Hendery sees the flyer as he’s leaving the music building after class.
SINGLE? It asks, in the boldest Word art that Hendery has seen in years. Have a single friend who wants to find The One? Put your academic skills to work and present why they deserve a chance at YOU_SHOULD_DATE.PPT!
The corridor is crowded with students leaving class, but Hendery stops in his tracks to stare. The flyer is really very bright, with an alarming variety of color and font choices. Whoever made it certainly knows their audience - of everything on the bulletin board, it’s the only thing Hendery bothers to notice.
He does love some good Word art, after all.
Eyebrows raised, he steps out of the flow of traffic to get a closer look. It’s an event where you can be the best wingman ever! by pitching why a single friend deserves a date. In powerpoint form. To a group of assembled singles at a bar off campus.
Wasn’t Xiaojun complaining the other day about his single life woes?
Most of Hendery’s friend group - himself included - are single, but for some reason his mind immediately jumps to Xiaojun. Maybe it’s because the last time they studied together at the library, Xiaojun had bemoaned his single status so loudly that Kun had heard them from four tables away and came over to shush them.
Realistically, Hendery could make a powerpoint about dating any of his friends, because they are all, in fact, awesome. Not that Hendery personally wants to date any of them - just the thought of Yangyang and dating in the same sentence makes him grimace. He’s too much like a younger brother.
Xiaojun, though - Hendery’s not sure why Xiaojun is tragically single, considering his… everything. He’s the complete package: cute smile, beautiful singing voice, impressive moves on their dance team, writes his own songs since he’s a music major. He plays guitar. Eligible bachelors and bachelorettes at their university should be climbing over themselves for the chance to date him. Because Xiaojun is a catch.
But for some reason, they’re not. Xiaojun is still single and ready to mingle.
Maybe this is the perfect opportunity to change that.
Hendery gently tugs the flyer free from its pin, grinning. He can make a dope presentation when he needs to, for class. This can’t be that different. He prides himself in being a solid bro, a good wingman. Hendery is going to make the powerpoint to end all powerpoints and get Xiaojun a date.
It’s the perfect plan. How hard could it be?
Hendery has to wait a full day before he can announce his discovery-slash-plan to the whole group, because Thursdays are the only day that everyone has a mostly-overlapping free hour for lunch together in the dining hall. Honestly, it takes dedication not to just text them all immediately in the group chat - but this is news best shared in person.
Hendery slaps the flyer down at the center of their pushed-together lunch tables with as much flair as he can muster. It makes a pretty satisfying thwap, if he does say so himself.
Kun glances from the flyer to Hendery over the rims of his glasses, questioning, and then back down to the flyer. “Okay, I’ll bite: what’s this, Hendery?”
Hendery takes the empty seat next to Xiaojun, grinning. “It’s the solution to our single problems, gentlemen.”
“Speak for yourself,” Ten mumbles through a mouthful of noodles. Hendery gives a friendly kick to his chair under the table; Ten cheerfully flips him off. Being off the market has made Ten insufferable.
“You Should Date dot P-P-T,” Lucas reads upside-down, head tilted like a puppy. Winwin and Xiaojun are still squinting down at it, too, with equal expressions of confusion. “Like a powerpoint?”
“Not just any powerpoint,” Winwin swipes the flyer off the table. “Be the matchmaker of the year by presenting about a single friend who deserves love. Tell us why they’re such a catch in slide form!”
“Ah,” Kun nods, “I think I heard someone else talking about this in the student center. You make a presentation about a friend to help them find a date, right? Like a Tinder profile, but powerpoint.”
“I’m surprised you know what Tinder is, Kun-ge,” Hendery grins, “but - more or less, yeah.”
Xiaojun leans back in his chair so that he can raise an eyebrow at Hendery. He’s really good at it, with the perfect eyebrows and all. “Aren’t the age jokes more of Yangyang’s territory?”
“He must be late getting back from class,” Hendery snags a few fries off Xiaojun’s plate, shrugging as he stuffs them in his mouth. “I’m filling in for him; I’m all for equal-opportunity jokes.”
“I’m barely two months older than Ten!” Kun groans from the other end of the table - a familiar counter-argument that goes resoundingly ignored.
“Hendery, baby,” Ten gestures to the flyer with his chopsticks. “You know that if you want to participate, someone else needs to make a powerpoint about you and then get on stage to present it.”
“Oh, this isn’t about me,” Hendery presses a hand to his chest. “No - I only aspire to be the best wingman and help my dear friends - all of you - find love.”
“How selfless,” Kun rolls his eyes.
Hendry grins. “That’s why I’m going to make a presentation about Xiaojun!”
Winwin snorts soda up his nose, and their table erupts with noise.
Xiaojun’s head whips around as Ten whumps Winwin on the back a few times, trying to help him breathe or something. Lucas makes a few whooping noises of enthusiasm - probably at Hendery’s idea, not at Winwin choking on soda - and Kun’s pinching the bridge of his nose underneath his glasses.
“Hendery,” Xiaojun’s beautiful, godly eyebrows have completely disappeared under his bangs, they’ve risen so high. “Me?!”
“Sure,” Hendery smiles, ignoring the commotion around them - god, their friends are so dramatic. Winwin will remember how to breathe again eventually. “You’ve been complaining about being single all semester, why not give this a shot?”
“I mean - I guess,” Xiaojun’s brow furrows. “This seems maybe a little… extra.”
Ten rolls his eyes. “Extra is Hendery’s middle name.”
“Is it?” Lucas asks, wide-eyed. When Hendery shakes his head, Lucas easily refocuses on Xiaojun. “Dude - Xiaojun, this is awesome! Hendery gets to flex his powerpoint skills, and people can get to know you without you having to, like, talk to people!”
Xiaojun is the known introvert of their group; Hendery considered this when forming his plan. Which is why it’s a perfect plan. “Right!? You don’t have to do any of the work. I’ll take care of all of it.”
“That inspires exactly zero confidence,” Winwin cuts in hoarsely, dabbing soda-stains from his shirt. “Hendery, you do half your presentations the night before you’re due in class.”
Hendery sticks out his tongue. “Rude. That’s when they’re for class - this is for love, which is far more important than a mere grade. Also, I know Xiaojun far better than I do vertebrate biology, or whatever that science requirement was. Making a powerpoint about him shouldn’t be hard at all.”
Xiaojun still doesn’t look convinced. Kun looks to be about thirty seconds from putting his face in his hands, which means that this is actually a great idea.
“What’s wrong with going out to bars to meet people? Or parties?” Xiaojun asks. His cheeks have started to fill with a light flush, being the center of attention.
It’s Hendery’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Do you go to bars or parties?”
“No.” Xiaojun at least looks a little admonished at that. “But I could.”
“We still can,” Hendery points out, swiping the flyer from the other side of the table. He wipes off some of Lucas’s crumbs and offers the page to Xiaojun. His skepticism doesn’t stop him from taking the flyer, skimming over the information. “None of us would say no to a night out - but this is something different to try! What’s the worst that can happen, huh?”
“You would make a fool of yourself,” Winwin offers brighty. Kun does put his face in his hands.
“Hendery has no shame,” Ten points out, rather correctly. He smirks in Hendery’s direction. “He’s a drama major. He has no compunction about appearing silly for the sake of an audience.”
“It’s true,” Hendery says. He ends up in a lot of dance team TikToks for that reason.
“It’s great, bro,” Lucas reaches over Xiaojun’s head to give Hendery a fist-bump. “You gotta live your life and have fun, y’know?”
Kun mumbles something into his palms that might be dumbass solidarity.
“No, the worst thing that can happen is that he makes a fool out of Xiaojun,” Ten continues, and at that, the Xiaojun in question blanches.
“But I won’t! I promise!” Hendery clasps a hand to Xiaojun’s shoulder. “Come on, I wouldn’t do something like that on purpose. If - if you go along with this, I promise you can take a look at the presentation before I go on stage. And you can say no at any time. I just think…”
Xiaojun’s lips are pressed into a thin line, and Hendery exhales a heavy breath. “I just think it would be kinda fun, you know? There are a hundred reasons I like you; you’re my best friend. And all those great things about you are worth sharing, if it means that you might find someone out there that you’re meant for.”
“Awww,” Lucas coos, and Kun looks up.
“That’s… actually pretty sweet, Hendery,” he says.
Hendery flutters his eyelashes at Kun, which maybe hurts his argument a little bit. “Thank you, Kun. I contain multitudes.”
Xiaojun is silent for a few moments longer, looking down at the flyer in his hands. For all that they’re best friends, Hendery can’t quite read him in this moment. It makes something flutter deep in his stomach, watching Xiaojun’s profile, the soft curve of his mouth for some indication of if it’s -
“Okay,” Xiaojun says, shrugging and passing the flyer back to Hendery. “Okay! Why not? It’s not like it can hurt that much, right?”
“Physically? Not at all. Emotionally?” Winwin makes a face at his sandwich before taking a huge bite.
Kun rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling. “It’ll be fine. We’ll all go and watch together, how about that?”
“Hell yeah,” Lucas pumps a fist, “Awesome idea! Operation Powerpoint is go!”
“Operation Powerpoint,” Xiaojun repeats, deadpan - but Hendery can see the smile creeping up on his face.
“I like the sound of that,” Hendery throws an arm around Xiaojun’s shoulders, squeezing him close. It’s not a particularly convenient way to eat lunch, but he can probably convince Xiaojun to feed him a few fries. “Don’t worry, bro. I got this.”
Hendery meets up with Xiaojun out in front of his dorm the next morning to walk to class together, since they’re both heading to the east end of campus. It’s early, but they’ve still got plenty of time to walk - and Xiaojun visibly perks up at the iced coffee Hendery hands him once they’re shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidewalk.
Xiaojun hums, pleased, as he takes a sip - too much milk and not enough sugar for Hendery’s taste, but exactly how Xiaojun likes it. He already looks more awake. “Ah - thanks. You know I’d be a zombie by the time I got to class without coffee.”
Oh, Hendery knows - and sleepy Xiaojun is cute, but it’s probably better for everyone if he’s awake and paying attention in class. Hence: coffee.
Hendery grins. “Hey - at least it’s Friday! Just gotta suffer through a few more classes before the weekend. You have music theory in the afternoon?”
“Yeah - with Kun,” Xiaojun yawns, rubs sleepily at one eye with the draping sleeve of his sweater. It’s pretty adorable, if Hendery says so himself. Which he does, in the privacy of his own head. “I’ll be home free after 3. Are we still on to hang out tonight?”
“At Lucas and Winwin’s? You bet, they’re ordering fried chicken,” Hendery waggles his eyebrows, “and you know how Lucas is about fried chicken.”
Xiaojun laughs, shaking his head. “Oh, I know.”
They’re quiet for a few minutes as they navigate the sleepy Seoul sidestreets. But it’s a pleasant sort of quiet - Hendery likes it. It’s easy to be quiet with Xiaojun; sometimes they just don’t need to say anything and it feels… good. He may not be as loud as Yangyang or attention-seeking as Ten, but Hendery knows he’s the more extroverted one, between himself and Xiaojun. Maybe that’s what makes it feel all the more special, that they get to have easy, companionable moments like this on the early morning walk to class.
Xiaojun clears his throat, breaking the silence when they wait for a crosswalk to turn green. “Are you… you’re really going to do it, then?”
There are, admittedly, a lot of things Hendery has thought about and plans on doing in the near future. He quirks an eyebrow at Xiaojun. “Do what?”
“Make a powerpoint about me,” Xiaojun mumbles around his straw. He glances at Hendery from underneath his eyelashes. They’re, like, so thick and pretty. Like his eyebrows.
“I mean,” Hendery says, “Yeah, if you’re still okay with it.”
The light changes, and they enter the crosswalk before Xiaojun gets the chance to respond. Hendery chews on his straw, unable to put his finger on the weird clench in his stomach as he waits for Xiaojun’s reply.
“I guess I don’t see what you get out of it,” Xiaojun finally says, tilting his head in Hendery’s direction. A wry smile plays at the corner of his mouth. “Aside from making a fool of yourself onstage.”
“Hey!” Hendery protests, and Xiaojun wrinkles his nose as he chuckles. And, well - yeah, Hendery won’t put it past himself to look silly, but it’s all in good fun. And in the name of helping Xiaojun find true love, which isn’t actually a laughing matter. “What I get out of it is, hopefully, seeing you happy and getting to meet new people. And having a fun time making a powerpoint!”
