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Falling Stars

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By the time Tew is 10 years old, he’s fluent in three languages. Thai, English, and Braille. The English comes from his UK born mother’s insistence, and the Braille from his father’s. 

Unlike his sister, Tew spent hours with his father as a child, reading aloud to him from the few books printed in Braille. He’s always found something exciting about reading Braille, about feeling words beneath his fingertips and the bumpy texture of the pages. Tew loves Braille, but he never tells anyone about it. Even as a child he’d known to keep this family secret.

It is, after all, terribly unlucky to come from a family with a history of star tear disease. 

~

The first time Tew learns about star tears he’s eight and watching them fall from his sister’s eyes. It’s the sound of a kalimba playing and pinpricks of golden light, so bright they hurt to look at. They bathe his sister’s face in a warm golden glow, at odds with the heart wrenching sobs escaping her. Tew doesn’t fully understand what’s wrong, but he knows something’s making Pear sad and he doesn’t like it. 

He tries to fix it, bringing Pear her favorite food and then sitting beside her with a box of tissues because he doesn’t know what else to bring her. But she keeps crying and it scares him. Tew doesn’t know how to make the sadness go away. A collection of metal has collected at Pear’s feet, sharp gold fragments that make a tinkling sound when Tew touches them. He brushes his fingers across the latest additions, still warm. He picks one up and is horrified to see it’s covered in blood. 

Panic flares through him and Tew does what he always does when he’s scared. He calls his mom. 

Later, after Pear has stopped crying and his father has come home, his father scoops him into his lap and explains that Tew and Pear are a little different.

~

Nearly everyone on his dad’s side of the family wears glasses.

A few of them because of near-sightedness, but most from star tear damage. His grandmother can no longer see colors and wears thick color correcting lenses. His uncle isn’t allowed to drive, and one of his aunts wears thick-rimmed glasses to hide her damaged eyes. The other keeps a jar of melted down metal beside her bedside table, waiting until she can fashion them into frames. Tew’s father - always a crier and soft hearted - was left nearly blind after his second girlfriend broke up with him. 

Tew knows his father worries the same will happen to him and Pear. He knows about the extra bandages and special glasses his dad keeps hidden in case Tew or his sister ever needs them. He also knows his father worries most about him. Pear hasn’t dated anyone since Tew saw her cry golden tears, too afraid of losing more of her vision. 

But Tew has always been more reckless, more carefree with his heart than his sister.

He falls in love easy, heart like a revolving door, his ma says. Tew falls in love three times before he’s 18 and each time he adores them, gives them his heart without reservation. At the end of each relationship, Tew’s father gives him a pat on the shoulder and leaves bandages on his bed. All three of them remain unused. Tew has always been a romantic, but never much of a crier. 

~

When he starts his first year at university Tew is surprised by how quickly he finds a group of friends. Their little group weathers the hazers’ orders together and Tew is so, so glad he spoke up that day when he heard the boys in front of him talking about video games. He’s not sure he’d have made it through his first year without them, but especially Maprang and Kongpob. 

Kongpob is the most similar to him, but it’s Maprang that Tew gravitates to first. He likes her, how bubbly and kind and playful she is. It reminds him of Pear. They bond over movies together - Maprang prefers horror and Tew likes romance but they both love anything with magic - and make it a habit to go see new films in theatres together. Their friends tease them about dating and Tew always laughs it off, though he can see Maprang’s hurt expression when he does. 

He doesn’t talk to her about it until a few weeks after the Freshy Games, after Oak has made another ill-timed joke about them. Maprang looks uncomfortable and Tew shoves Oak in a reprimand before quietly asking Maprang to talk when the others are distracted. They walk in silence to the drink stall, standing a few feet away so that other people can order their drinks. Tew shifts uncomfortably before steeling himself and looking at Maprang. 

“Are- Does it bother you when I say I don’t want to date you?” he asks, straightforward and blunt because he has never done subtlety well. 

Maprang hesitates before tilting her head up and nodding. 

“Do you like me?” he asks, and he hopes she says no. 

“No,” she says, and Tew has never been so grateful to hear the word no. Then he frowns, tilts his head in confusion.

“Then,” he pauses, uncertain. “Why does it bother you?” he asks and Maprang glances away.

“You don’t have to laugh when they ask,” she says at last, and guilt pools in his stomach at her hurt expression. “It’s not like I’d be terrible to date,” she says, and there’s a tremor to her words that makes the little brother part of Tew want to hug her. He reels in the urge, uncertain of how well it would be received. 

“I didn’t laugh because I thought you’d be a bad date,” he says instead, and Maprang shrugs. “I won’t laugh anymore,” he tries, and Maprang gives him a small smile and nods. Then she clears her throat and claps her hands together, nodding as some of her usual pep reappears. 

“Good,” she says. She hooks her arm with his and begins walking to the drink stall. “Let’s get something to drink, I’m dying of thirst.”

Tew smiles and follows.

~

As freshman year passes, Tew slowly adjusts to being so far away from home. His family calls on the weekends and he visits them when he can. He learns to balance the hazers’ demands with his classes and the part-time job he’d found at a tiny jewelry shop a few blocks away from the university. 

Maprang ends up coming to his dorm on the weekends so they can have a movie night and he has regular game nights with the rest of the guys. He settles into being the voice of reason among his friends when Kongpob isn’t around, and shares exasperated but fond glances with Kong when the other is.

He goes on a few dates, one with a girl Maprang set him up with and one with a guy in his intro engineering class. His friends run into him on that particular date, and even though there’s a few surprised looks, no one says anything. Despite this, Tew spends the rest of the day vibrating with anxiety, effectively ruining what had been a promising date. The next day Oak greets him with a ‘why didn’t you tell me you didn’t like girls’ promptly followed by Maprang hitting his arm and hissing an admonishment. The rest of their friends are gathered around, standing silently and staring.

Tew can feel the fear he’d been pushing back come back full force and his hands clutch tighter around the straps of his backpack. It feels like he’s back in high school, sixteen and scared of ruining everything. He swallows and then steels himself, standing the way that Pear had taught him to. 

“I’m bisexual,” he says, the words he’d only ever whispered before leaving his mouth in a rush. Silence follows and Tew tilts his head up defiantly, steeling himself. 

After a few moments M speaks. “What’s that?”

If it were any other moment, Tew might have laughed at the confusion on his face. As it is, he only feels tired. 

“I like guys and girls,” he says, and he hates that there’s a tremor to his voice. 

“You can do that?” Oak says and Tew’s eyes fall to the ground. His hands curl tighter around the straps of his backpack, tightly enough that the padded fabric hurts.

“Yes,” he says and it comes out sharp, defensive. He almost wishes he hadn’t gone on that date.

“Tew can like whoever he wants,” Prae says, frowning, and Oak holds up his hands.

“I didn’t mean it that way,” he says. His eyes are wide behind his glasses as he continues, “I just didn’t know. But I’m cool with it. Just let me know if you have a crush on me,” he says, grinning and Tew can’t quite bring himself to smile back, gaze flitting to the ground again.

“What we mean is that you’re still our friend,” Kongpob says, and his voice is warm, steady like it always is. Tew glances up to see the others nodding. M gives him an awkward thumbs up. Tew exhales, shoulders relaxing.

“Thanks,” he says, looking at Kong. He smiles back. 

Maprang breaks the moment as she walks over to him, hooking her arm through his.

“So,” she starts, “for your next date, do you want it to be a guy or girl?” she asks.

“That’s not fair,” Oak says and Tew turns to look at him. “I still have to compete against you for a girlfriend,” he whines and Tew almost laughs.

“Like you’d have chance even without Tew,” Maprang says, and Tew has never adored her more. The tension falls away and his hands loosen their grip on his backpack as they start walking to their first class.

~

Tew feels lighter once he’s come out to his friends, and he integrates a bit more fully into university. He joins the cooking club and makes a few friends outside his faculty. They drag him outside of the university and it’s with them that Tew goes on his first all night road trip, each of them taking turns driving as they explore the city like it’s new. 

Tew loves them but he still finds himself sticking mostly with his core friend group. He spends most of his time with M and Maprang, though Kongpob is a close third. They’ve always been the most level-headed of their friend group and Tew counts Kong as one of his best friends. So when the other freshman doesn’t show up to class two days in a row, he goes to visit him. Supposedly to bring him notes - the others can’t take notes for shit and M has a family emergency that took him home anyway - but mostly to check up on him because M’s been weirdly quiet about what’s going on with Kong. 

When he gets to Kongpob’s door he knocks several times before the door finally opens. Kong’s head pokes out and Tew’s eyes widen. His friend looks like shit. Tew pushes the door farther open and side steps Kong’s weak attempt to keep him out. Setting the notes on the nearest available surface, Tew turns to take a second look at his friend. Kong’s eyes are red, the kind of irritated and puffy that only comes from crying for an extended period of time. His clothes are wrinkled and it looks like he’s been tugging at his hair. 

“Kong?” he asks cautiously, and his friend gives him a strained smile.

“Thanks for dropping off the notes,” he says and his voice is rough. An automatic response leaves Tew’s mouth but his attention is caught by the glimmering metal shards on Kongpob’s bed. It’s been years since he’s seen them but Tew will always remember what star tears look like. Kong follows his gaze and Tew quickly looks away. He hadn’t realized Kong was in love with anyone. Kongpob moves so that he’s standing in front of the bed. 

“I’ll be back in class tomorrow so you won’t need to bring me notes again,” Kong says, as though that’s what’s important, what Tew is worried about.

He stares at his friend again, at how unsteady he looks, and realizes Kong isn’t going to ask him for help. It would be easy, Tew knows, to simply walk away and keep Kong’s secret. But he thinks of Pear, her heart wrenching sobs. He thinks of how M isn’t here. Mostly, he thinks of how Kong is the first to be there when they need him. Kong has always seemed so sure of himself and confident, so confident that Tew forgets his friend is just as susceptible to hurt as the rest of them are. 

But looking at him now, Tew is reminded that even people like Kong need someone to depend on. So he decides to stay. 

“Do you have any bandages for your eyes?” he asks.

Kongpob blinks once, then again. “What?”

“Do you have any of those bandages that are supposed to help with the-?” Tew gestures to his eyes, and Kong shakes his head. 

“I’ll get you some,” he says, and Kong hesitates before nodding. Tew glances at him as he walks out, and the forlorn look on Kong’s face has him hurrying to and from his dorm. Once there he grabs the bandages and then, on his way out the door, grabs a pair of gloves.

When he reenters the room Kongpob is sitting at his desk and staring at the curtained window across from them. Tew sets the bandages at his elbow and then pulls on his gloves.

As Kong examines it, Tew moves to where the metal remnants of Kong's tears are still scattered across the sheets. He glances at the desk beside the bed, looking for something to put them in, and his eyes land on an empty jar. Grabbing it from the desk, he sets it at the foot of the bed. Then he starts to collect the dim gold shards, setting them in the jar. They clink as he does, a discordant set of notes. 

“Why do you have these?” Kongpob asks, and Tew turns to look at him. The other teen is squinting at the plastic wrapped cloth in his hands.

Tew hesitates, but forces himself to speak. He already knows Kong’s secret after all. 

"My dad gave them to me after my first break up," he says. 

"Oh," Kong says softly and Tew looks back down at the handful of metal in his hands. "I get it from my dad's side of the family," he says, and there's a quiet sound of acknowledgement. 

"Me too," Kongpob says, and they share a wry smile. Kong tries to open the package but his fingers keep missing the opening. Once Tew has swept all the metal into the jar, he sets it on Kong's desk before turning to look at his friend. The bandage is still wrapped in its plastic covering and he shakes his head. Striding across the room, Tew tugs it away from him and opens it before handing the fabric back.

"Have you ever used one before?" he asks, and Kong shakes his head. 

"My sister has though," he says.

Tew nods and watches silently as Kong moves to sit on his bed, leaning against the headboard. There's a lull in conversation for several moments, the ticking of the clock a quiet constant. Through it all, Tew keeps turning to look at the discarded tears on Kong's desk. 

How come he hadn't known Kong liked anyone? Let alone enough to cry star tears over them. He tries to remember if there was anyone Kong had talked about more than usual over the last few months, but all he can't recall Kong talking about anyone in particular. They'd talked more about the hazers than any girls, though they’d endlessly teased Oak about his almost date with the girl from the library.

"Kong," he says slowly, and Kong huffs out a quiet, resigned laugh.

"You want to know who I'm in love with," he says, a confirmation rather than a question.

Tew nods before remembering he won't see it. "I didn't even know you liked anyone," he says and Kong's answering smile is without its usual cheer. 

"I didn't realize it for a while," he says and Tew desperately wants to know who he's talking about. 

"Can you tell me who it is?" he asks, and there's a long silence after his question.

“M asked me that too,” Kong says quietly. “I didn’t tell him.”

Tew glances at the floor, chastened. Despite this, he’s still curious. Is it someone they know? Is that why Kong doesn’t want to tell them? Or does he not trust them? The thought makes Tew’s stomach sink - he’d always thought they were close. 

“I didn’t think M would get it,” Kongpob continues and Tew looks back up at him. Kong is still leaning against his headboard but the lines of his body are tense. “He’s still scared of P’Arthit,” he says, and Tew stares at him.

He’s still scared of P’Arthit.  

Tew turns the words over in his head as he looks at his friend. Kongpob’s jaw is clenched and his hands are still where they’re resting on his lap. P’Arthit, head hazer. The guy who was responsible for all their punishments. Abruptly, he remembers his friend’s bold declaration that first freshman gathering and he wonders if Kong had liked him even then, when Tew thought he was simply trying to annoy their senior.

“P’Arthit?” he asks, confirming, and Kong nods. 

Tew digests this, wondering how he hadn’t seen it before. He glances at Kong, who’s still tense on his bed and decides he can parse that out later. 

“I guess that explains why you talk back to him so much,” he says, and Kong relaxes. 

Tew moves so that he’s sitting at the end of Kong’s bed where he usually does when they have a game night. 

“What happened?” he asks quietly. 

There’s another stretch of silence and then Kong begins to speak. Tew listens quietly as his friend talks about haircuts and switched meals, a broken water pipe and midnight confession culminating in an abruptly ended phone call. By the time Kong reaches the end of his story, his voice is thick and blood has begun leaking from beneath the bandage firmly pressed to his eyes. Shit. Without thinking Tew yanks the bandage from Kong’s eyes. A smattering of golden metals falls to the bed, drops of blood scattered among them. Kong ducks his head and Tew tentatively reaches out and puts his hand on Kongpob’s shoulder. 

“I’m sorry,” he says, acutely aware of how useless the two words are. Kong doesn’t reply but his shoulder is shaking beneath Tew’s hand and Tew desperately wishes he knew what to do. At a loss, he pulls Kong closer until he can fully wrap his arms around him, the way he does when Pear cries. For a few seconds Kong seems frozen but then Tew feels his body collapse, all his weight leaning against Tew. 

“He’s avoiding me,” Kong chokes out and Tew is abruptly, furiously angry at their senior. He pushes the anger down though, wraps his arms tighter around Kong. Tew doesn’t understand what Kong sees in their senior, but it doesn’t really matter, he guesses. His friend is hurting, and all Tew can do is hold Kong as his friend cries. 

“I’m here,” he says quietly, and he knows he’s not the person Kong wants right now but Tew can’t even imagine leaving his friend alone right now. “I’m here.”

Later, when Kong’s tears have subsided, Tew pulls away, the right side of his shirt wet with blood and covered in tiny specks of golden crystals.

“I’m sorry,” Kong says, as if there’s anything to apologize for.

“Don’t apologize,” he replies. “We’re friends.”

Kong‘s features slowly pull into a smile, weak and still tinged with sadness, but there. Tew smiles back.

After Tew leaves Kong’s later that night, he calls his sister on the walk to his dorm. They talk fairly often, but seeing Kong cry shakes Tew a little, and there’s a part of him that needs to make sure Pear is okay. Once he’s back in his dorm, Tew goes online and orders a small pack of bandages. He thinks Kong might need them later. 

The next morning, Kong shows up to class again. His eyes are a little puffy but no one else seems to notice, and Tew just gives him a slight nod. They don’t talk about it, but Tew is closer to Kong after that. They hang out a bit more, and sometimes Kong comes to him with quiet questions that Tew tries his best to answer. And if Kong notices Tew is a little bit more attentive when P’Arthit is around, his friend never says anything to him. Even after Kong and P’Arthit announce their relationship, Tew still keeps the bandages in his dresser drawer. Just in case.

