PART I. DOMINO
Han Jisung is annoying.
The way he speaks is annoying. The way he walks is annoying. The way he stuffs more food into his mouth when it's already full so his cheeks inflate to the size of a hot air balloon is annoying. He's loud and he's dramatic and he says a lot of stupid shit and then forgets he ever said the stupid shit within the hour. And he's annoying.
He's also Hyunjin's friend. Well, sort of. Not really. He doesn't really know what Han Jisung is to him.
He's just always sort of… been there. In elementary school when they were placed side-by-side in the seating plan because their names were right next to each other on the register - a grave mistake, their teachers soon found out - and at home, in the house right across the street. Hyunjin was there when Jisung fell off his brand new bike and scraped his knee really badly, crying as Minho carefully cleaned the blood away and smoothed out a plaster over the injury. And Jisung was there when a high schooler threatened to beat up Hyunjin after he'd rejected the guy's younger sister and she had ran off to him to cry about it. (He was also the one who yelled every profanity in a twelve-year-old's lexicon right back at the high schooler when Hyunjin froze up in fear upon the confrontation.) They're friends, except they're not because they don't like each other, except they sort of are because they've been in each other's pocket since pretty much the day they met.
Because Han Jisung is an annoying piece of shit, but technically he's Hyunjin's annoying piece of shit and that's just how the cookie fucking crumbles.
So when Hyunjin's relationship with Seungmin falls apart, he kind of latches onto Jisung in his own weird way. He seeks him out just to argue with him because he knows Jisung will take the bait and argue back. He walks to school with him, even though it's just the two of them now and that's like asking for an explosion every morning without Seungmin there to reel them in. He bothers him in the summer holidays, standing under Jisung's bedroom window and aiming the spray of his water gun in the general direction of his bed where he figures Jisung is probably hunched over, watching an anime.
(The aim turns out to be dead on. Within seconds, Jisung squawks like a dying bird and rushes to the window to yell at whoever just soaked the back of his neck. When Hyunjin laughs and just squirts more water into his face, he throws the last bit of instant ramen he was eating down onto Hyunjin's hair.)
Bickering with Jisung is easy, a second instinct for him. He's been doing it ever since he was four years old after all. He likes the familiarity of it, the knowledge that all he has to do is inflect his words a certain way and Jisung's temper will flare up, spitting out retorts like bullets from a rifle. He's lost possibly the most important person in his life due to his own stupidity, someone who he's known for almost as long as he's known Jisung and has loved much more deeply, and right now arguing with Jisung is just about the only thing that's still normal for him. So he seeks Jisung out if only so he can feel like things are the way they’ve always been.
Time chugs forward, carrying Hyunjin along with it. Bit by bit, he leaves the pain from the breakup in the past. It takes him a little longer to leave his feelings for Seungmin behind, but eventually he abandons them too. He misses Seungmin, yes, but that's because Seungmin was his best friend first. He still is when Hyunjin thinks about it – that is, if it's possible to still be best friends with someone he can no longer be in the same room as.
By the time university rolls around and Chan finally puts his foot down, Hyunjin is at a point in his life where he realises that maybe Seungmin did do the right thing after all. Sure, their relationship was one of the happiest parts of his life, but he took it for granted. Seungmin was right to walk away when he did.
Accepting this doesn't mean they're any closer to being in the same room as each other though – which is sort of a problem since they’ve been allocated to the same dorm in their student accommodation – but now it's more about feeling awkward and less about feeling angry. The change might not seem like much of an improvement, but honestly Hyunjin will take anything at this point.
And apparently so will the rest of their friends. The word goes out: every other week, all eight of them are to meet up for dinner. Now that everyone except Jeongin is in Seoul for uni, they can see each other more often and Chan is adamant they will. Both Hyunjin and Seungmin will just have to suck it up and get over it. Because Chan said so and at the end of the day, that's enough.
He doesn't mention it to anyone, but he's happy that Chan stepped in. Even if he and Seungmin aren't on speaking terms anymore, it's nice to see him for more than a few awkward moments in their shared kitchen. To know he's healthy, to hear about his day, to learn about the friends he's making. And maybe – hopefully – Seungmin feels the same way.
In the meantime, Hyunjin still latches onto Jisung, only not as intensely anymore.
He doesn't know whether Jisung has noticed the difference (or whether he even noticed it happening in the first place. Jisung can be dense as fuck sometimes. A bomb could set off in front of his face and he probably won't even realise until he gets home and sees that his ears are bleeding.) Part of the reason it’s not as intense is because Hyunjin is no longer scrambling to find every last scrap of normality in his life. The other reason is because he’s just too damn busy settling into all of the wonders of university life to hang around Jisung so much. It takes up much more of his free time than he expects. It comes to the point where he even ends up saving everyone's timetables to his Google calendar so he can balance it all properly.
"Why would you need my timetable, you fucking creep?" Jisung asks right after he's texted Hyunjin the PDF link for it.
"Because," Hyunjin says and leaves it at that. He doesn't need to explain his actions to Han Jisung of all people.
But yeah, it still happens. The whole latching on shtick, that is. Not as often as it did in the summer, but enough for it to be A Thing. One that no one comments on, granted, but still A Thing. Hyunjin should probably feel weird about it since it is weird in many ways, but he doesn't.
It's just… It's just that Jisung has always been there. No matter how annoying he was, no matter how much Hyunjin fought with him, Jisung stayed. He is always going to stay. There is nothing Hyunjin can do that will ever chase him off and the thought comforts him more than he likes to admit. He can tell Jisung to fuck off and then wake up the next day to Jisung eating Hyunjin's cereal in his kitchen. And it works the other way around too. It doesn't matter how many times Jisung calls him dickface or makes jabs at how pretty he is, all Hyunjin ever needs to do is return the retort.
As strange as it sounds, Hyunjin needs that.
And it turns out that this need, this desire to reassure himself that Jisung has no intention of going anywhere, is the first domino to topple over in a long line of them.
When he thinks about it (and believe him, if there's anything Hyunjin can do, it's think about things), there are several conversations that lead up to The Deal. Each one is its own little domino piece, tipping into the next and then continuing the chain reaction.
The first domino is this:
"Hey," Bomin says, pushing his phone across their kitchen table to Hyunjin. It's unlocked to a selca that someone has uploaded onto Instagram: a guy with kind eyes and pretty lips, his head cocked to one side as he smiles gently into the camera. "What do you think of him?"
Hyunjin leans over to look, careful not to let any of the sauce from the noodles in his mouth drop onto the screen. He reads out, "Kim Jibeom. What about him?"
"Do you think he's cute?"
"Yeah, I guess." He shrugs. He turns back to his noodles, snapping his chopsticks around the bowl to collect another tangle of them. "Why, are you going on a date with him?"
Bomin laughs. "No, idiot. I'm asking if you want to go on a date with him."
That has Hyunjin freeze in place, the huge ball of noodles halfway into his mouth. His fingers tighten around the metal handles of his chopsticks. Where the hell did that come from?
"Me?" he asks, the word muffled by the carbs at his lips. When Bomin nods, he splutters out, "What the fuck? Why me?"
It's a testament to their years of friendship that Bomin still somehow manages to understand him even when Hyunjin's mouth is bursting with food. He might not be one of Hyunjin's best friends and part of his inner circle, but he's still a good friend and great company to have. Honestly, the fact that he has also been assigned to live in Flat 5b has saved Hyunjin's life. At least there’s someone here to offset the tension between Hyunjin and Seungmin.
"You've been single for a while now," Bomin says with a shrug. "I figured why not."
Hyunjin trails off. He has no solid reason for wanting to say no, other than the fact that he just wants to say no. Sure, he has been single for months now and yes, he's moved on from Seungmin, but that doesn't mean he's in a rush to date again. Can't he just sit here and eat his noodles instead?
"You don't need to," Bomin says, clearly catching onto how uncomfortable he feels. "It was just a suggestion, that's all. I figured that – you know, with everything that happened with you and Seungmin, it would be a good signal to send, you know?"
That doesn't clear up any of his confusion. He throws over a quizzical look. "A good signal?"
"Yeah, ‘cause…" Bomin chews his lip, seemingly conflicted, before he sighs and retrieves his phone. As he locks it, he says, "Look. Don't, like, make a big deal out of it or anything, but I was talking to Sanha last week and he mentioned that a couple of people in one of the modules he shares with Seungmin have asked Seungmin out. But that he's said no to all of them."
It'd be a lie to say the revelation doesn't make Hyunjin's discomfort even worse, but he figures that's kind of a natural reaction to hearing that his ex-boyfriend of two years and best friend of fifteen is being asked out by other people. It's, like, basic biology. Something like that anyway. Either way, it's not weird. It's only weird if he makes it weird and he doesn't want to so he won't. Honest, he won't.
"I don't see what that has to do with me though."
"Nothing! Except… you know, I asked Seungmin about it the other day and he said that he's not… exactly comfortable bringing people back to the flat since both of you live here. Says he doesn't wanna make things awkward. So I figured if you did it first, he'd know it's not awkward. Does that make sense?"
"Oh," Hyunjin says.
He's never thought about it that way. Now that he is, he can see why Seungmin would be feeling weird about the ordeal. The thought is somewhat upsetting. Yeah, it's a little strange to think of Seungmin dating other people, but Hyunjin doesn't want him to feel like he can't. He doesn't want him to have to tiptoe around Hyunjin just because Hyunjin was the one who begged him to stay together.
He doesn't feel that way about Seungmin anymore. He's moved on. And if Seungmin wants to be happy with other people, he doesn't want to get in the way of that. So maybe Bomin does have a point in that sense. If Hyunjin starts dating first, it would be like a green light for Seungmin to go ahead and do what he wants. Problem solved.
The thing is Hyunjin still doesn't want to go on a date with someone he doesn't know – or on a date at all to be frank. He just doesn't feel ready to put himself back out there, even if it's just for an afternoon. So all he does is nod to show he's understood what Bomin has revealed and then twirls another ball of noodles around his chopsticks.
The second domino is Lee Felix and his damn eggs. Or, well, egg really.
It's Jisung storming into Studio Five on a day when Hyunjin and Felix have claimed it as theirs to practice moves inside for their Intro Hip Hop class. He comes in at a time when Felix has slipped out to grab them both some snacks from the vending machine which means that it's pretty easy for Hyunjin and Jisung to dissolve into their usual bickering with no one there to keep them in check. Jisung throws his taunts and Hyunjin throws some back and then when Jisung declares that he's here on a grand mission to retrieve the eggs Felix has been carrying around since their flatmate is homesick and wants to make pancakes, Hyunjin picks one out from Felix's duffle bag and holds it between his thumb and pointer finger.
He turns to look Jisung dead in the eye. "This what you’re looking for?”
Jisung bristles. “What, you need me to confirm it? Haven’t you ever seen an egg before? Go on, pass it over.”
He takes a step forward. Knowing it'll annoy him, Hyunjin takes a step back. He then lets a smirk slip into his voice. "No. I think I'll hold onto it."
Irritation flashes across Jisung's eyes. The sight is oddly exciting, exhilarating almost. He can feel amusement tug at the corners of his mouth. God, Jisung is so predictable. So easy to rile up. Hyunjin doesn't even need to try. He watches as Jisung takes another step forward, demanding for the egg and then growing even more visibly annoyed when Hyunjin refuses yet again.
He takes another step. And another.
Until suddenly, he's launching himself across the room to lunge for Hyunjin.
“I said give me the egg, you fucking dick,” Jisung hisses.
He tries to snatch it out of Hyunjin's grasp. He twists away, refusing to let him have it so easily.
It's stupid. This entire thing is all so fucking stupid because it's just an egg at the end of the day and it's not like Hyunjin needs it. But Jisung does and that's a good enough reason to be difficult about it.
So when Jisung manages to somehow send them both crumpling to the ground, Hyunjin against the floor and Jisung on top of him, he lifts his arms up over his head to get the egg out of reach. And when Jisung recovers enough to scramble for his hands again, Hyunjin flexes his palms just hard enough for it to count.
There's an ominous crack.
A moment later, liquid spills over their joined hands. Jisung's jaw falls open in shock. Hyunjin looks up at him, victory in the set of his mouth.
"You sick, sick bastard,” Jisung breathes.
Hyunjin shrugs, his eyes bright with glee. "Oops."
"I'm going to kill you."
How Jisung plans to do that, he has no idea. But when he pins both of Hyunjin's hands to the ground above his head, he reacts instinctively, trying to buck him off with the sheer force of his hips. When it doesn't work, his movements get more desperate. But Jisung being Jisung just refuses to budge, clings onto him with the meat of his thighs like he's astride a mechanical bull ride at a fair. Hyunjin grunts from the effort of trying to knock him loose.
Motherfucking Han Jisung. Since when did he turn into a damn leech that won't just fuck off? Goddamn it, how much strength can one scrawny teenager have in his legs?
And that's when Felix walks into the studio and screams.
“Guys, what the fuck,” he says weakly, lowering his hand from where it has been pressed against his mouth. Hyunjin looks over at him guiltily, his hands still sticky with the evidence of what he's done. “This is – I just… this is a dance studio. People dance in here. You can’t just – what the fuck.”
Okay then. So apparently Felix isn't mad about the fact that Hyunjin has broken one of his eggs in a scuffle with Jisung. He's just… freaked out about something else. Whatever that is.
He exchanges a baffled look with Jisung. Maybe no one has ever fought over an egg in a dance studio before, but that doesn't mean Felix has to scream about it. And reprimand them for getting carried away like they've committed an act against God. To be honest, this is a standard affair for Hyunjin and Jisung. The reaction is a little much, isn't it?
According to Felix, it's not enough apparently. He stares at the two of them in horror for a few more seconds before he beats a hasty retreat. The door slams shut behind him. The two of them are once again left alone.
Jisung turns back to Hyunjin, confusion in the set of his brows, but Hyunjin can't offer any clarification. He has no idea what that outburst was about either. What he does know, however, is that Jisung is distracted and in his distraction, the grip in his thighs has slackened. With one last twist of his hips, he knocks him off and then shoves away the leg that is still slung over his torso afterwards. Jisung lightly aims a kick at him in reply.
"I guess you’re just going to have to buy the eggs now,” Hyunjin says, pretending to be rueful about it. “Oops.”
In retaliation, Jisung wipes his hands clean in Hyunjin's hair.
Domino three is a text that comes at two in the morning from Changbin. When it comes to their friends, Changbin is notoriously one of the worst texters in the group. He barely even glances at his phone most of the time and the best way to get hold of him is to bypass the written word and go straight to a call.
The text alone would be weird enough. What it says is even weirder.
> Changbin-hyung 🐷🐰
you know hyung will always be here for you right
Hyunjin squints at his phone in confusion. Is Changbin drunk or something? This has literally nothing to do with their last conversation whatsoever. Not the meme that Hyunjin sent him three days ago (and was left read on, RIP him) or the conversation they had this morning about how mean one of Hyunjin's lecturers is.
He shrugs it off, thinking it's better to humour him.
> Changbin-hyung 🐷🐰
anything you ever wanna tell me
even if it's difficult or weird for you to say
i'm always here to listen
i appreciate u telling me that hyung, it's nice to know u have my back ^-^
i don't think i have anything to tell u tho right now lmao
> Changbin-hyung 🐷🐰
tell me when you're ready
just know i'm happy for you and i trust your judgement
make sure to be careful tho okay?
Hyunjin stares at the screen in even more confusion. What on earth is Changbin even talking about right now? Why would he be happy for Hyunjin? Well, generally speaking, he supposes that he would be, but Hyunjin hasn't done anything specific to warrant that declaration now. And what has he judged for Changbin to trust whatever he's concluded?
He has no idea what is going on. He's baffled. Mind-boggled. Unsure. He's however many words there are to describe this feeling.
careful abt what tho lol
When Changbin doesn't answer for a full ten minutes, he tries again.
are you there???
Another ten minutes pass. Still no reply.
okay i guess not
i suppose this is goodnight then????
Changbin never texts him back with a response, not even to say goodnight. In the end, Hyunjin falls asleep with his phone on his chest. When he wakes up in the morning, the only text he's received is one from Felix asking if he's going to the seminar they have this morning. He shakes off the conversation from last night, chalking it up to Changbin being tipsy and in his feels.
It's only in retrospect that Hyunjin figures out what really happened.
Then there's domino four.
This one comes in the form of none other than Kim Seungmin himself. It tips over when he walks into one of the lifts at uni one day to find Jisung and Hyunjin squabbling. This time, it's not anything as aggressive as wrestling on the floor of a dance studio. Instead, Jisung has slammed his sweaty hands on either side of Hyunjin's face, making kissy faces and baby noises as he invades Hyunjin’s personal space. Hyunjin tries to escape his grip, revolted, but damn it, for someone who has never seen the inside of a gym, Jisung can be fucking strong when he puts his back into it.
"Mwah!" he exclaims, his lips planting onto Hyunjin's chin in a slobbery kiss.
"What on earth are you two doing?" Seungmin interrupts.
The intrusion has Jisung jump with a squeak and release Hyunjin from his death grip, spinning around to face Seungmin with an answer. Hyunjin pays them no mind, too busy trying to rub the ache out of his cheeks. He does, however, notice it when Jisung chirps that he'll be heading off now.
Before Jisung can so much as twitch, Hyunjin tethers him to the spot with a hand on his wrist. Jisung isn't going anywhere right now. Hyunjin has seen his timetable. He knows that Jisung has a tutorial on the same floor as him at this time.
He also knows that the only reason he'll ever subject himself to walking up several flights of stairs is to escape the awkwardness of being the only buffer between Hyunjin and Seungmin. And yeah, Hyunjin can think of a dozen other people he'd prefer to be in his place instead, but none of them are here. Jisung is and he'll be damned if Jisung leaves him alone to ride the rest of the journey up with Seungmin. He might've moved on, but they haven't gotten to that stage yet. So he keeps Jisung by his side like a shield, his fingers wrapped around his wrist, and studiously avoids looking in Seungmin's direction.
Clearly feeling the tension, Jisung starts to babble a lot of nonsense. Hyunjin can't fight back his snickers at this. Jesus. He might be awkward, but Jisung is even more painfully so.
He turns to glare at Hyunjin, evidently taking offence to this. "Listen, you little - "
A ding sounds as they reach their floor and the lift doors start to ease open. Hyunjin interrupts whatever witty remark is halfway out of Jisung's mouth and slides his hand down into Jisung's.
"Oh, wow!" he exclaims, trying not to wince as he does. He sounds like an idiot. He couldn't be inepter even if he tried, but it's too late now. "It's our floor!"
Not even waiting for the doors to open up fully, he charges forward to escape. He drags Jisung along in his wake who can do nothing other than stumble after him and struggle to keep up with Hyunjin's brutal pace. When they come to a stop outside of Jisung's class, Jisung cusses him out for forcing him to suffer through that. Hyunjin honestly couldn’t care less. He never thought he'd say it, but Jisung is the lesser of two evils right now.
Still, when Jisung calls him out for it, he can't help but feel embarrassed.
"Shut up and go to your lesson," he barks and then turns on his heel to hurry to his.
Jisung calls after him, as obnoxious as ever and always determined to have the last word. "Thanks for walking me to class, babe," he says, no trace of his irritation in his sugar-sweet tone. "I really appreciate it!"
Hyunjin doesn't even bother to turn around when he flips him off.
All of these dominoes. All of these little white pieces. There are probably more scattered throughout the first few weeks of their first semester, ones that escaped Hyunjin's notice. Furtive looks tossed his and Jisung's way, double meanings in their conversations with their friends, talks the others have had amongst themselves. He's sure there are – there must be if they all come to the same conclusion.
In the end, it doesn't matter. It all leads to the same place either way.
That is, to the eight of them crowded around the table in Chan's house, their plates piled high with salty pasta. To Chan staring down at Hyunjin and Jisung with his Stern Hyung Look and saying that the jig is up, that everyone here knows that the two of them are dating. To Jisung's immediate anger at the accusation and then -
And then to Seungmin looking over at them and saying, "I saw the two of you kissing in the lift the other day."
