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Drowning in carnations

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Most people can pinpoint the exact moment their life took a turn that would lead them in no other but this particular direction. Jaemin can't say it was one, singular moment. Rather, it was a series of instances, twisting and turning his fate, that made him end up here, in front of Jeno's apartment, with Jeno's grandma talking to him through the closed door.

"Please, he didn't respond to any of my texts or calls, I have to know, if he's okay," Jaemin is saying, urgent.

Jeno's grandma sighs audibly and Jaemin can almost picture her wrinkled face sinking in fatigue.

"He's gonna be fine," she says, her voice stern in a way that tells Jaemin he won't be able to see his best friend any time soon. "I can't let you in, Min-ah, I'm sorry."

"But he's okay, right? Is he okay?" Jaemin insists.

He's worried, Jeno's been absent from school the whole day and wouldn't answer Jaemin's increasingly worried messages at all.

"Donghyuck-ah!" Jeno's grandma yells and Jaemin frowns in surprise.

Donghyuck is in a different class than Jeno and Jaemin, and Jaemin was sure he attended school as usual today, even though they didn't see each other during lunch, because one of Jaemin's teachers wanted to talk to him then.

There are some hurried footsteps and some murmurs Jaemin can't pick up through the wood separating him from the apartment. The door jerks open and Jaemin scurries back. Donghyuck walks out into the hallway, but Jaemin barely registers it. He's overwhelmed by the most amazing scent he's ever felt invade his nose. It's heady and syrupy, like carnations and sweet pea, like pears and plums. It makes Jaemin dizzy, makes him want to get closer, to roll around in it, but before he knows it, his knees buckle and he's knocked back on his butt from the force of it, from how his head is spinning.

Donghyuck snorts and it breaks Jaemin out of his daze somewhat, but even with the door now closed, he can still smell it all over Donghyuck.

"You're so weak, oh my God," Donghyuck rolls his eyes.

"Is that- what the- but, what?" Jaemin babbles.

Donghyuck smirks down at him.

"It's Jeno," he announces, like it's that simple and unsurprising. "And seeing how you can't even manage standing with a small whiff, I won't let you in."

Something flares in Jaemin's chest then, something hot and hateful, because Donghyuck refuses to let him anywhere near his best friend, near his-

"Are you serious," Donghyuck deadpans.

His eyebrow is raised and Jaemin realizes he's started growling low in his chest. It doesn't phase Donghyuck in the slightest and Jaemin quickly cuts himself off, his face burning.

"Go home, Nana," Donghyuck's voice is softer now and he even goes as far as baring his neck just to calm Jaemin down.

"Yeah, I," Jaemin fumbles, confused and freaking out and thrown completely off. "Thanks. Take care of him."

"Don't tell me what to do," Donghyuck gripes, but adds, seeing Jaemin's distressed state, "You know I will."

He opens the door and slips through it as quickly as he can, but it still lets out another strong wave of the scent and Jaemin doesn't move from the hallway floor until breathing through his mouth helps for the spinning of his head. As he heads back down the stairs, knees weak, he dials Jisung's number, tightening his trembling hand around the phone.

"Yeah?" Jisung drawls after three signals, voice bored.

Jaemin doesn't have the mind to scold him for talking like that to him.

"Can I come over?" Jaemin breathes out, words shaky.

Jisung is completely silent for three whole seconds.

"Sure, hyung, what's wrong?"

"Jeno presented," Jaemin gets out, all jumbled, his tongue numb.

"I'm guessing he's not what we thought he would be?" Jisung says after another pause.

"I'll be there in fifteen minutes," is all Jaemin manages to respond with.

The instances that led Jaemin to get knocked down on his ass from the force of Jeno's new scent are as follows:

1. Getting into the same high school as Jeno those almost three years ago. It was tough, Jeno has always been good at studying, while Jaemin was distracted by gathering friends and going on dates. They almost went to completely different schools, but Jaemin managed to improve his grades at the last second. It's not that Jeno is such a smart kid, it's only because he actually likes to learn. He can work himself into a trance when he's interested in something. Jaemin loses focus after five minutes, but they're both doing pretty okay now.
Jaemin doesn't like thinking about it, but he's sure that if not for the fact that they're in the same class, he and Jeno would have drifted apart. It happens and Jaemin thinks it's only natural. When you're maturing, you sometimes find yourself on a different path from the friend you thought was for life.

2. Assuming Jeno would present as an alpha or a beta. Most of his family are betas and Jeno has all the right characteristics, from his gentle demeanor, through the lack of will to get pissed, to his build. Even Kun said Jeno is going to most likely be a beta, and Kun has crazy intuition, he's been able to predict every single one of their friends. Until now.

3. Presenting as an alpha. Way earlier than it usually happens, too. They turn nineteen this year, but while Jeno ended up presenting close to his birthday, in May, Jaemin did in February. It's still not as soon as Donghyuck's presenting, because that happened all the way the previous year in November, before even Mark's. If Mark was to react the same to Donghyuck's scent as Jaemin did to Jeno's, maybe it's good that Donghyuck was first. At least they could get together without primal instincts getting in their way. A tiny voice in Jaemin's head that sounds suspiciously like Renjun tells him Mark is a beta, and even if he was an alpha, he wouldn't be as pathetic as Jaemin turned out to be. Jaemin tries to ignore that voice.

If not for these three things, if Jaemin was a beta and they went to different schools, Jaemin wouldn't be here, almost making a hole in Jisung's carpet with his feet, as he paces in a small circle.

Jisung watches him with a slightly pinched face, but as he would have thrown at least four mildly savage comments by now in any other situation, he doesn't say anything at all today.

"He was supposed to be a beta, Jisung-ah, a beta," Jaemin mutters, only half concerned, if Jisung's listening to him at all. "Even Kun said so. But he's not, and I don't understand. Nature is fucked up. God, he smelled so fucking good, I don't get it. Donghyuck's never smelled so good, even when he was about to go into heat after I presented."

"That might be because you don't like Do-" Jisung starts.

"Right! It's because he got together with Mark before his first heat!" Jaemin cuts in, not really paying attention to what Jisung wanted to say. "Of course, that's it! I don't react like that, because they're mates! You're so smart, Jisungie!"

Jisung sighs heavily, but doesn't protest.

"I'm calling Chenle," he announces.

Jaemin hums distractedly, lost in thoughts.

"He's been like this the whole time?" Chenle asks, when he arrives some time later.

Jaemin barely acknowledges his presence except for a small wave.

"Yeah," Jisung scrunches up his nose. "I'm gonna have to buy a new carpet."

"Don't be ridiculous, Jisung-ah!" Jaemin huffs absently, making another circle.

"Hyung, have you even eaten anything today?" Chenle wants to know, trying to stop Jaemin in his tracks by peering into his face and walking backwards in front of him. "Your stomach's growling."

Jaemin stops and blinks at him dumbly. He didn't even notice.

"Oh yeah, I got held back by Mr. Kang during lunch," he remembers.

He was so engrossed in thoughts of Jeno and his own shock, that something as trivial as being hungry didn't even cross his mind.

"Let's order takeout!" Chenle exclaims happily.

Jaemin stops pacing altogether after Jisung places the order on his internet app. Kids these days and their technology. Jaemin is sure they wouldn't even think that prank calls are funny. He was a master of prank calls in middle school.

"So Jeno-hyung is an omega, so what?" Chenle shrugs, like it didn't turn Jaemin's whole world over on its head.

"We hot, we young," Jisung mutters to that and Jaemin is sure it's some kind of an inside joke, but he's not in on it.

"What do you mean, so what?" he laments. "What am I supposed to do now? Do you have any idea how embarrassing it was to fall on my butt just because of a nice scent? In front of Donghyuck?"

The younger ones both lean in uncomfortably close in an instant, eyes wide, grins growing, and Jaemin remembers, too late, that his friends are all just a bunch of hyenas.

"You fell on your butt?!" Chenle squeals in delight.

"Did you do more embarrassing stuff?" Jisung asks, right out leering.

"Forget it, I'm not telling you anything," Jaemin grumbles, as his neck heats up.

"Oh my God, you totally did!" Jisung says, too loud, covering his mouth in a dramatic gesture. "Come on, what was it?"

They have to coax it out of him for another ten minutes before Jaemin finally cracks.

"Okay, okay, fine! Mayhaps I started growling at Donghyuck when he wouldn't let me in without realizing it."

Chenle and Jisung fall on top of each other with oh my gods and obnoxious laughter.

"You're such an alpha, hyung, honestly," Jisung huffs, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes.

Jaemin pouts and refuses to pay for his share of food when it arrives, but Chenle offers to do that, since, as he says, Jaemin had a tough day already and Donghyuck will give him enough shit for it, so he can at least eat free pizza.

Jaemin agrees eagerly, but yells at the younger ones for the whole afternoon, as they tease him mercilessly. It's a good thing Jisung's parents aren't home until late.

***

Jaemin doesn't know what to do with himself for the next week. Sure, he has a lot of friends and is comfortable with everyone in his class, and he has a lot of fun, as usual, but it's not the same without Jeno there. Donghyuck finds him during every break and drags him around school to distract him, but Jaemin can't stop thinking about Jeno's new status, about what it will mean for their pack, for Jaemin himself.

Donghyuck does give him a lot of shit for being stereotypical and for being a loser, and then he calls Renjun, as he's dragging Jaemin back to the apartment he shares with Mark and Yukhei.

"Don't be a fucking baby," Donghyuck snaps when Jaemin starts whining about Renjun most definitely kicking his ass when he comes over. "You need to get a grip and reevaluate your priorities before Jeno gets back."

"My priorities are mostly food and for everyone to love me, though," Jaemin says, confused.

He's been confused for almost a week now.

Donghyuck snorts.

"Everyone," he parrots ironically. "Right."

Jaemin has no idea what he's on about, but they reach the apartment complex then, so he gets distracted and forgets to continue the conversation after they've climbed three flights of stairs.

Yukhei is an alpha, just like Jaemin and Renjun, but neither of the two has ever bothered Jaemin in that primitive sense they taught them at school can happen. It might be because they're together, though. Yukhei doesn't get territorial at all, he's more of the opposite with how much he wants everyone he ever meets to like him. Renjun does get pissy, but it's never about being an alpha with him. Until someone insults his appearance and puts his status in doubt, that is. It can get pretty ugly then, Renjun can fight better than anyone in their pack, and it's up to Yukhei to pull him away in those cases, using his stronger build.

It's not a surprise that Jaemin gets squashed in a tight hug as soon as he opens the door, Yukhei screeching in his ear about how long it's been since they last saw each other. Jaemin supposes it's true, since he's been busy preparing for graduation that's happening in a month and then couldn't think about anything other than Jeno.

Yukhei smells like pine trees and apple candy, and it's a scent Jaemin personally likes the best out of their pack. Then, he can smell lychee and cotton.

"You could cuddle your own boyfriend instead of this embarrassment," Renjun drawls and Yukhei abandons Jaemin in a millisecond to smother Renjun in kisses.

"How can you call me that?!" Jaemin huffs, indignation winning momentarily with being scared for his life.

Renjun stops giggling from the onslaught of affection to send him a deadpan look. Jaemin still wonders how Renjun and Yukhei can work so well together, but as Donghyuck likes to say, fuck the stereotypes hard in the ass, and as Renjun likes to add, without lube.

"I know you're the most alpha-ish in the pack, but I thought Jeno's presenting wouldn't actually mess with your head so much for you to even growl at Hyuck."

Jaemin sputters, bright red in an instant. Donghyuck only laughs, like the asshole he is, and makes himself comfortable on the couch. Jaemin deflates, falling down next to him in resignation, covering his face with his hands.

"What if I'm not be able to control myself around Jeno from now on?" he asks, small and quiet.

The air grows more serious and Jaemin feels Renjun's hand on his shoulder as the couch dips.

"You're a fucking idiot," Renjun says softly. "Of course your reaction was strong, it's the first time someone presented after you, remember what they say at school? That a freshly presented alpha can react like that to literally anyone, especially if it's their pack? If Jeno presented as a beta, it would still be a mess, since you're so close."

That helps a little.

"He doesn't reek like that anymore," Donghyuck adds, bored. "It's gonna be fine, don't be a drama queen."

Jaemin straightens just to glare at him. Donghyuck is the most dramatic out of all of them and he knows it, so he just sends Jaemin a shit eating grin. Jaemin wonders, if any alpha could even make Donghyuck submit at all. He could be convinced that it's impossible, considering the pride and the defiance Donghyuck carries himself with. His chest swells with something affectionate and gross and he stops himself, but not in time.

"Ew, what did you just think about?" Renjun wrinkles his nose.

"Was it something cheesy?" Yukhei asks with a wide grin. "Was it about Jeno?"

"What, no!" Jaemin protests immediately.

They obviously don't believe him, but it's actually better, if they think it was about Jeno than if they caught on to the fact that Jaemin was thinking about being proud of Donghyuck for being proud of himself. That would be mortifying.

"Anyway, you guys feeling like deep fried chicken today?" Donghyuck asks. "I think I might go into heat in a week or two, I have cravings."

Chaos erupts immediately, with Renjun making gagging noises and Yukhei whining loudly about how gross it is and that Donghyuck should tell Mark that, and with Jaemin covering his ears and going lalalalala to avoid hearing Donghyuck say anything more about it.

"God, you're so fucking annoying!" Donghyuck yells over them, slapping Jaemin's arm repeatedly. "Mark's not here, so someone has to suffer instead!"

He knows they're not really against him talking about his heat. If it's a serious conversation, at least. It's a natural thing and just like Renjun talks to Jaemin about ruts, even though he could talk to Yukhei, all of them have indulged Donghyuck more than once when he wanted to bitch about his life being hard. It's a completely different thing when they're together like this and Donghyuck mentions his heats just to gross them out.

"I'll call the chicken," Yukhei announces when it's a bit calmer.

"Tell him hi for me," Donghyuck snickers and Yukhei understands his error only then.

He promptly starts giggling and Renjun looks after him fondly, when Yukhei disappears in the kitchen to call the Korean place they always order from.

"Who's gross now," Donghyuck teases, but Renjun only puts him in a chokehold with a war cry, elbowing Jaemin in the face on his way.

The three of them end up scuffling on the couch and then on the floor until Yukhei comes back into the living room. Instead of separating them, he gets right into the middle of it and it's another few minutes of yelling, punches to the ribs and pulling on hair before Donghyuck stills suddenly, ignoring Jaemin pinching his neck.

They all kind of pause, watching Donghyuck. Donghyuck's mouth stretches into a wide, mischievous grin and then Jaemin smells peaches, sunshine and this characteristic, clean scent of soap, and Mark steps into the apartment. He blinks at them still lying in a heap on the floor a few times and calmly starts taking off his shoes.

"S'there anything to eat?" he asks casually.

It's not the first time he stumbled upon a scene like this. Donghyuck jumps to his feet and saunters over to him, curling an arm around Mark's shoulders, eyes glinting dangerously, and the scent of sandalwood and spices intensifies until Jaemin crinkles his nose.

