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We Can Be Braver

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Jeno knows Na Jaemin, of course he does.

Well, he knows of him anyway. There’s not a single person in this godforsaken high school who doesn’t and they are in the same year, so there’s no way around it. Jaemin is everywhere, up in everyone’s business. He hangs out with all the other cool kids and even the teachers greet him in the hallways.

So yes, Jeno knows of him, too, he doesn’t live under a rock, and they've talked, once or twice. But he doesn’t know him and that's fine because they frequent different crowds. Jeno keeps to himself.

Jaemin doesn’t. Jaemin keeps to everyone but to himself.

Everyone knows that, too.

 

 

To say Jeno is unpopular would be a lie because Jeno gets some attention for his looks alone. Jeno thinks it’s kind of stupid to like a person solely for being handsome but this is high school and stupidity seems to be the only thing they all have in common.

So yeah, Jeno’s kind of popular, also because he’s good at sports, but so are many other people. It’s nothing special. People get attention for lots of different things, like Renjun who’s good at drawing or Jisung who’s good at dancing.

Or Na Jaemin, who’s good at being social and making friends with absolutely everyone. He throws parties, Jeno’s heard, that can rival Jaehyun’s, but he never gets in trouble. He can talk himself out of anything, people say. And he stays on top of his classes like it’s easy for him. Maybe it is. Maybe he has a horde of girls behind him who do his homework for him, except lots of people also say he’s a sweetheart deep down.

Jeno knows things about Na Jaemin. It’s impossible not to, especially when you’re friends with Renjun who thrives off gossip. But like he thought before, this is high school and next to stupidity, rumours are the things that spread the fastest and Jeno’s never cared much about what other people have to say.

 

 

Jeno didn’t think he’d ever have anything to do with Na Jaemin but here he is, in front of Jaemin’s house, waiting to be let in. Donghyuck is already in there somewhere and Renjun and Jisung are on the way, but it’s still terribly awkward to show up alone.

It’s a nice house from the outside: clean, pretty, modern. Music is bleeding out of the tall windows and somewhere people are laughing. It’s a known fact that Jaemin’s family is well off, so being confronted by the freestanding two storey building with a tidy front yard doesn’t come as a surprise. Jeno’s own family isn’t poor, either, but there’s a different vibe to this home. Everything fits into Jaemin’s school image and Jeno’s left to wonder if maybe there’s more truth in rumours than he initially assumed.

Jeno rings the doorbell. Really, he’s not sure why he gave in to Donghyuck; he doesn’t go to parties all that often, least of all to Jaemin’s. It’s not his preferred environment. He usually spends his Saturday nights kicking Jisung’s ass at various computer games in the comfortable confines of his own room.

But now he’s here. ‘We haven’t done in this in like a million years,’ Donghyuck had whined yesterday. ‘And whose fault is that?’ Jeno had wanted to give back but Donghyuck was right, so he’d given Renjun a pleading look and agreed. Now Jeno wishes he’d at least waited for his other friends because showing up at a party of someone you don’t really know seems weird.

The door swings open and there he is: Na Jaemin, winner of the title 'best smile' in three consecutive years in the school newspaper, lowkey trouble maker, highkey extrovert. He’s wearing a shiny button down that most people their age wouldn’t get away with but somehow he radiates confidence.

'Look what the cat dragged in,' he says with a grin, opening the door wider to make space for Jeno. 'I didn’t expect you to come if I’m honest, Lee Jeno.'

Jeno’s not surprised that Jaemin knows his name. They share some classes and this is Jaemin after all. He probably knows everyone, even the freshmen who are too shy to talk to anyone. 'I was persuaded.'

Jeno steps into the entrance hall. It’s as fancy as expected; there are decorative flowers on a grey chest, a silver coat-hanger by the side. He neatly places his sneakers next to the wild collection of shoes that’s already there.

'You'll enjoy it, just you wait,’ Jaemin says. He puts an arm around Jeno’s shoulders like they are not practically strangers, sauntering through the hall and side-stepping a few people that are on their way outside. The music and the sound of people having fun are much louder now, so Jaemin has to raise his voice a little despite his proximity.

'Drinks are in the kitchen, please don’t get so smashed that you'll throw up. Snacks are on the living room table and in that corner over there. Just help yourself, get your friends, have some fun. Find me if you have special requests.'

Jaemin waits until Jeno nods, then lets go of him. He grins one more time, then a bunch of guys drag him away and Jeno is left to his own devices again.