Chapter Text

By the time the end of freshman year rolls around, Tew is more than ready for summer break. The rest of his friends are too and they decide to celebrate the end of the year with a party. Kong offers to host it since his house is big enough for the seven of them.

Even though he’s been there before, Tew is still in awe of how large his friend’s house is. The first time he’d visited, he’d thought he’d typed the wrong address into his GPS. Even now as it comes into sight, Tew can’t quite believe that Kong is capital R Rich.

“Can you believe how lucky P’Arthit is?” Maprang asks from where she’s sitting in the passenger seat, and Tew glances over at her briefly. 

“What?”

“His boyfriend’s handsome, adores him, and he’s rich,” she says wistfully and Tew shakes his head, smiling slightly. “Don’t you want a boyfriend like that?” she asks.

Tew flushes slightly. “I’ll settle for two out of three, if I tried to get a rich boyfriend I’d never date anyone,” he says.

Maprang sighs again. “Well I want all three. I need someone who can take care of me after all.” Out of the corner of his eye, Tew sees her pose dramatically, and snorts. He turns the corner, catching sight of the rest of their friends milling around Oak’s car. Tew quickly parks on the other side of the car, and grabs the small bag of gifts for everyone while Maprang goes to greet them. When he joins the rest he realizes that M and Oak are there, along with Prae but May and Kong are both absent.

He nudges M. "Where's May?"

M frowns slightly. "I don't know. I texted her but she hasn't replied yet." Tew nods.

"What about Kong? Is he still inside?"

M nods. "Yeah, he said he'll be out in a minute."

Before Tew can reply, Oak pokes at the bag in Tew's hand.

"Is this for me?" he asks, grinning. Tew exchanges a glance with Maprang and then smirks.

"Everyone but you," he says and laughs at Oak's offended look.

"See if I give you anything," Oak says, and Tew makes a show of staring at the bag Oak is holding and then shrugging exaggeratedly. Before either of them can say anything more Prae smiles and waves at someone behind them. They all turn to see Kong, and Tew grins as he greets his friend.

"Sorry, I was talking to P'Arthit before you came," he says and Tew immediately joins in the teasing oohs that follow the statement. Kong shakes his head at them but looks unabashed, a familiar smitten smile on his lips.

"Come on, my mom wants to say hi to all of you," he says and they follow him into the house, taking their shoes off at the door. Kongpob leads them into the kitchen, and he gives a polite wai to Kongpob's mother as she smiles at them.

"Kong told me you were coming over so I had Yim make you all some lunch," she says politely and they all murmur a quick thank you. After a few awkward glances at each other, Kong gestures at the large dining table and they settle into the seats. A maid serves them and Tew is abruptly reminded of how hungry he is when sees the food laid out on the table.

Before Kong's mother can join them, she receives a call that she takes with an apology, bidding them a quick goodbye. When she leaves the room, Tew relaxes a little; he's always been nervous around his friends' parents, always nervous that they wouldn't like him.

More at ease, he settles into the conversation easily as he and Oak debate the latest video game they've been playing. Across from him, he can hear Kong, Prae, and Maprang arguing over a movie while M stares at his phone. By the time he's halfway through his bowl, the conversation has shifted, turning to their summer plans.

"I'm going to visit my family," Prae says and she grimaces. "Not for long though, thankfully."

"Do you not like them?" Maprang asks, concern edging her voice.

Prae shrugs. "They're just traditional, always asking me when I'm going to start dating."

Tew nods. "Mine are like that too," he tells her, and they share a look of understanding. Out of the corner of his eye, Tew sees Kong shift slightly, looking uncomfortable. He knows Kong hasn't told his parents he's dating P'Arthit yet, but Kong's never said what his family's opinion on gay people was before. Before anyone else can say anything, Tew quickly changes the topic, turning to M.

"What about you M? What are your plans for the summer?"

There's no reply and they all glance over to see M looking intently at his phone.

“M. Hey, M!”

M glances up and blinks when he realizes everyone is staring at him.

"What?"

"Who are you texting?" Oak demands, peering over M's shoulder in an attempt to read his phone. "Is it a girl?"

"It's May," M says, shoving Oak.

"Ooh," Maprang and Oak say at the same time and grin at each other.

“What are you two lovebirds talking about?” Maprang asks, grinning. 

M’s ears are flushed pink as he answers, “She just texted me to let everyone know she got a flat tire so she can’t come.”

“Oh, is she okay? Does she need help?” Kong asks, looking concerned. 

M shakes his head. “No, she’s fine. It happened near her house so she just called her mom to help.”

Kong nods. “Okay, tell her we'll all have to meet up some other time then.”

M makes an affirmative noise, already texting May back and the conversation shifts again. Tew leans back in his seat, drinking his water as he listens to the rest of his friends talk. At some point, the six of them migrate to Kong’s backyard when M suggests a game of basketball. The girls settle into the porch chairs and Tew joins them.

“Oh, you’re not going to play?” Prae asks and Tew shakes his head.

“I don’t feel like it. I’m more of a football guy.”

Maprang’s lips twitch upward into a smile but she doesn’t say anything.

“What about cards?” Prae asks and they both turn to see her holding out a deck of cards. 

“Where did you get those?” Maprang asks.

“I brought them to my cousin’s birthday and didn’t take them out of my purse yet,” Prae says and Tew nods. He exchanges a glance with Maprang and then shrugs.

“Sure, what game were you thinking?” he asks.

Prae considers the question, pursing her lips. “Blackjack?” she offers. “The rules are pretty simple if you don’t know how to play.”

“Sure, I know how to play.”

“Yeah let’s do it.”

As Prae divides the cards Tew asks, “Are we going to play for anything?”

“Like money?” Prae asks, eyes lighting up. Tew has a sudden flashback to the time Prae had unequivocally kicked all of their asses at poker and shakes his head.  

“What about losers each buy lunch for the winner?” he suggests and the two girls consider the suggestion.

“It can’t be from anywhere expensive,” Maprang says. “I love you both but my wallet does not.”

Tew laughs but agrees. They end up playing four games - Prae wins three of them - and are on their fifth by the time that the others get tired of playing basketball and wander back to where the three of them are sitting. M and Oak settle beside Prae, Kongpob sliding into the empty space by Tew’s right. Silence falls, and Tew can see M and Oak whispering about whatever Prae’s cards are. For once though, they’re too quiet to make out, though Prae shushes them anyway.

Tew studies his own cards, ten of hearts and five of spades, before glancing at the pile consideringly. When Maprang asks if he wants to draw another card he shakes his head. Prae also decides not to take another card but Maprang does. When the time comes to show their cards Maprang swears loudly and even though Tew lost too he can’t help but laugh at how irritated she looks.

“I’m done with this game,” Maprang says, shaking her head and Prae laughs. 

“Me too,” Tew adds.

Prae’s smile turns into a smirk. “Okay, but don’t forget you two owe me lunch,” she says, smiling angelically. Tew and Maprang groan in unison. Prae ignores them as she turns to look at the others. 

“What now?” she asks, starting to collect the cards. 

“We should go out, have some beer. It’s break! We’ve got to celebrate!” Oak insists.

“Ooh yeah! We should play Kings too,” Maprang says. 

“I’m too tired to go out,” M says, head thudding against the back of the chair. 

“It’s kind of early to start drinking, isn’t it?” Tew asks. “It’s only 3.” 

“Besides, I don’t think we should get drunk at my parents’ house,” Kongpob adds. 

Maprang boos them at the same time Oak and Prae make halfhearted protests. Eventually though, they all decide to stay in to watch a movie and open the end of year gifts after. A new location and three arguments later, the six of them agree to watch a new sci-fi movie Kong’s dad had recently bought. Tew ends up sandwiched between M and Prae, Prae’s head against his shoulder and her legs hooked over the arm rest while M is sprawled out on his right. The movie itself is awful but Prae’s biting commentary and M’s complaints about the CGI make up for it. 

Halfway through the movie M’s phone buzzes from where it’s sitting between them and Tew glances over to see M’s attention turn completely to his phone. It stays there even after the movie ends and the others start exchanging the gifts they’d brought. Tew hesitates before joining them, looking over to where M is sitting still staring at his phone, and frowns. Moving away from the rest of his friends, he settles beside M and swipes the phone from his hand.

“Oi!”

Tew ignores M’s protests and attempts to take the phone back, instead sliding it into his pocket. He hadn’t looked at what the other was doing on his phone, but he’s fairly certain it had to do with May.

“Tew!” M starts and Tew cuts him off. 

“You realize you’ve been ignoring us since the movie ended?” he asks. A cross between irritation and embarrassment crosses M’s face. 

“No I haven’t,” he protests and Tew raises his eyebrows. 

“What did Oak give everyone?”

M hesitates, eyes flicking toward their group of friends and Tew shifts so that he’s blocking M’s view. M scowls at him.

“Something cheap,” he says anyway and Tew can’t help the way the corner of his mouth twitches upward in a smile. 

“Everyone bought something cheap,” he says and M snorts. Then, before M can say anything else, “Were you talking to May?”

M stiffens. “Why?” he asks, looking at Tew suspiciously. Tew resists the urge to roll his eyes. 

“Because the rest of us are trying to have fun here and you’re dragging down the mood,” he says.

“Don’t hold back,” M mutters, looking a little hurt. 

Tew sighs. “Dude. You spend most of your time with us texting May or waiting for her to text back. It’s not fun for anyone. Just ask her out already.”

“I can’t do that,” M says predictably. 

Tew decides he regrets trying to have this talk. He sighs again, longer this time. Now is probably not the best time to have this particular conversation, but someone needs to talk with M. He thinks Kong has already, but clearly M needs someone who hasn’t known him since high school. 

“Why not?”

“Because she still likes someone else,” M says. “I’m waiting until she doesn’t.” He sounds sincere and miserable and Tew exhales slowly. 

“Okay. But if you’re going to wait, don’t spend all your time waiting on her,” Tew says. “It’s not good for you or her.” 

M frowns at him. “But I want her to know I’m here.”

Tew reaches out and puts a hand on his shoulder. “She does. But she’s not your only friend you know?” He can see M turning the words over in his head and decides that’s enough for now; he knows the rest of their friends have started to notice their absence.

“Just come to our next game night okay?” he says, standing up and pulling M to his feet. 

M nods slowly and the two of them make their way over to the rest of their friends. As Tew rejoins them, Maprang nudges his shoulder. 

“What were you and M talking about?”

He shrugs. “Nothing,” he says. 

“Sure,” she says, and side eyes him suspiciously but lets it drop. Instead she holds out her hand and smiles as she says, “So what did you get me?”

~

The rest of the summer slips past him between shifts at the jewelry store - he meets P’Sorn’s baby cousin Pharm who he messages on LINE for dessert recipes sometimes - and meeting up with his friends. Despite this, it’s lonelier than he expected, the switch from seeing them in class everyday to only when their schedules align making it difficult to see them as much, especially since Prae and Oak live in different provinces. 

It leaves him with more free time than he’s used to. Tew has always been better when he has a task to focus on, so he starts putting in enough hours at work that P’Sorn starts teaching him how to plan and use the design software for some of the pieces. Occasionally he even lets him piece some of the items together. He’s even made himself a necklace. It’s fun, and Tew finds himself doodling little ideas every once in a while. They’re rough sketches, but sometimes he shows them to his friends and they gives him their admittedly unhelpful opinion on them. 

He’s in the middle of another sketch when his phone buzzes and he sets his pencil down to look at it. It’s a text from Maprang, asking him if he’s free to call. Tew picks up his phone and dials her number.

“Hello?”

“Oh, I thought you’d be at work,” Maprang says.

“No, I took today off,” Tew says, setting his phone down and putting Maprang on speaker. “What did you want to call for?”

“Do you remember Rune?”

Tew blinks. Rune goes to their university but is in a different faculty - Communication Arts - and he and Maprang met through a dating app. Tew remembers Maprang showing him his profile once, had even gone to the restaurant beside their first date in case Maprang needed him to disrupt their date.

“Yeah, why?” 

“I want you to meet him,” she says, and Tew pauses in his sketch. 

“You want me to meet him?” he asks, and some of the surprise must leak through the phone’s crappy connection. 

“Yeah. I like him but I want to make sure my friends like him too,” Maprang says. “And I want you to meet him first.”

“Oh,” Tew says, touched at the admission. “Yeah, when were you thinking?” 

A pause. Then, tentatively, “Well… he’s free tonight. And it sounded like you are too.” 

Tew lets out a soft laugh, shaking his head. “You’re lucky I took the day off,” he says. “When did you want to meet?” 

~

The noodle shop Maprang suggested is one of Tew’s favorites, and he goes there regularly enough that the servers know him. He’s just finished talking to one of them when Maprang and Rune arrive, and Tew greets them. As they slide into the seats across from him, he studies Rune. Rune looks a bit like Wad, if Wad wore glasses and smiled more. He gives Tew a polite wai before introducing himself. Tew nods and smiles back as he does the same. Maprang has talked often enough about Rune that Tew knows the basic information about him, but he’s not sure it goes both ways.

“It’s nice to meet you. Maprang talks a lot about you,” he says, grinning and dodging her half-hearted smack to the arm from across the table.

“Tew,” she hisses and he grins at her without any hint of remorse. Her eyes narrow. “Just wait until you start dating,” she mutters and Tew shrugs. It’s probably not going to happen anytime soon so he’s not worried.

Beside her Rune laughs, looking at Maprang curiously. “Do you talk about me that much?” he asks and Maprang flushes. 

Tew snorts and clears his throat to try and disguise the sound. Maprang looks unconvinced but the servers bring them their food, diverting her attention. The three of them fall into conversation easily enough then. Tew learns that Rune wants to go abroad in the future, that his favorite thing about Maprang is that she makes him smile, and that Rune was almost a part of the cooking club but couldn’t find time to fit it into his schedule.

“Oh we could have met earlier if you’d joined,” Tew says after learning the last one, and Rune laughs.

“Missed opportunities,” he says ruefully and Tew nods in agreement.

It’s as they’re finishing the last of the bowls in front of them that Rune’s phone buzzes. 

“Sorry, that’s just my reminder I have to go - I have a meeting in twenty minutes. I’m sorry,” he apologizes again and Tew nods. 

“Oh, you’re leaving already?” Maprang asks, disappointment clear in her features. 

“Yeah, I’m sorry,” Rune says, looking at her and squeezing her hand gently. Maprang pouts and Rune presses a quick kiss to her head as he grabs his stuff. “I’ll make to up to you later,” he promises, smiling at her softly and Maprang nods, looking mollified. 

“It was nice meeting you,” Rune says, turning to Tew before glancing at his watch. “But I really have to go now, sorry.” 

Tew and Maprang both nod and Tew watches him leave thoughtfully.

“So…” Tew turns to look at Maprang, who’s staring at him with an axious look on her face. “What do you think?”

Tew is tempted to mess with her again, but holds back. “I like him,” he says, and Maprang visibly relaxes. “Didn’t think he was your type though,” he adds, and Maprang tilts her head.

“Why?”

“He just seems more involved than I thought, I guess.” He shrugs. “But he likes you and didn’t get all weird about us being friends, so I like him.”

~

As he steps into the university’s little cafeteria he can see that’s it’s fairly busy, and Tew grimaces. It’s been a long, exhausting day and it’s loud enough that he can already feel a headache coming on. Despite this, he shifts his backpack more firmly onto his shoulder and walks into the cafeteria, searching the crowd for P’Yod. It takes a few lookthroughs for him to find his line senior.

“P’Yod,” he says, giving a quick polite wai. 

His senior smiles. “Tew, how’ve you been?” he asks and Tew smiles wryly as he falls into the seat across from him. He slips his backpack off and sets his phone on the table as he answers.

“Busy,” he says, and P’Yod laughs. 

“You haven’t even gotten to third year yet,” he says and Tew groans at the reminder. P’Yod pats his shoulder, a hint of a smirk still lingering in his features. “Alright, tell your senior. What’s keeping you so busy?” The smirk on his face widens. “Got a boyfriend yet?”

Tew shakes his head, snorting. “I wish,” he says. “Just work and classes.”

P’Yod nods. “How’s your systems class? Did the notes help?”

“Yeah, thanks for those,” Tew says, inclining his head toward his senior. On the table his phone buzzes, and Tew glances down to see a text from Maprang flashing across the scene. It looks like Rune cancelled yet another one of their dates. He frowns and runs a hand through his hair as he turns his phone over, and looks up to see P’Yod staring at him.

“Sorry,” he says, pulling his hands together into an apologetic wai.

His line senior shrugs and waved a hand. “It’s fine.” A moment of hesitation and then, “Any problems?”

