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All the stars of the sky come to rest in your hands

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"We weren't really gifted, you know. Just clever kids with bigger issues than the others."
"Yeah, but it's the definition of gifted, isn't it?"

Pom plays with his glass, thinking, probably, about what Chanon just said. He is slouched over the table as if he wants to hide his large shoulders. Knowing Pom, it can be that he wants to hide all of his self and disappear. A strand of hair falls in his eyes, and Chanon resists the urge to put it back in its place. Pom will probably not care, his mind already back on track, always worried about his dear students ("You know Non, I wish that Claire asked me help when her friend threatened to leak this video. I mean she handled it, but I could have helped her. I hope she knows she can trust me. - Korn only sleep two hours a day. Three hours max, Non! It's not enough, don't you think? - Wave says he doesn't want friends but I don't think that Pang will let him stay alone. He makes me think of you, you know? Pang, I mean"). He wants them to have something better than both of them had, solitude if it wasn't for each other, and exhaustion, and the weight on the world on their back.

He understands Pom. His students are great kids. A bit rebellious and too clever for their own good, but Chanon spots himself growing fond of them.

He understands Pom, but he isn't really sure there is a way to help them: they're gifted kids, with their big, huge, clearly not fun issues (he knows, he was like them not so long ago). They will always find troubles, they're wired like that. Wired to jump before any problem they could find, wired to screw themselves a little to avoid boredom or, worst, to avoid being stuck in their own head. Chanon (and Pom too) knows the drill a bit too much.

But Chanon knows something else too: if there is a way to help these kids, Pom will find it. Or he will die searching (and what a dreadful thought, what awful and grey and cold will be a world without Pom). Beautiful, nice Pom, with his eyes full of stars and the calm intensity with which he cares. No walls survive against Pom, even if you want them to. Chanon's own were pulverised long ago, and it's distressing to be bare like that, even for his oldest friend, especially for him. It's one of the reasons why he leaves.

"Hey", he laughs, "it's my last free night on Earth. Let's do something funny."
"Why, I'm not enough for you?"

Pom asks that while putting his chin on Chanon's shoulder, as if he doesn't know, as if he hasn't been all his world for twelve years, as if he doesn't have a better knowledge of the stars in Pom's eyes than the ones in the sky (and he's an astronaut, so it says probably too much). The strand of hair is still in his forehead, a black question mark on the velvet of his skin, and this time Chanon can't help himself and put it where it belongs. It's soft as silk between his fingers. He can still feel it against his skin even after letting it go, like a brand on him, even if his pain is not physically, even if the mark on his soul is not visible to others. After all, he belongs to Pom, and every touch is just another other reaffirmation of a fact he already knows.

"You will be always be more than enough", Chanon breaths.
"You're still leaving."
"Not for ever."

Pom waves his hand to say that he wants to end the discussion right here. But there is sadness in his eyes, and Chanon feels guilty to leave his best friend for a childhood dream.

"So, what do you want to do? You choose, Mr Astronaut."

There is a bubble in Chanon's chest when he looks at Pom. It's been here since so long that he can almost not remember when it started (a brush of shoulder against his own when they leave a classroom, a pen used to show him an error in his essay, a voice telling him to go to sleep, Pom's little eyes when he's tired). But the bubble grows since then, and with each moment that brings them closer to his departure it seems to increase exponentially (the way he tips his chin when he has a question, the weight of his hand on his arm, how he sits when he grades his students' copies). Soon it will explode, and Chanon will be flooded by feelings (his silent laugh, the crinkle of his eyes, the passion in his voice when he speaks about his students), like his flat the day a pipe broke in his building. It was a mess, and he will probably be a mess too. He hopes to be in space when it happens, with enough distance between them that Pom will not see the disaster of his watery heart (Pom, Pom, Pom. Always Pom).

"I want to see the stars", he announces without thinking.

The stars are always here when he seeks comfort.