 

 

There are a lot of people present. Jaemin’s lucky his house is so big, Jeno thinks, weaving his way through a group he recognises from his grade. Jeno actually recognises most people here but he doesn’t really know any of them apart from Donghyuck, but he’s busy with Mark and Jeno doesn’t feel like third-wheeling. On the way to the kitchen Jeno runs into Jaemin again, who’s holding a red solo cup and seems significantly tipsier than half an hour before. He looks Jeno up and down instead of making way. ‘How come you don’t have a drink yet?’

‘I’m on my way to get one,’ Jeno says, pointing past Jaemin at the kitchen entrance.

Jaemin just shakes his head, handing Jeno the cup. ‘Take this.’

‘What is it?’

‘No idea, but it smells good. I promise it won’t poison you.’

Jeno takes it, partially because he doesn’t want Jaemin to think he’s some sort of stuck-up coward (not that he really cares what Jaemin thinks about him) and Jaemin grins. Up close it’s a brilliant thing and Jeno kind of gets why he always wins that title.

He smiles back and Jaemin steps out of the way, patting Jeno’s shoulder. Jeno’s about to say thanks when he spots Renjun lurking around the kitchen.

‘Oh, hey,’ Renjun calls, waving Jeno over.

‘God, finally,’ Jeno says, reaching the kitchen island that’s overflowing with bottles of different contents and beer cans. Some girls that Jeno thinks might be cheerleaders are mingling on the other side, chatting animatedly while one of them is mixing drinks. ‘Why are you so late?’

‘We’ve been here for like, twenty minutes,’ Renjun gives back. ‘It’s hell to find anyone in this stupid house and now I’ve lost Jisung.’

‘Wanna go look for him?’

‘Sure.’ Renjun points at Jeno’s cup. ‘Are you honestly planning on drinking that? I saw Na Jaemin give that to you.’

‘He was planning on drinking it himself, so I guess it’s safe.’

Renjun shakes his head and twists the cup out of Jeno’s hands, setting it down on the counter with insistence. ‘You really know nothing about parties.’

Jeno thinks that’s rich coming from Renjun, half art nerd and half hermit, but he doesn’t say anything.

 

 

Once you get used to them, parties aren’t so bad. It’s all about the people you’re with, Jeno thinks, looking at Renjun who's judging everyone who walks by and Jisung who’s lowkey dancing to the music from upstairs. They had found Jisung in the corner of the living room, looking bored and generally like he wanted to be anywhere but here.

'If you want to dance go ahead,' Jeno says, nodding towards the staircase.

Jisung raises a brow. 'By myself? You’re crazy.'

'We could all go.' Jeno doesn’t really feel like dancing, even though he knows he wouldn’t embarrass himself. He just wants to know if it’s true what they say about Na Jaemin and music.

'Oh hell no,' Renjun says with conviction.

'Let’s just see what’s going on,' Jeno says, already on the way to the stairs.

 

 

Jeno doesn’t know what he expected, but he figures it wasn’t a dance battle circle. High school parties are usually just some guys jumping up and down next to a bunch of girls that are stepping from side to side while throwing their hair around, Jeno knows from limited experience. It normally doesn’t have much to do with real dancing, or real partying for that matter.

This is different, but maybe only because this is Na Jaemin and Na Jaemin doesn’t seem to be the average high school student.

He’s not the average dancer, either.

'Damn, he's good,' Jisung scream-whispers into Jeno’s ear, like Jeno doesn’t have his own two eyes.

The music is so loud Jeno can feel it in every bone of his body and the air is stuffy from so many people squeezed into one room. The neighbours can’t possibly be okay with this or perhaps they are used to it. Jeno absently wonders how Jaemin’s parents allow this with a clear conscience, especially when Jaemin can’t be older than seventeen, but he only spares this a stray thought because right now Jaemin is demanding everyone’s attention.

Jaemin dances like other people breathe: without a second thought. Like the movements come to him because they are natural. He spins and pops and locks and it’s so satisfying just to watch, to see someone deliver what other people have butchered so often before. The crowd is alive with it and for the first time Jeno understands why people like Jaemin’s parties so much. It makes him want to dance, too.

The song ends and bleeds into another but Jaemin twirls once more with a blinding smile before he steps aside, out of breath. People cheer and immediately start dancing wildly, inspired by the presentation, and Jeno gets pushed back, losing sight of Jaemin in the crowd.

'Not gonna lie, that was cool,' Renjun says and Jeno can only nod.

 

 

Jeno is not the biggest fan of getting shit-faced at parties that aren’t his friends’. He doesn’t condone underage drinking and he sees the appeal of forgetting himself every once in a while since it’s fun, but this is a house full of strangers and he’d rather not end up doing something stupid.

