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A Gentle Summer

by Emayel

The rays of the late afternoon sun seep through the treetops as a single rider and his horse pass through the forest. Leaning forward and squinting in attempt to make out any signs of civilization in the distance, Sang swings his gaze from left to right, while his steed ambles peacefully on the dirt road.

He sighs when he realizes that he can’t see anything past the greenery with his fairly poor eyesight and rights himself back up in his saddle. “I’m hoping that this path is leading us somewhere because frankly, we may or may not be heading in the wrong direction.” His horse lets out a snort and Sang groans. “I should’ve eaten more of the breakfast I had this morning, but Minh ate all of the noodles and left only the bean sprouts. And you know how I feel about bean sprouts.”

As he elaborates further on his grand detest of the legumes, his horse’s ears perk up. While he would like to think that the response is due to the fact that she’s intensely listening to his tale of woe, he stops talking and focuses in on their surroundings. The forest is alive with birds flitting above them with their songs echoing through the treetops and the tree leaves rustle softly in the wind. The scent of magnolia is faint.

He’s almost certain that there isn’t anything out of the ordinary, until he spots a lone tower looming over the horizon.

—–

Standing at the bottom of the tower, Sang takes a deep breath and examines the rock wall in front of him. The rocks seem to be sturdy in place and not as eroded as he feared it would be. Inspecting and testing out the stability, he’s pleased to find that it won’t be tumbling down on him anytime soon and reaches out to secure his first foothold on the wall.

The climb is surprisingly as easy as he remembers it being when he was a young boy of eight. He’s much older now at the age of twenty-two, but for a fleeting moment he almost forgets that he’s on a mission and not simply doing this out of pure childish fun.

He prepares to take his next climb when he suddenly feels a wooden ledge. He looks up and sees a glass window with its doors flung wide open. A wicked grin spreads across Sang’s face.

“I can’t believe I did it, I can’t believe I actually climbed an entire rock wall up here. I guess all those years of skipping class to climb trees wasn’t such a bad idea after all,” he rambles off excitedly as he pushes himself up through the gaping window with his forearms.

He swings his left leg into the tower after successfully getting his right one in. Unfortunately, the tip of his boot comes into contact with a pile of books on the floor that happens to be hidden from his line of sight. He completely knocks it over as he unceremoniously stumbles in.

Embarrassed by his lack of courtesy and graceless entrance, he’s about to sound out an apology when he discovers that there is no one else in the room.

Sang smoothes out his trousers and begins to restack the toppled pile of books from where they originally stood. Placing them back haphazardly, he scans through the titles embossed on the front covers of the books and finds himself immediately intrigued. None of the books follow any particular theme. The titles range from historical reads to scientific explorations, and he wistfully thinks about owning such books like these back home in his own collection.

Placing the final book – a romance novel – on top, he rises from his crouched stance on the floor and surveys the rest of the room. Upon first glance, it’s quite obvious that it is a bedroom. A large bed is pushed into the center of the right wall with brightly woven quilts tucked in. A mahogany desk and bookshelves are flushed against the left wall. Ripped out pages from notebooks and maps of places he doesn’t recognize are tacked up everywhere around the room.

Perusing the impressive set of bookshelves flanking both sides of the desk, he notes the various knick-knacks displayed on the shelves: a gold plated mirror, a ceramic duck, a floral porcelain jar with a matching lid. He’s busy studying the fascinating treasures in the room when he hears the door creak open. He whips his head up and turns to greet his lady-in-waiting.

Who he thought would be a young woman is replaced with the presence of a young man: a rather attractive young man brandishing an exceptionally sharp letter opener aimed in his direction. Sang would have approached him with a friendly handshake under different circumstances. In this moment, however, the blatantly enraged and practically murderous look on the stranger’s face screams untouchable.

Bewildered, Sang briefly racks his brain before suddenly comprehending the situation. He hesitantly raises his hands up in submission. “I don’t mean any harm. I must have gone through the wrong window. An honest and silly mistake, truly. Perhaps Princess Zyu is in another tower in this area, but–”

“What do you mean by princess?”

Sang startles out of his explanation at the wary voice coming from the other man. The grip on the letter opener hasn’t slackened, but the iciness of his gaze has melted significantly. “I’m here to meet the Zyu Han, Princess of Norsa. In order to ask for her hand in marriage, I must retrieve her from her tower as a formality.”

The man’s brows shoot up. “I’m sorry, sir,” he says slowly. “I’m afraid there is no princess. I’m the only one who lives here in this tower in this part of Norrick.”

All of the color drains from Sang’s face. “W-what do you mean by ‘Norrick’?”

“Norsa is in the southeast region, but you are here in the southwest side called Norrick.”

“Oh– Oh, gods be damned,” he says as he clutches his head with a trembling hand. His forehead begins to pound. “I knew my sense of direction was lacking, but not to this extent.”

“If that’s the case, it is not that big of a–”

Sang doesn’t hear anything over the high-pitched noise rings deafeningly in his ears. “I just trespassed someone’s property and intruded into your bedroom. I could be sent to trial or prison for this. How will I ever explain this to–”

“Please stop!”

