Seven in the morning. Peak hell hour.
Saturdays are carnage personified. The halls are silent, the entire home a desert wasteland littered with empty bottles, solo cups, the occasional upturned vase, and one too many condom wrappers in miscellaneous rooms for a family-friendly rating.
(“I just want to know who is fucking and where and why,” Gunhee despairs every weekend without fail, clad in elbow-length rubber gloves and what might as well be a nuclear suit.
“Actually,” Jaehwan starts, “you probably don’t.”
“Maybe they’re using condoms to blow up balloons,” reasons Sungwoo, staring blankly at a mysterious stain on their living room wall. “Maybe it was someone’s birthday. Maybe there was a celebration.”
“Maybe they’re just practicing safe sex,” Jaehwan continues.
“I hate everyone,” says Gunhee, to no one in particular.)
Seven in the morning. The entire day is probably going to be spent cleaning, finishing up last-minute assignments, dreading the near-end of the weekend, contemplating the worth of a bachelor’s degree and—
Daniel isn’t in any particular rush to get it started but with much futility, he drags himself off of the living room couch (not his bed, he realizes after the fact—a bad sign considering he can’t remember a.) why he’s not in his bed and b.) how he got to the couch) and topples to the floor.
Saturdays are for recovery and he tosses up a silent prayer out of gratitude for not landing in a pile of post-party vomit.
“Morning,” Taewoong greets, peeking into the living room and quickly assessing the situation (Daniel, crumpled on the floor, hungover beyond belief, but in one piece and without any visible damage or flesh wounds). “You good, dude? I thought you died last night or something after the thirty-thousandth shot Taehyun made you take.”
Truth be told, he isn’t sure if he can say he’s ‘good’ with confidence. He can’t recall much about the night before, surprisingly enough, and he’s almost afraid to ask what happened.
If anything, Daniel’s usually the responsible one out of their motley crew—always cleaning up after Jaehwan’s drunken sob sessions and carrying Sungwoo up the stairs to their shared bedroom on his back (he considers it a part of back day). He supposes it’s okay to let loose every once in a while. It’d be ideal not to forget everything that happened, but he supposes it’s possible. And when better to black out then at the start of a new quarter?
“M’fine,” Daniel finally manages to grumble in response, pressing the heels of his hands to his forehead in muted agony. There’s a percussion ensemble going on in his skull and he wonders how to shut it down. “I feel like I just got thrown into a meat grinder but I’m good. Any casualties? I don’t remember anything past Jihoon breaking the beer pong table.”
“Man, you knocked out early as fuck then.” Taewoong leans against the entryway, arms crossed, and lips pursed in contemplation. “For starters, Gunhee disappeared at midnight and is probably in a holding cell or lost in the forest.”
“Jaehwan took over the playlist and started playing sad Adele songs around one—”
“With or without his guitar?”
“With. He even took out his microphone. Composed a song about Sewoon on the spot. It was pretty good. I think Woojin recorded it.”
“Hyungseob convinced Jisung-hyung that he was drinking alcohol and he fell to the clutches of the placebo effect and has a ‘hangover’ and I don’t want to burst his bubble.”
Daniel snickers and regrets it when the throbbing of his head intensifies.
“Sungwoo challenged Dongho to three hours of drunk arm wrestling and probably dislocated his shoulder.”
Taewoong lets out a long hum. “I think that’s pretty much it. No one’s dead, or, well, I haven’t buried anyone in the backyard yet so I’m being optimistic.”
“Gunhee might be.”
A pensive look flickers across Taewoong’s face. “Yeah, that’s fair. Hwanwoong’s posting on the ‘Free & For Sale’ page on Facebook to see if anyone’s seen him. I think he stress-baked like, five-hundred muffins at five in the morning if you’re hungry—”
The front door flies open right at that moment and the sunlight that filters in is both harsh and entirely unwelcome. Daniel lets out a muffled scream and Taewoong looks thoroughly unimpressed as none other than Gunhee sidles in, totally in one piece, and totally not hungover.
He's alive, in one piece, and in better shape than most residents of the house combined, probably.
“Gooooooood moooooorning, cavemen!”
Daniel feels his head, or, the detached part of his brain that still remains (surprisingly enough) (and maybe unfortunately enough) after continuous neglect, pulse against his skull in protest. The mind-numbing pain doesn’t subside as Hwanwoong dashes down the hall, still decked out in an apron and oven mitts, sheer relief (and borderline tears) on his face.
“Alright, Gunhee. Post-party foul for almost making Hwanwoong cry,” Taewoong announces, dragging a piece of chalk down beneath Gunhee’s name on the hallway wall. “Extra one for being loud at seven in the morning.”
“We thought you were dead,” Daniel adds good-naturedly. “I’ve never been to a funeral so I was kind of looking forward to it.”
“We thought you were dead,” Hwanwoong emphasizes, lower lip quivering. “Where did you even go last night? You left your phone—who is that behind you?”
The smile on Gunhee’s face is overwhelmingly bright as he tugs on the wrist of a kid that Daniel is certain has never seen the cruel realities of the world. Despite the extreme absurdity of the situation, Gunhee seems entirely pleased with himself and Daniel thinks this spells certain disaster.
“You kidnapped someone,” deadpans Taewoong. “You kidnapped him.”
“No.” Gunhee glowers. “And can you phrase it like a question? I’m not a monster.”
“You kidnapped someone?” Taewoong rephrases. “You did. And he’s a child, so you’re like, fifty times worse than a normal criminal. You know I have the police on speed dial? I’m not above alerting the authorities! We’re not that clos—”
“No—it’s not kidnapping! I’m not a criminal!” There’s a pause. “And three years of friendship isn’t ‘that close’ to you?”
“You’re going to jail,” Taewoong continues. “Wow. Actually, I’ve never known an inmate so I mean, this is kind of exciting in a way. You’re going to get eaten alive there, Gunhee. They’re going to make you sing Frozen songs nonstop because you look like Olaf and—”
“What color would your jumpsuit be? Orange?” Daniel muses aloud.
“Gunhee looks terrible in orange,” bemoans Hwanwoong.
Much too used to the rhythm of this conversation, Gunhee dutifully ignores everyone and continues with bravado. “Anyway! This,” he starts, gesturing to ‘this’ in the form of a teenager that Daniel thinks couldn’t possibly be older than eighteen, “is Seonho, and I am officially adopting him as my son!”
The squeak Hwanwoong lets out nearly shatters the windows.
And Daniel's brain.
“Okay,” Gunhee begins, “I sincerely apologize for misspeaking and exaggerating the situation. I acknowledge that I am too naive to adopt a child—”
“Too irresponsible,” Taewoong adds, with feeling.
“—and I also acknowledge that Seonho is not my son and that Taewoong-hyung is ugly inside and out.”
“Thanks for the apology, Gunhee,” Jonghyun says. “And thank you for the muffin, Hwanwoong. It’s really good.”
Hwanwoong’s supersonic shriek unsurprisingly managed to activate the protective instinct embedded into Jonghyun’s DNA and summon him out of bed. The situation, Daniel thinks, hasn’t gotten any less weird though. He figures it’s probably the strange kid standing modestly at their kitchen table, hovering next to the chair Jaehwan usually crumples in when he’s hungover.
“He’s so cute though, isn’t he? He’s my mom’s friend’s kid—a freshie, but he’s starting a semester late. God, they all look so young. Doesn’t he look like a marshmallow? I’m inducting him into KSA right now and making him my little.”
Daniel massages his temples idly, squinting his eyes as more sunlight filters in through the open windows. “So, you’re babysitting him?” he clarifies, reaching for Jonghyun’s glass and taking a slow sip of orange juice.
“Gunhee babysitting someone,” Taewoong echoes hollowly. He shudders.
Seonho, for the most part, looks harmless enough with his round eyes and blank expression. He’s quiet too, seemingly bored of the situation as he picks absentmindedly at the hem of his shirt. Every once in a while, he’ll lift his head to gaze around the kitchen, drinking in the sight of everyone’s faces as though taking notes.
“Not babysitting. My mom just told me to show him around and I’m endeared so I decided to adopt him spiritually. He’s a little baby! He doesn’t know anything about the world. Doesn’t know anything about the universe.” Gunhee beams. “Apparently, he was at the party last night but I didn’t see him. Not surprised though. I feel like Hyungseob just dragged random people inside at some point.”
As responsible as ever, Jonghyun is the first to greet Seonho directly. “Nice to meet you, Seonho,” he says with a faint smile. “I’m Jonghyun. That’s Hwanwoong, Taewoong, and Daniel—and not including Gunhee, we have three more guys living here, though one of them’s abroad. It must be kind of overwhelming being dragged around everywhere first thing in the morning, but you’re welcome here whenever.”
In quick succession, everyone else offers their hellos before conversation splits into normalcy.
“Seonho seems nice but that doesn’t really explain where you went last night.” Hwanwoong looks directly at Gunhee, expectant.
Gunhee sighs. “I had to go to the gospel choir party. I mean, it’d be a total flop if their star didn’t show up for a toast or something, you know?”
“To this day, I think it’s blasphemous that you’re in gospel choir when your only god is yourself,” Taewoong comments.
“You don’t need to be religious to be a star among the common people,” sniffs Gunhee. “I don’t do it for Jesus. I do it for the red wine and the attention.”
Daniel hides his smile behind the palm of his hand. “This is why my mom doesn’t like you.”
“Your mom doesn’t like anyone but you and Sungwoo-hyung. Which is not fair because Sungwoo-hyung is just as bad, if not worse than me when it comes to self-love—”
“So last night was kind of wild,” interrupts Taewoong, offhandedly changing the subject from Gunhee to not-Gunhee. He twirls a spoon in the leftover milk from his cereal. “Even Daniel doesn’t remember what happened and the last time he blacked out was on his twenty-first.”
“The worst thing he could have done is bring home another stray cat,” Jonghyun says with a laugh, “or run around on campus with Sungwoo taking pictures with all of the statues like he did last semester.”
"Don't forget he named them."
“How could we forget Hermione, the new name of our school’s founder’s statue?”
Daniel lets out an exaggeratedly long sigh, burying his face in his hands. “No booty calls from unknown numbers, no weird photos on my phone. I even checked Snapchat. I think I’m good.” He shoots a glance at his phone, sitting unfazed on the table. “I’m good.”
Much too slowly, Seonho shifts to face Daniel. “I saw you last night,” he suddenly announces.
The noise in the kitchen ebbs into nothing.
“Oh,” says Daniel. There’s an uncertain feeling of dread at the pit of his stomach but he thinks, innocently, naively, foolishly, that Seonho is harmless. “Yeah?”
Seonho nods and blinks purposefully, twice. The pause is deliberate and he doesn’t spare Daniel any details, focusing on the muffin shoved into his hands by Hwanwoong instead. Another few seconds pass after he takes a bite. “You were making out with some dude at the bus stop,” he explains, words muffled.
As though on cue, Gunhee drops an entire bowl of cereal onto the kitchen floor with a gasp. Daniel doesn’t even have the time to process the information.
“Gunhee,” hisses Hwanwoong. “What did we say about subtlety?”
Purposefully, Gunhee reaches for an empty solo cup and drops (throws) it onto the ground as well. For impact. For dramatics. Because he’s Gunhee.
“Daniel goes to church,” he announces in a scandalized, strained whisper, sounding much like the reverend’s wife back home when Daniel first dyed his hair pink in high school. “Daniel, who falls to his knees in prayer when he scores a homerun in Ultimate Frisbee—”
“They’re goals, actually,” Daniel manages to interrupt despite the exacerbated throbbing of his entire brain. “And you know, I think it’s really messed that you call Sungwoo hyung but you—”
“—made out with some dude?”
“You’re cleaning the floor, by the way,” Jonghyun says calmly.
“Who? Who? You’ve never looked at anyone with lust in your eyes! Libido isn’t in your dictionary! You wear flannel un-ironically! If Gong Yoo walked up to you naked with a rose in his mouth, you’d ask him if he was cold! My god, you’d give him your ugly flannel! Who! Who could it possibly be! Who is this dude? Who?”
“Gong Yoo naked?” mutters Hwanwoong.
"You have the wrong guy,” Daniel attempts feebly, waving one hand flippantly in Seonho’s direction. “Or maybe you don’t, but it doesn’t matter because I can’t remember anyway—”
“You’re named after someone in the BIBLE,” Gunhee continues.
“Or Daniel Craig,” Jonghyun offers, quite unhelpfully.
“Daniel with the white Vans,” Taewoong suggests. “Daniel DeVito, better known by the commoners as Danny—”
“You made out with someone and you’re the closest thing to holy in this house!”
There’s a loud thudding noise that cuts Gunhee off, promptly followed by the faint sound of hissing from the hallway. Someone stumbles against the wall and, after much tribulation, manages to make it into the kitchen entryway.
Daniel grins when he sees Sungwoo.
“I was wondering if it was just Gunhee or if five-thousand talking parakeets broke into the kitchen to share the wonders of the world,” Sungwoo says in lieu of a greeting, sarcasm thick in his voice despite the fact that he sounds as though he’s literally swallowed gravel. He’s still wearing the clothes he wore last night, looking thoroughly discombobulated in every way possible as he slumps against the entryway for support (he’s hungover, undoubtedly). “Good morning, world.” And, after a cursory glance in Seonho’s direction: “Good morning, stranger.”
“Morning,” Daniel greets first. “You look like shit.”
“Thanks, honey,” comes the mockingly saccharine response. “Tell me my black bags look like the night sky. I actually slept like a baby because I didn’t have to put up with your drunk ass grinding your teeth and composing raps. Did you crash on the couch again?”
“He blacked out and wiped out on the couch, actually,” Taewoong corrects.
“He made out with some dude actually,” Gunhee amends, louder.
There’s a glimmer of surprise and something unreadable on Sungwoo’s face. “Oh,” he says first. A stunted pause follows before he turns to open the refrigerator. “That’s a new one.” Sungwoo swipes a water bottle before returning his attention to the other occupants of the room, particularly Seonho. “And you are?”
The conversation quickly shifts. Where there should be an introduction, there is silence as Seonho stares at Sungwoo with a sort of intensity that Daniel thinks could easily be misinterpreted as a declaration of challenge.
“Oh,” Seonho says suddenly, clapping his hands together in revelation.
Daniel notices belatedly that he’s already finished three muffins in the span of ten minutes.
He also doesn't like the sound of this 'oh.'
