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CRYIN! (cuz i love you)

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Zeus: god hyuck jeno just texted me

Zeus: im so sorry

Zeus: let me know how youre feeling when u get a chance

Apollo: nooo what are you apologizing for ;;;

Apollo: i just freaked out

Zeus: and had a panic attack, hyuck, that’s serious

Apollo: i just dont think i was ready

Apollo: and… idk i dont know how to explain it

Zeus: dw abt it honey it’s late

Zeus: if u feel up to it, ill treat you to brunch and we can talk?

Apollo: ok ;; ill let u know how i feel in the morning

Zeus: please do

Zeus: sleep well sweetie, i love you

Apollo: TT____TT love u too

 

 

“You know how Tony and Maria meet and they just… click?” Donghyuck wonders out loud. He’s snuggled up against Jeno’s side, both of them staring up at their glow-in-the-dark stickers, bright now that all the lights have been turned off. “And their whole world literally just stops and it feels so perfect when they’re together? Like a missing piece just fell into place?”

 

“You’ve made me watch the movie so many times, babe,” Jeno says. “I probably know this damn musical as well as you.”

 

“That’s how I felt with Yukhei tonight,” Donghyuck says. And thinking about it just brings a fresh wave of tears and regret. “I didn’t think it was possible but it felt so nice just being around him, I--” He swallows the lump in his throat. “I had kinda wished it could be like that, but to know that it is--”

 

“Then what happened tonight?”

 

Donghyuck has to really think about where he wants to begin explaining. The tear tracks feel hot against his skin, and he’s just so tired. “Growing up, I always wanted to be close to Yukhei,” he starts. Just remembering the longing makes the lump grow bigger in his throat. “He was just always this… super energetic, funny person. He was popular, but not just because he was cute or rich or whatever. People liked him. And I just wanted to be his friend, to understand what it’d be like to know him, to be by his side.”

 

His eye flit across the designs on the ceiling. Donghyuck has a big smiling sun above his bed, while Jeno has several cats. They’re familiar and soothing. “You know shy I was growing up. Teacher’s pet. And Yukhei was just… in this completely different league. He never noticed me. I think part of me has always felt like… Because he never gave me the time of day, I wasn’t? Worthy? I guess? Does that make sense?”

 

“That does,” Jeno hums. “That doesn’t mean it’s true, though.” He squeezes Donghyuck’s hand. “Just because he never noticed you back then doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of attention or anything like that.”

 

“Yeah, I guess.” Donghyuck sighs. “But it was just that feeling, you know? That I’d never be good enough. Too weird, not quite fitting in anywhere. I didn’t care, not really, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t, like, aware of it, you know? Like conscious of these-- disparities or whatever. Anyways--”

 

He takes a deep breath. “I honestly didn’t believe anything would happen tonight. It was actually kinda fun? To not be myself.”

 

“I don’t think you weren’t yourself, though,” Jeno says, voice quiet but certain. Donghyuck turns his head to look at him. “I think everyone has different parts to them. You’re smart and a kissup to teachers, but you’re sarcastic and bratty with your friends. You like being babied and coddled, but you also like to be in control of situations.”

 

Jeno pauses for a second, but Donghyuck doesn’t speak because he can tell Jeno isn’t done. “No one changed you, Hyuck. Jungwoo put a little makeup on you, some flattering clothes, but it’s still your face. The things you said, you came up with. This fun, flirty part of you isn’t just made up. It’s just as much part of you as everything else. But I think you’re scared of that. I think you hide so that you don’t have to deal with all the things that come with it.”

 

“What things?” Donghyuck’s head is reeling with the weight of Jeno’s revelations.

 

“Attention. I think you’re scared of attention from other people.”

 

Donghyuck snorts. “Have you seen me? I practically beg for attention. I’m an actor, for fucks sake.”

 

Jeno shakes his head. “But that’s different. When you’re onstage, you’re in control of that attention. You’re prepared, everything is scripted, you’re sure of yourself and you believe in yourself. But the real world isn’t like that. You can’t decide how people will react to you, so you hide, you make yourself disappear, so that way you’re making that choice for everyone.”

 

They sit in silence for a while, and Donghyuck’s head swims. “Then… where does Yukhei fit into all this?”

 

“That’s what I’m wondering. Did the attention from him scare you? Did you feel out of control?”

 

“I--” Donghyuck frowns at the ceiling. “I think there were a lot of reasons. I felt so… disingenuous? Like I wasn’t being myself, and I was just lying to him. It felt wrong.” But a part of his brain reminds him that he’d dropped his act about ten seconds into the conversation. Everything he’d said, everything he’d done, was all Donghyuck.

 

“And… I always wanted to get to just talk to him, you know? Know what it’s like to be around him. I thought it would never really live up to the real thing, but Jeno--” He tugs at their entwined fingers. “It was better. He’s so funny and sweet and weird and he made me feel so good I just-- He was so real and it made me want him more.”

 

“So he didn’t hurt you?” Jeno asks, for what feels like the millionth time. He can’t get the image of Donghyuck, one of the strongest people he knows, shaking like a leaf in his arms.

 

Donghyuck lets out a watery laugh. “No. He was really sweet. Kind of over enthusiastic but he stopped when I told him to. Part of me feels like an idiot, because everything was somehow going according to plan.” He curls into Jeno’s side and whispers, “I think if I hadn’t stopped him, we would have had sex.” The admission scares him more than he wants to admit.

 

“You couldn’t have been ready, babe.”

 

“It’s not just that, I--” Donghyuck sits up suddenly. “I just felt like, if we did sleep together, that would just be the end of it. Jungwoo said I should fuck him out of my system and I thought that’d be okay. I thought I’d want to just forget him and move on but I--” He can feel his eyes welling up again. “I don’t want to. I like him too much. Tonight was too perfect and I had this feeling that if we slept together then I’d just become more attached. That’s not even touching on the fact that the idea of sleeping with someone without really knowing them terrifies me--”

 

“Hey, hey, it’s alright,” Jeno says, hushing him and sitting up to wrap his arms around Donghyuck. “I don’t think someone like you is made for one night stands, Hyuckie. You feel too much. I was worried something like this might happen.”

 

Donghyuck stays silent, because there’s something that’s nagging at him, something that he’s not sure he has the mental strength to think about right now. He also doesn’t want to share it with Jeno, because he hardly understands it himself.

 

“I don’t know what to do now,” Donghyuck says, feeling vacuous now that he’s said everything he’s wanted to say.

 

“You don’t have to,” Jeno says, rubbing his shoulder soothingly. “Right now, you just sleep. You’ve had a long, confusing night.”

 

“Okay.” All of the exhaustions hits him right then, and he flops back onto the mattress. “Can we cuddle?”

 

Jeno grins, and Donghyuck can still make it out in the darkness. “Always.” He lies down next Donghyuck, and Donghyuck immediately curls into his side.

 

“I’m sorry I ruined your date,” he murmurs into Jeno’s shirt.

 

“You always come first, Hyuck. Bros before hoes.”

 

Donghyuck laughs, lighthearted for the first time in hours. “Bros before hoes,” he echoes, and falls into a deep, dreamless sleep.

 

 

Explaining everything to Jungwoo is just as exhausting as Donghyuck expected, but he knows he needs to do this. He just hopes that Jungwoo will have some insight and advice on everything. After Donghyuck is done talking, Jungwoo stares at him for a long time, contemplating.

 

“Sometimes I forget that you’re just a baby,” he says finally. Donghyuck starts to protest, but Jungwoo just raises a hand to stop him. “I really should have known better. I shouldn’t have pushed you to try to have your first time that way. You deserve better.”

 

Donghyuck raises an eyebrow. “I really wish you’d stop apologizing. You didn’t push me. I don’t do things that I don’t want to, you should know that by now.”

 

Jungwoo huffs a laugh, and the conversation stalls for a second as they both work on their food. Donghyuck had ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, because at the end of the day, he’s still a little shit.

 

“Everything you said makes sense, but I want to talk about what happened with you and Yukhei, right at the end. There’s something that doesn’t make sense to me.” Donghyuck raises an eyebrow, mouth still full, and Jungwoo leans forward, putting his elbows on the table. “You guys were about to have sex, but you panicked. What scared you so much about that situation that you reacted that way?”

 

Donghyuck stabs at his food. He should have known Jungwoo would notice there was something else troubling him. “I realized things were moving too fast for me. It freaked me out. I wasn’t ready.”

 

“Right, you mentioned that already. But it would have been easy to ask Yukhei to stop and let him know that you wanted to slow down. But Jeno said you were scared out of your mind. You were dry heaving.”

 

“I--” God, Donghyuck’s never had to say this out loud, but he trusts Jungwoo enough to tell him one of his deepest secrets. “I don’t know why but… the idea of sex? Like imagining myself having sex just… it terrifies me.”

 

Jungwoo’s eyebrows shoot up to his eyebrows. “And how long has it been like that?”

 

Donghyuck shrugs, feeling like he’s going to start crying again. “It’s never been any different, I guess. I just… I could never fantasize about myself. I can’t tell if it’s just the idea of being vulnerable and exposed to someone that scares me so much but I just… I’ve never actually wanted to have sex before.”

 

“Not even with Yukhei? You’ve liked him for so long, you never imagined--” Donghyuck shakes his head, keeps his gaze trained down at his plate. “Then why did you tell me you wanted to lose your virginity? Why did you agree to try and hook up with Yukhei last night?”

 

“I just said it to say it, honestly. And I thought--” He takes a deep, steadying breath. “I thought it was just a weird thing in my head. Like if I was actually in that situation then I would be fine. Especially with Yukhei. I didn’t expect to even get that close, really, but it all happened so fast and one minute I was loving it and the next I was just so scared and disgusted with myself and confused, it just…” He glances back up at Jungwoo. “It was just a mess.”

 

Jungwoo tilts his head, like he’s suddenly seeing Donghyuck in a different light. “Have you ever considered the idea that you might be asexual?”

 

Donghyuck’s fork slips out of his grip. “W-what? I’m not--” The anxiety makes him feel like all of the blood has been drained from his body. Asexual? He can’t be. He doesn’t want to be.

 

“Hyuck, don’t panic,” Jungwoo soothes, reaching over the table to take Donghyuck’s hand. “It’s not the end of the world, I just wanted to bring it up, because it sounds familiar.” When Donghyuck gapes at him, Jungwoo just smiles softly. “Yeah, yours truly is ace.”

 

“B-but--” His head is spinning. He’s never been this confused. “You have sex all the time, I don’t understand.”

 

“Asexuality is a spectrum, honey. There are lots of different to be ace,” Jungwoo explains. “It doesn’t mean you’ll never have sex in your life. In my case, it means I don’t feel sexually attracted to anyone. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the act of sex itself, the pleasure.”

 

“What are the other kinds?” Donghyuck asks quietly, still trying to grapple with the idea that he’s not doomed to be celibate for the rest of his days.

 

“People who identify as ace can fall into different parts of the spectrum. There are people who are demi, who don’t feel sexual attraction until they’ve established some sort of deeper emotional connection. People who are grey so they feel sexual attraction sometimes, but not always.”

 

Jungwoo leans further forward, squeezing Donghyuck’s hand. “The world is so fucking hypersexual, Hyuck. At every turn, there’s this narrative that especially guys should always just be down to have sex all the time. That we should always be thinking about sex and that romantic relationships should involve lots of it. It leaves a lot of people feeling like they’re… broken somehow if they’re not like that.”

 

Donghyuck doesn’t know how to explain that this is exactly how he feels right now, that being ace means that he’s going to miss out on some fundamental aspect of life, that he’s not going to be a complete, happy person.

 

“It’s just bullshit, Hyuck. Sex can be simple, but it can also be really complicated. It’s not like in the movies where people just fall in together and it’s just perfect all the time. It’s not fair to people who struggle with intimacy, with feeling comfortable, with wanting to be touched.”

