Of all the things Pete might have expected to see when walking into the IC faculty library, the famously aloof and disinterested Tin Medthanan sat beside one very confused looking Good was not one of them.
Slowly making his way over to the pair, Pete heard Tin slowly and patiently explaining the present progressive form of English whilst Good nodded along beside him. Quirking his lip, Pete cleared his throat as he reached the table, causing them both to look up.
“Ai’Good, Ai’Tin.” he greeted, nodding his head at the two boys. “Waiting for Ai’Can?”
Tin shook his head, leaning back in his chair and stretching his arms above his head.
“Nah, he went home earlier. He’s running errands for his parents, I think.”
Good nodded in agreement, the movement characteristically slow.
“I asked… Ai’Tin… to help me study…” he explained, staring down at the page as if the content might suddenly make sense to him.
“Their mandatory English exam is coming up soon, and Ai’Good wanted me to go over some of the grammar that will be covered.”
Pete hummed in response, pushing himself out of his chair.
“I’ll leave you two to it then. I’m just here to return this.” he smiled, gesturing to the book in his hand. “Good luck!”
The other two boys nodded their thanks before returning their attention back to the book in front of them, Tin pointing to something on the page whilst Good followed along intently.
Pete smiled, silently pleased he’d chosen to drop the textbook off before heading home. It wasn't often he got to see Tin without his mask of cold indifference, at least not in public.
Of course, it wasn’t like Tin wasn’t somewhat friendly with Can’s friends - after a year it would be strange if they weren’t all at least civilly acquainted. But Pete wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen Tin willingly spending time with any of Can’s friends without the shorter boy also present.
The fact that Good had specifically asked Tin for help was also interesting. Of course, it was no secret that both Pete and Tin were very good at English, and the latter was arguably the best out of the two. Still, Pete would have assumed that he himself was the more approachable out of the pair, yet Good had specifically chosen to seek out Tin.
Pete wasn’t offended in the slightest. In fact, he was starting to suspect that perhaps his cold and aloof best friend might not be so cold anymore.
It wasn’t unusual for Pete to walk into ChaiAim’s café on those afternoons he was waiting for his boyfriend to finish class. The café was conveniently located near the Engineering buildings, had a pleasant atmosphere, and the drinks were of a surprisingly decent quality for a small campus business.
Usually he would order a latte, take a seat by the window, and work on his schoolwork whilst he waited for Ae to meet him. Sometimes he would spend the time trading gentle conversation with ChaAim, if she had a shift, and other times he might people watch through the window as he sipped at his drink.
What he would not usually expect to see was Tin. If Pete was the one in his relationship most likely to visit his boyfriend’s faculty, then Can was the one most likely to be visiting Tin’s. He believed Can’s argument was that the food quality was better, but Pete had a sneaking suspicion it had more to do with the ease in which the pair could sneak off to make out in the back of Tin’s car - not that he’d ever call them out on said suspicion.
Yet Tin was precisely who he found one afternoon, sat in a corner of the small building, a laughing ChaAim in the seat across from him. Pete raised an eyebrow at the sight, unsure if he was more surprised to see Tin there in the first place or to see him and ChaAim acting like old friends.
Ordering his usual from the other barista, Pete received his drink and walked over to the pair, clearing his throat to alert them to his presence. Tin, as expected, looked up with his usual carefully neutral expression, letting it soften only slightly upon recognising his friend. ChaAim smiled widely at Pete as he looked between them, offering his own smile in return. Pete liked the young woman a lot, the two having become fast friends thanks to their respective boyfriends.
“You have terrible timing, Pete.” ChaAim laughed, standing up and smoothing out her apron. “My break just finished.”
Pete jokingly pouted, stepping aside to let her pass, watching as she turned to Tin before she said her goodbyes.
“Oh Tin, if you could bring that book you talked about next time I’d really appreciate it.” she smiled as she bid the two men farewell, busying herself with her work once more.
Next time? Pete raised an eyebrow at the other man.
“What?” Tin chuckled as he took in Pete’s expression.
“Nothing,” Pete responded, sitting himself in the seat ChaAim had just vacated. “I just didn’t know you were here regularly enough for there to be ‘next time’.”
