Smile. It’s all he could do. It wasn’t what he was used to doing. Normally he held no expression at all. Leaving his face a blank canvass that dissuaded everyone from approaching him. Now he couldn’t even do that. It hurt too much. He didn’t realize how much the hope had blossomed in his chest until it was extinguished. So he smiled. Let his lips turn up just enough to let the creases show on his face.
Even when he was alone. He found himself smiling because it was all he could do. He’d indulged in the self-pity initially. He’d cried until he had nothing left to give. He’d screamed and yelled. Pounded the floor. Trying to get out all of the pain that just kept filling his very being. As soon as he thought he’d finally rid himself of it all it came back anew. Over and over.
He never knew anything could hurt this much. His throat was filled with innumerable screams all trying to get out at once. His eyes poured forth tears like they were trying to drown the world in his pain. His body was trying to help him. To let the world know how much he hurt. How much the world needed to hurt too because then he wouldn’t be alone.
He was alone, though, and he knew that now more than ever. The pain never goes away. That hurt isn’t easily healed. So he took a beat. He built his walls up again, but he knew they’d never be the same. Something that is once broken is never as strong. Therefore he smiled. He used his smile to keep the pain hidden. To keep it all locked away where no one could see. He’d build fresh walls. Higher walls. Stronger walls.
Then he saw that smile. The real smile. The smile that razed the walls he’d built over years and years of being alone. That smile that had planted that seed of hope. That had nurtured it, and brought life into his lonely world.
That smile that had destroyed everything. Had played him for the fool once more. That smile that fanned the hope that refused to die deep inside him. That smile that made his heart beat faster. That smile that brought a flush to his cheeks. That smile that made his world shine bright.
He wanted that smile. Wanted to see it every day. Wanted to be the reason it came out. Wanted to always be on the receiving end of it. He hated seeing it directed at other people. Knowing that he wasn’t the cause of that smile. Not anymore. That smile was not his.
That smile was the creator of his own smile. The smile to hide it all away. The smile that held the flood gates in place. It kept the tears at bay. It boxed in the screams that never wanted to stop. It kept it all inside. That smile was all he had left.
He’d walked away then. Couldn’t handle the pain of his heart breaking so quickly and with such severity. He didn’t try to understand. He didn’t try to change his mind. He took the rejection and carried it deep inside him. It was something he was familiar with. Everyone rejected him eventually.
Had it hurt this much the first time? He couldn’t remember. Probably, but that pain and memory had been dulled with time. It had been a harsh lesson to learn. Not harsh enough, he thought. He had fallen for the same tricks all over again.
Trust. Loyalty. Kindness. These were things that were never meant for him. He’d been a fool to think he’d paid his penance to earn them finally. Stupid child. Lonely child. Unloved child.
Light the world with your smile. It was a lesson he’d learned at a young age. He didn’t know how or where he’d learned it, but he had. If you had nothing to offer, you could always offer a smile. So he smiled always.
He filled the world with as much as he could. He smiled. He chattered. He gave his everything to each and every day. His friends often teased him for talking so much. For never being able to follow along with his train of thought. It was okay though. He just kept smiling.
The first time he felt his smile leave him was after he’d watched his senior’s back walk away. The smile slipped away then. He’d tried to explain his heart. Tried to ask for patience. Tried to ask for guidance. He wanted to explain everything that was running through his head. Through his heart. He’d tried. It did no good. The only thing that had made it through was “I don’t want to be your boyfriend.”
He’d seen it. Those words had shut the doors. Slammed them really. He’d felt them slam in his face as he’d tried to keep the words coming. To try and get more in so he could reach his senior. He couldn’t even stop him from walking away. He’d just stood there. Hurting as he watched his friend walk away.
He’d lost his smile that day. His real smile. He kept up the charade, or tried to anyways. His world felt a little bit darker now. He had to fight harder to make it bright. Had to expend more effort to keep his friends from asking about him. From worrying about him. So he smiled. It was a hollow smile, however, one that never reached his eyes.
At night when he was alone he’d take off his mask. The mask that hurt to wear now. He’d find his cheeks hurting from being forced to smile so much. Why did a fake smile hurt so much? His face had never hurt him this way before. Before when he so easily filled the world with his smile.
No longer was it easy. No longer was his life filled with smiles and sunshine. Now there were clouds in his world. Clouds that would cry with him quietly into the darkness. Clouds that would shroud his eyes hiding the truth behind the mask. Clouds that held the smile in place. Clouds that would not leave him, no matter how much he wanted to be alone.
