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THEN

 

The week after he turned seven, a new family moved in across the street from Yunho’s home. He watched them unload a million and one boxes from the back of a truck from their living room window, barely peeking one eye between the curtains with his birthday crown still shoved down around his forehead lest anyone forget he’s aged.

“I liked our old neighbors better,” Yunho said, pouting at the people milling about while they waited for the new owners to get their key fob working. “They had a dog, mama.”

His mother ran soothing fingers over the top of Yunho’s head between the jagged paper edges of his kingly crown. “These people might have a dog too, baby.” 

Yunho pouted harder because if that were true then surely a plastic carrier with the metal grate on the front would have appeared by now. They probably hate dogs. He slumped against his mother’s legs in petulance. They probably have something totally lame like a tank full of fish instead. Or, worse, no pets at all. He and his mother stood in relative silence while another van pulled up alongside the house.

“Look,” she nudged at his shoulders when a sliding door in the back of the van revealed even more people. “There’s a boy your age. Let’s go get a welcome gift and introduce ourselves, mm?”

Yunho nodded but internally he was already cringing at trying to make friends with someone from the sticks, who probably didn’t even appreciate the fine art of Beyblade battles. 

They ended up waiting a whole two days before his mom trooped the three of them—his mom, himself, and his brother—across the street in their weekend best; by which time he and Gunho had wrestled enough to destroy the birthday crown so his royal reign over their room had come to an end. Tragic, really, because the crown was like the most magical thing he owned since his mom would give him an extra fruit cup at lunch time when he wore it. 

No animal crate ever materialized. 

The new family—the Kims—didn’t have a dog or a cat or even a (super lame) fish. However, they did have two sons and an extravagant entertainment system to Yunho’s standards, with an Xbox360 and a Wii. Yunho forgave the youngest, who was still older than himself by a few months, for not being totally invested in becoming a Beyblade master by virtue of his super awesome collection of Pokemon merch.

“Hi, I’m Yunho,” he held a palm out to the boy with terribly scraped knobby knees while their moms bowed and introduced themselves. “This is my idiot baby brother, do you have Wii Sports?”

“I’m Hongjoong and Wii Sports is for babies,” Hongjoong scowled back, but he was nervously tugging his fingers while he said it so Yunho was kind enough to ignore the rudeness. Also he had a Wii. Yunho can forgive a lot if it means he could potentially be playing a whole Wii, soon. Hongjoong continued, “I have Zelda.”

Yunho gawped as Hongjoong fidgeted. Their mothers continued to talk about whatever moms are into—probably not video games—while his brother made a concerted effort to find buried treasure up his nasal cavity. “You have Twilight Princess already?”

“Yeah, my dad bought it for me on release day to make up for making us move away.” Hongjoong coughed, open mouthed. It was still rude but he also still owned a Wii and now Zelda, Yunho forgave him immediately. “Um, do you want to come in and play?”

“Yes,” Yunho said vehemently and tugged his brother over to replace his own hand with their mom’s skirt so he could relieve himself of babysitting duty. “Mom! Can I go play Zelda with Hongjoong?”

She looked down, smacked Gunho’s hand out of his nose, and said, “Honey, I don’t think our new neighbors are quite ready for guests, they’re still getting unpacked from the move.”

Hongjoong’s mom laughed. “It’s fine, it’s fine! I’m glad my son is making a friend so quickly.” Yunho decided she was the coolest mom ever and easily topped his top three list. She pressed an orange from the basket Yunho’s mom had brought over with a wink. “Why don’t you two share a snack before you play? Just be careful not to trip on any cardboard.”

Yunho whooped, both glad for the permission and for getting rid of his sticky gross brother, and grabbed Hongjoong before anyone could tell them differently. He’ll remember, later, that it was the first time they’d ever held hands and that, even in the frigid April in Gwangju air, Hongjoong’s palms were warm.

----------------

The playdates turn into a regular thing almost instantaneously, especially on the weekends and after school. Hongjoong was older, not by much but enough for the administration to place him in a grade above Yunho’s own. The sudden popularity in his own age group for having a friend he could wave to in the hallways—who had a Wii, lest anyone forget—went to Yunho’s head, smugly lording his knowledge of what goes on in the grade above. He was only brought back down again by the fact he had to corral his consistently sticky younger brother after school while they waited for their mom to pick them up in the stuttering old family sedan.

It helped that Hongjoong wasn’t stingy. He tended to like watching Yunho play his games more than he enjoyed playing them himself, always passing the controller over with a smile and a sheepish, “I can never figure out this puzzle.”

Yunho never minded. He was good at puzzles, and good at video games, and even when they tried to play co-op mode on Call of Duty, he never let slip that Hongjoong was really, truly abysmal at checking ammo. Or aiming. Or utilizing his fine motor skills because he was always having to glance down at his fingers to see what button to press—too late—as the enemy team moved in and mowed the pair of them down in game. 

Where Hongjoong was lacking, Yunho was there to fill the gap.

----------------

For his thirteenth birthday, Hongjoong gets a PS3 and a copy of Dead Space they have to play under adult supervision in the family room. Even during the daylight hours of Saturday morning, it’s dark and spooky and spine chilling, so they huddle together beneath a blanket, as close as they can manage without being in each other’s lap. Isaac had only barely made it through the first bulkhead door when Hongjoong’s mother took a phone call and left them to their own devices for a moment.

The first jumpscare was bad enough that Hongjoong screamed, threw his controller almost across the room if Yunho hadn’t been anticipating it and held fast to the charging cable, and jumped into Yunho’s lap like it was home base and he’s trying to save himself from being tagged out. 

By this point, Yunho was used to the theatrics. He manhandled Hongjoong until his hyung was facing forwards so he could wrap his arms around his waist for comfort, and so he could more easily hold the controller with his elbows gently propped against his thighs. Hongjoong gets the throw blanket readjusted so he can hide his face—every fifteen minutes like clockwork because he was a horrific scaredy-cat.

“Why are you so scared of things in games?” Yunho asked, chin propped against the crown of Hongjoong’s head. He’d gone through a growth spurt over the summer, a new and interesting angle added to world around him while Hongjoong barely grew ten centimeters. Sitting like this, Yunho realized they were a bit like interlocking puzzle pieces—they fit together, slotted in tight with no awkward space between them. “The monsters aren’t actually real.”

“Leave me alone,” Hongjoong muttered, red faced and embarrassed peeking over the edge of the blanket. “You know I’m terrible with scary things like this, I can’t help it.”

“So why’d you ask for this game for your birthday?” Yunho frowned. Something on screen moaned deep and guttural down a long passageway and Hongjoong made a sound like a dying muppet, hiding beneath his makeshift cotton fort and drooping further into Yunho’s embrace. “Hongjoong.”

“I—you and my brother were both talking about it, so I just—you know, I just thought this would be the better present,”  Hongjoong said, muffled.

Yunho pulled up the inventory screen and hit pause. “Hongjoong.”

“What?”

“What did you really want for your birthday?”

The room went quiet, tinny groaning from the television interspersed within the silence until Yunho hits mute. Hongjoong refused to answer. 

“Hongjoong, hyung, you gotta be selfish for once in your life,” Yunho grumped.

Hongjoong curled inward to rest his chin on his knees. “I’m selfish all the time.”

“No, you’re not,” Yunho contradicted. “You always let everyone else get what they want before you ask for anything for yourself.” He jostled his legs until Hongjoong huffed and stared back at him frowning. “What did you really want for your birthday?”

He watched Hongjoong watch him for what felt like hours, which probably meant less than two minutes but time always felt weirdly disjointed when they were together. Hours felt like minutes, minutes like hours, and days spent frowning at each other from their windows across the street while it rained were endless.

Hongjoong deflated. “A Yamaha keyboard I saw at the mall last month.”

“Okay.” Yunho unpaused the game. “Noted.”

“Noted?” 

“Yep,” Yunho grinned at Hongjoong’s confused expression. “Hey there’s a monster behind you,” he said just as an actual enemy on screen went careening down the long hallway with a roar, and laughed until he thought he was on the verge of passing out from the girly scream Hongjoong let out, unprepared.

“You suck!”

“What are you boys yelling about?” Hongjoong’s mother asked, rounding the corner to the living room with a plate of freshly cut mango. 

“Hongjoong is a big scaredy-cat.”

“I am not!” Hongjoong denied, voice loud over the sound of frenetic gunfire. 

His mom snickered, because she’s the best, and egged him on. “Then why is Yunho-yah playing your new game for you?”

“I—” Hongjoong stopped to formulate an excuse. When none were forthcoming, he huffed and shuffled back into place underneath Yunho’s chin. “Whatever.”

Yunho shared a look and a high five with Hongjoong’s mom. “Well then, it’s a good thing Yunho is here to look after you or else you’d never get to see the end of your game. Although, he’s not going to be around forever, you know,” she cautioned.

“Yes, he will!”

“Yes, I will!”

They chorused over each other. 

His mother blinked, though a curiously mischievous smile curled the edges of her mouth and Yunho was reminded who Hongjoong gets it from. “Oh? Even when you’re both married with kids of your own?”

They paused to think. Yunho nudged Hongjoong’s stomach with the edge of the controller, brilliant idea half-formed. “Hey, if we get married I can play all the scary games for you from now until forever.”

His mom made a funny stifled choking sound at the idea, but Hongjoong pursed his lips deep in thought. “If we get married I’d get to go on all your family trips, right?”

“Yeah, and I’d have permanent access to the PS3 and the DS.”

Hongjoong considered it a moment longer before heaving an overwrought sigh. “I’m too young to get married”—his mother wheezed, “The phone, I have to get her on the phone right now”— “and anyway, I want a pretty wife.”

Fair enough. Though Yunho screeched, “Am I not pretty enough for you?” in mock offense.

Hongjoong pretended to think with his tiny fingers splayed against his chin. “Could be prettier.” He said while Yunho clutched the controller tightly to his chest as if he’d been dealt a mortal blow. That devolved into a tickle fight, which devolved further into a faux wrestling match that only ended when Hongjoong’s mother cleared her throat and blandly offered them pieces of sticky mango.

----------------

It took six months of saving his allowance, his birthday money, and doing extra chores before Yunho could afford to buy Hongjoong the present he deserved. A sleek Yamaha keyboard he found at a pawn shop for less than the cost of an arm and a leg, and pestered his mother into purchasing for him because the man behind the counter was old and terrifying and liked to prank him by removing his glass eye with the edge of a dull knife. 