Tin laughed at that, taking a drink of his own coffee as he shrugged.
“It’s not that far from the Sports Science buildings,’ he offered. “I wait here sometimes when I come to meet Can.”
Pete nodded, the explanation making sense.
“You and ChaAim seem close.” he observed, silently wondering when the two got to know each other well enough to be sat laughing together during the barista’s breaks.
“I guess.” Tin shrugged. “We see each other a lot at soccer matches, you know that.”
That was true, Pete reasoned. Pond often wanted to support Ae (read: yell embarrassing things at Ae) and ChaAim often tagged along to laugh at her boyfriend’s antics. Pete and Tin would almost always be there, of course, though their own methods of supporting their boyfriends were far more traditional.
“Anyway,” Tin said, gathering his things and standing up. “I’m meeting Can soon, so I’ll see you later?”
Pete nodded, smiling as the taller man slung his bag over his shoulder and picked up his now empty coffee mug, carrying it back to the counter and handing it to ChaAim with a smile.
It would seem this was the second time that Pete had been surprised by Tin’s friendliness of late.
Now that Pete had started noticing the changes in his friend, it felt like he couldn’t stop seeing them. But, just as he had started to get used to seeing Tin be more friendly amongst their mutual friends, the man surprised him yet again.
Seeing Tin walking down the corridor, a stack of boxes balanced precariously between his arms and a frazzled looking P’Money walking beside him, Pete couldn’t be sure he wasn’t hallucinating.
P’Money had her own arms full, striding a few paces ahead of Tin, and seemed to be talking at the younger man more so than talking to him. Tin, for his own part, didn’t actually seem to be listening either, but Pete wouldn’t have been surprised if P’Money was probably ranting more for stress relief than out of any desire for Tin to respond.
The final year student had been noticeably stressed all semester, that much Pete knew, as she was trying to balance her increased workload with her refusal to lessen any of her extracurricular responsibilities. The boxes in question were undoubtedly to do with one of said extracurriculars, but that still didn’t quite explain Tin’s presence. And it certainly didn’t explain the man’s apparent amicability.
Intently focused on her rant, it seemed that P’Money was unlikely to have noticed Pete had Tin not called out to him in greeting. The senior paused, mid-spiel, peering over the box in her arms.
“Oh, N’Pete.” She greeted, offering him a warm smile.
“Hello, P’Money.” Pete returned, politely raising his arms in a wai. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine, N’Pete. I’m fine! Just busy as always.” The elder took a deep breath, and Tin raised an eyebrow in Pete’s direction, as if to say ‘here we go again’.
“I have an assignment due this evening, nothing new there. It’s still not done, but hey, these boxes aren’t going to walk themselves now are they? Of course, I’m sure the other club members would be happy to help, but unfortunately they are busy doing… what was it? Ah yes! The very same assignment! But no worries, what’s 40% of the final grade at the end of the day!”
Laughing somewhat maniacally, it seemed the woman would be content to keep going if Pete didn’t choose to step in.
“P’, why don’t Tin and I take these for you?” Pete gestured to the boxes in the senior’s arms. “You should go and finish your work.”
P’Money sighed quietly, her brows knotting as she considered the offer.
“He’s right, P’.” Tin interjected. “I know where these are going, we can get everything there fine.”
P’Money chewed on her lip, deliberating for a moment longer before ultimately choosing to accept.
“Thank you, N’Pete.” she said genuinely, passing the boxes over to him.
“And thank you too, N’Tin. Your help is appreciated as always.”
Tin smiled - a small smile, but a smile nevertheless - as P’Money waved her goodbyes and hurried in the direction of the library. He gestured with his head for Pete to follow him, and the two set off down the hallway, silent but for the sound of their footsteps on the linoleum floor.
Stopping outside a nondescript classroom, Tin used his hip to open the door, holding it ajar whilst Pete entered behind him. This was clearly a club room, Pete realised, though it hadn’t looked like one from the outside. Various props and costumes, ranging from the nondescript to the bizarre, were hanging from hooks here and there, and boxes of documents were piled in the corners. The walls were a riot of colour, adorned with large posters and photos from club activities. Pete smiled as he and Tin set the boxes down on a central table, busying themselves with sorting out the contents.
