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To Simply Be

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The smell of crisp mountain air, fresh flora and summer linen fill Team’s senses as he steps out of the car and pulls his arms up above his head for a much-needed stretch. Driving for 4 hours by himself hadn’t seemed so bad when he and Win were discussing how he’d come to the summer estate but now that his ass is numb, Team wonders if batting his eyelashes and pouting will be enough to convince Win to take him back in a chopper.  

Tugging his duffle out from the passenger seat, Team hip checks the door shut and makes his way up the large driveway, gravel crunching pleasantly under his feet. The large mansion is imposing in nature but given that Team’s been up here at least thrice a year over the last three years, he’s no longer cowed by the extravagance.  

Still, the sprawling estate is a beautiful piece to behold. Taking its influences from both Western and Eastern culture, the two-storied home boasts large balconies, a full gym, two pools, a home theatre and a drive in home theatre (created due to a throw-away comment from Team). Commissioned by Win’s mother, the summer cottage (Team is often loathe to call it a cottage; he's seen actual cottages and they don't have indoor heated pools) was meant to be the hideaway for her family and their close friends when the lives of the rich and wealthy got ever so discomforting.  

Team always likes to tease Win about that aspect about his life but he knows Win’s mother had good intentions behind the creation of the large home. She and her husband worked hard for the name and status that they now held in society and occasionally, they needed time away to be just a family of 5 rather than the Wanichakarnjonkul family, influential hoteliers.  

He’s barely turned the knob to open the large doors when it swings back by itself and Team is faced with Pharm’s beaming face, “You made it! How was the drive?”  

Rather than a mature answer befitting his 30 year old age, Team drops his duffle and yanks Pharm into his arms, wailing into shorter man’s neck, “Phaaaaaaaaaaaarm! I missed you! And your cooking! And the drive sucked! My ass is numb. It needs food to be better!”  

Pharm laughs even as he pats Team’s back and then flicks the back of his head, “My food is going to help your sore ass? How did you get that conclusion?”  

Team pulls back, lips quirked in a grin as he regards one of his best friends, “Your food is balm to the soul Pharm. How could it not be a balm for my sore ass?”  

Team gets another flick, to his forehead this time but Pharm eases the sting with the magical words, “Dinner won’t be ready for a while but there are snacks and some of your favorite bagels in the kitchen. Wash up before you eat.” 

“This is why you’re my favorite friend!”  

“Don’t let Manaow hear you say that.” 

“That blabbermouth here yet?” Team asks, hefting his bag up his shoulder again as he follows Pharm into the high ceiling hallway and up the winding stairs for their rooms.  

“Don’t let her hear you say that either. Pregnant Manaow is not someone you should poke at.” The young restaurateur chides with a wry smile. “She and P’Pruk got here 3 hours ago and they went to the downtown market for some groceries. P’Pruk didn’t want her walking but Manaow insisted.” 

There's another question ready at his lips but the benefit of knowing Pharm for so long is that the man is often in tune with Team’s thoughts. 

“P’Dean and P’Win are still stuck in their meeting but they’ll be done soon, I think. P’Win told me to tell you not to eat too many Lays or you don’t get dinner.”  

A pout makes its way onto Team’s face even as a smile fights for a place on his lips, “I’m not five. He can’t deny me dinner.” 

“No, he can’t. But he might deny you something else. I'll be down by the pool.” Pharm adds with a wink and then he’s turning away before Team can stop sputtering.  

“Marriage has turned you into a pervert, Pharm!” He calls as he pushes open the door to his and Win’s room. 

“No, that would be P’Dean!” Is the last thing Team hears before the door shuts behind him and Team is forever scarred by the mental images of his old swimming senior. Blegh... 

Before him, his and Win's room is lit by scones in the wall and the large open window. The urge to fall into the large soft bed is intense but not more so that the need for a shower. Leaving his duffle on the bench at the foot of the bed, Team heads straight for the ensuite and spends a good 10 minutes under the hot water, washing and scrubbing away the dirt and tiredness that comes from being in a car for far too long.  

He's quick to exit the steaming bathroom, shivering as his wet skin meets the cooler air-conditioned room and ruffles through his bag for the most comfortable clothes he can wear.  

Those end up being a pair of lounge sweatpants, worn from the wash and short sleeved shirt Win brought Team from London. As an afterthought, Team rummages through the walk-in closet and emerges with an old cardigan of Win’s, soft and familiar to his skin.  

Rubbing at his head with a towel, Team trudges out of the room with a hum, nose leading his direct to the kitchen. As promised, there is a mix of Team’s favorite bagels from Pharm’s restaurant as well as fried shrimp chips, miang kham (leaf-wrapped salad bites) and of course, a family packet of original Lays.  

