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Something More Than Everything

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Yeosang is chilling on the living room couch, ready to rewatch the toxicology intro video someone sent to the biochemistry group chat, when Wooyoung asks him. Actually, he doesn’t even ask. He just shows up in front of Yeosang, chest puffed up with determination, and says, “We’re going out tonight.”

“No,” Yeosang says without so much as glancing up. On the screen of his laptop, a scientist dressed in a lab coat and safety goggles is pointing at a whiteboard. Yeosang already doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Wooyoung makes a whiny noise. “Why not? It will be fun!”

“It’s never fun.”

“Lies and slander. When have I ever disappointed you?”

At that, Yeosang does look up. The confident smile on Wooyoung’s face falters.

“Actually, don’t answer that.” Wooyoung clears his throat. “But come on, dude. You have to be around more people. Unwind a little! I’ll even pay for the cab back.”

That would be a pretty good offer if they were to go literally anywhere else. Yeosang isn’t feeling tempted at all. “I see enough people every day. And I do go outside.”

“Skating and uni don’t count. Ugh, this is why you’re going to be single forever. But as long as you have me, I shall save you from that sad, lonesome fate. Come on, get dressed, we’re leaving in twenty minutes.”

Yeosang sighs heavily and slaps his laptop shut. He doesn’t want to study anyway. Wooyoung squeals in success and breezes through the apartment, most likely to change into the most skin-tight clothes he owns, and Yeosang submits to his fate.

 

It’s not that Yeosang doesn’t like parties. It’s just – there are a lot of people and a lot of them are drunk and loud and ask a lot of questions, and Yeosang wishes he could say he gets more talkative after a few drinks but he doesn’t.

So maybe he’s an introvert. And a little shy. And also kind of awkward sometimes.

Wooyoung says it’s not a problem. You’re a real catch, he says. Just date an extrovert and you’ll be fine.

Yeosang doesn’t know why everything is always about dating or hooking up with people with Wooyoung. They’ve been single for about the same amount of time (though Wooyoung is a lot more… active) and really, Yeosang can think of a million things he’d rather do than date someone loud and obnoxious but Wooyoung will have none of it.

The club they’re currently waiting in front of is called the Prism, one of the more popular LGBT+ friendly places for students in this area. Yeosang’s been here before, knows the black tiles in the bathrooms where he used to hide from drunk advances, is familiar with the small back patio downstairs that only a few people know of.

It’s always easier to walk into a place when he already knows the escape routes.

“Let’s go straight to the bar,” Wooyoung says while the bouncer checks their IDs and waves them inside. Yeosang is immediately overrun by a wave of noise, smells, and lights. They’d left their apartment with barely any pre-gaming (big mistake) and Yeosang lets Wooyoung order whatever he deems fit – he doesn’t want to do this sober. He doesn’t think he can.

The burn of alcohol at the back of his throat is familiar and welcome. Yeosang didn’t have time to eat dinner, so it’s not going to take long until the heat in his belly changes into something less controllable. Wooyoung’s smile widens into a blinding thing when Yeosang looks at him and he knows what’s next, is already on his way to say no –

“Let’s go dance!”

 

By the time Yeosang is truly, properly drunk, he’s in the bathroom. He’s that kind of drunk where everything is a little funny and a little fuzzy and a lot too warm, the kind of drunk where he feels like he needs to pee every five minutes. The rational side of him is telling him to get a glass of water but he just stays here for a second, leaning against the cool tiles, and squints against the spinning lights on the ceiling.

Wooyoung is probably waiting for him somewhere. Yeosang doesn’t remember if he told him where he’d go but Wooyoung has a brain, he probably knows anyway. Maybe, with his two-second attention span, he found someone else to talk to. Someone to dance with.

Someone he’s going to take home.

Yeosang isn’t really a fan of that lifestyle himself but he figures it would be nice just to be wanted like that sometimes.

He stumbles back into the crowd, intent on finding Wooyoung. He doesn’t know what time it is but maybe he can convince him to go home. He eventually spots him outside, standing way too close to a guy Yeosang doesn’t know.  

“Heyyyy,” Wooyoung says with a voice that’s clearly used to shouting into people’s ears when Yeosang taps his shoulder. The boy turns around, too, still hanging off of Wooyoung’s arm, dimpled smile and blond hair.

“Hey. Who’s this?” Yeosang asks.

“The loml,” Wooyoung slurs, pulling the boy closer by his waist. He’s handsome, bordering somewhere between cute and terribly hot. Yeosang would describe him as rather petite if it wasn’t for the muscular set of arms that are currently wrapped around Wooyoung.

“You don’t remember his name, do you?” Yeosang asks and Wooyoung looks away.

“San,” the boy exclaims immediately, at least at twice the volume than would be necessary. “I’m San. And you’re probably Yeosang.”

Yeosang nods. “I’m also his housemate who’s going to take Wooyoung home now, so if you’ll excuse us.”

“No!” Wooyoung cries out, holding onto San even tighter. “No, we can’t leave yet.”

“Come on, we’re all drunk enough –”

“It’s alright,” San says. “He can stay at my place.”

Yeosang knows exactly what that means.

“You promised,” Yeosang says to Wooyoung. “You said you’d pay for the cab. You said –”

Wooyoung pouts. “How would I know that I’d meet the love of my life? We’re just gonna dance a little bit more. Half an hour?”

“Half an hour,” Yeosang says, pointing his finger for extra seriousness. “If you’re not back here by then, I’ll go without you and lock you out.”

Wooyoung smiles and temporarily disentangles himself from San to hug Yeosang instead. He smells like sweat and cheap beer and Yeosang’s glad he lets go quickly. “Knew you were the best.” With that, he vanishes back into the club, pulling San along with him and leaving Yeosang behind.

Something about it hurts. Maybe it’s because it always comes so easily to Wooyoung – talking to people, entrancing them, getting close. They’ve been friends for ages and yet Yeosang never learnt how he does it. It’s always just difficult and frustrating, getting to know someone. Sometimes he thinks it’s not even worth trying.

 

Yeosang isn’t drunk enough anymore for this. There’s nothing enjoyable about being tipsy by yourself in a room full of strangers, a room full of noise and spilled drinks and sweat. The lights flash when Yeosang tries to squeeze through the dancing crowd and he hates it, the way people touch everyone, how they press their sweaty hands against Yeosang’s back, how everybody’s smiling and laughing and shouting, and he just wants to leave but it’s almost three am and Wooyoung hasn’t shown up when he said he would.

It’s too much. Too much noise and too many people and too many sensations and it’s too much to deal with without having Wooyoung as a filter there. Somehow it always ends like this. With loneliness. At the end of the night, Yeosang always goes home alone.

Yeosang stumbles down the steps to the patio and kicks the door open. The small back yard is empty save for one guy leaning against the concrete wall who looks up at the sound of the door. Yeosang considers going back inside but that means being confronted with a million people and he’d rather be awkward around this one dude than have an anxiety attack in the middle of a drunk and careless crowd. The guy glances at him briefly before looking away again.

Yeosang is glad. He just needs to breathe in the cool night air for a moment, needs to calm down before he even attempts to go back inside to find Wooyoung’s drunk ass and drag him home. He might not even be there anymore. San seems hot and adorable, so there’s no way Wooyoung won’t try his very best to get into his pants. Given the way San clung to him, it probably wasn’t even difficult.

Sometimes Yeosang wonders how they’ve been friends for so long when they’re such vastly different people.

“You okay?” the guy asks, startling Yeosang out of his thoughts.

“Huh? Uhh, yeah. I’m good.”

The guy frowns. He’s a bit taller than Yeosang, dressed in a flimsy purple shirt that most people would probably describe as a bold fashion statement. He looks good in it, though. He has the kind of nose that draws too much attention but his face is handsome. “You sure? Dude, your hands are shaking. I can get you some water if you’re feeling unwell.”

Yeosang would rather throw up in his mouth than accept a drink from a stranger, so he shakes his head. “Thanks but I’m good. Just don’t wanna be here.”

“Ah, really?” the guy says, mildly surprised. “Same.”

Yeosang doesn’t know what to say to that. If he should say anything at all. But something, probably the alcohol still singing in his blood mixed with the frustration, compels him to try anyway. “Why’re you here then?”

“I’m the designated driver for tonight,” the guy says and takes his phone out of the pocket of his skinny jeans. “I can’t find any of my friends, though, and this is like, one of the only places I have signal. So… yeah. What about you?”

“My best friend ditched me to dance with some dude. I was going to try to find him but I think he went with San,” Yeosang replies.

“That sucks,” the guy says. “I’m Seonghwa, by the way.”

“Yeosang.”

Silence. To Yeosang’s surprise, it isn’t awkward. They’re just two guys who’ve both been ditched by their friends, who would both rather be home, or just somewhere else that’s quiet.

Yeosang leans against the cool wall of the building. He can still hear the people inside, the bass of the music, but it’s distant enough to not stress him out as much.

“Shouldn’t you be looking for your friend instead of hanging around here?” Seonghwa asks. He shifts his weight and the light of the shitty lamp above the door hits him differently. Damn, his face is really handsome, Yeosang realises. Kind of sharp. Yeosang would think he’s intimidating but his eyes are kind. He absently wonders if this guy ever thought about modelling.  

“Shouldn’t you be doing the same?” Yeosang gives back.

Seonghwa smiles and an amiable corner digs into the side of face. “Maybe we should go look for them together. You know, help each other out.”

They regard each other, as if to figure out whether or not this is a serious suggestion. Yeosang feels his blood rush in his ears but he pushes himself off of the wall and opens the door. “Let’s go then.”

Yeosang regrets going back inside immediately. The air is stuffy and stinks of spilled drinks, the floor so sticky Yeosang thinks he can almost hear the noise of lifting his soles off of it.

“Who am I looking for?” Yeosang asks. Seonghwa has to lean down a little to hear him and Yeosang catches a whiff of fabric softener and something earthy, almost like dried fire wood.

“A short red-haired guy, and then two really, really tall guys, one of which has blue hair,” Seonghwa replies. “You would think it’s an easy task but it’s been half an hour and I haven’t seen any of them.”

Yeosang scans the room but he can see why it’s hard. There’s a multitude of lights and shadows and silhouettes, all mashed together into an endless blur, making it almost impossible to see individuals unless they’re right in front of your face.

“Who are am I looking for?” Seonghwa asks but Yeosang waves him off.

“Don’t bother. I don’t think he’s here anymore.”

They opt for checking the bathrooms and then the two bars, then the two dance floors and the hallways in between. Seonghwa tells him that he’s usually the driver since he’s the only one with a car and doesn’t trust his friends to drive it. Occasionally he puts his hand on Yeosang’s shoulder as if not to lose him in the crowd and something about it makes Yeosang feel safer. Less alone, too.

Eventually, Yeosang points out a tall blue-haired guy outside of the main entrance and Seonghwa grips Yeosang’s wrist, pulling him along.

Turns out the other two people aren’t far from the first. Yeosang awkwardly stands next to Seonghwa who berates his friends for leaving him and eventually gives up upon seeing their varying degrees of inebriety.

“Come on then. Let’s go home,” he sighs and turns to look at Yeosang. “We’re headed to campus accommodation and I have one more spot in the car. I can drop you off at home, if that’s somewhere along the road?”

Yeosang, who was about to leave, thinks about having to fight Wooyoung for his cab money tomorrow since he’s clearly not here anymore, and shrugs. “I live close to the side entrance to the science block.”

Seonghwa smiles, mouth full of perfectly straight teeth. “Let’s go then.”

 

Seonghwa’s car is much too small for the two towers that introduce themselves as Yunho and Mingi and the other guy who’s apparently called Hongjoong. Yeosang really didn’t sign up for this much social interaction but can’t help but think that this is kind of nice anyway. It’s been a while since he’s felt this comfortable around a bunch of strangers and it must have something to do with Seonghwa and his calm demeanour.

Seonghwa gestures for Yeosang to take the passenger seat, much to the full-throated protests of Mingi.

“That’s my spot,” he complains. “Where else do I put my legs?”

“He has to tell me where to drop him off,” Seonghwa argues. “I won’t be able to hear him over your stupid hollering. Now get in, I wanna go to sleep.”

