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Em Was a Scaredy Cat

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-5

 

 

They ran.

Ran, and ran, and ran, and ran.

"Kong!" Em shouted. "Wait for us! Oooiii!"

"Just run, Em," Wad huffed beside him. Em pumped his legs more, trying to catch up with his best friend and try to stop him from doing something stupid like, maybe, jumping into the fray once he arrived at the spot where the fight was.

He saw the other turn around a corner and he knew that that was the alley where eyewitnesses had seen the two groups of engineering students fighting it out. It was the alley shared by SSU and FEU.

He didn't know of any tensions that involved students from their university, especially from their faculty, so hearing about this from the older students had been a shock to him. It was of no secret that engineering boys had bad tempers and they had a notorious reputation before. But times were changing and Em knew there had been little to no incidents of fighting that involved engineering students. Or so he thought.

What was worse with their situation now was that their Hazers went to mediate and, well, his best friend's boyfriend was the head hazer, so. The moment Kongpob overheard the latest gossip and extracted all pertinent info from their seniors, he had run like he was being pursued by a thousand zombies. They had no choice but to follow after him, if only to prevent him from doing something stupid.

They arrived at the scene panting and huffing. Kongpob also stopped to catch his breath but he was in a better condition than him, who was doubled over and panting. Tew and Wad were also huffing it out, but like Kongpob, they weren't as winded as him. The only other person who probably felt way worse than him was Oak, who was wheezing against the wall. Tew looked at him in concern.

The scene we arrived to was not what we had been expecting though. That probably contributed as to why Kongpob wasn't in the middle of a fight, trying to extract his precious P'Boyfriend, and getting punched in the process. No. What they saw was... surreal.

Their schoolmates were huddled together and had their heads bowed behind the wall of crimson clad seniors, looking less sorry and more scared. Their seniors, when he turned his attention to them, stood at parade rest, their backs tensed like a snake ready to strike. They were looking on ahead (he really couldn't gauge their reactions because he could only discern a little bit of their side profiles from where he stood) towards another group of... blue-clad engineering students.

Must be FEU seniors, he thought.

Em straightened up, grasping at Kongpob's wrist, who was also tensed and would run towards the two groups in standoff anytime.

"Arthit. You called reinforcements?" said the senior in the middle of the group of blue-workshop jackets.

"What are you talking about, Forth?" he heard his head hazer said in a cool voice, something that had sent chills down his spine. He saw the other senior, Forth, gesture to us with his head, his eyes still focused on P'Arthit.

SSU freshmen and seniors alike glanced at them, and Em had to tighten his grip on his best friend's arm when he saw the state of their Head Hazer's face. The senior had a split lip and there was a bruise beginning to bloom high on his cheek. He shot them a warning glare, though, to not get involve, particularly at his now struggling boyfriend. Tew held on to Kongpob's shoulder to hold him back. Knot slightly shook his head towards them.

"No." Arthit said coolly. "They're not reinforcements."

He faced the other group of seniors again. "I do not wish to let this fight continue. I came here to fetch my wayward juniors. I don't condone fighting. As a head hazer yourself, do you condone this, Forth?" he challenged.

Em saw the other guy clench his jaw, making him look scary. He took a small step toward their head hazer and he was basically towering over him as he had a few inches over their senior. He felt Kongpob tense beside and he put his other hand on the other's shoulder. P'Arthit didn't even flinch though, he still stood rigidly and probably staring hard at the taller guy with how his head had slightly tilted.

He held his breath, along with all the other people present, as the two head hazers seemed to have a staring contest. They waited for what seemed to be an impending fist-fight between the two senior groups and Em panicked, thinking of what he would do in that case. But he didn't have to think of anything though, because the next instant, P'Forth cracked a small smile.

"Feisty as ever, I see," he said. He had to physically restrain his friend when the other senior tapped their head hazer's chin with his curled forefinger. "I really like your attitude, Honey. I'm still waiting for your sweet, sweet yes, Pumpkin."

Em exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Wad, prompting the latter to move closer towards Kongpob to help with the restraining. He heard Kongpob grit his teeth and he felt how his chest rose and fell in a controlled manner. At least he was still keeping his anger in check. They heard the other hazer talk again, and Em dreaded the next words from his mouth.

"So, how about it, Arthit? Wanna go on a date with me? Or if you want, we could go directly to my room an---- hnnnnnnnngggg ooooooooooww...."

He saw the senior double over, clutching at his... crotch?—all the while, emitting a high-pitched whine. At that moment, his admiration for his senior went up a notch. The head hazer, despite being shorter than the other, had had no qualms about kneeing the other in the groin when the latter got inappropriate with his words. He really was a fearless man. He heard a swoosh of breath and he side-eyed his best friend.

Kongpob had an incredulous look on his face, like he couldn't believe that his boyfriend just did that. Gone was the cold glare he was levelling the other senior, and the heart eyes were starting to make an appearance. Em barely resisted the eyeroll.

"Are we done? I think we are done. Knot, let's go." They turned around and faced the other first years.

"Well? Get back on campus! I need to see you at the cheer hall in ten minutes and if one of you is missing, just one missing person, I will personally send you to the dean. I know who all of you are, and I will not hesitate to file a report that will be detrimental on your good standing in the University. Do you want negative marks on your record?"

"N-no, P'..." the wayward group hesitantly mumbled.

"I CAN'T HEAR YOU! ANSWER ME LOUDER!"

"NO, PHI!"

"GO, NOW!"

Em flinched at the volume of his senior, then trembled in fear when his glare found their group. Even if his glare had softened a fraction when he leveled his boyfriend a look, Em still hadn't taken any chances and slightly hid his larger frame behind Oak. Arthit, noticing this, rolled his eyes epically towards him, then gestured with his head that they should go back on campus, too.

Em immediately complied, dragging Oak with him. Wad and Tew followed as they left Kongpob to fuss over his boyfriend. Em didn't dare to look back, opting instead to power walk towards their campus. Hence, he didn't see how Arthit had put on a show (a peck, it was only a peck) to the other group of engineering boys, specifically towards Forth, and how Kongpob had smirked towards the other head hazer. Arthit's blush was not noticed by the other boys, though, as the other SSU hazers made a wall behind the two lovebirds, and only they and Kongpob knew of how their fearless head hazer had turned shy with that little peck.

 

 

-4

 

 

He ran.

Ran, ran, ran, and ran, and ran, and he thought to himself, 'why am I getting into these kinds of situations?'

He reached the canteen and searched out that rowdy group among the sea of white polos and crimson workshop jackets. He found them easily through their loudest friend, laughing like a hyena. He swallowed thickly and uttered a silent prayer to the deities before he marched mechanically towards their table.

"Aw, Nong Em! Why are you here? You look like you're about to pass out, so come sit with us for a while, yeah?" his loudmouth senior said as he noticed him. He probably looked really pale since he was approaching the lions' den voluntarily. He greeted them with the customary wai, managing to make his voice steadier despite his shaking.

"You inviting him to join us would actually make him faint more, you know," Arthit said nonchalantly, and Em felt like he was being mocked. He tried to level a glare at his senior and found that the other was already looking at him and... was that a flash of hurt he saw in his eyes? It was gone in an instant though and he wasn't sure if he imagined it or not.

'Focus, Em. Focus! You're on a mission and time is running out,' he berated himself. Shaking his head mentally, he fortified himself by taking a lungful of air. He released it and began to tell the situation to his seniors, whom he had gained the attention of.

"Kongpob's got into a fight with an econ student. Wad is with him. They are at the open area behind the gym, the one leading to the woody part of the campus. Hurry, P', please! There's only two of them and five of the opponents—"

Arthit dashed away, quickly followed by the rest of the seniors. He followed after them, leaving behind curious engineering students who had already began to speculate about what was happening. Em thanked the gods that nobody tried to follow them.

They arrived at the scene minutes later, with the fight still raging on. Arthit shouted with all his might and the other boys all scrambled when they saw the infamous hazers of the IE department. Kongpob and Wad were left standing, and they managed to hold on their own.

Em observed as Arthit, injured cheek still healing with a faint yellow bruise still marring his handsome features, caress his best friend's face gingerly. He saw another movement from his right and he saw his other senior, Prem, stalk towards his other friend. 'Huh. That's new,' he thought.

"Can you walk?" he heard Arthit ask Kong.

"Yes, I think so," was the mumbled reply, followed by a hissing sound.

"Come on. Let's go to the infirmary."

All of them trudged towards the direction of the infirmary and once there, the nurse on duty fussed over the two injured guys. The hazers stood vigil, Arthit and Prem, nearer on each side of the juniors while the rest were at different areas of the room, chilling. It was façade though, because Em saw how tense the others were, even the ever-joking Bright.

When the nurse had finished checking them over and they were deemed fit – no broken bones, no concussions, thankfully – Arthit started his questioning.

"How did you get into a fight?" he asked gravely at his boyfriend.