Seonho lifts a hand to gesture vaguely toward Sungwoo. “You’re the dude.”
Saturday mornings are for recovery and rehabilitation and Daniel feels nothing but immense regret for waking up today today thus far.
“I’m the dude?” Sungwoo repeats, taking a sip of water without breaking eye contact.
“Yeah,” continues Seonho. “You’re the dude that Daniel-hyung was making out with last night.”
It’s almost comedic how Sungwoo accidentally squeezes the water bottle too tightly, startled, proceeding to spill water all over himself (and his favorite shirt) and the floor gracelessly.
The rest of the room falls silent. Daniel feels the strong urge to change his identity. Gunhee all but hurls Jisung’s favorite (plastic) Tangled plate onto the floor. This time, no one blames him.
Before Gunhee can continue, however, and before Daniel can interject and convince himself (and everyone else) that Seonho has no idea what he’s talking about and that the guy he saw last night was surely just a doppelganger or an impersonator set out to commit severe character assassination, a loud stamping of feet travels down the hall and to the kitchen.
The only two people left in the house are Jaehwan and Jisung and depending on who it is, the progression of events could be comparable to either five-hundred more parakeets entering the room armed with conversation, or the wrath of sleep-deprived Lucifer himself complete with acoustic accompaniment.
By the way Gunhee shuts up immediately, the identity of the new addition to their morning party is apparent before Daniel even has the chance to crane his neck.
It’s Jaehwan, looking thoroughly dead and wielding his guitar threateningly.
There’s a sheepish smile on Hwanwoong’s face as he daringly breaks the ice for everyone. “Good morning, hyung.”
“Heeeeeey guys, I composed a song for everyone in this kitchen,” Jaehwan announces, the smile on his face wide and bright (and manic) despite how strained he sounds. He clears his throat and takes a deep breath before flinging his hand wildly across the guitar strings. To the tune(?) of the discordant chord, he sings, “SHUT THE FUCK UP.”
It’s hours later—after Jaehwan’s gotten his two extra hours of sleep (he needs a minimum of five to be a functional human being and not a bloodthirsty reincarnate demon of vengeance) and Jisung has finished interrogating everyone about who chipped Rapunzel’s beautiful face on my plate? Hwanwoong has left for the library, Jonghyun for his part-time job. Taewoong is busy playing Starcraft with his friends in Korea and Sungwoo is hitting hour two of his extensive hangover shower.
The kitchen is deathly quiet. Gunhee, Daniel, and Seonho sit at the round table solemnly.
“So,” Gunhee starts.
“Don’t,” Daniel says, just as quickly. He feels his headache intensifying and briefly contemplates the plausibility of retiring to a life of isolation in the mountains. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
And there isn't.
Or, well, he doesn't think there is. He'd prefer if there weren't, maybe. It’s hard enough managing balance after a night he can hardly remember. Daniel doesn’t have the strength or the mental capacity to contemplate the divine consequences of making out with your best friend.
“So everyone lives in this house?” Seonho interrupts, much to Daniel’s relief. “I mean, Jisungie-hyung said he was a grad student and then Jonghyunnie-hyung said you guys use your place for Korean Student Association? It looks kind of small from the outside.”
“We’re all in KSA, or were, so we just host the parties and events here when we have to because it’s convenient. A bunch of the girls live together too but our place is bigger so we usually have parties here. There are a lot more people that you’ll probably end up meeting eventually—more people your age, too, if you stick around.” He takes a swig of water. “I think Jonghyun’s the only one that uses a room alone? Everyone else shares with one other person.”
“Then that’s five rooms?”
“Four and a half. Jonghyun uses an office space.”
Gunhee fidgets noticeably.
The silence persists.
“So,” Seonho begins again, and Daniel half-expects another innocent question about the architecture of the house, though he’s half-unsurprised when he doesn’t get one. “You and Sungwoo-hyung aren’t dating?”
There are a lot of things that could be said about Daniel’s relationship with Sungwoo, and none of those things are even vaguely synonymous with romanticc.
That’s normal. It’s normal not to have feelings for your best friend, and though Daniel is humble enough to admit his youth and lack of wisdom, he is almost ninety-nine percent positive that this much, at the very least, is normal and true.
He’s sure there have been times where their relationship could have easily been misconstrued. It comes with being close enough with someone to know them better than you know yourself. The teasing has always been harmless, mere jokes about never finding a girlfriend or a boyfriend because you only need Sungwoo.
In the past, he’d never really felt compelled to correct anyone. Because, well, maybe—in the most innocent of ways—it was the truth.
Rationally, they should talk about it. And somewhere, deep down, Daniel knows this. But he doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to breathe life into the elephant in the room.
He doesn’t feel compelled to put a wedge anywhere between himself and Sungwoo. They’ve come too far for the awkwardness, the tiptoeing on glass that teen shows always show after embarrassing hook-ups with people too close for comfort. Too many years together have culminated in a steadfast stubbornness; Daniel’s too proud of their relationship to let even the most unspeakable things damper it.
It’d be the smart thing to talk it out, maybe smooth over any edges that Sungwoo might be hiding beneath the jokes he cracked about being irresistible to all people of varying levels of sobriety just hours ago. But it almost feels risky and Daniel loves adrenaline rushes but not when it comes to people who count.
So, he spends the half-hour following Gunhee and Seonho’s departure lying on his bed, reasoning with himself. He spends half an hour alone, writing out an invisible ‘List of Reasons Why Someone Might Feasibly Make Out with Someone Important to Them While Drunk’ list on the ceiling.
It’s off to a pretty great start if he has to say so himself. Three entire reasons, thus far, and none of them are mere variations of ‘because u were fucking drunk u idiot.’
Three is a solid number for thirty hungover minutes. A reason per ten minutes. In the next week, he’s sure to break one-hundred.
He drops his arm back down to his side. A sigh slips past his lips in spite of himself.
“You’re wearing that face you make when finance doesn’t make sense.”
Daniel sits up (a little too quickly—the head rush is still killer), gaze flickering from the door to Sungwoo’s freshly-showered figure. He’s running a towel through his hair, faint grin on his lips as he plops down on his own bed across the room.
“God, I’m tired. Last night, while you were drunk out of your mind, Jaehwan Skype-called Sewoon and spent fifteen minutes trying to tell him ‘I miss you’ but ended up saying ‘wrong number’ instead.”
The foreign feeling of hopelessness dissipates into nothing as soon as Sungwoo’s voice settles in Daniel’s ears.
“Sounds like Jaehwan,” Daniel muses with a laugh. “I don’t think he’s told Sewoon that he loves him yet and they’ve been dating since freshmen year.”
“Love,” Sungwoo begins dramatically, throwing himself across his mattress, “is not a simple thing, young Daniel. Once you grow out of your dyed hair phase and foolish teenage rebellion, you too will taste the ambrosia of humans.”
“What’d you smoke in the shower, dude?”
The indignant look on Sungwoo’s face is teasing as best as he repositions himself, sitting upright. Cross-legged on the bed, a towel draped around his neck and hair still damp from a too-long shower, Sungwoo looks years younger. The faint redness around his eyes and the splotches of pink on his neck and cheeks; Sungwoo looks so soft sometimes and it’s one of the few things Daniel’s still caught off guard by after years of friendship.
“Nothing but the fog of last night’s regrets,” replies Sungwoo with a crooked grin. He leans across his bed to grab at bottles of skincare he’s cemented into his daily routine. “You look less like the entire world is collapsing at your feet so I’m assuming your hangover’s gone?”
“Sort of.” Conversation slows to a halt and Daniel fiddles with the frayed edge of his t-shirt. He’s been grappling with what to do (whether to be responsible or be self-indulgent) ever since Sungwoo came into the room. His lips move automatically. “So, uh, about last night—”
“Say no more,” Sungwoo interrupts. “I mean, shit happens when you’re drunk and I’ve been told that my face is the type to bring out every human’s innermost carnal desire. It’s not your fault, Daniel; it’s your mortality. It’s your humanity.”
Daniel hurls a pillow across the room to hide the laugh threatening to slip past his lips. "Shut up, dude."
“My parents and I are probably going to set up a hotline or something soon so people can call and air their complaints about how beautiful I am. You can call if you want to leave sonnets anonymously, too. For the record, I am most flattered when people compare me to Adonis—”
“You’re ridiculous.” There’s a smile on Daniel’s face now as he catches the pillow Sungwoo tosses back.
“Don’t be so foolish, Daniel. The word you’re looking for is breathtaking.” As though on cue, Sungwoo dramatically sprays himself with face mist. “Anyway, don’t worry about it. Shit happens, and sometimes the shit is kind of weird and unexpected but, uh, I don’t know. Whatever. Sometimes you’re just such good friends with someone that you just like, you just have to make out with them drunk at least once or the friendship is null and void in twenty years. Like, if not this, what the fuck else am I supposed to talk about at your wedding to make clear to your future spouse that I will always be number one in your heart?”
“Alright, alright, I get it.” The relief Daniel’s feeling is something he can’t quite put into words or mere expression alone. He’s just grateful. He’s always been the type to need to clear the air before moving on and Sungwoo beating him to damage control saves him the anxiety of bumbling around the right words to say. There’s no easy way to say ‘sorry I apparently made out with you even though you’ve seen me cry over crushes before’ after all. “I just wanted to make sure nothing was weird between us. I mean, I don’t really… I don’t really remember what happened or anything, but I don’t want to stir up any misunderstandings.”
“You sound like you’re trying to cover up the fact that you’re actually harboring deeply suppressed feelings for me or something.” Sungwoo gasps, presses a hand to his chest in mock shock. “Could it be? You’re… in love with me? Daniel, say it isn’t so! I just… I can’t accept. I can’t date a guy that still asks for Happy Meal toys when it’s robot season…”
“Shut up,” Daniel drawls out, the smile on his lips growing wider as Sungwoo continues with his dramatics. “You know we’d be terrible together. I’d drive you crazy.”
“Ugh, Daniel. You know nothing of the delicate intricacies of love,” Sungwoo nearly sings, falling onto his back with gusto. “True love is Jung Sewoon staying with Kim Jaehwan even though Jaehwan replied to Sewoon’s confession with ‘Oh, thanks. Did you get a haircut?’ True love is the fact that Taewoong stops playing StarCraft when Jisungie-hyung wants to eat—that’s, that’s the truest love there is. That Choi Taewoong cooks fried rice at two in the morning for Jisungie-hyung is amazingly true. Almost as true as Hwanwoong putting up with the fact that no one, not even Gunhee, knows for sure if he and Gunhee are actually dating or if it’s just parasitism, much like the common tapeworm. True love is symbiosis and StarCraft and drunkenly making out with your—”
With a sigh, Daniel falls onto his back too, closing his eyes and letting Sungwoo go on and on. Saturdays are meant for recovery and rehabilitation and if listening to his best friend and roommate talk about shit neither of them know absolutely anything about falls under recovery, then Daniel has no room to complain. He has no room to think about the mess of a house they still have to clean. He has no room to even think about the assignment he hasn’t touched for—
“Wow. Here I am, pouring my heart out to you in a way that even Shakespeare’s plagiarizing ass would shed a tear for—”
“Sungwoo, did you do the problem set for corporate yet?”
The Lecture on True Love™ comes to an abrupt stop. Sungwoo jolts up as though the world’s worst epiphany has fallen upon him like a landslide.
“Dude,” Daniel groans out, dragging a hand down his face miserably. Corporate Finance problem sets, born directly from Satan’s asshole, are not only tediously difficult, but mind-numbingly time-consuming.
“Fuck,” says Sungwoo, hollowly. He’s staring at the wall opposite him with an emptiness in his eyes. “I’ve never known peace in my life.”
Saturdays are for bridges crossed and midnight oil burned.
Life goes on.
“You know, hyung,” begins Seonho, staring seriously at Daniel over a mountain of food, “I think people are really hard to understand but it’s the hardest to get a grasp on ourselves. What do you think?”
“Uh,” Daniel says eloquently, “are you sure you can eat all of that?”
It’s an odd hour to be sitting in the cafeteria and it shows. There are just barely twenty people total within their vicinity and Daniel can’t remember the last time he’s seen the place so quiet.
He’d managed to bump into Seonho after parting ways with Sungwoo after his last class and had willingly allowed himself to get roped into spending time with the younger boy. So far, it’s been an agreeable time. Seonho’s a bit strange, but Daniel thinks he might be a little fond of him.
Seonho takes a dainty bite out of a slice of pizza. “I just, when you really think about it, your mind just tends to repress a bunch of things and curse those things to denial when in reality, everyone else in the world can see the truth. Why is that? How are we, as people, so capable of lying to ourselves that we literally can’t see something as bright as day when it’s inside of us?”
“I.” Daniel stammers, “Yeah.”
This time, Seonho takes a more ambitious approach and manages to put the entire slice into his mouth at once. “Emotions are really strange,” he says, words muffled. He swallows, and it’s admittedly impressive and terrifying at the same time. “Have you ever had that ‘ahaaaaa’ moment where you realize you’ve been feeling something all along but you just didn’t know until it hit you in the face really hard?”
He reaches for his second slice.
“Please don’t choke,” Daniel says, potentially in vain.
“Anyway, I thought you could relate,” explains Seonho, leveling his gaze to lock eyes with Daniel conspiratorially. “To be totally honest, hyung, there’s someone I really like here that I used to go to high school with and it wasn’t until I actually saw them at the Student Union Building that it hit me in the face.”
Daniel blinks and swears that half of Seonho’s plate has been magically wiped clean.
“Gunhee-hyung mentioned that you would be a good person to talk to about denial and repressed emotions,” Seonho continues, gnawing on the tip of his straw idly. “He said you were an expert.”
“Yeah. He said, ‘if anyone can commiserate with you, it’s Daniel-hyung!’ So, I thought it was fate that I ran into you today! It’s like the world really does want me to clear the fog and move forward with my life.”
“Anyway, I’m going to get more food but you don’t have to stick around if you’re done eating. Thanks for letting me talk to you, hyung. I feel better already.”
Seonho gets up from his seat with a somehow-totally-emptied plate and leaves the table before Daniel has the opportunity to repeat his unanswered question a third time.
He’s genuinely unsure of what happened and what sort of nonsense Gunhee is funneling into young, impressionable, freshmen minds but he has the strongest feeling that trying to get a coherent and rational explanation out of Seonho is just as fruitless as trying to get one out of Gunhee.
