If Donghyuck had to describe his perfect Saturday night, he definitely wouldn’t include dragging his trashed best friend through a crowded frat house on the list.
“Move,” Donghyuck hisses, shoving bodies away as he plows through the crowd, and Jeno is nothing but dead weight against his side, barely keeping himself on his feet. He smells like shitty beer and sweat, just like everyone else in this cursed place, and Donghyuck doesn’t get paid enough for this.
(Technically, he’s not getting paid in anything but best friend bucks. He hates parties and having to rescue Jeno every time he gets white-girl wasted on frat row, but Donghyuck would rather have Jeno safe and in one piece. Fuck. He really doesn’t get paid enough for this.)
“Hey.” Donghyuck stops in his tracks as a tall, beefy guy slides in front of him. “This one still owes me a dance,” he says, jutting his chin at Jeno.
“Hey, big boy,” Jeno slurs, barely able to keep his head up.
“He’s drunk, you dick,” Donghyuck grits. “Now move before my foot ends up somewhere you won’t like.” The guy narrows his eyes at Donghyuck, but steps aside anyway. Donghyuck shoves past him, and doesn’t stop until they’re out of the house. It’s harder to ignore the headache brewing behind his temples when there isn’t a trap bass thumping in his bones.
“Why’re we leaving, Hyuck?” Jeno asks, eyes half-closed.
“Because I am your conscience.” Donghyuck grunts, tugging Jeno towards the Uber that’s been idling in the driveway for a few minutes already. His only consolation is that this trip is coming right out of Jeno’s credit card.
“But I was about to--” Jeno frowns, like he can’t remember his point. “Was gonna-- kiss Jaemin?”
“And you told me to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Donghyuck says, and it feels like the hundredth time they’ve had this conversation. Donghyuck isn’t a fan of parties, but Jeno is-- it helps him unwind, allegedly. And if Jeno wants a one night stand, frat houses are usually teaming with people who would be more than glad to sleep with someone as pretty as him. These days he's been going back and forth with Human Douchebag Jaemin Na, and Sober-Jeno had made it clear to Donghyuck that it can't keep happening, no matter what Drunk-Jeno says.
If he looks like he’s letting go a little to much, or looking like he’s going to hook up with Jaemin Na, then Donghyuck is to drag him out of there, by his scalp if needed. And Donghyuck takes his best friend duties very seriously.
Sometimes, Donghyuck is envious of Jeno. Envious of the way Jeno carries himself, like he knows he’s beautiful, like anyone would be lucky to have his attention even for a minute. There is never a shortage of attention from boys and girls alike, and it’s been this way since high school. But given all the hairy situations Donghyuck has had to bail Jeno out of since coming to college, he decides being pretty isn’t worth it, not really.
“You’re the best, Hyuckie,” Jeno mumbles, already dozing off.
“Oh, I know.” Donghyuck pats Jeno’s head, and lets him sleep the rest of the way home.
Going to university had brought about a large number of changes to Donghyuck’s life. Besides the requisite learning to live on his own, away from his parents, and adjusting to the academic expectations of a full course load, he’s had a few revelations in the last year and a half. Three, to be exact.
One: college is full of people from all walks of life. No matter how odd someone’s interests, there’s always going to be others who share that same passion. Donghyuck had spent all of middle and high school fading to the background, because being a theater geek was somehow frowned upon, absolutely unacceptable in the arbitrary social hierarchy of high school. He doesn’t even know how he and Jeno became friends, when Jeno was class president, popular and well-liked.
Two: Donghyuck wouldn’t go back to high school if his life depended on it. College brings about a fair share of challenges, but he’s found his people here. In bouts of recklessness, he’d pierced his ears in several places and even got a tattoo. He can’t bring himself to regret any decisions he’s made so far. He’s found his niche, a place where he can be himself and blossom into the best version of himself.
“Hyuck! What took you so long?” Jungwoo asks when he spots Donghyuck hurrying over to their table.
“Office hours,” Donghyuck huffs, sliding his backpack off and sliding into the vacant seat next to Taeil. Instinctively, Taeil reaches out to ruffle Donghyuck’s hair, affectionate as always. “Sorry.”
“No worries,” Taeyong says, already handing him a sandwich.
“You are God,” Donghyuck says, taking the ziplock bag gingerly, because this stuff is gold. On his other side, Johnny is typing away at his laptop, squinting through his glasses. Donghyuck leans over to read the screen, and recoils when he sees a slew of mathematical symbols. “Gross.”
“Physics is everything, kid,” Johnny says, not taking his eyes off his screen. “This table you’re sitting at right now? Made using physics. Your phone? Physics. Everything is physics.”
Donghyuck groans, rolling his eyes in an act of brattiness that he gets away with solely because he’s the youngest in their odd group. It feels nice, secure, that he gets to be himself, that he gets to be coddled by these people he’s lucky to call his friends.
“Where’s Ten?” he asks, mouth full of chicken salad goodness.
“He knew you were coming so he told me he’d rather yeet himself,” Jaehyun says, eyes sparkling with humor. Donghyuck tilts his head back and cackles maniacally.
“What does yeet mean?” Johnny asks under his breath. When Jaehyun springs up to answer, Donghyuck just laughs louder.
He had come to university with a goal: he would pursue what he wanted, no matter what anyone said. Like a big fuck you to everyone’s expectations of him, Donghyuck had decided to major in chemistry and pursue theater as a passion. He’d been deemed social pariah for his grades and his hobbies in high school, but he’s found that in college, no one cares what anyone else does. So he’d found the theater department at his school, and auditioned for the winter musical immediately.
They’d put on The Music Man, and Donghyuck landed the role of Tommy Djilas, and it’s only been uphill for him since then. Through the production, he’d fallen in with the theater kids and found a home. On stage and off, he feels like the best version of himself. For the longest time, it’d been him and Jeno, against the world. It’s nice to have a group of older friends who have his back.
This year, the spring musical is West Side Story, one of Donghyuck’s all-time favorites. By some strange twist of fate, Jaehyun, who everyone had assumed was a shoe-in for Tony, had decided he wanted to take a more secondary role and focus on his grades. Donghyuck was the obvious next choice for the lead role, so here he is, getting together with his friends to practice their lines.
“Fuck,” Jungwoo groans, looking up from his phone. “Boy drama.”
Doyoung snorts, and Yuta, who’d descended upon the table just a minute ago, leans over to look at Jungwoo’s phone with interest. “Wow. He’s in love with you.”
“We hooked up last weekend. I don’t think that’s enough time to fall in love--” Jungwoo flicks his hair back and smirks. “Unless it’s with me, of course.”
“What are you gonna do?” Taeyong asks with wide, concerned eyes, even though this has to be the hundredth time something like this has happened.
“He’s gonna tell the guy to fuck off,” Doyoung says. The entire table erupts into an argument on phrasing, save for Taeil, who is watching what looks like a Ukrainian rap video on his phone, and Johnny, who’s leaned so far into his computer screen he’s a second from kissing it.
Jungwoo is probably one of Donghyuck’s most favorite people he’s met so far in university. He always has time for cuddles, knows all the campus drama, and walks around like life is just a personal fashion show. Sometimes Donghyuck wishes he could be as assured as Jungwoo, as cool. For now, he’ll settle for being Jungwoo’s favorite kid.
A flash of motion catches his attention, and Donghyuck’s attention is drawn to the group of people congregating at a table not too far away. There’s a guy on a waveboard that skates right up to the table, skidding to a halt right before he completely faceplants into it, and his loud startled laugh carries across the quad.
Donghyuck swallows the lump in his throat. He doesn’t know how, nearly fourteen years later, he’s still affected just by the sight of him.
It’s a secret he’s guarded close to his heart, something only Jeno knows about because he’d been the shoulder Donghyuck cried on all of high school, set off by the slightest thing.
Donghyuck has had a giant, unstoppable crush on Yukhei Wong since the third grade. Made even more convenient by the fact that since then, they’d probably spoken five sentences to each other, maximum.
For most of his formative years, the universe had just dangled Yukhei in front of him, like a carrot that he could never have. Donghyuck had figured that once he went to college, he’d finally be able to have some closure, because he’d finally put some distance between him and his stupid crush. But by some cruel twist of fate, they’d ended up at the same university too.
For the most part, Donghyuck doesn’t think of him. He could go days, weeks, without Yukhei’s name so much as crossing his mind. But then he’ll catch a glimpse, and all the feelings, the longing, the pining, will just well back up to the surface, and it’s back to square one.
He doesn’t know what to do about this hopeless crush-- but it nags at him, like an itch that just won’t go away. Sometimes, when he’s alone and feeling extra miserable, he dwells on his feelings. How Yukhei centers so much on his thoughts sometimes, but there hasn’t been a moment where Donghyuck has ever registered on Yukhei’s radar. Jeno says that Donghyuck just feels everything too intensely because he’s a Leo moon. Donghyuck thinks the universe just likes to fuck with him.
The third thing Donghyuck has learned since coming to college is that no matter how old you get, no matter how far you try to run, some things just never change.
It’s 7 AM on February 14th when Donghyuck wakes up to someone pounding on the door. He tries to ignore it, but eventually the knocking turns into the beat of Twice’s Cheer Up, and Donghyuck groans.
