I. A consequence, especially of a disaster or misfortune
II. A period of time following a disastrous event.
III. The beating heart pulled from the chest. The tense silence in a shared apartment with shared memories that are too new to wrap minds around, too big to fit right in any way. The trauma of two lifetimes, the pain of two bodies, the north star burning steadily in the sky. The beating heart pulled from the chest. The hot stove, burning to the touch, and the soup that overflows. Piercing laughter for only a second. The beating heart pulled from the chest - the heart machine singing death in the background. Flatline. One, two, three, load them up… clear. Clear! Are we clear? Do you hear me?
“Live with me,” says Pom, out loud into the silent classroom.
Chanon blinks at him. The kids have gone home - Pom’s granted them a two-week break after everything that happened. Chanon didn’t know he could do that, but now that the Director’s been arrested by the police who he threw shady looks at when they were dragging him away, he supposes Pom’s in charge. Darin had taken off - the police are apparently searching for her, but Chanon knows her enough from his Ministry days to know that she won’t be found unless she wants to. The police tend to be incompetent anyway. He breathes out, and it’s louder than he wants to be. Schools should never be quiet, he thinks, as he searches for footsteps down the hallway, laughter in the class one room over, shouts from the grounds - and finds nothing. It’s eerily silent, even if it was only the Gifted Class XV that was sent home. Chanon can still see their faces in front of his eyes, mumbling their tired goodbyes and see you in two weeks to each other, backpacks slung over their shoulders as they rubbed at the black circles underneath their eyes. How much time had they spent awake? How much time had they spent mourning the apparent death of one of their friends? How much time - he cuts himself off.
“What do you mean?” he asks, barely trusting his own voice.
“I mean live with me,” says Pom, not meeting his eyes. “Everything’s over. You need to sort yourself out, and I don’t want to - I could use a housemate.”
Chanon peers at him. It sounds like he’s saying something else. “I have an apartment,” he says, wincing at the thought of it. His lease is up by the end of the month, and it’s not like he’s been going to work recently. The last thing he needs is apartment hunting and living out of his shitty car that’s going to give out any day now - but that isn’t the point.
Pom snorts, packing the papers into his shoulder bag. “Yeah, and I bet it’s real cheap,” he says, finally looking at him. Chanon can’t handle Pom looking at him for very long. “It’s expensive living in Bangkok, you’re out of a job, and I’m not paying rent on my apartment. Come live with me. Just - just until you get on your feet again.”
Oh . Chanon swallows, the lump in his throat never fading. “It’s like that, huh?” he says. It sounds bitter enough to his ears - he doesn’t know how Pom takes it, but judging from the fact that he looks like he’s just swallowed something sour, he assumes his point has reached him.
“It’s not…” says Pom, and then sighs in frustration. “Non, it’s not like that, okay? Just come and live with me. Please. I can’t - you know .”
Chanon’s heart dislodges. “I don’t know,” he lies, clenching his fists against the table he’s perched on. “Bangkok is a big city. I could walk out of this room and you’d never find me again unless I wanted you to.”
“I found you once,” comes the instant reply. Pom’s looking away from him again. “I would find you again if you left.”
Chanon swallows. “Yeah,” he mutters. “I know you would.”
The bag slides off Pom’s table with a click as he grasps his hand around the handle. With some hesitation, a hand reaches out to grip Chanon’s shoulder. His touch creates fire on Chanon’s skin, and he almost flinches away with the burn of it. “Come on,” says Pom. There’s a pleading tinge to his voice. “Let’s go get dinner.”
Chanon sighs. His lease will be up at the end of the month. He’s lost his job. Bangkok is an expensive city, a populated city, a city with too many people decorating the streets. He’d never find an apartment this quick. “Okay,” he says, and Pom looks up from where he’s about to turn the light off.
“Okay, you’ll get dinner with me, or okay, you’ll move in with me?” he asks, and Chanon rolls his eyes, flicking his sleeve on the way past him out of the door.
“Yes to both,” he says, refusing to look at Pom’s face when he agrees. He can imagine, however, that he’s smiling - the same smile he adorned when they were younger, a better time. “You’re paying.”
He looks back, hands in his pockets as he rests against the wall to wait for Pom. The classroom descends into darkness as Pom locks the room closed. Chanon waves a hand out in the middle of the hallway to get the automatic lights to flicker back on, whirring in the silence. Pom laughs when he catches up, shouldering his bag. “You really making me pay again?” he says.
Chanon shrugs. “Like you said, I’m poor,” he says with a cheery smile. As they reach the end of the hallway, he pulls the door open and gestures for Pom to go through. “After you.”
“I never said you were poor,” says Pom, waving at the night staff as they file in. They wave back, whispering amongst themselves about something. Chanon realises belatedly that they’re probably talking about him - greasy hair and same hoodie he’s been wearing for a couple of days straight, he feels and probably looks disgusting. Pom hasn’t changed his shirt in the same amount of time, but he looks more put together than Chanon does, apart from the day old stubble. Unfair , thinks Chanon, and kicks at a pebble with more force than he needs to. It skitters down the path, flying out of eye’s reach. “Shit, who pissed in your cereal?”
“I’d kill for cereal right now,” he says, and Pom laughs. It almost feels the same again.
“Weirdo,” says Pom. Chanon thinks he’s imagining the fondness in his voice. Something in his stomach curls. “Do you still eat cereal at three in the morning?”
“It’s none of your business,” says Chanon curtly, and immediately regrets it. When he glances back at Pom, his mouth is pulled tight. His teacher look, Chanon had called it when they were younger, even before he knew that Pom had wanted to be a teacher. He couldn’t forget it if he tried - it’s seared into his memory. Burned tight.
“Did I - “
“Where are we going?” cuts in Chanon. He doesn’t glance back for Pom’s reaction this time, but takes note of the small sigh he lets out.
Pom shuffles forward. “Wherever you want. It’s my treat, right?”
Chanon quenches the curling of his stomach. “I’ll spare you the cereal,” he says dryly, coaxing yet another laugh out of Pom. He doesn’t know how to feel about that - about any of it. Hearing Pom’s laugh makes tears prick at the corner of his eyes, makes him want to rub them raw and sob until he loses track of time again, like he did every time he heard the boy in his head laugh when he didn’t know him - didn’t know himself. “I just want pad thai.”
Pom breathes out a small laugh. Chanon knows that pad thai is his favourite food - and Pom probably knows that’s why Chanon made the decision. He remembers a previous life, where he used to make pad thai for Pom whenever he felt homesick, yearning to lie in the lap of his mother and be soothed to sleep. Pom can’t cook for shit. Chanon wonders how he survived all these years. “Pad thai it is,” says Pom softly, and walks in the direction of Chanon’s shitty car.
Chanon stays rooted in the ground for a second before catching up to him. Pom walks towards the burning north star. Moonlight falls over them with quiet gentleness, as if she’s been terrible to them for a while, and is only now making amends for it.
“Please tell me dinner’s on the stove,” says Pom, collapsing against the front door not even a second after he gets into the house. He puts his umbrella by the wall - still dry, but Pom always takes an umbrella out with him. Chanon remembers when they were younger and he had one of those smaller ones that he would tuck into his backpack wherever they went. “I can’t handle cooking right now.”
Chanon glances at the red curry on the stove. “Neither of us can handle your cooking,” he says, as Pom moves over to the sink to flick the tap on and wash his hands. “Bad day at work?”
“ Long day,” says Pom, drying his hands on the towel. “So much bureaucratic bullshit.”
Chanon has to keep a laugh to himself. Ever since the board had voted Pom become director of the school, and all the other teachers had looked at the state Supot had left things in and refused to touch that pile of mess with a ten foot pole - Pom had very quickly found himself in one of the world’s worst bureaucratic disasters. Chanon knows all about it from his laments - the school is underfunded, the teachers haven’t received bonuses for years, there are too many children and not enough dorms, the company that supplies their food was caught in some sort of scandal - and with every new thing he learns, something else gets thrown onto Pom, who has been staying up into the late hours of the night with only a faint yellow light shining over his papers as he works through everything. Chanon’s mouth twists into a frown as Pom exhales and leans back against the sink. There are pronounced bags under his eyes.
“What did you do today?” he asks cautiously, grabbing a plate from the cupboard above the sink - Pom moving to let him past without thinking.
Chanon’s only been living with Pom for a week, but he’s reacquainting himself with his space. He has a beautiful apartment, overlooking the busy city that is Bangkok, all the little dots of people rushing by each other in crowds. It’s strange, really, how such a big city can be so lonely. Chanon has spent much of his life wandering these very streets - to walk, to run, to go grocery shopping whenever his stock had run low. He’d always been bad at grocery shopping, never accounting for how much money he had in his wallet at the time, how low his account was running, and always going just a little bit too late. He never knew what to get, either, straying away from the vegetable aisles. He’d always remembered one thing his mother had told him when he was younger, the mother who offered to take him in after the blur in his memory. Buy fish sauce, she told him when he was seventeen. You can put fish sauce in everything.
Pom keeps his fish sauce in the left cupboard, pressed up against the side with the curry paste. Chanon knows that. It’s the first thing he learned about the apartment.
“Nothing much,” says Pom, rubbing his forehead. “I started with planning the Gifted program until a headache came on.”
“You’re planning a new program?” asks Chanon, ladling some rice and red curry onto the plate and passing it to him. Pom keeps rubbing his forehead, wincing at the bright lights above. “Jeez, you look like shit. Sit down, I’ll bring it to you.”
Pom snorts quietly. “What did I do without you?” he mumbles to himself as he rounds the counter, falling into one of the two chairs at the small table pressed up against the wall.
Chanon inhales, keeping the breath locked inside his chest. Clearly, he managed, but Chanon doesn’t say that out loud - instead, he watches him massage his forehead and grabs the medicine he’d put on the counter for now, with the intent to tuck it into the bathroom shelf later. Placing the food on the table, he pours water into Pom’s mug - a chipped one depicting a rogue Han Solo from their school days. Chanon’s first instinct was to wrinkle when he’d seen it quietly placed on the table, mug for one. But much like the pen, he’d come to realise the real reason why Pom had kept both of them for all these years.
“Here,” he says, throwing the pills at him. “I bought medicine.”
“Did you guess I’d be sick?” asks Pom, downing one before setting the water off to the side.
“No, you just didn’t have medicine,” he replies, tapping the table as he watches Pom bring a spoonful of rice to his mouth. “I went on a grocery run today morning.”
Pom looks up at him, some kind of surprise in his eyes. Chanon doesn’t know if he hates it. “Thanks,” he says, swallowing the rice. “Non, this tastes just like - “
“My mother’s recipe,” says Chanon, nodding as he stares at the table. He should eat. He isn’t hungry, his stomach curling with a different kind of sensation. “I remember it still. I used to make it for you. I know.”
“Do you still… talk to your parents?” asks Pom, clinking his spoon against the plate.
Chanon shrugs. “Sometimes,” he says shortly. “You?”
“Ma passed away some time back,” he says, looking down into his plate with his jaw set. Chanon doesn’t want to admit it, doesn’t want to think about how his heart shatters in that second. “It’s - you don’t have to say anything. I still talk to my father every now and then.”
“Pom, I’m - “
“Don’t say anything,” he says, sighing. Chanon can’t shake off the thought of he should have been there. “Just ask me about my day, okay?”
Chanon watches him eat, shoveling food into his mouth like he hasn’t seen it for days. Pom had always eaten like each meal was his last - and apparently it hasn’t changed over the years. “You said something about the Gifted program?” he says, giving in to his wishes. As always. Ever since they were fifteen, he hadn’t ever been able to deny him.
“Yeah,” says Pom, in between bites. He looks like a chipmunk, storing his food in his cheeks. “I discussed it with the other teachers and the ministry and everyone agreed that Class XV should stay back for another year - they just missed too much of their senior year. Pang and Wave didn’t even take their exams, and the others were too stressed to give their best. So - and because I should probably do it anyway - I’ve planned out a complete overhaul of the Gifted system. How it’s going to work, especially now that the tape is out free to everyone.”
“How are you going to do that, then?” asks Chanon, pouring himself a glass of water. Pom sighs, rubbing his forehead.
“That’s the problem,” says Pom. “There’s no way in hell that we’re going to be able to take every Gifted kid in the country - we’re already stretched to the maximum like it is. I need to start contacting other schools and setting up programs that they can implement. I get why nobody accepted the Director post now - it’s an insane workload.”
Chanon frowns. “What does the Ministry say?”
Pom snorts. “That it’s my problem,” he says. “School’s about to let out for the summer, anyway - I’ll probably have to continue working through the holidays. But it’s not like we can just ignore the kids for a year because the ministry can’t be bothered to give a shit.”
“I always knew you would be a good teacher,” says Chanon without thinking, taking a sip of his water. Pom’s eyes snap up to him, his spoon clattering down against the plate.
“What do you mean?” he asks quietly.
Chanon shrugs. It’s not a big deal - or he’s trying to not make a big deal out of it. Out of how, after all these years, all the buried emotions he’d forgotten and tried so hard to remember, he shares the same space with Pom again. “I knew it,” he says. “Why do you think I made that promise to you?”
“Oh,” says Pom, in a very small voice. After a tense moment, the air in the apartment electrifying, he pushes the plate to Chanon. Half of the serving Chanon had ladled onto the plate is still uneaten. “You should eat.”
“I was going to,” says Chanon, jerking his thumb at the stove with the pot of curry still on it, turned off. “I was waiting for you to finish eating.”
“You don’t have to wait for me,” says Pom. It feels like a confession too big for both their hearts. “You can just eat.”
“Okay,” says Chanon, putting the same spoon to his mouth. The curry is pretty damn good, if he does say so himself. “It’s going to be fine. You’ll do well.”
Pom’s mouth eases out into a gentle smile. “Say what, you’ve been in the Gifted program. Maybe you could help me out?”
Chanon swallows, nodding. “Yeah,” he says, the word stuck in his throat. “Yeah, I’ll help you out. But you have to help me out with something too, okay?”
“Obviously,” says Pom, suddenly very earnest. He grips onto Chanon’s arm, sending little shock flames through his skin. “Anything you need.”
Chanon blinks at him, little tear crystals forming in his eyes before he blinks them away and they shatter soundlessly. He goes back to eating, trying hard not to think about Pom looking like the same larger-than-life seventeen year old he had once known deeply, better than himself - and how earnest he was to make things right. How earnest he is to make things right.
How things could maybe never be made right.
Nightfall is always a strange time to be in the apartment.
Shower-warm and wet-haired, Chanon emerges from the bathroom, ruffling his hair with a towel. When he’d vacated his apartment, he’d brought along less than half of the clothes he had in his closet due to Pom wrinkling his nose up at the other half, saying they needed to go shopping for nicer ones to bring more colour into his wardrobe. They still haven’t gone shopping, but since Pom had been hit with a slew of work - Chanon excuses him. He spots Pom already on the bed, tucked up underneath the covers with night cream on his face, yet to be smoothed into the creases of his face. He’s squinting at some papers, his rectangular-blocked glasses sitting pretty on his nose. Pom has never had good taste in glasses, but Chanon’s always found it somewhat endearing, especially the way he blinks blearily through them. Moonlight streams through the open window, kind and gentle in her touch.
“Hey,” says Pom, glancing up from his papers for just a second before returning, the crease between his eyebrows deepening again. He passes Chanon his glasses without looking.