Tew hesitates. As much as he respects his senior, this isn’t really his problem to share. But some advice would be helpful. Just as he can see P’Yod start to say something, Tew speaks.

“How do you tell your friend something they don’t want to hear?” he asks, words running into each other in his rush to get them out. 

The other man blinks in surprise. “I guess it depends on what you’re telling them,” he says after a moment. “Is there something wrong?”

Tew doesn’t answer immediately, gathering his thoughts. “No,” he says after a moment. “I just don’t know how to give my friend advice,” he says slowly, purposely vague. 

“Did your friend ask for advice?” P’Yod asks. “Because your advice isn’t going to be much use if they don’t want it.”

Tew traces shapes onto the table in frontof him absently as he considers the question. Maprang has asked him how to talk to Rune, but never about what to do. “Sort of,” he says at last.

In front of him, P’Yod frowns. He studies Tew for several long seconds and Tew sits up straighter, uncertain of what his senior is looking for. Eventually, P’Yod nods seemingly to himself. 

“Then give them the advice they ask for but don’t overstep and tell them what to do. Let them make their own decisions,” the other man says. It’s good advice, something Tew knows makes sense. 

“Thank you, P’Yod,” he says, inclining his head and giving another wai. His senior laughs. 

“Don’t be so formal,” he says, breaking the serious atmosphere. Tew smiles, relaxes into his chair. They switch topics, instead discussing Tew’s plans for next semester, but in the back of his mind Tew is still thinking about what to say to Maprang.

Despite his best efforts, Tew isn’t actually able to talk to Maprang until nearly a week later. Their professors seem to have collectively decided to assign their hardest essays at the same time, and Tew spends most of the week after talking to his line senior in the library. It’s not until the following weekend, when he’s doing some shopping for the cooking club - they’re making lunch for the university’s cheer team - that he’s able to see someone besides the librarian. Somehow his solo trip turns into an outing with May and Maprang, probably because neither of them have a car.

As he pushes the cart along the aisles, the conversation shifts to Rune, and Tew frowns as Maprang tells them Rune had cancelled for the third time because of his job.

“I know he’s busy but this time he promised he wouldn’t cancel on me,” Maprang says. She sounds upset and tired. May wraps an arm around her shoulder sympathetically and Tew turns to look at Maprang.

“Three?” he says, and Maprang shakes her head at him. 

“It’s not that many.” Her words are defensive and Tew bites back his immediate response. Instead he shares a look with May, and she nods. Tew stops by the small selection of spices, and May turns to look at Maprang.

“Maprang,” she says carefully, “it doesn’t sound like he’s prioritizing you.”

“Yeah, it seems like he cares more about his job,” Tew adds and the shorter girl frowns at them. 

“I don’t expect him to think I’m more important than his job. And it’s not like I’m always free either - I’ve canceled one of our dates.”

“One or two missed dates is one thing, consistent cancelling is another.” Tew points out, careful to keep his tone level. He remembers P’Yod’s advice and reminds himself that telling Maprang what to do or think isn’t going to help her.

“I’m being understanding, that’s what you’re supposed to do in a relationship,” Maprang says, and she sounds like she’s trying to convince herself. 

“Shouldn’t he do the same?” Tew asks. “Tell him not to make promises he can’t keep,” he says, unable to stop the words from coming out. From behind Maprang May shakes her head at him. 

“I’m not going to make him choose between me and his job,” Maprang protests, frustration entering her tone. 

“That’s not what Tew’s suggesting,” May 

“Well then what am I supposed to do?” Maprang demands. 

“Maybe talk to him,” May says, patting her arm. “Tell him you don’t want to pressure him but that it’s important he makes your dates.” 

Maprang makes a quiet noise of agreement in response, laying her head on May’s shoulder for a brief moment. Tew reaches out to pat her shoulder and she smiles at him. They stay like that a few seconds before Maprang straightens and looks into the cart. 

“We still need to get drinks,” she says, and Tew nods. He steps away, going back to the cart.

“As long as we can get whatever Ann’s put on the list after,” he says, and May laughs.

“Is she still experimenting?” she asks, and he nods.

“I pity the cheerleading team,” Maprang says dryly, and Tew can’t hold back his laugh at that.

~

Tew is in the middle of drying his hair after his shower when his phone rings. He frowns when he sees it’s Maprang calling. She’d had a date tonight, so if she’s calling something must have gone wrong.

“Maprang?”

“Tew!” 

“What’s going on?” he asks.

“Can you come over? Please.” Maprang’s voice is unusually dull, and concern wells up in him.

“Yeah, I’ll be there in a few minutes,” he says. “What’s wrong?”

Silence follows and Tew shoves a shirt over his head before grabbing his keys and student ID. Tew spares a single longing look at his bed before heading out of his dorm. Maprang still hasn’t answered, and he checks to make sure he hadn’t accidentally hung up. 

“Maprang?” When there’s no response he repeats himself, quickening his pace. He hears a quiet sniff through the phone, and then Maprang’s tinny voice.

“Are you almost here?”

“Yeah, is the door unlocked?”

A quiet murmur of affirmation. Tew practically runs up the stairs of Maprang’s dorm, skidding to a stop in front of her door. Hanging up, he pushes the door open and calls out for his friend, blinking as he adjusts to the darkness of the room. 

“Maprang?”

He glances toward the bed and sees his friend sitting in the middle of the bed, hunched over and wrapped in a blanket. Tew slips his phone in his pocket and walks over to sit beside. 

“What’s wrong?” he asks quietly, reaching out to touch her shoulder. 

Maprang immediately leans forward and wraps her arms around him, burying her head against his shoulder. Tew freezes in surprise before wrapping his arms around her. Maprang has always been touchy, but there’s something different this time. 

“Hey, what’s wrong?” he asks again, softer this time as concern rises up in him. 

“Rune broke up with me,” she replies, voice muffled but still audible enough for him to catch the tremor in her voice. 

“Wait really?” he asks before he can stop himself. Maprang huffs and he immediately backtracks, rubbing a soothing hand across her shoulder. “Sorry, sorry. Do you want to talk about it?”

Maprang doesn’t answer immediately, and Tew shifts so that he’s sitting more comfortably on the bed. It’s made more difficult as he tries to keep from disturbing Maprang. Eventually he settles against the headboard with Maprang leaning against him, head still resting on his chest. He can feel tears dripping onto his shirt, feel her shoulders shaking and he hugs her tighter. It’s like he’s eight again, his favorite person crying and he doesn’t know how to make it stop. 

They sit like that, Tew holding her as she cries, long enough that Tew nearly misses it when Maprang begins to speak. Her hands curl around his shirt as she chokes out a story about missed dates and longer arguments. Halfway through Maprang lifts her head up and the words come faster, angrier. 

“Why didn’t he make time for me?” she demands, and her eyes are bright with tears.

Tew can guess the answer to that question but he knows that’s not what she wants to hear. 

“Maprang,” he starts, and then stops. He doesn’t know what to say to make her feel better, all of the reassurances he wants to voice too much like a platitude. “It wasn’t something you did wrong,” he says at last and he can see Maprang’s shoulders slump from where she’s moved to sit across from him.

“Then why did he break up with me? I wasn’t clingy or too much. I know I wasn’t.” A pause. “Right?” she asks, and she sounds small and not like herself. 

“It wasn’t you,” Tew says quickly. He reaches out and tugs Maprang toward him, wrapping her in a hug that she leans into. “It wasn’t you,” he repeats, firmer this time. He doesn’t think Maprang believes him, but she nods anyway.

Tew ends up spending the night there, and despite the effort it takes to stay awake during classes the next day, he’s glad he did. Even though she’s quieter than usual, Maprang still shows up to their classes with him. During lunch she tells them a more subdued version of what she’d told him last night, and Tew sends her an encouraging smile as the rest of their friends offer their own reassurances.

After that, Maprang rarely mentions Rune or their breakup to him, but he thinks she talks about it with Prae and May. Sometimes Tew sees her staring at a photo on her phone or watching other couples with an unreadable expression on her face. When that happens he tries to make sure she doesn’t spend the rest of the day alone, suggesting study sessions or movie nights. It’s on one of those suggested movie nights that Maprang brings the topic up for the first time since the breakup. 

They’d compromised and ended up watching an action movie instead of the horror film Maprang had wanted, and one of the leads is crying over her ex-boyfriend. 

“Is that what I look like?” Maprang asks, and Tew turns from where he’d been watching their latest movie.

“What?” he asks, thrown off by the sudden question.

Maprang gestures to the screen. “She just keeps crying over him.”

“Aren’t you always saying it’s good to cry?” he asks, and Maprang sends him a weak glare.

“Not like this. Not all the time. I don’t want to keep crying over him,” Maprang says, glaring at the TV. He doesn’t ask who.

“It’s better than never crying at all,” Tew points out.  

“I don’t want to be that girl,” she says. “The one who only ever cries about boys.” It’s more sad than bitter. She sounds tired. Tew’s heart aches for her. 

“You’re not,” he says reassuringly, but her expression doesn’t change. Tew frowns. After a moment he pauses the movie, turning so that he’s facing Maprang. “You know that, right?” 

She shrugs. 

“I talk about boys a lot, more than May or Prae.”

“Prae’s a lesbian and May has that weird not-dating thing with M. Of course you talk more about guys than they do.” 

“But that’s the first thing people say about me. Like, oh there’s boy crazy Maprang,” she says, waving her hand in the air. “I just… I’m good at math you know? I can draw. I know how to dance. But right now I just feel like this is the only thing about me.”

“It’s not,” Tew reassures her. “I promise the first thing I think of about you is your terrible taste in movies.”

His statement startles a squawk out of Maprang and he grins with relief even as he dodges the pillow thrown at him. 

“Rude,” she says, but her mouth is twitching the way it does when she’s trying not to smile. 

“True,” he corrects. Maprang scowls at him but the sadness still lingering in her expression makes him say, “You’re not just the girl who got dumped. But I think it worked out this time.”

“So you’re glad we broke up?”

“I’m glad you’re not going to be disappointed he keeps missing dates,” Tew corrects her.

Silence follows, and he wonders if he overstepped. Just as he’s about to apologize, Maprang speaks.

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For being a good friend. For being here.”

“Any time.”

Chapter Text

At the end of his second year, Tew decides to join the hazing team with Kong. M and Oak join as well to his surprise, albeit a little more reluctantly. Their training, along with his job, cooking club, and responsibilities as class representative, keep him busy enough that his once weekly game nights turn biweekly and his movie nights with Maprang become study sessions. 

He talks to P’Yod more too, seeking advice from his line senior as often as he can without bothering him too much. He asks him about internships but also about how to take care of his own line junior. P’Yod had revealed himself later than most seniors, and Tew has already decided to do the same. Despite not meeting his junior yet, Tew is excited. He admires P’Yod, and he wants to be the same steady and reliable Phi his senior was for him. He’s not certain when he’ll be able to meet them, but he’s already planned several different things to say to make a good first impression.

Unfortunately, his first meeting with his junior doesn’t go as planned. 

The first time he sees his line junior, Tew almost misses him. He’s standing next to the registration tables to help pass out T-shirts, and is in the middle of texting Maprang to let her know they need more when he hears his line number. He immediately looks up, and his eyes land a short, dark haired boy who looks less than thrilled to be there.

He’s tiny, is Tew’s first thought, immediately followed by the observation that his junior has walked off without a T-shirt. 

“Hey, wait!”

Tew grabs a T-shirt as he calls out to his junior, and something in his stomach flips when the other turns to look at him. All of his carefully thought out words disappear.

“You forgot your shirt,” he says lamely, holding it out. 

Dae glances between him and the T-shirt before taking it and walking away. Long after Dae has left, Tew is still in place, staring after him. He’s not sure what to think of his junior. 

~

It’s strange, to be on the other side of hazing. Each time one of the freshmen asks him for a signature, Tew is reminded of himself, and he can’t quite stop the burst of nostalgia that comes each time he signs his name. His friends give their own requirements to sign, but Tew decides not to. He still remembers how his seniors had used him to complete both menial and difficult tasks, and while he now understands why, it hadn’t made him any fonder of them. 

Tew smiles at one of the freshmen as he signs her activity book, waving before joining Kong and the rest of his friends. They fall easily into conversation, watching M and May talk to one of the girls asking for their signatures. Tew’s eyes widen slightly when he sees the girl call out to Dae. He hadn’t noticed him walk in. He frowns as he listens to Dae reject her request, unsure of why the other is so insistent. Beside him, Oak mutters something he doesn’t catch as they watch Dae walk away. Tew immediately moves to follow him. 

“I think you should just let him go,” Kong says, and Tew shakes his head, already getting up. 

“I can’t, he’s my direct line junior,” he says. Tew rushes after Dae’s retreating figure, calling out for him. Dae ignores him. 

“0058!” he tries, and finally Dae stops. There’s an irritated expression on his face. 

“You know my student ID,” he says cautiously. “What do you want?”

“I saw you didn’t help your friend get the seniors’ signature. Don’t you feel pity for her?” 

“I’m not a mean person,” Dae says, looking at him seriously. “I just don’t want to dance to that song for signatures from people I don’t want to know.”

Tew considers this. He’d thought similarly when he was a freshman. But now, as a hazer he can see his seniors’ reasoning.

“Why don’t you look from a different angle? Those seniors want to know you.”

“If they want to know me, they should come to me. Not make me come to them,” Dae points out. 

Tew nods slowly. 

“Fair enough. Can I have your activity book?”

Dae stares at him warily but reaches into his backpack and hands Tew the book. When he flips to the first page, Tew raises his eyebrows as he reads the single line of text already written there. The seniors want to know the freshmen but ask the freshmen to come to them.

He looks at Dae who stares back, shifting the straps of his backpack. After a moment Tew pulls his pen from his pocket and writes on the second page. You know me now - Tewtat. Then he returns the book and smiles at Dae. 

“I understand,” he says. “And right now this senior wants you to know him.”

Then he turns and walks away, hoping he’d made his junior understand. 

~

Over the course of their next few meetings Tew learns three things about his junior. He transferred from his old university for reasons still unknown, he doesn’t like the SOTUS system, and he doesn’t seem overly fond of Tew either. This doesn’t deter Tew in the least from his original goal of becoming close to Dae; if anything it strengthens his resolve, and he makes certain to talk to Dae each time he sees him.

Each time Tew walks up to him Dae looks a little confused and wary, but he never asks why. Their conversations tend to follow a pretty steady pattern. Tew asks how Dae is and the junior gives a polite answer that tells him nothing, Tew tries to learn more about Dae who replies with short answers before he turns and leaves. It’s disheartening, but there’s something about Dae that piques Tew’s interest and keeps him coming back. 

At their fifth meeting, he asks Dae to come to the next freshmen gathering. He doesn’t have much hope that the junior will come, considering how easily Dae had walked away, but he can’t stop himself from looking for him anyway. It’s as he’s walking to the front of the room with the other hazers that he catches sight of a familiar face and he has to bite back the grin that threatens to cover his face. 

Dae is here .

Even as he gives orders to the freshmen, his eyes remain on Dae. His line junior is settled in the back row, his face set with skepticism. 

It only makes Tew more determined. His orders are louder than usual, and maybe he walks up and down the length of the room more than he would otherwise. The whole time he finds himself constantly returning to Dae, looking at the skepticism slowly morphing into a resigned disappointment. Then Dae stands and for a moment Tew has a flashback of Kongpob, but Dae simply turns and leaves. Tew sees Dae walk away and his feet are moving before he realizes it. 

“0058!”

Dae stops, turns to look at him and Tew feels a tiny surge of relief at that.  

“Where are you going?” he demands.

“I tried opening my heart and coming to the gathering like you asked, but there’s nothing to learn from this,” Dae tells him. “It’s a waste of time, just like my old university.”

Tew stares at him, an equal amount of hurt and frustration welling up in him. Why can’t Dae see that the gathering is useful? Yes, the lessons from them take time but that’s why they have so many. Before he can voice any of this Dae has already turned away for the second time.

“0058!”

Dae doesn’t look back this time. Disappointment swells up in him, a sharp pain in his chest. Tew stares after his retreating figure until he can no longer see him. It’s only after he turns back around and sees that M has taken over that Tew realizes what he’s done. Fuck . He catches sight of Kong’s expression and grimaces. He is not looking forward to talking with Kong later. 

When he walks back to the front of the room, he nods slightly in response to M’s questioning glance, letting his friend continue leading the gathering. Unsurprisingly, Kong calls out for him once all the freshmen have been dismissed, and Tew prepares himself.

“I know I shouldn’t have left the gathering,” he says, before Kong can say anything. 

