Actions

Work Header

if i get to your heart soon, i’ll call a perfect afternoon

Work Text:

"You know you're going to have to get up and leave eventually, right?"

Joonmyun lifts his head up from the mess of papers and notes that he has on his desk and blinks blearily at who looks like Jongdae. Or is it Baekhyun? He can't tell these days since they're always so attached at the hip. Sometimes he still suspects that they could have been so much more than best friends, if not for the fact that Baekhyun is actually dating someone and Jongdae has his eye on this really pretty girl in one of his classes. So really, who is Joonmyun to say otherwise? He really finds it inconvenient that his thoughts lead to these things at times when he should be most focused.

"Huh?" Joonmyun manages to say. His mouth kind of feel sticky and gross, yet he's pretty sure he hasn't been drinking. The last time his mouth felt like this was when Jongdae dragged him to one of his friend's parties, got shitfaced drunk and had the worst hangover of his life. So this is worrying, considering he is sure now that he didn't get drunk. He can't afford to.

Jongdae (he's sure it's Jongdae now) sighs and pulls up a seat beside him. "You're at the library, Joonmyun," he reminds him in that tone that tells Joonmyun that Jongdae is trying very, very hard to be patience and is using his kindergarten teacher voice on him. "You've been here for twelve hours," Jongdae adds, glancing at his wristwatch. "And it's a Saturday. A Saturday, Joonmyun." Joonmyun is pretty sure Jongdae would've taken his shoulders and shaken him if Joonmyun didn't look like he was going to tip over any time soon. "I've been looking for you. Luckily, I ran into Taeyeon, who said you've been asleep for the past hour."

Joonmyun's eyes widen at this and he straightens up as he remembers just why exactly he's at the library for the whole day on a Saturday. It's all the work he needs to do, basically. There's that research paper for his human resources class, the feature article he should submit right now for the school paper, and then there's his final project, which he's nowhere near finished because he still hasn't finished analyzing the finances of the other company to decide which to pick. And now he's fallen asleep and is way behind and oh my god, how is he going to catch up?

"Joonmyun!" Jongdae now has his hand on Joonmyun's arm, squeezing tightly. "You have to breathe." He takes a deep breath, urging Joonmyun to follow along with him. "Yes, that's it. Breathe in..." Joonmyun sucks in a breath, mimicking Jongdae. "And breathe out... Good," he says with an encouraging smile. "Now, let's pack your things and just—stop thinking about your schoolwork for a second," he chastises. "At least until we get back to the apartment."

Joonmyun nods in agreement if only because Jongdae's starting to get crazy eyes and he's kind of worried what Jongdae might do if he pushes him. So Joonmyun packs his things in some sort of order: the two biggest books first, then the non-hardbound books, then his two notebooks, his planner, the desk calendar that he carries around everywhere because he needs to be able to look at it all the time, his clock, and then his pencil case. When he's sure that his wallet and handphone are in his pants pockets, he stands and beams at Jongdae, who has his arms crossed on his chest, looking at him in amusement.

"What?" Joonmyun demands, almost defensively. He almost wants to cross his arms and pout.

"You are one of my most interesting friends, Kim Joonmyun," is the only thing Jongdae says. He slings an arm over his shoulders and leads him out of the library. "Now, you and I are going to go out and meet up with Baekhyunnie and his boyfriend and have dinner."

Joonmyun immediately stiffens because he can't. He has so much to do and—

"It's so interesting how you almost look like you're talking," Jongdae interrupts his thoughts. "I mean, I can almost hear you and that's kind of terrifying, you know that? That I can hear you thinking?" he says. Joonmyun frowns because he can't help it. There's just so much on his mind that he can't afford to just stop and take a break. "It's just dinner," Jongdae offers, squeezing Joonmyun closer to him. "Plus, it's Minseok's treat so you can't say no."

They arrive at the restaurant, where Baekhyun is practically seated on Minseok's lap, grilling all the meat. Baekhyun grins widely and waves at them as Joonmyun and Jongdae sit across them. Minseok bows and smiles politely. It's so interesting how Baekhyun managed to land Minseok when they seem so utterly different. Baekhyun is so loud and a bit chaotic, while Minseok seems very put together and in control of everything in his life.

"What took you guys so long?" Baekhyun complains as soon as Joonmyun puts his bag down on the floor. "Here," he continues, handing the tongs to Jongdae before either of them could answer. "You're the youngest now, finish the grilling."

Jongdae makes a face at him but takes over anyway. He cuts the meat in small, neat, equal pieces, which Joonmyun appreciates because that's just how he likes it cut. Jongdae really knows him well, which makes sense because they've known each other since Jongdae was just some small kid clinging onto Joonmyun in middle school. Although, Joonmyun wouldn't mind if Jongdae didn't know this small detail. He knows that people have many things going on in their lives.

"I wasn't sure you were coming, Joonmyun," Baekhyun says after his several failed attempts to put his hand under Minseok's shirt.

"Jongdae told me you were paying so I couldn't exactly say no to such a rare occasion," Joonmyun quips. Jongdae, and even Minseok, laughs, while Baekhyun splutters. Joonmyun grins at him, eyebrows wiggling up and down.

"Jongdae, you punk," Baekhyun turns his ire to Jongdae instead. "Who says I was paying?" He takes all the cooked meat on Jongdae's place and stuffs it in his mouth in one go.

"Yah!" Jongdae retaliates by dipping all of the meat on Baekhyun's plate in hot sauces and stuffing it into Baekhyun's mouth accordingly. "You invited so you should pay!"

This goes on for a while and Joonmyun just sits there, enjoying his meal in peace. Every now and then he and Minseok slip into quiet conversation about school, where Minseok tells him about his and Baekhyun's classes and then goes on adoringly how Baekhyun seems to be annoying his professors in each and every one of them and yet still does incredibly well. Joonmyun smiles at this because no matter how Minseok says in every other sentence that Baekhyun is annoying (which he really is, based from his vast experience), Baekhyun has this way of drawing people into his clutches. Joonmyun can tell that Minseok likes the fact that he's been drawn in very much.

"Hey," Baekhyun’s sometimes grating voice gets Joonmyun’s and Minseok’s attention, both stopping and looking up from their conversation. Baekhyun giggles and takes Minseok’s hand when he turns to Joonmyun instead. "Can you tell Jongdae that the reason Joohyun hasn’t gone out with him yet is because he hasn’t really asked her?"

Joonmyun chuckles as Jongdae turns a deeper shade of red than he already is. Minseok cuffs the back of Baekhyun’s neck, making Baekhyun squirm and laugh. Baekhyun and Jongdae tease each other a lot like this everyday of their lives so Joonmyun isn’t too concerned about Jongdae getting upset. He is concerned, though, that Jongdae still hasn’t really gone out with Joohyun when he’s been interested in her in over a year. Jongdae isn’t really the type to drag things on. Unlike Joonmyun.

"Jongdae can take as long in asking her out as he needs to be comfortable with it," Joonmyun finally says when he realizes that Jongdae must really like her if he’s taking his time. Jongdae shoots him an appreciative smile, while Baekhyun just blanches.

"I’m just saying," Baekhyun says, making a face. "Since he really likes her, why drag things on? Like, what’s the point of that when you can be together now? I really don’t get why people don’t just got for it and cockblock themselves." He leans his head on Minseok’s shoulder. "Look at me," he adds, giggling and making Jongdae want to throw up.

"If I remember correctly," Minseok interjects with a playful jab at Baekhyun’s side. "I asked you out and you rejected me, saying that we shouldn’t rush into anything. Even when it was just coffee." Baekhyun turns a deep shade of red when Jongdae reacts violently to this.

"Yah Byun Baekhyun!" Jongdae cackles. "I didn’t know you could be so modest!"

Joonmyun chuckles, enjoying their back and forth banter about their love lives. He’s glad that his friends have special people in their lives whom they can rely on, people whom they trust to be there for them when they need someone. Joonmyun doesn’t have anyone in his life like that at the moment. But it’s not like he needs one. He has his friends and they’re enough.

"I’m glad you came out with us, Joonmyun," Jongdae tells him later when they’re back in their apartment.

"Seriously," Baekhyun agrees, yelling from his bedroom. He pokes his head out and leans against the doorway. His hair is tied up above his head, already ready to wash his face and get ready for bed. "We barely see you anymore. I know you feel like you’re a senior and you’re busy, but Minseokkie is actually a senior and he always manages to make time for me."

"You forget, Joonmyun always takes on way too many things for his tiny body," Jongdae says from the kitchen. He comes back to the living room, where Joonmyun is standing, hoping he can already retreat to his room so he can go back to his books. "Joonmyun, you should really consider going out with that friend of mine I told you about. He’s a sophomore, a bit younger, but you like taking care of people so that shouldn’t be a problem."

"Jongdae, you know that I can’t," Joonmyun starts to explain yet again how busy of a life he has that he really can’t spare a moment to date anyone. Besides, he’s been there and done that and it didn’t work out. It never does.

Jongdae sighs and waves him off because he has heard Joonmyun say the exact same thing many times. He gives him a quick hug and shoves Baekhyun into his room before going into his. "I’ll see you guys tomorrow," Jongdae tells them, closing the door behind him.

"Good night!" Baekhyun yells back.

When Joonmyun is sure that they’re safely tucked into their rooms, he retreats into his. He sits down on his bed for a second and takes a deep breath. The amount of work he has to do always takes a toll on him so he always has to take a minute or two to assure himself that he can handle it. When he feels a bit better, he goes to his desk and takes his books and notes out of his bag. Propping his desk calendar on the table, he goes through his ‘to do’ list in his planner. He chuckles when he sees that Jongdae and Baekhyun have left notes yet again, telling him not to stay up too late. Shaking his head, he picks up his pen and starts to work.





-





Joonmyun feels satisfied that he’s finally decided on a company for his final project. He really doesn’t understand sometimes how they can dump a full year project on seniors like this when they already have so much to do. They have tons of papers for each class, on top of the extra curricular that they need to fulfil because those things look good on internship applications. That’s not even including the actual application and interview process.

Joonmyun wonders, yet again, why he agreed to finish a year early. It’s not as if he can’t help run the family business while still in college. But he knows it’s because his father won’t stand for it. Going into the family business without having any experience is like going into war without any form of training. It’s blind stupidity, his father says, and goes on to tell him that he wants Joonmyun to be ready for anything that may happen when he’s finally on board. And he needs to be ready now. Although, Joonmyun thinks that his father is just severely disappointed that Joonmyun isn’t as fit to run the family business as his brother is.

He’s feeling stretched, more than usual, and he’s afraid that if he keeps on stretching himself until he feels like he’s enough, he’s going to break.

The tap on his arm breaks his thought process. Baekhyun is giving him a patient look and Joonmyun immediately knows that he's spaced out on him again without meaning to. He's about to open his mouth and apologize when Baekhyun beats him to it.

"You were doing that thing where you were looking at me and nodding like you were actually listening, which made me think you were," Baekhyun tells him with a scoff. "It's really a talent. I wonder if Jongdae's ever noticed when you've done it to him."

Joonmyun smiles sheepishly. "He's never called me out on it like you have," he admits because he's pretty sure he's done the same thing to Jongdae. He should really learn how to keep the thinking for when he's in his room by himself. "Hey, why don't you go ahead and meet up with Minseok? Jongdae should be finished with his class as well. I'll just finish up here and catch up with you guys."

Baekhyun narrows his eyes at him and leans back on his seat. "You're not going to bail on us again, are you? Because in all the times you've done this," he emphasizes the word with a vague gesture around the quieter part of the quad, "you never once made it. You've always found some sort of excuse and, knowing you, of course they're all valid. But then we find you later on half dead amidst all your work." He crosses his arms on his chest. "I'm not leaving without you," he declares stoutly.

"That's very chivalrous of you," Joonmyun teases, smiling at Baekhyun's concern. "I promise that I'll just finish writing my schedule for the upcoming days and then I'll come and meet you guys."

"Fine," Baekhyun sighs as he gets up. "You better include spend quality time with Baekhyun and Jongdae, my favorite friends in the world in your schedule." He makes a face at him before walking away, phone already in hand, probably to text Minseok.

Joonmyun shakes his head, chuckling as he turns back to his scheduling. It's definitely going to be tricky slotting everything in, his regular assignments and papers, his quizzes and exams, his readings, his major papers and researches, his final project, and his internship applications. But he knows there has to be time for everything so he sets his waking up time to 5:30 in the morning, that way he squeeze some reading time in before his 8:00 or 9:00 classes. He's sure there's time in between classes, there's also his lunch breaks, and then there's his free time after every class. He can make this work.

He bites his lower lip as he looks over his schedule and feels satisfied with it, at least for the next few days. He's made sure to put in some time for both Jongdae and Baekhyun because he's pretty sure that they won't hesitate to get mad at him for not having enough time for them. He smiles a little. This is exactly why Joonmyun doesn't have time for anyone else.

The quad is still usually filled with people at this time, with students coming out of classes and hanging out with friends. Today, though, there seems to be more people than usual. Joonmyun hitches his bag higher up his shoulder as he searches through the throng of people for Baekhyun, Jongdae or Minseok. They're probably around somewhere because this is where they normally hang out after classes, where all of their other friends are.

The crowd parts to his right as he's squeezing in between a couple of people and he sees several students giving hugs to other students. That definitely catches Joonmyun's attention and he slows down to see what's going on. Most of the students giving hugs are guys, one whom Joonmyun recognizes is Chanyeol, someone Jongdae had gone out with previously and is definitely someone who looks like he can give one hell of a hug.

The crowd parts some more and that's when Joonmyun sees the large sign on top of a small booth: FREE HUGS. He can't help but grin when he sees it if only because he's a fan of hugs. There are quite a few more huggers when he comes closer. It's sweet and even if Joonmyun's not the one being hugged, it already gives him a warm feeling and makes him feel lighter and even a bit better.

Joonmyun's not sure what's propelling him to move even closer to the front, but soon he's right at the front, looking for his friends forgotten for the time being. Why not feel better and uplift himself by watching other people be kind to others for the meantime? He looks around for somewhere he can stand or sit without being in the fray so he moves towards where the booth is, where less people are hanging out, except for a girl seated behind the booth and an angry-looking, but handsome guy.

"You want a hug?" the girl asks when she notices him kind of hovering-slash-watching. She tucks her long light brown hair behind her ear before nudging the guy, who looks like he'd rather be anywhere but there, standing beside the booth. "We're all social sciences course students. We have to give hugs."

"Uh," Joonmyun stammers, glancing mentioned guy, who uncrosses his arms and takes a begrudging deep breath. He's not entirely sure he wants a hug from someone who looks like he needs it more. But he shrugs, in spite of how annoyed and stiff the guy looks, and steps forward with slightly open arms. "Sure," he agrees with a small, but genuine, smile.

The annoyed-looking but handsome guy takes a step forward and takes Joonmyun into his arms without preamble. It almost feels like he's being swept off his feet, literally, and then being grounded onto a warm and solid body. Joonmyun's unsure as to where he should put his hands, whether he should put them on the guy's waist to give a hug back or if he should just keep them to himself (although, hugs aren't as fun if they aren't mutual). But then the arms around him tighten and the guy just kind of tucks Joonmyun's head under his chin and Joonmyun's arms just automatically wrap themselves around the guy's waist.

Joonmyun’s feels the tension he’s been carrying on his shoulders dissipate, as they’re replaced by the gentle calm and comfort of the arms around him and the guy's relaxed breathing. He finds himself closing his eyes as he allows himself to let go and loosen up. For a second, he forgets all that he has to do, forgets about all the schoolwork that he has to do, forgets about strict familial obligations, forgets about loneliness.

He feels the loss when they pull away from the hug that seems like it was much longer than a few minutes. The girl, Soojung as she introduces herself, looks amused when she asks him to sign her name and some information on a form.

"Thank you," Soojung says, reading his form, "Kim Joonmyun." She smiles at him before grinning at his hugger. "If you want to come back for more hugs, we’ll be here for a few more days. I’m sure Jongin here will be glad to accommodate you." The guy, Jongin, sighs like this is a burden that he’s going to have to bear but there is, surprisingly, a small smile on his face.

Joonmyun smiles because in spite of Jongin’s reluctance, he gave Joonmyun a really nice hug. "Thank you," he says.

"No, thank you," Soojung pipes in before Jongin can open his mouth. "You’re the first person who has made Jongin useful today." Jongin reaches out and shoves her lightly, but he’s smiling when he turns back to Joonmyun.

"C’mon, you know you needed it, Jongin," Soojung says, standing and shoving Jongin back. She turns to Joonmyun. "He needed that hug."

Joonmyun nods because he does agree somewhat that Jongin needed that hug. He looked like he was going through some internal battle with how serious he looked and how stiff he was standing. When Joonmyun looks at Jongin now though, he isn’t so serious, but he is frowning.

"So you just hugged me out of pity?" This Jongin seems so different from the one who looked like he was going to kick anyone who went near him. He’s frowning and kind of pouting, which is kind of cute since it looks like he’s trying really hard not to.

"Of course not," Joonmyun corrects him, shaking his head to emphasize this. "I came for a hug because I needed it. I’m very selfish when it comes to hugs." He smiles when Jongin looks somewhat relieved at this. "Thank you," he says before walking away.

Joonmyun feels lighter than he has in a while, which is ridiculous to say after one hug from a stranger, but it’s just exactly what he needed. All of a sudden, he thinks he can handle the upcoming days better.





-





Joonmyun is staring and he knows it. But he can’t help himself. The way Sunyoung is laughing, flipping her shoulder-length, dark hair over her shoulder, is captivating as she sits on one of the benches just outside the business building. The way her hair shines under the sun is almost as bright as the smile on her face. But not quite. He hasn’t seen Sunyoung that happy before. He’s pretty sure the guy whose arm is around her has everything to do with it.

"Joonmyun," Jongdae nudges his arm and Joonmyun blinks, immediately turning his attention to the notes spread open in front of him.

"Sorry," Joonmyun mutters. Although, in a way, he also isn’t. He barely sees Sunyoung anymore. Which is interesting and sad at the same time since she’s in several of his classes. "But you know it’s not like that," he adds.

Jongdae sighs. "I do," he agrees. "And I feel that that’s just so much worse than if you wanted her back." Joonmyun stops tapping his pen on the table and stills for a second before he shoves Jongdae, just a little. "I’m just saying. You’re going to have to forgive yourself for something that isn’t your fault."

But it is my fault, Joonmyun can't help but think. He and Sunyoung, they were perfect together in every way possible. He was happy and she seemed happy too. She had always said that he made her happy, and he believed her. Why wouldn't he? They may have not started out conventionally, but he and Sunyoung had always been friends. Who would have thought it would come to this?

"It isn't, Joonmyun," Jongdae's sharp voice cuts into his thoughts. His eyes are fiery with an anger that Joonmyun only sees when he knows Joonmyun is being too hard on himself again. It's a look that he sees a lot from Jongdae these days. Joonmyun always slips when he has too much to do, which is the case most of the time these days.

Joonmyun takes a deep breath and smiles at his best friend. There are many, many times when he feels grateful for having Jongdae as a best friend. There doesn't seem to be anything that Joonmyun has said or done that Jongdae didn't understand. Jongdae always tells Joonmyun that Joonmyun never does anything that isn't for the good of another person so Jongdae never thinks anything bad of him. Which is strange, because Joonmyun has always kind of thought of himself as selfish.

"How are things going with you and Joohyun?" Joonmyun decides to change the subject. It's one that isn't going to go anywhere. It only brings Joonmyun to a downward spiral of shame and regret.

Jongdae's cheeks immediately turn pink and he tucks his chin to his chest as he hides a smile. He recovers shortly after that and he coughs in embarrassment when he meets Joonmyun's amused gaze. "I just... really want to take my time with her," he explains. "I don't know why. It's weird. I mean, I've known her for a while now but..." He runs both his hands through his hair, making the ends stand up.

"You do know that she's not going to be single forever, right?" Joonmyun gently reminds him. He hopes he doesn't sound too pushy, but he doesn't want Jongdae to spend too long not going for what he wants. It only ends in regret.

"I know," Jongdae agrees with a deep sigh. He pats his hair down. "I don't know why I'm prolonging asking her. It's just a question and I know that no matter what happens, we'll be friends. Joohyun is just that nice, you know? She won't be that kind of girl who'll be mean or stop talking to me because it won't be awkward. I won't let it be awkward, anyway." He shrugs.