 

“B-but I--” Donghyuck doesn’t want to cry at his favorite brunch spot. “With Yukhei, I don’t know if it’s because I might be ace. I wasn’t ready, there are a lot of reasons why I’d want to stop--”

 

“You’re right,” Jungwoo soothes. “The situation was complicated. There could be so many reasons, piled up on top of each other, and that’s why you reacted as intensely as you did. But with what you told me earlier, it’s worth considering that you might be on the ace spectrum. Just food for thought.”

 

“But what if… somewhere down the line, I do feel sexually attracted to someone? And want to have sex?”

 

Jungwoo shrugs. “Then you feel sexually attracted to someone. Maybe you’re demi, or grey. Sexuality isn’t just one label we have to live with our whole lives, Hyuck. It’s a journey. You don’t owe it to anyone to put yourself in one box and stay there forever. You just live your life and try to be as true to yourself as you can. And maybe life will surprise you.”

 

Donghyuck still feels shaky, but the casual way that Jungwoo talks about everything settles something inside him. Jungwoo doesn’t think it’s a big deal. It’s a process.

 

“You’re nineteen. You have your whole life to live. You don’t know who you’ll meet, or how you’ll feel. So don’t worry so much about labels if it’ll just stress you out more.”

 

“Then why did you bring up the whole ace thing?”

 

“Because I want you to know that you’re not broken. You’re not wrong. There are other people who feel the same way you do, and it’s normal, and your life won’t be any less fulfilling. It’s not something you need to be afraid of. Do you understand?”

 

Donghyuck can only nod, shaky, because he’s so grateful to Jungwoo, for so many things. This is a part of him that he’d refused to acknowledge, because he didn’t want to admit that there was something wrong with him. But maybe it’s not wrong. And maybe how he feels now won’t be how he feels in the future. And even if he does, then it’s something he’ll learn to deal with.

 

 

For the next few days, Donghyuck stews in everything. There’s just so much-- like there was a whole part of himself that he just completely ignored, but suddenly has to get acquainted with. There are moments when he feels like he’ll never quite understand himself or what he wants, but maybe that’s okay. Maybe he doesn’t have to make things so complicated for himself.

 

All he knows right now is that he has to focus on himself. Which currently means buckling down on the lab report he’s been ignoring the last few days as he takes a journey in introspection. It’s early afternoon, and he’d just finished rehearsing lines with Yeri and Sooyoung, who are playing Maria and Anita, respectively. At some point, he’d had to duck out because he really does need to finish this lab report.

 

It’s a surprisingly nice day out. Winter is never bad here, but the season is coming to a close, and taking the chilly weather with it. Donghyuck chooses to sit at a table in the quad, under the shade of a tree, and it feels nice, being out in nature, feeling the breeze on his face and the hearing birds chirping. It’s a reminder that despite this weekend’s catastrophe, the world keeps turning, and things aren’t actually so bad.

 

He’s able to focus for about an hour, fingers flying across the keyboard of his laptop as he chews idly on a pen, and he’s just about to export an Excel graph when he senses someone sitting down across from him. He looks up, and the pen falls out of his mouth.

 

“Y-Yukhei?”

 

The man himself leans forward on his elbows, grin wide across his face. “You are not an easy man to track down, Donghyuck Lee.”

 

If the pen was still in Donghyuck’s mouth, it would have just fallen out again as he gapes. “You were looking for me?”

 

“Of course,” Yukhei says, with all the sincerity in the world. “You left so fast on Saturday, and you didn’t look so good. I wanted to find you and ask if everything’s okay. And to apologize.”

 

Donghyuck is floored, feeling stupid that all he’s doing is regurgitating questions. “Apologize for what? You didn’t do anything wrong.”

 

Yukhei looks sheepish, running a hand through his hair. “I feel like I… came on a little too strong. Figured I might have spooked you or something.”

 

Donghyuck takes a moment to deliberate on the situation. Yukhei had tried to find him, to apologize. Was this another sign from the universe? Was this a second chance? Whatever it is, Donghyuck can’t do the bullshit front. He has to be honest, and Yukhei can take it or leave it.

 

“I mean… maybe a little?”

 

“Fuck… yeah that’s what I thought.” Yukhei looks like a kicked puppy, and Donghyuck scrambles to soothe him.

 

“It’s not exactly your fault though. It--” Donghyuck is probably going to regret this, but he forges ahead. “It’s just that… that was my first kiss.”

 

Yukhei gapes at him. “That was not your first kiss.”

 

Donghyuck laughs nervously, fiddling with the sleeves of his hoodie. “Yeah, well, believe it. I don’t really have a reason to lie, do I?”

 

Yukhei looks like he’s been socked in the stomach, eyes wide and devastated. “If-- If I had known, I would have--”

Donghyuck raises an eyebrow. “Would have what?” Would never have approached me in the first place?

 

“I don’t know, I would have-- gone slower, probably? At least tried to make it more enjoyable for you instead of like, trying to eat you or whatever the fuck I was doing that night.”

 

And Donghyuck giggles, slapping a hand over his mouth at the wounded look Yukhei shoots him, because is this really his life right now? Nothing is going like he expected. “That’s very considerate, but I definitely enjoyed myself.”

 

“Oh my god,” Yukhei’s eyes widen with realization. “I was trying to sleep with you. If your first kiss was at the party then that means--” He moans, putting his head down on the table. “I am such an ass. No wonder you fucking bolted.” He looks up at Donghyuck, so pitiful that Donghyuck has to bite down another laugh. “Why didn’t you kick me in the balls? You should have kicked me in the balls.”

 

Donghyuck really does have to laugh at that. “There there,” he teases, patting Yukhei’s shoulder in mock consolation. “I’m sure you’re normally much more chivalrous. Anyways, it was just a fluke.”

 

Yukhei tilts his head. “What do you mean it was a fluke?”

 

Suddenly, Donghyuck feels self-conscious again. He tugs his sleeves over his hands and bunches the material in his fists. He wants to be unapologetic about who he is, what he finds comfort in. “The person you met last night wasn’t me, not really.” When Yukhei’s frown deepens, Donghyuck gestures to himself. He’s in his oversized Sinners sweater, with the hood pulled up, and a pair of ratty track pants. There’s not the slightest bit of makeup on his face. “This is what I’m like normally.”

 

Yukhei just blinks at him, still looking honestly confused. “I don’t see a difference?”

 

Donghyuck huffs a laugh. “I don’t know what you were expecting, but the whole aesthetic from the party is not my usual deal. This is.”

 

“I don’t see anything wrong with that.” And Donghyuck almost wants to believe Yukhei is being sincere. “Nobody dresses normal at parties. And honestly you look super comfy right now. I’m jealous.”

 

Donghyuck snorts, eyeing Yukhei’s fashionable branded sweater. “Yeah, we can switch.”

 

“Okay, let’s switch!”

 

“Wait, what--” Donghyuck watches with wide eyes as Yukhei pulls the sweater over his head, leaving him in a plain black shirt, the fabric stretched out across his shoulders and chest. “It was just a fucking joke--”

 

“No, now I want your hoodie,” Yukhei insists, holding his sweater out to Donghyuck.

 

“You are so fucking weird,” Donghyuck hisses, face hot with embarrassment. But Yukhei is unphased, waiting expectantly, and Donghyuck realizes he’s not getting out of this, so he curses under his breath, pulling off his hoodie and tossing it in Yukhei’s face. It’s too cold to be wearing just a shirt, so he’s forced to put on Yukhei’s sweater, just so he won’t shiver to death.

 

“Are you happy?” Donghyuck grouses, secretly pleased, because the sweater is warm from the heat of Yukhei’s body, and smells of nice cologne.

 

“Ecstatic,” Yukhei replies, adjusting the material until it fits around his shoulders. While it’s oversized on Donghyuck, the hoodie fits perfectly on Yukhei’s build, and he looks unfairly good in it. How does Yukhei always look fantastic in everything?

 

“That’s my favorite. I want it back,” Donghyuck warns, though he feels warm to the bone.

 

Yukhei tilts his head back and forth. “Eventually.” His eyes are soft as he regards Donghyuck. “You look cute.”

 

Donghyuck rolls his eyes, fighting back a blush. “Flattery will get you nowhere.”

 

“Won’t even get me a phone number?”

 

It feels like Donghyuck’s world grinds to a stop. “My phone number?” And he’s back to repeating everything Yukhei says in question form.

 

Yukhei nods, unphased by Donghyuck’s apparent lack of sentence comprehension. “Yeah! We should hang out. And I promise not to try and jump you.”

 

“Haha,” Donghyuck says. He grabs his phone from where he’d set it down next to his laptop and unlocks it, handing it to Yukhei. He really wants my number?

 

“Cool! Just sent myself a text,” Yukhei says, handing back Donghyuck’s phone. He stares at the new contact blankly; Yukhei had put a slew of hearts and lion emojis next to his name. Donghyuck is fucking floored. “I actually have to get to class soon, so I gotta go.” Donghyuck watches stupidly as Yukhei gets up. “But I’ll text you, yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” Donghyuck croaks, and watches Yukhei get on his waveboard. He shoots Donghyuck a beautiful grin and kicks off, before skating away, and Donghyuck stares after him until he gets lost in the crowd.

 

He stares at his phone again, feeling heavier somehow, with the weight of Yukhei’s phone number inside. “What the fuck is my life?” he wonders.

 

The universe does not answer.

 

 

Yukhei <333: HI HI HI

 

Donghyuck looks down at his phone and bites back the giddy laugh.

 

Donghyuck: hi! u sound v excited

 

Yukhei <333: that’s cuz i just downed 3 redbulls hahahahahahahahahaa

 

Donghyuck: oh my god

Donghyuck: do i need to call for an ambulance

 

Yukhei <333: noooooooooooooooooo

Yukhei <333: ive done this before it s f f une

Yukhei <333: *fine

 

Donghyuck: yes clearly ur fine

Donghyuck: any reason why u committed such a heinous crime

 

Yukhei <333: BIGGO WORDS HAHAHAHAHAA

 

Donghyuck: oh jesus

 

Yukhei <333: gonna pull an all nighter cuz i got  !!!!!!! a project to finish !!!!

 

Donghyuck winces, but most of him is excited at the prospect of messaging Yukhei about mundane things. He doesn’t know why Yukhei decided to text him this, of all the things, but he doesn’t mind.

 

Donghyuck: my condolences

Donghyuck: hope u can get it finished soon TT

 

Yukhei <333: me too me too me too

Yukhei <333: pls give me STRENGTH

 

Donghyuck: id u my spare strength but im gonna need it ;;;; sorry

 

Yukhei <333: :OOOOOOOO what are you doing rn

 

Donghyuck: rehearsals!!!!!!!

 

Now that he mentions it, Donghyuck should probably be focusing. He glances up from where he’s slouching in one of the auditorium seats, waiting for his turn to be fitted for his costume. Joohyun is almost done with Yeri’s, so he’ll get called up in a minute.

 

Yukhei <333: REHEARSALS

 

Donghyuck: oh my god

 

Yukhei <333: sorry,, indoor voice

Yukhei <333: rehearsals !!!!

Yukhei <333: how cool beans!

 

Donghyuck: not cool when u think abt how much studying i have to catch up on when i get back to my apartment

 

Yukhei <333: damn ur right D:

Yukhei <333: what if…

 

Donghyuck: ?

 

Yukhei <333: u drank 3 redbulls too !!!!!!!!!!!

 

“Donghyuck,” Joohyun calls, and he jerks his head up.

 

Donghyuck: oh yeah im sure thatll work

Donghyuck: not like ill get cardiac arrest or anything

 

He types the messages quickly and pockets his phone before heading over to Joohyun.

 

“What’s got you smiling like that?” Yuta asks, from where he’s lounging in the chair next to the costume racks.

 

Donghyuck can feel his cheeks hurting from his grin. “Am I?” He steps behind the partition Joohyun had set up an grabs the garment bag she’s slung over the top. He works his clothes off quickly and steps into the slacks, pale blue button down, worn yellow jacket, and tie, before walking back out.