“You shouldn’t have,” Kong agrees. His next question sounds more confused than anything else as he asks, “Why did you? N’Dae’s not the first to leave one of the gatherings.”

Tew doesn’t answer immediately, unsure of how to explain that he’d wanted Dae to listen to him, to think Tew was doing something worthwhile. 

“He’s my line junior,” is what he ends up saying, and Kong stares at him with a hard expression for several moments, studying him. 

“You can’t do that again,” he says at last, and Tew nods. 

“I won’t,” he replies. At the agreement, Kongpob turns from head hazer to Kong, and Tew feels his shoulders relax slightly. 

“Good.” 

Kong steps back and grabs the folder of paperwork for their next hazing activity from the stage, pulling out one of the papers and showing it to Tew. 

“So for our next gathering…”

~

The next time he meets his junior, it’s at cooking club. P’Aum has tasked them all with making meals for some of the visiting high schoolers, and a few volunteers from other clubs have agreed to help. As one of the older club members, Tew is tasked with overseeing the volunteers, and he’s delighted to see that his line junior is among them. He waves so Dae catches sight of him, who looks less than thrilled when he catches sight of Tew. Still, he makes no comment when Tew moves to stand next to him. 

“Why did you volunteer to help out? Do you like to cook?” he asks, as they start setting out the ingredients. 

Dae looks at him and shrugs. “My grandmother taught me when I was little,” he says. Tew files this information away, another piece to the puzzle that is Dae. The single answer has given him dozens more questions to ask, but he’s distracted by P’Aum waving him over. 

“Phi,” he says, and she hands him a set of papers.

“These are the recipe instructions for your group. Do you need any help with them?” Tew glances through them to see they’re a simple recipe for curry. Easy enough. 

Tew shakes his head and smiles at her. “I’ve got it,” he assures her and P’Aum nods. 

When he gets back, he distributes the papers to the small group before stepping back and keeping an eye out for anyone that might need help. Inevitably, his attention wanders back to Dae, and he walks over to see how his junior is doing.

“I don’t need any help,” Dae says immediately.

“What about someone to talk with?” Tew replies. It comes out a little flirtier than he intended but Dae’s resulting frown is cute enough that he’s glad he said it.

“I prefer to be alone.”

“What about getting to know your senior then?” he asks. “You said you wanted us to approach you first right?”

Dae doesn’t answer, but he does look slightly disgruntled at his own words being thrown back at him. Tew settles into place beside him, content to talk and coax Dae into answering back. Occasionally, he has to leave to go help others, but mostly he sticks close to Dae. At some point, their conversation shifts to complaining about professors, and Tew finds himself telling stories about the dumb stunts his classmates have pulled.

“Oh yeah, Film got blackout drunk the night before his exam and woke up the next day hours after the class. Spent the whole weekend thinking he’d failed, and then when he went to the professor on Monday she told him he’d taken the test and got an 84 on it,” Tew says, and Dae’s eyes go wide. 

“Really?”

“Yep.” Tew nods, grinning as he remembers the look on Film’s face. Laughter follows his words and Tew’s eyes widen as he realizes the laughter is coming from Dae.

His stubborn junior, who rarely smiles, is laughing now. Because of him. Dae’s head is thrown back, a wide smile on his lips, and Tew can’t look away. It feels… satisfying, to know that he can connect to his usually aloof junior like this, and he spends the rest of the time with a large smile on his face.

~

“N’Khaofang!”

The underclassman turns at his shout, a look of confusion on her face. Next to her, her friend also stops. Tew waves at them, jogging up the last few steps to the library’s entrance until they’re both standing in front of the building. 

“P’Tew?” 

“Do you have a moment?” he asks, and she nods.

“Uh, yeah. What did you need?” she asks, shifting her backpack more firmly onto her shoulder. She must have had a class earlier.

“Do you know where Dae is?” 

Khaofang stares at him for a long moment, her curious expression eerily similar to Maprang’s. Beside her, Kratai looks thoroughly amused.

“Not sure,” she says after a moment. “But I have class with him in half an hour.”

“What class?”

“Engineering stats.” Tew nods. He remembers that class, he’d liked the professor but the class itself was dull.

“When does it end?” he asks and watches the two freshmen in front of him exchange a glance. Kratai tilts her head and Khaofang raises her eyebrows before she turns back to him.

“4:30,” she says slowly. Tew frowns. He has a class during that time. “Is Dae in trouble?”

Tew quickly shakes his head. “No, I just wanted to talk to him.”

“Oh,” Khaofang says, and she exchanges another look with her friend, like they know something he doesn’t. Tew frowns but decides not to ask about it. 

“Do you know where he’ll be later?” he says instead. 

“Not really. He’s kind of a loner, sorry.” It’s Kratai who answers this time, and Tew turns to look at her fully. 

“Really?”

She nods. “Yeah, I heard he doesn’t really talk to anyone. He just comes to classes and photography club. That’s it.”

“He’s in photography club?” 

“Mhm.”

Tew blinks as he tries to imagine Dae with a camera. He wonders what the other takes photos of. Nature? People? Maybe he should buy a camera and try to take some photos with Dae.

“P’Tew?”

He snaps out of his thoughts, smiling apologetically at them.

“Was there anything else you wanted to know?” Kratai asks and he shakes his head.

“No, that’s all right now. Thank you,” he says, waving before turning around. He still has homework to do before he starts his shift at P’Sorn’s later. 

“P’Tew!”

He turns back curiously. “Yes?”

Khaofang fidgets with the strap of her bag before seeming to steel herself. Taking a deep breath, she glances at Kratai before asking, “Do you know where P’Kongpob is?”

Tew’s eyes widen in surprise. He thinks for a moment. If he remembers right, Kong is supposed to be visiting P’Arthit.

“He’s busy today Nong,” he says gently. He’s aware of how fond she is of Kongpob, and it feels rude to say the real reason his friend is busy. Not to mention Kong has mentioned that P’Arthit is a pretty private person.

“Oh. Okay,” Khaofang says disappointedly, and he offers her a sympathetic smile.

“Was there anything else?” he asks and she shakes her head. 

He nods and then waves again before walking away from the library. He makes a mental note to look into the photography club later. 

~

It’s after another less than informative talk with Dae that Tew decides to call his senior for help. Settling onto his bed more comfortably, he picks up his phone and dials P’Yod’s number. After several rings, his senior picks up. 

“Tew?”

“I need your help Phi.”

“Oh, with what? Are you having trouble with the hazing activities again?”

“No, Kong and I figured that one out. It’s about our line junior,” Tew says, and a hum of understanding comes through the line. Tew has mentioned his problems briefly before, but he goes into more detail this time until he’s explained everything that’s happened so far. The way Dae walked out of the gathering and refused to come any since, the time he’d seen him at cooking club, the brief talks they have in front of the library where Dae works, their argument about the flag activity. 

He wants to understand Dae, to know why he seems so against the SOTUS system. There’s something about Dae that intrigues him, makes him want to know him better. But he doesn’t know how to connect with his junior, and he needs help. 

“I just don’t know what to do about him,” Tew says. “He won’t listen to me.”

P’Yod hums. “Remember your freshman year?” he asks, and Tew frowns in confusion.

“What?”

Ignoring his confusion, his senior continues. “When I told you it was going to be too much for you to be a hazer and class president?”

“But what does that-”

“Listen Nong.”

“Okay.”

“You remember?”

“Yeah,” Tew says slowly, unsure of where his senior is going. 

“You didn’t agree with me right, just like your line junior doesn’t agree with you?”

“Right.” He doesn’t know but he can guess what P’Yod is trying to say now.

“I disagreed with you but we talked and you proved me wrong. I’m not saying you have to change your mind, but it’s important to listen to him. Like I listen to you. It’s why you’re here now asking for advice,” P’Yod says and Tew nods even though he knows the other can’t see. 

“Do you get what I’m saying?” his senior finishes, and Tew nods again.

“Yeah,” he says.

“Good,” P’Yod says. “Did you need anything else? My break is over soon.”

“No, no I’m good. I’m sorry for taking up your break,” Tew apologizes quickly, and his senior laughs.

“It’s nice to hear about university troubles for once,” P’Yod says. There’s muffled voices in the background and then, “I've got to go now.”

“Bye Phi.”

~

Tew doesn’t regret keeping his position as class rep, but at moments like this he wishes he’d agreed to take on less responsibility. Or at least less time consuming ones. He’s adjusted to his busy schedule by this point in the year, but it’s still exhausting some weeks. He says as much to Maprang, who had agreed to help him put up flyers about the upcoming play from the theatre club, and she laughs at him. 

“You didn’t have to agree to put these up. You could have delegated to the new officers,” she points out. “You just don’t think they’ll do it.”

Tew sends her a mock glare. “Because they won’t. They don’t even show up to meetings half the time. Also, thanks for the sympathy.” 

“I am very sympathetic, you’re welcome.”

They turn the corner, walking into the large open study space Tew uses before his systems class. 

“Which is why I’m helping you put these up instead of staying at my dorm and watching TV. Speaking of which. Are you still able to come over for movie night tomorrow?”

“I’m with Kong until 7, but after that yeah.”

“I thought training ended at 6.”

Tew heads toward the bulletin board on the other side of the room and Maprang follows.

“It does. But we’re still trying to figure out how to present the next activities so they’ll get approved.”

“I’m so glad I’m not a hazer,” Maprang says, shaking her head. Tew laughs but nods his head in agreement. 

“Do you have the stapler?” she asks, stepping up to the large bulletin board in the middle of the hall. 

“Mhm.” Tew hands her the stapler. 

He’d talked to Dae here earlier, trying to convince him to come to the gathering activity. He can still remember his junior’s exasperated expression before Dae had walked away.

“Tew?” Maprang waves her hand in front of his face and he leans back, avoiding getting hit in the face.

“Sorry, I’m coming.”

They head into the next hallway, deciding to place the last couple of flyers in the library. As they walk, Maprang continues. 

“What movie did you want to watch?”

“There was that one that P’Third talked about in his latest video. I think he said it’s online. We could watch that one,” he suggests. 

“Ooh yes! Both of the leads are really good,” Maprang agrees. 

They walk past a row of lockers and Tew slows down slightly as he catches sight of one with the number 0058. Dae’s locker. He runs his fingers across it, remembering how Dae had caught him trying to leave some old textbooks there. Maprang eyes the locker, eyes lingering on the number in the corner. 

“Are you thinking about stalking our junior again?”

“I don’t stalk him,” Tew protests. Maprang throws him a skeptical look. 

“You talked to all of the juniors until you figured out his class schedule.”

“I talked to two juniors,” Tew corrects. He’d asked Khaofang, only to be directed to Kratai who was apparently very informed on her peers. 

“Sure,” Maprang says, eyeing him with amusement. “You’re not weirdly invested in him coming to gatherings either.”

“He’s my direct line junior, of course I want him to come to the gatherings.”

“Right. That’s the only reason.”

Tew’s not sure what she means but that he frowns anyway. 

“Maprang.”

“Don’t use your hazer voice with me. It’s weird.” She scowls at him and Tew resists the urge to stick out his tongue. The last time he’d done that she’d made fun of him for weeks. 

Before he can say anything in response, Maprang’s phone rings. She glances down and Tew peeks over her shoulder. He catches a glimpse of the contact name before Maprang pulls her phone out of sight as she sends a response. There’s a soft smile on her face that looks very familiar. Tew’s expression shifts into a smirk. 

“Was that Del?”

A flush reddens Maprang’s cheeks and Tew’s smirk widens.

“It was!” he crows. 

“Stop teasing me asshole,” she mutters.

“But it’s so fun to tease you,” he replies. 

“Just wait until you have someone,” Maprang says, shaking her head. 

~

Tew feels pride bloom in chest as he looks around the room. Their juniors who worked so hard are here, and they’re finally able to have the wrist tying ceremony. All of those months of training, of staying up to plan activities, has all been worth it. As he takes a seat next to Kong, strings in hand, Tew finds himself smiling in contentment. The freshmen line up, and Tew gives them each words of encouragement as he ties strings around their wrists. As more juniors pass by him, Tew can’t help but look for Dae. He doesn’t think the junior will come, but there’s still a part of him that hopes he’ll show up. 

He eyes the line of juniors moving forward, smiling when he catches sight of Khaofang. He’s particularly proud of her. He gives her a quick smile as she slides into the spot in front of Kong, listening quietly as Kong gives her good wishes. He glances toward them when he hears Kong ask how Khaofang solved the code. He’d wondered that too, considering they hadn’t found all of the letters. 

"Well, we found two letters,” Khaofang says. “But we couldn't figure out what the word was. Then someone stepped in to help."

"Who?” Kong asks curiously.

Khaofang doesn’t answer, but she turns to look at Tew, who blinks. Surprise crosses Kong’s face before he asks, "Dae?"

Khaofang nods. 

Dae helped? Tew turns this information over in his head, a smile flickering across his face. He knew Dae cared. He knew it. An urge to see his junior rushes through him and he turns to Kong.

"Kong,” he says, and his friend turns to him. “I'll be back."

Kongpob stares at him for a moment before nodding. 

"Okay."

Tew flashes his friend a smile before quickly standing and heading toward the library. He’s pretty sure Dae would be there; it seems to be Dae’s favorite place on campus. As soon as Tew arrives at the steps of the library, he calls out for Dae.

“0058!” 

Nothing. Tew knows he’s somewhere close though, and he calls out again. A scattered collection of the red clue boxes and a SOTUS shirt tell him that Dae is here. It takes two more tries for Dae to finally step out from behind the pillars, and Tew smiles at him.

“I knew you would be here,” he says, and Dae frowns at him. “You took part in the activity,” Tew continues and he’s not sure which part he’s more excited about. 

“What do you mean? I didn’t take part in the activity,” Dae denies. 

“Are you sure?” Tew glances at the opened and discarded clue boxes lying atop the freshman’s engineering shirt.

“Well,” Dae starts, “I just helped Khun Khaofang.”

Tew nods, a smile threatening to overtake his face. 

“Don’t include this as I took part in the activity,” Dae says quickly, like he knows what Tew’s thinking. “Or that I sang that song with all of you.”

Tew nods again, smile broadening as he says, “I see.”

Dae narrows his eyes at him before turning away to grab his bag. Tew reacts immediately, reaching out for him. He doesn’t want Dae to leave, not yet. 

“Hey. Wait, 0058.”

“Please, stop calling me 0058. My name is Dae,” his junior says, as though Tew doesn’t know. 

Tew nods before he steps closer, hand held out.

“Can I have your hand?” he asks, silently willing Dae to say yes. 

There’s a long moment of hesitation where Dae stares at him. His eyes flick between Tew’s face and outstretched hand before finally extending his own. Tew smiles and reaches for the red and white string he’d saved just in case. He’s halfway through tying it when Dae seems to realize what’s going on.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Dae tries to pull his arm away but Tew keeps him in place, tying one final knot just as the junior demands, “Why are you tying that thread on my wrist?”

“I just want you to keep it,” he says truthfully. He wants Dae to wear something that shows how proud Tew is.

Dae immediately tries to take off the string and Tew reaches out to stop him. 

“Hey! I asked you to keep it.”

“Why do I have to keep it?” Dae demands. Tew doesn’t really know how to answer that without saying too much.

“Come on. Just do it,” Tew says softly, silently pleading with the younger. Dae huffs but lets his hand drop. Tew smiles in triumph. 

“Come here,” he says. Without waiting for a response he grabs Dae’s wrist and pulls him down the stairs and towards the auditorium. 

“What are you doing?” Dae demands, and Tew doesn’t answer. Despite the former's protests, they end up back where Tew has spent the better part of the day. 

“Hey it’s illegal!” Dae says and Tew hushes him.

“Don’t you see we have the blessing ceremony of wrist tying?” he asks, turning to gesture at the small circle of juniors and seniors. “It's not as bad as you think, is it?”

Tew turns to look at them, a sense of pride and nostalgia filling him. Those freshmen were him once, smiling and laughing when they realized maybe their seniors weren’t so bad. 

“0058, look around and see the smiles on their faces.” He turns to look at Dae. “You don’t want to see those smiles on the juniors’ face in the future too?”

Dae doesn’t answer, but he’s looking at the others thoughtfully, and that’s enough for now. 

“0058,” he says softly. “Do you want to come with me?”

“Where?” the younger asks suspiciously. 

Tew points to where juniors are sitting. Dae stares up at him, glancing briefly at the group behind them before turning back to Tew. He holds up his wrist, the one that has the red and white string, a tiny smile on his face. 

“Only this is enough for me,” he says, and for some reason his words make Tew’s heart beat a little harder. 