Joonmyun tries not to smile so much as Jongdae's rant continues on to how Joohyun is the greatest girl he's ever met and how come it took so long for him to realize that she was the one for him, how he can't believe that he went on to date people like Chanyeol when there's someone like Joohyun in his life. Jongdae has dated quite a number of people, both male and female. Being so handsome, sweet and chivalrous, people practically clamored to have a shot at dating him and Jongdae gave them all a chance. He was that open and that willing to put himself out there and see if that one person could hold and take care of his heart forever. Jongdae's last relationship was pretty long-term. Things hadn't ended well and it left Jongdae pretty broken. Joonmyun is amazed Jongdae is still as willing as ever to put his heart on the line. Granted he's taking more time now, taking steps to be more sure, but still, his heart is still ready to love and be loved.

"Seems like there's no time like the present," Joonmyun encourages him. "If all that you say is true, then there's no reason to put it off any further." He's not entirely sure why he's pushing Jongdae, especially when there's a chance—a tiny chance—that he might get hurt. Then again, Joonmyun likes to live vicariously through his friends. If Jongdae is happy, he's happy too.

"Joonmyun," Jongdae whines, his voice lilting upwards in that cute way even Baekhyun finds cute, and Baekhyun is the epitome of cute, at least in their group of friends. "I can't believe you and Baekhyun are agreeing on this. Usually you disagree with doing things too fast."

"This isn't doing things too fast, Jongdae," Joonmyun chuckles. "You've liked her for a while now. I think you should stop stalling." He ends up laughing harder when Jongdae just looks betrayed.

"I thought you were on my side," Jongdae complains before straightening up and getting a mischievous look on his face. Joonmyun can sense something embarrassing or something close to it is bound to happen in a few seconds. "So..." he starts out, coy. "A little bird told me that you were looking cozy with some guy the other day."

"What?" Joonmyun blinks at him, confused. "What are you talking about?"

Jongdae merely raises an eyebrow. "You would tell me if you're seeing someone, right?" He fake pouts, making Joonmyun laugh.

"Just because you need to be reminded that you are my best friend and that I tell you everything, yes, I would," Joonmyun answers good-naturedly. "Except I really don't now what you're talking about. When have I been cozy with anyone in the past year? When do I have the time to? I barely see you and Baekhyun."

"Which is such a loss," Jongdae dramatically declares, even putting a hand to his heart. "But really, Joonmyun, Baek told me that you were hugging this guy with your eyes closed and everything."

Ah, Joonmyun remembers. "So it was Baek then," he teases, not giving in to Jongdae's now pleading looks. "Don't let him hear you call him a little bird."

"Seriously?" Jongdae makes a face. "That's how you're going to play it? You're going to ignore me and make me beg for it? What ever happened to me being the best friend whom you would tell that you're seeing someone? Lies! All lies!" He wiggles in his seat in exasperation.

"Jongdae," Joonmyun laughs, "I'm not seeing anyone. So there really is nothing to tell." He wants to add that there won't be anything to tell in that aspect of his life for a long time. But he doesn't want the conversation to go back to the depressing route.

"But then who was that guy? Are you telling me Baek was just pulling my leg?" Jongdae presses.

Jongin. Joonmyun remembers his name. He also remembers how Jongin's arms wrapped around him felt, how warm Jongin was, and how it was the most relaxed Joonmyun had ever felt in a while. It was nice moment and one Joonmyun isn't likely to forget.

"He's from the social sciences department," Joonmyun explains, buckling under the weight of Jongdae's doe eyes. "They’re giving out hugs and I just… got one." It’s weird explaining it so inanely when it was so much more. People may think that hugs are just hugs, but in fact it can change the countenance of a person.

Jongdae raises an eyebrow and Joonmyun immediately knows that Jongdae knows something that Joonmyun wishes he didn’t. Jongdae just knows him too well. "Just got a hug, huh," he clarifies. "From a complete stranger," he presses when Joonmyun just nods. "Hmm."

Jongdae thankfully drops the subject after that and Joonmyun is finally allowed to go back to doing his schoolwork in peace. He looks up just before he’s about to move on to the next problem set in the book and he sees Sunyoung standing with her arms around her boyfriend’s neck. He breathes in and tries to remember what the hug felt like. He exhales as the fist around his heart eases a bit.





-





Joonmyun is tired. And sleepy. As he walks out of the classroom and into the almost empty hallway of the business department building, he thinks longingly of his bed and how he would love, more than anything, to just curl up in it and sleep the rest of the afternoon away. But he knows he can't do that. He just got the green light to start his final project and this afternoon would be a good time to get a start on it. He's finished the rest of his homework for the week and there's nothing else he should be doing than working on this.

Groaning mentally, he steps out of the building and walks towards the quad. Baekhyun had texted him to tell him that they were waiting for him outside. It's Baekhyun's way of reminding him about their after school activity, which is basically just Joonmyun treating them for some meal. So Joonmyun does have plans with friends that he loves, but he still wishes he was going to bed instead. He always feels like he's wasting time when he's awake but not doing any work. Not that his friends are a waste of time.

Joonmyun sees Baekhyun watching Chanyeol practically assault Jongdae into a hug with much amusement. He finds it so amazing that Chanyeol and Jongdae have managed to remain almost as close as they were even after they broke up, as he watches Jongdae laugh while shoving Chanyeol away. It's not that he has bad relationship with his exes. It's just that he didn't have much of a relationship with them afterwards.

He's about to wave at Baekhyun when a hand on his arm stops him. Joonmyun doesn't expect that hand to belong to Sunyoung, who is smiling at him the way she did back when they were better friends. Joonmyun is so taken aback that he doesn't say anything for several seconds, just taking in how pretty she looks with her hair tied back in an artfully messy bun.

"Hey," Joonmyun greets her when he finally finds his voice. "Hi."

Sunyoung laughs and it's almost like it was yesterday when he made her laugh that way. Her eyes are sparkling and she looks genuinely happy to be talking to him. Her hand is still on his arm and he tries not to over-think anything that is happening at the moment.

"You look so surprised that I'm talking to you," Sunyoung says, chuckling. "But I guess that's a fair reaction. We haven't really been talking or hanging out." She tucks her hair behind her ear, eyes looking away from his for a second before meeting them again.

"Well it's not without reason," Joonmyun points out. A smile finds its way to his face because he really is genuinely happy to be standing in front of Sunyoung and talking to her. Before everything that has happened, they had been very good friends. She even hung out with him, Jongdae, and Baekhyun in the past.

Sunyoung's smile softens and she squeezes Joonmyun's arm before dropping her hand. "My mom's having a party this weekend," she tells him. "I was thinking it would be a good time for us to actually start being friends again, like really become friends again." She gives him a knowing look. "Because clearly our idea of being friends is vastly different."

Joonmyun looks down and stares at his shoes. They're leather and one that he thinks his mother had given him on one of his birthdays. "Your mother has started to look for me, hasn't she?" he teases as he looks up again.

Sunyoung playfully shoves him. "Yes," she answers with exasperation. "You know that she was more heartbroken about our break up than you and I both were." She shakes her head and chuckles, and Joonmyun knows that any memory of the two of them together have now become fond, rather than painful to her. "It's been a year, Joonmyun," she goes on, her voice softer, gentler. "Don't you think it's time you stop beating yourself up for what happened?"

Joonmyun thinks back to everything they have shared together and knows that it will always be one of the best times of his life. It might not have been what he truly wanted, but Sunyoung was perfect and beautiful in every way and there is just no way he could ever regret being with her. Besides, it wasn't her fault that things ended the way they did. In the end, what Joonmyun could give her just wasn't enough.

"What time is the party?" Joonmyun asks. Sunyoung beams.

Joonmyun watches with fondness as Sunyoung makes her way across the quad to meet up and leave with her friends. He's not entirely sure that going to the party will make him feel better about anything. But, at the very least, he's sure that Sunyoung doesn't hate him. She had said that she understood, but she had been so angry with him that she didn't speak to him for a few weeks until she called a truce. The conversation after that had been a long one. It was enlightening for both of them. But the load on his shoulders hasn't really been lifted. Even until now, it's still there.

He makes his way towards the spot where Baekhyun and Jongdae always wait for him. He passes by the Free Hugs booth again, where students are milling around and playfully costing people with hugs, and sees Soojung. She grins and waves at him, then shoves the person beside him, who stumbles forward.

"Hey," Jongin kind of yelps when he sees him.

Jongin is taller than Joonmyun remembers. Sure, the ease with which Joonmyun’s body fit against his is clear, but Joonmyun didn’t realize that Jongin was much, much taller than him. He actually has to look up to meet his gaze. There’s a bit more of a downturn on the corners of Jongin's lips though, ones that Joonmyun is pretty certain weren't there when they first met. Sure, Jongin had look irritated, but he didn't look sad. Today, though, Jongin looks like he's sad with the subtle way he shifts from foot to foot and how he sighs almost inaudibly.

"Hey," Joonmyun greets him back, coming to a decision. Jongdae is right about him liking take care of people. He just doesn't think anyone should even look the least bit sad like he feels. "How about we try that hug again?" It's a bold offer and Jongin is still a stranger, but so what? A hug can do wonderful things to a person.

Jongin doesn't even hesitate, much to Joonmyun’s surprise and delight. He falls into Joonmyun's open arms and, much like before, tucks Joonmyun's head under his chin and tightens his arms around him. Joonmyun's eyes flutter shut, breathing a sigh of relief and contentment. So maybe Joonmyun has selfish reasons for wanting to hug Jongin as well. Who cares? Hugs are mutually beneficial whether both parties want it or not. The thing is, Jongin's hug just helped him so much over the past week that he thinks he should maybe get a hug from him every week until he gets through all the stress he has for the year. Too bad this Free Hugs thing isn't a year long project.

The hug is over before Joonmyun wants it to be. He lets go and takes a step back, quickly looking Jongin's face over. Joonmyun is satisfied that Jongin looks a bit better than he did before. Taking another step back, Joonmyun shifts his bag higher on his shoulder and smiles.

"Thank you," Joonmyun tells him, hoping that his smile conveys just how much he appreciates Jongin's openness and kindness.

Jongin nods, face scrunching for a second as he looks like he wants to say something else, making Joonmyun curious for what it is, but clears up his face in the next second. "I'll see you around," he says instead.

Joonmyun chuckles in agreement. It won't be a bad idea for him to run into Jongin again if it would result to more hugs. He walks away to go to his friends' table, only to find Jongdae and Baekhyun waiting for him with matching surprised and amused expressions on their faces. Minseok is sitting beside Baekhyun, looking at something on his phone but the smile on his face is the same one as theirs.

"Just got another hug?" It amazes Joonmyun how much self-restraint Jongdae can have in teasing him at times as he delivers this with a straight face. "From the same stranger, I assume? Because that did not look like a first-time hug."

Joonmyun just shrugs. Their first hug didn’t seem like a first-time hug either, but he’s not going to tell Jongdae that. "It's their project and it's a free hug," he responds. "I don't see how anything is wrong with that."

"Nothing wrong with that," Baekhyun pipes in, shifting closer to Minseok, who immediately puts an arm around his shoulders. "I just didn't realize how cute he is," he adds, leaning towards the table, grinning excitedly. "Like, Joonmyun, do you see the possibilities? Jongdae won't even have to introduce you to that sophomore friend that he has. This hugging guy is already perfect." He turns to Minseok and smiles at him. "Not as perfect as you of course, Minseokkie," he chirps, smile widening when Minseok pecks at his lips.

"Give Joonmyun a break," Minseok tells them with a light chuckle and the two boys immediately drop it. He rarely tells them what to do, but being older, they all listen to what he says in the few times that he does.

Jongdae sighs like it's some kind of travesty to be dropping the subject too early, but he gives in anyway. "We are not done talking about this," he whispers to Joonmyun.

There is really nothing left to talk about. It was a hug and that was it. If Jongdae thinks there is though, Joonmyun is interested to hear it. "Fine," he whispers back anyway.





-





"Where are you going dressed like that? And why do you look so nervous?"

Baekhyun’s voice startles Joonmyun on his way to sneaking out of the apartment. Joonmyun hasn’t exactly told his best friends that he’s going to Sunyoung’s house for her mother’s party. He knows they’ll think that it’s a mistake to go. Joonmyun would have thought the same if this were a couple of months ago. Now, however, he really doesn’t think it is one.

"Uh," Joonmyun stammers, fiddling with the knot of his tie. He glances behind Baekhyun to make sure that Jongdae isn’t behind him. This will be so much worse if he is. "It’s—out. I’m going out."

"I hope so," Baekhyun says, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms on his chest. "Because it would be weird if you were not going out looking like that. I mean, really, what a waste that would be." His smirk tells Joonmyun that he’s not buying it.

"What’s a waste?" Jongdae asks, joining them in the hallway. His hair is standing up, clearly having just woken up from his nap. Joonmyun holds his breath as realization comes to Jongdae, while Baekhyun just continues smirking. "Why are you wearing a suit?"

"I have this party to go to," Joonmyun answers with a deep breath. Jongdae is sure to find out anyway. Why make it hard for everyone? He’s pretty sure Baekhyun’s already figured it out.

"The last party you went to wearing something that formal was when—" Jongdae cuts himself off as Baekhyun pushes himself off the wall. "Joonmyun," he starts again, carefully. "Why are you going?" His brow is furrowed and Joonmyun almost hunches into himself at the tone of Jongdae’s voice.

"Because," Joonmyun replies, "I have to start somewhere. It’s never going to happen if I don’t at least try, right?" It’s a lie and he knows it. Going to this party isn’t going to change how he feels about the whole thing with Sunyoung and about himself. He’s hoping Jongdae doesn’t catch on. "Wait, how do you know what I’m talking about?"

Jongdae’s gaze softens. "Sunyoung told us about the party," he shares, looking slightly guilty at the look of surprise on Joonmyun's face. "We didn't think you would go since you never brought it up."

"I wasn't going to go since Jongdae said he's not going to," Baekhyun says, shrugging. "I can still go if you want company. But it's totally cool if you want to go alone."

"If you want to go Baekhyun, you should go," Joonmyun says. He has to admit that he feels a bit better knowing that there is someone there he's not running away from. "I mean you guys really don't have to skip it for my benefit. Sunyoung is your friend too."

"I would..." Jongdae hesitates, rubbing his hand on the back of his neck. "But I kind of already have plans." His cheeks are pink and Joonmyun guesses exactly the same thing that makes Baekhyun gasp.

"You finally asked Joohyun out!" Baekhyun's emotional outburst echoes around the apartment. So does the thud that Jongdae's back hitting the wall from Baekhyun shoving him. "When were you going to tell us?" he demands.

Joonmyun is expecting an answer but Jongdae decides to just shove Baekhyun back and makes his way back to his room. Baekhyun hounds Jongdae the whole way, even following him into his room, and Joonmyun is left standing in the hallway.

Joonmyun puts his shoes and coat on and walks out of the apartment.

The party isn't so bad. The party itself is great, as is expected of the Park family. The food is great, the wine is delicious and overflowing, and the company isn't all that awful. There have been several people he'd been uncomfortable talking to because they all talked about how sad it is that he and Sunyoung are no longer dating when they seemed to fit so well. Joonmyun can't count how many times he'd said Sunyoung is a great girl and she and I both felt that we'd be better off as friends, which is something no one seems to understand. It is totally possible that a girl and a guy can decide to be just friends. There is no prerequisite that just because two people seem great together that they should be. He also doesn't need a reminder every second of how he blew it, how he'd tried really hard for her and for both of them, yet in the end, it just wasn't in his hands.

There have been several moments when Joonmyun felt like going outside to get some fresh air. The afternoon is slipping by and he kind of wants to grab his books and study. That might be much better than being there at this point. He takes a deep breath, grabs a flute of champagne from a passing waiter and takes a big gulp.

"We have to stop meeting like this."

Joonmyun chokes on his last sip of champagne as he turns around to see who it is. "Meeting like what?" he asks, eyes wide, when he's able to talk even if his voice sounds scratchy. A waiter swoops in to take his champagne flute and hands him a napkin, which he dabs his mouth with.

"By accident." The new arrival smiles and Joonmyun forgets that he's miserable.

"What are you doing here, Jongin?" Joonmyun asks as he takes in Jongin's handsome appearance in his dark gray suit. He'd forgone the tie, the top button of his polo shirt open, so Joonmyun can see the dip in his throat. "I didn't realize you know the Park family."

"Well we really don't know anything about each other," Jongin points out with a grin. "Except that we go to the same university. But now I know that we both know the Parks and that you drink when you're miserable." He pockets both of his hands, giving him a curious look.

Joonmyun chuckles at Jongin's observation. "Have you been to a lot of these before?" he asks. "I've been to too many and they all seem to end up with me drinking too much champagne or wine." He looks around the room. Guests have separated into small groups, mingling and chatting like they don't see each other everyday. His mother and father are with different groups of people. Joonmyun sighs internally as he looks away. "It can be a bit stifling sometimes," he finishes with a wry smile.

"You’ve always found these parties boring," Sunyoung laughs, overhearing his last statement when she arrives. Her smile is warm though, her eyes twinkling teasingly, as she links her arm with his. "I see you two have met." She glances at Joonmyun. "Jongin is the brother of Jinyoung’s friend," she tells him. Jongin nods.

"How come I’ve never seen you in the other parties?" Joonmyun wonders aloud. He’s pretty sure he would have remembered Jongin if he’d seen him before.

"I don’t go to a lot of these. It’s not really my thing," Jongin confesses. "My sister is also closer to the Parks than I am, since she’s friend’s with Sunyoung’s sister, so I’m not expected to attend like she is."

"You’ve always been welcome, though," Sunyoung tells him with an encouraging smile. Jongin nods in acknowledgement. Someone calls her name and she immediately lets go of Joonmyun’s arm. "I hope you guys are enjoying yourselves," she tells them, turning to Joonmyun. "Thank you for coming, Joonmyun." She gives him a kiss on the cheek before she excuses herself.

Joonmyun lets go of the breath he’s been holding. That wasn’t so bad. He’d exchanged a few words with Sunyoung when he’d arrived earlier, but they were pleasantries and nothing really important as to actually solidify what kind of friendship they now have. At the very least, Joonmyun now knows that he is definitely more comfortable being around her than he was a few months ago.

"That bad?" Jongin says when he breaks the silence, making Joonmyun jump a little in surprise. Joonmyun just looks at him. He’s interested in him and Jongin maybe becoming friends, but he’s not sure this is the way to begin. "Want to get out of here?" Jongin offers instead when he doesn’t respond, much to Joonmyun's surprise. He expected sympathy, maybe an offer to drink some more to make things better, even some jokes to make him laugh, among other things. But not an offer to leave. "We can walk around," he continues, hesitating, "maybe get coffee."

Joonmyun glances around the room again. No one would notice if he left. If anyone does, it would be too late to call him back. He turns to Jongin, who’s waiting expectantly, and smiles. "Yes, let’s get out of here," he agrees.

Outside, the breeze is cool, a refreshing change from the stifling air inside. Joonmyun takes a deep breath and closes his eyes as he exhales. He’s glad Baekhyun didn’t go with him. Joonmyun wouldn’t want any of his friends to see him like this, still worked up over something that happened a year ago.

"Come here," Jongin says.

Joonmyun turns around and, before he could ask what he means or do anything, Jongin is taking him into his arms. Joonmyun’s breathing stutters in surprise but he lets himself fall into the embrace and savors the comfort that Jongin is offering him so willingly.

"What are you doing?" Joonmyun says it so quietly that it’s almost a whisper. He clenches his hands into fists in between their bodies.

"It’s none of my business," is Jongin’s answer. "So I’m just going to say, I wanted a hug and it looked like you needed one too. That’s why we’re here."

"I like hugs," Joonmyun accepts his response, closing his eyes. He rests his cheek on Jongin’s chest, which rumbles when Jongin’ laughs. He thinks Jongin is an especially good hugger.

Jongin just laughs again and Joonmyun can’t help but think that, along with Jongin’s warmth, Jongin’s laughter is something he wouldn’t mind experiencing everyday.





-





It’s only a little bit after lunch and already Joonmyun feels like it’s been such a long day. He pushes away from his desk, away from his laptop, where he’s been typing in his final project and goes out of his room. Baekhyun is lying on the couch, flipping through television channels, while Jongdae is sitting on the floor, notes spread out on the table in front of him.

Joonmyun leans against the back of the sofa, watching the channels change over and over. Baekhyun makes a sound of irritation as nothing good seems to be on. Joonmyun glances down at his friend, takes one look at Baekhyun’s furrowed brow and the straight line of his lips to know that something’s wrong. Baekhyun returns his look but immediately averts his gaze back to the TV. He shifts a little on the sofa, however, and Joonmyun doesn’t think twice about occupying the space and wrapping an arm around Baekhyun and cuddling him.

"What’s wrong?" Joonmyun asks Baekhyun, voice low so only he could hear it. He squeezes Baekhyun’s shoulder when Baekhyun stiffens ever so slightly.