 

Yuta has his eyes narrowed at Donghyuck when he comes out, suspicious. “You don’t normally smile like that. Unless someone got hurt.”

 

Donghyuck just shrugs, eyes alight as Joohyun fusses over him, checking the fit of the costume. He doesn’t have any costume changes, save for removing the jacket and tie after Tonight, and part of him wishes the costume design for his character could be a little more flashy, but it’s not realistic.

 

“Well…” Donghyuck says, sticking his arms out at his sides when Joohyun prompts him. “I’ve been texting Yukhei.” He whispers it, like it’s some great secret, and watches as Yuta’s eyes go comically large.

 

Yukhei!” he all but yells at the top of his lungs, and it draws the attention of most everyone in the theater.

 

“What about Yukhei?” Jungwoo asks, hurrying over, Taeyong and Doyoung not far behind. “What happened with Yukhei?”

 

Donghyuck blinks in surprise at his friends, who stare at him in a mixture of confusion and concern. “I just-- I was just saying that I’m texting him.”

 

“You’re texting him? When did you get his number?” Jungwoo demands.

 

“Wait, did Hyuck actually see him at the party?” Taeyong asks.

 

“They almost slept together,” Jungwoo says, hasty, waving his hand to quiet down when Taeyong squawks in protest.

 

“But we didn’t!” Donghyuck clarifies, laughing nervously and holding his hands out in defense. Joohyun shoots him a dirty look and he resumes his original position. “My innocence is still intact.”

 

“When did you guys start texting?” Jungwoo asks.

 

Donghyuck forgot he didn’t tell his friend what happened yesterday. “Oh, uhm. Yukhei found me yesterday. I guess he wanted to apologize. And he asked for my number.” The way Jungwoo’s mouth hangs open in shock makes Donghyuck feels bad, but in his defense, he’d spent most of yesterday reeling from the sudden encounter. And speaking of which--

 

Shit, he still has my hoodie--” Donghyuck curses, hurrying over to his pile of clothes when Joohyun moves away from him for a split second, and unearths his phone.

 

Donghyuck: hey hoodie thief

Donghyuck: i want my sweater back

 

“What do you mean he has your jacket?” Jungwoo asks, and the interrogation is drawing the attention of more people. Johnny’s migrated over towards them, Jaehyun in tow.

 

“What’s going on?” Johnny asks.

 

“Apparently Donghyuck and Yukhei are texting now,” Taeyong murmurs. “I still don’t know what’s going on.”

 

“Okay okay okay okay--” Donghyuck groans, exasperated. He takes a minute to share the bare minimum details of what happened on Saturday, then yesterday, taking care to exclude the panic attack and consequent revelations. “And then he made me trade clothes with him which is so fucking random--”

 

“But Hyuckie, it makes perfect sense,” Jaehyun says, eyes wide and dreamy. “He wanted to see you in his clothes!”

 

“No, that’s ridiculous--” Donghyuck laughs nervously. “Why would he want that?”

 

“Because he likes you, even I know that,” Doyoung says. “Why else would he track you down and ask for your phone number and everything.”

 

Donghyuck refuses to admit this as a possibility. His phone pings and he reads the notification. “It’s Yukhei,” he mumbles, and suddenly, everyone is crowding around him. God, when did his friends get so nosy?

 

Yukhei <333: i did no such thing !!!!!
Yukhei <333: i asked very politely !!!!!!!!!

Yukhei <333: and anyways i cant return it now

 

Donghyuck: what ??? why

 

Yukhei <333: my dog ate it,, sorry

 

Donghyuck makes a noise of pain in the back of his throat, eyes starting to sting.

 

Yukhei <333: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA JUST KIDDING I DONT HAVE A DOG

 

Donghyuck: ill kill u

Donghyuck: ill actually fucking kill u

 

“Wow, he’s an idiot,” Johnny says. “Is this how young people flirt nowadays? Like they’re on crack?”

 

“Three Redbulls, more like,” Donghyuck corrects.

 

“How is he still alive?” Taeyong asks, scandalized.

 

Yukhei <333: hahahahhahahahhaaa sorrryyyyyyyy

Yukhei <333: no impulse control

Yukhei <333: i feel like i can HEAR COLORS

 

“Maybe he should go to the hospital?” Taeyong suggests, parental instincts clearly flaring up.

 

“This is really your man?” Ten asks, having joined the group and is now reading over Donghyuck’s shoulder.

 

Donghyuck: im legally obligated to suggest u go to the hospital

Donghyuck: so if u do die i dont feel guilty

 

Yukhei <333: YOURE SO MEAN

Yukhei <333: and i was just abt to suggest meeting up

 

Donghyuck: !!! give me my hoodie back !!!!

 

Yukhei <333: fineeeeeee :^))))))))))

Yukhei <333: im having a kickback @ my apt on friday

Yukhei <333: u should come thru !!!!

 

The idea of seeing Yukhei again sends a thrill up Donghyuck’s spine. But he looks up at his friends anyway. “What should I do?”

 

“Go, duh?” Yuta says, like it’s obvious. “And then seduce him for real this time.”

 

“It’s a kickback, Yuta--” Taeyong protests. Everyone starts arguing, but Jungwoo just stares carefully at Donghyuck.

 

“What do you want to do, honey?”

 

Donghyuck chews on his bottom lip. “I want to see him again. And I really want my Sinners hoodie back.”

 

Jungwoo smiles. “There’s your answer then.”

 

“Will you help me?” Donghyuck asks. “Dress up a little?”

 

“Is that what you want?”

 

Donghyuck nods. “I don’t want to go overboard but--”

 

Jungwoo reaches out to squeeze his hand. “Then, of course, Hyuck.”

 

“Uhm, I hate to break this up but--” Johnny pipes up. “You should probably text the poor boy back. Don’t leave him on read.”

 

Donghyuck curses and stares at his phone, already seeing a string of messages appear.

 

Yukhei <333: obv u dont have to hahahahahahhaa

Yukhei <333: uhm

Yukhei <333: if u want we can meet on campus or smth

Yukhei <333: its rlly ok if u dont want to come hahahaa

Yukhei <333: idk why i asked that

Yukhei <333: my impulse control is TERRIBLE

Yukhei <333: just ignore me

 

“He’s adorable,” Jaehyun sighs. “He likes you so much, Hyuckie.”

 

Donghyuck doesn’t really want to acknowledge that idea yet, but he’s definitely flattered by the attention.

 

Donghyuck: ill come thru if u still want me to

 

Yukhei <333: I DO

 

Donghyuck: rlly? u seem a little unsure

 

Yukhei <333: NO I DO I PROMISE

Yukhei <333: god im rlly gonna be embarrassed when the caffeine high wears off huh hahahahahahahaha omg

 

Donghyuck: probably :^)

 

Yukhei <333: oh whale it was WORTH IT

 

“What is everyone doing over there?” Everyone’s heads whip up towards the director, Heechul, who is on stage and staring at their little group with his hands on his hips. “I didn’t realize this was hang-out time. Back onstage. Now. ” And everyone is scrambling, Yukhei drama forgotten.

 

 

“Okay, Donghyuck, you can do this.” He takes a deep, steadying breath, and tries not to fiddle with his clothes. Donghyuck knows he looks good, he just wishes that confidence would translate on the inside, because he feels like a hot mess.

 

Don’t shut down, he reminds himself. He doesn’t do well around strangers, and he’s going to be in a room full of them. If he panics, he’ll just fall back into his default asshole state, and he can’t let that happen, at all costs. He just has to stay calm. Yukhei invited him. He’s not going to ruin his chance to spend more time with the guy he’s been crushing on for over a decade.

 

Taking a final breath, he reaches up and knocks on the door. He’d shown up about fifteen minutes after Yukhei had told him to come, because Jungwoo had coached him not to look too eager, to build anticipation, on the off-chance that Yukhei really did feel something for him. The idea that maybe Yukhei is looking forward to this settles something in Donghyuck’s stomach.

 

The door opens after a few moments, and Donghyuck tries valiantly not to let his smile dims when a stranger opens the door. He has a minor meltdown over the course of two seconds, wondering whether he got the wrong address, until the stranger points at him and says, “You must be Donghyuck.”

 

Stay calm. “That’s me,” Donghyuck says, trying to be casual. The stranger smiles, open and kind.

 

“I’m Dejun. We’ve been wondering when you’d get here.” The stranger-- Dejun-- opens the door wider and beckons for Donghyuck to come inside.

 

“Thanks,” he murmurs, stepping inside, and immediately, he’s met with the gazes of several men, sprawled out on couches in the living room.

 

“Guys, this is Donghyuck. Donghyuck, these are the guys.”

 

Donghyuck raises a hand in a tentative wave. “Hi, guys.”

 

That seems to make everyone relax a little, one of the men chuckling and getting up. “I’m Kun, nice to meet you.” Donghyuck shakes his hand. “Yukhei’s told me a lot about you.”

 

Donghyuck blinks in surprise as he’s led to the couches, arranged in a U shape. “I didn’t think there was anything to tell.”

 

“Oh, we know enough,” another guy pipes up. He mock salutes Donghyuck. “YangYang.”

 

“What are you guys--”

 

Donghyuck whips his head towards the hall, only to see Yukhei emerge, and his breath catches in his throat. It’s unfair, how devastatingly handsome Yukhei is. Donghyuck doesn’t think he could ever be over it.

 

“You’re here,” Yukhei says, gaping at him.

 

Donghyuck laughs, nervous at the attention. He sticks his thumb at the door. “I can leave if you want me to--”

 

“No no no,” Yukhei shakes his head and closes the distance between them. Donghyuck finds himself enveloped in a tight hug, heart slamming against his ribs as Yukhei holds him close for far longer than necessary. “I’m glad you made it.”

 

“No major accidents on the way here,” Donghyuck tries to joke, patting Yukhei’s back awkwardly as he tries to wrestle his way out of the hold. He can feel everyone staring at them, and his face feels hot.

 

“Xuxi, you’re strangling him,” Kun warns, and Yukhei pulls away quickly, laughing nervously.

 

“Sorry, just excited.”

 

Donghyuck looks at him, wary. “You didn’t have anymore Redbull, did you?”

 

Yukhei’s laugh is high and warbled. “No, that’s-- Haha. No.”

 

“Hey, who just got-- Donghyuck!”

 

Oh my god.

 

“Kunhang!” Donghyuck wants to die. “Hi!”

 

“Wow!” Kunhang walks out of the kitchen and pulls Donghyuck into a hug. “Hi, it’s good to see you again!”

 

Donghyuck laughs, trying not to let his panic bleed into it. “Yeah! Small world isn’t it.”

 

Kunhang grins at him, sweet and open, and Donghyuck feels a little more at ease. He expected things to be more awkward. “It really is.”

 

Yukhei pops up between them in a heartbeat. “You guys know each other?” Donghyuck is probably imagining the tension in Yukhei’s gaze as he looks at Kunhang.

 

Kunhang laughs, ignoring whatever weird vibes Yukhei is putting out. “I asked him out last week.”

 

Yukhei blinks rapidly. “I’m sorry, what?” Donghyuck’s face is going to melt off, he’s sure of it. Distantly, he can hear YangYang snickering. At least one person finds this funny.

 

“Yeah, I asked him on a date.” Kunhang sticks his hands in his pockets, pretending to be devastated. “Turned me down and broke my heart.”

 

“I did not, ” Donghyuck protests, shoving Kunhang’s shoulder. He turns to Yukhei. “I didn’t.” He doesn’t know why he feels like he needs to defend himself. But clearly Yukhei seems to need it, lips pressed into a thin smile. Kunhang just laughs and throws an arm around Donghyuck’s shoulder.

 

“Is the universe giving me another chance?”

