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when i look at you my heart always goes thump-thump

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The thing is, Jeno reminisces as he squats by the curtain and takes frantic gulps of water, heartbeat accelerating every time a member of stage crew mutters softly under their breath and takes a glance at their watch, nerve endings triggered by the movement by his bandmates as they scatter behind the stage searching for their instruments and special talismans (scratched guitar picks, wristwatches, zen)—

 

He had never wanted to be in a band.



Yet, as most things begin for Jeno, it’s with Donghyuck on his bedroom floor, their noses pressed up against the screen as the first chords of ‘I’m a Loner’ by CNBLUE filter out from the scratchy speakers and from Jeno’s glitchy, 144p resolution box television set, the image of the blue-lit stage set reflected in their irises.



“Jeno, let’s start a band,” Donghyuck says, and Jeno, having known Donghyuck since they were swaddled in yellow cloths and barely able to open their eyes, knows the boy genuinely means it. It’s the flicker of a flame that licks at the edges of his pupils and Jeno doesn’t mean to burst his bubble but,



“Donghyuck, you don’t know how to play an instrument. Or read music.” 



“I can learn!” The minute those three words leave his mouth, CNBLUE start prepping for Love Revolution and lo and behold, Donghyuck’s eyes lay on the guitarist with the helmet of black hair and alluring eyes.



“I want that one.” Donghyuck points at Jung Yonghwa and Jeno’s face settles into one of indifference. 



“You want to play the guitar,” Jeno states, hoping his best friend will catch the disbelief lightly veiled within his voice but Donghyuck, the moron, only nods his head furiously.



“Yeah! I want him!” 



And that’s how everything kicks off. 

 

It’d just been him and Donghyuck of course. Nothing substantial manifested since Jeno was still fiddling with his new bass and Donghyuck was just beginning to learn basic music theory and notation, let alone how to play the guitar. It’s safe to say, nothing picks up until 9th grade when Donghyuck finally nails the guitar and vocal part for ‘I’m A Loner’ and Jeno has learnt how to play melodies and tried his hand at writing.

 

But how they get here, with Donghyuck plugging in the amp, Jaemin almost tripping over said amp, Renjun warming up softly in the background, Chenle picking at his fingernails, keyboard set up fifteen minutes before the rest of them, and Jisung— Jisung tapping his drumsticks on his thighs as he sits on the stage block, eyes closed as he sounds out the beat of their song softly, is entirely different.

 

Oh Jisung Park, Jeno’s source of agony and adoration.



Okay, let’s rewind. Take it back to the first note of the bar, right after the scribbled time signature and haphazard sharps and flats in the key in Jeno’s scrawl.



Jenooooo,” Donghyuck lets out a long whine as they lie on the cool tile floors of the boy’s living room.



“What now?” Jeno asks without any bite, and his best friend rolls over to face him, Melona bar held precariously in his fingers as he sucks up the last dregs of the ice on the stick. 



“What if no one wants to join us? The Light Music Club doesn’t have any remaining members from last year so we have to start it afresh on our own! What if it’s just my dodgy guitar and your better-but-still-average bass playing? What if—“ Jeno ignores the jab as Donghyuck writhes on the floor like a worm in dirt, continuing to make noises of despair as he does. Jeno winces at the sight of Donghyuck’s sticky palm smearing Melona juice across the floor beside him but turns around to properly face him, holding his head in his palm. 



“Hey, you don’t know that. We just need to find a keyboardist, a drummer, and another guitarist.” Jeno says with such confidence that he almost fools himself. How they’re going to find three willing instrumentalists before the time runs out to submit their forms to Faculty Office and the Student Council, and before Debate Club steals Mr Kim as their club supervisor, who is both Donghyuck and Jeno’s homeroom teacher and the kindest staff member out of the entire teaching faculty, is beyond him.



“We can’t even rope in Mark since he’s so busy being Student Prez, and you know I have no friends apart from you.” 



The Mark in question being their reliable third arm whenever they needed him and mutual best friend. Though Donghyuck and Jeno haven’t seen him much since he was voted in, Mark makes an effort to keep up with them, and upon hearing that they were creating a band, he’d been so excited that he actually fell off his chair in the middle of English class when he got the text. Although they couldn’t employ his guitar playing skills, they could always cash in his constant moral support which Jeno for one, was grateful for. 



On the other hand, Donghyuck and Jeno have been glued together at the seams since time immeasurable, and the former, though being completely at ease when talking to new people and socialising in general, has been adamant in not making new friends despite Jeno’s incessant pleading. No one will understand me like you do Jen, so what’s the point?, is his comeback every time Jeno asks him to bother someone else for his bubble tea runs or another 2AM Overwatch game or to bully Donghyuck’s brother Johnny to buy new capos, picks, and strings since he keeps breaking his and Jeno’s. 



“Let me think.” Jeno hums for a moment as he brainstorms everyone in their grade who has shown an ounce of musical ability in the four years they’ve been at school, while Donghyuck resumes pouting, his eyes following the direction of the revolving fan above them in a daze.



“I’m 80% sure Yangyang knows how to play the drums and we play football together, so I can ask him. I swear I’ve seen Jaemin play guitar at church, and you guys have Maths together right? So now we just need a keyboardist!” Jeno says ecstatically but Donghyuck is still sporting the pout.



“Jeno, we need another vocalist. If we want our songs to be interesting, we’re going to need more than just me. Even another tenor would be fine, but I’ve always envisioned myself singing with someone else.” There’s a weight in his voice, and Jeno sighs.



“Okay, you and I both know I know jack-all about singing and technique but hear me out okay. I need you to understand why if we’re gonna do this for real.” 



Jeno had sighed because honestly, he was tired, and Donghyuck was in a sulky mood which meant that he wasn’t going to be the greatest help in actually finding said vocalist. Yet, it’d be incorrect to say Jeno wears the chains in this band, when Donghyuck is where the true electric heart of them lies and Jeno would be committing a wrong if he didn’t give his best friend the time of day in lieu of getting something off the ground. So he sits up and prepares himself to listen. 



“It’s like, I’m a piece of bread for a sandwich. Right? You know some plain white bread. Tasty! But not fun by itself, especially when it makes up both sides of the sandwich and there’s nothing in between.” Donghyuck aids his explanation with wild hand gestures and wide eyes. 



“Right now Jen, even though I know I sing pretty decently, can hold a good tune with these suckers of mine.” He points to his throat where he thinks his vocal cords lie for the act and Jeno fights the urge to flick him in the centre of his forehead.



“But we don’t have any jam in between our sandwich Jen! I know I can sing but being able to just sing is not enough for what I want, and what I want you to see and understand and want too. I’m not trying to be self-deprecating about my own vocals, and I know you know I wouldn’t be like that either, so what I’m trying to say is—”



Jeno has known Donghyuck since they were in diapers, both Mrs Lee’s finding each other amongst the neighbourhood post-birth and being adamant in making their two millennium boys the bestest of friends, whether they liked it or not. Jeno knows Donghyuck has pride in his talent and so does Jeno, and he gets it now. They need their jam, peanut butter, Christ, their gochujang. Anyone with a tweak in their tone that could elevate their entire sound.



“We need our condiment.” 



“Not what I was quite thinking of but I love your enthusiasm.” 