Sang immediately snaps his mouth shut. Even though Sang is well over a head taller than the stranger, the urgent yet commanding tone of the the man’s voice has him complying instantly.

“As I was trying to say, it’s not that big of a deal. Yes, you might have wandered into a stranger’s home, but you didn’t mean to and it was an accident.”

“Technically, the mission was to sneak into a stranger’s home and propose to a princess,” Sang replies weakly.

The man shakes his head firmly. “Even still, it was an honest mistake. The next time you embark on a journey, you should make sure that you get clearer directions.”

All Sang can do is nod in response.

The tension in the air slowly begins to dissipate. The two of them remain standing apart for awhile, regarding each other silently.

A few more minutes pass before Sang straightens his back up and clears his throat a bit too loudly. “I guess right now would be a good time to introduce myself, although it’s a bit late. My name is Le Sang, Knight of Sendal. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“I am Maniraj Kaviyan, Prince of Norrick. It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Sang.” The corner of Kaviyan’s mouth lifts slightly. “It seems like you’ve endured quite a hectic morning. Would you like to join me for a meal?”

Sang sighs with relief. “That sounds wonderful.”

—–

They walk down the spiraling stone steps with Kaviyan leading the way. As they reach the bottom of the tower, Sang stops to take a pause at the last step. Sweeping his gaze across the room, Sang notices that it is a cross between a kitchen and dining area of sorts. He spots a cast iron cooking stove standing next to a plain wooden counter and a porcelain sink along the opposite wall. At center of the room, there is a simple birch table with a pair of matching chairs. Similarly to the bedroom, the downstairs area is illuminated by soft light seeping through the multiple windows around the room.

Sang moves to sit in one of the chairs as Kaviyan gracefully walks across the room to pick up a kettle that has been left on top of the stove. He pours the boiled water into a glass teapot at the counter and effortlessly reaches up into the cupboards for a tin of loose tea leaves. “By the way, the food has already been made,” Kaviyan says with his back still turned to Sang. “I had just finished preparing it when I heard a noise from upstairs and found you in my tower.”

Sang’s throat lets out a strangled sound at the comment. Kaviyan looks over his shoulder at Sang with an amused glint in his eyes. Once Kaviyan covers the lid of the teapot that’s steeping with tea, he takes it by the handle and walks over to the other side of the counter to place it on a tray crammed with steaming plates of food.

As Kaviyan carries the tray to where they’ll dine and meticulously arranges the platters, Sang’s mouth begins to water at the sight of the food slowly decorating the table. The midday spread is much more plentiful and vibrant than the simple breakfast Sang had earlier that morning: sweet bananas, rice pudding, vegetable curry, rose-shaped cookies, and so much more that Sang doesn’t immediately recognize. He can hardly contain his growing hunger any longer as Kaviyan places the last dish on the table. He offers a flustered “thank you” as Kaviyan spoons some peppered rice onto Sang’s plate.

Sang is busy shoveling in mouthfuls of flavorful meats and pickled vegetables as Kaviyan shoots him curious looks across the tables. The two of them fall into a comfortable silence, maneuvering plates around each other without uttering a single word. Occasionally they glance at one another and avert their gaze whenever their eyes accidentally meet.

Kaviyan takes a sip of tea before finally speaking. “Ah, I suppose I should be calling you Sir Sang, since you’re a knight after all.”

“Oh, no. Please. There’s no need for the formalities. My title as a knight is a casual one, really. Just Sang is enough,” he says with a kind smile. “I would like to think of us as friends, if you wish it as well.”

Kaviyan, in the middle of taking another sip, pauses and slowly sets down his ceramic teacup.

Sang fidgets in his seat. “Was that said too soon? I figured that we’ve been getting along rather well, considering–”

“I wasn’t expecting that, is all. In return, please feel free to call me Kavi.”

Once the they clear the food off their plates, he thanks Kavi again for the meal and gets up from his seat. They both walk to the front entrance of the tower by the bottom of the staircase. Kavi opens the door for Sang and they bid each other farewell. Sang walks a few paces outside on the grass before he looks back and waves to Kavi. Kavi sends a small wave back and Sang sees this as a personal victory. With a new warmth filling his chest, Sang makes his way to the tree where his horse is still tethered to and journeys back home.

—–

The fair, mild days of June grow increasingly warmer as the season approaches the middle of July. Sang finds himself sweetly passing the summertime with Kavi. The same in age, though different in personalities, they mix and meld with one another so harmoniously. It’s light and easy, and it’s odd to think of what his life was like before Kavi.

Mindfully setting aside a portion of his week, Sang regularly makes the fifteen-kilometer trek from Sendal to Norrick. Sang blissfully thinks that his decision to leave his position as a knight the year before is a blessing, as it has granted him the freedom to visit Kavi as often as possible. Though he maintains obligations back home to lend a hand with his family’s metal works business, Sang makes it a point to see Kavi at least twice a week.

Whenever they’re together, they seem to never run out of things to do. Whether it’s taking long walks to the surrounding mountains, having picnics underneath large beech trees, having spontaneous wooden sword fights and wrestling competitions, pouring over Kavi’s extensive collection of books together, mingling outside with the other villagers, or riding their horses through the countryside — it’s become the new normal for the both of them.

