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love, poem

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The magic of you

Is something I never knew 

I needed

 

---

 

The first time Jeno realised his work was much bigger than he thought was when he was browsing Instagram and saw that some influencer had tattooed his words on their arm. It came as quite a shock, really, considering he had only been at this for less than a year. Whilst he was flattered, he was also somewhat embarrassed by the fact some random person he had never even met was now permanently carrying his words on their body.

 

Yeah, that was definitely weird.

 

Doyoung told him to expect it, but he didn’t believe him. The editor-in-chief of one of the country’s biggest lifestyle magazines had begged him to begin writing for them on a monthly basis. Write about absolutely anything you want, he had said, practically on his knees, which was insanely odd for Jeno because this man could be his older brother. He reluctantly agreed to send some drafts through the following week, and after a painstaking wait to hear back, he eventually met Doyoung in a small, cosy café after the man returned from Paris. It was situated at the top of a hill, and you could see the city from the windows. It was a bright day, and Jeno was grateful for it - he always felt like good things happened on pleasant days where the sun was shining and there were few clouds in the sky.

 

“Jeno, you’ve really got something. What you wrote was...touching, and powerful, and magical. Would you consider doing this for us? We’ll pay handsomely, trust me,” Doyoung had said, and Jeno hesitated. It wasn’t that he didn’t want the money, but what he had sent Doyoung was really just some kind of word vomit he had. 

 

Jeno gazed at the older man. He hadn’t seen any sort of sketchiness in his eyes when they first met, and he still didn’t now. It might not be a bad idea, he mused in his head, to do this regularly. After all, the drafts he sent Doyoung made him feel like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and he instantly felt lighter the moment he hit send. He could trust this man, with his shiny hair, kind features, and gummy smile when he was truly happy, like when he said he’d send some drafts to him after hearing him at an open-mic night outside of the city.

 

“Okay,” Jeno acquiesced, and Doyoung released the gummy smile. “But on one condition.”

 

Doyoung nodded so fast that Jeno thought his eyebrows might fly off of his face. “Of course, of course, anything you want.”

 

“Anonymity,” Jeno said almost instantly. Doyoung’s smile faltered, lowering to a slight grimace. Jeno eyed him and sighed. “Look, before you protest, I...have my reasons. I’ll write for you as much as you want, but it has to be anonymous. You can come up with a name to call me by, or whatever you want, just nothing that’s remotely close to my name.”

 

He met the other man’s eyes as Doyoung stared at him, who slowly nodded. “Alright,” he sighed. “I understand. It’s a personal thing. I get that. We’ll figure something out, don’t worry. It’s just...don’t you want people to know what you’re saying is yours? I know not everyone wants fame and fortune, but it would still be nice for them to know it’s your own work,” he said gently, the smile reappearing on his face, soft and friendly. Jeno chewed the inside of his mouth.

 

Yeah, most people would want everyone to know what they said if it resonated with others. But not Jeno. Jeno’s reasoning for keeping it to himself was selfish. He was selfish, but he couldn’t help but deny the fact that if that one person found out he was writing this kind of stuff, a lot of problems would come to the surface. The kind of problems that, if he had to deal with them, it would be a lot more difficult to fix than any run of the mill problems he’s had to deal with in his young life so far. 

 

And Jeno really, really didn’t want to deal with those kind of problems.

 

“I don’t...write them because I want the attention,” Jeno murmurs, shuffling his feet as he looks down in his chair. 

 

“Then why do you?” Doyoung asks calmly, his voice low and gentle. Jeno looks out at the city from the window, spotting a bird as it flies by, wishing he could be as free as it is right now.

 

“Because,” he responds after a moments silence.

 

“It’s the only way I can tell him I love him.”

 

---

 

The first time Jeno sees his work in Neo magazine, his heart thumped in his chest so loudly he’s pretty certain that the neighbours could hear. Which would be impressive in itself, since his parents bought him an apartment that was so huge for his 18th birthday that the closest ‘neighbour’ he had was a woman who travelled so frequently, he only saw her once every two months. It wasn’t like Jeno’s parents were filthy rich or anything, but they had afforded him this one luxury, allowing him one year in the dorms to make friends on his course, and then move right into the apartment the following school year. 

 

He stared down at the glossy pages between his fingers, caressing the sleek paper that had a gentle glint to it in the soft, spring evening light. Doyoung’s team had done a remarkable job - they had taken his words and splayed them across a clean white background in a beautiful serif font that he was sure was custom-made. His poem sat there, like it was supposed to be there, and he felt his pulse hammer in his head. The paper was of a slightly different stock than the rest of the magazine, in that it was somewhat more sturdy. On closer inspection, he saw that they had added small perforations to the inside of the page. He tugged gently, and before he knew it, the page was unearthed from the magazine’s spine in a clean flourish. 

 

In his hands sat some of the most intimate words he’d ever written about himself. Or, rather, his situation. He gazed down at the page, his hands trembling slightly. Jeno was engrossed by the sight of his words next to the sign off that Doyoung’s team had come up with. 

 

They had kept his name entirely hidden - you wouldn’t know that Jeno wrote the poem unless you were Doyoung, since that was part of their contract. Doyoung was the only one at Neo that knew who he was, and he sent everything directly to Doyoung, no middle men or interns or gossiping assistants. He had asked Doyoung how they planned to keep his name a secret, because he knew that ‘Anonymous’ would be insanely boring and cliche, but the older male had given him a rueful smile and told him to wait for the issue, which would come out in April. So he did.

 

And boy, was it worth it.

 

At the end of the poem sat two words, simple and elegant. ‘love, Poem’ it said, written in a flourished scrawl that looked like it had been done by an expert calligrapher. He felt his eyes water gently and his heart continued to play a full drum set in his ears so loudly that he didn’t even notice as he felt the pressure of a gently pointed chin rest on his shoulders.

 

“What’s that?” came a voice, and Jeno practically jumped out of his skin. He turned on his heel swiftly and was face to face with Jaemin.

 

Fuck.

 

This was what Jeno had been so worried about. His reason for so forcefully requesting anonymity was standing right in front of him, staring at him with his deep eyes and his signature Cheshire Cat smile tugging at his lips. Jeno felt a small blush creep across his cheeks, and shook his head vigorously at his roommate. 

 

“Nothing! Just, uh, page. From the magazine. Pulled it out.” he said awkwardly, and Jaemin cocked his eyebrows at him. He watched as Jaemin’s eyes traced his arm downwards, settling on the paper from the magazine. In one swift move, he snatched the page out of Jeno’s hands. Jeno attempted to protest, opening his mouth, only to shut it as Jaemin’s free hand placed a singular finger over his lips. 

 

Jaemin stared down at the paper for a moment. The room was tense with silence for a few seconds, until he nodded, his mouth form a half-grin, half-frown that signalled some sort of acceptance. 

 

“Pretty poem,” he said simply. Jeno swallowed thickly, and stuttered out a low, “Y-yeah.”

 

“What magazine is it?” Jaemin asked, entirely rhetorically. He picked up the floppy mound of glossy paper next to Jeno, and assessed the cover. “Neo, huh? Heard about it but didn’t know they published stuff like that. It’s pretty neat!”

 

Jeno nodded firmly. He felt frozen, like he could barely move. He was so engrossed in himself that he hardly noticed as Jaemin walked away towards the kitchen, paper and magazine still in his hands. He turned stiffly as he followed Jaemin’s body around the apartment that they shared together since the summer after their first year of university. 

 

It wasn’t really his plan to move in with Jaemin. His first year at uni as an English major had started off pretty well, as he met his dorm mates Renjun and Mark and quickly became assimilated into their friend group, which also consisted of Jaemin and Donghyuck. As time went on, he and Jaemin began spending time together, getting closer and closer until they were practically inseparable. They were a good match of friends, people said, and their friendship had earned them the nickname ‘Nomin’. Jaemin was a bit of a social butterfly, flirting with anything that moved and had a pulse, whilst Jeno was on the more reserved side, so they had a tendency to balance one another out - Jeno controlling Jaemin’s more impulsive thoughts and Jaemin bringing Jeno out of his shell and into more settings that a college student should find themselves in, like parties and, well, more parties.

 

As they began the journey towards the end of their first year, Jeno’s parents urged him to move into the apartment. He knew, of course, that “no” wasn’t an option, so he begged his friends to move in with him. It was rent free and they’d only have to pay for their food and help clean - but as it turned out, Mark and Donghyuck were going abroad for their second year, and Renjun was shacking up with the new kid in town, Xuxi. So, that left him with Jaemin, who was both thrilled and bemused that Jeno was going to be stuck with him.

 

Jeno, not so much. Well, at least not at the beginning. No, at first he was equally as thrilled that he was living with Jaemin - they got along great, and by the end of their first year had practically moved in together anyways, with one or the other staying in each other’s dorms respectively, alternating every other day or so, after a late night movie session or some heavy drinking at one of the parties the seniors held. But eventually, something changed.

 

The thing about his friendship with Jaemin was that, on the outside, they were just really close, best friends. Inseparable, finished one another’s sentences, the whole nine yards. But behind closed doors, to Jeno, they sometimes felt like something more. Jeno would have a late lecture, and Jaemin would wait until he came home to serve dinner; they’d spend entire Sundays lounging around the house, cuddling on the sofa, Jaemin playing with Jeno’s hair because Jeno usually took a bath on a Sunday, and his hair was especially floofy afterwards (Jaemin’s words, not Jeno’s); and on holidays they’d alternate going to each other’s homes outside of the city. For all intents and purposes, it was almost as if they were a couple.

 

Jaemin, of course, wasn’t fazed by too much of it. He’d once joked that if they reached thirty and were still single, they’d just get hitched together (Jeno felt his heart leap at that, but at the time, he wasn’t sure why). He acted as if nothing was weird, or out of the ordinary. Jeno did too, for a while.

 

There were instances, of course, where Jeno thought Jaemin was the entire world. Like when Jaemin brought him coffee during his biggest final in their second year, sat down with him and just sat there to console him. And, by admission, Jeno even said as such. 

 

“God, you’re just way too perfect, aren’t you?” he whispered out once, and Jaemin let out a breathy laugh. He leaned in close to Jeno’s face, and nuzzled his nose into Jeno’s cheek.

 

“And don’t you ever forget it!” he chided, and Jeno stuck his tongue out in return. They laughed together and settled back in to what would eventually become their comfortable silence. 

 

Jaemin, as it turns out, felt the same about Jeno. The latter hadn’t heard from his friend in a few days during break in their second year, and when it turned out it was because Jaemin had ended up in hospital with a particularly violent stomach bug, Jeno had no sooner bust through the front doors that Jaemin revealed his signature, toothy smile.

 

He looked tired, and a bit gaunt, but he looked relieved. “Are you okay? What the hell, Nana, why didn’t you text me?” Jeno said, taking a seat next to his hospital bed. Jaemin let out a soft shrug. “They had me connected to these wacky tubes to keep me hydrated, so I didn’t want you to see that,” he said simply. Jeno frowned, and Jaemin laughs. “What! I can’t have you seeing me at my worst! You mean way too much to me for you to see me look like shit.”

 

“You’re weird. If anything, that’s exactly why I should see you look like shit. Which, coincidentally,” Jeno says, crossing his arms in a matter-of-fact manner, “is actually more often than you think.” Jaemin just laughs, and Jeno joins him, and the comfortable silence falls atop them eventually as they just sit there, smiling at one another.

 

Overall, he wasn’t quite sure when it happened. Maybe it happened when they first met; maybe it happened the first time he saw Jaemin shuffle around the apartment in nothing but a slouchy, oversize T-shirt and his boxer briefs, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. Perhaps it was the time Jaemin fell asleep during a movie marathon one cold winter’s night, nuzzling his cheeks into Jeno’s shoulder. 

 

Eventually, the realisation hit him like a truck going way too fast. They were sitting in a cosy little café, not too dissimilar to the one Jeno would (in the future) meet Doyoung in, Jaemin sipping on one of his signature, infamously strong coffees. He was reading a novel, and Jeno was typing up a paper for his creative writing course. His eyes were firmly planted on the screen for a solid hour, and when he finally glanced up, he felt his heart jump six feet in front of him. Jaemin was sat in his chair, his chin resting in his palm, his eyes closed and mouth slightly ajar, looking far too angelic and entirely adorable. 

 

‘He has such a cute face when he sleeps,’ Jeno had thought, smiling to himself gently.

 

And that was when he realised he was in love with Jaemin. 

 

At first, he denied every single notion of the idea of love, casting it aside and chalking it up to some weird psychological problem he had because Jaemin was one of his first real friends as an adult, and yeah, sometimes grown adults wanted to kiss their best friends (no, they don’t, he chastised himself). Love was complicated, and messy, and he didn’t want to ruin his friendship - after all, despite Jaemin’s openness to date people he felt a strong connection with, he had never once indicated any interest in Jeno. And that was for the best, Jeno surmised, since him being in love with his best friend would just cause more problems than anything.

 

So he cast his feelings aside, assuring himself that that was it, hoping that with time they would fade and that he’d eventually find some nice guy to call his own. It was an effective method that worked until one evening, one quiet October night during their final year, when Jaemin stumbled in through the front door of the apartment. Jeno has fallen asleep on the couch watching some random movie he’d seen way too many times (and still loved nevertheless), but the sound of the door opening woke him up. He raised his head slightly, his head foggy. He heard as Jaemin whispered something unintelligible, and the sound of a guy giggling came in response. He could barely make out what they were saying, but all it took was their low, hushed voices and the sound of gentle kisses on lips and cheeks for Jeno to realise what was happening. 