Now, this is the checklist:

 

  1. Corner Yangyang after football and ask him to play the drums for us. If he refuses, pull out the card you’ve had stored since he lost the USB with your groupwork for English. 
  2. Corner Jaemin after Modern History and ask him if he can play get him to learn how to play electric. And then the nuances of rhythm. Hopefully.
  3. Keyboard Acquisition:
    1. The subject: Chenle Zhong
      1. A piano prodigy? Has only been witnessed playing the school song and national anthem at assembly. Cannot confirm- dude i found out apparently he had a solo concert like last year? Noooooo fuckin way ur kidding jeno pls stop approving ur suggestions FINE
      2. Oh my God he was on the Voice China? Dude can sing?! We need him we need him sooooooo bad I’m gonna give away my first-born for Chenle Zhong 
        1. Catch him after assembly! On it chief 
  4. Vocal Acquisition: 
    1. Okay Jeno I know we thought we struck gold with Chenle but I was walking past the music rooms and I heard someone singing and GOD it was so amazing I might have cried on my way to the staffroom who knows anyways I memorised the back of his head like a formula sheet and he’s definitely Renjun Huang from Class 1
      1. If you can snag him, then I’m down
      2. BET he’s our condiment jen I know it deep in my bones <3



The checklist is littered with Jeno’s approved suggestions and Donghyuck’s incessant comments, resulting in a messy amalgam of strategies and tactics on how to steal these boys but also, their general comments and thoughts which is a lot of fawning on Jeno’s end about Chenle, Donghyuck formulating a foolproof learning curriculum for Jaemin, and Donghyuck droning on about Renjun and his sexy voice and the back of his small round head, but they’ve both acquiesced that they’re getting somewhere. It’s a small step but a step at all, in any direction at this point, is good enough for them. 

 

Donghyuck and Jeno scope out their meeting room— a secluded music room down the Arts hallway, next to the stairs from the back entrance of the school— to the realisation that they have to lure said band members in somehow. 

 

Luckily for them, as the Powers That Be would have it, Donghyuck doesn’t catch the Lure after assembly. The Lure catches him instead.



“I heard you guys needed a keyboardist?” A twinkly-eyed Chenle Zhong pops his head into the doorway to the music room and Jeno almost jumps out of his skin. Without his glasses, Jeno can only make out a blurry figure holding up a piece of paper. Funny, they hadn’t told anyone nor made flyers— 



“Where did you find that?” is Donghyuck’s frantic cry when he runs up to the doorway and his eyes trail down to the sheet of paper bunched in Chenle’s hand. 



WE ARE IN NEED OF KEYS 

 

i’m donghyuck and my best friend jeno and i want to start a band but we are one mediocre guitarist and better-than-average bassist and we need a keyboardist like sooooo bad. come to music 2 and find either me or jeno pls we’ll give you a free sock and maybe a regular pearl milk tea but w/o the pearls for ur services

 

signed

people in desperate need of keys (will even commit a crime for you if need be)



“It was lying in the seminar room in the library, didn’t you leave it there?” Donghyuck twiddles his thumbs at the question.



Donghyuck had booked the room under the assumption he’d be able to drag Jeno along with him and have him there for moral support while he himself tried his hand at being productive and catching up on a week’s worth of work. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Donghyuck was anything but. He started up again on his fears and complaints about their currently non-existent band and Jeno sat and listened to his qualms and concerns, agreeing with soft hums as he scribbled down more esterification reactions onto loose leaf paper. 



This was before they’d made the checklist and Donghyuck was silently agonising over the imperative second vocal they needed before anything else, but nevertheless, the summer heat convecting around the room had already churned Donghyuck’s brain to mush before he could even take out his books. The one issue they both agreed on at the time, was the need for a keyboardist, for that seemed to be an integral part of the backbone of every band.



“Okay Jen, I’m going to write a message calling for any keyboardists at our school who might come across this particular room, to join our band.”



Jeno made a sound of agreement, or that ‘s what Donghyuck chose to interpret as, and continued to rip a new page from his spiral-bound notebook and scratch it out.



It was a stupid note, an act of a heat-induced craze and the both of them not truly wanting to make an effort in recruiting band members with Donghyuck taking the initiative to act on it in poor fashion.



“So, can I choose any crime I want? Or do we go by severity and predicted juvie time?” 



Chenle is still smiling, but not with his teeth and instead, the ends of his lips curl up in a way that sends pure fear up Jeno’s spine. Donghyuck laughs, open and bright, until he realises that Chenle isn’t laughing with him, and his mouth closes as the terror sets in.



“Just kidding! I’ll bring the food too! Actually, do you guys like Chinese food? I’ve been cooking recently and I need some taste testers,” Chenle says with a grin, eyes curving into crescents as he hands the note back to Donghyuck, and Jeno thinks they’ve truly struck gold. 



“You’re in.” Donghyuck says after a prolonged gulp of fright-induced saliva and that’s the story of how they recruit Chenle, or more so how Chenle recruits them.



At the premise of eating steaming hot Chinese food every day after school, Yangyang is down immediately, and Jaemin, at the promise of fun times and new friendships, says yes with a soft smile and meanders his way to Music 2 after school ends. 

 

Renjun Huang however, takes a heavy beating of Donghyuck-esque coercion and empty threats of ‘bad luck’ that Donghyuck swears he’ll manifest, and other questionable tactics and doesn’t give until Donghyuck gets down on his knees after hearing him sing Troye Sivan in the practice room during lunch and sheds tears at the sound and sight.

 

The band is green lighted by the Faculty Office and Mark ticks off their application easily. Jeno pulls out his big guns (the puppy-dog eyes) for Mr Kim and he was an immediate goner but Donghyuck, Donghyuck being Donghyuck finds out after some amateur sleuthing (aka sticking his nose into untouched school archives) that a stormy-eyed Doyoung Kim, alumni of the school, was also a part of a school band ten years before them. A yellowed photo of a young student in an all-leather ensemble, complete with charcoal-lined eyes, and a videotape that he almost broke into half upon seeing it in Donghyuck’s hands when the student sauntered into the staffroom right after he had just signed their application in front of Jeno. 

 

They had him by the balls at that point. 

 

Initially it’s sessions for jamming out, seeing where all their talents and skill sets lie, Renjun trying not to blow his fuse at Donghyuck, finding their sound, whatever that means, the strenuous task of getting Yangyang to wake up after napping upon gorging on Chenle’s special ramen, Jaemin throwing his picks at the wall in frustration after another failed attempt at a guitar run, Jeno losing his mind as the school festival looms ever closer, and honestly, at this point they all don’t know a damned thing about anything.

 

The climax is when Yangyang comes to Music 2 teary-eyed, letting everyone know in a fit of emotional hiccups, that he’s moving schools.



“It’s Dad’s new job, I’m so sorry.” Overwhelmed by not only the loss of their drums but of a dear friend, it seems their morale has hit below rock bottom and there doesn’t seem to be a way out nor salvation for this band of now five, mismatched boys. 

 

It’s a tearful goodbye and Yangyang promises to visit as often as he can, and that he hopes they can find a suitable replacement for him. It’s to Weishen Academy he goes, taking with him the last vestiges of the band’s hopes and dreams. 

 

The fact that Renjun and Donghyuck have stopped coming for each other’s necks, Jaemin’s emoji-littered text messages into the group chat don’t hit the same anymore nor does the sound of Chenle’s chopsticks hitting the ceramic as he eats, and Jeno doesn’t feel good at all. 



That is until Jisung Park stumbles into their lives.



To: jenolee@nct.com

Subject: WE NEED A BAND NAME?!!!!??!!!!!!! - Invitation to edit

 

Donghyuck Lee (donghyucklee@nct.com) has invited you to edit the following document: 

WE NEED A BAND NAME?!!!!??!!!!!!!

 

jeno stop paying attention in class for once we need a band name!!????!?!?!!!!!!!!!! and a good one please i won’t forgive you or myself if we make our legacy at this school with an awful band name



To: donghyucklee@nct.com

Re: WE NEED A BAND NAME?!!!!??!!!!!!!

 

firstly, it’s offensive that you’d think i’d be okay with an awful band name. secondly, we need a new drummer before we even start thinking of a band name 



To: jenolee@nct.com

Re: WE NEED A BAND NAME?!!!!??!!!!!!!

 

about that, i think i found someone? but he’s a bit uh

 

To: donghyucklee@nct.com

Re: WE NEED A BAND NAME?!!!!??!!!!!!!

 

????? elaborate??????????



Jisung doesn’t even get to introducing himself to the group before he trips over the amp cord and promptly topples onto Donghyuck, which triggers a horrific domino effect. Donghyuck grabs onto the first thing in front of him, which happens to be the edge of Renjun’s blazer and Renjun subsequently grips onto Jaemin’s shirt sleeve, then Jaemin goes for Chenle’s belt, and Jeno falls face forward when Chenle grabs his shoulders and pushes him forward with the rest of them.



