Hyunjin squints at the flashcard as if there might be an answer hidden in Felix’s messy scrawl. “Helion... sun? It’s some point on a planet’s orbit around the sun, right?”
Felix hums. “What point?”
“There’s no point,” Hyunjin says, letting his head drop onto his arms and stretching out on the library table. Notes crinkle under his forearms. Taking astrophysics is the worst decision he's ever made. “You know Park’s going to fail me anyway, even if I know what a perihelion is.”
“Bzzzz,” Felix says, because he’s a freak who spent the entire summer before tenth grade learning how to be a human buzzer. Or a mosquito, depending on the situation. He’s a versatile guy. “Wrong answer.”
“Perihelion’s the point at which a planet is nearest the sun,” Hyunjin says to the table.
“I thought you didn’t do the readings?”
“I didn’t,” Hyunjin says, voice still muffled by his arms and paper. “I just remembered what peri means. It’s Greek or something for ‘near.’”
“Okay, nerd. What’s the word for the point farthest from the sun?”
Hyunjin props his chin up on the back of his hand. He stares up at Felix, who’s sitting cross-legged on top of the table, his scuffed black Vans inches away from Hyunjin’s nose. “Um, tantumhelion?” He scrunches his nose. “Makriahelion? Makhelion?”
“I swear that was going to be my next guess.”
Felix laughs, too loud and too bright for the gray study room that smells like dust and stale Cheetos. He reaches out and brushes Hyunjin’s rumpled bangs out of his eyes. “Maybe if you get lucky you’ll get a B.”
Physics favors ellipses... It is rare for a planetary orbit to be perfectly circular. Every year, the Earth moves away from its perihelion—the point at which it is closest to the sun—and eventually, three hundred sixty five days later, back again. What goes away will always come back.
When Bang Chan joins the staff of Star magazine, Hyunjin finds himself thinking about astrophysics for the first time in years. “Chris, but you can call me Chan,” Chan says during lunch break when Hyunjin finally lifts his head out of the slush pile of interview pitches and emerges from his office.
“Oh, hey.” Hyunjin runs a hand through his hair, trying to look less like he’d just been run over by a car. “I’m Hyunjin. You’re the new music correspondent right?”
Chan nods, and gives him a firm handshake. “Music correspondent, industry spy, something like that.”
“Cool. I’m the music editor, so we’ll be working together a lot. Where’re you from? Your accent sounds kind of familiar.”
“I just flew in from Sydney, actually. I spent a lot of time in Korea as a kid, but home’s all the way down under.”
Hyunjin blinks, and his mouth is moving before his brain makes the connection. “I knew someone from Sydney.”
Chan raises his eyebrows. “Knew?”
“Um, high school friend. He moved back to Sydney, I think.” Hyunjin rubs his neck awkwardly, ignores the faint, fleeting pang in his chest. “No, don’t think I know him anymore.”
“That’s too bad. It would’ve been nice to have an Aussie friend or two out here in Seoul.”
“Yeah,” Hyunjin says, but his mind is already on something else. Someone else.
Later, at lunch with Jisung, Hyunjin pokes at his pasta and says, “Hey, do you remember Felix?”
Jisung stops chewing for a moment, his cheeks puffed out. “Felix? Lee Felix?”
“You think I would forget Hwang Hyunjin’s greatest love, The One Who Got Away?”
Hyunjin throws a napkin at him. Jisung has been around for far too long; he knows Hyunjin’s every embarrassment—and there were many—throughout high school and college. While most of their high school class had gone their separate ways, Jisung had ended up at the same university as Hyunjin, and here they are, post-graduation, still within arms reach of one another in the same city. Hyunjin considers it rather impressive that he hasn’t gotten sick of Jisung’s squirrel face yet.
“What’s got you thinking about Felix?”
“The new music correspondent’s from Sydney. I thought his accent was familiar.”
Jisung hums. “Felix moved back to Australia for college, right? I wonder what he’s up to.”
“Yeah,” Hyunjin says, poking at his perfectly browned blueberry scone. Jisung, despite claiming to be a broke, starving artist, likes to indulge in the occasional fancy restaurant. “Me too.”