After Hongjoong and Mingi have stopped fighting over who gets control of the aux cord, the car finally starts and pulls into the road. Mingi and Yunho are singing along to whatever pop song is currently playing from Hongjoong’s phone but knock out against each other soon enough. Seonghwa reaches over to turn the volume down a bit.

“Science block, huh?” Seonghwa asks. He keeps his left hand on the steering wheel, casual, while the other lies on the gear stick. He has nice hands, Yeosang notices. Slender. “What course are you doing?”

“First year biochemistry,” Yeosang replies and drags his gaze up. Somehow Seonghwa is easy to talk to, so much easier than the super intense people Wooyoung keeps trying to introduce him to. Easier than strangers usually are. “You?”

“Second year English Lit.” Seonghwa makes a face, scrunching his nose, and Yeosang lets out a laugh.

“Regretting your life choices?”

“A little. The reading lists are insane.”

“I feel you. I mean, not with reading but coursework in general.”

“It’s almost like they expect us to actually learn something here.”

They both snort and Seonghwa looks over at him as if to gauge his reaction. It’s kind of weird to just sit here in a stranger’s car with the stranger’s friends. Maybe Yeosang would be an easy kidnapping victim. He doesn’t really know how to defend himself.

He doesn’t think he’ll need to anyway. Seonghwa seems too nice for that.

They arrive at the campus accommodation first and Yeosang waits in the car while Seonghwa wakes up his friends and pushes them towards the entrance. Yeosang can tell they’re close by the way they all try to lean on him, smiles giddy but tired. Seonghwa’s back after a while, sighing heavily as he turns the key in the ignition and reverses out of the parking lot.

“Do you know the shitty coffee shop near the side entrance?” Yeosang asks when Seonghwa looks at him for directions. “The one with the broken glass door?”

Seonghwa nods. “That’s where you live?”

“In the apartment block opposite of it,” Yeosang replies. Really, it’s just an ugly concrete building that looks more like an abandoned office complex than safe student accommodation but the rent is cheap and the location practical enough to justify living in a shoebox.

“Well, at least you have constant access to shitty coffee and mediocre snacks. I live a little ways off campus and the coffee shops there are so expensive,” Seonghwa says.

Yeosang doesn’t know what to say to that so it’s quiet for a bit. He looks outside at the empty four am streets and the passing lamp posts, blurred together into a string of lights. His hands have long since stopped trembling but the air is charged still, like none of them is quite sure what to make of the other. Yeosang sees Seonghwa looking at him in his periphery.

“I’m sure you get that a lot,” Seonghwa says quietly, “but your eyes are very striking.”

“Oh.” Yeosang feels his ears burn and averts his gaze, shy. “Wooyoung says they’re too big.”

It’s not like Yeosang doesn’t know that he’s superficially good-looking. He has a decent face but as soon as people find out what he’s like on the inside they usually decide his looks aren’t really worth the effort. They notice the lisp as soon as he says anything. Notice he has no idea how to keep a conversation going. His personality doesn’t match his looks, some people have said. Once, someone called him a waste of time.

Yeosang has come to terms with quite possibly being the most awkward person to ever walk the earth but it’s still unfortunate. He tries, he really tries. He just can’t help being shy.

“I think it’s because they seem brighter somehow,” Seonghwa says. “Like there’s a light behind them.”

Yeosang can feel that he’s still looking at him and hides his burning face in his hands. His heart beats uncomfortably against his ribs, like it doesn’t belong into his chest anymore.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable,” Seonghwa says then, voice laced with regret. “I’m just, I’m kind of awkward but I just wanted to – yeah…”

“No, it’s – it’s fine. I didn’t think you were awkward,” Yeosang replies and forces himself to look at him.

“Really?” Seonghwa’s eyes are round with surprise. “That’s a huge relief.”

Yeosang laughs despite himself. “I don’t know if you could tell but I’m kind of awkward, too.”

“I just thought you were quiet but like, in a good way.”

“There’s a good way to be quiet?”

Seonghwa frowns. “Why wouldn’t there be? You like it when things are quiet, don’t you?”

“Hm, yeah, that’s true, I guess. It’s just – people always tell me I should talk more.” Yeosang makes a face.

“That must be annoying. Maybe you should just tell people they should shut up more.”

“Maybe I should. You can stop over there,” Yeosang says and sits up. The neon letters above the coffee shop are flickering weakly when Seonghwa stops next to it.

“Thanks for helping me find my idiot friends,” Seonghwa says, turning to look at Yeosang.

“Thanks for driving me home,” Yeosang replies. He should really get out now before things get awkward but somehow he doesn’t want to. Which is weird. He’s known this guy for less than two hours and yet here he is, wanting to talk to him more but not knowing how.

“No worries.” Seonghwa looks like he wants to say something else and Yeosang waits but nothing comes.

“Well, uh.” He finally unbuckles his seat belt and opens the door. The cool night air flows in and goose bumps crawl up Yeosang’s arms. “Have a safe drive home and thanks again.”

“Yeah.” Seonghwa smiles weakly and lifts a hand to wave. “Goodnight, Yeosang.”

Yeosang gets out and shuts the door, not waiting to watch Seonghwa drive off. He feels weird, scrubbed raw inside, and doesn’t know why.

The apartment is quiet and dark when Yeosang enters, just how it should be. He wishes it wasn’t. He wishes he’d said more to Seonghwa, had been more interesting, had somehow caught his attention enough to be asked for his number. Anything, really. He wonders what would have happened if he’d asked Seonghwa to come up here with him.

Your eyes are very striking. Yeosang is still thinking about this after he’s brushed his teeth and changed into his PJs. Was that flirting? Was that being friendly?

Yeosang sighs and curls up. In the end, it doesn’t matter. With a university as big as this, it’s unlikely he’ll ever see Seonghwa again. Just another wasted chance.

 

 

It’s at some point in the late afternoon when Yeosang hears the door unlock and Wooyoung comes in, packed with two boxes of Yeosang’s favourite fried chicken takeaway. Yeosang immediately narrows his eyes at him.

“I’m sorry!” Wooyoung exclaims, looking appropriately guilty. “Look, I’ve already brought food to placate you.”

Yeosang takes one of the boxes and opens it. He breathes in the smell of frying oil and batter and resents himself a little bit for how much it lifts his mood. “Did you at least have a good time?”

“The best.” Wooyoung deems it safe to flop down next to Yeosang and sighs contently before he digs into his own box. “San is actually my soulmate.”

Yeosang snorts. Wooyoung often thinks that whoever he spent the night with is the person he’ll end up marrying. “Is that why you stayed that long?”

“Mhm. I was thinking of ways I could convince him to go out with me, like, on a date or whatever but then he was like hey, I know this great bagel place and you should totally go there with me for lunch. So we did. And I was like, hey, I kinda really like you and wanna keep seeing you and he agreed, so… these past twenty hours have been working out well for me.”

Yeosang can’t help but smile. Taking a closer look at Wooyoung, it seems a little bit like he’s glowing. As if there’s light under his skin. Happiness looks good on him. “Aw, that’s cool.”

“And you?” Wooyoung glances at him. “Did a miracle happen and you actually talked to someone?”

“Hm, well, there was this g-”

Wooyoung sits up so suddenly that he nearly throws his takeway off his lap. “Are you kidding me?”

Yeosang huffs. “Why are you so surprised? I’m not that anti-social.”

“Okay, whatever, tell me more.”

So Yeosang does. It sounds kind of stupid out loud, kind of insignificant. He doesn’t know how to tell Wooyoung how much he liked talking to Seonghwa. How easy it was.

“Okay, so, now what?” Wooyoung says by the end of it, hands clutched together like he’s waiting for more.

“Nothing,” Yeosang deadpans. Usually he loves how enthusiastic Wooyoung gets about everything but now it just feels weird.

“What?” Wooyoung squints at him. “Are you telling me you didn’t get his number?”

“No?”

Wooyoung slaps his hand to his face so hard that Yeosang jumps at the noise. “When will you learn?!”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“Oh my God, Sangie, this guy liked you. He told you that you have beautiful eyes –”

“He said striking.”

“– and you didn’t even give him your number. Who raised you?”

Yeosang points his finger at Wooyoung. “Don’t bring my mother into this.”

Wooyoung pushes his hand away and rolls his eyes. “You’re hopeless.”

Yeosang chooses not to reply to that and instead focuses on his chicken thigh. A part of him knows that Wooyoung is right and that part regrets not leaving his number but the other part of him is glad he got to meet someone as nice as Seonghwa at all. Maybe he’ll see him again somewhere and maybe he won’t; it doesn’t matter. It’s enough to know that Yeosang can talk to strangers after all. It’s enough. Right?

 

 

Over the following one and a half weeks, Yeosang pretty much forgets about Seonghwa. Wooyoung tries to taunt him with it for a while but Yeosang just ignores him and anyway, Wooyoung is too busy making heart eyes at San.

Speaking of which, San becomes a somewhat permanent fixture in their apartment and as loud as he is, Yeosang can’t bring himself to be annoyed. San is nice, probably the only person who’s a match for Wooyoung’s ridiculousness, and more often than not he brings some kind of snack as if to apologise for sexiling Yeosang so often.

Even when Wooyoung isn’t there to mediate between the two of them, they find stuff to talk about. It’s probably thanks to San’s easy-going and people-friendly nature but it’s like having a new friend launched at him, skipping over Yeosang’s usually obligatory three-month trial acquaintanceship just like that.

So one afternoon, when Yeosang is sitting on the floor of the living room to test his reprogrammed drone, San bursts in and gestures over his shoulder. “Yo, there’s a guy standing outside who asked for you.”

Yeosang frowns. “First of all, how did you get in here? Second of all, what guy? Do you mean the mailman?”

San shrugs and shows Yeosang a key card. “Wooyoung gave me this and said I can wait here until he’s done with classes. And I don’t know, man, just some guy. Tall, impressive nose, looks like he’d study shit like philosophy or something. Ring a bell?”

Yeosang’s breath hitches. “I – I better check, I guess.” He places his drone on the coffee table and speed-walks outside just to see –

“Yeosang,” Seonghwa says, looking relieved and nervous at the same time. He was leaning against his car but pushes off when he sees Yeosang, hesitantly taking a few steps. “Hey, uh, I know this is exceptionally creepy but I was in the area and I swear if you want me to, I’ll vanish but I just – um. I was just wondering if you wanna hang out some time? I liked talking to you.”

Yeosang stares at him, at the way Seonghwa’s nervously wringing his hands together, and wonders if he heard that right. Maybe it’s a hallucination. Maybe he fell asleep while studying again and his subconscious is working through these weirdly specific fantasies. “What?”

“Well, you obviously don’t have to, I just thought –” Seonghwa runs a hand through his hair. “I’ll just get going then.”

Yeosang watches Seonghwa turn around and he’s almost back at his car when his brain finally catches up with what Seonghwa had said. “Hey, wait!”

Seonghwa whirls around.

“Let’s hang out some time,” Yeosang says and pulls his phone out of his jeans. Seonghwa’s eyes follow the movement and then he smiles and holy shit.

Holy shit. Seeing that smile in the sunlight instead of in a club when Yeosang was drunk sure makes a difference. Yeosang wasn’t prepared for the possibility of seeing it again. Of seeing Seonghwa again, period.

Yeosang numbly hands Seonghwa his phone who types in his number and then sends a text to himself.

“Cool,” Seonghwa says and gives Yeosang his phone back. Their hands brush against each other, sending a weird tingle all the way up Yeosang’s arm. “I’ll just text you then.”

“Yeah, alright.”

Seonghwa smiles at him again before he waves and goes back to his car. His legs are miles long. Yeosang watches him drive off, questioning his entire existence before he turns around and nearly crashes into Wooyoung.

“The – what the fuck? I thought you were at uni!” Yeosang exclaims.

“I was on the way back! I was literally right on the stairs when you barrelled past me like an insane person!” Wooyoung gives back. Behind him, San appears.

“How did it go?”

“Who was that?” Wooyoung asks, squinting down the street as if he could still see Seonghwa.

“He just –”

“The guy that drove Yeosang home last week,” San interrupts and smirks at Yeosang. “This was cripplingly awkward but he likes you.”

Wooyoung makes a high-pitched sound that hurts Yeosang’s eardrums and grasps San’s hands.

“He barely knows me,” Yeosang says.

“Good thing, too.” Wooyoung grins, obviously incredibly amused by the turn of events. “Until he does, we will teach you how not to be weird.”