Jongdae glances back at them and snorts. "He and his Minseokkie had a fight," he shares, turning back to his schoolwork. "Although I think it’s just Baek being childish as usual."

"Jongdae," Joonmyun nudges Jongdae’s back with his foot in an effort to chide him a little, while Baekhyun buries his face in Joonmyun’s chest, dropping the TV remote. He has to admit that Jongdae has a point. Baekhyun does tend to overreact to things when they're normally not an issue. Still, it doesn't mean that Baekhyun's feelings aren't valid.

"It’s our anniversary and we haven't seen each other in a week," Baekhyun tells him, sounding small. "He keeps saying that he’s busy and that he’ll talk to me soon. But he doesn’t even answer my calls." Baekhyun’s voice breaks that even Jongdae stops his work to look at him with concern.

"Hey," Jongdae starts, reaching for Baekhyun’s hand that’s clutching Joonmyun’s shirt. No one can resist Baekhyun when he looks like he’s about to cry. He’s one of the liveliest people that they know so this is definitely an obvious tell that something is very wrong. "He probably really is busy. He’s a senior and I’m sure they have a lot of work."

"It’s true, Baek," Joonmyun agrees. "I’m not even a senior and yet I feel like I’m busier than he is."

"That’s because you’re doing both junior and senior work," Baekhyun mutters, managing to roll his eyes even through his sadness. Joonmyun chuckles and squeezes him. "I mean, he can’t even greet me a happy anniversary through text?" He pouts. "I even baked him a cake and everything."

"Tell you what," Jongdae suggests, kneeling beside the couch and glancing at Joonmyun. "How about we go get some ice cream at the cafe across the street? Ice cream always makes you feel better and I was planning on taking a break anyway. Joonmyun will buy you that disgusting popcorn flavoured one that you like." He grins at Joonmyun when he raises an eyebrow at him.

"Sounds good to me," Joonmyun says, jostling Baekhyun. "It would be a good idea to get out. I really need a break too."

"Same," Jongdae pipes in, making a face at his homework. "What do you think, Baek?"

Baekhyun hesitates for a second before sighing and nodding.

The coffee shop looks empty when they approach it. Some of the lights are turned off, looking like they’re closing early. It’s strange because this cafe is usually open until midnight. It’s a favourite spot among university students because of its cozy and study-conducive atmosphere. Not only that, the coffee and the food is also delicious and has a reasonable price.

"Maybe we should go to another place," Joonmyun suggests just as Baekhyun’s sighs in annoyance.

"Let’s just go back to the apartment," Baekhyun says instead. "I think I’d rather just have a nap or something." He wraps his arms around himself as he starts to walk back the way they came from.

Joonmyun is already starting to think of things to do to make Baekhyun feel better, while Jongdae jogs after Baekhyun. He even considers talking to Minseok, although that would mean getting in the middle of someone else’s relationship, which he promised himself he would never do to anyone. He knows how it feels and it’s not pleasant.

"No, no, let’s just check it out first," Jongdae encourages Baekhyun as he brings him back with an arm around his shoulders. "This is the nearest cafe and we should at least check it out first before we go to another. We didn’t even go inside to actually see if they’re closed." He pushes the door open and gently ushers Baekhyun inside.

Joonmyun follows after them. The coffee shop is empty, although the places smells and looks like it’s been recently cleaned with all the tables and chairs in order. The yellowish lights are dimmed and Joonmyun squints a bit to see if he saw something moving behind the counter.

"I feel like we’re going to be attacked by zombies any minute now or something," Baekhyun voices out Joonmyun’s thoughts. "And I don’t really want to find out if that will happen. Let’s get out of here. I can do with sleep for now." He moves towards the door but Jongdae grabs his wrist and pulls him back.

"Maybe we should just—" Joonmyun starts, backing away. He doesn’t get scared as easily as Baekhyun does, but he’s not as brave as Jongdae either so he’d rather just avoid anything scary altogether.

"SURPRISE!"

The three of them jump back at the volume of the boom of voices as the lights come on. Joonmyun's back hits the door and he grits his teeth at the swift pain. Minseok and two of his friends have their arms stretched wide with big grins on their faces. Minseok, himself, is smiling so brightly that Joonmyun thinks the lights dim a little.

"Happy anniversary," Minseok says, stepping forward. Baekhyun just keeps standing there, mouth hanging open in shock, until Jongdae shoves him forward. "You didn't really think I forgot, did you?"

Baekhyun blinks rapidly as he slowly recovers from the surprise. He then punches Minseok's arm, earning a laugh from his boyfriend. "You couldn't have sent me a text to tell me Hi or How are you doing? I miss you? You had to make me worry and stress and cry over nothing?"

Minseok wraps him in a hug, kissing the side of his head. "I'm sorry. I wanted it to be a really big surprise," he tells him through his hair. "I didn't mean to make you upset."

Joonmyun averts his gaze from the intimate sight and finds Jongdae, and even Minseok’s friends, doing the same. Joonmyun and Jongdae smile at each other knowingly and walks out of the cafe, followed by Minseok's friends. They're all pretty sure Minseok and Baekhyun will be just fine.

The effort Minseok put into surprising Baekhyun, though, is really admirable and very sweet. There's a clench in Joonmyun's heart that feels a little too much like loneliness so he takes a deep breath and turns to Jongdae, who's watching him curiously.

"How come I didn't know about this?" Joonmyun demands, changing the subject before it can even come up.

Jongdae chuckles. "Joonmyun, you're barely home these days. I've barely seen you in the apartment or at all this week," he says as they hang around the front of the cafe. "You've practically been living in the library or wherever else you go to study, coming home in the wee hours of the morning and then leaving before the sun even comes up." He's smiling but he has his arms crossed over his chest but his eyes are hard, which say a lot more than his words do.

"Jongdae," Joonmyun starts to explain, but immediately stops when he sees someone familiar behind Jongdae. "Jongin!" he calls, very much surprised to see him again. It's been two weeks since he last saw Jongin at Sunyoung's party and he still hasn't forgotten that hug. "Hey!"

"Hi," Jongin greets him back, the smile on his full lips wide, showing all of his white teeth. "I wasn't sure when we'd run into each other again." Something swells in Joonmyun's chest at the thought that Jongin wanted to see him again, but immediately stomps it back down.

"He's normally at the library. You’d be sure to find him there," Jongdae supplies when Joonmyun doesn't quite find what to say to that. Jongin turns to him and laughs. "I'm Jongdae, Joonmyun's best friend," he offers and shakes Jongin's hand.

"Nice to meet you," Jongin says after he drops Jongdae's hand. "I'm Jongin. Joonmyun and I know each other from school." He grins at Joonmyun, whose face turns pink without his consent. Joonmyun isn't sure what's happening. It's not like no one else has smiled at him before.

"Interesting," Jongdae comments, eyeing Joonmyun with a look that makes Joonmyun blush with self-consciousness. "Well Jongin," he continues, turning to Jongin with a wide, seemingly innocent smile. "It's nice to finally meet you. Unfortunately, I have to go back to our apartment as there's a lot of homework waiting for me."

"Oh I should—" Joonmyun starts to say that he should go back too because, wow, how did Joonmyun allow himself to forget about the time?

"Do you have to go back too?" Jongin asks, his brows furrowing a little. He almost sounds like he doesn't want Joonmyun to go.

"No," Jongdae answers for him. "No, Joonmyun doesn't have to go back too." He gives Joonmyun a knowing look before he grins at Jongin. Joonmyun thinks of strangling him as he plays with the cuffs of his jacket. "I'll see you again soon, Jongin. It was nice to meet you. Bye!" He shoves Joonmyun towards Jongin before he jogs off in the direction of their apartment.

Joonmyun watches his best friend's back, thoughts whirling in his mind of what he's going to do now that he's alone with Jongin. It's not like it's a date or anything like that. But still, he hasn't been in a situation even remotely similar to this. His hopes have been dashed too many a time and he doesn't want to put himself or anyone else through that again.

"So," Jongin prompts him. Joonmyun turns to him and has to fight the urge to blush again because the way Jongin brushes his dark hair away from his face is just so attractive. It's not even a particularly special movement. But with Jongin's fitted jeans and simple white shirt that doesn't hide much of his toned body, on top of just how sweet Jongin can be, Joonmyun can't help but think, yet again, how he wouldn't mind being around him everyday.

"Were you going anywhere?" Joonmyun asks, slapping this thoughts away. He really hopes his face isn't pink.

"Was just going to get some coffee, actually," Jongin says, gesturing to the cafe behind him. He peers through the windows. "But it looks like there's some private event going on." Joonmyun follows his gaze and chuckles as he sees Baekhyun and Minseok dancing to some inaudible music. Baekhyun's probably singing.

"It's my best friend and his boyfriend's anniversary," Joonmyun explains, laughing again when Jongin raises his eyebrows and looks through the window with more interest. "It's a long story, but Minseok probably closed the coffee shop for the rest of the day." He shrugs and moves away from the windows. "Do you..." He pauses when Jongin looks at him with anticipation. There's nothing wrong with hanging out with a friend. It'll be only be for a few hours anyway. He can catch up with his work. "Do you want to go get coffee somewhere else?" he asks.

The light that appears in Jongin's eyes at this makes Joonmyun take it as a good sign. "Let's walk around?" Jongin offers. Joonmyun's eyes fall to Jongin's hand, which, he thinks, twitches towards his.

"Sure," Joonmyun agrees, clenching and flexing his fingers. They're tingling because Joonmyun wants to know how it feels like to have Jongin's fingers intertwined with his for some strange reason. It doesn't make sense and, even if it does, it's too soon. But he takes a deep breath and puts his hands in his pockets. He can't entertain those thoughts.

The next cafe isn't too far away, but it's just enough time for Joonmyun to get to know Jongin a little bit better. He's a sophomore social sciences student, who takes dance classes in his free time. He's a father to three adorable puppies, based from the picture Jongin has shown him, and likes visiting them every weekend so he can play with them.

"Did you go see them this weekend?" Joonmyun asks him as they take their coffees to their seats. He takes a sip and watches as Jongin does the same, his face wrinkling as he realizes that the coffee is too hot. Joonmyun chuckles.

"I didn't," Jongin answers and his face falls. "I had to get started on a really important paper and I knew I wouldn't be able to do anything if I go home."

Jongin goes on to talk about his dogs, his classes, his family, and some of his friends. Joonmyun finds himself very charmed by the fact that Jongin talks about everything with so much passion and heart, like he loves everything that he has and everything that he's doing in his life. Joonmyun admires that and he wishes he had everything going for him the same way.

Joonmyun talks about the little of his life that he's willing to share. He mostly talks about his classes and his friends, things he's comfortable telling people about because there isn't much that he isn't proud of with his schooling and his friendships. Jongin seems to like what he hears, smiling and laughing at the right moments, and that encourages Joonmyun to keep on talking, which is turning out to be the most he's talked in a long time.

Before they know it, hours have passed and Joonmyun jerks in his seat when he looks out the window and sees that night has fallen. He looks at Jongin, who is just smiling at him, which he has been doing for most of their time together, and feels sorry that he has to end this. It's been so long since he's felt so relaxed and so at ease with spending time away from his schoolwork.

"You have to go, don't you?" Jongin says teasingly. His smile doesn't falter and Joonmyun almost swoons with how handsome Jongin is in his sweetness and openness. When Joonmyun nods, he just nods back and stands. "If you want, I can walk you to your apartment," he then says.

"Alright," Joonmyun gives him permission. There’s that tingling in his fingertips again. He pockets his hands before he does something crazy like hold Jongin’s hand.

Jongin walks Joonmyun right to the steps of his building. Joonmyun is smiling up at Jongin, who is returning it with a grin of his own. It almost has the feel of the aftermath of a first date, making Joonmyun feeling slightly giddy and a bit bold.

"Maybe next time we wouldn't have to accidentally run into each other," Jongin says and there's this hopeful lilt to his voice that makes Joonmyun happy to hear.

It's entirely possible that Joonmyun's not the only one who feels that buzz under his skin during the entirety of their afternoon together. It confuses Joonmyun because he wants this, but, at the same time, he shouldn't. He's busy and has to be focused, and entertaining having something with Jongin can derail him. And the last thing he wants is to stray away from his studies and disappoint his family again. Joonmyun takes a deep breath and nods anyway. There is nothing wrong with friendship. He's pretty sure friendship with Jongin is something that he can have.

"That would be nice," Joonmyun agrees.

Jongin takes his phone out of his pocket and hands it to Joonmyun so he can put his number in. Joonmyun saves his number and hands the phone back to Jongin, who carefully places it back in his pocket.

"I'll text you then," Jongin says, taking a step back.

"Thank you for today, Jongin," Joonmyun earnestly tells him. He wants to say more, like how this is one of the best things that has happened to him in a very long time. But that might scare him away and that wouldn't do. Joonmyun wouldn't want to cut off what could possibly be a wonderful friendship before it even begins. "It was really fun hanging out with you."

"I had a lot of fun too," Jongin tells him, biting his lower lip before taking a step forward again. "Hey, I know that this is weird but can I..." He trails away, his arms opening wide.

Joonmyun grins before stepping into them. Jongin's arms wraps around him like a warm blanket and Joonmyun exhales in contentment, hugging him back just as tight. "Anytime," he replies.

Joonmyun goes back into the apartment and is surprised to find Baekhyun and Jongdae sitting in the living room, waiting for him. Jongdae has an annoying smile on his face, which Baekhyun matches, making them twice more annoying. But before any of them can say anything, Joonmyun sprints past them and locks himself in his room. He leans against the doorway, laughing as Jongdae and Baekhyun pound on his door, yelling at him to give them details.

"There are no details!" Joonmyun yells back, pushing himself off the door and walking into the room. He sits on his bed and stares at the door, a smile forming on his face as he recalls the whole afternoon.

"There are details, Joonmyun, and you know it!" Jongdae screams, pounding harder on the door.

"We deserve to hear them! I deserve to hear them, especially since you guys conspired with Minseok and tricked me," Baekhyun calls.

"Oh please," Joonmyun hears Jongdae says. "It's not like you didn't enjoy that."

"I had nothing to do with that," Joonmyun tells Baekhyun. "So I owe you nothing."

"Joonmyun!" Jongdae and Baekhyun whine simultaneously and Joonmyun laughs.

"There's nothing to tell! We had coffee and that's it," Joonmyun insists. He lies back on his bed, unable to keep the grin off his face. Because if he is to be completely honest, having coffee wasn't the only thing that happened that afternoon. There was so much more than that.





-





"What are we doing here, Jongdae?" Joonmyun demands, glancing at the time on his phone. He's on a schedule because he has an exam tomorrow that he's not finished preparing for. But Jongdae had gotten him out of the library and to a small, quaint restaurant because there is just something Joonmyun has to do for him.

"Okay, don't get mad at me," Jongdae starts as soon as they're seated, which is pretty much all Joonmyun needs to hear to actually get mad at him. He smiles as if that would make Joonmyun less apprehensive. "But remember when I said I knew this guy who—"

"Jongdae," Joonmyun cuts him off, already knowing what is coming next. He fidgets with his fingers under the table. "You know I'm not—"

"Just try it out," Jongdae interrupts, looking at him with pleading puppy eyes that Joonmyun has never been able to resist, either from him or Baekhyun. "Just this once. Just once," he insists, holding his pointer finger up. "And if it doesn't work out then you'll never hear anything from me."

"Does that mean I'm going to be hearing from Baekhyun?" Joonmyun asks, raising an eyebrow and pulling at the sleeve of his sweater. Because he knows how Baekhyun and Jongdae work. They're like two peas in a pod, always knowing what the other is thinking, maybe even at any given time. And if Jongdae's not going to be nagging him about going out and dating people, Joonmyun is sure that Baekhyun is going to do it instead.

"I can't speak for Baekhyun," Jongdae says as innocently as he can. Joonmyun rolls his eyes and leans back on his seat, fighting back laughter. "But Joonmyun," he says, leaning on the table. "This guy is really great. He's tall, handsome and is very cute when he smiles. He's smart too and funny. You won't regret meeting him."

"I regret meeting you," Joonmyun points out. He takes a deep breath. Jongdae looks so excited for him to meet this guy, someone he's been talking about for a while now. But with Joonmyun's busyness, Jongdae's never gotten a chance to have them meet. Now, with some underhandedness, they're finally going to. What's he got to lose? It's one meeting. "Fine," he gives in.

Jongdae actually claps his hands like a little boy who just got a special treat, which this probably is. "You're not going to regret this," he says, taking his phone out probably to text the guy.

I regret it already, Joonmyun doesn't say. He sits back and stares at the table, wondering what he's going to say to this guy and what he's going to do on this blind date. He hasn't really dated much. In fact, he doesn't date at all. His relationship with Sunyoung was the only serious one he's had. And after that, he hasn't really felt the need or the desire to date because his heart was heavy and his head too full of the things he thinks about himself. Would this be a good time go get back out there? Is he ready?

Unwillingly, Joonmyun's mind drifts to Jongin and how he had a lot of fun with him the previous weekend. They've exchanged a few messages since then and had met up before classes once. But with Joonmyun's full load, they haven't been able to go out like Jongin had wanted to. Maybe now that he's possibly entertaining the thought of getting back out there again, maybe he should fix his schedule up a bit and—

"Joonmyun," Jongdae's voice pierces into his subconscious and Joonmyun looks up to find a guy, exactly like Jongdae described: tall, handsome, and one with a very cute smile. "This is Sehun. Sehun, this is Joonmyun." He claps his hands and stands up. "Okay, my job here is done. Have fun, guys!" He waves dorkily and dashes out of the restaurant.

Sehun takes a seat across from him and clasps his hands on top of the table, the muscles of his arms flexing as he moves. Joonmyun averts his gaze from them, smiles and shifts on his seat, unsure as to how to start this blind date.

"So," they say at the same time. Sehun laughs as Joonmyun blushes.

"Jongdae tells me you two are best friends," Sehun starts with a soft smile. He’s playing with the tissue holder, which he knocks over after a second. He gives him a sheepish smile as he puts it back up.

"Yeah," Joonmyun answers, giggling a little. Maybe he’s not the only one who’s nervous. "We've known each other for a while now. How do you two know each other?"

"I'm friends with Joohyun," Sehun shares, chuckling. "I'm sure you know her." Joonmyun nods. Joohyun, the girl whom Jongdae would be dating by now if he wasn’t so scared of asking her out. "Should we order?"

They order some snacks and chat intermittently throughout the meal. Sehun is sweet. He does his best to try to make everything light and funny to make things comfortable for Joonmyun. He always has these little jokes every now and then, and Joonmyun, easy to please, always laughs sincerely at them. Joonmyun finds Sehun's stories about his dance class and his classmates and friends. Their conversation gets better and less awkward after a while and Joonmyun finds himself talking and laughing more comfortably as they go along.

"This was really nice," Sehun tells him as they stand outside the restaurant afterwards. "I had fun."

"Me too," Joonmyun replies with sincerity. Sehun worked hard to make him feel comfortable and he really appreciates that. "You're a good date." He smiles when Sehun turns adorably pink. He wonders how someone who looks so manly can be so adorable? His mind flits towards another adorable but manly guy and shakes his head at the thought.

"So does that mean we can have another go soon?" Sehun asks, glancing at the restaurant behind them. "And I promise it's going to be at a much better restaurant with better food. Jongdae picked this one, not me."

Joonmyun laughs. "Yes, I think we can do that," he agrees. Why not? Dating is really just getting to know someone. There is no definite ending to it. They can be just friends after everything. They don't actually have to be boyfriends and that's something Joonmyun can do.

They exchange numbers and by the time Joonmyun gets home, he and Sehun have already exchanged a couple of messages.

"Did you have fun?" Jongdae asks when he and Baekhyun sneak into Joonmyun’s bed later that evening.

"I can’t believe I didn’t know about this," Baekhyun says through his pout, burying his face in Joonmyun’s arm. "Unfair. I miss everything."

"Stop whining," Jongdae tells him and nudges Joonmyun. "So did you have fun?" he repeats the question.

Joonmyun smiles even though Jongdae probably can’t see it in the dark. "Yeah," he says. "Sehun is sweet."

Joonmyun can't help but think that maybe he should really give this dating thing a chance. But he also can’t help but think about trying it with someone who has darker hair, chocolate brown eyes, and someone who gives hugs that make him feel like he’s being swept off his feet every single time.





-





Joonmyun pins his handphone in between his ears and shoulders as he types a few more sentences into his paper. "Hey," he greets the caller, making sure not to knock over the mug of coffee. He picks it up and brings it to the sink then sits back down. "I promise I'm on my way." He shuffles closer to the table in the kitchen, where he's decided to work for the afternoon, so he can read a paragraph from a book he has open. "But I might be a little late."

