“What do you mean Donghyuck’s missing, we saw him yesterday.” Jaemin proceeded to stuff his mouth with three quarters of his bungeoppang, making a mess of filling on the corners of his lips. Renjun sighed, exasperated, and handed him a napkin when they stopped to cross the street back to campus. The sun was merciless, both boys had droplets of sweat on their foreheads; bungeoppan, with its steamy smell was the least appropriate food for such weather – Jaemin had been craving it however, and no one, not even Huang Renjun, could say no to his puppy eyes. Besides that, there was also the Donghyuck situation, and Renjun would have agreed to eat scorching malatang on the actual sun if it meant finally talking to someone about it.
“He hasn’t replied to any of my messages, and I’ve been texting him non-stop since I left class. His cellphone was off, last time I tried calling. Pictures of puppies turned out fruitless too.” Jaemin had this habit of holding hands to cross the street, supposedly from the time he lived with his little cousins and had to walk them to school. Knowing this didn’t stop Renjun’s throat from withering and dying each time, but there were more pressing matters on his hands (though not literally – if he were to talk literally, the only thing on his hand right then was Jaemin’s sticky palm.)
“Maybe Mark–” They reached the sidewalk, and Jaemin let go of Renjun’s hand. Another day to live, right?
“I’ve tried calling Mark-hyung, he didn’t pick up... He was kinda weird to be honest? He texted me ages later, saying he couldn’t talk before.” Renjun nibbled his cream bungeoppang without much purpose. “I asked about Donghyuck and he just replied with ‘no idea lol’.”
“Have you considered the possibility that maybe – hear me out on this one – he is in class and hungover after going home with someone last night and having tons of wild sex?” Renjun picked up his pace to keep up with Jaemin’s long legs. His next class was going to start in thirty minutes, and they were a good half an hour walk away from college grounds.
“First of all, gross.” They crossed another street, and Jaemin started eyeing Renjun’s forgotten snack which was almost completely forgotten in the boy’s hands. “Everything’s fishy.”
“You’re eating bungeoppang. You’re practically begging, Renjun.” He poked Jaemin’s ribs without much heat, and pushed the bungeoppang in the other’s hands.
Food was a distant concept now that he was entering the twelfth hour since Donghyuck had texted him about going home when they all were at Jaehyun’s house, drinking and talking and laughing and, depending on who you ask, making out inconspicuously (in their opinion, anyway) under Jaehyun’s bedroom desk. Donghyuck had sent him a ‘done and dead, going home with doyoung hyung’ with a number of typos and double letters that said it all regarding his sobriety state. Renjun had texted him in the morning, only to be greeted with an eery silence for the following hours. Seven or fifteen messages later, he gave up and broke his rule of only calling people if anyone or himself were seconds away from imminent death – to find out that Donghyuck’s phone, wherever it and his owner were – was turned off.
“Go to hell. You’re gonna wish you’d believed me when we’re at the police station, three days from now.”
After Mark, the obvious option would be Youngho, of course. After leaving his last class of the day, Renjun had to ask around about his whereabouts a little bit, but ultimately found him in the gym, drenched in sweat and aggressively attracting everyone’s attention to himself, albeit involuntarily. Renjun had been there for a total of three minutes and already felt like throwing up.
“No, I haven’t seen Donghyuck since yesterday. Have you tried Mark?” He fixed his hair and pretended not to notice the three or four people who were trying to be discreet about staying behind after finishing their own routines to stare at tall, dark, and handsome Youngho.
“Yes, I have tried Mark.” Frustration dripped from his voice. He was almost sure Donghyuck hadn’t showed up for any of his classes, nor had anyone seen him for almost a full day. How come everyone was so calm about it?
“Sorry, Injunnie. Wish I could help. He did text me though?”
“Yeah? When?” A glimmer of hope, at last. Renjun had to physically hold himself back from bouncing from one foot to the other.
“This morning. It was something about this TV show we were talking about last week...” Youngho got his phone, swiping through his apps, until he finally showed the chat to Renjun. It was true, Donghyuck did text him earlier. It was mindless conversation about a new episode of some series Renjun had never heard of, to which Youngho had only replied with a chain of emojis.
After he left the gym, Renjun got Doyoung’s reply to an earlier message he had sent, asking about his way back home after leaving Jaehyun’s apartment – the text was short and unhelpful, stating that Doyoung had, indeed, accompanied Donghyuck to his room and that the boy did enter (and closed the door behind him). A very faint shadow of panic made its way into Renjun’s stomach when he raised his eyes from the cellphone screen, staring at the orange setting sun.