On this particularly pleasant day in the middle of the week, they have chosen to spend it in Kavi’s tower. Warm sunlight and the songs of goldfinches filter through the open windows. Sang is comfortably lying down on one of the patterned rugs sporadically placed all around the bedroom, with his arms crossed behind his head and his legs stretched out in front of him. He whistles a nonsensical tune to himself as he reminisces on how he used to pick ripe peaches from his neighbor’s garden as a young boy during this time of year. Meanwhile, Kavi is curled up in a cushioned alcove by one of the windows and quietly leafing through a book of epics on the other side of the room.

Just as Sang begins to nod off to sleep, Kavi snaps the book promptly shut and Sang’s eyes fly open. Kavi gets up from his seat and sets the book aside on the shelf. He proceeds to walk over to his desk and sifts through the thin layer of clutter in search of something.

Rolling onto his stomach and propping up his chin on his hand, Sang’s eyes fix onto Kavi’s elegantly curved back. The sequins on Kavi’s cream tunic cast an iridescent shine around him and the material stretches beautifully on the expanse of his back. Even his black wavy hair and dark skin glow golden in the sunlight. Sang hums contentedly.

“I can hear you thinking out loud, Sang.”

“You’ve caught me,” he teases. “Now that I’ve got your attention, do you want to tell me what you’re searching for?”

“My notebook. I clearly remember placing it – oh, here it is.” Kavi ignores the cushioned alcove he was previously reading on in favor of sitting cross-legged on the remaining patch of rug that Sang hasn’t fully taken up with his long limbs. Flipping through the marked up notebook until landing on a blank page, Kavi slips out a fountain pen from the folds of his robes and begins to draw.

Sang sits up from the ground to mimic Kavi’s pose and slots himself next to him. Leaning into his shoulder, he marvels at the gentle strokes and fine lines flowing out of Kavi’s skilled hand. A winding river takes up most of the page with inked in trees dotting the sides. A thin mountain range gradually appears in the background.

“I wish I had half the amount of talent as you to draw like this.”

“You flatter me, but I can assure you that it is not natural-born talent. Everything in life that I do took practice to get to where I am, as with most people.”

“But you’re so good at everything!” Sang exclaims.

The scratching sounds of the pen stop. Kavi meets his gaze with a frown. “I beg to differ. I’m not good at everything as you say I am. At any rate, you have as many remarkable talents and skills in your hand as well.”

The statement causes Sang’s cheeks flushing red and he rubs the back of his neck.

“You don’t have to say that to make me feel better. Honestly, you’re the one who’s remarkable,” he says sheepishly. His hand falls away from his neck and into his lap. He clenches fists in a nervous habit. “I’m nothing compared to you. You’re so–”

“Stop beating yourself down!” Kavi’s shouts. The hold on his notebook tightens and the page wrinkles under his grip. “You have plenty of amazing qualities about yourself. Our friendship isn’t based on what you can or can’t do, or how our abilities don’t match up. Just being you is more than enough.”

At the final drop of his sentence, silence falls between them. Kavi slides a hand over one of Sang’s tightly balled up fists and brushes slow circles against his knuckles.

“Please understand,” Kavi murmurs. “I cherish you and all of the times that we’ve spent together. Do not doubt that for a second, Sang.”

Sang closes his eyes. The tower is calm. The birds continue to sing. The calming presence of Kavi’s warmth stays unwavering by his side.

He takes in a deep breath and exhales out, nice and slow. He gradually unclenches his fists.

Kavi doesn’t move his hand away. Instead, he slips his fingers through Sang’s and loosely holds his hand. Sang feels the last of his fears and uncertainties disappear as Kavi gives him a look of such tenderness that his heart settles into a steady beat. He squeezes Kavi’s hand lightly. “Would you like to go to the marketplace and eat some sweet rice cakes after you’re done with your drawing?”

“Yes, I’d love to.”

—–

The rumbling fire from the forge is soothing to Sang’s ears as he enters the workshop with an armful of supplies for his sister.

Minh, recently turned fifteen years old, is a complete natural when it comes to blacksmithing. While other kids her age find their familial duties leaning towards farmwork or tailoring, Minh has devoted her life to metal craftsmanship for the past two years with the solid guidance of their father and grandfather. Although Sang is older, his level of expertise on metal works is abysmal compared to Minh’s. Though he may be upped by his little sister, he pays no mind. He would rather be on the business side of things, anyways.

He dumps all of the tools onto the workbench and saunters over to Minh, who is currently perched on a tall stool. Black hair fastened neatly into a bun, tan skin enhanced by the summer sun, freckles splashed across the bridge of her nose, and bright eyes focused on sharpening the knife in her hand: she is the mirror image of Sang.

“There are spring rolls waiting for you in the kitchen.”

“Thanks. I’ll go in once I’m done filing this on the whetstone. Carmela requested this knife to be finished by sundown. I have the dagger you requested done, by the way. I put it on your desk since you were out this morning with Gramps.”

“You’re such a good kid, you know that?” Sang says as he bends over to affectionately pat Minh on the head.

