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a runner once more

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you were the only love i didn't borrow
kiss me now for i know of no tomorrow

and to be a lover was my only care,
when in fact, it's the impossible i dared 

with nothing to show but sorrow,
kiss me now for I know of no tomorrow.

a truth is best hidden between two lies,
you didn’t hear it through the goodbyes.

 

 - S./J. Goldner, 21 and Rising

 

x

 

“Don’t touch it, Jeno – it’s paint!”

Renjun muffles a laugh, but Jeno hears it anyway, looking over his shoulder with a petulant glare. His lips part – probably to tell Renjun that he’s being annoying – but he doesn’t get to because Minhyung is jabbering away over Donghyuck’s speakerphone, trying to get as much out of Jeno about the project Donghyuck’s investing so much time in.

It’s oddly calming, hearing Donghyuck and Minhyung bicker. Renjun finds that it might be because he’s heard it every single day for as long as he can remember, and that sense of familiarity just helps transcends him into a different state of mind. He tunes it out like white noise, leaving Jeno to fend for himself while Minhyung berates them both for what the finished artwork could possibly look like – it is a portrait of himself after all.

Renjun takes a step back to eye his own artwork, a portrait of his grandfather in charcoal, trying to discern whether or not the lines he’d been working on are defined enough. He mentally recalls the advice his art teacher had given him during the day, focus doubling.

As if a distance away, he manages to catch Donghyuck end the call and, on instinct, he holds his breath.

Jeno shuffles on back to his corner, arm brushing just the small of Renjun’s back – purely by accident, Renjun knows. Though, he can’t seem to get a grip, letting the shiver run down his spine anyway. He knows his mind would be in a blur if he’d caught a whiff of Jeno’s – cologne? Deodorant? Whatever it is that complements Jeno’s innate smell excruciatingly well, and Renjun’s not afraid to admit that just a hint of it is enough to send him to the ground in a haze of giddy.

“I’ve to get more white charcoal,” he exhales loudly (in an effort to have his body working back to normal, and not all wrung tight by Jeno’s mere presence). The black charcoal is starting to ink down his palms and wrists. He rolls up his sleeves, “I can’t find mine.”

“Wait,” Donghyuck calls, just as Renjun picks his lanyard off the table, student ID in hand – there’s probably an extra stash of white charcoal in the materials room. “Can you pass me that paint, Jun? The mustard.”

Renjun hops over to the pile of paint tubes Donghyuck’d spent half his monthly allowance on just a few days ago, the 6448 lying on the top.

“Thanks,” Donghyuck says, turning on his heel to grab the paint tube. He doesn’t let go and Renjun blinks, mind motor freezing up. “Isn’t – uh, that – that bracelet?”

Ah.

The green on Renjun’s wrist stares back, a little dotted with black, but still clearly green and very clearly very, very familiar to Donghyuck’s eyes.

“That’s yours, Renjun?”

A million answers surface, rushing their way to the tip of Renjun’s tongue. Should he say that it’s his? But Donghyuck would ask why Jeno has one exactly like it. Should he just say it’s a friendship band then? That’s what it is, isn’t it?

Renjun shoves the thought down his gut.

“It’s mine.” Jeno’s voice – oh, Renjun’s savior – interrupts the incredulous stare Donghyuck is giving him. Renjun tears his eyes away from his own bracelet on his own wrist to see Jeno rising to his feet, his wrist missing of something green. “I lent it to Renjun.”

There’s something about seeing Jeno’s wrist bare. It’s only been a month – thirty days – and even less since Renjun had made the matching bracelets for them, and already it just looks – wrong, almost. It looks out of place that Jeno doesn’t have the bracelet on him; he never took it off, not even after hours and hours’ worth of trainings, not even when he’s covered in sweat, soaking the bracelet until it’s sticky to his skin.

The insides of Renjun’s stomach bubble uncomfortably, the cogs in his brain already starting to dig up the thoughts he’s forced himself to ignore, the ones he only cares to tend to in the depths of the night.

He knows this is temporary. This – whatever Jeno suggested between them, whatever Jeno insisted he needed having practice on. Renjun knows that it isn’t meant to last forever, of course he knows that – he knows that it’s all going to end one day, that Jeno is going to come up to him with a smile so wide, and he might say, Jun! Someone confessed to me today!

And Renjun would say, “No way! Who?”

And Renjun would think, I guess it’s over then.

This is all temporary, he knows that.

Renjun wonders if his own feelings are. He wonders how long more can his heart take, living, breathing, with the fact that Jeno is just pretending to go along with this stupid idea he concocted on a random afternoon. He wonders if he’ll live with this one-sided love forever, just watching Jeno day-by-day, and then painfully watch the love of his life fall in love with someone else – if he’ll survive watching Jeno find his soulmate.

They still have the rest of their lives ahead of them after all, there’s bound to be time and time again for Jeno to fall in and out of love. At this point, Renjun knows he’s losing his grip on reality because he’s convinced himself that he might just be alright watching Jeno find happiness.

“You lent it to Jun?” Donghyuck shoots them both a confused look, “Why?”

Renjun tugs his hand away from the scrutiny of Donghyuck’s stare, “I – I thought it was nice.” He clears his throat and loops the lanyard around his neck, “Anyway, I’m going to get something from the supply room – I’ll be back.”

The hallway is empty and Renjun rushes down it without waiting a second longer. He hears Donghyuck choke on a question but his legs take him off fast before Donghyuck can hold him back. Jeno’s trainers squeak against the linoleum after him, following as Renjun shoots right by the supply room for the bathroom instead. He speeds the last leg of the hall, nearly tumbling into the sink the moment he falls through the door.

Renjun rushes to the sink to scrub his hands clean, trying to buy himself some time – he doesn’t even know what he’s doing anymore.

The water stains gray.

Renjun needs more time. He needs more before he can even think of having whatever it is between them come to an end. He can’t give things up just yet, there’s no way he can go from having Jeno in his arms – living out how he always dreamed it to be – to having Jeno find someone else to love.

Not yet.

The door swings open roughly and it makes Renjun jump, despite knowing Jeno’d followed him from the studio. He stays blurry in Renjun’s peripheral, white cotton shirt emphasizing his tapered torso even then.

“Where’s your bracelet?” Renjun chews on the inside of his cheek, heart still hammering wildly at the sight of Jeno’s wrist bare. It’s stupid to be affected by this. What is Renjun going to do when Jeno gets matching things in his next real relationship? Can he even handle seeing a ring on Jeno’s hand? It would crush him.