Some nights the clouds were filled with bitterness. They would fill his heart with resentment. He’d rage against his friend for making him lose his smile. For taking away his sunshine. For making him feel things he didn’t know how to identify, let alone express. Never realizing that it wasn’t his senior’s fault that he no longer smiled.
He found being around his friends and teammates exhausting. Putting up the front that he was okay was just too much some days. He’d get home and just drop. Never feeling free until he was safe in his room. He’d drop the mask every day, hoping that one day it’d just shatter and he wouldn’t find it the next morning. It was always there. The ironic constant in his life.
So he played the part. It was all he knew to do. Smile. Smile like the world belongs to you. Smile like you can take away all the pain and darkness.
The day he saw his smile he saw it on someone else’s face. He saw it crease the cheeks of someone else. He saw it light up their eyes. He saw the world start to glow as it was shared and reciprocated. He felt jealousy fill his heart. Jealousy that his smile had found a new owner. Jealousy that he was no longer the one spreading that light into the world.
He had tried. Continued to try. It just wasn’t there for him anymore. If his friends noticed they stayed quiet about it. Knowing that eventually he’d break. He’d speak when he was ready. He always did. Only now he couldn’t. He couldn’t find the words. Couldn’t understand what was raging in his core.
So he smiled. Smiled without bringing light into the world. Smiled because it was all he knew to do. Until he just couldn’t any more.
Then he cried. He cried and cried. Cried without knowing why. Cried because it gave voice to the unspeakable emotions ensnared in his heart. Cried for the lost smile. Cried for the pain he’d caused. Cried for the mask that hurt to wear. Cried for the one that he loved. Cried for ruining everything.
He couldn’t stop crying. Everything hurt too deeply. He cried knowing that even after his body was done that the pain would never really go away. That his mask was still there, waiting for him to pick up again. So he cried harder. Each sob wracking his entire body. Tears and snot drenching the front of his shirt. He didn’t care. He couldn’t smile right now. He could only wallow. Letting the clouds hold him as he cried.
“Can” the soft murmur of his name just made him cry harder. He’d messed everything up. He’d lost it all. Had chased it away because he was afraid. He was afraid because this was all new to him. He had never been with anyone. Had never felt anything this deep for anyone outside his family. It was new and it was scary.
“Can, look at me please.”
He couldn’t open his eyes. He couldn’t stop the flood of tears. Couldn’t stop the sobs that shook his small frame.
“Tin…” he finally gasped out. “It hurts so much. Loving you hurts. Losing you hurts more. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean that I didn’t like you. I was scared. I am sorry that I didn’t know how to tell you. I’m sorry that I hurt you. I know I had to have hurt you. You trusted me. You let me in, and I didn’t know how to handle that. I’m sorry I was scared. I’m sorry I didn’t know how to tell you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry…I hurt you so badly…” the words just came pouring out.
Everything he’d wanted to say since that day. The words that had gotten lost. The emotions he had names for all rushed forward trying to all come out at once. The feelings that had shown themselves when he was alone in the dark. He knew them now. He’d gotten used to them. He’d gotten comfortable with them.
As he felt strong arms pull him close he found words failing him again as they were replaced with sobs. He held on to the warm body in front of him. Held on for dear life. He couldn’t let go again. Wouldn’t let go.
He didn’t know why he’d come to the game. It hurt just to see him. Seeing his smile. Seeing him surrounded by his friends. By the people he cared about more than him. People that he cared about, period.
He tried to tell himself he was here for Pete. Keeping an eye on Ae like he’d promised he would. It was a lie. He didn’t care about Ae. He couldn’t care about Pete. Not right now. It still hurt too much. Everything hurt. Always hurt. So he kept smiling.
He knew he was here because it hurt. Because feeling the pain was better than nothing. Pain was something. The smile was something. Being around people pushed back the loneliness. So he cheered. He watched. He smiled.
He watched as the smiling boy ran off the field. Figured he was off to the bathroom or to look for food. He wanted to follow. Wanted to bask in the light the boy left behind. Wanted to feel that joy even if it wasn’t for him anymore.
He waited until the stands were clear. Waited for the smiling boy to return. To gather with his team and celebrate. He didn’t come though. So he waited some more. Waited while the team gathered up and left without him. He was left alone. Alone forever waiting for the smiling boy.
Eventually he got up. Left the field in the direction he’d seen his boy running. Hoping to just absorb what was left of the sunshine the boy left in his wake. Knowing that it was not his to take, but being selfish nonetheless.