“SORRY!”



“What the hell—“



“Chenle get out of there!” 



“Dude, my shoulder is about to pop out its socket, get off me—“



Jeno gets up, shoulder still in socket and he doesn’t know whether he could ever play his own instrument at the volume and speed that his heart beats at upon laying his eyes on their new drummer. 

 

His black hair falls artfully into his eyes, silver thin-rimmed glasses perched crookedly on his nose as he gathers himself, tall and lanky stature emphasised as he does, surveys the chaotic entanglement of limbs and precariously placed bodies on the floor, not knowing what to do with himself as he checks up on each victim, helping them up then blatantly touching their faces and spinning them around to check for any other injuries, and when he gets to Jeno, he falters and can’t meet his eyes. Jeno has a horrific feeling that maybe his facial features took a fall with him.



“Are— are you okay?” 



Jeno feels okay. Maybe a little flushed, but that’s more an emotional bruise than a physical one. Jeno is not inclined to crush prematurely on boys he doesn’t know, but this one, this one might just change the game for him. 



He introduces himself properly and apologetically as Jisung Park, a ninth grader with almost eight years experience on the drums. Everybody is terribly endeared despite incurring scraped knees and sore ankles because of him, and Jeno soon coins this the Jisung Effect. Like a spell, his everyday mannerisms has everyone falling at his feet this time, entertaining his impromptu skits, shredding guitars and slamming keys when he comes up with a new beat on the fly even if all of them have gone through rough days at school in the hours before practice and are exhausted beyond belief. When he walks into the room, clunky size 10s Adidas sneakers scuffing against the timbre panels, everyone almost illuminates in his presence so Jeno doesn’t think he’s alone in his infatuation. And yet. 



It’s a nondescript Wednesday afternoon, and Chenle has brought jiaozi today, his mother’s creation as opposed to his own this time around, and Jaemin takes liberty in feeding every single one of them himself, dunking the warm dumplings into vinegar and getting everyone to open up their mouths. Jeno’s just gone through a gruelling double period of Chemistry, resorting to resting his face on the edge of the couch, content with lying there forever. Donghyuck follows suit after getting his fill, and slumps over Jeno’s sitting form.



Renjun is busy watching videos on YouTube, Jaemin and Chenle are talking about nothing while Jisung tugs on the ends of his hair, mouth scrunched in a pout that almost sucker punches Jeno in the gut when he opens his eyes and it’s the first thing in his line of vision. 



“I know you think he’s cute but please, tone it down.” 



Jeno pinches the shell of Donghyuck’s ear and continues to unabashedly stare at Jisung for the entire afternoon.



Yangyang’s absence is not so much completely filled by Jisung, but made a comfortable space to remember who was there for the genesis of the band beyond Jeno and Donghyuck’s imaginations. Jisung alongside his drumming skill, comes with an additional side of bad jokes, random facts about the cosmos, some amazing self-composed drum solos, and coats Music 2 with his warmth.

 

They’re finally starting to make music, albeit piecing together scraps of chaotic quavers barely written on the stave like puzzle pieces from several different puzzles, but music nevertheless. Jaemin is a hidden wildcard, scribbling out a solid verse and a bit to a simple four chord something he whipped up in a minute, and that solid verse and four chord something becomes the seed of their first song. Renjun and Donghyuck try out some harmonies, seeing where exactly they click and where they don’t, and where they fall short, Chenle fills in their gaps, with his pretty vocal colour and technique that surpasses the both of them in some aspects. Mr Kim (now Doyoung to everyone as per witnessing the video footage anyway and feeling much more intimate with him) helps the vocals out himself, giving them breathing exercises and tips on keeping their throats in good condition. He proves his expertise even further when he helps Jeno and Jaemin arrange the verses of their song, and Jeno marvels at the teacher one afternoon over tea and biscuits when Chenle craves for a change in their afternoon meal, and Doyoung had only given him a bashful smile and a ruffle of his hair in response. 

 

Yet while this is all going on, like how a cat follows the shards of sunlight in a room and soaks in it, Jeno does the same with Jisung. He’s not a particularly physically affectionate person, either refusing it or accepting it passively from Jaemin and Donghyuck, occasionally Renjun when he’s in need of a hug or hand hold. Yet with Jisung, it’s a whole other ballpark.

 

As obvious as ever about his newfound infatuation with Sunshine, Jeno cannot keep his hands off him. A hand on his knee or tickling underneath his chin, a finger twisted around his pinky, arm stretched across his chest, Jeno vies for Jisung’s touch and it’s more than just the couch being too small for six growing boys that Jeno finds himself sealed to Jisung’s side like a star jasmine plant to its red-bricked wall. Jeno will be strumming random chords on the guitar and still find himself leaning into Jisung despite the large guitar still being in his arms and giving him the worst posture possible but the drummer letting him do it is not doing Jeno any favours in peeling himself away any time soon.

 

Apart from Jeno revolving around Jisung like a satellite thrust into orbit via an unstoppable force because he’s found a particular liking to him, it’s far more reaching than that.




Donghyuck had asked Jisung offhandedly if he’d any experience with instruments at a dance workshop they’d both attended and the boy had nodded enthusiastically. It had gone a bit like this:



To: jenolee@nct.com

Re: WE NEED A BAND NAME?!!!!??!!!!!!!

 

basically, he told me he played the drums. i said omg noooooo wayyyyyyyy i’m looking for a drummer [twirls hair] [giggles] and he was like oh! for what! and i was like oh my friends in year 11 + 10 are in a band and we’re looking for someone to fill in our drummer spot since our last one moved schools and he was like oh sick i’m in! and i was like uh you’re ok with not yknow… seeing what we’re about or what we have so far? which is not much i know but i still wanted to give him the option. and he was like yeah i’m sure you guys are great and well, you probably need me at this point— like bro wtf savage?!!!!!!! i get school fest is in like four edging on three months at this point but haha he did not need to come for us like that ANYWAYS his name is jisung he’s in in yr 9 plays drum pre well i watched a few clips he’s uploaded onto yt and yeah . drummer acquired no need to thank me 



Jeno hadn’t a clue of what Jisung would exactly bring to the band, apart from his much-needed drumming skills. Yet over shared takeaway Haidilao, Jisung would slide his notebook over to Jeno with shaky hands, scratching the back of his neck as he asked him to read over them, and Jeno would be pleasantly surprised every single time. To be fair Jisung was just as much of a novice as Jeno at writing lyrics, but the way they portrayed exactly what the song was asking for was a hidden skill he possessed and Jeno thought the world needed to see and hear. The school hall would have to suffice for now but Jeno was determined to make it happen.

 

Then it was the way he would always tap on his thighs out of habit, practicing something old or coming up with something new. How he’d be the one offering comfort to everyone after a rough practice session when all of them were teetering along a tightly-drawn string. His inability to do any practical chores, whether it was cleaning up the table after they’d demolished their meal of the afternoon, knocking bowls and cups over left and right, or his not exactly unfounded fear of the stove in the school kitchen considering his tendency to cause chaos by accident. The way he supports each of them individually, whether it’s giving Donghyuck the bigger half of his milk bread and a shoulder to lean on. Renjun a cup of carefully prepared honey lemon water for his throat and a promise to catch the latest movie about space pirates with him after school. Jaemin his attention, which Jaemin vies for on a daily, and accepts his affection reluctantly but nevertheless with extra bickering served on the side. Chenle his unfettered love shown through playing games with him and his listening ear whenever the keyboardist needs to vent. 

 

Jeno, well, at this point even at the slightest mention of Jisung, would have his lovesick lenses popped in and begin daydreaming about the boy if he wasn’t already. The whole band knows he’s a sucker for him, but pinned it down to the fact that Jisung has everyone wrapped around his pinky. It’s not quite like that for Jeno. 

 

If he could kiss the shy smile off Jisung’s face he would and that distinction exactly, is what differentiates him from the rest of them.



“God, you’re a loser.” Donghyuck says when Jeno pours his soul out to him on the way home from school.