“Can you please relax? It’s nothing.”

San and Wooyoung exchange meaningful glances.

“God dammit, Kang Yeosang,” Wooyoung says. “What have you done to that boy to be so smitten? Did he really come here just to ask you out?”

Yeosang frowns. “Huh? What do you mean, smitten, we’re just gonna hang out.”

San shakes his head while Wooyoung stares at him with an indiscernible expression. “You know what, figure it out yourself. I’m just – congratulations for being a halfway functional human being.”

Yeosang rolls his eyes and pushes past him. “You’re so annoying.”

 

 

Yeosang gets a text that evening. He definitely does not scramble to open it once he reads the ID, nor does his heart rate spike weirdly high.

 

From: Seonghwa ^^
Hey!

 

To: Seonghwa ^^
hii
whats up

 

From: Seonghwa ^^
Sorry again for just weirdly hanging around outside of your house
I swear I’m not a stalker

 

To: Seonghwa ^^
dw its cool
I mean
anyways
when do u wanna hang out

 

From: Seonghwa ^^
Whenever you’re free?
What would you like to do anyway?

 

Goddamn, this is so awkward. Yeosang tries his best to find something interesting to say but he’s always been kind of a dry texter. He decides to quit playing around and ask the real questions. This might be a deal breaker for all he knows.

 

To: Seonghwa ^^
how do u feel about chicken

 

From: Seonghwa ^^
You mean as food, right?
Because yes I like chicken

 

Yeosang breathes out a sigh of relief.

 

To: Seonghwa ^^
I know a really really good chicken place
wanna meet there tomorrow or something?

 

From: Seonghwa ^^
Sure!
I’m free after four

 

To: Seonghwa ^^
[location pinned]
see u there at six :p

 

From: Seonghwa ^^
Cool!

 

Yeosang throws his phone away and sinks into the couch pillows. Wooyoung looks away from the TV screen that’s currently showing episode two of whatever series Wooyoung is obsessed with at the moment and instead fixes Yeosang with a stare.

“What’s up? Got a notif about your grades again?” he asks.

“No,” Yeosang says. “Only realised that I’m not equipped to talk to people.”

That gets Wooyoung’s undivided attention. “Have you been texting that guy? Let me see.”

Yeosang scrambles for his phone and presses it against his chest before Wooyoung can get it. “His name is Seonghwa.”

“And you’re going on a date soon?”

“No. We’re going to get chicken.”

Wooyoung frowns. It’s always such a dramatic expression when Wooyoung makes it. Then again, every expression is dramatic when he’s concerned. “That’s… a date.”

“We’re just hanging out.” Yeosang blinks. “I think.”

Wooyoung raises his eyebrows and gives him a meaningful look. “So it might be a date or not and you don’t know.”

“I can hardly ask him, can I?”

“Well, yes, you can. To avoid misunderstandings. I told San right away that I wanted it to be a date.”

But I’m not you. “I’ll just… know it when it happens.”

Wooyoung gives him another look but doesn’t say anything.

 

 

Seonghwa is there first. Yeosang spots him immediately, sitting at a booth by himself where he’s fiddling with his phone. He’s wearing a crisp white shirt this time, the kind that would get absolutely see-through when wet and these are probably the wrong thoughts to have when approaching a potential new friend but honestly, Yeosang’s already freaking out anyway.

He walks over and Seonghwa looks up, face easing into a smile. “Hey.”

“Hi.” Yeosang sinks into the booth opposite of him. The shop isn’t crowded but not empty, either, and Yeosang lets himself take in the relaxed atmosphere, wishing he could absorb some of it. “Have you ordered already?”

“No, I wanted to get your recommendation,” Seonghwa replies. “Is this… you’re not weirded out, right? I mean, with me just showing up again.”

Yeosang frowns. “I wouldn’t be here if I was.”

“That’s fair.” Seonghwa takes a deep breath. He seems a little nervous too and somehow Yeosang finds that comforting. Maybe this is a date after all. Or maybe Seonghwa is like him and needs a Social Interaction for Dummies lesson just as much. “So, what are you going to order?”

They end up getting a mixed basket to share, together with a sensible assortment of side dishes. Seonghwa somehow manages to keep the conversation going even when Yeosang doesn’t know what to say.

“What made you choose biochemistry?” he asks.

Yeosang swallows. Eating this chicken takes him ten times longer than usual because it’s a bit too early for Seonghwa to know what a messy eater Yeosang is. “I’m good at chemistry and I like natural sciences. I want to teach later on. What about you?”

“That’s cool. I like reading and fictional worlds and learning all the extra bits about authors and stuff.”

“Do you write yourself?”

Seonghwa half-smiles. “I wouldn’t call myself a writer or a good one, even, but yeah, occasionally. Just for fun, though.”

“That’s cool.”

“And you? What do you do for fun?”

“I play video games, I guess.” Yeosang puts his chicken bone down. “I like drones and uh. Skateboards.”

“You skate? That’s so cool. You should show me some time.”

“Really?”

Seonghwa lifts his gaze. Something about the way he’s looking at him makes Yeosang feel seen, but not in an uncomfortable way. “Is that surprising?”

“I don’t know, usually people think it’s childish.”

“You know what’s childish? Collecting figurines. And also dragon plushies.”

Seonghwa gives him a half embarrassed, half defiant look and Yeosang laughs. “Aw, but that’s cute.”

“Thanks for not openly judging me.” Seonghwa snorts. “But yeah, skateboarding seems pretty awesome.”

Seonghwa’s interest seems genuine and Yeosang feels weirdly charmed by it. “I can, um. Take you to the skate park some time.”

“Yeah, sure.”

It’s quiet for a short moment and they just regard each other. Somehow it doesn’t make Yeosang anxious. Nothing about Seonghwa makes him uncomfortable, just a little nervous, in a fluttery, anticipating sort of way.  

“You have some sauce on your face,” Seonghwa says then, pointing at his own cheek. “Right here.”

“Oh.” Yeosang rubs at his face, embarrassed.

“Other side.”

“Is it gone now?”

“No, let me just – give me your hand.”

Yeosang does hesitantly. Seonghwa folds all his fingers down except for the index finger and then reaches across the table to dab at Yeosang’s cheek. Yeosang really hopes Seonghwa doesn’t notice how sweaty his skin is.

“There,” Seonghwa says and releases Yeosang.

“Thanks.”

“No worries.” Seonghwa hesitates. “I have a thing about cleanliness, you know.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. It makes me happy when everything is clean and tidy but that means I get stressed when things are not.”

“Oh. Sorry for being, uh, not clean.”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Seonghwa laughs. “It’s more about my own apartment, really.”

Yeosang nods. “You said you live a little off campus?”

“Yeah. I wanted to have my own space but all the singles close to uni are like, super expensive.”

“Must be nice to live by yourself.”

“You live with your friend, right? The one we were looking for?”

“Mhm. He’s kind of the opposite of me. A social butterfly.”

Seonghwa appraises him for a moment. “For someone who claims to be so quiet you’re doing pretty well, though.”

It’s nice to hang out with Seonghwa. A little awkward, too, but mostly they manage to keep the conversation flowing. Seonghwa rigorously scrubs his hands with the hot towel afterwards, telling Yeosang about how he lived with three housemates in first year and nearly committed murder over the state of their dorm. Yeosang tells him about Wooyoung, about his drones and his studies and his favourite computer games, and it’s pitch black outside by the time Seonghwa glances at his watch.

“I can drive you home if you like,” Seonghwa offers after they paid, letting the door fall closed behind them. They split the bill, so perhaps this wasn’t a date after all. Perhaps it was and equality rules. Yeosang doesn’t know what to think anymore. He thought it would somehow be obvious but it isn’t.

“Oh, you don’t have to,” Yeosang says, pushing his hands into his pockets. It’s chilly outside, the wind tugging at his sweater with invisible teeth.

“But I want to.”

Yeosang wonders if maybe Seonghwa just wants to spend more time with him, too, so he shrugs and agrees.

 

Sitting in Seonghwa’s car again is like a flashback to the first night. It’s dark again and Yeosang’s nervous again and Seonghwa’s weirdly sweet again but at least Yeosang isn’t tipsy and there aren’t any drunk friends around. This time he can actually pay attention to the details, like the fact that the inside of the car is almost freakishly clean and smells of lemon and the same kind of earthy scent that seems to be Seonghwa’s body spray. They spend the drive exchanging food recommendations, a subject matter both of them seem to be well versed in.

“This was fun,” Seonghwa says when he pulls up at Yeosang’s apartment. “Next time show me the skate park?”

Yeosang nods. “Technically it’s your turn to choose something, though.”

“I’ll think of something then.”

Seonghwa’s still smiling at him, close-mouthed and soft. Was this a date, Yeosang wants to ask. Please tell me it was. But he doesn’t say anything, just opens the door and waves before jogging up to the door.

He can’t leave that car without having at least one regret, it seems.

 

Wooyoung is waiting for him, stretched out on the couch with a bowl of popcorn in his arms. He mutes the TV and sits up when Yeosang enters. “How was it?”

Yeosang kicks at Wooyoung’s feet until he makes some space for him. “Good.”

“That’s it? What did you talk about? Did he kiss you in the end? Did you figure out if it was a date or not?” Wooyoung asks.

“I don’t know,” Yeosang replies. A part of him wants to lie down and think about Seonghwa’s smile for the rest of his life and that can’t possibly be a good sign. “It was nice. Seonghwa’s nice. I don’t know if it was a date but we’re doing this again, so… I’ll just see how it goes.”

“I hope you realise how invested I am in this,” Wooyoung says and offers the popcorn to him. “I hope you don’t break his heart.”

Yeosang scoffs. “Shouldn’t you worry about me?”

“Oh please. This dude showed up at our house just to see you again. He’s already done for.”

Yeosang hides his face in his hands and pulls his knees up. Wooyoung smirks at him but doesn’t say anything else and as absurd as it is, it’s kind of nice – to think that someone could like him like that after such little time.

 

 

The next time Yeosang sees Seonghwa, it’s at the pedestrian zone of the city. In front of a bookstore, to be exact.

“I don’t have super cool interests like you,” Seonghwa had said when he’d picked Yeosang up at home. “I just like to read. So I thought we could go to the bookshop.”

It’s nice, Yeosang thinks. They’ve somehow kicked off a routine to show each other things they like, things that matter to them, and it’s easier to talk like this, when there’s already a sense of trust between the two of them.

Maybe Yeosang is reading too much into it. Maybe he’s just seeing what he wants to see.

But Seonghwa’s holding the door open for him and gently places his hand on his arm when they enter and Yeosang is nervous again.

It’s a nice shop, all dark wood and high windows. The blue carpet floor mutes the sound of the customers looking through the books on the shelves and the air smells like paper and freshly ground coffee. Yeosang isn’t much of a reader but there’s something so relaxing about bookstores.

“Which section do you usually go to?” Yeosang asks. He’s automatically lowered his voice, the way he’d do in a library.

Seonghwa shrugs. “I read pretty much every genre. Though I don’t really have time anymore to just read for fun.”

“Okay, but if you had time, where would you start looking for a book to buy? Let’s go find one.”

“Are you going to get it for me?”

Seonghwa smirks and Yeosang tries to hold his gaze. “What if I do?”

“What if we pick books for each other? Let’s make a game out of it.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Seonghwa looks at his watch. “Say… let’s meet at the café at the back in half an hour?”

Yeosang nods. “Let’s give each other one preference for guidance.”

“I like fantasy.”

“I like realistic things.”

Seonghwa presses his lips together as if trying not to smile. “Okay, then.”

 

Half an hour, Yeosang finds, is a ridiculously short amount of time to find a fitting book. It would already take him an hour to look through the entire fantasy section of the store, so he limits himself to two shelves only, randomly picking out books that have a pretty cover.

He wonders if Seonghwa is one of those people that insist on not judging a book by its appearance. But then again, where else is Yeosang supposed to start?

He ends up with a thick high fantasy novel. Seonghwa is waiting for him already when Yeosang finds his way to the little café at the back of the shop. It’s advertising organic drinks and cakes and the smell of fresh grounds is so strong here that it’s almost dizzying.

