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Off the top of his head, Youngmin can think of eighty-nine better ways to spend his Saturday afternoon than helping Donghyun move his belongings into his new apartment.

The sheer amount of stuff Donghyun is in possession of is staggering, considering he moved in a year ago with only a single duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Youngmin considers making a pointed comment about the capitalist consumer culture his young friend has fallen victim to, but he can almost hear Donghyun roll his eyes in response and figures it’s not worth the effort.

“Is this really the last box?” Opting for something safer, Youngmin climbs to his feet with a grimace and tosses the roll of packing tape onto his desk. Ignoring the sweat trickling down his back, he runs a critical eye over the empty half of the room formerly occupied by Donghyun. It looks incomplete without his former roommate’s things taking up space. Kind of sad to think about, honestly.

“You should be a little more torn up about me moving out,” Donghyun says in lieu of answering his question. Unlike Youngmin, who spent the last three hours laboring to pack boxes and stressing over spatial management, all Donghyun’s done in the meantime is clean out the contents of their fridge by eating everything while both starting and finishing a racy novel about vampires. “I would appreciate tears.”

“I would appreciate you telling me if this was the last of your boxes or not.”

“Yeah, it’s the last one.” Brushing some crumbs off his collar, Donghyun nudges the box with his foot and adds, “Thank you for volunteering to help with the move, hyung. Or I guess, thank you for going along with me volunteering you to help.”

“Next time, please ask your boyfriend to deal with all this.” Even as he says it, Youngmin has a feeling he’ll end up here again, hurting his back and neglecting his readings just to give Donghyun a hand with whatever he needs. The art of saying no when necessary is something Youngmin has regrettably never been able to master, especially when it comes to his juniors.

“Donghan’s busy.” Donghyun picks up the final box and heads to the kitchen with Youngmin trailing behind. “Club meeting or something.” The rental van containing the rest of Donghyun’s things is downstairs, but he seems in no hurry to leave. Setting the box down on the counter, he gets himself a glass of water and waves off Youngmin’s request to wash it once he’s done. “Sanggyun let club president powers go to his head and made attendance mandatory.”

“Sounds like Sanggyun.”

“I would've roped Woojin into giving a hand, but he’s been screening my calls and told Daehwi to do the same.”

Youngmin tries not to laugh. “Figures.” Underclassmen are a different breed altogether.

Donghyun rinses his empty glass out, then pauses and rests his hands on top of the box. “When is Sewoon moving in again?” There’s a curious inflection to his voice Youngmin can’t place, a forced kind of nonchalance, but the question itself is innocent enough that Youngmin doesn’t think too much of it.

“Tomorrow. Gwanghyun offered to help him bring his stuff over, so I think I’ll just clean up the place before then.” His joints ache at the thought of more physical activity, but Youngmin has full faith in Sewoon and Gwanghyun’s abilities to take care of things on their own.

“I thought I’d buy Sewoon dinner after, like a housewarming thing,” he continues. Nothing fancy, of course, but something to put him at ease. “Sort of a welcome to your new home and I’m so happy to have you here gesture.”

“You sound excited.” Donghyun raises an eyebrow. “Can’t wait to get rid of me, hyung?”

“It’s not that.” Youngmin waves the teasing off with a small frown. “I’m just supposed to look out for Sewoon, you know? That’s why I asked if he wanted to move in. Since he’s going to live here, I want him to feel comfortable, like this is... home.”

Donghyun doesn’t look entirely convinced. “It’s just—“ Lapsing into a sudden silence, he mulls over his next words carefully. “Are you going to be okay sharing a room—a home—with him? Having to live with someone you like can be awkward.”

“I lived with you and I liked you,” Youngmin points out. He doesn’t get the apprehension, the way Donghyun seems intent to handle this as delicately as possible. It’s just Sewoon; why wouldn’t he be okay sharing a place with him?

“That’s not what I mean,” Donghyun says. He has this particular expression, like a you might be hearing me but you’re not listening to me expression, which Youngmin usually observes directed at Woojin—but is, for some reason, leveled at him today.

“What, then?” he asks, rubbing the back of his neck. “Did I say something wrong?”

The near pity in Donghyun’s eyes throws him off. He reaches into his jacket, and for a wild moment Youngmin thinks he’s going to chuck something at him. But instead of flying projectiles, Donghyun pulls out his phone and slides it across the counter.

It hits Youngmin’s arm softly, the screen at maximum brightness and open to a familiar image. He throws Donghyun a questioning look, but Donghyun just shakes his head and gestures to the phone. “Just look at this for a second, please.”

“Fine, but why?” Things don’t became any clearer when he holds the phone up closer to his face. The picture is from a camping trip their group of friends took over the summer; Youngmin has a copy of it on his own phone. It’s nothing remarkable on its own. After all, they took dozens of shots like this together.

But this is a rare full group picture. There’s Donghyun and Donghan, posing for the camera ‘just as friends’. Dongho, in plaid despite the weather. Sanggyun and his beer hat. Gwanghyun looking like a Disney princess thanks to the bird hovering above his head. Sewoon, tucked next to Youngmin, narrowly avoiding becoming a casualty of Minki’s energetic gesturing on the other side and holding in a laugh for the sake of the picture.

Youngmin remembers the moment well. Sewoon pressed against him, his shoulders shaking. Youngmin’s hands coming up to grasp him as he whispered, I’ve got you. He always had a steadying hand. His heart lurched in his chest, only for a moment, as Sewoon tipped his head back and smiled. Thank you, hyung.

In the entire picture, Youngmin is the only one not looking at the camera but at Sewoon instead, equal parts concern and fondness and something else—

“What am I supposed to be looking at?” he asks finally. His shirt sticks to his skin, reminding him of the stifling summer heat on the day the photograph was taken. It surrounds him, suffocating and thick. The phone slips from his clammy hands onto the counter.

That camping trip was supposed to be a final big ‘college memory’ before graduation in the spring. The photo, a nice shot to remember how things used to be and a glimpse into the past for when he’s old and grey. But he thinks he’s missing something important; at least Donghyun thinks there’s more to it.

“You don’t see it?” Donghyun asks, incredulous.

“See what?”

“Never mind.” He grabs the phone off the counter and shoves it into his pockets. Donghyun’s disappointment is palpable; eyes closed, he pinches the bridge of his nose and counts to ten before exhaling and turning to Youngmin with a rueful smile. “Go at your own pace. I’m on your side either way.”

Before Youngmin can ask where he’s supposed to go, Donghyun moves towards the door, box in hand. Youngmin pities his struggles with the handle and follows to holds it open for him “What are you on my side for? And should I thank you?”

“Um, yes, but don’t worry about it just yet.” Donghyun hesitates by the door, shifting his weight from one foot to another. “Good luck, Youngmin hyung.” Then, with as much sincerity as Youngmin has ever gotten from him, “I enjoyed living with you.”

It sounds oddly final. “We’re still going to see each other?” he reminds Donghyun, or maybe asks. They are, aren’t they? “But I did too.” Youngmin’s throat constricts. So he might actually shed a tear or two before this is over. “Have fun with Donghan.”

Donghyun pulls a face, but the glint in his eyes says otherwise. “Not as much fun as you’re going to have with Sewoon!” With a wave, he bounds down the stairs two at a time. Youngmin marvels at the sudden burst of energy before retreating into his apartment and shutting the door behind him.

It’s abrupt, but Youngmin knows that every ending leads to a new beginning.

Tomorrow, Sewoon will be here, filling up the empty space Donghyun left in his wake. Sewoon, who is less intrusive and yet more present at the same time. Someone Youngmin is overly conscious of, someone he can’t ignore. Learning to navigate around him is going to be interesting, but Youngmin knows Sewoon. He likes him. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

Unbidden, Donghyun’s words from earlier pop into his mind. Are you going to be okay sharing a room—a home—with him? His palms are slick again and he rubs them dry on his shirt. Youngmin still feels like he’s missing the true meaning behind the question. But he doesn’t know what else to say about it. You build homes on strong foundations: he and Sewoon have that.

Moreso, this is something he wants to do. He wants Sewoon here, with him.

A voice that sounds a lot like Donghyun says of course you do in the back of his head. Youngmin rubs his chest absentmindedly and thinks back to the picture on Donghyun’s phone, that moment during the summer when his world narrowed for a few heartbeats, until it was made up of Sewoon and only Sewoon, and Youngmin thought, oh, and I wish this moment could last forever, and I won’t let go—

(“You’re not very observant when it comes to yourself, hyung,” Daehwi told him once. “It’s something you should work on before you end up making a fool out of yourself.”

Youngmin wasn’t sure how to respond, but made a note. “Thanks? I’ll try to do better?”)

As it turns out, he hasn’t succeeded yet.

 


 

Youngmin is, perhaps by default, the most responsible of his small group of friends. The caveat there is: he’s also frequently the most boring. Moving from Busan to Seoul for one of the best mechanical engineering programs in the country should’ve been an adventure, but Youngmin can (and he quotes) “suck the excitement out of anything.”

