Donghyuck wishes he could say that he owns something akin to privacy, but that’s an impossible task when you share a room.
It used to be different, however, when it was only Jaemin and him. Jaemin knows what privacy means and is capable of giving Donghyuck some personal space, but the problem isn’t Jaemin. The problem is Jaemin’s boyfriend.
Huang Renjun. Shy and reserved at first, but only two weeks after meeting him, his inner monster crawled out of his cave to torment Donghyuck. Considering that Donghyuck gets on better with mean people, he should have liked Renjun a lot more than he did after the first impression, but he wasn’t used to being the victim of anyone’s antics.
Renjun loves breaking and tearing his personal space. He loves barging into his room without knocking, screaming that he knows all about Donghyuck’s secrets - maybe he does - and Jaemin is too whipped to stop him. Jaemin finds it funny, even. And that could have been fine, really. Yet Donghyuck has been dating Jeno for nearly one year, and his personal space isn’t only his anymore: it’s Jeno’s too.
So there Renjun goes, kicking the door of his room open, well aware that there are high chances that Donghyuck’s hands are under someone’s shirt, and well aware that Jeno is coy on getting caught. Renjun, on the other hand, doesn’t even blink when he spots them cuddling in bed, and Jeno detaches from Donghyuck so fast that he hits the back of his head against the wall in the process.
“How is this a relationship?” Renjun groans, pretending to be grossed out at the sight. He’s wearing tight jeans and a t-shirt that could pass as elegant, but Donghyuck knows with certainty that it’s part of his pajamas. Renjun barely bothers to dress up for his early morning classes, and if no one points it out, he doesn’t go back to his room to change clothes. “Do you ever talk or do you just eat each other’s mouth all the time?”
He has a point, that much Donghyuck has to admit. Of course he talks to Jeno and viceversa, but it just so happens that Renjun tends to walk in during situations in which they’re using their tongues for other tasks. Donghyuck is sure that he does it on purpose, because they’re short on affection when Jaemin and Renjun are with them, and Renjun has never understood it.
So they don’t kiss that much. In fact, they barely kiss compared to when they first started dating, even though Jeno has grown used to Donghyuck’s excessive affection.
“Hi guys,” Jaemin greets them with a demure smile, trailing after Renjun. He lifts a couple of boxes that he’s carrying and announces, “We brought food.”
Even though the gesture is sweet, Donghyuck’s grumpiness doesn’t allow him to feel grateful. Jeno is still rubbing the back of his head and hissing, but Renjun seems completely immune to Jeno’s suffering. After checking that Jaemin’s bed is free, Renjun decides that he prefers sitting on Donghyuck’s, so he moves Jeno’s legs away and invades half of the space with a seemingly oblivious smile.
That’s why Donghyuck faces Jaemin, who is handing him one of the boxes, and reproaches, “Your boyfriend is a bitch.”
Far from offended, Jaemin laughs, a spark in his eyes as he glances at Renjun for a second. “I know that. So what?”
On the contrary, Donghyuck can tell that Renjun is slightly annoyed. Not because he expresses it out loud, but because he grabs the hand that Donghyuck is resting on Jeno’s thigh and forces him to set both of his hands on the bed.
“We are eating. Have some respect,” he scolds them, yet he makes a point by grinning at Jeno. His only intention is to embarrass them, which is why he adds, “I mean, I don’t expect any respect from Donghyuck, but Jeno, you should be ashamed.”
Perhaps a few months ago Jeno would have had the decency to blush, but at this point he has heard the same teasing tricks from Renjun a thousand times. Donghyuck knows Jeno enough to detect that he’s indeed a little embarrassed, yet he manages to hide it well.
“It’s not my fault that you secretly want to watch us kiss,” Donghyuck chimes, with the only aim of distracting him before he catches the faint trace of shame in Jeno’s face.
That’s the first time it happens. Renjun looks into his eyes for a second, and Donghyuck reads the surprise in his gaze, the confusion. Donghyuck ignores what he has said wrong. Yet then Renjun’s stare travels down to his lips, like an automatic reflex, like instinct. It lasts just for an ephemeral moment.
Donghyuck doesn’t know why, but it leads him to imitate Renjun, and his eyes fall on Renjun’s mouth as well. He finds himself licking his own lips, and that’s the final straw that scares him, that makes him snap back to reality. When he successfully shifts his look to Renjun’s eyes, Renjun is already looking back at him, with the same hint of fright, of panic.
“Gross,” Renjun murmurs, with no strength in his voice. He has trouble to gulp down, and then he breaks eye contact, focusing his attention on his own lap.
No one notices. Jeno is unwrapping the food box, and Jaemin is dragging one of the small bedside tables so that they settle the food there instead of the bed. For them, this is their daily bickering. It’s not important.
It’s the first time it happens, but not the last.
Donghyuck met Jaemin on his first day at the campus.
Jaemin had already arrived at their room, but he was so considerate - or so scared - that he had spread his belongings on the floor, not on one of the beds. Donghyuck wasn’t an asshole, and he wouldn’t have minded if Jaemin had chosen a bed, but he didn’t even have the courage to tell him that.
The first thing that Donghyuck did, upon spotting Jaemin, was panic. On a scale from zero to ten to measure how gay he was, Donghyuck was a ten. Some fools said that you couldn’t measure such thing, but that wasn’t true; Donghyuck knew that he was a ten, and that was a big problem when he was about to room with a boy that looked like Jaemin. A boy that smiled like Jaemin, worthy of a toothpaste commercial. Donghyuck felt his heart stop, just like it happens in cheesy romantic movies, and that was a first for him. During high school, he had liked plenty of – straight – boys, but Donghyuck had never deemed himself intimidated by them; this time was different.
And just like in movies, Jaemin wasn’t just a pretty face: he was polite, funny, athletic, smart. All the good things one can be. So it was unavoidable for Donghyuck to wonder if this was fate, since Donghyuck couldn’t see any bad trait in Jaemin. Not because he didn’t have any, but because by the third month, Donghyuck was in too deep to recognize Jaemin’s faults. It had to be fate, the universe picking up a guy from miles away and sending him right into Donghyuck’s life, to the same building and the same room.
But unlike movies, Jaemin didn’t fall for him. He fell for the scrawny guy from his Modern Art class, a subject he had taken on as a rebel move against his parents. Jaemin had noticed him because the boy tended to paint his canvas with all the wrong colors. Donghyuck still remembers every detail of the day Jaemin had run the whole way to their room just to reveal, fighting against a fit of laughter, that Renjun was color-blind. That he didn’t paint people’s skin green in the name of art.
Donghyuck also remembers the first time Jaemin invited Renjun over, and how he understood right away why Jaemin would never fall in love with him while having someone like Renjun around. They were perfect for each other. Renjun was perfect.
But two years after they started dating, Donghyuck is over his crush. He doesn’t mind that half of their room is plastered with Renjun’s drawings, that Jaemin’s phone screen disturbs his sleep when Renjun doesn’t sleep over, or that he hasn’t hung out alone with Jaemin in months. His friend is happy, and that’s what matters the most.
But if Jeno hadn’t appeared in his life, Donghyuck is sure he wouldn’t have been able to deal with it. Everything would have been different. Worse.
“What would you say if I tell you I want to drop out?” Jaemin sputters without thinking twice. Then he corrects himself, “Okay, not drop out. Maybe change majors.”
Jeno isn’t expecting this, but to be fair, it’s a hard move to predict. They have been studying for three hours at the library and Jaemin could have used that time to bring up this issue. He has tried, actually, but every time he glanced at Jeno, he had his head buried between books, a crease between his eyebrows. Jaemin has waited until they’re crossing the campus, darkness falling down there where there is a clear lack of lampposts. It becomes easier to confess his thoughts this way, when his face isn’t illuminated by blinding lights, when Jeno can’t see that he’s a little bit scared.
Though Jaemin doesn’t stop walking, Jeno does, halting like he has just spotted something terrible ahead. Jaemin’s doubts are that terrible, enough to make Jeno stare at him with his mouth open.
“You want to drop out?” Jeno repeats after him, ignoring the second part of his statement.
Jaemin sighs. He’s able to guess all the retorts that are surging in Jeno’s head, because he has considered them himself. “I knew you would react this way.”
There isn’t any guilt in Jeno’s face, which Jaemin appreciates, since it means that he’s going to be sincere even if hurts Jaemin.
“You’re almost halfway done,” he reminds him. It’s true: they’re about to finish their second year, and Jaemin has a great record of grades, honors in most of his classes. It would be a waste to leave all that effort behind, but that’s not what Jeno says next. What he asks is, “How much of a change are we talking about?”
Jaemin hates that Jeno can sense his reticence, that he can tell so well what is troubling Jaemin deep inside. Shifting to a related major wouldn’t be such a huge problem, yet it’s a simple glance and Jeno realizes that Jaemin is pondering about a drastic change.
