Team was, objectively, a smart person. He was. If one were to only look at his grades, they’d see a boy with more than satisfactory grades across the board (except English, which was “a dumb and stupid language, Manaow”), and a full-ride sports scholarship. He was the picture of success! Parents across Thailand would be proud to have raised him!
Team was also, objectively, an idiot.
The latter point, much to Team’s neverending anguish, had an awful lot to do with a certain blonde-haired tattooed senior who all but dove into his life at the start of the semester, setting up a permanent home in his consciousness.
All that was to say, Team was smart most of the time. Until it came to Win.
When it came to school, if Team was able to muster up the energy to pay attention, it was easy to see that there were certain subjects that he was actually good at. Not just ‘acceptable grades’, but good. Sure, he was fond of goofing off, and enjoyed spending at least thirty percent of most of his classes annoying Manaow, but when it came down to it he knew he had academic strengths.
Math, for example, was one of them.
Ever since he could remember, Team had found math relatively simple. Of course there were complicated equations and calculations to be done, but the numbers themselves weren’t difficult. It was like swimming: you tilt your arm this way, kick with however much force, and then you win the race. Math just happened to involve numerical calculation in place of physical skill.
Dealing with Win, on the other hand… Team had lost count of the amount of times he had tried to come up with a snarky retort to Win’s teasing, or had tried to think of a clever comment during swim practice, only to have his brain completely sever all contact with his mouth. Team would be stuck, unable to get the right words out, instead having to resign himself to a stuttered “hia!” and a hasty shove, desperately trying to hide the blush that would inevitably begin to colour his cheeks.
Life was tough.
So yes, Team was smart most of the time. Until it came to Win.
Team’s brain’s impressive ability to dissolve into soup wherever Win was concerned, he knew, was almost certainly responsible for his current predicament. Namely, trying to keep up the ruse that he needed help with math. Of all subjects, math.
How Win hadn’t immediately noticed the flaw in the idea that Team, an economics major, struggled with simple math was nothing short of a miracle. The idea that Team might make it out of this charade with his dignity intact was nigh on impossible.
Every passing moment that he managed to keep up the facade was a moment he wondered if he ought to join Manaow’s drama club. He’d heard there was an Actual Actor™ in the club, but if Team kept this up then he was pretty sure he could beat even that guy for a lead role. The problem was, he felt seconds away from being found out at any given moment, and to top it all off he had to somehow figure out a way to ‘show improvement’ in a subject he was already good at in the first place.
In his defense, Win had been the one to offer.
Team had only been innocently sitting outside his faculty building, enjoying a rare day off from swim practice, when the blonde man had collapsed into the seat beside him, wasting no time in slinging an arm around Team’s shoulders.
Team, valiantly, had tried his best to ignore how the heat of Win’s arm practically seared through his shirt, determined to keep up his mask of casual indifference. He stared intently at the pages open before him, not daring to chance a glance at the man beside him, knowing fully that a self-satisfied smirk would be present on the other man’s face. It was a futile endeavour, of course; something Team had learnt intimately well in the months since Win had barrelled his way into Team’s life.
“This is the basic math requirement course, right?” Came Win’s voice, closer to his ear than Team expected. He startled slightly, quickly shrugging Win’s arm from his shoulders as he tried to wrestle his thoughts into order.
“Yeah,” Team replied, daring a glance to the side. Win was looking down at Team’s work, completely unfazed at having had his arm shaken from Team’s shoulders, brows slightly furrowed as his eyes scanned the pages.
“Do you need any help?” Win offered, and Team quickly snapped his gaze back to the work in front of him.
“Hia!” He cried, slightly indignantly. “This is low-level math, I’m not that hopeless.”
Win laughed at that, and Team fought to keep a smile from his face. Win’s laugh was infectious, even when at Team’s expense.
“I never said you were,” the other man grinned, “but I always got good grades in math courses. I’d be happy to help,” he said, shrugging his shoulders in a way that showed he wasn’t trying to brag.
Team sighed. Only Win could manage to sound humble when talking about their academic prowess. He shook his head, picking up his pencil and returning to the task at hand. “I’ll be fine, hia.”