“Jeno-- op’n th’door--”
“Noooooo,” Jeno whines, curling up into a tight ball, and he’s a Taurus, so there’s no fucking way Donghyuck’s going to convince him to get out of bed. The beat turns into Likey, which is peak desperation, so Donghyuck vaults himself out of bed. The sooner he can get rid of whoever is at the door, the faster he’ll be back in his warm bed.
Donghyuck is halfway through a yawn, shirt rucked up as he scratches his stomach, when he opens the door, only to see Jaemin Na standing at the doorway, fully dressed, and holding a gigantic bouquet of flowers and several helium balloons shaped like hearts.
“What the fuck.”
Jaemin’s megawatt smile dims, likely at the sight of Donghyuck at the door. “Where’s Jeno?”
“Wherever he wants to be,” Donghyuck snaps back.
Jaemin rolls his eyes. “Can you get him?” He raises the bouquet and balloons up (as if Donghyuck hadn’t already seen them). “It’s kinda important.”
“No promises that he’s even here,” Donghyuck says, before slamming the door in Jaemin’s face. Fuck.
He hurries back into his and Jeno’s shared bedroom, shaking Jeno awake. “Dude, wake up! Jaemin is here,” he hisses. And the mention of Jaemin’s name, Jeno’s eyes fly open, and he sits up so quickly he almost knocks his head against Donghyuck’s.
“What? What the fuck is he doing here?” he asks, already up and dragging on the jeans he’d only barely managed to take off last night before dropping into bed.
“Uhm. Valentine’s Day, probably?” Donghyuck watches Jeno freeze, his shirt only halfway over his head.
“Fuck!” Donghyuck watches Jeno run frantically around the room, until he stops and stares. “What the fuck are you doing just sitting there? Go distract him.”
Donghyuck groans. “Are you sure you don’t want me to just kick his ass? Cuz I can do that. I’d gladly do that.” He cracks his knuckles.
Jeno shoots him a dirty look. “Are you crazy? He’s here at ass o’clock on Valentine’s Day. For me.”
God, what the hell. “You owe me big time, asshole,” Donghyuck promises, getting out of Jeno’s bed to drag himself back to the front door.
“Now listen here--” Jaemin starts, but Donghyuck cuts him off, opening the door wider.
“Just fucking come inside.”
Jaemin closes his mouth-- the smartest thing he’s done so far-- and strides inside, the balloons getting caught on the doorway a little. When Donghyuck snickers, Jaemin just gives him a dirty look as he tugs at the ribbon. “Where’s Jeno?”
“He’s just getting ready. I’ve been sent out here to distract you.” Donghyuck flashes his teeth, sinking down into one of the armchairs and propping his legs up on the coffee table. Jaemin eyes his bare feet suspiciously and perches himself on the edge of the couch. “So, what’s with all this bullshit?”
Jaemin’s glare is scathing, but Donghyuck is immune. “It’s Valentine’s Day. I wanted to do something special for Jeno.”
“Why? You guys aren’t even dating.”
That seems to piss Jaemin off even more, which is perfect. “We will be. Soon. If today goes well.”
Donghyuck snorts, crossing his arms. “That’s not what Jeno told me.”
“It’s Valentine’s Day. I can convince him.”
“It’s a bullshit holiday.”
“You’re only saying that because no one’s ever asked you out in your lonely, miserable life.” And ouch. That one hurt. For a moment, the comment throws Donghyuck so much that he’s sure the hurt flashes across his face. But he schools it quickly, smirking again.
“I’ll make sure to let Jeno know you said that.”
And that seems to make Jaemin think twice, because he immediately straightens up. “I--”
Donghyuck leans forward, kicking his feet off the coffee table so he can plant them down, elbows resting on his thighs. “Do you honestly think that Jeno would choose you over me? His bestest friend in the whole world? Especially if he knows you’re an absolute dick to me?”
“You’re a fucking asshole too.”
Donghyuck hums in acknowledgment. “But I’m his best friend. You’re just a boy toy. You think he’ll let it go if you’re mean to me?”
“Maybe one day he will,” Jaemin says, though his confident facade seems to crack a little. Donghyuck’s expression goes flat, unconvinced.
“He doesn’t even like you that much.”
“He does.” Jaemin sounds so sure of himself, it’s kind of annoying. “I just need to convince him that I can make him happy.”
“Barf,” Donghyuck deadpans. Before he can get another word in edgewise, Jeno slides into the living room, perfectly done up. He has on his I-look-fine-but-I’m-screaming-on-the-inside smile in place.
“Jaemin! What a-- what a surprise!”
The way Jaemin’s expression switches is almost comical. His face looks like it’s glowing, and he grins so wide Donghyuck wonders whether it must hurt. Stupid fucking love.
“Hey babe,” Jaemin says, standing.
Jeno’s eyes go wide at the sight of the flowers and balloons. “Is all that for me?”
“Of course, princess.”
And okay fuck, Donghyuck needs to get out of here. The other two don’t even notice when he flees, slamming the bedroom door closed behind him before diving back into bed. He pulls the covers over his head and hopes that they leave soon so he can return to the blissful land of unconsciousness.
Sleep doesn’t come.
Distantly, Donghyuck hears the front door close, and he knows he’s alone. He turns onto his back and stares at the ceiling, at the glow-in-the-dark stickers he and Jeno had put up when they first moved into the apartment. The sunlight is streaming in through their window, so he can only vaguely make out the shapes.
Donghyuck sighs. Of course he is. It’s Valentine’s Day, and he’s alone, with absolutely no plans. Just like all the other eighteen Valentine’s Days that have passed.
You’re only saying that because no one’s ever asked you out in your lonely, miserable life.
Jaemin’s words knock around in his head. And though the very last thing Donghyuck wants to do is consider a single word that comes out of that douchebag’s mouth, Jaemin is right.
He’s never been asked out before, and that’s fine. That’s totally fine. He doesn’t care. Early to ripe, early to rot, that’s what his mother had always said, when Donghyuck had curled up in her lap and cried about how four guys asked Jeno to prom in the last two days, but Jeno had said no because he wanted to go with Donghyuck. Probably because he knew Donghyuck wasn’t going to get asked and didn’t want him to feel alone.
Your time will come, she’d told him, wiping at the snot and tears. There’s someone out there, just waiting to love you. He can’t explain that he feels like no one could ever love him. But whatever. Donghyuck doesn’t let himself wallow in self-pity for very long, because that would be admitting weakness, admitting there are things in the world that could hurt him, and that’s unacceptable. He doesn’t want to acknowledge the paralyzing fear of being lonely forever.
Over the years, Donghyuck had become fairly immune to living in Jeno’s shadow. He’s fine with it-- he doesn’t care about stupid boys, or hooking up, or dating. He doesn’t. He doesn’t.
But Jaemin’s words had stung more than Donghyuck expected. You’re only saying that because no one’s ever asked you out in your lonely, miserable life.
Donghyuck supposes that’s not exactly true. The peak of his romantic ventures had been in sixth grade, when he’d come to school the morning of Valentine’s Day, only to find a card on his desk.
He’s not sure if he can even consider it a proper card-- it had been a badly folded piece of printer paper, corners misaligned like whoever had made it had done it in haste. The front had a big heart drawn on it, scribbled in with a pencil. And written on the inside, the most romantic words Donghyuck had ever been told:
Youre hair is nice and smell good. I like youre spideman sneakers. Happy valentimes day.
The conspiracy theorist in him had immediately concocted a scene of Yukhei making him this card, too shy to give it to Donghyuck in person. But Yukhei had been out sick that day, and the writing had looked suspiciously like Mark Lee’s, which, gross, because the week before, Donghyuck had caught him licking a glue stick.
At the time, Donghyuck had wanted to just throw it away. But he’d kept it, safe inside one of his stationary boxes, because it had meant something to him. It had made him feel noticed, wanted. It was a reminder that once, someone had gone out of their way for him. He’s pretty sure it’s somewhere in his apartment now, too emotionally attached to it to let it go. He’s tempted to look for it, but decides against it, in case it makes him miserable.
Whatever. He doesn’t want to think about this. He’s happy with his life (though his grade in stats could be a little higher), he has the best friends on the face of the planet, he doesn’t need stupid boys. Resolutely, he tugs his covers back over himself and flops onto his stomach. Fuck Valentine’s Day.
(Maybe if he still had Spiderman sneakers, he’d have a date.)
“Why the long face kiddo?” Jungwoo asks, eyes focusing in on the way Donghyuck seems to hunch into himself, picking at the cardboard sleeve of his coffee cup.
Donghyuck bites his lip, debating on whether to dismiss the concern or answer truthfully. He’s not sure if anyone-- much less Jungwoo, could understand the swirling thoughts in his mind. But for all of Jungwoo’s flamboyance, he’s always been very gentle with Donghyuck, in a way few people are. Donghyuck has a hard time imagining Jungwoo judging him for this.
“Do you--” He hesitates, huffing in frustration when the words don’t seem to want to come out. “Do you think I’m attractive?”
Jungwoo’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline, lips twitching in amusement. “You’re not trying to confess to me, are you Hyuckie?”
Donghyuck gags. “God, no. I just mean--” He waves his hands vaguely. “In general. Do you think I could be considered attractive?” He pauses again. “Pretty?”
Jungwoo takes a slow sip of his coffee before speaking. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder--”
“Ugh.” Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “I get it, I’m ugly--”
“Wait a minute, I didn’t say that.”
Donghyuck swallows the lump in his throat, picking at the hem of his hoodie. “Yes, you basically did. It’s fine, I wanted an honest opinion and I got it.”