But – no. This isn’t fair to Jeno. All he asked was for practice, he didn’t ask to be bothered by Renjun’s feelings, he didn’t ask for any of this.

“Sorry,” he amends. He keeps his eyes on the sink, watching the water swirl down the drain. “I didn’t mean to roll up my sleeves – I just forgot.”

“Actually,” Jeno mumbles. “I need to talk to you.”

Panic surges through Renjun. What about? He wants to ask, About our relationship? Will he end it? Was it too close of a call that Donghyuck noticed? Did Jeno hate it so much that he would call everything off at the slightest chance someone might find out about them? It hurts far more than Renjun thought it would, but it doesn’t stop him from drying his hands and planting his lips on Jeno’s just to keep the boy from ending it all.

Jeno returns the kiss with sympathy, Renjun thinks, letting the shorter boy have the upper hand. They shuffle into a stall, limbs tangling together. Renjun parts to breathe, parts to lock the flimsy door before turning back, chest heaving, silence raw. His eyes rake down the slim silhouette so, so, so close to his body, the long lines of Jeno’s legs just absolutely bewitching under a pair of black ripped jeans.

Renjun's cheeks burn.

Jeno’s knees buckle under Renjun’s hands, sitting down heavily on the closed seat, blinking up with the color of bewilderment in his eyes. Renjun kisses Jeno, heart seizing when Jeno’s eyelids flutter shut, hands curling around him, fingers pressing softly into his waist. Renjun runs his hand through Jeno’s hair, caressing him so dearly that Renjun fears Jeno might find it to be too much, too real – that it might let loose every emotion he’s so painstakingly filed away.

“I don’t know, babe… Maybe an hour more?”

Renjun’s blood runs cold. He straightens almost comically fast, legs locking into place. Donghyuck enters the bathroom nosily, paint bucket clanging against the sink. Jeno tells Renjun to stay quiet with one swift gesture, but it doesn’t help when all Renjun can hear is the sound of his heart crashing against his chest, even over the sound of running water. His hand is still in Jeno’s hair, throat closing up dry with every second Donghyuck remains on the phone with Minhyung.

Renjun can’t think straight, not to mention breathe. If Jeno is so startled up about Donghyuck catching them with their bracelets, surely, he must be anxious over the fact they could get caught hiding in a bathroom stall together? He can’t help but glare at the door, trying his best to have Donghyuck leave because he isn’t at all confident that his nerves will survive another minute in this situation.

“ – hey!”

Renjun’s heart drops.

Jaemin’s voice bounces off the walls, redefining the meaning of anxiousness in Renjun’s books. It’s bad enough that they have to hide in the bathroom from Donghyuck, but to have Jaemin in here too – and the fact that Jaemin knows.

Knows of Renjun’s dirty little secret – that he’d been so painfully happy the night Jeno brought up the idea of a practice relationship, no matter the number of times Jaemin warned it would be a long road of pure suffering. That he’d been building up layers and layers of feelings in his own heart and mind, not at all considerate of that fact that Jeno just needed someone – anyone – to help him out with his lack of love life. That he’d tortured himself trying to ready for the future wherein Jeno would inevitably call things off – because that’s just how it has to be: he has to let go one day, he’s going to want to let go of this.

Jaemin knows, and Renjun thinks he’d rather fall off the face of the Earth than let Jeno get caught by both Donghyuck and Jaemin. It’s been well established that Jeno doesn’t want anyone to know about them, practice or not, and Renjun isn’t about to let Jeno be humiliated – he can handle the lilt of Jaemin’s teases on a daily basis, but having things turn awkward between them and losing Jeno as a friend – as anything – would break Renjun in every way.

“Where have you been?”

Renjun’s hearing fuzzes out the rest of the conversation when Jeno’s hand reaches up to tug at the collar of his sweater to kiss him sweet.

Don’t worry, he reads Jeno’s lips. There’s a glint in his eyes that Renjun can’t read, too strung out by the current state of things. He nods lifelessly, still afraid that even the sound of his breathing would lead his best friends into dramatically kicking the door down.

“Hey.” Renjun hears Donghyuck clearer now that there isn’t the sound of water drowning him out, “You’re close with Renjun, aren’t you?”

“Pretty much. Why?”

“Do you – know if he has a crush on anyone?”

Renjun wishes he could pass out.

Jeno startles under his hands, wild-eyed when Renjun summons the courage to look down at who he truly believes is the love of his (young) life. There’s that look on Jeno’s face again, and Renjun recognizes it almost immediately; it’s the same look he has on whenever Jeno’s torn, whenever he’s forced to decide on something he didn’t want to think about – If she spent this much time baking me a cake, I should at least have some, right? Or, I don’t know, I don’t want to talk about careers right now. And, It was just a singing recital! She’ll understand, I guess.

Jaemin sniffs, “Why’re you asking?”

“I just think he might have someone he likes.”

Jeno’s brows furrow together. Renjun shakes his head, words begging to be released, but he didn’t even know what to say. What could he say to Jeno that would have this all make sense?

“Who?”

“You know, don’t you?” Donghyuck inhales sharply at Jaemin’s silence, to which Renjun can only assume that his best friend’s face just gave everything away. “You do know!”

Jeno flinches from Renjun’s touch, expression painted with incredulity. Renjun’s mouth falls open, deciphering what in the world he’d gotten himself into. What is Jeno thinking? Could he piece it together – he can’t have. There’s no sliver in Jeno’s mind that could possibly entertain such a thought.

Jeno is doing this for practice. This is all it is.

“I’ll help you get them together! Who is it?”

He knows Jaemin would never say, loyal as ever, but there’s no way he’s getting out of this if Jeno’s name, gods forbid, gets mentioned. He will never be able to explain his way out of it, and if by the worst of worst cases Jeno were to find out – Renjun would rather tell the boy himself. He didn’t want Jeno finding out like it were something so stupidly casual they’d have to find out in a bathroom, locked away. If anything, Renjun is sincere about how he feels and if there’s any chance in his lifetime that he’s given a fair shot with Jeno, the confession’s got to be more than just a measly conversation overheard in the school’s bathroom.

Renjun cups his hands over Jeno’s ears.

Jeno can’t hear this. He just can’t.

“Renjun trusts me,” Jaemin smacks his lips. “I’m sorry, but I won’t be ruining that by sharing it with you, Hyuck.”

“Understandable,” Donghyuck concurs. “But I have an inkling – want to know who?”

