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Like Watching Romcoms (Not That Into It)

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Third is a little ashamed of how long it took him to even notice.

He can find himself a lot of excuses – his lack of experience, the hectic ups and downs of their relationship, Khai's own behavior – but it doesn't change the fact that it took him too damn long and he feels terrible about it.

Worse, now that he noticed, he doesn’t even know what to do with it.

The thing is, on a surface level, there is no issue. Khai and he have been going strong for almost six months now. They communicate better and better, they find time to spend together despite the growing workload of their fast-approaching graduation, and things are fine, things are good. They are great, even.

But. But.

It dawned on him a few days ago, as they were taking advantage of a rare reprieve after a long week of assignments and group presentation. They were naked on their bed – Khai’s bed, officially, as Third still technically has his own room in Khai’s apartment, even if he hasn’t slept there in so long the sheets are probably molding at this point. So they were naked on their bed, sadly too tired to get into anything strenuous. But something Khai was never too tired for was sucking Third’s soul out through his dick.

And sucking he did, until Third was coming with an undignified scream on Khai’s infuriating smug face. Third needed a moment to reintegrate his body before he could offer to reciprocate.

Khai had declined. As it was, he was barely hard, and so they had gone straight to sleep after a bit of clean-up, and Third had thought nothing of it because it wasn't the first time it happened.

And then, he thought a lot of it, because it wasn’t the first time it happened.

It wasn’t even the second, or the third. In fact, it happens all the time. Be it hand jobs or blowjobs, or if they go for anal, it is always about Third. Third receiving, Third taking it, Third coming first. He doesn’t believe himself to be an inattentive or selfish lover. He always tries to give back.

But more often than not, Khai is just not interested.

When he takes Third, he usually finishes himself off quickly with a few jerks of his own hand. Third did make him come a few times with his own hands and mouth, but it’s not regular enough that he could mark it down as habitual. Quite often, Khai doesn’t get fully hard, or he doesn’t come.

Correction, Third is very ashamed of how long it took him to notice.

Or not notice per se, but wondering about it. At first, he thought nothing of it, because he was a virgin, they were both nervous as hell to be doing this – because they were in love, because they were both men, because they were still uncertain about where this was going to lead them.

Then, he figured it just happened. That sometimes Khai just wasn't in the mood but indulged Third anyway. It did happen to him too – though it didn't seem like Khai was ever in the mood alone.

He put Khai's refusal on his own lack of skills. Maybe he was just bad at giving heads, that was a thing, right? He could do other things.

But Khai isn’t interested in other things either.

Third is starting to wonder if Khai is interested in anything at all.

He thinks back on their time together, tries to remember if Khai ever got horny first. The tricky thing is, he did. He did initiate intimacy, though not as often. But even when he is the first to press himself against Third's back from behind or to deepen a make-out session, it doesn't get him going. Not like it gets Third going anyway, setting fire to his insides and every bit of skin where they are touching. Khai loves how responsive and eager he is, he tells him often enough. He loves to please him.

But when it comes to himself…

Third is terribly confused.

He figures he is in for quite a downward spiral of self-confidence crisis, except he doesn't get there, because that can't be it. It can't be that Khai doesn't want him – no one could be that good at faking interest. Khai is always all over him, all the time, always demanding attention and touches, needy and cuddly like a five-year-old. And it's not like Third has to coax him into bed either. Khai is more than eager to follow him there or even lead them himself.

If he wasn’t into Third, it would be the other way around, right? He would want to get it without giving much in return. 

Third briefly considers that Khai could be that repulsed by the idea of Third touching him, but that doesn't make sense, even to his anxious brain. One of Khai's main qualities, when it isn't a flaw, is that he can't be subtle to save his life. He's a bad liar and a bad pretender, and he can't keep his thoughts to himself, even when he really should. Plus, it's not that easy to get him to do something he doesn't want to do. There is no way he would have gone along for so long if he was secretly hating it.

It still doesn’t explain why he doesn’t seem to get aroused by his own boyfriend.

Third considers going to his friends for advice, but he quickly dismisses it. This feels a bit too intimate to share, he’s not sure Khai would be happy to know Third voiced such concerns to them without going to him first. Of course, the smart thing would be to talk to him about it, but at the same time…

Khai is incredibly dense. It means direct approaches and open discussions are the best with him, but it also means that he can be easily blindsided by a conversation he hasn't seen coming at all. Third can't help recalling their latest argument, a few weeks back – how he sucked it up for days before blowing up and accusing Khai of being too dismissive of Third's words, as they were working on a project together at the time, and how Khai was so surprised, while Third was sure he had gotten the sense that Third was mad, and why.

His obliviousness can be borderline harmful, to him most of all. Third is worried bringing it up too bluntly will only cause Khai distress. Especially seeing that he still has the bad habit of blaming himself for everything going off-track in their relationship.

Third is partly to blame for this – though ironically, Khai would argue against that. The boy had walked on eggshells for weeks after they got together until Third had to sit him down and try to convince him that he wasn't going to leave him at the first unwashed dishes or petty squabbling.

To this day Third is still haunted by Khai’s defeated expression after the whole debacle with Ching Ching. Still has his resigned “you wouldn’t have believed me anyway” stuck into his head. Despite how demanding and childish Khai can be, he’s also frustratingly dismissive of his own feelings. Deeming them lesser somehow, underserving of any gentle handling. It’s something that has always been there, but that Third took notice of only after they started dating. 

Khai’s go-to strategy is to laugh it off. If he’s hurt, if he’s anxious, if he needs reassurance or comfort, he will always try to downplay it. Just like that day at the train station, acting as if nothing was amiss with tear-filled eyes and trembling lips. “It’s fine, I’m fine, it’s no big deal”. At first Third had wondered if it was some kind of play, of deception, but it’s easy to see through Khai when he’s acting. 

And Third promised himself he would be less suspicious and more trusting.

So he doesn't want to bring it up with Khai until he is sure of what he has to say, until he has a solid case, and until he's certain he'll be able to talk about it without accusing the other boy of anything. Which is not how it's going for now. As long as he runs the risk of devolving into a "you don't want me" pity party, he will refrain from broaching the subject at all.

So with talking to his friends and talking to Khai out of the question for now, he only has one thing left to do – investigate.

.

The first step is easy enough – he just wants to test what becomes of their sex life if he doesn’t drive it forward.

Living together means they’re not on a schedule like most couples their age have to be, but they’re still fairly busy, so the frequency varies greatly. Still, they have rarely spent more than a week without any kind of sexual activity. He figures it’s a good start.

It’s Khai who approaches him after a few days, latching onto Third as soon as he goes to bed, fed up with his latest essay and unwilling to hurt his eyes over it any longer. Third is very much down for it, but Third is also on a mission. And so, with admirable self-restraint, he manages to bat Khai’s hands away.

“Sorry, not tonight, I’m already asleep and I can’t skip the morning class again.”

Their Film History teacher made it clear that no amount of extra assignment would save their grade if they didn’t get a better attendance record.

“You sure you don’t want me to help you relax?” Khai teases, though it’s not sexy as much as heartfelt. Third very much wants that.

“Nah, it’s fine. But thanks.”

“Oh. Okay,” Khai says with a pout. He cuddles close and promptly falls asleep. Third is not so lucky and wastes the better part of the next hour willing his arousal away.

