Progression - Chapter 29 - Azile (WitnessMarks) (2024)

Chapter Text

For some reason, Chay feels more nervous throughout the practical and interview process than he has working at a professional label. He had plenty of encouragement when Hia and Kim dropped him off. Between Kim’s slightly out of character pep talk and Hia’s tearful pride, he felt like he had to go into the building to keep their spirits high.

Hia also made a point of not driving away until Chay went through the doors. It's as if he thought Chay would just wander off. He skips a college interview and derails his life once and suddenly his brother and boyfriend have to be more cautious. While there had been a slight temptation to back out, it came more from nerves than anything else. Those last through waiting to be called in, as well as mostly through the interview. But Chay has gotten used to being under stress. He thinks he does a pretty good job at hiding it.

There is a resurgence of the anxiety and uncertainty when he pulls out his guitar. But music has become a happy place again. A source of comfort. By the time he gets through the instrumental intro of his song, he is fully in his element, getting lost in the song until it ends.

He doesn't know how well he did. But going by his feeling of calm satisfaction and the pleased expression on the department head’s face, he feels like he did pretty well.

“You’ll be hearing from us soon,” she tells him, “But we are very glad you have decided to return to us to pursue a higher education. You are a talented young man and our program will be lucky to have you.”

Maybe Kim is right. He just might be a shoo in because of his talent, rather than who his boyfriend is. The thought makes him feel proud of himself, possibly almost as proud as Hia and Kim are when he tells them how it went as soon as they pick him back up.

“Let’s go out to lunch,” Hia says, shifting the car into drive, “So we can celebrate.”

“You and Kim didn't eat yet?” Chay asks.

“We wanted to wait for you,” Kim tells him.

“So we hung out at Hum Bar,” Hia says.

Chay gives them both a bewildered glance, “Hum Bar isn't open yet.”

“Exactly,” Hia says, “We had the whole place to ourselves to bond and chatted about our common interests.”

“Mainly you,” Kim says. Great.

“But also Kinn, Ma, and ArmKhun,” Hia adds, “It was a good time! I made us espresso martinis.”

“He tried to make us lattes at first, but they were…” Kim starts, then just shrugs, “For some reason, Porsche can make espresso and coffee based drinks just fine as long as there is alcohol in it.”

Chay sighs and shifts forward so he can see his brother better, “Hia, you drank? You shouldn't be driving. Pull over so I can drive.”

“I had one drink,” Hia scoffs, “I'm fine. Where are we eating? What kind of food do you want?”

Chay thinks of places that are close by so Hia can stop driving with alcohol in his system.

Not that Chay hasn't done the same, but still. Hia should be better than how Chay used to be.

“El Santo? Mexican sounds good.”

“That's pretty close. I think it sounds good too,” Hia says with a smile, “Do you want it to just be the three of us, or should we invite everyone else?”

Chay thinks on it, then bites the inside of his cheek, “Let’s invite more people. Enough to have a couple of designated drivers. They have margarita deals mid-day. I want to drink with you, like we planned.”

The proposal causes a very conflicted reaction. Hia expresses both excitement and stern disapproval - all in the span of five minutes - before reaching neutral acceptance.

It just adds to Chay’s theory about Hia having a mood disorder, but he won't bring that up right now.

“More!” Namphueng signs excitedly, then grabs the mango margarita pitcher to fill her glass for the third time. It isn't like she is driving. Kim doesn't really see a problem with it, as long as she can walk out of the restaurant. They are going to Vegas's right after anyway, so it isn't like they have to worry about her running into Pa.

“Ma,” Porsche says cautiously, “You’ve already had a good bit. Why don't you have more chips and guacamole? We got it made tableside, and you said you really enjoy It-”

“Can have both,” Namphueng signs, then dips a chip into the guacamole, eats it, and washes it down with a sip of her margarita to make a point.

“Let her live, Porsche,” Vegas says, seeming slightly amused by Namphueng's defiance.

Porsche scowls at that, “Don't encourage her to get drunk-”

“My grandson is right,” Fern says and signs, “Let her live!”

“Aren't you supposed to be a mother figure to her?”

Fern shrugs and puts an arm around Namphueng, “Yes. And as her mother figure, I know and detest that enough of her life was stolen from her. If she wants to indulge a little during this restaurant’s margarita happy hour, then she should be allowed.”

Porsche lets out a sigh, but seems resigned before looking at his mother again, “I’m not carrying you out, even if you need it.”

“You will.”

“I won't.”

“Liar,” Namphueng signs simply, then takes another sip. The matter of Namphueng’s indulgence is dropped when Kinn pointedly changes the subject to something Kim doesn't particularly care about.

“Who are you texting?” Kim asks as soon as he realizes Chay isn't participating in the conversation either. Chay looks up from his phone and shrugs.

“Ye Joon. He is asking me about how my interview and practical went.”

Kim narrows his eyes at that, but bites his tongue. He has a lot of questions though. Has Ye Joon texted him before? Did he ask for Chay’s number or look it up in the label’s talent directory like some creep? Why couldn't he just ask tomorrow when they go back in for more recording?

“You have a look on your face. Stop. He's just being nice.”

“He's a sweetheart,” Kim mutters, and he knows it comes off as jealousy or paranoia. Maybe that is partially true. But Ye Joon rubs him the wrong way, especially in his interactions with Chay.

Chay opens his mouth, only to close it and put his phone away, “Let’s drop it for now. Okay? I'm present. I’ll focus on my drink and not my phone.

While Kim doesn't love that either, it's a slightly better alternative.

While Chay does work the following evening, he may have lied about why he needed to leave for his shift early.

“There is an event,” Chay says to Kim, which is true, “I am going in to help set up and make sure new bottles are at the bar. I’ll be back late.”

Kim buys it. None of it is a lie, but there is an omission of one, single truth. If the circ*mstances were different, Chay would have no issues with telling Kim he's meeting Ye Joon. But Kim is weird about him, and Chay isn't sure if it comes from a persistent insecurity, a past experience with another producer, or something more complex than either of those things. If Ye Joon wasn't a respected producer and shareholder at the label Chay is now working under, he feels like he would pull away since Kim has such an issue with him. But he is a respected producer and shareholder, one who is involved with big international stars and bands.

And for some reason, he has taken an interest in Chay and his talent. Kim’s as well, but Kim doesn't really need Ye Joon’s support. He's already made it. With the new album, Kim’s place in the music industry will only become more monumental. Chay is still new, and while being featured on Kim’s album is a big deal, it still might not establish him as a separate talent.

At least, that's what Ye Joon says. But Ye Joon has been a powerhouse in the industry for twenty years. He knows what he is talking about. If he thinks Chay is worth putting work into, then he is going to be grateful for that and not mess it up. Kim should understand that.

But Chay also feels like Kim would make a big deal about him going to Ye Joon’s apartment. It was there or the studio, and Ye Joon made a good point about how bad traffic gets downtown around this time. Ye Joon’s apartment is also close to Yok’s, so it made more sense to meet there.

Kim probably wouldn't see it that way, but it will be fine. Chay knows it.

“Right on time,” Ye Joon says, smiling as he lets Chay inside. It's a nice, luxury apartment, one that is only half unpacked. Despite that, Ye Joon has two wine glasses out that are filled half way and candles lit.

…Maybe he just likes soft, warm lighting. Kim is the same way.

“Here,” Ye Joon says, putting his hand on the small of Chay’s back as he leads him over to the couch, “Sit.”

Chay does what he's told and runs his hands over his knees as Ye Joon sits down next to him, “You said you wanted to talk to me about an opportunity?”

Ye Joon nods and reaches over to grab a binder, “I heard Kim doesn't have much interest in acting, but I was wondering what your stance on it was.”

“Oh,” Chay says, then tries to think out what he wants to say before actually saying it. He can sing songs in English easily, but speaking in it is a little harder. It isn't as natural for him as it seems to be for Kim.

Maybe he can ask for English lessons next. Kim keeps telling him his English is completely understandable and fine, but the fact that he has to script out longer responses in his head probably means he needs to work on it more.

“I don't know. I haven't given it much thought. I always did school musicals growing up and got prominent roles in them. I did acting workshops at performing arts camps my brother saved up for and sent me to. I got good feedback. My main interest has always been music though.”

“So you would be open to an acting opportunity if it caught your interest and could further advance your music career?” Ye Joon asks, then hands over the binder, “Because I have a partnership with a production and artist management company here. We are developing a few projects to include international up and comers. While I did throw Kim’s name around for another project, Noel made it clear Kim had no current interest in such a venture. But you are your own person, and I see you as someone who is…more suitable for this particular project. It would be a Thai and Korean based project-”

“I only know a little Korean,” Chay cuts in.

Ye Joon shrugs his shoulders, “You don't need to know much. The character I would have in mind for you is Thai and primarily speaks it. His love interest is a tourist from Korea, so he would need to brush up on his Thai and English, but your language skills are where they would need to be for this role.”

“He,” Chay says, “So it's a BL?”

“They are very popular in this country,” Ye Joon says, “Korea is just starting to realize the potential in funding and márketing shows focusing on same sex pairings, but they aren't as…daring with it. The shows here seem to be unafraid to cross that boundary. The actors go all out and aren't afraid of the more provocative scenes. Many of the actors have also entered the music industry, either while acting or they transition to the music industry after developing a fanbase. This show would feature a well-known actor from Korea. He's a bit older than you - mid 30s - but that's what the script calls for. I don't want to throw his name out there yet, but I guarantee you have likely seen his work. He's wanting to do something more…unexpected. Dark. He's normally cast as a leading man, but wants to make some waves. Sometimes, that includes some onscreen controversy. Seeing him cast with a younger man as his love interest would get a lot of people talking in Korea. But it's a great script, and he will need a costar your age with great musical abilities. If you play the part just right, he won't be the only one everyone is talking about.”

“...Oh,” Chay says, then clears his throat, “Uh…I can take it back with me and read it, if you want. Maybe see how I feel-”

“I was hoping we could do a read-through now,” Ye Joon says, taking a sip of wine, “Not the whole thing, of course. I respect that you are still loyal to your other workplace for the time being, even if I don't fully understand it. But I do understand it is important to be punctual. I do think we have time for half though. Why don't we get started?”

Chay doesn’t really have any reason to disagree. He doesn't know if acting is something he wants to do right now, but it's been clear that he is more open to it than Kim is. He would also talk to Kim about any kind of offer, but he needs to learn more about what he is actually being offered before saying anything to him.

“I should be good to read through half,” Chay says agreeably.

“Wonderful. Since I am wanting you to look at the role of Storm, I will have you read for him.”

“What is he like?” Chay asks, “How is he supposed to be portrayed?”

Ye Joon grins at the question, “Look at you, asking the deeper questions! I knew I saw something in you. I would say that Storm is…a guarded soul. He's young and has faced a lot of hardships, talented and hopeful for his future, but also worries that he doesn't have enough connections. He has a few close friends, but he still has a habit of feeling disconnected, despite being outwardly sociable. Si-woo is the youngest son of a businessman who is trying to make it on his own in a country where his father holds little influence. He has always felt a similar disconnect from his family, and secretly yearns to have something more authentic with someone he loves. He just didn't think he would fall for a man, and a younger one at that.”

It seems sort of…vague and oddly explained. But Chay supposes age gap relationships are a thing. He can't even judge in that regard, considering the two people he first slept with are in their mid-thirties and he slept with even older men after them. So it isn't the age gap aspect, nor is it the fact it's a BL. Chay honestly doesn't care if people think or even know he's gay.