"How about me?" Donghyuck murmurs in a low voice and Mark's face is red in a second, eyes hooded and out of focus.

There is another wave of ews and can you fucking nots, and Mark quickly omits Donghyuck on his way to the couch, clearing his throat, embarrassed.

"We ordered deep fried chicken," Yukhei tells him helpfully.

Donghyuck pouts and promptly situates himself right in Mark's lap and Mark is about to protest, but he frowns instead.

"Deep fried chicken?" he repeats and then sniffs the air subtly. His eyes widen. "When?" he asks Donghyuck.

"A week or two," Donghyuck grumbles.

Mark changes his mind, it seems, because he doesn't push Donghyuck off of his lap, he pulls him closer instead. Donghyuck preens and his scent goes sweet in that specific way, but only for a second, not enough for any of the others to start complaining again.

"So why are you two here again?" Mark asks.

Jaemin and Renjun immediately start huffing and puffing and declaring they can go, if they're not welcome. Mark rolls his eyes and takes it back.

"Did you get over Jeno presenting yet?" he asks Jaemin.

Jaemin can feel his heart speed up, because he actually forgot for a moment, but the thoughts about him accidentally hurting Jeno and about his poor control, and about them being at least awkward with each other come right back. He's spared from answering when their food arrives.

They spend the evening distracting Jaemin in every possible way, which of course turns into chaos, especially when Renjun calls Jisung and Chenle to come over. It's almost unnoticeable that Jeno isn't there with them. Almost.

***

Three days later, on a Saturday, Jaemin is sitting around on his couch idly, fiddling with his phone, while the TV plays in the background. His parents aren't home, but it's not like that's something unusual. Jaemin had to learn to entertain himself early on in his life.

He's exchanging dumb memes with Yukhei in their group chat now, mostly to annoy whoever will show up there first, since now it's just the two of them. He hasn't heard from Jeno in nine days, even though he knows for a fact that Donghyuck has gone over to Jeno's apartment almost every day during that time. The only consolation is that Donghyuck seems to be the only one to have any kind of contact with Jeno.

Jaemin misses Jeno more than he would care to admit. It's frustrating, really, because he knows what it's like to present, to get plunged into a whole new world without anything to hold onto except a few vague tips they told them in school and their parents' advice. If they're lucky. He knows it's not a good idea to overwhelm Jeno with his presence. It doesn't mean he can't mope around, though.

He's about to get up to find something to eat when it hits him. It's not strong, not so rich, but he would recognize that scent anywhere and follow it to the ends of Earth. He almost trips in his haste to get to the door, flinging it open violently.

Jeno startles, his hand poised to knock, but then he gives Jaemin the widest grin ever, his eyes scrunching up so much, Jaemin is pretty sure he can't see anything. Jaemin's breath leaves him in a whoosh and then he has an armful of Jeno, the amazing scent of carnations and sweet pea filling his lungs on an inhale. Jeno is warm and feels exactly like he always has hugging Jaemin, but everything is also startlingly different.

Jaemin realizes he should probably let go when his vision starts getting blurry, sense slowly slipping from him until he almost buries his face in Jeno's neck forcibly, until he almost growls at him to bare it. He jumps back, heart pounding, cheeks radiating warmth. Jeno cocks his head to the side in confusion, but then he smiles again.

"You okay?" he asks.

Jaemin nods furiously.

"What about you? Are you okay? You were gone for so long! How are you dealing?"

Jeno shrugs, awkward, rubs his neck, laughs nervously.

"Honestly, I'm just kinda going with the flow, you know? I mean, what can you do?"

Jaemin sighs, exasperated.

"Of course you're going with the flow, you wouldn't be Lee Jeno otherwise," he gripes and it surprises him how easy it is to fall into old habits, into his usual manner of speech around Jeno. "Anyway, it's good that you're not freaking out."

Jeno frowns a bit, shrugs again.

"Why would I be freaking out? I'm still me, right?"

And Jaemin immediately feels horrible.

"Of course you're you," he clucks his tongue to hide how his heart fell at the slightly defensive tone of Jeno's voice. "But, man, I sure freaked out and it wasn't even that surprising in my case, so I was just wondering how you're doing. You didn't answer any texts or calls or anything."

"Oh yeah," Jeno looks sheepish all of a sudden. "I kinda dropped my phone into the toilet when it started and I've been cooked in my room all week, so I still didn't buy a new one."

Jaemin wants to strangle him a little bit. He also wants to strangle Donghyuck. A lot. Because Donghyuck obviously knew that, he's been to Jeno's place quite a few times and he's never said anything, even though he was aware how concerned Jaemin is. It must show in his scent or maybe his eyes flash, because Jeno flinches and it's such a strange feeling to be able to smell it when he gets uncomfortable. Right, Jaemin instantly loosens his posture, lets out non-threatening vibes.

"Sorry," he apologizes. "But I'm still pissed, I was freaking out over here and you went MIA, and Hyuck never said anything!"

Jeno's shoulders slump to something more relaxed. He gives Jaemin one of his warm smiles that never fail to make Jaemin pathetically weak.

"You were worried about me?" Jeno asks, because that's the only information he decided to hear.

Jaemin groans in exasperation, embarrassed and out of his depth, and waves Jeno inside. Jeno laughs, bright and carefree, like only he could manage in this kind of situation. They end up making snacks together and Jaemin falls back into their usual banter, into joking around and talking like nothing really changed.

He can do this, he thinks, after they move over to the living room and settle on the couch. They fight over what movie to put on for at least five minutes, even though it doesn't matter, because they barely pay attention to it.

Jaemin thinks he can do this even when he looks at Jeno seriously to ask how he's really holding up.

Jeno eats a few chips in between bites of his kimbap, humming thoughtfully.

"It's weird," he ends up saying.

"Weird how?" Jaemin presses.

Jeno flails his hands, looking for the right words.

"I can smell everything," he mumbles helplessly. "I mean, I knew it was gonna be like this, sorta, but everyone always said I will be a beta, right? So I just… didn't prepare myself mentally, I guess. Mark always told me his nose isn't all that good, not like Hyuck's or yours, that it's all like, in the middle when you're a beta. So I've always been thinking about that and this whole thing now, it's uh, it's a lot? I stopped freaking out really quickly, but I still can't adjust."

Jaemin wants to comfort him so bad, it almost aches.

"It's gonna take more than a week," he starts quietly, not sure if he should reach out to touch Jeno or stay put. "You remember how I was when I presented, right?"

"Yeah," Jeno snorts. "You were an asshole for like, a month," his eyes widen suddenly. "It's gonna take a month? I don't wanna feel like shit for a whole month!" he whines.

Jaemin has to clench his hands into fists not to reach for him now.

"It doesn't have to be that long, you idiot, you're better at going along with change than I am," he manages.

Jeno glances at him hopefully, his scent calming. Jaemin still wants to roll around in it. The sweet, fruity fragrant he felt that time in the hallway is gone, all that's left are flowers and something calming, something Jaemin identifies after a moment as the sea, salty and cool, as it sits in his lungs.

Jaemin thinks he can do this, when Jeno grins and makes himself comfortable on the couch to catch the rest of the Incredibles. He really does. Until Jeno's presence and nice smell lull him into a false sense of contentment. Until Jeno's arm settles against his own. Until Jeno's head falls to his shoulder.

It's always been Jaemin who sought out comfort through touch, who got unreasonably clingy and loved cuddles. Jeno has grumbled about him being an octopus or a koala, he's always indulged Jaemin, but not without letting him know he doesn't really need it.

Somehow this, Jeno being soft and cuddly, is what makes a permanent shift in the world. Jaemin really thought he can do this, despite everything changing so much in an unexpected direction, but that one small detail terrifies him. It's like they've been themselves, Jaemin and Jeno, for the longest time, since they met each other when they were kids, but now, they're something else, their dynamic doesn't match like it used to, nothing is like it used to be.

Jeno doesn't seem to pick up on Jaemin's distress, and Jaemin spends the rest of the movie sitting perfectly still, heart beating loudly in his ears, because while it is incredibly scary, he also finds himself wanting more.

***

"How long has he been like this?" Mark asks with a sigh.

Jaemin doesn't take his arm off of his face, but he tries to inhale as much of Mark's calming scent as he can. He loves the fact that while Mark's nose isn't so good and his scent all that intense, he smells like so many different amazing things.

"Almost two hours now," Jisung drawls, nudges Jaemin with his socked foot.

Jaemin doesn't react except for a little, miserable whine. Jisung's carpet is his friend.

"What the hell are you doing, Jaemin-ah?" Mark asks, resigned.

He must crouch next to Jaemin, because the scent is now closer, letting Jaemin breathe more easily.

"Jeno says you've been avoiding him for three weeks now, it's your graduation the day after tomorrow, you can't go like this," Mark murmurs, running his fingers through Jaemin's hair.

Jaemin whines a bit louder now, leans into the touch. And then he feels sandalwood, another foot connecting with his side, this time a lot harder.

"Get up, fucker," Donghyuck growls, his scent sour with irritation. "What the hell are you so miserable about? Quit feeling sorry for yourself, the fact that you want to scent Jeno isn't the end of the fucking world."

Jaemin stills, fear spiking his blood. There is a quiet gasp and Jaemin knows it's Jisung. Great, Jaemin can't bring himself to deny it and now everyone in the pack will know, and possibly the whole world, too, because Jisung will tell Chenle and Chenle will tell Yukhei, and Yukhei doesn't grasp the concept of keeping his mouth shut.

"Jaemin, is that true?" Mark asks, careful.

Jaemin rolls to his side, hiding his face even more.

"Shut up, Lee Donghyuck, it's not that simple," he mumbles dejectedly.

He misses Jeno, but he's so confused. He had thought it would be fine, if he just spent more time in Jeno's presence after that first afternoon when they hung out together with both parts of the Incredibles, but it wasn't fine. No matter how many times they met after (Jaemin managed all of three), Jaemin couldn't calm down, couldn't focus on what Jeno was saying to him at all. What captured his attention instead were the subtle changes in Jeno's scent whenever he experienced a different emotion, or how soft Jeno's hands were when they touched Jaemin in any way, or how prettily Jeno's eyelashes brushed his cheeks whenever he smiled. What captured Jaemin's attention was his too quick pulse when Jeno got close to him, his senses attuned to Jeno's every move, the itch under his skin to push his face into Jeno's neck, to rub it all over until their scents mingled.

Jeno knows Jaemin gets distracted easily, but Jaemin didn't want him to notice the reason for that. Every time he caught himself thinking something weird, he got embarrassed and flustered, because this shouldn't be happening. Even if Jeno is pack, even if they've always been incredibly close, Jaemin has never before had the need to wrap Jeno in his arms and keep him there, safe and coddled. He might be an alpha reacting to an omega, but it's not what should be happening according to everything Jaemin's learned about the dynamics and to everything he's read on the internet, not when Jeno isn't his mate. He feels bad his primal side decided to be as much alpha as possible. It's like he lost control over himself and he hates it. Experiencing all these new, strange urges and emotions is just not fair, to him, or to Jeno, since it's not something Jaemin feels as himself, it's what his primitive nature makes him feel. They were perfectly fine before Jeno presented, so it must be Jaemin's alpha that wants Jeno in other ways now than they're used to. It's humiliating.

"It's the simplest fucking thing on the planet, Na Jaemin, you're just a pussy and oblivious to boot," Donghyuck snaps, kicking him again, before walking away.

"Don't mind him, Jaeminnie, you know he doesn't mean it," Mark mutters, going back to playing with Jaemin's hair.

Jaemin is pretty sure Donghyuck does mean it. He would have maybe said it with less swearing, had it not been for the suppressants. Donghyuck's heat was supposed to hit just as they were taking university entrance exams and he couldn't afford to let it roll. Suppressants apparently make him into an even bigger bitch than he is on a regular basis, so next to avoiding Jeno, Jaemin decided to avoid Donghyuck as well. Just as a precaution. He feels bad for Mark for having to suffer if not through Donghyuck's heats, then through the lack of one.

"He's right," Jaemin mumbles into his arm, his alpha crawling in distaste and shame in his gut. "I'm pathetic. I don't even know why I'm avoiding him, it's just, every time we're together, I wanna-" he cuts himself off, lacking words, clawing at his chest in frustration.

"You have to solve it in some other way than avoiding him, though," Mark tells him. "I know it's hard and you're going through weird stuff right now, but-"

"Weird stuff?" Jisung repeats suddenly with a small scoff. Jaemin almost forgot he was there. "Hyuckie-hyung is right, you're both oblivious idiots."

"Park Jisung!" Mark reprimands and Jisung doesn't answer, which means he just shrugs with a pout.

Jaemin knows him well enough to picture it perfectly clearly. Donghyuck and his warm, heady scent go back into the room and Jaemin groans in protest.

"Damn straight I'm right," Donghyuck announces. "It's all so obvious, you're just fucking dumb."

Jaemin snorts.

"What," Donghyuck growls, a low sound that would usually make Jaemin break out in a cold sweat, even when he's the alpha here.

This time, though, he's too miserable to feel intimidated by Donghyuck at all.

"Just never thought I'd hear the words straight and I from you in the same sentence," Jaemin mutters, muffled by his arm.

Donghyuck kicks him again and Jaemin growls at him.

"Okay, I'm done with you, you clearly don't get it, so just stay here forever, I don't care," Donghyuck barks.

His scent almost causes Jaemin's stomach to hurt with how bad it's gone now. Mark sighs and leaves Jaemin's hair alone.

"C'mere, sun," he murmurs and Jaemin can smell rather than hear that Donghyuck lets Mark close him in a hug. "I think it's better, if we go now. Sungie, you gonna be okay?"

"Yeah," Jisung breathes out long-sufferingly. "Just go, I think it's better without such strong scents."

"Come to me when you get your head out of your ass, Na Jaemin," Donghyuck says, calmer now.

Jaemin makes a vaguely affirmative sound and then there is just him and Jisung.

"You're not really gonna stay here forever, right, hyung?" Jisung asks, concerned.

Jaemin only groans again.

***

He stays at Jisung's place until the next day, because Jisung's mother won't let him leave once she wrings out of Jaemin that his parents aren't home again this weekend. He gets a nice, warm meal and a lot of motherly fretting, first from Jisung's actual mother and then from Taeyong, who decided to drop by for a few days before going back to his apartment and finding a job, since he's done with his exams. Jisung whines at him to leave them alone and that they're fine, but Taeyong doesn't listen to him at all, wrestling Jaemin up from the floor and dragging him to Jisung's room. Jaemin doesn't really mind at all, especially when Taeyong lies him down in his lap and plays with his hair. Jisung settles on the bed behind them with an exasperated sound, playing on his phone.

"What's wrong, Jaeminnie?" Taeyong coos, massaging Jaemin's scalp delicately.

"I'm an asshole," Jaemin mumbles with a pout.

Taeyong cracks a lopsided smile down at him, his eyebrows jumping incredulously.