“No, you didn’t. Now you’re just jumping to conclusions. Hyuck--” Jungwoo’s voice is firm in a way that Donghyuck has never heard before. It’s no less gentle, but it makes Donghyuck look up at Jungwoo, wary. “Where is this coming from?”
“I just--” He doesn’t know how to verbalize snatches of feelings that have been building up for years. “You know Jeno, right? My best friend.”
“Darling, you don’t forget a face like that.”
Donghyuck makes a noise of frustration. “That’s what I mean. Jeno-- he’s pretty. He’s confident. People pay attention to him, he’s practically perfect. I don’t blame them, I mean--”
“And you’re not,” Jungwoo guesses.
“Do you know how often he gets asked out? We’ll be hanging out somewhere and literal strangers will come up to him and ask him on a date. It’s ridiculous.”
Jungwoo raises an eyebrow. “Does that make you jealous?”
Donghyuck’s eyebrows pull together. “No? Yes? I don’t know? I just know that half the time I feel like shit because no one ever looks at me. I’ll be sitting right next to him but no one ever glances my way. The other half I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with stuff like that.”
Jungwoo seems to deliberate for a minute, choosing his words with care. “But how will people look at you when you’re always hiding?”
Donghyuck blinks at him in shock. He opens his mouth, then closes it. Opens it again. Closes it. “I--” He frowns. “I don’t hide. Have you seen me? I don’t shut the hell up.”
Jungwoo tilts his head in a way that makes Donghyuck feel like his entire psyche is being picked apart. “There are different kinds of hiding, Hyuck. Why is it that-- outside of shows-- I’ve never seen you in anything other than sweats and hoodies?”
“They’re comfy--” Donghyuck tries.
“There are lots of comfy clothes that are also cute. And practical--” Jungwoo adds, when Donghyuck opens his mouth to protest. “Your hair is like a rats nest, you always slouch, and you have a serious case of resting bitch face, kid.”
“Wow, don’t hold back,” Donghyuck deadpans, curling into himself.
“I’m just being honest with you. That’s what you wanted from me, right?” And Donghyuck doesn’t have anything to say to that, so Jungwoo continues. “To answer your question, I think you could be attractive. But I wouldn’t know, because you look and act like a slob. It’s like you’re purposefully trying to keep people away.”
The brutal honesty threatens to knock Donghyuck over. He swallows thickly. “Is that what I’ve been doing?”
Jungwoo leans forward, resting his chin on his hands. “I think the real question you should be asking yourself is whether you think you’re attractive.”
Donghyuck’s fingers curl into the material of his hoodie. For a minute, he considers. “I guess not.” He laughs bitterly. “I don’t feel like it.”
“And why is that?”
“I don’t know,” Donghyuck says, shrugging uselessly. He’s been bombarded with so many truths that he doesn’t quite know how to process everything.
“I think you must have felt awkward growing up, and never quite grew out of that mindset.” Jungwoo sighs, leaning back. “And living in your best friend’s shadow, that probably made it harder. It probably feels like nothing about you has changed since high school--”
“Middle school,” Donghyuck grumbles.
“Middle school?” Jungwoo’s eyes widen as he leans forward again. “Well, no fucking wonder. You know everyone is ugly in middle school right?” Donghyuck can’t help but snort at that. “I’m serious. Everyone goes through their gangly awkward teen years. No one escapes it.”
Donghyuck can think of one person who did, but he stays quiet about it. “But you’re nineteen, Hyuck,” Jungwoo continues. “Nothing about you is the same as when you were a kid. Maybe on the inside, you are. But not on the outside. You don’t have to be.”
“I don’t--” Donghyuck gnaws at his lip. “I don’t know how to be any different.” He doesn’t know how to explain to Jungwoo that the idea of wearing anything other than oversized clothing is terrifying to him. He’d feel so exposed, and for what?
“It’s okay. We’ll figure it out.”
Donghyuck narrows his eyes. “We?”
Jungwoo clicks his tongue, annoyed. “You didn’t think I’d make you brave this cruel world by yourself, did you?” And honestly, that’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to Donghyuck, thought he’d never admit it. Jungwoo already has to much power. “Tell me what you want to gain from this. What do you want?”
Donghyuck has to think for a moment. “I kinda--” He shouldn’t feel embarrassed divulging this to Jungwoo, of all people. “I want to… feel wanted? I guess? Attractive. Hell, maybe I’ll lose my virginity.”
Jungwoo nods, face set seriously in consideration. “Alright, that’s doable.”
Donghyuck raises an eyebrow, disbelieving. “It is?”
“Of course it is.” Jungwoo grins, and Donghyuck can practically see the gears turning in his head. “Stick with me, kid. We’ll get you laid in no time.”
“Uh--” Jeno stops in his tracks, taking in the scene. Both their beds are covered in mountains of clothes, and Donghyuck is sat on top of one, while Jungwoo looks like he's about to stab his eye out with the sharp end of a teasing comb.
Jungwoo turns to Jeno first and flashes him a smile. “Hello darling, how are you doing?”
Donghyuck takes great amusement in the way Jeno blushes. “I’m-- I’m fine. How’re you? Jungwoo?”
Jungwoo sighs, dropping his hands. “I’d be better if your best friend would stop wiggling around.”
“His best friend is right here,” Donghyuck says, cross. He’s had to stay still for the last hour as Jungwoo poked and prodded at his hair and face. He’s not used to having makeup on his face when it isn’t Ben Nye and slathered so thickly across his face that he looks like a zombie from close up. But Jungwoo had cornered him with BB cream and Donghyuck was just not going to win this fight.
“What’s all this?” Jeno asks, approaching slowly, like he’s afraid Donghyuck might bolt.
“Donghyuck wants to lose his virginity,” Jungwoo says, and grabs Donghyuck by the chin when he starts to shake his head. “Stay still, you demon.”
Jeno gives Donghyuck a surprised look, and Donghyuck just shrugs helplessly, not trying to correct Jungwoo. “I thought it was about time.”
“And you’re going to do it right now? On a Tuesday afternoon?”
“No honey,” Jungwoo says, swiping eyeliner across Donghyuck’s left eyelid. “This is just a rehearsal.” He whips out a brush and begins to methodically smudge it.
“Jungwoo wants me to go out looking like this and see what happens,” Donghyuck explains with only one eye open. “He thinks I’ll get asked out.”
Jeno grins so wide his eyes crinkle up. “Now that, I’d like to see.”
Jungwoo hums. “You can come with us. Maybe give Hyuckie here some pointers.”
Donghyuck whines. “This is embarrassing. It’s so stupid.”
Jungwoo grabs him by the chin again, leveling him with a look. “Are you doubting my methods, sweetheart?”
Donghyuck blinks rapidly in panic. “N-no. I just-- I don’t think it’ll work. For me.”
“Well if you think like that, then of course it’s not,” Jeno says. “The key phrase here is ‘fake it ‘til you make it’. You have to act the part.” Donghyuck makes a noise of confusion, so Jeno sighs and sits down beside the pile of clothes, while Jungwoo moves onto the right eyelid.
“It’s like this-- you have to walk around like you’re expecting to get asked out. Like you’re used to the attention.”
“That’s just going to make me feel extra stupid if I don’t get asked out,” Donghyuck grumbles. “Which I won’t, I’d like to add.”
Jeno purses his lips. “How can you be so full of yourself and so insecure all at the same time? Hot mess.”
“There are things that I’m confident in--” Like his brain, his voice. “-- and there are things that I know I’m not cut out for. Like being a walking dick magnet.”
“The point isn’t to actually get asked out every time you step out of the house,” Jungwoo corrects. “The point is to act like you wouldn’t be surprised if you did. Men are very simple, stupid creatures.”
“Doesn’t that make us simple and stupid?” Donghyuck asks, just to be contrary.
“We’re bottoms, it’s different,” Jungwoo says, with a dismissive hand wave. “Guys are more likely to shoot their shot if you look approachable. If you’re sweet and flirty, they’re going to think they have an opening. That’s disregarding all the scum that’ll hit on you no matter what,” Jungwoo amends. “But the nice ones-- they’re gonna take cues from you. If you seem open to it, they’ll go for it. It’s about carrying yourself like you know you’re interesting, and other people finding you interesting is inevitable.”
“Those are big words,” Donghyuck says, head spinning.
“I’m a Lit major.”
“True,” Donghyuck concedes. He looks at Jeno. “Is that what you do too?”
Jeno shrugs. “Yeah, honestly. It’s literally about the energy you give off. If you seem approachable and confident, then people will respond to that. Even if you don’t feel it, you have to fake it until you do.”
“I’m gonna look like a fucking moron,” Donghyuck grumbles.
“Think about it this way Hyuckie,” Jungwoo says, taking a step back to examine his work. “Pretend like you’re onstage. You’re a good actor, so pretend that your character is fun and flirty. It can be like an improv exercise.”
And, well, when Jungwoo puts it like that, it doesn’t seem so bad. Donghyuck is a very good actor, and if he looks at this as a challenge, it’ll be a piece of cake. He knows what to do in theory, but he has a hard time imagining himself doing it. But maybe he doesn’t have to act like himself. For a moment, he can be someone else-- whoever he wants. Someone like Jeno or Jungwoo, who are used to men falling at their feet.
Jungwoo takes Donghyuck’s hands and pulls him to his feet. “Well well well,” he says, smiling proudly. Donghyuck looks at him, then Jeno.