Seonghwa is sitting at a little round table in one of the mismatched armchairs with two cups of coffee in front of him and Yeosang lets himself look at him for a moment. He’s wearing a thin cream-coloured sweater that’s tucked into his jeans, nothing classy at all, but there’s always this somewhat sophisticated, comforting vibe around Seonghwa. Yeosang didn’t think that was his type, but here he is, finding it undeniably attractive.

Seonghwa smiles at him when Yeosang finally walks over and sinks into the other armchair.

“I got you coffee, so you have to go first,” Seonghwa says and pushes one of the cups over to Yeosang. He seems so excited about this and it’s the single cutest thing Yeosang has ever seen. Seonghwa looks so in his element here, surrounded by warm tones and new book covers, eyes shining.

Yeosang presents him his novel. “I chose this because it has badass characters and a lot of nerdy magic. I read some reviews online that say it’s really good and I think you’re someone who cares about world building, so… here.”

“The Name of the Wind… I’ve been meaning to read this since forever,” Seonghwa says, looking mildly impressed when he runs his fingers over the golden accentuated letters on the front. “Pretty good choice and also you’re right.”

Yeosang smiles proudly. “Nice.”

“I chose this,” Seonghwa says and shows Yeosang a thin book with a white cover. “It’s non-fiction. It’s like… a realistic and sometimes slightly sarcastic view of life and it’s really funny but it also makes you think about the way you lead your own life.”

Yeosang takes the book from him and looks at the back blurb. “So basically you’re giving me an existential crisis.”

Seonghwa laughs. “I guess that depends on what you take away from it. But I think it fits you. It’s rational and playful and interesting and also kind of pure. Like you.”

There it is again. That tension. That moment where Yeosang has to ask himself whether this is flirting or not. He should gauge Seonghwa’s reaction but he can’t bring himself to look up, just shrinks behind the book to hide his embarrassment.

Seonghwa mutters something under his breath that has the word ‘adorable’ in it and then clears his throat. “Anyways. Does that sound like something you would read?”

“Yeah, uh. It sounds interesting,” Yeosang replies and pulls his coffee closer, preferably to drown himself in it.

“You know what we should do?” Seonghwa asks. When Yeosang looks up he already has his nose buried in his book. “We should read these and then meet up to talk about them.”

“Are you making me a member of your book club?”

“Absolutely.”

Yeosang tries not to smile. “Let’s do it.”

“I’m paying for yours.”

“Well, then I’m paying for yours, too.”

“But mine’s more expensive.”

“You’ve paid for coffee.”

“Hm. Fine.”

Must be a date, Yeosang thinks. Right? He can’t think of a scenario where two friends buy each other things like this in a platonic setting. But then again, he doesn’t have that many friends, so how would he know?

“So what do you wanna do now?” Seonghwa says. “I kind of only planned this far ahead.”

Yeosang shrugs. “Do you want to get food somewhere? Something cheap, though.”

“Hm, how about I cook something?”

Yeosang looks at Seonghwa. “You can cook?”

“I wouldn’t call myself a master chef or anything,” Seonghwa replies, “but I have been told on several occasions that my dishes are edible.”

Husband material, Yeosang hears a voice say in his head that sounds suspiciously like Wooyoung. “I mean, yeah, sure.”

“Cool. Let’s go then.”

 

“Sorry if it’s a bit messy,” Seonghwa says and pushes open the door to a perfectly clean and tidy apartment. It’s small, with a grey couch in the centre, a kitchenette to the side, a TV, a colour-sorted collection of movies, books and figurines on the shelves. There are two doors which Yeosang assumes must lead to the bathroom and bedroom respectively. It looks like the kind of apartment a sensible adult would live in.

“Please explain what about this is messy,” Yeosang says, taking his shoes off by the front door.

Seonghwa looks around as if he’s not sure himself. Yeosang laughs. “I don’t know. Anyways, let’s see what the fridge says. Maybe we should’ve stopped at a 7/11…”

They end up making some kind of rice stir fry. Yeosang helps as much as he can, cutting up vegetables and spring onions, but mostly he just watches Seonghwa move around the kitchen. It’s oddly relaxing to hang out like this, even though Yeosang is painfully aware that this is extremely domestic. Seonghwa’s humming along to the song on the radio (who even owns a radio anymore?) when he divides the food into two bowls and hands one of them to Yeosang.

They move to the couch to watch TV while they eat, just for some background noise, but Yeosang isn’t paying attention. Seonghwa’s knee is pressing against his and it’s just so nice, to sit here and not be worried about what to do or say. Somehow Seonghwa makes him feel like he doesn’t have to try to be anyone but himself. That’s rare enough in itself.

“What’s the verdict?” Seonghwa asks when Yeosang puts his empty bowl on the table, looking a little insecure but also gleefully curious.

“It was good,” Yeosang says. “Your friends weren’t lying after all.”

“Thank God. I wouldn’t have put it past them.”

“They seemed nice when I met them.”

Seonghwa snorts. “I guess they are. Just a bit of a mess, really. I’m ninety-nine per cent convinced that there’s something going on between Mingi and Yunho.”

Yeosang tries to recall their interactions but he hardly remembers them anymore. “Time will tell.”

Seonghwa hums in agreement and Yeosang feels his gaze linger on him. There’s tension crawling up his spine and he gets up before he can do something stupid like act on it. He grabs the empty bowls and brings them to the kitchen, Seonghwa trailing behind him.

“You don’t have to,” Seonghwa starts when Yeosang runs some hot water but Yeosang waves him off.

Yeosang can tell Seonghwa would rather do this himself, probably to make sure the bowls are clean enough to satisfy his standards. Yeosang is certain he’s never done the dishes as thoroughly as he’s doing them now and Seonghwa still inspects them afterwards under the pretence of drying them.

“Do you not trust me?” Yeosang asks and Seonghwa puts the bowl down.

“Have you done anything to earn my trust?” Seonghwa asks back. He’s leaning against the counter now and Yeosang is suddenly overly aware of their height difference, even though it’s not huge. It’s big enough to feel significant when they’re standing close to each other like this.

“Well, no,” Yeosang says. “But what’s the fun in trust without a little risk?”

For a moment Seonghwa just considers him and then does that amiable half-smile again. “Maybe you’re not as pure as I thought you to be.”

I’m not pure at all, Yeosang almost says but he just grins back and then takes the towel from Seonghwa to dry his hands. “I should probably head home.”

“Want me to drive you?” Seonghwa offers.

Yeosang shakes his head. “I’m good. But thanks for the food. And the book. And coffee.”

Seonghwa follows him to the door where Yeosang slips back into his sneakers. For a second he looks like he’s going to hug Yeosang but then he props himself against the doorframe instead. It gives Yeosang an unexpected twinge of longing, like the single chime of a clock when there should have been more. “Skate park next?”

Yeosang straightens up and smiles. “Sure.”

They look at each other. Yeosang realises he should probably move but somehow he doesn’t want to, like that first night in the car. He figures Seonghwa just has that effect on him. Of making him want to be around him all the time.

“Well… just text me when and where,” Seonghwa says.

Yeosang nods and finally steps out of the flat. Seonghwa does reach for him then, just to pat his shoulder blade, and then waves him off.

 

 

“You… went to the bookstore.”

“Yes.”

“And then he bought you coffee.”

“Yes.”

“And then he cooked for you.”

“Yes.”

“And you still aren’t sure if this was a date or not.”

“…well.”

Wooyoung looks at Yeosang like he’s in tremendous pain. “If this wasn’t a date then what the fuck was it?”

Yeosang groans. “I don’t know? I just – I don’t know if he likes me that much.”

“Oh my God, is it that hard to believe that someone’s interested in you?” Wooyoung asks. “Oh man. I’m curious to see how this plays out. But please believe me when I say you’re a loveable idiot.”

“Wow. Thanks.”

When Yeosang goes to bed that night he’s still thinking about it. About what’s happening between him and Seonghwa. He wonders if Seonghwa notices the strange tension between them, too, or maybe it’s just him, wishing and wanting more than he usually gets to have.

He texts Seonghwa anyway, asking him if Friday is alright for skateboarding. Seonghwa replies just a minute later, telling him he’s looking forward to it. And maybe it’s stupid and naïve, but Yeosang believes him.

 

 

Yeosang likes to go skateboarding when he’s stressed. He’s not the most awesome skater in the world but it’s still enough to not make a fool out of himself at the skate park when there’s usually a bunch of high school students hanging around thinking they’re the hottest shit.

Yeosang doesn’t really have time to think about that anyway. He’s a tired biochem major, he just wants some peace and the wind in his face and preferably no smashed bones.

It’s strange to think that he’s sharing that with Seonghwa. It feels weirdly private somehow; this is one of Yeosang’s few refuges that he goes to when he doesn’t want to be around people. He doesn’t think Seonghwa knows how significant this is for him.

Maybe it’s better that way.

It’s Friday afternoon and the weather is good, meaning there are a lot of kids hanging around here. Some don’t even have boards, just sit on the ramps to listen to obnoxious rap and drink iced coffee, yelling insults at each other.

Seonghwa looks so out of place here that Yeosang nearly laughs.

They’ve been here for around half an hour and Yeosang has been showing him some of the tricks he’s confident in. Turns out it didn’t matter; he’s fucked up a few times now due to nerves and Seonghwa’s watching him so attentively that it makes him shy.

He lets his board roll over to where Seonghwa’s sitting cross-legged on the concrete and he stops it with his foot. He’s more dressed down today, wearing ripped jeans and a loose red shirt. Yeosang finds that he looks unfairly handsome like this, too.

“Wanna try?” Yeosang asks.

Seonghwa glances at the other kids. “Here?”

Yeosang gets it, really. Teenagers are terrifying.

“We can go somewhere quiet, if you want.”

“Okay.”

Yeosang leads them to a more or less straight road that leads downhill at the end. There’s an old lady watering some flowers in her front yard but otherwise it’s empty and quiet.

“Watch my feet,” Yeosang says and steps on the board. “I stand like this because I use my right foot to push. If you push with your left, your right foot is in front. Go on, try it.”

Seonghwa does, carefully so, and Yeosang holds his arm out for him to take.

“I’m going to drag you with me a little bit. Try not to shift your weight back or the board will shoot out from under you. It’s like, you anticipate the movement and adjust to it.”

“You made it look so easy,” Seonghwa says, standing ram-rod straight on the board, fingernails digging into Yeosang’s arm when he starts to move. A part of Yeosang wants to tease him for looking so nervous.

“I’m a natural.” Seonghwa scoffs and Yeosang laughs. “I just had a lot of practice. But we can do something easier.”

He pulls Seonghwa back to a stop and points at the board. “Just sit down on the deck. Yes, on your butt. Now hold on to the front and I’ll push you.”

“And this is easier?” Seonghwa looks up and Yeosang laughs again at the scared puppy eyes.

“Don’t worry, nothing will happen,” he says and pushes Seonghwa.

Maybe Yeosang should have known. Should’ve told Seonghwa to slow down with his feet once he reaches the part of the street where it slopes downhill. Should’ve told him not to shift his weight too much if he doesn’t want to change direction.

But here he is, watching in horror how the board picks up too much speed and Seonghwa’s shoulders tip to the right. The board rockets left, somehow way too fast, and smashes into the edge of the sidewalk. Seonghwa, unprepared for any accidents, flings off the board onto the cracked tarmac at the end of the road, almost out of sight.

It would have been hilarious, had it been anyone but the boy Yeosang already likes too much.

By the time Yeosang has run over, Seonghwa has gotten up and tries to pick gravel out of his bloody palms, one extra rip in his jeans. Yeosang can’t tell if Seonghwa’s laughing out of shock or joy.

“I’m sorry,” Yeosang says, reaching out to – he doesn’t know. “I should’ve –”

“This was fun,” Seonghwa says brightly. “I mean, I should probably clean this but oh my God, was this as fast as it felt?”

“Fast enough to worry me,” Yeosang says. “Why are you laughing? What the hell, come on, we’re never doing this again ever, or at least not without knee pads or something.”

“Maybe I should stick to watching you for now,” Seonghwa agrees.

Yeosang kicks his board up and then gently takes Seonghwa by the wrist, pulling him into the direction of home. “That would be boring.”

“I like watching you, though.”

Yeosang tries his best not to be flustered but he just knows Seonghwa is smirking at him. “First of all, that sounds creepy, and second, shut up.”

