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take me where the music ain't too loud

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You won't stay with me, I know

But you can have your way with me 'til you go

And if all your kisses turn into bruises, I'm a warnin'

 

Verse 1

 

“You going for Chan’s party tonight?”

From where he’s bent over his desk typing away at his laptop, Jae lifts his head with much hesitance. He yanks his earphones out and sets them clattering onto the table. “Yeah, I guess?” he replies. Though I thought it’d be a given already.

His roommate rakes a hand through his hair, which is still slightly damp from his shower. Younghyun shrugs. “Cool, then. Me too. I’ve got to meet some people for a group assignment first though - I’ll see ya at seven here?”

Jae swallows. “Sure,” he says nonchalantly, before returning his gaze to his laptop screen. The words dance in his vision, leaping and galloping across the otherwise white blanket of the document. “See you.”

He waits until he hears the front door click shut, before sliding his head down to meet the hard wood of the table, groaning loudly.

And yet, his chest thrums vibrantly. He’s a bird, soaring and dipping in the skies, with exhilaration - and the dread of slamming face first into a tree.

 

 

It started out like this:

After a round of assessments and tests and slamming their heads against the wall of their shared dormitory, the mid-term break had graced Jae and Younghyun, bestowing them the opportunity to fina- fucking -lly get away from the woes of university. Younghyun, who was close to his senior, had asked - no, forced is a better word - Jae to tag along to go to Chan’s house for his party. The senior lived off-campus, had a three-storey mansion all to himself that weekend, and it was tough not to take up the offer when they’d been so wired up for the past three months.

Jae, who had never attended a single party in college, was pretty dumbfounded by the party scene, to say the least. He was glad Younghyun had been there to yank him away from the front door so he’d stop gawking at the huge speakers booming out crappy EDM songs. Noticing how tense Jae was, Younghyun steered them away from the living room of gyrating kids and instead made a beeline for the kitchen.

Wise decision, Jae thought. The kitchen island was decked out with mini tarts, meat skewers, and nachos. Someone poured a shot of soju for the both of them, and Younghyun thrust a shot glass at a very doubtful Jae.

“It’s fine,” Younghyun laughed. He tipped his head back, and Jae watched as Younghyun glugged down the shot in one breath. He watched how Younghyun grinned wickedly as he slammed the glass against the marble island. “See? It’s not that bad.”

Jae practically choked mid-shot, making Younghyun and a few others in the room smother their giggles. Jae rolled his eyes, but despite the burning trail the soju had left in his throat, he still stuck his glass out at one of the boys and yelled, “Another one!”

He caught the look of surprise on Younghyun’s face, but it quickly conformed into an amused grin. Something simmered in the depths of Jae’s gut, but he brushed it off quickly, blaming it on the rush of alcohol in his veins. 

Jae let Younghyun loop his arm around his own and tow him along. They greeted several people they recognised from their own lectures, but it’s mostly the both of them mingling around the kitchen hording the snacks and drinks. By the time Jae’s downed his eighth shot, he’s tipsy on his toes.

Younghyun laughed as he carefully gripped Jae by the hip. “Hold your drinks, dude,” he teased, his own words slurred. Under the blurry strobe lights, Younghyun’s eyes were even brighter, even sharper. And Jae liked that. He liked the strength of Younghyun’s arm around him, liked the warmth of his body against his own. If he leaned in close, he blamed it on how the packed room made him jittery with his nerves. 

Motions slowed, heartbeat raised, Jae took up Younghyun’s other hand and tugged him close. He watched how Younghyun’s eyes widened a fraction when he pulled him toward the living room. “You sure, Jae?” Younghyun asked.

It’s adorable, really, that his best friend is so concerned about him even after ten shots and a weird concoction of vodka-soju-beer someone named Wonpil had offered him. Jae chuckled as they rounded the corner and stumbled into the throng of people dancing. He looped his arms around Younghyun’s strong shoulders and leaned close. “Of course I am.”

They didn’t know how to dance - they still don’t. They just swayed in time with the music, hips moving stiffly, but that didn’t matter. Not when their foreheads touched, and not when their lips were mere inches from each other. Jae watched Younghyun’s eyes flicker down to his parted lips. Jae found his own self gazing at Younghyun’s own lips, the taste of alcohol heavy on his breath. 

Younghyun glanced up, and for the first time in a long time, he flushed a deep red visible even in the dimly lit room. “Sorry,” he apologised.

Jae blinked. “What for?”

Something akin to triumph and hope blossomed in his chest when he watched Younghyun turn his head sheepishly. He decided to trust his gut - he stroked the boy’s hair at the nape of his neck, and tugged him excruciatingly closer. He could practically feel how fast Younghyun’s heartbeat raced. Just like mine. “For almost…” Younghyun’s voice trailed off, worried it would betray him.

Jae giggled, and decidedly pressed their lips together. And it was just like he’d thought - the kiss was long, drawn out, and just a little bit awkward from inexperience. When they pulled back, Jae could still feel the sting of the kiss. He was about to pull back and blurt out a hasty sorry, when Younghyun lurched forward to seal another kiss. 

Everything was a messy blur. Jae remembers how his hands wandered past Younghyun’s back, tracing lines down to his hips. He remembers how Younghyun’s hands cupped his cheeks, lingered on his shoulders and trailed down to… Even when he thinks about it now, Jae still blushes beetroot red.

