If people were to ask Jeno, this started at the beginning of…
Well, since the beginning. It wasn’t the beginning of just one thing, but it was the beginning of so many things to the point that it became the beginning of almost anything that has to do with life to him. It was that kind of beginning that led him to this kind of now.
It was that kind of beginning. Meeting Na Jaemin.
He’s staring at me. He keeps staring at me. Why the fuck is he staring at me?
In the midst of his mental breakdown, Jeno fumbles with his phone, opening his chat box with Donghyuck.
sos im at the lobby rn what does it mean when hot boy keeps staring at u?
do u look cute today
Jeno groans to himself, wondering why the fuck he thought for even half a second that Donghyuck would’ve been any help. He sums up all the courage he has in his body, takes a deep breath that he hopes isn’t too obvious, and tries to turn his head inconspicuously to glance at said hot boy.
The second he does, their eyes meet and Jeno whips his head to face front, trying to pretend that the magazine sitting on the table was very, very interesting.
Jesus , he’s good-looking. Holy motherfucking christ, he’s actually staring at him. He’s staring. That can only mean one thing, right?
Hot boy thinks he’s attractive.
He may not be dressed that cute today, but he’s wearing his gym clothes and he’s still a little sweaty from awhile ago’s workout so that’s pretty hot, right? He was doing squats with Renjun once and he said, in verbatim, wow arm, so that has to count for something, right? Well, since they obviously seem to find each other attractive, Jeno should probably just end the torture for the both of them and talk to him. That would be the smooth thing to do. That’s what cool people would do. He’ll just-
Jeno’s gay inner monologue freezes. He turns to look at Hot Boy™ with an expression that he hopes looks cool. “Hmm?”
Be cool, Jeno. Chill. Smooth. Show your eye-smile. Flex your arms. No, don’t flex your arms. That’s too much. Give him the smoulder? No. Wipe your sweat with the back of your hand? That’s-
“Sorry, but… there’s a huge bug. On your gym bag.”
“I’ve been trying to tell you but you looked like you had a lot on your mind. Oh, it’s on your shoe now.”
Jeno looks down at his gym shoes and indeed, there’s a mean looking roach trying to climb up his leg. He lets out what anyone could only describe to be a high-pitched, panicked yodel and kicks it off his shoe, and then yells even more when it starts flying.
At this point, Hot Boy gets up from his seat and uses the magazine on the table to swat at the tiny demon, once, twice, until he catches it.
They stare with pained expressions at the remains of the roach stuck to Rihanna’s face.
He’s grateful but.
“Now that just looks like a hate crime.” Jeno says.
“Damn. Do you have wet wipes or something?”
They spend the next few minutes cleaning the back of the magazine in silence. They probably wouldn’t have done anything if it were anyone but The Lord and Savior, but with how things were, they couldn’t just leave it as it was. In the name of Rihanna.
It’s only then that the situation sinks in. Jeno had spent the last several minutes at the peak of absolute gay panic, thinking that this Hot Boy Roach Killer wanted to get down and dirty with him, but this entire time, Hot Boy Roach Killer was just trying to tell him that there was a fucking bug on him but couldn’t because Jeno was in the middle of said absolute gay panic.
“Fuck.” He curses to himself.
“What?” Hot Boy says, turning to look at him.
“Nothing! Not you!” Jeno answers hurriedly. “I mean- just…” He sighs, “- this situation.”
Hot Boy, contrary to Jeno’s expectations, smiles. And it’s a real smile. A real fucking pretty one. How can anyone have such a pretty fucking smile?
God, I’m not saying you’re unfair. I’m just saying you have your favorites.
“You totally thought I was checking you out, didn’t you?”
Jeno chokes on his spit and then accidentally aggressively spits as he denies it. “What? Psh. No! What? Hah! No!”
Hot Boy looks amused. “Sure.”
He stands up to toss the tissues and remains of the roach into the trash bin, pats his hands off, and proceeds to get all up in Jeno’s space.
He sits on the edge of the table, right in front of Jeno, their knees pressing against each other. He leans forward, as if to examine him.
Jeno gulps as Hot Boy stares into his soul. He tries to hold eye contact ( Think about what Donghyuck said. The smoulder! The smoulder!) but fails and instead, ends up looking like a constipated puppy.
Jesus, who is this guy? Who gave him the right? There should be a map just to get out of his eyes.
“I’m Na Jaemin.” He says suddenly, as if hearing Jeno’s thoughts, face breaking into that smile again. That god damn smile. “You are?”
Jeno steadies his breathing and riding on a momentary wave of courage, decides to lean forward, willing himself not to submit to this… black magic. “Nice to meet you, Na Jaemin. I’m Lee Jeno.”
Jaemin tilts his head. “Nice to meet you too. But why are your hands shaking?”
“They are absolutely not shaking.”
“They are, though.” Jaemin says, pointing.
“Dumbbells are heavy, okay!” Jeno half yells, hiding his hands away.
And then Jaemin laughs and it sounds like a song. And Jeno is still panicking, but he can’t help but smile back at him.
Jaemin stares, he kills a roach, he cleans Rihanna’s face, he smiles, he laughs, and that’s where it all began.
Na Jaemin was this kind of beginning. All he did was smile and Jeno’s world started turning.
“Aww, look at ‘em,” Jaemin sighs wistfully, watching as Chenle attempts to finally teach Jisung how to properly ride a bike, “-so young and willing to get themselves killed.”