(Renjun still regularly teases him with the short video of him hugging the fridge, openly crying, from last year when he got drunk for the first time.)

He stays for a long time, though, because despite everything it’s kind of really cool. Donghyuck joins them for a while, easily entertaining them with snarky comments and obviously exaggerated stories before he runs off to find Mark. Renjun keeps making fun of other people, saying things like ‘hey, this is the girl who tried to sell weed in the bathrooms last month’, and while Jeno knows most of that is bullshit, it’s still hilarious.

At some point a few girls come up to them and get Jeno talking about soccer and it takes him a good forty minutes to realise that they don’t really care about how this season will go. Jeno is slightly disappointed; he would like to be seen as someone other than just another handsome dude on the field.

By the time the girls leave, looking similarly disappointed, he’s lost both Renjun and Jisung and he realises that the house is almost empty. The kitchen is deserted, a wasteland of empty solo cups and sticky tiles. Some people are hanging around the entrance, waiting for older siblings to pick them up or just saying bye to friends. Upstairs Jeno spots Jaemin collecting empty bottles and party streamers in a blue garbage bag. He looks a little tired, straining his back to pick something off the floor.

'Hey,' Jeno says and Jaemin straightens immediately. His bright smile is back on his face, fatigue replaced, and Jeno suddenly wonders how real that smile is when he can put it on so easily.

'Hey. Didn’t expect you to stay this long.'

Jeno lifts his shoulders a little. 'I was going to leave but I can’t find my friends. Have you seen Renjun and Jisung?'

'Oh, they left a while ago. To be honest I thought you went with them.'

Jeno blinks. 'I can’t believe they ditched me.'

Jaemin gives him an apologetic smile, shaking his bag a little. 'Happens to the best of us.'

'Right.' Jeno should probably leave since its getting late, but he looks at the mess and Jaemin’s hidden tiredness. 'Do you, uh, need help cleaning up?'

'Huh? Oh no, don’t worry, you go ahead.'

'You sure? Seems like a lot to me.'

'I’m used to this, really. But thanks. You can take this downstairs, though, just put it by the door.' Jaemin hands Jeno his plastic bag.

'Alright. Thanks for, uh, the party.'

Jaemin smiles again. 'Hope you enjoyed it.'

'I did.'

'Well, then I guess I'll see you around.'

Jeno turns, feeling Jaemin’s gaze burn on the back of his neck all the way downstairs.

 

 

Nothing really changes except Jaemin notices Jeno in the hallways now, will smile and nod at him when they pass each other. Once or twice Jaemin stops at his desk in English Lit to ask him something about homework.

It doesn’t change much for Jeno but apparently it does for the students because if Jeno thought he was kind of popular before he definitely is now.

Jeno knew Jaemin had influence as far as influence goes at high school but it’s still strange. Other popular people start talking to him before class which pisses Renjun off to no end and makes Jeno tremendously uncomfortable.

Jaemin hasn’t even done anything. He gives Jeno minuscule attention and that’s all it takes. Jeno doesn’t know what to think of it; he’s not especially grateful. He’s content with his tight-knit circle of friends and doesn’t really need the extra attention. Then again, there are worse things than being treated nicely by those who could afford to be rude.

High school is a weird place, Jeno decides. They are all in the same hell, they all have to get up early, do their homework, get through the day, but somehow it’s a lot about people and what they think about you, even though no one should care.

He voices this to Renjun one day when they are sitting in the library after school to do homework.

Renjun gives him a serious look. ‘Here’s a thing about high school: everyone here hates themselves. The only thing making that bearable is getting into other people’s business and pretending to be better than anyone else. Which is why popular people are usually the shittiest ones. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.’ Then he looks back down at his notebook and keeps writing.

Jeno sits there, twirling his pen, and thinks about Renjun’s words. If they were true wouldn’t that mean that Jaemin is the worst of them all? Wouldn’t that mean that Jaemin hates himself, too? Na sunshine smile, nice to everyone, good at everything Jaemin?

Jeno shakes his head a little. Renjun might be right in most cases but Jeno doesn’t think Jaemin is that bad.

Then again, he doesn’t really know him, so who is he to make that judgement?

‘Are you planning on staring into space for the rest of the day?’ Renjun asks and Jeno sighs, going back to his History essay.

 

 

Jeno knows Jaemin is coming, not because he sees him but because he feels everyone’s focus shift. It’s a thing about Jaemin: everyone notices him, even when he’s just casually crossing the cafeteria. Jeno figures Jaemin enjoys the attention.