"How many times have you used this excuse on me, Joonmyun?" the person on the other line teases him. Joonmyun can hear the laughter in his voice, making his heart feel like it's wrapped in something soft and cottony. "I can hear you typing, you know."

Joonmyun bursts into laughter and Baekhyun, who’s wearing nothing but his Pokemon pyjamas, looks up from where he's texting and gives him a weird look. His friends have been giving him weird looks lately, which he does not understand.

Turning his attention back to his laptop and his phone call, he says, "Okay, okay. I'll leave in exactly five minutes. I just have a few sentences to type in and then I'm on my way." He stops typing and frowns a bit. "Are you already there?" he asks. Normally, Joonmyun would be on time. But for the past few times they had to meet up, Joonmyun has been late because he’s been cramming things into a shorter period of time just so he can go out.

"You know what, I knew you would be late so I left ten minutes later than I normally would and guess what?" the caller prompts.

"What?" Joonmyun asks, biting his lower lip, feeling like he already knows the answer.

"I'm still early," the person responds, chuckling.

Joonmyun giggles into the phone. This time Baekhyun puts his phone down on the table and Jongdae comes into the kitchen to see what's going on. Joonmyun flushes at his friends' intent gazes and ignores them. He types a couple more sentences into his paper before saving the document and closing his laptop.

"Okay, I'm done," Joonmyun promises. He fixes his things, piling up his books and notes before placing the laptop on top of it so he can bring them to his room. "I'm literally leaving right now." He walks back out and finds Jongdae and Baekhyun waiting for him in the hallway to the front door. "I'll be there soon, I promise." He ends the call and eyes his friends warily. "What?" he demands, shoving his phone back into his pocket.

"Was that Sehun or Jongin?" Baekhyun wants to know.

"It's Jongin," Jongdae says with such decisiveness that surprises Joonmyun. "He only laughs like that when he's talking to Jongin. With Sehun, it's more like a girly giggling—"

"I do not giggle," Joonmyun hotly retorts, his face burning even redder. He places his palms to his cheeks and pats them a little.

"You do actually," Baekhyun says it in that annoying way he does when he's sure he's right. "You just giggled at whoever you were talking to on the phone." He turns to Jongdae, who's smirking at Joonmyun. "You sure it's not Sehun? He does the same thing when he talks to him sometimes."

"It's definitely Jongin," Jongdae states, watching Joonmyun carefully. Joonmyun bows his head down because if his face turns and redder, it's going to explode. He's not sure why his friends are so interested in his life these days. "He only turns that red when it comes to Jongin."

Baekhyun covers his laugh with a hand. "Aww, Joonmyun, don't make Sehun sad, okay? I like him. He's very cute." He purses his lips. "I like Jongin too, though. Man, you have a tough choice to make." He wiggles his eyebrows up and down. "I have an idea on how you can resolve it. Sex is always a good indicator of compatibility—"

"Baekhyun, I'm going to tell Minseok about that time you kissed Jongdae with a lot of tongue if you don't stop talking," Joonmyun says all of this in one breath. When he's done, both Baekhyun and Jongdae are white as a sheet. He smiles at Jongdae. "I suggest you do the same, Jongdae," he adds. Then with a smile and a wave, he leaves the apartment.

Jongin is sitting on edge of the sidewalk in front of the park gates when he arrives. He's playing a game on his phone and Joonmyun takes the time to admire how Jongin looks in his thigh-hugging blue jeans and gray sweatshirt. His hair is soft and floppy on his head that Joonmyun kind of wants to run his fingers through it.

Jongin has been making him want to do a lot of things he hasn't cared for before, like holding his hand or cuddling close to him, maybe even kissing him. Jongin makes him feel a lot of things that Joonmyun's told himself time and time again not to entertain because if he loses his focus, he's going to disappoint his parents again. It'll be so much worse than when Sunyoung broke up with him.

"Hey," Jongin greets when he sees him, immediately standing up and pocketing his phone. He runs his hand through his hair and Joonmyun gets that feeling again.

"I'm sorry," Joonmyun apologizes with a bit of a pout because he's found that it makes Jongin laugh.

True enough, Jongin does laugh, his eyes crinkling at the corners in a completely adorable way. "How's the paper?" he asks as they walk into the park, Jongin leading them to a particular direction. "You sure you're okay to go out today?"

"I have to meet up with another friend later today anyway," Joonmyun says with a shrug. It would have been ideal if he didn't go out so that he wouldn't have to cram some things. But he thinks going out with Jongin is worth it. Being with him gives Joonmyun a boost and makes him feel refreshed afterwards. It helps with his studying in a roundabout way.

"What are we doing today?" Joonmyun asks.

Jongin was a bit secretive on what his plans are for today and it just made him even more intrigued. In the past few times, they've gone out, they've mostly done a lot of eating and walking. This time seems to be no different.

They approach a bench, where a guy's bent over tending to some cute and cuddly dogs. There are three of them, one white and two brown, but all tiny and cute with curly fur. Joonmyun looks at Jongin in surprise and excitement as he grins at him.

"My sister brought them over today and I thought you should meet them since I talk about them so much. I had my friend take care of them while I came to wait for you," Jongin explains. Joonmyun beams at him because he knows this is kind of big deal. Jongin's dogs seem everything to him and Joonmyun is honored to have the chance to actually meet them.

His friend straightens up when he hears them approaching and turns around, freezing as he and Joonmyun see each other. Joonmyun halts in his steps, unable to help the gasp that escapes his lips. There is no way that this is happening. This only happens in movies because it's ridiculous and so unlikely. And yet...

"Joonmyun?" Sehun's brows are furrowed in confusion, probably mirroring exactly the way Joonmyun looks. "What are you doing here?" He then glances at Jongin, who's looking just as confused. "Are you..." The confusion clears from his face. "You're Jongin's friend?"

Jongin looks from Joonmyun to Sehun, back again and his mouth hangs open in surprise. "You're the one Sehun has been going out with?" he asks, his lips pressing together in a straight line for a second before he opens them again. He chuckles, taking a seat on the bench. "Sehun wouldn't tell me who it was. So it's you." He smirks at Sehun and it's weird because it looks twisted. "You're going out with Joonmyun," he tells Sehun with another small laugh.

"This is weird," is all Joonmyun can say because, really, what are the odds of Jongin and Sehun being friends? He's been really worried about dating and now this just has to happen. Of all things. Of all the people in the world. It just has to happen to him.

Joonmyun glances at Sehun, whose worriedly biting his lower lip. After a few seconds, Sehun meets his gaze. Sehun's eyes sharpen for a second before softening and something in those few seconds seem to make him decide on something.

"Jongin, Joonmyun and I haven't really been going out," Sehun starts, staring determinedly at his friend.

This surprises Joonmyun, but at the same time makes him feel relieved. It's a bit cowardly of him to feel this way, but he's glad that Sehun took the explanation out of his hands. The thought of having to choose... He clenches his fists at the uncomfortable thought. Although, Joonmyun isn't sure why he and Sehun need to explain themselves or feel like them going out is wrong.

"We're friends," Joonmyun pipes in, smiling hopefully at Sehun, who smiles and nods back at him. "And we hang out sometimes."

Jongin looks at the two of them, seemingly assessing them and the things they've said, before his face breaks out into a smile so wide, his eyes disappear and all his teeth show. Joonmyun lets out a breath because he really doesn't like how Jongin looked earlier, face blanking after some dry laughter.

"I'm going to go," Sehun announces, handing Jongin the dog leashes. He smiles at Joonmyun and then he walks away.

Joonmyun sits beside Jongin, not saying anything, still unsure after that whole exchange. He feels sorry to Sehun. It's not fair to him that their relationship has been defined by another friendship. Then again, in the end, Joonmyun knows that if he had to choose between them, not that it guarantees anything, he would choose Jongin. That doesn't mean that he doesn't like Sehun; he does. Sehun is kind and funny. Joonmyun has a lot of fun whenever they're together and Joonmyun hopes that he can still have Sehun as a friend.

"I'm sorry about that," Jongin mutters after the silence. His hands are gripping the leashes tightly, ensuring that the dogs, who are wrestling around playfully, don't run away. "It was none of my business," he continues before Joonmyun can tell him he has nothing to be sorry about. "If you and Sehun are going out, then that's great."

"Jongin," Joonmyun replies, clasping his hands together on his lap. "Sehun and I were set up on a blind date by Jongdae. I didn't even know about it until I was already there and, well, we went out a couple of times more." He pauses, unsure how to proceed. "Sehun isn't entirely wrong, though, when he said we weren't really going out."

He feels Jongin turn to him but Joonmyun refuses to look anywhere but at his clasped hands. Joonmyun doesn't know what he's doing. This is practically a revelation in his book. He's a guy who keeps on saying he's not ready or he doesn't want to go and have a romantic attachment with anyone. And yet here he is, doing exactly just what he told himself he wouldn't do. Joonmyun had gone out with both Sehun and Jongin and now... It almost feels like a confession that Joonmyun isn't ready to give.

Joonmyun feels Jongin's hand before it even lands on his own. Jongin's fingers, thick and long, wedge themselves in between his palms until they're not together. There's a beat or two, where Joonmyun holds his breath, before Jongin is wrapping his hand around one of Joonmyun's smaller and thinner ones.

"I understand," Jongin says, tugging on Joonmyun's hand, and Joonmyun meets his eyes this time. Jongin smiles at him. "I understand," he repeats.

"Okay," Joonmyun blurts out, chuckling when he feels the embarrassment afterwards.

"Alright then," Jongin concurs. He then tugs on the leashes of his dogs with his other hand and introduces each one of them.

Monggu, Jjanggu, and Jjangga bark at the sound of their names being called as Jongin tells Joonmyun some more about them. Joonmyun smiles and laughs at all their antics that Jongin shares with him. As Jongin goes on, he can’t help but think how easy that was, how easy this is. Joonmyun didn’t realize that it could be this easy. He only has his relationship with Sunyoung to compare this to. But then, that’s not a fair comparison. Things were different with Sunyoung and he’s not exactly in a relationship with Jongin. Not yet anyway. Still, this feels different in so many ways.

"Do you want to walk around?" Jongin asks. "They’re getting restless." He nods towards his dogs.

"Sure," Joonmyun agrees.

It’s only when Jongin tugs at his hand that he realizes that they’re still holding hands. Joonmyun smiles as start walking around the park hand-in-hand, the dogs yipping happily in front of them.





-





"You look horrible."

Joonmyun flinches at the words, even more so that they’ve come from someone he cares a lot of the opinion of. He pastes a smile on his face and looks up. Sunyoung is standing there, looking beautiful as she always does. Her pretty white dress makes her look even more radiant, setting off her skin tone and the brown of her eyes and hair.

"And you look lovely, of course," Joonmyun returns as Sunyoung sits across from him.

"How long have you been awake, Joonmyun?" Sunyoung asks, leaning across the table to peer closely at him. It makes him feel self-conscious, but he and Sunyoung know each other far too well to let this bother him.

"A while," Joonmyun mutters, averting his gaze and going back to his work. He has a project to submit tomorrow, a paper, and two exams to study for. He’s very aware how behind he is on things.

"Define a while," Sunyoung presses, sounding concerned, and Joonmyun really isn’t sure why she is. He’s brought enough heartache and embarrassment to grant her the luxury of hating him forever. But she's giving him that look that says she's not going to go away until he tells her the truth, and Sunyoung is pretty good at discerning whether he's lying or not.

Joonmyun inhales and exhales, putting his pen down and running a hand through his hair. He'd decided to forgo putting it up and gelling it after he and Sunyoung broke up. He likes being able to pull at it whenever he gets frustrated and he likes how it makes him feel free. He's always hated that kind of hairstyle anyway, even though he sported it ever since he was a young boy.

"Three days," he confesses, leaning away from the table when Sunyoung glares at him at his response. "More or less." Sunyoung opens his mouth to probably berate Joonmyun so he continues. "Please don't say anything. I have so much work, Sunyoung. And I get the disappointment, I really do, but I don't need to hear it."

Joonmyun goes back to his reviewer. That was awful of him, to say those things to Sunyoung, one of the few people who truly knows him and probably, hopefully, accepts him. Before the whole break-up fiasco, Sunyoung was the person he leaned on. For almost all of his life, he'd been taught that he should only rely on himself because people can leave you, disappoint you, hurt you, and make you weak. And Joonmyun should never be weak. But then Sunyoung came along, albeit unwillingly in the beginning, and showed him that he can and that he should be able to lean on someone else.

"I didn't say I was disappointed. I'm not," Sunyoung's voice, meek but clear, breaks the silence. Joonmyun stops reading, but doesn't look up, doesn't say anything and waits for whatever else she wants to say. "I was never disappointed in you, Joonmyun," she goes on, and this time, Joonmyun meets her gaze. They're honest and impassioned and touches Joonmyun's heart. "Never," she insists when he still doesn't say anything.

Joonmyun opens his mouth to say something, but closes it again. Because what can he say? Should he tell her about all the times when he felt he let her down? Should he tell her about all the moments where he promised himself he wouldn't go through this again because he doesn't want to disillusion someone else the way he did her? Because, in the end, that's all Joonmyun is. An illusion. Someone who people think has his whole life together. Perfect family, perfect grades, perfect looks, perfect friends, perfect relationship. It's almost as if everything about him is manufactured to perfection. But when you look closer, really look, you'll find that he's not all that. The outside is exciting, but the inside is a letdown.

"I'm sorry if I've ever made you feel like that," Sunyoung pushes, lifting her hand on the table to reach for Joonmyun's. He allows her to wrap her hand on his, squeezing with comfort. Her hand is small and dainty, pretty against his own bigger, rougher ones. "I was angry, sure, because I thought we were great together. But I was also angry because I didn't see it early, and not for my benefit." She tugs his hand to make him look at her. "But for yours."

"I don't understand," Joonmyun speaks up.

"Joonmyun, I was your partner, your confidant, and yet I didn't see it," Sunyoung says, brows furrowing as she struggles to voice out feelings she may have kept to herself in a while. "How could I have not known that you were unhappy? That you didn't... I should have known and I should have helped you. And it went on for so long." She shakes her head. "So you see," she goes on, smiling at him with watery eyes. "I wasn't disappointed in you. I was disappointed in myself."

Joonmyun grabs Sunyoung's hand and holds on to it when she moves to leave. He considers what he should say, considers apologizing again, wonders if he should tell her how he blamed himself. In the end, it doesn't really matter anymore. This is a conversation that probably should have had way before, but he's glad they're having it now.

"We were great together," Joonmyun agrees, gripping her hand a bit tighter before letting go completely. He pulls his hand back to his lap and looks at her, a small smile on his face.

Sunyoung smiles and then laughs when tears fall on her cheeks. Joonmyun has to stop himself from reaching out and wiping them from her face. She dabs her eyes and cheeks with tissue until her smile is fully without a shade of sadness. "You idiot," she then remarks. "I can't believe we're only having this conversation now."

"Better now, than never," Joonmyun points out, smiling as he picks up his pen and twirls it around his fingers.

"Really, though, Joonmyun," Sunyoung speaks up again, looking at him with pleading but determined eyes. "Don't be a stranger. I thought you just needed time, which I of course understood, I needed it too. But after six months of only just Hi's and hello's, I knew something was up."

"You could have said something, you know," Joonmyun says it teasingly, but there is some truth to it. He closes his notes in front of him, knowing there's no way he can study now. Not with this issue with Sunyoung coming to a close. "I mean, I was just around."

"Joonmyun," Sunyoung laughs a little, like she's unsure of what she's about to say next. "Technically, you broke up with me."

Joonmyun startles at this revelation. He did break up with Sunyoung. He had the news to shake the relationship, he had been the one to ask for understanding, except Sunyoung had just been the one who left. But Joonmyun started it. He looks at Sunyoung with wide, surprised eyes. She laughs and shakes her head at him.

"Like I said, you idiot," she repeats. She takes her phone out of her bag when it vibrates and gives Joonmyun an apologetic look. But before she leaves, Sunyoung takes another thing out of her bag and hands it to Joonmyun. He stares at it for a second, bewildered, before raising an eyebrow at her. "Trust me. You need it," she insists. "But the best solution is sleep." She stands and moves around the table to plant a soft kiss to his cheek. "Get some sleep, Joonmyun. I'll see you around."

Joonmyun watches her walk away, feeling like a load has been lifted off his back. How lucky is he to have been with someone like Sunyoung who understood every bit of him and every piece of his heart? The thought that, finally, things between the two of them are resolved makes him smile. Maybe this time, they can start anew and continue on the good friendship they’ve had.

"Were you and Sunyoung just talking?" Jongdae announces his entrance, sliding onto the seat that Sunyoung had previously occupied. Joonmyun gapes at Jongdae. His hair is an interesting mop of curls on top of his head. It doesn’t look particularly bad; it might even be adorable. It’s just very… surprising. Jongdae waves a finger at him. "Don’t mock the hair," are his immediate words before sighing. "Joohyun had a bit of fun the other day. You know, I can’t say no to her. So," he presses. "What was up with Sunyoung being here?"

Joonmyun isn't given the chance to give a comment or answer because Baekhyun arrives with Jongin in tow. "Look who I found looking for you," Baekhyun says, slipping into the seat next to Jongdae. Jongin stands there, still looking shy about hanging out with them even if he’s been doing it for a while now.

"Hey," Joonmyun greets him as he waves for Jongin to sit beside him. Jongin’s warmth emanates from him the moment he sits down and Joonmyun has this sudden urge to curl up to him, but he guesses that wouldn’t be appropriate to do. Especially in front of his friends and everyone else in school.

"Is that make-up?" Baekhyun plucks the concealer that Sunyoung handed to him. "Why do you have this?" he asks.

"Sunyoung thinks I need it," Joonmyun says with a yawn. He covers it with his mouth, eyes fluttering close way too often.

"Are you okay?" Jongin asks Joonmyun when he gets a good look at him. Joonmyun gives him a wan smile and, without knowing he’s doing it, leans his head on Jongin’s shoulder.

"Mhmm," Joonmyun mumbles, scooting closer to Jongin so he can fully lean against him. Jongin is so warm and cuddly. Right now, he wants nothing more than to be close to that. "Just a bit tired," he admits.

For the first time in a while, Joonmyun feels like it’s okay to sleep. Especially if Jongin is hugging him the way he is now, wrapping his arms around his waist and tucking him to his side. Joonmyun hums in contentment and Jongin chuckles quietly, making Joonmyun smile a little before closing his eyes to rest it a little.

Joonmyun doesn’t see his best friends watching them with wide, curious eyes, and misses the way Jongin shifts in his seat, embarrassed. Even if he did, he probably won’t care. He feels a tad bit more exhausted than he usually does so resting his head like this on Jongin’s shoulder is the most important thing.

He groans when someone starts shaking him with a hand around his shoulders, squeezing his arm every now and then as his name is called.

"Joonmyun."

Joonmyun opens his eyes to Jongin’s concerned face. He smiles, lashes fluttering on his cheeks. "Sorry," he giggles sleepily. He turns back to the table and notices the absence of Jongdae and Baekhyun. "Where did they go?" he asks in confusion, looking at Jongin.

His things on the table are untouched, like he’d just been going through them a minute ago, which he was. Jongin looks like he wants to smile but is forcing it back. Joonmyun finds it so cute that he wants to pat his cheeks and squish them together. That wouldn’t be entirely acceptable and Jongin would probably find it weird.

"You’ve been asleep for fifteen minutes," Jongin informs him, a chuckle slipping out of his lips, unable to help himself. Joonmyun coughs mid-yawn in surprise. "Jongdae and Baekhyun wanted to get something to eat so I told them I’d stay with you." He drops his smile then and purses his lips. "You seem really tired," he adds.

"Sorry," Joonmyun mumbles, stiffening. He hopes he wasn’t so heavy leaning on Jongin and that he didn’t drool on him or anything like that. Jongin’s shoulder isn’t wet, however, so that’s a good thing. The worry about his schoolwork is creeping back in, though. He shouldn’t have been so taken in by how cuddly Jongin looks. But before he can go all out on his anxiety, Jongin’s arm is around his waist again and pulls him back to his side.

"Stop," Jongin tells him, his voice right in Joonmyun’s in, making Joonmyun shiver slightly. It makes Joonmyun wonder what it would be like to hear him talk to close all the time. "It’s okay. It was only fifteen minutes. You didn’t lose any time."

Joonmyun looks at all his notes and books on the table and wonders if he could spare one or two hours of sleep, just to refresh his mind a bit, and then he can start studying again. Breathing deeply, he wonders what it would be like for him during finals.