“How is making a powerpoint fun?” Xiaojun wonders aloud, and the fact that he even has to ask means that Hendery doesn’t dignify that with a response.
“Anyway, this is an easy way to help everybody see all the great things I get to see in you every day,” Hendery continues, gesturing at Xiaojun with his half-empty iced coffee. He shakes the cup so the ice rattles, feigning a serious expression. “It’s a crime that you’re single, Xiaojun, if you don’t want to be single. The fact that anyone has been able to resist those cheekbones is frankly unfathomable.”
Xiaojun ducks his head as his cheeks heat, even as he’s grinning at Hendery’s antics. “Thanks, I think. Being single isn’t that bad - you know, the other week I was mostly complaining because I accidentally sat near Ten and Johnny in the student center. Next to the two of them, it’s easy to feel particularly single.”
“Ugh, tell me about it,” Hendery rolls his eyes. He loves his former roommate in a platonically-bonded, I’m-very-happy-for-your-true-love way, but Ten doesn’t know the meaning of the word subtle, nor does he particularly care about the public in public displays of affection. “Actually - don’t tell me about it. I’ve been witness to more than enough of Ten and Johnny in this lifetime.”
“Yeah - I’d think Ten is rubbing it in on purpose if he wasn’t actually stupidly in love,” Xiaojun smiles, eyes going distant. “I know they can be kind of gross, but I dunno. It’s also… nice. To know that kind of love is out there.”
“Oh, yeah,” Hendery sighs. And having lived with Ten, he knows that no one is more deserving of finding a perfect compliment, the one person who can ground him. Even though they are definitely kind of gross a lot of the time. “Lucky, huh? To find someone that you can be so close to. Like dating your best friend.”
Xiaojun half-turns to him with kind of a pinched look on his face, eyebrows drawn in. That crease has appeared between his eyebrows, the one he gets when he’s confused about something. Hendery’s fingers twitch; he always wants to reach out and smooth it away when he sees it, maybe brush Xiaojun’s bangs out of his face. Xiaojun bites his lip, and for some reason Hendery wants to smooth that away with his thumb, too. His lips look too soft for biting.
Xiaojun opens his mouth to respond, and -
Hendery trips straight into a bush.
Like, into it. The bush catches him - mostly. The parts of the bush that aren’t immediately squished by the full body weight of an athletic college student who survives primarily on ramyeon, at least.
Hendery’s already laughing by the time Xiaojun peers down at him, offering a hand to help him back upright. “You were saying something about luck?”
“Ah, fuck off,” Hendery says cheerfully, taking Xiaojun’s hand. It’s a little cool and wet from holding his iced coffee. “See, this is only more evidence for my powerpoint. So chivalrous, Xiaojun! Even when you’re making fun of me!”
“Well, somebody’s gotta keep you in check,” Xiaojun grins, flicking a leaf off Hendery’s shoulder once he’s back to standing. “And on your feet, apparently.”
“I’m glad that it’s you,” Hendery laughs, linking their arms as they resume their walk. “At least I can bribe you with coffee not to tell Yangyang about this.”
Xiaojun raises one perfect eyebrow, snorting. His cheeks are still flushed. “I’m gonna need a lot more coffee than this for that kind of favor.”
“Xiaojuuuuuun,” Hendery whines, drawing out the last syllable until Xiaojun laughs again, pretending to shake him off.
They spend the rest of the walk to class like that, bantering idly and finishing their coffees and cracking up as they swap gossip about their friends. It’s just - easy and perfect, like it always is, and when they part ways to head to their respective classes, Hendery knows there’s a bounce in his step that has nothing to do with his caffeine consumption.
Shrub-related incidents aside, there’s no way to have a bad morning when he gets to spend a little time with Xiaojun.
Here’s the thing about weekends, as a university student: they start out with so much potential.
Hendery goes to Lucas and Winwin’s on Friday night and eats chicken and drinks a little too much beer and plays way too much Mario Kart with Yangyang than is healthy, but overall it’s an awesome time. It’s a well-deserved night off from homework and studying in the library, even if Kun is tispy-rambling about chord progressions off to the side with Xiaojun, which is too close to schoolwork for Hendery’s taste.
This is exactly where he’s meant to be: sandwiched on the couch between Yangyang and Ten, not even trying to referee as they tease each other relentlessly. Lucas keeps shouting to be heard over the pop music somebody put on, drawing Winwin away from the mobile game on his phone. It’s a pretty normal night for them, even if it’s not what most university students would consider a party.
It’s more fun than a lot of the actual parties Hendery has been to, honestly. Even if he does enjoy a good night at the club once in a while.
Hendery catches Xiaojun’s eye when he looks over Yangyang’s head, grinning against the lip of his beer bottle. Kun’s still rattling his ears off, rosy-cheeked from the alcohol, but Xiaojun smiles back at Hendery. It’s a secret look, just for the two of them, one of those unspoken best friend moments where they don’t need words since they’re always just attuned to each other.
Not that they would be able to hear each other over the racket their friends are making anyway, but yeah.
Hendery’s face warms as Xiaojun looks up at him from under his eyelashes - how is Xiaojun still so attractive even when he drinks, somehow even warmer and softer than before? - and Hendery makes a split-second decision that has him wriggling out from between Ten and Yangyang.
“C’mon,” he says, holding a hand out to Xiaojun. It’s a little sweaty - he wipes his hand on his jeans before offering it again, ignoring Ten’s laugh. “Let’s dance.”
“Dance?” Kun raises an eyebrow, but Xiaojun just throws back the last of his drink and takes Hendery’s hand. This is why he’s Hendery’s best friend. “Hendery, I’ve seen you freestyle sober - ”
“It’s better when I’m drunk,” Hendery winks at Kun, pulling Xiaojun up to standing. Their shoulders knock and he sets a steadying hand on Xiaojun’s hip, pulling him further into the middle of the room. Even though the thin layer of his tee, Xiaojun is warm against his fingers. “How can we say we’re on the dance team if we don’t dance when we’re together?”
“That logic makes absolutely no s- ”
“Yes! Dancing!” All six feet of Lucas is standing before Kun can even finish his sentence. Hendery knew he could count on Lucas. “You’ve had enough liquid courage, Kun-ge, show us your moves!”
With several of their powers combined - Yangyang is never one to turn down an opportunity to poke and wheedle the upperclassmen into joining them - they manage to get everyone on their feet and dancing, vibing in what little space is left in Lucas and Winwin’s living room that isn’t lumpy couch and shin-bruising coffee table. Hendery does his level best - which is pretty good, after that much alcohol - to keep spirits high and everyone bopping.
He keeps knocking between Yangyang’s bony elbows and Xiaojun, who isn’t so quick to push Hendery away. The third time Hendery yelps, flinching away from Yangyang’s erratic skanking, Xiaojun catches him around the waist and hauls him closer, laughing at Hendery’s pout.
“He’s like a baby giraffe!” Hendery leans in to complain directly into Xiaojun’s ear - Ten must have turned up the music again, since it’s hard to hear anything but the thumping bass and EXO’s pop-filled vocals. “He has no clue what he’s doing with all those limbs!”
The sight of Xiaojun’s smile lights up something in Hendery’s chest, liquid-gold and warm and bright. “Stick with me, I’ll protect you from the mean baby giraffe.”
Xiaojun hooks a finger in the belt loop of Hendery’s jeans to keep him close, and well. That’s that.
What matters is - it’s a nice night. They could do a lot worse than Mario Kart and fried chicken and shitty beer, and dancing until the downstairs neighbors pound at the ceiling for them to turn down the music.
The dancing does explain some of his bruises the next morning.
Hendery hisses as he prods at the newly-formed spots below his knees, and the one on his ribs. Curse Winwin’s coffee table - and Yangyang, a little. It would’ve been worse without Xiaojun intervening, of course.
When Hendery’s scrolling through the photos on his phone later, though, he has to admit that it was worth it. He sets the photo that Lucas took of him and Xiaojun dancing as his new phone background, even though it’s a little bit blurry.
Anyway - Hendery does plan on getting some homework done on Saturday. Really. He does.
But the first half of the day is spent sleeping off the stress of the week and recovering from the late Friday night - they’d walked back to their respective dorms well into the wee hours. And then in the afternoon he does his laundry, noodling around on his phone for a few hours while he waits for his clothes to wash. By the time evening rolls around and Yangyang texts him to log on for a few rounds of Fall Guys, Hendery feels like he’s been responsible enough for one day to warrant some evening gaming.
Tomorrow. He’ll get more of his actual homework done tomorrow.
The point is - all of a sudden it’s Sunday afternoon and Hendery has an essay to write and a quiz to prepare for, but when he sits down to his computer all he can think about is Operation Powerpoint.
Hendery exhales, extending his arms over his head and arching his back in a stretch. Realistically, he knows that he has two weeks to create the perfect powerpoint for Xiaojun. It shouldn’t even be that hard - Xiaojun is a catch. This is an established fact. The student body and Seoul at large haven’t cottoned on to it, but it’s Hendery’s job to make sure they know. He can do this.
Easy, right? And fun. Hendery has several years’ worth of cute and flattering photos of his best friend, and plenty of good stories. Well - stories that Hendery thinks are pretty good.
Hendery’s leg jitters under the desk, unable to keep still. He can’t keep the grin off his face, either.
Maybe he should get started, just so he doesn’t forget all the things he wants to include.
Okay, it’s maybe a tactical error to start YOU_SHOULD_DATE_XIAOJUN.PPT when he should actually be working on his essay on postmodern theater. But Hendery wasn’t lying about powerpoint being fun, not when it means he gets to pore over so many photos and play with slide transitions.
He would have stayed up until midnight working on the essay anyway; Hendery can admit that to himself. It’s mostly that he just lost track of time working on Xiaojun’s powerpoint, and now it’s… later. Who can blame him? This is what energy drinks are for. He’ll just make sure to recycle all the cans before he invites Kun over to hang out. That’s a mistake he’ll only make once.
Hendery cracks his knuckles and opens up his essay outline. Tonight, he’s going two for two.
Hendery turns in his essay, passes that quiz, recycles the small colony of cans and bottles on his desk - honestly, as much as he might have hoped for, to start off the week on the right foot. He even manages to get to class on time for the most part, and catches up on enough sleep that by Tuesday evening he doesn’t trip and fall on his face during dance rehearsal.
Well, not more than usual.
In fact, the business with Xiaojun’s powerpoint is shelved in the back of his mind until he’s studying with Winwin in the library on Wednesday, just the two of them. Hendery likes studying with Winwin; he’s not nearly as nosy as Ten, and isn’t as prone to long-suffering sighs as Kun. Winwin ends up on his phone a lot, but hey - he’s usually good about keeping a library-appropriate volume when they chat. Hendery’s pretty convinced at this point that Lucas will never understand the concept of an inside voice.
“Hey,” Winwin nudges Hendery’s sneaker with his own to get his attention, keeping his voice low. “Did you start the powerpoint yet?”
“The powerpoint?” Hendery frowns, looking up from his book on playwriting. “Oh! You mean for Xiaojun. Xiaojun’s powerpoint. About why people should date Xiaojun.”
“...Yes,” Winwin says, eyebrows rising.
“Yeah,” Hendery twiddles his pen, unable to keep his hands still. “Yeah, I started it a few days ago. It’s going… fine.”
Winwin laughs, cupping his chin with one hand. “That doesn’t sound very confident.”
“I only just started it!” Hendery replies, indignant - and quiets his voice when they end up on the receiving end of a glare from a nearby upperclassman. “I have, like, another two weeks before I’m actually presenting it. And there’s a lot to cover, you know? It’s about Xiaojun.”
“Oh, I know,” Winwin says, which sounds… kind of ominous, actually. But he doesn’t elaborate beyond giving Hendery a knowing smile. “Can I see it so far?”
“Sure.” Hendery shrugs one shoulder easily - why not? It’s never too early for feedback. He pries open his laptop and taps around, opening the presentation and swiveling the laptop so that they can both look at the screen.
“Okay,” Winwin says, dragging the laptop a little closer so they can squint down at the small screen. He’s quiet for a few moments as he taps through the slides Hendery has assembled so far, which - Hendery frowns. Now that he’s looking at it fully-rested and not in a post-midnight haze of liquid caffeine, it’s really just his favorite photos of Xiaojun collected in one place, sorted by Xiaojun Facial Expression. With tacky slide transitions.