“So,” Pete started, turning to Tin as he closed the clubroom door behind them. “How did P’Money rope you into this?”
Tin shot him a look of puzzlement as the pair set off down the hallway. “She asked?”
Pete raised an eyebrow. “It’s not like you to do what she asks though, is it?”
A small smirk made its way onto Tin’s otherwise neutral expression.
“It’s not often. Sometimes she catches me during a free period and it’d be rude not to lend a hand.”
“Since when have you cared about being rude?” Pete laughed softly, Tin’s laugh soon joining his own.
“Maybe I’m cultivating future connections.” Tin offered, humour lacing his tone.
Pete scoffed. “Ah yes, Tin Medthanan is famously in need of connections.”
Rolling his eyes jovially, Tin bumped him with his hip as they rounded the corner into the main atrium. Pete watched as the taller man’s demeanour changed suddenly, following his gaze to rest upon the man loitering outside the cafeteria doors. Tin stood a bit straighter, his eyes a little brighter, as he looked fondly at the newcomer shifting impatiently as he waited.
“Bye, Tin.” Pete laughed. “Have fun ‘cultivating connections’.”
Tin shot the other man a sideways glare, briefly reminiscent of the old Tin, if it weren’t for the complete lack of venom in his expression.
They held each other’s gaze for a moment before Tin rolled his eyes and set off in the direction of his boyfriend, raising an arm to Pete in goodbye. Making his way to his car, Pete smiled. Tin Medthanan, helping someone without ulterior motives. Pete thought it suited him.
4. Nong Lemon
Pete had noticed that Tin seemed to be doing a lot more little favours for those around him recently. In fact, just the other day, as he and Ae waited out the rain in the local shopping centre lobby, they spotted Can’s sister, Lemon, climbing out of Tin’s car. She enthusiastically waved to the driver, a happy smile on her face, before she hurried into the building to avoid the rain, not noticing the two seniors inside.
Pete didn’t think much of it at the time, assuming Tin must have been visiting Can’s house and decided to drop Lemon off on his way home.
He gave no further thought to the event, content to assume Tin was civil but not close with his boyfriend’s family, until he came across Lemon in the parking lot one day on his way to his car.
The younger girl had clearly taken a fall from her bike, judging by her position on the floor and the abandoned bicycle beside her.
Pete began to hurry toward her, about to call out to ask if she was alright when he saw his friend striding purposefully across the parking lot. Pete slowed down, opting to pause just out of sight, intrigued by the look of genuine worry on his coursemate’s face.
He watched as Tin reached the younger girl, offering her a small smile as he took in her predicament.
“Sorry for calling you out of class, P’Tin.” Lemon apologised sheepishly.
Tin waved her apology away, kneeling beside her and peering at her grazed knee.
“Don’t be silly,” he said gently. “You know you can always call.”
“Thank you. I knew if I called P’Can he’d probably try and physically fight the guy who cut me off, but I just want to go home.” The younger girl sniffed, not quite crying but not quite put together either.
Tin laughed softly.
“If you point him out to me I can’t promise I won’t do the same, Nong Ley.” he joked, pulling one of the girl’s arms over his shoulders and slowly helping her up.
“Oh God,” she mock-groaned. “You’d probably be even worse!”
Pete smiled as he watched the two slowly make their way to Tin’s car, the tall man helping his junior into her seat before coming back to pick up her abandoned bicycle.
“Everything okay, Ai’Tin?” Pete called out, stepping into the lot.
Tin glanced up, surprised to see him but offering a small smile once he recognised the pale boy. He stood the bike upright, the broken chain hanging limply between the wheels, leaning on it as he spoke to his friend.
“Yeah, everything’s fine. I’m just helping out a junior who had a run-in with a bit of bad bicycle luck.”
“It’s nice to see you looking out for Can’s family,” Pete said gently, not wanting to upset the man for having seen past his carefully crafted cold demeanour.