By the time Seonho returns, this time with two generously loaded plates, Daniel has only barely snapped out of his trance.
“You’re still here, hyung?” Seonho inquires good-naturedly. “They have fresh brownies. I got a plate if you want one.”
“So, what exactly did you mean by denial and repressed emotions?”
“Oh.” Wordlessly, Seonho takes a seat and picks up what Daniel thinks might be his sixth slice of pizza alone. “Well, it’d be better to ask Gunhee-hyung but I think he was probably talking about how you have the tendency to put other people first to the point that you inadvertently end up being kind of selfish.”
Daniel pauses. His head is aching. He reaches for a brownie.
“Okay,” he says, “and what does that mean?”
Seonho stacks three slices of pizza on top of each other elegantly. “Maybe that you try so hard to keep everyone’s best interests in mind that you don’t really give them room to tell you what their best interests actually are.”
“And Gunhee said this?”
“Huh?” Seonho blinks. “No, this is what I think. Gunhee-hyung just said that you’re dense.”
It's quiet, save for the sound of Seonho taking a bite of his creation.
“You think you know me this well when we’ve only known each other for a few days?” Daniel asks, and his tone is far from malicious. There’s a defeated smile on his lips, almost amused.
Seonho slides the plate of brownies closer to Daniel encouragingly, an oddly knowing smile on his face. It’s almost like a consolation prize, and Daniel feels the sentiment tenfold when Seonho says, “You’re kind of easy to read, hyung. I think you’re complicating things for yourself.”
He takes a bite of his brownie and wonders why he can’t bring himself to disagree.
Life is supposed to go on but it skids to a halt and gets stuck at a red light.
Sungwoo, despite their productive conversation on Saturday, has been acting weird.
Over the years, Daniel has come to know that Sungwoo is avoidant. He’s a mood-maker; this much, everyone in the house, anyone who’s ever known Sungwoo, can acknowledge. There aren’t a lot of people in the world that can dissipate a tense atmosphere without breaking a sweat and the lighthearted, head-on approach Sungwoo takes with himself and with people who need it is something he’s known for.
That being said, Sungwoo’s reputation is skin-deep, and Daniel knows best that when it comes to matters more demanding of emotional exertion, Sungwoo does what any well-meaning person might do.
He swallows whatever it is that’s on his mind; buries it deep, deep, deep inside him; and avoids the problem in its entirety with all his strength.
In this case, the problem apparently just so happens to involve Daniel.
It’s been a couple of days now of barely seeing each other despite living in the same room. He’s tried waiting it out, tried staying up to catch Sungwoo when he comes home but the efforts Sungwoo is putting toward leaving before Daniel wakes up and coming home after Daniel falls asleep are nothing short of extraordinary.
The fact that Sungwoo is avoiding him is obvious. The fact that Sungwoo is probably doing this with good intentions is there too—if only because Daniel knows Sungwoo wouldn’t pull this sort of shit maliciously.
But it still stings knowing that they’re worlds apart for some reason when they’ve never existed outside of the same plane for as long as Daniel can remember.
It’s only when Daniel gives up on trying to stay awake that he finally manages to run into Sungwoo. At three in the morning, he wakes with a dry throat and a headache. The bed across from his is still empty and he tries not to let himself think too much of it as he shuffles down the stairs and into the kitchen for a glass of water.
The light’s on already and he’s half-prepared to ask Taewoong if he’s playing Overwatch again when he manages to lock eyes with none other than Sungwoo instead.
“Holy shit,” Sungwoo gasps out, nearly dropping the sandwich he’d been holding in his mouth onto the floor after making his omission. He catches it, thankfully, and lets out a sharp breath. “Jesus Christ, dude. You scared the crap out of me.”
Daniel’s still groggy and a part of this entire situation almost feels too good to be true. He rubs his eyes and lets out a tiny smile despite himself. “What’s up?” he asks, voice rawer than expected. He might be coming down with a cold, or it might be the irregular sleep he’s been getting the past few days.
“Eating a good sandwich,” comes Sungwoo’s easy reply. It feels like nothing’s changed between them but there’s an invisible wall standing tall in the center of the kitchen that Daniel just can’t ignore. And he knows Sungwoo can see it too. “Why are you up so late?”
“Waiting for you,” Daniel says, and he means it as a joke but it comes out too genuinely, too seriously. He backpedals in an attempt to amend his statement, half-expects Sungwoo to crack a joke to ease them away from this particular direction of the conversation.
Sungwoo is quiet. Contemplative.
“Think I might be coming down with something,” Daniel explains instead, reaching into the refrigerator for a bottle of water. “You getting enough sleep these days? I feel like I haven’t seen you in your bed in days.”
“Uh, yeah, sort of. Been working my ass off on five-thousand assignments but my schedule’s finally calming down,” replies Sungwoo. He falls quiet again and after some deliberation, says, “Sorry.”
The smile on Daniel’s face is automatic, too easy. “What are you apologizing for?”
“For worrying you.” Sungwoo shoots a glance at Daniel, one cheek bulging from an un-swallowed bite of sandwich. “You’ve probably noticed, right? That I’ve been avoiding being around? I thought it’d be easier to clear my head this way but it didn’t really hit me that you must be feeling like you did something wrong until tonight. My bad.”
Daniel takes a seat at the kitchen table and Sungwoo follows suit. He thinks to say something but there’s nothing for him to say.
“I know I acted like what happened at that party was nothing but to be totally honest, I don’t know why, but my mind kind of did a one-eighty and, uh, well, I guess I couldn’t figure out how to act around you.” Sungwoo looks genuinely apologetic as he rubs the corners of his eyes. The bruises beneath them are darker than they were a week ago. “Something weird happened, you know? Not anyone’s fault, but it happened, and as nice as it would be to be able to pretend that it didn’t happen—”
“It’s hard to ignore it.”
Sungwoo chuckles hollowly. “Yeah.” There’s a weak smile on his lips as he leans back in his seat. “Didn’t mean to bring you down with me, though. I convinced myself that I just needed a little breathing room to figure things out but it took longer than expected and I guess I hurt you in the process, so I really am the worst.”
“Shut up,” Daniel says with a good-natured roll of his eyes. “It’s fine. I get it. It’s a lot to process and it’s my bad for pressuring you to just pretend it didn’t happen. It’s pretty weird being told what we did without having any actual recollection of it and it’s even weirder to be able to just move past that without a second thought.”
For a fleeting second, Sungwoo’s expression almost looks pained. Before Daniel can say anything, however, it eases into neutrality.
“Man, we have to have a real fight someday. It’s too good to be true if we just end up having apology-fights where we try to out-sorry each other,” Sungwoo sighs out. “It doesn’t have to be a fist fight, but I want a legitimate argument like—like Jisung-hyung when Taewoong forgets to separate the reds from the whites legitimate.”
The laugh Daniel lets out feels fuller. He isn’t sure where they’ll go from here but he feels better already just sitting across from Sungwoo again.
He supposes he didn't put much thought into the entire ordeal, didn’t consider that it might be harder for Sungwoo to pay no attention to it than it was for Daniel. A part of him is relieved that it’s nothing major, that Sungwoo isn’t avoiding him for something that can’t be fixed or improved upon.
"I'm sorry.” Sungwoo looks tired as he apologizes despite the ever-present smile on his lips. “Genuinely. Didn’t mean to worry you.”
The apology isn’t something Daniel wants to acknowledge. “If you need space, I can give you that,” he says instead. “Just, you know, don’t feel like you have to avoid sleeping in your bed because you think I’ll smother you or anything. That way we both win, sort of.”
A few seconds pass and Sungwoo looks pensive as he extends a hand. “That sounds like a deal, Mister Kang. It was a pleasure doing business with you and Rap Star LLC.”
Daniel swats the hand away with another laugh.
"I have a problem," Gunhee announces one dreary Tuesday afternoon. He’s frazzled, dazed, and holding his backpack to his chest for dear life, and it’s the first time Daniel’s seen him looking so pitiful.
“That sounds like an understatement,” comments Taewoong.
Gunhee ignores him gracefully and flings himself into a chair exaggeratedly. “I have a problem,” he repeats, with feeling.
“We have a solution,” Daniel offers. And then, after a moment: “Or the closest thing you’ll get to one in the next fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes might be cutting it close, honestly.”
Much more sympathetic to the emotionally demanding matters of his housemates, Jonghyun offers an encouraging smile. “What’s up, Gunhee?”
Evidently pleased by receiving positive attention from at least one (1) person, Gunhee proceeds with excess dramatics. He sighs. Loudly. And folds his arms atop the table, resting his cheek on his forearm and wearing the biggest pout that Daniel has seen in quite some time.
“Yeah,” Daniel says hollowly, “we’re listening.”
Gunhee sighs loudly. “I’m not sure if Hwanwoong and I are ‘dating’ or if we’re just really good friends that sometimes go on dates and also know each other’s deepest darkest secrets?”
Taewoong’s chair screeches as he pushes his seat back and gets up, laptop nestled in his arms. “I’m tapping out,” he explains when Daniel gives him a raised brow. “This is the fourth ‘are Hwanwoong and I dating?’ crisis that Gunhee has indirectly approached me with in the past two months alone and I’ve hit my quota for the year.”
“You’re heartless,” Gunnhee sniffs.
“It’s okay,” says Jonghyun, reaching out to lightly pat Gunhee’s head. “Daniel and I can handle it.”
Daniel averts his gaze and, when jabbed unforgivingly in the side by Jonghyun, proceeds to offer a wide smile. “Yeah,” he says unconvincingly. He clears his throat when Jonghyun gives him a pointed look. “I mean, yeah!”
Despite usually talking a mile a minute, Gunhee is uncharacteristically silent for a few moments. He proceeds to bury his face into his arms, letting out a muffled exhale before lifting his head wearily.
“Okay,” he begins, “I just, I just am kind of uncertain about how you know if you really genuinely like someone in a way that transcends ‘friendship’?” The real distress evident in Gunhee’s expression is almost jarring. “I—I don’t know, like, do I have to want to die for them? Take a bullet for them? Put my hand on the blade for them? Catch a grenade for them?”
“Alright, Bruno Mars.” Jonghyun places a hand on Gunhee’s arm as though to coax him out of his panic and maybe simultaneously stop him from breaking out into song. “One, I don’t know why you’re speaking vaguely when you’ve already told us this is about Hwanwoong and two, I thought the both of you were okay with sort of… traipsing the line between friends and lovers casually until graduation? Or was that Taewoong and Jisung-hyung?”
“No, it was us,” Gunhee confirms. “Taewoong-hyung and Jisungie-hyung are legitimately dating.”
“So, what exactly changed that agreement?” asks Daniel. “Did Hwanwoong say something?”
Gunhee sighs again. “He said a lot of things.”
The first three years of undergrad were filled with a handful, a plethora, of blossoming relationships. Daniel still remembers the day that Taewoong and Jisung came to be a unit, fondly recalls the exact moment in which Jaehwan had a mental breakdown upon realizing he really, seriously liked Sewoon.
Of all the relationships however, both anticipated and unanticipated, Gunhee and Hwanwoong’s is definitively the oddest.
It might be because of the lack of definition. It’s been two years for them—maybe longer, considering they went to high school together—and still, no one in the house is positive if what they’re doing can be called a relationship or coexistence. Daniel’s never bothered asking more than once and the one time he did, he’d hardly gotten an answer; Hwanwoong had just shrugged his shoulders sheepishly and said nothing.
He thinks he might understand any frustration Hwanwoong might have. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to see that Hwanwoong is the type of person that wants some more security, some more affirmation than Gunhee’s been able to offer. It’s only natural to want something to be ‘for certain’ rather than ‘for now.’
He thinks he might understand Gunhee too. There isn’t an evil bone in Gunhee’s body despite his sharp tongue and tendency to be exceptionally blunt. Daniel knows for a fact that any hurt he’s causing is unintentional and that Gunhee, despite his exterior, cares more for Hwanwoong than anyone else is even close to capable of.
“I mean, it was kind of understandable, kind of fair. I’ve been thinking over what he said for hours. It was just, I don’t know. It was just unexpected.” Tiredly, Gunhee rubs his eyes with the heels of his palms. “We were hanging out at the library and then he had class so I said I’d walk with him and then somewhere along the way he was like, ‘maybe we should stop doing what we’re doing.’ And I didn’t know what he was talking about so I asked him, and he just said, ‘I don’t think either of us should be wasting time on pretend relationships.’”
“Ah,” Jonghyun and Daniel say in unison.
“I get it. We’ve been doing this weird, vague, tango for two years now! Almost three! Maybe more if we’re counting high school! But I… I don’t know. I kept asking him things like ‘why,’ and ‘when did this start bothering you,’ and ‘how can I fix this,’ and it was honestly so pathetic of me. I must have seemed beyond desperate.”
Jonghyun gently rubs circles against Gunhee’s shoulder. “I’m sure he didn’t think that.”
“He’s probably seen worse if he’s been with you since high school,” Daniel teases lightheartedly.
Gunhee throws on a look of feigned annoyance before continuing. “He basically said that he wants a relationship and that if I can’t give him that, then it’s better if we go our separate ways. And I mean, I didn’t know what to say! I just kind of stared at him and was like, ‘oh.’ Then he left because of his class and I wandered around in this shitty weather like a kicked puppy contemplating complex things like love and my futile existence.”
No one says anything for a little while. Gunhee starts to sniffle and Jonghyun pats his back.
Daniel drums his fingers against the tabletop impatiently. “So,” he says again, “do you like him or not?”
Almost immediately, Gunhee straightens his back and manages to look thoroughly affronted despite being near-tears ten seconds ago.
“It’s not that easy!” he huffs. “How am I supposed to know if I like him or not? I mean, I’ve never been in a real relationship. I’ve never had a real crush except on like, I don’t know, Beyoncé? And there’s no special checklist for situations like this that’ll tell me if I’m in love or not!”
Daniel drums his fingers against the tabletop again and clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth a few times for good measure. “Actually,” he begins, “it is that easy. You’re just overcomplicating it—which is fair considering this blindsided you. But, uh, I mean. Do you like him?”
“I don’t know!” Gunhee wails. “Do I like him like I like you guys? Sure! Do I like him like I like my mom? Probably not! Do I want to spend the rest of my life right him? I mean, it wouldn’t be terrible. Do I want him to take back everything he said about breaking up? Um, yeah? Do I want him to see other people? Of course not! Do I want to see other people? My God, could you fucking imagine? I’m at that point where if I don’t see Hwanwoong for like, six hours, I feel a weird tight feeling in my chest that I think might be loneliness and maybe an allergic reaction.”