The sobs that reached his ears as he strolled along stopped him. Held him in place as he felt his heart reach out to the sound of pain. Pain that it was all too familiar with. Pain that it felt every day and did it’s best to hide. He knew the sound of that pain intimately. Knew each piece of it as it broke anew in his own heart.
Still there was a faint breath of hope. Would this mirrored pain be from his boy? Were they both this broken right now? He couldn’t move forward. Couldn’t look around the corner to see if his boy was hurting like he was. If he was wrong. If he’d stumbled across someone else he didn’t think he’d survive it.
The sobs kept coming. Stronger. Louder. Filled with so much despair. So much loss. He felt each one in his core. Held each one close. He knew this pain. He knew this agony. Knew that you just had to let it out. Had to let it have it’s way. Let it crumble you into dust so you could move forward.
Yet he couldn’t hold still any longer. Couldn’t let this person suffer alone. He’d done this alone. He’d cried. He’d screamed. He’d hit and punched. He’d hurt. Alone. Always alone. Wondering if other people felt what he was feeling. Wishing he could know just to ease the loneliness. He remembered how alone he’d felt and he couldn’t stay still. He had to let them know they weren’t alone.
He stepped around the corner. He saw his boy. Saw the boy without his smile. Saw the sobs that wracked his small frame. Saw the tears and snot dripping down his face as he tried to get it all out. To release all the pain he held inside. He saw a boy who was crumbling. He saw a boy that needed to not be alone.
He’d whispered his name. Trying not to startle the sobbing junior. The only indication he’d been heard was that the sobs suddenly came harder. He tried to get the boy to look at him. To look and see that he wasn’t alone. That he was there for him. He wouldn’t look at him, or couldn’t.
The strangled words that eventually started coming out left him silent. He didn’t know how to respond. He felt tears prick his own eyes. This boy felt all this. Felt everything so deeply. So completely. He’d broken under the weight of his emotions
So he did the only thing he could think of. He wrapped him up in his arms. Held him close. Tucked his head under his chin and held his head there, while his other arm wrapped around his back holding him close. He just held him and let him cry.
Held him tight. Held him and tried to pour everything he could into that hug. Tried to express everything that he was feeling in that one action. He couldn’t get the words out. So he held on. Held him tight. Letting his own tears pour down his cheeks. Washing away his smile. Tearing it down. Letting him free.
He knew eventually they would talk. They would both say their piece. He vowed to be patient this time. To listen. To try and understand. To speak his heart. To listen with his heart. He knew words were cumbersome at times, but if you gave them time they’d work with you eventually. He knew he had to apologize. To make amends for running away. For slamming that door without listening.
Most importantly he knew he had to forgive the other man. Forgive the rash words. Forgive the pain and hurt that he’d taken upon himself. None of it had been intentional, none of it had come with purpose. He knew the other wouldn’t be happy until he’d been forgiven though. So he’d forgive what didn’t really need forgiving. He’d beg for his own forgiveness. Promise to do better.
Above all else he’d smile. Smile for real. Smile for the joy he was able to hold. Smile for the boy who brought sunshine into his lonely world. Smile for the love that had been gifted to him. Smile for this boy. For this boy he would truly smile.
Chapter 2: The Tears I Swallowed
The talk preceded with some reflection.
This one is solely in Can's POV
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Can had always lived his life giving his all to everything. It seemed like he lived a carefree life, but most people didn’t realize that his life was extremely organized chaos. He thought through everything. Planned everything. Knew how to make his way in this world even with his brain running at a million miles a minute. Each thing was there where it was supposed to be. The strings between his thoughts may be tied to 10 others, but deep down there was an order.
So, when there were new emotions bombarding him, ones he didn’t know or recognize. Thoughts that came from nowhere. He was lost. He didn’t know how to handle what was being shown to him. What was being given. What expectations came with any of it. No, all of this was foreign to him and he didn’t know how to handle it.
He’d pushed everything away from him. Everyone. He was too overwhelmed. Too scared to understand what was happening. So he pushed until he was free. The cruel irony being that he wasn’t really free. The thoughts. The emotions. They were still all there. Only stronger now that he didn’t have distractions. More instant. He was alone, but at what cost?
All his friends were dealing with their own problems and relationships. He didn’t know who to talk to. Didn’t know what his heart was trying to tell him. The only thing he knew for certain was that it was harder without Tin. As lost as he felt trying to get a grasp on what Tin was bringing to his life, he at least had that life line. Without him, he was drowning.