Chanon puts them on even though he knows he’ll take them off right after - just because Pom gave them to him - blinking as the world settles back into high quality. “Will you put those papers away?”
Pom hums, frowning. Chanon sighs as he settles under his blanket - they’d worked out during the week that it was a terrible idea for either of them to sleep on the couch. Chanon was too tall for it, his feet hanging off the edge, and Pom had complained of back pain the entire day afterwards. Luckily, Pom had had another spare blanket, so at least Chanon could keep up his pretense of being a well-adjusted adult who was fine sleeping in the same bed as the man he’s loved all his life, even when his memory blurred. The man he’d hated, for a while. Or thought so, at least.
“I have to finish working on these,” says Pom, sighing. “There’s this schedule - I should stick by it.”
“I think you need to stick by a sleep schedule,” says Chanon, easing the papers out of Pom’s hands. It feels frighteningly like back when they were in school and he’d find Pom asleep in his bunk, curled up with his head tucked into his chest and his knees pulled up against his chin, hands clutching at his textbooks. Chanon swallows. Doesn’t think about that. He puts the paper on the small table next to his side of the bed, one that Pom had excitedly lugged home after work with a bright smile on his face. Chanon had always thought they would live together - but never like this. “Let’s go to sleep. The papers will still be there by the morning.”
Pom yawns. “Okay, you have a point,” he agrees, voice tinged by half-sleep. “Hey, you smell nice.”
Chanon watches as Pom nestles under his blanket, taking his glasses off to rest on his bedside table. He does the same, and flicks the light off, letting the room ease into darkness. The window is still open - Bangkok is always humid, and the two of them will take anything for the small reprieve of a light breeze. Somewhere below them, a car honks angrily. “I bought some new shampoo on the grocery run,” he says, turning to face Pom. Up close, he looks younger. Perhaps a little tireder, at the end of it all. “Think it’s the same one I used to use back in school, before I switched to the lemon.”
“Why’d you switch back?” comes the mumbled reply. Pom’s clearly struggling to keep his eyes open, and it makes a silent laugh rumble in Chanon’s chest. Still the same.
“I guess I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately,” says Chanon, trembling with the truth of it. He flops back over, facing the ceiling now. It’s chipped. “Hey, I... ”
“What is it, Non?” says Pom.
Chanon laughs, out loud this time. He doesn’t know how to say what he wants to say. Why do you still wear the same kind of glasses after so many years? or How come you still fight off sleep because you want to talk to me? or What are we playing at here, Pom? Really? Instead, he says, “You still sleep like that?”
Pom looks up at him from where he’s tucked his knees up to his chin, a small smile on his face. It looks comical, especially now that Pom is grown and his legs are too long for that to still be comfortable. “Yeah,” he says. “But that’s not what you wanted to say, is it?”
“No,” says Chanon quietly. “I don’t know what to do.”
“That’s okay,” comes the immediate response. “You’ll figure it out. Don’t worry.”
Chanon hums into the quiet night. “Thanks, Pom,” he says. He doesn’t need to look at him to know that Pom has fallen asleep, his mouth slightly open and his breathing evening out. He used to plan his nights around Pom falling asleep so he could stay awake without him knowing - and look at the stars, write up his charts. Sleep came difficult to him back when they were younger, and now it’s almost impossible. He chases it every night by the light of the moon, tossing and turning quietly as Pom sleeps soundly. He sighs out through his mouth, closes his eyes, and starts counting. Somewhere around a thousand, his eyes stay shut, and he drifts off, still in a fit as his body tries to sleep.
Chanon half-wakes to a rustling. In his bleary mind, he reaches out for the person lying next to him, aching quietly. His hand reaches sweaty skin, his eyes blinking open slowly to register the vague shadow of Pom sitting up, his legs swung over the bed, pressing close to the edge. He looks back at Chanon’s grip on his arm. In hindsight, maybe it was the blur in his eyes or his memory, or maybe it was the fact that he hasn’t slept soundly in weeks, but he tugs on his arm, eyes half-shut.
“Non, I’m just going - “ starts Pom, but something inside of Chanon breaks.
“Don’t go,” he mumbles, his clutch tightening. “Don’t leave. I couldn’t take it the first time.”
Pom’s breath hitches. His hand curls around Chanon’s clasp on his arm as he sits back, settling back underneath the blanket. “Okay,” he breathes, and Chanon lets go, only to shuffle closer. Something in the back of his mind is screaming for him to move back, to keep the amount of space between them and all his rules in his head intact. He doesn’t. “Okay, I won’t go. I’m not going anywhere, Non.”
Chanon hums out a response, something in between an “okay” and “goodnight” as proper sleep takes over. He feels a weight around his waist, belatedly realising that it’s Pom careful arm cautiously curling around him. He’s warm and strong, pulling him just a little closer. Chanon tucks his head into Pom’s chest, just under his chin, and succumbs to peaceful sleep.
“ You haven’t called in weeks! ” yells his mother over the phone. Chanon winces, holding it away from his ear. Pom snickers from where he’s perched on the sofa, laptop laid flat on his lap as he types away. “ Do you know how worried your father and I have been? ”
“Sorry, Mae,” says Chanon, cautiously speaking into his phone. “I had to move because my lease was up - it’s all just been a bit chaotic.”
“ I heard you lost your job? ” she says incredulously. Chanon sighs, pinching his forehead. His mother can be incredibly overbearing sometimes.
“Yeah, yeah, I did,” says Chanon, sitting down onto the sofa heavily. Pom makes a little disgruntled noise and moves back to typing. “It’s okay, Mae, I’ve been doing fine financially.”
“ Have you? ” she asks, her voice taking on a concerned edge. She’s always been concerned about him, ever since he suddenly changed schools in his last year of high school and lost much of the passion and drive to learn that made him who he is - or was - and in the end, barely scraping by through his finals. “ Tii rak, you know that you can come back anytime if you need help. What are we there for? ”
“I’m okay,” says Chanon, glancing at Pom, squinty-eyed from staring at the laptop for too long. “I’m taking some time to figure myself out.”
“ With what money? ” asks his mother. “ Chanon Taweepong, if you’ve been dealing - “
“Mae, I’m not dealing drugs!” says Chanon, half-exasperated and half-amused. “Even if I were, I’m an adult. I can do what I want.”
His mother grumbles. “ Where are you living? How do you have the money to be taking time off? Do you need help searching for a - “
Chanon sort of regrets it later, but in the moment he sighs deeply and says, “I’m living with Pom. I’m fine. He’s helping me get onto my feet.”
There’s a second of silence in which Chanon is genuinely afraid his mother has had a heart attack. Pom pokes his arm, mouthing What’s happening?, to which Chanon simply shakes his head and stares at the phone. Finally, after what seems like a lifetime, she says, “ Pom? As in - Porama? ”
“Yeah,” he says. “How many Poms have I known in my life?”
“ I’m just making sure, don’t get cocky with me, ” she says immediately. “ How did you two - reconnect? How did you manage to - you know what, put him on the phone. ”
Chanon blinks. “Sorry?”
“ Put him on the phone, Chanon. ”
Chanon sighs and pulls the phone from his ear, hitting mute. “My mother wants to talk to you,” he says, waving the phone at Pom. He blinks up at him, putting his laptop to the side.
“I gathered as much,” he says with a small laugh. He hits unmute, putting the phone to his ear, balancing it in the crook of his neck as he pulls his laptop back onto his lap. Chanon looks at him for a second - suspended in the moment as Pom’s mouth pulls up into a little smile and he taps away. “Khun Mae?”
“ Pom! ” exclaims his mother. She’s loud enough for Chanon to hear her, but he fetches the phone from between Pom’s neck and shoulder - it must be uncomfortable like that anyway - and presses the speaker button, lying back against the wall as he settles it between them. “ It really is you! ”
“Well, I wasn’t lying to you,” mumbles Chanon, and Pom elbows him.
“Hi, Khun Mae! I hope everything’s going well at home!” says Pom, smiling wide even though she can’t see him. It tugs at Chanon’s heart in a way he doesn’t like. Pom and Chanon’s mother have always had a fantastic relationship, getting along like a house on fire because of the sheer amount of times Pom had slept over at Chanon’s in the summers. He thought he’d left all those memories of Pom cooking with his mother in the mornings; his mother downloading a Chinese language learning app onto her phone so she could learn how to speak with Pom in his mother tongue; both of them surprising him with a birthday cake they’d baked together, iced by his father - he thought he’d left it all behind. “How are you?”
“ Everything’s fine here! When did you two meet again? Wait - how did you - you know that Chanon never tells me these things. Are you supporting him? Chanon, are you mooching off of poor Pom? ”
“He’s not mooching off of me, Khun Mae,” says Pom quickly, before she can say anything else. “I don’t pay rent on my apartment - I bought it a couple years back. Besides, he does his fair share around here while he figures out what to do next.”
“ I hope he’s cooking for you! Chanon’s gotten very good at cooking ever since - well. ”
Pom laughs and Chanon sinks down into his seat, cheeks heating up. “He is, don’t worry,” he says, turning to shoot Chanon a fond look, eyes soft. “It’s one of the many things he does for me.”
“ I’m glad he’s pulling his weight around the place, ” says his mother. “ Tell me your address, I’ll come visit you two! ”
Chanon rolls his eyes, turning the speaker off and pressing his phone back to his ear. “Let me get settled first, Mae. I’ll visit in a bit, okay?”
His mother sighs on the other end of the line, presumably guessing that’s the best she’ll get. “ Okay. You bring Pom with you, you hear? He’d be glad to know that my Chinese is so much better now! ”
“Okay, Mae,” says Chanon, hiding a laugh in a cough. Maybe it’s devastating, really, how his mother had still clung onto the hope of her son finding his best friend again, after all these years. “I’ll see you soon. Love you.”
He puts the phone down with a sigh, leaning back against the couch. Pom squints at him questioningly. “She said her Chinese has gotten much better. She’s been learning all these years.”
“Is she on your level yet?” asks Pom, looking back at his laptop. “I remember you going to classes when we were in school.”
“No,” replies Chanon. “Funny how I still remember those.”
It’s not like he meant to say it. Sometimes things slip out, his brain unable to catch up with his mouth. He turns to Pom, whose lips are pursed up into a tight line. He shuts his laptop, moving it to the side as he inhales. “I’m sorry, Non,” he says. “I - “
“It wasn’t your fault,” he says immediately. “It was - Supot, who manipulated you. I never… you know I went after him in the first place, right? I was ready to kill him.”
“But you didn’t.”
“But I didn’t,” agrees Chanon. His back is ramrod straight, sweaty hands clutching at his own thighs. “Because I was just a kid. I’d just finished up my bachelor’s - Mae made me get my masters because she had all this vision for me - and I didn’t know what to do. My entire life was fucked up to the max.”
Pom looks pained. “You know I’ll go my whole life making it up to you, right?”
“You shouldn’t do that,” says Chanon. It comes out more bitter than he intends. “You don’t have to make anything up to me.”
“It was my fault.”
“It was my fault for not telling you,” says Chanon, hands tightening into fists and opening up again. He vaguely remembers doing karate as a kid. Maybe he should get into it again. “I tried to protect you. You didn’t need protecting - I should have let you make the decision instead of putting myself in the line of fire.”
Pom’s eyebrows furrow. “What are you talking about?” he says. “It wasn’t your fault. Non, it was never your fault.”
“The way I went about it was wrong,” says Chanon, turning his glance to the TV, gaze flickering up to the clock above for just a second. It’s almost time for dinner, which means it’s almost time for Pom’s favourite trashy reality show. It’s one of the few instances where Chanon can see his worries melt away from the creases in his forehead. He fishes the remote out from where it’s slipped into the cracks of the sofa, turning the TV on, the low hum of it floating through the apartment. “I should have - there are many things I should’ve done instead, I guess.”
Pom shakes his head. “You couldn’t have known I would… I didn’t even know.”
Chanon sighs. “It was stupid, what I did,” he says. “You were right. I was too idealistic - I thought if I gave my future up, you’d still have yours, because I saw so much - light in you. Enough to love you to the point of… I loved you so much it destroyed both of us.”
Silence rings clear through the air, cut through by the jingle of the intro to the reality show. Chanon settles into the back of the couch, eyes trained on the TV. He hears the shift to the side before he sees it - Pom curling into his space like he’s meant to fit into the crook of Chanon’s body. His head tucks itself into the soft junction of his neck and shoulder, coming home.
It’s almost as if they’re seventeen and innocent again.
“I can cook dinner tonight,” says Pom, brushing Chanon out of the way from where he’s standing at the stove. Chanon glances at him and the soup packet in his hands and laughs, clutching at his stomach. Pom looks at him, an offended look passing over his features. “What, you think I can’t do it?”
“It’s a soup packet, Pom, I’d be worried if you couldn’t do it,” says Chanon, hopping up on the counter as Pom fiddles with the packet, sticking his tongue out at him. “I thought you had a long day today.”
“I did,” says Pom, shrugging. He gestures at the apartment. Chanon had been feeling restless the entire morning, so he’d decided to clean. Wipe down the windows, clear the tables, dust behind the TV, vacuum loud enough to keep the thoughts out of his head - Pom had come home from work to find him sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor, going through all of his and Pom’s clothes to neatly fold them away again. “But you were on your feet cleaning up all of this - the least I can do is try and make dinner. Even if I’m shit at it.”
He busies himself with cutting the packet open as Chanon stares at him from where he’s perched on the counter. Sometimes he doesn’t know how Pom can move on like nothing happened - or how he can pledge his entire life to making it up to Chanon with no further thought behind it. He doesn’t understand how he can come home, accept that they’re going to be living together for the foreseeable future, and continue with his life. Chanon had always thought he would be in position. He had imagined his life with Pom before he knew he loved him - going to university together, living together, making ramen at odd hours of the night and then going on walks around the city with the shining lights and the buzzing life, even when darkness cloaks it all. He had imagined it, wished upon every star for it to be true - and now it is, and it’s wrong.
What’s bitter is that Pom is beautiful in this light, he thinks, like he has been in every light since he knew him. The curve of his body is the same, perhaps a little taller and broader, but still the same. His smile has faded a little over the years, but Chanon has somehow earned the privilege of it coming back, brightening whenever he steps into its range. What’s bitter is that it feels like they are meant to be in each other’s lives, that they’re - together.
“How am I supposed to do this, Pom?” says Chanon, hands gripping the sides of the counter. Pom looks up from where he’s pouring water into a pot, squinting at him through his glasses. “I mean - all of this. What are we playing at?”
“What do you mean?” asks Pom, watching the pot as the water boils. Nobody had ever told him that a watched pot never boils, thinks Chanon, before snapping back to the moment. “We’re not - playing at anything. Are we?”
Chanon gestures at him. “All of it. I don’t know, me sleeping in your bed like it’s my place to sleep, like we bought this place together, you asking me to live with you like - “
“You accepted,” says Pom shortly, cutting him off. The open packet of soup powder lies by the stove, still.
“That’s not the point,” says Chanon. “We’re not the same. We can’t be playing at the same people we were a decade ago and pretending everything is fine.”
“I thought we were doing okay,” says Pom, eyebrows furrowing. The water boils. “Did I do something? I’m sorry, Non - “
Chanon shakes his head. “It’s that. It’s… that . You know, nobody calls me Non apart from you. I haven’t been called that in so long. Do you know how much I loved you? How much I - still love you?” His voice cracks on that last bit. “Enough to never let anybody else call me that name, no matter if they tried or not.”