Renjun and Donghyuck are in the middle of documenting the whole thing, yelling words of encouragement(?) as they do. By encouragement, meaning, yes, Jisung! Step on that fucking pedal! Bike the shit out of it! (The words are supportive, for sure. The tone, however.)
“Jaemin-ah,” Jeno says softly from beside him, motioning to their Sociology homework, “-did you do it like this?”
“Bold of you to assume I’ve done it at all.”
“Just ask Mark.” Jaemin shrugs, turning his attention back to the Idiot Quadruple.
Jeno sighs. “Can you cook us dinner tonight? I’m not in the mood for takeout again. I want fried rice, Nana. I need it for my soul .”
Jaemin scoffs. “Your dramatic ass.” He shoves Jeno half-heartedly, “But you do your own dishes this time. If I end up doing them again, you should start paying me.”
Whenever Jeno looks back at how he and Jaemin ended up here, it never fails to amaze him. Even if it’s been a year.
What started as them meeting in the building lobby, turned into Jaemin telling him that he’s just moved into his building, which then turned into Jeno learning that they lived just two doors away from each other, which then turned into them being in the same university, which then turned into them being in the same major, which then turned into them having almost every single class together, which resulted into the two of them essentially living together.
“Are you guys attached by the hip or what?” Renjun once asked, as the four of them walk to the one class they all share.
Jaemin throws an arm around Jeno, squeezing him to his side. Jeno pushes him away by reflex. “We’re soulmates! Destiny’s BFFs!”
“Gross.” Donghyuk deadpans.
But honestly, Jeno can’t even deny it. They probably really are soulmates. There’s just no heterosexual explanation no matter how hard he tries to come up with one. It’s like the universe just threw them into the world and went, be gay, do crime!
He’s snapped back to the present when Jaemin pats him on the back. “Hey, I’ll go buy us sodas.”
Jeno manages to nod, staring as Jaemin disappears behind a wall to the vending machine.
The Idiot Quadruple stare at him from a few steps away, giving him a knowing look. The same one they’ve been giving him for about a year.
“So,” Renjun says, leaning against a nearby tree, without looking up from his phone, “When are you gonna tell him?”
“Tell him what?” Jeno’s Defense Mode: ON.
“That you’re head up your ass in love with him.” Jisung answers, wiping the sweat off his brow as he hops off his bike.
Chenle snickers from the side and innocently turns away when Jeno turns to shoot him a glare.
“Aren’t you two, like, twelve?” Jeno huffs, slamming his notebook close, patting the grass off his jeans as he stands. “What do you know?”
“Pathetically, more than you.” Jisung answers, batting his eyelashes as he smiles at Jeno. Evil brat.
“You know you’ve got it bad when the high-schoolers are giving you grief.” Donghyuck adds, taking Jaemin’s previous spot on the grass. “Have you at least tried giving him hints?”
“I have!” Jeno exclaims. “It’s not my fault he takes it all in stride! When I try to flirt with him, he thinks I’m kidding ‘cause he does it to me all the fucking time!”
“You’re not supposed to flirt with Jaemin to make him know you like him, are you fucking kidding me? It’s like you don’t know him. You have to actually-”
“What are you guys talking about?”
Jaemin appears from behind them with 6 soda cans in his arms.
“Aliens.” All five of them say in perfect unison.
Jaemin nods slowly, in a way that doesn’t look confused, but instead, entertained. It’s a little terrifying. “Aliens.”
“Aliens.” Jeno repeats, solemnly.
“Sure.” Jaemin says, obviously not buying it, but nice enough, as always, to let it slide. He plops down on the empty spot next to Jeno and sets down the six cans. “Kids, I bought us drinks.”
Sometimes, Jeno thinks that maybe Jaemin already knows. When Jeno’s hungry, Jaemin can tell by the way his voice sounds when he asks, Jaemin-ah, have you eaten? When Jeno’s tired, Jaemin can tell with a look or sigh, Jaemin’s voice and warm hand, right there, always, you okay? Jaemin can always tell what’s in his head, the way Jeno can always tell what’s in his.
That’s why sometimes, Jeno thinks maybe Jaemin already knows. And somehow, that scares him a little more.
A Little After The Beginning
It’s the creaking that gets to him. It’s nearing closing hours and the library is completely void of people but he has a test coming up and he knows if he’d gone home, he wouldn’t have gotten any studying done because at home he has a TV, beer, and a soft, inviting bed. So he’d decided to be a good student and study all day in the library.
A mistake. He had made a grave mistake. A miscalculation. The floorboards make that terrible creaking noise for the third time and Jeno starts reciting a prayer in his head. He’s not even exactly sure who he’s praying to. He doesn’t have a religion. It’s when he thinks he sees a shadowy figure start walking between the shelves, that he decides, fuck that. He does not play with demons.
He grabs his books and notebooks and starts speed walking towards the exit. The lights start to flicker and Jeno grips his things tighter against his chest. He stares up at the fluorescent lights, as if daring them to start acting up some more, when someone taps his shoulder.
Jeno lets out a furious battle cry, swinging his books in the air, attacking the demon with bravado-
“Dude, what the hell?” Jaemin says, half shocked and half laughing.
The librarian shushes them from a few feet away and they both cringe and bow in apology.
