Chapter 1: i'm my own soulmate
If Donghyuck had to describe his perfect Saturday night, he definitely wouldn’t include dragging his trashed best friend through a crowded frat house on the list.
“Move,” Donghyuck hisses, shoving bodies away as he plows through the crowd, and Jeno is nothing but dead weight against his side, barely keeping himself on his feet. He smells like shitty beer and sweat, just like everyone else in this cursed place, and Donghyuck doesn’t get paid enough for this.
(Technically, he’s not getting paid in anything but best friend bucks. He hates parties and having to rescue Jeno every time he gets white-girl wasted on frat row, but Donghyuck would rather have Jeno safe and in one piece. Fuck. He really doesn’t get paid enough for this.)
“Hey.” Donghyuck stops in his tracks as a tall, beefy guy slides in front of him. “This one still owes me a dance,” he says, jutting his chin at Jeno.
“Hey, big boy,” Jeno slurs, barely able to keep his head up.
“He’s drunk, you dick,” Donghyuck grits. “Now move before my foot ends up somewhere you won’t like.” The guy narrows his eyes at Donghyuck, but steps aside anyway. Donghyuck shoves past him, and doesn’t stop until they’re out of the house. It’s harder to ignore the headache brewing behind his temples when there isn’t a trap bass thumping in his bones.
“Why’re we leaving, Hyuck?” Jeno asks, eyes half-closed.
“Because I am your conscience.” Donghyuck grunts, tugging Jeno towards the Uber that’s been idling in the driveway for a few minutes already. His only consolation is that this trip is coming right out of Jeno’s credit card.
“But I was about to--” Jeno frowns, like he can’t remember his point. “Was gonna-- kiss Jaemin?”
“And you told me to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Donghyuck says, and it feels like the hundredth time they’ve had this conversation. Donghyuck isn’t a fan of parties, but Jeno is-- it helps him unwind, allegedly. And if Jeno wants a one night stand, frat houses are usually teaming with people who would be more than glad to sleep with someone as pretty as him. These days he's been going back and forth with Human Douchebag Jaemin Na, and Sober-Jeno had made it clear to Donghyuck that it can't keep happening, no matter what Drunk-Jeno says.
If he looks like he’s letting go a little to much, or looking like he’s going to hook up with Jaemin Na, then Donghyuck is to drag him out of there, by his scalp if needed. And Donghyuck takes his best friend duties very seriously.
Sometimes, Donghyuck is envious of Jeno. Envious of the way Jeno carries himself, like he knows he’s beautiful, like anyone would be lucky to have his attention even for a minute. There is never a shortage of attention from boys and girls alike, and it’s been this way since high school. But given all the hairy situations Donghyuck has had to bail Jeno out of since coming to college, he decides being pretty isn’t worth it, not really.
“You’re the best, Hyuckie,” Jeno mumbles, already dozing off.
“Oh, I know.” Donghyuck pats Jeno’s head, and lets him sleep the rest of the way home.
Going to university had brought about a large number of changes to Donghyuck’s life. Besides the requisite learning to live on his own, away from his parents, and adjusting to the academic expectations of a full course load, he’s had a few revelations in the last year and a half. Three, to be exact.
One: college is full of people from all walks of life. No matter how odd someone’s interests, there’s always going to be others who share that same passion. Donghyuck had spent all of middle and high school fading to the background, because being a theater geek was somehow frowned upon, absolutely unacceptable in the arbitrary social hierarchy of high school. He doesn’t even know how he and Jeno became friends, when Jeno was class president, popular and well-liked.
Two: Donghyuck wouldn’t go back to high school if his life depended on it. College brings about a fair share of challenges, but he’s found his people here. In bouts of recklessness, he’d pierced his ears in several places and even got a tattoo. He can’t bring himself to regret any decisions he’s made so far. He’s found his niche, a place where he can be himself and blossom into the best version of himself.
“Hyuck! What took you so long?” Jungwoo asks when he spots Donghyuck hurrying over to their table.
“Office hours,” Donghyuck huffs, sliding his backpack off and sliding into the vacant seat next to Taeil. Instinctively, Taeil reaches out to ruffle Donghyuck’s hair, affectionate as always. “Sorry.”
“No worries,” Taeyong says, already handing him a sandwich.
“You are God,” Donghyuck says, taking the ziplock bag gingerly, because this stuff is gold. On his other side, Johnny is typing away at his laptop, squinting through his glasses. Donghyuck leans over to read the screen, and recoils when he sees a slew of mathematical symbols. “Gross.”
“Physics is everything, kid,” Johnny says, not taking his eyes off his screen. “This table you’re sitting at right now? Made using physics. Your phone? Physics. Everything is physics.”
Donghyuck groans, rolling his eyes in an act of brattiness that he gets away with solely because he’s the youngest in their odd group. It feels nice, secure, that he gets to be himself, that he gets to be coddled by these people he’s lucky to call his friends.
“Where’s Ten?” he asks, mouth full of chicken salad goodness.
“He knew you were coming so he told me he’d rather yeet himself,” Jaehyun says, eyes sparkling with humor. Donghyuck tilts his head back and cackles maniacally.
“What does yeet mean?” Johnny asks under his breath. When Jaehyun springs up to answer, Donghyuck just laughs louder.
He had come to university with a goal: he would pursue what he wanted, no matter what anyone said. Like a big fuck you to everyone’s expectations of him, Donghyuck had decided to major in chemistry and pursue theater as a passion. He’d been deemed social pariah for his grades and his hobbies in high school, but he’s found that in college, no one cares what anyone else does. So he’d found the theater department at his school, and auditioned for the winter musical immediately.
They’d put on The Music Man, and Donghyuck landed the role of Tommy Djilas, and it’s only been uphill for him since then. Through the production, he’d fallen in with the theater kids and found a home. On stage and off, he feels like the best version of himself. For the longest time, it’d been him and Jeno, against the world. It’s nice to have a group of older friends who have his back.
This year, the spring musical is West Side Story, one of Donghyuck’s all-time favorites. By some strange twist of fate, Jaehyun, who everyone had assumed was a shoe-in for Tony, had decided he wanted to take a more secondary role and focus on his grades. Donghyuck was the obvious next choice for the lead role, so here he is, getting together with his friends to practice their lines.
“Fuck,” Jungwoo groans, looking up from his phone. “Boy drama.”
Doyoung snorts, and Yuta, who’d descended upon the table just a minute ago, leans over to look at Jungwoo’s phone with interest. “Wow. He’s in love with you.”
“We hooked up last weekend. I don’t think that’s enough time to fall in love--” Jungwoo flicks his hair back and smirks. “Unless it’s with me, of course.”
“What are you gonna do?” Taeyong asks with wide, concerned eyes, even though this has to be the hundredth time something like this has happened.
“He’s gonna tell the guy to fuck off,” Doyoung says. The entire table erupts into an argument on phrasing, save for Taeil, who is watching what looks like a Ukrainian rap video on his phone, and Johnny, who’s leaned so far into his computer screen he’s a second from kissing it.
Jungwoo is probably one of Donghyuck’s most favorite people he’s met so far in university. He always has time for cuddles, knows all the campus drama, and walks around like life is just a personal fashion show. Sometimes Donghyuck wishes he could be as assured as Jungwoo, as cool. For now, he’ll settle for being Jungwoo’s favorite kid.
A flash of motion catches his attention, and Donghyuck’s attention is drawn to the group of people congregating at a table not too far away. There’s a guy on a waveboard that skates right up to the table, skidding to a halt right before he completely faceplants into it, and his loud startled laugh carries across the quad.
Donghyuck swallows the lump in his throat. He doesn’t know how, nearly fourteen years later, he’s still affected just by the sight of him.
It’s a secret he’s guarded close to his heart, something only Jeno knows about because he’d been the shoulder Donghyuck cried on all of high school, set off by the slightest thing.
Donghyuck has had a giant, unstoppable crush on Yukhei Wong since the third grade. Made even more convenient by the fact that since then, they’d probably spoken five sentences to each other, maximum.
For most of his formative years, the universe had just dangled Yukhei in front of him, like a carrot that he could never have. Donghyuck had figured that once he went to college, he’d finally be able to have some closure, because he’d finally put some distance between him and his stupid crush. But by some cruel twist of fate, they’d ended up at the same university too.
For the most part, Donghyuck doesn’t think of him. He could go days, weeks, without Yukhei’s name so much as crossing his mind. But then he’ll catch a glimpse, and all the feelings, the longing, the pining, will just well back up to the surface, and it’s back to square one.
He doesn’t know what to do about this hopeless crush-- but it nags at him, like an itch that just won’t go away. Sometimes, when he’s alone and feeling extra miserable, he dwells on his feelings. How Yukhei centers so much on his thoughts sometimes, but there hasn’t been a moment where Donghyuck has ever registered on Yukhei’s radar. Jeno says that Donghyuck just feels everything too intensely because he’s a Leo moon. Donghyuck thinks the universe just likes to fuck with him.
The third thing Donghyuck has learned since coming to college is that no matter how old you get, no matter how far you try to run, some things just never change.
It’s 7 AM on February 14th when Donghyuck wakes up to someone pounding on the door. He tries to ignore it, but eventually the knocking turns into the beat of Twice’s Cheer Up, and Donghyuck groans.
