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sick of this fake love

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“What’s up with Ae?” Techno asked when he slid into an empty chair next to Can after depositing a tray containing a jug of beer and several glasses on the table.

“The IC are on their break and Pete is helping Tin with a presentation or something so Ae won’t see him tonight,” Can said, looking at Ae’s forlorn expression. “Poor Pete.”

Ae’s head shot up and he glared at Can. “Do you have to remind me?”

Can held his hands up. “What? It’s not like you haven’t complained about it forty times already! Anyway, I’m empathising or whatever. Mostly with Pete, because imagine being stuck somewhere with His Assholey-ness for longer than five minutes. But. Still.”

Job snorted. “You two need screw already, Jeez.”

“Hey!” Can protested, folding his crossing his arms. “Do I look insane to you?”

Everyone erupted into laughter. Even Ae.

Can scratched the back of his head. “Some friends you lot are,” he complained but he couldn’t help but laugh too.

“Are you jealous of Tin and Pete?” Bow asked Ae, all laughter gone now.

Ae rubbed his left wrist, where his mark was displayed. “I’m jealous Pete’s spending time with him, but I’m not jealous like I think there’s anything going on. I just hate being apart.”

No one mentioned that it would be physically impossible for anything to be ‘going on’ with Tin and Pete now that Pete was bonded to his soulmate. Once bonded, being with someone else while your soulmate lived would cause intense physical pain to both parties.

“I feel just like that when I don’t see ChaAim for a couple of hours,” Pond simpered, batting his lashes at his girlfriend who immediately rolled her eyes and elbowed him.

“You’re really lucky to have a soulmate,” ChaAim said dreamily. “Someone born just for you, it’s so romantic.”

“Oi. I can be romantic,” Pond complained to loud teasing from the group.

Can poured himself a beer and tuned out. He didn’t think it was romantic at all, but to be fair he didn’t really understand the concept of romance. He found the idea of it rather fake. Like, why not be yourself with someone, why act in a way that isn’t true to yourself just to get someone to fancy           you? Why not show them that you loved them all the time and not just when you wanted something or because there was a stupid date in the calendar that dictated you had to be romantic that day?

He also thought there was nothing ‘romantic’ whatsoever in having a soulmate. Not at all. His own mark was hidden on the side of his torso just level with his heart. Techno was the only one at the table who knew he had it. He hadn’t even told Good. It was the reason he never wore sleeveless t-shirts and had stopped going swimming. Of course, any of the eleven of them around the table could also be hiding a mark. All he knew for sure was that none of them matched his if they had one, because all these people he had touched in some way, and nothing had happened.

There was no romance in knowing that there was no point in nurturing that crush you had one the girl who sat in front of you in maths when you were sixteen… a girl you had known wasn’t your soulmate the moment your fingers touched when she dropped her pen and you both reached for it. No romance in kissing your football captain one time when you were drunk and having to reject him when he told you he had feelings for you because you knew it would have to end one day. Can had told Techno about his mark the following day. He didn’t want to lose his friend.

There was no romance at all in the terror he sometimes felt when he wondered who might have the twin mark to his own. It was all out his control and he hated it. HATED it.

His ma told him not to worry. Easy for her to say when she and Pa had enjoyed the free will to choose one another. He had never met anyone else with a soul mark until he’d met Ae.

Ae was so gone for Pete, they were sickeningly in love. Can never asked Ae why he didn’t mind that he didn’t choose it. It chose him. It probably helped that Pete was one of the nicest guys Can had ever met, even Can was a little bit in love with him! No, he never asked because he didn’t want to hear the answer…and he didn’t want anyone else to know about his mark.

Keeping it a secret almost stopped it from being real.

“Earth to Can!” Mai snapped his fingers in front of Can’s face making him jump out of his thoughts.

“Huh?”

“You up for a game of pool? Doubles. Me and Pond against you and Techno.”

Can put all his maudlin thoughts to one side and went into battle.

-o-

“Don’t look now, but there’s really hot guy over there,” Bow said, eyes sparkling with mischief. “You wouldn’t push him off a cliff that’s for sure.”

“Why are you telling me? Ooh, are we going to arm wrestle for him? I’d be up for that.” Can sat up straight and put his elbow in the table. Wiggling his fingers, he said, “Think you can beat me?”

“You’re an idiot!” Bow slapped his hand down, laughing and said, “You haven’t even looked at him yet.”

It was the end of a long day of classes. Can had decided to replenish his energy with cake at a table outside campus coffee shop before heading down to the track to run laps with some of the team. ChaAim was working and always gave him the biggest slice and her staff discount. He’d bumped into Bow who was waiting for ChaAim’s shift to end so they could go to the cinema.

ChaAim dropped in the third chair with a dramatic sigh. “Bloody customers,” she grumbled, the looked from one to the other. “What’s going on?”

“There’s a cute guy over there, Can wants to fight me for him.” Bow pointed with her eyes towards the culprit and Can decided enough was enough and full turned his head to see what all the fuss was about.

Bow had not been imagining it. He was indeed hot and now he was staring at Can. Great. He was tall with light brown hair and intense eyes that locked straight onto Can’s.

Can felt an unpleasant shiver and looked away. The guy was familiar, but he couldn’t place why.

“That’s your best friend Tin’s older brother, Tul Medthanan,” ChaAim informed them, and both Bow and Can turned their puzzled expressions on her. She sighed. “Does no one else keep up with the celebrity gossip pages? They love him. Recently divorced from a supermodel, he got custody of their kid and everything. He’s said to be a real womaniser and totally ruthless.”