He wants to say something else, something to make Dae understand how much that means. The words get stuck in his throat for some reason and he swallows as Dae says a soft goodbye before he leaves, Tew staring after him. 

Days after the wrist tying ceremony, Dae’s words continue to run through his mind. Only this is enough for me. The words are in a loop in his head, the image of Dae’s smiling face stuck in his head. But he can’t figure out why that moment is so stuck in his mind. 

The question haunts him, right up until another movie night with Maprang, when he’s watching one of the leads continuously chase after their love interest. Despite the seeming lack of interest, she keeps trying, approaching the other girl again and again. It’s not until the actual confession that he realizes why it feels so familiar. 

I thought I just wanted to understand you. And I still do, she says. But it’s more than that. I spent so much time running after you that I fell in love with you. 

The words hit him with all the force of a punch to the gut. Oh. Oh . The movie slips into the background as Tew’s heart stutters. He likes Dae. He likes Dae. 

“That’s why I keep thinking about him.” The words tumble out of his mouth, interrupting the dramatic scene on TV and catching Maprang’s attention. 

“Tew?”

“I like Dae,” he says, and he stares at the ground, wondering just how he’d managed to do that. And, more importantly, realizes just how unlikely it is that Dae will ever like him back. The image of the star tear bandages he’d bought for Kong flash through his head, leaving him feeling like a bucket of water has dumped on him. Beside him, he’s vaguely aware of Maprang pausing the movie before scooting closer and putting a hand on his shoulder.

“Tew?” Her voice is soft. 

“I like Dae,” he says again, this time turning to look at her. He’s not sure what expression is on his face to make Maprang look at him like that, but it must be bad for her to look that concerned. 

“Is that a bad thing?” she asks carefully. There’s no sign of surprise on her face, and Tew wonders how obvious he had been to her. 

“I can’t like him. He’s my junior,” he says, as though that’s the biggest problem, and she tilts her head.

“Kong is P’Arthit’s junior.”

“That’s different. Dae is my direct line junior. I’m supposed to be responsible for him, to take care of him. Not have a crush on him.” 

“It’s okay to like him,” she says quietly. “Just because you like him doesn’t mean you have to do anything about it.” 

“But I can’t do nothing either. That’s not how I work.” Tew stops. “I can’t just say nothing now that I know.”

“Then tell him, and then say you don’t expect anything from him.” 

“But what about after he says no? What if I-” Tew stops. 

“What if?” Maprang prompts.

Tew doesn’t answer immediately. He doesn’t know how to tell her that it’s not the inevitable rejection he’s most worried about, but what comes after. He’s never told Maprang about how star tear disease runs in his family. The only one who knows is Kong. He’s still not sure why he hasn’t told Maprang. He knows she wouldn’t think differently of him but it feels… embarrassing to tell her. 

Beside him, Maprang runs his shoulder gently, waiting patiently. The seconds tick by, the TV screen eventually turning black before he steels himself. 

“Star tear disease runs in my family,” he says, and hears Maprang inhale sharply.

“Oh,” she says quietly. “And you think that you’ll…” She trails off but he nods anyway. 

“So you’re not going to tell him?”

He shrugs helplessly. He’s not a crier, but the what if has always been a worry each time he fell in love, and this time is no exception.  

“What if you end up crying anyway?” she asks softly, voicing the thought in his head. 

“I don’t know,” he says helplessly. He waits for her to respond, to give him advice or tell him he’s being stupid, but all she does is pull him closer. 

“Whatever you do, I’m here,” she says softly, and Tew leans against her. 

“Thanks,” he says, so quietly he’s not sure she hears it. Regardless, she runs a hand through his hair and silently turns the TV back on. 

They watch in silence, Tew still mulling over his recent revelation. He’s always been quick to give his heart away, his heart guarded by a revolving door, his mother always says. Tew just never thought that his junior would be the next person to enter. 

Chapter Text

Tew is laying on Kong's bed, trying to wrap his head around the latest Econ assignment when he hears Kong’s phone ring. He looks up in time to see his friend’s expression brighten, and then groans when he realizes P’Arthit is the one calling. Normally he wouldn’t mind, but he’s been stuck on the same problem for the last ten minutes and Kong had just agreed to help him with it. Resigning himself to struggling alone for however long it takes for P’Arthit to tell Kongpob to go back to studying, Tew reluctantly pulls his textbook closer. 

He frowns, rereading the same section of text under his breath as he listens to Kong talk to his boyfriend. It takes another two read throughs for Tew to accept he’s not going to understand this concept any time soon, and he sighs. He looks over at his friend just in time to hear-

“What about a reward?” Kongpob asks eagerly and Tew decides he regrets that he hadn’t asked M or Oak to come study with them. At least then he wouldn’t be a third wheel. Which is ridiculous, considering P’Arthit isn’t even in the room. 

Even through the phone, their senior’s shout of Kongpob’s name is audible and Tew can’t help but laugh at his friend’s expression. 

“P’Arthit,” Kong whines, and Tew guesses their senior had decided it was time for Kong to go back to his homework. He silently thanks the other, making a mental note to say something nice to him next time they meet. He’s proven right when Kongpob hangs up several seconds later, and immediately fixes his friend with an irritated expression. 

“Dude I’ve been trying to finish this problem for the last ten minutes,” he says without sympathy, and Kong rolls his eyes even as he pulls Tew’s paper toward him. 

Later, once Tew is mostly confident he’ll get a good grade on his assignment, they push their textbooks aside in favor of ordering food. Kong still can’t cook to save his life, and even if Tew wanted to, there’s nothing here for him to actually make. It’s as they’re waiting for it to arrive and Tew is setting his backpack by Kong’s desk that he sees a familiar white string. 

“Oi, Kong.” He calls out and his friend turns to look at him from where the other is sitting on the bed.

“What’s this?” he asks, pointing to the string. Kong glances over and his expression softens. 

“Oh, it’s the string P’Arthit gave me at our wrist tying ceremony.” 

“Why do you still have it out?” Tew asks, frowning in confusion. He’d stored his in a box of keepsakes not long after the ceremony. 

“Because P’Arthit gave it to me,” Kong says as if it’s obvious. In retrospect, Tew’s not sure why he thought the answer was surprising. 

He nods, staring at the string curiously, thinking back to the red and white one he’d tied around Dae’s wrist. He’s seen Dae wear it since, and he’s not sure what to make of that. Tew glances over at Kong consideringly. Maybe he’d know?

“Kong?” he says slowly, fiddling with his necklace, and his friend turns to look at him.

“Hm?”

“Why’d you keep the string? Did you already like P’Arthit?” he asks and the other student blinks. 

“I… yeah,” he says after a moment. Kong’s gaze shifts from his phone to Tew’s face. “Why?”

Tew swallows, wondering if there’s a chance… 

“No reason,” he says, and Kong squints at him suspiciously before nodding, obviously deciding not to pursue the subject. 

“Why’d you stop wearing it?” Tew blurts out, and Kong gives him another long look before he answers.

“P’Arthit gave me this, so I didn’t need to.” He holds up his wrist, proudly presenting his leather bracelet. 

“Oh,” Tew says thoughtfully, absently sliding his necklace around his neck.

Long after Tew has left his friend's dorm, Kongpob’s words stick in his mind. During the times he manages to pull Dae into conversation, Tew sometimes catches a glimpse of the red and white string around Dae’s wrist. He wonders, hopes even, that Dae had kept it for the same reason Kong had continued to wear P’Arthit’s string. He thinks of the jewelry designs hidden in his notebook. If he made something for Dae, would the junior accept it? He hopes so. Although, he doesn’t see Dae wear a lot of jewelry. 

Tew frowns, shoving his hands into his pockets as he runs through a list of the pieces he usually makes for work. None of them seem right. Maybe something Dae can hang on his backpack instead of wearing? Tew frowns. The only thing he’s learned how to make is a keychain. It’s hardly romantic, but Tew doesn’t really want to copy his senior anyway. Not to mention, he still doesn’t know how good of an idea it is to even make a gift for Dae. Maybe he should test the waters first. 

~

It’s strange, how the revelation that he likes his junior both changes and doesn’t change anything. 

When he sees Dae, Tew is now acutely aware of the excitement and nerves that bubble in his stomach, the way he can’t help but push just a little further to see his junior’s features twist into a new reaction that he hasn’t seen yet. Each time Dae says something about himself, each time Tew coaxes a smile out of him, Tew can’t help but fall a little more. 

He’s still busy, the balance between hazing responsibilities, classes, and his job leaving him with less time than he’d like. Despite this, he tries to carve out time to see Dae. Throughout the course of the next few weeks, Tew makes a point to speak to his junior whenever he sees him, whether that’s at the canteen, in the halls, or even at the photography club when Tew has the time to stop by. There’s a slight shift in their interactions now, like Dae is warming up to him, and they give Tew hope that maybe his junior could feel the same. 

“Oi Tew!”

He looks up to see Maprang staring at him, waving her hand in front of his face. 

“What?”

She points at the notes scattered between them. 

“Did you finish the last question? I got an answer but it’s not matching up with the second half of the problem.”

Tew blinks, glancing down at his own paper. He’d finished the problems a while ago. He nods, sliding his notebook over to her. 

“Yeah. Here.”

Maprang mutters a thank you as she compares the two answers, and Tew pulls out his work journal, flipping to his half finished page and starting some more designs as he listens to Maprang work through the problem again. He sketches a few ideas based off of the current collection P’Sorn is making, frowning when the lines don’t come out quite right. He wishes he could download the program P’Sorn uses on his personal computer - it would be much quicker. 

“Ooh is that another collection?”

He flinches in surprise when he hears Maprang’s question, his friend glancing at the notebook over his shoulder. 

“Yeah. P’Sorn’s trying to come up with something new and he said it would be good practice to sketch some ideas.”

Tew glances at the abandoned notebooks. 

“Done with the problem?”

Maprang waves a lazy hand. “Close enough. I know what I did wrong so I can figure it out later.”

Tew frowns at the answer but before he can say anything Maprang leans closer, tracing the lines of an older design. 

“What’s this?” She taps the latest design, a half designed keychain in the shape of the numbers 0058.

“Just a few new ideas,” he says, feeling a little self-conscious. Maprang’s eyes narrow, and she scrutinizes him for a moment.

“Why add your line number?” she presses. 

“I wanted to try something new,” he says evasively.

“Who’re you making it for?” she asks, and she’s grinning a way that Tew knows means she’s about to tease him.

“No one,” he says, flipping his notebook closed. 

“Oh? And does “no one” have a dislike for freshmen gatherings?” she asks, eyes bright with amusement. 

“Maprang,” he whines and she laughs.

“Aww, you’re so cute, making jewelry for your junior,” she teases, reaching out to poke his cheeks. Tew gently slaps her hands away.

“Quit teasing me,” he says, though he knows it’s useless.

Maprang laughs. “After all of the teasing you’ve given me? Not a chance,” she says, and Tew groans. Maybe Prae had had a point when she’d warned him Maprang would remember everything.

“You’re-” he starts but then stops as he catches sight of a familiar figure. Dae. Tew quickly gathers his notebooks, shoving them inside his backpack as neatly as possible.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” he says, giving Maprang an apologetic look.

“Leaving me for your boyfriend already?” Maprang asks, looking far too amused.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Tew says distractedly, shoving his textbook inside his backpack. “I’ll call you later,” he says and Maprang’s laughter follows him as he rushes to catch up with Dae. 

“0058!”

Dae turns at the sound of his line number, and a familiar exasperated expression crosses his face. Tew takes a moment to look at his junior. Dae’s backpack isn’t on him, but there is a camera hanging around his neck. 

“What do you want? I’m not going to the next gathering.”

“I know,” Tew replies. He’s accepted that the chances of Dae actually attending a gathering are very small. He hasn’t completely given up on the idea though. “Where are you going now?”

“Why?” 

“Do you always have to ask why?” Tew asks, grinning as he falls into step beside the younger. “Can’t I walk with you somewhere?”

“I'm not going anywhere.”

“Then why are you wandering around?”

“I’m taking photos for photography club.”

Tew blinks. He glances around, wondering what Dae could be taking photos of. When he asks, Dae’s answer clarifies nothing. 

“Whatever fits.”

“Fits?”

“These photos are to experiment with light. I’m taking some during the day and some at night.”

Tew nods, still not entirely certain of what his junior is photographing. 

“Do you need a model?” he asks, flashing Dae a bright smile and posing. His heart stutters when Dae pauses to look at him, dark eyes scanning him before looking away. 

“No,” Dae says predictably. 

“An assistant?” he tries, and Dae shakes his head. Tew wonders if he’s imagining the slight amusement in Dae’s expression. 

“No.”

Tew’s phone ringing prevents him from continuing to persuade Dae to let him help, the junior giving him a quick wai before leaving. Tew waves dejectedly as he watches the other walk away. He sighs heavily before he answers his phone.

“Hey, Prae. What’s up?”

He listens distractedly to Prae, watching Dae’s figure disappear. 

“You in?” he hears her ask and realizes he’d lost track of the conversation.

“Huh?”

“Going to the new sushi place. Kong and Oak are coming too.”

“Yeah, sounds good. Do you need a ride?”

“No, Oak said he’d take me.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then,” he says, and Prae says goodbye before hanging up. Tew slips his phone into his pocket, changing directions so that he’s headed toward the parking lot instead of the dorms. 

When he arrives at the restaurant, the others are already there and Tew hurries over to where they’re sitting. He smiles as he settles beside Prae, easily joining in her and Kong’s conversation about their internships. Oak chimes in too, complaining about his boss’ strict rules and lack of care. It’s a subject he’s talked about before, and sometimes Tew worries that Oak hadn’t chosen the right internship. 

“It’s like he forgets I’m just an intern and expects me to know the same stuff as people who have worked there for years,” Oak says irritatedly, and Tew grimaces in sympathy. 

“Have you tried talking to him?” Kong asks and Oak stares at him.

“Of course not! I’m just an intern, I can’t just go up and talk to my boss .” Oak sounds scandalized.

Kong frowns. “But if he’s asking too much then you should say something.”

Oak shakes his head, a familiar uncertain expression crossing his face. 

Tew cuts in. “Maybe you could say something to one of your coworkers. Or ask them to teach you about whatever it is you’re expected to know.”

Oak looks contemplatively at his food. 

Beside him, Prae nods. “Yeah. You don’t always have to go directly to the boss.” Her eyes turn bright with mischief as she turns to Kong to add, “After all, not everyone is fearless enough to say they’ll make someone their wife.”

“Prae!” Kong whines, but there’s a smile pulling at the corner of his mouth the way there always is when P’Arthit is mentioned. 

It’s at this moment that a server stops to take their order, and the teasing stops briefly. Tew orders his usual, and the conversation shifts back to their internships. Tew listens attentively as she talks about the current project she’s assisting with. He'd considered applying to the same place, but it was a bit too far for him to commute to. He’s glad Prae likes it there. He knows she’d been worried about it, especially since she’s never had a job before. 

“It’s nice - it’s not as lonely as I thought it’d be. My supervisor’s pretty laid back and the other interns are fun,” Prae says. 

“You’re so lucky,” Tew says, grimacing as he thinks of his own supervisor. “My boss keeps telling me I haven’t been there long enough to do anything but take notes.”

His friends nod in sympathy, and the conversation devolves from there, shifting from their internships to plans for the next freshmen gathering to Oak explaining his latest video game idea. It’s fun, and Tew leaves feeling more relaxed than he has the entire week. He ends up driving Prae back to her dorm, and spends a few hours with her struggling over their systems essay.

Later, as he’s walking back to his dorm, he frowns as he sees someone crouched in front of steps leading to the dorms. Who else is here this late? He steps forward, squinting to try and make out the person as he calls out to them. The figure turns, and Tew is briefly blinded as a bright light shines directly in his eyes. 

“Khun Tew!” 

Through the slight stinging in his eyes he recognizes Dae’s voice. Involuntarily, a smile stretches across his face. 

“What are you doing here?” he asks at the same time Dae says, “Are you okay?” 

“I’m fine,” he reassures the junior, looking at him and then tilting his head in confusion. 

“What’s this for?” He points to the thin, bright gold glow stick in his junior’s hand. “You already have a flashlight.” 

“It’s for my photos,” Dae says. Tew waits for him to explain further but when he doesn’t Tew presses further. 

“You’re taking photos of a glow stick?” 

Dae gives him an unimpressed look. “No.” After a moment Dae sighs and then stuffs the glow stick under his arm and pulls out his phone. Tew watches as he taps his screen before holding it out. “I’m trying to do light painting. Like these.”

