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Kris didn’t think that the school administration had really thought this plan through remarkably well. Sure, it seemed like a good idea on paper. Take a failing school and pair it up with a high achieving school, make them sisters, and then transfer some of the best students from the latter school into the former in an attempt at reforming how the failing school worked. It seemed like it should make sense. It seemed like it should work.

Apparently what the school had completely failed to take into account was how the students would feel about it.

“I hate them,” Minseok muttered. They were sitting in the quad, on the rim of the fountain, soaking up the early morning rays of sunshine before the bell rang and they were forced to go to class. It was only a month into the semester and the weather was still warm, summer still very much at home. Lu Han, beside him, was trailing his hands in the water, watching the ripples it made.

“Who?” Jongdae asked. He was sitting on the grass at their feet, hurriedly trying to finish his US history homework. Beside him, Yixing was copying his answers.

Kris thought it was a pretty redundant question. It was obvious who. There was no one else around who could possibly elicit such a reaction out of Minseok, who was generally pretty easy going.

Minseok pointed, not bothering to be subtle, at the kids from K High, making their way to class from the parking lot. “It’s really difficult to know who I hate most,” he said thoughtfully. “I hate them all so much.”

“Chanyeol,” said Zitao helpfully. “I heard him yesterday wondering how anyone in the world could possibly get a B in geometry.”

“Junmyeon,” Jongdae muttered, without giving an explanation why.

“Kyungsoo,” Minseok decided. “And that stupid car he drives.”

The problem, Kris thought, as the K High kids walked past them, close enough to see the judging looks that Junmyeon and Jongin gave them, was that K High wasn’t just some school for high achieving kids. K High served the well-to-do part of town, the wealthy area of the town where the children of lawyers and doctors and managing directors of insurance companies lived. They all owned their own cars, none of which were falling to pieces, and a couple of them even owned monogrammed notebooks for their classwork.

In comparison, M High served the rough part of town, the kind of place that kids from K High usually never even ventured into. There was an invisible boundary downtown which people didn’t dare cross for fear that they would catch some sort of awful disease, like poor. There were a lot more kids at this school, a lot more, and yet the average salary of their parents was a good $50,000 less than at K High. In some respects, Kris was surprised that there had even been six kids from K High who had agreed to switch schools.

“I like the car,” Yixing said. He nudged Jongdae’s shoulder to see an answer clearer.

“It’s pretentious,” Minseok said. “He’s sixteen, what does he need a car like that for? It makes me so angry.”

“Because he has a rich daddy,” Zitao said with a shrug. “And he needs everyone to know it.”

The bell rang inside the school, and Lu Han flopped down off the fountain rim and rolled across the ground next to Jongdae, who batted at him. “No,” he whined, “I don’t want to go to class.”

“What are you talking about?” Jongdae asked, climbing to his feet and brushing grass from his legs. “You don’t go to class ever.”

“I go to some classes!” Lu Han protested.

“Yeah, you go to study hall,” Minseok said. Lu Han kicked out at him and missed completely.

Kris shouldered his backpack before reaching down and yanking Zitao up by the arm. Zitao whined at him, clearly not overly enthralled at the idea of going to class himself. Kris didn’t care. If there was one thing he was determined to do, it was to get Zitao through high school without fucking up too badly. It was a shame that Zitao didn’t appear to feel the same way.

Zitao continued to whine about not wanting to go to class and how awful Kris was and why did he care so much, right up until they were in front of Zitao’s locker. The others had disappeared off to their own classes, Lu Han trailing his feet after Minseok. Kris kissed Zitao’s forehead, which shut him up for a minute. “I’ll see you at lunch,” he said. “Try to not get expelled before then.”

Zitao grumbled at him, the only coherent part of which was worst boyfriend ever, and then stormed off to physics, looking like Kris had just forced him into some awful, life-threatening task. Kris sighed and walked to English class, wondering what craziness he’d have to deal with today, thanks to the school’s inexplicable decision to bring a bunch of try-hard rich kids into the school.

Then in Chemistry his phone buzzed; a text message from Lu Han: Minseok may have keyed that Kyungsoo kid’s car.

Kris sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers, trying to ward off a headache. He spent all of his time in school trying to protect his friends from the mercy of the school administration, who had only become worse since the merge between the schools, and yet his friends seemed to think that this was a perfectly good reason to go around being absolute hooligans.

“Don’t worry,” Minseok said, shrugging his shoulders as they walked to the bus stop. “No one saw me.”

“That’s not the point, Minseok,” Kris said. “The point is that it’s criminal damage and if they find out it was you, you could go to prison.”

“They won’t find out,” Minseok said reassuringly. “I don’t know, it might be fun to keep up a reign of terror on these kids. Try to scare them out of here.”

“Why, though?” Kris asked, sighing heavily. “There’s no point. We’ve got a year left, and it’ll be easier to just keep out of their way and try to avoid bringing any attention to ourselves.”

“When has that ever worked out?” Minseok asked, giving him a frank, appraising look. “Come on, Kris, the school is always on our backs for something. All they care about is grades and performance and considering that none of us except Jongdae manages to maintain anything like a decent grade point average, we’re fucked. We may as well have some fun before we’re out of here.”

“And how do you want to be out of here?” Kris hissed. “Graduated or expelled because you got arrested for property damage?”

“Jesus, okay,” Minseok said, rolling his eyes. “I won’t do it again. But I’m not sorry I did it.”

Kris nodded. He could accept that. He didn’t care how Minseok felt about it, just so long as he didn’t continue to make Kris’s life difficult.

“Has anyone seen Yixing?” Jongdae asked, looking up from his copy of The Great Gatsby. “I was supposed to give him my government paper to read over.”

“He was behind the bleachers seventh period,” Lu Han said. “Said he was going home early.”

“He was skipping class?” Kris asked, eyebrow raised. That was unusual.

“He has Chemistry seventh period,” Lu Han reminded him, and Kris winced. That explained it. But still, Yixing skipping class didn’t bode well.

“Oh, piss off,” Lu Han muttered.

Kris looked up to see Junmyeon striding towards him, looking all puffed up and important. Junmyeon’s father was the top surgeon in the city. His mother was the mayor. He seemed to think that this gave him some authority, when in reality everyone just thought he was a blow hard. He was on a one-man mission to clear this school of bad elements, and had apparently made Kris and his friends one of his top priorities. Kris did not appreciate this.

Junmyeon stopped in front of them, sweeping his eyes across them. Lu Han was giving him a coolly insolent look while playing with his cell phone. Minseok was watching people climb onto the bus and pretending like Junmyeon wasn’t even there. Jongdae had his face buried in his book and hadn’t even glanced up. Zitao tipped his head to the side and drawled, “Shouldn’t you be driving your fancy car home?”

“There’s been an incident,” Junmyeon said importantly.

“Oh, really?” Zitao picked up Kris’s arm and slung it over his shoulder, snuggling as he spoke. “Anything we can help you with?”

Junmyeon stared at them all for a long time. “Which one of you did it?” he asked.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to be more clear,” Lu Han said. “We don’t understand what you mean.”

“Which one of you damaged Kyungsoo’s car?” Junmyeon demanded, his temper apparently going. “There’s a giant scratch down the side of it and I heard you guys talking about it before class this morning.”

“That’s a big thing to accuse us of,” Kris said, politely, because he knew being polite drove Junmyeon nuts. “Are you sure Kyungsoo didn’t just do it himself? His car is rather big for the parking spaces.”

Junmyeon glared at him. “Yes, I am sure. There was no scratch this morning and then, at some point between then and lunch, someone decided to damage it.”

“I’m afraid we really cannot help you,” Kris said. “We don’t know anything about it.”

Junmyeon huffed out an angry breath. “I know it was one of you,” he said. “I’m going to find out eventually.”

“Yuh huh,” Zitao said. “Our bus is here. Goodbye.”

He began tugging Kris towards the school bus, not waiting for Junmyeon to say another word. The others followed silently, Lu Han throwing an arm around Minseok’s shoulder and muttering something to him that made Minseok throw his head back and laugh. Kris glanced back and saw Junmyeon was glaring at them.

“Who does that guy think he is,” Zitao muttered angrily, “accusing us of things.”

“Well, one of us did do it,” Kris pointed out.

“He doesn’t know that! He’s just accusing us without proof. Isn’t he friends with the lawyer kid? He should know better than that.”

“He thinks he’s part of the administration,” Jongdae said quietly, shoving his book in his bag as they climbed on the bus. “No doubt at his old school he could get people to do things purely based on who his parents are. He hasn’t realised it doesn’t work like that here.”

“I hope he stays off our backs,” Zitao said. “It’s bad enough having to deal with teachers thinking we’re idiots, never mind idiots thinking they’re teachers.”

---

Yixing vaulted over the barrier to the subway station and just about avoided hitting a middle-aged woman in the head with his school bag. “Oh, sorry!” he said, surprised, and she gave him a dirty look.

He watched her walk away sheepishly, before he felt a slight tug on his ponytail. “Why are you trying to kill old women?”

He tipped his head back and found Junning standing over him, sunglasses on his face even though the weather had clouded over during the day. “Hi!” Yixing said brightly, spinning around and bouncing on the ball of his feet. “I was going to meet you after class!”

“I got out early,” Junning said. “I was on my way to see you after your class. Somehow I don’t think you got out early.”

Yixing fingered the strap of his backpack. “I had chemistry,” he said quietly.

“I know but.” Junning sighed. “If you skip, they’ll fail you.”

Yixing shrugged. He’d lost the ability to care sometime between getting his freshman health teacher for chemistry, and being pulled into his office a week earlier to be yelled at for not finishing a test. He’d scraped through health class only because it was not possible to fail health class; the teacher had once marked a paper a D because Yixing had misspelled bioorganic. He’d spent second semester of freshman year sitting in the back of the class during third period, trying to avoid being noticed, anything to avoid being singled out by a teacher who seemed to hate him.

It had only become worse since he’d went into junior year. He had thought things were okay until he’d gotten that first test back with an F scrawled all over it and no explanation. Since then he’d failed two more tests, been yelled at five times, and had now taken to just not going to class.

Junning slung an arm over his shoulder and kissed his temple. “Okay,” he said simply, dropping the subject. Yixing dropped his head, feeling bad about it, knowing that Junning just wanted him to get through like he had done. But it was different between them. Junning was smart. Junning had managed to get into college, was smart enough to stay in college, and had even declared this year, choosing to major in creative writing. Yixing couldn’t do that. Yixing didn’t even understand junior chemistry. Yixing had barely passed middle school math.