Gunhee, at this point, is clutching his head in his hands and rambling loudly. As politely as possible, Daniel clears his throat.
“Has anyone seen me with Yeo Hwanwoong for more than a day? That’s weird. That’s so strange. The concept of a life where I can’t casually hold Hwanwoong’s hand or pretend to be sulking about stupid stuff so he’s extra cute is—oh.”
There’s a smile on Daniel’s face. “Yeah,” he says. “It kind of comes down to the simpler things. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You already sort of figured it out for yourself just now, but I mean, you really just have to ask yourself: where do I want to be in their life? And for you, you want to be by Hwanwoong’s side. Hwanwoong wants to be by your side. Maybe for someone else, it could be as simple as being their friend but you know better than anyone that for you and Hwanwoong, it’s more than just that.”
“Oh my God,” Gunhee whispers.
“You and Hwanwoong have a lot to talk about when he comes home, huh?” Jonghyun asks with a smile. “I’m glad you figured things out, Gunhee.”
“Oh my God,” echoes Gunhee. “I mean, yes, I’m thrilled that I can legitimately say that I like Hwanwoong but I’m more than horrified and mortified that it was Daniel-hyung that guided me to my epiphany? Like, what romantic experience does Daniel-hyung have that doesn’t involve his crush on Sungwoo-hyung?”
Daniel, in the middle of a victory sip of his aloe juice, nearly chokes. “What,” he sputters.
“What,” Gunhee spits back. “Why are you so surprised.”
“Sungwoo and Daniel aren’t—”
“We’re not involved?” Daniel says, a little too forcefully and with intonation in all of the wrong places. It sounds like a question when he means to be more definitive about it. “Where did that even come from? He’s my best friend, dude.”
Despite Daniel’s flustered state, Gunhee looks entirely bored and unimpressed with the trajectory of the conversation. “Hwanwoong’s my best friend,” he says with a shrug. “I’m not saying that you guys are actually dating or anything. I’m just saying that I always thought if either you or Sungwoo-hyung were to come to like someone anytime soon, it would be… well, each other?”
It almost feels like an injustice to be put in the spotlight like this after very responsibly leading Gunhee to enlightenment. Daniel turns to Jonghyun incredulously. “Are you hearing this?”
The sheepish laugh Jonghyun lets out in response is not promising. “Uh, yeah, but… Sorry, Daniel. I kind of thought the same,” he confesses.
“You guys are both ridiculous,” Daniel emphasizes. “If Sungwoo were here, he’d agree with me. We’re just friends and it’s weird to even think of him that way.”
“Friends that made out,” Gunhee corrects.
“Let it go,” sighs out Daniel. “Let it go. That happened weeks ago and we’re both over it.”
“It’s not a bad thing. You guys are both very solid bachelors and theoretically, two good things don’t make one bad thing,” says Gunhee. “Drunk make-out sessions are the first step. The next step is realizing your feelings, hyung. This could be a beautiful, heartwarming story of friends turned to lovers and you’re squandering the potential by being blind!”
“Friends can make out if they want to.” It sounds wrong, and Daniel quickly moves on to say,“Make fun of me all you want, but don’t say this kind of stuff to Sungwoo. He doesn’t need your teasing on top of his mountain of shit to deal with.”
“Friends can make out if they want to,” Gunhee says mockingly. “Where is your not-boyfriend anyway?”
“Sungwoo is—he’s not my not-boyfriend—”
“So he’s your boyfriend?”
Jonghyun holds a hand up. “Civil conversation please,” he says, as a warning. “No insinuating things about Daniel’s love life.”
Despite the caveat, Gunhee looks victorious. “I feel like if you didn’t actually like him deep down, you’d be all—” In a much lower voice that Daniel thinks is supposed to be a parody of his, Gunhee says, “Hahaha yeah dude, I’d definitely date Sungwoo lol. No homo.”
“’Lol,’” Daniel repeats blankly. “I, you know what? You’re riding the high of your emotions so I’m not going to kill your vibe. My good friend, Sungwoo, went back home for the weekend because it’s his grandma’s birthday. Anything else before I go to my room?”
“Just one thing,” Gunhee says, and Daniel lets out a sigh. The verbal jab Daniel wholeheartedly expects does not, however, hit him like a ton of bricks. Instead, Gunhee clears his throat and averts his gaze purposefully. “Thank you for your help.”
He feels tempted to crack a joke or trap Gunhee in a headlock or something but Daniel’s all too familiar with the vulnerability that comes with moments like these. So, all teasing forgotten, he squeezes Gunhee’s shoulder once and offers a crooked smile. “No problem.”
On the way up to his bedroom, Daniel can’t help but feel pleased with himself and, at the same time, happy for Gunhee.
The tight feeling at the very center of his chest is something he doesn’t even think to acknowledge.
At a little past midnight, Daniel startles himself awake from a lucid dream at his desk very much so common during Sunday ‘I Forgot an Important Assignment Due Tomorrow’ nights. The heaviness in his eyes, in his entire body is something difficult to shake and he forces himself out of his bedroom before he has the opportunity to rest his head atop his pillow.
He manages to stumble down the stairs just in time to meet Sungwoo making his way through the door with a backpack and two giant vinyl tote bags filled with what’s likely to be frozen food, courtesy of Sungwoo’s mother.
“Hey,” Daniel greets groggily, offering a lopsided smile as he rubs his eye. “Need any help?”
For the most part, not much has changed significantly since their last heart-to-heart. Daniel has been trying to be mindful about giving Sungwoo his space and Sungwoo’s been MIA for the most part anyway, juggling an intense workload on top of whatever clubs he’s decided to go all in for this semester. He appreciates the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a rift between them whenever they do have the chance to talk. The only difference between now and before The Debacle™ is that the chance to talk comes much less often.
Sungwoo lifts an arm in greeting. “Nah, I’m getting my workout for the year in with my mom’s two tons of frozen bulgogi, actually.” He grimaces. “Actually, on second thought—”
Wordlessly, Daniel grabs one of the bags with both hands (he knows better than to doubt the prowess of Sungwoo’s mom) and shuffles ahead of Sungwoo into the kitchen. The bag lands with a promising thud onto the kitchen table.
“Appreciate it,” Sungwoo says. “I carried this five steps from my car and felt like my arms were breaking. They might have, actually. They’re too numb to tell.”
“Nothing says ‘I visited home’ like home-cooked foods frozen to lead weight-like perfection.”
Almost immediately, Sungwoo gets to re-organizing everything in the communal freezer. It’s a puzzle, honestly, trying to get even the smallest of groceries to fit, but Sungwoo has become an expert over the past few years.
“I miss freshman year home visits. I was so much cuter then. So much more naïve, innocent. My parents loved me more.” The withering sob Sungwoo chokes out is dry and exaggerated. “Now it’s always like, ‘what about jobs?’ or ‘what about grandchildren?’ or ‘what about the cure to cancer?’ I might look much more mature, and handsome, and rugged, and wise beyond my years, but I’m still a kid at heart, you know? I want my mom to leave carrots out of my food like she used to.”
Daniel stifles a snicker as he hands Sungwoo Tupperware from the bags. “Can’t be helped. The charm of senior year is only ever talking about the terrifying and unavoidable future.”
“Thank you, Daniel. You’ve done so much as my dear friend to comfort me. I feel infinitely better about the terrifying and unavoidable future.” Sungwoo closes the freezer door with a flourish.
As they make their way to the stairwell to go back to their room, they lapse into thoughtless conversation about class, about work, and about the people around them. It’s effortless.
“So, how was home?” Daniel asks, flopping over onto his bed as Sungwoo dumps out the items in his backpack onto his.
“It was okay,” Sungwoo replies. “Spent some time with my parents, saw my cousins, got interrogated by my grandpa about the housing market and what his life was like before the war?”
“Yeah, a good old staple when it comes to family time.” Sungwoo exhales softly, emptying a plastic bag of dirty laundry into the hamper. “My grandma’s Alzheimer’s is getting pretty bad, so that was kind of wild. It was good seeing her though. She kind of faded in and out throughout the weekend and, of course, I had to remind her who I was a few times, but other than that, it was all good.”
The only light on in the room is a tiny, inefficient lamp on the bookshelf of Sungwoo’s desk. It’s dimly lit and dark enough for Daniel to fall asleep if he closed his eyes. This sort of atmosphere almost makes things seem more vulnerable and out in the open. He can only see Sungwoo’s back from where he’s lying down but it looks smaller than it should.
In most cases, he thinks he’s capable enough when it comes to being a reliable shoulder to lean on.
When it comes to Sungwoo, there’s a special sort of burden that he puts on himself to be more than just reliable. He figures it comes with being best friends, with wanting to be there for Sungwoo when no one else can.
“Do you need anything?” Daniel finally manages to ask. He doesn’t move, doesn’t sit up, or reach out as badly as he wants to. There are things he knows about Sungwoo, about Sungwoo’s need for affirmation and simultaneous need for space, that others don’t and he takes those tiny little addendums to heart.
He looks to the ceiling and counts to ten, waiting for a response far off the spectrum of ‘yes’ and ‘no.’
“Does it ever scare you?” Sungwoo doesn’t elaborate. He folds his socks like he hasn’t just thrown out an incredibly vague question and Daniel doesn’t bother asking for clarification. Seconds after, Sungwoo’s hands still. “Like, the idea of forgetting everything. Maybe not everything, but things, and you don’t get to pick and choose what you forget—someone just comes and takes them from you and that’s just it. Does it terrify you? Because it scares me shitless.”
“I don’t think there are a lot of people out there that wouldn’t be scared,” Daniel replies.
Silence lingers comfortably in the room.
“Yeah,” Sungwoo says quietly. “Sometimes, I think it’d be easier to just forget, you know? It’d make it easier to do stupid, reckless, selfish things now if I wasn’t going to remember them later but… I don’t know, dude. When it comes down to it, the idea of not being able to remember the good things and the bad things scares me equally. I know, I know it’s ridiculous that I’m freaking out about this now but I just… So much is happening every single day. We’re graduating this year and I’m like, holy shit? How will I remember all of this?”
Daniel stretches one arm out toward the ceiling and counts the bump he can see in the paint. “You won’t forget the things that count. You never do.”
“I mean, that’s easy to say but who knows? What the fuck will I do when I can’t remember stupid stuff like the day we met or that time Taewoong accidentally confessed to Jisung-hyung?”
The tiniest smile remains on Daniel’s lips as he lets his hand fall back to his chest. “I’ll remind you,” he says without thinking, but he means it with everything he has. “If we stick together—if we stay together, I’ll remind you of all of the things you might forget. I feel like your memory’s actually better than mine though. If anything, it’d probably be the other way around. But I’ll remind you.”
Sungwoo’s shoulders tense. “Wow,” he says. “You are pulling some A+ lines on me, Mister Kang.”
“They’re not lines,” Daniel replies with a laugh. “I mean it. If it scares you, then I’ll make sure it never happens. If you’re this terrified about the future, then I’ll be right there beside you to cheer you on. As cheesy as this all sounds, you’re way too young to be worrying about this now.”
There’s an indecipherable shift in the atmosphere that Daniel notices almost immediately. Sungwoo doesn’t respond right away and there’s no way of reading his expression when his back is to Daniel.
“Are you still scared?”
He gets a shaky laugh in response.
“You’re really something,” Sungwoo says softly, after his laughter has ebbed away into nothing. Where there should be a witty jab, some sarcastic remark, there’s nothing.
They’re both quiet. The rift that didn’t exist before seems to materialize from thin air and Daniel closes his eyes and tries to ignore how tangible distance feels.
Sometimes, he forgets how to act around Sungwoo. It’s never been a conscious thing—has never been something that he had to think about. Words always come naturally around Sungwoo; actions, too.
But in this moment, Daniel feels at a loss.
He's not sure why their dynamic has been so malleable these days. He’s not sure why it’s been so sensitive, so mercurial.
It’s too soon to say things have changed for the worse. It’s much too soon (and maybe it’s wishful thinking) to say that things are irreparable. There’s something deeper at the root of all of this that Daniel has yet to unearth, and he wants to be optimistic that the egg shells they’ve been tiptoeing on aren’t permanent.
“The next few weeks are my personal brand of hell,” announces Sungwoo. His voice is unreadable and when he turns around to lean against his bed, his expression is difficult to discern too. “I’m talking assignments after assignments and maybe once I’m done with all of my work, I’ll make it to my funeral on time.”
Daniel stifles a laugh.
“What I’m saying is, I’m probably not going to be around much. So, before you start to think that I’m avoiding you again, just know that if anything, it’s at least partially because of my crippling work load.”
The crooked smile on Sungwoo’s face is supposed to be reassuring and Daniel mirrors it for the sake of maintaining some semblance of normalcy.
“Make sure to get some sleep,” Daniel says. He relaxes onto his back again, folds his arms beneath his head, and directs his gaze to the ceiling. “And if you need anything, I’m here.”
Sungwoo is quiet again. “Yeah,” he replies unsteadily. And then, with a sort of cheer that sounds gratingly forced, “I know.”
The past few days, weeks, have been nothing short of difficult. It’s been easier than expected not to dwell on the Sungwoo predicament. Daniel’s workload has been particularly brutal—and understandably so, what with midterm examinations steadily approaching.
He chooses to burn the midnight oil on this particular Wednesday night in the library. Not the most ideal of locations, but he isn’t sure if he can handle another night of accidentally being in the right place at the wrong time for another half-meltdown-half-laughing-fit from Jaehwan.
It’s about forty-five minutes into working diligently (calculating the grades he needs to pass his classes with solid Cs) when the cubicle starts feeling too small and the walls of the library begin to close in on him dramatically. He buries his face into his hands and wonders if it’s too late to pray.
God, he begins in earnest.
“Well, well, well,” someone says from behind him, interrupting his half-assed prayer. “You look absolutely miserable.”
Daniel turns around to see two welcome sights: 1.) an iced coffee being extended to him, and 2.) Jisung’s face.
“You just saved my life,” Daniel says in lieu of a greeting, gratefully accepting the much-needed dose of caffeine. “And if anyone looks miserable here, it’s probably you. The dark circles under your eyes are no joke, hyung. I haven’t seen you in a week. Have you just been living here?”