“Jeno-- op’n th’door--”
“Noooooo,” Jeno whines, curling up into a tight ball, and he’s a Taurus, so there’s no fucking way Donghyuck’s going to convince him to get out of bed. The beat turns into Likey, which is peak desperation, so Donghyuck vaults himself out of bed. The sooner he can get rid of whoever is at the door, the faster he’ll be back in his warm bed.
Donghyuck is halfway through a yawn, shirt rucked up as he scratches his stomach, when he opens the door, only to see Jaemin Na standing at the doorway, fully dressed, and holding a gigantic bouquet of flowers and several helium balloons shaped like hearts.
“What the fuck.”
Jaemin’s megawatt smile dims, likely at the sight of Donghyuck at the door. “Where’s Jeno?”
“Wherever he wants to be,” Donghyuck snaps back.
Jaemin rolls his eyes. “Can you get him?” He raises the bouquet and balloons up (as if Donghyuck hadn’t already seen them). “It’s kinda important.”
“No promises that he’s even here,” Donghyuck says, before slamming the door in Jaemin’s face. Fuck.
He hurries back into his and Jeno’s shared bedroom, shaking Jeno awake. “Dude, wake up! Jaemin is here,” he hisses. And the mention of Jaemin’s name, Jeno’s eyes fly open, and he sits up so quickly he almost knocks his head against Donghyuck’s.
“What? What the fuck is he doing here?” he asks, already up and dragging on the jeans he’d only barely managed to take off last night before dropping into bed.
“Uhm. Valentine’s Day, probably?” Donghyuck watches Jeno freeze, his shirt only halfway over his head.
“Fuck!” Donghyuck watches Jeno run frantically around the room, until he stops and stares. “What the fuck are you doing just sitting there? Go distract him.”
Donghyuck groans. “Are you sure you don’t want me to just kick his ass? Cuz I can do that. I’d gladly do that.” He cracks his knuckles.
Jeno shoots him a dirty look. “Are you crazy? He’s here at ass o’clock on Valentine’s Day. For me.”
God, what the hell. “You owe me big time, asshole,” Donghyuck promises, getting out of Jeno’s bed to drag himself back to the front door.
“Now listen here--” Jaemin starts, but Donghyuck cuts him off, opening the door wider.
“Just fucking come inside.”
Jaemin closes his mouth-- the smartest thing he’s done so far-- and strides inside, the balloons getting caught on the doorway a little. When Donghyuck snickers, Jaemin just gives him a dirty look as he tugs at the ribbon. “Where’s Jeno?”
“He’s just getting ready. I’ve been sent out here to distract you.” Donghyuck flashes his teeth, sinking down into one of the armchairs and propping his legs up on the coffee table. Jaemin eyes his bare feet suspiciously and perches himself on the edge of the couch. “So, what’s with all this bullshit?”
Jaemin’s glare is scathing, but Donghyuck is immune. “It’s Valentine’s Day. I wanted to do something special for Jeno.”
“Why? You guys aren’t even dating.”
That seems to piss Jaemin off even more, which is perfect. “We will be. Soon. If today goes well.”
Donghyuck snorts, crossing his arms. “That’s not what Jeno told me.”
“It’s Valentine’s Day. I can convince him.”
“It’s a bullshit holiday.”
“You’re only saying that because no one’s ever asked you out in your lonely, miserable life.” And ouch. That one hurt. For a moment, the comment throws Donghyuck so much that he’s sure the hurt flashes across his face. But he schools it quickly, smirking again.
“I’ll make sure to let Jeno know you said that.”
And that seems to make Jaemin think twice, because he immediately straightens up. “I--”
Donghyuck leans forward, kicking his feet off the coffee table so he can plant them down, elbows resting on his thighs. “Do you honestly think that Jeno would choose you over me? His bestest friend in the whole world? Especially if he knows you’re an absolute dick to me?”
“You’re a fucking asshole too.”
Donghyuck hums in acknowledgment. “But I’m his best friend. You’re just a boy toy. You think he’ll let it go if you’re mean to me?”
“Maybe one day he will,” Jaemin says, though his confident facade seems to crack a little. Donghyuck’s expression goes flat, unconvinced.
“He doesn’t even like you that much.”
“He does.” Jaemin sounds so sure of himself, it’s kind of annoying. “I just need to convince him that I can make him happy.”
“Barf,” Donghyuck deadpans. Before he can get another word in edgewise, Jeno slides into the living room, perfectly done up. He has on his I-look-fine-but-I’m-screaming-on-the-inside smile in place.
“Jaemin! What a-- what a surprise!”
The way Jaemin’s expression switches is almost comical. His face looks like it’s glowing, and he grins so wide Donghyuck wonders whether it must hurt. Stupid fucking love.
“Hey babe,” Jaemin says, standing.
Jeno’s eyes go wide at the sight of the flowers and balloons. “Is all that for me?”
“Of course, princess.”
And okay fuck, Donghyuck needs to get out of here. The other two don’t even notice when he flees, slamming the bedroom door closed behind him before diving back into bed. He pulls the covers over his head and hopes that they leave soon so he can return to the blissful land of unconsciousness.
Sleep doesn’t come.
Distantly, Donghyuck hears the front door close, and he knows he’s alone. He turns onto his back and stares at the ceiling, at the glow-in-the-dark stickers he and Jeno had put up when they first moved into the apartment. The sunlight is streaming in through their window, so he can only vaguely make out the shapes.
Donghyuck sighs. Of course he is. It’s Valentine’s Day, and he’s alone, with absolutely no plans. Just like all the other eighteen Valentine’s Days that have passed.
You’re only saying that because no one’s ever asked you out in your lonely, miserable life.
Jaemin’s words knock around in his head. And though the very last thing Donghyuck wants to do is consider a single word that comes out of that douchebag’s mouth, Jaemin is right.
He’s never been asked out before, and that’s fine. That’s totally fine. He doesn’t care. Early to ripe, early to rot, that’s what his mother had always said, when Donghyuck had curled up in her lap and cried about how four guys asked Jeno to prom in the last two days, but Jeno had said no because he wanted to go with Donghyuck. Probably because he knew Donghyuck wasn’t going to get asked and didn’t want him to feel alone.
Your time will come, she’d told him, wiping at the snot and tears. There’s someone out there, just waiting to love you. He can’t explain that he feels like no one could ever love him. But whatever. Donghyuck doesn’t let himself wallow in self-pity for very long, because that would be admitting weakness, admitting there are things in the world that could hurt him, and that’s unacceptable. He doesn’t want to acknowledge the paralyzing fear of being lonely forever.
Over the years, Donghyuck had become fairly immune to living in Jeno’s shadow. He’s fine with it-- he doesn’t care about stupid boys, or hooking up, or dating. He doesn’t. He doesn’t.
But Jaemin’s words had stung more than Donghyuck expected. You’re only saying that because no one’s ever asked you out in your lonely, miserable life.
Donghyuck supposes that’s not exactly true. The peak of his romantic ventures had been in sixth grade, when he’d come to school the morning of Valentine’s Day, only to find a card on his desk.
He’s not sure if he can even consider it a proper card-- it had been a badly folded piece of printer paper, corners misaligned like whoever had made it had done it in haste. The front had a big heart drawn on it, scribbled in with a pencil. And written on the inside, the most romantic words Donghyuck had ever been told:
Youre hair is nice and smell good. I like youre spideman sneakers. Happy valentimes day.
The conspiracy theorist in him had immediately concocted a scene of Yukhei making him this card, too shy to give it to Donghyuck in person. But Yukhei had been out sick that day, and the writing had looked suspiciously like Mark Lee’s, which, gross, because the week before, Donghyuck had caught him licking a glue stick.
At the time, Donghyuck had wanted to just throw it away. But he’d kept it, safe inside one of his stationary boxes, because it had meant something to him. It had made him feel noticed, wanted. It was a reminder that once, someone had gone out of their way for him. He’s pretty sure it’s somewhere in his apartment now, too emotionally attached to it to let it go. He’s tempted to look for it, but decides against it, in case it makes him miserable.
Whatever. He doesn’t want to think about this. He’s happy with his life (though his grade in stats could be a little higher), he has the best friends on the face of the planet, he doesn’t need stupid boys. Resolutely, he tugs his covers back over himself and flops onto his stomach. Fuck Valentine’s Day.
(Maybe if he still had Spiderman sneakers, he’d have a date.)
“Why the long face kiddo?” Jungwoo asks, eyes focusing in on the way Donghyuck seems to hunch into himself, picking at the cardboard sleeve of his coffee cup.
Donghyuck bites his lip, debating on whether to dismiss the concern or answer truthfully. He’s not sure if anyone-- much less Jungwoo, could understand the swirling thoughts in his mind. But for all of Jungwoo’s flamboyance, he’s always been very gentle with Donghyuck, in a way few people are. Donghyuck has a hard time imagining Jungwoo judging him for this.
“Do you--” He hesitates, huffing in frustration when the words don’t seem to want to come out. “Do you think I’m attractive?”
Jungwoo’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline, lips twitching in amusement. “You’re not trying to confess to me, are you Hyuckie?”
Donghyuck gags. “God, no. I just mean--” He waves his hands vaguely. “In general. Do you think I could be considered attractive?” He pauses again. “Pretty?”
Jungwoo takes a slow sip of his coffee before speaking. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder--”
“Ugh.” Donghyuck rolls his eyes. “I get it, I’m ugly--”
“Wait a minute, I didn’t say that.”
Donghyuck swallows the lump in his throat, picking at the hem of his hoodie. “Yes, you basically did. It’s fine, I wanted an honest opinion and I got it.”