 

Jeno felt his heart drop into the sea in that moment. He kept himself hidden on the couch, willing the universe to let Jaemin have enough drunk-sense to not turn the lights on, and possibly to swallow him whole. Thankfully, the universe answered his first prayer, as Jaemin and his guest slowly made their way down the hall and into Jaemin’s room, where he closed the door lightly. They kept their voices low, and Jaemin’s room was so far from where he sat that Jeno could barely hear a word anymore, let alone the gentle kisses. 

 

That’s when Lee Jeno knew for certain that he was in love with Na Jaemin. Not because he was jealous of some random hookup Jaemin had brought home - he’d had a few girlfriends and hookups throughout their time living together after all, and that was fine. 

 

No, it was because in that moment, Jeno realised that he wished with all his heart, in all its aching, pained weight, that he was the one Jaemin was whispering sweet nothings to as they stumbled in through the front door of their home. 

 

The correlation between his realisation and his increased output of poetry was fairly linear. He always dabbled with poetry, because it came fairly naturally to him, and he liked the therapeutic tendencies it had. His revelation of love had caused him to write much more frequently. Poems about smiles, poems about the ache in his chest, poems that spoke about the future - all of them were a direct result of his sudden feelings for Jaemin.

 

Of course, he didn’t dare tell a soul he wrote poetry - Donghyuck would have an absolute field day with it by teasing him relentlessly, that bastard - much less admit to the world that he was in love with Jaemin. That was for him to deal with, alone. Or so he thought. 

 

After months upon months of writing stanza, after haiku, after simple three word sentences, he felt like he was about to burst. His emotions, despite being expressed on paper and in word documents, were mounting. He saw Jaemin every day, and it made him want to cry - not because he was sad, but because Jaemin was total perfection to Jeno. He had a particular magic about him, and it was magnetic. Jeno knew from experience how truly magnetic Jaemin was. After all, he mused often, it was why he was in love with him. He had been drawn into Jaemin’s force of gravity, pulling him in with whatever magic he held in the palm of his hands. Jeno, as a writer, was more than aware that his analogies didn’t make sense - what with gravity being real and magic, well, not - but that was a direct result of the impact Jaemin had on him. Logic flew out the window, because the butterflies in his stomach took over every time Jaemin so much as looked in his direction. 

 

His kindness, his smile, his genuine affection - they messed with Jeno’s brain in a way that meant he had to get away one night, when Jaemin was out at the movies with the guy from before. It was his breaking point, the moment he saw them emerge from their apartment building together, laughing. He had had enough, by this stage - he had written upwards of almost 100 poems, and he has practically crawling up the walls to just tell someone. Tell anyone that he was fucking in love with Na Jaemin and that he was so besotted with the man that, even though his heart ached, he wanted nothing but for Jaemin to be happy, because that’s the purpose of a best friend. 

 

Even if it meant missing out on the magic that Jaemin brought into his life.

 

And so, that’s how he found himself on stage. He was about to begin reading from a few cue cards of his own work, in front of about fifty strangers one night. It would be therapeutic, he convinced himself surprisingly easily, to read out his poetry to a bunch of strangers. Cathartic, he said. Cheaper than therapy, he reasoned. 

 

And yet, that didn’t stop the nerves as he stepped into the light that night for the first time.

 

“H-hello,” he began meekly. The crowd hushed from their chatter as they heard his voice echo around them. Jeno scanned the room. He was well outside of the city to attend a weekly open mic night he had heard about through the grapevine, and knew that he wouldn’t run into a soul that he was acquainted with, but part of him was still worried that someone with wider tastes than some of his friends - like Renjun, or Xuxi - would walk in through the door. He shook his head mentally, and back in the room, he gulped. 

 

“My name is Jeno, and I...I’m a poet,” he said softly, and the crowd murmured in what seemed like appreciation. They’d heard some songs and some comedy over the weeks, he was told by the manager, a nice Japanese man named Yuta, but this was the first poet in the history of the open mic night, after all. Jeno let out a gentle sigh, and he began reading. The rest was a blur - he barely remembered which poems he read out, and it was as if he was alone in the room, as he spilled his heart to these strangers. He broke out of his trance when the crowd were whooping and hollering, clapping loudly and cheering. Jeno gave them a bashful smile, bowed his head gently, and stepped off stage. 

 

Some people congratulated him, and some pat him on the back. Yuta, the manager, passed him a drink. “On the house,” he winked, and Jeno thanked him. He made his way through the crowd and was met by a taller man. He gazed at the man’s friendly, soft face - it was smiling, and Jeno couldn’t help but let a smile tug at his own lips. The man was handsome, and seemed very distinguished. He didn’t hold a candle to Jaemin, Jeno’s brain said, but he was still elegant and poised and attractive, and Jeno wasn’t afraid to admit that. 

 

“Hi,” the man said. “My name is Kim Doyoung. Can we talk?”

 

And that was how Lee Jeno found himself, staring after Na Jaemin, as the other man clutched the magazine in his hands as he headed to his room. The magazine that had, moments ago, had his poem written in it.

 

His poem - the one he wrote about Jaemin.

 

Oh, he was so fucked.

 

  ---

 

You never forget your first love

But I wish I could forget

That I’ll always love you

 

---

 

Spring swiftly turned into summer and soon into autumn, and for Jeno, it seemed to pass in a blink. He had seven issues of Neo under his belt by now, and despite his monthly missives and bi-weekly visits to the open-mic night outside of the city, he felt pent up, frustrated, and most of all - downright downtrodden. It had been a whirlwind six months, seeing his work splayed across social media and on the bodies of influencers here, there, and everywhere, and whilst he was pleased people were resonating with his work, there was one major problem.

 

Jaemin had become obsessed with his work. 

 

Well, that was misleading, he had to admit. Jaemin had become obsessed with ‘love, Poem’ around his third issue, when he caught Jeno flipping through it. He had snatched the magazine out of his hands and rabidly sped to the distinctly designed page, tearing it out, and marvelling over the words in front of him.

 

“Man,” he said, sighing contentedly, smiling softly. Jeno eyed him cautiously. “Don’t you think Poem is amazing? They’re such a deep soul.” Jeno felt his breath hitch in his airways, practically choking on oxygen. “I really love their work. I wonder what they’re like?” Jeno sat silently, and when Jaemin eyed him, he just shrugged.

 

“It’s poetry. Kinda like trying to understand math, to me,” he joked a little too lightly, and Jaemin let out a bemused scoff.

 

“Oh, please, Jeno-jam. You studied English for three years, you had to assess poetry at some point right?” Jaemin chided, and on the outside, Jeno shrugged, but inside he was screaming like a banshee. He forgot he bemoaned that part of his course to Jaemin almost non-stop for three months, because he found the works of Keats and Heaney to be entirely dry and boring, and a total antithesis to the work he wrote himself. Not that he ever said that last part - that was more for him. Jeno cleared his throat.

 

“I mean, sure, but you know how much I didn’t like it,” he responds, and Jaemin pauses, pouting at him. Nevertheless, he nods. “I guess you just don’t get what ‘love, Poem’ is writing,” Jaemin says in return whilst sticking his tongue out, turning towards his room and walking down the hall. 

 

Jeno grimaces. “If only you knew,” he whispered as Jaemin’s room door opened and closed. He flopped back onto the sofa and let out a deep sigh.

 

He didn’t hear too much after that, but Jaemin’s obsession had reached a peak the following month. He had just arrived from a meeting with Doyoung, and he found Jaemin sitting on the sofa, his legs kicking into the air behind him. He was smiling as he looked down, and Jeno peered over the edge of the cushions. “What’s that?” he asked.

 

Jaemin hummed in response. “My subscription of Neo started this month,” he says back softly, and Jeno is grateful he’s paying more attention to the magazine than him as his eyes widen to the size of small trampolines. “S-subscription?” he accidentally stutters out, and Jaemin hums another affirmation.

 

“Yup, decided to bite the bullet after last month’s ‘love, Poem’ came out. The rest of the magazine is good too, so it’s just an added bonus!”

 

“I mean, they just have this way with words every month,” Jaemin gushes, and Jeno swallowed thickly, his tongue numb and mouth slack. “Last month’s was so poignant, but this month’s feels so warm and lovely, like they had a really nice summer and are reflecting on it. I really love the way they put their heart and soul into every word. It’s genuinely...It’s just...Ugh, they’re amazing!”

 

“I...see. Uh, I gotta go take care of some stuff. Go ahead and eat without me,” Jeno says quickly, as he turns to the door. He can hear Jaemin sit up behind him. “But you just got ho-”

 

He can’t hear the rest of Jaemin’s sentence as the door shuts. He rushes to the elevator, gets in, and slams his back against the wall as the automatic doors close. 

 

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” he says loudly as the elevator descends. 

 

He rarely does that. He rarely lets his emotions get the better of him, especially around Jaemin. They’re way too close to keep things from one another, and keeping this secret is turning Jeno into a bundle of nerves. So, he shows up at Doyoung’s company building, a panting, swearing, nervous wreck, and Doyoung takes one look at him as he stands in the doorway of his corner office.

 

“Yerim, I’m out for the rest of the day,” he says to his fair assistant. She nods back, and shoots Jeno a sympathetic look. He grimaces. Yerim’s also in on the ‘love, Poem’ secret, because she manages Doyoung’s calendar, and she’s the one that sets up their meetings. He likes Yerim, since she’s around the same age as him, if not a little older, so he gravitated towards joking around with her when Doyoung’s late for one of their work-related meetings. 

 

Usually, he’d want Yerim to come with them, but as Doyoung gathers his bag and his sweater from the chaise sofa in his office, Jeno can’t help but shake his head as her sympathetic look turns to concern. She nods back, Doyoung clasps his hand on Jeno’s shoulder, and they exit the building together.

 

“So, what happened?” Doyoung asks calmly, as they sit down at a nearby café. He’s ordered Jeno an iced coffee, and he takes a thoughtful sip. Doyoung eyes him patiently, and Jeno sighs.

 

“He took out a subscription to Neo,” he murmurs, and Doyoung quirks his eyebrows. “Is that meant to be a bad thing, Jeno? You realise he’s decided to help keep some of my staff in a job,” Doyoung jokes, letting out an airy laugh. He stops when he sees the shadow over Jeno’s face get darker.

 

“He got the subscription because...of me,” Jeno says quietly, and Doyoung is steady as he assesses the younger male. It takes him a moment, but his eyes widen at the realisation.

 

“Does he know that you’re-?”

 

“No, no, no no no, fuck no,” Jeno breathes rapidly, shaking his hands in a curt double wave to dismiss the notion. Doyoung let’s out a sigh of relief. 

 

“But he...says that Poem’s work is like, amazing, and that he loves it. I don’t know what to think. I mean…” he says, pausing. He lets out a sigh. “Look, I...didn’t expect this would ever happen, and now I don’t know what to do. Jaemin loves my work, Doyoung. The work that’s about him. Isn’t this like, some sort of fucked up irony?”

 

Doyoung nods in response. “Yeah, it is. But Jeno, maybe this isn’t a bad thing. Maybe you can use this as some sort of, I don’t know, way of understanding how Jaemin feels about you?”

 

Jeno’s head whips up at the speed of sound at that, and Doyoung is giving him a bemused, yet sympathetic, smile.

 

“Look,” he begins, softly. “When I was in college, I met my husband. At the beginning, I wasn’t really sure we were even interested in one another. We had this weird dynamic where, even though we were friendly, we barely spoke. Part of me was intimidated by him - his looks, his charm, all of that.”

 

“But one night,” Doyoung continues, “we are at this party. I arrived late, and he was already a bit tipsy. We got to chatting, and one thing led to another, and we ended up taking a nighttime walk in a nearby park. He shyly told me that he thought I was amazing, and that he really wanted to get to know me better, but he was too afraid when he was sober because he thought I’d reject him. Apparently, I came off as a bit of a tsundere in college.”

 

Jeno smiles ruefully as he stares at him, taking in his story, and takes a sip of his iced coffee as Doyoung shoots him a playful glare at his reaction to being called a tsundere. He goes on - “Look, what I’m trying to get at was during that party, Jaehyun let loose and shook off his anxiety, and it became a catalyst for us understanding where we stood with one another - they often say drunken minds speak sober hearts. People joke about mutual pining, but you feel like the biggest jackass when you realise it’s real.”

 

Jeno bites his lip. “So,” he begins, “You think that this is a good thing?”

 

Doyoung gives him a gentle, comforting smile. “Jeno, it’s a great thing. You’ve been in love with Jaemin for years now, and from what you’ve told me, you have no idea how he feels. Maybe his fondness for ‘love, Poem’ will give you an idea of how he feels.”

 

He thinks about what Doyoung says as he exits the elevator in his apartment building. Unlocking the door and slipping off his shoes, he pads in on bare feet. As he enters the living space, he spots Jaemin on the couch, watching some trashy romantic comedy. 

 

“Hey,” Jeno says quietly. Jaemin cocks his head back, and meeting Jeno’s eyes, smiles. He ignores the butterflies in his stomach and his heart doing loop de loops in his chest as Jaemin’s bright eyes glint in the dim light of the living room.

 

“You’re back,” Jaemin says softly, smile still plastered on his face. God, Jeno melted every time Jaemin smiled at him like that. He wish he’d stop, because it always made him fall a little deeper. “Wanna watch with me?”