He has his eyes on his best friend's face, as if he needs to engrave it in his mind, again and again. As if he can't miss any changes in these beloved traits. Somewhere a clock ticks, counting the seconds before their longest separation.

Pom raises an eyebrow.

"You leave to spend six months in space next week. You will probably have enough time to stargaze."
"Yeah", Chanon tells slowly, "but not with you."

Pom sighs, and it's the sign that Chanon is winning (it's not a surprise, but he feels happy, as always when Pom caves in and follows one of his whims).

"Come on", he says while grabbing Pom's wrist, "let's buy a pack of beers. I want to drink on the roof of the dorms."

Pom follows him, a bit overwhelmed by his sudden burst of energy (his last glass wasn't his first of the night, and Pom is always a bit sluggish when he drinks. At least he doesn't fall asleep after only one anymore. Chanon still remembers fondly the first time they drank together. It was their last night in high school, and they were far too young for alcohol, even for the cheap beers they managed to smuggle into the dorm. For once, they didn't care about rules. They were a bit smug about that, a bit giddy too, two teenagers really rebelling for the first time. They were young and together, the bestest friends on the world, how to not be happy? Pom felt asleep on his knees after his first bottle, so Chanon spent the night on the roof, under the sky, the love of his life with him. How to not be happy?).

"Wait, where do you want to go again?" Pom finally realizes.

Chanon chuckles. Pom looks at him, already disabused.

"I don't really have the choice, do I?" He guesses, and when Chanon nods, he adds: "I'd still like to understand how you always manage to make me do things like that."
"It's because you love me", Chanon sings a little. "Or because it's fun, you choose."

Pom glares at him and Chanon wants to laugh again. There is something very endearing in an exasperated Pom.

They buy beers (the cherry flavoured ones that Pom loves so much. Chanon kinda hates its artificial taste, but they have drinked it since so long that he can't imagine to change. There is something only for them in it, and for his last night he yearns for it. Sorry for his tastebuds). In the shop, they giggle like teenagers. It's probably ridiculous, two growth men laughing like high school students in a deserted convenient store, but there are no one to see them and, for a moment, they feel as young and free than they were ten years ago. Chanon looks up from the shelves and meets Pom's gaze. His friend is laughing, his black eyes crinkled by his smile. Chanon can swear seeing stars in them. Maybe it's because the neon tubes' light, but this is a picture he will take with him in space, and for a moment he feels proud and homesick at once.

Pom raises an eyebrow and Chanon smiles too. He wants to laugh, a big happy laugh to let's escape the happiness sparks that seems to be trapped in his chest (he hopes it doesn't entrain a chemical reaction with the bubble. Exploding like that will be a shame). So he puts his arm around Pom's waist and laughs. They walk in the streets like that, and Pom doesn't try to leave his embrace even if it's way too warm outside, without the A/C of the store. It's glorious.

They sneak in the school pretty easily, the perks of having the keys, like says Pom with a knowing smirk. Chanon wants to put his thumbs on his cheeks, to feel his dimples deepen under his fingers. Watching Pom is like watching a masterpiece: everytime Chanon is submerged by this wave of feelings. Some days, frustration is at the surface, or endearment, or easy fellowship, it varies. But at the bottom of all of that, in the abyssal depths of it, if you want to continue with the maritime metaphor, it's always the same. Chanon has learned to call this confusing amalgam of feelings love, but it seems like a too little word for something so huge.

The rooftop is still the same. It's even possible that the wood boxes they use as seat are the same than the last time Chanon was here. It's funny, but this though makes him a little happy. Melancholic too, but this night his happiness seems to go with a lot of melancholy.

Pom opens his beer with his keys, the little trick his uncle learned to both of them when they were fifteen. Chanon remembers long summer afternoons spent in Pom's family restaurant, completing sheets of exercices under the old A/C, Pom's knee pressed against his leg despite the heat, the contact burning Chanon's skin with so much more warmth that it should. It never failed to fill his heart with hope. The smell of Chinese food was everywhere, and until now, Chanon can't pass before a shop selling Sichuan Pork without thinking at these moments of his teenage years. 