Renjun flattens his palms against Jeno’s ears, desperate to keep his secret a secret. His stomach churns and a rush of nausea fights its way to Renjun’s throat – Jeno deserves better than this. He’s already sorry enough for using Jeno like this, for taking advantage of Jeno’s request to practice, secretly genuinely enjoying all of the time he’s gotten to have with Jeno now, all of the memories he’s been trying to ingrain in his mind.

Jaemin challenges, “Tell me.”

Donghyuck clicks his tongue, “It’s Jeno, isn’t it? It has to be.”

It has to be.

Renjun loses all feeling in his body. It takes up an inexplicable amount of effort to keep his hands to Jeno’s ears, begging the heavens it’s enough to keep Jeno from finding out like this. Donghyuck and Jaemin’s conversation dulls out to a low buzz as they leave the bathroom, failing to register in Renjun’s mind, because all he can think about is the way Jeno is looking at him.

He can’t decode it, can’t steady his mind to focus enough. Every single inch of his skin feels like it’s on fire, burning hot and chilling cold and Renjun thinks he’s going to be sick.

Jeno rushes to his feet, pushing past to stumble his way out of the stall.

“Jeno!” Renjun’s voice breaks, but he doesn’t care. “Jeno – wait, please,” his hand lands on Jeno’s arm, struck by sudden need to just have Jeno stay. He can’t leave now, he has to let Renjun explain – at least just a chance to. “Did you hear?”

Jeno’s eyes never once leave the ground, as if he’s too… repulsed to even look at Renjun. Did he never want anything to do with Renjun ever again? Is it too much for him to remain friends with someone that’d been harboring a crush on him for the longest time? If Jeno could just please say something, anything that could push Renjun in the right direction –

“Jeno, I’m – ” The name stings bitter on his tongue, “I’m sorry, I – I should’ve told you earlier, I didn’t want you to find out like this – I swear I didn’t mean to hide it from you – I’m sorry, I – ”

He’s cut off abruptly, “I don’t want to hear it.”

Renjun wrings the hem of his sweater in his hands, stupefied and lost. Reality crashes into him like he’s being punched in the gut, and Renjun finally faces the fact that the last month meant absolutely nothing to Jeno. It’s so out of this world that Jeno would ever see him as anything more than a best friend, it’s not surprising that Jeno would be at a loss too, betrayed even, by the fact that Renjun’s been lying all this while.

The last month has been all he’s ever wanted with Jeno.

It’s simply agonizing to think he’s simply making Jeno follow through with this mess of a relationship.

“I can explain – ”

“I don’t want to play this game with you anymore,” Jeno says harshly. His eyes are shut – he can’t even bare to look at Renjun. Is this the end then? Renjun’s insides jumble up at the thought, did he really manage to have their friendship turn sour? “I don’t want it anymore.”

Renjun reels. Jeno didn’t want what anymore? Didn’t want to pretend anymore? Didn’t want to be friends anymore? Didn’t want anything to do with Renjun anymore?

“What – what are you saying?”

“You – ” Jeno trips over his words, “You’re a cup!”

Renjun briefly entertains the thought that this must all be a dream – or more like a nightmare – because, what did Jeno just call him? He expected Jeno to call him a liar, but a – a what?

“I’m a – I’m a what?”

Jeno is silent, breathing so heavy and expression so crazed as if he’s just been convicted of felony murder. He stares at Renjun, battling a wordless war, bottom lip trapped tight between his teeth.

“Jeno, I – ”

“Sorry.” The tension shifts between them, the tightness of the air suddenly let go. Renjun starts to panic at the way Jeno takes a step back, a step towards the door, a step away from them, “I know now you’ve a crush, so let’s – not do this anymore.”

“No, wait – ” I can explain –

Jeno won’t meet his eyes. “You don’t have to,” he scoffs. “You don’t have to apologize for not liking me back. I don’t want to hear it.”

“For not – ”

Renjun’s throat closes up, For – not liking me back – What did that – no, that’s – can’t possibly be –

“For not – ” Renjun says again, losing his voice and all ability to stand. His hand falls from his sweater to grip the sink, fingers drilling into porcelain, trying to wrap his mind against Jeno’s words. His pulse thunders against his skin, fired by something he doesn’t dare believe, “Jeno – wait – ”

His plea falls on deaf ears – Jeno runs.

As expected of a state runner, Jeno takes off at the speed of light. And it’s unfair too, how fast Jeno is. By the time Renjun has his legs working enough to bring him back out into the hallway, Jeno is already at the end of the hall, covering strides at a speed Renjun can’t even register. He follows anyway, almost lightheadedly, struggling to make it even halfway down the length of the empty corridor because he just can’t do it. He can’t call out for Jeno, can’t ask him to, Wait – come back, because if Jeno wanted to hear it, he would’ve stayed.

He would’ve listened. He would’ve given Renjun a chance.

Jeno doesn’t want any of that.

“Hey, what took you – ” Donghyuck’s stops short, “Renjun?”

“I have to go.” Renjun shovels his sketchbook into his backpack, moving on auto-pilot to grab his phone from his pocket. The art studio spins, “I have to go.”

“Wait, hold on a second, Jun,” Donghyuck is grabbing him by the shoulders, leaning forward to seemingly get a closer look, “Why are you – crying? What happened?”

Renjun blinks, only realizing then when hot tears track his cheeks that he is crying. He hadn’t noticed it before, “It’s nothing, I just have to go – ” before it’s too late, I have to find Jeno –

“ – finally found the vending – what are you guys – ”

“I have to go – ”

“Wait, Renjun, just calm down a second,” Donghyuck tells him, anchoring him to the ground. Jaemin steps into view too with a protein bar in hand, though it is now forgotten. He studies Renjun and it’s with impeccable speed that he understands the situation – albeit not entirely. Donghyuck’s concern is almost tangible in the air between them, “Are you okay? Where are you going?”

Renjun croaks the answer out, “Home.” He wants to leave now, escape Donghyuck’s questions and Jaemin’s troubled expression. As much as he appreciates the love from his best friends, he just wants to talk to Jeno now. He needs to know what Jeno meant, he can’t possibly function on an assumption, “I’m just going home.”

Donghyuck’s eyes narrow, brows furrowing in obvious disapproval, “Jun.”

“Yeah,” Renjun breathes deeply, gathering his emotions. He isn’t going to make it far if he cried the whole way home. He wipes his cheeks with the back of his hand, “I just have to go, sorry.”