They began walking, Yixing asking about Junning’s classes that day and managing to distract him completely from thinking about Yixing’s day at school. The thing was that Junning thought he got it; he’d gone to the same school, had to deal with the same shitty teachers, had to go through the same crap Yixing and his friends went to just because they didn’t excel academically. But Junning didn’t get it, because Junning was smart and Junning never felt like trying to do homework was going to reduce him to tears.

They ended up in a coffee shop, one of Junning’s favourite haunts because, as he’d told Yixing countless times, they did cheap coffee that didn’t run the risk of destroying your stomach lining with how bitter it was. Yixing didn’t know about this, seeing as he didn’t drink coffee; he had enough trouble concentrating at the best of times, never mind with a stimulant like that in his system.

“So apart from chemistry,” Junning asked, after he’d finished talking about the idiot guy in his intermediate fiction writing class who used words like estuary and wrote all his pieces on lavender scented paper, “how was your day?”

Yixing shrugged. He didn’t want to talk about it. “It was school,” he said. “It sucked. Can we—”

“Why did it suck?” Junning asked gently.

Yixing began counting off on his fingers. “I forgot to study for a test in Spanish, I had to copy Zitao’s geometry homework because I couldn’t understand it, I have to write one essay for sociology and one for English for next week, and then I skipped chemistry.” He shrugged again. “There you have it.”

“I can help you with your essays,” Junning suggested, touching Yixing’s hand. “They won’t be too difficult. But as for maths, well, I’m afraid you’re on your own there.”

Yixing smiled weakly. He didn’t think he could continue relying on Junning to get him through school, just like before long he would have stop pretending that copying Jongdae’s homework could be considered studying. He could joke around all he liked but failing all his classes wasn’t something he actually wanted to go through.

“So can I come over this weekend?” he asked, brightening. “If you’re going to help me with my homework and all.”

Junning smothered his smile by holding his cup up to his mouth, one eyebrow raised. “I guess so,” he said. “If I’m going to help you with your essay, you should really be there in person.”

Yixing bounced in his seat, wishing that it wasn’t only Wednesday. Any weekend spent at Junning’s place was likely to consist of minimal studying and homework, and maximum Desperate Housewives watching and making out. Any weekend spent at Junning’s place was time well spent, in Yixing’s book.

“I have a meeting on Saturday morning,” Junning added, “but after that should be okay. One of my friends found a new Mexican place that we could try out for dinner, it’s cheap but nice, we’ve been there once.”

Junning began to plan the weekend, which managed to turn to the conversation around to what had happened on last night’s episode of Gossip Girl. Yixing, who didn’t watch it, but liked to listen to Junning tell him about it, settled back in his chair sipping at his tea, feeling the stress of the day fade away. Sure, tomorrow he’d have to go back to school and deal with the failed Spanish test and the awful Chemistry teacher, but until then, he could just bask in the attention being thrown at him.

They finished their coffee and left, heading in the direction of Yixing’s apartment. As they walked along a block parallel to the high school, someone called out Yixing’s name. They turned and Yixing found Junmyeon, flanked by Baekhyun and Chanyeol, storming towards him.

Junning frowned. “A friend of yours?”

“No,” Yixing said in an undertone. “Let’s just keep moving, I don’t want to talk to them, they’re not my friends—”

“Are they bullying you—”

No,” Yixing said emphatically. “They’re just, they’re the guys I told you about. The rich new guys.”

By then it was too late. Junmyeon stopped in front of him and crossed his arms across his chest, looking at Yixing like he was both a particularly disappointing child and a nasty thing found on the bottom of his shoe. “Why weren’t you in chemistry?” Junmyeon demanded.

Yixing rolled his eyes. “What does it have to do with you?”

“You can’t just skip classes,” Junmyeon said. “Especially not to – I don’t even know – are you his brother?”

The last question was directed at Junning. Junning looked like a typical college student, with his leather satchel and worn jeans, unnecessary scarf wrapped around his neck. He didn’t look intimidating or threatening, but his voice was dangerously cold when he said, “I’m his boyfriend. Who the fuck are you?”

Junmyeon looked taken aback. Then he whirled on Yixing. “You skipped class to go hang out with your boyfriend?”

“I really don’t know why you care,” Yixing said. “It’s not like you’re a teacher, or some sort of higher appointed saviour of the school. It has nothing to do with you whether I skip one class or all my classes to go hang out with my boyfriend.”

“It’s no wonder this school is the pits,” Baekhyun muttered, audibly. “None of the students actually give a damn.”

“I take it you’re talking about M High,” Junning said. “No, it’s not a nice school, but I wouldn’t wipe off all the students in one fell swoop. You can’t just swan into somewhere and expect everyone to fall in line, especially when you don’t know anything about them.”

“I know bad students,” Junmyeon said, “and this school is full of them. They’ll get nowhere if they keep on like this.”

“I went to M High,” Junning said, coolly. “And I’m in college. Apparently it’s not that difficult. What makes it worse is the attitude of guys like you, always telling them that they’ll get nowhere in life.”

“What stops him getting places is skipping class,” Junmyeon said heatedly.

“Oh, fuck off,” Junning said, and began tugging Yixing away, holding his hand tight. Junmyeon didn’t stop them, but when he looked back, Junmyeon was watching them with a scowl on his face, and Yixing got the feeling that he’d probably be facing some consequences the next day. “You didn’t have to do that,” he mumbled, face bright red.

“What was that guy’s problem?” Junning asked, walking a little too fast for Yixing’s legs to keep up with. “What does anything have to do with him?”

“He wants to -- please.” Yixing tugged on his arm, yanking Junning to a stop. “He wants to improve the school, and he thinks we need to go in order to do that.”

“Well yeah, the school needs improved.” Junning readjusted his scarf; it had become dislodged in his angry stomping. “But you shouldn’t be denied your education just because some asshole thinks you’re not good enough.”

Yixing didn’t think that Junning made the connection between that and why, exactly, he had skipped chemistry, but it played on his mind, after he went home, after he waved on dinner, telling his mother he had a lot of homework to get done and besides, he’d eaten with Junning, after he’d flopped face first on his bed and attempted to smother himself with his pillow.

Chemistry, it was turning out, wasn’t the worst of it. Geometry wasn’t any easier the second time around, still like a foreign language to him, and Spanish, an actual foreign language, sounded like a bunch of sounds that people told him were supposed to be words. He’d always struggled with English; his mother had remarried when he was in middle school in China and moved to America, where she’d been ditched by new husband, and then they were stuck. He’d managed to get out of ESL classes by the skin of his teeth, but English class was currently taking up most of his time, all of study hall spent struggling through another boring novel, distracted every few minutes by something more interesting to the page of text.

He shook his head, scrubbing away the tears which seemed to come every night as the amount of work threatened to overwhelm him, the continuing desperation sending him into a spiral which didn’t show any signs of stopping. The harder the work became, the more he felt like an idiot, and the less he wanted to study; it was an on-going circle of sadness and fear, and he knew that soon it was going to drown him.

---

Minseok had expected this, the eventual confrontation. He’d also expected Junmyeon to be the one to initiate it. Junmyeon was the blowhard, the truly arrogant one, who stalked around the school like he owned it. Perhaps he did; there had been rumours since the very first day of the transfers, whispers of back door deals, favours done, money passing from hand to hand. If there was anything Junmyeon’s family had in abundance, it was money.

So yes, it was Junmyeon who first walked straight into the third floor classroom that had become, over the years, the unofficial hangout for Minseok and his friends during their time at M High. They crowded into the room like they belonged there, like Minseok wanted them there. Chanyeol was behind him, frowning as he took in the room, like the sight of tables not in perfect rows offended him on an existential level. Beside him was the ever present Baekhyun, wearing obnoxious fake glasses and a sweater that probably cost more than all of Minseok’s clothing put together.

Jongin and Kyungsoo came next, Jongin’s arm around Kyungsoo’s shoulders as per usual, the kind of silly, possessive gesture that irritated Minseok just as much now as it had done when he’d first seen it. He got the message; they were together. Minseok wished he’d keyed Jongin instead of Kyungsoo’s car, seeing as they both seemed to be his possessions. Quietly bringing up the rear was Oh Sehun, who Minseok suddenly realised had never spoken in his presence.

“What,” said Kris, very flatly, very disinterested, his math homework open on his knees. “What do you want?”
“To talk,” said Junmyeon. There was something about the way he spoke that still made Minseok’s hackles raise.

“We don’t want to talk to you,” Zitao said, voice low, his foot sliding down the leg of the desk he had it propped up on. The table shifted with a shriek on the floor and Jongdae lifted his head, blurry round the edges. He muttered something and then his gaze focused on Chanyeol, a crease in his forehead.

“We need to talk to you guys about what you plan to do.” Chanyeol motioned at them, like that was explanation enough. Yixing turned his palms outward in a questioning motion that even Chanyeol seemed to understand. “About being in school. It’s clear that you guys don’t actually want to be here—”

“Wait, hold up,” said Kris. “Who said anything about that?”

“Well, your grades, for one,” Junmyeon said. “Or did you forget that you’re retaking algebra two?”

“So we get bad grades and that means that we don’t want to be at school? That’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.”

“None of you go to class! You all just hang around the bleachers instead of studying, you don’t go to any of the school events, none of you have any clubs or student group activities, Zitao smokes—” Kris glared at Zitao, who shrugged innocently.

“None of that,” Kris said, teeth gritted, “says that we don’t want to be at school. It’s not that simple. We have – there are things happening.”

“I don’t understand you guys,” Chanyeol said, hands in his pockets. He looked genuinely confused, too. “It’s not that hard to get good grades.” The ignorance of that statement took Minseok’s breath away.

Yixing was swinging his legs and kicking at a chair leg, anything to avoid having to lift his head. “It’s not as easy as you think,” he muttered.

“Some of us can’t afford private tutors,” Zitao bit out. “Or fancy laptops or electronic dictionaries—”

“You don’t need that stuff for school,” Kyungsoo said, rolling his eyes. “You just need to sit down and study. Which none of you guys seem like you do, ever.”

Jongdae snorted. “You think you know us? Well, fine. I guess it must seem like all we ever do is play around, huh? You’re just like the teachers, completely fucking blind to reality.”