Jeno eventually looks up when someone knocks his knuckles on their table.

Jaemin smiles at all of them. 'S’up, guys. I don’t know if you’ve heard but I’m throwing a Halloween party this year again.’

By the beginning of October, literally everyone has heard of Jaemin’s Halloween party. Obviously the whole school wants to go but Jaemin only lets specific people come. Rumour has it he keeps a list of people and you get on it by personal invite only.

Jeno’s never thought Jaemin would pick them. He never thought he’d care.

‘We’ve heard,’ Renjun says warily, glancing up at Jaemin who returns his gaze with joyful mirth, unbothered by Renjun’s aloofness.

‘Cool.  So do you guys want to come? I need to know by Friday for shopping purposes.’

'Is it a dress up party?' Jisung asks.

'Obviously,' Jaemin says. ‘Anything goes as long as it fits through the door and doesn’t offend anyone.’

'I’m in,' Jisung says.

Jeno nods. 'Me, too.'

Renjun sighs like he's carrying the world on his shoulders. 'Fine.'

Jaemin smiles. 'Fantastic. I’ll let you guys know the details once I… figure them out. See you around!'

As soon as Jaemin’s out of earshot Renjun leans across the table. 'Has Na Jaemin just invited us to his Halloween party?!'

'I believe he did,' Jisung says complacently. 'We’re the cool kids now.'

'Like we weren’t cool before.'

‘You certainly weren’t.’

‘You little brat –‘

Jeno watches Jisung cower away from Renjun’s angry spoon-slapping but he’s thinking of the party. He’s never really considered himself one of the popular ones, much less someone Na Jaemin would want to hang out with. People don’t think Jeno’s cool for who he is, just what he looks like after all. But maybe Jaemin thinks the same way. Maybe Jaemin invited them because they all look cooler than they are. The thought dismays Jeno a little.

‘What are you guys going to dress up as?’ Renjun asks, shaking Jeno out of his thoughts.

‘Probably a zombie because that always works,’ Jisung says. ‘What about you? A smurf?’

Renjun raises his spoon again, rice grains flying across the table. ‘You’re really asking for it today, huh?’

Jisung shrugs. ‘I think Jeno should go as that stone face guy from Night at the Museum. You know, dum dum?’

‘Shut up,’ Jeno says but Renjun laughs and next thing he knows his friends are in their own world, plotting embarrassing costumes for him.

 

 

It’s a week to go until it’s Halloween and the schoolboard has already started letting students decorate, putting up orange and black garlands. Someone distributes fake spiders which results in the less mature guys throwing them at non-suspecting Freshmen during lunch and creating even more chaos than usual.

Jeno doesn’t really get the hype around Halloween but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like it. Truthfully it was a lot more fun when he was young enough to go trick or treating with Renjun. Renjun had quickly figured out that the whole neighbourhood was more or less entranced by Jeno which is why he did most of the work, but the full baskets of chocolates and candy were well worth it.

Jeno doesn’t think they find him just as cute anymore.

A week before Halloween also means it’s seriously time to think of a costume which is exactly why he, Renjun and Jisung are currently browsing through the racks of a costume rental. Jisung keeps picking out dwarf costumes for Renjun which only gets him kicked in the shin but he won’t stop laughing anyway.

‘Hey, Jeno,’ Jisung says, finally getting tired of Renjun’s reactions. ‘I’ll buy you ramen if you go as Snow White.’

‘That’s not even creepy, what the hell,’ Renjun says, considering the dress Jisung is holding.

‘It would be if Jeno wore this.’

‘Shut up,’ Jeno says. ‘I’m going as L from Death Note.’

Both of his friends stare at him. Renjun scoffs. ‘That’s not creepy, either! Do any of you even get the point of Halloween?’

‘Jaemin never said we’d have to show up looking creepy,’ Jeno defends himself.

‘You just don’t want to ruin your image as pretty boy,’ Jisung says.

‘Well, I’m not going as Snow White and all of these things here are lame.’

Renjun rubs his temples. ‘Lord, give me strength to deal with these idiots.’

‘The lord doesn’t care about you,’ Jisung says. ‘You’re on the going to hell list since you stuck your wet finger in my ear.’

Jeno thinks he should be the one praying, giving the lady at the till an apologetic look when Renjun chases Jisung around the store with a plastic scythe in hand.

 

 

‘Hey.’

Jeno looks up, coming face to face with Jaemin. ‘Oh. Hi.’