Em noticed his best friend getting reluctant and he knew from experience that it would be like pulling teeth to get him to talk when he got like this. He saw Arthit clench his jaw and he thought that senior might have learned about this stubbornness of his friend, might have encountered it a few times in fact, when he observed the head hazer maintain his stoic countenance, planning to out-stubborn the other. The stalemate would've ended earlier if he, himself, recounted the events but he didn't dare say anything, reluctant to garner the elder's laser-like attention. Instead, he made himself as inconspicuous as possible.

"Wad?" he heard Prem say. He took a look at this other friend. Wad was looking stoically at a point on the drab wall opposite him, and acting like he didn't hear anything. Prem huffed in frustration.

"0097!"

Em jumped in surprise as his student number got shouted. He turned fearful eyes towards their head hazer, gulping audibly. Now, he'd done it.

"Y-yes, Phi?"

"What happened," Arthit said lowly. Em glanced at his best friend, who had a wide-eyed look and a nearly imperceptible shake of his head, then to his senior, who was looking at him like he was challenging him to lie. He then turned to look at the other first year, and Wad was side-eyeing him, waiting for whatever he would do. Em was torn. Should he tell the truth? He should tell the truth, shouldn't he? He didn't know why Kongpob refused to tell his boyfriend the root of the fight, and he was pretty sure that Wad was just going with the flow with his silence.

"U-uhm..."

"Hey, c'mon now, nong. You can tell us. Don't mind Scowly Mcgrowly here," Bright said with his usual loudness. Right on cue, Arthit growled, as if cementing Bright's point. Em was irrationally frightened even though he knew that his senior wasn't growling at him.

"Don't mind them, Nong. We just need to know the reason so we would know how to act, or else this might happen again. We need to address this as early as possible," Knott interjected. "And before Arthit wages a war on those students," he said in afterthought.

"I won't!" protested Arthit.

"U-huh." Knot leveled Arthit a look. The latter didn't acknowledge this, turning his attention to Em instead.

"C'mon, 0097. Tell us. Do you want your best friend to get hurt again?" he said. Em looked at Kongpob again, saw the bruises marring his skin, the split lip, the blood...

"They picked on Kong because he is dating a man. They said that as a Campus Moon, he should be straight and setting a better example to all the students in the university..." he said while looking down on his shoes.

He heard a sharp intake of breath and he hazarded a look. He saw the head hazer leveling his best friend with an inscrutable look and Kongpob was looking at him with teary eyes.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Arthit silently asked the younger.

He watched as Kongpob grasped the older's wrist, a pleading look on his face. He shook his head slightly in response to the older's question.

"0062, answer me!"

"Because I'm afraid of how you would react!"

Arthit and Kongpob ended up staring at one another, leaving a very awkward and tense atmosphere in the room. Knot, anticipating that Bright would have a smartass comment ready, immediately slapped a hand over the other's mouth. Em felt guilty with how the situation was unfolding. He didn't expect a fight between the lovers as an outcome of his confession.

"And what did you think my reaction would be, Kongpob?" Arthit said quietly, too quietly. There was a dangerous note on his voice that Em was quite sure was a warning to his best friend that he should watch what he should say next. Kongpob looked helplessly at his boyfriend, his eyes shining. He shook his head in answer.

"Answer the damn question, Kongpob."

"I thought that you would overthink again and blame yourself that I got hurt, okay?! That you would distance yourself again from me just because of these hateful comments from other people! That after all the months we shared, you'd choose to leave me because this is the reality of us, the reality of people in same sex relationships! I'm afraid that you would throw this relationship away because of the opinion of a handful of people!"

Silence permeated the room after Kongpob's outburst. It was only broken by his harsh breaths, but other than that, the others were as speechless as Arthit himself. Em watched through the curtain of hair of Kongpob's bowed head as fat drops of tears fell to his lap. His hand was still gripping Arthit's wrist while his other hand was clenched tight on his lap.

He couldn't do anything. Guilt ate him up from the inside and he felt nauseous. He didn't want to be the reason to break up a relationship, his best friend's relationship.

"Knot? Do you know which faculty they are from?" Arthit said in a monotonous voice, still staring straight at his boyfriends bowed head. He heard the sniffles that alerted him to the fact that the other was crying but he didn't move to comfort the other. Not yet, anyway. He still had things to do, and, well, he didn't know, exactly how to comfort the younger. He felt the tight grip on his wrist start to loosen until the warmth completely disappeared. He felt as if the younger was starting to slip through his fingers and he panicked. He couldn't have that, no. So he hurriedly grabbed the hand and threaded this fingers through the other's and held on tight. Kongpob looked at him with a surprised look on his face.

"Sciences," Tutah replied. "I already got them. Their hazing team has them at the football grounds. They're waiting for us. What should I tell them?"

Arthit took a deep breath and exhaled it, looking at the other hazers one by one, coming into an understanding with that simple glance. Lastly, he turned to his boyfriend, who had by that time been laying his head on top of his bended knees, looking at their intertwined hands reverently.

"Kong? I'll go deal with this first, okay?"

Kongpob hummed in reply. Arthit stared at his boyfriend for a few seconds more, gauging his reaction, then reluctantly let go of his hand, but not without a gentle squeeze. After that, they all filed out of the infirmary, leaving the three freshmen behind.

Em, still feeling guilt over the situation, hesitantly approached Kongpob. He sat gingerly at the bed where the other was sitting and stared worriedly at the slumped figure, who had buried his face on his knees.

"What Em?" Kongpob asked tiredly, not bothering to raise his head to face the other.

"I just want to say I'm sorry. I didn't know that this would happen. I only thought that the hazers were right, that this kind of bullying should be stopped before it became a full-blown issue here at university. I mean, we're already at uni and there are still people like that..."

"It's okay, Em. I do understand. It was the most rational thing to do and I should've been more honest with him from the start..."

"D'you... wanna talk about it?" Em asked. He heard Kong heave a sigh and then the latter was raising his head.

Kongpob moved up on the bed so that he was leaning against the wall, then he faced Em. He also looked at Wad, and gave him a brief smile, a thank you for sticking to him and for helping him out. The other nodded at him, then crossed his arms against his chest, also waiting for his answer to Em's question.

"I guess, I was feeling insecure... That if I told him that they beat me up just because I was in a homosexual relationship, that I am in a relationship with him, then he would overthink things again, and try to break up with me. I remember the days when my relationship with P'Arthit was fairly new. He was always overthinking things and instead of asking me, he just assumed things. We nearly broke up, two weeks into our relationship, and it was all because of an off-hand comment that I said when we were on our first date."

"What did you say?" Wad asked.

"Well, I told him about wanting to have a child in the future."

"Woah! Dude, that's not cool! No wonder he tried to break up with you!" Em said.

"What? Why? It's just a harmless comment! And it's still so far into the future that we were talking about!"

"Okay, first? It's not that far into the future, Kong. We're young adults already and a few years down the line, we'd be graduating and start thinking about having a family. Second... think, Kongpob, think! P'Arthit is a man! He can't bear your child, and nor can you. So P'Arthit would think that he doesn't deserve you because you expressed about wanting a child in the future, something that he couldn't give to you!"

"Em. Natural pregnancy isn't the only way to have a child. There's adoption. There's also surrogacy. It doesn't really matter at all if my child would be my flesh and blood. A child is a child, I will love them no matter what."

Em had no rebuttal for that.

"And have you talked to him about what you said? To P'Arthit?" Wad asked. Kongpob faltered.

"Uh... Actually, we haven't talked about that at all... We've already reconciled and I didn't want to upset the calm that we are in."

"You have to talk to him about that. It's clearly eating at you, and you've carried this worry in all the months that you've been together. You may not have realized this but I think you're walking around the elephant in the room without acknowledging it, thus, it's making you overthink about these things too that you failed to notice your partner's growth with regards to your relationship. I think that's what is making you have doubts with him."

Kongpob contemplated Wad's words, questions upon questions flooding his brain with regards to his relationship and his boyfriend. The three of them were silent for a while, then Em broke the silence.

"I still don't get how you are not scared of him. Of P'Arthit. I mean, just look at this."

He offered his phone to Kongpob, which he had been fiddling with for a while now. On the screen was a video on pause. Wad moved towards them and crowded against Kongpob's other side so he could also see. They played the video.

Red workshop jackets were lined properly at parade rest, facing five students in white uniform. They recognized them as their assaulters, and it left them wondering.

"Is this live?" Kongpob asked.

"Yes, I think so."

"Wait, but they're not our seniors' first years? They shouldn't have this kind of power over them."

"There is another group of seniors overseeing the situation. See that guy with his arms crossed against his chest standing to the side? He's one of the Sciences hazers. The camera had actually panned out towards them a while ago. Oh my god, he's starting to punish them. Jeez. See what I mean, Kong? Your boyfriend is scary. Second to him in the scariness scale is Wad's boyfriend."

"The fuck are you talking about?"

"Are you gonna deny the sticky longing looks that you level him? I learned how to distinguish those looks thanks to Kong, right here."

"Hey!"

"At least Kongpob got his man. That's saying something, unlike you who's still pining over May for months now."