Pom drinks his beer like his soda back then, head tilted back and eyes closed, and like back then, Chanon feels the urge to pass his hand in Pom's hair, at the place where they brush the top of his nape. His throat is mesmerizing, his adam's apple moving as he drinks, and Non wants to touch. He wants to put his palm on Pom's neck, without pushing or anything, but just enough to feel the way his muscles move when he swallows. It's a surge so intense that he has to clench his fists until his knuckles are white to not give in. But like his younger self, he does nothing of that and just watches.

"You don't drink?" Pom inquires, and Chanon turns his eyes on the bottle on his hands, blushing a little to have been caught staring.

He takes a big sip and turns his gaze to the stars. The night sky has the same effect on him than ever: it's like a big comforter around him, soft and warm on his skin.

"It's Polaris, no?" Pom asks.

Chanon looks at him. He points at the sky, but also he is closer than Chanon remembers. It makes him a bit dizzy, but it's not new: Pom does that to him since the moment they met, when he was still an awkward teenager with too long limbs poking out of his high school uniform (not that Chanon looked better back then). He was cute in a kinda nerdy way, but it didn't really matter, because he had these clever black eyes, because his smile was nice, because Chanon wanted to bite the beauty mark on his chin, because he called him Non, because Pom stole his breath in all the ways possible and never give him back. It's okay. Every breath he takes was always meant to be Pom's.

"Yes", Chanon answers. "Try to find the rest of the Little Dipper now."

Pom turns his gaze to the sky again. They're not the best spot possible to observe the stars. Bangkok's lights make the exercise pointless: only the brightest stars are visible. It was good enough when they were kids stuck in their dorms, but now it seems a bit dumb. It's still the best place in the universe. After all, Pom is here with him.

"Is it even visible from here?" Pom grumbles, already tired to scrutinise the cloudy sky.
"Not really, not with the visual pollution. But if you look close enough where they should be, you could see a faint trace of them."
"And you? Will I see a faint trace of you too?"

Pom's voice is weaker than usual. It's the only thing that gives him away. Like always, he has himself together. When Chanon looks at him, he sees the same old Pom, reliable and serious and calm and a bit nerdy. It will be easy to stop here and not see what he hides. But Chanon knows his best friend like the back of his hand. There is distress in the way Pom presses his lips together, in the tension in his fingers, in the light crease between his brows, in the stiffness of his legs.

Chanon takes his hands and squeezes it softly, just enough to let Pom knows that he is here. He keeps it in his own hands longer than needed, not ready to let go.

"No, not at all. Even if you knew where to look you will not be able to see the station."

Pom grabs his hand stronger than before.

"Hey", Chanon says slowly. "It's not because you don't see me that I will not be here. I mean, I will come back."
"I know", Pom mutters. "I have object permanence."
"I hope so, a big boy like you", Chanon laughs.
"Maybe I will not miss you. Six months of peace, it looks like a dream."

Pom sounds a bit harsh, but he doesn't let go his hand. Better than that, he gives a little shoulder push on his own shoulder, like a cat reclaiming attention. Chanon smiles for himself.

It's all of Chanon wants in his life right now: a full stomach, a beer in his hand, the stars over his head, his best friend safe on his side. Maybe his younger self should have thought about that instead of dreaming of equations and walking in space. But no, he always needed to have more: the shiny suit out of Earth and Pom's arms to rest on the ground. Being an astronaut is a kid's dream, and he isn't a really efficient adult.

"I should have stayed a teenager", he says.

Pom chuckles.

"You wouldn't have survived as a teen any longer. They're tough, you know. Tougher than you were."
"You think I was soft?"

Pom's beautiful eyes are full of stars again when he looks at him, and they're prettier than the night sky itself. Chanon could drown in them, even if it's cheesy to say, even if Pom's joy comes from mocking him.

"Yay, too soft. And way too self-sacrificial also. You were a very dumb kid for someone this smart."
"Hey!"