It's more the idea of being paired with someone who isn't Kim that bothers him. But Kim doesn't really seem like he's into the idea of acting. While Chay’s main interest is music as well, he enjoys dramas. The thought of being in one is interesting, even appealing. Chay supposes they don't have to do everything together. They both agreed that Chay being featured on the album will be a stepping stone that leads to a solo career. This is just another stone, at least potentially.

So Chay will read through half the script with Ye Joon, and he will give it his all.

It starts out fine. Ye Joon reads every line that isn't Storm’s because he wants Chay to put his sole focus on him. But Ye Joon only truly emotes when he is reading for Si-woo. Chay assumes that's so he can create a connection for Chay to build off of.

The script - despite how vaguely Ye Joon described it - is actually very compelling. It's easy to get immersed into the story and the character. Despite Chay’s reservations, he likes the script. And going by Ye Joon’s brief breaks to give him positive feedback, Chay is doing well with it.

“You are much better than I expected you to be,” Ye Joon says, sounding pleasantly surprised, “A natural, both in music and in acting. Do you know how rare that is?”

“Oh,” Chay says, looking down at the papers, “I don't know. I-”

“Don't sell yourself short,” Ye Joon orders, then hands him his glass of wine, “Try this for me. You haven't touched it. It's from that high end store down the street. I bought some of the most expensive local brands they have, just to see what I like. Most I hadn't even heard of. I don't know how I feel about this one yet.”

Chay glances down at it, “I'm not really a wine drinker-”

“But you're a bartender.”

“I am,” Chay says, “And I am really good at making drinks. But I like sweet, fruity drinks. Ones that taste like juice.”

“Ah, but that's a sweet wine,” Ye Joon says, “And the script is about to get intense. There isn't a slow, gradual progression with these two. It's a very physical and charged connection. Impulsive, really. The love and tenderness comes later, but it's very daring at the start.”

To make a point, Ye Joon takes a sip from his own glass. So to please Ye Joon, Chay also takes a sip. To give Ye Joon credit, it is a sweet and fruity wine. But there is a bitter undertaste that Chay can't pinpoint, and it isn't one he really likes.

“Alright,” Ye Joon says, his gaze returning to the script, “Let’s continue.”

The script gets more intense from there. The tension builds between Storm and Si-woo as they cross paths in a club. Si-woo decides to be reckless and takes Storm back to his new apartment. Storm is just as reckless and goes.

Although, compared to some of the sh*t Chay used to do, it isn't reckless at all. But it is being framed as such, likely to scandalize whoever this actor’s more conservative audience is.

“I don't really know why I said yes to this,” Chay says as Storm, filling the words with an uncertain energy, “What are you wanting-”

“If you don't know, then what was going through your head when you said yes to me in the alley behind that club?” Ye Joon asks as Si-woo.

Going by the next line, he imagines a myriad of incoherent thoughts were going through Storm’s brain. He was likely flattered, overwhelmed, and maybe attracted to Si-woo, if the actor who plays him is good looking and charismatic. While it is hard to imagine being attracted to Si-woo when Ye Joon is playing him, the nervous, potent energy in the air helps Chay fake it.

“I don't know,” Chay gets out, meeting Ye Joon’s eyes helplessly, “And I don't know if it was a good idea or not.”

Ye Joon tilts his head, “How will you know if we don't feel things out?”

When Chay looks back down at the script again, he expects Ye Joon to continue to read the scene. That is what he has been doing, reading the other characters’ lines as well as the stage directions in between. They haven't been acting it out other than emoting their lines.

So despite what the script says, Chay doesn't expect Ye Joon to place his hand on the back of his head, pull him in, and kiss him. Chay freezes in response and doesn't know what to do.

Is this normal? Should Chay have expected this? Maybe he is just an idiot and should have. It is a BL. Maybe this is just what you do with the producer to show you have talent. If so, Chay is probably doing a poor job at that. He isn't kissing Ye Joon back. That is probably what is expected if this is a thing. For Chay to kiss Ye Joon back.

But Chay is getting the feeling this isn't expected at all when he feels Ye Joon’s hand toy with the button on his jeans, regardless of whether or not it's scripted.

“I should head out,” Chay says, turning his head to end the one sided kiss, “I have my shift-”

“This is a much better opportunity than a shift at some bar,” Ye Joon says, his hand still cupping Chay’s face, “You’ve been doing so well, Ash. I see a bright and promising future for you in entertainment. Don't tell me you can't deal with on-screen kissing.”

Chay clenches his jaw at that and suddenly feels slightly nauseated. When Ye Joon pulls him in for another kiss, his mind feels frozen once more, along with a bit hazy, and he almost feels like he is in a daze when he ends it again. It is almost like he is moving in slow motion.

“You're nervous,” he hears Ye Joon say as he looks towards the door, “This is why I poured us some wine. The characters are buzzed in this scene. I thought it would help us get into the proper headspace-”

“I don't like to drink before or during my shift,” Chay says, reaching up to remove Ye Joon’s hand from his cheek, “Some bartenders do, but I don't. And I would appreciate that - in the future - you give me a heads up if I am expected to act out an intimate scene. I was under the impression you just wanted to talk about some opportunities. I was surprised and…and agreeable to reading this script. But I didn't…I never said…I didn't-”

“Are you feeling okay?” Ye Joon asks. Something about his tone is off.

Chay feels off.

He needs to leave.

“I'll see you tomorrow. I don't think I am interested in pursuing acting right now. I should focus on school and Wik’s album,” Chay says, then gets to his feet. He feels unsteady, but he makes it to the door before Ye Joon speaks again.

“Chay, wait.”

Chay doesn't know if he dislikes Ye Joon using his stage name or his actual name more.

“I think I…overstepped,” Ye Joon says. From the corner of Chay's eye, he sees Ye Joon coming closer before feeling a hand on his elbow.

“Let's talk it out,” Ye Joon says, “I should have been clearer of what would be expected when I proposed a read-through-”

“It’s not a big deal,” Chay lies, “We can talk tomorrow at the studio. I need to go.”

“I think you should stay.”

“I think I need time to think about the script and see how I want to approach it,” Chay says, changing his tactic, “I feel like I would have done better if I read it on my own first. Can I take a copy? I will probably feel better about a read-through once I understand the character better.”

Ye Joon stays quiet for a moment, then goes over to grab the binder before handing it to Chay.

“Thanks,” Chay says, “I need to get to work. See you tomorrow.”

“You're okay to drive?”

Chay tilts his head and strangely feels the room tilt too.

“Why wouldn't I be?”

Since Ye Joon doesn't have an answer to that question, Chay says goodbye and heads to the garage. As soon as he gets to his car and locks the door, he rests his forehead on the steering wheel and sucks back frustrated tears.

Kim was right. No matter how Chay tries to find an alternative explanation, he can't. The only explanation is Kim being right and Chay being an idiot.

He starts his shift out with minor dizziness and nausea, although that started on the drive over.

“Are you feeling okay?” Yok asks, touching the back of his left shoulder, “You seem quiet and a bit distant.”

“Sorry,” Chay says, then blinks when he feels like the room is moving again, “I'm…Sorry.”

Yok keeps staring at him, then touches his forehead, “Are you sick? Do you need to go home?”

Chay shakes his head silently.

“...Okay,” Yok says, “You’ll tell me if you change your mind? It isn't a big deal if you do.”

It takes Yok insistently tapping him for him to give her an answer. He does give her one though. Despite that, she decides to keep him on the first floor, rather than on the VIP floor for the bachelorette party. Normally, that would annoy him. Bachelorette parties are his favorite things to cover. They genuinely amuse him. But other than doing some runs to replenish drinks upstairs and making a specialty punch bowl, he is stuck in the main bar. It isn't a problem on the weekends or theme nights, but it is a little too slow for him otherwise.

Although, he is being a little too slow with service, so maybe it is for the best that he is down here. His head feels weird.


It takes a second for Chay to even register that is his name.

“Chay,” the person says again, “We came to see you, bro!”

When Chay turns around, he sees Macau waving him over, along with Nalin, Preeda, and…Ma?

“Ma?” Chay asks, ignoring the others, “What are you doing here?”

Ma smiles happily, “Sneaking out. Don't tell my roommates or Porsche.”

“...I’m your roommate,” Chay says in confusion.

Ma glances at Macau, “He is slow on jokes tonight.”

“We got moved into the compound, so we decided to have a girl’s night to celebrate,” Preeda says, “Macau is our designated driver.”

Nalin gives Preeda a look, “You are. Not him. You're technically not old enough to drink.”

“I have drank more than you have.”

“Yeah, and went to REHAB over all that sh*t.”

“I'm sorry I'm interesting!”

And while Chay wants to enjoy the banter happening here, he can't really do that. Not when he is feeling bad enough to grip onto the bar for support.

He feels tapping on his shoulder within seconds. When a hand touches his chin, he fights past the dizziness to look up.

“What's wrong?” Ma signs, feeling his forehead, just like Yok had, “Are you sick?”

Chay manages to shrug. It's the truth. He really doesn't know what's going on. He feels confused and out of it. He thought it might have been a reaction to Ye Joon kissing him out of nowhere, but maybe he is sick with something.”

“Chay?” Macau asks, “You okay?”

“I don't uh…” Chay says, then swallows through the sudden nausea, “I'm not feeling like…”

Chay can't finish. He feels like if he does, he will throw up. Out of everyone, Ma seems to recognize this. Within seconds, she is gracefully jumping over the bar, grabbing the trash can on the other side of it, and rushing it over to Chay. As soon as Chay is bent over it, he is emptying the contents of his stomach until he is sinking to the floor and breathing heavily. Soon enough, the other three join Ma on his side of the bar.

“sh*t, Chay, did you drink or something?” Macau asks, offering a hand to help him up. But Chay isn't ready to get up. If nausea had been the issue - or even some sort of virus - he would think that throwing up would help him feel better. It doesn't. He feels the same.

“I didn't drink anything,” Chay says, although it takes effort to get the words out, “Just a sip of…”

When Chay trails off, he remembers the wine already poured into the glasses on Ye Joon’s coffee table, how insistent he was that Chay try it before he kissed him.

He wouldn't do that. Would he?

“Did you have anything sitting on the bar?” Nalin asks, looking around, “Like a soda or something you could have left unattended? You seem very out of it. It reminds me of what happened to my friend. She was a bit worse. You seem more coherent, but still. Someone drugged her drink. If she didn't have friends there, I don't know what would have happened to her.”

Chay says nothing and Ma gets hypervigilant as she straightens up and looks around.

“Who? I WILL stab!”

“Ma,” Chay groans, only for Ma to immediately let out a tortured whine as she quickly drops to the floor to support his weight. It only takes seconds for Chay to let her.

“I’ll text Porsche,” Macau says, pulling out his phone, “Kim too-”

“No!” Chay says sharply, causing Macau to pause, “I don't want them…freaking out about this. I'm fine-”

“You're clearly not,” Preeda says bluntly, “You're on the floor.”

“I don't want them to know!”

“What's going on?”

Yok’s voice rings out through the bar as she quickly rushes over to take a look at him before turning to Macau for answers.

“He wasn’t really talking, then threw up and collapsed,” Macau tells her.

Chay didn't collapse.

“I'm Namphueng,” he sees Ma sign from his left.

Yok’s eyes widen and she picks up her hands to sign, “Namphueng? You're-...Nice to meet you.”

Chay squints in confusion, “How do you know sign?”