 

Jeno glances at the TV, and then back at Jaemin. “Yeah, sure.” He shuffles over and flops his body into the space next to Jaemin’s. He feels comfortable here, personal space be damned. He sighs softly and Jaemin hums in response. Jeno lets his head fall against Jaemin’s shoulder, expecting him to playfully shove him off. Instead, Jaemin lays his head on top of Jeno’s gently.

 

Jeno feels his heart soar.

 

“You okay? I was worried when you left like that,” Jaemin says, and Jeno nods into his shoulder in return. “Yeah,” he says, “just had to...run an errand that I forgot to do. Sorry for making you worry so much.”

 

He feels as Jaemin’s head shakes in response. “Nah, I’m in a perpetual state of worry about you. That’s what best friends do, right?”

 

“Best friends…” Jeno murmurs. He watches numbly as the main actress says something to the lead actor, but he’s not really paying attention. He hears Doyoung’s advice ring through his head. “Nana, I was wondering, what is it about that…’love, Poem’ person that you like so much?”

 

He feels as Jaemin lets out an exhale. “Well,” he says slowly, like he’s thinking about his words. “I don’t know. I feel like maybe they’re a reflection of how I feel, sometimes. Not all the time, of course, but most of the time. Like, this month, they wrote about love, as always, but it was about first loves. I kinda...felt seen, almost. Like it was myself talking back to me.”

 

“So, like, you mean to tell me you’ve been in love?” Jeno asks. He raises his head and shifts his body so he turns to Jaemin. Jaemin looks at him in surprise, especially in regards to the sudden movement. Confusion sits all over his face, but after a beat, he smiles at Jeno softly.

 

“Well, I don’t know. Maybe? Truth is, I think it felt so real to me because I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over my first love,” he says sheepishly, and Jeno’s eyes widen like saucers of milk. Jaemin has - had? - a first love? For all the years Jeno’s known him, he’s never once heard Jaemin talk about a first love. Boyfriends and girlfriends and hookups, sure, but never about a first love.

 

“Y-you...never said anything about them,” Jeno says, the stutter in his voice catching him off guard. Jaemin’s smile stays on his face, he shrugs, and returns his focus to the TV. 

 

“You never asked,” he says simply, his voice tinged with playfulness, as it always is. Jeno stares at his profile, and he can’t help but admire Jaemin’s soft features. His gentle nose and pointed chin, his plush lips and kind eyes. Jeno wants to reach out and cup his cheeks and kiss him, right now, but he can’t risk that. 

 

Jeno turns his attention to the TV as well. So Jaemin has been in love with someone. Someone Jeno didn’t know about because he never asked and Jaemin never said anything. He felt miserable in that moment, because here he was, pining over Jaemin, when in reality, Jaemin’s been pining over someone else for all these years, and never said anything. 

 

Fuck, he felt awful.

 

“‘M sorry,” he says lowly. “I should have been more considerate and asked.” Jaemin tuts at him. Suddenly, he feels a hand reach around his head, and it plants him firmly back on Jaemin’s shoulder.

 

“Shut up, dummy. It’s no big deal. Now, let’s finish the movie,” is all Jaemin says, as he leans his own head against Jeno’s.

 

So they stay there, quietly in the dark. Watching a trashy movie, with Jeno’s head on Jaemin’s shoulder. He likes this intimacy, this closeness with the other boy. He’s always liked it, even before he realised he was in love with him. Their bodies fit so well together, like two puzzle pieces, and they were never uncomfortable with one another. Jeno wishes it could stay this way forever. 

 

He wishes for a lot of things in that fleeting, comfortable moment with Jaemin. He wishes that he’d never fallen in love with Jaemin, because it makes his heart ache; he wishes Jaemin hadn’t found out about ‘love, Poem’, because it made everything feel too close to home; he wishes that he could forget that Jaemin was his first love, and still was, so that he could live life without this crushing weight on his shoulders.

 

But more importantly - and selfishly - Jeno wishes he could make Jaemin forget that other person.

 

And love him instead.

 

 

It’s not long until the days begin getting shorter, Jeno muses, and the chill in the air agrees with him, as October rolls around. Soon, it’ll be winter, and he’ll have been writing for Neo for the guts of the year. Each month, his most intimate feelings got splayed across the pages to countless readers, spread across social media, and - he couldn’t believe it when he got the notification on his phone - projected across some of the cities biggest buildings by fans.

 

‘love, Poem’ had become a bit of a phenomenon in recent months. The work had been gaining traction for a while, he knew that, but as summer faded into the throes of autumn, he noticed people were getting a little more into it. Doyoung called it “cuffing season”, whatever the hell that was, and honestly he wasn’t sure if he wanted to, since Doyoung had mentioned his husband had a penchant for trying more risqué things in the bedroom.

 

Of course, attention brought speculation - people started trying to guess who ‘love, Poem’ was, with huge think pieces about how it was actually government propaganda, or one prolonged Valentine’s Day campaign. Jeno didn’t think much of these - he actually found them insanely funny and he and Doyoung had a good giggle over many of them. There was just one problem.

 

Jaemin began speculating as well.

 

“You know,” he mused suddenly one day, whilst he and Jeno were grocery shopping. “I think ‘love, Poem’ is definitely a guy. And a gay guy, at that.” Jeno is grateful that the melon he’s holding falls out of his hand and into their basket nonchalantly. He clears his throat.

 

“W-what makes you, uh, think that?” he asks hurriedly, and Jaemin hums in response. “Like what do you think...gives it away?”

 

Jaemin pouts his lips and scrunches his eyebrows. “Well,” he begins, and Jeno can feel the hairs on the back of his head stand on edge, “he has this way of talking about love like it’s something fragile. I mean, don’t get me wrong, girls can too, but look at how Mark treats Donghyuck. Even though he’s insanely annoying and can take as good as he gives when it comes to insults, Mark treats him like he’s made out of porcelain.”

 

Jeno stares at the back of Jaemin’s head as he lags behind the other. He tunes out Jaemin’s theories momentarily, lost in his own thoughts. Okay, so maybe his poetry was giving him away a little. But he couldn’t control that - yeah, he was a guy, and yeah, he was gay. He made a mental note to tone down the gay in the next submission (if he could, he thought bitterly).

 

“-but man, if I ever actually met ‘love, Poem’, I think I’d probably have some choice words for him, but I’d probably end up just gushing over him,” he heard Jaemin ramble off, and he stopped dead in his tracks. Meet? What? What did he just say?

 

“What, ‘meet’?” Jeno asks cautiously. Jaemin turns to him as he places a box of sugary cereal into the cart. He’s got a quizzical look on his face, and smirks. “Geez, Jeno. I know you’re not a huge fan of them, but you could at least entertain me and pretend you’re listening to me,” he says teasingly, and Jeno pouts. Jaemin pouts back, reaching over the cart and tugging Jeno’s cheek. He lets out a whine, rubbing his sore flesh when Jaemin pulls away.

 

“I was saying ,” he enunciates, and Jeno sticks his tongue out at him. “That if I got the chance to meet whoever the writer behind the name is, I’d probably jump right for it. Dunno how likely that is though,” he muses. Jaemin shrugs and turns to walk off, and Jeno pauses. Meet the writer? Meet him ?

 

Oh fuck no, that’s not happening.

 

Jeno agonises over this thought for the next week and a half. He knows it’s not good to let this fester inside of him, but he can’t help it. The thought of Jaemin finding out who he is is something that he puts right up there as one of his greatest fears, just above Donghyuck when someone insults Mark, and that’s a pretty terrifying place to be. Doyoung, for what it’s worth, tries to calm him down about it, and Yerim too, when he stops by the Neo offices, but he can’t help but try and keep it under wraps.

 

Jaemin, Jeno notices, is a bit clued in to when he’s overthinking. Selfishly, Jeno likes it, simply because Jaemin pays so much attention to him it’s next level. Every day that he comes home, he’s found Jaemin there, preparing a dish he likes or putting on one of his favourite movies. When he goes to the open mic night, he returns to find Jaemin has gone to bed with a note by the door saying he made sure he had cooked enough for him, and that he hopes Jeno got home safe.

 

It’s selfish, but he knows it can’t last.

 

“Hey, Nana,” Jeno says one Saturday morning, as the other man finishes the dishes. Jaemin hums in response, his eyes trained on a particularly stubborn stain on the plate. Jeno bites his lip before continuing.

 

“I know you’ve...been worried about me a lot lately. But you really don’t have to. I’ve just been figuring out some stuff and...yeah, I’m sorry,” he says quietly. Jaemin flips the sink off, turns around, and leans against the edge of the counter. 

 

“Why couldn’t you tell me, Jeno? You know I’m here for you,” he says, his voice soft but stern. Jeno shrugs. “I just...didn’t want to over-worry you, I guess. You’ve been so attentive lately, and I’m sure you’ve turned down like five hundred dates. I don’t want that to be because of me.”

 

Well, he did, but he’d never tell Jaemin that. It was true - in the past two weeks, Jaemin hasn’t gone on a single date. Jeno didn’t mind that either, to be entirely truthful, because it meant that Jaemin wasn’t being shared with some random twink or some gorgeous girl. He was all Jeno’s, at least for a bit. But that very notion riddled him with guilt, and he couldn’t bear to hold Jaemin back whatsoever.

 

“You dummy,” Jaemin says, snapping Jeno out of his thoughts. “Yeah, I’ve turned down some dates, but you’re my best friend , Jeno. Of course I’m gonna make sure my best friend and roommate is okay. We’re thicker than that, and you know it.”

 

Jeno lets out a soft laugh at the slang, and Jaemin follows suit. It’s another comfortable moment, Jeno thinks. He wishes there were more of them, but he wants to make sure Jaemin can live his life, and not be held back. 

 

“Listen,” Jaemin begins, and Jeno meets his gaze. “Whatever’s going on, whatever you’re feeling, I’m here for you, okay? Doesn’t matter when, or where, I’ll always be here for you. Got it?”

 

Jeno nods. “Got it.”

 

“Good!” Jaemin says brightly. He practically skips away, back to his room, and Jeno lets out a small laugh.

 

It would be so great, he thinks solemnly, as he sits at the kitchen counter, swirling his tea in the mug around, if Jeno could only believe that would be true. The moment he’d tell Jaemin what was really going on, he’d find himself in uncharted territory. And he didn’t have a map for that, so to speak, so it would be better to avoid it completely. Avoid the discussion, avoid the feelings, and avoid ever ruining their perfect friendship.

 

Easier said than done, his reflection says wryly.

 

——

 

I have woven this blanket from words

Each thread a single notion of my love

 

It goes on, a never ending canvas

For us to share

 

Some day, I want to share it with you

And keep you in its warm embrace

 

——

 

When Jeno wakes up at the beginning of November, he gets bombarded by approximately seventeen missed calls and forty texts, all from Doyoung. There’s a few there from other people - Jaemin, of course, Mark, Renjun - but the one that stands out is the one from Yerim. It stands out for two reasons - one, Yerim never texts him, and two, the message is...cryptic, to say the least.

 

‘Emergency. Come to the office ASAP.’

 

So, dragging himself from his bed, he gets ready in a timely fashion and before he knows it, he’s at the Neo offices. Doyoung spots him as he approaches his office, and the moment he’s outside the door, clutches Jeno by his arm, drags him inside forcefully, shuts the door and closes the blinds. If he weren’t so shocked and rattled, he’d admit that the scene probably looked quite comical.

 

“Doyoung, what the fuck!?” Jeno says indignantly, his arm feeling the pressure of the older man’s grapple.

 

“Have you seen it?” Doyoung asks, ignoring the outcry from the younger man. Jeno eyes him suspiciously and huffs.

 

“Seen what? I got a text from Yeri to come up here ASAP, so I did. I haven’t even had a coffee yet,” he says childishly, and Doyoung sighs. He walks over to his desk, and enters the password on his computer. He clicks a few things, and when he’s settled on whatever he’s looking for, he turns the screen to face Jeno. “Go,” he says. “Read.”

 

Jeno eyes him, furrowing his brows and pouting gently, but he acquiesces to Doyoung’s request. He timidly walks over, and peers at the screen, which has been opened to some sort of news site. 

 

Jeno stares in shock as he reads the article laid in front of him.

 

[SM PUBLISHING SEEKS OUT ‘LOVE, POEM’ WRITER FOR EXCLUSIVE DEAL; NEO RESPONDS

 

The Seoul-based book giant SM Publishing has released a public statement addressing the Neo Magazine writer behind the poetry phenomenon ‘love, Poem’, offering the writer an exclusive book deal worth an undisclosed sum.

 

The statement comes after SMP failed to convince editorial director of Neo Magazine, Kim Doyoung, to reveal the identity of the writer. “We are disappointed but admire Mr. Kim’s tenacity in keeping his writer’s identity a secret,” said SMP’s Artistic Director Lee Taeyong in the statement. “However, we wish to formally ask the writer of ‘love, Poem’ to come forward to SMP so that we can come to a fantastic agreement that involves spreading the writer’s work across the world in an exclusive book deal.”

 

When asked about the deal, Mr. Kim further elaborated. “SMP approached Neo over the past months numerous times seeking information about our writer. Contractually, we are not allowed to share the writer’s information, and as such had to reject SMP’s offer in each occasion. The writer has been informed of the request, and will make a statement exclusively through Neo in regards to their response.”