I saw the two of you kissing in the lift the other day.
Jisung's mouth falls open and he fumbles for words, clearly taken aback by the declaration. But Hyunjin's mind has never been clearer. It races through all of the possibilities that have suddenly opened up to him, connecting the dots that made no sense to him before. His conversation with Bomin, Changbin's texts, Seungmin's quiet conviction.
This could work. If they play their cards right, this could really work.
He's already grown closer to Jisung over the past six months. Sure, it hasn't been romantically in the slightest and he spent most of that time pissing the guy off – but if someone was paying attention, they might've picked up on the fact that there’s A Thing. Maybe they already did. Maybe that's why they don't find it so inconceivable that Hyunjin and Jisung might be dating.
He didn't want to go on a date with some random guy like Bomin suggested just to "send a signal", but Jisung isn't a random guy. He's… whatever the fuck he is to Hyunjin. Hyunjin doesn't even need to date him for real. He just needs to make people think he is.
"Okay, fine," he says. "You’ve caught us. We’re dating.”
At that, Jisung's eyes flash over in his direction, the rage in them now zeroed in on him. Hyunjin isn't too bothered by it; Jisung is confused and when Jisung is confused, that means Jisung is angry. He has long been familiar with Jisung's anger, was the number one recipient of it over the years. It isn't going to scare him now.
“No, we’re not,” Jisung refutes, his voice low and deadly.
All Hyunjin does is smile. He tries to keep it as gentle and as fond as possible, make it realistic enough for the scrutiny of their friends who are staring them down like this is the most recent episode of a reality tv show. But when his eyes meet Jisung's, it's with an intent look.
Play along, he tries to convey. I'll explain it all in a moment. Just play along for now.
"There’s no point trying to hide anymore, Jisung," he says softly. "We were too sloppy. We might as well just admit to it now instead of dragging this on for longer.”
The words only serve to make Jisung angrier. He swells like a volcano on the verge of eruption. Before he can explode, Hyunjin takes him by the hand and pulls him into the garden as far away from the others as they can get. There, he drops the lovesick act. He carefully positions himself so the others in the house, who have probably ran to the windows to spy on them if he knows their friends well, can't see the pure venom in Jisung's snarl.
“What the fuck is your problem?” he spits, pushing forward like he's mere seconds away from flying into an attack.
Hyunjin rolls his eyes. "They were never going to believe us," he says. "I saved us the trouble of arguing with them.”
Far from satisfied, Jisung’s rage only grows at this. “They would’ve believed us if you’d let me argue with them in the first place! Now you’ve gone and said that we’re dating, even though we’re not, and they’re going to read all sorts of things into us!”
Hyunjin is perfectly fine with that. “Good.”
The storm in his eyes dies down. He scans Hyunjin, searching for clues in the planes of his face. He waits patiently for Jisung to gather them, knowing he'll land on the mark when he does. He might be oblivious as fuck sometimes, but even Jisung can see what's staring him right in the face.
"This is about Seungmin, isn't it?"
Even though he's expecting it, Hyunjin can't hold back the discomfort that comes with the statement. He breaks his stare, looking off to the side. It's been months since the breakup that rocked his world and he might've moved on, but that doesn't mean he's gotten any better at addressing it. How could he have? He never talked about it to anyone in the first place. The others had offered to lend an ear at various points in time, but Hyunjin had refused them all. The only person he would ever want to discuss such things with was the one person who no longer would.
"Maybe," he admits.
The anger returns to Jisung. His face contorts with another snarl. "Don’t maybe me. At least admit to it, you dickhead, since you’re so obsessed with dragging me into whatever the fuck is going on between you two.”
“Nothing’s going on between us,” Hyunjin says sharply.
He can't keep the bite out of his voice, even though he knows he should. Getting angry isn't going to help their situation, but he can't help it. As much as he knows how to push Jisung's buttons, the same can be said for the other way around. It's like he's predisposed to meet Jisung's ire with his own, even when he doesn't mean to. It's wired into the mainframe of his existence.
“The whole point is that nothing is going on," he adds. "That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to stay. It’s been months now and I’ve moved on, but… But he’s not going to believe that until he sees proof. So yeah, this is about Seungmin. Are you happy now?”
“What the fuck?" Jisung snaps. "Of course, I’m not, you actual dumbass, I don’t want people to think we’re dating!”
It's like Hyunjin's mouth moves before his brain has time to catch up. “Please," he scoffs. 'Like I’m not miles out of your league."
He knows it's a low blow the second it parts from his tongue. Hurt flashes across Jisung's face and he spins away, his teeth gritted together. Hyunjin chases after him, feeling guilty and desperate.
This could work. This could honestly work as long as he doesn't put his stupid foot into his mouth again and actually manages to explain himself to Jisung without insulting him. And somehow he does manage it. He fumbles through his explanation, telling Jisung about his conversation with Bomin, of how he doesn't want to keep Seungmin from being happy, of the idea he had just now in the kitchen when their friends cornered them. For once in his life, he lets his guard drop around the other boy and speaks honestly from the heart.
And somehow it seems to work because despite it all, Jisung visibly softens. He clears his throat, clinging onto his performance before it can escape him entirely.
"That doesn't explain how any of this benefits me though. I see why you want to do this, but I don’t see why I should.”
Hyunjin looks up from his hands. He bites his lip, knowing he's about to go for the jugular. This is a dirty move. He knows this is a dirty move. And if he were a nicer person, he probably wouldn't pull it. But like he said, he's desperate. And he knows Jisung well enough to know this will clinch the deal.
“Well, I mean… I thought that was obvious," he says before he can chicken out. "To make Minho-hyung jealous.”
Here's the backstory for anyone who's interested.
Hyunjin moved across town when he was four years old. He doesn't really remember where he lived before because he was too young to hold onto his memories of his old house when he left. It didn't really matter; his new neighbourhood was much more exciting, full of young families with lots of kids to play with. In his street specifically, there were several children who were around his age, but the ones that he ended up latching onto were Chan ("Call me hyung!" the seven year old beamed when they first met), Minho ("Soonie likes you so I guess you must be okay because Soonie is the best and he knows everything.") and Jisung. He and Jisung didn't get along that well from the get-go, but that didn't stop them from knocking on each other's doors every day and asking their mums whether they could play outside together.
When they started school, Seungmin entered the picture. Technically, he was Hyunjin's friend first. They met on the very first day and stuck together since. Later, Seungmin approached Jisung with a toy car when he saw him sniffling by himself in the playground. Hyunjin told Seungmin he didn't like Jisung so they shouldn't be friends with him (even if that logic conveniently died whenever he was outside of school and they were playing Tag in the street), but Seungmin persisted anyway. So in the end, Hyunjin relented because he had to.
"Seungminnie is my best friend, not yours," Hyunjin said at the time with all of the possessiveness of a not-quite five-year-old.
Jisung didn't even care. "Well, my best friend is Minho-hyung and we've been best friends for years and years so I win."
Trust Han Jisung to make friendship into a damn competition.
As they grew up, Hyunjin and Jisung discovered that they really really didn't get along. And if anyone but Seungmin had been the third person in their trio, they probably would've cut off all association with each other entirely, summertime play in their street notwithstanding. But he was always there to balance out the explosions in their emotions, to guide them patiently back to his side and in extension to each other. So they stayed.
The main reason they didn't get along was probably because they were too similar. Too quick to anger, too harsh with their words. They knew exactly how to get under each other's skin and they liked doing it, so they put that knowledge to frequent use. At the end of the day, Hyunjin and Jisung were the same in many ways and still are to this day.
For example, both of them fell in love with their best friends.
The only difference is that Hyunjin did something about it. It didn't work out in the end, but at least he had a couple of years with Seungmin before everything crashed and burned. But Jisung? All he's ever done is pine.
Hyunjin has known it for years. He doesn't even know how or when he picked it up. Somewhere along the way, it just became another fact about Jisung.
Han Jisung is six months younger than me. He wants to make music when he's older and he's in love with Minho-hyung. His favourite food is cheesecake. He has never told anyone about his crush on Minho-hyung and probably never will. He's scared of heights and spiders. When we were eight years old, he told me he hides his top secret stash of snacks under his pyjama pile so that he remembers to eat one every night before he brushes his teeth.
It's the one thing that Hyunjin has never approached in his fights with Jisung. It doesn't matter how angry he's gotten or how many cheap shots he's already aimed; Jisung's feelings for Minho have always remained off-limits. It just felt wrong. Jisung was already doing a fine job of selling himself short instead of telling Minho the truth. As much of a prick Hyunjin might be, even he wouldn’t kick Jisung when he's already down.
But this isn't the same thing, he tells himself. He's not mocking Jisung for his feelings for Minho or taunting him for not having them returned. He's just… nudging him to do something about them.
And he's an awful person for it. He's really awful. This is such a dickhead move to pull and he really should stop now, should draw back and drop the idea. Should stop talking and stop trying to persuade Jisung into playing along.
But Jisung's eyes are now sharp and bright, his indignation fading. Something like hope spreads across his face. He can hear the truth ringing in Hyunjin's words – and there is truth in it. It might be a dickhead move, but Hyunjin does still believe in what he's saying. If there's anyone who is pretty much guaranteed to fall in love with Jisung, it's Minho. His soft spot for him is a mile long. The second he realises that Jisung isn't just his best friend but is someone dateable, someone who people date and want to date, there's every chance in the world that Minho will take notice. Will realise what he's been missing out on all these years.
Anticipation hums in Hyunjin's veins. He watches as the last of Jisung's reluctance is stripped away, his lips pursed together.
"Two months?" he suggests.
A sense of relief rushes through him. He sags with the force of it, coming forward to grip onto Jisung's arms as if to physically hold him to his words. When it comes, his smile can't be held back.
"Two months," he says with a decisive nod.
The dominoes have all been knocked over. They're strewn across the grass now, the white plastic gleaming in the light of the afternoon. The two of them stand in front of the end result, their friends unwittingly bearing witness at the kitchen window. Jisung looks up at Hyunjin, their deal fresh in the air and naked hope smeared across their twin smiles.
PART II: FRIENDSHIP (AND OTHER VICES)
"This is the most stupid fucking idea I've ever heard," Jisung says.
"Really?" Hyunjin says, sending him an unimpressed look. "Have you heard literally anything that has ever come out of your mouth?"
"I'll knock the teeth out of your damn mouth in a second if you don't shut the fuck up."
It has been less than twenty four hours since The Deal was made and Hyunjin already regrets it. Sort of. Well, not really because it's a solid plan if he does say so himself, but in moments like this he can't help but wonder what on earth possessed him to convince Jisung of all people to go along with it. It doesn't matter if they have a deal, Han Jisung is still annoying as fuck and Hyunjin isn't sure whether either of them can pretend like he's not.
Then again, that's what this is all about. This idea that Jisung has shot down as being the most stupid fucking idea he's ever heard. Despite his many, many complaints, he has still reluctantly clambered to his feet to grimace up at Hyunjin.
"Do we have to?"
"Yes," Hyunjin says.
And with that, he summons all of the courage in his body and pulls Jisung into a hug.
It's probably the worst hug he's ever experienced in his life. Jisung is stiff in his arms, his shoulders drawn up like he's about to leap away any second now. Hyunjin rests his chin on top of his head and lets his fingers overlap on the small of Jisung's back. After a second, Jisung grudgingly hooks his own arms around Hyunjin's waist in a pale imitation of a hug.
They stand like that for all of five seconds before they simultaneously jump away from each other, matching grimaces on their face.
"Let's not do that ever again," Jisung says with a shudder. "I can do hand-holding but not a hug."
Hyunjin is inclined to agree. But Jisung's hands are really clammy and if he can get away with some other form of physical affection instead, he'll gladly take it. So he shakes the disgust off and persists.
"Maybe we should try a back hug instead."
"Maybe you should go and fuck yourself," Jisung replies.
Hyunjin rolls his eyes. "Just turn around and stop dragging this out for longer than you have to. The sooner we do this, the sooner we can go and shower this off."
"You fucking pervert," he says. "Who knew a little hug would turn you on so much that you'd need a cold shower afterwards?"
There is actually no way in hell that they're going to make it through this without one of them murdering the other. Hyunjin inhales deeply, trying to curb the worst of his irritation, but he can't stop the glare that slips out anyways. Jisung receives it with a grin, loving the reaction.
"You're so fucking annoying," Hyunjin bites out and stomps across Jisung's bedroom to where he stands.
None too gently, he twists Jisung away from him, ignoring his offended yell, and then wraps his arms around Jisung's torso again. Then he pulls him closer until his back hits Hyunjin's chest. He has just enough time to register that Jisung's waist is even smaller and more waifish than he realised before the boy in question slams the heel of his foot down on Hyunjin's left set of toes. He screams, pushing Jisung away and hopping on the spot.
"What the fuck was that for, you absolute lunatic?"
"Don't just manhandle me in my own bedroom, you dick!" Jisung fires back, spinning around to face him. "I don't care if we're practicing physical affection so we can pull this off. A fucking warning would be nice!"
"You're so goddamn annoying, Han Jisung!" he shouts.
He bends down to examine his toes, his lips pulled down at the corners, and makes sure that Jisung hasn't accidentally killed off any of Hyunjin's toenails with the force of that stomp. Thankfully, they seem fine. His foot is red from the attack, but it'll recover.
"You'll be fine," Jisung says airily. "Plenty of people come back from worse."
Jisung is about to have to come back from the fucking grave in a minute if he doesn't manage to somehow shut up. Hyunjin ignores him, rubbing his foot with his fingers until the pain subsides. When it does, he stands up, preparing himself for another hug.
"C'mon then. Let's try it again. There's your freaking warning, now come over here."
"Ew," Jisung says, scooting back until his legs hit the side of his bed. "Wash your hands first. I'm not going anywhere near you after you've been groping your foot right in front of me. What the fuck do you think I am?"
Hyunjin is genuinely going to kill him.
To be honest, it turns out that pretending to date Jisung is a lot easier than either of them thought it would be. Since he already has Jisung's timetable saved to his Google calendar, Hyunjin quickly works out all of the times where he can pick Jisung up from his classes and force him to do the same in return, making sure that as many people as possible see them together. It's just a case of making a few detours and holding hands whenever they walk together. Jisung complains, but that's because he's Jisung and he likes complaining about how hard his life is.
They also eat lunch together more often and hang out for at least a few minutes during their free periods – long enough for Hyunjin to be able to document it on his Snapchat, that is. Because yeah, that's a thing now: Jisung's face being plastered all over his social media. He hasn't uploaded anything onto his Instagram account yet, but Jisung quickly becomes a regular on Hyunjin's Snapchat story. He can't quite bring himself to caption it with the same sappy shit he used to pair Seungmin's pictures with, but he does his best to seem fond.
It seems to pay off because before they've even hit the end of their first week of pretending to date, Sanha corners Hyunjin on the way out of the performance arts building.
"Hyunjin!" he calls. He turns to find his friend's long legs eating up the length of the quad as he hurries to catch up to him. When Sanha reaches his side, he smiles and starts to tug him away from the direction of the student accommodation. "Come and sit in the SU bar with me. I'm meeting Bomin and a couple of his coursemates and I could do with the extra support."
Hyunjin shrugs. To be honest, he's not the best with new company either, but he doesn't have anywhere else to be. "Sure, but I'm not buying anything. I already had a sandwich, like, two hours ago."
"Ooh, how healthy," he quips. The two of them weave their way through the crowd of students heading home, Sanha sticking close to his side so they don't lose each other. "Anyways, now that I've got you here, I've been meaning to ask you something. Since when were you dating Han fucking Jisung?"
He appraises Hyunjin like he's not sure whether he still has all of his brain cells left. Hyunjin flushes. He can't really blame Sanha. Everyone from their old high school knows that putting Hyunjin and Jisung together in the same equation is like throwing a bomb at a building. The chances of survival are very slim.
"It's all really new," he says vaguely. "We're just testing things out."
"Yeah, I get that. But Han Jisung? Really? Didn't he once threaten to shove a Bunsen burner up your – "
"That was in the past," he says, cutting across him loudly. Jisung has said a lot of things to him over the years and many of them have been… creative to say the least. Recounting them now won't do anyone any good. "But we're… you know. This isn't high school anymore. Isn't it time for us to finally grow up?"
"By dating each other?" Sanha asks, raising his eyebrows. Hyunjin just shrugs. Sanha seems to accept the answer because he continues on, this time asking, "Whose idea was it anyway? To date, I mean. I can't imagine either of you sucking up your pride to admit you like each other."
Now this Hyunjin can gladly answer.
"Jisung, obviously," he says. "We were arguing one day – well, not arguing per se, he was just being annoying as per usual and I was reacting to that because I'm not a fucking doormat. And then I dunno, man, one thing led to another and then he was confessing to all of these feelings and I was like – "
"Whoa, whoa, wait," Sanha interrupts as they reach the SU. He pushes one of the entrance doors open so they can shuffle inside and turns to grimace at Hyunjin over his shoulder. "You're not about to tell me all about how you hate-fucked him, did you? Because I love you and all, but I don't want to hear about that."
Hyunjin turns red, spluttering in denial. He was not! He was just going to make out like Jisung gave him this grand and embarrassing confession after they kissed in the heat of the moment and that he accepted it out of the goodness of his heart! Where the hell does sleeping together factor into that? Making out is fine, that's the excuse they told their other friends. But hate sex? Really? How much of a cliche do they think he is?
"Who hate-fucked someone?" Bomin asks, coming up to them with two guys in tow. One of them seems somewhat familiar. Noticing Hyunjin's none too subtle study of his friends, Bomin adds, "Oh yeah, this is Jibeom and Sunwoo by the way. Guys, these are my friends Sanha and Hyunjin."
Oh. So that explains why Hyunjin thought he recognised one of them. He's the guy whose selca Bomin showed him a few weeks back. Well, this is slightly awkward. He does his best to avoid the boy's eyes.
"Hyunjin did," Sanha answers while Hyunjin is too busy agonising over whether Jibeom is aware that Bomin wanted to hook them up. God, he really hopes not. This is about to be one of the most awkward hours of his life if he is. "He hate-fucked Han Jisung and he's trying to tell me all about it."
"I did not!" he exclaims, catching onto the tail end of what Sanha is saying. He can feel his face burn with embarrassment as Bomin's coursemates peer at him in interest. "There was no hate-fucking, he just told me he likes me, that's all. You're the one who jumped to conclusions before I could even finish telling you what happened."
Sanha just laughs, looking impish.
"Oh right," Bomin says, frowning. "You're dating Han Jisung. Why didn't you tell me that earlier, you egghead? I didn't know you had a thing with him or I would've left you alone. Now I feel stupid."
"Because." Hyunjin searches for an appropriate excuse. "I knew everyone would be weird about it because of our history. I didn't want the reaction to scare him off or interfere with our relationship when it's all so new."
Miraculously, the lie comes off convincingly. Bomin accepts it with a nod, his frown fading, and Sanha seems to too, judging by the way he shifts guiltily after Hyunjin's reply. To be fair, it's not like his reaction was unreasonable. Hyunjin is pretty sure a lot of people in his Snapchat contact list from high school have been shocked by his stories and just haven't been brave enough to voice them to him. Sanha's not alone.
Still, he's hoping the guilt means that the answer is enough to satisfy their curiosity so they can move on from this. Unfortunately, it turns out that they have more comments to make. Well, one more comment to make, but this one is enough to have Hyunjin shut down the rest of the conversation as quickly as he can.
"I suppose it makes sense when I think about it," Bomin muses. "Maybe the rivalry between you two just hid all of the sexual tension underneath and - "
"Okay!" Hyunjin exclaims, clapping his hands together. "Why don't we find a table in the bar before it gets too busy? From my experience, it fills up pretty quickly around this time. C'mon, let's get to it!"