"Low blow, bro..."

"Shh, I can't hear what they're saying!"

They continued to silently watch after that, intently looking at the screen as the younger students were punished by their very own hazers, Engineering style. It was just a fraction of what they had been through, though, and they were already looking worse for wear. They watched as P'Arthit stopped them and said something to the students. His voice was too low, though, that the phone didn't catch it. Whatever it was, the assaulters had looked pale afterwards as the crimson jacketed students walked away from the scene.

"See?! Your boyfriend is so sca—Why the fuck are you smiling? Oh no, do you get off when he orders you around like that?!" Em looked at his best friend, aghast, while Wad started to snicker. Kongpob leveled them with an unamused stare.

"He's not like that most of the time, okay? Not really. He's just a sweet cinnamon roll, all fluffy and whatnot."

"Yeah right," Wad snorted. "The glares he levels you whenever you flirt with him are testaments to that."

"And I always feared for your life during those times because you are very persistent with your teasing. You know that song? That dumb ways to die one? Yeah, you're Hapless, that yellow blob who poked a grizzly bear with a stick. Sooner or later, you'll provoke him too much that he will really kill you." Em reiterated.

Kongpob studied his friends gauging their reactions. His eyes widened when he saw that they truly believed what they just said.

"Wait, are you serious? You really believe that P'Arthit is that scary?" he asked incredulously.

"Well, yeah..." answered Em.

"Hmm, well. A little bit maybe. I'm not scared of him or anything, unlike Em, but I do feel wary around him," was Wad's answer. Kongpob was left speechless.

"I—wow. His acting was realistic then. His gruff nature is actually just an act, you know. He's really friendly when you get to know him. Well, you may think that he's aloof but in reality, he's really just a reserved person. That's just his nature. You can say that he's an introvert. Why don't we try hanging out with them more? You know, get to know our seniors after all the things we've been through—"

"I'm gonna stop you right there, Kong. I could barely talk whenever I am in your boyfriend's presence, and you expect me to face the five of them combined? Are you trying to give me stroke? Or an aneurysm?"

"Why are you so over dramatic, Em? Why are you scared of the seniors so much? Hazing is over and they just want to develop a good Phi-Nong relationship with us."

"They're intimidating, alright!"

"How?"

"Of course, you wouldn't know this because you're the goddamn fearless hero of our batch who constantly headbutted with the seniors. And you even managed to make the scary Head Hazer your boyfriend! Of course, you wouldn't understand the struggles I have. You know that I have always been easily intimidated by other people since we were young right? I haven't changed that much, Kong. And the Hazers, they have this, this aura surrounding them, a commanding presence, that I surely don't have. I am more of a follower than a leader, and I am fairly happy where I am right now."

"Em..." Kongpob said, feeling lost.

He didn't know what to say to his best friend because what Em said? They were the true, and it was okay. Kongpob understood that, understood that part of him. But he also wanted for his friend to ease up to their seniors, especially to his boyfriend, because he knew that his P'Arthit also wanted to get to know his juniors better. He felt a sense of responsibility for his Nongs and he was trying to shed off his harsh head hazer persona so that the juniors would be more comfortable with approaching him. So far, his other classmates had started to get a little less leery of the seniors. He wanted to erase the stigma they left, that they were nothing but slave driver seniors, and instead he wanted them to see what he saw himself: that the seniors were trying to teach them how it was gonna be outside the university, and trying to give them guidance with their studies.

"Have you forgotten what you did during that time when P'Arthit made Kongpob leave the cheer hall?" Wad said. "I think you should see yourself in a more positive light. You're more than what you think you are. You have more courage than what you think you have. You went to them today. On your own. Even if you'd rather avoid them like the plague. You see, you're more courageous than what you think you are."

"Wow, that's the longest you've ever said to anyone, and they're even words of wisdom," Em tried to joke.

"Don't change the subject, Em. You know that Wad's right. You have more courage than you know."

"Fine, fine. How about this? All of us, and I mean all of us, even the girls, will be included in this hangout that you're planning. I need more barrier between me and your boyfriend."

"Fine. I'll ask the others later. We should do something simple though, like maybe tutoring sessions?"

"That's not a bad idea. I need help with my calculus. And also mechanics. Damn mechanics."

"Let's set a date then."

 

 

-3

 

 

He cast his eyes around the busy canteen again in the hopes of finding an unoccupied table but it seemed like it was a lost cause. He turned towards his friends.

"Hey there's no empty—hey, where are you going?" Em asked in bewilderment.

"There," Maprang answered pointing at the far corner of the canteen. He followed the direction of her hand as he walked alongside them. He visibly paled when he saw where she was pointing at, the obnoxious waving of a man in red workshop jacket getting the attention of some people around.

"Are you crazy?!" Em hissed at his friends who had no qualms whatsoever to follow Maprang.

"Oh, c'mon Em! It's been months since the last hazing. Why are you still shaking in fear whenever you see them? And since Kongpob dates the head hazer, you shouldn't be this terrified anymore! I'm sure you hang out with your friend's boyfriend, right?" Prae berated him.

"Are you crazy?! No way in hell will I hang out with someone so—"

"Em..." Kong muttered, looking a little bit hurt at him. The others all looked at him with varying degrees of incredulity and challenging eyes.

"Err... Sorry Kong. It's just... P'Arthit's still intimidating, you know. It's not that I don't want to hang out with him, it's just that... I don't know how to interact with him after... being scared shitless of him for a long while..."

Kongpob studied his face and he squirmed under the scrutiny.

"Just... can you please try to look beyond his gruff exterior? He's really not a bad person, I promise. You know that I am a good judge of character, we were trained to do that, remember?"

"Oh, I know he's a good person. That doesn't change the fact that he's got a larger-than-life aura, you know, like alpha vibes coming from him are in troves."

"What is he, a wolf?!" Oak intervened.

"No, he's an ABO character," snickered Maprang.

"What's an ABO?" Tew asked.

"Alpha-Beta-Omega dynamics. Oooh, Maprang! If P'Arthit's an alpha then Kong could only be..."

"An omega," finished May.

"You read...?" Maprang asked in barely concealed excitement.

"My guilty pleasure," May said, blushing.

The boys were all looking at the girls weirdly, not understanding what the hell they were talking about. Kongpob, in particular, had a bemused look on his face, wary of the way the girls were talking about him and his boyfriend.

The three girls squealed together. "Fujoshi rules!!!!"

Then they were off towards the direction of the seniors, gushing about something that the boys couldn't understand. The others could only exchange glances.

--_--

The juniors joined the seniors at their table, and even though they snagged one of the longer tables at the canteen, they still barely fit. The girls manipulated the seating arrangement in such a way that the boyfriends were sitting next to each other while the three of them sat opposite them, so that they could secretly have the "best view in the house". Kongpob was still looking warily at them because of how they were grinning at him and his boyfriend. Arthit, sensing the weird atmosphere, scowled at the freshmen girls, making them behave in their seats and act nonchalantly.

"P', thanks for sharing the table with us," Kongpob told the seniors in general, the others following his example.

"Don't worry about it, N'Kong! It's our pleasure. And it is especially someone's pleasure," Tutah replied, a cheeky grin on his face. Arthit shot him a warning glare, which was promptly ignored.

Em could admit, their hazers were quite hilarious to hang out with, especially when they tease each other. Their group dynamics were admirable and they could tease each other without really offending each other. But he guessed that this was one of those days that this statement wasn't true. At all. It all started with their light bantering, with P'Arthit their target.

Em watched his senior's expression as it progressively got darker and more tumultuous. He thought that Kongpob noticed it too. Then he saw his friend's hand disappear beneath the table and Em was sure that he had laid it on the other's thigh in comforting gesture. He knew it because he watched his senior lose some of the tension in his frame after Kong's simple gesture. P'Bright and P'Tutah were still going at it, not noticing that their friend was not amused with their antics anymore.

"Oh yeah! You've got to hear this, N'Kong! A while ago, just this morning, a cute girl approached your princess here! —"

"Bright," Arthit growled out. The other hazers got clued in to the fact that their friend wasn't amused and tried to call out a warning to their loudmouth friend, but said friend didn't heed them.

"She was all bashful and so very cute and she asked him out. N'Kong, he asked him out! This guy, who always looked like he had swallowed a lemon! And, here's the funny part. He blushed and stuttered!" Bright laughed out.

Em hazarded a look at the couple, and he saw that Kongpob had his head bowed. His senior was looking at his friend worriedly though and Em was pretty sure that he was grasping Kong's hand under the table. His senior's face morphed, though, into a scary blank look when he turned to his codeline senior. This reminded him that he was still the scary head hazer of their batch. He leaned unconsciously away from where Bright was seated, afraid to be caught in the crossfire. He still valued his life.

"Are you done?" Arthit asked coldly. Em felt a shiver run down his spine. His senior finally sensed the dangerous aura from his friend, his laugh tapering off into a nervous chuckle. Everyone at the table exchanged uncertain looks.

