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“He’s proposing?”

Soonyoung hushes Chan’s voice down the end of the phone as if everyone around him in the store can hear his best friend yelling. That, of course, is not the case, and he can’t help but let the smile forming on his lips spread across his entire face, his heart aflutter at the image now placed in his head. He holds the phone to his shoulder pressed against his cheek as he picks up a patterned shirt, holding it out in his many attempts to find something suitable for his dinner that evening.

“Well, he hasn’t exactly said so himself,” Soonyoung frowns at the shirt and decides it’s far too ugly as he places it back on a hanger, just adjacent from where it had originally been; he completely ignores the annoyed look from the staff member watching him from a few feet away – they shouldn’t moan, he thinks, they should be grateful to sort clothes back onto the correct hangers seeing as that’s their job. “Obviously. But every time he’s looked at me this week there’s just something in his eyes…”

“Proposal eyes?” Soonyoung hums in agreement of the term, picking up another shirt before putting it back with a shake of his head. Too cheap. “You think he’s going to do it tonight?”

Soonyoung pauses in his tracks and runs his palm over his flushed cheek. “He invited me out to dinner at that fancy new restaurant that only just opened up last month, so it must be, right? We never go out to places like that … It’s got to be there.”

“I can’t believe this is happening… You and Jihoon actually married… And I thought you were only going to last until the summer after senior year of high school. But here you are at twenty-one and he’s officially become the person you have dated the longest.” 

“What did I tell you, Chan? Jihoon is the one.”

He can’t tell if the sigh down the phone that matches his own is sarcastic or in genuine happiness for him, but Soonyoung can hear the muffled voices of his other friends in the background as he grabs more clothes from a shelf. With two shirts and a pair of fancy trousers slung over his arm, he makes his way to the dressing rooms to try them on.

“I can’t believe you’re actually going out of your way to get dressed up for this! When was the last time you bought new clothes?” Soonyoung tuts because he knows Chan knows the answer. The two of them have been best friends since they were eleven and ten respectively, but he is in too much of a good mood to bark back at him the reason.

Shutting the curtain once a spritely staff member shows him to the stall, Soonyoung places the clothes on an empty stool before kicking off his worn out converse. “Two years ago, maybe three? Unless you count that one-off time I got gifted a sweater by my aunt for Christmas.”

“I don’t.”

“Then three years ago.”

“Poor Jihoon.” Chan laughs and Soonyoung is suddenly reminded of the reason he gladly refused to invite his friend along.

“Hey, he cares more about me as a person than what I wear.”

“Poor, poor Jihoon.” The boy repeats.

With a final shake of his head, Soonyoung loosens the belt of his jeans and pulls the phone away from his ear. “Whatever, I’ll be back at the house in an hour to get ready and I’ll talk to you guys then.”

With a final few words muttered, the boys end the call and Soonyoung shimmies off his clothes to try on the pieces he’s selected from the store – which, he has now realised, is slightly above his usual budget. By about, a couple of hundred dollars. Despite this, they’re nothing too fancy, certainly more so than the plain items he has piled up in his wardrobe back home – muscle tees and t-shirts galore.

He runs a hand through his recently dyed grey hair and decides he likes the white button-up shirt with an array of repeating faces decorating it; it’s smart casual, and definitely the type of ‘I know you’re proposing, but I can’t let you know that I know you’re proposing’ look he’s going for. He’s got to leave Jihoon at least a smidgen of pride. Slipping back into his usual outfit he feels the same butterflies he’s had in his stomach all week dance about inside him, fluttering up his spine and sending an elated chill all through his body.

You see, Soonyoung is in love. He’s never felt the way he feels about Jihoon with anyone else: not Christine from middle school whom he proclaimed his love for thirty minutes into “dating”, not Moon Bin who had moved away over their second summer of high school and he swore he would never get over. No one knew him or matched him as well as the smaller boy he had met during their sophomore end of year party.

Jihoon is smart and patient, and the only person who can put up with Soonyoung when he calls him at three in the morning to talk about the latest show he’s just finished binging on Netflix, because the boy is probably up himself reading for their classes over the upcoming weeks. Soonyoung talks too much; Jihoon fills in the spaces when he pauses to breathe. The grey-haired boy knows they balance each other better than that one astrological sign with the scales he doesn’t remember the name of.

Which is why, when Soonyoung gets back to his fraternity house that evening, he can’t shut up when talking to his friends about how life is going to be when he’s married to his soulmate. He sees Chan roll his eyes, trying to hide his excitement for him under his fake annoyance. Only, it’s completely ruined when their other close friends, Minghao and Junhui, tug at the boy’s arm and pause their game to hug and pre-congratulate Soonyoung on the big event. The butterflies have now made their nest in his heart and they won’t stop fluttering their wings.

Just as Jihoon had said, he arrives at their house at exactly seven-thirty that evening and Soonyoung silently screams at Junhui as he enters his room to tell him his future fiancé is waiting downstairs. He speedily buckles his belt and allows Junhui to help him tuck in his shirt once his shoes are tied, walking out onto the landing. He spots him from the top of the stairs as the fraternity brothers welcome him in, and he suddenly feels like his choice of clothing isn’t good enough when Jihoon looks that exquisite in a smart grey blazer and complimenting pair of grey trousers. Still, he takes a deep breath, and with a push from Junhui as well as a pat on the back from Chan, he makes his way quickly down the stairs to join the boy at his side.

“Oh my god, oh my god.” He whispers almost indistinguishable when he’s just a few steps from the bottom, grabbing his coat from the hooks on the wall as he walks over.

Placing a kiss on Jihoon’s lips, Soonyoung pulls back with a smile and waves at his friends as the pair leave the house, fingers intertwined. Chan, Minghao, and Junhui all give him an excited thumbs up before the door is closed behind them and all he can focus on is Jihoon leading them both towards his car.

“How did you manage to get a reservation at the Hareng Rogue? It’s meant to be booked up for months in advance.” Soonyoung tries to steady his voice, not wanting to sound too excited. He can’t let Jihoon know that he knows.

“It’s the Hareng Rouge,” Jihoon corrects him with a smile as they slip into the car; he makes sure to hold open the door for Soonyoung before getting into the driver’s seat. He rubs the back of his neck, a nervous tick the boy often possessed, and Soonyoung wishes he could tell him not to worry – he’s going to say yes a million times over.

“I got my dad to pull some strings. You know how he is,” Jihoon continues once he looks a little more comfortable, pulling out of the drive before heading down the road to the centre of Los Angeles. 

He does. Jihoon’s dad was a big shot CEO and partner of some company that had links not only all over the USA but the world. To put it briefly: he was insanely rich and powerful. Not that Jihoon was the type to brag and let everyone know – Soonyoung had only found out when the boy had invited him around to his house for the first time and they had pulled up to a huge front gate, followed by an even larger house. Needless to say, it was not what he had expected from a boy so humble and sweet. He was glad they came from similar backgrounds, he could hardly talk to anyone else in high school about how hard it was for him growing up when people groaned and huffed about how much money he had. Money wasn't everything, didn't they know!

Soonyoung can’t stop grinning, fidgeting in his seat as Jihoon drives silently through the city. The boy was usually quiet but never this silent. He can’t help but notice the anxiety practically radiating off the boy, spotting Jihoon tapping the steering wheel nervously. He’s worried I’m going to say no, Soonyoung thinks and sighs internally, how sweet.

The restaurant is lit up with a vast array of beautiful lights wound along the branches of trees, hues of yellow, orange and pink dancing along the walls and tables. Jihoon gives his keys to the valet waiting outside and slowly offers his arm for Soonyoung to take. The lights captivate him, but Soonyoung’s still alert enough to link his arm through his boyfriend’s.‘Oh my god’ seems to be the only three words Soonyoung knows at that precise time, the phrase stuck on repeat in his mind like a scratched CD as they are escorted to a table under a low hanging tree.

Even though he manages to hit his head lightly on one of the low hanging lights, Soonyoung thinks it’s possibly the most romantic place on Earth—scratch that, he knows it is the most romantic place on Earth, and in his heart he senses it’s only a matter of time before Jihoon asks him the big question. His fidgeting hasn’t stopped, even as they are seated and presented with a bottle of red wine to begin the night, Jihoon continues his incessant tapping at the menu with his fingers or tapping his foot on the stone floor.

“How was your day?” Soonyoung tries to break the tension he knows his future fiancé is feeling, extending his left hand to rest gently on top of his arm.

“I had another talk with my dad,” the boy takes a deep breath and winces. “About my future.”

“About Harvard?” Oh yeah, did Soonyoung mention that Jihoon was applying to Harvard? 

The boy nods and lets out a long sigh, placing his own hand tentatively on top of Soonyoung’s. It’s clammy and Soonyoung confirms to himself that the boy is extremely nervous – more nervous than he’s seen him before any exam. He finds it both adorable and upsetting that the boy he loves feels as if he needs to feel anxious about anything—doesn’t he know Soonyoung would rob the sky of stars for him if he were given the chance?

“Yeah, he’s worried I won’t get in. You know how tough it is.”

The scoff that comes from his mouth is completely sudden, but Soonyoung can’t help it when the words he is hearing are completely absurd. “You’re kidding, right? There’s no way you’re not getting into Harvard. No one works harder, nor deserves it more than you.”

Another breath out and this time, Jihoon nods along. “Yeah, I guess you’re right—I mean, I know you’re right. I’ve been working for this since I was first learning to walk. I think my first words were “I object” before I even said mom or dad.”

Soonyoung isn’t sure whether or not he’s exaggerating, but knowing the Lee family it is more than likely that he isn’t.  He tilts his head and gives him a reassuring look.

Once their waiter has taken their orders, one that Soonyoung ponders over for a whole ten minutes because he doesn’t know what to choose (he doesn’t understand any of the names as they’re all in French—“That one is Beef fillet, Soonie. You’d like that.” “What are champ—” “Mushrooms.” “Okay, yes, I’ll go with that one.”), he settles back into his chair and takes a sip of his wine with a smile on his face.

He can tell Jihoon is working up to something, the way the corners of his mouth twitch and the dimples there are deep in his cheeks like recently excavated quarries full of diamonds. He watches as he takes his own sip of wine and smacks his lips together with confidence.

“You look really good tonight, Soonie. You went all out for this occasion.” Soonyoung beams down at himself, pleased that his new outfit was of Jihoon’s taste because his bank account had suffered greatly due to the purchase. He can feel Jihoon’s gaze lingering, and Soonyoung blushes.

With a clear of his throat, Jihoon sits forward and runs a hand through his black hair. He looks more determined now than earlier, and Soonyoung is suddenly worried he’s going to propose before the food order is even rung through. He needs some food in his stomach before he can process being proposed to!

“It really means a lot to me that you’re here with me tonight. I was so nervous earlier, but seeing you all dressed up really calms my fear to know you maybe have an idea of what is going on. I thought one look at you looking like an absolute dream would leave me speechless and unable to do this, but now I know I’m ready.” Jihoon takes in a deep breath and it startles Soonyoung a little to see how much the boy is talking. Still, he just nods along giddily, letting the boy give his speech as he looks around at the other customers, wondering if they have any idea that they’re about to witness the proposal of a lifetime.

“So, what I’m about so say shouldn’t be a big surprise… I’ve been very vocal to you about my future and the goals I have in mind. I’m so serious about attending Harvard and my dad really thinks that if I work hard enough, one day I could end up in the Senate. In the next few months, I really feel like my life is going to go full speed ahead, and that journey really begins tonight. This is my big leap into the ocean of possibilities that await me, Soonie.” 

Waiters bring out bread for their table, not just any bread but the fancy kind with olives in it! Soonyoung leans forward to grab a piece and takes a huge bite out of it, humming in delight. He watches Jihoon flinch a little considering their surroundings, but he carries on anyway after another clear of his throat.

“Soonyoung, can I have your hand—?”

 “Yes! Oh my god, yes! Yes, I will marry you.” Soonyoung swallows the bread and grins from ear to ear, almost leaping from his chair in delight as he places his hand in Jihoon’s. His face is flush and on fire, the blush creeping down his neck like roots digging their way into the soil. The music and chatter around them drown out until it’s only the pair of them in Soonyoung’s world. 

“I—What? Marry me?” Jihoon splutters, mouth hanging open, eyes wide as the full moon above them. He withdraws his hand from Soonyoung’s, looking about frantically at the people around who have stopped eating or conversing to witness the possible proposal. 

Soonyoung stops bouncing and retakes his seat slowly, smile still wide on his face and heart racing, but his eyebrows are furrowed and confused. Letting out a small, bewildered chuckle he nods.

“N-no. Soonyoung. I wasn’t asking for your hand like that. I just meant could I hold your hand for a second whilst I tell you what I need you to hear.”

He freezes, the flush on his cheeks from being so happy turning to mortified blushing. Soonyoung holds his hand still as Jihoon reluctantly takes it once more, his air of confidence slightly faltered by Soonyoung’s outburst. But still, he continues with a wiggle in his seat. 

“I, uh, where was I? Soonyoung… I brought you here tonight because I thought it would be nice to… Well, you and I. We need to break up…”

Remaining frozen, Soonyoung can’t possibly believe what he has just heard. He lets out a small laugh, stopping only when he clocks that the expression Jihoon is wearing on his face isn’t for show. He really means it. He can see in his sad eyes that he really, actually, truly means it. Jihoon isn’t proposing to him. He’s breaking up with him. 

“What…” Soonyoung manages, barely, lips almost paralysed in shock.

“Soonie. If I’m going to have even the slightest shot at being a senator when I’m thirty, I need to be serious about my future. About Harvard. I can’t do that with someone like you in my life… Wait, no, that came out wrong.”

“Someone… like me.”

Someone like you. Someone who prefers playing Yu-Gi-Oh with his friends to studying for eighteen hours in the library. Someone who was on the varsity football team rather than the debate club. Someone who is going to a regular community college rather than somewhere like Harvard. But, his family was from Beverly Hills! He wasn't exactly trailer trash!

He doesn’t say any of that, but he might have well have. They stab Soonyoung in the heart and he suddenly can’t help just feel his eyes welling up. The butterflies resting in his chest have died. They do always say butterflies only live about a week, something he does remember from his middle school science lessons. He was stupid enough to hatch them at all.

“Please don’t cry,” Jihoon leans forward brandishing a napkin, gazing sympathetically at Soonyoung. “We had a good run, right? You must have figured at some point that it would come to this? I need to be serious. I need someone serious.”

Shaking his head, Soonyoung stands as a waiter approaches to bring over their starters. Too little, too late.

“I’m not serious? But I’m seriously in love with you.”

“I’m so sorry. I thought you’d understand… With me all the way on the East coast and you here, it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. It’s for the best, trust me, Soonie—”

Don’t." He holds up his hands, surprised he's even able to say the words. "I’m leaving.”

Soonyoung is speed walking out of the restaurant before he can hear Jihoon call for the cheque, wiping at his eyes with the sleeves of his stupid, ugly, over-priced shirt. He picks up the pace and runs even further away, reaching for his phone in his trousers pocket, trying to find the right contact on screen through the blurriness of his vision.

He presses call and prays that someone picks up, sniffling and trying not to sob too loudly. The ringing in his ears is so loud that he can barely hear his phone dial at all.

“Hello?” A voice picks up after only three rings, and all Soonyoung can do is let out a tiny wail of sadness. “Soonyoung? Hold on, I’ll be there in ten minutes. I have your location."

Chan pulls up in his car exactly ten minutes later and Soonyoung doesn’t even question how the boy made it through primetime LA traffic that fast, climbing into the passenger seat as fast as he can manage so he can get home to bed and eat as much ice cream as he can before he throws up.

His night was ruined. Soonyoung blames himself for building it up to be some big spectacle in his head, making the disappointment of the evening that much worse. He just had to go and blurt out that he would marry him when there was no indication Jihoon had a ring or any intention of marrying him at all. That last part was pretty clear to him now, and Soonyoung can’t help but wail his heart out to Chan, Junhui, Minghao, and the rest of his fraternity brothers as he falls onto his bed before crying himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

“It’s been twelve days.” The muffled voices and footsteps are audible through the door to Soonyoung’s room as he curls up tighter into a ball on his bed, duvet wrapped tightly around him.

 “I’m getting worried. He’s not eating.”

 “Oh, he’s eating.” A third voice corrects the others, “I went in there to clean up a little last night and you should’ve seen the candy wrappers in his bin.”

 “I think he should be locked up. Who could do that to Soonyoung?”

 “This is getting out of hand. We need an intervention.” Soonyoung can make out Chan’s voice and he sniffles a little, squinting in correct anticipation for his door to open, light streaming in like a shining beacon.

 He had no idea it had been as many days as the boys announced, the surroundings erasing the very existence of time as Soonyoung had locked himself away in his room in a state of despair. The world had shrunk down to the red wallpaper and black curtains, the smell of fresh air replaced with unwashed clothing and the undeniable stench of sweat clinging to his bed sheets. Soonyoung doesn’t see the big deal when bears and other animals hibernate through the winter – he just happens to be hibernating through his heartbreak.

Darkness is chased away as soon as the boys march into his pigsty of a room and throw open the curtains. Soonyoung groans in pain at the sudden strain it puts on his eyes, screwing them up tighter as he attempts to throw the duvet further over his head; Chan catches it in time to pull it away from him, leaving Soonyoung feeling naked on his bed in just his underwear and a sticky vest top.  He pulls a pillow to his chest instead, burying his face into the top of it as he hears the sighs from around him.

“Soonyoung,” Junhui steps forward, crouching by his side with a hand bravely on the mattress, careful not to touch him or any of the unidentified stains seeping into the linen. “You can’t stay cooped up in here forever!”

“You have to get out, even if it’s just to shower,” Chan pipes up, scrunching up his nose in disgust at the remarkably putrid smell of boy lingering in the room. His room was never the most beautifully fragrant, considering Soonyoung liked to eat leftover pizza and have heated Mario Kart tournaments in here with the boys, but it was especially bad after a week and a bit cooped up with no fresh air. “Man, you stink. Really. A shower would do you some good – us too.”

Soonyoung opens one of his eyes in time to see Minghao slap Chan over the back of his head, earning a silent protest in reply from the younger boy with hands in the air. What he had said is right. Soonyoung knows that if he gets up and showers, eats a proper meal that isn’t the leftover Halloween candy he’s had in his dresser for god knows how long, he’ll feel so much better on the outside. Only, Soonyoung doesn’t know if hot water, soap, and a bowl of hearty ramen can make him feel any better on the inside.

“I’m fine you guys,” Soonyoung gives in, sitting up to face the crowd of six boys around him. He tries not to look at Chan’s face in fear that he might cry again if that’s even possible – he’s pretty sure he’s cried out all the water in his body by now. He could rival a cactus.

Minghao takes a tentative seat beside him on the bed and looks at the others. “We were thinking we could have a tournament of Magic: The Gathering this evening? Just us. Like we did before Christmas for my birthday.”

Nods of agreement float around the room and Soonyoung can’t help but let a genuine small smile tug at the corner of his lips.

“I’d love that, guys.”

The group let out synchronised, audible sighs in relief and both Junhui and Minghao tackle Soonyoung playfully before he can kick them out. After a few play-knocks, the pair of them step back, grimacing at the smell and giving the win to Soonyoung who just half-laughs. He rubs his puffy eyes as most of the boys evacuate the room, leaving him, Chan, Minghao, and Junhui to talk.

Finally making eye contact with his best friend, Soonyoung mumbles a quiet thank you to Chan, one that was long overdue for picking him up on that god awful night. He had been a state, incomprehensible whenever he had opened his mouth to speak, the only sounds leaving his mouth being guttural sobs as he was lead upstairs carefully by the smaller boy. He knew that Chan knew he was grateful, but the verbalisation of gratitude wipes the worry off of his face.

“I’m making food and you’re gonna eat it whether you like it or not.”

“Don’t worry,” Soonyoung’s stomach rumbles as if on cue, and he laughs weakly whilst looking down at it. “I’m happy to oblige.”

“And when you want to talk, you know we’re here, right?” Chan continues, looking around at the mess his room it in. “I know we don’t always talk about our ‘feelings’ and whatever,” he waggles his fingers in an attempt at air quotes, “but whatever you want to talk about, we’re here.”

He feels his heart beat in his chest for what feels like the first time in days. Soonyoung glances at each of his friends and nods. “I’ll hold you to that. But first, I think I owe it to myself to shower. I’m not sure what kind of new life forms are growing under these covers right now but they’ve been feeding off me for days, and I need a good scrub.”

“Yes, please.” Junhui scrunches up his nose and laughs as the three of them back away towards the door. 

Soonyoung reluctantly swings his legs off the bed. “I’ll see you guys downstairs.”

Once he is alone again, he breathes in and for the first time in days feels a genuine urge to purge himself of the squalor he has been keeping himself in.