Pom shakes the soup powder into the boiling water, the sides hissing as some water splashes out. “I love you, still,” he says, matter-of-factly. He looks up, meeting Chanon’s eyes. Something like electricity zips up his body. “There’s nothing else to it, is there? This is my - fuck, Non. This is my dream . You know how much time I spent with that same gap in my memory? How much I wanted to make it right again? Being - being with you. I never thought I’d have that again.”
“Neither did I,” says Chanon. His mouth sours. “The only thing that kept me going, all that time, was what I thought was my hate for you. I guess it was love, now, in hindsight. But loving you ruined me. It humiliated me. And the only way I could fix that was hate. And it wasn’t right - but it was what I did. So I’m telling you now… I need to learn how to love you again in a way that is kind to myself.”
Pom looks at him as if he’s seeing him for the first time, eyes wide. Eyes wide. “Non, I…” he starts, struggling for words. The stove is hot. There is nothing left to say.
“Watch the soup,” says Chanon, tapping the counter once before jumping off.
Pom’s apartment is lovely, but it’s small, and the only place he can head to is their - shared - bedroom. His footsteps match up with the pounding in his chest as he sits down on the bed heavily. The folded blanket underneath him is soft, and he is yet again reminded of how he sleeps here with Pom. How, every night, as if it is natural, Pom tucks his head into the crook of his neck and puts a hand on his chest, like he’s scared he’s going to fade away. Chanon is scared he’ll fade away. That this second chance, too, will slip out from beneath his hands. Tears prick at his eyes - so much of it is unspeakable but welling up in his stomach like a storm before lightning strikes. He puts his head in his hands, tears threatening to fall as his shoulders shake. It’s not like he doesn’t love Pom - it’s that he loves him so much he could drown in the fullness of it. Maybe that isn’t the best. Maybe he needs to learn how to love him differently - in a way that is fair to both of them.
The first memory that had come back to him wasn’t their first meeting. Neither was it the way Pom’s eyes had brimmed with tears as he’d raised a hand to wipe his memories, as if he had known then that what he was doing would change the course of their lives forever, shaping them into sadder people, hollow husks of who they once were. The first memory that had come back to him, fighting its way through an overwhelming blur, was of him looking down at Pom’s documents. He had broken into Supot’s office to get them. He remembers, clear-cut, how he had made a set decision. How it was his decision. How the love threatening to jump out of his heart was none other than the same love that propelled him to switch out the documents, to put his name on it. Chanon Taweepong - and with that, a lifetime defined.
The years since have been tinged with a hint of pain. Like something was ripped from him, Chanon remembers wandering around Bangkok aimlessly, hoping to recognise his reflection in any kind of mirror. His bachelor’s had gone by in a whirlwind of helping out at his parents’ restaurant, his master’s going slower, more painful as he showed up with a degree in astrophysics at the end of it all - but something stopping him from climbing the ladder to reach his dream. It was always like something was missing. Something hurt - always.
Still - it’s never like loving Pom is painful all the time.
Chanon’s fists open into awaiting hands. As much as his heart clenches at the thought of it sometimes, he has to admit that he can sleep better when Pom is curled around him as he can only be at night, daylight exposing too much to be this secretive, this loving. Sometimes Pom swings by the corner store on his way home after work, setting up snacks on the counter that Chanon had deemed unnecessary to buy for himself. They sit in the evenings to watch TV together, a welcome reprieve from Pom’s work and Chanon’s idle thoughts as he scrolls through the criteria for space programs, throat closing up every time he wants to tell Pom about them. When Pom comes out from a shower, hair wet and sticking to his scalp, he hums and sits in front of Chanon on the ground so he can dry his hair with a towel, ruffling it just so that it sticks up and they can laugh about it later. From time to time, when the apartment is empty and Chanon feels too lonely to go outside and wander the streets again, he sends Pom lighthearted texts - always getting smileys in return and updates about the kids, how they’re doing, if everything’s okay.
And always, always , Pom gets in Chanon’s shitty car - the one he doesn’t use all too much anymore - and drives back home to him.
Maybe - if he just let himself. If he let himself have this in a way that is fair to both of them.
He sighs and gets up, smoothing over the blanket where he sat. He should check on Pom and the soup. When he emerges from the bedroom, rubbing at his eyes, he watches Pom’s back as he picks up a couple of leeks to cut them. Although he can’t see him, Chanon knows his face is morphed into that little frown, eyebrows pulled tightly together and mouth scrunched up into a pout. Chanon steps forward, picks up the knife from the drawer. “You need help with that?” he asks, nudging Pom.
Pom passes him a leek. “Yeah,” he says quietly. “Would be nice.”
Chanon chops up the leeks with no words, sliding them into the soup. Pom stirs it, brushing shoulders with him, his eyes trained on the soup. He looks tired, and Chanon thinks he can hear the shattering of his own heart over the boil of the stove. “Listen,” he says, and Pom looks up at him, giving him the full force of his attention. Like every time Pom looks at him - it makes him feel seen. Raw. Cut open. “I love you still. It may hurt when I - I think about the past, but it’s not all pain, you know? It’s pretty damn good. I just… don’t think it’s fair to either of us if I loved you like that again.”
Pom swallows. Nods, once. He passes him a spoon. “Taste the soup,” he says, brushing shoulders with him again. “We’ll start over.”
Chanon puts the soup to his mouth. “It’s good,” he says, a smile curling around his mouth. When he watches Pom smile, ducking his head to hide his blush, his heart flutters the same way it did all those years ago.
“You wanna come to school with me today?” asks Pom over breakfast. Chanon is in the middle of spooning rice porridge into his mouth when he suggests it, almost choking on his spoonful. “Careful - the kids miss you, that’s all, and it’s Open Day anyway.”
“The kids miss me?” asks Chanon, watching as Pom puts his bowl in the sink, letting water into it. Chanon thinks about the kids every now and then, especially when Pom comes home and tells him about how the Gifted program is going and how it’s nice to see the kids be - kids, at the end of it all.
Pom snorts, leaning back against the counter to drain the last of his coffee from his mug. “Miss you?” he says. “All they talk about is you. It’s always - Khu Pom, how’s P’Chanon? or What’s P’Chanon doing? or Can’t P’Chanon come and work at the school, too? It’ll make their day if you come and visit - first round of exams are coming up soon.”
Chanon’s mouth quirks up into a smile. “Okay, sure, I don’t have anything to do today,” he says. “What about lunch?”
“We can brave the cafeteria for the day,” says Pom, putting his mug in the sink. “You ready?”
Chanon looks down at his hoodie and jeans - he was going to go out for a walk, but he’s deemed this more important - and nods. “Yeah, sure,” he says, standing up and quickly downing the rest of his porridge, putting the bowl on the counter. “Hey, come here.”
Pom looks up from where he’s about to pick his bag up, slinging it around his shoulder. “What’s wrong?” he asks. Chanon ignores him, hands coming forward to rest on Pom’s shirt, smoothing it down and wiping off the specks of dust on it. He knows Pom’s shirts like his own - sometimes he irons them in the evenings, sometimes Pom folds them away while Chanon makes dinner. Now, he straightens Pom’s tie, making sure it lies flat. He pats it once before moving away again.
“There you go,” says Chanon. He meets Pom’s eyes for a second - and they burn into him, rooting him to the spot. Pom puts a quiet hand to Chanon’s face, brushing right under his eye. Chanon’s breath hitches in his chest, audibly. It’s almost embarrassing - how much electricity fills the air just then.
“You had something on your face,” murmurs Pom. “It’s gone now.”
Chanon clears his throat. “Thanks,” he says, stepping away. He swipes his phone and wallet off the counter. “You ready to go?”
Pom nods, twirling the car keys around his finger. “I’ll drive,” he says, opening the door.
Chanon waves at their neighbour coming up the stairs as he locks the door behind them, shoving the keys into his pocket. “As long as you let me pick the music, I’m good,” he says, stopping to fold his hands together. “Good morning, Khun.”
“Good morning,” she says, grocery store bag in her hand. “Where are you two headed today?”
“Off to school,” says Pom, checking his watch. “This one decided to join me for Open Day.”
Her face clears into a smile. “That’s lovely. Have a nice day, you two.”
Chanon smiles at her as she enters her apartment and they head down the stairs. He has to admit - it’s nice to be with Pom like this. It’s nice to walk in sync with him and go to work with him, like they’re settling back into each other’s lives again. The fresh air is cooling on the back of his neck as he ruffles through his hair, sliding into the passenger seat with easy experience. He flicks the mirror down to check his hair again. “Hey, does my hair look okay?” he asks, turning the radio on. It tunes into a channel playing Bird Thongchai, and when Chanon glances over at Pom, he’s grinning widely.
“Turn it up, I like this song,” he says. “Also, we’re going to a school, not a fashion walk. The kids are going to be excited to see you either way.”
“So my hair doesn’t look okay,” says Chanon, fixing it in the mirror. The city coasts by as Chanon looks out of the window like he’s a kid again. There’s nothing better than seeing the city he knows so well, mapped out on the back of his hand, run past him instead of him past it. He drums his fingers on the window to the beat of the song, nodding along to the lyrics floating out of the radio. “Hey, remember when we used to listen to P’Bird when we were younger?”
Pom hums as he turns right. “Yeah,” he says, smiling. “We had good taste as kids, huh?”
Chanon looks at Pom, the low morning light washing his expression into something softer. His hand reaches out to settle on his thigh, just for a second. “I always had good taste,” he says, patting his thigh once before pulling it away again.
Pom swallows. Chanon spots the school from up the road - the good thing about Pom’s apartment is that it’s close to the school. Chanon thinks it’s more about the comfort than anything. If anything happens in the dead of the night, Pom can get up and get there immediately. He’s always cared for his students more than anything. “You know what’s in store for today?” asks Pom, turning down the volume as the song switches to something else.
“Are the kids going to show off their potentials or something?” asks Chanon, letting his hand coast through the wind.
“Or something,” says Pom. “They all had their little projects to work on - I think Wave’s programmed a robot - he’s a bit of an overachiever sometimes, but it makes him all the more hardworking. The twins have studied their ability to be able to communicate through their minds and how that can further technological development now - it’s all interesting stuff.”
Chanon looks at him, at how his face lights up when he talks about the kids, eyes bright and shining. He exhales, his heart giddy. “You know…” he says. “I’ll never get over how good of a teacher you are.”
Pom raises an eyebrow. “What do you mean?” he asks, pulling into the parking lot. Chanon watches as other teachers file into the school with coffees in their hands, parents excited for the Open Day and a chance to see their children shine giving their names at the doors, the sun climbing high into the sky. The air is alight with life.
Chanon shrugs. “You just - care,” he says. “So much. I mean, come on, you worked through your time off just so you could make sure the kids could have a good program for the upcoming years.”
“You helped,” says Pom, cheeks reddening as he ducks his head. “It’s not like I documented everyone by myself. You managed to get the Ministry to actually do shit.”
“I helped ,” says Chanon, nudging him. “But you took the initiative. And look at this - the kids here? The kids around Thailand whose potentials are awakening? You’ve had a hand in helping all of them. I mean, sure, people are helping out and there’s no way you could have done it all alone - but come on. You started it… and their futures are going to be so bright because of it.”
Pom snorts, shaking his head. “What’s got you all sweet today?” he asks, as they get out of the car, sunshine beaming onto Chanon’s face as he lifts it up to the sky for just a second.
Chanon shrugs, smiling as he raps on the roof of the car. “It’s the truth,” he says, nodding at people as they make their way into the school. He shoves his hands into his hoodie pockets and glances at Pom - who seems happier, lighting up as he looks at the posters on the walls, the children bustling down the hallways. The school seems different, notes Chanon, from what he remembers it by. It seems - lighter, colourful, happier somehow. The students are jostling each other around, sticking up notices on the walls and pinning flyers into boards. Chanon doesn’t remember there ever being an Open Day as far as he’d been at the school - but it causes laughter to drift through the hallways, to make everything brighter.
“Hey, Khu!” shouts a student from where she’s sticking up a flyer. It isn’t one of the kids that Chanon knows, but Pom seems to recognise her. “Look at this, huh?”
“Hi, Yim,” he says with a smile, leaning down to check out her flyer. “Oh, you guys are reviving the cooking club? That’s great!”
Yim grins up at him. “Yeah, we ran it by the admins and they said it was all good,” she replies, pinning another flyer to the board. “Never would have happened with Khun Supot in charge - but anyway, I thought it would be good practice to develop my potential. What do you think, Khu?”
“That’s a wonderful idea, Yim,” says Pom, with a smile on his face, squinting at the flyer. “Think I got a couple of kids in XV who’d be interested in this, and in the younger classes too. I might get Grace to check this out. Anyway keep going at it, okay?”
“It would be so cool if P’Grace joined us ,” she says, looking back up. She notices Chanon with his hands in the pocket of his hoodie, and raises an eyebrow. “Hey, you’re P’Chanon, right?”
Chanon blinks at her, nudging Pom. “How does she know my name?” he asks, causing Pom’s cheeks to redden as he looks down at the floor, shuffling his feet.
“Yeah, you come up in conversation every once in a while,” he responds, waving at another student who stares just a little too long at Chanon before breaking away, whispering to his friend about something or another.
“Huh,” says Chanon, and then grins at Yim. “Yeah, I’m Chanon.”
“Nice to meet you, Phi,” she says, waving at him. “See you later - swing by the cooking club if you’ve got spare time!”
“Sure will, kid,” he says, and Pom tugs his arm, so they’re moving. Chanon takes note of all the other flyers on the board before they do, committing all of them to memory. There’s something about a debate club, and he’ll be damned if Pang isn’t leading that one, full sail. He smiles as they make their way down the hallway, peering into every classroom on the way. They’re all decorated, banners streaming from the ceiling and food set up on tables. He glances back at Pom, grinning. “Like what you’ve done with the place.”
Pom shrugs. “It all comes from the kids,” he says. “I said ‘What about an Open Day?’ and they went - well. You can see.”
Chanon slings an easy arm around his shoulder, smiling. “It’s good. Gives some - life to this place. Remember when we were back at school here? It was so dreary.”
“Yeah,” says Pom. “I remember. The rocket on the door’s still there, you know?”
“Shit, really?” asks Chanon, his hand curling around his neck. It’s a show of intimacy that he normally only shows at home, when they’re shut away from the outer world, in their own little bubble. Here, he almost feels naked in the way that he dares to be close to Pom. The rocket comes to mind, how the mural of it taking off had influenced his dreams forever. He can’t believe it’s still there - that Supot hadn’t somehow painted over it like he’d painted over everything else in this school, turning it into something like a hospital - clinical. Before he can think about it too much, however, Pom untangles himself from Chanon’s hold apologetically to push a door open on their right side.
When it swings open, Chanon catches a glimpse of Pang hanging up some bunting across the wall. He leans against the doorway, hands still in his pockets, until Korn looks up from where he’s painting something in and sees him, his eyes widening. “Um,” he says. “Hi, P’Chanon?”
“What do you - “ starts Pang, turning around, and the bunting drops from the wall. Chanon hides a laugh in his arm when Ohm rolls his eyes and sighs loudly from the other side of the room, holding up the end of the bunting that is now sadly fluttering about the floor. “P’Chanon! Guys, look, P’Chanon’s here!”