 

Yukhei laughs, reedy and far too loud, tugging Donghyuck out of Kunhang’s hold. “No, I don’t think that’s it, actually. Shouldn’t you be checking on the stove?” Donghyuck watches the two friends have a silent exchange, and finally Kunhang sighs, throwing his hands up in defeat.

 

“Alright, I’m going, I’m going.” But before Yukhei can do anything to stop it, Kunhang winks at Donghyuck. “I wanna hear more about that guy later.”

 

Donghyuck feels like his soul has entered the astral plane as Yukhei looks between them. “Guy? What guy?”

 

But the universe isn’t done with Donghyuck just yet. Right when he thinks this is the worse it could possibly get, Renjun Huang walks through the door.

 

“Is Sicheng back with the booze?” he asks, pocketing his keys and setting his motorcycle helmet down, before catching sight of Donghyuck. “Well well well.” He strides up to Donghyuck and takes his hand, pressing a kiss to his knuckles. “We meet again, cutie.”

 

Renjun Huang is Donghyuck’s size, maybe even smaller, but the way he carries himself makes him seem six feet tall, like he’s got a switchblade up his sleeve and isn’t afraid to use it on someone. Right now, Donghyuck feels like he’s very much in danger.

 

“So you’re Donghyuck,” Renjun says, eyes raking up and down Donghyuck’s body. He wants to squirm, but distantly, he remembers something about how sharks can smell fear. “I’d love to get to know you better--”

 

“He’ll get to know everyone better--” Yukhei says, sliding between him and Renjun. Donghyuck makes a noise of protest, peeking out from behind Yukhei’s arm. Renjun just smirks his way and heads over to the couch, plopping down next to YangYang.

 

Yukhei turns to Donghyuck, face tense. “I’m really sorry about that--”

 

“Huh? No, it’s not your fault, god--”

 

“I guess guys really do fall at your feet,” Yukhei says, with an odd smile, and Donghyuck doesn’t know what to make of it.

 

“Guys falling at my feet--?” It takes a moment for Donghyuck to realize what Yukhei is talking about. “Oh my god, at the party-- No, no--” He doesn’t know why he feels like he needs to set the record straight. “Jungwoo-- he’s a good friend of mine. He was just being an ass. Guys don’t-- they don’t fall at my feet.”

 

Yukhei raises an eyebrow. “Doesn’t look that way to me.”

 

Donghyuck must have a death wish, because he pats Yukhei’s arm and says, “Afraid of a little competition?”

 

Yukhei narrows his eyes. “Apparently I am,” he murmurs, and Donghyuck’s entire body flushes hot. This is not how he expected his evening to go.

 

 

Eventually, Donghyuck meets Sicheng, who walks in armed with cases of beer. Everyone settles down on the mismatched set of couches with a drink in hand, music playing through the stereo as they all talk. Donghyuck gets the feeling that they do this often, and because he’s fresh meat, all their attention is suddenly on him.

 

“So, Donghyuck, Yukhei tells me you’re in the musical,” Dejun says. Everyone’s eyes are on Donghyuck, who had been sequestered into a corner next to Yukhei. He doesn’t miss that they’re about as physically far away from Renjun and Kunhang as possible.

 

“Uhm, yeah. West Side Story.

 

“Oh my god, that’s one of my favorites,” Kun says, eyes bright. “Who are you playing?”

 

Donghyuck’s ears turn red, and he’s not sure if it’s from the alcohol or the way all of Yukhei’s friends seem to be appraising him. “I’m playing Tony.”

 

Kun gapes at him. “You’re the lead? That’s amazing!”

 

“No, no--” Donghyuck waves him off. “It was mostly luck--”

 

“Isn’t the school’s theater department super elite? They wouldn’t cast people based on luck. You must be an amazing performer,” Dejun says, sliding forward in his seat.

 

Donghyuck shoots Yukhei a panicked look. “Oh, I don’t know about that--”

 

“You should sing for us, Donghyuck,” Renjun says, teeth glinting brightly as he smirks. “We’d love to hear you.”

 

“Oh my god,” Donghyuck laughs nervously. “I’m not nearly drunk enough to do something like that.” He’s still only nursing his second beer, and while he’s starting to feel it, it’s not enough for him to lower his inhibitions like that in front of near-strangers.

 

“Well,” Renjun says, reaching towards the bottle of vodka on the coffee table. “We can fix that.”

 

 

Donghyuck jerks awake, and the regret comes crashing down so quickly he doesn’t have time to think. There isn’t enough money in the world to get him to open his eyes right now, because he knows he’s going to absolutely not going to move or breathe for the rest of his miserable life.

 

His mouth is stuffed full of cotton, his head is pounding, and there’s a wave of nausea building in the back of his throat. He groans before he can help it, trying to turn over to his side.

 

Shut up,” comes a voice, that is clearly not familiar, and Donghyuck’s eyes shoot open. He stares around and realizes that he’s in his own room, though he doesn’t remember how he even got there. “It’s too early.” Donghyuck’s eyes then snap to Jeno’s bed, and what he sees there makes him scream at the top of his lungs, twisting so much that he falls out of his bed and lands hard on his ass.

 

What the fuck!” Donghyuck screeches, because oh my god what the fuck? He hears an answering yelp. “Why are you fucking naked Jaemin?”

 

“Why the fuck are you here?” Jaemin accuses, voice frantic. Donghyuck hears him scrambling around, and he’s not ready to open his eyes yet. His head is going to split all the way open and his brain is going to fall out. If only it would erase the image of Jaemin Na’s naked fucking ass out of his mind.

 

“I pay rent you dick!” Donghyuck yells. “Why are you naked?”

 

“Oh my god what’s going on--” Donghyuck hears Jeno in the doorway, and he pries his eyes open. Jeno’s shirtless, and his chest is covered in bruises and bitemarks.

 

“I’m gonna hurl,” Donghyuck just barely manages to choke out, before bolting past Jeno and into the bathroom. He makes it just in time to lose everything he ate in the last twenty four hours. Jeno kneels down beside him, holding his hair and patting his back as Donghyuck coughs and splutters.

 

“Eugh,” Donghyuck manages to say, eyes watery with tears as he stares despondently into the toilet bowl. This has got to be the worst morning of his entire fucking life on so many different levels. And to make things worse, he can’t remember anything that happened last night.

 

“Aw baby,” Jeno coos, rubbing Donghyuck’s neck, and helping him get up and stand on wobbly legs. He goes to get a glass of water and aspirin as Donghyuck cleans out his mouth and brushes his teeth.

 

“I’m never drinking again,” Donghyuck grouses, gulping down the entire glass and stumbling after Jeno into the kitchen. Jaemin is, unfortunately, still here, sitting on one the stools, and glares at Donghyuck as he stumbles around for a cup of coffee.

 

“When did I get back?” he asks, pointedly ignoring Jaemin as he takes a sip of blessed caffeine.

 

Jeno shrugs. “It must have been super late. We were already asleep.” Donghyuck frowns down at his cup. It’s like there’s a mental block in place, keeping him from remembering what happened after Renjun poured him his first shot. He’s still in the clothes he wore last night, and he really needs to shower, but he needs to know how what went down last night.

 

He digs out his phone and searches through is most recent text conversations, and is chagrined to find out he’d changed Yukhei’s contact name to HOLY ABS. What the fuck was he on last night?

 

Donghyuck: just a few quick questions uhm

Donghyuck: 1) how did i get home

Donghyuck: 2) what the FUCK happened last night

 

He sets his phone down and levels Jaemin with a look. “So. What are you doing here?”

 

“What does it look like I was doing here.”

 

Donghyuck makes a gagging noise, pounding his chest. He shoots Jeno a wounded look. “You could have warned a guy!”

 

To Jeno’s credit, he looks fairly ashamed. “It wasn’t, uh, planned. It was already so late we figured you’d crash at Yukhei’s place.”

 

“Apparently not,” Donghyuck mumbles. He points between the two of them. “So, what? Are you guys, like, dating now?”

 

“Yes,” Jaemin says at the same time Jeno says, “Sort of?” Jaemin looks at Jeno, betrayed, and Donghyuck groans.

 

“God, get your shit together.” He claps his hands. “Quickly! I need to know if I’m gonna be waking up to Jaemin’s ugly ass more often.” Jaemin opens his mouth to, predictably, protest, but his phone buzzes, and Donghyuck checks himself out of the conversation.

 

HOLY ABS: wow you woke up earlier than i thought

 

Donghyuck: it’s almost noon

 

HOLY ABS: you dont remember how much you drank lmao

 

Donghyuck: i can imagine !! since i have the worst hangover of my life !!

 

HOLY ABS: it was pretty impressive tbh

HOLY ABS: but to answer your question(s)

HOLY ABS: 1) i drove u home cuz you were totally wasted

HOLY ABS: 2) im not sure u want to know

 

“Oh my god,” Donghyuck mutters, panic gripping at his heart.

 

Donghyuck: what did i do….

 

HOLY ABS: do u ever think that sometimes u forget things bc ur brain decided it was for the best?

 

Donghyuck: i need to know !!!

 

HOLY ABS: this is… a conversation best had in person

 

Donghyuck: that is not making me feel better yukhei

 

HOLY ABS: ah ah ah pls refer to me by my new given name, Ab God

 

Donghyuck: FUCKN IFNSKKJHDLJSSFKL

 

 

“So,” Donghyuck says, once their orders have been placed. He’s sitting across from Yukhei at the nearest Denny’s, because Yukhei is a class act like that. “Start from the beginning.”

 

Yukhei purses his lips, trying not to smile, and Donghyuck hates him in that moment. He looks fresh as a fucking daisy, and it’s unfair, because Donghyuck is probably going to be hungover all day. “Are you sure you want to know?”

 

“The more you try to avoid this the more I’ll want to know. You do realize this, right?”

 

Yukhei sighs, leaning back against his seat. “Okay, well.” He seems to be choosing his words carefully. “After the first couple rounds of shots, Dejun took out the karaoke machine.”

 

Donghyuck raises his eyebrows. “You have a karaoke machine?”

 

“Unfortunately, yes,” Yukhei says. “So everybody started taking turns singing, but you kept refusing, until--”

 

Donghyuck’s eyes widen. “Until?”

 

“Until a Beyonce song came on.”

 

And Yukhei doesn’t need to elaborate, because Donghyuck can imagine very explicitly what his reaction was. Regret feels like hot coals in his stomach. “Oh no.”

 

“Oh yes.” Yukhei’s lips twitch up. “You ripped the mic out of Renjun’s hand and sang If I Were a Boy at the top of your lungs. It was very moving.”

 

Donghyuck covers his face in his hands. “For god’s sake.”

 

“And then you drank some more. It was actually impressive, you managed to drink Renjun and Sicheng under the table. I couldn’t believe you were still standing.” Donghyuck can’t look at Yukhei, otherwise he’ll die. “And then--”

 

“There’s more?” Donghyuck whines.

 

“This is the icing on top of the cake, Donghyuck. Your encore.” Donghyuck peeks at Yukhei through the gaps in his fingers, and Yukhei’s grin is full-blown. “ Love on Top came on.”

 

Oh no. That’s not possible. The universe wouldn’t be that cruel right? To play the one song Donghyuck had associated with Yukhei all of high school?

 

“This is where I think you stopped being able to stand up, because you dropped right into my lap.” And Donghyuck is probably imagining the way Yukhei’s ears turn red. “And proceeded to belt right in my face. You did the adlibs and everything. It was kind of incredible. I’ve never been serenaded before.”

 

Donghyuck can remember it now. The way he’d collapsed right on top of Yukhei and grabbed him by the front of his shirt, doing a very passionate rendition of the song. If he remembers correctly, he’d felt Yukhei up too.

“You had a lot to say about my abs, if I remember correctly. Which I do, because I was totally sober last night.”

 

Donghyuck can’t help the giggles that bubble up. He’s so completely mortified, he doesn’t know what else to do but laugh. “Oh my god, I’m so embarrassed.”