Before any of them can react, he hurries over to the bar, walking faster than he probably should as if that means he can leave the conversation behind. He doesn't care enough to be embarrassed by the speed walk. As far as he's concerned, anything is better than standing around and discussing the supposed sexual tension he has with Han Jisung. Non-existent sexual tension might he add! The only tension that exists between the two of them is the knowledge that one of them is going to snap one day and just floor the other person.
And not in a sexy way but in an aggressive, angry way.
They might be pretending to date, but that doesn't mean they actually like each other. That would just be ridiculous.
For all of his indignation, however, he comes to find that Jisung isn't actually so bad. He still doesn't have sexual tension with him – and never will, thank you very much, Choi Bomin – but the more they find themselves in each other's company, the more Hyunjin realises that Jisung isn't actually as annoying as Hyunjin likes to say he is. Or maybe he's just getting used to him.
Maybe there's something psychological to it. Like the more they have to hold hands, the more they learn how to get along well with each other because their brains now think that they must be close. Physical contact has always been one of Hyunjin's weak points after all. He hates it from people he's not close to, but he enjoys it when it's with those he loves – like his friends, for example.
He doesn't love Jisung – at least, not in the way boyfriends usually do – but he's pretending to date him which means that most of the skinship he has these days is with Jisung. Whether it's just holding hands or something like that one weird day where Jisung annoyed him by kissing his knuckles (and Hyunjin's mind briefly freaked out over it because that was not in the script the last time he checked), Jisung is pretty much the main person Hyunjin's body knows. So maybe that explains it all.
Or maybe they are just growing up and this little fake dating deal has simply hurried the process along. He doesn't really know.
What he does know is that he is now capable of getting along with Jisung – or at least, as much as the two of them will ever get along with each other. He's more or less physically incapable of not bickering with him, but these days, it never transcends into anything more than that. It's all lighthearted.
Hyunjin likes it. He likes it a lot actually.
It's nice to have someone in their inner group who he can attach himself to instead of drifting around now that he no longer has Seungmin as his tether. It's not like he's not close to the other guys or anything because he is. It's just that everyone else already kind of has their Person in the group. Or their Persons. (Or is it their People? Whatever the term is anyway.) They all have that someone that they can always be found with and can go to. For example, Jisung and Felix are best friends. And Jisung and Minho are also best friends, and then Minho and Chan are also best friends, and Chan and Changbin are also best friends, and Chan and Felix are also –
The point is that everyone has their best friends. Their Person. Everyone except Hyunjin, that is.
(Technically, his best friend is Seungmin, but that's just a technicality. Really, Seungmin's main Person is Jeongin and only Jeongin now. So that means that Hyunjin is the only one in the group with no strong ties to someone else anymore.)
But now he has Jisung and they have A Thing. A Thing that everyone else thinks is dating, but it isn't really. It's just A Thing.
Maybe they're friends. Maybe Jisung is Hyunjin's best friend. They've known each other for so long that it's not unreasonable to slap that label on them, but something about it doesn't fit right. Probably because it's Jisung he's talking about and only a few months ago, he would've gladly declared to everyone that he hates the guy.
But now he likes Jisung's company. Even when they're bickering, even when they're not. He likes researching new places to go for their dates, thinking carefully about what kind of stuff Jisung is interested in and whether the two of them will be entertained for the afternoon. When Jisung makes a smart remark, he enjoys having to think on his feet to meet it with his own. Even holding his hand isn't so bad anymore although Jisung's hand still sweats like he's just ran a marathon with it curled into a fist.
He doesn't know what it's like on the other end, but he hopes Jisung feels something similar. He probably doesn't think of Hyunjin as anyone terribly important, but at least he doesn't hate him anymore. Hyunjin is sure he doesn't. He would've said something if he did. They might've started off this whole farce as unlikely allies, but with the way things are going, they'll definitely emerge from it as more than that. For that, Hyunjin is grateful.
Even though they get along now, the word 'friend' is never uttered out loud. They slide into their new dynamic without much fanfare; aside from a few acknowledgements that they're growing up, neither of them address the change. Granted, Hyunjin ponders over it in his head because that's what he does with just about anything in his life. He never voices his thoughts to Jisung, however. What is he meant to even say? 'What are we?' That seems like the start of a conversation that is uncomfortably close to something he'd say if he actually was seeing Jisung.
The point is that the word isn't addressed. It hangs there in the background of their interactions, but neither of them make note of it. That is, until one Wednesday afternoon.
When Hyunjin leaves his seminar that day, it's with almost tangible excitement. The date they've planned out for today is sure to be good. He's been drooling over the cafe's Instagram page for days now and he already knows exactly what he's going to order. He's sure Jisung will have fun too. He likes anime and he likes naps and this cafe offers both. What isn't there to like?
Despite how eager he is to meet up with Jisung and get to the cafe already, he still slows down on his way to their meet-up place to give the girl from the LGBT Society a chance to speak to him. It's mostly because she looks like a sorry sight, huddled under a flimsy umbrella like that. A tiny desk has been dragged out from one of the classrooms to sit next to her, stacked with a display that has since been subjected to the wrath of Seoul's weather. The Pride flag next to it has been blown into a tight twist by the wind.
Usually, Hyunjin doesn't really pay attention to the societies who camp out on this strip of campus to advertise themselves to anyone passing by. He's gotten pretty good at it actually. But this girl just looks pitiful. She's trying to single-handedly promote some bake sale that the society is going to have next week, but her enthusiastic calls are being drowned out by the wind. The rain lashes into her face despite the protection of the umbrella. It's just sad. Hyunjin figures that she could use the encouragement so he slows down to a stop on his way past until she notices him.
"Hi!" she says eagerly when she realises he's looking her way. She beckons him closer so she doesn't have to shout. "Sorry to keep you out in the rain like this, but the LGBT Society are having a bake sale next Tuesday to raise funds for a local charity. We'd love it if you dropped by!"
She pushes a shiny leaflet into his hand. He glances down at the rainbow lettering and nods, offering her a smile.
"Sure," he says. "I'll see if I can drop by."
To be honest, he probably won't end up going, but she doesn't need to know that. She's been standing out here for God knows how long just to promote the bake sale. He's not about to crush her spirit now.
"See you there then!" she beams. He throws her another nod and moves to leave, only for her to abruptly yell for him to wait. She even shoots her arm out in front of him. He screeches to a stop, throwing her a startled look. "I almost forgot! We have free samples for you to try! Just in case you need persuading to come. See, we have brownies and cheesecake right here; you can choose whichever one you like."
She gestures grandly to the display on the little desk next to her. Hyunjin squints down at the rain-sodden table. Well, if she's going to offer it, then it'd be rude to not accept. Personally, he's more of a brownie person so he reaches over for one of the packets on that tray. Then he remembers that he's going on a date with Jisung. Somehow, his fingers end up wrapping around a tiny box of cheesecake instead.
"Ah, the cheesecake," the girl says knowingly. "Good choice. It's a fan favourite."
"It's my boyfriend's favourite food," Hyunjin says. He doesn't know why he does. It's not like this girl needs to believe that he's dating Jisung or like she even knows who either of them are. He just does.
She sends him another lopsided smile. "Well in that case, I hope he enjoys it."
Hyunjin knows he will. Jisung is a fan of all flavours of cheesecake, no matter how sickly or rich it is, and there's no way he's going to stop now. But it's not like this girl cares about that so he just throws her another nod and heads over to where he's agreed to meet Jisung. Thankfully, the building they decided upon has a little awning, so he's protected from most of the rain. He lets his back rest against the wall and waits.
The minutes tick by and Jisung doesn't appear in the quad. Hyunjin frowns down at his phone and then calls him, wondering whether he's gotten held up after class or something. The call goes through, rings echoing down the line until it cuts off into Jisung's voicemail. He hangs up and sends a text to remind Jisung that they have a date now and to get his ass over here before Hyunjin's fingers fall off from the cold.
But Jisung never comes. Ten minutes becomes twenty becomes twenty five. Hyunjin tells himself that he'll leave when it hits half an hour, but when it's the thirty minutes mark, he's still stuck to the wall, thinking that there's a chance that Jisung will come around the corner any second now. He wouldn't just blow him off without a reason. Not now when they've come so far from what they used to be. He probably just got caught up in something, that's all.
When there's five minutes left until three o'clock, Hyunjin snaps. He can't believe Jisung can be that much of a fucking prick that he'd pull such a dick move. If he didn't want to go on the date, all he had to do was say so. Instead, he's left Hyunjin to stand out here in the fucking rain like some fucking idiot, his hand wrapped around that stupid cheesecake he was planning on teasing him with before handing over.
He sees red. Seething, he peels himself away from the wall and storms over to their student accommodation. He has no idea where Jisung is right now, but really, there's only two viable places: the studio or his bed. And knowing Jisung, it's probably his fucking bed. He's too angry to even wait for a lift to amble down to the lobby and instead stomps up all eight flights of stairs until he reaches Flat 8b and hammers his fist against the door.
A boy with neatly parted brown hair answers it, looking like a cornered rabbit. "Yes?"
"Is Jisung here?" Hyunjin demands, unable to keep the venom from his voice.
He flinches. "Uh. He might be? I'm not really sure, I haven't seen him all morning. Uh… who's asking?"
"His boyfriend," Hyunjin says tersely. "Can I come in?"
"Um. Sure, I guess?"
Jisung's roommate skitters to the side to let him in. Hyunjin manages to remember his manners just enough to throw him a thank you albeit much sharper than any thank you warrants. He stalks over to Jisung's room and flings the door open, already ranting as he barges in.
"I swear to God, Han Jisung, if you are not on your deathbed right now," he snarls, tearing the covers off the lump in the middle of the bed. He opens his mouth to continue the threat, only for it to wither away in his voice box.
Jisung looks up at him blankly. 'Blank' really is the best word for it because there's nothing there when he looks down at Jisung. No emotions, none of the usual fire that sizzles under everything he does. None of the characteristic liveliness. His eyes are dull, his face drawn, and he looks like he doesn't even really realise Hyunjin is there.
Hyunjin swallows and looks around the room. Now that he's not blundering in like a bull, he can take it in properly. To put it bluntly, it's a shithole. A tip. The curtains are still drawn, casting a claustrophobic slant to the already confined space. The window behind it must be closed too because the air is heavy and stale and it kind of smells. Part of that, he realises, is because of Jisung. He must not have showered today. Probably didn't even shower yesterday either.
If Jisung is unclean, the rest of his room is worse. What can be seen of the carpet is coated with a thin layer of dust and dirt. The rest of it has been claimed by random items of clothing and shoes or Jisung's uni things. Several water bottles are scattered about in the mess, untidy stacks of textbooks haphazardly placed near the bed beside Jisung's laptop, and the desk has a bunch of dirty dishes on it.
He tries to recall Jisung's behaviour over the past few days. Now that he thinks about it, he's been quieter than usual recently. Not enough for it to have been concerning, but enough to be noticeable if someone was paying attention. Apparently, no one was.
Sighing, he turns back to Jisung and pulls him out of bed as gently as he can. "C'mon," he says. "Let's get you up."
Jisung doesn't argue. He lets Hyunjin steer him to his en suite, follows his soft order to brush his teeth, and watches him as he quickly cleans down Jisung's shower. Hyunjin ducks back into the room to gather clean clothes from Jisung's wardrobe and hangs them on the command hooks on his bathroom door. He turns back to Jisung in time to catch him washing off leftover spots of foam from his mouth and then turning to Hyunjin expectantly, waiting for his next command.
Something in Hyunjin's chest twists at the sight. Jisung is so… small. It's easy to forget it most of the time because he carries himself like he's not, strutting around like he's several inches taller than he really is. But right now, it's impossible to ignore. Right now, he's small in every sense of the word: short and scrawny and pulling in on himself like he wants to disappear so no one will notice him. It looks so wrong.
“You should get in the shower,” he tells him. “It’ll make you feel better. Have you eaten at all today?”
Jisung shakes his head in reply. Alright. So he's not ready to talk yet. That's okay. As long as he does get some food in him after his shower, he doesn't need to speak unless he wants to.
“Right," Hyunjin says. "I’ll sort something out while you’re in here." Never mind the fact that he's never cooked a day in his life. He's been surviving this long on his mum’s frozen meals and his flatmates' generosity. He thinks he can rustle something up though. Somehow. He shakes the worries off to deal with later, adding, "Don’t take too long. You don’t want to catch a cold when the hot water runs out. Okay?”
This time Jisung does speak. It's nothing more than a simple, "Okay," but it has Hyunjin offer him a smile all the same.
He leaves Jisung to his shower and decides to tackle his room in the meantime. It really is like something out of a bombsite. He's not the cleanest guy himself, but damn, this is the definition of someone's environment reflecting their mental state. This slump must be a bad one if Jisung's room suggests anything. It can't stay like this. Maybe a clean room isn't the solution to the world's problems, but it sure as hell helps.
He works through the room bit by bit. First, he draws the curtains to let in some damn sunlight. He opens the window too – not too much because it's raining outside, but enough to get some fresh air circulating in the room.
Then he tackles the floor. He grabs all of the clothes and flings them onto the bed. Picks up all of Jisung's schoolwork and his laptop and organises them into what he figures should be grouped together. He then realises he has nowhere to put them so he clears the desk of all of the dirty dishes, shuffling them into the sink. While he's there, he rifles through the cupboards until he finds something edible and easy to whip up. In the end, he settles for oatmeal. He chops the last bit of fruit left on the countertop to fashion a smiley face, figuring that Jisung could do with the cheering up, and places the bowl on the now-cleared desk in Jisung's room. To the side, he neatly stacks up the schoolwork from before.
After that, it's another trip to the kitchen to dispose of all of the plastic bottles from the floor. He drags the hoover back with him upon his return but decides to leave that until the end. As Jisung's shower stretches on, he sorts through the clothes on his bed, trying to eyeball which ones seem clean enough and which ones need to be washed. When all else fails, he resorts to sniffing them to check. Then, they're either folded into a pile to put on Jisung's chair or chucked into the laundry basket on the other side of the room. Jisung's stale bedsheets go into the laundry too after Hyunjin strips his bed of them.
By the time he moves onto hoovering, he's kind of exhausted from the effort of cleaning up. Jisung still hasn't left his shower yet. He can hear the jet spray of the nozzle against the tiling. Then the hoover turns on, coming to life with a roar and drowns it out.
As he drags the hoover stick back and forth across the carpet, sucking up the dust with a grimace, his thoughts start to wander. It's not uncommon for this to happen whenever he's in the thick of chores because he likes daydreaming to pass the time, but this time, Hyunjin's thoughts dip into the past.
Jisung wasn't always like this. It's something that began when they were fourteen.
At first, it was just the odd change here and there. They'd ask Jisung to order for them at a cafe and for some reason, he'd have to practice the request under his breath over and over again, looking somewhat constipated as he neared the counter. If he had to call someone, he suddenly had to prepare himself for it for at least ten minutes beforehand, worrying about what the person on the other side of the line would say and whether it would catch him off-guard. Before, he would've picked up the phone like it was nothing. Then he dropped out of the afterschool football club, claiming he now found it boring. Then he started to flake out of group meet-ups.
No one really knows what triggered the change, not even now. Jisung has never offered an explanation and none of them have wanted to push him into one. They've all just learnt to take it in their stride.
In the beginning, it was something that Hyunjin used to poke fun at Jisung. The memories are not something he's proud of. At the time, he hadn't realised what was happening; all he knew was that the cocky brat he'd been arguing with for his entire life was no longer as confident as he made out. To him, the change was the perfect fodder for their little war. Fourteen year old Hyunjin had a fucking field day with it.
(The two of them were particularly aggressive with each other that entire year. The hormones and constant mood swings did not make for a pretty combination. This was just another offence in a long, long line of many.)
But then as the months went by, it became increasingly clear that this wasn't just a phase. It was here to stay. Something had changed in Jisung, something no one but him could name. All of a sudden, it didn't seem so hilarious anymore.
When Hyunjin thinks back to that time, he has one vivid memory of sitting on the curb in their street next to Chan. The sky was cloudy that day, but the air was warm. He was wearing the new trainers his dad had bought him as a reward for doing well in his dance academy's recital the previous week. His jeans had a hole in the right knee and his finger was making it even bigger in his discomfort.
"Is he… Do you think he's… depressed?"
His voice was quiet, the question murmured like he wasn't sure whether he was allowed to talk about it. No one around him ever mentioned depression, not unless it was to roll their eyes and say that everyone claimed they had it nowadays. But he had spent hours on his laptop yesterday, trying to figure out what had happened to Jisung and so many signs had pointed that way. It scared him.
Chan sighed and tipped his head back to look up at a bird that was circling the space above them. "I don't know."
Somehow that made it even scarier. Chan was seventeen years old and so much cooler and smarter than Hyunjin. It was only a three year gap, but back then, it felt colossal in so many ways. If Chan didn't know what was happening with Jisung, then who did?
He looked back at Jisung's house. Somewhere inside, Minho was trying to convince him to come out and join them for a meal at Changbin's family's restaurant. Later, he would text the group chat to let them know Jisung wasn't feeling well today and that they were going to stay in to watch a movie instead. Everyone knew what Minho really meant by not feeling well but pretended they didn't.
Back in the present, Hyunjin lets out a grunt and drops to his knees, wrestling the pipe of the hoover free from the rest of the stick. He jams it underneath Jisung's bed and drags it along the gap bit by bit. His mind continues to meander through the past.
After that conversation with Chan, Hyunjin remembers how he tried to pull back from his constant fighting from Jisung. Chan had told him that all they could do was be there for Jisung and make things easier for him, so Hyunjin figured that meant he had to be less of a prick towards him. Only the more he pulled away, the more Jisung instigated his own fights. Hyunjin's retreat seemed to piss him off more than anything else. Every time Hyunjin backed down from a confrontation, Jisung just got meaner. Eventually, it was too much for him and he ended up snapping back at one of Jisung's jibes, poison in his words; it was only then that they went back to normal.
(They really were something else at fourteen. Hyunjin feels sorry for anyone who had to put up with it.)
It wasn't all so bad though. Fourteen was the age they were when Felix moved to their hometown. He was placed next to Jisung in school since he was one of the only people in their class who could speak English semi-fluently and the two of them hit it off. Felix made things a lot better just by being around. Both in terms of easing whatever was going on inside of Jisung's head and in helping Seungmin mediate the constant fighting between Jisung and Hyunjin. Sometimes Hyunjin thinks that Jisung just needed a same-age best friend to have for himself.
He pulls the pipe of the hoover free from under the bed and sinks back, exhausted. God, this has been a workout and a half. This is so not what he was expecting today to be like. But he can't really complain. What else was he meant to do? Abandon Jisung to it?
He twists to turn the switch off, only to find the boy himself on the other side of the room, watching Hyunjin in silence. Hyunjin nearly jumps, squeaking embarrassingly. Jisung just continues to look at him. He doesn't speak, doesn't do anything other than study Hyunjin. The appraisal has him heat up all over.
God, he must think Hyunjin is an absolute freak to barge into his room and then clean his place for him. Because in all honesty, who does that, right? Freaks. That's who.
"There’s food on the desk for you,” Hyunjin mumbles finally. He breaks his eyes away from Jisung, his cheeks warm with another blush. To distract himself from it, he focuses on packing away the hoover. “It’s not much. You don’t really have anything in your fridge, and I didn’t want to accidentally poison you so I went with what I could.”
He hears the rustle of Jisung's clothes as he moves over to the desk. A heartbeat later, he lets out a faint laugh. "Thanks. You didn't have to."
When Hyunjin looks over at him, he finds him returning the oatmeal's smile with one of his own. Something in his stomach lurches.
"Yes, I did," he says, frowning. "Of course, I did."
He only came to this room with the sole purpose of ripping Jisung a new one. When he found him curled up in bed and looking like all of the colour had been leached from him, was he supposed to just walk away? He might not have been the nicest person to Jisung in the past, but even he's not that much of a heartless bastard. Jisung needed someone to help him piece himself back together again. So Hyunjin offered a hand to do it.