They tore apart the sea of people in their way, pushing past the currents. Younghyun murmured something about the many guest rooms upstairs against Jae’s lips. And sure enough, they found one vacant, and the second they tripped past their feet into the room, Younghyun swivelled Jae around, slammed the door and locked it, and crowded him up against the smooth mahogany wood.

“Fuck, Jae,” Younghyun hissed, kissing him again. And again. And again. Jae felt the surge of confidence from how worked up he’d gotten Younghyun. It felt downright right, holding Younghyun in his arms and kissing him senselessly.

Everything that followed after was uncalculated, unprecedented - hell, Younghyun had on Spiderman boxers, for crying out loud. But Jae figures that’s how they are: unpredictable, every move played out on instinct. When Jae shoved him against the mattress. When Jae kissed along the insides of Younghyun’s thighs. When Younghyun flicked his tongue along Jae’s collarbones. When Younghyun whined with every flick of Jae’s hand around him.

And yet, the aftermath of it was what cleared the fog of uncertainty, when Jae woke up in the morning to an empty bed. Jae remembered the emptiness in his heart, but he knew from then on that whatever that had happened had been unpredictable - nothing purposeful, nothing meaningful at all.

 

 

The setting is familiar. Jae lifts his solo cup to his lips, and tips it back. The burn of the beer is intoxicating, nearly painful, but he swallows all the same. He watches with careful eyes as Younghyun slips past a group of girls enticing him to come closer. 

Jae leans back against the island on his elbows. As he’s about to take another sip, someone walks over to him and pats his shoulder. “Hey, Jae.”

“Sungjin,” he nods. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

Sungjin laughs. “Week’s been hell,” he says. “Got this big thesis paper coming up, so I thought it’d be better if I loosened up first.”

“And by that, you mean fucking Wonpil on the floor with the door wide open?”

Sungjin flushed. “That was an accident-”

“-I did not need to get an eyeful of that, but-”

“-you were literally tonguing it up with Younghyunnie for the whole room to see, mind you,” Sungjin accuses.

Jae chuckles. “Touche.” 

His mind flashes back to last week, and a small smile finds its place perched on his lips. Sungjin notices this and pulls a face. “Don’t pop a boner out here, please.”

“Says the exhibitionist.”

“I-I-” Sungjin stutters, “ Wonpil’s the exhibitionist, not me! But… on a more serious note, when are you two going to man up and actually properly talk about these weekly hook-ups?”

Jae sighs and shuts his eyes momentarily. He knew Sungjin was going to bring this up; he always does. He opens them again, and takes another sip of his beer. “It’s just your regular friends-with-benefits gimmick, Sungjin. Nothing exciting to talk about.”

“So we’re not gonna address the fact that you two fuck with feelings?”

Jae rolls his eyes. “We aren’t.”

“Bullshit,” Sungjin retorts. “I see the way you look at him. And I also see the way he looks at you . Wake up, Jae - you two are making love every other Friday and reverting back to this ‘best friends’ stage the morning after.”

Jae feels a headache beginning to throb against his forehead. “Let’s talk about this another day, Sungjin ah.” Before his friend can protest, Jae lurches away from the kitchen island and shuffles towards the living room. A pesky hand reaches up to touch him, but Jae simply swats the person away. He glares down at the blonde, who slinks away, humiliated. He remembers how no one else has touched him before, except for-

“There you are!” Younghyun’s voice is loud above the din of teen pop music and chatter. Jae swivels around to face him, who’s gripping a drink in one hand, the other holding Jae’s hip and tugging him close. He’s clearly much more wasted than Jae is, swaying on his feet unsteadily. His eyes flick down to Jae’s lips - something familiar, expecting. Longing. 

“Here I am,” Jae says breathlessly. He plucks Younghyun’s cup from his fingers and stacks it on top of his own. “Let me throw them away first.”

“Nope,” Younghyun smirks, before leaning up slightly to let their lips meet. It’s a chaste kiss, the smacking of their lips embarrassingly loud. But before Younghyun can continue, Jae slithers away from his hold and rolls his eyes.

“Keep your hands to yourself for thirty seconds, won’t you?” Jae quirks an eyebrow at him. And like a lost puppy, Younghyun blinks and nods twice. He follows right behind Jae as the latter tosses the cups into the rubbish bin close to the kitchen island. As soon as they disappear into the bin, Younghyun takes him by the waist and turns him around. Their lips collide messily, the taste of beer sharp yet somewhat inviting on Jae’s tongue. 

Younghyun traces a finger along Jae’s jaw. “Been thinking about this the whole week,” he murmurs, as if he were trading a secret. It sends chills down to the tips of Jae’s toes. “I would’ve begged for you to come along if you’d said no just now.”

Jae laughs. “Eager, aren’t you?” he whispers. With hooded eyes, he kisses Younghyun fervently. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t thought about this the whole week, either, but there was a difference. For Younghyun, Fridays meant a getaway, alcohol and sex served to him on a silver platter. For Jae, Fridays meant a chance, an opportunity, just to hear the guy he loves whisper sweet nothings into his ear, to feel the guy he loves against his own body - to believe that the guy in his arms feels the same way about him, as he feels for him.

As they traipse down the hallway, Jae tries to ignore the glare of Sungjin’s eyes on them, but it’s hard when you know what to expect, and yet still feel the same burn in your bones every morning after.