Jisung doesn’t say anything. His expression—dry, unamused, and incredibly dignified for someone who probably has literally been sleeping in the library for a week—speaks for itself. Wordlessly, he leans against the edge of Daniel’s cubicle, hands jammed into the pockets of his zip-up.
“I need a smoke,” Jisung announces instead of acknowledging anything Daniel’s said. Before Daniel has the chance to point out that Jisung has never smoked a cigarette in his life or willingly gone near one without catapulting into a lecture about second-hand smoke, he says, “And by smoke, I mean I need to set myself on fire in the most efficient way possible! Doesn’t that sound like fun, my sweet Niellie? Want to help?”
Without any prompting, Daniel gathers his meager belongings and tosses them into his backpack. He stands up.
“Let’s head back. I think you need some sleep. Did you bike here today?”
“Nope! Actually, I woke up late this morning after staying up contemplating the fragility of human relationship so I had to take a Lyft. My driver’s name was Todd. He was very kind and offered me about thirty mints to get me to stop talking. Thanks for asking.”
Daniel offers a grin. It’s genuinely been a while since he’s last talked to Jisung for longer than the ten minutes they occasionally spend together outside of the bathroom door every Monday while waiting for Gunhee to finish his solo shower performance. These circumstances probably aren’t the greatest but Daniel can’t help but feel his mood lift just from seeing a familiar, comfortable face.
As they start to exit the library he ventures to ask, “So what’s going on?”
The sigh he gets in response is long and dramatic and far from promising. Jisung doesn’t seem interested in talking much or at all about his current concerns, a relative shock at first glance—but Daniel knows better than to tease him for it.
“Not really feeling ‘Therapy with Daniel the Friendly Samoyed’ right now so talk to me about your life. I’ve heard some really promising spoilers from Gunhee that it’s in shambles, which is comforting. I love it when I can commiserate.”
“Gunhee thinks the entire world is in shambles,” grunts Daniel.
“Gunhee’s not wrong,” Jisung shoots back. “The entire world is quite literally falling apart. Our President is a rapidly expiring orange and we, as humanity, are killing polar bears. Nothing could be worse.”
“And you’re sure you’re okay,” Daniel clarifies.
Jisung sighs again, sullenly sinking deeper into the hood of his jacket. “I ran into Sungwoo earlier today,” he says, maneuvering the direction of the conversation away from himself expertly. “He said he was going to crash at Woojin’s because it’s closer to campus?”
Daniel blinks, braces himself for a late-night breeze as the library doors close behind them. “Yeah? He said he was going to be busy for a while so I guess that makes sense.”
“I mean, of course. It would make sense if Woojin actually lived closer to campus but there’s no difference in distance compared to our place. Kind of shady, no?” Jisung looks affronted, as he often does. “I just thought I’d bring it up since it seems like there’s trouble in paradise and I was wondering if whatever happened between you guys was a contributing factor in my dear second son, Ong, running away from home.”
This isn’t something Daniel wants to dwell upon or try to pick apart, but he’s known Jisung longer than he’s known his closest friends, like Jaehwan and even Sungwoo. He figures if he had to talk to anyone, it’d be Jisung.
“I don’t know.” The wind whistles encouragingly. Or dejectedly. “I mean, I wish I knew, but, uh, I think something just changed? The dynamic just shifted really suddenly and without warning and I’m not sure how to fix it. We’ve ‘talked’ about it twice now and both times I thought things were okay. But then they ended up being… not okay. Which you’ve noticed.”
“Everyone’s noticed, actually,” corrects Jisung with a roll of his eyes. “Kind of hard not to when two people who are normally stuck to each other like Taewoong to McCree’s dick start tiptoeing around each other.”
“Not sure how to feel about that comparison,” Daniel murmurs. He continues, “Anyway, if I knew what to apologize for I’d apologize. You know that.”
“Yes, yes. I do know that.”
“But I don’t know. So, I can’t. And at this point, it kind of feels like me being around is making it hard for Sungwoo so naturally—”
“You’re trying your best not to be around.” Jisung doesn’t even offer Daniel a cursory glance. His gaze is set forward as they meander the sidewalk. “Of coooouuurse. It’s sooooo typical that you’re not cutting yourself any slack. Daniel, you’re a good guy. God, do I want to kill you sometimes? Absolutely! But you’re a great guy! I shouldn’t have to tell you that you’re a good guy. Sometimes, though, you’re so dense it’s killer.”
“Thanks, hyung. I’m just going to focus on the nice things you said.”
Jisung kicks at a pebble on the pavement. It stutters forward and then sits in Daniel’s path. Daniel steps over it.
“Obviously, you’re not happy with the way things are,” Jisung comments. “I mean, who would be? I’d be absolutely miserable and unlike good people who keep that to themselves, I’d probably grab a megaphone and climb to the top of the engineering building to announce to everyone my worries.”
The sight is easy to imagine in a comedic sense, but Daniel knows that Jisung’s mastered the art of ‘keeping things to himself.’
“Yeah, I mean… who would be?” repeats Daniel. The wistful smile on his lips is bittersweet at best. “He’s my best friend and there are a million things I’d rather lose than him and I could name them in a heartbeat. I mean, am I being a dick? I just keep telling myself to forget about what happened at the party and it works because I don’t even remember it. We were both drunk. What’s there to be so hung up on? Or, I don’t know. What’s there to be so hung up on that he can’t tell me about it?”
They walk in near silence, bursts of quiet interrupted with Jisung’s sporadic humming.
“Wait,” Jisung says suddenly. “You were both drunk, right?”
Daniel frowns. He doesn’t know why this is what Jisung’s choosing to fixate on. “Yeah?” he replies easily.
“I know you were fucked up, Mister ‘I’m going to do shots with every one of my friends even though I’m friends with everyone,’” continues Jisung—mockingly, too, “but Sungwoo said he was too? He’s not really the type to black out, if I recall. A little too responsible, a little too put-together for all of that mess.”
“I mean, he didn’t literally—” Daniel trails off. “He didn’t tell me he was drunk, but I… he probably… was…?”
The hesitation bleeds from Daniel’s voice in excess and he isn’t fond of it.
Evidently, neither is Jisung.
Jisung skids to a stop and turns to look Daniel in the eyes, expression a mix of contemplative and totally unimpressed. The ‘are you fucking kidding me’ is unspoken but clear and intense in Jisung’s eyes. “Daniel.”
There’s a bubble of anxiety growing into a knot at the base of Daniel’s stomach. He’d never really considered whether Sungwoo actually remembered the night of the party. He’d only assumed that it was something reckless and born from extreme inebriation for the both of them. The way Jisung’s looking at him makes him think that it’s likelier than not that the reason why Sungwoo’s been acting so weird has been swept beneath the rug for all of this time.
“Holy shit,” Daniel hisses. “Fuck.”
“You need to talk to him,” Jisung says sternly. “And by ‘talk to him’ I mean literally talk to him. Make him tell you what happened that night instead of you deciding what happened. My God. I almost want to laugh at how ridiculous this all is but I can’t even bring myself to summon up an ounce of joy. Why would he pretend not to remember something like that? What reason could he possibly have?”
The way Jisung's speaking makes it blatantly obvious that he isn't asking a question he doesn't know the answer to, and deep down, Daniel thinks he might know the answer too.
Daniel thinks to reply but he’s a little too miserable staring into space as though someone has literally stolen a chunk of his soul to muster up something substantive to say.
"Fuck," Daniel mutters again, to no one in particular.
“Um, yeah, big mood,” Jisung replies.
The implications of Sungwoo remembering the night are vast and Daniel doesn’t want to consider them.
His mind is complicated. The state of his heart is complicated. It’s not the first time in his life that he’s felt directionless, but it’s the first time that he’s felt at a complete and utter loss for what to do with Sungwoo.
And he hates it. He hates that he’s already wasted two chances to figure things out; he hates that he’s been carelessly going on with his life as though nothing was wrong, blissfully unaware of the giant burden Sungwoo’s been heaving.
The guilt that’s steeping in his blood is something he deserves to carry but it stings and the more he tries to string together words to apologize to someone he’s supposed to know better than he knows himself, the harder it is to breathe.
It’d be nice if he could throw on a smile or act as though his entire body wasn’t being weighed down by something impossibly heavy, but when Sungwoo makes it to the bench Daniel’s been waiting at, all he can offer is a halfhearted wave.
“Whoa, dude,” Sungwoo says after an exaggerated double-take. “Do my eyes deceive me or are you actually getting your ass kicked by school? This is legendary. I feel gratified knowing that you are capable of crumbling.”
Daniel laughs quietly. He sounds deflated and he mentally berates himself for it.
Unsurprisingly, Sungwoo notices immediately. “…Are you okay?” There’s concern on Sungwoo’s face now as he takes the seat beside from Daniel. “Did something happen?”
He doesn’t want this to be dramatic. He doesn’t want this to be serious or painstakingly meticulous or crippling or heartbreaking or anything along those lines. He doesn’t want this to be debilitating and he doesn’t want anyone coming out of this conversation hurt beyond repair.
With much futility, Daniel shakes his head, smiling crookedly as he offers the second drink he’d bought earlier to Sungwoo.
“Nah, just tired,” he says carefully. “How’re you holding up?”
Sungwoo doesn’t look convinced but he doesn’t push it. “Barely, that’s how. My pride has been battered in every physical, mental, and emotional way possible, but somehow, I’m still standing.”
“That’s good to hear,” Daniel replies with a grin. It fades quickly. He straightens up in his seat and wrings his fingers together, tries to form the right words for the right sentences. “So, uh, I actually have something to talk to you about.”
The atmosphere is stiff and unyielding and he wishes he could break it.
“Wow, this mood is killer. Are you proposing to me or something?” Sungwoo pauses, and then grips the armrest beside him. “No, wait. Were you the one that killed my goldfish last year?”
He can tell that Sungwoo is making a colossal effort to make things easier for Daniel and it pains him that Sungwoo is doing this in spite of everything unspoken between them.
“Whatever it is, I won’t hold it against you,” Sungwoo says with a firm nod. “Unless you actually killed my goldfish.”
“You know I wouldn’t,” he says with a muted smile.
“Then you have nothing to worry about,” Sungwoo responds.
Daniel takes a deep breath and places his palms flat on his knees. He exhales softly and then turns to Sungwoo, tries to level his voice as gingerly as possible. “The night of the party a few weeks ago—were you drunk?”
There’s puzzlement on Sungwoo’s face and Daniel doesn’t blame him. The question must seem peculiar coming out of nowhere, but it’s evident Sungwoo understands something because he swiftly throws on a practiced smile. “Wasn’t everyone?”
“That’s not what I’m asking,” Daniel says. “I’m… I’m asking, do you remember?”
“Where is this coming from?”
The fabricated mirth on Sungwoo’s face is gone and there’s a tired hurt that replaces it. It leaves a bitter taste in Daniel’s mouth knowing that he’s almost entirely responsible for it.
The lack of answer is answer enough and Daniel grips the fabric of his pants, swallows the lump in his throat as he eases himself back into speaking. “You do remember,” he says.
Sungwoo looks to the ground and then back to Daniel. “Why are you bringing this up all of a sudden?”
"Why didn't you say anything?" Daniel asks instead of explaining.
Frankly, there’s nothing that he wants to explain. He doesn’t want to start from the beginning—doesn’t want to explain how absolutely fucking brutal it was to come to the realization of how selfish he’d been unintentionally. He doesn’t want to explain anything because he’s scared of how complicated his own feelings are about everything.
Daniel inhales softly, sharply. “I’ve been acting like everything’s okay and you’ve been dealing with this—with this crazy ridiculous burden that you could have shared with me. This is why you’ve been acting so weird, right? I just… To be honest, I don’t get it.” He swallows thickly. “Why would you pretend not to remember? Why did you even let me kiss you in the first place if it was going to make things this hard for you?”
He’d been too optimistic in hoping for some sort of relief after getting the questions off of his chest but the anvil atop his ribcage only sinks lower.
Sungwoo is quiet but he doesn’t tear his gaze away from Daniel’s face. Then, meaningfully, he asks, “Would it make a difference if I told you?” The neutrality he’d been attempting to maintain wears away into a minuscule smile.
“What do you mean?” Daniel’s heart squeezes and he doesn’t know why.
“I mean,” Sungwoo begins slowly, “even if I explained everything to you, what could you possibly do about it?”
“There’s no simple way of telling your best friend that you were too drunk, maybe too happy, to stop yourself but not drunk enough, not capable enough, to pretend it never happened.”
“There’s really no simple way of telling your best friend that you’ve been dealing with this, trying to figure out how to wrap your mind around all of this alone for the past few weeks because there are some things even you’re too scared to say.”
Daniel stills, closes his mouth.
“You’re scared now too, huh?” Sungwoo laughs lightly, slumping against the bench and facing forward resolutely, gaze locked on something in the distance. “The reason why I let you kiss me, the reason why I didn’t say anything, the reason why I pretended not to remember is because I like you.”
The air in his lungs feels stale. Daniel’s mind is blank and overwhelmed at the same time. Suddenly, the distance between their knees seems infinite and nonexistent all at once.
The words at the tip of Daniel’s tongue struggle to come together, stumbling out haplessly as he mumbles an apology he can’t even discern as real or fiction. He leans forward, props his elbows up atop his knees, and folds his hands together, covering the lower half of his face with them. “I… don’t really know how to respond,” he confesses honestly.
“Yeah, that’s what I figured.” Sungwoo replies easily. There’s a lilt to his tone, a sort of bounce that sounds strained. “You get why I didn’t say anything now?”
Truth be told, he isn’t surprised. He’d been half-expecting something along these lines and Daniel has no reason, no excuse for the way his mind is spinning and his heart is racing. Hearing Sungwoo speak life into the words that Daniel had been bracing himself for feels too real, too raw, and he’s drowning in them—maybe deservedly so.
“Sorry,” Daniel says. He drops his hands to his knees again. “You’ve been putting up with a lot because of me.”
“Nah. It’s chill.” The ease that Sungwoo’s emanating is almost convincing. “To be honest, the reason why I’d been avoiding you was because I didn’t want to confess. I thought it’d make things a lot harder than they had to be—not just for me, but for you. I told myself that it was selfish to get closure for myself at the expense of making you feel bad or burdened, so I sucked it up and… uh, sucked it up badly, I guess. But now that I’ve told you, it’ll be a lot easier to get over it and myself. So, I mean, don’t worry. Don’t feel like you have to do anything to compensate and don’t think that you owe me shit because you don’t.”