 

Mr. Kim did not respond to requests for additional comments.

 

The writer known as ‘love, Poem’ has garnered international acclaim since they appeared in Neo’s March issue earlier this year. The writer - who has remained anonymous since their debut - has never revealed themselves publicly. Their work has been translated around the world, and is often seen displayed across giant billboards.]

 

Jeno’s eyes stayed firmly planted on the screen as he read and re-read the article. He couldn’t believe what he was reading - SM Publishing was the biggest book company in the country, and had affiliate companies around the world. He felt his mouth go dry momentarily, and Doyoung passed him a bottle of water.

 

“Before you ask,” he says, as Jeno takes large gulps. “It’s real. Lee Taeyong is adamant that you write this book. I didn’t tell you initially because I knew you wanted to be kept a secret, but...when I saw the money they were offering...I knew I had to tell you. It all happened so fast - Taeyong didn’t really like the third rejection, so he posted the statement. He’s such a shit stirrer, always has been, especially since college,” he finished ruefully.

 

“What...what’s the offer?” Jeno gasps out. He takes another sip, and Doyoung eyes him cautiously. He sighs and passes Jeno a piece of paper. Jeno scans it and his eyes fall on a figure that has way too many zeroes to even be real, and promptly spits the mouthful of water he had resting on his tongue out. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Jeno, gross,” Doyoung chastises, passing him some tissues.

 

“Is this real!?” Jeno practically shouts, and Doyoung sighs. “Yes. It is. But...they have a condition.”

 

“What’s the condition? I mean, what could be so bad that you think I’d say no to this much mone—“

 

“You have to reveal your identity.”

 

Jeno drops the bottle of water. Doyoung doesn’t even admonish him, and just stares at his young friend. Jeno’s head is clearly working on overdrive right now, processing the information. “I’ll...give you a minute,” Doyoung says, creeping slowly out of his own office and shutting the door behind him.

 

After moving his way over slowly, Jeno collapses in the chaise sofa. Burying his head in his hands, he lets out an audible groan. This couldn’t be happening. His work was being recognised by the biggest publishing company in the country, and was giving him an opportunity to retire at such a young age. 

 

But the cost was far too high. Revealing his identity, to sell a book...meant his entire world would crash around him. Everyone would know - his friends, his family, the public. 

 

And so would Jaemin. Jaemin, the subject of each of his poems over the past almost-year. Jaemin, his best friend since college. Jaemin, his roommate. Revealing his identity meant his worst fear would come true, opening up doors he locked months ago in the hopes of being able to pine in secret and letting Jaemin live his life, unhindered by his feelings. 

 

This was a nightmare.

 

He agonised over it for another twenty minutes, playing out every scenario in his head. Jeno is so caught up in himself that he doesn’t notice as Doyoung slips back into his office. “Jeno?” he says softly, and Jeno finally acknowledges his presence. Doyoung’s face is sympathetic, but Jeno knows what Doyoung needs right now.

 

An answer.

 

“Tell them…” Jeno begins, but he pauses. No. He can’t make a hasty decision, even for money. His friendship was too valuable. He couldn’t lose Jaemin. He stands up, a shadow cast over his face. He clenches his fist and nods curtly. 

 

“Tell them no.” Jeno says simply. “No deal.”

 

Before Doyoung can protest, Jeno turns on his heel and storms out of his office, out of the building, and onto the cold streets of the city. He’s home in what feels like no time at all, and opens the door to an almost rabid Jaemin meeting him.

 

“Did you see!? Did you see !?” Jaemin laughs, and Jeno gulps. Yeah, he saw. He sure as shit saw.

 

“I can’t believe it,” Jaemin says, the lightness in his voice causing a smile to tug at Jeno’s lips, like it always did. “I mean, who would have thought that maybe, just maybe , ‘love, Poem’ might come forward and write a book ! Oh, man, I would kill to get a signed copy. I wonder what he’s like? Oh he must be so nervous about coming forward, it’s craz-“

 

“What makes you think he - they - would want to come forward?” Jeno asks abruptly. Jaemin stops in his tracks as he bounces around the room, his smiling face going from ecstatic to a confused frown.

 

“What?” he says after a beat, and Jeno takes a deep inhale. “Why wouldn’t they come forward. Jeno-jam , this is huge ! They'd be crazy to give up this opportunity, not just for the money, but for the chance to tell the person they love how they really feel! It’s so romantic !”

 

“But what if they don’t want that, huh!?” Jeno snaps, and he regrets it instantly. He murmurs a small ‘Sorry’ under his breath, and Jaemin let’s out a soft ‘tch’.

 

“Jeez, what crawled up your butt?”

 

“Nothing, it’s...it’s nothing. I, uh...forgot something I needed to do. Gonna do it now. Uh...sorry, for snapping. Don’t wait up,” Jeno says, and before Jaemin can protest, he’s closing the door behind him and getting in the elevator.

 

He needs a fucking drink.

 

 

The music isn’t bad but it’s giving Jeno a headache. He takes a large gulp of his drink - something clear, and very, very strong - and motions for another. The bartender’s eyes look worried, but when Jeno hands her a large bill, she doesn’t bat an eyelid. 

 

It’s his fourth night in a row here, and the staff have been warned about him. Tonight’s is new, but she keeps the drinks flowing. The bartender pours his drink, takes the cash, and pockets it. As she turns, Jeno pipes up.

 

“Wait,” his voice comes, almost desperate. The woman behind the bar faces him and looks at him quizzically. 

 

“What’s your name?” Jeno asks, and the girl blinks. “Yeeun,” she says simply. Jeno nods in response, half expecting her to walk away, but she doesn’t. Their eyes meet and he can see she’s very pretty, almost doll-like, but still with a touch of cool about her.

 

“Yeeun, I have a question for you,” he says, his words slurring a little bit as he speaks. Yeeun stifles a laugh - it’s funny, Jeno is aware, seeing someone with his lithe build flail around as they becoming increasingly more tipsy. He knows because Jaemin’s told him as such before. 

 

Right. 

 

“Let’s say...you’ve got a secret. Big one at that. The kind you can’t, under any circumstances, reveal. If you were given a huge sum of money, but it meant revealing that secret to the whole wide world, wouldyadoit?” Jeno says, lightning fast. Yeeun blinks, and after a moment, pouts in contemplation. Despite the pounding music, the silence is almost too eerie for Jeno. Before he dismisses the question, realising how fucking awkward he’s being right now, she nods as she furrows her brows.

 

“Well,” Yeeun begins, and Jeno marvels at how her voice is high and clear and pleasant. “It would depend on the secret. If it would hurt someone, I don’t know if I could do it.”

 

Jeno contemplates her answer and gums in response. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. Yeah. Makes sense,” he mumbles. “Thanks Yeeu-“

 

“But,” she interjects, and Jeno pauses. “I guess I’d have to look at myself more. Why am I so afraid of the secret coming out? I mean, sure, anything could happen, and maybe people won’t like me, but what scares me about the truth? Why am I running away from it when it’s clearly such a big problem?”

 

Jeno’s mouth drops open. His head is feeling foggy - actually, he feels a little woozy but who cares - and despite that, it’s the most sense he’s heard all week. He’s asked this question to everyone - Yerim, Mark, Renjun, hell, he even got Doyoung’s husband to give him advice - and he’s pretty certain they’ve all said similar things. But here’s this stranger, this woman serving him booze at 11pm on a Thursday, and he thinks she might be the second coming of Jesus right now.

 

“And you know,” Yeeun says, snapping Jeno’s attention back to her. “I think that sometimes we have to face our biggest fears, reveal those secrets, and take them head on. We can’t change the past, we can’t force the future, so we just have to...live. Now. And let the dominoes fall if they have to.” She smiles at Jeno and he blinks a few times. Everything she is saying to him is fitting like a puzzle, bit by bit. 

 

A puzzle. Like him and Jaemin. He’s been so afraid of ruining the friendship that he hasn’t even once entertained the thought that if their friendship can’t survive the secret being revealed, then that’s not something he can control. Jeno knows that everything Yeeun is saying is...

 

“God, you’re right,” he murmurs, running his hand through his hair. “You’re right, you’re right, you’re right right right right. God, why am I running away from this? It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m worried about a secret that’s been killing me for the past half a decade almost oh my god I can’t believe I’ve been so dumb thank you Yeeun you are a GENIUS!”

 

Jeno stands up - a little too fast, in hindsight - and stumbles. He catches his balance, shouts a thanks to the pretty bartender, and high tails it out the door of the bar. He rummages in his bag for his phone, and - clumsily - opens his contacts, scrolls, and dials a number. 

 

“I’m gonna regret this in the morning,” he says as he hears the other person pick up. “I’m going to regret it and so I want you to record what I’m about to say, because someone once told me that drunken minds speak sober hearts and I just...I need to make sure I do this while I still have some booze running through my veins. Got it? Okay.”

 

Jeno takes a deep breath, and exhales.

 

 

His head is pounding as he sits beside Doyoung, his eyes sagging and his throat dry. The editor in chief had called a car to Jeno’s building for 8am sharp, and after struggling to get in, gratefully accepts the cold water the older man offers him.

 

“So,” he begins, and Jeno inwardly groans. “You remember everything, right?”

 

“As much as I don’t want to,” Jeno grits out, “yeah. Yeah, I remember.”

 

Doyoung nods. “Alright, good. Because Taeyong is way too excited and you don’t want to crush his hopes. Trust me, it’s like kicking a puppy.”

 

“You seem really fond of him,” Jeno muses, and Doyoung lets out a small laugh. “I suppose so. We’ve been friends since college, actually. When the announcement came out, it was just business, but at the end of the day he called me crying because he hated having to put out that kind of statement.”

 

“And that’s the thing,” Doyoung continues. “He’s a smart cookie. He knows what’s going to work, so really, Jeno. You shouldn’t worry.” He clasped his hand onto Jeno’s shoulder and Jeno let out a deep sigh. “I know,” he responds, “But you know that’s not what I’m worried about.”

 

He can feel as Doyoung hesitates. He knows that Doyoung knows, but he doesn’t need his pseudo-boss – and, honestly, friend at this stage – to feel obligated to open that can of worms as he nurses a hangover.

 

Before he knows it, they’ve arrived at a towering building that seems to be more glass than anything else. Instead of getting out in front, Doyoung explains but Jeno barely registers it, they’re going through the service entrance to avoid paparazzi spotting them. They’ve been camped out since they released the statement, one of Taeyong’s associates, Taeil, says. It was a precautionary tactic to make sure Jeno’s identity was kept a secret, Doyoung nods.

 

Eventually, after climbing countless floors in the elevator, they walk into a vast, almost impossibly bright office. The windows are floor to ceiling, and Jeno is fairly certain he can spot the bar he goes to do open-mic nights at from this high up. After a brief moment, the doors open again and in strides one of the most striking men Jeno’s ever seen. His features are angular, almost feline, and he’s lithe. He’s dressed stylishly, and Jeno can’t help but blush at the fact the man’s jeans are so ripped, he’s fairly certain he’s either wearing a thong, or no underwear at all, since the skin is going all the way up.

 

“Taeyong,” Doyoung says, his face breaking into a smile. The smaller man grins widely as they hug each other tightly, talking about the call they had and Taeyong uttering the words ‘I’m sorry’ over and over again. Eventually, he turns to face Jeno, and smiles.

 

“So, ‘love, Poem’. We finally meet!” he says brightly, and Jeno nods curtly. Taeyong extends his hand and Jeno shakes it, and they take a seat around a large, marble table, where papers are strewn across it in an organised fashion. “As you can see,” Taeyong says simply, “We’ve prepared a lot to go through. Shall we?”

 

And so they did. Within an hour, Jeno was briefed entirely on what SMP would be doing to launch his book. They’d begin by collecting all the poems Jeno’s written to date – his personal collection and Neo work – and designing it in a hardback coffee table book. Then, a week before launch, they’d hold a press conference, announcing the book’s pre-Christmas release. The reason, Taeyong explains, as he sees the panicked look spread across Jeno’s face, is because they want the sales to be stellar, and the gifting season was the strongest time of year for them.

 

“Does everything sound alright?” Taeyong asked quietly, and Jeno paused before he nodded firmly. “Yeah, sounds…sounds good,” he chokes out. Taeyong gives him a quizzical look, and cocks his head to Doyoung, who sighs, and Jeno hears him whisper something about telling him later. 

 

“No, it’s okay. Really, just…It’s a lot. I’m nervous, that’s all,” Jeno says brightly, trying to come off as nonchalant as possible. It’s entirely unbelievable, he knows that, especially when he sees the look on the duo’s faces.

 

A little later on, Jeno takes a deep breath as he walks along the river, taking in the chill in the air. It stings his cheeks and his eyes a little, but he needs it to stay alert. He has so much to think about in terms of the poems he wants Taeyong to collate, what he wants to say in his reveal speech, what he’d like the book jacket to look like. But none of that matters, because Jeno can’t get one thing out of his head.

 

Jaemin, who might hate him for the rest of his life after this. 

 

He’d like to think he wouldn’t. He remembers the first fight they ever had, and even then, Jaemin didn’t hate him. They were in college, and had been living in the apartment for roughly six months, and Jaemin had a habit of bringing…companions...around after clubbing. Normally not a huge deal, but when he found an errant, slinky men’s jockstrap in the laundry one day, Jeno lost his shit.