Huh. Hendery swears he put more actual thought into it than that.
Winwin shoots him a skeptical look. “This is supposed to get Xiaojun a date?”
“It’s a work in progress,” Hendery whines, and tries to wrestle the laptop back over to his side of the table. But Winwin has a surprisingly strong grip, especially when he’s determined about something.
“You want some help figuring out what to put in here?” Winwin says, tapping back through the slides. “You know you’re going to have to use actual words, not just pictures.”
“Of course I know that. I’m a performing arts major, I know what to do in front of a crowd,” Hendery wrinkles his nose; why is Winwin always so right all the time, in that deadpan, subtly teasing way of his? “But what makes you an authority on dating powerpoints, huh?”
“I helped Jungwoo with his Tinder profile last semester,” Winwin smirks, “You don’t even wanna know how successful that was. But it’s basically the same thing, right?”
Hendery’s never been to an event like this before, so he can only guess.
“Probably,” he says, returning the presentation to edit mode and reluctantly nudging the laptop closer to Winwin. “Don’t you have, like, stats homework or something to work on?”
“It can wait,” Winwin pockets his phone and pushes his hair out of his eyes - wow, he is pretty serious about this. “The sooner you get some structure in this powerpoint, the sooner you can fill it with the important stuff - like all these photos.”
Hendery snorts. “Okay, have at it. Learn me a thing. What does it really need to help Xiaojun get a date?”
Winwin makes about six new slides in the first minute, with bullet points and everything, and oh.
Maybe Winwin had a point about Hendery’s powerpoint game.
They workshop Xiaojun’s powerpoint for two hours, bickering cheerfully about the most important points to add about Xiaojun and his personality and his eyebrows in order to successfully woo an audience of single college students.
“You have to have all the key info early,” Winwin advises, making a few quick notes that Hendery can go back and fill in later: birthday, blood type, university major, biggest interests. “Sprinkle in the photos as you go. And then include, like, a chart on the benefits of dating Xiaojun or something.”
“A chart?” Hendery raises an eyebrow, and Winwin gives him a rueful shrug.
“Always seems to boost my grade when I do it for a class, so why not?” he says, pressing enter a few times to make a new slide that he titles Notable Skills. “Oh, remind me later to text you that picture of Xiaojun in the dinosaur onesie, that one’s too cute not to include.”
Hendery doesn’t want to admit that he has that photo of Xiaojun saved to his phone already - it is too cute, back from when Xiaojun’s hair was silver. Hendery also doesn’t want to examine why the thought of Winwin having that picture makes something in his belly squirm unpleasantly. “How does a dance major know so much about powerpoint? You’re getting awfully interested in this.”
The deadpan look Winwin shoots him would make lesser men faint. “Speak for yourself, Donkey. Let’s just say I’m invested in this as a group project.”
“Whatever,” Hendery blows his bangs out of his eyes, slumping in his chair. “I guess if I’m taking advice from you, I should take advice from everyone.”
Winwin smirks. “Now that’s an even better idea,” he says, and keeps typing.
By the time Winwin has to leave for class across campus, they’ve gotten Xiaojun’s powerpoint from three slides of loosely collected pictures to ten slides, most of which actually have words on them. Still - there’s a lot of gaps, and some design choices that leave much to be desired.
Winwin has certainly helped him get the bones of it down, but Operation Powerpoint is Hendery’s project. It’s Hendery’s pro-level wingman effort to save Xiaojun from perpetual single-dom, and he intends to deliver.
Hendery’s got his work cut out for him.
“You know,” Xiaojun says, “sometimes I think that university isn’t going to be exhausting like this all the time.”
“I know,” Hendery sighs from beside him, “and then, like, it just totally is.”
They’re stretched out on the floor of the dance practice room, flat on their backs in a position that Hendery has started to fondly call the post-practice starfish. It’s just about the only move Hendery thinks he can make at this point, considering it doesn’t actually involve moving.
Xiaojun groans, sounding about as miserable as Hendery feels. He turns his head towards Hendery without moving the rest of his body - which, mood. “Was it just me, or was Ten more brutal than usual today?”
“Oh, he was,” Hendery confirms. He can’t even summon up the strength to nod - although if he stays here for too long, he’ll probably adhere to the linoleum, with how much he’s sweating. Ew. “Gotta respect the dance major for wanting to perfect the routine, but it would be nice if he remembered that while the spirit is willing, the flesh is squishy and easily bruised.”
He punctuates his statement with a vague wave of his arms, which currently feel like limp noodles. They flop tiredly at his sides, since he has so little energy to muster, but it makes Xiaojun laugh. That alone is enough to buoy Hendery’s spirit, something warm curling in his chest.
“We’ve got plenty of time before the showcase to perfect it,” Xiaojun smiles. He slowly stretches one foot out until he can nudge Hendery in the shin, otherwise content to remain boneless on the floor. “Think you can move anytime soon?”
“No,” Hendery whines, not even trying to shy away from the toe of Xiaojun’s sneaker. “Leave me here to become one with the floor.”
“There will be custodians coming along at some point to clean,” Xiaojun points out, but he doesn’t move either. “We’ll have to get up eventually.”
It’s true, but Hendery doesn’t want to think about it.
His back would hate him for it tomorrow, but he can picture just… staying here all night like this. Him and Xiaojun, spread-eagle next to each other on the scuffed floor, their bags and sweatshirts in a heap by the mirror where they’d dropped them a few hours ago. Everyone else had cleared out after practice, off to study or grab something to eat or shower off the workout.
Hendery had meant to stretch, when he first sat down. But his thighs were burning and his tee stuck to his shoulders with sweat, and it was too easy to fall backwards and stay there as his heartbeat calmed. And then Xiaojun had joined him, waving off the laughter of their friends, and - now it’s just the two of them.
It seems to happen a lot, but they’re best friends, after all.
With great effort and numerous sound effects, Hendery manages to gather enough energy to roll himself onto his stomach, closer to Xiaojun. He props his chin up on one hand, pushing his sweaty hair away from his face with the other. He feels downright gross. “But what if we stayed here forever, though. Never moving. Slowly forgotten to the passage of time.”
Xiaojun wrinkles his nose, still looking up at the ceiling tiles above them. “I wouldn’t forget you,” he says, oblivious to the way that Hendery’s stomach swoops. It’s… not an unpleasant feeling, actually. It’s been happening more lately when he spends time with Xiaojun. “But I don’t think either of us really want to become the ghosts haunting dance practice room B.”
“I guessssss,” Hendery draws out the syllable. “Too many downsides to being a ghost, huh.”
“Ghosts can’t eat budae-jjigae,” Xiaojun says, turning to look at Hendery.
“Ghosts can’t eat budae-jjigae or Lao Gan Ma,” Hendery replies, and Xiaojun scoffs, like that’s the worst part about being a ghost. Maybe it is, actually. “Guess that means we have to get up.”
“Give me another minute,” Xiaojun hums and stretches his arms over his head, lifting one foot and then the other to plant them flat on the floor. The motion makes his baggy sweatshirt ride up, revealing a pale strip of bare stomach. Hendery swallows, trying to drag his eyes away, but that sliver of skin is just… right there, centimeters from his fingers.
He wonders if Xiaojun’s skin is as soft there as it is on his hands.
Xiaojun sighs again. The noise snaps Hendery out of his thoughts, but he can still feel the heat gathering in his cheeks. “Here I go. Any second now.”
“Better you than me,” Hendery doesn’t even try to cover his wide yawn. “I’ll just, uh. Watch.”
Xiaojun chuckles tiredly, but he manages to sit up, resting his forearms on his bent knees. He pats Hendery’s shoulder. “C’mon, you too.”
In the end, Xiaojun stands first, and then takes several unflattering photos of Hendery still prone on the floor before actually helping him up. It’s fine; Hendery has at least two dozen just like it on his phone, of members of the dance team in various states of exhaustion, relaxation, and sleep.
Not that Xiaojun will share these photos anyway, because for the most part, Xiaojun is a decent bro like that.
He probably doesn’t think about his best friend’s bare skin as much as Hendery currently is. Which, uh. He needs to stop doing. Presently.
“You’re such a bro,” Hendery tells him, lurching to his feet with one hand caught in Xiaojun’s firm grip. Bless those boxing classes, or whatever it is Xiaojun has been doing lately that has increased his muscle mass. Those biceps are great for helping Hendery off the ground, apparently, since it’s happened twice in one week. God, Hendery, snap out of it. “Anyone else would have left my ass here to become a ghost.”
“Kun? No. The rest of the team? Probably,” Xiaojun shoots him a tired grin, shuffling over to the mirror to throw his bag over his shoulder.
“That’s why you’re the best,” Hendery says. Duh. “More material for my powerpoint! Xiaojun’s good qualities: does not leave friends for dead.”
Xiaojun, to his credit, simply rolls his eyes. “That sounds like a low bar for what you’d look for in a date.”
“Loyalty is important,” Hendery winces when he has to bend to pick up his stuff - ugh. Ugh. Tomorrow is not going to be fun, with how sore he already is. “And I’m including plenty of other important and alluring information about you.”
The skepticism is back. “Alluring?”
Hendery can’t resist throwing Xiaojun a wink.“Can you think of a better word for your eyebrows?”
That, at least, startles a laugh out of Xiaojun, echoing brightly in the empty room. His cheeks are flushed a fetching pink, but that’s probably just leftover from the workout-slash-torture by dance session Ten put them through.
“Ow,” Xiaojun complains, clutching at his stomach, not quite bent over. “Not fair, Hendery. It hurts to laugh.”
“Take it up with Ten,” Hendery yawns again. “Ugh - let’s get going before I fall asleep on my feet. I don’t want to trip into another bush.”
Xiaojun’s smile softens. “Just stay at my dorm tonight.”
At that, Hendery does nearly trip over his own feet. “What?”
“What what?” Xiaojun looks over his shoulder, caught off-guard by Hendery’s surprise. “You said you were tired. My dorm is a closer walk than yours.”
“Well, yeah,” Hendery says; that’s partly why it’s easy to stop for coffee for Xiaojun on the way to class. He lives a lot closer to campus than Hendery does. “But - uh. You know I snore.”
“I’m used to it,” Xiaojun shrugs. “Not like we haven’t shared a bed before.”
Hendery purses his lips in thought. This is, in fact, true - but something feels different tonight, maybe because of how much time they’ve been spending together lately. It’s not the same as when they’ve passed out next to each other on Xiaojun’s narrow bed after a night of drinking too much to celebrate passing their midterms, or after they won that dance competition and shared the spare bed at Kun’s apartment, whispering long after Kun had told them to go the fuck to sleep.
No - for some reason, it feels different. For one, Hendery’s mind won’t let go of the image of Xiaojun’s bare stomach, a five-centimeter peek at pale skin and a faint trail of hair. Which - which maybe is a thing Hendery should put some brain power into untangling, but from the comfort and safety of his own dorm room.
Then again: dead on his feet. Potential for shrubbery-related accidents. Xiaojun’s dorm is much closer.
Well, if it’s happened twice before. Xiaojun’s only looking out for him, after all.
“Yeah, if - if that’s okay,” Hendery says, trying to shove down his weird hesitation. What is he feeling hesitant for? This is Xiaojun.
“Of course it’s okay,” Xiaojun is looking at him with that expression he gets, the one that looks exasperated but… fond. The Best Friend look. “I wouldn’t have offered if it wasn’t. C’mon, I have sweatpants you can borrow. It’s not a big deal.”
Xiaojun catches his wrist and pulls him out of the practice room, not letting go until they step outside into the cool night air. It got dark while they were at practice, under the bright lights of the dance studio, and Seoul is cloaked in half-darkness and the light from street lamps.
Xiaojun’s hair catches the light when he turns to look at Hendery again, smiling. “Let’s go.”
“Okay,” Hendery says softly. He swallows, and skips forward a few steps until they’re side by side.
It’s a little while longer before Xiaojun lets go of his wrist.
Hendery thanks whatever deity looks out for university students the next morning, when he remembers that his first class is in the afternoon. Like, really - thank god. Any god. Hendery is very thankful.
No morning classes means that Hendery will have enough time to get back to his own dorm to shower and change, rather than show up to lunch and have their entire friend group judge him for wearing the same clothes they’d seen him in last night. Not that they’d really think anything happened between him and Xiaojun - but Ten would certainly have fun implying it, in his very Ten way.
