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Em's liked May for a long time. He's not good at expressing it and sometimes, he thinks about saying something and invariably gets tripped up. But he thinks -- he thinks he's ready to finally tell her. Kong's been encouraging him and he's said what he wanted, kind of, fumbling through his own stupid jealousy and unclear comments.

On a stage in front of everyone at initiation, Em gets up and makes a speech. He doesn't look at May the whole time but enough that she has to know.

Things don't go well. Em isn't good at expressing himself, he's too in his own head, and everything gets muddled up there. It doesn't untangle and the words he says aren't the right ones. The act of speaking nearly leaves him paralyzed where he starts then stops and starts again then it snuffs out like candles on a too windy day. It's okay-- he thinks it's okay. Because he's waited all these years so a little more time won't matter.

May tells him to say what he means but he doesn't know how. It's easier to speak in generalities, to speak from his heart when he's speaking to a group, and can play it off.

Em grips her hand as the freshmen finish out their initiation and she asks him, again, to tell him if he was talking about her. He can't say what he means. He's not a master of words or a smooth talker like Kong is. He can't really flirt because he freezes up.

All the right things he wants to say just come out wrong.

When Kong had rejected May, all those years ago, he'd tried to say what he meant. It wasn't enough then; she didn't want him. No one really wanted a silver medal when they were going for the gold.

All at once-- really-- he feels inadequate and unsure of himself.

She knows but she doesn't want to assume. She knows because she asked him years ago and he'd stayed by her side this whole time. She wants him to say it fully.

The words sit heavy on his tongue: I want to be your boyfriend.

Em struggles through saying it, even though Oak is right next to him, and they're being walked in on by the freshmen, and it isn't the time or the place or anything.

Em feels shy, his cheeks hot, but he's smiling. "Now, it's your turn to tell me your feelings."

May's smiling too so it's good. She outshines the lights on the beach, the glimmer of stars and moon in the sea, the afternoon sun--

"Are you crazy? There's so many people here! How can I say it?" her voice is warm and full of laughter, dimples on her cheeks.

Em knows she's just shy. Sparklers pop off in the background, a spray of orange-yellow sparks, that fizz and pop and spill on the sand. With the initiation over, everyone separates, goes about greeting the freshmen as juniors they've now accepted. Oak is drinking with them and Kong wanders away, searching for Arthit. Em and May go off alone, with Em holding her hand as they walk on the sandy shore.

"You can say it now," Em says and smiles at her crookedly. It's just them and May is looking nervous, her gaze a little cagey and she won't make eye contact. She says she's sorry when she admits she doesn't feel the same way.

Em tries to pretend his heart isn't breaking into pieces.

"Oh," he says and he drops her hand, looks out across the sea. "Well, it's okay."

What else is there to say --

"We should get back then."

"Em--"

Em doesn't wait to hear what she has to say.

*

At least Arthit and Kong making eyes at one another is familiar. The ex-hazers being pleasant to them still hasn't fully settled with Em. It's hard to move them out of the framing he's had from them since freshman year, all things considered.

May sits beside him at the table and he feels trapped between her and her rejection and the sweetness that exudes between Arthit and Kong, even though Arthit is trying to be tough and aloof. They take a picture and Em, slightly drunk already, almost lays himself out on the table to get in on it.

P'Bright's head touches him and he whines at him, but still smiles for the photo. It feels like ages ago, when he didn't really know P'Bright. But he knew him enough, had called out to him specifically to buy him a thank you party gift.

P’Bright had told Em if he didn’t know where to get chocolates to give him a call. (Em bought them, thankful for the reprieve when he'd dropped it down to one box. PARADAi was a little more expensive but it felt worth it. He'd looked on in wonder at the shop of glossy chocolates in deep rich browns and bright, unnatural colors. He'd bought a box that was a mix of ones painted like cosmic purple nebulas and plain swirling chocolate brown.

It's strange what lingers in the memory, something so insignificant that he remembers like it was just yesterday. He shakes it off. )

Things slip into whatever passes as a normal cadence these days-- P'Bright and P'Prem tease Arthit, mostly, and they talk about internships. Em watches it unfold with a dazed, glassy sort of engagement. May leans over his shoulder to talk to Arthit, her hand resting on his arm. It's a struggle to not throw it off; he's not angry with her, but he feels like a caged rat.

Em's sympathetic when Arthit talks about not being where he wants, but he'd be happy anywhere. Far from the school right now, for sure. He's almost waiting for the moment where he can go to his internship and not have to see the same people day-in, day-out.

They talk about the realities of the real world. Prem has a gig taking photos of the car show models and Em finds himself watching P'Bright as he gets excited with Prem, going so far as to stand up and strike a pose. The laughter sounds fuzzy and distant and eventually the conversation dies down.

May leaves with Oak and Maprang and Prae. Kong and Arthit wander off and Em finds himself face first on the table, playing with condensation in the wood, while Prem and Bright talk about gossip from their everyday lives.

"Are you okay, nong?" Bright asks. He's drinking water now. Em isn't sure when he switched. Or when the conversation had turned to him. But both Prem and Bright are down low on the table, almost eye level with him.

"'M great," Em says in a slurry, unfocused tone. "Why wouldn't I be?"

He watches them exchange a look.

"You look like you're doing well," Prem says and he fluffs Em's hair. "Honestly, don't you have class tomorrow? Why are you so drunk?"

P'Bright ruffles his hair too.

"You're going to hate waking up tomorrow."

Arthit approaches-- Em looks up to see if Kong is near-- and he wants…

He should talk to Kong. Kongpob was smart and could advise him.

"I'm staying overnight."

"Of course," Bright says. "What am I going to do? We have an early day tomorrow."

 

"I can take a taxi," Arthit says.

"You can stay with me, P'Bright," Em says, sitting up suddenly. "I don't have a roommate this year and you can…go back early."

Bright and Prem exchange another look.

"I have to be on my way," Prem says. "The train ride back to Chiang Mai is going to be long."

"Chiang Mai?" Kong asks, appearing out of nowhere. "Is that where the auto show is?"

If Em didn't know better, he'd think that Prem was blushing.

"No, no, I have a friend to go see."

"Nong W--"

Prem slaps his hand over Bright's mouth quickly.

"Okay okay," Arthit says. "Let's get back to the university."

*

P'Bright takes him up on his offer, and having drunk some water, is much steadier than Em feels. Bright props him up as he uselessly looks for his keys.

Bright gets annoyed and shoves his hands into Em's pockets to find the key and lets them into the dorm. It's messy, applications and homework strewn on all available surfaces. Em stumbles to the bed and shoves a pile of books and papers off to the side before flopping down on his face.

"Use whatever you need, P'Bright. There's a towel in the bathroom." It's muffled by the pillow and Em hopes he goes to shower soon so he can have his cry in peace. Instead, the bed dips next to him and he feels a gentle hand between his shoulders.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Bright asks. Em makes a noise of acknowledgement; he can't respond or the words might come out wrong again, and he might just spill his piteous heartbreak to his senior. He can't do that-- so he doesn't respond beyond that.

The presence moves and the shower door latches shut.

Em grabs the pillow as his shoulders start to shake and tries to muffle his pain with the cotton and stuffing.

He manages to keep it down, mostly. The hiccups don't turn into wails, he only clutches at the sheets and pillows instead of wrecking the bed. By the time the shower turns off, Em's changed into his pajamas and is sitting cross legged on the bed, staring at his phone.

He’s curating a playlist of heartbreak songs he can listen to alone, adding them one by one as they pop into his head.

"What're you doing?" Bright asks. He's wearing just a pair of boxers, the towel over his hair like he's trying to protect it. Em blinks fuzzily at him.

"Making a playlist."

"What kind?"

Em shows him the playlist which is titled with a sad face.

"So you're not okay?"

Em shrugs.

"I'll be fine."

Bright makes a noise and then flops into the bed. "Let me see."

He snatches Em's phone from his hands and starts typing. Em doesn't fight it.

When Bright hands the phone back, it's a new playlist that just has a smiley face on it.

"Listen to that instead, nong," Bright says. "Turn the light off, I'm tired."

Em turns out the lights and listens to his sad playlist and tries to stay still as Bright tosses in the bed.

*

Em wakes up sometime in the very early morning hours, when the sky is still deep, rich blue-black and only the faint glow at the horizon suggests the sun might be rising. He wakes up hot and sticky, smelling like he's sweating alcohol out. He should have showered before bed.

He'd kicked the covers off but his boxers and t-shirt cling to him like a second skin; he feels like something is pinning him down. Something that smells like his soap. It takes a few moments to realize it's P'Bright who must have rolled towards and then on him in the night.

Everything suddenly comes rushing back to him in stark relief. P'Bright is on his stomach and is halfway on Em's side, with an arm around him and a leg thrown over Em's thighs. Em feels thirsty and like his mouth is full of cotton.

Em thinks about moving but can't bear to disturb P'Bright.

*

When he wakes up again, he's alone. He's also late for his first class.

There's a bag of food on his desk and a drink, which is probably warm by now. There's a post-it note from P'Bright on it.

thanks for letting me stay, good luck! -bright Em stares at it especially hard like there's the possibility he's imagined it. t's still there even after he blinks and rubs his eyes, so he unpacks it and sits cross legged on the bed with a plastic fork.

Em's already late; he supposes he can sit and enjoy breakfast.

He's not really sure honey toast is something one should eat for breakfast, and the ice cream has melted away to little more than a sauce, but the thought is there. Bright probably didn't expect Em to sleep as late as he had.

It's too sweet for so early in the morning, a little too sticky, but he appreciates it just the same.

Em is barely on time for his next class. Kong gives him a sympathetic look as Em ducks his head to not look at May. He sits back further, taking the spot Tew usually occupies.

"Are you okay?" Kong turns around and asks. Em knows he means well, honestly he appreciates it; but there's all the tell-tale signs of Kong spending the night with Arthit and it squashes his desire to discuss his own heartache. Em sees the teeth mark below Kong's collar and there's just something in his bearing that is announcing to the world he had sex last night.

Em's simultaneously happy for Kong and resentful of him.

(This is not an uncommon occurrence.)

So Em waves him off, almost dismissive.

The talk turns quickly to internships and Em thinks about how he's going to have to find a whole slew of other places to apply to instead so he doesn't by chance take one where May might be doing hers as well.

"Why don't you put in an application at my dad's company?" Kong asks and Em sighs.

Em could. He knows Kongpob's dad well enough he'd probably get the call.

"Is that where you're interning?" Em asks. Kong shrugs.

"I'd rather go elsewhere."

Oak laughs, "You should intern at Ocean Electric, be with your wifey."

Kong smiles at Oak.

"Kong, that's a terrible idea. Don't do that," Tew says.

"What about you, Tew?" Oak asks.

Tew shrugs.

"My grades are good enough I could probably get in anywhere, but I don't want to be too far away." He props his head in his chin and his gaze unfocuses. Em wants to be as far away as possible.

"Do you think they have internship spots in Chiang Mai?" Em asks.

Tew, Oak, and Kong laugh but Em isn't joking.

*

Em doesn't wind up in Chiang Mai. He winds up in a familiar enough area, close enough to the university where he doesn't need to find another accommodation, but he thinks about it anyway. The next three months are going to be dedicated to this and maybe some time away from campus will help him clear his head.

He talks it over with Kong and Kong tells him he'll be renting a place, so Em decides maybe it's not a bad idea. He winds up renting a cheap little place that sits above a quaint cafe from a pair of brothers. Em likes to think he could have been friends with them in another lifetime.

On the first day, he's walking to his internship when he recognizes a familiar storefront. He peers in but it isn't open yet, and he shouldn't be late anyway.

Most of day one is meeting the who's who of the company and getting a tour of the facilities and learning what he's expected to do. He gets paired by the end of the day with an older gentleman who had been working at this particular company for over fifteen years and had all of the knowledge and ins and outs "without some fancy college degree" and he absolutely hates Em.

(Relatable.)

On his way home, the storefront is open, but empty. Em thinks about seeing if they have food available besides snacks or appetizers. He could definitely do with a beer or two.

He wais at P'Bright when he enters, then wonders if he got the nickname because of his smile. He can almost imagine the same expression from a baby, just born into the world, with a wide, undimmable smile.

"I don't usually see you without the whole crew," Bright says as he gestures at him, pointing out Em being decidedly alone.

"Thanks for breakfast the other day," Em says and then awkwardly shuffles, hitches his messenger bag up a bit higher on his shoulder. "And no, the place I'm doing my internship at is around here and I noticed you were open. I thought-- maybe I could grab something to eat."

P'Bright disappears into the back of the bar and returns with some sort of ramen-- likely the packaged kind-- but there's some pork sausage and vegetables added in and honestly, that's more than he expected. He perches at a spot at the bar and sets his bag down to eat.

P'Bright doesn't hover, he sets down a can of Singha which is cold to the touch, and then returns to his cleaning busy work. The place feels almost home-y with how small it is, with the dark colors and the low lights. It wasn't too long ago that they were all here. (It's been months, the first day of the semester, before all the initiation activities.)

It's funny how the two friend groups seemed to blend on the heels of Kong and Arthit getting together. Em's not particularly close to any of them. Then again, he doesn't feel particularly close to anyone anymore. It feels like he's drifting a bit away from everything.

It'd started in freshman year. Kong had been his best friend-- and it wasn't as though Kong ignored him-- but there's clearly been a shift in priorities. And over the years -- Oak had gotten more interested in girls (as a general concept, but Maprang in particular)-- and this year, Tew's been head down trying to find some sort of "in" with Dae.

It should have been easy to slot in with all of that. He'd taken the steps with May and yet--

(He'd taken her home that night, when she'd wanted to pick things up for the initiation ceremony. She'd smelled like roses and jasmine, and Em had thought about telling her right then how he'd felt-- standing with her at the bus stop, fingers itching to lace with hers.)

Em shakes his head trying to erase the memory like an etch-a-sketch. He downs the beer in one long drink, head tilted back, and it foams too much and the can feels two seconds from slipping out of his grasp. But it's alright, he manages it.

P'Bright looks at him for a moment, lips pursing, and then opens his mouth like he's going to say something. But P'Prem and P'Tutah enter boisterously.

"Knot cancelled on us! Can you believe the audacity," Prem says loudly as he sits down at the bar.

"He's such a nerd, claiming he has homework." Tutah's voice is just as loud and at least Em doesn't have to talk about anything.

"I thought you were going to cancel," Bright says, leaning on the counter near his friend. He brandishes his phone. "I see you checked in at TONG AH FAH last night."

"Did you see the photos?" Tutah is on his phone now as well.

"Yeah, yeah, it made me want to go back to eat the nasi lemak again." Bright laughs.

"Not those!" Tutah and Bright both laugh and Tutah turns his phone, mostly to tease his friend. Em knows he should just mind his own business but he looks too, jostled out of his own dim thoughts by the rambunctiousness of the two of them.

He glances to look at the phone.

"Hey, is that Wad?" Em asks and he leans over. Tutah looks guilty and nearly drops his phone on the table while Prem turns to Em.

Out of habit, Em brings his hands up and wais Prem when he looks at him. Prem does it back, maybe out of the same habit.

"Sorry," Em says, "I didn't mean to--"

"It is," Prem says. "I went to see him over the weekend."

Prem gives Em a look like he's daring him to say something. Em isn't sure why; it's not like Kong and Arthit being a couple is a secret at all. It's not like Em didn't suspect that Wad, at least, had some kind of feelings.

Em sighs and folds his arms on the counter, resting his chin on top.

"I must be the last single person in Bangkok," he whines. Prem pats him on the head.

"Not a chance, N'Em," Prem says. "Tutah hasn't made an honest man out of Bright yet."

"Shut up," Bright says. "You know it's not like that."

Em looks between the three and then turns back to his dinner. He's almost finished with it, having eaten most of it without tasting it, and he grabs his bag again.

"I should be going," Em says. "How much?"

He digs for his wallet.

"On the house, have a good night, N'Em," Bright says.

Em ignores the "ooooh" that comes from both Tutah and Prem as he walks out.

*

His apartment is lonely. He almost regrets not staying on campus. Tew messages him on Line -- talks about his internship and the conversation he'd had with Dae on the van. About his hot coworker who looks like Harin from ONEWE. Tew also sends a picture and Em thinks he's right.

one day into your internship and you already found a boyfriend 5555

Tew sends him back a sticker of a laughing teddy bear and the conversation peters out from there. Em gathers his text books up and sits at a small desk to try and work on some of the reports he has to do. His mentor from work messages him with a list of things he'd done wrong and a link to some reading material.

It's mostly links to ILO articles and Em wants to roll his eyes and just ignore it, but maybe he should be more studious. It's not like he can rely on Kong for his internship like he had for assignment work the last two years.

He sighs and grabs his phone.

have a good day 1? Em sends to Kong. Kong's his best friend.

Kong sends a storm cloud sticker in return.

it was alright.

can i call you?

Em sends a thumbs up back and flops on the bed as his phone starts ringing.

Kong tells him how unsettled Arthit was about the person doing the internship with him, and the 'meet and greet' lunch they'd had. In turn, Em tells him about his proximity to Bright's bar, how much his mentor is over his presence there. He keeps the knowledge of Prem and Wad to himself though.

It's not really his business to tell.

Once the call is over, though, he goes back to feeling lonely. Maybe he should have stayed on campus. By himself, alone in his room, he thinks about May. He's thought about texting her or calling her, he's still got her as a favorited contact, still has a heart next to her name. She'd sent an additional apology or explanation and Em had let the conversation end there.

He's read it over and over like it's an indictment. It's not him, it's her (but it is him); she wasn't ready for a relationship. (Maybe it's the years that have changed, but she hadn't been so hesitant when he'd overheard her telling Kong she liked him. It feels like a thousand cuts.)

He has a hard time sleeping.

*

The first week of his internship seems to zip by, in a jumble of faces and names and processes to learn. He gets a shiny ID badge and makes a tentative friend with the girl who is also interning there under another mentor. Her mentor is younger-- and nicer-- and clearly interested in N'Pang. Em doesn't blame him. She's cute and small, with doe-like eyes and straight black hair.

He doesn't think about it too much, but he does wind up going out with them.

Her mentor-- P'Din-- takes them to some kind of club. The lights are flashing -- blue and green and purple-- and the music is so loud that Em can hardly think. Which is probably a good thing. P'Din buys them shots and it isn't that long before the mood slips from casual work gathering to something a little more relaxed. Or maybe relaxed isn't the right word.

Em meets a few more people from the place he's working at, colleagues of P'Din, and one of them reminds him of May a little too much. He focuses on the one with round, nerdy glasses, and dyed blonde hair. Halfway through the night, Em is drunk enough he can hardly keep himself upright.

He excuses himself to go to the bathroom and stumbles inside. He keeps himself upright by clinging to the counter, but he looks at himself in the mirror and sees the glassy unfocused look in his own eyes.

He is breathing a bit heavy, lips parted, and he wishes he had watched how much he'd drank.

"Are you okay?" P'Din is suddenly behind him. He's taller than Em and his hair is almost midnight black, and falls across his eyes like a curtain. He's got freckles across the bridge of his nose and a soft mouth.

Em blinks back the sudden sensation he feels, something weighty. P'Din puts a heavy hand on Em's shoulder and leans in so close it feels inappropriate. Em ducks out of his grasp, his heart thundering.

"I'm fine," Em says and his cheeks feel very hot, suddenly. It wouldn't be entirely wrong if one were to say he ran out of the bathroom. He rejoins the table and slots himself between the May lookalike and Pang.

"Khun Em!" Pang says as though she is delighted to see him again. Em leans on her, arm over her shoulders.

"I can't stand." Em puts his weight on her and she laughs. Din buys them another round and they cheer for the weekend and a successful week one.

Em doesn't remember much after that.

When he wakes up, he's half undressed and in someone else's bed.

His head is throbbing and he grabs his phone. Stabs at the first number in his contact list.

can you give me a ride home?

He shares the location of where he's at and stumbles out of the apartment. It's still night out, lights of the city glittering, and he perches on the stairs leading to the street, shivering. He hadn't wanted to try and find his clothes.

When he gets there, Kong gives Em his jacket and helps him put his helmet on before kicking off and heading to Em's apartment. They're silent on the ride home.

"Thanks for coming," Em says.

"Are you-- did you get hurt?" Kong asks.

He’s not saying exactly what he means, but the implication is enough to make Em feel sick, bile burning at the back of his throat. He shakes his head quickly.

"No, just drunk." The lopsided smile he gives Kong probably isn't fooling anyone. He gives Kong his jacket back.

"Have a good weekend," Em says.

"Call me if you need anything." Kong grips his hands, squeezes them so tight that his knuckles hurt, and he grips back. And then he disappears back into his own apartment.

Em can barely keep his eyes open but he scrubs himself down in the shower before going to bed.

*
Saturday morning arrives feeling like a jackhammer in his temple. Em's hungover and his bad decisions are tap dancing on his brain like an old black and white musical. He sits up and rubs his hands over his face and wishes he could take back the last 18 or so hours of his life.

He feels awful for disturbing Kongpob and has just enough fractured memories left from last night that he remembers Arthit's voice in the background of the call.

Em is the worst friend. In his mind he thinks of a million conversations he's had in the last two years with Kong. And how terribly busy they'd been during the internship when Arthit was doing it, then the more heavy workloads that came with being second and fourth years, the flurry of graduation and job hunting--

Then there was the fallout with the first company Arthit had gotten a job at. Em doesn't know all the details, just that it was Capital-B Bad. The truth was, he should have been more thoughtful, Kong and Arthit don't have infinite time.

Em sighs and struggles through making himself something to eat and taking some pain pills. He flops back into bed and scrolls through his phone.

He cringes at drunk posts he's made on Facebook. He deletes them all and sighs again.

Em knows he should do something. He sends an apology to Kong and tells him not to call, to spend the weekend with Arthit.

Then Em's mom calls and he spends the next hour listening to her talk about teaching, his little sister, the nice new neighbor she has and their little brindle-coated pomeranian that had gotten into the yard. He settles back against the pillows and listens, tries not to miss home too much.

Em paints his internship in the best light he can, talking about how much he's learning day-to-day.

He has a message when he gets off the phone.

meet us for lunch? and a sticker with a thumbs up. Em waffles.

He should let Kong and Arthit be alone.

where at?

Em groans and gets himself out of bed and dressed, brushes his hair and studies the dark circles under his eyes. Maybe he should have brought some of that concealer cream his mom had suggested. He rubs his eyes and pockets his cell phone and keys to head out.

*

Em would be lying if he said he didn't think about leaving immediately. Through the glass door, he can see it's more of a social meet-up than just a private lunch between him and Kong (and Arthit, by default). He's thinking about dipping out and saying he felt sick and couldn't come -- but Kong sees him through the door and waves him in.

Em curses his entire life as he walks into FIN JUNG.

"You look tired," Tew says as Em sits down. Kong gives him a concerned look and Arthit leans over.

"Are you okay, N'Em?" he asks.

Em wonders what Kong told him, if Kong's told Tew anything, if everyone knows.

"I'm fine," Em says to Arthit. "Just a long night."

Em flops on the couch next to Tew and his stomach rolls at the idea of drinking any more, so he pours himself a glass of water and holds it in both hands. The ice feels numbing and he can imagine the coldness creeping up his veins.

"Where's Prem?" Arthit asks when Bright joins them, setting down a plate of food. Tutah nudges Bright and Bright nudges him back. It devolves into a sort of hand slap fight.

"He's on the way," Knot says. "He texted me that his train was delayed."

"It seems like he's always on the road these days," Arthit says.

"Freelance photography, you gotta go where the jobs are," Tutah says. "Lots of people getting married this time of year. And he's cheap!"

Tutah catches Em's eye and gives him a conspiratorial grin. But Em's not really in the mood-- and he's not sure he understands, really, but it's not his business. Tew gets up to take a phone call, slipping out of the bar and Em is quickly joined by Bright on one side, Tutah on the other.

"You're not eating, nong," Bright says. Em waves him off.

Bright plucks a meatball and some vegetables with a pair of chopsticks and tries to feed them to Em.

"Come on, N'Em, it's time to eat," Bright says. Em gives Bright an unhappy look but dutifully opens his mouth to take the bite. Bright loops an arm around his shoulder and engages Arthit and Knot in a conversation about their own internship days-- where Bright talks about the (his words) smoking hot head engineer at the company he and Arthit interned at.

Em wonders if he's the only one who is just having the worst time at his internship. Em decides instead to just sort of lean on Bright, take comfort in the casual contact there, even though he knows he's just mindlessly doing it.

Bright doesn't seem to mind and Em thinks that maybe that's okay.

"Em," Kong's voice calling his name makes him sit up straighter, like he's doing something wrong. "I have to talk to you about something."

Em nods and dislodges himself from Bright, levers off the couch, and follows Kong to a darker, more secluded part of the bar. His head is still pounding.

"What's going on with you and P'Bright?" Kong asks, the minute they're alone.

Em makes a face at him, brow knitting and lips pursing.

"Nothing, come on. He's just being nice."

"He fed you." Kong's voice is kind of-- Em can't place it. Kong is giving him a look that he can't quite place either.

It's not exactly a judgmental look, but it is, a little bit. Maybe Kong’s not even judging Em, but it feels like he is. It stakes him right through the lungs.