Jaemin presses his hands flat on Jeno’s desk, leaning down a little. He glances around, looking at the other students who are leaving the classroom, before his eyes settle back on Jeno. It’s slightly disconcerting; everything about Jaemin is sort of soft but there’s a sly edge to his gaze, like he knows exactly what kind of effect he has on people.

‘Give me your number, so I can send you the party details,’ he says.

‘Can’t you just like, give them to me now?’ Jeno asks, frowning.

Jaemin leans back, pouting a little. Jeno is sure that Jaemin’s fully aware of how cute that makes him look. ‘But I made a cool graphic and everything.’

Jeno laughs despite himself and Jaemin grins back immediately, handing Jeno his phone. Jeno wants to remind him that phones are prohibited but even if Jaemin got caught Jeno doubts there would be consequences. Teacher’s pet and all that.

He takes Jaemin’s phone, types in his number and gives it back.

Jaemin smiles again and Jeno absently asks himself if he’s even capable of looking anything but happy. ‘Thanks. See you then!’

He vanishes as quickly as he came and Jeno wonders how this looked from the outside: the Na Jaemin asking him, Lee Jeno, for his number at the end of class. The thought flusters him for some reason, so he pretends it didn’t happen.

 

 

‘He’s so extra, oh my god,’ Renjun says and Jisung agrees. They are all squeezed on Jeno’s bed, huddled together to look at his phone screen that’s showing the official invitation to Jaemin’s Halloween party.

‘He really went and made a whole ass gif,’ Jisung says. ‘Do you think he did the drawings himself?’

Renjun scoffs. ‘Never. He was in my art class last year and that boy’s hopeless. Must be nice to have minions for everything.’

‘Stop being bitter,’ Jeno says. ‘I think it’s cute.’

It is cute. There are spiders scuttling across the screen, a ghost with a cheery face popping up by the side and a bat flying across a grinning moon. It’s all kept in a 2D style that reminds Jeno of old computer games, simple but effective, and in the middle are the details in a blocky font.

‘Do you think we should ask if he needs help with anything?’ Jeno asks.

‘Oh Jeno,’ Renjun says, patting Jeno’s knee. ‘You’re too pure. This is Na Jaemin, he doesn’t need help with parties. Especially not yours.’

‘Fair enough,’ Jeno says.

Later, when Renjun and Jisung have finished raiding Jeno’s kitchen and played through several rounds of Mario Kart, Jeno asks anyway.

 

Jeno (8:29 PM)

hey

I was wondering if u wanted some help with the party?

like I could bring food or something

 

Jaemin replies almost immediately.

 

Na Jaemin (8:30 PM)

hey!!

nah ur good

unless!!!

u wanna bring some creepy jelly~ u know with like fake insects or smthing

 

Jeno (8:30 PM)

yeah ok I can do that

 

Na Jaemin (8:30 PM)

sweet thx!!

 

 

‘Why is there a bowl full of gummy worms engulfed in Jell-O on the table?’ Renjun asks, standing in the doorway that leads to the kitchen.

Jeno turns half away from the hallway mirror, trying to get his hair to fall into a fringe that shows at least a little resemblance to L’s. (It’s hopeless. His hair is just too short.) ‘It’s for the party.’

Renjun frowns. It’s kind of funny because he’s already made up as a vampire, complete with red cape and contoured cheekbones. He’d refused the fangs, though, so Jeno thinks his costume is pretty lame. Technically he isn’t even a vampire now.

Jisung is dressed up already, too, out of sight somewhere in the kitchen, most likely stealing food because lately he’s been eating twice as much as Renjun and Jeno combined. He’s wearing tattered clothes that show painted-on wounds. Even Renjun admitted that he actually looks kind of scary.

Really, they are just waiting for Jeno and his hair to cooperate.

Jeno knows his costume is not the most amazing thing ever, given that it’s really just a baggy white shirt and sweatpants, but at least he looks good. His mum had helped him with the eyeliner earlier, smiling with uninhibited glee as she opened her makeup case, and Jeno had absently asked himself if she’d rather have had a daughter. Then again, it’s 2018 and makeup has long since surpassed gender roles, at least as far as Jeno is concerned.

‘This is as good as it gets,’ Renjun says. ‘Let’s just go.’

Jeno gives his hair one last disdainful ruffle and sighs. ‘Alright.’

 

 

It’s a little embarrassing to cross the neighbourhood dressed like this but then again, for Jeno it’s really only second-hand even though Jisung insists he looks like an emo boy from 2009.

Plus, they are not the only people on their way. Right in front of them is a group of students, one of which is dressed as Shrek.