Not that Hendery’s actually thinking about anything happening with Xiaojun. Last night was just a weird brain fixation of appreciating his best friend’s hard-earned bod. Yeah.
Anyway. Xiaojun has an early songwriting class, and doesn’t waste time untangling himself from the sheets and getting ready for the day. Hendery dozes as Xiaojun shuffles about the room, changing quietly and gathering his books and guitar case. Hendery makes a sleepy noise of protest when Xiaojun ruffles his hair on his way out the door, vaguely registering Xiaojun’s warm chuckle in response.
The door closes with a soft click, and Hendery’s left in the lazy quiet of Xiaojun’s room, drifting in and out of sleep until his alarm goes off. It’s - nice. Xiaojun’s bed is comfortable and still warm, even with only Hendery in it. The pillow smells like Xiaojun, and Hendery sighs, surprised at how well-rested he feels.
The thought drifts through Hendery’s head as he snuggles into the sheets again, curling tighter into the empty space Xiaojun left. Is it weird that he’s less comfortable now that Xiaojun isn’t here, knocking their knees together and breathing into Hendery’s hair?
Whatever. It’s not a big deal.
He’ll get up in a minute or two.
Okay, but Hendery does actually have to put some work into the powerpoint. Work that isn’t just trawling his friends’ social media accounts for the best pictures.
Thanks to Winwin, Hendery’s pretty sure he knows what he needs to complete it. Most of the info he can fill out himself - again, best friends, if there’s a Xiaojun expert out there, it’s Hendery. He gets a good amount done between classes at the end of the week (okay, also in class too, but it’s not Hendery’s fault that macroeconomics never holds his attention) and feels pretty good about it by the time the weekend comes around again.
But for some of the info - well, it doesn’t hurt to go straight to the source.
“What would you say are your notable skills?”
Xiaojun looks up from his textbook with raised eyebrows. He stops chewing for a moment, only to continue to crunch on his chips when Hendery keeps his grin in place. At Xiaojun’s side, Kun exhales through his nose but doesn’t look up, though it looks like it takes effort.
“And-or important qualities,” Hendery adds, while Xiaojun finishes chewing.
“My what?” he finally asks, licking the salt from his fingertips.
Hendery’s gaze flicks down to his tongue, and, uh. What had he asked again? “Your important skills, and-or qualities. That a person who dates you would be most interested in knowing.”
“Oh,” Xiaojun’s brow furrows. “I mean - I don’t know. What do people usually put in dating profiles?”
“You know, Winwin didn’t say beyond this outline,” Hendery scratches along his jaw, pursing his lips in thought. He should have asked more about that when he saw Winwin earlier in the week. “I guess, the kinds of things that people would like about you?”
“Well, what do you like about me?” Xiaojun asks, mouth widening into a smile.
“Oh my god,” Kun mutters, burying his face behind his laptop - presumably so that he doesn’t have to look at either of them. That’s fine, Hendery wasn’t planning on needing Kun’s help with this, anyway. Kun can’t complain about them being loud, at least; they’re working on homework in the student center today, not the library.
“There are plenty of great things about you,” Hendery shrugs, “how do I choose just, like, four or five?”
Xiaojun raises an eyebrow. “Write them all down and figure out a top four later?”
Hendery clicks his tongue, already beginning to type always helpful!!! “Ah, Xiaojun, so smart! Hopefully this list doesn’t turn out too long - I only have one slide for this.”
“You’ll figure it out,” Xiaojun’s cheeks have gone kind of pink, and he starts to gather his things from their table and shove them into his backpack. “I’m heading off to English - don’t forget, Kun-ge, I booked the room with the piano later this afternoon for songwriting.”
Kun peeks out from over his laptop screen, nodding. “I’ll be there.”
“Cool - later, guys,” Xiaojun shoulders his backpack with a grunt and starts to weave through the packed tables of the student center.
“Have fun in class, Xiaojun!” Hendery calls as he starts to walk away. “Fighting!”
Xiaojun laughs, twisting around so he can throw finger-hearts over his shoulder in their direction before he disappears from view.
When Hendery turns back to their table, Kun is giving him a capital-L Look over the edge of his laptop screen. It’s one of Kun’s patented Mom Friend Looks; they’re easy to recognize, when you’re on the receiving end of them as much as Hendery is.
It would be more effective if Kun’s hair wasn’t currently bright blue.
“What?” Hendery asks, raising his eyebrows. “I can’t say goodbye to Xiaojun?”
Kun sighs and takes off his glasses, cleaning the lenses on his flannel shirt. He fixes Hendery with a wry smile. “You don’t know what you’re doing, do you, Hendery?”
“I’m… making a powerpoint?” Hendery tilts his head, confused. He’s… moderately sure that it’s not what Kun is talking about, but he really isn’t sure what Kun is talking about.
Thankfully, Kun seems to have used up his daily quota of sighing - for now. “Right,” he says, blinking as he puts his glasses back on and pushes them back up his nose. “Okay. Well. Wanna show me your progress so far?”
“Oh! Sure,” Hendery says, shifting around the books on their table so that he can tilt his laptop in Kun’s direction. “Any ideas are helpful at this point. I really want it to be perfect.”
Kun hums as Hendery starts his presentation from the top, clicking through the slides he’s finished so far. They get through all the basics: the intro slide with Xiaojun’s birthday and major and blood type, the collected photos of Xiaojun where Hendery plans to talk about his hobbies and music, the dubious pie chart Hendery has labeled Benefits of Dating Xiaojun.
Hendery’s apprehension grows as Kun remains carefully silent.
The thing about Kun, Hendery has learned over the course of their friendship, is that as easy as he is to tease about being the oldest and most parental in their friend group, Kun actually does have the best advice to give. It’s probably a maturity thing, and also a moderately high tolerance for shenanigans, being friends with the likes of Hendery and Yangyang. But when Kun has something to say, it’s probably a good thing to listen. He’s often even kind enough to repeat his advice when their friends - Lucas mostly, but also just all of them - don’t listen the first time around.
So now, with Kun clicking through his powerpoint and staying unusually quiet, Hendery can’t help but squirm uncomfortably in his seat.
“Is it that bad?” he finally asks, wrinkling his nose.
“Hm? Oh,” Kun blinks and adjusts his glasses, rubbing at his bottom lip in thought. “No - it’s not bad.”
“It’s just - I can tell that you’re being quiet on purpose,” Hendery says, lowering his voice to a murmur. Why is he lowering his voice to a murmur? “And not, like, in a normal introvert way.”
Kun clicks through to the most recent slide, the one for Notable Skills and Qualities that still only says always helpful!!! The look he gives Hendery is exasperated, but he’s smiling, at least. “Hendery, it’s coming along fine. You know Xiaojun better than anyone, you’ll be able to fill out the rest before next weekend. It’s just…”
Hendery swallows. “Just what?”
Kun’s hesitation is back. He pulls his hands away from Hendery’s keyboard, cupping his chin in one hand. The expression on his face is so gentle it’s a little unnerving. “Are you sure about this?”
“What… what is there to be sure about?” Hendery frowns. He can feel his heart rate start to speed up, something in his chest tightening with uncertainty. “It’s just making a powerpoint to help Xiaojun find someone to date.”
“Right,” Kun says, nodding, “and you’ll be okay if that actually happens as a result?”
Hendery feels a little like he’s missed a step on a staircase, or maybe put his foot down where he expected one to be, only to find air. He and Kun can’t be talking about the same thing.
“But that’s the point,” he says slowly, trying to wrap his head around what Kun is saying. “The point is for Xiaojun to find someone to date and not be single anymore.”
Kun’s eyes are pleading for Hendery to figure out… something. “Yeah, exactly. He might find someone who likes him.”
The scrutiny is making Hendery grow warm under the collar, even if he can’t figure out why, or what even they’re actually talking about. “Doesn’t Xiaojun deserve that, though? Isn’t Xiaojun awesome and doesn’t he deserve an awesome person to go on dates with and have fun with and -”
Hendery doesn’t realize he’s curled his hands into fists until he feels the sting of his nails against his palm.
“I never said he didn’t,” Kun says gently, his hands carefully enveloping one of Hendery’s wrists and squeezing in comfort until Hendery relaxes. Why is he getting so worked up? This is - it’s just a dumb, fun powerpoint. About Xiaojun. “I’m just not sure if you realized what it means, Hendery. If Xiaojun dates someone, it means that he won’t be -”
Hendery shakes his head, trying to clear the swirling thoughts from his mind. He pulls his hand out of Kun’s grip, swallowing against the tightness in his throat. “It’s not a big deal, Kun. That’s the reason I’m doing all this, remember?”
The smile he gives Kun probably isn’t very convincing - it feels pinched and weird, like the pressure under his ribs. It only makes Kun’s forehead crease into a frown, and his lips flatten into a thin line.
Another one of his Mom Friend Looks. Not good.
“If you say so,” Kun says, exhaling through his nose. With a decisive hand, he shuts the lid to Hendery’s laptop and gives him a half-smile. “Come on, enough of that. Enough studying for the afternoon. Want to go get bingsu?”
“Bingsu?” Hendery blinks, looking between his closed laptop lid under Kun’s palm and Kun’s earnest gaze. The ache in his chest is easing already. “You want to get bingsu instead of studying? Have you been possessed, Kun-ge? Are you an alien clone that’s replaced the real Kun?”
Kun laughs, and with it, the rest of the tension wound tightly in Hendery’s shoulders melts away. “Yeah, yeah, very funny. I can go one afternoon without studying.”
“Prove it,” Hendery says, but he’s already shuffling his books into his backpack and tucking his laptop away. “Your treat?”
“Sure, why not,” Kun shrugs, rolling his eyes. “Let’s get totally wild.”
Hendery grins. “You said it, not me. Just watch me get all the toppings. Yangyang’s not going to believe this - Kun taking a break in the middle of a weekday, to treat me to bingsu.”
“Don’t make me regret it,” Kun chuckles, and ruffles Hendery’s hair once they both stand to leave. “If you brag to everyone it’s going to be a one-time deal.”
“Ugh - fine, mom,” Hendery snorts; he’d already gotten his phone out to text the group chat and tell Xiaojun -
Xiaojun. Hendery’s steps falter, but he manages to keep up with Kun’s longer strides without him noticing.
He’ll just have to keep working on Xiaojun’s powerpoint later.
Hendery is right about one thing: Yangyang does not believe that Hendery managed to get a free trip to eat bingsu out of Kun on a Wednesday. Yangyang himself says as much, loudly, the next time Hendery hangs out with him at Lucas’s for a game night.
“It’s unbelievable,” Yangyang says, for like the fourth time. He pouts at his laptop screen, fingers flying over the keyboard. “Literally the definition of unbelievable. I cannot believe it.”
“We took a selfie with our bingsu,” Hendery says proudly, swiping through his phone to bring up the picture and then tilting the screen in Yangyang’s direction. “A bingselfie.”
Yangyang looks away from the game for long enough to take in their photo and groans at full volume. It’s hard to tell if it’s because of the bingselfie or because his character in-game just got yeeted into space by a rocket launcher.
“Why,” Yangyang says, throwing up his hands in exasperation. “More importantly, how.”
Hendery grins from where he’s folded cross-legged on the couch, reaching for their hoard of snacks. Had Kun specified how much information he was allowed to divulge? Whatever. If Yangyang knows, the whole group chat will know within the next two hours. “We were doing homework in the student center and needed a break. Well - Kun was doing homework. I was working on Xiaojun’s powerpoint.”
“Ah!” Lucas perks up as he enters the room, three bags of chips tucked under one arm and two soda cans cradled in each giant palm. “Operation Powerpoint! How’s that going, anyway? Isn’t the presentation coming up?”
“Yeah, in like a week,” Hendery hums, nodding in thanks when Lucas hands him a drink. “It’s going fine, I guess. Winwin helped me figure out how many slides I need and stuff, and Kun looked it over the other day.”
“What!” Lucas’s eyes go a little wide at that, and he grins at Hendery over Yangyang’s head. “Everyone’s gotten a look at it but us! C’mon, Hendery - you gotta show us, too.”
“After I kick your asses at PUBG,” Yangyang cuts in.
“After Yangyang kicks our asses at PUBG,” Lucas amends with a smile.
Hendery rolls his eyes. “Not everyone’s seen it. You think I’d let Ten look at it before the actual day of the presentation? He’d heckle me from the audience.”
“It’s Ten, he’ll heckle you regardless,” Yangyang winces when he tears open a packet of chips, and the force of it sends some flying. “Lucas and I just want to be helpful bros.”