It’s a good thing Yeosang’s apartment isn’t far from the skate park. He wasn’t planning on exposing Seonghwa to Wooyoung so soon but he figures it can’t be helped. Maybe, if they’re lucky, he won’t even be home.

Yeosang unlocks the door, poking his head in before letting Seonghwa through. The living area is empty and there aren’t any sounds which must mean at the very least that San isn’t here. That’s a relief, honestly.

“Come on,” Yeosang says and drags Seonghwa into the bathroom before he can spot the dirty dishes in the kitchen. He digs their first aid kit out from under the sink and clicks the box open, showing the contents to Seonghwa. “Do you want dinosaur band-aids or boring ones?”

Seonghwa raises an eyebrow in question. “Why do you keep condoms in your emergency kit?”

Yeosang slams the box shut. “I – you know what, you’re never going to meet Wooyoung because I will kill him before that happens.”

Seonghwa laughs and Yeosang hides his face behind his hands. That’s it. Wooyoung isn’t even here and somehow still managed to scare Seonghwa away.

“Are you going to help with my hands or not?” Seonghwa asks, voice still full of mirth.

Yeosang groans and reopens the box to get the necessary stuff out while Seonghwa holds his palms under running water. He takes Seonghwa’s left hand without looking at him and inspects the wounds. “You didn’t say which band-aids you wanted.”

“I don’t think I need any. It’s just scrapes,” Seonghwa says but he winces when Yeosang presses the alcohol-soaked cotton pad against his palm. “How many times did people have to stitch you up?”

“I’m giving you the dinosaurs,” Yeosang decides. His face hasn’t stopped burning yet; maybe it never will. He carefully puts on the band-aids and then pulls back. “I usually just stitch myself up. My knees are more scar tissue than anything else, really. All good?”

Seonghwa stretches his fingers out, looking pleased with the dinosaurs. “Pretty badass.”

Yeosang puts the kit away and looks up at Seonghwa. “Sorry again about the accident. I wanted this to be fun.”

“Hey, it was an accident,” Seonghwa says.

Yeosang realises he’s still kneeling on the tiles of the tiny bathroom while Seonghwa sits on the closed toilet lid, watching him carefully. There’s a strange kind of tension in the air and Yeosang doesn’t know how to alleviate it, or if he even wants to. “What do you wanna do now? You get a free pass for being hurt.”

“Is that a birthmark next to your eye?” Seonghwa asks.

Yeosang’s hand flies up to the left side of his face. “Yeah. I usually cover it up.”

Seonghwa reaches out, looking at Yeosang as if asking for permission. When Yeosang gives a short nod, he touches the side of Yeosang’s face. He’s gentle, fingertips cool and dry against his skin where it’s marked red.

“People think it’s a scar or skin problem or some shit,” Yeosang says, just to break the tense silence. His face feels like it’s boiling under Seonghwa’s attention and it’s hard to look at him and then impossible not to. Seonghwa’s gaze is so intense, almost hypnotising, and his hand wanders down to Yeosang’s jaw, tipping his chin up.

“My grandma used to say it’s where a fairy kissed you,” Seonghwa says quietly. “I think it’s pretty.”

Yeosang can’t breathe. Can’t move. His heart is a trapped bird. Everything in him wants Seonghwa to close the distance, give in to the gravitational pull and then he sees Seonghwa’s focus shift down to his mouth and he’s leaning in as if –

The front door slams open, a sound like a gunshot in the silent apartment, and Wooyoung strides in. “Yeosang, you will not believe what I just had to see with my own two eyes, I’m –”

He freezes, eyes fixed on where Yeosang is half kneeling, half standing, straight in line with his view. “What the –”

Yeosang scrambles up from the floor and pulls Seonghwa with him. “Uh, hi. Um. Seonghwa’s here, too.”

“Hi,” Seonghwa says in a tiny voice and smiles awkwardly. Yeosang realises they’re still holding hands and quickly lets go.

“He fell off my board so I brought him here to stitch him up,” Yeosang explains.

Wooyoung’s gaze had been bouncing back and forth between them but now it’s fixed on Seonghwa and a sly smile’s creeping up his face. “Oh, Seonghwa, heyyy, I heard so much about you already!”

“Ah, really? I heard a lot about you, too,” Seonghwa replies.

Wooyoung waves him over and Yeosang regrets every single choice he’s made in his life that led to this situation.

 

They end up watching a movie together. San arrives in the middle of it, bringing pizza for everyone, and Wooyoung is distracted enough to forget to interview Seonghwa.

It’s nice, honestly. Much nicer than Yeosang expected. Despite the crammed space on the too small couch, they seem to get along well; Seonghwa fits into their small group like he has always been there, making easy conversation and letting the others make fun of him without getting mad. Yeosang isn’t sure if Seonghwa would be assertive enough to put a stop to it even if he did get mad.

Yeosang relaxes against Seonghwa’s side, thigh and shoulder pressing against him. He’s so warm. Yeosang wants to shuffle even closer but he doesn’t want to push his luck. On the other side of him, San is basically draped across Wooyoung’s lap who’s petting his hair and Yeosang wishes he could have this, too. He isn’t usually that shy about skinship but it’s different when it’s with Seonghwa, when Yeosang wants it to mean more than just being comfortable. Every touch feels electrified with him. Stolen, secret, addictive.

The tension from earlier has fizzled out into something more quiet. Yeosang keeps wondering if Seonghwa really would’ve kissed him or if it was just Yeosang losing his mind.

Not that it really matters right now.

Seonghwa pats Yeosang’s knee. “You alright?”

“Hm? Yeah.”

Seonghwa slants a look at him and moves his arm to put it around Yeosang’s shoulders. Yeosang slips down a little, pressed further against Seonghwa’s side. He can feel the shape of his ribs, the way they move with each breath. Yeosang is hyperaware of his own heartbeat.

“Your housemate is a lot nicer than you made him out to be,” Seonghwa says.

“You think that now but just you wait.”

“What are you whispering about?” Wooyoung cuts in. “Please share with the class.”

“Nothing,” Yeosang says.

Wooyoung narrows his eyes at him and then looks at Seonghwa. “Don’t be fooled by his cute face.”

At this, Seonghwa laughs. Yeosang feels it more than he hears it. “Oh, I think it’s too late.”

 

“You should hang out more with us,” San says when the movie is over and all the pizza has been eaten. Seonghwa has already gotten up to put on his shoes.

“No, thanks,” Yeosang says at the same time as Seonghwa says, “Yeah, sure.”

Wooyoung laughs. “See you around, dude.” He turns to Yeosang. “By the way, San is staying the night. Just. To warn you.”

Yeosang gapes at his shamelessness. Seonghwa clears his throat in the background. “Why can’t you guys ever stay at his place?”

San shrugs. “My roommate is a lot scarier than you.”

Yeosang is at a loss for words and startles a little when he feels Seonghwa’s hand on his shoulder.

“You can crash at my place if you want,” he offers.

Yeosang looks at him. Seonghwa seems to mean it and Yeosang hesitates for a moment. This means Seonghwa’s going to see his morning face, which definitely isn’t his most attractive look, but he really doesn’t want to spend yet another night blasting music through his headphone so he doesn’t have to listen to Wooyoung and San. “Can I?”

Seonghwa laughs. “Of course. Just grab your toothbrush or something.”

“Heaven sent you,” Yeosang says and then bolts for his room to collect some stuff.

Wooyoung follows him, leaning in the doorframe to make a smug face at Yeosang. “You should thank me. I basically did you a favour.”

Yeosang pauses his search for a suitable shirt to sleep in to glare at Wooyoung. “Die.”

“Okay, but first explain why you two look like high schoolers crushing on each other. I mean, you tried to teach him how to skate? What is this, eighth grade?” Wooyoung asks. “And second of all, you didn’t take any of my condoms, did you? That’s my secret emergency stash.”

Yeosang groans. “Don’t worry, no one wants your damn condoms.”

“No, I mean, better be safe than sorry but please let me know, so –“

“Wooyoung! Shut up!”

“You can’t tell me you don’t find him hot.” Wooyoung wiggles his eyebrows and Yeosang desperately suppresses the urge to strangle him. San will be mad, he reasons with himself. You can’t pay rent alone. Also, you’ll be framed for murder and ruin all your career chances.

“If you don’t shut up I’m going to tell San about that time you wrote a love letter to Yeri but you misspelled her name and instead of –”

“OKAY, okay, shut up, I’m going,” Wooyoung interrupts, face turning an exceptional beet-red, and raises his hands. “Geez, please relax.”

Yeosang laughs and watches Wooyoung back into the hallway.

“You owe me,” he calls after him for good measure and Wooyoung groans.

 

About twenty minutes later, Yeosang is standing in Seonghwa’s apartment, threadbare backpack slung over his shoulder. It looks exactly the same as the last time Yeosang’s been here but Seonghwa’s scratching his neck and looking around as if there’s something terribly out of place.

“You can sleep on the couch or share with me, I guess,” Seonghwa says.

Yeosang chances a look at him. He can’t tell whether Seonghwa wants him to share with him or if he’s just offering out of politeness. “You trying to get me into your bed?”

He doesn’t know where that came from but it’s worth it, seeing the way Seonghwa flushes immediately. “I –”

Yeosang laughs at him and Seonghwa makes a half-heartedly disapproving face. “I don’t care. Whatever’s easier.”

“I changed my mind, I’m making you sleep on the floor,” Seonghwa says dejectedly but when Yeosang catches his eye, he’s smiling. “Come on, I’ll show you the bathroom.”

 

When Yeosang comes out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth and changing, the couch has been transformed into a makeshift bed. The sheets are blue and soft under Yeosang’s fingertips but his heart sinks a little. Then he realises Seonghwa’s watching him through the open bedroom door.

Seonghwa has already changed into his PJs (actual pyjamas like those people wear in movies), lying on top of the covers of his enormous bed with the book Yeosang bought him. Yeosang can see he’s about halfway through.

“Are you enjoying that novel?” Yeosang asks, leaning in the doorframe.

Seonghwa scoots over to make space for Yeosang, even though there are already about three acres. Honestly, what does Seonghwa need such a big bed for? Yeosang isn’t sure he wants to know, actually. “It’s so good. Like, the author is so creative with the world building, it’s nuts. I always tell myself to only read a little bit since I have so much to do, but it just sucks me in and I forget about everything else around me when I’m reading it.”

“You’re really enthusiastic about books, huh?” Yeosang asks, relaxing against the pillows. Everything here smells like Seonghwa, even the collection of Toothless plushies that are scattered everywhere. Yeosang takes the biggest one and hugs it to his chest.

“Well. Yeah. It’s like…” Seonghwa bites his bottom lip in thought. “Like you with your drones. It’s just fun. A distraction from everything else.”

“Yeah, I get it. It’s nice.”

Seonghwa puts a bookmark between the pages and closes the book, giving Yeosang his full attention. “Have you read the book I got you?”

Yeosang nods. He read it in one sitting the day after they went to the bookstore, devouring it in a few hours. He’d been tempted to text Seonghwa about it but then talked himself out of it. “It was actually really interesting.”

Seonghwa grins. “I actually already knew I’d get you this book when I proposed the idea. I read it a while ago and you reminded me of it somehow, so…”

Yeosang stares at him, heart fluttering weirdly. It’s so unexpectedly sweet and Seonghwa won’t look at him now, as if he said too much, or as if he’s embarrassed by that confession. Yeosang doesn’t quite know what to say.

“That’s… cute,” he finally says lamely.

Seonghwa scratches his ear and glances at him. “I’m glad you liked it.”

It’s quiet for a moment. Yeosang is suddenly painfully aware of the distance between them, both big and small at once. An entire third person could lie comfortably between them but it’s still just one bed, Park Seonghwa’s bed, and it makes something prickle under Yeosang’s skin. It would be the perfect opportunity to finish what Seonghwa started earlier but Yeosang can’t bring himself to be that forward. Maybe Seonghwa changed his mind. Maybe it was never his plan to kiss Yeosang in the first place. Maybe Yeosang keeps misreading the situation.

“It’s late,” Seonghwa says. “Maybe we should sleep.”

“Alright.” Yeosang sighs and collects the motivation to heave himself out of Seonghwa’s bed when he feels a hand on his elbow.

Seonghwa’s looking at him. He seems tired but relaxed and Yeosang is a little proud of how comfortable Seonghwa appears to be around him. “You can just stay. This bed’s huge.”