Hyunjin barely remembers a time in high school when he wasn’t in love with Felix. When they first met, on the first day of freshman year, Felix was wearing his uniform all wrong, black Vans scuffed to the point of no return, a guitar that seemed too big for his body strapped to his back. Hyunjin remembers how Jisung had to nudge him in the side, hard, when they had gone up to Felix—Jisung’s idea—to introduce themselves.
“Hey,” he’d stuttered out. “I’m Hyunjin.” You’re cute. Be my friend. You play guitar?
And the rest was history, Hyunjin might say, if it all felt simple enough to summarize in five words. For four years, he never once considered the possibility of telling Felix how he felt. It was an easy calculation, far more intuitive than any of the problems he had to solve in calculus. If Felix found out about Hyunjin’s feelings, then he would lose Felix. And no matter what, he didn’t want to lose Felix.
Guess he didn’t need to worry about that anyway. Felix seemed to disappear just as quickly as he had appeared. Graduation came and went, and then Felix was gone. Sometimes Hyunjin wonders how he could’ve been so certain of Felix when it felt inevitable to lose him.
“Hey Hyunjin, could you do me a favor?”
Hyunjin looks up from the significantly smaller but no less intimidating slush pile spread out all over his desk. It’s Chan, his head of pink hair poking around Hyunjin’s open door. “Sure, what’s up?”
Chan picks his way into Hyunjin’s cramped office. It’s neat, sort of, but there’s just so much stuff that it can be hard to navigate sometimes without knocking over a shelf or a pile of papers. Chan hands Hyunjin a thin folder. “I have a friend who’s putting out his debut EP in January. Do you think you could take a look?”
Hyunjin blinks, surprised. “Yeah, of course.” He takes the folder from Chan. They get a lot of requests like this from publicists and managers, and usually they have the interns go through them and send what they like to the editors. But Hyunjin sets the folder down on the side of his desk and makes a mental note to look at at it himself later. Chan hasn’t been working for Star magazine for long, but he has a certain manner that makes everyone, including Hyunjin, respect him.
“Thanks,” Chan says. “It would mean the world to him. He just moved back here from Sydney and he's trying to find his footing in the industry, so we could really help. I’ve known him for a long time and I think this could be really good.”
Hyunjin really should’ve figured it out sooner. At lunch, he opens Chan’s folder and stares. He drops his teriyaki chicken sandwich on the floor in shock. At the top of the first page, in big bold letters, is a name he hasn’t seen in a long time: LEE FELIX.
Hyunjin doesn’t even have time to convince himself that this is some other Lee Felix who did music and had just moved back to Korea from Sydney—who had just moved back to Korea—because there, under Felix’s name, is a picture.
The picture is grainy and in black and white, but it is undoubtedly, irrefutably a picture of Felix. Hyunjin would recognize his face anywhere, but—Hyunjin’s mind short-circuits. The boy in the picture has light hair swept up and away from his forehead. Hyunjin can't tell what color but it definitely isn't black and floppy like it was in high school. And Felix’s face seems sharper somehow, leaner, his cheeks having lost a certain roundness.
Felix looked good.
Felix was dropping a debut EP?
Felix was back in Korea?
“Jisung,” Hyunjin says into his phone. “Jisung Jisung Jisung Jisung Jisung Jisung.”
Jisung picks up on the third ring, in the middle of Hyunjin’s fifth frantic Jisung. “What, you sound like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Hyunjin pauses. “Something like that.”
Hyunjin listens to samples of Felix’s EP on the bus home. It’s—it’s really good.
He’d gone through the rest of Felix’s file at the office, and asked Chan if he could email him some samples. Hyunjin must’ve looked more spooked than he thought, because even Chan had raised an eyebrow at him and asked, “You alright?”
Hyunjin assured him he was fine, and managed to dig a little. Turns out Felix had been friends with Chan since his early childhood in Sydney. Turns out Felix has been in Seoul for almost a month already. Turns out Felix did pursue music after all.
That last one makes Hyunjin warm with pride. Reading through Felix’s file, listening to his music on the bus, Hyunjin can’t help but swell a little, proud, even if he might not know Felix anymore. He might not know this Felix, but he knew high school Felix, knew how badly he’d wanted to write songs and sing.
There was a short written statement in the folder. Hyunjin didn’t need to see Felix’s signature below it to tell that he’d written it. The words were genuine and earnest in the way Felix always was, but there was also a bare, unfiltered quality that felt new. There was something brave and confident in the plain way Felix described himself and his music.
