When Tin drops off the face of the Earth roughly a month after he declared his intentions of courting Can, it makes Can… worry. He hasn’t been getting any calls or texts from him in two days, a stark contrast to the daily wake-up call and at least two texts for every hour Tin spends awake. Tin hasn’t been lurking around the football field, either, thinking that he’s being subtle when he’s actually the exact opposite. Even P’No noticed him and started to ask Can questions about their relationship. Can doesn’t want to admit that his subconscious has started to look for Tin’s figure outside his department every time he finishes his classes, or that he keeps hearing phantom notifications alerts from LINE messages that weren’t actually there.
That’s why he goes to Ae’s building at lunch today, so he can corner Pete and gets the information about Tin’s whereabouts from him. He can ask Tin himself, he supposes, but he’s the one who sent the last text and he’s not about to double-text a boy who doesn’t even have the decency to give him a warning before ghosting him. He’s definitely not about to call said boy.
Can spots Ae’s table easily because Pond is being Pond and making a ruckus as always, laughing boisterously with Ae on one side and Ping on the other, Boe sitting across from them. Pete, as always, sits obediently on Ae’s side. He could have easily sit on the other side with Boe, but Can knows too well that Ae doesn’t let that happen too often.
Pete’s the one who notices him first.
“Hello, Ai C—“ Pete manages to say before Can drags him to the side, away from the rest of the group.
Ae immediately senses the absence of Pete’s body leaning into his and turns his head to check on his boyfriend, only to find him completely gone. He watches Pete and Can with his eyebrows scrunched up, looking slightly offended.
Can is not entirely sure whether Ae’s offended that Can didn’t greet him properly when he arrived or that he took Pete away from him. It’s probably the latter, knowing the kind of green-eyed monster Ae is. Whichever it is, he has more important matters to attend to right now.
“Where’s he?” Can demands, his hands tight on Pete’s shoulders.
Pete takes a second to look at Can’s disheveled state before giving him a hesitant reply, “Are you talking about Ai Tin?”
Can searches Pete’s face. He looks as confused as Can feels at the moment, which means he doesn’t know where Tin went. They’re both just as clueless about the matter.
“You don’t know,” Can says aloud.
Pete shakes his head. “I was about to ask you. He hasn’t been coming to class and he’s not picking up my calls, either.”
Can feels a surge of relief at Pete’s words, but it goes as quickly as it comes, replaced by genuine concern for Tin. So he’s not avoiding me… what if his brother did something to him? Argh, I’m so over worrying about this asshole!
“Why would he be avoiding you, Ai Can? And what happened with his brother?” Pete bombards him with questions, snapping him out of his reverie.
Shit. Can must have said his thoughts out loud again.
“No, no. Nothing,” he flusters through the words, averting his eyes.
Pete nods in understanding and Can is thankful, so thankful that he’s not nosy at all. Can’s a dam full of water just waiting to burst, his loud dumb mouth betraying him in every occasion. He’s afraid he might betray Tin’s trust in the same way, since he suspects Pete doesn’t know the full story of what’s going on behind the curtains of Tin’s household.
There’s a voice in the back of his mind that tells him that he won’t ever do that, though. Tin has been through enough hardships and damn it, Can’s not going to put him through another one, no matter what they are to each other. Acquaintances, friends, or… something else.
“Well, I was planning to visit his apartment after class today,” Pete tells him. “Would you like to come with me?”
The warm smile Pete offers him gives him the courage to say what he does next. He makes a mental note to tell Ae that despite all of his shortcomings, he sure knows how to pick his partner when it comes down to it. That is if Ae still wants to talk to him after he laid his hands on Pete without first asking for Ae’s permission.
He gets an immediate answer. “Yes?”
“You don’t have to check on him,” Can says, “just give me his address and I’ll go.”
Pete smiles again, so bright, and Can can’t help but feel glad that Tin has someone who cares about him deeply. He tilts his head to the right, as if asking Can, what’s next? Can cocks his head in the direction of the table. He should probably return Pete to his rightful owner before he gets into too much trouble.
“What was that about?” Ae asks the two of them as take their seats.
Pete loops his arms around Ae’s middle and rests his chin on his boyfriend’s shoulder. “Nothing, Ae,” he answers with a sweet tone.
Ae glares at Can, a little suspicious. Can puts his hands up in the air in total surrender. He knows he’s in the wrong, so he’s not going to try to fight Ae on this. “Really?”
“Ah, so Ae doesn’t believe me?” Pete pouts.