Tew takes his phone and scrolls the photos, letting out a quiet noise of admiration as he looks at each photo. 

“You can do this?” he asks, impressed as he turns to look at his junior. It’s too dark to tell, but Tew thinks Dae flushes as he mutters a quiet affirmative.

“Can I see them?” he asks eagerly, eyes darting to the camera around Dae’s neck. 

“No,” Dae says firmly, and Tew lets a pout cross his face. 

“Why not?”

“They’re not edited,” Dae tells him. Tew nods. He doesn’t really get the difference but it seems important to Dae so he doesn’t press further. 

“Do you still have a lot of photos to take?” he asks instead, and Dae grimaces as he nods.

“Yeah, we’re supposed to turn in 50 raw images and 10 edited.” 

Tew mutters an automatic response, stuck on the way that Dae’s nose is scrunched in irritation. It’s unfairly adorable. 

“How many do you have left to do?”

Dae pauses, glancing at his camera. He taps one of the buttons and the screen comes to life, lighting the lower half of his face. It reminds Tew of one of the photos on Dae’s phone, and he’s struck with the sudden urge to pull out his phone and photograph the moment. He’s stopped only by the realization that his phone is almost dead. 

“About half,” Dae says. Tew turns to look at him shifting the camera in his hands, clearly ready to begin taking photos again. Tew panics, not yet ready to leave. 

“Can I help?” he asks, the words tumbling out of his mouth without permission. 

“Help?”

“With taking photos,” he says. “I could be a model for you.”

He expects Dae to say no and walk away, but instead his junior seems to consider the suggestion. Hope bubbles in his chest as Dae purses his lips, eyes darting between Tew and the glow stick. After a long minute, Dae nods.

“Okay.”

“Really?” Tew can’t keep the surprise out of his voice, a grin splitting across his face. An amused smile crosses Dae’s face and Tew commits it to memory, any embarrassment gone in face of the fact that he’d made Dae smile. 

“Stand there.” Dae points to the steps and Tew does as his junior directs. He lets Dae pose him, ignoring the coldness of the stone beneath his jeans in favor of the brief moments that Dae touches his arms to pose him. He’s barely aware of the camera in front of him taking a long exposure shot, all of his attention focused on Dae’s movements behind him as he waves the glow stick. 

Eventually, he hears the shutter click and then Dae is posing him again. Tew lets him, intent on watching the way that Dae keeps muttering to himself and how gently he moves Tew into position. All too quickly the photos are done and Tew scrambles for another excuse to spend more time with Dae. 

“Are you taking photos tomorrow?” 

Dae shakes his head. “No. I’ve got all the photos I need.”

“Oh.” Tew nods slowly. “Are-”

“I have to go now,” Dae cuts him off, and Tew’s face falls. 

“Oh, okay. I’ll see you tomorrow then,” he says.

Dae gives him a faint smile before he nods and waves goodbye. Tew quickly waves back, unable to stop himself from grinning as he watches him walk away. He can’t wait for tomorrow. He walks back to his own dorm feeling content, looking forward to whatever tomorrow might bring. Even the impending horror of his systems homework can’t stop him from smiling.

The good mood continues into the morning, and Maprang nudges him before class, smirking at him. Tew shakes his head at her, but it doesn’t stop her from continuing to give him knowing looks.

“Quit looking at me like that,” he mutters when their professor isn’t looking, and Maprang grins.

“Tell me why you’re so smiley today,” she returns.

Tew is about to answer when the professor turns in their direction, and he hurries to scribble on his paper, pretending to take notes. 

“I’ll tell you later,” he says quietly, and Maprang nods. 

“Movie night at yours?” she whispers, and Tew gives her a quick mutter of agreement before quickly returning to his notes.

After class they part ways, and Tew takes his free priod to go visit Dae. If he remembers correctly, Dae is about to leave his econ class and Tew wants to talk with him before Tew’s next class. 

He passes by the cafeteria on his way to the right building, and Tew stops on a whim. Dae had mentioned he liked steamed buns during one of their walks to photography club and Tew finds himself buying some on impulse, along with a bottle of water. Bag in hand, Tew quickens his pace until he catches sight of the other student. 

“0058!”

Dae turns and Tew notices he’s alone again. He wonders if the other has any friends from his classes. 

“Khun,” Dae says. He doesn’t ask why Tew is there, just looks at him with a faintly curious expression.

“Hi,” Tew says stupidly. Dae raises his eyebrows. “How did the photos turn out?”

A smile spreads across Dae’s face. “They’re good, I think the club advisor will like them,” he says, and Tew grins.

“Can I see them?” he asks eagerly. 

Dae hesitates and Tew’s expression turns pleading. “Please?” he asks softly, giving him the look Maprang always crumbles at. “At least the ones I’m in?”

“Later,” Dae says after a moment and Tew can’t stop himself from smiling, only barely resisting the urge to fist pump.

“Great! Awesome.” Tew grins and then remembers the bag in his hands. “Here.” Tew thrusts the bag of food into Dae’s arms. “I bought this for you.”

“What?” Dae stares at him in confusion, and Tew keeps a hold of the bag just in case Dae drops it. 

“It’s for you,” he repeats. 

“Why?”

“Because I wanted to buy it for you,” he says truthfully, and when Dae’s cheeks flush pink he can’t stop from looking at him.

“I don’t need it,” Dae says, offering the food back.

“I want you to have it,” he says, ignoring the slight pang in his chest. “Take it.” He presses the bag more firmly into Dae’s hands before smiling and stepping back. He has a class soon that he really needs to get to. Waving goodbye, he keeps the image of Dae’s surprised expression and flushed cheeks close to his chest as he walks to his next class, already imagining his expression when Tew hands him the 0058 keychain he’ll make. 

Chapter Text

The next few weeks pass in a blur of homework and more mind numbing tasks at his internship. His few interactions with Dae are short and disheartening, his junior’s answers similar to those when they’d just met, as though his mind is elsewhere. If he goes to visit him after class, sometimes he isn’t there. When Tew asks the other freshmen, they tell him Dae has skipped multiple classes. 

On the one day he manages to catch Dae and talk to him, Dae refuses his offer to go on the freshmen’s engineering trip and it feels like any closeness they’d achieved has dissipated. It frustrates Tew to no end - he doesn’t know what went wrong or how to fix it. Which means the obvious solution is to talk to Dae and pinpoint exactly what happened. 

The opportunity comes when he least expects it, after he’s driven back to campus from a visit to his parents. Tew catches sight of Dae a few feet away, standing beside a car and leaning towards whoever’s in the driver’s seat. They’re too far for Tew to hear anything, but he can see that Dae looks worried and it makes him frown. What has Dae so concerned?

Once the car pulls away Tew calls out for him, and Dae turns. Surprise flickers across his face before it settles on resignation. Tew wants so badly to ask him about who he was talking to, but he stops himself, instead telling the junior he’d missed seeing him at the beach trip.

“I was busy,” Dae says and Tew frowns. 

“Oh. You haven’t come to class in a while, are you okay? Can I help?” he asks, hoping that for once Dae will let him in. 

Dae’s depression turns confused for a split second before it turns suspicious. “Why do you want to know?”

“I’m your senior, I’m supposed to know about this stuff,” Tew says lamely, and he knows immediately that was the wrong thing to say.  

“Khun Tew,” Dae says, using that tone Tew has come to associate with the junior being irritated. “It’s a family matter. I don’t need any help, I want to be alone.”

The words are familiar; Dae says them frequently. Tew admires his independence, but he wishes Dae would realize he doesn’t need to do everything alone, that he can let Tew help. Privately, he thinks Dae reminds him of Kong in this aspect. He’s about to voice his thought but Dae walks away before he can.

His mood significantly dampened, Tew watches him leave before reluctantly turning around and walking back to his dorm. He wants to lie down and sleep the rest of the night, but he forces himself to stay up and at least pick his clothes up off the floor. Maprang and Kong are coming over later to work on their group presentation, although it’ll probably turn into a movie night if Maprang gets her way. He’s just finished putting some rice in the rice cooker when he hears his phone.

Kong: Maprang and I are almost there

Door’s unlocked

Setting his phone down, Tew goes over to his fridge, pulling out a bottle of water and checking that there’s enough if his friends want anything later. He hears the door open, the sound of Maprang’s voice filling his apartment. Tew waves in greeting as he walks over to the small table he’d cleared for the three of them. Maprang immediately flops onto the floor and Tew follows her lead, tugging his laptop closer to him. Kong sits down a moment later, and Tew frowns as he notices how tired his friend looks. 

As the other two get pull up their essays, he makes a mental note to check in on Kong more often. Despite Tew’s constant insistence that Kong can come to him with any troubles, he rarely does. Kongpob’s stubborn that way, always more concerned for others than himself.

He can see that tendency now, as Kong answers a question from Maprang. Shaking his head, Tew leans in and joins the conversation. Tew generally doesn’t mind presentations, but he always finds it difficult to make them. They end up splitting the work between them. Maprang has an eye for design so she makes the presentation while he and Kong work on filling out the slides. They’ve already decided who presents which parts, so the project goes smoothly and the three of them finish earlier than Tew had expected. 

“Is this really all we have to do?” he asks, staring at the presentation pulled up Kong’s laptop. “We didn’t forget a section or anything?”

“Nope, we’re all done,” Maprang says gleefully.

Across from him, Kong smiles and shakes his head, closing his laptop. “We still have-”

“No, nope,” Maprang cuts him off and Kong raises an eyebrow. “We’re not doing anymore homework tonight. We’re going to do something fun and pretend you two aren’t giant nerds.”

“I’m not a nerd!”

“You just want to watch that new movie you bought.”

Kong’s protest overlaps Tew’s but Maprang is unfazed by either response. 

“Yes you are,” she looks pointedly at Kong, “and maybe I do but my point still stands.” She glances between, chin tilted up in that way Tew has come to recognize as Maprang refusing to take no for answer. “We’ve done our work, we can relax a little. You both need it." 

Her eyes dart to Kong briefly as she says this, and Tew wonders if she noticed how tired he looked too. It’s this, more than anything else that makes him concede. Realizing he’s outvoted, Kong rolls his eyes but nods anyway, a smile on his face.

“So, what do you want to watch?” Maprang asks, leaning against Tew’s side. Tew slumps down a little so he’s more comfortable before turning to look at her with a disbelieving expression. 

“You mean tonight wasn’t a secret plan to watch Passengers?” he asks skeptically.

“I would never. Unless…” She looks between the two of them hopefully and Tew snorts.  He exchanges an amused look with Kong before the other man shrugs. 

“Sure, why not?”

Maprang pulls herself up into a sitting position to set up the movie, and Tew takes advantage of the brief break to put away his laptop. He also grabs a couple of snacks and bottles of water for the movie. When he gets back to the table, he sets everything down on the table. Maprang has set up the movie and he slips back into the spot beside her, dragging Kong to sit beside him. 

“You’re bony,” Maprang mutters turning so that her head is leaning against his chest instead of his shoulder. 

“Bring a pillow next time.”

“But you’re right here,” she says with exaggerated sweetness, and Tew rolls his eyes but doesn’t move. Instead he lets Maprang continue until she’s comfortable, watching the beginning of the movie quietly. Occasionally he exchanges quiet observations about the characters with Kong, but mostly he watches in silence, the dark and stillness reminding him how tired he is. 

Halfway through the movie Maprang falls asleep despite her being the one to suggest it, and Tew lets out a quiet laugh as he takes a photo of her drooling on his shoulder. He then sends it to her for her to find when she wakes up. 

“She’s not going to be happy about that,” Kong mutters, but he looks just as amused. 

Tew shrugs. “She has plenty of embarrassing photos of me.”

Kong shakes his head but before he can say anything his phone lights up with a notification. Tew watches with interest at the way Kong’s previously tired expression turns relieved and excited. 

“Was that P’Arthit?” he asks, and Kong shakes his head.

“I heard back from Ocean Electrics about my internship. I got in!”

 “Dude that’s great! Congratulations,” Tew says excitedly, nudging Kong’s shoulder.

Kong grins back at him before glancing back down at his phone, rereading the message.

“I wasn’t sure I’d get in,” he says quietly, and Tew isn’t sure if that part was meant to be heard. But he hears it and the mood shifts, turning to something more solemn. This is the closest Kong ever gets to uncertainty, and Tew always struggles to know what to say. He pushes back the initial ‘of course you got in,’ deciding that’s not what his friend needs to hear. 

“Are you nervous?” he asks.

Kong shrugs. “A little,” he says quietly. Tew studies him, the way he’s avoiding Tew’s eyes and instead absently cleaning the table. It’s taken him a while to notice, but Tew knows this is something Kong does when he’s nervous. 

“That’s the same place P’Arthit works, right?” he asks. He already knows it is, the question more a confirmation for what’s bothering Kong than wanting to know the answer. 

“Yep,” Kong nods, rearranging the plates.

“Are you nervous about him knowing?” 

Kong stiffens slightly and Tew knows he’s on the right track. He has an idea of why, but he wants to check.

“Did you apply there because of him?”

“No.” Kong’s answer is quick, maybe too quick for Tew to believe him. 

“Really?” he asks, and he feels bad that he’s questioning his friend but Tew wouldn’t put it past Kong to follow his boyfriend anywhere. 

“I didn’t!” Kong protests, voice rising ever so slightly. On Tew’s right Maprang shifts in her sleep and Kong’s eyes flick to her uncertainly. He waits for a few moments before continuing in a lower voice. “I applied to other places too but none of them sounded as good as Ocean Electrics. P’Arthit says he learns a lot there and I want to be able to do that too. I think it would be a good experience there, and my dad likes the company.”

Tew nods slowly. “That’s it?”

Kong glares at him. “Fine, yes I’d like to be able to see and help him at work. But that’s not the only reason.” 

“Okay, okay.” Tew holds his hands up in surrender. He hesitates, unsure if he should ask the next question before deciding to keep going. Kong still looks like there’s more on his mind.“Have you told P’Arthit about moving next door to him?”

“Not yet.” 

“When will you?”

“When I find the right time.”

“Why not now? Wouldn’t he be happy to hear you’re so close to him? And that you’re going to be working with him?” 

Kong hesitates. “I- I don’t know. We haven’t talked about living together yet so I’m only next door. But I want to be there for him, to take care of him.” Tew works to keep the disbelieving expression off his face. Despite knowing their senior isn’t as heartless as he’d seemed freshman year, it’s still strange to think P’Arthit would need to be taken care of by anyone. Or that he’d let anyone take care of him. 

“He’s so busy now and we don’t see each other as much. It’s just… I don’t want to be too much.” 

He can hear the fear in Kong’s voice, and wonders if P’Arthit knows how terrified Kong is that P’Arthit will leave him behind. Tew wants to comfort him and say their senior won’t, but Tew can’t. Despite seeing how much P’Arthit cares about Kong, he’ll never forget how P’Arthit had run away once from his friend. How lost and small Kong had looked because of P’Arthit’s indecision and fear. Still, he wants to believe that the two of them will last forever, so he reaches out and hugs Kong. 

“I think he’s used to your big gestures by now, Kong. He knows how you are and he’s still here.” Tew hopes he’s said the right thing; he’s still not quite sure how to handle this version of Kong. 

“I just. I feel like… like he’s moving too fast for me to catch up. He’s in the real world and I’m still some dumb university kid he’ll forget once he realizes what’s out there.” The words tumble out, one after the other and Tew wonders how long Kong’s kept them inside, let them eat at him because  no one thought to check on him. He makes a silent promise to check up on Kongpob more often. 

“Do you really think he’ll do that?” Tew asks softly. 

“No but- I just. What if he does?” 

“Then he fucked up,” Tew says simply. He cuts off Kong’s attempted defense. However much he respects his seniors, however much he personally likes P’Arthit, Kong will always come first. “But I don’t think he will,” he says, knowing that’s what his friend needs to hear and Kong stares at him with questioning eyes. 

“Really?” His uncertainty and wide eyes make Tew’s heart clench.

“Yeah. He loves you,” Tew tells him. 

Kong nods and smiles, small but immensely proud. “Yeah, he does,” he agrees. “And I love him.” 

“We all knew that one,” Tew says and rolls his eyes playfully, pushing Kong lightly.

The mood lightens as Kong snarks back and Tew grins. He’s still stressed about work and Dae and classes, but right now he’s content. 