“Hey, Phi!” chorus the twins, waving from the back of the room. Punn looks up, putting down the book he’s reading to wave as well.
“Khu Pom’s been holding out on us, Phi,” says Mon as she helps Korn paint the banner. “Do you want to go out and play basketball later? I hear the club’s doing some sort of special games for Open Day.”
“Why not?” says Chanon, pushing off of the wall to sit down next to Wave, where he’s toying with his remote to get his robot to walk around the table. “Hey, what’s up, N’Wave?”
Wave looks up, a hint of a smile around his mouth. “Nothing much, P’Chanon. Just messing around with this so I can show it to the kids. Hey, have you met Namtaan?”
Chanon shakes his head, swivelling around in his seat to glance at the girl sitting behind him. She’s instantly recognisable from the yearbooks Chanon has looked at, and from all the stories not only Pom, but also the kids have regaled him with. She looks eerily like him - same smile, same glasses, same kind of eyes. “You’re Namtaan,” he says, and she looks up and nods. “Heard a lot about you. You wore my jacket and snooped around in my memories, or so I’ve been told.”
Namtaan’s brow furrows. “Sorry, Phi, it was necessary,” she says, and her face brightens. “But Pang told me all about you and what you’re like now. P’Chanon, you’re a living legend! Back when we were questioning the program, we tried to track you down and ask you about what happened. You inspired all of us!”
Chanon laughs. “No way,” he says, drumming his fingers on the table. “You all did it on your own.”
“It was through your sacrifice and idealism that we managed to do all of this,” says Namtaan, shaking her head. “Really, you’ve been an inspiration to us all. Right, Pang?”
Pang looks up from the bunting. “Yeah!” he says, eyes sparkling. “Like I’ve said before, I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for you.”
Chanon swallows, looking up at the kids from where they’re painting the posters on the wall. “Alright, alright,” he says. “How have you all been doing? Pom’s been telling me about senior year two point oh - first rounds of exams, how about that?”
A collective groan goes through the room. “Come on, Phi,” says Claire from where she’s painting her nails. “It’s Open Day! You can’t talk about exams.”
Ohm, who’s sharing a chair with Korn, having successfully put up the bunting, now leans forward and says, “You know what? Khu Pom never tells us anything about you, no matter how much we pester him - so tell us what you’ve been doing!”
Punn nods from the back of the room. “He’s been holding out on us,” he says, matter-of-fact. “You could come and help us out here, P’Chanon. Khu Pom’s been so caught up with admin work that he’s stretched thin trying to teach us. We get interns all the time, and they kind of suck.”
“Hey, I heard that,” says Pom from where he’s sat down opposite Wave, tinkering with the robot. Chanon thinks Wave just lets him do it to make him feel useful. “The interns try their best.”
“It’s not the same, Khu,” says Namtaan, flicking paint at Ohm’s nose. “We miss you. Phi, you could take on some admin work, couldn’t you?”
Chanon shakes his head as Korn passes him a paintbrush to help them carefully stroke inside the lines of the bubble letters advertising their class. He dips his brush in the blue paint. “I’d love to, but I can’t,” he says absentmindedly. Pom’s arm brushes up against his side, electricity shooting through his arm. “I’ve applied to the national space program. Let’s see how that goes, and if it fails - then admin work it is. At least I’ll get to see all of you everyday.”
Korn looks up at him, wide-eyed. “Space program?”
“Are you going to become an astronaut, P’Chanon?” asks Pang, dropping his paintbrush on the floor. “That’s so cool!”
“You’re going to be famous !” exclaims Ohm, so excited he almost tips the paint over. Claire hushes him and snatches it out of his reach. “We’ll see you on TV! Going to the moon! And we’ll get to say that we know you!”
Chanon laughs, shaking his head. He’s forgotten how happy the kids make him - how seeing them finally enjoy their youth lets him look upon his lost years almost fondly. He’s getting there. Someday, it’ll be less like striking a spear into his own heart. “You’re getting way too ahead of yourselves,” he says. “We’ll see if they accept me first, okay?”
“I can get my dad to - “
“Punn, no ,” says Chanon, rolling his eyes. Punn grumbles and goes back to his banner, and Wave moves to Pang to brush shoulders with him. Chanon averts his eyes - it’s nothing for him to know. He hums as he fills in the lines, his mind slowing down as the birds chirp outside the windows, the gentle lull of conversation floating around the room. It’s the most at peace he’s felt in this building.
Before long, however, Pom nudges him and whispers, “Hey, what’s this about a space program?”
Chanon’s stomach curdles. Fuck . He’s been putting off this conversation with Pom for so long, ever since he sent his application off just before he’d gotten home one Friday evening. Something inside of him splits open at the thought of potentially leaving him again, but - ever since he was seventeen, the stars had called him. There was a long period of time when he thought he couldn’t ever have that, not with the gaping hole in his chest. He tugs at Pom’s sleeve. “Let’s go outside and talk about it, okay?” he says lowly, before addressing the room. “Hey, kids, we’ll be right back.”
A murmur of assent goes through the room as Chanon gets to his feet and they shut the door behind them with a click, shutting the conversation out. Pom scans the hallway before pulling him into an empty classroom, perching on a table as he fixes Chanon with a questioning stare. Chanon shoves his hands into his pockets and looks around the room, noting the scuffs on the tables. “Hey,” he says, brushing his hand against a desk. “This is where we used to have English, right?”
Pom sighs. “Just spit it out, Non,” he says, sounding oddly empty. “You don’t have to sugarcoat it or beat around the bush or some bullshit.”
Chanon fiddles with the hem of his hoodie. “Well,” he says, quietly. “You heard what I told the kids back there. I’ve applied to the space program - I don’t know if they’ll take me or anything, they have to give me a callback after my resumé and then I have to go and take the physical and then - “
“I know how the space program works,” says Pom, cutting him off. Chanon stares at him. “I know how it works. I researched it. After I remembered you again, I mean. To make sure you could get in, if you wanted to.”
Chanon’s stomach drops out from beneath him. His breath comes in little huffs as his chest locks tight. He takes a small step towards where Pom’s sat, nervous. “You’re not mad at me?” he asks. “For applying?”
Pom blinks at him. “Why would I be mad at you?” he says, and he sounds genuinely confused. “It’s your dream.” There’s a moment of silence, before he continues, “Okay, maybe I’m a little confused as to that you didn’t tell me - but that’s your business. None of mine.”
“It’s…” starts Chanon, shaking his head, “it’s not that I felt like I couldn’t tell you. I - I didn’t want you to be upset. I just - we just found each other again. I don’t want you to think I’m leaving you.”
“You’re not leaving me,” says Pom immediately. He looks up at him, eyes reflecting the stark white light above. “Are you?”
“I would never leave you,” says Chanon softly. Not again. He moves forward, taking Pom’s hand in his, a gentle grip around his wrist as he traces the lines of his palm with his finger. “I - just… if they accept me - and that’s a huge if, you know that - I’ll have to go to the academy for training for a little while. And… that’s not me leaving. You know that, right?”
“Yeah, I know that,” says Pom, looking at his hand. He grips Chanon’s wrist in return, making him stop the tracing, and interlinks their fingers. “It’s a good thing, Non. I - want you to chase your dream. You know how many nights I spent up because I couldn’t stop thinking about how I - I robbed you of that light? And I know you’ll say it’s not my fault, but… I just want you to find yourself again. That’s all I want.”
Chanon exhales. He looks at the man in front of him, the one he knew as a boy - bright-eyed and kind . “That’s all you want?” he echoes, brushing his thumb over the back of Pom’s fingers.
Pom shrugs. “That,” he says, tugging him closer so he can rest his forehead in Chanon’s soft hoodie, “and for you to remember where your home is.”
Chanon breathes out a shaky laugh, a hand running through Pom’s hair. “Don’t think I could forget if I tried,” he says quietly. Maybe he can only confess it because the weight of Pom’s stare isn’t gazing into his eyes. “Not this time.”
It happens on a Monday.
He remembers the day because he and Pom have pad thai for dinner every Monday, as a kind of balm to soothe over the perpetual pain that are Mondays. He’s just putting it onto two plates, watching the clock tick down the minutes to wait until Pom comes back home. He’d been out on a grocery run, meaning that Chanon had had more time to mope around the apartment and try various distractions to keep the thoughts of the academy at bay. It’s been weeks since he sent off his application, weeks since he got called back for the physical exam, and he’s pretty sure Pom’s tired of hearing about it both from him and the kids. Since Open Day and checking out Yim’s cooking club, looking at Wave’s robot, and figuring out his hunch on Pang leading the debate club was correct, he’s been back a few times to bring Pom some lunch and to say hi to the class - and has been bombarded with questions about the academy, whether he’s started training, if he’ll be going to space any time soon.
Chanon’s hands have been itching to do something to put the worries aside, so he’s taken to small time gardening - meaning that every potted plant he sees, he takes home. Five of them have made it into their bedroom and a couple of plants are hanging from where Pom had hammered hooks into the ceiling, mentioning something about seeing it in a home beauty magazine. It’s then, really, that Chanon had realised how they’ve built a home for themselves in the middle of a bustling city without saying much at all.
The door rustles and opens with a click as Pom bustles in with the grocery bags, putting his umbrella on the ground outside, still opened. Chanon looks up to see him shake the wet hair out of his face. “It rained!” he says, hefting the bags onto the counter. “It’ll be humid as hell for the next few days.”
Chanon’s nose scrunches up. “That sucks,” he says, as Pom presents him with a little pot. “Hey, who’s our new friend?”
Pom beams. “The lady on the corner was selling some tomatoes,” he says. “I thought we could use them for something. Don’t bother watering it now, I tried to save it from the rain as much as I could, but it didn’t pan out as I thought. Felt like a real idiot trying to hold my bags and unfurl the umbrella.”
Chanon peeks at the small leaves, stroking them gently. “Hi, bud,” he says quietly, setting it up on the corner with the basil. “Welcome to the family.” He straightens, squinting at Pom. “You should take your jacket off - you’re going to catch a cold.”
Pom rolls his eyes, shaking out of his jacket. Chanon lays it over the back of one of their chairs for now. “I should go get changed and blow dry my hair or something,” says Pom, frowning. He pats something crinkly on the counter. “Also, I checked the postbox - you’ve got mail. I didn’t manage to see who it was from, though, what with the rain and all.”
“Huh,” says Chanon, glancing at the counter. “Well, go get changed. Bring the hairdryer out here so I can dry your hair for you.”
“You got it,” says Pom, already disappearing into the bedroom. “Hey, wait up on opening that letter, I’ll be there with you for it!”
“Alright!” calls Chanon, turning the envelope to him so he can get a good peer at it. The words printed on it in stark black send chills into his blood, rooting him to the spot. He blinks, rubbing at his eyes, just to make sure what he’s seeing is right. The logo up on the right side makes him swallow, nervously tapping the envelope against the counter. Chanon’s heartbeat is too loud for his chest. “Hey, Pom? It’s the academy.”
Pom pokes his head out of the door, glasses framing his eyes as he swirls the plug of the hairdryer in the air. Chanon should be focused on the fact that he’s holding the letter to his future in his hands, but his eyes are more drawn to the way that Pom has tugged on a T-shirt that he’s almost positive is his, even though Chanon had just separated their clothes into different drawers. “The academy?” he repeats, snapping Chanon out of his daze. “Well, open it, Non, what are you waiting for?”
Chanon’s hands stay frozen, gripping the envelope so tightly he’s almost crushing it. “I don’t - “ he starts, and then swallows. Pom gently plucks the envelope out of his hands. “What if they didn’t accept me?”
“You can try again in a couple of years,” says Pom, earnest. His eyes are bright. “It’s not like you can’t try again. Until then, you could probably find work doing research somewhere. You have qualifications and a certain degree of experience. It’s not - it’s not the end of the world.”
Chanon nods. “Alright,” he says, taking the envelope back, smoothing it out against the countertop. “It’s going to be fine.”
Pom hums some kind of reassurance, putting the hairdryer down on the table with a soft thud and hooking arms with him, peeking over his shoulder to see what the letter says. Chanon’s hands tremble, just a little, as he slides the letter out of the envelope. He’s gone through enough letters to know where to look, to see what’s bolded and what isn’t. His eyes scan the words, rushing past the first few paragraphs of gratitude for having applied to the program, until -
We are happy to inform you that you have been accepted into the academy.
Chanon blinks at the words. When he finds them again, something deep settles into his chest. Before he can say anything, Pom is gripping his arm and shaking him like the greatest thing in the world has just happened and they’ve been there as the silent witnesses. “You got in !” he yells, loud enough to make Chanon wince and to notify the entire block, probably. “Non, you did it! You’re going to be an astronaut!”
“An astronaut,” repeats Chanon, the word sounding strange to his own ears as he puts the letter down on the table. He’s dreamt of becoming an astronaut since he was seven, like a lot of kids do, and that dream had stuck with him all throughout his teen years, all throughout the time he spent with Pom and when he’d grinned with unbridled joy when he realised what his potential was and how it could help his career, all throughout the time he’d looked at the stars during the nights Pom was curled asleep in his bed, promising himself that one day he’d go up there, go up there and name one of the stars after him, all throughout the time when the only comfort he had had was the silent blur of his memory as he put himself through undergrad and grad - all that time. “Holy - fuck .”
Pom squeezes his arm again. Maybe he’s his anchor - tethering him to earth, always. “You’re going to go to space ,” he says, sounding just like the perpetually excited kid he knew a lifetime ago. “At some point, at least. Non, I’m - “
He’s broken off by Chanon turning around and hugging him tightly, arms hooking around his shoulders as he buries his head in Pom’s neck, leaning down to do so. Pom’s hair is still wet, tickling his nose, but Chanon can’t tell if the wetness is from the fresh rain still pattering against the ground outside or from his own tears. Pom staggers for a second, before one arm comes to circle cautiously around his waist, the other up his back. His hand lands in Chanon’s hair, ruffling it gently. Chanon breathes in, the silence a fond cloak around them. He pulls closer - something inside of him rebuilding as Pom holds on, almost tighter, almost like they’ve both been waiting for this moment for a very long time.
“Thank you,” says Chanon, so quiet he isn’t sure if he’s said it out loud. He doesn’t mean just for this - but he thinks Pom gets it.
Pom laughs. “What are thank yous between us?” he says. “I’m proud of you.”
Chanon sniffles a little when he pulls away, brushing a hand against his nose before he looks at Pom. His eyes are red-rimmed, much like Chanon assumes his own are. His glasses have a hint of fog where they’d been smushed into, somewhere between Chanon’s chest and shoulders. There’s so much about him in this quiet moment that Chanon finds beyond beautiful. His eyes twinkle in the flickering light above that he still needs to change, his hands just washed - with the new ginger hand soap Chanon had bought the week before because Pom had mentioned it in passing - and rough against his arms as he tugs him closer, his hair still mildly wet, fresh with the smell of petrichor, deep and rich. As he cards his hands through Pom’s hair gently, ruffling the water out, he decides it’s a smell that should stick to Pom’s skin forever.
“Still - thank you,” he says, brushing a stray strand behind Pom’s ear. Pom leans his cheek into his hand, and Chanon sighs. “This means I’ll have to go to the academy for a while.”