She swats his hand away and scowls. “Don’t mess it up, you fool. While your hair is always a tragedy, I prefer mine to be intact for more than an hour.”

“I take back what I said. You’re not a good kid after all. And here I was being so kind to you by reminding you to eat a proper meal.”

“Ma probably had to tell you to come out here, so don’t act so heroic.” Sang pouts and crosses his arms. Minh gives him a flat look. “Don’t you have something else to do besides looming over my shoulder?”

He shrugs. “Not really.”

“You’ve been going out pretty frequently though. That’s something,” she points out mildly.

“Ah, to see a friend is all.”

“A girlfriend?”

“No.”

“A boyfriend.”

“No to that as well.”

“Must be a really good friend if you’re visiting them practically three times a week.”

“He sure is.”

“Is he good-looking?”

Sang looks up thoughtfully at the ceiling. “Well, yes. Yes, I suppose he is very good-looking.”

“Hmm, that’s nice.”

Minh seems to have dropped the conversation as she grows quiet in concentration. Sang takes this as a sign to leave and walks out of the workshop.

Standing out in the grass and watching a flock of swallows fly above him, he scratches the back of his head and unintentionally loosens more strands of hair out of his short ponytail.

Though frank and intrusive, the questions Minh asked him moments ago has Sang thinking. It’s no surprise that Minh knows about his preferences in a partner. In fact, everyone in his family and circle of friends knows — and probably the whole town too. He isn’t exactly private about it and doesn’t see any shame in bringing it up casually in conversations. Since boyhood, Sang has had an array of love interests and courted them, regardless of gender. He was even lucky enough to have his affections returned quite a few times, finding himself falling into bed with both boys and girls alike as he grew older.

When he went off to training, Sang fooled around with other fellow knights his age as well — from sneaking kisses behind the stables to slipping eager hands under trousers. However, no one really stuck around for long and the men he encountered were no more than faceless memories now.

From time to time, Sang certainly craves a warm body to share his bed with. But for now, his trusty right hand does the trick.

Taking one final look up at the sky, he picks up his feet and makes his way up the stone steps into the house with thoughts of kissing and soft bodies rolling in the back of his mind.

—–

Sang shifts his feet from side to side as he hesitantly knocks on the tower door.

His anxiety lessens by a only fraction when Kavi answers and appears. “I should just give you a key to the front door so that you can let yourself in whenever you come over. You’re here so often anyways,” Kavi says, foregoing a hello as he props the door open with a hand.

“That’s a pretty good idea,” Sang laughs nervously as Kavi continues to patiently wait for him to enter. He doesn’t make a single move, however, and instead stays rooted in his spot outside of the entrance.

Kavi lifts a brow. “Are you coming in or not?”

“I – I am. I wanted to give you this – uh, it’s a gift,” he says pathetically.

Words fail him whenever he gets anxious. Sang gives up on trying to explain himself and simply brings an inconspicuous bundle forward from its place hidden behind his back. He shoves it a bit too forcefully at Kavi’s chest and his palms feel increasingly damp.

Kavi fixates on the package with wide eyes. “Is this for me?”

Too afraid to trip over his own words, Sang resorts to giving a quick nod. Kavi inspects the outside of the gift briefly and carefully unwraps the cloth. The last of the folds reveals a decorative dagger shining stunningly in Kavi’s palms. The vines and leaves running along the blade are as entrancing as the handle engraved with a dazzling design. All of his nerves melt away at the sight of Kavi running his delicate fingers along the etched flora in awe.

“Oh. Oh, Sang,” Kavi whispers. “This is beautiful.”

“Thank my sister. She’s the one who made it for you.”

“Yes, please send my gratitude to Minh. I’m so honored to receive such a gift like this.” Kavi gazes up at him with twinkling eyes. “This is truly something I will treasure very near and dear to my heart forever.”

“Forever is quite a long time.”

“That is how much I love it. Thank you for giving this to me.”

Sang smiles warmly. “The pleasure was all mine.”

Kavi tilts his head and motions towards the inside of the tower. “Are you coming in now? I tried my hand at baking some honeycomb cake. I read that it was a popular dessert in Sendal in one of my books, so I hope the taste is accurate.”

Before he even has a chance to speak, Sang’s stomach lets out a growl. The both of them share a fit of laughter as they step inside together.

—–

One morning in late August, as Sang is teaching Kavi how to cross-stitch, Kavi pulls an emerald thread through the fabric and proposes an idea. “We’ve known each other for two months now and I think it’d be fitting to visit your home, since you always make the time to visit mine.”

Sang lays the embroidery hoop on his lap and considers this. “I’ve never thought about that.”

“So what’s the verdict?”

“It would thoroughly please me if you were to visit my hometown.”

—–

They spend the next hour planning out Kavi’s trip to Sendal, and in three days time Sang’s face breaks into a wild grin when he hears an auspicious knocking at the front door. Hastily wiping down the table one last time, he tosses the used towel into a basket when he’s done and jogs over to the door.

It’s surreal to see Kavi on the other side of the door and be the one to greet him first, but Kavi’s happy expression matches his and Sang is overjoyed.

“I’m so happy that you’re here!”