“Tell me something I don’t know, asshole.” Jeno kicks at the gravel up the inclined road and watches it roll back down, and Donghyuck only sucks noisily on his Chupa-Chup.



“Hm what about… the fact that Jisung definitely likes you back?” 



“Don’t be mean Hyuck.” Jeno responds grimly. His pathetic crush is a sore, sore point and his best friend aggravating it feels like someone pressing onto your bruise just for the kick of seeing your face crease in pain. 



Oh Jeno can you look over these lyrics! You don’t realise it but they’re all about you! Oh Jeno do you want to play Overwatch together tonight? Oh Jeno please hold my hand I am begging you to hold my hand! Oh Jeno—” Donghyuck supplies his act by hanging off Jeno’s side like an overgrown child and Jeno responds by pinching Donghyuck in the side.



“Shut up! He doesn’t even… sound like that.” is Jeno’s incredibly lacklustre response, unable to separate all of those true experiences as just Jisung’s reciprocation of the friendship. 



“No straight nor not-yearning teenage boy would ever ask you to look at their lyrics in their battered notebook with that look on their face.”



“What look?” 



“Like he wants to steal the entire universe in his pocket for you.” Donghyuck kicks at the kerb and the sun flutters over his face when he stares up at Jeno’s apartment block. He looks back at Jeno flatly before gesturing at the entrance.



“Don’t look at me like that, I’m just saying there’s a good chance he is just as wrapped around you as you are around him.” Donghyuck takes the liberty of frog-marching a stunned Jeno in front of his gate, twirling his index finger in a circle as he does to act out his statement. 



“I’ll see you tomorrow loser, don’t forget your guitar!” His best friend waltzes off into the distance with no recognition of what he’s done to Jeno.



Jisung wanting to organise a space heist to steal the universe is plausible. Stealing it for Jeno? Impossible. 



That is, until Chenle announces:

 

To: renjunhuang@nct.com; jenolee@nct.com; donghyucklee@nct.com; jaeminna@nct.com; jisungpark@nct.com 

Cc: dkim@nct.com 

Subject: WEEKEND GETAWAY LOSERS!

 

i thought we could go away for the weekend before the festival! just to relax, practise (haha) and have some good ole team bonding!!!!! ask your parents if you can come but i kind of already bought your train tickets :) they’re here if you would like to download the PDFs + our accommodation will be one of my family’s vacation homes by the sea :) so rsvp by tmmr :) 

 

ya boy chenle zhong 

 

To: renjunhuang@nct.com; jenolee@nct.com; donghyucklee@nct.com; jaeminna@nct.com; jisungpark@nct.com; chenlezhong@nct.com 

Cc: dkim@nct.com 

Re: WEEKEND GETAWAY LOSERS!

 

I would appreciate an earlier notice Chenle, but count me in.

 

Kind Regards,

Doyoung Kim



untitled band bros (6)

 

donghyuck

@chenle i’m in 

 

renjun 

^^

 

jaemin

^^^

 

jeno

^^^^

 

jisung 

i’m down 

wait is there reception by the sea 

 

chenle

i thought u guys would have the respect

to email me back like my dude doyoung but ok

i’ll let my butler know

 

also jisung???!!!!!????



After they grill Chenle on when and how his family managed to acquire several vacation homes as well as a whole bunch of instruments (old money, investment in tech start ups in China maybe, the chain of music stores around the city named Zhong’s Music, Chenle posits as if he doesn’t know either), it’s all about what board shorts they should bring and whether Renjun should bring his straw hat or his baseball cap or both and Donghyuck fretting over which horror movie to bring, and Jaemin trying to figure out how exactly to pack all of his camera lenses safely in his bag while Chenle observes amusedly. Jisung sits next to Jeno as they watch the calamity unfold at Donghyuck’s after school, his own duffel sitting beside him with his drumsticks in his hands. They’re set to leave in an hour but with the chaos unleashing when Renjun realises he’s forgotten both hats at home, they might be pushing it.



“I can’t wait to play together hyung,” Jisung says with a smile and Jeno’s heart only stops for a moment. “I bet Chenle’s family has got something real nice, man I would go crazy for a Yamaha drum set…” Jisung trails off when Jeno plops his head on Jisung’s folded knees. A force of habit at this point but what truly sends Jeno off to another plane of existence is when Jisung bends forward and presses a kiss onto Jeno’s forehead.



Jeno’s really in for it now.

 

Jisung acts as if he didn’t just figuratively spearthrow Jeno off into the stratosphere with that single act of violence and instead opens up his phone to start up a new match with CatLuvr69. While the three terrors minus Chenle continue to stomp around and Jisung uses his free hand that’s not fighting with a computer bot to start tiny ministrations in Jeno’s hair, Jeno thinks the world just might want him to be happy after all. 



“Dramatic.” is Donghyuck’s valuable input when Jeno tells him about the Forehead Kiss, and Jeno belatedly realises that there’s absolutely no use in telling his best friend anything. All of them except Jeno and Donghyuck have fallen asleep forty-five minutes into the train ride, and to Jeno’s simultaneous joy and misery, Jisung is sitting next to Chenle on the other side of the carriage. Jeno instead, has a Renjun on his shoulder, which is not unwelcome in the slightest but by the way Donghyuck is giving Renjun a look of immense longing, Jeno thinks they should have swapped places.



“He’s never done that before?! It took me by surprise and I— I almost believed what you said the other week.” Jeno’s volume trails off to a whisper as he looks down into his lap, careful not to jostle Renjun when his Airpod almost falls out of his ear in the process.



“Jeno I can sniff out mutual pining from miles away, and what you two have.” He draws a line with a lazy index finger between Jeno and Jisung from across the carriage. “Is a severe case of MP.” 



“Then why can’t you smell this?” Jeno draws his own invisible line between the boy on his shoulder and Donghyuck, Donghyuck almost knocks Jaemin off his own shoulder and out of his seat at the velocity he vibrates in his seat at.



“There is nothing here,” Donghyuck spits out, drawing a line through Jeno’s line aggressively and Jeno sticks his tongue out at him.



Dramatic.” For that, Jeno earns a finger from Donghyuck and he turns sullenly to face the window instead. Jeno feels Renjun smile into his shoulder and Jeno hides his snorts behind his hand. Renjun was always a light sleeper, and Jeno personally cannot wait for his best friend’s demise. Renjun is a force to be reckoned with and when in collision with renowned immovable object Donghyuck Lee, Jeno can’t wait to watch it unfold before his eyes.



Renjun probably knows of his agonising crush on Jisung but that’s the least of his issues when he realises what deep shit he really is in.



Sure they’ll muck around, tease Doyoung to no end while he tries to get a nice suntan while sitting in his foldable camping chair, eat good food, and practise a little, but Jeno has a special ability, or curse rather, that mentally holds him back from thinking about anything other than his main concern at the time. Whether it’s an exam, an existential crisis that won’t leave him alone, or in this case, a debilitating infatuation with his band’s drummer, Jeno’s mind won’t let him rest until the issue is solved. 

 

This leads to none other than the worst case scenario: Confession.

 

They’ve known each other for a whopping three months but Jeno can’t un-dig himself out the pothole he’s found himself in. Like how a smashed ceramic plate can’t be put back together again, or how precipitation reactions are irreversible, Jeno’s quick descent into what he can only describe as Yearning Hell is irremediable now. 



The waves rise and crash beside them as the train trucks along the rails, acres of coastal city stretched beneath and around them. Cobblestone walls line every corner Jeno can make out below him with the sea edging closer and closer, and the gulls cry out when the train finally pulls into the station with a heavy gust of exhaust trailing out behind it. 

 

Jeno wakes Renjun up with a light shake and after stumbling over Jaemin’s backpack to get out of his seat and over to Chenle and Jisung, he realises (again, for the nth time in the past half hour it seems), that he’s a goner. When he meets eyes with a sleep-addled Jisung, he immediately fades into a nothingness when Jisung blinks slowly at him, bleary-eyed as he gathers himself and his bag, and gives him a soft smile, the end of his lips curving ever so slightly. 