“If you say so,” Hendery laughs. Yangyang’s version of helpful is also mostly teasing, in Hendery’s experience. As the maknae in their group Yangyang usually gets away with it, too. “C’mon, let’s play. Where’s Winwin, anyway? It’s not like him to miss a game night.”
“Probably in the studio working on choreographing his performance piece for this semester,” Lucas says. “It’s pretty dope.”
“Bo-ring,” Yangyang sing-songs. “Homework is lame. Hey, you can’t get credit for your Xiaojun powerpoint, can you? That’s kind of a performance, and you are a drama major.”
Hendery wrinkles his nose as he settles his laptop on his knees, launching the game. “Ugh, I don’t want to receive any more grades than I have to. Besides, the point isn’t just to give a good presentation - it’s to get Xiaojun a date.”
“Uh huh,” Yangyang says, a smirk twitching at the corner of his mouth, and Hendery frowns.
“Uh huh what?” Hendery asks, but the conversation is quickly derailed by the match starting in-game and their party dropping onto the map. For a few minutes it’s all chatter about the game as the chaos starts, punctuated by the rapid clicking of mice and the sharp sound effects of gunfire and explosions coming from their laptops’ speakers.
“Anyway, you’ll see the presentation in like a week,” Hendery says, “along with everyone else. And whatever singles show up.”
“And Xiaojun,” Yangyang adds.
And Xiaojun. That’s right.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lucas gives him an easy, reassuring smile. “Probably nothing we haven’t heard before - right, Yangyang?”
“Yeah, we know how you talk about Xiaojun,” Yangyang says through a mouthful of chips, and -
“What do you mean, how I talk about Xiaojun?” Hendery frowns down at his screen. His heart trips over itself in his chest, but that’s because - that’s because they’re playing an action-packed game, and it’s getting intense as the surviving players duke it out. Yeah. “How do I talk about Xiaojun?”
“You know,” Lucas pulls his hands away from his keyboard to cup his chin with both palms, looking off into the middle distance with a smile that’s softer than Lucas’s own usual face-splitting grin. “Like this. It’s - fuck!”
Lucas swears as a patter of gunfire bursts from his laptop - someone taking advantage of his momentary distraction - and turns back to the game.
“Pretty much,” Yangyang confirms, and Hendery stares at them. “It’s kinda heart-eyes.”
“He’s my best friend,” Hendery retorts, feeling his face start to heat. “Lucas, aren’t you like that with Winwin?”
“Maybe?” Lucas shrugs with a broad smile, “Maybe about his dancing.”
Hendery’s mouth purses into a frown-pout, trying - and failing - to pay attention to the game rather than this conversation. “And how is that different?”
Yangyang’s smirk is way too knowing. “Lucas is like that with everyone because he’s a giant puppy. He loves everybody.”
“It’s true,” Lucas grins, and flashes Hendery brief finger-hearts. “Heart full, head empty.”
“But- ” Hendery’s character takes a grenade to the dome, and he slumps back into the couch as the better luck next time! message pops up. There’s no way he’s a match for anybody, as distracted as he is with - whatever this conversation is. “Ugh, whatever. Are we here to cross-examine my friendships or are we here to play PUBG?”
“If you think I can’t do both at the same time you are sadly mistaken,” Yangyang quips, grinning wide. Hendery waits for an opportune moment to shove him off the couch - and when he does, the resulting shriek is perfect.
Lucas laughs loudly as they tussle on the floor, snacks flying everywhere. Both he and Yangyang are too skinny to keep each other in a headlock for long, but Hendery finally gives in when Yangyang bites him in the forearm, the little devil.
“Yikes,” Lucas says, examining the imprint of Yangyang’s teeth as Hendery shows off the mark. It’s pink, it’ll fade soon - but it’s kind of impressive, in a weird way. Lucas chuckles as he slaps them both on the back. “Enough trash talk, yeah? Let’s just play.”
“Fine by me,” Hendery says, and they settle back onto the couch, chips crunching underfoot. Winwin is going to murder them, probably. “I don’t need distraction tactics to wipe the floor with the two of you.”
Yangyang laughs. “Famous last words,” he says, and within moments the next match has started.
Turns out it’s more or less a normal game night after all.
By contrast, the time that Hendery spends with Xiaojun is often the complete opposite of game nights with Lucas and Yangyang.
Well, not always - they get into their fare share of shoving matches and good-natured arguments, like all best friends do. Hendery takes pride in being able to make Xiaojun crack and laugh, especially in the library. What can he say? Comedy comes naturally to him, it’s part of why he wants to be an actor.
And Xiaojun has a nice laugh. His smile shows off his T-rex cheekbones, as Kun likes to say.
But tonight’s study session is definitely the opposite of a raucous night with their other friends - and privately, Hendery’s glad for it. He loves the rest of their dance team, he really does. As much as he considers himself an extrovert, it can still be draining to be around other people. For some reason, it’s never really like that with Xiaojun.
Tonight they’re holed up in Xiaojun’s room to study - both of them have tests in a few days, and by mutual agreement they’re here rather than in the library, where it’s too easy for Yangyang or Ten to ambush and distract them. Xiaojun’s quiet second-floor room is perfect, actually, in a lot of ways. Unlike Hendery’s own room, he’s less prone to get distracted - well, aside from the usual amount of conversation and poking around Xiaojun’s desk.
And - Hendery can admit in the privacy of his own mind - the distraction that is Xiaojun himself. But that’s probably because Hendery is all up in his own head about the presentation he’ll give in a few days, the powerpoint about Xiaojun that he has so carefully crafted.
That’s definitely it.
They’re both too stressed about their upcoming tests for much banter tonight. The only sounds are the occasional rustle of paper as Xiaojun turns a page in his book, or Hendery when shuffles through his notes to copy something down. Well, and - and Xiaojun humming. But that’s not a distraction at all.
Hendery looks away from his notes, focusing on Xiaojun’s profile as he pages through his music theory book. He’s wearing his glasses tonight, his dark hair turned gold at the edges from the glow of his lamp.
He’s humming a song under his breath - nothing that Hendery recognizes, though it sounds like the kind of thing Xiaojun has been composing for his songwriting classes in the last few weeks. Hendery’s only gotten to hear bits of it here and there, but it’s good. Really good.
Xiaojun’s voice is really nice, too.
It’s a no-brainer, Hendery thinks, that Xiaojun wants to go into music. He knows how hard Xiaojun is working for it - in this room alone he can’t count the number of band posters on the walls, the notebooks full of song lyrics and annotations stacked neatly next to Xiaojun’s guitar. And his voice is perfect - anybody would be lucky to hear him sing.
The thought makes his chest tighten. Hendery’s lucky that he gets to hear it in these moments, the soft baritone timbre of Xiaojun humming. At this point it’s almost hard to imagine a study session without the gentle melody in his ear.
Hendery has already mentioned Xiaojun’s singing in his powerpoint. This kind of moment feels somehow too… intimate to include.
And actually - Hendery swallows. If his presentation works and Xiaojun meets someone, they’ll get to hear his voice. Someone else will be the one at Xiaojun’s side in the line for coffee when he whistles, or huddled in the depths of the music building together as Xiaojun noodles around on his guitar, or like this - knees gently touching as they’re both lost in their own worlds, studying, with Xiaojun humming in the background.
Someone else will be around for all of those kinds of moments with Xiaojun.
The thought shouldn’t feel so much like a vice around his throat as it does.
Hendery blinks and looks away, trying to remember to breathe around the pressure in his chest. Why does the thought bother him so much? He wants Xiaojun to find someone to be happy with. That’s the point of this whole thing.
He’s snapped out of his thoughts when Xiaojun softly calls his name, smiling when their eyes meet. He knocks his knee against Hendery’s where they’ve been pressed together this whole time. “You good?”
“Yeah,” Hendery exhales a sigh, pushing his hair away from his face. “Yeah, I’m good.”
Xiaojun raises an eyebrow. “It’s just - you haven’t made any notes in a while, or turned any pages.”
Hendery looks down at his notes; it’s true. He’d gotten pretty far lost in his thoughts - not that he can tell that to Xiaojun, when said thoughts were about him. “Ah, I guess I’m just getting tired and zoned out. How is your work going?”
“Good,” Xiaojun replies, and covers his mouth with the back of his hand when he yawns. “Good, but I’m getting tired, too. Sorry if my humming bothers you - I think I was doing it again.”
“It’s fine,” Hendery says softly, giving him a smile. “You have a nice voice. I don’t mind.”
It’s the truth, and it makes Xiaojun smile in return.
Later, when Hendery sleepily gathers his textbooks to crawl home to his own dorm bed, he looks up at Xiaojun - with his rumpled hair and baby-pink sweatshirt that Hendery is pretty sure was once his own, glasses sliding down his nose as he chews on the end of a pen - and something crests inside him, like a slow wave. It tangles in his chest and he can’t look away, suddenly possessed by the urge - by the urge -
Hendery shakes himself of the thought, packing his books into his bag with fingers that have started to tremble. He murmurs goodnight to Xiaojun as he leaves, catching Xiaojun’s warm, sleepy smile before he ducks out of the room.
It’s not until halfway home under the pale streetlights that Hendery lets himself turn the thought over in his mind: he’d wanted to kiss Xiaojun goodnight.
And it had been kind of hard to think of a reason not to.
When Hendery gets back to his dorm room a few days later, Ten is already there.
“How do you do that?” Hendery asks, dumping his backpack on the floor by his desk. “How did you get in? There’s no way you’d pass for a junior to get in here, the junior dorm.”
“Rude,” Ten says, wiggling to make himself more comfortable where he’s seated on Hendery’s bed, his back against the wall. “Is it because of my obvious sense of senior superiority, or my visible level of exhaustion?”
“Both!” Hendery tells him brightly. Ten chucks one of Hendery’s own pillows at him.
Hendery laughs as the pillow bounces off his chest, and he gathers it into his arms, hugging it. “Hey! You asked!”
“Doesn’t matter, anyway,” Ten says, easily brushing off the insult with a wave. “I’m charming, people just assume I’m allowed in wherever I want to be. Like a cat.”
Admittedly, he is pretty cat-like, and Hendery has seen Ten get all manner of things he shouldn’t be able to with the clever application of his charisma. Like getting free pastries at their favorite cafe, and beyond everyone’s disbelief, a steady boyfriend who is actually really good for him.
Not that he’d tell Ten that. The disbelief about Johnny had just been at the start, anyway. Now, it’s disgustingly clear to anyone in their presence how smitten they are for each other.
“What’s with the surprise visit, though?” Hendery finishes toeing his sneakers off by the door and tugs off his hoodie. It is entirely like Ten to show up unannounced, but usually he has a good reason.
Ten’s dark eyes are unreadable when he wants them to be; right now is one of those times. He pats at the empty spot on the mattress next to him. “Take a seat, baby. I just wanna talk.”
Hendery bounces a little when he flops onto the bed next to Ten, stretching until he hears his back crack. “Talk about what?”
“Saturday’s the big day, right? When you’re finally presenting Xiaojun’s powerpoint?” Ten’s head tilts as he looks down at Hendery.
“Yup,” Hendery says, trying to ignore the ball of nerves in his belly that tightens just at the thought. Performance anxiety is normal - he knows that. He’s majoring in drama. “It’s pretty much done, all that’s left is to actually… do it.”
Ten’s eyes are still far too keen. “Yeah? You’re still going to go through with it?”
“What do you mean, go through with it?” Hendery frowns. That coil of tension in his gut is only getting heavier and harder to ignore. “Presenting about Xiaojun has always been the plan.”
“Yeah, but -” Ten shrugs, planting his feet on the bed so that he can hug his knees to his chest and rest his chin on top of them. “I thought you would have figured it out by now.”
“Figured what out?” Hendery can feel the throb of his heartbeat in his own throat, tense under Ten’s scrutiny. He laughs, but it sounds hollow to his own ears. “You’re starting to sound like Kun.”
That, at least, breaks some of the tension when Ten rolls his eyes and sighs. “Ugh, don’t remind me. This intervention was partly his idea, anyway, after he felt like he didn’t get through your thick head at all last week.”
Hendery’s eyebrows rise. “This is an intervention?”
“Are you going to do anything besides ask obvious questions?” Ten scoffs, but then his expression softens. “We’re just worried. We want to make sure you know what you’re doing.”