“My brother was deaf,” Yok says briskly, then pulls out her phone, “There is clearly something wrong. I asked you if you felt sick earlier. I should have trusted my gut. I'm calling Porsche-”


“He doesn't want us to call Porsche or Kim,” Macau explains.

Yok gives him a disapproving look, “Chay. I’ve been a bartender for over twenty years. I have seen symptoms like this before and I don't like what I am seeing right now-”

“I don't want Hia and Kim getting all upset.”

“Dude, they will be more upset if no one tells them,” Macau says.

“No one is telling them,” Chay says stubbornly, then tries to get up, “I'm fine.”

He is fine. He may promptly fall back into his mother again, but he's fine.

“We won't tell them then,” Nalin says, causing everyone to look at her, “But my close friend works as an intern at the hospital near our college. She works with blood panels, urine tests, things like that. She actually improved aspects of an instant test, got an award for it and everything. She even has a lab in her house.”

“Lai and Nalin are both super weird,” Preeda tells him, “Inventing sh*t all the time, doing tests. Nerds, I tell you. But you should definitely go to the emergency room to get checked out. Lai can test your pee so you get quick answers.”

“Huh?” Chay gets out.

“It's that or taking you back to the compound to inform Porsche and Kim something is wrong, bro,” Macau says.

But Chay shakes his head and twists his head to look back at his mother.

“No doctors,” he tries, “No nurses-”

“Yes doctors, yes nurses, at least when it comes to you!” she signs forcefully and hypocritically.

“Do you want me to call an ambulance or do you want them to take you?” Yok asks, then winces, “Chay, I really don't like keeping something like this from your brother-”

“If you say anything, I won't get checked out at all,” Chay says, then successfully manages to sit back up, “I won't.”

And while he feels several pairs of confused eyes on him, he sticks with his resolve on that. He doesn't need to freak Hia out. As for Kim? Chay can only imagine something like this will make Kim hate Ye Joon more. While Chay isn't happy with Ye Joon either, he also knows Ye Joon is an asset to the label.

Maybe this isn't happening because of Ye Joon though. Maybe Chay is just sick. If that's the case, then he’ll call Porsche and Kim later.

“Your urine tested positive for a drug in the benzodiazepine class. We will send the other sample to the lab for a more specific analysis, but going by what your job is, confusion over what is happening, and the symptoms you have reported and displayed, I feel that it might be rohypnol.”

As Chay lets out a breath, he feels his mother squeeze his hand.

“Call Porsche.”

“No, Ma!” Chay says, then looks at the doctor, “Thank you for letting me know. Can I leave?”

“Maybe you should keep him for observation,” Nalin says. Chay tries his best not to glare at her.

“Well…” the doctor starts, seeming conflicted before meeting Chay's eyes, “The amount that showed in your urine is small. I assume you didn't consume much of the beverage that was laced.”

Chay has to wonder what state he would be in if he had drank the entire glass. He might be naked and unconscious on Ye Joon’s couch.

Stop thinking about it. It didn't even happen.

“Will someone stay with you?”

“I will,” Ma signs, “We live together. I will take care of him. I trust myself to do it more than you anyway.”

Macau interprets Ma’s words to the blank faced doctor, conveniently leaving out her last sentence.

By the time they get home, he feels a bit better. He hates that Macau, Nalin, and Preeda hover until he and Ma are standing in front of their suite door, but he supposes it's better than them blabbing to Porsche or Kim.

Deep down, Chay knows it is f*cked up he doesn't want to tell either of them. He knows he would want them to tell him if the same thing happened on their end. But he needs to process. Sit on it for a little bit.

Although, it is hard to do that when they get inside and Ma stands in front of him with a stern look on her face.

“Who was it?”

Chay says nothing and tries to move past her, only for her to tug him back.

“Do you think it was someone from the compound?”

Chay shakes his head, “No. It wasn't someone from the compound.”

Ma nods, then seems to study his face for even the slightest microexpression.

“But it was someone you know. I can tell.”

Chay lets out a sigh, “I really want to go to bed. It's 4 am, and it's later than I usually get back. Kim might be worried and-”

“Why won't you tell him?” Ma asks, “He is your partner and he loves you. He needs to know. I don't understand. Did something happen before we came to the bar? If…If something did, it doesn't mean you betrayed him. You were drugged. So if that's why you want to keep this quiet-”

“It's not,” Chay cuts in, at least he doesn't think it is. He knows Kim will hate the fact that Ye Joon kissed him. He doesn't want to imagine how Kim might react towards him when they go into the studio later. But even though Chay never kissed back and made a point to leave, he still didn't tell him he was going over there. He kept that from Kim because some part of him knew Kim wouldn't like it, that he would claim something was off about the situation.

Maybe that's because some part of Chay had known something was off about the situation. He just didn't want to admit it. He wanted Ye Joon to be into him professionally. Not like sexually. He definitely didn't want Ye Joon into him enough to drug him.

“I need to process what happened,” Chay signs to her, “It could have been a lot worse, but I know it will still upset Kim and Hia. I know that because it's upsetting me. Can you give me a couple of days? I just need to make sense of it in my head.”

Ma breathes out through her nose, “Drugging people and impairing their ability to function will never make sense.”

Chay supposes she would know that better than anyone. Regardless, she doesn't seem upset with him. She just pulls him in for a long, hard hug, kisses his cheek, and feels more like his mother than she ever has before.

It makes him want to burst into tears and cling to her. Instead, he sucks all of the emotion back, lets go, and heads to his bedroom. He sees Kim under the covers with his eyes closed, so he enters the bathroom as quietly as he can to change into pajamas and brush his teeth before taking his place on the other side of the bed.

“You're home later than normal.”

“Mm-hmm,” Chay hums, only to realize that isn't a very good answer. Why does Kim have to be such a light sleeper? Unless they have sex. When they do that, Kim sleeps like a baby.

“...Is everything okay?”

Is it? It could have been so much worse, so Chay supposes everything is okay.

“It's fine,” Chay says quietly, “I just got unexpectedly busy. Sorry I woke you up.”

Kim turns on his side to look at him, “You didn't, not really. I was barely asleep. I already told you I sleep better with you here.”

Chay briefly feels his face crumple at that. Despite the darkness, Kim doesn't miss it.


Before Kim can say anything else, Chay rolls onto his side too and closes the distance between them before burrowing his face into the crook of Kim’s neck. He feels Kim put an arm around him to stroke his hair and a kiss against his cheek.

“What's wrong?”


“You're lying. Something is wrong.”

Chay sniffles and tries to get even closer to Kim. It isn't necessarily possible, but he tries.

“I hate sh*tty people,” Chay says, “It was just…I didn't have the best night.”

“Was it a customer?”

Chay lets out a sigh and decides to lie again, “They can be the worst sometimes. You're lucky you were rich enough to never have to work in customer service.”

“Need I remind you that you only took a job at Yok’s after your brother became the head of the minor family? Can I also remind you that you have plenty of money and don't need to work there-”

“I usually like it a lot. I'm fine,” Chay cuts in, then lifts his head to bring Kim in for a kiss.

He can't believe Ye Joon kissed him. It feels like he f*cking cheated on Kim. He knows he didn’t, but the fact that Chay didn't tell Kim where he was going makes the situation feel so much worse.

“Do you want to have Koda in here?” Kim asks.

Chay nods immediately. He doesn't love Kim letting go of him to get up, but he feels better once his dog comes in and checks on him. Chay turns on his side, scratches Koda’s head and face, and tells him he's the greatest boy in the world.

Much better than Ye Joon. Ye Joon could never beat Koda or Kim. They just need Kim’s cat to join them.

“Get some rest,” Kim murmurs, curling into his back, "We aren't going into the studio until the afternoon. You have time.”

For once, Chay wishes he didn't have to go to the studio at all. He wishes he could just go look for Kim’s cat and not see Ye Joon at all.

But maybe he should see him. Technically, nothing happened to him, other than being drugged. It was also a small amount.

Although, it wouldn't have been if he drank the entire glass.

Maybe he should just be cordial and distant with him. Things were already hopeful and promising before Ye Joon came into the picture. If he stops taking a specialized interest in Chay because Chay is being short with him, then he still has other opportunities.

So he will just wait and see how he feels. He might be able to deal with it.

Chay is barely able to deal with it. Everytime Ye Joon walks anywhere near him, he wants to punch him as hard as he can.

It's even worse when Chay is in the break room while Kim is solo recording and Ye Joon comes and finds him.

“Did you get a chance to read the script?”

Chay clenches his fist, “No. I was pretty busy last night. I didn't get home until 4 am, which is later than I usually get home.”

“Ah. Did something happen?”

Why is he asking as if he doesn't know?”

“I’ll let you know when I finish the script,” Chay says briskly, “It may take a few days. I should get back-”

“I would like to talk to you about other potential projects soon.”

Chay really wants to punch him, but all he does is meet Ye Joon’s eyes as he tries to stay as calm as possible.

“Maybe some other time.”

When the words are out of his mouth, he realizes that he cannot work with Ye Joo much longer. If Ye Joon is so important to the label, then Chay needs to figure out a different plan for himself.

Even if that means not working with Kim past this album.

When Chay asks Porsche if they can talk privately, Porsche assumes it is something about Ma, or something she said. While Chay has come to him about personal things in the past, that tapered off in the last couple of years. Porsche understands why, even though it still hurts when he thinks too long on it. It's one of the reasons he wanted them to go to therapy together. So they could learn how to trust and talk to each other again.

So when it turns out not to be about Ma, Porsche is hopeful.

“I really need some advice.”

That statement makes him feel elated. But Porsche does his best to keep his cool and gestures towards the dining table.

“What's up?” Porsche asks as soon as they sit down. Once he gets a better look at Chay’s face, he can tell that it is something serious.


“Um…” Chay starts, “I am trying to figure out a way to tell Kim I don't want to work at the label past this album.”

Porsche tries to digest that and truly feels confused. Chay likes working there. He's been doing well. Porsche even went to listen in once, and Chay sounded great. His first reaction is to tell Chay what an idiotic move that would be.

But that would make Chay shut down. Porsche might never find out why Chay wants to quit. He needs to remain more impartial.

“Can I ask why?” Porsche asks him, “You…Chay, I thought you were enjoying making an album with Kim. It's a great opportunity, and you are showing people who matter in the industry how talented you are. I'm confused.”

Chay sharply breathes in, “I just feel like I should quit.”

Porsche nods, “...Okay. But again: Can I ask why?”

It's only then that Porsche catches onto this being about more than nerves, avoidance, or feelings of inadequacy. When Porsche leans closer, he can see Chay’s eyes filling up with tears.

“Hey,” Porsche murmurs, “Talk to me. What's going on? You can tell me.”

Porsche prepares himself for a no, for Chay to shut down or walk away. He got so used to it for two years. It became Chay’s go-to for so long.”

“Uh…” Chay says, sniffling a little, “I need you to promise not to say anything to anyone. Or do anything. It will probably make you really upset. That's why I didn't tell you last night. The people who know anything about it were there when I started showing symptoms and demanded I go to the emergency room-”

“The emergency room?!” Porsche says, jumping to his feet, “What do you…Why wouldn't you…What happened?”

Chay looks up at him, “Can you still sit back down? I’ll talk to you, but I need you to promise not to say anything to anyone else. Especially Kim. You can't do anything to anyone either. And don't get mad at anyone for not saying anything to you. They wanted to call you and Kim. I told them I wouldn't get checked out if they did, so they decided to respect that and leave the news for me to tell.”

At least Chay didn't keep whatever happened from just him.

“You feel comfortable telling me now?” Porsche asks.