 

“Afterwards we all agreed you’d had enough, so I drove you home. I didn’t think you’d appreciate waking up in a random apartment.” That’s very… considerate. Donghyuck can’t believe he got trashed at Yukhei’s place like this. “You have quite the voice, Donghyuck Lee.” Yukhei is looking at him with so much fondness, Donghyuck’s stomach swoops. He feels a little lightheaded from the blood rushing to his face, and he puts his face down on the table. “Better than Beyonce.”

 

Donghyuck whips his head up so quickly his head spins, and he reaches across the table to slap a hand over Yukhei’s mouth. “How could you say something like that?” he hisses. Yukhei makes a muffled noise, eyebrows furrowing in confusion. Donghyuck removes his hand, eyes narrowed into a glare. “How could you say something so sacreligious? Better than Beyonce, my ass.”

 

Yukhei laughs, running a hand through his hair. “Okay, almost as good as Beyonce.”

 

Donghyuck sits back, nodding and crossing his arms across his chest. “That’s better.” There’s a pause as the waitress brings their food, and Donghyuck groans at the sight of his burger and fries.

 

“That’s a heart attack on a plate,” Yukhei says, picking up his very healthy wrap.

 

“I want something that will clog my arteries. You can eat your rabbit food.”

 

“Hey now, this rabbit food is how I keep these abs,” Yukhei protests, patting his stomach. “You appreciated them quite a lot last night.”

 

Donghyuck groans, throwing a fry in Yukhei’s direction. “Will I ever live that down?”

 

“I won’t let you,” Yukhei assures, taking a bite of his food. “But seriously, you’re really good. I don’t know you could sing like that?”

 

Donghyuck raises an eyebrow as he swallows down a bite of his burger. “How could you have known?”

 

Yukhei shrugs helplessly. “How long have you been performing?”

 

Donghyuck sighs, wiping grease from his fingers with a clean napkin. “My mom dragged me to an audition in like, sixth grade? She said it would help me get over my shyness or something.”

 

Yukhei tilts his head. “And did it work?”

 

Donghyuck snorts, dunking a fry into a mountain of ketchup. “Only halfway. Onstage and with friends, I’m fine. But put me in a new social situation and I just shut down. I was still pretty much a loner in high school.”

 

“That’s…” Yukhei regards Donghyuck thoughtfully, before shaking his head. “You are nothing like I expected.”

 

Donghyuck snorts. “I’m not like other guys?” Yukhei just laughs, stealing fries from Donghyuck’s plate before he can swat his hands away.

 

“And what about me?” Yukhei asks, startling Donghyuck when he shoves two fries right up his nose. “Am I like what you expected?”

 

Donghyuck laughs, slapping a hand over his mouth as he tries not to snort. “You’re a fucking weirdo,” he says, kicking at Yukhei’s foot under the table. “And you wasted perfectly good food.”

 

“What, you don’t like boogers on your fries?” Yukhei asks, taking the fries out and shoving them in Donghyuck’s face. Donghyuck screeches, shoving Yukhei’s hands away, weak with laughter.

 

“You’re fucking disgusting,” Donghyuck wheezes, finally managing to get Yukhei to drop the fries. “God.

 

“Ab god,” Yukhei corrects, and Donghyuck groans, sides aching. They just stare at each other for a moment, still smiling widely, and Donghyuck wonders whether it’s possible to freeze time, to bottle up everything he’s feeling right now and keep them forever. He really wishes he could.

 

 

Amidst long rehearsals and keeping up with his course load, Donghyuck doesn’t have much time to sit and think on his feelings about what’s happening in his life right now. He’s afraid that if he does, he’ll think too much and ruin things for himself, because Jungwoo has mentioned that self-sabotage was one of his key traits.

 

Still, he wishes he could have at least a moment and step back, clear his head of all things Yukhei and figure out what the hell he’s doing, to figure out where they stand, but Yukhei just won’t let him rest, for some absurd reason.

 

“Holy sh--” Donghyuck nearly jumps out of his skin when Yukhei pops out from the doorway outside his lecture hall.

 

“Hi!” Yukhei chirps, like he hadn’t just given Donghyuck a heart attack, and pulls him into a quick hug. “Ready to go?”

 

“Ready to go--?” Donghyuck lets himself get dragged away by Yukhei, who looks rather suspicious. “Go where, Yukhei? What are you--” He digs his heels into the ground and tugs away from Yukhei. “What are you doing?”

 

Yukhei blinks at him, feigning innocence. “I’m escorting you to rehearsal, of course.”

 

“You’re escorting me.” Donghyuck narrows his eyes at him. “Why?” When Yukhei had inquired about his schedule for today, this isn’t what he’d expected to happen.

 

“No reason!” Yukhei says, laughing nervously. “I just thought it would be a nice gesture--” He reaches out to tug Donghyuck’s arm. “Come on, you don’t want to be late--”

 

“I’m not gonna be late, Yukhei, I have like half an hour--”

 

“Well--”

 

“Yukhei!” a familiar voice calls out, and Yukhei stops in his tracks.

 

Fuck,” Yukhei hisses, dragging a hand over his face. Donghyuck turns his head, only to see Renjun striding up to them.

 

“Hey there, cutie,” Renjun says, pulling Donghyuck into a hug. He raises his eyebrows at Yukhei, who looks fairly miserable. “Where are you two off to? You looked like you were in a hurry.”

 

“Oh, we weren’t. Yukhei’s just being weird.”

 

Renjun smirks. “Then you have time to grab coffee right now?”

 

“He most certainly does not,” Yukhei says, sliding in front of Donghyuck. “He actually has to get to rehearsal right now. That’s why we’re in a hurry, so--”

 

Donghyuck frowns at Yukhei as he tugs on his arm. “I’m really not--”

 

“Punctuality is so important!” Yukhei says, with a high, reedy laugh that Donghyuck is starting to associate with nervousness. “Donghyuck is very busy these days so he doesn’t really have the time to be hanging out. So you should leave him alone, Renjunnie.”

 

Donghyuck looks between Yukhei and Renjun as they glare at each other, seeming to have some sort of silent conversation. He absolutely is not going to intrude on whatever weird tension the roommates have.

 

Finally, Renjun seems to concede. “Remember, Xuxi, comp sci is on the other side of campus.” It seems more like a threat than a reminder. Yukhei’s body goes rigid. Renjun tilts his head to regard Donghyuck. “I’ll catch you around some other time, cutie. When your guard dog isn’t around.”

 

And with that, Renjun is off, leaving Donghyuck extremely confused and Yukhei with this tension in his shoulders that he can’t seem to shake. He tugs on Yukhei’s denim jacket, trying to snap him out of it. “I need to grab something to eat before rehearsal.”

 

That seems to pull Yukhei out of it, and he smiles down at Donghyuck. “Let’s get Panera. My treat.” And, well, Donghyuck isn’t going to turn down free food. So he lets Yukhei pull him in the direction of the campus Panera, waiting until he’s sure all the tension has bled out.

 

“What was that all about?” he asks, sitting at a table while they wait for their to-go order to come out.

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

Donghyuck raises an eyebrow at Yukhei. “You looked like you were gonna fight Renjun.” And then, because he’s a little shit, “I’m glad you didn’t, you would have lost. Badly.”

 

Yukhei huffs. “Why do you always think I can’t fight? I can fight!” Donghyuck just laughs and reaches forward to pinch Yukhei’s cheek, cooing. “I’m just trying to protect your honor,” Yukhei pouts, slouching in his seat.

 

Donghyuck frowns, confused. “My honor?

 

Yukhei leans forward, nodding earnestly. “If Renjun finds out you’re a virgin, he’ll try to take advantage of you.”

 

“You--” Donghyuck opens his mouth, then closes it, face twisted into something unpleasant. “You do realize that you’ve tried to take advantage of me before, right?”

 

Yukhei gapes at him, face red. “That was different! I didn’t know--”

 

Donghyuck raises his eyebrows, challenging. “So, what? You feel guilty and now you’re trying to protect me? Is that it? Gonna vet everyone who shows even the slightest interest in me to see if they’re worthy?” Something sour curls in Donghyuck’s gut. He’s not sure if he’s upset because Yukhei thinks he’s entitled to an opinion on Donghyuck’s life, or because it seems that Yukhei’s lost interest in him now that he knows Donghyuck is a virgin.

 

He also doesn’t think it appropriate to mention that he doesn’t want to have sex, period. If he couldn’t bring himself to do it with Yukhei, then he certainly wouldn’t be able to do it with Renjun.

 

“That’s-- no, Hyuck, I just--” Their order number is called out and Yukhei sighs, getting up to grab their bags. Donghyuck gets up and strides out the door, not waiting for Yukhei to catch up. “I just-- Can you slow down for a second?”

 

Donghyuck stops, and Yukhei almost careens into him. “You’ve dug yourself into a deep hole, buddy.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Yukhei sighs. “I didn’t mean it like that, I just--” He looks at Donghyuck with big, wounded eyes, and god, Donghyuck is too easy. “I want whoever you share your first time with to be worthy. And to make it special for you.” Donghyuck stares at Yukhei for a long time, trying to detect any insincerity. There is none. “And Renjun wouldn’t. That, I can promise you.”

 

“I don’t know why you think I’d sleep with Renjun,” Donghyuck grouses, resuming their walk. “It’s not like I’d just throw myself at the first guy who showed me the slightest bit of attention--”

 

“Oh, I’m just a special case, then,” Yukhei grins, a little skip in his step.

 

Donghyuck wants to wipe that smile off Yukhei’s face, because even though he’s technically correct, he doesn’t need to know that. Donghyuck arches an eyebrow, haughty. “No, that would be Kunhang.”

 

Yukhei nearly trips over himself, smile sliding right off.

 

“Kunhang isn’t right for you,” Yukhei insists, face serious again. Donghyuck bites down a laugh.

 

“Of course. And neither is any other boy on the face of this planet, right?” Donghyuck drawls. When Yukhei starts to protest, Donghyuck shoves his shoulder. “You’re such a fucking idiot. I don’t know why you’re so concerned about my chastity.”

 

“We’re friends, I’m allowed to be worried,” Yukhei grumbles, and this time, Donghyuck really does laugh.

 

Wow, Best Friend Award goes to you, Yukhei Wong,” Donghyuck teases. “But who I sleep with is none of your business.” Yukhei just pouts again, and they walk the rest of the way in silence. When Yukhei makes to follow Donghyuck inside, Donghyuck presses a hand to his chest.

 

“Where do you think you’re going?”

 

Yukhei juts his bottom lip out. “Can’t I come inside?”

 

“This is a private rehearsal, babe. No one but cast and crew is allowed.”

 

“But why,” Yukhei whines, and he looks so childish. Donghyuck doesn’t know whether to be annoyed or endeared.

 

“You’ll just have to wait to see it like everybody else.” When Yukhei gives him the puppy dog eyes, Donghyuck sighs, rolling his eyes. “I can get you tickets for opening night, though, if you want.”

 

“I want. I really want.”

 

Donghyuck shakes his head. “Fine. But you better bring me a giant fucking bouquet of flowers.”

 

“Consider it done.”

 

“Good,” Donghyuck grins. Taking initiative for the first time, he leans in and hugs Yukhei tight. “Thanks for the food. And for protecting my honor.”

 

He can feel Yukhei’s lips pressed to his hair. “You’re welcome. For both.”

 

 

When Donghyuck tells Jungwoo what happened, Jungwoo just tosses his head back and cackles. It had made Donghyuck’s hackles rise, and when he’d demanded an explanation, Jungwoo had just shaken his head.

 

“Oh baby,” he’d said, wiping a stray tear. “I’m gonna let you figure this one out for yourself. No more training wheels.”

 

The metaphor oddly fits, because Donghyuck feels like he’s learning to ride a bike again, trying to deal with the way he wobbles and nearly falls over as he tries to stay upright. That’s what Donghyuck’s life is like at the moment, now that Yukhei had planted himself firmly in it.