But this is less a story about Youngmin being boring than it is about Youngmin being responsible. And somewhere along the line, there’s Sewoon.

His mother calls near the beginning of his second year to inform Youngmin that her best friend’s son is going to be attending the same university as he does. It’s the boy’s first time away from home and oh, can Youngmin please show him around campus and watch out for him since he’s the older one? Her friend’s son looks up to him so much; can’t he take care of him in the unfamiliar city? There’s really no way for Youngmin to refuse after her speech.

And so, when Jung Sewoon steps off the train on a chilly spring morning with his bags in hand, Youngmin is there to say, “Hey. Long time no see.”

Sewoon’s breath is faintly visible in the air. “It’s only been a year, hyung,” he says wryly, but drops his bags and wraps Youngmin in a fierce, bony hug.

When they finally pull apart, Youngmin grins down at the younger man and claps him on the back, his hand lingering a moment too long. “I’ve got you from now on,” he says, and there’s a promise laced with his words as well. You can rely on me.

Sewoon looks up at him, a faint smile on his lips. “I know you do,” he says.

(Here he admits—

He would’ve looked after Sewoon without being asked. Youngmin grew up around him and remembers Sewoon as the little kid who was always content with playing on his own whenever his mom brought him over to the Lim’s house. Youngmin was fascinated by his seemingly endless capacity to entertain himself.

Later, Sewoon became the kid who spent his lunch break in the library because the librarian gave him first pick of all the new books. Youngmin would sit with him in the stacks sometimes, the two reading together in a comfortable silence.

After that, he was the one with the angelic voice in their high school singing group, even though he was stuck in the back behind the rest. Youngmin was good at picking him out though; his eyes always found Sewoon easily.

Sewoon means a lot to him. Always has, always will).

As requested by his mother, he gives Sewoon a tour of the campus and does his best to help him get settled in, even introducing him to his friends. Parental meddling aside, Youngmin has a vested interest in making sure Sewoon’s college life progresses smoothly, that he’s eating well and socializing with other people rather than burying himself under schoolwork. It’s natural to care this much about his childhood friend. He always has.

In a few years, Youngmin weaves Sewoon into the fabric of his life—because that is a completely normal thing to do, and it’s what he has always done, Minki’s pointed remarks aside. “I promised,” Youngmin tries to explain once. And then, more honestly, “I want Sewoon to be a part of my life.” Minki eyes him strangely, but never questions it again.

He doesn’t admit that couldn’t ignore Sewoon if he tried. There’s something special about Sewoon and his steady gaze, his delicate hands, his kind smile. You might easily mistake him for boring, but Sewoon is so much more than that. He’s a star brought to earth, a concentration of light and beauty and sincerity and everything in between. You don’t make the same mistake twice.

That might be what fascinates Youngmin about him, drawing him in like a moth to a flame. He wants to protect that part of Sewoon. If that’s all his role will ever be, he’s fine with it. Perhaps this is what Donghyun sees and doesn’t understand. Youngmin isn’t sure how to explain it himself.

There's something just between him and Sewoon that defies simple description.

 


 

He wakes up early to prepare for Sewoon’s arrival, but there isn’t much to do since the apartment is small and not too difficult to keep tidy. Still, Youngmin half-heartedly vacuums just to pass the time, then decides to clear a shelf for Sewoon on the bookcase in the living room. From what he remembers, Sewoon has a lot of books; Youngmin is sure he’d appreciate the extra space.

Sewoon arrives at the apartment after lunch with Gwanghyun in tow and less luggage than Youngmin expected, but maybe he’s just used to Donghyun’s excess. Regardless, there’s a nervous buzz in the air as Youngmin helps Sewoon with his things. Or maybe it’s just in him, running through his veins, causing him to trip over the folded edge of his living room rug even though he lives here. Gwanghyun has the grace not to laugh, but Sewoon turns his chuckle into a cough when Youngmin looks at him with exasperation.

Once they finish dumping Sewoon’s bags on Donghyun’s recently vacated bed, Gwanghyun glances down at his watch and sighs. “I have to leave for work soon. Hyung, we’re good now, right?”

“Oh, yes, thank you. My books are being sent over later.” Sewoon finds a place to sit on the edge of the bed and runs a hand over the cover. He’s dwarfed by his bags, but doesn’t seem to notice or care. Belatedly, Youngmin realizes the one shelf he cleared for Sewoon earlier will not be enough space for all his books. “Thanks again for helping me move, Gwanghyun. I’ll treat you to dinner tomorrow. Beef, I promise.”

Gwanghyun’s eyes grow bigger at the mention of beef, but he quickly shakes his head and takes a step back. “I didn’t mind! See you, hyung. You too, Youngmin hyung.” With a cheery smile and a wave, Gwanghyun heads out, leaving Sewoon and Youngmin on their own.

This is where Youngmin says something to mark the occasion. Something clever or uplifting or funny. He fumbles around for the right words and finally settles on, “Find the place okay and everything?” Not remotely clever or uplifting or funny, just boring and responsible. At least it remains on brand for him.

“Yeah.” Swinging his feet off the ground, Sewoon looks around the room, his gaze lingering on Youngmin’s neatly made bed and the rolls of project paper stacked in a pyramid on his desk. Up close, he looks a little tired, but when he meets Youngmin’s eyes, his face brightens. “This is only the third time I’ve ever been in your apartment,” he says. “I like it here.”

Is it really? Youngmin feels like he should apologize. Instead, he blurts out, “Ours.” Sewoon gives him a strange look. “I mean, it’s our apartment now, isn’t it?” Or is that too cheesy of a thing to say?

Sewoon is silent for what seems like a long time. “I suppose,” he says finally, the corners of his mouth lifting slightly. He smoothes out the errant wrinkles in the bedcovers and fiddles with the clasp on the nearest of his suitcases. “Thank you for inviting me to live with you. I should have said that earlier.”

“Don’t thank me; you’re doing me a favor,” Youngmin says quickly. “I really did not want to go through the whole process of searching for a new roommate. Donghyun was a lot on his own, but what if the new person turned out to be a serial killer?” Such a twist of events might say more about Youngmin and his bad judgement than anything else, but it remains a real fear of his.

Sewoon presses his lips together. “What if I turn out to be a serial killer?” he says seriously, clasping his hands together in his lap.

Youngmin tries to imagine being scared of Sewoon and fails miserably. “I’ve known you my whole life. I think I understand you pretty well.” There are no surprises between him and Sewoon, no secrets or things left unspoken. “I’d know if you were.”

A few moments of terse silence pass before Sewoon’s expression finally cracks into a full-fledged smile. “I’m not so sure, hyung.” Youngmin waits for him to clarify, but once he climbs to his feet, all Sewoon adds is, “I should start unpacking.”

“Oh—oh yeah. I’ll get out of your hair.” Youngmin retreats without asking any follow up questions. If he stays, he’ll end up fretting like a mother hen. “Just yell if you need anything.”

The next few hours are spent by Youngmin on the couch in the living room, idly flipping through the channels on the tv. Eventually, he settles on a music show as background noise while scrolling through his phone. Only half his attention is on his screen, the other half straining to hear Sewoon as he hums along to whatever pop song is playing at the moment in the midst of putting things way.

His voice fills the apartment, and maybe it’s silly since they’re still at the starting line, but in the moment, Youngmin thinks he wouldn’t want anyone else sharing a life with him.

Sewoon emerges from the room a few hours later and groans as he sinks onto the couch beside Youngmin. “All unpacked?” Youngmin asks, giving him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, and receives a nod in return. “Great. I ordered a pizza for dinner, by the way. It’s on me; consider it your housewarming gift.”

Sewoon straightens up. “My housewarming gift is half a pizza?”

“Yeah?” Is that weird?

“I love it,” Sewoon says sincerely, and Youngmin laughs in equal parts relief and amusement, bumping Sewoon’s shoulder with his own. He expects Sewoon to shift away after that, but he remains pressed against Youngmin, shoulder to shoulder, and stares at the tv screen with a faraway expression. Youngmin stiffens, tucking his hands in between his thighs, too reluctant to ruin the peace between them, until—

“Hyung,” Sewoon breaks the silence, “should we set ground rules for living together?”

Oh. “I don’t know?” The question is one he didn’t expect to hear. “The only rules Donghyun and I had were to make sure the front door’s locked when you leave and to write your name on your leftovers.” They never really needed more than that.

He steals a glance at Sewoon and finds him nodding thoughtfully. Youngmin hastens to add, “But I trust you.” The admission is clumsy and ill-placed, but he means it. He trusts Sewoon and doesn’t need to impose restrictions on him.

Sewoon’s mouth curves upwards. “I trust you too, hyung.” He hesitates. “But if I do something wrong, please don’t take it easy on me.”

You could never do anything wrong, he doesn’t say, though the words rest on the tip of his tongue. Rubbing his nose, Youngmin forced himself to swallow them. “Got it. I’ll hold you to the highest standards.”