The shower he takes is a Godsend. Truly. He doesn’t think he’s ever felt more alive in his life after he scrubs away the dirt and grime that had been clinging to his skin the entire week he’d spent wallowing in self-pity in his bed. Soonyoung decides there under the hot stream of ambrosia-like water that he needs to cleanse his room of whatever had happened in the last few days. Start afresh. No signs of Jihoon, no pain.

The student radio he’s listening to on his phone plays loud enough to hear over the water, and he’s sad to hear the song he’d been singing along to end far too soon for his liking.

“Student news coming up next. New animal therapy sessions available to all students on Wednesday afternoons from one until five in the student union, so pop by if you want to stroke some dogs for your mental health or whatever.” Soonyoung grabs the two-in-one shampoo and conditioner from where it sits on the shelf in the shower and considers actually going to that session. Maybe a dog would fix his broken heart. “A very big thank you to Minseo Lee, wife of alumni-student Haeyoung Lee, for their investment into the college social science programs. Both Mr and Mrs Lee attended this school before graduating from Stanford, but it’s lovely to see they still believe in what this college has to offer. More on that later. Open auditions for the battle of the bands are up next, and—”

Soonyoung tenses at the familiar name sounding across the airwaves as he rubs the lotion into his hair, accidentally letting it drip down into his eyes. It burns almost as much as crying for twelve days does, and Soonyoung runs his hands over his face to try and get rid of as much of it as possible.

His eyes red, he shuts the water off and darts for his phone to turn it off before he even thinks about wrapping up in a towel.

Jihoon’s brother was married. And graduated from Stanford. And invested what sounded like a huge sum of money into programs at a college he no longer even attended, just because he could. A program that Soonyoung himself, believe it or not, was enrolled in.

His heart somersaults in his chest, and suddenly Soonyoung feels like a spark is reignited in the pit of his stomach. The irritation of his eyes is pushed aside in favour of Soonyoung running out of the bathroom, grabbing a towel for his waist, before darting onto the landing with what he believes is the best idea he has ever had.

Soonyoung cups his hands around his mouth, and, with a smile, yells out across the fraternity house. People in the foyer below immediately stop what they are doing and look up, and those in their rooms quizzically peek their heads out in confusion as to what is going on. He makes eye contact with as many of them as possible, grin wide on his face despite a few of his brothers showing vivid expressions of confusion and fear at the complete change to his emotional state.

“Boys, I have a completely brilliant plan!” 

“Is this about the game tournament?” One of the boys playing table tennis says hopefully, ignoring that their fraternity leader is dressed only in a hastily tied towel that looks as if it is threatening to drop at any second.

Soonyoung shakes his head and waves his hands about before gripping the fabric keeping him modest. “I was just in the shower singing along to that stupid student radio show when the daily news came on—who even knew they still did daily news, right?” The boys around him raise their eyebrows in confusion as to where this is heading, and Soonyoung runs a hand through his freshly washed grey hair. “Well, I heard that Jihoon’s brother’s wife just invested big money into our university for the social science programs. She’s it!”

Junhui steps out of his room, scratching his head. “I’m not following you.”

“She’s rich! She’s powerful! Most of all she’s serious! She’s the type of person that Jihoon is looking for.”

Soonyoung pulls the towel tighter around himself as he approaches Junhui and allows the rest of the fraternity to go back to what they were doing, trying to erase the mental image of him in his towel from their minds. He only needs to speak to his closest friends right now, because he has a plan and they are integral in making it work.

Asking Junhui to fetch Chan and Minghao, he quickly rushes back into his room to throw on any clean clothing he has left – in which case is a mismatched pair of blue jeans and a horrific brown shirt he didn’t realise he owned – before half-sliding down the bannister to meet his friends in the kitchen. The aroma of food being cooked fills his nostrils and he feels his stomach rumble again. Chan stands next to the rice cooker and a saucepan, eyebrows raised and arms folded expectedly.

With a hop-skip to his step, Soonyoung approaches his friends, mood bright and a mind full of possibilities surrounding what the boys would think of his plan.

“Spit it out. It’s scary seeing you go from being half-dead to looking like you could run twenty marathons in one go all in the space of ten minutes.” Chan prompts him, biting his bottom lip in anticipation, and Soonyoung hopes most of all that he backs him up on his idea. 

“I’m going to get straight to the point.” Soonyoung nods, taking a deep breath. With a punch in the air, he cheers, “I’m applying to Harvard’s Law School!”

When he expects cheers of enthusiasm and wonder, Soonyoung is met with complete silence. He watches Chan blink and lean forward with a shake of his head, and suddenly Soonyoung doesn’t feel so confident in his endeavours.

“I’m sorry, what?” 

“I’m applying for—” 

Waving his hands to cut him off, Chan takes a deep breath and frowns in disbelief. “No, I heard you the first time. Harvard Law School?” Soonyoung nods, eyes wide and expectant. “Like Jihoon?

“Yes.”

“No. No way.” Chan almost laughs, turning back to face the kitchen counter and the food he is cooking for his best friend. "When I said we were here if you wanted to talk I meant about something sane, not crazy-talk."

Soonyoung can see Minghao and Junhui grimacing in the corner of his eye but ignores them in favour of approaching his best friend. His hand grips Chan’s shoulder and he bounces on the spot as the rice cooker timer ticks down by the second. 

“Chan, can’t you see? If I get into Harvard like Ji, he’ll have to take me seriously and see that what he really wants is not some Law degree or some future in the Senate: it’s me. He’ll have to take me back.”

“Do you not hear how insane you sound right now?” Chan runs a hand over his face and tries his hardest not to shove Soonyoung’s hand away from his shoulder because he knows what the boy needs now is both physical support and some good advice. He places his hand over the boy’s and squeezes but shakes his head. “Maybe when you have some proper food inside you, you won’t go around spouting crazy ideas like this. Why don’t you sit down?” 

“I’m not crazy, Chan. I’m going to get into Harvard. I am going to win back Jihoon.” Soonyoung takes a step back, suddenly feeling a familiar sense of defeat begin to wash over him once more. “I just need you to help and believe in me.”

As Soonyoung turns to leave without food, he stops in his tracks when Minghao speaks up.

“It could work.”

“What, Minghao?” Soonyoung hears Chan say as he turns to look over his shoulder at his friends once again.

The taller boy steps forward with his hands out, trying to defuse the situation as best as he can before it escalates to a shouting match, looking between his friends as he speaks. “I mean, think about it. Harvard is an Ivy League school and only the best of the best can get in. If Soon did get in then Jihoon would have to see he was wrong about the break-up and take him back.”

“Did you not just hear the first half of your sentence? It’s not that simple!” Chan says through his teeth, turning back to the food when the machine switches off, hiding his face of annoyance.

“How isn’t it?” Soonyoung approaches the breakfast bar, taking a seat on one of the stalls. 

Chan scoops copious amounts of rice into a bowl he retrieves from the drying rack and stirs the food in the pan as it sizzles lightly. Soonyoung watches the rise and fall of his shoulders, waiting as his friend lets out a sigh.

“First of all, you never study,” he points over his shoulder with a wooden spoon covered in what looks like gochujang paste before returning it to the pan. “Harvard isn’t just another college you can slack off at. You know those kids that study for twenty hours straight in the library?”

“Yeah, a bunch of nerds.” Soonyoung chuckles, looking to his left at Minghao and Junhui, who both crack a smile at him.

“You think so?” Chan smiles over his shoulder. “Well, they’re the nerds that are going to get into Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, you name it. People like Jihoon.” 

That shuts him up, slumping over on the breakfast bar; Soonyoung lets his cheek hit the cold marble surface with a groan that matches the sound his stomach makes as he fills his nostrils with the smell of Chan’s almost finished dish. 

Junhui pats him on the back reassuringly, “Yeah, but we can help you. We’ll have group study sessions.”

“We’ve tried those before. Or do you not recall History-101 turning into Fifa-2020?”

Sitting up, Soonyoung catches himself practically drooling at the sight approaching him as Chan sets the bowl of bibimbap on the countertop. He hadn’t realised how hungry he had been up until now, immediately grabbing the cutlery out of his best friend’s hand to dig into the meal.

“Yeah, but my grades from that test were still pretty good considering we spent the entire time playing instead of studying. Imagine how good I’d be if I put a little effort in?” Soonyoung says over a mouthful of rice, grinning widely at the flavours dancing on his tongue. He catches Chan smiling despite his annoyance at the topic, clearing his throat to stop his walls falling.

“I’ve been saying that for years, and now you’re only prepared to actually work hard so you can impress some guy?”

“He’s not just some guy, Chan!” Soonyoung swallows, striking his chopsticks on the table for emphasis. “It’s Jihoon. He's the guy!”

Rolling his eyes, Chan darts his gaze between the three of them as Soonyoung continues to pile the food into his mouth. He can hear his friend tapping his foot behind the breakfast bar and Soonyoung knows he’s thinking deeply about the proposal, he just hopes he’ll see the light.

“So, what?” Chan throws his arms up in defeat, leaning on the breakfast bar. “We make a step by step plan, then what happens?”

Junhui shakes Soonyoung lightly with shared excitement as he, Minghao, and Soonyoung grin at one another. He almost spits out his food as Soonyoung makes a tiny noise of delight, but contains himself in favour of Minghao’s proposal.

“Step one – get into Harvard.”

“Step two,” Junhui intercuts before Chan can speak, his mouth already open and eyebrows furrowed. “Soonyoung, you impress him with your new and improved IQ. That is bound to make him reassess everything he said about you and the reason you even broke up in the first place.”

Soonyoung nods frantically in agreement, his smile wide and stomach thanking him for eating something other than candy and chocolate. The bowl before him is almost empty already and he hopes there is still some left in the pan so he can have seconds.

Chan’s shoulders slump and he swipes the bowl up to fill it with the remaining rice from the cooker. “And step three?”

“We throw a great big wedding and you all have to prepare amazing speeches as my best men.”

“Wow. Nice plan you’ve got there,” Chan drops the bowl back onto the counter, but before Soonyoung can happily dig back into his second portion, his cutlery is blocked by the back of Chan’s hand. “Can we actually think this through properly?”

Pausing, Soonyoung beams up at his friend. “You’re actually on board?”

Chan lets out a long sigh and drops his hands to his side, nodding with a small smile tugging at his lips. Soonyoung knows he thinks this whole thing is ridiculous, but the fact his best friend is prepared to help him make this dream a reality fills him up better than any bibimbap could. 

“If it’s going to make you happy, of course I’m on board. But,” Chan wiggles his finger at the three of them, “we need to be realistic. Harvard Law School? What makes you think you can do this? How do we know you’re prepared to work hard to get in?”

“I love him. And with love on my side, there is no way I’m going to give up on this. It’s not going to be like the finals I took last year, or the SATs I took in High School where I swore I would actually work towards my future. This is real, and I’ve never been so sure about something in my life.”

Soonyoung expects sighs in awe of his heartfelt statement, and although he gets warm smiles from Minghao and Junhui, Chan isn’t so taken by his statement. He swallows and takes another bite of his food as Chan resumes tapping his food.

“Love, mhmm, that’s very touching. If only it were that easy. If we’re gonna do this then you do realise it’s going to completely wreck your favourite time of year, right? Spring break is going to consist of studying, writing, and more studying. That means no parties, no more dance, and no more gaming tournaments.”

“No more gaming…” Soonyoung trails off, staring into the grains of rice below him.

“Don’t forget that you need to pass one of those law school tests! The, uh... LSATs! Yes, LSATs!” Minghao pipes up, sliding into a seat beside him. “If I remember correctly, my senior advisor told me that to get into law school - especially an Ivy - you need to pass that test with a score of more than 174. Pretty scary stuff. Put me off applying for law right away. I’m more than content with English.”

Junhui swats at him and Soonyoung gazes up at his friend as he quickly transform his face of annoyance into a wide, supportive smile. “Yes, but that’s because Minghao isn’t as determined as you, and we know that when you do put your mind to something, you always go through with it. Right, boys?”

“So what do I have to do? Where do I start?” Soonyoung looks between his nodding friends, stopping on Chan with a tilt of his head, hoping to prompt him for a place to start.

Digging back into his portion of food, Soonyoung feels his stomach filling up comfortably as Chan taps his chin in thought. 

“I mean, there’s going to be an essay – not just any essay, but a completely killer one that has to knock every other candidate out of the water. The competition is going to be high, so you’re going to have to work your ass off to write the hottest shit they’ve ever seen. You may be involved in a ton of extracurriculars, but do you have any, I don’t know, famous people you know that can give you an edge with a special reference?” Chan shrugs in genuine thought, “Maybe a friend of your parents? Or someone Jihoon’s family might have introduced you to?”

“Apart from the college football and dance captains?” Soonyoung shakes his head, “No… Does that mean I won’t get in?”

Chan opens his mouth to speak, but once again before he can get a sound out, Junhui cuts in with a wave of his hands and a smile. “Of course you can get in. People who aren’t friends with the Pope or Oprah or, I don’t know, Beyonce, get into these places all the time. It just means we’re gonna work super hard to help you make the best impression on them that we can.”

A wave of something Soonyoung can’t quite describe washes over him just then as he is sat surrounded by the three closest people to him in the world. He wonders if anyone else in the world has better friends than he has, beaming at each of them in genuine gratitude. They all had their own applications or work to worry about, yet here they were, gathered around him with no cares other than making sure they were there to help Soonyoung with his plan to win back Jihoon, no matter how far-fetched it seemed. He feels like he can walk on water or jump a mountain. At that moment, he believes he is invincible.

So, that evening when he is half-way through tidying his room (having started four hours before), he is surprised to hear someone knock at his door. Soonyoung chucks a few more wrappers in his grasp into the waste-bin he is holding before craning his neck to see Chan standing in the doorway with a phone to his ear. 

“Yeah, he’s here. I’ll pass him—yes, I already told him that but, well, you just hear it for yourself.”

Soonyoung stands up straight and cocks his head to the side with a raised eyebrow. He approaches his friend as Chan outstretches his phone towards him, prompting him to take the cell. 

“It’s your sister.”

“What? Why did she call you?” 

Chan grimaces as Soonyoung takes the phone from him. “I might have called her to tell her about your plan. I thought she could talk some sense into you.”

Reluctantly, Soonyoung raises the phone to his ear and frowns at his friend as he hears his sister’s distorted voice down the end of the line asking if he can hear her.

“Hey, Minkyung. Yes, I can hear you. What’s up?” 

“What’s up?” She half-yells, half-questions as Chan backs away with a sorry expression on his face. “You want to go to law school? And not just any community college for law, oh no. You want to get into Harvard?”

Falling back onto his messy bed (one of the things he has yet to clean, seeing as he started at the opposite end of his room, making his floor tidy so he can actually walk around without tripping over endless clothing), running a hand over his face. “I know you’re gonna think I’m a moron for even considering this but—” 

“No, no, Soonyoung! I’m so proud of you.” 

Soonyoung sits up abruptly in confusion, eyebrows drew together. He stammers, unable to comprehend the situation. “Y-you are?”

“Yes!” She replies eagerly. “I can’t remember the last time you had an actual goal for your life! Imagine, a Kwon at Harvard. God, mom and dad are gonna be so excited when they find out. Why didn't you call me?

He bites his lip to stop himself smiling like the Cheshire Cat, explaining everything about his plan that Chan hadn’t already covered in his attempt to get her to tell him to stop dreaming so ridiculously. Although Soonyoung knows Chan’s original intention was for this phone call to put him off the idea of following Jihoon to one of the most prestigious schools in the country, he can’t help but end the call more happy about his choices than he had been that morning. His sister believes he can do it, and so do so many of his friends Chan wants what’s best for him, so Soonyoung can’t be mad at the boy’s intermittent attempts to stop him. The idea is insane, but he knows he can do it. He has to for the sake of his heart.

When everyone is headed home for spring break, Soonyoung finds himself waving longing out of the dining room window at his friends as Chan, Minghao, and Junhui crowd around him with a pile of books before them. He can just see over the top of them as cars drive away into the distance, taking his fraternity brothers home to party and have the greatest senior spring of their lives. He aches to join them on the beaches he knows they’ll visit, drinking keg after keg of beer before partying or playing drunken rounds of Mario Kart late into the night.

Chan opening the front of a hardback book on the table wakes him up as the cover hits the surface with a loud smack. He jolts from his seat, blinking at his friends. They had all agreed to give up their break to help him as much as possible, and he knows there are not enough words in the world to thank them. Without them there, Soonyoung would have fallen prey to the Super Smash Bros tournaments calling his name, or the hundred events taking place across the city that would kill to go to instead of studying.

“Time to study,” Minghao sings, trying to look as supportive and enthusiastic as possible, but Soonyoung knows he craves to leave the house to join the others as much as he does, if not more. He’s not trying to get into Harvard Law School after all.

Soonyoung takes a look at the first page titled ‘Reading Comprehension’ and looks up at Chan with sad, pleading eyes.

“You wanted to do this,” Chan nods; taking a seat next to him, hand firm on his arm for support. It's a silent apology for taking so long to agree to his proposal, but as Soonyoung places his hand over his, he nods in gratitude. “So, let’s do this.”

It's going to be the longest Spring Break of his life.

Chapter Text

Soonyoung groans into his book as he lowers his head onto its pages, the sound of cheering and music making the walls throb from outside. It was only the third day of the spring beer bash on campus to celebrate the weekend before everyone went home for the break, but Soonyoung thinks he’s not going to make it through the week when the music and endless kegs are calling his name.

Chan drops a book loudly on the table beside him, causing him to jerk up from where he lay face down, unmotivated and exhausted from the prep work he had been doing the last few weeks. His best friend takes a seat beside him, looking just as tired as he does, longing to join the other fraternity members in their party shenanigans. 

“Can’t we just take a little break? Just this one afternoon?” Soonyoung appeals to Chan as he glances achingly out of the window as coloured lights shine bright in the sky despite it being a bright sunny afternoon. “One day of us joining in the festivities won’t hurt.”

Shaking his head to clear his mind, Chan turns to face him and holds his hands on the table. “We can’t. Both of us know that one day will turn into the whole week and you’re already behind on schedule if you’re going to know all this by next month. This is a year’s worth of studying we’re cramming in, Soon, we have to keep going.”

He’s right. He knows he’s right, and Soonyoung hates it. Still, with a reluctant nod, he sighs and flips the page of just one of the many books he had borrowed from the library – who knew you could get so many books there for free? Incredible!

Junhui and Minghao return occasionally in intervals, looking far too happy and obviously drunk for the gloomy mood in their dining room. Neither stay long when they spot the way Soonyoung whines like a puppy at how they’re having fun, giving the pair of them a lacklustre cheer for encouragement as they grab whatever alcohol they had returned for from the fridge, before making a quick escape back to the party. The same goes with the rest of the house; when Soonyoung and Chan have retreated to one of their rooms to study or get an early night, the sound of the partying continues downstairs, whoops and hollering climbing the stairs and knocking on their doors as if to tempt them to join.

Much to his shock, Soonyoung peers out of his room one evening merely to see what was happening downstairs, only to catch Chan tiptoeing across the landing towards the staircase in hopes of joining.

“Chan?” He half-whispers, half-yells, causing the boy to jump almost four feet into the air and turn to him with a guilty look on his face.

“I just wanted to grab a glass of water…” Chan tries, his best friend’s disbelief showing in the incessant tapping of his foot. His shoulders droop and he groans. “You’re the one that has to study, not me. Why can’t I join them for the evening?”

As Soonyoung opens his mouth to protest, he catches his words before they roll off his tongue. He’s right, he isn’t the one trying to get into one of the top schools in America—scratch that, the world. Why should he keep Chan from having fun with the remainder of what breaks they have left before lessons and exam season start back up? 

With a sigh, Soonyoung nods and holds his bare foot still against the wood of the floor. Chan’s smile spreads wide across his face as he bounds over to him, places a kiss on his cheek and hops down the stairs two-by-two.

“I promise we’re going to nail one of those practice tests tomorrow! You can count on that!” He calls over his shoulder as Soonyoung slumps back into his dimly lit room and throws himself onto his bed amongst the mess of open books.

Taking a deep breath, Soonyoung shuts his eyes and looks at the clock. Promising himself thirty more minutes of core reading before bed, he picks up one of the textbooks and sinks back into his pillows, highlighter between his lips. He couldn’t stop until he had that 172 to get into Harvard and with his LSAT booked for just a month away, the deadline for him to know everything in those books was drawing ever closer like a lion ready to pounce at any second. 

As Chan promised, they take a test the following day even despite the boy’s splitting headache. Soonyoung does better than the previous practice test they’d started with, but 134 is nowhere near good enough and Chan announces that through a strained smile with an ice pack on his forehead.

So, once again, he’s back at it: flashcards, highlighters, mind maps, you name it—he’s done it. Wash, rinse, repeat, every single day.

Soonyoung feels like all he does is study, study, study. In amongst all the preparatory tests he’s taking in the lead up to the real thing, he somehow manages to keep his regular grades at an excellent level, enough for his teachers to suddenly take him seriously.