"He's just being funny." Em glances over his shoulder. "He has feelings for P'Tutah. Besides, I like girls."

"So do I… and yet…" Kong trails off and gestures to Arthit. Em doesn't mean to laugh, but he does anyway. Kong frowns at him.

"Do you really think you're gay just for P'Arthit?" Em asks. Kong nods at him.

"I am."

Em glances back at the hazers-- former hazers, he supposes they're the hazers now-- and shakes his head with a chuckle.

"You're so funny," Em says and Kong hits him in the arm.

"Stop it."

"What?"

"Don't make fun of me." Kong pouts at him.

It almost feels like years ago and they’re back in the old dim halls of their high school. Em flicks Kong's lower lip. Kong glares and rubs at it.

"Why pouting? You think that's still going to work on me."

It feels good. Kong's his best friend, they should be close like this. He wants to ask if he really thinks P'Bright was hitting on him, but it doesn't matter. Em wants to latch onto this moment like it's a life preserver in the sea of ennui that's been crashing over him lately.

"It used to," Kong says and he shoves at Em again.

"Notice the past tense. What do you even need me for?" Em asks. It's too real, he supposes. He suddenly needs to know. He feels like maybe he's clinging on too tightly now and Kong will have to rebuff him. Em is drowning but it's not Kong's problem.

"Of course I need you. Don't be ridiculous, you're the only best friend I have."

Em feels like he can't swallow around the lump in his throat.

"Oh, you sweet talker," Em says and he pushes Kong.

Kong rolls his eyes at him.

"Be careful, Em," Kong says after a moment. "I don't want you to get hurt again."

Kong wraps his hands around Em's briefly and squeezes, and then heads back over to the group. Em stands in the shadows for a little bit longer and tries to catch his breath.

Long enough so his eyes don't feel like they're going to open up like storm clouds.

"I'm heading out first," Em says to the group and he leans over the couch to grab his phone.

"Call if you need anything," Kong says.

"You can call me too," Bright offers.

Em looks at both of them and just nods before heading out.

He doesn't catch his breath until he's back at home.

*

On the following Monday, Em does his best to not really interact with anyone. His mentor is in an especially foul mood. He's even more snappish and rude than usual. It's going to be a long day and a longer internship but since P'Din and N'Pang were so incredibly close he didn't dare go and hang out with his fellow intern.

He escapes for lunch, tucking himself in the corner of the canteen, while trying to make himself as small as possible. He tells himself to just keep his head down and everything will work out fine. His phone vibrates in his pocket and he drops his utensils with a clatter as he fishes it out.

n'em, did you listen to the playlist i made you?

Em squints in confusion. He wasn't aware P'Bright had his phone number. Though he supposes it would have been easy for him to add himself when he'd made the aforementioned playlist. Em frowns and glances at it again. The smiley face almost feels like an insult.

no. but i will. promise.

Em fishes his earbuds out of his pocket too and plugs them in, then pushes play on the playlist. Garoonah Fung Hai Job by Chaem Chaemram starts playing, popular enough that Em recognizes it from the intro. He can't help but smile a little as he listens.

He listens to the list as he finishes his lunch. It's mostly upbeat, a mix of English and Thai hits. And he does feel better by the time he's finished eating.

i listened till the end Em texts, feeling a little more at ease. He sends a winking bunny to Bright. He sees Bright is typing and he waits to close it.

Bright sends back a laughing emoji and then sets his status to away.

Em gets back to work.

*

The next week is marginally better. He hopes that there's no way for Bright to see how many times Em's listened to the playlist now. He puts it on like some sort of comforting hug at night when he's home alone and he's sure his neighbors are sick to death of his listening to it.

His mom and dad come to visit for the weekend, to check out his small apartment, and make noises at his grades, and he thinks about inviting Kongpob over just for some kind of respite from them. He loves his parents, he does, and he's glad that they care about him enough to come visit.

But mostly, he wants to be alone.

The weekend passes without incident and his mom stocks his fridge full of fresh ingredients and a handful of recipe cards so that Em can feed himself, disdainful of the packets of ramen and frozen meals. (His fridge had been empty except for drinks.)

He waits with his parents early Monday morning as they take a taxi back to the airport and then goes about his day. His mentor is out on a personal matter, so he mostly reviews things they've discussed previously. He hides when P'Din comes around to give him guidance and prays the day gets over faster.

Em's contemplating an evening of reading over the new processes they're outlining to see if there's any corrections to be made and heating up a frozen pineapple fried brown rice dinner in the microwave. It's not an exciting evening, but maybe it'd be better if it was all low key.

As he's leaving, he gets a message.

you should stop by on your way home, need an opinion on something. i'll provide food.

Em considers the message from P'Bright and figures he didn't have any plans anyway. He stuffs the rest of the papers he needs to review into his bag and heads out.

He doesn't mind the walk to the bar. It's pretty nice out in the early evening, a breeze blowing in off the sea. It's bustling, cars and bikes and people moving through. He wonders about heading home first and changing, maybe getting a coffee or putting his things down. He decides not to and comes right from work. He feels a little too smartly dressed for the venue so on the sidewalk outside he takes his tie off and shoves it into his bag and then undoes the buttons on his dress shirt since he's wearing a singlet underneath.

Bright is mostly alone in the bar except for one person sitting at a table, reading a magazine with some kind of drink. It's bright purple and rimmed with salt or sugar, sitting untouched as she reads. Em smiles at Bright and leans on the counter.

"As promised," Bright says and he puts a plate of food in front of Em.

"Is this sushi? Are you branching out?" Em asks.

"Nah, I ordered it in," Bright smiles. "I didn't know what you liked so I had Arthit do some recon for me."

Em tucks into the food as he waits for Bright to tell him what he wants. He's trying not to feel... something as he eats it. He knows it's kind of sad to think that this was the first nice thing someone who wasn't related to him had done for a while. He supposes Kong coming to pick him up that night -- most of it's still a black hole -- would count.

But nothing this… casual.

Bright lays a few papers in front of him.

"I'm trying to get this different brand of beer that one of my regulars wants, but I want to make sure that we're getting it from the right places. I solicited a few people but I was hoping you wouldn't mind reading through the bids and letting me know which you think is the best? They're done a few different ways so not directly comparable."

Em looks at the papers. And then at Bright. Then back to the papers. He frowns at them even as he picks them up.

It doesn't make sense.

Bright already graduated from the same program that Em was currently in. And he surely had other, better friends who could look. Friends who’d actually graduated.

P'Knot was even getting his master's degree! It's just the two of them here as far as familiar faces go, but Bright had asked him to come here. He bounces his foot a little as he tries to focus on the paper but his mind is racing.

Why him?

"Wasn't P'Tutah a good student?" Em asks. Bright gives him a confused look.

"Tutah?" Bright repeats and Em nods and waves the papers.

"I'm going to be honest with you, I cheated off of Kong a lot," Em says in an almost conspiratorial tone.

Bright looks surprised and Em gives him a sheepish grin.

"But that was just homework, I'm good on the tests and everything," Em says quickly and ducks his head. Bright laughs and claps him on the shoulder.

"I mean, Tutah was fine in school, but I wanted your opinion," Bright says. Em isn't sure how to feel about it. He doesn't feel pressured, it's kind of-- well, nice, he supposes.

"Oh," Em says. "Just for a scapegoat if it fails."

He likes hearing Bright laugh and the realization makes him feel simultaneously hot and cold. He tries to ignore it and reviews the papers Bright's shown him before giving his recommendation and finishing his sushi.

Bright writes an email to the company that Em recommends and Em stays for a beer, watching as the evening crowd filters in, and Bright flits around the bar filling orders and making sure everything runs smoothly.

"I'm heading out, thanks for dinner," Em says and he wais Bright before he leaves.

He's almost back to his house when he gets a message from Bright.

we should do it again sometime; i like seeing you.

Em isn't sure what to think.

*

One month in -- he has to take the day off of his internship to go back to the school for a check in. He's not entirely looking forward to it. He showers and gets dressed and touches the fabric of his uniform. The maroon shirt feels rough -- like putting on a straight jacket. He pulls it on anyway and brushes his damp hair off of his brow.

He opens the door and is surprised to see Kong standing there, fist raised to knock.

"Oh, Kong," Em says and he instinctively steps back to let him in. Kong hands him a coffee-- light colored, fragrant and sweet, ice clinking -- and sets the food down on the counter, immediately bustling for plates.

"I brought breakfast."

Em nods a little and glances at the door.

"We're going to be late…" Em's pretty sure if they don't head out now they'll miss the bus. Kong gives him a sharp smile, like the ones that had used to make Em feel a little breathless, teeth showing but eyes veiled like they're sharing a secret.

"I convinced my dad to let me borrow the car," Kong says. "So we can make the trip faster."

He portions out breakfast and Em sits with him, sips his coffee and digs in. It's nice.

Kong talks about Ocean Electric and seeing his parents. And Em talks about his life at Cognex. The conversation is pleasant despite feeling shallow, and it's nice to be able to vent about his job without feeling like someone was going to give him a bad grade or stab him in the back with it.

"So," Kong says while they're doing up the dishes, "I want to ask you about something."

"Sure," Em says.

"What's going on with you and P'Bright?"

There's a sense of deja vu.

"What do you mean?" Em asks. His heart is racing all of a sudden. Why would anything be going on? They'd only talked a handful of times, mostly when everyone else was around and they were having get-togethers.

Kong finishes drying the bowl and puts it on the rack.

"P'Arthit's been asking me about you for him," Kong explains.

Em feels like -- he doesn't know what to feel. Bright had mentioned it-- matter of factly-- but he'd thought he'd meant just about what types of sushi he enjoyed. Em's hands aren't shaking but he feels like they should be.

Like maybe he should be nervous.

"Don't you think it's time to drop calling him so formally," Em deflects instead. "You've been together for years now."

Kong's look is unimpressed.

"Is there an appropriate point in time in a relationship where we should stop being respectful?" Kong counters. Em knows it's more Kong's fastidious nature. He's always been far more polite than Em was, even though they'd attended the same classes.

"I just think if you're that close... Does he still call you 'Nong'?" Em squints at him and tilts his head a little. "Hey, how does that work when you're--"

"Em!" Kong's tone is sharp, cheeks pink, and he's obviously flustered, blushing to the tips of his ears. Em has to swallow back the chuckle he can feel bubbling up in his chest as Kong slaps him on the shoulder, perhaps harder than is strictly necessary.

"Don't think I don't notice you avoiding the question," Kong says.

"No avoiding, there's nothing going on. He asked me for a favor and just wanted to repay it."

"What favor?"

"None of your business." Em waves him off.

"Don't think I won't figure out," Kong says. The conversation is put on hold as they get ready to leave. Em locks up and follows Kong down to his car, thankful to not have to take the bus back to the university. He immediately takes advantage, hooking his phone up to the bluetooth, and scrolls over to the playlist that Bright had made him.

"What is this?" Kong asks.

Em shrugs and turns it up. He slaps Kong's hand away when he tries to turn it down.

"Don't," Em whines. "I wanna listen."

Kong rolls his eyes but lets him, and it prevents him from having to talk about Bright. It's not like he needs to be secretive, there really isn't anything going on. The nature of the favor still somewhat bothers him though, like there’s something about the whole evening he can’t quite put his finger on. Something he’s missing.

They arrive at the school with no fanfare. The gang is waiting for them when they arrive. It still hurts. He doesn't want to be overly dramatic but seeing May feels like he's being punched in the gut. Left breathless and folded over.

Still, he pushes it aside the best that he can. Crams down the feelings like he's overstuffing a trash can, pushing until his arms hurt and everything is condensed into a tiny little spot near the bottom, almost missable if you didn't look too closely.

Tew grabs them both around the shoulder immediately and starts talking a mile a minute about something -- that freshman, Em thinks. May appears at his elbow too and it's difficult to keep his attention on Tew. She still wears the same perfume. Looks as pretty as ever.

"I'm interning with another girl who goes to school here, though not in our faculty," Prae breaks in. "She's in the Comm Arts department. Marketing for the place I'm interning at."

Prae leans over to show them all a selfie she'd taken with said other girl.

Em feels like he's swallowing ash and his voice sounds fuzzy and distant to himself.

"One month into your internship and you have a girlfriend?" Em teases. He hopes it comes out light enough, gentle enough, and he thinks it does because Prae turns a shade of pink that reminds him of magnolias in the spring.

"She's just a friend!" Prae says and waves him off. Em tries a smile that feels tight, but no one else seems to notice. It's good-- it hurts but it's good. He doesn't want to make anything weird. May grabs his elbow and she talks to him about the place they were going to intern together.

She seems like she's doing well and Em is glad.

(Really, he is. He knows she doesn't owe him anything and he'd told her he still wanted to be friends. So he needs to be a friend.)

"My mentor is just the worst," Em says, to contribute to the conversation. The catch in his chest doesn't lessen but talking about that is easier than saying anything else.

They do their check in, fill out the papers they have to for their internship and gather in the canteen for lunch. He winds up reserving their table as the others go to get food and Kong is back first. He sets down his food and then sits next to Em.

"Hey, are you okay?" Kong asks and rubs his back. Em nods and maybe-- maybe he is.

"I guess I didn't expect her to take wanting to be friends seriously." Em feels miserable as he says it and he's sure it's carved into his face. Kong smiles at him and rubs a hand over his back again.

"You'll be alright." It sounds like a promise.

Maybe he will be.

By the end of the school day, he's managed to have a conversation with May where he doesn't feel like screaming his mind out every other word. And maybe that's progress. Or maybe he'd finally pushed how hurt he felt down deep enough that it was easier to ignore now.

They make a plan to meet at FIN JUNG after the day is done. Kong has made Arthit gather up his crew as well. It feels like it's been a while since they've all been together.

*

Em gives everyone else preference to the car. Maybe it's because he doesn’t want to squeeze into the back. eally, they shouldn't even have four people in the back seat, but Tew makes a big show of jokingly buckling himself and Oak into the middle seat, laughing the entire time. Em closes the door for May as she gets in and then circles around to tell Kong he'll get a taxi and meet them there.

Kong gives him a look like maybe he’s going to protest, but Em is already wandering off toward the road to hail one. The brake lights dim and Kong takes off and it's fine. He'll meet them there in a bit. It doesn't take that long to hail a taxi and he climbs on the back and puts his helmet on and tries to focus on the ride.

He shoves a handful of bills into the driver's hand and tells him to keep the change, and looks at himself in the darkened storefront of the place next to the bar, just to make sure he doesn't look too unruffled. He straightens his hair with his fingers and turns to go into the building.

Someone's smoking in front of the bar, long dark hair in his face and then there's a movement and the stranger flicks the hair from their eyes. Is that--

"Wad?" Em says, surprised. Wad-- it is him!-- looks up when he hears his name and breaks out into-- well, as wide a smile as he has ever given. Which of course was when he turned down Em’s offer to play basketball together. (Another memory from a long vanished time.)

"Em." Wad wais him and Em gives him a look and shakes his head.

"Don't," Em says and he goes over to push his hands down. "When did you get back?"

Em looks around. It's just the two of them.

"Did you come with P'Prem?" Em asks. Wad puts his cigarette out in the ashtray beside them and looks at Em suspiciously, eyes narrowing.

"Just now. Not for long, just for overnight." He hesitates. "How do you know about Prem?"

"Uuum…" Em says and wonders how to angle this without getting Bright or Tutah in trouble. It wasn't their fault, really. But he doesn't know how Wad will react. Or Prem. "I overheard. P'Tutah and P'Bright were teasing him about it while I was here."

Wad nods a little and pushes his hair back behind his ear. It's gotten long, silky, down past his ears. Probably because there weren't any uniform standards when he was doing remote learning while caring for his dad.

"You know, I don't think anyone will care," Em says then he winces. "Care as in be bothered, of course we want you to be happy. I mean, Kong and Arthit..."

"I know. It's no one's business though."

"You mean you don't want to announce it in front of everyone?" Em asks. "They're all in there. You can."

"What about you? Did you and May ever start dating?"

Em feels something squeeze around his lungs.

"Okay, okay," Em says, "I won't bring it up again. You ready to head inside?"

Wad nods and goes in first, which is nice because it means Em can sneak in behind him without drawing too much attention to himself. He's right, the others crowd around Wad immediately to ask about him and his dad.

Bright is sitting on the couch between Prem and Knot, talking about a prank they'd pulled on Tutah when they'd been in second year. There's someone he doesn't recognize with them -- it's a man, he's leaning forward with a sort of a smile on his face, and Tutah's next to him, face in his hands.

Em perches on the arm of the couch next to Knot who looks over and up at him.

"You want this seat?" Knot asks. Em shakes his head.

"No need," Em says quickly. "I was just resting here for a minute. I probably won't stay long."

To be honest, Em isn't sure he wants to. The rest of them are done grilling Wad so they form a circle.

Tutah introduces his friend -- Khun Au -- and it almost feels choreographed as they all wai him at the same time.

"It's Tutah's boyfriend," Prem teases, positively crowing with delight.

"Someone to finally make an honest man out of him," Arthit says.

"Betting pool idea," Oak says. "Who gets married first-- Kong and Arthit or Tutah and Au?"

"N'Oak," Arthit says warningly.

"100 baht on the love birds," Prae says, gesturing to Kong and Arthit. She jokingly hands over her bet to Oak.

"What about Oak and Maprang?" Em says. It sows enough chaos-- Maprang's quick 'ew, no!' and the other fellow hazers in an uproar that it takes the pressure off of the other two couples. Em winks at Kong slyly, then gets up off the couch.

Bright stands up too.

"I closed the bar for the night," he says to the group. "I ordered some food in so feel free to party amongst yourselves."

He grins and goes to flip the sign at the front of the bar. He also turns the stereo up and Em takes a seat at the bar, reaching over to grab a can of beer that's sitting there. (Maybe he can stay for one or two before he heads home.)

Before he realizes it, he's more than two beers deep and more than a little tipsy. The food has arrived and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Em stays apart from the group, a little bit. He recognizes the song that's playing now as one of the songs from the playlist. Almost like fate, Bright comes over to grab another beer while it's playing.

Em's singing along, but he sees Bright approaching and lights up.

"Hey, it's our song!" Em says when Bright comes over. Bright gives him a weird look.

"What?" Bright says. Em points at the speaker and Bright looks up at it too.

"This song, it's the first song on the playlist. I realized that when I didn't hit shuffle." Em grins at Bright.

"Ohhhh." Bright nods. "I got you. You like the playlist?"

Bright sits next to Em.

"It's like a hug," Em says. "Wait, that's stupid."

"It's not."

"It is." Em bobs his head along to the beat. "P'Bright, I should go home."

"How're you getting there?"

Em moves his fingers in a little walking motion.

"Let me take you home."

"I don't want you to miss out on seeing your friends."

"I'll come right back. I don't want you to get mugged when you're drunk."

Em doesn't argue more than that. He says his goodbyes, thanking Kong for getting him in the morning, telling Wad to keep in touch, telling Au it was nice to meet him, nice to see everyone else. Bright tells Prem to hold down the fort and he'll be back soon.

They drive back to Em's place in silence.

"N'Em," Bright starts, when he parks in front of Em's apartment building.

Em's been going over the conversation from the bar the entire way home, and he feels-- embarrassed? That's a good word.

"Thanks P'Bright, drive safe!" He gets out of the car as fast as he can and slams the door. He hurries off even though he doesn't think Bright will follow. He doesn't know what his problem is, but he doesn't want to examine it either.

So maybe he can bury that deep with his hurt, as well.

*

The internship resumes the following day with little fanfare. He has a hangover but it's nothing a little aspirin and water can't fix. He gets paired up with Pang and Din for the day, since his mentor hasn't left him any work. It's not as bad as he thinks it'll be at first.

Din and Pang seem to be dating, or at the very least, they're very sweet on one another. He winds up at lunch with them, picking at his minced pork omelette. He's fuzzy headed but he still can't stop thinking about the embarrassment of what he'd said to Bright.

It must not be buried deep enough.

During lunch, Bright sends him a text that's a picture of the beer from the supplier that Em had suggested.

they were fast, good choice!

Em sends a sticker back and then tries to focus on his lunch.

"How was your visit back to your university?" Pang asks, "Mine was such a drag. The professors there all wanted this huge breakdown. It doesn't help that my class has so many people in it. We were there all day listening to everyone say the same things."

"Mine wasn't too bad," Em says. "I got to see an old friend who came back from Chiang Mai, so that was nice. And I hung out with my school friends. It was nice to see them all together again."

The conversation moves on from there and back at his desk, Em receives an email from someone higher in the department than his mentor, congratulating him on the preliminary work he'd done for a process redesign. Overall, it's a good day.

He walks home as usual and sees that the bar is open. He nods and makes a decision and goes in. There's a pretty girl sitting at the counter, with long silky black hair. She's giggling when he walks in and it seems like Bright is incredibly close to her. He jumps back when Em enters.

"Oh, N'Em," Bright says, "this is San." He introduces her and Em wais politely, then he looks at Bright again.

"She's the regular who asked for the special beer. N'Em helped me with getting it at the delightfully costed price point you're getting it for."

She laughs like it's the funniest thing she's heard and Em has to make an effort to keep his face neutral.

"You should join us then, nong," San says and she pushes the chair next to her out. Em shakes his head.

"I appreciate it, I just came to talk with P'Bright, but since he's busy I can do it some other time."

"It's no problem, you can talk to him now. I was just going." San smiles at him and then stands up.

"I'll call you later," she says to him and gives him a wave.

Em watches her as she walks out. She's tall-- maybe it's the heels she's wearing-- and looks like she belongs in a Korean girl group with the way her hair and hips swing as she moves.

The door shuts behind her and Em gives Bright a somewhat stricken look.

"I'm sorry, P'Bright, I didn't mean to chase away your customer. I just wanted to apologize for last night."

"Em, it's fine, she'll be back," Bright says. "Apologize for what?"

"Ohh, ummm." Em isn't quite sure how to word it. Especially not now. San was pretty in a way that he was sure made people jealous, bright skin and dark hair, impeccably put together like she was a doll. "I was just a little drunk and I think I acted weird. I don't remember."

He does remember.

"So I thought I should apologize in case I said or did something that was… weird."

Bright's giving him that same inscrutable look that he'd had last night, when Em had said the speakers were playing their song.

"You didn't do anything weird."

Liar! Em knows he did.

"Do you accept my apology then?" Em asks.

"There's nothing to--"

"So you don't?"

"Don't be difficult, nong," Bright chastises him. "Of course I accept. All is forgiven, but you didn't do anything wrong."

Em isn't sure about that.

"I should be going. I just -- wanted to make sure that I apologized."

"You don't have to go. Why don't you stay for a drink? If you want, I can order you some food."

"You've already done so much for me, P'Bright," he says. "I appreciate it but I should head home."

Bright looks like he's going to protest again so Em doesn't give him the chance to.

*

The owner of the cafe that Em has been staying above looks rather troubled when Em comes in from his internship. He notices instantly that the cafe is all but deserted and the two workers-- the owner's brother and another man of a similar age who looks constantly annoyed -- are seated at a table with a series of paper printouts.

"Ah, N'Em," The owner says. He has a smile like his name, but it doesn't reach his eyes this time. "I was hoping I'd be able to catch you earlier but we seem to keep missing one another. Unfortunately the owner of this building is going to be doing extensive renovations so we're shutting down for the next few months."

Em purses his lips.

"Really…" he says.

The man nods, "It was quite a surprise to me as well, but he insisted. We've already been moving our own stuff out, but you should too. I'm so sorry for the short notice…but you'll have to find somewhere else to stay."

It was just his luck, really. Thankfully, his things mostly consisted of clothing and a few odds and ends for school projects that would be coming due soon after his internship. It doesn't take long for him to pack everything up. When he’s done, he sits on the bed and sighs, rubbing a hand over his face.

Shit, where was he going to find to stay on this short notice?

He's halfway through asking Kong if he can stay with him before he remembers Kong telling him he lived right next door to Arthit. He doesn't want to interrupt the two of them. or get in the way. (The last time they'd spoken about the relationship, Kong had seemed sort of cagey and unsettled, and Em doesn't want to rock an already unsteady boat with his presence.

He's never got the impression that Arthit dislikes him, but no one wants a witness to troubles.)

He could go back to the school, but he'd learned from their recent day out that May was still staying on campus too and while it's large enough they might never see one another, there's enough shared common areas that they could run into each other for meals or on the weekends.

Tew was staying on campus. Oak was staying with his parents. So they were both out.

Em sucks in a breath through his teeth.

p'bright, the place i'm renting is suddenly unavailable… immediate evacuation-- can i stay with you? Em realizes this could be a terrible idea, but he assumes that Bright lives near the bar, which means it's even closer to his work than this cafe.

i don't have to stay long i can look for another room but for the night… at least…

He waits. He waits holding his breath, because he sees the message become "read" almost immediately, then the dots to indicate someone's typing up a reply pop up.

no issues here, n'

do you need me to pick you up with your things?

no! i don't have much. thanks so much!!!

Em shoulders his duffel and messenger bag, and drags his larger luggage case out with him. He thanks the owner for his hospitality and promises to come back for their grand reopening and then heads down the road towards FIN JUNG.

It takes a little longer with the extra load he has, but he makes it without incident. He ducks inside and sees that girl from earlier -- what was her name again?-- and waves at Bright.