"Bright? I will fucking eradicate you. Mark my words." with that parting words, Em watched as his head hazer stand from his seat, revealing in the process his and Kong's twined hand. He gave a gentle tug at his best friend's hand, prompting Kong to meekly stand and follow after his boyfriend. Everyone watched them leave, hand in hand, until they disappeared around the corner.

Knot delivered a not so gentle smack on their friend, eliciting a protest from Bright, which died in his throat when he saw how his friends were glaring at him.

"You've gone too far with your teasing." Prem gritted.

"Are you trying to break up a good relationship?" Tutah hissed.

"You know very well that that's not what really happened. He may have frozen up when the girl confessed to him but he didn't blush nor stutter. He very calmly rejected the girl. You know it. You saw it and heard him. So why the fuck are you embellishing the story so much? Why are you such an ass Bright?" Knot said angrily.

"What? What did I do?! I was just teasing him!"

"Didn't you see N'Kong's reaction?! He was clearly upset by this! You probably don't know this but Arthit is probably feeling insecure that he isn't a girl that could "properly date" N'Kongpob. And I bet you my fortune that N'Kong also feels the same way! They are new into this same-sex relationship and insecurities about your gender? That's a major thing that people could feel and if not resolved efficiently, could make the couple break!" Tutah fumed.

"Arthit had been stressing about that at the start of their relationship. I guess it's N'Kong's turn now. And you. You just started a fire. Have you forgotten what happened at the infirmary when N'Kong and N'Wad got beat up? He's also got his own sets of insecurities, you dumb dipshit! You should start praying to all the gods that you know that Arthit could talk some sense with his boyfriend and that they could resolve this, or else you'll really get it from Arthit this time."

"But I still don't get what I've done! Okay fine, I embellished a little but I was about to tell that Arthit rejected the girl!"

"Oi, dimbulb. In case you haven't noticed, the stuttering and blushing that Arthit does are his reactions towards his favorite junior's flirting. Now, if your boyfriend reacted with that same combination towards other people's flirting, wouldn't you grow uncertain, too?"

"Oh, how would he know? He hasn't even been in a single committed relationship in his life!" Tutah mocked.

"Oh..."

"Do you understand now?" Knot asked, a little bit annoyed.

"Yeah... I, uhh... I'm sorry..."

"You shouldn't be telling us that."

"Y-yeah, I just... I must let them talk first, right? Then I'll go apologize?"

"Oh, finally! You still have a pea-sized brain!"

"Hey, I'm serious!"

"What do you think, asshole?"

"Uhhh... maybe I should do just that."

 

 

-2

 

 

They decided to chill at the bar near their campus after the gruelling finals they just had. It was the end of their first year and they just want to unload all of their stress and frustrations. They also want to celebrate, of course, for finally being free of their course load for the following few weeks.

They arrived at the bar and it was already bustling with activity. They saw some familiar faces among the crowd, seniors and juniors alike, and they greeted whoever they got into contact with. Em spied a vacant table near the back and he gestured at his friends towards it. They beelined towards it and plopped down on the seats, Em belatedly noticing the occupants of the neighboring table. He straightened at his seat, the others looking at him in question when he did so.

"Sawasdee Khap, P'," he wai-ed, the others following his lead when they realized who he was looking at.

"Aw, 0097! And our favorite juniors too! What a coincidence, Nong!" Bright exclaimed.

"Are you here to chill out, too?" asked Knot asked them.

"Yes, P'. The finals had been too rough, and the exams were daunting. We just want to unwind after these several weeks of stress," Tew answered them. The other first years groaned and nodded their agreement.

"By the way, thank you for guiding us P'. Those tutoring sessions had been a godsent," Tew added.

"Yes, yes! I think I aced my calculus exam because of you, P'!" Oak exclaimed.

"Aw, you're welcome Nong. You can come to us whenever you needed advice or tutoring. We are your seniors, after all," Knot replied amicably.

"Aw, Knot! Are you crazy? This is the time that we could earn some money for tutoring our juniors!" Bright yelled.

"OI, Asshole Bright! You only think about taking advantage of other people!" Prem berated, delivering a slap on his head for good measure.

"You're lucky, Arthit isn't here to hear about you taking advantage of his 0062." Tutah added.

"I'm not taking advantage of him! Right, 0062?"

Kongpob laughed awkwardly at the senior.

"Speaking of Arthit, what's taking him so long? He just needs to order more beers..." Prem observed, craning his neck towards the busy bar counter.

"Oh, let me fetch him for you, P'," Kongpob volunteered.

"Oooii, you just can't wait to see your waifu, N'Kong! Go on ahead, then," Tutah teased.

"You got me, P'."

"I'll go with you. We also need to order our drinks."

Kongpob and Em stood from their table and navigated through the bustling bar. They went through the throngs of bodies mingling and huddled together on the floor. Em was the first to notice his senior, and he dragged his best friend towards his direction. Kongpob let himself be led, his eyes finally finding his boyfriend.

Em had to stop in his advances though when he saw the other guy almost invading his senior's space. Beside him, he could feel his best friend freeze, and he hazarded a look on the other. Kongpob's face was blank but there was the telltale sign of his jaw tightening. He tightened his grip on the other's wrist.

"Don't start a fight, Kong," he murmured lowly. He felt how the other forced himself to relax. They advanced towards the senior again, then stopping when they were at arm's length. He felt Kongpob stiffen up again beside him when they heard what the stranger said to their senior.

"C'mon, angel. Let me buy you a drink. Just one."

"Go ahead. You can buy me a drink if, and only if you buy my boyfriend a drink, too!" they heard their senior utter in an obnoxiously happy tone that made it very apparent that it was fake.

Em saw how the other guy scowl at his senior then plaster another sleazy smile on his face, undeterred by the other's obvious rejection.

"Aww, c'mon sweetie. Don't be shy! Ask me out. I know you want to. Because everybody wants to. Who wouldn't want to go out with me?"

The two friends turned to look at each other. They both have the same disbelieving looks on their faces at how pompous the guy was.

"I really wanna punch him," Kongpob said through gritted teeth and Em had to tighten his grip when Kong started towards the pair. Probably to do just that.

"Okay then. Go out."

Em couldn't hold back his snicker, and neither could Kong.

"What?"

"Wow. Were you asleep when the gods gave out intelligence and beauty? Because you certainly missed out on them."

"Damn, P'Arthit's savage," Em said wondrously. Kongpob could only nod in agreement, now fully realizing how lucky he was that he hadn't received these savage comebacks when he was shamelessly flirting with him. Huh, maybe he was liked by his senior even without the older realizing it.

"You little bitch!" the guy said, reaching out to grab Arthit. Em and Kongpob were frozen for a few precious seconds before they were spurned into action.

But they needn't to worry because their senior managed to catch the hand and twisted it behind the man, who was bigger than their Phi, by the way. The guy cried out in pain.

"Scram, you filthy motherfucker!" Arthit hissed dangerously. He let go and the guy left with one last glance at their senior.

Em was made aware of the stares that everybody within their vicinity were leveling at Arthit: some warily, and those who were nearer than the others who had probably heard their exchange, looked on at him with admiration. The bartender was raising an eyebrow at their head hazer though.

"Sorry about that," he heard his senior mumble. He felt a tug at his hand and he looked at his best friend. Kongpob gestured towards their senior and they started to move closer towards their senior.

They greeted their senior and Arthit turned towards them, surprised.

"Aw, did you just get here?" their head hazer asked.

"Err—"

"No, P'Arthit. We were here for a few minutes already," Kongpob answered.

Em shrunk under his senior's scowl, the image of the slightly smaller man twisting the guy's arm behind his back still fresh in his mind.

"Then why the fuck didn't you help me out with that, that sleazeball!" Em flinched at his senior's murderous look.

"Well, I wanted to, P'. But I saw how you handled it yourself. I was planning on interfering when he turned physical but then, you got him and there was no need for me to help you out. And I also wasn't sure if my help would've been welcome since, you know, we're both men, and I didn't want to insult your masculinity? Or something..."

Arthit's look softened on them and he let out his annoyance in a sharp release of breath.

"Next time, when you see me being approached by someone very persistent, you have my permission to intervene. Because, jeez, talking to an imbecile who didn't know the meaning of 'no' is very exhausting."

"Okay P'Arthit. I'll be sure to be your knight in shining armor," Kongpob happily complied, beaming his very wide smile.

"Who the fuck told you that you're a knight in shining armor?"

Em silently skirted around the two lovers who had turned to each other and did their weird flirting. He told the bartender his orders then nudged at his best friend when they arrived. They gathered their drinks and went back to their table, the two still within their own world. Em knew that it would be hard to engage Kongpob when he got like this with his boyfriend, not that he would dare attempt to drag the attention of his friend away from his senior. He didn't have a death wish, you know.

 

 

-1

 

 

"And I told you I am busy that day! Why can't you understand that Kongpob, huh?!"