He almost forgets what he has been preparing for when he wakes up on the morning of his exam, faced with his fraternity brothers waving toast and coffee in his face as they excitedly help him get ready.

“—and so, how is the argument’s reasoning invalid?” Junhui reads off a flashcard as they gather around the breakfast bar, Soonyoung mid-way through crunching down on his third piece of toast. 

“They fail to distinguish the cause from the effect, therefore rendering their entire argument without any established or reliable backing.” 

“Word perfect!” His friend smiles, showing the card to all the other boys huddled next to them, all humming happily in response to his answer.

He only regrets eating his sixth piece of toast when he’s sat in the examination hall and he can feel each slice writhing around in his stomach like a snake. Soonyoung feels sick, trying his hardest to replay the past few weeks over in his mind as much as possible. But… what if he forgot something? Or missed out a page? It could be the make or break between him getting the shot at a spot or the girl in front of him with wonky glasses. God, he couldn’t let the girl with wonky glasses get in and cosy with Jihoon, he just couldn’t.

Deep breaths help, so when the clock starts ticking down, Soonyoung’s head is only partly cloudy. He’s never been good at tests, so he clicks his shoes together thrice under the table, hoping his lucky socks and lucky underwear bring him a miracle. The God of Love had to be on his side, they just had to be. Now, all he needed was the God of Examinations to root for him. 

The three weeks after his examination are almost as bad as his break up with Jihoon. With each tick of the hand on his bedside clock, he is taken back to the examination room and the questions he had no idea how to answer. With each sighting of his friends preparing for their final exams, he is thrown into panic mode thinking he needs to study. It’s driving him insane.

“Why don’t you come and join the game of Smash Bros we have going in the lounge, Soon?” Chan sticks his head into his room one evening, as Soonyoung is scrolling through Twitter to see if anyone had posted about their score. He is taken by surprise, head whipping in the direction of his best friend who wears a worried face.

 “No, thank you.” Soonyoung responds, biting at his already short nails.

“At least can I get you a drink? We could watch a movie? Or the new Better Call Saul episode we didn’t watch a few weeks back?”

He can hear the pleading in Chan’s voice, telling him to leave his room where he has been cooped up for the past few days.

Locking his phone, he nods and shuffles off his bed, not wanting to disappoint Chan after he had done so much for him over the course of his study period. Maybe a film will take his mind off things for a little while.

“As long as we can make popcorn.”

“Oh, that’s not a problem.”

And he’s right, a mixture of cinema snacks and a few good comedies are exactly what he needs in that moment to forget all about his incoming scores and the possibility of writing an application to Harvard… or not writing one at all. Soonyoung almost feels like himself again, prompting his friends to put on Lord of the Rings as they all gather round the table for a match of Magic: the Gathering.

Soonyoung comes home from college the next Thursday evening to find most of his brothers lined up in the entrance to their Fraternity house, grinning from ear to ear. The sight would have been slightly unnerving had he not known them inside and out, and Soonyoung’s skin tingles as he makes eye contact with Chan in the centre.

“Is it…?” Soonyoung gulps, only to receive a nod in response from his best friend who holds out the brown envelope for him to take. Hesitant to take it from him, he decides to rip the band aid off and Soonyoung tears into the envelope, careful not to rip the results.

The wrapping floats to the ground as he turns from his friends, eyes scanning the paper. But he can’t read. In that moment, where his heart is pounding in his ears and the blood is rushing to his head, Soonyoung has lost the ability to read. It doesn’t matter how hard he stares at the ink on the pristine white paper in his clutches, he can’t decipher a single letter or sound they make.

After a moment or two, he can sense Chan knows something is up, his best friend stepping up behind him to peer over his shoulder.

“Oh my god…”

Was that a bad ‘oh my god’ or a good ‘oh my god’? He couldn’t tell. Soonyoung screws up his eyes and shakes his head, trying to clear the fog from his brain. As his eyelids peel back, it works and suddenly everything is as clear as a cloudless sky.

“One hundred and seventy five…” Soonyoung mumbles to himself.

“One hundred and seventy fucking five, baby!” Chan whoops, and the boys swarm around him as they cheer and congratulate Soonyoung on his remarkably high score.

The numbness subsides and Soonyoung can finally breathe, his eyes watering as it sinks in. He did it! He actually did it!

Throwing his arms around Chan, Soonyoung squeezes him with all the strength he can muster. He can tell his best friend is caught off guard but happily returns the embrace, whispering how proud he is of him in his ear, making Soonyoung beam brighter than the sun was that day.

 


 

“And, who do we have next?”

The members of the Harvard applications committee flip their pages in unison; placing aside the last candidate with stern looks on their faces, exhausted from reading the same rehashed personal statements for hours on end.

Freezing, they all stare closely at the file before them, picking up the headshots they have been sent.

“Kwon, Soon?”

“Soonyoung.” 

“Ah, yes, Soonyoung Kwon. He looks…” The main committee member squints behind his glasses, taking in the posed photos in all its grandeur.

“Different.” Another committee member speaks up, nodding in response. Never had they been sent a collection of movie-style headshots alongside an application before, and whilst the smiles, frowns, laughs, and pouting faces of the applicant were a nice change, they weren’t exactly Harvard regulation.

“That’s one word for it,” they all agree, chuckling from their stomachs as they scan the page.

“But,” another member perks up, confusion painted on her face. “There’s virtually nothing here. How on Earth did this boy expect to be considered with just a few lines of an essay? ‘How would I describe Soonyoung? Aside from someone perfectly suited for this establishment? On a quest for love and education? Well, I let the music do the talking, and the person you want, Harvard, is right in front of you’… What does this mean?”

The panel turn from their colleague to the head of the table, freezing as they watch the main admissions member slowly picking up a DVD case from the file in front of him.

“Oh no.” He grumbles, gazing from each set of eyes on the board to the next.

They plug in a laptop to the projector in the room and place the DVD into the slot, waiting anxiously for it to load. Most of the committee seem delighted to be doing something other than reading, but the head of the table looks on in concern, rubbing his wrinkles chin.

As the video loads up, the members sit back in shock as they gaze upon the figure of their candidate dancing and singing. Though highly unconventional, none of them can tear their eyes away when the boy moves the way he does and makes the crowd of college students gathered to watch scream. It’s entrancing, enthralling, captivating, and they can’t deny it is an application they won’t ever forget.

As the performance draws to a close and the boy in the video walks backwards on stage, chains on his costume rattling in his microphone, the committee sit with slack jaws.

“Well, I think—”

“Play it again!” A member interrupts the head of the committee to rapturous words of agreement from the others, one standing to hit play on the laptop again. Before they can restart the performance from the beginning, the head of the board drops his hands on the table with a loud bang, startling them to attention.

“Now see here. We can’t waste our time watching videos of dancing and singing and ethnic movement! We have a very busy and important job to do and I think it’s time we crack on.”

“Yes, but,” A lady in glasses pauses, reading the air of the room before she continues. Picking up her paper, she runs her fingers over the additional information included alongside the short introduction to his ‘essay’. “He has a 4.0 average in his classes, and he’s head of his football and dance teams.”

“Plus he has a dreamy voice.” 

“And he’s the leader of his fraternity!”

“Yes, that’s all very well and good but what makes you think he’ll last a single day at Harvard?”

The room erupts into murmurs once more as the members discuss reasons as to why the candidate would make a perfect fit for the school. The room goes silent at the same time, so much so that even a paper dropping to the floor would cause a hundred sleeping babies to wake.

With a clearing of their throat, a man shuffles in his seat and leans forward. “I say we give him a shot. When have we ever had a candidate produce something like this? We read hundreds and hundreds of applications a day, and let me be the first to say, I have never seen something more delightful than—” 

“Yes, yes, Maxwell, get to the point.”

Maxwell nods and looks amongst his colleagues. “Let’s give him a shot. Who knows? He might surprise us. And besides, he said he’s doing this to follow love and education, and what more can you want from a student than that?” 

Met with faces of agreement and enthusiasm, the head of the committee lets his shoulders fall with a sigh. He knows he’s not going to win, and maybe that application video had been moderately charming to watch.

 “Okay, okay! I see when I have the losing hand. Harvard Law School admits this singing, dancing, Soonyoung Kwon. But, if anything goes wrong this is on your heads. Who is up next? Who knows, maybe it’s a talking tiger!”

Chapter Text

Soonyoung takes a deep breath as he rolls his suitcases up the bustling pavement, barely managing to keep off the green with the flock of both new and old students making their way across the campus. He doesn’t know why he expected it to be a lot quieter than it was on the move-in day, but biting his tongue, he just about dodges a Frisbee tossed at his head. The culprit waves an apology to which Soonyoung smiles in response, despite the pounding of his heart and his uncertainty around where he was supposed to be going.

Having been at USC since he was eighteen, Soonyoung had completely forgotten what it was like to fit into somewhere new. Except, the more he looks around at the faces of the other students, even the proud smug expressions of the parents escorting them to their dorms, Soonyoung can tell this is going to be a wildly different experience as a freshman than the one he had lived through his first year at his last college. Fighting the urge to call Chan in a desperate attempt for some kind of familiarity in his completely unfamiliar situation, Soonyoung tries to breathe and think of the most logical solution to his predicament. God, he wishes his frat brothers were here.

Burgundy shirt-wearing Harvard students lead crowds of people to and from the freshman dorms, faces smiling and helpful. They were there for people like him, and Soonyoung decides to pluck up the courage and approach a less crowded group of four perched on a bench. The sound of his suitcases clattering against the cobble drowns out the sound of his heart beating, and he feels slightly more at ease already than he had just a minute ago. Deep breaths, be confident, Soonyoung repeats in his head, you’re here for Jihoon.

“—that’s when they were like, ‘how many yachts can one man own?’. Obviously I could sense the jealousy the minute he opened his mouth, but what can I say? He should’ve started coding at a much earlier age than thirteen—by that point, I had already created a whole new security system for my father’s company.”

Soonyoung falters in his tracks as he tunes into the conversation one of the new students sat on the bench indulges in, the two other freshman and the guide beside them nodding in unison. He doesn’t know whether they’re nodding to be polite, or whether Soonyoung just feels completely moronic for not catching onto a single thing the boy was saying. Yachts? Computer coding? As he looks at the boy who was speaking, he realises he reminds him of Jihoon dressed in a dress shirt and tie for his casual wear. The boy runs a hand through his slightly curled black hair and Soonyoung takes another step forward. 

“Tell us more about your protest in Cambodia—”

“Excuse me?” Soonyoung speaks up, dropping the handles of his cases, suddenly feeling wildly underdressed in his slacks and sweatshirt as he realises that all of the freshman students on the bench are wearing something Minghao knows would call “smart-chic”. He feels like a bargain bucket sale, his only reprieve being the kind-looking boy in his Harvard shirt and glasses standing next to them. Deciding to focus on him rather than the judging eyes of the two boys and girl sitting on the bench, obviously feeling annoyed at the interruption of the discussion into their many achievements, Soonyoung clears his throat and tries to ignore them.

“Can you tell me which part campus I should head to if I’m in room 16B in Hurlbut Hall?” 

The boy with glasses uncrosses his arms and gives him a once over with a small smile on his lips, turning to face across campus and point in the direction of a tall, red-brick building. Soonyoung eagerly follows his finger, hoping his new dorm was closer than anticipated. God, he’s going to miss his room at USC. He’s already worn down by the amount of nature and lack of people in tank tops, how is he going to survive?

“You’re just over there, past the courtyard just one block, and the first set of buildings on your right.” The boy’s voice is deeper than Soonyoung expects, but it sounds kind and certainly less uptight than the boy that was speaking as he approached.

Still, Soonyoung steps forward to peer in the direction as instructed and sighs heavily; he has to walk all the way back across the courtyard to go to his dorm which is gonna take him at least another half hour of pushing past freshmen and tour guides to get to the street. All with his ridiculously heavy suitcases. Why didn’t he have them sent in advance like his student advisor had suggested?

“Thanks,” Soonyoung nods in the boy’s direction, ignoring the people on the bench, and the further students gathering around for help on what to do and where to go. He grabs the handles of his cases and steels himself for what he knows will be the worst trek of his life.

“You need a hand?”

He hasn’t even taken a step when the same boy asks the question from behind, and Soonyoung cranes his neck to look at him. He tries his hardest to keep the pain out of his eyes when faced with the pity in the guide’s expression. 

“You have an awful lot of cases for someone that is just moving into a dorm room. It looks like you’ve taken your entire house with you.”

Snickers escape the mouths of the students on the bench before they return to discussion on what kind of politician they hope to be or marry. Figures, Soonyoung scoffs to himself, of course they play up to the stereotype in his head. He doesn’t think the boy said the comment as an attempt to be malicious, but because he managed to make Soonyoung the butt of some inside joke between the rest of them, Soonyoung feels put off from the offer he really wants to accept.

So, with a shake of his head, Soonyoung puts on his best smile. “No, thanks. But you can tell me whereabouts I’ll be heading for classes with Mr. Choi on Monday.”

He sees one of the trio splutter over their words at the mention of Choi Seungcheol, making it painstakingly obvious that they were listening into what he was saying and what their prior judgements on him were. Soonyoung feels a bit of his dignity returning.

“You’re in Criminal Law 101?” The boy with glasses grins, teeth poking through the opening in his lips. He’s impressed, but just as surprised as the others. Luckily, Soonyoung doesn’t dislike him the way he does the crowd around them. Nodding, he tilts his head and watches the boy ruffle his hair before pointing to the building just adjacent to them. “It’s just on the other side of this hall. In Hauser, second building on the left." 

“Second building on the left, got it.” Soonyoung throws them one last smile over his shoulder before he begins dragging his heavy cases along the pavements in the direction of his new home for the next four years. It isn’t any easier than when he first entered the campus, and he feels as if he barely makes it out alive when he finally breaks free of the hustle and bustle of students. 

It takes him a minute to compose himself as he blindly tries to remember where the boy had instructed him to go no less than ten minutes prior, but with all the new sights, smells, sounds filling his senses he’s overwhelmed by the unfamiliar surroundings he’s going to have to grow accustomed to. Then he remembers why he’s doing all of this. Jihoon.

A dreamy smile makes a home on his lips as he swerves around countless people. He wonders where the boy has been placed in accommodation, and whether it’s a nice distance from his own room – or, even better, if he’s in the same section as Soonyoung himself. He couldn’t think of anything more perfect, as if the fates had personally seen to their placements to make sure they remained on the pre-determined soulmate track. He’s probably unpacking and getting to know his dorm-mates right now, he muses as Soonyoung turns the corner and winds up in front of his own accommodation.

It’s pretty much what he expected, staring at it from the outside. Most of Harvard seemed to be variations of red brick, and his halls were no different, even if they were a little shoddier looking. He guesses the pillars by the entrance were an acceptable touch, but the whole thing just makes Soonyoung miss his fraternity house even more. But, when he thinks about to the halls he lived in before he became president of Delta Gamma Phi, the red-bricked home in front of him becomes utter luxury in the blink of an eye. 

There are no elevators. That’s the first thing he notices as he’s sizing up the staircase in front of him. He’s only on the second floor, thank goodness, but as Soonyoung grimaces at the three bulky cases to his side, he wishes he had taken the boy’s offer of help. 

It takes him a further thirty minutes to drag the luggage up fifty steps.

He’s sweating, and Soonyoung cannot imagine how his move in could possibly get any worse as he sluggishly moves down the hall in the direction of 16B. It will be nice to make some new, fun friends that can make his entire experience that much better, he thinks, pushing his hair out of his face to possibly catch a glimpse into his roommates’ dormitories. He realises he must be one of the last to move in, and certainly the one with the most stuff with him (though he had a good idea of that already from the sight of everyone on campus, and the looks he received from other freshman who watched him struggle to carry his cases up the stairs without a word of help), as everyone he spots is already sat at their desks with their noses in a book, or on the phone to their parents as they type on their laptop furiously. The rooms are bare, and Soonyoung thinks he sees one girl setting up her rock collection on her windowsill. He prays this is just some joke, and they are all just preserving their energy for the obligatory parties that would take part that evening.

When he reaches 16B, Soonyoung has never been so relieved to see the sight of a bed, throwing his body onto it with relief. He feels springs in the mattress digging into his chest and he makes a mental note to order himself a mattress topper before the end of the week. He’d never had to worry about that sort of thing at his fraternity, another thing to add to the cons list. But Jihoon was the biggest pro of all. 

The clock strikes seven when he finishes unpacking most of his clothes and haphazardly decorating the empty pin board and wall space. He has no books to put on his shelves as of yet, so instead he fills the tops with various bottles of alcohol, energy drink, and hair products he’s packed. He refuses to acknowledge that the majority of the weight of his bags was most likely down to their substance, waving the thought away with a hand as he picks up a pot of styling mousse for after he showers. He wants to look his best for when he formally meets everyone on his floor, but especially for the chance that he could run into Jihoon when out partying in the evening. 

He’s a little confused at the lack of noise he’s hearing down his hall as he’s finished washing up, wondering if everyone is gathering in their kitchen area, or if they’re all just asleep. God, he prays for the latter, pulling on a grey shirt and jeans, securing a black belt around his thigh to make it extra special. Soonyoung admires himself in the tiny mirror, trying his best not to compare absolutely everything to his old housing and instead focus on how fucking sexy he looks. With the mousse in his hair pushing it away from his face, Soonyoung thinks about how there’s no way Jihoon will be able to resist him if they just so happen to run into each other. He’s ready to face his flatmates, and so Soonyoung steps out into the hall with a smouldering smile on his face.

Everyone is in the kitchen, but it’s not the party scene like Soonyoung had expected. There are no red solo cups, no card games, no blaring music. Soonyoung stops in his tracks and just about manages to wave back at the group of five piled around the table, watching two of them play chess whist simultaneously reading the thick textbooks in their hands. 

“Hey,” Soonyoung starts, grabbing the attention of the freshmen. He reads the energy immediately and he wonders if it is too early to apply for a transfer to somewhere with people that are fun

“Hey,” One of the girls stands up and offers her hand to Soonyoung. He takes it limply and allows her to shake it with a smile on her face. “I’m Jung Eunbi. Physics.” 

“Kwon Soonyoung.” He replies through a forced smile as he takes the hands of everyone else, listening to them recite their names and subjects like an Army roll call. Jo Jinho, History. Wendy Son, Literature. Yoon Jeonghan, Law. Katie Smith, History. “So, when do the parties start? I thought we could pre-drink here or in one of the other halls to meet some others and then move to campus ‘cause I heard there’s some band thing happening there and—” 

“I don’t drink,” Wendy cuts in, closing her book with a disappointed look on her face. “I was actually going to have an early night because there are a few stalls I want to check out in the morning before classes start on Monday, so I’m going to pass, sorry.”

“Yeah, me too.” Jinho raises his hand, groaning as Katie cheers when calling checkmate from across the chess set.

“That’s okay,” Soonyoung nods, raising his eyebrows at the other three people sat around the table. “How about you guys? Up for joining?”

Katie shakes her head and explains she and Eunbi were planning on having a movie night with one of the girls from the floor above. They didn’t know each other before that day, but they’d all met each other on the walk over and wanted to get to know one another better over the course of the evening. Soonyoung’s eye twitches, but once again he nods in acceptance. 

“I’ll go.” The saving voice comes from Jeonghan, who is sandwiched between Jinho and Eunbi. Soonyoung feels a wave of relief wash over him, practically bouncing in excitement at the prospect of having at least one interesting person in his hall. “I don’t fancy spending my first night here cooped up inside. I have countless nights where I’m studying when that’s going to happen.” Jeonghan stands, placing a gentle hand on Eunbi’s shoulder as he manoeuvres his way out of his space.

He runs a hand through his hair as he approaches Soonyoung, and it makes Soonyoung feel very self-conscious all of a sudden. Soonyoung knew he was hot, but Jeonghan was on a whole different level with his long eyelashes and bright platinum hair framing his face. Which is why, when he asks Soonyoung to give him ten minutes to look a little more presentable in something that wasn’t just a hoodie and sweatpants, Soonyoung is a little dazed. He agrees and takes himself back to his room to take his first shot of the evening. 

“You’re in law too, huh?” Jeonghan leans against his doorframe with an entire bottle of rum in his hand, shaking it nonchalantly at his side. He’s dressed in a white button-down and black skin-tight jean combo, and Soonyoung thinks he’s quite a picture. Hell, if he weren’t in love with Jihoon he’d be all over him. He’s an irrationally flirty drunk, but would never go as far as to make an actual move on anyone that wasn’t his soulmate. Not even someone like Jeonghan. 

“Yeah,” Soonyoung grins, taking another shot of his tequila mix with a wince on his face. He points at one of the glasses in offering to Jeonghan, but the boy shakes his head with a smirk, holding up his own beverage which he begins to uncap as he saunters into the room to grab a cub from Soonyoung’s desk. “It’s nice to know I have someone else on this floor to complain to.”