Bright immediately moves out from behind the bar to help him, taking the bag. "Let's put this in my car and you can stay here until I can close up. I have a live band coming from seven to midnight so we can't close before then."

"You don't have to close early," Em says. "I can wait." He gives Bright a crooked smile and Bright smiles back.

"Okay!" He gives him a thumbs up and they head back inside. Em finds a quiet table by himself to work on some documents for work, plugging his laptop in. Bright brings him food and a drink before stationing himself back at the bar.

The band is local, introduce themselves as MOMENTUM, and Em shakes his head a little. It's quickly obvious they're some kind of cover band as he recognizes the Hin Lek Fai song that they're playing almost immediately. They do sound pretty decent and the crowd seems excited to hear them, too.

It's busier than normal with the loud music, so Em eventually puts his things away and clears his table, rolling his sleeves up and getting behind the bar.

"Let me help, to repay the favor you're doing me."

*

As Em expected, Bright's place isn't far from the bar. It's an efficiency apartment, the bedroom separated with a wall where the TV is and a glass countertop. The apartment is small, but it's furnished and there's a couch that Em can sleep on and that's really all he cares about.

He's exhausted now; the crowd had asked for an encore and he and Bright had had to kick everyone out at 1 AM. Of course, Bright had spent a half an hour outside the door talking to San, while Em had worked on cleaning everything up.

It was close to 3:00 AM now and Em had to be up in another few hours for his internship. (He should have asked his professor the rules on taking a sick day while he'd been at the college.)

Em puts his things down.

"If you have a blanket I can use that'd be great." Em says, as he digs in his bag for a towel. "Do you mind if I shower first?"

"Go ahead," Bright says and then he frowns. "You need another blanket?"

"What another?" Em says, standing.

"There's one on the bed already."

Em stands up, gripping his towel.

"What?"

"There's a blanket on the bed." Bright repeats, slower.

"I can sleep on the couch, P'. There's no need for you to give up your bed."

"I'm not. We can share."

"Oh… ummm…" Em knows they had before, but it just feels different now, for whatever reason. He doesn't know how to articulate that, though, so he just ducks into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind him. He sighs a little and rubs a hand over his face before deciding it probably won’t be for too long, and getting in the shower.

When he’s done, he changes into his pajamas and sets the alarm on his phone, making a disgusted little noise as it tells him how long he has before his alarm goes off.

"Don't tell me that," he mumbles at it, and he climbs into the bed, really too tired to fight.

Bright showers next and Em turns the lights off and rolls away from the bathroom with a sigh. He tries-- and fails-- to go to sleep. Bright is quiet when he comes out of the bathroom but Em feels the bed dip down when he gets in. Bright shifts in the bed next to him to get comfortable and moves toward the center, until he's almost pressed against Em-- close enough he can feel the heat from his body.

Em clutches at the edge of the mattress, fingers catching on the seam, and tries to force his breathing to steady.

Tomorrow, he'll look for somewhere else to go. He doesn't want to put Bright out.

*

Em doesn't have luck that first night searching for an apartment. He takes a quick glance through the classifieds that come up, but then a new project has popped up at his internship and after thirty minutes of looking, he sits at a cramped counter and starts working on the tasks that his mentor has assigned him.

They're overhauling one of the production processes and redesigning the assembly and it requires a complex analysis before they even start, which is what Em's been tasked to focus on first.

He works through dinner and by the time he raises his head, his shoulders and back are cramped. He has a rough idea of the process and the outline of it, but that was hard enough to put together start to finish. He quickly goes to take a shower and then pulls on his boxers and a t-shirt. It's late -- late enough that Bright would probably be home soon.

Em knows it isn't much, but he remembers coming home from late days at high school, and his mom would be waiting there for him with a cold drink and something to eat. Em frowns and goes through the cabinets to find something to make.

By the time the key jiggles in the lock, Em has a bowl of ramen made with soft boiled eggs as an add in, and he'd found some juice he’d chilled in the freezer. Bright shuts the door behind him and sees Em with dinner and he squints at him.

"Why are you still awake?" Bright asks, as he toes his shoes off and shrugs out of the Hawaiian shirt he's wearing.

"I was working. I thought you might want dinner when you got in. I haven't found a new place yet."

Bright makes a non-committal noise and then joins Em at the table. They eat in relative silence.

"I usually grab something at the bar. You didn’t have to do this," Bright says, once he's finished. Em waves him off.

"It was no trouble. I forgot to eat too."

"That busy?" Bright asks.

Em nods and pokes at the remaining noodles he has while he discusses the massive assignment he has from work and Bright nods thoughtfully.

"Let me shower and I can take a look?" Bright says and Em shakes his head.

"I'm already putting you out."

Bright gives him a patient smile and then gets up from the table without another word. He disappears into the bathroom and Em hears the shower turn on. Em stands up and clears the table and stretches his neck and shoulders. He shuffles his papers into a semblance of order and pushes them back into his messenger bag.

Bright joins him after a moment, hair stuck up everywhere, with just a towel wrapped around his waist. Em glances over at him and then immediately looks away. He'd seen the hint of curling ink at Bright's ribs and he's still wet from the shower. And Em is --

Em's not sure what he is. He suddenly feels strange, maybe a little warm. Bright sits next to him.

"Let me see." Bright says, looping his arm around Em's shoulders. He smells good, citrusy.

Em thinks about telling Bright to get dressed but his skin feels nice and cool against Em's arm and he tries to think of the last time he'd been this close to someone.

The last time he'd felt anyone's skin like this besides his own.

(He'd spent the last three years pining for May, to the exclusion of other relationships or attempts at relationships or even one night stands. Not that Em was typically the nail and bail type anyway. So it would have been high school. His high school girlfriend, Emma.)

Em jerks away from Bright.

"You don't have to be that close." Em turns the laptop to him and ignores the unimpressed look Bright levels at him. Em isn't sure what to feel -- just that he's suddenly embarrassed. He hopes that Bright doesn't notice. But Bright's got his head ducked down, reading the laptop screen.

"So this is the current production model end-to-end?" Bright asks. Em nods.

"Yeah, there's an analysis that needs to be done before the overhaul, but I'd like to point out places in the analysis that we could improve on outside of what they're specifically looking for." Em reaches into his bag to pull out the papers he'd built his diagram from.

Bright shuffles through them, dark eyes moving as he reads fast, flipping the pages.

An hour later, Em has a better understanding from Bright's more advanced class knowledge -- having graduated-- and started on his analysis.

"If you're this smart, why did you open a bar," Em asks as he's packing his things away to get ready for bed.

"I made a deal with my dad. I initially wanted to go to a different faculty -- food science-- but my dad said he wouldn't pay for it. He said if I went for industrial engineering he'd let me do anything he wanted. It's what my dad does and he loves it and I think he figured I would too once I took the classes."

"But you didn't?"

Bright shrugs. "I don't hate it. It gives me something to fall back on if this all goes south. But as soon as I got my diploma I told him to pay up and he outfitted the bar and rented the space. He's still pissed about it. Asks me when I'm gonna get a real job."

Em thinks about his own dad and feels sad for Bright all of a sudden.

"I mean, running a bar is a real job, probably harder than industrial engineering… At least, more things to keep track of. And you don't even have employees."

Bright clicks his tongue.

"It's fine, who cares what he thinks."

Bright's frowning though, and Em feels bad for bringing it up.

"I'm glad you have your bar," Em says after a moment, patting Bright gently on the back. "It's nice to have someplace to relax and knowing you'll do what you can for your friends. I'm sure everyone else appreciates it too."

"Thank you, nong." Bright ruffles his hair and Em closes his eyes for a moment.

"You're welcome."

*

He's in a room he doesn't recognize, the shades on the wall cast in blues and purples. It's a club, or a bar. The bass thrums low like he can feel it in his veins. His heart thumps to match it -- slow, steady-- like the blood that pumps through his body at half speed. He's breathing in slow motion.

There's a throng of faceless bodies next to him, surrounding him, against him.

He sees a face in a crowd-- dark eyes and dark hair-- shapeless otherwise and he feels like he should run toward them but he's running in the same spot.

He's not moving.

Em jolts awake like he's gotten water dashed in his face. He doesn't know why the dream is so unsettling, but he feels like there's lead in the pit of his stomach. He glances at the clock on the nightstand, dim green numbers show it's half past four in the morning.

Bright's sleeping soundly next to him, snoring softly, holding onto his pillow like it's a lover. Em takes a few minutes to breathe and then slowly slips out of the bed. He goes to the bathroom to use the toilet, wash his hands, and splash water on his face.

Em's agitated like a caged cat and he isn't exactly sure why. The dream's already faded into an impression of color and sound and he rubs his eyes and stretches with a languid sort of laziness. He's tired but the idea of trying to go back to sleep is a little troubling too. So he pads out into the main room and grabs his headphones. He sits cross-legged on the couch and sticks his earbuds in.

He lights his phone up and hovers over the playlist that Bright had made him before deciding against it, opening up a video app instead. Maybe he'll watch something to calm himself down. Tew had been raving in the group chat about some series he'd been watching set at a film school, and Em wonders if it'll distract him enough to get him to sleep.

His phone vibrates with a notification.

are you awake?

The name still hasn't changed -- May💮-- the white flower symbolizing a lily. He frowns at the message and thinks about ignoring it. He should be angrier, more-- more something but he still feels soft about her. A sort of tenderness he can't shake.

yeah, all good?

i just couldn't sleep and was thinking about you.

Em frowns again.

oh?

i feel bad, you seemed so sad the other day when we were on campus, i only saw you like that when we were freshmen.

The fact that it's pity feels like another, different punch to the gut. He feels like he can't catch his breath or a break.

it's fine may. you don't need to feel sorry for me.

it's not feeling sorry so much as like… i want to apologize. i should have told you sooner

you were so obvious i thought if i acted oblivious you'd get the hint, but you never did.

Maybe the pity was a better thing to feel.

i guess.

it doesn't matter now though, we know where the other stands. i want to be friends still but i liked you for a long time. it's not easy to get over.

so what do we do?

Em gets the notification, reads it in the bar and doesn't open it. He's too tired to deal with this or maybe not tired enough. He feels angry all of a sudden, bitterness tasting like ash. He stabs at the video app again and scrolls through-- endless title cards with smiling faces and loving glances. He closes it just as viciously and thinks about throwing his phone through the TV.

Instead, he brings his knees to his chest and wraps his arms around them, puts his head down.

He's still sitting on the couch, eyes burning with tears that won't fall when his alarm to wake up goes off. He shuts it off as fast as he can and digs clothing out of his bag to get it ironed and ready for the day.

Another day in paradise.

*

A text message kicks off the weekend's festivities. Em asks if Kong can borrow his dad's car and if he and the gang can hang out. He feels slightly bad for it but Bright will be gone most of Saturday working, and he can kick the gang out before he gets home.

It's a perfect plan.

The thing he doesn't account for is that most of his friends are now coupled up. An odd mix -- generational, which makes him laugh -- since Arthit comes with Kong and Dae comes with Tew. It'd be annoyingly heartbreaking if it wasn't so funny that Oak and Maprang had started dating.

And Prae's girlfriend (who is introduced as Omo) is as pretty as she described.

The party, such as it is, starts off fairly normally. Em hooks up a bluetooth speaker to his phone and starts playing music, and Kong has brought a feast for everyone to share. They play some cards and he thinks maybe around dinner everyone will vacate.

Oak steals the keys to Kong's car and says he's going to get something.

Dae and Omo have taken over fighting over who gets to pick the next song so Em sits next to Kong on the floor and lays his head on his shoulder.

"It was rude of you to bring everyone's dates," Em complains to him. "I'm a…" He starts counting the people. "I'm a ninth wheel at my own party."

"You'll be okay," Kong says, patting him on the cheek.

"You're supposed to make me feel better."

"What are you, my wife?"

"You can't make an honest woman out of me, Kong. You're already married."

Kong pushes him away.

Em pouts at him just a little but he's mostly good-natured about it. Oak returns eventually with a mess of alcohol and a huge bag of candy; Em knows he shouldn't, considering the last time he'd gotten drunk, but there were only so many weekends he could do whatever he wanted.

It starts with the drinking and Pok Deng where they use the candy to wager and they take turns being the dealer. They make the winner take a shot so by the time they've gone through everyone as the dealer, there's no chance anyone is going home.

"We should play a different game," Omo says and she gathers the cards up, shuffling them through. She counts out the number of people who are in the group and starts to studiously remove the suits down to one and then removing the ten, jack, and queen as well. She explains the rules of ōsama gēmu to them, using the cards instead of paper.

She counts the amount again and removes the nine of hearts.

Em checks the time.

"Keep it in. Bright might wanna play when he gets home."

(It's almost 1 AM now.)

It's mostly stupid fun -- things like mixing different types of alcohol together and making people drink and one particularly ridiculous one where they tried in vain to put Kong's hair in braids. Stupid stuff like that. When Bright gets home Prae greets him at the door with a glass of booze and he raises his brow, but settles on the floor next to Arthit anyway.

Omo goes over the rules for him as Em hands him another drink.

"You oughta get caught up," Em says and he smiles at him. Bright nods and downs the second glass, removes his Hawaiian shirt to just the wife beater underneath. Em doesn't mean to, but his eyes linger on Bright as he shrugs it off, watching the flex of muscle and the shift of fabric. He shakes his head as he looks away.

A few more rounds go by, edging into more inappropriate territory as the alcohol flows free. Prae as the queen has Omo flash the group, which leads to some raucous cheering and it’s probably getting a tiny bit too loud for the small cramped apartment, as the night gets later.

Tew gets the King and Oak hands out another round of drinks, obnoxiously leaning over Em to set his down -- and then everyone else too. He takes a seat next to Tew and leans in to give him his drink too. But Em sees his mouth moving, like he's telling Tew some kind of secret.

Em squints at them but he can't quite make out what they're saying.

Tew suddenly looks downright gleeful though. He flashes his King card and then takes another slow drink, everyone waiting for what he's going to say.

"I think…" Tew says, his words sliding into one another, "...six and two should kiss."

Em looks down at his card -- the six of hearts. He groans a little.

"Unlucky. Who's got the two," Em says and he leans over to see if it's Kong who shows him a nine.

Bright shows his card. Two hearts like snake eyes in the middle.

Why is his heart suddenly beating so fast?

"Not a little peck either," Tew says. "Kiss him like he just pulled the red card."

Bright looks at Em and Em can almost feel his gaze burning into him. Everyone is making noises for encouragement.

"Come on," Em says.

"You have to do what the king says," Oak says. "Those are the rules."

Bright turns towards Em.

"Come here N'Em." Bright says. Bright doesn't seem to have a problem with it, is actually going to do it. Meanwhile Em's fighting the desire to turn bright red and run and hide. Another chorus of cheers erupt when Bright frames Em's face with his hands.

Bright leans in, closer. Em is frozen on the spot, hands at his sides, eyes wide and wild. And then Bright puts their lips together. Em's heart feels like a jackhammer and his lips part and Bright doesn't seem to care that everyone is watching. That Em feels like his heart is going to beat out of his chest.

Bright's hand slides into Em's hair, his tongue sliding over Em's lower lip, and then into his mouth. Em feels hot. Like he's being lit on fire and he tips his head a little as Bright deepens the kiss.

It's over almost as quick as it began and Em digs his fingernails into his palms to keep from throwing himself back at Bright. The entire room is going crazy, and Oak grabs Em's arm and shakes him like he owes him money.

The game mostly winds down from there and Bright gets out blankets for everyone.

Em doesn't think about the way his lips don't stop tingling for the rest of the night.

*

There are a few hours between when Em gets home-- no, back-- from his internship and Bright comes home from the bar. Usually, Em uses that time to get his work done so he can limit how much he asks Bright for insights and thoughts on things. He's trying to be mindful of the fact that though Bright is smart, clearly good at the field, he didn't want to do it.

But today-- it's all introspection.

It's been days but he can't stop thinking about Bright kissing him. It doesn't make sense why he can't. It hadn't even been that long of a kiss but it loops in his mind like a video on repeat-- stuck like he can't close the tab it's open on.

Em just doesn’t know why he can’t stop thinking about the kiss Maybe if he thinks really hard about it he can convince himself it wasn't even that good. (He knows he's lying to himself, because he hasn't really kissed anyone since-- there was someone at that party of P'Dim's. Those memories still exist in the back of his mind, like a blackhole with an occasional light leak.)

He takes a half-hearted stab at looking for another place to stay.

Bright comes home and San is with him. She's in a pretty black cocktail dress and her eyes are all red and puffy, but she's smiling as Bright regales her with -- Em’s not really sure. But he thinks it might have something to do with Prem.

"Oh, nong, you're still awake?" Bright asks, noticing him for the first time.

"Yeah, I was just about to head out," Em says suddenly and he shoves his papers back into his bag. Bright gives him a look, considering, but his brow knits together.

"It's after one…" Bright says. Em waves Bright off and pushes past him and San to leave, slamming the door behind him. He winds up hailing a taxi back to campus and once there, standing in front of the building, he grabs his phone and stabs Tew's name.

come let me in i'm staying the night with you
you better not be sleeping, the door's locked it's after curfew.

Minutes tick by before the messages are even read. But the response comes quickly.

brt!

Em dismisses the notification of the message Bright has sent him-- he doesn't care. Maybe he should just move back on campus.

Tew opens the door for him and beckons him in. He doesn't look like he's been sleeping. He looks messy, his shirt wrinkled, and he's just in a pair of boxers and slides. Low on his chest there's a mark like he's been bitten, barely obscured by the tank top he's wearing.

"Did I interrupt something?" Em asks, but he doesn't feel bad about it.

"Yes," Tew says, "but it's fine."

Tew's dorm is the same place it's been the whole time except now he's the senior there (although Em's sure there are others), and he just opens the door. The lights are on and there's music playing. Tew's got a single room with one large bed and there's someone in it.

Em sighs a little.

"You could have said they were still here." Em's moody.

"Eh, it's fine, greet your senior." Tew says and slaps him lightly in the back of the head. The pile of covers moves and Em wais to the mass but--

"Senior?" he asks, brow raising.

The covers sit up and uncover and Em glances over. It's Yacht. He looks equally as disheveled and Em is curious but-- he's too in his own feelings to really ask. He supposes if Tew wants to hook up with Yacht-- of all the people!-- that's his own business. Although--

"You better hope Dae doesn't have anyone else in love with him, or you might get punched." Em says.

"What?" Tew and Yacht both say.

"Did you not finish that show you recommended?" Em says and he sits on the edge of the bed.

Yacht slips out from under the covers -- he's wearing jeans still, what a monster-- and sits next to him.

"There's a scene where the other thought to be love interest makes out with a girl and gets beat up because-- you know what. nevermind. This joke isn't funny if I have to explain it."

"What're you doing here, anyway? Don't you live off campus," Tew asks as he hands Em a bottle of beer and perches on the other side of him.

"P'Bright had a girl over so I thought it'd be prudent to let them have the place. You've been there, it's small."

"And you share the bed," Tew says. Em glances at him.

"How do you know that?"

"Because I have eyes. There's only one bed."

"Maybe I sleep on the couch."

"Yeah, he could sleep on the couch," Yacht says. Em nods.

"But do you?" Tew asks. "You guys seem close. I'm kind of surprised he has a girl over and you're so chill with it."

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well…" Tew hesitates then and he looks away from Em. "Aren't you guys dating?"

Em barely manages to not fumble the bottle he's holding.

"What?" Em says. His heart thuds in his ears.

"Well you live with him, suddenly, and you're always at the bar, and Kong said that he was asking about you through P'Arthit. And then with the way he kissed you…"

"That was your fault. Don't think I don't know what you and Oak were up to!"

"Uhh, maybe I should go," Yacht says and Em waves at him.

"No, it's fine," Tew says and shakes his head. "We weren't up to anything. I just thought it'd help you guys be comfortable telling us. He certainly kissed you like it wasn't his first time."

"It's probably not the first time he's kissed someone, Tew. It's not that much different between people and--" Em feels very flushed all of a sudden.

"Oh… my bad."

The three fall silent, Em drinking and Tew tapping out a rhythm on his knee.

"So then you're not…"

"I'm here and he's at his place with a woman," Em says, wishing he was the type of person who spoke with authority. Kong could probably shut it down with just a pithy sentence. No one would push at him, no one did, when he said everything was fine. But Em isn't that person.

Em's nervous and stutter-y, lacking in confidence even in spite of everything. Maybe because of everything.

"I'm sorry." Tew says and he sounds like he means it. Yacht slaps him on the back in what is supposed to be encouragement.

"I'll go back to my room," Yacht says. "Text me if you need anything?"

It's directed to both of them. Yacht leaves without fanfare and the silence descends even more heavily. Em rubs at the back of his head.

"I have to be up early. Do you have clothes I can borrow?"

"They'll be a little tight but sure."

Em doesn't say anything else, just climbs up to the pillows and rolls over to sleep.

He doesn't sleep.

*

Em can't wear a tie because he can't button the top two buttons of the shirt he's borrowing from Tew. And the undershirt is clinging in a way that's made more indecent, probably, with the overshirt. He'd tried to go to Yacht's to ask for something to borrow, but he was already out of his dorm -- and the only other person he knew was either the same size as Tew or possibly smaller. Em tugs at the front of the shirt while he takes the train to work and groans a little in frustration.

He can't go to work like this.

He gets off before his office, close to where Bright lives and enters the place as quietly as possible. He closes the door softly, toes off his shoes quietly. He slides his bag off his shoulder and takes his dirty clothes out and spends the time taking off the borrowed shirts as well. Head cocked like a guard dog, trying to discern any kind of noise or movement.

Hearing nothing, he continues his slow trek towards the bedroom, where he's got his clothes hung up. Just a little further. He steps into the room and freezes. Bright is there. He's sitting up in bed, scrolling through his phone, and he looks up when Em darkens the doorway.

"You're back," Bright says and he meets Em's gaze for a moment before his eyes drop-- Em's not sure what he's looking at but he suddenly feels a little self conscious.

He doesn't need to be, he doesn't think. He's far from a vain person but there's times he knows he looks good. Maybe not as effortlessly attractive as someone like Kong who is naturally slim and good-featured-- or P'Prem who has an open, approachable face and a lean, long limbed body.

But Em worked on himself. His dad had made sure he got off of the couch and into his fitness classes, that when he'd grown a couple of inches, his more nerdy and academic pursuits didn't make him a target of bullying. That he could defend himself.

(Not that he did. All the fitness classes and height in the world couldn't make him feel less like every confrontation clogs the words in his throat. He feels brave, sometimes. Impelled, sometimes. To say what he thinks he should say. To stand up for things he thinks he should.

Although had that worked out for him --)

"I didn't mean to interrupt," Em finally says, striding to where his clothes are folded neatly on top of a table. "I tried to borrow clothes but I'm… you know…" He waves vaguely.

"Did you come here without a shirt on…?"

Bright's voice sounds weird, slow, low. He can feel eyes burning into his back. He feels it like an itch between his shoulders, like some sort of target.

"No, I was borrowing some, but they didn't fit. I thought you'd be asleep and I took them off in the hall."

"Mmm," Bright says. Distracted. Em thinks maybe he's gone back to his phone.

He grabs an undershirt and starts to pull it on.

"Wait," Bright says.

Em pauses with his arms in the tanktop, head bent forward, but doesn't put it on. Hears some shuffling, then warm hands on his shoulders. Em freezes even more, if it’s possible, as Bright's hands move across his shoulders, over his biceps, then back up. Em swallows nervously and feels his heart beating like a snare drum.

Then Bright's hands trail down his spine, thumbs bracketing the vertebrae, fingertips pressing lightly, stopping at the curve on his lower back. He can feel Bright's breath on the back of his neck and it suddenly feels incredibly fragile. He wants to move, he doesn't want to move.

He doesn't know what to think.

Em tries to measure his breathing, keep it even, hoping the hammering of his heart isn't so noticeable from Bright's perspective.

"I have to get to work, the train'll be here soon," Em says after a moment.

"I can drive you." Bright's response is immediate and -- there's dampness, suddenly at the very top of his spine, where his neck is craned forward. But it's -- he can't tell if Bright's just breathing closer to him or if he's pressed his mouth there. His hands are still settled at the base of his spine.

"Oh, that's not--"

Then there are lips. Just a ghost of them in the same place he'd felt the warmth of Bright's breath. But Bright's lips are a little dry, a little more firm than just breathing, and there's also the more present sensation of Bright breathing out through his nose against Em's skin. Em feels his skin prickle, goosebumps breaking out on his arms.

At least he doesn't shiver.

At least they're probably not noticeable to Bright from this vantage point.

"I don't mind." Bright's words move across Em's skin.

"I have to finish getting dressed."

The contact disappears all at once, leaving Em feeling chillier than he had before-- but it's not so bad. Well-- it’s confusing.

He pulls his undershirt on. Grabs a button down from the closet and then turns towards Bright. Bright's looking at him, eyes soft, cheeks slightly pink. Em starts putting his dress shirt on, working to close the buttons, all with Bright's eyes on him.

"Em," Bright says, "I want to kiss you."

Bright doesn't wait for a response before he closes the short distance between them. They're almost the same height so Bright doesn't have to tip Em's chin up too much to kiss him. It's soft-- a press of lips, almost chaste if the situation wasn't so charged.