“Tin’s a Medthanan?” Can said stupidly, scratching his head. He didn’t live in a cave, not all the time anyway. He’d heard the name Medthanan. He was pretty sure they owned half of Thailand. He just didn’t know that Tin was one of them. Figured. Perhaps it was as well he hadn’t landed those punches; he might have landed a lawsuit for his troubles.

ChaAim and Bow both snorted with laughter. “Seriously, Can, you didn’t know?”

Can pouted. No wonder Tin looked down on him so much. What had he called him that time? Uncouth. Not fit to be in the presence of a Medthanan that was for sure. He looked back up at Tul to find he had thankfully turned his attention back to his companion.

“Is that guy with Asshole Senior the English professor who covered when Prof Shi was ill?” Can mused, not expecting the girls to know the answer as neither were in the Sports faculty with him.

ChaAim again had the answer. “Could well be. He’s head of languages at the IC.” Seeing Can’s confused look, she added, “He’s a regular at the café. He’s rather full of his own importance, hard not to know who he is. Tul went there too, so he probably knows him from his days as a student.”

“ChaAim,” Can said. “Are you sure you should be here and not in training for the NIA?”

ChaAim sat back, folded her arms and pretended to straighten the hem of her skirt. “Who says I’m not?”

The girls left to go to the cinema leaving Can alone with his neglected cake which needless to say did not stay forgotten for long. When he stood to leave, he looked over at Tin’s brother again just as he and the professor had shaken hands. This time, when their eyes met, the older Medthanan’s expression was unreadable. Can shuddered. The guy gave him the creeps. He just… He had a feeling that he couldn’t quite place. Can turned his head and broke the stare, walking away. He was already late for the warm-up. Techno would kill him.

-o-

The trip to Seoul had been an outright success and Tin was still riding high off the feeling of pride and relief that gave him. His father, while not overly effusive – nothing new there – had expressed his satisfaction that Tin had come back with the signatures he needed. The deal had been done.

He’d encountered Can at lunch time while he’d been arguing on the phone with Mother about going to some tedious fundraising event for a cause he really didn’t care for. He’d been so distracted looking at Can and trying to think up what he could do to annoy him that he’d dropped his phone. Luckily it didn’t smash but it did turn the speaker on, and his mother’s angry voice could be heard by anyone within the vicinity which at that moment was just Can and a couple of girls hurrying past on their way somewhere.

“You selfish child! Don’t you even think about letting me down! Your brother can’t make it, so I need you—” Tin winced at the distaste in her tone. He should be used it, he was used to it, but he didn’t usually have an external audience when she talked to him like that. The ‘family’, yes, and the staff, but Can was neither. The rushing in his ears blocked out what she said next.  Tin grabbed the phone and as he went to turn off the speaker he heard, “—I want you to charm the American Carmichael girl—”

The speaker was finally off and he lifted the phone to his ear. “I told you, I won’t be going. I’m not a substitute for your favourite son. I have work to do, I don’t have time to play happy families. Goodbye.” He hung up the phone and realised that Can was still there, staring at him. “What?” he snapped.

Tin did not want to get into it with Can. With anyone. Not that Can was asking. He was looking at him like he’d never seen him before. Can probably had a proper mother who hugged him and who wanted to spend time with him. One who wanted the best for her child, not for herself.

Never show your vulnerabilities. He tucked his phone back into his pocket and started to walk away.

“Tin—” Can grabbed his sleeve. “Your mother…”

Tin stopped and turned. Can’s cheeks were pink and unusually for him he looked nervous as he watched Tin. The way he gulped more words down was a giveaway. He yanked his sleeve back and stepped so close to Can there was barely a inch between them. He had to tilt his head to look into his eyes from this angle due to their difference in height.

So help him, suddenly Tin wanted to kiss Can so bad. Danger! Danger! He stepped back, fast, putting as much space between them as he could and threw the first insult that came to mind at him, “Touch me again, Thai Program, and I’ll sue you.” With that he walked away.

He half expected Can to shout after him, but he was chased by nothing but silence.

-o-

The shame of it was that Tin still ended up going to the bloody gala that night. His father had called him to his office when he’d got home and asked him to go, not to woo the Carmichael girl – although that would apparently be advantageous – but to ‘be visible as a valued member of the Medthanan family’. Tin could hardly say no to that.

His mother wore and dress that revealed more than it covered. She was forty-two and looked thirty, she was a woman who took care of herself. She certainly had the time to do so, Tin knew. She didn’t work, never had, which made it all the more deplorable that she’d taken no interest in being his mother unless there was something in it for her. As soon as they arrived at the event, she removed her hand from his arm and gravitated towards her circle of friends, but not before hissing in his ear to behave himself.

Jessica Carmichael was a tall and attractive girl around his age, the only daughter of a family just like his from the States. On first sight she reminded him of the stereotypical American high school movie popular cheerleader type, all bouncy blond hair and perfectly aligned teeth. Turned out that she was anything but. As soon as the introduction had been made and they were left to make small talk alone she said, “I really need a smoke. Come outside with me?”

Not a cheerleader, not popular, not even really blond, Jessica told him she had been a complete bookworm at school, was about to start studying pre-med at NYU and claimed the only reason she looked like she did was because her new step-mother, a woman just six years older than herself, had given her a makeover.

Tin found himself liking her and did not protest when she suggested they meet for dinner the following night. “A date but not a date,” she said conspiratorially. “Let them think that though.”