“Me and my boyfriend already know we’re going to be spending so much time in the library, it kind of makes you think maybe we should just set up camp in there.” The pair of them laugh and nod, taking a drink of the rum and coke Jeonghan has now poured into two cups for them. “I mean, why give us a room if we’re not going to use it? I mean, we will use it, just not for sleeping or studying, y’know?” 

Soonyoung catches Jeonghan’s wink and smiles back at him in agreement. “Is your boyfriend on the law programme too?”

“Yeah. We’re hoping to make the Dean’s list this year, and on top of that, Mr. Choi’s internship.”

“Internship?” Soonyoung catches the word and swallows his beverage. “What kind of internship?”

Jeonghan furrows his eyebrows and scoffs, shaking his head in disbelief. “You’re in Criminal Law 101 and you don’t know about Mr. Choi’s infamous internship?” Soonyoung feels himself flush under the cream he’s put on. “Every year, Choi Seungcheol selects just four students out of the hundreds on the course to work for him on an actual court case, and by the end of it you’re pretty much guaranteed a job straight out of school. It’s a massive deal. I can’t believe you don’t know about it." 

Soonyoung’s about to make up some bullshit excuse in response to his new dorm mate when Jeonghan claps him on the back and slams his cup down on the table. With a clap, the boy’s eyes light up and a mischievous grin paints his face in an entirely new light. Soonyoung thinks he quite likes him, and he is so grateful he has someone that is as willing as he is to go out and have some fun. He’d had enough boring study time when he had been studying constantly for his LSAT’s, he deserved to go out and party the night away when he’d missed out on his favourite time of year – Spring Break. 

“Let’s go raid the rest of Floor B.”

The pair of them cheers the last of their drink, swiping up the various beverages around them, tucking them under their arms with a laugh. Soonyoung slips his phone and hall card into his pocket before running after Jeonghan, who is already halfway down the corridor, shouting about how ready he is to party. 

They find themselves dancing on the counters of other common rooms, and falling off the walls outside of the building when it reaches ten and an acceptable level of intoxication has been reached. He holds onto Jeonghan when he laughs so hard his vision swirls and he can’t maintain his balance, taking whatever shot is offered to him by the others in the group they’ve coaxed into a night out. He’s grateful for the cold air even if he can barely feel it in his heated, flushed, drunken state. Soonyoung already takes back everything he had said about Harvard on first impressions, because if all their nights were like this one then maybe he can survive being away from his brothers in California.

Lights spin in front of them, dotted amongst the trees when they reach main campus and hear the sound of masses of students and music filling the air. Soonyoung feels unequivocally happy and loose, dancing his way towards the stage and anyone that grabs him for a twirl on the way. Boys, girls, NB, he doesn’t care when he’s so out of his mind and everyone just blurs into a picture of Jihoon. He can’t help himself smiling so wide it would have hurt his cheeks sober, but he’s very much not, and dancing with the picture of Jihoon under the moonlight to whatever student band has taken the stage is enough for him in that moment. He’s not sure how much he’s drunk, nor what exactly he’s drunk, but he feels absolutely fantastic. 

“Kwon,” Jeonghan calls out, remarkably less drunk that him at that moment, and Soonyoung wobbles, trying to catch his balance as he whirls around in an attempt to spot his new friend through the crowd. Squinting, he spots the boy waving and begins to push through the mass of dancing freshmen. “Come meet my boyfriend. He’s by the beer stand.”

Jeonghan grabs his hand so he doesn’t lose Soonyoung to some other dancing stranger, no matter how much Soonyoung wants to stop and just throw his arms around in enjoyment. But, he allows himself to be dragged, laughing at the lightness he feels in his stomach. They’d been separated briefly once they’d reached the celebrations, Jeonghan wanting to get more drinks as Soonyoung and Chaeyoung had ran off to join the crowds by the stage. He was happy to reunite with him, however, as Chaeyoung had managed to find herself a girl to kiss and had very quickly left him in favour of the other’s company. 

The noise is still as loud as they weave out of the heavily condensed section of moving bodies and towards the stalls. Soonyoung thinks he’s still got another few rounds in him, pulling out his card to buy a couple more drinks in anticipation of reaching the beer stand. The night was still young and he was yet to reach the stage of wanting to throw up, which meant there was definitely enough space in his stomach to throw back whatever drinks he buys for himself or others buy for him in hopes of scoring.

“Wait right here,” Jeonghan lets go of his hand in an empty space beside the line, swallowing to catch his words. He’s definitely still intoxicated, Soonyoung concludes with too much nodding. “He’s at the front of the queue. Do you want anything?”

Soonyoung mumbles his order and Jeonghan goes off to fetch his boyfriend. He’s in such a great mood, Soonyoung wants to meet absolutely everyone around him, waving and throwing compliments at everyone in line. They return the favour with enormous smiles on their faces and chuckles of amusement.

Soonyoung loves Harvard.

“Soon?” He hears out of one ear, and Soonyoung wiggles his other ear in confusion before turning to his right. 

Jihoon steps forward with two pints of beer in his hand, eyes confused and concerned. He’s treading forward lightly as if not to wake a sleeping lion; Soonyoung has to blink and rub his eyes to make sure he’s not just seeing things again, but he’s not. It’s really Jihoon, and he can’t help the blush growing on his cheeks – he’s already flushed from the alcohol, but the sight of his soulmate makes his heart beat twice as fast and the rosiness deepen to a hot fuchsia. 

“Ji,” he steps forward with a smile on his face, moistening his lips with his tongue. “Hey, you." 

“What are you doing here?” The boy just about manages to say over the blaring of music and constant, rapturous chatter around them. He’s still looking at Soonyoung as if he’s some kind of otherworldly apparition, and Soonyoung thinks it’s absolutely adorable. 

“I go here!” He doesn’t miss the double take he sees Jihoon do, but doesn’t allow him to get a word in before he’s sized the boy up. “You look amazing, by the way.” And he does, his black hair is parted in the centre of his forehead and he’s dressed in an airy, yellow summer shirt. Soonyoung’s worried that he’d completely destroy the buttons if he was given the chance to have Jihoon then and there. Because he would, no questions asked. Even the sight of him after a few short months is enough to send him into a drunken frenzy in his mind. God, how he’s missed the sight of him.

“Y—you go here?” Jihoon splutters, almost spilling the beers in his hand, eyes wide in disbelief.

“Yeah! We’re going to be in the same class and—” 

“There you are!” Jeonghan announces his reappearance with a fond smile on his face and Soonyoung smiles back at him, expecting the boy to have his supposed boyfriend by his side. 

So, when Jeonghan leans in to place a kiss to Jihoon’s lips and take the beer out of his hand to replace it with his own fingers, Soonyoung stands frozen to the spot. He has never sobered up so fast in his life, his face draining of colour as the rest of him goes completely limp. His lips quiver and Soonyoung doesn’t know how to process anything that is going on in front of him. His entire vision narrows down to just the picture of Jeonghan and Jihoon side-by-side, hand-in-hand, as if they’re the last three people on Earth and God has made it his personal mission to torture Soonyoung. 

“Kwon, this is my boyfriend, Lee Jihoon.” Jeonghan smirks, taking a sip of his beer with a smack of his lips and pleased sigh.

“Yeah,” Jihoon speaks for him, shuffling his feet against the floor. “We’ve met.”

“Oh, good! Kwon’s going to be in class with us, babe. We live in the same hall too. I guess we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other.”

Soonyoung realises he hasn’t blinked in over a minute and forces himself to snap out of his statue-like state. He wobbles, unable to feel his feet. 

“Great.” The word that leaves Jihoon’s lips is filled with something Soonyoung can’t put a finger on, but it fills him with poison and he feels lightheaded in a much different way from earlier.

“Are you okay, Kwon? You look a little uneasy? Probably best you weren’t in the queue then, babe, because I was going to ask for you to buy Kwon another drink.” 

Jeonghan’s laugh is no longer welcoming, it pierces Soonyoung’s heart and he wants nothing more than to walk away and go home. His feet won’t move, his stomach is heavy and he can’t process anything that’s going on. This has to be a bad dream, there’s no way that this is really happening.

“Do you want to sit down somewhere? I can find Chae or Minhyuk, and—oh my god!” 

Soonyoung feels his stomach erupt, leaning forward with such force that he upchucks all over Jeonghan’s shoes, narrowly missing Jihoon by inches. His vision goes black for a second or two before his stomach is completely empty and he can move his feet again.

He stumbles backwards into someone that helps him stand up straight, and his eyes sting with a burn he’s never felt before. Despite the wateriness of his vision, Soonyoung can clearly make out Jeonghan’s disgusted face as a flustered Jihoon doesn’t know where to look or what to do.

He thinks he hears Jihoon ask him if he’s okay, but Soonyoung’s already making his way as quickly as he possibly can back to his room. He squeezes his eyes shut and tries to drown out Jeonghan’s yelling and quizzing Jihoon on why he had called Soonyoung ‘Soonie’. He feels sick, not physically sick now that he’s emptied the entire contents of his stomach onto his dorm mate, but sick at the thought that Jihoon was now in love with someone that wasn’t him.

Soonyoung hates Harvard.

Chapter Text

Sunday is not a fun day; Soonyoung spends the entirety of it curled up in his new, rock-hard bed in the complete darkness. The Sun threatens to break through the dark blinds shielding his windows, a few spots of light illuminating a space on his desk where he’s dumped his clothes and gaming devices that he soon realised he had nowhere to set up. Things just couldn’t get worse, right? Wrong! Very, very wrong, he groans internally, pulling his pillow tighter over his head in a half-hearted attempt to suffocate himself with its flush contents whenever the thought of Jihoon dating someone else materialising in his mind. But, not just anyone: Jeonghan.

Soonyoung wasn’t without eyes or an appreciation for beautiful humans, he could see that the taller boy was extremely attractive in an almost Disney villain-ish way. What he doesn’t get is how Jihoon had moved on so fast, and without him knowing? The boys at the frat were his eyes and ears for all that kind of stuff. Jihoon even breathed in some different way from usual, Soonyoung would hear about it that evening over a competitive game of Smash Bros with his brothers. But, that was when they were together, and they hadn’t been a couple for months now. Still, how could Jihoon move on when Soonyoung was still stuck in a rut? They had been together for nearly five years! Had that meant nothing to him?

Apparently not.

Soonyoung whines into his messy sheets before rolling onto his back, pulling the same pillow he’d been using to smother himself close to his chest as a comforter. He wraps his arms tightly around it and tells himself not to cry; he’d done enough of that last night. His mouth still tastes like a concoction of tequila shots and vomit, which he has decided is undoubtedly the worst taste in the world. And the smell, well, he’ll deal with that once the pounding headache and pain in his heart has subsided just a little.

He hears one of his dorm mates knock on the door in the early hours of the morning (he thinks it’s Eunbi, but he really doesn’t know any of them well enough to feel certain in that guess) to ask if he wants to come with them to visit the societies fair that’s taking place on the quad. He doesn’t answer and waits for the knocking on the door to subside so that the knocking in his head equally calms down. He wants to be left alone to wallow in his pity, and suffer through his hangover. Soonyoung can only imagine how insufferable Chan, Junhui, and Minghao would be at this moment, forcing him to get back on his feet because he’s better than this and no human being needs to consume that many bars of chocolate in one sitting.

What does Jeonghan have that you don’t, anyway? He hears Chan’s voice ring loud and clear in the front of his mind, and Soonyoung slowly sits up with a frown on his face, massaging his messy hair down into something less bush-like. Yeah, Junhui and Minghao agree in his imagination. You got into Harvard like Jihoon, and didn’t he say he wanted someone serious? Well, go show him how serious the new Soonyoung is! 

In the shower, Soonyoung washes the soap out of his hair and pauses. He’s going mad. Blowing bubbles away from his face, with a shake of his wet hair Soonyoung takes a deep breath and tells himself he just misses his friends, he’s not actually got their voices in his head. He’s just thinking about what they would do and say in this situation, and how can he complain when he’s left the confines of his bed for the first time since he passed out on it in the early hours of that morning?

Leaving his room is dangerous territory, but he’s gagging for something light in his stomach and a glass of water from the fridge. So, Soonyoung, now clean and clad in the same clothes he had arrived in the previous day, pulls open his door by the tiniest crack. Pressing his eye to the opening, he looks as best he can to see if the hall is empty. It should be in the late afternoon with so much going on, but he can’t be too careful, not when he’s living right down the hall from the one person he really does not feel like facing at that moment in time.

His hair is still dripping lightly as he tiptoes frivolously towards the common room area and kitchen at a good speed. Even a slice of bread will seem like the best thing he’s ever eaten at that moment in time, Soonyoung muses as he pushes open the door to the empty kitchen. A silent cheer and sigh of relief expels from Soonyoung’s body, and he begins to rummage through the cupboards in the hopes one of his dorm mates has left something to eat that he can replace as soon as possible. He feels awful about taking someone else’s food, but not bad enough to stop him from pulling out the box of cereal shoved onto the top shelf.

The door opens with a creak and alerts Soonyoung to the presence of someone entering the room, stopping him from raiding the cereal box in fear that it belongs to the person that had decided to show up at exactly the wrong time. Instead, he gets someone much worse.

How does he look that good after such a rough night out, Soonyoung swallows and closes the cupboard as Jeonghan makes his way straight to the fridge to pull out the carton of milk. He remains frozen, watching Jeonghan from his spot as the boy places a mug of the liquid into their microwave to heat up. Soonyoung’s almost certain he’s not gained the power of invisibility overnight, so he is confused as to why he’s not received any sort of back hand from the boy.

“Hey,” Soonyoung starts, voice croaky after having been silent for the majority of the day, his throat still raw from the surge of force it had felt from his upchuck the night just gone. Still, Jeonghan just taps his foot against the ceramic floor and watches the mug rotate in the microwave without a word said. “I’m sorry about last night. If you need me to clean your shoes or whatever, just let me—”

“I want to get one thing straight, Kwon,” The microwave beeps and it startles Soonyoung as much as the bite to Jeonghan’s voice and his newly formed smile do. “You don’t belong here.”

“Excuse me?” He shakes his head.

“You heard me. I’ve heard all about you from Jihoon, and it beats me how you got into this school. If I’d known who you were yesterday, I’d have laughed in your face.” The smell of the cup of warm milk fills Soonyoung’s nostrils and suddenly he feels sick once again, looking anywhere that isn’t Jeonghan as he blows his beverage and takes a long, satisfied sip. “I’ll give you this word of advice: quit while you’re ahead. There’s no way you’re going to survive Professor Choi’s classes. He’ll eat you alive.”

And that’s how Soonyoung finds himself with his face under his pillow once more, his stomach and heart feeling even emptier than before.

He barely sleeps that evening, twisting and turning in the sticky heat of his room, kicking the duvet away from around his ankles. All he can think about is what he’d been told, and he runs his hands through his dried hair. Jeonghan was mean. How could someone like Jihoon be dating someone like him? He’d entirely misjudged him the night prior in favour of having a great night out with someone that wants to party as much as him. Well, turns out that whilst he may now be on Jeonghan’s hit list, he didn’t like the boy very much either.

His class schedule loads slowly when he decides to check his phone instead of sleeping. He can see the sun rising through the dark blinds and there’s no way he’s going to get a wink more in, despite feeling absolutely drained. Well, he thought he was absolutely drained, but upon seeing his schedule for the next few weeks Soonyoung thinks he may as well now prepare for certain death.

But, he reminds himself; he got into one of the most prestigious schools in the country. He, Kwon Soonyoung, got chosen over thousands of other applicants, and he was going to prove to Jihoon that them being in the same place together was a sign that fate was pushing for the two of them to reunite. Jeonghan didn’t stand a chance against the former president of Delta Gamma Phi.

Class starts at nine, and Soonyoung finds himself showering again at eight-thirty, making sure he leaves enough time to style his hair perfectly. He’d no doubt left a terrible impression of the new him on Jihoon, so there was no room for him to slip up from now on. He was going to show him what he was missing; pulling the same patterned shirt that his boyfriend… ex-boyfriend had complimented at their last dinner from his closet, Soonyoung dresses himself, styles his hair with his mousse and brushes his teeth to make him feel like a new human again.

“Crap,” he exclaims as he pushes his laptop into his bag and zips it up. Where had the boy from two days ago said he had to go? Housing, or something? Soonyoung rolls his tongue in his cheek trying to conjure up a mental image of the brief conversation he’d held with the Harvard student, unable to recall anything but the endearing way he had pushed up his glasses.

Damn it, Soonyoung curses silently to himself, receiving disapproving looks from the imaginary Chan, Junhui, and Minghao that now seemed to be occupying his mind indefinitely. He’ll just have to find his way there using the confusing online map attached to his welcome email. If only he’d taken a campus tour yesterday when Eunbi has knocked for him…

No, he’s Kwon Soonyoung, and he’ll be fine. He turned up late to many of his classes at UCL and they never minded because he passed all his modules. If he just so happened to show up five minutes late on the first day the professor would undoubtedly understand – students get lost all the time and five minutes wasn’t going to eat into anything he was teaching on the first day. Besides, what could he possibly be talking about in their first lecture? A welcome to the course at most, and maybe a few ideas of how and when they would be tested.

The sun is shining outside, and Soonyoung guesses it could be worse as he hurriedly makes his way back towards central campus. There are hundreds of other students headed the same way, and Soonyoung feels less worried about setting off so late to his first class of the year. Granted, of course, they could just be headed out to explore the campus, but he shakes that thought from his head as he speeds past with his phone displaying the small, hard to read map of the grounds.

It takes him nearly fifteen minutes to reach the spot he had spoken to the helper on the first day, which means Sooyoung has less than ten minutes to find where he is going. God, why can’t he remember anything the boy had said?

“Excuse me?” Soonyoung approaches a group of girls sunbathing in the last rays of the lingering summer sun, earning him frowns from the group. He can’t tell if it’s them glaring at him or if they’re trying to keep the sun out of their eyes. Maybe a bit of both. “Do you know which way the law classes are?”

“You’re gonna have to be more specific than that,” a blonde girl laughs, looking between each of her friends. She thinks he’s an idiot.

“Criminal law 101 with Mr. Choi?”

Without so much as a word, the same girl points towards a building on his right and goes back to relaxing in the sun. Soonyoung doesn’t have time to say thank you before he’s speeding away and looking around for any indication of where exactly she meant.

Hauser.” Soonyoung comes to a rapid halt when he spots the name plastered on the building’s banners, running a hand through his hair with a smile and a breathy laugh. “Not housing.”

Checking his phone, Soonyoung sees he’s barely two minutes late, and by the time he’s up the steps he thinks he shouldn’t be more than five minutes late to class if he hurries. With the receptionist in the hall pointing to a large set of doors down the hall, Soonyoung pulls his bag further up his shoulder and paints a smile on his face as he approaches.

The walls are pretty much the same as all standard Harvard buildings, tall marble pillars lining each side of the hall, ornate mahogany doors built into the frame work here and there. It’s light, the chandeliers painting the marble a beautiful, soft white-gold, and Soonyoung has to snap himself out of admiring it in favour of opening the large door in front of him. It’s the largest of all the doors he’s passed and it takes some force to push it open, catapulting him into the huge exterior of the lecture hall so he’s face to face with hundreds of already seated students. And an older man, clearly their professor, already stood in front of the chalk board at the front of the room. Shit.

Soonyoung brushes himself down and swallows, because he’s not used to this may eyes on him in this sort of context, feeling their piercing gazes from every direction. He puts on a smile, his own eyes scanning the expanse of the room until he finds they stick on where Jihoon is sitting in the front row with Jeonghan practically glued to his side. The boy has a shit-eating grin on his face, and Soonyoung has now decided that he absolutely despises Jeonghan.

“I think this is yours,” a voice sounds from beside him and Soonyoung blinks thrice to see someone standing up from their seat, hand outstretched towards him whilst grasping at a booklet of papers. “Kwon comma Soon?”

Taking the papers he turns them the right way up to read and nods. “Uh, yea—Young! Kwon Soonyoung.”

“My mistake,” the boy nods and pushes up his glasses. Soonyoung suddenly remembers him as the boy that had given him instructions on move-in day.

He glances down at the sheet with an array of numbers, dates, and names on it, none of which make any sense to his panicked brain. Soonyoung opens his mouth to ask what exactly it is, but before he can speak a word he hears the slow, impatient, disappointed voice of his professor from behind him.

“How very nice of you to show up for my class. And what is the excuse for you being late?”

Soonyoung notices how the boy with the glasses swallows nervously and sits back down, causing his stomach to sink even lower in his body as he turns to face the man. The tapping of his professor’s foot sounds like a hammer banging on the inside of his skull, and once again Soonyoung is unable to speak before Mr. Choi does.

“You know how many people would kill to be in this class? I have a waiting list the size of twelve Ulysses’ back to back, and I could replace you with any one of those hopefuls at the drop of a hat. Do you understand?” Professor Choi approaches him, rolling the piece of chalk between his fingers, the white dust coating his skin to look like talons. “You are not irreplaceable, Mr…” The paper is snatched from Soonyoung’s hands and he realises that he hasn’t taken a breath in nearly two minutes, so he does as his teacher reads his name. “Mr. Kwon. Do not disrespect me by being late ever again, do you understand? Next time… well, there won’t be a next time.”