“...Not really,” Chay says with a shrug, not quite meeting his eyes, “But I don't want to keep it from you either. I needed a day to realize that. And I don't…I don't think how I feel about it is going to go away. So I need help processing and figuring out how to go about this.”

Despite all the impulsive and insistent questions warring within Porsche, he sits back down, stays quiet, and waits for Chay to speak.

“I…” Chay starts, then starts bouncing his leg nervously, “We have a new producer and shareholder at the label. He has worked with a lot of big names in South Korea and the US, and he is respected in the industry. He took an interest in the label because of Kim, but seemed to take a more recent interest in my potential, probably because I am not established yet. It seemed like he wanted an opportunity to make someone a big name, rather than just work with people who already had influence and fame. So I guess I fit that criteria to some extent. He has wanted to talk to me about opportunities I could maybe take on after the album.”

“That sounds good. I'm proud of you,” Porsche says, but then frowns, “So what does that have to do with you going to the emergency room?”

“...Um…” Chay starts, “It…Let me walk you through it first.”

“...Okay,” Porsche says, “Sorry. Go on.”

“He's been sort of a tense point between me and Kim,” Chay says, “Kim doesn't like some of the suggestions Ye Joon has made to me, or some comments about my looks. They have mostly been really positive, but I don't think Kim likes him talking about the good things or about any potential improvements. I thought most of it was just focused about moving up in the industry. Looks can be important when it comes to entertainment. But he got pissed off about it.”

“I can understand where he's coming from,” Porsche says gently, “You're his boyfriend, and he likely feels weird about people commenting on your looks - regardless of whether it's complimentary or critical. And if this guy is saying you need plastic surgery or something-”

“He didn't,” Chay cuts in, “Which is why I felt like Kim was overreacting. He has tried to chill out about it, but keeps claiming Ye Joon rubs him the wrong way. I thought he was jealous or overly protective. He kept claiming it was because Ye Joon gave him weird vibes, that he knows of executives in the industry who have abused their power in the past. But Ye Joon was nice to me, so I thought Kim was just being paranoid.”

…Porsche doesn't like where this is going.

“Ye Joon texted while we were out to eat,” Chay continues, “He asked how it went and he said that there is a script with a leading role he thought I might be a good fit for. He was wondering if I could meet with him to discuss it. I'm more into the idea of being a musician and singer, but I know a lot of people do both and am more open to it than Kim is, so I said I could. He arranged to meet with me yesterday evening before my shift. When I asked if I should meet him at the studio, he said his apartment is a lot closer to Yok’s and it would be easier for me to get to work. I looked up the address, and he only lived a few blocks away from there. He made a good point. So I met him there. The place was half unpacked, but his couch was out, and the coffee table was in front of it. He had a few candles lit, and two wine glasses on the table halfway filled.”

“...That's very weird, Chay,” Porsche says, his voice strained, “That doesn't seem normal.”

“...It doesn't. You're right,” Chay admits, “And I thought it was weird, even then. But I tried to rationalize it in my head and told myself that it wasn't. That he wanted to make the environment more relaxing or something. We sat down and read the script. Things were fine at first. It's actually a really good script. I don't think you would want to see me in the role. It seems like it will be an explicit BL about a young musician who gets involved with an international businessman in his mid-thirties-”

“Absolutely not!” Porsche says harshly, ready to jump to his feet again. He is NOT watching Chay participate in a sex scene, especially with an actor several years older than not just Chay, but Porsche too!

“It's a good script though-”

“There are other good scripts that could pair you with an actor or actress who is age appropriate!” Porsche snaps, “I don't like it! I really don't! I know Kim isn't that interested in acting, but I bet he would give it a shot if it meant being paired up with you! Do a sex scene with him if that's something you need so badly!”

“I don't need to do a sex scene-”

“I’ll just leave the room when the AshWik sex scene airs and you can call me back in when it's over!” Porsche says before forcing himself to take a breath, “Sorry. Continue.”

“You're sure?” Chay asks, raising his eyebrows, “It just gets more f*cked up from here.”

f*ck. What did this asshole do?

“I can handle it,” Porsche says. He's pretty sure that's the truth.

“...Okay,” Chay says, sounding a little less sure. sh*t. Porsche has already f*cked this up. But maybe not as much as he feels because Chay does keep talking.

“We were reading it together,” Chay says, “Ye Joon had me read the part of Storm, while he read the other parts. He put the most effort into Si-woo though, who is the other lead character. Anyway, when we were about a third of the way through the script, he asked me to try the wine. He said it was local and he didn't know if he liked it or not. When he handed the glass to me, I took a sip to be polite. When we got closer to halfway through the script, I started feeling a little weird, but I chalked it up to where the storyline was going. Up until that point, Ye Joon was just reading all of the stage directions. We weren't acting anything out. Just the lines themselves. So I really wasn't expecting him to kiss me.”

Porsche sucks a breath in, “He did what?”

But Chay won't even meet his eyes, “I didn't kiss him back. My head was spinning and I was feeling weird and uncomfortable. I couldn't figure out if that was supposed to happen or not-”

“No, Chay. It's not. I might not be an actor or a performer, but I know you aren't expected to kiss your f*cking producer, even in a formal audition,” Porsche grits out, “He had you come to his apartment, used his experience, influence, and script as a way to manipulate you, then put the moves on you-”

“Right after he drugged me.”

Porsche’s brain freezes. His whole state of being comes to a halt. He can't think. He can barely breathe.

“He…What…” Porsche starts, then tries his best to stay calm, “Chay, I need you to tell me everything. Don't worry about upsetting me. But I need to know something like that.”

Chay lets out a sigh, “Not much else happened. I turned my head to stop him from kissing me, he pulled me back in for another kiss, then I broke it off again. But I was feeling weird. My head felt sort of hazy and I was slower in my movements. I told him I didn't appreciate there being no warning about what his expectations were, then told him I needed to read the script alone before taking any further steps with it. The room felt like it was spinning when I got up, but I made it to the door. I thought I was…in shock that he would do something like that. I was still coherent, but my balance felt weird, and I felt a little sick. He apologized, then asked if I was okay to drive. I wanted out of there, so I said I was fine. I thought I was. I guess I could have felt worse. I made it to Yok’s without wrecking or anything, but started to feel worse after my shift started. Honestly, I can't even recall certain parts of the night after a certain point, now that I am saying it now. But Macau, Nalin, Preeda, and Ma stopped in-”

“Ma?” Porsche questions.

Chay shrugs, “She snuck out. Probably Preeda's idea. But she seemed excited, then caught onto how bad and off I was feeling. She ended up jumping over the bar to hand me a trash can to throw up in before she even got one drink. The four of them and Yok made me agree to go to the emergency room. They really wanted to tell you. Yok had her phone out, and Ma has been bugging me since it all happened, but…I don't know. I didn't want you to get upset-”

“It doesn't matter if I get upset,” Porsche grits out, “That's something I need to know, Chay. sh*t! Why wouldn't you call me from the emergency room? I would have come to sit with you!”

He also would have gone out and killed the f*cker, but saying that might just prove Chay’s initial point.

“...I'm telling you now,” Chay tells him, “They did an instant drug test and found a drug in the benzo class in my urine. I won't get a more specific answer until the lab test is done and processed, but the doctor suspects it was rohypnol. I guess I am lucky I didn't drink more than a sip or two, because I can still recall most of what happened and the effects wore off by the time I finally got home. But I really don't feel comfortable around him and feel like my departure would be better for the label than Ye Joon’s. I just need to figure out how to tell Kim I won't be staying signed on after his album is finished and promoted.”

Porsche looks at his brother for a solid five seconds before reaching over and lightly smacking him over the head.


“You should be focused on telling him what a creep this new executive is,” Porsche says sternly, “And that you were drugged and ASSAULTED-”

“Hia, come on. I already said it could have been a lot worse.”

“This f*cker wishes it could have gone worse,” Porsche tells him, “His goal was likely to do a lot worse. He took advantage of a kid he was pretending to take a professional interest in. He doesn't deserve a job at the label or anywhere else.”

Chay - for some odd reason - gives him an exasperated glance, “He is very knowledgeable and influential in the industry. Ye Joon is an asset to the label now.”

Porsche doesn't care. He literally does not care. Even if this has to be some sort of sequel to the Douglas situation, Ye Joon will pay.

“You need to tell Kim.”

Chay shakes his head at that, “No-”

“Yes,” Porsche says, then leans forward to press a finger against Chay’s temple, “Some part of You has to know Kim won't stand for it. Think. How would you feel if it was the other way around, huh? What if what happened to you happened to Kim? Would you want to keep working with Ye Joon because he's an asset?”

The sudden conflicted look in Chay’s eyes tells Porsche he is getting somewhere.

“Tell him,” Porsche says again, lowering his hand.

“I can't. I didn't tell him when I kept Ye Joon requesting to meet me from him,” Chay says, then puts his head in his hands, “He has been getting creepy vibes from Ye Joon since the beginning. I defended the guy, only for Ye Joon to do this. Kim was right. I should have listened to him. I didn't, and now I am keeping some guy drugging and kissing me from him.”

Porsche breathes in and tries to push down his potent need to murder once more, “The longer you keep it from him, the worse he is going to take it once it does come out. If you think he isn't going to bug you and ask questions once you embark on this strange plan of quitting the label, then you aren't thinking things through. It will be so much worse. He probably will be upset you didn't tell him first thing, and that you got the people who do know something about it to agree to stay quiet for now. I know I am a little upset that you didn't tell me or him as soon as you went to the emergency room. But it's just been a day. You worked with the f*cker, realized you couldn't let it go, and processed what happened. I think he will respect that you are coming to him with the information about someone who bought into his label. He probably wouldn't want to associate with someone who did that to one of the other artists signed there. He certainly isn't going to tolerate him after what he did to you. Talk to him. If you need me to back you up, then I will. I love you. I will always support you. But you need to tell your boyfriend so you can both come to an agreement on how this should be handled, especially if you don't want me to kill him. Because that is what will happen if you let this guy win.”

“Hia, I came here for a listening ear and advice, not to make you become a murderer.”

It's too late for that. Both of them already know it. But regardless, Porsche stands up, walks closer to his brother, and plants a kiss on the top of Chay’s head.

“I listened, and I really thank you for telling me,” Porsche says gently, “But don't let that f*cker win by leaving the label. Tell your boyfriend what happened. It sounds like he didn’t want him there, even before this.”

Chay doesn't say anything, but Porsche feels like the gears are turning in a different direction now. Before he can explore what that direction is, he hears a ping before Chay pulls his phone out of his pocket. Chay reads whatever is on his phone screen silently and seems to be sucked into whatever the message is. Porsche has a strong urge to look over and check. If it is this Ye Joon, Porsche is all the more likely to grab his gun, find this man’s apartment, and-

“It's from the school,” Chay says quietly, “An acceptance letter. I got in.”

Porsche feels slightly teary at the news, as if he's a proud parent.

He supposes he sort of is.

“I knew you would,” Porsche says gently, bending down to kiss Chay’s head again, “Go tell Kim everything. If you are worried about upsetting him too much with what happened, you can perk him up by telling him about that.”

Part of Porsche expects Chay to argue more. He has been so hesitant about Kim knowing.

“...Okay,” Chay says, “I'll uh…I’ll see if he wants to go out for dessert or something.”

“Ah, the classic ‘tell him in public so he doesn't freak out’,” Porsche says with a nod as Chay stands up, “Keep me in the loop. Let me know if you need backup. I love you, Chay.”