Running his fingers through his hair, Jaemin admits, “I want to go for World Literature.”
The silence that follows is more significant than anything Jeno could say with words. Jaemin is aware that the gaze that he’s receiving is one of puzzlement, not of disappointment, and Jeno is trying to decipher if this is a joke, even if it isn’t the sort of jokes that Jaemin would make. When he decides that it isn’t, mainly because Jaemin is standing in front of him as though Jeno is going to sue him and ruin his life, he shakes his head.
“My god,” Jeno mutters, dumbfounded. “Your parents are going to kill you.”
Jaemin almost laughs at that, not because it’s funny, but because Jeno is right. “Thank you for cheering me up. I didn’t know that.”
The timbre of his voice must alert Jeno, since his expression drifts to one of acceptance. It’s visible that Jaemin is decided to escape from his major, otherwise he wouldn’t be asking at all, and this is his discreet way of announcing it to one of his best friends.
Jaemin is grateful for the lack of light, the lack of persons. It would be weird if Jeno held his hand in the middle of campus at a peak hour, but when he does now, fingers smoothly fitting together, Jaemin doesn’t find it weird.
In other circumstances, Jaemin would say that Jeno is being too dramatic. It has been two years and it’s an important decision, yet he doesn’t need Jeno to hug him or hold his hand. He would think that if Jeno wasn’t holding his hand right now, but he is. The pressure of their hands entangled, rubbing against each other, lifts a weight off Jaemin’s shoulders. He feels understood, even if Jeno doesn’t actually understand him; having his support is enough for him.
“Did you tell Renjun?” Jeno whispers, careful, as though such question might be delicate.
Jaemin shakes his head. It feels wrong not to share it with his boyfriend first, but Renjun won’t hold it against him; instead, he will lecture him for overthinking and will assure him that his mind will be clearer once he has eaten some cake. That’s his solution for every problem.
“No, he will tell me to go for it. To chase my dreams and throw the whole shitty STEM major away,” Jaemin clarifies, feeling judged under Jeno’s concerned gaze. Jeno doesn’t seem to disagree with him, though. “I wanted a more... level-headed opinion.”
That last part humors Jeno. He attempts to conceal a satisfied smile, but he fails at it, his lips breaking into an endearing grin. “Oh, so I’m level-headed?”
“Don’t make me say it again,” Jaemin groans, flustered. Jeno just tilts his head to the side to look at his face from a better angle, pressuring him because he wants to hear it again. Jaemin flicks his forehead, snickering, and insists, “What’s your opinion?”
“Throw the whole major away,” Jeno advises him. He doesn’t miss a beat before answering, no need to meditate over it, like he’s certain this is the way it has to be. But then he notices Jaemin’s skeptical expression and laughs, “What? You wanted my opinion and that’s it.”
“You are just telling me what I want to hear.”
“I would never,” Jeno retorts, very serious, furrowing his eyebrows. Jaemin should have kept that for himself, because Jeno wouldn’t lie to him. He’s not the type to throw compassionate lies. “I know where this is coming from, though?”
Curiosity creeps up on Jaemin’s skin. A part of him knows that he should break this moment, that he should release Jeno’s hand and not look at his dark, dilated eyes. Jaemin has to repress the first thought that runs into his head, like a virus that infects every neuron, because it’s wrong. Jeno is Donghyuck’s boyfriend, and Jaemin has no business developing feelings that shouldn’t belong to him. But he has no escape now, because he launched this conversation.
Jaemin gathers all his courage to ask, “You do?”
Unaware of Jaemin’s tension, Jeno nods. He isn’t fooling around, however, because he has to breathe deeply before replying.
“You met Renjun in a course that had nothing to do with your major. Art draws you in,” he explains, lowering his voice. The mention of Renjun is what tugs at Jaemin’s consciousness, and he becomes aware of what they’re doing: they’re alone in the middle of campus, holding each other’s hand, looking straight into each other’s eyes. Jaemin senses Jeno’s doubts as well, his trouble to finish what he needs to say, but Jeno still manages to continue, “It proved its point, that it can make you happy, because Renjun makes you happy.”
Jeno lets go and glances at the floor, sinking his hands into his pockets. Jaemin feels the urge of telling him that it’s fine, yet he isn’t so sure of it himself. Jeno’s words replay inside his head, once and once again, and then realization hits him: Jeno isn’t uncomfortable because their contact has grown intimate, but because of Renjun.
Jaemin opens and closes his mouth several times, no sound coming out. “You think Renjun is art?” he asks at last, confused.
“I-” Jeno begins, but he can’t answer. That means that he does, and that he feels too guilty to admit it before Jaemin. Jeno never lies, and that’s the problem: he can’t run away from this situation without lying. That’s the reason why he steps back and announces, “I think we should go back. It’s getting too dark.”
Jeno met Donghyuck by pure chance. He learned, afterwards, that someone like Donghyuck can only storm into people’s lives one way: destroying everything in their path.
Jeno had been the captain of the football team for just two months. He was confident in his skills, but at first he hadn’t even considered joining the university team, too worried about how he would do in his studies. It was Mark who had convinced him, assuring him that it would be a great way of making friends - and since Mark was the veteran, even if it he had only been in college one year before him, Jeno listened to his advice.
He didn’t have any complaints: his teammates babied him, were in awe of his skills, and named him the captain over players that had been in the team for years. Jeno felt at ease among them, a sort of attention that he was used to, but that didn’t mean that he was a good leader. His lack of skills didn’t trouble him, however, because he rarely had to make use of them for important issues. Or so he thought.
On a Friday training session, Jeno stepped onto the field and found that it had been invaded. Around twenty persons were sitting on the grass, facing the exit of the changing rooms on purpose. Jeno didn’t need anyone to tell him that it was a bad sign, that they weren’t there to befriend them or to cheer for them.
“Shit,” Jaehyun cursed, walking up to him. He wasn’t wearing his helmet, so Jeno could see his expression of panic, which was quite unhelpful. “They’re an anti-system organization.”
Jeno stupidly sputtered, “A what?”
His teammates were gathering behind him, whispering and observing the invaders, and it was then that Jeno remembered that he was the captain. He was responsible of this, whether he liked it or not.
“We have to kick them out. Look at the boy in the middle. His name is Lee Donghyuck,” Jaehyun continued, shifting his weight from one leg to another in nervousness. “He’s infamous on campus because he was in the organization even before getting into university.”
That was bad, if Jeno decided to be optimistic. Jeno couldn’t consider his options if he wanted to confront them, because if he thought about why that boy had gained a fame on his own, he would never had the guts to fight him. So Jeno ruffled his hair and strode towards the strangers, a flock of guys rushing behind him to keep up with his pace.
“Morning,” Jeno greeted them, taking off his helmet. He had to hold himself back not to smile, which was a reflex action for him, yet he didn’t want his semblance to look too threatening. “Do you know this is a private zone? You need an authorization to be here.”
Lee Donghyuck looked unfazed, and Jeno would have sworn that he found funny that Jeno reminded him that they were breaking in. They already knew: no one invaded a football field by mistake. Donghyuck stood up with a stack of papers in his hands, no trace of fear, and inspected Jeno from head to toe, seizing him up. Jeno felt annoyed, but he didn’t react; that kid had the nerve to glare at someone that was strong enough to choke him with just one hand, so he was either stupid or a bomb about blow up.
Even if Jeno was used to receiving attention, no one had looked at him this way before. And despite that, Jeno took a moment to observe Donghyuck’s face. He had childish, innocent features, like a baby that had grown before his time came, and everything about Lee Donghyuck was brown. His hair, his eyes, his skin. It forced a sensation of warmness on him, which judging his next words, was far from reality.
“I’m the authority,” Donghyuck cheekily replied, and it was impossible to tell if it was a joke or not.
“What?” Jeno asked again, sensing a headache ahead. His inner logic warned him that Donghyuck was toying with him, and he would wind up looking like a fool in front of his team if he didn’t stop him. “Can you please leave? We have a lot of work to do.”
Donghyuck’s eyebrows shot up, stare turning cynical for how fast Jeno had tried to dismiss him. He hadn’t even had the chance to express himself. “You’re pretty polite for someone that contributes to the patriarchy.”
“What the fuck?”
“How many training sessions have you had this week? Don’t answer me, I already know. Four,” Donghyuck said, not giving him time to process the accusation. He held one of the papers up and pushed it against Jeno’s chest. The gesture caught him off guard, so Jeno actually took it from Donghyuck, allowing him to look through his papers again. Once he found his next proof, Donghyuck smiled at Jeno and added, “How many did the female team have? One. And this isn’t occasional, because we have checked the schedules since pre-season.”