So. Third already had an inkling that he is one horny bastard, but it’s getting abundantly clear now. It’s four more days before Khai tries again, and Third doesn't know where he finds the willpower to pretend he's not in the mood again when all he wants is to jump Khai's bone.

His boyfriend is a little more pressing this time.

“Are you sure? Do you feel alright?”

The last thing Third wants is for Khai to start having doubts about the whole thing, so he distracts him with a thorough make-out session that he works very hard not to turn into hasty couch sex. Khai seems placated enough, and he doesn't insist.

Third gives in the very next day and does properly jump Khai just as he comes back from his classes. Khai is happy to comply, and he’s relentless as he fucks Third into an incoherent mess.

He has finished himself off by the time Third comes back from his high. Third hasn’t even laid a hand on his boyfriend’s dick.

So the conclusions are unclear – Khai didn’t forget about sex when they were not having it, but he didn’t actively seek it out either, and sadly Third didn’t hold on long enough for it to be conclusive. 

He feels a little stupid about it, but it’s Khai’s urges he is reviewing here – he didn’t have any doubts about his own.

.

The next part is better in that regard because now, the goal is to turn the tables on his generous boyfriend – sexy times need to be about Khai for a change. 

So the next time they start to get heated up, he doesn’t let Khai manhandle him and have his ways with his body like he usually does. Come to think of it, he really has been too passive during sex – no wonder Khai gets bored.

He kneels between Khai’s open legs once he has done away with their cloth. Khai looks a little confused but he lets it happen, propped on the couch’s armrest and staring at Third with a curious expression. It makes Third nervous, but dammit, he’s not going to get any better at giving blowjobs if he doesn’t practice. 

But after a few minutes his jaw is already aching, and Khai is just now fully hard. He seems like he's enjoying himself when Third looks up to check, but not to the point of losing his head, of dissolving into goo like Third does.

He has to resign to defeat after a while – his face is numb and he’s drooling everywhere, which is gross. He resolves to finish Khai with his hand, watching him closely. Khai’s eyes are screwed shut, like he’s concentrating.

What is he thinking about? Does he need to fantasize to finally get off? Is Third there at all?

Khai comes with a sigh, his whole body relaxing back into the couch. He recovers quickly though, going to reach for Third's panties. 

Except there’s not much going on there. The efforts Third put into it – to no avail – made efficient work of his own arousal. 

“You don’t want…” Khai asks, puzzled. Third manages to smile.

“Nah, I’m good. Come on, let’s take a shower.”

Khai is always eager to shower together, but they don’t often have the time to indulge, so he doesn’t need to get told twice. He manages to coax Third back into his horny self under the warm spray and doesn’t press the matter.

.

“I want to try riding you,” Third says on the next date night, prompting Khai to spit his ramen broth back into his bowl. Third makes a grimace at the mess but decides not to get off tracks – even when Khai wipes his mouth haphazardly and dives back into his bowl.

“Really? Why?”

“I don’t know, it should be fun, right? And I feel like… I feel like you do all the work when we. Y’know. You’re always the one doing things to me.”

Khai gets an adorably pleased look on his face that makes it very hard to focus on the stupid ramen.

“I like doing things to you.”

Third doesn’t doubt that. But…

"Well, I'd like to do things to you, for a change.”

He looks at Khai’s face closely, but there’s not much going on there apart from mild curiosity. He’s not repulsed by the idea. He’s not particularly excited by it either. But he’s on board at least – it will have to do.

They finish dinner, and Third can't deny he's growing excited at the prospect of what they have planned. He never had much interest in toping. They discussed it briefly, in the beginning, but Khai topping suits them just fine.

Calling the shots and setting the pace has its own appeal though. When he straddles Khai's laps later and sinks himself down on him, he relishes the chance to move it along exactly how he wants. It's a good thing he's not too heavy, as he has to brace himself against Khai’s chest. The boy is staring with wide eyes, a little lost as to what to do now that he just has to wait and leave Third in charge. His hands are clutching Third’s thighs and they tighten briefly when Third reaches his goal and seats down fully.

This was a great idea. 

His thighs are cramping up though.

He knew he should have taken Khai up on his offer that they work out together. He gave it a try, thinking burning up some energy would stave off a bit of his horniness. That was without counting on the sight of Khai in a tank top and tight shorts, sweating on a bench, muscles bulging and huffing under the effort.

Third made that mistake only once.

He regrets his lack of stamina and muscle strength now, but this is just so great. He changes the angle as he pleases and yeah, he’s definitely down with bottoming, this rocks, and he’s…

He’s taking everything again.

He holds on a curse so as not to alarm Khai as he remembers that this was supposed to be about him for fuck’s sake. And Khai is still here, of course he is. While Third was zoning out, lost in it, Khai stayed right there.

Steady, compliant.

Waiting.

That’s what it looks like to Third. Like he’s just waiting for it to end. He has a distant smile on his face as he looks at Third, he’s not unhappy or discontent, he’s just… Not that into it.

Not that into…

Third’s nerves are alight and his head in a mess – he bursts into tears.

Khai springs into action in a heartbeat. He sits up, clinging to Third so that he doesn’t fall backward.

“Third? Are you okay? What is it, are you hurt?”

Third wraps his arms around Khai’s head, so that they can hide in each other’s neck and his boyfriend won’t see his distraught face, and so that he won’t try to pull away. Third doesn’t want him far right now, he doesn’t want to lose this connection, because it’s becoming harder to believe it is real in the first place. 

Khai, bless him, knows what to do when he’s out of his depth – he makes soothing noises in Third’s ear, running his hands up and down his back, gentle and warm. He’s growing soft inside of Third and Third is no better, the mood definitely killed by his stupid outburst.

He whines when Khai makes to move.

“I need to…” Khai says awkwardly, gesturing at their bodies, still imbricated. Third nods and lets him off just long enough that he can tie the condom and throw it in the trash, before tugging Khai back in his place on the bed with Third on his lap.

Naked cuddling is pretty high on both their list of things they like to share with each other, and it settles Third’s nerves a little. After the panic comes the mortification – he feels terrible about getting lost into his head like this, when he knew it could happen, when he told himself not to fall for it. Khai doesn’t say anything, waiting for his cue, and Third feels terrible again. He can’t help but think of all the less than flattering things he and others use to say about Khai, about how he didn’t deserve Third, wouldn’t treat him right.

Lately he feels like the underserving one here.

“I’m sorry,” he eventually says, sitting up so that they can look each other in the eyes. He shivers, cold now that they’re not in the heat of the moment and that sweat is cooling on his naked skin. Khai brings up the comforter around his shoulders, settles back against the headboard. The lights are off, the sun rapidly fading. It makes it easier.

“What happened? Did I…”

“You didn’t do anything wrong.”

This is exactly what he didn’t want to happen. He knew Khai would blame himself. He always does.

“It’s… I’ve been… preoccupied. I’m trying to figure some stuff out. I’m just kind of lost.”

He sees no recognition in Khai’s eyes. Which isn’t a surprise – he didn’t expect Khai to have noticed. Third has grown quite talented at hiding his feelings through the years, and Khai is spectacularly oblivious to anything that isn’t plain explicit. 

Which used to annoy Third, but he’s come to appreciate it. It forces him to be open and honest with his feelings, instead of expecting Khai to read his mind and guess what he’s not saying. The recipe is simple – speak plainly if you want to be understood, don’t say and he won’t have a clue.