There are so many questions pressing against the roof of his mouth but Yeosang doesn’t ask any of them. “Okay.”

There’s some shuffling around when both of them get under the covers. Yeosang has slept over at other people’s places a fair amount of times but it feels so different like this. Seonghwa switches off the light, wishes Yeosang a good night and then it’s just the sound of his breathing, the occasional rustle of the sheets when he adjusts, the overwhelming fact of his presence.

The bed is big enough that Yeosang barely even feels Seonghwa’s body. A part of him is sad about it, wonders what it would be like to sleep close to Seonghwa, pressed against his back, but Yeosang squeezes his eyes shut and wills these thoughts away. It takes him a long while but he falls asleep eventually.

 

Waking up at someone else’s place isn’t the serene, peaceful moment media makes it out to be. It’s more along the lines of oh this bed is so nice, followed immediately by what the fuck this isn’t my bed and then it’s SEONGHWA’S.

Yeosang startles up.

“Good morning,” Seonghwa says. Sure enough, he’s sitting next to Yeosang, propped against the headboard with his book and yet another dragon plushie tucked under his arm. His hair is messy, falling a little over his eyes, and he’s wearing sweats and a hoodie. He looks so devastatingly good like this that for a moment Yeosang thinks he’s still asleep. “Did you sleep well?”

Yeosang rubs his face and blinks, making a noise to signify that yes, he did. His hair is probably a mess but Seonghwa just keeps looking at him with a neutral expression on his face. Something about it seems constructed, though.

“Do you want coffee?”

“Sure.”

Seonghwa nods and gets up. Yeosang checks his phone – it’s way past eleven – and then escapes to the bathroom.

When Yeosang emerges again, looking slightly more presentable, Seonghwa is sitting at the small table in the kitchenette. Yeosang joins him and thanks him for coffee.

“I would’ve made an omelette or something but I’m out of eggs,” Seonghwa says. “But I have cereal?”

Yeosang waves him off. “Don’t worry. I should head back soon anyway.”

“Leaving me already?” Seonghwa tips his head to the side.

“Unless you want to do my environmental chem coursework for me…”

Seonghwa laughs. “No thanks. I should probably do the reading for Monday, too.”

“Maybe we should study together some time,” Yeosang suggests.

“Sure.”

They chat a bit more and Yeosang leaves with the promise of hanging out with him again on Wednesday. He’s a little disappointed that nothing happened but he tells himself that he should stop expecting things from Seonghwa.

It wouldn’t be the first time that someone just wants to be friends with Yeosang, even if they used to want more when they first saw him.

 

 

At nine thirty on Monday morning, Yeosang is standing in the laboratory, pushing his safety goggles up his nose, and wonders, like every Monday, how he ever managed to get up for school. Nine am feels cruel, especially right after the weekend and he has to force himself to pay attention to what his hands are doing.

“Wooyoung told me you’re seeing someone,” Jongho says casually, adjusting the flame of the Bunsen burner.

Yeosang almost drops his solution. It’s too early for this. “What? I’m not.”

Despite being a year younger, Jongho is probably the most reasonable and most normal out of all of Yeosang’s friends. He’s Yeosang’s lab partner, which is how they met, and usually their subjects of conversation revolve around chemistry or the MCU.

Jongho glances at him and then takes the lab flask off of him, holding it over the flame with a pair of metal tongs. “Wooyoung says you slept over at this guy’s place and then refused to tell Wooyoung anything.”

“Because there was nothing to tell,” Yeosang defends himself. “When will you stop believing everything he says?”

“I don’t. But I believe in your reaction.”

Yeosang frowns harder. “Well, nothing happened.”

“And you’re sad about it.”

“I wouldn’t call it sad.”

“But you would call it something.”

Yeosang glares at him. “Why do you care anyways?”

Jongho shrugs. The solution is starting to froth and Yeosang marks it accordingly in their report along with the time. “It’s just that you haven’t liked anyone in a while.”

Yeosang doesn’t know what to reply to that. He doesn’t have to, since the experiment requires their full attention now. They busy themselves with mixing the solution with several others, accessing and taking note of the reactions. Yeosang likes this part of his studies the most.

“I hope he likes you, too,” Jongho says eventually.

So do I, Yeosang thinks but he doesn’t say anything.

 

 

Yeosang doesn’t expect Seonghwa to integrate himself that irreversibly into his life.

But it happens. Seonghwa is calm most of the time, doesn’t try to talk Yeosang into doing stuff he doesn’t like and is generally just so nice to be around that they hang out all the time now. Sometimes they’re joined by Seonghwa’s friends, too, sometimes with Yeosang’s, but mostly it’s the two of them. It doesn’t even matter what they do; it’s always fun to hang out with Seonghwa. Even when they just silently sit in the library to study. Even when Wooyoung and San are being annoying. Even when it makes Yeosang’s heart ache.

Yeosang would describe them as very good friends if it wasn’t for the strange, fragile flutter in his chest that betrays him whenever Seonghwa laughs and the tense undercurrent that sometimes stretches between them, charged like static air right before a thunderstorm. Yeosang knows one day it’s going to blow up in his face, possibly destructive in ways that will be difficult to recover and even more impossible to protect himself from. He wouldn’t call himself prepared, just warned.

Yeosang doesn’t tell anyone about it. Wooyoung would make fun of him even more, San is out of the question, Jongho wouldn’t have any advice to offer anyway, and that’s all the close friends Yeosang has.

Not that Yeosang needs advice anyway. It’s not an issue, at least for now when everything is still perfectly fine. He definitely doesn’t spend every waking minute of the day thinking about Seonghwa’s stupidly soft skin or the way he’s just a little bit cross-eyed, somehow turning him into the most adorable human being Yeosang has ever seen –

“Yeosang?”

Yeosang startles out of his thoughts. The noises of the university canteen come back all at once and Wooyoung is looking at him expectantly while San is giving him an amused smirk. “Huh?”

“Where the fuck did you go?” Wooyoung asks. “I was asking if you wanted to come to that new cocktail bar with us tonight. San wants to try it.”

Yeosang gives him a confused look in return. “And watch you suck face right next to me? No thanks.”

“First of all, we won’t,” San says. His dimpled smile is so innocent that Yeosang would believe him if he didn’t already know better. “Second of all, drinks are thirty per cent off today. And third, bring Seonghwa?”

Yeosang considers that. It might actually be fun that way and despite all the time they spend together, he hasn’t really seen what Seonghwa’s like when he’s drunk.

“Just ask him!” Wooyoung presses. “I feel like I never see you anymore, dude.”

“That’s not my fault,” Yeosang gives back but he takes out his phone to text Seonghwa anyway.

 

Seonghwa agrees to meet them at the bar. Yeosang isn’t sure if he’s happy about it until Seonghwa shows up at the front entrance where they’re waiting, dressed in a dark red button-down and a black choker. The dim light catches on one of his dangly silver earrings and then on his brilliant teeth. There’s something intense about him tonight. Something seductive.

“Oh,” Yeosang says instead of hello. “You… are you trying to look good for anyone tonight?”

Seonghwa smiles. “Why, am I succeeding?”

Wooyoung clears his throat and pushes both of them forward. “No flirting until we get our drinks.”

Yeosang wilfully ignores him and the burn in his cheeks.

The cocktail bar is pretty in a way that only artificial things can be, filled with neon lights and giggly clusters of girls holding colourful drinks. Barkeepers are laughing at each other like working here is a fun pastime and pop music is playing from the speakers overhead, vibrating in Yeosang’s sternum. A short waitress leads them to a table at the back and Yeosang presses his hands flat against the cool glass when he sits down. It always takes him a moment to get used to places like this where everything is made of noise and colour.

“You alright?” Seonghwa asks quietly, sliding into the seat next to him.

Fuck, he really does look good. He’s swept his hair away from his forehead and he looks sharper like this, less cute and more dangerous, and Yeosang isn’t even drunk yet. Maybe this was a mistake. Yeosang doesn’t know if he can hide the way he looks at Seonghwa anymore.

“Yeah,” he replies anyway. “What are you going to order?”

Seonghwa’s gaze lingers a little too long on him. “Something sweet.”

Yeosang gets himself a cocktail with lime and peppermint. He lets the others try it, laughs when Seonghwa pulls a face at the bitterness, and then nearly chokes when San makes him try his.

It’s fun.

Yeosang feels comfortable sitting between his friends and Wooyoung and San bicker like an old married couple before they team up to roast Seonghwa. Somehow Yeosang ends up embarrassing himself by doing a terrible two-line poem and Seonghwa lets him hide his face in his shoulder, gently petting his head while laughing at him.

Yeosang isn’t sure when the atmosphere changes. Maybe it’s when Wooyoung and San start making bedroom eyes at each other, leaving Seonghwa and Yeosang to entertain themselves. Maybe it’s when Seonghwa reaches out and runs his thumb over Yeosang’s bottom lip, telling him there was a piece of basil stuck there.

One moment they’re all laughing and the next it’s just him and Seonghwa in a silent vacuum, a place lacking of time and space and common sense. Purple light flickers across Seonghwa’s face, surreal, dream-like, and all Yeosang wants to do is look at him.  

It’s probably the alcohol but Yeosang doesn’t even try to keep himself away from Seonghwa anymore. It’s easier to push back against him like this, when his mind is a single lane leading only to one goal, and Seonghwa doesn’t detach himself, either. He smells so much like boy and Yeosang can’t remember the last time he’s been this close to someone, has wanted to be that close. Yeosang aches for it, to touch and feel and still be closer, and Seonghwa’s looking at him like he feels the same way but none of them does anything about it. In the booth opposite of them, San is sitting on Wooyoung’s lap, kissing the daylights out of him.

They order another round of drinks. It’s too much and Yeosang will regret this tomorrow but he’s drunk and happy and tomorrow seems so far away. Seonghwa has his hand on Yeosang’s thigh now and it’s all Yeosang can focus on – the slight pressure of his fingertips, the heat of having his hand there, the way Seonghwa keeps glancing at him with a flush so high on his cheeks.

“Can I try this?” Seonghwa asks, pointing at Yeosang’s drink and Yeosang pushes it over to him.

Seonghwa holds Yeosang’s gaze when he puts the straw between his lips and sucks, making a pleased humming noise. Yeosang watches the way his throat moves when he swallows.

Seonghwa glances up at Yeosang, eyes dark and hungry for something else, and his tongue flicks over his bottom lip. “It’s sweet.”

That’s it. Yeosang’s going to hell.

“We’re gonna head home now to play board games,” San says. Yeosang almost forgot he’s here, too, and it takes too much energy to look away from Seonghwa, so he doesn’t. “I’d ask you to come but honestly… I think we should leave you two alone.”

Yeosang, hanging on to Seonghwa’s shoulder, looks up. He wonders what exactly San means with that but before he can decipher that weird expression on his face, Seonghwa is already nodding.

Wooyoung and San pay and leave, sending Yeosang some more meaningful glances he doesn’t understand. Not that it matters. Everything is warm and he sips the rest of his drink before leaning heavily against Seonghwa.

“Do you want to stay here or...?” Seonghwa asks and tips his head to the side. Yeosang traces his jawline with his eyes and wonders what it would feel like to drag his teeth along the bone. “D’you wanna come to my place?”

Even drunk, even messed up like this, Yeosang knows what he’s suggesting. The heat of it and the validation, the yes, he wants me, too, goes straight into his blood and he grips Seonghwa’s knee under the table when he leans in. “Let’s get out of here.”

 

Damn, Yeosang’s drunk. They’re both drunk, giggling and stumbling into Seonghwa’s immaculate apartment. Somehow Seonghwa still makes Yeosang take his shoes off by the door and then Yeosang is chasing Seonghwa into the living room and then they’re tumbling onto the couch, right on top of each other, just like that. Rib to rib, one of Seonghwa’s thighs slotted between Yeosang’s legs.

Seonghwa’s face is really close now. Yeosang could count his eyelashes if he wanted to. Could see the slight blemishes on his skin if he focused enough.

He could kiss him. If he wanted to.

Yeosang wants to.

Seonghwa’s looking at him with hooded eyes, like he’s waiting for something to happen. Yeosang should probably push himself up before he does something really stupid but he’s transfixed by the building tension in the air. Seonghwa’s exhale is shaky and Yeosang can feel it against his skin, hot and needy. He wants to feel this breath right against his throat. In his mouth. Everywhere.