“Hello, Sang. I’m happy to be here as well. Before I forget,” Kavi says as he brings forth a small box into view that smells faintly of homemade sweets, “here is a gift I’d like to give to you that you can open up later.”

“I can’t wait to dig into this.” Sang beams as he takes the box with both hands. He ushers Kavi inside and leads him through the one-story house to the dining area.

“You know that I’m not the best at cooking, but I had my grandma give me some tips on recipes that were easy to make from Norrick.”

“Did she give you tips or did she help you cook half of the food?”

“Shush, you.”

Pulling out a chair at the large dining room table for Kavi, he races back into the kitchen and parades back out with a tray crammed with aromatic dishes. Sang watches Kavi’s face light up as he sets down the plates of food in front of him. The table transforms into a vibrant feast of spiced dumplings, lemon rice, flat bread, and buttered meats. Sang passes Kavi a glass of fruit drink, which he takes with ease.

Divvying up the portions amongst themselves, Sang says, “I’ll introduce to you to my sister once we–”

The only warning Sang gets is the sound of sandals slapping against the hardwood floor. He twists his head around and a blur of yellow streaks past him. He doesn’t even realize that it’s Minh until she’s standing next to Kavi’s chair in a long marigold dress. “You must be Kavi, the boy that my older brother keeps skipping work to visit.”

“And you must be Minh. I’ve been hoping to meet you on this trip. I’m so glad that you’re here. It’s lovely to finally get a chance to meet you.”

“The sentiment is mutual.”

Minh drags out a chair to join them for their meal. The two of them continue exchanging pleasantries over bites of food.

“Why do you live alone in a tower?”

“It’s a traditional custom to have each child in my family live on their own at the age of eighteen. My older brother, Indhujan, lives on the opposite side of Norrick from me in the countryside. My three younger brothers live with my mother and father in our castle towards the center of the city.”

“How’s it like living by yourself?”

“I’ve been on my own for the past four years and it does get a bit lonesome. However, ever since your brother climbed up into my tower, life has been much more livelier.”

“I heard about that. Of course it would be typical of my brother to have thought he would find a princess instead of a prince.”

“Indeed.” Kavi laughs lightly.

“That reminds me,” Minh says with a brow raised at Sang, “it’s been two months since your quest for Princess Zyu. Are you still planning on marrying her once you do find her?”

Sang shrugs. “I honestly haven’t been giving it much thought.”

When he turns to Kavi to ask him how the food tastes, he finds Kavi’s lips pressed into a thin line. His back is rigid and the grip on his glass has his knuckles going white.

Sang’s smile slips from his face. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Kavi says politely.

The entire table falls silent after that. Kavi doesn’t touch much of his plate for the rest of the meal. Minh’s eyes dart worriedly between her brother and their guest. Sang’s mind spins, realizing that there must have been a misstep in the conversation somewhere along the way.

Minh offers to clean up the dirty dishes and swiftly exits into the kitchen to wash up. The plates vanish from the table as she runs off. Soon, the sound of the faucet turns on the background.

“Are you sure that you’re–”

“I’m fine.”

A beat or two passes. Kavi’s chair scrapes against the stone floor and he rises from his seat, standing rather stiffly. The deep blue shade of his tunic seems even more severe against his drawn expression. He turns to face Sang and bows. “I’ll be taking my leave now.”

Sang doesn’t register that Kavi is already at the entrance and opening the front door. It’s not until he hears the telltale creak of the door hinge that he jumps up from his chair and sprints to the door. Almost tripping over his own two feet, he manages to grab onto one of Kavi’s sleeves. “Wait, you’re leaving already? You’ve only been here for less than two hours.”

Kavi eyes fall to the ground. “Yes.”

Despite still feeling conflicted, Sang eventually loosens his hold. “I’ll – I guess I’ll see you in Norrick then.”

Riding off on his horse without looking back, Kavi’s retreating form disappears in the mist and Sang walks back into the house feeling absolutely perplexed by the entire exchange.

—–

The memory of last week’s events plays on repeat in Sang’s mind as he trudges up to the tower. A minute later after he knocks, Kavi appears at the door looking uncharacteristically disheveled. His normally neatly combed hair is unkempt and his tunic is wrinkled. Even his striking dark eyes are staring blankly back at Sang.

A cord of panic strikes Sang, but he pushes it away and tries to ignore it. “I wanted to drop by and ask you if you wanted to come to the autumn festival happening with me in Sendal. It’s happening in five days.”

Kavi remains silent. The air around them grows tense. The sun beats mercilessly on Sang’s back.

Kavi finally responds, “I’m sorry. I can’t go with you.”

Sang sputters, “Wait, what? But you love to go to these sorts of things. There’ll be food and drinks. Even games. I don’t–”

“I’m sorry,” Kavi repeats more quietly.

Sang feels his throat close up. His hands are shaking. “It’s okay. I – I’ll be on my way now.” Contrary to his farewell, he continues to stand outside with his head hung low, long after the door is shut.

—–

Sang still keeps up with his regular visits as if they were the same as they’ve always been. The only difference now is that Kavi is gravely quiet.