Bright's eyes are closed, dark lashes against his cheeks, and after a moment -- Em parts his lips, and closes his eyes. He feels Bright move, one hand slipping into his hair, the other coming to rest on his hip. And then they're kissing, open-mouthed. Em breathes heavily through his nose, feeling like the wind has been knocked out of him.

When Em pulls back, there's an uneven stain of red on Bright's cheeks, his eyes dark and a little glassy. Em thinks he probably looks just as bad. His fingers fumble as he goes to finish buttoning up his shirts, his hands shaking. He’s sure it’s fine.

"We should get going," Em says. "I don't want to be late."

Em's day goes by fast-- when he's not actively working on something, he feels like he's in a bit of a haze. During lunch, he opens the messages he'd ignored from Bright the previous night.

n'em is everything okay?
san is just here because her boyfriend broke up with her, i thought it'd be nice if she didn't have to go back to their place.
n'em, san's sister came to get her so she has some place to stay
are you coming back?
are you ignoring me? :(
okay, okay… i'll talk to you later then and a bear with tears streaming down his face, arms open for a hug.

Em feels bad. He knows he should feel worse. He presses his fingers to his lips.

Em walks to FIN JUNG after the day is done to have dinner and a beer and he talks about work with Bright for a bit before heading back to the apartment. He works on some of the things he needs to for his job and pages through another few listings for apartments, sending a few feelers out.

Em's in bed by the time Bright gets home.

"Em… can we talk?" Bright asks.

Em pretends to be asleep.

He leaves before Bright wakes up in the morning.

*

Em bangs on the door to Kong's apartment, going there by taxi instead of back to Bright's after work. Kong doesn't answer within a few seconds, so he knocks longer and louder. The door swings open after a moment.

"I kissed Bright." Em says.

"Um…"

And-- that isn't Kong. That's P'Arthit. Em can almost feel the burn of embarrassment.

"Is Kong here?"

Arthit steps aside and lets him in. He's clearly interrupted their dinner. Whatever, Kong will get over it.

"Em's here," Arthit says needlessly. Kong nods and glances up at him. Arthit wordlessly gets an extra bowl and sets it out for Em and Kong portions food out for him.

"Have you eaten?" Kong asks. "What're you doing here?"

"He kissed Bright," Arthit says. Kong nearly chokes on the bite he's taking.

"What? When? How?"

"Technically, he kissed me but I kissed him back." Em frowns. "Do I need to explain how kissing happens?" he asks.

Kong gives him a look.

"I'm assuming you're meaning some other time that wasn't what we all witnessed?"

"Would I be here if it was something you already knew?"

"Don't be rude, Em. It's not cute."

"I'm not trying to be cute. What am I going to do? I can't-- we can't-- I don't know what to do."

"What happened?"

"I was changing and he kissed me." Em says and then he groans and drops his head on the table by his bowl. He feels someone-- angle, it has to be Arthit-- awkwardly pat him on the shoulder. "Wait, that's not the full story."

His voice is muffled into his arms.

Still muffed, he gives Kong and Arthit the complete story starting with the time Bright had come home with San to Em leaving for work just this morning.

"N'Yacht?" Arthit says after-- seemingly more scandalized by that than anything else. "I thought he was dating N'Fang."

Kong squints at Arthit and Em sits up straight.

"Really, that's the part you comment on?" Em asks.

"Well…" Arthit looks shy all of a sudden. Kong's squint gets squintier.

"Well what?" Kong asks.

"Well, I just assumed that Bright liked you." Arthit says.

Em stares and Kong frowns.

"You did?" Kong and Em say in unison but in different tones.

"Bright really is a sort of straight-forward kind of person, nong," Arthit says. "He doesn't do anything he doesn't want to do."

"What does that mean?" Em says and Kong nods. Em feels a little vindicated that Kong is backing him up instead of Arthit.

"I love Bright like my own brother, but he's bull-headed and he can be selfish. I wouldn't call him a generous person."

"If you speak about your friends like that, p', what do you call your enemies?" Kong says, sounding a little judgmental.

"I'm just saying, the lengths he's gone to to be kind to nong Em aren't really in line with normal behaviors. But they definitely mirror lengths he'd go to when flirting."

"Flirting?" Em feels this hollow thudding in his ears.

"Yes, like asking about foods you like to buy for you, taking you home when you were drunk, letting you live with him…"

"But Bright likes women…" Em says.

"Bright is bisexual."

Kong and Em exchange a look.

"How do you know this? You acted like you'd never heard of gay people when I first asked you out."

"Tutah and Bright dated."

"What?" Kong says.

"When?" Em says at the same time.

"Second year," Arthit says. "Only for a couple of months, I think. Or maybe longer. They cooled it down after a while. Personally, I think it was because P'Tum was already looking at Bright to be a hazer."

"Maybe he just liked P'Tutah…" Kong says.

This time, Em is the one who gives Kong a look.

"People aren't just gay for one person, Kongpob," Em says. Kong shakes his head at him.

"No, he's had a few flings with men too. Picking up guys at the bar. I remember when we were on our hazing field trip in our first year, on the beach. He was talking with this guy. A swimmer, some college athlete, a little older than us. I think he probably would have left with him if it wasn't for the hazers."

"Okay, fine, so he's bisexual. He couldn't possibly like…" Em starts, then trails off. Kong pats him on the shoulder and he can feel that Arthit and Kong are having some kind of unspoken conversation.

"You should talk to him, nong," Arthit says, his tone a little more kind than Em is used to.

"Thanks for everything," Em says, letting them finish their dinner in peace.

One of the women he'd reached out to for an apartment messages him back so instead of going back to Bright's he goes to check that out instead. It's nice and in a range he can afford.

It's probably better to move out now before he gets his hopes pinned on something that'll just end up hurting him.

*

He stays with Tew and he stays in his own dorm, getting there early enough to slide through the curfew. It makes the commute longer and worse, but it helps him to avoid having to discuss-- anything about The Kiss and especially how he'd felt about it. He has a day where they're supposed to be on campus anyway, giving updates and he eats lunch with Prae and Omo and May -- and they talk about their internships, and their life.

Well, the girls do. Em talks about his internship and stays incredibly tight-lipped about anything besides that.

Friday night, he slips into Bright's apartment while he's working and grabs a couple changes of clothes. The apartment is a little messy, feels a little suffocating, but he doesn't stay long. And then he's off to the train station, buying a ticket online.

He sends a message to Bright that he's going away for the weekend since it feels rude to just leave.

Even though it's after work when he leaves, and it's a long train ride-- he gets into the station around seven in the morning on Saturday, having slept fitfully on the train. He steps into the station and rubs the sleep from his eyes -- and he doesn't look much different than the last time he's seen him -- and he definitely recognizes Prem's face. He’s dressed in an old soft looking hoodie, hands in his pockets.

"Thanks for meeting me," Em says, as he wais to Prem and pulls Wad into a tight hug. He really has missed him; Prem is probably his second closest friend after Kong, and someone who was a little more-- he didn't know. Wad hadn't ever seemed to express an interest in girls, but talking to Kong about this kind of stuff was confusing, since he truly believed he was straight and just happened to have feelings for one man.

He wasn't sure about Prem. He seemed to be straight by all rights, and Em had seen him hit on Prae, but he also was here-- visiting his boyfriend in Chiang Mai. Prem gives him a look, soft, like maybe he sees some of the sadness Em is feeling and feels bad for him.

Em tells himself to work on hiding what he's feeling. He doesn't know Prem especially well, so if he can see it, then that means everyone can. And since it's the same thing that's been bothering him, he can feel some sort of anger in the back of his mind. If it was so obvious how come no one else had said anything?

Was he not worthy of-- of even asking if he was okay? He swallows bitterness down like a pill and it feels like it's choking him for a moment, before Prem throws an arm around his shoulders and leads him towards the exit, Wad on the other side, linking their elbows. It feels like too much.

He feels fragile like spun sugar, brittle. Like any small wrong movement might break him. It's not like he's delicate; it's not like he isn't able to weather everything he's faced so far. And the fact is, he's not going to be 20 and in college forever. Maybe his life will just move on and this will end up being one strange string of months that he goes over in his mind and never talks about with his future wife and kids.

Prem drives and Wad sits in the front, plays with the radio, talks about his own internship he'd been doing while Prem's been helping him take care of his dad. There's something -- there's something that strikes him like a stake to the heart about Prem joking about being unemployed, about his freelance photography. And here he is, miles from his home and his friend group, showing the kind of devotion to take care of his boyfriend's-- boyfriend! not even husband!-- sick father while he finishes his degree.

Wad's dad's house is nestled in a copse of trees with a cobbled driveway and a large pool with crystal water lapping in the gentle breeze. It's clean and sunny inside, lots of windows, and Prem immediately breaks off to give Wad and Em alone time. They take their shoes off and Em rolls the cuffs of his jeans up so he can put his feet in the water.

Wad sits nearby, expression thoughtful.

Em breaks the silence. "I can't believe it, the way you two were gonna kill each other when we were freshmen and look at you now."

Em feels a stab of jealousy. Their freshman crushes worked out for everyone but him.

"I did have to get punched in the face for it," Wad says. Amused, maybe.

"What?"

Wad just gives him a lopsided smile and joins him by the poolside. It's quiet, peaceful, but Em can't really relax even though he badly wants to. Everything feels like it's crushing him, but they're alone, and he can-- he can talk to Wad about this, maybe.

If it's just the two of them.

"Have you always known you liked men?" Em asks. It comes out more stilted, less sure than he wants it to. Wad looks at him, sidelong, and then shakes his head.

"No. I mean, I guess I had suspicions when I was younger but I don't think I really realized it until the summer I was fourteen."

Em nods a little.

"My parents are divorced, and I lived with my dad mostly-- so when my mom remarried, I was at this party with all these people, you know. I suppose my new family and new friends of the family. And my mom made us take all these pictures and told me she wanted pictures of just me to hang in the new house. And the photographer had this assistant with him, probably a kid a little bit older than me at the time. Or maybe some intern from the university."

Wad pauses and then pats Em on the knee.

"Well, it was windy, so the photographer had this intern come and fix my clothing and my hair. I hadn't hit my growth spurt yet so he was taller than me, and he was leaning down a little, tilting my chin up and with his fingers in my hair. I got so red-faced and flustered." Wad laughs at the memory of it. "My mom thought I had heat stroke and they made me lie down in one of the covered gazebos."

"I don't think it was the first time I'd ever been interested in anyone in general. I wasn't blind, I noticed girls. But it was the first time a guy had made me feel like that. And then from there it was easy to recontextualize some other feelings that I thought were more rivalry or competitiveness."

Em is quiet for a while and he tries to think.

"Do you think other people… Do you think people can find out later? Like maybe they never thought about it before and then something happens, and it changes?" Em tries to choose his words carefully. He doesn't want to admit that maybe he isn't-- that maybe he's--

"I think no one has the same experiences. They could be like one another, but it's not a monolith."

They sit there in silence, the sound of cars in the distance, a dog barking from a couple of yards over, the rustle of the wind in the trees, and the squawk of a nearby bird. The door opens and then shuts behind them and Prem sits down on the other side of Wad, and hands them both something to drink.

He opens his mouth to say something but Wad touches his knee and shakes his head no.

Subtle, really, but Em witnesses it all. He feels like he watches everyone and their nuances, the little indications of closeness, and wonders what it would be like to be like that. In high school, he and his girlfriend had always had things like that. Secret touches and glances, visible to all but secret still, in their meanings.

Em rests his elbows on his knees and puts his chin in his hands. He keeps in the suffering sigh he wants to let out, feeling it build in his chest until it might pop like a balloon. He opens his juice and drinks it down. He’s disappointed to find that it’s grape flavored; he prefers the apple but he's not going to complain.

"Do you think someone can be our age and only find out then?" Em asks.

"Yeah." Wad nods. "Why do you ask?"

The question feels like ice water in his face. It almost makes him want to retreat back into himself but he's gotten this far. This was why he'd come there, right? To talk about this-- his own feelings?

"I just, I think I might… I mean…" Em buries his face in his hands. He can't say it. Wad's hand comes down on his shoulder, solid and warm.

"You can tell me, Em," Wad says. His voice is gentle, like a spring breeze through the grass. It feels like it's unlatching some part of his heart, where everything will tumble out too fast, but he knows once it does, he won't be able to fit it all back inside himself.

If he says it, it's out, and it's real. And then what does he do with himself?

Wad's hand moves in a circle. Something startles birds that flutter from a nearby tree. The sky is blue and clear but Em feels cloudy and unhappy.

"I think," Em starts again, "I think I might like…"

Em sighs again, closes his eyes. (Feels Bright's hands on his face.)

"I like boys."

The world doesn't end.

*

It's early in the afternoon, sunlight striping golden across the lawn, through the trees. Wad's off helping his dad and Em is sitting on the porch with Prem, scrolling through his phone, and Prem is doing the same. At the beginning of the year, these people had still been scary to him. People who had, for a short time, made his life hell -- and now, he lived with one of them, his best friend was dating another, and now Wad was dating a third. Tutah and Knot were already the nicer of the five of them anyway, so the transition for them had been even easier.

Em puts his phone down.

"P'Prem." Em gets his attention and waits until he looks up. "How did you and Wad start dating anyhow?"

He knows about Kong and Arthit; everyone in their engineering class might know about them by now. Especially their very public coming out on a sandy beach at the thank you party. Em has a memory there too, but nothing as shocking as that.

Those chocolates, he'd gotten them like he'd promised he would. They were in a little gift bag with thick, heavy black paper and the name printed on the front, the handle wrapped in gold thread that rubbed off like glitter on his hands. Back then, he'd still been afraid of Bright, and his palms had been sweating as he'd handed it over.

Even years later, he can't decipher the look Bright had given him after opening the bag.

"I think it was around the end of your first year," Prem says. He recounts the way he'd shielded Wad from further damage by the economics basketball players, upset over losing the contest, and the way they'd hit his back and shoulders until security had run them off. "I thought his leg was broken at first, he could barely stand and I took him to the hospital."

"He was okay, just a sprain, and the doctor wrapped his ankle and I took him home. I think that was… probably the first time we had interacted without it devolving into a fight. Then afterward we happened into the same pharmacy. You know, Wad wasn't really a fan of the hazing things, so I asked him to come to the flag game."

"I always wondered why he'd changed his mind," Em says "He didn't tell us what happened to him, but he showed up to school all beaten up. And Oak told him that the flag capturing wasn't mandatory."

"Which one is Oak?" Prem asks, frowning suddenly. Em waves a hand.

"Nevermind that, continue your story."

"Well, since you were there, you know he showed up. And… he was at the wrist tying ceremony. I don't really… I'm not sure what exactly happened in the interim. I was taking pictures. Bright led Wad over to me." Prem's expression suddenly gets incredibly soft. And it's such a vulnerable sort of expression that even the mention of Bright's name doesn't shake Em from his rapt attention.

"He looked so beautiful in the candle light," Prem says, sounding almost awed. "I couldn't believe it. When I was tying the thread around his wrist I felt like my heart was going to pound out of my chest. I kept thinking-- every time I tried to think of something I felt like my brain was crashing. I got so scared of the enormity of feeling. And I -- I messed up. But I was scared."

"Messed up how?"

Prem breathes out through his nose. "I apologized-- I didn't want him to bear me ill will. And he thanked me for rescuing him. I panicked, I said that we were brothers. I could see his face fall, but I wasn't brave enough to backtrack then."

Prem rubs his hands on his thighs, like the memory is bothering him too. He runs a hand through his hair. "But despite all that, we still exchanged LINE IDs that night, and we started talking more regularly. Wad's dad just started to become ill around that time, and he said he didn't want to bother anyone else, so he talked to me about it. It got to a point where we just sort of… I don't know."

"That sounds nice, though. I'm glad you were a good friend to him." Em smiles at Prem. "He needed it."

"Of course, it was our third year, so we started doing our internships shortly after, but we texted a lot. And we'd get together to hang out on the weekends. One weekend, we took a train here to Chiang Mai, because Wad was worried about his dad. I remembered thinking on the train that I thought he looked so young. I started to feel bad and tried to commit myself to sticking to that brother role. Just as we were saying goodbye for the year, while I was helping Wad pack because he had an early train ride, he kissed me."

"Oh. I didn't expect him to be so bold." Em grins at that and Prem does too, nodding.

"So I cancelled the plans I'd made with my friend and went with him here instead. And I guess the rest was history."

"So you dated all through last year in secret?"Em asks and Prem nods a little slowly.

"It was tough, but we didn't really plan on telling anyone."

"How did Tutah and Bright find out?" Em asks.

"Ah, well…" Prem's cheeks flush. "Bright and I actually shared a dorm back in those days. I thought he was going to be gone for the weekend because he said he was going to visit his family. But he must have fought with his dad and he came back early. Obviously, with a key to the room. And Bright tells Tutah everything."

That-- that's enough to bring Em back down to Earth. He feels suddenly uncomfortable with the thought.

"Everything?" he repeats, dimly. Prem nods. He considers, then, that Tutah probably knows about… it. He doesn't get the chance to ask because Wad comes back and changes the subject, inviting Em in to play a new video game while his dad sleeps.

Later, when they're having dinner, he notices Bright's name pop up on Prem's phone as it vibrates with a call. Prem glances at it, then looks at Em, and grabs the phone. Em frowns a little and squints after Prem as he goes to take the call.

"Why did he look at me?" Em asks, suddenly paranoid.

"Huh?" Wad asks. His face looks innocent. Em squints at him.

"Nevermind." Em says and frowns a little, but now he can't concentrate on dinner, and instead, he watches Prem through the sliding glass door with the phone pressed to his ear.

"Let's go have a cigarette," Wad says and he nods towards the door. Em doesn't smoke but they head on out anyway, Wad fishing the package out of his pocket and lighting up. Prem is near enough to them that he knows they're there, and he raises his hand in a wave.

"Why don't you ask Arthit then?" Prem says into the phone. "You're being irresponsible by asking me. I don't know anything."

He listens and Em listens and Wad is probably listening too, or maybe he's just watching the way the porch light reflects on Prem's face, where the shadows make his hair darker and his brow look heavier. Prem's making a face-- an annoyed face, he thinks.

"Well then you shouldn't have--" He stops, like he's being interrupted. "-- do you want my advice or do you want to talk over me? I'll hang up."

Em is too invested in the advice Prem might be giving. What if it's about The Kiss. He leans a little closer, crashing into Wad's shoulder. Prem is listening again, though, head tilted.

"You can't manufacture someone getting beat up so you can rescue them. This isn't a TV show… Wad's just infuriating, tons of people want to beat him up. I want to beat him up sometimes. I don't think you'll have that opportunity. Besides, who can you even fight off? You're not a hero if you're beating up kids."

Prem pulls the phone away from his ear and hits the end call button, shaking his head a little.

"Was that Bright?" Em asks. Okay, he wasn't subtle, so what?

"Mmhm." Prem sits down across from them, putting his phone back in his pocket.

"What did he want?"

"Just to talk," Prem says. "He's having some problems."

"With what?" Em asks, innocent. Maybe it had nothing to do with what happened.

Prem purses his lips for a moment and then sighs a little. "You guys are friends, you should ask him," he says.

Em doesn't really want to hear that, but he thinks that maybe Prem is right. That's what adults do, right? Talk about things? He and Bright can talk about things. Right?

The conversation shifts -- from the phone call to a discussion on relationships in general. Em talks about Tew and his quest to befriend, or perhaps more, his code junior, and updates Wad in general about everyone in the gang. Oak and Maprang, Prae and her girlfriend, Kong and Arthit still going strong-ish.

They shift to video games, to Wad and Prem's relationship and what they're planning next, once Wad's dad has recovered.

He leaves early the next morning.

*

On Sunday, he goes to Bright's apartment long enough for a change of clothes on Monday morning, and tries to think about what he might do going forward. It’s starting to look more and more like he's not going to be able to find another place before his internship is up. And maybe, even in spite of everything, Bright won't mind if Em stays out the month with him.

Still, he doesn't know if he can have that conversation now, so he hopes he can slip in, unaware, and give himself just another day to think. To gameplan.

There are things to consider-- like his newfound admittance to himself, his discomfort with it, the fact he can't stop thinking about Bright kissing him, and what would happen if they kept sharing a bed. Then again-- what he'd thought before hadn't exactly changed. Em didn't imagine Bright had a lot of time to mingle with people, running a bar, and Em was a convenience because he lived with him and was already around.

It doesn't hurt as much as he thought it would. He supposes it's because that’s what he'd expected.

He winds up eating dinner with Tew and Dae, along with Omo -- he doesn't know where Prae is-- and May. But he doesn't feel very hungry, lost in his own thoughts and in his own head.

"Oh, look at you, brooding," Tew says and he pokes Em in the elbow with the spoon he's using

Em pulls back a little. "I'm not, I'm just thinking," he says.

"Is everything okay?" May asks, rubbing at his shoulder.

The motion makes him want to tense up. It's difficult not to separate everything from May’s rejection. It’s easier for him to believe that this is her fault, even though it isn't. (If she hadn't rejected him, then Em wouldn't have interned at Cognex-- he would have been at Unit All -- which means he wouldn't have had his living situation upended, causing him to move in with Bright. It was a chain reaction -- a butterfly flaps its wings and causes a hurricane and all of that.)

Em sighs a little and looks at her, pursing his lips for a moment.

"I guess," Em says after a moment. "It's just confusing."

"Your internship?" Dae asks.

"Something like that." Em pushes his food around his plate more than he eats it. Tew tips his head from one side and then to the other, like he's bopping to an invisible beat.

"Your roommate?" Tew asks, waggling his brows at him.

Em glares and then sighs. "Something more like that yeah."

"What's wrong with your roommate?" May asks. "Why don't you come back to stay on campus if it's bad?"

"I might. I have been looking for another place." Em taps his fingers on the table and falls quiet. Eventually, the dinner crowd breaks off, and because he isn't sure what else to do he winds up scrolling his phone and mindlessly following Tew as he walks Dae back to his room.

Once they drop the kid off, Tew slings an arm around Em and looks at his phone. Currently, Em is on Bright's Instagram page, which mostly just consists of posts promoting the bar, pictures of him and his friends, various pictures of the city and scenery he's seen.

He refreshes and sees the following image, frowning a little. There's no one tagged, but he feels his mouth get sort of dry.

His fingers itch to comment. He can feel the desire well up in him but he closes out of the app instead and shoves it back into his pocket.

Tew nudges him.

"You didn't even watch my story," he says, lip jutting out in an exaggerated pout. Em frowns at him.

"What is it?" Em asks. Tew grins at him and pulls his own phone out to open instagram. He wonders if Tew follows Bright as well, but his most recent post is from some aesthetics instagram and is a field of flowers-- which disappears as Tew clicks on his own story.

The story is-- unsurprisingly-- a subtle recording of Dae walking him to his door, talking about what he'd learned in some documentary he'd watched. Em shoves him.

"You're so lame."

"What's your latest story?" Tew asks and Em shakes his head.

"I don't have one, they disappear after some hours. I think the last one I did was… a couple of days ago."

"Oh yeah, you were on the train?"

Em nods.

"Where were you going?" Tew asks.

"None of your business." Em replies.

Tew nudges him again. "You can tell me."

"I can, I know. I just…" Em trails off and shakes his head.

They get to Tew's dorm first and Tew invites him inside. He declines and heads back to his own. He opens the window to air it out and lays his outfit for the following day out, and flips through a book before the general feeling of restlessness makes him shut it with a thump.

Bright hasn't texted him all weekend and he knows that he should have expected it. He feels some sort of way about it. It's a niggling feeling, something dancing on the edge of discomfort. He doesn't allow himself to follow up on it, because he's not entirely sure he wants to know.

Probably the less he considers it, the better.

He closes LINE out and opens up a game instead. Maybe focusing on something mindless will help.

It doesn't and he finds himself looking at the playlist Bright had made him. The smiley face still somehow feels comforting despite everything else. He grabs his headphones and puts them in, starting a familiar song. But with all the confusing emotions he has now, he doesn't feel as comforted by it as he used to.

Maybe it's just because he's confused; he changes to his sad playlist instead.

At least here if he cries, no one is going to notice.

*

His internship still sucks. His direct mentor is even more cagey with him since he submitted his proposal for the redesign. P'Din tells him that he thinks that he's just jealous. Management had really been thrilled with it.

i think i'm going to get a passing grade in internship :)
as long as more than just my direct mentor gets to submit a grade :(
i'm lovable… why does he hate me???

Em sends this series of messages to Tew. Tew reads them and doesn't respond. Jackass, Em thinks to himself. But he knows Kong is having a difficult time; he'd read through-- and responded!-- to a text chain about the rocky interaction he'd had with Arthit.

Kong confided that when Em had come over it'd been a rare good phase between them, but otherwise, the friction of the real world was getting to them.

Em had been the definition of supportive, but it felt like a bad idea to try and put more pressure on him, talking about his own issues, and fears about the eventual end of the internship. He supposes, really, Tew has his own problems too but Em's classified them more as college problems.

Dae's a student, Tew's also a student, and his internship will be over soon too. They'll exist in the same halls, the same dorms, the same study rooms. It's not as easy for -- well, Kong he supposes, with Arthit working.