But he doesn't want to bring it up like this. He doesn't want to unload his concerns on Khai yet when the boy clearly has no idea what's going on. It seems unfair to dump this on him.

“Because of me?”

Third takes Khai’s face into his hands. So beautiful, so beloved, and he’s always a little blown away by how much love he can feel for that single boy and no other. He kisses him, long and sweet, because that’s what Khai understands easier. 

He still has to talk though.

About you. And me. But it’s not something bad, I promise. I… need more time, okay? I swear I will tell you.”

“Can’t I help?”

“Not- Not yet. Soon, okay? It’s not bad. Trust me. Please?”

He’s aware that he’s asking a lot. Khai must be freaking out right now, wondering what the matter is, digging around his brain to figure it out. And, Third is pretty sure, not getting any closer.

“You’ll tell me when you know?”

“Yeah. Promise.”

“And you won’t… you’ll be okay? You’re okay, right?”

Third smiles at him, unbearably endeared and fond. 

“Yes. Don’t worry. I know it seems dramatic, but it’s not that big of a deal.”

Well. He’s not entirely sure of that yet. But Khai believes him, so it’s fine for now.

.

Third decides to lay off the experimentations for now and works on getting them back to normal. Khai must be a little wary still, but he usually takes his cues from Third, and if Third says things are fine, he’ll assume that they are.

And they are, damn it but they are, and Third doesn’t get why it’s bothering him so much when it’s almost a non-issue. 

Is he inventing problems that aren’t there? Do they just have different needs and wants in bed? But even if that’s all it is, he still wants to know for sure. He wants them to know themselves and each other better, he wants them to be able to talk about things like this, to evolve in their relationship.

He realizes he’s a little out of his depth though. And so the next course of action, as unappealing as it is, is to collect more data.

Specifically, to collect it from other sources.

Specifically, from some of Khai’s many, many exes.

Sometimes Third wonders if Khai has had sex with him more times than he has before they got together. It’s absurd and a little mean-spirited, but self-doubts and feelings of inadequacy don’t just disappear overnight.

The thing is, there have been many girls, and it didn’t end all that badly with all of them.

Maybe not even most of them. Khai has so many clingy, resentful or crazy exes just by way of having so many exes in the first place. A lot of them were pretty decent, and a lot of them understood from the start what he had to offer – not much by way of feelings and commitment. 

Like the ones he’s visiting right now.

“Oh, hey Third.”

"Hello, May. Peach. How is it going?"

May and Peach were friends before going to uni, and both dating Khai in quick succession helped them realized that they were more interested in each other, actually. So they don’t resent Khai – on the contrary, they hold some sort of gratitude for him that makes them the most pleasant of his exes to talk to.

This will hopefully weigh in his favor when he asks the questions he came to ask. If he even manages.

“Not bad. We have a small reprieve in our workload these days, so we’re taking advantage.”

Peach gestures at the lavish sprawl of food around them. They have claimed one of the best parts of the Art Department’s lawn for a picnic, and not a “two sandwiches and a bottle of coke to share on a dirt patch” kind of picnic. He will have to ask for the recipe of the vegetable pie and cherry crumbles he spots among their feast, but now is not the time.

“What about you?”

“Good, good. I’m good.”

Cue the awkward pause.

He is sort of interrupting and they are too polite to send him away, but they do exchange puzzled gazes as he stands there like an idiot. They seem to be having some sort of argument by eyes and eyebrow only. Peach wins – she gestures for him to sit down while May rolls her eyes.

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to bother you, but I need to ask you something,” he says by way of an explanation as he sits on the smallest spot possible on their blanket. Peach offers him a clementine. Peeling it occupies his hands, he wonders if she did it on purpose.

“Is it about Khai?” she asks gently, all-knowing. Third isn’t even that surprised.

“Hm.”

May doesn’t look too pleased by that, which, fair enough. He does feel bad about coming to them and bringing up such a matter, but he’s getting a little desperate. He needs help.

“Please don’t be mad at me. This is going to be awkward but I need to talk about…”

They look suspicious already. This is mortifying.

“About… sex.”

Luckily for him, they are so confused they forget to be angry. May is the one to recover first.

“Not sure we’ll be much help on this man.”

“I don’t need advice! It’s… okay, whatever. Please just… answer me okay?”

May looks on the verge of arguing, but Peach shushes her. Her eyes are full of compassion when she gestures for him to go on and he wonders if maybe she has an inkling about what he means to ask.

“Khai has the reputation of being great in bed. Can you… explain to me why?”

Peach casts a glance at her sulking girlfriend and decides to answer first.

“I can’t say it’s the same for everyone but… I kinda knew I was a lesbian long ago. Maybe since I was a kid. I knew for sure when I came to uni, but Khai is the only guy that ever made me doubt that.”

“Hey!”

Peach lays a hand on May’s thighs, soothing, and Third is about to call the whole thing off, not wanting to cause any issues between them. 

“Come on honey. He needs help”, Peach cajoles. May snarls but she doesn’t protest further.

"I never enjoyed myself much with any of the guys I've been with. And I think it's also because they were pretty average. It felt sort of… transactional, each trying to get what we wanted from the other. For a long time I thought that it was only because we lacked an emotional connection, or they were just bad at it. But I have to say, Khai is good enough to make even a lesbian see stars.”

May has crossed from angry into mortified territory, and Third is not far behind.  Peach seems to be enjoying herself though.

“I’ve never seen a guy so willing to eat a girl out.”

“Please, have mercy on me.”

“Do you want your answer or not?”

Despite her mischievous tone, he knows she’s onto him. He nods.

“He was just… very attentive. It was all about me. Crazy as it sounds, I think I’ve never seen him as serious and committed as when we were having sex. Not that we didn’t goof around, but he took it like it was a master class and he was determined to get the best grade every time.”

“Come on, he wasn’t that good,” May grumbles, petulant. Peach raises a shapely eyebrow at the girl, who huffs and puffs, offended. But eventually relents.

“Alright, he was the best guy I’ve had too. What about it anyway? Is he bad with dudes?”

Third blushes, knowing it’s rich of him to not want the conversation to turn back on him seeing how invasive he’s being right now.

“I don’t think that’s the issue,” Peach comments lightly. She nudges him on the arm. 

“No. He’s great. The skills definitely carried over.”

“What’s the matter then?” May asks, getting curious too after all. The urge to gossip is stronger than her distaste at the subject.

“Do you… think he enjoyed himself?”

He is met with matching expressions of surprise.

“Well, he never complained,” May says with a shrug.

“I know but… Did he ever ask for anything at all? Did you go down on him, did you… find something he liked? Get him worked up?”

He’s the one getting worked up right now, but not in the nice way. He has to take a deep breath, has to remember that things are fine and that they’ll be okay.

The gears turning in the girls’ head isn’t that reassuring though. Or maybe it is? At this point he doesn’t know if he’d rather Khai has been like this with everyone, or just him.

“I… kind of avoided oral, and he didn’t hint at it so…”

“I think I offered? But he wasn’t interested. That sure was a first.”

It should have been funny, but it falls flat. He’s too anxious to relax. Peach touches his arm again, a sympathetic look on his face.

“Don’t you think it’s because he wasn’t that into girls?”

Third shakes his head, despite how much he wills it was that simple. There’s no point in wishful thinking.

“It’s the same with me.”

“Really?”

“I think it just doesn’t do it for him. All that much.”