It was a little out of date compared to the one Hongjoong had seen at the mall, but he accepted the gift with tears in his eyes and a smile on his mouth.

“Thank you,” Hongjoong sobbed into his shirt collar. “Thank you so much, this means the world to me.”

Yunho could only nod or else he’d start crying too, intensely satisfied with himself for managing to make Hongjoong so happy. 

----------------

During the weeks leading into Hongjoong moving up another grade to join the ranks of high school kids, Yunho decided he wanted to decorate his ceiling with glow in the dark stars. Gunho finally had his own room across the hall where their parents used to pretend to have an office and Yunho was ready to make the space his very own. Apparently that meant ceiling constellations and a new bookshelf containing every Harry Potter novel with polaroids Hongjoong took on Jeju Island tacked to the sides.

His best friend came over to help when Yunho explained his idea, even going so far as to try and map out a few real constellations on notebook paper, but they mostly end up dotting the stickers on at random. 

Two hours later, they dropped back against the soft mattress of Yunho’s rickety twin bed side by side. In the dark—lights off and blinds pulled tight to block out the dim light of early evening—they pretended to point out countless constellations. They made up stories about warriors, and beasts with three heads, and another about a dude with hooks for hands in charge of lassoing the moon every night. About friends torn apart in a giant earthquake that find each other again in the sky.

Hongjoong, with his head pillowed against Yunho’s shoulder, made one up about star-crossed lovers, literally, on opposite sides of the room that Yunho couldn't help but snort at.

“Man, that’s gross.” He grimaced.

“Love’s not gross.” Hongjoong sniffed, offended, and knocked his head backward in retaliation. “I think it’s sweet.”

“Well I think it’s bunk.” Yunho shifted nervously, heart thumping in his chest in weird stuttering waves that he had yet to understand what caused them. Hongjoong made a quiet noise of dissent but remained silent, head tilted just so against Yunho’s shoulder that he could stare up at the ceiling without his neck aching. 

Yunho, unnerved by the silence and the steady thump-thump-pause in his chest shakily asked, “Hongjoong...do you think we’ll always be friends?”

His friend hummed. “What do you mean?”

“Like...when we’re old and out of school and getting married and stuff,” Yunho fiddled with the edge of his shirt, pilled cotton rolling beneath his fingertips. 

Hongjoong watched him for a bit. “Why do you ask? What’s brought this on?”

“My brother said he was going to do his military enlistment after high school and he’s already told me all of his friends are waiting for after college. He thinks they’re all going to leave him behind.” Yunho deflated. “I just...wondered.”

Hongjoong knocked their feet together and wound his fingers between the deathgrip Yunho had on the edge of his shirt. “Number one, your brother is way too young to be worrying about the military just yet and so are you.” He rubbed a soothing thumb across Yunho’s knuckles. “Number two, I can’t say for sure what the future holds, but I would like to think we’ll be together for a long time, Yunho. You’re my favorite person.”

“Okay,” Yunho wheezed out, returning the somewhat too tight hold Hongjoong had on his fingers. “Good.”

They stayed like that, curled into one another’s space, until Yunho’s mom opened the door to let them know dinner was just about ready.

“What are you boys doing in the dark?” She asked suspiciously.

“We’re making up constellations!” Hongjoong grinned back, fingers pointing upward at the ceiling covered in light green-ish yellow stars and moons. It meant he was no longer holding Yunho’s hand which now felt strangely empty without Hongjoong’s fingers slotted in between his own. And a little damp from their combined sweat. 

“Mom, can Hongjoong stay over tonight?” Yunho asked with his best puppy eyed expression. “Please, please, please, please, please?” Hongjoong joined in with even sadder eyes and his hands rubbing together in supplication.

His mother tapped her pointer finger against her lip in contemplation before shrugging. “If his parents say it’s okay with them, then it’s fine with me. I always make too much for dinner anyway.”

“Yes!” They cheered in unison.

Hongjoong tugged him from his prone position on the bed until Yunho was lurching upright facing the doorway. “Let’s go ask mom and then I can grab that one game you like!”

Yunho perked up. “The new Pokemon?”

“Yeah!”

“What are you waiting for?” Yunho kicked at the back of Hongjoong’s legs to frog march him out the door. They may be preteen and...teen respectively, but Pokemon was eternal. “Go, go, go!”

His mom only laughed at their antics and the sound carried them from Yunho’s room, down the stairs, then over the threshold on their way across the street to whine like beggars.

----------------

Over the summer, still a few fading weeks away from the looming threat of high school, Hongjoong became really heavily invested into music composition. Yunho went with him to buy a used laptop from the closest pawn shop, still ran by the man with the glass eye, and tried to help get a program up and running on the old OS. Except he’s never been very good with computers so the most he could do was make the task manager pop up.

Yunho spent a lot of time in the corner of Hongjoong’s room playing on his PSVita while Hongjoong composed music with huge headphones covering his ears. It was nice, honestly, because they weren’t the kind of people that needed to fill up space with chatter. Yunho had just as much fun reading a book while Hongjoong napped in his lap as he did when they were trash talking each other over video or board games.

Hongjoong liked to show him his ‘best’ work for feedback, which Yunho would either offer him a thumbs up for anything that resembled music or a wince when Hongjoong basically tried to blow out his eardrums with dissonant noise. Hongjoong rewarded him each time with a smile so blindingly white Yunho thought maybe he should start wearing sunglasses whenever they’re together.

----------------

High school was apparently nothing like middle school, and Hongjoong tended to come home tired and wrung out most days. Yunho, still stuck in a grade below and left adrift in hallways that were never quite the same without Hongjoong to wave at, had thought maybe he should leave his friend alone until Hongjoong sent him frowning, dewy-eyed selcas over kakaotalk begging for his energizer to come over.

Yunho usually found him slumped over a textbook or a pile of notes about Secret High School Knowledge he could not even begin to wrap his head around. 

“I need to finish this homework,” Hongjoong slurred out one particular evening. His eyes were already heavy lidded and bloodshot and drooping from exhaustion. “There’s a test next week, I should be studying.”

He’s light, so it really took no effort at all for Yunho to hook his hands beneath Hongjoong’s pits to drag him across the room and into his bed with the covers already pulled back from the night before. 

“Well I need a nap. We can’t work in these conditions, hyung.”

Hongjoong offered up a token protesting, “Mmmg” noise, but, like always, went sliding under the covers first and waited for Yunho to turn off the lights with his arms spread wide. An open invitation Yunho will always accept.

“Hey, Yunho,” Hongjoong yawned into his neck. 

Already on the edge of sleep, Yunho could only give a mumbled, “Yeah?”

He felt it when Hongjoong started to grin, arms tightened around his waist and knees digging into the back of Yunho’s thighs. “You’ll make a good wife someday.”

“Fuck off,” He whined while Hongjoong snickered like an asshole behind him, hissing when Yunho got tired of the mockery and shoved a foot into his shin.

----------------

Yunho finally understood the cause of his stutter-stop heartbeat every time Hongjoong swayed too far into his personal space when he turned thirteen, entered high school himself, and subsequently went through a horrifying second puberty. 

“Oh,” Yunho thought, only slightly panicked at the glistening image of Hongjoong lifting himself out of the school pool during a swim class they now shared. “Oh no.”

Hongjoong smiled at him after toweling his face dry, gave him a tiny wave that flicked water into another boy’s eye that resulted in a half-hearted wrestling match between the two. Yunho watched him, watched his smile and his laugh, and jumped into the pool to hide the worst boner he’d ever popped in public. 

Yunho stayed near the bottom until he couldn’t take it any longer and came up for air, rested his arms on the edge of the pool and tried not to think. Hongjoong sat down to dangle his legs in the water beside him. Yunho tried extra hard not to think about all the open real estate of his chest and stomach on display. 

“So,” Hongjoong sighed, towel wrapped around his neck long enough that it covered his nipples. “How is high school treating you? Everything you ever dreamed of?”

“It’s uh...I mean it’s just class and more class,” Yunho answered. “Algebra sucks ass. I'm debating staging a revolt from Professor Himchan's class if he assigns us another packet over the weekend.”

“All math sucks, just wait until you have to take calculus.” Hongjoong flicked water at him with a grimace.

You suck,” Yunho grumbled back, embarrassed that the sight of Hongjoong wrinkling his nose made his heart flutter. He flicked water back, a wide arc of his arm so Hongjoong was hit smack in the face with it and soaking his somewhat dry hair. Hongjoong squawked indignantly and jumped back into the pool to dunk Yunho’s head beneath the water.

----------------

Yunho liked to think of his life in two separate but equal parts: before he realized his hopeless crush on Kim Hongjoong and the horrible long dark after he came to terms with it.

If he was honest with himself, and he tried to be, Yunho knew that Hongjoong would probably never be interested. With all his talk of wanting a wife, he was probably straight and this boyhood crush was useless anyway. They still spent time together everyday after school, sometimes joined by their brothers to crowdsource answers to difficult homework questions, and they still spent most of their free weekends trying to speedrun video games.

Hongjoong never showed interest, in anyone really, and Yunho never figured out how to flirt. Especially not when Hongjoong smiling or laughing or existing made him tongue tied and stupid. Every stumbled sentence or stuttered reply or distressingly red faced hugging session ended with Hongjoong's laughter, either at him or with him, so Yunho decided it was worth the heartache to stick around. 

Song Mingi, a gangly boy with a sharp jawline and sharper side profile, transferred into their school a year later and Yunho decided to transfer his crush to save himself from himself.

“He’s really nice and he likes to dance like I do,” Yunho told Hongjoong over one of their study dates, which were not actual dates because the universe wanted him to suffer. 

“Yeah? That’s nice that you guys became friends so quick,” Hongjoong grinned at him with his favorite pair of grandpa glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose. Yunho hated that they still made him more attractive than 99% of the population. “I’m proud of you, Yunho.”

Yunho balanced a pencil on his nose to distract from the red flush he knew was slowly creeping over his ears and towards his cheeks. “We, uh, we’re kinda—” he coughed and hoped that’s all that needed to be said.

Hongjoong didn’t get it. “You’re kinda what?”

Yunho hesitated. “Promise you won’t get weird?”

“When have I ever been weird with you, honestly,” Hongjoong deadpanned and kicked him under the table.

As quietly as he could manage, Yunho whispered, “Dating.”

Hongjoong’s pen dropped almost as fast as his mouth. “You’re—date—what?”