Chay briefly stops and meets his eyes.

“Love you too.”

Porsche only gets emotional after Chay leaves. While he pulls it together by the time Kinn gets back, it's still hard. Part of him wants to tell Kinn everything so they can go out and take care of this guy together. That would be the quickest solution.

But Kinn has been going through a lot of residual guilt and pain recently. He's more raw than before, and he has been trying his best to work through some things. Bringing up what happened to Chay might put Kinn in a weird headspace for multiple reasons. It might be hypocritical, but he is going to keep this news from his boyfriend for now.

He only feels okay about doing that when Kim texts him that night expressing outrage and a solid plan.

“Would you please talk to me? I said I'm sorry that I didn't tell you.”

Kim’s mind is buzzing. He feels like he is about to vibrate out of his skin. His silence doesn't have much to do with Chay, although he isn't exactly happy with him. Chay should have told him where he was going. Kim could have let him know that being requested to go to Ye Joon’s apartment to check out a script wasn't f*cking normal. Ye Joon isn't his peer, he has access to the studio, which should have been the only option for a meeting like that, other than maybe a cafe or restaurant.

This most likely wouldn't have happened if Chay had just talked to him. And here he is, asking Kim to f*cking talk now.

But that's part of the reason he is not talking. He's frustrated with Chay, and he's devastated this happened to him. If he talks right now, it's going to just sound like anger. The relief that worse didn't happen is certainly there, but it isn't going to reflect in Kim's words and tone at the moment.

“Kim, please.”

But apparently, he needs to say something.

“...Fine,” Kim gets out, “...I want to preface this by saying this isn't an ‘I told you so’-”

“But you told me so?” Chay says bitterly.

Kim shakes his head, “Chay…You aren't the only one who has had to deal with creepy executives. Not only Mirror has had to deal with them. I have too. None of them ever tried to drug me to my knowledge, but there were a couple who tried to act like my talent wasn't enough and implied I may get farther if I did things in exchange. I just moved on and went with Noel, who wasn't like that. But I told you it was a thing. I felt uncomfortable around Ye Joon, and his attention on me has always been appropriate. It wasn't appropriate when it came to you.”

Chay rubs at his eyes, “I'm sorry I didn't listen. And I am sorry I didn't tell you when it happened. I was just…ashamed. Embarrassed. And I felt telling you would compromise the success of the label because everyone has been excited over Ye Joon’s involvement. I know it is important that he stays. I don't think I can work with him long term. Maybe I can finish my parts in the album and promotional stuff, then-”

“Oh,” Kim says, sitting up straighter, “Oh, Chay. You can't expect that he is staying with the label after what he did. And if you think he will get to stay over you, then that…No. He won't be staying.”

Chay sniffles, but sucks back whatever emotion is there, “He is important. And helpful. And-”

“Disposable,” Kim says bluntly, “He may be successful and talented, but he has been there less than two weeks and he drugged and sexually assaulted you-”

“He kissed me and touched the button of my jeans,” Chay says, “It could have been a lot worse-”

“It could have been, but he purposely drugged you and tried to take advantage of you. He's dead.”


“He's dead,” Kim says again, clenching his jaw.

Chay closes his eyes, “Please don't.”

“Why not?”

“...Because if he dies, then he is going to be treated as someone worth missing,” Chay says, “If he lives, then maybe one day, he will be revealed as someone who doesn't deserve respect or power. If this is something he has done before, then-”

“He will likely do it again,” Kim finishes, “And no one else deserves that either.”

That seems to resonate with Chay as he breathes out.

“Okay, you're right.”

Kim hums, “But so are you. The way Douglas died as someone to be respected by the public didn't sit right with me, especially after what he did to Kinn. So I need to ruin Ye Joon. Make him a disgrace.”

Chay blinks at that, “Kim–”

“You don't seem to want people to know what he did to you,” Kim continues, “I understand and respect that. So I need to frame him for something serious, something he can't get out of. He may be rich, but he isn't as rich as my family, and he doesn't have power across the board. He's different from Douglas. He's done.”

“What are you say-”

“I need to talk to your brother,” Kim continues, “Vegas and Arm too. Then, I guess I will have to talk with Kinn and Pa. Once Ye Joon gets arrested, he shouldn't be able to bribe his way out of jail and being extradited. I can say that his crimes could have compromised the label’s and the artist’s public images due to recently associating with him and it is of the utmost importance that he is held accountable. Maybe we can sue him for damages. I'm certainly making sell his shares to me for dirt cheap, considering the public scandal he is about to cause. Maybe his shares in whatever BL production company he bought into as well, if they don't plan on doing something similar-”

“What?!” Chay hisses, then leans in, “Why are you planning some civil court case?!”

Chay is right. He needs to focus on ruining Ye Joon first, especially if Chay is that set on not killing the man.

Ruining him might be even more satisfying.

“I need two days,” Kim decides, then reaches over to take Chay’s hand, “Can you put up with him for two days? If you can't, then I will say we are delaying further recording until this is taken care of.”

Chay thinks on it, then shakes his head, “I’ll be okay. You already told them we were probably going on a trip soon. I hope that…Considering I got my acceptance letter this evening, I am hoping that can still happen. If you're not mad at me.”

Kim meets Chay’s eyes, only for Chay to pass him his phone so Kim can read the letter. Once Kim does, he picks up Chay’s hand and presses his lips against it. Chay smiles, but then glances around and clears his throat.

“Uh…We’re in public-”

“If someone sees, someone sees,” Kim tells him, still holding Chay’s hand close, “We’ll plan our trip tonight.”

Just like Kim will plan Ye Joon’s downfall tonight. If Kim were at his lowest, multitasking might be an issue. But he's not. Except for a few harder days, he has mostly been feeling a lot better. After what Chay just told him, he can't imagine anything but his mental health improving after this man is ruined, off his label, and out of the picture.

Ye Joon will pay. Kim will make sure of it.

Kim: I need some minor family guards, an obscene amount of hard drugs, and some police and court connections to ensure a denial of bail and an eventual prison stay - or at least a highly publicized travel ban if an order to extradite happens. He would technically be eligible for the death penalty for what I have planned, but I doubt the royal family would want to make a spectacle of executing a South Korean industry executive. But we might get lucky. You never know. Just do as I say.

Kim: Thanks. 🙂

Vegas: Huh?

Porsche: On it 🙂

Vegas: What?

Porsche: A 45 year old executive in the music industry drugged and tried to take advantage of my brother. We are apparently ruining his life now.

Vegas: Oh. Sorry to hear that. Macau mentioned something happened, but didn't get specific. Hope your revenge goes well.

Porsche: Redeem all your past wrongs by helping us.

Vegas: I told you I was sorry. I thought we were friends now.

Porsche: We are. So prove it. 🙂

Vegas: Fine. I’ll help you plant a massive amount of drugs on this guy.

Vegas: Happy?

Porsche: Not really. My brother was drugged by a high ranking person in the music industry. I'm out for blood.

Vegas: I would be too, if it were Macau.

Vegas: Anyway…off to feed my baby. Bye.

“We can't go to phu*ket,” Chay says as they both lie together in bed on their phones, “Arm and Khun are flying down there in a few days. They’ll claim that we are copying and stalking them.”

“Wouldn't want that,” Kim says, “What about Sydney?”

Chay snuggles closer, “I've never been.”

“Cool. I’ll book-”

“But I want to go somewhere beachy and more isolated. Less people. Less distractions so we can do what we planned. Again and again and again.”

Kim feels slightly taken aback by that, but tries his best to hide it, “Okay. So phu*ket.”

“We have to go somewhere else,” Chay tells him stubbornly before his eyes light up, “What about the Maldives? We’ll find a more isolated but accessible island. They have those overwater beach huts. Please? Please Please Please-”

“Why are you acting like I will say no to you?”

“I don't know. You seemed set on phu*ket or Sydney. And I still don't know how mad you are at me.”

Kim lets out a breath, “I told you I wasn't mad at you. I wish you would have told me when it happened and I am frustrated that you didn't, but I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at him. But the anger is making me productive. I look forward to ruining his life and timing how fast I can make it happen. It’s a very ambitious feeling.”

“You're strange, P’Kim.”

“Hm,” Kim hums, because Chay isn't wrong, “So an overwater villa in the Maldives? I’ll book a reservation and our tickets now.”

Chay sits up at that, “You're sure?”

Kim nods, “Does a week work?”

“A whole week?” Chay says, now getting on his knees, “You're sure it won't be too expensive?”

Kim gives him an unimpressed look, then changes the departure date to one day later.

Just to make a point.

“That strangely lowered the price of the plane tickets,” Chay says, bending over to look at Kim’s screen, “Where are we staying?”

Kim takes several minutes to look at places. He doesn't want to get anything too extravagant and hard to beat if he and Chay get married or something and want to go on a honeymoon.

It feels like he is jinxing the entire relationship by just thinking about something like that.

But while he doesn't want it to beat out any honeymoon trip he could take Chay on, he wants it to be nice. Something to get Chay excited for. Him getting into college is something to celebrate, and he deserves to get his mind off of things after what Ye Joon did to him. Kim will need to take his mind off of things too.

So even though it takes several minutes, he does find something appealing. It's a one bedroom villa (still the wrong word) that sits over the ocean, has all-inclusive service, and is close to a large resort that owns them, which has a lot of activities, dining options, amenities, and accessibility to transportation that can get them to the other islands, as well as Malé if they want to spend a day in a city.

It also has a private pool that sits over the ocean, as well as a waterslide leading into the ocean. He feels like the latter will especially appeal to Chay.

“A waterslide?!”

Yep. He was right.

“It's on the smaller side compared to some of the villas,” Kim says, “But I figured we should keep those options open for a group trip, or to celebrate something huge. Like you graduating.”

Or a honeymoon. But Kim certainly doesn't say that.

“It's perfect,” Chay says, then looks at Kim, “Do you like it too? This trip is also for you.”

Kim supposes it is, considering it's the first time he is taking that final step with Chay, at least when it comes to sex.

It's the first time he is taking that step with anyone.

He’s cool with his first time being in a luxury, overwater beach hut that has a pool and a waterslide.

“I think it's perfect,” Kim tells him. Chay grins, then pulls him in for a kiss. The kiss deepens until Chay breaks it off to kiss down Kim’s neck. Kim lets him pull off his shirt, and Chay starts going down his chest too.

There are just two problems.

“I need to book the stay.”

“Do it,” Chay murmurs, “I’ll be down here, sucking your dick.”

Kim almost chokes on his own spit at that.

“...Okay,” Kim gets out, “I can book it while you are doing that, but…are you sure you are good for something like that? After what happened? It's okay if you're not.”

Chay glances up at him through his eyelashes.

“I'm perfectly okay with it, as long as it’s with you.”

Kim isn't sure what gets him turned on more: Chay giving him a blowj*b, booking a romantic trip in a beautiful hut that sits over the ocean while Chay is giving him a blowj*b, or the fact that Chay just said that.

Because that's how Kim feels. He is perfectly fine doing anything, as long as it's with Chay. It may not help him understand what he is any better, but he understands that much.

Maybe Chay understands that much too.

After Kim receives the confirmation texts from Porsche and Vegas, it takes one hour for the cops to swarm the label.

Part of Kim feels bad for doing this to Noel and the staff - causing a raid like this. It would be horrible if Ye Joon used his new company ties and their locations to hide more drugs. But causing a scandal so they can publicly shame Ye Joon, sever the ties, and promptly sue him for misrepresenting himself is necessary.