It takes a lot more convincing for Donghyuck to let Renjun walk home alone, but he does eventually, reminding Renjun to text him the moment he’s home and safe. Renjun tacks a mental note to buy Donghyuck a meal soon – the younger boy’s always looking out and caring for him, under all the sarcasm and insults, he really did care for Renjun and Renjun thinks he’ll always be thankful for Donghyuck’s time and company.

“Good luck,” is what Jaemin says to him, just as he turns to leave.

“Thanks,” Renjun mutters, hiding his face away and hurrying down the hall.

“‘Good luck’?” He hears Donghyuck ask, “Good luck for what?”

 

x

 

Renjun spends the entire walk home with his fingers flying across the screen of his phone. He sends text after text to Jeno, calls ringing and ringing until he’s met with the monotonous drawl of the phone operator. His mind is so caught up with his phone that it’s only when he lifts his head that he finds he’s standing on Jeno’s street.

Phone tucked in his pocket, Renjun hesitates the entire way to Jeno’s front door, double doors of brown oak. He can’t stop thinking about wanting – needing – to see Jeno; the boy he’s kissed too little, the boy he loved too much, the boy that was never his in the first place. His conscience tells him to turn around, to not bother the Lees on such a peaceful evening, but his heart raises his first for him, ready to knock on the door –

“Jeno! Dinner!”

And Renjun bounds back down the driveway, almost as quick as he came.

He wants to see Jeno, he truly did, he believes he needs to, but – what is he going to say, exactly, when he does manage to get a hold of Jeno? Is he supposed to sit them down and talk through it like adults? Can he even do that now with his emotions running wild? Heart ready to jump right of his own ribcage to crawl into Jeno’s?

Renjun isn’t ready.

He isn’t ready for all of this to end – for Jeno to, at best, return to being his best friend. He isn’t ready to let go of the Saturday dates they’ve been so diligently having, the Sunday morning runs Jeno’s been taking him on, the everything – hugs, kisses, touches nobody notices, something – this secret that they have between just the two of them.

Renjun goes home. He’ll find Jeno tomorrow.

He isn’t ready to let Jeno go just yet, even if he knows he has to.

 

x

 

Renjun skips breakfast the next morning. He rushes to school in a frenzy, not about to miss catching Jeno before first period. He shoves his bag and books into his locker, then drops by his class on the arts’ floor to leave his things. If he didn’t know any better, he would’ve gone straight to Jeno’s locker, but he did know Jeno – he knew Jeno wouldn’t want to face this head-on and he guessed as much that Jeno would turn up late to school (if he even did turn up). So Renjun heads for the sports’ floor, waiting with frazzled nerves outside of Jeno’s class.

It’s a poster pinned on the noticeboard for track team tryouts that catches Renjun’s eye. Minhyung has a solo shot with an excerpt below his photograph, a simple welcoming paragraph from the president of the student athletics club. Renjun lets his mind float free of worry, studying the photo collage of the track team. Without trying, he finds Jeno in them, captured mid-laugh with his arms around someone else, looking like he’s in a Nike advertisement.

His chest tightens, invisible strings tugging down on the corner of his lips.

It must be more than just infatuation now, Renjun believes. He’s in love. He has been in love for the last couple of years now, and now that he’s got a taste of what it’s like with Jeno – with Jeno’s laugh and his petulant glares, his cheesiness and his tendency to ignore his allergies to pet stray cats – Renjun doesn’t know what to do.

He’s sure he has to let go, to clear things up with Jeno and have it all out in the open, but what if – what if it meant going separate ways? That it meant Jeno didn’t want anything to do with Renjun anymore, because that’s what he meant yesterday, right?

You don’t have to apologize for not liking me back.

Renjun must’ve heard wrong, he must have.

It has to be Jeno.

“Ah – ow…”

The noise startles Renjun, but the pressure in his lungs alleviate. Jeno is by a trophy case ten feet away, groaning under his breath with a hand clamped over his shoulder. His black hair curtains his eyes, watching Renjun cautiously.

“Jeno,” he says, closing the distance between them. He can’t waste any more time, and he can’t let Jeno get away again. Jeno straightens, glancing at his classroom, planning on making a break for it, “Wait, hold on – I – I just want to talk to you.”

“Uh,” Jeno begins, raising a hand as if to keep Renjun away. It hurts a little, and Renjun hates it, but if Jeno wants to end things, he should at least be given closer. “I’m actually late for class, so, maybe – let’s not.”

Renjun can’t even comprehend how much Jeno has to hate him to be acting like this. Refusing just even a talk? He won’t even hear Renjun out? Is that really all that’s been between them? A waste of time?

“Wait – I just wanted to apologize for – ”

“Look, Renjun.” The grating sound of Jeno’s harsh voice is enough to widen the crack in Renjun’s heart, “I don’t want to hear it, okay? I’m – I’m really sorry I suggested we faked a relationship, but let’s just leave it.” Renjun draws a sharp breath, walls crumbling to the ground. Tears fight their way free, but Jeno’s too busy trying to get out of the conversation to notice.

“Forget anything even happened,” he decides, whirling around. Renjun presses a hand over his heart, struggling to keep it steady. Jeno sighs, “I’m going to be late for class – I’ll – I’ll catch you around.”

 

By the time Renjun’s gathered enough strength to move from the spot Jeno’d left him, it’s halfway past first period. He doesn’t know how, but he makes it back to the arts’ floor anyway, trekking up the stairs as if he’d got lead in his legs. He passes the studio in a daze, body moving on his own, taking him towards the bathroom again.

The door to the studio slides open roughly,

“ – jun? Renjun!”

He finds that he’s already half-bent over a sink when Donghyuck bursts through the door with an unrestrained fanfare. His hands are dotted with paint, brushes tucked neatly in the holes of his canvas apron, standing close enough for Renjun to notice. He focuses on the sink’s blinding white, afraid to even let himself loose the slightest – afraid to fall apart completely. There’s no telling on whether he’s ready to crawl out of it today.

There’s an air of dark acceptance that Renjun’s drowned himself in – that whatever he’s had with Jeno, a friendship, a relationship, all of that’s gone now – so he prays Donghyuck leaves it be. He prays Donghyuck doesn’t bring his prediction of who – who, oh, who – could be Renjun’s crush, that Donghyuck doesn’t make him talk about it because Renjun’s sure that once he starts, he won’t stop.

And Donghyuck does let him off the hook, to some extent. He crosses the length of the bathroom to yank handfuls of paper towels, hurrying back to Renjun’s side. It’s with caution that he hands them to Renjun, crouching to place himself where Renjun’s hunched over.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Donghyuck says eventually, running a comforting hand down Renjun’s side. A fresh wave of tears breaks free, and Renjun blinks them away. Donghyuck reaches to wipe them away again, “You don’t have to say anything.”