Chenle and Jisung weren’t on his plans initially, they just happened to be on Renjun’s way back to his room. Chenle’s bright hair was a spiritual stab to tired eyes, though, and Renjun debated whether or not a conversation staring at that would be worth it. In the end, his desperation won – any information about Donghyuck would be worth the pain of standing such a hostile shade of orange threatening his pupils with color blindness.
“Donghyuck? I don’t think so.” Jisung turned to Chenle – whose hair was glowing like highlighter against the night sky – who shaked his head while shrugging. “Was he at Jaehyun’s last night?”
“He was! We did shots together. That vanilla vodka was nasty.” Chenle seemed to remember something particularly funny about bad vodka and laughed. Renjun sighed, thinking that this kind of stress was precisely why Chenle and Jisung weren’t on the top of his list of people to ask for help – they were both easily distracted and had a penchant for laughing endlessly, and Renjun couldn’t be further away from the fun and giggles mood.
“But have you seen him today?”
“We could try Jungwoo-hyung? He always knows where to find his lizard when it goes missing.” Renjun gave Jisung an unimpressed look, and prayed to whatever being out there that was listening to grant him the self-control needed to deal with those two.
“Donghyuck’s definitely far from a lizard. But thanks anyway.”
“Also he pretty much tracked Sicheng-hyung when he went all On The Road after that fight he had with–”
“It’s fine.” Renjun sighed, short and loud. It was late, the day was pretty much over, and no one had any idea of what happened to Donghyuck after leaving Jaehyun’s apartment the night before. The only piece of news was that he had now a growing suspicion about Jungwoo’s seemingly supernatural abilities. “Thank you.”
Donghyuck had spent days without messaging him before, that much Renjun was aware. Something about this time seemed weird however, and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Maybe because of the other boy’s whole demeanor when they were at Jaehyun’s – slightly dim, like a watered down version of the original loud and confident Donghyuck. Renjun remembers asking him if everything was alright, to which he had answered in typical Donghyuck fashion, with cooing noises and a soliloquy on finally being able to feel loved by Renjun, while simultaneously complaining about receiving so much attention from one nameless Chinese boy that their relationship was about to make him suffocate. Both of them fell to the floor in a painful mess of love demonstration and weird threats, that reached its peak when one of them uttered ‘I’m gonna lick every shirt you own, you tiny demon’.
Renjun abandoned him for Jaemin after that, and started to think about how he could protect his wardrobe from a possible, although unlikely, assault.
“Have you even slept. Like. At all.” Jaemin sipped from his battery acid drink, eyebrows pinched and eyes waltzing over Renjun’s sluggish body and messy hair.
“How could I? He hasn’t answered anything. Anything. I’m gonna call the police.” Renjun ran his free hand through his hair, worsening its nest-like state, and fixed the straps of his backpack with distracted movements. When the barista called his name, he transferred his books from one hand to the other, and tried to pick his iced tea and sandwich at the same time. Jaemin sensed danger in waves: a sleep deprived Renjun was being careless around liquids.
“Here, let me help you.” He chimed in, right in time to take Renjun’s iced tea from his hand – thus, avoiding a potential spill, wet books, and (possibly) World War Three. They found an empty table and Renjun resumed voicing his worries.
“It’s been more than twenty four hours, do you realize that? When I get my hands on his pretty neck I’m gon–”
“Have you considered – and I really mean it this time, don’t look at me like that – that he doesn’t want to talk to anyone right now?” Two beats of silence went by, and that alone was telling enough about Renjun’s concerned mind. His quick wit would have taken over, otherwise.
“Have you ever actually met Donghyuck?”
“Fair point.” Jaemin shrugged, partially invested in the conversation. While it was definitely not very Donghyuck-like to ghost on his best friend like that, he couldn’t bring himself to fuss about it. Doyoung had gone almost a week once without being seen; and it turned out he was just ‘too tired to deal with you dumbfucks’. Ten had been worse – disappeared for (wait for it) ten whole days, only to come back grinning like an idiot, hair dyed blue, neck covered with hickies, and one justifiably ashamed Qian Kun in hand. It was a very interesting weekend, with Taeyong shouting at everyone, and claiming to not care about anyone else anymore. He might have said something along the lines of ‘I refuse to deal with you and your horny asses any longer’, although it’s still up to debate to this day.
