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1

 

 

It wasn’t even yet 00:15 in the morning and Tine was already regretting possibly every decision he’d ever made leading up to this moment. The first of which being his pathetically plain bagel he’d chosen for lunch, the second being sitting down with a very desperate Pear, who was definitely aware of his inability to say no to his friends. 

 

“I’m telling you, Tine, I need your help with this. I seriously have no idea how to talk to her,” said friend’s head was in her hands, dark hair spilling over the table as well as her sandwich which Tine was currently salivating over. “She’s just- she’s so pretty! And way, way out of my league! C’mon Tine, please?” Tine sighed, already knowing who would win this battle. Truth was, Pear had helped him more times than he could count, and therefore he felt it his responsibility to help in her rather frequent romantic endeavors. However, he’d never seen her this simultaneously lovesick and devastated before. Normally, he simply pushed her and her new crush in the right direction, giving advice and causing plenty of coincidental meetups. This, though? Being asked to ditch his friends (and the cute girls) from the swim team to join the music club of all things, all for one person? Tine couldn’t quite fathom it. Granted, he hadn’t exactly officially enrolled in any other clubs yet, and he wasn’t particularly fond of swimming, but no way was he going to miss his chance to ogle chiseled abs and leopard print bikinis! 

 

(This, of course, was something Tine already knew was a lie. He wasn’t going to refuse Pear and she knew it.) 

 

“Look, I just...I really care about her, y’know? I don’t think I’ve ever connected with someone like this before. I understand if you don’t want to uproot your plans for me, I really do. I promise I wouldn’t be asking you if I knew how to do this myself,” Pear is so clearly sincere, big brown eyes filled with regret, that the last few pieces of Tine’s resolve shatter at that very moment. “Okay, I’ll join the music club with you. You asked the right person- Mr. Chic can get any two people together in a heartbeat!” 

 

 

*** 

 

 

It turns out, kickstarting someone else’s relationship might take a few more heartbeats than hoped. 

 

Tine felt more out of place than he had since high school choir, shifting uncomfortably on the floor. Pear sat next to him, looking equally as nervous, eyes darting around in an attempt to find Earn. There was a worryingly large amount of new students enrolling for the music club, and Tine couldn’t figure out for the life of him why. The rest of these people didn’t also have secret crushes on musicians, right? A girl with long, cherry brown hair in twin ponytails stood up, smiling widely as she pushed her bangs out of her eyes. “Hi guys! My name is Air, and I’m a club secretary. This is P’Dim, our club president.” To Tine’s dismay the much more welcoming face of Air was apparently not the one he’d be reporting to. Instead, nearby students started a drumroll, which was quickly halted by the raise of a palm. A tall man with dark hair who Tine assumed was P’Dim stood up from his chair, clapping his hands together as his eyes narrowed. “Our music club was founded almost thirty years ago. It has brought fame and admiration to our university. But this year...” His voice dropped off, glare sharpening impossibly further as he scanned the room. “I hear that many of you join our club because of some guy.” 

 

Tine turned to look at Pear in confusion, who was rolling her eyes. What guy?! At least it wasn’t Earn they were after, he reasoned. He saw the other students were almost all looking towards the left side of the room, and figured that was where he’d find answers. Peering over the person who sat in front of him, Tine scoured the room for all of a second before- 

 

Who the hell was that. 

 

Likely the most handsome person Tine had ever seen sat nonchalantly in a chair, one leg crossed over the other and rolling his pupils. Fluffy, light brown curls hung over large, dark Bambi eyes, low lidded and framed by lashes long as moth wings. His mouth was slightly parted, showing white teeth beneath soft, pink lips, and a jaw that would have looked gentle if it weren’t for his irritated expression. His white dress shirt was slightly unbuttoned, revealing an infuriatingly gorgeous collarbone, and Tine couldn’t help but notice the way his fingers were nervously tapping a rhythm on his knee, parallel to his devil-may-care body language. His nose scrunched slightly, brows furrowing, and his gaze flicked away, seemingly shy at the level of attention he was receiving. The way he lowered his head and curled his knuckles as his eyes darted back and forth reminded Tine of a cautious kitten. Putting it plain and simple- he was the most beautiful person Tine had ever seen, and by a long shot. His face had the capability to look so sharp and unforgiving even though he had relatively soft facial features, his eyes incredibly expressive and with hands that looked as slender and smooth as the surface of his guitar. He was mesmerizing. Tine could hardly rip his eyes away. 