 

 

Jae shouldn’t be surprised to wake up to an empty bed, but the weight of it still sinks down on him, like an anchor pitching towards the vast seabed.

He cleans himself up in the bathroom, tugs on his clothes and shuffles out of the bedroom. As soon as he closes the door, he hears someone clearing their throat behind him. He turns to face Chan, who raises an eyebrow at him, arms crossed over his chest.

“Had fun last night, hyung?” Chan asks. He’s probably the only person who uses honorifics, but Jae doesn’t have anything against that. “Saw the both of you disappear from the scene. Super early, too; wasn’t it only 10?”

“You poke your nose around people’s business a little too much, don’t you?” Jae says. 

Chan shrugs. “Can’t help it. I mean, y’all fucked on my property-”

“-your parents’ property,” Jae corrects.

Chan laughs sheepishly. “Of course, of course,” he says, waving a hand dismissively in the air. Silence falls as a veil over them shortly after, though. Jae’s about to turn and walk away when Chan says, “Are you two, uh, together? I just wanted to ask, y’know - the both of you always end up sleeping together but I never see the both of you, like, together together on campus.”

Jae inhales sharply. “We’re… not together,” he confirms.

Chan furrows his eyebrows together. “So… friends with benefits?”

Jae blinks. To be frank, it’s what he told Sungjin last night, but with his head a little clearer now… They’ve never actually labelled it as anything before, just knew that every other Friday meant a party, and every party they went together meant-

“-Wait, so, is it exclusive or not? Because I’ve only ever seen the both of you together. I’m just super curious, y’know - the only two same people who use the guest bedrooms here are you and Younghyun-hyung.”

Something clogs his throat, and he feels like he’s sinking into the depths of an endless ocean. He stares at Chan, at his knitted eyebrows, at his confused face. “It’s… hard to explain?”

Fuck, he needs to escape, and escape now . This is what he hates. The uncertainty, how everything they do is expected but unsure all at the same time. The uncertainty, how everyone assumes something else because they haven’t even labelled it as anything yet. He grits his teeth together and curls his hands into fists by his sides. “Look, it’s none of your business, okay? It’s… complicated.”

Chan raises his hands up in surrender. “Woah, okay. Sorry, yeah, it’s none of my business. I’ll, uh, go now.” With that, he turns on his heel and scurries off sheepishly. Jae breathes a sigh of relief, but the dread has already gathered in the pits. The longing to open his mouth and ask Younghyun What are we? is tempting beyond explanation, but instead, he clamps his mouth shut and walks off wordlessly. 

 

 

“How's the hangover?” is the first thing Jae hears when he reaches the dormitory room. He closes the door, takes a deep breath, exhales, and inhales once more, before turning and chucking the keys into the pocket of his jeans.

“Peachy,” he replies. “I’m gonna take a shower.” 

He passes by the bedroom to grab a fresh set of clothing. When he enters, he’s greeted by Younghyun already cleaned up and showered, sat by his side of the desk with his glasses on and reading some papers. Jae figures he’s one of the very few people who’s ever seen him wearing his glasses - after all, they’re his reading glasses, the only place he studies in is their room.

When Jae closes the bathroom door behind him, he exhales slowly, shakily. Every word is a knife sinking deeper into his skin, threatening to make him bleed. They mutually avoid the topic and the unsaid feelings - well, for Jae, that is. He’s positively sure that Younghyun can’t possibly be harbouring any feelings for him.

Yet, Chan’s words echo repeatedly in his head. Is it exclusive or not? Because I’ve only ever seen the both of you together. He shoves the thought to the deep end of his head, and instead tugs his shirt off. As he’s shucking his pants off, Younghyun yells out from the bedroom. “Jae! Is my body lotion inside? My legs are crusty dry.”

“Spare me the details,” Jae shoots back. He steps out of his pants and walks over to the counter. Sure enough, Younghyun’s tub of body lotion sits atop the shelf. He takes it, turns and opens the bathroom door. “Come here and take it, lazy ass.”

“Who’re you calling lazy?” Younghyun jokes, but stands anyway. He pads over to the bathroom, but stops short before Jae. Jae notices how pink the boy’s face is, the colour dusted prettily over the apples of his cheeks. “Uh.”

“What?” Jae follows Younghyun’s line of sight down to his legs, and he feels heat rush up his neck. All along the insides of Jae’s otherwise milky white thighs are hickeys scattered up and down. Fuck. He’d completely forgotten about that.

“I didn’t realise they would be that noticeable,” Younghyun chuckles. Jae has the sudden urge to punch the grin off of his friend’s face. How can he be so calm and collected about this? See? his inner self hisses. It’s just a friends with benefits thing. No feelings. No one with feelings for you would react that way.

Jae tries to laugh it off as he hands him his lotion. “It’s fine. I guess I won’t wear shorts for a while.”

Younghyun smiles, before walking back to his desk. Jae clicks the door shut, locks it, and grabs the sponge sitting on the counter. He flings the sponge against the floor, cursing under his breath as it bounces off soundlessly. Jae grinds his teeth together, a tear threatening to spill from the corner of his eye. Nothing. It means nothing to him.

 

 

Most people don’t remember the exact moment they fall in love with someone. 

Jae does. 

They were studying for their college entrance exams, a pair of teenage boys in Jae’s bedroom silently reading through their notes and scribbling down answers to past year papers. The desk fan oscillated jerkily, ruffling up their hair as it turned. Soft lo-fi music streamed from Jae’s speaker. A plate sat between them; it had held Jae’s mum’s chocolate chip cookies once upon a time, now long gone.