"I'm sure there is something I can do, if you just tell me some more details," he says, amused.

Jaemin takes a deep breath. Taeyong smells like a sunny winter day, completely different than Mark's sunshine warmed green leaves. There is a crispiness to it that clears Jaemin's head a little.

"I've been avoiding Jeno because I'm an asshole," Jaemin elaborates reluctantly.

"Um, even more details?" Taeyong prompts.

Jaemin sighs.

"I don't know what's going on, I just can't be around him right now, because I get distracted by his scent. I wanna, uh," he pauses, face heating up. He shifts to his side, away from Taeyong's searching eyes. "I wanna scent him real bad whenever we're together."

Jisung makes a sound like a strangled cat and leaves the room without a word. Taeyong laughs, not unkindly.

"It's not a bad thing, why do you think you're an asshole?" he asks gently.

"Because!" Jaemin huffs. "We're supposed to be best friends and I've never wanted to do that before, but now I do, because my stupid nature knows he's an omega now, so it's all the dumb fucking alpha instinct and I hate it! I don't want us to be awkward when I do something weird!"

Taeyong hums thoughtfully.

"I get it," he says after a moment. "And I know what you should do."

Jaemin sits up so violently, he almost head-butts Taeyong on his way.

"Really?!"

"Yeah," Taeyong is smiling mysteriously. Jaemin can feel his heart beating twice the normal speed in anticipation. "You have to stop hiding behind your hormones and think seriously about your feelings."

Jaemin blinks at him stupidly.

"My feelings?" he repeats.

He doesn't get it for shit. Taeyong laughs again, this time at his expression.

"You're so stubborn about it all being just your alpha side instead of the human one, but you have to remember they're not separate things, not really. Your alpha makes you who you are just as much as your human does. You think you're in conflict with yourself, but maybe your problem is just something your alpha picked up on first and your human has to catch up on. You're thinking too much."

Jaemin nods slowly, even though he still doesn't understand.

"You think you could repeat it again so I could record it and decipher later?"

Taeyong giggles, pats his shoulder, stands up from the bed.

"It's gonna be fine, Jaemin-ah," he promises. "Just stop moping around already and prepare for your graduation. It's all gonna solve itself before you know it."

Jaemin seriously doubts that, but he doesn't voice it.

***

"Before Jaemin knows it" turns out to be the very next day.

He washes and irons his uniform, orders take out, answers the text from his mom telling him to have a great day tomorrow, since neither she nor his father will be able to attend, which Jaemin honestly didn't count on. He watches a few episodes of the new Netflix show he got hooked on, listens to some music, goes with Renjun to the mall and ignores him judging him most of the time.

And then he just sits by the kitchen table, wondering about Taeyong's words, until he almost falls asleep. He thinks it's a result of that that he doesn't register the scent, before the door to his house just bangs open and Jeno appears above him, fuming.

"What's your problem?" Jeno asks, his scent going bitter with how pissed he is.

Jaemin shrinks in on himself, too used to being on the receiving end of Donghyuck's bullying to react any other way. He doesn't say anything, since he has no idea what his problem actually is, but Jeno fills the silence immediately.

"You said you were worried about me when I didn't answer you for a week, but now it's been three without any kind of contact from you! What am I supposed to think, Jaemin? Of course I would automatically feel bad about the fact that I presented as something else than you thought and now you don't want to be around me anymore! You're not making this whole thing any easier, okay?! I wasn't prepared for all these damn hormones messing me up, but what you're doing is messing me up even more on top of that, so care to get your shit together?"

Jeno's eyes are glowing, a rich dark blue, his chest heaving with rushed breaths. Jaemin wants a lot of things right now. He wants to comfort Jeno, he wants everything to be okay, he wants a hug, but most of all, he wants the earth to open up and swallow him whole. Shame burns bright in his chest, his alpha cowering, because this is his fault, he hurt the closest person to him to the point they now feel bad about themselves. And that is something Jaemin would never do consciously, because he knows what it's like to not like himself.

"I wanna scent you," is what Jaemin blurts out.

That wasn't on the list of things he would admit to wanting right now, but he can't take it back once it's out.

Jeno blinks at him a few times in quick succession, eyes flickering back to the usual warm brown. His scent eases until Jaemin can only pick up confusion and embarrassment.

"What?" Jeno asks dumbly.

Jaemin covers his face with his hands and lets out a miserable sound. It's over, he might as well say it all now.

"I don't know what's going on, okay? It's not that I don't wanna be around you, it's that I wanna be around you too much, your scent is driving me crazy! What was I supposed to do? Embarrass myself?"

"Well, to be fair, you managed that just fine," Jeno mumbles.

Jaemin snaps his head up to look at him, letting out a short growl. Jeno is grinning and Jaemin blinks to get rid of the image his brain makes him see that looks suspiciously like Jeno shivering slightly. That's impossible, it would mean Jeno didn't mind Jaemin growling, that it was the opposite, and Jaemin doesn't have enough brain cells left to deal with what that would implicate.

"Great," Jaemin scoffs. "Now that I managed that, can you leave me alone to die of mortification in peace?"

"I had no idea you knew such smart words," Jeno comments, because he thinks he's funny.

He steps closer and Jaemin's head immediately fills with the need to pull him in all the way, to get that scent all over himself, to make Jeno-

"Oh damn, you weren't kidding," Jeno remarks casually.

Jaemin catches himself on already reaching out for him and quickly withdraws his hands, face burning.

"Can you stop harassing me?" he barks.

Jeno huffs a laugh finally, his face scrunching up in that way Jaemin loves and missed so much, but then his smile gets soft, a bit shy, and Jaemin feels the world tilting to the side.

"You can scent me," Jeno shrugs, but it's not nonchalant at all.

Jaemin chokes on his spit and Jeno's scent spikes to something sharper, something pleased, even though he's still clearly embarrassed. Jeno sighs.

"Listen, asshole, if that's what it takes to make you stop behaving like a moron, then it's fine."

"B-But, you- we're not-" Jaemin sputters.

He could fry eggs on his face right now. Jeno rolls his eyes.

"I know your family is very traditional and you forget about these things, but you don't have to be mates or even in a relationship to scent each other," Jeno reminds him. "Hyuck scented me three times since I presented, same with Mark and Renjun."

The mention of Renjun scenting Jeno doesn't sit well with Jaemin at all, but he stops himself from growling this time, shuts his alpha down before it gets stupid and ruins everything again. Jaemin has a brain, he doesn't have to think with hormones that should be under control after half a year. Renjun is his friend and a way better alpha, even though he presented three months after Jaemin. Jaemin can't be worse, can't let whatever this ugly feeling is make him irrational.

"What if it's weird?" Jaemin asks quietly. "You know, after I do it?"

Jeno quirks an eyebrow.

"You think too much and yet you're so dumb," he says, shaking his head.

"Shut up," Jaemin pouts and realizes he's holding a perfectly normal conversation with Jeno, despite his scent being everywhere.

"Come on, just do it," Jeno sighs impatiently. "I wanna play that new horror game Dongyoung bought me."

"What did he buy?" Jaemin asks, already distracted.

Jeno snaps his fingers in Jaemin's face.

"You'll see. Focus here."

"Right," Jaemin swallows and his throat clicks.

It was only embarrassing when he was sitting with Jeno standing in front of him, but when he stands up and they're practically on the same level, it gets terrifying.

"I promise it's fine," Jeno says and he must notice from Jaemin's scent, which is honestly impressive.

Jaemin wasn't able to discern emotions from the scent for more than two months after he presented. Jeno encourages him with another few reassurances and then Jaemin has him pinned to the kitchen counter, hands on Jeno's shoulders. His heart is beating like crazy and he's completely frozen.

And then Jeno bares his neck, his fingers running through Jaemin's hair, and Jaemin's brain switches off. He dives in, noses along the tendon and up, behind Jeno's ear. Jeno lets out a soft sound that makes Jaemin's blood boil. He's ecstatic, heart almost bursting out of his chest at the way Jeno offers the most sensitive part of his body to Jaemin with complete ease like this. Jeno's scent is rich and all around him and Jaemin has no idea how much time he spends just breathing in, rubbing his face on Jeno's skin. He feels a little bit like he's drunk, but ninety seven times better. He must do something right, because Jeno's hand tightens in his hair and the scent tinges with the fragrant of sweet fruit, just like when Jaemin felt it for the first time. His head is swimming, fuzzy, and it's Jeno who finally pushes him away. It's not far, just enough so that they can look at each other.
Jaemin takes in Jeno's flushed face, his fluttering eyelashes and then his gaze moves down to Jeno's lips. That's when it hits him and Taeyong's words suddenly make perfect sense. Feelings, Taeyong said, and Jaemin realizes he actually has them.

There is nothing he wants more than to lean back in, to kiss Jeno and make him feel good, to roll his hips where they're still pressed against Jeno's, but his brain thankfully switches on then. He moves back until he hits the table, breathing ragged.

There is a moment when they just stare at each other, Jaemin gripping the edge of the table behind him, since it's the only thing that seems to be holding him on the surface of the world, Jeno watching him with hooded eyes and glowing cheeks, panting.

"See?" he finally breathes, voice raspy. "Not the end of the world."

Jaemin would strongly beg to differ, but he has to let go of the table eventually.

He distracts himself with the super creepy game Jeno brought and they end the night in Jaemin's bed, too scared to sleep separately.

"That was fun," Jeno mumbles, half asleep.

Jaemin can't stop thinking about how easy it would be to lean in and kiss him.

"Yeah," he says. "Fun."

***

They graduate without a hitch and Jeno's grandma makes sure to scold Jaemin for avoiding Jeno just to cuddle him to her chest and congratulate him the next second, so he doesn't even spare the absence of his parents a single thought.

Donghyuck somehow managed to get over his crankiness (Jaemin suspects Mark had everything to do with it, but doesn't want to wonder about it any more than that, because gross), so he's an absolute ray of sunshine, slamming Jaemin's shoulder only a little too hard when he sees him.

Renjun goes to a different school, so the three of them sneak out early, using Jisung and Chenle, who came to congratulate them, as a distraction to Jeno's grandma and Donghyuck's parents. Renjun beams as soon as he spots them.

The four of them ditch Mark and Yukhei near Renjun's high school. Renjun and Donghyuck tell them to go on a bro date with each other and the fresh graduates take Mark's rundown car, since Renjun just got his driving license, to go to the beach.

Jaemin breathes in the salty air, but it doesn't have the same appeal as when it's combined with flowers. Thankfully, Jeno stands right next to him, nudges his shoulder companionably, and Jaemin feels at peace, despite the previous night's revelations. He's done his best to just push it out of his brain for now.

"So, is anyone gonna mention the fact you obviously scented each other?" Donghyuck drawls.

So much for pushing it out of the brain. Jaemin doesn't glance at him, it's enough that Donghyuck will definitely smell the embarrassment on him. Jeno shuffles his feet awkwardly.

"How about mentioning the fact that Mark fucked the frustration out of you?" Jaemin says casually.

"Sure, you wanna hear the details?" Donghyuck asks, not batting an eyelash. "Because you wouldn't believe how rough Mark gets, if I just tie him up for a minute-"

"For the love of everything pure and holy in this world, stop right fucking there," Renjun yells, slapping a hand over Donghyuck's mouth, but the damage is done.

"I wanna bleach my ears," Jaemin whines, sitting down with his legs dangling over the small cliff next to the beach.

"That doesn't even make sense," Jeno points out, but he's only half paying attention to Jaemin, looking at Donghyuck in disgust.

Donghyuck shrugs with a shit eating grin.

"At least we graduated and everything is going well for now, right?"

"Yeah," Renjun sighs. "At least we graduated."

There is something about him that tells the other three that definitely not everything is going well.

"Spill," Donghyuck commands, pulling the other two to sit next to Jaemin at the edge.

Renjun lets Donghyuck cling to him in resignation, his scent frustrated.

"Xuxi is just so unaware of what's going on around him, you know?" he huffs finally.

"We know," the rest choruses dutifully.

Renjun gives them all the stink eye.

"The other day, we were at this party-"

"Hyunjin's party?" Donghyuck cuts in immediately. "I heard it was wild."

"Yes," Renjun grits through his teeth. He hates being interrupted. "It was definitely wild. At least three omegas tried to flirt with him and he just let it happen. I'm pretty sure one of them was just about to go into heat, too."

Jeno whistles lowly.

"Well damn," Jaemin comments, wondering, if he would do the same.

He loves flirting, but an omega right before their heat is usually the worst kind of companion during parties. If you're not looking for a quick fuck, that is. An alpha could lose control and do something stupid they would regret later, if the omega was desperate enough. Especially, if it was a girl.

"I know it's not his fault and he's just friendly to everyone, but I hate it when people automatically assume he's single just because he came with another alpha," Renjun sighs, defeated.

"That sucks, Injunnie, but you should talk to him about that, not to us," Jeno observes carefully.

"I know," Renjun's eyes flash purple briefly, but it's more out of frustration than anger. "I'm just not sure how, so that I don't come off as a jealous asshole."

"Just like you told us," Donghyuck shrugs. "Lucas isn't stupid, he's just a little dense. You ever even considered mating? Everything gets a little easier then."

Jaemin and Jeno instantly focus on Renjun, who blushes slightly and rubs his neck.

"Yeah, I did, but I haven't talked to him about it. I mean, what if we stop loving each other some day?"

"You can't think like that!" Jaemin huffs immediately.

"Yeah!" Jeno agrees. "Besides, if you love him enough to be sure you want him as your mate, then it's not gonna change in a few years, you know it doesn't work like that!"

"You mate for life or not at all," Donghyuck adds, more gently.

"I am sure," Renjun mumbles down at his hands he keeps wringing out in his lap. "But it's scary, to think about being with each other for the rest of our lives. And I have no idea what Xuxi thinks about it. I know I'm not ready for that yet."

"Then talk to him about flirting for now," Jeno advices. "That's easy. You're good at scolding people."

Jaemin nudges his arm, but it's too late. When Renjun slowly looks up, it's only to glare at Jeno. Jeno laughs nervously and sends him a sheepish smile. Jaemin loves how their pack's dynamics mean not one of the alphas is able to intimidate others with small gestures like that. He loves that everyone is equal and no one would try to make anyone else submit forcefully. He loves that they're unconventional enough to have a beta as their leader.

Renjun deflates, then straightens, decision made and pushed aside for the time being.

"Who's jumping with me?" he asks, a mischievous grin on his face.

Jaemin shoots to his feet with a cheer.

"Jesus, finally, it was so hot in this shit," Donghyuck grumbles, discarding his uniform shirt.

They all hold hands, as they back away to gain momentum. Jeno's fingers are incredibly warm in Jaemin's. They glance at each other, huge grins in place, start running on Renjun's cue and jump.

Jaemin thinks, absently, as he resurfaces, his best friends' crazy laughter all around him, that he wouldn't mind smelling salty water for the rest of his life.

***

It's not until a month into the summer vacation when Jaemin understands they're not equal, not really. Not when it comes to the rest of the world.