Em doesn't have anything, just a bundle of confusing emotions and empty hands and a heart that feels too heavy for him to really bear. He thinks he remembers reading something about that at some point, but he can't chase down the memory any more than that.

P'Din invites him out for a drink and -- what the hell, he might as well. Pang comes with them too, as well as a few other employees from the company. He hasn't met Ohm or Golf before but they seem nice enough. Ohm looks about as old as Din but who could really tell. Golf has recently graduated from a different university.

What Em doesn't expect is the new hip place they're talking about going to be Bright's bar. But of course it is. Why would it be anywhere else in all of Bangkok?

Golf has his arm around his shoulders, talking to him about his FIFA career mode game, and Em keeps his head down. He wants to scan and see if anyone he knows is here, but he's afraid of accidentally meeting Bright's gaze. Which -- Bright is the only employee so it's not like he'll be able to avoid him all night.

"Get me a drink," Em says to Golf and pushes at him.

"Aren't you the intern?" Golf retorts and pushes back. "I think the first round should be on you."

"N'Pang's an intern too," Em protests.

"But she's a girl…" Ohm says. Din nods in agreement.

Em sighs and rubs the back of his neck. Rip the band aid off..
"Fine." He stands up and makes his way to the bar.

He stands behind someone in line and mouths along with the music playing through the speaker. He thinks this song is on the playlist that Bright had sent him. He presses his lips together to stop singing along. The person in front of him leaves and he steps up to the bar.

"Oh, P'Tutah, what're you doing here?" Em asks.

"I'm covering for Bright. What're you doing here?" Tutah asks.

Em jerks his chin over to his group.
"Is Bright okay?" Em asks as he puts in his order.

Tutah puts it in and waves Em's money off. "Bright wouldn't charge you so it's on the house. And I think so? He was fine when he left."

"When'd he leave?"

"Just about an hour ago. His dad called him."

Em frowns and watches as Tutah gets their drinks.

"About the bar?" Em asks. Tutah shrugs. Em frowns more and takes the drinks back to the table, but he shifts where he's sitting so he can see if he can see when Bright comes back. His own emotions-- whatever they might be-- take a backseat as he worries about Bright.

He's half distracted, trying to keep a handle on the conversation. Ohm is talking about his fiancé, showing pictures of their tiny pomeranian, showing pictures of his baby niece and his older nephew. He talks about his family like he thinks he needs to convince everyone that they're real. Bright comes back in the middle of a video of the niece learning how to walk.

Em tries to remain attentive, but it's like one of those overwrought romance movies where the sound fades out. Maybe if he were in a romance drama he'd hear only the beating of his own heart, or Bright's as well. But this is real life and it's only fantasy that the sound drops out. Ohm is still talking, and Pang and Din and Golf are making all the right ooh-ing and aah-ing sounds.

Em watches as Bright goes behind the bar to talk to Tutah, their heads together, and he thinks about Arthit mentioning that they'd once been in a relationship. He's staring at them, so he sees the precise moment that Tutah mentions that Em is there. Bright raises his gaze and then they're looking at each other.

Em's palms sweat and he stands abruptly.

"Let me get another round," Em says, and he nearly overturns his chair in his haste to move.

"But we're not--"

Em walks away and doesn't hear the end of Golf's sentence.

"Are you okay?" he says to Bright immediately. "Is everything fine with your dad?"

Tutah gives him a look. Bright gives him a look too, like he's offended.

"He just wanted to go over the numbers." Bright waves a file folder he's holding at Em. "Where have you been?"

Em frowns. "Uh, around."

Bright makes a noise but then turns his attention to Tutah. Em feels rejected and he knowsit's stupid, but he does. He wants to grab Bright by the front of his shirt and demand he pay attention to him. But that isn't fair and he isn't sure he wants all that attention anyway.

Golf appears beside him and loops his arm around his shoulders again. Bright flicks his gaze between the two of them.

"Oh, so cute, nong," Tutah says, batting his lashes at Golf. "Is that why you've been absent? You got yourself a little boyfriend?"

Em feels his cheeks go hot and Bright looks annoyed. Golf looks confused more than anything else.

"Come on, P'Tutah," Em says.

Tutah nudges Bright.

"He didn't deny it," he says.

"Nong Em is interning at the company I work at," Golf says. "We're just out celebrating."

"Celebrating what?" Tutah asks.

Golf grins at them.

"Just work things," he says. "Nong Em is proving to be quite the industrious little intern. I'm thinking that Khun Din will be offering him a full time job once he graduates. How do you two know him?"

"We all went to the same university," Em says.

"Really?" Golf says.

"Em was so afraid of us," Tutah says, "he was too shy to even ask for signatures."

Em feels his cheeks going pink.

"I wasn't," he protests. (He was.)

"Afraid? Why?"

"Hazers," Em says and he gives both of them a look he hopes conveys that they should cut it out. "Your garden variety senior-junior relationship."

"I remember Em trying out for the hazers like it was yesterday," Tutah starts.

Bright smacks him in the arm.
"That's enough, Tutah. Enjoy your time with your friends," Bright says.

Em hesitates and thinks about what he should say.

"We'll talk later?" he asks.

Bright turns away and disappears into the back and Golf urges him back to the table.

*

Em leaves with his coworkers, with an invitation to some get-together that Ohm's girlfriend is planning and with Golf and Din and Pang's LINE IDs. Pang is an incessant texter, sending screenshots of other conversations and asking for his opinion, which is at least a respite from thinking about his own issues. He eventually tells her he's going to bed, and he showers, and then he waits.

He reads through the texts that Kong has sent him.

i don't know what to do
he didn't even say anything?
he just sat there
i asked him if he still wanted to be together
and he didn't say anything?
what am i gonna do now, em?
i don't know what to do this isn't fair

where are you?

campus

i'm coming

Em winds up taking a taxi back to the school; Kong is out in front, face red and puffy and he looks a lot worse than Em had expected him to. Em grabs his hand gently.

"It's okay, come on," Em says. "You can stay with me tonight. You don't have to be alone."

Kong grabs onto him and buries his face against his chest, leaving Em feeling unsure about what to do. He settles on wrapping his arms around Kong and trying to soothe him. He's shaking like a leaf, hiccuping sobs and clutching on to Em like he can't keep himself upright.

Em doesn't know if he can take Kong back to Bright's because what if Arthit goes to Bright for support? Then again, maybe he doesn't need it. Kong said he hadn't seemed to care. Still…

They have their internships to go to, but Em frees one hand to use an app to get a taxi. He doesn't know what else to do so he puts in the address for a hotel that's nearby. The woman at the counter gives them a strange, suspicious look as Em pays cash for the room, and Kong sniffles and tries to regain his composure.

They manage to get a room. It's got a single large bed and the TV doesn't work, and Em doesn't have any clothes or his phone charger or anything. He spends some time getting Kong cleaned up, wiping his face and his hands and trying to get him to calm down.

"Have you eaten?" Em asks after the crying subsides.

Kong looks miserable. Em doesn't blame him. He's no stranger to being brokenhearted.

"No," Kong says.

"Let's go get something."

"Fine."

They head back downstairs, Em pocketing the key to the room, and he leads Kong to a hole-in-the-wall noodle stand he'd seen on the way in.

"So what happened?" Em asks, once they've ordered.

Kong messes with the cutlery on the table.

"I already told you most of it as it happened," he says. "I should have listened to Tew. He told me this was a stupid idea. I just thought…"

Kong shrugs.

"I thought absence was supposed to make the heart grow fonder. Maybe that's where you screwed up."

"So you think it's screwed up? I just thought… You know last year, everything seemed to be better. All of his friends knew we were together, he was sweet, opening up, and then… then once he started at Ocean Electric he started to pull away."

"I thought it was just because I was at the school and he was living over here, but then I got the job with him, moved right next door, and he still kept his distance. He works with-- he works with some really great people and P'Tod is super hot, so maybe he's just done with me."

"You're hot too, Kong," Em says. "I don't think P'Arthit's cheating on you, it's just…"

Em thinks about all his own trials and tribulations-- with May, with Bright, with his internship.

"I mean, real life, right?" Em says. "Not for us, but it will be soon. And not all childhood romances work out."

"You're terrible at comforting people." Kong says. "Shouldn't you be telling me we'll work it out? I love him, Em. I don't want to be with anyone else."

Em frowns and is grateful the waitress brings their food right then so he has time to consider some sort of response that isn't just--

"Maybe he just needs time to think. Think about it Kong, you flirted with him for months before he agreed to go out with you and longer still before he told his friends. You know he moves at a slow pace. Glacially slow."

Kong makes an acknowledging noise.

"I'm just afraid to lose him, I feel like I've been pushing and pushing… I want to move in with him, I want to be together. I don't care about the commute, I just…" Kong sighs. "I just want him to show he wants to keep moving forward instead of running to stay in the same place."

"Just give him time, Kong," Em says. Kong frowns at Em.

"Why are you acting so wise?"

"Why are you asking me for relationship advice? You saw how my relationship in high school went. I screwed up with May. I… I don't know how to talk about anything I'm feeling with the people who I need to talk about it with."

"What feelings?"

"We're talking about you," Em says firmly. "You don't need to comfort me. Eat your soup."

Em glances at his phone and sees a message from Bright, another from Tew, then another five from Pang. He swipes all the notifications away and tries his best to distract Kong. He doesn't know what to use to do it-- so he tells him about his trip to Chiang Mai to see Wad.

(He leaves out that Prem is there and all the discussion of relationships.)

Back at the hotel, Kong lays his head on Em's shoulder.

"You're a good friend, Em. I'm glad we're at the same university."

Em pets Kong's hair and then rests his head on Kong's.

"Me too. We'll get through it. This internship isn't going to last forever."

"Turn off the light," Kong says and he moves away, rolling over. Em does and lays down too and pretends not to notice when Kong starts crying again.

The message from Bright is just a sticker, two fat cartoon cats hugging each other.

*

Em sends Kong back to his apartment at the ass-crack of dawn and heads back to Bright's apartment. He's quiet as he comes in, toeing his shoes off as he enters, hoping to not cause too much noise as he grabs a change of clothes before having to head into work.

Bright's sleeping, legs tangled in the covers, one of them sticking out and off the side of the bed. The lean line of his back is exposed, the covers shoved down to his waist in a bunch. Red ink intersects his spine just under where a shirt would cover. Three tiny dots increasing in size and the simple curves to form a lotus flower, then three dots below.

The ink looks like fresh blood, vivid. Em's fingertips itch all of a sudden. He grits his teeth against any untoward urges and silently goes through the drawer to get clothing. He hears Bright moving, mumbling in his sleep, and he tries to move even slower, more silently.

He wishes Bright was awake. He wants to ask about what happened with his dad, if it’s alright if Em stays for the remainder of his internship. There isn’t anything else to talk about, really. He steps into the living room and starts changing.

He's in his underwear, buttoning up his dress shirt when he hears an alarm going off from the bedroom. He freezes and listens to Bright shut it off, and cuss at it loudly. Em starts buttoning his shirt up faster and hastens to get his pants on. He's still working on it when Bright comes out, scratching the back of his head.

He's just in boxers, white with tiny kissy emojis on them. Bright blinks and then rubs his eyes.

"I guess this isn't a dream," Bright says and then he stretches languidly.

Bright doesn't seem to have any more tattoos-- and Em's definitely not looking for anything else as he looks him over. There's a fuzzy thatch of hair around his navel that disappears into the elastic of his boxer shorts, but he doesn't have hair on his chest. Em just stares.

He finally snaps himself out of it and shakes his head a little before going back to fixing his pants. He bites his lower lip and then decides to clench his jaw instead. God, what is he thinking anyway?

Bright pads past him to the fridge and pulls out some sort of juice box and then goes to sit on the couch. Em looks up again to track his movement.

He's ready now, time to put his shoes on and walk. Or… he could wait and catch the train. Or a taxi? Em edges toward the couch and sits on the arm.

"Can I have some?"

Bright's brow raises and Em nods vaguely to the juice. Bright's expression doesn't change, but he offers the straw to Em. Em ducks his head and takes a drink -- but loses his nerve when Bright misunderstands him. He slides off the arm of the couch.

"I gotta go to work."

"Want me to drive you?" Bright says and Em waves his hand at him.

"No, it's okay."

Em goes over to the door to put his shoes on.

"Nong," Bright says from the couch. "I was wondering if you wanted to go to Tutah's wedding with me." Bright says. Em looks over his shoulder at Bright.

"Like, as a date?" Em can't stop himself from saying.

Bright's expression is inscrutable. "I just have a plus one... I know you guys are friendly and he'd like to have you there, but he and P'Au had a guest limit."

"Are they really getting married already?" Em asks, as he makes a face. Didn't they just start dating? "But okay, sure. I'll have to go home and get something to wear. Text me the date. I'm heading out."

Bright waves at him and Em heads on to work. He texts Oak as he waits for his taxi.

prae owes you 100 baht, bright just told me tutah and au are getting married

*

He gets out of his internship a little early on Wednesday, so he decides to take a train to his childhood home to get something appropriate for a wedding. His mom and dad are both home, and he gets sidelined immediately from his task, as they tell him to come and sit and eat.

He feels anxious and he isn't sure why.

"It's good you're here today," his mom says, "like serendipity."

"What does that mean?" Em asks, sitting down.

"Oh, well, your Auntie Nam is here," his mom says.

"And she brought her daughter. She's about your age now," his father follows up.

Em bites back the comment about how they were always about the same age. But the last thing he wants to do is sit through another uncomfortable dinner where his mom, his dad, Auntie Nam, and Tam herself would try and convince Em to take her on a date.

He knows it's rude but even just the thought of it makes his skin crawl. Not that he’s not-- well, he still likes girls, doesn’t he? Maybe it really is serendipity and this is a chance to put all of his complicated feelings about everything behind him.

"You should take Nong Tam on a date," his mom says, sotto voiced.

"Mom," Em whines. "No."

"Em, you're almost graduated. Aren't you ready to get married and start a family? I'm surprised you didn't meet a girl at school."

"Mom!"

He can't protest any more because Nam and Tam enter. They look the same as the last time he saw them, which was during the summer, when his mom had dragged him to Tam's twenty-first birthday party and tried to get him to take her clubbing. She's as pretty as always, perfectly put together with long, straight brown hair and dark soulful eyes.

She looks like her mother; if not for the laugh lines at the edges of her mouth and eyes, the two could be twins.

"I'm just here to get some clothing. I have a…" Em thinks he can save himself. "... a date to a friend's wedding."

He ignores the hurt look Tam throws his way, and even his mom looks irritated too. Well, it’s not like they asked him if he was seeing or even talking to anyone. Although he supposes he isn't, not really. This is just a deflection.

"It's this weekend, out of town, and I wanted to get something nicer than my work clothes."

"Why didn't you tell me you had a girlfriend, P'Em?" Tam asks, her eyes wide and sad.

Em feels some sort of vicious burning sensation in his chest and his throat, like he's going to scream.

"It's not a girlfriend, it's just a date."

"A wedding seems serious," Nam mentions.

"It's a mutual friend. There was just a guest limit so he only invited my friend. And she asked me to be her plus one." Em excuses himself from the dinner table to go and find his suit. It doesn't take that long-- he's not really the type of person who goes to a lot of upscale events.

The last one wasn't too long ago so he knows the fit is still good.

He wants to leave but his mom convinces him to stay overnight and to take Tam out. He wants to protest but his mom tells him it's not a big deal if he doesn't have a girlfriend, to go out with someone since the wedding date isn't serious. He's painted himself into a corner trying to downplay how he feels about Bright.

Em takes her out to a restaurant he knows nearby and tries to sit through small talk. Tam is slightly younger than Em, and has only just started university-- a dental student-- and she talks mostly about school and her initiation.

She seems really troubled by it and Em makes a calculated decision.

He talks about how much he enjoyed the SOTUS system and being a hazer.

By the end of the dinner, Em's pretty sure Tam wants nothing to do with him, and everything feels just a little more right in the world.

*

The wedding is on Saturday, but Bright convinces Em to leave on Friday night. It's at a place a couple hours outside of Bangkok and Bright says he's already rented a room for the weekend. Em feels like he should protest, but considers he might as well go.

Bright drives and he and Em fight over the music that's playing. On the drive, Em eventually turns down the music.

"Um, P'Bright, is everything okay with you and your dad?" Em asks. "Tutah mentioned you had to go and see him the other night and I remembered you told me he isn't happy with the whole bar thing. So, I just… you know."

"Every so often he likes to go over budget reports. It's mostly so he can compare me to other more popular spots and explain why we're going to fail eventually. So far it hasn't been so bad, we aren't making money hand over fist but we're not going under either."

"Doesn't that-- isn't that discouraging?"

"What my dad doesn't realize is that he raised me to be just as stubborn as he is." Bright laughs and glances at Em. "He thinks that I'll be submissive like my mom because I'm…"

Bright trails off and waves his hand vaguely.

"Because you're bisexual?" Em asks.

Bright makes an acknowledging noise. "Not that he believes in bisexuality, or that he said it that nicely." He tries to smile but it's wan, looks a little sickly. Em thinks about reaching out but decides against it.

"So it's a power struggle for him… and you, I guess."

"It's not that I want to, but I know if I don't keep this afloat I only have one fallback plan."

"You could always find a sugar daddy… or sugar momma, I guess," Em says. "You're cute enough. You can bat your lashes at them, they'd fall for that handsome face and your pretty lips."

"You're funny."

"I guess if I don't make it as an engineer I can become a comedian," Em deadpans.

"Is your internship not going well?" he asks. "Your friend from the other day seemed to be speaking quite highly of you."

"It's going good."

"Good. I wouldn't want to have to lecture you. I'm still your senior you know."

Em laughs and turns the radio back up.

*

Em stretches out on the bed and scrolls his phone while he listens to the water from the running shower. He's idly scrolling through a relationship advice forum, trying to see if anyone has written about similar situations to what he's going through and what advice they'd gotten from it. He's also vaguely paying attention to the group chat he's in with Kong, Oak, and Tew.

It's mostly Tew cycling back and forth between complaining about his internship and talking about the improvement he's seen in his relationship with Dae.

Kong tells Tew to stop talking about relationships. Oak mostly just sends FIFA screenshots and sometimes chimes in. Em's in his own little world, so he doesn't hear when the shower stops, but the bathroom door opening does cause him to look up. Bright has one towel in hand that he's using to continue drying his hair and another wrapped around his waist. It hangs low, low on his hips.

Em has seen this scene once before, but somehow Bright still being all red from the hot water, skin shiny, still beaded with water in some places, makes Em feel warm, pinpricks of heat following goosebumps. He can't help but feel a little shiver down his spine.

Bright pulls the towel from his face, damp hair sticking up in different directions. Em's heart starts thumping.

"You can use the shower now," Bright says.

Em hears him vaguely and he stands up with every intention of doing just that. Bright stands by the end of the bed and Em slides out of it, sets his phone down, thinks distantly he should grab something to change into but he edges over to where Bright is standing.

"Are you okay, Em?" Bright asks and shifts to put his hand to Em's forehead like he's checking his temperature.

Maybe the flush would make it seem like he's running too hot. Maybe Em is. He puts his hands on Bright's damp shoulders and leans in to kiss him.

Bright tastes vaguely like spearmint and his lips are as soft as Em hadn't let himself remember. It's just a press, lips together, breathing the same air. Em's eyes are open so he can see Bright's are too. They flicker over Em's face like he's seeing him for the first time.

After a moment, Bright pulls back and Em feels his stomach dropping out. Maybe he'd misread what was happening here.

Bright's fingers warm and supple against his cheek, and then he drags his thumb over Em's lower lip. Em is certain he forgets how to breathe. But then Bright moves back in, bringing their mouths together once more. This time, Bright's lips part and close around Em's lower lip.

Bright sucks softly there and Em clutches at him, breathes out rough through his nose and tries to move closer.

It's good. It's better than good. It sends a curling heat that licks along his veins, his body warming up all at once. The heat rises slowly, burning low like banked flames, pooling in the pit of his stomach. Not there-- lower. It's just a kiss and he can already feel himself reacting, stiffening.

It feels like the last week has been leading up to this moment. He clings to Bright like a lifeline as they kiss, and he's red faced and panting when they break apart. Bright's flushed, pink dotting his skin: on his cheeks, over the bridge of his nose, creeping down his neck and shoulders, down into his chest.

"Can I…?" Em starts and he moves his hands down, fingers skimming at the place where the towel is secured.

His eyes are on Bright's face, on his dark lashes, and the slow and hazy way he blinks before he's nodding. It feels like a dream sequence, the only thing he hears the sound of his heartbeat. He removes the towel and is glad to see that Bright isn't any less affected than Em himself.

"I've never done this before," Em says, biting his lower lip, "so tell me if I do it wrong."

Em sinks to his knees and grabs Bright's thighs to steady himself. He looks up at him, for a moment. Bright's chest is moving up and down, gaze lowered, lips parted. Bright slides a hand into Em's hair, gentle, brushing his bangs off of his forehead before threading his fingers through it.

Em moves in tentatively, touches the flat of his tongue to the head of Bright's dick. He tastes clean from the shower, with the lingering aftertaste of soap. Then something bitter and salty. Em swallows the unfamiliar taste and swirls his tongue around the head, just like he's seen in porn. He's not really familiar with the action, but he's seen enough blow jobs in movies to have a general idea.

Em can feel the weight of Bright's hand but he's not pushing him or anything. It's just weight, urging him on without really urging him on. Em lowers his gaze, unable to keep meeting Bright's as he does this, pushing forward. He opens his mouth and wraps his lips around the head. Moves down, a little dry, lips dragging, and then pulls back.

It's slicker that way, easier, and Bright makes a noise that's like an exhalation, just a hint of some kind of moan on the undercurrent. Em flicks his gaze up, then back down, and makes the same motion again with a bit more purpose.

Bright's breathing gets more uneven. Em can feel the way his thighs are tensing, and the noises spill out-- soft but encouraging, wordless moans, Em's name. Bright's fingers pet through his hair with an increasing urgency. He tastes Bright more and more keenly as he sucks more pre-come from his cock, taking him incrementally deeper, fingers digging into the back of his thighs.

His mouth feels stretched out, and there’s a bit of pain in his jaw, a heaviness on his tongue. Em's not sure if he's doing a great job, but it feels good on his end. He's making a mess inside of his own boxers, trying to get some kind of friction but he's just pressing into the wet spot that's formed there. It's frustrating but good.

Em's surprised when his next attempt at sliding down is blocked by Bright's hand on his forehead.

"I'm going to come if you don't stop," Bright says. He sounds breathless, dazed.

"Isn't that the point?" Em asks.

He doesn't sound familiar to himself either. His toes are curled and Bright makes a noise like a laugh or a huff or a groan, he can't tell. Em's lips are tingling and his mouth feels empty and he wants-- had wanted-- to keep going.

Bright's cheeks get a little more pink and he presses his lips together, thoughtful, lets out a plosive sort of sound.

"I'm going to be forward with you," Bright says. "I've been thinking about this for a while now. I want you to fuck me."

Em's eyes go wide. "What?"

Bright nods. "Yeah, I can't stop thinking about it, it's been driving me crazy. I didn't think-- after everything that happened I thought maybe you didn't want this…" He gestures between the two of them.

Em's still wide eyed, but he's nodding now too, standing up from the floor.

Bright digs in his overnight bag.

"Wow, you must have been real sure of yourself," Em says as Bright comes up with condoms and lube, placing them on the bedside table.

Bright shakes his head. "I guess in general, not necessarily you, but it's a wedding. People get amorous."

"Oh, so it's not me you want, it's just anyone," Em says. Teasing, maybe. Maybe not.

Bright's in front of him then, hands on his hips. "I want you, Em," he says. "Not just right now, but before too, before you moved in. I noticed you, wanted you, a long time ago. Sometime during your initiation-- I couldn't articulate exactly when. I remember feeling it, though. Early."

Em bites his lower lip. "Really?" he asks.

"Really," Bright repeats as he pushes Em back against the bed.

Em feels the backs of his knees hit the edge of the mattress, then Bright is pushing him down. He goes easy and Bright straddles his hips. It's strange, since Bright is completely naked, and Em is still completely clothed.

"Come on, Em, don't keep me waiting forever."

Bright lowers his lashes a little and Em-- well, he hasn't really flagged at all. Bright is attractive and Em wants him. And Bright apparently wants Em back. It's a nice feeling, hits like a sunburst in his chest. Bright grabs his wrist and draws his hand to his mouth, ducks his head and wraps pink lips around his pointer finger, cheeks hollowing, eyes fluttering shut.

Em chokes out a noise and his hips jerk up a little unconsciously, his toes curling.

Bright lets go and guides Em's hand backwards.

"Start with this, go slow," Bright says and he pushes Em's shirt up, sliding up a little further himself, until his cock is pressed against Em's stomach, and he's on his knees. Em feels distracted and he clenches his stomach as he brings his hand back behind Bright.

He breathes in.

"I've never done this before," Em says again.

"It's alright, I'll guide you," Bright says.

Em grabs the lube and pops the cap open, then warms it in his free hand. With Bright's gentle instruction, Em glides his finger between Bright's cheeks and teases the pad of it over his tight entrance. With more encouragement, Em starts pushing his finger in. Bright, above him, closes his eyes and his head bows, taking steady breaths in, dampness rubbing against Em's stomach as he hitches his hips.