Em approached the table, hidden behind tall bushes, warily. He could just make out Kongpob's side profile from where he stood and he couldn't see his senior at all. He had been looking for his best friend for the past few minutes, and finally found him on the secluded corner of the campus park where he knew some couples had dates sometimes. His best friend and their head hazer were among those couples, apparently. He faltered in his steps when he heard Kongpob answered in a low, tone, sensing the sadness poorly hidden behind his voice.

"And... can I ask the reason why, P'?"

"I just... I-I have a prior engagement. I... am meeting with my high school friends! Yes! I'm meeting with them and I haven't seen them in a very long time!"

"Oh..."

"Y-yeah. So, I really can't go out with you Saturday next week..."

"Uhm..."

"What is it? Spit it out, 0062."

"Are you..." he heard Kongpob hesitate. This was the first time he heard the other so very unsure like this.

"By high school friends, d'you mean P'Namtarn?"

"H-huh? O-oh yes..."

"Oh..."

"Uhm. What about it?"

"Nothing! Nothing, P'. It's just that... I-I... Oh, look at the time! P'Arthit, I need to go. Em and I are supposed to meet for our paired project. I'll-I'll see you later, P'. Bye."

"Kongpob, wait!"

Em, hurried away from the scene before someone, namely P'Arthit, noticed his presence and got yelled at for eavesdropping.

--_--

"Hey Kong," Em called out, acting nonchalantly.

"Oh, hey Em," the other answered, a painfully fake smile painted on his lips. "Where've you been? I was looking for you."

"Well, I went looking for you, too. You were late so I went around campus to find you but I didn't, so I went back here."

"Oh... we must've been missed each other then, when we went looking for each other," Kong laughed awkwardly. Em knew that the other was lying, that Kongpob didn't go around the campus to look for him. He knew that after the disastrous talk he had overheard just a few minutes ago, the other went directly to the place where they agreed to meet. He knew it because he had followed his best friend from that secluded park.

"So, shall we begin?"

Em stared at his friend for a long time, and he could see that the other was trying too hard to act all happy. He wasn't succeeding though, not by a long shot.

"You know what? Let's do this in your room. It's more comfortable that way."

"What? But—"

"C'mon Kong. Let's stop by the convenience store on the way and buy snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. Let's make this a sleepover just like when we were in middle school!"

"O-okay?"

"Great! Now c'mon!"

True to his words, Em did drag Kongpob to the store to buy food and got take-outs too, for their dinner. The former observed the latter and felt satisfaction when a real smile peeked after a while. It was really painful to see his best friend, who he had been told by countless women and few men that has a very warm smile. He patted his back mentally for this achievement.

They trudged their way back towards Kong's dorm and settled in, starting their report. With them focused on their work, the report was finished even before the clock hit nine in the evening, and they were left to enjoy the rest of their time. They played online games for a while, co-oping for that open world MMORPG on their laptops. Kong kept on berating him for trash talking the other players who had joined their world, and it seemed like the other was back to his normal self.

Or so he thought.

After they got tired of abusing their computer mouses and keyboards, they decided to watch a movie instead. Kongpob had started to overthink things again and the atmosphere suddenly became suffocating. Em couldn't take it anymore.

"Okay. Stop all your maudlin thoughts. It's cramping my style," Em declared, pausing the video on his laptop screen.

"You don't have style," was Kongpob's automatic answer.

"For a depressed potato, you sure are sassy."

Kongpob levelled him with an unimpressed glare.

"Look, when I told you I went looking for you a while ago? I lied. Oh wait, I didn't lie. I just omitted the fact that I had found you before we met at the meeting spot."

Kongpob's glare hardened.

"Hey, c'mon. Stop looking at me like that. I'm not the one who had made you a depressive shit. I heard the tail end of your and P'Arthit's conversation. Wait, close your mouth, I'm still not done. I didn't mean to eavesdrop but you know that I hesitate to approach you whenever P'Arthit's within the vicinity. I still get jumpy around him, okay? But yeah, I heard what you were talking about. I know that you wanted to spend your special day with your boyfriend but if he really had prior engagement, maybe you should understand him a little bit? I mean I haven't seen him with anyone other than the other hazers so I am guessing he hadn't met with his high school friends in a long while, right? Maybe you could ask him to have a date with you on the day after. I know it's not gonna be the same but you'll get more opportunities to spend your birthday with him in the future, won't you? I know how smitten you are to that scary person and that makes me believe that you will try you damnedest best to keep him by your side for a very long time. So how about you forgive him for this one missed birthday?"

Kongpob stared at him like he grew a second head.

"Okay, who are you and what did you do to my idiot gamehead friend?"

"Hey! I take offense to that?"

"What, being called idiot?"

"No, gamehead! I'm not Oak."

"I am speechless. I do not have words. So, are you giving me explicit consent to call you idiot?"

"Wha—No!"

Kongpob broke into a smile, which then turned into a full-blown laugh. Em joined him after a while, the movie forgotten. After their laughing fit, Em spoke up again, just to make sure that his best friend was truly alright.

"So, are you okay now?" He watched the other fake another smile. He frowned. What's bothering him still?

"Spill," Em demanded. Kongpob looked at him uncomfortably and seeing his serious face, gave up on the idea of denying things. He sighed in defeat.

"I guess, I'm insecure? Jealous? Both?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"Why are you such an idiot and an asshole?" Kongpob glared.

Em shrugged in reply, then gestured for the other to continue. When the other didn't elaborate, Em prompted him.

"Why are you jealous? You know that you managed to catch the scary head hazer with your net of charms, right?"

"P'Arthit is not a fish."

"Depends on how you're gonna answer the question of why are you jealous? He could be fish-brained instead of just being a metaphorical fish."

"Urg, Em! Fine, I am jealous of P'Namtarn, okay? You heard the name being mentioned right?"

"Oh yeah! You did mention her. But why are you jealous of her? Is she an ex-girlfriend?"

"She's not. But she had been P'Arthit's long time crush. Like he had been pining over her since they were in high school until he met me. She had been his love interest for a long time, and well, she's a girl, Em. Something that I'm not."

"Oh. Oooh. Yeah, first love..."

"Don't rub it in, please," Kong groaned out.

"But Kong, he didn't make a move on her or they would've been together during the hazing, right? You said he had been pining over her, so that gives you an advantage already."

"How so?"

"Well, he likes you enough to have made a move on you," Em shrugged.

"Em. I was the one who made a move on him."

"Oh. Right. How could I ever forget those cringey flirting that resulted to us getting punished,"Em deadpanned. "You are Cringe."

"That's not a proper sentence."

"It is. It's slang. Shut it, grammer nazi."

"Did you just say gram-MER?"

"Yeah. I'm annoying you. Is it working?"

"Hell yeah, it is. And you know it."

"Chill bro. Back to your situation. It doesn't matter that she was his ex-crush. You're his current love interest. Had he made you feel otherwise? I need to ask you this because I still cannot see past his terrifying scowl. It seems like most of the time I am in your presence, he still scowling at you, even if you're his boyfriend."

"You're not wrong. He is scowling at me."

"Oh. Well. WHY ARE YOU DATING A SCARY PERSON? KONGPOB!"

Kongpob chuckled at his best friend's antics.

"Tsundere, Em. I'm a sucker for tsunderes."

"P'Arthit? Tsundere?" Kongpob nodded and chuckled at Em's gobsmacked expression. Em thought back to all the past interactions between Kongpob and his senior that he had witnessed and remembered how the senior's cheeks had always turned pink whenever Kongpob had been flirting and teasing the other.

"Huh. I think you're right! He is a tsundere!"

"Do you get it now?"

"I am seeing him in a new light, thanks. P'Arthit... A tsundere..."

"Don't go falling in love with him now. He's mine."

"I'm straight, as far as I know. And I'm also not a masochist. Anyway, back on topic. I still think that you have the advantage over this girl because, first, you're the only one who could make P'Arthit blush like that. Second, she might be his first love, and I still stand by this, but he still chose you. He was receptive of your flirting, you know this, because we've seen him in action when he turned down that sleazy guy at the bar. He also kneed that senior from another school when he began flirting with him. He didn't do any of those with you. He accepted you, he did something with his attraction to you. That's already more than what he had done with his first love. And if he hadn't done anything with her, then I'm guessing you are his first everything?"

Kongpob blushed and nodded his head.

"Well, he is my first everything, too," he mumbled.

"Do you see my point now? I don't think you have anything to worry about him meeting his ex-crush. Their status are just good friends. You're his boyfriend. End of story."

Kongpob smiled gratefully at his best friend, feeling lighter than before.

"Thanks Em. I knew you liked P'Arthit as a person."

Em shrugged in reply and started to bully Kong into a better position so that he could sleep. Minutes later, when both of them were lying down on the bed and staring at the ceiling, a thought occurred to Em.

"Fuck, why am I helping you with your relationship problem with the scary head hazer? Am I crazy?" he said aloud. Kongpob only laughed in reply.