Win nodded, ruffling Team’s hair and smirking at the squawk that the action drew from the younger, before reaching into his pocket to pull out his phone. Team exhaled sharply in exasperation, reaching up to fix his hair as the soft jingle of the game Win had been playing recently started up on the man’s phone. Team watched him for longer than he’d like to admit, keeping his face forward but paying attention to his periphery, as Win tapped at the screen, his tongue peeking out of his mouth in concentration. Honestly, how was Team supposed to focus when Win sat there looking so effortlessly attractive. It was unfair on every level.
Team wasn’t lying about not needing help, either. Usually, he would be fine. If he were alone he’d probably manage to finish these exercises and start reviewing the next chapter within the hour. However, when faced with Win, Team’s mutinous brain would divert all his attention to simply watching and longing. Longing for Win’s flirtations to mean something; for his teasing smirk to be for Team alone. Team sighed, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. There was no use dwelling on things that couldn’t be.
Team’s sigh drew Win’s attention once again, his fingers pausing as he shot a sideways glance at Team. Locking his phone, Win leaned in once more, encroaching on Team’s personal space as his gaze swept the papers in front of them.
“Team,” he chuckled, “you’ve done no more work than when I got here. Are you sure you don’t want help?”
Team flushed at the proximity, trying to school his expression into something neutral before responding. “Um, I guess you can help, hia.”
The other man grinned widely before, impossibly, scooting even closer.
Team was doomed.
Team had really - honestly - only meant for it to be a one time thing. He’d planned to let Win help him once, maybe twice, until the other man felt like he’d played his attentive-senior role, before letting things return to normal. He’d counted on it, no less; knowing full well that having to spend any more time around Win than he already did was likely to be detrimental to his sanity. Although, great practice in restraint, he supposed.
What he hadn’t anticipated, however, was just how persistent Win could be.
The first couple of tutoring sessions had actually been beneficial, if Team was being honest. Win was an upperclassman afterall, and had already taken this exact course - albeit two years prior. Team, of course, didn’t struggle with the content, despite what Win may have thought, but he knew he would still benefit from the deceptively simple way that Win managed to explain the various formulas his course would cover. The other man had even come up with his own practice problems; ones that more often than not involved swimming techniques as ways of understanding the more complex spatial formulas. It was a nice touch, and even after only that first session Team felt that he understood his content in more than just the abstract way he had approached it before. Now, he almost felt as if he could see where it would be applied in everyday life.
Team was also pleasantly surprised, and perhaps more than a little amused, to learn that Win was the type of student who colour-coded . He’d turned up to the library for their first session, arms laden with old textbooks and one impressively organised binder with colourful little bookmarks sticking out of both in a system only Win seemed to understand, and delightedly started explaining a series of formulas to Team as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Team was enamoured, if not a little intimidated.
But, whilst it might not have been easy for Team to pretend not to understand his work, it was certainly easy for him to act distracted. Because he was. At all times.
Sitting next to Win as the other man would methodically go through Team’s worksheets, absentmindedly chewing on the tip of his pen between correcting Team’s ‘mistakes’ was proving to be a novel form of torture. Team wasn’t sure it would work on anyone else, but if he ever found himself at war with Win in the future, the other man certainly had a foolproof path to victory.
Every little hmm that Win would make sent tiny jolts of electricity through Team’s stomach; his blood gently simmering beneath his skin each time Win’s tongue would jut out as he stared down in concentration. It took all of Team’s steadily deteriorating self-control not to imagine other scenarios that might involve Win’s tongue. Really, he was a saint.
And his hands. Team could write poetry about Win’s hands. Unfortunately, the only time he’d been asked to write a poem was for English class, and Team was not willing to sully the image of Win’s hands with English vocabulary.
Win had this way of explaining that more or less involved the majority of his upper body. He’d practically lean into his explanations, moving his hands in big sweeping gestures, often dragging one of Team’s own hands along for the journey, as if it were possible for him to comprehend the concept of the week through physical contact alone.