“See? You’re being weird about it!” Yunho whined and slammed his forehead onto the table, only a thin workbook serving as a cushion against the blow. “I never should have said anything, forget it.”

“I’m not being weird, I’m just—this was just a little unexpected, that’s all,” Hongjoong tapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Yunho, look at me.”

“Don’t wanna.”

“Stop being a baby,” Hongjoong laughed though it sounded strained and awful and not at all like the ones Yunho was used to receiving. “Lift your head up, ya’ goof.”

Yunho scowled but did as he asked. Hongjoong gave him a tight lipped smile, a little bloodless in the cheeks. “You don’t hate me for being…”

“Gay?” Hongjoong sent him a helpless sort of look. “Yunho, I could never hate you for that. I couldn’t hate you for anything.”

Okay, well, good to know. “And I didn’t scare you away from being my friend?”

Hongjoong shook his head. “I love you”—Yunho’s traitorous heart jumped immediately into his throat—”You’re my favorite person, you know that. Nothing you could do would ever scare me away from being your friend.”

Yunho breathed a sigh of relief that felt like it came all the way from his toes. Hongjoong may never like him in the way Yunho wanted, but this was enough. This will have to be enough.

Hongjoong continued, “You must really like him, huh?”

Yunho knew, realistically, that Hongjoong was referring to Mingi, but when he answered, “Yeah,” it’s with ‘you, you, you, I like you’ repeated in his mind with bass boosted like if he could only scream loud enough, the information would fly out of him and into Hongjoong’s stupid, beautiful brain.

They went back to studying in silence.

----------------

Slowly, by inches, they stopped hanging around each other as much. Yunho gets busy with Mingi, and with being a good boyfriend—which mostly involved not farting during movies and holding hands a lot—while Hongjoong seemed to get busy doing...something. When they run into each other at the convenience store closest to their street, Hongjoong’s brother told him Hongjoong spent most of his time in his room playing on the keyboard Yunho bought him however long ago.

“He’s really into emo music now,” his brother rolled his eyes heavenward. “It’s really annoying so whatever you did to make him this way, please do something to make it stop. If I have to listen to his rendition of The Black Parade one more time, I’m going to shove that keyboard so far up his ass he'll be sneezing in C-sharp.”

“Black Parade is a good song,” Yunho said in Hongjoong’s defense.

“Ugh,” his brother groaned in disgust. “You two deserve each other.” He said before stomping off with his day old kimbap roll.

Another oddity: Hongjoong doesn’t date. As far as Yunho could tell, he didn’t even flirt but several people in their mutual classes started asking Yunho to pass along their number, as if he was their personal wingman. Yunho collected them at the end of the day to burn in a vengeful pyre on the family grill behind the house.

Things became even more awkward between them when Yunho woke up one Saturday morning to realize...he couldn’t remember the last time they had a conversation outside of a classroom or the school hallway. When he checked the window that faced the Kim household, Hongjoong’s curtains were pulled tight, no gap so his friend could ostensibly glance out to check for Yunho staring longingly out of his own.

Yunho hoped it was because Hongjoong was going through some kind of hetero angst phase, too wrapped up in his music to pay attention to anyone in general and Yunho specifically. 

Yunho decided not to bother.

----------------

He dated Mingi for a year.

They broke up on their first anniversary when Mingi brought him to his empty house where they tried to have sex, but Yunho couldn’t get into it. Mingi was Mingi, gorgeous and tall and hilarious, but he was also Not Hongjoong and that was...apparently that was a problem for his uncooperative dick. Yunho was polite enough to give Mingi a handjob, for his hospitality, before he ruined everything by breaking up with him not five minutes later.

“I’m sorry,” Yunho said after. “Dude, I think I’d rather just play Mario Kart with you.”

Mingi handed him a coke and snack sized bag of his favorite chips. “Yeah, same.”

“No hard feelings?”

“Nah,” Mingi bopped him with the edge of DVD case—some anime he’d been gushing about the week before. “You’re like my best friend.”

Yunho snickered. “That’s gay.”

You’re gay,” Mingi whined back. “And immature as shit, too.”

Yunho sent him a pursed mouth face back before cracking open his can and popping the bag of chips. It’s fine, they were fine, and Yunho felt like he hadn’t lost anything when instead of leaning over to kiss him, Mingi leaned over to blow a raspberry against his neck.

“Mingi!”

“Payback,” he said back, smug. “For leading me on when you’re definitely in love with Kim Hongjoong.”

Yunho’s brain went disturbingly, deafeningly blank, hands paused in midair on their way to wipe the spit from his neck. “Wh—I don’t— how?”

“You might be, but I’m not stupid,” Mingi laughed good naturedly. “Man, three quarters of your room is like a shrine entitled ‘How Much I Love Hongjoong: Let Me Count The Ways’.”

“It is not!” Yunho spat, feeling horrified and like a wide open book. “I don’t—”

"You have seven pictures of him on the beach on your nightstand."

"Those are commemorative photos from a vacation," Yunho said faintly. "They're meant to be displayed."

"Yeah, but all seven? At once?" Mingi nudged him affectionately in the side with his elbow. "I’m your ex-boyfriend and your best friend, idiot, if you can’t admit it to me then who?” Mingi punctuated the statement by stealing a handful of chips and shoving them all into his mouth at once with an obnoxious crunch.

Yunho considered it. It was one thing to admit to himself but another to admit it out loud. To another person. Who, up until an hour ago, used to be his significant other.

“Um.”

“Yunho.” 

“I—” He sucked in a tight breath and wished for courage. “I...really like Hongjoong.”

“There you go,” Mingi slapped him on the back with too much force. “Feel better?”

No. Yunho felt about the same as before, only now he didn’t have a boyfriend and Hongjoong was ignoring him.

----------------

Time, Yunho found, was a strange and terrible invention. It seemed like between one blink and the next, Hongjoong was being accepted into SNU while Yunho was left to spend one more year in high school hell without his smiling, happy face to brighten his day. Even from afar, since Hongjoong was still sort of not speaking to him for whatever reason, the sight of his face alone was enough to propel Yunho through his classes until the end of the day.

Yunho kind of wanted to complain about it, about being left adrift in his feelings while Hongjoong went away to college, but right now he’s got Lee Injong over to finish out a group project and Mingi has his head buried in a book about the Han River.

“Ugh, history is so stupid, why do we have to have to make presentations on river transportation? Not like any of us are going to boat bootleg alcohol anywhere anytime soon,” Injong grumbled. 

“I wouldn’t mind becoming a fisherman,” Mingi said, still buried in his text.

“You’d have to kill fish if you were. Remember how hard you cried when your goldfish died?” Yunho reminds him dryly. 

Whatever Mingi’s answer was going to be gets interrupted by the chime of the doorbell and Yunho’s father rushing to open the door. “Hongjoong-ah! Just the man I wanted to see."

“Hey, Mr. Jeong,” Hongjoong answered, a room away and jovial as ever. “You said you needed help with something?”

Yunho sent Mingi a wide eyed, desperate glance. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready to see Hongjoong fresh from his first few weeks of college course loads. Mingi ignored him to wonder, “Do you think I’d look good in those coveralls industrial fisherman wear?”

Injong threw a wad of torn paper into his face. “No one looks good in those things, keep dreamin’.”

“It’s that damned attic staircase giving us fits again. I’d fix it myself but I need another pair of hands to hold it. Gunho is out and Yunho has a project group over,” His father continued, leading Hongjoong closer and closer to the kitchen table they had collectively propped their study materials on. “Oh! Yunho, look who’s here.”

Yunho looked. Yunho wished he hadn’t looked because Hongjoong has new piercings in his ears and his hair is a vibrant crimson, much like the color Yunho knew his face was turning. If not for Mingi kicking him in the shin, concealed under the table, he probably could have stared forever. Or until Hongjoong was spooked enough to leave.

“Hey,” Yunho managed to get through his too tight airway. 

Hongjoong laughed at him, he was always laughing at something. The sound of it was so nice, he’d missed it so much, Yunho thought maybe he was going to start bawling and bit the inside of his cheek to stop. Hongjoong walked forward until he could ruffle his hands through Yunho’s hair. “Hey, how’s life?”

“Fine,” Yunho squeaked. Oh god, what the fuck, why is Hongjoong so hot up close? Who allowed him to grow up like this when Yunho wasn't looking—jesus christ.

“Hey, hyung, it’s been a while.” Mingi intervened. Yunho tapped their shoes together as thanks because his brain is gone—just fucking gone, out to lunch see you in an hour, maybe.

“Hey, Mingi-yah,” Hongjoong’s eyes went tight at the corners. “Studying hard or hardly studying?”

God help him but Yunho snorted laughter into his hands at the terrible, awful joke. Hongjoong ran his fingers through Yunho’s fringe, dropped a kiss to his forehead before joining his father down the hallway looking at the troublemaker steps. Yunho gaped after him—the lunch has turned into dinner and a movie, possibly followed closely a twelve hour siesta before his brain would be ready to join the ranks of the living again.

Once he was out of earshot, Injong rolled his eyes. “That guy was always so lame.”

Yunho fidgeted with his highlighter collection for a moment. “He’s just kind of a weird uncle type of friend, that’s all.”

There’s a sound of a quiet, nearly inaudible inhale behind him and Mingi slapped at his thigh, eyes wide. Behind him, Hongjoong coughed. Yunho turned back in time to see him standing rigid and pale in the doorway, mouth gaped open and closed while his chin crumpled. “I, uh...I needed to borrow a hammer, but I’ll just go find your mom and ask her,” and, with that, he turned on his heel and left the room.

Mingi kicked him again. “Dude.”

“I know,” Yunho said despairingly. “I know, ok?”

Injong snorted. “What a drama queen. He’s not worth being friends with anyway. My sister said he had a secret boyfriend in high school and that’s why he never dated,” He leaned in close to whisper conspiratorially. “But between you and me, I think it was because he was too much of a loser to get anyone to actually date him.”

Yunho exchanged a heated glare with Mingi. They get through the project, somehow, and Injong doesn’t make another appearance at his house afterward. 

But…

Neither does Hongjoong.

----------------

 

 

NOW

 

 

“Okay, so, ground rules,” Hongjoong holds one hand aloft with his fingers spread, the other propped on his hip almost a mirror image of his mother. “No bringing your boyfriend back to this apartment while I am here. Our rooms are directly across from each other and it will traumatize me.”—Yunho burns red in embarrassment, because, hello, this conversation is traumatizing enough—“Just go to his place or find a room to rent somewhere.”

