Going out to the bar was meant to be a chill night for catch ups. Their little group had been plagued by exams, interviews, job hunts, and with little free time to spare, they hadn’t had any time to see each other. This was the first weekend in what felt like ages that they were all free.
Forth should have been chatting and laughing at the table they’d snagged, enjoying their get together. Should have being the key words. Because as soon as he went to the bar to get another round for everyone, he was caught up in a seemingly never-ending conversation with the bartender.
At first, it was friendly, casual words passed back and forth while she made the drinks. But it quickly changed to suggestive. Leaning over the counter, she revealed a shoulder. A giggle here and a flip of her hair there, she must have assumed she had some sort of a chance. She might have been cute, but she was far from his type.
He was desperately looking for an out that wouldn’t come off as impolite. Every time he tried to leave, he was sucked back in by some pressing question she needed the answer to.
“What do you say to continuing this later?” she asked, drumming her nails on the top of the bar, inching them closer to his hand. “My shift ends at one. I know this great noodle stand nearby.”
Forth sighed. Blunt honesty was the only path he could take now. “Look, you seem nice, but–”
“There you are! We’ve been wondering where you went!”
Primped with his face made up prettily, Pete approached the bar stool he sat at with a smile and a glint to his eye. Looping both of his arms around one of his own, he pouted down at him. “What’s taking so long? You’ve been gone for ages.”
Forth shook away whatever confusion he had and played into Pete’s little ruse. “I was getting drinks for you guys. You said you wanted another one, didn’t you?”
“You’re so thoughtful,” Pete cooed, pinching his cheek with his free hand. He finally turned towards the bartender. Scooping a few of the shots into his hands, he chirped, “Thank you so much! Come on, let’s go back to our table. I’ve missed you.”
Only sparing a quick glance in the girl’s direction, Forth held back the laugh building in his throat at the wide, surprised stare she sent after them. Collecting the rest of the drinks, he spun Pete away.
“How much have you had to drink?” he asked when they were a good enough distance away from the bar.
“Just enough to know you needed some help,” Pete answered with a warm grin, contrast to the flirtatious one he’d approached him with. “And to give me the nerve to pull that off.”
“Thank you, seriously,” he said. “You really saved me back there.”
“That’s what friends are for, P’Forth.”
“Uh huh, sure,” he said, narrowing his eyes skeptically. “Just what am I going to have to do to keep you from telling either of our boyfriends that happened?”
“Well, funny you should ask.”
“Phi, why do you keep buying Pete drinks?” Ming asked after Forth flagged down another server with a couple of baht already in his hand.
Pete, tipsy and dazed, giggled through his order, nuzzling his temple further into Forth’s bicep as a thank you.
Looking down at him with a sharp inhale, Forth could only pat his back. “Because I don’t have a death wish, N’Ming.”
Ming hated early morning classes, but he went to them with the enthusiasm every proud engineering major should. Despite his detest for pulling himself out of bed when the sun had only just come up, he refused to be late.
He was used to being stopped, smiling and thanking any gushes he got. Being the Campus Moon came with certain consequences. He had no problem posing for pictures or signing autographs, granted he didn’t have anywhere to be.
And with only ten minutes until his physics lecture began, that was most definitely not the case. Having gotten caught up in the parking lot, he’d rushed to the engineering building with little regard to his surroundings. It came to bite him in the ass when he ran into another student and toppled her over.
He’d apologized and helped her up, gathering her things and handing them back to her with a soft smile. Realizing who he was, she asked for a picture, quickly pulling out her phone. And well, it was the least he could do, right? It would only take a second.
Seconds turned to minutes, and the girl had no plans of letting him go. Having taken his kindness as an opening, she was quick to near throw herself at him, asking if she could treat him to a meal, since after all, it was totally her fault that she wasn’t looking where she was going.
“Really, that’s not necessary,” he assured, grin gritted. He was beyond late to his class at this point, and he could only hope his professor would accept whatever excuse he came up with as he rushed there. “I should have been more careful.”
“I insist,” she said brightly, grabbing his hand. “It’s the least I can do. I feel so bad.”
“You don’t have to,” he assured. He tried to pull away, but her grip only tightened. “It was just an accident, so let’s just put it behind us, yeah?”
“But I just wouldn’t feel right without making it up to you.”
“There’s nothing to make up for–”
An arm snaked up his back, and a deep voice confidently spoke near his ear. “What my nong is trying to say,” Forth said, letting his wrist and forearm dangle over his shoulder, “is that he’s not interested. He’s just too nice to reject you properly.”