~

It’s quiet at this time of day, the laundromat mostly empty save for a few other students. The whirring of the machines and soft jazz music filtering through the speakers is calming after the stress of another hazing meeting, and Tew takes his time as he puts his clothes into the washing machine. It doesn’t take long and Tew sets a timer on his phone so he knows when to switch it over. Slipping his phone into his pocket, he hesitates before grabbing his basket and walking out of the laundromat. There’s a small cafe not far away and Tew plans to grab a drink before going back to wait for his clothes. This plan is immediately derailed when he catches sight of a familiar figure. 

“Dae?” he murmurs to himself, quickening his pace as he looks on curiously. Dae is leaning into the driver’s seat of a white car, talking to someone Tew can’t make out. By the time Dae steps away Tew is close enough to call out for him.

“Nong Dae,” he says cheerfully, grinning despite the other’s uninterested look. Dae takes a drink of Tew assumes is a frappachino. Dae has a sweet tooth, and especially likes caramel. Tew has bought him a few before, and Dae has never refused them.

Tew asks him to join the freshman gathering next, more out of habit more than real expectation for the junior to agree. He nods at the expected refusal, unfazed. 

“Nong Dae,” he starts and Dae scowls. 

“Stop calling me that,” he says, and Tew can’t quite hold back the grin at how cute Dae looks with his cheeks puffed out like that. He resists the urge to poke them.

“What should I call you then?” he asks. “0058, Dae,” he lists, and his grin widens as he says, “Dechawut.”

“Better to not call me at all,” Dae replies. “I want to be alone.”

It sounds automatic more than like an actual desire, so Tew dares to flash him a bright smile as he says, “No.”

Dae squints at him and exhales roughly, angrily sipping at his frappachino. He doesn’t say anything and Tew takes it as a good sign that he’s not arguing. Dae stares at him for a long moment before he sighs and stalks away.

Tew frowns. That wasn’t quite how he wanted the conversation to end, and he wishes he knew the words to say to make Dae open up to him. As he makes his way back to the laundromat, Tew mulls over what could be going on with his junior. He hopes it’s nothing bad. A faint worry lingers in the back of his mind as goes through the rest of his day, right up until he arrives at work later that night.

He greets P’Sorn as he walks in, and his boss waves back.

“You ready for today?” P’Sorn asks and Tew nods. 

Assuming everything goes according to plan, he’ll make the keychain he designed for Dae today and give it to him next week. Tew had been nervous asking P’Sorn if he could make one of his own designs. For all that the other man is laid-back and easy to talk to, he’s serious about his work. To Tew’s relief, P’Sorn had agreed to let Tew use the shop equipment for Dae’s present, provided P’Sorn be there to supervise.

At the time, Tew had been grateful, but now he just feels self-conscious as he explains the design. The design itself came to him in the middle of the night, and he’d stumbled to his desk in order to capture the image on paper. A wrench, hanging from the same chain as the thin rectangle with 0058 etched into it. Now, standing in front of P’Sorn, he stares at the sketch proudly but anxiously, tracing the curves of the 0058 design. 

“N’Tew? You ready?”

He looks up to see his boss staring at him curiously and automatically straightens as he nods. Putting on a pair of gloves, Tew reaches for the keychain’s mold he’d created a few days ago and follows P’Sorn to the furnace. He sets it down on the table across from the furnace.

It’s already been heated and Tew quickly adds the metal he’d prepared earlier to the crucible. He waits patiently for it to melt - it doesn’t take long since there isn’t much and soon Tew is adding flux to the metal before removing the slag. 

Taking the crucible out of the furnace, he tilts it carefully and pours the metal into the mold. It’s fascinating, watching the molten metal fill the mold and Tew almost wishes there was more. All too soon he’s done and is left to wait for it to cool down. Setting the crucible down on the table, he turns to look up at P’Sorn, who’s looking at the cooling metal carefully.

“Good so far,” P’Sorn says. 

Pride fills Tew at his words. P’Sorn leans in, inspecting the metal again.

“I didn’t ask before, but who’s this for?” he asks and Tew immediately flushes.

“My…” he starts, unsure of how to describe his relationship with Dae. Tew likes to think they’ve moved beyond acquaintances but friends feels wrong. “My line junior,” he says at last, though that term doesn’t seem right either. 

“Oh?” P’Sorn turns to look at him.

“Yeah.”

“That’s why it has your line number?”

Tew nods. 

“Is it an end of year gift?”

Tew pauses before answering. “No. It- it’s for when I tell him he’s my line junior.”

P’Sorn raises an eyebrow. “He doesn’t know?” 

“No.” For some reason Tew feels slightly embarrassed at the admission. 

“You’re through a good part of the year. Haven’t most people already revealed themselves to their juniors?” P’Sorn asks and Tew nods slowly.

“It’s different with Dae.”

Silence follows his words and Tew finds himself rambling in an attempt to explain. “He doesn’t like the SOTUS system or how it prioritizes seniority. He doesn’t like the hazers. So I didn’t want to tell him because I didn’t want it to be another reason for him to dislike me. I want him to lik- to respect me.”

The way that P’Sorn looks at him makes it clear he noticed Tew’s slip up, but he’s kind enough to let it go, instead gesturing for Tew to check on the keychain. Tew takes the opportunity eagerly, walking over to see that the metal has cooled. 

With P’Sorn’s help, he takes the metal from the mold and trims off the extra metal. The excess removed, he moves over to the polish wheel and begins polishing the keychain. Once he’s satisfied with the texture he reaches for the drill bit to make the keyring hole. It’s a quick process from there and soon he’s attaching the ring to the keychain. Tew studies the final product carefully. The key ring hole is a bit too big and it’s a bit smaller than he’d planned, but it looks… good. He turns to P’Sorn, waiting for the older man’s opinion. 

“May I?” P’Sorn holds out his hand and Tew hands him the keychain.

His boss studies it for several seconds, turning it over a few times. The more seconds that pass the more anxious Tew feels. He wants P’Sorn to think it’s good, to prove that Tew had been paying attention and had learned something from him all those times he’d watched P’Sorn make jewelry. 

“You did a good job,” P’Sorn says at last, and Tew breaks into a wide smile. 

“Thank you Phi,” he says, putting his hands together in a wai.

P’Sorn smiles back and nods. He hands the keychain back and says, “I’m sure your junior will appreciate it.”

“I hope so,” Tew says, staring at the keychain. I really hope so.

Chapter Text

Tew fidgets with Dae’s keychain, turning it over in his hands anxiously as his professor drones on. Normally, he’d be taking notes but today he’s too nervous to focus on anything. Today’s Friday, the day that the photography club meets and Tew plans to give Dae the keychain before he walks him back to the dorms. 

Across from him, he can see Maprang eyeing him curiously, eyes darting to the keychain. He gives her a bright smile that does nothing to lessen her scrutiny. Tew resigns himself to being questioned after class. Sure enough as soon as the professor ends the lesson she scoots closer, shooting him an expectant look.

“What?” he asks, and she gives him an unimpressed stare.

“What’s got you so nervous?” she singsongs, a little too loudly for his taste. He braces himself when he sees the rest of their friends glance over at them, curiosity and mischief in their expressions. 

“Oh, what’s this?” Tew looks over to see Oak staring at the two of them, a mischievous grin on his face. “Is our class president feeling nervous for once like the rest of us?”

Oak’s question catches the attention of the rest of their friends and Tew resists the urge to cover his face with his hands when they all turn to look at him.

“Well?” Maprang prods him, a smirk on her face. He narrows his eyes at her but she remains unfazed. “What’s got you so nervous?” She looks knowingly at his hands and Tew briefly considers shoving the keychain in his backpack so no one can see it. 

He turns it over in his hands, trying to keep the motion subtle, but he can see the way Prae and Kong’s eyes catch the action. He grimaces, knowing they won’t leave it alone.

“Nothing. I’m just meeting Dae later,” he says, though he knows they won’t let him leave it at that. He’s not embarrassed, per se. Just… if it doesn’t go well he doesn’t want their pitying looks. A host of expectant and disbelieving looks follow his words. 

“And?” 

Tew sighs. “And giving him this,” he says reluctantly, holding up the keychain. His friends immediately break out into playful teasing, and Tew flushes at Oak’s knowing look. In front of him, Prae leans closer to inspect the keychain.

“Where did you find something with your line number?” she asks, looking surprised.

“I made it,” he says and Prae turns to look at him.

“Really?”

“P’Sorn let me make it at his shop,” he explains. 

“Ooh already making him jewelry?” she teases, laughing at his mock scowl. Heat creeps up his neck and Prae grins. “Maprang was right, it is fun to see our class president go all red.”

“Prae,” he whines and she laughs. The gentle teasing continues as they walk to lunch, and Tew is grateful for the break when he leaves them for his next class. He’s halfway there when his phone rings. 

“Hello?”

“Tew!”

Tew blinks at the sound of his line senior’s voice. “P’Yod. What’s up?”

“Are you free tonight?”

“Uh…” Tew pauses, thinking through his schedule. No hazing meetings today and nothing for cooking club. There’s a short meeting with the sophomore and freshman class representatives this afternoon, but it shouldn’t be too long. Not counting his plans to see Dae, he should be done before evening. “I am after 5pm. Did you want to meet?”

“Not just us, our junior too. For a line dinner. See if he’s free and bring him to Fin Jung.”

Tew wants to protest but he bites it back and instead replies back with an affirmative; there’s no real reason for him to object. He can give the keychain to Dae afterwards anyway. Still, the sudden change in plan just makes him more anxious. He fiddles with the keychain as he walks to his next class, taking scattered notes. Hopefully one of his friends can send him their notes later. Tew’s thoughts are scattered, unsure of how he’ll convince Dae to join their line dinner, he can barely convince Dae to talk for longer than a few minutes with him. 

The thought lingers as he makes his way to his meeting with the representatives for the first and second years. As he looks at his notes, he pushes Dae to the back of his mind to focus on the meeting. It’s only after the meeting ends and P’Yod texts him to ask when they’ll be there that he realizes he hadn’t remembered to text Dae and check if he’s free.

“Shit,” he mutters, staring at the text with panicked eyes. 

He grimaces and then sends P’Yod a text letting him know he’s picking up Dae and they’ll be there soon. Shoving his notes into his backpack he hurries out of the classroom to look for Dae. It’s too early for him to have gone to photography club and he doesn’t have any classes now, so Tew tries the cafeteria first. Nothing. Tew chews his lip nervously. Maybe Dae went to go get a frappuccino? He knows Dae sometimes goes off campus to get food, and he favors the small shop down the block from the laundromat.

Tew doesn’t have any better ideas so he switches directions and makes his way toward the small cafe. Relief surges through him when he sees Dae walking out of the shop, frappuccino in hand. After a brief conversation and struggle where Dae loses most of his drink to the cab’s floor, Tew has him in the cab on the way to Fin Jung. It’s an awkward ride, Dae staring at him suspiciously. When Tew pulls Dae into pub, Dae follows reluctantly.

“Tew!”

Tew waves as he pulls Dae over to where P’Yod is waiting at a table for them. 

“Hey, Dae,” P’Yod says, giving Dae a surprised smile. 

“P’Yod.” 

Tew wais politely and P’Yod waves it away. 

“You don’t have to wai me,” he says, still staring at Dae. 

Dae’s eyes are wide, and he sits when Tew motions for him to without protest. 

“I asked you to bring our line junior. Don’t tell me he is that junior.” P’Yod points to Dae. Tew blinks, gaze flickering between them as he nods. They know each other?

“So you’re my line junior?” P’Yod looks at Dae, who looks as surprised as Tew feels. “What a small world.” P’Yod leans back against his chair. 

“So, you two know each other?” Tew asks.

“Yeah, I’m also his senior in school. We were in the same club actually,” P’Yod says. There’s so many questions Tew wants to ask but P’Yod turns to Dae. 

“You transferred to here and started again as a first year. You weren’t okay with the old uni?”

“Yes, I had some problem studying there. So I transferred to here,” Dae anwers him easily, and Tew is a little jealous of how close they seem to be. It had taken him weeks to talk so easily with Dae.

“Why didn’t you join us during the initiation ceremony?”

“I was busy.”

“You were always busy,” Tew interjects. He turns to look at their senior. “I invited him so many times and he refused to join,” Tew says, and P’Yod shakes his head even as he grins at Dae.

From there the three of them settle into light conversation about classes and their least favorite professors. It’s easy, and Tew finds himself lapsing into silence more often than not, soaking in the sight of Dae so open and relaxed. With P’Yod there, Dae looks at ease in a way he rarely is with anyone else. Beneath the table, he fidgets with Dae’s present, torn between wanting dinner to end quickly and savoring each minute that he sees his junior without his usual guards. 

It’s good to see his junior so comfortable and Tew is disappointed to see Dae retreat slightly back into his shell when dinner ends. Still, Dae agrees to go back to the dorms with him rather than taking a separate cab there, so he counts it as a win. When the driver drops them off at the university, Tew insists on walking Dae back to dorm. He shoves his hand in his pocket, fingers curling around the keychain. He’s still trying to figure out how to give it to Dae when the other student speaks. 

“Why didn’t you tell me you were my line senior earlier?”

“P’Yod told me much later than other seniors too,” Tew says, and he knows it’s not a real answer. Dae’s sideways glance makes him add, “I didn’t want it to be the reason you talked to me. Or avoided me.” It’s honest, maybe too honest, because Dae looks away from him, turning to look down at the ground. Silence persists and Tew inhales before pushing forward. 

“I want to point out to you that being sociable with seniors and juniors is not always bad.”

“I never said that I didn’t want to be sociable with seniors and juniors.”

“Are you sure you never said that to me?” Tew says, giving a sideways glance. “I told you many times but you didn’t want to listen.”

Dae stops and Tew stops a few steps later. For a long moment they stare at each other, Dae’s eyes searching his face for something Tew can’t figure out. He looks back just as intently until Dae looks away.

“Up until now,” he says, eyes staring just to Tew’s left, “you messing with my life, it’s because you’re my line senior. It’s just that, right?”

Tew swallows. It’s not, and he thinks Dae has figured that part out but he can’t bring himself to say the words. For once, he’s scared. Scared that if he does say it Dae will walk away and never talk to him again. Steeling himself, Tew gathers his courage and looks Dae in the eye. He hadn’t wanted to confess like this, had wanted it to be more planned, more romantic. But if Dae wants to hear his answer, he will.  

Before he can actually say anything, Dae shakes his head. The motion makes Tew’s throat constrict and he watches as Dae takes a step back, and then another until he’s walking away. Tew watches silently, unable to make himself shout or go after Dae. Instead, he stands there until Dae is out of sight. He looks down at the keychain, the golden 0058 mocking him.

Tew watches Dae walk away from him and feels his heart crack. He curls his fingers around the keychain so hard that the edges cut into his skin, matching the pain in his chest. He’s not sure how long he stands there, just knows it’s long enough for Dae’s figure to disappear, to realize Dae isn’t going to reappear and take the keychain. 

At some point, that realization filters through enough that Tew starts walking back to his dorm, replaying the look on Dae’s face over and over. The longer he pictures it, the tighter the pinch in his chest becomes. Tew rubs a hand over his chest, feeling heat gather in the back of his eyes, so hot it’s almost unbearable. He stumbles into his dorm, sinking down into his bed and willing himself not to cry. 

He swipes his hand over them roughly, letting out a hiss of pain when something sharp cuts across his palm at the same time his eyes burn. Tew glances down just in time to see flecks of gold fall to the ground. Oh. 

The heat behind his eyes burns hotter and his vision turns blurry as he stares at the cut on his hand. It stings. The ache in his chest pulls tighter. Tew fumbles for his phone and blinks rapidly, eyes burning as he tries to focus on the phone’s screen. Eventually he catches sight of Maprang’s name. She picks up on the second ring. 

“Tew?” She sounds confused.

“Maprang,” he croaks, his throat tight with too many tears held back. “Are you busy?”

Something in his voice must make her concerned because there’s a sudden shuffle of noise before he hears her tell him she’s coming over. Tew lets out a hiss as another tear falls; his eyes sting as though they’ve been cut and his vision is tinged red. Maprang says something but he can’t answer, all of his focus on stopping any more tears from falling. He doesn’t know how much time passes before Maprang arrives, just hears his door open and a soft, “Tew?” 

Soft steps and then there’s a hand on his shoulder. “Tew? Can you see? What do you need me to do?”

Tew tries to answer, but he can’t make himself stop crying. All of his effort gone into trying to forget this afternoon. If he forgets then he can forget the way Dae had walked away, and then he has no reason to cry, no reason for his eyes to burn and his chest to ache like he’s run a hundred laps. 

