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Jaemin: liked by many, loved by even more, and to those who don't fall under either of those two categories? They simply want to be him.

Everyone knows who he is. To the customers of the campus cafe he works at, he's the barista with terrible recommendations but too pretty a face to make them care. To the book club he attends, he's the one who always shows up hungover and with a half-completed book review. To the girls that swarm him after soccer club practice, he's the cute boy with the pink hair that somehow always smells like soap and baby powder even after sweating buckets.

To Jaemin’s friends, he's an overly affectionate nuisance.

Renjun will disagree and insist that he's all affection and not all a nuisance, but then again, Renjun somehow feels like he belongs more in the category of the girls that swoon over him than their friend group who are on the brink of signing a petition to save Jaemin’s liver from alcohol.

To Renjun, Jaemin’s always been, well, very Jaemin. And that's a problem. Jaemin is all toothy smiles and inappropriate flirting and impeccable fashion, and it makes Renjun want to ram himself into a wall and scream.

Jaemin is in all his best memories and also his most embarrassing ones. In fact, at this point, Renjun’s sure over half of his brain is solely dedicated to the pink-haired boy. That’s what tends to happen when you pine after one of your best friends for God knows how long. The only issue is he's sure that, to Jaemin, Renjun is a friend, maybe a close friend at best, because for God’s sake the boy is straight, and so he has to swallow his feelings and bury them deep where they’ll never surface.

However, in actuality, Renjun is a close friend, a friend at least, and though Jaemin tries and tries, he never seems to be able to toe that fragile line and make it something more.

Renjun is the first one he looks for after soccer practice, and the reason he'll stay up late smiling into his phone and forget to finish his reviews for the book club which he miraculously hasn’t been kicked out of yet. Renjun is paint-streaked cheeks and rolled eyes at bad pickup lines said jokingly, and the only thing that makes him feel more intoxicated than the weird cocktails Jeno mixes up for him.

Jaemin has everyone swinging like puppets on strings, and yet Renjun has never looked his way. Renjun has friendzoned him, he's sure of it. Jaemin just laughs it all off, moving to direct his slightly too suggestive smiles at every other person who so much as glances at him, doing his best to pretend like he's fine with it all.

🦊

“We’re lost.”

Renjun pinches the bridge of his nose in frustration. “How can you be lost? It’s almost a straight road from our dorms!” he yells into the phone.

“Almost a straight road?” There's the sound of shuffling before Yukhei’s voice comes back through his speakers, “Well that explains a lot, because the road we took had at least three turns and a roundabout.”

Renjun audibly sighs and the cashier throws him a strange look. They’d all agreed to meet up at a Gong Cha not too far from their dorms, but the time they’d agreed on was almost ten minutes ago, and of course it's only Renjun that sits alone at a table now. He slips off his seat, ducking his head so he can avoid the embarrassment of explaining to the staff why he’d come in, sat without ordering, and was now leaving again.

“Is Mark there? Put him on the phone.”

“Renjun?” Mark’s voice comes through almost instantly and Renjun narrows his eyes at the sound of the reason why his roommate, Yukhei, had ditched him that morning and left Renjun to walk all alone. Whatever happened to bros before hoes and all that?

“Where are you guys?”

“Okay, well, um...do you remember last year after Jeno’s birthday party we all went to that bar but then, like, Jaemin felt sick so we were leaving and he threw up on the street next to that card shop?”

How could Renjun forget? He’d been worried sick at the sight of Jaemin’s pallid skin and shaking eyes. Besides, even if he’d somehow let the memory slip, the rant his mother had then given him for getting vomit all over his new shoes had definitely made the event stick in his mind.

“Well, I think that’s where we are,” Mark concludes.

“Fine, don’t move. You guys aren’t that far, so I’ll come to get you.”

As soon as the last word leaves his lips, he feels himself collide into a firm torso. He pulls back in shock, apologies at the tip of his tongue, only to come staring into Donghyuck’s grinning face. Just slightly behind him stand his boyfriend, Jeno, and his roommate Yangyang.

“And where are you running off to, Cinderella?” his best friend teases. “I thought we were meeting at the boba shop, and I’m pretty sure it’s in the opposite direction.”

Renjun rolls his eyes. “Mark and Xuxi.”

That seems to be ample explanation for the trio in front of him who has joined him on his quest to find their two friends.

Renjun glances over to where Jeno is walking happily with a bagel in hand.

“Where’s Jaemin?”

It's an innocent question. He’d simply asked because Jaemin is Jeno’s roommate and he’d figured they would arrive together. However, as soon as he says it, he has the teasing smiles of Jeno and Donghyuck thrown his way.

“Why? Can you not bear to be apart from him?” Donghyuck grins.

“Why would he not bear to be apart from Jaemin?” Yangyang asks with innocent eyes.

“No reason,” Renjun replies firmly, directing a steely stare in the direction of his two best friends. Jeno and Donghyuck are the only ones who know about his tragedy of a crush, and he’d prefer to keep it that way.

“Okay, sure,” Donghyuck teases, dragging out each syllable.

Jeno, being the angel that he is, takes pity on Renjun and cuts in before his boyfriend blows his cover. “Jaemin will be here eventually.”

“Eventually?”

Jeno hums. “Last time I saw him, he was still asleep.”

“It’s 6 PM,” Yangyang answers looking seriously unimpressed.

“He only got back to our dorms early in the morning, and he was incredibly drunk, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he just woke up.”

Renjun swallows the acid that burns his throat at the thought of his friend staying out late drinking again. It's nothing new for Jaemin, but Renjun hates how he gets when he drinks. He hates how he’ll flirt with every girl and whisper into their ears and laugh at their awful jokes like it was some sort of amusing secret between just them. The ugly truth is just that Renjun hates how it's never him Jaemin does any of that with. And it never will be him.

Two figures madly waving from across the road come into sight and Donghyuck immediately runs forward, waving back like a madman. They all cross and Yukhei comes forward to scoop Renjun into a hug that is clearly meant to be some sort of apology for making him come find them.

“So now we’re just waiting for Jaemin, right?” Mark asks.

Renjun laughs mirthlessly. That sounded like the title of his biography.

“Yep, we’re just waiting for Jaemin,” Renjun confirms. "But Chenle and Jisung are probably waiting for us at the store."

“Oh, right, the babies. Let’s hurry up and wait for Jaemin to meet us there then, yeah?” Mark says, and they all backtrack to the boba shop, Mark attempting to lead the way at first before realizing he has no idea how to get there and falling behind.

 

It’s 6:17 PM when they get back to the Gong Cha, finding Chenle and Jisung, the only two freshmen of their group, sitting at a table in the store looking antsy.

Despite Jisung and Chenle being born in different years, they were both in the same grade in school as Jisung had apparently entered the first grade early. Renjun first met the two in high school, and they'd practically been joined at the hip then. (Actually, he first met the whole group in high school, minus Yukhei, who he only met in his first year of college but has already become an integral part of their group, and Yangyang, but that's a story for another time.) Six years later and Renjun can only describe their relationship as best friends who also seem to like each other and may or may not be dating, though Renjun isn't entirely sure. 'It's complicated,' they'd told him once, and the words make Renjun think of Yukhei and Mark, who he’s about 99.9 percent sure are fucking (or whatever 'helping each other out' means, but that's also a story for another time).

Right now, Chenle is on his phone and looking up occasionally, probably playing some game as it’s tilted sideways, while Jisung is looking around like a lost child, his eyes getting desperate. Jisung spots them coming through the door first.

Chenle grunts. “Are they gonna show or wha—” Jisung nudges Chenle, making the older of the two look up, and gestures in their direction. “Oh, they’re here,” Chenle says, putting his phone back in his pocket. “What the hell took you guys so long? It’s a straight road from the dorms and then a turn. A six minute walk at most, according to Maps. We were waiting here for, like, ever!”

It was pretty much what Renjun had said earlier, and he almost wants to cry. If it was a six minute walk at most, mind explaining to me why I waited alone for nine whole minutes? Renjun wants to ask but decides against it. Instead, he just sighs audibly. Really, he should've known better than to arrive at 6 PM on the dot since it seems most of the group likes to leave the dorms either at or after the specified time.

"Mark and I…" Yukhei says, pausing for effect, "got lost!" He gives everyone a goofy grin, and Mark is breaking out into one of his contagious laughs again, slapping Yukhei's arm out of habit.

"We had to pick them up," Renjun elaborates, shaking his head with the faint traces of a smile on his face. He can't bring himself to be mad anymore, not with The Mark-and-Yukhei Effect. (Renjun has no idea why they aren't dating yet because there's clearly something going on and there are clearly feelings involved.)

“Oh, okay,” Chenle says, accepting the answer. The rest of them take their seats at the table and the one beside it, and then Chenle scans the group and realizes. “Wait, where’s Jaemin?”

“Probably mad hungover still,” Jeno supplies, trashing his bagel wrapper before going into more detail.

Chenle shakes his head at the end of Jeno's briefing. “Hopeless,” he practically sighs.

"Hey," Jisung says, frowning, "don't say that about Jaemin. He's just trying his best."

"To drink himself into oblivion," Chenle retorts.

"Hate to say it, but he actually has a point for once," Renjun says to Jisung. He really wishes Jaemin wouldn't, though.

"For once?" Chenle says with a higher voice and an offended expression, sending the group into a bout of laughter. They go into comfortable group banter from there, occasionally complaining about Jaemin being ridiculously late.

It’s 6:21 PM when Jaemin finally shows up. They see him skid to a halt outside the door before bending over and panting heavily, his hands on his knees—all evidence that he had been running pretty hard. Jaemin stands up straight and stumbles inside the boba shop towards their not-so-little group sitting in the corner.

“I...I’m,” Jaemin begins, choking out the words as he tries to catch his breath. He can see that Jaemin has his camera slung from one shoulder to the opposite hip like he does everywhere and all the time, as the photography student he is. “I’m sorry for...being so late. Sorry for keeping you guys...waiting.”

Looking up, Renjun notices the slightly bleary look in Jaemin’s eyes but doesn’t comment on it. “It’s fine,” he assures Jaemin, and he sees Donghyuck send him a knowing look.

“Is it though?” Jaemin asks, frowning at him. Suddenly he turns to the whole group, his face looking a little brighter as though he’d just gotten an idea. He takes his wallet out of his pocket to show. “You know what, I’ll pay for all of us, since I was late. How does that sound?”

“Great,” one of them says, though Renjun isn’t sure who. That’s how they begin to tease Jaemin, nudging at him with their elbows with cheeky grins, saying things varying from “oh, you’re too kind” to “thanks, man” to “you’re so generous” to "guys, let's go all out," some things teasing and some completely genuine.

Jaemin just smiles in all of their faces, too exhausted to say anything in return yet pleased that he can make it up to them somehow, and Renjun doesn’t want to admit the sight makes him feel something inside.

“Wait, did you order already? If you did, I can just be the one to pay for that. The wait times here can be pretty bad,” Jaemin says.

Renjun thinks that Jeno’s facial expression speaks for all of them, his mouth an 'O' shape, round like the frame of his prescription glasses. “We probably should’ve done that, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long. Sorry, Jaemin,” he says sheepishly, relaying the whole group’s thoughts.

“It’s fine, let’s go order now,” Jaemin says, and they all stand up and walk to the front counter, the cashier greeting them. Surprisingly, there isn’t a line—actually, there aren’t that many customers inside the store, now that Renjun looks around, even though it's Gong Cha. “Hi, we’d like to order nine drinks.”

“Sure thing, what can I get for you?” the cashier chirps, tapping a few things on her screen.

“Um,” Jaemin says, looking up at the menu even though Renjun is sure he already knows what it is he wants—he always gets the same thing, after all. A taro smoothie (since it isn't milk-based), no pearls, 100 percent sugar as the absolute madman with broken taste buds he is. Perhaps the action is for calming his nerves, despite being a supposedly full-fledged adult. “One taro smoothie, full sugar, one mango yogurt with white pear—”

Renjun is curious about how Jaemin has memorized his order when the cashier makes an exclamation, as though she's just remembered something, interrupting Jaemin. "I’m sorry, but we currently don’t have any pearls, white or black—we just ran out, you see.”

“Sorry, what?”

“We just ran out of tapioca pearls,” the girl repeats. “If you’re willing to wait 40 minutes, then we can start on your orders with pearls, or you can order without pearls right now.”

Jaemin turns to the rest of them. “What do we do? They have no pearls.”

The general consensus seems to be that they go to another boba shop—40 minutes plus the wait time for their actual drinks could total an hour, and they're way too impatient for that—so Jaemin cancels the order nicely and they walk out with disappointment.

"How can you not have any pearls? You're a boba tea shop but you don't got the boba? What?" Jaemin rants animatedly, his fatigue replaced by annoyance and wild gestures.

"Shut up," Renjun says, though he doesn't really mean it. He hopes Jaemin knows that.

Jaemin knows.

"But you love me," Jaemin says, looking back at Renjun with a lopsided grin and shooting him a wink. Renjun's heart stutters. Yeah, actually, he does, but he isn't about to just tell Jaemin—straight Jaemin—that, despite how much he wants to.

Renjun is saved from answering when Jeno says, "We can just, you know, go to another boba place that actually has boba. We can go to CoCo, or Chatime, or something." It's the third time Jeno has done that today alone, and Renjun feels eternally grateful.

"CoCo sounds good," Renjun says, then he thinks about Jaemin's wallet. "Wait, which one's more expensive?"

"I think they're around the same price. Both of them are pretty pricey," Yangyang chips in. "Anyway, I'm not really, like, in a place where I can add an opinion—I'm not one of you guys—so I don't care where we go."

"It doesn't matter which one's more expensive," Jaemin says, "you don't have to think about that. Just let me treat you guys. And Yangyang, you're allowed to have an opinion here."

"Okay, then…" Yangyang looks at Renjun, and then Jaemin. "Yeah, CoCo sounds good."

"Any objections?" Jaemin asks, and when there are none, he breaks into a wide smile. "Okay, let's get over there, then."

Renjun opens up his mouth to say, "Yeah, we're kinda blocking the sidewalk—"

"Shut up," Jaemin quips with a teasing glint in his eye.

🐰

The sun is already beginning to set in typical autumn fashion and the CoCo Fresh Tea and Juice is crowded with people when the nine of them filter through the door like baby ducks. They join the line huddling together to save space, with Jaemin standing closest to the front like the mama since he’s, unfortunately, the one paying for all of their drinks.

They get to the front of the line after some five minutes and the guys tell Jaemin what drinks they want. He passes on the orders to the cashier, who promptly rings him up. His smile falters at the total, definitely regretting drinking last night and being late because now he’s going to be short of a good 50 bucks. That's four hours of work at the campus cafe for him. He sighs and supposes it’s okay to splurge once in a while anyway.