So, Renjun doesn’t. Selfish as it is, he doesn’t tell Donghyuck to go back to class either, because by now they’ve missed precious time they could’ve spent working on their portraits. Renjun finds himself needing the company, Donghyuck’s company, no matter if no one’s talking, no matter if they’re standing in the middle of the bathroom.

Donghyuck hums a tune, standing now to lean his hip against the edge of the sink. He takes the time to scrub his hands clean, speaking quietly about how hectic his morning has been.

Renjun appreciates it; listening to Donghyuck mumble about Minhyung and his impossible fever is helping, to a degree.

“ – our last Valentine’s together in high school,” Donghyuck sighs, scrubbing roughly at a particularly stubborn splotch of black paint. “So, he dragged himself out of bed, running on fumes basically, just to make sure he wouldn’t miss it.” He goes on, “I’ll have to bring him to the clinic if it gets worse – there’s no way he’s running in this state.”

Renjun sobers a little, “Training?”

If Donghyuck were any surprised at his sudden input in the otherwise one-sided conversation, he doesn’t show it. “Yeah,” he says, shutting the tap off. “It’s one of their longer runs today too, so it’s just – I don’t know, he doesn’t want to skip out, not when he has to pace with – ”

Donghyuck catches himself, biting on his tongue. Renjun withers internally, distressed at the reminder that Donghyuck knows now too – or at least, he’s managed to guess it.

It’s Jeno, isn’t it? It has to be.

He clears his throat, “Yeah. That.”

Renjun crumples the paper towel in his hands and tosses them into the bin. He can’t stay in here forever, especially when he’s holding Donghyuck back from working on his portrait. Donghyuck seems to understand this too, pulling the door open for them both, slowly making their way back to the studio.

It would’ve been unlike Donghyuck to say at least one thing about all of this, so Renjun isn’t all that surprised when Donghyuck stops him with a slight touch to the elbow. “You don’t have to say anything,” he reiterates. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other, “But just know that – I don’t think it’s what you think it is.”

Renjun shakes his head. He doesn’t want to hear this, he doesn’t want to hear Donghyuck lie to him, even if it’s for his own benefit.

“I really don’t,” Donghyuck continues on lightly. “Just – try and talk it out?”

As if I haven’t been trying, Renjun thinks bitterly. He’s thankful his power of speech is reluctant to work with him. Donghyuck watches him sympathetically, waiting for an answer. To which, Renjun manages (pitifully), “Thanks, Hyuck.”

“And if you ever need anyone to talk to – ”

“I know,” he mumbles, regretting how quick he’d been to answer when he sees Donghyuck’s face fall just the slightest. Despaired that he can’t seem to do anything right today, the apology tumbles from his lips, “Sorry. I – I just don’t want to talk about it.”

“I get it, Jun.” Donghyuck pulls him into a one-armed hug, “But I want you to be okay too, so – even if you don’t want to talk to me about it…”

Renjun breathes deep, “I know.”

 

x

 

Renjun is sure Jeno sees him. Even as the younger boy has his focus surrendered to the track, it’s not hard to miss the glances Jeno take whenever he turns the corner closest to the stands. It alights another round of queasiness and Renjun can’t seem to relax, fingers digging tight into the sides of his backpack.

Jeno’s skin pales against his new pacer – the name escapes Renjun – but he keeps up anyway. Renjun feels himself getting hypnotized with every step Jeno takes, mesmerizing in a sort of way. It almost floats him to a different plane of existence, watching Jeno circle around the track, nodding at his pacer’s words.

Renjun picks at the frays on his bracelet. Usually, he’d be busy sketching in his notebook right about now, just to kill time while Jeno did laps. He would take the time to work on his graphite skills, all the while making sure no one ever looked over his shoulder to see the muse he’s all so dedicated to. But now – now he’s just perpetually in a torturous state of anxiousness, ready for the worst of worst scenarios.

He watches Jeno run.

And he does this a lot.

It’s unsurprising that Renjun catches the moment Jeno starts to crouch over. His hand shakes, hovering and clutching onto his side, but his legs don’t stop, keeping pace. Renjun clambers to his feet, something festering in his gut, telling him that something’s wrong.

He finds out less than thirty seconds later, after Jeno throws him one last glance from the track –

Jeno hurtles to the ground, falling so painfully hard that Renjun can actually hear Jeno hitting the track heavily. The sound of his groan echoes the stadium – the pressure behind Renjun’s eyes is instant. His blood runs cold.

No, no, no –

Renjun doesn’t know how he managed it without tripping over his feet in his panicked haste but he does, staggering when he reaches the track’s level. He hasn’t stepped foot on the tartan track since freshmen year, and it’s daunting, weaving through the other runners still on their runs. His backpack thumps heavily against his back when he runs – runs – across the seven lanes, lungs not at all cooperating, weighing him down.

“ – a senior soon! You need to take better care of yourself – ”

Renjun’s knees scream in disapproval when he lands on them roughly, reaching for Jeno without thinking. “Jeno, Jeno, Jeno,” he heaves, almost pushed to tears when he feels how cold Jeno’s skin is. “Jeno – what – ”

“And you are?”

Renjun barely has any control over the words that leave his lips, “Huang Renjun, coach – I’m a – a friend of Jeno’s.”

Coach Choi is apprehensive for only a second, “Can you take him to the side? All of my runners are still mid-way through their laps.” Renjun nods weakly, holding onto Jeno’s arm with such a tight grip just because he’s afraid Jeno might slip, “Watch him – I don’t want anyone fainting on my watch.”

Renjun doesn’t know if his answer makes it past his mind, but Coach Choi is half-pulling, half-carrying Jeno into a standing position. Jeno’s weak in the knees, balance jeopardized, and he stumbles into Renjun’s arms only to catch himself, pushing away even with the lack of energy in him.

The rejection stings.

“Sorry,” he hears Jeno mutter, still trying to shove Renjun away. He wobbles like jelly, nearly folding over in half again when Renjun catches him.

“It’s okay.” Renjun ignores his rational self and secures an arm around Jeno’s sweaty waist, holding the boy up, “I’ve got you.”

Jeno looks as if he’d rather crawl his way back to the stands. He takes another determined step, clinging onto Renjun when his ankle threatens to give-way. Renjun averts his eyes, truly for Jeno’s benefit – Jeno probably hated it to his core that he had to rely on Renjun like this, especially while in the middle of their cold war.