“How did you even get access to that information?” Jeno retorted, squinting at Donghyuck’s joyful expression. “You know what? It doesn’t matter. I can’t do anything about this, so will you-”
“No, I won’t,” Donghyuck interrupted him, his smile dissolving to give space to seriousness. “It gets worse. The male team is hogging most of the resources, while the female team doesn’t even get their bus or their equipment paid.”
Jeno had to kick them out. His teammates were getting nervous by the second, and Donghyuck looked ready to come up with more faults if Jeno refused to collaborate. He was screwed. Both of them knew it, hence why the corners of Donghyuck’s lips curled up every time Jeno showed a bit of frustration.
Jeno gaited forwards, closing the distance between them. Surprise cut across Donghyuck’s face, perhaps because he was afraid of a physical confrontation; when Jeno wasn’t smiling, he tended to look like the type to get into fights. But he wasn’t. He merely wanted to talk to Donghyuck without being heard by curious ears.
“What do you want?” Jeno asked between gritted teeth.
Jeno could have noticed the way Donghyuck gazed at him right then. The way his breathing came to a halt, or how he admired Jeno’s eyes from up close, his stare growing unfocused. But Jeno was too innocent - a fool, Mark would have said - and he missed all the signs, missed the power he could have over Donghyuck.
Donghyuck squeaked out, “Since the president will not change the schedules, you will cede some of your sessions to the female team. Half and half.”
Jeno gave him a curt nod, wanting to get rid of them as fast as possible. They didn’t have to comply, after all, and Jeno wasn’t sure that they were allowed to change their own schedule. “Only if you move your ass out of here.”
“Well, that was easy,” Donghyuck announced, satisfied. He glanced back at his partners and signaled them to surrender; they flocked away in a matter of seconds, much more respectful than expected. Donghyuck spun around one last time to look at Jeno, and then he mocked a salute, grinning. “See you soon, captain. We haven’t finished yet.”
Jeno didn’t believe his threat, but Donghyuck kept his promise. The organization crashed their sessions for two whole weeks before management agreed to listen to Jeno’s complaints, and after a few minor changes, their training sessions were divided equally. Donghyuck’s organization was banned from entering the field, even during matches, so they weren’t appeased by the solution. They started waiting outside the field, with more demands, putting the blame on Jeno because they couldn’t properly bother them anymore.
It became a habit for the organization to gather after nightly training sessions, and Jeno sometimes found himself, in the middle of the game, thinking if Donghyuck would be outside, if they would talk, if they would argue. If Donghyuck would smile at him again, when no one was looking at them anymore, like he had started to do when Jeno got too irritated.
But then, something changed. The organization stopped boycotting them. They disappeared for one week at first, but the team didn’t give it much importance – perhaps there were too many causes to attend on campus. Yet by then, Jeno had gotten to know Donghyuck enough to guess that it couldn’t be the case, that he wouldn’t give up. Donghyuck was capable of finding out where Jeno’s room was just to keep complaining.
Three weeks after, Jeno saw Donghyuck sitting on the bleachers while they trained. Jeno had no idea of how Donghyuck had sneaked in, yet he preferred not to ask, since ignorance could be happiness when it came to Donghyuck’s antics. The difference was that Donghyuck wasn’t backed up by his friends: he was alone. He was wearing a hood that covered most of his face, which was proof of him feeling out of place for once – that was what made Jeno suspicious, because at that point Donghyuck moved around the football team as if they were childhood friends. That familiarity was also the reason why Jeno would have recognized him anyway and anywhere despite the hood.
After the training session, Jaehyun elbowed Jeno to push him towards Donghyuck, laughing, because Jeno hadn’t understood the situation. It had taken a great amount of teasing from his teammates to comprehend why they wanted him to talk to Donghyuck.
Donghyuck was waiting for him. He kept his hands between his legs, his gaze on his shoes, a coyness that wasn’t characteristic of him as Jeno stepped up on the bleachers. Yet Jeno approached him anyway, though his legs were trembling and a voice in his head was screaming he’s here for me, he’s here for me.
When Jeno sat down next to Donghyuck, he was breathless, so none of them said anything for a moment. Donghyuck didn’t even lift his gaze. Jeno’s brain twirled for words, since his tongue refused to respond, and Jeno surprised himself by asking, “Is this how you negotiate? Throwing away your ideals for a boy?”
And Donghyuck answered:
“Everyone in the system is corrupt, don’t you know? It’s human nature.”
Jaemin scoffs so hard that the drunk girl on the couch, next to him, sits up while mumbling something unintelligible. However, Donghyuck isn’t joking, and Jaemin would be lying if he affirmed that he is shocked at the lack of worry from Donghyuck’s part. He’s similar to Renjun in that aspect: he is brave to take important steps, because for them happiness is way more vital than having a clean image. On the contrary, Jaemin fears disappointing people; his parents, to be specific.
“That’s your advice?” Jaemin asks, unable to hide his amusement.
Donghyuck should tell him to shut up. This is a party, he would usually say, yet this time he enables Jaemin and his killjoy tendencies.
“Yes. All majors suck in the end, because all of them are corrupted,” Donghyuck assures him. He throws an arm around Jaemin’s shoulders, which proves to be difficult since they’re pressed against the couch, but his gesture of support is what matters. Then he lifts his chin to point at someone in the crowd. “Cheer up, pretty. Look at those two fools.”
Following the direction of his gaze, Jaemin can’t help but smile. They’re hard to spot, since the party is full of students, but Jaemin wouldn’t miss them even in the hugest multitude. Renjun and Jeno are dancing together, if one can call that dancing; a more accurate depiction would be calling it an attempt at dislocating Renjun’s arms. Jeno is throwing him far away and catching his hand just in time so that he doesn’t fall on his butt, and Renjun is laughing so hard that Jaemin can hear him in the middle of the uproar of the party.
“Life is so unfair,” Jaemin laments, right when Jeno drags Renjun to his chest so hard that they end up hugging not to fall. “Why do they look so cute together?”
“You think my boyfriend looks cute?” Donghyuck teases right away, though he’s aware that Jaemin doesn’t mean that.
They fall into a comfortable silence as they watch Renjun and Jeno dance. Jaemin swears that both of them are a bit tipsier than usual, because at least Jeno is often incapable of embarrassing himself this way. It could be Renjun’s effect as well, as Jaemin calls it, since Renjun has the power to convince people to do anything he wants. Jaemin is very familiar with it.
When Jaemin turns his head to share that with Donghyuck, words are erased from his mind. The spark in Donghyuck’s eyes silences Jaemin, because he looks like he did when he first met Jeno, when he spent nights planning what he could change in the football’s team just to see Jeno again. Tonight, Donghyuck isn’t staring at Jeno, however. The difference should be hard to spot, but when Renjun flies away from Jeno’s arms and into a stranger’s back, Donghyuck chases him with his gaze, a smile blooming on his face.
Donghyuck is looking at Renjun like he’s the only person in the room. In the world, even.
Jaemin wonders if he should be angry, if there’s something broken inside him because he doesn’t mind this, nor would he mind if Renjun looked back at Donghyuck with the same glint in his eyes.
The question flows from Jaemin’s mouth before he can reason that it’s not a good idea to bring it up. “For how long have you been in love with Renjun?”
Donghyuck freezes in an instant. Jaemin regrets his impulse, but it’s too late; his friend looks like Jaemin has just announced that he’s going to make the house explode with all of them inside. He looks like he knows that he’s about to lose Jaemin forever, and that was the last of Jaemin’s objectives. He didn’t even have one.
“W-what?” Donghyuck stutters, terrified. He sends Jaemin a frightened glance, but he doesn’t manage to hold eye contact for long. “I don’t-”
“Donghyuck,” Jaemin stops him, sighing. An excuse would sound ugly right now, almost offensive, though Jaemin understands why that is Donghyuck’s first reaction. “I can tell.”
Jaemin bites his lower lip, frustrated. He never wished to have this conversation at a party, with a drunk girl sleeping next to them, or to push Donghyuck right into a panic state because he hasn’t psyched himself up yet.
The world crumbles on him, even though Jaemin hasn’t reproached anything to him. The fear must have been eaten for a while now, judging how he sinks his head between his legs, as though he can’t breathe. Jaemin hurries up to bend forward, worried, but Donghyuck is hard to move, resisting against Jaemin’s attempt to look at his face. Jaemin becomes scared too when his friend doesn’t move, when he doesn’t answer his questions, and he even resorts to look up to see if he can call someone over for help.
But then Donghyuck talks, and his voice breaks all of Jaemin’s plan. Hearing Donghyuck break down in front of him destroys Jaemin as well, not only because Donghyuck doesn’t deserve it, but also because it’s Jaemin’s fault.