It ended up being quicker than what Gong Cha would've taken, but their drinks took longer to make than expected because the CoCo was understaffed that day, costing them all thirty or so minutes of waiting time.

They'd spent those thirty or so minutes chatting at the tables, taking boomerangs and selfies for their Instagram stories (and Jaemin stealing a few candid shots with his camera), quieting down because they were disrupting everyone else sitting in the store and ruining the nice boba tea shop ambience, and then raising their voices again when they started playing PUBG on their phones using the store's free wifi. Jaemin’s surprised they didn’t get kicked out.

The wait time doesn't matter much now, though, because they've all gotten their drinks by the end of it and they're all happily waddling out of the door—after a few aesthetic shots of their drinks, of course. Jaemin can see the pure delight on their faces, and suddenly all the money he spent seems worth it.

Jaemin stabs the film seal of his taro slush with a straw, pocketing the straw's plastic wrapper, before taking a long sip. It doesn't taste half bad. They walk back to their dorms with their drinks in hand, sipping between speaking.

It's late out. The sky is already pitch dark, and the city responds with thousands of lights to illuminate the shops and streets. Cars face the routine night congestion beside them while they wait at the crossing for the signal to turn from red to white.

Jaemin watches as Mark pushes the crosswalk button once with his palm, only for the others (read: Yangyang and Yukhei) to slam it several times in an attempt to make the walk signal appear quicker, making sound effects like they’re playing a game at the arcade.

Jaemin knows it's futile though, because, contrary to popular belief, its actual purpose is to let the system know to adjust and give the requesting pedestrian enough time to cross, or else they might run out of time. Or it could just be a plain old placebo. Either way, push it more times than one and you're just wasting your energy—not like that's a problem for them, who have plenty of energy to spare.

They're about to cross when Jaemin hears Renjun call out for them to wait. They all turn to him, finding him patting himself down frantically. Then realization blooms on his face and he curses.

"Guys, I forgot my phone back at the store, on the booth sofa. I'm gonna run back and get it real quick—can you wait for me?" Renjun asks. The pedestrian light is counting down from twenty now.

They nod, and Renjun practically shoves his drink into Yangyang's hands so he can run without worrying about it splashing—why Yangyang out of the whole group, though, Jaemin doesn't know. Maybe it's because he's the closest one standing next to him (it would've been Jaemin if only the spot hadn't been taken, he thinks bitterly), or because Renjun is too wary of the other members of their group and supposes that Yangyang is trustworthy enough to not do anything to his drink, since he's the somewhat outsider to their closely-knit-since-high-school group.

Perhaps it's a bit of both.

Renjun turns back and starts booking it towards the store, narrowly dodging the few stray people in his path, and the rest of them forgo the opportunity to cross for the sake of waiting for Renjun.

Giving Yangyang his drink turns out to be a Very Bad Idea™ on Renjun's part as Donghyuck whispers to Yangyang something and the two grin mischievously at each other. Really, Renjun should've known better—Yangyang is Donghyuck's roommate, and they're on the same wavelength when it comes to pranks and being chaotic. Jaemin has only met Yangyang a couple of times, and even he knows that.

Jaemin has no idea what the two are planning this time around when they come to face the rest of the group. The drink has switched hands, now in Donghyuck's clutches.

"Hey, why don't we drink half of Renjun's drink? Before he comes back. We go around and take a few sips each," Donghyuck proposes, shooting them an impish smile.

They make some noise in reaction to Donghyuck's idea, agreeing that Renjun's reaction will be fun to watch. And like that, the cup goes around in a circle. Eventually it reaches Jaemin, and he declines obviously, because he absolutely detests anything made with milk, and this has yakult in it.

"Ey, you'd totally drink it if it was strawberry, wouldn't you?" Chenle jokes, knowing he thinks artificial strawberry flavouring is gross.

"Strawberry...eugh...milk...bleh," Jaemin says with a few fake puking sounds, to which Chenle laughs. But seriously, artificial strawberry flavouring is disgusting on its own, but in combination with milk? Yeah, no, he'll pass.

In the end, Jaemin is skipped and the drink comes back to Donghyuck, who takes an especially long sip this time around. Then they hear Renjun behind them calling out "Hey!" and Donghyuck gets caught red-handed.

Renjun comes to a halt in front of them, collecting his breath for a short moment. "Hey, what do you think you're doing, you wanna die? Just how much did you drink?" Donghyuck just smiles at him, lifting up the cup to reveal a little more than a quarter of the yellow drink finished. "Why, you—"

Renjun lunges forward at Donghyuck, and Donghyuck starts to run away laughing, bringing Renjun's quarter-done drink with him. Jeno whips out his phone and begins filming a pissed-off Renjun chase pisser-offer Donghyuck.

There's Yukhei cheering the both of them on from the sidelines, Chenle laughing rather loudly in the background, Yangyang snickering on the side (Jaemin is glad he's no longer looking uncomfortable with their group), and the rest of them smiling fondly at Donghyuck and Renjun's antics.

Jaemin's hands move on their own, bringing his camera up to his face. He closes an eye to peer through the viewfinder, adjusts the aperture and ups the ISO. He tries to hold the camera as steady as possible against his face, holds the shutter down to focus, and shoots it all.

After running around in circles, Donghyuck then runs back to Jeno, hiding behind him. "Hey, Jeno, save me!"

Jeno does nothing but stand there, as though just smiling will ward Renjun away. Of course, it doesn't work and Renjun reaches behind Jeno and catches Donghyuck.

"Cut the cameras, deadass," Renjun says before bringing Donghyuck into a playful headlock. Jaemin takes a few more photos until he follows Renjun's commands, setting the camera down inconspicuously. Donghyuck returns Renjun his boba, and Renjun releases his hold, sighing.

"Remind me to give my drink to someone else next time, like Xuxi, Mark, or Jaemin," Renjun says, not knowing that Yukhei and Mark had also taken sips of Renjun's drink, then as he shakes his head he mutters under his breath, "the only people I can trust."

Jaemin's heart does a thing when he hears Renjun say his name, say he's someone trustworthy in his eyes.

Jaemin's not sure why, but he finds himself offering his taro slush to Renjun. Renjun accepts, taking a sip. There's something thrilling about seeing Renjun's lips on his straw, drinking from Jaemin's drink. His hand rests on top of Jaemin's to stabilize the cup, and he finds Renjun’s touch is cold from holding his own iced drink.

"No pearls," Renjun says in a sour tone when he pulls away. He’s cute like this, Jaemin thinks, and he has him feeling all sorts of ways.

"Next time I order, I'll make sure to think of you and order with pearls," Jaemin says.

There are two people who give him a look in the next few moments: Renjun, a shy yet satisfied smile on his face that makes him want to kiss him, and Donghyuck, smug amusement etched on his features that he wants to wipe clean off.

When they finally cross the intersection all together, Chenle decides to speak up. “So this is where Jisung and I part ways with you tonight,” he says.

“But it isn’t?” Renjun says like a question, brows furrowed in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

Jaemin’s eyes wander down to Chenle and Jisung’s firmly clasped hands, and he makes a sound of realization. “Right now? It’s getting late out, you know,” Jaemin says, then he smiles, “though I guess that’s the whole point of a romantic late night walk.”

“You don’t have to worry about us, we're literally only a year, year and a half, younger than you. If it helps, we’ll only be out for a little bit. We just want some privacy,” Chenle says, and Jisung flushes.

Jaemin can't restrain himself from coming up to the two and pinching their cheeks and coddling them, though. They whine in protest and push Jaemin's hands away, telling him to stop embarrassing them. But in front of who? It's just them out here. Jaemin pries away anyway.

“Alright, alright. Have fun, kids,” Jaemin says with a wink for good measure, and then the two are walking off somewhere, boba still in hand.

He looks on fondly as Jisung bumps shoulders with Chenle in the near distance and Chenle bumps into him in return, and then Jisung breaks their hand-holding to fix Chenle’s hair. He wonders if this means Jisung and Chenle are finally going official. It better because, frankly, he’s had enough of the two saying ‘we’re not dating!’ in unison whenever one of them refers to the two as boyfriends.

“Our babies are finally growing up,” Donghyuck says with a fake, exaggerated sob. Jeno pats Donghyuck’s back in faux comfort and joins Donghyuck in his fake-cry fest, practically howling as he weeps.

Renjun shakes his head like he 'just can’t with those two,' Jeno frequently the perfect enabler to Donghyuck’s shenanigans. It’s like they were just made for each other, Jaemin thinks.

While the others are distracted, Mark and Yukhei come closer to Jaemin, patting him on the shoulder. He turns to look at them only to see the two holding some bills at him.

Jaemin gives the two a puzzled look. “Huh? What are you—”

“You wanted to pay for all of us because you were so late, right? Well, truth be told, we all came only about five minutes before you. Mark and I got lost, so the others came to get us,” Yukhei explains. “You know, where you threw up last year after Jeno’s birthday party.”

“We feel bad because you paid, like, 50 bucks for being only five minutes late. So just take the money and it’ll be like the three of us paid together,” Mark says before shoving the paper bills at Jaemin again.

Jaemin takes the money and pockets it, knowing that they could drag this out for forever, since all of them could be quite stubborn. “Thanks guys,” Jaemin says with a sincere smile. It’s comforting to know they have his back.

Mark grins widely. “Okay,” he says, turning back to the rest of the group and clapping. “Let’s keep on moving, people.”

They all watch as Mark continues to walk straight, which is the wrong direction. Jaemin can see how Mark and Yukhei got lost. “Wrong way, buddy. The dorms are that way,” Donghyuck says with a snicker, pointing a thumb to his right. Mark quickly runs back to the group before looking left and right to make sure no strangers had seen him.

“I really can’t with you all,” Renjun mutters from beside him.

“But you love us, right?” Jaemin asks. Renjun looks up and into his eyes when he says that, and he melts a little bit, losing himself in Renjun’s gaze.

Renjun smiles, and he knows he’s fucked. “Yeah, I guess I do.”

 

When they get back to their dorms, Jaemin immediately begins editing some photos for his photography class and others to post on his Instagrams, sticking his camera’s memory card into his laptop and opening Photoshop.

He’d gotten some pretty good shots today. He didn’t want to tell the guys, but a part of the reason he had been so late was because he was distracted by some things on the way, like an abandoned, overgrown bike, and a stray cat sleeping on the sidewalk. Apart from those shots, he’d also gotten some good candid photos. Actually, some of them he thinks are good enough to go on his photography Instagram instead of his personal, where he usually posts pictures of his friends.

He finishes post-processing all the pictures after a few hours, exporting the files to his hard drive for safekeeping. He sends the photos to his phone, the first time he’s looked at his phone all this time, and goes to Instagram to post. Before he does, though, he scrolls through his feed and his mentions.

Donghyuck has him tagged in his story, and it’s a bunch of photos and selfies, mainly from inside the boba shop while they were waiting for their drinks, and a lot of Jeno. The way so many of their posts are of each other makes Jaemin want to throw up because they're that gross and lovey-dovey, and so public with their relationship, but Jaemin doesn’t really want to admit that he’s also kind of jealous.

In the corner of one slide, he sees himself pointing his camera at Renjun, and he thinks he’s been busted. He hopes Renjun doesn’t notice. There are a few boomerangs, one with a floating text saying ‘00s’, another with one saying ‘Dreamies’ (a dumb name they had chosen for their group back in their early high school days that just stuck), and the last of their drinks, with the location tagged.

The others have him tagged in their own stories as well, but they’re not nearly as long. He isn’t surprised to see that Renjun hasn’t posted anything.

He does feel surprised and intrigued when he sees Chenle and Jisung’s newest posts, though. Chenle’s post is a picture of the two with their pinkies locked with the caption ‘mine' while Jisung’s is a picture of Chenle laughing, his eyes straight lines and his whisker dimples showing, with the caption ‘mom, i think i love him'.

Jaemin knows Jisung is probably referring to his actual mom and not him, but it doesn’t stop Jaemin from commenting on the post as Jisung's fake-mom anyway.

_jaemnna they grow up so fast....
3m____3 likes____Reply

Chenle and Jisung have been walking the line between just friends and lovers for years now, and he can’t help but feel proud of them. The only thing that bothers him is himself, how he hasn’t been able to make his and Renjun’s own relationship into something more, how Chenle and Jisung have more game than him.

dancer.jwi @_jaemnna youre not the mom i was talking abt lmao
2m____1 like____Reply

_jaemnna @dancer.jwi i literally bore you and this is how you treat me
2m____2 likes____Reply

His feelings for Renjun give him high highs and low lows, highs whenever he lets himself pretend that maybe there’s a chance Renjun likes him back, and lows whenever he realizes that no, Renjun doesn’t like him back, and his love is painfully unrequited. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do with these feelings.

dancer.jwi @_jaemnna sorry but the truth hurts ;p
57s____Reply

He ignores the bitter taste in his mouth in favour of switching to his photography account to post the photos he took from today as two series posts, one with the photos from the prank on Renjun and the other with the photos from inside the shop. He captions it and tags the image with a bunch of hashtags in hopes of getting his post seen, but ultimately he forgets to tag the guys in the post.

(He presses post. They end up not knowing the pictures ever existed.)

🐰

“Did you miss me?” Donghyuck asks as he opens the door to his and Jeno’s dorm one day, batting his eyelashes like he’s seen him do with Jeno. The thing is, Jaemin isn’t Jeno, so he gives Donghyuck an indifferent look.

“We saw each other, like, yesterday, so no. You only come to my room for the free food anyway,” Jaemin responds, calling Donghyuck out. Donghyuck just entered a few seconds ago, and yet he sees Donghyuck has already opened a brand new bag of ketchup chips, holding it in his left hand while his right hand digs inside.

Donghyuck hums. “You aren’t exactly wrong there. It's free food, what else am I supposed to do? If it's not me, then it's gonna be someone else, right? So it might as well be me.”

Jaemin rolls his eyes before going back to doing one of his assignments. A few half-productive minutes later, he tells Donghyuck to hand over some of the chips—he wants some too, as a mid-work snack. Jaemin frowns when Donghyuck hands him the bag and he finds a good portion of the chips gone, seemingly devoured by Donghyuck.

“Hey, just how much did you eat already?” Jaemin asks, looking between Donghyuck and the bag of chips a few times before reaching inside the bag.

“What do you mean? I only ate a little bit. The bag’s mostly air,” Donghyuck replies, tone level.

Jaemin would very much like to call Donghyuck out on his lying, as he’s lied rather cheekily before (with Jeno to cover) and acting comes easy to him as an aspiring actor, except the thing is that this bag is Lays, and thus there is a high possibility of Donghyuck actually telling the truth.

Jaemin just sighs, letting it go. “You’re lucky this is Lays,” he mumbles.