“Thank God you’re here.” Jeno says, clutching onto Jaemin’s sweater. “We have to go. This place is cursed.”
“Demons, Jaemin. Demons.” Jeno says, earnestly.
“You’ve lost it.” He deadpans. “When was your last meal?”
“Lunch? I had a gummy worm.”
“Gummy worm? Singular? Weirdo.” They start towards the exit, arms linked. “Come on, I’ll go make you a meal.”
“What’re you making?” Jeno asks, peeking from behind Jaemin’s shoulder.
“Hmm?” Jaemin hums, glancing at Jeno, fond smile on his face. “It’s rice with egg and soy sauce.”
Without realizing it, his hands automatically rest on Jaemin’s waist as he takes a whiff of his meal.
Jaemin grins as he pours the finished product into a bowl and sticks a spoon in it, turning around to face Jeno. “Don’t you think we’re a little like a married couple right now?”
“You giving me a backhug while I’m cooking gives me butterflies.”
“Shut up.” Jeno mumbles half-heartedly, turning his back as he takes his bowl of rice and heads to the dinner table, in a sad attempt to hide his blush.
Jaemin huffs. “How dare you be so rude to me? When I saved you from a ghost? Cooked you dinner?”
Jeno pointedly ignores him, as he shoves a spoonful of rice into his mouth. He pauses at the taste, savoring it a little more, before continuing to chew. Jaemin smiles knowingly.
Jeno glances up at the boy, who’s watching with his arms crossed, giving him a look that resembled that of a fond mother.
Jeno knows he’s still blushing, but.
“Thanks.” He grumbles into his food.
Jaemin chuckles, taking the seat in front of Jeno. “Cute.” He says, under his breath.
Jeno pretends his heart didn’t just beat out of his chest as he says, “I should just eat here from now on.”
“You pain in the ass.”
Jeno smiles, staring at Jaemin go through his own bag of chips as Jeno inhales his bowl of rice. He sighs a little, just to himself, at the way Jaemin sort of just crashed his way into Jeno’s life, carelessly and unknowingly, turning everything upside down.
There’s a lecture happening in front of them right now. The professor is talking about history, he thinks, but Jeno can’t hear anything he’s saying.
He’s trying to take down notes with one hand while Jaemin holds onto the other one.
Jeno stares as Jaemin plays with his fingers, rubbing his callouses with his thumb.
“What are you doing?” Jeno whispers.
Jaemin shrugs. He turns Jeno’s hand around, so his palm is face up, and starts tracing patterns on it with his index finger.
His finger twirls, it tickles a little, but it feels warm. Kind of comforting. Jaemin starts writing.
Jeno lets out a breath of a laugh, stroking Jaemin’s arm with his free hand. “Pay attention then.”
Jaemin’s face scrunches up. He traces an angry emoticon on his palm.
This is the thing when it comes to feeling so much for someone who’s already so much to you. This is the thing about having feelings for your best friend. This is wishing it could’ve been literally anyone else.
It’s having the person who’s closest to you, always feel so far away. It’s wanting so much of someone who’s already given you so much of themselves. It’s always wanting more. It’s having someone who feels so much like home, and thinking, is this okay? If you knew, would you let me?
Jaemin traces on his palm. Jeno hums, raising his eyebrows at him.
Jeno nods, reassuringly. Jaemin tilts his head, examining him.
Love u, he traces, throwing Jeno an exaggerated wink. Jeno rolls his eyes, bites back a smile, and shoves Jaemin’s hand off him playfully.
All Jaemin does is smile and Jeno asks himself, where else can he go? He looks at him sometimes, and all he really wants to do is kiss him, but instead.
Instead, he pushes it down.
“Wanna count how many times Donghyuck almost falls asleep?” Jeno asks, motioning to the boy sitting on the seat in front of them, whose head was bobbing up and down.
“Almost?” Jaemin whispers back with a scoff, “I think he’s dead.”
He leans his head softly on Jeno’s shoulder and Jeno thinks, big mood.
Somewhere In Between
Jeno loves his mom, he really does. Best thing about his life. But some days, days like this one, he really wished that she was just that little bit more understanding.
(“You know I love you no matter what, I’m just worried about you.” “There are lots of things about myself that I’m ashamed of, mom, but being gay isn’t one of those things.”)
Days like this one. Ever since he came out to his mom right before moving out and entering university, there’s been a little more of days like this one.
It’s when he’s approaching his apartment building that it starts to rain and Jeno realizes he didn’t even bring an umbrella, and that he left his jacket in the midst of the mess at home. It’s when he’s approaching his apartment building that he realizes he doesn’t have his key. It’s at this point that Jeno realizes he’s fighting back tears.
It was a shit day. A really fucking shit day and all he wanted to do was sink into his bed and watch anime. Instead, he’s cold, soaking wet, and crying in the middle of the street. And he doesn’t have his key. The smart thing to do would be to tell the landlord and wait in the lobby. But it’s been a shit day. So instead, he crouches down, hides his face in his knees, and cries.
It’s in the middle of his pity party that he realizes he can still hear the rain, but he can’t feel it. He looks up and of course, it’s Jaemin. Of course it is.
He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t ask what the hell he’s doing sobbing in the middle of the street in the rain, he doesn’t ask if he’s okay, he doesn’t ask what happened. Instead, Jaemin crouches down beside him, holds the umbrella over both their heads, and wraps an arm around him.