“And what reality is that?” Junmyeon fired back. “The one where Lu Han and Minseok spend all their time in game arcades instead of going home and studying? The one where you fall asleep in every class? The one where Yixing never goes to chemistry because it’s a little bit difficult for him, and instead skips out to go visit his boyfriend?”

“Shut up,” Kris said. He was biting out his words, seeming actually angry. None of the K kids seemed like they’d noticed, but Zitao glanced up, something in his face almost eager. It took a lot to get Kris angry, and it wasn’t pretty if he snapped. “You don’t know a fucking thing about us.”

“Bunch of delinquents who think they’re tough,” Junmyeon said, almost sneering. “All you do is skip class and yell at teachers. It’s not big and it’s not clever.”

“It’s like you’re a bunch of babies trying to be cool,” Jongin said, the edge of his mouth twitching.

“Yeah, what do you think?” Chanyeol asked. “You can just get through life no problem because you’re pretty?” And he motioned to Lu Han.

“Shit,” said Kris, the first one to realise what was about to happen. Minseok was the next, diving forward to grab Lu Han’s shirt and just snagging the material. Lu Han moved too fast, in action before anyone realised what was going on.

His fist hit Chanyeol’s face hard, sending Chanyeol sprawling on the ground, knocking chairs aside as he went. Chanyeol lay there looking like he didn’t know what had just happened, Lu Han advancing on him, but then Minseok got to him, grabbing his arms and yanking him away before he could do anymore damage. “Let me go!” Lu Han shrieked, pulling at the hold Minseok had on him. “Gonna kick his fucking ass—”

“Chanyeol!” Baekhyun rushed forward, pushing chairs aside so he could kneel next to Chanyeol in the aisle. “Are you okay? Did he break anything?”

“He doesn’t like being called pretty,” Kris said wearily, to the stunned looking Junmyeon.

“Or girly,” Yixing added.

Chanyeol sat up. There was no blood, though his cheek was red, and was visibly swelling. “Ow,” he said, like he was surprised there was pain. “No, I’m fine, I don’t think I – one of my teeth might be a bit loose though.” His tongue moved against his cheek as he felt it. “Ow,” he repeated.

“Good job you have dental care then, huh,” said Zitao, sweetly vicious.

“I’m reporting this,” Junmyeon said, coldly furious. “I’m going to make sure you’re punished for this.”

“What the fuck ever,” Lu Han told him, kicked a chair over, and stormed out.

In the end, Junmyeon really did report him, and Lu Han received a two day suspension from school. This had the wonderful effect of taking away any kind of support system Minseok had, resulting in him screaming at his statistics teacher on the second day and giving him a week’s worth of detention. “Please,” Kris said to everyone, when Lu Han came back, and being around Minseok stopped feeling like they were walking on eggshells. “Please don’t punch one of the K kids again, okay?”

“I can’t promise anything,” Zitao said, waggling his fingers in Kris’s face. Kris grabbed them and squeezed lightly, and Zitao sighed. “Fine. I won’t punch any of them in the face, okay?”

“I won’t punch them so long as none of them call me girly,” Lu Han grumbled, which Kris would have to accept. He didn’t think any of them would try that again.

That lunch time, while Kris was trying to work out if what he had been served was actually edible, Lu Han stopped talking about a movie that he wanted to see, his voice trailing off into nothing. Kris looked up and found that Chanyeol was standing next to the table, watching them. He had bruising on his cheek and around his eye.

“What?” asked Zitao. “You got your revenge, Lu Han got suspended. What more do you want?”

“To apologise,” Chanyeol said simply. Zitao opened his mouth and then closed it again. “I didn’t want Junmyeon to report you but he did anyway. I was really rude to you, Lu Han, and I shouldn’t have been. I’m sorry.”

There was silence for a few minutes, everyone unable to comprehend what they’d just heard.

“What?” Lu Han asked, disbelieving.

“I’m sorry,” Chanyeol repeated. “I was out of line. There’s no need to be rude to you guys just to get our point across. We should know better.”

It was beginning to sound like a lecture to himself, and Kris didn’t really want to give him any sort of chance to start feeling like the bigger man. “Accept the apology,” he urged Lu Han.

“Fine,” Lu Han said, mystified. “I accept, I guess. I’m not going to apologise for punching you, though.”

“That’s okay,” Chanyeol said, sounding a little disappointed. “It’s in the past. Although,” he added, “I still really don’t understand how it’s possible to fail geometry. I really don’t.”

“Get out of here,” Kris said wearily, “before you ruin all your good work.”

---

Jongdae flipped through another couple of pages in his textbook, searching for something relevant for his paper. He’d found out long ago that it was best to use the textbook as much as he could, and then use his limited internet access to supplement that material. It ensured that he maintained a decent grade point average, though he rarely managed to get into the A bracket. He didn’t have enough access to external material in order to pad out his papers and assignments. Strangely enough, his best grades were in math, even though he personally felt as though it was his worst subject. But then there was less research to do in math.

He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose between his fingers, feeling the start of a headache winding its way across his forehead. He’d only been studying for a couple of hours now, but he hadn’t eaten anything that morning, and he was tired. He tried rousing himself with the thought of the nap he could have if he managed to finish this paper, and only managed to give himself an incredible longing for bed already.

“Jongdae?”

That woke him up. He bolted upright, recognising the voice before he was even really aware of who it was, and found himself face to face with Kim Junmyeon. He groaned, aloud, and watched a hint of a frown flicker across Junmyeon’s face; Kim Junmyeon was not used to people being disappointed to see him.

“What are you doing here?” Junmyeon asked, sounding sincerely confused, like the sight of Jongdae in a library was too much of a paradox for his brain to comprehend.

“What does it look like?” Jongdae motioned to the computer he was using. “What are you doing here? I didn’t think you’d venture into this side of town. Aren’t you afraid your car will get scratched?”

Junmyeon scowled at him, noting the reference to what had happened to Kyungsoo’s car, but let it slide. “This library has more of a selection of history books,” he said, holding up the three books he was holding. Jongdae pursed his lips. “You know,” Junmyeon said, in the strangest conspiratorial tone, taking the chair next to Jongdae. “I was looking through your transcript and—”

“Why?” Jongdae interrupted.

Junmyeon shrugged. “I wanted to see how you guys were doing. Whether any of you are…salvageable. You know you have a 3.2 grade point average?”

“I was aware of that, thanks,” Jongdae muttered, wishing he could just go back to his paper.

“If you raised it just a little bit before the end of next year, you could probably get into a pretty decent college.”

Jongdae felt his breath come short, blood rushing in his ears. It’s okay, he told himself, he’s an idiot, he doesn’t know, he can’t know—

“I could help you, if you want. I don’t know if you’ve taken the SATs yet, but I got an almost perfect score, I could tutor you.”

“Stop,” Jongdae whispered. “Please, stop."

Junmyeon fell silent, a puzzled air around him. Jongdae saved his work to his email account and swept all his papers into his bag. There was no point. He was rattled now, his breathing haggard, his hands shaking. Silently he tidied his things up and prepared to leave. It wasn’t until he stood up that Junmyeon seemed to realise what he was doing.

“You’re leaving?” he asked, standing too. “Good, I’ll walk with you, I want to talk about this.”

“Please.” Jongdae balled his fists and let them go, stretching out his fingers a couple of times in an attempt at calming down. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

He tried to walk as fast as he could, managing to ditch Junmyeon while he got his books checked out. Then he got stuck waiting at a light and Junmyeon managed to catch up to him, expensive backpack slung over a shoulder, every inch of his outfit screaming put together and pricey. Sometimes looking at him and his friends had Jongdae trying to count up how much each item of clothing cost, and how much food he could buy with that amount of money.

“I’ve been looking it up,” Junmyeon said, like he was picking up a conversation Jongdae had agreed to have. “If you got As next year, you could bring it up to a 3.4. That should get you in somewhere pretty decent, if you did well on the SATs too.” Jongdae didn’t say anything, which Junmyeon seemed to take as encouragement. “Of course, your extracurricular activities are pretty terrible, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed. You’re not interested in sport? Student council?”

“Kim Junmyeon,” Jongdae bit out, “would you please just fuck off.”

The light changed. Jongdae stormed across the road but Junmyeon followed, like a dog with a bone. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked, sounding irritated. “I’m trying to help you.”

“Why do you want to help me?”

“Because I see the people you hang around with, and you could be so much more than that, Jongdae. You’re smart! You don’t have to be like them, you could go to college, you could have a future—”

“You don’t know anything about me!” Jongdae exploded. “You look at me, and you look at my school, and you think you know everything. You look at my friends and assume that I’m just a waste of space. Then you find out I’m relatively smart and make it your mission to get me into college, despite it being im-fucking-possible for me to do—”

“You’re smart enough!” Junmyeon said, exasperated. “You could go, if you just had the—”

“The money?” Jongdae cried. “You don’t know a fucking thing, Kim Junmyeon. You live in your nice house in the nice part of town, where you don’t have to worry about where food is going to come from that day, how far you’re going to have to dig down into your pockets in order to magically come up with some money. The final few days of the month before my father’s payday are ramen days in my family. All we can afford is ramen, and you expect me to just fall over myself thanking you because you had the idea that I should go to college?”

“You—” Junmyeon blinked at him. “What?”

“I’m poor, you asshole! Dirt poor! Can’t afford new school notebooks poor. You want to know why I’m in the public library at 10am on a Saturday? Because I can’t afford a computer, never mind the internet connection to go with it. So don’t pretend like you know me at all. Don’t pretend like you have all the answers to my problems, like you think the answer to my question of how do I pay the rent this month, is just go to college. You have no idea how the real world works, what life is like for any of us.”

“Jongdae, I…” Junmyeon trailed off. For a moment all of the bluster had fallen out of him, leaving him looking young and confused, his shoulders slumping. “I didn’t know.”

“Of course you didn’t know, I didn’t want you to know. It’s my own private business. You’re not my friend and you never will be my friend. Now please, kindly go away and leave me alone.”
Jongdae turned and started walking down the street, heading for the cheap vegetable store he knew would give him a discount. He was somewhat disconcerted to, after a couple of minutes, find that Junmyeon was following him still. He gave him a glare. “What?”

“I parked my car down here,” Junmyeon mumbled.