"Are you doing anything right now? Do you have something else you need to do?" Joonmyun boldly asks, amending himself. The first question sounds ridiculous. Of course Jongin isn’t doing anything at the moment. He’s right there, with Joonmyun. When Jongin shakes his head, smiling a little, Joonmyun almost melts. "Uh, do you want to…" he trails away, wondering how he can ask this without it sounding so forward. "I mean, Jongdae and Baekhyun have dates, I think, and I was going to go back to the library to study. But since they’re going to be out, I was thinking of going back to the apartment instead, maybe to—but I’m worried that I’ll—so if you’re not doing anything, do you may be want to—" He cuts himself off again and curses under his breath.

Jongin’s laughter resonates around them, his head tilting back, mouth open wide and eyes disappearing. Joonmyun blushes to the roots of his hair and hides his face behind his hands. He feels so ridiculous and embarrassed, he shouldn’t even have thought of asking.

"You’re so cute," Jongin says, voice still tinged with much laughter.

Joonmyun makes a face as he starts packing his things into his bag. The bigger books first, then his other books, his notes, desk calendar, planner, clock and, lastly, his pencil case. Jongin is still laughing beside him but not really saying anything so Joonmyun ignores him. His skin feels hot, the embarrassment spreading to every bit of his body.

"I’m going to, uh, go," Joonmyun murmurs as he stands and picks up his bag.

He walks away from the table, cursing himself in his brain for sounding so ridiculous and forward, like an absolute dork. Joonmyun has always been embarrassing as his friends tell him all the time, but he didn’t think he could be this bad. Sighing, he decides that it’s not worth thinking about it any further. He’s just going to bury himself in his bed and maybe sleep the rest of the day away just so he can forget this moment.

"Hey." Jongin catches up to him, hands in his pockets, smiling sheepishly. "I didn't mean to offend you."

"I'm not offended," Joonmyun honestly tells him, sighing a little. He's really too tired to be anything at the moment. Although, he is still feeling chagrined at what he did. "What are you doing here, though?" He slides his bag higher up his shoulder, excited to get to the apartment so he can put it down.

"I'm coming with you," Jongin tells him with a big grin that makes Joonmyun flush. "To your apartment. You know," he teases, "since you asked so cutely."

"I didn't—" Joonmyun sputters. "I was just—only to sleep!" This day is not going well, he concludes in his head. He can't wait to bury himself in his bed.

"I know," Jongin laughs in agreement. "I'm going to be there to wake you up so you can go back to studying since you have two exams, a paper, and a project to submit. Joonmyun blinks at him and Jongin wiggles his eyebrows up and down. "I'm here you help," he offers, opening his arms wide. Joonmyun's initial response is to go into his embrace, but that would be weird so Joonmyun just keeps walking.

In the apartment, Joonmyun fusses over Jongin. He makes sure that there's food in the fridge, shows him where the juices, teas and coffees are, tells him he can watch television or use his laptop when he gets bored. Joonmyun makes Jongin promise that Jongin is to wake him up in precisely two hours. He even holds two fingers up to emphasize his point, to which Jongin laughs and pushes him into his room.

Jongin stands in the middle of his room as Joonmyun frets over the coldness of his room. Joonmyun was sure he'd turned the heat up when he left that morning, but maybe Baekhyun had turned it down in the whole apartment and with his door open the whole day, his room has gotten cold as well. He takes a sweater from his closet, a striped, red and white Christmas-y one that makes Jongin laugh as soon as he sees it.

"What, this is my warmest sweater," Joonmyun tells him, shuffling towards his bed. He yelps as soon as he gets under the covers. "Even my bed is cold," he says, pouting. So much for sleeping comfortably.

Jongin sighs, glancing at the ceiling for a second before, looking down at Joonmyun sitting in the middle of his bed, looking so cute and tiny in it. "Do you want to sleep on the couch instead?" he asks.

"On the couch?" Joonmyun asks, glancing at the living room through his open doorway. He wrinkles his nose at the thought because sleeping on the couch has never been comfortable for him. He fits perfectly, sure, but he's always afraid that he'll fall off every time he moves.

"I was thinking I could, uh," Jongin pauses, "hug you? While you sleep, I mean." He swallows and Joonmyun follows the bob of his Adam's apple. "It could help with the cold. Or," he continues, his voice breaking a bit. "I could just get you more blankets."

Joonmyun feels like there's a rabbit hopping around in his insides incessantly. It makes his heart beat so hard and so fast, he's afraid Jongin can hear it. He can't help but admit that he likes the idea of sleeping in Jongin's arms. Why should he say no to that, especially when it's already being offered? Why would he? With Jongin's strong arms and warmth, Joonmyun is sure to sleep and rest very well.

"Okay," Jongin babbles when Joonmyun doesn't say anything. "I'll get you more blankets then. They're in the closet in the hallway, right? Right!" He turns around gracefully in one foot and is almost out the door when Joonmyun calls him back.

"I'd like that, though," Joonmyun tells him, a brave smile on his face when Jongin looks back at him. Jongin can probably hear Joonmyun's heart beating like a samba drum now. People can dance to the beating of his heart. "But I think I'd rather sleep here. The couch isn't that comfortable. If you're okay with that?" He's sure his cheeks are pink now.

Jongin doesn't say anything. He just makes his way to the bed and climbs in when Joonmyun scoots closer to the wall. They lie there, side by side, for a moment, just staring at the ceiling. Joonmyun isn't sure what to do, whether he should initiate the cuddle or if he should just wait. He squeezes his eyes shut, feeling ridiculous. It's not like they're going to have sex. It should only feel this awkward when it's about sex. Even then, he doesn't think it should actually be like this, especially if two people find each other attractive. Not that he and Jongin--again, not about sex.

Jongin lets out a breath, loud and purposeful, and then he's turning to his side and pulling Joonmyun into his arms.

"Oh," Joonmyun expresses how pleasantly surprised he feels. Jongin is indeed very, very hot, which makes him giggle because that can be taken figuratively and literally. Jongin is very much both.

"Comfortable?" Jongin asks, his mouth brushing over Joonmyun's forehead.

Joonmyun hums contentedly and cuddles even closer to him. "I'm not very good with sleep," he mumbles through Jongin's collarbone as he closes his eyes. Jongin seemingly stills for a second before willing himself to relax. Joonmyun's is half asleep at this point so his observation skills are not at par. "Sleep and I don't have a very good relationship."

"I can tell," Jongin teases, tightening his hold on him. "But you need it very badly so maybe you should start improving your relationship with it."

"You say the exact same things as Sunyoung," Joonmyun murmurs, the syllables of his words drawing out. "She's my ex-girlfriend. I broke her heart."

"It's okay, Joonmyun," Jongin tries to shush him. Joonmyun can feel every part of their bodies that are touching. It makes him feel all tingly. So maybe he's not really that asleep. "You should rest."

"I didn't want to hurt her," Joonmyun goes on, words getting more and more slurred. For some reason, he's not sure anymore what he's saying. He feels like he's in a dream, floating on clouds and unable to really speak. "I really did love her even if my parents chose her for me. It was like a project. Try it out and see." His chuckle is weak and fades out quickly. "I'm really tired," he yawns and presses his face to Jongin's neck. He can feel the rapid beating of Jongin's pulse, which is concerning, and wants to ask if Jongin is okay. Except he's too tired to.

"Go to sleep, Joonmyun," Jongin whispers, resting his head against his.





-





"What did we just watch?" Jongin asks, nuzzling his face to the back of Joonmyun's head so his laughter won't be so loud.

"It’s a movie about love, isn’t it?" Joonmyun sleepily responds, muffling his own laughter with his hand. He wiggles back into Jongin's embrace and Jongin shifts his position on the couch so he can hug him better. They're lying on their sides on the couch, facing the television, and Jongin makes sure that Joonmyun isn't going to fall off by pulling Joonmyun back closer to his chest.

"Please don’t ask Joonmyun what he thinks. We’ll never hear the end of his critique. If we were in the cinema, I would ask for a refund," Baekhyun whines, thunking his head back on the sofa headrest. He turns to Chanyeol, who's sitting quietly by the table, pouting. "Chanyeol, I want a refund of..." He glances at the clock. "...the last three hours of my life."

"It wasn't so bad," Joohyun speaks up from where she's sitting on the smaller sofa, ignoring Jongdae, who's sitting at her feet, and his protests. "I found it really interesting actually. I agree with Joonmyun that it’s about love. That’s the all encompassing theme, I think. But there’s also forgiveness and how we as humans living on this earth should know how to take care of it so we don’t run out of resources"

Chanyeol perks up at this, making Jongdae laugh. "That’s what I thought too!" he exclaims.

Jongin groans very quietly into Joonmyun's hair as Joohyun and Chanyeol launch into a conversation that is way too scientific. Joonmyun bites his lower lip to stifle his laughter as he elbows Jongin on the ribs. Jongin grunts and squeezes Joonmyun's waist tightly, making him giggle and wheeze. Joonmyun has his own opinions about the movie, all of which his friends wouldn’t want to hear. Only Joohyun ever indulges him about his thoughts about films. Jongin does too, but right now isn’t the time for that.

"I'm surprised you didn't fall asleep," Joonmyun mutters, turning around on the sofa so that he's facing Jongin. He reaches up and brushes the strands of Jongin's hair that are practically covering his eyes to the sides so he can look at him properly. Jongin has his eyes closed, a contented smile on his face. "Now, you sleep. Now that I'm talking to you." He pinches Jongin's tummy, making him open his eyes, laughing.

"I was just resting my eyes," Jongin innocently tells him, his fingers skimming Joonmyun's waist to which Joonmyun squirms because he's ticklish. "Besides, you kept on moving the whole time we were watching. I couldn't sleep." Jongin has that smile on his face that says he didn't mind at all. It's a small, closed one, where the corner of his lips are only slightly turned up. Joonmyun likes that he's starting to know more and more of Jongin's smiles everyday. He likes that Jongin allows him to learn all of his smiles.

"I was just trying to get comfortable," Joonmyun says, pouting a little because he knows it will make Jongin laugh, which it really does. Jongin pulls him closer to him, tucking Joonmyun's head under his chin. Joonmyun sighs and allows his eyes to flutter close.

He and Jongin have become closer with each day that passes. Things between them are pretty much the same, except they hang out more often now, and it's not just when they schedule to see each other. They're already at that point where Joonmyun sees Jongin practically everyday. They don't always hangout. But Jongin always makes sure to see him before his class starts or catch up with him as he's going home. Joonmyun is still incredibly busy with his work. These days, though, he's always forcing himself to finish his work as fast as he can so he can have time to spend with Jongin. It makes him extremely tired because he doesn't get proper sleep. But it's not like he was getting any before. Now, though, it's even more worth it because he gets to see Jongin and spend time with him.

That afternoon where Joonmyun had slept in Jongin's arms have certainly changed things a bit. It's like it made both of them more open to touches, to always being close to each other, even when it's not really necessary. It makes Joonmyun's heart flutter every time. It also makes him a bit worried because even though they met with a hug, Joonmyun's still isn't sure if he's ready for something more. There is a reason why he could barely look at Jongin or why he could barely say anything to Jongin when Jongin found out Joonmyun was seeing Sehun. There are inklings of feelings, but Joonmyun isn't sure they're quite there yet. Baekhyun always tells him otherwise, but Joonmyun refuses to acknowledge it.

"Do you think we'll get away with sleeping right now?" Jongin asks him in a whisper. His eyes are already closed and Joonmyun kind of wants to trace where the lines appear on Jongin's face every time he smiles.

Before Joonmyun can respond, there's a clearing of throat above him. When he looks up, Baekhyun is standing over them, arms crossed on his chest and eyebrows raised.

"Hi," Joonmyun smiles in what he hopes is one that doesn't look too guilty. He and Baekhyun have had several conversations about Jongin before and they haven't been all pretty.

"Nap time is over," Baekhyun announces, poking Jongin on the shoulder. "Jongdae took Joohyun home. Chanyeol sulked all the way out if you must know."

"Because you asked him to give you back three hours of your life," Joonmyun grunts as he sits up, shaking Jongin a little because he still hasn't moved. "He's really wanted us to see that movie for a while now."

"Well he should have asked someone else to watch it with him," Baekhyun complains, walking away towards the kitchen. "I really wanted to relax. Instead he makes us watch something with a lot of science in it and I just..." He grumbles as he moves around in the kitchen. Joonmyun can hear the clinking of glasses. Baekhyun's probably making himself something to drink.

"I should go," Jongin says, stretching his arms up above his head. A bit of the skin above his belt shows and Joonmyun immediately looks away because he can't think about Jongin like that. Especially not in front of him. "I know you have some studying to do," he adds, pinching Joonmyun's cheek when he pouts at the thought.

Joonmyun does have some studying to do, a lot of it, so he nods and sighs. "Thank you for coming over," he tells Jongin as he walks him to the door. "You didn't really have to watch a three-hour movie with us."

"I could hear you pouting over the phone so I couldn't not go," Jongin teases him as he takes his jacket and puts it on. "Besides, I think you study better after we hang out." He winks and Joonmyun pushes him, ducking his head down to hide his red cheeks. "Alright," he laughs. "I'll see you tomorrow then. Call me if you need waking up tonight." He opens his arms and Joonmyun automatically steps into them.

"Thank you," Joonmyun says. For some reason, spending time with Jongin, being with him really does help him concentrate better. He still loses sleep, but in a way, he also makes up for it because Jongin always makes him nap every so often so he can stay awake longer in the long run.

Jongin clucks his tongue as if saying that Joonmyun doesn't need to thank him at all. Instead, he presses a quick kiss to Joonmyun's forehead. Joonmyun startles at it, pulling away to stare at Jongin with wide eyes. Jongin looks at him with equal surprise on his face. It seems he's not entirely sure why he did what he did either.

"Uh," Jongin stammers.

Joonmyun makes a quick decision not to dwell on his so he just steps forward and hugs him again. "I'll see you tomorrow," he says as he pulls away.

"Okay," Jongin croaks, face a bit red as he leaves.

Joonmyun stares at the door long after Jongin has left. He knows that things are different between them, but, at the same time, he doesn't really want to think about it. There is so much that Joonmyun needs to do, things that are for himself, but mostly for his family and he can't really think like this, cannot think about this. Not when he's not sure his parents will approve, not when there's a chance that this isn't real, that this can't be real. Not when he’s pretty sure that this is another thing he can’t have. Who knows if Jongin just kissed him for the heck of it? People do that. Friends do that.

"Just friends, huh," Baekhyun comments from behind him and Joonmyun whirls around to face him. He's standing at the end of the hallway with a mixture of amusement and worry on his face. The worrying one twists something in Joonmyun's gut.

"We are," Joonmyun insists, making his way back to the living room and straightening things up. He picks up the Interstellar DVD that Chanyeol forgot to bring home with him and puts it beside the television. The words feel hollow even to his ears, but he can't say otherwise, even though he's not sure what they are if they're not just friends.

Baekhyun sits on one of the sofa armrests and watches Joonmyun move around, needlessly fixing things that don't really need to be fixed. Joonmyun feels like he just has to do something so that he won't have to look at Baekhyun and face the things he's been trying to get Joonmyun to accept for quite some time now.

"It's not a bad thing, you know," Baekhyun says when he finally speaks up again. Joonmyun flinches a little at the sound and he covers it up by ducking his head to check if that's a stain he's seeing by one of the feet of the table. "If you and Jongin are more than friends," he continues and Joonmyun can feel Baekhyun's piercing gaze. People never give Baekhyun enough credit for being observant and discerning, but Joonmyun feels like he's one of the people who does this best.

"I really don't know what you're talking about," Joonmyun responds, sounding breathless even to himself. He really should stop pretending to fix the living room. He has schoolwork to attend to. That would definitely get Baekhyun off his back. He turns to go to his room but Baekhyun's words stop him.

"It's different this time, Joonmyun," Baekhyun calls after him. "He's not Sunyoung."

Joonmyun does know that. It is quite obvious in every way how different things are things time around, how Jongin is similar but quite unique to his ex-girlfriend. The problem is Joonmyun is still pretty much the same. He's still the person who has too much responsibility on his plate, responsibility that he can't sacrifice for anything else, even his own happiness. He's still the person who tries to do, tries to offer too much, but fails to deliver every time. He's still the person who seems so shiny and new and pretty, but is really nothing much on the inside. There are moments when Jongin looks at him and Joonmyun wonders if Jongin can finally see it this time, wonders if Jongin can finally see that there's really nothing special to Joonmyun and that they should end whatever this friendship is. No one in their right mind would want to stay with Joonmyun. Everyone deserves so much better than him. Still, every time Jongin keeps coming back and Joonmyun is granted that relief that he can keep this up longer. He's happy that he still gets to have this, even though he knows it'll be over sooner or later.

"Of course he isn't," Joonmyun, turning around, manages to say in spite of the throbbing in his chest. Baekhyun looks relieved and Joonmyun wants to keep him that way.

Between Jongdae and Baekhyun, Joonmyun is most surprised that Baekhyun wanted to be his friend. He's known Jongdae since they were very young and sometimes when you've known each other for that long, the memories you've shared together keep you close. With Baekhyun, though, he met Joonmyun during freshman year of college. He'd witnessed how everything had fallen apart with Sunyoung and, to this day, it still surprises Joonmyun that Baekhyun elected to stay.

"It could work out better this time," Baekhyun goes on and Joonmyun has to applaud his optimism. "You and Jongin started out so unconventionally but look where you guys are now." He grins and winks. "Who knew that a hug could actually get people this far?"

"Who knew?" Joonmyun echoes.

Baekhyun is right. Who knew? When Joonmyun thinks about it now, it's amazing how they managed to get to this point. He really didn't think of anything when he got a hug from Jongin that day. It was a very bad day for him and he couldn't resist getting that bit of comfort from a stranger, whom he knows wouldn't ask any questions. The next times they saw each other are concidences Joonmyun would never have thought could happen. How is it possible that they've been studying in the same school for two years, not once seeing or noticing each other, and now have bumped into each other so often that they became friends? There's still something strange about that, but Joonmyun has resigned himself to whatever fate this is between them. He can't say he's not grateful. It's just that the niggling fear that it could go away any time soon shakes him.

"I think he's really great," Baekhyun gives his unasked opinion. "I mean, aside from the fact that Jongin's hot and cute at the same time, I've never seen anyone make you smile and make you comfortable the way he does." Joonmyun doesn't know what to say to that so he doesn't say anything. "I feel like, despite all the time you guys spend together, you've never been more productive or more relaxed than you are since you've met him."

"That could be just coincidence," Joonmyun points out.

Baekhyun waves him off, rolling his eyes. "Why can't you just accept that he's good for you? And admit that whatever it is you guys are, that it's definitely not just friendship?"

"There isn't anything to accept or admit," Joonmyun points out. "We really are just friends." He sighs just as Baekhyun pouts in disappointment. "Baekhyun, after Sunyoung... it's just hard and I can't let anything... I can't get my hopes up like that. I won't."

Baekhyun doesn't say anything for a beat and then goes, "Well, you better be careful then. Because the way you're acting, Joonmyun, it's almost like you're way more than just friends. If it's not something you want or if that's not something you intended to do, maybe you should make some changes before either of you gets hurt."





-





Joonmyun doesn’t let his conversation with Baekhyun get to him. He does his best not to even think about it. Because how can he think about the complicated, but amazing, rhythm he and Jongin have set for themselves, or how he should maybe end it because he’s not being entirely fair to both of them, when Jongin just becomes sweeter and sweeter as time passes? The sweetness is not very explicit. It's always the little things. Like when Jongin never complains when Joonmyun comes late to their (friendly) dates, or how Jongin is always patient when Joonmyun talks—whines—about the amount of schoolwork that he does, or how Jongin constantly tries to help out with his work by doing researches of his own and giving them to Joonmyun (they almost always never help but Joonmyun appreciates it anyway). Jongin has this talent of continuously being there for Joonmyun, while giving him the space to do what he needs to do. Joonmyun never has to explain to Jongin when he chooses to do his schoolwork over going out. Jongin just understands, always, unfailingly, and that's something Joonmyun can't truly grasp and can't let go of at the same time.

Of course there are also the big things. Like the times when Jongin pulls Joonmyun towards him in the middle of whatever it is they're doing, and hugs him tight or presses a kiss to his head. Jongin does that a lot now. The kissing on the head thing. Joonmyun thinks that since he didn't oppose it, Jongin thinks it's okay. Which it is. Except it just complicates this whole thing even more. Joonmyun can't help but think that if this is the kind of complicated that happens to him, Jongin being soft and sweet and cuddly all the time, then maybe that's not really a bad thing.

"You're quiet," Jongin remarks, lightly nudging his side.

Joonmyun looks up from where he's staring at the way the river glitters under the sun's rays and how pretty it looks, and smiles sheepishly at Jongin. "Oh," he reacts. "I was just thinking."