“Go it,” Yunho chokes. His duffle bag makes a quiet thump against the carpet of his new home.

“And remember to be safe,” Hongjoong tacks on, because he’s terrible and apparently wants Yunho to expire in the middle of their shared apartment.

“I said I got it!”

“Well you don’t gotta snap at me,” Hongjoong pouts. Yunho absolutely does not look at the attractive jut of his mouth, he swore to himself he’d given up on Hongjoong totally before the move. “I was just trying to be helpful.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it, hyung, really.” Yunho replies, still mortified and now a little afraid Hongjoong is going to give him a tearful rendition of The Talk and a box of condoms. “Anything else?”

Hongjoong chews his bottom lip. “Yeah, uh, if you want to bring friends over—that’s fine—give me a heads up so I can either get headphones on or book a study room so I can get out of your hair.” Hongjoong visibly wilts. “I don’t want you to be ashamed of your ‘weird uncle friend’ like you were back home.”

“Hongjoong, I’ve told you multiple times I’m not ashamed of you or of being your friend.” Yunho frowns the longer Hongjoong averts his eyes and fidgets in place. “Injong was just being a shithead that night, it was nothing against you.”

“Anyway,” Hongjoong avoids further discussion by picking up one of Yunho’s many cardboard boxes, the smallest yet heaviest one with his Harry Potter collection, and leading him down the hallway towards his new room. “Other than that, there’s not really anything you need to know. We have our own laundry hookup, the bus runs by the apartment every thirty minutes or so if you need to get somewhere.” 

“Convenient,” Yunho whistles. His room is just barely smaller than the one back home, but it’s got a giant window and built in shelving pre-scuffed by the previous owner. Renter? Hongjoong’s old roommate. There’s a twin bed standing on in against one wall Hongjoong assured him had been cleaned before he made the trek up here from Gwangju. “But wouldn’t it be easier just to take the car?”

“You would think, but no. Traffic here is a nightmare,” Hongjoong says with a whine. “Plus, I might not be around to act as your personal chauffeur.”

“I can drive.”

“It’s my brother’s car and he will maim both of us if anything happens to it.”

“Nevermind, what’s a license? Never heard of it.” Yunho tamps down the urge to smile goofily and the sound of Hongjoong laughing, bent double to grip at his knees even though it really wasn’t that funny of a joke. He swore to himself he was going to give up on his however many years long crush to make living here bearable and, by god, Yunho is going to make it happen.

“Oh, but, before I forget, one last thing—”

“I swear not to have sex with anyone in the living room either.” Yunho is quick to intervene.

“Not that,” Hongjoong kicks him gently in the shin. “Just...don’t go in my room without asking me, alright? Or knocking.”

“Why?” Yunho blinks, suddenly intensely curious. “Do you have a bunch of porn posters everywhere or something?”

“No, gross!” Hongjoong hisses like a cat. “I just have a lot of delicate musical equipment in there and I know how clumsy you can be.”

“Okay,” He places his hands on both of Hongjoong’s shoulders. “I promise not to go into your room without knocking so you have time to hide your porn.”

Hongjoong says nothing in reply, but the scowling glare and the vicious titty-twister are answer enough.

----------------

Hongjoong has been in college a full year before Yunho gets his acceptance letter to SNU. He’s been coasting on a full ride scholarship with a lenient housing addendum that has let him live off campus in a tiny apartment shared with one other person, and the only thing he has to pay for are the necessities not covered by rent, like cup ramen and expensive fruit juices he buys in bulk. 

Hongjoong apparently let slip to Yunho’s mom that his old roommate was moving out, leaving him a little in the lurch right before the fall semester, to which she enthusiastically volunteered Yunho as a replacement along with an offer to send him checks for the both of them to split. 

“Mom, no, what are you saying?” Yunho trills at her over dinner one night while his father and brother both gaze into the middle distance, refusing to be dragged into the conversation.

“Well, why not? You two used to be attached at the hip until you got into high school,” his mother pouts. “I miss seeing him around the house.”

They were attached at the hip before Yunho realized he wanted to be attached to his face. Living with him would be the worst sort of nightmarish torture and his mother is, apparently, a sadist. “We still talk…”

“Yes, but this way you can be together again and I don’t have to worry about you skipping class or going out partying every weekend.” She ladles another helping of rice into his bowl. “Hongjoong is a good boy who won’t let my son fall in with the wrong crowd.”

Gunho decides to pop in, “Can we trade hyung for Hongjoong? I like him better.”

“Hey!” Yunho yells, offended.

“He is a fine young man,” his father says, as if Yunho—his very own biological son—weren’t sitting right in front of him. Existing. 

His mother sighs wistfully. “Maybe someday we can add him to the family registry.”

"Mom, what are you implying," Yunho says, though it comes out a tad shrill. 

“That means we can trade him in right?” his brother bounces his bent knees enthusiastically like he’s about to get a new brother with a whole new chassis. Yunho decides he’s justified at this juncture in throwing himself bodily at his asshole sibling to give him the worst noogie of his life.

----------------

Despite his trepidation, living with Hongjoong in the months before classes kicked off is...surprisingly easy. They fall back into their old routines when they were still young and stupid and slept over at each other’s houses often enough that they may as well have had their names jointly displayed on lasercut plaques hung on each other’s doors. 

Yunho wakes up every morning to the sight of his bedside table, now displaying only three pictures of Hongjoong In Jeju—still his favorite by far and he will give them up when the sun finally burns itself out—and one semi-shitty selca of himself and Mingi they’d taken in a mall kiosk for form’s sake. Every morning he attaches himself to Hongjoong’s door making zombie noises, until his hyung finally turns off his alarm and joins him in the bathroom to brush their teeth together with the sound of music blaring just shy of too loud from Hongjoong’s phone.

Falling back into the routine of their close friendship that Yunho is convinced he managed to ruin back when they were younger feels like falling into a warm, soft bed at the end of a long day. Like finally coming home after thirteen hours on the road or in the sky. Like he’d been missing a piece to his own puzzle and, finally, that last little niggling emptiness is whole again.

----------------

Hongjoong takes him around to each of his favorite haunts that specialize either in cheap clothes, cheap accessories, or cheap yet tasty and actually filling meals from street vendors set up in little outlet strips. He takes him to one cafe that sells their lunchtime sandwiches at a discount after 6PM.

“Avoid the tuna,” Hongjoong stresses earnestly with a haunted expression. “Whatever you fucking do—no matter how cheap it may be— avoid the tuna, Yunho.”

“I think I can remember not to eat day old fish sandwiches, I’m not that dumb.” Yunho tells him dry, entertained by the muscle twitching beneath Hongjoong’s eye like physical manifestation of every hateful thought he’s directing at fish and egg and mayo on not-quite-stale bread.

Hongjoong goes still beside him in the middle of the checkout line before saying with a sudden intensity, “You’re not dumb at all. Don’t say that about yourself.”

The thing about Hongjoong is that, whatever anyone else might say about him, he’s a good person. He’s never let Yunho get away with self-deprecating humor, never let him believe anything less than the best about himself—has always stood like an immovable barrier against Yunho’s own self-esteem when he was feeling low for screwing up a step sequence or couldn’t manage to get a game to cooperate the way he wanted. 

Time and distance haven’t changed him one bit.

“I—yeah, sorry, won’t happen again.” Yunho tells him sincerely over the familiar thump-thump-pause in his chest. He nudges Hongjoong forward by the waist. “It’s your turn at the register, Hongjoong-ah.”

Yunho eats his respectable and not at all fishy ham on rye while his friend regales him with stories of his favorite classes and his worst missteps. Hongjoong tells him what professors to avoid, the best times to find a good spot in the library for studying, how to con his way into a better seating arrangement when Yunho inevitably turns up late to class.

Yunho listens to it all, though none of it really sticks because he’s so caught up in watching the movement of Hongjoong’s mouth—mesmerized. He realizes, here in the low level lighting of a dingy cafe, that his crush has never really faded even when he swore he’d given up. The feeling in his chest and his hands and his face when Hongjoong does so much as breathe tells him this is something sustained, and he’s fucking doomed to spinster purgatory for the rest of his life.

----------------

Yunho meets Hongjoong’s old roommate Seonghwa—and his boyfriend Yeosang who has been dragged along against his will—when he comes over one afternoon to collect a box of trinkets he’d apparently left on their mantle. 

Yunho sees Hongjoong open the door of their apartment with a wide smile. “Hyung!”

“Joong-ie!” is the enthusiastic reply, followed by the pair of them dabbing back and forth until they lose their breath from laughter. Horrible snorting laughter that turns Hongjoong’s cheeks an unfairly attractive shade of reddish pink.

Yeosang scoots around them to toe his shoes off and introduce himself while his boyfriend made terrible old man jokes—still in the open doorway. “Hi, I’m Yeosang and I apologize for whatever is happening over there.”

“Yunho,” he shakes the newcomer’s hands in commiseration before offering Yeosang a spot on the couch while they wait for the overgrown toddlers to quit doing...whatever that move was supposed to be.  “And you really, really don’t want to know.”

“So, Yunho-ssi, how do you know Hongjoong-hyung?” Yeosang asks with his head tilted at a curious angle, somewhat reminiscent of a cat.

“We’ve been friends since we were really little,” Yunho answers. “Our moms used to have us over all the time for playdates and then we just kinda...stuck together. I’m living with him this year since it would be easier than dealing with a new roommate at the start of university.”

“Convenient,” Yeosang hums then grimaces when Seonghwa makes a sound akin to a dying goose. “That’s sort of what I’m doing with Seonghwa but,” his gaze shifts back to his boyfriend leaning against the wall clutching at his stomach while Hongjoong yowled like a cat on the floor. “It’s more because spending nights away from him suck and not in a good way.”

Yunho lets out a soft ‘ah’ of understanding. “I can kind of understand that. Not having Hongjoong around at all last year was awful.”

“Are you two…” Yeosang hesitates but Yunho receives the message loud and clear and he hopes to god he’s not as red as he feels.

“No, no, no,” Yunho waves him off. “Nothing like that, just friends.”

Yeosang says nothing. Seonghwa and Hongjoong have decided to upgrade from laughter to having an intense discussion about something Yunho can’t quite decipher. He is pretty sure he can just make out the shape of his name being whispered across the room when Yeosang decides to blindside him. “You know they used to date.”

He chokes. “Excuse me, what?”