“What's going on?” Kim asks, going up to one of the cops, “We’re recording an album. Why are you-”

“We have reason to believe that your executive may be planning to use this building to store banned substances,” the cop says. He looks vaguely familiar. He might be one of the ones who showed up at the building Tawan blew up. Kim is pretty sure Kinn uses him - along with several others - to handle the cover ups of any violent instances that happen in more public areas.

But regardless of recognizing the man, Kim plays his part.

“Who?” Kim asks, “There are multiple people here who fit that title.”

Instead of a straight answer, two cops go over to Choi Ye Joon and pull him out of his seat.

“Choi Ye Joon, you are arrested for possession and conspiring to distribute-”

“This is a mistake,” Ye Joon says, struggling against the cop, “I haven't done anything wrong.”

Lies. But Kim will keep quiet in order to keep up the facade.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can be used against you-”

“I haven't done anything!” Ye Joon shouts.

The cop steps forward and tilts his head, “Then how do you explain a room in your apartment being filled with heroin and fentanyl?”

Ye Joon looks horrified and completely confused. If he were a fully innocent man, Kim would feel bad for him. He truly would.

…But he's not and deserves this. Oh well.

“sh*t,” Noel says as soon as the cops cart Ye Joon away and the raid stops, “We should call his emergency contacts, get a hold of his lawyers, and maybe contact one here-”


Noel sharply turns to look at him in disbelief.

“What do you mean? Do you think he did this? He said he didn't!”

“I would say the same thing if I was being carted off in handcuffs,” Kim tells him.

That actually isn't true. Every time Kim was arrested, he fully admitted to his crimes.

“We need to cut ties as soon as possible,” Kim tells him, “Announce the news ourselves if it is legally possible-”


“Throw around the word ‘alleged’ if you have to,” Kim continues, “But if we release that we found out our new international shareholder was allegedly working in Thailand under false conditions and we are genuinely shocked and horrified by the allegations, we are more likely to get the public’s sympathy than scrutiny. Same goes for any of the production companies he bought into. If anything, you should be getting a hold of them so we can form an alliance, save our image as well as theirs, and be rid of a man who was apparently into some dark sh*t. You understand?”

Noel blinks at that, then clears his throat.

“But what if he's innocent?”

Kim lets out a sigh, “I told you when I first met you that I have a good read for people, didn't I? It's why I chose to work with you. You were a comforting and encouraging presence who wanted what was best for my career. I have never felt good about Ye Joon. And now I know why. If anything, we should be talking to the label’s lawyers. Although, I have a feeling they will give us similar advice. But if you have a better plan, you just let me know. I'm all ears.”

As Noel starts muttering to himself about needing to talk to the lawyers and PR team, Kim takes a glance into the sound booth and finds Chay staring right back at him. When he pulls out his phone, he types one simple message.

Kim: Looks like we are taking a break while Noel goes and talks to a few departments.

Chay: Wanna meet in your office?

Kim: How did you know I have an office?

Chay: You're a producer and shareholder, P’Kim. Of course you have an office. 😁

Chay is right. Kim does have an office. He just barely uses it. The only time he did was when he had homework he needed to work on sooner rather than later and didn't want to waste the time needed to drive home.

In hindsight, he probably would have been welcome to hang out in the studio and his office during his dark period, nearer to people he knew so he wouldn't feel so alone.

It’s too late for that, he supposes. But it isn't too late to meet Chay there now.

Kim: Go on up. It's on the third floor. Take a left and it is the fourth door on the right. See you in a few.

Chay: ❤️

Kim: ❤️

He lets Chay go up without him. He really owes it to Noel to listen to him panic a few more minutes. Kim did technically trigger this chain of events.

No. That's technically not true. Ye Joon did when he decided to invite Chay to his apartment for a script reading and hand him a glass of drugged wine.

Kim should go check on Chay.

“Let’s take thirty to decompress,” Kim says, “I need some time alone to think and process what happened. We probably all do. Just breathe, Noel. Everything will be fine.”


Kim stands in front of Noel and takes a breath in himself, “Breathe in…breathe out.”

“Kim, this could make us look really bad-”

“Not as bad as it will look if we are caught trying to cover up whatever Ye Joon has been up to,” Kim says, “We were tricked. It happens. Next time, we will do a background check, regardless of previous success-”

“We DID do a background check.”

Kim nods solemnly, “A more thorough one, then. Text me if you need me, okay? I need a break, and I think you do too. I won't abandon you to solely deal with this.”

“You just told me you and Chay were taking a trip all of next week!”

Right. Kim supposes that is bad timing.

“We have a few days before we leave,” Kim tells him calmly, “Remember who my connections are, Noel. There is no reason we can't come out of this clean when we really had nothing to do with Ye Joon’s…drug empire, or whatever he was up to. It. Will. Be. Fine. Go take a break. Put on meditation music or something. I know you do that.”

“...That does help me,” Noel says under his breath, seeming like he is in a daze as he walks out of the recording booth. Good. Maybe he will calm down now. Kim feels completely calm. As long as things continue to go to plan, he will feel satisfied and content.

Content isn't exactly the word he would use to describe Chay.

Although, he does seem quite satisfied, considering Kim finds himself with his back against the wall and Chay’s lips slamming against his.

“You handled that so naturally. You were so take charge and charismatic. It was so hot,” Chay says, kissing along Kim’s jaw, “And yet you don't even want to try acting.”

It still doesn't particularly interest Kim.


“I would be perfectly okay with it, as long as the project’s with you.”

Chay lifts his head back up and smiles, then presses their foreheads together.

“Do you think we’ll have enough time to ourselves for celebratory handjobs? Are you okay with us giving each other celebratory handjobs in your office?”

Kim rubs their noses together and sharply breathes in.

“I am perfectly okay with it, as long as it's with you.”

And while he is regurgitating Chay’s words from the night before for a second time, it's the absolute truth.

The Updated and Still Complicated Family Group Chat

Khun: Arm and I are embarking for our trip tomorrow night! You know what that means!!!!!! 🪨🍃😈🥬🟫

Nalin: Weed brownie night?!?

Arm: Please tell me you didn't add my younger sisters to this group chat.

Khun: Well, I didn't add Preeda! She went to rehab! 😱 Mustn’t tempt her. But of course I added Nalin! If Macau and Chay can be in the group chat, then she can be too!

Nalin: Don't be sexist, Hia. 🙂

Vegas: Someone needs to watch my baby.

Pete: Why is she only your baby when you talk about her?

Vegas: Because she's mine.

Malai: Someone needs to watch my babies too. I want to join.

Hansa: I don't mind watching the girls.

Vegas: Is my baby included with these girls?

Hansa: Sure. 🙂

Vegas: I want six references, your resume, and a background check.

Hansa: By tonight?

Macau: Hia, she owns a flower arrangement and gardening shop. Chill.

Vegas: I am chill. And reasonable.

Pol: I can sit out and help with the girls too. 🙂

Vegas: You can also give me six references, a resume, and a background check. 🙂

Pete: It's literally Pol.

Vegas: I don't know him like you do.

Pete: Consider me his and Hansa’s first reference.

Khun: Consider me their second! 2️⃣🥈🕑

Porsche: I'm their fourth!

Chay: Hia, you skipped a number.

Porsche: He wouldn't have even noticed if you hadn't pointed it out, brat. 🙄

Chay: Sorry. I guess I will fill in the third spot, then.

Kim: I’ll fill the fifth.

Chay: Hia, switch spots with Kim so we can be next to each other.

Porsche: No. I went out of order and called fourth for a reason. It's mine. 😏

Macau: I’ll take the sixth spot so Chay can't grab it!

Porsche: Good thinking, Macau!

Kim: ?

Chay: 😤 🖕🏽

Vegas: Macau, just because you are close with Nalin doesn't mean you know her sister well enough to be her reference.

Arm: Define “close”.

0272781005: I’ll call second!

Kinn: Whose number is this?

Khun: I demand that you reveal yourself!!! Arm! Do a search and find out who this intruder is. 😡

Arm: It's a number provided from a text app.

Arm: The text came from the property.

Khun: PA?!?!?!?

0272781005: Nam. 🙂

Porsche: MA?!?!?!?

Chay: MA?!?!?!?

Khun: Everyone stop! It might be Pa playing a trick to test us! Play it cool!

Khun: Oh, silly Pa! You know Namphueng can't talk! She sits there and says and does nothing! Such a bore! 🥱

0272781005: If Korn enters chat, I will stab. 😌

Pol: 😳 That sounded like her.

0272781005: Hi, son!

Porsche: Ma?

Chay: Ma?

0272781005: I am adopting Pol soon. When I have answers. He's my future son. He already knows. I told him. Accept, thanks.

Porsche: Wow.

0272781005: He has no family! Sad for him! Sucky life. 😢

Pol: Wow.

Chay: Kim and I just got back from walking Koda and checked on Ma. Who gave her an ipad?

Arm: Not me.

Kinn: Not me.

Porsche: Not me.

Vegas: Not me.

Kim: Not me.

Chay: Kim, you told me you didn't in person. You didn't have to text it.

Kim: I just wanted to make sure Porsche knew.

Porsche: Aw, Kim. I feel so close to you recently. ❤️

Kinn: 🤨

Chay: 🤨

Pol: Not me!

Hansa: Not me.

Pete: Not me.

Malai: Not me, but Korn has infringed on her rights and she deserves communication with the outside world, despite the power he still holds over everyone.

0272781005: Friend. 🙂

Hansa: Malai, his sons are in this group.

Kim: We agree with her, it's fine.

Khun: I also agree that Namphueng should have all of the technology she wants! 😤

Khun: But I didn't give it to her either.

Arm: I am also in agreement that she should have a way to reach us, but also didn't give her the iPad.

Kinn: You sure? You have the most access to extra technology in the compound.


Nalin: Fine. Preeda and I got it for her. She's our lesbian ma. 🥺

0272781005: Daughter!

Porsche: Ma, please. Nalin, while that was a nice gift, Chay and I should have been informed prior to her getting something like that. We have to be very careful around Korn.

Nalin: She promised to be careful with it! We downloaded some digital art apps! If Korn does happen to see her use it, Preeda plans on telling him that she downloaded the apps she uses for art so Nam can try mediums!

Macau: They were being thoughtful. And they're right. Nam deserves to have a way to reach out to any of us, anytime she needs.

Nalin: 🥹 🩵

Macau: 🩵

Arm: 🤨

Chay: I think they're right, Hia. She deserves a way to reach out to us. She's gotten a lot better and she would be able to talk to Fern, Vegas, Pete, and Macau whenever she isn't at their house. It's time.

0272781005: I already made an email so I can make a YouTube account to subscribe to other lesbians. 🙂

Malai: As you should.

Porsche: Fine, Ma. You can keep the iPad. Just keep it hidden. And be RESPONSIBLE with it.

0272781005: I MADE AN EMAIL.

0272781005: BY MYSELF.

0272781005: 🖕🏻

Porsche: You found the middle finger emoji. Great.


0272781005: Glad it's settled. I will bring ipad to weed night. So I can watch YouTube while I'm high.

Porsche: Ma, I don't know if that's a good idea.

0272781005: That's because it's not just good. It's great. Bye. I will get ready now. Meet you in the ArmKhun suite.

0272781005: 💃🏻

Khun: How did she add herself to the chat?

Nalin: Preeda probably snuck into your phone and added her. She is the one who programmed everyone’s numbers into the text app.

Hansa: Sounds like Preeda.

Preeda: Sure does. 🙂


Preeda: I never stopped weed.