Donghyuck snorts. “And what would you have done if this wasn’t Lays?”

“Accuse you of lying,” Jaemin says truthfully.

Donghyuck squawks indignantly, a dramatic hand rising to his heart in mock-offence. “Wow, I’m hurt you would think so lowly of me,” he says, shaking his head.

“You’ve done it before,” Jaemin says before going into rant mode. “Jeno lets you treat our dorm like your own, lets you do whatever you want if you just give him puppy eyes, lets you get away with everything. You guys are so gross too...making heart eyes at each other...the freaking PDA. Like, hello, get a room please. But not at our dorm—I’m tired of being sexiled.”

“Okay, professional complainer. But I really think you're just jealous that we have what you don't," Donghyuck teases, before reaching into the bag again. (The audacity.) "You've had feelings for Renjun for, what, two, three years now? And barely anything has happened. Hate to say it, but your love life is pretty much non-existent."

Jaemin hates how right Donghyuck is. He hates that it's true, Jaemin doesn't even have a chance—nothing's happened between them romantically, nothing at all. He hates that he doesn't have a love life, is jealous of Donghyuck and Jeno’s relationship, and that Donghyuck is perceptive and uses the fact to taunt him. He knows, damn it. He may be an easy flirt, but that means nothing if he can’t get his tricks to work on the one person he actually likes.

(A little bit of vitriol wants to overflow from his mouth and seep between his lips. He doesn’t let anything spill, swallowing it all down instead.)

Jaemin ends up kicking Donghyuck out of the dorm with little bite, using the excuse that he doesn't want to lose all his food.

Donghyuck smirks knowingly as he walks out of Jaemin’s sight.

🐰

Jeno comes back to the dorm bearing beer cans and a bag of takeout.

"Want a drink?" Jeno asks him, holding up a can of some cheap ale.

Jaemin sits up on his bed, placing a bookmark into the book he was reading for his book club before tossing it to the side. "Where the fuck did you even get that from?"

Jeno's eyes turn into crescents, a smile on his lips. "Just bought them. And is that a yes or a no?"

"That's a hell yes," Jaemin says, and Jeno tosses the can at him. Embarrassingly enough, he nearly fails to catch it even though he's entirely sober. It's chilled when it meets his hands. Good. "What's in the bag?"

"Poutine," Jeno replies, moving the chair at his desk to sit at Jaemin's decidedly cleaner one (he'd been tidying up his desk in order to procrastinate on his projects). Jeno takes out a second can of beer and two small paper takeout boxes, setting them on Jaemin's desk. New York Fries. Good.

"Nice, man," Jaemin says with a grin, joining Jeno at the desk. "Did you get The Works?"

"Who do you take me for?" Jeno says, opening the boxes and revealing an original poutine and the more colourful The Works. Good. Jeno's such a good best friend. He sticks a fork into each, and like that they begin eating and drinking their beers.

When they're done and feeling the buzz, Jeno changes the conversation from a hot food debate (heh, Jaemin thinks) to something else.

"So, how are things going with Renjun?"

"Nothing's happened. Literally nothing at all," Jaemin says, sighing.

"Well, it can't be nothing. Just barely anything has happened?" Jeno suggests.

Jaemin is reminded of Donghyuck's taunting at Jeno's word choice, and he groans. "It's basically nothing. Over two years, and basically nothing has happened."

"Then why don't you just, I don't know, do something?"

"It's easier said than done," he tells Jeno.

"You can keep saying that, but sometimes you flirt with girls like there's no tomorrow. Why can't you just do that with him?"

"Jeno. It's just not the same, dude. I've tried, and it just doesn't seem to work on him. He just sees me as a friend. And even if I flirt with girls a lot, it's not like it ever goes anywhere now. I haven't lost my V-card, haven't kissed anyone since junior year of high school—well, if anyone tries to lean in, I just push them away—and ugh. It doesn't mean anything," Jaemin rambles.

"Okay then," Jeno says. He looks about ready to change the topic to something else again, but Jaemin speaks up first.

"Can I ask you something?"

"You're already asking me something," Jeno quips. Jaemin resists the urge to roll his eyes for the sake of all seriousness. "But sure, go ahead."

"How did you know you were bi?"

Jeno blinks at him. "I swear we've had this conversation before." Jaemin gives him a look. "Okay, okay. Uh. I guess, one day, I just knew. Well, before I met Hyuck, I had crushes on girls before. After I met Hyuck, I still felt attraction to girls, but then I felt attracted to him too, and that sort of just...opened a new door for me? Started seeing dudes differently. Figured out I liked both girls and guys. Did some googling. Bam, bisexual."

Jaemin drops his face into his palms, rubbing his eyes and groaning. "Why does that not help me at all."

Jeno raises a brow. "Then why don't you tell me how it is for you?"

"It's just, you talk like it was obvious, while I'm out here like, 'I don't even know anymore.' I get what you mean when you say liking Donghyuck opened a new door for you, except I can still only count the number of guys I've ever been attracted to on one hand," Jaemin says. Four guys—Renjun, obviously; Jeno, in ninth grade, but he isn't just about to tell him that; and two other relatively close guy friends, one in eighth grade and one in tenth grade. "Meanwhile, I’ve liked way more girls. It’s like I’m straight but not because I also like the occasional dude.”

Jeno hums. “Okay, so you’re mainly attracted to chicks and like the occasional dude. You don’t have to stress over labels if you’re not sure. But if you want me to throw a few terms around...bisexual with a preference towards girls? That's still bi. Biromantic? If you feel sexually and romantically attracted to girls but just romantically for guys, biromantic heterosexual? Or the other way around, heteroromantic bisexual? Just...queer?”

"This is so confusing," Jaemin mumbles. “I really don’t know—this whole sexually or romantically attracted thing is confusing. I know what everything means, but I’m not sure which one is me. Back to what I said earlier, about my flirting not going anywhere—I don’t want it to go anywhere. Just because I flirt with someone doesn’t mean that I want to be with them sexually—it’s just how I am, I just flirt naturally. And if I get into a relationship with someone I like romantically, I kinda don’t want to kiss them, but I just do because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you date. Except, that’s not how it is with Renjun. It’s weird, because Renjun is someone I want to be with romantically and actually do more with. And that's rare.”

“Now I’m getting confused. You know what, it really is fine to just label yourself queer and call it a day if you’re still unsure. Or ‘mainly attracted to chicks and like the occasional dude,’” Jeno says. “...You planning on telling the rest of the group anytime soon? You could ask the others about it; we’re all on the spectrum.”

Jaemin shakes his head. “I just...want to have everything figured out first before I tell them anything. Besides, if I told the group, they’d probably ask me if I like a dude right now, and what am I supposed to do then, say I like Renjun?”

“That’s fair,” Jeno says. “Wanna talk about Renjun? Not about doing something; just, about how you like him? How he’s different from other people.”

“Okay,” Jaemin says. He goes on to tell Jeno everything as it is—as simply as he can put it—but he can’t help but feel that he shouldn’t be talking about this with Jeno. Saying everything out loud only makes his feelings stronger somehow, and stronger feelings mean it’ll be harder to get rid of them. Saying everything out loud somehow makes him feel worse knowing that there’s just no way Renjun likes him back. To Renjun, he’s just a friend, not someone he sees in that way, not someone who has a chance of being with him. It hurts knowing his feelings are unrequited. Heartbreak hurts bad, he learns.

🐰

Jaemin thinks that Huang Renjun will be the death of him.

This love in his heart that won’t go away, that won’t get out of his bloodstream like a stubborn poison laced in boba tea excursions and drunk nights (he wonders if it's in the ice. Or is the poison the alcohol itself? Either seems valid), will ultimately be his downfall.

At this point, all Jaemin can do is mask the symptoms of a broken heart and do everything in his power to hide from Renjun that his unrequited love is killing him inside. The last thing Jaemin wants is for Renjun to blame himself for anything—it wasn’t Renjun’s fault that Jaemin fell in love with him. It was Jaemin’s own fault, his own foolishness, that got him into this.

If his love is his poison, then you might wonder: what is his antidote? His painkillers? The answer is, there is none, since everything Jaemin has tried has only ended up being more poison in disguise. In other words, he's tried to forget about his feelings for Renjun, hoping that they'll simply fade away and Jaemin can go back to thinking of Renjun as just a friend, among other similar exercises, but it turns out that continually hanging out with Renjun doesn’t exactly help his case.

Jaemin finds himself with nothing to alleviate the pain. So to make it seem like he’s perfectly fine, like he isn’t dying inside (because appearances are everything), he makes the decision right then and there to get himself a date. A someone. The perfect cover-up, considering his predicament. Renjun will never suspect that Jaemin likes him, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll be able to fall in love with someone else this way. All will be good.

(All goes to shit.)

🐰

They're finally back after winter break. It's a new semester. New semester means partying around the first few days before going back to the same-old stress-filled rhythm of college, and seeing the guys again at and outside those parties. Jisung’s birthday is a fun time. The soccer club isn't running this time around, with the fields positively muddy from all the snow and upcoming spring showers. The book club is still continuing from where they left off, and, with nothing to do for the long break at home, he'd actually finished reading the book for once. A magical feat, if he were to say so himself.

It's about time Jaemin goes through with his plan and tries to find a date. He wants to show Donghyuck that no, his love life isn’t non-existent, if only to spite him, and find someone else to like that isn’t Renjun. Just, he’s so sure that Renjun doesn’t like him back, so sure that Renjun only sees him as a friend, that this seems like an okay distraction from the pain. It’s the only thing he can do, distract himself like this, because he can’t let go of his feelings properly. He hopes that along the way, he’ll be able to forget and love someone else.

Jaemin thinks it's perfect timing when Ellie, a friend from his photography class, asks him out on a date. Their conversation goes something like this:

Ellie
[01:42 PM] Hey Jaemin
[01:42 PM] Can you do me a favour?

Me
what is it? [01:43 PM]

Ellie
[01:43 PM] I was going to have a photoshoot tomorrow but the model backed out last minute
[01:44 PM] What I'm asking is
[01:44 PM] Can you be my model?
[01:44 PM] If you're free, that is
[01:44 PM] 5:00-5:45pm ish

Me
are you sure you want ME as your model? [01:45 PM]
i’m available, i'd love to but [01:45 PM]
you don't want to have a female model? [01:45 PM]

Ellie
[01:46 PM] I've decided I want a male model this time
[01:46 PM] You're perfect for this concept
[01:46 PM] Casual, soft, angelic, boyfriend

Me
boyfriend 🤔 [01:47 PM]

Ellie
[01:47 PM] That leads me to my next thing
[01:47 PM] Would you like to go someplace to eat after the shoot?
[01:47 PM] If you have time :)

Me
is this a date 😳 [01:48 PM]

Ellie
[01:48 PM] If you want it to be

Me
it's a date then 😉 [01:48 PM]

Ellie
[01:48 PM] :D

Me
wait where is the shoot [01:49 PM]

He guesses he likes Ellie. She's a cool girl, really chill—they both share the same passion, so they've talked quite a bit. Jaemin is a bit envious of her talent; her photos are something else. They have each other's numbers after a couple hangouts with the other photography majors, and he trusts her and is more comfortable with her than random girls.

The shoot goes well. It’s a mix of indoor and outdoor at multiple locations, a mix of comfortable and chilly because it’s still winter, for God’s sake. Jaemin is once again in awe of Ellie’s skill and professionalism, taking her photos quickly to not let Jaemin freeze for long but without sacrificing even a bit of quality and precision.

Actually, most of the time is spent driving to the locations rather than shooting. It’s the first time Jaemin has modelled for Ellie, and he learns that she’s a good director. He's glad for the fact because he doesn't really know what he's doing—he's a photographer, not a professional model. At least he had known to wear a bunch of layers for both warmth and variety of outfits.

Their date afterwards also goes well. It doesn’t come as a surprise to him that they click well together—they’ve already shown to be good friends from the hangouts with the other photography majors—or that by the end of the date they’re talking about how they should go on another one. Jaemin gets back to his dorm pleased that things are coming into place in his plan, and he’s actually having fun.

“You’re back later than usual,” Jeno says after Jaemin closes the door behind him, stating the obvious. “Where were you?”

“I was on a date,” Jaemin replies, throwing his coat and cap on his bed. It’s easier to tell the truth than to lie.

“Oh?” Jeno says in a curious tone, the one that says ‘do tell.’ “With who?”

“Ellie. You know, photography major. Here,” Jaemin says, pulling up one of her Instagrams on his phone so Jeno can see for himself before switching to look at the other. “It wasn’t just a date—it started off as a photoshoot. Photoshoot went well; date went well.”

“Ah,” Jeno says, “Cool, cool.” Jaemin’s phone dings, and Jeno promptly shoves the device back towards him.

It’s Ellie, predictably, texting him a thanks for being her model today and that she had a good time. Jaemin falls on his bed and begins texting her back, creating plans for their next date.

He's hoping that date then turns into another date, and another date, and another date, and by then Jaemin can ask Ellie to be his girlfriend.

It’s a great way to make him seem like he’s not dying inside, and it also gives him an excuse to avoid Renjun. But really, deep down, he knows it’s not fair to anyone in the situation—not to himself, not to Ellie who’s thinking they might actually be able to have something, not to Renjun who deserves to know of Jaemin’s feelings—but he finds himself not caring, just ignoring the possible consequences of his selfish actions. That probably makes him a horrible person.

But what if he really does manage to fall in love with Ellie and forget about his feelings for Renjun? Then what?

🐰

Donghyuck
[11:36 PM] Jaemin

Me
donghyuck [11:40 PM]

Donghyuck
[11:43 PM] Jeno told me you found yourself a potential girlfriend

Me
yep [11:44 PM]
aren't you proud of me [11:44 PM]

Donghyuck
[11:44 PM] Why are you doing this

Me
? [11:44 PM]

Donghyuck
[11:46 PM] You have to know that you're just leading her on

Me
i'm not?? [11:46 PM]
how is this any of your business [11:46 PM]

Donghyuck
[11:47 PM] Is this because of what I said. Are you doing this just to spite me or what

Me
you said my love life was practically nonexistent [11:47 PM]
i just did what you wanted me to do, get a love life [11:48 PM]

Donghyuck
[11:48 PM] I didn't want this to happen

Me
what are you saying now [11:49 PM]
do you not want me to be happy? [11:49 PM]
are you saying that you want me to be lonely for the rest of my life? [11:49 PM]

Donghyuck
[11:50 PM] That's not what I'm saying

Me
are you saying that you want me to stay in love with someone who will never love me back? [11:50 PM]

Donghyuck
[11:50 PM] Stop twisting my words, jaemin
[11:51 PM] Of course I want you to be happy

Me
if you wanted me to be happy, then we wouldn't be having this conversation in the first place [11:52 PM]
you would've just carried on your way without sticking your nose into my life. MY life [11:53 PM]
what do you know anyway [11:53 PM]

Donghyuck
[11:55 PM] Things you don't
[11:55 PM] Fine, then I'll have to try my best to carry on my merry way
[11:56 PM] I'm beginning to think I don't know you as well as I thought I did

Me
sorry for not being who you thought i was [11:58 PM]
[Read 11:58 PM]

(There are two types of poison in Jaemin's body, one stemming from his broken heart and the other from his own venomous words, and the vitriol kind has spilled, beads of it running down his chin. He wipes it away like it’s drool, pretending he doesn’t know the power of words.)