Tin raised an eyebrow as he realised his friend had clearly been there for longer than he’d made it seem.
“Nong Ley is nice.” Tin offered by way of explanation. “I’d help her even if she wasn’t Can’s sister.”
Pete smiled, realising he wasn’t actually all that surprised by Tin anymore. A year ago the thought of Tin rushing to help anyone who wasn’t Pete - and even then not always - would have been unthinkable. But, as Pete was coming to realise, the new Tin had a lot more space in his heart than one might think.
The smile lingered on Pete’s lips as they said their goodbyes and Tin made his way back to his car, fitting the bicycle into the backseat without even a hint of a grimace at the dirt it was undoubtedly leaving on the otherwise spotless interior.
Pete knew he was very lucky. His boyfriend was amazing, endlessly caring and supportive. Pete would only need to ask and Ae would do everything in his power to help him.
His best friend was pretty brilliant, too. Pete knew that Tin was a hard man for many to appreciate, with his acerbic tongue and intentionally closed-off nature, but he also knew that Tin cared very deeply for those he considered important. His methods of helping might be vastly different to Ae’s, but his willingness was there all the same.
Pete just wished the two most important men in his life could get along with one another.
Things had certainly improved since the early days of Pete’s relationship, that much was undeniable. Nowadays the two were less ‘enemies’ and more ‘barely able to tolerate one another but willing to do so for their boyfriends and friends’. It was progress.
The two were just too different, Pete supposed, and the bad blood between them remained unforgotten even if they had agreed to move past it.
Their friendship group was good at dealing with it as well, force of habit having created an easy dynamic that saw the two kept apart when the group was all together. Tin would sit with Can and his friends, and Ae’s own friendship group would usually stick to the other side of the larger group. Nowadays problems rarely occurred, and Pete was thankful that he’d managed to work out some way to keep both men under control. It was a manageable dynamic.
But this understanding of the dynamic might just be why Pete found himself coming to an abrupt halt in the hallway of an IC building one afternoon.
Pete had been held back by the professor after his class, something about an upcoming academic opportunity that Pete had decided to decline, and Tin had left before him. Pete assumed Tin had already made it out of the building, undoubtedly on his way to meet Can, and so couldn’t stop his sharp intake of breath as he spotted Tin stood in front of Ae, the latter leisurely leaning against the wall as he waited for Pete.
Unconsciously hurrying his steps as he made his way over to break the two up, Pete suddenly found himself glued to the spot as he watched Ae throw his head back in a laugh. It was a genuine laugh too, from what Pete could tell, which made it all the more confusing. Since when did Tin and Ae joke?
Pete couldn’t hear what the two were talking about from where he stood, unmoving, but it certainly didn’t seem to be an argument. Ae was still chuckling at whatever it was Tin had said, and Tin was waving an arm between them as he illustrated whatever punchline he had just delivered.
Managing to pick his jaw up off the floor, Pete made his way over to the two boys, unable to completely remove the look of bewilderment he was currently wearing. They both turned to him as he approached, nothing in their demeanour to imply that they had been doing anything out of the ordinary, whilst Pete just glanced between them in the vain hope an answer would miraculously appear.
Pete’s answer never came, however, as Ae reached out to grab his hand and Tin excused himself to go find Can, raising a hand in goodbye that Pete could have sworn was directed at both himself and Ae.
Still acting as if Pete hadn’t just walked in on the most bizarre scenario he’d ever been faced with, Ae launched into a story about his day, tugging Pete along with him as he headed for the door. Snapping out of his daze, Pete pushed the experience to the back of his mind, resolving to reach the bottom of it after he’d enjoyed lunch with the man he loved.
As they neared the main door, Tin came into view once more, now with a typically energetic Can hanging off his arm. Ae laughed beside him, having also spotted the two boys outside, as he and Pete watched Tin gently brush aside the hair on Can’s forehead before letting himself be dragged along by the smaller man.
“Ai’Can’s made Ai’Tin soft.” Ae commented, squeezing Pete’s hand as they made their own way outside.
Pete smiled in agreement. Can really had caused great change in Pete’s friend. Can had taught him how to love again.