The girl was taken aback, and Ming couldn’t blame her. Even he was fighting off a look of shock.
“Are you,” she swallowed and looked between the two of them. “Are you two together?”
Forth cocked an eyebrow. “And if we are?”
Ducking her head and finally releasing his hand, she mumbled an almost inaudible last thanks before dashing off.
Letting out a long breath, Ming turned to his senior. “Thank you. I didn’t think she would ever leave. I would have told her to myself, but. You know.”
“Ah, the life of the Campus Moon. Always having to be so charming and polite.” Chuckling, Forth patted his back. “Come on, I’ll walk with you to class; hopefully your professor won’t be too angry.”
Ming smiled with a quick nod. “You’re the best, P’Forth.”
“What kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn’t?”
Beam shoved his phone in both of their faces later that day, revealing a couple of snapshots of them from their early morning stunt. Ming couldn’t say he was all that surprised; the current Moon and the previous year’s engineering Moon rumored to be in a relationship? The scandal was too good not to spread around.
Forth was quick to defend himself and explain to his actual boyfriend the circumstances, but Beam only held a hand up to stop him.
“I don’t want to know,” he said. “I am way too tired to deal with whatever the hell this is.” Leaning down, he gave Forth’s lips a small peck. “Take me to dinner tonight, and we’ll forget this ever happened.”
He then turned to Ming. “And you can explain all of this to Kit, because I value my life.” With that, he disappeared towards the medical faculty.
Ming could only groan as he dropped his head into his arms.
No matter how much Tin detested his family and the name that went along with it, he was still a Medthanan. And, according to his father, that meant he had to marry well. ‘Well’ meaning upper class, recognizable name, and of course, a uterus to produce an all too important heir.
He wasn’t the first son – he was reminded of that constantly – so why any of this was necessary, he hadn’t a clue. Tul already had a wife with her own respectable family name and a son to carry on their legacy. Why was he involved in this nonsense at all?
Because image was everything. Which was why he was forced into this ridiculous lunch date with a girl he’d never met before.
This wasn’t the first meeting his parents had set up for him, but it was by far the most testing. Most of his set ups were polite, relatively quiet, and didn’t press him too far. This one, however, was beyond persistent.
“P’Tin, this would be so much easier if you tried to get to know me,” she said. “I already know so much about you; we’d make a wonderful couple.”
“For the last time,” he said with a long sigh. “I’m already in a relationship. I have no interest in ending it.”
“So you’ve mentioned.” She put her coffee cup down and gave him a pointed stare. “But what you’ve failed to mention is who she is.”
“I told you, another student from university–”
She held up her hand to stop him. “A name, P’Tin. I want her name. But you refuse to tell me, so I can only assume whatever it is, it doesn’t compare to my own. Or yours for that matter. Which is why I can’t understand why you’d rather have her than me.”
Because names meant nothing to him. She could have been the crowned princess of Thailand herself, and she still wouldn’t compare to Can. Now if only she’d understand that, so he could end this and be with the person he wanted.
That didn’t seem to be the direction she wanted to steer them in. Reaching across the table to grab his folded hands, she said, “I know you can learn to like me, P’Tin. Just please, give me a chance.”
He was about to cut her off, push his chair back in frustration and make a scene, which would undoubtedly lead to an earful later from his father. Before he could, an arm wrapped tight around his shoulder, pulling him into the side of another.
“Ai’Tin!” Ming said cheerily, shaking him a bit. “I didn’t think I’d run into you here! What a small world, huh?” Ming then turned to his date. “Oh, you’re with someone. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Ming. Daichapanya.”
The name drop had her eyes bugging. She looked to Tin, skeptic and slightly alarmed. “And how do you two know each other? Family connections?”
“Oh, nothing like that.” Hugging Tin closer into his side, Ming said, with some of the littlest shame Tin had ever witnessed, “I’m his fiancé.”
It was as if the world stopped spinning. Tin was almost positive he let his shock show on his face, but that wouldn’t be an issue. Not with how honed in she was on Ming and his rather impressive lie.
“You’re his fiancé?” she asked, baffled with little sugar coating to her distaste. “You?” Glancing to where his arms were wrapped around Tin’s shoulders, she pointed out, “I don’t see a ring.”
“Oh, he sent it in to get cleaned.” Resting his cheek on top of Tin’s head, Ming cooed, “Isn’t he so thoughtful?”
Finally, she looked to Tin for some sort of confirmation. Seeing it as his way out, he jutted his chin up in Ming’s direction. “You heard him.”