🐰

When Jaemin gets invited to hang out with the guys in the following days and weeks, Jaemin gives them excuses as to why he can't.

One time, he says that he has to go to his book club meeting—it's not a lie, because they meet on the second Wednesday of every month, and guess what day they had planned their outing? Another time, he says he wants to head to the gym to work out—also not a lie, because he really has been meaning to go to the gym since he was getting out of shape without soccer practice. Then he says he needs to take some photos elsewhere in the city for his photography class, and having them there would only distract him. He already planned an outing with his friends from soccer club on that day. He has to cover a coworker’s shift at the campus cafe (to his luck, his coworker had actually begged him to cover for them, a date on the horizon, and he’d tried to not seem too eager when accepting).

He has two reasons as to why he's purposefully avoiding them all. One, he wants to distance himself from Renjun to get over his feelings (because if he keeps seeing him, it'll only fuel them, right?) and Renjun is somehow always at every group gathering. Two, he's still being petty over that text conversation with Donghyuck.

He knows he should stop being so immature and stubborn, stop holding all of his grudges, but he doesn't. He knows he should probably hear Donghyuck out at least—the dude has been trying to contact him and apologize for what he said—but he doesn't, not even opening the messages from his notification box and leaving them on read.

Donghyuck has resorted to trying to find him and talk to him in person. He looks for him at the dorms when he's not in class, at the campus cafe during his shifts, elsewhere around campus. It's why Jaemin has also taken to getting at least one kinda-sorta-friend to stick with him in case Donghyuck finds him, then he can just say he's busy talking with that person right now. When he sees Donghyuck around but doesn't have someone else with him, he starts a random conversation with the closest person around. It's easy, because he's good at socializing and everyone wants to socialize with him—everyone knows who he is, after all.

Jisung texts Jaemin saying he never sees the latter anymore and misses him. He says he'll even let Jaemin coddle him if it means he'll come hang out with them again, despite telling him to go away and stop babying him and he hated when Jaemin did that countless times before—like he's only realized what he had after he's lost it—and it almost warms Jaemin's heart enough to make him say yes. He makes a compromise just that once, saying he'll come over if it's just Jisung and Chenle.

By the end of the month, however, he finds himself with only one more excuse to give to the group, and he has a feeling they know he's running out of excuses, because just how many excuses can one man make?

He vaguely answers that he already has plans that day, but then they pester him in person and he reveals his trump card: he has a date. It leaves them all shell-shocked, and he's pretty sure half of them didn't even know he was going on dates with Ellie twice a week, or that Ellie became his first kiss after three years, because he never told them. He tries his best to not even acknowledge Renjun's presence there, much less his facial expression.

He says that he has to go—he doesn't want to leave her waiting—and ditches them. His seventh date with Ellie ends...okay, Jaemin guesses. Good, objectively. Not amazing, but average.

He finds himself wishing that he had taken his friends' offer after all, because maybe he would've had more fun with them, with Renjun, than with Ellie. For another thing, the distance only seems to make Jaemin miss Renjun more somehow, even when his intention is to rid himself of these feelings. There's a large part of him begging for any sort of interaction with Renjun, and he doesn't know what to do about it. He begins to question himself, question whether avoiding Renjun really is the right way to go about his feelings.

He asks Ellie about making their relationship official anyways. It happens. He kisses Ellie because that's what you're supposed to do when you make things official. He kisses her with raw lips, raw because he’s been gnawing at them with his teeth since he turned his back on the group a few hours before.

(Jeno asks him to hang out with the others the next day. Jaemin has run shit out of luck.)

🦊

Renjun isn’t stupid.

Renjun knows that Jaemin’s been going on dates with some girl. Renjun can see that, when Jaemin has finally run out of excuses and Jeno practically drags him to hang out with them, Jaemin isn't really there, like his body is present but his mind is elsewhere. Renjun can guess that he’s thinking about that girl, that very lucky girl. (He’d refer to the girl as her name if only he knew, if only Jaemin told him. Jaemin never tells him anything anymore. He wishes they could just go back to how they were.)

There’s a reason why Renjun is so sure Jaemin is straight. Back in high school, Jaemin only ever talked about girls, only ever dated girls, and then all of a sudden he stopped saying he needed to focus on his studies—understandable, considering it was senior year. Jaemin never showed interest in other girls or boys after that, which led Renjun to believe Jaemin was straight for all these years. Then once again, in their sophomore year of college, Jaemin starts going on dates again, with yet another girl, and that only seems to solidify Renjun’s assumption that Jaemin is, indeed, straight, and could thus never like him.

Renjun goes to seek advice from Donghyuck, one of the only two people who know about his feelings for Jaemin, and asks how the hell to let go of these feelings, because if this keeps up, Renjun's feelings will end up ruining their friendship. (There’s a part of Renjun that thinks their friendship has already been ruined, but Renjun ignores it, choosing to believe that there’s still a chance everything can be fixed and return to normal. When they go back to how they were, Renjun will go back to when he never had feelings for Jaemin in the first place. That’s the plan.)

"If Jaemin really ends up getting into a serious relationship with her, he’d probably want support, not the burden of one of his closest friends having feelings for him when he’s straight," Renjun says, trying to explain how he views things. He sees a flash of hurt in Donghyuck's eyes, as if he knows something about the situation—about Jaemin—that Renjun doesn’t.

“You can’t control who you like,” is all Donghyuck says. It doesn’t help at all.

(Renjun finds out Jaemin officially has a girlfriend when he posts about her on his Instagram story. Somehow, he’s not surprised to learn it’s Ellie.)

🦊

No one expects Yangyang to be the one to say he’s had enough with Jaemin’s shit.

It’s only Renjun, Donghyuck, Jeno, Mark, Yukhei, and Yangyang out for some Mexican food, and only them because Chenle and Jisung are doing who knows what together (they’d said they were just studying but, of course, none of them believed them for a second) and Jaemin...they’d proposed to stop inviting him, since it was obvious he was making random excuses to get out of hanging out with them, but then scrapped the idea because they wanted to keep their arms open just in case. Everyone is getting a little annoyed, though, and the group dynamic is falling apart without Jaemin around. Again, Yangyang is the last person any of them expected to burst on the way back to the dorms.

“What’s his deal?” Yangyang asks all of a sudden, making them all whip their heads towards him as if he’d just broken some sort of unspoken agreement between them. “I don't get him at all. Why is he suddenly avoiding you all like the plague? Like, did you do something? No. So why? I thought he was a pretty nice guy, but I guess I was wrong, he has some serious issues—”

Renjun is about tell Yangyang to shut the fuck up and defend Jaemin (even though, at this point, he isn’t quite sure what to say in Jaemin’s defence), but it’s Mark who speaks up first. The first sign things are going to shit is if Mark has to step in.

“Yangyang, stop,” Mark says sternly, “that’s too far.”

“You don’t know anything, so don't act like you do. Just stay out of it,” Donghyuck adds sharply.

Mark whips his head towards Donghyuck at the tone. "Hyuck," he rebukes, frowning. Yukhei puts a hand on Mark's shoulder, and Renjun doesn't miss how Mark relaxes instantly under his touch, now breathing deeply in and out to calm himself down.

Yangyang shrinks into himself from his usually easygoing roommate's cold words. “I’m sorry,” he says meekly.

Donghyuck sighs, letting it go. "...The thing is, I did do something, and now it's all my fault," Donghyuck admits, and Renjun's eyes widen.

"What are you saying,” Renjun says with furrowed brows, “it's not your fault at all—"

"No, it is. It's my fault, okay? It's my fault Jaemin's ignoring all of us, because I...I said," Donghyuck cuts himself off, bringing a hand to cover his mouth as though he was feeling sick just talking about it. Jeno comes closer to Donghyuck with concern in his eyes, arms hovering around him protectively but not touching.

“Baby, you were just trying to help. It’s not your fault,” Jeno murmurs into Donghyuck’s ear in an attempt to comfort him, and all of this just confirms his prior suspicion that there’s something Donghyuck hasn’t told him yet. He notices the others looking at Donghyuck intently, as though they, too, haven’t heard this news before.

“But, but...” Donghyuck’s voice cracks, and he buries his head in the crook of Jeno’s neck, hands gripping the front of Jeno’s shirt. “I shouldn’t have done it, I should’ve gone about it a different way. Now he hates me, and, because all I do is hang out with you guys, now he’s avoiding you guys too.”

“Donghyuck,” Renjun begins slowly, trying to not sound accusing. “Can you please tell me what happened? What you did? Don’t leave me in the dark about this—I’m your best friend.”

He barely braces himself in time before Donghyuck comes barrelling into him, engulfing him in a big bear hug that Renjun knows he uses to convey things he can’t find the right words for. As Renjun wraps his arms around Donghyuck in turn, he finds that, this time, what Donghyuck seems to be trying to convey is a plea for forgiveness.

“I’m a pretty shitty best friend, then,” Donghyuck mumbles in his shoulder. “A shitty wingman, too. Can’t do anything right, for God’s sake. Renjun, I’m so, so sorry, I ruined everything—”

“Hyuck, stop talking about this like this is the end,” Jeno says from beside their blob of a hug, petting Donghyuck’s back. He looks up from Donghyuck, and he and Mark share a glance before nodding. “Mark and I will talk with him. He’s not going to ignore me—I’m his best friend and roommate—and I’m sure he’ll listen to Mark if I come with him. We can fix this. Jaemin will come around, he's just stubborn.”

Donghyuck sniffles in Renjun’s shoulder, and Renjun squeezes Donghyuck’s body tighter in response. “You know what,” Renjun says, “you don’t have to tell me right now. Just tell me soon.”

“I’ll tell you in a few days, I promise. If I forget, you can slap me,” Donghyuck says.

Renjun forces a smile on his face. "Yeah, my pleasure. Now stop crying, will you? It's not exactly your best look."

🦊

Two days have passed, and Donghyuck still hasn't told him anything.

Renjun is currently sitting in his dorm alone, with Yukhei in class and Renjun waiting for his next afternoon class. He's on Instagram, scrolling through his feed to catch up with the lives of some people on campus he's only spoken to once and pass the time.

He mindlessly double-taps a number of posts, swiping through and quickly moving on. It's mostly selfies and sunsets and strolls on campus and in the city, anyway. Nothing that exciting.

It's then Renjun stops on an architectural photography post, simply striking, high quality, and professional-looking. He's about to continue scrolling, assuming it to be some sponsored post, until his eyes land on the user: nanagraphy, Jaemin's photography account.

He's surprised, to say the least. Jaemin usually only posts his portrait photography, or street photography. This is the first time Renjun has seen him post an architectural shot of a skyscraper. Renjun thinks the photo looks great, sharp-cut and chic, and there's nothing wrong with changing things up, but…

Is this just a one-time thing, and he'll go back to portrait, or has he decided to change his specialty? It could be the former, simply a shot he took for class he ended up really liking, but Renjun fears it's the latter.

Jaemin has been a constant in Renjun's life ever since their first year of high school. He likes to think he knows Jaemin's likes and dislikes, knows Jaemin's soft spots and his pet peeves, knows Jaemin. And impulsively changing his style of photography seems just like something he would do.

It's irrational, he knows, but he fears that if Jaemin's style changes, Jaemin himself will change. And what if it has already happened? How much of Jaemin has already changed?

He remembers Jaemin when they had first met. Jaemin had thought the birthmark on his right hand was a bruise and had asked him where he had gotten it from, who had given it to him, concerned even though they had just met. Renjun had snarkily told Jaemin he was born with it—it's a birthmark—and thus the person who had given it to him was his mother since she gave birth to him.

He remembers Jaemin in their junior year of high school. Jaemin had gotten himself suspended for decking another kid in the face, breaking his nose, all because Jaemin had overheard the guy share with his buddies that he had been the one to write the gay slurs and death wishes on Renjun's locker after he had come out at their school. Jaemin had also gotten a few cuts and bruises afterwards, since the guy's friends had backed him up after Jaemin had thrown the first punch, but said it was worth it as the other kid got his punishment in the end.

Has Jaemin perhaps moved on from him already, realized his priorities? Is Jaemin no longer there for him? Has Jaemin taken to being that person for his new girlfriend instead?

Does Jaemin even want anything to do with him anymore? He's starting to believe that Jaemin doesn't, since he keeps distancing himself and ignoring Renjun's texts.

He almost doesn't want to admit it, but Jaemin is happy without him. Jaemin is happy even without any of them in his life. That is, except for Jeno. Jeno's the only member of their group Jaemin has been in close contact with, both because they're roommates and because they're childhood best friends.

Renjun feels like Jaemin has decided that he doesn't need them, doesn't need him, anymore, and so he's thrown their friendship away. And it hurts. It chokes him up. It's not even about his romantic feelings for Jaemin anymore—he'd be perfectly fine if they just stayed as just friends. But for Jaemin to not even want to stay friends? It makes him want to scream and chuck his phone across the room so hard the screen cracks, and maybe that's a bit much but damn it, he really doesn't want to lose Jaemin.

He taps on Jaemin's username to see his posts. It's just the one architectural photo as the most recent post among strobe-light-lit portraits and vibrant walls of graffiti and street strangers and—and them. And Renjun.

The candids are from a while before winter break, on one of the nights they went out to get boba tea. That’s what he can infer from the cups in their hands. He's pretty sure it's the night Gong Cha didn't have any pearls. There are two series posts, one dark-themed and one light-themed, one outside and one inside.

There are photos that he’s never seen before, and all of them hold a small pocket of time, bringing Renjun back to the night filled with laughter and lighthearted pranks, when things weren’t as complicated as they are now, but in a different perspective—Jaemin’s perspective. He quickly realizes why he’s never seen these pictures before: because he’s not tagged in it. None of them are. None of the others have seen these pictures either, since he can’t find their accounts in either of the posts’ likes.

It's then his eyes land on the captions of the posts, having been too focused on the photos to notice at first. The first post says 'i'll paint it boldly because i want to remember'; the second says 'hope it never fades out.'

