. Ae didn’t have to look to know that it was his cleats, his boyfriend definitely would have checked. “Your cleats. I also packed your football jersey, even if you didn’t need it today.”
“Thanks, Koon Chai, you’re the best,” Ae beamed, pinching the other’s cheek lightly in gratitude. “Are you going to stay again to wait for me? You know you could just go home and get some rest.”
“It’s all right.” Pete shook his head, touching the side of his face with a smile. “Besides, I have Tin and P’Tharn to keep me company here. We talk about a lot of topics while we wait together, it’s very interesting.” He continued, earnest. “I’ll be fine.”
Ae slowly raised an eyebrow, but decided not to question it. ‘Football wives’ indeed.
Well, as long as his boyfriend was entertained and happy.
“Okay, I’ll see you later then.” Ae bade and started to leave, pausing when he felt fingers grasp the sleeve of his school uniform.
He turned around, curious, wondering if Pete forgot to say something to him.
The other looked apprehensive, twisting his fingers together as he refused to meet Ae’s eyes, color building up in his cheeks.
Ae tilted his head a little, interest now completely piqued, smiling a little at the cute sight in front of him.
“H-Have a nice practice today… honey.”
Ae stilled. And so did the group of football wives behind them, who were not-too-inconspicuously listening in to their conversation as well.
After a long moment, of Ae just trying to breathe, of trying his best not to pass out of sheer bliss, of getting his brain back online again because oh god Pete just called him honey it’s so nice please call me that again— he let out a small chuckle, reaching up to nudge his knuckles against Pete’s jaw lightly.
“I definitely will. Thanks, babe.”
“You’re both disgusting,” Ae heard Tin inform his boyfriend blandly as he turned around to leave the bleachers, heading down to change into his jersey.
“At least I don’t call my boyfriend my ‘sugar baby,’ Tin, unlike some people,” Pete answered primly, and Ae’s grin could easily split his face in half as he ducked inside the men’s locker rooms, hearing Tin’s loud chokes and P’Tharn’s sudden burst of laughter.