 

But, it seemed, he was quite the jerk, something promptly revealed by Pear who leaned into his ear to whisper, “He’s been an asshole to every single person who’s been nice to him. I can see how having all of these fans would be overwhelming, but he doesn’t even seem to treat his friends right!” Tine turned to ask Pear why in the world some random student would have fans, even if he was unfairly attractive, and also how it seemed he was the only person in the entire university who had missed this news, but unfortunately he was unable to as Dim continued his monologue. “If you are only here just to chase a guy, get up and find your way out.” Tine couldn’t help but give Pear a pointed look- which she quickly and nervously rebutted with, “He never said anything about a girl!” The room grew silent for a few seconds before nearly all the new recruits stood up and began to head for the door. P’Dim’s eyes flashed with panic and shock. “W-wait!” He called, holding up a palm. Everyone paused, looking back with eyes full of hope. Tine was baffled. “As long as you love music, we don’t mind how it all starts.” Tine chuckled- P’Dim sure changed his tune fast. The students rushed to claim their spots again, while Air whispered something into Dim’s ear. Tine turned to Pear with a smile and gave her a quick high five. “We did it!” Pear grinned back at him, hands twisting in her pink cardigan with nervous glee. She then brought her gaze back over to Earn, who gave her an encouraging, yet confused thumbs up, which promptly turned her red as a beet. Tine stifled a laugh- maybe this wouldn’t be as boring as he thought. 

 

 

*** 

 

 

It turned out, P’Dim wasn’t such a stickler after all, as the very next thing the club did was the ‘special welcoming ceremony’ in which all students were required to dance, sing, and participate in a few different games. Tine thought this was possibly the best club initiation night of his life. Pear was not so enthused. 

 

“I can’t dance, Tine!” She hissed, tugging at her skirt as her gaze flicked back to Earn. “Or sing! I’m going to make an absolute fool of myself!” Tine rolled his eyes before gently grabbing her by the wrist and pulling her to the front. She squeaked and immediately began trying to worm her way back to the middle, but he tugged her next to him. “You said you don’t want to make a fool of yourself, right? Well, Earn is in the back. This is the furthest from her you can get!” What he didn’t tell her was that Earn would most certainly see her at some point, but Tine was certain she’d be nothing but charmed by Pear’s amateur dancing skills. Once she got comfortable, even Tine had to admit she was extremely cute. He gave her a reassuring grin before turning back towards the front, where P’Dim and P’Air stood. Dim looked much cheerier than earlier, a wide smile spread across his face as he clapped his hands to bring everyone’s attention up front. 

 

“Before you become our club members, you have to go through our special welcoming ceremony.” Tine couldn’t stifle the giggle that escaped from him upon seeing the ridiculous bejeweled cowboy hat and boots the club president was wearing. “You all need to sing these famous songs so loud that every being in this place can hear.” Tine was delighted at this, but practically felt Pear shrivel beside him. He gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze, trying to give her the most understanding expression he could. He wasn’t sure if he did a very good job, but she looked up and gave him a small, shaky smile nonetheless. “And that would be ‘Roasted Chicken’ and many activity songs,” Air added, soft voice amplified through a tinny loudspeaker. “Now everyone, get dancing!” 

 

Tine immediately did the most dramatic rendition of the Roasted Chicken dance that he could, in the hopes that his ridiculousness would help Pear to come out of her shell. He quickly began stepping side to side in the rhythm of the others’ voices, wagging his arms like chicken wings with an ear splitting grin. He had very clear memories of desperately trying to convince Type to do this with him as a child, only to see the most stiff and painful looking ‘dance’ he’d ever witnessed. It was a memory he held close to his heart. 

 

It appeared maybe he’d been a little too excited at the prospect of dancing, because as he sang he almost immediately felt eyes on him. He turned to see if it was Pear, only to see her halfheartedly wagging her hands while gazing at Earn with lovesick eyes. Yeah, she definitely wasn’t paying attention to him anytime soon. He looked to his left only to nearly jump out of his skin as he was met face to face with Handsome Guy (as he’d generously dubbed him in his head) who was looking at him so intensely Tine thought he would combust on the spot. The guy was staring at him like he intended to burn through him, and Tine thought he might succeed with the way his insides coiled into a hot mess and his cheeks turned bright red. He immediately concluded that Handsome Guy must own a pair of laser eyes. Tine tilted his head in confusion, pausing his dancing, and the moment Handsome Guy realized he’d been caught, he quickly looked away, pink dusting his cheeks. Tine was incredibly confused. His chicken dance couldn’t be so bad that someone else was getting secondhand embarrassment and looked good doing it, could it? 

 

Once the song ended, Tine could see that Pear had loosened up a bit and he felt considerably better. Whatever, it didn’t matter if some guy was trying to incinerate him, he would dance however he wanted, embarrassing or not. “For the next song, come out here, Sarawat,” Dim spoke with a smirk on his face. Tine’s brow furrowed as his eyes went on a quest to find out who Sarawat was, only to see Handsome Guy next to him looking reluctant and uncomfortable. (It was still a good look on him.) “Come on out,” P’Dim chided, grin growing ever wider. With a long suffering sigh, Handsome Guy- Sarawat- trudged up to the front. He looked like such a kicked puppy once put in the spotlight that Tine could hardly believe the boy had ever done a wrong thing in his life. “The reason to dance is that,” Dim continued, putting a hand on Sarawat’s shoulder, “When we are on stage, we are all stiff,” He gave Sarawat a pointed look. “This will break the ice and make you relax.” Something told Tine his companion wouldn’t be relaxing anytime soon. 