“I’m sorry, so sorry,” Donghyuck sobs, sinking his head between his legs. He covers his face with his hands, and stays in that position, hiding away from Jaemin and shoulders slightly shaking. If he’s not crying, he’s going to, and Jaemin has to swallow the knot growing in his throat not to follow. “I’m so sorry. I still love Jeno, you know?”
Guilt isn’t foreign to Jaemin. He feels exactly like Donghyuck must feel, except that he hasn’t even had the courage to admit it to himself. Donghyuck, on the other hand, knows that he’s in love with Renjun. That it’s so obvious that he can’t bother to lie for the sake of their friendship.
Jaemin slips down the couch and lands onto his knees, grasping Donghyuck by the chin to be able to look at him. Donghyuck lets him, too weak to fight, and Jaemin’s heart tears apart when he meets his teary eyes. Love should never be about crying.
“I do,” Jaemin whispers, careful. He caresses Donghyuck’s cheek with his thumb, wiping away the humidity from his face. Any other guy would have slapped him away, but this is Donghyuck, who trusts him, who loves him, who stayed beside him when he began dating another boy, and stayed beside him despite falling in love with that same another boy. “Hey, listen. I’m not mad at you. Far from that. Do you think that I can’t understand you, or that I don’t know how it feels to love him?”
In a matter of seconds, incredulity is plastered all over Donghyuck’s face. “Are you serious?”
“Don’t be that loser that cries at a party,” Jaemin teases him. He crosses his arms over Donghyuck’s legs, forcing him to look into his eyes, and Donghyuck gifts him with en embarrassed smile, aware of how foolish is that he’s crying. “I don’t think you’ll find this funny, but since we’re at it, I should tell you too.”
Donghyuck blinks at him, slightly confused at the change of topic. “What?”
Jaemin takes a deep breath and spits, trying not to hold onto his own logic, the conclusion he reached long ago. “I might like Jeno. I might have liked him for a while? And I’m sure he knows.”
If something is going to be dislocated tonight, it’s not Renjun’s arms, but Donghyuck’s jaw. Despite the severity of his confession, Jaemin has to prevent himself from laughing at Donghyuck’s reaction. He shifts his gaze from Jaemin to Jeno, back to Jaemin, and then to Renjun, just to end up with a slight blush on his cheeks.
“Shit,” Donghyuck mutters then, dumbfounded. “You really think my boyfriend is cute.”
Donghyuck startles because Jaemin can’t hold his laughter this time, and he glares at him when Jaemin tells him, “This is why you shouldn’t joke about something like this.”
Jaemin can see Donghyuck physically trying not to cry again, but the bad pun Jaemin has just told him must be too much for him to handle, because Donghyuck lets himself fall towards Jaemin. Before Jaemin can process what’s happening, he has his arms wrapped around Donghyuck in a hug, and yes, Donghyuck is still sobbing, but now he’s sobbing against his chest.
Much to Donghyuck’s luck, both Jeno and Renjun are drunk enough not to notice that he has cried. Even if it was just for a second, before Jaemin consoled him, Donghyuck is sure that he was red up to his ears.
Donghyuck slings an arm around Renjun to help him stand up as they walk back to their dorms. Jaemin holds Jeno, because he’s bigger and Jeno loves escaping from Donghyuck’s grasp claiming that he’s tickling him – even if it’s a lie. Carrying them all the way to the dorm is a difficult mission, since Renjun is determined to cling onto Jeno for as long as he can, and Jaemin decides, in the end, to let them sleep in their room so that they don’t have to drop them at their respective rooms.
“Hey, no!” Donghyuck protests when Renjun launches himself on his bed, laughing. He grabs Renjun’s ankle to drag him out, but Renjun twirls and kicks with so much enthusiasm that Donghyuck has to withdraw. “Sleep with your boyfriend, will you?”
Perhaps that command would have had some effect if Jeno hadn’t jumped on Renjun right after. He’s twice the size of Renjun, so Renjun screams at the impact - not because he’s hurt, but because he gets scared - and both of them break into a battle of giggles. Donghyuck has strength to fight one drunk guy, but not two of them.
“Let them be,” Jaemin recommends him, cackling at how sad Donghyuck looks after losing his bed. “You can sleep with me.”
Donghyuck doesn’t dare to face Jaemin. The idea of sharing a bed with Jaemin tonight unsettles him, though it wouldn’t be the first time they’re occupying each other’s personal space. Damn, they have roomed together for almost two years, and Donghyuck has seen Jaemin in a thousand awkward situations, so he shouldn’t be nervous now. But Donghyuck’s brain is working on its own, warning him that while Jaemin talks, he’s likely getting rid of his t-shirt as well. Jaemin sleeps in his underwear, and Donghyuck isn’t about to sleep with Jaemin in underwear, is he?
Instead, Donghyuck busies himself by taking off Renjun’s shoes, since the asshole isn’t the least worried about dirtying Donghyuck’s bed, but there’s just so much time he can waste before getting into bed with Jaemin.
By the time he finishes, Jeno has embraced Renjun and is playing to kiss his nape as Renjun yelps in protest. Donghyuck considers it a game that they’re playing only because they’re drunk – Jeno would never dare to do that when sober.
Donghyuck can hear Jaemin laugh, however, and he avoids his gaze as much as possible while he changes into his pajamas. It feels oddly comfortable, despite his own tension, to have the three of them in the same room like it’s not a big deal. It feels oddly comfortable the way Renjun and Jeno press against each other, as though they have done it a hundred times, and how happy they look doing so.
“Are you going to come or do I have to force you?” Jaemin grumbles at last, throwing one of his pillows at Donghyuck.
“He’s getting ready for Jaemin, Jaemin,” Renjun answers him, and then bursts into laughter at his own joke. “You should run some laps around the dorm to warm up.”
“Oh my god, shut the hell up,” Donghyuck protests, pretending that Renjun isn’t right. “You’re so annoying.”
However, that leaves him no choice but to join Jaemin, and when he finally finds the boldness to stare at Jaemin, he finds him with a smirk on his lips. Jaemin has always been the fastest to pick up hints, and Donghyuck is sure that at some point he knew how whipped Donghyuck was for him. He’s just too polite to mention it, unlike Renjun.
Jaemin pats the empty space next to him, “No need to warm up. I’m like a heater.”
“I can vouch for that,” Renjun agrees from the other side of the room.
“You two stop,” Jeno chirps in, sounding too happy to threaten anyone. “Stop making fun of my chicken boyfriend.”
The only solution to silence them is complying, thus Donghyuck slips into the bed and pushes Jaemin’s smiling face away from him. He doesn’t complain when Jaemin surrounds his waist, however, because both of them can feign that Jaemin needs to hold onto something to be able to sleep. They can also pretend that Donghyuck doesn’t snuggle against him by instinct.
Donghyuck can’t remember the moment he falls asleep. He can remember hearing Jeno and Renjun still laughing, doing a horrible job at whispering, and the feeling of Jaemin’s chest moving with every breath against his back.
He wakes up with the sound of the door. It’s not late morning yet, so Donghyuck rubs his eyes in confusion, wondering who is already moving around the room. It’s not Jaemin, for he’s curled up against Donghyuck, and when Donghyuck checks the other bed, he realizes that Renjun is missing. Jeno is sleeping while hugging the pillow, which Renjun probably used to distract Jeno as he left.
Donghyuck doesn’t understand why Renjun would run away from the room so early, without saying goodbye, so he sits up for a moment to clear up his head. That’s when his eyes detect the piece of paper resting on his bedside table, and his heart tries to jump out of his chest when he recognizes what Renjun has done.
It’s a drawing. Renjun has taken one of Donghyuck’s pencils, has stolen a paper, and has drawn Jaemin and Donghyuck in bed while they were asleep. Donghyuck is speechlees as he reaches out for the drawing and holds it between his hands.
Observing the drawing feels like seeing Jaemin and himself through Renjun’s eyes; that’s his magic, after all, because he expresses with his talent what he can’t express with his words. And his talent is so big that he has pinned down his feelings on a crumbled piece of paper, which shakes in Donghyuck’s trembling hands when he realizes what the hidden message of the drawing is.
Renjun isn’t the only one who returns his feelings.
It is common knowledge that Renjun doesn’t worry, but it’s also false knowledge.
He doesn’t comprehend how he gained that fame, not only among his classmates, but also among his friends. Donghyuck firmly believes it, for starters, and so does Jeno. There is this strange perception that Renjun’s life is perfect, because he’s an ace at drawing, he’s great at building friendships and he follows the rule of not worrying about something he can’t change.
But he has a limit. Jaemin is the only one who has lived it in his skin, because Renjun turns crazy when they fight and mopes around for days until Jaemin convinces him that it’s fine, that he’s not going to be mad at him for the rest of his life. Renjun isn’t careless.