“No, you didn’t. Now you’re just jumping to conclusions. Hyuck--” Jungwoo’s voice is firm in a way that Donghyuck has never heard before. It’s no less gentle, but it makes Donghyuck look up at Jungwoo, wary. “Where is this coming from?”
“I just--” He doesn’t know how to verbalize snatches of feelings that have been building up for years. “You know Jeno, right? My best friend.”
“Darling, you don’t forget a face like that.”
Donghyuck makes a noise of frustration. “That’s what I mean. Jeno-- he’s pretty. He’s confident. People pay attention to him, he’s practically perfect. I don’t blame them, I mean--”
“And you’re not,” Jungwoo guesses.
“Do you know how often he gets asked out? We’ll be hanging out somewhere and literal strangers will come up to him and ask him on a date. It’s ridiculous.”
Jungwoo raises an eyebrow. “Does that make you jealous?”
Donghyuck’s eyebrows pull together. “No? Yes? I don’t know? I just know that half the time I feel like shit because no one ever looks at me. I’ll be sitting right next to him but no one ever glances my way. The other half I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with stuff like that.”
Jungwoo seems to deliberate for a minute, choosing his words with care. “But how will people look at you when you’re always hiding?”
Donghyuck blinks at him in shock. He opens his mouth, then closes it. Opens it again. Closes it. “I--” He frowns. “I don’t hide. Have you seen me? I don’t shut the hell up.”
Jungwoo tilts his head in a way that makes Donghyuck feel like his entire psyche is being picked apart. “There are different kinds of hiding, Hyuck. Why is it that-- outside of shows-- I’ve never seen you in anything other than sweats and hoodies?”
“They’re comfy--” Donghyuck tries.
“There are lots of comfy clothes that are also cute. And practical--” Jungwoo adds, when Donghyuck opens his mouth to protest. “Your hair is like a rats nest, you always slouch, and you have a serious case of resting bitch face, kid.”
“Wow, don’t hold back,” Donghyuck deadpans, curling into himself.
“I’m just being honest with you. That’s what you wanted from me, right?” And Donghyuck doesn’t have anything to say to that, so Jungwoo continues. “To answer your question, I think you could be attractive. But I wouldn’t know, because you look and act like a slob. It’s like you’re purposefully trying to keep people away.”
The brutal honesty threatens to knock Donghyuck over. He swallows thickly. “Is that what I’ve been doing?”
Jungwoo leans forward, resting his chin on his hands. “I think the real question you should be asking yourself is whether you think you’re attractive.”
Donghyuck’s fingers curl into the material of his hoodie. For a minute, he considers. “I guess not.” He laughs bitterly. “I don’t feel like it.”
“And why is that?”
“I don’t know,” Donghyuck says, shrugging uselessly. He’s been bombarded with so many truths that he doesn’t quite know how to process everything.
“I think you must have felt awkward growing up, and never quite grew out of that mindset.” Jungwoo sighs, leaning back. “And living in your best friend’s shadow, that probably made it harder. It probably feels like nothing about you has changed since high school--”
“Middle school,” Donghyuck grumbles.
“Middle school?” Jungwoo’s eyes widen as he leans forward again. “Well, no fucking wonder. You know everyone is ugly in middle school right?” Donghyuck can’t help but snort at that. “I’m serious. Everyone goes through their gangly awkward teen years. No one escapes it.”
Donghyuck can think of one person who did, but he stays quiet about it. “But you’re nineteen, Hyuck,” Jungwoo continues. “Nothing about you is the same as when you were a kid. Maybe on the inside, you are. But not on the outside. You don’t have to be.”
“I don’t--” Donghyuck gnaws at his lip. “I don’t know how to be any different.” He doesn’t know how to explain to Jungwoo that the idea of wearing anything other than oversized clothing is terrifying to him. He’d feel so exposed, and for what?
“It’s okay. We’ll figure it out.”
Donghyuck narrows his eyes. “We?”
Jungwoo clicks his tongue, annoyed. “You didn’t think I’d make you brave this cruel world by yourself, did you?” And honestly, that’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to Donghyuck, thought he’d never admit it. Jungwoo already has to much power. “Tell me what you want to gain from this. What do you want?”
Donghyuck has to think for a moment. “I kinda--” He shouldn’t feel embarrassed divulging this to Jungwoo, of all people. “I want to… feel wanted? I guess? Attractive. Hell, maybe I’ll lose my virginity.”
Jungwoo nods, face set seriously in consideration. “Alright, that’s doable.”
Donghyuck raises an eyebrow, disbelieving. “It is?”
“Of course it is.” Jungwoo grins, and Donghyuck can practically see the gears turning in his head. “Stick with me, kid. We’ll get you laid in no time.”
“Uh--” Jeno stops in his tracks, taking in the scene. Both their beds are covered in mountains of clothes, and Donghyuck is sat on top of one, while Jungwoo looks like he's about to stab his eye out with the sharp end of a teasing comb.
Jungwoo turns to Jeno first and flashes him a smile. “Hello darling, how are you doing?”
Donghyuck takes great amusement in the way Jeno blushes. “I’m-- I’m fine. How’re you? Jungwoo?”
Jungwoo sighs, dropping his hands. “I’d be better if your best friend would stop wiggling around.”
“His best friend is right here,” Donghyuck says, cross. He’s had to stay still for the last hour as Jungwoo poked and prodded at his hair and face. He’s not used to having makeup on his face when it isn’t Ben Nye and slathered so thickly across his face that he looks like a zombie from close up. But Jungwoo had cornered him with BB cream and Donghyuck was just not going to win this fight.
“What’s all this?” Jeno asks, approaching slowly, like he’s afraid Donghyuck might bolt.
“Donghyuck wants to lose his virginity,” Jungwoo says, and grabs Donghyuck by the chin when he starts to shake his head. “Stay still, you demon.”
Jeno gives Donghyuck a surprised look, and Donghyuck just shrugs helplessly, not trying to correct Jungwoo. “I thought it was about time.”
“And you’re going to do it right now? On a Tuesday afternoon?”
“No honey,” Jungwoo says, swiping eyeliner across Donghyuck’s left eyelid. “This is just a rehearsal.” He whips out a brush and begins to methodically smudge it.
“Jungwoo wants me to go out looking like this and see what happens,” Donghyuck explains with only one eye open. “He thinks I’ll get asked out.”
Jeno grins so wide his eyes crinkle up. “Now that, I’d like to see.”
Jungwoo hums. “You can come with us. Maybe give Hyuckie here some pointers.”
Donghyuck whines. “This is embarrassing. It’s so stupid.”
Jungwoo grabs him by the chin again, leveling him with a look. “Are you doubting my methods, sweetheart?”
Donghyuck blinks rapidly in panic. “N-no. I just-- I don’t think it’ll work. For me.”
“Well if you think like that, then of course it’s not,” Jeno says. “The key phrase here is ‘fake it ‘til you make it’. You have to act the part.” Donghyuck makes a noise of confusion, so Jeno sighs and sits down beside the pile of clothes, while Jungwoo moves onto the right eyelid.
“It’s like this-- you have to walk around like you’re expecting to get asked out. Like you’re used to the attention.”
“That’s just going to make me feel extra stupid if I don’t get asked out,” Donghyuck grumbles. “Which I won’t, I’d like to add.”
Jeno purses his lips. “How can you be so full of yourself and so insecure all at the same time? Hot mess.”
“There are things that I’m confident in--” Like his brain, his voice. “-- and there are things that I know I’m not cut out for. Like being a walking dick magnet.”
“The point isn’t to actually get asked out every time you step out of the house,” Jungwoo corrects. “The point is to act like you wouldn’t be surprised if you did. Men are very simple, stupid creatures.”
“Doesn’t that make us simple and stupid?” Donghyuck asks, just to be contrary.
“We’re bottoms, it’s different,” Jungwoo says, with a dismissive hand wave. “Guys are more likely to shoot their shot if you look approachable. If you’re sweet and flirty, they’re going to think they have an opening. That’s disregarding all the scum that’ll hit on you no matter what,” Jungwoo amends. “But the nice ones-- they’re gonna take cues from you. If you seem open to it, they’ll go for it. It’s about carrying yourself like you know you’re interesting, and other people finding you interesting is inevitable.”
“Those are big words,” Donghyuck says, head spinning.
“I’m a Lit major.”
“True,” Donghyuck concedes. He looks at Jeno. “Is that what you do too?”
Jeno shrugs. “Yeah, honestly. It’s literally about the energy you give off. If you seem approachable and confident, then people will respond to that. Even if you don’t feel it, you have to fake it until you do.”
“I’m gonna look like a fucking moron,” Donghyuck grumbles.
“Think about it this way Hyuckie,” Jungwoo says, taking a step back to examine his work. “Pretend like you’re onstage. You’re a good actor, so pretend that your character is fun and flirty. It can be like an improv exercise.”
And, well, when Jungwoo puts it like that, it doesn’t seem so bad. Donghyuck is a very good actor, and if he looks at this as a challenge, it’ll be a piece of cake. He knows what to do in theory, but he has a hard time imagining himself doing it. But maybe he doesn’t have to act like himself. For a moment, he can be someone else-- whoever he wants. Someone like Jeno or Jungwoo, who are used to men falling at their feet.
Jungwoo takes Donghyuck’s hands and pulls him to his feet. “Well well well,” he says, smiling proudly. Donghyuck looks at him, then Jeno.