"Thinking about what?" Jongin wants to know, putting an arm around him and pulling him to his side as a bicycle brushes past them.

About how you are a thing in my life now. "About how happy I am," Joonmyun admits instead. The other thing can stay in the shelf for now. He shrugs and chuckles when Jongin grins at him, poking his cheek. "I don't know," he muses. "It just feels like things feel so much lighter these days. I still have a ton of work to do, but at the same time, they don't feel as heavy or as daunting."

Joonmyun has actually been making a lot of headway with his work, in spite of the fact that he's gone out more times, and with only one person, than he has in the past year. He miraculously succeeds in handing all his papers on time, doing well on his projects, and acing his exams, in spite of the seeming distraction in the form of Jongin. Joonmyun even has finished a lot of research and writing for his final project. He still has a lot of work to do, but Joonmyun is less worried about it these days.

"I wonder why," Jongin deliberates. "I mean, what changed?"

Joonmyun notices the teasing lilt of his voice and looks up when Jongin points to himself as the probable cause of all the happiness and good things that's been going on with Joonmyun. It's probably true, seeing as Jongin's the only thing that's new in his life. Years later, he's probably going to look back at that hug as something that changed his life. Joonmyun shoves Jongin anyway, so strongly that Jongin stumbles off the sidewalk, laughing.

"I'm kidding," Jongin teases, gluing himself back to Joonmyun's side. This time Joonmyun wraps an arm around Jongin's waist. He doesn't know why he does it, just that it feels naturally to do so.

They continue walking beside the river, not saying anything. It's a really nice day, the weather being just right, enough for Joonmyun not to double up on his clothing, only wearing a thin shirt underneath a cardigan. Jongin is much more daring, being only in a plain white shirt that leaves little to imagination. Joonmyun supposes being so warm the way Jongin is has its perks. Jongin never seems to feel shivery, which is a very good thing for Joonmyun, who seems perpetually cold.

They don't really speak until they reach the end of the sidewalk and lean against the railing, facing the river. Joonmyun takes a deep breath, closing his eyes and smiling a little. He never thought he could have this, feeling relaxed and contented about who he is and where he is in his life. It's such a rarity in his life that he savors it every time he has these moments.

Joonmyun looks to his left and then his right, wondering where Jongin is. Moving to turn around, he chokes on his breath when Jongin stops him by wrapping himself around Joonmyun from behind. Joonmyun is tiny enough that Jongin's body covers and envelopes him. Joonmyun shivers a little but he's pretty sure it's not because he feels cold.

"I'm glad we went out for a walk," Joonmyun speaks to break the silence, his voice coming out as a croak because Jongin is so, so close. Every part of their bodies seem to be pressed against each other and it always makes Joonmyun feel breathless. "It's such a beautiful day."

"That, and you needed to get away from your work for a bit," Jongin responds, chuckling a little. "Jongdae was almost hysterical over the phone."

That is true. Joonmyun has been working since this morning when he woke up and only stopped to do so when he took little bites of the food that either Jongdae or Baekhyun prepared for him. Neither of them had been able to get Joonmyun out of his room, which is probably why they elected Jongin's help to drag him out. And Joonmyun should really respond to that or even just laugh, except Jongin's lips are brushing the corner of Joonmyun's jaw with every word that comes out of his mouth, completely taking Joonmyun's speech away.

They're not exactly kisses. Jongin probably just really wants to talk while his lips are pressed against Joonmyun's skin, but this is posing problems for Joonmyun's verbal expression. Because right now, all Joonmyun wants to do is tilt his head to the side to offer his neck to him. Who cares if they're in public? And who cares if this is crossing any invisible lines Joonmyun may have drawn between them?

"I think Jongdae just wanted to invite Joohyun over and he knows that he can't if I'm in the apartment studying," Joonmyun rasps, his grip so tight on the rails that his knuckles are white. It's just about all the self-control he has to not give in to the crawling desire in his chest to lean his head back on Jongin's shoulder just so Jongin can carry on with the lip-brushing. He thinks, at this point, he might let Jongin do whatever he wishes with him.

But then Jongin chooses that moment to pull away and Joonmyun breathes out a sigh of relief and a little bit of disappointment, which Joonmyun squashes because this is not the time. Not that there will ever be another moment for that. Joonmyun settles himself for leaning his back against Jongin, which Jongin welcomes readily, securing Joonmyun with an arm around his waist. Touching, Joonmyun is ready for. Kissing, not so much.

"Jongdae and Joohyun seem to be happy and inseparable," Jongin comments.

"Yes, they are," Joonmyun agrees. "I'm glad Jongdae finally found his happiness. I won't be surprised if she's the one for him." He chuckles a little at how ridiculous that sounds because it is too early to tell. Still, it doesn't make it any less true.

Ever since Joohyun and Jongdae got together, finally, Jongdae has taken to inviting her to the apartment. He thought that having a girl in the apartment would be weird and change how they are when they're there, but nothing has changed. It's even a good thing. Baekhyun has found a new confidant with Joohyun. She's now the first one he goes to whenever he has relationship woes. Not that Baekhyun has many, or any. Joonmyun believes Baekhyun when he says Minseok is perfect. Joohyun also takes the time to converse with Joonmyun about things they surprisingly have the same interests on, like film, among other things. He thinks it's her way of getting him to take a break from studying.

Of course the important thing is that Jongdae is happy. Joonmyun's never seen Jongdae this smiley before. He's naturally a very smiley person so that's saying something. Baekhyun always complains about it, but Joonmyun knows that Baekhyun is just as happy for Jongdae like Joonmyun is. Finally, Jongdae is with the girl he's been in love with for so long.

It's nice that Jongdae's finally has that love he's been craving. Joonmyun knows all too well how to give away a love that isn't accepted. It leaves a gaping hole in your heart from where that love once was. He's glad his friends don't have to experience that.

"You know," Jongin says, "they say that couples who are who are attached to the hip, those who touch more, are more likely to stay together and longer. So it's not exactly a far-off claim."

"What?" Joonmyun laughs, resting his head on Jongin's shoulder.

"It's true," Jongin insists and Joonmyun can hear the pout in his tone. "Touch releases oxytocin, which decreases stress and promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding. So the more touching, the more oxytocin and the more oxytocin, the more people feel close to the other, hence stronger relationships."

"Ah," Joonmyun comments, nodding and then chuckles teasingly. "Just what kind of touching are we talking about here, Jongin?"

Instead of laughing with shyness like Joonmyun thought he would, Jongin chooses that moment to graze his lips against the place where Joonmyun's jaw meets his neck, pulling him impossibly closer to him and leaving no space between them. "Like this is enough," Jongin whispers and Joonmyun gulps.

"I see," says Joonmyun, his stomach fluttering with nervousness and desire. He's unable to say anything else because it might come out as a moan and that wouldn't be very appropriate.

"What about you, Joonmyun?" Jongin then asks. He's pulled away, but not very far that Joonmyun can feel Jongin's breath brushing against his skin. "Are you happy? Or do you think you need more oxytocin?"

The question is so ludicrous that Joonmyun can't help but laugh. Jongin himself is chuckling against his neck and because of that, the unmistakable tension between them is torn down. This is what's interesting about the two of them. There is, without a doubt, a lot of tension between them that they need to address. But they don't and choose to dance around it, making things funny or ignoring it altogether. It gets a bit more challenging to do that with each time, but Joonmyun thinks this is how it's going to be for a while.

"I'm happy, happier than I've been in a while," Joonmyun acknowledges, turning his head to look at Jongin. Jongin's lips draw a line on his cheek, but Joonmyun tries not to think about that. Not with what he's about to say. "And I think..." He pauses and evaluates what he's about to disclose. It's not exactly a secret. He's sure this is something that even Jongin knows just because it's so obvious and makes a lot of sense. Still, admitting it almost feels like a confession of sorts. "I think it's because I met you."

Jongin doesn't say anything. Instead, he smiles at Joonmyun and lifts Joonmyun's face towards his with fingers on Joonmyun's chin. Joonmyun sees Jongin's eyes flit down to his lips. Against his will, he leans closer, eyes fluttering close, just as Jongin ducks his head towards him. So many thoughts are swirling in Joonmyun's head, his heart is thudding in his chest, and Joonmyun doesn't know what to do. What are they doing? Just earlier, he was thinking how he isn't ready for this, but now he's waiting to be kissed?

Joonmyun turns away at the last second in cowardice and Jongin's lips land on the corner of his. He keeps his eyes closed even as Jongin pulls away, afraid to see the disappointment on Jongin's face. Rejection is never taken well no matter how kind a person is and he doesn't want to see that on Jongin's handsome face. It's not that he doesn't want to kiss him. He just wants to be sure that there is an actual reason they're kissing, instead of a spur-of-the-moment feeling to do so.

"Sorry," Joonmyun mumbles, eyes trained on a spot on Jongin's shoulder.

"Joonmyun, please look at me," Jongin asks, his voice soft and gentle. It's a voice that he uses when he's coaxing Joonmyun to give himself a break. Joonmyun supposes this is a similar situation and turns the whole way around, resting his back on the railing and facing Jongin. He lifts up his eyes, only to see Jongin smiling at him. "You don't have to apologize. It's perfectly okay."

"It is?" Joonmyun asks dumbly.

Jongin laughs. "Yes," he says and then he's gathering Joonmyun into his arms and kissing him on the forehead. "Whatever you want is okay."

Joonmyun's heart suddenly feels like it's going to burst and he's not quite sure how to deal with that. So he just hugs Jongin back, feeling glad that he still gets to keep him.





-





"What are you doing?" Jongdae asks, banging Joonmyun's door open and sweeping in without warning.

Joonmyun jumps in his seat and knocks over his handphone and one of his books to the floor when he whirls around. "Nothing," he says defensively, even as he stuffs something under another one of his books on the table.

"You do know that every time someone says 'nothing' like you did, it always means that they are hiding something, right?" Jongdae snickers, walking over to the desk and picking up Joonmyun’s phone and book. He then grabs the card that Joonmyun has been writing on. "What's this?" He looks it over, eyes narrowing and then widening. "Love is the one thing that transcends time and—," he starts and then cuts himself off almost immediately, throwing Joonmyun a sidelong glance. "Did you just quote Interstellar at him?"

Joonmyun turns red and snatches the card away from him. "Give me that," he grumbles, tucking it back under his books. No one else really needed to see that. He isn't even sure if he's going to give it to Jongin. It's just something he's writing because he thinks a lot has been revealed between them since they had that walk by the river. All Joonmyun wants to tell Jongin is that he's thankful for having him in his life. "What do you want?" he asks, crossing his arms over his chest.

Jongdae looks like he's debating whether to ask some questions that Joonmyun doesn't want him to ask but decides against it, much to Joonmyun's relief. He sits on the edge of Joonmyun's bed instead then lies on his back. "Want to have dinner out?" he asks. "Joohyun's sister is in town and they're having dinner. So I was thinking the three of us should go out, you, me, Baekhyun. It feels like we haven't gone out just the three of us in a long time. Baekhyun's always with Minseok. You're always with Jongin."

"And you're always with Joohyun," Joonmyun points out. He hesitates. "I, uh, actually have plans," he quietly tells him, turning his attention to the things on his desk. He turns his chair around to face Jongdae, who lifts himself up with his elbows to look at him. "Jongin asked me to meet his friends over a bit of food and drinks," he shares, playing with his fingers.

"Huh," Jongdae remarks, lifting himself up with his elbows. "So Baekhyun is right." Joonmyun doesn't say anything, choosing to purse his lips instead. "Joonmyun," Jongdae's voice is gentle and Joonmyun already knows that this conversation is going for a turn to the awkward. "Do you know what's going on with the two of you?" He sits up properly, his hands on his knees. "Joonmyun, you and Jongin see each other everyday. You finish your work fast so you can have time to go out with him. You guys act like you're..." He trails away and chuckles. "I've always known you were clingy and touchy, but you're different with Jongin and he clings to you in the same manner you do to him. He sees you more than we do, Joonmyun. What do you think that says about you two?"

"That we're really good friends who enjoy each other's company a lot?" Joonmyun knows it's a childish answer. He's not stupid enough to not know what it means, of course. Sighing, he goes on to admit, "It's not something I've given a lot of thought to. I'm afraid for it to mean what it appears to." He worries his lower lip at the admission. It's a repetitive concern, but it's one that he can't shake off.

"Why?" Jongdae asks simply.

"Because," Joonmyun takes a deep breath, "he's someone I can't bear to lose. Maybe I've coped well after Sunyoung. But Jongin is different. He's..." like the sun. And I'm the earth that can't bear to live without it. Not anymore. "...important to me and I would rather he stays as a friend, than say anything and ruin things."

"Why do you keep thinking you're going to lose him?" Jongdae wants to know in disbelief. "You're ending things before they even really begin. You're not being fair to him or to yourself."

"I'm used to that," Joonmyun tells Jongdae. He meets his best friend's eyes that are full of concern and chuckles, glancing at his hands on his lap. "Remember Lu Han?"

"That guy you liked in high school?" Jongdae asks, his brows furrow in confusion as Joonmyun nods. "What about him?"

Joonmyun laughs. "I thought he liked me back, you know," he shares, eyes still averted, his hands balling into fists and scrunching the fabric of his pants. "So on one of our parties that his family was invited to, I confessed."

"What?" Jongdae exclaims, straightening up. "How did I not know—?"

"He said no," Joonmyun cuts him off.

Lu Han was handsome and everyone in school knew it. But he wasn't only popular because of his looks. He was also popular because he was smart, funny, and a very talented soccer player. Everyone liked him and, naturally, Joonmyun did too. There was no way he couldn't have liked him. Lu Han was always nice to Joonmyun, inviting him and Jongdae to play with him and his friends, even though they weren't as popular. Lu Han also always invited Joonmyun to hang out with him, even in his home. It made Joonmyun stupidly wonder if, maybe, he felt the same way.

"Joonmyun," Jongdae starts, but Joonmyun shakes his head.

Joonmyun can still clearly remember that day. It was a garden party and he'd pulled Lu Han aside. Lu Han's face changed when Joonmyun told him he liked him. It was a face he didn't think he could see on someone who looked so kind and open. Still, Joonmyun continued to bare his heart to him because it was Lu Han. Lu Han always understands because Lu Han is kind.

"Joonmyun, do you hear yourself?" Lu Han had said, voice hard and cold. "You should never assume things about people and you should never force your feelings upon them. It's burdensome and you don't want to burden people, don't you, Joonmyun?" He patted Joonmyun's shoulder in what seemed then as a form of sympathy and then walked away.

Now, Joonmyun understands that it was condescension.

"My feelings are mine and mine alone," Joonmyun finishes. "I feel, and have felt, all these things and I know now that they're best kept to myself."

He remembers telling Sunyoung in a random conversation that Joonmyun didn't think he could have the kind of relationship that they have because of his rejection in the past, one that he shared with her. Things changed after that. It ended with Sunyoung telling him that she knows he loves her but that it just wasn't enough. Joonmyun doesn't want to burden Jongin with these feelings and end up alone again.

Jongdae just sits there for a moment, looking entirely unsure how to proceed with the conversation. But then he gets off the bed and pulls Joonmyun to stand. Jongdae wraps his arms around him, cradling his head. Joonmyun closes his eyes as Jongdae holds him, both of them not saying anything. He knows that there's nothing Jongdae can say that would change how he feels and he appreciates that his best friend doesn't push the issue.

"Okay," Jongdae says when they've pulled away. "I'll leave you so you can get ready for your dinner." He gives Joonmyun another hug before leaving the room and closing the door behind him.

Joonmyun takes a deep breath.





-





Jongin's friends are nice. They shake his hand and bow when he and Jongin arrive at the restaurant. One of them actually slings an arm around his shoulders, telling him that it feels like he knows Joonmyun since Jongin talks about him all the time. This earns him a slap on the back of his head from Jongin, making him pull away from Joonmyun.

"Ignore them," Jongin tells Joonmyun when they find their table.

Joonmyun just chuckles. But of course he can't do that. Not when they tell Joonmyun in every other sentence how they can't talk to Jongin without hearing Joonmyun's name. It makes Joonmyun flush with pleasure and pride. Jongin talking about him increases the chances of this thing between them possibly working out longer.

Moonkyu is the one who keeps on teasing Jongin. If not about Joonmyun, it's about something else, some inside joke they both have. Joonmyun doesn't mind if he doesn't get it. The fact that it makes Jongin laugh, his eyes disappearing into slits and his mouth wide, all his teeth showing, is all worth seeing. Sehun is there too. But he's quiet and a bit reserved when it comes to Joonmyun. He smiled at Joonmyun when he arrived, but other than that he barely says anything to him and spends his time chatting and play-fighting with Moonkyu. Joonmyun supposes he understands. And then there's Taemin. From what Joonmyun understands, Taemin is Jongin's best friend. Joonmyun has heard about him from Jongin's stories, but hasn't actually met him because Taemin attends another university. Joonmyun isn't sure what to make of him. He's exactly like Moonkyu, Sehun and Jongin, serious-looking but playful. But there's something about him that Joonmyun can't quite put a name to. But it's almost like every time Taemin looks at Joonmyun, it looks like he's assessing him.

"You okay?" Jongin asks, leaning towards him. Joonmyun became so lost in his thoughts that he's sliced his meat into too small pieces, making it look like children's food. He turns red and Jongin chuckles, placing a hand to the back of Joonmyun's neck in comfort. "Do you want more meat to slice?" he asks with a straight face.

"Cheeky," Joonmyun retorts, poking Jongin's cheek and then patting his cheek. Jongin gives him one of the warmest smiles he's ever seen Jongin give him. It should set off warning bells in his head, but he can't even get himself to care. Whenever those brown eyes look at him with that kind of warmth, Joonmyun can't bring himself to think about anything else.

"So Joonmyun," Moonkyu clears his throat very loudly, startling both Joonmyun and Jongin. Joonmyun drops his hand to his lap when he realizes that he's still touching Jongin's cheek. "Jongin tells us that you're a business major and that you're a junior but that you're also doing senior work." Joonmyun nods. "I guess my question is why?" he says emphatically, making everyone on the table laugh.

Joonmyun shrugs. "I want to be able to help out with the family business as soon as I can," he explains with a small, amused smile. "I was taking up something else during my first year and wasn't supposed to go into business. But then my brother had to step down and..." He shrugs.

"So you shifted to business," Sehun finishes, rapt with attention.

"It was something I could do for my family, so I figured, why not?" Joonmyun says. He hopes his smile doesn't come out bitter. He shouldn't be bitter about it anymore. It's been three years. "Since I spent a year not in business, I have to cram the whole course into three years so I can help out my family as fast as I can."

"Wow," Taemin remarks, shaking his head. "I can't imagine working as hard and as fast as you do in something that I didn't even want in the first place." Joonmyun just smiles.

"Why did your brother step down, if you don't mind?" Moonkyu wants to know. He looks so concerned that Joonmyun almost wants to laugh.

"He met somebody," Joonmyun shares with a chuckle. "And then realized that he wants to follow his heart and quit."

The look on his parents' faces when his older brother told them about meeting this girl, a girl his parents don't know the family background of, and telling them that they're in love and that they're going to travel the world together. It was all very shocking, even to Joonmyun, who has always looked up to him as someone who embodied everything that their parents wanted in a child.

His older brother was intelligent, sociable, handsome, witty, charming, and all of those other things that his parents loved to show off about him. Joonmyun is maybe only half of anything his older brother ever was. His parents never let him forget. But then, he was suddenly dropping everything he's ever worked hard for because he fell in love? Just how amazing was this girl that he was dropping everything for her?

"I'm not dropping things for her, Joonmyunnie," his brother tells him later on, after his parents have yelled and thrown their grown-up tantrum. "I'm doing it for me. This is the most banal thing I will ever say to you so you better listen." He laughs when Joonmyun just responds with his rapt attention. "When the time comes for a decision, and it will come, you should choose yourself. Do things for you. Loving yourself, liking who you are, is the most important thing."

Joonmyun never really understood what his brother meant. But, maybe, he's beginning to understand now.

Joonmyun looks down at his plate because their gazes almost feel like pity and he really doesn't want that. He doesn't need it. Jongin's hand finds his underneath the table. It almost makes Joonmyun knock over his water in surprise. When he looks at Jongin, he's smiling at him like he's proud of him, like what he's doing is something to be proud of anyway, and Joonmyun can't help but feel grateful. How Jongin manages to make him feel good about everything in his life is a mystery to him.

"Love, huh?" Taemin muses and Joonmyun can't help but smile.