Jeno blinks rapidly, looking Donghyuck up and down. Jungwoo had put him in ripped black skinny jeans, a little too tight for his comfort, and a white short-sleeved button-up with a cactus print, the front tucked into his waistband in what Jungwoo had described as a French tuck, don’t you watch Queer Eye Donghyuck? The shirt has the first few buttons undone, and there’s a silver cross necklace hanging down past his collarbones.
“You--” Jeno says, then snaps his mouth shut.
“What?” Donghyuck snaps, the silence making his hackles rise. Jeno grabs him by the elbows and pushes him in front of the full-length mirror they’d hung up next to the door.
For a moment, Donghyuck doesn’t really know what to say. He doesn’t know how the person in the reflection could be him. His black fringe had been arranged over his forehead in a way that looks purposeful in it’s messiness, and his makeup is subtle but enhances the roundness of his eyes, the cut of his cheekbones. “Oh,” he breathes.
He looks good. But he doesn’t feel good. He feels itchy, like he needs to take everything off and climb into his sweatpants and hoodie and hide from the world. He can’t believe he agreed to this farce.
“Don’t panic, honey,” Jungwoo says, rubbing his back soothingly. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. It’s just for fun, okay? I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.”
“I’m not--” Donghyuck feels a little overwhelmed. And maybe he’s being melodramatic, but he doesn’t think he can do this. How does he explain the burning desire to just cover up and hide? He takes a deep breath, because Lee Donghyuck is not a coward. “I’m fine. It’s fine. Let’s do this.”
Jungwoo raises an eyebrow, unconvinced. “Are you sure?”
Donghyuck meets his eyes through the reflection, mentally bracing himself for whatever happens next. If he pretends he’s not himself, everything will be okay. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
They end up at the coffee shop across the street. Donghyuck had alerted Jungwoo and Jeno to the fact that if he royally embarrasses himself here, he’ll never be able to come back for their chocolate chip scones.
“You’re not going to embarrass yourself,” Jungwoo assures him, going so far as to massage his shoulders as they walk along the sidewalk. “Because you’re not going in there to get a date. You’re going in there to play around with your character, and see what happens.”
It’d taken Donghyuck a minute to internalize that. He can’t be discouraged if nothing happens. And besides, who walks into a coffee shop expecting to get hit on? So he shouldn’t expect it either. It’ll just be for fun. A chance for him to mess around with a character.
“When you walk in there, I want you to flirt with the cute barista,” Jungwoo instructs. “Smile wide, act coy, bat your eyelashes a little. See what he does. Buy your drink and then find us at the table.”
Donghyuck holds out his hand. “Give me money for the drink.” When Jungwoo raises an eyebrow at him, he clarifies, “I’m your social experiment.”
“I’m trying to get you laid, if you recall.”
“Wow,” Donghyuck drawls. Jeno just snickers at him and shoves him towards the entrance to the shop with a muttered good luck, and he and Jungwoo walk towards an empty table off to the side. Donghyuck stares at the register, seeing the admittedly cute barista, and takes a deep, calming breath. He can do this.
I can do this, he repeats, over and over again, keeping his shoulders straight the way Jungwoo taught him as he strides over to the front. It’s an awkward time after lunch and before dinner so there’s no line. The barista looks up from his phone when he senses Donghyuck, and the way his eyes do a quick once-over settles something in Donghyuck’s gut.
“H-hi.” The barista-- Kunhang, his nametag reads-- stands up a little taller, and Donghyuck smiles wide. “What can I get you?”
“Anything fun on the menu?” Donghyuck asks, leaning forward onto the counter and putting his chin on his palm. The silver cross necklace swings down around his collarbones, drawing Kunhang’s attention to the exposed skin there. Okay, so maybe Jungwoo is a genius.
“Uhm… the lavender chai espresso is pretty popular?” Kunhang seems to be having an internal battle between staring at Donghyuck’s collarbones and his eyes. And when Donghyuck bites his lip, his gaze focuses on that instead.
Ugh, he hates lavender flavored things. It makes him feel like he’s drinking laundry detergent. When he says as much to Kunhang, nose scrunched cutely, Kunhang just grins widely.
“Honestly, same. Dunno why everyone likes it so much.”
Donghyuck tilts his head. “Glad I’m not the only one, then.” For a moment, they just stare at each other, and Donghyuck feels his stomach swooping at the way Kunhang seems to regard him, like he’s amazed that Donghyuck is in front of him. “What’s your favorite?”
Kunhang blinks at Donghyuck several times, before letting out a deep breath. “Probably peppermint mocha. Kinda basic but it tastes like Christmas.”
Donghyuck lets out a laugh, coving his mouth as he grins. He honestly can’t believe what’s happening, but he’ll take it. “Two months too late.”
“It’s never too late for Christmas,” Kunhang says earnestly, though there’s a teasing glint in his eyes. Donghyuck bites his lip again, subconscious this time, because Kunhang is actually ridiculously cute. Having his undivided attention makes Donghyuck feel powerful.
“Well, I guess I’ll just have to go with that, then,” Donghyuck finally says, straightening up. Kunhang grins, tapping at the register screen. “If I don’t like it I’ll sue you.”
Kunhang smirks. “That just means I’ll get to see you again.”
Donghyuck laughs, so surprised that he can’t even turn it into something demure and coy. “That was very forward of you.”
“I hope when I ask for your name right now you know it’s cuz I’m flirting with you and not because of--” He holds the cup and Sharpie in his hands.
“Well, in that case, it’s Donghyuck,” he says, grin full fledged. Kunhang mouths the syllables as he writes them out.
“Alright Donghyuck, that’ll be three seventy-five.” Donghyuck holds out his card and Kunhang swipes it, shooting Donghyuck another smile as he hands it back. “Your drink should be ready in a minute.”
Donghyuck steps back from the counter. “If it tastes bad I really will sue.”
“Then you’ll just have to come back and tell me yourself,” Kunhang shoots back, and Donghyuck is proud of the way he raises his eyebrow when Kunhang winks. He walks over to the opposite side of the counter to wait for his drink, glancing at Kunhang briefly, only to see him busy with another customer. He sighs, thanking the barista for his coffee when it comes out, and slides into the seat opposite Jungwoo and Jeno.
“Well?” Jeno asks, eyes wide.
“Looked like it went pretty well to me,” Jungwoo says, smug.
Donghyuck grins, heart beating faster than normal. “It was pretty fun. I can’t believe guys are that easy? What have I been doing this whole time?”
“I told you boys are stupid and simple.”
Donghyuck sighs, the thrill and adrenaline of the last few minutes finally ebbing away. “So I flirted with the barista. No one asked me out though. Now what?”
“Uh, Hyuck,” Jeno says, glancing at the coffee cup he’d set down on the table.
Jeno points at the cup, and Donghyuck looks down at it. “No, other side,” Jeno says, twisting the cup until Donghyuck can see the string of numbers written on the sleeve, with a hastily written my lawyer’s number <3 right below it. Donghyuck stares at it, disbelieving, then looks up at Jeno, then Jungwoo, who smiles proudly.
“Baby’s first phone number.” Jungwoo sniffs, wiping at the corner of his eye. “All grown up and saving China.”
Donghyuck gapes at Jungwoo. “I can’t believe that happened. How did that happen?”
Jungwoo shrugs. “You’re just that pretty, sweetheart. Imagine if you had just batted your eyelashes a little more, that coffee would have been free.” He leans forward and sighs. “Who would have known that under all that frump and sarcasm, there was a beautiful butterfly, just waiting to be set free?”
Donghyuck looks down at the cup again, the numbers spinning in his mind. “Wow.” He looks between Jeno and Jungwoo. “What do I do now?”
“You could text him,” Jeno says, excited. “He was cute!” He turns to Jungwoo. “He was cute, right?”
Jungwoo nods. “Very.” He looks at Donghyuck. “It’s all up to you. You don’t have to text him right away. Maybe wait a day or two.”
Donghyuck nods, considering the words. His head is still spinning, skin tingling with the knowledge that someone had found him attractive, enough to do something about it. The feeling is novel, exciting, and Donghyuck wants to sit with it for a while and pick it apart.
He can totally do this.
Donghyuck decides to text Kunhang two days later, right before rehearsals start. He’ll be up on stage for a few hours, far away from his phone, with no temptation to constantly check for notifications.
Donghyuck: uhm hi? this is donghyuck
He drops his phone into his bag, zips it up, and shoves it under a seat in the school auditorium, before hopping up on stage. They’re rehearsing choreography for Dance at the Gym, and with Ten teaching, Donghyuck knows he’s not getting off that stage for the next three hours, at least.
By the time rehearsal is over, Donghyuck’s already forgotten about the text, and it’s not until he’s walking out of the auditorium, digging his phone out from the black hole that is his bag that he realizes.
Kunhang: oh wow it actually worked?
Kunhang: i didnt think ppl actually responded if u actually gave ur number like that
Donghyuck: LMAO get rejected often?
Kunhang: wouldnt u like to know :^)
Donghyuck: i doubt someone like u would get rejected v frequently
Kunhang: was that a compliment i just heard?