“I won’t disappoint.” Sewoon sounds so serious that Youngmin only blinks, then reaches over to mess up Sewoon’s hair—because Sewoon allows him to without protest. Much protest, anyway; his nose wrinkles in annoyance, and Youngmin laughs at how cute he is. Just like the way Sewoon eats the cheese off the pizza later is cute, and Youngmin feels warmth spread throughout his body watching him, an odd sort of contentment he’s been chasing for a long time.

(Isn’t this okay? he wants to ask Donghyun. Aren’t they both okay here, like this, together?)

 


 

A week into the semester, Donghan attempts to gather all their friends together, ostensibly to have lunch, but as Youngmin learns from Sewoon (who learned from Gwanghyun), it’s supposed to be for a Big Announcement—a dual coming out/we’re dating now reveal for the sake of their friends. While things between Donghan and Donghyun progressed quickly from just friends to something more over the summer in secrecy, Youngmin suspects the pomp has something to do with Donghan being dramatic. The mandate is to show up, act surprised, and look pretty.

“Uh, it’s for the date pool, actually,” Gwanghyun explains on the way to the cafeteria, sandwiched between Sewoon and Youngmin, who’d been waiting outside the class for Sewoon so they could go over the shopping list for tonight. Running into Gwanghyun was an added bonus.

But the shopping list is forgotten as Gwanghyun brings up the date pool—whatever that is. Sensing Youngmin’s confusion, he elaborates. “It’s like a betting pool where we all try to predict when people are going to finally get together.”

“Oh.” This is the first Youngmin’s ever heard of something like that, though with his group of friends, he shouldn’t be surprised. “Why didn’t I know about it?” Sewoon certainly doesn’t look shocked by the reveal; has he known about this from the beginning?

Sewoon covers his mouth, trying to hold back a laugh. “Hyung, you’re not exactly…”

“What?”

“Never mind.” Sewoon’s quick to change the subject as they get in line for their food, though all he orders is a single bubble tea. Youngmin vows to give him half of his sandwich later. “Who’s winning for Donghan and Donghyun?” he asks, once they take a seat at an empty table.

Gwanghyun whips out his phone and checks the list. “Kenta, I think. And Daehwi.”

Youngmin and Sewoon trade a look. “Not surprised,” Youngmin mutters. Daehwi has a sixth sense for this stuff and Kenta is, well, Kenta. “Who else is in the date pool?” Youngmin asks. He might want to bet too; there are definitely a few people in their friend group he expects to see together any day, and it sounds fun, if potentially expensive.

“Uh, let’s see.” Gwanghyun scrolls down the list. “Donghan and Donghyun, Kenta and Sanggyun, Woojin and Jihoon, Daniel and Seongwu, Sewoon and—” Cheeks reddening, he breaks off mid-sentence and sets his phone down next to his plate as if it burned him.

Sewoon blinks and stabs his straw through the top, alarmed. “Me?”

“I meant Sungwoon… and Minhyun!” Flustered, Gwanghyun wrings his hands together and looks beseechingly at Minki and Dongho as they slide into the seats opposite him. “I meant Sungwoon and Minhyun for the date… thing. Those two.”

“Sungwoon and Minhyun are what now?” Dongho repeats, the corners of his mouth tugging downwards. “Jonghyun is going to be disappointed.”

Minki scoffs. “Minhyun has two hands, dumbass,” he remarks, spearing a piece of meat off Dongho’s plate. “I think Sungwoon’s out of his league anyway.”

Youngmin chews thoughtfully. “I didn’t even know they liked—huh, I guess I’ve been blind.” First the date pool, now this. Just how much has he been missing out on? If someone turns out to have a secret lovechild, Youngmin is going to riot. Just in case, all bets are on Dongho for that one.

But he doesn’t get much chance to ponder the possibilities of what’s been going on behind his back before Donghan arrives with Donghyun and a churro. They’re both bickering good-naturedly, only stopping when Minki clears his throat and tells them to hurry up because some people are busy, thank you.

Donghyun shakes his head and takes a seat with his food, but Donghan remains standing and clears his throat. “You guys are going to want to hear this. Trust me. We have a big announcement.” Cue the dramatic pause as Donghan beams out at them, gesticulating with his churro. “An update for the date pool.”

For some inexplicable reason, all eyes immediately turn to look at Youngmin and Sewoon. Even Jonghyun, who joins the group late muttering something about long queues, immediately zeroes in on the two of them with anticipation glittering in his eyes.

Youngmin feels the weight of their stares acutely and stops chewing. “Erm.” Sewoon, on the other hand, is seemingly unaware or unbothered by their sudden interest in the two of them and slurps loudly on his bubble tea, accidentally cutting through the tension.

“You didn’t,” Minki says, managing to sound both pleased and offended at the same time. “You didn’t, you lovely oblivious dumba—”

Minki.” Dongho’s exasperation would sound a lot more convincing if he weren’t smiling himself. Not for the first time, Youngmin feels like he’s lacking important context for the conversation everyone is having around, instead of with, him. “Leave him alone.” He’s about to thank Dongho for his defense, but something about Dongho’s voice stops him; it’s warm, a little gruff, and Youngmin gets the sense that he’s proud of something Youngmin’s done (or not done). “It was bound to happen someday soon.”

What is anyone talking about? Donghyun moving out, maybe? Do their friends think Youngmin kicked the younger man out? Should he clarify this was very much Donghyun’s choice? He catches Donghyun’s eye, who just shakes his head and sighs.

“Anyway,” Minki says. “It was only a matter of time before Youngmin finally manned up enough to go for it. We should inform the fucking world.”

Youngmin wonders if he needs to be offended. He is, a little. Meanwhile, Sewoon sets his phone down and continues to slurp on his bubble tea, eyes darting from one person to another. He gives Youngmin a helpless sort of shrug when he looks over in askance and mouths, sorry.

“I called Daniel,” Jonghyun pipes up unhelpfully, holding up his phone. “He’s distraught.”

As if to punctuate his point, Daniel’s face fills the small screen—or, his nose does, and everyone gathered around the table gets an intimate look into his nostrils. “What do you mean Sewoon’s no longer single—” He breaks off and the image on screen violently pivots to show his bare feet instead, Daniel’s voice coming from a distance “—and free to talk shit about Youngmin hyung’s bad habits because he’s dating him and loves all his faults now?”

“Nice save,” Jonghyun says under his breath.

He and Sewoon are what? “E—excuse me?” No one else seems to be surprised by Daniel’s words, which makes Youngmin wonder if this is some kind of joke everyone but him is in on. Everyone but him and Sewoon, maybe, because he finds it hard to believe Sewoon would go along with something like this. “Is this a prank?” He doesn’t—they aren’t—

Minki trades a look Youngmin can’t place with Dongho, then with Jonghyun, who quietly ends the video call with Daniel and fiddles with his phone to avoid answering the question. No one wants to touch this, Minki included. “I’m bowing out,” he announces abruptly, pushing his chair back. “Anybody want coffee?”

Jonghyun raises a hand. “I’ll take one—”

Minki’s already power-walking away before Jonghyun can finish his sentence, almost certainly on purpose. “Sorry, can’t hear you.”

His departure plunges the table into silence. Jonghyun eventually excuses himself to get that coffee, and Gwanghyun is too busy trying to sink into the floor to contribute to the conversation. Sewoon is lost in the last of his bubble tea. Donghan looks mutinous as he bites off half the churro in one go, and Donghyun is just here for the ride. It falls to Dongho to attempt any kind of explanation in Minki’s absence, a role he doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with.

“We’re not playing a prank on you. It’s just. You know.” Breaking off, Dongho rubs his chin and fixes Youngmin with a look that is part apologetic, part exhausted. “We think it’s about time you and Sewoon admit to that unspoken thing between you.”

The slurping stops. Youngmin looks over to check if Sewoon isn’t possibly choking on a tapioca pearl, but he seems okay. A little bewildered, but okay otherwise. “Um,” he tries, then falls silent.

Youngmin picks up the thread. “What unspoken thing?” He doesn’t trust his voice to be steady, but it comes out less panicky and high pitched than Youngmin expects it to. More calm, more even, more in control when he feels anything but.

Donghan scoffs. “If you talk about it, then it isn’t unspoken, is it?”

“If you don’t talk about it, we get nowhere,” Donghyun finally says, nudging Donghan into silence. “So we should talk about the fact that Youngmin is in love with Sewoon at some point—”

Oh. He’s—

“I’m not.” The response is unnecessarily defensive, the knee-jerk reaction of an animal backed against the corner, the activation of a fight-or-flight response that lands on the side of fight. There’s no finesse to his words—fitting, because Youngmin cuts himself on them too. It takes a few seconds for him to realize what he sounds like and force himself to reign it in. It’s just a joke, Youngmin thinks. Calm down. Why is his heart racing? “I don’t—I don’t know what you guys are on about, but Sewoon and I are friends. That’s all.” He attempts to smile. “Nothing beyond that.”

It’s all true, but it sounds wrong, heavy and unnatural.