After dinner, they decide to have one, or several, rounds of drinks. Joonmyun isn't much of a drinker, but Jongin invited him here to hangout with his friends so he stays. He excuses himself to go to the washroom. As he waits by the bar for the washroom to be free, he watches as Jongin laugh at whatever his friends are telling him and feels glad that he's here to witness it. Jongin has always been hanging out with him and his friends that it's nice to finally see Jongin with his friends.

When Joonmyun comes out of the washroom, he sees that Jongin is next in line with his back turned to him, talking to Taemin. He thinks about poking him on the side to surprise him, but before he can do anything, he overhears their conversation.

"You embarrass me, Kim Jongin," Taemin is saying. "You're a walking cliche. It just felt different," he seems to mimic Jongin and then scoffs. Joonmyun covers his mouth to muffle his giggle. "Really. Only you would do whatever this is between you and Joonmyun because of a project."

Joonmyun feels his heart freeze.

"Stop talking," Jongin grumbles, shoving Taemin, who bursts into laughter. "I don't know why I know you."

A project.

All of a sudden, everything makes sense. The random, coincidental meetings, the overt hugs and touches, the comforting words… Did they even mean anything? A project, Joonmyun almost wants to laugh. Of course it was a project. Joonmyun is a perfect subject. He’s incredibly stressed, lonely, sad, too introverted… what more can a social sciences major want? No wonder Jongin was so curious about his happiness. No wonder he was so happy that Joonmyun is doing well now. Joonmyun supposes that the scientific bullshit about oxytocin work then. Maybe it helps people cover up lies too.

Joonmyun goes back inside the bathroom and leans against the door. His reflection in the mirror mocks him as he goes over every detail of his relationship with Jongin. How could he have been so stupid to believe that he can have someone like Jongin, handsome, smart, funny, sweet, and kind simply because of the fact that he can? How could Joonmyun have let himself believe that maybe there was a chance that Jongin actually likes him and hugs him because he cares and teases kisses on his skin because he’s attractive? What a joke.

The one, beautiful thing that Joonmyun can't—never really wanted to—make sense of has finally come under the light. He can see so clearly now. Once again, Joonmyun is the one who gets left behind.





x





There are many things that Joonmyun is talented in. He's good at school, solving mind games, writing papers, movies, League of Legends (although he hasn't really played in the longest time), and he's a good listener, among other things. One thing he isn't good at is hiding. He's good at being quiet, but he can't really hide so he can't be a spy. Not that being a spy was ever an option for him.

"What are you doing?" Baekhyun demands from behind him. Joonmyun is peeking over a corner, his eyes flitting over the quad.

"Nothing," Joonmyun says, straightening his sweater and stepping out of the corner. He glances behind him and wonders if he should go back to the library to study there, or whether he should head back to the apartment to do his work there instead. Choices, choices. "You going home?"

Baekhyun shakes his head, giving Joonmyun a curious look. "I was actually meeting Minseok to have a snack before I go home and study," he tells him, pausing for a beat. "You want to come with us? We won't take long." Baekhyun then purses his lips, his eyes narrowed at Joonmyun, and takes his phone out. "On second thought, maybe we should hang out by ourselves." He then proceeds to send Minseok a message that he'll just call him later and that he and Joonmyun need to talk.

Of course that sounds foreboding to Joonmyun because Baekhyun isn't supposed to know anything. No one is supposed to know anything. But the thing is, this is Baekhyun he's talking about. Of course he knows something one way or another. Baekhyun has a sixth sense for these things.

"So," Baekhyun says, placing his palms flat on the table and giving Joonmyun his most innocent smile after they’ve given their orders. "What are you up to?" He's looking at Joonmyun expectantly and Joonmyun wonders how he can redirect the conversation.

"I'm not up to anything more than usual," Joonmyun tells him, which is honest enough. He really isn't. All he's doing right now are the same things he's been doing ever since he's been in university.

Baekhyun sucks his lower lip into his mouth before saying anything else. "Why don't you ever just tell us anything?" he asks. The delivery is rushed, almost like Baekhyun is worried Joonmyun will take it the wrong way. "I mean, I feel like if we don't ask, you won't tell us about you and Jongin or anything about your family or anything that's going on with you, even anything school related." He pauses, drumming his slim fingers on the table as their food arrives. "I don't think you're secretive," he goes on. "You just don't like talking about yourself, I guess."

Joonmyun chuckles. "Unlike some people," he teases. "Imagine that."

Baekhyun rolls his eyes and makes a face at him. "You know what I mean," he insists and Joonmyun nods to give him a break.

"It's not... intentional," Joonmyun considers. "I've always just been quiet like this."

Growing up, Joonmyun wasn't exactly the kid that his parents or his parents' friends talked to. Even with the kids his age, no one really bothered to listen about what his opinions are about things or what he likes or doesn't like. He wasn't the kid that his parents showed off. Being in that spotlight, his brother developed the skills to be open and witty and charming.

Baekhyun hums and then shrugs. "So who were you hiding from earlier?" he asks nonchalantly as he pops a piece of beef in his mouth.

"What do you mean?" Joonmyun asks, stiffening slightly. He thought he and Baekhyun are completely talking about something different. As it turns out, he's underestimated Baekhyun. "I wasn't hiding from anyone."

"Is it Jongin?" Baekhyun pointedly asks, not really one to beat around the bush. He shoots Joonmyun an annoying grin as he runs a hand through his hair, patting it down afterwards. "He wasn't in the quad if you must know," he adds, giving him another cheeky smile.

Joonmyun just shakes his head and continues to eat. "I don't know what you're talking about," he mutters. "Jongin is coming over later," he shares. "Besides, why would I hide from him?"

Joonmyun's heart stutters at his question. Because he hurt you. Because you allowed yourself to fall for him and he broke your heart. His chest hurts from the mistrust and heartache that he had promised himself again and again he wouldn't allow himself to get into. And yet, look where he is now. It was almost like he was asking for it.

Joonmyun takes a deep breath and shakes the feelings off. He can't break down in front of Baekhyun. He shouldn't.

"Joonmyun," Baekhyun breaks into his thoughts. Joonmyun looks up to find Baekhyun masking the concern on his face. "You know we're here for you, right, Jongdae and I? You can talk to us about anything."

Joonmyun manages to smile. He reaches across the table and pats Baekhyun's hand. "I appreciate that," he sincerely tells him. Joonmyun is pretty sure he'll need it.

When he and Baekhyun arrive back at the apartment, Jongin is waiting in the living room with Jongdae, playing a video game. Baekhyun crawls into their laps and lays there until neither Jongdae or Jongin can concentrate on playing. Jongdae shoves Baekhyun off their laps and pokes Baekhyun's side with his toes until Baekhyun is breathless with laughter. Jongin sits there for a moment, watching Jongdae tickle Baekhyun to death, before he gets up and walks over to Joonmyun.

Joonmyun hates that Jongin always looks good. He's always handsome without even trying to look handsome. It's just one of the things Jongin does effortlessly. Joonmyun returns his smile but sidesteps the hug that Jongin opens his arms for. Instead, he motions for Jongin to follow him into his bedroom.

"Are you napping first?" Jongin wants to know as he closes the door behind them, blocking off Baekhyun's squealing. He sits on the edge of Joonmyun's bed as Joonmyun turns towards his desk, mindlessly fixing things. He's not sure how to start, he's not sure where to start. "Joonmyun?"

"There's something I have to tell you," Joonmyun blurts out, facing him but not looking at him. He finds it so hard to look at him, not when every time he does his heart feels like it’s being squeezed by a fist. Jongin's eyes widen a little before settling into that soft look that he gets when he's looking at him. Joonmyun wants to make him close his eyes or look away. He can't have that right now.

"Sure," Jongin responds expectantly. "What is it? Everything okay?"

No. Everything is not okay. You lied to me. You hurt me. You— "Let me tell you a story," Joonmyun starts, taking a seat on his desk chair. He leans back and braces himself. He should just tell Jongin to get out of his life, but that would require too many explanations of things he doesn’t want to get into. So it’s better like this. "Remember when I told you about me taking up a different course before I took up business?" Jongin nods. "Well, I took up Film originally," he shares, grinning as Jongin's mouth opens with a smile of surprise.

"So that's why you're always so passionate about movies," Jongin comments, chuckling.

"You would think that's the reason why I took it up," Joonmyun interjects lightly, a soft smile on his face.

"Isn't it?" Jongin inquires, face openly curious. Joonmyun wants to curl up beside him and wrap his arms around him as he rests his head on his shoulder. Sadly, whenever he thinks about all the times he’s done that, he can’t help but wonder how mechanical everything seemed now.

"I took up Film because my parents told me to," Joonmyun tells him, chuckling a little as he looks at his hands. "I like Film, I do. I have a lot of fun with it and it makes me curious and fascinates me. But it wasn't my first choice for university."

"Why did you take it then?" Jongin asks, brows furrowed.

"Because it was the first time they actually cared about something that I was going to do," Joonmyun answers.

Joonmyun's mother is beautiful and sweet, but strict in her own way. She had put a manicured hand on Joonmyun's shoulder and told him, "Joonmyun, dear, Film is something you've always enjoyed. Why not do something you love? Don't waste your time on things that you'll only be second best in. With Film, at least you'll always do well and we want you to do well, Joonmyun."

It was the first time his mother hadn't been too busy to discuss anything that Joonmyun is involved in and Joonmyun yearned to please her and have her be proud of him the way she always seems to be with his older brother. It never seemed to be enough though.

Jongin moved to get up but Joonmyun shakes his head and makes him stay where he is. There will be no touching. Joonmyun’s pretty sure Jongin has gathered all the data he’s needed in the few months they’ve spent together and doesn’t need any more. Besides, Jongin should pay attention. This is a story that only Baekhyun and Jongdae know completely. Other people think they do, but it's a whole other misconstrued truth.

"I wanted to study business," Joonmyun admits, chuckling when Jongin stops moving and looks like he's thinking if he heard correctly. "I wanted to help my family out. But my parents didn't think I could do it. Actually, they didn't even really care whether I could actually do it or not. They just knew I wasn't as good at it as my brother was."

It's a memory that holds practically no more bitterness in Joonmyun. Except, once in a while, we he's feeling really down and vulnerable, this memory creeps in and buries him even further.

Before Joonmyun realizes what's happening, he's already in Jongin's arms. He lets out a shaky gasp, balling his hands into a fist and keeping his arms to his sides. Instead he closes his eyes and tries not to feel anything. Joonmyun can’t feel about how Jongin’s embrace is so warm and comforting and how, if this were any other time, he would melt into it and allow himself the solace. But this is different and he hates it. Why did it have to be like this? Why can’t Joonmyun just be normal so that he can have good things and good people in his life, people who actually want to share a life with him and accept him and love him? Why is Joonmyun so hard to love? Joonmyun releases a sob that he buries in Jongin's chest. It happens several more times because Jongin is holding him so tightly, like he means it, like he cares and Joonmyun wishes, hopes, that it's real, that it's true. So that he won't hurt anymore.

Joonmyun pushes Jongin away when Jongin presses several long kisses to Joonmyun's forehead. It's too much. It hurts too much and Joonmyun’s heart can’t take it. Joonmyun won't be able to hold back his tears if Jongin keeps on doing that.

"What I mean to tell you," Joonmyun speaks up, his voice sounding hoarse and shaky. Jongin stumbles back a bit in surprise and Joonmyun holds a hand up to stop him from coming any closer. "I'm telling you this," he amends himself after he takes a deep breath and steadies himself, "because I'm going to focus on schoolwork more. I'm not saying that you were a distraction. But I'm in my last year and I really want to make this work and to make my parents proud so I need to focus." Jongin is looking at him with confusion. "I can't hang out anymore. I'm going to devote myself completely to my studies."

"That's what you've always done," Jongin points out. "Us hanging out didn't change that." He tilts his head, looking at Joonmyun with almost narrowed eyes. "I thought I was helping you out somehow. I didn't realize I was... I don't understand." He hesitates, shuffling in his stance with uncertainty. "Are you telling me I can't see you anymore?" he asks.

Jongin is asking like they're seeing each other and Joonmyun wants to stomp down the feelings of hope and hurt that bubble up together. He also wants to push Jongin out of his life so he can stop feeling like this, like he isn’t enough. Joonmyun takes a step back, looking down at the floor where their feet are. He wants to say, yes, you can if you can tell me honestly that what we've had this whole time wasn't just a figment of my imagination. "I guess it would seem like that," he responds.

"I don’t—What's really going on, Joonmyun?" Jongin demands.

"Nothing," Joonmyun says, hoping to lighten up the mood by chuckling. It just sounds like how it is, forced. "I'm just really under a lot of pressure and I want to really focus and just do my work. It's nothing to do with your or with anything else. Just me. This just how I am and I'm sorry that my methods are different—"

"Joonmyun, don't do that. I’m not criticising you," Jongin says, sighing in defeat and shoving his hands in his pockets. He shrugs. "If that's what you want. I can't say I understand completely. But I'll give you your space. I've always given you your space, Joonmyun. I'm sorry you're under a lot of pressure and you feel that you have to do this alone."

He wonders if space from someone you trusted and have feelings for has ever been so suffocating. This is one of those instances where he really wishes he’d never become close to Jongin. This wouldn’t have happened, he wouldn’t have fallen into this, if they hadn’t met again and again. Every part of him hurts at the memory of everything they’ve shared together and Joonmyun knows it will just get worse as time passes. He just wants Jongin to get out of here and to get away from him. There is nothing left for them to talk about, nothing more to say. Joonmyun wants to feel nothing more for him. He’s always done things alone and he hopes he get quickly get to the point that he would feel no emotion for Jongin.

Joonmyun walks Jongin to the door, past Baekhyun and Jongdae, who are in the living room. They stand by the front door, facing each other. Joonmyun is looking everywhere but at Jongin, while Jongin is looking at nothing but Joonmyun. If this were any other time, with a totally different problem, Joonmyun wouldn't hesitate to step into Jongin's space and press his face to his neck. But this is now and Joonmyun won't do that anymore.

"Thanks," Joonmyun lamely states as he opens the door for him. Jongin steps out but turns back to face him. He can see the many things Jongin wants to say on his face, but Joonmyun just shakes his head. "I'm sorry about your project," he whispers and closes the door before Jongin can say anything in return.





-





Joonmyun masters avoiding Jongin like an art. It's difficult at the beginning because he and Jongin have fallen into the habit of meeting at places even when they don't talk about it. So in the beginning, when Joonmyun catches Jongin going into the library, Joonmyun goes back to his table, gathers all his books and finds himself a new table far away from the one he frequents. It's stupid and childish. Jongin could very well be in the library to do some studying himself, but he doesn't care. He doesn't want to see Jongin. He doesn't want to be in a place where they have a chance of running into each other. Joonmyun chooses places no one would normally ever study, like the cafeteria or some of the cafes across university. Most of the time, he chooses to study in the apartment, in the living room. But being there, being near his bed, reminds him of so many things that sometimes he even sleeps on the couch.

"Joonmyun!" Joonmyun jumps on the couch as Baekhyun's yell echoes in the apartment. He emerges from his bedroom, wearing a shirt that's too big for him, and chucks Joonmyun's phone on the couch. "It's been ringing and ringing. I don't even know why your phone is in my room," Baekhyun grumbles and he goes back inside and falls back into bed.

"Sorry," Joonmyun calls out to him before checking his phone. He turns his phone on vibrate without answering it and puts it face down on the table. There may have been a reason why he purposefully left his phone elsewhere, somewhere far away from him. He doesn't really want to be distracted by calls while he's studying.

When his phone starts vibrating again as he continues to study, Joonmyun grabs his phone and goes to the kitchen to make himself some tea. Jongdae is there, wearing an apron, preparing some food. Joonmyun puts his phone down on the table and takes a seat.

"Is Joohyun coming over?" Joonmyun asks, ignoring his phone.

"Nah," Jongdae says, shaking his head and mixes the fried rice in the pan. "I'm seeing her tomorrow anyway. How's your paper going?"

"I'm almost done," Joonmyun tells him, closing his eyes as he takes a sip of his tea. So few things relax him these days so he's glad to have found tea, care of Joohyun, that calms his nerves and helps ease his heartache somehow.

He hasn't told anyone about what happened. He hasn't even seen Jongin in over two weeks now. Which is why it's interesting that no one has asked about Jongin yet. Normally, Baekhyun would be all over the fact that he and Jongin aren't attached to the hip in only two days. Jongdae would ask a question or two. But this time, Joonmyun hasn't heard anything. They probably bought the excuse that Joonmyun is stressed with school. Which he is.

Joonmyun has taken to overworking himself. Which are mostly Jongdae's words, not his. Joonmyun just sees every waking moment as valuable time and he seeks to utilize every minute that there is. This has led to several instances of him either writing a paper, studying for a test, or doing his final project until about 5 o'clock in the morning, taking a shower at 5:30, making breakfast at around 6:30, and then getting ready for his classes for the day. He lacks so much sleep that he's actually taken to applying the concealer that Sunyoung has originally given him so he can cover the dark circles under his eyes.

"Are you actually going to bed this time?" Jongdae asks as he turns the stove off and faces him. "Your face is starting to look like two big eye bags. Your face is really just eye bags now." The way he sounds so gleeful about it worries Joonmyun a little.

"Maybe," Joonmyun answers with a shrug. "I'm in the groove of things and don't really want to stop when I can keep on going." Jongdae raises a judgmental eyebrow at him. "I get done faster like this," he assures him. "It won't be for very long so I should get going." He gets up, stretches his arms, and puts his mug on the sink before making his way back to the living room.

Joonmyun doesn't care if he looks ugly because he hasn't gotten enough sleep. It beats going to bed at night, unable to help his brain from thinking about Jongin. Just the thought of his name sends stabs of pain through his chest and he avoids that as much as he can. Because once he starts, Joonmyun goes on to analyze every incident and reprimands himself for being stupid not to have noticed the signs earlier. On most days, though, Joonmyun just chastises himself from being foolish to believe that anyone could actually have feelings for him and stay with him.

He didn't think he could ever feel worse than his past rejections. He didn't think it could be more awful than Lu Han or Sunyoung. As it turns out, it can be. And this one is the worst by a thousand miles. There are many moments, and not even when he's only in the apartment, when he wants to curl up into himself when something he sees or hears reminds him of Jongin. There's always a song, or a drink, or a shirt, or a person that would send pangs to his heart and he wants to cry or beat his chest because it hurts so much. How long must he feel like this?

"Joonmyun!"

Joonmyun jumps and hits his knee on the edge of the table from where he's sitting on the floor. "Yeah?" he grunts, rubbing his knee.

"Jongin is calling your phone," Jongdae says. "Let me bring it to you—"

"It's fine," Joonmyun hurriedly tells him, glancing at the kitchen. "Just let it go to voice mail. I'll just call him back."

There's a pause. "Are you sure?" Jongdae asks.

"Yeah," Joonmyun returns. "I'll call him later."

Joonmyun holds his breath until Jongdae tells him okay. He leans back on the foot of the couch and closes his eyes in relief. Jongin has been calling a lot. The first few times he's called to check-up on Joonmyun and just chat, Joonmyun had indulged it and had spoken to him, even if he wanted nothing more than to not hear his voice. He had to keep up appearances. Jongin doesn't know that Joonmyun is dropping him for good. But now, Joonmyun is just tired and he's almost at the point where he wants to change his mobile number. He knows he's taking the immature route, but he doesn't want to face Jongin to discuss how Joonmyun was just a school project to him. Joonmyun isn't going to subject himself to that.

Jongdae calls him out because Jongin is calling again several times more, until such time that Baekhyun finally woke up from his nap and made his way to the kitchen to help Jongdae out with dinner. Joonmyun just keeps on saying the same thing, that he's just going to call Jongin back later and Jongdae should just ignore it.

During dinner, Baekhyun is telling some story about him and Minseok eating at this new restaurant when Joonmyun's phone starts vibrating on the table. It's not even near him, but beside Jongdae's plate, where he never bothered to get it. Before Joonmyun can apologize and get the phone, Jongdae picks it up and answers the call.

"Jongin," Jongdae greets him with fake cheer as he glares at Joonmyun across the table. Joonmyun watches as Jongdae listens to whatever Jongin is saying, while Baekhyun just sits quietly and eats his food. "Yeah, sorry about that, Joonmyun isn't here and he left his phone behind. He's off studying somewhere. Yeah, sometimes he doesn't study here because he doesn't want to annoy me and Baekhyun and you know how annoying Joonmyun can get when he's agitated with school work." Jongdae chuckles. "Yeah, yeah, don't worry. I'll tell him you called many times." Laughing, he bids his goodbye and ends the call, slamming the phone back on the table.

Joonmyun jumps and so does Baekhyun.