Hyunjin tilts his head against the bus window, uncaring of the dusty glass. Felix’s voice is as deep and warm as ever. The songs are quiet, sparse, and Hyunjin is almost afraid to close his eyes because this is the first time since graduation that Felix feels close enough to touch.
In Hyunjin’s first semester of college, he'd let a boy stick his hand down his pants in the bathroom of someone’s crowded off-campus apartment. Hyunjin wasn’t stupid. The way the boy’s eyelashes swept over his cheeks, the way the dim light reflected in his brown eyes. The mellow rise and fall of his voice. A few drinks in, it might as well have been Felix.
That was the only time though. Hyunjin likes to think that he’d moved on just fine, that all he needed was for Felix to go five thousand miles away and then it would be easy to forget about him.
“Okay, okay, backtrack. You hooked up with someone who looked like him,” Changbin says, and his voice is far too pointed for Hyunjin’s liking.
“So?” Hyunjin grumbles. “Everyone’s hooked up with someone that looks like someone else, right?”
“Uh, right.” Changbin hands him another plate to dry. Changbin has his own music and art things going on during the day and Hyunjin has his editorial job, so they've made a point to eat and do the dishes together whenever they can. Changbin soaps, Hyunjin dries.
“Is it weird that I’m thinking about him so much?” Hyunjin asks. He doesn’t feel weird about it. But it seems kind of weird to be telling his roommate all about his high school crush all of a sudden.
“No.” Changbin shrugs. “Doesn’t have to be. You guys sound like you were good friends first, so I don’t think it’s weird that you’re wondering about him.” He nudges Hyunjin’s hip and smirks. “Unless you’re still hung up over him?”
Hyunjin snorts, turning on the faucet for Changbin so he won’t get his soapy hands all over it. “No way.”
He’s telling the truth, he thinks. He had a serious boyfriend just a year ago. He went on his share of dates, and he had real feelings for lots of people after Felix. It’s not like Felix ruined him for everyone else, or anything like that. He loved Felix, and then he didn’t. Felix was there, and then he wasn’t. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.
Hyunjin never consciously made the decision to not reach out to Felix. He could interview Felix for the Star magazine feature, but the staff writers usually did that. He could get to Felix through Chan, but that would be weird. Right?
He didn’t not want to see Felix. It was just... Hyunjin didn’t want to be the one to reach out. Which was stupid, because Hyunjin was the one who knew Chan who knew Felix, who had listened to Felix’s EP, who had the perfect excuse to talk to Felix again. But he’d spent so much of his life reaching for Felix. He didn’t want to do that anymore. So maybe it was a little childish. Whatever. Felix knew his Instagram, didn’t he? Couldn’t he just, slide into Hyunjin’s DMs, or something. God.
It turns out the universe isn’t really into waiting around for Hyunjin to get his shit together.
After a long day at the office, Hyunjin gets into the elevator without looking up. It’s only been a week since Chan had handed him Felix’s folder, but Hyunjin hasn’t had too much time to dwell on it. The next issue is going into print soon, and the editorial department has been crunching through articles all week. Hyunjin barely even registers another person standing in the elevator as he presses the button for the ground floor.
Hyunjin freezes. The elevator starts moving down, and it feels like the floor drops away from beneath his feet. The air suddenly feels too thin. Hyunjin looks up, and for a long second he forgets how to speak.
“Hyunjin!” The other man smiles brilliantly. “It’s Felix.”
Hyunjin stares dumbly. “I know,” he manages to say, and immediately regrets it. Hyunjin, you’re an entire twenty-two years old, what is wrong with you—but Felix is standing just a few feet away, and there’s a shock of blonde hair on his head, blonde, and fuck, Felix still has the same smile.
Felix laughs, awkwardly reaching up to fix his hair. His blonde hair. “Wow, it’s been so long. You... you look really good.”
If seeing Felix’s picture in Chan’s folder last week was like seeing a ghost, right now Hyunjin feels a bit like he’s just been punched in the face by said ghost. “You look good too,” Hyunjin says, and it’s true. Felix looks so happy Hyunjin can practically see it emanating from him in waves. “I like your hair.” This is so awkward Hyunjin could melt through the floor.
Felix smiles bashfully. “Thanks. Do you... do you work here?”