The other limit is Donghyuck. Wanting to kiss Donghyuck, to be specific, and not knowing what that means. Looking at Donghyuck and knowing that Donghyuck is thinking about kissing him too. And it’s bothersome, really, to feel that his heart is going to leap out every time he glances at Donghyuck or at Jeno.
Renjun isn’t the sort of person that suffers in denial. He’s in close touch with his own thoughts and feelings, and he’s familiar with how it feels to be in love with someone. The first symptom is the urge of drawing them. Renjun drew Jeno for one of his classes during the first semester, and he never told anyone – he didn’t even need a reference, because he had memorized every detail of Jeno’s face and body. That’s when he noticed that maybe he had observed Jeno too much.
What Renjun ignores is the feeling of loving several people at the same time. When he began becoming nervous around Jeno, he thought it was natural: Jeno was really attractive, and just like everyone else, Renjun couldn’t be immune to him. But it wasn’t that. Jeno wasn’t a piece of eye-candy for him, because it was his smile what made Renjun breathless, and even when he was annoying, Renjun found himself thinking that he didn’t mind that. That he would miss Jeno’s flaws as much as he would miss his strengths.
With Donghyuck the process is different. It’s not about small details, because Donghyuck isn’t small. All about him is big, overwhelming, and Renjun feels his chest about to burst when Donghyuck touches him. From the beginning, Renjun knew that there was a spark between them, but it could have been a spark of friendship.
He has thought about telling Jaemin, though a voice in his mind whispers that Jaemin must have realized. They have been dating for one year and a half, spending almost all their time together, so they can read each other without words. Yet this is different, because who expects their boyfriend to fall for other two boys and claim that he still loves him the same?
“Renjun, that’s the wrong color,” Yuta tells him then, grabbing his wrist before he can touch the canvas.
Yuta is there exactly for that: to avoid that Renjun mistakes colors and messes up his next assignment. At first Renjun received help from Jaemin, but their schedules didn’t match and Jaemin wasn’t as versed in painting as art students, so Yuta, despite being a senior, volunteered. It has been a year since Yuta began aiding him, but it’s the first time he sends Renjun such a strange look.
“Shit,” Renjun complains, dropping the brush.
“You weren’t even looking at the palette,” Yuta points out with a squint of his eyes. “It’s not color blindness, it’s dumb blindness.”
Silence is everything Renjun can offer, because his friend has hit the spot. He wasn’t even thinking about the painting in front of him, and an automatic pilot is never a good companion for art. Silence doesn’t convince Yuta, however, because he confesses, “I saw you last night with that boy.”
Renjun’s back tenses up involuntarily. “Who? Jeno?”
“Yeah, that one,” Yuta confirms. Renjun didn’t see Yuta at the party, but he would be lying if he said he was in a state to recognize familiar faces. “I thought things with Jaemin were great?”
It’s touching that Yuta cares about him, even if his supposition of a crisis with Jaemin is pure imagination. But Renjun understands why anyone would reckon that after spotting him with Jeno; Renjun himself has had big problems to fit so many feelings inside and conclude that all of them are valid.
“They’re great,” Renjun replies with a shrug. He sends a reassuring smile towards Yuta, who responds with an incredulous expression that shows that he doesn’t buy Renjun’s bullshit. “What’s up? Did I sign a contract for which I can’t dance with other boys?”
“Dance,” Yuta repeats, unimpressed. Noticing that Renjun intends to focus back on his painting, he steals the brush he’s about to use. Then he continues, “Is that how kids call it nowadays? He looked like he was disposed to go on his knees and ask you to marry him.”
Laughter bubbles out of Renjun’s mouth. He can agree that sometimes Jeno might look like the main character of a romantic movie, but he’s way too shy to ask anyone’s hand. He would have to be asked, instead.
“I can assure you things are great with Jaemin, so stop,” Renjun says.
“So they’re great with Jaemin,” Yuta insists. He guides Renjun’s hand back to the brush, and when Renjun closes his fingers around it, Yuta leads him to the color he was looking for. Yuta smirks, as though he has come to a final conclusion, and asks, “And great with Jeno?”
Renjun avoids Yuta’s gaze, heart beating so hard that the blood blocks his ears. Realization hits him: he does have someone to resort to for advice. Yuta is his friend, loves him, and has much more experience than him; besides, there is no point in lying to him when he’s catching on what’s happening.
Yet Yuta can’t even imagine his most recent little secret, because he drops his own brush when Renjun speaks again to confess, “And maybe with Donghyuck.”
Yuta chokes on his own saliva.
The next time Renjun sets foot in Jaemin and Donghyuck’s room, the first thing that catches his attention is his own drawing. Considering the amount of his work that is all over the wall, that shouldn’t be striking to him, but his drawing isn’t located on Jaemin’s side this time.
During the last two years, Donghyuck’s side of the wall had been empty. Until now, because the drawing that Renjun made a few days ago is occupying the center of the wall.
Much to Renjun’s luck, Donghyuck isn’t there, and he is thankful that only Jaemin can see the stupid face Renjun makes at his discovery. But that’s the only natural reaction: his display of feelings is hanging on the wall, and he hasn’t talked to Donghyuck in all this time, so he can’t even predict what this move means. Did Donghyuck understand it? Or did he assume that Renjun drew them out of boredom or because he was still drunk?
Renjun would swear that a smile flashes across Jaemin’s face for a split second, but then he pecks Renjun on the lips and asks, “Long day?”
“Emotionally exhausting day,” Renjun sighs. His fingers hurt from painting and he’s sure that his sight has started failing him, colorful spots invading his vision. He spins around to inspect the place, but half of Donghyuck’s stuff is gone, and Jeno didn’t leave any of his belongings either. “Where are they?”
If Jaemin is surprised at the question, he doesn’t show it. He flings himself on his bed again, though he sets away the book he was reading before Renjun interrupted him, a gesture to leave space for Renjun. Renjun takes a deep breath and complies, taking his shoes and jacket off first. It’s undeniable that he needs the cuddles, and Jaemin doesn’t even need to ask, which means it must be severe.
“Today begins the seclusion Donghyuck has been preparing for the students’ strike,” Jaemin reminds him. It’s hard to keep up with Donghyuck’s schedule, since it’s composed of an amount of illegal activities that Renjun can’t even name. But at least he’s doing illegal things for the better. “It will last all weekend. And Jeno is training.”
Even if Renjun merely sits next to Jaemin, his boyfriend hauls him down so that he lies next to him. Renjun rests his head on Jaemin’s arm, pulling up his legs to look for warmth. They stare at each other, but it’s not uncomfortable. It’s never uncomfortable with Jaemin, who smiles a sweet smile for him and caresses a strand of Renjun’s hair away from his face.
“I guess it’s the perfect time for us to talk,” Renjun observes then, testing the waters.
They are alone, which proves to be difficult most of the time, and though it’s likely that Jeno will pay a visit, his sessions have been increasingly longer during the last weeks.
“Only talk?” Jaemin jokes, grinning at him. It’s a simple joke to ease up the tension, but all he manages to get is a flick on the forehead. Renjun doesn’t look guilty at all, so Jaemin surrenders in resignation, “Do you really think we have to talk about it?”
It’s intriguing how Renjun hasn’t even had time to insinuate what he was referring to. He steps into Jaemin’s room, looks at him, and Jaemin already knows every one of his thoughts, every one of his concerns.
Renjun shuffles on the bed to come closer, and Jaemin slings an arm around him and keeps caressing his hair, attentive. “You don’t want to?” Renjun asks, confused.
“It’s not a matter of wanting. It’s a matter of needing,” he answers, very sure of himself. When Renjun furrows his eyebrows, as though he’s about to wonder out loud if Jaemin is high or not, Jaemin just dedicates him a tender smile. “Do you need to explain it to me, even if I already know? Though I have to say, I’d like to see all the paintings you have of Jeno, those that are hidden under your bed.”
Renjun feels all the blood draw away from his face; he can’t tell where that blood goes, but he needs it back for his brain to function and process the embarrassment. “Oh my god, you know about that,” he cries out loud, covering his face with both of his hands.
A frantic laugh is what Jaemin answers with, and then he mutters, “You’re so cute.”
Renjun scrunches his nose, displeased, “I’m not cute, jerk.”
“You’re the cutest,” Jaemin persists, and he laughs when Renjun sinks his head against his chest, both because he’s embarrassed and because he wants to hit Jaemin somehow.
They stay in that position for a while, and it’s then that Renjun admits that his boyfriend is right. They don’t need to discuss their feelings for Jeno and Donghyuck, because their forte allows them to skip that step. The real issue is convincing Donghyuck that they’re not playing with him, pulling a prank or something similar; Jaemin tends to be very flirty with everyone, so Donghyuck and Jeno are used to it and may not have taken any of his advances seriously. In fact, Renjun is certain that Donghyuck must have assumed that he’s having hallucinations.