Gwanghyun opens his mouth to say something, but thinking better of it, he quickly snaps it shut and shakes his head. The rest follow his lead—choosing to keep their words to themselves and marinating in the uncomfortable silence that comes with it.

Youngmin glances over at Sewoon and finds him staring intently at the dregs at the bottom of his cup. His sleeves are too short for his arms, Youngmin notices. Sewoon’s thin wrists peek out, both hands wrapped around the cup. Bird wrists, he’d call them, if he was feeling poetic. “Youngmin hyung is right,” Sewoon says finally, lifting his head. His expression is unreadable. “We’re only friends. And roommates.” Then, more loudly, spots of pink blossoming on his cheeks, “I have someone I like.”

It takes a moment to process. And then—

Youngmin’s smile falters for a moment. Sewoon does? In the heartbeat’s time it takes him to reset, something unfurls in his chest. “See,” he says, only a second too late to sound convincing. “Donghan and Donghyun are the ones dating, not us. Save your shock and awe for them.”

“We already knew that,” Minki mutters, returning with Jonghyun in tow and a tray of coffee in his hands. “Sanggyun spilled the beans in the group chat last week.”

“Of course he did,” Donghan grumbles, and the attention shifts back to him and what remains of his churro. “Remind me to thank him for stealing my goddamn thunder.”

Minki waves a hand in the air. “We’re happy for you, yada yada yada. Who won the pool?”

“Kenta and Daewhi,” Gwanghyun reports. “I can call them right now—”

While the rest debate over the date pool, Youngmin glances over at Sewoon again to find him staring intensely at his phone. A few minutes later, he pushes away his empty cup to type out a quick flurry of messages. When he finally looks up and meets Youngmin’s eyes, he gives Youngmin an embarrassed, slightly sheepish smile before turning away.

Youngmin wants to say something, perhaps apologize, but the words die in his throat. He wouldn’t know what to begin with aside from—I’m not in—But does it matter? Sewoon likes someone anyway.

It occurs to Youngmin for the first time that he doesn’t know everything about Sewoon. He thought he did, but there are parts of Sewoon’s life that Youngmin is ignorant about despite living together because Sewoon doesn’t want to share that information with him. He’s not sure how to feel about that; of course Sewoon has his own life, but Youngmin suddenly feels… small and cut out of it.

He finishes his meal in silence.

Youngmin’s not in love with Sewoon, but he wonders why that doesn’t ring entirely true.

 


 

The thing about love is—

He’s been in it once, at fifteen. Hopelessly in love with his best friend and worried that the friend in question wasn’t gay or didn’t like him back. Youngmin remembers it in sensations: waiting at the edge of a cliff with one foot outstretched, ready to drop into the water below, the thrill and rush in equal measure. The moment before setting out on an adventure, never sure of whether you’ll find peril or riches. Holding his hummingbird heart in his hands, waiting for it to be crushed.

Sewoon doesn’t give him the same feelings. Like Youngmin himself, he’s familiar, not an adventure. What he gets instead is: marshmallows bobbing on top of hot cocoa. Blankets wrapped around you. A musical voice lulling you to sleep. Sewoon is comfort, Sewoon is calm, a steady fire burning in his chest.

He’s not in love with Sewoon, or at least, he doesn’t think he is. Love would be louder, and Sewoon is a whisper. Youngmin’s not sure if he’s deaf or just bad at listening. Either way, he thinks their friends are mistaken.

It’s moot point, anyway.

Even if it was love, it wouldn’t matter now.

 


 

After lunch, Youngmin walks with Sewoon to the library. He doesn’t go out of his way to do so, no matter what his friends’ heavy looks might suggest; Youngmin just happens to be going the same way. He has no ulterior motives. In fact, he doesn’t want to talk about what just happened, but it only takes a couple of minutes to realize the air between them is a little awkward and going to stay so unless he acts.

Sewoon doesn’t seem outwardly put off by their friends’ mistake, but Youngmin wonders if internally, he isn’t… annoyed? Upset? He knows he can’t ignore things and hope they fix themselves. He and Sewoon probably need to clear things up before they bring the uncomfortable atmosphere home.

But it’s easier to think about talking than to actually do it. At least this time, Sewoon doesn’t have bubble tea to use as an excuse to not say anything. Still, Youngmin waits until they’re almost at the library before broaching the subject to give Sewoon the chance at a quick escape. “I’m sorry,” he breaks the stalemate first, trepidatiously. “About—you know. I didn’t know what to say.” It seems easier to acknowledge it when he doesn’t have to use the actual words. Love.

“It’s okay, hyung. I didn’t know what to say either.” Sewoon doesn’t sound angry, just accepting. And why wouldn’t he be? For him, the answer to that question is simple. He already has someone he likes. People thinking the two of them having something going on doesn’t affect him at all beyond what this mystery crush might think. “Everyone seemed really disappointed we weren’t together, huh?” Sewoon touches the subject delicately too, and Youngmin wonders whose benefit it’s for.

“Maybe we should date,” he offers as a joke, without thinking. Sewoon doesn’t laugh, and Youngmin realizes it wasn’t all that funny. “I mean, I was kidding. I wouldn’t want to get in the way of—” What in the hell is he saying? “I mean, guys like Kang Daniel like you.” And you like someone else. Someone I don’t know, someone I hope deserves you.

Sewoon swings his arms as he walks, hands brushing against Youngmin’s with every step. “It’s not him,” he says after a long pause. Noting Youngmin’s confused expression, he adds, “The person I like, I mean. It’s not Daniel.”

“Good.” It slips out unbidden amidst his relief. His face warms, and he quickly adds, “Who can compete with Daniel?”

Sewoon doesn’t comment at first. “I think they could,” he says clearly, a small smile blossoming on his face. “I know they could.”

His response dies in his throat. Youngmin isn’t sure how to feel about that. Sewoon clearly likes this mystery crush more than he initially thought. He’s always thought of Sewoon as bright, cute, but when Sewoon talks about his crush, he glows in a way Youngmin hasn’t seen before. His lovestruck face is a glimpse into a different side of him altogether. Youngmin swallows the sudden lump in his throat. “Introduce them to me sometime.”

Sewoon quickens his pace. “One day, I will,” he says, throwing a bemused look over his shoulder. Youngmin falls behind and waves his goodbyes, keeping a straight face until Sewoon his out of sight.

His shoulders slump as soon as it's safe. He doesn’t know why, but he suddenly dreads the day he has to meet someone with the potential to be closer to Sewoon than he is.

That should be his position, whatever it means. Youngmin ignores the knot in his stomach and turns away.

 


 

Things blessedly aren’t awkward between them following the conversation. Eventually, their friends drop the subject (in front of them) as well. Youngmin’s grateful for their strategic silence, not because he’s tired, but because he’d rather not rehash the same thing over and over again.

Youngmin wants to move on, even if he isn’t quite sure what he wants to move on from. The awkwardness of all their friends thinking they’re dating or ought to be? The uncomfortable feeling in his chest that came with Sewoon’s confession about his crush? The fact that Youngmin himself doesn’t know how he feels about—

Well. He’s not in love with Sewoon and everyone knows. Perhaps he should take that as a victory.

In the meantime, he tries to get used to living with Sewoon. It’s a lot like living with Donghyun, to be honest, except that Sewoon is more considerate, a better cook, and much tidier. The last bit is only occasionally true, if he’s being honest; more than once, Youngmin’s come home to find the apartment a mess. He’s since learned it means one of two things: either Sewoon lost something and was desperate to find it, or Sewoon is avoiding laundry. Sometimes both at the same time.

He wonders what the mess means today. Youngmin follows the trail of discard clothing once he gets home to their shared room to discover Sewoon perched on his bed with a book. “Everything okay?” Youngmin asks, dropping his bag onto his desk and shedding his jacket.

Sewoon glances over with a haunted look in his eyes. “I’m reading.”

“I can see that? I meant the tornado.”

Sewoon lifts the book to show the cover—something flowery and poetic about first loves. Youngmin wonders if the universe is trying to make a point. “I have a presentation tomorrow and I thought I lost my book,” he explains. “I sort of forgot about it until now—hyung, I can clean up by myself.”

Youngmin stops. “Ah, sorry.” He’d automatically started to pick up Sewoon’s things and put them away. “It’s alright; I don’t mind.” He means it; with Donghyun, he probably would’ve complained, but Sewoon is a different story.

Sewoon abandons the book and climbs off the bed. “I’ll do it, hyung. You just got home. Rest.”

“But you have to study—”

“I left dinner for you on the counter. Go.” Sewoon gently but firmly pushes him out of the room before Youngmin has a chance to protest.

Now officially banished from the room, Youngmin reheats the food Sewoon left for him and settles down to watch the new episode of his favorite drama. It’s… nice, coming home to find someone waiting for him with food, even if it’s not much. Donghyun was usually out till late, and Youngmin would typically return to an empty house and go through the motions on his own. At times it became lonely, but he hasn’t felt that way since Sewoon arrived. This is what a home is supposed to be like.