When he wasn’t waving his arms around in explanation, Win’s hands would often sit atop the table, distractedly drumming out a beat whilst he waited for Team to work through whatever Win was teaching him. The noise itself was hardly distracting. If anything, Team found the rhythmic sound of Win’s simple existence to be a source of endless comfort. If he weren’t so painfully attracted to the man, he might even find it calming. As it stood, watching the muscles of Win’s hands jump and flex as the man tapped out a rhythm did little for Team’s concentration. Unless he was being asked to concentrate on the way Win’s fingers moved, in which case he was incredibly successful.
If Team had actually been in need of tutoring, he was certain he would have failed out of school and been forced to live as a hermit before long.
After three of these sessions, Team was ready to thank Win (and whatever deity had allowed him to make it through said sessions unscathed) and move on with his education. It was getting harder and harder for Team to act as if he was unsure about his work, and there were only so many occasions that Win could mistake Team’s soup-brain addled responses for confusion.
But then Win started inviting him out for dinner, and Team had never pretended he was strong.
Dinners with Win were… something.
They were never fancy, and they certainly weren’t dates, but they were a chance for Team to spend an hour or so awake living in the fantasy that Win thought of him as even just a little more than a ‘friend’.
More often than not, they’d end up at a well-established family restaurant about a two minute walk from the dorm. It was a little off the beaten track, and very unlikely to appear on any tourist’s “must visit” list, but the regulars more than preferred it that way. The couple that owned the eatery had opened it shortly after they’d got married, if their stories were to be believed, and had run it together for the past forty-odd years. Neither Win nor Team, obviously, could personally attest to the claim that the food was ‘just as good then as it is now’, but many of the jovial regulars would happily share tales of how the couple were almost certainly blessed by the heavens, to have managed to continuously provide such good food and service for so long.
It was slightly run-down looking, if one was being picky, but if anything it just made the place look well-loved and well-frequented. Few of the chairs matched, evidently having been acquired at various times throughout the years, and there was evidence of at least two repaints that clashed in a charmingly incohesive way, gaps left where furniture once stood but had since been moved.
Team loved the place, and despite having only found it since he’d moved to university, it had quickly become his favourite restaurant in all of Thailand, if not the world.
The benefit of being a regular, of course, was being recognised.
“Ah, Nong Win, Nong Team!” a portly man called as they pushed through the hanging beads that adorned the doorway. Both boys offered a wai as they smiled at the owner, walking through the small space to the table they often sat at, fielding questions about their schooling as they went. Often it seemed as if the owners knew that many of their university age students might be missing the comforts of home, and Team wouldn’t be surprised if they’d both taken it upon themselves to act as proxy-parental figures to every young person who walked through the front door.
He watched, a smile on his face, as Win's hair and tattoos were once again fussed over, the annoyance entirely fake and performative. The older gentleman himself had more than one tattoo, the edges faded by time and weight gain, but made it a point to rib Win about his ‘poor skin, forever blemished!”
Win would always play along, much to the delight of the older man, and would drop his head and act appropriately abashed.
“I certainly feel ashamed,” he said this time, jutting out his lower lip in a way that could almost be convincing if it weren’t for the smirk.
“As you should!” cried the owner, patting Win on the head in a way that made Team have to bite his lip to hold in his laughter. “Look at Nong Team here, a perfect example of a nice young man.”
Win nodded, expression solemn. “He is very handsome, isn’t he.”
“Hia!” Team hissed, ducking his head to hide his blush as the restaurant owner roared with laughter at his reaction.
Team kicked Win under the table, ignoring the raised brow it got him, as he turned to smile at the still-laughing owner. “I’ll get the spicy pork noodles please,” he said, choosing to ignore Win despite knowing full-well what the other man would order.
Win stuck his tongue out quickly in response, before adding his own order of a more mild meatball noodle soup.
They sat in silence whilst they waited for their food, Win making faces at Team and Team studiously ignoring him, instead opting to focus exclusively on the frayed upholstery of the seat beside him.
These dinners were nice, but the more they had them the more Team was finding it difficult to stop his brain from running away with him. To stop himself from imagining they were something more than a friendly meal between two school and clubmates.
Win, as gracious and attentive as he was, didn’t help matters. Each meal, without fail, he’d gleefully offer Team some of his own meal, never asking for some of Team’s in return despite always accepting Team’s offer. They both ordered the same meal every time, and yet Win always seemed delighted to be sharing, not minding that they would be eating from the same broth, or sharing the same straws when it came to drinks.