“I thought I knew what I was doing,” Hendery swallows, trying to settle the riot of thoughts in his head. What did Kun and Ten think he needed an intervention about? “But - I didn’t think it was that complicated. I made a dumb powerpoint to help my friend get a date, because he’s awesome and doesn’t deserve to be stuck in the single life if he wants to find someone. I don’t - I don’t know why that’s suddenly become a big deal.”
“Aw, baby,” Ten scoots closer to throw an arm around Hendery’s shoulder, snuggling into his side like he used to do when they were roommates, the clingy bastard. Actually, Hendery kind of misses it. “I’m sure it’s not a dumb powerpoint. Everybody says you’ve been working really hard on it, we’re all excited to see it.”
Hendery doesn’t doubt that his powerpoint has been the subject of many conversations he hasn’t been around to hear. “Only Kun and Winwin have seen it, really - but yeah. I think it’s pretty great.”
It’s about Xiaojun, how can it be anything other than great?
“You let Winwin help you?” Ten quirks an eyebrow skeptically. “Hendery, he’s a Scorpio.”
Hendery laughs. “And what about Kun?”
“He likes to be helpful and mother hen, that doesn’t surprise me,” Ten flutters a hand dismissively. “Besides, you’ve seen him repack Yangyang’s suitcase on dance team trips; he can’t help himself sometimes. If Kun had any advice to give you then it’s probably good to follow.”
“If you say so,” Hendery exhales. He runs a hand through his hair, trying - and kind of failing - to remind himself that nervous is normal. Even when it’s partly nerves about the presentation, and partly nerves from his meddling friends being strange and squirrelly about said presentation. “I mean - I’ve been working on it for a few weeks. It’s as ready as it’s ever going to be.”
“Can I see it?” Ten asks, grinning. “Give your favorite former roommate an advance showing?”
Hendery has to roll his eyes at that. “You’re my only former roommate.”
Ten squeezes at his shoulders, still wrapped around him like a limpet. “Then I guess you gotta, huh?”
And, well. Ten may have a sly sense of humor, but his opinion can mostly be counted on when it matters. Maybe it’s not a terrible idea to get his thoughts before giving the presentation live.
Hendery makes a show of thinking about it, though. “Okay - why not? Let me grab my laptop.”
Ten clings to him when Hendery slumps back onto the bed, cracking open the lid to his laptop and booting it up. In the time that they haven’t been roommates - and Ten has been getting most of his skinship from Johnny - Hendery forgot how warm Ten runs. And also how bony his knees are.
“Do you want me to be nice, or do you want me to be honest?” Ten says, eyes bright and amused.
“About the presentation?” Hendery shakes his head, smiling wryly. “You can be honest - I can take it. As long as you’re criticizing me, and not Xiaojun himself.”
“I would never,” Ten lies, grinning all the while.
In the end, Hendery’s glad that Ten snuck into his dorm room and usurped his evening Netflix plans so that he could practice Xiaojun’s presentation. With Ten’s chin hooked over his shoulder as he goes over the slides, something loosens in Hendery’s chest. It’s probably a combination of Ten’s colorful commentary - true to his word, mostly compliments and witty asides, as well as reminding Hendery of good anecdotes to tell - and also that it’s just easy to talk about his best friend. It’s about Xiaojun; no one knows Xiaojun better than Hendery.
He has an entire powerpoint presentation to prove it.
“You’re going to be fine,” Ten tells him when they get to the end - the last slide is a compilation of Hendery’s favorite photos of Xiaojun, a specific mix of all the best ones, along with Xiaojun’s various social media handles. “He might not like you giving out his instagram and weibo, but this is already way better than I expected.”
“Hey, I’ve put a lot of work into this!” Hendery laughs, shoving Ten sideways onto the bed, into the pile of pillows. “Did you have so little faith in me, Ten-hyung? I know how to make a powerpoint! And put on a performance!”
“Yeah, but you’re you,” Ten smirks up at him, content to snuggle into Hendery’s pillows. “Seeing this as a performance might mean anything with you. I wouldn’t have been surprised if you decided to rap the entire thing.”
Hendery pretends to hesitate. “Do you think Xiaojun would like that?”
Ten lets out a bright laugh, kicking at Hendery’s thigh. “Oh, god, don’t. My abs are still sore from dance the other day.”
“That’s your fault. You shouldn’t have come over if you weren’t prepared to laugh, you know I’m your funniest friend,” Hendery quips.
“Unfortunately true,” Ten sighs. He keeps prodding at Hendery’s leg with his socked toes. “But that’s why you shouldn’t worry too much about this, yeah? It’s going to go fine. Better than fine. I have a feeling.”
“All the more reason to worry,” Hendery muses, grinning when he catches the expression on Ten’s face.
“Fuck you,” Ten kicks at him again, laughing, but Hendery just raises an eyebrow.
That sets them both off giggling, and Ten keeps kicking at him until Hendery is forced to retaliate by going for Ten’s sides.
Things pretty quickly devolve into a tickle fight from there.
“You really don’t have to be worried,” Ten says, panting, when they finally break apart and call a truce. He turns to look at Hendery from their new place on the floor, arms wrapped around himself to protect his sides. “Really. Everybody’s gonna like it.”
“But what if Xiaojun doesn’t like it?” Hendery swallows. “What if he hates it and hates me and- ”
Ten reaches out and flicks him in the forehead. “Did all eight of your brain cells form a committee to come up with that thought?”
“Ow,” Hendery pouts, covering his forehead before Ten can assault him again. “Maybe.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ten pokes him in the shoulder, for emphasis. His eyes glitter as his smile softens. “Seriously. No good will come of it. You’re born to perform, baby - and we’ll all be there to cheer you on.”
“Thanks,” Hendery says, warmth filling his chest. “Really. It does mean a lot.”
“To be honest, it’s not like you could stop us from showing up anyway,” Ten continues, his grin turning into a smirk. “I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks, since you first made Winwin snort soda out of his nose. Besides - Xiaojun could never hate you. You’re best friends, aren’t you?”
Hendery exhales a sigh. “Yeah. We are.” Which means the prospect of fucking this up somehow is all the more frightening. But Ten is right, as much as the nervous, jittery part of Hendery wants to convince himself otherwise: it’s hard to imagine anything coming between him and Xiaojun and their years of friendship.
Yeah. It’s going to work out just fine.
Ten pats at Hendery’s head, fussing with his hair until it’s even more of a mess. “You’re gonna be great. Xiaojun isn't gonna know what hit him.”
Ten leaves before it gets too late into the night, giving Hendery one more parting hug and a few more reassuring words. They may give each other endless shit, but Hendery is grateful for his friends - and having them present tomorrow will be good. Probably.
Hendery is willing to take any help and good vibes that he can get.
On Friday night, Hendery lays in bed for a long time, unable to find sleep. Tomorrow is the big day - the day he’s giving the presentation about Xiaojun.
For all that he’s prepared, and practiced, and gone over the slides time and time again, his stomach keeps churning and turning itself over in knots. Of course it’s normal to be nervous before a performance or presentation - Hendery knows this. It happens every time before he gets on stage or in front of a class, to some degree. It’s not even that unusual for him to lose a little sleep to nerves.
Hendery swipes open his phone, squinting at the harsh light. His phone background is still set to that photo Lucas took a few weeks ago - the one of Hendery and Xiaojun dancing, tipsy and mostly entwined with one another to avoid Yangyang’s chaotic dancing. It’s kind of grainy and a little dark, but Xiaojun has his fingers hooked in Hendery’s belt loops, his head thrown back as he laughs. Hendery himself has an arm slung around Xiaojun’s neck, eyes locked on his best friend.
It makes Hendery smile, every time he sees this picture. It just feels like a perfect representation of their friendship. It feels so right.
But right now… Hendery isn’t quite sure what he feels. A little bit nervous, certainly, but that doesn’t completely explain the ache of his heart under his ribs, or the coil of tension in his belly.
Looking at Xiaojun’s smiling face settles something inside him, at least a little bit. But the nerves don't seem to be going away anytime soon.
Hendery doesn’t have the energy to check his social media, even, staring at the slightly-blurry photo of himself and Xiaojun until it seems like it’s printed on the inside of his eyelids.
Somewhere in there, he finally manages to fall asleep.
Hendery shows up early to the bar, the day of the presentation. It’s mostly to get set up and make sure his laptop works with the projector and AV equipment, but honestly - it’s not like he was getting much done, sitting in his too-quiet dorm room and trying not to bite his nails to the quick from nerves. He hasn’t even been able to look at the presentation itself all day - it’s fine. It’s more than fine; it’s as good as it’s going to be and as good as it needs to be . He’s put plenty of work into it before tonight.
So he gets to the bar with plenty of time to set up his laptop and pick out a table for the rest of his friends, and then still has time to worry some more.
Performance stress is great.
Thankfully, it isn’t too long before the dance team crew appears - Kun first, because he’s always so punctual, and then Lucas and Winwin with Yangyang in tow. They’re quick to crowd themselves into the seats around Hendery’s table - they aren’t late by any means, but the bar is already starting to fill.
“Told you we’d be here to cheer you on,” Kun says, taking the seat next to him and slinging an arm around Hendery’s shoulders.
“Even if this is the weirdest idea you’ve had in a while,” Yangyang adds.
“Operation Powerpoint is awesome,” Lucas insists, already flipping open the bar menu and grinning widely. “Hendery has made a slide show in the name of finding Xiaojun love! Ultimate wingman move. Of course we wouldn’t miss it!”
“Thanks, I think,” Hendery says. Lucas, at least, he can trust to be completely earnest in his enthusiasm.
“I’d never miss an opportunity to see you perform,” Winwin gives him a grin that’s bordering on a smirk. “Whether or not you end up making a fool of yourself.”
“Good thing I’m more or less used to that, huh?” Hendery waggles his eyebrows, and the resulting laughter from his friends settles the nervous clench of his stomach, at least a little bit. “Any word from Ten or Xiaojun?”
“Don’t worry, they’re on their way,” Kun glances at his phone before pocketing it, giving Hendery a reassuring smile.
“Yeah, this is the most interesting thing that’s happened to any of us in weeks,” Yangyang pipes up, still tapping away at some game on his phone when he looks up to find Hendery’s gaze. “At least some of us, since not everyone is lucky enough to be treated to bingsu by our fearless leader- ”
“Hey now,” Kun starts, but Winwin doesn’t let him finish.
“That is blatant favoritism, Kun-ge,” he says, shaking his head in disappointment.
Kun tsks and leans forward to point an accusing finger in Yangyang and Winwin’s direction. “Now listen, just because I’m the oldest hyung in this friend group- ”
“Here we go - pulling the age card! And yet he complains about our jokes- ”
Arguments aside, the lively bickering of his friends makes Hendery smile - and keeps him distracted enough that it’s almost a surprise when Xiaojun drops into the empty seat on his other side.
“Hey,” Xiaojun says, sounding a little out of breath. He pulls off his hat and ruffles a hand through his hair, giving Hendery a smile that both fills him with warmth and the tell-tale tickle of butterflies in his stomach.
Huh. That’s - that’s never quite happened before, at least never so strong. Then again, Xiaojun is the guest of honor, being the subject of Hendery’s powerpoint.
“Hey yourself,” Hendery says, knocking their shoulders together. “I was almost afraid you weren’t going to show.”
Xiaojun’s eyebrows furrow, and the look he shoots in Hendery’s direction is pretty incredulous. “Of course I’m here; why would I miss it? You - you’re doing this for me, after all, and you’ve worked hard. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t come?”
Hendery laughs around the nerves that keep threatening to claw up his throat. “Not my best friend, that’s for sure.”
Xiaojun’s expression settles into an easy smile at that, and he nudges Hendery’s side with his elbow. “Is everybody here?”
“Everyone but Ten,” Hendery rolls his eyes. “These clowns showed up plenty early.”
“Look who’s talking, drama major,” Winwin calls. “Hey, Xiaojun!”
That gets the attention of the rest of the group pretty instantly.
“Xiaojun!” Lucas nearly yells from the other end of the table, dissolving into giggles when Kun and Yangyang glare at him. “You ready for this?!”
“I guess,” Xiaojun rubs at the back of his neck. “I know I shouldn’t be nervous - Hendery’s the one getting up to present, after all.”
“All the more reason to be nervous, if you ask me,” Yangyang quips, and their table is chattering away again in no time.