Donghyuck: lmao u wish
Kunhang: so whats the verdict
Kunhang: do i have to meet you at the court of law
Donghyuck: no the drink was good! truly christmas in a cup
Donghyuck: lmao what
Kunhang: and here i was hoping i would have an excuse to see you again
Donghyuck pauses in his tracks, eyes wide as he reads the message, over and over again. He looks up, making sure not to slam headfirst into the lamppost in front of him, and hurries over to the bus stop. The campus is mostly deserted at this time of night, and the darkness creeps Donghyuck out. It’s not until he’s sat down at the well-lit bench that he responds.
Donghyuck: you, sir, are very forward
Kunhang: would it be forward of me if i asked you out some time?
The way Donghyuck’s heart leaps into his throat is almost painful. He’s getting asked out. Someone-- a real human person, made of flesh and bone— is asking him out on a date. Right this second. He pinches himself just to make sure this isn’t some Redbull-fueled dream, and decides he’s very much awake.
He switches his chat to Jungwoo’s and types quickly.
Apollo: KUNHANG ASKED ME OUT HELP ?
Zeus: ur POWER
Apollo: NO LKFENJKNFSF
Zeus: it IS
Apollo: WHAT DO I DO ???
Zeus: well that’s up to you
Zeus: do u like him?
Apollo: i mean ? i dont know him….
Zeus: thats usually the point of a date darling
Apollo: yeah but TT______TT
Donghyuck bites his lip. He doesn’t know how to explain his hesitation-- it’s not that Donghyuck doesn’t want to know Kunhang. There’s just this part of him that feels like he has to hold out a little longer. That he has to wait to see what else is out there. Everything is moving too fast for his comfort.
Clutching his phone to his chest, Donghyuck squeezes his eyes shut. God, if you’re out there, he prays, give me a sign.
He waits a moment, eyes still closed, and revels in the quiet breeze. Distantly, he hears the sound of wheels on asphalt, getting louder and louder. He opens his eyes, hoping some stupid skateboarder isn’t headed straight for him, only to see Yukhei Wong skate right past him.
It happens like Donghyuck’s life is a movie, and this scene is in slow motion. Yukhei’s got a smoothie in one hand, taking a leisurely sip, and kicks at the ground right in front of Donghyuck, eyes glued straight ahead. Donghyuck is left to get just the slightest whiff of cologne in the breeze, and watch Yukhei’s figure disappear into the night.
“Did that really just happen?” Donghyuck whispers, jumping at the sound of his own voice, and yelping again when his phone vibrates in his hand. “Shit,” Donghyuck breathes, pressing a hand to his chest, before unlocking his phone.
Kunhang: wow sorry that was way too forward
Kunghang: i know we literally only talked for 2 seconds
Kunhang: pls feel free to say no omg
Kunhang: there goes my cool mysterious image
“Ugh, he’s so cute,” Donghyuck mumbles, feeling really bad for Kunhang because he knows what he has to do now.
Donghyuck: babe :( no it’s okay
Donghyuck: youre still cool and mysterious to me <3
Donghyuck: i just
Donghyuck: theres this ? guy i think i like ?
Donghyuck: im rlly sorry if i led you on TT_______TT
Kunhang: nooooo it’s ok i swear
Kunhang: im sorry i just made this awkward
Donghyuck: noooo you didnt
Donghyuck: i think youre so cute and it was nice talking to you the other day
Donghyuck: and im so flattered that youd want to ask me out like ;;;;
Kunhang: it was worth a shot right !!!
Donghyuck: def!!! i wish i could be as brave as u seriously
Donghyuck: i honestly would have said yes i just
Donghyuck: ive liked this guy for a while and
Kunhang: u have this weird gut feeling right?
Donghyuck: yeah TT______TT i dont know how to explain it but
Kunhang: no i get it TT i’ve been thru that before
Donghyuck: really? omg ;;; that makes me feel less crazy
Kunhang: well idk if it should
Kunhang: i have a few screws loose
Donghyuck: LMAO same
Donghyuck: it’s ok i respect that
Kunhang: LOL thanks ;;;
Kunhang: anyways ill let you go im sure u have plenty to do
Kunhang: but dont be a stranger okay? come thru to the shop anytime
Kunhang: n i want to know if things work out w the guy u like
Donghyuck: ur so sweet thank you ;;;; <3333
Donghyuck: i will !!!
Donghyuck: gn kunhang <3
Kunhang: gn donghyuck <3333
“Okay, okay, let me get this straight.” Jungwoo leans back in the auditorium seat he’d claimed as his own, feet propped up against the top of the row in front of him. He has his hands clasped in his lap, like he’s going to start meditating at any moment. “You turned down a date with a cute guy, because a different cute guy rode past you on his skateboard.”
“Not any guy, Jungwoo, the love of my life,” Donghyuck whines. The process of explaining his long-standing crush to the entirety of his friends had been fairly embarrassing. And in the end, he’s just as confused at himself as everyone else seems to be.
“But how can you pine over someone for that long?” Taeyong asks. He’s up on the stage, sweeping, even though it’s perfectly clean.
“It’s the power of true love,” Jaehyun says, sighing as he puts his chin on palms, eyes wide and dreamy. “Hyuckie, what if you guys are soulmates?” Donghyuck doesn’t miss the way Jaehyun glances at Johnny, who is still immersed on whatever-the-fuck on his computer.
“Is this a fan fic?” Yuta asks, trying to balance Doritos on top of Doyoung’s forehead as he sleeps. “Pretty sure soulmate shit only happens in fan fic.”
“Or maybe it really is a sign from the universe,” Taeil pipes up from where he’s been plunking away at the keys of the piano in the corner. “Think about it. In a campus this big, what are the odds of your crush skating by you as you pray for a sign?” He waves his hands in the air. “It’s the Powers That Be!”
“That’s what I’m saying!” Donghyuck is pretty sure Taeil is the only one who understands him in that moment.
“Okay but what if you just turned out a date with someone nice because of some bizarre coincidence. What then?” Donghyuck pouts at Ten, who is wrapping up extension cords. “Just cuz this Yukhei guy is here doesn’t mean you guys are gonna get together.”
“Why do you always suck the fun out of everything?” Donghyuck sighs, sinking into his seat. “Let me live in my delusions.”
He curses the day that this crush went from worse to worser: their fifth grade pool party. At the end of every year, Yukhei’s family would invite his entire class for a pool party, because apparently, they were wealthy enough to do something like this. The previous years had been mostly uneventful, with Donghyuck spending most of the time swimming back and forth in the pool while watching Yukhei play basketball and goof off with his friends.
But during this particular year, Yukhei’s mom had pulled Donghyuck aside, right as he was about to nab the last roast beef sandwich, and smothered him into a big hug. Yukhei’s mom was always something like a legend-- tall and Amazonian, with sunglasses as big as Donghyuck’s entire face, and a bright yellow Porsche that she picked Yukhei up from school every day.
So needless to say, Donghyuck is surprised when he’s suddenly wrapped up in her arms, and hearing her talk about how smart and polite Donghyuck is. “I wish my Xuxi would marry someone like you one day,” she’d cooed. And yeah, Donghyuck had always been a bit of a teacher’s pet, but hearing it from his crush’s mother? His ten-year-old soul left his fucking body.
“Just because Yukhei’s mom said she wished Yukhei would marry someone like you doesn’t mean you’ll actually marry the guy. You were a kid.” And wow, Ten is really just crushing all his dreams tonight.
“First of all, fuck you,” Donghyuck says, flipping Ten off, who gladly returns it. “Second of all, I think my brain is hyperfixating because I never, like, got closure?”
“Most crushes don’t have closure, kiddo,” Johnny says-- it’s the first thing he’s said since this conversation started, and of course it’s to smash the corpse of Donghyuck’s dream to pieces. He yelps when Jaehyun kicks him, shooting him a wounded look.
“But the fact that you guys ended up at the same uni, and he was right there, it has to mean something,” Jaehyun insists. “We have to do something!”
“What can we do?” Yuta asks, looking at Jaehyun like he’s crazy. “This is Hyuck’s problem.”
“Well, there’s really only one solution to this problem,” Jungwoo says, having stayed silent during this whole exchange, eyes narrowed in thought. “The only way Hyuck can move on is if he gets closure, right?”
Everyone is quiet as they turn their attention onto Jungwoo, save for Doyoung, who is still snoring softly, but with the addition of spicy cheese dust on his forehead.
“Donghyuck is trying to lose his virginity--”
“It was just a joke--” Donghyuck says hastily, sending Taeyong a panicked look. “I was just kidding when I said that.”
Jungwoo shoots Donghyuck a look that makes him quiet down. “Donghyuck needs to lose his virginity to Yukhei.”
Johnny, who had the great misfortune of taking a sip of his water at that exact moment, starts choking, and Jaehyun and Donghyuck both slap his back until he can breathe again. “What?” he rasps, face red.
Jungwoo blinks, serene, like he hadn’t just vaulted the entire group into chaos. “Donghyuck needs to get Yukhei out of his system. What better way to do that than to sleep with him?”
“I can think of about a million ways this could go wrong,” Yuta says. Then he grins wide, flashing all his teeth. “I like it. I would like to see it.”
Jungwoo raises an eyebrow at Donghyuck, expecting an answer. He doesn’t know whether whatever hair-brained scheme Jungwoo cooks up will work, but this is honestly the most interesting sequence of events to ever happen to him. He chalks it up to curiosity when he says, “Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Oh boy,” is the first thing Jeno says, when Donghyuck explains what had transpired at rehearsal the night before. The narrative had been somewhat disjointed, because they really can’t afford to fail their organic chem lab. “That’s--” The look he gives Donghyuck as they clean up their workstation is unsure.