Jae took his glasses off and set them on the desk. “My eyes are so tired,” he groaned.

Younghyun glanced at Jae. He smiled gently. Back then, his hair was absolutely horrifying, a tall tale really: a long fringe running down one side of his hair, the rest of it kept long at the back. Despite the terrible hair choice and fashion sense, Jae still liked him. “Maybe you should close your eyes for a while.” 

Jae shrugged, and when he did so, he winced. “Ah, fuck,” he hissed. “My back seized up.”

Younghyun chorted. “Old man,” he teased, but he stood to his feet and gestured for Jae to get up. Confused, Jae followed him to the single bed, where Younghyun motioned for him to sit. He sat close, both boys perched at the edge of the mattress. “C’mon, let me massage out the old-”

“-I am not old,” Jae protested, to which Younghyun dismissed with a laugh. Jae didn’t protest, though, when Younghyun placed his warm hands on Jae’s cold back and rubbed circles into his shoulders. His muscles immediately eased under his grip. Jae could feel the tension leak away and dissipate, and he groaned softly at how tensed up his shoulders had been.

Younghyun clicked his tongue. “You know you have to stretch in between studying. Plus, your table’s way too short for someone as tall as you, and you know it. I told you to tell your mum to buy you another desk if you’re going to stay cooped up here…”

His voice flowed into and out of Jae’s subconscious. His attention strayed away from his words and towards the expression on Younghyun’s face. His eyes were focused on Jae’s back. As the late evening sun shone through the cracks of the curtains, they casted a glimmer on his dark eyes, as if brightening them. There was - and still is - something so soft in those sharp, curved eyes. Jae felt himself more and more tempted to lean close and take a whiff of the flowery detergent of the boy’s shirt, the salty sweat gathering at his shoulders. 

And when he’d looked at his moving lips, Jae was a goner. He wondered what it’d be like to kiss Younghyun - then realised how highly inappropriate that was. They weren’t even together or anything; his friend’s just giving him a massage, for hell’s sake. And yet, Jae’s eyes remained transfixed on the cookie crumbs dusted across Younghyun’s lips.

Without warning, Jae reached up to brush them off. Surprised, Younghyun’s hands stopped short on his back. “Huh?” 

“There were… crumbs,” Jae muttered, suddenly self-conscious. 

Younghyun looked at him for a long while, before his lips pulled into a smile. “Thanks,” he says, and there’s a lot of heart in his words, as there usually are. “Now, c’mon, let’s take a break. My brain’s pretty fried, too.”

“But I still can’t integrate-”

“-tut, tut,” Younghyun shakes his head. “We can worry about mathematical functions you will never pursue in college after this.” Without much warning, Younghyun wrapped his arms around Jae’s hips and dragged him down onto the mattress along with him. Jae whined in protest, but found himself curled up on his side, Younghyun’s chest pressed against his back. 

Younghyun’s arms remained locked around the boy’s slim waist. “We’re not moving until dinner,” he announced.

“But… but-”

“-no but’s!” Younghyun insisted. His friend’s head pitched forward, and buried into the crook of his shoulder. Jae sucked in a sharp breath. He could feel his friend’s heartbeat against his back - steady, and alive, alive, alive. He felt his own heart skip a beat.

“Man, I need to steal your shampoo. Your hair smells good.”

Jae rolled his eyes. “You’re such a creep.”

Younghyun hummed. “I’m your creepy best friend,” he playfully said.

Jae chuckled. He felt his eyelids threatening to fall, and for the first time in this entire excruciating week of preparations, he allowed them to slide shut. He fell asleep, with the rays of evening sun casted on his face, with the stately pulse of his best friend’s heartbeat repeatedly bumping against his back. With one foot on solid ground and the other pitched mid-air, Jae felt himself fall all in love with the boy who would never love him the way he did.

 

 

Let it be said, and let it be known

He who is free is never alone

The path before us

The world behind us

I'll wait for you there

 

 

Pre-Chorus

 

Jae kicks his sneakers off, grumbling away. His lecturer had been in a shitty mood today, and even brought forward their deadline to next Wednesday instead of next Saturday. 

He’s greeted by a rather boisterous Younghyun, sprawled across his bed playing a game on his phone. “Oh, you’re back!” he says, setting his phone aside. “Are you going to Wonho’s tonight?”

Right. Fuck. It’s Friday again. And the cycle repeats again. Jae swallows, teetering on the middle fence between harsh reality and crushed hopelessness. “I’ve got a paper to finish,” he says. “Sorry to turn the offer down.”

“Ah,” Younghyun says. “Then I won’t go, either.”

Jae blinks. “Why not?”

“Because…” Younghyun’s voice trails off. He chews on his lower lip. “I, uh, was only gonna go if you were going.”

Jae gazes at Younghyun, but he’s not surprised. He’s been unsure many times, sure, but he knows the exact words running in his friend’s head right now: because if you go, we both know what’ll happen.

“Ah,” Jae echoes. “Okay. I’m… gonna shower and do my homework.”

Younghyun nods. “What do you want for dinner? Chinese takeout?”

“Sure,” Jae replies. “My-”

“-your usual,” Younghyun smiles. “I know.”