It's a slow and gentle push, really, just getting used to how it feels to be inside. Bright feels so hot, and Em feels encompassed. It's a good feeling, and he follows Bright's lead as he tells him to add more lube, add another finger, push in a certain way.

Em's fairly familiar with the concept of fingering, at least the mechanics of it, so he presses in, curls his fingers even in the awkward angles. He moves a certain way that makes it seem like all the breath leaves Bright's body at once, and he presses his forehead to Em's shoulder.

"You're doing such a good job, baby," Bright mumbles against the skin.

Bright sounds dazed again, fuzzy, and wrecked. Encouraged, Em keeps doing the same thing, even though his arm is starting to feel strained. Until Bright encourages him to add another finger, and it's so tight that Em isn't sure he's even going to fit-- or how he's going to manage to do anything besides come immediately once he gets in.

Bright trails wet kisses along Em's shoulder and rocks back against his fingers, rubbing his dick on Em's stomach. He eventually pulls up, enough to slap Em on the bicep lightly.

"Alright, it's good, it's good, I'm ready." Bright says. He gets off of Em long enough to help him get his pants undone, and pushed down to his thighs before he considers it good enough. "Want to see a trick I learned?" Bright asks.

Em doesn't know if he should say yes but he nods anyway. Bright opens the condom wrapper and uses his fingers to spread lube over the head of Em's cock, and then another swipe on his lips. Em sits up on his elbows to watch, confused, as Bright puts the condom on his dick but doesn’t move to sheath him. Then he ducks his head in and uses his mouth to roll it down Em’s cock. Slow, looking up at Em through his lashes as he does it.

Em fists the sheets until his knuckles hurt, as it takes everything in his power not to just explode right then. He chews the inside of his mouth almost bloody as Bright goes just as slow on the way back up. He winks at Em, and then puts a hand on his chest to lay him back down on the bed.

"You don't play fair," Em says, his voice sounding distant and ragged to his own ears, his breathing shallow.

Bright shrugs and climbs back on top of Em, straddles his hips, and reaches behind him to line Em up for him. And he moves slowly down.

The sensation is-- unlike anything Em has ever really felt before, and he twists the sheets in his fingers, before deciding a better use of his hands was to grab onto Bright's hips. It feels almost too fast from there. Bright's sinking down on him, slow; Em can see it in the way his thighs are flexing. Then he's all the way down , biting his lower lip, breathing heavy, hair sticking to his forehead from the sweat. Em tightens his grip on Bright's hips.

"Fuck, you feel good," Bright mumbles and he strokes his hands over Em's biceps and shoulders, down over his shuddering chest. He feels Bright's body tense again and then he braces his hands on Em's chest and pushes himself up, then slides back down again. The sensation sends a shock of pleasure through Em's system.

He hitches his hips up and Bright gasps a little, digs his nails in, and starts to speed up, riding Em in earnest. It sounds obscene, wet, skin slapping against skin. After a while, Em's planted his feet on the bed, knees bent so Bright can lean back against them and Em can thrust up, meet him as he's sliding back down.

Em tries to watch, as sweat tracks down Bright's chest, at the way it beads on his throat. Bright's mouth is open, head thrown back, chest pushing forward as he moves. He's red everywhere, nails digging into Em's chest even harder than before. Then he leans back, fully putting his weight on Em's legs, and reaches down to start jerking himself off, roughly trying to match the rhythm of Em's hips.

He doesn't succeed, eventually going faster than Em can; Em keeps watching, keeps moving. Bright's moans get pitchier, a little louder, a little higher and then he stops moving as he lets out a cry of Em's name, and comes so hard that it almost hits Em in the chin. As it is, he feels it land hot on his stomach.

And the way Bright tenses around him, the way he grinds down-- it's not that much longer before Em is biting bruises into Bright's hips with his fingernails with the way he holds him down and thrusts his hips up erratically--

"Fuck, I'm gonna come," Em chokes the words out as he comes too.

After a moment, Bright collapses down on top of him until they’re chest to chest, just breathing together for a moment. And eventually, he seems to regain enough function in his limbs to drag himself away from Em and slide off of him. He helps Em get the condom off and tosses it in the wastebasket before flopping back on the bed.

"We should shower," Bright says.

Em makes an acknowledging noise and follows Bright into the bathroom. It's nice to have someone wash his back and his hair. It feels almost like being loved.

He doesn't have a lot of strength after He feels vaguely tired from the trip down right after work. He wraps himself around Bright and buries his nose against his damp hair.

"This was a good idea," Em mumbles.

He doesn't hear if Bright responds.

*

Unbeknownst to Em-- although, in retrospect, he should have-- Bright is in Tutah's wedding party. Early the next day, Bright wakes Em up to go to breakfast with them. Tutah is in high spirits, glowing radiantly like every bride that Em has read about in every trashy romance novel he's swiped from his mom. It’s kind of funny, really.

Knot joins them for breakfast too. He appears to be alone, and Em realizes with a sinking feeling that Arthit is probably in the wedding party too. He probably had a plus one too-- and it probably wouldn't be Kong, considering…

Arthit does show up. And he's not with Kong either, but he seems to be alone, which is good since it probably wouldn't endear Tutah to him if he started a fistfight with Arthit at the wedding. Kong had said they'd broken up, in a fashion. Still, if he'd already moved on Em would have some choice words for him.

Prem shows up as well, sans Wad, and he assumes he probably had to do something with or for his dad. And he feels incredibly awkward, being the odd man out.

"Uh, Bright," Em says softly, leaning towards him. "Do you think it's better if I wait in the room? I don't want to intrude."

Bright finds his hand under the table and squeezes lightly, in what he thinks is supposed to be an encouraging manner.

It definitely helps, and he settles into his seat, eating breakfast while Tutah reminisces with his friends.

"You didn't bring Kongpob?" Knot asks Arthit during a break in the conversation. Arthit frowns a little and shakes his head.

"He was busy with his parents this weekend," Arthit replies.

Em glances at his plate and bites his tongue. Maybe Arthit hadn't talked to anyone about what had happened with Kong. He feels bad, but it's not his place. Besides, he had to be on Team Kong anyway -- it would just come back to bite him in the ass if he tried to talk with Arthit.

"What about Wad?" Tutah asks Prem.

"His dad had to go back into the hospital, so he's taking care of him there," Prem says. "They think it isn't serious. They just want to be cautious."

"And you don't have a girlfriend," Tutah says to Knot.

"I'm focusing on my studies," Knot says.

Tutah makes a noise that indicates he doesn't really believe Knot.

"Focusing on your studies or just can't get a date?" Prem asks and he leans almost into Knot's face. Knot slaps him on the back of the head.

"Then there's my beloved Bright," Tutah says. "How are you the only one who actually managed to get someone here?"

"I'm just that handsome," Bright says, putting his chin in his palm.

"Is he bribing you, nong?" Tutah asks. "How did he pay you off?"

"Uuuh..." All Em can think about is what had happened last night and he feels incredibly uncomfortable. It's probably obvious on his face.

"With my body," Bright says.

"Bright." Em kicks him under the table, but the others start laughing like it's a joke, and Prem hits Bright in the shoulder.

"It's just your terrible scheduling skills," Knot says. "If this had been a few weeks later, we all probably would have had someone here. You should just be glad we came at all."

"The marriage seems a little hasty. Are you pregnant?" Prem asks, making a serious face.

"No, no, me and Khun Au have actually known one another for a while. We dated years ago, and when we reconnected it just felt like fate. I met him at this coffee shop after so many years, we ordered the same drink and both tried to grab it at the same time."

"If I had a meet-cute with one of my exes I'd probably die," Em says.

Technically there’s only the one ex-- Emma-- and he and May hadn't ever really dated. Actually, he hadn't really dated at all in the intervening years. Au joins them shortly after, he looks incredibly happy, almost serene with the way he smiles so wide his eyes are closed.

He sits next to Tutah and links their hands.

"Did your friends come?" Tutah asks.

"They're not early risers," he says. "Truthfully, we probably won't see them until three minutes before the ceremony starts, and Mil will still be trying to get his cummerbund on." He doesn't seem too upset by the idea, more amused.

Em is kind of troubled by how peaceful he looks. But he supposes now, looking at Tutah, he's the same way. A sort of uncomplicated joy.

After breakfast, he mentions it to Bright.

"I guess when you're in love it's easier to be happy," Bright says and Em makes a face.

"Yuck," Em says. He ignores the way Bright rolls his eyes.

"You don't want to be in love?"

Em shrugs. "I guess it wouldn't be too bad, but the last few times I felt it, it didn't work out for me. I guess it takes a toll."

"Hmm."

"Sometimes, it makes you feel like maybe you aren't really worthy of it."

"That's a sad way to look at it, Em. Of course you're worthy of love." Bright's voice has a conviction in it that Em wishes he could believe.

"Someone might have to convince me of it." Em's smile is weak and he feels a little miserable talking about it like this. Bright's arms slip around him from behind.

"Maybe someone will." Bright presses their cheeks together.

Em sinks into it and takes the comfort that he can. Bright hugs him tightly, and it's comforting. It makes him feel less lonely, at the very least. He turns around in Bright's arms and kisses him on the corner of his mouth.

"Either way, in love or not, they're still sickeningly in love and happy." Em says.

Bright ruffles up his hair. "I have to do some stuff for Tutah's wedding, so you should stay in the room and rest."

Em doesn't protest and uses the key to let himself back in. He knows Bright was just being nice, comforting. He throws himself on the bed and sighs.

He's starting to remember why he hates weddings.

The ceremony ends up being pretty nice, though. Tutah looks so happy that it's hard not to get caught up in it. It's later in the evening, the sun setting over the sea, and lanterns cast soft lights on the sand, as an officiant puts together some kind of fusion Buddhist service.

He and Bright go up together for the Water blessing ceremony and it feels so strange to splash holy water on Tutah's hands and offer him blessings, and then do the same for Au. But Au looks serene even here.

It's painful how happy Au looks and Em wonders if this will ever be him.

Parts of him want that. He wants to be loved and happy. He wants to have a family.

Eventually, rings are exchanged, vows are spoken, and the marriage ceremony is finished. The reception is also on the beach and a DJ plays loud music. Em steals a dance with Bright early on before he winds up camped out at a table with a depressed and increasingly drunk Arthit.

Bright's enjoying himself, dancing with Knot, with Tutah, and Prem, and other people who must have gone to school with them back in the day but didn't have the same impact on Em as the hazers had. Em winds up dragging Arthit to the bathroom himself and rubbing his back as he pukes.

He gets him water and they don't talk about it.

It's after two in the morning before they finally get back to the hotel and Em sends a slightly inebriated text to Kong telling him to get his man, before he passes out in bed still fully clothed in his suit.

*

Em wakes up suddenly, feeling slightly hungover, head aching, and way too hot. Bright's clinging to him like he's a life preserver, one leg over his thighs, one arm underneath Em's neck and the other around his torso, hands linked like he's going to drown if he doesn't let go.

Even with the air con on, Em's shirt is sticking to him and he feels sticky with sweat.

But it's-- in a way-- nice. Comforting to wake up in someone's arms. That Bright wanted to be so near him even when he was unconscious. Bright's phone starts ringing loudly and Bright groans and disentangles to grab it.

Em pretends to be asleep as Bright sits up.

He doesn't hear anything so he assumes Bright is texting with someone. Em wants to know who, since he's nosy. He pretends to still be asleep, but he feels Bright reach out and rub his hand over his bicep before the bed shifts and he leaves. The shower comes on a few minutes later.

Em sits up and rubs his eyes, then sits cross legged to grab his own phone.

Kong's left him just a crying face emoji, tears spraying everywhere and a screenshot of a series of drunk texts from the night before from Arthit that's mostly just gibberish and the word WALK all capslocked a few times. There are also few emojis thrown in that don't really mean much.

Em decides he doesn't want to get involved in the dramatics of Kong's relationship this early in the morning, so he scrolls through an advice thread instead. It doesn’t relate to any of his current situations, although with the added complication of whatever had happened Friday night...

Bright comes out of the shower dressed in boxers and already digging for his clothes.

"Shower?" Bright asks, gesturing in. "We can grab breakfast on the way back. Checkout's soon."

Em nods and locks his phone before he goes through his normal morning routine. He showers quickly as he can and brushes his teeth before he goes into the main room to get dressed.

Bright raises his brow at him and looks on as Em gets dressed.

"Do you mind?" Em asks, feeling flustered all of a sudden.

Bright shakes his head. "Do you?"

Em turns away from Bright and shakes his head as he finishes getting dressed. He hears Bright laughing but thankfully he doesn't say anything and Em packs his things up so they can head out.

"Arthit is riding home with us," Bright says.

Arthit's already waiting by the car, looking miserable, wearing sunglasses. Em crosses his arms over his chest and stops.

"C'mon, really?" Em says.

"Yeah, we're all going to the same place. I don't see why not."

It occurs to Em that Arthit hasn't told his friends. Actually, he hasn't really seen Oak or Tew trying to cheer Kong up either. And he's not crying in the group chat either. Em frowns.

"Fine. I'll sit in the back," Em says, heading over to the car.

He had helped Arthit last night but now he's thinking about Kong sitting home alone crying. He levers himself into the backseat and opens up Kong's message again.

if it makes you feel better he's hungover and miserable

how do you know that?

Em grimaces and Bright starts them on the road.

don't be mad, he's at tutah's wedding

how are you there?

i went as bright's +1

are you dating?

aren't we talking about you?

we were until you said you were dating bright!

we're not dating, he probably just couldn't find another date

em, i know you're not blind

ugh, don't be annoying, c'mon
i know tutah and we live together
there's nothing going on
altho…

In the front seat, Bright and Arthit are talking about work. The coffee has seemed to perk Arthit up some. Arthit seems pretty geeked about being in the Procurements department now, discussing some new product they're about to start, and what he'd done to help get it to the production steps.

although what you can't just leave it there

Em didn't really want to say but it seemed to momentarily distract Kong from his heartache.

i'm driving back now i wanna tell you in person

i wanna know now

be patient i wanna see your face and i can't video call right now

romantic?

Em sends him a sticker back of someone puking. Em slips his earbuds in and puts on something to listen to -- an ebook-- and drowns out the conversation from the front. The hours slip by quickly that way, and Bright's focused on driving and Arthit, so it's almost like he's not there at all.

He fools himself, thinking he notices Bright looking at him in the mirror once or twice.

When they're closer to the city, he stops his book and leans forward, tapping Bright on the shoulder. He startles when Em does. (Which he thinks further proves that he was just fooling himself.)

"Can you drop me off on campus?"

"Why?" Bright asks.

Em gives him a look, brow raising. "What do you mean ‘why’?" he asks. "I go to school there."

"You're staying with me, though."

"Yeah, and I have stuff to do on campus."

"It's Sunday?"

"What are you, my mother?" Em feels incredibly prickly all of a sudden. "I mean fine, if you don't want to drop me off there I'll just call a taxi when we get back to your place."

"He can drop you off," Arthit says.

Bright nods but he's squinting at Em through the mirror like he's trying to figure something out. Em puts his headphones back on and goes back to his book. He sort of waves vaguely when Bright stops in front of the campus and heads inside.

He doesn't want to see Kong either, or at least not to talk about what had happened over the weekend. He's committed now, though, so he goes inside and seeks out Kong's dorm room, knocking obnoxiously on the door.

Oak and Maprang are over, so he feels a little better, since Kong was probably miserable with just the two of them. (They've been lovey dovey every time Em has seen them.)

"Hey Em!" Maprang says. Em waves and nods at Oak and then sits down on the edge of Kong's bed.

"Can you tell me in front of them?" Kong asks.

He thinks about how he doesn't want to-- but at the same time, they're going to find out. Kong could keep a secret but he probably wouldn't. He'd tell Oak and Tew and then, undoubtedly, Maprang and Dae would find out.

And then, like a tell-a-friend marketing ploy, everyone and their brother and their mom would know.

"It's a secret," Em says. "So I'll tell you, but don't tell anyone else."

All three of them lean in towards Em. Em takes a deep breath.

"I'm not dating Bright," Em announces, like it was what they're all waiting for.

"Did we think you were?" Maprang asks, looking at Oak and Kong. They both nod and she nods too. "Is that the news?"

Em shakes his head. "Uhh, well," he says, "we're not dating but I… he… we…"

"You what?" Oak grabs Em's biceps and shakes him slightly.

"We had sex."

"What?" The three of them respond immediately, with Kong probably the loudest, and Em nods, covering his face with his hand.

"When? How? Why?" Oak says. "Wait, I don't know if I want the answer to that."

"Like I'd tell you anyway," Em says.

"How did you have sex with him if you're not dating?" Kong asks and he's giving him a sort of look, lower lip jutting out.

"Well, I imagine it's the same as having sex with someone you are dating," Maprang says helpfully, and Em nods in agreement.

"It just happened. I mean, it didn't just happen, I kind of-- he looked good, I kissed him. It escalated."

"All the way to sex?" Kong asks.

Em nods.

"Who topped?" Oak asks and Em slaps him on the back of the head.

"Don't be a pervert, this isn't Dear Penthouse."

"So that was the ‘although’?" Kong asks and Em nods again. "So what're you going to do about it?"

"Nothing to do about it, it was just a fun little romp. I'll go back to work and so will he."

"But you live together and share a bed. What if it happens again?"

Em scoffs. "I'm sure it won't."

They meet up with Tew, Dae, and Yacht, and he ends up eating dinner with them. Em looks between Yacht and Dae and shakes his head a little.

He stays the night with Kong, Oak, and Tew. Dae stays around with them as well, mostly leaning against Tew and reading coursework while the others take turns playing FIFA.

*

Em doesn't know why he allows himself to get bullied. He'd gotten out of his internship at the time he'd told Kong he would and Kong was there with his dad's car, and with Oak and Maprang, and Tew and Dae. He gives them a suspicious look and wanders over, getting in the front seat.

The lovebirds are squished together in the back and he exchanges a look with Kong.

"Where are we going?" Em asks.

"It's a surprise," Kong says.

It should not have been a surprise. He groans as Kong parks next to Bright's bar.

"Why?" he asks.

"Just because," Kong says.

Em wonders how far he'd get refusing to get out of the car. After all, it wasn't like any of them were strong enough to move him. He supposes they could work together, though. He gives Kong an unimpressed look as he unbuckles.

"Is it because you hate me? You're miserable and you want me to be miserable too?" Em says, pointing his finger in Kong's face.

Kong shakes his head, but Em doesn't believe that innocent face even in the best of circumstances.

Bright's bar is usually somewhat busy and tonight is no exception. Bright is leaning on the countertop and he recognizes San, leaning right back, her face almost in Bright's, laughing at something he’d said and flicking her hair off of her shoulder.

The plus side is he's able to move in and sit nearly undetected. The downside is, well-- that he looks just as engaged as she is. Bright's got a relaxed smile on his face, eyes squinting with laughter. He isn't trying to move away, and he doesn't look uncomfortable or trapped.

Em feels-- there's a song he thinks of -- seems like I've been here before, seems so familiar…

Em gets crushed into the booth, Tew, Oak, and Kong all shoving in beside him-- leaving Maprang and Dae to sit on the other side. Kong's arm loops around Em's shoulder and he's almost cheek to cheek with him.

"Who's that?" Kong asks.

"How would I know?" Em says. He's irritated now, feeling cagey like a wild animal, like he might crawl up the walls if he doesn't do something else. Not that he can do something else.

"Is that his girlfriend?" Maprang asks.

Em plays with the napkin on the table, tearing off pieces of it into rough confetti. Something to do with his hands. He feels bitterness like bile in the back of his throat, a distant fuzzy anger that burns behind his breast bone.

He doesn't know how to tell Maprang that Bright had said she was just a friend without sounding bitter. It's like when he'd seen May with those freshmen when they'd been on the reforestation trip. He knows what the feeling is and he doesn't like it.

Bright doesn't owe him anything; May hadn't either.

This is his whole problem, really. It’s always felt like he guns for the wrong thing. Em knows he should have taken the hint early on with May, when she'd admitted to having feelings for Kong.

It's effortless for some people.

People like Kong or San-- they're just charming. They're conventionally attractive in a way that turns heads, easy to get along with, and charismatic. They just walk in and strike emotions in people's hearts in ways that Em couldn't ever expect to.

People like Kong or San are easy to love.

Em doesn't think he is. He's not the favorite of his parents, even chasing his high school girlfriend had been an exercise, and it had just ended in tears.

In high school and university, being Kong's friend was a blessing and a curse. Kong was loyal to a fault and Em was closer to him than his own siblings. He was ever supportive, shoring people up, fighting for people. He was a good person.

Em was in his circle because it was a good place to be-- but he wasn't as charming, he wasn't as good looking. And spiraling out from there-- he wasn't as funny as Oak, the comic relief and life of the party. Or warm like Tew, who could win over people who didn’t like him with a kind word and friendly smile.

Kong had managed to slip inside Arthit's armor, their being on the outs notwithstanding. Oak had landed probably the prettiest girl in their class besides Prae. And Tew is here with Dae who-- when Tew wasn't paying attention and he thought no one else was-- looked incredibly fond.

And here’s Em.

"Oh, P'Bright!" Maprang announces his presence which startles Em out of the spiral of thoughts he was going down. The table wais out of habit.

Bright's eyes scan the table but Em thinks they don't linger.

"How're you guys?" Bright asks as he hands out menus. "Are you here to see the band?"

"We were here to see you," Kong says and flashes him a smile. Out of his peripheral vision, Em can see Kong showing all his teeth.

Em doesn't look at Bright but he does elbow Kong in the side. Kong just elbows him back.

"Oh?" Bright asks.

Em focuses on the table and the torn up napkin.

"Who was that girl you were talking to, P'?" Dae asks.

"Oh, nong San. She's a regular," Bright says. "Em helped me source a special request for her and now she comes in all the time for it."

Em looks up at his name and Bright smiles at him. Em smiles weakly back.

"Oh, you sourced it?" Kong asks, turning to look at him.

"The favor," Em explains and Kong nods.

"You guys were here for me?" Bright says.

Em's trying not to look at Bright, but he looks-- Em isn't sure what the look is. But he's looking at Em, not at anyone else. San sits at a table nearby and Em grits his teeth.

"Kong chose the place, don't look at me," Em says.

Bright frowns but looks at Kong.

"Uhm, have you seen P'Arthit?" Kong asks. "Is he okay?"

Bright seems confused now and shakes his head. "At the wedding he seemed fine… Actually, now that I think about it, he didn't really seem fine, did he?" Bright says, "I'll check on him and let you know."

Bright takes their drink order-- Tew orders a pitcher for them to split and some finger food-- and stops at San's table to chat with her before heading back behind the bar.

"So that's his girlfriend, right?" Maprang asks.

Em lays his head down on the table.

"I think so." Em says, muffled.

"It's okay, Khun Em," Dae says and Em feels him patting at the back of his head.

Em makes a vaguely acknowledging noise of thanks and he leans a little towards Kong. They could be lonely together.

"Last month of internship," Maprang says, changing the subject. "I personally can't wait to be done. It's exhausting."

Em lets the conversation go on beside him, sitting up when their drinks are delivered. He can't get too drunk because he has work, and Kong offers for Em to stay with him. He thinks about accepting but decides against it and winds up at Bright's apartment once they've finished their dinner.

Em showers and goes to bed immediately.

He listens when Bright comes home, strains to hear any voices or whispered conversation. But Bright never turns the lights on. So Em listens as Bright fumbles around getting his shoes off, hears him bang into some furniture and swear softly, then the soft glow of the phone screen flashes dim blue. Em closes his eyes and pretends to be asleep.

Bright is quiet as he enters the room, as he looks for clothes by the light of his phone and slips into the bathroom. Em listens to the shower run. Then he sees the light under the door extinguish before Bright comes out, toweling his hair off.

Em rolls over and pretends to be asleep.

"Good night, Em," Bright whispers as he slips into bed.

*

He wakes up early enough that Bright isn't awake when he gets up. He plans accordingly so his outfits are all laid out and he can dress quickly and quietly. Em's main desire is to interact with Bright as little as possible. He doesn't want to have to hear directly from Bright that he's dating San now.

He has a countdown on his phone for the days until he's finished with his internship.

Then he can move back on campus and this will cease to be a problem, except on the rare occasion they meet at FIN JUNG for a drink or two. What Em isn't expecting is that while he's gathering up all of his things, someone lets themselves in.

For a horrible moment, he thinks it's San-- that she's already got a key-- but it's someone else. The family resemblance is just obvious enough that he realizes it's probably Bright's dad. And he freezes right on the spot.

He also feels invisible.

"Bright." The man raises his voice. "Bright! How are you still sleeping at this time of day?"

Em looks at the clock on his phone-- it's a little after six in the morning. He'll have to leave soon to walk to work, but he doesn't know if he should move.

"So lazy," the man mutters.

Em can hear Bright stirring in the other room, making noise as he yawns.

"Give him a break," Em says, unable to help it. "His bar doesn't close until midnight. He isn't home until after one."

The man turns and fixes an unimpressed look at Em.

"Who are you?"

"Pa, leave him alone," Bright says, coming out of his room while pulling a shirt on. "He's my roommate."

"So that's how you're keeping that place afloat, subsidizing your lifestyle."

"He doesn't pay rent," Bright says.

