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Mission: Love Lock

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Team only dated Banyat the Backstabber for a year and a half, but it was his first relationship, and it took up the last thirty-seven percent of his time in university, so when Banyat ended things on a bad note by breaking up with Team to pursue one of the first years in the swim club instead, Team felt justified in wallowing bitterly for a good long while.

A true friend, Intouch merrily fueled the fire with a night out involving many shots. He encouraged Team to block Banyat on every social media platform they shared and shed the two friends who thought Team’s hurt was irrational and Banyat’s new boyfriend was cute, actually. Intouch offered to find a spot for the body, but Team just said, “He’s not good enough for the ground,” and knocked back another shot.

He graduated a few weeks after that, began his swimming career in earnest, then lost to Win at his first major competition. He lost to Win at the next one, too, and the next one, and when Team encountered Win in the parking lot the third time, both of them fully dressed and carrying their gear, Win gave him a playful smile and said, “The medals are nice, but it’s always a shame to lose the view,” with a wink.

Team will never tell anyone—living or dead—how much that did for him, because even the most minuscule chance of Win finding out that his objectively terrible line was the impetus of their relationship is too big a risk.

Over the next three months, Team magnanimously allowed himself to be romanced by Win and eventually persuaded into accepting a date—on the day he beat Win by a margin wide enough to satisfy his pride.

He almost called things off the night before when Intouch took one look at Win’s photo on Team’s phone and said, “You really have a thing for blonds, huh?”

“Banyat wasn’t blond when we started dating,” Team said quickly.

Intouch smirked. “Yeah, but he stayed blond because you were into it.”

“Go away,” Team told him without hope, pointing to his front door.

Intouch responded to that by taking the last spring roll and eating it whole with a cheerful wink. He’d started dating a broodingly handsome guy he met at the library where he works on weekends and it’d given him a boost in confidence—enough to brazenly steal Team’s food in front of him.

(A week after that, Team caught Win browsing various hair colors on an Instagram filter and blurted, “You’re gonna dye it?” with audible disappointment, and Win turned a delighted smile on him that had Team’s chest filled with sunlight for the entire rest of the day.

Fine, he likes blonds. Everyone has preferences, it’s not news.)

Now, nearly six months into his second-ever relationship, Team has mostly stopped comparing Win to Banyat. Yes, they have the blond dye job in common, and the height, and maybe Team first noticed Win for his tattoos the same way Banyat caught his attention with his, but the similarities stop there. Win is a thousand times the man Banyat will ever be.

“And you don’t have to worry about history repeating itself, because P’Win already went younger,” Intouch commented cheerfully.

Team threw a throw cushion at him.

Intouch ducked it neatly and added, “Just keep up the skin care routine, ‘cos all that chlorine’s gonna ramp up the aging process,” and then ran when Team launched off the sofa to chase after him with the bigger throw pillow.

(Later, Team carefully fluffs them and puts them back in their original places, because when the mother of one’s boyfriend gives one an expensive gift of decorative pillows, one should not use them as weapons against friends who Know Too Much.)

He’s on the very brink of forgetting Banyat’s existence altogether when Win hooks an arm around Team’s waist in the mall and says, “What would you say to a trip to Seoul in two weeks?”

Team agrees for two reasons: one, it’ll be their six-month anniversary in two weeks (and it’s cute that Win thinks Team isn’t keeping track), and two, because in Seoul, he can finally destroy the last physical trace of his relationship with Banyat the Backstabber.

The night before their flight, Team calls Pharm while he’s packing and asks, “Phaaarm, what’s that thing called? Like scissors, but for metal.”

Pharm has no idea what Team’s talking about, so Team calls Manaow instead. She suggests, “Bolt cutters?” and then, “Wait—!” and Team hangs up because 1) she’s right, it’s bolt cutters he was thinking of, and 2) she knows he’s going to Seoul with Win while also knowing what happened the last time he was in Seoul with a boyfriend.

As they’re waiting to disembark from the plane, Team rises onto his toes and notches his chin over Win’s shoulder. He says, “We need to make a trip up to the top of N Seoul Tower before we leave,” and awards Win a hundred thousand points for side-eyeing him with curiosity but only going with, “Sure,” as an answer. (And a kiss on the cheek, from which Team feels the warmth all day long.)