With a screech of her chair and the angry tapping of platform heels, she was out the door. For the first time in hours, Tin felt like he could breathe again.
Uncurling himself, Ming took the now empty chair. Interlacing his fingers beneath his chin, he gave him a cheeky smile. “I overheard your conversation, and it looked like you needed an out. Good thing I have such a reputable last name, huh?”
“I would say thank you, but the very idea disgusts me.”
“You’re an asshole, Ai’Tin.”
Tin could only pat Can’s back while holding him steady at the same time. Otherwise his little firecracker would blow up right in Ming’s face.
“I thought we were friends,” Can hissed, arms wrapped around Tin’s waist with his head tucked against his chest. “I gave you half of my shaved ice when you said you were hungry last week.”
“What is it with short people being angry with me? Because I sense a theme,” Ming said with a little huff.
Kit raised an eyebrow. “Would you like there to be two angry boyfriends here? Because that could be arranged.”
Ming pressed a swift kiss to his hair. “I love you.”
“Mhm, that’s what I thought.”
“Ai’Can, I promise I have no feelings for Tin,” Ming said when he turned back to the embraced couple. “I was just trying to get that girl out of his hair. It seemed like that was the only way to do it.”
As much as it pained him, Tin nodded in agreement. Ming, for how obnoxious he was, had a good heart that was in all the right places.
Stroking a hand over the back of Can’s head until he tilted his chin to look up at him, Tin offered him a soft grin. “You’re the only one for me; you know that. Trust me when I say I would never want Ming as my boyfriend.”
“Only as his fiancé.”
“Shut up, Mingkwan. I know where you live.”
Being an only child came with certain expectations that Wayo usually had no problem meeting. Making appearances at his father’s events, attending benefactor dinners, and keeping positive face with anyone who could profit their family in any way were all things Wayo did to make his father’s life that littlest bit easier. He’d done so much for him; this was the least he could do to repay him.
That being said, talking to the press was one thing that he would never get used to. The questions were always so demanding, and any answer he gave came along with a fit full of nerves. Anything he said could be twisted and pitted again him – and by extension, his father – so he was always extra cautious.
Especially tonight. Attending his first event since the Park incident, Wayo felt more anxious than ever. His father had assured him there was no rush, that he could take as long as he needed to heal. But tired of hiding and ready to show the world that it took much more than a slimy senior who lacked the basic knowledge of consent to break Wayo Panitchayasawad, he held his head high.
Most of the questions he was asked were respectful enough. What were the next steps for his father’s business? What was the money from this event going towards? How was school faring? All answers were brief and vague enough to get his point across without spilling too many secrets. It wasn’t until he reached the final reporter that things took a sharp turn.
“There’s been word you’ve been quite promiscuous this semester,” he said, sharp bluntness and eerie smile sending a shiver down Wayo’s spine. “People have said that you were photographed in quite an,” he chuckled, and Wayo wished he could sink through the floor, “indecent position. Care to comment?”
His father had done his very best to clean up any evidence of the stunt Park had pulled. Any copy of that horrible picture was destroyed, and the university wasn’t dumb enough to let word travel far. But regardless, rumors spread, and people were desperate to know the truth.
Forcing himself to continue smiling, Wayo said, “I would appreciate it if we could keep all questions on tonight’s event. We’ve gathered for such an important cause, and I would love to talk about it with you–”
“Is it true you’ve been selling your body out to different boys at your university? Did one of them take the picture? Or were you selling that too? Has your father not been giving you money now that he knows you like men?”
Every question was like a slap to face, and Wayo was too whiplashed to form a coherent response. After taking so much time to get past all of his trauma, it was brought back to the forefront.
He so badly wanted to run away, drive back home to the comfort of his home and regress back to hiding under his covers. Before he could turn on his heel and bolt, he was pushed away from the reporter and behind a sturdy back.
“Wayo,” Tin said, voice emotionless. His eyes didn’t leave the reporter, boring into him like bullets. “My parents have been asking to talk with you all night. They haven’t seen you in so long. I’ll take you to their table.”
Arm looping around one of Wayo’s own, Tin turned him away towards the sea of banquet tables. The reporter shouted after them, asking Wayo for just one statement, but Tin kept him forward.
“We’re not really going to see your parents, are we?” Wayo asked, still a bit shaken but relieved to be in a familiar presence.
Tin scoffed. “Of course not. Pete said he hadn’t seen you in a while, so we all went to look for you. Didn’t think I’d find you being interrogated by such a gossiping asshole.”