And Jeno should be embarrassed. He is, a little. He’s getting Jaemin all wet and they both look stupid but Jaemin is looking at him like he loves him, and the arm around him feels warm. So instead, Jeno rests his forehead on Jaemin’s knee and lets him hold him, for just a little bit.
“Lost my key.” Jeno mumbles, once he’s calmed down.
Jaemin silently rubs his back, helps him up, and the stay over is unsaid once they walk into Jaemin’s apartment and he hands him extra clothes.
In the silence of the dark bedroom, Jaemin’s hand patting Jeno’s back as he tries to lull him to sleep, suddenly, Jeno feels like crying all over again.
He hears Jaemin laugh under his breath. “You’d have done it for me.”
Jeno closes his eyes, smiles. “I would’ve done it for you.”
“Then that’s thank you enough.”
Jeno drifts off to sleep, thinking of something Renjun once told him, after a few bottles of soju. Dude, I think you’re in love with him.
Jeno sighs, ignoring the way his heart squeezes, for a variety of reasons, all involving the boy beside him. I think you’re in love with him.
I think you’re in love with him. What the hell are you going to do now?
Renjun and Donghyuck had left them with half-hearted goodbyes, calling them killjoys, as they headed off to some party that they, too, were invited to but didn’t have the motivation to go to.
“You think the two high-schoolers would’ve been better to have around here?” Jaemin asks, watching as their two best friends walk further away.
Jeno gawks in disbelief. “Did you really just say that? With your own mouth? Take that back.”
“Shit. You’re right.” Jaemin laughs, playfully shoving Jeno’s shoulder. “We’re seeing them soon, right?”
Jeno hums. “Your birthday, probably.”
The two share a look and despite their trying to hold it in, burst into laughter as they walk the quiet street.
“Make sure you don’t let Jisung burn my apartment down again.” Jaemin says playfully.
“I would never break contract.” Jeno retorts.
Their shoulders bump as they walk the rest of the way in silence, admiring the view they see everyday, that somehow looks different today from all the other days before.
“Hey, Jen, wanna come over for a beer?”
Jeno turns to him, a glint in his eye. “Only if you cook for me too.”
Jaemin sighs. “You only want me for my cooking.”
No, Jeno thinks. I kind of want you for your everything, he laments in his head, a repeated miserable monologue. But he doesn’t say that. Instead.
“It’s all you’re good for, Na Jaemin.” He smirks, throwing an arm around him.
More Stuff In Between
“Do we even have Jaemin hyung’s permission to do this?” Chenle asks in the middle of tying his fourth balloon.
“You ask this now when we’re half done with the set up?” Renjun retorts, hanging up the Y, completing the HAPPY BIRTHDAY spread across the windows. “We can’t back out now. I even asked Mark to send a birthday video and everything. I even edited it. I added that old man Snapchat filter.”
Donghyuck is in the middle of cleaning up the table in preparation of setting up their birthday meal. “Are you sure he won’t be here for another hour? What if he suddenly comes back and we have a happy birthday sign, four balloons, and a half-baked cake in his oven?”
“Honestly, my issue is that Jisung insisted on baking the cake and I don’t know if it’s gonna be edible.” Jeno sighs, giving Jisung a meaningful look. “Jisung-ah, make sure what comes out of there is a cake, and not… I don’t know, something that moves.”
Said boy is covered in flour and anxiously staring at the oven. “You guys won’t be mad at me if it comes out a failure, right? At least I tried? And you still love me? Your beloved youngest?”
He’s answered with dead silence.
Jisung sighs. “Worth a shot. I tried. Whatever. Just trust me.”
“See, when he says trust me, that usually means that we shouldn’t trust him.” Chenle says.
“You’re supposed to be on my side!” Jisung yells, clearly betrayed.
“Dude, I love you, but that cake is going to explode and we’re going to set the building on fire.”
What’s concerning is that Chenle doesn’t even say this like he’s joking.
“I made the cake pretty.” Jisung pouts. “It says HAPPY BIRTHDAY NANA and everything.”
The three hyungs sort of can’t help but coo at that.
“Honestly, if that’s the case, Jaemin probably won’t even care whether the cake’s edible or not. He’ll probably cry just at the idea of you baking him a birthday cake.” Jeno says.
“Who baked me a birthday cake?”
Everyone pauses mid-everything.
Chenle pauses mid-blowing a balloon, Renjun pauses mid-writing dumb post-it notes with disses, Donghyuck pauses mid-setting the table, Jeno just pauses, and Jisung quickly stands in front of the oven in a sad attempt of hiding it.
It’s a long silence of everyone staring at everyone. It’s during that silence that they hear the feared sound of a loud burst, followed by splattering. Jisung all but jumps and cowers under the counter. Chenle accidentally pops the balloon in shock, scaring Renjun even further. Donghyuck drops a cup on Jeno’s foot, Jeno swears, and all the while, Jaemin tries to fan the smoke with his backpack.
Jisung slowly gets up from his position on the floor, gives Jaemin a cheeky smile, says, “Uh. Happy birthday? I tried to bake you a cake. It exploded.”
Jaemin just stares at him, blinks, and then.
“You did?” He yells, running to Jisung, pinching his cheeks fondly as they’re surrounded with smoke.
“He’s amazing. He really is.”
After the initial shock, the six of them sit in a circle on Jaemin’s living room floor, a pen and a piece of paper lying in the middle.