Jongdae rolled his eyes, and then stopped. “I didn’t know you actually had a car,” he said, a little suspiciously. “You don’t bring it to school.” Junmyeon looked uncomfortable at that, and suddenly it clicked in Jongdae’s head. “You think someone’s going to scratch it like they did with Kyungsoo’s, don’t you?” he said flatly.

“No!” said Junmyeon, far too quickly. “No, it’s not that, my dad just says – well, it might be safer. Not taking it there.”

“Why did you even bother?” Jongdae asked, anger flaring back up in him again. “Why even go along with the transfer, if it’s just going to cause you so much discomfort? You can’t get into Yale or University of fucking Chicago going to a school like mine.”

“I wanted to help,” Junmyeon said, very faintly.

“You know how you can help?” Jongdae spat. “You can help by fucking off.”

---

Junmyeon was somewhat surprised to see Yixing in Chemistry, considering he’d skipped for most of the month, but last time he’d been in Chemistry, they’d had a test so maybe Yixing wanted to collect his grades. Junmyeon wasn’t complaining. It was nice to see that one of them seemed to be getting the message that Junmyeon was attempting to drill into them. In Yixing’s case, it definitely wasn’t okay to skip class in order to run off and do god only knew what with his boyfriend. He had responsibilities here at school, and looking at Yixing’s past school record (which he’d been given access to under the guise of fulfilling his duties as a senior member of the student council) had shown abysmal grades, but a noted amount of enthusiasm for learning. Junmyeon had added him, along with Jongdae, to his list of salvageable people, the list which seemed shorter after the argument he’d had with Jongdae that weekend.

Yixing was sitting a couple of rows in front of Junmyeon, tapping his fingers nervously on the table. The teacher, Junmyeon had come to notice, liked to hand graded work out last, presumably so people wouldn’t be distracted by their grades. This didn’t seem to be working for Yixing, who tapped his fingers for so long that the teacher snapped at him to stop. Yixing did so, so quickly it was almost frightening.

There were only a few minutes left before the bell when the teacher began to pass out the tests, resting them face down so that it wasn’t possible for anyone to see what anyone else had got. He lay Junmyeon’s test down and gave Junmyeon a smile, which made Junmyeon feel pretty confident. Sure enough, when he lifted the paper, there it was: full marks, and an A+ written in the corner.

The teacher worked his way around the tables, and then paused, fingering the corner of his next test. He was standing in front of Yixing, who was doing anything he could to avoid looking at him. “Zhang Yixing,” the teacher murmured. “You really are an idiot, aren’t you?”

Yixing flinched. He had his hands fisted in front of himself, and he stared at them, his knuckles slowly turning white as he tightened his grip. The teacher pulled out the test and held it up, apparently no longer concerned with secrecy. There was a giant F scrawled across it in red, obscuring the answers. “Look at this,” the teacher barked. Yixing cringed, but didn’t look up. “Look at your test, you moron,” the teacher yelled, “or are you too stupid to understand simple instructions?”

Junmyeon blinked. He’d never heard a teacher speak to anyone like that, especially not a student. Yixing looked up and reached out a hand to take the test, but the teacher danced it out of the way. Yixing’s hand retreated. “Do you really not understand anything?” he asked mockingly. “Is basic chemistry really too much for your brain to understand?”

“I—”

“You, what?” There was a note of pleasure in the teacher’s voice which turned Junmyeon’s stomach. It was like he was enjoying it. “You didn’t study? You seem to think school is a place for idiots like you?”

“I did study,” Yixing blurted out. “I studied all night! I don’t understand why—”

“It’s pointless you even being here,” the teacher told him. “I don’t understand why the school insisted you come to class. You’re too stupid for basic chemistry. What are you like in your other classes? Failing all of those, aren’t you? Your teachers told me. Might as well throw you out, it’s a waste of time even holding you back a year.”

Yixing looked stricken. Junmyeon felt too shocked to even speak. He’d known Yixing wasn’t doing well academically, who was in that rag-tag bunch of friends, but to be failing every class – and to have a teacher tell the entire chemistry class about it…

The teacher began walking down the classroom towards the front, reading all of Yixing’s mistakes aloud. Most of them were simple and would have been easily noticed and fixed with a quick read through after he’d finished, and the teacher laughed after every one. The class stayed silent. Yixing had his head bowed, hair obscuring his face.

The bell rang, cutting off the mocking, and most of the class left as quickly as they could. Yixing grabbed his test, shoved it between the pages of his textbook and bolted, leaving faster than Junmyeon could catch him. Junmyeon raced after him, somehow managing to push through the crowd of people and snagging Yixing just before he ran off up the stairs.

“Yixing,” he said, grabbing Yixing’s arm. “Yixing, what just—”

Yixing whirled, face streaked with tears. “What do you want?” he asked frantically. “I – I don’t want to talk to you, not if you’re just going to laugh at me—”

“No, Yixing, I just.” Junmyeon was scared to let go of him in case Yixing ran off. “What was that about? That was not okay, is he always like that?”

“Of course he’s always like that,” Yixing said, trying to pull his arm free. “Did you really think I was just skipping chemistry to go visit my boyfriend? It should be obvious by now that I’m an idiot but I’m not that much of an idiot. But I just – I’m tired of getting yelled at, I’m tired of being so fucking dumb, I don’t think I can—”

With a determined wrench of his arm, he managed to get free, and made a dash for it, getting away before Junmyeon could do much more than yell his name. He watched Yixing run off with a sinking feeling in his stomach, a growing sense that he’d been going about this all wrong, that he had everything wrong.

Someone tapped him on the back of the head. “Hey,” said Kyungsoo, Jongin’s arm over his shoulder. “Do you still need a ride home?”

It took Junmyeon a second to work out what he’d just said. “What? Oh, yeah, please. Sorry, I just need to go pick up my stuff from my locker, okay?”

“Why were you standing here spacing out?” Jongin asked.

Junmyeon shrugged. Then he said, “Do you ever feel like… maybe you’ve made a mistake? About someone? Or a group of people?”

“You’re being awfully vague,” Kyungsoo said. “Who are you talking about, exactly?”

“Kim Jongdae,” Junmyeon said, “and Zhang Yixing, and all their friends. Kyungsoo, you’re the only other one in a class with one of them, what’s Zitao like?”

Kyungsoo raised an eyebrow. “Zitao? I don’t know. He seems like he’s decent at geometry but he skips class so much that it’s hard to say either way.”

“What?” Jongin asked, smirking at him. “Do you think they’re all secretly geniuses?”

Junmyeon rolled his eyes. “No. But I think that maybe there’s more going on than we think there is.”

---

No one was more surprised than Baekhyun when Chanyeol sat down for lunch right next to Kim Jongdae.

“What are you doing,” Baekhyun hissed at him. He eyed Lu Han warily. Chanyeol’s black eye had only just faded, and although Chanyeol had somehow managed to convince his parents that suing was a bad idea – Baekhyun had been all for it – Baekhyun didn’t think that they’d overlook a second occurrence. Lu Han blinked at him, all innocence.

“Eating lunch,” Chanyeol said, apparently completely unaware of the shocked stares the rest of them were giving him. “Come on, sit down.”

“Uh,” said Kris. “What are you doing?”

Chanyeol grinned at him. “I just told Baekhyun what I was doing. You guys don’t mind, do you? Junmyeon has a student council thing so we don’t have a table today.”

Chanyeol reached out and tugged at Baekhyun’s shirt, dragging him down onto the bench beside him. Baekhyun angrily opened his bottle of orange juice, displeased by this turn of events. Just because they didn’t have their normal table, didn’t mean that they had to eat with the school rejects. They could have eaten in the band room. You were never in danger of being punched among band geeks, even at this school.

Opposite them, Kris was staring like he didn’t understand what was happening. Zitao was picking at his food grumpily, looking as unhappy as Baekhyun felt. Minseok and Lu Han were whispering to each other, Yixing didn’t look like he’d noticed anything was strange because he was scribbling something in a notebook, and Jongdae beside Chanyeol had his head down on the table and appeared to be asleep.

“Does he always do that?” Chanyeol asked, motioning to Jongdae.

“Uh, yeah,” Kris said. “He has a – yeah.”

Chanyeol reached over and poked Jongdae thoughtfully. Baekhyun grabbed his wrist, attempting to stop him before either of them could get hit again. Jongdae stirred and lifted his head, only one of his eyes open. He looked around, his open eye falling on Chanyeol who was staring at him like he was a science experiment. Jongdae rubbed a hand over his face. “What’s he doing here?” he muttered.

“Eating lunch,” Chanyeol said cheerfully. “You should do so too. Food is good for mental growth! You can’t study on an empty stomach.”

“Yes, thanks for that, asshole,” Jongdae muttered.

“Here,” Chanyeol said. He held out one of the two sandwiches on his tray. “I bought this for you.”

Jongdae blinked at him, looking very confused. He stretched out his hand to take it, hesitated, and then gave in. “Thank you,” he said, very quietly. It was the most sincere Baekhyun had ever heard him sound. All of the wit and sharp words had been stripped away, his eyes watching Chanyeol thoughtfully, but not warily, as he unwrapped the sandwich and began to eat it. He looked like someone who was physically pacing himself, trying to stop himself from stuffing the entire thing in his mouth in one go.

“It’s okay,” Chanyeol said, after a pause long enough for Jongdae to start eating. “Any time.”

“Oh,” said a voice from behind Baekhyun. He turned to find Kyungsoo blinking at him, Jongin’s arm over his shoulder. Both of them looked confused. “We’re eating here today?”

“Apparently so,” sighed Baekhyun, moving his tray to make room for Kyungsoo. “Chanyeol decided.”

“No, you aren’t,” Minseok said grumpily. “All of you, go away.”

“No, this is great,” Kyungsoo said, sitting down and immediately separating half his food out to Jongin. “I wanted to ask Zitao some stuff about our geometry homework but I don’t know where he hangs out normally.”

“Me?” Zitao looked honestly shocked. “Why would you ask me? I’m not the smart one in the class.”

“Yes, you are,” Kyungsoo said. “You’re the only one who understood what the teacher was talking about yesterday. I know you understood because you were sighing so heavily. Can’t you explain it to me? I think it’ll be on the final, and I really don’t want to fail sophomore geometry.”

“I don’t—” Chanyeol started, and cut off when Baekhyun pinched his leg, darting a glance at Yixing. He was blushing but hadn’t lifted his head from his notebook. “Oh,” said Chanyeol. “Sorry.”