“Do you want to kiss me?” Seonghwa whispers, already staring at Yeosang’s lips, hungry and waiting and Yeosang doesn’t even answer, just surges forward.

The kiss is filthy, more teeth and tongue than anything else, and Yeosang can taste vodka in it. It’s not what he imagined their first kiss to be like but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care. It’s been so long since he’s been this physically close to someone and he isn’t going to stop now, not when it feels so good when Seonghwa pushes Yeosang’s shirt up to trace his sides with his hands.

Yeosang doesn’t know how long they make out like this. Too long maybe; his mouth feels swollen, his face hot, body burning where Seonghwa touches him. Seonghwa arches up against him, lips trailing over his throat and nipping lightly at the sensitive skin before he pulls back.

“Do you want to –”

“Yeah,” Yeosang pants, not even thinking about it. This is right now. There’s no past and no future and no consequences – they’re drunk and impatient and nothing else matters right now aside from the way Seonghwa’s canting his hips up, already hard against Yeosang’s thigh. Yeosang’s entire body is singing with it. He wants me he wants me.

“Bedroom,” Seonghwa breathes out and Yeosang manages to push himself up. Seonghwa’s hands are on him as soon as he stands, pulling off the shirt, his jeans, everything else as they stumble through the apartment and end up on Seonghwa’s bed.

Seonghwa turns gentle then. Yeosang shouldn’t be surprised but he is when everything about how they got here was so hurried and so blurred and so desperate.

The desperation is still there, though. Yeosang can feel it, like a flame burning low in his belly, right underneath the skin, impatient to grow into a wildfire. Seonghwa’s taking his sweet time touching Yeosang but never where he needs it most and in the end it’s Yeosang who presses him down and grinds against him just to get something. It’s worth the noise Seonghwa makes, something helpless and uncontrolled.

“Come on,” Yeosang says, right against the shell of his ear, and Seonghwa makes another noise. “Hurry up already.”

“You’re so beautiful, Yeosang.” Seonghwa looks at him as if he’s a miracle and then leans up to kiss him, slow and sweet this time.

It feels a little bit like falling in love. Yeosang almost tells Seonghwa that he likes him, right there and then. He could say it now, made brave by alcohol and endorphins. He could say, hey, Seonghwa, I like you, just like that.

But he doesn’t. He kisses Seonghwa back instead, bites his bottom lip to pull another sound out of him, and Seonghwa rolls them over to push him into the mattress.

“Have you been thinking about this?” Seonghwa asks between pressing kisses to Yeosang’s neck and Yeosang finds himself nodding. Seonghwa could ask anything of him now. Yeosang doesn’t think there’s anything he would refuse.

“Me, too,” Seonghwa says, fingers pressing against his hipbone, moulding themselves into the skin. Yeosang hopes he’ll leave marks. Something to remember. “Me, too.”

 

Yeosang wakes up naked, a headache pressing against his temples, on the left side of a bed that isn’t his.

For a second he doesn’t remember anything and then, just as sudden, the memories come crashing back all at once like a derailed train. Seonghwa’s lips on the insides of his thighs. Seonghwa taking Yeosang’s fingers into his mouth. Seonghwa, eyes smouldering but still so full of unprotected tenderness that Yeosang couldn’t look away.

Seonghwa.

Yeosang twists to look at who’s lying next to him and of course he knows it’s Seonghwa, who else would it be, but the shock of seeing him there, still asleep and his hair a mess, nearly catapults Yeosang out of the sheets.

Fuck.

This shouldn’t have happened. They were friends – even though Yeosang has always wanted them to be more, they were friends; they weren’t supposed to end up here, like a one night stand, like… whatever it is now.

Yeosang stares at Seonghwa, half wishing he’d wake up and pull him back to bed. But he doesn’t. He’s out like a light and doesn’t even stir when Yeosang scrambles for his clothes and slips into them quickly, ignoring the red blotches on his inner thighs and the ache in his chest.

He looks at Seonghwa one more time. He’s sleeping so soundly. There’s a faint purple mark on his jaw and Yeosang remembers exactly what it felt like to kiss him there. Yeosang wants to reach over and brush the hair away from his face so he can see how Seonghwa’s eyelashes fan out over his cheekbones. He wants to lean down and kiss him awake. He wants Seonghwa to tell him he can stay and that this wasn’t a mistake that will cost them what they had.

Maybe he should’ve told Seonghwa yesterday, that he likes him. He had the courage back then.

Yeosang takes a step back. Maybe this is how they would’ve ended up anyway, in a bed for one or two nights, and then turned back into strangers. Maybe it’s what Seonghwa has always wanted. There had always been this tension, this are we friends or something more that Yeosang could never find an answer to.

Have you been thinking about this? Me too…

Maybe this is the answer. Yeosang still isn’t sure what that means for them but he can’t stay any longer; he can’t stand the shame and the regret, except there’s a piece of him that doesn’t regret it.

He doesn’t think he could look Seonghwa in the eyes if he woke up now. Doesn’t know what he would say, if he could say anything at all. Just thinking about it hurts, like phantom pain. A breakup before they even got together. A reverse car crash. This is damage control.

Yeosang’s breath catches in his chest, again and again.

So he leaves. Seonghwa’s oven clock tells him it’s quarter past twelve on the way out and Yeosang feels like his head is about to explode when he squints against the brutal sunlight but he manages to find the bus home anyway.

 

The apartment is quiet when Yeosang comes in, so he figures Wooyoung and San are still asleep. There’s an abandoned Squabble board on the coffee table, letters scattered all over the place aside from one big ‘I love you’ in the middle, and Yeosang drops himself onto the couch. His body is screaming at him for water and a thorough shower but he doesn’t have the energy to get up again.

That’s how San finds him, curled up on the couch, about an hour later. Wooyoung wordlessly hands him a glass of water, looking pretty dead himself, and Yeosang takes it gratefully.

“I take it you stayed over at Seonghwa’s place,” San says, wiggling his eyebrows.

The mere thought burns in Yeosang’s stomach like acid. He nods.

Wooyoung inches closer. “And… did you sleep with him?”

Yeosang flushes in response and Wooyoung lets out an inhuman screech that makes Yeosang’s ears ring. He shakes Yeosang by the shoulders like a maniac, saying things like, “how was it, I always knew you had it in you, was it good, I’m proud of you”, each word an individual needle, while all Yeosang can think about is the unknowing tranquillity on Seonghwa’s face when he left.

“What’s wrong?” San asks and Wooyoung finally lets up.

“Nothing, I –” Yeosang swallows and stares at his hands. It feels like there isn’t a place on his body that Seonghwa hasn’t seen or touched and it’s going to take forever until Yeosang has washed him all off. “I shouldn’t have.”

“Huh?! I thought you liked him,” Wooyoung asks.

“That’s the problem,” Yeosang replies. His voice is so small, he can barely even hear himself. “We were friends, we shouldn’t have – it’s just. He doesn’t know I like him like that.”

Wooyoung and San stare at him.

“Hold on. What did you say when you woke up?” San looks at him carefully. “You did talk to him this morning, right?”

Yeosang shakes his head.

Wooyoung groans. “Oh my God.”

“We were so drunk yesterday,” Yeosang explains, feeling unreasonably close to tears. “It wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been that drunk.”

“Oh, come on, Yeosang. Alcohol just takes your inhibitions down, he wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t wanted it.”

“It still doesn’t mean he likes me.”

“Then why did you leave?”

“It would’ve been too awkward.”

Wooyoung’s eyes roll back so far that Yeosang’s honestly concerned about his health for a second. “And now it’s not awkward?! Sangie, that boy likes you. I bet he’s liked you for ages.”

“If he does then why didn’t he tell me?”

“Same reason as why you don’t!” San takes a breath. “Feelings are hard, man. But sometimes you just have to be honest.”

“Well, I guess I missed that chance.” Yeosang gets up, body numb. “Now excuse me, I will play video games for the rest of the day, or possibly forever.”

 

Wooyoung pokes his head into Yeosang’s room later that day and joins Yeosang where he’s been lying on his bed for the past hour, staring at his ceiling and sinking into his regrets.

“What’s up?” he asks, shuffling closer to Yeosang until he can throw his arm across his middle. “Did he text?”

Yeosang shakes his head.

“Did you text?”

He shakes his head again. “What would I even say?”

“Just say hi and see what happens.”

“He hates me now.”

“You can’t know that. Maybe he thinks you hate him, I mean, you just left. This is why communicating is important, see?”

Yeosang squints at his ceiling. There’s a weird grey spot next to the lamp and Yeosang can’t figure out what happened there.

“Yeosang,” Wooyoung says and props himself up on his elbow to look at him. “How much do you like him?”

“A lot,” Yeosang says. He thinks about how warm Seonghwa is. How he likes to take care of the people around him without considering himself. How he smiles at everything Yeosang says, even when it isn’t that funny.

It isn’t difficult to like Seonghwa at all.

“Oh my God,” Wooyoung says, baffled. “You love him.”

“What? Don’t say that,” Yeosang replies. “I haven’t known him for that long.”

“I was in love with San after like, five minutes.”

“Yeah, but you’re you.”

“I know it’s scary. But I’m willing to bet all my possessions that he likes you just as much.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Yeah, but I can use my deduction skills.” Wooyoung taps his finger against his temple when Yeosang scoffs at him. “He has indulged your obsessions with chicken, skateboarding and drones, hasn’t ever complained about you being quiet as far as I know, and whenever I see you two together he’s making sure you’re comfortable and generally has the biggest heart eyes for you. Those are the facts. You can’t tell me you think everything he did was platonic.”

Yeosang has to think of the strange tension that had always been between them. “Well, no, but what if he just wanted – maybe he didn’t want me. You know? Maybe this was all he wanted and honestly, I don’t think he would like s-someone like me. I wouldn’t even blame him –”

“Listen up, motherfucker,” Wooyoung says, squishing Yeosang’s cheeks with both of his hands. “You’re the most adorable being the world has ever seen, alright? You may look cold at first but you’re so fucking precious sometimes I wonder how I can even stand being friends with you. What comes out of your mouth might be a little questionable but what matters most is that you deserve to be happy. You deserve to ask for what you want and you deserve to get it. Seonghwa already knows so much awkward shit about you and hasn’t run away, so for the love of everything that is holy, don’t let this slip away. You deserve to be loved, Yeosang. Like everybody else.”

Yeosang slants a look at him, blinking rapidly. “Are you trying to make me cry?”

“I’m trying to talk some sense into you!” Wooyoung sighs and hugs him closer to his chest. “Why did you leave?”

“I was scared,” Yeosang says quietly. It’s difficult to speak with so much regret throttling him. “You know I don’t usually… do this.”

“This is just a big misunderstanding if you ask me,” Wooyoung says, petting Yeosang’s hair. “Just, think about texting him? There’s nothing else to lose.”

When Yeosang nods Wooyoung lets go of him and sits up. “Come on, let’s go order some chicken. I’m starving.”

 

 

Yeosang thinks about it for five days. There are no texts or calls from Seonghwa, just radio silence. Yeosang drags himself through coursework, a job interview, a presentation, and then sleeps whenever he can. Somehow his mind still finds the capacity to think about Seonghwa all of the time, like an infinity loop made of memories and imaginary scenarios.

Yeosang misses him. It’s a tactile feeling, echoing in the cavity of his chest at night when it’s quiet enough to hear his own heartbeat. He thinks he’d rather have Seonghwa as a friend than not have him in his life at all but it’s too late for that and Yeosang doesn’t know how long it might take for him to accept this as an indisputable fact.

It’s only been five days since he’s last seen him but it feels like much longer and that’s what ultimately makes the decision for him. Wooyoung is right – there’s nothing left to lose when the worst has already happened.

Yeosang is lying in his bed, staring at the ceiling the way he does every night now before he falls asleep. It’s two am or something and he doesn’t think Seonghwa’s awake right now. Somehow it makes texting feel safer. Like it expands the time period in which things could be okay, until Seonghwa wakes up and sees the message and decides what to do. Schrödinger’s box.

Yeosang types, deletes and rewrites his message draft for at least half an hour. His eyes burn from fatigue and longing and then, in the end this is all he sends.