Hyunjin’s mouth is on autopilot. “I’m the music editor. I, uh, I listened to your EP. It’s really, really good,” Hyunjin rambles.
Felix blinks, and Hyunjin can practically see the gears turning in his head. Shit, Hyunjin realizes, now Felix knows I knew he was here and I didn’t—
“Oh,” Felix says, and a million emotions flicker over his face. “I’m. I’m really glad you like it.”
For a long moment, the silence is palpable. Hyunjin coughs. “What are you doing here?”
Felix brightens. “I’m going to an interview for my feature! That you...?”
Hyunjin wants to pinch himself. He was the one who scheduled this interview. “Right, that I assigned,” Hyunjin laughs, embarrassed.
The elevator dings. Hyunjin’s brows furrow as he realizes—”You’re heading to the ground floor too?”
Felix jumps, like he’s been caught. “Oh, um.” He waves a hand around vaguely. “I was actually going to get off when you got on, but um, I saw you, and—yeah.”
The doors slide open, but Hyunjin feels buzzed, almost, and he doesn’t want to leave. “I’m heading home right now, but—”
“Let’s hang out sometime?”
“Yeah,” Hyunjin says, stepping backwards out of the elevator. “Let’s do that.”
Felix grins. “I guess I’m going to head back up now.”
The doors slide closed, and Hyunjin is left grinning dumbly at the elevator.
It’s only later that Hyunjin realizes he’d never gotten Felix’s number. For a second, he entertains the idea of Felix sliding into his Instagram DMs, but only for a second. Maybe two. In the end, Hyunjin has to go to Chan at lunch the next day and ask.
Apparently, Chan isn’t the type to give out his friends’ phone numbers without a full interrogation. So they get lunch, and Hyunjin tells him everything. Almost everything.
By the end of the day, Hyunjin has Felix’s number and, he thinks, a new friend in Chan.
“I ran into Felix the other day.”
Jisung chokes on his buttered scone. “You what?”
“I ran into Felix at the office. I'm meeting up with him this weekend. Close your mouth, I can see your scone and that’s gross.”
Jisung swallows very deliberately and takes a long sip of water. “You ran into Felix and you didn’t implode? Gotta say I’m impressed, Hwang Hyunjin.”
Hyunjin makes a face. “Maybe I imploded a little bit.”
Jisung laughs at him, but his smile is bright and happy. “Give me Felix’s number, you asshole. Can’t believe you’re making plans with him without me.”
Felix and Hyunjin meet up often. It’s easier on Hyunjin’s wallet than hanging out with Jisung, and it’s—nice, for lack of a better word. Felix was always Hyunjin’s best friend first, before anything else, and one thing that hasn’t changed is how much Hyunjin enjoys just being around Felix, talking to him, laughing with him.
Besides that, a lot has changed.
Felix seems a lot taller now. He’s not actually taller, Hyunjin knows that, but it’s in the way Felix talks and stands and laughs. In high school, Hyunjin had always thought that Felix seemed to fold in on himself sometimes. Like he was holding something back. It’s almost as if Felix has finally shed a dull, suffocating outer layer of skin to reveal something precious and alive beneath.
“Weren’t you going to study medicine?” Hyunjin asks, the first time they meet up.
Felix shrugs. “I did. I majored in biology in college. I was going to apply for med school, but... I don’t know. I didn’t want to give up on music yet.”
“I was serious when I said I loved your EP. I think it can really be big.”
Felix smiles with his eyes. “I’m really happy you think that.”
I’m proud of you, Hyunjin wants to say, but it feels wrong. Proud of who? Felix from five years ago? There’s a gap between this Felix and Hyunjin’s Felix, and Hyunjin worries if he can cross it.
There was only once, at prom, that Hyunjin thought Felix might’ve figured it all out.
“Dance with me,” Felix said. “Come on.” He crowded into Hyunjin’s space, wrapping a hand around his waist and taking his cup of punch out of his hand. Felix set the punch down on a nearby table, almost knocking over someone’s purse. “Please?”
Felix’s eyes were big and pleading, his splash of freckles showing through a fading layer of concealer. Hyunjin loved him so much. He took a small step back. "Dance with your date,” Hyunjin said, trying to ignore the way Felix followed, shifting closer to match Hyunjin's step back.