Zitao was gaping at Kyungsoo. He glanced at Kris – not surprising; it was obvious that Kris had some sort of control over them – who shrugged and nodded. Zitao frowned but turned back to Kyungsoo. “Well, it’s like that…” he said.

Baekhyun tuned him out. He didn’t need to know about geometry, he’d managed to pass it last year, and he was too busy trying to work out what the hell was happening. Since when did they eat lunch with the resident delinquents of the school? They were the type of people that none of them would have dared communicated with in the past, but then, he supposed there hadn’t been any of this type of people in their old school. Anyone who acted like these kids acted soon found themselves without a place in the school.

Which, Baekhyun reflected, was probably what had led to this situation in the first place. It was like a concentrated amount of idiot students in one school precisely because they had nowhere else to go. Although, the little bits he was picking up from Zitao suggested that he wasn’t actually an idiot. What he was saying made sense, and Kyungsoo was nodding like he seriously understood it, while Jongin picked at Kyungsoo’s food which was going to waste.

Baekhyun had expected Chanyeol to be listening and chiming in with mostly unhelpful comments, but instead he was watching Kim Jongdae very closely, as Jongdae ate the sandwich that Chanyeol had bought for him. That had surprised Baekhyun, he’d assumed that the food was for Chanyeol himself, and the way Chanyeol had spoken to him had been almost familiar, almost as if they were friends. Baekhyun hadn’t known they’d knew each other. He wasn’t jealous, because the concept of Chanyeol straying was completely laughable, but there was something that Chanyeol was keeping from him, and Baekhyun didn’t like that one bit.

That night, as he sat on Chanyeol’s bed and worked on his geometry homework, Baekhyun bit the lid of his pen and said after much deliberation, “Chanyeol, are you friends with Kim Jongdae?”

Chanyeol had been playing a video game, and at Baekhyun’s question, he turned around to stare at Baekhyun, a confused line in his forehead. On his television screen, his player was ripped apart by zombies. “No,” he said.

“At lunch today, it seemed like you were.”

“No, I’m not friends with him. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be nice to him, does it?”

“Well, no,” Baekhyun admitted, though he still didn’t quite understand why Chanyeol wanted to be nice to Kim Jongdae. “It’s just, well, you bought him food? It didn’t make sense. Why would you do that if you weren’t friends?”

“Well, I’ve spoken to him a couple of times,” Chanyeol said with a shrug. “Him and Zhang Yixing. They often study together in the library. I run into them sometimes and I – sometimes I stop and talk.”

“Kim Jongdae and Zhang Yixing, studying?” Baekhyun couldn’t hold in his laugh.

“They study a lot,” Chanyeol said, unnervingly solemn.

“But Yixing is failing everything,” Baekhyun pointed out. “Everyone knows that. And Jongdae, he sleeps through everything, it’s a miracle he somehow isn’t failing everything.”

Chanyeol got this look on his face. Baekhyun didn’t think he’d ever seen it before. On someone else’s face, it would have suggested that they were thinking very carefully about what they were about to say next, for fear that they would say the wrong thing, or too much, but Baekhyun knew that was impossible. Chanyeol didn’t think about what he said. It was one of his major failings, or else one of his more endearing charms.

Chanyeol switched off the television and moved so that he could sit on the bed, folding his legs underneath him. Baekhyun’s pens rolled into the hollow his weight made and he moved them impatiently. “Baekhyun,” he said, surprisingly softly, “you know Jongdae is poor, right?”

Baekhyun blinked. “What?”

“He’s poor. He’s probably the poorest kid in the entire school, and that’s kind of a feat. His father is a part time janitor and his mother is too sick to work. The reason he falls asleep all the time is because he doesn’t have the energy to keep himself awake, and the reason for that is the same reason he has those incredible cheekbones you’re always envying: he doesn’t get enough to eat.”

Baekhyun wasn’t sure how he was supposed to react. “How do you know that?”

“Because I actually talked to them. Everyone was so preoccupied with driving that whole group out that no one actually tried to get to know them. After what happened with Lu Han, I thought there was something I was missing.”

“Lu Han punched you in the face,” Baekhyun said flatly, “and you decided that meant you had to befriend them.”

“Not befriend. Just talk.”

“And they actually talked back?”

Chanyeol nodded. “Not in the beginning, and they don’t always want to talk, but I tried to help, and I picked up enough to fill in the blanks. Did you know the reason Kris lives with Zitao’s family is because up until last year, he was in foster care? In the past five years, he’s lived in three different countries, and when he got here, his mother just abandoned him. You don’t see how that could have a detrimental effect on his studies?”

“But, Chanyeol, that doesn’t mean anything—”

“Zitao used to go to a super prestigious boarding school until his dad lost his job. Minseok’s parents hate each other and use him as a mediator, one who can never get anything right, taking their anger at each other out on him. Yixing is failing everything thanks to that bastard Chemistry teacher. And Lu Han—” Chanyeol stuttered. He grabbed a pillow and pulled it to his chest. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, and sick with shame. “Did you know Lu Han’s father beats him, because he thinks Lu Han’s too pretty?”

Baekhyun recoiled. “He what—”

“And I – think about what I said to him, Baekhyun! Yes, he was wrong to hit me, but I was wrong to say it too! And nobody thought so too, everyone was just talking about how awful Lu Han and his friends are, about how they’ll never amount to anything because of this reason and that excuse, and I just thought…” Chanyeol faltered. He shrugged, and scrubbed at his face, sighing heavily. “I wanted to make it right.”

“You didn’t know,” Baekhyun said numbly. “How were you supposed to know something like that?”

“That doesn’t make it right,” Chanyeol said quietly. And no, Baekhyun reflected, it didn’t make it right, and in his shock at all that Chanyeol had told him, he still managed to find a small amount of pleased surprise at Chanyeol going this far on his own – and shame, that he’d not noticed and not cared besides.

There was silence for a long time, and then Chanyeol kissed his cheek, slipped off the edge of the bed and padded back to his couch, settling down in front of the television and restarting his game. Baekhyun picked up his pencil and chewed on it for a little while before he said, “What are you going to do?”

“I have something in mind,” Chanyeol said without taking his eyes off the television screen, shoulders lifting and falling in a shrug.

---

Yixing walked into Chemistry a week after the test incident with his heart somewhere in the vicinity of his stomach, and blinked when he realised that his Chemistry teacher had been replaced by a young blonde woman in a tailored suit, leaning against the front desk. He paused, unsure what was going on, moving only when someone knocked into his shoulder to get past him as the bell rang outside. He quickly took his seat, staring all the while, completely at a loss as to how he was supposed to react to this.

He expected there to be something said about the sudden disappearance of their actual teacher, but no one else seemed to blink at the blonde woman. Yixing half-wondered if he was in the wrong classroom, except that Junmyeon was sitting up at the front and raising his hand to answer every question posed. So it was definitely the right class. Yixing wondered if the teacher was just sick, and he’d missed that in the week that he’d been skipping class to avoid dealing with him.

He kept his head down during class, as usual, but once the bell had gone off and everyone else raced out of the room, he moved quickly and managed to snag Junmyeon’s sleeve before he could walk out of the door. “Junmyeon, what – do you know why Mr. Park wasn’t in class?”
Junmyeon gave him a solemn smile, before motioning for Yixing to follow him. Yixing did so, still confused, following him to a small alcove near the stairs where nobody would be able to easily overhear. Junmyeon turned to face him, holding his books in his arms, his face still solemn. “He’s on suspension,” Junmyeon said in a low voice. “And if I get my way, he’ll be fired.”

Yixing frowned, lost. “Why?”

A flicker of confusion passed over Junmyeon’s own face. “Well, because of how he’s been treating you. Last week in class – that was unacceptable, he was completely out of line. I filed a complaint. They looked into it. You know he’s been failing you for the tiniest things? Things that, in other people’s work he barely even docks points for? So they suspended him.”

Yixing stared at him, breathless, taking in the determined set of his face, and said, “You made them do it.” He felt a little faint.

“Yes. My mother is putting a little pressure on them, and Chanyeol’s father is threatening a lawsuit if they don’t do it.”

“Why?”

Junmyeon blinked, then looked angry. “Because what he was doing was completely out of line! It wasn’t right! If he’d been marking correctly, you’d be making a D, not an F.”

Yixing felt lost and flustered. “But why? It doesn’t concern you, my grades, how he treats me. And besides, what difference does it make? A D is still failing, and I’m still failing all my other classes. What difference—”

“It makes a difference, Yixing,” said Junmyeon, gently, kindly, without being patronising. “It really does. You’re not stupid, Yixing.” He caught sight of the expression on Yixing’s face and sighed. “You’re not. I’ve looked at your files. You may not be the smartest, but you’re not stupid either. Your grades have been slipping, but this semester is unprecedented.”

“The work is harder,” Yixing said, defending himself, making up excuses when he knew he didn’t really have any.

“Maybe so. But the only other time you’ve received a grade so low was in freshman health classes, when you had the same teacher. It’s not much of a coincidence, Yixing. You’re not stupid, your confidence has just been shot to hell.”

“No, it’s not that, I’m – you don’t understand!” Yixing had expected to feel happy at the thought of his Chemistry teacher no longer being around to make his life a living hell, but instead he just felt completely frantic. Junmyeon had it all wrong, it wasn’t just Chemistry, it was everything, Yixing was failing everything, and this wasn’t the solution at all.

“I understand enough to know he’s been bullying you. That’s what it is, Yixing, it’s bullying. He said things to you that no teacher should ever say, and it was apparent from your response that it’s not the first time that you’ve heard it from him. Was I supposed to just sit back? Just watch while he did his best to ruin your life?”

“You don’t even like me,” Yixing said in a small voice. “Why?”

Junmyeon’s face softened. “Because it’s the right thing to do, Yixing. I’m – I think that maybe I’ve treated you as badly as he’s been treating you. I assumed things and I’ve since come to realise that those things were completely wrong. I need to apologise to you, and this is part of the way I’m trying to help.”

Yixing shook his head wordlessly before he pushed past Junmyeon. Junmyeon let him go, not trying to explain himself further. Yixing walked slowly through the school, taking such a long time that by the time he reached his locker, the corridor was mostly deserted. He put his books away haphazardly, blankly, and his first attempt at shutting the door left it swinging open.