Ducking his head, Wayo murmured, “I didn’t know what to say. He took me so off guard; I just froze.”
“I’ll make some calls in the morning,” Tin said. When Wayo looked up at him, he saw a darkness behind his eyes. “By Monday, he’ll be out of a job. Possibly out of Thailand too.”
Wayo smiled softly. For someone who claimed them all to be unfortunate associates rather than friends, Tin certainly had a big heart.
“I can’t believe you got a man fired,” Forth said, with a shake of his head and a fond smile. “It’s kind of impressive.”
“You disapprove?” Tin asked with a raise of his brow.
“Of course not. Your connections are just insane.” Forth then turned to Pha, nudging a thumb in Tin’s direction. “Careful, Ai’Pha. Pretty soon there will be a rumor about those two dating.”
Pha rolled his eyes, wrapping an arm around Wayo’s waist and pulling him close to his side. “Rumors are meaningless. He got Yo out of danger, and that’s all that matters to me.”
Nuzzling lovingly into his shoulder, Wayo pressed a lingering kiss to Pha’s jaw. “My sweet, understanding boyfriend,” he cooed, to which Tin and Forth only blanched.
After spending what felt like an eternity dancing, Kongpob finally had the chance to relax. His feet felt numb after being whisked around from girl to girl. The requests hadn’t seemed to stop. As soon as one dance ended, another one started, and there was no room for rejection.
He was the only Suthiluck son, and because of that, image was everything. It was common knowledge that he was a taken man with no intentions of annulling his engagement, but that didn’t mean he was suddenly allowed to deny something as seemingly harmless as a dance.
Usually, he had no complaints and gave full attention to whoever his partner was. But seeing as it had been hours since he’d last sat down, he was ready for a rest. In hopes of finding his friends, he did his best to sneak out of the banquet hall unnoticed.
No such luck. Just as he was about to make a quick getaway, he felt a tap on his arm. Swallowing a sigh, he turned with a kind, albeit tired, smile.
She was a beautiful girl with big eyes and a pretty smile. The rouge she wore must have been makeup, because there was no way she could be naturally flushing with how confidently she held her chin up and asked for a dance.
If it were any other time, he would have easily agreed. But with the pain in his feet and the desire to no longer be around such a large crowd of people, he could only hope she would take his rejection easily.
“I was just about to go find my friends,” he said, maintaining his smile. “Maybe another time.”
“Just one dance,” she pushed, fingers curling around his bicep. “And then I’ll let you on your way. I’ve been working up the courage to ask all night.” She batted her lashes in hopes of enticing him more.
“I’m flattered, really. But like I said, I’m looking for my friends and–”
“I’m sure they won’t go far.” The grip on his arm tightened. “Please, Phi? One dance, that’s all.”
He should have just said yes and gotten it over with; it was a simple request after all. And then he could really bolt from the ballroom.
Before he could give in and take her hand, another was pulling him away. “There you are, darling. I’ve been looking for you for ages,” Wayo said, wrapping himself around Kongpob’s arm. He rested his head on his bicep as he looked at the girl. “Sorry, but he promised me a dance, and the next song is just about to start.” With that, he was being hauled back towards the dance floor.
As they took up their positions, Wayo mumbled, “Some of these people, I swear. Don’t understand what no means. Ridiculous. Stick by me, Phi. I’ll scare them off for you, since you’re too nice to.”
Smile fond, Kongpob took up Wayo’s arms and began to move with him. “You don’t think your boyfriend will get upset?”
“P’Pha couldn’t come; I need some arm candy for the night.” They both shared a laugh. “I’ll take you to where the others are hiding out after this song. No one will bother you there.”
Kongpob highly doubted that. If anything, he’d get even more bothered. But at least they were all very lovable bothers.
Ming pouted from the couch opposite the one Kongpob was pulled down to. “How come you get to cuddle with P’Kongpob?” he asked his best friend with a disapproving glare.
“Because I’m protecting him,” Wayo said mater of factly. He was tucked into Kongpob’s side, and Kongpob – who apparently had no choice – rested his arm along the back of the couch. “The girls inside weren’t leaving him alone, so I have to make sure they don’t bother him.”
Jumping up and onto Kongpob’s opposite side, Ming nuzzled into his other shoulder. “I’ll help protect him too then.”
“No fair!” Pete whined. “I want to help protect P’Kongpob too!”
“You couldn’t protect a kitten, let alone a lion like Phi.”