There’s something particularly domestic about the both of them at the sofa splitting their chopsticks apart and digging into their meals in front of their television, but Jae knows better than to dwell on the thought. Instead, Jae begins slurping up the hot noodles, the salty taste sinking into his tongue. Beside him, Younghyun spoons his fried rice with one hand, the other gripping the remote. “What are we watching tonight?” he asks.

Younghyun switches between a few channels, and Jae says “this one” when they land on a cliche k-drama the both of them have been chasing after for a while now whenever they’re free. As the main protagonist swoops down to save his girl once more again, Jae mindlessly takes up his noodles and wolfs down his dinner.

What surprises him is the feeling that he’s being… looked at. And when he turns, he catches the exact moment Younghyun averts his gaze back to the television screen. Jae tries to dismiss it, but another side of him is greedy and hopelessly, relentlessly selfish. Look at me, he begs. Look at me once more. You can look at me all night.

But Younghyun doesn’t look his way ever again throughout their dinner. When they’re done eating, Jae gathers up the empty containers and dumps them into their rubbish bin. “You can keep watching,” he says. “My paper’s due Wednesday; I have to work on it.”

“It’s a Friday night, dude,” Younghyun calls over his shoulder.

“It makes up 10% of my grade,” Jae insists. It actually only makes up 5%, but he just wants an excuse to sneak back into his bedroom.

He hears the sound of the television being turned off. “Man, you’re making me feel studious tonight,” Younghyun jokes. “I guess I should work on my own research paper, too.”

That’s how they both end up at their shared desk, about an arm’s length apart from each other. Jae tries to concentrate on his paper, but all he’s got is his name, his lecture class code, and his paper topic typed into his laptop. Every time he tries typing out a sentence, he ends up punching the backspace bar. And again. And again. None of the words seem coherent to him - not when Younghyun’s sitting right fucking there.

Jae dares himself to steal a sideways glance. Younghyun’s got his headphones on, glasses sliding down the sharp slope of his nose as he analyses a colour-coded graph. His jaw is set taut, and Jae can tell he’s grinding his teeth together, like he always does when he studies so he can stay focused. His fingers tap gently against the paper. Jae’s reminded of last Friday, when those same fingers had gripped his shoulders, and-

“Focus!” he suddenly shouts out loud to himself. 

Even through the noise-cancelling headphones, Younghyun hears his voice and removes his headphones. He blinks at Jae, stunned. “You okay there?” he asks.

Jae gulps. “I’m good,” he blurts out. “I just… can’t get this paper going.”

Younghyun sets his paper down. “Maybe you just needa, I don’t know, relax or something. Maybe you’re too tense. You can’t write a paper when you’re all screwed tight.”

“Right,” Jae nods jerkily. “It’s fine, I’ll… keep trying.”

Even when Jae’s eyes flicker back to his screen, he can tell Younghyun’s still staring at him. “You should really loosen up, though,” he points out. “Your shoulders are too tight. You’re pretty much a champagne bottle about to go off.”

Jae sighs, exasperated. “So what if I’m all tensed up? There’s nothing either of us can do about it. I’ll just go onto YouTube or something.”

Younghyun tilts his head sideways, like a little puppy. What he says next is definitely not anything akin to a little puppy. “Maybe I can help you? It’s Friday, anyways…”

Jae blinks.

What?

“You mean…” Jae coughs. “Uh, I know it’s Friday, but, uh…” Think of something, you idiot! “Aren’t you studying?”

Younghyun smiles. “Yeah, but I can’t focus either.” The tips of his ears flush red. “Not when you’re sitting here right next to me, anyways.”

Jae does not believe a single word coming out of Younghyun’s mouth. Usually, the words he speaks on a Friday night are heavily influenced by the rush of alcohol, but this is different. Something’s different. 

Sober. They’re both sober, clear-headed, i.e. this should not be happening at all.

“We’re not dru-” Jae cuts himself off, immediately regretting his words. His left eyebrow twitches nervously. “Uh, I mean- I-”

“-we’ve got some beer in the fridge, y’know,” Younghyun says. 

Jae cannot believe his ears. “Are you… offering to-”

“-drink together? Yeah.” Younghyun turns in his chair to face Jae, hands on his knees. “Unless you don’t need to.”

Jae teeters on the middle fence between harsh reality and crushed hopelessness. And when he pitches forward, he falls head first into harsh reality as he stands. He closes his laptop shut, watching the screen turn black. He swallows, hard, before turning to look at Younghyun. Younghyun, who waits there patiently, careful with every one of Jae’s moves.

Because tonight, there’s no uncertainty. Everything is calculated - when Jae walks up to Younghyun, when Jae swings a leg over Younghyun’s thigh, when Jae settles down onto Younghyun’s lap. 

And yet, everything is unpredictable. There’s something so unsure about the way Younghyun swipes along Jae’s lower lip with his thumb, the way Younghyun curls a hand around the back of Jae’s neck, the way Younghyun tilts his head up to meet Jae’s lips with a kiss. 

Everything and nothing is certain. What may be certain is how Jae knows he’ll wake up regretting everything tomorrow.

 

 

Jae remembers his nineteen-year-old self on his bed, fidgeting around with his Nintendo 3DS, when his phone buzzed in his pocket. Surprised, he set the device down and slid his phone out to see Younghyun’s caller ID flashing on his screen. It’s a Friday night, nearing midnight already. Maybe he wants to play together, he thought, swiping across his screen.

“Hey, Jae?”