Ae cranes his neck to look at Pete’s face and Can witnesses the exact moment his annoyance melts into affection. Ae reaches out a hand to pat Pete’s head and play with his hair, not a single care in the world that they’re in the cafeteria at the busiest time of the day and there are at least a hundred pair of eyes watching them.
“I’m sorry, na,” Ae apologises sincerely, “Of course I believe my boyfriend.”
Pete’s pursed lips curled into a smile and just like that, Ae drops the matter and returns to chatting with Pond about some group project they are working on together. Pete shoots Can a smug look and that’s when the realisation hits Can like a 16-wheeler truck going down the hill without a functioning brake.
Pete knew exactly what he was doing to Ae.
He might not be as innocent and pure as Can initially thought he is, but Can definitely respects him more now. He has Ae wrapped around his finger and he’s taking advantage of the fact.
Can looks down at this phone and reads the apartment number Pete had sent him one more time before knocking on the door, just to be extra sure that he’s actually in the right place.
He knocks once.
He knocks again, louder this time.
He can hear shuffling inside the room, but after a good minute, no one comes to answer the door.
He raps his knuckles on the door until they start to hurt–– then the door swings open to reveal Tin with his hair sticking out in all directions and a blanket thrown over his shoulders. Can eyes him up and down.
“Great,” Tin laughs weakly, snot coming out of his nose, “now I’m hallucinating.”
“You look like shit,” Can comments. He’s not trying to be mean or insulting, but he never thought he’d ever see Tin looking anything less than flawless in this lifetime. He didn’t even think Tin owns a loose t-shirt like the one he’s wearing now, as he’s always seen him with a button-down shirt or a polo instead.
Even hidden underneath the blanket, he can easily make out the outline of Tin’s toned chest and stomach.
Tin leans against the door to support his own weight, staring at Can with a weird look on his face. “You sound exactly like the real thing,” he smiles to himself.
Can notices the slight tremble in his voice and how dazed his eyes are. Tin’s definitely sick, probably a stomach bug or classic case of influenza.
“Excuse me, hallucination of Can, I have to vomit,” Tin says all of a sudden before turning around and making his way to what Can assume is the bathroom. Can steps inside the apartment tentatively and observes the interior design.
If he’s being honest, it’s bland.
The apartment itself is spacious, but it just makes the place feels empty and hollow. The colour scheme of the wallpaper and furniture is an elegant monochrome, though it is obvious that it comes from lack of passion instead of conscious choice. Everything in here is just there for practical reasons, making it a suitable a living place, just not a particularly lively one. Can heart’s aches.
What if this is just a miniature version of what Tin’s house is like?
Tin emerges from the bathroom, looking even paler than before.
“You’re still here,” he notes, then drops on the sofa and proceeds to clutch his head. “My head’s pounding so bad at the moment I don’t even know how my brain can come up with you.”
Can puts his bag on the kitchen counter and makes his way to sit down next to him, positioning himself until Tin’s head is on his lap. He doesn’t know what possesses him to do it, but he knows it’s what he wants to do. He carefully removes Tin’s hands which were covering his face and uses his own fingers to push Tin’s hair back.
It feels freaking domestic, but Can doesn’t care.
“Alright, you’re definitely a hallucination,” Tin murmurs as Can starts to massage his temple.
“What happened to you?” Can asks softly.
“Got caught in the rain,” Tin extends his arm above his head and grabs Can’s hand, only to put it against his cheek and lean into the touch. “Ah, this feels nice.”
Can has to admit that he echoes that sentiment. He feels a little bit regretful that Tin’s a complete wreck and probably has been for the last couple days, yet he didn’t know anything about it. He could have been here sooner. Maybe then Tin wouldn’t have gotten this bad. Tin himself said that he likes him, didn’t he? Doesn’t that mean he would want to lean on Can at times like this? Or is he not worthy enough to become Tin’s pillar of support?
Why is this bothering him anyway? He can’t even tell how he feels towards Tin. All he knows is that his feeling of hatred has long faded away, replaced by a certain warmth that washes over him every time Tin gives him that private, characteristic smile of his.
“Go to sleep,” Can tells him.
Judging by the bags underneath his eyes, Tin needs hours of it. He doesn’t put up any resistance to Can’s command, which is a rare occurrence. It only further confirms Can’s suspicion that Tin’s feeling incredibly unwell at the moment. Can continues stroking his cheek softly until he hears soft snores coming from Tin.