Renjun doesn't know anymore. Does Jaemin still want to remember, still want to be friends, or does he not? None of his actions line up, and it has Renjun confused as to which ones hold his true intentions. What exactly is it that Jaemin wants? He can see the love and care he put into making these pieces, can feel the warmth and emotion radiating from them, and it makes Renjun believe that yes, Jaemin does want to stay with them and look back at the memories, or at least did at the time of these photos. But his recent actions speak the opposite.

What is Renjun supposed to believe?

Renjun’s fingers move on their own to open his messages with Jaemin. The last texts sent between them were of Renjun asking Jaemin to hang out with him, Jeno, Jisung, and Chenle at the bowling alley nearly two weeks ago, and Jaemin answering sorry, can’t. He stares at them now, swallowing his sadness and disappointment at the cold, vague response. It’s not like Jaemin at all, not the Jaemin he knew, not the Jaemin he fell for.

He tries again.

hey, u wanna hang out? Delete. jaemin, can we talk? Delete. how did ur day go? Delete. Delete, delete, delete.

i just want to be ur—backspace twice—your friend. Read it over again. i just want to be your friend. Delete.

Renjun doesn’t know if he can do this anymore.

🦊

"It's about time I fill you in about what happened."

It's the next day, and Donghyuck has come into his dorm at another time Yukhei is out for class. They're sitting on the couch, and Renjun can't help but squirm from the awkwardness in the air, despite it being Donghyuck.

"Okay," Renjun says, "whenever you're ready."

Donghyuck's jaw is set in deep thought, as though trying to plan his words out carefully and find where to start with all of this. Donghyuck is finally going through with his promise they had made a few days earlier, and Renjun's curiosity is killing him. Just what was he so sorry about?

Donghyuck sighs. "It's my fault Jaemin went and got a girlfriend." Renjun's eyes widen, wondering what he means by that. "I know I was supposed to be your wingman, and I really was trying to be one when I said what I said. I didn't mean for Jaemin to get a girlfriend."

"...What did you say?" Renjun asks nervously. He notices Donghyuck pick at the rips in his jeans and fiddle with his hoodie string, equally nervous.

"I...I teased him about not having a love life, since he seemed so jealous of my relationship with Jeno. I was hoping that he'd try to make a move on you after I said that, but—"

“Of course if you told Jaemin to get a love life, his natural reaction would be to get a girlfriend. Why would he make a move on me when he's straight? You’re not making any sense,” Renjun says, frowning.

“You don’t understand—” Donghyuck says but cuts himself off. “Never mind. I fucked up. I fucked up because I told Jaemin that he couldn't have had feelings for her—it was like he was just accepting to date the next girl in line to confess to him—and that he was leading the girl on because obviously she likes Jaemin but Jaemin is just using her to have a taken status because then he’ll have a love life.”

“Why the fuck would you say that to him?” Renjun asks, standing up from the couch and raising his voice. “You can’t possibly know that. Ellie is from photography, and we aren’t in the photography part of Jaemin’s life—there could be so many things going on that we don’t even know. What if he actually does like her? That just makes you seem like an ass.”

Donghyuck winces, averting his gaze. “I know. I know I shouldn't have said that, and I know it made me look like an ass. I’ve tried to apologize for it, but he doesn't even want to hear me out.”

After that, Renjun takes a deep breath in and out to calm himself—nothing good can come from him and Donghyuck having a falling out. That would only tear the group apart even more, and that’s the last thing he wants.

Renjun sighs. “You know what, let's go out for a drink.”

🦊

It's the first time out of many that Renjun goes out drinking. The first book in a series, the first drawing in a sketchbook, the first photo in a burst shot. Photo, Renjun thinks dumbly. He imagines Jaemin sitting two seats away from him in a cozy boba shop holding his camera to his face, snapping photos when they aren’t looking. He imagines Jaemin standing ten feet away with his camera lens directed at him and Donghyuck, holding down the shutter button to take photos of them running around.

Suddenly, it goes back to him, Donghyuck, and Jeno sitting in a dimly-lit bar.

They’ve ordered some classic cocktails, Renjun a margarita, Donghyuck a dry martini, and Jeno a whisky sour—well, Donghyuck’s the one who ordered Jeno his drink, but Jeno’s barely drinking it not because he doesn’t like it but because he keeps blabbering about only tagging along because someone needs to take care of them both.

When Renjun insists on drinking more, way over his limit, as though with the intention of blacking out, or maybe of even drinking himself to the point of amnesia so he can forget about Jaemin and his feelings for Jaemin altogether, Jeno points out that this isn’t like Renjun to resort to drinking as a coping method. Renjun is someone who knows himself well, knows how to solve his own problems. He's usually more responsible than this, or so Jeno says.

“God, I really thought you knew better, but you’re being just like Jaemin—” Jeno says before cutting himself off. “Sorry, we’re not really supposed to talk about him here.”

It’s a good point, actually, that after seeing Jaemin’s drinking habits, Renjun should know better.

“Anyway, you’re gonna be mad hungover—”

“Babe, you can’t stop him, it’s his own decision if he wants to drink his issues away,” Drunk-Donghyuck says, already slurring his words because Donghyuck has been drinking just as much as him, if not more, practically drowning his Jaemin-related sorrows.

“Uh, yeah I can stop him—that’s the whole reason why I’m here,” Jeno says. “I’m not just gonna let my friend drink till he drops dead.”

“It’s because you’re friends that you should know you can’t stop him. Renjun always gets his way somehow,” Donghyuck says.

“Hyuck—”

“Besides, I don't have morning classes tomorrow anyway—I'll be fine if I get a hangover,” Renjun says, taking another sip.

“That's right, buddy,” Donghyuck says, wrapping an arm around Renjun’s shoulders and wrapping another around Jeno’s.

Jeno frowns at the two of them, and Renjun continues drinking until he’s completely wasted.

(It’s the first time out of many that Renjun goes out drinking. Wash, rinse, repeat.)

🦊

Renjun is in too deep.

It’s a clear blue statement that he’s perfectly aware of. He loves Jaemin far too much for his own good, Jaemin who is very much straight, Jaemin who can never love Renjun in the way he wants.

He wants to hate Jaemin, but he can't.

Renjun's never drowned before, never even set foot in the deep end of a pool, but he thinks of his predicament like drowning anyhow. Just as it's painful to breathe underwater (or so his research and imagination has led him to believe), like the feeling of burning alcohol sliding down your throat except in your lungs, it’s hard for him to continue loving Jaemin like this. Jaemin’s looks of adoration and affection will never be towards him—they’ll be towards her.

Renjun is undeniably jealous that a girl will have what he wants so bad he can’t, and he wishes Jaemin would just look at him, but more than that he’s in pain and heartache.

The more Renjun loves Jaemin, the deeper he’ll sink into the abyss. The longer this unrequited love goes on for, the more water fills his lungs. If Renjun can bring himself to get rid of these feelings, maybe then will he be saved. Only then will he be saved. If Renjun can bring himself to hate the object of his affection...

He wants to hate Jaemin because it means saving himself from drowning, except it’s not his fault. It’s not Jaemin’s fault he’s straight. It’s not Jaemin’s fault he can never like Renjun back because of that. It’s not Jaemin’s fault he likes someone else. It’s never Jaemin’s fault. It’s Renjun’s fault for falling in love with Jaemin. He brought this upon himself, cannonballing straight into the ocean even when he can’t swim, and now he was paying the price.

🐰

Here’s something that Jaemin is sure none of the Dreamies know: he’s been thinking. They’ve always liked to joke about how he never thinks about anything before he just does—a classic himbo—and you know what? They’re right. He’s ridiculously impulsive, and he never uses his brain. How do you think he landed himself in this mess to begin with?

And just what has he been thinking about?

"You need to get your shit together,” is the first thing Jeno tells Jaemin when he comes back from a photography shoot. Mark is in the room as well, and he’s guessing he’s here to join Jeno in lecturing him.

“Dude, that was kinda strong,” Mark whispers to Jeno before turning back to Jaemin. “Let’s have a bro-to-bro chat.”

Jaemin saw this coming. They’re the two people he knows have his back no matter what, the two people who understand him the most, and the two people who know how to properly knock some sense into him. Jaemin clearly needs to get some sense knocked into him. The thing is, he’s already knocked some sense into himself.

That’s why when Mark and Jeno bombard him with big questions like “are you actually serious about Ellie?”, “are you over Renjun?”, and “do you realize you’re leading her on?”, Jaemin answers fairly quickly, because he’s already answered these questions before. No, no, and yes.

Like he said, he’s been thinking.

“Then what the hell, man,” Mark says, “what are you even doing then? What’s the point? If you know that you’re leading her on, and you know it’s not right, it’s not fair, then why haven’t you broken up with her yet?”

“She deserves to know,” Jeno continues. He knows. “Like I said, you need to get your shit together. It’s not fair to her to keep this relationship going on when it’s not going to work out. I kind of have a guess as to what you were thinking, and I didn’t want to say this outright, but maybe you have a chance with Renjun.”

Jaemin narrows his eyes at Jeno incredulously. “No I don’t,” he says. “There’s just no way—”

“Let me guess, you’re thinking that just because Renjun is gay, it doesn’t mean he likes you, and he probably just thinks of you as a friend, because that's all you've been for years. Is that it?” Jeno says. “But you don’t know that for sure—you’ve never asked.”

“I don’t need to ask, I can just see—”

“Jaemin, no offence, but, like, you’re so dense,” Mark says, shaking his head.

“Oblivious,” Jeno adds. “You clearly can’t see, because Renjun likes you. As both a friend and as more than a friend. And you've been avoiding him for what reason again? Anyway, you need to break up with Ellie sooner than later, apologize to her for being a jerk, and honestly you need to prepare for a big slap across the face. Then you need to get it through your thick skull that you actually have a chance with Renjun instead of assuming that you’ve been friendzoned. And stop holding some sort of grudge against Donghyuck and forgive him, for God's sake.”

When Jeno finally finishes his ranting, Jaemin comments jokingly, “I think this is the most aggressive you’ve been with me since our fight in tenth grade.”

“Jaemin—”

“Wait, you guys had a fight and you never told me?” Mark asks, cutting Jeno off and looking almost offended.

Jaemin answers Jeno first. “I got it, I got it—I was just kidding around. I’m going to break up with her. I still don’t know about Renjun liking me back, but sure, I’ll try to get it through my thick skull. And I'll apologize to Donghyuck, too.”

“...So are you guys gonna tell me about that fight you two had?”

🐰

"We need to talk," Jaemin tells Ellie.

She's been sitting at one of the tables in the cafe waiting for his shift to end, and now that it's over they're walking out together, meeting the mildly cold spring breeze. They're supposed to start their date, not have a serious talk about their relationship, but Ellie hums nonetheless.

"Yeah, I've been meaning to talk to you about something," Ellie says in response.

"Do you want to go first, or…?" Jaemin asks, gesturing between them awkwardly. He knows she isn't really a fan of the 'ladies first' rule, or any traditional gender roles for that matter, but he asks because it seems like she's been holding it in all this time.

"You can go first. But let's find somewhere to talk first," Ellie says, and Jaemin sends her a sheepish look. They end up at the park, deciding to sit on one of the benches. He's grateful it hasn't rained or snowed in the past few days, meaning it's not wet.

They look at the park's bleak scenery for a while in silence. The leaves haven't quite come back yet, only scattered on some branches while leaving other branches completely bare of greenery.

It's undeniably awkward.

Ellie is the first person he's dated since high school. Two to three years of being single and pining for Renjun on the sidelines had made him forget how to date, so it's only natural he doesn't remember how to break up with someone either. He'd started multiple relationships in high school and ended multiple relationships in high school, and yet all that experience seems to have gone to waste.

"We need to break up," Jaemin says, breaking the much too long silence.

Ellie seems to ponder the words for a little bit before replying. “Yeah, we do need to break up.”

“It’s just that, I actually like someone else,” Jaemin admits, talking quickly to fill in the silence. “I’m so sorry, for leading you on all this time and all that—I’m a jerk for doing that to you. I’m so, so sorry.”

Ellie blinks at him. “I, uh, I kinda knew.”

“What?”

“I figured you liked someone else,” Ellie says, looking up to the sky. “It was obvious, really—I was just blinded by my feelings. When I asked you out and you said yes, I was just so happy that you said yes, and then I was so happy that we kept going on dates. And I was so happy when you asked me to be your girlfriend. But deep down, I knew that you didn’t really like me. I stayed hopeful anyway, but I knew this was going to end. I was going to ask to break up today, too, by the way.”

“Again, I’m so, so sorry—”

“Never mind that,” Ellie says suddenly. “It’s cool. I forgive you.”

“Are you sure? I really was being a jerk—”

“Yeah, I’m sure. My friends say I forgive a little too quickly, but really I just don’t like dragging things out,” Ellie says. “Anyway, tell me about the girl you like. What’s her name? Is it Claire? Hyunjin?”

Jaemin pinches his nose, looking away and trying to stifle his laughter at Ellie’s totally wrong guesses. “It’s a guy.”

“Oh!” she exclaims. “Oh shit. Then, uh—oh my gosh, it’s so obvious now that I think about it—Renjun. I think that’s his name? I met him once. He’s an art major, right?”

“Yep, that’s him,” Jaemin confirms. “And I’ve liked him for, like, two, three years now.”

“Yeah, it all makes sense now,” Ellie says. “Sorry, I totally thought you were straight.”

“It’s fine,” Jaemin reassures. “...Are we cool? Friends?”

Ellie smiles. “Yeah, we’re cool," she says. "Friends."

"...If you find someone else you like, I'm here if you want to talk about them? Like, if you want an outsider's opinion about something or whatever. Or if you want to talk about anything at all, feel free. Talk my ear off, for all I care," Jaemin says.

"Thanks," Ellie says, "and the same thing goes for you—if you want to talk to me about Renjun, or just anything, go right ahead."

"Yeah."

Then Ellie stands up and claps. "Okay, date’s over, now go get your man!”

 

Getting his man is easier said than done.

Jaemin stares blankly at his phone. He'd been thinking of texting Renjun to meet up and talk this all out, but then he noticed that his last text with Renjun was quite a while ago—nearly three weeks now. It was just Renjun asking Jaemin to hang out and Jaemin saying a literal two-word response.

sorry, can't.

Jaemin realizes that he has royally screwed up.

Jaemin attempts to text Renjun about perhaps catching up sometime this week, but the message doesn't even get left on read, much less answered—not until the next day, anyway. The next morning, Renjun apologizes, saying he's busy with projects and has a full schedule.

Jaemin has a slight suspicion that Renjun might be avoiding him. It takes one to know one, right? That, or he actually has a project to work on. He doesn’t really want to assume anything, though, doesn’t want to make the same mistake, so he just says that it’s okay if Renjun is busy this week—it can wait another time. Except it really can’t, and Jaemin has no idea what he's supposed to do now that his Plan A has failed him.