“In light of today’s events, I’m putting my foot down and writing a contract.” Jaemin announces.
“I feel like you’re having way too much fun with this.” Donghyuck observes.
“Shut up, it’s my life.” Jaemin retorts. “Now, I’m going to write down a list of house rules because you all seem to come and go as you please-”
“It’s your own fault for giving Jeno a spare key.” Renjun mumbles.
“How dare you question my choices in life.”
“There is not one single person who knows you that doesn’t question your choices in life.” Jeno adds.
“Rule 1, Jisung is not allowed anywhere near my kitchen.” Jaemin writes down, serious, as if it’s a rule set in stone.
Jisung presses his lips together, having the decency to look at least slightly guilty.
“Rule 2, Jeno is not allowed to bring the rest of the gang without my permission.” Jaemin recites as he furiously scrawls.
“Hey, that’s not fair, Jeno hyung goes here all the time without your permission.” Chenle points out.
“That’s ‘cause they’re married, Chenle, get it together.” Jisung says, smacking his arm.
Renjun scoffs. “He’s teasing but I can’t even disagree with that.”
“Rule 3, Jeno is not allowed to demand my soy sauce with egg rice whenever he pleases.” Jaemin says, shooting Jeno a pointed look.
Jeno looks scarred. “Hey!”
“Don’t hey me, I’m not a personal chef.”
Jeno pouts. “Don’t be like that. You love having me here. That’s why you gave me a spare key.”
“I gave you a spare key for emergencies and to do me favors when I can’t go home, not for you to demand food and waltz in here thinking you can just-”
“Is it just me or does this seem less like a list of house rules and more like their marriage contract.” Donghyuck says, eyes going back and forth between the two.
“Are you ever just hanging out with your friends and you feel like a third wheel even when there are, like, six people in the room?” Jisung complains.
Everyone nods, save for the two who continue to bicker like there’s no one else in the room.
It’s after everyone else leaves and the two are left to clean up the mess, that Jeno finally looks at him and says,
“Happy birthday, Jaemin-ah. Even if today was a bust.”
Jaemin can only smile at that, reaching out to squeeze Jeno’s hand in thanks. He shakes his head, “You guys made an effort for me. Thank you.”
And Jeno can’t help but think to himself that when he met Jaemin, it’s like everything suddenly started to fall into place. Like, instead of his world changing when he met him, it’s like it only just started to turn. Like, instead of having to adjust to a new life with him, it’s like Jaemin was the one who helped the rest of his life begin in the first place. Like, instead of thinking, wow, I’m glad that our friends go together so well, we really are meant to be, all he could think was, it feels like this is all I’ve ever known. Was there a time that it was any way else?
“Jaemin-ah.” Jeno calls out, wiping the inside of the oven, doing so mainly as an excuse not to look Jaemin in the face.
“I’m really grateful for you.”
It’s silent for a few seconds after he says that. And for a minute, Jeno’s scared that maybe that was a little too much, maybe it crossed some sort of invisible line, that maybe it made it a little too obvious that he meant that in more ways than one.
Just when he’s about to take it back and make some sort of dumb no homo joke, he feels Jaemin rest his forehead against his back from behind him. And he doesn’t see him smile, but he hears it, when he says,
“I’m grateful for you too.” He whispers, “Really.”
And he sounds genuine. He doesn’t sound like his usual bright, flirty self, he doesn’t say it to tease or fluster him, the way he usually does. He says it like he means it. Like he really means it. He says it softly, quietly, as if it’s the very first time he’s allowed himself to truly be honest.
And for a second, they just stay like that. For a second, Jeno doesn’t want time to move.
And then Jaemin wraps his arms around Jeno’s waist, goes back to his usual self, says, “Don’t you think we’re too much like a married couple right now?”
And despite everything, Jeno manages to laugh and slap Jaemin’s hands away. “Keep cleaning, you asshole.”
They sink into Jeno’s couch, beers in hand, a few empty beer cans already discarded on the coffee table.
Sometimes, Friday nights are just like this. They walk into the apartment, don’t bother to turn on the lights, they grab some drinks, take off their shirts, and sink into the couch. They just sit and drink and talk, sometimes they watch movies, sometimes they nap, and Friday nights are like that.
And Jeno doesn’t know what it is about tonight. Or what it was about the whole god damn day. But it’s like the itch that’s been under his skin for so long, is suddenly so unbearable today. He’s done so well for so long and suddenly everything is threatening to come up and he looks at Jaemin beside him, the same Jaemin who’s beside him all the time, and Jaemin turns to look at him, and he just looks at him, for a little while. And suddenly, he can’t do it anymore.
They pause. They stare at each other for a second, then smile.
“You first.” Jeno says, secretly grateful that Jaemin spoke too.
“Nothing.” Jaemin says, “You just look pretty like this.”
He's doing that again. And usually, Jeno would blush, or look away. If he was in the mood to mess around, he’d shove him and swear. But tonight, what’s wrong with him tonight, he can’t seem to do anything.
So he doesn’t say anything. He just continues to stare. Jaemin’s eyes are always so bright, like his smile. Constantly sparkling and drawing people in and so he just lets himself be drawn in.
He doesn’t say anything and just stares, lets his gaze wander from his eyes, to his nose, to his lips, and when he meets Jaemin’s eyes again, he pauses.