Coach Choi instructs for Jeno to return to the locker room while the rest of the team finish their run. He turns to call for another boy to help Renjun out but he’s adamant on taking Jeno on his own, no matter how obvious it is Jeno doesn’t want to be alone with him. If he’s ever going to get to the bottom of things, he’s going to have to trap Jeno somehow – with his energy levels close to nothing, there’s no way Jeno’s in any shape to run off again.

After he successfully hauls Jeno back to the locker room, he says, “Wait here.”

Coach Choi also instructed for Jeno to have some Gatorade for hydration, so that’s exactly what Renjun scurries out to buy from the vending machine, leaving Jeno on a bench, slumped against a row of lockers. His hand taps impatiently against the side of the machine, watching with an unjustified level of irritation as the machine processes his order. But when the bottle finally drops to the bottom, Renjun hesitates in picking it up.

What was he going to say to Jeno? Should he come clean? Should he lie? Should he tell Jeno that – yeah, well, this was all just a joke to me too.

But he can’t, can he?

He can’t – not when his love – love – is so resolute. He can’t when all he can think about is what Jeno said, whether not he heard it right, whether or not Jeno really did say, You don’t have to apologize for not liking me back. What did he mean by that, if he did say it? It can’t mean – it just can’t.

Although he wouldn’t be surprised if Jeno’d gathered his belongings and left for home without waiting, Renjun is comforted in some way to see that Jeno’s still in that spot he left him in. That maybe he didn’t really want to run from Renjun too, that at some level deep within him, he wants to make things right too; or maybe he’s really just too worn out from training that he can’t even find it in himself to escape.

Renjun would like to think it’s the former.

He uncaps the Gatorade for Jeno, extending it towards the other silently. Jeno’s thanks is a hoarse whisper, and Renjun takes advantage of his almost sickly self to sneak a seat on the bench too. He makes sure to leave several inches between them, as if he were afraid Jeno’d hate it if he sat any closer.

The bottle is empty in a flash, the locker room eerily silent.

“I’m – feeling better now,” Jeno says, picking at the corners of the bottle’s plastic label. Renjun chest empties out. Of course, Jeno would want to leave. He couldn’t possibly stand a second longer breathing the same air as Renjun, “You don’t have to stick around – ”

“Where’s your bracelet?” The fear of never getting another chance to speak to Jeno like this again trumps rejection. He has to know what Jeno meant, he has to at least try to fix things, even if Jeno seemed like he didn’t want anything to be fixed. “Did you throw it away?

Shortly, “No.”

Renjun laughs, it doesn’t carry any joy. “Okay, ah – I worked hard on that… so, don’t throw it away.”

Jeno sucks in a breath, “I didn’t throw it away.” He adds on tersely, “I won’t.”

If Jeno is so determined on never speaking to him again, Renjun’s going to make sure this conversation is fit to be their last.

“Look, Jeno,” Renjun continues, rolling with reinvigorated confidence now that Jeno’s not speeding down halls to get away from him. “About what you said yesterday in the bathroom, I – ”

“I’m – ” Jeno interrupts, pushing himself towards the edge of the bench as if he were trying to evaluate if his legs were strong enough to let him stand. “I’m feeling a lot better now. Thanks for your help, but I can really take care of myself – ”

Renjun doesn’t hear it. His eyes are watching the way Jeno’s legs are trembling, clearly still in its phase of recovery. Renjun grinds hard on the back of his teeth, in that split-second chewing over whether or not Jeno has it in him to push Renjun off. But Jeno is unsteady, and Renjun would rather face it than see Jeno double over again.

“Jeno, please.” He reaches for Jeno’s wrist, coaxing the boy to sit back down. “I just want to talk about yesterday.”

“Yeah, no – ” Jeno nods, “I totally understand – you have a crush and I meant what I said.” He shrugs, “We can just forget about this whole game, you don’t have to – to feel sorry for me.”

Sorry for –

There it is again.

You don’t have to apologize for not liking me back.

Renjun seriously considers that he might be going insane. Is he really that daft or is he just not speaking up what Jeno’s laying down?

“Why…” He starts slowly, trying to make sure that he’s understanding Jeno entirely. It isn’t helping that Jeno is stubbornly adamant on having Renjun figure this puzzle out on his own, “Why would I feel sorry for you?”

“It’s nothing important, it’s nothing – ”

“Jeno, just why are you – ”

“Sorry, Renjun – I really don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to talk about – ”

Frustration ebbs slowly in Renjun’s veins. What is so difficult about clearing the air? It’s already hard enough to have to tell the truth in the middle of this mess, why can’t Jeno understand how uneasy Renjun is about this whole thing and cut him some well-deserved slack?

“No.” He hates how obvious it is that Jeno wants to leave (or wants him to leave). Renjun’s never had a conversation this stifling, “I need you to listen to me, Jeno – yesterday,” he swallows thickly, “You said something about – not liking you back, what did you – ”

“Knock it off,” Jeno say sharply, shrugging Renjun off. He looks away, “I said I don’t want to – ”

White flashes in Renjun’s eyes.

Jeno isn’t denying it. He isn’t denying it at all. He did say what he said.

He said it and he’s not denying it.

Renjun’s limbs move on their own accord, yanking on Jeno’s arm with both hands, “Jeno, please – ”

“Stop it!” Jeno fights him, jerking his arm from Renjun’s begging grip. He stumbles in his haste to get away, “I said I don’t want to play this game anymore! You don’t have to pretend anymore, you – ”

Renjun rushes to his feet, blood boiling to the top of his head,

“I like you, Jeno!”

He raises a hand to Jeno’s shoulder, watching the younger boy flinch under it. He can’t take this any longer – this… side of Jeno that’s so wound up in his own thoughts that he can’t even spare Renjun a fair chance at a decent conversation. That he won’t even – consider how the last month has been for Renjun too, as if he’s spent the last thirty days in heaven.

And now Jeno is saying, implying, that he’s feeling the same way? All the while not giving Renjun the decency to have a say?

Renjun can’t think of a universe he’d be happy to hear his feelings were returned like this. Not when Jeno’s so set on pushing him away while he’s at it.

Anger blurs his vision, dulls his senses.

“I’ve like you for so long, you can’t just go around assuming things on your own!”

And if he weren’t so full of irritation, Renjun thinks he would feel sorry; Jeno is frozen under his glare. Renjun isn’t even sure if he’s still breathing, “I – what – I – what are you saying?”