 

“You can’t keep bringing your one time flings home and letting them just…leave their shit here, Jaemin!” he had screamed, and Jaemin instinctively began shouting back. “Listen, Jeno, what my hook-ups do or don’t do isn’t any of your business! God, why do I even take shit from you?”

 

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean!?” Jeno shouted back, and Jaemin rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Oh, please, Jeno. You’re just jealous that I have way more sex than you! Like, we all know you’re practically a virgin. You wouldn’t even fuck Renjun and he was all over you last year.”

 

“Oh fuck off, Jaemin, as if I could be jealous of someone who sleeps around to get validation from strangers. I’m not as fucking shallow as you are! Nor am I a total slut that has to fuck every thing that wags its eyes at me!”

 

The silence that fell between them was a lot of things. Painful, for one. Awkward, for another. But most of all, Jeno thought, it wasn’t right. They were Jeno and Jaemin. An unbreakable friendship with an unbreakable bond that could weather any storm. He sighed.

 

“Nana, I’m…sorr-“

 

“No, Jeno, don’t apologise, it’s my fau-“

 

“Seriously, don’t, this is on me, I really need to-“

 

“No, man, really, it’s my shit and I have to deal with and-“

 

“God, I’m so sorry,” they said at the same time, and after a beat, let out raucous laughter so loud that Jeno was glad his neighbour was on a perpetual vacation.

 

As a cyclist sped past him, Jeno couldn’t help but come to some sort of resolution. They survived a fight like that, where they said some pretty hurtful shit to one another, and even if things were awkward afterwards, it wasn’t long before they were cuddling on the sofa with a movie again. 

 

Being ‘love, Poem’ was going to cause a rift, the size of which their friendship has never seen. But Jeno was entirely aware of one thing – they were Nana and Jeno-jam, and they could survive anything. They suffered before, but they always bounced back. This would be no different – it might just take a little longer.

 

Right?

 

--

 

The weeks flew in, and before Jeno knew it, it was December. Winter had truly arrived in the city, and with it came one thing.

 

The big reveal.

 

He had been bracing himself for impact since he met with Taeyong all those weeks ago, and the day was almost upon them. He had everything figured out, and it was all coming together. The book was finished, and it looked amazing – a black, textured cover was inlay with subtle gunmetal-grey text which read ‘love, Poem: anthology 1’ in a gorgeous serif font. The pages were tinted blush pink around the edge, and his poems sat on the soft pages. As he traced some of his own words, he felt himself well with pride, and of course, some tears. Even Doyoung, stoic and composed, had to excuse himself as he held a copy for the first time.

 

Taeyong, as it turned out, had downplayed the launch of the book to him. What he thought was going to be a simple, elegant announcement with a crowd of people (mostly press) had turned into a huge affair. The guestlist was 350-people strong, and that was just other authors, press, and influencers alike – SMP even ran a variety of competitions for fans to win tickets. Jaemin, of course, entered as many as he could in the hopes of winning some tickets, but if he was successful, he kept that a secret from Jeno.

 

Jaemin’s excitement when SMP released a new statement to say that ‘love, Poem’ would be releasing a book was something Jeno had never seen before in all their years of friendship. He was practically hollering with joy in the apartment, and Jeno couldn’t help but laugh.

 

“You really like their work, huh?” he said lightheartedly, and Jaemin beamed at him. 

 

“Are you crazy, Jeno? I’m basically in love with them at this point!”

 

Jaemin didn’t know, of course, but those very words had cut through Jeno’s soul ever-so-slightly, and he choked back a half-sob. Jaemin loved him, but the side of him Jaemin didn’t know existed. The side of him that he kept a secret, hidden from Jaemin, because he didn’t need the other boy knowing his true feelings.

 

But that was all about to change. 

 

The morning of the announcement, Jaemin excitedly woke Jeno up well before he actually needed to be by jumping on his bed and falling down on the pillow next to his head. “Jenoooooo, what are you doing today? I have a surprise!” he said excitedly, but Jeno grimaced.

 

“I’m sorry, Nana, but…I have something really important today. Been on my schedule for weeks. Family stuff,” he said hurriedly, to throw Jaemin off. The other boy pouted. “Are you sure?” he pleaded, bouncing on his knees, making Jeno’s bed move in tandem. Jeno nodded sadly, and Jaemin sighed.

 

“It’s alright, I guess. ‘S’family stuff, can’t be helped,” he said simply, and Jeno gave him a weak smile. “Sorry, Nana. But hey, whatever it is, don’t let me stop you. Is it something you can have fun with alone?”

 

Jaemin’s face contorted into mock thought, and Jeno playfully whacked him with a spare cushion. “Yeah, yeah it is,” Jaemin says between laughs, and the air around them feels light and easy.

 

They get ready separately, but Jeno’s mind is racing. In a few hours, everything was going to change. Jaemin might not even speak to him, and he had to get used to that idea. He checked his hair as he walked out of the bathroom, and found Jaemin sitting in the kitchen, sipping on a cup of coffee. He looked well-dressed, in a slightly oversize jumper (the one he got for his birthday this year, in fact) and some nice jeans and sneakers. He was scrolling through his phone, smiling at something, and Jeno couldn’t help but smile as well.

 

The very same smile fell when the reality of the day hit him once again.

 

“Hey, Nana?” Jeno says, as he gets a text from Taeyong to say that the car is downstairs.

 

Jaemin looks up from his phone. “Yeah?”

 

Jeno hesitates. He knew it was fruitless, because they were going to have the world’s biggest fight later, but he still had to ask.

 

“We’ll…always be friends, right?” he asked. Jaemin shot him a bemused look. “Yeah, of course. Best friends, dummy. Why?”

 

“Just…felt like asking.”

 

Jaemin scoffs. “Alright, weirdo. Go take care of your shit today. See you tonight for dinner. Wanna get takeout? I feel like pizza.”

 

Jeno nods and smiles. “Yeah, sounds good. See you later.”

 

Jaemin gives him a signature, toothy smile, and Jeno feels like he’ll melt right there. “Bye!” Jaemin says brightly, and Jeno gives him a playful military salute, to which the other boy laughs.

 

Turning his back, Jeno walks to the front door and pauses. He looks back at Jaemin, who is back to whatever was on his phone and smiling. As he places his hand on the doorknob, there’s only one thing that goes through his mind.

 

‘I hope you’ll still smile at me like that after today.’

 

--

 

“So, Jeno, there’s a development in terms of the plan,” Taeyong says suddenly as they cruise through the city in the back of a sleek black towncar. Jeno’s been staring out the window the whole ride, and the sound of Taeyong’s voice snaps him out of his thoughts. He turns to look at the older man.

 

“Our international offshoots did some research, and the translated versions of the book are getting a lot of buzz. We want to bring you to New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris…basically, we want to do a mini-world tour,” he says enthusiastically, and Jeno’s eyes go from normal to saucer-wide in a nanosecond.

 

“What? Seriously!?” he asks incredulously, and Taeyong’s got a shit eating grin and is nodding like someone put new batteries in him.

 

“I know it’s not the best timing, to tell you before the press conference, but the reason is that, well…” Taeyong pauses, but he shakes it off. “We’d be leaving almost immediately after this.”

 

Jeno’s heart almost stops. “Y-you mean, after the conference?” he says weakly, and Taeyong’s nod is now more formal, businesslike.

 

“Yeah. I mean, it’s really sudden and we decided to get you wardrobe sorted out in the locations. It means you don’t have to pack much, just some essentials, since we’ll be gone for a few weeks,” he says reassuringly, and Jeno bites his lip.

 

“When would we be back?” he asks, and Taeyong hums in response. “Christmas Eve, I think. The international team were pushing for after Christmas, but I was adamant we come back before. Holidays, loved ones, all that sorta stuff,” he says.

 

Jeno nods silently. He’s quiet, and realises Taeyong is eyeing him. Oh, fuck, right, a response. “Sounds good,” he chokes out meekly, and Taeyong giggles.

 

“Don’t worry, it’ll be fun!”

 

Jeno nods again, and returns to the window, the little voice in his head saying Jaemin’s name over and over niggling at him like an itch he can’t reach to scratch. Eventually, the car pulls into a garage, not too dissimilar to when he first met Taeyong in the SMP building. The men clamber out of the back seat and head towards a door. After a few minutes of navigating the back area, they arrive in a backstage area. Taeyong booked a large, fancy theatre for the reveal, and he can hear the murmurs and chatter of countless people, a dull hum in the background.

 

Taeyong opens the door that says ‘Private Dressing Room’, and as they walk in, Jeno spots Doyoung in a large leather chair. He’s smiling and looks dapper in a clean white shirt and black trousers. The man sitting on the arm next to him is smiling as well, and Jeno gives them both a short nod.

 

“Hi, Doyoung, Jaehyun,” he says, his voice low. Doyoung’s smile is sympathetic, but Jaehyun - his husband -  has one that looks friendly and proud. “Congrats, Jeno. Today’s a big day,” he says, and Jeno swallows thickly for what feels like the fortieth time that day. He nods quietly, almost mute, and Jaehyun and Taeyong give Doyoung a small look. 

 

“Give us a minute?” Doyoung asks the other men. Taeyong nods, and Doyoung gives Jaehyun’s hand a small squeeze. The other man raises it, kisses his knuckles, and smiles, turning and walking away. Jeno can hear them faintly begin a conversation, but it feels like a low murmur in his ears.

 

“Jeno,” he hears Doyoung say, and he looks at the other man. He’s standing in front of him, and before Jeno knows it, Doyoung’s placed his hands on his shoulders. “It’s okay. Let it out.”

 

And so, Jeno starts to cry. 

 

Tears begin to roll down his face, and Doyoung’s grasp turns into a hug. Jeno accepts it, gladly, and throws his arms around Doyoung’s back as he cries. “I’m so, so scared,” Jeno whispers, choking back a hiccup as his tears trickle down his cheeks. Doyoung rubs his back gently, as his breaths hitch erratically. They stay that way for a few moments, until the older man pulls away.

 

“Jeno, listen to me,” he whispers, and Jeno looks at him through blurry eyes. “I know it’s scary. We’ve gone almost a year with nobody knowing. But do you remember what you told me before, about why you did this? Why you wrote?”

 

Jeno knows, deep down, but in that moment shakes his head as he looks at his shoes, shiny and black and polished, because his mind is too foggy and riddled with emotion that he can’t focus all too well. Doyoung sighs. He lifts Jeno’s head and the men are staring at one another in the eyes.

 

“You told me,” he begins calmly, and Jeno lets out a silent hiccup. “That you didn’t write for fame or fortune. You wrote to tell someone something. And I know that this is hard, but maybe this is a sign. A sign to tell them the truth. The truth - about how you feel .”

 

Jeno is quiet for a moment, and he chokes out a small sigh.

 

“But what do I do if he...if he…” he trails off, closing his eyes before the thought can even pass his lips.

 

“If he hates you?”

 

Jeno cringes at the word, but nods. Doyoung wipes away the tear streaks on his face, and Jeno looks at him in the eyes again.

 

“Then fuck him,” the older man says simply, and Jeno can’t help but let out a meek laugh. “Fuck him for not realising how much you love him and thinking that keeping this sort of secret is a good enough reason to hate you.”

 

Jeno lets out a bit of a stronger laugh, and then whispers a small ‘thanks’. Doyoung nods in return. He steps aside and strides towards the door, and Jeno turns to face him. “Now, compose yourself and we’ll meet you by the stage in five minutes. You’re going to do great,” he says, and beams at Jeno, giving him a signature Doyoung Gummy Smile, who just nods himself. The door closes, and Jeno’s left alone in the greenroom, alone.

 

He reaches over for a bottle of water, opens it and takes a large gulp, finishing half the bottle in one fell swoop. He removes a tissue from his pocket, dries his eyes, and looks at himself in the mirror. His reflection gives him a short, curt nod, and he sighs as he turns towards the door, and places his hand on the knob.

 

This was it.

 

--

 

The run-up to the announcement went by in a blur. Jeno doesn’t remember too much, it felt so quick - he was ushered to the side stage, and told to wait for the stage hand’s signal to go on. After walking out together to some applause, Taeyong stood on stage with Doyoung, and they both spoke for a while - Taeyong, about the exciting venture, and Doyoung about the work that ‘love, Poem’ had created for the magazine and where they had found him. The press asked some questions about the book production, the world tour, and future plans, and before Jeno knew it, he was brought back to reality as Taeyong began speaking again.

 

“Now then, ladies and gentlemen, it is my extreme honour to introduce to you the person behind the ‘love, Poem’ phenomenon. He’s young, very cute, and probably very nervous, so please,” he says sweetly, and Jeno swears he can hear people swoon in the audience, “go easy on him. I am so thrilled that he's decided to do this, so please join me as we introduce…”

 

“‘love, Poem’, also known as Mister Lee Jeno.”

 

With that, the stage hand taps Jeno on the shoulder, and all the sound rushes out of his ears as he walks onto the stage. Lights begin flashing at lightning speeds as they took his photo, and he steps towards the podium where Taeyong and Doyoung stand. He shakes hands with them and smiles for photos, and gives in to some requests for him to give a peace sign and finger heart. Doyoung, thank god, helps settle the crowd down, and Jeno takes his place at the podium.

 

“Hello,” he says, his voice quivering a little. “My name is Lee Jeno, and I’m the writer of ‘love, Poem’.” The crowd bursts into a deafening applause once again, and he feels himself laugh at the sound - in nervousness and in giddiness. 