--_--

Em kept questioning his life decisions. Like, why did he always put himself in danger? Was he a masochist? But he didn't like pain. Then what was he? Why was he marching down the hallway and outside towards the line of trees a few meters away from their faculty building's entrance? Why was he approaching the pride of ferocious lions basking under the canopy of trees, him a tasty gazelle to the hungry lions? Okay, enough with the wildlife metaphors.

He stopped at their table and cleared his throat to get their attention. Five pairs of eyes zeroed in on him and he felt cold sweat run down his nape.

"Sawasdee Khrap, P'..."

"Watdee Nong,"

"Uhm, can I talk to P'Arthit for a while? Eek!"

Said senior leveled him with a suspicious look and he was berating himself for being so stupid as to have approached them on his lonesome. He should've grabbed Tew with him since that guy was taller than him.

"What is it, Nong? Tell me, quick."

"U-uh, c-can we talk pri-privately, P-P'?" Again, Em was questioning his own sanity. Alone with the scary head honcho, the leader of the pride? Suicide mission.

He saw the hazers exchange amused glances, and even Arthit seemed amused if his raised eyebrow and the slight quirk on his lips were anything to go by.

"Uuh, should I call the infirmary in advance, Nong? So that when you faint, there's gonna be a bed waiting for you?" Arthit asked sweetly.

Bastard, Em cursed in his head.

"No, P'. Let's just talk somewhere else, please?"

Arthit shrugged his shoulders and slammed his book shut. He stood up from his seat and gestured for the younger to lead the way. They went to a more secluded corner where there were no other students present.

"P'Arthit..."

"What is it Nong?"

"I... Please stop doing, uhh, whatever you're doing to Kongpob?"

Em watched as his senior's nonchalant expression turn darker.

"And what am I doing to Kongpob?" he asked lowly.

"You're hurting him! I don't know if you've noticed, P'Arthit, but Kongpob, he's not always the confident guy that everyone sees. He also has his doubts! So, stop hurting him with your words, P'. If you're just yanking his chains around, then you better stop all of this now. I hate seeing my brother hurt, P'."

"How did I hurt him, N'Em?" Arthit asked in a controlled voice.

Em didn't know the exact range of his senior's feelings because of the scary blank look on his face but he felt that same curdling feeling of fear at the pit of his stomach all the same. But he endured it in order to talk some sense into his best friend's boyfriend.

"Do you know what's next Saturday's date is, P'?" instead of answering, he asked this instead. He saw his senior's eyes widen then narrow.

"It's the twenty-eighth," Arthit answered curtly. "Did he put you up to this?"

"No, oh god, no. He doesn't share his problems too often —"

"Hmm, thought so. How the hell did you know to ask that question, Nong?"

"—He always clams up when he's troubled and I've had to always bother him to share his problems!"

"So, he told you about our recent misunderstanding? Or did you happen to eavesdrop on our conversation that day, Nong?"

Em paled at the latter's question. He knows? I'm gonna die, aren't I? I'm really so stupid...

Arthit raised an eyebrow at him, his stare challenging. He also had his arms crossed against his chest; his lips pursed.

"Well? Which is it Nong?" Em had to swallow hard.

"I-I didn't intend t-to eavesdrop, P'. I had been looking for Kongpob and I-I stumbled on your conversation..." he stuttered. "But my point still stands! Do you know what that day is, to him, P'Arthit?"

He watched the older take a deep breath, then huffing it out, before he looked straight at his eyes again.

"It's his birthday."

Em furrowed his brows a the older.

"If you knew, then why the hell did you tell him that you're busy that day?! He wanted nothing else but to spend it with you, you know? And what's worse, you even said that you're gonna spend it with his love rival!"

"Love rival? Who? What the hell are you spouting Nong?!"

"P'Namtarn! She's his love rival because you used to have a crushhhhhhit, I wasn't supposed to say that, Fuck! Pretend you didn't hear that, yeah? Please P'Arthit???"

"What do you mean Namtarn's his love rival? Is he jealous of her, Nong?"

"Nope! Not answering that! hahahaha, no, P'. my lips are sealed."

"0097! YOU BETTER TELL ME NOW OR I WILL FUCKING MAIM YOU!"

"EEEEEEEKKK!"

"0097!"

"I will, I will, just please don't kill me, P', please! And don't tell Kongpob that I was the one who told you, okay???"

"Whatever. Just answer my damn question. Is my 0062 jealous of Namtarn?"

"U-uhh... more like he's insecure of her, P'. She is your ex-crush, and she's a girl, to boot. Homosexual relationships are still considered taboo by a handful of people and it's easier to be in a heterosexual relationship than what you are in. So yeah, he has his insecurities."

"Aish, that kid..." Arthit mumbled. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, then looked straight into Em's eyes.

"I don't have feelings for my childhood friend anymore, Nong. Whatever I felt for her before... it actually pales in comparison to what I feel about your best friend. I hope that you believe in this. And Nong, I am actually planning a surprise for him for his birthday but as you may have heard, I am a terrible liar. I didn't know how to answer his questions so I just blurted out whatever. I can feel that he's somewhat avoiding me Nong, so until his birthday, can you please make sure that he's okay? Please?"

Em looked at his senior wondrously. The scary head hazer? Asking him politely (or if he was brave enough, he could probably call it, 'begging')? Him, a mere first year, whom he had hazed a few months prior? He nodded his head dumbly when he recovered enough.

"By the way, P'. What are you planning? Is it a surprise party?" Em couldn't help but ask. He saw his senior's eyes flash at him, as if to tell him the he was overstepping his bounds and that he shouldn't be too familiar with him. But then the senior sighed again and the sharp gaze turned to a normal one.

"Actually, I just... wanted to ... bake him a cake... or something," Arthit spoke softly, his cheeks heating up as he confessed his plan to the younger.

"P'! I have an idea, if you're open to suggestions?" he asked uncertainly. The older gestured for him to go on.

"How about we plan a surprise party for him then you can come to him with the cake later on? He'd be surprised to see you there! Oh, we could do it in the function hall of my sister's restaurant! P'Boon is quite fond of Kong so she'd definitely agree. Well as long as the room isn't reserved on that day..."

Arthit contemplated the suggestion, and started nodding his head.

"That's sounds fantastic, Nong. Thanks."

"Okay P'. Uhm, do you have a place to bake the cake? You're living at the school dorms aren't you?"

"Uh, actually, about that... I asked my friend's help for that one..."

"...you mean this P'Namtarn?"

Arthit nodded his head sheepishly. Em couldn't help the groan from escaping.

"...I also asked her for baking lessons..."

"Nooooo, P'Arthit, why? What if Kong sees you both and really misunderstands??? I just had a talk with him the previous night that she's not someone he should be jealous of, and I know that I managed to get through to him, at least for a little bit..."

"I... what am I supposed to do, Nong?! I may know how to cook but I don't know a thing about baking! I need lessons so that my surprise is actually successful!"

"Oh no... wait, let me think of something, P'..." Em racked his brain for something, going silent for a while. The older was looking at him anxiously, and processing about the thing the younger had said. If Kongpob was insecure about Nam, then if he found out that he had willingly spent alone time with her, he will surely get hurt and overthink things, just like how he, himself, overthink things. He broke out of his reverie when the younger male let out an excited sound. He watched curiously as the taller man tapped excited at his phone.

He listened to the one-sided conversation he could hear when the younger called someone. He called Prae. He was still looking at him curiously when he dropped the call.

"So, you will be chaperoned by the fujoshis."

"The Who?"

"The fujoshis. Prae, Maprang, and May."

"What's the fujoshis?"

"Y-girls. They ship you and Kong, so it's safe to say that they are your own personal fans." Arthit blushed at his answer, while Em himself smirked seeing the flustered senior.

"So, is it okay P' for them to join you and your friend?"

"Yes. But I've got to tell Namtarn. Thanks, Nong..."

"It's no problem, P'. I'm also doing this for my best friend."

"I'm glad he has a good friend then."

"Aww, Kong is right. You are nothing but a cute cinnamon roll!"

"..."

"AAAAAAAH, FUCK! OOOOOW, THAT HURT P'ARTHIT!"

"You were saying, Nong?"

"Oh, did I say anything? I didn't say anything P'. You must've misheard me. Yeah."

"Good."

Em whimpered as the senior went past him to get back towards his friends.

 

 

0 (interlude)

 

 

Kongpob headed to Em's sister's restaurant as per Em's instructions.

Come to P'Boon's restaurant this Saturday. She said she misses you. You, not me, her younger brother. Only you.

He smiled, remembering Em's slightly jealous voice when he told him about it. It had been like that with their families; P'Boon doted on him, while his own sisters doted on Em. Him remembering of the past almost made him forget of his own longing feeling. Almost. He wished he could be with P'Arthit today instead of the next day. But well, Em was right. He also needed to spend some time with his old friends who he didn't see as much because of them taking different courses. He sighed for the umpteenth time that day.

'Cheer up Kong! It's your birthday! And in just a few more hours, you can finally see your beloved P'Arthit.'

He entered the restaurant and he saw P'Boon at the counter. He approached the older and greeted her, while the woman went around the counter to give him a proper hug and an enthusiastic greeting.