He realizes that for the first time, Jaemin looks flustered.
“Can I tell you something?” He suddenly whispers.
“Remember that time a few months ago?” Jaemin starts, licking his lips, “When you cooked me fried rice?”
The Shift In Between
“Give me the fucking controller, you asshole!” Donghyuck swears, shoving Renjun out of the way. “Anyway, back to your issues, Jeno.”
“As I was saying, I can tell that something’s wrong with Jaemin but he won’t tell me what it is.” Jeno sighs, “He’s been so off and he’s not in the mood to hang out these days and he never doesn’t wanna hang out. I’ve tried talking to him but he won’t tell me what’s wrong.”
Renjun shrugs. “Did you try asking Jisung? He’s known Jaemin since they were kids, he probably knows something.”
“Course I did, asshat.” Jeno bites back. “The kid won’t tell me anything. Says that he thinks he might know the reason but Jaemin doesn’t talk to him about shit like that either, and that I should ask him myself.”
“I hope you both know that my name is actually Renjun and not several variations of ass.”
“Hey,” Jeno suddenly says, collapsing into Renjun’s bed, “Do you guys think that Jaemin likes me?”
“Do we think that the Earth is round?”
“Do we think that the sun is hot?”
Jeno huffs. “I’m serious!”
“So are we!” Donghyuck argues. “Are you joking? Obviously, he likes you. He gave you a spare key to his fucking apartment. He flirts with you, constantly, annoyingly, disgustingly. He stares at your lips when you talk. Sometimes, even when you’re not talking. You cannot tell me you don’t notice that he does that.”
Renjun guffaws. “How the hell is he supposed to notice when he’s busy staring at Jaemin’s lips too?”
“You two are, like, the least helpful friends in the world.” Jeno whines. “Also, Jaemin flirts with everyone as a joke. He flirted with the ice cream guy last week.”
“I guess you’re kinda right about that.” Donghyuck sighs. “But he really is different with you.”
And maybe part of Jeno gets what he’s saying, but the other part of him is saying, don’t get your hopes up. For someone who has a secret crush on his best friend, he’s shown a lot of himself to said best friend who’s his secret crush. The good, the bad, the ugly, all of it. Jaemin’s always been a seemingly open book as well, but Jeno notices one thing that he feels like not everyone notices.
Jaemin is the most open book in the world when it comes to his happiness and the love he seems to want to share with every living human in the world. But never when it comes to anything else. Never when it comes to his anger, his sadness, or pain. It scares Jeno, a little bit.
“Maybe he’s just not like that.” Renjun reassures.
But Jeno thinks, everyone is like that. If not always, then just sometimes. Everyone needs to have someone they can be like that around.
And Jeno wants to be that for him. If it’s not him, then who will?
“How about don’t pester him about it and just do something nice for him.” Donghyuck suggests. “Cook for him, for once. He taught you how to cook that fried rice you like so much, right? He does shit like that to cheer you up all the time. Do it for him.”
Jeno is almost done with his fried rice when he hears the front door open and then close. He hurriedly grabs a bowl, fills it up, and sticks a spoon in it. He can’t help but be proud of himself, observing the way it looks almost exactly like Jaemin’s.
“Jeno? S’that you?” He hears Jaemin call out from the living room. Even his voice sounds exhausted. “It better be you or else… I’ll be really freaked out and call the police.”
He sets the bowl down on the table and meets Jaemin halfway. “Hey.”
Jaemin looks at him, then at the bowl, and then back at him. He smiles, a little tiredly. “You were hungry, huh?”
Jeno shakes his head. “I already ate out. That’s for you.”
Jaemin raises his eyebrows, obviously taken aback. “You cooked for me? Why?”
Jeno shrugs. “I know you haven’t been feeling that great these days. I know you’ll say you’re alright, but. I can tell. It’s okay if you don’t wanna talk about it but I wanted to do something, you know? Since you help me out all the time when I feel like shit.”
And then Jaemin looks at him.
Jaemin is his best friend and he knows him and memorizes him like the back of his hand but Jaemin’s never looked at him the way he’s looking at him right now.
In that moment, Jeno can pinpoint the exact second that Jaemin starts acting. He takes a deep breath, blinks the moistness out of his eyes, smiles, and ruffles Jeno’s hair.
“Thanks.” He sounds a little choked up as he says it, but he covers it up with a cough, then turns around to sit on the table. “I’ll eat it well, then. Since you cooked it for me.”
The second he sits down, he starts shoving spoonfuls in his mouth. Almost desperately, in a way. Jeno knows it might be his way of pushing down whatever he wanted to do or say, at the moment, so he doesn’t say anything. He sits down next to him and lets him eat.
“Hey, at least swallow before you eat more, you idiot.” Jeno scolds lightly. “You’ll choke.”
“It’s good.” Jaemin says, barely even coherent, “It’s really good.”
“Mmm.” Jeno hums, and he should laugh, because Jaemin looks dumb with his cheeks all puffed out like this, but his heart squeezes.
What the hell is wrong? What the hell is so wrong that he’s acting like this and how can I make it go away?
He’s pulled out of his thoughts when Jaemin starts sniffing into his bowl.
Jaemin is still chewing, continuing to shovel food into his mouth, but there are tears running down his cheeks, and he’s swallowing back sobs as he lifts up his spoon again.
“Jaemin?” Jeno calls out with gentle concern, reaching out to stop him from eating more.