Once the dishes are washed and dried, Youngmin peeks into the room to check up on Sewoon. He sees the room clean and the man in question asleep in a nest of his covers, his book open across his face. Chuckling, Youngmin drags the blanket over from his own bed and throws it over Sewoon, tucking the edges in. The room can get chilly at night, and Sewoon feels the cold too easily. He also marks the page in the book and sets it on the desk before tiptoeing out of the room. Youngmin doesn’t have bad sleeping habits, but neither does he want to shatter the moment of tranquility surrounding Sewoon.

Hours pass before Sewoon wanders out, yawning. Youngmin refrains from commenting on his adorable bedhead or his duck-patterned pajama pants, though he really wants to. “Hyung, have you seen my book?” he asks, dropping into the couch beside Youngmin.

“I put it on your desk—might’ve dumped my jacket over it too? Did you still need it?”

“That’s okay, I finished it before I fell asleep.”

He hums and switches the tv off. “All set for your presentation tomorrow?”

“Yeah… I guess.” Sewoon stretches languidly, then hugs his knees to his chest. “I don’t mind speaking in public,” he says finally. “I’m good at it.” He picks at the stray threads hanging off his sleeves. “Singing is a different story, though, since it’s me up there. My songs, my stories. That’s when I get nervous.”

“Makes sense. You’re making yourself vulnerable on stage.” Youngmin can’t completely relate; his choir director told him his talents lay elsewhere when he auditioned in high school, but the concept is clear enough.

Sewoon continues to stare at the tv without really looking at it, his chin resting on his knees. “Sometimes I worry people won’t like what they see if I do.”

Youngmin falls quiet. He can’t imagine anyone not liking any part of Sewoon, and he’s going to have words (and fists) with the hypothetical people his friend is talking about. His mysterious crush, maybe. You always worry about the people you care about accepting all of you. If possible, that agitates Youngmin more. How dare that person make Sewoon uneasy? “I know they will,” Youngmin says with as much conviction as he can muster. “I do. I like the guy I see beside me a lot.”

He recalls, briefly, that unspoken thing Dongho mentioned, the surety in everyone’s faces when they spoke about Youngmin being in love with Sewoon. They have to be wrong, but he can’t deny saying that he likes Sewoon resonates with something within him. If he’s being honest, it sounds and feels true in his heart.

It doesn’t have to be love, but it’s not entirely nothing either; he’s floating somewhere in between, suspended in a liquid mass of his own feelings, too slippery and slick to be made sense of.

Not that it matters, he thinks, remembering Sewoon likes someone. His mood sours.

Glancing over, Sewoon laughs into his sleeve, his cheeks slightly pink. “You don’t have to comfort me,” he says, his voice small, and Youngmin wants to answer, how can I not?

“I mean it,” he insists. He’ll comfort Sewoon as long as the other wants him to. “The you I see on stage is just as precious as the you sitting next to me right now and as the you who used to chase after me in elementary asking me to read books to you—”

“You don’t need to bring that up,” Sewoon mutters, but he’s grinning and shifts closer to Youngmin. “Come watch me sometime, then,” he says abruptly. His face is close—close enough for Youngmin to count his lashes, to watch them flutter as Sewoon looks up at him. “Perform. I’ll sing a special song for you.”

It’s… warm in this room. He swallows and rubs his dry throat. “Sure, but it better be good.”

Sewoon crosses his fingers above his heart. “It’ll be a nice song, I promise.”

“I can’t wait,” Youngmin says sincerely. He wonders what it says about him that he hopes it’s a love song. Sewoon’s suited to them, his voice perfect for confessions and longing and for sweet romance.

Maybe he already knows and won’t admit it out loud.

 


 

Everyone sees something he can’t see. Youngmin has started to think he might just be blind.

Of course he cares about Sewoon. Of course he watches out for him. Of course he wants Sewoon to be happy, and wonders if this mystery person can do that for him. Of course Youngmin wants to know everything about them to see if they’re worthy or not. He doesn’t want to give Sewoon up to them without being sure—

Sewoon isn’t a possession, though. Youngmin knows he gets no say in this. To some degree, the lack of control is nerve wracking, but it comes from Youngmin wanting to protect Sewoon from all the bad things in the world yet not knowing how. Does Sewoon need his protection? Probably not, but it’s all Youngmin has to give to him.

This is what he’s always done—fought the world for Sewoon, wrestled it into something manageable. Youngmin remembers, idly, the time he’d accompanied Sewoon to an audition for a music show in high school. It’d been a lot of lights, a lot of people, a lot of expectations.

In the midst of it all, he noticed Sewoon’s hands trembling, his guitar cast away. Youngmin reached forward and took his hand there, steady and resolute so Sewoon wouldn’t have to be. Boring, responsible, safe.

Sewoon stopped shaking.

The tangled web of his feelings is complicated. Love sounds intense, final, significant. Youngmin doesn’t know if it has a place here. But there are other things too. Tenderness, protectiveness, a desire to be near Sewoon, to have Sewoon look only at him, to support him and to make him happy.

It’s not the kind of love their friends were talking about, but Youngmin still loves Sewoon in his own way. More than just a friend, because ‘justs’ aren’t enough. In love is a different beast, though. He isn’t willing to admit to it. Whatever this is, Youngmin knows he needs to figure it out someday.

Ideally, soon.

If he figures it out, he might be less hostile towards whoever Sewoon likes. Maybe he could finally be the supportive wingman Sewoon needs then. But right now? The thought of Sewoon with someone else makes him anxious and unsettled. Nettled.

It doesn’t feel right. He tries to burn his doubts out many times over and never succeeds.

 


 

He runs into Sewoon when he’s thinking about him on his way home in the rain.

It’s a melancholy, drab day, which suits Youngmin just fine. He’s been feeling the same way recently. Projects getting him down, mostly, but navigating around a glowing, in love Sewoon is awkward. He tries not to let it be, but Youngmin burns with a thousand questions he wants to ask yet doesn’t want to know the answers to.

The rain’s really coming down. He’s barely halfway home when it turns into a proper downpour, and Youngmin curses under his breath as he prepares to sprint home. Before he can take up, he finds temporary respite—under Sewoon’s peach umbrella. Speak of the devil (angel?) and he will arrive… and look at you with disapproval.

“Hyung, you’re going to catch a cold,” he chides gently. Youngmin brushes his wet hair out of his eyes and gives him a sheepish smile.

“I forgot to bring an umbrella when I left this morning—“ He stops when he realizes Sewoon is straining to make sure the umbrella covers Youngmin’s head as well as his own. Sewoon’s shoulder looks damp now, and Youngmin winces and steps out from under the umbrella. “I’ll be fine, though. I think I’m too tall for that to work.”

“Don’t be dumb,” Sewoon sighs, stubbornly holding the umbrella over Youngmin’s head once more. “I’m alright.”

“Okay, okay.” There’s no real point in arguing. Youngmin’s glad he doesn’t have to get rained on either. They take a few slow steps together, then the umbrella tips and Youngmin grabs on to steady it over their heads. Only a moment later does he realize his hand is on top of Sewoon’s, and it’s been there long enough now that it would be awkward to pull away.

Praying his face isn’t red, Youngmin clears his throat and feigns nonchalance. “Coming home from work?”

“The cafe.” Sewoon lifts his bag slightly and Youngmin can hear his laptop shifting within. “I was working on a song.”

Oh. A song, huh? “What about?”

Sewoon hesitates. Eyes trained on his feet, he narrowly avoids one puddle, then splashes his feet down in another one without thought. “Sometimes people write songs to communicate the things they can’t say out loud,” he says. It’s not really an answer to Youngmin’s question. It might be nothing at all, but it sounds like an admission to pay attention to.

“I see.” He steals a glance at Sewoon, who’s still unusually interested in the puddles pooling on the street. Youngmin changes tack. “Is there… something you want to say to me?”

He means it as a joke, but for a brief moment, Sewoon is taken aback and stumbles. “I—“ It takes less than a minute for him to regain his posture, a shaky smile on his face. “If you become a bad roommate, I’ll write a song about washing the dishes for you.”

Youngmin clutched his chest, feigning hurt. “I always wash my dirty dishes,” he insists.

“I said if.”

They arrive home shortly after. Sewoon managed to avoid most of the downpour, but Youngmin is still soaked and quickly sheds his clothes for something warmer and drier. When he emerges from their room with a towel around his neck, he glances at the clock, then at the empty fridge. “I’ll order something,” he says finally. “Any requests?”

Sewoon’s eyes linger on his exposed arms, then move to his face. “Chinese? I can pay this time.” He takes a few crisp bills out of his wallet, paying no attention to Youngmin’s impassioned protests. “I have a job. You don’t always have to treat me, hyung.” He hears the implication in Sewoon’s words. I’m not a helpless kid. But it’s not like that.

“I like doing things for you,” Youngmin confesses, without thinking. He likes Sewoon’s gratitude, the way his face lights up when he’s happy, the way he says Youngmin’s name like he’s some sort of hero—

Even his selfish desires are strange.