‘Oh my God, is that Taeil?’ Renjun asks, pointing across the street at a Senior who’s wearing Belle’s bright yellow dress.

‘See, Jeno,’ Jisung sneers. ‘You would have been fine as Snow White.’

                                                                                                               

 

‘I said it before and I’ll say it again,’ Renjun starts, crossing his arms. ‘He really went over the top.’

This time Jeno can’t help but agree. The front yard is decorated with carved pumpkins, fake spider webs and a full-sized Grim Reaper who Jeno half expects to be a real person. He doesn’t move when they pass him, though, so Jeno relaxes his hold on his dessert a little.

‘I see no bouncers,’ Jisung says and considers the door. ‘That’s a disappointment.’

‘Just ring the damn bell,’ Renjun says.

Jisung does. Jeno looks up at the façade, at the fake ghosts that are hanging in some of the windows. For a moment Jeno wonders if Jaemin does all of that alone, the decorating, getting everything ready, making sure everything fits the way it does. Then there’s a bit of a commotion behind the door and Jeno looks back down right before it swings open.

Jaemin is a wizard.

He’s dressed as one of those old-fashioned ones, wearing dark blue robes, complete with silvery constellations embroidered in the smooth fabric, a top hat on his head and a plastic wand in his left hand. There is glitter highlighting his cheekbones and bolt makeup around his eyes that makes him look ten times sharper. Literally everyone else would probably look like a clown made up like this but this is Na Jaemin, so he looks stunning instead.

‘Well, hello there,’ he says, smiling brightly.

Renjun raises his eyebrows, regarding him. ‘What the hell is creepy about a wizard?’

As always Jaemin is completely unperturbed by Renjun’s behaviour. ‘I can put an Imperius curse on you. If that’s not creepy I don’t know what is.’

‘No one in Harry Potter has ever worn anything that extra,’ Renjun says.

Jaemin lets his wand sink a little but his smile doesn’t waver. ‘Fine, I just wanted to look pretty, okay?’

‘God, you’re just like Jeno,’ Jisung says, stepping past Jaemin into the house.

Jeno bristles at that. ‘Don’t expose me.’

Jaemin laughs, taking the bowl off of Jeno. ‘Thanks for this, Jeno. You look good, though. We know what the priority is, huh?’

Jeno’s face gets a little hot at the compliment, so he moves on with his friends quickly.

 

 

The house is full but not as full as the last time Jeno was here. There are fake cobwebs everywhere, more pumpkins, Halloween-themed finger food and drinks, with people hanging around and laughing at each other’s costumes. In the span of twenty minutes Jeno sees at least six girls dressed as playboy bunnies and three other vampires that look exactly like Renjun except most of them have fangs. Other people, like the Shrek person and Taeil, are more creative. Another upperclassman called Taeyong shows up as Jack Frost, stealing the show from practically everyone, save maybe Jaemin and whoever is hidden in the extremely detailed murder clown costume.

As expected, the music is Halloween-themed as well and much to Renjun’s chagrin both Jeno and Jisung get a little carried away dancing to Thriller. That’s when they spot Donghyuck, too, face painted to a skeleton. Mark, who’s by his side, is wearing a Captain America suit.

‘Damn, and here I thought you’d take the chance and do couple costumes,’ Renjun says.

‘I wanted to but someone,‘ Donghyuck says and throws Mark a murderous glare. ‘– was being a little bitch about it.’

Jisung takes a sip from his bright red drink, whatever it may be. ‘Tragic. You’re not even American, Mark.’

‘Have you guys tried the fruit punch?’ Mark asks instead of entertaining the comments. ‘Jaemin’s mum made it but he spiked it to the max.’

‘We didn’t have a chance to even make it to the kitchen. People thought dancing was more important than getting hydrated,’ Renjun says drily.

‘First of all, alcohol does not hydrate you,’ Jeno says.

‘If you weren’t getting drinks then why does Jisung have one?’ Donghyuck points out.

Jisung shrugs. ‘Someone gave it to me.’

Renjun immediately scrambles for the cup and takes it away. ‘You don’t just drink what people give to you for free. Jesus, all of you would die without me!’

‘You keep telling yourself that,’ Jisung says.

‘Let’s go,’ Jeno says. ‘I want to try that fruit punch.’

 

 

The thing about spiked fruit punch is you don’t actually realise how much alcohol is in there until you’re drunk off your ass. Jeno is fine with being a little more than tipsy since he’s more comfortable around here now but he didn’t intend on letting it get this out of hand. He can still walk and stuff but literally anything’s funny now, even the way Renjun scolds him. Everything feels warm and fuzzy, like the floor is made of cotton, and it’s a little hard to navigate.