Hendery sits back as he lets the conversation wash over him. With Xiaojun’s presence at his side - warm, knees knocking together under the table as always - he’s somehow both settled and more nervous at the same time. Thankfully, his quietness can be attributed to nerves, even though Kun and Xiaojun keep shooting him questioning glances.
“I’m fine, I’m fine!” he says, swatting away Kun’s hand as he pretends to check Hendery’s forehead for fever. “I promise! Just nervous, that’s all. But that’s normal before getting in front of people! I’m still going to give Xiaojun’s presentation.”
“You had better,” Ten says, breezing in and claiming the last seat at the table across from Hendery. “After I rushed over here to make it on time.”
“You could make out with your boyfriend less,” Yangyang says. “You know, just a suggestion.”
“Jealousy isn’t becoming, baby Yangyang,” Ten sticks his tongue out at Yangyang, like he’s the youngest in the group. Hendery doesn’t understand their friendship. “I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to heckle Hendery from the audience.”
“Aw, I didn’t know you cared,” Hendery flutters his eyelashes. Ten rolls his eyes in response, but he’s grinning.
Actually - with Ten, their entire group is assembled, and Hendery doesn’t realize how much better it makes him feel until they’re all together, bickering like they usually do. It may be his turn on stage tonight, but they always do things as a team.
“You’re lucky that Hendery isn’t going first,” Winwin checks his phone for the time, clucking his tongue. “They’re due to start any minute now, right?”
“I think so,” Kun glances around to the posters on the walls advertising the event. “Do you know when you’re going, Hendery?”
“Kind of in the middle,” Hendery says, “so, you know - still plenty of time to stress about it!”
“Hendery,” Xiaojun gives him a pinched smile, but whatever else he was going to say is cut off by the MC tapping at the mic in the front of the room.
“Welcome to today’s event - ‘You Should Date dot P-P-T!’” The MC waves a clipboard to moderate applause and enthusiastic whistles. “Hope all you singles are ready to meet your match, as presented by their friends! We hope you like what you see! We’ve got a pretty good lineup tonight - and remember, keep your presentations to seven minutes or under. Let’s get started, shall we?”
There’s an excited murmur that ripples through the crowd as the first presenter - another college-aged guy - takes the microphone and gets up on the short stage next to the projector and screen.
Hendery swallows, feeling his own nerves clench in his stomach. It’s starting - they’re here, and it’s actually happening. It’s only a matter of time now before he gives his own presentation about Xiaojun, right here, to the whispering crowd of assembled college singles of Seoul.
And, actually, as the first slide loads up and the dude starts to speak - well.
Pretty quickly, Hendery comes to the realization that this is going to be fine. Because he’s got a bunch of performances under his belt - drama major - and Hendery flatters himself that he’s got a pretty good sense of comedic timing. (He won’t admit it to his friends, but making Winwin snort soda out of his nose at lunch had actually felt like a personal achievement.) Not to mention, Hendery’s spent a lot of time on Xiaojun’s powerpoint, both in crafting it and in practicing the presentation itself.
This guy? Clearly didn’t put in quite so much effort.
Hendery is pretty sure that the subject of this presentation is a cool dude and all, but by the time the last slide comes up a few minutes later and the room fills with the sound of applause, he can’t even remember the guy’s name. Not a very good start, honestly, if his friend is angling to find him a date.
Ten leans over the table, cupping a hand around his mouth. “You got this in the bag, if all of the other presentations are like that.” As always, Ten’s stage whisper isn’t really much of a whisper at all.
“It’s not a competition,” Kun reminds them, keeping his voice low and tone diplomatic.
“It’s totally a competition,” Winwin deadpans, which sets Lucas and Yangyang off giggling as the next presenter queues up their powerpoint.
Xiaojun shoots Hendery a smile, quirking an eyebrow - but the next presentation starts before Hendery can open his mouth and ask what his best friend is thinking.
The next few ‘Date My Friend’ presentations are a lot of the same - all fine, some pretty entertaining, even. Hendery finds himself comparing each slide to his own presentation, and then realizing that he’s included everything that the other presentations have and then some. For better or worse, Xiaojun’s powerpoint is going to be the most memorable and fun of the night.
At least, Hendery hopes so.
By the time Hendery’s turn is up, he’s feeling pretty good. Not chill, because it’s still a performance in front of other live humans, but he feels good. Pretty confident. He’s got this.
“Good luck,” Xiaojun says quietly, reaching out and squeezing Hendery’s wrist before he stands. The rest of their friends watch with excited whispers as Hendery moves away from their table.
“Fighting haeyadwae!” Lucas can’t resist calling, fist raised in the air. Hendery grins back at their table, flashing a V for victory as he heads to the front of the room.
The audience has really filled in since the presentations started half an hour ago - Hendery has to weave his way through packed tables to get to the makeshift stage and take the mic. There isn't much in the way of stage lights, so as Hendery grabs the mic and clicker from the MC and steps up to stand next to the screen, he has a pretty good view of his audience.
The bar is about as full as he expected - almost every seat is filled, students clustered around tables and sipping beers and on their phones in the break between presentations. There’s still a low murmur of voices filling the room - better than tense silence, in Hendery’s opinion - and he finds his friends in the crowd. Lucas gives him a thumbs up when he catches his eye, as does Kun - and then there’s Xiaojun, meeting his gaze with that small, pleased smile of his.
Hendery shoots him a grin in return. His stomach is still a little twisted up with nerves and he can feel his heartbeat kick into a higher gear - but this is going to be great.
He can’t wait to get started.
Another ripple of murmurs echoes around the bar, and Hendery glances over his shoulder to see that the first slide of his presentation is now on screen. It’s one of his favorite photos of Xiaojun, looking up at the camera through his eyelashes and smirking a little - caught just after Hendery had told him a stupid joke as they waited for Yangyang and Kun outside the dance studio last month.
Hendery waits until he has most of the attention of the room, unable to suppress his grin. He knows what he’s doing, now that he’s on stage.
“You!” He points into the crowd, making a wide sweep of the room with his outstretched finger, “Should date Xiaojun!”
Hendery flourishes a hand behind him, to the picture on screen. Of Xiaojun. “As you can see from this visual aide, the sheer irresistible power of Xiaojun’s eyebrows should be enough to seduce and convince you in a single slide. But seeing as he is woefully single and the eyebrows don’t seem to be cutting it alone, I’m here to tell you how amazing and date-able he is.”
There’s a smattering of laughter in the crowd, and Hendery clicks forward to the next slide. It’s one of the ones Winwin helped him put together, helpfully titled XIAOJUN FACTS. He’s particularly proud of the transitions on this one, if he’s being honest. Winwin helped him style the slide like a celebrity bio, like on one of those kpop websites or in the column of a magazine - and if the way Xiaojun himself is grinning, pink-cheeked, then the hard work has paid off. The rest of their friends look absolutely delighted.
“Xiaojun is this campus’s most eligible bachelor,” Hendery says, “which may sound like an exaggeration, but I’m here to prove it to you. As you can see - his combination of blood type A and Leo energy means he is kind and compassionate as well as loyal and generous. I can attest to that personally, as his best friend - and his 8/8 birthday is lucky! That’s a XIAOJUN FACT.”
Hendery wastes no time going over the rest of the Xiaojun Facts he’s assembled - he only has like six minutes to present, after all. “The most important things to know about him are all on this slide, so take a good look! He’s a music major and he’s really fucking talented, so don’t be surprised if you see him around campus with his guitar. Music is his passion, and he’s also on the dance team- ”
Predictably, there’s a moment where their table hollers from the audience, to a round of laughter.
“- and his passion for Lao Gan Ma is second to none. Did you know Xiaojun also writes his own songs? ROMANTIC. His voice is amazing. I’m lucky enough to hear it all the time and it takes my breath away every time.”
Hendery gives a dramatic sigh, pressing a hand to his chest - and grins at the audience reaction. He’s probably laying it on a little thick, but it’s true. He does love Xiaojun’s voice. Everybody better be taking this presentation seriously; comedy may be Hendery’s presentation style of choice, but these are just straight facts.
The next slide is the pie chart - and as Hendery has been hoping, it gets an immediate response. He grins at the crowd. “Here’s a non-scientific breakdown of all the benefits of dating Xiaojun! I gave a larger pie slice in this chart to always a gentleman and A+ skinship because between those two things, what more do you need in a relationship? Get you a man that does both. It’s Xiaojun.”
He goes on to explain the other labels on the chart too - but not all of them. Hopefully the other facts and pics he chose - amazing selfie game and Moms love him! - are more or less self-explanatory.
As the crowd laughs at the next slide transition - hah, Kun, he knew they were a good idea - Hendery risks another look at their table. Lucas looks fucking delighted - no surprise there - and he’s paying attention like he’s on the edge of his seat. Winwin, expression smug, leans over to whisper something to Kun, who rolls his eyes but can’t stop smiling. Ten, predictably, looks like a cat that has caught a canary - his eyes keep cutting over to Xiaojun.
Of course, Hendery himself can’t stop looking over at Xiaojun.
And this time, Xiaojun is looking right back at him.
The high flush hasn’t left Xiaojun’s cheeks - it’s a little hard to tell, in the slightly dimmed lights of the bar, but Hendery’s pretty sure he’s still blushing. It’s cute - as is the way that he’s peeking over his hands at Hendery and his presentation, his fingers knotted together in front of his mouth. But he doesn’t look - he doesn’t look that embarrassed, or angry, and Hendery can tell even from this far away that Xiaojun is probably smiling behind his hands.
All the more reason to keep going. He’s still got a few more slides to get through.
The next slide is Notable Skills and Qualities, and as each of the bulleted items animates onto the screen, the crowd keeps giggling. Hendery gestures dramatically with a flourish of the wrist. “Some of these I’ve already mentioned - it shouldn’t be a surprise that Xiaojun is good at karaoke, right? But here’s a few more details that make up the full picture.”
There’s a particularly loud reaction to Owns his own Netflix account (rather than mooching off his friends) so you know you can chill, which - well. Hendery can relate. It does make Xiaojun pretty date-able.
The slide after that is maybe his favorite, though. Hendery can’t help himself; he turns to the crowd and watches when he clicks to advance to the next slide.
It’s another perfect photo of Xiaojun, a full-body shot from the last dance team performance where they’d had these awesome street-fashion outfits, Xiaojun with his arms crossed and leaning back against the brick wall outside the bar where they’d performed.
Hendery had spent an entire evening meticulously labeling it, from Xiaojun’s hair - always perfect even when fluffy, he pulls off every color!! - to Xiaojun’s surprisingly built arms - perfect for holding you 💪 - and the coveted Nikes he wears when he dances - can confirm, will run across campus in the rain to deliver you soup when you’re sick.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Kun put his head in his hands, and Hendery’s smile only widens. This part is his absolute masterpiece. It’s not his fault if Kun doesn’t share the same sense of humor.
And it’s not like any of it is untrue, after all. Xiaojun does give the best hugs, even if that doesn’t really have to do with the strength of his biceps, exactly. Hendery mostly needed to make sure that the audience knew to appreciate what they were seeing.
“Xiaojun is the entire package,” he says, gesturing up and down the picture, “and when you date him, that’s what you’re getting. Rest assured, I love arm as much as anyone, so when I tell you that Xiaojun gives great hugs, I know what I’m talking about. He’s more than capable of sweeping you off your feet - literally.”
There’s another round of laughter from the crowd. Hendery swallows, trying to breathe evenly enough to calm the frantic beating of his heart. This is going exactly as planned - better than planned, actually. The audience is reacting exactly as he hoped they would. He knew his friends would enjoy it, but it’s validating to see the reactions he’s getting from people he doesn’t already know.
Is it going to work to get Xiaojun a date, though? Honestly, kind of hard to say. But Hendery’s on stage, he’s doing it, and all he can do is keep giving it his best.
And if it doesn’t work - well, he’s still on stage and he’s having fun. If only Hendery’s heart wasn’t trying to beat its way out of his chest. He should feel at least a little better by now, settled in the way that always happens when he’s on stage and acclimating to the rush of adrenaline.
He’s more than halfway through the presentation, at least. Only a little bit more to go.
“Observe his flawless sense of style - and it’s true, he really can pull off any color of hair, as you’ll see shortly in a few slides,” Hendery waggles his eyebrows. “And again, I can say from personal experience that he’s one of the most loyal and sweet friends that I have. Say the word that you’re in need, and Xiaojun will be there.”