Jaemin rounds the corner, jogging a few feet to reach the gas station Jeno works at part time, eager to show Jeno the new game he found on his phone app store. He opens the door still looking down at his phone, but he almost drops it at the suffocating smell.

His hackles rise in a millisecond, his alpha snarling and growling. There are two men standing by the register. Jeno's eyes are glowing, as he grips the counter and tries to glare at them, sweat dripping down his temple, jaw clenched. His scent is laced with fear and frustration, and pain, and Jaemin almost sees red. One of the assholes is putting incredible amounts of pressure on Jeno to make him submit, but the other glares at Jaemin as soon as he senses him.

"The fuck you looking at," he barks.

Jeno whimpers, his knees buckling, and Jaemin loses it. He wishes absently he made Renjun teach him how to fight, but turns out it's not needed. The two assholes can't fight for shit, either, it's all about showing off their status, while bullying innocent people. They're looking to boost their ego and nothing more, so it's enough that Jaemin runs the short distance between them and jumps, kicking one of them in the gut. The guy falls down to the floor, clutching his stomach and trying to crawl away. Jaemin turns to the other one, whose eyes are still glowing red. Jaemin is pretty sure he throws as many punches as he receives, but it doesn't matter, because in the end, he wins.

The men scramble to the door, throwing loose threats. Jaemin is still riding on adrenaline when he jumps over the counter, crouching down next to Jeno's slumped form, so the first thing he does is pulling Jeno close to his chest.

Jeno whimpers again, a tiny sound that almost breaks Jaemin's heart, so he quickly moves away to hold Jeno's face and look at him properly.

"I'm sorry, Nono, I'm sorry, are you okay? Fuck, please be okay, they're gone now, it's just me, please be okay."

Jeno glances up at him, but instead of showing pain or embarrassment, or anything else Jaemin was expecting, Jeno's face is full of anger.

"Fuck that," Jeno spits, even though his voice is shaky. "I thought it was fine to be whatever, but fuck that, if I can't even work without some dicks showing up here just to have fun at my expense! What the hell is wrong with the world, Nana? Why can't I be an omega and live in damn peace?"

Jeno doesn't usually curse at all, so this means he's seriously shaken by what happened.

"I don't know, Jen-ah," Jaemin whispers, caressing Jeno's cheeks with his thumbs. "I'm sorry it's like this. I'm so sorry. But hey, you were badass, you didn't submit! That was so cool!"

Jeno stares at him blankly for a second and then his whole face scrunches up, and Jaemin's heart plummets to his stomach right on cue.

"It hurt so bad, Jaemin," Jeno sobs.

Jaemin shakes his head, making shushing noises, still touching Jeno's face. He's panicking, not sure what to do at all, but then Jeno just stops, blinking at him, his eyelashes sticking together with tears.

"You're bleeding," he mumbles, touching Jaemin's cheekbone, like he only just noticed.

"I'm fine," Jaemin hurries to say. "Does it still hurt? What can I do?"

"We should get this treated," Jeno says quietly, but his fingers are trembling on Jaemin's face.

"A hug will make it all better," Jaemin grins, but stops quickly, since it's starting to ache.

His jaw and ribs hurt, too. Jeno looks at him like he's nuts, but Jaemin doesn't let him protest again, as he scoots closer and wraps his arms around Jeno, gentler this time. Jeno relaxes in his hold minutely and Jaemin keeps them pressed to one another until Jeno's shaking ceases.

"Seriously, shut up and let me find the first aid kit," Jeno says finally. "You've been grinding your teeth for the last two minutes."

Jaemin laughs, but it quickly turns into another groan of pain. Jeno sits him on a stool behind the counter and goes into the tiny room in the back with a sink, a kettle and, Jaemin supposes, the first aid kit.

It's a strange moment, when Jeno kneels in front of him to dab antiseptic to his face, when they're incredibly close to each other, sharing a breath, when Jeno's scent soothes Jaemin to the point he almost doesn't feel the sting anymore. Jaemin has made sure to keep some subtle distance between them every time he thought he couldn't control himself enough not to accidentally kiss Jeno through the past month. It's the first time their faces are so close since Jaemin realized he had feelings for Jeno.

"There, all done," Jeno murmurs, his gaze never really meeting Jaemin's.

There is something odd in his scent, something heady and dreamlike that kind of slows Jaemin's reaction, so it's another few beats before Jaemin straightens like he was burnt.

"Thanks," he blurts out, laughing awkwardly, but then he feels his ribs and winces.

Jeno raises an eyebrow, shakes his head in disapproval and his scent gets back to normal, as he stands up to open the mini fridge next to them. Jaemin doesn't know what he's up to at first, but then Jeno comes back with a packet of ice.

"Shirt off," he says and Jaemin's face burns right away. "Are you a pervert?" Jeno snickers and Jaemin hates that usually he's the confident one and Jeno the flustered one, but right now it's reversed. "He kicked your ribs, right?"

Jaemin gulps, the temperature suddenly impossibly high, even though air-conditioned air is blowing right on the back of his neck in cool waves. He's never had a problem stripping off his shirt when it was hot outside, but it's different now. Jaemin stands up and pulls his tank top over his head, feeling awfully self-conscious.

Jeno places the bag of ice on his ribs that are already starting to bruise and Jaemin gasps from the sudden cold, grabbing Jeno's forearm on autopilot.

"Don't be a baby," Jeno whispers, his other hand reaching over to smooth down Jaemin's neck, that odd heady quality of his scent coming back and messing with Jaemin's head.

"Shut up," Jaemin mumbles, but he barely even registers what he's saying.

His breath hitches when Jeno's hand slides lower, over his collarbones, going down, down-

They both startle when Jaemin grabs it.

"Sorry," Jeno says quickly, flustered.

"N-No, it's fine," Jaemin stutters and curses himself under his breath for that.

Jeno laughs, bright and full, and any awkwardness disappears. Jaemin is relieved Jeno can just brush what those assholes did to the side and be in such a good mood minutes later. His side is cool to the touch long after Jeno pulls away the ice.

***

"You're having fun, huh."

Jaemin turns away from talking to one of his female friends from school to glance at Donghyuck's sly face. Jaemin instantly feels apprehensive. That face never means any good.
Jaemin has just enough time to excuse himself before Donghyuck grabs his arm and pulls him away, into the sweaty crowd of people dancing, right to the other side of the living room.

It's true that Hyunjin's parties are wild, Jaemin thinks, watching a couple next to him dry hump against the wall in mild interest, until he realizes it's Felix and Changbin, and quickly looks away, because nope.

"Where are we going?" he yells over the music.

"We have a mission!" Donghyuck yells back, but doesn't elaborate.

He leads Jaemin into the kitchen, where an already tipsy Renjun is giggling into Yukhei's neck.

"I don't know, if it's a good idea," Mark starts.

"Of course you don't," Donghyuck interrupts him unceremoniously and gestures at Jeno by the sink. "Our mission tonight is to get this virgin drunk," he announces.

Jeno sputters, ears going red. Jaemin is after a few beers himself, so the usual barrier isn't there and his brain immediately runs into an image of himself teaching Jeno everything he himself knows about sex.

"Ew!" Donghyuck wrinkles his nose, slapping Jaemin's arm.

Now Jaemin's ears must be red, too.

"Let's just," Mark sighs, like he's already regretting what he's about to say. "Let's just get to it."

"You've never really been drunk, right?" Yukhei asks Jeno.

Jeno shakes his head, still visibly embarrassed.

"A perfect opportunity!" Renjun claps his hands enthusiastically.

He always gets hyperactive when he drinks.

They get Jeno drunk and it's hilarious. Jeno is a very clingy, very cheesy drunk. First, he tells Donghyuck how he's so grateful that Donghyuck was there when he presented and helped him survive and that Donghyuck is so pretty and bright, almost like the sun. While Donghyuck is already preening under the praises and Jaemin, Mark and Yukhei are cackling on the side, Jeno pulls on Renjun's hand until Renjun lets himself be hugged tightly.

"I love you so much, Injunnie, you're like a marshmallow man, ya know?" Jeno mumbles into Renjun's hair and the rest bursts out laughing. Jeno isn't done, even though Renjun obviously is. He doesn't try to get out of the embrace, seemingly resigned to accept the affection. "You're tiny and soft, but when you get angry, it's like someone is toasting you over fire," Renjun makes and incredulous sound and Donghyuck falls to the floor from the force of his giggles. Jeno contemplates something and then, "I'm so hungry, can I have food please?"

Jaemin feels incredibly fond watching him.

"Sure, man," Mark chuckles and moves to the fridge, but is immediately stopped by Jaemin.

Mark is a health hazard on a regular basis when he as much as steps into the kitchen, but it's two thousand times worse, when it's someone else's kitchen.

Yukhei is the one who raids Hyunjin's fridge, producing some snacks they all munch on. Jeno has a permanent, dreamy smile on his face that makes Jaemin smile as well. When they're done eating, though, Renjun makes the mistake of getting Jeno to drink some more.

The next thing they know, Jeno is gone. They find him in the living room. Jaemin almost runs right back out, because Jeno is dancing. And it's not just swaying to the music, either. It's a full-blown, street freestyle that makes Jaemin's throat dry. Sure, he knows Jeno's been dancing for a long time. He's even gone to his practice a few times in the past, but this is a whole new level of angry, precise movements that completely paralyze Jaemin. And then Jeno notices him, grins, and pulls Jaemin right to the middle of the makeshift dancefloor, fitting their hips together to make Jaemin dance with him.

And Jaemin does. His hands are on the small of Jeno's back before he can think. Jeno sways them to the beat with a delighted laugh. There are too many scents, everything mixing together around them, but Jaemin doesn't care. He has Jeno all to himself right now, so close they can't get any closer. He has Jeno's low chuckle in his ear and Jeno's hands on his neck and in his hair. He has flowers and sea all around him, drowning him, until his brain just kind of leaves, yelling a faint goodbye. It's easy to catch Jeno's chin, to angle his face how Jaemin wants it. It's easy to lean in and press his lips to Jeno's. What Jaemin doesn't anticipate, though, is Jeno going very, very still and then pulling away abruptly just to puke into the nearest potted plant.

Donghyuck laughs so hard, he ends up crying. Renjun can't get up from the floor because of the mirth twisting his stomach. Yukhei snickers and carries him out on his back, patting Jaemin's shoulder faux sympathetically. Mark almost stops breathing, only wheezing sounds leaving his throat now.

Jaemin kind of can't believe what happened, but he can think about how to feel about it after he takes care of a very out of it Jeno. Donghyuck gets over himself enough to help Jaemin sit Jeno on the toilet in one of the bathrooms. Jaemin wipes his face and gives him water, telling him to spit it back into the sink like a good boy, if he wants another glass. Jeno listens, quiet.

"Getting shitfaced: check!" Donghyuck says, proud.

"You unlocked an achievement, Jen-ah," Jaemin says with a grin. "It has to happen to everyone at least once as a teenager."

Jeno blinks at him slowly, his lips stretching into a grin.

"That was fun," he decides. "I really wanna sleep now, though."

"Sure," Jaemin nods and helps him stand up.

Mark is the designated driver for tonight, as for most nights, so he places them both in front of Jeno's apartment complex for Jaemin to explain everything to Jeno's grandma. Yukhei and Renjun make out on the backseat as soon as they have it all to themselves, because Renjun had to sit in Yukhei's lap for the ride anyway. Jaemin can't really blame them, and Donghyuck will make sure to yell at them already, so he doesn't comment.

Jeno's grandma is thankfully already asleep. Jaemin gets Jeno into the bed, bringing him another glass of water and a bowl he finds under the bathroom sink. Jeno is giggling about one thing or another, but his eyes are drooping. Jaemin lies down next to him and watches his face until Jeno falls asleep. He kissed Jeno, he realizes suddenly. He has no idea what to think about the fact that Jeno threw up right after that. He kind of wants to chalk it up to alcohol, but it still doesn't sit with him well.

Jeno snuggles up to him in his sleep, searching for warmth, his scent calm and sated. Jaemin tries not to recall them dancing together when Jeno buries his face in his neck with a small, happy sound. He can't fall asleep for the next few hours.

***

It's August, air sticky from incessant heat, when Jaemin and Jeno are hanging out at Jaemin's place. It's peaceful, each of them messing around on their phones after the rest of the pack has left one after the other.

It was loud and chaotic not ten minutes ago, so Jaemin relishes in the quiet. They're a dependent bunch, though, so even if they only just saw each other, they're all immediately on their group chat.

Yukhei communicates by memes, like usual, but he's rarely online, since he and Renjun are at a party. Jaemin and Donghyuck are exchanging mildly sexual messages, mostly to gross out the rest. It works the best with Jisung. Chenle is describing a dog he just saw on the street and Jeno dutifully sends reaction images with hearts. Mark is talking about Donghyuck, which he always does, even if it's complaining and not anything positive. Everyone is ignoring him like always, too. Renjun is attaching pictures he's secretly taking at the party he and Yukhei went to after leaving Jaemin's place. Apparently, it's organized by one of Yukhei's close friends from university and he didn't want to disappoint her by not coming, if it was only because of the pack hanging out. Renjun's pictures are hilarious, full of his bored face, and with captions like i'd rather spend a week in one room with Chenle and please just kill me already, and who's heard about a party without alcohol??.

Jaemin chuckles at the newest one that shows Yukhei's friend kissing some other girl straight on the mouth in the background and Renjun's shocked face closer to the camera. nevermind sober truth or dare is a lot more intense, the caption says.

"Sober truth or dare would be so embarrassing," Jeno says with a grin. "We should do it sometime."

"Only Jisung gets more flustered than you, though, you sure you're gonna be okay?" Jaemin looks up from his phone to wiggle his eyebrows.

Jeno shrugs.

"Yolo, right?"

Jaemin laughs incredulously.

"Did you just say yolo out loud?"

Jeno grins, tugs on the collar of his shirt.

"Can you turn up the aircon? I'm gonna be a melted goo on the floor in a few minutes."

Jaemin checks the temperature and frowns.

"It's barely sixty four degrees, Jen. It's not even room temperature in here, because y'all kept complaining about being hot and then I forgot to turn it down."

"Huh," is all Jeno says.

Jaemin can see a sheen of sweat on his temple and throws his phone to the couch, scooting over to Jeno. He places his hand on Jeno's forehead and Jeno whimpers.

They snap equally wide-eyed gazes to each other.

"Oh shit," they both say at the same time.

Jaemin is on the other end of the living room in the speed of light. Now that he's paying attention, he can smell it, the sweet, tangy fragrant of fruits mixed with flowers and sea. It all shouldn't smell as good as it does.

"What the hell?" Jaemin yells, covering his nose with the edge of his shirt. "Why didn't you say anything?!"

"I didn't know," Jeno mutters begrudgingly, helplessly, bringing his knees up to hug them to his chest. "And neither of you noticed anything either!"