Yeosang watches him with eyes that are really too sharp for someone he had just met. “They were roommates at first, but I guess they got close enough to give it a try.” Yeosang shrugs. “I don’t think either of their hearts were in it, to be honest. Seonghwa was still being too much of a coward to ask me out properly back then and Hongjoong…”

Yunho barely hears him, face suddenly numb from the new and world changing information. Up is down, left is right, the earth’s core is freezing negative ten billion and Hongjoong dated a man. “And Hongjoong?” Yunho manages to garble out.

“I think he’s always had someone else in mind,” Yeosang gives him a sly glance. “Couldn’t imagine who though.”

It was probably the girl he talked to at the convenience store the other morning, Yunho thinks sourly to himself. They were exceedingly cozy for people that were supposed to just be mere acquaintances.

“Why are you telling me this?”

Yeosang shrugs. “You looked like you needed to hear it.”

“That makes no sense.”

“I know,” Yeosang snickers, it sounds evil and vindictive even to Yunho’s ears. “But it’s a nice payback after the six months of heartache they put me through.”

----------------

The night before orientation and the week before classes officially begin again, Hongjoong demands Yunho follow him up to the roof of their building with two giant cups of steaming hot chocolate and a blanket big enough to swallow the both of them whole. The Seoul skyline isn’t really impressive from here, the apartment building too short in comparison to the high rise of industrial complexes. The light pollution makes it nigh impossible to see any stars, but the two of them pretend they can see enough to make up constellations again—a playback of the time they shared Yunho’s bed with their hands squeezed tightly together pretending his ceiling full of stickers was a swirling galaxy of infinite possibilities.

Hongjoong leans into his side with the blanket held tight against his chin. “Nervous?”

Yunho shrugs, careful not to dislodge Hongjoong’s position. “Not really. It’s just class and more class, I’m used to those.” It’s like the conversation at the high school pool again, though Yunho has a better stranglehold on his idiot emotions this time around and doesn’t immediately pop wood.

“Yeah, but these are classes you can choose yourself—hours and all,” Hongjoong yawns. “Have you decided on a major yet? I forgot to ask.”

“Not yet,” Yunho flicks at the edge of one of Hongjoong’s nails where the polish is chipping away, Hongjoong’s fault for resting it on Yunho’s leg. “I’m taking a bunch of general requirements this semester while I think about it.”

“Mmm,” Hongjoong's eyelids droop further and further with each blink. “Jus’ don’t take too long,” he slurs into Yunho’s shoulder. “You might lose your chance.”

“At declaring my major?” Yunho scoffs. Hongjoong’s only answer is a slight wheeze of even breathing from his slack mouth. Yunho watches him fade into deep sleep feeling like the worst sort of voyeur and has to almost physically shake himself from falling into old habits again. 

He stares upwards at the barely visible glimmer of stars, Hongjoong’s breath puffing against his neck, and thinks to himself: ‘You absolute fucking moron.’

----------------

Yunho will find out later, that taking Psych 101 turns out to be one of the best and worst decisions he's ever made. 

The professor, a tiny woman with a tight bun already dead eyed from the steady trickle of young hopefuls banging on her door for extra credit opportunities, lines out the requirements for their end of semester project worth a good 50% of their final grade.

“We’ll get into specifics involved later on in the year, but I know some of you like to find out who has the easiest syllabus before the drop-add period is over,” she drawls over the sound of polite laughter. “Now, your final project is going to involve each of you setting up a social experiment of your own, whether as a group effort or by yourself, I don’t care, but you will be expected to document the process for at least one month and hand in a write up of your findings.”

His insides shrivel at the idea but this class is the only time slot he could reasonably fit into his schedule. Already a pack of sorority girls are whispering excitedly to each other in a section closest to the front of the room.

“That’s it for today, read over the syllabus tonight and next week we’ll tackle the first question: ‘What is Psychology?’ and how it relates to everyday life.” The professor waves a hand magnanimously towards the exit. “Go have fun before your next class, everyone.”

----------------

That night, while Yunho has his stacks of coursework printouts spread over the top of the kitchen table, Hongjoong makes snarky comments at the description of the social experiment project Yunho is already dreading. There are suggestions about giving free hugs in public and documenting reactions or doing something similar to Arthur Aron’s intimacy study by asking a series of questions to perfect strangers. The point is to do something repetitive and easy to document.

“None of that is real, you know,” his hyung remarks from their couch, laid out on his back with a magazine held open above his head. “The intimacy thing just makes you think you’re compatible with someone for like ten minutes before it wears off.”

“You only say that because you’re old and jaded and allergic to love,” Yunho grouses back.

The magazine gets thrown in his direction but fails to connect. “I’m not allergic to love, asshole!”

“Yes, you are,” Yunho laughs at him. “You have literally never told me about a crush or anything, like, ever, and I’ve known you since you were eight.”

Hongjoong glares at him over the arm of the couch. “That just means I have...really specific taste. That doesn’t mean I’m allergic to love, don’t be a dick, Yunho.”

There’s an idea sitting half-formed in the back of his mind, an insidious little whisper telling him this is his perfect chance to use Hongjoong as a guinea pig for this project to get his crush out of his system—like maybe saying ‘I love you’ enough times will make the phrase meaningless and he can finally, finally move on for real.

Hongjoong sticks his tongue out and Yunho has no choice but to flop his full weight on top of him as revenge.

----------------

The first attempt is embarrassing as shit.

Hongjoong has just sat down with his bowl of cereal when Yunho decides to just fucking go for it and, right as his friend goes to put the first bite in his mouth, he says, “I love you, hyung.”

Hongjoong stills, spoon hovering in midair dripping milk and cereal back into his bowl. “What? Since when?”

“Since always.” Yunho hipchecks his chair to play it off even as heat crawls across his cheeks. All the bravery slowly trickles out of his system to be replaced by horrible, throat closing mortification. “I haven’t said it in a while and just thought you should know.”

“Uh huh.” Hongjoong eyes narrow at him. The spoon goes clattering back into his bowl as his hyung braces himself against the edge of their dining table. “Alright, out with it. What did you do? Did you break something? Forget to do laundry?”

“Wh—” Yunho gapes. “I didn’t do anything!”

“The laundry?”

“No! I mean, yes, I did the laundry yesterday.” Yunho says.

“Then why are you trying to butter me up like you’re about to tell me something awful?” Hongjoong asks suspiciously, squinting at him enough that the bags beneath his eyes rise up.

“Whatever,” Yunho huffs trying to avoid eye contact because Hongjoong is especially adorable when he’s trying to come across as intimidating. “I was just trying to tell you how I felt for once, but if you’re going to turn it into something…” Yunho trails off with an exaggerated pout. He feels a tad guilty for it when Hongjoong goes a little pale, then an interesting shade of puce and stands from their table with a loud scrape of his chair. 

“I-I’m taking a shower, just clean up whatever it is you broke before I find it.” 

Yunho makes a mental note to jot down the reaction before he covers his face with his hands to scream quietly into the gap.

----------------

The second attempt goes a little better, a little easier, because he says it almost as a joke while Hongjoong is zeroing out a timer on his phone for the first step of their great Hair Dyeing Adventure.

“I love you, hyung,” Yunho grins up at him from the edge of their tub.

“Don’t say that until you see the finished product,” Hongjoong laughs and rolls up his sleeves. “This could end up being terrible, you might end up bald like a monk.”

“Nothing you do is terrible.” Yunho tells him in all seriousness, though he does scrunch his nose at the mental picture of himself with a shiny scalp. A monk’s life wasn’t really in his life plan.

“Mmm.” He watches Hongjoong bashfully dip his chin down, cheeks pinked. "Tilt your head back so I can wash out the bleach.”

----------------

Mingi is taking a gap year and makes a visit to the campus over a long weekend. Yunho offers up their apartment for him to stay and Hongjoong agrees, though he spends a lot of time holed up in a study room at the library for most of the day, only making his first appearance home when Mingi is getting his makeshift bed ready on the couch.

“Hongjoong-hyung!” Mingi waves at his arrival. “It’s been ten thousand years since I’ve seen you last.”

“Barely eight months,” Hongjoong looks tired even from Yunho’s vantage point several feet away. He gives the pair of them a tiny tight lipped smile and a wave on his way towards the kitchen. “But hey, Mingi-yah. Long time no see.”

“The longest,” Mingi pretends to weep. 

Hongjoong just shakes his head, affectionate smile in place, before disappearing into the kitchen and reappearing with a glass of the nasty green juice he keeps in the door of their fridge. Yunho doesn’t know how he drinks it, he smelled it once and almost gagged from the combination of sweet and salty wafting from the opening. Hongjoong blinks, stalled out in the middle of the room, staring at the mound of blankets Mingi is laying out. “You guys aren’t going to just share a bed?”

“No, dude. That’s gross,” Mingi grimaces at him. “ You can sleep with him if you want, but I can’t—Yunho kicks like a mule.”

“At least I don’t get horrible sleep farts,” Yunho counters.

“Yunho!” Mingi screeches and smothers him with a pillow, which was tantamount to a war declaration, so Yunho kicks at his thigh where he knows Mingi is the most sensitive.

Hongjoong snickers at their antics, but it comes out tight and a little forced sounding. Probably from working on whatever it was at the library for so long. “For people who are dating, you two sure don’t act like it.”

They stop. 

Wait, hold on. Yunho feels his eyes glaze over. Did Hongjoong seriously think he’d been dating Mingi this whole time?

Mingi is the first to pipe up. “Uh, hyung? We haven’t been together since junior year. I thought you knew that.”

“I—” Hongjoong freezes further in place, glass of juice he’d poured in the kitchen wobbling precariously in his grip. “What?”

Yunho is too busy trying to recenter his worldview. Hongjoong thought he was still dating Mingi. Had he never mentioned the breakup? Surely he had and Hongjoong just wasn’t paying attention at the time, yeah.

Mingi kicks him. “Yunho, tell him we broke up because your dick doesn’t work.”

“That’s not why we broke up!” Yunho defends himself while in the background he hears Hongjoong suck in a lungful of air that sounds strangled even to his ears. “And don't talk about my dick, that’s weird.”

“Uh,” Hongjoong’s voice is thin and highpitched when he continues, “Why did you guys break up?”

Holy shit, he never told Hongjoong the breakup story. Yunho tries to get the explanation out while Mingi cracks open a new face mask but all he manages is a terrible sounding “muh” noise. Which is not in any way, shape, or form an answer. 