 

It’s not that he’s complaining. He would never. It feels like everything he desperately craved for growing up is his now. He and Yukhei have become close very quickly, seamlessly integrating themselves into each other’s lives in the matter of weeks. His course load picks up right as dress rehearsals start, and Donghyuck barely has time to breathe, but somehow Yukhei manages to wiggle his way into the small cracks of free time. Donghyuck doesn’t even see Jeno as often, busy with Jaemin since they’re now Officially Dating.

 

Donghyuck thrives in chaos, and his life is absolute madness right now. But being with Yukhei makes his whole world go quiet, until all he’s left with are his feelings, rattling around in his chest. Inexplicable moments of fondness, where he looks at Yukhei and just wants to cry because he’s just so happy to be by Yukhei’s side. He doesn’t know how the real Yukhei is somehow infinitely better than the image he’d crafted over the years, but these are the cards that Donghyuck has been dealt, and he accepts them. He takes every detail that Yukhei shares and guards them close, because everything feels important.

 

“Honestly, high school fucking sucked,” Yukhei admits, tracing the pads of his fingers over the sunflower tattoo on Donghyuck’s forearm. They’ve been trying to get some studying in before Donghyuck’s dress rehearsal, but got distracted after the first hour. Donghyuck had pulled up his sleeves for a second, and Yukhei had made a loud squawking noise, grabbing his exposed forearm and interrogating Donghyuck about the ink on his skin for half an hour.

 

“Even for Mister Popular?” Donghyuck asks, trying not to shiver at the gentle way Yukhei touches his skin. Yukhei is loud and brash and often isn’t aware of his own strength, but he touches Donghyuck like he’s made of glass.

 

Yukhei’s expression is flat when he glances up at Donghyuck. “I hated it so much.” Donghyuck frowns. “Everyone was always just so mean and shallow and everyone hated each other. I felt so trapped.”

 

“That sounds like it totally fucking sucks,” Donghyuck agrees. High school had been an utter shitfest, but Jeno had always been a true and loyal friend. He never had to worry that Jeno might not have his back. And he’d been able to unapologetically pursue his passions. He wonders how much Yukhei had to compromise to fit in.

 

“It was always about sex and drugs and partying and just--” Yukhei makes a noise of disgust at the back of his throat, shaking his head.

 

“Early to ripe, early to rot, that’s what my mom always says.” And maybe there’s something to it. Donghyuck has seen stuff on social media-- most of the people that had been deemed popular in high school had ended up nowhere, aged twenty years from all the recklessness.

 

Yukhei shrugs. “I don’t know how I got out of there alive.”

 

“You’re too good a person,” Donghyuck says, confident. Yukhei’s goodness radiates from the inside out, and people are drawn to him because of it-- Donghyuck is just one of his many admirers, he knows. “You put good energy into the universe, the universe gives you good things back.”

 

Yukhei tilts his head, eyes unreadable. “You really think so highly of me?”

 

Donghyuck shrugs, trying to act casual, though the truth of the words are etched into his very core. “Yeah, why not? You haven’t given me any reason to think otherwise.”

 

Yukhei’s gaze turns intense, and the back of Donghyuck’s neck prickles. “What if I was a liar?”

 

Donghyuck feels like he can’t swallow properly. His eyes flit across Yukhei’s face, set so seriously that he doesn’t know what to make of it. He thinks of all of their interactions so far-- lighthearted, colored in bright hues. Yukhei is one of the most genuine people Donghyuck has ever met.

 

“You’re a shitty liar,” Donghyuck says, grinning and trying to clear the tension in the air. “Every day I’ve asked for my Sinners hoodie back you’ve come up with some terrible excuse about why you can’t give it back.” He shakes his head and sighs, dramatic. “I think you ruined it and you’re waiting to see if I forgot about it but--” He presses an accusing finger to Yukhei’s chest. “I’m onto you, buddy.”

 

Yukhei’s face breaks out into a beatific grin. “You caught me. I destroyed your hoodie.” He wraps a hand around Donghyuck’s wrist and leans forward, eyes glinting. “What’re you gonna do about it?”

 

Donghyuck narrows his eyes, trying not to be flustered by the proximity. Both he and Yukhei are naturally touchy people, but they’ve never crossed a line. Right now, Donghyuck feels something bubbling up inside him that he hasn’t felt since the night of the party. “You’re a bad boy so you need to be punished.”

 

Yukhei’s grin turns into a smirk. “Are you gonna spank me?” And he sounds so earnest that Donghyuck makes a noise of disgust, tugging his hands out of Yukhei’s iron grip so that he won’t have to see how hard he’s blushing.

 

“I’m gonna give your tickets to someone else.”

 

“What!” Yukhei yells, before realizing himself and slouching in his seat, chastised by the dirty looks other students shoot his way. “You can’t do that!” he whines, a lot quieter this time. “I already ordered a giant fucking bouquet of flowers.”

 

Donghyuck blinks at him. “You did?”

 

“Well, yeah. You wanted one.”

 

“Yukhei, I was just kidding--” Donghyuck is lightheaded. “You really need to learn when I’m joking and when I’m being serious.”

 

“I take everything seriously. I’m a very serious person,” Yukhei insists, but his lips twitch at the corners, and Donghyuck groans, putting his face in his hands.

 

“You’re so fucking annoying.” And to drive his point home, he reaches out and kicks Yukhei’s foot under the table. Yukhei yelps, loud, and everyone is giving them dirty looks again. “Be quiet-- ” Donghyuck snickers, and Yukhei whines under his breath, pulling his beanie over his face and sinking into his seat. They’re really never going to get any work done.

 

 

Opening night.

 

It’s one of the most magical moments in theater-- the moment when months of hard work come to life for people to see. There’s a different type of anticipation on opening night, a very specific set of nerves reserved for showing your love and passion on a new stage, for a new audience. Donghyuck lets it sink into his bones, lets it energize him.

 

Backstage is a mess, techs dressed in all black running around and setting props in their proper place, while Joohyun and her small team from the costume department do last minute alterations. There’s always at least one person who smeared their stage makeup on their white costumes.

 

Donghyuck is already dressed in his costume, feeling at home in it after so many dress rehearsals. He wears it like a glamor. Tonight, and every night for the next two weeks, he’s not Donghyuck Lee. He’s Tony, a lovesick man unwittingly caught in the crossfires of a gang war.

 

There’s still a few minutes before the curtains will be drawn. Donghyuck is standing on the loading dock right outside of the backstage entrance, warming up. The night air is cold but it grounds him, and he drinks it in, knowing he’ll be sweating under the hot theater lights soon enough.

 

His phone chimes with a message, and he curses under his breath, having forgotten to put it in his bag.

 

jenosaurus rex: BREAK A LEG BABY

jenosaurus rex: jaemin: idgaf abt donghyuck

jenosaurus rex: also jaemin: [has breakdown over what stuffed animal to get u for tonight]

 

Donghyuck grins, touched more than he can say. Since Jeno and Jaemin become Official, Donghyuck and Jaemin had come to a sort of truce. Donghyuck wouldn’t say they like each other, but they certainly respect each other, having acknowledged that they’re both important to Jeno, and tension would only stress Jeno out even more.

 

That being said, Donghyuck would still kick his ass if the opportunity presented itself.

 

Sighing, Donghyuck puts his phone on airplane mode and steps back inside. He’s almost run over by a rolling set piece, and manages to step back just in time as the techs push past him, whispering an apology as they go.

 

“Everything feel good?” Johnny asks, reaching up to prod at the clear medical tape holding Donghyuck’s mic secure to his face. Donghyuck nods, but lets Johnny fuss anyway-- he’s been leading the audiovisual team for years and had been burned one too many times by mics falling off performers mid-scene. Johnny fiddles with the cord that runs down underneath Donghyuck’s shirt, making sure the mic pack is strapped around his waist.

 

“Can you hold onto my phone?” Donghyuck asks. Johnny hums, pocketing it, before making his final adjustments.

 

A moment later, Johnny pauses, putting his hand to his giant headpiece as a voice bleeds through. He grins down at Donghyuck, helping Donghyuck tuck his clothes back into place. “Curtains up in five, kid. You ready?”

 

Donghyuck grins, the adrenaline starting to surge through his veins. He can hear the orchestra playing the Overture, and on the opposite side of the stage, in the wings, is Jaehyun and the rest of the cast playing ensemble Jets. Jaehyun catches his gaze and nods, face serious.

 

The good thing about the bright stage lights is that it’s impossible to see the audience. Even the applause feels mute in the heat of the moment. Donghyuck doesn’t think about his friends in the crowd, he doesn’t think about Yukhei. In his periphery, Donghyuck sees Johnny signal to a tech, and the curtains slide open. The first notes of Prologue start, and Donghyuck’s mind goes blissfully quiet. It’s just him and muscle memory now.

 

 

It’s during the curtain call that Donghyuck comes back to Earth. He takes his final bow, and as he straightens up, he can make out a little bit of the audience. They’re all up on their feet. A standing ovation. His face hurts from the grin that overtakes it, and he turns to Yeri, in shock, and they hug each other tight.

 

He can still hear the applause and the cheers when the curtain draws closed, muffling most of the noise, but it’s so loud. His heart hammers in his chest, and even though everyone is supposed to be exiting the stage, the cast and crew turn to each other in excited whispers.

 

“You did amazing, Hyuckie,” Jaehyun says, lifting Donghyuck off his feet to spin him around. Donghyuck giggles, patting Jaehyun on the shoulder to be let back down. And from there, Donghyuck gets passed around from cast and crew, complimenting him. It takes a solid twenty minutes for him to get back to the greenroom, weaving his way through people changing out of their costumes, buzzing with excitement.

 

He takes his makeup off first, caked onto his face and neck, before taking off his clothes and hanging them up in a garment bag on the costume rack. He changes quickly into sweatpants and jacket, and is cleaning up his station, when Jungwoo walks in, still in full costume.

 

“Johnny asked me to give this back,” Jungwoo says, holding out Donghyuck’s phone.

 

“You’re a god,” Donghyuck says, turning his phone off airplane mode and watching a slew of notifications pop up. Jungwoo pulls him into a tight hug and kisses his hair.

 

“You’re a star, kid,” Jungwoo says, and Donghyuck ducks his head, bashful. “How are you feeling?”

 

“Good,” Donghyuck says, stepping back to finish putting his things together. “I--” He lets the grin take over his face again, and his vision blurs with tears.

 

“Aww, honey,” Jungwoo coos, pulling Donghyuck in again. Donghyuck laughs, quiet and watery, into Jungwoo’s shoulder. “No one doubted you for a second, you know that right?”

 

Donghyuck makes a noise of assent. It’s not that he hadn’t believed in himself this whole time-- it’s just different believing in himself and actually seeing the result of his hard work, knowing that his confidence wasn’t unfounded. He feels like he can do anything.

 

“By the way,” Jungwoo says, pulling away again. There’s a smirk twitching at the corner of his mouth. “There’s someone outside waiting to see you.” Donghyuck frowns, confused. “Very tall, excellent hair, holding the biggest bouquet of flowers I’ve ever seen--”

 

And Donghyuck bolts for the door before Jungwoo can even finish, heart hammering in his throat as he steps into the hall. He looks around until he spots a familiar face, towering over most everyone else bustling around.

 

“Yukhei!” Donghyuck calls, and Yukhei snaps his head in his direction. Dressed in nice slacks and a deep blue button down with the sleeves rolled up, he looks adorably out of place. In Yukhei’s hand is truly the biggest bouquet of flowers Donghyuck has ever seen-- a mix of bright sunflowers, daisies, and yellow roses. But Donghyuck barely glances at them, barrelling right into Yukhei’s chest.

 

“Oof--” Yukhei grunts, only barely managing to move the flowers out of the way so they don’t get crushed, and wraps his free arm around Donghyuck. “Aren’t you happy to see me,” he teases.

 

Donghyuck pulls away and looks up at Yukhei. “How was it? Did you like it?”