It’s not because he’s lost in deep thought or has nothing to say. Sang knows this about him. He’s quiet because he’s locking his emotions in tight — a side that Sang’s never seen of him before. Sang’s too afraid to say anything that crosses the line. Too afraid of being rejected again. Too afraid to take a wrong step and have it be the single cut to the fragile thread that holds their friendship together.

Sang has no idea what went wrong in the first place, let alone know how to fix this. What once was carefree and simple has warped into something strained and hollow. When they meet, Kavi doesn’t bring up the suggestion of making another trip Sendal again in the future and neither does Sang.

The conversations they exchange are sparse. The meals they share are in silence. The pages of the books they flip through as they sit side-by-side are the only sounds that fill the room.

Kavi looks out the window more often with an unreadable expression.

Sang’s hands won’t stop twitching, aching to reach over and close the eight centimeter distance between them. Yet each time he lifts them up to do so, he abruptly halts his movements and his hands fall back limply to his sides. Sang can feel his heart twist painfully within his chest.

“It hurts,” a voice faintly whispers.

Not realizing that he’s accidentally said his thoughts out loud without meaning to, it’s only until Kavi is facing towards with a confused look that he registers what happened.

He tries brushing it off, frantically hoping that Kavi didn’t notice. “Don’t mind me, I didn’t–”

“What did you say just now?”

“It was nothing.”

“It was certainly something.”

“Not really.”

“It was considerably so.”

They’re looking at each other — much longer than they have been compared to the past four visits combined. The fact is rather distressing to Sang.

His hands clench into fists and he says through gritted teeth, “I said that it hurts.”

“And what are you referring to when you say ‘it’?”

“Whatever” –he gestures the space between them– “this is.”

“Sitting apart from me hurts?”

“No!” Sang shouts desperately. “The fact that we’re not talking like we used to hurts. The fact that you’re avoiding me even though we’re in the same room hurts. The fact that I don’t know what I did wrong, but somehow we ended up this way hurts.” He hears the sound of his own heart breaking by the end of his sentence.

For a brief moment, there is nothing but silence again.

It only shatters when Kavi says in a strange voice, “You’re going to leave me some day.”

“What?”

“You’re going to leave me to get married and I’ll be alone.”

“Hold on, no one said I was going to–”

“You’ll be far from me in Norsa and we won’t be able to spend time together anymore.”

“Norsa? Why would I ever be in Norsa?”

“To be with Princess Zyu, of course, and I don’t know what to do!”

Kavi’s shaky breath is the only sound resonating in Sang’s ear besides the roar of white noise filling his head.

Before he knows it, Sang’s body has moved on instinct and his arms are wrapped around Kavi’s small and quivering frame. Trembling hands clutch Sang’s linen shirt and the material bunched up against his chest becomes damp with tears. Sending soothing rubs along his back, Sang bows his head down and peppers tiny kisses to chase the stray tears streaking Kavi’s sweet face.

Time passes slowly. A cool breeze floats through the open window. Loose papers flutter softly from somewhere in the room.

The muffled crying turns into a few hiccups and eventually subsides.

Kavi’s eyes flick up at Sang. He stares incredulously at him as he takes one final sniff. “Are you kissing me?”

“I suppose I am.”

“And why is that?”

“I might have gotten caught up in the moment.”

“But this is wrong. You’re going to get married,” Kavi protests. “You shouldn’t act like this.”

“This isn’t the sort of kiss that would warrant it inappropriate.” This earns Sang an irritated glare. “And again with the mentions of me getting married. Where did you get this idea from?”

“Your sister.”

“I don’t recall holding any conversation around this topic.” A rather hard punch lands on his arm this time around. He probably deserves it.

“She asked if you were going to meet the princess any time soon,” Kavi says more indignantly.

“I do remember that, but I also distinctly remember saying I forgot about it.”

“But now you do remember it. Doesn’t that mean that you’re going to go on your quest to find her?”

“It sounds like you want to dump me in her arms and get rid of me,” Sang huffs.

The look of utter disbelief and aggravation that crosses Kavi’s face is downright charming. Sang can’t help but hopelessly smile at him. “Just so you know, I don’t kiss people that I don’t like.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“That I’m quite fond of you. Very much, actually.”

A pause.

“Oh.”

“And what I mean by that is that I want to kiss more than just your cheeks,” Sang hums thoughtfully. “Doing other stuff too would be nice.”

“I think I’ve got the idea.”

“So, do you like me back? The same way that I do?”

Kavi opens his mouth a few times, as if he’s about to speak, before closing it. Sang struggles to keep himself from fidgeting.

“Did I say something wrong?” he blurts out.

Kavi shakes his head quickly. “I take it that you’ve been with others before.”

“Yes.”

“With men?”

“With women too. It’s been a while though.” Sang furrows his brows. “Is that what’s bothering you?”

“No, I’m just – I’m just thinking. About how I’ve never felt this way. About anyone, really. I’ve been with one lover before, but I seldom enjoyed doing, er – that with them. Quite frankly, I tried to avoid doing it as much as possible and I liked it that way.”

“We certainly don’t have to do more than kissing.” A stern expression crosses Sang’s face. “I won’t push you to go any further. I sincerely apologize if it seemed that way and made you uncomfortable.”

He’s about to take his hands off of Kavi’s back before Kavi shakes his head again more earnestly.