The point is: they were in college. Shit was bound to happen, people went missing all the time, only to be found in a puddle of vomit or other dubious fluids. Being off the radar for a day didn’t equal kidnapping. It was fine. He wanted to tell Renjun as much, but doing so looked scarily similar to a suicide attempt at that moment. On cue, Renjun let his head fall, hitting the table with a dry thump. (His eye circles were spectacular, not that Jaemin would ever mention it.)
“I’ve asked around yesterday but no one knew anything useful.” He fiddled with the plastic straw in his tea, staring at the table wistfully as if Donghyuck himself would pop out of it if he did it for long enough.
“You do realize you’re letting your Sherlock Holmes obsession show, right.” Jaemin had no problem admitting that what made him so endeared by freshman Huang Renjun in the first place was his stacks of Conan Doyle’s books and the fiery passion he let show every time he raised his hand during their shared English Lit class. In fact, Jaemin had to refrain himself from cooing at the memory.
“I could use some help.” To be completely honest, Jaemin knew he was doomed the moment Renjun opened his mouth. It was something almost biological, his inability to say no to Renjun. He refused to go without a fight, though, at least to show some semblance of dignity. Not that he had any in the first place, but, you know.
“I have three assignments to hand in before Saturday.” He reached for Renjun’s forgotten sandwich, slowly and measured, as if Renjun was about to snap at any second.
“I don’t want to call Donghyuck’s parents so they can come to Seoul to identify his dead body.” Although he would vehemently deny it even if threatened by torture, Renjun’s lips were doing something disgustingly close to a pout. Jaemin snorted, trying to disguise the sound by clearing his throat.
“Please, Nana.” There it was: his head, on a platter, for Huang Renjun. He eyed the cold sandwich and took a bite, defeated.
They were outside Mark and Donghyuck’s apartment. Uninvited, mind you, while one of its owners was yet to be seen since the previous Sunday. All of that would have been fine – if only Renjun wasn’t trying to pick the lock to let them in. Jaemin was running through plausible stories to tell if anyone from the other rooms decided to show up (looking for Jungwoo’s lizard was on the top of the list, since it was recurrent enough to sound believable and it required a tiny amount of strange behavior to get it back).
“Wouldn’t it have been easier to just talk to Mark?” Renjun was deeply concentrated, and it took him a couple of seconds to answer. Jaemin was trying very, very hard not to question why his friend had a lock picking kit in the first place, but it was becoming increasingly difficult with each minute they spent on the corridor, crouching like they were doing something morally questionable (they were) or completely unnecessary (they also were).
“He is most likely the last person to see Donghyuck alive. That makes him the strongest suspect, thus not reliable in the least. Besides that, he was really evasive this morning, don’t you think so?”
It was unbelievably true. They had met Mark earlier, a little after lunch; and he looked perfectly disgruntled, full of short answers and evasive pieces of information. When asked directly about Donghyuck, a ‘I don’t keep track of Donghyuck’ was thrown in Renjun’s direction, which was supposed to wrap the conversation up. Needless to say, it only succeeded in making Renjun more suspicious and, consequently, more aggressive in his approach. Hence the lock picking and the looking like dumbasses part. To Jaemin’s mind, while he was wholly convinced Renjun was overreacting before – well, he wasn’t as sure anymore.
“You do realize it’s Mark Lee we’re talking about. Please-don’t-step-on-the-grass Mark Lee. The same Mark Lee that woke up half of this dorm when he found Jungwoo’s pet lizard on his pillow.” He would try to reason one way or another.
“Never trust general impressions.” Jaemin rolled his eyes discreetly, fearing being attacked with a picking tool. A click was heard, and Renjun made a pleased noise while raising tiny fists in the air. “It’s open.”
“Do I wanna know why you know how to pick a lock?” They made their way through the threshold, Renjun first. He looked at Jaemin over his shoulder, playfulness tugging at his lips.
“I don’t know, do you?”
Navigating through Mark and Donghyuck’s room was an uneventful task: they had been there a thousand times, and it wasn’t big enough to enable any kind of surprise – besides the fact that they found Donghyuck lying on his own bed under a thousand blankets after barely spending any time on their trespassing mission. It would have been comical in any other reality that didn’t contain a pissed off Renjun.
“Lee Donghyuck! I was worried sick! I was this close to calling the police, you fucking idiot. Where the fuck is your cellphone?” Jaemin didn’t really know what he was expecting, to be honest, but a shrilling Renjun was close enough anyway.
“Sorry, Injunnie.” It came out muffled from the formless area that was Donghyuck under the sheets.