 

Sarawat was pushed over towards the center, looking more nervous by the second. Tine really wished he’d been the one picked instead, but the rest of the club seemed delighted, cheering and squealing at his every movement. “The song ‘Apple Papaya Banana Orange’ is next up!” Air announced, before delving straight into singing, voice booming through the loudspeaker. Sarawat was stiffly shuffling from side to side, eyes averting the crowd and not even trying to sing. He was the pinnacle of anxiety, and Tine couldn’t find out for the life of him why no one else seemed to realize, or care. Finally, the song ended, and Sarawat gave the audience an awkward nod before speed walking away, this time as far in the back as he could go. At first, Tine felt guilty at how uncomfortable he’d obviously been in the situation- but then he was shocked by the fact that the person Sarawat had gone over to talk to was Earn. They appeared to be close, too, Earn leaning over and whispering something in his ear with a grin, only for him to playfully shove her away with a roll of his eyes. For a panicked moment, Tine wondered if they were together- but no, that couldn’t be right, Pear had specifically said Earn was single. So then...Tine suddenly did a little hop, a smile lighting up his whole face. He couldn’t talk to Earn about this, but if Sarawat was close to Earn, then he could use him to find out more information about her! It felt a lot safer than asking directly from Earn, as she’d likely either 1. get suspicious or 2. think he was the one hitting on her. This, this was the perfect plan! 

 

Except then Tine remembered exactly how anxious Sarawat had looked when used for entertainment for the rest of the club, and a stone dropped in his stomach labeled with ‘worst person in the world’. 

 

He didn’t have much time to mull over the idea, though, because next thing he knew P’Dim was calling his name. “I need a cheerleader. Tine, come over here!” He looked around for a few more moments before realizing yes, he was the only Tine that Dim was referring to, and stepped forward with a smile on his face. He was more than happy to show Mr. Chic’s renowned chicken dance in front of the rest of the club. 

 

After a few riveting rounds of ‘Roasted Chicken’ they moved onto a new game, one much more partner centered. It was a sort of spider dance, where one person bounced up and down underneath the other, who was to do the same motion but elevated. It seemed rather...sensual by school standards, but the other students looked so stupid doing it that Tine couldn’t help but laugh. Dim’s demonstrations were also something he’d fondly look back on whenever the club president tried to be ‘no more mr nice guy’ again. 

 

Problem was, Tine’s partner was Sarawat. Now, although Sarawat was extremely handsome, normally Tine was fairly mellow when it came to these types of things- or at least tried to be. Sarawat, on the other hand, looked like he was about to be sick. His face got redder and redder the closer they got to their turn, kept licking his lips and wouldn’t meet Tine’s gaze, eyes darting all around the room and fingers twisting in the bottom of his shirt. Tine almost felt nervous just looking at him. He was quickly reminded of how he’d looked up in front of everyone, and that was only a few minutes for a simple dance. The constant attention on him must be torture- Tine didn’t blame him for appearing a little standoffish, if he was such an introvert. Finally, when they were third in line, he came up with a solution. 

 

“You should go partner with Earn instead,” he spoke nonchalantly, gently pushing Sarawat in her general direction. She’d already gone once, with someone other than Pear (Pear had been far too nervous to even breathe around her, much less be her partner) but Tine doubted P’Dim would care. “Why?” He was jolted out of his thoughts by a soft, velvety voice, and looked up to see Sarawat looking back with confusion and something close to hurt. Tine gnawed at his lip, contemplating what to say before giving up. “I can tell you’re uncomfortable doing this with someone you don’t know. I figured you’d be better off with her, and I’m fine doing the dance with whoever.” He gave Sarawat what he hoped was a reassuring smile. His companion blinked (big, dark eyes, silky, long lashes) before schooling his expression into neutrality. “Uh, okay. Thanks.” He stood in his spot for a second too long before seeming to notice what he was doing and gave Tine a curt nod, stiffly walking over to Earn. Tine went over to find Pear again- this way there wouldn’t be an odd person out. 

 

Next was possibly the most cliche and simultaneously perfect game that could’ve possibly been chosen. Two partners each took a single snack in between their lips, inching closer and closer to each other as it was eaten, until they inevitably kissed. Tine didn’t exactly understand what the particular point of this game was, or who it was that won in the situation- but he knew he had to get Pear and Earn together. 

 

Except, there was one not-so-small issue- he was paired with Earn. 

 

He couldn’t deny that she was pretty, with a gentle face, auburn hair, and a smile that lit up the room. She didn’t seem fazed by the fact that she was paired up with him. Tine, on the other hand, was frantically looking for Pear, who he finally located with no one other than Sarawat. Pear gave him a look that very clearly said both ‘don’t you dare get me with Earn, I won’t be able to take it’ and ‘please god let me be Earn’s partner’. Tine decided to rely on the latter. 

 

He scrambled to come up with a plan, realizing he didn’t have much time and simply blurted the first thing that came to mind. “Uh, Earn? I think we should switch partners with Sarawat and Pear, Pear has a crush on someone and she probably isn’t comfortable doing this with another person. She’d feel a lot better if it was you,” he gave Earn a wobbly smile, flinching more at every word that came out of his mouth. Wow, way to not be obvious. Earn blinked, something flashing through her expression before she nodded, giving him a sweet smile in return. Tine breathed out a sigh of relief and walked over to Pear. 