“It’s really good.” Jaemin cries, refusing to meet Jeno’s eyes, choosing instead to stare at his rice. “It tastes like mom’s.”
Jeno feels a piece of his heart break off when Jaemin drops his spoon into the bowl and starts furiously wiping at his eyes. “Fuck, I’m sorry. Holy shit, sorry. This is so dumb, I wasn’t supposed to- Fuck, I’m sorry . This is embarrassing, you should go. ”
It’s then that Jeno forgets about anything else, about his dumb crush, about his one-sided feelings. It’s then that he just sees that his best friend is crying and he stands up and envelopes Jaemin in a hug, pressing the boy against his torso.
“I’m not going anywhere.” He whispers against the top of Jaemin’s head. “You’re alright. It’s just me.”
It’s with those words that Jaemin suddenly starts crying in earnest. It’s painful and heartbreaking, and Jeno doesn’t even realize he’s crying too until he sees his own tears drop on top of Jaemin’s head.
Jaemin just cries like that, for a really long time. As if it’s the first time he’s ever let himself. As if it’s the only time he’s ever going to let himself. He cries with his face pressed against Jeno’s torso, arms wrapped around him, too tight that Jeno can’t breathe but Jeno just hugs him back even tighter.
It takes awhile for Jaemin to calm down, for his sobs to turn into hiccups, until it’s just tired breaths. Jeno rubs his back through it, and once he stops quaking, he traces patterns with his finger instead.
Jaemin sniffs and swipes at his eyes before he lifts his head and looks up to meet Jeno’s eyes.
He smiles softly. “You’re crying too.”
Jeno doesn’t try to deny it. He pushes Jaemin’s hair out of his forehead and wipes the wetness off his cheeks with his thumbs. “I’m just crying because you are.”
“Sorry.” Jaemin whispers, squeezing Jeno’s sides, lightly. “Thank you.”
Jeno shakes his head. “Thanks for trusting me.”
Something churns inside of Jaemin, in that moment, and Jeno sees it. That something’s changed, suddenly. But Jaemin only answers him with a small smile, leaning forward to rest his forehead against his torso again. He exhales, long and shaky, as Jeno runs his hand through his hair.
Jeno takes the opportunity to pull a Jaemin. “Don’t you think we’re too much like a married couple right now?”
Jaemin laughs at that, his shoulder shaking, as he lifts his head back up, revealing a bright grin.
Jeno’s glad. He’s smiling again. The real one.
Jaemin sighs, shakes his head, as he gives Jeno a look.
And it’s then that he says in a tone that sounds teasing but with an expression that looks too genuine to be just that,
“What do I do now, Lee Jeno?” He smiles, the kind of smile that looks like he’s hiding the fact that he’s terrified, “I don’t think I can live without you.”
“I remember.” Jeno says, “How do you expect me to forget that? You never even told me what happened.”
Jaemin chuckles, looking away to stare at the ceiling instead. “I’m telling you that I’ll tell you right now what happened.”
Jeno pauses. “Oh.”
Jaemin puts down his now empty beer can and groans as he stretches his arms. “It was my parents.” He says, “I have a strained relationship with my parents.”
Jeno had gathered that much, at least. If Jaemin breaking down over how his cooking tasted like his mother’s cooking was anything to go by.
“It’s lots of things, you know?” Jaemin continues, still refusing to look Jeno in the eye. “First, it was me not studying hard enough. Then, it was me wanting to take up performing arts as a major. And then, it was me being gay. And then, it was just anything I ever did.”
Jeno stays quiet.
He understands, Jaemin knows he does.
“I know you can relate, kind of. It’s not like I was trying to hide anything from you.” Jaemin says, “I just had issues dealing with it when I was younger. I used to lash out at my friends. Jisung and Chenle suffered my wrath a lot. I couldn’t help but take it out on them even when I knew they were just these kids who wanted to help their hyung. I never meant to lash out.”
“They know that.” Jeno assures, patting Jaemin’s thigh.
“I know.” Jaemin smiles, taking Jeno’s hand in his and squeezing, “I know that now. But back then, I was just scared I’d end up taking it out on other people again. People I care about.”
Jeno nods. “I get it.”
“I’m really grateful you were there, though.” Jaemin says, voice low enough to be a whisper, but not quite, “The entire time… you were the one I wanted to go to.”
Jaemin chuckles and then heaves out a loud sigh. “Wow. I haven’t really talked about that to anyone before.”
They’re quiet after that, just half-lying on a couch side by side, letting the silence comfort them. There was something about the night that was making Jeno think about every single thing that led them to this moment. Every single thing that led them to this.
I’m grateful you were there. You were the one I wanted to go to. I haven’t talked about that to anyone before.
Everything that led them to now.
Don’t you think we’re a little like a married couple right now? Dude, I think you’re in love with him. I’m grateful for you too. Really. He really is different with you.
What do I do now, Lee Jeno? I don’t think I can live without you.
And Jeno thinks back to all the times that Jaemin had covered him in a blanket after a night of too much studying, carried him to bed after a night of too much drinking, cooked him soy sauce egg rice whenever he’d say he’s hungry, and the way that he looks at him, all of those times.
Why has he never thought about the way Jaemin looks at him? And now... Right now, Jaemin is looking at him, just like that, again.
“Do you like me?”