For some reason, that more than anything else makes the tension in Hendery’s stomach knot in on itself. Why is he so tense? He’s telling the truth - Xiaojun is a great friend. The whole point of the presentation is that Xiaojun deserves for more people to know about how great he is, rather than just their group of friends.
Case in point - the next slide is the one of collected testimonials, quotes from their friends about Xiaojun that Hendery may or may not have taken out of context from various text conversations and group chats from the past few months.
Hendery’s pretty sure it’s the star ratings that are getting the most laughs. Probably because the quote from Ten is I’d kill a lesser man for those eyebrows, Xiaojun’s lucky he’s so nice and the star rating Lucas gave Xiaojun is eight and a half out of five - the half being for the time a few weeks ago Xiaojun beat him at arm wrestling, and then still bought bubble tea for Lucas afterwards.
God, Hendery loves his weird, amazing friends.
“You can see from this completely objective and completely random sampling of testimonials that Xiaojun is a great friend and would make an even better boyfriend! He has a high EQ and always knows exactly what to say when you’re down, or to get everyone to agree.”
Hendery waves to the text on the slide. “He also comes with a built-in friend group of amazing dancers that can be your friends as well! Don’t worry, I’m sure Xiaojun would protect you from us when he needs to - but who wouldn’t want to be friends with such a handsome group of guys?”
There’s a wolf whistle from the audience, followed by a round of laughter. Hendery grins. He’s pretty sure it came from Winwin.
And then - this is it.
Hendery clicks over to the second-to-last slide, the one he most carefully crafted and filled with all of his favorite pictures of Xiaojun: hanging out in the music department and practicing guitar while Hendery worked on homework. Xiaojun with Hendery and Yangyang clinging to his shoulders and making ridiculous faces after dance practice. Xiaojun’s perfect selfies - especially the one where his hair looks so rumpled and soft and he’s wearing his glasses, taken in the soft early morning light of the library.
Hendery swallows against the pressure rising up in his chest. He can feel himself smiling at just the sight of these pictures - that’s why he’d chosen these, after all. He remembers each and every one.
And he’s not getting choked up, not exactly. It’s just - god, Xiaojun is his favorite person. Hendery can’t help but smile around Xiaojun. If he hasn’t managed to convince anyone that Xiaojun is the most desirable and date-able human after this, it’s their loss.
“Xiaojun isn’t perfect,” Hendery says. “Nobody is, probably. But he’s the best friend I’ve ever had. Maybe from this presentation - and these pictures - you can see why. It’s not just that he’s got the best eyebrows in Seoul or knows how to harmonize without trying, or even that he’d walk you home in the middle of the night. Xiaojun is sweet, and kind, and funny, and loyal - all the things you would want in a best friend or a boyfriend.”
Hendery looks out over the crowd, unable to keep the words from spilling out of him. “And that’s the ideal relationship, right? Feeling like the person you’re dating is also your best friend, the number one person you would ever want to spend time with. Honestly - it’s true, even if it’s sentimental. Xiaojun is the best. There’s no one else I -”
Hendery’s voice dies in his throat as his brain grinds to a halt.
The room seems to go quiet as Hendery’s words hang in the air, and his mind reels. He cut himself off, even though it felt so natural to say. So right.
Xiaojun is his best friend, and there’s no one else Hendery would rather date.
Hendery - Hendery likes everything about Xiaojun. He’s made an entire powerpoint presentation, to talk through here on stage, that shows the ways in which Xiaojun is amazing in his eyes. The weight of it crashes through Hendery’s chest, his throat tightening with the sudden, blinding force of his feelings.
If Xiaojun finds someone to date because of this presentation, someone else gets to be Xiaojun’s - Xiaojun’s best friend that he is also dating.
Hendery doesn’t want Xiaojun to find a date. Hendery wants to keep Xiaojun all to himself. He wants all of Xiaojun’s sleepy smiles first thing as they walk to campus, the existential conversations lying on the floor after dance practice, the study sessions spent quietly side-by-side. As best friends - as best friends who maybe also kiss as well as share beds and video chat at all hours and have each other’s coffee orders memorized.
And when he puts it all out in a line like that, it doesn’t feel like much of a stretch for best friend to become boyfriend.
Hendery wants to date Xiaojun himself.
“...There’s no one else I’d rather date,” Hendery finally says. It feels as right to say it out loud as it had felt reverberating in his head.
Oh, god. No wonder Kun and Ten - and Lucas and Yangyang - were so weird about this presentation. Hendery feels his face heat; his feelings must have been visible from space.
But there’s really nothing for it now, huh? Hendery’s at least a little glad that he’s finally figured it out, even if he is in front of a crowd and having this revelation real-time. And Xiaojun.
Xiaojun. Hendery’s eyes find him in the audience, his heart tripping over itself in his chest. Xiaojun has lowered his hands away from his mouth, eyes wide and mouth gently parted in the wake of Hendery’s announcement. He looks - well, he looks as beautiful as he always does, though slightly in shock.
But he’s not frowning, and he hasn’t bolted from the room in sheer embarrassment. Maybe - maybe Hendery has a chance at turning this around. He glances back at his presentation; it’s entirely the wrong material for what Hendery needs, if he’s going to show Xiaojun that he’s serious about his newly-discovered feelings.
Thankfully, if there’s anything Hendery’s good at, it’s improvisation.
“Xiaojun, I -” Hendery licks his lips, keeping his gaze fixed on Xiaojun across the room. “I never intended for this to be some grand gesture. I really thought I was being a good best friend by helping you find someone. But it turns out I don’t want you to date just anyone - I want you to date me.”
That’s what finally gets the audience gasping. From his place at their table, Ten pumps his fist in a silent cheer. Hendery tries to tune out the audience - the only one he’s talking to now is Xiaojun.
“There’s nothing in this presentation about why you should choose me,” Hendery continues, smiling despite the warmth in his cheeks and the way his ears must be totally flushed pink by now. “Mostly, it’s pretty clear that I think you’re the best. You’re - Xiaojun, you’re amazing. And I think we could be amazing together, too. Don’t you think - don’t you think we could give it a try?”
Admittedly, Hendery doesn’t really know what he’s doing. But he extends a hand in Xiaojun’s direction anyway, hoping that it isn’t too obvious that he’s on the verge of trembling. Partly from nerves, partly from excitement, partly from the sheer rush of emotions swirling in his chest.
For a long moment the only noise is Hendery’s blood rushing in his ears - and then there’s the scrape of wood on wood as Xiaojun pushes his chair away from the table. He stands in one motion, eyes locked on Hendery’s.
Xiaojun’s mouth is pressed into a thin line, but Hendery recognizes it as the expression he makes when he’s trying not to smile at Hendery’s antics. His face is even more flushed now.
It’s still a really cute look on him.
Hendery can’t breathe as Xiaojun deftly weaves through the bar, his heart in his throat. He has no idea what he’s going to say when Xiaojun reaches him, and it’s only a matter of seconds until -
Xiaojun grabs his hand, and pulls.
Hendery barely has time to fumble the mic in the MC’s direction as Xiaojun tugs him through the crowd and the maze of packed tables, past their friends - all cheering, genuine as well as intentionally a little obnoxious - and out of the bar, into the cool night air. Xiaojun doesn’t look back, and he shows no sign of stopping as he pulls Hendery along, their hands clasped.
“Xiaojun,” Hendery says, breathless. Something in his voice makes Xiaojun’s steps falter. “Xiaojun!”
They finally slow when they reach a narrow street they can turn down, for some privacy away from the main road. Xiaojun doesn’t let go of Hendery’s hand as he turns to look at him, eyes bright even in the glow of the street lamps and neon signs.
“Xiaojun,” Hendery gives him an easy smile, even though his heart is pounding like a drum in his chest. “Did we have to walk so far? I- ”
“Did you mean it?” Xiaojun says. His throat bobs as he swallows. “Back there - did you mean it? You want to - to date me?”
Hendery licks his lips, wishing he could comb his bangs away from his face - but Xiaojun’s hand is still clasped in his, palm to sweaty palm.
“Of course I meant it,” he says softly, “Every word.”
Xiaojun’s reaction is instant: a smile breaks out on his face like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. He ducks his head, letting his hair fall into his face as he covers his mouth with his other hand.
And with the hand clasped in Hendery’s - Xiaojun lets go for a brief moment, only to push their palms together and lace their fingers, giving Hendery’s hand a squeeze.
He may as well be holding Hendery’s heart. He is kind of holding Hendery’s heart - and it feels like it’s about to burst. But, like, in a good way. The best way.
The spilling-over-with-love-for-your-best-friend way.
“Hendery,” Xiaojun finally says, looking up through his fringe. His cheeks are still dimpled with his smile, even as he tries to hide it. “Did you have to go and figure out your feelings live, in front of an audience? Haven’t you been working on that powerpoint for weeks?”
“What can I say?” Hendery shrugs, grinning. “I’m a little dramatic by nature.”
Xiaojun laughs, a bright, breathless thing in the night air between them. Hendery can feel the warmth of him, from where their palms are connected and from the blush still coloring Xiaojun’s cheeks. When he squeezes Xiaojun’s hand, Xiaojun squeezes back.
He’s not going to get tired of that anytime soon.
“But you really - you really want to try dating me?” Hendery lifts a hand, gently tilts Xiaojun’s face up so their eyes can meet. He lets his thumb linger there, against Xiaojun’s chin. “I, uh - I was too busy rambling about you. I didn’t really get to argue my own case.”
“No need,” Xiaojun murmurs, eyes glittering with amusement. His sneakers scuff on the pavement as he takes a shuffling step closer, into Hendery’s space. “You’re my best friend. I know you, Hendery.”
And then his gaze flits down to Hendery’s lips, and Hendery doesn’t have any time to process it before Xiaojun leans closer and carefully, gently, fits their mouths together.
Oh. Yes. This is - there aren’t words for how easy and right this feels.
Xiaojun’s lips are as plush as they look against Hendery’s own, a delicate press that grows firmer when Hendery makes a soft noise in his throat. He cups Xiaojun’s jaw, keeps him close as they kiss, close enough that their chests touch and their feet knock together. Xiaojun tangles a hand in the hair at Hendery’s nape; Hendery’s a few centimeters taller, but the way Xiaojun guides them together is perfect.
He’s kissing Xiaojun - pretty much everything about this moment is perfect.
“Wow,” Hendery says, breathless when they separate for air. Xiaojun laughs again, burying his flushed face in Hendery’s shoulder. “Xiaojun, I’m - I’m crazy about you.”
Xiaojun pulls back far enough that he can quirk an eyebrow. “And not just because you get to kiss me now?”
Hendery’s stomach does some kind of advanced acrobatic maneuver at that. He’s allowed to kiss Xiaojun. “I think I was crazy about you before I even thought about kissing you, but - but especially now that I can, yeah.”
“Hendery,” Xiaojun rolls his eyes - he’s delightfully quick to blush. “You were that oblivious about your own feelings? And that I might like you in return?”
“Completely and entirely - even when everyone tried to beat some sense into me with pointed questions. But apparently oblivious is at least a little charming?” Hendery grins, and Xiaojun ducks his head to giggle again. God he’s so cute.
“It is,” Xiaojun replies, smiling up at him through his lashes. “But I have higher expectations of you as a boyfriend, compared to just a best friend.”
Boyfriend. Hendery really likes the sound of boyfriend.
“I think I can work with that,” he says, and leans down to kiss Xiaojun again.
Xiaojun sighs when they pull apart, untangling his hand from Hendery’s hair. “We should probably get back to the bar - everyone will be wondering where we went.”
“I did just leave my laptop up there when you dragged me away,” Hendery laughs, reluctantly turning so that they can start walking back side-by-side. It’s not quite as good as kissing, but holding hands with Xiaojun! What a concept. Amazing. This is going to upgrade their morning walks to campus by so much.
“No regrets,” Xiaojun says, shooting him a warm smile, and Hendery can’t stop himself from skipping closer to kiss him on the cheek. Because he can.
On the other hand, if they have to slow down so Hendery can kiss Xiaojun every time he wants to, they better start walking to campus even earlier.
“Xiaojun,” Hendery says, swinging their linked hands a little as they start to walk again. There’s too much happiness bubbling up inside of him to even try keeping it in. “Xiaojun, this is gonna be great. We’re gonna be so great together.”
In the muted light from the street lamps above them, Xiaojun’s smile is still blinding. Hendery gently tugs at their joined hands, and Xiaojun tugs back.