“What?” Donghyuck asks, spraying down the surface with ethanol, while Jeno goes over it with paper towels. “You don’t think it’s a good idea?”
“I just wonder if it’s a little… extreme?” Jeno tosses the paper towels and Donghyuck puts the ethanol back under the fume hood. “You haven’t even had your first kiss yet, and you’re going to try and sleep with someone?”
“Jungwoo says trial by fire is one of the best ways to learn.” The record should note that Jungwoo hadn’t been talking about sex when he’d said it, but Donghyuck figures it’s basically the same theory. Right?
“Do you want to have your first time be at a random party with a stranger?” Donghyuck tries not to look at Jeno as they pack up their bags.
“I mean, I wouldn’t try to sleep with anyone else but Yukhei, I think,” he says carefully.
Jeno sighs, zipping up his backpack and slinging it over his shoulder. “But that's what I'm saying. He is practically a stranger. You don’t even know him, really. This whole thing doesn’t make sense, Hyuck.”
“Have you ever, like, had feelings for someone that kind of… defied all sense and logic? Like you can’t explain it, everything is messy, but all you know is that you just-- want that person? With everything you have?” Donghyuck tries to keep his voice low as they walk down the hall.
Jeno pauses in his steps and looks at Donghyuck, face serious. “Sometimes I think that’s how I feel about Jaemin.”
“But Jaemin is here, Hyuck.” The note of finality in Jeno’s voice makes Donghyuck hold his books and papers closer to his chest. “I know him. There’s a-- a connection. That, I can explain. But Yukhei… he’s just a fantasy. You’re just hurting yourself.”
Donghyuck’s heart sinks. “I just… I don’t know how to stop.” He’s driven himself crazy so many times trying to make sense of the way he feels about Yukhei, but he doesn’t know how to explain it. “I’ve been holding on to this for so long, I just-- I don’t know how to let it go.”
“It’s cuz you’re a Gemini,” Jeno soothes, nudging Donghyuck to keep walking so that they’re not late for their bus. “You hold onto everything for too long. Grudges and crushes.”
“It’s so fucking counterproductive. Feelings suck,” Donghyuck grouses.
“I just don’t think-- Hyuck--! ”
Donghyuck doesn’t have any proper time to react before he’s slamming into a body, hands loosening their grip in his surprise, and all his stuff falls to the floor. “What the fu--" The words die in his throat when he sees who’s in front of him.
“Careful,” Renjun Huang says, steadying Donghyuck by the arms. His eyes flicker over Donghyuck’s face with curiosity. Then, he smirks. “Unless you did that on purpose.”
“I didn’t--“ Donghyuck’s face flames, and he crouches down to grab his papers. He’s surprised when Renjun bends down as well, picking up his notebooks and holding them out. Their hands brush very much on purpose as Donghyuck grabs them and straightens up. “Thank you,” he says, flustered.
“No problem, cutie.” Renjun flashes his teeth, and Donghyuck’s soul enters the astral plane. With a final wink, Renjun brushes past Donghyuck, leaving him speechless in his wake.
“Hyuck, that was Renjun Huang,” Jeno manages to say. They share a look of absolute disbelief. “Like, perfect dirtbag boyfriend, Renjun Huang.”
Donghyuck stares blankly at Jeno. “I know…”
“Dude, Renjun Huang called you cutie, oh my god,” Jeno breathes. “He didn’t even fucking notice I was there! It’s like I was a ghost or something! This is so fucking great--“ Jeno giggles, absolutely overjoyed. Donghyuck’s stomach flips, face still warm from the sudden encounter.
“What the fuck is happening to my life?” he wonders.
“I look like a slut,” Donghyuck hisses, tugging on the leather pants that sit a little too tight on his skin. “I look like Jeno.”
Jungwoo hums, looking over Donghyuck like he’s so very proud. He’d really gone all out today, putting Donghyuck in a coral silk shirt, one too many buttons undone. And back at their apartment, Jeno had pushed his favorite heeled leather loafers into Donghyuck’s arms and whispered, “For luck,” conspiratorially. He’d left minutes later for his first official date with Jaemin.
The one thing Donghyuck feels confident about is his hair. On a whim, he’d asked Taeyong to dye it, and now the feathery orange strands curl around his forehead, making him feel like something more than himself. He hadn’t been allowed to step out the door until Jungwoo had smudged his liner, swiped glitter on his eyelids and cheekbones, and cherry red gloss across his mouth. Donghyuck is pretty sure he’s chewed all of it off already.
“This is so embarrassing, I feel like a clown--”
“You look hot,” Jungwoo says, voice stern. “Remember, think of this as an exercise. It’s going to be really important for you to really understand that you can do this. You can be anyone you want to be. You are attractive, but you have to internalize it.”
Donghyuck purses his lips, tugging at the material of his pants one last time as they approach the frat house. The party is clearly in full swing, and his lips curl in disgust. He truly does hate parties, but it’s strange-- this time he’s here for himself, not just to keep an eye on Jeno. He’d had to dress up, and now he has to walk in there pretending like he knows he can get anyone he wants.
“How do you know Yukhei will be here?” Donghyuck asks, smiling tensely at the person who nods at Jungwoo, before letting them into the house.
Jungwoo smirks. “I have my sources. Don’t think so little of me.”
“I don’t,” Donghyuck grumbles. “That’s why I’m scared.”
They work their way through the crowd, and for the first time in Donghyuck’s life, people stop to stare at him. Instinctively, he wants to think that they’re not looking at him, they’re looking at Jeno, but Jeno isn’t here. He’s on his stupid date with a stupid boy and Donghyuck is here feeling extra stupid.
“Stop slouching sweetie,” Jungwoo says, voice threatening, though he still has a sociable smile on his face, nodding and waving to people he knows. Donghyuck squares his shoulders immediately, trying to remind himself that he doesn’t have to be himself today, but a more confident, charming version of himself. Given its effectiveness last time, there’s no reason he can’t wear it like armor tonight too.
Jungwoo leads them into the kitchen, which is blessedly less crowded. He immediately fills two cups with what looks like Jack and coke, and pushes one into Donghyuck’s hand. “Drink this, it’ll help you loosen up.”
Donghyuck looks down at the amber liquid and pulls a face. He rarely drinks at parties, opting to nab a soda instead and find an unoccupied place to study, while keeping an eye on Jeno. But tonight, everything is different. Tonight is for him, no matter what happens. So he braces himself and swallows the liquid, coughing and spluttering at the burn. His head spins, mouth tasting like he swallowed rubbing alcohol, and he grimaces at Jungwoo.
“Give it a second,” Jungwoo laughs, sipping his far more leisurely. He's perfectly at home here, amidst the chaos of a party. Donghyuck is aware he probably looks it too, but the discomfort itches under his skin. But there’s another part of him that’s thrilled, excited by whatever the night might bring him. Maybe the alcohol really is working.
“Okay, so here’s the plan,” Jungwoo says. Donghyuck lifts himself up to sit on the counter, nursing the rest of his Jack and coke. “Yukhei will be here, and he’ll inevitably come through these doors. It’s a party, he’ll want a drink. That’s when he’ll notice you.”
“But what if he doesn’t?”
Jungwoo fixes Donghyuck with a look that makes him squirm. “He will, trust me. I’ll make sure of that.”
“You’re very terrifying.”
Jungwoo beams, like that’s the best compliment Donghyuck could have given him. “Thank you! I don’t even have to try.”
Donghyuck rolls his eyes and sips carefully at his drink, trying to focus on the way the bass of the music rattles in his ribcage. The alcohol definitely does something to make his mind feel at ease, but it doesn’t stop the buzz of anticipation, the nerves.
He doesn’t really have time to mentally prepare himself when he sees Yukhei, a solid head taller than anyone in the crowd, work his way in their direction. “Oh my god, he’s here.”
Jungwoo is immediately on alert, eyes flashing towards the doorway and back to Donghyuck in a split second. “That’s him?” He smirks. “Definitely a looker.” Donghyuck whines, feeling like he's going to throw up, and Jungwoo just pats his thighs. “Okay, we’re going to do some improv right now, okay? Follow my lead.”
Donghyuck doesn’t have time to process, before Jungwoo is stepping between his legs and grabbing his hands, starting to fiddle with the rings on his fingers as he leans in close. “Just one dance, cutie,” Jungwoo says, a tad too loud not to be intentional. “You have to give me one dance.”
Donghyuck glances, panicked, at Yukhei, who’s come into the kitchen and digging inside a cooler for a beer. Then back at Jungwoo, whose eyes are steely with warning. He manages to laugh, trying not to sound as nervous as he is.
“But darling, you know I don’t dance with just anyone,” he says, just as loudly, and out of the corner of his eye, he sees Yukhei’s gaze flicker over at them. Fuck.
“I’m not like those other guys who are always falling at your feet, babe,” Jungwoo says, salacious, and Donghyuck thinks that maybe his friend is enjoying himself a little too much. But Donghyuck is a master of improv, so he slides his mask on and fixes it there.
“Oh please,” he says, rolling his eyes, and shoving at Jungwoo’s shoulder when he leans in closer. “You’re nothing special.”
“But you won’t even give me a chance to prove otherwise, baby, what am I supposed to do?”
Donghyuck works up a demure giggle, shaking his head. Out of his periphery, he sees Yukhei take a deep pull of his beer, eyes fixed on him. “Maybe you can try again some other time, darling.”