Sewoon blinks, then smiles. “I know, but I like taking care of you in return sometimes too. Is that a bad thing?”

“I don’t know if I deserve that.” Not from you. Not if I can’t be the supportive friend you need.

“Youngmin hyung,” Sewoon says firmly, crossing his arms over his chest. “You deserve the world.” His tone brokers no arguments, and Youngmin busies himself drying his hair to avoid showing Sewoon his cherry red face.

The question is: does he deserve Sewoon? His friendship, his trust, his affection?

Youngmin isn’t sure of the answer, but vows to one day reach the point where he can say yes confidently. Starting with letting go of his misplaced envy.

Youngmin wants Sewoon to be happy.

He just wishes it could be with him.

 


 

“Maybe you should stop paying so much attention to Sewoon,” Minki says one afternoon. It comes completely out of left field; Youngmin drops the frozen banana he was holding in surprise while attempting to fully process Minki’s words.

“What? Why?”

“Because you don’t like him.” Minki says it plainly and matter-of-factly, and Youngmin almost corrects him before he remembers that for all intents and purposes, Minki is right. “He has someone he likes now, and if you’re always hovering, how is he supposed to get anywhere with his crush?”

Okay, maybe Minki has a point, but his presence can’t be that big of a deal. “I don’t know if—“

“Look,” Minki cuts in, stabbing his ice cream with an oddly sharp spoon. Youngmin shudders. “If you don’t like him like that, you need to let go.” Contrary to his harsh words, his voice is measured, sympathetic, and careful. “I’m not saying that to be an asshole, but how is he supposed to follow his own love story if you’re always there?”

Youngmin isn’t sure how to take this. “Are you telling me I’m the annoying side character in his life?”

Minki shrugs and brings a spoonful of ice cream to his mouth. “A second lead at best,” he manages to say through the swallowing.

“Thanks,” Youngmin says dully, mourning his frozen banana and his dignity. Minki’s smile is not entirely unkind; he even offers to buy Youngmin a new banana while asking him to think about what he said, but Youngmin brushes him off and returns to class early. He’s in no mood to talk further about this.

In spite of that, Minki’s words stick with him for the rest of the day, though he doesn’t want them to. He has a point; Youngmin’s feelings aren’t important here—Sewoon’s are. And if he’s getting in the way of Sewoon being happy with whoever he likes…

Then Youngmin is a dick. The antagonist, not the second lead. The absolute worst. He doesn’t want to be that guy to Sewoon or anyone else.

It’s too late for any kind of epiphanies, but not too late to be a decent person.

 


 

Youngmin is typically good at succeeding in things he puts his mind to. For this task, however, he happens to be failing miserably. Not the laundry part of it, though Youngmin confesses he doesn’t enjoy that either, but the ‘letting go of Sewoon to let him pursue his own happiness with someone who isn’t him’ bit. Youngmin keeps coming back to the persistent feeling that he’s trying to slot himself in a role not meant for him: the supportive best friend, the stoic pillar, the heartsick romeo.

He’s not good at playing his many parts, but making an attempt is the least Youngmin can do for Sewoon's sake.

Though Sewoon doesn’t make it easy on him either, There are times when he makes Youngmin’s heart lurch in his chest and his pulse speed up. It’s usually over the little things—an errant touch, a kind word, a smile that Youngmin thinks about late at night.

So he belatedly acknowledges there might be some truth to Donghyun’s gentle warning given before Sewoon moved in. It’s not easy living with someone you like, and Youngmin isn’t sure if he’s okay with it.

The sight of Sewoon emerging from their room wearing Youngmin’s cardigan is probably one of those things he’ll be thinking about for a while. The shoulders sag and the sleeves are much too long on him, but Youngmin sputters when he sees Sewoon casually swing his arms around before forcing his fingers free.

“Isn’t that mine?” Youngmin asks, his folding paused for the moment.

“Everything I own is dirty,” Sewoon blithely. “Your clothes are soft. They smell nice too.”

“That’s because I did my laundry earlier.”

Sewoon shrugs and throws himself down on the couch, wrapping the sleeves around himself. “I get the hint. I’ll do mine tomorrow.”

“Fine, fine.” Youngmin wasn’t looking forward to nagging anyway. He moves the basket of clothes to the floor to give Sewoon more room on the couch and picks up a new shirt. Folding moves quickly, rhythmically in the comfortable silence, until Youngmin finishes the last of the batch and finally breaks the quiet. “Hey, um, how’s it going with the person you, uh, like?”

Sewoon visibly stiffens. “Why?”

“Just curious.” Well, not really, but he still feels the morbid need to know. “If you ever want me out of the way for whatever reason for their sake, just let me know and I’ll vanish.” Minki’s words haven’t left his mind since their conversation earlier. This is the kindest thing Youngmin can do for Sewoon, in the end. Give him enough space to pursue his own love story on his own terms.

He realizes he has the edge on the basket in a death grip waiting for Sewoon’s response when the man in question clears his throat. “I don’t want you to get out of the way,” Sewoon says slowly. “You’re an important part of my life, hyung, and I—” He stops himself and whatever urgency was in his words fades away. “I want to tell him soon, but—“

So it’s a guy. Youngmin was never sure.

“I’m performing a song at the cafe down the street for an open mic night and—“

“Songs communicate things you can’t say out loud,” Youngmin echoes from an earlier conversation. Sewoon wrote a song for that person. Why does that fact hurt? A song is an intimate and precious thing and a meaningful gift.

Youngmin would like a song.

“Right.” Sewoon suddenly looks young. Spots of pink bloom on his cheeks as he sinks deeper into the couch, covering the sides of his face with his sleeves. Youngmin marvels at the kind of guy who can make Sewoon look like that. “Will you come?”

Wait. “Me?”

Sewoon lowers his hands, looking determined. “You should be there.”

Youngmin wonders if he’s being cruel or kind. “I’ll do my best to show up. Should I bring a banner?”

“Good,” Sewoon says. Then, “No banners required. Just bring yourself. I need you to be in the audience.”

I need you. A quiet thrill shoots up Youngmin’s spine. “I’ll bring a support banner anyway,” he quips, and Sewoon flaps one of his overlarge sleeves at him in response. Youngmin holds back a laugh along with the faint stirrings of something in his chest he can finally put a name too but holds back from nonetheless.

It’s too late, he thinks. It’s far, far too late.

Timing has never been his strong suit.

 


 

Youngmin thinks he might be more nervous for Sewoon’s performance than Sewoon himself. Donghyun points out the absurdity of it before they enter the cafe, but Youngmin makes a point of ignoring his (well-reasoned) arguments for why he should just chill. This isn’t the first time Sewoon’s performed in front of a crowd, but this is more personal than any of the other sets and Youngmin has a habit of fretting like he gets paid to.

He’s also not prepared to meet Sewoon’s mystery crush, who was strongly hinted to be present tonight. Youngmin scans the cafe for a glimpse of him when he first steps foot inside, but has no luck figuring out who could have stolen Sewoon’s heart. It occurs to him later that he doesn’t even know Sewoon’s type. Donghyun and Gwanghyun are clueless as well, and Dongho just looks at him with a hopeless sort of smile and shakes his head. “He’s closer than you think,” he says.

Youngmin doesn’t know what to do with that bit of information aside from gently interrogating every man in his immediate vicinity.

He abandons the rest of the group before Sewoon is due to go on, making his way to the makeshift backstage area, really just a storeroom, to find Sewoon and offer some support. He discovers the man in question studying the different types of coffee stored back here instead of practicing chords like he expected. Sewoon doesn’t look up until Youngmin clears his throat and knocks on the open door. “Hey,” he says, tipping the rim of his hat back to get a better look at Sewoon’s face. “Thought you could use a pep talk?”

“Oh.” Sewoon turns and narrowly avoids knocking a bag of coffee beans to the floor. “I’m okay, hyung.” His voice is confident and his hands are steady, and his mouth turns up in a half-smile. “You don’t need to hold my hand anymore.”

Somehow, he expects this and yet still feels mildly disappointed by it. “I liked doing it.” But Youngmin thinks back to Minki’s words—or warning, if he’s being honest—and changes the subject. He really needs to learn to let go, right? Look at him; he’s making an attempt. “Did you see that person out there? The one you wanted to sing to?”

He doesn’t get an immediate response. In fact, Sewoon looks alarmed by his question, his easy self-assuredness fading as he grips his guitar and fumbles around for the right words.

“The song you wrote… the one you’re going to sing. It’s for him, right?” Youngmin continues. The guy in question has to be out there or all this will be for nothing. That kind of disappointment is something Youngmin can’t fix. He doesn’t want Sewoon to go through that.

“Right,” Sewoon says slowly. “I haven’t looked—but he should be.”

“I’m sure he is.” His forced smiles are getting better. Youngmin gives Sewoon a none-too-gentle pat on the back before backing out of the room. “Good luck.”