The Month Before
“It sounded like someone was getting murdered but I guess you’re just trying to bathe your cat. Hi, Bongsik-ie. Need help?”
“Please.” Jeno begs.
They both get scratched, clawed, and by the end of it, they both end up taking showers too.
But it’s worth it in the end, when Bongsik is fast asleep, curled up in Jeno’s bed enveloped in Jeno and Jaemin’s warmth on both sides.
“He’s really cute.” Jaemin says, voice soft in an attempt of not waking the baby.
Jeno nods. “He usually stays with my family but they’re on a trip so he’s stuck with me for a few days.”
“Hmm.” Jaemin hums, resting his head on Jeno’s pillow. “I’ll help you with him, then. Your pillow smells nice. Smells like you.”
Jaemin turns his head to sniff his pillow, closing his eyes and smiling.
Jeno gulps. “You’re so weird.” He manages to say, but it comes out as more of an enamored sigh.
“I like how you smell.” Jaemin says as he pets Bongsik. “You smell… familiar.”
“Yeah. Like left-over pizza and sweat.”
Jaemin laughs at the expression on his face. “I’m joking. It’s more of a…”
“More of a…?”
Jaemin thinks about it for a few seconds, until he just shrugs, and turns his attention back to Bongsik. “Just like you. A Lee Jeno smell.”
Jeno smirks. “Weirdo.”
“Why is it weird?” Jaemin complains in a whiny voice, inching closer to Jeno, who slowly inches away. “I just like the way you smell. ‘Cause it means you’re near.”
Jeno’s breath hitches in his throat and he feels the blood start to rush to his face, so he looks away and furiously starts petting his cat. “Stop liking me so much.”
Jaemin sticks his tongue out. “You liked me first.”
Jeno huffs. He’s right, but still.
“Do you like me?”
Jeno can tell Jaemin’s nervous. But he can also tell that he swallows it down and plucks up the courage to say,
“What the hell took you so long?”
Those words. Those seven words and Jeno’s entire world falls apart and falls into place at the same time. Everything makes no sense, but at the same time, it’s the first time that everything actually does start to make sense.
He realizes he hasn’t said anything and that Jaemin is starting to look truly terrified so,
“What the hell took you so long?”
Jaemin’s smile is shaky. “I was scared.”
And it’s then that Jeno realizes, all this time, it’s not that Jaemin was fearless, it’s that he used it as a strong front to cover up the fact that he wasn’t. Not even a little bit. Not even at all.
“You didn’t know I liked you?” Jeno suddenly asks.
The smile that blooms on Jaemin’s face is kind of, really beautiful. “I might’ve had an idea. But I couldn’t be sure.”
“If you had an idea, why were you still so scared?” Jeno asks, tapping his fingers on Jaemin’s lap, mindlessly.
“How about you? You didn’t know I liked you? Not even a little bit?” Jaemin asks.
Jeno hums, thinks about it, then shakes his head. “There were times that I thought, maybe… But I couldn’t be sure.”
Jaemin smirks. “If you thought that maybe… then why were you still scared?” He throws the question back.
Jeno’s heart is beating out of his chest as he opens his mouth, but he says it anyway. If not now, then when?
“Because I’m in love with you.”
Jaemin’s eyes widen, and Jeno knows he’s not imagining it when he hears Jaemin’s breathing get shaky, knows it’s not just his imagination when his eyes start to look glassy.
“I’m in love with you.” Jeno repeats, softer this time, but firm.
Jaemin looks down at Jeno’s hand on his lap, links their fingers together. He sniffs.
“I’ve loved you since the beginning.” Jeno admits with a shaky smile.
Jaemin laughs in disbelief, nods. “Since the beginning, huh?”
Jeno nods. “Since the fucking beginning.”
They look at each other, and this time they know what it means, for sure, without question, and Jaemin asks, with that beautiful god damn smile, “Can I kiss you?”
Jeno leans forward as an answer and the second their lips press together, Jeno doesn’t think, god, we’ve missed out on this all this time, instead, it’s just, here’s the rest of your life.
Everytime Jeno tries to pull away to catch his breath, Jaemin chases him for more, until they’re lying on the couch, Jaemin trapping Jeno under him.
Jeno cups his face in his hand, caresses his skin with his thumb, “Stop liking me so much.”
Jaemin leans down for another kiss. “Loser. You liked me first.”
“God, he’s so cute, Hyuck. What am I gonna do?” Jeno whines, plopping face first into his couch. “And! He lives, like, two doors away! We go to the same university! We have the same fucking major! I’m gonna see him all the time! What do I do? I think he’s my soulmate?”
Donghyuck pats Jeno’s head. “There, there. Damn, Lee Jeno. I didn’t think you were one to believe in love at first sight. Did you hear bells?”
“Not bells, yells.” Jeno says petulantly. “Yells because of the bug.”
“The way that you and this Jaemin guy seem to be the personification of confident gay and panicked gay really fucking takes me out.” Renjun laughs. “You know, people say when you find your soulmate, you feel it. Was there like, an explosion? Fireworks?”
Jeno hums, stares at the ceiling, and he knows he’s being dramatic, but.
“I don’t think you find a soulmate,” Jeno says, “You don’t find them. You recognize them.”
He sighs and closes his eyes. “I didn’t feel any fireworks. We just met and we talked and all I could fucking think was, 'Hey, there you are. What the hell took you so long?'”