Not as much as for Third, that much is obvious. How he can lose his head in the moment, how he feels high on it sometimes, simultaneously anchored deep in his own body and removed from it, bigger than it, how he craves it at times.

He has never seen nor felt anything of the sort in Khai. Khai enjoys himself well enough during sex. 

That’s about how deep it goes for him.

“What does he say about it?”

"I haven't talked to him yet. I'm pretty sure he doesn't know. It's not a problem, per se, right? There's nothing wrong, he's just…"

Not interested.

“You should look into the possibility of him being on the ace spectrum,” Peach suggests after a moment. 

“The…”

“The ace spectrum? Asexuality? I don’t know much about it to be honest. But it’s worth a shot.”

It doesn’t ring a bell, or only vaguely. He thinks some of the short films the class above them made for their graduation project last year dealt with something of the sort. 

“Are you even sure it’s a real thing?” May asks, skeptical. Peach shrugs, not much more informed.

It doesn’t matter. It will be a real thing, if that’s what Khai is.

.

Third is reluctant about going on the internet for information.

Historically, it didn’t work out so well for him. When he started being attracted to his swim lesson friend in high school, he tried a “am I gay” search on the family computer and nearly died of shock when the first link he clicked, “are you gay? Find out with this…” turned out to be “are you gay? Find out with this awesome video of a twink and his two sugar daddies.” Small mercy that he was alone at the time, but both his siblings and he were banned from the computer for a week when despite their father berating none admitted to being the one getting the virus in. He always suspected his brothers were as guilty as he was anyway.

He also tried online research when Khai and he decided to start having sex, to similarly poor results – results being either outlandish porn or weird fantasizing pieces that didn’t look any more realistic.

Third solved it by going to the Health Center on campus for some resources, and stayed clear of online advice on sexuality ever since.

Going to the Health Center used up all his embarrassments point for the next decade though, so he has to find something else this time. And that’s how he finds himself standing at Un’s door.

Un is the most mature and socially aware of his friends. It’s not very nice to his other friends, but it’s the naked truth. Sometimes Two or Khai will say something about women or gays and Third will catch Un’s eyes narrowing just a little and he’ll just know that Two is in for a lecture later. Two takes it gracefully enough – Third is not sure they would have worked out if he didn’t. He is stupidly enamored with anything Un says or does and works under the assumption that the older boy is always right, which surely makes things smoother in their relationship. 

Un is also the only one of them to know he was gay before they met and to have been somewhat involved in the gay community. More than them, anyway. Third has only ever been attracted to boys his whole life, yet calling and thinking of himself as gay still feels kind of weird. He’s working on it. Un is good for that too.

Un will know about this ace thing. He knows this kind of stuff. 

So Third knocks on the boy’s door at nine p.m on a Tuesday and he doesn’t know why he’s even surprised when it’s not shirtless Un that answers – because Un is allergic to shirt. 

It’s shirtless Two, because Two is allergic to shirts specifically when Un is around.

“Oh, hi Third! Huh, did you need anything? How did you even know I was here?”

That’s a stupid question, Third wants to say. If Two isn’t in his dorm, he is in Un’s, that’s how things are.

“I didn’t come for you,” he blurts out instead.

“Huh?”

“I… came to talk to P’Un.”

The boy finally appears behind his boyfriend, mercifully clothed.

“Is everything alright?”

"Yes, yes. I need some advice, I guess."

Two crosses his arms, one eyebrow raised as if to say “spill then”. But Third is not that comfortable talking to him just yet. Two was a great help when Third was still pining hopelessly after Khai, but Third has come to regret a little having Two and Bone take sides in their friend group. He doesn’t want to put them in this position again.

And he’s not sure he can convince his friend that there is nothing wrong. That things are fine. That he just wants to know. He’s not sure he could convince anyone of that despite it being true, Khai included. And Two won’t be able to keep his mouth shut.

He must look pitiable enough, because Un grabs his jacket from the hanger, his keys and wallet on the counter near the door, and bypasses swiftly his betrayed boyfriend.

“Let’s go eat something!”

“Hey!”

“I won’t be long,” Un placates with a quick kiss on Two’s temple. Third sends him an apologetic look, and Two huffs and puffs but Third can tell he’s not truly angry.

They order iced tea and some dumplings at the cafeteria, but they seat outside of the food court, away from prying eyes and ears. 

Third appreciates Un’s company. His very presence is calming to his overactive mind. It never hits harder how frenzied his thoughts are than when he sits with the other boy and finally takes a breath. Khai still gets jealous over it from time to time. Insecure, most likely, when Third comes back relaxed and in a better mood after a study session or just a coffee with Un. He wonders if Two gets similar anxieties. He hopes not too much. There is truly nothing romantic in nature in their friendship, but he supposes there is love there all the same, just like the love he has for their little quartet.

Un doesn’t ask anything, which is also nice. He just drinks his tea, and Third knows that if he were to chicken out, Un would be content to just sit there sharing food and then go back to his room, not a word added. 

It’s up to Third then.

“Do you know what it means to be asexual?”

Un doesn’t even blink.

“I know some. People who don’t want sex, be it lack of interest or utter repulsion. I’m not sure how common it is, but it’s a thing.”

It's a thing.

Okay, it's a thing. That's a good start, yeah.

“But you can have sex anyway right? It's just... not that interesting.”

“For some, yes. It depends.”

“A spectrum right?”

“You’ve done your research?”

“Not... not really. That’s why I wanted to ask you. I don’t really know where to look.”

“Are you questioning your sexuality?”

See, this is what’s great about Un. No getting embarrassed, no sidestepping the subject and asking roundabout questions. Efficient and to the point.

Prompting Third to answer the same way.

“Not mine.”

This time, Un does look a little surprised.

“Khai?”

“I know how it sounds but... I don't know. I’m not sure.”

“Do you want to tell me?”

“I... might as well, right?”

And so he does. He tries to convey everything that has happened without getting into too many details, both to protect their privacy and to spare them some embarrassment. Un listens patiently, without much comments, until Third is done.

He feels drained afterward. This may have been weighing on his mind more than he thought.

“You know what I’m going to say, don't you?"

“That I should talk to him?”

Un nods, looking sympathetic. 

“But do you think that could be it? I’m not reading too much into it, am I?”

He sounds a little unhinged maybe, but he’s been worrying himself into a panic and he’s not really closer to solving it. He needs to know he’s not making things up that aren’t even there. He has been known to create problems before, when things seem too peaceful, as if he can’t handle a stress-free life.

 “It’s not unreasonable. Khai could at the very least have a very low sex drive, and yes, maybe none at all. Can I ask you something?”

“What?”

“What are you going to do? If It's true, if he’s on the ace spectrum in some way, if you both come to term with it... what’s next?”

“I don’t... I don't know? Nothing? I think it’s important that we know, that’s all. Why, am I supposed to do something?”

He’s not sure, but he thinks Un is looking at him like he’s a little dumb, and yet seems strangely pleased by his poor answer. He’s serious when he speaks again though.

“There are some people who wouldn’t be happy with this.”

“I guess it’s a bummer yeah but…”

“What I mean is that it has broken up relationships before.

It takes Third a second. Maybe he really is stupid, but it’s just… He recoils, distressed.

“I’m not going to leave him over this! I don’t… I couldn’t do that. I’m gonna marry him someday, we’re going to get old together. This doesn’t matter.”

“Even if he tells you he’ll never have sex with you again?”

Third frowns at Un, betrayed and a little hurt. Why does he have to say such things?