Pom laughs softly, shaking his head out of Chanon’s grasp. He plugs the hairdryer in by the table and hands it to Chanon, who turns it on and blows it against Pom’s hair, the whirring calming him down. There’s something fond about Pom sitting in a chair, playing with his hands as Chanon carefully ruffles through his hair, making sure he doesn’t catch a cold. “It’s not like you can’t come back,” he says over the noise. “You have the weekends off - you can come back.”
“It’s not the same, is it?” asks Chanon, stomach oddly hollow. “I’m not with you.”
It’s - strange, really. How he’s built his life to be one with Pom in it, again. How the thought of leaving him again makes his heart drop out of his chest. But there are rules he’s made for himself, rules he made back when he was seventeen and so in love with him that he thought he’d name every star for him someday - and those rules are still hard to break out of. He’s held his hand, he’s slept in the same bed as him, he’s curled his body around his and tugged him close - but they haven’t kissed. They have never been physically closer than this. It’s not for lack of wanting. He just - doesn’t know. If he’s allowed. If he’s with him.
But Pom soothes his worries, as he always does. “Hey, you’ll be back home in no time,” he says, reaching up to pat his hand. “I’ll be waiting for you.”
Chanon smiles, almost despite himself. “You don’t have to wait for me,” he says, echoing the sentiment Pom had once said.
Pom shrugs. “I think I do,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “I’d wait forever for you.”
Chanon swallows, barely trusting his voice. “Big promise.”
“I think we’re pretty good at keeping promises,” says Pom, laughing - and Chanon remembers the one he’d made to him all those years ago. Trust me - you’ll be a teacher. A good one.
Chanon has come to find that the space program is simultaneously more gruelling and more rewarding than he’d expected.
It’s not like he expected it to be easy. He spends days and nights in the gym exhausting himself just to pass the physical exams they set every week at the academy, tracking their weight and food intake to make sure that they’re fit enough to go into space one day. He’s gone through three notebooks in two weeks just taking notes in all of his new lectures about astrophysics and aerodynamics, putting up blueprints and ripped-out textbook papers on the walls of his dorm. It feels like he’s in school again, staying up to pore over star charts and map out blueprints of rocket he could build or have built someday - except every day before he rolls over to go to sleep, he picks up his phone to send Pom a goodnight text instead of murmuring it out into the loud silence. Humans are made to be loved, he thinks, because the absence of a dear one weighs on his heart like a tonne of bricks.
But it’s not like it’s all bad - sure, Chanon had meant to go home on the weekends like everyone else, but everyone else has been in the academy much longer than him, and between the physical exams and his lectures and all the training… it had just been easier to work through the weekends. Pom hadn’t minded, had said something about it being a time where Chanon had the chance to figure himself out, to redefine who he was. Chanon had laughed at him and asked him to show him the plants - he finds himself missing them whenever he wakes up in the mornings, squeezed into a single bed like he’s seventeen again, listening to his roommate bumble about. It’s okay - because he’s made friends. Because he’s gotten to know astronauts who have been in space. Because, for the first time in this second life - he’s getting to know himself again.
Still, home calls - whether you’re an ocean apart, two lifetimes thrown to the wind, blurs sharpened.
“Oh, hey, P’Chanon,” says Krit, looking up from where he’s trying to solve a Rubix cube. He’s one of the people who’d come into the academy the same time as he did, but four years younger, making Chanon feel a certain brotherly fondness for him. “You going home?”
Chanon nods, zipping his backpack up as he glances around the dorm. “It’s been a couple of months since I’ve gone back,” he says, knowing that Krit had just gone back last week. “Home calls, you know?”
Krit nods, frowning at the Rubix cube. “I know,” he says. “My mother called me every day to ask when I’d come home - I don’t know if I went back because I missed her food or because she annoyed me into doing it.”
Chanon hides a laugh in his elbow as he unplugs his charger from the wall. “Well, Pom hasn’t been doing that,” he says absentmindedly as he slings his backpack over his shoulder. “Although he has been texting me pictures of our plants every day for bribery purposes.”
“Who’s Pom?” asks Krit, raising an eyebrow. He seems to have officially given up on the Rubix cube, so Chanon picks it up.
“Look here, watch what I’m doing,” he says, pointing at the cube. As he twists the colours back into order with ease and memory of a lifetime ago, he mulls over Krit’s question. He doesn’t know how to describe Pom in a truthful way - apart from to wax poetic about the way his heartbeat speeds up yet calms down for the first time in his life when he’s around him. So he rolls the words around in his mouth and settles for, “Pom’s my… well, he’s my partner.”
Krit hums. “Like a business partner?” he asks. “Or another kind of partner?”
“Business would have to be pretty shit if I had to live with my business partner,” says Chanon dryly as he sets the finished cube back down on his desk. “No, he’s my… partner. In life.”
“Say hi to him from me, then,” says Krit, accepting the cube. “Although whoever could put up with you every day must be a little insane.”
“Watch it,” says Chanon, with no real heat behind his voice. “Stay out of trouble, I’ll be back after the weekend.”
“What kind of trouble am I supposed to get into?” asks Krit, looking up as Chanon clicks the door open. “See you soon, Phi.”
Chanon waves at him, settling his hands into his pockets as he walks past the other dorms. It’s only been a couple of months, but the academy is already starting to feel like someplace familiar. He never thought he’d be okay living somewhere so sterile again, with the same beds in the same order in every room, the same streaks of paint down the walls, the same places left untouched. As he writes his name in the checkout list by the door, staring at it for longer than necessary - Chanon Taweepong - making sure it’s his own. He spent a long time being unsure of everything that it’s hard to let himself be sure of anything now. He taps the pen against the paper and hands it back to the person sitting by the exit. They look up at him with a kind smile. “Have a good weekend, now,” they say, taking the paper into their hands and filing it away in some kind of folder. “See you on Monday.”
“Yeah,” says Chanon, nodding at them. “Till Monday.”
He wonders if Pom still eats pad thai on Mondays. Chanon doesn’t - it’s not that the cafeteria doesn’t have it, or that he can’t make it himself in their kitchen. It just feels wrong to eat it without Pom opposite Chanon, kicking his feet under the table and telling him about the day, their plants a soft green in the setting sun.
Stepping outside of the academy is always soothing, in a way. The sun says hello from where it’s dipping into the horizon. Like anywhere Chanon goes, the first thing he seeks is the rooftop. The one on Pom’s apartment block is closed off due to potential injuries - but the one at their school wasn’t. He’d spent much of his time up there, pondering the stars and how he could maybe see them closer someday, watching the twinkling satellites sending their messages home to Earth. We’re here. It’s okay . In the same way, he’d found comfort on the rooftop of the academy. As far as rooftops go, it’s pretty unspectacular, but there is a telescope set up on the edge of it - a quiet symbol of trust in everyone there. Chanon eats his dinners there, mostly, and perches on a small box as he looks up at the stars. One day, he’ll go there. One day, he’ll see the Earth in all of its glory. One day, he’ll be up somewhere where someone will be playing music over the comms radio, and it will come out all tinny but it will still fill his heart with love.
The bus station is only a couple of steps away, and he supposes even astronauts-in-training go back home.
He flips his ticket in his hands, shoes crunching into gravel as he waits for the bus. He could have gotten Pom to pick him up, he supposes, but the day is already bleeding into night. Chanon’s heart races just at the thought of seeing Pom again, as if he hasn’t seen him in years, as if Pom won’t be asleep when he gets home anyway. He wonders how he’s eating, if he’s sleeping well - from their texts and calls, Pom seems to have mastered the art of the red curry and rice, but not much else. It’s not like the last time. It’s not like he’s coming home to electric tension in every room, hurt in everything he touches.
The bus rolls up two minutes late, barely stopping for him as he swings onto it and finds a seat by the window as it whisks its passengers away again. The academy is on the outskirts of town as to have ample space, meaning that Chanon is in for a long bus ride in front of him. He watches Bangkok roll past as he puts in earphones, tapping on the window to the tune of the song. There are only two people on the bus, both of them looking out of their own windows, so he focuses on the tunes of P’Bird floating in through his headphones. He and Pom share the same music library - he could be listening to the same song right now. Chanon had thought about that a lot, once he regained his memory. He sometimes looked at the moon and thought about Pom looking at it, too, and found comfort through that fleeting connection of a single glance. Take away the moon, and their gazes would have fallen upon each other.
He must have missed a stop or two, because someone is tugging on his sleeve. When he looks down, he sees a kid looking back up at him. She can’t be more than eleven or twelve, he thinks. “Do you mind if I sit next to you, Phi?” she asks, patting the seat. Chanon blinks at her, and then looks around the almost-empty bus. He’s the closest to the front.
Chanon takes his backpack off the seat. “Sure, Nong,” he says, dropping it on the floor of the bus as he looks out of the window again. He’s about to go back to listening to music when the kid tugs on his sleeve again.
He glances back down to see her point at his backpack. “Are you an astronaut, Phi?” she asks excitedly, voice almost too loud for the quiet bus. Nobody turns around. It’s Bangkok - in just a couple of moments, the bus will fill up with shouts and loud conversations. Chanon squints at his backpack to see that she means the academy patch that Pom had ironed on for him before he had to leave.
“Not yet, but soon,” he says, taking his earphones out. Maybe Pom is rubbing off on him, but some instinct in him kicks in when he sees a kid alone somewhere. “Do you know the patch?”
The kid nods, grinning. “Yeah, I want to be an astronaut when I grow up!” she says. “I went on a tour of the academy with my class this year.”
“Oh, that’s fun,” says Chanon, humming as he looks out of the window and then back at her. “I’m sure I’ll see you around in the academy when you’re older.”
She squints at him. “Phi, you’re old,” she says bluntly. “Do you think you’ll still be there once I’m done with university?”
Chanon holds a hand to his heart, faking hurt. “I’m not that old,” he says, watching as they finally pull into the heart of the city, people crowding onto the bus and the noise level slowly rising. Suddenly, he’s glad that he let her sit next to him, lest she drown in the sea of people pushing together. “So tell me - why do you want to be an astronaut?”
“The stars are cool,” she says, tilting her head upwards. “I like looking at them through the telescope my dad got me for my birthday last year.”
Chanon laughs. “Yeah, that’s a good start,” he says. Something about her reminds him of himself, back when he was a child, even though it seems like it’s a couple of lifetimes ago. He reaches into his pocket, fishing out something he’d picked up from the academy before he’d left. It’s a matching patch with the planet of Saturn on it - that one’s always been Chanon’s favourite, even as a kid, even when he didn’t know much about space at all. He passes it to her, flipping it over so she can see Saturn. “Here you go.”
Her eyes go wide as she accepts the patch. “Saturn’s my favourite,” she says, turning it over in her hands. “It has the rings.”
“It has the visible rings from our eye,” says Chanon, and then adds, “It’s my favourite, too. You can have it.”
“Really, Phi?” she asks, looking up at him. She clutches the patch close to her chest. For a second, Chanon realises that younger him could have used something like this. Someone - looking out for him, standing behind his dreams even when they didn’t know him personally. His mouth lifts up into a smile when he sees her look at it like it isn’t real.
“Yeah, of course you can,” he says, watching as she tucks it into her pocket. “Just make sure you become an astronaut, okay?”
She grins. “I will!” she says. “I’ll be better than you, promise.”
Chanon laughs. “Okay, kid, I believe you,” he says. “Keep that patch safe. Where are you going?”
She squints at the blinking sign. “I get off at the next stop,” she says, pressing the stop button as she looks up. “I’m visiting my dad.”
“Be safe, then,” he says, as the bus rolls to a stop and she gets up. “Hey, always follow the north star, okay?”
She laughs. “My dad says that a lot,” she says, waving at him. “Thanks for the patch, Phi. See you around!”
Chanon nods at her as she rushes down the steps and outside, looking back just to grin at him before she’s jogging along the pavement, into the heart of Bangkok. Something about her makes Chanon yearn for his younger self again - but it was a lifetime ago. He can’t want things he can’t have anymore - he can pass them on like loved old clothes. He presses the stop button for the next stop, pushing past the people in the crowd. Someone else takes his seat immediately - it’s Bangkok, after all - as he steps out into the just settling darkness. Back when he lived alone and had saved up enough for a car, he’d gone on a lot of long drives by himself with the music on the radio turned up to the loudest volume possible. Nowadays, however, he’s used to taking public transport as Pom borrows the car to drive to and back from work - and it gives him a sort of easy comfort to listen to music and be with his thoughts as the bus wheels rumble beneath his feet.
Their apartment comes into view as Chanon walks further down the street. He digs for his keys in his pocket, stopping for a second to wave at the lady at the corner before heading on his way. The keys click into the apartment as darkness settles like a cloak around him. Pom should be home, he thinks, as he makes his way up the stairs. Sometimes he takes a nap in the evenings after work while Chanon finishes up dinner, so Chanon is quiet as he shoulders his bag and clicks his key in the lock, pushing the door open slowly. His hand automatically brushes against the wall to flick on the light switch when he realises it’s turned on already, yellow light wavering from the bulb he has yet to fix. He puts his bag down by the door and peers into their open kitchen to see that the plants look lively, something on the stove. He suspects it’s either soup or red curry.
“Pom?” he says cautiously, out into the silence. When no response sounds back, he peers into the living room to see if there’s any sign of life there, trying to recall if he’d seen the car in the parking lot downstairs. He wanders out into the living room and squints at the lump he finds on the sofa, curled up under a blanket. Chanon kneels down to gently shake him awake. “Hey, Pom. I’m home.”
There’s a moment before Pom opens his eyes, blinking at him blearily. “What?” he says, voice cracking. Chanon looks around, spots a glass with some water in it, and passes it to him. Pom sips a little bit before putting it back on the table, sitting up on the sofa and pulling the blanket around him. “Why are you home?”
“I thought you’d be happy to see me,” says Chanon, pouting. Pom rolls his eyes and reaches out to tuck a stray strand of Chanon’s hair back into place. “Hey. Why aren’t you sleeping in the bedroom?”
Pom yawns, shaking his head. “I don’t like sleeping in the bed without you there,” he says, his voice tinged with sleep. It’s a heavy confession, something that strikes through to Chanon’s heart. Pom looks up then, and smiles at him. “You’re home.”
“Yeah,” he says, cracking on the word. “Yeah, I wanted to surprise you.”
“Well, you’ve done that,” says Pom, shifting. His eyebrows pull together into a small frown. “I haven’t made anything for dinner yet - there’s leftovers on the stove, I think.”
“That’s okay,” says Chanon, smile pulling up at the corner of his mouth. “As long as you’re happy to see me.”
Pom breathes out a laugh. “You’re ridiculous,” he says, patting his cheek. “Of course I’m happy to see you. Have you had dinner yet?”
Chanon shakes his head, his stomach grumbling. “No, I haven’t. Should I make something?”
“You’re not making anything, I can make red curry for us,” says Pom, getting up off the sofa with a yawn, stretching. Chanon’s eyes fall onto what he’s wearing - something familiar, something that’s been washed and drawn out many, many times. It’s his Saturn hoodie with the lines curled around the word, a bit too big on Pom as he pushes his sleeves up to stop them from falling over his hands.
Chanon’s throat goes dry. He swallows, saying, “Hey, that’s my hoodie, isn’t it?”
Pom looks down, running a hand through his hair, and looks back up. He seems sheepish - his cheeks reddening. “Yeah,” he admits. “I - don’t know. I guess I missed you. Is it okay if I borrow it?”
Chanon nods, maybe quicker than he needs to. “Of course!” he says, following him into the kitchen. “I mean - yeah, whenever you need.”