🦊

There's nothing like when someone asks if you're okay. It shows you that they really care. Renjun comes to realize this when Yukhei asks him why he keeps coming back to the dorm drunk lately, what's making him want to drink till he drops—it must be pretty bad if it's making someone as responsible as Renjun want to drink his worries away.

"If you go out one more time, I'm going to start needing two hands to count how many times you've come back wasted in the past two weeks," Yukhei says, frowning.

"Well, if you're only counting with your digits, then sure, you're going to need two hands for any number over five. But if you count with your joints and include your thumb, you can count fourteen on one hand—"

"Renjun, that's not the point. Five times in two weeks. You've gone out drinking and partying five times in two weeks! Don't you see why I'm worried?" At this point, Yukhei has put his hands on Renjun's shoulders to make him look at him in the eyes. "I'm your friend—you can trust me. All I want to do is help."

When Yukhei puts it like that, it's hard for him to not tell him the truth. So he tells Yukhei the truth—it's Jaemin. Jaemin's the reason he keeps going drinking, because Jaemin keeps making excuses to not see him and keeps ignoring his texts, and it makes Renjun feel sad and stupid for trying to fix things when clearly Jaemin doesn't want things between them to be fixed.

"I'm gonna kill him," Yukhei says at the end of Renjun's rambling, his hands no longer on the latter's shoulders and balled up into fists instead. Now, Renjun knows that the normal Yukhei would never hurt a fly, but the look of fury on his face makes Renjun doubt.

"No! No, please don't do that," Renjun says quickly.

"He hurt you this bad and you want me to let him live?" Yukhei asks before turning to look and frown at Renjun, his anger melting away. "...You know I'm joking, right? Because obviously I'm not gonna actually murder him—oh my God, you like him."

Renjun wants to say something snarky, like 'yeah, took you long enough' or 'no shit I like him, I've had feelings for him since junior year of high school,' but he can't find the sass in himself anymore.

"Yeah, I do. A lot. Four years, still going strong," Renjun confesses. "Can—can we talk about something else now?"

Yukhei sighs. "Sure. A distraction would be good for you right about now," he says, and Renjun nods, happy that Yukhei understands.

"So, are you coming to Dejun and Hendery's party tomorrow night?" Renjun asks.

Yukhei shakes his head. "Can't. I, uh, have something else to do. Prior commitments," he says.

Renjun raises a brow. "Prior commitments?" he says in a disbelieving tone. "Is it about Mark?"

Yukhei blushes. "Maybe."

Renjun gasps. "Oh my God, are you finally dating? Don't you dare tell me that it's still a work in progress."

"Don't give me that when your own love life is still a work in progress," Yukhei retorts. "Oh shit, this was supposed to be a distraction—"

Renjun waves him off. "That's fine, just let me live vicariously through you. So, status."

"Okay, fine. So we were just talking at 3 AM a few days ago over the phone, yeah?" Yukhei begins.

"Wait, why? Why 3 AM?" Renjun asks curiously.

"He just called me at 3 AM. I was sleeping, obviously. I woke up, and picked up the call. He was all like, 'Shit, were you asleep?' and I was like, 'Yeah, you woke me up, but it's fine.' I asked him what he was doing calling me at 3 AM," Yukhei says.

"What did he say?" Renjun asks. He suddenly feels like a child again, like he's tucked in bed and being read bedtime stories. 'What happened next? What happened next?' Yukhei's wild gestures are definitely indulging his inner child.

"He told me he was thinking," Yukhei says, almost anticlimactically. Renjun slumps, about to comment something, but Yukhei continues. "'I was thinking 'bout us,' he said. In this deep, groggy kind of voice too. I asked him, 'What about us?' Then he was about to say something but he was like, 'Ugh, never mind.'"

"Go on," Renjun says, and Yukhei does, saying he pestered Mark about what it was he was going to say, and basically Mark changed the topic. Then they just talked about whatever came to mind, trying to make as much sense as they could at 3 AM.

"After a while, I changed the topic again and asked about whether he planned on being single forever. And this is literally what he said: 'Single forever... Alone forever… I mean, I'm not against it, but like...if you want to, we can, like, maybe, kind of, possibly turn our friends-with-benefits thing into a serious, consensual, and also exclusive relationship type of thing? If you want!'"

"And? And?"

Yukhei makes another weird, dramatic hand gesture. "And now we're here! Yeah, okay, so we confessed, and now we're finally dating. And about tomorrow, we're just going to binge-watch movies," Yukhei says.

"Whoop, whoop. Where, at his or here? And are you gonna fuck or...?" Renjun asks, trailing off. He kind of doesn't want to know but wants to know at the same time.

"No, we're actually just going to watch movies this time," Yukhei says. This time, Renjun catches. "We were planning on doing it at his, and then we were just gonna sleep while cuddling on his couch, but since you're going to the party, we can do it here and I can open the door for you when you come back. If that's cool with you."

"Sounds good," Renjun says, "but I really don't believe you when you say you guys aren't gonna fuck. You know what, I'll allow it, as long as it's not on the couch. Don't fuck on the couch, for the love of God, that's gross."

"Okay, okay, not on the couch," Yukhei says, laughing. "Wait, what would you do if we did do it on the couch—"

Renjun is glad that Yukhei is good at distracting. He doesn't think about Jaemin the rest of the night.

🦊

Unfortunately, Renjun goes back to thinking about Jaemin the next night.

He's at the party with Donghyuck and Jeno, or was with them before they ditched him. Despite the fact that it's supposed to be a party, Renjun isn't enjoying himself as much as he thought he would—he's bored as shit.

Someone has called for a game of beer pong in the living room, and as much as he would like to join the crowd and watch (he's never been good at playing beer pong), he doesn't want to get pushed around and possibly get a ping pong ball swatted in the face.

Instead, he stays in the corner of the kitchen and sticks to himself, his phone, and his beer. He attempts to plug in his Airpods, but it doesn't do much good—the party is just too loud. Soon enough, he finds himself squinting at his phone and furiously typing to Donghyuck.

Me
y did u ditch me bitjc [12:14 AM]
i'm bored as shit [12:14 AM]
where r u [12:14 AM]
come back [12:14 AM]

Donghyuck
[12:15 AM] Jeno 😘
[12:15 AM] Too bad 🤪
[12:15 AM] Secret 🤭
[12:15 AM] No xoxo
[12:16 AM] Just get more drunk

Me
🖕 [12:16 AM]
[Read 12:16 AM]

Remind Renjun why Donghyuck is his best friend again?

Renjun decides to follow Donghyuck's advice anyway and drinks some more of his beer, perhaps a little too quickly. He's drunk all of the beer from his red solo cup in one go, and half an hour later he's halfway through his second can and is already feeling the effects of the first. He feels lighter, better. Maybe Donghyuck was right—the answer is just to get more drunk.

The game of beer pong is over, now replaced by a few games of Poker and Truth or Dare on the floor. Now he finds himself actually wanting to join this time, but there are too many people in the kitchen and the living room seems like too far a trek now. He props himself up on the kitchen counter beside the coffee machine.

It's him, his phone, and his beer. And maybe the people in his messages.

He doesn't really know why he does it, besides from the fact that he's kind of drunk, but he starts texting everyone he knows out of nowhere saying he loves them, taking more sips of beer and bathroom breaks in between. To remind them, he guesses.

Me
jsiugnie [12:33 AM]
i love u [12:33 AM]

Jisung
[12:35 AM] i dont know a jsiugnie
[12:35 AM] also ew
[12:35 AM] wait renjun???
[12:36 AM] you dont?? normally say that sort of stuff

Me
drunk i am [12:36 AM]
i lovr u [12:36 AM]

Jisung
[12:37 AM] let me guess, you only had one beer
[12:37 AM] youre such a lightweight lmao
[12:38 AM] love you too, i guess

One down, however many more to go. (Renjun suddenly doesn't remember how to count.)

Me
hey lele [12:39 AM]

Chenle
[12:39 AM] ?
[12:39 AM] you need something?
[12:39 AM] i was about to go to sleep

Me
oh sorru [12:39 AM]
just wanted to say i loge u [12:40 AM]
love u* [12:40 AM]

Chenle
[12:40 AM] i love you too :]
[12:40 AM] why so suddenly tho lol
[12:40 AM] these better not be your last words to me >:c

Me
deunk [12:40 AM]
at a patyr [12:40 AM]

Chenle
[12:40 AM] oh okay
[12:41 AM] gotcha
[12:41 AM] have fun 👋

Like that, Renjun goes down his list of contacts, only skipping Donghyuck and Jeno. He texts Yukhei; he texts Mark; he texts his art buddies group chat, even. All while only drinking more and more beer.

Then, against his better judgement, he texts Jaemin.

🐰

It begins with Jaemin lying sleepless in his bed, scrolling through Instagram to feed his phone addiction, and Renjun texting him out of the blue.

Renjun
[12:57 AM] hey u kno2 i love u rihgt

Jaemin taps the notification and starts texting a response, thumbs moving before he can even think, is he even aware it’s me he’s texting? Doesn’t he hate me? Should I really be answering him right now?

Me
junnie, are you drunk? [12:57 AM]

Renjun
[12:58 AM] no im not durnk
[12:58 AM] anywyas i love u very very muxh
[12:58 AM] i kno wwere jsut friends
[12:59 AM] but i think ur veyr very handsome

While yes, Jaemin agrees that he is, in fact, handsome, it concerns him more that Renjun is totally drunk. It’s obvious in the typos, obvious in the tone of the messages. Obvious in the transparency.

Jaemin knows what Renjun is like when he’s drunk—he's the kind of drunk that spills out the stuff they normally keep to themselves. He’s usually protective of himself and is afraid of getting hurt, so he's careful with what he shares, but that changes when he's drunk. He's a lightweight, too, so it doesn't take many drinks until he's drunk.

He’s never seen Renjun this drunk, though. Everything is too transparent, and they’re not even on a call, where Jaemin can understand if the words just tumble out of his mouth. They’re texting, for God’s sake, and yet no thoughts seem to escape from Renjun’s thumbs.

Me
i think you’re very very DRUNK right now [12:59 AM]

Renjun
[01:00 AM] ok so naybe i am drunk
[01:00 AM] i went tk a party eith the loveburds

Me
and they didn’t do anything to stop you?? [01:01 AM]
i’ve never seen you this drunk before [01:01 AM]

Renjun
[01:01 AM] they staryed making out a whule ago
[01:02 AM] idk wheret hey went

Jaemin frowns at his phone, thinking that they shouldn't have left Renjun alone, then sighs. Ever since their mutual best friends had gotten their shit together in their senior year of high school, they haven’t been able to take their hands off each other, especially where alcohol was involved.

Me
where are you right now? [01:03 AM]

Renjun
[01:03 AM] idk
[01:03 AM] uh
[01:03 AM] dejuns?
[01:03 AM] or henderus
[01:03 AM] ons or the other
[01:04 AM] oh waiy they live togehter

Me
i’m coming over [01:04 AM]
[Read 01:04 AM]

Jaemin begins changing into a somewhat acceptable outfit, even though he’s going to be at the party for only two seconds, to make his way to Dejun and Hendery's apartment. Renjun needs someone to take care of him; Renjun has taken care of him while he was drunk too many times to count, so he should return the favour.

Actually, he was invited to the party by Yangyang (for reasons unbeknownst to him; he could’ve sworn Yangyang hated him), but he just didn’t want to go, too stressed thinking about how he should face Renjun, how he’s ever going to make it up to him, so it’s not like he’s showing up uninvited.

He's pulling his hair back and putting on a snapback to hide his unstyled, unwashed but washed-out hair when he gets another ding from his phone.

Renjun
[01:06 AM] can we call? it'e easier rhan t3xting
[01:06 AM] and i want to hear ypur voice
[01:06 AM] please

He thinks. He breathes. And then he does. He has no excuses for himself anymore, no more places to hide. The running away ends now.

"...Renjun?"

"It's really you," Renjun says. There's a bad party mix playing in the background and his words are slow, like he's trying hard to properly enunciate his words and not slur.

"What are you talking about, of course it's me," Jaemin says as he walks into the hall, locking the door to the dorm behind him.

"I—I know that," Renjun says quietly, as though he's embarrassed. "I just—I just haven't heard your voice in a long time. I missed you."

Jaemin tries to hide how his breath catches in his throat. He wants to say 'me, too' in response but ultimately doesn't. "How much have you had to drink?" he asks instead.

"Um…" Renjun begins, and Jaemin enters the elevator and pushes the ground level button as he waits for Renjun's answer. "...A shot an' like, two cans of beer?"

"Oh my God. Renjun, the party only started two hours ago. You're supposed to only have one drink an hour—"

"It's only one drink over. An' why should I listen to you? You never listen to me when I tell you that," Renjun says, and Jaemin can almost hear him frown.

"Good point. But then you should be listening to your own advice—learn from my mistakes, and all that," Jaemin says. "Thought you knew better."

Renjun doesn't say anything for a while after that, and then he's changing the topic. "Before you ask, I didn't drink on an empty stomach—I know that, at least."

"Uh huh," Jaemin says before running across the street to the parking garage. Another elevator later, and he's approaching his car, parked beside a horrible light. "You went with Jeno and Donghyuck, right? Who's DD?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Just curious," Jaemin replies.

"Jeno," Renjun says finally. "We played, uh, rock-paper-scissors an' he lost. I feel kinda bad 'cause he loves drinking, and he's been DD the last couple of times already."

"Damn, sucks for him. Wait—the last couple of times? Have you been drinking a lot lately?" Jaemin asks, concerned.

"...Yeah," Renjun admits.

Jaemin enters his car, jamming his keys into the ignition before starting up the engine. "Stop that. Stop being like me."

Renjun makes a sound of displeasure, somewhere between a grunt and a whine, but says nothing else. He's about to tell Renjun he'll see him in a few minutes, end the call, and start driving, but then Renjun begins to say something.

"You know, we could be boyfriends, like, right now, but you're straight," Renjun says, out of the blue.

Jaemin doesn't say anything, just gulping because of his lack of courage to say that no, he isn't straight—he just doesn't know what to label himself as—and not only is he not straight, but he has also liked Renjun since forever. Jaemin is fucking in love with Renjun. He’s in so deep. This is his chance to tell Renjun everything he’s wanted to tell him, his chance to make things right. If he messes up, well.

Jaemin is about to speak up, having found his resolve. He doesn't speak up in time, though, because Renjun is mumbling something through the phone again, breaking the awkward silence.

"...Jaemin? Are you there? Fuck, that was stupid of me, wasn't it," Renjun says, words muffled like he's dragging a hand down his face in regret. "Just pretend you didn't—"

"Who ever said I was?"