Tin had said he was oxygen. He was that fresh air that let him live. The weight of those words had settled heavy on his shoulders. He couldn’t handle the responsibility those words imparted on him. He barely kept his own life moving forward, and then to be told that he was so important in someone else’s. It was too much. Too heavy.
Yet, when that weight was suddenly gone he felt lost. He realized he’d just needed time. Time to adjust. Time to organize the chaos. He probably shouldn’t have pushed so hard. He’d seen the pain that he’d caused, but he couldn’t fix it. Not right then. He had been so lost, and now he was trying to be found.
When his breaking point came he didn’t have the strength to pretend any more. So he ran. He ran away so he could let the pain and frustration free from his heart. He hadn’t expected Tin to show up. To hold him while he cried. To cry with him as they both settled into the realization that they needed each other.
Tin had taken him home with promises that they’d talk soon. They needed to talk. Really talk, but not tonight. Emotions were too high and raw. So they parted ways to take the beat they needed to settle in to what had been exposed, and to organize their thoughts for the talk that was coming.
Can: [Good. Thanks for letting me know.]
He wanted to write more. To tell him thank you for holding him while he cried. For bringing him home. To wish him a good night. Send him sweet dreams. Yet he couldn’t make himself type the words. It was silly really. Not wanting to show how grateful he was, or how much he cared. He’d been a sobbing mess not 2 hours earlier, and now this was too much. He only hoped that he’d get things figured out soon, and that Tin would be patient and understanding.
“Good night Tin, sleep well and have sweet dreams.” He whispered into the darkness. It was the best he could do for now.
“You left. You disappeared and I thought I’d lost you forever.” Can whispered trying to keep the whine out of his voice.
“I was always there. Watching. Hoping you were happy” came the stoic response.
The question sounded hollow in his ears. He couldn’t get his words to hold the emotions that he was feeling. They’d finally met up to talk, and he felt like it was going worse than their initial confrontation. He couldn’t get the words and emotions to line up. He tried again. He was determined to keep trying. He needed Tin to understand.
“Why would you watch me? I hurt you, so why would you care if I was happy?”
The small shrug of Tin’s shoulders showed the weight of his own emotional turmoil. He’d hung his head as he looked for answers.
“Because seeing you did hurt.”
“Are you some kind of masochist? Tin why would you do that to yourself?”
“Hurting was better than not feeling anything. It reminded me I was still alive, no matter how hard I kept wishing not to be. Mostly, despite it all, I still cared so I had to make sure I hadn’t ruined your life with my attention.”
“Tin…” the name left his lips in a whisper. Too quiet to disturb the mood that had settled around them.
“It took me a while to understand why you did it. Why you couldn’t say yes. I’d offer you reasons as to why I pushed like I did, but they’re just mere excuses. The truth was that I was scared. Scared because I liked you so much that I had to have you. Needed you to be a part of my life in a more significant way.
“Not that you’re an object that has an owner, or that you’re someone who can be bought or possessed. I had finally found someone who improved my life, who filled my every day, and I didn’t want to lose that. I’d lived 20 years without it and once I found it I couldn’t dream of letting it go. So, yes it hurt when you turned that down. I felt rejected. I felt like everything my family had ever told me was true. What you had said when we first met was true.”
“Oh Tin, that’s…”
“Please, let me finish” Can saw the pleading in his eyes, so he nodded softly. “Once I got past the initial hurt and rejection I replayed our conversation over and over in my head. First, to validate my feelings of hurt, but the more it played over and over I really saw what you were trying to say. You were scared, you didn’t know what you were feeling, and you only had the relationships around you to base any ideas of what being a boyfriend would be like.
“You saw Ae bending over backwards to do whatever Pete asked for, and you knew that wasn’t you. You saw Tharn and Type and saw the power struggle and constant butting heads and again knew it wasn’t for you. Even Pond and Cha-Am have a dynamic that is befuddling, but it’s not either of us. So, I bet that was scary as hell, not to mention understanding your own emotions.
“Then I looked at what I said to you. I saw the weight of my own words and expectations was too much, and for that I am truly sorry. It was a selfish thing to do. It was unfair to you to put my happiness and self-worth on your shoulders alone and then get mad when you didn’t want that responsibility. I’m sorry I pushed. I’m sorry I didn’t listen. I’m sorry for being selfish. I’m sorry for being unfair. I’m sorry for everything.”