“Yeah, Yunho,” Mingi grins evilly at him beneath a transparent caricature of a tiger’s face. “Tell him why we broke up on our one year anniversary, Yunho.”

“Stop, oh my god, I’m not going to say anything because it’s awful,” Yunho whines. He gets up to wrap himself around Hongjoong’s shoulder for protection against Mingi’s secretly evil nature. Hongjoong’s ears are pink. “Hongjoong, tell him to quit, he might listen to you.”

His hyung gently pats his cheek with the hand not holding the foul smelling juice. “You know, I would but I still kind of want to know.”

“Mmm, I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to reveal my blackmail material until the time is right,” Mingi mimes shooting the pair of them with finger guns. “Also, bro code.”

“Please, god, strike him down.” Yunho hides his groan into the gap of Hongjoong’s collar.

For his part, Hongjoong just gives him a bracing pat on the back. Yunho tries not to read into it when his hand stays at the base of his spine instead of moving away like usual. “So you’re...I mean you guys really haven’t been dating all this time?”

“No,” Mingi denies, yawns, and flaps his blankets to get them situated just right. “I need a man whose dick actually works.”

“I hate him so fucking much,” Yunho whispers harsh against Hongjoong’s neck.

“He’s your best friend,” Hongjoong whispers back, close, too close so that his lips flutter against the skin of Yunho’s ear and he shivers.

“You’re my best friend”—His hyung tenses almost imperceptibly, unnoticeable had Yunho not been attached to him like a limpet—“He’s just an asshole I put up with.”

“I heard that,” Mingi says amicably from his blanket prison.

“You were meant to.”

----------------

Attempts three and four happen after Yunho gets invited to a party hosted by the sorority girls in his psychology class. Hongjoong encourages him to go since Yunho hasn’t really been able to make friends with anyone—aside from Hongjoong himself, Seonghwa, and Yeosang, who make regular appearances on the weekends for board game nights.

It’s an alright party, all told. There’s a kiddie pool setup outside filled with ice and energy drinks and crepe party streamers dangling from every entrance to the house. He dances with a few guys while heavy bass vibrates the floor and gets a number scrawled on the edge of a napkin shoved into his back pocket, but none of them are really his type. No one at the party has the particular brand of terrible humor that he’s into or stand at the perfect height for Yunho to rest his chin on when he gets lazy from the alcohol swimming in his stomach.

Somehow, somewhere around midnight-ish, he stumbles his way into the apartment after struggling with the key for minutes—drunken numbness making his fingers stupid and the lock of the door stubbornly refusing to move three inches to left where Yunho’s eyes swear it’s supposed to be.

Hongjoong, bless him, opens for him and Yunho goes stumbling into the entryway. “Hongjoong! Hi!”

“Hey, have fun?” Hongjoong takes Yunho’s weight with ease when he has to lean against him to finagle his stupid dumb shoes off. 

“I think so. Would—woulda been more fun if you were there though.” Yunho should really get away, stop putting so much of his weight against Hongjoong’s shoulders. Except, Hongjoong is rubbing at his back to gently maneuver him towards the bathroom. “Hyung-ah, there wass—” he hiccups. “There was this dude? ‘Nd he tried to be cool an’ give me his number on a napkin.”

Hongjoong’s fingers grip at his waist—when did his hand get there, Yunho wonders—and he coughs, thick, like he’s choking on it. “Yeah? You gonna call him?”

Yunho thinks about it for a second. The hallway blurs and suddenly they’re walking into the bathroom as if by magic. “Naaaaaaaah, ‘s not my type.”

Hongjoong presses a cool rag to his neck and his cheeks and Yunho can’t help but to moan too loud at the sensation. It goes quiet again, for how long Yunho doesn’t know, until Hongjoong finally breaks the silence by asking, “What, uh, what is your type?”

“Oh, that’s easy!” Yunho says with great enthusiasm swaying into Hongjoong’s personal bubble. “It’s—”

Hongjoong just barely gets the seat of their toilet up in time for him to lean over and heave dinner, dessert, and at least four vodka redbulls. “Oh god, I regret so much.”

Hongjoong just flushes the mess away, so at least Yunho doesn’t have to look at it, and rubs soothing circles against his neck. “Feel better?” His answer is another round of choked heaving. “Guess not, let me go get you some water.”

“I love you,” Yunho calls after him with utmost sincerity. It’s not a joke this time, comes out too real and affected and whiny, and Yunho hopes to god he’s not going to remember it in the morning. 

“Please, just drink this water you lush.” Hongjoong laughs at him, a short sharp sound. 

“Oh my god, Hongjoong, I love you so much,” Yunho nearly cries at him when Hongjoong brings him coffee and the greasiest breakfast sandwich the next morning.

“Love yourself, dude,” Hongjoong mutters. “Don’t drink so much next time.”

“Never again,” Yunho agrees vehemently.

----------------

Yunho keeps up a steady stream of ‘I love you’ for innocuous things like sorting the laundry or buying extra cup ramen when the two of them run low or for the extra nice toilet paper purchases after his mom sends them a check. After two weeks, Hongjoong finally stops going ramrod straight and starts smiling back, pinkish red flush to his cheeks on some days.

Sometimes he’ll reward Yunho for the statement with a gentle scrape of his nails down Yunho’s back or a small one armed hug. Sometimes he’ll offer to buy Yunho his favorite order from the chicken place three blocks away, the one ran buy two old ladies and their daughters, and Yunho can’t help but to say, “I love you” five times fast. 

It makes his hyung giggle, makes him turn pink and his eyes scrunch, too attractive for his own good. 

Yunho already knew that much, it's not like that’s anything new or anything he wasn’t already equipped to deal with.

----------------

Week three of Yunho’s experiment, Hongjoong starts bringing him coffee after his first morning class. His hyung doesn’t have anything before 10 A.M., whines like a toddler if Yunho doesn’t shut off his own alarm fast enough but it’s a sweet sort of noise that just reestablishes himself as the cutest person on the planet—in Yunho’s galaxy, at least. The constant affirmation of his crush, whether Hongjoong knows about it or not at this point, hasn’t seemed to help make it go away and Yunho is beginning to wonder if his logic is flawed. 

Yunho finds him more than once awkwardly rejecting people asking him for a date or a moment of his time while he’s waiting for Yunho’s lecture to let out.

”Thanks, but no thanks,” Hongjoong says to the latest one, a pouting girl with pin straight hair and a button nose, before taking hold of his elbow and leading the both of them away as quickly as possible. 

Week four, Hongjoong introduces him to Jongho.

“Jongho best boy,” Hongjoong coos with Jongho’s head cradled to his chest, “My beautiful musical prodigy baby.”

“Hyung, for the love of god, stop doing this to me every time we run into each other,” Jongho whimpers, red faced, but he’s not making any real attempt to get away from the hug either. Yunho tells himself not to be jealous but...he’s really fucking jealous, green threatening to overtake his vision. “If Wooyoung catches you hugging me again—”

“Choi Jongho, you horrible tart!” Echoes from nearby making Yunho jump. 

“Speak of the devil,” Hongjoong says mildly, still cradling Jongho’s head to his manly bosom. “What would he do if I kissed you on the cheek?”

“Oh god,” the youngest mumbles. “He’d murder me.”

Hongjoong just giggles and shifts so he’s essentially giving Jongho a backhug. Yunho resists the urge to bite at his knuckles because, hey what the fuck, he wants a backhug too. It’s been years and Hongjoong has only barely started to touch him again.

In a friendly way.

Friendly touching.

They’re suddenly joined by a man slightly taller than Hongjoong, not by much, who’s frowning so intensely Yunho knows it has to be a joke. 

“Wooyoung, please,” Jongho begs, “We are in public —”

“I know we’re in public, which makes your shameful display even worse,” Wooyoung nags, but he leans over just enough to smile at Hongjoong. “Hey ‘Joong-hyungnim!

“Hey Wooyoung-ie,” Hongjoong returns the high five directed at him. “Get ‘im while I’ve got hold of him before you lose your chance.”

Wooyoung winks before dramatically dipping Jongho back theatrically for a filthy open mouthed kiss on the edge of the quad. And oh...Yunho didn’t need to feel jealous at all. He learns later that embarrassing Jongho is Wooyoung's—and Hongjoong’s to some extent—favorite pastime bar none.

Wooyoung comes part and parcel with San, who flirts like it’s an art form going out of style and he’s the last remaining Picasso. Yunho gets nervous around him but it’s the kind of nervous he equates with people that are too attractive for their own good and know it and not borne of any real attraction on his part. 

Hongjoong notices and asks as discreetly as possible if he wants San’s number, if he needs to set them up. Yunho can’t decide who he hates more: himself for being such an obvious gay disaster or Hongjoong for being a literal angel and the bane of his existence.

It’s definitely Hongjoong, by a large margin, because his idiot best friend sets them up on a coffee date by pretending to have a last minute meeting.

San laughs into his cup of Colombian cold brew. “Does he do this often?”

“No,” Yunho grumps, still nervous but now he’s got aggravation to blunt the edges. “He’s just being an idiot, sorry about this.”

San eyes him over his mug on a long sip. “You know, you should really tell him you want to date him and not me before he tries to set you up with someone else.”

“Seriously, how the hell do people know this about me,” Yunho yelps, more from the surprise of hot cocoa sloshing over his fingers than anything else. “You barely know me!”

“Yeah but I know people, and the heart eyes the two of you send each other are disgusting. I swear, watching you two try not to flirt is like watching paint dry, you know it’s going to happen but getting there is boring as shit.” San leans forward with a sly slant to his mouth. “Tell me all about it.”

It’s nice to have another outlet that isn’t Mingi or his hand or his Psychology notebook, so Yunho does tell him. He talks until it’s dark and Hongjoong is greeting him at the doorway to their apartment with red rimmed eyes and an excuse about allergies. Yunho isn’t sure what to make of it. 

“Did you two have a good time?”

“We did,” Yunho witnesses his hyung slowly wilt into himself. He’s probably worried he’s about to be left alone again—like Yunho is going to pull a Seonghwa and drop from the lease to go live with San in his cramped dorm room. He pulls Hongjoong in to rest his chin on his head and closes his eyes. “I love you,” Yunho says—project out of mind for the first time in days—and Hongjoong hiccups. “Please don’t ever pull that again.”

“Was just trying to be a good wingman,” Hongjoong sighs into his collarbones and hugging Yunho’s waist tight, almost vicelike.