It’s not until twenty hours later and Team has just confidently asked a staff person in a Korean hardware store where the bolteu jeoldangi are that Win asks, “Am I supposed to know what’s going on?” He follows behind Team with his hands in his jacket pockets, a good-natured spectator to Team’s very serious mission.

“The last time I came to Seoul was with my ex,” Team says. He veers down the aisle the staff person pointed him to and promptly spots a selection of bolt cutters. Hm. Any of them would work. “He took me up to the tower where they had all these locks that couples put up. He got a cheap one from the shop, wrote our initials on it, and put it somewhere.” Team settles on the cheapest bolt cutters for the cheapest lock and heads for the register.

“So we’re going up there for petty personal vandalism,” Win clarifies.

Team answers by waving the package of bolt cutters over his head.

On the cable car ride up to the top, Win says, “It almost seems like you didn’t end things on an amicable note with your ex.”

Team says, “He left me for a first year when we were in our last year,” and gives Win a scowl. “He said I wasn’t as cute as I was when we met.” It used to sting to say, but now it only sounds ridiculous. He’s cute and he has abs; Banyat’s a jerk and wrong.

Win processes this and then hums. It’s sunset, so he and Team have plenty of privacy at the back of the cable car while everyone crowds the front. Win has Team bracketed up against the window, his hands resting casually on the railing on either side of Team’s hips, and he’s focused on Team with the same captivated smile he’s been wearing since they met half a year ago. “I hope you murdered him,” Win says.

“Three times,” Team assures him. “In my mind.”

Win asks, “For example?” so Team earnestly describes his favorite fantasy of throwing Banyat off N Seoul Tower, followed by the lock. On fire, if possible.

“So we’re accomplishing half of that today,” Win says, smiling.

“The legal half,” Team agrees. “And probably without the fire.”

Win cups the back of his head and kisses his nose. “Good. You’re a much better date out of prison,” he says.

For a long moment as Win holds his gaze and the cable car hits the perfect angle for the burnt gold of sunset to stream in across Win’s hair and left cheekbone, Team’s face feels hot, like a beacon of affection.

The locks outside the tower are so plentiful, they’re bunched together in a long row of multicolored bedlam. Locks are locked onto other locks, spilling outward over each other in a thick wave. The thought of finding just one in all the thousands attached to the fence and each other is audacious to say the least. Also, evening has taken the assistance of the sun away. Making an ornery noise, Team grits his teeth and begins to scour the area he vaguely remembers Banyat putting the lock.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” a girl nearby says to her boyfriend in Thai. “Imagine the stories behind all these couples. Some of the messages I could read are from people who’ve been together for decades. Married couples, elderly couples, newlyweds, high school sweethearts. Through hardship, struggling, even war—”

“Found you, you cheap piece of garbage!” Team crows. He wrestles with the ugly thing he’s been searching for, cackling under his breath.

Win, crouched beside Team, snorts some laughter into the inside of his elbow as the girl behind them falls into stunned silence. She and her boyfriend are gone when Team glances over his shoulder, sheepish.

“Think you ruined her world view a little,” Win says fondly. Then, “Need help with that?”

Team wields the bolt cutters with relish and says, “Oh no, I’ve got it,” with a wild grin.

Banyat’s lock was stuck to the latch of another lock and buried under two giant fluorescent green and yellow padlocks, so it’s no wonder it took Team so long to find. No one seems to care or notice as Team wedges the blades of the bolt cutter against the latch and heaves until it buckles under the pressure and snaps in two.

Win says, “Nicely done,” with genuine admiration. “Look how clean that cut is.”

“Cleaner than how he broke up with me,” Team says. He smirks when Win snickers even though it wasn’t that funny. Win thought it was, though, so who else matters?

“How do you melt metal?” Team wonders, turning the lock to glower at it from multiple angles.

“By using things neither of us has access to right now,” Win tells him, resting his elbow on Team’s shoulder.

“Is there a volcano in Seoul I can throw this into?” Team asks.

Win grins. “I could check. Hand me my phone.” He tilts the hip where his phone is peeking out of the pocket of his dark jeans, then wags his eyebrows at Team.

“They should offer a metal-melting service,” Team says, choosing not to dignify the hip thing with a reaction even though it was cute.

“While this has been very entertaining for me,” Win assures him, “if you’re done with that—” He plucks the lock from between Team’s fingers with one hand, and with the other, he slots in a new object that has to sit in Team’s palm and feels more like an anchor than a padlock. “Maybe,” Win continues, “we can outshine that memory with a better one.”