They don’t have to wait long before Sewoon comes up to the mic to polite applause, his expression unnaturally calm. He does break into a grin when his friends cheer too exuberantly for him, and in the midst of the noise, Sewoon catches Youngmin’s eye and holds it for what feels like an age. Tapping his ear while still looking at Youngmin, he introduces himself and the title of his original song and—

Youngmin’s heard Sewoon sing before. Countless times in countless ways: straining to hear him amidst their high school singing group, at karaoke with no care for the outside world, around their apartment under his breath when he’s sure no one else can hear.

But this is something else. He looks, Youngmin thinks wildly, like he’s otherworldly, possessing an ethereal kind of beauty. More than that, he sounds better than he ever has. Sweet, gentle, earnest. So this is what love sounds like, Sewoon’s love. His voice wraps around Youngmin like a blanket, and Youngmin closes his eyes when he’s finished, his pulse quickening as he thinks about each syllable, each note, each confession that isn’t meant for him.

The dull ache of longing that spreads through his body afterwards is clear. Youngmin can’t pretend not to understand it anymore. He avoids making eye contact with the rest of their friends after, tucked in a corner of the cafe with a cup of coffee long since grown cold.

What does it matter? What he thinks and feels? What does it matter if his friends knew it before he did? Sewoon’s song wasn’t for him and will never be for him. Youngmin’s not privy to that kind of love.

When Sewoon takes the seat opposite him, Youngmin asks if the guy he likes came, if he listened to what he was trying to communicate in the song. Sewoon looks at him evenly for several heartbeats. “I don’t know,” he admits finally, closing his eyes. “I can only hope, right?”

In the background, Gwanghyun sighs heavily. “It’s hopeless,” he says. The rest agree.

 


 

Youngmin offers to treat Sewoon to a celebratory dinner for his first successful performance when he sees Sewoon wistfully eyeing the cakes on display at the cafe. Belatedly, he invites the rest of their friends too, but they all excuse themselves, citing various other plans. Some of their reasons are clearly fabrications—and bad ones—but Youngmin knows better than to argue with them.

(“You two probably have a lot to talk about without us there,” Donghyun says before he leaves to ‘wash his hair’. “Good luck.”)

The restaurant they drop into is only a few blocks from the cafe; Youngmin frequents it often, but this is Sewoon’s first time, evident by his wide eyes and single minded focus on the menu and its offerings once they’re seated. Youngmin, meanwhile, orders a beer and idly flips through his menu, knowing he’ll end up ordering the same thing as always. He is, if nothing else, consistent.

But maybe not as much anymore, because nothing about what he feels for Sewoon seems consistent.

The waiter returns and sets the bottle of beer down in front of him. Youngmin immediately takes a swing and sets it down with a dull thunk! that forces Sewoon to look up from the menu. “Hyung?” he says, eyebrows drawing together. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah,” Youngmin says quickly, forcing a smile. “I was just looking at the prices and running the calculations in my head.”

Sewoon looks exasperated. “I’m not going to order that much.” But he pointedly flips to the previous page with the cheaper entries, and Youngmin immediately feels the familiar pinpricks of guilt.

“I’m kidding; you don’t have to be considerate.” He wraps his hands around the bottle, letting the chill seep into his body. The restaurant isn’t silent; there’s a decent crowd here tonight, chatting and laughing. But it feels quiet here in this moment, here in between them. Like they’re wrapped in a bubble, away from the outside world.

It could almost be a date. He’s tempted to joke as much, but the fantasy doesn’t lend itself to his new personal mandate of letting go. Still, maybe because it’s been in the back of his mind, or because he’s lulled into the false sense of security permeating through the restaurant, he asks without thinking. “So did you—I mean, in the song, did you get to say everything you wanted to? Was that your confession?”

Sewoon looks up, eyes widening over the menu, his fingers running up and down the thin laminated edges. There’s no surprise in his expression, just a pensive set to his mouth as he considers Youngmin’s words. “Some,” he says finally. “Not everything. The general sense was there.”

Ah. “That’s good.” Love songs always work like that. He hears Sewoon’s words in his mind: I wish you would know my feelings just by looking at me. In some ways, it felt like his own confession. “Are you… happy?” Youngmin asks finally. With how things have turned out, with how things have to be. Does the confession come with satisfaction or is it just hanging there?

Instead of answering, Sewoon sets the menu down. “What did the song sound like to you, hyung?” he asks curiously, leaning forward in his chair.

Youngmin struggles to think, eventually concluding with, “A long first love?” He’s no expert, but there was an innocence to it, but also a history of waiting and a promise to continue to do so.

Sewoon chuckles. “You’re right.” But he falls silent after that, until, “Everyone can relate to a love song.”

Youngmin takes another sip of his beer. “I didn’t think I could,” he admits. “I always thought love had to be passionate and fiery, the thing rock stars sing about. I didn’t know it could be…” Soft. Comforting. Holding someone’s hand because you know they’re afraid and you know you can be strong for them. Things he associates with Sewoon.

Sewoon is quiet, then reaches for his glass of water. “It’s not always about that fire in your chest that screams you’re in love.” He sets his glass down, mouth glistening. “Sometimes it’s about the smaller, softer stuff. The gestures you don’t realize mean something greater. The quiet support that gets you through the day. The warmth in the ordinary things.” He glances up to meet Youngmin’s eyes and shrugs. “That’s how I fell in love anyway, a while ago. Before I knew it, I was in it and it felt natural.”

There’s something more to his words Youngmin can’t place. Or doesn’t want to, feeling like he’s been usurped by Sewoon’s mystery love. He should be the one giving that—he’s tried— “I guess it’s easy to fall in love with your best friends then,” he says, a little bitterly. “Maybe you’re already in it without knowing it.” It feels like the truth. It is, for him, but he wishes it was for Sewoon too.

But Sewoon is self aware and self assured in the pursuit of his mystery man, while all Youngmin can do is watch from a distance.

“Maybe,” Sewoon agrees. Then, “Have you ever felt it, hyung? Love of any kind?”

“Twice,” he replies truthfully. “The first didn’t work out, and the second came too late.” Youngmin takes another sip of his beer and swirls it around in his mouth. “How about you?”

“Just this once,” Sewoon says. His voice, suddenly, sounds small, shoulders hunched at he peers down at the table. “But I don’t think it’s going to work out.” Youngmin bangs his knee on the underside of the table in surprise, and Sewoon smiles ruefully. “I don’t think he was listening after all.”

I’ll listen, Youngmin wants to say. You can pretend you were singing to me, and I’ll listen now and forever.

But the moment passes and the words stick in his mouth. This is a modern tragedy, Youngmin thinks later, this dance they’re caught up in. All he knows is what he ought to do and what he wants to do.

And what he wants is for Sewoon to forget his crush and look only at Youngmin.

(Because whoever it is clearly doesn’t appreciate him, and Youngmin never wants to see Sewoon look that disappointed again).

 


 

It takes Youngmin a few days to swallow his pride and admit to Minki that he might’ve screwed up a bit, because he does like Sewoon and doesn’t think he can just remove himself from the equation and support his love story wholeheartedly. “The asshole didn’t even listen to his confession,” Youngmin gripes. “I can’t—I don’t want Sewoon to continue to get hurt by him.”

Jonghyun’s there too, flipping idly through some manga Youngmin makes a mental note to borrow later. “But you were there,” he says, before Minki can respond. He looks at Youngmin over the top of the book. “You listened. You cared. You heard what love is to him.”

“Yeah, I did, and it made me feel like…”

“Like?” Minki prompts, shifting closer, his chin resting in his hands.

“I don’t know.” Youngmin picks at a stray thread from his shirt. “It made me feel a lot. Happiness? Sadness? Envy, but the ugly, deep kind.” Articulating it out loud is easier than he expected, though it makes him feel worse.

Minki raises an eyebrow and nudges Jonghyun into putting his manga away. “Because you wanted him to sing to you,” he says questioningly, but not unkindly.

“Because I did.” Saying it out loud is more freeing than he expected it to be. But no sooner is it out of his mouth that Youngmin feels defensive. “Is that so bad?”

“It’s like… weeks too late, but no.”

Jonghyun sits up and bats at Minki’s arm. “Minki, it’s never too late for anything.”

Pointedly ignoring him, Minki turns to Youngmin. “Well, are you going to do anything about it?”

“Maybe not.” He silences the combined protests of his friends with a shake of his head. “I don’t know if I have the right to say anything and complicate things for Sewoon.”

Minki genuinely looks like he’s going to explode. Jonghyun calms him down with some pacifying platitudes, but even he seems irritated. “I think,” Jonghyun says, “You should trust in your friendship with Sewoon and go for it anyway.” Youngmin opens his mouth to say something, but Jonghyun cuts him off. “Don’t you think you owe it to him to be honest? Even if there’s no chance—“

“Which I wouldn’t be so sure of, by the way,” Minki interjects.

"You should let him make informed decisions," Jonghyun finishes with a nod.

They might have a point, but... “What’s the price of honesty, though?” Youngmin asks, and while Minki and Jonghyun say, nothing, he’s not convinced of that. Youngmin feels like it would change everything.

Is he ready for that possibility when their relationship works fine as it is right now? 