 

“That was--” Yukhei struggles for words. “One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.”

 

“Really?” Donghyuck grins, searching Yukhei’s face, and startles when he notices Yukhei’s eyes are rimmed red. He grabs Yukhei’s arm, concern overtaking the excitement. “Are you okay? Did something happen?”

 

Yukhei frowns. “What?”

 

Donghyuck points at his face. “Your eyes are all red.”

 

“Oh, are they? Huh--” Yukhei dabs at the corners. “I cried, that’s why.”

 

Donghyuck tilts his head back. “You cried?”

 

“Well, yeah,” Yukhei huffs, defensive. “It was really hard to watch you die.” As if to prove his point, his eyes start welling up with tears again, and Donghyuck has to slap a hand over his mouth to keep from laughing.

 

“Oh my god, you baby.”

 

“You looked really dead! I just got upset-- Do you want me to laugh-- Mmph--”

 

Donghyuck doesn’t realize he’s reached up and kissed Yukhei until it’s too late. Yukhei makes another noise of surprise, body going rigid, and Donghyuck jerks back, face red. “I’m--”

 

“Donghyuck!” They both jump in surprise, and Donghyuck turns to see Ten approaching. “Heechul wants to talk to you.”

 

“Oh, okay, I’ll-- I’ll be right there--” Donghyuck turns to Yukhei, who still looks a little dazed. “I guess I have to--” He gestures vaguely behind him.

 

“Oh, yeah. Yeah! Uhm--” Yukhei sticks the flowers out, and Donghyuck takes them gingerly. “Kun’s waiting in the car anyway, so I should probably get back.”

 

“Right.” They both stare at each other for long moment. Donghyuck’s face might melt off from the embarrassment. “Uhm. Thank you for coming, Yukhei,” he says, voice quiet. “It means a lot.”

 

“I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.” Yukhei’s smile is soft, sincere. Donghyuck can physically feel his heart topping off the edge of Like, straight into Love. He’s in so much trouble.

 

 

One of the worst parts about doing something incredible is knowing that, at some point, it has to end. Every performance they put on means there’s one less left, and soon, Donghyuck is taking his last bow, the curtain is drawing closed for the last time, and that’s it.

 

Before the ache comes the hollowness, that blank feeling that he lost something dear to him but it hasn’t quite processed yet. Around him, everyone is in tears, embracing each other. Donghyuck doesn’t feel the sadness, not until he meets Jaehyun’s gaze. That’s when the waterworks start.

 

Jaehyun is graduating in just a few months, and he’ll be moving onto bigger and better things (probably medical school). But this is his last production here, and it twists in Donghyuck’s gut like a dull knife.

 

All of their friends descend on Jaehyun, gathering him up in a giant group hug, and Donghyuck gets swept up in the emotions. Everything will be different now, and he’s not sure he’s ready for that. But he refuses to think about it. He won’t think about the exhaustion and sleep deprivation he’s powered through the last two weeks. Right now, he’ll bask in the security of having a group of people who love each other unconditionally, and came together to do something truly wonderful.

 

Cleaning up happens in a blur. There’s still a lot to do, sets to break down, but that’ll get done over the next few weeks. For now, everyone is focused on the wrap up party happening.

 

Donghyuck says he hates parties, and he does-- but only the ones filled to the brim with drunk strangers. The wrap up party is different. He knows everyone here, and no one is trying to get wasted. Everyone is just trying to have a good time, spend their last moments with people who will be leaving soon.

 

Heechul had gotten an Airbnb for the night-- it’s this massive pseudo-mansion with a pool and everything. It’s packed with people-- cast and crew, friends and family-- but Donghyuck doesn’t feel out of place. Everywhere he turns, there’s someone to greet, to chat with. He feels completely in his element-- he’d let Jungwoo do his hair and makeup and put him in clothes that make him feel safe but cute. He feels unstoppable, even as the melancholy simmers under his skin.

 

“There he is!” Jeno cheers, holding his arms out. Donghyuck laughs and embraces his friend tightly. It feels like he hasn’t seen Jeno in forever. “I’m so proud of you,” he says, cupping Donghyuck’s face. “For everything.”

 

“You weren’t so bad,” Jaemin says, coming up behind Jeno and handing him a drink. He slides an arm around Jeno’s waist, possessive, and Donghyuck purses his lips, trying not to laugh.

 

“That’s a very high compliment, coming from you,” Donghyuck teases. “Thanks for the teddy bear, by the way.”

 

Jaemin just rolls his eyes, shrugging like he couldn’t care less. “Just had it lying around or whatever.” Donghyuck and Jeno trade an amused look, knowing better.

 

Then, Jeno spots something over Donghyuck’s shoulder, and nudges him, eyes curving into a wide smile. “What?” Donghyuck asks. Jeno juts his chin out and Donghyuck turns in that direction. His heart leaps into his throat when he sees Yukhei weaving through the crowd. He whips back to Jeno. “What is he doing here?” he asks, panicked.

 

“I invited him,” Jeno says easily. “I thought you might want to share this with him.”

 

“I--” Donghyuck doesn’t have time to formulate a response, because he feels Yukhei’s presence behind him, all-too-familiar cologne invading his senses. He turns around and nearly collides with Yukhei’s chest. “Yukhei!”

 

“Hey,” Yukhei says, laughing as he steadies Donghyuck. His eyes are warm, everything about him warm and solid, and Donghyuck wants to cry because he missed Yukhei, more than he realized.

 

They hadn’t acknowledged the kiss-- a peck, really-- mostly because they hadn’t had the time. Exams had been kicking their asses, and Donghyuck performed four times a week, so there was hardly a moment to breathe. Yukhei had made it to most of the shows, toting at least one of his friends every time. Their exchanges were always brief, maybe a little awkward, because Donghyuck was always embarrassed, thinking of how he’d cupped Yukhei’s face and just planted one on him, unprompted.

 

“Nice party,” Yukhei says.

 

“Yeah,” Donghyuck squeaks, still mildly paralyzed. Yukhei has the decency to greet Jeno, who introduces him to Jaemin. Donghyuck is quiet beside him, heart rattling against his ribs as he drinks in Yukhei’s presence.

 

Stop staring, Jeno mouths, sliding a hand across his throat as he shoots Donghyuck a warning look. That snaps Donghyuck out of it, and he flushes, looking away. He doesn’t hear the rest of the conversation, only vaguely notices that Jeno drags Jaemin away under the guise of dancing, and he’s left alone with Yukhei.

 

“I--” he starts, not quite knowing what he’s going to say, but he doesn’t get to finish, because all of his friends are descending on them.

 

“Hyuckie, who is your handsome friend?” Yuta asks, wiggling his eyebrows.

 

“Are you Yukhei? Because Donghyuck talks about you all the time,” Ten drawls. Donghyuck laughs nervously, refusing to meet Yukhei’s amused eyes.

 

He bites out an introduction, and has to watch as Johnny and Doyoung postures at Yukhei, who has the decency to look fairly intimidated. Taeyong fusses over Yukhei, makes him promise never to drink multiple energy drinks at once because he did his research. Taeil asks Yukhei if he believes in ghosts (he does). Jaehyun spends the whole time smirking at Donghyuck, eyes alight with mischief.

 

“Alright guys, don’t freak Yukhei out,” Jungwoo says, grabbing Doyoung by the back of his shirt and dragging him away, but not before shooting Donghyuck a meaningful wink. Everyone follows his lead, patting Yukhei on the back and telling him it was nice to meet him, and Johnny even tells Yukhei to take care of our Donghyuck, alright? Donghyuck wants to combust into a million pieces at that.

 

“Sorry,” Donghyuck says, rubbing a hand across his face.

 

“Don’t be,” Yukhei shakes his head. “They remind me of my friends.” He leans in with a conspiratorial smile. “I think Taeyong and Kun would get along really well.”

 

“God,” Donghyuck groans. “They can never meet.”

 

Yukhei grins at Donghyuck, all bright and warm. Donghyuck shivers, not knowing what to do with himself in the face of the attention. Before he can try to fill the silence, Yukhei is leaning forward, lips brushing against the shell of Donghyuck’s ear. Donghyuck goes rigid.

 

“I have to tell you a secret.”

 

Donghyuck swallows, trying to ignore the way electricity shoots up his spine. “W-what is it?”

 

Yukhei pulls away just slightly, so that Donghyuck can see the glint in his eyes. “I have your hoodie in my car.” Donghyuck gapes, not knowing how to process the sudden turn. “I’m holding it ransom.”

 

“You’re holding it ransom--” Donghyuck frowns up at Yukhei. “Well, what do you want for it?”

 

Yukhei tilts his head, appraising Donghyuck, and for a split second, he looks nervous. “I want to talk.”

 

Oh god, this is it, isn’t it? The Talk. This will either go very right or very very wrong. In the distance, there’s a chorus of cheers. Yukhei’s mouth quirks up. “Maybe somewhere a little more quiet.”

 

Donghyuck can only nod, taking Yukhei’s wrist and weaving through the crowd. He’s stopped every few seconds, and he tries to keep the impatience out of his voice as he makes his way towards the back of the house. He slides open the patio doors and steps out into the chilly night.

 

The backyard of this Airbnb is massive, most of the space taken up by a crystal clear pool. Johnny had been grilling burgers and hot dogs here earlier, but had abandoned it when he set fire to an ear of corn. The smoke still lingers in the air, but it’s quiet, the noises of the party muted.

 

“This okay?” Donghyuck asks, taking a seat on one of the lounge chairs by the edge of the pool. Yukhei nods, sitting on the adjacent chair. His legs are too long for their knees not to brush, and Donghyuck tries not to think too much about it. “So,” Donghyuck breathes, hoping the nausea and nerves will abait. He’s used to performing in front of thousands of people, but it’s Yukhei who has his heart thrumming, skin tingling with nerves.

 

“So,” Yukhei breathes, looking more nervous than before. “We should-- we should talk. About us.”

 

“Us?” Donghyuck swallows. “What about us?”

 

“Everything, I guess?”

 

“And you want to do it right now?” Part of Donghyuck feels bitter. He’d been hoping to have more time, more space to enjoy whatever strange, ambiguous thing he and Yukhei have, before everything changes, for better or for worse.

 

“I didn’t want to be pushy while you were so busy, but I didn’t want to wait any longer.” Yukhei’s face is serious in a way it rarely is. “I couldn’t wait any longer.” Donghyuck’s heart is lodged in his throat. It’s hard to hear anything besides the blood rushing in his ears.

 

Yukhei takes a moment, like he needs to gather himself up to speak. “Donghyuck I--” He swallows, eyes wide and earnest. “I like you. Not just as a friend. I like you.” Donghyuck’s jaw goes slack as he stares at Yukhei, trying to process the words. It hits him quickly, the words sinking like hot coals in his stomach. “And I don’t know if it’s too fast or--”

 

“Wait!” Donghyuck blurts, grabbing Yukhei’s wrist. Yukhei’s confused frown turns concerned when he takes in Donghyuck’s frantic expression. “You-- before you really, uhm, commit to that, I have a confession to make.”

 

Donghyuck’s heart rams against his ribs so violently he’s afraid Yukhei can hear it. He’s a little lightheaded, weighed down with the knowledge that what he says next will probably destroy their tenuous relationship. But he can’t live a lie, he can’t deceive Yukhei like this.

 

“I, uhm--” Donghyuck looks up at the night sky, praying for strength, before bringing his gaze back down to his lap. “I’ve kind of, sort of, had a crush on you since elementary school.” He doesn’t dare look at Yukhei. “Like, obviously we didn’t know each other so it never, uhm, progressed beyond a crush, but you’re like, kind of the only guy I’ve ever had feelings for? And I don’t really understand why, but I’ve liked you for so long I feel like it’s a personality trait at this point.” Donghyuck laughs, but it sounds strained in his ears.