“I’m sorry,” the older boy says, setting a comforting hand on Third’s shoulders. “I’m not trying to upset you, I just want you to think about it.”

"Okay. I am, I am. I guess I'd be sad if we don't have sex anymore. I mean, I like it, it's great, but if… like, what if he doesn’t? And this whole time he just went along and I… I didn’t even notice. I’m a terrible boyfriend. Oh shit, what if he decides to leave me? What if he can’t put up with my horny ass anymore?”

Un shakes his shoulder this time, hard, as if shaking a tree to make the fruits fall down, the fruits being the paranoid products of his frantic mind.

It sort of works.

“Stop that. Khai is a simple guy. If it was really bothering him, he would have told you. You said it yourself, he’s probably not aware of it. It’s important to be empathetic and attentive, but it’s not your job to read his mind.”

He has grown used to it though. He prided himself in anticipating Khai’s wants and needs, of being able to understand him better than anyone, better than Khai did himself.

He can’t help feeling like he failed him somehow.

“Third, please, just talk to him.”

“I know, I know. I will. Thank you. Sorry for dragging you out like this.”

“Don’t be. I’m here if you need help, alright? Anytime.”

They finally get up, Third groaning at his cramped muscles – they stayed a lot longer than he thought. Un is unbothered of course, that bastard.

“Ah, we have a welcoming committee.”

Third follows Un’s gaze to the food court, where Khai and Two make a very bad job at pretending to be interested in something else than their boyfriends. Third chuckles, a little fond. They are so dumb.

They bid farewell to Two and Un before taking the way to their own apartment. Khai is sulking – Third takes his hand, swinging it lightly between them, and Khai tries and fails to hold up a smile.

“Is that thing still bothering you then?” Khai asks, aiming for casual as he looks to the side, like he couldn’t care less about the answer. Third waits for him to look back from the corner of his eyes before he answers.

“Hm. But I’m making progress.”

“Still not telling?”

Third tugs at Khai’s hand to make him stop, so that he can perch on his tiptoe and lay a quick kiss on his lips.

“Soon, okay?”

Khai smiles and nods, soothed for now. But he will hold Third to that.

Soon, soon.

.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Hm? Yeah, go ahead.”

“What’s your best sexual experience?”

Third should have timed it so that Khai didn’t have his mouth full of iced coffee that he promptly chokes on in his surprise. Third offers him a napkin with an eye roll – Khai is always too dramatic for his own good.

Granted, this is a weird thing to spring on his boyfriend in a middle of a study session, he supposes. But they are alone at home and he still needs more data.

“Is that a trick question or something?”

“What? No, no. I’m just curious.”

Alright, this might sound a little weird indeed, especially given that Third, while not being overly jealous since they settled in their relationship, still isn’t fond of running into or hearing about Khai’s exes.

Khai eyes him warily, trying to figure out what he’s supposed to say. Third rolls his eyes again.

“Come on, don’t look at me like that! It’s just a simple question!”

“Why do you even want to know?”

“I… - think fast, Third. I told you, I’m curious. You know I only had sex once before you, so my experience is pretty much limited to you. I wonder how different it is, with different people.”

And now he sounds like he wants them to go to the swinger’s club or something. He takes a large gulp of his drink, trying to look casual.

“Huh. There is not one that really sticks out. Most of them we just… met a couple of times so. It was pretty standard. I guess.”

“Really? Among the whole lot, there had to be some that were better than others.”

“Hey, I didn’t sleep with all my girlfriends!”

Third raises a skeptical eyebrow. Khai frowns, defensive.

“It’s true! With some we just fooled around and some weren’t interested at all.”

“Okay, but you did have some that lasted. What about Kitty?”

As far as he remembers, she’s the one that lasted the longest, almost four months. He liked her too, setting aside the burning jealousy she set in his very core.

“I never had sex with Kitty.”

It’s Third’s turn to choke on his drink. Khai looks smug about it.

“What? Why?”

“I don’t know,” Khai shrugs, going back to scribbling on his notes as if he hasn’t just dropped a massive bomb on Third’s head. “She wasn’t interested I think. It never went that way.”

“But what did you do then?”

Shit. This came out wrong. Khai’s pen freezes above his notebook, his jaw working slightly.

Hurt. Though he plays it off, as always.

“Sex is not all I did with my girlfriends y’know.”

“I know, sorry, that was…”

"We played a lot of video games together. We used to go to the arcades, at the mall near campus. It was fun."

This has to mean something right? That the only girl he managed to stay with for more than a couple of weeks was the one he never got intimate with, it has to mean something.

“You didn’t… ask about it?”

He shrugs again.

“No, I didn’t really care. It was sort of nice, actually. You know I had a bit of a… reputation. In bed. A lot of girls were after that.”

He doesn’t sound nearly as enthusiastic as he should be about, as Third is pretty sure any boy would be. He makes it sound like it was a problem. Third wonders if he’s even aware of that.

A lot of girls lost their virginity to him. Some wanted to sort of get it out of the way, and Khai was the prime choice because all his past conquests unanimously praised the experience.

To think about how little he cared for it though…

“And you? Did you want to? Have sex with them?”

Khai throws him a puzzled look.

“Yeah? Why wouldn’t I? Came with the territory anyway.”

Somehow it was perfectly fine for Kitty to not want them to have sex, but him making the same request couldn’t be an option. If they asked, he complied.

Is it the same now?

“I see.”

They let the conversation die out after that. The thought of Kitty keeps Third up late into the night, but she’s not the one he ought to focus on. This is getting ridiculous. He needs to talk to Khai.

.

He figures the best way to go about it is with movies. After all, this is their preferred way of communication, and not only because they have spent entire evenings conversing by movie titles and quotes. Movies express things better than they could, it gives them a base for discussion that they can then build upon.

He soon faces yet another challenge though.

There is no movie to fall back on this time.

He finds himself deep in online rec lists and forum discussions labeled "Canon Asexual Characters" – Un gave him some pointers. The conclusion is quick and final – as far as representation goes, the movie industry scores a big round zero on this matter. He finds one movie, not very good, a handful of characters explicitly labeled as asexual in a bunch of cartoon shows and TV series he has never heard of and… as far as audiovisual content goes, that’s about it.

The situation seems to be less of a goddamn wasteland in literature and comics, but that doesn’t help him at all. He can’t sit Khai down in front of a book and say he’ll be back to discuss it in five hours – partly because Khai would probably give up after fifteen minutes, which is his standard attention span for any task that isn’t watching a movie.

This is frustrating, and discouraging too. From what he gleaned online there are quite a few people that identify as asexual out there, that have for years, that build their lives and relationships on that foundation.

And no movie? Not one?

Backing up, this is enraging.

His last hope is those previous year’s graduate short movies. They watch them every year in class, there is even a contest between the students to elect their favorite. It goes for most big projects they make for school. They are film majors after all.

His memories are more than vague and he ends up buried in archives, frantically looking for that short film. He finds it not in the graduating projects pile, but another batch of short movies made for a festival centered around diversity and fights for equality.

Figures.

It’s not hard to convince Khai to make it their pick for Movie Tuesday. The DVD he brought back has three pieces on it and he can’t very well argue for just the one he’s interested in, so he puts it on from the start.