Jeno blinks rapidly, looking Donghyuck up and down. Jungwoo had put him in ripped black skinny jeans, a little too tight for his comfort, and a white short-sleeved button-up with a cactus print, the front tucked into his waistband in what Jungwoo had described as a French tuck, don’t you watch Queer Eye Donghyuck? The shirt has the first few buttons undone, and there’s a silver cross necklace hanging down past his collarbones.
“You--” Jeno says, then snaps his mouth shut.
“What?” Donghyuck snaps, the silence making his hackles rise. Jeno grabs him by the elbows and pushes him in front of the full-length mirror they’d hung up next to the door.
For a moment, Donghyuck doesn’t really know what to say. He doesn’t know how the person in the reflection could be him. His black fringe had been arranged over his forehead in a way that looks purposeful in it’s messiness, and his makeup is subtle but enhances the roundness of his eyes, the cut of his cheekbones. “Oh,” he breathes.
He looks good. But he doesn’t feel good. He feels itchy, like he needs to take everything off and climb into his sweatpants and hoodie and hide from the world. He can’t believe he agreed to this farce.
“Don’t panic, honey,” Jungwoo says, rubbing his back soothingly. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. It’s just for fun, okay? I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.”
“I’m not--” Donghyuck feels a little overwhelmed. And maybe he’s being melodramatic, but he doesn’t think he can do this. How does he explain the burning desire to just cover up and hide? He takes a deep breath, because Lee Donghyuck is not a coward. “I’m fine. It’s fine. Let’s do this.”
Jungwoo raises an eyebrow, unconvinced. “Are you sure?”
Donghyuck meets his eyes through the reflection, mentally bracing himself for whatever happens next. If he pretends he’s not himself, everything will be okay. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
They end up at the coffee shop across the street. Donghyuck had alerted Jungwoo and Jeno to the fact that if he royally embarrasses himself here, he’ll never be able to come back for their chocolate chip scones.
“You’re not going to embarrass yourself,” Jungwoo assures him, going so far as to massage his shoulders as they walk along the sidewalk. “Because you’re not going in there to get a date. You’re going in there to play around with your character, and see what happens.”
It’d taken Donghyuck a minute to internalize that. He can’t be discouraged if nothing happens. And besides, who walks into a coffee shop expecting to get hit on? So he shouldn’t expect it either. It’ll just be for fun. A chance for him to mess around with a character.
“When you walk in there, I want you to flirt with the cute barista,” Jungwoo instructs. “Smile wide, act coy, bat your eyelashes a little. See what he does. Buy your drink and then find us at the table.”
Donghyuck holds out his hand. “Give me money for the drink.” When Jungwoo raises an eyebrow at him, he clarifies, “I’m your social experiment.”
“I’m trying to get you laid, if you recall.”
“Wow,” Donghyuck drawls. Jeno just snickers at him and shoves him towards the entrance to the shop with a muttered good luck, and he and Jungwoo walk towards an empty table off to the side. Donghyuck stares at the register, seeing the admittedly cute barista, and takes a deep, calming breath. He can do this.
I can do this, he repeats, over and over again, keeping his shoulders straight the way Jungwoo taught him as he strides over to the front. It’s an awkward time after lunch and before dinner so there’s no line. The barista looks up from his phone when he senses Donghyuck, and the way his eyes do a quick once-over settles something in Donghyuck’s gut.
“H-hi.” The barista-- Kunhang, his nametag reads-- stands up a little taller, and Donghyuck smiles wide. “What can I get you?”
“Anything fun on the menu?” Donghyuck asks, leaning forward onto the counter and putting his chin on his palm. The silver cross necklace swings down around his collarbones, drawing Kunhang’s attention to the exposed skin there. Okay, so maybe Jungwoo is a genius.
“Uhm… the lavender chai espresso is pretty popular?” Kunhang seems to be having an internal battle between staring at Donghyuck’s collarbones and his eyes. And when Donghyuck bites his lip, his gaze focuses on that instead.
Ugh, he hates lavender flavored things. It makes him feel like he’s drinking laundry detergent. When he says as much to Kunhang, nose scrunched cutely, Kunhang just grins widely.
“Honestly, same. Dunno why everyone likes it so much.”
Donghyuck tilts his head. “Glad I’m not the only one, then.” For a moment, they just stare at each other, and Donghyuck feels his stomach swooping at the way Kunhang seems to regard him, like he’s amazed that Donghyuck is in front of him. “What’s your favorite?”
Kunhang blinks at Donghyuck several times, before letting out a deep breath. “Probably peppermint mocha. Kinda basic but it tastes like Christmas.”
Donghyuck lets out a laugh, coving his mouth as he grins. He honestly can’t believe what’s happening, but he’ll take it. “Two months too late.”
“It’s never too late for Christmas,” Kunhang says earnestly, though there’s a teasing glint in his eyes. Donghyuck bites his lip again, subconscious this time, because Kunhang is actually ridiculously cute. Having his undivided attention makes Donghyuck feel powerful.
“Well, I guess I’ll just have to go with that, then,” Donghyuck finally says, straightening up. Kunhang grins, tapping at the register screen. “If I don’t like it I’ll sue you.”
Kunhang smirks. “That just means I’ll get to see you again.”
Donghyuck laughs, so surprised that he can’t even turn it into something demure and coy. “That was very forward of you.”
“I hope when I ask for your name right now you know it’s cuz I’m flirting with you and not because of--” He holds the cup and Sharpie in his hands.
“Well, in that case, it’s Donghyuck,” he says, grin full fledged. Kunhang mouths the syllables as he writes them out.
“Alright Donghyuck, that’ll be three seventy-five.” Donghyuck holds out his card and Kunhang swipes it, shooting Donghyuck another smile as he hands it back. “Your drink should be ready in a minute.”
Donghyuck steps back from the counter. “If it tastes bad I really will sue.”
“Then you’ll just have to come back and tell me yourself,” Kunhang shoots back, and Donghyuck is proud of the way he raises his eyebrow when Kunhang winks. He walks over to the opposite side of the counter to wait for his drink, glancing at Kunhang briefly, only to see him busy with another customer. He sighs, thanking the barista for his coffee when it comes out, and slides into the seat opposite Jungwoo and Jeno.
“Well?” Jeno asks, eyes wide.
“Looked like it went pretty well to me,” Jungwoo says, smug.
Donghyuck grins, heart beating faster than normal. “It was pretty fun. I can’t believe guys are that easy? What have I been doing this whole time?”
“I told you boys are stupid and simple.”
Donghyuck sighs, the thrill and adrenaline of the last few minutes finally ebbing away. “So I flirted with the barista. No one asked me out though. Now what?”
“Uh, Hyuck,” Jeno says, glancing at the coffee cup he’d set down on the table.
Jeno points at the cup, and Donghyuck looks down at it. “No, other side,” Jeno says, twisting the cup until Donghyuck can see the string of numbers written on the sleeve, with a hastily written my lawyer’s number <3 right below it. Donghyuck stares at it, disbelieving, then looks up at Jeno, then Jungwoo, who smiles proudly.
“Baby’s first phone number.” Jungwoo sniffs, wiping at the corner of his eye. “All grown up and saving China.”
Donghyuck gapes at Jungwoo. “I can’t believe that happened. How did that happen?”
Jungwoo shrugs. “You’re just that pretty, sweetheart. Imagine if you had just batted your eyelashes a little more, that coffee would have been free.” He leans forward and sighs. “Who would have known that under all that frump and sarcasm, there was a beautiful butterfly, just waiting to be set free?”
Donghyuck looks down at the cup again, the numbers spinning in his mind. “Wow.” He looks between Jeno and Jungwoo. “What do I do now?”
“You could text him,” Jeno says, excited. “He was cute!” He turns to Jungwoo. “He was cute, right?”
Jungwoo nods. “Very.” He looks at Donghyuck. “It’s all up to you. You don’t have to text him right away. Maybe wait a day or two.”
Donghyuck nods, considering the words. His head is still spinning, skin tingling with the knowledge that someone had found him attractive, enough to do something about it. The feeling is novel, exciting, and Donghyuck wants to sit with it for a while and pick it apart.
He can totally do this.
Donghyuck decides to text Kunhang two days later, right before rehearsals start. He’ll be up on stage for a few hours, far away from his phone, with no temptation to constantly check for notifications.
Donghyuck: uhm hi? this is donghyuck
He drops his phone into his bag, zips it up, and shoves it under a seat in the school auditorium, before hopping up on stage. They’re rehearsing choreography for Dance at the Gym, and with Ten teaching, Donghyuck knows he’s not getting off that stage for the next three hours, at least.
By the time rehearsal is over, Donghyuck’s already forgotten about the text, and it’s not until he’s walking out of the auditorium, digging his phone out from the black hole that is his bag that he realizes.
Kunhang: oh wow it actually worked?
Kunhang: i didnt think ppl actually responded if u actually gave ur number like that
Donghyuck: LMAO get rejected often?
Kunhang: wouldnt u like to know :^)
Donghyuck: i doubt someone like u would get rejected v frequently
Kunhang: was that a compliment i just heard?