 

“And, that night at the party, I--” Donghyuck doesn’t know how to explain this in a way that won’t have Yukhei running for the hills. “I’ve been having these… issues with my self-image and feeling, like, desirable? I guess. Among a lot of other things. And Jungwoo had this idea that it was kind of rooted in my feelings for you? And figured that if we hooked up or something, that it might help.”

 

Donghyuck looks up, and god, when did he start crying? Yukhei’s looking at him with an unreadable expression, but it’s not outright disgust, so he pushes on. “But I couldn’t do it. Like, I didn’t want to have sex, period. But especially not with you, because I didn’t want it to be based on a lie. And I was terrified that if we did hook up, then that would be the end of it. And I thought that would just hurt more. Because it would have been this-- this temporary, shallow intimacy. I didn’t want that with you.”

 

He swipes at his tears with the sleeve of his jacket, lightheaded from the confession, face burning with humiliation. “And when we actually started talking and hanging out, it was just like, so amazing. Way better than what I ever imagined growing up, and I just kind of wish I could keep it that way forever, but I know I can’t. Not when I’ve lied to you this whole time.”

 

“I’d get it if you thought I was creepy or weird or whatever. If you don’t want to talk anymore, I totally get it. I’m really sorry, Yukhei.” Donghyuck takes a deep, heaving breath, and looks at Yukhei’s who is still stock-still and silent. “Can you say something?” he pleads.

 

Yukhei’s eyebrows furrow together, and he doesn’t look angry, exactly, but he doesn’t look happy either. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

 

Donghyuck swallows the lump in his throat. “What?”

 

“You said you had feelings for me in elementary school. What grade?”

 

Donghyuck swipes at his damp cheeks. “Like, third, probably? What does it matter?”

 

“You rejected me in sixth grade.”

 

The world screeches to a halt. “I beg your fucking pardon?” The anxiety gives way to sheer confusion. “We didn’t speak two sentences in elementary school. I think I would have remembered a confession.”

 

“But the Valentine’s Day card?” Yukhei looks so wounded that Donghyuck reels back.

 

“What Valentine’s Day card.”

 

“God, it was so long ago,” Yukhei groans, rubbing his hands over his face. “I think I said something about your hair smelling nice? And you had these cool light-up Spiderman sneakers.”

 

Donghyuck’s jaw goes slack. “That was from Mark Lee. You weren’t even in class that day.”

 

“No, no--” Yukhei says, frazzled. “I had this whole card my mom helped me pick out for you, but I got sick over the weekend. So I had to call Mark and ask him to make a card for me and give it to you. When I got back, you didn’t say anything, so I figured-- I thought you were rejecting me.”

 

Donghyuck is floored. He’s fucking speechless. “There was no name on the card. I just recognized Mark’s handwriting so I guessed it was him. How was I supposed to know it was from you?”

 

Now it’s Yukhei’s turn to be flabbergasted. “He forgot to sign my name?” His eyes are wild with disbelief as he stares aimlessly at the ground. “I was so fucking upset after that, I--” He runs a hand through his hair. “You broke my heart, Donghyuck. And you didn’t even know it.”

 

Donghyuck bites his lip so hard he can taste the blood. He opens his mouth to say something, anything, but Yukhei isn’t done. “I swore I was going to forget you after that. I didn’t want to keep being reminded of the rejection. And I think, for the most part, it worked? But that day, at the party--” His eyes are dark as he meets Donghyuck’s gaze. “I saw you sitting there, looking so fucking perfect, and-- I thought it was a sign from the universe or something. Like a second chance. I felt like I was eleven again. Like I’d never stopped wanting you.”

 

“Yukhei--” Donghyuck breathes, eyes stinging.

 

“I thought I’d have a better chance this time around,” Yukhei says with a wry smile. “And when you ran away, I couldn’t accept that was the end of it. I wasn’t going to let you go so easily this time.”

 

Donghyuck’s head is spinning so fast he feels dizzy. “I was waiting for you. This whole time, I couldn’t move on, I didn’t want to,” he confesses quietly. Yukhei leans forward, bumping their foreheads together. Donghyuck’s bones feel like jelly, like he’s just in another one of his dreams. But he can feel Yukhei’s pulse jump against his thumb, the heat radiating off him in waves. It’s too solid and real to be just a dream.

 

“Well, I’m here now,” Yukhei says, voice low and quiet. Donghyuck can feel the words in the air between them. “I’m not letting you go so easily.”

 

Donghyuck laughs, shaky. He brings a hand up to stroke the back of Yukhei’s neck, reveling in his sudden freedom to touch Yukhei like that. “I’ll kill Mark,” he promises. He’s pretty sure Mark is at some Ivy League school on the east coast. The plane ticket will be pricey, but it’ll be worth it.

 

“I’ll help,” Yukhei grins, and Donghyuck can’t help but laugh again at how ridiculous this whole situation is. It’s hard to imagine that they could have been together a long time ago, but Donghyuck knows he wouldn’t have been ready back then. He didn’t know himself the way he does now. “But first I want a kiss.”

 

Donghyuck leans his head back, eyebrows raised. “You’re very demanding, considering you haven’t even asked me to be your boyfriend yet.”

 

The pads of Yukhei’s fingers are gentle as he wipes the wetness from Donghyuck’s face. “Will you be my boyfriend, Donghyuck?”

 

Donghyuck can’t hold his serious expression for more than a second, breaking out into a wide smile. “I will.”

 

“Til death do us part?” Yukhei teases, and Donghyuck shoves at his shoulder, getting up. He holds his hands out for Yukhei, who takes them and stands. The last time they were this close, they’d almost slept together. Donghyuck feels the same butterflies from that night, but this time, he’s not afraid.

 

He puts his hands on Yukhei’s chest, warm and solid, and feels the way Yukhei’s heart beats against his palm. Donghyuck smiles up at Yukhei, and goes up on his tiptoes. Yukhei tilts his head down, and the moment his eyes slip shut, Donghyuck shoves him back as hard as he can.

 

Yukhei doesn’t even make a noise as he falls into the pool, water splashing at Donghyuck’s feet from the force. He stays under for a second too long, before emerging, eyes wide with shock. It’s shallow enough for him to stand on his feet, but the water makes his shirt stick to his chest in a way that’s very distracting. “Donghyuck…” Yukhei warns, voice low.

 

“Mark Lee?” Donghyuck demands. “Of all the people you asked to help, you chose Mark Lee? He eats glue!”

 

“He was my best friend!” Yukhei says defensively, wiping his face and sweeping his hair back as he wades towards the edge of the pool, and Donghyuck’s self-satisfied grin is wiped right off. Maybe he didn’t think this through. Yukhei lifts himself out of the pool with no trouble, and Donghyuck stumbles back, tripping over the lounge chair and falling into it.

 

“No no no,” Donghyuck pleads, eyes wide as Yukhei hovers over him.

 

“No can do, babe,” Yukhei says, merciless as he drags Donghyuck up by his wrists.

 

“No, please--” Donghyuck screeches, squirming as Yukhei lifts him by the waist. The scream he lets out when his body hits the ice cold water is inhumane. He splutters as he stands, trying to cough out the water he swallowed, only to yell again when Yukhei cannonballs in right next to him.

 

“You jerk-- ” Donghyuck hisses, splashing wildly in an attempt to get away from Yukhei, but it doesn’t take more than a second for Yukhei to incapacitate him, one hand wrapped firmly around both of Donghyuck’s wrists, the other winding around Donghyuck’s waist.

 

“You pushed me in first,” Yukhei points out.

 

“Yeah, well, you deserved it,” Donghyuck says, petty. His eyes dart over Yukhei’s face, skin glistening with droplets of water. His gaze follows the way one drips down the slope of Yukhei’s jaw, and his whole world goes out of focus.

 

“Guess I did,” Yukhei says, walking them towards deeper waters, and Donghyuck has no choice but to wind his arms around Yukhei’s neck, legs locked around his waist. “Do I get my kiss now?”

 

Donghyuck shivers, half from the cold, half from the way Yukhei is looking at him, eyes dark with want. “You’re stupid,” he murmurs, just because he can, and leans in to finally, finally, press their mouths together. He’s gasping in seconds-- Donghyuck had forgotten how good it felt to have Yukhei’s lips on him. Yukhei must feel the same way, arms locking tighter around Donghyuck and keeping them pressed together.

 

Yukhei tastes like chlorine, but Donghyuck finds himself not caring at all, licking into his mouth with a desperation he’d never felt before. Yukhei just lets him do as he pleases, lets Donghyuck take the reigns, though he has no idea what he’s doing. All he knows is that he wants to taste every part of Yukhei’s mouth.

 

Yukhei groans into the kiss, teeth catching Donghyuck’s bottom lip and sucking. Donghyuck whines, hands tangled in Yukhei’s hair, and Yukhei drags his mouth down the column of his throat, licking at the droplets of water. Donghyuck’s pulse jumps, and Yukhei’s hands slide down to his ass, squeezing.

 

As good as this feels, there’s discomfort and anxiety building up under Donghyuck’s skin, and he pushes at Yukhei’s shoulders. “Yukhei--wait--”

 

Yukhei looks at Donghyuck with dazed eyes and kiss-bitten lips. “I got ahead of myself again, didn’t I?” he asks, sheepish.

 

“No, no, it’s not that--” Donghyuck soothes, combing Yukhei’s hair back with his fingers. “I just-- I need to tell you--” He’s nervous all over again, but the way Yukhei’s looking at him so earnestly, so full of love, settles something in him. “I, uhm, I think I might be ace? Or demi? I’m not sure yet. So, if you’re hoping that we’ll, uhm, have sex, I just-- I don’t know--”

 

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Yukhei says, hands rubbing up and down Donghyuck’s back. He leans in to knock their foreheads together. “We’ll figure it out together, alright?”

 

Donghyuck doesn’t know how to describe the sheer relief that overtakes him. Yukhei’s eyes are so honest, so kind, and Donghyuck knows he doesn’t have anything to be scared of. He knows there’s an uphill battle ahead of them, but for now, he lets himself bask in the fact that this wonderful, understanding, brilliant boy likes him. It’s more than enough.

 

They’re about to kiss again, when a whistle pierces the air. They both whip their heads in the direction of the sound, only to see Johnny, Yuta, Taeyong, and Jungwoo standing at the pool’s edge.

 

“You guys are gonna get hypothermia,” Taeyong frets, armed with towels. “We didn’t want to let you guys stay in the water too long.”

 

“Looks like you figured out your shit though, yeah?” Yuta asks. Donghyuck flips him off, and he just cackles, turning on his heel to head back inside. “I’m taking that as a yes. Congrats on your marriage!”

 

“You and I need to have a talk, young man,” Johnny says, arms crossed, looking straight at Yukhei.

 

“Yes sir,” Yukhei gulps. Johnny nods, before following Yuta inside.

 

“Come on, out of the water,” Taeyong clucks. With a shared look of reluctance, Donghyuck and Yukhei move towards the edge. Donghyuck heaves himself out of the water with far less grace than Yukhei, and is wrapped in a towel by Jungwoo.

 

“Thank you,” Donghyuck says, and Jungwoo smirks, knowing he’s not talking about the towel.


“Don’t thank me. That was all you, kid.” Jungwoo rubs Donghyuck’s back when Donghyuck leans into him, pressing his forehead to Jungwoo’s shoulder for a moment.

 

“Lets get you guys inside,” Taeyong says, and Donghyuck isn’t looking forward to walking into the party, soaking wet. But everyone is a theater kid, they’re used to melodrama. Yukhei falls into step beside him and links their pinkies together. Donghyuck smiles up at him, and Yukhei winks back.

 

It’s hard to believe this is his life. Donghyuck still has a long way to go, more things to learn, but he can’t remember being so happy in a singular moment like this. He glances at Yukhei again, and feels the same innocent excitement he’d felt when he was eight. They’ve both gotten older, grown in so many different ways, but some things just never change.

 

Maybe that’s not always such a bad thing.