Malai: Which we don't condone.

Arm: ⬆️ What she said.

Preeda: You hypocrites are literally all gathering at Vegas’s to get high tonight. 🖕🏻

Preeda: I'm joining.

Khun: But you're so young…

Preeda: If I am not invited, then I will go hang out with Korn. Willingly. All night. Just for fun.

Khun: Ew!

Preeda: Your choice. Bye. 💃

Vegas: Just invite her.

Macau: Yeah, I would prefer her giggling because of a weed brownie than having a self-inflicted all-nighter with Uncle Korn. 😳

“I love you, Pete.”

Namphueng is glad that Vegas has found love. She thinks Milan knowing that would make her very happy.

And she will get to find out. Namphueng will make sure of it. She's going to find her. She will.

“I love you, Pete,” Vegas says again.

However, she might be embarrassed by what a lightweight her eldest son is. The brownie has hit him much harder and fast than anyone else. But Namphueng will not mock him for this out loud.

“Pete, I love you-”

“I love you too, Vegas,” Pete says calmly, “But you have told me fourteen times in the last two minutes.”

Vegas blinks slowly, his eyes looking hazy, “Because I love you.”

“He needs a hug,” Namphueng decides, then opens her arms. Vegas turns to look at her, then promptly falls into her arms.

He's so soft, sweet, and innocent. She will be his ma too, at least until she gets Milan back. Macau’s as well.

And maybe even after. She doesn't know how much Milan will remember, not if the evil doctors and nurses are giving her the same medications Namphueng was on. But when she does start remembering things, she hopes Milan remembers Namphueng as quickly as Namphueng remembered her. She hopes she remembers her sons too.

Maybe the old drawing she found was of Vegas and Macau. Maybe she knew them at one point. She feels like she may have.

But still, it doesn't seem right.

“How is he doing?” Fern asks as she walks back into the room. Vegas sits up slightly but doesn't leave Namphueng’s arms.

“I love you, Grandma,” he says and signs.

Fern rolls her eyes and holds her hand out, “Same. Now, come. We’ll make food. I'm sure at least half of us will get the munchies soon.”

Vegas shakes his head, then bumps it underneath Namphueng’s chin again.

“Kim is a good cook too,” Namphueng signs, "You can ask him.”

Fern lets out a sigh, “Fine, Vegas. I will ask your younger cousin. But I think a task will help get you out of your head.”

Going by Vegas’s expression, his head is either filled with too many thoughts or absolutely zero. There is no in between. Namphueng will make sure to take care of him while he's like this. It's what Milan would want, at least until she comes back. Even then, Namphueng hopes they can become girlfriends again, and Namphueng can continue taking care of and loving Vegas and Macau.

But she feels like she needs to be taking care of someone else too. Maybe multiple people.


While the answer doesn't feel wrong - she is adopting him, after all - it doesn't feel right either.

It's bothering her.

Chay has been enjoying the brownie. Kim had been worried about him taking it, but he truly feels chill, even when Hia pulled Kim away and demanded they bond. Chay doesn't understand why Hia can't just chill too. Chay hopes he might once he brings Kim back, but then he finds himself getting pulled back up to his feet before Kim can cuddle into him again.

“Pete just texted me. Fern wants Kim’s help with cooking since Vegas is a lightweight,” Hia says, pulling at Chay, “Come on. We are having a major family significant other heart-to-heart. You, me, and Arm. I’ve decided. It's happening.”

Why can't Hia just chill?

Chay supposes he's sort of amusing though.

“Does Arm know this?”

Hia nods and randomly spins in a circle with a serious look on his face, “I picked out a guest room. I am making him wait there. Let's go.”

Chay looks back at Kim forlornly, only to know their time cuddling while high together isn't meant to be once he sees Fern prompting for his help.

Fine. He’ll go talk with Hia and Arm, even though he doesn't know what Hia wants to talk about.

“Do you know what he wants to talk about?” Chay asks once he is sat down next to Arm.

Arm shakes his head, “I don't know. He just dragged me in here.”

But Hia tsks, “I want us to bond. We are all dating a set of brothers! That practically makes us brothers too.”

Chay blinks at that, “...But Hia, we are brothers.”

“And now Arm is included,” Hia says, coming over to put his hand on Arm’s shoulder.

Arm seems to be trying to connect the dots in his head, “...Pol might be more your brother than I am. Your ma seems awfully set on adopting him. She even asked Khun and Malai for legal advice on how to go about it during the ride here-”

“That's why she wanted to ride with them?” Hia asks, looking somewhat pained. Chay thinks about hugging him, but he's on the other side of Arm. He would need to reach over Arm to get to Hia, but that seems strange.

Chay supposes he could get up. Maybe he should get up. But despite having plenty of time to do that, he doesn't. And eventually, Hia goes and sits on the windowsill to gaze outside pensively.

Arm clears his throat, gets to his feet, and stands by Hia awkwardly, “Do you want to hear some things Khun and I have planned for the trip to make you feel better?”

Hia nods, his eyes slightly bloodshot as he reaches over and takes Arm’s hand. Arm doesn't seem to know what to do with the gesture but let's it happen anyway.

Chay just sits there.

Kim doesn't know why he isn't allowed to just chill. His plan was to lie against Chay and chill. Cooking had gone fine, even though the food disappeared more quickly than expected. But there is still some left. Kim isn't expected to cook more.

He should be allowed to chill.

“I want to play a game,” Khun says, coming up to him with tears in his eyes, “You, me, and Kinn. Privately. Let's go.”

Kim’s plan of pretending not to hear Khun only works for three seconds. Then, Khun seems to realize what he is doing and pulls him to his feet, only to not let go until they get to their destination. Kim is sitting on the guest room bed, his eyes barely open as he seems to struggle to focus on either of them.

“What are…” Kinn starts, then rubs his face, “What are we playing?”

Khun stifles a sob, turns off the lights then lights a candle he got from who knows where. He places it on the floor and makes them get on the ground to sit around it.

“We need to share the current thoughts in our mind that are weighing on us heavily,” Khun says seriously, “I have something I want to say, but I don't know how to do it unless I do it like this.”

Kim looks around the darkened room, “Why does it have to be set up like a seancé?”

Khun lets out a frustrated groan, “Because I plan to have one after! I ordered Nam, Pete, and Preeda to participate in a contest so they could see who can make the best homemade Ouija Board. I can't wait to see them. Vegas will join. He's a witch. Like me. We decided when we were children.”

“Is that what you wanted to tell us?” Kinn asks, taking their older brother’s hand.

“No!” Khun huffs as he yanks his hand back, but then takes a steadying breath, “I…I have had a piece of jewelry hidden in my desk drawer for quite some time. Several months, actually. It's a ring. For Arm. I’ve held onto it because…I love him. More than I have ever loved anyone, even more than I love the two of you.”

Kim wants to point out that's a hurtful thing to say, but Khun moves on before he can, despite time moving slow enough for Kim to say plenty.

“I wanted the timing to be right because I love him so much, but it was never right because I kept my relationship with him hidden for so long,” Khun says, “Now that it's not, I thought…I thought maybe this trip would be a good time to ask him if he will marry me.”

Khun immediately lets out some combination of a horrified and delighted shriek, then jumps to his feet to pace. Meanwhile, Kim and Kinn just sit there.

Kim can't believe Khun is going to propose to Arm. That's how he feels for about seven seconds until he remembers he found the ring. Then, he feels hurt because Khun never told him, even though he just did.

He goes back to feeling chill again.

Meanwhile, Kinn clears his throat, “You're sure about this?”

“Of course I'm not sure!” Khun says, turning around to face them, “I'm terrified! What if he says no? What if he breaks up with me at my audacity to propose? Just telling you about my potential plan was daunting! What am I going to do?!?”

As Khun puts his face into his hands and falls down on his knees, Kinn scoots closer.

“I think…” Kinn starts, “I think he loves you very much. As long as you are sincere and do it in a way that takes his wants and personality in mind, then he will probably say yes.”

Khun meets Kinn’s eyes, then takes his face into his hands, “That was surprisingly supportive and thoughtful of you. I thought you would take more of an issue with it.”

Kinn shrugs, his eyes still half-mast, “I just want you to be happy.”

“Aw, my Kinnifred Winnifred,” Khun sniffles, then pulls Kinn into a hug. They are still holding onto each other when Khun looks at Kim.

“How do you feel about it, Kim?”

Kim blinks, “Same.”

Khun scoffs and shoves Kinn away, despite Kinn not doing anything, “You lose round one, you emotionally constipated fool! Now, it's your turn to share the heaviest thought on your mind! Those are the rules! You must play!”

Why can't Kim just chill?

But he supposes he has been thinking of something.

“Okay…” Kim says, trying to think of how he can word it, “I uh…Chay and I are going to have sex when we go on our trip. For the first time.”

Khun and Kinn look at each other, bewildered.

“I walked in on the two of you lying naked together,” Kinn says.

“You spoke of a notorious yet pleasurable set of vibrating anal beads when we bonded together at Hum Bar,” Khun adds, seeming genuinely confused, “Were they simply a fantasy?”

“No,” Kim says, shaking his head, “We’ve used those a few times.”

Part of him expects Kinn to groan over Kim oversharing again, but he doesn't. Kinn just sits there and seems preoccupied by something under his nail.

“Then how have you never had sex if you have him using anal beads on you?” Khun asks, sounding perplexed, “I am pretty sure that's some form of sex. Isn't it, Kinn? Kinn! Isn't it some form of sex?”

“Probably,” Kinn says with a shrug.

Kim rolls his eyes, then lies on the ground, “Fine. But he has yet to stick his dick in me.”

Kinn pauses, then gives Kim a look, “Why do you overshare?”

“I’ve been oversharing. Your responses are delayed.”

“Maybe he's a bottom,” Khun says, “Have you done it the other way around?”

“We haven't done it the other way around either,” Kim says calmly, “We have done other stuff, obviously, but not that. And believe me, he's not a bottom. He said he was open to doing that with me, but he has only topped with other guys.”

Kim doesn't even want to think about the other guys. But it's a little easier to put it out there when his head feels like this. He should have tried weed when. He used to obsess on it.

“Ah,” Khun says with a nod, “I didn't realize you knew about Chay apparently having a few hookup buddies. He hasn’t told Porsche much, but Porsche was really upset about it. He said it wasn't like Chay, that for as long as he could remember, Chay always wanted to wait until he was in love. Apparently something changed for a while, and then he found you. That's why Porsche loves you so much. Because he recognizes Chay now that the two of you are together. And the reason Chay is recognizable is because he has found happiness with you.”

Kim lets that soak in and forms what he wants to say next.

“Kinn already knows, but I have never been with anyone before Chay,” Kim says, “Ever.”

Khun pouts at that before giving Kinn an annoyed look, “You told him before you told me?”

Kim snaps out of his hyper fixation on his nail and meets Khun’s eyes, “Why is that a problem?”

“Your phone was going to voicemail,” Kim lies. He doesn't know why he is lying. But he also doesn't remember why he called Kinn over Khun. Now that the weed brownie has hit him, it makes the reason impossible to recall.

Khun huffs, but accepts the lie, “Fine. So Chay is your first?”

Kim nods, but it isn't just that. How is he supposed to word how he is feeling when he hasn't really made sense of it?

“Just try,” Khun encourages, “Talk out the feelings you've had and maybe you’ll have an epiphany.”

Kim growls at that, “I told you to stop reading my mind.”

“You said it out loud!”

“I didn't.”