“Next time I’ll have you, Donghyuck,” Jungwoo promises darkly, and lifts Donghyuck’s hand to brush a kiss across his knuckles. Donghyuck just arches an eyebrow, unamused, before pulling his hand away and giving Jungwoo a sarcastic wave. It takes everything in his power not to laugh when Jungwoo winks, before slinking away and disappearing into the crowd.
Without Jungwoo standing in front of him, Donghyuck feels like he’s kind of defenseless, way too exposed for his comfort. He manages to straighten up from his fake-casual slouch, and picks up his drink again. It’s a mission to keep his hands from shaking, nervous now that he can actually feel Yukhei’s gaze on him.
Gathering himself up, he raises his head and meets Yukhei’s gaze straight on. When Yukhei doesn’t waver, Donghyuck raises an eyebrow at him. That seems to snap him out of something, because he approaches Donghyuck slowly.
“Didn’t mean to overhear,” Yukhei says, voice low. He tilts his head and points at Donghyuck with the hand that’s gripping his beer. “You’re Donghyuck? Like Donghyuck Lee?”
For a moment, Donghyuck’s entire world tilts on his axis. If he didn’t have an ironclad grip on his dignity, his jaw might have hit the floor. On the inside, everything feels like it’s on fire. On the outside, Donghyuck just regards Yukhei cooly. “First of his name,” he confirms. “And you’re Yukhei Wong.”
Yukhei’s face splits into a wide grin, all teeth and gums, and wow, it’s unfair how good looking he is. “Yeah! You remember?”
Donghyuck blinks at him, trying to match Yukhei’s enthusiasm but falling a little flat. “We did go to school together since like, first grade.”
Yukhei laughs, scratching his head sheepishly. “You’re right, stupid question.”
Immediately, Donghyuck feels like he needs to come to Yukhei’s own defense. “No, not stupid. We didn’t really interact. You’re fine.” He tries to fill the momentary silence by sipping at his drink, only to find it gone. He grimaces at it.
“Want me to make you a drink?” Yukhei offers, seeming to sense Donghyuck’s predicament. “I’m really good at it.” Before he can even answer, Yukhei’s already fiddling with the bottles strewn across the island.
“Sure, thanks,” Donghyuck says belatedly. He wracks his brain for something to fill the silence. “How have you been?”
“Hm?” Yukhei looks up from upending some neon yellow liquid into a cup. “Oh! I’ve been good! You?”
“Yeah, same, good.” God, what the fuck. Why the fuck is this so awkward.
“I honestly didn’t even realize we were at the same uni! Isn’t that crazy?”
“Oh yeah, totally. The world works in funny ways.” Donghyuck’s heart feels like it’ll burst out of his chest.
“I didn’t even recognize you at first. You look all grown up.” As if to really drive it home, Yukhei’s eyes rake down Donghyuck’s form, glinting in appreciation. “Wouldn’t have even connected the dots if that guy hadn’t said your name. By the way,” Yukhei sticks his thumb in the direction Jungwoo went. “He wasn’t bothering you was he? Cuz I can totally beat him up for you if you want.”
Donghyuck can’t help the amused laugh that works his way up his throat, and he covers his mouth with his hand. Yukhei shoots him a helpless smile as he keeps mixing the drinks. “I don’t know if you could take him.”
Yukhei seems to take offense to that, standing up straighter and patting his chest. “This is six feet of pure muscle, baby.”
Donghyuck snorts. “I’m sure.” When Yukhei sticks his tongue out in mock offense, he can’t help but laugh again. Fuck. What was he supposed to be doing again? “But don’t worry about him. He’s just-- one of many.” Donghyuck feels so weird lying but it’s not like it’ll matter. He’s not going to see Yukhei again after tonight, though the thought sits bitter on his tongue.
“Can’t blame a dude for trying,” Yukhei concedes, walking over to Donghyuck with their drinks. Donghyuck takes his and peers at the murky brown liquid. He looks back up at Yukhei, who looks expectant, so he really has no choice but to drink.
“God--” Donghyuck gags, only barely managing to swallow instead of spit everything out. “What the fuck this--” He breaks out into a cough, eyes tearing up.
“What’re you talking about?” Yukhei frowns, taking Donghyuck’s cup to take a sip, only to have his eyes roll back. He makes a pained noise at the back of his throat, shoulders seizing up, and amidst his cough attack, Donghyuck manages to laugh too.
“Did you put rat poison in there?” Donghyuck wheezes. He gestures to the cooler behind Yukhei. “I need a soda. I’m gonna die.”
Yukhei scrambles to grab one for him in the middle of acting like he’s being electrocuted, and Donghyuck opens the ginger ale, gulping it down.
“God, give me that--” Yukhei takes the soda and downs the rest of it in two gulps, before crushing it in his hand. “I--”
They both stare at each other, teary-eyed, before bursting out into laughter. Donghyuck curls into himself, sides aching, and he’s close enough to smell Yukhei’s cologne, feel his body heat. When he straightens back up, wiping at the tears at the corner of his eyes, Yukhei’s already staring at him, grin wide, eyes soft.
“I can’t believe you just tried to fucking murder me,” Donghyuck says, the remnants of laughter coming up in giggles. “You said you were good at this.”
Yukhei just smiles wider, eyes skimming over Donghyuck. “I lied.”
“And I’m sure you’re very sorry,” Donghyuck deadpans, and tries to keep his face straight, but it’s hard. He ends up smiling up at Yukhei, who is still towering over Donghyuck, despite Donghyuck sitting so high up on the counter. He’d somehow settled between Donghyuck’s legs, hands on either side of the counter, and something in Donghyuck’s heart squeezes.
“Wow,” Yukhei breathes after a moment. “I can’t believe you’re really here. ” He sounds so amazed, like this is all some grand coincidence, and Donghyuck feels guilty for the way Jungwoo had arranged everything on purpose. There’s no way Jungwoo could have known it would end up like this, but it still kind of feels like a set-up.
“This whole time we’ve been on the same campus. How come I haven’t seen you around?”
Donghyuck shrugs helplessly. “It’s a big campus.”
“True, true,” Yukhei hums. Then, he perks up, and it’s almost comical, how he resembles a golden retriever in that moment. “But now we know! We need to make up for lost time.”
Donghyuck just laughs, bracing his weight on one hand so he can lean back more comfortably. “If you insist. What do you want to know?”
“What are you majoring in now?”
“Chem,” Donghyuck says, and laughs when Yukhei’s face twists in confusion. “Why do you look so surprised?”
“Well, I always thought you would go into theater or something?” Yukhei scratches his head again. “I dunno. You were in it in high school right?” Donghyuck nods mutely. “I always thought that was super cool.”
“I mean--” Donghyuck wrestles with the urge to ask how Yukhei even knew that about him, but he’s supposed to be playing it cool. “I’m still in theater. It’s just not my major.” He shrugs. “I love it too much to consider a career in it.”
“Wow, that was deep,” Yukhei says, eyes wide as he leans back. Donghyuck snorts, but his ears feel hot. “Right on, my dude. Is there anything coming up soon?”
Donghyuck hums. “We’re putting on West Side Story in like, a month.”
“Wow,” Yukhei breathes, eyes widening even more, and Donghyuck wonders whether Yukhei is just that easy to impress. “That’s cool! I bet you’re the lead.”
“You put a lot of faith in me, Yukhei Wong,” Donghyuck says, feeling very pleased by Yukhei’s uninformed faith in his abilities.
“Well, can you blame me?” Yukhei grins. “You have that, like, aura. Like you were born to be a star!”
Donghyuck laughs, trying not to read too much into anything Yukhei says, because he’s very likely inebriated and over exaggerating. “Don’t worry. Once Jaehyun Jung graduates, I’m aiming straight for the top.”
“Nice! That’s what I’m talking about.”
“What about you?” Donghyuck asks, suddenly feeling hyper aware of the fact that they’ve only been talking about him this entire time. “What have you been up to since high school?”
“Oh man,” Yukhei laughs, ducking his head. “Well, I’m comp sci.”
“So you’re a computer nerd,” Donghyuck teases. It’s not actually what he expected out of his high school’s star athlete, but somehow, it makes Yukhei more endearing. He imagines Yukhei in thick reading glasses, hunching over a computer screen, much like Johnny always does.
“Well--” Yukhei blushes, and Donghyuck can’t quite believe his eyes. “I’ve been trying to code an app since high school.”
Donghyuck’s eyes widen. “An app? What kind of app?”
“Uhm, it’s like-- I want to make something that helps people learn sign language? Not just ASL but like, other languages too since, you know, a lot of spoken languages have a sign language equivalent and they’re kinda different so-- Oh wow I’m rambling now.”
“What? No, no, that’s so cool,” Donghyuck says honestly. “That’s seriously super amazing. What made you want to do that specifically?”
“My cousin? Chenle, he lives in China-- he’s deaf, so growing up our family learned CSL and all that and I just want to-- like, make it more accessible? For people who want to learn. So yeah.”
“That’s--” Donghyuck’s heart feels like it’s flip-flopping inside his ribcage. “That’s seriously amazing. Jesus.”
“I just-- It’s just something I want to do.” Yukhei shrugs sheepishly, cheeks tinged pink. “Anyway it’s just, like, a side project for now, but I’ve been working on it. Maybe someday.”
“Definitely someday,” Donghyuck corrects. “That’s really amazing.”