 

“Hey, Pear,” Earn grinned at her and Pear blushed profusely, mouth hanging open slightly. “U-uh, yeah? What is it?” Her eyes darted back and forth between her and Tine. “Well, we just thought we should switch partners,” Sarawat looked ready to faint and Tine felt increasingly concerned. “Um, w-well, uh, yeah, s-sure! I agree! Let’s do that!” Tine winced at how squeaky Pear’s voice had become. Earn nodded and headed over to the center. Pear turned to look at Tine, face full of desperation and terror. He gave her a thumbs up, whispering ‘good luck!’ before pushing her over to where Earn was waiting. He felt about two seconds of smug accomplishment before he remembered who exactly his new partner was. 

 

He turned towards Sarawat, who seemed to have already been looking at him, this time not bothering to look away. His expression was indecipherable. Tine let out an awkward chuckle, rubbing the back of his neck and averting his eyes. “Um, sorry, that was a bit...anticlimactic of me, wasn’t it?” Sarawat didn’t have time to respond before the two of them were being moved towards the center in a flurry of excited fans, who quickly circled around them once they were facing Dim. 

 

“Alright you two, here you go!” P’Dim held out a cookie stick, which Sarawat gazed dumbfoundedly at. After a few awkward seconds, Tine leaned over and took it instead, placing it between his teeth. Sarawat just stared at him. Tine wiggled it up and down in his mouth, raising his eyebrows until his partner finally stepped forward and gingerly took the other end into his mouth. 

 

With Sarawat’s popularity, Tine had been almost expecting him to act first and get it over with, but instead he was just...looking at him. Tine couldn’t make out what was flickering through his eyes. He could feel his own cheeks heat up as the standoff continued, the cheers from the other students fading into the background as he was encompassed by Sarawat’s gaze. It felt like an eternity before finally, finally he took a bite, inching the tiniest bit closer towards Tine. Tine took a considerably larger chunk, which had Sarawat frozen in place, looking like a deer in headlights. Tine sighed, realizing he’d have to take the reigns if he wanted to ever finish this game. He came closer and closer, nibbling on the snack ever so slowly- because how could he not, when Sarawat’s face was bright pink and his pupils bled into his irises in a pool of black, and his lips were open ever so slightly and his breath hitched and came out in soft puffs that glanced across Tine’s face- 

 

Tine chomped down the rest of the stick. 

 

It seemed he’d been correct, as Sarawat’s lips were soft and pliant. It only lasted a few seconds, but to his surprise, Sarawat almost immediately opened his mouth. Without thinking, Tine delved into it to take the remaining piece of cookie still lying on his tongue. 

 

Well. He pulled back from a stiff as a statue Sarawat, dragging his palm across his mouth. That was certainly...an experience. Slightly disgusting, slightly surprising, and very, very stupid on Tine’s part. He could practically sense the amount of ridicule he was going to get from his brainless group of friends. Sarawat’s eyes were half lidded, mouth still parted as if his internal system had shut down on the spot. Tine took an awkward step back, which seemed to reboot his partner. Sarawat blinked a few times, as if he was still processing something, before his face fell back into an expression clearly meant to be indifferent, but far too soft to be read as such. The crowd around them was squealing and screeching their hearts out, which caused Tine’s face to become redder and redder. As nice as some extra attention was, he’d rather it have nothing to do with some false kiss in front of a bunch of fangirls. He wasn’t exactly a celebrity, and something about the hawk-like eyes watching his every move unnerved him. His posture was taut as a drawstring as he swallowed at the sudden dryness in his mouth. 

 

He was shaken out of his stupor, however, when he felt himself being gently maneuvered back into the heart of the group. Warm hands gripped his shoulders firm enough to be grounding but gentle enough to trust. Out of nowhere, Tine found himself near where Earn and Pear were waiting in line. Looking around in confusion, he felt like a lost kid when his eyes finally met Sarawat’s- and really, those were Bambi eyes, weren’t they? Velvety and dark and heartbreakingly tender, and now Sarawat was speaking, and his voice was so syrupy and soft that Tine barely registered the words that were being said, just that he suddenly felt warm and sleepy and kind of like he wanted to listen to this man speak forever, and- 

 

“-sorry about that. I’ll be out of your hair now.” The soothing voice was suddenly ripped away as Sarawat gave him an attempt at a smile and weaved his way back into the crowd, disappearing within an instant. Tine was dumbfounded- what the hell had just happened? Was this what it felt like to be on drugs? Had that cookie stick been spiked? All he knew was that this weird feeling in his stomach was very concerning and he wanted nothing to do with it. He was pretty sure he understood why the guy had so many fans for no reason now. How could he not, when he was so genuine and warm? It wasn’t just the ridiculous luck in genetics, but the absolute comfort and protection that practically radiated from the man. Tine was sure Sarawat could get anyone he wanted if he’d made Mr. Chic himself feel like that with just a few words. If all it took was a kiss to make Sarawat so comfortable and safe, then maybe he should let those fangirls at him after all. 