Felix pouted. “She’s dancing with her friends.”
“Fine,” Hyunjin said, because he could never say no to Felix. He let Felix pull him onto the dance floor, by the speakers where the music is so loud he can feel it travel through the floor and up the soles of his feet.
Hyunjin thought they were just going to stand in front of each other and dance the way everyone danced at awkward school functions, but Felix looped his arms around Hyunjin’s shoulders and pulled him close. 2010s pop blasted from the speakers. “Isn’t this the wrong music,” Hyunjin said, laughing, hands hovering awkwardly around Felix’s waist. Felix smelled like the cologne he’d borrowed from Hyunjin, and beneath that, like fresh linen and sunlight soaked into skin.
“Don’t care,” Felix said, and tucked his nose in the hollow of Hyunjin’s collarbones.
Hyunjin felt like his whole body must be tomato-red, from the way his skin was burning. Felix had never acted like this before.
“You smell good,” Felix hummed.
Hyunjin faintly wondered if this is how small animals feel in the presence of a predator. He was half-sure he would run like a startled rabbit if his feet didn’t feel so stuck to the ground. Katy Perry played on in the background, but Hyunjin couldn’t move.
Felix looked up, and Hyunjin thought he might disintegrate at the way Felix’s lips curled up into a teasing smile, a little sharp around the edges. “You’re blushing.”
“Really?” Hyunjin tried for a smile. Blushing? He felt like he might light on fire at any moment and wow, there sure are a lot of paper decorations here, imagine how embarrassed his parents will be tomorrow when the newspapers come out with the headline ‘Hwang Hyunjin Burns Down Local High School Out of Sheer Embarrassment’—
“Am I making you blush?” Felix said, pressing closer to Hyunjin as if to examine his blush better. Felix’s eyes blinked up owlishly at Hyunjin.
But the song ended, and Felix pulled away, leaving a cold feeling that Hyunjin couldn’t shake. Felix drove his date back home that night. Jisung’s older brother came to pick Hyunjin and the others up.
Hyunjin shoved that memory into the deepest recesses of his mind. Felix didn’t act like that normally, and it wasn’t like anything had changed. After prom, everything went back to normal. It didn’t occur to Hyunjin until much, much later that Felix might’ve known—or at least sensed, on some level—how Hyunjin felt about him. And Felix had been testing the waters, pushing just to see how far he could go. It wasn’t fair to Hyunjin, and Hyunjin, at twenty-two, could admit that much.
Being friends with Chan means being sucked into his seemingly endless social circles. Once, Hyunjin comes home to his apartment to find Changbin, Jisung, and Chan sprawled out on his favorite overstuffed couch and playing Super Smash Bros.
“Hey best friend,” Jisung yells, way louder than necessary because once he’s at Super Smash Bros volume level he doesn’t know how to come down.
“I drank all your Yakult,” Changbin says.
Chan, at least, cranes his neck around to acknowledge Hyunjin with a smile. “Hey. Wanna come to my holiday party next week?”
Hyunjin stares at the scene before him, decides it’s not worth asking about, and goes to the kitchen to drink banana milk and write a passive aggressive note on the fridge about buying more Yakult. “Sure I’ll come to the party,” he calls over his shoulder.
“Sweet,” Chan says, or at least Hyunjin thinks he says, because Jisung is screaming something unintelligible now and it would be a miracle if Hyunjin could hear anything over that.
Felix is the one who opens Chan’s door, and Hyunjin immediately feels underdressed in his somewhat nice sweater and simple black jeans. It’s not that Felix is dressed much fancier or anything, but he looks good.He has the top three buttons of his blue silk shirt popped open, the hem tucked neatly into skinny jeans. Hyunjin swallows. Felix smiles brightly upon seeing Hyunjin and Changbin, and Hyunjin swears he sees a hint of eyeliner.
Changbin elbows Hyunjin in the side as they walk in behind Felix. “Stop staring,” Changbin whispers. “Your eyes are popping out of your head.”
“I just didn’t know this was going to be so fancy,” Hyunjin hisses back.
Changbin looks at him strangely. “That's not what I meant.”
Before Hyunjin can press him, Jisung finds the two of them and they’re being dragged to the makeshift karaoke station (made up of a corner of Chan’s couch, a few bluetooth mics, and Jisung’s endless enthusiasm for trying to hit notes that are way out of his range).