He clings to her as the tears fall. They pierce his eyes as they escape and Tew knows he’s bleeding onto her shirt but Maprang shushes him every time he tries to apologize. He collapses onto her shoulder, the edges of his tears slicing the soft skin around his eyes. He’s not sure why he can’t stop himself from crying - but he is and it hurts . He feels Maprang shift and then a sharp inhale. She shifts, rubbing a reassuring hand along his back. He can vaguely make out the sound of bells chiming and metal clinking together. Then, “Do you have any bandages?”

Tew shakes his head. He’d given them to Kong, confident he wouldn’t need any. “I- Kong,” he manages to say and Maprang makes another soothing noise. 

He turns, tries to look at her but the air scrapes at his eyes and just makes the tears worse. 

“Keep your eyes closed,” Maprang says after a moment, pulling him back so that he’s leaning against her. He buries his face in her shoulder, embarrassed to still be crying.

Up until now, you messing with my life, it’s because you’re my line senior. It’s just that, right?  He replays the words over and over in his head, how Dae had refused to look at him. He’s distantly aware of Maprang speaking, a soft exchange between her and someone else he can’t recognize. The tears fall faster, the burning in his eyes unbearable as Tew thinks of all the things he should have said.

“Tew.”

Kong’s soft voice breaks through his thoughts and he opens blurry eyes to see Kong in front of him, something in his hand. 

“No, no keep your eyes closed.”

Tew closes his eyes. There’s more soft murmuring and then Tew feels the bed dip.

“Hey.” It’s Maprang’s voice. “Stay still. I’m going to clean your face okay?” Her words are followed by something soft and damp being brushed over his eyes. Tew flinches in surprise, leaning back and hissing slightly.

“Sorry, let me just.” The cloth touches his face again, featherlight, but it still hurts when Maprang wipes it across his eyes. There’s silence, save for the sound of a package being opened. More footsteps and then the bed dips again as Kong settles on Tew’s other side. 

“Kong?”

“Yeah, it’s me. I brought some of the bandages you left at mine.”

Kong’s hands are gentle as they wrap the bandage in place, and Tew is torn between gratitude and embarrassment. He can hear Maprang moving, hear the soft clang of metal as she collects the tears he’d cried. The thought of her touching his tears makes his hands twitch; irrationally, he doesn’t want her to touch them, to put her hands on something so personal. But the protest refuses to make it’s way out of his mouth, too sore from attempting to hold back his sobs. All too soon, the bandage is in place and Tew is temporarily relieved at the way it cools and soothes his eyes. Quiet falls, and Tew waits for inevitable. 

It comes sooner than he wants, Maprang breaking the silence as she asks, “Tew?” He doesn’t answer. “What happened?”

Tew swallows, tears threatening to reemerge. His friends stay silent as Tew struggles to make himself speak. Eventually, “It didn’t work,” he says roughly.

“I’m sorry,” Kong says after a moment, and Tew hates the pity in his voice. 

Maprang doesn’t say anything, just wraps her arms around him and hugs him tightly. It takes Tew little time to relax into it, reminding him of the few times Pear had had to comfort him. Beside him, Kong rests a hand on his shoulder, and Tew appreciates them so much

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Tew’s initial reaction is to say no, to keep the embarrassment and disappointment hidden. If he doesn’t talk about it, maybe it can stay a bad dream. When he doesn’t immediately answer, he can feel both of his friends shift on the bed, until the three of them are leaning against the headboard. 

“You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to, but we’re here,” Kong says, and Tew nods. The three of them sit in silence, but it feels comfortable even though usually Tew dislikes the silence. 

“He walked away,” Tew whispers eventually, but the words are loud in the silence of his dorm room. 

“Dae?” Maprang asks quietly, and Tew nods. The heat behind his eyes intensifies as he starts to speak, tears threatening to seep out from beneath his bandage. His story comes out in broken pieces, too many starts and stops as he tries to stop himself from crying anymore tears. As he speaks, Maprang and Kong stay quiet. Maprang holds him as he talks, Kong running a reassuring hand up and down his back.

It doesn’t make the hurt go away, talking to them. But it makes it bearable.

Chapter Text

Tew doesn’t go to class the next day, partly because his eyes are still too raw to see and partly because he wants to wallow in his bed all day. Instead, he stays in his room, curled up beneath his covers as he waits for his eyes to heal. When his stomach demands food he scrounges up whatever he can find in his fridge - leftover pad Thai and half a bottle of water - before crawling back into his bed. He tries reading, running his fingers over the familiar Braille of his favorite novel, but he can’t focus on it. Less than a chapter in he abandons it.

It’s quiet, and without the distraction of classes or his friends Tew finds himself replaying his conversation with Dae over and over. He should have answered, should have said something. Maybe then his heart wouldn’t feel so ragged, as though it had been shoved into the shredder only to be yanked out halfway through.

A knock on the door interrupts his thoughts. For a moment Tew considers not answering. It would be easy to roll over, curl further underneath the blankets and pretend he didn’t hear anything until whoever was at the door left. It would be easy, but cowardly, and Tew has already been cowardly enough by staying in his dorm. He sighs and pulls himself out of bed, walking slowly to accommodate his blurry vision and only tripping once. He opens the door to see an indistinct figure in front of him. Tew squints and then blinks rapidly before deciding that the person standing in front of him must be Kong. Tew is unsurprised at his appearance.

“Maprang asked me to bring you this,” the figure says, confirming Tew’s assumption. Kong holds out a blob that turns out to be a bag. Tew takes it as Kong continues, “I brought you the notes from class today too. You can’t make up the lab though.”

Tew grimaces but nods. He’d forgotten about that, but their professor has always been strict about attendance so he’s not surprised. He’ll have to hope there’s extra credit or that he aces the rest of the big assignments.

“Thanks,” he says, and Kong nods. Tew steps back and lets Kong step into his room.

He shuts the door and then turns, squeezing his eyes shut before opening them again in hopes of clearing his vision. It doesn’t work.

“Let me help you,” he hears Kongpob say, and then there’s a hand brushing against his shoulder.

“Thanks,” he mutters, and lets Kong guide him back to his bed.

“How’re you doing?” he hears Kong ask. Tew pauses briefly in opening the bag Maprang had sent him.

“Fine.”

“You know, for someone who always tells me to open up, you’re pretty bad at it,” Kongpob says matter of factly, and Tew scowls in his general direction.

“I learned from the best.”

An unexpected burst of laughter and then Tew’s bed dips slightly as Kong settles beside him.

“Do you want to talk?”

“Not really,” Tew admits.

“Okay,” Kongpob says easily.

There’s the rustling of a backpack and then the sound of a computer turning on. Kongpob must have brought his homework with him. He’s quiet, and Tew takes a moment to go through the bag Maprang sent him. It’s food, what he thinks is a package of instant noodles and what feels like a bag of cookies. Despite his mood, Tew smiles. The gift is very Maprang. He closes his eyes, leaning against his headboard as he listens to the dull tapping of the keyboard.

It’s a comfortable white noise, and Tew is content to simply listen. For a while. Being stuck in bed all day mulling over his past actions has made him restless, second guessing all of his thoughts. Opening his eyes, he focuses on Kongpob’s blurry figure. Kongpob is still hunched over his computer, seemingly done typing as he taps something on the screen.

“Are you still working?” he asks.

Kongpob looks over at him and shakes his head. “No.”

Tew can’t see him well enough to know if he’s telling the truth. But, Kong had offered, so he decides to be selfish.

“What do I do now?” he asks. He slumps further down on his bed until he can look up at the dorm room’s ugly white ceiling.

“Depends on what you want.”

“Not helpful.” Tew rolls his eyes and immediately wishes he hadn’t. The action sends a twinge of pain through his eyes and he hisses in pain. He closes his eyes, patting the bed until he finds the washcloth he’d set there earlier. It’s still damp but not cold anymore; he’ll have to replace it soon. Despite this he places it over his eyes.

“What would you do if you were in my place?”

“You know what I did,” Kongpob says softly. Tew purses his lips. He does, and the prospect of going through something similar isn’t appealing.

“Yeah, I know. It still worked out for you though.” Tew works to keep the envy out of his voice.

“That doesn’t mean it was always easy.”

A small disbelieving laugh bubbles out of him. He knows that Kong has always been the more obviously affectionate of the two, but over time he’s witnessed P’Arthit’s quieter, but just as genuine, shows of love. Once, Tew had accidentally come across them on a date, and been simultaneously awed and envious of they looked at each other. Of how, despite the absence of PDA other couples had, he could see how much they loved each other in the attentive way Kong placed food on P'Arthit's way, how P'Arthit gently chided Kong to rest more, the way that they smiled at each other as though there was nothing else they'd rather be looking at.

“The two of you make it seem like it.”

Kongpob laughs. “Because I love him. And he loves me. We fight and then we talk. That’s how we make it work.”

Tew nods. The wash cloth slips down his face at the movement and he readjusts it.

“Do you think Dae likes me?”

“You know him better than I do,” Kongpob hedges.

“Kongpob.”

Kongpob doesn’t answer immediately and Tew braces himself.

“I don’t know,” Kongpob says. Tew had expected as much, but it still makes his stomach drop. “But I think you’re one of the people closest to him on campus. I’ve never seen him with other people so much.”

Kongpob pats his shoulder comfortingly. It doesn’t do much to make Tew feel better but he appreciates the effort and honesty.

“Should I keep trying? Or am I being too much?”

The hand on his shoulder disappears, and there’s a shuffling sound. Then he feels the bed shift beneath him until Kong is settled against his side, reminiscent of Maprang on their movie nights.

“I think,” Kongpob says carefully, “you should ask Dae that.” He nudges Tew gently. “But whatever he says, I’m here, yeah?”

“I know,” Tew says quietly, and he imagines Kongpob is smiling.

Kongpob doesn’t say anything else, just quietly asks if he can look at the book Tew had discarded. Tew mutters a quiet assent as he turns Kong’s words over in his head, considering them. Beside him, Kong is quiet, only the turning of the pages making it clear he hadn’t fallen asleep. The two of them settle into a comfortable silence, only broken by the sound of pages turning. At least until a loud rumbling sound breaks the quiet. Tew sits up, the washcloth falling off his face again as he places a hand over his stomach, as though hoping to muffle the sound.

Kongpob looks up from the book. “Do you want me to make you something to eat?”

Tew immediately shakes his head. “No,” he says quickly.

“Are you sure? Maprang said you probably haven’t eaten enough so I should make su-”

“Kongpob,” Tew cuts him off. “I respect you. So much. As my friend, as the head hazer, as a person, but you’re never going to make food in my kitchen again.”

Kongpob pouts. It’s exaggerated and probably more for Tew’s benefit than anything else, but he laughs anyway.

~

Kongpob texts him the next day.

Are you coming to class today?

Tew stares at the message. His sight is fine after yesterday’s break and a night’s rest, but the thought of going to classes and catching up on what he missed is less than appealing. Just as he’s about to reply, his phone buzzes with a reminder for three different meetings today. Tew sighs deeply before sending Kongpob a reply and then getting ready for the day.

Yeah. I’ve got meetings to go to.

A quick glance at his clock shows that he has to hurry in order to make his first meeting of the day. He shoves his books and laptop into his backpack before rushing outside so he can make it on time to the Student Center.

The morning passes in a blur of meetings and classes, and he’s grateful for the break lunch provides. He’s on his way to meet Maprang for lunch when he catches sight of a face he wasn’t prepared to see so soon.

Tew swallows, steps faltering as Dae approaches. As though in slow motion, his eyes lock with Dae’s as they both come to a stop. A thousand words jostle for space in his brain, but none of them come out of his mouth. Then Dae walks past him in a painfully familiar move. It isn’t until the junior disappears from sight that Tew is able to begin walking again. He moves lethargically to the cafeteria, gathering his food before shuffling over to where Maprang is waiting.

“Hey!”

Maprang greets him brightly, looking up from the notebook in front of her and waving at him with her pen still in her hand. Tew nods as he picks at his meal, still stuck on the way Dae had ignored him in the hallway.

“How are you?”

Tew shrugs. Maprang frowns at his lack of response, poking at his shoulder with the end of her pen.

“What’s going on?” she demands.

Tew shrugs again. Maprang huffs, clearly dissatisfied with his answer. He can feel her gaze on him as he pokes at the rice on his plate.

“Is this about Dae?” she asks, narrowing her eyes at him.

Tew doesn’t answer.

“Tew.”

“I don’t really wanna talk right now,” he says. It comes out sad rather than sharp, and it makes him feel more pathetic.

Maprang nods, but he can practically feel her holding herself back from asking him more questions. Then she smiles at him, soft and reassuring and safe, and Tew is so so grateful to her.

“Okay,” she says. “Did you hear about what happened on Prae’s floor today?”

He doesn’t, but he knows Maprang isn’t really asking about that. So he nods, and lets her story about Prae’s floor mates fill the air.

The rest of the day goes much the same as the morning, and by the end of it Tew is too stressed about the upcoming planning for next student council fundraiser to think of anything else.

As the week continues, Tew finds himself pouring all of his attention on the student council’s fundraiser and his classes. There’s a lot to plan, and it helps to pull focus away from the ache in his chest. One morning, his sister texts him, telling him their dad’s been asking about him. Tew glances at the text and immediately feels guilty, making a mental note to call later that night. Besides, there was something he wanted to ask him anyway.

Despite his plans, Tew ends up agreeing to work late with Kong so they can work on their training plan for next year’s hazers. He ends up leaving much later than planned, calling his dad on his walk back to the dorms. The phone rings for so long he thinks he’ll have to try again tomorrow but then his dad picks up.

“Tew?”

His dad is difficult to hear over what sounds like the television, but Tew can tell he’s surprised but pleased. There’s a twinge of guilt at not calling in so long. He’ll have to visit soon.

“Hey dad.”

“It’s late, is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Everything’s good,” he rushes to assure his dad. “Sorry for calling so late, I didn’t notice.”

“Don’t worry.” There’s an unidentifiable sound and then the sound of the television fades. “It’s always good to hear your voice, you don’t visit that often.”

“I know, I’m sorry.” Tew apologizes again. “I’ll visit soon.”

“Good. So, what was it you called about?”

“I’m, I just wanted to ask you about something.”

His dad hums in acknowledgment and Tew exhales deeply before speaking.

“What- I mean, how did you…” Tew falters. He’s never spoken to his father about the stars that run in their veins. He doesn’t know how to start this conversation. Thankfully, his father seems content to wait for Tew to gather his thoughts. Patient as he had been when first teaching Tew Braille, his father remains quiet and ready to listen. Eventually, Tew is ready.

“The first time you cried,” Tew starts, and hears a soft sound of surprise, “did you lose any of your sight?”

“Not the first time.” There is a moment of quiet and Tew can practically hear the realization hit his father. “Does that mean…?”

“Yeah,” he says roughly, swallowing to try and hold back any tears that might come.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s,” Tew falters once again, unable to push the word okay out of his mouth. “I didn’t think it’d hurt so much,” is what he ends up saying.

His father gives a wry laugh.

“It looks so beautiful doesn’t it?” Tew nods even though he knows his father can’t see him.

“Like a personal meteor shower,” his dad continues. “Golden and glowing, and so precious once they’ve dried. But they come out like rubbing gravel into your eyes.”

“Yeah.” Tew shakes his head. “I don’t know how you did that so many times.”

“Seven times bad, seven times good,” his father says quietly. It’s one of his favorite phrases to use. “Even though it hurt, I got something good out of it. They were wonderful, and good to me, even if we didn’t stay together. I’m glad I loved them. And I will remember that at one time, they were the person I loved most.”

It sounds poetic, put that way, but Tew is still too scraped raw to truly appreciate his father’s words. But none of them left you in the middle of the sidewalk, crying and still holding a pathetic gift in your hand, he wants to say.

“That’s not how it feels for me.”

“I know.”

The words, kind and empathetic as they’re meant to be, grate on him. You don’t know. You don’t because none of the people you loved walked away because you were a man, he thinks. It isn’t fair to Dae, to make that assumption, but he’s still sore and not a good enough person to stop that thought from emerging. Because what if that was the reason Dae had left? What if Tew might have had a chance if he weren’t a man?

“Tew.”

Tew jolts at the sound of his name.

“Dad?”

“Come home this weekend,” his father says, and Tew can hear the warmth in his voice, picture the concerned expression his father was no doubt wearing. “Come home, and tell me about what happened.”

Tew thinks of the long list of tasks he still has yet to do, the half finished systems essay and lab prep he has to start working on. There’s so much he needs to do, and yet. He misses home. Misses his parents’ cooking and the way Bon would wag his tail in greeting and even Pear though he’d never admit it. Besides, he was planning to visit anyway.

“I will,” he promises, and he knows his father is smiling at the end of the other line.