 

Tine hadn’t even noticed he was still standing in a daze when Pear stiffly walked over to him with glassy eyes. Quickly snapping out of it, he put on a smirk as he raised an eyebrow. “So? How’d it go? Was it everything you dreamed of?” Pear slowly turned to him and nodded, a small, timid smile blooming on her bright red face. Tine couldn’t imagine it was anything more than an excruciatingly long drawn out peck, but after his unexpected endeavor he wasn’t really one to talk. “I think I could die right now and I’d be completely fine with it,” she was practically swooning by now, eyes full of stars as her grin grew ever wider. Her demeanor suddenly changed when she turned to him with concern. “Wait, but…I’m sorry you had to be paired with Sarawat because of me. I didn’t even think of that.” Tine regarded her with confusion, befuddled at the guilt in her voice. “Why would you be sorry? I completely understand why he has so many fans now, when he acts like that,” Pear looked even more dumbfounded than him and they both looked at each other with equally quizzical expressions. “…Uh…” Pear was the first one to break the silence that had fallen between them. “What do you mean, ‘acts like that’?” Tine was feeling more unsure by the second. “Yknow, so, well, gentle and considerate, and….” He trailed off, scratching at the abrupt heat on his neck and looking away. “I guess, he really knows how to use his looks to his advantage, right?” He glanced back in the hopes that Pear would now get what he meant, but she only shook her head with furrowed brows. “No, he doesn’t. He’s cold and selfish towards everyone he sees. It’s a miracle he has such a nice face when his personality is such a letdown. I don’t know what you’re talking about- did he act differently towards you?” 

 

Suddenly, Tine didn’t feel so inclined to let Pear know what he meant. It now felt like some sacred thing, like if he told someone about Sarawat’s weird possibly-drug-induced-spell it would all fall apart and Sarawat would come back to scoff at him and beat him up or something. Maybe it was better to just let people think he was crazy. Or maybe it was true, and Sarawat had been an absolute asshole after all, but his twisted mind was too screwed up to register it. Either way, he was no longer as willing to share his experience, even though he did feel a spark of guilt at keeping this apparent anomaly from his best friend. 

 

“Uh, nevermind. Don’t worry about it,” Pear looked ready to object and Tine quickly spoke again. “It sounds to me like you’re trying to change the subject here…the real question is, how did Earn react to the kiss?” 

 

Pear was sent into another tangent of blubbering, flustered excuses and Tine hoped it would be enough to permanently distract him from the weird thoughts currently frying his brain.

Chapter Text

2

 

It seemed Tine had forgotten about a very important part of enrolling in the music club- he had to actually know how to play an instrument. And the thing was, he would’ve been patient enough to scrape by on the guitar except for the fact that P’Dim was very serious about only choosing those who could truly, genuinely play. Even worse; he only had one week to prepare before he’d be put on the spot and forced to scramble some sort of meaningful tune together. He’d felt a little more reassured when Pear said she’d help him out, but was quickly let down when he realized there was no way she could refuse Earn’s offer to teach her one-on-one, although Pear already knew most of the basics. That was why, at the moment, he sat alone in the club practice room, strumming a guitar till his fingers bled raw. 

 

Tine couldn’t pretend like he wasn’t a tad annoyed at being ditched (okay; it made him feel like shit, but he wasn’t about to tell Pear that) but there was nothing he could do about it now except practice as much as he could. Not that that plan was going particularly well for him. Even though his fingertips were shredded from the hard strings and he was exhausted just thinking about the assignments waiting for him when he got back to his dorm, it wasn’t as if he had much of a choice. So, he sat pathetically cursing and licking his wounds as he desperately tried to crank out a C chord. It’d been so quiet in the shadows of the practice room except for the squeak of his chair and whine of the strings that he nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard the door creak behind him. Head whipping around, Tine squinted his eyes at the stranger that had slipped inside, their face obscured by sunglasses and a hoodie. It didn’t take him long to figure out who the mystery man was, though, when he caught a glimpse of a pair of lips that he was acquainted with far too well to be comfortable with. 

 

Sarawat slid over towards the table that was nearly bent in half from the weight of the snacks put upon it, all of which had been graciously left for him. Tine might’ve stolen some if his stomach wasn’t churning at the thought of food. The hunger pangs helped him focus anyways. Taking a deep breath, he tried to ignore the presence beside him, instead putting his attention on the instrument in front of him. It proved useless, however, when the moment he pushed out a note, a voice from behind him called “Wrong." Wrinkling his nose in annoyance, he closed his eyes and breathed out slowly, before opening them and trying again. The same voice rang out once more. “Wrong.” Brows furrowing, he gritted his teeth and strummed yet again, this time throwing his fingers against the strings a bit harder than needed and hissing in pain as they dragged against his exposed skin. “Wro-“ “Look, do you think I don’t know that already?” Tine finally burst out, turning around with darkened eyes, lips pulled into a scowl. Sarawat looked at him in surprise, irises glowing honey brown in the low light, guitar held awkwardly against himself like a child who’d been caught- and with that amount of endearment, Tine felt his anger melt a little. No, he had to be strong! Sighing, he turned around fully and made direct eye contact. “I know you’re just trying to help-“ did he? “-but it doesn’t really give me much of a clue on how to improve if all you tell me is that I’m not doing it right. I’m tired enough as it is, I don’t need someone reminding me of every mistake I make.” His voice came out more burnt out than he meant it to at the end, and he winced a bit. Sarawat simply stared at him, eyes gaining that burning quality yet again that made him feel like he was set aflame. He couldn’t help but squirm in his seat a bit, suddenly nervous. Sarawat had a lot more social prowess than he did, and could probably end his life, sabotage his grades, and squish him like a bug with just a few words. And who’s to say he wasn’t exactly like Pear said? 