The unease that Daniel’s still struggling to stomach is something he can’t quite define or pinpoint the meaning of.
He doesn’t know what the exact source of his hesitation, his confusion is, and he doesn’t know why this strange sort of anxiety, fear intensifies with each of Sungwoo’s passing words.
“Just let me know if I can do anything,” Daniel manages to say. “Let me know if I can do anything to help at all.”
“Now I’m sorry,” Sungwoo sighs out. “Went through so many days being awkward and avoidant just to cave under pressure. The will is so weak. Such is humanity.”
In spite of the state of his mind, Daniel cracks a smile. “It’s better that you caved.”
Sungwoo claps a hand over Daniel’s shoulder ceremoniously, beckoning his attention. “Let’s officially move on,” he says. “It’s our last year of undergrad together and we probably don’t have any more time to waste being uncomfortable around each other, yeah? Plus, I don’t really know if I want to give Gunhee enough material to write a melodrama based on our lives, soooo.”
The unease grows again but Daniel laughs over it. “Yeah,” he agrees. “Let’s move on.”
The house is uncharacteristically empty on a Friday night. Nearly everyone except for Daniel has been dragged to the KSA party being held at the girls’ house (his excuse being an assignment he still hasn’t touched). He’s appreciative of the quiet he’s received to mull over his thoughts and he’s half-certain Jisung had something to do with clearing the house out for him.
So, he’s alone and free to consider everything that’s been nagging at the back of his mind.
Or, he would be. Should be. Considering he is… alone.
That is, alone, with the exception of Seonho.
He doesn’t mind too much. Over the course of the past couple of months, he, like everyone else in the house and in their wide circle of friends, has grown to be relatively fond of Seonho. The younger boy has integrated himself well into the community with or without the help of Gunhee and Daniel thinks he has a semi-fond appreciation for his unfiltered honesty.
He should be doing his assignment or sorting out the mess that he’s come to know as his ‘feelings,’ but instead Daniel is spending his Friday night marveling at the two boxes of pizza that has somehow been emptied between the two of them (mostly Seonho).
Daniel ceremoniously plops down on the couch. Seonho is already curled up on one of the edges, the dictionary definition of relaxed despite being in someone else’s home.
“It’s still kind of early if you want to drop by the party,” Daniel says.
Without even budging a centimeter, Seonho voices his dissent with a noise of disagreement. He burrows deeper into the blanket he’s chosen to occupy. “I thought about it but my eyes hurt and Gunhee-hyung says I’m not allowed to go to parties with my glasses on.”
“Gunhee cares a lot about your image, huh?”
“He says ‘upkeep is important’ and ‘don’t squander your youth looking like a loser’ a lot.”
Daniel closes his eyes and genuinely hears Gunhee saying both things. “Yeah,” he says. “Sounds like Gunhee.”
Seonho smiles faintly and stretches his arms above his head, squirming in his seat. “So, hyung,” he begins, once he’s settled himself again, “how are your repressed emotions doing?”
“Uh,” Daniel says. He almost laughs from the accurate absurdity of the question. “I don’t know how to respond to that, to be honest.”
He thinks he’s, at the very least, above telling a kid he’s only just met about the sorry state of his love life.
“It’s okay,” Seonho replies. “I haven’t made very much progress with my predicament either.”
Daniel clears his throat. “No luck with your mystery crush?”
“I haven’t really been trying,” confesses Seonho. “Kind of just coasting? Existing. Coexisting. Sometimes I think I would be 100% okay if we didn’t progress beyond being just, um, friends, I guess.”
It’s hard to believe how deeply Daniel relates.
“But if I really, really think about it, I know I’d be happier if I could actually, like… be with them?” Seonho says. “I’m not in a rush. They don’t know how I feel about them and someday I’ll muster up the nerve to say something but until then, I think I’m content being in their life.”
“You’re pretty mature for your age,” Daniel comments with a wry smile.
“I just follow the examples people set for me,” Seonho replies.
He thinks he’s above telling a kid he’s only just met about the sorry state of his love life but Seonho is… not a kid.
“Hypothetically speaking,” Daniel begins cautiously, “if your crush confessed to you, how would you feel?”
“How would I feel?” Seonho echoes. Without missing a beat, he says, “Really scared.”
Daniel angles himself to get a better glimpse of Seonho’s face. “Really scared?” he clarifies.
“Yeah. I think… before feeling excited or happy or… anything like that, I’d probably be scared? Or, maybe scared isn’t the right word. I think I’d feel a lot—like, a lot—of different things at once that it’d be hard to process everything. Not because I’m not happy or excited but because…”
“When people form ‘crushes,’ sometimes… How should I say this… Not all crushes are created equal?” Seonho scrunches his nose, pensive. “Sometimes, you form a crush on someone because you think they’re good-looking or pretty. Other times, you form a crush on someone because you’re feeling lonely or just want to like someone. I think… if someone that I really, genuinely, seriously liked confessed to me, I’d be overwhelmed. Because in that moment, it’d probably become apparent to me that I like them beyond just their face or my loneliness or anything like that?”
Daniel doesn’t say anything.
“I’d be scared,” Seonho continues, tapping his chin. “Uneasy, even, because what am I supposed to do now that something very real to me is here and asking for my attention?”
Daniel can’t say anything.
“Even if I knew that I liked them, I’d probably want some time to think about it. Who wants to say ‘I like you too’ while their mind’s on the fritz, you know?”
“I,” Daniel stutters, “yeah.”
He’s trying not to overthink it. Trying really really hard not to compare every single very legitimate thing Seonho has said with how he felt, personally, when Sungwoo confessed to him.
The unease that had been clinging to him ever since Sungwoo said that he’d make an effort to ‘get over it’ suddenly feels unbearable and Daniel feels his stomach drop as the realization trickles in that the fine line between ‘best friend’ and ‘more’ is something he’s been shuffling over for too, too long.
“Hyung, are you okay?” Seonho asks.
“Yeah,” Daniel says immediately. He’s not, but there’s no use to making someone worry about something he can barely comprehend for himself. “I’m fine.”
“Do you think it’s weird that sometimes our bodies confuse love with fear?” Snug in a blanket with coke-bottle glasses on, Seonho looks years younger than he usually does—but the words he’s uttering are too, too sharp. “The more I think about it, the weirder it is that I’d feel scared in response to someone I really like telling me that they really like me. I mean, it makes sense in my head why I’d feel that way but why should it make sense? Shouldn’t I be happy?”
Daniel rubs his neck. “I guess… yes. You should be happy. It’s better to be happy than to be scared.”
“Man, you come up with some thought-provoking hypotheticals,” Seonho murmurs listlessly. He opens up the notebook sitting beside him and flips the pages, scribbling something down carefully.
Something demands to be done. The revelation he’s made—the realization that the sting, the pain, the bittersweet guilt that he’s been feeling because of Sungwoo these days has been fluttering between something normal and something beyond Daniel’s grasp hits him like a ton of bricks.
So, he likes Sungwoo.
A part of him feels numb, like this is nothing new. Another part of him doesn’t know how to digest the development.
He likes Sungwoo.
And he has to do something about it.
“I’m writing an observation log about the people in my life,” Seonho announces suddenly, breaking their prolonged silence and cutting through Daniel’s frenetic train of thoughts.
“Yeah?” Daniel asks, grateful for the distraction. “What’ve you written so far?”
“Gunhee-hyung’s feelings get really hurt when people compare him to Olaf from Frozen.”
“That’s true,” says Daniel, and he manages a laugh.
“Jaehwannie-hyung spends three hours each day complaining about how much he misses Sewoon-hyung.”
“You should add a note that he never does anything about it either.”
He’s half-joking but Seonho diligently scribbles it down anyway.
“What do you have written about me?” Daniel asks, finally. He feels the onset of a headache and he’s trying to keep himself tethered to the conversation, to anything but his racing heart.
Seonho flips through the pages carefully and hums when he lands on a page that has DANIEL HYUNG written in baby pink. “Has nice hair. Good hypotheticals. Doesn’t seem to like brownies very much—oh,” he says, tapping his pen against one particular spot on the paper. “Afraid of his own crush on Sungwoo-hyung.”
He decides that he wants to do something about it.
Daniel exerts an immense amount of mental self-control not to define ‘it’ as anything specific or cohesive, out of fear of scaring himself before he can do anything; he only associates ‘it’ with Sungwoo.
There are plenty of people in the house that he can seek advice from, and if anything, he’d like to get as many opinions and as much insight as possible. The only obstacle lies in the fact that none other than Ong Sungwoo himself is loitering in the kitchen eating his third bowl of Fruity Pebbles, eyes glued to the screen of his laptop.
He’s watching an episode of Chopped, potentially his sixth in a row, which is more indicative of the fact that Sungwoo is Not Leaving Home anytime soon than one would expect.
Daniel sits idly in his room after retreating the parameters, considering his limited options.
Trying to convince Sungwoo to leave would be too obvious if he didn’t go with him or have some sort of destination in mind. Trying to talk to multiple people at once or in succession could work but would be highly suspicious and risky and likely to induce a sense of FOMO in Sungwoo that would certainly be a negative consequence. Daniel could leave the house. With everyone but Sungwoo. But, again, suspicion. FOMO. Sungwoo sulking for three days while pretending that he isn’t. Not desired.
It’d be a simple solution to just text whoever he sought advice from but Daniel’s phone has been and remains a barren wasteland of unsaved numbers save for his favorite delivery restaurants, his mom, and Sungwoo.
He sighs, looks to @mamemarukun on Instagram for comfort, and stumbles upon a photo Gunhee’s uploaded of himself and Sejeong posing with their feet on a knocked-out Samuel’s back instead.
The caption reads ‘LEGENDS ONLY.’
Mindlessly, Daniel double-taps the image to ‘like’ it and scrolls idly through the comments—ranging from ‘why does this happen literally @ every party’ from Jinyoung and ‘someone pls tell me he isn’t dead i have to kill him myself 4 ruining my shirt’ from Daehwi.
Woojin leaves a substantive ‘lol’ and for some reason, it’s then that inspiration strikes and Daniel realizes that he can ask the most reliable person in the world (when it comes to these situations with highly specific demands) for help through Instagram direct messages.
He feels ingenious as he messages Instagram user gunheehee with a simple ‘Hey.’
Within seconds, Daniel gets a response.
gunheehee: rly uncomf that u slid into my insta dms?
gunheehee: when we live in the same house?
gunheehee: when u could have txted me?
gunheehee: and not approached me like a prepubescent white boy hitting on ariana grande?
Gunhee’s messages are rapid-fire and each equally sharp. In the time it takes for Daniel to construct and deconstruct one message to try to keep up, Gunhee has already accused him of being a preteen.
kang.danielll: This is not a matter to be spoken of in a full house (1987-1995)
kang.danielll: To be honest I keep forgetting to save your number so insta was the only way
This time, there’s a delay to Gunhee’s reply—an ominous sign.
gunheehee: “forgetting to save your number” IT’S BEEN 3 YRS?
gunheehee: wwo fuck off
gunheehee: im this )( close to blocking u
Daniel grins sheepishly to absolutely no one in particular. There’s a sort of expressiveness to Gunhee’s responses that he thinks is difficult to mirror.
kang.danielll: More importantly I need your help
gunheehee: sry i “forget” who this is i “forgot” 2 save ur existence into my life “sry” who are u again was ur name david? john? mark? luke? apostle paul?? jesus???
gunheehee: jfC 3 tedious yrs of friendship for WHAT
gunheehee: no wonder u and sungwoo hyung haven’t progressed a cm lmao
Sudden alarm courses through Daniel’s veins.
kang.danielll: What do you mean????/.>
gunheehee: A CM. NOT EVENA CM KANG DANIEL THTS LESS THAN AN INCH
kang.danielll: ???????? WHAT??
Gunhee takes another five minutes to reply. Daniel hears him leave his room and sprint down the stairs purposefully.
gunheehee: u beautiful fool
gunheehee: u blind ass bitch
gunheehee: we’re staging an intervention in 5 mins clean ur room and hide ur lip tint collection
In all honesty, Daniel barely has any time to process the series of events that have just occurred in what feels like thirty seconds. He’s about to send another message, has ‘Dude what do you mean’ half-written in the text box, when he hears the indistinct muffled voices of Sungwoo and Gunhee downstairs and the sound of the front door creaking open and slamming shut.
There’s no way in the world that Gunhee could have possibly convinced Sungwoo to abandon his Sunday morning ritual with such ease.
Or, at least, this is what Daniel believes to be true until the door to his bedroom swings open to reveal none other than Lee Gunhee and every single one of their housemates minus Sungwoo.
He looks to the clock. It’s been five minutes.
“I’m your new God,” Gunhee announces.
“Holy shit,” Daniel replies. “How did you get him out of the house?”
Gunhee chooses to seat himself at Sungwoo’s desk, with the others filing in and scattering throughout the room. Even Taewoong, who Daniel could have sworn was devoting the entire weekend to StarCraft, is present.
“Well, we pretended to be planning his birthday surprise. Or like, I very obviously acted like we all needed him out of the house to plan something for him and he was acting all sly and ‘playing along’ and pretending he had to go to the gym when we know Sungwoo-hyung’s ass hasn’t lifted a weight in two years.” Gunhee spins in Sungwoo’s swivel chair. “Speaking of, we’re going to need to plan a birthday surprise for him. We have time—months of time—but I think he’s actually anticipating something more than a cake now.”
“Holy shit,” Daniel repeats.
“We’re all impressed,” says Jonghyun with a nod.
“And scared,” Jisung adds. “Gunhee is really so scary when he wants to hear gossip.”
The smile that Gunhee throws on says he’s more appreciative than not of even Jisung’s comments. “Anyway,” he says, “we have Hwanwoong and Jonghyunnie-hyung here to provide you emotional support and validation. Jisungie-hyung is here because he has nothing better to do and I figured we’d need some comedic effect once you realize that your love life is sadder than Taewoong-hyung when he lost six competitive matches in a row on Overwatch.”
Taewoong makes a strangled noise and looks positively wounded at the re-opening of a tender wound. Jisung rolls his eyes.