 

First it was the endearing nature of the Jisung Park, then everything thereafter snowballed into a terrible concoction of a thing Jeno miserably calls a crush and it’s only a little pathetic when Jisung trips over his shoelace and Jeno coos out loud. Something about a clumsy boy, Jeno thinks. There’s just something about it that compels love and adoration.



“Loser,” Renjun whisper-shouts into his ear as he shuffles past Jeno to alight the train.



It’s going to be a long, long weekend.



They arrive at the house after a ten minute walk and the boys go rampant, calling dibs on rooms and marvelling at the practice room as per Chenle’s request of his parents. It’s a godsend because of the drumset for one, and the amp plus soundproofing are just about what they need. That is, if they do practise. By the way Jaemin’s just about got his shirt off, ready to run into the sea and become one with it, the rest of them following suit, Jeno doesn’t foresee it in the near future. 



“Jeno! Are you going to join us?” Doyoung pops his head out of the bathroom, donning a large straw hat and a loose fitting linen shirt and shorts. 



“I’ll be out in a minute! Just have to set my stuff down.” Jeno tells his teacher with a genial smile and Doyoung walks over and ruffles his hair before he too, jets off for the water.



By the time he’s reached the living room, everyone has commenced becoming public nuisances and Jeno makes it to the only room he finds unclaimed, until he swings the door wide open and spots a familiar duffel bag with an Olaf keychain hanging off the zip. Jeno drops his bag with a small cry, and before he can bring himself to accept his fate, the bag owner starts calling his name from outside the house and what can he do but follow the siren call? 

 

When he steps out, Renjun has already got Jaemin trapped in a headlock, Donghyuck is on his knees on the shore cackling at the two, while Chenle and Jisung are sipping from coconuts. Doyoung has chosen a spot on the beach far from all of them and Jeno can just make out the look of pure bliss on his face. Rumour has it the PE teacher has been trying to court the teacher since the school year started. Poor guy, he probably needs this more than the rest of them combined.



“Jeno! C’mere!” Donghyuck cups his hands and yells. Jeno runs over, his shirt flapping in the wind behind him as he reaches the other three.



“Don’t be shy now Jen, you’re going to get a bad tan line if you keep it on.” Jaemin says while giving him a once-over, suggestive brows attached, and Renjun lets go of Jaemin to inspect Jeno.



“No stripping until you’ve got sunscreen on.” 



Jeno isn’t planning on taking off his shirt but he runs back to Chenle and Jisung for the suncream. 



“Are you going to swim as well?” Jisung asks when Chenle hands Jeno the bottle and Jeno shakes his head.



“No, but I forgot to put it on when I came out— hey Chenle, do you mind getting the back of my neck?” Chenle gets up, places his coconut gingerly besides him before he squirts a quarter-sized dollop on his hand and slaps it hard onto Jeno’s nape.



“Ah Chenle! That hurts!” he whines, tilting his head back and Chenle frowns. 



“You told me to put it on!” 



“Yeah put it on, not slam it!” Jeno winces when Chenle viciously rubs the cream in before a pair of larger hands replace Chenle’s.



“It’s like you’re trying to slap the sunscreen into his bloodstream.” Jisung huffs before he massages the cream into Jeno’s skin and Chenle only grumbles, mumbling something like ‘you’re just weak’ before he slides his aviators back on and resumes drinking his coconut water. 



“Thanks Sung.” Jeno says, tilting his head forward and Jisung adjusts his frames with his knuckle before he continues rubbing the rest of the 50+ sunscreen in.



“You’re welcome,” he murmurs back and all is well as the both of them stand in the rays of the sun and Jisung gets the sides of his neck and his ears. Yet as the Gods would have it, it doesn’t last for long since Donghyuck makes it his mission to cause problems on purpose and sprints from the shore to Jeno, pinches the hem of his shirt and yanks up.



Jeno’s entire torso up to his pecs is exposed and while Jaemin and Renjun scream from the water, it feels a bit like hell when Donghyuck tugs him around and Jisung catches sight of Jeno, only to turn away and shut his eyes.



“OHO JENO!” Chenle wolf-whistles and Jeno is far too mortified at Jisung’s reaction to respond. It’s not so much a shot at his pride but more of what it feels like to have your crush witness someone giving you a wedgie Wimpy Kid-style, or you tripping into a bin Mean Girls-style. 



Lee Donghyuck you better count your days.” Jeno channels his embarrassment into pure white-hot vengeance for Donghyuck’s demise, which he deems to be getting him to make a fool out of himself in front of Renjun. 



He doesn’t catch Jisung’s strawberry red blush nor the knowing grin Chenle gives the drummer when he runs off to chase after Donghyuck. 



They tire out after another two hours and despite it all, Jeno has still copped painful sunburns on his feet in the shape of his slides, which makes him the laughing stock yet again when they decide to use the grill outside and everybody gets a good look at the red stripes across them. Doyoung fusses over him and slathers aloe vera gel over the most affected parts of his skin, which Jeno is grateful for as he hobbles his way to the kitchen and starts bringing cutlery to the table outside.



“Do you need any help?” Jisung pipes up from behind and Jeno offers him the stack of napkins in his hand, still too humiliated to make proper eye contact with him.



“Can you help put seven of these around the table?” 



Jisung takes them from him and no sparks fly when their fingers touch but Jeno still visibly shudders the moment Jisung skips away. The Jisung Hand in his is no funny figment of his imagination when the urge to make it a reality has become so strong. 



Jaemin and Doyoung hover around the grill, with Donghyuck, Renjun, and Chenle stealing slices of meat when the two aren’t looking. Surveying the scenery, complete with his best friends with him in this dream of a place, Jeno lets out a barely-audible sigh. It’s something out of a movie and letting himself indulge in this almost feels wrong.



“C’mon Jen, time for dinner.” Renjun interrupts his reverie and shuffles him out of the house and into the seat beside none other than Jisung. 



“Kids, did you wash your hands— Donghyuck stop squeezing wasabi into Jaemin’s bowl!” The cacophony that occurs thereafter when Jaemin finds his doenjang jjigae a shade greener after he comes back from the bathroom is almost comforting at this point and after Donghyuck gets an earful from Doyoung again, it’s all ‘mmmm’s and ‘wahhhhh’s when they try Chenle’s tomato egg and react as if they’ve never had it before. 



“Is it spicier than usual?” Jisung asks no one in particular, hesitating to dig his chopsticks into the ceramic dish and Jeno sections a piece of what’s in his bowl, scoops it up with his spoon and brings it to Jisung’s mouth without thinking much or at all. 



“Try a little bit first.” None of them really register the looks on everyone else’s faces when the entire exchange occurs, even as Jaemin’s jaw drops and Chenle lets out a tiny gasp when Jeno quickly gives Jisung his own cup when he chokes on a slice of chilli.



Then it’s fruit after the sky darkens and the stars come out, a patch of night framed by the trees surrounding the backyard. They gorge on sweet watermelon and Jeno lies down on the patio, closing his eyes for a moment as the breeze washes over his face.



“Scoot over.” Renjun nudges Jeno over with his hips and Jeno reluctantly folds his arms and legs back in to give the other boy space to lie down.



“The stars are so pretty out here—” 



“So are you and Jisung gonna—” 



Jeno whips his head around at lightning speed, looking positively scandalised and Renjun just lifts a single eyebrow at him.



“You two have been all googly-eyed at each other this whole day, not to mention all over each other since he joined the band. I’m surprised you haven’t just blurted out to him that you’d kill for him, or something romantic like that.”



Renjun viewing the destruction of one’s morality to express their love for someone is not surprising in the least but it’s Jeno’s less dramatic (or not overdramatic, he should say) reaction to what he’s known as fact all this time and had chosen not to admit that shocks himself.



“I just— what if it ruins everything? All that we’ve worked hard for, coming to an end because the drummer and bassist can’t look each other in the eye anymore?” Jeno laments while Renjun snorts.