At Chan’s, Hyunjin has more fun than he’s had in a while. Changbin has to leave early because of a gig early tomorrow morning, but Hyunjin and a few others stay well past midnight. As they rowdily help Chan clean up, Hyunjin is hit with a wave of nostalgia. Only Jisung and Felix are from Hyunjin’s high school circle, but this group of people—Woojin, from HR; Seungmin, secret karaoke ace (but only at Day6 songs); Felix, Jisung, Chan—they make Hyunjin laugh in an easy, buoyant way that reminds him of his high school friends.
One by one, they trickle out of Chan’s apartment until it’s just Hyunjin and Felix lingering in the doorway.
Felix pauses in the middle of tugging his left shoe on and tilts his head thoughtfully. “Do you want to go to Noodletown?”
Noodletown... Hyunjin hasn’t been there since high school, with Felix and Jisung and Jeongin and Minho. Felix’s smile is blinding and Hyunjin feels like he’s being pulled into different, simpler time. “Now? It’s almost two in the morning.”
Felix shrugs. “Noodletown’s open until 5 AM. Plus I’ve got things to tell you.”
Hyunjin holds Felix’s coat out for him. “Sure, I guess. I’ve got nothing to do tomorrow morning.”
“Great,” Felix says, and there it is again. The way he holds himself and the way he speaks. Hyunjin knows Felix probably hasn’t grown much since high school, but he can’t shake the impression that Felix is a couple of inches taller now. “I wanted to take advantage of this whole—” Felix gestures at his cheeks, flushed a deep pink from the champagne he’s been determinedly downing all night. “This whole not-so-self-conscious-as-normal thing.”
“Wow, must be serious,” Hyunjin laughs.
Felix gets the beef stew noodles. “I missed these the most when I was in Sydney,” he says as the waiter finishes taking their order.
Hyunjin raises a playful eyebrow. “Really? You missed noodles more than you missed me?”
Felix rests his chin on his palm and says, “No, maybe I missed you a little bit more.”
Hyunjin laughs, startled at the plain honesty in Felix's words. He doesn't know what to say to that. Hyunjin feels a little hollowed out, but not in a bad way. It’s the kind of hollowness that comes after a really good day, one that drains you until you just want to sit still and let the world sink back into you again, shade by shade.
Felix is jittery though, so jumpy that he drops his soup spoon into his noodles and tries, without success, to fish it out with his chopsticks. Hyunjin leans over to help him, and he nearly drops his chopsticks too when Felix says, “How did you know you liked boys?”
Hyunjin drops Felix’s wet soup spoon onto a napkin, sets his chopsticks down, and stares. Felix’s eyes are clear and earnest. Hyunjin tries to remember if he’d ever told Felix he was gay, but he comes up short.
Felix’s eyes go wide as if he has just realized what he said. “I mean—”
“I thought boys were cute in middle school. I wanted to hold hands with this kid who wore these neon tube socks every day and the same t-shirt three times a week.” Hyunjin cringes. “Not my best moment, but.... that’s how it happened, I guess.”
“Neon tube socks aren’t that bad,” Felix laughs.
Hyunjin squints at him. “You’re drunk.”
Felix laughs harder. “Maybe a little.”
Minutes later, Felix says through a mouthful of noodles: “I think I’m bi.”
Hyunjin doesn’t choke on his noodles, but his brain short circuits for a long, long moment. It’s—it’s not that this came out of nowhere, Hyunjin knows how to pick up hints, but—Felix is bi.
Felix shrugs, even though Hyunjin hasn’t said anything. “I’ve been thinking about it for a year now. Probably more than that. You listened to my EP... Maybe you guessed. I don’t know. I felt like I should tell you.”
Hyunjin swallows, thinks back to Felix’s music, the ambiguous lyrics that had walked themselves across Hyunjin’s mind over and over again for weeks, suggestive, hinting at things that Hyunjin didn’t want to dwell too long on. “I guessed, a little. I’m... I’m glad you told me.”
“I’m glad too.”
After a long moment, Hyunjin says, “Okay. I have a question for you.”
Hyunjin very nearly chickens out, but. Fuck it, Felix isn’t the only one who’s learned to stand a bit taller, to be vulnerable and come out stronger for it. He looks Felix in the eye and doesn’t flinch. “Did you know, in high school, that I liked you?”