There’s a pause. Then Renjun says, “Wait, Jaemin, what do you mean—” and Jaemin hurriedly tells Renjun that he'll see him in a bit, hanging up before Renjun can finish his thought.

Jaemin sighs. He tosses his phone on the passenger seat, puts his hands on the wheel, and begins driving out of the garage. He gets to Dejun and Hendery's apartment in no time, joining his car in the line of illegally parked cars on the curbside before walking inside the building.

If he remembers correctly, they're on the eighth floor, the fifth room on the right. It's yet another elevator for him. It turns out he has remembered correctly, as he finds a group of girls walking out the door and revealing the party inside.

Jaemin enters, making his way through the crowd. He finds an alcohol-flushed Renjun in the kitchen, sitting in the corner on top of the counter. He's wearing what Jaemin knows is one of his favourite hoodies. It's sunflower yellow, worn, and stained with acrylic on the sleeves. But there's something about Renjun that's unfamiliar.

He almost doesn't recognize Renjun because of his hair—since when did he dye it blonde? He realizes it must've been quite a while ago as he can see Renjun's dark brown roots already growing out. It hits Jaemin all at once that it has been a month since he last saw Renjun and not just heard about him. How much has he missed in the time he'd been an absolute idiot?

Renjun is about to refill his red solo cup with some more shitty beer, but Jaemin takes the cup and beer can away. Renjun looks surprised for a moment before he recognizes Jaemin’s face, and then he pouts at him as though nothing has changed at all. It feels like too much for Jaemin's poor heart after avoiding Renjun for so long, making him go weak in the knees. Absence does, in fact, make the heart grow fonder, Jaemin learns.

"What are you doing sitting in such a bold spot? On the counter, where literally everyone can see," Jaemin asks. He's practically putting himself on display.

Renjun shrugs. "On the counter, but in the corner of the counter. Back against the wall. I think—think it's safer this way. Like, even though I'm technically cornered, that just means that no one can come behind me. No one can sit beside me either. If anyone tries anything, I can just kick them in the face or the crotch, then book it."

"You’re not gonna kick me, are you?" Jaemin asks in a teasing tone.

Renjun shakes his head. "Your face's too pretty."

Jaemin doesn't know what to say to that (has Renjun always been this flirty when drunk?) so he just dumps the last remnants of beer from the cup in the sink before filling the cup with water. He hands it to Renjun, who chugs it down a little too quickly, making him worry he'll throw up. He doesn't—thank God.

If Renjun didn't lie to him about having eaten something, then he hopefully won't vomit inside his car. (Then again, maybe it would be payback for all the times Jaemin has thrown up on something of Renjun's, like his new shoes.)

"You gonna tell me what you meant by that earlier?" Renjun asks, wiping his chin with the back of his hand.

"When you're sober," Jaemin says.

"Promise?"

"Yeah, promise."

He sends a quick text to Jeno saying that Renjun is with him, so he shouldn't worry—he just drank too much. Jaemin doesn’t get an immediate answer since Jeno is probably preoccupied with other things, so he just gets Renjun out of the kitchen, out of the apartment, and on the passenger seat of his car.

Renjun puts on his seatbelt obligingly, though he keeps missing the buckle. He curses, and Jaemin briefly thinks he's being adorable before helping him.

Jaemin comes lugging around a drunk, deadweight Renjun up to the latter's dorm. He's just standing right in front of the door with Renjun's arm swung around his neck, not doing anything because it seems that the water hasn't sobered Renjun up yet—rather, he's currently mumbling something both incoherently and in Mandarin, and Jaemin can't understand a thing.

He doesn't want to go through Renjun's pockets for his room card, so he resorts to knocking on the door with the hopes that Yukhei is on the other side. He waits with bated breath for the door to open.

Yukhei finally opens the door after a full minute, revealing his mussed hair, swollen lips and marked neck. The room is pitch dark save for the light coming from the TV, and Jaemin sees Mark, the most likely culprit of Yukhei's state of appearance, sitting on the couch.

Yukhei shoots Jaemin a look. He’s Renjun’s roommate, and Renjun has probably been telling him about how Jaemin has been avoiding and ignoring him. It’s the kind of look that says, 'if you do anything else to hurt Renjun, I won’t hesitate to end you.'

Jaemin hands a snoozing Renjun over to Yukhei, who asks if Jaemin has gotten his shit together yet.

Jaemin just cracks an awkward smile. "I...I know I fucked up, alright? Renjun and I need to talk. When we're both sober, that is. I know I need to apologize."

"More than just apologize—you should be prepared to beg," Yukhei says, and he nods—he knows. "You better not hurt him anymore than you already have. Renjun...he really likes you, you know?"

He knows.

"I won't, I promise," Jaemin says. Then he asks jokingly, "What are you, his dad? Do I need to ask you for permission now?"

"I'm his roommate and close friend—it’s close enough. I'm protective enough. But it’s not up to me to give permission or whatnot. It’s up to Renjun. I can only trust that you'll keep your word and not be a jerk," Yukhei says.

“...Thanks,” Jaemin says before changing the topic. “He said he had a shot and two cans of beer. I gave him some water earlier—”

“I got it, don’t worry,” Yukhei says. “See you later.”

He gets back to his dorm feeling hopeful.

🦊

Renjun wakes up with a splitting headache. The room is too bright and his head is pounding. A hangover, he surmises bitterly.

He wonders how he got back, if Yukhei came to get him or Jeno and Donghyuck stopped doing whatever they were doing and drove him back. He’d pondered this briefly when he woke up at 5 AM, but he’s still not sure of the answer. He closes his eyes and grunts, a hand coming up to press at his temple. When he opens his eyes again, squinting now, he sees a glass of water by his bedside. He chugs it down a little too quickly that his blood doesn’t quite reach his head fast enough, only making him see more spots.

He crawls under his blanket for a few minutes to recover before he unlocks his phone, finding his texts with Jaemin and a log of a call with him in his recents. Then it hits him—it was Jaemin who had come to drive him back to his dorm—and he remembers what they were talking about last night. Renjun had basically confessed, but said they couldn’t be together because Jaemin was straight. He vaguely remembers Jaemin saying “Who said I ever was?” in response and something about “when you’re sober” when he had tried to ask what he had meant.

Has he been wrong this whole time? Is Jaemin, in fact, somewhere on the spectrum? Does he have a chance after all?

It’s then his headache decides to kick back in again, and he groans, wanting to throw a tantrum at this rate. Okay, so maybe Yukhei was right, he really should stop drinking—this is his fourth hangover in two weeks (two out of six times, he had been lucky enough to not get a hangover, but it seems his luck has run dry).

Renjun knows that they need to talk. He wants to know, and he wants to know everything, or at least everything that Jaemin is willing to tell him. As though psychic, Jaemin sends him a text then and there, his phone buzzing.

Jaemin
[12:28 PM] hey
[12:29 PM] let’s talk

To Renjun’s horror, he’s still looking at his texts with Jaemin when he texts him, meaning the messages have been marked as read on Jaemin’s end, meaning Jaemin is probably expecting an immediate response. Yeah, they need to talk, and he wants answers, but not right now. He’s not ready yet.

Jaemin
[12:29 PM] i’ve been meaning to talk to you about this for a whole week
[12:29 PM] but i said it could wait then
[12:29 PM] and i guess it can still wait
[12:30 PM] especially because you’re probably hungover rn
[12:32 PM] when you’re ready, let’s finally talk
[12:32 PM] in person
[12:32 PM] please?

Me
where [12:34 PM]

Jaemin
[12:34 PM] my dorm? if that’s okay with you
[12:34 PM] i’ll be waiting, the door is open

Me
ok [12:35 PM]
[Read 12:35 PM]

There's a part of him that wants to drag out having to go see Jaemin for as long as possible, and another part of him that wants to get it over with. In the end, he kicks off his blanket and slides out of bed, finally starting his day. Jaemin is waiting, and he hates leaving people waiting.

He'll try to get ready to see Jaemin in a few hours.

🐰

Jaemin is anxious. He’s feeling both antsy and apprehensive, looking towards the door every few minutes as if Renjun will magically appear yet nervous as to what Renjun’s reaction will be when Jaemin finally tells him everything, including his feelings.

He’s been thinking of what he’ll say once he finally gets the chance, when they’re both sober and willing to listen to each other, but he can’t help but think it’s nerve-racking. He can’t help but keep biting his lips—they’re going to have a serious talk face-to-face while completely sober, and they’re going to talk about everything. He’s going to be vulnerable. And Renjun will have every right and reason to be angry, upset, and disappointed with him.

Maybe he should’ve told Renjun everything while he was drunk after all. At least then he’d be much more easy on him. Then again, he doesn’t deserve to get the easy way out—he fucked up, and bad.

Jaemin turns on his phone once again and sighs. An hour and a half has passed, and Renjun still hasn't shown up. He guesses it could be because it's just as nerve-racking for him. Maybe Renjun is still in bed, recovering from last night's drinking. Or maybe Renjun plans on making Jaemin wait and wait for hours as payback for all the times Jaemin has been late or absent to their group hangouts.

He thinks of all the things he could do to pass the time until Renjun decides to show. Play games on his phone? Work on stuff for his classes? Studying is always an option.

He ends up scrolling through funny posts on Instagram.

Jeno keeps commenting that he's practically addicted to the social media app at this point, but he doesn't really care. In his defence, it's not out of addiction that he opens Instagram but to just pass the time. Just to pass the time between his classes. Just to pass the time until he finally falls asleep. Just to pass the time until Renjun comes.

Suddenly, he gets an idea. He briefly exits Instagram to open his gallery, scrolling back and back and back. Days back. Months back. Years back. Then he realizes a better way to go about this: face tags. A much more efficient method of finding all the Renjun pictures on his phone.

With all the pictures he's ever taken of and with Renjun—selfies, blackmail, pro camera shots—in one place, he looks for the perfect one to use to send Renjun a message. He doesn’t care if Renjun sees it or if he doesn’t see it until after they have their talk, he just wants to send the message.

Eventually he finds a scan of an old Polaroid of them both from senior year, one that he distinctly remembers Donghyuck taking of them. Sometime right before graduation, a hangout that had stretched out into the late night, late enough that their parents were calling their cells left and right and they had to argue that they were adults now. He remembers Renjun making a joke and both of them laughing, and then the flash from Donghyuck’s Polaroid camera.

Even though the picture of the Polaroid Donghyuck had taken on his phone to send Jaemin years back is low quality (he’s surprised his phone even tagged Renjun properly), and it’s not a picture Jaemin took himself, he decides it’s perfect for his purposes anyway. He proceeds to take a screenshot of the picture so it appears in his recent photos before going back to Instagram to prepare his post. He selects the photo, doesn’t bother with a filter, and goes to write his caption:

‘always in the same time and place, we were always together, but there are words i couldn’t say because i had no courage.’

He briefly debates on tagging Renjun in the photo and tagging Donghyuck in the caption for photo credit—if he tags Renjun, then he’ll have to see it, but a part of him wants Renjun to find it himself, and he hasn’t yet gone through with his promise with Jeno to apologize to Donghyuck yet. In the end, he forgoes tagging Renjun but tags Donghyuck beside a camera emoji.

He taps the button to post. He’s really done it now. No going back.

He turns off his phone, lying back down on his bed and staring at the ceiling. He only looks at his phone again a few minutes later only to be met with a bursting page of notifications. The first few comments he sees are from Donghyuck.

donghyuck._lee JAEMIN NA, NA JAEMIN, USER _JAEMNNA
8m____6 likes____Reply

donghyuck._lee WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS
8m____1 likes____Reply

donghyuck._lee HAVE YOU FINALLY COME AROUND. HAVE YOU ACCEPTED MY APOLOGY
7m____2 likes____Reply

donghyuck._lee Thanks for the photo credit btw
6m____Reply

More people have liked the post than he thought would, and then he realizes it's his first proper post on his personal account in two weeks—people probably got the notification saying he's posted for the first time in a while.

Jeno, the only person who actually knows about his plan to tell Renjun everything because he had to give a reason for kicking him out, has commented something simple:

jenono good luck bro
4m____1 like____Reply

dancer.jwi 👀 i am Looking
2m____Reply

zhong_lele @huang.rj
1m____Reply

Jaemin feels the dread creep in as he sees Chenle has tagged Renjun and thinks that maybe this was a mistake after all, because oh God. He thought he was doing good with the whole 'think before you act' thing, but apparently not.

He refreshes and refreshes the comment section to see if Renjun will show up or not, with the lurking temptation to delete the whole post strong. Renjun does show up, to his horror.

huang.rj @zhong_lele what i'm literally in the same room as u, u could've just shown me ur screen
12s____3 likes____Reply

Jaemin refreshes again and sees that Chenle has just replied (damn he types fast, Jaemin thinks):

zhong_lele @huang.rj lol whoops. anyway look up :D
5s____Reply

huang.rj oh
5s____Reply

Oh God, oh God oh God oh God. He's so stupid—now Renjun is probably going to feel like he's being rushed to talk with him, which was not his intention at all.

Me
renjun [02:23 PM]
you don'y have to cone over yet if you're nit ready [02:23 PM]
i'm so stupid [02:23 PM]
please don't feel rushed [02:24 PM]
renjun [02:25 PM]
i didn't think chenle would @ you oh my god [02:26 PM]
i wasn't thinking [02:26 PM]

Renjun
[02:26 PM] jaemin
[02:26 PM] it's fine
[02:27 PM] to me it was just
[02:27 PM] a friendly reminder
[02:27 PM] anyway i'm ready now so can u open the door

He's here? He's really here? He tosses his phone on his bed, standing up and dashing towards the door, his hand on the doorknob ready to turn only to pause. Breathe. In, and out. In, and out.

Then he opens.

Renjun is standing there in all his glory with his new-not-new blonde hair, wearing one of his white-collar and v-neck sweater combos that remind Jaemin of their high school uniform, even though it's the weekend and they're two years into college.

He looks small like this, the sweater practically drowning him, and Jaemin's pounding heart feels like it's about to burst out of his chest. You'd think that after yesterday he wouldn't feel exactly the same seeing Renjun, but he does, and it feels like the first time again.

Jaemin doesn't know when he started smiling. "I said the door was open."

Renjun blinks, and time feels slow as Jaemin sees his smile bloom at the same time as his sight. He's an utter goner. "Oh," Renjun says, "I guess I forgot."

He reminds himself that he's supposed to be anxious. He reminds himself that Renjun has every right and reason to be angry, upset, and disappointed with him.

Jaemin lets Renjun inside and the two sit on Jaemin's bed, not too close yet not too far. It's awkward, neither of them talking in favour of the other speaking up first. Jaemin knows that he should be the one to speak up because he's the one who told Renjun to come over, but he doesn't know where to start. Funny that he planned out everything he was going to say but never thought of how to start his monologue.