"You should be the one to notice first!" Jaemin cries out. He's already starting to get dizzy. "Donghyuck knows weeks before! Don't you have strange cravings or cramps?"

"There was nothing like that," Jeno says into his knees. "I just slept a bit more than usual, but how was I supposed to know it's because of this?" he grumbles.

Jaemin chances a whiff, wondering what they should do now, but it almost makes him slump against the wall behind him with how lightheaded he feels.

"I don't think you can go home," he mumbles numbly.

"What?" Jeno asks, straightening, and immediately winces. Jaemin almost runs to him, overwhelming need to comfort and protect controlling his movements. "Then what do I do?"

Jaemin slaps himself to clear his head. It's fine, he can do this, he can take care of Jeno without doing anything stupid. Jeno's scent is full of pain and discomfort, not a hint of arousal, which is honestly a huge relief. Jaemin knows every omega experiences heat in a different way and they have individual needs. It's not sexual in and of itself, although from what Jaemin heard, sex is a great way to deal with it. It helps for the pain and is exhausting enough to also help with sleep. Mostly, though, heat is just a very fucking painful biological phenomenon that each omega has to survive through various means that suit them the best.

"My parents aren't gonna be home until who knows when," Jaemin says slowly. "If you go back now, you can- you can get raped or something," it makes him sick just to think about it. "You're gonna have to stay here."

He tries to recall the biology textbook, going over useful tips in his head. Jeno whines.

"I can't, Nana, what if I lose my head and do something stupid?"

Jaemin almost snorts, because between the two of them, he's the one with one brain cell and tendency to do stupid things.

"Do you trust me?" he asks, heart pounding, because that's the most important.

Jeno looks up at him, eyes glowing deep blue.

"Yes," he grits out and Jaemin's alpha side almost howls in joy and pride.

Jaemin only wishes he could trust himself, too, but pushes it into the deeper parts of his mind.

"Then let me take care of you," he says, trying to give off calming vibes, trying to appeal as dependable and safe.

Jeno nods after a few long seconds, biting his lip.

"Okay, it's different for everyone, right?" Jaemin says, slowly inching towards him, trying to breathe through his mouth. "What do you need? I'll do it, just tell me."

Jeno's gaze is quickly losing clearness, his fingers digging into his folded legs until they turn white. He mostly smells of pain now. Jaemin wants to touch him, but he's not ready for that yet, not until he makes sure Jeno doesn't say anything dumb that will make them do something they will both regret.

"Clothes," Jeno whines, his voice breaking.

"Right, clothes off," Jaemin nods, slapping himself again.

"Nana," Jeno mumbles. "If it's too much, you don't have to-"

"No, shut up, I'm fine and you're gonna be fine, too, okay?" Jaemin barks. "Don't say things like that. I'm here, I got this."

He takes a big breath through his mouth, trying to find something to ground himself. He ends up focusing on Donghyuck releasing Renjun to kick his ass, if he does something bad to Jeno. That's scary enough to make him get a grip. Jeno makes tiny sounds, his face scrunched up, but the sigh he lets out when Jaemin finally touches him isn't from pain. Jaemin vaguely remembers reading somewhere that an alpha's touch can sometimes soothe the incessant ache. He's never been gladder to be an alpha than when Jeno lets go of his knees to circle Jaemin's neck with his arms instead.

"I'm gonna get you to the guest room, okay?" Jaemin murmurs into Jeno's hair.

Jeno hums, busying himself with nosing up Jaemin's neck and Jaemin asks whatever higher power there is in the universe, if this is his punishment for hugging Taeyong while being covered in mud and sweat once. Taeyong almost passed out, since he can't stand germs, and Jaemin got dragged through the mud roughly a few more times by a pissed Johnny. Jeno keeps scenting him even as Jaemin grunts under his weight, as he picks him up.

They're more or less equally heavy, just like they're almost the same in every other physical aspect. Except for abs. Jeno picked up some crazy acrobatics and that combined with his dancing made him to be more muscles than anything. He's strong, but Jaemin is still stronger, mostly thanks to his status, so it's not that hard to carry Jeno upstairs and into the guest room. Jaemin places him on the bed, his mouth going dry from breathing through it the whole time. He has to keep a clear head.

Jeno pulls at his clothes as soon as Jaemin lets go of him, huffing in frustration.

"Shh, it's okay," Jaemin murmurs, helps Jeno take off his tank top and tries not to stare.

It's not the time for that, not when Jeno's in so much pain. Jaemin pulls off Jeno's shorts, but leaves his underwear on, just for his own sanity. Jeno is beautiful almost naked, Jaemin wishes he could see him like that in different circumstances.

"I'll be right back, okay?" Jaemin says softly, smoothing his hand down Jeno's arm.

Jeno shakes his head, his whole body shaking, eyes out of focus. His dark hair is plastered to his forehead with sweat. Jaemin is in a state of a mild, permanent shock at how quickly it escalated.

"No, please, no," Jeno whimpers, catching the hem of Jaemin's shirt. "Don't leave me, Nana, don't- I'm-"

"Okay," Jaemin soothes instantly, stomach twisting in sympathy. "Okay, I'm here, what do you need?"

"I-I don't know, just- just, can you hug me?" Jeno asks, clutching at his stomach and moving his legs listlessly on the sheets.

Jaemin gulps, which makes him take a breath through his nose. The scent punches all air out of his lungs. It's a lot more intense now, but with the sweetness comes bone deep ache Jaemin can almost taste on his tongue, heavy and metallic. He scrambles to discard his own t-shirt, lying down next to Jeno and pulling him close. Jeno is about a thousand degrees, but Jaemin only grits his teeth, his hands moving in circles over Jeno's torso. He hopes it makes it all at least a little bit more bearable. The back of Jeno's neck is slick with sweat, but it doesn't stop Jaemin from planting a small kiss there, from pressing his forehead to it.

Jeno is trembling uncontrollably, but he lets out a deep sigh once Jaemin settles behind his back, their bodies flash together.

"Is this better?" Jaemin asks quietly.

"Yeah," Jeno rasps. "It doesn't hurt so much now."

"Try to fall asleep, baby," Jaemin says and panics immediately after.

He knew he was going to do something dumb, it's just his luck that his head is too fuzzy for a brain to mouth filter. He takes a breath to take it back, to throw an excuse, anything, but Jeno hums quietly.

"M'kay," he mumbles and he's obviously too drowsy to even register that Jaemin said something weird.

Jaemin sighs in relief, almost sweating himself from Jeno's temperature and from the slip up. He lies like that, wondering what his life has become, for long minutes, fingers smoothing down Jeno's skin gently, absentmindedly. He waits until he's sure Jeno is asleep to pull away. Jeno makes a tiny sound of protest and Jaemin freezes half out of the bed, but Jeno doesn't wake up.

Jaemin jogs downstairs, snatches his phone, ignores the onslaught of messages in their group chat, and asks the internet what to do. The internet tells him that nutrition is the most important. Jaemin takes three bottles of water out of his fridge, relieved he went shopping before the pack came over. Then, the internet says, get food, the more calories the better. Jaemin finds chocolate and chips, too frantic to actually make some proper snacks. He skips the part about considering sex, especially with an alpha, as a coping method. He tries not to think about the few words he catches, about proper lubrication and consent, and something having to do with stimulating the prostate. The internet goes on to mention the calming effect an alpha can have on an omega in heat and Jaemin wants to read more about that, but Jeno's scent spikes suddenly. Jaemin is so attuned to it by now, he can easily tell Jeno just woke up and that it hurts again.

He pockets his phone and rushes up the stairs.

Jeno is thrashing on the bed, delirious, clawing at his belly and leaving red marks from his fingernails. He's whimpering constantly now, his skin flushed and eyes glowing. It all feels like a punch to Jaemin's stomach.

"I'm here, Jen-ah, I'm here, it's okay," he chokes out, sitting down on the bed and throwing the supplies he was holding to the floor.

Jeno whines and turns towards him, curling on his side and reaching for Jaemin. Jaemin grabs his hand, almost wincing at Jeno's vice grip, and dips unoccupied fingers into Jeno's sweaty hair. Jeno relaxes visibly, inching closer to place his head on Jaemin's thigh. Jaemin does his best not to shiver from Jeno's warm breath on his thighs and comforts him with gentle touches until Jeno lets go of his stomach.

"You have to drink something," Jaemin murmurs finally. Jeno shakes his head and makes a noise of protest. "Look at me," Jaemin says and surprises himself with how decisive his voice sounds, even if it's still gentle.

Jeno glances up at him, eyes deep, vibrant blue again, and Jaemin knows his own are the color of peach.

"I'll help you sit up, okay?" Jaemin says in the same tone of voice.

Jeno only nods slowly, without a word. Jaemin evens out his breath, but his heart is still pounding, because this right here, it means something, and Jaemin refuses to dwell on it. Jeno goes willingly when Jaemin pulls him up to make him lean back against the headboard. He's calm and somewhat comprehending as long as Jaemin is touching him in any way, so Jaemin doesn't separate their hands, when he reaches for one of the water bottles on the floor.

Jeno downs it all at once as soon as Jaemin presses it to his mouth.

"More?" Jaemin asks and Jeno nods eagerly, so Jaemin helps him drink from another bottle.

This time, Jeno stops somewhere in half. Jaemin takes the chips and lies them both down, feeding Jeno until there is nothing left.

"That's it," he praises softly and Jeno rewards him with a tired smile. "You're doing so well, Nono, it's gonna be over before you know it."

Jeno nods, leans into Jaemin's hand, when Jaemin presses it to his face. Jaemin wonders what time it is. Must be way after midnight. He gets an idea suddenly.

"Is it still so hot?" he asks.

Jeno has enough sense left to level him with a deadpan look.

"Right," Jaemin giggles awkwardly. "I know what we can do."

He sits up and maneuvers them until he can lift Jeno again. Jeno holds on to him, quiet. His scent is better now, sweet and enticing. Jaemin carries him to the bathroom and places him in the tub, holding his hand the whole time it takes for the tub to fill with cold water.

Jeno almost melts, eyes closing in relief.

"Better?" Jaemin asks, pushing sweaty bangs out of Jeno's forehead.

"Yeah," Jeno mumbles.

It's the first time he spoke in a few hours. Jaemin sits down on the floor and takes out his phone again, other hand caressing Jeno's knuckles.

An alpha is able to affect the mood of an omega in heat, the internet says. If the alpha is someone they trust unconditionally, the omega is likely to let the alpha take care of them without questioning the alpha's methods. It is possible for the omega to slip into a certain headspace that makes them pliant and completely vulnerable. In those cases, if someone hurts them in any way, it could permanently damage their brain and ability to control their emotions.

Jaemin shudders in dread. This is all way more dangerous than he thought it could be. He reads some more about how he could affect Jeno's mood. It all boils down to being gentle and careful, but firm in some aspects. He can do that much. He wishes it wasn't all so formal and impersonal, because he gets confused about an advice or two and he doesn't feel the strength to go into forums. People can write so much bullshit in those, he so doesn't want to be figuring out what is true and what would be the opposite of helpful.

Jaemin discards his phone, deciding to go with intuition. Jeno's head is tipped back, as he's napping. Jaemin smiles at him softly and decides to scrub him clean. The water is already lukewarm instead of cold, when he grabs the scentless shower gel he keeps around for when he's in a rut and sensitive to smells. Jeno doesn't wake up when Jaemin starts wiping his body with a sponge, he stirs only when Jaemin cleans his face.

"Sit up a little, okay?" he murmurs. "I'll wash your hair."

Jeno hums in response and pushes himself up slightly. Jaemin talks to him the whole time, unimportant stuff he finds funny, just to entertain him. Jeno doesn't answer him, but Jaemin doesn't expect him to, is content to just blabber stupid things until Jeno huffs quiet laughs.

"Close your eyes, I'm gonna rinse it now," Jaemin says finally.

Jeno listens and lets Jaemin angle him however he wants. It's thrilling, the way Jeno trusts Jaemin to take care of him, soft and pliant. Jaemin can't stop thinking about that headspace, but Jeno is too responsive for that. That's a good thing, Jaemin tells himself, he's definitely not ready to deal with something as delicate as that.

"Will you be okay for a second here?" Jaemin asks, cupping Jeno's face to make him look at him.

"What?" Jeno whines immediately. "Why?"

"I just wanna change the sheets, I'll be back in a minute, okay?"

Jeno pouts, but nods, and Jaemin smiles at him.

"Don't fall asleep while I'm not here," he tells Jeno firmly.

Jeno nods again, nuzzles into his palm.

The water has mellowed Jeno's scent a bit, but when Jaemin steps into the room, he's almost knocked down by the intensity of it clinging to the sheets, air thick with it. He opens the window and makes a mental note to leave it like that, despite the air conditioning. He has to breathe through his mouth again, as he's changing the sheets, getting back to the bathroom with the old ones.

Jeno is watching him lazily from under his lashes. Jaemin makes another round to grab the chocolate and sits back down on the floor to feed it to Jeno.

"Wanna go back to bed?" Jaemin asks, when Jeno's heat has made the water warmer than colder.

Jeno shakes his head, but then sighs.

"Okay," he mumbles finally.

They both know he's exhausted and if Jaemin doesn't get him to bed, he will fall asleep in the tub.

Jaemin helps him stand the whole time it takes to dry Jeno with one of Jaemin's fluffier towels. Jeno's body is back to trembling uncontrollably, but he doesn't complain or make a single sound. Jaemin sits him down on the toilet, still wrapped in the towel, pushes the hair out of his face. He's a bit embarrassed about what he's about to say, but he has to get it over with.

"Jeno-ah," Jaemin starts, clears his throat as Jeno's dazed eyes settle on his face. "I know it would be the best for you to be completely naked, but, uh, if you want us to cuddle, I don't think that's a good idea."

Jeno blinks at him dumbly and then he flushes a furious shade of red.

"N-No, I don't- can you get me…?" he stutters.

"I'll get you a new pair, sure," Jaemin almost sighs in relief, ears pulsing with warmth. "You gonna be okay for just a second more?"

Jeno nods, but he looks restless and embarrassed, so Jaemin makes sure to smooth fingers through his hair again, before running to his room. He leaves Jeno in the bathroom alone to change, pacing just outside the door in concern, because what if Jeno slips and injures himself, what if he can't change by himself and Jaemin will have to embarrass them both even more, what if Jeno can't wear anything of Jaemin's, since it has a strong scent, what if-

"Nana?"

Jaemin swings the door open before he can think. Jeno is wearing his boxers, thankfully, but he's on the floor now, leaning back against the wall. His scent is sour with ache again, face pinched painfully. Jaemin runs to him to pull him to his feet.

This time, Jeno pushes his face into Jaemin's neck when they get to Jaemin's bedroom and refuses to budge. Jaemin is kind of hungry, but he doesn't deem that important enough to move and leave Jeno again, not when he finally stops squirming and melts in Jaemin's arms. He's still a thousand degrees and must still be in pain, but Jaemin's chest is swelling with pride for calming him down enough so that he falls asleep. It's after three, Jaemin checked his phone when he was waiting outside the bathroom, and he's incredibly tired, too, so it doesn't take much to drift off, once he makes sure Jeno is definitively okay.