"Oh wow, look at you! You've matured into such a handsome young man! Come on, come on, head over to the party hall. I reserved the space just for your special day."

"Aw, P'! You didn't have to! Just a simple table would suffice, you know that! And it's just my group of friends, isn't it?"

"Aish, just go on. Go on. Go there. It's already reserved anyway. It's my birthday gift to you. I will not take it back. Shoo!"

"I... Okay then, P'. Thank you so much for this..."

"You're welcome, Nong. And happy birthday! Enjoy your day, dear."

"Thank you, P'!"

Kongpob made his way towards the stairs at the corner and climbed up to the second floor where there was a separate room that were usually reserved for private functions and parties. He headed towards the closed door and got confused when the lights were off. Then an understanding went through him, bringing a smile to his face as he felt for the light switch on the wall. He squinted his eyes against the sudden light and instead of the cliché shout of 'surprise!' he heard snickers instead. When he opened his eyes, he got shocked when something soft and sticky got shoved on his face.

Then there was a deafening silence through the room.

"Fuck," he heard the soft curse.

"THAT'S N'KONGPOB, YOU DIMWIT! AAARRGHH! WHY ARE YOU SO STUPID, DIM BULB?!!"

"I'M SORRRY NONG KONGPOB! DON'T TELL YOUR WIFEY ON ME, OKAY?!"

Hands were there to help him clean up his face, and then there was something soft being wiped on his face.

"C'mon, Kong, let's get you in the bathroom to properly clean up," he heard Prae's voice near his ear. He was led towards his right as he still cannot open his eyes properly because of the icing. He heard a door being opened and then he was led further into the room until there was a cold counter under his palms. The sound of running water echoed in the small space and he grasped towards it blindly. Gentle hands led him towards it until he felt the cold rush of the water. He muttered a grateful thanks to his friend and began washing his face off the sticky substance.

When he was done, he straightened up and looked in the mirror to survey the damage. His eyes met with Prae's in the mirror, and she was barely stopping herself from laughing. This prompted a chuckle from him and it was like the breaking of the dam, they began laughing in earnest.

"This is so ridiculous," he wheezed.

"Yes, oh my god. P'Knot was actually advising P'Bright against pranking P'Tutah like this but you know him. He doesn't listen to reason most of the time."

"Oh, the seniors are here, too? Is P'Arthit...?" he asked hopefully.

"Oh, yeah. Sorry, Kong. They said he really can't make it..." she replied sheepishly.

"Oh. Oh, okay. It's fine. We agreed to meet tomorrow, anyways..." he reassured the other, trying very hard to tamp down the disappointment he felt. He succeeded for a little bit.

"So, let's go now? Happy birthday Kong." Then she was laughing again.

--_--

The party was in full swing and the seniors kept berating Bright for the stunt he pulled at the start. All of Kongpob's friends were in attendance. The hazing team were also there (Tutah had come in later, citing that he was arriving fashionably late), with the exception, of course, of the most important person to Kongpob; his P'Arthit. But he still tried to feel optimistic of their incoming date tomorrow, to make up of his absence that day. Some of their codeline seniors, the 0062-0206 family, were also in attendance; Tum and his wife, Fon were there, along with Ple, who were also teasing Bright about his unchanged behavior. They were even telling him that he might have gotten worse as he aged. Bright dealt with this embarrassment the way he knew, which was to counter their claims loudly. They also asked where Arthit was, and every time he answered that the other couldn't make it, there was a pang on his heart.

"Alright, alright! I think it's cake time!" Tutah announced later on.

Em rushed towards the light switches and turned off the main lights. He switched on the... were those fairylights? Warm white light flooded the room, a little bit darker than what they had previously, but the darkness lends to a more intimate setting. Kongpob raised an eyebrow towards his best friend and latter just rubbed his hands together, a wide grin stretching his lips. He didn't trust that grin, ever.

"What are you planning?" he asked warily. He received a roll of his eyes instead.

"The birthday boy shouldn't ask too much, and just, can he close his eyes, please?" Em said sarcastically. Kongpob darted his eyes towards Bright warily, and the other spluttered in indignation.

"I promise, there wouldn't be more icing being shoved into anyone's faces soon. I promise, this is a good surprise. It's your first gift, actually,"Em reassured him. He was still skeptical though, so he turned towards the most sensible in the group, Knot. But the older just shrugged though, and he was genuinely curious about this.

"Don't worry. It's as Em had said. This is a nice surprise, and you'll love it, I promise," Prae told him with a reassuring smile. He slowly nodded his head as she moved to tie a black strip of cloth around his eyes. Seconds later, his world got plunged into darkness and he tried to relax his racing heart. He succeeded, more or less. There was a shushing noise as he was made to turn and he could only guess that he was now facing the door to the room? Then he heard the clacking of a door being opened and there were muffled gasps, then the door was being closed again.

The singing started and he got curious as to why he needed a blindfold if it was just cake but then he felt a source of heat near his face and his periphery was now bathed in more light. When the song was at its zenith, he could feel anticipation pool in his gut and his curiosity was nagging at him. He couldn't wait to see what was so special about his cake, because it was just an ordinary cake, right? Oh god, what if it was one of those gigantic fake cake things where a stripper usually comes out? Oh dear, please let it be not one of those gigantic ones—"

His blindfold was being yanked down and he had to blink his eyes several times for it to adjust to the brightness. And oh, how bright it was, as he stared dumbly at his sun, who held a big round cake in front of him, the lit candles making his face glow in an ethereal manner.

"You're really here?" Kongpob whispered, disbelieving. His sun smiled sweetly, that cute dimple prominent on his right cheek.

"Yes, I'm really here. Happy birthday, 0062," he said sweetly.

"I'm also 0062," chorused two female voices and then giggling followed. Arthit rolled his eyes at their codeline family's antics. Kongpob smiled widely.

"Oooiii, Arthit! Why are you always late? Look P'Tum, Arthit is still late! Why don't you berate him too for being always late?" Bright whined loudly.

"Shut it Bright, or I will shove this whole cake to your face, burning candles and all! I still need retribution for what you did to my 0062 earlier!" Arthit said, turning a sharp glare towards his friend.

"Eek!"

"Oh? P', you should call me that more often," Kongpob said, distracting Arthit from his murderous glaring.

"Call you what?" the older asked, confused.

"'yours'. After all, this is true. I've given you my heart... body... and every one of my firsts to you a long time ago," the younger answered suggestively, winking at his boyfriend for good measure. Arthit's face turned beet red at the implication of his words and he delighted in it.

"Kongpob!"

"Oh my god, stop flirting, and just blow the candle already!" Em said, exasperated.

"Can I blow another candle, instead? Something that burns like, hmm, I dunno, like the sun?"

"KONGPOB!"

"I am friends with a pervert." Em lamented. The three girls all looked at each other and giggled, Prae and Maprang even squealing so hard.

"Hey, it's my birthday, P'! Can that be my gif— ow, I'm joking, I'm joking! P', that hurts!"

After everybody had calmed down, and Kongpob had finally gotten around to blowing out the candles, the party resumed. Arthit greeted the seniors who had managed to attend and Kongpob watched on with a very wide smile on his face. He was so elated. He couldn't believe that his boyfriend was really there, present and celebrating his birthday with him. He couldn't be happier.

"Hey, by the way, P'Arthit baked that cake. C'mon, I wanna try it!" Maprang said, cajoling him to cut the cake. He looked at her in surprise. Kong looked on at his boyfriend and saw that he was already looking at him, ducking his head when he got caught, but not before Kongpob caught the small smile that was playing on his lips. He couldn't help but fall a little bit more in love with the head hazer, and he decided then and there that he would banish all his worries and doubts away, so that he could give his all to this man without reservations. He would believe in what they have, instead of letting his dark thoughts dictate things in their relationship.

 

 

+1

 

They were gathered at Kongpob's room, and the owner of the room was still thinking why it was always his or Tew's room that they liked to invade. Probably because they weren't messy?

Wad offered a stick to him, one already between his lips, and he refused it, uttering a single word and the other immediately understands. Boyfriend. The other didn't tease him, his lips only quirked at the corner in faint amusement.

Wad trudged towards my small balcony where Tew and Oak were hanging out. Em tapped Kongpob's shoulder to get his attention.

"Hey, can I use your bathroom?" he asked.

"Go ahead," answered Kongpob. He noticed something on his balcony and saw that Wad was offering Oak a stick of cigarette, which the latter gingerly received. As far as he knew, Oak didn't smoke, so Kongpob was slightly curious. He continued to watch the others, and something became clear to him; Wad was letting Oak try. He shook his head and went back to his book. They were already in their second year, Oak could take care of himself. He'd probably warn him later on about the negative things that smoking could give him but he'd let him be for now.

There was a knock on the door and Kongpob looked up from his book with scrunched-up brows. He wasn't expecting someone this late into the afternoon. His friends were here, the girls weren't allowed since he lives in a men's dorm, and his boyfriend was busy with his thesis. Maybe it was a neighbor and was there to complain about their noise?