"That's the last time I'm going to cover for you, Joonmyun," Jongdae snaps. "Jongin sounded so worried about you. He says he hasn't be able to contact you for days and when you do respond to him, you only send a text telling him that you're okay and that you're busy. What's going on? I know you're swamped and stressed with school and that is a valid excuse, but you're outright ignoring him."

"Nothing is going on." The excuse feels empty and flimsy and it's no doubt that his two friends see through it too. "I really am just preoccupied and I just don't want to be going out when I could study all the time and finish faster."

"Joonmyun, I think—" Baekhyun starts.

"You told me once to make changes," Joonmyun cuts him off. He might as well tell them. "This is me making changes." He pushes his chair back from the table, picks up his plate and dumps it in the sink. Then he takes his phone from Jongdae. "It's better this way, don't you think?" he asks, looking at Jongdae and Baekhyun, who have stricken expressions on their faces. "That way you won't have to worry about whatever this thing is between me and Jongin. Now, there's just nothing."

Nothing.





-





"So is there a reason why we're in an ice cream shop," Joonmyun inquires, turning away from the window and looking at Sehun with eyebrows raised, "Instead of, I don't know, a coffee shop or a milk tea place or a restaurant with actual food. I haven't gone to an ice cream shop in—"

"The ice cream is good. Besides, this is where I go when I need some cheering up and I figured it might help," Sehun tells him with an unapologetic glare, making Joonmyun grin wider.

"Ah, so that's why you asked me to come out with you," Joonmyun comments, nodding. It makes sense now. He and Sehun haven't hung out by themselves in a really long time, ever since—ever since. Which is why it was so surprising to see Sehun's name on his messages, asking if they could hang out. "Because I need cheering up. Why would you know I needed cheering up? I haven't seen you in so long."

"And whose fault was that?" Sehun makes a face at him, making Joonmyun laugh. "You're so busy with school and papers and Jongin—sorry." He cuts himself off and clears his throat. "Sorry," he mumbles.

"Nothing to apologize for," Joonmyun insists, smiling a little as he looks back out of the window.

Sehun goes back to the counter to pick up the ice cream he's ordered and goes back to the table with them. Apple mint for Joonmyun and raspberry for Sehun. Joonmyun doesn't even want to know how Sehun knows he likes this flavor.

"So," Sehun starts after swallowing a small spoonful of his ice cream. "How have you been?"

"I should be asking you that," Joonmyun tells him with a light chuckle. Sehun's hair has grown a bit longer, so much so that he's able to tie it up in a cute ponytail. "Is that the latest trend these days?" he asks about his hairstyle.

"When you say it like that, you sound so old," Sehun says, shaking his head. "It's almost like you're years older when really our age gap is only a year."

Joonmyun laughs then sobers. "I feel old," he says. "And tired." Three years of cramming study and worrying over studying can do that to a person, especially him who worries about every single thing.

"Really, how are you?" Sehun presses, leaning forward against the table. "I know we haven't really talked in a while. But... I'm—we're still friends right?"

"Of course, Sehun," Joonmyun says earnestly.

Joonmyun pokes his barely eaten ice cream with his pink spoon and wonders long he can keep this up, not telling people anything. There's a reason he doesn't want to talk about it. It's happened so many times to him that he doesn't want people to realize what he's known all along: that there's something wrong with him. But maybe he should tell Sehun anyway just so he can finally tell someone. It's miserable keeping it all to himself. Is it wise, though, to talk to one of Jongin's best friends?

Sighing, Joonmyun stops mashing his ice cream and leans back on his seat. "I just really want to get done with school," he starts, glancing out of the window as several puppies walk past, their owner following after them, the leashes in her hands. "I want to get out of here."

"Can't wait to leave Jongdae and Baekhyun behind?" Sehun teases. Joonmyun chuckles, but appreciates his efforts to make light of the mood. Sehun sighs. "What happened with you and Jongin, Joonmyun? I see him everyday and he seems to have it as bad as you, but he wouldn't really tell me much. I don't think he knows what's going on either. Do you?"

Joonmyun chuckles a little. "Is that why you came to see me, Sehun?" he asks lightly, glancing at the counter when there's a loud clatter of what seems like falling utensils. "Because you're worried about Jongin?"

"Because I'm worried about him and you," Sehun clarifies. He leans back on his seat as well, ice cream forgotten. "I'm not just here for my benefit. I'm here for Jongdae's and Baekhyun's too." He sighs, pouting a little, which Joonmyun has always found cute. "We're all worried, Joonmyun, and we just want to understand what happened."

"How's Jongin's project?" Joonmyun wants to know, confusing Sehun with the jump on subject. He watches as no recognition of what he's talking about comes to life on Sehun's face and thinks that maybe it's only Taemin who knows about it. Joonmyun shrugs. "I just knew he was working on one," he says instead.

Sehun shakes off the confusion. "You keep on changing the subject, Joonmyun," he says with exasperation. "But I won't force you. I just hope things work out. It's really hard to know that both of you are miserable, although Jongin is more grumpy that anything, because of whatever that's happened."

Joonmyun shouldn't say anything, shouldn't even ask, or shouldn't even think it. But he can't help it because it's Jongin after all and no matter what, Joonmyun cares about him. "Is he... having a hard time finding a new subject for his project?" he asks, biting his lower lip as soon as he asks. Maybe he shouldn't have opened his mouth.

"What?" Sehun straightens up in his seat, rubbing his forehead. "What are you talking about? I don't know which project you mean." Joonmyun looks away and starts playing with his ice cream again. He should actually start eating it so it won't be wasted. "He's working on several and—" Sehun continues, trying to catch Joonmyun's eye. "By subject you don't mean..." He gasps when Joonmyun meets his eyes in a glance then looks away again. "Where did you learn that? Who told you?"

Joonmyun can't talk about this. Not when Sehun’s confirmation just crushed his heart and squeezed it dry. He pushes his ice cream to the center of the table and moves his chair back. "I should really go," he says without much preamble. "I have an essay to turn in tomorrow and I have yet to proofread it. Jongdae agreed to do it for me, but I just don't trust other people with my work as I do with myself." He shoots Sehun a brittle but apologetic smile as he gets up.

"Joonmyun, you have to—" Sehun starts, getting up as well.

"I'm really glad we saw each other, Sehun," Joonmyun interrupts him. He doesn't want to hear anything that Sehun has to say. Pulling him into a hug, he whispers into his ear, "Thank you." And then he's letting go and hurrying out of the shop.





-





Joonmyun didn't think that the day would come when he would be too tired to do anything. He knows he's been overworking himself and barely has any sleep, but he doesn't think that's the problem. He's done that before and he's never felt this exhausted. It's probably because of the other thing that's happening—or not happening—in his life.

"You know what you need?" Baekhyun suggests happily, propping his elbows on the table and resting his chin on his hands. He looks so much happier than the last time he spoke to Joonmyun. Joonmyun knows that Baekhyun has his own opinions about Joonmyun's stubbornness with the whole Jongin issue. Which, really, is a non-issue already. There is nothing to talk about.

"Nothing from you, I'm sure," Joonmyun retorts, not even looking up from his laptop. But after a second, he shuts his laptop and closes his eyes. "I think I need to sleep."

"What a wonderful idea!" Baekhyun suggests. He gets up and moves around the table to pull Joonmyun up from his seat. "That's honestly the best thing you've thought of in a very long time."

"I know what you mean," Joonmyun responds tiredly. "I shouldn't have allowed myself to be friends with you."

Baekhyun sends him slanting look. "You're strangely witty when you're tired," he observes. "I would really love to banter with you some more, but you look like you're going to pass out, so maybe some other time." He pushes Joonmyun to his room and onto his bed.

"Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, looking around. "If you wanted to have your way with me, you can just say so. But I don't think Minseok would appreciate it very much. Why am I in your room?" In retrospect, it is better for Joonmyun to sleep here than in his own room, which needs a lot of cleaning.

"Because it's the nearest and you really look like you're going to pass out," Baekhyun comments, his voice turning soft. Joonmyun looks at him and sees real concern on Baekhyun's face. He waves it off as he takes his shoes off and climbs in the middle of the bed, lying down with a contended sigh.

"I'm fine," Joonmyun assures him. It's a phrase that Joonmyun has been telling himself a lot these past few days. He keeps holding on to the hope that if he says it enough, it will come true and that his chest would stop hurting less every time he wakes up to find that everything isn't a dream. Or when he checks his phone only to realize that there are no messages or calls. Jongin has stopped calling on the day he and Sehun met up for ice cream. He's guessing that now that Jongin knows that he knows about the project, it's all clear now and he doesn't have to pretend. "Why does it feel like your bed is more comfortable than mine?"

Baekhyun doesn't say anything, just climbing into bed with him. "Shut up and sleep," he tells him and Joonmyun just knows he's rolling his eyes, even when he's not looking at him and his eyes are closed. Baekhyun moves into the space behind Joonmyun and curves his body with his, wrapping his arms around him like a big spoon.

"What are you doing?" Joonmyun asks, too tired to move or even open his eyes.

"They say cuddling helps," Baekhyun tells him, voice soft and gentle. "It's a good way to help make people feel better." Joonmyun snorts because where has he heard that before. "It's true," Baekhyun says defensively. "It's some hormone called oxytocin that—" Joonmyun's eyes open as he stiffens in Baekhyun's embrace, but Baekhyun just holds onto him. "It's just me, Joonmyun," Baekhyun says, humming in his ear. Slowly, Joonmyun begins to relax. "Just me."

Joonmyun squeezes his eyes shut, covering his mouth as his heart pounds in his chest. He's so tired of feeling like this. Tired of feeling hurt, feeling inadequate, and feeling unloved. He just wants someone to take one look at him and accept him and love him no matter what else they may learn about him. He's not just a shiny tin can with nothing inside.

"Sorry," Joonmyun mumbles, his eyes falling shut once more.

"Sshh," Baekhyun whispers. "Just go to sleep."

Joonmyun wakes up to Jongdae lying down on his other side, whisper fighting with Baekhyun. He keeps his eyes shut and wonders how on earth he ended up with two incredibly ridiculous people as best friends.

"You weren't here," Baekhyun is hissing. "So how was I supposed to ask you to join us?"

"You could have called and I would have come as soon as I could," Jongdae hisses back. He's pouting and Joonmyun can hear it. "You do not do best friend cuddles without me."

"Oh my god, you're insane," Baekhyun retorts. "He needed it right at that moment. Was I supposed to stall and keep him awake when he so badly needed the rest?"

Jongdae doesn't have anything to say to that so Joonmyun decides to speak up. "Should I leave you two alone so you can stop whispering to fight it out or...?" he teases hoarsely. Both Jongdae and Baekhyun jump beside him.

Jongdae buries his face in Joonmyun's chest. "Are you feeling better?" he asks, sounding contrite.

Joonmyun chuckles, patting Jongdae's head and then patting Baekhyun's hand, which is resting on his bicep. "Yes," he tells them honestly.

Jongdae pulls away and smiles. "Do you think you're up for something other than school work?" he then asks. Baekhyun pulls away from Joonmyun's back and sits up, watching Joonmyun carefully when Joonmyun nods. "Sehun has this dance performance this afternoon. You should go with us," he suggests.

Joonmyun shrugs, knowing fully well that there is no assignment, paper, or exam he is unprepared for. He's been so focused for the past few days that he's probably overcompensated and is fully advanced on all of his work. "Why not?" he agrees.

"Okay," Baekhyun says, getting off his bed. "You guys better get dressed." He shoves Jongdae off his bed, making him yelp and whine as he leaves the room.

Joonmyun grins at him and pulls Baekhyun into a quick hug. "Thank you," he whispers in his ear.

"Don't mention it," Baekhyun tells him with a smile and pushes him out of his room. "Wear something nice, Joonmyun."

When Baekhyun told him to wear something nice, Joonmyun thought it was because it was at least a semi-formal event and not because Jongin was going to be there, as a performer as well. He knew that both Jongin and Sehun were taking dance classes. How could Joonmyun not have realized that they were taking the same classes, even when he found out that they were friends? Of course they would take the same classes and would perform together.

Joonmyun thunks his head back onto the seat, feeling self-conscious about what he's wearing. He'd worn his favorite black pants and a plain shirt underneath a simple blazer. He doesn't want Jongin to see him and think that he dressed up for him. He didn't, because he didn't know Jongin is going to be there. Joonmyun leans forward to glare at Jongdae and Baekhyun who are sitting guiltily side by side.

"I hope you know that there are consequences for this," Joonmyun tells them seriously. "I think Minseok and Joohyun would both be interested in what I have to say. What do you guys think?" He wiggles his eyebrows up and down.

"It's just a dance performance, Joonmyun," Jongdae pacifies him, even as he laughs nervously.

And it is just a dance performance. One where Jongin is the most beautiful that Joonmyun's ever seen him. Joonmyun knows that Jongin has grace and elegance, but he hasn't seen Jongin incorporate these things into dance before. Jongin dances like it's the only thing he's meant to do with his life, like all he has, all he is is meant for is dancing. Joonmyun could see the joy and passion that he has for it and seeing that makes Joonmyun's chest ache.

He excuses himself after the performance, ignoring Baekhyun's and Jongdae's calls after him. Joonmyun takes his phone out as soon as he's out of the theater and calls a number that he doesn't call often.

"Joonmyun," the voice on the other line answers with much surprise. "Is everything okay?"

"Hi," Joonmyun says after a deep breath. "When you said that you should do things for you, what did you mean? What if you finally have the means to do things for yourself, which is something you've always wanted but then, in the process, you realize that you're not sure if it makes you happy anymore?"

"Then you should remember why you wanted to do it in the first place," his older brother answers seriously. "And if the reason why you wanted it is because of you, then you should keep doing it. There are many things that we want in this life, Joonmyun. But you should always remember to keep yourself happy first. If you keep putting others before you, you're going to get tired, bitter and unhappy. That's not something you want to become."

"I've always wanted to help run the family business," Joonmyun blurts out. "I was always jealous of you, that I never got the chance, and now I do."

"Why do you want to help run the family business?" his brother asks him calmly, like it's no secret to him. It was probably obvious how Joonmyun coveted his position. "What is it about the business that makes you happy?"

"I..." What is it about being in the family business that makes him happy? Having the capacity to make his parents proud? Being finally given a chance to bring honor to the family? Having the chance to prove himself?

"You don't have to know all the answers right now, Joonmyun," his brother gently assures him. "It's not always easy to find something you're passionate about. Some people take longer and that's okay."

Joonmyun's heart thuds in his chest. He truly wants to help the family business. It's something he's wanted to do even before he found out that his brother was going to be the one to inherit it. The way his father talked about work, his passion and how he looked after everyone in the company, Joonmyun wanted to do that too.

Of all things that Jongin would make him realize, Joonmyun didn't think this would be one of them.

The door to the theater opens and Joonmyun turns around to find Jongin standing there. Joonmyun holds his breath as he takes a step back, not knowing whether to run away or to just stay there.

"What if," Joonmyun whispers into the phone as he and Jongin look at each other from a distance, "you meet someone and he's everything you hoped he would be, except he does something that really hurts you and destroys your trust in him, what do you do?"

"What did he do?" his brother asks, sounding concerned.

"He, uh, made it appear like he had feelings for me and then I found out that it wasn't real," Joonmyun explains. Jongin is just standing there, watching him and looking unsure as to what he should do.

"Did he tell you that?" his brother asks. "Did anyone? Or did your brain tell you?" He chuckles when Joonmyun doesn't say anything and Joonmyun crosses one of his arms on his chest, feeling affronted. "I think what you should do is you should walk up to him and ask him for the truth."

"What? That's the worst advice," Joonmyun complains and his brother laughs.

"It's better to feel sad over something that's real than something you made up in your head," his brother tells hm, still laughing, "which, I'm sure, is what you did."

"I hate you," Joonmyun declares.

"Joonmyunnie, if you love him, why don't you just try and let your heart do the talking this time?" his brother suggests with more affection.

Well, what better opportunity to do that than now? Joonmyun ends the phone call after his brother tells him to stop stalling. He hates it how, even from miles away, his brother knows exactly what's going on. He pockets his phone and glances at Jongin, who is still just standing by the theater doors. Jongin has done all he could to get Joonmyun to talk to him. Maybe Joonmyun should initiate it this time.

Joonmyun has taken but two steps towards him before Jongin is running to approach him. Joonmyun takes but a few steps, but Jongin meets him more than halfway. Before he knows it, Jongin is standing right in front of him, the closest they've been in quite some time. Jongin's face is line with sweat, his damp hair is sticking up in every direction, and even his white undershirt clings to his body like second skin because of perspiration. But Joonmyun thinks he's never looked so handsome. He almost wants to wipe Jongin's sweat away with his hands but he's not sure that's appropriate for someone who's ignored him for a long time.

"You're not a project!" Jongin blurts out before Joonmyun can say anything. "You're not. Sehun told me and I don’t know where you heard that, but that's not what that was. The free hugs thing was a project, sure, and we had been advised that if we find a subject we can monitor from that project, we would get additional points, but I didn't do it. I wouldn't do it to you especially. If I did, if I picked you, I would have told you. I really would have. And all those things, all the hugs, and the, um," Jongin blushes, "other things, they weren't because of anything but how I feel about you."

Joonmyun laughs before he can stop himself. He buries his face in his hands and laughs out of relief and happiness and regret. Just because someone's done it to him before, doesn't mean everyone else will do the same. Just because he's been hurt before, doesn't mean that Jongin will. Joonmyun should have ask Jongin about what he overheard and he should have listened. He should have believed that he can have good things too.

Jongin embraces him, and Joonmyun whimpers, wrapping his arms around Jongin's waist, not caring if he's sticky with sweat. Jongin's arms around him are as strong and as warm as Joonmyun remembers and he sobs in the comfort that he's always had this, that this is something that was his all along, that he's always had Jongin. No matter which way he puts it, it's real. Joonmyun has Jongin and Joonmyun gets to keep him.

Joonmyun closes his eyes as Jongin's lips brush against his jaw, pressing fleeting kisses that sends shivers down Joonmyun's spine. He tilts his head to the side, offering Jongin more of him, and biting his lower lip when Jongin doesn't hesitate to take advantage. The first kiss to Joonmyun's neck startles him, making him jump in Jongin's arms. Jongin's laughter echoes in the hall and Joonmyun shoves him away playfully.

"I'm going to have to remember that," Jongin says, a wide grin on his face. He looks even more radiant than he did after his performance and it makes Joonmyun happy to know that he is the cause of that.

"Well you have the time to... figure it out," Joonmyun responds boldly, his face immediately turning red after the words leave his lips. He pats his cheeks as Jongin laughs some more, hoping it would stop being so red and warm already.

"Come here," Jongin chuckles, pulling him into another hug. He tucks Joonmyun's head under his chin and Joonmyun sighs in contentment. "I'm sorry," he whispers through Joonmyun's hair. "I'm so sorry that this had to happen, that we had to—"

Joonmyun kisses him. He stands on his tiptoes when Jongin grasps onto his waist in surprise and wraps his arms around Jongin's neck. Jongin's lips are slightly chapped but soft and plump and perfect for kissing. No wonder it feels so good on his skin. But they feel even better on Joonmyun's own lips.

The kiss is gentle and sweet, like two people learning to hold hands and be with each other for the first time, familiarizing themselves with one another, and learning to lean on each other. Jongin leans down so that Joonmyun can plant his feet back on the floor, sucking on Joonmyun's lower lip and making him moan a little.

"I think we have to stop," Joonmyun pants as Jongin trails kisses from his jaw down to his neck. He knows that they have a lot to catch up on, but he doesn't think they should do it in public.

Jongin pulls away and leans his forehead on Joonmyun's, taking a deep breath to control himself. "Okay," he says, stepping back and putting his hands up to stop touching Joonmyun.

"Great! Are you guys done?" a voice that's unmistakably Jongdae's calls out, making Joonmyun and Jongin flinch. "Because we're all up for reunions and all, but you're kind of taking a lot of time and Sehun's been whining for the past twenty minutes about how hungry he is."

Jongin chuckles and then smiles at Joonmyun warmly. It sends a surge of pleasure to the tips of Joonmyun's toes and makes him want to kiss Jongin again and again and again. But he's afraid that he won't be able to stop so Joonmyun takes Jongin's hand instead and presses a kiss to his knuckles. It makes Jongin pull him into a hug, making Joonmyun laugh.

Joonmyun wants to say that they're far from done. Things between him and Jongin are the clearest they've ever been since they've met and there is so much for them to discover and understand with each other. Joonmyun is so excited for that. They may have seemed close, may have seemed like they already were in tune with each other. But, in truth, they're only starting to do that now, after actually opening their mouths and telling each other what they think and feel. This is definitely not an ending, but an exciting beginning. Hopefully one with a lot more hugs and a lot more kisses.