“Jeno, we’re not going to disband because of some tragic unrequited love story. Even in the unlikely, near impossible chance that Jisung doesn’t like you back the way you do him, we’d figure it out. You know how hard we’ve worked and what we’ve gone through, and that all six of us wouldn’t let it go down the drain because of your infatuation with our drummer not being reciprocated.” 



Renjun’s truth bombs always scald him, but this one blows up in Jeno’s face a little differently.



“You think I should do it?” Jeno asks the stars first, then waits for Renjun’s response once he’s finished nibbling on the rind of his watermelon.



“Yeah man, you only live once, and I’m like 120% sure Jisung is just as smitten but telling you that feels like I’m trying to convince a brick wall to move.” Renjun reaches over and pinches Jeno’s cheek only to dig his nails in and pull.



“Ow! What the hell?!” Jeno cries out and Renjun only lets go to rub at it gently. 



“A thank you, because Donghyuck asked me out on a date just then.” The cicadas chitter in the trees as the rest of them come out onto the patio after cleaning up, Jeno and Renjun having finished first and leaving the rest to carry their own weight. 



“That was a shitty thank-you gift. I’ve known he’s had the hots for you since he saw the back of your head all those months ago and basically told him to ask you out almost every week since then so—” 



“Please, you’re not getting anything before you practise what you preach.” 



Jeno doesn’t get to refute when Jisung sidles up next to him with a popsicle in his hand and they’re shoulder to shoulder, Jisung’s feet extending a centimetre or two further than Jeno’s own, still very sunburnt, feet.



“Look, you can see all the stars from here! Do you think they’re all stars or some are planets?” Jisung ponders out loud and the tiny Renjun in Jeno’s head knocks on the walls of his cranium. GO ON, TELL HIM JENO, YOU KNOW YOU WANNA TELL HIM SO BAD. 



“Huh, I couldn’t say. I heard stars stay stationary and satellites travel in a straight line, if that helps any,” Jeno says lamely but Jisung’s hum in response makes him feel just a little better about his lack of knowledge in anything astronomy-related. 



“Yeah, maybe they look like actual spheres in the sky? Hey hyung, what would you do if you could go to space and for an indefinite amount of time?”



“I’d steal the universe for you.” 



If Jeno would just think before he spoke sometimes, the world would be a better place and Jisung wouldn’t be wide-eyed, staring at him like he just told him he— 



“I’d do the same.” 



Now it’s Jeno’s turn to go bug-eyed and stare right back at Jisung. Like the patch of night has closed in on them, beam of starlight shining on them two exclusively. Doyoung getting roped into Donghyuck’s game of Russian Roulette with orange juice spiked with wasabi and straight vinegar fades in the vignette.



“That’s—  thank you.” 



“You’re welcome.” Jisung says shyly, and both of them turn away, acting like they haven’t just inadvertently confessed something personal to each other and Jeno thinks he’s okay with this. Knowing that Jisung would indeed organise a space heist and steal the universe for him in return is comfort enough for Jeno to never ever tell his favourite drummer in the entire world that he has indeed drummed his way into his heart. To hell with Renjun and his advice. 



Chenle stumbling forward in between Jeno and Jisung is more than enough to snap both of them out of it, and in his hand are a bunch of brightly coloured sticks.



“Fireworks anyone?” The keyboardist gets back up on his feet with the help of both of them, and brushes off the dirt on his knees to feel for his back pocket.



“Chenle do you know what you’re doing?” Doyoung, now somewhat recovered from his harrowing experience, asks, and the smile that Chenle offers in response is a few teeth short of terrifying. 



“The one time I did do it, my entire house didn’t burn down so we’re good!” 



Ignoring the implications of that statement, the blonde gets to setting it up on the grass far from the patio. Donghyuck has showed up with his guitar and Renjun is looking at him with such fondness, Jeno could puke or cry. Incurable jealousy disguised as disgust versus incurable want for someone (Jisung) to look at him like that. Jeno doesn’t want to pick his poison.



Chenle dashes to light them up and run back to the patio to witness the sight in record time, and they all marvel at the array of yellows and reds that decorate the sky. Donghyuck hops over to Jeno and shoves his electric into his hands with a wink and Jeno is suddenly compelled to blitz out the entirety of their song. He skids his way to the edge of the patio and begins to finger pick the beginning bars of their track and the way everyone headbangs to it, Doyoung included, is something he wants to tuck away behind his ear and remember for the rest of his life.



Jeno had never wanted to be in a band, but if you asked him now, he’d give up everything for it. For them. No matter whether the school festival is a total bust or total hit, they’ve had so much fun together and learnt so much over the past months that nothing could ever take that away. When catches Jisung’s gaze and goes to absolute jelly when the drummer grins at him and cheers him on with little fists, he knows that forming the band has done him an infinite amount of good, more than he’d ever be able to express.

 

It’s about the journey not the destination, someone older and wiser and who sounds a lot like his homeroom teacher says and Jeno can’t help but agree. Call him cliched but he’s learnt more than just how to write music in the span of the band’s birth in Donghyuck’s bedroom to now. 

 

The fireworks fizzle out and so does Jeno with a last dramatic twang of the guitar. Everybody cheers and whoopees, and it feels like a scene straight out of a movie. Sure their set is going to look nothing like this on the day of the festival but this is enough to sate Jeno’s dreams and wishes. They won’t make it to SXSW but this is more than enough for him.



“JENO LEE YOU CRAZY MOTHERFUCKER—” Everybody watches in trepidation as Doyoung undergoes a moral dilemma right before their eyes, before he grins and comes bounding after Jaemin who has latched himself onto Jeno’s side and squeezes the two boys into a bear hug. 



Everyone else piles on and Jeno is overwhelmed by the physical and emotional weight of it all that his eyes start to well up. 



“Oh hyung...” Jisung whispers into his ear and Jeno realises their proximity when he blinks away the tears to see Jisung curved into his side, the tip of his nose just touching the top of Jeno’s cheekbone.



“M not crying.” The petulance in his tone speaks for itself and Jisung giggles, somehow reaching over Donghyuck’s arm to squeeze the skin at the junction of Jeno’s neck and shoulder. 



“Right.” If Jeno’s ears weren’t right by Jisung’s lips, he would question his hearing but Jisung murmurs something that sounds a lot like ‘cute’ under his breath and it’s all downhill from there.



None of the boys have realised what exactly went down but they let go only to ruffle Jeno’s hair, squeeze the back of neck affectionately, and coo at him when a single tear falls from his cheek. Doyoung coos the loudest, wiping his cheeks with his thumb and gives him another hug that has Jeno in even more of a wreck as he tries his best not to get snot all over his teacher’s shirt. Then Doyoung hurries off to the bathroom, murmuring something like ‘these boys… death of me…’ and Jaemin is hot on his heel, ready to taunt their supervisor, now brother it seems, to death. 



“Oh Jen, come here.” Renjun grabs him by the wrist when Chenle stops pinching Jeno’s cheek to catch Donghyuck spilling tears too and tugs him into his embrace. Jeno sniffles into his shoulder and hugs him back.



“Shut up, I’m just happy.” 



“I know, so am I. And the rest of us.” His friend squeezes him one more time before he lets go and gives him a big grin that sends chills up his spine.



“Have you prepared yourself to be sleeping just a mere metre away from the love of your life?” 



“You’re the worst, you know that?” Jeno wriggles out of Renjun’s grip and Renjun just cackles, his pink hair flopping over his eyes when he shakes his head in mock disappointment.



“I’m rooting for you loser.” 



Jeno rolls his eyes and they walk to the bathroom, where Jisung is conveniently done washing his face, running his hands through his wet bangs. Dressed in an adorable pair of grey flannel pajamas, he gives the two of them a grin before he shuffles his way out of the bathroom.



“I’m going to go the practice room, so you should go to bed first hyung.” Jisung says as an afterthought once Renjun goes into the shower room.



“Okay don’t stay up too late, alright?” 



Jisung grins again and boy, Jeno is really going to spit the words out any time now.



“Yeah yeah hyung, sleep tight.” His eyes sparkle in the light of the fluorescent light bulb and Jeno waves him off in lieu of hiding his automatic blush by looking down and squeezing the toothpaste onto his brush.