“Taewoong-hyung is here because his feelings are hurt after a twelve-year-old on StarCraft insulted his mother so he needs some company. Sewoon is quite literally poised and ready all the way in Seoul to Skype call Sungwoo with a fake emergency if we need more time sorting through your life.” Gunhee looks around, double-checking to make sure he hasn’t missed anyone. “And I’m here because you need someone to slap some sense into you and everyone else is too lazy or too kind to lay a hand on you.”
The only person yet to be identified is Jaehwan, sitting serenely on Sungwoo’s bed with his guitar resting in his lap.
“Okay,” Daniel says, very slowly. “Why is Jaehwan here?”
Immediately, Jaehwan strums his guitar.
“Musical accompaniment,” Gunhee replies solemnly.
Jaehwan begins to sing. “♫ Daniel~ Ohhhhh, Daniel~ Youuuuuuuuu idioooooot, youuuuuu fooooool~ ♪”
“Original musical accompaniment,” amends Gunhee.
"Great.” Daniel clasps his hands together and puts on a tight-lipped smile. He isn’t certain if this is actually going to help him anymore but he figures that it’s best to ask for advice while everyone’s gathered anyway. “Thank you… for. For this. I suppose.”
“I love Daniel as much as everyone else in this room,” Jisung says, “but I have a paper to write so let’s get right to it. What’s on your mind this time, Daniel? What sort of simple issue are you overcomplicating by the sheer force of your goodwill and consideration?”
Jaehwan strums his guitar again. “♫ Idioooot~ ♪”
“What Jisungie-hyung means to say,” Hwanwoong begins to explain, “is we’re ready whenever you are.”
“Been ready,” Gunhee mutters.
The fact that he has an audience makes this entire ordeal seem much more formal than Daniel ever intended it to be. He knows that essentially everyone in the house has at least a vague idea of what’s been going on. He also knows that he’s probably the last one to realize the state of Sungwoo’s feelings and, unsurprisingly, his own.
Talking about it isn’t supposed to be easy but he flounders especially at the idea of speaking life into something he wishes wasn’t the truth.
“Uh,” Daniel says eloquently.
“Incredible progress,” comments Jaehwan.
“Take your time,” says Jonghyun. He has an almost fatherly smile on his lips that Daniel is utterly grateful for, now more than ever.
“Uh,” Daniel repeats. He looks to the ceiling, the floor, and then across the room to Jaehwan, whose expression is unperturbed and at ease. A quick glance to Jonghyun, sitting beside him, and Daniel is met with the same result. Everyone in the room looks almost relieved—and it hits him again, harder than it has before, that his friends have been waiting with bated breath for him to finally open his eyes.
Their gazes linger on Daniel, sometimes jumping to take in other sights of the room as though to lessen the burden on Daniel’s shoulders.
He swallows the lump in his throat and almost laughs at how long it’s taken him to get to this point of self-awareness—how long it’s taken him to flip off the denial switch.
“I,” Daniel attempts, “I think I like Sungwoo.”
No one says anything because they can tell that there’s more waiting to be said.
“Yeah,” murmurs Daniel, affirming himself. “I think I like Sungwoo and… I just… wanted some advice, I guess. Because I like him and I know he has, had—I’m not really sure anymore—feelings for me but…” He trails off and runs a hand through his hair in muted frustration. “But he’s my best friend and I don’t think I could live with myself if I went into this recklessly and fucked things up.”
Again, no one rushes to speak. Jisung is the first to shift, to part his lips, to say, “Well, before anything else, I want you to know that I’m really proud of you.”
“You aren’t really the type to let yourself even get to the point of having doubts, so this is big and we’re all really proud of you,” Jonghyun adds.
Daniel laughs and leans back to rest his head against the wall behind him. “Sorry,” he says with a smile, “I know you were all getting antsy.”
“Whatever,” Jaehwan says with a flippant wave of his hand. “Nothing compares to the antsy-ness that came from the great Taewoong-gate Scandal of ’14.”
Taewoong flops over onto the ground. “We’re here to support Daniel, not remind Jisung-hyung of things to hold against me.”
“I’m just curious,” Hwanwoong chimes in, “but why do you think that you’re going to mess things up? I mean… there’s no way of knowing how any relationship will be, or will end—if it even ends—and there must be a reason why you feel so pessimistic, right?”
The answer to Hwanwoong’s question is difficult to put into words. The anxious feeling, the feeling of despair, the nagging thought at the back of his mind that tells him to prepare for the worst; it’s hard for Daniel to express why exactly he can’t make this decision a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ one.
Anyone else and he’s sure it would have been different. He’s had his fair share of crushes, been in an out of a couple of relationships too. None were prefaced with this brand of extra care and consideration that Daniel is putting into his relationship—present and future—with Sungwoo.
He supposes the easiest explanation is that Sungwoo is his best friend, and he’d be devastated if he did anything that jeopardized having Sungwoo in his life.
“It’s… complicated?” Daniel replies with a halfhearted frown. “I don’t know. I’m kind of bracing myself for the worst because I keep thinking that I can’t go into this confidently until I feel like I can handle the worst if it were to happen.”
“That’s not how a relationship should work,” Taewoong says. He sits up, cross-legged on the floor. There’s an uncharacteristic gravitas in his gaze as he continues. “I get having the jitters and feeling scared or anxious because you’re worried about how a dynamic might change but it’s like Hwanwoong said. You, just like everyone else in this world, has no way of predicting how a relationship will go or end.”
Jisung looks touched.
“Okay, consider it this way,” Taewoong continues, leaning forward solemnly. “When McCree was a part of the Blackwatch—”
The moment is shattered and Jisung reaches over to cover Taewoong’s mouth with his hand.
“Anyone else,” Jisung says. “I need anyone else to take this opportunity to speak right now.”
“I know I’m being ridiculous.” Daniel lets out a shaky sigh. He looks up at the ceiling. “I can’t just stop overthinking this because someone tells me to. If this weren’t about my best friend—if this weren’t about Sungwoo, maybe. But it is and to be honest, a bigger part of me thinks I’d rather have him as my best friend than as anything else.”
Jonghyun bites his lip, looks contemplative as he lifts his gaze from the floor to Daniel. “What you’re worried about is… it makes sense,” he says tentatively, “and I understand that you want some guidance from the people around you. The thing is, I think what’s most important is to sort out how you really feel and figure out what’s really holding you back. I don’t think anything we tell you to or tell you to stop doing is going to help when your mind is already at odds with itself.”
“He’s right,” Jisung says. “You know everyone in this room is going to say the same thing. We’re all going to tell you to stop being little Mister Worry-pants and you’re going to keep worrying.”
“Which is fair,” adds Taewoong, “but to a degree.”
Hwanwoong offers Daniel as encouraging a smile as he can muster. “Sorry we couldn’t be more help, hyung, but if you need anything… you know we’re all here for you.”
The fact that Daniel’s stubbornness is what’s making progress so difficult isn’t a new concept. He’s used to being too headstrong at the wrong times, and he’s used to being overly careful when he needs to be the opposite. The extra hours he’s spent pondering over the same situation, turning it into something bigger and more complex than it initially was—he knows he’s making it harder for himself.
He just can’t help it.
“Thanks, guys,” says Daniel. He’s brandishing a smile despite the fact that he still doesn’t know where to go from here.
“You don’t have to thank us,” Jisung huffs. “We’re not your business partners, we’re your friends and instead of thanking us, you can get your head out of… your head!”
“He means ‘you’re welcome,’” Taewoong chimes in.
Conversation shifts into something less exerting, and eventually, everyone but Jaehwan gets up and begins to exit, ready to return to their regular Sunday programming.
Gunhee, who has been quiet the entire time, slows to a temporary halt by the door.
“Someone wise once told me… that you just have to ask yourself: where do I want to be in their life?” Gunhee says steadily, slowly.
Daniel’s heard these words before and he feels a pang of embarrassment and gratitude being told his own advice.
“Maybe in this case,” continues Gunhee, “you need to ask yourself where they want to be in your life too. And I think you know better than anyone else where that place is.”
The door closes before Daniel can summon up any energy to think of a reasonable response and he’s almost grateful because he doesn’t think he’s capable of one.
He sprawls out on his bed, arms dangling from either side of the mattress.
"Siri,” Daniel says aloud, “how do I get over an embarrassing crush on a friend I'd take a bullet for?"
Jaehwan plucks a few strings of his guitar without missing a beat. "Siri says 'take the bullet.'"
"What about wikiHow?"
"Says ‘grow up’ with an image of fifty middle fingers attached."
“Google can’t help you, Daniel.” From where he’s lying down, he can hear the sound of Jaehwan putting his guitar to the side and the sheets of Sungwoo’s bed rustling. “Or, I don’t know. Depending on your search terms, it might, but the faster alternative would be growing the fuck up.”
“Dude.” Even without seeing Jaehwan’s face, Daniel knows he’s rolling his eyes. “Don’t even try to say you’re kidding. I’ve known you for four years and I know you were two seconds away from pulling out your phone.”
Daniel laughs and Jaehwan eventually follows suit.
They laugh at nothing for a little while, and Daniel almost feels the hectic knot of feelings and thoughts inside him ease into something smaller.
“You know why I didn’t say anything during your impromptu counseling session?” Jaehwan asks.
“Because I don’t have any room to talk.” Jaehwan interjects his words with tiny little snickers before lapsing into a comfortable quiet. “I went into it with a lot to say. You and Sungwoo are two of my closest friends and—honestly, minus Jisung-hyung, I was probably the first to notice something. And I half-expected you to be difficult about this, half-expected Sungwoo to never say anything…”
“Exceeded your expectations, huh?”
“So, you still have the leisure to crack some jokes?”
Daniel covers his eyes with his forearm and stifles a smile.
“I’m just going to talk,” Jaehwan says after some time. “You just listen. Okay?”
“Okay.” There’s a long pause. Jaehwan takes a deep breath. “I really like Sewoon. As you know, I’m not the best boyfriend out there but. But. But, I do like him. A lot. Sometimes, I don’t really understand how we’ve managed to come this far. Every single one of my Skype calls with him since he’s gone abroad has ended in ten minutes and he hasn’t broken up with me or called me insensitive or uncaring or rude. It kind of makes me think this is too good to be true, but Jesus Christ. Just because I think that doesn’t mean I’m going to go ahead and let myself believe it.”
There’s a natural frustration to Jaehwan’s tone every single time he talks about anything vaguely unrelated to music and it’s accentuated now, especially, as he talks about matters of the heart.
"He knows you better than that," says Daniel.
“Yeah, I know. He does. And I think that’s why I have so much faith in him. I, don’t get me wrong. Relationships aren’t supposed to be easy. I mean, yeah, they can be simple, and effortless, and sometimes so nice that they’re too nice, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. A perfect relationship isn’t out there and that’s a good thing, not something to be afraid of.” Jaehwan’s words come out quicker and quicker as he speaks and then he falters. “Figuring things out as you go together—that’s a big part of establishing, I, you know, trust. Trust and… mutual respect… and… uh, and…”
Daniel drops his arm back to his side and turns onto his side, raises a brow. “And?”
“And,” Jaehwan continues, only to taper off once more.
“Love, you idiot.”
The faint tinge of pink dusting Jaehwan’s ears almost makes Daniel laugh. It’s gratifying seeing someone as sturdy as Kim Jaehwan wavering because of something as silly as love.
“Be real. You think I dived into my relationship with Sewoon without my fair share of concerns? You really think we haven’t had any deeper problems departing from the fact that I’m emotionally stunted in every respect of the word? Don’t be stupid. I may stumble around now but it used to be so much worse. The first year we were dating, there wasn’t a week where I didn’t ‘break up’ with him,” confesses Jaehwan. He folds his hands atop his chest, wrings his fingers together. “Why? Because I thought I didn’t deserve him or a semblance of a normal, rewarding relationship; I thought, ‘wow, geez, maybe I need Sewoon as a friend more than I do as a boyfriend.’ I thought, ‘well I’d rather have him as a best friend than lose him as a boyfriend.’ I thought, ‘in what fucking world could this end well?’”
It’s getting late and Daniel can tell they’re both tired—for different reasons. Despite how level Jaehwan’s voice is, there’s a certain urgency, a certain desperation to his words that makes it apparent to Daniel that he hasn’t been worrying sick about himself by himself.
He knows, to be honest. Everyone in the house has been worried in their own way, watching from the sidelines, trying to figure out how to sneak in to lend some guidance. He knows he’s been stubborn too, and maybe unforgivably so, but he’s grateful that in spite of everything there are people who want to see him, want to see Sungwoo, happy.
Jaehwan isn't the type to open up like this, even to his closest friends. It means more than words can say that he’s choosing to now.
“You guys have always seemed pretty casual about your relationship,” Daniel comments with a faint smile. “To think the great Kim Jaehwan was plagued with these thoughts once upon a time.”
“First, fuck you,” Jaehwan says primly. “And second, thank you. I am great.”
Their conversation fades in and out of a sort of quiet that Daniel is familiar with when it comes to Jaehwan.
After a moment, Jaehwan lets out a tiny sigh.
“Listen, if Sewoon came up to me and asked to break up, I wouldn’t say no,” admits Jaehwan. “Not because I don’t… Not because I don’t love him, but because three years has taught me how annoyingly possible it is to want the absolute best for someone—even more so than I did before. Do I worry about what could happen if we broke up? Whether it’d be on good terms? Bad terms? Yeah, of course. I used to worry about that kind of crap every single day. But what’s the point? How exhausting! Why should I bother with trivial stuff like that when it takes away from what I have now?
“I can confidently tell you that I trust him more than I trust myself. If we started to grow apart, I would feel it too. If he wanted to break up, it’d be something I’d be aware of, or something I’d have some idea of how to fix. The thing is—and maybe this is just stupid of him—I know he’d give me his all if I even gave him a tiny fraction of that. So, I do. I give him more because I don’t want him to leave. I trust him not to hurt me just for the sake of hurting me. I trust him to care about not just us as individuals, but us as a whole. I trust him to be as unwilling to see things end badly as I am.” Jaehwan takes a breath and glances up at Daniel from beneath his hood. “And I know you trust Sungwoo too.”
“It’s just not—” That simple, Daniel doesn’t say aloud. He bites his tongue, tries to find the words he’s desperate to say with much futility. He’s frustrated with himself, with how long he’s dawdled in the same place idly, but looking forward and resolving himself not to look back doesn’t come easy. “I want the best for Sungwoo,” he finally says instead. “But there’s no way of knowing if that includes me in the package.”