Jae sat up on his mattress. “Hey. What’s up?”

“You’re not gonna believe what just happened.”

Jae furrowed his eyebrows together. And then he remembered Younghyun inviting Jae to tag along with him to go to Dowoon’s party tonight, sometime earlier in the week, to which Jae politely declined. His strict mother would’ve barked down his throat if he’d come back reeking of sweat and alcohol. “Aren’t you at the party right now?”

“Well, yeah. Actually, I just left. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t say this over the phone.” Younghyun’s voice sounded so ecstatic, as if he just had the time of his life. “I’ll come over right now.”

“Wait, but-” The call ends, and Jae stares down at his phone, confused.

Not long after, he heard a tap on his window. Jae hurriedly dashed to the window and opens it to reveal a grinning Younghyun hauling himself up onto the windowsill of the first floor (which, thankfully, isn’t all too high). “You’re crazy,” Jae hissed. “What’s got you so worked up to come over here at midnight?”

Younghyun’s grin was immoveable. “Guess who just lost their dick-sucking virginity?” he said.

Jae blinked. They’d both come out to each other a few months back, so there’s nothing surprising about the dick sucking. And yet… “What?” Jae blurts incredulously.

“Your boy right here,” Younghyun laughed. “I think it was a junior. Can’t really tell. He just pulled me to an empty hallway and-”

“-first of all, who sucked whose dick?” Jae quizzed impatiently.

“Oh, he sucked,” Younghyun chuckled. “I mean, he didn’t suck - he was so good, I came in, like, a minute.”

Jae cringed. “Spare me the details, dude,” he grimaced. And yes, it’s absolutely disgusting that his best friend had to run all the way here to his house and sneak into his room just to tell Jae that he got his dick sucked, but there’s something all too familiar bubbling in the depths of his gut. 

Jealousy sunk its teeth right into Jae’s flesh and tore the skin apart. “So you came all the way here to tell me that?” he asked. There’s an edge to his voice, and Jae knew Younghyun could instantly detect it.

Younghyun shifted his weight back and forth on his feet. “Uh, kinda? I was like, I need to tell someone, and you just came to mind, y’know?”

Jae suppressed the urge to yell. What’s the point in telling me, then? So I can pretend to be happy for you when I’m so infuriated right now? “Cool,” he replied casually. “That’s cool, dude. Congrats.”

Younghyun blinked. “Are you mad?”

“I’m not.”

“But your face-”

“-I’m not mad!” Jae shouted. He bit his lower lip, before releasing it with a sigh. “I’m not mad. I was… just in the middle of a game, and you called just to tell me you got your dick sucked.”

“Oh,” Younghyun said. “Sorry. I just, uh, thought it was right for me to tell you since we always tell each other stuff, right? Maybe I was a little overexcited. Sorry.”

There’s really no need for Younghyun to apologise, Jae figures. Jae’s shoulders sagged with his heavy sigh. “It’s fine. I was supposed to go sleep, anyways - probably shouldn’t be staying up late to play.”

Younghyun’s eyes shifted to the Nintendo left abandoned on the mattress, then back to Jae. “Well, uh, I guess I’ll get going then.”

Jae nodded.

Neither of them moved.

Younghyun cleared his throat. “I’ll go.”

“Yeah.”

And still neither of them moved. Not even a single inch.

Jae sighed. “ Yes, my mum made extra cookies again-”

“-I changed my mind.” Younghyun, in all his sweaty clothes and sweaty hair, flopped down onto Jae’s bed. And Jae didn’t argue. Not when his friend, even after getting his dick sucked, decided to crash at Jae’s place still looking like a painfully gorgeous god in his room. Jae felt his heart pound harder, but dismissed it the moment he tore his eyes away from Younghyun. 

 

 

And you look back

You're going 'round in circles

Your world feels just the same

Your heart keeps breaking in the same way

 

 

Chorus

 

Contrary to belief, Jae finds himself in Younghyun’s arms wrapped around him, their lower halves under the warm blankets. He rubs his eyes twice just to make sure that he’s not imagining things, but fuck. The warmth simmering from Younghyun’s body is no figment of his imagination; he’s real and raw and right here.

Fuck. This should not be happening.

Jae swallows. Okay, escape plan. Jae tries to weasel himself out from under Younghyun’s arms, but to no avail. His arms are heavy over his body, holding him down in a vice grip. Eventually, his movements stir Younghyun awake.

Younghyun presses his nose against Jae’s shoulder. “Morning,” he murmurs, voice low and gruff. Jae tries not to dwell too much on how deep his morning voice is.

“Uh, morning,” Jae replies. 

Before he can say anything else, though, Younghyun drops a soft kiss against the skin of his shoulder, followed by another, and another, trailing down his spine. Jae feels his heart galloping a mile a minute, because holy shit, this should be illegal. 

“Uh, I gotta get going,” Jae says hastily. He practically jumps out of the bed and tugs on his boxers. “Got that paper to work on, remember?”
Younghyun lifts his head. His soft dark hair is in tumbles, some strands falling past his eyebrows so artfully, as if someone had tugged at his hair repeatedly- Oh, right. Yesterday night’s memories rush back to him, and Jae feels his cheeks reddening by the second. “Right. Hey, I’ll go and buy us some coffee, and we can-”

“-I’m meeting Sungjin,” Jae spits out. “We, uh, agreed to work on our papers. Together.”