Whatever. It’s not his fault he can’t say no to watermelon.

‘Hey, someone said Jaemin’s dancing upstairs,’ Jisung says. He’s a little tipsy, too, but not as much as Jeno which is probably thanks to Renjun’s protective streak. ‘Wanna go watch?’

Obviously Jeno does. He kind of wants to dance himself; it seems like the right idea at a party, especially when the Halloween soundtrack has been exchanged for a more contemporary playlist a while ago and the alcohol is taking his inhibitions down.

They climb the stairs and find a small crowd in the same room as last time. In the middle of the circle isn’t Jaemin, though, but the Jack Frost dude and damn. He’s giving Jaemin – or anyone – a run for their money.

‘You should dance,’ Jeno says, pushing Jisung forward to the edge of the circle. Jeno knows he wants to because his struggling is minimal. When Jack Frost bows, smile way too shy for someone who just killed it, Jisung steps up.

Jeno feels weirdly proud, watching Jisung dance. Maybe it’s because he’s younger and Jeno’s literally watched him grow up right under his nose ever since they were like three.

Maybe it’s just because Jisung’s an incredible dancer, even next to Jack Frost.

‘Oh boy,’ someone says from where Jeno expected Renjun to be. Looking around, though, he finds Jaemin next to him and Renjun nowhere in sight. ‘He’s good.’

‘That’s Jisung,’ Jeno says, probably in the same way someone would say, ‘That’s my son,’ but he can’t be bothered to be embarrassed.

Jaemin laughs, clear and bright. His skin shines, the light catching on his teeth and the glitter, and Jeno absently wonders how he manages to look this good in something that ridiculous.

‘Are you going to dance, too?’ Jeno asks. It’s easier to talk to Jaemin while drunk, Jeno thinks. His general intensity is easier to take when your chest is full of bass lines and artificial confidence.

‘Yeah,’ Jaemin says and steps into the circle.

Jisung finds his way back to Jeno, out of breath but full of smiles. Jeno pats his back before returning his attention to Jaemin. Jeno notices he’s got rid of his hat and wand but he’s using the cape, whirling it around.

Watching Jaemin, Jeno is reminded of how dance is less about listening to the music and more about feeling it, figuring out what it can make you do. It’s about letting it stream through you without any inhibitions.

Jaemin’s technique is not as good as Jisung’s and his movements not as fluid as Taeyong’s but there’s a different vibe to it, something that makes up for those minor shortcomings. Jaemin dances like it’s the one thing in the world that he needs and it’s its own sort of amazing. He’s a swirl of dark blue and silver, a rush of adrenaline, and for a breathless second Jeno locks eyes with him. Jaemin’s grin grows impossibly wider, brighter, and it makes Jeno feel weightless, suspended in the air between moving bodies, letting himself be carried away by the song and the little bit of magic that is Na Jaemin.

 

 

‘Should we go find Renjun and go home?’ Jisung asks. The party has died down significantly and the house is quieter. Jeno has sobered up a bit after eating three pieces of cake that had had a very unnatural colour but that had tasted like chocolate and hazelnut.

Jeno nods. ‘Sure.’

As it turns out, Renjun is sitting in the living room with one of Jaemin’s friends, talking in mad fast Mandarin. He gets up when Jisung suggests going home, though.

‘You being social, who would have thought,’ Jeno teases on the way to the door.

‘Since all my friends ditched me to watch a mad magician hop around in a circle, I had no other choice,’ Renjun says.

‘Last time you said he was cool,’ Jisung says. ‘Also I danced, too.’

‘I’ve seen you dance a million times before.’

‘Still –‘

‘Hey,’ Jeno asks, one hand on the door handle. ‘Shouldn’t we, like, tell Jaemin that we’re leaving?’

‘He has eyes, he’ll know,’ Renjun says and ushers them outside.

Jeno texts Jaemin later anyway, when he’s stretched out on Renjun’s couch, squeezed next to Jisung who’s already out like a light.

 

Jeno (2:43 AM)

hey sorry we just left without saying bye

thanks for the party it was fun!!

 

Jeno doesn’t see the reply until the next morning, squinting bleary-eyed at the display.

 

Na Jaemin (5:03 AM)

np glad you enjoyed it!!!

tell your friend he’s a great dancer~

 

Jeno doesn’t know why but he wishes Jaemin would know that Jeno is a good dancer, too.