 

“Um,” he says lightly as it dies down, “I’m not very good at making speeches, which is ironic, I know, but, um...Shall we maybe just...have some questions?” He looks around at Taeyong and Doyoung, and their gentle smiles and nods assure him that he’s doing fine. Jeno looks out at the crowd, picking a young woman who has her hand up.

 

He fields a few questions - when did he start writing, why reveal himself now, what sort of plans does he have for the future - and answers them as calmly as he can. Doyoung mentions they have time for one more, so Jeno nods and picks out a young man from the crowd. He’s got an angular face and looks younger than him.

 

“Zhong Chenle, Dream Daily. Mr. Lee, your poems are very much about love. Is there someone in particular you write these poems about?” he asks, and Jeno feels himself blush. A few girls in the audience catch this, and coo.

 

“The truth is...” he begins shyly, and the crowd murmurs giddily. “There is.” The crowd’s rumbling chatter is still low, but excited now as the truth comes out, some whispering between themselves, and Jeno looks out at them. His eyes have finally adjusted, and he scans the room slowly. He can see the press are all in one particular area, and notices a few influencers in another. There’s one section filled with banners and posters that have his poems written on them, and he surmises it’s the fan competition winner section.

 

He gazes out at them, their faces varied. Some boys, some girls; teens and adults alike, and even a mother with her toddler daughter is waving at him. 

 

“It’s someone I’ve been in love with for a very long time,” he continues, and the fans and audience are either making notes or smiling. “I’m sure you can guess from my poems, they...they don’t know I’m in love with them, and I have been for a very long time.” 

 

He glances at the fans again. They’re all smiling and mouthing ‘we love you’ to him. He smiles gently in return, and his eyes fall on one person standing still, and quite literally feels his heart stop in his chest as he spots an all-too-familiar sweater and shock of hair.

 

All he can see is Jaemin standing amongst the fans, his face stone cold and wide-eyed. 

 

--

 

Getting off the stage is a blur. He knows there’s applause, and he knows Taeyong has to step in to thank everyone for their time, and he knows Doyoung helps him casually stroll off stage. But apart from that, all Jeno really knows is that he and Jaemin didn’t break eye contact until he was entirely out of sight.

 

And for the first time in all their years of friendship, Jeno can’t read him. He can’t read Jaemin’s face, and understand what he’s thinking. They always had his sixth sense about them, where they could feel something was off, or if they just had a nasty day. It made their friendship easy, and comfortable, the way Jeno liked it, because it meant they fit together so often. They could practically see one another in the dead of night, when the movie’s stopped and they just sit there quietly.

 

But today, even despite the lights casting a tiny shadow on Jaemin’s face, Jeno can’t read it. He wouldn’t be able to, even if it was written in neon green writing.

 

He wants to run out to the foyer as soon as he gets backstage, but he can’t. Taeyong has arranged some one-on-one interviews with huge magazines from around the world. He’s got a translator for foreign publications, a kind man called Ten who Taeyong introduces as his longtime friend, and who will join them on the world tour. 

 

Jeno distractedly gets through some of the interviews, trying to be as attentive and charming as possible, but seeing Jaemin rattled him. He knew that Jaemin would be aware of the announcement, and he’d catch a glimpse of it on live streaming sites or through news outlets, but...he didn’t in a million years think that Jaemin would be there, watching in person as Jeno not only revealed his identity…

 

But revealed his love. 

 

For him.

 

A knock comes at the door, and snaps Jeno out of his thoughts. Taeyong arranged for the last magazine to be Neo, and Jeno half expects Doyoung to walk in. Instead, he’s greeted by the friendly face of Yerim.

 

“What are you-“ he begins, but Yeri cuts him off. “Doyoung’s been encouraging me to write more, and wanted this to be my first assignment. Pretty neat, huh?”

 

Jeno nods, and Yeri sits across from him. She lifts her pen, and Jeno feels her pause.

 

“Jeno? Is everything...alright?”

 

He looks at her and for a moment, thinks about lying and saying everything is fine. But here’s Yeri, practically his older sister, and he knows he can’t. So, he shakes his head. 

 

“Do you...need to go?” she asks, and he nods silently in return. She sighs, closes her notebook, and hums.

 

“Okay, go on. You owe me when you come back though,” she says playfully, and Jeno looks at her startled.

 

“No, no, no. This is your first big piece, Yeri, I can’t just up and leav-“

 

“Jeno, if you don’t, you’ll regret it. Not because of whatever is going on, but because I’m going to punch you. A journalist’s time is precious, you know,” she sniffs haughtily, but Jeno senses the teasing in her voice. He shoots up from the seat, kisses her on the forehead.

 

“Thank you so much!” he calls, as he runs out the door. He heard Taeyong and Doyoung call after him, but he ignores them. Sprinting towards the front of the theatre, he reaches the curb and hails a taxi. Giving his address and handing the driver a note that is way too much for such a short journey, all he says is, “There’s another one in it for you if you get me there as fast as you can without breaking any laws.”

 

He slams the door behind him after giving the man a second note, storms into his building, and waits as the elevator ride takes him up to his floor. The wait is excruciating, and one the bell dings, he realises his shirt is undone and he’s lost his tie as some point down the line.

 

Jeno stands in front of his own apartment door, and hesitates. He thinks to knock, but knows that’s stupid. He grasps the handle firmly, pushes, and enters.

 

And the apartment is quiet. Hollow and empty, as if nobody is there.

 

“Jaemin?” he calls out weakly. No sound responds, not even a footstep. He walks carefully towards the hallway, heading down towards their adjacent bedrooms. One door is open - Jaemin’s - and the room is entirely empty save his belongings.

 

“Jaemin...where are you?” Jeno whispers. He takes out his phone, and against his better judgement, dials Jaemin’s number.

 

“We’re sorry, but this number has been temporarily disconnected. Please try again later” comes the robotic voice, without a single ring. He sighs, hangs up, and opens his messages. He types a few drafts, some long, some short, but he settles on a simple one. He desperately wants to talk, but he knows it’s better in person.

 

JeNojam [15:27]

Nana, please call me when you get this.

 

No sooner does he put his phone into sleep mode does it begin ringing. Without even looking at the screen, he picks up immediately. “Nana, is that you?” he asks hurriedly.

 

“Uh, no, Jeno, it’s Taeyong,” comes the voice of a bemused man. Jeno internally sighs. “Listen, you ran off and I won’t ask what’s up, but I need to remind you the car is picking you up at 18:00 sharp.”

 

“Car? What car?” Jeno asks distractedly, hoping to hear the sound of keys unlocking the front door. He hears Taeyong sigh into the receiver.

 

“Our flight, Jeno. To New York? We have to fly out to start the press tour, remember?”

 

Jeno almost drops the phone. In the panic of seeing Jaemin, he entirely forgot that right now, in his bedroom, was a suitcase ready to be whisked away around the globe for the first time in his life. He was so caught up that the idea of going abroad in a mere few hours was a foreign concept to him.

 

“Uh...Taeyong, listen, I don’t think-“

 

“Jeno, you know I hate being a big boss, but we owe it to the staff in other countries. Whatever’s going on…” he says with a pause, and Jeno swallows. “It’ll have to wait until we get back. I’m sorry.”

 

Jeno lets out a small sigh and nods. Doyoung wasn’t wrong when he said Taeyong was good, and what he was saying was entirely reasonable. “Yeah. You’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll see you soon.” He doesn’t wait for Taeyong’s response before he hangs up.

 

As time passes in anticipation of the inevitable call from the driver, Jeno idly waits around the apartment. Occasionally, he’ll hear the elevator ding, but no-one approaches his door. He checks his phone every few seconds, hoping for a text or a call to come through, but nothing.

 

Then, at precisely 17:54, Jeno’s attention is snapped to the front door as the jingle of keys rattles on the other side of the wood. He’s sitting in the kitchen, his bag at his side, ready to go. The door opens, and Jaemin steps in slowly. He’s still in his nice outfit from before, including the instantly recognisable jumper, but his face is flushed with red, undoubtedly from the brisk December air outside. 

 

Jaemin closes the door behind him, and after he shuffles off his shoes, meets Jeno’s gaze, stopping dead in his tracks. Jeno feels paralysed - Jaemin’s face looks cold, and not in the ‘just got inside from winter’ kind of way. It’s cold, in an angry, confused kind of way.

 

It’s cold. In a hurt kind of way.

 

Jeno, with the silence becoming unbearable, speaks first.

 

“Hi,” he says weakly, it coming out mouse-like and feeble. Jaemin just stares at him. Neither of them move, and before Jeno can open his mouth to say something else, Jaemin speaks.

 

“Hey,” he says. His voice is neutral, Jeno notes, devoid of any form of fondness or friendliness. It feels wrong, Jeno thinks, but it’s not unwarranted.

 

“Listen, I—“ Jeno begins, but Jaemin begins moving. He shrugs off his coat, hangs it up, and dumps his bag on a nearby chair. He shuffles past Jeno, straight to the tea kettle, and pops it on.

 

“Going somewhere?” Jaemin says briskly, and Jeno lets out a small noise in confirmation, like a short hum. “World tour, right?” Jeno hums in response again. “Cool. Safe flight.”

 

“Jaemin, wait, I want to—“

 

“Jeno, don’t.”

 

His abruptness catches Jeno off guard. He’s never really seen this side of Jaemin, all hard and stoney. Sure, they had that fight, but that was impassioned and tense. This was different. This was a wall that Jeno’s never seen Jaemin put up around himself.

 

One that Jeno wasn’t meant to get passed.

 

Jeno watches as he heard Jaemin sigh and run a hand through his hair. He picks up the now boiled water and pours it into a mug, where a sachet of green tea sits. He lifts it to his mouth, pauses, and puts it down. He turns on his heel to face Jeno, who can’t help but inwardly flinch at the hardened face in front of him.

 

“Look, I…There’s a lot going through my head right now,” Jaemin says, and Jeno nods. “And I just...think it’s best if I leave for a bit. You’re leaving for this world tour now, but...I won’t be here when you come back.”

 

Jeno feels his heart plummet into his stomach. 

 

“W-what...d-do you mean?” he breaks out weakly, his voice cracking. Jaemin looks away, at the ground, and Jeno wishes he could just look in to his eyes and try and understand.

 

“I mean...I’m going to go stay with Mark and Donghyuck. Whenever you come home, I won’t be here.”

 

“Jaemin, I know this is a huge shock, but please, try and hear me out. I don’t want-“

 

“It’s a bit late for what you want, Jeno. Right now it’s about what I need to do.”

 

Jaemin’s words are harsh and steely, and Jeno feels the tears well up in his eyes. He’s still looking at the ground, his hands clasping the edge of the countertop. So hard, in fact, that Jeno can see his knuckles turning white.

 

“I...I understand...but Jaemin…?”

 

He doesn’t get a response, so he continues.

 

“When I do come back, let’s...I want us to talk about all of this. Okay?”

 

Jaemin doesn’t respond, but Jeno sees his head move in a short, tiny, barely there nod. He nods himself, and the two sit in an uncomfortable silence for the first time in the history of their friendship.

 

A silence that’s broken by Jeno’s phone ringing, the screen lighting up with the number of the driver.

 

“That’s me. I...I’ll be going now.”

 

He hesitates as he looks at Jaemin, who just nods again. He clutches the handle of his luggage, and wheels it down the hallway to the door. As he reaches out for the handle, Jeno looks behind him one last time.

 

To his surprise, Jaemin is standing there, at the edge of the hallway. His hands are deep in his pockets, his shoulder lurching forward, and he’s looking down at his feet, until he darts his eyes up to look at Jeno through his bangs. Jeno cocks his head quizzically at him, and Jaemin averts his gaze.

 

“...ve a safe flight,” he says, so quietly that it is barely a mumble.

 

Jeno nods, turns the handle, and opens the door. He pushes his luggage out in front of him, and gives Jaemin one last look. He’s still standing there, but their eyes meet this time. Jeno gives him a weak smile, but Jaemin’s face remains still.

 

“Jaemin I...I’m sorry.”

 

And before he can hear or see anything else, he closes the door behind him, steps into the elevator, and hits the ground button.

 

A tear falls when the doors of the elevator close behind him, and Jeno can’t help but let out a small sob.

 

 

Jeno’s two and a half week long world tour goes like this. He spends a few days in New York, moping around the city streets. He gets recognised a few times, and gets asked to take selfies. Even though he doesn’t want to, he puts on a smile and throws up a ‘v’ sign every time, because as shit as he feels right now, he has no intentions of ruining someone’s day.

 

The New York trip concludes with a book signing, and so too the rest of the city dates. Jeno has two or three days to walk around the city, write if he wants to, shop if he feels like it, whatever. Taeyong gave him free reign on his off-days, and when he had a schedule, they kept it quick and simple. Nothing too strenuous, and no majorly deep questions being asked by the journalists. 

 

Jeno’s grateful to Taeyong, and Doyoung as well, only because he knows that somewhere along the line, his boss at Neo will have told his boss at SMP about what was going on. Which meant that saved Jeno the excruciating task of telling Taeyong what was going on. And that was a discussion he really didn’t want to have to deal with, in all honesty.

 

The last stop of the trip was changed from London to Paris because of some scheduling conflicts Taeyong had to work around. “We hit a bit of a snafu with some local production in London, and want to address it upfront,” he explained as the small host of assistants that were on the trip reorganised the whole itinerary in front of Jeno’s eyes.