"So," Renjun begins, Jaemin echoing him. "What did you want to talk to me about? Where do you want to start?"

Jaemin breathes deeply. He's been doing that a lot lately. "I think...I think I should start with an apology."

"Okay," Renjun says, his voice calm and quiet, "whenever you're ready."

He's done running away.

"You probably hate me for this, but I've been avoiding you. Ignoring you. For basically the whole month. I probably made you feel like I don't care about you anymore. Like I don't want to hang out with you anymore. I prioritized other things over our friendship. I hurt you. And I didn't just hurt you—I hurt all of you, and I hurt Ellie, too. I didn't want to admit it, but Donghyuck was right. I used her to spite Donghyuck because he was taunting me about not having a love life, and to have an excuse not to see you. And before you yell at me, I know I was a real jerk for doing that. I still don't really forgive myself, even though she did when I broke up with her and apologized. So I really don't blame you if you hate me. But I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."

Jaemin holds his breath as he waits for Renjun to respond. He knows he fucked up, knows Renjun has every right to hate him and hold back his forgiveness. If Renjun decides to not forgive him, then that's that. He'll officially be a complete fuck-up. Officially be someone who can't do anything right, for God's sake.

"Jaemin," Renjun says, snapping him out of his thoughts, "I wouldn't be here right now if I hated you. I don't hate you. Okay?"

"But you should hate me for doing all of that. Because I hate me for doing all of that," Jaemin says, quieting down on that last part.

"But I can tell you feel sorry for what you did," Renjun says. "I'll admit that yeah, you fucked up, but you acknowledge what you did, understand that it was wrong, and you asked me to come here so you could tell me that you know you fucked up. So I don't hate you. I couldn't hate you even if—even though—I tried. I forgive you. So please don't hate yourself—I don't want someone I love to hate themselves."

Renjun looks away after saying that, avoiding his gaze as if he's embarrassed or nervous, that or mentally preparing himself. "Renjun—"

"Jaemin, I like you. As more than a friend," Renjun says. He waits for Renjun to continue, feeling conflicted. "Maybe it's more than just like. Maybe it's love. I don't know, maybe I'm stupid for saying that I love you, but I think it is love I feel. Love for you as a friend, and love for you as more. It's why, even if you fuck up, I'll forgive you."

He knows deep down he doesn't deserve Renjun, and Renjun doesn't deserve him—Renjun is just too good for him—but he can't help but feel indescribably happy at the words. He feels happy. His heart feels light. He can't find the little voice of doubt in his head telling him that there's no way Renjun likes him back anymore.

"Since when?" Jaemin asks, because that's what he really wants to know, and then he realizes he should probably, you know, tell Renjun that he likes-maybe-loves him back. "Wait, shit, no. First, I like you, too. I like-maybe-love you, too. Can't remember a time I didn't. Okay, I'm kidding, I just thought that would sound more romantic. I've liked you since senior year of high school."

Renjun's eyes widen for a second before relaxing to their original size again. He has no idea what Renjun is thinking at the moment—he can't read his expression. "...Like the beginning? Or—"

"Smackdab in the middle," Jaemin says. "Or maybe before? Maybe I started liking you in the beginning but only realized halfway? I don't know exactly when it happened, to be honest. It just...did. One day I thought of you as just a friend, one of my best friends, and then the next day I realized you were more to me than that."

"I… This is probably going to ruin the mood, but I need to know," Renjun says, and Jaemin already has an idea of what he's going to say before he even says it, because what other topic would ruin the mood? "Is there a specific reason why you were avoiding me? It's just, you're saying all of these things, but if you like me then why were you avoiding me?"

Ah, yes. He was just about to get there. He sighs, knowing that what he's about to say is probably going to sound stupid to Renjun—Jeno and Mark had certainly pummelled it into his brain that it was stupid, that he was stupid, dense, and oblivious for not realizing Renjun's apparently obvious feelings for him.

"Because I didn't think you liked me back. I seriously thought I stood no chance because I thought you only saw me as a friend. I mean, we've been just friends for years, so I thought that you thought I was just a friend to you, and I thought that never changed because the way you acted around me never changed."

When Jaemin finishes rambling, he can only see Renjun squinting at him like he's having trouble processing what Jaemin just said. He doesn't really blame him since he knows how he gets when he starts rambling. Not only that, but he finds he's already forgotten half of what he's said.

"...So you were avoiding me to get over your feelings for me? Because you thought I didn't like you back? And you thought I didn't like you back because I friendzoned you?" Renjun asks, piecing the puzzle together.

Jaemin hums. "I was afraid of rejection, mostly, and I thought if I told you, it would ruin our friendship. But now that I think about it, I was kinda stupid to think that because you'd never let something like that ruin our friendship, and you'd definitely let me down easy. Because you're you. In the end, avoiding you didn't work, and I couldn't make myself fall in love with Ellie instead—it just made everything worse than if I just told you."

"You're...an idiot," Renjun says, shaking his head with a smile creeping up his face.

"Tell me something new."

"Okay then. I will," Renjun says, as though Jaemin has just challenged him. "The reason why the way I acted around you never changed was because I started liking you in sophomore year, and only started really liking you in the summer going into junior year. If you only started liking me in the middle of senior year, then you'd probably just look from that moment onwards to see if anything changed with the way I acted. But the way I acted around you changed before that, way before that, so it looked like nothing changed."

Jaemin just stares at Renjun, mouth opening and closing like a fish because he wants to say something but suddenly doesn't know how to speak. "That… Everything makes so much more sense now. Oh my God, I really am an idiot."

"...Will you be my idiot?"

Jaemin quirks an eyebrow. "That's awfully cheesy, don't you think?" he says teasingly, making Renjun blush harder. Cute. "Anyways, yes, I'll be your idiot."

Renjun smiles like he's the happiest man on Earth right now. He wants to keep it that way.

Somewhere along the line, they'd moved closer together, and now they're leaning on each other, shoulder-to-shoulder, in bliss. Renjun's hand has found Jaemin's, crawling under and loosely interlocking their fingers. Renjun's touch is gentle, trusting, safe.

Jaemin cranks his head to face Renjun, his eyes flitting down to his lips. They're pretty, soft, smooth. Jaemin has wondered countless times before what Renjun's lips would feel like on his—like petals, probably. He's about to ask permission to find out for sure, but suddenly Renjun sits fully upright again, and Jaemin nearly whimpers from the lack of warmth against his side.

"So you're not straight."

"No, I'm not straight," Jaemin says, "but I still don't know what I am."

"You don't have to know for sure what you are yet—"

"But I want to know."

Renjun looks deeply into his eyes and sighs, giving in easily. "Then I'll help you. Tell me what you know so far. I want to know everything—or anything you feel like telling me."

Jaemin goes on to give him a near-identical break down to the one he had given Jeno two months ago, but slightly better. He tells Renjun about how, despite being a natural flirt, he hasn't lost his V-card, hasn't kissed anyone in the past three years apart from Ellie, and hasn't wanted to, always pushing them away if they try to lean in or touch him intently. Well, that's mostly because of his feelings for Renjun, but it's the same deal even before he had developed feelings for him.

("Jeno told me that I should just flirt with you like I do with girls, since apparently I flirt like there's no tomorrow, and I've tried, but the thing is I don't actually know what I'm doing. I'm not sure what you think of me when I'm drunk and flirty or sober and flirty or whatever, but I swear to God, it's completely natural and I never know how I do it. I keep giving the wrong people the wrong idea, and that's why I keep pushing them away. And I can't seem to—I don't know how to flirt on purpose," Jaemin elaborates.

Renjun blinks, as though either none of this is news to him or all of this is big news and he's trying to connect all the dots. Jaemin can't really tell from his face. "I‐I can't—ah, shit. I feel so dumb. And so bad. I feel horrible because I actually, genuinely, thought you just. Flirted with random girls. In—I don't know how to word this differently, but—the playboy way. I feel so stupid because how could I have thought that? And how could I not have noticed you were flirting with me? I mean, I think it's because I was just so sure you were straight that I thought, when you flirt with me, you're just joking around, but—"

"You really thought that lowly of me, huh?" Jaemin says with a smirk.

Renjun flushes red before apologizing profusely, and Jaemin comments about how it's like their roles have switched before saying he doesn't blame Renjun for thinking that and appreciates him for admitting it. Water under the bridge, as far as Jaemin is concerned. If Renjun can forgive him for something much bigger, then Jaemin can easily forgive him for something much smaller.)

He tells Renjun about how he's felt attraction to way more girls than guys, but that attraction was never really sexual—he just wanted to be with them all the time, take care of them, maybe have a future with them. Romantic attraction, basically. He didn't really want to have much physical intimacy with them beyond cuddling, hugging, and hand holding, except there have been a few rare cases where he has, like these two girls he dated for a pretty long time, Jeno (yes, he tells Renjun that he liked his childhood best friend and wanted to kiss him), and Renjun.

He tells Renjun he rarely actually wanted to kiss the girls he was dating, even though he liked them romantically—he just did because that's what they wanted, because that's what you're supposed to do when you date. That's what they told him, that's what movies told him, that's what watching other couples told him.

"Jaemin," Renjun says softly, squeezing Jaemin's hand, "you don't have to do anything if you don't want to. Just because that's how they tell you it's supposed to be—which it's not, it doesn't have to be—doesn't mean you don't have the right to say no. 'No, I don't want to.' And if they don't like that and still try to force you, then they clearly don't respect you or your wishes."

He lets the words sink in. A part of him wants to defend all the girls he's dated and engrained in his mind that kissing is just what you do when you date (all the girls because he's never dated a guy), say that it was okay, he was okay with giving them what they wanted because he would do anything to make them happy. The other part of him wants to let it all go, leave that type of thinking in the past.

"I wish...I wish someone had told me that earlier," Jaemin says.

"Me, too," Renjun says, "I wish someone had told you that earlier, too. I wish I could've told you earlier. I would if I knew. But it's pointless to wish those things. What's done is done. We can think all we want about things like 'what if I had or hadn't done this' and 'what if I had known that,' but there's no point—we can only look forward. All that matters is that you know now. For both this and the other thing. Another reason I forgive you."

"I think...I think this is why I like-maybe-love you. And why I don't deserve you," Jaemin murmurs. "...So, what do you think? Have any guesses for what I am yet? Jeno said maybe I was something along the lines of biromantic the last time I asked him."

Renjun hums with a hand on his chin (a hand that he had to retract from Jaemin's grip), thinking long and hard before giving an answer. It's cute. "Have you ever considered being demisexual?"

"Huh?" Jaemin says instinctively, because no, he hasn't—he doesn't even know what that word means. "Wait, shit, I don't know what that means, oh my God."

"If you're demisexual, it means you need to establish a strong emotional bond with someone before you can be sexually attracted to them. It's called demisexual because it's halfway between sexual and asexual," Renjun explains. "I just thought that might be you because you said you don't really feel sexual attraction or want to be physically intimate, even with people you feel romantically attracted to, until you do. And I can understand where Jeno is getting the biromantic, so if we put the two together...that's biromantic demisexual, which basically means you need to be strongly emotionally and romantically connected to a person to feel sexual attraction. But, of course, not with every person you're emotionally and romantically connected with. That sound about right? Or do I need to rethink this?"

Does the glass slipper fit Cinderella's foot?

Yes, it sounds about right. Yes, it feels right. Yes, it's perfect. 'Oh, that's it. That's me.' That was his first thought. It just...clicked with him. He can't believe he didn't know what a demisexual was until now. He guesses he's simply been Google-searching for the wrong thing.

"Alternatively, graysexual if you feel sexual attraction in certain circumstances but not necessarily only after forming an emotional connection—"

It's then Jaemin decides to engulf Renjun in a hug, nuzzling his neck. It gets Renjun to stop rambling. He notices the way Renjun's breath hitches before hesitantly wrapping his arms around Jaemin in turn. He has to admit it's a little awkward—their torsos are twisted 90 degrees from their legs, still hanging off the bed—but he's enjoying the close proximity. It's a firm hug, a safe hug.

It feels right to have Renjun in his arms.

"Jaemin?" Renjun begins, and Jaemin hums to tell him to go on. He pushes Jaemin back by the shoulders so they can make eye contact. Jaemin melts under Renjun's gaze, loses himself in those eyes of his. At this point, he's certain that no matter what Renjun asks next, he's not going to be able to say no. "I'm just gonna say this right now. I want to kiss you."

Subconsciously, Jaemin's eyes wander down to Renjun's lips, and he stares. He's not considering; he's already decided. He's just admiring, admiring the shape, softness, and smoothness of Renjun's lips.

"You don't have to if you don't want to—I'm not going to force you," Renjun says, taking Jaemin's hand in his again. He's rubbing circles into the back of his hand with his thumb, and at this point he thinks Renjun's doing it more to comfort himself than Jaemin.

"I want to. I've wanted to for so long. You...you're not just anyone to me, okay? So you don't have to worry. I want to. I want to kiss you," Jaemin says before swallowing nerves he swears weren't there before and leaning in closer so their breaths mingle. "Can I?"

His answer comes in the form of a hand tangling in his hair and a slight nod of the head.

Jaemin tastes the antidote to his poison on Renjun's lips.

 

"So," Jaemin says, clinging to Renjun from behind, his arms slung over his shoulders and his face half-blocked by Renjun's head. All of the guys' eyes are on him. He thinks back to all the late nights contemplating his orientation, all the conversations of labels that have led him to this point, all the times his brain has been frazzled trying to find the perfect fit. He thinks, he breathes, and then he talks. "I'm back, I'm a biromantic demisexual, and I have a boyfriend."

It's Donghyuck who reacts first. "You're a big dumbass, that's for sure. C'mere," he says, though it's him who comes to the side of Jaemin and Renjun's blob and sticks himself on there like a starfish on a rock, wrapping his arms around the both of them. "...Have you forgiven me or what?"

"Yeah," Jaemin says, "I've forgiven you for a while now. I'm sorry, too, by the way. For avoiding you. For avoiding all of you."

Jeno is next, coming to hug their other side. "Glad you've finally come around, Jaem."

"Oh, are we having a group hug?" Yukhei says, perking up at the idea. Soon enough, their blob grows four people larger, Mark on their back, Yukhei on their front, and Jisung and Chenle somehow having crawled in to the snug middle layer. Renjun is squirming under him from being the smallest spoon, surrounded on all sides, but he can hear his wide smile that probably mirrors his own. But there's still one more person.

"Yangyang, you wanna join in?" Jaemin asks, tilting his chin up from the blob. "There's always room for one more."

Yangyang seems to think it over a few times before going to hell with it and joining somewhere between Donghyuck and Mark. Everything has fallen into place. It doesn't matter that they're a giant blob of nine dudes and blocking the sidewalk.

He can't remember a time he felt so carefree.