Of course, nothing in that was innately romantic, but Team’s traitorous brain would latch on to every instance that the two came close to an indirect kiss, holding steadfastly to the experience as if it meant anything more.
More often than not, Team was grateful that he always chose such a spicy dish, if only for the fact that the permanent blush that would grace his cheeks could be explained away by his food. Although, if Win leaned across the table to gently wipe at a stray drop of sauce on his lip, Team might actually combust. That, at least, would be hard to pin on the food.
As more weeks passed, Team gradually got better at controlling his reaction to Win’s endless flirting. Slowly, ever so slowly, he managed to get his brain on board with the fact that Win meant nothing more than to tease.
It wasn’t ideal, of course, but over time Team began to feel that spending those evenings with Win, even under the pretense of math tutoring, was enough. If he couldn’t be with Win the way he wanted, then at least he could steal a few hours of the other man’s evening from time to time. At least he could pretend.
Yes , he would think, watching the way Win smiled cheerily at him over his bowl, he could learn to live with this.
Of course, whatever deity oversaw Team’s life happened to have a particularly cruel sense of humour.
Team saw the problem seconds before it happened, powerless to do anything but watch it unfold.
Pharm had collapsed into the cafeteria seat, his head hitting the table with a gentle thunk. Win caught Team’s gaze, rolling his eyes at the way Dean’s hand shot out to gently thread his fingers through his boyfriend’s hair, Pharm himself groaning into the cool surface of the table.
“What’s up?” Win asked, his fork sneaking out to steal a carrot from Dean’s plate whilst the other man was distracted.
Pharm’s only response was a groan, and Team rolled his eyes fondly at his theatrics.
From beside him, Manaow piped up with an explanation. “Pharm’s just upset about the math exam we just had,” she explained, rifling through her bag for her own lunch.
“It really wasn’t that bad!” Team chimed in. “He’s being dramatic.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Pharm mumbled, his face still pressed against the table. “You’re always top of the class.”
Team laughed for a moment, used to Pharm’s complaining, before the meaning of his words truly sunk in. He dared to glance at Win, praying to every god imaginable that the older man wouldn’t read too much into that, only to see a pensive expression make its way onto his face.
“Is the class that hard then?” The blonde man questioned, brows furrowed.
“Yes!” Pharm cried, at the same time Manaow said “no, it’s pretty standard.”
The furrow in Win’s brow deepened. “How come Team is top of the class, then?” he asked, tone void of any malice. Win truly meant no offense by his words, Team could tell, but that was only because Win was under the impression that Team was less than adequate when it came to mathematics. He could see how from his friends’ point of view, however, Win’s comment might seem unjustly rude.
“Hey! Team’s actually really smart!” Manaow cried in response, opening her lunchbox with more force than strictly necessary. In any other situation, Team might have found it funny how Manaow could be so willing to destroy Team with a snarky comment in one sentence, and then rush to defend his honour the next. In the current situation, however, Team could only look skyward, desperately praying for an errant meteor to strike him on the spot.
Win threw his hands up in surrender, leaning back slightly as Manaow brandished a spoon menacingly across the table. “I never said he wasn’t!” he laughed, one eye trained on the spoon as Manaow continued to regard him with narrowed eyes. “It’s just he’s not that great at math, right?”
“Um…” Team whispered, his voice too quiet to be heard by anyone at the table.
Pharm lifted his head from the table and shot a quizzical look at Win. “What makes you think that?” he asked, threading his fingers with Dean’s now the older man’s hand was out of his hair. “Team almost always gets full marks in math.”
The spoon was once again waved in Win’s face, a disgruntled Manaow still at the other end. “Is it because of the sports scholarship?” she questioned, voice lined with steel. “You guys should know better than anyone that the university requires its sports members to keep good grades.”
Dean coughed and shook his head slightly. “We don’t think that.” He intoned, clearly hoping to placate Manaow before the spoon could be turned on him.
Win nodded sharply in agreement. “Of course that’s not it. But,” he turned his gaze to Team, “why would he need tutoring if he’s the best in the class?”
Manaow and Pharm narrowed their eyes in unison, glancing first at each other before rounding on Team.