Renjun scoffs, but the tears filling his eyes reveal all. “You keep saying everything’s just a game, it’s practice, it’s fake,” he lists them on a hand. “It’s not fake, Jeno! I – I like you and – you can’t just cut me off!” Jeno remains a statue, “You can’t push my away whenever you want! You’re my – you’re my best friend!” Renjun accuses, “Not – not talking to me when I’ve done nothing wrong?”

Ah.

His anger subsides when he realizes what he’s done. Even if Jeno did listen to a word he’s said, even if he did mean what he said, even if Jeno finds it in him to understand whatever Renjun’s trying to get across, he’s changed their relationship forever. They can’t possibly go back to how they were like before.

“You can’t – do that to me, Jeno.” He sighs miserably, “Just – please don’t do that to me. I just – I only agreed to your dumb idea because – ” Renjun, with nothing more to lose, admits, “ – it hurts see you with other people.” Jeno says nothing. “I don’t – want to see you with other people and I know it’s selfish, I know – just – stop saying it’s fake when it isn’t. Not to me.”

In that moment, Renjun loses every bit of energy in his body. It’s his turn now to sit back down on the bench, making it rattle noisily. This is it, he thinks, tears streaking down his cheeks. He keeps his head low, he doesn’t want Jeno to see them. Maybe it’d just be better if Jeno left, just so that Renjun can fester in his own feelings for a bit, just so he isn’t walking around like a time-bomb’s just gone off.

Quietly, he hears Jeno speak haltingly,

“I – I didn’t know you felt that way.”

Renjun sighs, aggravated, wiping at his cheeks with the back of his hand, “Of course, you didn’t.” Jeno sits carefully down beside him, Renjun feels sorry again for the rift he’s caused between them. Bitterly, he can’t help but tack on, “You’re so busy looking at other people, you’ve never considered me.”

“I – I’m sorry,” Jeno whispers. “Renjun, I’m sorry – I didn’t know you liked me.”

Stomach in knots, Renjun buries his face in his palms, speaking into them, “Yeah, well, that’s because you’re always – ”

“You – ” Jeno coughs. Quietly, reluctantly, “You never draw me.”

Renjun lets his hands drop from his face, twisting to stare at Jeno incredulously. Jeno’s eyes searches his, and everything clicks. The wetness of his eyes and the redness of his cheeks, the furrow of his brows and the slight tilt to his lips.

What?”

Jeno hides behind the bottle of Gatorade, “I mean – I’ve never seen you draw me.”

Renjun wonders how on Earth, in the name of the highest of high power and the cycle of karmic debt, did he end up in this position. Sitting right here, listening to Jeno not only admit – albeit in implication – that he’s retuning Renjun’s long-lived unrequited feelings, but also to Jeno question why he doesn’t draw him?

Jeno continues on a spiel, one that Renjun ignores. Instead he’s spinning around to tug his backpack roughly onto his lap. He shoves his sketchbook into Jeno’s chest, looking away when Jeno drops the Gatorade bottle to catch the leather-bound book. All Renjun hears is Jeno’s heavy breathing and the sound of his heart rioting against his ribs. He lets Jeno study every page, holding the sketchbook so close to his face that he’s about to kiss it with his nose.

Every single page is covered with doodles of Jeno. Of Jeno running, of Jeno smiling, Jeno eating, laughing, breathing. Of Jeno’s eyes, hands, lips. Of their bracelet.

“Don’t say I don’t draw you,” Renjun mumbles.

He can’t comprehend the state of things anymore. The future for them is intimidating and for the first time in the last twenty-four hours, Renjun wishes time would stop. He wishes he could sit here forever, trapped in a vortex of knowing that Jeno liked him, but not knowing how much. Not knowing if Jeno wanted more, if Jeno regretted asking him to be a practice relationship, maybe then he wouldn’t have liked Renjun. Maybe if it were someone else, would Jeno still have fallen in love too?

Renjun closes his eyes.

He’ll take his chances. He’ll leave these thoughts for another day.

“You’re important to me.”

The sketchbook rests in Jeno’s hands.

“You’re an important person in my life, Jeno.”

Jeno fumbles with the pencil clipped to the front. Renjun wonders if he remembers it’s the one he bought for Renjun’s sixteenth birthday.

He places the book aside. Cautiously, he reaches for Renjun’s hand. Renjun grounds himself, body ready to bounce off the walls when his palm touches Jeno’s. “You’re important to me too,” Jeno whispers. Renjun bites back tears, finally solaced. “I’m sorry – I don’t know what I’m sorry for, but I know that I am. I don’t know what to say, Jun. This whole month – I was – I’m sorry.”

“Jeno – ”

“You’re important to me,” Jeno reaffirms. “And I should’ve been honest with you too, I should’ve said something, but I thought – I don’t know what I thought. I don’t know what I’m thinking.”

Renjun stays mum. He didn’t know what to say either, but he doesn’t fight it when Jeno maneuvers him to lean on his chest. His bracelet stares up at him, already fraying at the ends from how he’s been wearing it constantly. He picks at it, absentmindedly wondering if he could hold them under a flame to make sure they stick.

In the silence, Jeno’s gaze bores holes into his crown.

The air around them is stuffy.

An effort to lighten the mood, Renjun purses his lips, “You’re so sweaty.”

Jeno’s hand tightens around his, “I like you, Renjun.”

Relief – oh, sweet, sweet relief! – floods Renjun through every single pore. His shoulders drop and legs give way, almost falling dead weight against Jeno. After the most hectic twenty-four hours of his life, Renjun is beyond relieved that its finally over.

“If you haven’t already noticed,” he sighs. “I like you too.”

Jeno draws back, leaning forward, “No, I mean – I really, really like you.”

Renjun cracks a smile and eats his insecurities to kiss Jeno on the cheek sweetly, “I really, really like you too.”

They’ve shared kisses more than Renjun can count but when Jeno leans in this time, it’s different. This time, it means something – and not just to Renjun. It means something to the both of them, it means something real, something they’ve both unknowingly been fighting each other for.

Jeno picks the sketchbook up again, seemingly infatuated with it. He flips it open, speaking slow, “Yesterday… In the bathroom, with Donghyuck – what did he say?”

Renjun rests his head on Jeno’s shoulder, training his eyes to the row of lockers when he answers, “He said your name.” He fiddles with his bracelet again, “I told Jaemin I liked you a month ago. I – I couldn’t stand bottling up my feelings and I knew he wouldn’t say anything, and he didn’t… And yesterday,” Renjun inhales deeply. “Yesterday, Donghyuck guessed it was you. I was afraid you’d heard then. I didn’t want you to – to find out like that.” He mumbles, “I wanted to tell you, but you didn’t want to listen.”