“You’re different. I’ve never felt so strongly about someone before I met you. I – I want to do everything with you.” Kavi’s eyes crinkle up. “Because I’m very much fond of you too.”

Sang lets out a victorious whoop and Kavi’s bright laughter fills the room. He slides into Sang’s lap and Sang cards his fingers through Kavi’s thick curls, tipping his head downward to press a chaste kiss on Kavi’s lips.

They part for a mere second before Kavi surges back up to kiss him with newfound determination. Sang slips his hands underneath the thin tunic, fingertips lightly grazing soft skin. Kavi seems to pay no mind to the curious and wandering hands. Instead, Kavi begins to lazily grind against him.

“Someone seems excited,” Sang smirks.

“Shush, why don’t you.”

Kavi rocks his length against Sang’s more boldly this time. Every last thought instantly flies out of Sang’s head. The surprised arousal he feels is cataclysmic and he feebly attempts to stifle back a moan.

“Do you like this?”

Sang chokes out, “Oh gods, yes,” as Kavi continues to relentlessly move in his lap with a smug look.

They rut against each other, chasing their pleasure, for what seems to be an entire century and a half until Kavi says in a heady voice, “We should move this to the bed. Without our clothes on.”

“I say yes. Again. To both. Please.”

The atmosphere quickly progresses into a blurred, hurried frenzy. They pull and grab at their own clothes as if they can’t remove them fast enough. A flurry of robes, trousers, and shoes are tossed onto the ground. They both somehow manage to tumble into bed without suffering from any wardrobe malfunctions.

As their bodies hit the mattress, Sang’s hands and lips start to map out every heavenly inch of skin that Kavi has to offer. He meets pleasing slopes of sharp collarbones and smooth thighs. There are even dimples beneath Kavi’s spine that leave Sang weeping and thanking the deities above.

Kavi seems to be thinking the same exact thing about Sang, his hands flying up to grasp onto his broad shoulders and groaning appreciatively in his ear. Sang’s hands travel further down Kavi’s body and his fingers begin pressing into the crease he finds there. Kissing the sensitive spot right below Kavi’s ear, Sang breathes, “Do you have any oil?”

He receives a weak nod in response. Shortly after, a small glass phial is pushed against his chest.

He approaches Kavi with careful patience, drawing slow circles around the soft pink entrance before sliding in. Pushed to the knuckle, his entire finger is met with velvet warmth and Kavi gasps. “You’ve got it,” Sang murmurs as he adds a second finger.

The moment he curls his fingers slightly upwards, Kavi lets out a sound akin to a cry. Sang instantly halts his movements and stares down at him worriedly “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay. You can continue to move.”

“But you just–”

“Please, it’s fine. It felt good.” The corner of his mouth lifts as he reaches up to touch Sang’s face. “Keep going.”

Sang brushes his fingers across Kavi’s temples. “Just let me know if it gets too much.” With that, he slowly starts to slip his fingers in and out again. Kavi’s eyelids flutter shut and his moans become more pronounced as Sang adds a third.

Kavi is wonderfully pliant now, legs spread carelessly apart and his hips bucking up every time Sang crooks his fingers a certain way. It’s positively wondrous and Sang has to will himself to keep at a steady pace.

As he continues preparing Kavi, Sang kisses his ears, his neck, and everywhere else that he can reach. He’s busy nipping along his jawline when Kavi pants, “I think – I think I’m ready.”

This is the only confirmation Sang needs before he removes his fingers and reaches for the phial again. Kavi’s heavy-lidded eyes watch him with unhinged desire as Sang pours a generous amount of oil onto his palm and coats his cock. Sang’s arousal grows rapidly as he slides his hands over Kavi’s thighs. He positions himself in between them and his heart pounds dangerously in his chest.

With a single nod from Kavi, Sang gradually pushes forward into him and they both groan in pleasure.

“I’ve got you,” Sang whispers. He eases his cock in with as much restraint as he can muster. He pushes until he is in him to the hilt.

They pause for a moment, readjusting to the new sensation and fit. Just the smooth tightness alone is addicting. Sang feels wildly out of control.

Hands come up to wrap around his neck. He begins to pull out of Kavi by a fraction before slamming right back into him. Kavi lets out a shout in his native tongue. An involuntary shudder wracks throughout Sang’s entire body.

With the combination of the overwhelming heat of the room and the devastatingly beautiful man underneath him, Sang can’t bring himself to slow down no matter how hard he tries. The scent of cedarwood, musk, and sweat clouds all of Sang’s senses and rationality. Kavi’s breathing grows erratic as Sang’s body thrusts into him at a faster pace. Sang’s hands are running through his loosened hair now. He hears Kavi sweetly moaning into his mouth as Sang angles his position upwards. Legs hook along his back and push their bodies closer together. Sang feels the rest of what’s left of his resolve being stripped away.

“I don’t think I can last much longer,” he manages to choke out.

“Me neither,” Kavi breathlessly replies.

As Kavi throws his head back with another gasp, Sang feels his warmth tighten around him and he suddenly sees stars. He gives one final push that causes the entire bed frame to shake. With that, it sends them both over the edge.