Jisung pads off, the soft slap of his slippers against the floorboard growing softer and softer. Jeno stares at his miserable face in the mirror. Yearning has really taken years of his life and done a serious number on his skin. He finishes up solemnly and Donghyuck stumbles in after him, tear-stained cheeks more prominent than Jeno’s.



Fool, why did you cry so much?” 



Donghyuck stabs his finger at Jeno’s chest.



Because of you, punk.” Speaking in Korean has always come easy to them considering the fact that they speak it at home anyway, and their families are practically conjoined in a huge Lee covent. Yet, when Donghyuck looks at him again and his gaze softens, he knows that nothing really needs to be said for their thoughts to come across to each other. Donghyuck had roped him into this entire thing, yet it comes to Jeno blasting out their entire self-composed song in front of a home firework display for the both of them to be reduced to tears. 



“Don’t sleep too late.” Donghyuck lets out a sound of agreement and Jeno considers that a win. 



Jaemin and Chenle having knocked out the moment they hit the couch leaves Jeno to grab a blanket and throw it over the two sleeping boys. It’s a cute sight and Jeno snaps a pic for his close friends IG story captioning it ‘just the two of them <3’. 

 

Then he hears the muted clamour of cymbals crashing and someone going insane with the kickdrum down the hall and against his first instinct to climb into bed and sleep, he shuffles towards the room at the very end of the house, peeking his head through the circle window in the door. Airpods in, Jisung closes his eyes and goes at a different rhythm this time. Jeno doesn’t want to interrupt him but Jisung opens his eyes just as Jeno moves away and he pauses his music to run and open the door.



“Did you want to join me?” Jisung doesn’t tease and means it as a genuine question. Jeno has half a mind to impulsively blurt that no he was just enjoying the view but he’s made enough stupid decisions for once day or so he thinks.



“Was waiting for you to ask.” is what he goes for, which is not much better, but Jisung feigning to throw up is all he could have asked for in response.



Rubbing at his eyes, he reaches for his bass on the guitar stand and tunes it again for extra measure. 



“Do you want to try something new? Or go over the track?” 



“What were you just practising? We can try that out if I can pick it up by ear.” Jeno says, plugging his guitar into the amp and adjusting the dials. 



“Ah, actually I have a line I wanted to throw into the song?” Jisung ends with an inflection in his voice and Jeno cocks his head before he puts his Fender down gently.



“Yeah? For which part?” Jeno takes out his phone and opens up his Notes app to the final lyrics.



“Wait I’ll play the part.” Jisung gingerly takes Jeno’s phone and opens up the Files app to find their final version. Fast-forwarding to about 2:34, he pauses and puts the phone up speaker side to Jeno’s ear. 



About a bar of the instrumental from the bridge plays before Jisung pauses it.



“I thought we could throw in this.” Jisung pauses again before he plays the section.



“Whatever you say, you’re still my best friend.” Jisung’s never sung for them before, humming at most to get his point across when necessary and Jeno feels as if he got sucker punched in the gut again by something indescribably soft.



“Oh, that— that’s perfect Jisung. Especially with the line before it.” Jeno manages to choke out and Jisung glows at the praise.



“I thought so too! I think it’s a little reminiscent of our own friendship too.” Jeno knows Jisung means our friendship as the entire band’s. How they go at each other’s throats but have an unconditional love for each other that transcends all. Jeno knows this and yet, 



“I like you more than a friend though.”



Absolute silence. Fear permeates every pore on Jeno’s body in the milliseconds after and the fact that Jisung is not saying a word, lips pressed in a tight line, is metaphorically setting him on fire. 



“Oh God, I’m so sorry Jisung, I shouldn’t have— forget I said anything and we can go back to being friends.” Please.



Jeno has already unplugged his guitar, scrambling on socked feet to put his guitar back in case and not fall flat on his face while he’s at it. Or cry, whatever humiliation his body decides to deign him first. 



“Jeno wait— hyung! Be careful!” Jisung isn’t a whiz on the wooden floorboards either, slipping and sliding in an attempt to save Jeno from himself and Jeno zips as fast as he can out of the room, dives into bed after throwing his glasses somewhere in the dark room and pretends he cannot hear Jisung calling his name, hurriedly padding after him.



“Jeno, I know you’re still awake. I— c’mon hyung I don’t want to talk to you when you’re like this.” Jisung sits on the very edge of the single bed, shaking Jeno’s ankle gently.



Jeno, very slowly, peeks out from the burrito he rolled himself in.



“I actually—” Jisung looks at Jeno, makes full direct eye contact and wriggles closer.



“You have to promise you’re not going to hide from me when I say this.” Jeno’s eyebrows knit together and he frowns. Jisung could be merciful at least and let him down nicely, instead of building up this unnecessary suspense.



Hyung?” 



“Prowmis.” Jeno mumbles out and Jisung takes the liberty of bringing down the quilt that’s obscuring Jeno’s face at the present moment.



“I like you more than a friend too.”



Absolute silence. 



“I literally told you I’d steal the universe for you as well. And— we… did you not know that I— hey don’t go back into your—” 



Jisung catches the blanket before Jeno can tug it over his face. Jeno’s stomach is swirling with soybean stew, watermelon, grilled pork belly, and now a dash of requited love that sets fire to everything else. Jisung Park, The Jisung Park, the boy with football-sized hands and a heart of liquid gold, he who Drummed his way into Jeno’s heart, likes him back.



“Jeno.” No honorific. Jisung lowers his head to meet Jeno’s diverted gaze and squints.



Hyung, why are you so red?” 



“I’m just hot.” 



“Yeah you are.”



This is awful. Jisung Park is taking advantage of his wounded state and flirting with him. Jeno opens one eye to see Jisung smirking at him like a cat who got the cream and Jeno realises that he’s enamoured beyond saving now. To think that he was agonising over this for so long, only to confess and have the object of his desire playing with his vulnerability like this is only mildly embarrassing. Nothing Jeno hasn’t felt before.



Hyung, I even stuttered when I first spoke to you. And then you had to go and hold my hand all the time and make fun of me and compliment my silly lyrics and you know, be yourself and I was done for.” Jisung says with more eloquence and clarity in his tone than Jeno could ever muster up himself. The moonlight streams from their window and half of Jisung’s face is illuminated with a dull glow. His Sunshine turned Moonshine looking at him like that. Jeno hopes this isn’t a dream.



“Are you going to say anything?” Jisung says, losing his affectionate gaze to one of exasperation.



“You’re not lying?” Jeno murmurs, and Jisung stares.



“If I could lie to you of all people, life would’ve gone a lot differently.” Jisung retorts, and Jeno finds his hand in Jisung’s all of a sudden, the younger having snuck his hand underneath the duvet to catch it in his.



“How so?”



“For one, I would’ve told you that I definitely didn’t write all of my lyrics with you in mind, and definitely reciprocated your endless acts of affection because friends definitely kiss each other on the forehead, right?” His tone is ridiculously condescending but Jeno does him one better and grips onto Jisung’s hand to get up and almost tugs him down as he does. 



Jisung yelps out of shock before he meets Jeno’s eyes and suddenly they’re very, very close. Even with Jeno’s shot eyesight he can count each of Jisung’s eyelashes, and Jisung, boldly so, stares right back at him with a ferocity Jeno has never seen before.



“So if you hypothetically kissed me on the forehead now, it would be because we’re not friends and something more.” Jeno states, and the rising tension is going to kill both of them at this point. Donghyuck would be proud of him.



Jisung doesn’t grace him with an answer and instead, kisses him squarely on the forehead before pecking each cheek and hesitates for a second before he closes the distance between them. Soft and warm, every bit like Sunshine, Jeno thinks dreamily when he dives in for another, holding Jisung’s cheek in his palm this time.



“That took us a good fifteen minutes longer than it would have because you were being incredibly stupid, you know that right?” Jisung says breathlessly, but the shine in his eyes begs to differ when Jeno smiles sheepishly back.



“Better fifteen minutes later than never, I always say.” 