“I told Yuta about it,” Renjun remembers then, detaching from Jaemin’s chest to look up at him.
“Before you told me? I’m offended.” Jaemin pretends that he’s going to move away from Renjun because of the betrayal, but Renjun grasps a lock of his hair and Jaemin groans. Both of them laugh, though Jaemin still whines. “What did he say?”
The truth is that Yuta advised him to kiss everyone and see what happens, but he fears that Jaemin will like the idea and he will spread the chaos that way. “He said that we should go for it, but I suspect he just wants some gossip before graduating.”
Jaemin lifts one of his eyebrows in interest. Renjun wishes he could take his words back, since it’s evident Jaemin has taken it as a challenge. The confirmation arrives as Jaemin sentences, “Man, I surely can give him some gossip.”
Although Jeno doesn’t consider himself a very needy person in relationships – be romantic relationships or platonic friendships – it’s never fun to bid Donghyuck goodbye for days. Jeno should be used to it by now, but in his defense, this time not even Donghyuck seems very disposed to leave his side.
Even if they don’t discuss the problem out loud, the events at the party revealed some secrets that were pretty well hidden. Jeno isn’t the type to wear his feelings on his sleeve, but Renjun is capable of shoving anyone out of their shell; that, along a bit of alcohol, managed to make Jeno’s feelings obvious. And he assumed that Donghyuck would be mad at him for that, because any other person would be angry if his boyfriend openly flirted with another guy. Yet this was Donghyuck, and he didn’t change his behavior after the party, though acting like nothing happened wasn’t the smartest choice either.
When Jeno parts way with Donghyuck for the weekend, he ponders about what the reason for silence is. When they started dating, it was evident that Donghyuck had the biggest crush on Jaemin, so big that calling it a crush was an offense. Jeno was insecure about it, because loving someone that was already in love with someone else was, in his opinion, risky, and he didn’t want to wind up with his heart broken. But Jeno never brought it up, respecting that Donghyuck had chosen not to share that with him. Or maybe Donghyuck was afraid of the consequences, which was completely understandable, and he feared losing Jeno as well. Jeno never thought that Donghyuck loved him less for that, or that he didn’t love him at all.
The problem is that Donghyuck might be feeling that way now: like he doesn’t have the right to bring up Jeno’s feelings, because Jeno never did. It’s easy to pretend the elephant isn’t in the room until the elephant grows so big that it doesn’t fit inside, and that’s their situation at this point. Perhaps Donghyuck hasn’t noticed Jeno’s feelings for Jaemin, because he has hidden them pretty well – it’s only blatant when they’re alone, in the small brushing of their hands, in faint blushes on their cheeks and stolen glances that last less than a second. And somehow, it’s louder than with Renjun. It’s all about the contrast: Jaemin’s flirting is never coy, but around Jeno his actions become discreet and silent, as though he’s afraid Jeno might discover him. It’s too late for that, he reckons. With Renjun, however, it’s more complicated. Renjun could kiss him square on the lips and Jeno wouldn’t be able to tell if Renjun likes him.
“Do you need help?” Jaehyun tells him.
Jeno snaps back to reality, realizing that he’s putting the bandage on his ankles in the worst way. They’re in the locker room after their training session, and Jeno always puts bandages on his ankles to secure them while he’s tired, since he has suffered a couple of sprains in the past. Jaehyun is staring at him with his eyebrows raised, as though he’s doubting if Jeno is fooling around with the bandage or he’s just an idiot.
“Thank you,” Jeno accepts.
Jaehyun drops to his knees, grabs Jeno’s leg and undoes the bandage in a matter of seconds. “Missing someone, huh?”
“You could say so,” Jeno admits. Jaehyun is good at reading at him, perhaps because he’s the second captain and they spend an awful amount of time together, so Jeno decides that he doesn’t mind if Jaehyun wants to nose around. “We just have a lot of stuff to talk about, you know?”
Jaehyun’s lips stretch into a smirk. “Oh, I know.”
It takes Jeno a few seconds to process the insinuation. Jaehyun isn’t even attempting to hide that he has information, whatever that is, and Jeno can only blink at him in confusion. “What do you mean you know?”
With a shrug, Jaehyun explains, “Rumors spread fast. Seniors are bored. We only study and study and study. We have to live off of your dramas.” Twirling the bandage around Jeno’s ankle, he looks up at him to check if the pressure is fine, and as soon as Jeno nods, he continues. “I mean, we suspect most things.”
Jeno, not believing that people are talking about his private life behind his back, tells him, “Spill.”
“Someone saw you holding hands with Jaemin weeks ago,” Jaehyun reveals. Jeno’s first though is that Jaehyun doesn’t know Jaemin. Jeno has never talked to the team about him, and it’s scary that rumors have spread not only fast, but also accurately. “Then at the party with that art kid.”
“Renjun,” Jeno corrects him.
Jaehyun smiles at him with a smug expression and repeats, “Renjun. That’s the boy’s name, eh?”
Perplexity blurs Jeno’s brain. Jaehyun’s reaction to the news, or to the gossip for that matter, isn’t what one would usually expect. As his friend, Jaehyun should be mad at him for not being clean towards his boyfriend, he should be lecturing him about his principles and ethics.
“Why aren’t you judging me for cheating on Donghyuck?” Jeno questions him, not able to hold his curiosity. At Jaehyun’s surprised expression, Jeno clarifies, “Presumably.”
“Jeno, you are whipped for Donghyuck,” Jaehyun replies, rolling his eyes. His gaze travels down as he closes the bandage and secures it, and then he pats Jeno’s ankle with a smile. “If he fell on the floor, you would kiss the floor just because he touched it. I know that, whatever you’re doing, it’s not cheating.”
“I’m not sure of that myself.”
“Please.” Jaehyun stands back on his feet, shaking the dust off of his uniform. “If someone dared to cheat on Donghyuck, he would have a whole army to take revenge even if he didn’t want to. You’d be dead by now.”
“That’s so good for my spirit, Jaehyun,” Jeno cries, though Jaehyun isn’t spitting nonsense. Donghyuck is allowing this to happen for a reason, not because he ignores everything that is happening. Not just because he loves Jeno and would grovel just not to lose him. “I hope you’re right.”
Jaehyun gives him a reassuring pat on the arm, snickering. “I’m right.”
Jaemin is lucky of having a way with his words, otherwise Renjun would have never consented to his fatal idea. When he knelt down and pulled out the drawings from under Renjun’s bed, Renjun thought he was going to die from shame. But Jaemin had already seen them, and he acted completely nonchalant as he went through all of them to choose one.
Renjun doesn’t feel very confident about how this plan will work out. He holds the drawing between his hands, avoiding staring at it, although like Jaemin said, it’s one of his best works when it comes to Jeno. Gifting this piece to Jeno, however, feels like undressing his soul in front of him. Renjun knows that when people look at his art, they can see him, so what he can’t say to Jeno with words - since he would be obligated to respond - he can say it this way.
“What about you?” Renjun protests once they’re in the elevator, dubious.
Jaemin sighs, but it’s not because he’s tired of this, but because he must have realized how much of a fool both of them are. “He knows about me, trust me. You’re different, harder to read,” he soothes Renjun, and then he grins with pride. “Except to me, of course.”
Renjun shifts in nervousness, but he still scolds him. “Don’t be so cocky.”
Despite the warning, Jaemin holds his hand as the elevator descends. Renjun is afraid, to be honest, because even if their friends have developed feelings for him, they might not be up to this mess of four. Jaemin’s touch calms him down, and he doesn’t let go during the whole walk.
“Do you want to go alone?” Jaemin asks once they’re in Jeno’s building.
Renjun nods, even if later he could regret that decision. The response induces Jaemin to look nervous as well, yet he respects his privacy, the fact that he needs to do this alone for some reason.
“Wait for me, yeah?” Renjun tells him. He’s aware that Jaemin would wait for him anyway, for one hour or two or the whole day, yet his insecurity forces him to look for reassurance.
There is no option but to take the stairs up to Jeno’s room, since the elevator isn’t functioning - one of the reasons they barely spend time there, because Donghyuck is too lazy and it’s easier to have Jeno over. Renjun agrees with him now, because carrying a painting that is as tall as half of him through four floors isn’t his definition of pleasant.
Much to his shock, Jeno isn’t in his bedroom. He’s is in the hall, and not by pure coincidence, judging by the fact that he’s walking towards the stairs with a confused expression. When they meet eyes, Jeno’s tension becomes visible, but he shows no surprise.
“How did you know-?” Renjun begins, puzzled.
“I saw you and Jaemin through the window. Where is he?” Jeno explains. He inspects the stairs as though he really expects Jaemin to show up in any moment, but then he notices Renjun’s difficulty to climb the last steps and drops to help him. “What is this?”