Younghyun’s face is blank. Jae can’t make out what he’s thinking. Is he furious? Sad? He can’t tell, and he doesn’t really want to stick around to find out. 

It’s only after he’s closed the bathroom door shut behind him that he remembers he and Sungjin don’t even take the same majors together.

 

 

There was a time when they were spending their summer together at the Park summer cabin, overlooking the sandy beaches and palm trees, when they were twenty and bright and youthful.

They spent their days basking in the sun until they turned several shades tanner, swimming in the wide, wide seas and flicking water at each other. Jae savoured - and still savours - the coolness of the water around them. There was once they’d found a good boulder only a few metres off of the shore, clambered onto it and watched the sun dip past the horizon.

There was also once when the words were right there on the tip of his tongue, when they’d gone down to the beach during a barbeque between several families staying by the seaside that summer. Jae laid out his towel on the sand, before lying down and looking up at the star-speckled skies. Out in the cities, the towering skyscrapers hid away all the brightest stars in the darkest of blankets overhead. Now, he could make out every little star twinkling against the dark violet skies. 

Beside him, Younghyun laid out his towel right next to Jae. And when he sat down, his arm brushed against Jae’s, the softest of touches, the most scorching of burns. It’s like being curled up next to the sun; it’s so blinding you can barely tell when your love even began. Jae tried hard to steady his breathing. It’s tough when Younghyun smelled of his musky cologne and sea salt and soju.

“Jae.”

Jae tilted his head slightly so their eyes met in the middle. The corner of Younghyun’s lips curled up. “You think we’ll still be as close as we are now, in the future?”

Jae furrowed his eyebrows together. “What do you mean?”

Younghyun shrugged. His eyes were sharp, protruding, but held a mixture of strength and comfort all the same. “I mean, we’ve been best friends together since grade school, all the way up till now. When we graduate, when we get our jobs, when we find our significant others and build our own homes,” he paused momentarily, peering up at the stars, “will we still be as close as we are now?”

Jae stayed silent. Jae’s head screamed aloud, the words ringing in his head. I love you. Can we graduate together? Can we get our jobs together? Can we build a home together? Can you be my significant other? Because I love you.

Eventually, Younghyun chuckled softly, his voice drowned out by the sound of the waves crashing against the shores. “Sorry,” he apologised. “That’s probably too intense of a question.”

His hand was right there, fingers splayed against his abdomen. Jae eyed his hand, then looked at his own. If only he reached out and placed his hand over Younghyun’s, if only he lifted his head and pressed a hand to Younghyun’s cheek. 

If only, if only, if only.

But here they lay, two boys staring up at the star-speckled skies, their hands separate, their hearts intertwined.

 

 

Hold me til I’m not lonely anymore

It’s only the crashing of the ocean to the shore

 

 

Bridge

 

Sungjin almost spits out his coffee. “You what?

Jae grimaces. What other reaction was he expecting from his friend? “Yeah… so that was the first thing I blurted out.”

He’s even surprised Sungjin agreed to meet him at such short notice, but the two dozen text message and multiple exclamation points must’ve been some sort of panic signal to Sungjin. They’re both sat at a table in the on-campus cafe, laptops and papers abandoned as Sungjin hunches over the desk, hands clasped on the marble tabletop. 

“Let me get this straight,” Sungjin says. “You declined his offer of going to Wonho’s party. You tried focusing on your assignment paper. When you said you couldn’t, he offered to have sex with you. Sober. And you decided to get up and sit on his fucking lap and fuck like bunnies-”

“-I would say we weren’t bunnies; it was pretty slow-”

“-like, what, turtles?” Sungjin cuts him off. “And when you woke up, you both were spooning-”

“-that’s what it’s called?-”

“-and he decided to pepper some kisses along your back, and you got freaked by it, and said you had to see me.” Sungjin frowns, folding his arms over his chest. “And you say you two are just friends with benefits.”

“Well, yeah,” Jae answers. He takes a sip of his latte, before asking, “why?”

Sungjin slaps a hand over his forehead and drags it down the front of his face. “How fucking dense can you get, my boy? Wake up and smell the roses: he. Likes. You.”

Jae squeezes his eyes shut, frustrated, before opening them again. “We’ve already established this, Sungjin. He doesn’t.”

“Why’re you so certain about that?” Sungjin asks. “Tell me, why’re you so sure that he doesn’t like you, and he’s only looking for casual and meaningless drunk sex? No friend with benefit kisses your shoulder the morning after; that’s reserved for sappy married couples.”

Jae thinks back to everything they’ve done together. Playing computer games together, playing the guitar together, studying together, ranting to each other, knowing each other’s favourite foods off the top of each other’s heads. The alcohol, the sex, the mornings after. Jae shakes his head. “I mean, if he liked me, he would’ve said something, right?”

Sungjin snorts. “Are you even hearing yourself?”

Jae cocks his head sideways, puzzled.

Sungjin groans and slams his head against the table, causing several eyes to slide cautiously towards their direction. When he lifts his head up, he sighs deeply. “You’ve liked him since you were, what, eighteen? Maybe even earlier than that? The both of you are twenty-three now. Have you ever said something about that?”

“Well, no, but-”

“-and Jae,” Sungjin interrupts. “You’re one of the most direct, most forward people I’ve met. Younghyun’s not the kind to say outrightly what he wants; he always finds another means to express his feelings. That one time we got into an argument? He fucking mailed me an apology letter.