He was so blank that as he walked out of school, it wasn’t until Junning grabbed his arm that he realised he’d been calling his name. “Hey,” Junning said, looking at him concerned. “You didn’t hear me?” Yixing shook his head. “When you didn’t come to see me, I figured I’d come and see you. What is it? What’s happened? Is it your mom?”

“No, no it’s not.” Yixing shut his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. “Will you come home with me? I don’t – I want to go home but I don’t want to be alone.”

Junning accepted without question, and although he kept asking a few questions as they walked, he seemed to realise that Yixing needed mostly silence right then. By the time they walked into his apartment, Yixing was horrified to find that he was close to tears, his vision suddenly swimming.

Junning saw. “What is it?” he asked, alarmed. “Yixing, I can’t help if you don’t tell me.”

Yixing switched to Chinese, feeling too strung out to begin expressing himself in any other language. “They’re going to fire him.”

Junning frowned. “Who?”

“My Chemistry teacher. Junmyeon’s mother is the mayor and he said that she is making the school do it and—”

“And?” Junning interrupted. “I don’t really see why you’re upset about this.”

“Because it’s my fault! Junmyeon is doing it because – he says the teacher was bullying me, he says that’s why he’s doing it, someone is going to get fired because of me.”

Yixing was actually crying now, unable to stop, even though he knew this was going to be the kind of ugly crying that no boyfriend of his had any right to be seeing. He rubbed ineffectively at his face, sobbing in heaving breaths, and tried to turn away so that Junning wouldn’t see. Junning reached out, tugging him down onto the sofa and pulling him against his chest. He murmured soothingly against Yixing’s hair. Yixing sobbed for so long that he began to be afraid he would make himself sick, like when he was a child.

Eventually he managed to calm down enough that he was just hiccupping. Junning used his sleeve to wipe at his face, even though he was gross and snotty. “This is not your fault,” he said quietly.

Yixing shook his head. “It is, Junmyeon has it all wrong.”

“He has been bullying you. You haven’t even told me a lot of it, and it’s obvious even from that.”

“But how can it be bullying if it’s true?” Yixing asked. Junning frowned, and Yixing ploughed on. “Because he’s right, I’m stupid, I don’t know anything, I’m not just failing Chemistry, I’m failing everything, and I’m so scared, ge, I am terrified, I haven’t even told my mom, but don’t you see? It’s not bullying, he’s just… it’s true, all of it.”

Junning was silent, staring at him. Then he stood, rubbed a hand over his face, and then began to pace the room. Yixing watched him. He wiped at his face. He said, in a quiet voice, “Are you angry?”

“A little. I’m sad as well.”

“Because I’m failing everything? I know you’ve been trying to help me, I’m sorry.”

Junning stared at him like he couldn’t believe Yixing existed. “Yixing, listen to yourself. Why are you apologising to me? Why – I don’t care if you’re failing everything, your mom won’t care.”

“Then why are you angry?”

“Because you keep calling yourself stupid! Because you keep taking on this responsibility, blaming yourself for the fact that one of your teachers has been bullying you. None of this is your fault, Yixing. I don’t care how stupid anyone is, no one deserves this. And anyway, you’re not stupid.”

“I am,” Yixing said, close to tears again. He felt a dull form of surprise that there could even be more tears. “I told you, I am failing everything. I can’t do anything at all. I copy all of Jongdae’s homework and I’m still failing. I don’t understand anything, I just can’t do this anymore.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Junning asked, drawing close. “We could have helped.”

“Because my mom, she wants so much more for me, she wants me to do well. And you’re so smart, you’re in college, and it’s just embarrassing, I’m retaking geometry and I’m failing it again!”

“I don’t care!” Junning grabbed him and pulled him into a hug again. “I don’t care about it. I’m just, I’m worried about you. Not your grades, not anything like that, just you. You’ve been so unhappy and you wouldn’t talk to me about it and I didn’t – I just never expected something like this.”

“I’m sorry,” Yixing babbled, “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to, I don’t know what to do, I’m sorry.”

“Shush,” Junning said in alarm, kissing his cheeks and forehead. “Shush, it’s okay. We can fix this. Do you hear me, Yixing? We can fix this.”

---

The loud bang of textbooks hitting the table he had been sleeping against shocked Jongdae so much that he almost fell backwards off his chair, saved only by the culprit grabbing the back of his chair and straightening him, looking alarmed. Jongdae glared at him, rubbing at his eyes. “What is it?” he asked grumpily.

Junmyeon motioned to the textbooks. “I brought you something.”

Jongdae glanced towards the textbooks and smothered the flare of irritation with a heartfelt sigh. “What are these for?”

“They’re SAT books,” Junmyeon said. “I thought you could look at them.”

Jongdae pushed them away so that they were at risk of falling off the edge of the desk. “I thought we talked about this,” he said lightly.

Junmyeon shrugged. “There’s no harm in looking at them. Although, if you wanted to get in anywhere, you’d probably have to get over 1500 together, so maybe it would be best to start working towards that as soon as possible. Kyungsoo is studying for them right now, we can help you, maybe set up a study group or something—”

Jongdae nudged the textbooks some more so that they did flop off the edge of the desk and onto the floor with another bang. “I don’t need them,” he said, and he lay his head back on the desk to sleep again. Junmyeon, he was pleased to see, looked a little annoyed.

“Why don’t you need them?”

“I’m not going to college. We’ve had this conversation before.” Jongdae squinted at him. “For someone at the top of our class, you’re really not that smart, are you?” The way Junmyeon’s eyebrow ticked was nothing short of amazing. “Anyway, why are you even here? This isn’t where you or your friends hang out.”

“I came to see you,” Junmyeon snapped. “Isn’t that obvious?”

“And now you’ve seen me,” Jongdae murmured, “so please fuck off.”

There was a banging outside before the door swung open. “This is where we hang out,” Lu Han trilled, tripping into the room. “Me and Minseok found it in freshman – oh. Hello.”

Junmyeon blinked in surprise. “Sehun?”

Sehun stepped out from behind Lu Han. “Hey,” he said brightly, like there was nothing at all odd about him following Lu Han around. He turned to Lu Han. “So, where are we? What rooms are we over?”

“The music rooms,” Lu Han told him.

“Oh, cool, so we should be able to see over to the playing fields.” Sehun pushed past Junmyeon to the windows. He opened one of them and leaned out of it, exclaiming about how high it was. Junmyeon said his name in alarm and ran over to yank him back in.

Lu Han sidled up to Jongdae. “What’s up? Did we interrupt something?”

“Just him being an asshole.” Jongdae reached down and picked up one of the textbooks Junmyeon had brought him. “Look. He thinks I should go to college. How quaint.”

“Urgh,” said Lu Han. But there was something in his expression, something sympathetic, something pitying, that made Jongdae want to throw the textbook at his face. Luckily, before he could, Lu Han seemed to realise the danger he was in and brushed past him with a squeeze of his shoulder.

Junmyeon had managed to pull Sehun out of the danger zone. Sehun slung his arm over Lu Han’s shoulders. “Didn’t you say Minseok used to play soccer?” he asked, looking over at the fields.

Lu Han nodded. “Right up until his parents decided they couldn’t afford to buy the uniform and shoes any longer.”

“Well, that sucks,” Sehun said. Lu Han smiled up at him in a way that made Jongdae feel completely lost. When had this happened, this budding friendship? Since when had Lu Han felt comfortable enough with an outsider to invite them up to their hang out? It wasn’t a place for outsiders, certainly wasn’t a place for Junmyeon or any of his friends.

The door opened again and Minseok walked in. His expression darkened as he took in Sehun’s arm slung over Lu Han’s shoulder. “What’s he doing here?” he asked.

“Hanging out,” Lu Han said. His voice was bright but there was something forced about it, a bite of ice underneath it.

“He shouldn’t be here,” Minseok said. He jabbed a finger in Junmyeon’s direction. “And neither should he.”

“He’s leaving,” Jongdae said. He stood up and pushed the textbooks at Junmyeon’s chest. Junmyeon was so surprised that he grabbed them without a protest, blinking at Jongdae. “Take these with you, I don’t need them.”

“But,” Junmyeon’s face fell, “I bought them for you.”

“I didn’t ask you to do that,” Jongdae said coldly. “I’m not giving you money for them, if that’s what you want.”

“No!” Junmyeon said. “I would never ask that from you.”

Jongdae breathed in once, and released it slowly. “Get out,” he said. “And take your minion with you.”

Sehun came out of nowhere and draped himself over Junmyeon. “Come on,” he said, pulling Junmyeon towards the door. “Sometimes you’re really annoying, you know that?”

“I’m just trying to help!” Junmyeon protested, looking up at Sehun pleadingly as they left the room.

“Yuh huh,” they heard Sehun say from the hallway before the door shut.

There was a pause, like the universe was holding its breath in anticipation of what was going to happen next. Then Minseok broke the silence. “Why the fuck are you hanging out with that brat?” he demanded, his voice pitched somewhat too loud. Jongdae, already wound tight, didn’t think he’d be able to cope if Minseok lost it..

Lu Han rolled his eyes. “He’s cute,” he said.

“You—” Minseok choked. “I thought that when you first started – talking about him, I thought you were just messing around, just – I don’t even know! But now you’re bringing him here? I mean, Lu Han, this isn’t a place for him!”

“Why not?” Lu Han’s voice was now icy steel. Jongdae felt like he was intruding on something intimate, like he was watching them fuck instead of argue. He’d never seen them argue; as far as he was aware, they never argued. He’d never heard Lu Han speak like that to Minseok before. “Because he’s friends with those other guys? Jongdae’s friends with Chanyeol, why aren’t you yelling at him?”

“Whoa,” Jongdae said, holding up his hands in protest. “I’m not friends with him.”

“No, he just knows enough to know that you can’t afford to eat so he’s been buying you lunch every day for the past week.” Lu Han rolled his eyes. “Let’s face it, they’re not all as bad as we thought. Junmyeon’s a fucking idiot but his heart may be in the right place. Chanyeol too. And Sehun, he’s not even half as bad as I thought. Zitao’s made friends with him too. It’s not like I’m betraying the team or whatever the fuck it is that you’re accusing me of.”

“But it’s not just that,” Minesok fired back. “You’re not just making friends with him, are you? You like him.”