“You can be a good wingman by buying me actual chicken wings instead of trying to set me up on dates with people I barely know.” Yunho pokes him in the side until Hongjoong finally unclenches and huffs a small laugh, barely there wheeze of breath through his nose. “Got it?”

“Got it.”

----------------

 

Things get...strange between them during the second month. Yunho makes “I love you” his morning greeting and Hongjoong will stop whatever he’s doing to open and close his mouth, before giving up on whatever he was going to say to nod and mumble back, “Mhm.”

Every once in a while, Hongjoong will try to set him up with people from his music department or guys he knows through Wooyoung and Jongho.

“I don’t know what to do about it,” Yunho tells San over lunch. “Like, I can’t just tell him, ‘hyung, I’ve been in love with you since we were fourteen, can you date me instead?’”

“Why not?” San asks mildly. “Just say that to him, there’s nothing stopping you.”

“Unlike you, I have shame.”

San shrugs. “Hey, being shameless got me in with your bestie, so whose advice do you want to take here?”

“Still not yours,” Yunho gripes. Mingi had made another visit, after the date he and San failed to go on, and San had taken one long, lingering look at him before saying with almost no inflection, “Hi, I’m San. Can I climb you like a tree?”

Mingi had gone purple, which ordinarily would have been hilarious if not for the fact that Yunho was trying his best to beat the terrible pickup line out of his brain by bashing it into a utility pole.

Mingi had choked out a singular, “What?” which San took as an invitation to be as himself as possible.

“Is that a yes or…?”

“I don’t know you!” Mingi said, scandalized.

“Well, then here’s my number so you can get to know me better,” San said smooth as high quality bourbon before slipping a piece of notebook paper into Mingi’s front pocket. 

Yunho hates that it took four days of texting before San called him to gloat that he had a boyfriend while Yunho was still stuck in limbo. Strange, unmoving limbo where Hongjoong kept trying to tell him something and chickening out.

----------------

At the start of month three, barely in the middle of the fall semester, Hongjoong has a music composition project that he works on for an entire week—holes himself up in his room and only leaving for intermittent bathroom breaks. Yunho misses him like a limb, but doesn’t disturb him since he knows how important this is for his grade and instead opts to slide little sticky notes professing his love underneath Hongjoong’s door. He makes hot tea when Hongjoong finally declares himself finished and climbs into the shower.

“What was the subject?” Yunho asks while they lounge on the couch, some late night drama on low volume.

After a beat, Hongjoong finally rasps, “Love.”

“Can I listen to it?” Yunho is morbidly curious what—or who—Hongjoong decided to fixate on for the assignment.

His best friend nods with bleary eyes, red hair a fuzzy wreck from towel drying after his shower, and plays the track on his laptop with the lyrics pulled up. He falls asleep not even thirty seconds in, but Yunho keeps listening to the lyrics—sad and beautiful and achingly lonely that, for some reason, Hongjoong only titled a stylized ‘Y.’

----------------

One night, somewhere in month three because Yunho has lost count of the days and the hours since the beginning of class, the two of them attempt to spend 48-hours trying to cram for simultaneous exams coming up the next week. Hongjoong gets delirious enough at 2 A.M., hour 36 of their education marathon, and tries to explain his theory on using the dishwasher to wash clothes in a pinch.

“Hyung, you can’t wash clothes in there.”

“Says who,” Hongjoong kicks a foot out in the direction of their kitchen. “It just swishes water and detergent around! That’s what our washing machine does!”

“Our washing machine doesn’t have a spinning death trap at the bottom to twist all the clothes up until they rip, you’re being an idiot,” Yunho tries to explain, “But I love you anyway.”

Bizarrely, without so much as a warning, Hongjoong’s face crumples inward and he bursts into tears.

Yunho does what he’s best at and panics.

“Hongjoong, what—are you okay? What’s happening?”

“You used to hate me so much,” Hongjoong sobs, hands reaching out to grab Yunho’s shirt sleeves tight in his tiny clench. “I spent so much time trying to figure out why and now you’re here and telling me you love me again and I can’t handle this.”

“Hongjoong-hyung…,” Yunho swallows against a lump in his throat.

“I’m sorry for whatever it is I did, I swear I am,” Hongjoong hicks out, tears making his eyelashes clump together. Even now, with his face blotchy red and his nose running, he’s still one of the most attractive people Yunho has ever seen and it’s not fair.

“You didn’t do anything hyung. I never once hated you, I was just being an idiot—it was all me,” Yunho promises and laces their hands together. “I love you.”

It comes out throaty and too sincere, like he’s giving way too much away at once. 

“I love you too,” Hongjoong sobs with his head leaning into Yunho’s chest. “So much Yunho, you don’t even know.”

“I know a little bit,” Yunho lies in an effort to quiet him with gentle shushing. “Come on, let’s go to bed, you’re just hysterical from the lack of sleep.”

Hongjoong moans unintelligible somethings into his shoulder and refuses to let go. Yunho decides to hoist him up by his thighs and carries them to his own bed, alarm set for an hour before either of their exams, and folds Hongjoong into himself like they used to do in high school.

----------------

Yunho is taking a film class that requires him to watch movies at home to write reports on and take quizzes over. Hongjoong joins him on the couch in solidarity, because the movie choices are terrible 9 times out of 10, and they usually end up throwing popcorn at the screen and booing when the plot refuses to go anywhere.

Honjoong yawns and snuggles into Yunho’s side, blanket thrown over their legs to keep the chill of winter at bay. The movie is already half over but Yunho could not even begin to say what it was about or who any of the characters are because he’s too busy watching Hongjoong watch the screen with heavy lidded eyes and fading fast.

“Hongjoong.”

“Mmmm?” He yawns behind his hand, so small in comparison to Yunho’s own.

Yunho can’t hold back, doesn’t want to at this point, and blurts out, “I love you.”

Hongjoong smiles in his half-asleep state and cuddles in close so he can rest his temple against the curve of Yunho’s shoulder. “Love you too,” he says, easy as you please, before he’s dropping into dreamland—breath turning even and deep.

Yunho continues to ignore the movie he’s definitely going to be graded on and fail in favor of gazing at the curl of Hongjoong’s lashes against his cheeks, the sweet slope of his nose, at the glasses smooshed awkwardly on his face from pressing into his shoulder. 

Yunho takes the glasses away to set them on their coffee table before going back to staring unseeing at their television screen. He’s an idiot. He’s the biggest moron in the galaxy because his crush isn’t a crush. It may never have been a fleeting fancy in the first place and this project is just an exercise in futility.

He sighs and leans his head on Hongjoong’s to feel the crush of his hair against his mouth.

Repeating the same phrase over and over again just made it more real, made it harder to ignore, made it something lasting Yunho is never going to be able to give up or give away. 

He falls asleep at the ending credits with one hand entwined with Hongjoong’s and an extra blanket he pulls from the back of their couch around their shoulders. He has to rewatch the movie in the morning at triple speed before class, but it’s worth it to watch Hongjoong slowly, slowly wake up with a puffy face and a smile on his mouth.

----------------

Yunho watches in amusement from the kitchen table as Hongjoong rushes around their apartment in preparation of an important meeting with his advisor. He’s just sliding on his shoes when Yunho clears his throat.

“Hyung, aren’t you forgetting something?”

“Uh,” Hongjoong stops to pat his head for his beanie, his jacket for his phone and wallet, and his face for the glasses perched on his nose. “No, I think I’ve got everything. Why?”

“Are you sure?” Yunho presses.

Hongjoong rolls his eyes before leaning up to plant a kiss to Yunho’s cheek. “There. Happy now?”

“I—yes,” Yunho blinks while his face burns. “Um, I meant your keys, though.”

Hongjoong goes beet red. They stare at each other for a moment longer before he checks his watch and yells, “My meeting!” He grabs the keys dangling from Yunho’s pointer finger and is out the door with a rush of, “Thank you! Love you! Gotta go, bye!”

Yunho remains frozen for a long time, hand to his cheek. Oh. Oh that was—

Okay.

Alright.

It was probably just a reflex, Yunho can deal with reflexes. He probably doles out gross grandpa kisses to everyone’s cheeks back at home this means nothing. Less than nothing. 

----------------

The kissing continues.

The kissing actually gets turned up to eleven with no signs of slowing down.

Yunho gets a kiss to his cheek when he’s barely awake from falling asleep on the couch. A quick peck against his forehead on the way out the door for classes or for meeting up with Wooyoung for lunch. An unthinking press of Hongjoong’s mouth to the back of his hand when Hongjoong is on the phone with his parents and Yunho is trying to tiptoe around without disturbing their conversation.

Yunho doesn’t know what to make of it but he knows he doesn’t want it to stop.

----------------

“Just tell him you want to bone,” Jongho says from his perch on Wooyoung’s thighs. “It’s really not that complicated, hyung. You tell him you love him, like, all the time. I’ve witnessed it.”

“Why are all my friends so goddamn shameless,” Yunho clutches at his head. “I’m not going to tell him I want to fucking ‘bone’, that’s awful.”

“Being shameless lands you boyfriends, get over it.” Wooyoung interjects and feeds Jongho a slice of his apple with a truly revolting look of adoration on his face. Yunho hates them. “That’s how we started dating.”

“Please no—”

“Yeah, I kept getting distracted by hyung’s thighs and finally just asked him to let me bite them.” Jongho smiles beatifically. “Ta-dah!”

“It’s also because you’re fucking precious and I wanted to eat you up.” Wooyoung snickers.

“Please, can you two not discuss how much you’re into vore? We are in public.” Yunho hides his face beneath the collar of his shirt. 

“We’re in a dining hall,” Jongho reminds him. “This is the perfect place to discuss vore.”

----------------

Closing in fast on the deadline for the psychology project, not that Yunho is even bothering to keep track of reactions anymore, San and Yeosang come over for a study session while Hongjoong does something mysterious in the kitchen. The three of them are in the middle of a study packet when Hongjoong walks up with a bowl full of something disturbingly yellow but smells amazing. He holds a spoon towards Yunho’s mouth with a grinning, “Say ‘ah’.”

“Aaaah,” Yunho drags out with his mouth gaped, accepts the tiny scoop of buttercream frosting with a moan. “Oh my god.”

“Good?”

“It’s amazing!” Yunho reaches up to hold Hongjoong’s hand not occupied with holding the bowl, pretending he’s not also internally screaming at their difference. “I love you, marry me.”