 

This was precisely why he was a mixture of surprised, relieved, and almost smug (that last one was something he’d have to look into later) when Sarawat’s eyes softened rather than sharpened, an almost guilty crease in the furrow of his brows. His lower lip stuck out slightly in a half-pout, and he took a few steps forward. “I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean it that way. I just- well- my friends say, well, they say I’m very…straightforward.” Something about Sarawat’s small frown told Tine their word choice was not so matter of fact. It was the stuttering in that gentle voice that surprised him most though, the way he shifted back and forth and clutched tighter onto his guitar. “I’m sorry, I really am. I can help you if you want?” The sentence came out as more of a question than anything, and Sarawat’s gaze looked so hopeful with his excessive apologies that Tine couldn’t find it in him to say no. How could anyone? He was a weak, weak man. Nodding, he gave Sarawat what he hoped was a reassuring smile and scooted over from his place on the bench. The other boy’s eyes practically lit up, as he grinned and walked over before plopping himself down on the spot beside him. It didn’t take him long to take notice of Tine’s bleeding fingers, and his demeanor quickly changed to one of concern as he leaned over to get a better look. 

 

“I-I’m trying to build callouses,” Tine quickly explained, suddenly feeling as if he had to defend himself. Sarawat looked up from beneath his fringe with worried eyes and his heart nearly stopped. Sarawat was so close he could smell the sandalwood and cinnamon on his skin and clothes, along with a hint of sweat. He was pretty sure he was going to have an aneurysm before he learned any semblance of musical cohesiveness. “Is it okay if I touch your hands?” Tine nodded wordlessly, hardly able to register anything other than Sarawat’s shampoo. Gently, ever so gently, he reached forward and took one of Tine’s hands into his own, before shuffling through his guitar case and pulling out a small roll of bandages. Tine finally snapped out of it to tilt his head in confusion. “Do you just…carry those around?” Sarawat turned and gave him a soft smile, unrolling the gauze. “When I was first learning guitar, I did the same thing as you, and played too hard. Even now if I play too much my fingers bleed sometimes. I used to have a disinfectant too, but…” Somehow this man, who Tine had by now decided was the essence of perfection and needed to be protected at all costs, had the audacity to look guilty. He quickly spoke up, wanting that expression wiped off the musician’s face as soon as possible. He’d be happy to never see it again. “It’s okay, I have some stuff at home.” That was a lie; Tine hadn’t had the money or the time to get proper essentials and actual food in weeks, but he figured a little white lie never did anyone any harm, right? 

 

Sarawat nodded, seeming to calm down a little, although he still appeared a bit dejected. He gently dabbed at the blood with a cotton swab before wrapping a bandage around each of the affected fingers. It was the most weirdly soothing experience Tine had ever had. His hands were smooth, somehow soft and rough at the same time, refreshingly cool as he continued his ministrations. When he finished, Tine had half the mind to chase after his touch. Good thing he still had enough sanity to stop himself, swallowing down his shame at being so damn needy. He didn’t need to burden another person with his weird clinginess; he was lucky he had enough people as it was who were willing to deal with him. He was pulled out of his thoughts when Sarawat asked him a question, and surely it wasn’t Tine’s imagination telling him Sarawat was a bit closer than needed, was it? 

 

“So, why’d you decide to join the music club?” Tine spoke without thinking. “For Pear.” Something flashed through his companion’s eyes that he couldn’t quite place, and when he spoke next, something seemed more strained in his words. “You…like her?” Tine raised his eyebrows, turning to face him with a smirk. “Of course I like her. Are you saying that you don’t?” Sarawat’s expression turned to one of horror and Tine burst out into laughter. When he was finally able to speak again, he shook his head at the ear splitting grin on his face, which grew even wider at Sarawat’s confusion. “I’m just joking, it’s okay. I know you didn’t mean it that way. I don’t have a crush on Pear, because if I did I’d be in for some unfortunate realizations.” Sarawat only looked more befuddled and Tine remembered that he was still a relatively new student. “Pear’s a lesbian,” he explained. “And in fact, she has a crush on someone else right now.” 