 

Paris, Jeno thought bitterly, was far too beautiful. As he strolled alongside the Champs-Élysées at night, the tourists all in bed for the evening, he couldn’t help but marvel at the architecture and the sheer romanticism that poured out of every single pore the city had. It made him feel sick, almost. There wasn’t really a physical reason, and more emotional.

 

He still hadn’t heard from Jaemin since he left two and a half weeks ago.

 

Jeno wasn’t sure what he was expecting, in all honesty. Jaemin said he’d be leaving the apartment, and he was clearly not going to text or call Jeno back. He sent him updates periodically, in the form of photos or texts, but they never got a response. He knew he had turned off the read receipts, as none of them showed up like they used to. 

 

As he looked up at the Eiffel Tower, Jeno couldn’t help but sigh. It had begun a beautiful light show in honour of Christmas, which was happening in mere days. It was a sight to behold, but his heart felt heavy, and the sight only saddened him. He wished, with all his might, that he could be there with Jaemin. 

 

As friends, as lovers - as anything.

 

The Paris signing event went off without a hitch, and as the team clambered into a large van destined for the airport, Jeno felt Taeyong bounce in excitement.

 

“Oh, amazing,” he practically purred, and Jeno looked at him quizzically. “Jeno, I know you’re tired, but how do you feel about doing a fan sign when we land back in Seoul?”

 

“Taeyong…” Jeno began, trying to let every inch of his body that was tired speak for himself. Taeyong held up his hand. “It’s at Lotte World,” Taeyong says slyly, and Jeno’s mouth falls into a perfectly round ‘o’ shape.

 

“I know! We were hoping we could do it in the New Year, but they want to do it on Christmas Eve. We even came up with a fantastic name - A Christmas Eve Love Poem. What do you think?” Taeyong said excitedly, and Jeno made a mental note of the sight. Doyoung was right - the man really was like a puppy.

 

He sighs and nods. “Alright, why not. It’s Christmas, after all.”

 

The moment they land in Seoul, Jeno is whisked to a salon for hair, makeup and styling. He had gotten ample rest on the flight - mainly thanks to being put up in first class, not because of the company, but because the pilot was such a huge fan of his poems that they wanted him there - and Taeyong had spent a few moments telling him the details.

 

They’d be setting up huge screens so that Jeno could be broadcasted around the venue, as well as live streaming. There would be a fan signing, of course, but it turned into something like an idol signing - he’d do a Q&A, and then he’d read some new work he’d written.

 

Yes, despite everything, he still wrote. He was encouraged to write by Yeri, in fact, who he FaceTimed most days whilst on the trip. 

 

“Have you been writing?” she asked, as she plaited her now-bright pink hair in the mirror. It was morning in Seoul, and just reaching evening in New York. It was his last night there, and they’d head to Los Angeles in the morning. Jeno shook his head.

 

“I just...haven’t felt it,” he says lamely, and she sighs. She picks up the phone to look at him properly.

 

“Jeno...I know that everything was sudden, and it hurts. But you…” she trails off, sighs, and gives him a stern look. “Your work has touched so many people. Channel your emotions into your new work, and you can come out with a new book. Let that be your therapy, like Neo was when you were writing about Jaemin.”

 

Jeno thought about her words for a few moments, the both of them silent. Eventually, he sighed and nodded. “You’re right,” he said. Yeri smiled on the other end. “I can’t just stop writing. Like you said, it’s my therapy.”

 

And so he wrote. He wrote about everything, from the sand in LA to the lights of the Eiffel Tower, even though they had made him feel sick. And, of course, he wrote about Jaemin. 

 

He couldn’t not write about Jaemin.

 

Jeno had come up with a huge range of poems about Jaemin whilst he was out of the country. Some were embittered, for Jaemin leaving him; some were downtrodden, at the thought of losing him; and some were pining, as he missed his best friend and their back-and-forth camaraderie. He couldn’t help himself - writing about Jaemin was what prompted his poetry in the first place.

 

Somewhere above the Earth, as the plane flew through the skies, Jeno looked out the window. It was quiet in first class, with the separated “suites” meaning he could barely hear the other passengers, let alone see them. And for some reason, Jeno felt something he hadn’t felt before. 

 

It was part of him that he didn’t think existed. It was a voice, that caught him off guard. Not one in the cabin - one inside his head.

 

It told him that he did what he had to do, and he knew Jaemin would react that way. And whether the friendship continues, that was up to Jaemin. But the most important thing Jeno had to know was that no matter what, he shouldn’t feel bad, because he was doing something important.

 

He was keeping his heart protected. And whilst it hurt him, it was necessary. Sure, it had a rough ending, but in the end, he could protect his love and protect his heart until that moment.

 

And maybe he’ll always love Jaemin, and maybe they’ll never speak again. All of that was okay. But what mattered was that Jeno came clean, and he should be proud of that. He loved Jaemin - loves Jaemin - and that turned into a newfound career, one that brought joy to millions.

 

His love for Jaemin. It did all that.

 

Spurred by this, he whipped out his iPad and began writing. He agonised a little over some word placements and the rhymes that found their way in, and time seemed to pass him by entirely. Soon, Jeno had written something he never thought he’d write. He marvelled at himself when he scrolled through his iPad, retracing what he wrote. Later, as the van drove off from the salon to the venue, Jeno turned to Taeyong in the van.

 

“I know what I’m going to read,” he said, but before Taeyong could excitedly ask to read the poem, he shook his head. “It’s going to be a secret. I’m sorry. It’s just...I want it to be the first and last time it’s heard out loud.”

 

Taeyong smiled, and nodded quietly in return. They spent the rest of the journey to the venue in silence. They pulled into a side entrance, and emerged. Not too many people caused commotion, as it was after hours (the entire venue was bought out for the evening, so it was meant to be a more intimate moment), but there was certainly an excited murmur running through the crowds. Eventually, Jeno emerged in the main area of the venue, where they had set up a beautiful stage.

 

It was Christmas themed, and was decked in green and red and gold. It sparkled brilliantly, it was so shiny, and Jeno could tell that his eyes were probably glimmering in the reflection. As he looked around in wonder, his eyes fell on a group of people standing to the side, eyeing him fondly.

 

“Doyoung! Jaehyun! Yeri!” he called happily, and they waved in return. The trio walked up and gave him hugs one by one. “What are you doing here?” Jeno asked, as the greetings settled.

 

“Well,” Doyoung said, “Taeyong called us when it was confirmed and gave us invites. We’re here for your fan sign, mister poet!” Jeno chuckled at that, and Doyoung ruffled his hair slightly. He let out a weak groan and the three laughed. 

 

“We just wanted to stop by before to wish you luck,” Yeri says, a smile still tugging her lips. “We’re going to go get our seats. They only sent out a limited few, so look out for us, okay?”

 

Jeno nods. “Of course, I wouldn’t dream of missing you out there. Thanks, guys.” They all nod, Jaehyun clasping him on the shoulder and squeezing, and they exit towards the seats. Not long after, Taeyong walks up.

 

“Okay,” he says with a breath, as if he had just been running. “I’m going to go out and introduce you, like your reveal press conference. And then, yeah - you can lead it. Sounds good?”

 

Jeno nods again. “Yeah, Taeyong. Sounds good.” Taeyong smiles, whispers a ‘good luck’, and disappeared through some curtains. Jeno prepared his iPad, and as he scrolled, he heard Taeyong begin his introduction. As if by some act of god, he suddenly sensed right when Taeyong was about to announce him. And so he took a deep breath, exhaled, and walked through the curtains himself at the very moment he heard Taeyong call his name.

 

It took him a moment to adjust to the lights, but the applause was welcoming and made his stomach jittery. At first, it all felt foreign, but two and a half weeks later and he felt a sense of pride well up within him as people clapped. He nodded his head towards the crowd, and he strained his eyes to look out. The lights were strong, so many people were cast in shadow.

 

“Um, hi, everyone,” he began, “I’m Lee Jeno, but you probably know me as ‘love, Poem’.” The crowd clapped again and he smiled bashfully. It felt nice to be speaking Korean again, after a few weeks of using Taeyong’s friend Ten as a translator. It felt natural, and comfortable.

 

As the minutes progressed, so too did the event. The fan signing was short and sweet, with everyone from teenage girls to slightly older guys bashfully complimenting him on his work. The woman from the announcement with the toddler was there, and Jeno gleefully played with the child for a moment, earning him plenty of coos and ‘aww’ moments from the crowd. 

 

The rest breezed by, and he was grateful for that, because for once, he was eager to begin the reading. As the Q&A ended, he took the microphone stand and placed it firmly in front of him. He sat on a plush leather stool, just in the centre of the stage.

 

“Um, so, I have some work here I’d like to read for you,” he began, and a small hush fell across the audience. “It’s some new work that I’ve written recently. I really hope everyone enjoys it.” Again, he tried to look out at the crowd, but could barely see past the front row.

 

“Um...Before we start, can I please ask if the lights can be dimmed a little? I...am a bit more comfortable in a slightly dimmer light. The bar I used to read at made me way too spoiled,” he jokes, and he glances at Taeyong who nods in response, whipping out his phone to presumably text the lighting team.

 

Sure enough, the lighting dimmed and suddenly, even a venue as big as this had become instantly more intimate. “Ah,” he whispers loud enough for the mic to pick up, “that’s better.” The crowd murmurs in agreement, some small titters of laughter breaking through the noise. Silence falls amongst them all, and Jeno begins to read.

 

He reads his poems of London and Paris, the lights of the European cities and their charm. He reads about LA and New York, and the magic each of them felt. His new poems were a touch longer, but they felt so right coming out of Jeno’s mouth.

 

As the crowd ceased their applause after his previous poem, Jeno hesitates before speaking. 

 

“I...have one more poem,” he says quietly. The crowd, out of respect, stays quiet. He continues. 

 

“It’s...quite personal to me. You all know I wrote about love very often, but...this one is...I would say that this one,” he says lowly, his voice almost a whisper, “is probably the one out of all my poems that really tells the person I love how I feel.”

 

There are gentle murmurs from the audience, but they hush sooner than they begin. He looks out - he can spot Doyoung, Jaehyun and Yeri, but something catches his eye. Not too far away sit Mark and Donghyuck, with Renjun and Xuxi beside them. They’re all smiling at him, and Jeno feels his heart flutter. He’s all too aware that he can’t see Jaemin, but he’s unsurprised.

 

Taking a deep breath, he begins.

 

A thousand words

Have been written about you

 

And all of them filled

With every ounce of my love

 

I longed so

To tell you them in person

But fear said no”

 

He looks out at the crowd as he pauses. They seem enraptured with his words, and he can spot a few cameras pointed in his direction. Donghyuck seems to be quiet, for once, as he stares, and Jeno is fairly certain he’s got Mark’s hand in a vice-like grip.

 

Jeno continues.

 

“Now, my love

My fear has lifted

 

And I find myself

Without you here

 

I miss you so

To the point it hurts

And that has brought

 

An all new fear”

 

Another pause, and he scans the audience. Doyoung and Jaehyun, who are sitting fairly at the front, also seem drawn in. Jeno catches a quick glimpse of Yeri, and - are her eyes watering? He can’t be sure, but he’s fairly certain they are.

 

Again, he continues.

 

“All our laughter

And all of our fun

 

Are the things I cherish so dearly

I don’t want those things to go away, my love

 

So I will stop it, should you want”

 

The silence is deafening as he pauses. He feels exposed and vulnerable, sitting here on this stage, reading this poem. The hardest poem - no, the hardest truth - that he’s ever had to face.

 

“I will stop loving you, my dear

If it means that I can hold you near

 

I will stop loving you, my friend

If it means we don’t meet an end

 

Through all these years and all these moments

You have become my everything

 

I will stop loving you, right here, right now

If it means that we can avoid

 

Becoming nothing.”

 

Jeno swallows thickly. He looks out, scanning the audience again, but this time something catches his eye. Or rather, someone, who is unlike the rest of the crowd.

 

Someone, standing at the back, bolt upright. The audience don’t notice them, as they all sit with their eyes and ears focused intently on Jeno. But Jeno sees him, and his heart seems to soar. He would recognise that person at any given moment, because Jeno knows every inch of him like the back of his hand. He could spot him a mile away from his way he composed himself, to the way his laugh carried along the wind.

 

Jaemin.

 

Jeno’s eyes have become accustomed to the dim lighting now, and despite the size of the crowd, he could tell in a blizzard it was Jaemin. He stands at the back, his eyes meeting Jeno’s, and they hold one another’s gaze like that for what feels like an eternity, despite it only being seconds. Jeno takes in a deep breath, and - against his better judgement - begins the end.

 

“With time I will learn

To forget my love, and push it aside

 

I will do all these things

Just for you, and only you 

Because despite it all

 

I love you,

I love you,

I love you.”

 

As he finishes, he feels his body release whatever tension he had in one deep sigh. No sooner has he ended that he realises that, for once, he cannot hear applause. He looks up, and out at the crowd, realising that they sit in stunned silence.

 

Many, Jeno sees, are crying. Doyoung, for one, is sobbing quietly as he stares at Jeno. Jaehyun, he notes, is watery-eyed and clutching onto Doyoung’s frame with one arm as he grips his own knee. Yeri, to Jeno’s surprise, is dabbing her tears with a tissue. He looks to the side of the stage to see that Taeyong is staring, lips trembling and tears streaming down his face, arms pinned to his side like a child. 