The lecture hall at that moment in time was the most silent place on earth, not a single student daring to make a noise in case they felt the wrath of their new law teacher. Soonyoung is worried he’s hesitated for too long, and so he nods, apologises under his breath and scrambles to find a seat when Professor Choi motions to the bleachers. He doesn’t fail to notice the continued smirk on Jeonghan’s face as he passes him.

He takes a free seat about five rows back in the auditorium, wiping the sweat from his cheek as the teacher walks back to the front of the room to resume what he had previously been writing. His name, and the title of the class. Really, that was all he had missed? Was it really necessary for him to speak so harshly to him? Soonyoung asks himself in his head. He’d be handsome if he weren’t an absolute ass, he decides, noticing the curly red haired boy he’d sat next to shifting away from him like has some kind of spreadable disease.

CRIMINAL LAW 101. PROFESSOR S. CHOI.

Digging through his bag to pull out his laptop, he accidentally lets it clatter against the pull-out table top in front of him. Once again the boy beside him throws him a dirty glare. Soonyoung doesn’t know what he’s done to the boy to deserve feeling this uncomfortable. He was five minutes late! That wasn’t a crime, no matter how much Mr. Choi has made him feel like it was.

“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” the professor doesn’t even bother looking up from where he searches through the papers on his desk, knowing exactly whom the angry tone of his voice was directed to. “I would like to thank Wonwoo for his stirring introduction to this class. ‘Ruthless.’ ‘Bathing in the blood of sheep.’ You make me sound like quite the character.” His demeanour changes, just slightly and he lets out a brief chuckle in acknowledgement of a boy in the first row, whom Soonyoung makes out as the boy with glasses that had helped him so kindly. The class chuckles with him under their breath, and Soonyoung knows it isn’t because his comment about his character was funny, but because the rest of the class are putting on a show to stay in their professor’s good graces. Figures.

“Mr. Jeon has very kindly volunteered to stay on here as part of his course, to help guide and teach a few of you in addition to my lessons. He’s an exceptional student, and I look forward to both working with you, and helping you complete the last few steps on your way to a completed law degree.”

Slow applause erupts in the room, the clapping cautious in fear that it is unwanted by their teacher, but Mr. Choi joins in with vigour until the boy – Wonwoo – waves his hands in dismissal. Soonyoung can see the tips of the boy’s ears turning red, and he wonders how someone that gets easily embarrassed by applause from a crowd could ever dream of being a criminal defence lawyer.

“I’m sure you are all indeed aware of what Mr. Jeon here has said. No doubt you have heard me referred to as The Shark – an unfortunate, but surprisingly accurate name that was coined by my late associate Mr. Jung.” Soonyoung watches with rapt attention, his heartbeat now calming from the extreme high it was at before. “I don’t care where you are from or how you got here, because from now on none of that matters. Clients don’t care, prosecutors don’t care, I don’t care.” Chills run up his spine at the guttural tone of his professor’s voice. It hits something inside of him he wasn’t aware existed, and it fascinates him that one person can have such an undeniable presence.

Mr. Choi paces back and forth like a predator seeking out its prey, making eye contact with each and every student with ever step he takes. “Only some of you will turn out to be sharks yourselves – those who work harder than everyone else, and go above and beyond in what they do so that they can win. The rest of you,” his pacing stops, and Professor Choi turns to stare Soonyoung dead in the eye, his face emotionless and unwavering, “will be chum.”

Seconds tick bye and Soonyoung is too afraid to break the man’s gaze, even though it feels like the silence lasts for hours. When someone coughs, the professor resumes his pacing, and Soonyoung is grateful for the moment of reprieve.

“I warn you to leave now before you’re in too deep and find yourself getting eaten alive by those around you. Like I said earlier, none of you are irreplaceable. Do I make myself clear?”

The whole room nods in synchronisation, and Mr. Choi returns to the front of the classroom to wait patiently for a few minutes in case any students do decide to up and leave. Soonyoung just knows he’s waiting on him to make a run for it, but he won’t give him the satisfaction. He fully understand why he’s known as a shark, the hungry, murderous look in his eyes is something he think he’ll never be able to shake from his mind.

“No one? Good, well, this should be a fun year. Now, let’s see here. Mr. Jeon, where did you put the register?” Mr. Choi holds out his hands. When the boy answers and directs him to his desk, the professor swims over to swipe up the list and rake his eyes over that instead of his class. “Hmm… Mr. Truss.” A boy in the middle raises his shaking hand. “A hypothetical question to start us off: would you be willing to defend the following banker accused of fraud?”

The story that flows out of Mr. Choi’s mouth at relentless speed is almost too much for Soonyoung to comprehend: A grandma taking out her life savings to send to the client. He promised to invest it, but instead spent it on drugs and more prostitutes than he could count on his fingers and toes. Soonyoung taps at his keyboard, writing anything and everything Mr. Choi is saying, all whilst trying to ignore the judging look of the boy beside him who hasn’t written a single thing down. It’s starting to irritate Soonyoung more than he cares to admit.

“No, I would not want to take that case,” the boy who had been asked answers with a scoff and a head wiggle, no longer shaking at the calling of his name, earning a laugh from his peers surrounding him until they are cut short at the sound of the professor banging his hand against the table. The boy jumps in his seat and shrinks down, and Soonyoung can feel himself on the edge of his chair, relieved he’s no longer in the firing line.

“Wrong! This is one of the easiest wins for a defendant if you aren’t lazy and completely useless! The old lady can’t afford anyone other than some hack from legal aid.” Mr. Choi almost laughs, a gleam in his eye as the last sentence rolls off his tongue. “You get her on the stand, call her old, tell them she’s losing her mind! Your guy goes free and you’re sought after by countless other clients in the same predicament. You’ll be rolling in it, and more than just clients will be lining up for a piece of your expertise. Like a shark - look for the blood in the water,” he shakes a powerful finger at the students before him and everyone all at once begins to wildly tap away at their keyboard. “Read your Thomas Hobbs, because only lawyers with no backbone quarrel with the morally dubious cases they get lumped with. A case is a case, and in your position you cannot afford to be picky, especially with a win that will just fall into your lap.”

This back and forth between teacher and students goes on for what Soonyoung thinks is only a few minutes, but when he looks at the clock, almost half an hour of his first lecture is gone. He’s mesmerised by every word that leaves Mr. Choi’s mouth, not realising the endless scale of cases criminal law has to deal with. He’s just done talking about a case involving three puppies that are killed by a car in some other hit and run scenario. Soonyoung feels his chest tighten as Mr. Choi fails to get the answer he wants from the girl he’s picked on, telling her that emotions make you weak and will likely terminate your employment if you let them get the better of you. In any other situation, Soonyoung muses, he thinks this would be bullying, but the class is simultaneously leaning in to hear every word that leaves their teacher’s lips, accepting the names they are called and the advice given.

So, against his better judgement, Soonyoung raises his hand to answer instead, wanting to show Mr. Choi that he’s not as replaceable as he seems. He loves dogs, has two back at his parents’ house and knows he would take the case if animals were involved—oh, and he’d also defend the human that was hit, too.

“You see, some of you may know from the grapevine that outside of Harvard I run a billion dollar law firm that only hires four new interns every year. There are over five hundred students studying law at each level in this school, so that means your chance of winning that spot is less than a percent. 0.8% if I am being pedantic. I will only award those spots to those whom I respect, and those four will have a guaranteed career if I have anything to say about it. Understood?”

Soonyoung nods along with his hand still raised, mirroring the other students taking in the information from the professor. Less than one percent of a chance to win the spot, Soonyoung thinks, eyeing Jihoon on the front row who seems to be completely enthralled in the words of their teacher. Undoubtedly he would win a place, Soonyoung knows, because he doesn’t think anyone in this room can hold a candle to Jihoon in any area of the subject.

“So, I—yes? You in the back? Mr… Oh, Mr. Kwon. What is it now?”

He only snaps out of his daydream about Jihoon when the boy beside him nudges Soonyoung in the ribs and he lets out a little squeak, locking eyes with the professor properly for the first time since the staring match at the beginning of the man’s lecture. It makes his legs turn to jelly and Soonyoung is relieved he’s sitting or he’s almost certain he would have collapsed.

“I wanted to answer the question.”

“Well,” Mr. Choi lets out a surprised laugh, eyebrows raised as he walks back to his desk and picks up a sheet lying there. He waves his right hand in a circle, expecting the boy to continue after he’s finished speaking. “Someone’s looking to prove that they’re not as useless as they seem. I’ll humour you, Mr. Kwon. Could you summarise the case of State of Indiana v. Hurn from your reading, please.”

Soonyoung freezes after he drops his hand to his side, his mouth opening and closing in shock. Everyone turns around in their seats to look at him as his blood runs cold. They had reading for the first day of class? That had to be some kind of joke, he thinks.

“I meant I wanted to answer the question about the puppies. And the nun. The hit and run one.” He reiterated with a forced smile at Mr. Choi.

“But, I’m asking you about the assigned reading.”

He isn’t sure if he starts to laugh because he’s nervous or if he genuinely thinks somewhere in his mind that his professor is playing a joke on him in front of the hundreds of other students gathered in the hall. So he laughs, loud, and Soonyoung can’t stop his eyes from watering as he wipes the tears away with the back of his hand. “Okay, okay. Yeah. Like we actually had assigned reading for the first day of class. Come on! That’s not a thing.”

He catches sight of the boy beside him once more in the corner of his eye but he’s not laughing along. He’s not shooting him a judging glare either. He looks frightened, and the small shake of his head at Soonyoung makes him stop laughing immediately. Everyone else sits in stunned, tense silence, and Soonyoung thinks it’s so silent he could hear a feather land if it weren’t for the pounding of his heart in his ears.

“I see… You really do have guts, Mr. Kwon.”

The words that leave Mr. Choi’s mouth are slow, deep in their tone, menacing like the worst is yet to come, and Soonyoung holds his breath ready for the strike. What has he done? He’d already been given a warning. This couldn’t be the end, when he’d only just begun.

Instead of a killing strike to the boy, Mr. Choi looks down at the sheet in his hand and paces once, twice, thrice across the stretch of space at the front of the room. Eventually when he stops, he turns in a military fashion, feet together, perfectly balanced, and reads another name from the sheet.

“Mr. Yoon?”

Soonyoung watches the hand shoot up from the front row to the left side of Jihoon, and his stomach feels heavy in the same way it had done before he had thrown up all over Jeonghan two nights prior. Mr. Choi nods when he hones in on him and the boy drops his hand, ready for his question. He doesn’t need to see the boy’s face to know he is enjoying Soonyoung’s torment.

“Hypothetically, let us say you teach a revered class at Harvard law school – a position you are justly proud of, rightly so. But, a student on whom you call hasn’t read the assigned case you will be studying that day. Would you let that go and carry on teaching knowing you will be wasting his and your own precious time?”

Without any ounce of hesitation, Jeonghan’s voice rings loud, clear, and true throughout the hall. “No. I’d kick him out. Especially if he’s already been given a warning.”

“All right, then. Thank you, Mr. Yoon. That settles it.” Professor Choi nods in thanks at his student and once more fixes his murderous, shark-like gaze on Soonyoung who he feels as if he truly is prey in the eyes of a predator. “You heard your classmate. If you would be so kind as to grab your laptop where you have been tapping away, writing absolute nonsense, and withdraw from my class immediately. If you return – and, Mr. Kwon, that is a big if – be ready to learn, or is that too unfair of a command? Oh, wait—I don’t care!” His voice booms so loudly it can be heard outside the confines of the room and Soonyoung thinks he’s really going to die. “Get out of this hall, Mr. Kwon and don’t come back unless you’ve read your text books, and you are on time! You spilled your guts everywhere today, and I don’t intend on being the one to clean them up.”

He’s never packed so fast in his life, the muttering of students painstakingly quiet as he shakily shoves his laptop into his bag and runs down the steps. Throwing himself out of the room, he disappears from sight just as Mr. Choi continues his terrifying lecture on the outline of what it takes to make it as a lawyer.

Soonyoung doesn’t get far before his legs do give out underneath him and he collapses against the wall in the bright hallway, hearing his laptop make a visible thud inside his bag as he drops it to the ground. He thinks he should be shaking in fear, or anything, but he just finds it impossible to stand. He’s never been made such a fool of in front of people, and not just anyone too, but Jihoon and his new, obnoxious, cruel boyfriend that had assisted in his throwing out of the class. He’d raised his hand to impress the love of his life, and instead he had felt the burning gaze of him on his back as he’d left. The one reason he’d come to law school, and now he thinks he’s an absolute joke.

“Hey! Kwon comma Soon.”

A familiar, soothing voice calls out to him from down the hall, and Soonyoung just manages to tear his eyes off the wall he’d been drilling holes into with his gaze to look to his left. The door to the lecture hall closes and approaching is the same boy that had helped him twice. Glasses. No, Wonwoo? He looks sympathetic, adjusting his satchel on his shoulder with one hand as the other remains firmly in the pockets of his trousers.

“Soonyoung.” Soonyoung replies, trying to smile as he stops in front of him and offers him his hand. Hesitantly he takes it, and allows the boy to pull him up back onto his feet before steadying himself against the wall.

“Right. You said that less than an hour ago, I should have remembered.” His grin is toothy, and he runs his free hand through his lightly curled hair. “I’m Jeon comma Wonwoo. Didn’t I meet you a few days ago?”

He finds it hard to not smile even a little, nodding as he confirms Wonwoo’s statement. “On move in day. I had, like, six bags.” Wonwoo seems to process this with an open mouthed grin that creases the corners of his eye. “And as for my name? Admissions must have missed off the second half of it when filing me in the records. Figures.”

“It’s cool.” Wonwoo laughs, and Soonyoung can see he’s a little tense himself after sitting through their professor’s uproar, but he’s trying to ignore it in favour of Soonyoung’s comfort. “Funny, even. Kwon comma Soon. Kwonsoon, like monsoon, or ‘coming soon!’ or…” Wonwoo cringes into himself, twisting his face up before he throws his gaze to the floor to dismiss his words. “That was an awful attempt at a joke, I’m sorry. I may read lots of textbooks but creative writing is clearly not my forte.”

Soonyoung, however, can’t help but crack a genuine smile at his embarrassment. “No, no. I like it. Coming soon, Monsoon Kwonsoon. Catchy. Sounds like a stripper name.”

“I’ll make sure never to speak again.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Soonyoung continues to smile, reaching down to grab the bag from the floor and check if things could get any worse by his laptop being busted. He supposes he deserves it.

“Listen,” Wonwoo breaks the silence, holding up a firm hand whilst the other rests over his heart. I got kicked out of class once first year too. It’s awful.”

“You got kicked out of class?” Soonyoung raises an eyebrow, to which Wonwoo responds with an embarrassed nod. “There’s no way. Mr. teacher’s assistant?”

“No, I promise you. For failing to hand in a textbook I’d borrowed.” Soonyoung rolls his eyes at the admission and pushes his stuff aside in his bag. “Though he was pretty quick about it, unlike your unfair throw down in there. Seungcheol is always cranky at the start of a new semester, especially with the new students. But, trust me. Your law career is not over.”

“Law career?” Soonyoung laughs with a shake of his head and a relieved sigh at the sight of his laptop remaining intact after its drop to the marble floor. One positive in a day full of negatives, maybe things would look up. “That is so not the problem.”

The words seem to confuse Wonwoo, but Soonyoung smiles at him even so. He’s a little raggedy in his threadbare blazer and trousers that look like they were once quite nice, but had obviously gone through about six charity shops and had been mended on more than one occasion. But Soonyoung thinks he can trust him, because his eyes are kind and he’s the only person that made an effort to follow him out of class to make sure he was okay.

“Look, I just need to get back into class with Jihoon.”

“Ji… I’m sorry, whom?”

“Lee Jihoon. He’s my boyfriend—I mean, my ex-boyfriend. He’s in that class and I really need to get back in there so he doesn’t think I’m a complete and utter failure. Please, can you help me?”

There’s a pause as Wonwoo processes exactly what has left Soonyoung’s mouth, shifting on his spot as confusion wracks his brain. The doors behind them open and students begin flooding out behind the professor as the law class ends ten minutes early, their classmates catching sight of them as they leave and initiate quiet chattering gossip about Soonyoung under their breaths.

“All I can say is come back tomorrow.” Wonwoo finally announces, raising an eyebrow at the sight of Soonyoung’s pout. He still looks confused at the statement he has made, but his voice is kind despite his furrowed brow. “And make sure you’ve done the reading. You had it light from Choi Seungcheol today—trust me, I’ve seen him at his worst and I’m praying you don’t ever have to.”

“Right,” Soonyoung accepts, slipping his bag on before he catches sight of Jihoon leaving swiftly with Jeonghan on his arm. “I—Excuse me.”

Pushing past the one friendly face at Harvard, Soonyoung makes a beeline for the couple and stops right in front of the two of them. His skin crawls at the sight of them together; Jeonghan’s arms are crossed over his chest as he gives Soonyoung a once over with a cocky grin. He slowly unfolds them and links his arm with Jihoon’s, who stands there unsure of what to do in this moment.

“Why did you do that? You made me look like an absolute fool in there!”

“I didn’t make you look like a fool, Kwon. You did that all by yourself because you weren’t prepared. Too hung-over, was it?” Jeonghan loosens his grip on Jihoon’s arm and steps forward so Soonyoung has to take a step back. “Try opening a law book sometime. Oh! I should warn you; they’re a little more advanced than you’re used to. They don’t come with pictures, and mommy isn’t around to help you spell out the words on the page.”

Opening his mouth to reply, Soonyoung can’t speak. He feels like Ursula has stolen his voice in The Little Mermaid and now he’s been cast ashore. All he can do is look at Jihoon over the boy’s shoulder, hoping he’ll say anything. But the look on his face is as if he agrees, and he stares down at the floor in shame.

That’s how Soonyoung finds himself running back across campus to his room like he had two nights before, straight past Jihoon and Wonwoo and everyone else still talking about what an idiot he had been in class, feeling equally as sick but for an entirely different reason from the last. He’d never felt so humiliated, and Jihoon had just stood there! Saying nothing! He might as well have ripped the heart out of his chest and stomped on it then and there, the way his insides are hurting.

The voices of his friends in his head nag at him to turn around, but Soonyoung ignores them in favour of slamming the door and throwing himself onto his messy bed. He buries his face into his pillow and groans, screwing up his features in an attempt to stop the headache that is brewing just behind his eyes.

He hadn’t come here to become a lawyer, but Mr. Choi’s words had dealt the first stab to his heart before Jeonghan and Jihoon had made the killing blow in a battle he was terribly prepared for. If only he had Chan by his side – Minghao and Junhui too. He thinks then, maybe, he would stand a semblance of chance of winning Jihoon back from the grasp of the man-eating dragon.

Soonyoung rolls over and stares at the ceiling, refusing to cry as he pulls out his phone from his bag. He scrolls through his contacts and immediately dials Chan’s number, putting it on speaker so he can rest the device on his stomach and cover his eyes with his arms. The ring tone drones on and on, and for a minute the boy is certain that his best friend won’t pick up, sending him spiralling deeper into the hole of wanting to go home. But, just as he’s about to cancel the call, Chan’s voice rings loud and clear from the phone on his abdomen.

“Soonyoung?”

“Hey! Hey…” Soonyoung sits up violently, the sound of his friend’s voice sending a soothing remedy through his veins like morphine, and suddenly he’s a whole lot calmer than he had been a second before.

“This is unusual. Normally I’m the one that has to call you to get you to talk to me,” Chan laughs. “How’s the Ivy? Is everything okay?”

“Yeah… I mean, no. No, it’s not.”

“No?”

Soonyoung takes a deep breath. He’s been here less than a week and yet he’s longing for the comfort from his frat brothers more than anything. He never would’ve pinned himself as needy, but being away from people he knows so well in a place where he has no friends makes Soonyoung realise the extent he goes to for the approval and comfort of those around him.

“Jihoon has a boyfriend.” He could have started with any number of things, but Soonyoung knows it’s the most important thing in the world right now. The main reason he came to Harvard was to win back Jihoon, and he had already settled for someone else despite Soonyoung working so hard to change himself for him.

Chan takes a second to process Soonyoung’s words before he hears his best friend let out his own deep sigh. “Wow. Already? How long’s it been? Like, what, three months?”

“Right!”

“Maybe this guy’s just a distraction from you.”

Soonyoung pulls at the sheets beside him with a sad pout, “I don’t know. They seem pretty comfortable together.”

“Comfortable?” Chan asks with a lilt to his voice, “Not happy?”