Pom grins at him, peering into the pot of leftovers. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s nice to have you home, Non.”
“Nice to be home,” says Chanon, gripping Pom’s shoulder - a tether, as always.
So Chanon’s content, for the first time in years.
The academy is going well. He doesn’t feel as behind in his lectures as he did in the beginning - he’s taking piloting classes, going to the gym every day and passing the tests becomes easier. As things start becoming more regular at the academy, a proper nine to five and dinner in the evenings in their communal kitchen, Chanon finds himself checking out of the building far more often, especially during the weekends, and taking the long bus ride back home. He keeps an eye out for the kid he met on the bus, but hasn’t seen her since. Maybe it was just a fleeting moment in time, a passing chance to do something good. Either way, it means that he gets home to Pom every weekend, dinner waiting on the table as they eat together in the low light, sleeping together in the same bed for two stolen nights. They’ve taken to going out on the weekends now that Pom’s workload has decreased, frequenting ice cream parlours and roaming around Bangkok to peek into little shops and for Chanon to show Pom all the haunts he’d found when they weren’t together. His mother had visited them, cooing over their small apartment, marvelling at the plants, talking with Pom in Chinese as if not a day had passed. Chanon had found that his heart could expand with more love than he even thought was possible. Although his mother could be overbearing, sometimes.
(“So, are you two together?” she asks while Pom’s out to grab some ice cream from the corner store, letting the two of them catch up. Chanon almost spits his water out.
“I’m sorry, what?” he says, fiddling with his mug.
His mother shrugs. “Well, I’ve noticed you only have one bed,” she says, gesturing at their room. “And it’s not like I haven’t known about you two since high school. I’ve just been waiting for you to tell me.”
Chanon splutters, shaking his head. “We’re not - what do you mean, high school?”
“Well,” says her mother, sipping her favourite tea that Pom had somehow managed to make for her. “You’ve liked him since then, haven’t you? I’m your mother. I know that.”
“Sure, Mae,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Yeah - I guess I’ve liked him since then. But I don’t really… know if we are together? I guess we live together, and we sleep in the same bed - don’t even look at me like that - but we haven’t talked about it.”
His mother hums. “You should,” she says, levelling him with a gaze. “Life is short, Chanon. You know that the best.”
Chanon hums, nodding. “I know,” he says, hearing Pom’s steps up the stairs outside. “I know.”)
Chanon has meant to speak with him about it - he has - but the words keep failing him every time Pom comes into view. It’s not that he’s afraid he’s going to be shot down. Sometimes he doesn’t know why the words choke in his chest, doesn’t know why he can’t say them, even though he knows that Pom would look at him with that same gentle gaze as he’s always done. Maybe it’s because Pom hasn’t said anything about it. Or maybe it’s because Chanon doesn’t know if he deserves it, two lifetimes later - maybe it’s just fine the way it is now. Maybe he just needs more time.
In the end, something forces his hand.
On Chanon’s day off from the academy, Pom has to go into work. He leaves with a smile, a wave, and a promise to be back home sooner than usual if Chanon will make pad thai. Chanon smiles back, agrees, and tells him to drive safe as he prepares to rest and lounge about the apartment all day. By all accounts, it’s normal. By all accounts, nothing should have happened. A little bit later, around the time Pom should have reached the school and classes should have started, Chanon is bustling about the kitchen, having decided to get up and try his hand at something sweet as he picks out pans from the cupboard under the stove, when his phone rings, vibrating on the counter. He frowns at it like it’s offended him - he doesn’t know who could be calling apart from his mother, maybe, or Krit. He wipes his hands down on his apron and crosses the kitchen to pick it up, eyebrows furrowing at the unknown number.
“Uh, hi,” he says, squinting at the counter. It’s got flecks of dirt all over it - he should be cleaning that up today.
“ Am I talking to Khun Taweepong?” asks a voice he doesn’t recognise. He balances the phone between his ear and the crook of his neck as he grabs a cloth to wipe down the counter.
“Yeah, that’s me,” he says, frowning. “Is something wrong?”
The person over the phone sounds either bored or like they’ve been doing this all day, because when they say, “ Sir, you’ve been listed as the emergency contact for Porama Wongrattana. He’s been in an accident,” they don’t sound emotional at all.
Chanon blinks. His cloth stops moving over the surface. “Sorry, what?” he says.
A short sigh. “ Khun Wongrattana has been in an accident. There was a collision on the highway and he was one of the people affected. You make his medical decisions. We need your consent for surgery. ”
“Surgery,” repeats Chanon, the word sounding hollow to his own ears. It’s like he’s stepped outside of his own body, watching himself from afar. His movements are slower, choppier as the cloth falls from his hand with a soft thunk onto the floor. It grips the counter instead. “Right. Surgery. Can I - does my consent over the phone suffice?”
“ That is why I’m calling you, sir, ” they say. There must be a thousand cases like this every day - Bangkok is a big city. But none of them are Pom, and none of them are Chanon, his heart racing a thousand miles per hour. “ We need your signature on a form, too, but if you give your verbal consent, we can start prepping .”
Chanon blinks, his breath coming in short little spurts. “Yeah,” he says, trying to catch up to himself. “Yeah - of course, please, do whatever needs to be done. I - is he okay? Can I know if he’s okay?”
“ It’s hard to tell right now, sir, ” they say, and they sound sympathetic, voice turning softer. “ We will do the best we can do. ”
“I - thanks,” says Chanon, searching for a pen. He grabs one off the counter - one of Pom’s, because he’d always deemed it important to have pens everywhere - and rips a piece of paper off of the notepad on the wall where they write down their groceries. They were going to go grocery shopping later. “Just let me know the address of the hospital, please - I’ll… I’ll be there right away.”
He doesn’t realise tears are streaming from his eyes until he hangs up, blessing his foresight to charge his phone in the morning, and he sees wet spots on the paper. He holds it tight in his fist, wipes his tears away with the back of his hand, and grips his keys. Chanon locks the apartment in a daze, every step he takes weighing on his legs, like he’s being dragged down into the middle of the Earth. He manages to flag a taxi down, stumbling into it and passing the address to the driver, who makes a sympathetic little noise and takes him there. Chanon doesn’t know if he has his wallet. He doesn’t know if he’d pocketed his phone before leaving the house. He doesn’t know if he’d turned the stove off. All he knows is that his second lifetime, too, is being ripped away from him.
Chanon’s always hated hospitals, but he’s never hated them as much as he does so in this moment, staggering into the emergency room and watching other people there, coughing and gagging and with the same worried looks on their faces. The reception seems overwhelmed with the amount of people queueing up, demanding to know where their loved ones are, demanding to be seen, demanding - he swallows, straightening. He doesn’t know what to think. He can barely recall his own name right now, suddenly remembering the way it fell from Pom’s mouth in honey-gold vibrance. He thinks tears are pricking at his eyes again as the queue moves on. All his thoughts, bouncing around his head like light leaves in a strong breeze, are about Pom. What does he looks like? Is he okay? Surgery - surgery, what does that mean? He needs to be able to walk. He’s a schoolteacher. He needs to be able to move around. He’s a schoolteacher. He needs to be able to use his voice. He’s a schoolteacher. He needs to wake up, he needs to be alive. How else will I tell him I love him, I keep him close, he is my heart - since we were seventeen?
He finds himself at the front of the queue. The man blinks up at him owlishly. Chanon clears his throat, his vocal cords suddenly grating against thin air. “I’m - Chanon. Taweepong? I’m here for, uh, Porama Wongrattana.”
The man’s face twists into something kinder. Pity, he thinks, and Chanon squashes it down. “Right,” he says, passing him a form. “He’s being prepped for surgery right now, sir, we just need you to sign this and then take it up with finance, okay?”
Chanon grips the pen in his hand, scrawling something into the form. “Hey - is it… can I see him?” he asks, his voice sounding much smaller than he intends it to. “It’s just that, well, I don’t really know what happened, and I just - I need to see him.”
The same pitiful expression spreads across the man’s face again. “I can get you the attending who stabilised him,” he says. “Although he may already be in surgery. If he isn’t, we can let you see him for a second.”
“Thanks,” says Chanon, his voice sounding very far away as he’s guided to the overflowing waiting room. He manages to find a spot against the wall that’s free for him to lean against as he fiddles with his phone, looking up every time someone comes into the room. His mind is racing with all the things he could’ve done - maybe if he’d asked Pom to get the groceries before work, he would have missed the collision, or maybe if he’d set off a little later, or maybe if - he swallows, the lump in his throat straining hard against his chest. But it’s work, and Pom had needed to get there on time - work.
He stares at his phone, mind going on autopilot as he punches the number he’s memorised onto the screen, exhaling quietly as the line rings. He’s pretty sure Pom wouldn’t appreciate him having a heart attack in the waiting room of a hospital he doesn’t know, people rushing by outside as more and more gurneys are rushed in, patients writhing on them, screaming in pain as blood trickles from their foreheads, hushed over by nurses. Every surface is wiped clean. Every surface holds the sickening antibiotic smell that permeates his nose. Every surface here is made to grip, to tether one back to reality.
The call goes through. “ Rithda Wittayakorn, how - “ starts the receptionist, the one that Chanon knows all too well.
He cuts her off. “Hey, it’s me, Chanon,” he says, exhaling. “Uh, Pom won’t be in today. He’s been in - he’s been in an accident.”
“ Shit ,” she curses, “ is he okay? ”
Chanon bites the inside of his mouth. “No - I don’t know,” he says. “They won’t let me see him yet, they say they have to perform surgery - I… just cancel his classes, okay? Tell the kids - I don’t know. Tell them something. That he’s sick, I don’t know. They’ll probably figure it out anyway.”
“ On it, Phi, ” she says. She sounds worried. “ Keep us updated, okay? Stay strong. He’ll be fine. ”
“He’ll be fine,” echoes Chanon, and she cuts the call. “He’ll be fine.”
He doesn’t know how long he stands there. It can’t have been more than ten minutes, because nobody has moved since, sticking to their seats and staring out of the room windows to wait for a doctor, a nurse, someone, anyone - to come in and deliver any kind of news. When a doctor pops her head around the door, the scrubs indicating who she is, Chanon’s head snaps up.
She squints at her paper. “Khun Taweepong?” she says, out into the room. Chanon stands to attention, his heart hammering in the echo of his chest.
“Yeah, that’s me,” he mumbles, following her out of the room. She seems kind, her eyes softening as he hunches over, hands in the pocket of his hoodie as she comes to a stop right outside the waiting room. The noises of the hospital overwhelm him, ringing through his ears as people are being called out, as ambulances scream on in the distance.
“You’re here for Khun Wongrattana, right?” she asks, and he nods. She snaps her gloves off. “Okay. He came in after a collision - a drunk driver on the highway - and we had to stabilise him. He’s just been prepped for surgery, we got a CT on him and we’re just waiting on the results, but he hasn’t shown any symptoms of internal damage or any brain bleeds. We just have to fix his leg and patch him up - it’s a bit touch and go at the moment.”
His leg? He swallows, fiddling with his hoodie. “Can I - see him?” he asks. “Just for a second, just before he goes to surgery.”
“He’s not conscious, sir,” she says, raising an eyebrow, but then seems to see something in Chanon’s face that makes her relent. “Alright, he’s in this room over here, but just for a second. Our surgeon’s already prepping.” She gestures into a room down at the end of the hallway, the door half-ajar. “In there. Like I said, just for a second.”
Chanon nods, swallowing as she pats his arm. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I’ll just go see him, then.”
“I’ll come get you after a moment,” she says, disappearing to go check on other patients, probably. It’s a busy city. It doesn’t wait for anyone, not even him.
He makes his way down to the room, toeing the door wider open than it already is, his breath choking in his chest as he spots the bed. The room is small - clearly just a holding room for patients to be prepped in before they’re taken up to the OR - and a sole window providing all the light fluttering in through the room. The only nurse in the room passes him by with a quiet smile, shutting the door with a small click behind her after saying that he’s got a moment to see him.
As he peeks at the bed, coming up to the head, he sees Pom’s face. There’s a gash right down the side of it, blood threatening to spill from the wounds. His head is swathed in a stark white cloth - the same kind of white his towel is, the one that Chanon uses to dry his hair. His normally earnest eyes are drawn shut, his lips pressed together, his eyebrows shaped into a frown as if he knows something is troubling him. Chanon doesn’t trust himself to look at his leg, the heart machine beeping, beeping, beeping. He doesn’t trust himself to put a hand to his face, the heart machine beeping, beeping, beeping. He doesn’t trust himself to say anything, the silence of the room only cut through by the heart machine beeping, beeping, beeping.
In the end, he does all three, anyway.
Pom’s leg looks disastrous. Chanon’s never been one to be scared of blood or anything of the sort, but just the sight of it makes something deep within him hurl. Maybe it’s less the leg, and more because it’s Pom - but the way the skin is twisted into an angry red, a metal looking contraption holding it in place raises chilling worry inside Chanon. He snaps his eyes away, back to Pom’s face. There’s something very vulnerable about him in this moment, thinks Chanon. About both of them, in the end, as the IV line drips into Pom’s veins. If he focuses, he can hear it. If he focuses, he can hear Pom’s steady heart over the beeping of the machine, a strong reminder that he’s still alive, he’s still here. A third chance, maybe, ponders Chanon as he puts a hand to his face, brushing away the blood matted hair from his forehead, hands irrevocably gentle.
“It’s going to take a couple of washes to get this out of your hair,” he murmurs, still brushing the strands away when there’s nothing else to be done. He traces the edge of his jaw, wincing at the gash on the side of his face. “Let’s hope that doesn’t leave too big of a scar.” He swallows, like he doesn’t know Pom. His voice is rough when he says, “Be safe, okay?”
Someone clears their throat behind him, and Chanon steps away in a flash, slightly embarrassed as he draws his hands back to his sides. It’s the same doctor from before, smiling kindly at him as a couple of nurses unhook him from the heart machine and wheel his bed out. “We’ll do our best, sir,” she says. She looks tired, run off her feet. “It’s best we operate as quickly as possible to save his leg.”
“Yeah, okay,” says Chanon, watching as they wheel him up the hallway. Something inside of him chokes up. “I’ll, uh, I’ll go to financial.”
The doctor nods. “You take your time,” she says, going after the nurses. Chanon is left, then, standing in the hallway.
He’s not solitary by any means, people rushing past him to duck into other rooms, people coming by with gurneys, making him realise that he should probably leave the corridor and make some space for the people working there. Chanon makes his way back to the waiting room, which seems emptier than before, collapsing into a chair this time around. He wonders how people make it through any of this alone - he grips his phone and finds he has nobody to call apart from his mother. Pom’s mother has long since passed, and he’d never had the best relationship with his father, anyway. Chanon ends up going to the financial department just to pass the time, forking out the deposit needed for now, cursing the health system, and then comes back to sit in the same seat as he had done before. He watches the seconds tick by on the clock, the minutes pass like hours as he watches his phone battery drain. He finds the words to ask every nurse or doctor who comes into the room how Pom is - none of them can give him an answer. He can’t go home. He can’t stay here. Chanon grips the edges of his seat and watches the time tick by.
The next time the door clicks open to an almost-empty waiting room, the only other people being an elderly lady coughing in the corner and a child waiting for his father, Chanon looks up to muster up the courage to ask about Pom again. Who he finds however, is someone else.