***

Jaemin wakes up to some annoying noise and it takes him a few long minutes to understand it's Jeno's phone. He searches for it blindly, as Jeno mumbles something and presses closer to him. Jaemin is sweating buckets from being plastered to him, but he only unglues himself once he finds Jeno's phone ringing furiously in his shorts.

Jeno doesn't wake up, whining quietly when Jaemin leaves the room.

It's Jeno's grandma, and she must have called a few times already, because when Jaemin picks up, she's almost panicking. He explains the situation as calmly as he can and after promising to take care of Jeno under threats, Jeno's grandma hangs up, telling Jaemin to make Jeno contact her as soon as he can think straight. She's out of town, visiting a friend in the country, so there is no way for her to get back today. Jaemin suggests staying as long as she was supposed to. Jeno's grandma agrees after some convincing and demanding frequent updates.

It's already after two in the afternoon and Jaemin is tired and hungry. He senses more than hears, when Jeno wakes up, and forgets about food, going back into the room. Once he spent some time outside, the heavy air inside makes him dizzy, and he has to slap himself to clear his head.

Jeno isn't trembling anymore and he's also not as frantic. He's incredibly sleepy and out of it instead. Jaemin knows it still hurts, because there is just no other option, but Jeno doesn't try to scratch out his intestines today. He's all slow, drowsy movements and unfocused gaze.

And that's a lot worse. For Jaemin, at least. Jeno's scent is sweeter today, plums and pears making Jaemin's mouth water. It's harder to focus on the painful part of it, when all Jaemin wants is to press Jeno into the mattress and-

"Nana?" Jeno mumbles, his voice deliciously raspy, and Jaemin snaps out of it.

Jeno's flushed attractively, as he watches him, his damp skin glowing in the afternoon sunlight.

"Yeah," Jaemin manages and has to clear his throat. "Yeah, I'm here."

He should change the sheets again, Jaemin thinks numbly. And maybe shower. He's covered in sweat, Jeno's and his own, and while that satisfies the primal side of him, their scents mingling like this, the human side thinks it's very gross.

"Jen, I'm gonna get you to my room for a bit, okay?" Jaemin asks calmly.

Jeno only stares at him quizzically for a second and then nods. Okay, so they're still not really talking. Jaemin can work with that. His back protests slightly when he lifts Jeno in his arms this time, but Jeno seems glad to be where he is, so Jaemin doesn't mind a little pain. He carries Jeno into his own bed, wincing internally at the consequences of that. He can't even lie to himself that he's going to change the sheets after Jeno goes back home. It's pathetic, really.

"Can you stay here by yourself for a few minutes?" Jaemin asks softly, playing with Jeno's hair. "I'm gonna clean up a bit and take a quick shower."

Jeno nods, blinks very slowly. He's in a daze and Jaemin's need to protect him and make him as comfortable as possible is even stronger than the previous night.

"Take a nap, okay?" Jaemin tells him. "Be good and wait for me."

The guest room window has been open the whole night, but the summer air is warm and does nothing to cool down Jaemin's heated skin. He grabs the sweat soaked sheets and carries them into the bathroom, throwing both, this set and the one from last night into the washing machine. He's in the middle of smoothing out the new sheets, trying to stop thinking about Jeno's skin, when there is another ringing, but this time, it's his own phone.

He stares at Donghyuck's name on his screen and wonders why he didn't call Donghyuck, when it all started, instead of checking the internet. Jaemin can't believe how dumb he is sometimes. But then again, he could barely think properly last night.

"Something happened," is the first thing Donghyuck says.

It's not even a question. Jaemin sighs, feeling an oncoming headache.

"Jeno went into heat last night," he mumbles.

There is silence for a second.

"Is he still alive?" Donghyuck asks finally.

"Why wouldn't he be," Jaemin grits out.

"Because he stayed with you, duh," Donghyuck snorts.

Jaemin stops himself from growling. Embarrassing himself like that once in a lifetime was enough. His alpha isn't happy about it, though. Donghyuck is openly doubting his abilities to take care of his m- to take care of Jeno properly. Jaemin shakes his head to let go of the stupid primitive instincts.

"Tell me how you dealt with it," Donghyuck's voice grows serious.

Jaemin relays almost everything. He only conveniently doesn't mention his dumb feelings and even dumber urges.

"Okay," Donghyuck starts. "That wasn't so bad for an idiot like you. Now listen," he continues before Jaemin can get offended. "The worst is over, but there is a few important things now. It's different for everyone, but the basics stay the same. He has to drink tons of water, so stock up on that."

"Yeah, I know that much, I won't let him dehydrate," Jaemin says, fiddling with the pillow next to him on the bed.

"Okay, good. Feed him a lot, too. Calorie bombs are the best, but any food will do. He might also wanna eat something sweet."

"I'm gonna make him something to eat in a sec," Jaemin promises, a little guilty that he let Jeno go to bed after nothing more than some chips and chocolate.

"Physical contact helps a lot," Donghyuck lists off next. "Skin to skin works the best, but seems like you already figured that out."

Jaemin doesn't like the tone of his voice one bit.

"And one more thing," Donghyuck adds. "It's not necessarily the same for everyone, but speaking from my experience, the second day is when the brain completely switches off. I function on nothing but emotions and I'm sensitive to literally everything around me. That's when I need someone from the pack to be there the most. I don't know with Jeno, but you shouldn't leave him alone, unless you're absolutely sure he's asleep. Also, because everything is so sensitive, there is the tendency to build nests."

"Nests," Jaemin repeats faintly, feeling like he stepped into a completely new world.

"Yes, Na Jaemin, nests," Donghyuck repeats gruffly. "It's comforting."

That's when Jaemin hears a thump and he's on his feet in an instant with a gasp.

"You fucking left him alone, didn't you," Donghyuck deadpans. "Remember, the brain switches off-"

"Yeah, yeah, thanks, gotta go!" Jaemin hangs up, running to his room in panic.

Jeno is sitting on the floor, the figurines of Ryan Jaemin collects previously standing on the dresser all around him, his breathing heavy, as he's clutching one of Jaemin's hoodies to his chest. Jaemin almost groans when he takes a whiff of their mixed scents. Jeno doesn't seem injured in any way, his scent still only full of the ache his heat is serving him, nothing more. Jaemin crouches down in front of him, touching his face gently, affectionately. Jeno smiles at him, leaning into it, still flushed down to his chest and sweaty.

"Didn't I tell you to be good and take a nap?" Jaemin whispers.

Jeno makes a confused sound, his breath small puffs of heated air on Jaemin's wrist. His eyes slip shut as a grimace twists his face, but it's gone before Jaemin can react.

"Does it still hurt?" Jaemin murmurs, his stomach twisting in helplessness. He really just wants Jeno to be okay, all thoughts of doing questionable things having evaporated from his mind. "Let's go back to bed, okay?"

Jeno lets him do whatever Jaemin wants to, soft and melting in Jaemin's hands. Jaemin would like to cover his whole body with sweet kisses, but he can't, not when Jeno has no idea what's going on around him, not when he trusts Jaemin to take care of him properly like this.

Jeno rearranges the pillows and Jaemin's plushies around himself, creating what Jaemin guesses is a nest. He hasn't let go of Jaemin's hoodie. Jaemin watches him, his heart almost bursting out of his chest with affection. Jeno doesn't pay him a lot of mind now, but he makes a heart wrenching sound when Jaemin stops touching his hair.

"Shh, it's okay, I'm here," Jaemin soothes immediately, nosing along Jeno's cheek and burying his face behind Jeno's ear, leaving a small kiss there, because he can't help himself.

Jeno deflates with a happy sigh and Jaemin's stomach flips, when Jeno bares his neck. He's scented Jeno a lot after that first time in Jaemin's kitchen, but it still punches the air out of Jaemin's lungs every time Jeno offers his neck, and it has so much more meaning right now, when Jeno isn't completely himself.

Jaemin recalls that failed kiss at the party suddenly and has to move away to stop thinking about Jeno's soft lips just inches from his own.

"Do you want me to get you more clothes?" he asks to distract himself.

Jeno nods with a small, satisfied noise. Jaemin gets up from the bed to grab the whole mountain of clothes from his computer chair that usually end up there when they're deemed not dirty enough for washing, but not clean enough to put back into the closet.

It takes approximately ten minutes for Jeno to get comfortable between all of that and look back up at Jaemin, reaching for him with a soft, "Nana."

Jaemin goes easily, because he's weak. Jeno's scent is now full of that thing Jaemin could feel at the gas station almost a month ago, that dreamlike fragrant, and before he realizes what he's doing, it's too late. Jeno's hands circle his neck and their faces are so close. Jeno smiles, his eyes hooded and so beautiful, and Jaemin leans in too much, and their lips press together in a kiss. Jaemin can't really comprehend what's happening. He feels like that one time Chenle dragged them all to a hypnosis session and the man made Jaemin recall his happiest memory like it was happening again. Only now, it's better, because he's drowning in Jeno's heady scent, with his plush lips on Jaemin's own.

Jaemin doesn't move even when Jeno lets go of him in order to bury himself under the pile of clothes and sheets. He snaps out of it only when his stomach growls loudly, reminding him he was supposed to make food. Jeno is napping, seemingly content surrounded by Jaemin's scent.

"Right," Jaemin mumbles to himself.

He's in the middle of boiling water for spaghetti when his front door opens and Donghyuck lets himself in casually.

"God, it reeks in here," he wrinkles his nose in lieu of a hello.

Mark trickles in after him, closing the door and taking a curious whiff.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Jaemin asks, but he's still too numb to contain enough amount of despise in that question.

"Wanted to check how you're doing," Donghyuck informs him, which is actually kind of sweet, before he adds, "since Jeno could be dead by now."

"He's fine," Jaemin grumbles.

Donghyuck and Mark join him in the kitchen. Mark is actually trying to be useful, but Jaemin plucks the knife from his hand before he has a chance to destroy something or one of them.

"Just check the spaghetti once in a while," Jaemin tells him, throwing in a considerable amount, since they're probably going to stay for this late lunch.

Mark can't possibly make a disaster out of watching over noodles. Jaemin hopes. Mark throws him a dirty look, but obediently shuffles over to the stove. Donghyuck grabs the knife to chop the onion instead.

"How's he holding up?" Donghyuck asks conversationally.

"He made a nest," Jaemin admits, cheeks coloring. "From my clothes."

"You smell nice, of course he would do that," Donghyuck throws offhandedly. "Isn't he like, pissed or something?"

Jaemin blinks at him in confusion, stuck on thinking about probably the only complement Donghyuck's ever given him in their lives. Jeno is anything but pissed, especially after he woke up today.

"There are a lot of different types of omegas, so I'm just asking," Donghyuck rolls his eyes.

"I'm pretty sure you're the only one who demands cuddles while whacking your mate with a pillow at the same time," Mark mutters begrudgingly.

Donghyuck only huffs.

"It's just that everything pisses me off when I'm in heat," he says what they all know already.

Jaemin's heard Mark's bloodcurdling stories and has seen the scratches and bruises on Mark's arms.

"Jeno is never pissed, though," Mark points out.

"He was that time I ignored him for three weeks," Jaemin remembers, shuddering in dread.

He still feels bad for making Jeno feel bad every time he recalls it. He hated how bitter Jeno's scent was then, full of confusion and self-doubt, and anger.

"You deserved that," Donghyuck tells him crisply. He frowns. "You're really weird today, by the way," he observes, almost carefully.

"Weird how?" Jaemin asks distractedly. "I just haven't eaten since like, ten last night."

"No, it's not that," Donghyuck says slowly, narrowing his eyes at him.

Jaemin gulps, adding sauce to the meat already sizzling on the pan. The knife being plunged into the chopping board along with Donghyuck's scent spiking with rage makes Jaemin flinch, heart suddenly pounding in fear.

"If you did something to him-" Donghyuck starts, low and threatening.

"He kissed me!" Jaemin cuts in, baring his throat on instinct, to somehow appease Donghyuck.

Donghyuck's eyes are glowing brilliant golden, but his scent calms down gradually. Mark helps with that, giving off slightly chastising, but soothing vibes.

"He. Kissed you," Donghyuck says haltingly. And starts laughing like crazy. "Oh my God, you smelled so flustered and guilty and all that just because he kissed you?! Na Jaemin, you don't have a reason to react like that unless he kissed your dick!"

"Lee Donghyuck!" Mark hisses, now flustered as well.

Both Jaemin and Donghyuck ignore him, snapping to alert at the same time.

"I'll go, finish the food," Donghyuck pats Jaemin's shoulder, like he wasn't about to threaten him with a knife two minutes ago.

Jaemin slumps tiredly against the counter when Donghyuck disappears on the stairs.

"Jeno woke up?" Mark guesses.

"Yeah," Jaemin's stomach growls again.

"I think the pasta should be good now," Mark says gently, placing his hand on the back of Jaemin's neck and squeezing.

It's something he does to comfort the whole pack and it works every time. Jaemin finds himself relaxing slowly, muscles he didn't even know were tense unwinding.

"Eat something, you should be taking care of yourself, too," Mark says.

Jaemin is about to protest, but Mark's eyes flash a deep, vibrant orange and Jaemin swallows the words. He takes the pasta and pours out the water, dividing it into four equal parts, before topping it off with the sauce. He devours his share in record time, not even bothering to sit at the table.

Mark grins and eats slowly his own lunch slash dinner. It's pretty late, after all.

"The fact that he kissed you," Mark starts after a moment. "Does it mean you told him?"

Jaemin looks down in shame. The whole pack knows about him having more than best friend-y feelings towards Jeno. Except Jeno himself, that is. Mark has been grilling him about confessing for three weeks now. Donghyuck made him a medal from cardboard that says The Most Oblivious Bitch Award, when Jaemin finally talked to him about it. Apparently everyone figured out Jaemin has feelings for Jeno before Jaemin himself did.

"It's been a month, Jaemin-ah!" Mark exclaims. "I thought that if he kissed you-"

"He doesn't know what he's doing," Jaemin cuts in with a rueful sigh. "He wants affection because he's in heat, that's why he kissed me."

"You don't know that," Mark says firmly. "The heat could lower his defense mechanisms enough for him to act on his own affection for you."

"Please don't do that," Jaemin whines. "I don't need to get even more hopeful, okay? It's just scary and I don't know what he's feeling or thinking. He might not know, either, so just, leave it."

Mark is still frowning, but he lets it go. Jaemin feels a bit bitter. He's putting his plate into the sink when his heartbeat doubles at the sudden misery sharp in the air. Even Mark straightens with a frown.

"NA JAEMIN!" comes half a second later and Jaemin's half up the stairs before he can think.

Donghyuck is hugging Jeno to his chest, as he trembles and sobs. Jaemin's heart crashes painfully.

"What's wrong?" he exclaims.

Donghyuck shushes him immediately.