It's all terribly awkward to admit out loud, however. The two of them fumble around their thank yous and it's okays before they settle back into an approximation of their usual teasing. Jisung wolfs down the oatmeal even though it's probably lukewarm by now and then nearly throws up from how quickly he's chased it down his throat. Then he's forced back into bed to get some rest. Hyunjin climbs in next to him because it's more awkward to just sit at the foot of the bed than lie down and keep him company.
"You infuriate me," Jisung announces, sounding much more like his usual self.
Hyunjin shrugs. "So you've said."
A smile tugs on his mouth. He can't help it when it comes and spreads across his face as he scrolls through his phone. Jisung might be insulting him, but that just means he's feeling well enough to do it in the first place. Hyunjin might not have magically cured what happened, but he managed to help a little. He'll take a few insults on the chin if it means Jisung is feeling better.
Despite Jisung's grumbles about how he doesn't want to, he falls asleep pretty quickly, his breathing evening out. His presence by Hyunjin's side is a warm one. So much heat is packed into that tiny body. He's like a furnace. The effect isn't entirely unpleasant.
In fact, it kind of makes Hyunjin feel a little sleepy. His eyes start to droop and then sting from the glare of his phone. He locks it, promising himself he'll only close his eyes for one minute. By the time he gets to fifty seconds, he's fast asleep.
That Wednesday marks a shift in their relationship. They admit to being friends – out loud, that is – but if Hyunjin is being honest, Jisung doesn't feel like he fits into the same category as the rest of his friends. Something about him makes Hyunjin feel like a jumble of cords inside; there's no way to make sense of what wire does what and what cable leads where. It's all very confusing and slightly terrifying to examine. None of his other friends make him feel like that.
The thing is that they are friends. Ones who tease each other because they can't make it through a conversation without someone making a witty remark and the urge to return it is just too strong. They hang out and they study together and they have a laugh while they're at it. All of these nice, friendly things are their new norm.
But they also have those movie night dates now. Ones where they watch a couple of episodes of a show and then stick on a Studio Ghibli movie after, even though they're all long as fuck, and then they fall asleep in each other's arms. If Hyunjin is being honest, he looks forward to these movie nights more than the dates where they go out and do something.
The first time they fell asleep together in Jisung's room, it was an accident. The second time wasn't, but it can be chalked up to the surrealness of that entire Wednesday. Hyunjin had already cleaned Jisung's room, taken a nap with him, pigged out on pizza and pretty much spent the entire day in his room. They were both sleepy and the bed was right there so spending the night wasn't so unreasonable.
The third time could technically be brushed off as one as well, except for the fact that Hyunjin bought a new toothbrush that Saturday morning in anticipation of the movie date. He tries not to think about why he did, but he knows the answer in the back of his head. He knew it when he plucked the toothbrush off the store shelf, when he paid for it at the counter, when he let Jisung crawl into his embrace that night at two am when they were both pliant and drowsy.
Jisung was so small in his arms. He curled up with his head on Hyunjin's chest and his hand wrapped around Hyunjin's side. His hair felt soft under Hyunjin's fingers. His body was so warm.
"This is nice," he murmured and Hyunjin had to agree.
It was nice.
Which is why he keeps doing it.
Falling asleep at Jisung's place or inviting him back to his for the same, that is. Every time it happens, Jisung never turns him away, never stops to call him out for his behaviour or intentions. He just slides into Hyunjin's arms and reaches for him like this isn't weird at all. Like they didn't hate each other six months ago, like he doesn't want to be anywhere else in the world.
Part of Hyunjin chalks it up to his theory about it being something psychological. He and Jisung are pretending to date each other and that means the lines between them are blurring, at least in some part of their brains. So even though this should be weird, it isn't. Their brains are already used to treating this like it's normal which means that it now is.
The other part of him has noticed that Jisung is really cute when he wakes up in the mornings.
It's okay, he tells himself. It's just an observation. There's nothing wrong with an observation. Scientists must love them for a reason, after all. So really, Hyunjin is doing nothing wrong in making a note of something.
It's just that –
It's just that Jisung is really cute in the mornings. He wakes up slowly and reluctantly, a faint line in the middle of his brow as he is dragged into the waking world. He nuzzles his face into whatever it's resting against; most of the time, it's his pillow, but sometimes it turns out to be Hyunjin's chest or shoulder. On those days, he lets his nose rest against his skin and breathes the scent of Hyunjin in. The gesture never fails to make Hyunjin burn up.
Whenever Jisung finally opens his eyes, he blinks awake slowly like a baby kitten that is opening its eyes to the world for the first time, curious and somewhat confused by his surroundings. His eyes have always been big, but Hyunjin never realised how big they are until he had Jisung rouse in his arms. They're massive. Absolutely massive. And in the mornings they're also all soft and dewy like they still hold a little bit of moonlight in them from when they fell asleep.
The sight never fails to have Hyunjin's insides twist around some more. The tangle of cords turns into an even more incomprehensible mess. He pushes it down, telling himself it doesn't mean anything.
It can't mean anything. Jisung will never think of him that way. He's in love with Minho and he has been since he was old enough to comprehend what love is; that's not going to change any time soon. It's literally why he even agreed to The Deal at all. So he could make Minho finally realise that he is potential boyfriend material, so he could make him jealous. And it's working. Jisung might not have mentioned anything, but Hyunjin isn't blind; he's caught the looks that Minho sends over to Jisung, the way he scrutinises them sometimes whenever they're all together. He won't be surprised if Minho makes a move on him shortly after their two months are up.
So yes, Hyunjin's observation doesn't mean anything deeper than what it says on the tin can. So what if he thinks Han Jisung is cute? It's not the end of the damn world if he does. All it means is that he has functioning eyes, that's all.
There's nothing more to it. Honestly.
PART III: OF REGRETS AND REVELATIONS
Shit, Hyunjin thinks dumbly. I might be in trouble.
The situation is this: Jisung's hand is wrapped loosely around Hyunjin's, angling the phone in his hand towards him so he can properly read the text message conversation on it. His shoulder is pressed against Hyunjin's arm and his thigh is against Hyunjin's thigh. On an ordinary day, this alone might be enough to make that confusing tangle inside of Hyunjin even worse, but today it has just flat-out obliterated them. He can almost see the blue screen of death in the back of his mind right now. The system is crashing and failing. Hwang Hyunjin has ceased to function.
When he climbed into Jisung's childhood bedroom through his window, he was expecting to find the boy passed out in his bed. It would explain why he wasn't answering his calls or the door, even after Hyunjin rang them both several times in a row. Instead, the room was empty. Before he could panic, however, Jisung's voice echoed from down the hallway, warbling some song at the top of his lungs. Hyunjin realised that he was in the shower and decided to just wait for him in the room so he could inform him of the latest development in their situation.
He'd figured that Jisung would've taken some clothes with him to the bathroom. Some pants at the very least. But when Jisung came back and screamed at the sight of him and Hyunjin screamed back, he found out that Jisung did not, in fact, take clothes with him to the bathroom. All that was wrapped around his waist was a towel.
Hence the system shutdown.
Okay so maybe Hyunjin is being a little dramatic about this. He's managed to interact with Jisung normally thus far and Jisung hasn't made any comments about Hyunjin being a pervert so he's clearly done an excellent job in not letting his eyes wander. On the surface, he's handling this perfectly fine.
But Jisung's hand is on his. His bare shoulder is against Hyunjin's arm. His thigh is pressed alongside Hyunjin's. The towel covers everything that is important, but it's on the smaller side. It barely makes it past his knees now that he's sitting down and Hyunjin can see exactly where both ends overlap. When Jisung shifts, the soft skin of his inner thigh can be seen for a brief second. Hyunjin snaps his head away, hoping his pulse will calm down.
Calm down, Hyunjin. It's only Jisung. This isn't a big deal. All he's doing is sitting next to you while he's half-naked, his skin still wet from his shower with only one tiny layer of fabric that would be so easy to slip off and – No! No, stop that! Keep your mind out of the gutter! This is serious.
Jisung lets out a wince and sinks back, evidently done with reading the texts. Hyunjin blinks rapidly at the movement, trying to recollect his thoughts and return to this astral plane instead of whatever lust-filled realm he's been in. What were they talking about again?
Oh shit, yeah. They were discussing why Hyunjin is here and not in Seoul. The answer to that being: because his mother is terrifying and wants to put her son's new boyfriend through the ringer. No matter what Hyunjin said to try to dissuade her, she didn't back down from her demands. And it's not as if he could just ignore them either. He likes having his head attached to his neck, thank you very much.
“She’s a master of persuasion,” he says quietly, harrowed.
Jisung rolls his eyes. “And because you’re too much of a coward to go home and see her just yet, you decided to break into my house instead?”
That sounds about right.
He rolls his eyes again, but this time, it's with faint amusement. “Fair enough,” he concedes.
Not even Jisung can deny how terrifying Hyunjin's mother is. She's notorious in their street for it. When they were growing up, she was used as the neighbourhood threat; any time a kid was about to rustle up some serious trouble, all their parents had to do was threaten to call 'Auntie Eunju' to get them to behave. She literally functioned as the neighbourhood bogeyman. God knows how many times Hyunjin and Jisung have been lectured by her over the years.
Getting into scuffles as children is absolutely nothing compared to this though. This isn't just Hyunjin and Jisung being dumb and insensitive. This is the two of them actively deceiving their parents. Convincing their friends that he's dating Jisung is one thing but bringing him home to his mum and dad for an official introduction is quite another. His parents take this kind of thing very seriously.
“I didn’t expect this to get back to her,” he confesses. He looks down at the floor in shame and knocks their ankles together when he notices that Jisung's feet are bare. “I should’ve realised our parents would’ve heard about it eventually, but… I don’t know, I just never factored that into our decision.”
“I get you,” Jisung says. “When we’re at uni, our life here seems so far away. So much happens there that our parents will never know about so it only makes sense that we’d think this would be another one of them.”
Of course Jisung would understand. He's in the same boat as him – maybe even worse. Yeah, Hyunjin doesn't want to lie to his parents, but Jisung and his mum have always had this strange kind of bond where they're both friends as well as mother-and-son. It's probably because she had him pretty young so there's not that much of an age gap, no matter how much she likes to exaggerate the generation difference. There's no way he's not feeling guilty about deceiving her too. But there isn't really much they can do now.
"I guess if we’ve already committed to it this hard, adding them to the equation isn’t much different," Hyunjin adds.
He attempts a smile as if to say it's all okay, but it's not a particularly strong one and falls away quickly. A sigh depresses his shoulders.
When did this all get so complicated? This was meant to be a simple job. Pretend to date for two months, implicitly let Seungmin know it's okay if he's back on the market too, and then quietly break up with the excuse that things just didn't work out. Now the two month mark is on its way and he's somehow managed to drag his parents into it, has come to the realisation that Han Jisung is cute and cuddly and that it makes him feel certain things, and he doesn't even know whether Seungmin is dating other people and if the plan is working.
(One thing he does know is that every time Minho shares a private laugh with Jisung, Hyunjin's stomach cringes. Jisung still hasn't mentioned anything about how The Deal is panning out on his end and Hyunjin sure as hell doesn't want to hear about his progress enough to ask, but whenever he sees Minho and Jisung together, he can't help but be anxious that it's working. That Minho is feeling jealous and Jisung is buttering him up so that the two of them can come together when the time is right.
But the worry doesn't necessarily mean anything. All it really means is that Hyunjin is physically –emphasis on physically – attracted to Jisung and that seeing him with his crush of however many years is a reminder that Jisung is off-limits. Except technically he's not. Because technically, he's Hyunjin's boyfriend. So technically, it's okay if he feels weird when he sees Jisung and Minho together because technically –)
His thoughts are interrupted when Jisung reaches over to squeeze his hand. He blinks down at their clasped hands owlishly and then at Jisung himself, receiving a gentle, close-lipped smile. The beat of his heart falters for half of a second.
"It’ll be fine," Jisung comforts him. "It’s nothing we haven’t done before. In a few years’ time, we’ll let everyone in on the joke and laugh about it together.”
Hyunjin can't help but smile back at him, his eyes roving across the upwards turn of Jisung's lips. For all of his posturing, Jisung really does do his best to look after the people he cares about. All of these weeks later, Hyunjin still can't believe he's now on the list. He squeezes Jisung's hand in return, wanting to cling onto the moment.
"It’ll be the funniest scene ever when we tell all of them,” he says, taking the lifeline that Jisung has tossed over to pull him out of his ruminations. “No one in our group will be able to top this one."
Jisung smiles again and this time his lips pull back to reveal his gums and the set of his teeth. Hyunjin's heart does that dumb thing where it skips another beat. A voice in the back of his mind pointedly notes: Cute. Han Jisung is cute. He ignores both of them, not wanting to waste his energy on overthinking everything he feels around Jisung when he could be busy paying attention to him instead.
He manages to make it twelve hours before he finally admits defeat. To be fair, a lot happens in those twelve hours to keep him distracted.
First, there was the embarrassing moment when Auntie Jieun caught Hyunjin hiding in Jisung's wardrobe because there had been no time for him to climb out of the window when she came home from work and neither of them had wanted Jisung's mother to walk in on them together when he was half-naked. Then he had to suffer through the most mortifying conversation of his life when she sat them down to deliver a long, detailed and clinical speech about How To Have Safe Sex: The Gay Edition. The worst thing about it was that Jisung was still in nothing but his towel throughout the entire lecture. Hyunjin had never stared so hard at the wall in front of him before.
He was too embarrassed to stick around after that so he ended up going home (through the front door this time) where his mum immediately accosted him. His dad did his best to curb her interrogation, but she was a woman on a mission and there was no stopping her. Afterwards, Hyunjin felt like he had given a damn police statement in his own living room. He winced, knowing what Jisung was going to go through that evening will be much, much worse. To this day, he still remembers what his mum was like with Seungmin – and Seungmin had been his best friend first. God knew what she was going to put Jisung through.
The evening meal (also known in some parts of the world as the second coming of the Spanish Inquisition) came and went. It was exactly as bad as Hyunjin expected it to be, but Jisung somehow kept his cool. He managed to walk a fine line between fearing Hyunjin's mum and flattering her. In return, she stuffed him with more and more food.
As an apology for making him suffer through that, Hyunjin's dad says he can stay over at Jisung's for the night and finally catch a break. His mum grumbles about this at length, but she lets him go all the same. Hyunjin gladly makes his escape, wanting nothing more than to be able to finally relax without someone breathing down his neck. This day has been exhausting.
"How are you doing you two?" Auntie Jieun asks, poking her head around Jisung's bedroom door to peer at them as they prepare a pillow for Hyunjin to sleep on. It's unusually plump so wrestling on the pillowcase turns out to be a two-man job albeit a silent one because they're both too tired to make conversation. "Everything okay in here? Do you guys need anything?"
"Nah, we're good," Jisung says. When the pillow is finally made, he tosses it onto the bed and then walks over to his mum to kiss her on the cheek. "'Night, eomma."
She smiles at him affectionately and ruffles his hair. "Goodnight, baby. And you too, Hyunjinnie," she adds, leaning sideways to grin at him.
He returns it as sincerely as he can when he's this knackered. "Goodnight, Auntie Jieun."
"Okay, I'll leave you guys to it. We'll have breakfast tomorrow before you need to set off for the train, okay?" When Jisung nods in agreement, she continues, "Super. I'll be down the hall if you need anything. Make sure you keep the door unlocked and open, I don't want any funny business while you're here."
She gives the two of them a pointed look. Hyunjin blushes as it dawns on him what she means. Jisung does too, but he pairs it with a yell for his mum to stop embarrassing him ("Haven't you people done enough?!") and then stomps back to the bed once she's laughed and made her exit. The sleeves and legs of his pyjamas are a little too long for his frame so the effect is somewhat ruined. He just looks cute.
Hyunjin doesn't comment on this and instead waits for Jisung to slide under the covers before he turns the lights off and follows suit. The two of them face each other in the darkness in companionable silence. Hyunjin can't really see much of Jisung's face in this lighting, but his eyes travel over it anyway, trying to soak him in. The tangle of cords inside of him tightens.
"Sorry about tonight,” he murmurs after a while. “I know my mum really put you through it.”
The duvet rustles as Jisung shifts his shoulders in a shrug. "It’s no big deal," he says. "She just wants the best for you, that’s all.”
Even so, having to sit through his mum's undivided scrutiny for an entire evening is something no one should have to suffer through. Especially since Jisung isn't even actually his boyfriend. He could've ducked out with an excuse and left Hyunjin to throw a story together for his parents, but he didn't. He stuck around and did his best to make it easy for him.
Hyunjin points this out. “Still," he says. "You didn’t need to sit through all that, but you did. So I guess I just wanted to say thank you.”
Jisung accepts the gratitude with a faint noise.
After that, the two of them lie in silence again. Hyunjin can't bring himself to look away from Jisung. He wishes the light were on so he could see him properly: his big, brown eyes downturned with sleep, his cheek squashed against his pillow. He wants to see how the choppy strands of his hair fall over his brow and then be able to run his fingers through it, see if he can tuck any back behind his ear.
I want him, he thinks with startling clarity. I want to kiss him and hold him and I want him to want to do the same with me. I want all of this to be real.
As soon as the realisation hits him, he knows this has gotten out of hand. He murmurs a quick goodnight and turns his back on Jisung before he can do something as outlandish as lurch forward to put his desires into action. This side of the bed is much colder without Jisung there to warm it up, but it's less risky than the alternative. He screws his eyes shut and wills his thoughts to shut the fuck up so he can go to sleep. When the morning comes, he can deal with this then.
All of a sudden, Jisung shuffles closer until he's curled around Hyunjin's back. Hyunjin stiffens, the distress in his mind skyrocketing. He knows Jisung must sense it, but neither of them say a word as he slides an arm around Hyunjin's waist and puts his head down on Hyunjin's pillow.
“Is this okay with you?” he murmurs, his breath hot on the back of Hyunjin's neck.
Hyunjin can feel his heart pounding in his chest. Each beat of it is frantic and deafening; he wouldn't be surprised if Jisung can hear it too. It crashes against his ribcage and his thoughts get wilder and wilder in tandem with it. I like him I like him I like him I like him. Does he like me? I like him I like him I –
It cuts off when Jisung shifts as if he's going to move back. It's only then that Hyunjin realises he hasn't answered his question. Panicking, he clamps down on Jisung's hand, keeping it pressed against his stomach. Jisung pauses in his retreat.
“It’s fine,” Hyunjin whispers. His mind continues its mantra, only quieter this time. I like him, I like him, I like him. “It’s warmer this way.”
Jisung mumbles a sleepy, incoherent reply. He shuffles closer again, bridging the small distance between his front and Hyunjin's back. He fits himself along the line of his body, his arm securing Hyunjin into position. His head comes to rest in the space between Hyunjin's shoulder blades. The warmth of his body forms a cloud around them and it sort of feels like they've just plunged into a hot spring. Hyunjin keeps his cold hand on top of Jisung's and lets himself soak it all in, memorising the way he feels in that moment as he lies in Han Jisung's bed with Han Jisung's arms around him.
He never imagined that there would be a time where something like this would feel so right. As insane as it sounds, he doesn't want to be anywhere else but here. He's not sure how he should feel about that, but he's too content right now to care.
"Goodnight, Hyunjin," Jisung whispers into the fabric of his t-shirt.
Hyunjin squeezes Jisung's hand, his eyes drifting shut as he gives in to sleep's call. “Goodnight, Hannie."
He kisses Jisung in his kitchen when daylight has just started to dawn in South Korea. It's a joke in some parts but not in others.
It happens when Jisung passes him the last of the dishes to dry, a look of vindication on his features as if this is the ultimate revenge for making Jisung wash the dishes in his own house. He's not actually annoyed, he's just playing at it, and Hyunjin only feels endeared by the performance. So it's a joke in the sense that he leans over to press a kiss to Jisung's cheek in a playful tease, thanking him for looking after him so well.