Hongjoong laughs so hard his voice squeaks, and San mimes clutching at his chest while Yeosang grins at their combined reactions. “Graduate first,” Hongjoong smears another dollop of icing across Yunho’s nose.

“What’s the occasion for the icing?” San asks while Yunho goes cross eyed pretending he can actually lick the bridge of his nose clean.

“It’s my birthday this weekend. I’m trying to recreate the cake Yunho’s mom used to make me when we were kids.”

“Why didn’t you make Yunho cook for you?” Yeosang leans his chin in his hand. “I’d make Seonghwa do that for me but I’m afraid he’d either burn or otherwise maim himself on kitchen instruments.”

Hongjoong snorts. “Do yourself a favor and never let Seonghwa anywhere near an oven. He almost succeeded in burning down our apartment when he tried to bake brownies at midnight and forgot about them until the fire alarm started going off.”

“Noted,” Yeosang replies, dry.

“Hyung, can I try some? It’s been so long since I've had homemade icing.” San pouts wide eyed at him as if Hongjoong wasn’t the world’s biggest pushover when it came to any one of them.

Hongjoong shrugs. "Here, Yunho already licked the spoon so just take it off my finger, my hands are clean.”

Before San can do anything untoward, Yunho leans over to suck the tiny amount of icing off Hongjoong’s finger himself, smug smile in place while San whines. 

“I meant take it off with his own finger,” Hongjoong laughs at him. “Oh my god, you’re so jealous.”

“No, I just don’t like to share mom’s recipe.” Yunho dismisses. His mother’s buttercream icing recipe was special goddammit. Hongjoong wasn’t allowed to pass out samples all willynilly like.

“Suck it up buttercup. Sorry San, let me go grab another spoon since someone wants to be a toddler about it.” Hongjoong wipes his finger off on Yunho’s shirt much to his outrage. “Yeosang, want a taste? I can bring you a spoon too.”

“I’m alright,” Yeosang says mildly, eyes zeroed in on the way Yunho is sucking the last of the icing he’d wiped from his nose off his thumb. “Thank you, though.”

Hongjoong nods and, with one last smack of the spoon to Yunho’s shoulder, wanders back out of the room. They listen to him clatter around in the kitchen for a while before Yeosang pops up with, “Have you told hyung about your love experiment yet? The assignment deadline is coming up, you should be wrapping it up so you can do your summary paper.”

Yunho goes cold as the sound of Hongjoong rattling around pauses, hopes to god his hyung didn’t hear that but the same clatter starts back up a second later so Yunho thinks he’s safe. “Uh, I’m going to tell him...soon. Soon-ish. I need to figure out a way to make it not sound awful first.”

Yeosang shrugs. They go back to studying as a group for a few hours until San begs mercy for his poor brain and they leave to buy tasty yet artery clogging snacks from Yunho’s favorite vendors down the street. 

Yunho is so absorbed in coming up with a good explanation for his psychology project, he forgets Hongjoong was supposed bring back a sample for San.

----------------

When he gets back, an extra helping of tteokbokki hidden in a paper bag, it’s to a darkened apartment. The kitchen is a mess. The bowl of icing from earlier sits abandoned on the counter along with an open box of cake mix only half poured. Yunho takes it all in with mounting concern.

“Hyung? Are you home?” He toes off his shoes and turns into the living room. “Are you okay?”

Hongjoong is sitting on the couch with his head in his hands, a lone lamp in the corner doing its best at lighting the room. 

“Hyung? What’s wr—”

“When were you going to tell me this was all for a project,” Hongjoong spits, vitriolic and furious. “When, Yunho?”

Yunho goes cold. Shit. Shit, fuck, this isn’t how this was supposed to go. “I—hyung, listen, I can explain—”

Hongjoong glares at him through his tears, eyelashes clumped unattractively. “You can explain you were using me and my emotions for a grade in a class you couldn't care less about? Please, please do, because all this time I thought—” Hongjoong hiccups a wounded mewl with his arms clenched around his waist, like they’re the last line of defense against a horrible death dealing blow. “I thought, after all this time, you finally felt the same way and I was so, so happy, Yunho.”

“What?” Yunho breathes barely audible over the sound of Hongjoong’s choking sobs. Because seriously, fucking what?

“I thought you—after that night in the kitchen—I thought we were finally on the same page, you asshole,” he cries harder. “I told my mother about us!”

“Hyung—you—what?” Yunho desperately casts around his ability to speak but his higher motor functions seem to be on a crash course in failing hardcore.

“Just...I didn’t think you could be this cruel.” Hongjoong wipes his face with the edge of his sleeve and looks away. “There’s a lot I could forgive, but this is—Yunho, I think you should leave for a couple of days.”

“Hyung—” He tries to get out but is, once again, interrupted.

“No, I really don’t want to hear it right now. Go—go room with San or Jongho or whoever it is you’re actually interested in and leave me alone for a few days to calm down.” Hongjoong scrapes his hands through his hair and stops trying to look up, keeps his head down and away.

Not being the center of Hongjoong’s laser focus gives Yunho just enough time to get his stupid goddamn legs to work and he crosses the room. “I’m interested in you,” he finally manages to get out. “This whole time, you absolute dumbass.”

“Don’t call me names,” Hongjoong stares balefully at him. “This is a really shitty prank.”

“It’s not a prank,” Yunho raises his hands, trembling, to hold Hongjoong’s elbows like he would any other day. Unlike any other day, Hongjoong flinches away from the contact as if it burns. “Hongjoong. I love you, really, seriously, 100% head over heels.”

“What about yesterday?”

“I loved you then, too.” Yunho swallows to get his teeth to stop chattering. 

“And the day before?” Hongjoong’s lips quiver. “Weeks ago? Months ago? Before you moved in? Since when?”

“Since always, I swear,” he says, helpless and ashamed of himself for causing Hongjoong so much pain. God, if only he’d known, they could have been together so much sooner—could have avoided so much heartache. “Since forever.”

“I—” Hongjoong grabs at his hands to hold Yunho’s fingers tight. “It’s always been you, I’ve never—no one has ever measured up, you know? Not even Seonghwa when we tried—please,” he begs, words disjointed as his eyes start to overflow again. “Please don’t do this to me unless you mean it, Yunho.”

“I mean it, I meant it, everything,” Yunho wipes some of the mess on his love’s face away with the edge of his thumb. “I am in love with you, Kim Hongjoong, if you would just believe me.”

Hongjoong gazes at him wide open and hurt. “Then prove it.”

----------------

Yunho stumbles into Hongjoong’s room for the first time since he moved in with Hongjoong attached to his mouth and his fingers dragging against his neck. The room isn’t covered in pornographic posters like he assumed, just a minimalist set up of bed and laptop and a bookshelf covered in pictures of their younger days—more than Yunho ever collected and that’s saying something.

Between one searing kiss and another, he spies an old Yamaha keyboard standing in the corner with its keys gleaming, dust free and sparkling clean.

“You actually kept it,” Yunho says wonderingly at the sight of it, a revelation all its own. “I thought you’d have chunked that old thing ages ago.”

Hongjoong detaches his teeth from the edge of Yunho’s jaw where he’d been making admirable progress at mapping the tiny traces of stubble with his tongue. “What?”

“The keyboard, you kept it.”

“Oh. Yeah, I mean, obviously I would. You bought it for me, so,” Hongjoong goes shy again fiddling with one of his belt loops. “Not like I’d ever get rid of it.”

Yunho basks in the wonderful feeling of being appreciated, of being obsessed with someone who was just as obsessed with Yunho himself. Hongjoong’s brother was right, they do deserve each other. Apparently he basks too long, since Hongjoong growls something dark under his breath and knocks his legs out from under him in a move that lands Yunho awkwardly in the middle of the bed.

“I’m glad you still have it,” Yunho gasps, breathless from the way Hongjoong is attacking his neck and aggressively shucking the belt from his waist. “I—hyung, even then, I was—”

“It’s okay, I know,” Hongjoong breathes hot and humid and whisper soft against his ear. “Me too.”

---------------- 

The night ends as they begin. Hongjoong drags Yunho back to the rooftop to hold hands beneath a blanket like old times, though now their lips are swollen red and Yunho’s skin still feels hot and bruised in the best way. The two of them stare wonderingly at the stars that seem brighter than ever before, despite the light pollution and the fog and smog battling it out in the Seoul skyline.

“What a day,” Hongjoong sighs, blissed out while faint tremors make their last little zings down through his limbs.

“Yeah,” Yunho smiles, nuzzles his nose into the space between Hongjoong’s ear and his neck to hear his boyfriend (!!!) giggle at the sensation. He pulls Hongjoong to settle in his lap, back against his chest, just to get that full body closeness he’s been missing so dearly since high school. His chin rests against Hongjoong’s head like it was made to rest there.

“Hey, Yunho?” Hongjoong swivels his head back just enough to make eye contact.

“What baby?” Yunho snickers when Hongjoong pinches his thigh. He gets so exceptionally, adorably shy when Yunho trots out the pet names that he can’t resist. “Sorry. What’s up?”

Hongjoong huffs before turning to sit with his knees on either side of Yunho’s hips, thick blanket pulled up and over their heads so no one can see them. “Say the thing again.”

“What thing?” Yunho grips his hips, swirls tiny little circles into the ridge of his hip bones.

“You know...the thing,” Hongjoong whines, “Say it.”

“Oh, that thing,” Yunho teases while Hongjoong glares down at him, muted by the darkness beneath their quilted tent.

“Yunho,” Hongjoong says threateningly.

Yunho lets him stew for less than a full minute because he’s fucking gone for this man. “I love you.”

Hongjoong smiles and the rush Yunho gets at its appearance is better than any step sequence for a dance recital Yunho has ever memorized and mastered—than any nighttime skyscape. Better than the ceiling of a small bedroom covered in half assed constellations made of glow in the dark stickers. 

“I love you too.”

It’s even better still than the sound of a keyboard—bought years ago from an old man with a glass eye—playing a jaunty, joyful noise; music that comes from the heart.

“I love you more,” Yunho swears, chest tight and overfull with it, because it’s true and needs to be said over and over again until they’re old and grey and hobbling down stairs on rickety old knees. “I love you the most.”

----------------

 

And they lived happily ever after.

 

“Hongjoong! Why the fuck is there a sock in our dishwasher?” Yunho groans loud, aggrieved that even eight years later his idiot husband is still trying to prove his theory right. “I told you to stop trying to wash your clothes in here!”

…For the most part.