“Um.” Team repeated, hoping this time he might manage to summon a sudden sinkhole directly beneath his seat.
“Why have you been getting tutoring?” Pharm asked, eyebrows almost reaching his hairline.
“And with who?” Manaow added, the spoon now pointing at Team.
“Um.” Third time’s the charm, right?
Win saved him from having to attempt further speech. “I’ve been tutoring him. It seemed like he needed it…” Win’s voice was uncharacteristically quiet, and if the embarrassment at being caught wasn’t enough to make Team spontaneously combust, then the guilt he now felt at having misled Win for so long was likely to do the trick. “Why would you lie?”
Team shook his head frantically, willing Win to get the message whilst he desperately tried to formulate a coherent explanation. Distantly, he noticed Dean getting up and shooing Pharm and Manaow from the table, leaving him to face Win alone. He’d be thankful, once the panic alarms stopped blaring in his brain. He didn’t need the whole group to witness his embarrassment.
Win, ever the patient senior, sat back in his chair and simply regarded Team, mercifully giving him the time to collect his thoughts before speaking. “Hia…” Team began hesitantly, his gaze resolutely focused on the table. “I didn’t lie, ” he ventured, trying not to pay attention to the way Win was distractedly picking at a piece of skin on his thumb.
“I don’t think you told the truth though, either, Team.”
Team winced slightly. “I just… You misunderstood that first time,” he began, not entirely sure how to explain the poor thought processes that had led him to this situation. Spotting Win about to open his mouth to respond, Team rushed to stop him, “no no, let me finish hia, please.”
Win leant back in his chair, arms folded across his chest as he nodded his head, a gesture for Team to continue.
“When you offered to help me, I never intended to accept. I’m good at math, hia, but you seemed to genuinely want to help me and I figured it couldn’t hurt, you know? You are two years older and smarter than me, after all.”
Win didn’t smile at Team’s poor attempt at levity, so the younger man pressed on. “I thought I’d accept your help, and that would be it, but you kept wanting to help me and I kept on….” Team drew in a shaky breath, “I kept on wanting to spend time with you.”
“Team -” the other man breathed out, so quietly Team wasn’t entirely sure it was voluntary. He shook his head nevertheless, pushing forward since he’d come this far.
“It’s kinda stupid really,” he all but whispered, wanting Win to hear his words and not at the same time, “but when we started having dinner I felt like… I don’t know, but it felt like it could be more, you know?”
Win looked at him quizzically from across the table, his hands now still as he waited for Team to go on.
Team sucked in a deep breath, steeling himself for the rest of his confession. This would be it, he thought morosely. This would be where Win realised just how dumb Team had been - albeit not at math - before gradually starting to distance himself. “I guess I felt like I could pretend we were dating, hia,” he said, eyes never leaving the surface of the table before him.
If he had looked up, he might have noticed Win’s mouth fall open in shock, or how the other man’s arms fell to his sides as he stared at Team.
“Anyway, hia, I’m sorry. I really never meant to, like, deceive you or anything, I promise. And, yeah, I’m just sorry, and I get that this is gonna be awkward but, I don’t know, I hope we can keep it normal for- mmpf .”
Team’s rambling drew to a sudden stop with the press of a lips against his own. Eyes wide, Team had seconds to take in the fuzzy image of Win’s face, centimetres from his own, before the other man was pulling back, falling back into his chair from where he had leant across the table.
“You were rambling,” Win said by way of explanation, and if Team’s mind wasn’t a cacophony of white noise he might have felt relief at the familiar glint in Win’s eyes.
“Oh,” Team replied, the picture of intelligence as always.
“Are you going to start rambling again?” Win asked.
Team shook his head, not trusting himself to attempt whole sentences yet.
“That’s a shame,” Win remarked with a shrug, “I’d have had to kiss you again if that were the case.”
Team could only gape, watching enraptured as Win caught his gaze and waggled his eyebrows.
Taking a deep breath, Team finally found himself on the same page as his brain, possibly for the first time since Win had walked (splashed) into his life. “Well, actually hia -” he began, grinning as he leant forward to meet Win halfway, the other man laughing against his lips as they once again met in the middle.
Perhaps Team had miscalculated Win’s affections after all.
- fin -