 

Tine wasn’t sure if it was relief he saw on Sarawat’s face or something else. The other boy suddenly got a look in his eye that didn’t bode well for Tine’s fragile emotional state. Leaning in just enough to make Tine swallow down the rapid beating of his heart, Sarawat sported something akin to a smirk. "I'm surprised. Someone as pretty as her isn't usually single." Tine got the distinct impression that Sarawat wasn't really talking about Pear at all. Quickly shoving down his suspicions, he cleared his throat and turned his face away so his companion couldn't see the heat surely blooming across his cheeks. "Er, well, yes. If everything goes well, she won't be single for much longer." Tine was suddenly reminded of his idea back at the club welcoming ceremony, when he'd seen Sarawat and Earn talking. He still wasn't quite sure about it- was it really okay, to form a friendship with someone only to get interpersonal information from them?- but he figured it was probably his best bet in getting details about Earn. Gnawing at his bottom lip in contemplation, he swallowed down his nervousness and turned back to look at Sarawat. "Can I take you up on that offer to help me now?" Tine held out his injured fingers with a sheepish smile. "As you can see, I'm not exactly doing great on my own here." I've got to start somewhere. First step is getting into the club, then I can worry about the details. 

 

Sarawat immediately perked up, reminding Tine of a puppy- funny, considering just a moment ago he was the perfect image of a sly cat. "Sure," he smiled, hoisting his own guitar into his lap and situating himself. "What chord were you trying to play?" Tine cringed. Was his playing really so bad that it was impossible to know what he was even attempting? Sighing, he glared down at the offending instrument in his hands and shrugged. "Chord C. Could you really not tell?" Sarawat bit his lip, clearly trying to hold back laughter. Rolling his eyes with a huff, Tine curbed the urge to pout in favor of closely watching his newfound teacher. Blinking in the realization that he was expected to start, Sarawat cleared his throat and shifted into a more comfortable position. The way his fingers rested over the strings was fluid, natural- like they'd been made just for this. Maneuvering his fingers into the correct position, Tine did his best to copy the other boys work. The way he did it made it look so much more simple than it actually was, and he couldn't help but feel a little silly at being so incompetent. Sarawat strummed, the sound clear and firm in the air, and Tine did the same. Yet again, even though he'd tried his best to get his own fumbling fingers to sit on the strings right, the sound came out grating and out of place. Frowning, Tine tried once more- only to be met with the same results.

 

About to give it yet another try, stubborn regardless of his abysmal abilities, Tine was stopped by Sarawat tapping his elbow and holding out something in his palm. Brows furrowing, Tine leaned in and took it in his own hand. It was small, smooth and triangular, whorls of brown creating the impression of dark wood. "It's a guitar pick," Sarawat explained. "You'll have to give it back to me after this, but you can borrow it for now. It won't do any good for your fingers to press harder, and that's the only way you'll get it to sound right." He said it so matter-of-factly that Tine only narrowed his eyes a little bit at the subtle jab at his musical capability. Taking a deep breath, he pressed his fingers to the guitar once again, strumming with the pick this time. To his great relief, the chord came out much more clearly, if not a bit harsh. He couldn’t quite keep back the smile tugging at the corners of his lips as he moved his fingers to a new position, plucking the strings as he felt he was finally getting somewhere. In the matter of a few minutes, Sarawat had helped him get further in his practicing than he had all night. Biting his lip in an attempt to hold back his excitement, he looked up only to see the other boy staring at him for what felt like the hundredth time that night. Clearing his throat, Tine averted his eyes and brought his hand up to scratch at the back of his neck, hoping the heat dusting it wasn’t too obvious. “Uh, thanks. I didn’t know a pick could help this much. Maybe I’ll actually have a chance of making it into the club now,” he joked, but Sarawat nodded seriously, a pensive expression on his face. “You will.” He said it like it was a simple fact, like nothing in the world could change it. It was strangely comforting.

 

Checking his phone, Tine watched his companion’s face crease into a grimace upon seeing the time. Giving him an apologetic look, Sarawat stood up and began packing up his things. “Sorry, I’ve got to go. Football practice,” he explained. Swallowing down the familiar disappointment rising in his throat, Tine hummed in understanding. “Uh…” Sarawat paused for a moment, giving him a strange look. It made Tine shift in his seat a little, doing his best to not look like a nervous schoolgirl, although he wasn’t too sure he succeeded. “You can keep the pick,” Sarawat finally spoke, gently, yet with a hint of a smirk in his voice. Tine couldn’t figure out for the life of him why. ”I’ll see you later.” With that, the boy departed with a wave, leaving the snacks and gifts left for him behind without a second glance.

 

As the door squeaked behind him and Tine turned back to his work, he missed the ear splitting smile the other boy was sporting as he walked down the hall.

 

***

 

Tine hated his friends. Hated them. They were useless and stupid and only served to make his life a living hell.

 

In other words, he was currently stuck as the designated driver while Ohm, Phuak, and Fong got shitfaced. 

 

To be fair, at least Fong had a reason to. He’d recently been broke up with (again) and cheated on (probably) and could use a night to just whine and sob over drinks. His other friends, however, had no excuse. They were simply pawning their responsibilities onto Tine and he was incredibly resentful about it.