It’s not that it’s heavier and obviously more expensive and durable than the one Banyat bought years ago—one would definitely need the heavy-duty bolt cutters to cut this nightmare—it’s the mere existence of it that catches Team off-guard. Win’s been with him ever since they landed in Seoul, and even in the hardware store, they were out of there so quickly Win wouldn’t have had time to sneak off and buy one unless—

“Did you steal this from the hardware store?” he blurts. “Or did you pickpocket it from someone here?”

Win ruffles his hair with clear amusement, using the last downstroke to trace his fingertips down the back of Team’s neck affectionately. “I brought it from Bangkok, actually,” he says. “Read it.”

Suspicious, Team drops his gaze from Win’s expectant smile to the dark green lock. In white ink across the base of the padlock is a message in Win’s crisp, neat handwriting: Happy 6th Month Anniversary, baby. Let me know what city we should go to for placing the next lock six months from now. -Win.

Team licks his lips and tries to control how fast his smile curves his lips. As he rereads it another two times, Win passes the time by massaging the back of Team’s neck and watching his expression with focus that even feels meaningful.

Banyat was his first boyfriend, but Win is the only one who matters. Win, who not only went along with this half-joking errand without complaint, he even had his own errand planned that built on Team’s.

There’s a key in the lock, and a chain on the key. Win turns the key while Team holds the lock steady and the latch springs open.

It’s impossible to find the fence under so many locks, so instead they go through some of the other messages on locks using the translator app on Win’s phone to find a suitable lock to fix theirs to. They’re both grinning at the ridiculousness of what they’re doing, but neither of them points it out aloud, so they keep going until Team decides, “The red one. They’re Thai, so if they do anything to our lock, we can find them easier and push them into the ocean.”

Win levels him with a devastatingly warm smile. “You’re really adorable when you’re making threats you’ll never follow through on,” he says.

Once they stand up and Team’s taken a photo of the new lock, Win says, “Here,” and puts the chain with the key over Team’s head. “I trust you with it.” He scoops his arm across Team’s shoulders and kisses Team’s temple, lingering there while Team picks up the key and runs the pad of his thumb over the edge.

On the cable car down the slope, Team remembers to ask what Win did with the offensive lock.

“It’s in my pocket,” Win says.

“Why? What are you going to do with it?” Team asks.

“I know a guy who welds things,” Win says. He tucks an arm around Team’s neck and rubs his bicep soothingly. In the dark, with the city lights of Seoul sparkling below them, standing in the comfortable curl of Win’s arm finishes soothing the part of Team’s mind that cared enough to do this at all. “I’ll have him melt it down and make it into a tiny urinal.”

Team can’t help laughing at that, especially when Win looks so pleased with himself. Team even leans into the kiss Win touches to his cheek, so pleased with how the day has gone and how truly distant from him his ex feels now.

“Give him this too, then,” Team says. He strips off the chain and key to the lock Win brought and holds it out for Win. “I don’t need it,” he explains, “and no one else should be able to open our lock.”

Their faces are so close that it’s easy to see Win’s eyes switching back and forth between Team’s after he speaks. Then Team’s favorite smile appears on Win’s lips: small and easy and calm. Win accepts the key and chain from Team and slips them both into his empty pocket with deliberate slowness.

“What do you think we should make it into?” Win asks. He’s clearly expecting Team to say something like, “A tinier urinal,” so Team decides to shake him off his beam.

“There’s probably enough to make our initials in Latin,” he says. “‘W’ might take more material than ’T’, so we can just make small ones or use the ‘P’ in your formal name. Then we can glue them to the front of another lock, and it’ll look, y’know, embossed.”

He’s only been thinking about this for ten seconds, but it’s immediately a plan he’s committed to.

Win’s giving him the oddest look, with the quietest smile, and when he says, “Happy anniversary, Team,” he seems nothing but utterly content with it all, and Team says, “Happy anniversary, Hia Win”.

After that night, he struggles to remember his first ex’s name, whether it began with a ’P’ or a ’B’, what his major was, even why they broke up. Meanwhile, Team and Win pepper the world with locks in cities around the world, visiting for competitions or else just on vacation together.

And every time they get a key along with a lock, they have the key melted down into a ’W’ and a ’T’—to adorn the front of the next lock.