Jeno is already glancing at the painting, which is a natural reaction of curiosity. Everyone always asks Renjun to show his pieces, but Jeno goes beyond that, even begging when Renjun refuses as a joke. There is no point in hiding it today, since Renjun is here for that exact reason, so he flips the painting without hesitation.
Jeno is petrified as soon as his gaze falls on the painting. It speaks for itself, and Renjun can sense how Jeno stops breathing for a moment, how his eyes grow wider and his fingers tremble.
“Damn,” Jeno whispers in the end. He accepts the gift, but Renjun has to hold it for longer so that Jeno doesn’t accidentally release it. Renjun feels his cheeks heat up, since that’s everything Jeno says, and even if a deep silence settles between them, it’s comfortable. At least until Jeno flicks his eyes up from the painting and confesses, “I’d prefer one of you, to be honest.”
“Jeno,” Renjun scolds him with an anxious laugh.
“What? I’m being sincere.”
Relief washes over Renjun, despite Jeno’s statement, and that prevents him from feeling any urge of running away. Jeno hasn’t rejected him. Jeno hasn’t said even if we like each other, we can’t be together.
Jeno wants this, and that’s crazy. Hope grows inside Renjun’s chest, because he was sure that Jeno would be the most reticent to get involved in something like this – he’s not only the shiest, but also the most conservative – yet Jeno is gazing at him with the biggest smile Renjun has ever seen on his lips.
“Who are you and what have you done to Jeno?” Renjun says, trying to pull his leg.
Jeno has the decency to blush, though with the bad lighting of the stairs, it could pass as a trick of the light. Renjun knows better, since Jeno cradles the painting in his arms, softly pressing it against his chest in an attempt to conceal half of his face. His heart speeds up at the mere sight of Jeno looking into his eyes with a seriousness that he rarely wears, but undeniable happiness accompanying it.
“That should be me asking,” Jeno tells him. “What have you done to me?”
If Donghyuck had known what was going to happen, he would have never planned the seclusion for these dates. He can’t cancel it, however, because it’s a project that he has been working on for two months, and the university itself is aware of their protest. The surprising side is that they allow them to proceed, invading the Economics faculty by spreading their sleeping bags all over the main hall.
Sleeping on the floor of a faculty isn’t precisely the most comfortable option, but Donghyuck has even slept on the street during certain protests. All in all, seclusion often turns out to be fun - unless they kick them out with violence - because the association gathers around a hundred persons with the same views, all young students, and the atmosphere is perfect. Donghyuck is aware that some people attend just because they see it as a game, but he can’t deny that it’s fun when half of his association is currently playing games in groups.
Donghyuck refuses to play. First, because his mind is elsewhere - to be specific, on someone else. And second, because it’s strange that not even the dean has come to discuss their points with them. Instead of socializing, he sits down next to Jisung, a new addition that looks scared of what they have organized themselves, and asks, “Want to go home?”
Jisung looks offended at the insinuation, though both of them know that after spending the first night there, their backs are destroyed and everyone would prefer sleeping on a bed. Plus it’s impossible to have a good night sleep when they’re surrounded by so many people.
“Do you?” Jisung replies, feigning defiance.
“Actually, yes,” Donghyuck admits, much to Jisung’s surprise. “Or bring home here, whatever fits.”
To be fair, there is a big reason why Donghyuck is restless. He doesn’t have any problem with being alone. In fact, he considers himself pretty independent, but during seclusions he always exchanges many messages with Jeno and his friends to make sure everything is going fine. This time, Donghyuck has only received silence. He even texted Renjun, who is a hopeless case because he doesn’t check his phone often, and when he does, he deems most of his messages uninteresting.
Jisung pats his shoulder, “Want to go smoke in the courtyard?”
“Jisung, I don’t smoke.”
“There’s a first for everything.”
Donghyuck pinches his nose, irritated, but he can’t help but laugh at how ridiculous Jisung is. “God, what happened to you?” he laments. “You were a baby five months ago.”
Jisung hops up, nonchalant, “Mind you, I’m still a baby.”
Dismissing him with a hand wave, Donghyuck watches him leave. Unlike he has proclaimed, Jisung doesn’t walk towards the courtyard, but towards the main entrance. It’s forbidden to go out during the seclusion, since it would invalidate their protest, so the doors are locked. But that’s not an issue for Jisung, who jumps onto the nearest window as though it’s the most natural thing to do in the world.
Donghyuck scoffs, despite his amusement. But much to his disconcert, Jisung returns through the same window just one minute later, and unless he has just set a smoking record, there must be a bad reason for him to come back. They meet eyes even before Jisung manages to cross the window, and Donghyuck’s instinct pulls him up on his feet, ready for whatever Jisung throws at him.
“There is someone out there asking for you,” Jisung begins, when he’s not close enough yet for Donghyuck to answer.
Several students turn to look at them, curious, and the most logical thought crosses Donghyuck’s mind. “The dean?” he tries, worried. He has been waiting for her, anyhow, but it’s past midnight by now, and it’d be a weird time to negotiate. It’d be a good way to avoid a ruckus, though.
Jisung giggles. He giggles, like Donghyuck has just said the funniest thing ever, and confirms, “Yes, the dean.”
Jumping through the window proved to be pretty unrefined, yet Donghyuck doesn’t have any other exit. Needless to say, it’s not the dean who is demanding his presence, and Donghyuck feels like a whole fool upon recognizing the boy that is waiting outside the faculty.
It’s Renjun. Renjun, who is wearing one of Jeno’s hoodies, which Donghyuck would never mistake. It looks extremely big on him, but it’s evident he wore it in a rush, that he came here in a rush. Still, Donghyuck doesn’t understand why Jeno lent Renjun his clothes, since they don’t even fit him.
Unaware of Donghyuck’s puzzlement, Renjun gives him a demure smile and lifts the pack that he’s carrying, “I brought you food.”
Donghyuck is speechless. It’s not because of the detail, but because he can tell that Renjun didn’t come all the way here just to give him food. And yet, Donghyuck’s heart swells up merely at his presence. He doesn’t care about why Renjun is here, he just appreciates that he’s here.
“You didn’t have to, we have enough food,” Donghyuck tells him, even though he gladly accepts the food.
“Last time you said that, you came back being half of your frame.”
He has a valid point, and Donghyuck is always brushing it off just not to worry any of them. He does the same now, assuring Renjun, “It wasn’t because I didn’t eat, but because of the stress.”
Renjun draws a mischievous smile. “Liar.”
Unable hold to his gaze, Donghyuck blinks and looks down at the down. He can feel Renjun’s eyes on him, however, inspecting every one of his moves as though he’s waiting for something.
“I will eat everything, don’t nag at me,” Donghyuck softly says, and then he has to hold back his words, a knot growing in his throat.
Out of the corner of his vision, he senses Renjun tilting his head to inspect his face. “Aren’t you going to thank me?” Renjun pushes, curious. It could be one of his tricks, but it isn’t, and both of them are aware that this time is different. That they’re completely alone, and if Donghyuck dares to glance at Renjun’s lips for a single second, he will be doomed. “Maybe give me a reward for being so nice to you?”
Donghyuck wishes he could move, but he remains still, frozen in place. Renjun doesn’t need to be explicit for Donghyuck to guess what he’s referring to. But Donghyuck doubts this is fine, that it would be fine with Jaemin and Jeno, and he feels confused at which sort of game Renjun is playing. A part of him can’t believe that Renjun is asking this. Is Jaemin behind this? Why would he let this happen?
“No?” Renjun says, answering himself. A hint of disappointment can be heard in his voice. He isn’t mad, however, and that just makes Donghyuck feel guilty, because he doesn’t deserve Renjun. Renjun withdraws and after a second of hesitation, he continues, “Okay then. I left Jeno and Jaemin in the middle of a date, so I’m going back now.”
Not waiting for Donghyuck to process the information, Renjun turns around and steps down the few steps that are in front of the faculty. Donghyuck can’t believe his ears. A date. His boyfriend is on a date with Jaemin. That’s the reason Renjun ran to him: because it’s fine, because those three assholes have been fixing the mess on their own while Donghyuck was away.
Adrenaline shoots Donghyuck and his body moves without his permission, chasing after Renjun. He has rejected Renjun, even after making obvious that he wanted to kiss him a thousand times. He must have drowned in madness, or better, in stupidity.
Donghyuck’s legs tremble as he moves forward. Renjun is leaving fast, but Donghyuck’s desperation makes it look even faster, so he resorts to call him. “Wait, Renjun. Wait!”
Renjun spins around so quickly that Donghyuck startles. The relief is so obvious on his face that Donghyuck is about to laugh, but he’s too nervous to do anything except approaching him. He feels relieved too, though that’s a feeling that grows in the background, since his nerves obscure everything else.