There was a split second of absolute shocked silence from Lu Han. Then he started laughing, genuine amusement in his voice, which only seemed to make Minseok angrier. “What are you talking about?” Lu Han managed to gasp out.

“You like him!” Minseok yelled. “All you’ve done is talk about him ever since you decided to make friends with him. About how cute he is, how smart he is, how nice he is. You fucking like him!”

“You’re ridiculous,” Lu Han said, walking forward and cupping Minseok’s face in his hands. “I love you and you’re ridiculous and I don’t like Sehun. Not even a little bit.”

Minseok huffed out an angry breath. “Don’t make me feel – this isn’t irrational, it’s not, don’t—”

“It is!” Lu Han pecked him on the mouth. “I don’t like Sehun. He’s a skinny kid. He may be smart and adorable but I don’t like him like that. No way. I love you, you fucking idiot. And besides, Sehun has a girlfriend.”

Minseok blinked. So did Jongdae. “Girlfriend?” Jongdae asked.

“Yes, girlfriend. As in Sehun likes girls and isn’t interested in me. Not that it matters because I’m certainly not interested in him. I can’t believe you would think that.”

“What else am I supposed to think,” Minseok mumbled. There was red splashed across his cheeks.

“That I’m making a new friend and that it doesn’t affect us at all?” Lu Han rolled his eyes. “You’re so stupid.”

“Don’t—” Minseok turned around and kicked a chair sullenly. “You’re stupid. Why didn’t you just tell me?”

“Because I figured you weren’t going to explode at me because I was making a new friend.” Lu Han poked Minseok’s shoulder playfully. He turned his eyes on Jongdae and though he sounded casual, there was something serious in his eyes. “You should probably avoid antagonising Junmyeon, you know. He’s – he’s got a lot of power in this school.”

Jongdae shrugged. “I don’t think he’d do anything to me. He’s too lame for that.” Jongdae sat back down, thinking carefully. The thought of Junmyeon doing something so spiteful seemed laughable. And he didn’t want to stop antagonising him. He got the feeling that Junmyeon was the kind to never give up on someone, and Jongdae found that he liked seeing that annoyed tick in his eyebrow too much to give up just yet.

“Wait,” he said, as that thought made a full round and the realisation of what was going on here hit him full strength. “Fuck.” Lu Han and Minseok eyeballed him curiously.

---

A week later, Kris walked into the room that was their hangout and found that it had been pretty much taken over. In the back of the room, Zitao was talking through some sort of geometry issue with Kyungsoo. Jongin, Sehun and Lu Han were laughing about something, Minseok napping with his head resting in Lu Han’s lap. Chanyeol was explaining something in a very animated way to Yixing who was listening with full attention. Baekhyun had his head laid on a table opposite Jongdae, both of them napping.

“What the hell is going on,” Kris said flatly.

Zitao waved at him. “I’m smart,” he called.

“I.” Kris stared at him. Then he turned and snapped out, “Yixing.”

Yixing jumped about a foot into the air and turned to him, his hand going over his heart. “What?” he asked. “You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“What’s going on?” Kris hissed, ignoring Chanyeol like he was a fly on the wall. “Why are they in here?”

“Well, Chanyeol is helping me with studying for history,” Yixing said, “and Zitao is helping Kyungsoo with his geometry homework. And—”

“Yes, I can see all that,” Kris said impatiently. “That doesn’t really explain why they’re here. Who said they could?”

Yixing frowned in confusion. “Well, no one really said they could, it just sort of happened.”

Kris shook his head. “You realise they’ve been waging war on us for the past few months? Like, they got Lu Han suspended?”

“Well, you haven’t exactly played fair either,” Chanyeol pointed out.

“Yeah,” Kyungsoo interjected. “I mean, I know Minseok was the one who keyed my car. I didn’t even do anything to him.”

“If you knew that,” Kris said skeptically, “why didn’t you go to the police?”

Kyungsoo shrugged. “Seemed more hassle than it was worth. Do you know how long it takes to file a police report? I have better things to do.”

“I don’t understand,” Kris said. “Since when were we all friends? Since when did we like these guys?”

“Sssh,” Lu Han said, “don’t question it.”

Kris shook his head, giving them all up as a lost cause, and made his way to the other side of the room so he could sit down next to Zitao. He was explaining something seriously to Kyungsoo, who was taking notes and asking questions every so often. Kris cocked his head to the side as he watched, unused to seeing Zitao like this. For someone who never studied, he was very thorough in helping someone else do it.

After a couple of minutes, Kyungsoo sighed and slumped back in his seat. Jongin reached out and squeezed his knee. “I don’t understand how you understand any of this,” Kyungsoo said heavily.

Zitao smiled, a little smugly. “I guess I’m just smart,” he said happily. He nudged Kris with his elbow. “Surprised?”

“I know you’re smart,” Kris said quietly. Zitao frowned at him.

“I think I’d be failing if you weren’t explaining this stuff to me,” Kyungsoo said. He gave Zitao a friendly smile. “You should be a math teacher.”

Zitao snorted. “No, you’ve got to go to college for that kind of stuff.”

“You could go to college,” Kris said, still in his quiet tone.

Zitao’s frown became a scowl. “Not this again,” he said. He jabbed his thumb at Kris. “He thinks that I can go to college, but I think he’s stupid.”

“Is there a reason you can’t go to college?” Kris asked. It was a familiar argument, but never one they’d had in front of other people. Kris kept Zitao in school as thanks to his parents for taking him in when they really didn’t need to, but this was a private dream, his own personal wish for Zitao. It wasn’t one that Zitao shared.

“I’m not smart enough,” Zitao said. “There’s not enough money. They don’t take people like me, Kris, and you know it.”

Kris opened his mouth to say something and then closed it so fast that he bit his tongue. Jongdae had lifted his head and was blinking in their direction, a frown on his own face. Kris jerked his head, trying to show he was sorry without being obvious. Jongdae didn’t want their pity, didn’t want their sympathy, but it was true that out of them all, he was the one who most wanted to go to college, the one most suited for it, the one who owned a book in his house that explained how to apply to college, a book he’d bought before he had come to the realisation that he could never.

A distraction arrived in the form of Junmyeon suddenly stepping into the room. Kris sighed but Junmyeon was smiling, barely even giving any of them a second glance as he strode through the haphazard tables and chairs and came to a stop in front of Yixing. “Guess what,” he said.

Yixing blinked. “What?”

“Mr. Park got fired,” Junmyeon said.

Yixing blinked again, harder. “W-what?”

“Fired!” Junmyeon looked and sounded, rather than smug, merely pleased. “They got rid of him. He’s been doing this sort of stuff for years, it turned out, and no one had ever thought it was a problem. Creep.”

Yixing squeaked. “He can’t be fired,” he said. “That’s not – he doesn’t—”

“He can and he is,” Junmyeon said.

“Fucking awesome,” Lu Han said, bouncing in a way that tipped Minseok out of his lap and woke him with a jerk.

“What’s going on?” he asked blearily, rubbing his shoulder where he’d fallen on it.

“Bastard chemistry teacher got fired,” Lu Han told him, hauling him up. Minseok crowed in delight and punched the air, accidentally almost getting Jongin’s face in the process. Jongin jerked away and his chair tipped back. He grabbed out blindly to right himself and managed to grab Sehun, who wasn’t prepared and together they tumbled to the ground.

There was a split second, and then Kyungsoo began to laugh. “Idiot,” he said, reaching down to tug Jongin up.

“You’re the one who fucks him,” Lu Han said, patting his arm.

“I don’t—” Kyungsoo said, then blushed bright red as Lu Han raised an eyebrow at him. He let go of Jongin’s arm, and Jongin fell back to the floor with a yell.

“Thank you.” Yixing’s voice broke through all the noise. He was looking at Junmyeon with somewhat shiny eyes, his mouth twisted like he wanted to smile but didn’t know if it would be appropriate. “You didn’t have to do that for me.”

“Yes, I did,” Junmyeon said softly, sincerely. “I had everything wrong. I was rude and mean to you guys, and I shouldn’t have been. It shouldn’t have taken something as extreme as that to prove it to me but hey,” he shrugged, looking sheepish, “at least I realised it?”

Kris watched Jongdae roll his eyes and lay his head back down on the table.

---

Jongdae woke up to a hand on his shoulder. The touch was soft and tentative and usually Jongdae would have slept through it. He batted at it, groaning. “It’s getting kind of late,” said Junmyeon’s voice. Jongdae’s eyes shot open and he sat up, his heart suddenly racing. There hadn’t been a day that week where the two groups hadn’t hung out, and yet somehow Junmyeon’s presence still managed to make his heart race. He fucking hated it. “You should go home. Do you want a ride?”

“Piss off,” Jongdae muttered. He rubbed at his face. The room was empty apart from the two of them, but that wasn’t strange. His friends often left without waking him, leaving him to get sleep. He eyed Junmyeon skeptically. “Are you stalking me?”

“What?” Junmyeon’s eyes widened. “No, of course not.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Because it’s late!” Junmyeon huffed out an angry gust of air. “I saw the lights were on in here so I came to see who was still there.”

Jongdae raised an eyebrow. That wasn’t a good habit to get into. There had often been times someone had walked into the room to find Lu Han and Minseok going at it, or Kris and Zitao. The thought of Junmyeon walking in on that made Jongdae smiled. He wondered how red Junmyeon would turn. He wondered if Junmyeon had ever been kissed.

“I just wanted to offer you a ride,” Junmyeon said sullenly.

“Oh, did you bring your car?” Jongdae asked mildly. “No longer scared someone will damage it?”

“That…” Junmyeon struggled. “That wasn’t very nice of me. I’m sorry about it.”

“Doesn’t make a difference to me,” Jongdae said bluntly. “But no, I’ll pass, thanks. I don’t need a ride from you.”

“I just don’t understand why,” Junmyeon said, “even though we’re friends now, you still continue to be mean to me.”

“Who said we were friends,” Jongdae asked, irritated.

“Oh, just—” Junmyeon snapped, then stopped. “Why are you so mean to me?”

“Because I think if I wasn’t, you’d continue being a blowhard. And you’re enough of a blowhard as it is.” Jongdae shrugged his shoulders.

“There you go again!” Junmyeon cried. “Calling me a blowhard.”

“Well, you are one,” Jongdae told him. “You seem to think that calling you on your bullshit is the same thing as being mean to you. It’s not that same thing at all.”

“Well, what is it?”