Donghyuck: lmao u wish
Kunhang: so whats the verdict
Kunhang: do i have to meet you at the court of law
Donghyuck: no the drink was good! truly christmas in a cup
Donghyuck: lmao what
Kunhang: and here i was hoping i would have an excuse to see you again
Donghyuck pauses in his tracks, eyes wide as he reads the message, over and over again. He looks up, making sure not to slam headfirst into the lamppost in front of him, and hurries over to the bus stop. The campus is mostly deserted at this time of night, and the darkness creeps Donghyuck out. It’s not until he’s sat down at the well-lit bench that he responds.
Donghyuck: you, sir, are very forward
Kunhang: would it be forward of me if i asked you out some time?
The way Donghyuck’s heart leaps into his throat is almost painful. He’s getting asked out. Someone-- a real human person, made of flesh and bone— is asking him out on a date. Right this second. He pinches himself just to make sure this isn’t some Redbull-fueled dream, and decides he’s very much awake.
He switches his chat to Jungwoo’s and types quickly.
Apollo: KUNHANG ASKED ME OUT HELP ?
Zeus: ur POWER
Apollo: NO LKFENJKNFSF
Zeus: it IS
Apollo: WHAT DO I DO ???
Zeus: well that’s up to you
Zeus: do u like him?
Apollo: i mean ? i dont know him….
Zeus: thats usually the point of a date darling
Apollo: yeah but TT______TT
Donghyuck bites his lip. He doesn’t know how to explain his hesitation-- it’s not that Donghyuck doesn’t want to know Kunhang. There’s just this part of him that feels like he has to hold out a little longer. That he has to wait to see what else is out there. Everything is moving too fast for his comfort.
Clutching his phone to his chest, Donghyuck squeezes his eyes shut. God, if you’re out there, he prays, give me a sign.
He waits a moment, eyes still closed, and revels in the quiet breeze. Distantly, he hears the sound of wheels on asphalt, getting louder and louder. He opens his eyes, hoping some stupid skateboarder isn’t headed straight for him, only to see Yukhei Wong skate right past him.
It happens like Donghyuck’s life is a movie, and this scene is in slow motion. Yukhei’s got a smoothie in one hand, taking a leisurely sip, and kicks at the ground right in front of Donghyuck, eyes glued straight ahead. Donghyuck is left to get just the slightest whiff of cologne in the breeze, and watch Yukhei’s figure disappear into the night.
“Did that really just happen?” Donghyuck whispers, jumping at the sound of his own voice, and yelping again when his phone vibrates in his hand. “Shit,” Donghyuck breathes, pressing a hand to his chest, before unlocking his phone.
Kunhang: wow sorry that was way too forward
Kunghang: i know we literally only talked for 2 seconds
Kunhang: pls feel free to say no omg
Kunhang: there goes my cool mysterious image
“Ugh, he’s so cute,” Donghyuck mumbles, feeling really bad for Kunhang because he knows what he has to do now.
Donghyuck: babe :( no it’s okay
Donghyuck: youre still cool and mysterious to me <3
Donghyuck: i just
Donghyuck: theres this ? guy i think i like ?
Donghyuck: im rlly sorry if i led you on TT_______TT
Kunhang: nooooo it’s ok i swear
Kunhang: im sorry i just made this awkward
Donghyuck: noooo you didnt
Donghyuck: i think youre so cute and it was nice talking to you the other day
Donghyuck: and im so flattered that youd want to ask me out like ;;;;
Kunhang: it was worth a shot right !!!
Donghyuck: def!!! i wish i could be as brave as u seriously
Donghyuck: i honestly would have said yes i just
Donghyuck: ive liked this guy for a while and
Kunhang: u have this weird gut feeling right?
Donghyuck: yeah TT______TT i dont know how to explain it but
Kunhang: no i get it TT i’ve been thru that before
Donghyuck: really? omg ;;; that makes me feel less crazy
Kunhang: well idk if it should
Kunhang: i have a few screws loose
Donghyuck: LMAO same
Donghyuck: it’s ok i respect that
Kunhang: LOL thanks ;;;
Kunhang: anyways ill let you go im sure u have plenty to do
Kunhang: but dont be a stranger okay? come thru to the shop anytime
Kunhang: n i want to know if things work out w the guy u like
Donghyuck: ur so sweet thank you ;;;; <3333
Donghyuck: i will !!!
Donghyuck: gn kunhang <3
Kunhang: gn donghyuck <3333
“Okay, okay, let me get this straight.” Jungwoo leans back in the auditorium seat he’d claimed as his own, feet propped up against the top of the row in front of him. He has his hands clasped in his lap, like he’s going to start meditating at any moment. “You turned down a date with a cute guy, because a different cute guy rode past you on his skateboard.”
“Not any guy, Jungwoo, the love of my life,” Donghyuck whines. The process of explaining his long-standing crush to the entirety of his friends had been fairly embarrassing. And in the end, he’s just as confused at himself as everyone else seems to be.
“But how can you pine over someone for that long?” Taeyong asks. He’s up on the stage, sweeping, even though it’s perfectly clean.
“It’s the power of true love,” Jaehyun says, sighing as he puts his chin on palms, eyes wide and dreamy. “Hyuckie, what if you guys are soulmates?” Donghyuck doesn’t miss the way Jaehyun glances at Johnny, who is still immersed on whatever-the-fuck on his computer.
“Is this a fan fic?” Yuta asks, trying to balance Doritos on top of Doyoung’s forehead as he sleeps. “Pretty sure soulmate shit only happens in fan fic.”
“Or maybe it really is a sign from the universe,” Taeil pipes up from where he’s been plunking away at the keys of the piano in the corner. “Think about it. In a campus this big, what are the odds of your crush skating by you as you pray for a sign?” He waves his hands in the air. “It’s the Powers That Be!”
“That’s what I’m saying!” Donghyuck is pretty sure Taeil is the only one who understands him in that moment.
“Okay but what if you just turned out a date with someone nice because of some bizarre coincidence. What then?” Donghyuck pouts at Ten, who is wrapping up extension cords. “Just cuz this Yukhei guy is here doesn’t mean you guys are gonna get together.”
“Why do you always suck the fun out of everything?” Donghyuck sighs, sinking into his seat. “Let me live in my delusions.”
He curses the day that this crush went from worse to worser: their fifth grade pool party. At the end of every year, Yukhei’s family would invite his entire class for a pool party, because apparently, they were wealthy enough to do something like this. The previous years had been mostly uneventful, with Donghyuck spending most of the time swimming back and forth in the pool while watching Yukhei play basketball and goof off with his friends.
But during this particular year, Yukhei’s mom had pulled Donghyuck aside, right as he was about to nab the last roast beef sandwich, and smothered him into a big hug. Yukhei’s mom was always something like a legend-- tall and Amazonian, with sunglasses as big as Donghyuck’s entire face, and a bright yellow Porsche that she picked Yukhei up from school every day.
So needless to say, Donghyuck is surprised when he’s suddenly wrapped up in her arms, and hearing her talk about how smart and polite Donghyuck is. “I wish my Xuxi would marry someone like you one day,” she’d cooed. And yeah, Donghyuck had always been a bit of a teacher’s pet, but hearing it from his crush’s mother? His ten-year-old soul left his fucking body.
“Just because Yukhei’s mom said she wished Yukhei would marry someone like you doesn’t mean you’ll actually marry the guy. You were a kid.” And wow, Ten is really just crushing all his dreams tonight.
“First of all, fuck you,” Donghyuck says, flipping Ten off, who gladly returns it. “Second of all, I think my brain is hyperfixating because I never, like, got closure?”
“Most crushes don’t have closure, kiddo,” Johnny says-- it’s the first thing he’s said since this conversation started, and of course it’s to smash the corpse of Donghyuck’s dream to pieces. He yelps when Jaehyun kicks him, shooting him a wounded look.
“But the fact that you guys ended up at the same uni, and he was right there, it has to mean something,” Jaehyun insists. “We have to do something!”
“What can we do?” Yuta asks, looking at Jaehyun like he’s crazy. “This is Hyuck’s problem.”
“Well, there’s really only one solution to this problem,” Jungwoo says, having stayed silent during this whole exchange, eyes narrowed in thought. “The only way Hyuck can move on is if he gets closure, right?”
Everyone is quiet as they turn their attention onto Jungwoo, save for Doyoung, who is still snoring softly, but with the addition of spicy cheese dust on his forehead.
“Donghyuck is trying to lose his virginity--”
“It was just a joke--” Donghyuck says hastily, sending Taeyong a panicked look. “I was just kidding when I said that.”
Jungwoo shoots Donghyuck a look that makes him quiet down. “Donghyuck needs to lose his virginity to Yukhei.”
Johnny, who had the great misfortune of taking a sip of his water at that exact moment, starts choking, and Jaehyun and Donghyuck both slap his back until he can breathe again. “What?” he rasps, face red.
Jungwoo blinks, serene, like he hadn’t just vaulted the entire group into chaos. “Donghyuck needs to get Yukhei out of his system. What better way to do that than to sleep with him?”
“I can think of about a million ways this could go wrong,” Yuta says. Then he grins wide, flashing all his teeth. “I like it. I would like to see it.”
Jungwoo raises an eyebrow at Donghyuck, expecting an answer. He doesn’t know whether whatever hair-brained scheme Jungwoo cooks up will work, but this is honestly the most interesting sequence of events to ever happen to him. He chalks it up to curiosity when he says, “Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Oh boy,” is the first thing Jeno says, when Donghyuck explains what had transpired at rehearsal the night before. The narrative had been somewhat disjointed, because they really can’t afford to fail their organic chem lab. “That’s--” The look he gives Donghyuck as they clean up their workstation is unsure.