He watches him for a while, the rise and fall of his chest and the way his body curls in his sleep. After he’s sure that Tin’s in deep sleep, he retrieves a pillow to replace his lap as a prop for Tin’s head. Then he goes to work. And by work, it means cleaning up tissues from all over the room and washing dirty dishes that tells him Tin has been eating instant food for a while now. He searches for the key to the apartment when he’s done, so that he can leave to buy Tin something to eat and come back without waking him up, and that’s when he catches something from the corner of his eye that makes him stop dead in his tracks.
He walks to the drawer right by the door of Tin’s bedroom and reaches for the paper placed neatly on top of it.
His apology letter from what felt like a long, long time ago, which he had written after he felt bad about the things he said to Tin.
And the idiot kept it.
It isn't put in a plastic cover or framed, or anything extremely cheesy like that, but it's as if Can had only given the letter to him yesterday if the excellent state of the paper is any indication to go by. Tin treasures this simple letter like it's diamond. He's been treasuring Can, too, in ways he knows how to best.
Can mulls over everything they have been through from the beginning. It started with cold indifference on Tin’s part and raw, untethered anger on Can’s after repeatedly enduring the knives of Tin’s words to his heart. The dynamic changes along the way as Tin lets Can in all the things that made him who he is and he gives, gives and gives Can his all, his everything. Can tries not to take anything for granted but it has been hard, stomaching through all the facts.
Because he’s never been with anyone before Tin. He’s never had anyone like Tin. There is no one like Tin.
Yet, Tin came on strong, tells him he likes him and he wants to protect him and that it’s enough that Can believes him and he doesn’t need anything else other than that and Can, oh, Can does believe him. Tin’s been hurt over and over again, but he finds a way to wear his heart on his sleeve for Can and hopes that Can won’t rip it out and eat it.
It’s extremely vulnerable and if someone tells Can six months ago that he’d end up here, fighting the tears that are forcing their way out his eyes because he finally understands it, understands Tin, understands them, he would have decked them and put a curse on them afterwards.
He finds the keys to the apartment in a small bowl next to the letter. He wipes at his eyes using his sleeve and walks up to Tin, who’s still sleeping soundlessly on the sofa. Can drops a soft kiss on his forehead, Tin humming softly at the contact.
Can wishes he’s having a good dream, then he slips away quietly.
It takes him a while to find a restaurant that serves porridge for dinner instead of breakfast, not to mention he's not familiar with the area. Tin’s place is smacked in the middle of the city, unlike his own suburban home. The thought reminds Can to text his mother and let her know that he'll be coming home late tonight, to avoid her getting worried over him. He initially considered calling Lay and let her relay the message, but she would ask questions about what he's doing, then Can would have to lie to her because otherwise she'd have a field day with this information.
When he returns, Tin isn’t sleeping on the sofa anymore, although it seems like he’s left his blanket there. He hears water running in the bathroom right as he returns the keys to where he found them, so he concludes that Tin’s up and taking a shower. At least it means that he’s feeling a little bit better than before. Can walks over to the kitchen and rummages around for bowls to put the porridge he’s bought in, but he could only manage to find one.
Tin really is living alone. Can needs to persuade him to have at least a pair of everything from now on.
He waits patiently at the dining table for Tin to finish his shower, flipping through his phone absentmindedly. He sees a chat from Pete asking for an update, so he texts him back saying everything’s fine and he has it under control. Pete replies with a winky face sticker, which is exactly how Can expects him to reply. Can smiles to himself, he should thank Pete when he sees him the next time.
Finally, the water turns off and he can hear noises coming from the bathroom. Tin’s probably dressing up.
He’s right. Not even a minute later, the bathroom door opens.
Tin comes out and stares at Can, hard, then scrunched his eyebrows and goes back into the bathroom, slamming the door shut.
Can’s surprised, of course. He didn’t expect that reaction. It’s not like Tin was naked or anything, he’s fully dressed with sweatpants hanging low on his waist and a grey sweater, which admittedly looks very good on him. Before he can voice his protest, though, the door opens again and Tin’s head appears from the slight opening.
“Wh— are you real?” Tin stutters.
“What kind of question is that? Yeah, of course,” Can replies from his seat.
Tin opens the bathroom door wider and walks out, his confidence coming back in each step he takes towards Can. He puts both of his hands on the table, his figure looming over Can. It would have been intimidating if it wasn’t for the fact that if Can properly pushes him right now, Tin would most definitely fall over on his ass.
“How did you get in here?”
Can points a finger at Tin. “You opened the door for me.”
“No, that was—“ Tin stops mid-sentence. “Was that you?”