Pom takes a sip of his beer and lets the rim of the bottle on his bottom lip. It's what he always does when he thinks, and Chanon has learned (in what, twelve years of friendship? Yeah, a too long time to pine) to not interrupt him. So he stays silent, his eyes turned to the stars.

"You know, I still don't understand why you were ready to take the blame for me this time. I punched him, and you were not even here, but when Khun Ladda asked what happened, you told it was you."
"I was here just after", Chanon answers.

He can't forget. He remembers the other boy (Oat? Ohm? Or Songh maybe?) falling, the blood on his cheekbone, the big eyes of Pom already full of tears and guilt, the blood on his knuckles. He remembers thinking Pom wants to be a teacher, he has to have a perfect record, and maybe Oat/ Ohm/ Songh/whatever his name was has fallen on his head, and he can't let Pom be accused. He can't.

"It was useless. Khun Supot spotted the lie right away", he adds.
"Yeah, it was dumb to do that", Pom grimaces. "He used that to have P'Yuth helping him with the gifted program."

Pom rolls his eyes, before doing his best impression of their director: "Look, this poor boy, so lost that he feels like he has to use violence. Yuth, this kid really needs you. And me too, I really need you... "

"I really didn't want to be a pawn in his big seduction plot", Pom adds with his own voice.

Chanon chuckles.

"It was the worst punishment possible, wasn't it?"

Pom nods violently.

"There is thing you don't want to know", he says with conviction.

Chanon smiles for himself, before a new thought crosses his mind.

"Why did you punch him, by the way?" Chanon tells.

He can see the way Pom's shoulders tense when he asks, but he always wanted to know, and this night Pom will not refuse to answer him with honesty.

"You still haven't answered my question", Pom says.
"I will after you answer mine", Chanon promises.
"But I asked before", Pom whines a little.
"But it's my night."

Pom watches him as if he can't believe that Non uses something so low. Chanon smirks a bit, and Pom squints. Chanon's smile goes wider, and he hides it behind his beer. If he would not leave tomorrow, he will have to be worried about retaliation. Pom sighs.

"He said I was gay", he says, his chin up, as if he is ready to beat up the kid again.

Chanon blinks.

"But, you are. I met your boyfriends."

Two  in twelve years. Definitively not a lot, but already too much for Chanon's poor heart. The first was the worst, probably, because Tee was nice. He smiled a lot, and sometimes, when they thought that Chanon wasn't watching, he pressed a kiss on Pom's cheek, just on his dimple (smart man, it was the best spot). Pom watched him like he was the best thing in the world, with sparkles in his eyes. He said so, too, an excited whisper to his best friend in the dorm they shared. It was the worst, but seeing Pom happy was the best. Chanon had to hide his relief when Tee left to continue his studies in Shanghai.

The second one was Ice. They were a bit older (it was after their Ph.D., Chanon was in his first year at the Academy, Pom started as a substitut teacher in high school). Chanon didn't have the occasion to really learn to know him, with his study and all. Pom asked him once if he was avoiding to meet him, but no, not at all. He was glad that Pom was happy. Even if it wasn't with him. So yes, Chanon didn't spend a lot of time with Ice. He only remembers that he was calm and put together, with a soft smile directed to Pom, and that he was a dentist. They stayed two years together. And it two long years where Chanon put all his energy in his formation to divert himself from his broken heart.

"Yeah, but it was different. I was sixteen and not even out to myself", Pom tells.

It should be enough, but Chanon can't help feeling that there is something else, something that Pom doesn't say. Pom is not a violent person. He never has been. Maybe he shouldn't ask, but Chanon is naturally curious, and there is something in the night that calls for honesty. 

"It's not all, is it?" He asks.

Pom takes his time before answering, watching him, his eyes more serious than ever. There is something in the way he stands that makes Chanon tenses.

"He wanted to know which one of us screwed the other."
"Oh", Chanon says.

His mind is empty. It's rare. He remembers how he was in high school. How was Pom. He remembers how they were always together, glued by the hips like his grandmother always said. 