It's actually quite good. The first film is about two girls and their friendship poisoned by one being considered much prettier than the other, mostly thanks to her lighter skin. It's pretty unforgiving to advertisements and products that try to convince them to be as light as possible. It does end on a high note though, unlike the second one, about two childhood friends falling in love with each other. They're both aware of their feelings, but they’re both boys, and one of them never takes the step, never crosses the line, never manages to accept it. He is married with a child by the end of the movie, and looking across the room to his friend and his partner with a truly heartbreaking expression on his face.

This one hits a little too close to home and ends with them both sobbing into their pillow. They have yet to tackle the issue of coming out to their family about their relationship, or about their sexuality in general – Third doesn’t know, and if he’s right about any of this, Khai doesn’t either.

The last one centers around a girl. As she grows up the montage shows her in various conversation and settings where she’s told how happy she’ll be when she finds her “true love”, that one day a boy will come and make her feel special, and, as she grows older, that her first time with this person will be magical.

She starts to date a boy. They have sex. She doesn’t feel much of anything. They break up. “Maybe you’re weren’t in love with him,” her friend says. “That must be it.”

The same goes for the next, and the next. Each time there is an explanation, a reason.

“You weren’t compatible.”

“She wasn’t the right one.”

“He wasn’t good at it.

“You weren’t good at it.”

“You did something wrong.”

“There is something wrong with you.”

It’s at this point of the story that Third realizes the girl doesn’t talk, not really. People talk to her and she agrees, she doesn’t answer back, she just takes it, accepts it. He is tearing up a little.

In the end, she has another date with another boy, and he asks if she wants to go to his place, and she thinks about it for a moment, before she says no. She says she doesn't want to have sex with him. "Not now?" "Not ever." "Why?" "I just don't want to" "Is there something wrong with you?"

She looks at the camera.

“No.”

It’s crazy how little it impacted him when he saw it last year. He didn’t get what it was talking about, he didn’t get the point. He remembers not voting for it because he found it kind of shallow compared to the others, he didn’t understand what her problem was.

He feels bad about it now. The actress is quite good – the way she’s mostly passive, seemingly uninvolved, is deliberate. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t have the answer, and so she just agrees to everything people tell her, every assumption, every accusation.

He remembers thinking, “what is wrong with her?”. He remembers he didn’t understand the ending.

They sit in silence as the credits roll with a few behind-the-scenes of their seniors shooting and editing their projects. Third even recognizes a few of them.

He thinks he recognizes the girl too. He wonders if this is based on a real story, if they’re telling it as one of them lived it. It’s possible – it often is, with this kind of project.

“That was good,” he says lamely. He doesn’t remember what he hoped to achieve with this. He didn’t think he would be so affected. He should have watched it all beforehand.

“Hm, I liked it! I wonder how long they got to make those. The cinematography was good, especially on the first one.”

They get lost in the specifics for a while, which is unusual for them and for Khai especially, who likes to dive back into the story as soon as it’s done.

And he does, after a while.

“I’m not sure I got the message for the last one though. It was weird, no?”

He seems a little unsure suddenly, looking back at the screen as if the girl would still be here, as if she could judge him. Say “No” again.

This is Third’s cue.

“I think it’s a piece about asexuality.”

“What?”

“It’s when people are not attracted to anyone. Or something.”

This is so lame and unsubtle, surely Khai will see right through it? But Khai only hums, pensive.

“I didn’t know it existed.”

“Ah, me neither. Not until recently, I mean. I... Un told me about it. I don’t remember what we were talking about but... yeah.”

He’s so bad at this.

“And so she’s... not interested?”

“Well she seems to want to date people and all but she’s not into the... sexy side of things.”

Khai chuckles like a schoolboy. Third swats his arm lightly.

“But she felt like she had to, you know. ‘Cause that’s what you’re supposed to do. In a relationship. Not that it’s... actually true. But that’s what we’re told right? But she figures she doesn’t have to. That it’s okay. Y’know.”

Surely now Khai will be onto him. But no, he’s still lost in thought, still as oblivious as ever. He turns and flips the DVD box in his hands and Third wants to scream.

“Do you want to watch something else?” Khai asks, done with the topic.

“No, I’m beat. I’ll go to sleep, but go ahead if you want.”

“Nah, I’d rather fall asleep with you.”

Third huffs to hide a pleased smile that Khai surely catches. He wraps his long arms around Third’s shoulders and slumps on him all the way to the bedroom. He does it again once they’re ready for the night, wraps himself around Third, tangles their limbs, traps him in his embrace. In the beginning Third would squirm and protest, sure that he could never fall asleep like this. But he got used to it, came to enjoy it too. It is hard to fall asleep alone now.

“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

.

The good news is, it is not the complete bust he thought it was.

Khai is thinking. It's painfully obvious and even their friends have noticed because Khai can't do two things at the same time, and so when he's thinking, he's useless at everything else. Third has started to take notes in double during class, and they have taken turns buying him lunch and snacks since he can't be trusted to do it himself. Two and Bone don't question it too much, because this has happened before. Third waits.

The bad news then is that Khai doesn't look too pleased with the thinking he’s doing.

Third can see the anxiety building up as if Khai was a thermometer. He has to refrain from pulling a stop to it because Khai needs the time, he always did. Even if it's unpleasant, he needs to think about this himself for a while. Hell knows Third has done enough of it already.

Khai comes to his conclusions. Some sort of it, in any case. And the next problem immediately follows suit – he has no idea what to do with it.

It happened when Khai had wanted to invite Third to go back home with him for the holiday. It happened when he had wanted to ask Third to move back in. He gets moody, thoughts entirely taken by this thing he wants to say but can't, looking at Third every five seconds, mouth opening and closing without any word ever making it past his lips. Khai might be stupidly honest, but he's not very confrontational. He'd rather ignore the things that bother him.

Third still has one card he wants to play to bring all this to the surface. He’s been thinking about it for a while, but he’s glad he didn’t suggest it before. He’s better equipped now to handle Khai’s answer, to see through it maybe.

He waits a little more, but Khai is obviously stuck. It’s up to Third then.

“I want to suggest something,” he starts, interrupting a heavy make-out session that seems on the way to devolve into something more heated. They haven't had sex all that much in the past few weeks, both too preoccupied.

“What is it?”

Third makes an effort to extract himself from Khai's embrace a little, just so that they can look at each other properly. So that he can look at Khai's face.

“How would you feel about switching.”

“Switching what?”

“Position. About me topping.”

Khai blinks, squints, wrinkles his nose, frowns. The words bounce around like a ping pong ball in his head before he manages to think up a proper reaction.

The proper reaction being, in this case, “Ah”.

“I’m just putting it on the table, we don’t have to…”

“No, no it’s fine. Why not. You want to try?”

These are the exact words Third expected to hear. It makes him a little more secure in his conclusions, in where he wants to take that conversation.

“What about you? Is it something you would enjoy?”

“I’m up for it, if you…”

“I’m asking you, Khai,” Third cuts, a little forceful. Khai’s frown deepens. “Forget about me. What do you want?”

He’s lost now, confused.

“I… I don’t understand what you want me to say. I told you I was okay with it.”

“I know you are. You are okay with everything.”

“And it’s a bad thing?”

“No! That’s not it! I just want to know what you like.”

“I… I don’t know! What kind of question is that? What difference does it make?”

Third takes a deep breath, tries to rein his temper in, to get the conversation back under control. They are getting worked up for nothing.

“It’s important to me, to know if you can answer that question, Khai.”

“Well, what do you like?”

He came prepared for this one.