“Don’t ‘sorry, Injunnie’ me when I was one sleepless night away from calling your mother to let her know her son could be dead in a ditch!” Renjun made sure to slap every lump that looked like it could belong to Donghyuck’s body, while the other tried his best to avoid getting hit by moving constantly under the covers. It looked like a pitiful rendition of whac-a-mole. “Where were you?”
The mood suffered a sordid shift so sudden it gave Jaemin whiplash. While he had a vague idea of what Donghyuck really meant by spending two days at Yukhei’s fancy flat, he couldn’t understand what would be so terrible about it. He seemed to be a decent human being, polite and attentive, albeit loud. On top of that, word on the streets was that he had the whole Science and Health department rightfully charmed – and, additionally, that he was a positively good one night stand. Win win situation, so why was Renjun getting under the covers with Donghyuck like the world was about to crash down?
“At Yukhei’s, of course.” Renjun stared back at him with wide eyes that were probably trying to convey a message too foreign to Jaemin’s own comprehension abilities. “Okay. Nana, could you get me a glass of water. The tallest glass with the largest amount of water in it. The kind that will take you forever plus twenty minutes to bring back.”
Jaemin nodded and left, no questions asked. He knew what an emotional confiding conversation looked like in its genesis, and he wouldn’t be needed anymore for that. Besides, he did have three assignments to finish before the weekend. He was opening the door to the corridor when he heard a soft dry sound of tiny claws sliding on a smooth surface, so he turned back to the apartment. Jungwoo’s lizard was on Mark’s desk, and something in Jaemin’s chest whispered the other boy deserved it.
“So. What can I do to avoid the blood bath that is about to happen?” They were walking down a maze of corridors, looking for the studio Mark was using. Renjun was letting anger roll down in waves, and, although his mood itself didn’t affect Jaemin, he feared for others’ (Mark’s) integrity greatly.
“Kill me instead.” He didn’t spare him a single glance. Jaemin let his eyes trace Renjun’s stone face, complete with frowned eyebrows and tight lips. He couldn’t avoid thinking it looked cute on him, with all due respect. Renjun’s feelings were absolutely valid; however, there was something to be said about seeing a short cute boy fuming on his way to draw blood, while wearing children-sized clothes.
“Is there anything I can do to change your mind?” It was a rhetoric question. There was no stopping Huang Renjun once he set his mind to do something – especially if it involved rightful vengeance against someone who made a friend of his cry.
“I don’t know, Jaemin, knowing that Donghyuck spent two days crying his eyes out because Mark has the emotional aptitude of a moldy socket doesn’t really do it for me.” Renjun’s words were clipped, and they almost matched in cadence his purposeful steps on the dusty floor of the Music department corridors. They inevitably found the recording room a bored post-grad student informed them Mark was using, and Renjun knocked with almost too much strength. Jaemin knew for a fact he was picturing Mark’s face on the wood surface.
“Hi Mark! A word, if you will!” It took them a couple more knocks to actually get a response in form of a click, an open door, and a bemused Mark Lee.
“Hey, Renjun, Jaemin. What’s up?” The desire to physically hold Renjun back hit Jaemin like a punch to the face – trying to hold him back would be the dumbest decision though. Unfortunately, Mark was on his own.
“I’ve heard you rejected Donghyuck after he confessed last Sunday, and then you had the brilliant idea of messaging him about how much you like him after he left to seek for the attention he deserves. So you tell me what’s up with that.” The silence was unbearable after Renjun finished talking. It was possible to distinctly hear a bunch of cicadas all the way from the gardens; maybe even a flock of birds migrating south. It certainly felt like summer was already over by the time Mark gathered 1. his mouth from the floor; 2. enough words to build a sentence.
“I– I’m not sure I want to discuss this with you? No offense, dude. It’s just... Messy right now.” He scratched behind his right ear, and stared at the floor keenly. It kicked Jaemin’s motherly instincts on, although Renjun was having none of it.
“You might want to discuss this with someone though, preferably a very competent psychologist, because being this constipated with your feelings can significantly affect other people’s lives. Not that you care about that obviously, because I’m the one with a friend who is confused as fuck about this fucking idiot who can’t seem to get his shit together.”
“Renjun, I think that’s enough.” Jaemin tried placing a hand on Renjun’s shoulder, only to be shaken off.
“Don’t try me, Jaemin. You.” He slammed his right hand on Mark’s chest, and hadn’t it been for the sobriety of the moment, Jaemin would have pinched his cheeks. “You have two days to talk to him. If it’s messy right now, you don’t want to imagine what it’s going to be like if you let any of this get worse. Do you hear me, Mark Lee?”