Em doesn't move. He doesn't know if he should leave Bright here alone. He needs to go to work but--

"Ah."

There's a tone in the word that Em can't place, but he knows it's bad. Something edged with venom, something angry and judgmental. It’s a lot to put in a single, one syllable word. Em looks sidelong at Bright, sees the tension in his shoulders. His back is ramrod straight. Bright doesn't have an open face by any means, but he usually has a soft one with hazy lidded eyes and his mouth slightly open.

His mouth is drawn into a line, jaw tight, eyes narrowed.

Em doesn't think he should leave Bright alone with his father.

"What're you doing here?" Bright asks. "I told you not to use that key unless it was an emergency."

"The rent on your space is going up and I'm not going to be paying for the overage. So you'll need to figure that out." He hands a sheaf of papers to Bright. Bright flips through them.

"Did you even try to negotiate?" Bright asks. "You already signed these?"

"Why would I care how much it goes up by? It isn't going to be my problem," his father says.

Bright keeps looking through the papers and then hands them over to Em. Em isn't sure what to do with them so he looks through them too. The papers are indeed already signed.

He eyes the number-- 3000 baht a month? He tries not to react any more than that. Bright makes some kind of acknowledging noise and waits for the man to leave. Then he slaps his hands over his face and groans.

"I'm going back to bed." Bright says.

"Hey," Em says and he sets the papers down. "Are you okay?"

Bright makes a vague noise.

"I'm fine, Em." He wanders back into the bedroom and Em follows. He watches as Bright falls face first into the bed. "You're going to be late if you don't leave soon."

Em knows he's being dismissed and he swallows back the strange feeling in his throat, tries to breathe around it, and then quietly leaves for work.

*

He can’t focus much on his internship that day. It seems to be okay, mostly; they're in meetings about the process changes, and Em's recording them so that he can take notes and help write some documentation on it all later.

But he's mostly thinking about Bright and the raised rent that his father had signed off on. From what Em could tell, Bright's dad paid for the current space but there must have been a set dollar amount he was willing to pay, and that precluded the recent hike.

It was a move designed to force Bright's hand, Em thinks. He remembers the conversation he'd had about Bright not wanting to go into engineering at all and the compromise he'd made with his dad. Instead of focusing on the meeting at hand, he's wondering about a new space.

If there were loans that could be taken out, they might be able to rework the current suppliers to generate cost savings to compensate for the increase in rent. After the meetings, he downloads the videos and works through putting together the notes he’d taken, sending them on to his mentor once he's completed them.

Then he focuses on his side project, after grabbing a cold sandwich from the cafeteria and typing furiously on his laptop throughout his break. He researches other rental spaces, different suppliers, different ways to save on overhead and creates a pretty packet full of resources, putting that industrial engineering training to good use. Then he sends the whole collection on to Bright.

It shows Bright has read the message. Em waits.

And waits.

ty; but don't worry about it :)

Em isn't sure what that means and it makes him feel uncomfortable and also slightly rejected. He tries to internalize it, rationalizes that Bright is just upset over the conversation with his dad, and maybe he'll come around on it. He decides to take a cab to campus and get dinner with Tew, though.

Tew is with Dae, of course, but he doesn't mind. Dae's a good kid with a solid head on his shoulders, and Em gets incredibly amused by how adamant Dae is to not refer to anyone as a senior.

"You can just call me Em," Em tells him after a while. "No need to be so formal since we're friends."

Dae seems to appreciate that and he nods and smiles.

Tew's internship seems to be going even worse than Em's, and he talks about how he's working under a slavedriver who treats him like his ideas are worthless but then makes him do all the work anyway.

"Didn't that happen to you when you lived in the dorms near the seniors too?" Em asks and Tew nods. He glances at Dae and thinks maybe he shouldn't make this joke. "Do you ever think maybe you just have the personality of someone who should be bossed around?"

Tew glares at him and Em mouths bottom? at him. Tew throws a pencil at his face.

"Don't be fucking rude," Tew says. He's clearly flustered, cheeks pink, he won't look at Em. Em laughs as he looks between Dae and Tew. Dae is kind of feisty, so he supposes he can see it.

"What's funny?" Dae asks and Em shakes his head.

"It's nothing."

Dae doesn't press the issue.

*

He and Bright exist in a strange space for a while. Em does his internship, Bright runs the bar, looking stressed and pinched and unhappy on the rare occasions Em does see him. They don't talk a lot. Em's usually gone before Bright wakes up and asleep before he gets home.

Sometimes Bright texts Em when he wakes up and Em swipes the notification away and tries to focus on his work. He's doing well, though his mentor still hates him as a person, but working together has gotten easier. He clearly sees some value in the insight that Em's able to provide.

Em keeps thinking about the lease documents that Bright had gotten from his father and wonders if he'll even be able to leverage it. The bar always looks busy when Em passes it on his way home, but there's also overhead and supply chain stuff that's out of his knowledge and experience.

He feels like he's just drifting from one day to the next.

Tutah posts pictures of his honeymoon in Korea and Em watches on social media. Bright just acts like nothing is wrong.

It feels like two weeks pass by in a blur, so he's surprised to get a message that Tutah and Au are back and everyone's having a big get together at Bright's bar. The party is set for the weekend.

Em's internship is almost over, and things will go back to how they'd been before.

Em asks Kong if he's going to the party and gets a shrug in return.

i didn't want to tell anyone this, but…
the fight arthit and i had…
everything was going so well up until then
but we were at the beach for a company outing
and the moment felt right
and it didn't even feel like a big deal… the sea and the stars it was perfect, like something out of a romance drama
i thought there was no one around
so it shouldn't be a bad idea and i kissed him
i guess technically we kissed each other and it felt so good, it felt so right in that moment
but i guess someone caught the kiss on their camera and sent it to their inter-company group chat
so suddenly everyone knows… about us
and it's like…
i guess a repeat of the last time except worse because he knows these people they're his friends

what last time?

his first job out of university, i'm not sure how they got wind he was seeing a man and they terminated the contract.

i didn't know…

well it doesn't matter now, we're both still working there
no one seems to care, they're too focused on the production crisis
and i don't know what to do.

i wish i could help, kong
everything with bright is just confusing i don't get him

want to skip and hang out instead?

so you can watch chick flicks and cry?

you're so rude, come on.

we should go, we're almost adults, you can be in the same room as your ex with the rest of your friends

and you'll be fine if bright has his girlfriend there?

Em sighs and rubs his temples for a moment.

i'll be if you'll be

*

Em gets a message from his ex-landlord that the building is done being renovated if he wants to move back in. It's tempting, but there are only two weeks left and he and Bright have been making it work despite everything.

He meets Kong in front of FIN JUNG and he looks better than the last time Em had seen him.

"That's the play," Em says, dusting Kong's shoulders off playfully. "Make him see what he's missing."

Kong doesn't really smile, just manages half of one that doesn't even dimple his cheeks. Em knew it was going to be rough, but he steels himself as best he can and links his arm with Kong.

"It's alright. If you want to pretend you've moved on and we're dating, you can." Em laughs as he says it and Kong rolls his eyes but it gets a legitimate smile this time.

It's something.

"Hey, Wad's here," Kong says and that is at least one upside.

It makes Em immediately glad he's come. Wad notices them around the same time and he smiles at them, then his eyes immediately look at their linked arms and he raises a brow.

"Let's go over," Em says.

Wad is sitting with Prem and Knot. Knot's hair has gotten longer and he looks even more tired than the last time they’d seen each other.

Em wais Prem as he joins them.

"You don't have to do that still," Prem says and moves over to make room for them.

"I don't want you to yell at me," Em says and sits. "You were scary."

"I wasn't that bad," Prem says, but Kong, Wad, and Em all give him a look-- Knot too.

"You had a mean streak and you were constantly angry. Your little crush made you unbearable," Knot says. Prem throws a handful of chips at him. Knot laughs and brushes them off his jeans.

"Oh, did you have a crush on me all the way back then?" Wad asks, and he flutters his lashes playfully, causing Em and Kong to laugh as Prem flushes red.

"Is P'Arthit here?" Kong asks Knot.

Knot gestures to another place in the bar, where Arthit is talking to Au and Tutah, leaning against the counter. Em follows Kong's gaze and tries to place what sort of mood he's in. He definitely doesn't look as well put together as Kong does right now.

Kong looks away after a moment and Em hates that he's going to be the one to suggest this.

"Hey, maybe you should just talk to him again," Em says gently. Kong narrows his eyes at him. "You're hurting and I know that isn't entirely on you. He's got a lot to do with it. But after what you told me, and knowing how he was at school at least, he's probably just scared."

"But why can't he just tell me that?" Kong asks, exasperated. "I don't want to fight with him, but I don't want to have to guess at every single motivation. I want to know where we stand without having to pry it out from him. I love him but what kind of relationship is that? How long would you put up with that?"

"I wouldn't," Knot says.

"I'm not a good person to ask," Em says. "I would probably take anything at this point."

"You're this young and already thinking about settling?" Knot asks.

Em shrugs a little. "No, I guess not, I'm just… not having a lot of luck romantically."

Em definitely notices Prem and Knot share a look. His brow furrows.

"What was that for?" he asks and Prem holds his hands up.

"Nothing, nothing. Just-- I thought with what we talked about, you might have had someone in mind," Wad says.

Prem nods-- but he's looking like he knows more than Wad does. Em thinks about how Prem had told him that Bright tells Tutah everything. Maybe all of the hazers know everything that had happened. The knowledge burns like coals in the pit of his stomach.

"Is Bright dating that girl, San?" Em asks Prem.

He would know, wouldn't he?

Prem looks surprised, though, and he glances over at Bright; Em does too. Bright has joined Arthit and Tutah in the corner, his arm slung over Au's shoulders as he tells a story, punctuating a point with a tiny drink umbrella. Prem lets out a strange sort of laugh.

"Uh, Em, I don't know. Is he? I thought he was…" Prem trails off and purses his lips together.

"Thought he was dating San?" Em asks, unhappily.

Prem looks uncomfortable and Em can't figure out why. Prem stands up suddenly and waves a vague hand at Em before heading off to the restroom. He looks at Wad, concerned, and Wad stands up to follow.

"What the hell…?" Em asks and Kong shakes his head a little.

"Let's just go say congratulations to Au and Tutah and go home," Kong suggests.

Em nods and stands up, he helps Kong out of his seat. It’s awkward-- with Bright and Arthit still over there-- but Kong's got his shoulders back and head held high.

They wai at Tutah and Au as they approach.

"Em and I are about to head out but we wanted to come and say goodbye and congratulations on your wedding," Kong says and he smiles at Tutah.

Tutah looks surprised. "You're leaving already?" he asks and Kong nods. Em nods too.

Kong wais to Bright and Arthit and then heads for the door. Em gives them both a sort of wide eyed look. He’s trying to gauge their reactions, mostly. But he's terrible at reading Bright's face anyway and Arthit is even more of a closed book. He clasps his hands together quickly and then rushes after Kong.

"This was a bad idea," Kong says once they're outside. Kong's eyes are damp and his lower lip is quivering and Em rubs Kong's shoulder as he calls a cab for him.

"It's gonna be okay," Em promises.

Kong goes home and Em breathes out a slow sigh before heading back to Bright's.

*

Em's still awake when Bright gets home; he's lost track of the time reading through more relationship advice forums that he doesn't have any replies to. When he finally checks his watch, he realizes he’s spent hours sympathizing and identifying with a bunch of lonely people from all different walks of life.

It could be better, but it could also be worse.

"Em." Bright's voice is steady in the darkness and Em fumbles his phone with a curse.

He’s been found out and he can't really deny it's his own fault. Bright flips the lights on and he looks tired. Em isn't sure what it's from, but the unhappiness is set deeper on his face. He looks more pale, more drawn, the color faded like he's been desaturated.

(Probably an overwrought observation, likely due to less and less attention being paid to caring for himself. He doesn't cover the dark circles beneath his eyes with concealer or put gloss on his lips to make them pop more.)

"I was just getting ready for bed," Em says and Bright nods.

"We need to talk."

It's the worst phrase in the entirety of spoken language. Em feels his insides freeze.

"I--" Bright starts.

"Are you dating San?" Em interrupts him, his voice pitchy and unhappy.

He hates how he sounds and immediately wishes he could take it back. He wishes he could say it more evenly. Bright just stares at him and the silence seems to last forever. In reality, it’s probably just a few seconds, if that.

"No, she got back together with her boyfriend about two weeks after she came over heartbroken," Bright explains.

"You guys looked awfully cozy the other day."

"Are you jealous?" Bright asks, brow raising.

"No," Em says immediately, then he makes a frustrated noise. "Yes. I don't know."

"You've been distant these last few weeks. I've been trying to give you space, but I need to know where we stand. I don't mind waiting but if it's useless then I want to move on."

"Waiting for what?" Em asks.

Bright actually looks surprised and his mouth works a moment, opening, closing. Then he looks unsure of himself. That is a look Em can read; it’s like looking in a mirror and having his soul reflected back to him.

"For you," Bright says, his voice oddly soft, oddly quiet. Em's heart feels like it's beating so fast it's going to explode, too fast, like it might vibrate out of his chest. "I didn't know how to tell you. And then, then we were playing that stupid game, we kissed and I knew. I knew before but that sort of sealed it away.

"And I thought-- I'm not sure what I thought. Everything got so hazy then, but things felt good. But then they didn't. And I can't get a handle on what you're thinking or feeling. You close yourself off and sometimes you're so warm and open, and other times so cold and closed off. Like you need to be chiseled at to get to all that's underneath."

Bright's hands are shaking as he speaks, like something is coming unlatched inside him. Or maybe it’s Em who feels like he's about to lose connection with the Earth. Each word is like an affirmation or a stone. He gets it but he isn't sure what to say.

His words-- like always-- fail him. Like before, the act of having to articulate all the thoughts that swim around his head leaves him feeling paralyzed.

"And then at Tutah's wedding, you seemed like… Well, you made the first move and I thought you'd come to a conclusion about what you wanted but the very next day it was like the switch flipped again. And I'm confused, Em. I'm confused and I don't want to be confused anymore."

Em thinks of a hundred things he could say, a thousand things, words crowding in his head until they're choking one another out and he can't tear them apart. He closes his eyes for a moment and tries to quiet everything he can feel shouting in his head. He'd been able to-- with May-- silence the chatter enough to say what he felt.

"I'm scared," Em says, finally, sounding small. "I don't want to get hurt again. This whole year so far has been… I don't know. And I--"

Em cuts himself off. He thinks about the way his confession to May had gone. He remembers standing on the beach brokenhearted, while everyone else was celebrating the night. The way Prem and Bright had comforted him even then. He thinks about the beginning of this year, how Bright has been a fixture in his life. His bar, the hangout space. His presence.

The way he’d selflessly let Em come stay here in a pinch.

The feel of his hands on his face, his chest, in his hair. Em’s heart clenches painfully in his chest.

"I like you, Bright," Em finally says, with a crack in his voice, "and I'm scared. I didn't even know I liked guys up until a month ago, and I don't know how to feel about it. My parents are going to have a fit. I already know what your dad is like."

Em clenches his fists unconsciously.

"So I don't know where we stand, I don't know what to do. I know that you-- you could do better and find someone who"--

Bright's suddenly right next to him, clutching his biceps so hard he can feel his nails digging in and Em loses his train of thought.

"Em, I like you too. I don't care about what my dad thinks, I never have. And who could be better than you? Don't you get it?"

Em doesn't really think he does.

"I don't know," Em says, feeling-- he's not sure what he's feeling. Out of his mind, maybe.

(Things play back in his mind like a collection of scenes, greatest hits. Back when Em was a freshman, the way it seemed like Bright would look at him sometimes, catching his gaze from across the room. The way Bright hadn't made him do anything embarrassing in order for Em to get his signature. The sudden request for Em personally to get him a thank you gift for the gathering despite their limited interactions. The look he'd given him when he'd made good on his promise, even though Bright had dropped from two to one bars as a deal. The way he'd helped him feel better after May had rejected him. The first night they slept together. The subsequent interactions-- special food and asking for his help, opening his home to him, the kiss and-- everything else.)

Bright is still staring at him, his expression open and vulnerable. It feels like it should be easy. Knowing everything. When it all falls into place and for them-- it could be as easy as taking this plunge. He could step forward and accept this.

He thinks about Bright's dad, his own parents, his own miserable life and wonders if it'd be worth it. If he really was worthy of what Bright seems to be offering.

Should he choose to take that risk? Is there space for him to take that risk?

"I think I'll just end up disappointing you," Em says after a moment.

Bright's arms slip around his shoulders, pull him close, and Em doesn't know where to put his hands so he just keeps them down by his sides. He focuses on trying to even out his breathing but it's not helping. His heart is working so hard and his brain is working just as hard-- pushing, pulling.

Bright's breath ghosts against his ear, flutters his hair. They're chest to chest and he wonders if Bright can feel the way his heart is pounding. He wonders if Bright can feel how it's going to bang right out through his chest.

Em knows once he says it he can't go back. There's no way to push it all back inside.

He’s just been pushing everything down for so long. All the pain, hurt, hope, light-- all of it is a crumpled mess inside him. Useless. But maybe he could unball it, smoothe out the creases. It wouldn't be perfect-- but maybe it would be good enough.

Maybe Bright wouldn't mind if it's damaged, missing pieces. He feels like his throat closing up and he clings onto Bright, gripping at the back of his shirt. His shoulders start shaking, butBright just holds him tighter as Em starts to cry and buries his face against Bright's neck.

By the time he can't cry anymore, he feels exhausted. But he feels better. The entire time, Bright's only movement has been to caress his back, press their temples together in solidarity, and keep Em upright when his knees felt like they were about to give out.

Em thinks that Bright has seen him at his very worst now, crying like a child, because he couldn't-- because he doesn't think he deserves what's being offered. He steps back when he's done crying and wipes his face with his sleeves. Bright is quiet but gets him a glass of water and they sit side by side on the couch.

"Are you okay?" Bright asks and Em nods, slowly.

He drinks the water and he feels, somehow ,like he really is better. It’s cathartic, finally letting everything out and letting everything go.

"I'm sorry," Em says. "I want to say I'm normally better at this but my track record has been kind of shit so I guess this is just who I am as a person."

Bright laughs. It's genuine and bassy, vibrating against Em's arm because they're sitting so close.

"You don't have to apologize. I'm sorry I put you on the spot."

Em makes a dismissive noise. "You didn't," he says and then his brow pinches together. "I mean technically you did but it's not anything to apologize for either. I didn't mean to confuse you."

"I can wait if you need more time."

Em considers, stops to think about-- what, he's not so sure. The future? His internship is up in one week and he'll be heading back to school. Bright's bar is in a crisis and telling his parents is probably going to have to wait since he won't be able to afford school if he gets cut off.

"I need more time," Em says quietly and he reaches over to touch Bright's hand lightly, fingers skimming over his knuckles, and then pressing between his fingers to squeeze lightly, gently.

Bright's looking at their hands and Em swallows back a swell of emotions.

"I understand," Bright says and he looks away, toward the window.

Bright urges him to go to bed, and they go together. It might be weird, but Em doesn't think it's any weirder than any of the other times. Still, he moves a little closer and he holds Bright gently-- like a friend-- just to comfort him.

"It won't be forever," Em promises.

When he wakes up the next morning for work, Bright is still sleeping and he gets ready quietly. He heads out without waking him.

By the time he finishes the walk to work there's a message waiting for him from Bright.

♪i don't mind
i could wait forever, i've got time

Em can't stop smiling the rest of the day.

*

The last week of Em's internship is wrapped up in exit interviews and discussions about his experiences with the program. Em's sad to have it be over now, in a way, since he'll almost have to move back into the dorms to continue on with his degree.

He doesn't hate that. He's missed being with his friends all the time and he feels a lot more at ease about interacting with May now that he thinks he might actually, truly, be over her. But he's still worried about what it's going to mean for him and Bright, such as they are. They won’t be able to keep interacting like they had been.

After all, school was a lot more homework and activities, and he'd really need to buckle down and make sure he was able to graduate on time.

Em’s concerned about Bright too, and the future of the bar. Bright had told him he did have some money in savings to cover the rent hike for a couple of months but he wasn't sure what to do beyond that. Em thinks there are ways they can improve the cost of running the bar, but he doesn't know if Bright even wants his help.

The future feels uncertain.

The last day of his internship, his mentor takes him out to lunch begrudgingly, and tells him he did a good job that they'd be excited to work with him in the future. But it doesn't seem sincere and Pang and Din invite him out for dinner later, which he gladly goes to.

you're not going to believe what happened

Kong sends a video someone else must have taken of Arthit jumping up on stage to tell the company all gathered there for the internship going away party that he and Kong were dating. Em shakes his head a little and sends back:

i told you he was just going to go slow

oh, you're so wise, em. i was a fool to doubt you

you're putting me on but it's true
so you guys are back together huh
all is right in the world

what about you?

i'm doing just fine

*

Getting back into the swing of classes and shifting into a learning role again is difficult. It's also harder than he wants to admit to be back to working so closely with May. He supposes it was inevitable that this would happen, but it doesn't take the sting out entirely.

But they're friends now. Em had told her they'd keep being friends.

And friends aren't standoffish, so he tries to help. Their calculus classes only get more difficult and involved and in their technical communication writing class they have a group project. It's a speech and a written essay where they have to write technical documentation and build diagrams, and then present both to the class.

The groups are randomly assigned-- "If I let you decide you'll just work with your friends, you need to learn to work with everyone!"-- and Em winds up in a group with people he's friends with anyway. He gets put with May and Prae, so it's a mix of good and bad.

They get the solar tuki and Em kind of hates that, because he wishes they'd gotten something a little more mechanical.

But it's fine, he's sure they'll do a great job.

Kong's working with two of his classmates he doesn't know well. He played basketball with Tee during the Freshy games, but they'd never really made it to being friends beyond that. Em isn't even sure he's met the other one yet.

They get lunch at that canteen and Em finds a sticker from Bright waiting for him. He usually texts him when he wakes up. This time it's a bunny crawling toward a pot of coffee.

couldn't sleep?

i am worrying myself sick

if you want i can come over later, i still have those things i made, we can update it
see what we can do

you don't mind?
i know you're busy with school

i don't mind

"We'll have to start our project tomorrow night," Em says when he meets Prae outside the library. "I have to go see someone about something."

"It's fine. I think Omo wants to go to the movies anyway," Prae says. She gives him a pretty smile and Omo herself appears as though she was summoned. She links her arm together with Prae and smiles at Em.

"Khun Em," she greets cheerfully.

"Good afternoon, nong," Em says and then he turns his attention back to Prae. "You'll tell May, right?"

Prae nods and Em heads back to his room to change and grab the information he'd gathered up earlier regarding the attempt to save FIN JUNG.

Since it's during hours, Em goes there and he sits at a table close to the bar as he works. Bright brings him a drink and sits down next to him, keeping an eye on everything as well as looking at Em's ideas.

"I think the first thing we'll need to do is cut down on costs in general. You're already operating pretty well under, with you being the only employee, but we might need to change suppliers. If we tweak the budget enough, you might be able to keep things on an even keel like you were before the rent hike."

Bright nods and looks at the numbers.

"So if you want to give me the current supply chain stuff I can run some numbers and make some calls? You'll be busy but my midweek classes don't start until later in the day so I can make some calls in the morning."

"You don't mind doing that?" Bright’s brows knit together in consternation. "It's a big ask, I can always get up early and do it…"

"Don't be stupid, Bright. You need to sleep," Em says and he holds his hand out for the information.

Bright is quiet as he stands and comes back with a binder full of contacts, pricing in the margins and contract dates-- well organized really.

"I'll start calling tomorrow," Em promises.

After that, they chat about Em's homework and schooling. Bright shares a beer with him and helps Em finish his food, but it feels comfortable.

"Do you want to stay the night?" Bright asks and Em shakes his head at him.

"I'll call you tomorrow once I know something," Em promises.

*

i was able to find some discounts but not as much as i'd like; looking at another avenue, will get back with you

thank you, don't work yourself too hard!

Em and Bright exchange texts about the bar-- about Em's classes --

if you were a layman, would this make sense?

i'd probably cuss out an instruction manual if it was this bad

:(

-- about the everyday goings-on of their lives outside of that. Bright leaves him a voice recording about having to go and see his mom, and of course his dad was there and of course they fought about the bar. He also mentions his mom is back to pushing him to find a girlfriend.

In return, Em sends Bright a text exchange between himself and his mom, basically pushing for the same thing.

a kid? at your age?

can you imagine?

*

Between Em's large project -- it's going well but it's a lot of work and there's a disagreement about how the project should be split up-- and Bright running the bar, finding the time to work on solving the problem is difficult.

Em's at the bar, re-working the diagram that Bright had said was bad. There's less traffic during this time of day, but there's enough of a crowd that Bright can't put his full focus on their research either. Em lifts his head and sees Bright is looking at him.

Em can't quite read the expression on Bright's face. Inscrutable, something soft but unrecognizable in his eyes.

"What're you staring at?" Em asks, resisting the urge to wipe his face off. Bright shakes his head and then gets up to tend to one of the tables that have run out of drinks.

When he comes back, he looks at something on his phone and he's shaking his head. "I don't think it's going to work, Em," Bright says. "I'm already at the end of my savings account from this. My dad used to give me an allowance which is how I saved and kept this afloat to begin with, but now…" He trails off with a shrug.