 

”Oh, c’mon, Tine, we’re not that bad,” Phuak slurred over his fourth glass of beer. Who knew how many shots he’d taken before that. Tine just grunted, refusing to make eye contact as Fong sniveled onto his shirt about muscled blonde guys taking away his goldfish, whatever that meant. The neon lights of the bar flashed periodically as partygoers grinded against each other with the cover of dancing, shitty music pounding through the speakers and rattling their glasses with its force. The whole place smelt like linoleum flooring and cigarettes, sweat and alcohol clinging to everyone’s clothes with the promise of a hangover in the morning. Tine found it was usually times like this, when he was the one who had to take care of everyone’s drunk asses, that he wanted a drink most. The pleasant buzz would make his friend’s foolish giggling a little bit more bearable. Alas, Tine was the most responsible out of all of them, and it was a heavy burden to carry.

 

He was busy wallowing in his self inflicted pity party when a familiar voice tugged him from his thoughts. Looking up in confusion, Tine’s face paled to a degree that was certainly unhealthy. The figure in front of him, seemingly not noticing his plight, laughed merrily as she flipped her braid over her shoulder. Her hair was dark and sleek, lips glossy and pink, eyes creased in happiness. Her nails were still perfectly manicured, her wrists adorned with a plethora of beaded and leather bracelets, but her clothing was more feminine than Tine had ever seen her in. The last time he remembered her, the version most clear in his memories, was her in her brother’s old varsity jacket, tear streaks on her face and rain soaked curls dripping onto the ground. And him, standing there petrified, nails digging into his palms as he begged her to stay-

 

 

He shoved the thought as far back in his mind as it could go.

 

 

The thing was, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t hate Milk. Even though her face had haunted him for months afterwards, the red marks where she’d gripped his arm so tightly never quite seeming to fade, he just- he couldn’t do it. And the thing was, he should , her and her stupid brother with his stupid eyes squinting at him like he was a problem , the way she left him holding back tears in the rain as she yelled that it wasn’t her, it was him , and that maybe if he’d just tried harder, or loved better, or talked less or been more calm or stopped being so goddamn clingy-

 

 

Tine was getting distracted again. He needed to stop. He needed to run, before she saw him, before this tiny world he’d crafted around himself, this safe haven, all came crashing down.

 

 

Standing up abruptly, Tine ignored his friend’s complaints as he yanked Fong up by the elbow and clumsily left a tip. Out, out, out, he needed out . Dragging his friends behind him almost aggressively, he clenched his jaw as tight as it could go, everything passing in a blur as he walked them into their dorms, waved them off with promises of a longer outing tomorrow, trudged back to his own pathetic room and realized, all of a sudden, in the dimming light of the lamp Type had gifted to him that never quite worked right, that he was alone.

 

 

In high school, Tine thought every single person was ‘the one’. His bisexual awakening had been a bit of a shock, young and acne-covered and fresh out of middle school, but he’d powered through it regardless. Whichever person he fell head over heels for would certainly find him tolerable, deal with all his rambling and snort laughing and chewing with his mouth open, and they’d love him anyway. And, he always told himself, every failure was just a learning experience. That was what his mother always told him, after all. But his mother dealt with monsters of men for years, and Tine weathered break up after break up, learning he was too much and too clingy and too nervous and too distant and too close all at once. He smiled too much, he should eat healthier, he cared way too much about all his friends, he was too feminine, every single little thing that made him him getting picked apart until he was nothing but scraps clinging to bone.

 

 

People liked to call him a player. After all, why else would he have had so many relationships? But really, he just fell so hard, so fast, saw the good and the love in people so easily, that when he wasn’t attending to someone’s every need, he felt empty, purposeless. He’d clean his room four times within the same week, go through several different diets, do his homework over and over until it was early in the morning and the result was hardly legible. Everyone was letting him know what his faults were, and he just had to fix them, and if he just did that then maybe someone would stay. He had to be strong, confident, flirtatious but not overbearing, physical but not clingy. It was exhausting. It was all Tine knew how to do.

 

 

And the thing was, he was working on it. Trying his best to heal, although part of him (most of him) still denied he’d ever been hurt in the first place. Learning that it was okay to eat more than salads, that one treat wouldn’t ruin any shred of likability in him, that yes, he could wear sweatshirts, and that for fucks sake, his current crush wasn’t going to hate him because he smiled too loudly . But it was hard, some days feeling impossible, when it was so much easier to fall back into his old habits of nitpicking every part of himself until he hardly felt real anymore. He thought he’d been progressing, but of course, one night of seeing someone from his past, and he was screwed.

 

 

Ignoring the tightness in his stomach that told him he should make something more than cheap ramen, the itchiness in his eyes from tears he refused to acknowledge, and the tang of blood on his tongue where he’d bitten his lip too hard, Tine turned off the lamp. He didn’t want to see himself anymore, not when it was little more than a reminder that it was just him in here, that there was nothing he could do about it.

 

 

No, instead, he crawled under the covers, buried his face into that body pillow he could never quite sleep without because he needed to feel held, and forced himself to sleep.