Idiot.” The term of endearment ploughs a hole through Jeno’s chest when Jisung surges for another kiss and pushes Jeno down with him. 



Then they’re laughing too loud for 2 in the morning when Jisung knocks his head against the headboard when he gets up to catch his breath and Jeno cackles so loud that Renjun bangs on their wall to tell them to ‘SHUT UP!’ and it’s all muffled giggles and their hands clasped together underneath the covers from then on.



Before Jeno gets to even ask Jisung out properly, the last two minutes having been Jisung nestled into the curve of Jeno’s neck, unable to make eye contact with him before cracking up, Donghyuck barges in and snaps a picture with his phone.



“For the archives.” he says after yawning and promptly walks back out.

 

 

Jisung looks at the empty doorway, then back up at Jeno and puts his hand gingerly on the side of his neck. 



“I’m going to fall asleep any second now. Are you opposed to sharing a bed with me? I’m a blanket stealer.” 



Jeno’s eyes curve into a smile and he shakes his head. 



“Only because it’s you, I’m tolerating it.”



“Corny. Good night boyfriend.”



Jisung moves faster than lightning. It’s definitely not unwelcome.



Sunshine moves into his space subconsciously and Jeno, being a slave to his boyfriend’s whims and comfort, falls asleep squeezed in between the wall and Jisung. 



Jisung wakes up before Jeno and loses all the confidence he possessed the night before when Jeno wakes up to an empty left side and curls his hand around Jisung’s waist when he finds him in the bathroom fixing up his hair.



“Morning.” Jeno doesn’t use a sickening nickname when he witnesses the blush on Jisung’s cheeks proliferate all over his face, reaching his neck and ears. 



“Morning.” Jisung utters out eventually once he regains his senses and Jeno grins, meeting his boyfriend’s gaze in the mirror.



“Someone’s shy this morning.”



“I’ll see you at breakfast.” Jisung coughs out, slides his glasses up his nose again, before he hesitates just as Jeno squeezes out the last bits of the toothpaste in the tube onto his toothbrush. Turning around abruptly, he gives Jeno a quick peck on the cheek, and slips out.



Jeno feels for the skin and holds his cheek, only a little stunned. Much like a little boy getting his first ounce of attention from the cute kid in class, whether it was Heejin from preschool or Sanha in sixth grade, Jeno flushes like a rose in bloom. 



Jisung was a fickle force to reckon with. 



Everybody by now,  knows that the stars have aligned in the guest room last night, and Jaemin and Chenle only wriggle their brows at their proximity at the table before going about their own breakfast. Donghyuck and Renjun on the other hand, barely pay any mind to them, Renjun still miffed about losing sleep and Donghyuck satiated by the incriminating evidence on his phone to not give them any hell. 

 

Although Doyoung almost doesn’t give them any juk just for the disruptions they caused during the night, everyone is thrilled about practice rather than the romance that blossomed between their bassist and drummer. They’ll save it for after the performance. 



“From the top!” Donghyuck yells, and Doyoung watches them from the front as they go through the whole track once. Jeno lets them know of the new lyric and all it does it frustrate Renjun, whose memory is the worst out of all of them, and garner extra suggestive noises from Jaemin and Donghyuck. Doyoung doesn’t say anything, only smiles adoringly at Jisung who refuses to meet eyes with anyone, and gives both Jaemin and Donghyuck a simultaneous smack upside their heads before he orders them to run through it again.



Jaemin misses the beat the second time, and Donghyuck’s voice cracks during their third go, but they get the song down pat by the sixth. Renjun doesn’t forget the new lyric and Chenle, being their flawless keyboardist, doesn’t mess up either. Jisung twirls his sticks in his hands as he leans back and lets his head rest on the wall, giving Jeno a lazy grin when he gives each of them compliments and stands stock still in front of him. 



He looks like an absolute dream.



“Good job.” Jeno says stiffly, and Jisung waves him off, looking every bit as smug as he did the night before. The speed at which he switches gears is terrifying and very attractive, Jeno thinks but when Jisung goes,



“I know.” Jeno has the right mind to do something he knows he’s going to regret doing in front of the rest of them.



“Pack it up over there lovebirds, we have a train to catch!”



On the train home, Jeno is exhausted and knocks out while the rest of them soak in the last bits of the sea that they missed on the way there. Jisung is beside him this time, and lets his boyfriend nap in his lap.



D-2 before the school festival has the six of them flipping out when they come to the mutual belated realisation that: 



we need a band name holy shit (6)

 

donghyuck

i say taking back summer

 

jaemin

terrible, next 

 

renjun

les fools

 

jeno

why tell the world what they already know

i still like the cosmic project ><

 

jisung

^^^^^^^^^^^^

 

donghyuck

enough of your space baloney 

what about saving donghyuck

 

chenle

boooooooo i want 

malatang murderers 

 

jaemin

these are getting progressively worse 

 

renjun

yOU come up with one then

 

jaemin

simple is best- nct dream!

nct is our school and we’re all

chasing one dream: to not make 

an absolute mockery of ourselves

at the fest

 

donghyuck

this is terrible. but i like it better 

than the cosmic project 

 

renjun

i’m conceding only for peace

 

jeno

@donghyuck i hate you

but fine, sung and i don’t mind

 

chenle

the way all of you joined solely because

of my food and yet you refuse to 

pay your respects.

 

you lot will never hear the end of it 

from me when people make fun of our 

name anyway



Doyoung does a terrible job of hiding his laughter when they tell him after school, sipping on his tea to mask his amusement.



“It’s cute.”



“I told you he’d hate it! It’s an awful name Jaemin!” 



“Malatang Murderers is even worse !” 



They don’t get much practice done on Monday.



D-1 is going through the song once before Doyoung marches in with six outfits on a clothes rack.

 

They’re all adorning leather jackets and different graphic tees, paired with silver studded belts and ripped jeans. Jeno pretends he doesn’t see Donghyuck looking at Renjun like he wants to devour him whole and instead marvels at the sight of Jisung in his outfit. His black hair is growing long over his eyes and he looks every bit like the boy of Jeno’s dreams and when Jisung tells him he looks good, Jeno takes that as an invitation to hold him by the chin and peck him in thanks.



“I’m enforcing a no-PDA rule in Music 2, effective now.” Jaemin demands, throwing his chopsticks down on the table before Chenle thwacks him on the back.



“Those are my grandmother’s!” 



And now here they are. The last bar, the accent and resonance of the last chord jotted in by yours truly, Jeno Lee. 



Donghyuck, Renjun, and Chenle practise their harmonisation one last time but Jeno is filled with jitters that he can’t appreciate the sound.



A hand curls around his balled fist, and Jisung squats down next to him in front of the computer screen that says ‘NCT DREAM’ in blaring 72 point Arial font. His eyes are sparkly with excitement, and Jeno automatically relaxes at the sight. 



“Hey, look at me?” Jisung brings up his free hand to curl it into a fist beside his temple.



“You’ll smash it like you did that night, okay? You’re going to be amazing.” Jisung assures, pumping his fist in small motions that Jeno can’t resist smiling at.



“How are you so sure of that?” 



“Trust me hyung, if I could lie, life would’ve gone very differently.” Jisung says and tugs his boyfriend up onto his feet. Jeno’s legs turn to putty at the line.



“Next up, we have the debut of NCT High’s Light Music Club with their self-composed feel-good track ‘Best Friend.’ Give it up for NCT Dream!” 



They all run to their posts, having gathered themselves somewhat and Jeno pulls his guitar strap over his head, and surveys the rest of them. Donghyuck adjusts his guitar and winks at Jeno just to rile him up, while Renjun fixes up the height of the microphone and nods at Jeno. Both Jaemin and Chenle throw him a thumbs up. Jisung smiles at him, big and wide, his cheek whiskers forming as he does and the effects are immediate on Jeno’s entire being. Sunshine is truly magical. 



Jeno had never wanted to be in a band, but like the way a song grows on you when you give it another listen, and how a certain drum loop can be the start of something new, he thinks he wouldn’t trade it for the world.