The question plays over in his head. He’d known Jeonghan, what? All of two days, and he’d spent more time throwing up over him than he had having a conversation with both he and Jihoon together to see if they really were serious about each other. Soonyoung sits up straight, phone tumbling onto the sheets beside him before he swipes the device up and holds it close to his mouth with a smile in his eye.

“You know, Chan. I think you may be onto something…”

“You’re at one of the best fucking law schools in the world, Soon! And I know for a fact that even though I’ve never seen this Jon Hamm guy, he is no match for you. Unless, he is actually Jon Hamm, in which case you’re screwed because that guy is awesome. Jesus Christ, Soonyoung - you’re hot and you’re a total catch! You’ve got the brains, you just need to show Jihoon what he’s missing.”

The ache in his chest for his long-distance best friend throbs before subsiding. Soonyoung always knew he could count on Chan for the right things to say. He was hot – he knew that. Everyone as UCL knew it and now everyone at Harvard would too. But it was Jihoon who he had to convince that he was more than just his good looks and winning personality – he’d studied to get in here just like him, and they were perfectly suited to breeze through the criminal law course together. As an item.

“I just have to get my head down and study like Mr. Choi said, and then Jihoon will have to fall back into my arms!” He says it more as a passing thought than a real response to Chan down the end of the line, but Soonyoung already feels like the despair he had felt only five minutes ago has completely washed away. He swings his legs off the side of the bed and pushes himself up from the bundle of messy sheets. “I’m gonna call you back, I have some studying to do.”

He hears Chan mumble a word of good luck to him before the call drops and Soonyoung immediately opens up his laptop to order the book he needs from a cheap online store, somewhere with fast delivery and discounts. The recommended retailer on the university’s website sends him to a page filled with second hand books from past students, as well as an up-to-date list of new study guides for sale. Soonyoung types in his course name into the search bar and clicks order on the first result that pops up.

“Five day delivery?” Soonyoung sits back in his desk chair, running his hands through his hair so it’s pushed back away from his forehead. “But that means it will come next week. I have class…” He rifles through his bag for the schedule Wonwoo had given him an hour ago, eyes scanning the jumble of letters and numbers until he spots what he needs. “Tomorrow afternoon. Crap.”

Chan manifests in his mind and taps his foot, arms folded across his chest. He had no choice, the image of his friend from when he was helping him study for his LSATs glares at him and subconsciously, Soonyoung know that look means he needs to look for another way to find the information he needs. He isn’t sure if Choi Seungcheol is as bad as he makes everyone think he is, but there is no way Soonyoung is going to let him kick him out of class again in front of his soulmate.

Chapter Text

After a quick, guilty lunch using one of his flatmate’s bread and butter, Soonyoung places an order for the book he needs and makes a mental note to go shopping for food before heading out of the flat with his laptop and pencil case in his backpack.

Harvard campus is far larger than Soonyoung ever imagined it to be, and getting lost twice on the same day is something he wants to hit himself for as he struggles to read the tiny interactive map on his phone once again. Thousands of students are strewn across the lawn as he weaves in and out of them in the direction of what he believes is the library.

Tapping his student ID to get through the barriers, Soonyoung’s mouth falls open at the sight of books lining the walls from floor to ceiling, students moving busily throughout the stacks with clear intent. He treads lightly as if he’s walking on thin ice, heading towards the law section in search of the book. The sorting system confuses him as he trails his eyes over the spines of each book, the combination of numbers and letters making his brain hurt whilst scanning.

He turns corner after corner, wondering how on Earth so many books on law exist when he spots Jeonghan pulling out something from the top shelf nearby. Soonyoung freezes and turns on his heels to face in the opposite direction, pretending to be preoccupied with a different book he’s now pulled off of the shelf. If he can’t see Jeonghan then Jeonghan can’t see him.

“Picture books are in the children’s literature section.” He hears the voice from behind him and Soonyoung hunches up, craning his neck just in time to see Jeonghan laughing with a bunch of other law students that are crowded around him.

“I’m just looking for the textbook.” Soonyoung manages to say without his voice shaking. He hated being laughed at, always had, unless he was the one making the jokes and people were laughing with him.

“You mean this?” The book in question is already in the hands of a student to Jeonghan’s left, and Soonyoung nods. “Too bad, I think Simon here just managed to nab the last copy. Looks like you’re going to have to get your books in advance next time. Have fun surviving class tomorrow.”

Soonyoung paces closer to the shelf and sees that there are indeed no more copies of the book left. He should’ve guessed, but Soonyoung was always the type to remain hopeful – hence why he had yet to give up on Jihoon. The more time went on, Soonyoung has no idea what the boy would see in someone like Jeonghan. Especially when he knew Jihoon best, and Jeonghan was almost everything he had said he hated about a person.

Still, he needs that book, and Soonyoung wracks his brain for any way that he might be able to get his hands on it. He approaches the front desk and asks if they have any special copies he is able to borrow, but the best he gets is the kind librarian pushing up her glasses and telling him to try the library across town. She can’t guarantee they’ll have one, but Harvard library doesn’t have any more available to borrow for the time being.

“You can place in a reservation if you like,” the lady, whose nametag reads April, smiles up at him almost apologetically even though she has nothing to apologise for. “Those books are frequently used so they have a very short borrowing period, and if you put your name down I can make sure you have a copy in about three days.”

“No, I need it for this evening. But thank you.”

The low, whispered chatter of the thousands of students in the library transfigures inside of Soonyoung’s mind as he begins to leave until all he can hear is Jeonghan and his posse ridiculing him over and over again. His head pounds and the sound of his feet on the marble steps as he leaves the building certainly doesn’t help, but the fresh air now whipping past his face as he sprints across campus helps ease the discomfort somewhat.

He should’ve asked April just how far the library was from Harvard as he stumbles, out-of-breath, up the steps of the worn-down public library about an hour out from his school. Figures, the students and nearby residents would all choose to use the library of one of the most prestigious schools in the area rather than trek halfway across town to access the public library.

As he enters and makes his way once again to the law book section of the library on the second floor, Soonyoung notices a distinct difference between the look and even the smell of the library compared to Harvard’s. He scrunches his nose up and steps on stains of the carpet as he scans these shelves, finally spotting the book he wants with a silent cheer. The book is tattered, the cover torn at the corner despite the plastic protection it has since been given. Still, Soonyoung clutches it to his chest as if he’s nursing a baby and half-runs to the tables in the centre of the floor. It may not be as well kept as his university, but God is he grateful for the selection.

Dropping the book onto the wooden surface, Soonyoung grins as he takes a seat and opens the book. His smile quickly fades when he sees just how much writing is crammed into each section, very few diagrams and boxes to space everything out.

“Not what you hoped for?”

Soonyoung looks up at the only other person on his table, the boy’s full, rosy cheeks pulled into a tight smile. He’s hunched over a book of his own, but Soonyoung can’t tell exactly what it is.

“Uh, no. I mean yes, it is the book I need but…” Soonyoung lets out an over-exaggerated sigh that makes the hair by his eyes float up like a feather in the wind.

The boy smiles and nods, “What are you studying?”

“Criminal law.” Soonyoung whispers in response, lifting up the book to show the cover.

“Wow.” The boy’s eyes are wide and he pulls a face that Soonyoung interprets as being impressed. “Hard work.”

“Apparently so,” Soonyoung nods and flicks through the book in the hopes it gets easier, but the mass of words remain consistent throughout the fat textbook. He’s going to have a field day reading this tonight.

“Are you at Harvard?”

“Yeah. Are you?”

The boy laughs and sits back, reaching for a different coloured pen from his pencil case that is spilling out over his side of the round table. “Me? No, no. I’m in community college. Couldn’t afford to go to Harvard even if I wanted to, despite my grades.”

“Oh,” Soonyoung feels a tinge of guilt flood through him. “I’m sorry.”

Shrugging, the boy smiles and runs a hand through his hair. “Don’t be. Bunker is great for what it is. I’m still in college; I’ll still get my diploma, that’s all that matters. Sure, it would be great to be at an Ivy, I studied for it my entire school life, but I’m top of my classes and have great friends where I’m at. Maybe some time in the future I’ll find a way to make it there, but don’t look down on community colleges just because they’re not the best of the best.”

Soonyoung knows he’s right. He forgot not everyone’s parents had the money his had. They had always paid for him to make his way through whatever college he wanted – from UCL now to Harvard. He had never considered how lucky he was to just go to the places people like this boy probably dreamed of. He has to stop himself from apologising again, he never meant to seem as if he was looking down on the boy, but instead he nods and smiles

“I’m Seungkwan, by the way.”

Soonyoung sees the boy is kind from the way he smiles. “I’m Soonyoung.”

“Should I call you up if I ever get in a bit of stick with the law?”

He wishes he could laugh but Soonyoung slumps down lower in his chair, “Yeah, probably best to avoid that I’m afraid.”

Seungkwan perks up, tilting his head to the side in curiosity. “Why’s that?”

“I don’t think I really deserve to be at Harvard.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Soonyoung looks up through his eyelashes at his new acquaintance and shakes his head. The boy looks offended as if Soonyoung had questioned his place at Harvard, and the book in front of him weighs heavy on his shoulders, as he knows he will be getting next to no sleep that evening in favour of studying for Jihoon.

Sitting forward, Seungkwan folds his arms on the table-top and looks into Soonyoung’s eyes with kind sincerity. “Do you know the percentage of applicants that make it into Harvard, let alone their law school? 0.04%. Look, I don’t know anything about you, Soonyoung, other than your name and that you take law – and from the way you are dressed you’re most likely from the west coast – but the fact you got in proves that you deserve to be there.”

Soonyoung swears he can picture Chan saying the same thing to him, and his heart thuds in his chest at the words of this boy he’s just met. He radiates compassion, and Soonyoung sits up properly in his seat to smile back at him.

“Thanks, Seungkwan.” Letting out a deep sigh, he sniffles and grins. “If you aren’t doing some kind of therapy course at that college of yours, you’re in the wrong sector.”

Seungkwan laughs and tilts his book up. Soonyoung’s eyes take in the letters at the front. CLASSICAL STUDIES.

“Not quite,” the boy laughs and shrugs, letting the book drop back onto the desk. “I do study a lot of the first big philosophers though.” Soonyoung blinks as Seungkwan waits for a response. “You know, Plato, Socrates, Epicurus, Aristotle…” Still nothing. “Ok, maybe Harvard isn’t the place for you if you’re doing law and you don’t know who fucking Socrates is.”

“See, I told you.” Soonyoung throws his hands up in defeat, but both of the boys begin to laugh in response, earning a shush from the librarian nearby that begins to place returned books back onto their shelves. They motion a sorry to her, but continue giggling under their breaths.

Pulling out his notebook, Soonyoung begins decorating his page with big, colourful letters depicting the title of the module, and scribbles down the outline of what it is exactly that he has to revise for tomorrow’s class. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE: ADJUDICATION. The subject of this module is the criminal process from bail to jail, where we will address some of the main constitutional and policy issues that arise about the structure of this process, including the right to counsel, the influence of the prosecutorial discretion, the blah blah blah blah blah… Oh, God. He was going to fall asleep within ten minutes if he has to read all of this by tomorrow afternoon. Fifteen pages filled to the brim with nearly incomprehensible statements and factoids that were just not penetrating the exterior of his brain. It was going to be a long four years. Even his revision for the LSAT wasn’t helping him now.

Looking up from his scrawled handwriting, he makes sure the librarian is out of earshot when he turns to Seungkwan for help. “Psst. Do you have any tips for studying this kind of stuff? I know you’re not in law but if I don’t get this stuff down by tomorrow afternoon, Jihoon will never take me back and I’ll be kicked out of class again and I—”

Seungkwan hushes him with a swift click of his fingers, pushing all his things over to the space just next to Soonyoung, before moving around the table to take the vacant seat beside him. He swivels to face the boy, hands firmly on Soonyoung’s knees with wonder in his eyes.

“Something else is going on here other than the fact you’re trying to cram a months worth of work into one evening, which is enough to give anyone an aneurysm. Now, back up – Seungkwan is listening. Spill!”

Taking a deep breath, Soonyoung caps his pen and feels strangely calmed by the feel of his new friend’s hands on his legs, grounding him as he backtracks to where the whole debacle began. Going over it in his mind, he tries to leave out the fact he wallowed in self pity for weeks on end and gorged himself on chocolate bars – he didn’t feel that part was necessary. Nor did he think mentioning that he was late to class on the first day might have been a trigger for Seungcheol’s hatred towards him.

“I only applied to Harvard because I wanted to follow my one true love, Jihoon,” He pauses to gain some sort of insight into what Seungkwan is thinking. The boy bulges his eyes a little to get him to proceed, and Soonyoung sighs. “But now he’s… dating an evil preppy.”

“So…?” Seungkwan presses in a hushed tone, not wanting to anger the librarian again or the two other people using these facilities over the Harvard library.

“So, what?”

“What does this guy have that you don’t have? A gigantic dick?”

Soonyoung tries not to laugh, placing a hand over his mouth to swallow his amused reaction to Seungkwan’s question. Once he’s sure he’s safe, he smiles and shrugs. “He’s apparently ‘serious’.”

“Seriously,” Seungkwan reiterates, “is his cock fucking humongous or what? You’re a genetic lotto win. This guy must be a creation from God himself.”

“No, he’s a constipated polo-shirt wearing vulture with amazing hair who is the next in line to be President at this rate. Apparently that’s what Jihoon wants. So either I dye my hair again, or I have to ace these classes and beat him at his own game. Only he’s one step ahead – he basically got me kicked out of class today, so it’s Jeonghan – 1, Soonyoung – 0. The only time I was able to study so hard it got me anywhere was when my frat brothers at UCL locked me in over Spring break to ace the LSAT test.”

He feels a wave of self-pity wash over himself as he stares back at the sizeable textbook in front of him with its size four font, and pages upon pages of terminology he didn’t even know where to begin to look up.

Seungkwan removes his hands from Soonyoung’s legs and pops the lid of his highlighter to resume his work. It takes him all of a minute before he pauses and turns his head back to the boy beside him, a fictitious light bulb appearing over his head in what was clearly a Eureka! moment. “Listen, I’ll help you study if you like.”

“Really?” He answers a little too excitedly.

“Yeah, I always do better when I’ve got someone to quiz, and you would be doing me a favour, really.” Seungkwan shrugs, a grin appearing on his lips, “Maybe I’ll learn some new tricks that can help me out when I come face to face with the law.

“I hope you’re not planning to rob a bank.”

The pair laugh, and Seungkwan shakes his fluffy brown hair. “Not just yet.”

Holding out his hand, Soonyoung turns to the boy with his own wide-eyes smile. “Then, Seungkwan Last-name-I-do-not-know, you are officially an honorary Harvard student through me.”

“A lifelong dream come true,” He takes his hand and shakes it like a couple of businessmen setting on a deal. “Thanks a bunch, Soonyoung Whose-last-name-I-also-do-not-know.”

“Kwon.”

“Boo.”

The pair are told to be quiet thrice more by the librarian as she waddles and weaves in and out of the aisles, delivering returned books to their shelves. They try to remain quiet as best as they can, but when Soonyoung can’t quite grasp the meaning of something, Seungkwan can’t help but make a joke, and the two of them find it extremely difficult to keep their giggles to minimum volume. But it helps. Because of Seungkwan, he manages to not fall asleep six pages into the dense monster of a chapter he’s tackling.

It reaches ten in the evening and they are told they need to pack up and leave as the library is closing. Except, Soonyoung isn’t done with his work and he knows that if he tries to study at home, he will just collapse at his desk. It’s not an option when the lingering fear of death in tomorrow’s class is always at the back of his mind.

So, Soonyoung checks out a book (for the first time in his life, much to Seungkwan’s astonishment), and the two quietly walk down the steps of the library until they are stood motionless on the concrete of the empty downtown street.

“Where to now?” Seungkwan presses, hoisting the strap of his bag further up his shoulder, and Soonyoung raises his eyebrows at him quizzically.

“You’re not going home?”

“Not whilst you need to study. I promised I’d help, remember?”

Soonyoung looks around them in the dark, the streetlights reflecting off the closed shop windows and the few parked cars on the street, before he trails his gaze back to his friend. “Aren’t you tired? And what about your own work – classical studies and all that? Don’t you have something due?”

“I was doing reading for third week so I’m ahead of everyone else.” Seungkwan grins, and Soonyoung is taken aback at his commitment. He has never been two weeks ahead of anything in his life.

Shuffling his feet as he passes the textbook from hand to hand, Soonyoung puzzles as to where they can go when it hits him like a bolt of lightning.

“Want to see the Harvard library?”

Soonyoung has to admit that the library really is stunning, but after his encounter earlier amongst the bookshelves, the dark oak interior has been tainted for him for the time being – but for Seungkwan it’s like walking into Midas’ Palace. He gawks at the amount of books and the rows of full study desks like it’s the most amazing thing in the world.

It’s 4am by the time they finish, and Soonyoung tries to keep his eyes open with paperclips Seungkwan has supplied. He’s grasped the basics of the chapter, and he certainly knows the case they are reading for class tomorrow so there is no chance he can be called out on missing the reading once again. He will not be made a fool of in front of Jihoon anymore, he decides then and there. This was the start of his war against Jeonghan, and he was no longer going to let the boy walk all over him the way he had done earlier the previous day.

They depart in the pitch black after exchanging numbers, agreeing to meet up again whenever they need a study buddy or a good laugh – and by God, did Soonyoung need one of those.

By the time his face hits the pillow, Soonyoung swears his alarm goes off and he sits up groaning and puffy eyed around midday, not ready to face what is ahead of him. He reaches blindly for his phone, curses under his breath and heads to the bathroom with a yawn to get ready.

But, much to his relief, Mr. Choi’s class that day cruises by peacefully, and Soonyoung sits smugly in the middle of the class as he answers the question asked of him correctly. He doesn’t let his guard down in case there is something else under the professor’s sleeve that he plans to throw his way, but Soonyoung basks in happiness at the sight of Jeonghan’s frowning face turning away from him after he expected him to get the question wrong.

Thank you, Seungkwan, he thinks and settles down comfortably in his seat. In the corner of his eye he catches Wonwoo smiling at him, quickly throwing him a subtle thumbs up before he moves to the desk at the front of the class to pass out the worksheets for that week’s assessment. He knows he’s done well for now, even though he knows this whole law school thing is just going to get harder over time. For now, he’s just happy to have satisfied his irritable teacher for the moment; he’ll think about tackling the other stuff later.

It’s Seungkwan who suggests they meet up that same Friday because he has a class test upcoming, and Soonyoung knows ‘upcoming’ means in a few weeks, but he’s happy to oblige. It’s the least he can do to help the boy when he’d been so generous to lend his time to him so he couldn’t become shark bait.

So, there they sit on the lawn outside of the library on Harvard canvas, Seungkwan on his stomach and Soonyoung on his back, blocking out the sun with the book he was testing his friend from. He squints at the pages and recites the questions, making sound effects for every question Seungkwan got right. It was very rare that he made a bad buzzer sound, and Soonyoung wished he had Seungkwan’s dedication.

“The date that Cicero—”

“43 BCE.”

Soonyoung whips his head around and glares straight at Seungkwan. “I didn’t even finish the question.”

“But was I right?” Seungkwan sings, smirking as Soonyoung looks back at the book with a sigh, his shoulders slumping. "Was it the year he died?"

“Yeah…”

“Exactly.”

Sitting up, Soonyoung drops the book to his side and lets out a sigh. Ceasing the chewing of his pen, Seungkwan looks up at him with kind eyes and frowns. He can see something has been bothering Soonyoung all afternoon, having to constantly remind him to keep asking him questions so the boy stopped zoning out back into his own thoughts.

“What is it?” He prompts, and Soonyoung picks at the grass beside him, splitting the stems in half before throwing it back onto the ground.

“I barely scraped by on Tuesday. How am I going to win him back when I just know Professor Choi is going to be coming for my neck in every single class? I bet he’s even set Professor Morgan on my trail too. She seemed to recognise my name even though I’d never met her before that seminar.”

Seungkwan reaches out and slams his hand down on top of Soonyoung’s to stop him fidgeting and making a bald spot on the lawn, a tight smile pulling at his lips. “You keep working and they’ll eventually leave you alone.”

“But, what if they don’t?” Soonyoung runs his free hand through his hair when Seungkwan lets go. “How do I get Jihoon to like me when I have to compete with Mr. Perfect?”

“Get him alone.” Seungkwan muses, putting his pen back to his mouth, a sly smirk tugging at the corners. “Make him see exactly what he’s missing!”

“How do I do that?” Soonyoung leans forward, picking up his friend’s textbook again as the patter of footsteps grows louder around them. It’s probably the end of class with the amount of people emerging from the surrounding buildings, and Seungkwan proposes ideas, all of which Soonyoung shuts down.

So he continues quizzing his friend before he decides Seungkwan doesn’t need his help, and lies on his back to drink in the last few rays before the real autumn weather closed in.

“—bring the cider, and some of those brownies everyone loved at pre-drinks.”