 

To: Seonghwa ^^

hey

 

Yeosang locks his phone, puts it away and closes his eyes. Tomorrow he’ll wake up to either more radio silence or an answer and he can’t tell which option terrifies him more. Maybe he should’ve said sorry. Should have explained himself more.

Yeosang opens his eyes and grabs his phone again just to see the display light up with a notification. His heart jumps into his throat so fast he nearly chokes on it.

 

From: Seonghwa ^^

Hi
Listen
Do you wanna meet up somewhere to talk tomorrow?
Please

 

Shit. Fuck. Yeosang’s exhale is shaky. But this is what he wanted, right? A chance to tell Seonghwa the truth, like he deserved from the very beginning.

 

To: Seonghwa ^^

how about the shitty coffee shop

 

From: Seonghwa ^^

When?

 

To: Seonghwa ^^

asap?

 

From: Seonghwa ^^

Ten am?

 

So that means they’re both going to skip uni.

 

To: Seonghwa ^^

yeah alright

 

From: Seonghwa ^^

See you tomorrow then
goodnight Yeosang

 

Yeosang throws his phone away. He feels at once like he’s never going to sleep again and like he could sleep forever.

Tomorrow. He’s going to confess tomorrow.

 

 

Yeosang is an hour early. Everything feels a little unreal, a little fuzzy around the edges the way it does when he hasn’t gotten enough sleep, but every time someone passes by the broken glass door of the coffee shop another rush of adrenaline shoots through him. And then, when it’s finally Seonghwa who pushes the door open, it still takes Yeosang a moment too long to realise it.

Seonghwa is wearing a thick oversized hoodie and sweats and he looks like he hasn’t slept, either. There are dark shadows under his eyes and his hair is messy, posture defeated. It’s the most run-down Yeosang has ever seen him and he wants to jump up and hug him but he knows that’s out of line. Maybe he’ll never get to hug Seonghwa again. He didn’t appreciate it enough when he still could.

“Hey,” Seonghwa says. The chair scrapes loudly on the floor when he pulls it back and they both flinch.

“Are you okay?” Yeosang asks. “You seem a bit…”

Seonghwa shrugs. “No. Yes? I don’t know. How are you?”

They look at each other, briefly making eye contact before looking away again.

“Could be better,” Yeosang says.

Silence. A waitress comes over and takes their orders, then leaves them to clutter around behind the counter. This shop really is shitty, Yeosang thinks, considering the cracked tiles and cobwebs in the corners. But it’s weirdly familiar, too, and it comforts him somehow.

Seonghwa is pulling at a loose thread on his sleeve now. Yeosang is sure he must be out of his mind since the Seonghwa he knows would never ruin his clothes like that. He should probably say something now. His throat feels full, like all the words he has to say are clogging up his windpipe, reluctant to get out and be heard.

He should just say it. He doesn’t have anything else to lose, really, aside from the rest of his dignity. It didn’t seem like such a difficult thing to say out loud, back in Seonghwa’s perfect apartment, when he was so close to him –

“Do you regret it?” Yeosang asks instead. “That we – uh. You know.”

Seonghwa stops fiddling with his sleeve but he doesn’t look up. “No. I just regret that we were drunk.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“What about you?”

“Same.”

“Okay.”

Silence again. They get their orders and Yeosang burns his tongue on his coffee, too eager to drink just to have his hands occupied. Seonghwa keeps stirring his own, metal spoon quietly clinking against the cup every now and then.

“I’m sorry if I’ve been reading this wrong,” Seonghwa says and puts his spoon down.

“What do you mean, exactly?” Yeosang asks. “Because maybe – maybe I’ve been reading it wrong, too.”

This is the part where Seonghwa is going to tell him that they can stay friends. And Yeosang is going to say yes, sure, but in the end, it won’t be the same. And then he’ll lose Seonghwa, slowly, painfully, like a fading memory he tries too hard to remember.

“Actually, I asked you to meet up, so I could tell you personally because I think that’s the decent thing to do,” Seonghwa says and takes a deep breath. “But now that you’re here it’s really hard to say. I’m going to say it anyway because honestly, Yeosang, I really like you. I really, really like you and I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you before, uh, stuff happened because you deserve better, you deserve everything good in this world and even more, but I… I was just scared, I guess. I like you so much. So if you don’t want anything to do with me anymore, then I understand that. I just thought you should know. I’m sorry if you feel like I exploited you, that really wasn’t my intention, I just. I fucked up, I guess. I should’ve told you before we – before.”

Yeosang stares at him. His hands are shaking but maybe he’s shaking everywhere, it’s kind of hard to tell right now, when everything feels surreal and strange and little bit off kilter. Seonghwa isn’t looking at him anymore, instead chews on the inside of his cheek and studies the table top, and Yeosang’s insides feel like they’ve turned into liquid light.  

“I really like you, too,” Yeosang replies. It spreads through his whole body, warm, like honey in the sun. He likes him. Seonghwa said he likes him.

“What?” Seonghwa asks, appearing completely overrun. He looks disbelieving, like he’s being presented with facts he can’t comprehend as true. Yeosang feels the same.

“I like you,” Yeosang repeats, a little bit of exhilaration slipping into his voice. He can barely hear himself over the thrashing of his heart. “And I thought you didn’t, not like that, so I figured I ruined our friendship and I’m sorry for running away. I should’ve told you the truth but I guess I fucked up, too.”

“Oh. Oh my God.” Seonghwa smiles and rubs a hand over his face before turning serious again. “What do you mean you thought I didn’t like you?”

“I just. I thought we were just friends?”

Seonghwa looks like he’s deciding if he should bang his head against the wall or throttle Yeosang. “Yeosang, what did you think all these dates were about? All of the times I tried to – I just. Oh my God. I thought I was so obvious. Why would I want to kiss you if we were just friends?”

“Oh, so they were dates,” Yeosang marvels quietly and Seonghwa groans. “I’m sorry, I just, I couldn’t tell if we were just hanging out or if you wanted us to be more and I don’t know, it was confusing. I’m used to people wanting me for my appearance. I’m not used to people wanting me for me.”

“Yeosang, it’s impossible not to like you. This is – oh well. I tried really hard but things just kept… progressing like that and I thought you wanted to be friends first, so I stopped being super forward because I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable and then –” Seonghwa laughs breathlessly. “Doesn’t matter now. You really like me?”

“So much,” Yeosang says.

Seonghwa doesn’t hold back his smile anymore. It’s a breathless, destructive thing, that smile, in the same way a natural forest fire is destructive, making way for new growth. “Why did we choose a public place to talk? I really want to kiss you now.”

Now Yeosang’s grinning, too, even though he tries not to. He doesn’t think he’ll stop any time soon. Or ever again. Not as long as Seonghwa is looking at him like this, like he’s the only colour he can see in a world of black and white. “I happen to have the key to the apartment across the street.”

Seonghwa gets up and reaches for Yeosang’s hand. “Let’s go then.”

 

They barely make it into Yeosang’s apartment, Seonghwa’s fingers firmly intertwined with Yeosang’s, before they’re kissing. It’s so different this time – maybe because last time they were drunk and desperate, because they were both lying about their feelings, because there was so much none of them was ready to say.

This time it’s honest. It’s sweet. It’s what their first kiss should have been like, even though, Yeosang thinks, maybe it’s better this way.

Yeosang pushes Seonghwa in the direction of the couch and they have to part to get comfortable but then Seonghwa’s kissing him again, one hand on Yeosang’s jaw and the other on the small of his back. He’s so warm, so gentle, and Yeosang doesn’t care if Wooyoung is going to find them like this or that Jongho will be mad at him for skipping lab today or whatever else could happen. He’s not going to let this moment end. Not yet. This is what happiness feels like. This is what it’s like to be loved.

Seonghwa pulls away a little to catch his breath. “You’re so beautiful, Yeosang. I can’t believe you thought I wouldn’t like you. You’re so – sometimes it’s difficult to even look at you but at the same time, it’s all I want to do.”

Yeosang refuses to get shy. He’s not completely successful, so he just leans into Seonghwa’s palm and lets him run his thumb over Yeosang’s bottom lip. “Says you.”

“Yeah. Says I.”

Yeosang smiles and kisses him again.

 

(Wooyoung walks in on them an hour later. They’re not even doing anything incriminating but Wooyoung screams like a banshee anyway, calling a rumpled-looking San into the room. A side of Yeosang wants to complain about how San basically lives here but he feels like he’s going to spend a lot more time at Seonghwa’s apartment in the foreseeable future anyway.

“Was about time,” San says easily, grabbing an apple from the kitchen and then sitting down next to Seonghwa. He’s never had any regard for personal space. “Does that mean we can go on actual double dates now?”

Seonghwa grins. He sits up a little but doesn’t push Yeosang’s legs off his lap, instead resting his hands on top of Yeosang’s thighs. “Sure.”

Across the room, Yeosang meets Wooyoung’s eyes. He was watching them carefully but now Wooyoung flashes him a smile and gives an excited thumbs-up. Glad you’re happy, it seems to say. Yeosang just grins back.)

                           

 

They’re back where it all started – at the Prism. It’s packed tonight but Yeosang doesn’t mind it when San accidentally knocks into him and pushes him closer to Seonghwa. He can feel him everywhere, hot and steady and lithe, twisting under Yeosang’s curious hands. Seonghwa’s a good dancer, Yeosang has learnt. He’s also undeniably hot when he dances and he knows it, knows he’s irresistible to Yeosang when he runs his tongue over his bottom lip.

“Wanna go somewhere else?” Yeosang asks. He has to lean up a little for Seonghwa to hear him and his lips brush against the shell of his ear. It feels a little bit like giving in but who is Yeosang to care, knowing what he gets out of it.

“And ditch everyone?” Seonghwa replies, raising an eyebrow.

“Like you mind.”

It’s one of those rare occasions where everyone had time to come out. His and Seonghwa’s friend groups have merged exceptionally well in the last two months, mostly thanks to Mingi and San hitting it off like the kind of chaotic, overly competitive duo that the world wasn’t ready for. Yeosang already can’t remember what it was like without the other guys but right now being alone with Seonghwa sounds like a really good idea. He takes Seonghwa’s hand and drags him off the dance floor through groups of dancing people and flickering lights until they arrive at the patio.

The night air is cool when Yeosang pushes the door open but there’s the unmistakable hint of summer there, heavy like a promise. The days are brighter, warmer, and Yeosang can’t wait until summer break begins but right now isn’t too bad, either. Seonghwa’s looking at him as if he’s the only person in the world that deserves his attention and Yeosang smiles at him.

“Remember when we met here?” Seonghwa asks, crowding Yeosang against the wall. “I thought you were the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I was so desperate to know you but I didn’t know how.”

Yeosang grins. “I’m glad you liked me and my striking eyes.”

“Ugh, shut up, I didn’t know what else to say.”

“Oh, so you didn’t actually think they were striking?”

Seonghwa’s expression smooths into something gentle. “Everything about you is striking, Yeosang.”

“Ew, cheesy.” Yeosang attempts to hide his face but Seonghwa grabs his wrists and pins them against the wall. “What are you gonna do now, kiss me?”

Seonghwa rolls his eyes but presses against him a little harder, leaning in close enough to kiss the left side of his face where Yeosang’s birthmark is. Yeosang frees his hands and lets them travel down Seonghwa’s long back, fingers tripping over the notches of his spine, teasing over the rough fabric of his jeans until he reaches the swell of his ass. Yeosang flattens his hands and pushes Seonghwa flush against his hips, lets himself grind against him, just a little bit.

Seonghwa inhales sharply. “You know what? You’re not actually that cute. Or pure. You’re a demon pretending to be.”

“And you love me for it,” Yeosang replies easily, blinking up at Seonghwa. Seonghwa looks back at him with his dark, kind eyes, not the slightest bit mad, and Yeosang’s chest fills with warmth, hot cotton spun between his ribs.

Seonghwa rests his forehead against Yeosang’s and smiles, the soft, sweet way he only does when he’s around Yeosang. “I do. I love you.”

“Let’s go home so you can show me just how much,” Yeosang replies.

“You little shit, say it back.”

Seonghwa pinches his sides and Yeosang giggles. He has gold in his mouth, stars in his eyes, and the best, the very best of it all, is still the way Seonghwa’s looking at him when he says, “You know I love you, too.”