Going to Kongpob’s university wasn’t meant to be difficult. He’d been there enough times to know his way around the campus, and even if he got lost, he knew plenty of Kongpob’s friends and classmates who he could ask for directions.
Positioning himself outside of the engineering building just as classes were dismissed, Pete did his best to stay close to the wall and out of students’ ways. The last thing he needed was to be stuck in the crowd.
So caught up in keeping out of the way, he hadn’t noticed when a tall boy in a white button down slipped in next to him. Arm resting on the wall above his head, he flashed a smile when Pete finally saw him and flinched at his closeness.
“I haven’t seen you around here before,” he said, smiling wider. “I would’ve remembered someone so cute. Are you new?”
Never good with confrontation and even less so with strangers, Pete flickered his eyes back and forth, hoping to find anyone he even slightly recognized. But with no such luck, he could only answer softly, “I’m waiting for someone.”
“Then I’ll wait with you. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”
Pete went rigid. He regretted not waiting for Ae to finish his classes and drive over to Kongpob’s school with him. If he were here, he’d easily send this guy running. But timid as ever and shell shocked into silence, Pete took a half step back. If anything, he could keep his distance.
“I’m sure he won’t be long,” he assured. “I wouldn’t want to keep you from getting to your next class.”
His polite decline somehow turned into bait. “Aw, you’re sweet. But I’ve got nowhere to be until tonight. Speaking of.” He moved closer, closing the space Pete had just opened. “My friends and I are headed out to the city for the night. Maybe you’d want to come with us?”
He could feel the air thinning, and as much as he wanted to run for the hills, he felt bolted to the ground. “I’ve already got plans–”
“Oh, come on. It’ll be fun, I promise.” And if things couldn’t get any worse, he grabbed Pete’s wrist, pulling him in. Turning his face and scrunching up his eyes, he nearly screamed.
The sharp warning of “get your hands off of him” kept him from doing so. Eyes popping back open, Pete peeked around the boy holding him to see a livid Kongpob glaring with fists at his sides.
He didn’t hesitate to stand between the two of them, reaching behind him to hold the wrist the boy had just had in his grip. Kongpob’s touch was softer, more familiar, and Pete felt like he could breathe again.
“You’re lucky I don’t kick your ass to the floor and out of the engineering program. You so much as look at him again, and I won’t be so kind.”
Hands held high, the boy said, “I’m sorry, Phi. Is…Is he your boyfriend?”
“Whether he is or he isn’t doesn’t matter. You don’t touch people without their permission.” He probably would have kept going if Pete hadn’t squeezed his hand. He didn’t want to stay here any longer. With a sharp inhale, Kongpob settled on, “Fine, we’ll say he’s my boyfriend, if that’ll get you to leave him alone. Now go.”
Kongpob didn’t turn around until he was out of sight. When he did, any anger melted from his face and was replaced with worry. “Are you okay? Did he hurt you? I’m so sorry I took so long; my professor kept me after class, but I should have been quicker.”
Pete squeezed his hand again. “I’m okay,” he reassured him, because he was now. He hoped the little smile he gave him was proof enough of that. “You’re ever the knight in shining armor.”
Laughing, Kongpob wrapped his arm around Pete’s shoulder and steered him to where his car was parked. “Well, I can’t just let the little prince be stolen away by some dragon, can I?”
“You fulfilled my thirteen-year-old self’s fantasies, Phi,” Pete said with a giggle, situated between Ae’s legs and nuzzled against his chest. The three of them along with Arthit had all met in Kongpob’s room, and the two of them had quickly gone into a replay of the earlier events. “Though I’m sorry to tell you I’m a taken man and can’t be your boyfriend.”
Kongpob rolled his eyes but grinned. “Oh, hush, you.”
“If it keeps you safe from creeps, he can be your boyfriend whenever you need him to be,” Ae said. He hugged him tighter around the middle, kissing his head. “So long as you remember who your real boyfriend is.”
Pete turned his head to press his own kiss to Ae’s cheek. “As if I’d ever forget that.”
“I’m surprised he even believed you,” Arthit said, to which Kongpob directed a raised eyebrow.
Arthit’s eyes lowered to an unamused stare. “You’re not exactly subtle about our relationship, are you? I’m pretty sure the entire campus knows about it by now.”
“I’m not that bad.”
“I visited for one event, and you made all the freshmen promise not to flirt with me.”
“Oh, Phi, that is pretty bad.”
“Shut it, you spoiled prince.”
Pete only smiled happily and cuddled further into Ae’s chest.