It's not a joke in the sense that all Hyunjin has been thinking about all morning is that he wants to kiss Jisung. The feeling has been nagging him the entire time. There's been a constant stream of 'kiss him just kiss him he looks so kissable so just kiss him already!' in the back of his mind as the two of them have gotten ready to head back to Seoul. For the most part, he's managed to keep it down, but then the two of them have to work through the dishes side by side and Jisung starts to sing under his breath and Hyunjin thinks –
I like him. I like him so much.
The thought terrifies him. Because Han Jisung is not his to like. Because this was all meant to be one big conspiracy, nothing more than a performance. Because it made sense for Hyunjin to fall in love with Seungmin, but it doesn't make sense for him to fall for Han Jisung. All of their old high school friends had it right.
He can't actually like him. This must be something psychological again, his brain just tricking his heart into thinking that something real can emerge from The Deal. What if he's just latched onto Jisung’s friendship and confused the fact that they have A Thing for something deeper? What if he's just lonely and searching for something to fill the void Seungmin left behind? Who's to say that these feelings are even real?
But then Jisung shoves the last bowl his way and pointedly remarks, "You're welcome," and Hyunjin just gets this colossal tidal wave of happiness out of nowhere.
So he moves without thinking and presses a kiss to Jisung's cheek. He plays it off as a joke when he does, like they've done something like this before. And when Jisung pushes him back with a disgusted groan – another performance, his eyes are bright with amusement as he does it – he laughs. He can still feel the smoothness of Jisung's skin against his lips. It tingles where they touched.
He shouldn't have done that. He should not have done that.
But there's a large part of him that doesn't regret it and is exhilarated by the payoff of leaning in for more. If he kisses Jisung again without the pretence of a joke, how will he react? Will he push him away or will he retaliate with a gesture of his own? His mind spins with the possibilities, but he does his best to keep them back. He can't get carried away by this. They're only pretending at the end of the day.
And yet he finds himself dropping a soft kiss to Jisung's nose two days later in a pizza parlour. No joke necessary, no punchline on the way. He does it because he wants to, because Jisung looks at him with his cheeks bursting with food and Hyunjin can't muster up any of the disgust he used to express at the sight. All he feels is fond. Jisung is cute and he smiles up at Hyunjin like he loves being around him and Hyunjin likes him so much. The fondness swells inside of him like a hot air balloon. So he kisses the tip of his nose because he doesn't know how to contain it all.
Jisung gasps, the sound barely audible in the din of the joint they're in. His eyes are big and brown. He doesn't push Hyunjin away with a laugh or a curse, but he doesn't return it with his own kiss either. He just looks up at him like he's not quite sure what's happening.
A wild thought enters Hyunjin's head at the dumbfounded look. Surely if Jisung is in love with Minho, he wouldn't be looking at Hyunjin like that? He would be playing it off like the kiss was a casual thing for the benefit of their friends, but the look he would give Hyunjin when no one is paying attention would be stern. A warning of the conversation to come where he'd set out clear boundaries between them. But he doesn't do that. He just looks up at Hyunjin wondrously and Hyunjin, despite knowing better, begins to hope.
He twitches an eyebrow, meeting Jisung's expression with a challenge. Do something about this, it says. Kiss me back. Jisung still doesn't break his stare. The air sizzles with anticipation.
"Eww!" Jeongin cries obnoxiously, ruining the moment.
He throws his napkin at Hyunjin and Jisung. Hyunjin looks away, faint annoyance curling in his gut, and snatches up the projectile. He balls it up and throws it back at Jeongin, aiming for his head. His shot lands true, the napkin bouncing off their maknae's forehead. Good. He's glad. Something was about to happen then, he knows it. If Jeongin didn't interrupt, Jisung would've –
Jisung would've what? Kissed him back? As much as Hyunjin hopes for it, the cold water of logic hastens to dampen it now that the moment has passed. Jisung likes Minho. He always has, always will. Hyunjin would do well to remember that.
But then again, he thought the same about Seungmin once, didn't he? Everyone always said they would be together until they were old and grey and now look at them. Broken apart, still barely speaking and Hyunjin now likes the last person on earth he ever thought he would like. So there's a chance that Jisung might feel the same. Maybe he wants to kiss Hyunjin too.
It turns out that he does kiss Hyunjin back but not for the reason he hopes.
After Jeongin calls them out for being loved up at the table, Chan suddenly has the epiphany that, for all of his concerns about the two of them jumping each other's bones at the earliest opportunity, Jisung and Hyunjin never kiss in public. They hold hands and lean against each other a lot, but there's nothing extreme. All of a sudden, the two of them are subjected to a well-meant but uncomfortable speech about how they shouldn't be afraid to express their affection for each other in front of their friends, no matter how much they're teased for it.
Hyunjin tries to brush it off with the excuse that they just don't like PDA much, only to be met with a table full of disbelieving looks. Two of the clingiest members of their group don’t like PDA? Yeah, right. He can practically feel their lie unravelling in their hands.
In the end, Jisung groans, "We're fine. See?"
To demonstrate it, he kisses Hyunjin on the cheek. The feather-soft touch has his heart skip a beat and his face flush with colour. Jisung just kissed him. Yeah, he did it to sell their performance, but he still kissed him.
Oh God. He's never going to get over it, he can already tell.
That's not the only kiss Jisung lands on him either. Though they don't come to an agreement as such in words, the two of them begin to kiss each other a lot more in an effort to keep their friends off their back. It's nothing more than a peck here and there and there's never any lip-on-lip action, but Hyunjin still remembers each one. Keeps the memories close to his heart, replays them in his head whenever he's in bed at night. He falls asleep to images of Jisung. The pressure of his mouth against Hyunjin's skin. The pretty blush in his cheeks whenever Hyunjin brushes his lips against the exhausted frown in Jisung's brow after a lecture. The width of his grin whenever their friends moan and tease them for the gestures. The last thing he remembers each day is the memory of Jisung gathered in his arms.
His favourite ones to recall are the ones that no one else witnesses. When they're both sleepy and lying in bed together, their eyes gritty from hours of staring at a laptop, and Jisung is so small and snug in his hold. Hyunjin kisses Jisung's nose because he looks so cute and content when he's lying next to him, because having him there makes Hyunjin feel happier than it should. And Jisung just smiles a lazy smile up at him afterwards, then strains to kiss him back. They fall asleep like that, so tangled together that it's not possible to see where one of them begins and the other one ends.
In those moments, Hyunjin doesn't have the energy to worry over his feelings for Jisung. He just accepts them like he accepts the kisses. Nothing else in the world exists when they're huddled together in bed in the late hours of the night.
What is there to worry about?
In the daylight, it's harder to ignore the reality of their situation. Hyunjin has always known that he overthinks things to an uncomfortable extent, that he can never make a decision without getting carried away in his head about it, even as he does what he always intended to do since he knows he's probably overreacting. His brain just has a difficult time shutting the fuck up most of the time.
Now that he's realised he likes Jisung, it goes into overdrive.
One second, he is basking in the glow of an afternoon spent with Jisung and the next, there's a traitorous voice wondering why he's so happy when Jisung probably thinks nothing of it. He studies Jisung's mouth when they're together and then agonises over whether he's overstepping, only to then remind himself that he is Jisung's boyfriend for all intents and purposes. Then he recalls that this is all just fake so that excuse doesn't mean jack shit. It's all so fucking exhausting.
What doesn't help is that Jisung doesn't seem to be affected by it in the slightest. He has adjusted to all of their developments in their relationship with ease. First when they went from an uneasy alliance into being genuine friends, then from friends who hold hands into ones that kiss each other on the cheeks. For all Hyunjin is freaking out inside, Jisung seems to be completely unfazed.
It comforts him as much as it scares him. On the one hand, Jisung's nonchalance could mean that kissing Hyunjin isn't a big deal because he has nothing but platonic feelings for him which, for obvious reasons, is somewhat heart-breaking. Or it could be option b which is that it doesn't affect him because he wants to be kissing Hyunjin so there's no need for him to freak out. Which means that Hyunjin doesn't need to either.
If he had someone to talk to about all of this, it would be so much easier. Someone who could just sit him down and sift through his thoughts together, make connections that he hasn't considered. But it's not like he can admit to anyone why all of this is such a big deal to him without confessing to The Deal so that isn't an option. Really, all he can do is suffer in silence.
The exclamation somehow manages to make it past the music in Hyunjin's ears. He looks up from his notebook with a frown to find Chan standing on the other side of his table, beaming. Popping one earphone out, he cocks his head to the side.
"Oh hey, hyung. Didn't see you there. What's up?"
"Nothing, I just need to work on one of my essays," he says. "Mind if I sit here?"
His hand is already clamped around the top of the chair he's standing behind. Hyunjin rolls his eyes, a smile flitting across his face and gestures for Chan to sit down. It's not like he needs an entire table in the library to himself. He just snagged one because he figured it would be nice to have it. He shuffles his textbooks and folders closer to himself to give Chan more room and pops his earphones back in, returning to his studying.
Everyone says the first year at uni is always a breeze and in many ways it has been, but that doesn't mean anything when his lecturers decide to cram the deadlines for the assignments they've set into the same week. He's convinced they must have planned it together and are laughing it up in the staff room behind their students' backs.
He powers through his work as best as he can, but eventually his concentration starts to waver. He yawns and checks the time. It's been close to an hour since his last break so it should be okay if he takes another. Setting his phone back down, he leans back in his seat with his eyes closed and his arms stretched high above his head. His muscles ache in pleasure.
Through the music, he can make out what sounds like words. He cracks his eyes open to meet another one of Chan's smiles and blinks, taking one earphone out again.
"Sorry, did you say something?"
He laughs. "I was just asking how long you've been here, that's all."
"Oh right," he says. He sinks back in his seat, making a face. "I came here after my Dance Techniques class, so like… since eleven am? I'll probably leave around three or four."
"Fair enough," Chan says. "I think Yugyeom and JK might be coming in an hour. Is it okay if they sit here? This place is packed so it's kinda hard to find seats."
He shrugs. "Sure, I don't see why not. There's enough space."
To be honest, it's actually a little intimidating to know that he might be sitting with Chan's friends. It's not like they're not friendly or anything because they are – they're even in Dance Soc with Hyunjin and they're always nice to him whenever they interact there – but they're just so… cool. Everyone on campus has heard of them. It's weird to think of it that way when he realises that Chan is part of the same friendship group as them, is also known around campus and that they all live in the same house. Hyunjin has even been inside of it more times than he can count this semester alone and God knows his other friends have used that information to beg him for invites to the parties BamBam throws there. Everyone wants to be at BamBam's parties.
But Chan is Chan. He's not cool, he's just Chan. Hyunjin used to idolise him when they were younger, but he's grown out of that now. He hasn't quite managed to leave the starry-eyed phase with the rest of his fourth year friends though.
"Awesome," Chan says. He sends off a quick text on his phone and then locks it, returning to his laptop. He's not looking in Hyunjin's direction, but he continues speaking, "Anyways, what's new with you nowadays? I feel like I haven't seen you all week, I've been so caught up in everything else."
Hyunjin shrugs again. He pauses his music so he doesn't come off as rude and pulls his earphones out of both ears entirely. "I'm fine, I guess. Just trying to get my written assignments out of the way so I can focus on getting a head-start for my recital."
"Oh yeah, the January recitals. I forgot about that! They're always really cool. Looks like I'll be going to three this year then."
"I'm really nervous about it," he admits.
The recital was only announced this week, but the thought of it makes him feel sick. He's going to have to choreograph his own solo dance and perform it in front of an entire theatre full of people – not just the rest of his coursemates but any student who fancies buying a ticket to watch the performance. Honestly, he thinks it's a bit cruel of the course administrators to plunge them into the deep end like that. Couldn't they have at least done a group performance in class first?
"You'll be fine," Chan assures him. "It's a nerve-wracking thing, but you're a good dancer, Hyunjin. Better than you know. It'll be easier than you think."
He doubts that. Already, he can think of a bunch of classmates who are better than him at dancing. Cleaner, sharper, bolder. He has no idea how he'll make himself stand out.
Before he can get carried away by his mounting worries, Chan speaks again, "How are you doing outside of uni? Your social life going okay? Anything new happening with you and Sungie?"
"No," Hyunjin automatically replies before he pauses.
He might not be able to say it in as many words, but maybe he can spin the recent realisation of his feelings for Jisung in a way where he can get some sort of advice from Chan. He might not be cool, but Chan is a god when it comes to giving advice. It's practically written into his genetic coding.
He chews on his lip, sifting through his words carefully. He has to word this just right to get away with it. Perhaps sensing his apprehension, Chan glances away from his laptop screen to peer over at him. His eyes soften with a familiar expression – damn, he is such a hyung – and he smiles encouragingly at him.
"It's just – I…" Hyunjin starts to fiddle with his earphones, unable to maintain any eye contact when he's about to broach something he hasn't dared to breathe out loud. "You know how me and Hannie started dating because we… we realised that we sort of maybe liked each other and wanted to see where things went?"
"Yes." He catches Chan nod in the corner of his vision. "What about it?"
"Well, we, uh… have been dating for a while now, right?"
"For a couple months or something, yeah."
"Right, well…" His face is heating up already. He stares down at the white wires of his earphones like he wants to burn a hole in them, confessing, "I really like him, hyung. Like. A lot. More than I thought I would when we first started this. And I'm… I don't know, the thought is just kind of scary, I suppose? Like I didn't – we didn't think it would be anything more than a casual thing. And now I'm… I can't stop thinking about him."
His voice trails off. Chan doesn't speak to fill in the silence. When Hyunjin peeks up, he sees that it's because he's too busy grinning at him. The width of his smile threatens to split his face in half.
"What?" Hyunjin scowls, defensive.
"Nothing," he says, trying to bite down on his smile. It's not very successful. "You're just really cute, Hyunjin-ah."
"Hyung!" he protests.
Chan laughs and then claps a hand over his mouth when he realises how loud it is. They look around to find a couple of disgruntled glares aimed in their direction so he rushes out a quick apology before turning back to Hyunjin to speak much more quietly.
"I don't think you should be worried about your feelings for Jisung being deeper than you thought they would become. Isn't that the whole point of this? If you wanted to see where this would lead you, a more serious relationship was always on the cards."
"Yeah, but." Herein lies the problem of going to someone for advice. He can't give the whole picture so his worries just seem stupid. "What if he doesn't feel the same? What if it's only me who's falling properly and he's just thinking 'oh yeah, there's Hyunjin. He's alright, I suppose.'" Chan lets out another involuntary laugh so Hyunjin glares at him. "I'm being serious, hyung. What if he doesn't like me back? What if he likes someone else? There's no guarantee he feels the same way."
"Apart from the fact that he's in a relationship with you, that is," Chan says.
"But – "
"No buts," he interrupts firmly. "Look, Hyunjin, I understand why it's scary to realise you genuinely really like Jisung. Investing in a relationship is risky business. You never know what's going on in the other person's head unless you ask them. But if Jisung is still in a relationship with you and doesn't seem like he's in a hurry to leave it, have you ever considered that it's just because he feels the same way? Why else would he want to be there?"
Because he wants to make Minho jealous, that's why. Why else?
"What if he just doesn't wanna hurt my feelings or something?" he says weakly.
Chan fixes him with a reproachful look. "Do you really think that Jisung is the sort of person to do that? If he cares for you, he won't drag out a relationship he's not interested in."
"He might do," Hyunjin mutters, but it's mostly to be contrary. He can't help it. Sure, he opened up to Chan because he wanted advice, but Chan is making it all sound so much simpler than it is. He doesn't know The Struggle that Hyunjin does.
"If you really want answers, you should just talk to him," the fourth year continues. When Hyunjin blanches, he insists, "It's the only way you can know what page you’re both on. You can't be in a relationship with someone and never talk things out with them, especially when it bothers you."
Hyunjin isn't too sure about that. Whenever he and Seungmin used to try to talk things out, it always ended in an argument. Or at least it did in the last chunk of their relationship. Although maybe that was because neither of them were interested in talking things out so much as pointing out every way in which the other person had fucked up.
Even so, the breakup had still come as a surprise to him. One day, they had been arguing as per usual – Hyunjin doesn't even remember what it had been about, only that he was raging and that Seungmin was just sitting there, listening to it with a blank face. He probably wasn't even listening at all actually. Because when Hyunjin paused to take a breath, all he did was look over with that same expressionless visage and say the dreaded words. No preamble, no build-up. Just said it like it was.
I want to break up.
At the time, Hyunjin had been incredulous. Where the fuck had that come from? He remembers snapping at Seungmin to stop being so ridiculous and going home under the impression that Seungmin had just said something in the heat of the moment.
The next morning, he texted Seungmin to let him know that he would be late in picking him up for school and Seungmin replied that there was no need to since they were no longer boyfriends and they should give each other some space. So Hyunjin called his phone in a frenzy – once, twice, several times in a row until Seungmin picked up and then he cried down the line, begging Seungmin to change his mind. He never did.
On second thought, maybe Chan does have a point. Even when he and Seungmin were arguing, Hyunjin had been convinced that they would stay together. All of the issues were just a rough patch. Couples go through stuff all the time. Meanwhile, Seungmin had been contemplating a breakup on his side. The two of them weren't on the same page and never thought to make sure they were. If Hyunjin wants to do better this time around – and he does – he needs to learn how to do that.
It's easier said than done. The thought of bringing the conversation up to Jisung makes him feel nauseous. What's he meant to do? Tug Jisung aside and tell him that he has very real feelings for him and wants their sham of a relationship to be real? What if Jisung just laughs in his face? What if he says no and rejects him because he's still in love with Minho and then ends up avoiding Hyunjin afterwards? He doesn't want to lose Jisung from his life.
Maybe he doesn't need to do it now. He can wait things out first. See if it seems like Jisung does like him. Chan said it himself: if Jisung doesn't seem to be in a rush to bring their agreement to an end, then all signs point to the possibility that he returns Hyunjin's feelings. If that's the case, Hyunjin will grow a pair of balls and try to ask him directly.
"Maybe you're right," he concedes. "I'll talk to him about it soon."
Chan smiles again. He leans over to pat his hand. "It'll be alright. Good luck with the conversation."
Yeah. He's definitely going to need it.
PART IV: A ROAD PAVED WITH KISSES AND COBBLESTONES
One Thursday morning in the middle of his dance class, Hyunjin realises it has been over two months since The Deal was made. Time has flown by just like that and now their self-imposed deadline is upon them. The time to bring things to an end has already arrived.
He doesn't mention it to Jisung. Jisung never brings it up either.
He has no idea what that means.
Bit by bit, Hyunjin starts to repair his friendship with Seungmin. It begins with little conversations in their shared flat. Seungmin lets him know there's no milk left in the fridge so Hyunjin has to drink his coffee black that morning and they laugh about how his face screws up at the bitter taste. Hyunjin comes back to Seungmin watching a drama on the tv and he ends up sitting through the rest of the episode with him. Their flat has a potluck one night where they all bring something to eat – Hyunjin, knowing he should not be anywhere near a cooker, opts to buy Krispy Kreme doughnuts for everyone – and they spend an evening bantering back and forth with everyone else.
Jisung points out the development one night towards the end of the semester. The two of them have just gotten back from a gruelling study session in the library alongside Seungmin and Jisung has somehow managed to cajole Hyunjin into crashing in his bed for a bit. He really shouldn't, especially because he has an early start tomorrow and waking up next to Jisung just makes him want to stay in bed for another three hours, but he has a hard time refusing Jisung anything.
Especially sleepy Jisung. Sleepy Jisung has him in a chokehold.
(Also, Sleepy Jisung is still wearing his hoodie tonight. One of Hyunjin's favourite hoodies, that is. When he recognised it on Jisung earlier, his heart all but stopped, desire churning inside of him at the sight. Jisung was right there in front of everyone, Hyunjin's clothes hanging off his body. He looked so soft and small in them, the sleeves hanging well past his wrists.. He looked like he was his (and like Hyunjin was Jisung's in return). If he hadn't been so aware of everyone around them, Hyunjin might well have leaned over to kiss him up. Let everyone really know that they're together.