“I like when you touch me, I prefer when we’re both fully naked because I like when we touch everywhere. I like when you’re on top, when you weigh down on me, not so much to ride you, because I like when you’re in charge. I don’t like blowing you that much which is kind of unfair because I love when you do it and…”

“Okay, okay, I get it!”

Third has more where that comes from, but he’s getting embarrassed too. The point is made anyway.

“What about you?”

It’s not that it’s a good thing that Khai is panicking, that he can’t actually answer that, but it means Third was onto something. He hasn’t been making things up all this time.

“I don’t know, I just… I just like what you like. I want you to have a good time. I don’t know.”

“I figured maybe it’s not really doing it for you. Like it is for me.”

Khai looks more and more cornered.

“Is it about the other day? The movie?”

It has been bothering him then. Good start. Or well, maybe not so good, for now.

“I’m not… I don’t… I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Third can’t stand it suddenly, how they sit apart on the couch, how it feels like they’re fighting. Because they’re not. This isn’t a fight.

He takes Khai’s hands in his, scoots closer so that their knees are touching.

"No, you didn't. I'm not accusing you of anything alright? I'm not mad either. I just want us to talk."

“But why?” Khai whines. They’ve both gotten much better at recognizing the need to talk things out, but it’s still hard, it’s still tempting to just not, to push it away hoping it will solve itself.

“It can’t be that bad. To know yourself better.”

“’m not sure about that.”

This was another thing they had been working on, sort of. It was hard for Third to wrap his head around it at first, but for all his cocky attitude and swagger, Khai’s opinion of himself is actually quite low, and the whole debacle of their pre-relationship times did nothing to improve that.

Third eventually found out that Khai truly didn’t believe he was capable of love, and linked intimately, he didn’t believe he was worthy of it either.

“Khai, this is not such a big deal.”

“Isn’t it?”

“It doesn’t have to be. You don’t… You don’t dislike it right? What we do together.”

This is the real concern here as far as Third is concerned. Nothing else matters but this.

Khai shakes his head vehemently.

“No, no, I don’t. I swear. I like it, I do but it’s… I… I love you.”

“I love you too,” Third says back, a habit at this point. As is the grin that it never fails to bring on Khai’s face.

“I like to make you happy. And to make you feel good. And I like when we’re close and you cling to me, I like to do that to you.”

“See? That wasn’t so hard,” Third teases, because he’s flushed and a little overwhelmed. Khai is playing with his fingers, they have trouble looking at each other, but the tension has eased a little.

“Is this… Is this what’s been bothering you?” Khai asks after a moment.

“Hm.”

“And does it… bother you now?”

Khai’s grip tightens a little and Third thinks about the girl in the film. The “what did you do”, the “what is wrong with you”, and he squeezes too.

“At first I feared that you just… weren’t that into men, or into me or something. And so this? If you’re… if you’re ace in some way, it really, really doesn’t matter to me. No, please, listen,” he asks when Khai seems about to retort something, to argue probably.

“Listen, ‘cause I’ve had time to think about it okay? I thought about it a lot. And the thing is, there are always things that one is gonna enjoy more than the other. I mean, you suffer through my terrible romcoms, and I watch your stupid action flicks. So that we can watch it together, yeah? ‘Cause the other is enjoying it, so it’s fine. But I know I’ll never make you appreciate a true horror movie with me.”

Even a thriller with a little too much suspense is too much for Khai to handle. They watched exactly one horror movie with the gang altogether during their first year at uni, and upon Khai’s reaction, decided that there would never be a repeat.

“And it doesn’t matter. I can watch it with Two and Bone. Or alone,” he quickly adds, because this is kind of a metaphor and he doesn’t want it to get muddled up. “And if I couldn’t, well… I’d do without it. I could live without watching horror movies. And I… I could live without having sex too. If that’s how it is for you, for us then… I’d be fine with that. I’m fine with that.”

He realizes this was not a given when he started thinking about it. He imagines it isn’t a given for many people, if the few things he saw online and if what Un told him is anything to go by. That’s what the film was saying too, right?

But there is no way something like this can be a deal-breaker for Third. He spent three years in love with Khai, and even if he fantasized quite a lot about him during this time, his feelings weren't about that.

“I don’t want us to stop having sex,” Khai says, sounding a little stunned, a little out of it.

“Okay.”

“It doesn’t… really appeal to me for you to… to top. But if you want to try, we can, I don’t mind, if it’s…”

“I’m not that interested either.”

“Then why…”

“I needed to… kick start this.”

Third is a little curious about being on top and might want to try it someday, but it’s not an urge he needs to act on now. Or ever, if it comes to it.

“This is why I wanted us to talk about it okay? You have to tell me what you want. Or don’t.”

“But what if… What if it turned out to be none of it?”

“Then that’s… how it’ll be.”

“That wouldn’t be fair to you.”

“It’s not about being fair! You can make the effort of watching romcoms but you draw the line at horror movies. I’ll tell you what I want, and you’ll draw the line, and then we’ll go from there. Okay?”

Khai is getting more agitated, lips getting red with how much his teeth worry at it.

“But you… you like it. You like it right? I’m good at it.”

“That’s not…”

“But you said… you asked about the times I had sex before. We talked about Kitty. You said… You asked what we’d do. If not that.”

Third winces, cursing his unchecked tongue for that slip.

“There was… It was nice, with Kitty. Most of the time there was… Not much more they wanted from me but, you know, I just, it’s not like I had much to offer and…”

“Don’t say that. Khai, please…”

“If I can’t even do that for you then…”

“Stop it, stop! It’s not… It’s not your worth. Khai, that’s not… That’s not why I love you. It doesn’t matter. You don’t owe me anything, you don’t… You do make me happy. You know that right? I love you. I love you. Even like this, even right now, and when we’re together and when we’re apart, and that’s not changing. That’s not going anywhere.”

Third hates that he’s partially responsible for this. They were so careless about the way they treated his “whoring ways”, it was such a recurring joke to call him a slut, to suggest he could get rich if he started to charge all these girls for his services, but that his prowess in bed couldn’t make up for his personality, seeing how it never lasted, with any of them. And that girls would throw himself at him, with or without asking. He thinks about Ching Ching, how Khai took the blame immediately, how none of them revisited how fucked up it was.

It’s no wonder Khai never even thought about what sex meant to him. It was never put into question – that’s how things are, right?

“I can’t love,” Khai used to say, and Third doesn’t know, who said it first, himself or somebody else, who gave him that idea in the first place. Conflated somewhat to “I can’t be loved,” and again it was unclear which one came first, but here they were now, months into their relationship, with Khai still taken with the idea that he could never bring anything worthy to the table, except for his body.

“They-they all said I couldn’t treat you right.”

Third gives in and climbs on Khai's laps, wraps his arms around his head and shoulders, press them together, hard. Khai digs his face into Third’s chest, snakes his arms around his torso. The embrace is too tight, a little painful. Third squeezes harder.

“I’m sorry.”

He sounds so defeated, so guilty, and Third hates it so much.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why… I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you. It doesn’t matter. I love you.”

They stay like this, wrapped around each other, until the sun sets, until they’re stiff and cramped, until the tears dry out. Then they go to bed and Third strips them both of all their clothes and tangle their limbs under the covers, Khai yet again hidden next to his heart.

Third’s head is in shambles and he probably won’t get much sleep but they’ll be fine, they’ll figure it out. Time will prove they can make it work, that Third isn’t going anywhere, and he will convince Khai, he will.