“Thanks,” Yukhei laughs, nervous. It’s painfully cute, and Donghyuck feels serious whiplash, because a man in a leather jacket should not be this cute. It just isn’t fair. “Uhm--” Yukhei glances at the doorway, and Donghyuck is brought to the startling realization that there’s still a party going on out there. Talking with Yukhei had made it seem like they were just in their own little bubble. “Do you want to dance?”
And, well, Donghyuck wasn’t actually expecting that. He figured Yukhei would tell him it was nice to see him again, but he has to get back to his friends now, so see you around, Donghyuck! It takes him a second to process the words, but in that time, Yukhei’s already stepping back.
“I mean, you don’t have to! I don’t want to be like that other dude--”
“I’ll make a special exception for you,” Donghyuck cuts Yukhei off, hopping off the counter, and fuck, Yukhei is just that much taller now that Donghyuck doesn’t have anything boosting him up besides his heeled boots. They’re also closer than Donghyuck anticipated, and it’s all he can do not to tip forward and bury his face in Yukhei’s chest.
Yukhei just smiles down at him, eyes warm, and Donghyuck could probably stare at him forever, if it wasn’t wildly inappropriate (and creepy). He ends up wrapping his hand around Donghyuck’s wrist and tugs him along. Out of the kitchen, the music hits harder, ringing in Donghyuck’s ears as they weave through the crowd, until they reach the area that’s been cleared for dancing.
Donghyuck tries not to hesitate as Yukhei pulls him into the middle of the mass of bodies. He knows he’s a good dancer-- he wouldn’t be in musical theater if he wasn’t-- but dancing with another boy (a cute boy) at a party? That’s something he’s never had to do, and at once, he feels like he’s going to seize up, but Yukhei turns to him, eyes alight and grin wide, and all the thoughts running through his mind just fizzle out, until nothing is left.
It’s not as hard as Donghyuck thought, dancing to the music. Yukhei goofs off a little at first, making Donghyuck laugh from second-hand embarrassment, before he tugs Donghyuck closer, tangling their fingers together. It’s far more fun than Donghyuck anticipated-- it’s easy to get swept up in their own little bubble and just let go. His mouth hurts from laughing so much.
But then the bright house beat turns into something slower, darker, and before Donghyuck can even process the change, Yukhei is turning him and pressing him back against his chest, arms wound so tight around Donghyuck’s waist that he couldn’t move even if he wanted to. He loses his balance for a moment in surprise, and grabs onto Yukhei’s forearms to steady himself.
He can’t tell whether it’s the bass or his heart that’s pounding so violently against his ribs. Maybe it’s both. Yukhei’s chest is solid and warm against his back, nose brushing against Donghyuck’s hair as they move together. He’s so caught off guard by the sudden intimacy, but it happens so fast that he doesn’t give himself a chance to freak out.
Donghyuck remembers going to dances in high school with Jeno and scoffing at all the couples grinding on the dance floor. Leave room for Jesus! He’d always tried to yell that at people, but Jeno had smothered the words in his palm, laughing as he dragged Donghyuck away.
Now, with the way he and Yukhei are rolling their hips together, bodies pressed so tightly together that there’s nothing to do but succumb to the electric feeling, he feels heady, drunk on the feeling. Quite frankly, he doesn’t want Jesus anywhere in this equation.
Donghyuck’s throat feels tight as Yukhei pulls him as close as he can, and he reaches a hand back to tangle in Yukhei’s hair, head tilted back to rest on Yukhei’s shoulder. It’s everything he could have ever wanted, being wrapped up in Yukhei’s arms, so tight that it almost suffocates him. It feels so good, and he doesn’t want to stop.
He doesn’t know how long they dance like that, wrapped up in each other as they grind to the music. All he knows that he’s had to bite his lip to keep from moaning, and Yukhei’s no better, with the way he’s been muffling noises into Donghyuck’s hair. He can feel his mind go blissfully quiet, limbs loose and relaxed in a way he’s never felt before.
So when Yukhei slides a hand up his neck and tilts Donghyuck’s face up, he just goes with it, eyes hooded, heart leaping up into his throat as Yukhei leans down and presses their mouths together. Donghyuck makes a quiet noise of pleasure, toes curling as Yukhei sucks at his bottom lip. He doesn’t have time to worry about the fact that this is his first kiss, focusing in on the feeling of Yukhei licking into his mouth, deep and filthy.
Donghyuck arches his back a little, wanting Yukhei deeper, and Yukhei understands, grasping Donghyuck’s face tighter and biting his lip again, before soothing it with his tongue. Donghyuck’s free hand scrambles to find the one Yukhei’s splayed across his stomach, and he tangles them together tightly, hoping he can convey how much more he wants.
Yukhei pries their mouths apart eventually, the angle becoming awkward, and they’re both out of breath. Donghyuck takes a moment to sink back entirely against Yukhei, kissed stupid, but only for a moment, because Yukhei is tugging him away from the dance floor. Donghyuck just follows in a daze, mind still hazy and unable to process what’s happening, so he trusts Yukhei.
They stop in an abandoned hallway, and Donghyuck leans back against the wall, cold against his overheated skin. He rolls his head back and stares up, and Yukhei must see something in his eyes, because he’s crowding Donghyuck in and kissing him again. It’s filthy to start, all teeth and tongue, and Donghyuck whimpers, overwhelmed and lost, so he just winds his arms around Yukhei’s neck and lets.
He can’t tell whether it’s the alcohol, or the kisses, or the fact that’s just Yukhei Wong, but when Yukhei tugs his shirt up and slides his big, warm hands up Donghyuck’s back, he lets it happen. He doesn’t know how to keep up with Yukhei’s mouth, and he doesn’t know if Yukhei can tell that Donghyuck’s never done this before, but Yukhei doesn’t seem to care very much, mouth hot and insistent. And when they pull apart for air, Yukhei doesn’t stop, just slides his mouth along Donghyuck’s jaw and bites just underneath it.
“Fuck,” Donghyuck yelps, hips jumping, and tugs hard at the soft strands of Yukhei’s hair. In retaliation, Yukhei bites down harder at a sensitive spot on Donghyuck’s neck, and sets about sucking a mark on the skin. Donghyuck feels one of his hands slide down his back and squeeze his ass, pressing their hips together, and something drops in the pit of his stomach.
He doesn’t know what does it, exactly, but suddenly, it becomes very clear what Yukhei’s intentions are, and his eyes flutter open in confusion. How did they get there?
This is what you wanted, his brain reminds him, as Yukhei’s teeth drag Donghyuck’s skin between his teeth. This is what you came here to do.
And yet, something about this feels terribly, terribly wrong. He doesn’t want this at all. Donghyuck doesn’t quite understand it, all he knows is that there’s panic starting to bubble to the surface, and he needs to get out of this situation now.
“Y-Yukhei-- stop--” Donghyuck gasps, shoving at Yukhei’s shoulders, and Yukhei stumbles back, face pulled in confusion.
And seeing Yukhei, standing there, lips kiss-swollen, hair mussed from Donghyuck’s fingers, and looking like anyone’s absolute wet dream, just makes everything worse. He feels so fake, so disgusting, so wrong. He’s not ready for this, he’s not what Yukhei wants. “I--” Donghyuck starts, and he feels like he’s going to throw up.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” Yukhei steps closer, bringing his hands up to cup Donghyuck’s face, but that just makes Donghyuck feel worse.
“I just--” Donghyuck stumbles out of Yukhei’s hold. His head his spinning. He might actually throw up. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this--” And before he can see the expression on Yukhei’s face, he’s turning on his heels and scrambling away. He hears his name being called, but he just ducks into the crowd, letting himself get swept up in chaos, until he makes it to the front door.
Frantic, he digs his phone out of his pocket, and his fingers shake as he dials Jeno’s numbers.
“Hyuck? What’s-- what’s going on--” Jeno’s voice rough, and there’s second muffled voice in the background.
“Jeno--” Donghyuck rasps. “Please, fuck, I need you, I’m-- Can you p-please come get me?” The last few words are drowned out by the sob, and he clamps a hand over his mouth. His head spins so fast that he falls to the ground.
“Fuck-- Okay, you just stay put, baby, we’re coming-- Jaemin put your goddamn clothes back on we need to go--”
Donghyuck doesn’t hear anything else, barely registers himself choking out the address to Jeno. Within minutes, Jeno and Jaemin pull up on the sidewalk where Donghyuck’s crouching, trying to breathe in, breathe out with Jeno as he soothed him through the phone.
“It’s okay, honey, come on,” Jeno says, getting out of the passenger seat to draw his arms around Donghyuck and pull him up. Donghyuck barely manages to collapse into the backseat of what he guesses is Jaemin’s car. In the driver’s seat, Jaemin doesn’t look very happy, and his scowl only deepens further when Jeno climbs in next to Donghyuck.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Jeno murmurs, rubbing Donghyuck’s back as he presses his face into Jeno’s shirt. “What happened?”
“Y-Yukhei-- I just-- He--” Donghyuck chokes out.
“Did he hurt you?” Jeno asks, voice turning steely with concern. “Did he force you--”
“N-no! He just-- I couldn’t-- Jeno I just couldn’t-- What’s wrong with me? I j-just couldn’t fucking do it.”
“It’s okay baby,” Jeno hushes Donghyuck’s rambling, holding him close. “Don’t worry about it, okay? It’s over now.”
It’s all over now.