As it stood, all he did was tell Jisung he looks cute albeit in a way that disguised the sincerity of the compliment.)
“Hey, Hwang Hyunjin," Jisung mumbles, his voice thick with sleep. "I didn’t know you were talking to Seungmin again. Last time I checked, you two couldn’t be in the same room without at least three other people there.”
Hyunjin shuffles a little closer to him, explaining, "We’ve started being civil again recently. It’s all pretty new. Literally just started at the end of last week. But it’s nice.”
“Looked a little more than civil to me," Jisung comments lightly.
Hyunjin thinks it over. Maybe he and Seungmin are more than civil. After all, Seungmin was the one who approached him today at the library. Now that he thinks about it, Seungmin has been making a real effort to make amends.
The realisation warms him. As much as their relationship fell apart in the end, he's always cared for Seungmin. It's not in the way it was once, but the love is still there. Seungmin has been his best friend since he was four years old. Pain and heartbreak can muddy the connection, but it can't negate it in its entirety. There was a Hyunjin and Seungmin who existed before they fell for each other – who's to say there can't be one after?
"I feel like it’s been so long since we could talk properly,” he says quietly. He's never talked about this with anyone before, but he finds his tongue is loose with all of the thoughts that have brewed in the back of his mouth for months. “It’s been more than half a year since we broke up, but even before then we were already… off. We just got so swept up in things like exams and trying to get into uni and my dancing that we never had time for each other, and it’s like once we got just a little bit too distant, our relationship was too strained to ever be okay again. Even when we tried to make an effort, we just… stopped working."
Jisung doesn't speak. Doesn't even move. He might be asleep for all Hyunjin knows – or he might be paying attention. Waiting for Hyunjin to work off the weight on his chest at last and confide in someone, not wanting to chase him off with an interjection. Whatever it is, Hyunjin carries on speaking into the room regardless of whether anyone else is awake to witness it. It's like now that he has started to talk about it, he can't bring himself to stop. The words pour from his mouth like water.
“I’d always thought we were the type of couple who never needed to really try to work," he says. "That we just fit together since being best friends had been so easy, but apparently not. And now the next thing you know, Seungmin and I barely speak at all. And even though I know now that breaking up was the best thing for us, even if I didn’t back then, it still hurt to lose him, you know?”
He's not expecting a response, but it comes anyways. Jisung whispers, "I know." And then he adds even more softly, "You love him."
And yes, Hyunjin does love Seungmin in many ways. It's no longer with the same sort of visceral passion as it once was, nothing romantic in nature. It's just there. A calm and steady flame, one that burns even when Hyunjin and Seungmin aren't on speaking terms. Seungmin is his best friend, his first love. Nothing will change that.
“I think I always will,” he admits. “Which is why I’m glad we’re talking again. I want my best friend back. I miss having him around.”
“You’ll get him back," Jisung says, quiet with conviction. "I know you will. And in the meantime, you have me.”
The assurance has his heart buoyant with happiness. He smiles at the back of Jisung's head, knowing that if he turns around and looks at him, there will be no way he will misinterpret how Hyunjin feels about him. He doesn't care. He moves closer to Jisung, gathering him to his chest and tightening his grip around him. Fuck going back to his room; he wants to stay like this for as long as he can. Not just in the meantime but for as long as Jisung will let him.
“Yeah,” he murmurs. “And you have me.”
Winter break arrives and they all pack up to go home. As much as Hyunjin enjoys being at uni, the return is very much welcome. There's just something different about being home.
Sure, his mum is still on her usual shit, but that's fine because he's used to it and he still loves her despite the constant grilling. As much as she nags him, she also cares for him. She has hot tea ready for him in the mornings when the windows are still frosted over; dismisses him of all his chores so he can focus on his studies; welcomes him home with a hug when he returns from his old dance academy, folding him into her arms and putting her hands over his ears to warm them up from the bite of the cold. She even gifts both him and Jisung new weighted blankets to take back to Seoul. When she does that, Hyunjin knows she's pretty much given Jisung the golden stamp of approval.
Everything else in the world seems so much simpler when he's home. He wakes up, he studies, he practices his solo for the recital, he comes home to hot food, he studies some more. Sometimes he switches it up by meeting up with the others to reinvigorate his mind. A lot of the time, this means that the eight of them camp out across two tables in the Seo family restaurant since Changbin's parents always give them free food and they work the entire day away there.
The main downside about being back home is that the sleepovers with Jisung trickle to a halt. Neither of them are brave enough to suggest he sleeps over at Hyunjin's and with only a road separating their houses, there's no reason for Hyunjin to not return to his bed at the end of the day, even if it is after midnight. Sometimes when it's particularly cold, he curls up in bed around one of his pillows and pretends like it's Jisung, but it's a pretty poor substitute. He has to settle for lingering hugs in person instead.
"You're crushing me," Jisung grumbles as Hyunjin fits his arms around the puffy coat Jisung has stuffed himself into. The two of them are in the entranceway to the restaurant, waiting for Minho and Chan to finish packing up, and Hyunjin has pounced on the opportunity to cuddle Jisung since he looks so round and bundled up in all of those layers. "I'm going to stop breathing any second now."
Despite his words, he makes no effort to break free from Hyunjin's hold and just burrows into his chest. Hyunjin's coat has been unzipped so he can cradle Jisung as close as possible, the heat of their bodies feeding into each other.
"It's okay, Hannie," he says easily. "You'll survive somehow."
"No, I won't," he says, but he wriggles closer all the same.
He lifts his head to press his nose against the collar of Hyunjin's shirt, the tip brushing along the skin of his throat. His pulse jumps. Jisung then rests his temple against Hyunjin's shoulder and sinks against him heavily.
"My brain is going to turn to mush," he despairs. "Pretty soon there'll be nothing left in there."
Hyunjin grins. "You're telling me there was something there in the first place?"
Just as he knew it would, the comment earns him a sharp pinch in the side. Laughing, he cringes back from the assault and then retaliates by crushing Jisung even more tightly to his chest. He protests with a roar of pain.
"C'mon lovebirds," Chan says, coming up to them. "Let's head home."
He meets Hyunjin's eyes with a playful waggle of his eyebrows, his gaze sweeping pointedly along how Jisung is fitted in his arms. He turns red, recalling their conversation in the library.
With each week that has passed, Hyunjin has started to hope more and more that Chan is right, that Jisung does like him. The longer they go without bringing up their impending break up, the more he thinks that maybe Jisung doesn't want it to happen too. What if he just doesn't know how to approach the conversation either?
Minho brings up the rear of the group, bundled up in a woolly jacket and a scarf, looking disgruntled by the weather. His gaze sweeps across Hyunjin and Jisung as well, only there's a pinch of discomfort to his look that Chan's was empty of. Hyunjin feels his lungs burn with something acidic and ugly. When Minho meets his eyes, it must slip into the look he returns it with because Minho glances away almost immediately thereafter.
Good, he thinks viciously. Be fucking uncomfortable.
Almost as soon as he thinks it, a seed of guilt flowers in his stomach. If Minho does like Jisung, it's not his fault. It's literally what Jisung set out to achieve all those weeks ago. And Jisung did like him first.
Following that train of thought makes Hyunjin feel slightly sick though, so he shuts it down and just steps back from Jisung to zip up his coat. As soon as his hand is free, Jisung slips his own into it. Even in the dead of winter, it's warm (and clammy), but right now it's a welcome weight. He curls his fingers around Jisung's palm and they walk home.
The internal dilemma continues. Hyunjin goes between becoming increasingly sure that Jisung returns his feelings and doubting whether the signs he's been picking up on are signs at all.
Is he imagining the softness in Jisung's smile whenever it's directed his way? Are their conversations full of flirty remarks like Felix groans they are or is it just the way they banter? Is he deluding himself when he presses a kiss to Jisung's cheek and thinks he hears his breath hitch in response? Does Jisung really look at him differently like he hopes he is or does he regard him with the same fondness he feels for all of their friends?
On and on it goes. His mind oscillates wildly between the possibilities. He knows he could just follow Chan's advice and ask Jisung, but the thought of hearing Jisung say outright that he doesn't like Hyunjin back genuinely scares him. He's not strong enough to face the prospect.
So he tests the boundaries of their relationship instead. Even as he freaks out inside over what he's doing, he carries out the more benign desires he has. He lays liberal kisses on Jisung's forehead, nose and cheeks. He gives Jisung items of his own clothing because he likes seeing him in them. He teases him to see what Jisung will come up with in reply, excitement fresh in his veins while he anticipates Jisung's retorts.
All the while, he makes a private note over how Jisung reacts. What he does when something catches him by surprise, whether he picks up on the hints that Hyunjin lays out. Whether he drops any of his own that even Hyunjin, as asinine as he is, can't deny.
For the most part, he seems to take it all in stride. Sometimes, Hyunjin's affection will leave him dumbfounded, but whenever it does, he shakes it off quickly and never comments on it. This usually has Hyunjin circle back to his usual dilemma of whether Jisung is doing this because it means something and he likes the fact that it does or because it means nothing to him so he doesn't care.
Call him an optimist despite his constant worrying because Hyunjin still hopes that it's the former.
This comes in full force when they accidentally kiss in Chan's house during winter break.
As it's past New Year’s Day, everyone has returned to Seoul to carry on their studies on campus – Jeongin included despite being a high schooler since he's still off school – and Chan's house has turned out to be the place to be. Not because BamBam is throwing a party, but because it has good heating and the student accommodation does not. So whenever Hyunjin isn't running himself into the ground in the dance studios, he can be found in Chan's house alongside a dozen other people.
For a building full of stressed students, the atmosphere is surprisingly cheerful. There's just something about suffering alongside other people that makes things more bearable – especially when one of those people feeds you good food.
"I've made a huge pot of ramen for lunch if anyone wants it," Jeongguk announces, popping his head around the door to the living room to make sure everyone in there has gotten the message. When people start to immediately scramble up for a bowl, he heads back to the kitchen.
Seungmin, too, gets up from where he and Hyunjin are sitting on the floor next to the fireplace as they study, their notebooks fanned out around them. Hyunjin has placed his bag and coat next to him to mark what will be Jisung's spot. He and Felix haven't arrived yet, but he knows they'll come eventually.
"Are you coming with?" Seungmin asks, nudging Hyunjin's knee with his foot for his attention.
He shakes his head, chewing on a pen lid as he stares down at the practice questions in front of him. "Nah, I'm not hungry yet. I'll eat later."
"Make sure you do."
He rolls his eyes and looks up at Seungmin in amusement. "Okay, eomma. Whatever you say."
"I'm just making sure you take care of yourself," Seungmin chides. "Is that so wrong?"
Hyunjin shakes his head again. "Of course not." The fact that they can even be in the position where Seungmin can pester him to look after himself is a cause for celebration. Why would he chase him off now?
"Good," Seungmin says firmly.
His mouth stretches into a smile, lopsided and earnest like a puppy. As unable to resist it as he always has been, Hyunjin returns it. Still smiling, Seungmin turns and heads for the kitchen. Jeongin waits for him by the door, studying the two of them with a curiously unreadable look. Hyunjin chalks it up to the younger being burned out by his own impending exams and returns to his own studying, wanting to get through this set of questions before he wastes all afternoon on them.
Seungmin returns not too long later, the bowl of ramen in tow. It smells delicious. Hyunjin looks over at it yearningly. He's not hungry but even so…
All of a sudden, it's shoved under his nose. Hyunjin jumps, looking past the ceramic to see Seungmin's amusement. His hand holds out a tangle of ramen between his chopsticks.
"I said I'm not hungry," he says. And he's not… but the ramen smells really good.
"Just have a bite," Seungmin commands.
Hyunjin holds out for all of two seconds before he accepts the offering, wrapping his mouth around the chopsticks and sucking up the ramen eagerly. He moans in appreciation as the sauce hits his tongue and sinks back, chewing through the food. Damn, Jeongguk makes really good ramen. Wait until he tells Sanha and Bomin all about it; they'll be seething in their jealousy.
"Tasty," he says.
Seungmin laughs, bringing the bowl back to him. "Tasty," he agrees.
Smiling, Hyunjin goes back to powering through his questions. He only takes a break when he realises he's drained his glass of water. He gets up, the back of his knees protesting with a groan as he unfolds them after so long and heads for the kitchen. It's busy with people pigging out on the ramen, but he manages to weave his way through them easily enough to get to the sink. He refills his glass and sips on it, content to just look outside and watch the snow fall into the garden.
"Oh, there you are, Hyunjinnie," someone says sweetly.
He startles, turning at the call of his name. "Huh, you what?" It takes him a few seconds, but his brain finally registers that it's Jisung next to him, still wrapped up in his winter coat and gloves and sleeves, his cheeks flushed pink. "Oh, Hannie. Finally woke up today, did you?”
Rolling his eyes, Jisung sinks back against the counter next to him. "I've been awake," he says. "I just didn’t want to leave my bed. Seoul’s colder than the seventh circle of Hell, I swear to God.”
What a typical Jisung remark to make. God, Hyunjin likes him so fucking much. He could listen to him grumble complaints all day.
He grins, nudging Jisung's arm. “I suppose you of all people would know.”
“Oh ha ha, very funny," Jisung says dryly. His eyes roll again; anytime now, they're going to permanently stick that way. Hyunjin will be sure to tease him when they do. "I bet you’re really proud of that unoriginal remark.”
“Just a little,” he says cheerily. In contrast to his unimpressed retort, Jisung meets it with a warm smile. Hyunjin nudges him again. “Are you eating? I had some ramen from Seungmin’s bowl earlier and it’s actually pretty good, you should try some.”
Jisung chews his lip in thought before his face relaxes into a coy look. He bats his eyelashes like a milkmaid. “Only if you feed me."
He then puffs up both cheeks, his fingers digging into them with a squeaky noise. As much as he likes him, Hyunjin can't help but shudder and flinch away from the show. Jisung is cute – just not like that. Jisung absorbs his reaction with a grin before dropping the aegyo.
"Yeah, I came to grab a bite of it just now," he says, answering properly. "It smells so good. I’ll join you to study afterwards. Where are you based? The living room?”
Hyunjin nods. “Yeah, over by the fireplace. I’ve saved you a spot.”
“Ugh, my hero," Jisung says, swooning dramatically. "How could I live without you?”
This time, it's Hyunjin who rolls his eyes, letting the gesture linger on his face. He drops it with a smile, looking fondly at Jisung. Jisung positively radiates with amusement and the sight has his fingertips tingling to tug him closer. How is it possible for someone to be that fucking captivating?
Jisung leans closer, probably to ramp up the whole flirty act he's been pulling all this time. Hyunjin decides to beat him to it, aiming to land a kiss on his cheek. But then something must get lost in translation because all of a sudden, their mouths bump against each other. They both freeze and then jerk back, staring at each other with wide eyes.
"Uh…” Jisung flounders.
Hyunjin can't even speak. He doesn't think he knows how to right now. Words don't exist to him anymore. Nothing exists except the reminder of what Jisung's lips felt against his in that handful of seconds where they were joined together. The kiss wasn't even that much of a kiss in the first place, but his senses have gone haywire all the same.
We kissed we kissed we kissed we kissed we kissed we kissed we kissed –
"I’m really hungry,” Jisung blurts. "I’m going to go and eat my ramen. I’ll catch you later.”
He beats a hasty retreat to the other side of the kitchen, shoving his way in between Yeonjun and Changbin to get to the huge steel pot on the table. Hyunjin stares after him, wondering what this all means.
They don't talk about the kiss. The next time they see each other that day, Jisung is back to normal and it's like it never even happened so Hyunjin decides to follow his lead. He has no idea whether this means Jisung regrets it, whether he's too embarrassed to discuss it or whether he'd be down for another kiss. A proper one, this time. He just doesn't know, okay? And he's too afraid to ask it in so many words. For all he knows, he's just overthinking and overreacting again. He probably is.
Regardless of what the accidental kiss may or may not mean, it's nothing more than a tiny bump in the road. The two of them fall back into their usual dynamic easily, settling into the haze of studying until their brains have been rubbed raw.
Later that day, Hyunjin has a random spurt of bravery and decides to push the boundaries of their relationship again by kissing the tip of Jisung's nose, earning a wondrous look for it. He returns it with a soft smile. He might not be brave enough to confess outright, but he can do this. He can wrap his scarf around Jisung's neck until all you can see of him is his pretty little round face, his chubby cheeks and big brown eyes. He can stand so close to him that Jisung drowns out everything else in the world. He can talk to him softly and tenderly and let him know that he cares for him, even if being so vulnerable with him scares Hyunjin beneath the bravado.
The expression that Jisung meets this with is one that is a little confused and a little overwhelmed. He looks like he's finally seeing something in front of him and he can't quite figure out what it is. But that he still wants to crack the code and discover the answer. He's not recoiling or pushing Hyunjin away. And maybe that speaks louder than any words he can say.
The moment is once again ruined by Jeongin. Jisung turns red at the high schooler's taunting about how sickening they are from where he’s observed them on the stairs, but Hyunjin isn't bothered by it. He just smiles at Jisung, yearning strong in his chest, and lets himself hope.
After that, Hyunjin begins to notice some things that leave him a little more optimistic.
The way Jisung automatically reaches for his hand whenever they enter each other's orbit. How Minho's longing glances have started to subside (and the way Jisung doesn't seem to have noticed them in the first place). The fact that he can get lost in conversation with Jisung for ages with neither of them tiring of each other's company or running out of words to say. He memorises the exact heart-shaped smile Jisung gives him whenever Hyunjin checks in on him to make sure he's not overwhelmed from being in a house with so many people. Recalls the weight of Jisung's head on his shoulder when they slip outside to take a breather in the cold where it's just the two of them.
His gut feeling starts to tell him that there's no way this can all be one-sided. As attached as he is to Jisung, Jisung is exactly the same with him. He seeks Hyunjin out, pulls him into conversation, wears the clothes he's borrowed from Hyunjin more than Hyunjin wears them himself. People don't just do that.
"Where's Hannie?" he asks, scanning the many heads in Chan’s living room for his boyfriend. None of them seem to be his. He shivers, burrowing into his jumper as he directs his words to Seungmin who sits on the armchair closest to him. "It's so fucking cold, my fingers are literally about to fall off. I need his clammy hands to warm them up. Also, why is Felix crying into a mug?"
Seungmin looks up from his colour-coded notes with a grimace, looking over at their hysterical friend. Felix has a hoodie and a mug clutched to his chest while Chan has wrapped him up in a hug, trying to soothe him. Over on the other side of the room, Minho looks at the two like he's not sure whether he wants to photograph the scene or burn it from his memory. The rest of the room's occupants carry on studying like nothing is even happening.
"I am an awful person!" Felix cries, even as they watch.
Chan hushes him, squeezing him closer. "No, you're not, bub. You could never be an awful person."
"I am," he wails.
Hyunjin turns back to Seungmin, baffled. He meets it with a pained look.
"Felix has been freaking out all afternoon because of poetry," he explains. "Jisung had Channie-hyung make him a hot chocolate to cheer him up, but Felix accidentally spilled it all over him."
"What?" Hyunjin straightens up in alarm. "Is he okay? Did he get hurt? Where is he?"
"Calm down, Jesus fucking Christ," Seungmin says, pinching his nose like he's too tired for this. He turns back to his notes, evidently crabby from all of the hysterics he's been forced to witness today. "He's in Minho-hyung's room. He went up like a minute ago to find something else to wear."
That doesn't comfort Hyunjin either. He pictures seeing Jisung in one of Minho's jumpers and his stomach churns violently at the thought. He doesn't want to see that. No one wants to see that. No one should have to.
He turns on his heel and runs up the stairs, his duffle bag bouncing against his back. He might not have been in Minho's room much this year, but he still knows which one it is. He bursts in, the door hitting the wall with a loud bang as he does.