“What?” Donghyuck asks, spraying down the surface with ethanol, while Jeno goes over it with paper towels. “You don’t think it’s a good idea?”
“I just wonder if it’s a little… extreme?” Jeno tosses the paper towels and Donghyuck puts the ethanol back under the fume hood. “You haven’t even had your first kiss yet, and you’re going to try and sleep with someone?”
“Jungwoo says trial by fire is one of the best ways to learn.” The record should note that Jungwoo hadn’t been talking about sex when he’d said it, but Donghyuck figures it’s basically the same theory. Right?
“Do you want to have your first time be at a random party with a stranger?” Donghyuck tries not to look at Jeno as they pack up their bags.
“I mean, I wouldn’t try to sleep with anyone else but Yukhei, I think,” he says carefully.
Jeno sighs, zipping up his backpack and slinging it over his shoulder. “But that's what I'm saying. He is practically a stranger. You don’t even know him, really. This whole thing doesn’t make sense, Hyuck.”
“Have you ever, like, had feelings for someone that kind of… defied all sense and logic? Like you can’t explain it, everything is messy, but all you know is that you just-- want that person? With everything you have?” Donghyuck tries to keep his voice low as they walk down the hall.
Jeno pauses in his steps and looks at Donghyuck, face serious. “Sometimes I think that’s how I feel about Jaemin.”
“But Jaemin is here, Hyuck.” The note of finality in Jeno’s voice makes Donghyuck hold his books and papers closer to his chest. “I know him. There’s a-- a connection. That, I can explain. But Yukhei… he’s just a fantasy. You’re just hurting yourself.”
Donghyuck’s heart sinks. “I just… I don’t know how to stop.” He’s driven himself crazy so many times trying to make sense of the way he feels about Yukhei, but he doesn’t know how to explain it. “I’ve been holding on to this for so long, I just-- I don’t know how to let it go.”
“It’s cuz you’re a Gemini,” Jeno soothes, nudging Donghyuck to keep walking so that they’re not late for their bus. “You hold onto everything for too long. Grudges and crushes.”
“It’s so fucking counterproductive. Feelings suck,” Donghyuck grouses.
“I just don’t think-- Hyuck--! ”
Donghyuck doesn’t have any proper time to react before he’s slamming into a body, hands loosening their grip in his surprise, and all his stuff falls to the floor. “What the fu--" The words die in his throat when he sees who’s in front of him.
“Careful,” Renjun Huang says, steadying Donghyuck by the arms. His eyes flicker over Donghyuck’s face with curiosity. Then, he smirks. “Unless you did that on purpose.”
“I didn’t--“ Donghyuck’s face flames, and he crouches down to grab his papers. He’s surprised when Renjun bends down as well, picking up his notebooks and holding them out. Their hands brush very much on purpose as Donghyuck grabs them and straightens up. “Thank you,” he says, flustered.
“No problem, cutie.” Renjun flashes his teeth, and Donghyuck’s soul enters the astral plane. With a final wink, Renjun brushes past Donghyuck, leaving him speechless in his wake.
“Hyuck, that was Renjun Huang,” Jeno manages to say. They share a look of absolute disbelief. “Like, perfect dirtbag boyfriend, Renjun Huang.”
Donghyuck stares blankly at Jeno. “I know…”
“Dude, Renjun Huang called you cutie, oh my god,” Jeno breathes. “He didn’t even fucking notice I was there! It’s like I was a ghost or something! This is so fucking great--“ Jeno giggles, absolutely overjoyed. Donghyuck’s stomach flips, face still warm from the sudden encounter.
“What the fuck is happening to my life?” he wonders.
“I look like a slut,” Donghyuck hisses, tugging on the leather pants that sit a little too tight on his skin. “I look like Jeno.”
Jungwoo hums, looking over Donghyuck like he’s so very proud. He’d really gone all out today, putting Donghyuck in a coral silk shirt, one too many buttons undone. And back at their apartment, Jeno had pushed his favorite heeled leather loafers into Donghyuck’s arms and whispered, “For luck,” conspiratorially. He’d left minutes later for his first official date with Jaemin.
The one thing Donghyuck feels confident about is his hair. On a whim, he’d asked Taeyong to dye it, and now the feathery orange strands curl around his forehead, making him feel like something more than himself. He hadn’t been allowed to step out the door until Jungwoo had smudged his liner, swiped glitter on his eyelids and cheekbones, and cherry red gloss across his mouth. Donghyuck is pretty sure he’s chewed all of it off already.
“This is so embarrassing, I feel like a clown--”
“You look hot,” Jungwoo says, voice stern. “Remember, think of this as an exercise. It’s going to be really important for you to really understand that you can do this. You can be anyone you want to be. You are attractive, but you have to internalize it.”
Donghyuck purses his lips, tugging at the material of his pants one last time as they approach the frat house. The party is clearly in full swing, and his lips curl in disgust. He truly does hate parties, but it’s strange-- this time he’s here for himself, not just to keep an eye on Jeno. He’d had to dress up, and now he has to walk in there pretending like he knows he can get anyone he wants.
“How do you know Yukhei will be here?” Donghyuck asks, smiling tensely at the person who nods at Jungwoo, before letting them into the house.
Jungwoo smirks. “I have my sources. Don’t think so little of me.”
“I don’t,” Donghyuck grumbles. “That’s why I’m scared.”
They work their way through the crowd, and for the first time in Donghyuck’s life, people stop to stare at him. Instinctively, he wants to think that they’re not looking at him, they’re looking at Jeno, but Jeno isn’t here. He’s on his stupid date with a stupid boy and Donghyuck is here feeling extra stupid.
“Stop slouching sweetie,” Jungwoo says, voice threatening, though he still has a sociable smile on his face, nodding and waving to people he knows. Donghyuck squares his shoulders immediately, trying to remind himself that he doesn’t have to be himself today, but a more confident, charming version of himself. Given its effectiveness last time, there’s no reason he can’t wear it like armor tonight too.
Jungwoo leads them into the kitchen, which is blessedly less crowded. He immediately fills two cups with what looks like Jack and coke, and pushes one into Donghyuck’s hand. “Drink this, it’ll help you loosen up.”
Donghyuck looks down at the amber liquid and pulls a face. He rarely drinks at parties, opting to nab a soda instead and find an unoccupied place to study, while keeping an eye on Jeno. But tonight, everything is different. Tonight is for him, no matter what happens. So he braces himself and swallows the liquid, coughing and spluttering at the burn. His head spins, mouth tasting like he swallowed rubbing alcohol, and he grimaces at Jungwoo.
“Give it a second,” Jungwoo laughs, sipping his far more leisurely. He's perfectly at home here, amidst the chaos of a party. Donghyuck is aware he probably looks it too, but the discomfort itches under his skin. But there’s another part of him that’s thrilled, excited by whatever the night might bring him. Maybe the alcohol really is working.
“Okay, so here’s the plan,” Jungwoo says. Donghyuck lifts himself up to sit on the counter, nursing the rest of his Jack and coke. “Yukhei will be here, and he’ll inevitably come through these doors. It’s a party, he’ll want a drink. That’s when he’ll notice you.”
“But what if he doesn’t?”
Jungwoo fixes Donghyuck with a look that makes him squirm. “He will, trust me. I’ll make sure of that.”
“You’re very terrifying.”
Jungwoo beams, like that’s the best compliment Donghyuck could have given him. “Thank you! I don’t even have to try.”
Donghyuck rolls his eyes and sips carefully at his drink, trying to focus on the way the bass of the music rattles in his ribcage. The alcohol definitely does something to make his mind feel at ease, but it doesn’t stop the buzz of anticipation, the nerves.
He doesn’t really have time to mentally prepare himself when he sees Yukhei, a solid head taller than anyone in the crowd, work his way in their direction. “Oh my god, he’s here.”
Jungwoo is immediately on alert, eyes flashing towards the doorway and back to Donghyuck in a split second. “That’s him?” He smirks. “Definitely a looker.” Donghyuck whines, feeling like he's going to throw up, and Jungwoo just pats his thighs. “Okay, we’re going to do some improv right now, okay? Follow my lead.”
Donghyuck doesn’t have time to process, before Jungwoo is stepping between his legs and grabbing his hands, starting to fiddle with the rings on his fingers as he leans in close. “Just one dance, cutie,” Jungwoo says, a tad too loud not to be intentional. “You have to give me one dance.”
Donghyuck glances, panicked, at Yukhei, who’s come into the kitchen and digging inside a cooler for a beer. Then back at Jungwoo, whose eyes are steely with warning. He manages to laugh, trying not to sound as nervous as he is.
“But darling, you know I don’t dance with just anyone,” he says, just as loudly, and out of the corner of his eye, he sees Yukhei’s gaze flicker over at them. Fuck.
“I’m not like those other guys who are always falling at your feet, babe,” Jungwoo says, salacious, and Donghyuck thinks that maybe his friend is enjoying himself a little too much. But Donghyuck is a master of improv, so he slides his mask on and fixes it there.
“Oh please,” he says, rolling his eyes, and shoving at Jungwoo’s shoulder when he leans in closer. “You’re nothing special.”
“But you won’t even give me a chance to prove otherwise, baby, what am I supposed to do?”
Donghyuck works up a demure giggle, shaking his head. Out of his periphery, he sees Yukhei take a deep pull of his beer, eyes fixed on him. “Maybe you can try again some other time, darling.”