Felix laughs, a soft, trembling thing. “Did you know that I knew?”
“I thought you were the best thing in the world,” Hyunjin says, and it’s not so hard to say it. He feels vindictive, even—and maybe he shouldn’t—at the way Felix’s cheeks, already pink, flush a deeper red. What he would’ve given at seventeen to make Felix blush like that. “Of course I didn’t think that you knew. I didn’t think you could do anything wrong.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” And it’s genuine. Felix’s eyes have always been the easiest to read.
“No, I’m sorry I was a shitty friend. You deserved better. I wish I had—”
Hyunjin cuts him off, and maybe a part of it is because he doesn’t want to hear what Felix wishes he did or didn’t and what could’ve happened between them. Mostly though— “It really is okay. It was a long time ago. And hey, look at us now. We’re good, right?”
Felix tucks his chin and worries his bottom lip the same way he always did when he was seventeen. “Yeah. We’re good.”
Hyunjin walks Felix to the train station, Seoul faintly lit up around them in the soft gray of early morning. Felix walks with a lightness that feels real, more real than the wobbly courage of too many glasses of champagne.
Hyunjin glances over at Felix, who is oddly quiet. Not quiet like he often is, Felix being the rare kind of person who isn’t afraid of there being nothing to say, but quiet like he has a million things clamoring to the surface and he doesn’t know how to express any of it. Hyunjin nudges him in the shoulder. “Hey, I promise I got over you, so don’t go feeling sorry,” Hyunjin says, tone light. It’s meant to be a joke. Or maybe he needs to say it out loud, to be sure of the stable ground beneath his feet. Mostly, he just wants to make Felix laugh.
Felix doesn’t laugh. He smiles, but it only grazes his eyes. “Okay. No feeling sorry.”
“Jisung, Felix is bi.”
Jisung rolls his eyes. “Yes, I know, you told me that five minutes ago.”
Hyunjin drops his chin onto his palm, elbow propped on the table. “I’m just processing.”
“Don’t make fun of me.”
“Don’ make funf wof me,” Jisung imitates not so successfully with a mouth full of some expensive pastry Hyunjin doesn’t know the name of.
“I hate you.”
“Changbin, Felix is bi.”
Changbin waves a soap covered plate in front of Hyunjin’s eyes. “Hello, has Hyunjin.exe stopped working? Please take this plate.”
Hyunjin takes the plate. So maybe he’s still processing. So what? The boy he was in love with in high school likes boys now.
Once Hyunjin puts away the last plate, Changbin gently whacks him on the head with the dishrag. “Don’t get caught up in ‘what if’s.’ “
Hyunjin ducks away. “I’m just processing, I swear.”
“Sure,” Changbin says, laughing as Hyunjin bumps into a pulled-out drawer. Serves him right for never remembering to close the drawers. “Let me know when you’re done processing.”
Things go back to normal after that, for the most part. Hyunjin hangs out with the whole group more often. Hyunjin and Felix still go out for food when they can. But in the weeks after there’s a palpable... something there. Hyunjin tells himself he’s imagining things, that his brain is just still stuck on the fact that Felix likes boys now. Which shouldn’t even matter.
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t care,” Changbin says.
“Thanks,” Hyunjin says. “Helpful.”
Changbin shrugs. “I’m just saying, I think you care. A lot.”
Hyunjin doesn’t want to think about what that means.
It’s rare that all of them are free on the same night, so Jisung grabs the opportunity to drag everyone out to a bar, even if Changbin is in Japan for work. (They do video call Changbin later though.) They squeeze into a booth, Felix sliding in after Hyunjin.
Hyunjin is used to this by now, the scattered side conversations, Woojin’s easy laughter, Seungmin’s surprising rowdiness once he’s a few drinks in. Hyunjin usually just likes to watch, and Felix, pressed against his side in the tight booth, is the same way.
“Hey,” Felix whispers. It’s late in the night.
Hyunjin turns a little to face Felix, and he almost jumps at how close they are. Felix’s eyes are dark and serious in the dim lighting of the bar.
“I’m supposed to go back to Sydney by the end of the month,” Felix says.
What? Hyunjin leans in without thinking, half sure that he’d heard wrong. “What?”