“P’Chanon!” comes the voice from a door. Chanon blinks to see Pang marching into the room. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah - I’m fine, what are you - “ he starts, and then notices that it’s not only him, but the rest of the kids have followed him as well. “What are you all doing here? You should be at school.”
“Classes are cancelled anyway,” says Claire as she takes a seat next to him. She stares at him for a second, before saying, “And you’re not fine, Phi. Ohm, do you have the…”
“Yep,” says Ohm, pressing a box into his hands. When Chanon looks at him questioningly, he says, “Please don’t blame the receptionist or anything, she just likes us a lot and we were worried about Khu Pom and where he was, so… well. Wave may have done some hacking. But Khu Pom wants us to practice our potentials, anyway. Either way, we’d bet you haven’t eaten anything all day, so we decided to sneak out, bring you some food, and keep you company.”
“Don’t be mad, Phi,” says Namtaan as they all manage to sit down around him. Jack and Jo are perched on the metal between the seats, Mon and Namtaan are sharing a seat as are Pang and Wave. The others drag in plastic chairs, crowding around him, blocking off his sight of the door - as if they’re trying to protect him. “We were worried about you.”
Chanon finds himself sniffling, tears pricking at the corner of his eyes. He opens the box to pad thai, forcing a laugh out of his tired body. “Thanks, kids,” he manages. “You didn’t need to come, though.”
Wave huffs, crossing his arms. “Yeah, we did,” he says. “Come on, Phi. We’re not going to let you wait here alone.”
Punn nods, settling in his chair. “Exactly,” he agrees. “Do you know anything? The guy at the reception wouldn’t tell us - something about us being kids. Even though Wave and I are eighteen.”
Chanon snorts through his mouthful of pad thai. The kids were right - he is hungry. “You’ll always be children to me,” he says, and then shakes his head. “No - they… it’s all been so all of a sudden. The doctor at the beginning - she said she stabilised him, whatever that means, and they need to do surgery to save his leg.”
Silence settles over them like a long cloak, tension filling the cracks of it like lightning, before Jack breaks it by whistling lowly and saying, “ Fuck, that’s heavy.” He looks pained, and the expression of pain only twists further when Mon reaches out to smack him.
“Don’t swear in front of P’Chanon!” she hisses, which is enough to make Chanon smile a little bit.
Jack rubs his shoulder. “Sorry, Phi,” he says, frowning. “It’s just - he’ll make it, right?”
Chanon sighs, his hands stiffening as he looks at the floor. “I don’t know,” he says quietly. “He has to.”
A hand grips his shoulder from the side. It’s Korn, holding out his headphones with a set expression on his face. “He’ll be okay,” he says, sounding so sure that Chanon is inclined to ask him how he knows. “Here, P’Chanon. You can listen to my music till then. Sleep if you need to. We’ll keep an eye out.”
Chanon laughs a little, patting his arm. “Thanks, Nong,” he says, sliding the headphones on. “I won’t be able to sleep, but I don’t think the surgery should take that long anyway.” He looks around the circle, how they’re all children, in the end, how they all look to him for some kind of support but have snuck out of Rithda to come here and support him , to make sure he doesn’t feel alone, even though they’re only children. In the end, they’re only children, traversing half of Bangkok to bring him food. “You lot… thanks for coming. Really. I appreciate it.”
“No problem, Phi,” says Pang, earnest. When Chanon looks at him in this light - Pang reminds him a lot of himself, how full of life he used to be. How full of life he’s starting to become, again. “Let’s just hope they don’t throw out all eleven of us.”
“Be quiet and blend into the walls, and they won’t,” says Chanon, passing the pad thai around. “Anyway, have you all had lunch?”
They spend the next hour or two finishing the pad thai and raiding the vending machine a respectful amount as the kids try and distract Chanon from his impending thoughts of doom. Every moment, all he can think about, is Pom in surgery. Is he okay? Why is it taking so long? Is he in pain? Why didn’t I tell him? But the kids manage to pull him out of that echo chamber and stop him from nervously pacing around the room, Ohm regaling him with tales of their first year in the program, admittedly more relaxing than the last year, while still being somewhat frustrating, what with overthrowing the Director and all. Still, his hands are clammy as he links them together, silently praying that everything will be okay as he sips his fifty baht soda from the vending machine that Namtaan had pressed into his hot hands just fifteen minutes earlier. Korn’s drifted off - Mon had told him in a whisper that he’s been sleeping a whole lot more lately since he’d gotten rid of his potential - and Jack and Jo are playing some game on their phones, cursing at each other every two seconds. Chanon’s just listening to Pang tell him about the debating club while Claire interjects with stories from the drama club every now and again, when the door clicks open.
“Khun Taweepong?” says the same doctor from before, blinking as she sees the kids around him. “And, uh, everyone else. Khun Wongrattana just got out from surgery. He’s in recovery now.”
The kids whisper around him as Korn is jolted awake by Ohm and Chanon stands up, wiping his palms down on his trousers. “He’s okay?” he asks, and she nods. Even though she’s wearing a mask, Chanon can see her smile, her eyes brightening.
“We expect him to make a full recovery - with a little physical therapy for his leg, he should be fine in no time. No major nerves were damaged,” she says, ushering him out of the room. “I think he’d appreciate it if you went in first.”
Relief floods Chanon’s heart as he looks back to the kids, all of them beaming. He clears his throat, trying to find his voice. “Okay, sit tight, yeah?” he says, that same instinct kicking back in. “Stay in the building. I’ll be right back.”
They all make shooing motions at him, so Chanon takes that as a sign to follow the doctor out of the room, the tension from his shoulders melting away easily. Alleviation from his racing thoughts is finally given as he opens his fists into gentle palms. The doctor looks at him as they head up the stairs, like she’s pondering something. “Are they your children?” she asks, gesturing back at the way they came.
Chanon swallows, another lump building in his throat. He doesn’t know how to answer. “Uh, not really, no,” he says. “They’re my - well, Pom’s students. His class.”
She hums, smiling at him. “They seem like good kids,” she says, as they come up to the recovery floor. “Your… the patient. Porama Wongrattana. He’s the Director over at Rithda Wittayakorn, isn’t he?”
Chanon blinks in surprise. “Yeah, he is.”
She nods. “I thought I’d recognised him,” she says. They walk up the hallway, silent steps echoing through it. “I have a daughter - she heard the tape, she’s Gifted. I really appreciate everything he’s done to make sure every school in Thailand has some sort of support for kids like her.”
“I’ll make sure to tell him that,” says Chanon, swallowing. Something inside of him beams with pride as she ushers him inside a room. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” she says, smiling at him from the doorway. “He should be awake.”
Chanon nods at her as she disappears down the hallway, turning to the bed to see Pom’s leg all bandaged up, resting on the bed as his gaze travels up further along his body to see him propped up against his pillow, blinking back into consciousness. Chanon falls into the chair by his side, pulling it closer to his bed to be at his eye level. Pom’s mouth opens into a yawn, and then stretches into a smile when he sees him, his hand reaching out for his. Chanon takes his hand in his own gently, brushing a thumb over the back of it, making sure not to touch the IV line.
“Hey,” he says, smiling. Like nothing’s happened. “Oh, you look like shit.”
Chanon laughs, brushing the wetness in his eyes away. “Says you, you’ve got a fucked up leg.”
Pom tries to shrug, but winces, groaning as he lays back. “Doctors said it isn’t as fucked up as it looks,” he says, exhaling and tightening his grip on Chanon’s hand. “Sorry for ruining your car.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” says Chanon immediately. He runs a hand down the side of Pom’s face, making sure to steer clear of the stitches. “I’m… God, I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not gonna get rid of me that easily,” he says, interlinking their fingers. “Have you been crying?”
Chanon shakes his head, laughing. He thinks he might still be crying. “That’s all you can think about? You’ve been in an accident .”
Pom sighs, brushing away the tears pricking at the corner of Chanon’s eyes. “I think about you a lot,” he says quietly, and it seems like an admission too heavy for the room to bear. Chanon’s chair scratches against the floor as he shifts closer. “When the other car collided with me - all I could think about is if you were okay at home.”
“Selfless bastard,” says Chanon, pressing his dry lips to his knuckles. He thinks it’s the most tender thing he’s done, and judging by Pom’s sharp inhale, he seems to think so, too. “Of course I’m fine. I had a near heart attack when they phoned me to say that you were in the hospital and of course, seeing you all - all bloody and unconscious… that wasn’t exactly a walk in the park - but I’m fine .”
Pom hums. After a moment, he says, “I’m glad it was me and not you, in the car. I don’t think - well, I don’t want you to have to go through any pain. I’ve put you through enough.”
“You haven’t put me through anything,” says Chanon, looking up at him. Pom doesn’t seem able to meet his gaze. “You know I wished it were me in the car, instead.”
Pom laughs at him, eyes curling into half-moons, more stunning than all the stars in the wide universe. “Non,” he says, and somehow hearing his name in Pom’s mouth makes it all the more sweeter. Chanon has always loved the way Pom holds his name in his mouth - like it’s a gift, touched with honey-gold. The universe is no match for the tender galaxies Pom sweeps into his name. “That moment felt like forever. I mean, it really did. I felt like I had all the time in the world in those two seconds - to think about everything. And - and… one of the things I thought about was how I would forever regret not telling you what I needed to tell you. How I came up with so many things to tell you - so many stories and so many feelings and so many moments I made for two because you weren’t there and that was my fault - but in the end, I told you none of them. I never really understood why I didn’t just… tell you about any of them. But in those two seconds, right before the car went flying, it kind of made me realise why I didn’t tell you. I think - I think... in the end, it’s not about me. I mean, it is about me, too, but I think I know. It’s about you. I think - I think you need to tell me what you need to tell me, first. Just so you can move past it. Past everything. I don’t mind when you do it.”
Pom swallows, trying to catch his breath. “I’d wait for you forever, Non,” he says finally, and his eyes slip back down to their joined hands.
Chanon’s grip tightens, maybe subconsciously. His eyes flicker up to Pom’s face - the set jaw, the quiet defiance in his expression, his eyes almost pleading. I’ve laid it out there. It’s time for you to take it - or leave it. The heart machine beeps steadily in the background. When he listens to his brain, it remains stubborn, refusing to give an answer. His heart thrums wildly in his chest as he looks at Pom.
Two lifetimes. Two chances - now a third.
(“I’m scared, Non,” says Pom, the day before they decide to send out the folders of files they’ve collected to expose the Director. Chanon looks at him, where he’s sat on the ground, his studying abandoned. “I’m really scared.”
“Why are you scared?” he replies, looking up at the sky. “It’s going to be okay.”
“There are so many things that could go wrong,” says Pom, the words coming out in a rush as he looks up at where Chanon is looking. Chanon is strangely calm as he watches the stars in the sky, burning steadily. Even though he’s harbouring a secret from his best friend, the last step in his perfect plan - his foolproof plan. For Pom, at least. Less so for Chanon. “How are you so calm?”
“Because I know nothing will go wrong,” says Chanon. He sits down on the ground next to Pom, slinging an arm around his shoulder and drawing him closer. If anything happens, if the media decides to twist the story, if the blame is thrown… it’ll all be on him. Today is his last night. Pom doesn’t know. “See that star?”
Pom’s mouth pulls into a small smile as he huddles closer to Chanon. “Yeah, I see it. The north star, right?”
“Yeah,” says Chanon, looking at him instead. The set of his jaw, the quiet beauty of his best friend. “Yeah, that’s the north star. Whenever you’re feeling lost, just look up at that, okay? Always follow the north star. Polaris will bring you home.”
Pom nudges him. “I’m already home,” he says quietly. He puts out a hand, extending his pinky finger. “Can you promise me something?”
Chanon holds his breath. “Yeah, of course. Anything.”
“Promise me we’ll never be apart.”
Chanon thinks he hears his heart shattering over the quiet hum of the school. “I promise,” he says, hooking his pinky around his. “But in case we’re ever apart… just wait for me, okay?”
Pom grins. “Of course I will! You just have to follow the north star, right?” he says, elbowing him. “Come on. I’d wait for you forever, Non.”)
Chanon levels Pom with a gaze, his heart finally finding its home in his chest. “You don’t have to wait for me anymore,” he says, voice steady.
Pom looks at him for a second, a small smile blooming over his face when he finds whatever he’s looking for. Before he can answer however, the door to the room is being flung open and Chanon tightens his grip on Pom’s hands instead, as the kids crowd around his bed, pushing over each other to look at their teacher.
Pom glances at Chanon. “The kids are here?” he asks, before turning his gaze to all of them instead. “What are the lot of you doing here? You should be in school.”
Pang rolls his eyes. “As if we can concentrate on classes when you’re in the hospital, Khu,” he says, squinting at his levels on the monitor next to him.
“You’re in your senior year,” says Pom, but he says it like he knows he’s losing the battle.
“A senior year we’ve already gone through once,” says Punn, and then winces. “Well, kind of. Are you feeling any better, Khu?”
Namtaan peeks at his leg. “Your leg looks… messed up,” she says, and Chanon uses his free hand to high-five her.
“That’s what I said,” he says, curling his fingers around Pom’s hand. He hopes none of the kids say anything - they all seem to be pretty focused on Pom, so maybe they’ll get away with it.
“I’m doing okay,” says Pom, a small smile appearing at his mouth. “Thank you all for being so concerned - and my leg is fine . It just needs a bit of physical therapy. It’s better than it looks - or so say the doctors.”
Claire clears her throat. “P’Chanon was very worried about you,” she says pointedly, looking at him. Chanon shivers - sometimes he thinks that Claire can see right through him. In hindsight, he supposes she can. “He paced around the waiting room a bit.”
“Yeah, he’s a bit of a pacer,” says Pom, looking up at him with a smile and then back at the kids. “But I live to fight another day, I guess.”
“Hate to break this up here,” says a voice from the doorway, and Chanon peers back to see the doctor back with a small smile on her face. “But Khun Wongrattana needs his rest so that he can go back to teaching soon. We’ve got you in for physical therapy - and after all of that, you should be okay. It would be good if you’d step out just for a moment, kids, I need to speak with Khun Wongrattana and Taweepong alone.”
The kids file out, murmuring their goodbyes to Chanon and Pom as they do so. Chanon keeps a finger curled around Pom’s, refusing to let go when he’s come this far. The doctor turns her smile on them and says, “Okay, we have to keep you in for a bit to monitor your levels and make sure your leg heals well and doesn’t become septic, and that your CT scans still come out clear. You can start physical training soon, but since the injury isn’t too major, you can go to the centre every day from home.”
Pom frowns. “When can I go to work again?” he asks. Chanon tampers down a smile.
“It’ll take some time,” she says patiently. “It all depends on how physical therapy goes.”
Pom hums. “You’ll have to help me with it, Non,” he says, nudging him.
Chanon smiles. “Of course I will,” he says - and he means it.
“I don’t think I’ve been this hungry in my life,” complains Pom as Chanon helps him with this crutches, letting Pom sink down into the softness of their couch. He leans back heavily with a dramatic sigh, finally having been discharged from the hospital after annoying all the nurses about when he’d be let out. Chanon has hoped and prayed that neither of them get into an accident again, because he thinks they’ve been put on the hospital’s blacklist. Pom thinks this notion is ridiculous and that one of the doctors has a crush on Chanon, so they could perhaps get free treatment if there were to be a next time, God forbid. “The cafeteria food was the worst.”