Jisung jumps with a yelp. Hyunjin doesn't care. His eyes are frantic when they rove over Jisung. Although one of Minho's hoodies is in his hand, he's still in nothing but a thin vest which relieves Hyunjin more than it should. None of the hot chocolate seems to have seeped through to his vest either so he doesn't think it's managed to burn Jisung, but one can never be too sure.
“I heard what happened downstairs,” he says in answer to Jisung's startled look. He moves closer to him, still running his eyes over his boyfriend. “You’re not hurt, are you? Did the hot chocolate burn you?”
He shakes his head, the shock of Hyunjin's entrance fading in favour of amusement. "Nah, it didn’t get past my hoodie. Why, were you worried about me?” He pairs the tease with a flutter of his eyelashes.
Usually, Hyunjin would return it with a quip of his own. This time, he doesn't. He rummages through his bag for the spare set of clothes he always carries around instead.
“Here," he says. "I’ve got a spare hoodie you can wear. Don’t worry, it’s clean. I haven’t worn it yet.”
Jisung waves the offer away. “Oh, it’s fine, you don’t need to look for anything. I’m borrowing one from Minho-hyung.”
The refusal has that ugly burn of jealousy eat away at him again. He doesn't want Jisung to wear Minho's clothes. Why should he do something like that when there's a perfectly good hoodie here instead? Why does he have to wear another guy's clothes?
“Minho-hyung isn’t your boyfriend,” he says, trying to keep the acidity out of his voice. “I am.”
Jisung sends him a quizzical look. “I know that.”
“So wouldn’t it make more sense to wear my hoodie then?” he demands.
The confusion doesn't abate. The two of them stare at each other, neither of them backing down.
In the end, Jisung relents, letting out a drawn out, "Okaaaay?" as if he's not sure whether Hyunjin still has all of his wits about him. He tries to fold Minho’s Supreme hoodie as neatly as he can and puts it on top of a pile in his wardrobe albeit at an angle that will surely have their hyung wince when he sees it. Then he slowly bridges the gap to Hyunjin and takes the hoodie that he's holding it out, slipping it over his head.
Hyunjin can't deny the rush of satisfaction that crashes through him at the sight of him.
The hoodie practically eats him up. Hyunjin sized up when he bought it so that it would be loose on his own frame, so on someone who is a handful of inches shorter and much slimmer, it practically hangs off him. The sleeves hang off of Jisung's arms, giving him sweater paws, and the hem falls a few inches above his knees. Even as Hyunjin drinks him in, Jisung burrows his nose into the fabric, breathing in its scent. More satisfaction fills Hyunjin, sweet like molasses on his tongue.
Jisung startles like he's only just realised what he's doing, meeting his eyes in panic. Realisation then flashes across his face and his mouth falls open.
“Oh my God,” he says incredulously. “You like seeing me in your clothes.”
The statement catches Hyunjin off guard, pulling him out of his reverie. He registers its meaning a heartbeat later and turns red, spluttering, "What? I don’t know what you mean.”
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. This is not good. This is really not good at all. I am not ready for this conversation.
“I mean exactly what I said," Jisung says, an odd sort of vindication in his tone. It's oddly reminiscent of their earlier dynamic before the two of them realised that they could, in fact, spend more than three minutes in each other's company without clawing each other's eyes out. Only the subject matter is much, much different now. Jisung accuses, "You like seeing me in your clothes. It’s why you didn’t want me in Minho-hyung’s. Isn’t it?”
Shit. The fact that he managed to hit the nail on the head so quickly is terrifying. Hyunjin swallows, searching for a retort. In the end, he decides to own up to it. There's nothing to mock if Hyunjin isn't embarrassed by his actions.
He straightens his back, meeting Jisung's challenge with a cool look. "Yeah, I do," he admits. "What about it?"
If he thought he was satisfied by the sight of Jisung in his clothes, then Jisung is nothing but triumphant now. Something wild gleams in his eyes as he grins. The gesture is sharp – not quite loving but definitely satisfied. He steps forward like a predator that has just gotten the upper hand. Each of his movements is measured and purposeful until he's right in front of Hyunjin, tilting his head back to narrow his eyes. He no longer looks soft and pliable and cute; the Han Jisung in front of him is out for blood.
Or something like it anyway.
“Aw, that’s really cute, Hyunjinnie,” he says, the tease saccharine like toffee against the crush of his teeth. “No wonder you’re all but throwing half of your wardrobe at me every chance you get. You just can’t help yourself, can you?”
Hyunjin can feel his face heat up even more at the taunt. So maybe he does give his clothes to Jisung a lot of the time, but it's not like he can help it. He just likes seeing him in them, alright? And it's not like Jisung is telling him to back off either! One of the thoughts he's entertained recently comes to him and he leaps onto it, hoping it'll serve him well.
“You’re one to talk," he hisses. "I might like seeing you in my clothes, but you like being in them in the first place. Don’t even try to deny it, I know you do.”
The shot lands true. The cocky look drops from Jisung's face and colour rapidly takes its place, sweeping across his cheeks. He blinks, flustered.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about," he says defensively.
But Hyunjin has recovered now. Two of them can play at this game. Jisung might know how to rile him up, but he forgets: Hyunjin is just as skilled at this as he is. He smiles, the curve of his lips etched with a mocking slant and slides his arms around Jisung's waist to pull him flush against his front. Jisung squeaks, his hands coming up to brace himself against Hyunjin's chest.
"I’m sure you don’t, Hannie," he says, the remark soft with a gloat.
Indignation flares Jisung's nostrils. He lifts his head defiantly, insisting, "I don't. And in any case, this isn’t about me. Even if I did like wearing your clothes, that doesn’t mean anything. It just means your clothes are comfortable. But the fact that you like seeing me in them means something.”
Excitement starts to tremble along Hyunjin's spine. His mind races with possibilities and he entertains them all. This is uncharted territory. He and Jisung are cutting forward into waters they've never travelled before and it could all end terribly or it could pay off. The longer Jisung doesn't move back, the more he anticipates the second.
His voice drops to a murmur, eyes glinting as he looks down at the boy in his arms. "And what does it mean?”
Jisung cocks an eyebrow. “I don’t know, you tell me.”
The anticipation cooks, sizzling with heat. Hyunjin can feel his heart pounding in his chest, his pulse ticking along his jaw. His fingers are tight on Jisung's waist, securing him in place even though Jisung has made no move to break away. With his eyes, he ravishes him, wanting to memorise this moment forever. Jisung in his clothes, looking up at him with a fierce challenge, blazing like the sun. Hyunjin leans towards him to meet it.
The longer this stretches on, the surer he gets. The two of them are so close that one tiny rock of his body forward will bring them together. And then someone – he's not sure whether it's him or Jisung or both of them at the same time – surges across the gap and their mouths collide.
The kiss is hungry and desperate. It's as though the two of them are fighting for the upper hand, locked in some sort of battle to see who can devour who first. The desire that Hyunjin has been keeping locked up breaks out of the prison cell it was chained away in, surging along his nerves. He pulls Jisung into him insistently even as he pushes forward, wanting every inch of his body pressed up against his. He doesn't want there to be a single part of them that isn't touching.
Jisung isn't any better. He returns Hyunjin's efforts fiercely, his mouth moving against him in a bruising kiss. His tongue is in Hyunjin's mouth and his fingers are in Hyunjin's hair, pulling on the strands so sharply that pain shudders through him. The sting is a welcome one, making Hyunjin moan into Jisung's mouth. The sound seems to send him into even more of a frenzy because he bites down on Hyunjin's bottom lip, tucking it in between his. Hyunjin groans again, heat pooling in his stomach. Jisung lets his lip escape just before the pressure can become too painful and then swipes his tongue across it in an apology before he licks into Hyunjin's mouth again.
Hyunjin grunts, not wanting to admit defeat just yet. He moves his hands up from Jisung's waist to frame his face and then tilts it, his thumbs swiping across his skin. When Jisung lets out a strangled moan, he kisses him even more viciously, chasing after more of those expressions. He wants to pull them all out of hiding, wants to feast on them until Jisung has nothing left to give.
The two of them start to stumble back from the force of the kiss, still not wanting to let each other go. In the end, they separate when Jisung hits the bed and the blow has them both tip over onto the mattress. Hyunjin blinks, startled by the interruption, only for Jisung to let out a delighted bark of laughter. He pulls Hyunjin towards him, hooking an arm around his neck.
“Come here,” he murmurs. He drags Hyunjin closer until he's between his legs, pinning Jisung down to the bed. His attention is plastered to Hyunjin's mouth and he whispers, “Don’t stop.”
The demand has Hyunjin's head spinning wildly. Holy shit. Holy fucking shit. He can't believe this is happening. He has to be dreaming. But if he were dreaming, then he wouldn't know how Jisung's hands feel as they travel under his jumper, pressed against the line of his spine. He wouldn't be drowning in the taste of Jisung, wouldn't be breathing him in, wouldn't be writhing against him while Jisung brackets him with his legs, keeping him in place.
Jisung wants this. He wants this and he wants him and Hyunjin isn't stupid enough to ignore such a clear command when it's everything he's been thinking about for months now.
So he kisses Jisung.
And he doesn't stop.
Even when the two of them part for breath, he can't pull away from Jisung. He lands sloppy kisses against every inch of Jisung's skin that he can reach, pressing his mouth along his cheeks and jawline to behind his ear. Jisung giggles at the sensation. He explores his neck, chasing more of those giggles. They soon dissolve into groans when Hyunjin starts to replace the kisses with the bite of his teeth, nipping at the column of his neck and sucking bruises into the canvas. Jisung moans in approval, fisting Hyunjin's hair and bucking against him.
The angle of it strikes true. Hyunjin freezes as a jolt of pure pleasure shoots up his spine, his lips coming off Jisung's skin with a messy pop. He feels Jisung still into a similar state of shock beneath him. The two of them remain in limbo for what feels like an age.
And then Hyunjin decides to just fuck it and take the plunge.
He slams his hips forward. The two of them are brought flush together, hot and heady and hard. Jisung moans again, high and strangled.
“Fuck, Hyunjin,” he whimpers. He tugs on Hyunjin's hair in approval. “That feels – that feels…”
His words fail him, but it doesn’t matter. Hyunjin knows what he means.
Emboldened by the response, he reaches for Jisung's left leg, wrapping his hand under the junction of his knee. He brings the leg over his hip, the angle bringing them closer together. All the while, he keeps his eyes trained on Jisung's face, not wanting to miss a single twitch of his reaction. He cocks an eyebrow.
“Good?” he suggests. “It feels good, right?”
Jisung nods dumbly.
The pure rush of desire that crashes upon him has him heat up several degrees. He burns with it, gratification sizzling in his blood. He's dreamt about this for more nights than he cares to admit, but nothing beats the real thing now that he's experiencing it. God, he could drown in this moment forever.
“I make you feel good,” he murmurs, wanting it to be confirmed out loud. “Don’t I?”
Jisung swallows and nods. He cups Hyunjin's face, the gesture unusually tender for the moment. “Yeah. You do.”
His hand slips around to the back of Hyunjin's neck and then pulls him closer. Hyunjin follows the wordless command readily, eager to kiss him again. This time, it doesn't just stop there. Even as they join in a bruising kiss, their hands are all over each other's bodies, unable to get enough. Jisung's other leg goes up around Hyunjin's waist and the new angle has them flush against each other. Hyunjin bucks his hips wildly, chasing his relief, and Jisung meets it move for move.
His head spins and his skin burns. He's going to fall apart in Jisung's arms. He's going to do anything and everything the other boy demands of him. Nothing else matters right now but the two of them. Nothing else exists.
And then –
“I swear to God if you two have sex on my bed, I’ll kill you.”
Jisung shoves Hyunjin off with a sudden urgency. He rolls away with a ragged gasp, not really registering what's happening. His head spins wildly. He has the sense to push himself onto his elbows and looks past Jisung to find Minho in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest and what looks like faint heartbreak tightening his face. It disappears a second later as he raises his eyebrows pointedly, unimpressed.
“We weren’t going to – “
Whatever denial Jisung is about to supply cuts off halfway through. And for good reason too. They were going to do something. Whatever Jisung wanted them to do anyway. Hyunjin would've gladly done anything he asked for. He still would, even now as he starts to gather his senses again and remembers where they are.
Jisung kissed him. He stepped up to Hyunjin with a challenge and when Hyunjin met it, he gave as good as he got. He kissed him and asked him not to stop. That means something. It has to.
PART V: OLD HABITS DIE HARD
But then Jisung acts like nothing happened again.
The behaviour has Hyunjin's head dizzy from the whiplash. How is it possible to kiss someone senseless like that and then act as if everything is normal afterwards? Unless everything is normal for him? But it can't be. As far as he's aware, Jisung doesn't go around dry humping people in his best friend's bed on a regular basis. It has to mean something.
Whatever the case is, he has no time to linger on it. Pretty soon, he gets swept up in the stress of balancing revision for his exams with trying to perfect his performance for the recital. He starts to spend more and more time in the performance arts building, running through his routine over and over again, and then scrambling to make up for how much he's slacking with everything else. He studies long into the night and then when he’s too tired to go on, he collapses onto the nearest surface he can manage (whether that's the desk in his room, the sofa or his bed). For once in his life, he's too exhausted to overthink everything. He just accepts that the kiss has happened and then moves on.
"I'll see you tomorrow then?" Jisung asks.
He looks across the distance from the reception desk in their student accommodation at the lift that Hyunjin stands inside in anticipation of his reply. As if Hyunjin has any other grand plans that will get in the way of them seeing each other the next morning. Next to Jisung, Felix mumbles to the receptionist about some package that should've been delivered for him earlier this afternoon, looking dead on his feet.
Hyunjin nods, his mind already on the amount of studying he has left to get through tonight. "Sure."
The doors to the lift slide shut, cutting them off from each other. His stomach lurches as it starts to glide upwards. Eyes fluttering shut, he sways on the spot, briefly giving into his fatigue that haunts him.
"You alright?" Seungmin asks quietly. He opens his eyes to find him peering over at Hyunjin in concern from his corner of the lift. "You look like you're ready to collapse."
"I'm fine," he says.
He looks dubious. "Are you sure?"
The pressing sparks a sudden match in Hyunjin, one he didn’t even realise existed until this moment. "I said I am, didn't I?" he snaps. "Do I look like I don't know what the fuck I'm feeling?"
Seungmin's mouth slams shut. It presses into a thin line and he pointedly looks away. The air in the lift grows unbearable, plunging them into a vat of tension the longer neither of them speak. When the doors part at their floor and Seungmin leads the way out, guilt follows on Hyunjin's heels.
"I'm sorry," he mutters as Seungmin shoves his key into the lock for their flat. The bronze 5B above it is dull with grime. Seungmin freezes, his reflection musty along their metal curves. "I shouldn't have spoken to you like that. You were just checking up on me like a good friend."
Seungmin's shoulders still don't relax. "A good friend," he echoes tonelessly.
"I'm sorry," Hyunjin repeats.
He looks over his shoulder at Hyunjin, his face stony with a lack of emotion. Hyunjin knows this expression well; it's the one Seungmin reverts to when he doesn't want to reveal what's churning around inside his mind. It's the one he wore when they broke up and the one he wore when he saw Jisung and Hyunjin in the lift all of those months ago. Just like then, Hyunjin has no idea what it conceals.
"Did you speak to Jisung like that?" Seungmin asks all of a sudden. "When he asked you how you are, I mean?"
Hyunjin blinks, taken aback by the sudden veer in conversation. "Um. He… didn't?"
"He didn't ask how you are?"
"We're both really busy," he says defensively, not liking the unimpressed raise of Seungmin's eyebrows. "He's had that composition to work on and I've – I've had my recital practice so it's not like –" He cuts off, knowing his rambling will take him nowhere. He continues much more quietly, "I didn't speak to him like that, no."
"Because you didn't speak at all," he states.
Hyunjin has no idea what Seungmin is getting at. So he doesn't say anything at all because he knows that it probably won't lead anywhere good, especially when he's so crabby and exhausted. After a moment of just looking at him, Seungmin turns back to the key and twists it in the lock. He shoulders the door open and the two of them slip into their flat, then go their separate ways. The conversation is never continued and soon enough, Hyunjin forgets all about it in favour of his Dance in Theatre unit.
When he wakes up the next day, his bad mood seems to have remained. He only managed to get three hours of sleep before he woke up for more practice and the effect of it lingers noticeably. As he trudges to the performance arts building, it's with a face like thunder. Everything seems to annoy him today. The snow annoys him. The cold annoys him. People walking slowly in the snow and cold annoy him.
By the time he makes it into the dance studio he's booked out for the day, he's so tense that his jaw nearly cracks from the pressure he's placing on it. It bleeds into his dancing too. Though he's no stranger to sharp and impactful moves, this particular piece calls for something more restrained than aggression. Where he should be intense and controlled, moving in sharp bursts of energy, his lines are heavy and sloppy. It only serves to anger him more.
He runs through his solo again and again and it all just looks awful. The more he dances, the more hopeless it seems. He's never going to be good enough. Before he came to uni, he was convinced he could be one of the best, but being around all of these talented people has done wonders to humble him. When it comes down to it, Hyunjin isn't anything special. He's just another kid dancing in front of a mirror.
His concentration begins to lag as he works his body beyond the point of exhaustion. He knows he should take a break, but the thought of wasting time by just sitting around is unacceptable. He needs to get this right. If he messes up, it's not just his teacher who will see it – it's the rest of his year, the rest of his course, scores of other students from the university. Everyone will see him humiliate himself onstage. Hyunjin can think of nothing worse.
The door cracks open, breaking through his focus entirely. Breathing raggedly, he turns in its direction to find his flatmates Donghyuck and Jeno in the doorway, a couple of their friends just behind them. Donghyuck gives him what is probably meant to be a winning smile.
"Hey, Hyunjin," he says casually. "Mind if we set up in the corner of this room? All of the other studios are packed and we need to run through our routines."
On a normal day, Hyunjin wouldn't mind this, no. It's not uncommon for dance students to share studios, switching over to their AirPods to listen to the music they're dancing to so that they can cohabitate the space. But today he's already on his last nerve when it comes to his routine and he doesn't need someone like Lee fucking Donghyuck around to make him feel even shittier about it. Their teachers never stop going on about how much natural groove Donghyuck has. He doesn't need that sort of bullshit shoved into his face right now.
"Yeah, actually," he says coldly. "I'm kind of busy and I don't need the distraction."
The smile freezes in place and then falls. Donghyuck lifts an eyebrow. "Well damn, alright then. We'd be quiet, you know."
"I doubt it," he mutters.
It's a snide remark, but it's not completely unfounded. He lives with Donghyuck. He knows how loud he gets, especially around his friends.
Donghyuck's face contorts as if he's about to fire back with a retort, but then Jeno squeezes his arm warningly and shakes his head no. He retreats with a roll of his eyes.
"Whatever, man. You do you. Jackass."
Their group moves on in search of an area that they can set up in. Hyunjin doesn't care to watch them leave and turns back to the mirror, running through the routine once again. This time, he sets the music at half speed so he can properly concentrate on each move, squinting at the mirror to make sure his angles are all perfect. Bit by bit, things improve. It's still not perfect, but he feels confident enough to go for normal speed again.
He makes a mistake mere seconds into the routine.
Frustration explodes through him. He staggers to a stop in the middle of dancing and just screams into his hands, the sound raw against the soft whispers of the music. This is fucking impossible. Why can't he just get it right? He's the one who created the fucking routine! If anyone should be able to pull this off, it's him!
He inhales, trying to pull himself back together. He just needs to get through this first part without any mistakes and then he can focus on the rest of it. Just this first part, that's all.