“I thought so,” Renjun says with a little smile, a smile that becomes wider and wider as Donghyuck closes the distance.
Kissing Renjun feels like being a piece finally fitting into its puzzle. By the time their lips touch, Renjun has already entangled his hands in Donghyuck’s hair, and Donghyuck has already grabbed his waist to bring him closer. Renjun’s lips are soft against his, but the kiss isn’t; at first their kisses are short, because Donghyuck’s enthusiasm makes Renjun back away to laugh. But Renjun stops finding it funny when Donghyuck licks into his mouth, and Donghyuck can feel how his smile disappears against lips, how Renjun responds and opens up for him. Then the kiss becomes slower, deeper, and Donghyuck doesn’t remember when he crashed Renjun against the façade, but Renjun’s mind seems to be far away from that. They kiss until they have to gasp for air, and still, when Donghyuck tries to speak, Renjun tells him a firm no and loops his arms around him tighter. And Donghyuck surrenders, because he would be a fool if he voluntarily broke this moment. All those months spent thinking about how it would feel to kiss Renjun have become reality, and reality turns out to be much better than his imagination.
The calm arrives later, but Donghyuck can’t tell for how long they have kissed. They merely rest, forehead against forehead and breath hitching, and Donghyuck doesn’t dare to open his eyes for a while. The thought of staring into Renjun’s eyes right now is overwhelming. Still, he has to do it when Renjun speaks, breaking their silence.
“That was something,” Renjun points out in a whisper. His hands travel down his sides, leaving Donghyuck’s neck to hold Donghyuck’s own hands instead. It starts with a slight touch, until Donghyuck realizes that Renjun intends to intertwine their fingers and hurries up to comply before he can embarrass himself. Renjun lifts his eyebrows at him, amused. “You’re really handsy, you know?”
Donghyuck is aware of what Renjun means. Jeno has the same exact complaint when they’re in public, though it’s clearly not a complaint in Renjun’s case. It’s a bit mortifying that Renjun has noticed the first time they have kissed, nonetheless. Donghyuck can’t deny it anyhow, because his enthusiasm has overrode his logic while he kissed Renjun – not that he finds it strange. He should have know that his body would betray it.
Noticing his silence, Renjun plants a kiss on the top of his nose and smiles. Then he says, “Have a nice night.”
Donghyuck’s jaw drops as Renjun frees himself from his grasp, laughing at the dumbfounded expression Donghyuck grants him.
“Wait, where are you going?” Donghyuck protests, reaching out. Not in time, however, because Renjun has set enough distance between them so that Donghyuck can’t touch him. “You can’t just kiss me and then abandon me for the rest of the weekend.”
That’s the wrong argument. There isn’t anyone that loves torturing Donghyuck more than Renjun, and Donghyuck has just given him all the power to do so.
“I think I can,” Renjun disagrees him. He approaches him so fast that Donghyuck can’t hold him in time, but Renjun makes sure to leave a sweet goodbye kiss on his lips before withdrawing. “Be responsible.”
The last thing Donghyuck wants to do now is be responsible. In all honesty, he would prefer to follow Renjun and ditch the seclusion. The system is corrupted, anyhow. Donghyuck himself is corrupted, but that’s not hard considering he has boys like Renjun around. He observes Renjun leave, looking like a fool that has just been stolen of the best thing in his life.
“I have to say that was a nice show,” a voice behind him says then, breaking his moment of despair.
Donghyuck has a glare in his eyes before he faces Jisung, who is resting his elbows on the stool and observing Renjun walk away with a satisfied semblance. But then Jisung focuses on Donghyuck and asks, mocking, “How many boyfriends do you have, if I can know?”
Jeno has one big problem. Or to be accurate, he has two big problems named Jaemin and Donghyuck, and a tiny problem named Renjun.
Dating one person was exhausting, but dating three hurts. His lips are constantly swollen, for starters, and he had to put a limit to how many kisses he can receive in one day. That has brought them to create a Kissing Jar, where they’re obligated to drop money in if they try to kiss Jeno during his kiss closing hours. That was welcomed with protests at first, of course, until Renjun and Donghyuck discovered that they just could go to make out with each other.
Then Jeno had to set a new rule: that they can’t make out with each other while Jeno is talking to them. Much to his dismay, that has gone over their heads.
“Can you at least tone it down?” Jeno begs on a Saturday afternoon during one of their first dates.
They’re sitting in a pretty crowded café, which is an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how Jeno looks at it. If it was almost empty, then two guys kissing would gather a lot of unwanted attention; but this way, when it’s brimming with people and noise, people might not see what Renjun and Donghyuck are doing. That last possibility is proving to be false, thus Jeno is sinking in his seat in shame. He didn’t imagine their dates would be like this – he was certain, in fact, that it would be awkward in the beginning as they learned to accept the new relationship status.
Unlike him, Jaemin is distractedly sipping on his drink, not very concerned about people’s judgment. “I think it would be useless by now,” he observes, squeezing Jeno’s thigh to comfort him. “Half of the campus has seen them kiss.”
“We used to have a balance, you know?” Jeno laments, ignoring that he’s criticizing the two persons in front of him. “I made Donghyuck control his affection in public. But Renjun… Renjun is shameless too. They look like they’re competing to check who the grossest one is.”
“Young love,” Jaemin says, and then he fakes a dramatic sigh. Jeno glares at him, annoyed at the fact that Jaemin doesn’t take his words seriously, but Jaemin just wriggles his eyebrows at him and proposes, “We could compete against them, you know.”
Jeno resorts to shove Jaemin’s face away from him when he bends towards him, ready to push Jeno’s buttons. However, Jaemin laughs at him, pleased at how easily Jeno bites the bait.
“Do you want us to get kicked out?” Jeno sulks. He sends Renjun and Donghyuck a quick glance, not able to look at them for long, and then he notices something. He reaches out for Renjun’s drink, which is untouched, and decides, “This is mine now.”
Dates might be horrible sometimes, but dating three people also has its perks. Jeno loves their movie dates, for example, because they concatenate their beds together and cuddle until the movie ends. Donghyuck always falls asleep, but that’s nothing new in Jeno’s map, and Renjun clings onto Jeno without worrying about his weight – he claims that he is light, that Jeno can’t possibly complain. On his part, Jaemin has developed a liking for stroking Donghyuck’s hair, which without a doubt contributes to him falling asleep. During horror movies, Renjun makes sure to keep Jeno entertained so that he doesn’t panic, although he mocks him once the movie is over.
Jeno protests a lot, but there is a reason no one takes him seriously: all of them know how happy he is, public embarrassment included.
Jaemin regrets letting his boyfriends accompany him.
The woman behind the desk is explaining to him the process to change majors, and not only that, but also the other options that he has apart from completely quitting his major. This is an important moment for him, a moment of hope and anxiety and responsibility, but two of his three boyfriends are talking about the last topic they should address at an university office.
“That’s false,” Renjun whines, and even though Jaemin discreetly kicks his heel back to warn him, Renjun continues with his protest. “I kiss better than you. You tell him, Jeno.”
The woman attending Jaemin turns pale in the span of a second. Jaemin can’t blame her, nor can he blame the way her eyes widen and how she stares at them as though her office has been invaded by delinquents. Renjun and Donghyuck are harmless, but they don’t look the part, and everyone that has ever been university staff is familiar with Donghyuck, all for bad reasons.
“You use too much tongue,” Donghyuck refutes, not a single trace of hesitation in his voice.
“Me? It’s you who uses too much tongue,” Renjun attacks back. He threads his arm with Jeno’s, as though Jeno is on his side, despite the fact that Jeno clearly wants the ground to swallow him. “Sometimes I don’t know if you’re trying to eat me.”
Donghyuck cackles, “You don’t seem to mind that.”
“I’m sorry,” Jaemin apologizes with a nervous laugh. That attracts the woman’s attention, but the horror on her face is so transparent that Jaemin feels the need to excuse them, “They’re joking.”
They’re far from joking, of course, and she doesn’t believe him. Jaemin wonders if, among all the weird situations she must have lived with students, this one wins as the most surrealist. It probably does.
“You know what you don’t seem to mind?” Renjun asks Donghyuck then, drawing one of those smirks that don’t announce good news.
Jaemin knows the answer. That’s why he hurries up to gather all the documents that are on the desk, and much to his surprise, the woman looks very content with that decision. Jaemin’s face is burning, and this is the first time that has ever happened to him – putting Renjun and Donghyuck in the same room was dangerous before, but now that they’re dating, it has become mortal. Jeno, who has read his intentions, helps him to pick up part of the documents, and their panic distracts Renjun long enough for him not to spit the answer in front of the woman.
Jaemin wants his privacy back. Their privacy.