“Next time I’ll have you, Donghyuck,” Jungwoo promises darkly, and lifts Donghyuck’s hand to brush a kiss across his knuckles. Donghyuck just arches an eyebrow, unamused, before pulling his hand away and giving Jungwoo a sarcastic wave. It takes everything in his power not to laugh when Jungwoo winks, before slinking away and disappearing into the crowd.
Without Jungwoo standing in front of him, Donghyuck feels like he’s kind of defenseless, way too exposed for his comfort. He manages to straighten up from his fake-casual slouch, and picks up his drink again. It’s a mission to keep his hands from shaking, nervous now that he can actually feel Yukhei’s gaze on him.
Gathering himself up, he raises his head and meets Yukhei’s gaze straight on. When Yukhei doesn’t waver, Donghyuck raises an eyebrow at him. That seems to snap him out of something, because he approaches Donghyuck slowly.
“Didn’t mean to overhear,” Yukhei says, voice low. He tilts his head and points at Donghyuck with the hand that’s gripping his beer. “You’re Donghyuck? Like Donghyuck Lee?”
For a moment, Donghyuck’s entire world tilts on his axis. If he didn’t have an ironclad grip on his dignity, his jaw might have hit the floor. On the inside, everything feels like it’s on fire. On the outside, Donghyuck just regards Yukhei cooly. “First of his name,” he confirms. “And you’re Yukhei Wong.”
Yukhei’s face splits into a wide grin, all teeth and gums, and wow, it’s unfair how good looking he is. “Yeah! You remember?”
Donghyuck blinks at him, trying to match Yukhei’s enthusiasm but falling a little flat. “We did go to school together since like, first grade.”
Yukhei laughs, scratching his head sheepishly. “You’re right, stupid question.”
Immediately, Donghyuck feels like he needs to come to Yukhei’s own defense. “No, not stupid. We didn’t really interact. You’re fine.” He tries to fill the momentary silence by sipping at his drink, only to find it gone. He grimaces at it.
“Want me to make you a drink?” Yukhei offers, seeming to sense Donghyuck’s predicament. “I’m really good at it.” Before he can even answer, Yukhei’s already fiddling with the bottles strewn across the island.
“Sure, thanks,” Donghyuck says belatedly. He wracks his brain for something to fill the silence. “How have you been?”
“Hm?” Yukhei looks up from upending some neon yellow liquid into a cup. “Oh! I’ve been good! You?”
“Yeah, same, good.” God, what the fuck. Why the fuck is this so awkward.
“I honestly didn’t even realize we were at the same uni! Isn’t that crazy?”
“Oh yeah, totally. The world works in funny ways.” Donghyuck’s heart feels like it’ll burst out of his chest.
“I didn’t even recognize you at first. You look all grown up.” As if to really drive it home, Yukhei’s eyes rake down Donghyuck’s form, glinting in appreciation. “Wouldn’t have even connected the dots if that guy hadn’t said your name. By the way,” Yukhei sticks his thumb in the direction Jungwoo went. “He wasn’t bothering you was he? Cuz I can totally beat him up for you if you want.”
Donghyuck can’t help the amused laugh that works his way up his throat, and he covers his mouth with his hand. Yukhei shoots him a helpless smile as he keeps mixing the drinks. “I don’t know if you could take him.”
Yukhei seems to take offense to that, standing up straighter and patting his chest. “This is six feet of pure muscle, baby.”
Donghyuck snorts. “I’m sure.” When Yukhei sticks his tongue out in mock offense, he can’t help but laugh again. Fuck. What was he supposed to be doing again? “But don’t worry about him. He’s just-- one of many.” Donghyuck feels so weird lying but it’s not like it’ll matter. He’s not going to see Yukhei again after tonight, though the thought sits bitter on his tongue.
“Can’t blame a dude for trying,” Yukhei concedes, walking over to Donghyuck with their drinks. Donghyuck takes his and peers at the murky brown liquid. He looks back up at Yukhei, who looks expectant, so he really has no choice but to drink.
“God--” Donghyuck gags, only barely managing to swallow instead of spit everything out. “What the fuck this--” He breaks out into a cough, eyes tearing up.
“What’re you talking about?” Yukhei frowns, taking Donghyuck’s cup to take a sip, only to have his eyes roll back. He makes a pained noise at the back of his throat, shoulders seizing up, and amidst his cough attack, Donghyuck manages to laugh too.
“Did you put rat poison in there?” Donghyuck wheezes. He gestures to the cooler behind Yukhei. “I need a soda. I’m gonna die.”
Yukhei scrambles to grab one for him in the middle of acting like he’s being electrocuted, and Donghyuck opens the ginger ale, gulping it down.
“God, give me that--” Yukhei takes the soda and downs the rest of it in two gulps, before crushing it in his hand. “I--”
They both stare at each other, teary-eyed, before bursting out into laughter. Donghyuck curls into himself, sides aching, and he’s close enough to smell Yukhei’s cologne, feel his body heat. When he straightens back up, wiping at the tears at the corner of his eyes, Yukhei’s already staring at him, grin wide, eyes soft.
“I can’t believe you just tried to fucking murder me,” Donghyuck says, the remnants of laughter coming up in giggles. “You said you were good at this.”
Yukhei just smiles wider, eyes skimming over Donghyuck. “I lied.”
“And I’m sure you’re very sorry,” Donghyuck deadpans, and tries to keep his face straight, but it’s hard. He ends up smiling up at Yukhei, who is still towering over Donghyuck, despite Donghyuck sitting so high up on the counter. He’d somehow settled between Donghyuck’s legs, hands on either side of the counter, and something in Donghyuck’s heart squeezes.
“Wow,” Yukhei breathes after a moment. “I can’t believe you’re really here. ” He sounds so amazed, like this is all some grand coincidence, and Donghyuck feels guilty for the way Jungwoo had arranged everything on purpose. There’s no way Jungwoo could have known it would end up like this, but it still kind of feels like a set-up.
“This whole time we’ve been on the same campus. How come I haven’t seen you around?”
Donghyuck shrugs helplessly. “It’s a big campus.”
“True, true,” Yukhei hums. Then, he perks up, and it’s almost comical, how he resembles a golden retriever in that moment. “But now we know! We need to make up for lost time.”
Donghyuck just laughs, bracing his weight on one hand so he can lean back more comfortably. “If you insist. What do you want to know?”
“What are you majoring in now?”
“Chem,” Donghyuck says, and laughs when Yukhei’s face twists in confusion. “Why do you look so surprised?”
“Well, I always thought you would go into theater or something?” Yukhei scratches his head again. “I dunno. You were in it in high school right?” Donghyuck nods mutely. “I always thought that was super cool.”
“I mean--” Donghyuck wrestles with the urge to ask how Yukhei even knew that about him, but he’s supposed to be playing it cool. “I’m still in theater. It’s just not my major.” He shrugs. “I love it too much to consider a career in it.”
“Wow, that was deep,” Yukhei says, eyes wide as he leans back. Donghyuck snorts, but his ears feel hot. “Right on, my dude. Is there anything coming up soon?”
Donghyuck hums. “We’re putting on West Side Story in like, a month.”
“Wow,” Yukhei breathes, eyes widening even more, and Donghyuck wonders whether Yukhei is just that easy to impress. “That’s cool! I bet you’re the lead.”
“You put a lot of faith in me, Yukhei Wong,” Donghyuck says, feeling very pleased by Yukhei’s uninformed faith in his abilities.
“Well, can you blame me?” Yukhei grins. “You have that, like, aura. Like you were born to be a star!”
Donghyuck laughs, trying not to read too much into anything Yukhei says, because he’s very likely inebriated and over exaggerating. “Don’t worry. Once Jaehyun Jung graduates, I’m aiming straight for the top.”
“Nice! That’s what I’m talking about.”
“What about you?” Donghyuck asks, suddenly feeling hyper aware of the fact that they’ve only been talking about him this entire time. “What have you been up to since high school?”
“Oh man,” Yukhei laughs, ducking his head. “Well, I’m comp sci.”
“So you’re a computer nerd,” Donghyuck teases. It’s not actually what he expected out of his high school’s star athlete, but somehow, it makes Yukhei more endearing. He imagines Yukhei in thick reading glasses, hunching over a computer screen, much like Johnny always does.
“Well--” Yukhei blushes, and Donghyuck can’t quite believe his eyes. “I’ve been trying to code an app since high school.”
Donghyuck’s eyes widen. “An app? What kind of app?”
“Uhm, it’s like-- I want to make something that helps people learn sign language? Not just ASL but like, other languages too since, you know, a lot of spoken languages have a sign language equivalent and they’re kinda different so-- Oh wow I’m rambling now.”
“What? No, no, that’s so cool,” Donghyuck says honestly. “That’s seriously super amazing. What made you want to do that specifically?”
“My cousin? Chenle, he lives in China-- he’s deaf, so growing up our family learned CSL and all that and I just want to-- like, make it more accessible? For people who want to learn. So yeah.”
“That’s--” Donghyuck’s heart feels like it’s flip-flopping inside his ribcage. “That’s seriously amazing. Jesus.”
“I just-- It’s just something I want to do.” Yukhei shrugs sheepishly, cheeks tinged pink. “Anyway it’s just, like, a side project for now, but I’ve been working on it. Maybe someday.”
“Definitely someday,” Donghyuck corrects. “That’s really amazing.”