After a few beats while he watched the man sit there with his head hung low, waiting to see if he had more to say, when the silence continued he found himself reaching his hand out to hold Tin’s chin in a gentle but firm touch that allowed him to pull the man’s face up so he could look him in the eyes.
“Thank you for apologizing, for taking the time to reflect, it means a lot to me that you’d value whatever we have enough to look deeply to find answers. You’re forgiven.”
He watched a tenseness leave the seniors shoulders with those simple words. It made him smile. He hoped that it was something that wouldn’t fade away with what he needed to say next.
“You were right. I was scared. Am scared. I’ve never been in a relationship with anyone. I’ve never had feelings beyond friendship and comradery for anyone outside my family. When I talked to my friends and they threw out words like ‘love’ and ‘jealousy’ they were so abrasive because I didn’t know what to do with them.
“I looked at how jealous Ae was all the time, and I didn’t want that to be me. I looked at how much in love Pete was and saw him changing himself to be what he thought was best for Ae, and I didn’t know if I could do that, or if I should.”
He smiled slightly as he felt Tin’s head do a slight shake in his head.
“I looked at how much Pond was willing to compromise and give up just to be with Cha-Am, and that scared me more because I didn’t know if I could do that either. None of their relationships felt comfortable to me. I couldn’t see either of us doing any of those things and still being happy.”
“But Can” Tin started softly.
“I know. You never asked me to do any of those things, but to me the expectation was there. The idea of changing myself to fit that ‘boyfriend’ mold terrified me. Then you disappeared. You suddenly weren’t at the games, or waiting for me after practice. I couldn’t even see you when I ventured to the IC building, yes I looked for you, because as scared as I was not having you around was scarier.
“You said I made it so you could breathe, and yes those words were heavy and terrifying, but I get it now because when you weren’t there it was hard to breathe. It felt like something was missing in my days. I tried to keep going as I had before. I hung out with friends, went to practice, begged P’No for food, yet it all felt different.
“So I did the same thing you did. I went over everything. Every interaction. Every conversation. Everything, and I realized that you’re special to me. You’re important. I meant what I said when I still wanted to spend time with you, to be your friend, because beyond that I didn’t know how to respond. I thought if we could still stay friends that I wouldn’t have to think further than that. I was being a coward, running away and not wanting to face what was in front of me. For that I’m sorry because I didn’t think about how it may sound or come across to you.
“I wanted the feelings to go away. I wanted to stop being confused. I wanted everything to stay the way it was. I thought I was happy, but turns out that I wasn’t because when you were gone I wasn’t happy at all. I was miserable. Trying to be happy, pretending to be happy, it was exhausting.
“When you showed up in the middle of my breakdown I realized fully that as scary as everything is that it would be okay because you’d be there with me. You’d be by my side every step of the way. I don’t know what our future looks like, but I know what the present looks like without you and I can’t live that way knowing that it might be better with you.”
He looked at the man in front of him and saw his eyes brimming with tears. “I’m sorry Tin for being an idiot that didn’t know how to express what I was feeling, for rejecting you harshly, and for running away.”
As he watched the other shake his head and dislodge the tears he knew this was what happiness was. It was seeing, and being seen. Listening and being heard. He was still terrified of what the future would be, of what being beside Tin would be, but seeing him right now – vulnerable and open – he knew that happiness outweighed the fear.
“Can, you have been forgiven since the moment I saw you crying alone. I won’t ask you to be my boyfriend again…”
The short gasp startled them both before they chuckled.
“Until you’re ready, but I will ask that you stay by my side as we figure out our own path. One that is ours alone, and that we’re both comfortable with. Are you okay with that?”
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes!” With those words he found himself flying forward to hold onto the one who needed him, and still wanted him. He felt like he could fly in that moment. He knew the future was unknown, that they might face more hardships, but he didn’t care because right now in this moment he was happy and possibly in love.
I really wanted to use the quote from the end of SOTUS where Arthit and Kongpob are talking about how in this moment they love the other person, but idk if these boys are truly in love in love yet, well Tin probably is, but Can is still iffy so I tweaked it.
Also I'm going to rant here because while I'm loving how much better their relationship is running in season 2. It's going faster and more evenly which is beautiful. But I cannot stand that they're trying to make Tul out to be someone to be sympathetic to. I'm all for a redemption arc and people changing, but everything prior to this says that he's not that kind of person and it's really leaving the season with a sour taste. Maybe it'll get better. Okay enough ranting.
If you read this far thanks for doing so. Hope you enjoyed the story. I love and appreciate all of you.