Em bites his lower lip and turns away from his diagram.

"I'll float you the money. I have a savings account," Em says.

"No way." Bright looks offended. "I'm not going to take your money."

"Bright, please just take it. You're going to be miserable if this place has to close. You can pay me back or whatever, but it’s just to keep you going while we figure this out."

Bright shakes his head again.

Em grabs Bright's hand.

"Look at me," Em says.

Bright does. He still looks unhappy. Em can see all the worry on his face, and how it's taking a toll on him. He looks tired, drawn, worn out. The money worries are probably killing him. And in that moment, Em wishes he could do something more. Possibly something to Bright's dad, just so he doesn’t have to suffer like this.

Em squeezes his hand.

"I want to help. This isn't a problem for me, I--" Em doesn't know how to articulate it. "Just give me your bank information so I can transfer you money. Stop fighting so much."

Bright dutifully does so, but he's giving Em another one of those unreadable looks.

Em chooses to ignore it, instead focusing on transferring the money. He has a nice savings. His dad pays for everything here and still gives him money for incidentals. But Em doesn't really have a lot of expenses. He doesn't really buy much.

He transfers over enough to cover the overages for a few months.

"That's too much," Bright says.

Em reaches up and brushes a stray lock of hair off of Bright's forehead and then grabs his shoulder and squeezes. "It's no trouble at all, I don't want you to keep stressing about this," he says gently. He wants to do more-- he wishes he could do more. He could transfer over even more money, but Bright probably wouldn't let him and he doesn't want to fight about it.

"Em, you really don't have to. I can--"

"Shhhh." Em puts a finger to Bright's lips. He can feel them part beneath his finger, breath ghosting over the pad. "It's not even worth saying anything more about. We'll find out how to get this all worked out, and in the meantime, I'll support you."

"Em--" Bright starts again but Em presses his finger more firmly.

"I’m not talking about it any more." Em points to his laptop. "I need to finish working on this right now. You said you'd cuss me out."

Bright looks uncertain, but then he leans over to look at the diagram that Em is working on and he nods, apparently content to change the subject.

Em finds he doesn't really mind that Bright puts his head on his shoulder, and offers some criticism and help as Em moves things around. Eventually, Bright has to get up to tend to his customers and Em needs to pack up to go home.

"I'm heading out," Em says to Bright, who is standing at the bar, running someone's check. "I'll call you tomorrow?"

"Wait," Bright says and he grabs something out from under the counter. He hands Em a bag of the seaweed chips that he likes and Em tucks them into his backpack as well.

"You didn't have to get me anything, I don't mind doing this.

"Do you want to stay? I can take you to school in the morning."

"Are you going to ask me that every time I visit?" Em says with a smile, though he's not really upset about it. Bright nods. "I'm fine, but I'll call you."

Bright grins at him and shakes his head.

"Text me when you get home."

*

Prae, May, and Em walk to the canteen together, going over their technical writing document. They discuss ideas on how they're going to present the information as they walk. Prae dominates the discussion, her arm linked through Em's, while May is on Prae's other side. Em listens as Prae talks, making a mental note of things he wants to write down once they're sitting.

The canteen is full of people from their class, but he spots their friends easily and leads them over to the table.

They sit with Kong and Tew.

They have lunch and compare diagrams-- Em thinks Kong's is already ahead of the game, looking almost professional. He taps Kong's foot under the table.

"Did Arthit make this for you? You know that's cheating," Em says.

"Don't be annoying," Kong replies and taps him back. "No, I made it. And Boom helped." He points to the other member of the group that Em hadn't known. He nods.

"It looks good. Bright told me mine sucked."

"Let me see." Kong reaches for it and Em snatches it away.

"No way."

After lunch, the group splits up, and Em goes to the library to chase down some more information about the product they're writing documentation for.

Em notices Omo in the library, hard at work on something. He remembers she's in the comm arts department.

"Do you mind if I sit here?" Em asks. Omo shakes her head and smiles at him. "Hey can I ask you something, I think Prae mentioned something about you doing a marketing internship?"

"Yeah, it's where we met," Omo says.

"This is going to seem out of left field but I'm wondering if you can help me with something. You remember my friend Bright?"

Omo nods.

"Well, I was wondering if you could help with boosting his bar's presence. There've been some increased costs and increasing the traffic might help. You don't have to do much, I'm mostly looking for some advice. I'll do all the work."

"Yeah, I don't mind. I can show you some promotional materials I made for class, and you can see how they fit with his business."

Em exchanges his LINE ID with Omo so she can send him things later, when she has time, and he thanks her before getting up to continue on his own research.

*
Omo sends over the materials a little while later and Em tucks himself in the corner of Bright's bar with his laptop, trying to figure out how to recreate the materials by sight. It's not like he's a particularly artistic person and his knowledge of marketing is next to nothing.

Bright joins him after a while.

"What're you doing?" Bright asks. He scoots in the same side of the booth as Em and loops an arm around him.

Em looks at him out of the side of his eyes and then leans against Bright anyway. It's nice.

Bright's fingers squeeze his shoulder-- he smells like citrus-- and he gives him a hug.

Em doesn't mind when Bright puts their temples together, looking at the screen with him.

"Marketing," Em says with a laugh. "We'll need to increase the social media presence to get more people to come in. I was reading over some tips last night."

Bright pulls back and frowns at him.

"What about your class work?"

"Stop worrying, I did that too."

"Are you sleeping enough?"

"Yes, I am." Em waves off Bright's concern. "Come on, what do you think?"

Bright nods. "I think it looks good for an engineering student."

"Hey, it's better than nothing," Em says, with a smile. He sends the file to Bright. "Wait on posting it, though. I read somewhere that the best chance for engagement is around lunch time, since people will be on breaks and more likely refreshing their feeds."

"Okay."

"I have to meet up with May at the library," Em says as he finishes his drink. He takes a moment to enjoy the warmth of Bright in the booth next to him before nudging him out of the seat.

"Text me when you get there safe," Bright says and Em gives him a mock salute.

*

Exam season is upon them, so he splits his time between studying, the group project, and working with Bright on the bar. But what they're doing seems to be working, and that's something. He doesn't want to see Bright unhappy, most of all.

That is something of a revelation. He likes him, that much is obvious. He'd admitted it, he'd been so busy he hadn't really had a chance to examine his feelings. But he likes being close to Bright, he likes spending time with him, waking up to a message from him--and he always does-- Bright texts him good night when he gets home from work, when Em is usually asleep.

Em thinks there might be ways to say I love you without saying it explicitly. It makes his heart clench with the sudden clarity of it.

He's studying when he thinks about it-- when Bright sends him a couple of messages.

this might help :)

And then attached are pictures of handwritten notes that Bright must have taken years before. The writing is neat and cramped, a little disorganized, but certainly farther along than Em is in his own study guides.

oh you look like you were a diligent student, thank you

Bright sends him a sticker that's a pair of kissing lips and Em goes back to his studying. But not for long-- he checks the time and gathers his things up before calling a taxi.

*

Em still has a key so he lets himself into Bright's place. Bright is stretched out on the couch, earbuds in and eyes closed, foot tapping to whatever song he's listening to as he scrolls through his phone. Em feels a swell in his rib cage and he knows what he wants.

Em's been trying to think, to cover every eventuality he can think of. Bright likes him, Em likes Bright. The more he thinks about it, the more he thinks about how everything this year has only been bearable because of Bright. It's the way he wants to support Em, the way he's curled behind his rib cage and settled there around his heart.

It's overwhelming, and a lot like coming home.

i'm at your place

Em watches Bright open up and read the message and sit up. He startles when he sees Em is already inside.

"Hey," Bright says and he grins, taking off his headphones.

Em grins back at him, and he can't stop the smile that comes over his face.

This feels good, it feels right.

"Aren't you studying?" Bright sits up and moves over to make room on the couch for Em. Em sits down next to him, sliding his bag onto the floor and he nods.

"I am, but I wanted to come and see you," Em says. He thinks about taking Bright's hands or doing something romantic. His own hands feel clammy though, and he wipes them on his jeans before knocking his knee into Bright's. Bright's looking at him, and Em can feel the weight of his gaze settling over his skin.

Em knows he should look back, but he can't. Just in case.

Bright throws an arm around Em’s shoulders and leans against him.

"That badly, huh? You rushed right over?" Bright asks. His voice is warm and teasing.

Em's heart pounds.

"That badly," Em agrees.

Bright's so close. So Em does what feels right, turning slightly, dislodging Bright's arm from around his shoulder a little bit. Then he puts his hands on Bright's face and leans in to kiss him. Bright seems surprised, lips parting beneath Em's own, but it's just for a moment-- and then Bright is pressing in closer, winding his arm back around Em and kissing him back.

Em threads his fingers into Bright's hair and slides his tongue into his mouth, his heart racing. Bright's mouth is soft and pliant against his and they kiss until Em has to pull back to catch his breath. He's already panting, breathing shallow.

Bright's lips already look swollen, eyes hazy and dark. The color is high on his cheeks like he's wearing blush.

"I don't need any more time," Em says. He can't think of anything else to say.

Bright looks confused for a moment and then it's like a lightbulb goes on over his head. He wraps both arms around Em, tucking in against his chest and butting his head against Em's chin.

"Really?" Bright asks and Em nods.

"I get it now," Em says and he strokes Bright's hair lightly. Bright squeezes him tighter.

Then Bright pushes at Em, until he can shove his shoulders to the couch and he settles in between his thighs. Bright grins down at him and starts dropping kisses all over his face, his forehead, the tip of his nose, even on his chin.

Em doesn't get any more studying done.

*
"I think that was the hardest one yet," Em says, as he falls in step with Kong and Tew after they get out of their calculus midterm. "I wasn't even that out of sorts with the solar tuki presentation."

"Well, I probably failed," Oak says. "Luckily Maprang is smart and can support us."

"You wish," Maprang says.

"What plans do you have for break?" Prae asks. "Omo invited me to meet her parents but I'm nervous."

"Are her parents fine with her being a lesbian?" Kong asks, sounding surprised. Prae nods.

"I guess. She wasn't shy about telling them it was a girl she was bringing home. She didn't seem out of sorts about it."

"I think my dad would be fine if I came out to him," Kong says with a nod. "I guess the only caveat being if we got married, Arthit would have to take my last name."

"Hey, when you bring that up to him, can you please invite me?" Em says.

"I think Arthit and I are going to go out of the country. He's been saving up for a trip and this would be as good a time as any."

"I hope he's already got tickets or they're going to be expensive," Tew says. "I'm going to visit my extended family with my parents. Dae's already going to America with his parents. He said it's been planned since the beginning of the school year. I'm jealous."

"I'll probably visit home," Em says, "but not for long. Last time I went home to get a suit for Tutah's wedding and they tried to get me to marry my Auntie Nam's daughter."

Em hasn't actually told anyone about him and Bright yet, and he isn't really sure that right now is the time. All his friends are around so it wouldn't be an awful thing, though.

"Before we all separate for a couple of weeks, we should have a celebration," May says with a grin. "We could see if Bright will let us use his bar again."

"Oh, good call," Kong says and he points at Em. "Can you set it up for us?"

"Why me?" Em whines at him.

"You're the closest to him, he likes you." Kong counts out on his fingers. "He's probably more willing to do something on short notice for you than the rest of us."

Em can’t argue with that. He fishes his phone out of his pocket and texts Bright to ask.

Of course, he says yes.

Em looks up and wags his finger at Kong with a grin. "But he says you have to pay full price."

*

They say things go in cycles and Em figures it must be true, because here they are, at the midpoint of the year, ending where they'd started. The group-- now expanded-- gathered once again in FIN JUNG while music pipes through the speakers and conversation overlaps.

He remembers earlier in the year, standing at the bar side-by-side with Kong.

Kong had pushed him over to go talk to May, always encouraging him to speak his mind. Asking why he hadn't asked her out yet-- and Em had deflected to tease Kong about Arthit instead. He remembers talking to everyone-- about Knot's masters degree, and Bright talking about how difficult it was to run the bar, Prem's unemployment. Now that Em's thought about it more, he realizes it was just a lie, a cover. For whatever reason, Prem and Wad hadn’t wanted anyone to know they were together, and at the end May had said she needed to leave early.

Kong's been a good friend this whole time, really. He shouldn't overlook that.

What he mostly remembers now is Bright offering to give May a ride home. Em stood up to take her home instead. He'd been close to Bright then, right next to his face, and Bright had been smiling at him.

He's not sure why it's so clear now.

But maybe it should have been clear back then.

But tonight, it's a different landscape. Prem isn't here, but Tutah is with Au. Kong sits on the couch with Arthit, their knees touching. Dae is sitting on the arm of Tew's chair. And even Omo is here now, looking glad to be a part of the group, leaning on Prae as they squeeze into one overstuffed chair together.

Em's sitting next to Kong, but he keeps looking at the empty space next to Bright and wondering how awkward it would be if he moved there. He keeps meeting Bright's gaze and then looking away. He's happy and he doesn't remember how long it's been since he's felt this content, this at ease.

They have food and a couple of rounds and have a party before gradually, people start to leave. Kong and Arthit are the last to go and Em wordlessly stands to help clean up even though he technically doesn't have to.

It's late-- closing time-- and Bright locks the doors.

"You should stay the night," Bright says, smiling at Em.

Em smiles back.

"Yeah, I will."

*

"I'm gonna shower first," Bright says once they get to his apartment. Em nods and sits on the couch as Bright disappears into the bathroom. He scrolls through his phone and worries at his lower lip before opening up LINE to bring up Kong's contact.

hey, if i tell you something, can it be just between us?

sure, i mean mostly

Em frowns-- Kong will tell Arthit. But Arthit already knew that Bright was bisexual so it wouldn't be a big deal. It's not like he's outing Bright to tell him. Em lets out a slow breath.

He and Bright aren't official-- they haven't said the words but he still wants to tell him. Wants Kong to be the first to know, since they're best friends. Em rubs at the back of his neck and then types out a couple attempts at the message before ultimately deleting the more overwrought, overly explanatory ones to keep it simple.

bright and i are together. not like out or anything, or official but he likes me
i told him i like him too

oh that's great news!
i'm happy for you
are you happy?

yeah
i don't really know how to explain it
but it feels good
it feels right

Kong sends a sticker that's just a spray of confetti and Em smiles as he tucks his phone away. He hears the shower turn off and Bright pads out in a towel, drying his hair. He throws another towel at Em.

"Your turn."

Em stands up and hugs Bright as he passes him.

"Hey, get off," Bright says. "Go take a shower."

But he hugs Em back anyway and drops a kiss onto his temple.

By the time Em gets out of the shower, Bright's already lying in bed in his pajamas. He sits up when Em comes out and starts getting dressed.

"Are you staying the night?" Bright asks and Em nods.

"Just putting on something to sleep in," Em promises and crawls into bed next to Bright, tucking himself into his side.

Bright wraps his arms around Em and presses his head to his shoulder.

"I'm glad you're here," Bright says.

"Me too."

"You should stay with me while you're on break. You don't even have to do anything, I just really would like to come home to you and wake up next to you."

"You're such a romantic," Em says, making a face at him. He can't even pretend to be disgusted, with the way the words make his face heat and his heart race.

"I'll have to go home for a bit, but maybe just a day trip, or overnight. Then I'll stay with you the rest of the time."

"Let's get some sleep," Bright says, clicking off the light.

Em doesn't have to feel shy, so he curls up behind Bright, wraps his arms around him, and noses at the nape of his neck, breathing in the scent of his shampoo and body wash. He places a kiss at the knot at the top of his spine and slips his hand underneath his shirt to rest his fingers against the warm, soft skin of Bright's abdomen.

Bright makes a quiet sound of contentment and puts his hand on top of Em's.

Em falls asleep like that.

 

*

Em loves his parents, he really does, and he's glad to see his sister who is on break from school as well. But he doesn't love that after all the pleasantries, his mom is still trying to set him up with the daughter of one of her friends. His mom distills the daughter down to a series of traits and measurements, how she's going to a good school, is at the top of her class. It's exhausting.

"Can't we just have a nice conversation about something else?" Em asks, feeling frustrated and out of sorts. He doesn't want to date anyone else. Definitely not someone he's never met before-- or met once or twice when she was still in pigtails.

Luckily for him, Gift is seeing someone from school, and she distracts Mom from the conversation to show her pictures of her boyfriend.

He's handsome in a prep-school sort of way. Slicked back hair and a picture-perfect smile. She has a bunch of pictures of them together and she spends time explaining each one, where they'd been and what they were doing there, all her friends.

It's a break.

But his mom is right back at it again over dinner.

"Ma," Em says, "come on. I don't want to date Auntie Ploy's daughter."

"Well, what's wrong with her? Nam said that you were rude to poor Tam."

"Nothing's wrong with her and I wasn't rude to nong Tam. We just had a difference of opinion on hazing." Em takes a deep breath in. "Besides, you don't have to keep trying to set me up, I'm already seeing someone."

His mom's brow reaches her hairline.

"What's her name? Do you have a picture?"

Em isn't sure how this is going to end, but he's not about to back down now or take it back. Both Gift and his mom are staring at him, waiting.

"Uh, yeah," Em says. "And… his name is Bright."

Em shows a picture of the two of them they'd taken at Tutah's wedding -- along with Arthit and Prem. Bright's got his fingers on Arthit's cheeks, like he's forcing him to smile, so Em taps Bright with his finger.

"This one."

His mom looks at the picture, then at Em, and then back at the picture.

"Em, honey." His mom's voice is exceedingly gentle, which he doesn't think is a great sign. "This isn't funny."

"I'm not joking," Em says. "I've given it a lot of thought and I'm happy. You don't have to… I don't know, whatever, but I don't need you to try and set me up with anyone."

His mom is frowning, but his sister is still looking at the picture.

"I think he's cute. How did you land such a catch?" Gift asks.

Gift’s comment causes his mom look at the picture again. "Just don't tell your father."

Em nods a little and feels like he can breathe a little bit easier now.

"I'm a catch, too," Em says to Gift, moving the conversation along.

The conversation is tabled completely once Em's father gets home, and they spend time watching the news and talking about the upcoming semester, and how his internship went throughout the year. His mom doesn't bring up girls again and his dad has always let his mom lead that conversation, so it's a nice respite.

He winds up staying the night and texts Bright while he's working at the bar, letting him know he'd be back tomorrow and all his for the remainder of his break.

*
Bright's already working by the time Em gets back from his mom and dad's, arms loaded with containers of food and snacks his mom had made, wanting to impress Bright. She even solicits a promise from Em he’ll bring Bright over to visit toon, maybe the next time Em's dad is away on business.

Em doesn't want to promise, but he does anyway.

During the day, he mostly texts back and forth with Tew who is bummed about the time zone difference and how he isn’t talking to Dae regularly. They wind up getting on a voice chat line while they play FIFA and make bets on who will win the games.

Tew leaves to see his family and Em mostly relaxes and plays mobile games. He knows he's just wasting time until Bright gets home. But he's excited to see him.

hey don't eat i'm gonna fix you something

Em winds up walking to a nearby grocery store and gets what he needs so he can make Bright something good to eat when he comes home. With just a microwave, he knows his options are limited but he makes do with what he can-- buying some prepared stuff that can just be warmed up quickly.

By the time Bright gets home, Em thinks he's made a pretty passable steamed egg dish. They sit at the little dinette set and eat, Bright talking about how a drunk kid-- who wasn't a kid but looked young-- had thrown up in the bathroom and Bright had made him clean it.

"I should hire you as my cook. This is excellent," Bright says, praising the food.

After dinner, Bright says he's going to take a shower-- and feeling emboldened, Em asks if he can join him there. Bright turns a very pretty shade of pink but says yes.

Em's heart is hammering again. He hasn't been with Bright like that since Tutah's wedding but he's ready.

*

"I told my mom about us," Em says, as they're lying in bed together after their shower.

The windows are open and there's a breeze coming in. Bright's been playing some game on his phone, winding down. It's getting late, and Em's about ready to turn in, but he also wants to spend as much time with Bright as he possibly can.

"How'd she take it?" Bright asks and he sets his phone down, turning to face Em. Em links their hands together between them and he shrugs with one shoulder.

"Alright," Em says with a smile. "She told me not to tell dad, which I definitely expected."

Bright pushes Em back against the bed and puts his fingers in Em's still damp hair.

"I love you," Bright says and the words hit Em in the center of his chest. His cheeks feel hot, and before he can even say anything in response, Bright's closed the distance between them and is kissing him. The kiss is soft at first, maybe even a little chaste.

But then Em puts his hands on Bright's biceps and squeezes, nails digging into the skin there. He's still warm from the shower and his skin is so soft. Em takes in a sharp breath and Bright uses that moment to slide his tongue into Em's mouth.

Em doesn't mind, sucking lightly on Bright's tongue, and then sliding his hands up, over his shoulders and down his back, nails trailing gently. Encouragingly. Bright takes the hint and slings a leg over Em's hips and climbs on top of him.

They kiss like that for a while, slow and deep, Bright's fingers getting tighter in his hair. Em's hands trail slowly over Bright's back, then lower, over the curve of his ass, down along his bare thighs, settling at the backs of his knees. He pulls Bright closer, and Bright moves his face back, panting softly against Em's mouth.

"I love you too," Em says. It feels strange to say but he means it, his whole body singing with the feeling of it, electricity in his veins. Bright kisses him again, then moves his kisses down over Em's jaw, down the line of his throat, over his bare chest and shoulders.

"Let me show you," Bright mumbles against his skin. "I wanna show you how much."

Bright rocks his hips against Em's own, the thin material of their boxers the only barrier between their bare skin. It feels good, their legs tangled together, Bright sucking marks into his chest, teeth against his nipples, hands still in his hair. The sensation makes Em's toes curl, and even just like this it's good, it's so good.

Bright moves further down with his mouth, breaking contact, and kisses over Em's stomach, licks lightly at his belly button, nuzzles at the soft trail of hair and draws Em's boxers down as he keeps going lower. Bright licks precome from the tip of his cock, and then wraps his mouth around him.

It's sloppy, wet, and Em puts his hand at the back of Bright's head and tangles his fingers in his damp hair, and his entire body shakes with the force to keep his hips still. His toes curl thighs tighten with the effort, the restraint it’s taking. Bright pulls his mouth off of him, licks a stripe on the underside of his cock, and then urges Em's legs up onto his shoulders.

Em doesn't resist.

Bright's hands spread him open, and he feels hot breath between his cheeks and then the gentle swipe of Bright's tongue. The sensation makes Em writhe beneath Bright and throw his free arm over his mouth to muffle the noise that he lets out.

Bright is exceedingly talented at it, the tip of his tongue pressing in slightly, and then the flat of it dragging against nerve endings, until Em feels like a quivering useless mess pulsing against Bright's tongue. Bright pulls back and in the low light he can see his mouth shiny and wet with saliva, and he flashes Em what might be the most lascivious smile he's ever seen in his life.

Bright presses the pads of his fingers against Em's entrance and sucks the tip of his cock again, rubbing at the sensitive skin there, but not pushing any further. He takes Em deeper into his mouth and the dual sensation of Bright rubbing at him, and the slide of his lips up and down his cock, has him losing control.

"I'm gonna come," Em says, his voice reedy and high pitched. Bright keeps urging him on and Em throws his head back and his hips jerk upwards as he comes. White hot pleasure flashes behind his eyes.

When Bright crawls back up, he looks like the cat who got the canary, and Em's pretty sure that Bright had swallowed and he can't even unpack how that makes him feel. Bright's still hard, and Em can feel it against his stomach as Bright's back up here to kiss him.

Em kisses him back, deep and hard and he pushes at Bright until he can roll him under him. Em gets his hands down Bright's boxers and wraps his fingers around him. He slips in the slick precome there and it's still too dry, but Bright doesn't seem to mind too much. He clings to Em in desperation, and it doesn't take that long-- Bright’s still keyed up from the sensations earlier-- before he's spilling in his shorts and all over Em's hand. He props himself up over Bright for a few moments, watching his face as he comes down from his orgasm, the way he looks completely wrecked, lips swollen, eyes dark.

Em kisses Bright again and then flops over next to him on the bed with a sigh.

Bright groans after a moment and gets up, coming back with a warm washcloth to get them both cleaned up.

Bright curls up behind him and cuddles him through the night this time.

*

Em usually wakes up before Bright and he goes out to get them some breakfast, bringing back an iced coffee for Bright, and is pleased to see him awake, sitting on the couch, going through some documents for the bar. He hands over the to-go container and the coffee and sits down next to him.

"Hey," Bright says, "do you mind if I put on some music?"

Em shakes his head no.

"Give me your phone," Bright demands and Em does.

Em leans over and watches as Bright navigates to the smiley face playlist that he'd made all those months ago. He types in another song and adds it to the list. He hands the phone back to Em with a grin, the track displayed on the screen. Mee Faen Yung.

Em shoves at Bright.

"Gross," he says and shakes his head.

Bright reaches over and hits play on the song and it starts blasting out through the tinny speakers, filling the living room. Bright takes Em's hand and clasps it in both of his, and starts singing along with the song.

Em can't help but smile.

"Okay," Em says, clapping his free hand over Bright's mouth. "I'll be your boyfriend."

*