When he wakes up the next day, Khai is gone.

.

“Can I ask you guys a favor?”

They’re sitting at the food court, making quick work of their lunch before they go cram in some last-minute editing for an assignment. Khai has gone to fetch them drinks.

“What’s up?” Two asks around a mouthful of fried rice. Third wrinkles his nose.

“It’s going to sound weird but… I need you to not talk about sex too much for a while.”

“Huh?”

"I know it's not like we do all the time or whatever but… at least don't mention it when it comes to Khai and me. No comments when we arrive or leave together, that kind of things."

"Is everything okay?" Bone asks, a little concerned.

“We’re working some stuff out. It would help.”

“No problem man, you know that. But do you want to talk about it?”

He shakes his head. Khai isn’t near ready for that, and even if he was, Third doesn’t feel the urge to discuss his sex life with his friends. Or lack of thereof, for the time being.

They’re tiptoeing around the subject, Khai and he. They agreed they would be having sex again, but it feels awkward now, as unnatural and embarrassing as when they started and didn’t know what to do with themselves and double the number of dicks they were used to. Third doesn’t know how to ask without spooking Khai, and he supposes Khai feels the same.

Khai comes back and distributes their drinks. He sits next to Third, close but not touching and Third hates it. This is ridiculous. They have spent long periods of time not having sex before, it was never an issue. Thinking back on it, it's possible they had a lower count than most couples their age, but it didn’t matter, it suited them just fine. So why is it such a big deal now? It’s as if every touch is loaded now, carrying an intent that was never there before. It's not sex they're after when they sit shoulder-to-shoulder, when he lays his head on Khai's laps, when they hold hands on campus. Why does it feel like this now? Why are they so uncertain?

They have been sleeping to each side of the bed, the few centimeters between them as wide as the sea.

Bone and Two probably notice, but they don’t mention it. Bone spends most of the meal complaining about how the pretty girl that just joined his English class doesn’t seem interested at all and Two tries to cheer him up with awful pickup lines in bad English.

Third and Khai laugh. But they are not touching.

.

“Okay, that’s enough,” Third says as soon as they get back to their flat at the end of the day. He drops his bag by the door, takes Khai’s off his shoulders not too nicely, and he steps into his space, circles his arms around his waist, and rises up to kiss him.

Nothing too deep, but not just a peck either. Khai's hands come up to frame his face and finally, finally, Khai is touching him and looking at him and Third can relax a little.

"If kissing is going to be on the bargaining table too, you have to tell me now."

He means it as a joke, but that’s not how it comes out, and that’s not how Khai takes it either.

“Why? What will you do if it is?”

It’s a provocation, so he doesn’t rise to it.

“I don’t know. I would need to think about it. I can’t deny it would be a tough blow, but we could work something out too.”

“Dammit Third!”

Khai steps back and turns his back to Third. As much as Third want to face him now, see his expression, soothe its worried line, he doesn’t move.

“How… How can you say that? You can’t just renounce everything!”

“I’m not renouncing you!”

“What would be the point of being together if we didn’t even touch?”

“Is this all about physical to you? If I just wanted someone to kiss and fuck, I could pick anyone!”

Khai turns back to stare at him, brow furrowed in an upset frown, but Third is the more upset of the two right now.

“Khai. Would you leave me if I told you I don’t want you to kiss me anymore?”

His eyes widen as if he hadn’t possible considered their situation could be reversed, that Third could throw it back at him.

“I don’t want to leave you! I won’t!”

“Then what are you saying! Why do you think I should!”

“You deserve better!”

“Better than to be doubted about my intentions and feelings? I sure do!”

Khai’s teeth click as he shuts his mouth and Third sees his jaw work, his lips tightening as he bites the inside of his cheeks.

Maybe they should have been more open from the start. They kind of fell into bed without much thinking – even if they had to do some research beforehand. But it never occurred to either of them that this too could need to be laid out, to be discussed just like the house chores and the movie choices.

“Khai, it’s… it’s not that hard. I just… Do you want to fuck me tonight?”

Khai gapes at him.

“What?”

“Do you? Because I want you to. That’s it. And so you have to tell me if you do, or you don’t, and if you don’t we won’t, and that’s it. And maybe it won’t hold and I’ll be frustrated and we will have to figure something out, and maybe I’ll ask for something else then and you’ll be down for that, but it’s not hard. It doesn’t have to be. I just need you. In whatever way, I just… I just need you.”

He sniffles because he began to cry at some point like an idiot. But this isn’t what he wanted. This was supposed to bring them closer, not drive them apart. He just wants Khai’s eyes on him. He just wants Khai to love him. That's all he ever wanted.

“I want to.”

Third rubs his eyes, tries to get his bearings back. He’s not sure heard right.

“What?”

“I want to.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

.

It's different than how it was before. Third gets cleaned up and started on his own, and when Khai takes charges Third doesn't try to take back. It's frustrating, that his touch has so little effect on Khai, but then this may be the solution – to stop trying. He tells Khai what he wants – faster, softer, keep going, stay still – and Khai tells him too – let me, open your eyes, no need, stay still. Khai’s focus is a little freaky, and Third is hit with the realization that a lot of the interest Khai has shown in bed before was sort of faked. He only gets half-hard, and he doesn’t even seem to notice. He makes do with fingers and mouth, all his attention is on Third, and Third can’t help but relish it, drink it up like he has been thirsty for days.

The more Third moans and whimpers the more relaxed Khai seems to be, so Third plays it up a little, just to see Khai smile more and more, smug and pleased with himself like he’s acing a practical test. Third gets vocal too, demanding. And Khai soaks it all up, obeys and gets to work, eager to please, always so eager.

He makes Third come twice in quick succession and Third needs a time out then because his head is swimming and he’s not sure he remembers his name right now.

“If anything, this feels unfair to you,” he manages to breathe out once he has come down from his high a little.

“Seeing you like this is its own reward. You know, I never… I never quite got it. People talked about it like it was this amazing, mind-blowing thing and it… it was never like that for me. I don’t mind it, it’s okay but…”

"If you don't care for me touching you, I won’t.”

“Doesn’t it bother you?”

“A little. I wish I could give you something back, that I could make yourself feel it too. But if I can't, then I can’t. What about you? Doesn’t it bother you?”

“I kinda feel like there could be better uses of our time. But I’m happy if it makes you happy too, and if… if it’s okay that I don’t... Like when we watch romcoms.”

He can’t believe they clung to that metaphor. They’re kinda gross, sweaty and damp, but he cuddles into Khai’s warmth, heart full.

“See, this… this is why I wanted us to talk. Even if it means adjusting, again… I’d rather we know. You don't have to pretend, or lie, we can talk to each other.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t… I didn’t know what to do.”

“I know. Me neither. We just… Let’s figure it out, yeah? There is nothing to worry about. Everything is fine.”

“Okay, yeah.”

They kiss for a while before they somehow summon the strength to go take a shower. They wash each other up and Third supposes this could devolve into another round, if they wanted to.

If he wanted to. And he does, and he could ask, and maybe Khai would even say yes.

It’s going to fall on him for now. Khai is able to say no, but for this, it will maybe take a while. It’s not so bad, if they have to voice everything out. They can be quite dumb, the both of them, so this can only help.

Khai holds him as they fall asleep and sleep comes easy, easy, like it hasn’t in a while.