 

 

Jeno often wonders why people spend so much time of their teenage life feeling terrible. There is nothing wrong with him and yet here he is, being depressed for absolutely no reason. Practice was fine. Most of his homework is done, save for this Biology report. He has friends and his family isn’t too bad and just yesterday Jisung’s choreographer had told him he had potential.

Life is fine but it doesn’t feel like it is and it endlessly frustrates Jeno.

Frustration won’t finish this report, though, so he ditches Renjun’s offer for cocoa in town and goes to the library instead, heading straight for the quietest corner.

He takes out his stuff and opens his books and it’s only then that he realises the person on the table next to him is watching him.

Jeno is about to give them a glare to indicate that he’s not up for popular people bullshit today, but it’s Jaemin.

Technically it still counts as popular people bullshit, perhaps even more so, but Jeno’s never seen Jaemin in the library before, hence he makes a surprised face. Jaemin lifts the corner of his mouth into a barely noticeable smile and Jeno wonders if maybe he is having a rough day, too. He doesn’t look like his usual cheerful self with his hood drawn up, hands hidden in the sleeves.

‘Hi,’ Jeno says awkwardly.

‘Thank god it’s just you,’ Jaemin says.

‘What?’

‘I’m hiding. I’ll never get anything done when people keep coming over to distract me.’

‘The downside of fame, huh?’

‘Don’t call it fame.’ Jaemin snorts and looks down at his books before making eye-contact with Jeno. ‘Hey, do you mind if I sit with you? I swear I’ll be quiet.’

Jeno shrugs. ‘Sure.’

It’s only weird in the beginning when Jeno is still hyperaware of Jaemin’s presence. He does keep quiet, though, so it fades into the background and Jeno gets a good chunk of work done before he leans back, trying to work a kink out of his neck.

Jaemin looks up. ‘You alright?’

‘Yeah,’ Jeno says. ‘Just a weird day.’

‘I know, right. Today fucking sucks. School’s stressing me the hell out with all this nonsense.’ Jaemin sighs and rubs a hand over his face.

It’s the first time Jeno sees him completely unhappy and it’s strange how it’s Jeno out of all people who gets to see it. They aren’t that close after all. Maybe that’s why Jaemin is like this; Jeno doesn’t know and doesn’t care because he is new to this – this acquaintanceship. Jaemin must know that Jeno keeps quiet most of the time and doesn’t get involved with rumours.

So it’s nice to be trusted, even though it’s strange.

‘It’s just like that sometimes, I guess,’ Jeno says.

‘Hm. Wanna ditch and get tea or something?’

Jeno stares at him for a moment. They are not really friends, just people who see each other at parties and nod to each other before class. They don’t go anywhere together, least of all just the two of them.

Then again, this is Na ‘I’m friends with everyone’ Jaemin, so Jeno guesses this is normal for him. Getting tea with mere acquaintances, hanging out with practically strangers.

It’s not normal for Jeno. Agreeing to Jaemin would feel like betraying Renjun and Jeno’s already not having the best of days. Also something about Jaemin makes him feel strangely shy sometimes.

He shrugs apologetically and points at his homework. ‘I really have to finish this.’

Jaemin nods, packing away his things, and Jeno briefly wonders if he only asked out of politeness. ‘I’ll see you around.’

Jaemin leaves and it makes Jeno feel weird, like he’s missing out on something. It’s stupid. He doesn’t owe Jaemin anything; he’s not one of those girls that try to get Jaemin to hang out with them any chance they get. He’s not even really trying to become closer with Jaemin, he just takes it as he gets it. There’s nothing to feel weird about. It’s probably just the day getting progressively worse for absolutely no reason.

 

 

Jeno asks his mum about it later. ‘Why are teenagers so miserable?’

She smiles at him, ruffling his hair until he swats her hand away. ‘It’s just a part of growing up, honey.’

‘But why?’

‘You’re figuring yourself out. It’s not just your body that’s changing, it’s your brain, too, you see? Everything is kind of new and weird and at the same time you’re trying to find your place. That can be difficult but it’s completely normal.’ She frowns a little. ‘Unless you’re properly depressed. Do you want to go see someone –‘

‘No! I mean – no. I’m fine. Just wondering.’

She squints at him but nods. ‘Okay. Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with, yeah?’

‘Okay.’ But there isn’t because she refuses to do Jeno’s homework for him and he can’t very well her why he’s sad when he doesn’t know it himself.

He briefly wonders if Jaemin feels like that, too, confused and empty, then shakes his head. It’s not like he really cares about Jaemin like that, anyway.