Jongdae sighed heavily. “I don’t know,” he said, clearly irritated. “You just, you drive me nuts, do you know that? No matter how much I try to explain things to you, you never get it. You think that you do, but I never feel like you do.”

“I’m trying my best,” Junmyeon said defensively.

“That’s the problem,” Jongdae muttered.

“Just tell me if you don’t want to be friends with me,” Junmyeon said angrily. “I feel like that’s why you’re being like this. Everyone else is fine, everyone else is worthy of your time and friendship, but it’s just me who you still don’t like.”

Jongdae snorted. “Believe me, that’s not what’s going on here. I have to be mean to you because if I’m not, I might like you too much.” He turned away, muttering something else to himself.

“What?” Junmyeon asked, confused about everything. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing.” Jongdae picked up his books, making a move to the door, and Junmyeon grabbed them and set them back down. “Junmyeon, I swear to god, give me back—”

“No, tell me what you meant,” Junmyeon demanded. “You might like me too much? What does that even mean?”

“Nothing!” Jongdae insisted. “It doesn’t mean anything. You just, you’re infuriating! You’re all nice and friendly and helpful even though you’re nothing more than a little rich brat. What you did for Yixing, like, fuck you, where do you get off being so fucking sweet after the crap that you pulled on us?”

“If you’re talking about Lu Han,” Junmyeon pointed out, “then it’s worth bearing in mind that he did punch Chanyeol in the face.”

Jongdae dismissed that with an expressive roll of his eyes and then tried to grab his books again. Junmyeon grabbed his wrists and held him still, using Jongdae’s awkward positioning against him. “So you hate me because I’m too nice?” he asked.

“No!” Jongdae struggled and then gave in, his anger finally spilling out, so his voice was somewhat louder than it needed to be. “I hate you because I like you at all. I don’t want to like you! You’re an asshole and you’re stupid and you think that being in AP classes and having money somehow means that everyone needs to listen to you, and you don’t understand anything about my life and you won’t stop going on about college, and you’re driving me around the bend, but even so, I really fucking like you.”

Junmyeon gasped like Jongdae had sucker punched him. “What did you just say,” he asked, voice somewhat higher than Jongdae had heard it before.

“I like you!” Jongdae yelled. “But I hate you for it, and I wish you’d let me go so I can go throw myself off the building.”

Junmyeon released him without even really thinking about why. He looked like he instantly regretted it. Jongdae bolted, snatching up his books and knocking over a table in his haste to get away. “Jongdae, wait!” Junmyeon yelled, but he accidentally banged his shin on a chair in his attempt to do it. He cursed and stopped chasing after Jongdae, who didn’t stop running until he was on his bus home, curled up on the back seat trying to hold back frustrated tears.

---

Jongdae could tell, from the way his mother was eyeing him, that she thought something was wrong. It was, after all, a Saturday morning, and Jongdae always spent Saturday mornings at the library doing homework. She was fluttering around getting her chores done, stepping over Jongdae’s feet where he lay sprawled on the living room floor in shorts and a t-shirt, staring blankly at the ceiling with the television playing quietly.

He hadn’t dared go to the library. He knew that if Junmyeon wanted to find him, that would be the place he went. He’d claimed to be sick the day before and managed to fool his mother enough that he hadn’t had to go to school. He didn’t want to face Junmyeon. He didn’t even want to know what the consequences for confessing like that would be. What if Junmyeon hated it, and tried to get him expelled? Could he even do that?

He groaned and rolled over and tried to smother himself with a throw cushion. The doorbell rang. “Jongdae, could you get that?” his mother called from the kitchen. “I’ve got my hands full.”

Jongdae sighed and climbed to his feet, clutching the throw pillow to his stomach. He padded to the front door and pulled it open without even the slightest inkling as to who was on the other side. When he saw, he dropped his pillow to the floor.

“Hi,” said Junmyeon sheepishly.

“What are you doing here?” Jongdae hissed. Then he thought better of asking and moved back inside. Junmyeon reached out and grabbed his hand and yanked him out of the apartment. Jongdae flailed like an angry fish.

“Apologizing,” Junmyeon said, as the door clicked shut behind Jongdae.

“How did you even find out where I live?” Jongdae spat.

“Kris told me. I asked really nicely. And also gave him a hundred dollars.”

“I hate you so fucking much,” Jongdae muttered, although, he reflected, possibly not as much as he hated Kris at that moment in time.

“Well, that’s why I’m here,” Junmyeon told hm. “Because last time we spoke, you told me that you hated me, but also that you liked me. Which one is it?”

“Hate,” Jongdae insisted. “I really hate you. I despise you. You make my skin crawl.” And my heart rush and my face flush and let’s not even get into the dreams I’ve been having—

“Because I might really like you too.”

Jongdae sucked in an angry breath. “Oh, fuck off, I’m so done with you and your crap, don’t even think about kissing me, Junmyeon, stop—”

Junmyeon cut him off by kissing him, just a soft gentle press of his mouth. Then he pulled back and said, “There. Now you know. And I don’t care that you’re always mean to be me, because you’re right, I probably deserve it. But I’m trying. And I just need you to know that.”

“Oh, you are the worst,” Jongdae said, and he grabbed Junmyeon’s shirt and yanked him towards him, crushing their mouths together. It was perhaps the least graceful kiss Jongdae had ever had. After a couple of seconds, Jongdae shoved him away, wrapped his arms around his neck, and kissed him properly.

They were interrupted an indeterminable amount of time later by the front door to Jongdae’s apartment opening and his mother, her eyes wide with surprise, stuck her head out. Junmyeon stepped back; his hair was all messed up at the back and it absolutely wasn’t adorable. “Hello,” he said. “You must be Jongdae’s mother.”

Jongdae’s mother, looking at him like he had three heads, nodded.

“I’m Kim Junmyeon, I like your son very much, and would like to take him to the cinema right now if he’s free.”

What?” Jongdae asked.

“Oh, a date,” said Jongdae’s mother brightly. “Have fun!” And she disappeared.

“Mom,” Jongdae said flatly.

Junmyeon gave him a bright smile that began to fade in the face of Jongdae’s unimpressed look. “What do you mean, the cinema,” he asked. “You know I can’t – there’s no way for me to—”

Junmyeon’s smile became softer . “Didn’t you hear?” he said. “It’s a date. Which means I have to pay, that’s how dates work?”

“What about next time,” Jongdae asked, before he could stop himself. He regretted it immediately. “Not that there’s going to be a second time,” he blurted out, trying to cut off the smug look on Junmyeon’s face.

Junmyeon drew in closer to Jongdae, close enough to press his lips to Jongdae’s forehead. It was remarkably erotic, Jongdae found. “I pay,” he repeated. “That’s how dates work.”

Oh, I am fucked, Jongdae thought.

---

“Well, I think it’s cute,” Baekhyun said stubbornly.

“It’s not cute,” Jongdae said. He tried to wriggle away from Junmyeon’s hold but considering he was trapped between Junmyeon and the wall at the side of the booth, he couldn’t get very far. He huffed out a sigh and slumped back down against Junmyeon, who once again wrapped himself around him. Jongdae struggled half-heartedly. “Get off,” he said. Junmyeon ignored him.

“I don’t know,” Lu Han said. “I’m not sure I’d want a limpet for a boyfriend.” He was munching happily on fries, a bruise around his right eye finally starting to fade from dark blue to a rather ugly yellow. His father had found the print outs of apartments that he and Minseok were looking to move into after they graduated the following semester, and hadn’t been best pleased. Lu Han, his face swollen, clinging to Minseok, had simply said that he hadn’t run fast enough. Jongdae didn’t usually think like this, but sometimes he wished Lu Han’s father would just drop down dead

“No, you’d rather just have a limpet for a boy toy,” Jongdae said, raising an eyebrow at Sehun, who guiltily withdrew his hand from where he was stealing Lu Han’s fries.

“Hey,” said Lu Han, noticing for the first time. He slapped Sehun’s hand. “You’re the rich boy here, buy your own food.”

“I finished my own food,” Sehun said plaintively. “I’m still hungry.”

“Here,” Zitao said, shoving the rest of his fries and half his burger at Sehun. “Eat them. I’m on a diet.” Kris sighed heavily beside him.

While everyone was distracted, Junmyeon kissed Jongdae’s cheek, who sighed at him. He was really too proud about the A’s that Jongdae had managed to get in algebra 2 and US history, like he thought he had anything to do with those at all. If anything, Junmyeon had been nothing more than a distraction over the past few weeks.

He slid his eyes along at Yixing, snuggled in under Junning’s shoulder and looking a lot happier about it than Jongdae was about being snuggled under Junmyeon’s shoulder. Jongdae hadn’t been sure about discussing his grades around Yixing, but considering Junning was currently whining to Kyungsoo about how he’d been given a B- in one of his general ed classes and had missed Dean’s list because of it, it wasn’t a huge concern. Yixing had failed everything but Chemistry, in the end, and was almost guaranteed to have to redo the year. Only getting straight A’s next semester would save him, and Yixing had joked that he’d rather just redo the year than put his brain through that stress.

“Oh, hey,” Chanyeol said around his mouthful of burger, reaching over to tap Lu Han on the arm and pull him out of his heated discussion with Sehun about whether being friends required sharing food. “So, I know this guy who works for this condo building and—”

“Whoa,” said Minseok, lifting a hand to stop him. “We can’t afford a condo. We certainly can’t afford anything someone you know could give us.”

“But they’re really nice!” Chanyeol protested. “They have under floor heating.”

“Yeah, there’s no way,” Minseok said. “We’re going to be lucky to find a place with flooring.”

“Thank you for looking out for us,” Lu Han said, patting Chanyeol’s hand. It was very condescending.

“But—” Chanyeol began, and Baekhyun reached out and clamped his hand over his mouth

Lu Han gave Baekhyun a smile and then turned back to see Sehun’s hand sneaking away from his side with a few fries clutched in it. “Don’t – you fucking—” Lu Han shrieked and Sehun jumped up and ran away from them, stuffing the fries into his mouth and cackling.

“We’re going to get thrown out, aren’t we,” Junmyeon said sadly into Jongdae’s ear, his arms now hugging Jongdae’s torso like that didn’t inhibit Jongdae’s ability to eat the food that Junmyeon had bought for him in the first place.

“Probably,” Jongdae said, reaching up to stuff a fry into Junmyeon’s mouth.