“Thanks,” Yukhei laughs, nervous. It’s painfully cute, and Donghyuck feels serious whiplash, because a man in a leather jacket should not be this cute. It just isn’t fair. “Uhm--” Yukhei glances at the doorway, and Donghyuck is brought to the startling realization that there’s still a party going on out there. Talking with Yukhei had made it seem like they were just in their own little bubble. “Do you want to dance?”
And, well, Donghyuck wasn’t actually expecting that. He figured Yukhei would tell him it was nice to see him again, but he has to get back to his friends now, so see you around, Donghyuck! It takes him a second to process the words, but in that time, Yukhei’s already stepping back.
“I mean, you don’t have to! I don’t want to be like that other dude--”
“I’ll make a special exception for you,” Donghyuck cuts Yukhei off, hopping off the counter, and fuck, Yukhei is just that much taller now that Donghyuck doesn’t have anything boosting him up besides his heeled boots. They’re also closer than Donghyuck anticipated, and it’s all he can do not to tip forward and bury his face in Yukhei’s chest.
Yukhei just smiles down at him, eyes warm, and Donghyuck could probably stare at him forever, if it wasn’t wildly inappropriate (and creepy). He ends up wrapping his hand around Donghyuck’s wrist and tugs him along. Out of the kitchen, the music hits harder, ringing in Donghyuck’s ears as they weave through the crowd, until they reach the area that’s been cleared for dancing.
Donghyuck tries not to hesitate as Yukhei pulls him into the middle of the mass of bodies. He knows he’s a good dancer-- he wouldn’t be in musical theater if he wasn’t-- but dancing with another boy (a cute boy) at a party? That’s something he’s never had to do, and at once, he feels like he’s going to seize up, but Yukhei turns to him, eyes alight and grin wide, and all the thoughts running through his mind just fizzle out, until nothing is left.
It’s not as hard as Donghyuck thought, dancing to the music. Yukhei goofs off a little at first, making Donghyuck laugh from second-hand embarrassment, before he tugs Donghyuck closer, tangling their fingers together. It’s far more fun than Donghyuck anticipated-- it’s easy to get swept up in their own little bubble and just let go. His mouth hurts from laughing so much.
But then the bright house beat turns into something slower, darker, and before Donghyuck can even process the change, Yukhei is turning him and pressing him back against his chest, arms wound so tight around Donghyuck’s waist that he couldn’t move even if he wanted to. He loses his balance for a moment in surprise, and grabs onto Yukhei’s forearms to steady himself.
He can’t tell whether it’s the bass or his heart that’s pounding so violently against his ribs. Maybe it’s both. Yukhei’s chest is solid and warm against his back, nose brushing against Donghyuck’s hair as they move together. He’s so caught off guard by the sudden intimacy, but it happens so fast that he doesn’t give himself a chance to freak out.
Donghyuck remembers going to dances in high school with Jeno and scoffing at all the couples grinding on the dance floor. Leave room for Jesus! He’d always tried to yell that at people, but Jeno had smothered the words in his palm, laughing as he dragged Donghyuck away.
Now, with the way he and Yukhei are rolling their hips together, bodies pressed so tightly together that there’s nothing to do but succumb to the electric feeling, he feels heady, drunk on the feeling. Quite frankly, he doesn’t want Jesus anywhere in this equation.
Donghyuck’s throat feels tight as Yukhei pulls him as close as he can, and he reaches a hand back to tangle in Yukhei’s hair, head tilted back to rest on Yukhei’s shoulder. It’s everything he could have ever wanted, being wrapped up in Yukhei’s arms, so tight that it almost suffocates him. It feels so good, and he doesn’t want to stop.
He doesn’t know how long they dance like that, wrapped up in each other as they grind to the music. All he knows that he’s had to bite his lip to keep from moaning, and Yukhei’s no better, with the way he’s been muffling noises into Donghyuck’s hair. He can feel his mind go blissfully quiet, limbs loose and relaxed in a way he’s never felt before.
So when Yukhei slides a hand up his neck and tilts Donghyuck’s face up, he just goes with it, eyes hooded, heart leaping up into his throat as Yukhei leans down and presses their mouths together. Donghyuck makes a quiet noise of pleasure, toes curling as Yukhei sucks at his bottom lip. He doesn’t have time to worry about the fact that this is his first kiss, focusing in on the feeling of Yukhei licking into his mouth, deep and filthy.
Donghyuck arches his back a little, wanting Yukhei deeper, and Yukhei understands, grasping Donghyuck’s face tighter and biting his lip again, before soothing it with his tongue. Donghyuck’s free hand scrambles to find the one Yukhei’s splayed across his stomach, and he tangles them together tightly, hoping he can convey how much more he wants.
Yukhei pries their mouths apart eventually, the angle becoming awkward, and they’re both out of breath. Donghyuck takes a moment to sink back entirely against Yukhei, kissed stupid, but only for a moment, because Yukhei is tugging him away from the dance floor. Donghyuck just follows in a daze, mind still hazy and unable to process what’s happening, so he trusts Yukhei.
They stop in an abandoned hallway, and Donghyuck leans back against the wall, cold against his overheated skin. He rolls his head back and stares up, and Yukhei must see something in his eyes, because he’s crowding Donghyuck in and kissing him again. It’s filthy to start, all teeth and tongue, and Donghyuck whimpers, overwhelmed and lost, so he just winds his arms around Yukhei’s neck and lets.
He can’t tell whether it’s the alcohol, or the kisses, or the fact that’s just Yukhei Wong, but when Yukhei tugs his shirt up and slides his big, warm hands up Donghyuck’s back, he lets it happen. He doesn’t know how to keep up with Yukhei’s mouth, and he doesn’t know if Yukhei can tell that Donghyuck’s never done this before, but Yukhei doesn’t seem to care very much, mouth hot and insistent. And when they pull apart for air, Yukhei doesn’t stop, just slides his mouth along Donghyuck’s jaw and bites just underneath it.
“Fuck,” Donghyuck yelps, hips jumping, and tugs hard at the soft strands of Yukhei’s hair. In retaliation, Yukhei bites down harder at a sensitive spot on Donghyuck’s neck, and sets about sucking a mark on the skin. Donghyuck feels one of his hands slide down his back and squeeze his ass, pressing their hips together, and something drops in the pit of his stomach.
He doesn’t know what does it, exactly, but suddenly, it becomes very clear what Yukhei’s intentions are, and his eyes flutter open in confusion. How did they get there?
This is what you wanted, his brain reminds him, as Yukhei’s teeth drag Donghyuck’s skin between his teeth. This is what you came here to do.
And yet, something about this feels terribly, terribly wrong. He doesn’t want this at all. Donghyuck doesn’t quite understand it, all he knows is that there’s panic starting to bubble to the surface, and he needs to get out of this situation now.
“Y-Yukhei-- stop--” Donghyuck gasps, shoving at Yukhei’s shoulders, and Yukhei stumbles back, face pulled in confusion.
And seeing Yukhei, standing there, lips kiss-swollen, hair mussed from Donghyuck’s fingers, and looking like anyone’s absolute wet dream, just makes everything worse. He feels so fake, so disgusting, so wrong. He’s not ready for this, he’s not what Yukhei wants. “I--” Donghyuck starts, and he feels like he’s going to throw up.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” Yukhei steps closer, bringing his hands up to cup Donghyuck’s face, but that just makes Donghyuck feel worse.
“I just--” Donghyuck stumbles out of Yukhei’s hold. His head his spinning. He might actually throw up. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this--” And before he can see the expression on Yukhei’s face, he’s turning on his heels and scrambling away. He hears his name being called, but he just ducks into the crowd, letting himself get swept up in chaos, until he makes it to the front door.
Frantic, he digs his phone out of his pocket, and his fingers shake as he dials Jeno’s numbers.
“Hyuck? What’s-- what’s going on--” Jeno’s voice rough, and there’s second muffled voice in the background.
“Jeno--” Donghyuck rasps. “Please, fuck, I need you, I’m-- Can you p-please come get me?” The last few words are drowned out by the sob, and he clamps a hand over his mouth. His head spins so fast that he falls to the ground.
“Fuck-- Okay, you just stay put, baby, we’re coming-- Jaemin put your goddamn clothes back on we need to go--”
Donghyuck doesn’t hear anything else, barely registers himself choking out the address to Jeno. Within minutes, Jeno and Jaemin pull up on the sidewalk where Donghyuck’s crouching, trying to breathe in, breathe out with Jeno as he soothed him through the phone.
“It’s okay, honey, come on,” Jeno says, getting out of the passenger seat to draw his arms around Donghyuck and pull him up. Donghyuck barely manages to collapse into the backseat of what he guesses is Jaemin’s car. In the driver’s seat, Jaemin doesn’t look very happy, and his scowl only deepens further when Jeno climbs in next to Donghyuck.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Jeno murmurs, rubbing Donghyuck’s back as he presses his face into Jeno’s shirt. “What happened?”
“Y-Yukhei-- I just-- He--” Donghyuck chokes out.
“Did he hurt you?” Jeno asks, voice turning steely with concern. “Did he force you--”
“N-no! He just-- I couldn’t-- Jeno I just couldn’t-- What’s wrong with me? I j-just couldn’t fucking do it.”
“It’s okay baby,” Jeno hushes Donghyuck’s rambling, holding him close. “Don’t worry about it, okay? It’s over now.”
It’s all over now.
Chapter 2: love looks better in color
the second (and last) part. enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
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
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…
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--”
“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.
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.