“You did!” Khun insists, but then clears his throat and gestures at him, “Feel free to ramble. We’ll listen without judgment.”

If Kim were more sober, he would back out of this conversation immediately, even though sober Kim was going to try to talk to Lane about it tomorrow morning.

But high Kim is going to try to push through this bullsh*t.

“It's just…” Kim starts, “It's…It isn't like I haven't had any opportunities. A lot of people hit on me. I don't catch onto it half the time, but sometimes it is very obvious and I know what's happening. I have just had…no interest. I wanted to wait for someone I loved. I thought…I thought most people did. But in college, I realized that wasn't very common. On top of that, I couldn't trust anyone enough to date them. I had a few minor crushes, but I couldn't get close enough to them to…feel much else than passing interest. I never overanalyzed that until getting with Chay.”

“Probably because you got close enough to Chay to feel something significant,” Khun says, then reaches over to rub his shoulder, “You're very guarded, baby. A lot of that probably has to do with needing trust. Did you ever feel close with any friends? Friends from school who weren’t involved with our family.

“...Not really,” Kim says, “I’ve had a couple of friends I cared for, but I never shared much about myself with them.”

“It can be hard to truly develop a close connection if it's hard for you to share things about yourself and know you will be accepted,” Khun says, “Chay was the first friend you were really able to bond with, not hide things from, and he accepted you when life was really hard for you. Of course you fell in love! Right, Kinn?”

“Hm?” Kinn hums, then nods, his eyes blank, “Oh, yeah.”

“But…” Kim starts, then lets out a frustrated groan, “I don't think…I think Chay is into me physically. My personality or whatever too, but he can name things that turn him on. I can't do the same.”

“Are you not physically attracted to him?” Khun asks.

Saying that he's not is definitely the wrong answer, but it's too complicated than simply saying yes.

“I think he's good looking. I want to be with him and have no interest in anyone else,” Kim says, “I even like what we do together. He makes me feel good, and I make him feel good.”

Kinn looks around, as if he's confused and only half there, “What's the problem then?”

“I…” Kim starts, “I don't know. I just feel like it's different for me than it is for him and everyone else.”

Khun studies him for a moment. He even reaches over and tilts Kim’s head a certain way, as if he needs to do that before coming to a conclusion.

“You're sort of like Arm,” Khun says, then seems slightly hesitant, “He's attracted to me. He loves me. But he needs love and closeness before doing anything physically intimate. He needed a relationship before feeling comfortable initiating anything. There's um…There is a lot of trauma there, both from his adoptive parents, birth parents, and the homes in between. It's a wonder he and his sisters turned out as well as they have, but Hansa is the same way too. She needs to be able to trust and care for the person before she feels safe. Malai has no interest in a relationship or anything like that at all. She adopted the twins when their mother died, who was a friend. I think she would have done it regardless, but I think she also felt like it was her chance to be a real mother, since she doesn't see herself getting into a relationship. She doesn't want one and the few times she tried to date stressed her out. She told me. I think it's too early to tell with Preeda. She and Nalin were younger when Malai got custody of all of them. But she struggles with commitment, and I don't know if she is interested in being in a serious relationship. But who knows? She's eighteen. That could change, or it might not. Nalin is probably the only one who is somewhat typical, I suppose.”

Khun then shrugs, “But I don't know what typical is. I…I used to fool around with people in boarding school. I had a girlfriend who I cared for deeply too. But the kidnapping happened, and then I was scared to leave and…I don't know. That changed me a lot. Obviously. I didn't think I would find love after that. I tried not to focus on it. I would distract myself because…because if I didn't, then things would get dark very fast. But even when I distracted myself, I knew I could only be with someone again if I became close with someone who cared for me and accepted everything about me. Someone who loved me regardless of everything wrong about me, maybe even because of the wrong things about me. But I figured that was something I would never find. And then…and then he turned out to be right under my nose. He was someone I knew for years, and I knew him to be smart, gracious, beautiful, kind, and competent. He was one of the closest people in my life and I realized how could I not love him? How did I not realize how sexy he was until the attack?!”

Khun really had him for a while. Until that last sentence, Kim thought they actually might be similar. He can still admit it seems like they might be in some ways.


“That's not how my brain works with Chay!” he groans, then curls onto the ground. He feels a hand shaking him seconds later.

“Is the sex that you have had bad?”

“No!” Kim says, “It's great!”

“But he just doesn't look good while doing it,” Khun guesses.

“He looks really good!” Kim says, sitting back up, “I can't explain it. He could switch bodies and as long as I knew it was still Chay, I would adjust pretty well.”

Khun nods, “You're attracted to the inside.”

Yes, but that isn't quite close to what Kim is trying to say either.

“I…” Kim starts, “I don't know if I experience sexual attraction like some other people do. I enjoy what Chay and I have done because it makes me feel closer to him and it feels good. Not because I fantasize about sex with him. I like it, but I don't…I don't know. Nevermind.”

“I think I understand what you are saying,” Khun says, nodding, “And like I said, I think Arm and some of his family are similar. But at the same time, you are going in circles and confusing me. It's rude, Kim.”


Khun tsks, “Kinn, do you understand what he's saying? Have you experienced feelings like that before? Kinn!”

“Hm?” Kinn acknowledges, looking up from his nail.

“Have you experienced feelings like the ones Kim is describing?”

“Uh…No. I got with Porsche for his looks and personality. I also fantasized about him being a brat and that turned me on.”

Khun lets out a sigh, then grabs Kinn’s hand to examine, “What is so fascinating about your nail? Why do you keep looking at it?”

“I noticed a freckle under my nail,” Kinn says, “What if it's cancer?”

“It's not cancer.”

“You don't know that.”

“I do! I'm about to be a lawyer.”

“That has nothing to do with this.”

“It does too!”

“You just say it to find opportunities to say it so you can brag.”

“I do not!” Khun says, then puts his hand over Kinn’s mouth, “Let’s just end this argument by admitting I'm right, like I always am. You're high, Kinn. Ridiculously so. I am too, but at least I can focus on our game.”

“It's just not a fun game.”

“It’s more fun than the stupid freckle on your nail bed!” Khun challenges, “It will also be more fun for you now that it's your turn.”

Kinn looks around and seems truly lost, “...What are we playing?”

“Kinn! Share your heaviest thoughts. Other than the ones about cancer!”

Kinn huffs, then forces himself to sit on his hands, “Fine. I was going to ask Lane tomorrow if she could schedule me in for sometime this week. If Kim doesn't mind. I think I should…talk to someone, I guess-”

“Oh, Kinn!” Khun says happily, pulling him in for a hug, “I'm so proud of you! Kim, hug.”

“Why do you prompt me for group hugs like Chay prompts Koda to sit?” Kim mumbles, but inches forward until he is in Khun’s embrace.

The seancé candle keeps flickering on.

Namphueng’s body must work differently. Khun mentioned some people might get a second wave, but she didn't expect to be one of those people. The first wave was rather mild and soothing. She doesn't even get a second one until they're back at the compound and everyone is in bed. The second wave makes her think. It makes her want to draw and create art, so she does.

Normally, she draws Phoenix, Milan, birds, flowers, landscapes, and sometimes her friends. But it's like her hand is moving without her control. She draws and draws and draws until she gets an image similar to the one she must have drawn before. A little boy and a baby, smiling widely. They fill her heart with happiness, and they make it want to shatter.

She flips the page in her sketchbook and draws them again. Maybe she knew Vegas and Macau. The age difference might be similar. But she feels like that's wrong. Who are they?

Who are they? Why could she push it aside before, only to not be able to think about anything else now? Is it the brownie? Is it making her focus on these boys like Kinn was oddly focused on the freckle under his nail? Is that it?

She needs to think. Remember. Try harder.

She puts on the meditation video from YouTube, the one that makes her remember through her dreams. She can't sleep right now, even though she should. But maybe if she plays it while she draws, she might remember.

Remember what?

She draws them again and again, even after the sun has risen. She is still drawing at 8 am. Kim is probably going to his therapy appointment now. Namphueng really should sleep. Kim’s appointments usually take an hour or so, and then he comes back to make breakfast. It's a ritual they all have found comfort in.

But she is almost done with her fifth drawing. It's so much more detailed than the rest. All she needs to do is add the blanket Fern gave her at her baby shower and…


Namphueng feels her hands go slack as she lets the sketchbook drop onto the bed. When Phoenix quickly jumps up to get in her lap and knead against her, she barely even registers it. She can't. Not when…Not when…

Phoenix is alarmed when she clutches her chest and lets out a silent scream. She is able to scream, but what would otherwise come out is lodged between the monumental pain, devastation, and horror. Phoenix’s quiet and concerned meow can't pull her out of it, nor can the sound of Koda's short, blunt nails prancing outside her door.

How did she forget them? What kind of mother is she?

Where are they? Who TOOK them?

Korn. Korn took her away. And he…he…

No. No. No no no no no no no-

A knock barely interrupts her spiral. She takes several shaky breaths before getting to her feet. Her legs feel like lead when she forces herself to walk across the room and open the door.

“Hey,” Chay says, sounding slightly tired, “I wanted to see how you were feeling after uh…after last night. I'm sort of groggy, but I feel okay. Do you want to take a walk with me and Koda? He came over to your door, sort of like he wanted me to ask you.”

Namphueng says nothing. She just stares at him, wondering if he is in on this. What if he's one of Korn’s more elaborate and cruel tricks? What if…What if…

“Get out,” she says. The words spill from her mouth and her voice is barely more than a croak, but her message is still crystal clear. Chay’s eyes widen as he takes a startled step back, almost tripping over his dog in the process. She takes the opportunity to slam the door in his face, all while feeling like her eyes are going to bulge out of her skull.

She feels crazy. She wants to scream, throw things, and wreck the room. She wants to tear down the compound brick by brick and set the rubble on fire. She wants to take a knife and stab it into every inch of Korn’s body, again and again until he is nothing but a bloody stump-

“Ma?” Chay says as she hears the door open, “What's going on? Why do you want me to leave? Why…You talked-”

“GET OUT!!!” she screams, keeping her back to Chay. She hears Chay’s breath hitch, but he keeps talking.

“No,” Chay says, seeming afraid, teary, and unsure, “Whatever is going on, I want to help. Okay? I'm here. I want to listen and do whatever I can to make you feel better.”

Nothing will make her feel better. Nothing at all. Not when Korn took her sons.

Not when he killed her sons.

I killed them quickly. I showed them kindness. I don't understand why you aren't grateful.

Namphueng had screamed and cried in that soundproof room, hoping Dao would hear her, but Korn was good at hiding things. If Dao had known, she would have done something.

…Namphueng could have sworn she saw her at least once. But Dao was different. Stared right through her.

Or maybe that was a dream. It could have been a dream.


“Stop it,” she signs harshly as she spins back around to face him, “Don't you EVER call me that again! How dare you call me that when my sons are dead! Korn killed them and he took EVERYTHING from me! Get out!”

Signing is easier than talking, even though expressing that makes her feel like she wants to die. But if she had voiced those words? She might have dropped dead on the spot.

She still might. The need to find Milan and the need to be with her babies are warring against each other. And when it comes down to it, her babies need her, even if they’re dead-

“I'm going to call Hia.”

She doesn't care what Chay is going to do.

“I…” Chay says, the tears brimming in his eyes spilling over, “We will sit down. Explain everything. And you’ll feel better. I promise you that you're wrong. Okay? You're wrong. And we’re going to prove it to you.”

Progression - Chapter 29 - Azile (WitnessMarks) (2024)


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