“Sorry,” Jeno sighs. “I thought you wanted to end things with me, so I – tried to put off speaking to you.”

“Jeno…”

“You had me worried.” He kisses Renjun’s crown, speaking into it, “I thought – it was someone else. I didn’t know what to think then, I didn’t know how to react. I – ” He reveals, “I was afraid I’d lost my chance with you. That I messed everything up, that I couldn’t tell you anymore, even if I wanted to.”

Renjun closes his eyes, “It has always been you, Jeno.”

 

x

 

15FEB [11:08] jeno: junnie
15FEB [11:08] jeno: where are you :(

 

Renjun rolls his eyes when the messages ping in, a contradiction to the way the corners of his lips pull up into a smile. He hurries up the concrete stairs, cold air hitting him squarely in the face when he reaches street level. Without much effort, he spots Jeno waiting by the corner, leaning against a lamppost with his nose in his phone.

Renjun ignores the buzzing in his pocket.

It’s unfair, how good Jeno looks without trying. His coat accentuates his waist, tapered in the back, and it isn’t too long, just until the ends of the pockets of his jeans. A beige knitted sweater layers nicely over the hem of his skinny jeans too, ripped at the knees, distressed at the thighs and not at all winter friendly. The scarf around his neck is fluffy, thankfully, successfully hiding almost half his face when he’s looking down so intently at his phone.

“I’m right here,” Renjun sing-songs, jumping into Jeno’s line of sight. He laughs when Jeno jumps too, a startled expression painting his features. It morphs into a petulant one and Renjun reaches up to kiss Jeno’s cheek, almost ice-cold from how long he’s been standing out on the street.

“What took you so long?” Jeno grumbles, tucking his phone into his coat pocket and automatically reaching for Renjun’s hand. He intertwines their fingers together, “I’ve been waiting for you since eleven!”

Renjun huddles close in a feeble attempt to warm Jeno up. “In my defense, we were supposed to meet at eleven-thirty, Jeno. I’m actually twenty minutes early.”

Jeno frowns, “I couldn’t help it. I was excited.”

Renjun makes a small sound of distress. He isn’t going to last the entire date – their first real date, as per Jeno’s insistence – at this rate.

It’s an agreement made over unadon that a do-over is what they both want. Their first date, first kiss, first everything that they’ve done so far together – Renjun wants to do it again. He doesn’t want to wipe the memories of their firsts together, he just knows that this time, although it might’ve been the tenth date they’ve had, is just as important as their first together. Jeno wishes for the same, and it’s then and there that they decide to do this seriously now, that what they feel for one another isn’t just something they can sweep under the rug anymore – it’s not something they want forgotten.

What they have now – Renjun wants it to last for as long as it can. Even with their unsteady beginnings, he already knows that he wants it to last. He wants to think of going to college together, of getting an apartment together, living together, just having that kind of life that he’s always seen and admired in books and movies.

He wants to shared beds with Jeno on Sunday mornings, to sleep in when it’s storming outside, to spend the days with just the Jeno in their little bubble. He wants to travel the world with Jeno, to see sights he’s never seen with the one person in the world he wants to experience it with. He wants a future with Jeno – more than just what high school romances can offer, he wants everything and more.

He wants it with Jeno and he can only hope with his hands clasped together and his eyes shut tight that Jeno wants the same with him too.

“I’m excited too,” Renjun mumbles, bringing Jeno’s hand up to his lips to kiss the back of it. “Where are we going for the movie?”

Jeno sniffles loudly, “Oh. Change of plans, we’re not watching a movie today.”

“Then where are we going?”

“Uh, just the farmer’s market.”

Renjun blinks, “Why?”

“I – ” Jeno looks right and left before guiding them both across the crosswalk, “Well, I didn’t want to spend our first date in a movie theatre.”

Renjun doesn’t follow, “Why not?”

Jeno shrugs, “I just want to spend it talking to you.” Renjun’s eyes widen, listening to Jeno go on, “I don’t really want to sit in a dark theatre and not talk to you for three hours.”

Renjun shies away, muttering under his breath, “You make it sound like we don’t talk every day already.”

“I mean, we do,” Jeno slips their hands into his pocket. He shudders when a breeze blows by, “But not as boyfriends.”

Boyfriends. The word sweeps Renjun off his feet. Rattles his heart. 

A weak attempt at hiding the heart attack creeping up his arm, Renjun laughs, “And we’re boyfriends now?”

Jeno stops in his tracks, nearly yanking Renjun’s entire arm off in the process. He tilts his head to the side, blinking twice at Renjun, who’s entirely sure that he must be flushed pink by now. Jeno sniffs again, nose red from the cold, “Are we not?”

“We are,” Renjun says, dizzy at the words. Jeno’s boyfriend, and not a practice one. He repeats, mostly to himself; he can’t exactly believe it either, “We are.”

“Real boyfriends,” Jeno reminds him. He beams, “And I know you like those churros they have at the corner store, and that signature hot chocolate from that expensive place.”

Renjun can’t hide his excitement at that. He did love churros and hot chocolate, though he didn’t think Jeno would know that. Or that Jeno would bother to remember it.

“And we can go to that art café again,” Jeno suggests, taking a left turn. The yellow tents from the farmer’s market are just a way ahead, “That handicraft place.”

“Where we made the bracelets?”

“You made them,” Jeno corrects. He lifts their hands, the pair of green staring at them both, “I don’t want new ones though – I really like these.” He says thoughtfully, “Maybe we can get something different next time. Together.”

Renjun’s heart grows three times big at the idea of next time, “I’d love that.” They turn up the steps to the market, “Are you sure you’ll be okay in the cold?” He asks, using his freehand to cup Jeno’s cheek, warming him up. “You look like your nose is about to fall off.”

“I’m fine,” Jeno reassures him. After a pause, “Though, I’d be feeling a lot better if I didn’t wait out in the cold for you.”

“You were a half hour early!”

Jeno laughs, turning his hand to kiss the inside of Renjun’s palm. “And you were twenty minutes early – would you have waited for me?”

Renjun pretends to consider it, “Eh, probably not.”

Jeno mocks a frown.

“Of course, I’d wait for you Jeno.”

Renjun bites on his lip to keep from saying,

You’ve no idea just how long I’ve been waiting.