“Crystal clear.” Mark’s eyes were doing a remarkable impression of dinner plates.
“Good. Please shower and change clothes before talking to him, you look like a dirty frat boy.” Renjun didn’t spend another second looking at Mark, and plastered a satisfied expression on after the other boy flinched when he turned around to walk away. A safe distance had been put between them when Mark decided it was safe to open his mouth.
“He is surprisingly intimidating for someone so tiny.”
“Please don’t let him hear you.” Renjun was almost at the end of the corridor and, as if he had heard the exchange between the other two boys, he stopped suddenly and yelled over his shoulder.
“Nana!” Mark looked smug when Jaemin replied with a sickening ‘I’m coming, Injunnie’ – a surprisingly brave behavior from someone who just got told off by a twenty year old who actually looked like he’s twelve, if you ask Jaemin.
“But yeah. He is when he needs to be.” Jaemin turned away from Renjun’s expecting figure, and gave Mark a worried smile. “I don’t mean to Renjun you, but talk to Donghyuck, will you? He is really sad. Try not to panic this time.” To Mark’s credit, he did look ashamed.
“I’ll do my best. I promise. Sunday was just... Unexpected.” He answered, bashful, and waved Jaemin off. Renjun was tapping his foot impatiently in the distance, but his facial expression morphed into something far gentler when he saw Jaemin jogging down the corridor to catch him up. Those two had the audacity to demand anything from Mark? Really, the nerve. He shook his head and went back to the studio.
Renjun’s hands were a mess of melted blueberry ice cream to which he was not paying much attention – Mark and Donghyuck acting like they were in a corny teenage movie was far more interesting; albeit concernedly more second-hand embarrassment-inducing. After the buckets of emotional distress they had gone through during the previous week, all of them agreed to a lazy Sunday at the park to clear things up. And by ‘clear things up’, Donghyuck really meant ‘make sure there are no hard feelings between Renjun and Mark’ because, honestly, he would hate losing his brand new boyfriend to Renjun’s bitterness about past events. Well, anyone could see Donghyuck’s idea was working wonderfully, especially after Jaemin whispered in Mark’s ear what Renjun’s favourite ice cream flavor was, and the older boy proceeded to buy him two big scoops of it. There was no doubt that Donghyuck would mock him endlessly for selling himself for ice cream. Renjun didn’t mind it in the least, he concluded, watching Donghyuck laugh brightly at Mark’s cluelessness around their kite.
“I’m torn between calling them cute or gross.”
“Grossly cute?” Jaemin offered, licking at his own ice cream.
“Humanity is missing out on that brain of yours.” Renjun answered, deadpan and dripping sarcasm altogether. He lied down on the grass and closed his eyes, focusing on the rustling trees around them. It was a welcome break from the chaotic campus environment, and he couldn’t ever be thankful enough for Jaemin’s understanding of his need to stay quiet and unbothered for a while. And in comfortable silence they stayed.
“How did you know there was something up? Just because he was not answering you? I’m ninety percent sure that has happened before and you didn’t give two shits about it.” Jaemin couldn’t deny, though, that Renjun and Donghyuck had this weird mental bond thing going on, which was useful from time to time; but just plain annoying when they were together and the two of them kept communicating through glances and vague hand gestures. For some reason, it would usually end up with a dangerously upset Renjun flying to Donghyuck’s throat, telling him to minds his own business.
“Hmm. I don’t know. Maybe it was just a gut feeling, you know? I did say everything was fishy.” Maybe, just maybe, Jungwoo wasn’t the only one with supernatural powers, Renjun wondered. Donghyuck was lying down, head on Mark’s lap while the latter played with his hair. Renjun couldn’t avoid a smile after noticing his friend was too rigid to be asleep.
“Life’s just full of whimsical happenings.” He turned to Jaemin and wiggled his eyebrows once, confident that he would get the reference.
And Jaemin did get the reference. But he also got the angle the yellow sunlight was brushing against Renjun’s dark hair; the way his skin looked bright under the warm sun; the relaxed slope of his shoulders. How he avoided touching his hair with the hand that was holding his cone before, to prevent his forehead from getting sticky; and how much he enjoyed squirming his bare toes on the grass. He wondered how dull it would be to look at Huang Renjun and see anything less, at the same time he dared to think what it would be like to look at him and see just one thing more. He held Renjun’s crinkling gaze and grinned back.
“Yes. It is, indeed.”