"It's what I told you before," he whispers, cooing at Jeno and rocking him in his arms. "He's overwhelmed, he doesn't really get what's going on around him. I think he might have felt you abandoned him when you weren't coming back for a long time. It's completely irrational," Donghyuck adds quickly. He must have seen how Jaemin's face fell. "It's not a conscious thought and his grasp on time might be messed up. Don't get depressed on me now, you fucker, because that will affect him even more."

"Right, yeah," Jaemin mumbles, not sure what to feel anymore. "Okay," he takes a deep breath.

Priorities. He wants Jeno to be okay physically and mentally, that's the most important now. He sits on the bed, touching Jeno's neck like Mark did to him just now.

"Nana?" Jeno croaks, his voice awful from the crying, and then he promptly hiccups.

"I'm here, Jen-ah," Jaemin coos and rearranges Jeno until they're chest to chest, Jeno seated in his lap, Jaemin's back against the headboard.

Jeno is a bit broader than him, but he folds himself into a tiny bundle to fit in Jaemin's embrace.

Donghyuck is smirking at Jaemin over Jeno's shoulder.

"Should have known he'd be a pussy when in heat," he shrugs. Jaemin kicks at him, but Donghyuck leans away, laughing. "It was obvious he would be all soft and a crybaby. I prefer being pissed, thanks," he sniffs haughtily. "Anyway, try to calm him down, I'll get his food."

Jaemin does just that, rubbing Jeno's back and playing with his hair, murmuring irrelevant things and soft praises, until Jeno is slumped against him, breathing quiet. His body is still incredibly heated, skin sweaty, but Jaemin doesn't care. Not when Jeno cried because Jaemin left him for a few minutes, not when he calmed down because of Jaemin's presence alone.

"I'm here the whole time, I just wanted to feed you, baby," Jaemin promises.

The endearment slips out before he can notice, but he doesn't feel so conscious about it now. Jeno hums, rubbing his face all over Jaemin's neck. He doesn't seem to be willing to speak, other than mumbling an occasional Nana, but it's fine. Jaemin can fill the silence by himself or just enjoy it, while he basks in Jeno's presence.

Donghyuck gets back with the spaghetti and feeds Jeno bite after bite, until there is nothing there.

"Good boy," Jaemin coos and Jeno grins at him sleepily.

Jaemin pointedly ignores Donghyuck's raised eyebrow.

"Jaemin-ah, did you take him to the bathroom since yesterday?" Donghyuck asks, sparing him further embarrassment.

"I, uh, made him a cold bath?" Jaemin says, confused.

Donghyuck sighs.

"You're such an alpha, really," he mutters.

Jaemin hates that sentence, because it always makes him feel bad for even being an alpha in the first place. Donghyuck holds a bottle of water to Jeno's mouth, but looks pointedly at Jaemin.

"Think, Jaemin, how much did he drink since last night?"

"Oh," is all Jaemin is capable of and then he immediately flushes. "Hyuck, I can't-"

"I know, I'll take him," Donghyuck sighs long-sufferingly, like he's doing Jaemin a huge favor that will cost him at least his soul.

Jaemin wouldn't be surprised, to be honest.

Jeno doesn't want to be separated from him, so Jaemin has to carry him to the bathroom, but he's not completely unreasonable and lets go once Jaemin promises to be just outside. Donghyuck closes the door in Jaemin's face.

It's a few long minutes and a shouted conversation with Mark, who's still downstairs for some reason, before the door opens again. Donghyuck basically throws Jeno at Jaemin.

"Well, that was traumatizing," he announces. "Get your ass up here, Mark, what the hell are you still doing in the kitchen?" he yells next.

Mark grumbles something they can't hear and then joins them in Jaemin's room. He stops in the doorway for a second and then walks straight to the window to throw it open.

"How can you even be in here, Jesus, it's almost unbearable," he mutters under his breath.

Jaemin and Donghyuck shrug at the same time, only it's more difficult for Jaemin, since he has Jeno draped over him.

"It was worse yesterday," says Jaemin.

"Got used to it," says Donghyuck. "He smells better than I do when I'm in heat."

"Not true," says Mark, immediately, and it makes Donghyuck grin.

Jeno makes a questioning sound, blinking at them sleepily.

"Just take a nap with him, you idiot, he can't be standing up for so long yet," Donghyuck barks.

Jaemin listens immediately, lying Jeno down in his bed between all the stuff he pulled there before.

"We'll go," Mark informs Jaemin. "Update us, okay? And don't be surprised when Jisung drops by tomorrow."

"I'll make you some snacks and put them in the fridge, don't forget about them," Donghyuck adds.

"Yes, mom," Jaemin answers instantly.

Donghyuck swats him upside the head. Then, he leans in to leave a soft kiss straight on Jeno's lips, waves at Jaemin, and leaves the room. Jaemin and Mark blink at each other in shock, but Mark discards it quickly, walks over to Jeno to run a hand through his hair and squeeze his nape reassuringly.

"Hang in there, dude, it's gonna be over soon," he murmurs.

Jeno nods, slightly more comprehensive, and leans into the touch.

"Thanks, hyung," Jaemin says before Mark leaves. "Don't tell Donghyuck I said thanks, please," he adds.

Mark grins.

"Sure thing, Jaemin-ah. You're doing well, take care of him properly, yeah?"

Jaemin nods just as Jeno did. And then they're alone in Jaemin's bed, Jeno already drifting off, face tucked under Jaemin's chin. Jaemin checks his phone, skims through the two hundred something messages on their group chat that are mostly memes, goes on SNS, texts back his mom that yeah, he's fine, his parents can be gone for as long as they want to. He also texts Jeno's grandma the gist of the situation and answers Renjun's concerned questions. He makes a mental note to call Jeno's workplace tomorrow and then gets bored with his phone, so he places it on the nightstand.

Jeno is breathing deeply into his throat, skin burning where it touches Jaemin's. He's sweating less than before and Jaemin can't smell any noticeable pain, just that tiny, permanent ache that he suspects won't go away just because of Jaemin's close proximity.

Jaemin feels overwhelmed with feelings suddenly, as he listens to Jeno breathing. He supposes he's aching, too, just in a very different way. Having Jeno so close, all to himself, with Jeno's complete trust and enticing scent, and knowing Jeno doesn't feel the same makes Jaemin miserable. Sure, he realized he wants Jeno as more than his best friend because of stupid primal urges, but Jaemin knows now that there is nothing wrong with that. He knows those feelings are real.

Jeno makes a quiet sound of discomfort, his arm tightening around Jaemin's waist. Jaemin gets himself to stop thinking. Turns out it's not really recommended.

***

"…-na. Nana? Jaemin-ah."

Jaemin blinks his eyes open, but the room is dark. It takes him a few seconds to get used to it, to make out Jeno's form thanks to the dim light streaming in from the streetlamps outside.

"Jeno?" he mumbles, voice rough with sleep.

Jeno hums. His chin is digging into Jaemin's sternum. The sensation of being too hot and sweaty hits Jaemin all of a sudden and he grimaces.

"I'm hungry," Jeno informs him in a whine.

Jaemin needs a minute to get his brain online and understand that Jeno is actually using words other than Jaemin's nickname.

"So we're talking again?" Jaemin asks.

Jeno makes that adorable, confused sound he always does when something is beyond his brain cells' capacity.

"Why wouldn't we be?" he asks.

His voice is slightly slurred, breath burning where it hits Jaemin's bare skin.

"No, nevermind," Jaemin says. He remembers he hasn't showered in almost two days. "Hyuck made some snacks, I'll go and get them, okay?"

Jeno stops him with a hand on his bicep. His fingers are trembling slightly. He still looks feverish.

"Can I," he starts and has to clear his throat to make it work properly. "Can I take another bath?"

"Of course you can," Jaemin sighs, running his hand through Jeno's sweaty bangs.

He got so used to this gesture, it's going to be difficult to just stop doing it once Jeno's heat is over. Jeno clings to him when Jaemin pulls them both out of bed, but he can more or less walk already, so it's a relief for Jaemin's back. Jeno sits down in the bathtub obediently and watches Jaemin, as he turns the tap and checks the temperature of water.

"I'll be back with snacks in a sec, yeah?" Jaemin asks him, touching his face briefly to make sure Jeno is okay with him gone.

He wouldn't want him to cry again. Donghyuck made a ton of food and Jaemin finds a note attached to the plates in the fridge.

Mark told me you said thanks, so I didn't even spit in those

The best person you'll ever meet, Lee Donghyuck

PS. take a fucking shower, hoe, love u

Jaemin snorts at the message and unwraps the foil, grabbing two plates packed with mini tuna-mayo sandwiches. He goes back to the bathroom and sits on the floor, putting the food next to him. Jeno looks at him from under his lashes, but doesn't say anything. Jaemin grabs his hand, because he can, and Jeno instantly relaxes, sinking lower in the tub.

Jaemin feeds him the sandwiches that are perfectly bite sized, and eats some himself.

"You should wash up," Jaemin says when the food is gone.

Jeno whines, shaking his head.

"What then, I'm supposed to wash you?" Jaemin asks.

Jeno nods and looks at him, pleading. Jaemin is so, so weak. He sighs, grabbing a sponge and the scentless shower gel again, but Jeno stops him, passing him the one Jaemin usually uses with his face incredibly flushed. Jaemin suspects it's only half the influence of heat and he smirks.

"You already smell like me," he points out teasingly.

"Shut up," Jeno mumbles.

His breathing is shallow and uneven.

"How are you feeling?" Jaemin asks softly, wiping Jeno's thighs, his arms submerged in the water up to his elbows.

"Like I'm sick," Jeno says quietly, shivering when Jaemin moves to his abdomen. "I have a fever and everything hurts, and my head is fuzzy."

"It's gonna pass soon," Jaemin promises.

He's wiping Jeno's collarbones when he feels Jeno's hand on his face. He looks up and his heart skips.

"Thank you, Nana," Jeno murmurs, eyes a bit clearer than during the day.

He still looks dazed, still looks beautiful, and Jaemin still loses his breath every time he looks at him like this.

"You're welcome," Jaemin whispers, voice almost failing him.

Jeno grins at him and his head rolls back tiredly. They're both quiet after that, as Jaemin finishes washing Jeno's body. Jeno refuses to let Jaemin change the sheets and he won't listen no matter what Jaemin says. Jaemin lets it be. It's not like he hates their combined scents to linger. He originally planned on getting Jeno back to the guest room to make sure his room doesn't soak in Jeno's scent too much, but it seems to be a lost cause, with Jeno's nest and Jeno's stubbornness.

Jeno doesn't cry this time, when Jaemin leaves him to finally take a shower. He seems content to curl into himself with Jaemin's hoodie hugged to his chest. Jaemin thinks that it will maybe stay like this, but as soon as he gets back, Jeno reaches for him.

It's too hot again and one of Jaemin's plushies is poking him in the back, but Jeno drapes himself over Jaemin like a koala and won't move, even when Jaemin gives up on subtlety and tries to rearrange them by himself. Jaemin finally sighs, resigned to the fate of being uncomfortable until morning, but he must forget about that somewhere between Jeno murmuring his name and scenting Jaemin all over.

They sleep until eleven without a hitch.

It's Jisung who wakes them up.

"Hyung, hyung, hyung, hyung," he chants right above Jaemin's ear until Jaemin groans and bats at him weakly, trying to roll away from the annoying presence.

He buries himself into Jeno, but Jisung isn't done.

"Come on, hyung, my mom made you two soup."

That is a tempting offer, Jaemin loves Mrs. Park's soup. On the other hand, there is Jeno, wrapped around him so tightly, Jaemin can't tell, if it's still only Jeno's too high temperature, or if Jaemin himself is maybe too warm, too.

"Soup?" Jeno perks up immediately, sleep forgotten.

His words are a bit slurred, but he seems more conscious than not already, which is a relief.

"Yeah," Jisung nods. "Come eat it before Chenle gets here."

"Chenle is gonna come, too?" Jaemin groans.

"He's worried," Jisung shrugs awkwardly. "You shouldn't leave the door unlocked, by the way."

Jeno sits up with a small wince. Jaemin immediately supports his weight. Jeno stares at Jisung with something Jaemin would call awe, his hair is sticking in every direction.

"Sungie," Jeno whimpers, and Jaemin and Jisung both stare in horror as tears spring into his eyes.

"Oh my god, please don't cry," Jisung flails his hands in panic.

Jeno sobs and opens his arms. Jisung's eyes widen even more, but he gets close enough for Jeno to pull him into a hug, grimacing only slightly.

"It's gonna be okay, hyung, Hyuckie-hyung says it stops hurting eventually," he promises, unsure what to say.

Jaemin watches them with a fond grin, relieved.

"He's not crying because it hurts, you dumbass," he tells Jisung.

"What?" Jisung squawks, his face squished into Jeno's shoulder. "Then why?"

"If I had to guess, it's because he's just a little bit sensitive right now and you cared enough to bring him soup," Jaemin's grin widens.

Jisung blushes.

"Oh my god," he mumbles, embarrassed.

Jeno calms down fairly quickly and even walks downstairs by himself. He sniffles adorably over his soup, as Jaemin tries to tame his wild hair. Jisung's face is pinched the whole time he watches them.

"What," Jaemin barks at him.

"You're just really gross," Jisung declares.

Jaemin doesn't know why that makes him blush, but he ducks his head and leaves Jeno's hair alone.

Jeno makes an indignant sound, but he's too busy with soup to do something more about Jisung clearly disrespecting them. Jaemin does instead, cuffing Jisung upside the head.

"You're gross," he snaps back, childishly.

Jisung only rolls his eyes. Chenle joins them in a swirl of curious questions Jeno's not anywhere near ready to answer. He brings some herbal tea his mother uses to help with pain during her own heats, though, so Jaemin doesn't tell him to get the hell out, no matter how much he wants to.

Jeno seems satisfied with sitting there and eating his soup, sipping on the tea and watching the other three bicker. His scent is rich and calm.

***

"So what's the deal with you two?" Donghyuck asks with narrowed eyes.

Jeno blinks up at him from his place in Jaemin's lap. Jaemin pauses touching his hair to look up at Donghyuck instead of playing Candy Crush on his phone.

"What do you mean?" Jeno asks, genuinely confused.

Jaemin doesn't say anything, just as a precaution, in case it comes back to bite him in the ass in the form of Donghyuck's meddling.

Donghyuck opens his mouth to explain and then Chenle barrels into him, sending them both to the ground. Jaemin has never been so happy to see Chenle in his life.

"You guys have any snacks?" Chenle asks, too loud.

Jaemin throws him the ice cream he just bought.

They're sitting on the rooftop of one of the garages next to Jeno's apartment complex. Jisung found a secret ladder a few years ago and it's been their spot ever since. They're almost invisible to anyone from the road thanks to a tall tree growing right outside the fence and no one has ever come to take their car from any of the garages when they were there.

Jeno bites almost half of his ice cream off and gives the rest to Jaemin. Jaemin grimaces, watching him chew happily, but takes the offered snack.