“I don’t want to,” Felix says, and his face is so close Hyunjin can count his eyelashes. “I don’t want to go back.”
“Don’t,” Hyunjin breathes. He feels like he might spill over. Felix is as beautiful as he has always been, and maybe, maybe Hyunjin still loves him just as much as he always has.
Hyunjin doesn’t remember how the moment burst, but they were in a loud group and it could’ve been anything. It doesn’t matter anyway. Felix didn’t bring it up again, and Hyunjin didn’t either. At the end of the night, they head home. Hyunjin’s not drunk enough to lie to himself, or to ignore the familiar, saccharine feeling of want.
Felix is going back to Sydney by the end of the month?
Hyunjin has barely slept two hours when his doorbell wakes him. He feels oddly awake as he climbs out of bed and goes to get the door. He’s still wearing his shirt from last night—he’d only bothered to change out of his jeans into a pair of sweatpants. Hyunjin’s body is on autopilot as he unlocks his door. Somehow, he knows who will be on the other side. It can’t be anyone else.
Hyunjin opens the door. It’s Felix.
The air feels too thick, too full of things bursting to to the surface. Hyunjin tries for a joke. “If you’re waking me up at 4 AM for nothing, I might have to take extreme measures.”
Felix doesn’t miss a beat. “Oh no, I’m trembling as we speak.”
Hyunjin grins. Felix grins back, but— “You kind of are,” Hyunjin says, voice soft. Felix is shaking.
“Well, shit,” Felix laughs, running a hand through his hair. “Still same old nervous me, I guess.”
Hyunjin stares, taking in the sight of Felix standing in his doorway in sweatpants and a thin sweatshirt totally inappropriate for Seoul winter. Felix’s hair is a wind-tousled mess, and it occurs to Hyunjin that Felix might’ve walked here. Cabs can be hard to find this early in the morning. Hyunjin feels a warm, quiet ache in his chest, like there’s a gentle fire nestled between his ribs. “No, not really.”
“Not same old nervous you,” Hyunjin says. “I don’t think high school Felix would be standing in my doorway right now.”
Felix smiles, surprise and gratefulness flickering over his face. After a moment, he quirks an eyebrow. “Are you going to let somewhat functioning adult Felix freeze in your doorway?”
“Adult Felix should’ve remembered to wear a jacket,” Hyunjin says, laughing, and lets Felix in.
"See, that's the somewhat functioning part."
Hyunjin tosses Felix the quilt Changbin likes to keep on the couch. He watches Felix wrap himself in it and settle into a corner of the couch. Hyunjin sits down next to him, careful to leave space between them.
Felix stares ahead, at the wall across from the couch. “I want to stay in Seoul.”
Hyunjin focuses on the slope of Felix’s nose, the pattern of freckles on the left side of his face. He thinks of stars, of celestial bodies spinning out in space. The gravity of unsaid things, the inertia of five years. “Why?”
“I want to keep doing music,” Felix says. “I want to keep believing in myself, in the choices I make. I think,” and Felix looks up at Hyunjin for the first time, “I think I want the right things. And that’s enough, right?”
“Right,” Hyunjin breathes, so quiet he can barely hear himself.
“You’re so far away,” Felix says. “Come here.”
Hyunjin shifts closer, and lets Felix pull him into his arms. Hyunjin sinks into the hug. After all these years, Felix still smells like being out in the sun for a long time, like fresh sheets hung out to dry at noon, like warm skin after all day at the beach.
“Also,” Felix says, and his breath tickles Hyunjin’s ear. “You’re in Seoul.”
Hyunjin pulls away, just enough to see Felix’s face. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Felix beams. “I wouldn’t mind seeing you all the time. I like you a lot.”
Hyunjin smiles, real enough to dimple. He feels like he might burst. “I like you too. Again.”
Felix laughs, and it’s maybe Hyunjin’s favorite sound in the world. “You said you got over me,” Felix says. “I believed you, you know.”
“Good, cause I did,” Hyunjin says, laughing at the way Felix’s nose scrunches in distaste.
Felix pushes him. Hyunjin lets himself fall backwards, catching Felix’s waist on the way and tugging him down too. Felix’s lips are soft but solid and real, his hands skimming warmth across Hyunjin’s waist. Hyunjin has never been more certain of anything than this.