He bit his lip, apprehension creeping up his spine as he rose from the bed and stalked towards the door. Another set of knocks came, slower than the previous ones but louder, and he felt a wave of irritation course through him. His scowl was firmly in place when he opened the door.

A red blur stumbled into his arms and he was thankful for his fast reflexes that he was successful in catching the figure.

"P"Arthit?" he asked in wonder. "What are you doing here?"

The senior whined high in his throat then sluggishly straightened up to properly face him. Bloodshot eyes stared unblinkingly at him, decorated by dark circles and bags under the red irritated eyes. Kongpob watched as the senior blinked slowly at him, then the lids seemingly got stuck at half-mast. Another slow blink and he got worried. He waved a hand in front of the other, resulting in more blinking, until it was smacked away, hard, when the other finally had the brain capacity to get annoyed.

"Ow, P'!" exclaimed Kongpob.

"Little shit," grumbled Arthit. Then Kongpob was being hauled off his feet. With a yelp, he held on tight on the red clothed shoulder, wrapping his legs automatically at his boyfriend's back, just above the swell of that cute bubble butt.

"P'?!" he asked a little hysterically as they started to move further into the room. He heard a door opening.

"Wha--?" He glanced at Em, who was coming out of the bathroom. He looked at them, bewildered.

"P'Arthit, P'Arthit. Put me down, please. Come on, P'. I think you're delirious or something. P'Arthit!"

Em continued to watch from where he was rooted, as his senior carried his best friend towards... the bed. Were they...? Oh god, were they really gonna... do the deed? Do the dirty? Bump uglies? Amorous Congress? Putting the wand in the chamber of secrets??? But there were other people here!

"Oof!" Kongpob let out as he was tossed unceremoniously onto the bed. Em's and Kong's eyes met, one panicked and one confused as hell.

"Uhh, P'Arthit...?" his best friend asked uncertainly. A sudden echoing sound of voices reached Em's ears and he turned sharply towards the main door of the room, finding it ajar. He immediately closed it before the owner of the voices could pass by and accidentally see his best friend doing the hanky panky in his room, and oh my god, P'Arthit was crawling his way up Kong's body.

"Eek! Is this your hidden fantasy or what?!" he asked shrilly.

"No!" his best friend replied, just as shrill.

"0097! Get down and give me twenty! Now!" Arthit hissed. Then he was slumping heavily on top of his best friend. He burrowed his face against the other's neck, and Em was sure that his own face was already flaming red, thinking his senior was starting with his foreplay.

"P'?!" Kong exclaimed; his voice really high pitched. The senior hummed in reply.

Em watched his best friend stop squirming when the older slumped against him, turning rigid as if in dread or probably it was anticipation of the next events that would unfold. But... nothing happened. Instead, soft snores emanated from the senior and he looked at the trapped man, confused. He skittered slowly towards them, cautiously taking a peek at the red clad guy. Kongpob and he looked at each other bewildered.

"P'?" Kongpob murmured softly, patting the other's back gently. "P'Arthit?"

No reply aside from soft snoring. Em moved closer and poked at the sleeping man's shoulder boldly, then retracting his appendage swiftly. No reaction.

"Huh. I think he's really sleeping. He fell asleep on you, Kong."

As soon as he said those words, a high whining sound came from the senior, making him stiffen in fear. The older just adjusted his position though, burrowing his face more into the crook of his best friend's neck. He hazarded a peek just to make sure, though. He saw his head hazer's profile, sleeping peacefully and wow, could he just say that he looked so innocent?

"Huh. He looks like an angel, Kong," he muttered, earning a suspicious look from his friend. He rolled his eyes at the other. "I'm not gonna be falling for him. I'm just stating something that I had observed. I just can't believe he could look like this because everyday, I always see him so scary looking."

"Whatever. He's still mine."

"Yes, yes, Khun Possessive Hubby. By the way, are you okay? Do you need help in moving him so you could adjust your positions to something more comfortable?"

"Uhh, maybe we could make him lie on his back?" Em nodded at his friend and moved to help disentangle the wrapped limbs around the other's body. They didn't expect that the older would wrap himself tighter on the Kong though.

"No!" they heard Arthit whine.

"Hey, c'mon P'Arthit. Lie down on the bed properly so you'd be more comfortable. C'mon, please?" Kongpob coaxed.

"Noooo. Kongpob..."

"I'll stay here, I promise. We'll just arrange your position, okay?"

"...promise?" Arthit said, opening his eyes. Em saw how it didn't seem to focus and how it was glazed over.

"I promise, love."

"Mmm-kay," Arthit said, smiling oh so sweetly. Em felt his eyebrows climb high towards his hairline when he witnessed his scary head hazer... act so innocently with his best friend. He even gave him an eskimo kiss, for pete's sake! He also felt like he was intruding on something so intimate.

When Kongpob had successfully made his boyfriend lie down beside him instead of on him, he gave the older a lingering kiss on his forehead before getting up from the bed. He didn't manage to get too far though because his adorable boyfriend had whined, distressed, and had yanked him back to bed by the hem of his shirt. He went stumbling down and nearly crushed the other.

"P'Arthit!" he scolded. Two pairs of fair arms snaked around his torso, forcing him to drop down again on the bed. He found himself staring up at the ceiling for the second time in the last few minutes, an arm and a leg pinning him down. A head was using his chest as a pillow and he resigned to his fate of becoming his boyfriend's comfort pillow.

"Keep your promises, 0062. Don't lie..."

Kongpob let out a breath and looked at his best friend, who he found out was filming the whole thing on his phone. He scowled at the other and his best friend had the audacity to laugh at him, soundlessly. Soft snores came from the senior seconds later, and Kongpob look at him in concern. His boyfriend only snored like this whenever he was dead tired. Was his Sun burning himself out again?

"Em, can I ask for a favor?"

"Hmm? What is it?"

"Can you please get us something for dinner? You guys can have your dinner, too. I can't join you since I don't want to disturb his sleep." Em gave him an understanding smile.

"Sure buddy. What should I get you two?"

Kongpob told him their usual orders, including the iced coffee and pink milk. Em raised an eyebrow at the pink milk but not commenting about it vocally.

"I'm just gonna go grab the others," he said as his best friend nodded.

He made his way towards the glass door of the balcony and saw his other friends watching the couple on the bed with varying degrees of amusement. They looked at him questioningly as he opened the glass door.

"I think P'Arthit is burned out. He was barely lucid when he got here. That's why he's got Kong trapped. Didn't know he was a cuddle bear, though," Em said, then snickered, remembering something. "Ooooh, I've got blackmail material."

"What?"

"Nothing, nothing..." he answered, a mischievous smile playing on his lips.

"If he's burned out, how come he had the strength to carry Kong like that?" asked Oak.

"He's not like you, who's skin and bones," Tew counters.

"But the way he carried Kongpob... It makes me think," Wad observed.

"What?" Em asked warily. Oak and Tew looked at the tall guy.

"The way Kongpob had been carried with ease screams this isn't the first time this happened. I wonder if Kongpob really made P'Arthit his 'wife' or if he's the one who had been made the 'wife'," Wad replied. "He sure knew how to position his limbs as he got carried."

"Oh please, I don't wanna know. I treat Kongpob like a brother. If you were in my shoes, would you like to know about your brother's sex life?" Em whined.

"But he isn't. Anyway, if you're uncomfortable talking about your best friend's sex life, I'll respect that."

"Thank you. Now let's go. Let's leave the lovebirds behind. P'Arthit won't let go of him and I need to buy them dinner. Let's also have our dinner."

Em went back inside, and grabbed Kong's wallet and dorm keys, which the latter pointed out the location of, and handed him his phone, too. The senior snored away in dreamland, not even stirring to the noises that they made as they shuffled out of the room. He locked the door behind him, his mind churning about Wad's observation, even though he tried his very best to banish that thought. He'd assumed that his best friend had been the top in the relationship and he was sure he even saw his senior limping once. Come to think of it... he also witnessed his best friend limp and wince that one time when their basketball game had been cancelled—

"Huh. Hey Wad, I think they switch."

A beat of silence, then boisterous laughter filled the enclosed space of the elevator. His thoughts brought him back to the scene he had witnessed not too long ago, and he tried to find it in his self to the describe his senior as scary, and yet... well, he could describe the senior as scary, that was just a word, but the emotion, the feeling of fear that usually accompanied it; it wasn't there. He didn't feel scared anymore. Come to think of it, he had been feeling less scared of his senior as the latter continued to date his friend. It was probably due to the hangouts and tutoring sessions that had kept exposing him to the senior more and more.

He got to observe Arthit more, getting to know him in the process, and Kongpob had been right. Arthit had a soft core, kind-hearted and warm. And after watching the sleepy head hazer cuddle his best friend, his usual inhibitions gone, he got a glimpse at the vulnerable and child-like Arthit, who depended unconditionally on Kongpob. He decided, right then and there, that P'Arthit wasn't so bad at all.