But can he afford to continue on like this forever? Youngmin fears the answer to that question is a no.

 


 

He waffles on what to do for too long. Fear and him aren’t particularly close friends; he doesn’t get scared easily and never lets that creeping feeling of dread stop him from doing the things he wants to. He’ll leap from the cliff’s edge into the water below if he needs to, and then he’ll swim to the shore. But telling Sewoon he likes him is daunting. It’s waiting on the edge of the unknown, it’s crossing a deep chasm with no bottom. It’s the least responsible and boring thing he could do, especially since Sewoon is interested in someone else.

And yet a part of him wants to. A part of him fantasizes that the simple act of confessing will make Sewoon look at him differently, will make Sewoon redefine what love means to him, will make Sewoon forget about the jerk who won’t listen. Youngmin wants to be able to say, it’s me, I’m here, I hear you and have Sewoon say, I see you in response.

But maybe Jonghyun is right in that Youngmin owes it to Sewoon to be honest and let him make his own decisions. Even though things seem hopeless, Youngmin doesn’t know everything about Sewoon. He thought he did, but…

Well, Sewoon might surprise him.

Would it be better to wear his heart on his sleeve or suffer in silence? Youngmin isn’t sure of which himself. What he is sure of is this:

He loves Sewoon. Today, tomorrow, and for many days after.

And loving Sewoon is so natural it took him forever to figure it out. Now that he has, Youngmin is sure he can't go back.

 


 

Youngmin spends the weekend cleaning up around the apartment to keep his mind off things. Trying to figure out where the hell to go from here is a lot tougher than Youngmin originally anticipated. Does he say something? Does he not? Do he and Sewoon descend into a palpable awkwardness from now until Youngmin’s graduation?

Perhaps. Things have been off between them since the performance. You wouldn’t notice unless you were actively looking for it—but Youngmin is alert to all the little things regarding them. Sewoon’s perfectly polite and kind, but he spends more and more time away from home and maintains a curious distance—physically and emotionally—with Youngmin.

It’s disconcerting.

Maybe he said something wrong, or maybe it’s that Sewoon is still hung up over his crush. Youngmin wishes he could fix things, and also kick the mystery man’s ass (at the very least, have a serious conversation with him) for Sewoon’s sake, but Sewoon seems to not want any of his help.

He upends the recycling bin with too much force and a bunch of crumpled pieces of paper fall out and litter the ground. Youngmin frowns down at them and moves to pick them up, but stops when he catches a glimpse of Sewoon’s handwriting. He shouldn’t… and yet, in the absence of Sewoon talking to him, Youngmin unfolds one and scans through quickly.

They're lyrics of longing and regret and wanting to express what you’re forced to keep locked in your heart. Drafts upon drafts—every scrap of paper is a variation on the same theme. Youngmin feels the familiar sense of dread and envy settle into his chest. So Sewoon still loves his mystery crush. Sewoon still hopes there’s a chance. Sewoon intends to try again.

Why can’t it be him?

The door opens as Youngmin begins to tuck one of the drafts into his pockets. Sewoon’s hood is pulled up, and he doesn’t really notice Youngmin’s presence until the latter quickly drops the recycling bin and says, “Uh, hey there.”

Sewoon looks up with a guarded smile, but his expression pales and freezes into one of shock as he notices the scraps of paper ringed around Youngmin’s feet and the one clenched in his fest. “Sorry, hyung, I said I’d take out the—”

“It’s okay,” Youngmin says quickly. “I was cleaning anyway.” He wants to drop the draft of Sewoon’s second confession, but it sticks to his hand like glue. Neither can he pretend he didn’t read it when the guilt is writ plain on his face. The silence between them stretches too long. Sewoon clearly looks uncomfortable, but Youngmin doesn’t know how to diffuse the tension. Does he apologize? Or—”They’re pretty good,” he says finally, holding up the piece of paper. “Your song. It's touching and... sad. Is it for your crush?”

“Yeah,” Sewoon says automatically, then winces. “Hyung, I—”

“Good lu—no, sorry, I can’t wish you good luck.” He can’t do this anymore, pretend like it doesn’t hurt him to see Sewoon waste time on someone who doesn't deserve it. “Obviously I want to be supportive, but I can't with a heavy heart,” Youngmin says miserably. None of it is planned with the kind of finesse Sewoon had earlier. Youngmin can’t give him a pretty song or a grand gesture to demonstrate his feelings; all he has are his truths, raw and blunt and spilling out in a torrent. “I like you, Sewoon. I love you.”

Sewoon’s mouth trembles. “Hyung, the—”

“I don’t know for how long,” Youngmin continues, his hands clenching into fists. “But I love you. Even if there’s no hope, I wanted to say it. Selfish, huh?” He tries to chuckle. Tries, and fails, just letting out a strangled noise instead. “I’ve been afraid to say it until now, but I don’t think it’s fair not to say it either. I don’t want to make choices for you. I want you to be happy, Sewoon, but I don’t know if I can be happy for you when I wish the songs you write could be for me—”

“Hyung, can you give me one minute to say my piece?” Sewoon bursts out. His face is pink, eyebrows drawn together as he processes what Youngmin just unloaded on him. “The—the person I like is you.”

Youngmin’s breath hitches.

“I was… scared to tell you because you said you didn’t feel the same,” Sewoon continues. He grips the strap of his bag with both hands, determinedly avoiding looking at Youngmin’s face. “And I thought that was fine, but I continued to fall more in love with you every day that I didn’t know what to do.” He looks contrite, for what it’s worth, and Youngmin takes a half step forward, then hesitates. “I tried so hard to tell you, but you just didn’t get it. I eventually thought you were trying to be considerate of my feelings and let me down easy.”

He laughs self-deprecatingly, and Youngmin finally does take the step forward, then another, until he’s standing right in front of Sewoon with his heart thumping wildly in his chest. “You mean it?” he croaks out. It sounds unreal. Him, the mystery man Sewoon has been pining after? “You really—me?”

Sewoon tilts his head back to finally look at him in the eyes. “Of course you,” he says softly. “I’ve liked you for years, hyung. You just never saw it.”

“I’m blind, possibly.”

Definitely.”

“Are you sure?”

In lieu of an answer, Sewoon takes a deep breath and reaches up. “I’m sure,” he says, and kisses Youngmin. It’s a gentle touch, more tentative than fierce, but it’s wholly Sewoon’s choice, Sewoon’s initiative, and Youngmin sinks into it, lingering far too long in Sewoon’s arms.

When they pull apart, the taste of Sewoon’s mouth remains. Youngmin has so many questions but none come out. Instead, his hands find Sewoon’s, fingers intertwining with his. The moment is bliss. Youngmin wishes it could last forever, but—

“Wait, we could’ve—we could’ve been dating this whole time?” Youngmin asks weakly.

Sewoon pauses. “Apparently?” he says, giving Youngmin’s hands a gentle squeeze. “But we got here in the end. That counts for something.”

“Yeah, it does.” Who cares if the journey was bumpy if they arrived at the finish line together? The feelings which began slowly unfurling the first time Youngmin thought of the words love and Sewoon together have fully bloomed now. It’s not the all consuming fire of his teenage crush, but it doesn’t have to be. With Sewoon, everything’s felt natural since the beginning. He fell in love with him without knowing it, with the little things. Maybe it’s inevitable they would end up like this. Maybe Youngmin doesn’t mind.

Because for the first time in a while, he truly feels happy with Sewoon by his side. Exhaling softly, Youngmin drops his head down to press his forehead to Sewoon's. "You know, I was ready to fight your mystery crush for making you upset," he admits.

"I'd like to see you fighting yourself," Sewoon quips. 

"Hey. Do you take me for a fool?"

Sewoon laughs and doesn't answer, but the truth here is, yeah, Youngmin is a fool for Sewoon.

His friends were right all along, but speaking of—“I wonder who won our betting pool,” Youngmin muses out loud, and Sewoon shrugs.

”Whoever did owes us a 30% cut,” he says. “They can finance our first date.”

The first, Youngmin expects, of many.

 


 

(Donghyun collects his winnings with a smug smile, while Gwanghyun has the decency to look sheepish when he announces his own win. “I’m just happy for you,” he tells Youngmin later. “We all are. Congratulations, hyungs.”

He forgives them both easily).

 


 

Their friends go skiing in the winter to make more college memories. “Every slice of life anime has a winter episode,” Jonghyun says seriously, seconds before Minki chucks a massive snowball at him.

Youngmin remembers only the quiet, stolen moments at the lodge. The hot cocoa shared in front of the fire, the sneaky kisses he makes time for with Sewoon, and the warm touch of his hands against the backdrop of the sun dipping below the horizon.

In all the pictures that come out of the trip, he and Sewoon are only looking at each other.

“Gross,” Minki says affectionately.

Sewoon’s hand finds Youngmin’s under the table, and Youngmin grins to himself as their fingers twine together. “Yeah, we are,” he admits, but it’s hard-earned and he's proud of it.

(No one really minds, anyway).