Can nods. Did Tin really think he was a figment of his imagination? Is that even normal?
Tin eyes go wide at Can’s reaction and he slumps down entirely until his forehead is pressed against the furnished surface of the table. Can laughs a little, he can’t help himself. Tin’s embarrassed, and it’s cute.
“I bought you some porridge. Will you eat?”
Tin tilts his head to the side, his cheek is now pressed against the table instead of his forehead. He stares at Can in awe, as if he hasn’t completely believe that this is real. Tin seems to snap out of it after awhile, grabbing the chair next to Can and sitting down. Can lets him eat in peace, replying to his mother's texts and checking his social media while waiting for Tin. He doesn’t end up having to wait long, since Tin finishes his meal quite quickly.
Can thinks his stomach’s just being grateful that it’s getting proper nutrition for once. He’s always had a weird feeling eating out with Tin when all Tin does is just watch him and take a few small bites here and there. It turns out that his instincts were right, after all. All Tin does is feed Can when he isn’t even feeding himself properly.
That’s another thing Can will surely change, from now on.
“Couldn’t you, like, call me?” Can asks Tin as soon as puts his glass of water down.
Tin turns to look at him, an apologetic look on his face. “I always woke up past 8 these last few days, so if I had called you, you would be in class.”
Can rests his arm on the back of Tin’s chair. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
Tin rubs at his eyes tiredly. Can knows he doesn’t want to start a fight, and that’s not what Can wants, either. There were days when all they did is argue every time they see each other, though that’s history. Right now, Can just wants to understand.
“I didn’t want to bother you. I’m fine, anyway, I always take care of myself when I’m sick and I’m still alive, see?”
“Fine,” Can says, following his game. Tin smiles at him like he’s won this argument, but then Can hits him with an, “I had a ball kicked straight to my face yesterday and I bled so much, Ai Good passed out watchin—“
Tin grabs Can by the shoulders, instantly assessing any visible damage on Can’s face. Not that he would find any even if he continues on looking forever, since Can just made up that situation in the moment, to test his hypothesis.
“What! Are you okay? Jeez, I told you to be careful whenever you’re playing,” he says, scolding, “Don’t daze off in the middle of the field, you always do this. And why exactly didn’t you tell me?”
Can crosses his arms across his chest. Tin took the bait, now he just has to reel it in. “So it’s okay for you not to tell me that you’re sick, but it’s not okay for me to keep things from you?”
“I—“ Tin catches himself tangled in Can’s perfectly-set trap, “those are two completely different things!” he exclaims stubbornly.
“How?” Can raises his chin, challenging him.
“I had already said that I’d take care of you,” he breathes out.
Can’s heart thumps loudly against his ribcage as if asking to be handed over to Tin in its entirety.
“Then, from now on, I’ll take care of you, too,” Can declares after he manages to return his heart rate to a normal level for a human being, “so you better call me next time this happens.”
Tin takes his hands off Can’s shoulders and looks away from him.
“What?” he asks Tin, tapping on his arm to get Tin’s attention back.
“You’re being unfair.”
Tin sighs. “You’re being unfair, because you know how I feel about you and the way you’re saying these things makes me think that maybe, maybe you feel the same way about me. It’s giving me false hope, and it’s cruel.”
Damn, Can wants to just grab his face and tells him that no, it’s not false hope, it’s not even hope because it’s already true, it’s already real. Can’s here and Can realises the reason that he’s annoyed by Tin’s absence is also the reason he’s worried by it: he likes him. He likes him. It might take him awhile to catch up to Tin’s level of intensity, but he’ll get there. He’s free falling right into Tin’s arm, he just wishes they’re opened wide for him.
“You— what is going on right now,” he huffs. He thought that when he said those words before, Tin would just plant his lips on his own as a way of silencing him and that’d be the end of it, but apparently being sick has side effects on Tin’s personality. “Hey, look at me,” he grabs Tin’s wrist.
Tin stays quiet.
“Look at me, please?” he intertwines their fingers together.
Tin turns immediately and looks at their joined hands in surprise, then stares at Can. “What are you…?”
“I came all the way here for you,” Can tells him. “I took care of you, lulled you to sleep,” he lets his thumb caresses the back of Tin’s hand. “I even bought food for you,” he finishes with emphasis. “Shouldn’t I be rewarded?”
“What are y—“ Tin repeats, but Can cuts him off by kissing him.