Bagel in his mouth and bowl filled with the miang kham and a few shrimp chips, Team snags the packet of Lays and hides them under the counter for now.

Is it selfish that he doesn’t want to share them? Yes.

Should the others know by now that sharing Lays is not what he does? Yes.  

Polishing off the snacks quickly, Team debates on how to spend the rest of his time before all six of them come together. He could wait for Win and Dean with Pharm by the pool but he’s been training so much for the last few days for the upcoming meet that the pool is actually the last place he wants to be.  

So, he shoots Pharm a text to let him know he’s just going to aimlessly wander the grounds and then another text to Win along with a picture of Team flipping him the finger and pouty lips to let him know he’s on the property.

Feet back in his sneakers, Team uses muscle memory more than anything to lead him out a side door and out onto the sprawling estate. He’s been up here enough times to know the land by heart and that knowledge serves him well as the skies darken above him.

There is still some light, clouds painted in that soft pink hue and the hum of cicadas matching Team’s every step. He walks with no real purpose, content to simply breathe in non-polluted air and remember the scents of his own childhood home in the mountains.

Somehow, his feet lead him to a deserted but familiar corner of the estate; far away that no one would see them but close enough that Team can pick out the lights through the windows.

Every inch of the grounds is maintained by both Win’s mother and gardeners, each square foot of grass, trimmed and perfect. But this corner has always escaped that meticulous touch.

Not due to laziness or forgetfulness but simply because Team asked.

Back when he’d first come to the estate all those years ago, Team had taken a walk much like this one and he’d stumbled on this corner of unchecked flora and wild grass. The grounds were still being landscaped so this corner along with some other areas were still meant to be worked on.

Something about seeing imperfection in this perfect landscape had burrowed itself in his heart; perhaps his own feelings of inadequacy while contemplating his place in Win’s life.

Nevertheless, he’d made the request to Win’s mother later that night, softly so that Win wouldn’t hear him. It had surprised Team to no end when she agreed without the need to question him further and he would never find out why. Perhaps she had seen something in him, a need to know that despite every fear in his heart, he was still accepted in their family.

No one ever questioned why the patch remained wild and unchecked. It wasn’t an eyesore by any means; Team always appreciated the on-grounds gardeners for being able to curb weeds and control the growth while still making it look natural.

It’s where he stops now, knees cracking as he lowers himself to the wild grass and rests his weight on his palms behind him. Team inhales deep and lets the breath rush out of him in a great exhale, feeling those last bits of tension fade away from his shoulders.

Eyes closed, his other senses click into high gear. Team can hear the soft breeze swirling around him, the buzz of crickets, the crackle of the grass under his fingers. He can feel his breath filling his chest, the thump of his heart, his toes curling against the wind.

When a second set of exhales join him, Team smiles without opening his eyes, “Hi Hia.”

There’s the sweetest huff of air, a laugh exhaled near his ear as Win settles behind him, chest against Team’s back, “Hello trouble.”

“What did I do now?”

“You hid the Lays. Manaow’s nearly torn the kitchen apart trying to find them.” Win chides him in the same tone Pharm used and Team feels his lips twist into a small grin.

“She’s not very good at looking if she couldn’t peek under the kitchen sink.”

“You know as well as I that Mananow can’t bend right now.”

“Which is why I hid them there in the first place.” Team says and then whines when Win pinches his thigh lightly.

“You’re a menace, you know that? She's gonna have your head.” Win says as he strokes his thumb over sliver of exposed skin near Team’s waist.

It makes the swimmer shiver and he finally deigns to open his eyes, twisting in the older man’s hold to view him properly.

As always, the view of Win never fails to take Team’s breath away. Especially now, when he’s still in his dress shirt, dark hair tied half away from his face and earrings glinting in the fading sunlight.

“Well, where are you going? You’ll be there to protect me from her wrath, right?” Leaning forward, Team presses the softest of kisses to the corner of Win’s lips, a hello.

Win’s lips quirk into a smile and he takes hold of Team’s chin to properly kiss him, tongue licking past the seam of his lips, “For some reason, yes. I’ll protect you from the scary pregnant lady.”

Team laughs, pushing himself to sit upright, body turning to face Win until their knees touch. He rakes his hand through the dark hair, silver ring on his left hand catching the small elastic and tugging it out till the strands fall freely.

“My hero. Can we sit out here for a bit till the scary pregnant lady calms down?”

“I don’t see why not. Come here you.”

Win reaches out for Team, tugging him onto his lap and Team goes without even his token protest, mountain air having made him pliable.

Win’s warmth surrounds him, arms tight around his waist and head tucked under Win’s chin. Team nuzzles closer to him, inhaling deep and he smiles on the exhale.

Above them, the sky glows bright once last time before falling into ever peaceful darkness.

Ooo