He starts the song from the beginning and throws himself into the choreography he created. The music flows through his body, commanding it to bend to its every whim. He pulls in on himself, his back bent low, curled up with his arms crossed over his stomach like he's been struck in the gut. One hand wraps around the meat of his upper right leg, the other is poised against his left shoulder. His head hangs heavy like a puppet's. Then he slowly sinks forward to the ground… before his body suddenly jerks down the rest of the way. He lets his arms and legs strike out, sharp like the stab of a dagger. They then linger as though trapped between the folds of someone's flesh for half a beat before snapping back.
He twists around and springs lightly to his feet. His hand is outstretched like he's grasping for something that has escaped him by mere inches. His eyes stare wondrously at his fingertips.
And then they catch sight of someone who shouldn't be here.
He sees Jisung in the mirror and all he registers is that there has been an intrusion right when he needs it the least. A scowl mars his face. He spins to confront him, fury on his tongue.
“What are you doing here? Can’t you see I’m busy?”
Jisung doesn't flinch. "You've been dancing all day," he explains. "Probably haven’t ate while you were at it so I figured I should bring you some food.”
The fact that he's so calm sets Hyunjin's teeth on edge. How can he be so calm when he just interrupted the first run-through that Hyunjin has had all day where things were actually going well for once? Why did he have to come here now and ruin it all?
He turns from him, his irritation barely restrained. “Well, you figured wrong. I don’t want your food. I told you I’m busy.”
Unfortunately, Jisung is not to be deterred. “If you don’t eat, you’re only going to do yourself more harm than good – “
“I don’t care," he bites out.
A dormant instinct rouses from its sleep within him. He hears Jisung bristle behind him and knows that the same is happening to him. It would be so fucking easy to piss him off. All he has to do is say the right words. Catching the glare that Jisung aims at his back, he knows he can do it. He can corral Jisung into losing his temper – and when that happens, he can lose his too. It doesn't matter if Jisung came here with food. If he's pushed far enough, he'll deliver a fight instead. It'll work the edge of Hyunjin's anger right off.
As much as the idea tempts him, he knows he shouldn't do it. So instead, he forces his voice to be as flat as possible.
"You can leave now," he says, disinterested. Their eyes meet in the mirror, but Hyunjin doesn't waver. "All you've done is waste your time."
“I didn’t come all the way here for you to kick me out,” Jisung says. The knuckles in his hand are white as he clenches the handle of a plastic shopping bag. He takes a deep breath before plunging forward. "Look, a sandwich break won’t kill you. I even bought that nasty smoothie of yours that you like – the one I swear I’d rather die before I try. Just a five minute break, Hyunjin. That’s all I’m asking of you.”
The instinct simmering within him suddenly flares, flames racing up Hyunjin's spine. He burns with it, whirling around to face Jisung properly, his mouth set in a snarl. Beneath it, an awful excitement chases it along. The fight he's hungering for is guaranteed to burn the aggression right out of him, leaving nothing left behind to sabotage his dancing. It chases him beyond the reach of logic.
“I don’t need a break alright!” he shouts. Jisung flinches, his eyebrows hiked high in surprise. Hyunjin continues on, words spitting from his mouth. “I need you to leave! I said I don’t want your stupid, shitty food and I don’t need your stupid, shitty concern either. Just fuck off and leave me alone, Han. Is that so fucking hard for you to understand?”
The surprise is quickly wiped from Jisung's countenance. It's not replaced with answering anger like he expects, but he still means business.
“Don’t speak like that to me,” he says sharply. “I know what you’re trying to do and it won’t work.”
The fire in him nearly falters. That isn't part of the script. This isn't how this is supposed to go. The flames panic, veering out of control. He starts to yell like a madman, flinging words at Jisung and hoping they'll stick.
Why can't he just leave? What's so hard to grasp about that? Hyunjin is too busy to deal with the headache that comes with overanalysing everything that Jisung makes him feel inside. He has no time for that. So Jisung can take his soft gestures and his stern reprimands and just fuck off. He can't handle any of that right now.
"Just go, Jisung!" he shouts. "I told you to leave and I meant it! I didn’t book this studio out just to stand here and waste my time talking to you – “
“You’ve been here all day, Hyunjin," Jisung says, refusing to budge even an inch. "Don’t be stupid and overexert yourself, it won’t do you any good – “
“How the fuck would you know what it would do?" Hyunjin snaps. "You’re not a dancer, you don’t know jack shit.”
Who is he to decide what is and isn't good for him? Hyunjin isn't on his fucking case when Jisung gets so swept up with making music that he loses track of time for hours. If he can be understanding about Jisung's passion, then Jisung can damn well do the same for him too.
“I know that dancing for hours on end without a break is stupid as fuck,” he counters, his irritation finally breaking into his words. "You’re not going to dance any better if you tire your body out. Felix is going to perform in the same recital as you and he hasn’t holed himself up in here anywhere near as much as you have this past week – “
Hyunjin has heard enough. He starts to yell again, needing Jisung to just stop. As much as he thinks he knows everything, he doesn't. He doesn't understand what Hyunjin is going through and he never will. If he did, he wouldn't have mentioned Felix. Everyone knows Felix is a good dancer. No one can take his eyes off him once he starts. Hyunjin doesn't need his own boyfriend to remind him of how much he falls short.
“Shut up! Just shut up!”
“Don’t tell me to shut up," Jisung grits out.
“Well, don’t say stupid shit then!”
All of a sudden, the fire starts to dampen. It was so eager to eat up everything around them, but all it has devoured so far is Hyunjin. He sags, the energy leaking from him. He feels so, so tired. Ash chokes his throat.
"I told you to leave, Hannie," he says, his voice breaking. "Just leave me alone."
Jisung doesn't leave. He just looks at him. There is no venom in his gaze. Nor rage nor pity. All he does is stand there and look at him. And somehow that's enough.
Everything seems to crash upon Hyunjin's shoulders in one fell swoop. The burnout from dancing so vigorously for most of the day, the mental exhaustion of studying for exams, the anguish and insecurity and nerves. The fact that he hasn't held Jisung properly since that time in Minho's bedroom when the two of them tried to devour each other. The fact that he can never tell what's running through Jisung's head. All of it collapses on top of him and he follows suit, burying his head in his hands with a sob.
He's so fucking tired.
The tears leak from his eyes like a faucet. There's no stopping them, no holding them back. Hyunjin trembles, unable to do much more than drown in them. He hears the thud of something hit the floor and then all of a sudden, there are arms thrown around him. The familiar scent of Jisung's detergent pierces through his haze and he chases after it blindly, bulldozing into Jisung's embrace as if it's the only thing that will keep everything at bay.
Jisung soothes him as his wails grow louder and then pulls him down to the floor. Hyunjin clings onto him, too greedy to take everything that Jisung can offer to want to let go. He moves forward until he's on Jisung's lap, folded around him. His fingers curl around the fabric of Jisung's coat, wanting to keep him as close as possible. He wants him to be imprinted under the whites of his fingernails, wants him to hold him like this forever and tell him that everything will be okay.
"It's okay," Jisung says softly in his ear as if reading his thoughts. He rubs his palm across the small of Hyunjin's back. "You're okay. I'm here, alright? I’m not going anywhere."
Hyunjin just cries harder at that.
God, he really doesn't deserve Jisung at all. All he did was come here to check up on Hyunjin; to make sure he's eaten, remind him to take a break and see how things are going. And Hyunjin didn't hesitate to throw that care back in his face, hunting for a fight just because he knew it was something that would allow him to blow off steam. Jesus, he's such a fucking awful person sometimes.
The tears eventually subside. When they do, Hyunjin lifts his head from Jisung's shoulder and tries to wipe his cheeks free of them.
"Sorry about that," he whispers, trying to smile like this is all one big joke. Like he hasn't just picked a fight and then embarrassed himself right afterwards by crying like a little child on Jisung's lap.
Jisung returns it with a minute twitch of his lips. 'It’s okay.”
But it's not. What Hyunjin did was wrong. Jisung shouldn't have to just swallow it down and pretend like it wasn't.
“No, it’s not. I… I went off at you like a real bastard and then practically threw myself at you when I started crying. You could’ve told me to fuck off and you would’ve been right to, to be honest. I was really mean.”
“Yes you were,” Jisung agrees. “But that doesn’t mean I was just going to walk away when I saw you crying.”
The words have the butterflies in Hyunjin’s stomach stir with a fresh breath of life. God, even when he's gone through the rollercoaster of emotions he just experienced, Jisung still manages to make his heart skip a beat. He really is something else. Unable to look him in the eye, Hyunjin focuses on the movement of his hands as he plays with the tassels of Jisung's scarf instead. It's one of his, he realises. He gave it to Jisung the day that they accidentally kissed in Chan's kitchen.
“I’m sorry,” he says quietly.
He figures he owes Jisung an explanation for his erratic behaviour and starts to supply one, confessing the worries that have weighed on his chest recently. The recital that looms ahead, shadowy and indiscernible, a beast on the horizon that he can't even begin to imagine in scope and size. How talented his peers are and how that scares him because it just puts everything into perspective for him. Maybe Hyunjin was one of the most talented dancers back in their hometown, but he's nothing extraordinary here. All of his life, he's chased after excellence in his dancing and now he's faced with the prospect of mediocrity and that terrifies him. So he practices and practices and –
He cuts off, his throat clogging up with more tears. He presses his hands against his eyes to keep them at bay before they can escape. When he lowers them, he offers Jisung another half-hearted smile.
“Felix says I’m overreacting," he says, "and I’m sure you will too. But I can’t help it. I know it’s true.”
Jisung bites down on his lip. He looks like he's trying to choose his words with some care so Hyunjin waits patiently for his answer.
"I wouldn't say you're overreacting," he finally says. "I think you’re just trapped in your head a little.”
Hyunjin frowns. “I don’t follow.”
“I mean, it’s natural to be worried. This recital means a lot to you, right?”
He nods. “It’s going to be graded. And it’s a public performance, anyone can come and watch it. They even sell tickets for the show.”
“So you feel like you have a lot riding on it, yeah?" Jisung says. Confidence carries his thoughts forward as he becomes increasingly sure of what he's saying. He straightens his back. "And because you are surrounded by talented dancers, you’ve kinda just... gone into your head a little, I guess. Focused so much on the competition so to speak that you’ve forgotten how to recognise how well you dance too.”
“But that’s the thing," Hyunjin says. "I don’t – “
“You do,” he cuts in, firm. “I saw a bit of your dancing earlier when I walked in. Your routine is really good. I might not know much about dancing, but I know how you made me feel and it was… It was good. I don’t know." He tries his best to share what it evoked in him. "If I had to describe it, I’d say it was kind of haunting and sad to watch. Not in a bad way or anything, don’t get me wrong – “
“No, I get you,” Hyunjin says.
He looks at Jisung in surprise. He never expected him to pick up on that. Jisung has never cared much for dancing – it requires too much energy and Jisung is very passionate about conserving his – so to think that he cares enough to have paid attention to what little he saw of Hyunjin's dance is just… wow. He has no words.
Dancing – or all forms of art really – is all about what people take away from it. What the creator intends to be the message isn't necessarily what the public will receive, but Jisung has still somehow managed to glean part of what Hyunjin wanted to showcase. The realisation makes him feel something he can’t quite express in words, but he tries.
“It’s meant to be haunting. It’s… I wanted it to look like I was fighting with myself, almost. You know, like fighting with my demons if that makes sense? And most of the time, I’m losing.”
Jisung offers him a soft smile in reply. "It's beautiful," he tells him. "What little I saw was captivating to watch.”
Hyunjin can feel his face pinken from the compliment. His eyes shift away from Jisung's, unable to handle such sincerity when it's staring him right in the face. He thanks him like that, his gratitude directed to his fingers as they fiddle with the tassels on Jisung's scarf.
Jisung smiles at him again. Hyunjin catches it in the periphery in his eye and chases it after it, unable to resist it as he always is. When he notices Hyunjin returning it, Jisung's smile grows even wider. It practically takes up half of his face. The force of it bunches up his cheeks at the top. His eyes are big and starry above them and Hyunjin's stomach bubbles, the butterflies in there buzzing around with a new injection of energy. It feels like a champagne party in there. Like he's drank a little too much and now his entire body is buzzing, his tongue loose and joy coming to him easily.
People don't just look at their friends like that, he realises. Not in the way that Jisung looks at him anyway.
He thinks back to their interactions over the past few weeks - before this argument, before they ever even kissed. All of those shaky breaths, all of those times Jisung leaned into his touch. Every time he reached for Hyunjin in turn. The fact that his crush on Minho has slipped off the radar. The fact that they've been together for over three months and Jisung has never mentioned anything about breaking up (because he never intends to, because he doesn't want to be the one to shatter what has blossomed between them). How he has treated every development in their relationship like it isn't anything ground-breaking, has just accepted and embraced them.
So many signs that Hyunjin has agonised over and then worried he was reading too much into… He wasn't just imagining them.
Jisung likes him. He has to. He looks at Hyunjin in exactly the same way Hyunjin looks at him. The realisation balloons inside of him, making him buoyant with joy.
Then he remembers what happened today – how he provoked Jisung, searching for a sore spot to land his jabs on in the hopes that he would return them. He remembers his conversation with Seungmin yesterday outside of their door, his flat 'did you speak to Jisung like that?', and after that, he recalls all of those old arguments from back when they were together. Not just with Seungmin, but Jisung too. So many of them stemmed from when Hyunjin was stressed out about something and decided that the best way to deal with this was to take it out on someone else.
That kind of behaviour isn't on. He knows that now. He still isn’t the nicest person to walk this planet and he won’t pretend he is, but he wants to be better than that. A proper apology seems like a damn good place to start.
“Listen,” he starts, his voice quiet with shame. “I really am sorry for how I spoke to you earlier. Nothing excuses it, but – well, I figure I should give you an explanation and – it’s just – I just – “ The words dance out of reach. He huffs, frustrated. He just wants to be able to say all of this properly for fuck's sake. Why does this have to happen at a time when it's so important that he does? “I’m not good with my words, I’m sorry. The thing is – and I know it’s not healthy, I know it’s something I need to work on and I really do want to try, but – “
“Hyunjin,” Jisung interrupts. When Hyunjin cuts off to blink owlishly at him, Jisung places one hand over Hyunjin's to squeeze it gently. “Breathe, love. We have time.”
Hyunjin might not care much for pet names like "babe" and "baby" – which is exactly why Jisung uses them on him – but he's always been a sucker for the classics. Things like "darling", "love" and "sweetheart". After reading them in various historical romance novels (one of his greatest guilty pleasures to this day, he’s ashamed to admit), he decided that such terms were the pinnacle of romance and has been obsessed with them ever since.
So when Jisung calls him love – not babe, not baby, but love – he knows he turns as red as an apple.
"Don't call me that," he mutters in weak defiance, but it's no use. The blush is here to stay. Thankfully, Jisung doesn't comment on it and just prompts him to go on. He blinks, trying to regather his thoughts from before Jisung obliterated them with that pet name. "Oh right. I was just saying that… When I’m stressed, I tend to express that through anger, I guess. I know it’s not nice of me or a healthy mindset, but it’s like arguing lets me just blow off steam, you know?
"I used to do it all the time with you back in high school. Sometimes with Seungmin too, but mostly you. Any time I was stressed, all I’d have to do is go and argue with you and it’d make me feel better. I’d even deliberately seek you out during exam season. Oh wow, that sounds so fucked up when I say it out loud.”
Jisung breaks out into a laugh, squeezing his hand again. "A little, yeah."
The two of them exchange rueful smiles. Now that they're here, it's so strange to look back at how they used to be. To think that it was only less than a year ago that they were at each other's throats. Sometimes because Hyunjin deliberately sought out a fight, sometimes because Jisung wanted to piss him off and sometimes because they were just too stubborn and too similar for their own good.
“So let me guess,” Jisung says, a note of amusement slipping into his voice to lighten the mood. “You saw me in the back of the studio and figured that you could piss me off into arguing with you again. And then when I didn’t do it, you got so frustrated – “
“That I ended up crying instead?" Hyunjin finishes. "Pretty much, yeah. I’m really sorry, Hannie. It was a dick move.”
“It was," he agrees easily. "But I guess I can forgive you.”
He smiles again as if to reinforce the truth of his words and everything about him in that moment is just so, so beautiful. Hyunjin can't believe he's lucky enough to witness it. He likes Jisung so much. And Jisung… Jisung likes him too. He might not be ready to admit it out loud yet, but he does.
Unable to contain himself, he pulls Jisung into a hug, his hands spanning around the curve of his back. His boyfriend is pliant in his arms, hugging him back in earnest. The two of them sit like that on the floor of the dance studio for a while, Jisung on the floor and Hyunjin sprawled on his lap. His legs and arms are thrown around him, his entire body fitted against all of the little crevices that make up Han Jisung. He thinks he would be happy to stay like this forever if Jisung ever decides to ask him to.
When they finally break apart from their hug, it's because Hyunjin's stomach starts to growl. They both jump in each other's arms as it snarls, making its displeasure known. Hyunjin's ears burn in his embarrassment, but Jisung just cracks a laugh and comments that his trip to the convenience store might have been useful after all. The two of them sit side by side while Hyunjin scoffs down a sandwich although Jisung comes to regret this decision when he is wrangled into trying the oat smoothie he swears has been imported from hell.
"It's healthy and delicious," Hyunjin protests.
"It's the worst thing my tongue has ever tasted is what it is," Jisung says, gagging.
Hyunjin wonders how he'll react if he asks where he ranks on that list.
Afterwards, they call it a day. Hyunjin is honestly too bone-tired to try and run through his solo one last time so they leave the studio after they chuck their rubbish into the bin. They decide to head straight home instead.
When they exit the performance arts building, it's to a fresh shower of snow. Jisung gasps, gazing up at the night sky like he has never seen such a scene before. His eyes shine with the stars that the clouds obscure. Right now, they're hooked onto the descent of a snowflake as it drifts down to rest on the cup of his open palm.
Hyunjin smiles at him softly. For someone who he only ever thought of as explosive for so long, Jisung is actually much the opposite. He's gentle beneath the barb of his words, his heart large despite his slight frame. He finds wonder in the simplest of things. Hyunjin likes him so fucking much. He might even be falling in love with him.
For once, the realisation doesn't scare him. His thoughts aren't going haywire in an effort to rationalise or detangle his feelings and he is in no hurry to obsess over Jisung's actions to determine whether he feels the same. He just lets himself bask in the glow of the acknowledgement and of this moment, of being here with Han Jisung in the middle of SNU with snow falling onto their shoulders and bits of his heart scattered across his eyes and sleeve.
Jisung turns to him, still grinning at the snowfall. He falters when he realises Hyunjin is already watching him but quickly recovers.
"What?" he demands, self-conscious.
Hyunjin cocks his head to the side. The time for overthinking is over. From now on, he's going to just brave his nerves and say what's really on his mind. And what's on his mind is –
"Can I kiss you? I'd really like to."
Jisung's cheeks turn as pink as roses. It's not from the cold. He nods shyly, biting back a smile. “Yeah. You can.”
So Hyunjin reaches over, his hands framing either side of Jisung's pretty little round face and leans in to brush his nose along the bridge of Jisung's. Down, down, down until he rests it against the tip where he then bumps them together. Then he presses a sigh against Jisung's mouth and kisses him. Jisung kisses him back, his arms sliding around Hyunjin's waist and his lips certain.
There's none of the hunger from Minho's bedroom, the visceral need to devour one another before time runs out. In fact, it feels like they have all of the time in the world, like it is stretched out in front of them to use as they wish. Jisung starts to smile into the kiss, the tenderness of the moment getting to him. The force of it has Hyunjin answer in kind and then the two of them are smiling and kissing each other and laughing and kissing each other in the middle of Seoul, snowflakes melting on the tops of their heads.
I am so in love with you, Hyunjin thinks as the two of them pull away from each other. He hooks his fingers into the pockets of Jisung's coat and immediately tugs him back for another quick kiss (or two or three). One day soon, when I'm ready to say it and you're ready to hear it, I'll even tell you.
For now, Hyunjin will just have to say it in the only way he knows how: by wrapping his arms around Jisung and keeping him close.