It’s different, this time. It’s different because even though they’ve kissed numerous times before this, Tin was always the one who initiated it. Tin was always the one who asked for it, who wanted it, who longed for Can’s lips on his. Can never said he minded it, but for him, the want is never as clear as it is today. Can simply needed to have Tin as close to him as possible. He’s not sure when did he become this desperate for Tin’s touch, to have him in his personal space.
There’s a split second when Tin’s too surprised to kiss him back, but then Can licks along Tin’s bottom lip and that seems to be a wake-up call on its own. Tin puts his hands on Can’s waist and lifts him up so easily until Can’s positioned on his lap. If Can has the ability to think in that moment, he would’ve been impressed at how strong Tin is, considering he had just puked his guts out a couple hours ago. But with Tin’s teeth grazing slightly across his lips and his warm hands sneaking their way underneath Can’s shirt, Can’s just amazed that he hasn’t passed out from the heat building up between their bodies.
Tin smells of sandalwood shampoo and expensive aftershave. Can likes it. Can likes him. He hopes silently that it shows in the effort he puts into this making out session.
Tin pulls away after a good minute.
Can opens his eyes to find Tin staring. Not at him, exactly, but at his lips. Tin’s eyes are bright, his lips red.
Can wants to dive back in and never resurface.
“Tell me,” Tin says. No, to be accurate, he’s begging Can.
“I like you,” Can voices without hesitation. "I really do."
Tin smiles at the confession, teeth and all. He does it from his heart, looking as happy as a child running loose in an amusement park, and Can thinks he always wants to see him like this. Always.
He lifts his head up to kiss Can again, moving slowly this time.
Can meets him halfway and hums happily against his lips.
Pete is pretty confused when Tin appears alongside Can in the Thai Program’s cafeteria because whenever he goes to eat with Can, he usually chooses a place where he doesn’t have to see Ae’s face. They’re not on each other’s throats anymore, alright, but they’re not exactly on the best terms with one another.
The confusion is pretty soon turned into something else entirely. His world is flipped upside down when Tin sits across from Ae and actually apologises to him, with words. He’s gaping at Tin who barely pays him any mind and then at Ae, anticipating his reaction. He steals a quick glance at Can but he doesn’t seem to think that this is a big deal—which it actually is—as he’s busy on his phone, presumably playing a game. He’s unmistakably leaning on Tin’s side, though. Casually intimate, just like that.
Ae being Ae, he smiles and tells Tin to forget it. He even asks if Tin wants to order some food, so that he can go and order it for him. Tin says thank you—again, with words that aren’t laced with venom—tells Ae what he wants and offers to buy the drinks in exchange. Ae reciprocates and lets Tin know his usual order.
Pete can’t understand what’s happening.
He’s dreaming, it must be. That’s the only possible explanation.
There’s a hand on his shoulder. Pete looks up. “Uh, yes, Ae?”
“He’s asking you if you want something to drink,” Ae nods at Tin.
“Oh, uh—um,“ Come on, brain, process, Pete thinks.
“He’ll have the same thing as me, it’s fine. Sometimes he’s just in his own headspace,” Ae comments fondly, he touches Pete’s cheek with his knuckles and lets his touch linger there longer than necessary. Tin nods in understanding, narrowing his eyes at Pete for acting strange.
Ae gets up and walks away to order their food, while Tin also makes his way in the opposite direction, to the drink stall.
Pete slaps the table with his hand and makes Can jump.
“What was that?!” he exclaims.
Can puts his phone down. “I don’t know what you mean?”
“Ai Tin… he was being… civilised.”
“You say it like it’s a dirty word,” Can laughs, shifting his glance to the side. “Don’t make it weird, it’s hard enough for him to say it as it is.”
Pete finally understands why Can was being too nonchalant about Tin’s apology to Ae. It’s only a big deal if you make it a big deal, and with Tin, it’s better to subdue the situation so that the intentions are presented are as genuine as possible. Pete’s eyes follow Can’s line of sight right to where Tin’s standing by the stall and it’s like Tin knows exactly when Can’s looking at him.
Tin turns around at the right moment and even from a distance, Pete can see the corners of his mouth turning upward.
This has definitely been a wild five minutes for Pete. He wasn’t even aware that Tin’s facial muscles move in that direction.
Can sticks his tongue out at Tin and returns his attention back to Pete. He grins with a faint hint of pride in his eyes, and that’s how Pete knows that Can’s completely aware of the effect he has on his boyfriend. Pete’s only glad he’s using it to help Tin become a better person.
He sighs. Oh well, it's not like this is an unwanted development in his life. Now, where did Ae go? Pete misses him already.