Chanon’s nose wrinkles up at the memory of it. “It really sucked,” he agrees, making sure Pom is settled. He crosses the room, gently tilting up the leaves of the plants to make sure they’re still alive. “The tomatoes are doing well. Look, we have a couple ripening.”
Pom peers over the counter and grins. “Does that mean we can finally get bigger scale plants?” he asks. “Look, we’ve proven we can take good care of them.”
“We don’t have the space for them,” says Chanon, squinting in the fridge for anything he can make a curry with. “Shit, Pom? I forgot to go on a grocery run yesterday. We don’t have much in the fridge.”
“I’m telling you,” he says from the couch, leafing through one of Chanon’s textbooks from the academy, which he’s somehow been managing between taking care of Pom and a lot of grovelling for extra days at home, “I’ll eat anything.”
Chanon rummages around in the cupboard, his hands catching on a mysteriously familiar soup packet. Paired with the leeks in the fridge and a couple of other vegetables they have lying around, it should do. “I can make soup,” he calls back, and Pom nods at him.
He sets about it, cutting up the leeks as the water boils on the stove. Before long, the soup is bubbling and just about ready, so Chanon grabs a cloth and hefts the pot up to place it on the coffee table in front of the sofa, grabbing two bowls and spoons. When he sits down, he sees that Pom is reading his textbook with a frightening amount of intensity. He looks up when Chanon settles in next to him with a small smile on his face, his hair falling flat against his forehead. In this light, he looks soft - inviting. Chanon swallows, leaning away, pointing at his books. “So, uh,” he says. “What’s got you so interested in them?”
Pom shrugs. “Just thought I’d look at what you’re learning,” he says, running a hand through his hair. Chanon looks away, keeps his eyes on the soup he’s pouring into the bowls. “I don’t get the half of it, honestly.”
Chanon passes him the bowl. “That’s why you’re not an astronaut-in-training,” he says, helping Pom lift his leg onto the table. His hands are warm around Pom’s leg, careful and gentle in their touch. “Have some soup for now.”
Pom dunks his spoon in the bowl and smiles once he’s had a taste. “Hey,” he says, nudging him. “Did you do this on purpose? This is that same bowl of soup I made for you the night we had that - well, you know.”
“Shit, yeah,” says Chanon, laughing as he leans back. He holds his little spoon up to Pom’s clinking them together before he dunks it back in the bowl for another spoonful of warm soup. “To new beginnings, then.”
Pom grins at him. “To new beginnings,” he says. “And you becoming an astronaut, and physical therapy going smoothly.”
“Let’s be glad it’s just physical therapy and nothing more,” says Chanon, watching Pom leaf through his book and hum as he drinks his soup, spoon clinking against the bowl every time he does.
He’s in one of Chanon’s hoodies again, citing that they’re the most comfortable considering how worn out they are from the amount of times Chanon has worn them. At this point, after everything they said and left unsaid but clear in the hospital, he thinks Pom just wants to wear his hoodies because they’re his. The low light, from the bulb that Chanon has now fixed, does a service to his features, making him look softer, gentler. He’s just like the person Chanon had known many years ago, swapping his contacts out for glasses as he grows older, sitting precariously on his nose. In the same breath, however, he’s not the same person. As much as Chanon hasn’t wanted to admit it - they have both changed. Perhaps due to their environments, perhaps due to the bleakness of life that had set upon them in their twenties, perhaps due to the fact that they both battled with blurs in their memories and shadows that were missing - but they have changed.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the easiness of their relationship with each other. Even before, when Chanon had just first moved in and tensions were high in the air - they had settled back into the easy back-and-forth, the comfort of sharing the same space again, the simple way Pom had called him Non and Chanon had known that the north star had led him right back home again. After all of these years - he’s in love. The idealised version of the boy he once knew slowly fading away in front of his eyes, the regained memories and the second chance burning firmly in his mind. Now, in front of him - the real man. The one who’s a little broken, a little bruised, a little prone to anger and hurt. Fear chokes up in him beyond belief as he looks at Pom - so fragile, just like him. The cars honk outside, the soup is warm under his hands when he puts it back onto the table, his mouth dry.
He had made a promise, once. Long ago. That Pom would become a teacher - a good one. Chanon isn’t in the business of breaking promises, though, and so he had fulfilled it, throwing himself under the bus and letting him wipe his memories, dealing with the pain of a lifetime when he’d woken up. He fulfilled one once.
He can fulfill the other one, too.
Chanon watches as Pom drains the last of his soup, putting it back on the table. Pom turns to him - to ask something, maybe, or to say something, but Chanon cups a hand to his face before he can say anything, his thumb brushing against his cheek. He’s even more stunning up close, his eyes twinkling in the light, reflecting stars across his irises. Chanon can’t breathe, for a second.
“You don’t have to wait for me anymore,” he says, breathing in, and then kisses him.
It’s not often that things pan out just like Chanon had imagined, but these last few months have been proving him wrong in that aspect. This kiss proves him wrong, too. As his hand cups Pom’s cheek, eternally gentle, and his other hand fists in his hoodie, it feels a lot like coming home. Pom’s mouth is hot underneath his - maybe from the soup, their new beginning - and parts easily when Chanon presses further, gently nipping at his lower lip. His hand is still fisted in the hoodie, sliding underneath to flatten his hand on warm skin. Chanon pulls away, laughing a little as Pom instantly leans forward, a hand pressing over his.
“Hey,” says Pom, looking up at him. He’s flushed, his cheeks red, barely able to meet his eyes. Chanon feels much the same, his heart pounding in his chest. “That’s new.”
“I liked it,” says Chanon in a rush, meeting Pom’s gaze for just a second before snapping it away again.
Pom flops over, settling against Chanon on their couch. He tucks his head into the crook of his shoulder, and Chanon slings a careful arm around his waist, tugging him closer and making sure his leg is okay on the table. “I liked it too,” says Pom, pressing a cautious kiss to the underside of Chanon’s jawline - soft, like he’s scared he’s going to fade away.
“Well, good,” says Chanon, unable to keep the smile off his face. “It’s not like it’s been decades in the making or anything.”
Pom laughs, something Chanon has always carried with him. Even when he was navigating that blur in his memory, even when it hurt to remember, every time he’d somehow drifted off to sleep - the same distant inkling of a laugh had accompanied him. A soothing lullaby to a raging heart. “We got there in the end,” says Pom, nestling into Chanon. “Hey, aren’t you going to finish your soup?”
Chanon rolls his eyes, leaning forward just enough to swipe it off the table and pass it to Pom. “You can have it, you’re the sickly patient here,” he says, and Pom sticks his tongue out at him.
As they settle into the couch for the night and watch reruns of Pom’s trashy reality show, Chanon ponders the apartment, looking around. Everywhere he glances, there are signs of him on the walls. In the plants flourishing by the kitchen sink and hanging from the ceiling, to the photo his mother had taken of them at the dining table stuck up on the fridge. He realises that he’s made a little home here, from the academy patches that Pom hoards and his ID card hanging proudly from their bedroom door knob. As Pom falls asleep on his shoulder, mouth slightly open and the TV humming quietly in the background - Chanon realises, two lifetimes due, that no matter how far he goes, no matter how long it takes for him to find his own path again, there will be a warm place with food cooked with love, even if it took hours, on the table - and someone to welcome him back with open arms and a starlike grin.
Chanon smiles at Pom. After all this time - he’s finally come back home.
[A COUPLE OF MONTHS LATER, GRADUATION DAY EVENING]
“Pass the pork, P’Chanon!” yells Pang over the noise of their table.
Chanon does so just as something else is asked of him from another one of the kids. Pom had decided that it would be a fantastic tradition to go out for dinner with the graduating class of the year - meaning that Pom’s going to be at dinner with the different classes every night this week, and Chanon does not envy him. The kids had begged their parents to let them go, Pom had begged Chanon to come with him because the kids had apparently missed him, and Chanon had, in turn, begged Krit to take care of the dorm while he was whisked away to dinner on a weekday night. In hindsight, he thinks he wouldn’t have missed this for the world. He puts more meat on the grill, passing some to Pom - whose leg is in better shape, enough for him to walk on it for a certain amount of time. He seems happier, grins brighter and worry lines fading away from his forehead. Chanon suspects it has a bit to do with the fact that break is coming up - but a guilty part of him hopes it’s because of him, too.
“Hey,” he says, nudging Pom. “How’s your wallet doing?”
Pom winces, shaking his head with a laugh. “Don’t mention it,” he whispers. “It’s for the kids! It’s for the kids. I would go bankrupt for my students, you know that.”
“I don’t think anybody would appreciate that,” says Chanon, unable to stop himself from smiling at him. “But you’re a great teacher, as always.”
Pom’s just about to say something when Ohm pulls a face. “Can we put a break on the romance, please?” he says, sticking his tongue out in what seems to be fake disgust, but Chanon is never really sure with Ohm. “While we all wanted you to get together - Khu, I’m sorry, but since you’re not my teacher anymore, I can say this - you have been insufferable .”
A chorus of loud agreement sounds around the room as Chanon puts his hands up in defense, laughing. “Hey, hey, I barely show up at the school. What have I been doing?”
“Sending flowers! That was over the top , Phi.”
“What about that time you baked cupcakes for Khu Pom’s birthday?”
“Whenever Khu Pom goes on his phone to check something for us, he always smiles at your texts, and it’s exhausting .”
Pom flushes, rolling his eyes. “Okay - alright, we get it,” he says. “We should be talking about you all, instead. What are your plans for after school, then? Get your P’Chanon up to speed.”
Ohm puts a hand up. “Let me go first!” he says, nudging Korn to his side. “So Korn and I have decided to take a gap year and see a bit more of the world. He’s got a gig with this photography company and he’s going to be doing some travel photography and I’ll be tagging along. I just need… a break from everything.”
Korn nods, letting his mouth lift up in a small smile. “I think I might go to uni for photography after that one year break, but right now… I just need to get away for a while.”
Chanon nods, taking a sip of water. “That sounds fun, you guys,” he says, smiling. “If you don’t send me pictures, I’m going to be seriously offended.”
“You got it, Phi,” says Korn, eyes curving into crescent moons by the force of his smile. He seems - happier, thinks Chanon, ever since he gave up his potential and has been spending more time around Ohm. Those two… he’s not sure, but then again, he supposes it’s none of his business.
“What about you two, Jack and Jo?” says Pom, pointing his chopsticks at the two of them.
“I’m going to go to uni to study comms,” says Jo, twirling a piece of pork around his own chopsticks.
Jack shrugs. “I think I’m going to take a break for a bit, first. Maybe I’ll join Korn and Ohm on their little trip when they’re back in Thailand.”
“I think I’m still a bit undecided, really,” pipes up Mon from next to Korn, fiddling with her plate. “I kind of want to study some kind of martial arts and join a training academy to compete professionally, but my family wants me to go to university. Maybe I’ll figure out some kind of compromise.”
Chanon nods, taking the next round of meat off the grill and dispersing it evenly amongst everyone. “Coming from my personal experience - it’s not going to do you any good to do something you don’t like,” he says. “Give your family some time to cool down, then approach them with it again. If it still doesn’t work - give me a ring, we’ll figure it out, okay?”
Mon’s eyes shine. “Thanks, Phi,” she replies.
“No problem,” he says, smiling, passing some meat to Punn. “Hey, what about you? Any big plans?”
Punn’s mouth lifts up in a hint of a smile. “None at all, Phi,” he says, and he sounds thrilled about it. “I’m going to spend the summer improving my music, and then we’ll see where autumn takes me. I think - I need some more time to figure out what I want to do. It’s not going to do me any good to settle on something when I’m eighteen, personally.”
“You’re going to do just fine,” says Claire cheerily. There’s some history there that Chanon seems to have missed, he thinks. “I, on the other hand, am going to be training with a drama academy. The world has to know my brilliance, and all that.”
Chanon hides a snicker with a cough. “Free tickets to your first play, I hope,” he says, and she grins at him.
“Of course, Phi!” she replies, twirling the straw in her green tea.
Pom peers down at the end of the table. “Well, you three have been surprisingly quiet,” he says, as Chanon’s gaze follows his. Wave is staring into his plate like it’ll give him the answers to the universe, not meeting Chanon’s eyes.
Namtaan fiddles with her napkin and then smiles at Chanon. “I’m going to be following in your footsteps, P’Chanon,” she says, her jaw set. “But… not really, I guess. I don’t want to become an astronaut - and I can’t, either - but I’m going to study astrophysics at university.”
Chanon blinks at her, surprise flooding his body. “Really?” he says. “That’s wonderful - I know you’re going to outshine everyone, N’Namtaan. Call me if you ever need any help with your coursework.”
She nods as Pang clears his throat beside her. “Well - honestly, I haven’t had the time to think about it,” he says, fiddling with his chopsticks. “I studied my ass off for the finals, really, so I could keep up with Wave. We’re going to apply to universities together next year - but for now… this next year - I think we’re just going to chill.”
“Yeah,” says Wave firmly. “I don’t know. We’ll go to the beach. Watch some movies. Be normal kids for a year, and then it’s off to university.”
Chanon watches as Pang’s soft gaze lands upon Wave when he’s talking, a small smile tilting up at the corner of his mouth. He is reminded, vividly, of the way he looked at Pom when they sat on the rooftop at Rithda together. Chanon hides a small smile in his swig of water as the others murmur in agreement. Whatever Pang and Wave have is their business, and none of Chanon’s - unless they come to him for some sort of advice.
Namtaan sighs. “God, yeah, we need to go to the beach together some time - before we all go our own paths,” she says, and Ohm shakes his head fervently.
“We’ll all go our own paths,” he says, “but we won’t be alone. Come on, we have a tech wizard. It’s not like we’ll ever be alone. I need us to still be friends when we’re eighty and in rocking chairs. We’ve been through too much together to not have each other anymore.”
Mon nods eagerly. “You should chaperone us, Phi!” she says, and the table once again collapses into noise and loud planning of their beach trip, a couple of them pulling out their phones to see if a certain weekend works for them. Chanon thinks he spots Namtaan pull out a planner from her bag - but is quickly distracted by Pom patting his hand under the table.
“We’ve heard what their plans are,” he says quietly, looking up at him. It amazes Chanon, still, how beautiful he is. “So… what are yours?”
Chanon looks at him. Thinks about the academy, thinks about how he’s on track to becoming an astronaut. How one day, he’ll see the world from an angle only few have had the privilege to, how his dream is becoming real in front of his very hands. He sees Pom - and realises how his dream is already real, in many ways. His hand moves to his pocket and the box that weighs heavy not only there, but on his mind - every moment he spends with Pom, every moment he sees him smile, or laugh, or tilt his face up to the sunshine. He’s lost him in one lifetime, almost lost him in another, left too many things unsaid. He pats his pocket, his hands sweaty, and looks around this little restaurant and at the kids sitting with them, laughs peppering the warm air.
Pom looks back at him. Chanon thinks he understands, because his smile eases out into something even more tender. It can wait, for now. It can wait, for when they’re back in the home they’ve made for themselves, tried a thousand times to get right, and now sits in its beautiful imperfections. It can wait for a moment so mundane, when Pom is wearing his glasses and sitting on the couch and Chanon is filled with so much love that he feels like he will explode.
"Live with me," says Chanon finally, and Pom nods with a beam, all the galaxies of the universe glittering in his eyes.