Soonyoung’s eyes are closed as he listens to Seungkwan’s suggestions, his friend ceasing his speaking as a pair approach, discussing something that catches his attention.

“Amazing,” the boy turns to the girl at his side, pulling out his phone to write something down. “I think Lucy is bringing a bottle of Chardonnay. Yum.”

“Now, that’s a party,” the girl giggles, pausing to grab her identity card from her pocket.

Seungkwan turns to Soonyoung and pokes at his face, earning an annoyed “ow!” from him as he winces and opens his eyes. Staring at him with a quizzical gaze, Soonyoung sits up as Seungkwan smiles.

“A party! You should totally go to that. You’ve earned it after surviving your first week with the demon teacher.”

Soonyoung pauses and nods to himself, pushing his tongue into his cheek. He has earned it, hasn’t he? He deserved to have some actual fun after the disaster that was freshers week and his lessons already weighing him down. He watches as Seungkwan points just behind him and motions for him to ask the students that had paused there. He nods in response and whips his head around.

“Did you say you were having a party…? I—” Soonyoung freezes and his charming smile falls from his face as the duo turn and Soonyoung rakes his eyes over the thin, pale girl, and to her left, the scowling form of Jihoon’s new boyfriend. “Oh. Hello.”

Soonyoung swallows as he participates in what feels like a mild staring competition with the boy, waiting for him to say something in response.

“Hello, Kwon.” Jeonghan forces a smile, slipping his phone into his pocket as his friend finally finds her ID. “Yes, a few of us are getting together next Friday night for some drinks.”

He feels someone nudge his arm as the pair turn to take their leave, and Soonyoung briefly looks at Seungkwan as he smiles. “Soonyoung, you should totally go. Maybe the guy you like will be there.”

That seems to grab Jeonghan’s attention as he halts suddenly after just two steps, hesitates, and then turns on his heels to smile down at Soonyoung below him on the grass. He speaks through his teeth, eyebrows raised in a way that makes Soonyoung feel like he’s being looked down upon by a monarch.

“Definitely come!” Jeonghan says, much to Soonyoung’s surprise. He takes one single step closer, clapping once. “It’s a costume party.”

He can’t believe it; Soonyoung feels the grin spreading across his face. He won best dressed at the school Halloween dances three years in a row in High School, and he’d been the biggest fan of events of this sort ever since. “I love costume parties!”

“Of course you do. Great.” Jeonghan turns his head to his friend to see her agree to the proposal before he makes eye contact with Soonyoung for the final time. “It’s at Kevin Moon’s house, next Friday at eight. 243 Mass Ave. See ya there.”

“Thanks, Jeonghan…” Soonyoung says quietly with the smile still on his face, watching his rival walk away and up the steps of the library with his friend before he feels Seungkwan shake him again.

“Jeonghan? That was Jeonghan?” Seungkwan’s eyes widen, and Soonyoung nods. “Shit. Sorry, I had no idea. I see what you mean now.”

He runs a hand through his hair to pull himself out of his stupor when Soonyoung realises the problem. His mouth falls open and turns to his friend for any advice.

“Where am I going to get a great costume at such short notice? Halloween is literally right around the corner!”

As Soonyoung’s brain sorts through all the endless possibilities of what costumes he can wear, which one he can use to impress Jihoon, he simultaneously worries about the scouting of such a costume to the point he starts to freak out. Back in LA, he would have had the boys pull something together with him. They had once gone out on the town as the Mystery Gang and a bunch of monsters – and of course, he’d called Fred.

His friend snaps in front of his eyes and he blinks, calming his brain right down so he can focus on Seungkwan. He watches the boy’s face light up, clearly with an idea, and Soonyoung waits for his solution with bated breath. He had to look perfect, not only for Jihoon so he could convince him through the power of amazing cosplay to take him back, but to show Jeonghan just how wrong he was about him.

“I think I might have just the thing…” Seungkwan practically sings, bouncing on the spot on the lawn, hands firm on Soonyoung’s shoulders. “You want something sexy, but iconic, right?” Soonyoung nods, amazed at how well this boy could read him already. “Thank god I was a member of the college’s theatre department last year. I’m pretty sure they won’t have a problem with me borrowing…”

“I’m sorry, what? Theatre department?” Soonyoung grins and watches Seungkwan wave his hand in front of his face to dismiss the thought. It was so perfectly Seungkwan, it made so much sense.

“Nevermind. I’m positive that you’re going to look absolutely fantastic! Now, have you seen Rocky Horror?”

Chapter Text

The streak of Soonyoung not getting kicked out of class is broken. If you can really call one lesson of not angering Seungcheol a ‘streak’, of course. It seems like the steps outside of Hauser have become his new permanent spot from 3:30 afternoon on a Tuesday as he hauls his bag and laptop out of the hall by order of his professor. Soonyoung just doesn’t know what he’s doing wrong… Everything, apparently in the eyes of his teacher and fellow students who try to keep their giggles to themselves as he does the walk of shame once again that Thursday. They’re all too scared to make a noise in case they too receive a tongue lashing from Mr. Choi.

Granted, Soonyoung’s regular study partner for the past week had been unavailable due to his own prior commitments, much to his chagrin, but Soonyoung was sure he could get through his assigned work on his own. He was wrong. Even with Chan, Junhui, and Minghao slapping him over the head in his mind, telling him he needs to read up on more than just the basics for the class, he can’t bring himself to touch his newly ordered textbook. It lies untouched on top of his desk, wrapped in plastic. He regularly uses it as a coaster for his drinks as he plugs himself into the internet and wastes away for hours on Overwatch.

The personal vendetta Choi Seungcheol had against him was clear as day, and Soonyoung wishes he cared more than he does. Let him scream and shout and throw him out of class; he was here for Jihoon, not law, after all. It was only a matter of time until he got the boy back out of the clutches of Jeonghan, and they could make their way through this school together. Soonyoung sighed dreamily at the thought.

He found himself counting down the days until that Friday, receiving a good luck text in the early afternoon from not only Seungkwan – who had so graciously lent him the most perfect ‘look what you’re missing, Jihoon’ outfit for the evening – but also the boys back at Delta Gamma Phi, with Minghao attaching a photo of their fraternity members, all with grins on their phases and their thumbs up. God, he missed them.

Soonyoung exited his game of Overwatch around eight that evening, deciding upon a shower before he attempted to make himself presentable for the party. He’d had second thoughts at first when Seungkwan had stood outside of his halls a few days prior, holding the costume in his hand with gentle fingers. There was going to be a lot on show, and as Soonyoung looks at himself in the mirror of his bathroom, sucking in his stomach, he wonders whether he can pull this costume off.

“You’ll be the talk of the party. Jihoon won’t be able to keep his eyes off you, trust me.” His new friend smiled, cheeks full and rosy as he had clasped Soonyoung’s hands around the fabric. “Just make sure to watch ‘Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me’ before you go and you’ll be all set.”

Propping up his phone on the bathroom sink, he puts on the clip Seungkwan had suggested as he walks to his wardrobe and stares at the costume with a newfound confidence. He was hot! Of course he could pull this off. Ripping the clothing off of its hooks, he shimmies out of his slacks and top and climbs into the outfit with a hum of the music in the background. Last up, his hair and he would be set.

He grasps the bottle of bleach in one hand and once again stares in the mirror, glancing from himself to the blonde man in the clip. The finishing touches to a simple but effective costume. He’s got an itch to scratch, and Jihoon was the assistance he needed.

 

/

 

“Kevin!” Jeonghan throws his arms open, embracing the boy who opens the door to the party. “Thank you so much for hosting this delightful little gathering.”

The clock has struck nine-thirty and the party is now in full swing when Jeonghan and Jihoon arrive to a hall full of invited Harvard students.

“Oh, it’s my pleasure!” Kevin smiles, welcoming them into his living quarters as he is gifted a bottle of champagne from Jihoon, who steps out from just behind his boyfriend. The boy accepts it and examines the label. “Ah, Dom Pérignon. Impeccable taste, Jihoon.”

The three of them share awkward smiles, before Jihoon coughs and nods, going to speak before Jeonghan manages to get a word in before him.

“We all needed a break from law school anxiety and worrying about Choi’s internship. Week three and I’m already exhausted!”

Kevin laughs, patting Jeonghan on the shoulder as he closes the door behind the pair of them. “You can say that again. You two go enjoy yourselves! Mingle!”

And with that, he disappears into the crowd of people, most likely with the intention to find some flutes to pour his new champagne into. Jihoon watches him leave as he shifts from foot to foot. He ignores Jeonghan’s fake laugh as Kevin disappears, one that quickly subsides when the boy is out of earshot, and soon Jeonghan is leaning in close to him to whisper in Jihoon’s ear.

“You do know that Kevin’s father is next in line to be speaker of the house.”

“So you said.” Jihoon nods, slipping his hands into the pockets of his trousers just under his smart-casual dinner jacket. He has to admire Jeonghan’s devotion to their futures. He always thought that he had it all figured out, but meeting the boy over summer had made him realise he was a total mess in comparison to his boyfriend. On a scale from Soonyoung to Jeonghan, he was slap bang in the middle for control over his life. He lets out a sigh, tuning into the sound of Jeonghan’s voice once again as they wade further through the crowd to grab a drink of their own.

“Just think… Future presidents could be in this very room.” Jeonghan runs his hand through his hair and scans the faces in the party. “Okay. I’m gonna go track down Suzy Coleman and convince her that she must join our study group. Apparently her summer home is three houses down from Justice Souter.”

With a clap of his hands, Jeonghan grins like a shark bearing his teeth and raises his eyebrows at Jihoon as if wondering what he was going to do as he schmoozed with their fellow students. Jihoon taps his foot and spots the cooler of beers in the corner.

“I’m just gonna go grab a drink. I’ll join you in a bit.”

And with that, the two of them turn on their heels and head their separate ways as the party builds. Smooth, sultry jazz swells around the students, wrapping them and their conversations in relaxing, sophisticated undertones that they believed most students wouldn’t appreciate nor understand. They were the elite; the best of the best, and almost every single one of them was going to make it big somewhere. Parties like this were the perfect way to canvas good links for their future, in case they ever needed a favour or a name to drop into a conversation with someone just to show how important they were. It was exactly the type of party that Soonyoung did not fit into.

Which is why, when Soonyoung shows up, naked from the waist up and dressed only in his shining, gold shorts and gold high-tops, the party goes silent. Even the jazz seems to fizzle out to a stop as all eyes fall on the boy who has just walked through the door into what he had believed was a pre-halloween costume party. The silence doesn’t last long, as a few seconds later a majority of the room bursts into laughter, a few of the attendees wolf whistling at him as Soonyoung tries to stop himself from turning a shade of tomato red. He’s frozen to the spot, and he realises there and then that Jeonghan had told him this gathering was a costume party to spite him.

“Too early for Halloween, sparkle shorts!” An anonymous voice yells from the crowd. “Try again next week!”

Sweat threatens to drip down his face from under his blonde hair, and Soonyoung turns on his heels to leave out of sheer mortification. But, as his short fingers reach for the handle, Soonyoung finds himself freezing once more. No, he wasn’t going to run away in shame. He looked hot. If he’d shown up to a party at UCLA like this he would have had both the guys and the girls falling at his feet. He would embrace the eyes on him, because he’d come here for a reason.

So, clenching his fits he turns around and walks deeper into the party despite the lingering sniggers and judging looks from students over their Chateau Latour (or whatever expensive red wine it is in their glasses, he doesn’t know nor care). He’s here for one person only, and he would not let these strangers get in his way. He’d gotten into Harvard, and that was undoubtedly harder than making his way through this party.

Taking a deep breath, he puffs out his chest and puts on a smile, one that becomes real when he spots Jihoon mid-conversation as he perches on a table by the drinks. Soonyoung thinks he looks as gorgeous as ever, dressed in a navy blazer and tight slacks that cling to the best bits of him, and the boy saunters over to him through the crowd.

“Hey, stranger!” He calls out, interrupting Jihoon mid-conversation with a student he vaguely recognises from their classes. His soulmate is taking a sip of his drink, listening intently with the cutest smile on his lips as he approaches.

Jihoon turns his eyes towards the source of the sound and blinks thrice, choking slightly on his drink as he catches sight of Soonyoung standing in front of him. Bulging his eyes, he swallows and coughs like he’s just managed to avoid drowning. Soonyoung’s glad he still has that kind of effect on him.

“S-Soonyoung. Wow.” Jihoon takes a breath and grasps the bottle in his lap tightly. “What’s with the costume? I almost didn’t recognise you as a blonde… Halloween isn’t until next week.”

Yes, I’ve been told, Soonyoung thinks as he shrugs, still smiling at the boy before him as he takes in his cute mousy features. “Can’t a guy shake things up? I used to pull this kind of thing all the time back at UCLA. Don’t tell me you forgot?”

“Yeah,” Jihoon nods in confirmation of the memory, quirking an eyebrow upwards as he takes in the entirety of the boy’s get up: light hair, bare chest and abdomen, bright gold and tight shorts, paired with tall, lace-up, gold high-tops. “But how come you couldn’t wear this when we were going out?”

He can’t help but lean forward with a smile, hand on his hip. Soonyoung almost sings with a teasing lilt in his voice. “Well, I guess you just never asked.”

“Which now ranks as the greatest regret of my life,” Jihoon replies with his own smile, laughing as he rubs his chin. Soonyoung’s own laugh matches the boy’s as he moves in closer to allow someone past, and for a little bit of self indulgence.

Turning away from him for a second, Jihoon grabs a beer from the cooler and offers it for Soonyoung to take. It’s a second before he processes the label, and Soonyoung accepts the drink with a fluttering warmth in his heart. Desperado. It’s his favourite.

“You remember.”

“Of course I do.”

A clink and a cheers of their bottles later, and Soonyoung takes his first drink of the night – god knows he’s earned it. His cheeks are flushing, his face hot despite the chill he’s feeling across the rest of his body. He’s regretting having not brought a jacket with him, but maybe the alcohol will help warm him up

It’s nice just standing there beside one another for a minute or two, comfortable, like Soonyoung and Jihoon had always found when they were dating back on the west coast. Soonyoung can’t help but smile to himself as he sips the golden liquid and listens to Jihoon clear his throat amongst the chattering surrounding them. The shorter boy shifts from foot to foot and shakes his dark hair out of his face. He needs a haircut, but Soonyoung thinks he looks gorgeous regardless.

“You know,” Jihoon starts, tipping the neck of his beer towards Soonyoung momentarily, “I still can’t get over the fact that you’re… well, here.” His hand motions are erratic, and Soonyoung wonders how much he’s had to drink. “I knew that if you just applied yourself you could make it, but I mean… Harvard! Back when we were both at UCLA, I just never would have guessed it.” Another throat clear and Soonyoung is still listening intently, the butterflies in his stomach awakening at the compliment Jihoon had made on his intellect.

Sure, he hadn’t applied himself much in school – he had more pressing matters to deal with such as running a Fraternity and Mario Kart Leagues with the boys. But he had never actively failed a class.

“Sometimes I miss the old days,” Jihoon’s voice is small and he’s looking down at the floor. It’s just for a moment, but Soonyoung thinks he looks so vulnerable, almost unhappy – which is impossible, because ever since the two of them had started going out, all Jihoon would talk about in terms of the future was getting into Harvard. Surely it had to be something else, and Soonyoung’s brain leaps to the conclusion that it has something to do with him. He can’t help but smile, subtly sliding in closer so that their hips are almost touching. “Those parties in our senior year felt like we were on top of the world. Ruled it, even.”

“It was better than high school.” Soonyoung nods in agreement, to which he receives a hum.

“Right. Being there, on campus, surrounded by others with big dreams – granted, not as big as mine. It was still refreshing.”

Letting a little laugh escape his lips, Soonyoung cocks his head to the side. “Even when I funnelled all that beer and you had to grab me water and towels as I hurled?”

“Yeah.” Jihoon looks up from the floor and at Soonyoung for half a second, but the smile is very much there. “It was so easy. And I know that we’re only a fraction of the way into this year – we’re not even through the introductory period – but,” he sighs and shakes his head, sounding defeated. “Why can’t it be that way again?”

Soonyoung reaches out; he can’t help himself. He tentatively touches Jihoon’s forearm, waiting to gage a reaction before he curls his fingers around the clothed skin there. It feels so good to be vulnerable with him, even if Jihoon isn’t bearing his heart to him once again.

“You know, dreams like that don’t just disappear. We could dream them here, together.” Soonyoung eyes widen and he jumps up, startling Jihoon. “Just like senior year at UCLA — but funner! You’ve always had a solid plan for your future, and now I can be part of that plan too!”

“Wait, wait…” Jihoon closes his eyes to process his words, creasing his brow as he waves his hands. “ I’m not following you.”

Soonyoung takes the boy’s hands in his own and holds them still, looking him dead in the eye. He swims in the hazel of them, and Soonyoung takes a deep breath as he thinks through his next words.

“I’m here because I understand, Jihoon. I understand what you need, and I’m prepared to be part of it.”

“I don’t…”

The confusion is still apparent in the boy’s expression, but as Soonyoung smiles, he can see Jihoon begin to register what he is saying.”

“I’m at Harvard to show you I’m serious!”

It’s like a slap to the face when Jihoon almost chokes on his own breath, running the sleeve of his blazer across his mouth in case he spluttered any drink residue. And the words that follow are like a punch to his stomach.

“Yeah, right. You look real serious.”

Jihoon’s eyes rake over Soonyoung’s attire, and Soonyoung steps backwards, scoffing in a mixture of his hurt and shock. He cannot believe what he’s hearing, especially when just minutes ago he had been praised by his soulmate for how he was dressed. A big fuck you to everyone in this room, including Jihoon. He knows he hasn’t always been someone worthy of being here, but he was, and the boy had no right to make such a spitfire comment based solely on his looks.

“Don’t forget I got into this school too, Jihoon. Now we’re both studying law together.” He retakes his place close to the boy, hoping he can break the barrier separating them. The best way to do that: speak on stuff Jihoon really cares about. “Oh! Maybe we’ll both get Choi’s internship at the end of the spring quarter and work together! Wouldn’t that be great?”

Now it’s Jihoon’s time to take a step back, finishing off his beer in one grand gulp and still a sense of denial over what Soonyoung is trying to convey to him. He doesn’t think Soonyoung is serious at all and it’s breaking his heart again.

“Whoa whoa whoa, wait a second… Soonyoung. You’ve been kicked out of Choi’s class more times in the span of two weeks than I’ve ever seen in someone’s entire school career. You’re like a walking target! You don’t actually believe you stand a single chance at getting that internship, do you?”

“… Of course.” It’s all he can reply, because how can he counteract Jihoon’s argument when the boy doesn’t listen to a thing he’s saying. So what if he’s been kicked out? He was going to prove that he still stood a chance.

“Look, everyone in that class wants it— nobody more than me!” Turning to grab another beer, Soonyoung doesn’t like the tone of voice he’s being addressed with. Behaviour he must have learnt from Jeonghan, he thinks with an internal sneer. “It’s a guaranteed career! You’re practically made partner before you even get a job offer and—“

“Soonyoung!”

The voice approaching cuts Jihoon off from his rambling, and the two of them whip their head around to where Jeonghan is walking towards them, wearing a forced smile on his face. Soonyoung swallows and can see his eyes taking his costume in, sizing him up like a bit of prey he’s ready to pounce on. It sends an unwanted shiver down his spine.

“You’re looking… shiny. Love the gold shorts.” He detects a hint of amusement in his voice, and Soonyoung doesn’t think he can hate Jeonghan more than at this moment in time.

“Oh, hello Jeonghan. Thanks for the great tip about the costume party.” He decides not to let the boy control the situation, standing up tall to face him with a smile of his own. “I see you came as a hideous cow.”

Apparently their interaction has become the main attraction of the party as the attendees around them all turn to listen, letting out a vocal “ooo” at Soonyoung’s comeback. It gives him a wash of confidence, especially as he can see Jeonghan’s smirk falter with a lip tremble, just for a second, but it is very much there. Neither wants to back down, holding their glares without blinking until Jihoon is the one to come between them, hands raised in an attempt to cool them both down. Soonyoung only looks away from his mortal enemy — yes, he had one of those now — when Jihoon looks at him with pleading eyes and speaks to break the tension.

“Look, Soonie—young! Soonyoung.” Jihoon coughs and turns to look at Jeonghan folding his arms after the slip up of using his old pet name. Soonyoung can’t help but think that’s a point in his favour. “You have to ace his course to get his internship, and he’s not called ‘C-Minus Choi’ for nothing.”

He once again curls his fingers around Jihoon’s wrist to lower it back to his side, before he attempts to speak again. He holds his gaze, hoping his eyes can explain to Jihoon how much he wants this where words fail.

“Jihoon, I am completely cognisant of both of those facts,” he states, remembering only a few days ago he had come across the word cognisant in one of his textbooks, and Seungkwan had explained exactly what it meant. He sees Jihoon react in surprise, and as he opens his mouth again, Jeonghan is quick to beat him to the punch. Apparently the boy has been quiet for too long, and Soonyoung was wondering when he would pipe up to make a scene.