Jaehwan exhales sharply. “What package? What fucking package? You think he knows whether what he wants now is going to be what he wants fifty years into the future? He doesn’t know any better than you do because as Hallmark as this sounds, life is unpredictable, Daniel. You don’t get to make decisions like this based on uncertainty that everyone has to deal with.”
There’s a part of Daniel that feels more confident the more Jaehwan talks. And there’s a part of Daniel that questions every single word Jaehwan’s saying. He’s always been doubtful, has always had his reservations about these matters demanding attention beyond the superficial. It sounds like a simple enough decision at face-value but every single time he wants to say I agree, or you’re right, the words fall short at the tip of his tongue and he feels like he’s suffocating on them.
It should be easy.
He knows how he feels about Sungwoo, knows how Sungwoo feels about him. It doesn’t have to be as hard as he’s making it but his mind jumps five, ten, fifteen years into the future and all of his thoughts start with if I fucked this up tomorrow…
He’s tired too.
“That’s not what I meant,” Daniel starts weakly, though he isn’t even sure if he’s convinced. “I know it’s not complicated. I know I’m overthinking this, but he’s important to me. He’s… really important to me and trying to decide whether I want to fundamentally change our entire relationship for better or for worse is terrifying.”
“I know,” Jaehwan says softly.
“I know,” repeats Jaehwan, gentler, like he emphasizes too deeply, and Daniel knows that he does. For a few seconds neither of them say anything.
“He acts like moving on will be easy but I can’t imagine how suffocating it must be to have to spend time with me like normal while getting over—”
“So, what exactly is it for you? What is it that’s holding you back?” Jaehwan’s tone is reserved but the bite of reality lingering in his words is unfailingly present. “You’re scared of your own feelings? Scared of the fact that you actually, legitimately, genuinely, are in love with the person that knows you best, treats you best... is the best for you?”
Daniel parts his lips but doesn’t speak. He stills, and then rolls over onto his back. An incredulous laugh slips past his lips and he drags his palms down his cheeks, lets them fall to his sides.
Of course he’s scared.
Of course he’s terrified.
But he can’t summon to mind any particular reason why that fear is doing so phenomenally well at holding him back.
“I don’t know,” he confesses, and he laughs quietly again. “I wish I did, but I don’t know. If I knew, I’d do something about it.”
“Grow up, Daniel. People spend years of their lives actively trying to find what you have standing in front of you. What are you most afraid of? Not being good enough? Things ending badly? Losing Sungwoo?” Jaehwan shifts, sits up on the bed. “Ask yourself this: can you even call yourself his best friend if you think, even for a second, that this—that he isn’t something you can put your faith in?”
A friendship fortified over the years, and here Daniel is, reducing it into something as delicate as porcelain.
It stings beyond belief being told to have more faith in the one thing, the one person he’s never once doubted before.
“I’m not telling you to drop to one knee and propose to him,” Jaehwan continues, quieter now. “I’m telling you as a friend to—for once in your god damn life—be good to yourself. And whether that process includes Sungwoo or not is up to you.”
Daniel takes a deep breath, listens to the sound of Jaehwan’s footsteps and the door creaking open.
“Do you get it? Everything from this point forward is up to you.”
It’s been a challenge in itself trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy around Sungwoo. A couple of days have passed since Daniel’s conversation with his housemates and the parting statement Jaehwan left him lingers at the back of his mind insistently.
Life has been demanding, though. The reality of academia, the sheer force by which schoolwork and work and everything in-between has summoned Daniel’s attention is something even he wasn’t anticipating. He can’t remember the last time he spent more than twenty minutes conscious and alone with Sungwoo—and the fact that they share a room does nothing to help it.
At first, he thought it might be a sign. The entire world must be conspiring against him, telling him not to say anything, not to reach out, not to confess.
He’d shared his thoughts with Jaehwan on the matter and gotten a swift (light) punch to the shoulder.
Daniel thinks, in spite of the doubts that flitter and flutter around in his mind, that the resolve he has now to do something is unwavering.
He’s still afraid. He’s still terrified, and he doesn’t think that’s going to change anytime soon—not even in the seconds leading up to the day he actually gets to talk to Sungwoo. But what Jaehwan had said about pondering the negatives being exhausting was true and Daniel is too tired to let this carry on any further.
The promise that he’s made to himself to be honest and to seek good without idealizing bad is a promise he wants to keep.
The opportunity to fulfill that promise comes on a rainy afternoon.
A class cancellation permits Daniel to go home earlier than usual. He barely makes it off the bus in time for torrential downpour to greet him like a spurned lover. It’s a welcome distraction and despite the panic that is coursing through his veins as he tries to shield his laptop from rainwater during his ten-minute sprint to the house, at the very least, he doesn’t have the time or the luxury to think about anything else.
That is, until he skids to a halt at the doorstep and finds none other than Sungwoo crouched beneath the tiny overhang above the door with his backpack clutched to his chest.
“Oh,” Daniel says aloud.
“Hi,” Sungwoo greets meekly. And then, as justification, “I forgot my keys.”
“Oh,” repeats Daniel. Alarm signals blare in his mind momentarily and he forces himself out of his headspace to shuffle closer to the door. He reaches into his pockets for his keys, and then his backpack, and then— “Uh.”
Sungwoo looks up at Daniel, unsuspecting. When the realization dawns on him that Daniel doesn’t have his keys either, his expression shifts into one of utter disbelief.
“This is funny,” he says, facing forward and gazing out at the rain forlornly. “This is a funny situation in which both of us are unreliable and destined to drift away in this rain like Ponyo.”
Resignedly, Daniel squats down beside Sungwoo and assumes the same stance. Backpack to chest, eyes locked forward. Despair hidden behind drenched bangs.
“That’d be nice,” Daniel says, and his heartbeat eases into a steadier pace. “I have a presentation on Monday I’d drift away in a flood to miss.”
Sungwoo grins wide and Daniel wishes he could hate the way it makes him smile too.
They aren’t getting much shelter from the rain where they are. Their backpacks are safe enough—and hopefully, their laptops too—but Daniel feels rainwater in his shoes and has hit the point where he can’t discern skin from pants anymore. Sungwoo’s worse off, wet hair sticking to his forehead and raindrops clinging to his skin.
“Let’s run to the bus stop,” suggests Daniel. “We’re going to get sick waiting for someone to come home here.”
“I thought you wanted to float away in the rain,” Sungwoo replies. “Your lack of commitment could use some work, Mister Kang.”
Daniel only cracks a smile, heaving himself up and offering a hand to Sungwoo to pull him up too.
They stand side-by-side, shoulders touching, for a few moments. The rain doesn’t seem to be letting up at all and Daniel catches a glimpse of the side of Sungwoo’s face as Sungwoo peers up at the sky curiously.
The anxiety and the trepidation that he’d been hosting at the very core of his chest ebbs away with each second he spends doing mundane, normal things with Sungwoo. He thinks it’s funny that the panic he’d felt just minutes ago is foreign now and that the stubborn warmth he feels now makes the bite of the rain seem inconsequential.
“On the count of three?” Sungwoo asks, backpack pressed close to his chest.
Daniel nods. “One, two—”
Before he has the chance to get to three, Sungwoo takes off, sprinting ahead for dear life. Daniel’s bewildered at first and then running behind him, laughter splitting from his body so naturally he thinks it might be a part of the rain.
By the time they make it to the empty bus stop, they’re both drenched and doubled over, bodies shaking and shoulders trembling with mirth. Sungwoo peeks out at Daniel from beneath a mop of wet hair and flashes a toothy grin and Daniel feels his heart squeeze in the best way possible.
“Hey,” Daniel rasps out in between gasps of laughter, and he doesn’t think it’s spontaneity—doesn’t think it’s recklessness that pulls the words from the very center of his chest: “I like you too.”
Sungwoo’s eyes widen immediately, his smile fading. He’s still breathing heavily, the remnants of the sprint demanding more air, more oxygen. There’s a dumbfounded expression on his face, a mix of confused, hurt, and wary all at once. “What?” he asks. “What did you say?”
“I like you,” Daniel says again. His confidence grows with each time he says it and his gaze is unyielding. It’s funny. Now that the words are out there and off of his chest, he realizes that he doesn’t think he’s been surer of something in his life.
To think it could be this easy.
“Okay,” Sungwoo manages to say, “so we’re locked out of our fucking house and it’s pouring so please do me this one favor and do not break my heart for the fiftieth time in the most Korean drama cliché way or I will sue you for being a dick.”
Sungwoo takes a deep breath. “You… what?” he asks, once more.
“I like you.” Daniel straightens up, inhales deeply as his breathing slowly levels itself. He isn’t sure if he’s out of breath because of the run or out of breath because his heart is racing. “You know how I said that we’d be terrible together? That we’d drive each other crazy? That morning after we first kissed?”
The vulnerability that Sungwoo can’t hide on his face makes Daniel want to kiss him.
“I want to take it back,” he says finally. “I know, I know it’s selfish of me to run after you after months of making you feel like it was hopeless, that I didn’t give a shit, but I want to take it back. Everything that I did that made you hurt, I—I want to take it all back.”
“Hey,” Sungwoo starts, and his voice wavers.
“Maybe we would be terrible together,” Daniel muses. “Maybe we’d be a mess. I promised I’d stick with you though, didn’t I? Remind you of all of the stupid stuff you’re afraid of forgetting. When I realized that I liked you too, I kept thinking that it wasn’t worth getting into a relationship with someone important to you if it didn’t mean an automatic happy ending. But what if we tried anyway?”
Sungwoo is quiet, his eyes round and searching for some sign of doubt, some sign of uncertainty in Daniel’s face. “You really mean it?” he asks slowly. “You don’t care that I binge watch weird shows, that I have no sense of direction, that I can’t let myself take anything seriously, that I eat all of your cereal?” The uncertainty bleeds through Sungwoo’s voice as he asks cautiously, “You don’t care that I’m your best friend?”
“I do care,” says Daniel. He reaches forward hesitantly, presses his palm to Sungwoo’s forehead to push the hair away from his face. “This… sounds so stupid and cheesy and you’re probably never going to let me live this down tomorrow, but I care about all of those things and it’s why I’m positive that I like you as much as or more than you like me.”
It’s rare to see Sungwoo this startled and the sight of him trying to gather his senses together makes Daniel grin.
“Are you over me?” Daniel asks, letting his hand slip lower to cup Sungwoo’s cheek. “Was it easy getting over me like you said?”
This seems to snap Sungwoo out of his trance. He flattens his eyes, looks thoroughly unamused as he averts his gaze down and then up. “Don’t be so cheeky,” he finally says. “You know nothing about love, young Daniel.”
Daniel laughs and shifts closer until their lips are only breaths apart. “I’m ready to learn.”
“It starts with closing the distance,” Sungwoo says primly.
He’s always been a quick learner, and he demonstrates by doing just as Sungwoo says. Their first kiss is not sparks and fireworks; it’s a messy, thoughtless, but heartfelt collision and Daniel feels everything he could have ever worried about fall to nothing when he feels Sungwoo smile against his lips.
They pull away in laughter, come close again; they repeat the pattern until their movements are practiced and adapted to each other.
By the time the rain’s stopped, they’re no longer dripping wet and the space between them is something of the past.
“So, what next?” Daniel inquires.
Sungwoo looks out into the street, steals a glance at their tangled hands. “Your social security number,” he says solemnly. “That, or making out more. Your pick.”
“Probably identity theft,” Daniel replies.
“Good choice,” Sungwoo says right as Daniel pecks him on the cheek.
They make it back home later after taking a detour once the rain has stopped. It’s past dinner time and Daniel doesn’t expect anyone to be outside of their bedrooms. The week has been demanding for most and he’s sure that his housemates are just as busy with schoolwork as he is (supposed to be).
When Daniel and Sungwoo make it through the front door and into the kitchen, however, they are met with the sight of every single one of the residents of their home, including Sewoon tuning in on Skype from Jaehwan’s laptop, waiting at the communal table.
“Well, hello,” Sungwoo says in greeting, flashing a winning smile.
“Don’t hello me,” Gunhee shoots back. “I want to know.”
“Know what?” Daniel asks.
Gunhee narrows his eyes. “You’re so incredibly wrong if you think either of you are going to sleep without telling me exactly how you came together. You don’t think we see your glow? Don’t be naïve. This is the aura of a newly formed couple if I’ve ever seen one.”
Despite their attempts at neutrality, Daniel grins.
“I knew it,” Jaehwan announces. He lifts his laptop up. “Tell everyone I knew it, Sewoon.”
“He knew it,” says Sewoon, voice muffled through the screen.
“I knew ever since I saw Daniel’s phone contacts and only saw two Chinese delivery places, his mom, and Sungwoo,” Jaehwan continues.
Sungwoo turns to Daniel with a mixture of surprise and contentedness. “Huh. I’m kind of touched.”
Gunhee clears his throat loudly. “Anyway, story time. You guys sit down and drink some water so your throats aren’t dry. Hwanwoong and I have already prepared the popcorn.”
“Maybe we should talk about… safe sex,” Jonghyun suggests from the corner.
“We’re not twelve,” Jisung interjects with displeasure. “And also, that’s disgusting. They’re like twelve.”
“Story time,” Gunhee says again.
In the midst of the chaos erupting in their kitchen, Daniel glances at Sungwoo, locking eyes with him briefly. They exchange looks, something akin to amusement, to fondness, to the sort of happiness that can’t be bottled or defined.
It’s been a long time coming, Daniel thinks, but as he watches his closest friends squabble amongst themselves, intermittent laughter scattered throughout the packed room, Sungwoo by his side—shoulders touching, he knows he wouldn’t have it any other way.
He’s really, honest to God, happy.
“The weather’s so nice today,” Sungwoo sighs out. “Kind of wish I could fly away and never come back.”
“Well, maybe you’re not mean to fly,” Daniel replies with a yawn, stretching his arms over his head. He rubs at his eye with the heel of his hand, allergies dampening his appreciation of the weather. “Maybe you’re meant to stay down here with me or something.”
Sungwoo doesn’t bat an eye, only continues forward on their walk back home. “You high?”
“Nah, just head over heels for you.”
“Wow. Kind of gross.” Sungwoo says matter-of-factly. He frowns. “Kind of in love with you.”
Daniel grins, bumping Sungwoo’s shoulder with his own. “Kind of?”
“Ugh,” Sungwoo groans out, feigning despair as Daniel kisses his cheek. “Kind of doesn’t cut it.”