Yai was always smiling when they spent time at her house after school. She liked having handsome young men in her home, she told a lot, always laughing at her own joke. They spent evening working together on her kitchen's table, tutoring each other with hushed voices while she cooked for the family, the scent of food like a caress for their soul. She always put something to eat for them on the table, a veritable blessing for two growing boys who were always hungry. Sometimes she petted Chanon's hair without thinking, her wrinkled hands a bit rough against his forehead, but delicate and loving against his skin. She did the same for Pom, as if he was her grandson too. Yai knew how Chanon felt about Pom, probably because Yai knew all it was to know about him. And she loved Pom as her grandson. 

Back then, they were closer than any other sets of friends, but Chanon didn't think his yearning was so visible that a student he didn't even really know the name could see and name it. He feels his cheeks burning from retroactive embarrassment.

Pom takes a big inspiration. He looks like a man at the edge of a cliff, trying to decide if he wants to jump or not. He still has his hand on Chanon's, and that lets him having hope. But he doesn't know hope in what.

"I didn't punch him for that. I did it because I had the biggest crush on you back then, and couldn't let him put his ugly words on it. It was my feelings. It should have been my words too."

Chanon gulps. Pom looks stunning. He has stars on his eyes, hair on his forehead and his fists are clenched so much that his knuckles are white. He wants to kiss them better, let them relax under his lips until his hands open. Pom looks brave. Braver than him.

"And now," he breathes around the feelings that block his throat. "Do you still have a crush for me?"

Pom smiles. He doesn't look happy.

"I'm still in love with you, yeah."

Chanon can't help himself to look at him. He is perfect. Of course he is perfect. It's Pom. It's his best friend. It's the love of his life.

He feels as if all the firecrackers of the Chinese New Year are under his skin, and at Pom's words,  they explode all at the same time. The rest of the world can't ear it, but it's deafening. The rest of the world misses something big. The rest of the world misses something beautiful. The rest of the world can go fuck itself, as far as Chanon is concerned.

This moment is only for them. After twelve years, they deserve it.

"I wanted to take the blame for you because your future was more important than mine. You're more important. You will always be", he confesses, his voice's strained by so much emotion that he can't even speak.
"It's the dumbest shit I ever heard", Pom deadpans.

But his eyes are incredibly warm, and a little wet in the corners too. He has tears at the root of his lashes. They shine, minuscule constellations against the black of his pupils, like if they were painted here by some talented artist. It's mesmerising, but not as mesmerising as his smile. It's brighter than any star in the sky, and Chanon knows that it will be his own personal North Star from now on, a celestial body that he could use to guide him to his home. Because of course Pom is his home. Where else in earth can he find shelter?

"I don't know, I'm sure I can find worst", Chanon answers, his smile a bit shaky, his eyes a bit wet. "What do you think about something like: I'm in love with you since the first time I saw you twelve years ago, and I just learned that you love me too, but I will spend the next six months in space?"

Pom puts his head on Non's shoulder. He shivers a bit when he raises his eyes to the stars.

"It's a strong contender", he says, and Chanon can hear the joy in his voice.
"Yeah, maybe you will have to kiss me if you want me to stop saying more dumb shit."
"Cheesy", Pom laughs, but he leans toward his friend and does just that.

His lips taste the artificial cherry flavor of the beer they share, sweet and a bit nauseating. It's not the best, and it makes it so much more real. This horrible beer is their thing since their first drink, after all. Maybe high school Pom would have tasted like that too in this night on the rooftop, but not kissing him at this moment is an error from past Chanon. Present Chanon doesn't have time for regret. He leaves in less than a week and Pom smiles against his mouth before going deeper, his tongue already fighting its way in. He is petty like that. It's like they can't help themselves to bicker, even right now. Non doesn't want it in any other way.

"Non", Pom says after.
"Hm?"
"You still have to take me to a date."

Chanon laughs.

"I swear it will be the first thing in my checklist when I land."
"Good."