"You don't get brain freeze?" Chenle asks Jeno incredulously.

Jeno just shrugs. Donghyuck has succeeded at pushing Chenle off of himself and is now glaring at Jaemin. Jaemin, wisely, doesn't ask him what his problem is. That would get them right back to the interrogation. Thankfully, Mark shows up soon and efficiently distracts Donghyuck. Chenle rolls his eyes at their squabbling. Jaemin catches himself staring at the bite on Donghyuck's collarbone and quickly looks away.

"Hey, guys, we'll go buy something good to eat, be right back," Mark tells them and pulls Donghyuck towards the ladder by the hand.

Donghyuck throws one last, pointed glance at Jaemin and they're gone. Jaemin thinks nothing of it, but then Chenle looks at them contemplatively, glances after Mark and Donghyuck, and pulls out his phone.

"I'm gonna go and call Renjun," he announces.

And that's how Jaemin and Jeno stay alone. It's the first time since Jeno's heat ended two weeks ago and Jaemin's heart immediately picks up on that, pounding with nerves.

"You okay?" Jeno asks conversationally, frowning up at Jaemin.

"Yeah, uh, I'm fine," Jaemin says quickly, trying to distract himself with the game, but he loses quickly because of a bomb.

He hates those bombs. Jeno sits up, looking at him thoughtfully now. Jaemin really wants to hold his gaze, but his own slips down to Jeno's lips pathetically fast.

"You're not fine," Jeno taps his nose, which is just plain adorable. "I can smell it."

Jaemin averts his eyes from Jeno completely.

"Who'd have thought you're gonna be so good at sensing emotions," he says, going for a grin, but he's pretty sure it's no more than a grimace.

"Look at me, Nana," Jeno asks quietly and Jaemin really doesn't have a choice, does he.

Jeno's silhouette is illuminated by the sun setting behind his back and Jaemin has to squint to make out his face.

"You're avoiding me again," Jeno says.

Jaemin bristles.

"No, I'm not, what the hell, I'm-"

"Not like that," Jeno cuts him off. "You won't hang out with me, just the two of us, and you never make eye contact when we're talking. I know I'm dumb, but not dumb enough, you know?"

"You're not dumb," Jaemin protests weakly. "At all. I'm the dumb one."

"Why?" Jeno asks, grabbing Jaemin's hand and pressing it to his face, his lashes dark against the skin of his cheeks.

It's such an easy question and yet, Jaemin doesn't know how to answer it. His heart feels about ready to burst when Jeno nuzzles into his palm, his lips catching on Jaemin's skin. Jaemin wants to kiss him so bad right now, it aches. Jeno lets out a small sound.

"Don't do that," he whines. "You always want to say something, but then you just don't and I know it must suck, okay? I hate it when your scent gets all-" he makes an unidentified gesture. "Just say it!"

"I don't know how," Jaemin whispers.

"Okay, then do something!" Jeno demands. "Show me!"
Jaemin thinks there might actually be a chance he goes into cardiac arrest today. Jeno's scent is spiked with frustration and something else Jaemin can't name. That other thing is what makes him cup Jeno's face with both hands and pull him close.

"Just remember this was your idea," he almost growls and Jeno's eyes get incredibly wide, as a shiver runs down his body.

Jaemin notes that the strange fragrant gets heavier until it turns into the more familiar, heady quality Jaemin first sensed a month ago at the gas station. It makes his spine prickle and stomach flip, but he doesn't dwell on it, as he shuffles closer to Jeno and presses their lips together.

Jeno freezes and there is one, terrifying moment when Jaemin wants to go back in time, because this was a terrible, terrible idea, and what was he even thinking, just going for it like that-

Jeno groans and grabs Jaemin's wrists, angles his head, his scent bursting with something that gives Jaemin head rush. Jaemin doesn't really comprehend that what's happening is happening, but he doesn't intend to stop, not when Jeno's mouth is so soft and warm against his, not when Jeno presses closer to him, almost clambering into Jaemin's lap. Before Jaemin knows it, his hands are in Jeno's hair, messing it up and tugging until Jeno grunts, following Jaemin's lead. Something hot jumps in Jaemin's gut, spreads around, until his brain gives up on him entirely. He growls, a low sound from the depths of his chest, and Jeno gasps into his mouth, fingers clenching in Jaemin's tank top and twisting sharply. It's a strange thrill, something Jaemin didn't know until now. He wants Jeno closer, as close as possible.

Jeno whimpers when Jaemin makes him open his mouth, their tongues hot and slick, as they slide against one another. Jaemin's skin is vibrating, heat spreading all the way to his toes and fingertips. Jeno bites down on his lip, soothes the sting with his tongue, and suddenly, they pull apart, breathing harshly in each other's faces.

"God, you smell so good," Jeno rasps, immediately pushing his nose into Jaemin's neck.

Jaemin doesn't really know what happened, but he pulls on Jeno's hair to make him look up.

"Are you really okay with that?" he asks breathlessly, dazed.

Jeno is quiet for a moment, breathing heavily.

"I thought," he looks away, but Jaemin grabs his jaw to make their gazes lock, and Jeno just whines very quietly and lets him. "I thought it was all the fever," he admits. "When you let me kiss you, I thought that only happened in my head."

Jaemin feels like his face is on fire, while his gut is throwing a wild party.

"But then you were gone for so long after that and my head was all messed up, and I psyched myself out that it was real and you hated me," Jeno adds, perfectly still in Jaemin's hold.

"That's why you cried?" Jaemin asks numbly.

Jeno's face is flushed.

"Yeah," he mumbles. "But then it was all over and you were there, so I thought I made that up," he admits quietly, embarrassed, and he's so pretty in the light of setting sun.

"I had no idea why I couldn't deal with your scent for so long," Jaemin confesses absentmindedly. "It was all too much, because I was fine before you presented, so I thought it's just instinct or something and I hated that. But when you let me scent you, I realized there must be some kind of feelings, so I tried to figure it all out. And then you went into heat, and fuck, I wanted," he pauses, shame twisting his stomach, but Jeno waits for him to continue, holding his breath, their faces still so damn close. "I wanted to do so many things to you, I just couldn't look you in the eye after that, so that's why the avoiding and all-"

"What kind of things?" Jeno asks quickly.

Heat simmers under Jaemin's skin.

"Jeno," he starts, because this has been embarrassing enough already.

Jeno grins and his eyes glow.

"Kiss me again?"

And Jaemin does, because he really, really doesn't have another choice. Jeno has him wrapped around his finger. His scent alone would have been enough to render Jaemin completely useless, but no, Jeno had to go and be adorable and beautiful, too.

Jeno ends up in his lap this time and it all gets dangerous very fast, when he pushes Jaemin down on the surface of the rooftop.

"Jen-ah," Jaemin whines and Jeno just leans down and bites his neck.

Jaemin sees stars and he's sure he makes some kind of embarrassing noise, because Jeno right out moans, the vibrations spreading through Jaemin's ribcage like wildfire. Jeno raises his head, smile dazed, scent rich and sweet with what Jaemin now recognizes as arousal.

"You're in public, you nasties!" comes suddenly from beneath them and they both pull away in record time.

Jaemin glances to the side and Jeno meets his gaze, face flushed up to his ears, but he's grinning like an idiot. He's so pretty and Jaemin is so whipped.

Jaemin chances a glance over the edge of the rooftop and hides immediately after, because there is Renjun standing there with hands on his hips, glaring up at them.

"I lost rock-paper-scissors," Renjun sighs audibly. "They made me check, if you're decent."

Jaemin curses Donghyuck and then he curses Chenle, for being perceptive enough to know what Donghyuck is up to.

"Fuck all of you!" Jaemin calls.

Jeno is giggling next to him. Jaemin glares at him, because this is not funny at all. Sandalwood hits his nose.

"I dare say you'd rather fuck someone else instead," Donghyuck sing-songs.

Jaemin groans, red from mortification, but it at least makes Jeno stop giggling, because he choked on his spit and is now coughing violently. Jaemin claps his back.

"You can come up now, assholes," he throws over the edge.

He regrets that not two minutes later, because the whole pack shows up and they spend the rest of the evening teasing Jeno and him mercilessly.

***

"Your grandma would flip, if she knew we only have one bed," Jaemin snickers, but it quickly turns into an irritated groan, because the damn screwdriver won't listen to him.

"My grandma loves you," Jeno says, plucking the offending tool out of Jaemin's hands to fix the frame of their new bed himself. "Plus, I'm pretty sure she heard us that one time when you were being a stubborn, horny idiot."

"We didn't even do much then," Jaemin reasons, offering his support by staring intently at Jeno's hands. "Besides, it was because my rut was about to hit and I didn't know."

Jeno raises an eyebrow at him.

"And you gave me shit because I had no idea when my first heat would start."

Jaemin grumbles something incomprehensible under his breath, because he won't admit Jeno's right. It only takes Jeno another fifteen minutes to complete assembling the frame and Jaemin stares at their brand new bed skeptically, ego slightly bruised. He hates it when Jeno can do something he can't, but he won't admit it, because Jeno wouldn't let him leave down his poor, sensitive alpha pride.

They place the big mattress in the frame and Jaemin doesn't waste time, throwing himself on top of it. The springs whine under his weight, but other than that, it seems perfectly solid. Jeno stares down at him, unimpressed, but it's enough for Jaemin to gesture at him and a giant grin stretches Jeno's face, as he falls down right on top of Jaemin. Jaemin wheezes under the sudden weight, but hugs Jeno to his chest, smiling at the ceiling.

"We got into the same school, Jen-ah," he says in awe, scratching Jeno behind one ear. "Can you believe it?"

Jeno hums in lieu of an answer.

"We just bought our first bed," Jaemin continues. "And we put it together."

Jeno pinches him and Jaemin yelps.

"Fine! You put it together. Happy?" Jaemin grumbles.

Jeno purrs, satisfied. Jaemin shakes his head fondly at the giant cat on his chest. There is knocking on the door and Donghyuck sticks his head inside the room without waiting for permission to enter.

"Renjun's here with Lucas," Donghyuck says, ignoring their glares. "They want us all in the living room and they even brought the brats. Get your asses up."

Jeno and Jaemin both groan in protest, but Donghyuck knows they're curious, so he leaves without another word. Jeno grabs Jaemin's hand on their way out of the room, their fingers fitting together naturally.

There is something different about Renjun and Yukhei, but Jaemin can't put his finger on it.

"What's up?" Jeno asks.

Renjun opens his mouth, a huge grin on his face, but Jisung cuts in before he can say anything.

"Don't you guys smell something burning?"

Mark's eyes widen comically and he runs to the kitchen, Jaemin hot on his heels.

"You didn't turn off the stove again?!" he yells, opening the window to let in the chilly, October air.

Mark hisses, trying to move the heated pot from one side of the stove to its colder part. He turns over his shoulder with an apologetic look. Jaemin stares at him, deadpan.

"We got this place last week, you're gonna burn it down before the term even starts."

"But the term starts tomorrow?" Mark says sheepishly.

"Exactly," Jaemin drawls.

Mark laughs awkwardly, scratching his neck. They go back into the living room only to witness Renjun bawling his eyes out and hugging Jeno and Donghyuck, while Chenle and Yukhei try to make them all go deaf with squealing and screaming. Jisung is standing off to the side, but he has a huge grin on his face.

"What the hell happened," Mark asks incredulously.

Renjun notices them and untangles himself from Jeno and Donghyuck, running straight into Jaemin. Jaemin catches him automatically, still in shock. Renjun laughs and pulls away just enough to tug at the collar of his sweater. Jaemin looks down at his collarbone and all air leaves him in a whoosh.

"Is that…?" he starts.

Renjun nods enthusiastically. Jaemin traces the fresh bite mark with his fingertips, genuine happiness starting to bubble in his chest.

"Finally, huh," he whispers, pulling Renjun into a tight embrace. "Congrats, Injunnie."

Mark is already locked in a bro hug with Yukhei, yelling almost as loudly as Chenle.

They celebrate with beer and takeout. Renjun demands for Jaemin to show him their new bed, so he does, and Renjun promptly falls asleep right on top of it. Jaemin doesn't want to wake him, Renjun's had a lot to drink and it's such a happy day for him, mating with his dumb, perfectly proportioned boyfriend, after they started living together last month, too.

Jeno slips into the room, when Jaemin has sat down on the floor to play with Renjun's hair. Jeno smiles, that one small smile that makes Jaemin's heart race, and sits down next to Jaemin. His scent is calming, soft, it wraps around Jaemin's lungs until he's drowning in sweet pea and carnations, until sea breeze sets under his skin.

"He okay?" Jeno asks, petting Renjun's back raising and falling rhythmically with his breath.

"It was probably a lot to just take in," Jaemin guesses. "He's wasted."

Jeno huffs a laugh and leans in to leave a kiss on Jaemin's cheek.

"I love you," he murmurs into Jaemin's skin.

Jaemin's heart stutters, picks up its pace. He turns to look at Jeno with wide eyes.

Most people can pinpoint the exact moment their life took a turn that would lead them in no other but this particular direction. Jaemin now knows it all boils down to one instance, a fleeting moment, not necessarily life-changing at the time. He knows what it was that made him end up here, next to Jeno on their room's floor that hasn't been vacuumed since they unpacked, with Jeno's eyes glowing deep blue, as he bares his soul to Jaemin. Jaemin is so grateful his six year old self met Jeno on that one, very rainy day all those years ago, he's so grateful for whatever it was that made him curious enough not to let go of Jeno's tiny hand in his own equally tiny hand. It was all inevitable, Jaemin thinks. He was bound to fall, to drown, to let Jeno make Jaemin his with nearly no effort at all. There was just no other option.

"Nono, I-" Jaemin starts, but it's too late and choked up with emotion.

"I know," Jeno whispers into Jaemin's mouth, connecting their lips briefly, sweet. "It's okay, I know."

That's enough to unblock Jaemin's throat. He presses I love yous into the hollow of Jeno's throat, into his ear, hair, hands. Jeno giggles, the sound free and lovely.

"Oh my God, you're so damn gross!" Renjun hisses, sitting up to whack them both with one of Jaemin's plushies that they threw on the bed after assembling it. "This is supposed to be my day, don't ruin it with your stupid soulmate vibes!"

Jaemin and Jeno chuckle and fight back, until Yukhei shows up in the door with a huge grin on his face.

"Hey guys, I hate to interrupt, but I'm taking my mate home now," he says casually.

Renjun gets so flustered that he almost falls off the bed, his face completely red. He reeks of embarrassment, but also satisfaction, and Jaemin tells them to go fuck already, before it kills them all on the spot. Yukhei laughs, loud as always, and pulls on Renjun's hand, waving at Jeno and Jaemin.

Jaemin looks at Jeno, smiling widely.

"We have a new bed!" he says excitedly and Jeno doesn't waste time pushing Jaemin down on it.

They also have so many other new, wonderful things. It all started with Jeno, Jaemin thinks. He can't imagine it ending any other way, either.