 

Averting his gaze to the crowd again, he looks out further and catches Mark and Donghyuck, and is shocked to see Donghyuck has buried his head into Mark’s shoulder, shaking it gently, his hair grazing the boy’s chin. Xuxi, he sees, is silently sobbing and Renjun has his arm around his shoulders, much like Jaehyun has with Doyoung.

 

And then he lays his gaze on where Jaemin stands.

 

He’s still there, Jeno is admittedly surprised to say, but his face has changed. No longer is it cold, and stony, like it was before he left. Instead, it’s tear-streaked and wet, his eyebrows furrowed and his mouth slightly ajar. He looks like he’s trembling from head to toe, and Jeno - for some reason - abruptly stands up from his chair.

 

The sudden movement causes the audience to erupt in cheers, clapping, and everything else indicative of a standing ovation. In the moment, Jeno jumps at the sudden noise, and when his eyes return to where Jaemin stood, he sees that he’s gone, and feels his heart sink once again. 

 

 

Eventually, the event ends. People filter out, Jeno signs some more books, and everyone congratulates him. Mark, Donghyuck, Renjun and Xuxi promise that they’d see him soon, and Doyoung and Jaehyun give him both giant hugs before departing. Yeri, Jeno notes, pats him gently on the shoulder as she leaves, murmuring a gentle “You did well”. Taeyong calls him a town car, and when it arrives, he sinks into the back seat and falls asleep almost immediately.

 

He’s awakened by the driver telling him they’ve arrived. He thanks the man and climbs out of the back seat, and makes his way into the building. The elevator dings, he yawns as the doors close, and before he knows it, Jeno’s arrived at his front door. Fumbling with the keys, he unlocks the door, but hesitates, because he knows that on the other side of that door is a cold, empty apartment. 

 

Empty, because Jaemin left.

 

He sighs, and pushes the door open. He steps into his home for the first time in weeks, and the familiar smell of it is inviting and comforting, despite the emptiness. Shuffling off his shoes, Jeno removes his coat and eyeing his luggage, decides to leave it there. It’s future Jeno’s problem to deal with tomorrow, since he’s going to have a very lame Christmas Day by himself.

 

He shuffles into his slippers slowly, and drags his feet as he walks towards the living room and kitchen. As he does, his eyes droop, and he’s pretty sure they’re playing a trick on him as he spots another person in front of him.

 

Wait. Another person?

 

Jeno stops in his tracks as his eyes move from the feet up. His stares are met by Jaemin’s deep eyes, and for a moment, Jeno is fairly certain his heart stops beating and he doesn’t remember how to breathe. He blinks rapidly, making sure it’s not a hallucination, and sure enough, the image of Jaemin before him doesn’t disappear.

 

“Jaemin?” he croaks out. “What are...you doing here?”

 

Jaemin is silent for a moment, and a slight shift in his body catches Jeno’s attention. He’s clenching his fists, and Jeno bites his lip.

 

“Jaemin? Are you oka-“

 

“Did you mean it?” comes the other boy’s voice, cutting Jeno off.

 

Jeno pauses. Mean ‘it’? Does Jaemin mean…?

 

“You mean...forgetting it?” he says in a whisper. “Because if so...yeah, Jaemin, really. I’ll…I’ll let everything go. I’ll let it all go and forget about it and push it aside, because that’s how much I need you. I don’t want...I can’t let my feelings ruin this. So yeah, I’ll leave it all behind so we can stay friends. I really, really wi—“

 

“Not that, you idiot!” 

 

Jeno is shocked at the volume of Jaemin’s voice as he snaps at him. It’s so loud and filled with frustration.

 

“Then what-?” he begins, but again, Jaemin cuts him off.

 

“Do you really love me?”

 

The silence that falls on top of them is sudden and tense. Jeno sighs, breaking it. It was time for the truth, he thinks ruefully. Jaemin deserves to know. Jeno owes him that much. No more secrets, he vowed to himself 30,000 feet in the air. Especially when it came to Jaemin. 

 

“Yeah, Nana. I really love yo-“

 

He’s cut off once again as Jaemin’s body is in front of his, his hands clasping the sides of his cheeks. In the blink of an eye, Jaemin’s clips crash against his. They’re soft and plump, and Jeno melts instantly as Jaemin kisses him. It lasts for what feels like a lifetime, and when Jaemin pulls away, Jeno can’t help but look at him with bewilderment. There are tears in Jaemin’s eyes, and all he wants to do is wipe them away, but he’s afraid to scare the other boy and ready to cry himself.

 

“I was so afraid,” Jaemin says suddenly in a hushed voice, “when you revealed yourself to be ‘love, Poem’. I was afraid because I thought you were in love with somebody else. I thought, ‘fuck, Jeno is the poet and he’s in love with someone’, and I fucking lost it, Jeno. I fucking lost it.”

 

Jeno stares at Jaemin in shock as he speaks, the tears still rolling down his cheeks. He’s got his hands clasped on Jeno’s shoulders, now, and Jeno can feel Jaemin’s body tremble through the contact.

 

“I decided I had to leave because I didn’t...I thought I couldn’t live here anymore, living with the idea of you being in love with someone else,” Jaemin whispers out, his tears causing him to hiccup slightly. “I didn’t care that you were ‘love, Poem’, but I cared so much more that you were in love with someone else. And it fucking killed me, Jeno, it killed me to think that way. And you went away, and I was scared because I didn’t want you to think I was mad. And then, I get a call from this guy at Neo magazine, inviting me to this event on Christmas Eve, and it’s going to be a big deal for you, and so yeah, of course I was going to show up.”

 

Jeno maintains his eye contact with Jaemin, who is slowly regaining his volume. The tears that have streaked his face are stopping, now, but they leave behind dry marks that Jeno just wants to will away.

 

“And then you read that fucking poem and I realised that you weren’t in love with someone else,” Jaemin chokes out, and Jeno can’t help but let a twinge of a smile grace his lips. “You were in love with me.

 

Jeno nods. “Yeah, Nana. I was. No - I am. And,” he adds, “I meant every word. I’ll stop if that’s what you want. I won’t...force you to live with my love hovering over you, if that’s what you want, because I want us to still be frien—“

 

“Oh my god, Jeno,” Jaemin laughs, weakly but full of amusement. “You total dummy. Don’t you get it?”

 

Jeno stares into Jaemin’s eyes, and he searches them for some sort of answer. Jaemin lets out another soft laugh, this time a more strengthened one. He sighs and smiled, cupping Jeno’s face, and caressing his thumbs against his cheeks.

 

“Jeno, I love you too.”

 

Jeno freezes because this is surely a dream, right? He’s not still on the car sleeping, or in the middle of some weird coma, right?

 

“I knew you were oblivious but, fucking hell,” Jaemin chuckles, taking his hands away from Jeno’s cheeks, bundling his sweater sleeves in his hands, and wiping the residue tears off his cheeks. “Haven’t you noticed that I haven’t been on dates for forever? Haven’t brought anyone home? It’s because of you , Jeno.”

 

“What...what do you mean?” Jeno asks quietly. Jaemin sighs. He glances to the side, and motions for Jeno to take his hand. He accepts and guides the boy to the sofa, where they sit facing one another.

 

“When I was reading the poems in the magazine,” Jaemin says, “I saw myself in a lot of them. It was maybe...one of the summer issues, and I just felt this moment of realisation. I thought - this is how I feel. This is how I feel about Jeno .”

 

There’s a quiet pause for a moment, as they sit there, hands still in each other’s. Somewhere along the line, their fingers have become intertwined. Jeno didn’t realise - possibly because in the moment, it felt right. Comfortable, inviting, and right.

 

“But,” Jeno says suddenly, yet slowly, “I thought you said you had a first love?”

 

Jaemin lets out a soft laugh. “Yeah, dummy. My first love is you . I’ve never felt this way about anyone, ever, before. But I didn’t want to...ruin anything, by telling you, so I played it down.”

 

“Truth is,” he continues, “the day you revealed yourself was the day I was going to confess. I won two tickets for the announcement, and I wanted to bring you and tell you all of this. About how the poems made me realise my feelings, how I felt about you. But then you said you had plans, and, well...you know the rest, I guess.”

 

He hesitates before continuing again. “Today, when you...read that poem, I realised that you meant me , when you were speaking. I was the person you were dedicating the poems to, and the one you wrote that last one about. It hit me so hard that I just…I had to come back here because I had to make sure. I had to make sure you really loved me.”

 

Jeno stares at him, his mind whirring slowly. Eventually, as he feels Jaemin’s thumbs stroke the back of his hands, he raises a question.

 

“So...you...love me, too?”

 

Jaemin lets out an exasperated laugh. 

 

“Oh my god. Yes, Jeno. Yes. I love you too. I love you so much, Lee Jeno, you have no idea,” he says, his eyes welling with tears. 

 

Jeno feels his eyes water as well. “Oh, my god,” he whispers, and before he knows it, he pushes Jaemin onto his back, and he leans atop him. He lowers himself down, and kisses Jaemin. Once on the lips, then each cheek, then his forehead, and then his lips over and over. Eventually, Jaemin is laughing, and Jeno is laughing too.

 

“What are you doing?” Jaemin cries out playfully, and Jeno laughs in between kisses.

 

“I am catching up on lost time, Nana! I’ve been writing pining poetry for almost a year , for fuck’s sake! I want what’s mine!”

 

Jaemin laughs softly again and Jeno ceases his assault of kisses to stare at him. They gaze into one another’s eyes for a moment, and just smile. 

 

“So,” Jaemin says after a moment of silence, “what now?”

 

Jeno hums out a response. He scrunched his nose in mock-contemplation, and he laughs when he feels Jaemin playfully slap his arms.

 

“Now,” Jeno says finally, “I’m going to cuddle my boyfriend all night long. And there’s nothing he can say, or do, to change my mind.”

 

Jaemin smiles back at him. “I like the sound of that. ‘Boyfriend’. It suits me, don't you think?”

 

Jeno nods in return. 

 

“More than you know, Nana. More than you know.”

 

 

Life after the revelation goes like this. 

 

Jeno and Jaemin, the next morning, wake up in the same bed and smile at one another for a solid hour, no words and just gentle breaths. They eventually get out of bed, and spend all of Christmas Day together, laughing and hugging and cuddling and doing nothing except be comfortable in one another’s company.

 

Not long after the confession, the two make love for the first time. That’s right, Jeno stresses, make love , not have sex . Sure, they’re the same thing, but to them it feels like much more than sex. In the beginning, it’s awkward, because Jeno’s spent a little bit more time fantasising about Jaemin than acting on anything, but all that goes out the window when they collapse side by side, panting and flushed with sweat and entirely content and relaxed. Jaemin, Jeno learns, has incredible stamina, and Jaemin learns that Jeno is fucking gorgeous when they have sex.

 

Time moves on, and Jeno realises his worry was for naught. Jaemin proves his love to him on a constant basis, and Jeno feels it. Even when he just brings him a small cup of coffee, Jeno feels it. He continues writing his poetry, which comes to feel much more light and happy, and in February, Taeyong is thrilled when the second ‘love, Poem’ anthology reaches number one on a global scale on Valentine’s Day. Jeno continues to write, even after this, about much more than just his love, and it mounts genuine excitement worldwide, as the young ingenue’s talent seems to be never ending.

 

Somewhere in the new year, Doyoung hires Jeno as a director at Neo, leading a new department for creative writers of all walks of life. Jeno goes to the office every day, looking for new writers, poets and artists that express whatever they want to express, and puts them in the magazine. He has a knack for knowing what’s going on, Doyoung attests, and Jeno is grateful. He spends all his time in galleries, cafés, and at open mic nights, and he returns to Yuta’s bar to scope out new talent. Jaemin, to his own credit, ends up working with Taeyong, which still confuses Jeno as to how they even met, but that seems to be another story for another day. 

 

It’s April now, four months on, and Jeno is woken up by a soft kiss on the lips from Jaemin. 

 

“Good morning, sleepy,” he whispers, and Jeno lets out a soft groan as he stretches. “S’the time?” he grumbles, and Jaemin laughs.

 

“10am,” he responds, “you slept in. But it’s okay, Doyoung knows. He’s not going to force the birthday boy to come in today.”

 

Jeno sits up and smiles sheepishly as he puts on his glasses. He stares at Jaemin for a moment, who is all content smiles and soft eyes, and it’s as if a lightbulb goes off in his head. He picks up a pen and notepad he keeps on his bedside table for sudden moments of inspiration, and begins to write.

 

“Poem idea?” Jaemin asks, watching contentedly as Jeno nods as he scribbles. He finishes in seconds, stares at his own words, and smiles broadly.

 

“Can I see?” Jaemin asks. Jeno nods, and hands him the notepad. He watches as Jaemin scans the page, and his face turns from a slight smile to a full blown grin.

 

“It’s so cheesy , Jeno-jam!” he laughs, and Jeno playfully whacks him with a cushion.

 

“It’s the truth, Nana,” he says lightly, and Jaemin stops laughing. His smile is soft, gentle, and loving, and Jeno can’t help but reciprocate. Jaemin leans in, and the two join their lips in a brief, chaste peck, and Jeno smiles so widely his eyes turn to their moon-shaped crescent that Jaemin told him their first day together as a couple that he loved with all of his heart.

 

“You know,” Jaemin says, “the truth rocks.”

 

“Yeah,” Jeno says in return.

 

“It does.”

 

 

You were

And always will be

My love poem

 

         - love, Jeno