“You’re not gonna make it through this semester, let alone get Professor Choi’s internship. Even if you get right down on your knees and have him in your palm.” His words bite, and Soonyoung’s blush has spread to his ears as the chattering around him resumes, certainly about Jeonghan’s crude comment on what he saw was the only possible option for Soonyoung in terms of acing his classes. “Face it, sparkles. One of these things is not like the other.” He takes a step forward, and suddenly Jihoon isn’t between them anymore, Jeonghan’s nose close to poking Soonyoung like the beak of a hawk. “Someday we’ll nominate Supreme Court justices, and you’ll tan on a sunbed. So, run home, Soonyoung — and put on some clothes. Something that makes you look like less of a manwhore.”

With a flick of his wrist, Jeonghan dismisses him to link arms with Jihoon in an attempt to turn him away from Soonyoung, those around them doing a terrible job of concealing their snickers. Soonyoung is taken back to class and his walk of shame with the melody of quiet laughing following him out. He hated it. He hated being made the fool, and he wasn’t going to let someone like Jeonghan – who was spiteful, full of bullshit, and whose personality made him look ugly in spite of his tremendous good looks – take advantage of his position.

So, he takes a breath to stop the rushing of his heart and the pounding of blood in his ears. He looks down at what he’s wearing and remembers the night Seungkwan had given him the outfit, to which he had sat down and watched the Rocky Horror Picture Show, knowing there was something more to the character of Rocky than just a pretty boy, half-naked in tight shorts. Soonyoung steps forward, and the room falls silent.

“I take it you’re not well versed in literature or arts culture, Jeonghan. Too busy stealing people’s souls? Because if you were as well read as you paint yourself to be, you would know that Richard O’Brien created Rocky as a tribute and caricature of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, merged with countless other sci-fi classics of the time. See, Rocky is brought to life against his will and is made in the image of what the ‘perfect man’ should be, facing the cruel world without having a chance to grow and find out who he truly is. He’s thrust into Frank-N-Furter’s universe as a post-modern modern Prometheus. And furthermore, the Rocky Horror Picture Show is thought to have widely influenced countless countercultural and sexual liberation movements in an age where conformity was drilled into society. Your ignorance to the tribute of the first, and arguably, best sci-fi writer of all time, as well as something that allowed people freedom of expression really just shows you’re not as intelligent and open as you think you are. You can fool yourself and everyone in this room, Jeonghan — Hell, you can even fool Professor Choi, but you can’t fool me.”

Jeonghan is frozen in his tracks, and so seems to be the majority of people in the room. So, with a swig of the last bit of his beer, Soonyoung drops the bottle back on the table and beelines for the door through the crowd. They part like the red sea as they burst into claps and cheers for Soonyoung’s outburst, but he doesn’t care, he needs air and he needs it now.

The door crashes open and Soonyoung almost falls into a trio that are only just arriving at the residence, apologising weekly as he wobbles past them and away from the onslaught of applause he had earned, but certainly didn’t want from them. He was a people pleaser, but when a bunch of people had just been whispering about you behind your back, Soonyoung had no intention of ever earning their graces. His speech to Jeonghan had been for him, and though he didn’t know what overcame him or how he managed to make it through the speech without a wobble, he is grateful he managed to hold his own. Jeonghan had to know now that he wasn’t going to be terrorised by someone who thought themselves so superior, when in reality they were the same.

The night is dark as he scurries across campus, holding back his tears. Strangers on evening grocery runs, dates, or hangouts stare at him as he passes and contribute to the laughter ringing in his ears. He tries to block it out.

God, Jihoon hadn’t even taken him seriously, and he felt utterly ridiculous in the freezing air with next to nothing on. Soonyoung was exhausted. He wasn’t too far from his halls, but the humiliation in the space of fifteen minutes had drained him enough that as soon as he spots an empty bench as he’s crossing the lawn, he flops down onto it. Wrapping his arms tightly around his chest to give him a semblance of warmth and decency, Soonyoung can’t help but let the tears fall. He doesn’t allow himself to sob, but the salt water flows relentlessly down his stinging cheeks like sharp steel against his skin.

Back when he was at UCLA, if he’d shown up at a party accidentally in costume like he had, girls and guys would have been fawning over him. Soonyoung sniffles, shaking his head as he mutters the word ‘stupid’ over and over to himself. Everything was so different here. It wasn’t California. He wasn’t on top of the world like how Jihoon had reminisced. He couldn’t get anything and everything he wanted, but all he really wanted was his boyfriend back.

More footsteps sound from behind him, but Soonyoung ignores them in favour of trying to stop his weeping. They patter down the marble steps of whatever building is behind him to his left, and he is just waiting for the snide remark to hit him like the others. But it doesn’t come, and Soonyoung blinks away the tears to see the figure passing by him, flicking through papers in his hands.

The boy only looks up for a split second to glance in Soonyoung’s direction before turning back to the items in his hands, but upon realising what he has just seen he halts, turning around to face him. Pushing his glasses up his nose, Soonyoung realises he recognises the fluffy hair and satchel combo, even if he isn’t wearing his usual scruffy work attire. A strong gust of wind whips past them causing the boy’s papers to rustle and for Soonyoung’s teeth to rattle as he shivers.

“Uh, hey Soonyoung…” Wonwoo approaches slowly, ceasing his paper shuffling as he observes the current state the law student is in. Soonyoung can see that he’s trying to piece together a story in his head. “Bit cold? Or do you shiver with antici…pation?”

Soonyoung’s face remains sullen even when Wonwoo cracks a smile at his attempt to joke. At least he got his costume reference, he supposes. He’s just really not in the mood to laugh. The boy can see that when he doesn’t respond, and Wonwoo’s smile falls as he readjusts the strap of his satchel across his chest before pointing to the boy’s head. “Nice hair, by the way. Did you dye it?”

Sniffling, Soonyoung shakes his head and reaches up to grab the blonde wig and tug it off with ease. It falls limply into his lap and Wonwoo takes it as a cue for him to put his papers away in his bag, freeing up his hands. He reaches out to touch the boy’s shoulder in comfort, but stops just shy of making contact with his skin. Soonyoung barely notices, but Wonwoo clears his throat and plays through things to say in his mind in an attempt to make this situation less awkward and far more consoling for the boy.

“Hey. Hey, don’t cry. What’s wrong?”

What’s wrong? Soonyoung scoffs internally, throwing his hands up in frustration. “Apart from absolutely everything? If I had to narrow it down from the endless list of things that have been beating me down since I came to this school, then… Love!”

That was… not what Wonwoo had expected to come out of the boy’s mouth, frowning slightly. “Excuse me?”

“I came here all the way from Cali for love, and look where it led me.”

“Love… led you here?” The boy looks around him at the campus buildings painted in the shadows of the night. “Harvard?”

“If that’s what you want to call my own personal circle of Hell, then yeah. Sure. Harvard. I hate it here. I have no friends, Professor Choi hates me, and instead of a wedding I thought I would be planning by now, I’m a total laughing stock! And what’s worse is that he’s the one laughing with them!” Soonyoung feels himself becoming hysterical, but he thinks that maybe he’s allowed to be a little dramatic in his situation. No one has it as bad as him. All the bad karma in the world was coming back to bite him in the ass and he just doesn’t understand why. Shouldn’t it be awful people like Jeonghan who get mocked? “Sometimes I just wish someone would take a rock and, you know…”

Soonyoung gestures to dropping the rock on his head, completely out of breath from his spew of word vomit. Why was any of this worth it when Jihoon was totally and completely hypnotised by whatever spell Jeonghan has over him? He was at a complete loss…

“Hang on… Back up a little…” Wonwoo processes, using his hands to talk and no doubt work his way through everything that had just come out of Soonyoung’s mouth. “So, you only came out here to follow some man?”

“Not just ‘some man’. Jihoon.” Soonyoung corrects him, wiping his nose with his wig as a makeshift handkerchief.

“Right.” He can see that the correction meant very little to Wonwoo as he continued, but Soonyoung wanted it to be clear. “And Harvard law was just part of some, what, thirty step plan to marry him? Wow, what sort of rich, romantic, fantasy planet are you from? What rom-com are you trapped in?”

Unable to answer, Soonyoung opens and immediately closes his mouth. It hadn’t been a thirty-step plan… only three…

“I cannot believe that you stalked some guy—Jihoon,” Wonwoo holds his hands up apologetically for his slip up. “All the way from California to one of the most renowned schools in America… That is the strangest, weirdest thing I have ever—“

“Well, why’d you come if you’re acting all high and mighty?” Soonyoung tries to town down the devastation in his voice as he interrupts. He’s not angry with Wonwoo, even if it comes off that way. He understands his confusion. He knows it’s not the normal reason people come here, but hell, he’s here now. He got in, and he’s not giving up on his dream, the same way Jihoon wasn’t giving up on his.

Pausing for a second or two to collect himself, Wonwoo adjusts the glasses on the bridge of his nose as he looks squarely at the boy in front of him. “Okay.”

Soonyoung observes as the man goes to sit to his right, brushing off the bench before he perches on the structure and drops his bag on the floor beside them. The tears in Soonyoung’s eyes have disappeared so he can see clearer now, but the aching in his heart is still there, as is the chill on his skin.

“I actually grew up in the Roxbury slums, Boston. Not the, uh, nicest of places for a child that wants to spend all day, every day playing out on the street.” Wonwoo stares ahead into the dark of the night, running his hands over one another as Soonyoung tunes into his words. “It was just my mom and I, and our neighbours just so happened to mostly be homeless. Dad left when I was seven. He was a right piece of—“ Trailing off, Soonyoung can see a slightly new side of Wonwoo desperate to break free, but the boy claws it back in to remain his calm, cool composure that he is so used to seeing. “I was surrounded by guys who showed me all the ways a man can fail. So, I swore to myself to work hard. Graduated early from high school, Coyotes represent.”

Soonyoung lets out a single chuckle at the boy’s diversion to mention his old high school mascot. It reminds him of better times in high school when he and Jihoon would attend every football game together as a couple, and the way they would celebrate a win by falling into bed together. He looks down at the wig in his lap to clear his mind.

“From there, I got through pre-law by busting my ass — you know, I had to work two jobs alongside all my studies? Yeah. My mom could barely give me a cent and loans were too steep to sit on without any help. So, forgive me for not weeping at your so-called ‘sob story’.”

He swallows down the last of his sadness when Wonwoo lets out a sigh from retelling his youth, shrugging off his jacket before he wraps it around Soonyoung’s shoulders. Soonyoung accepts it gratefully with a whisper of thanks, smiling weakly at his appreciation for the jean jacket. It was nice to see Wonwoo in something other than the scruffy brown blazer he wore to every class; it made him a bit more human. The borg collar was warm and he already felt his torso no longer turning to ice as he grips it close to his skin.

“It sounds to me like you’ve got a chip on your shoulder from how—“

“You’re right.” Wonwoo intercepts, rubbing his hands together for warmth. “That’s exactly what I have, and I think given how hard I had to work to get here, I deserve to have a bit of a chip on my shoulder, and it’s as big as it can possibly be. Especially knowing the chance we’ve been given, I don’t understand how your sole focus can only be on love? How are you not driven as hell to be the best you can be? Do you know how many people get accepted here each year?”

“Less than a percent. A friend told me that once.”

“Exactly! Less than a percent.” Wonwoo runs a hand over his chin as if remembering something, and Soonyoung sees the boy’s drive flash in his eyes. “I’m… I’m so close to graduating I can taste it, so I don’t waste a single second of my time here. There may be a chip on my shoulder, but that’s what gives me the force to move forward. Love isn’t strong enough, so I think you need some sort of chip of your own. It might just see you through, toughen you up. Then, not everything will get to you.”

Wonwoo makes a move to leave, placing his hands on either side of him on the bench to push up and help him stand. Soonyoung tilts his head with a small roll of his eyes. Maybe he wasn’t the only dramatic one on campus, he thinks as Wonwoo slides his head and shoulder through the satchel strap and takes a few steps away.

“You’re sounding highly negative.” Soonyoung stops him. Love had gotten him here, and yes, it was messy, not easy like he’d hoped, but he wasn’t suddenly going to become a carbon copy of the overworked law student type Wonwoo was perpetuating.

Turning to look back at him, Wonwoo smirks and shakes his head before pushing up his glasses once more. “You know, that’s funny, coming from the person who just asked me to end their life by bashing their head in with a rock. Look,” he throws his hands up to the side before letting them drop back down. “I’m just being honest—when you’re not born into privilege you have to work thrice as hard as everyone else, just to get the tiniest fraction of the amount everyone else has…”

Soonyoung follows the line of the finger Wonwoo raises to point at him, gazing down at the jacket he still has wrapped tightly around him like a blanket. He goes to take it off before Wonwoo stops him with a small noise.

“Keep it. But just for tonight!” The boy nods, even though he is now in just a thin shirt and trousers. He’s still warmer than Soonyoung, whose knees are knocking with every shiver. “I want that jacket back next time you see me.”

He hugs the jacket closer to him with an appreciative smile, sinking down into the bench a little more as Wonwoo turns to leave again. The entire conversation plays over in his mind as he recalls all the things the boy had said, and all the subtle advice he’d thrown into the mix. Soonyoung cannot even begin to fathom working that hard from such a young age, and he sits up suddenly in revelation.

“Wait! Two jobs? Plus law school?”

Jumping out of his seat to follow Wonwoo’s footsteps just a few feet away, he catches up to the boy’s side and repeats his exclamation, much to Wonwoo’s amusement.

“I haven’t slept since 1996…”

“Hey, that’s my birth year!” Soonyoung smiles, swaying on the spot.

“And mine.” Wonwoo nods, letting out a chuckle in response.

Soonyoung blinks and does a double take, reaching out to knock Wonwoo’s arm with the hand clutching his wig. “No way! But, like… you’re years ahead of me! I thought you were, like, thirty?”

“Wow! Thanks a lot,” the boy now lets out a laugh that is more than a chuckle; throwing his head back and scrunching his nose up in a way that makes Soonyoung laugh too. Shaking his head, he raises an eyebrow. “Thirty? No. Like I said, I graduated early.”

“Seriously, Wonwoo. How do you do it all?” The pair freezes on their slow walk once again, seeming as if they are toing and froing constantly between the edge of campus and the lonely bench they’d been sat at before. Soonyoung lets his shoulders slump. “Everything is just so overwhelming…”

Another breeze of wind rushes past them and the jacket is once again tighter around his torso, watching as Wonwoo runs his hand through his hair in thought. Soonyoung wishes there was a button he could press to make it all so much easier. Was he in too deep?

It takes the boy a few seconds to compose what it is he wants to say to Soonyoung, holding onto the strap of his bag. “Well, if I’m honest with you, I don’t tend to go to costume parties…” Soonyoung’s stomach falls at the memory of him first entering the gathering that evening. “Or any parties as a matter of fact, not when I can be using that time to study and work on classes and my future. I also don’t spend hours on the way I look or staying in shape, because I know none of that matters to me as much as the possibility of making it to where I want to be.”

Soonyoung looks down at his abdomen and thinks about all the time he had spent during his time at school trying to look the best that he can. Sure, it had helped boost his confidence during adolescence, but could he have spent more time working on class? He doesn’t know, he doesn’t think he’s ever had the attention span.

“All I want to do is win my first big, lucrative trial where I am finally able to pay back my mom for all she’s done — buy her the great big house out on the Cape that she’s always dreamed of.”

“That’s really sweet,” Soonyoung catches himself smiling at the thought. All he’s ever known is his parent’s huge estate in California, he couldn’t imagine having to scrape by with only the hopes of having your dream home at the end of everything.

“It’s what she deserves, and that chip on my shoulder we’ve been discussing? That’s what gets me through, even when times are tough. I’m sorry that you’re feeling down, I really am, but this is more than just some guy you came here for. I hugged my mom and told her that when I moved out, with this chance I’ve been gifted, I was gonna be driven as hell. Not taking the day off may sound like torture, but I just remember the pay off in the end. Like I said, you need a chip on your own shoulder, Kwon comma Soon.”

Wonwoo leans forward a little with a tight smile, tapping Soonyoung’s upper arm lightly with his hand.

“What I need,” Soonyoung takes in a deep breath as they walk together down the path, passing under the flickering campus lights. “What I really need is to prove to everyone that I’m serious! I just don’t know how to do that.”

Letting out a few disbelieving laughs, Wonwoo raises an eyebrow to Soonyoung on his right and sighs. “And how’s that working out for you?”

Unable to respond, Soonyoung shrugs and lets his head fall back to look at the sky, crestfallen.

“What I think you need, if you want my opinion, is to get to work on your studies. Read your books, do the assignments so that Seungcheol doesn’t have any reason to kick you out of class.” Wonwoo’s words are sincere, and Soonyoung remembers all the times he’d caught the boy’s face in the corner of his eye from the front row, as Professor Choi had instructed him to leave the class immediately. “Are you part of a study group that can help and motivate you?”

“No… I’m not exactly invited to the main one for law hosted by Mr. Oh-So-Perfect and his gaggle of goons…” He kicks a rock onto the lawn, almost forgetting how cold he is entirely as he speaks to the boy. “I usually just study with my friend — he goes to a different college but he’s not doing law. I could tell you a bunch about Cicero and Virgil, but anything on unlawful conduct and the right to a tournament or whatever and I’m lose…”

“Attorney?”

Soonyoung whips his head to look at the boy and lets out a groan. “I can’t even get the words right!”

He can see the boy is trying hard not to laugh whilst giving him support, but he slips up again with a nose scrunch and a chuckled breath out. “Look, it must be hard trying to revise something with someone who isn’t exactly clued in on this stuff—“

“On either end!”

“So…” Wonwoo takes back the conversation, licking his bottom lip where it has started to chap as he thinks through the options and settles on a solution. “How about I help you out? A couple of hours each week after class, during lunch, whenever; just until you’re safely on your own two feet.”

Soonyoung unconsciously lets his mouth fall open, “You’d do that for me?”

“Honestly, you would be doing me a favour too. Then I can stop hearing your name from Cheol every teacher’s meeting, or worrying when he’s going to blow up in class.” Soonyoung can tell he’s trying to make light of the situation with his playful tone of voice, but hearing exactly what he’d feared was happening from his teachers behind his back was another knock to his already awful night. “But, because you really are still so early into the semester, we will have you up and running in no time.”

So, he nods as they come to the end of the path through campus and stop at the edge of the sidewalk, realising that maybe this truly is the best possible course of action. He’d get through class and simultaneously prove to Jihoon that he was there to put the work in — with law and with him.

“Yes, I would like that a lot. Thank you, Wonwoo.”

“I have to figure out what time is best for me, but I’ll let you know. Uh, keep an eye out for an email.”

“Right. An email. I will!” He rocks back and forth on his feet, eager to get home now that he has a semblance of a plan, so he can collapse into bed and restart afresh in the morning. “Any time is good for me.”

Wonwoo smiles a little with a muttered ‘all right’, before he’s waving goodbye to Soonyoung and walking in the opposite direction from the way he is headed back to his halls. Soonyoung’s eyes linger on him for about a minute until he begins to disappear behind a line of cars parked on the sidewalk, and he feels like he can breathe a little easier again.

“Get home safe!” Is the last thing he hears as he himself turns to leave, and Soonyoung looks over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of the boy and his glasses throwing up one last wave from where he’s walking. Soonyoung feels his cheeks burn with the cold, and he instinctively pulls his arms through the jacket arms at the final sound of Wonwoo’s voice before he finds his feet and makes his way back to his dorm.

He can smell Wonwoo on the jacket; a homely smell that he thinks reminds him of fireplaces and the jazz his dad used to play when he was a child. He thinks that he must love this jacket, and as soon as he scampers his way into his room — hoping he doesn’t run into anyone on the way — he hangs it up nicely as his own clothes lay scattered around the floor. It takes him less than a minute to throw Seungkwan’s Rocky costume aside and get into his pyjamas before he’s collapsed onto his bed and pulled out his phone.

Seungkwan is his first thought as he opens up his message app and types up the entire evening disaster, making sure that his friend knows his true thoughts about Jeonghan. He doesn’t think the words he uses are strong enough to convey his pain. Still, as he presses send, Soonyoung stops and remembers to mention that the boy no longer has to spend all his time helping with his studies whenever they hang out, as he has a new person to study with. From then onwards, they could meet to be friends and enjoy the company around them. He assumes the boy is asleep when he doesn’t receive a reply and ups to brush his teeth.

A chip on his shoulder, huh? He thinks as he spits out the minty toothpaste and gives his face a scrub off the make up on his skin so he feels refreshed and less tear-stained. If that’s what was going to help him get through this, then he was going to have the biggest chip on his shoulder that Wonwoo, Jihoon, or Jeonghan had ever seen. He would come out on top and get everything he wanted, they could be sure of that.