A hot flash courses through Sang and Kavi’s back arches as he comes inside of him. He forgets where he is momentarily. His body feels as though he’s gotten the wind completely knocked out of him and it takes every ounce of strength to keep himself from collapsing onto Kavi.

They stare wordlessly at one another as they attempting to catch their breaths. It’s so visually stimulating to Sang, seeing that the both of them are absolutely spent and dripping with sweat.

Shaking out of his reverie, he slowly pulls out and a small whine escapes from Kavi’s lips. Rolling off of him so that they’re both laying side by side, Kavi shifts towards him and wraps an arm around his waist.

Sang buries his face in a mess of curls. “How do you feel?”

“Mmm, I’m okay. Just – just feeling a little” –Kavi flushes– “uncomfortable.” His eyes flit downwards as he continues shyly: “The feeling down there. It doesn’t feel very pleasant.”

Sang nods and says gently, “That’s all right. Let me take care of it.”

He moves to sit up and swings his legs off the side of the bed. Swiftly making his way to the adjacent washroom, he comes back out with a warm damp towel. Wiping down the streaks of come from Kavi’s chest, he throws the towel aside once he’s finished in a careless gesture.

“Here, let me help you up. We need to clean up the rest.”

He extends an arm out to Kavi, which he graciously takes, and they slowly make their way to the porcelain tub sitting in the center of the washroom. Sang draws a warm bath and fills the basin halfway. Guiding Kavi into the water, he begins to drop fragrant oils into his palm and massage them onto Kavi’s limbs.

Kavi groans in satisfaction as Sang rubs down his arms and legs with attentive focus. “If I knew that you could do this, I would have confessed sooner,” Kavi drawls.

Sang’s booming laugh echoes in the washroom.

Kavi languidly raises a leg and Sang starts to work on his calves. As Sang kneads lazy circles into his muscle, he says, “In order to clean you up down there, I’ll need to touch you there. Will you be alright with that?”

He can hear Kavi inhale sharply. “Yes. That’s fine. Go ahead.”

Rinsing his hands off of any leftover perfumes, he gets down on his knees alongside the basin and carefully dips his hand in the water.

He reaches Kavi’s entrance and slips a careful finger in to ease out the come. Kavi’s lips part open with a faint “oh” as his thighs tremble.

Sang has half a mind to go for another round. Out of better judgement, he keeps it efficient and methodical. He finishes up in a timely manner and soon enough, he’s draining the basin and patting down Kavi dry with a towel.

Leading back out a relaxed and sated Kavi to the bedroom, they both land on the rumpled blankets and sigh contentedly in unison. They nestle their heads among the pillows and their legs tangle together.

Sang mumbles, “That was possibly the best sex I’ve ever had.”

Kavi breaks out into a dreamy smile. “I wholeheartedly agree.”

Sang can feel his eyelids drooping closed. Sleepy and warm from their lovemaking, they curl in towards each other with their foreheads touching and fingers intertwined. A starling calls in the distance. They drift off and doze as the late summer sun sinks behind the mountains.

—–

The transition from friendship to a romantic relationship is much easier than Sang anticipates. Not that he had any worries to begin with. There are so many delightful perks that comes along with this new development.

For one, Sang has the privilege to stay overnight at Kavi’s for as often as he wants. Instead of having to leave every time in order to be back in Sendal by nightfall, Sang gets to spend more of his precious hours with Kavi in the tower.

As the seasons change, the days are getting shorter and colder. They bundle themselves in thick quilts, sharing apple cakes and cups of warm saffron milk by the fireplace. It’s cozy and wonderful, and Sang thinks that this must be what love songs are about.

Kavi even makes regular visits out to Sang’s home. He becomes close companions with Minh, which is unsurprising as they both enjoy making side comments about Sang as he’s present in the same room.

It’s also unsurprising that he is well-loved and adored by the rest of the Le family. Showering him with enthusiastic hugs and strong claps on the back, Sang’s relatives constantly urge Kavi to stay the night or at least for a little while longer. Almost always, he gives in with a shy smile and bashfully takes Sang’s hand as Sang leads him into his bedroom.

When morning comes, Sang wakes up to find himself pressed up against Kavi’s slumbering body and the sight alone makes his heart burst into a thousand pieces.

Another pleasant change of pace is how the growing amount of items found scattered around the tower are actually Sang’s. He leaves his personal belongings behind at Kavi’s home, whether on accident or on purpose: a sword leaning against the cobblestone wall next to a longbow; a flute crammed into a basket, overspilling with colorful threads, lays on the floor; a long linen shirt thrown over a back of a chair alongside a magenta robe.

And how can Sang forget their kisses, including things excitingly more than that.

The few encounters after their first are bumpy — as one would expect sex would be like with a new partner. Though graceless and a little awkward at times, the two of them continue to learn how to maneuver their clumsy limbs and mouths. Discovering all of their likes and dislikes.

It’s worth the struggle though when they lie in bed, thoroughly exhausted and breathing sighs of content afterwards. Trading kisses and gentle laughter, they clasp their hands between each other and whisper words of endearment before falling asleep.

After all, they have all the time in the world to be together.

Read this piece’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.

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