“Don’t think it’s just you who can’t express your feelings.” Sungjin glances at his phone on the table, the screen lighting up. From where he’s sat, Jae can make out the message from Wonpil, all lovey-dovey and asking when Sungjin’s heading back to the dorms.

Sungjin closes his laptop shut, and begins filing away his documents. “Thanks for the coffee,” Sungjin says. “Also, everything I’ve told you here has been brutally and completely honest. As a bystander, I know best.” 

He slips all his files and laptop case into his satchel bag, retrieves his phone, and stands to his feet. “And now, the decision is up to you, Jae. You can choose to ignore things like how you’ve been doing so for the past few years - or you can face this head-on and hope for the best.”

Jae blinks. “Is that how you and Wonpil got together?”

Sungjin barks with laughter. “Wonpil was go-getter from the very beginning, dude. You have got to catch up,” he drawls. With a slap on the back, he trudges out of the cafe with his bag slung over his shoulder. 

His words are etched into Jae’s mind. You can choose to ignore things like how you’ve been doing so for the past few years - or you can face this head-on and hope for the best.

Jae glances down at his clasped hands, knuckles white from how hard he’d been pressing his fingers together. The uncertainty gnaws at him, threatening to break his skin - but it’s also the uncertainty that fuels a sort of longing hope in the depths of his chest, and maybe, maybe , this can all work out.

 

 

There’s a time when they’re twenty-one and facing the television, catching up on a shitty rom-com series over the spring break that both of them despise, but still watch just to jab at the horrible scene cuts and unflattering script. 

Younghyun, a business management major, critically analysed the stiff movements of both characters onscreen. “Can you imagine how shitty their budget was to hire such terrible actors?” he clicked his tongue, tossing another potato chip into his mouth and crunching obnoxiously loud. “Definitely has to be under the top ten ‘don’t even think of watching this’ drama series.”

“Says the guy watching it,” Jae teased, to which he earned a nudge in the rib. 

Younghyun laughed all the same, but gradually his giggles ebbed away and were replaced by a more serious expression. As the episode drew close to an end with another lover’s spat, Younghyun groaned. “They should just admit they like each other and get it over with,” he commented. “It’ll make everyone’s lives a lot easier, especially those two.”

Jae’s hand freezes in mid-air, just as he’s about to grab another potato chip. “Totally,” he forced out. It’s as if the wind had been knocked right out of his lungs. Ominous. Foreboding. 

Younghyun didn’t notice his strained expression; his gaze remained on the technicolour switching scenes before their eyes. The light illuminated Younghyun, his sharper features now softened. He’s in a grey tee and dark grey sweats, teemed with Iron Man socks with holes that showed off his big toes. Despite how greasy his hair was and how he hadn’t brushed his teeth since morning, Jae felt his heart grow impossibly fonder.

“Do I have something on my face?” Younghyun asked, breaking Jae out of his trance. “You’re looking at me all weirdly.”

“Nothing,” Jae replied a little too quickly. “Do you wanna watch something else? Maybe we should rewatch Season 3 of Haikyuu!! like you wanted to last week.”

Younghyun observed him momentarily, before giving in. They’re about six episodes in when Younghyun began nodding off, slouching against the couch. Jae knew better than to disturb him (a sleepy Younghyun should never, ever be messed with), so he turned the television off, and padded into their bedroom to haul up Younghyun’s bunched-up blanket in his arms. Carefully, he sprawled the blanket out over Younghyun, who had found refuge on the couch, taking up the entire length of it to the point where his socked feet were dangling over the edge.

As he laid the blanket out, his hand accidentally brushed against Younghyun’s forehead. He tensed, but noticed how his friend was snoring away, sound asleep. Jae knew better than to succumb to his wants, but the longing to brush Younghyun’s hair from his eyes was too much to resist. 

He daintily flicked his hair away with his fingers, and carded them through his soft hair. The honey strawberry shampoo scent filled his nostrils; something akin to love blossomed under his ribcage. Jae made a move to put his hand away, stand and return to his bedroom, but Younghyun shifted in his place and struggled to peel his eyes open.

“Jaehyung…” Younghyun murmured. “Stay here.”

And how could Jae ever say no? He’s always been by Younghyun’s side, from the days they’d played at the sandpit in their elementary school playground, to the days they’d play video games together, to the days they’d graduated together and moved into this dorm room of their together.

And because he’s never been one to say no, he laid his head down on the empty space of the couch, legs tangled up where they laid sprawled on the floor. No matter how uncomfortable it was, Jae didn’t mind - not when he was lulled to sleep by his friend’s stately snores and eternal warmth.

 

 

We get carried away in emotions

We get lost in each other's eyes

And we forget what we regret

As we cast our fears aside

 

 

Outro

 

“How’d the meet-up with Sungjin go?” 

Jae peers up to meet Younghyun’s steely gaze. Crap, he must’ve realised too, he chastises himself. “Uh, great.”

Younghyun nods. “Well, you were away the whole day. I presume your paper’s okay so far?”

“Yeah.”

Jae watches as his roommate trudges over to his single bed and flops down onto the mattress. “Anyways, I’m gonna turn in early tonight.”

Dang it. Just when he’d finished planning out everything in his head. Jae sets his pen down onto the table and swivels around in his chair. “So early? It’s only nine.”

“I’m tired.”

Where’s the energetic, loud and boisterous Younghyun from just yesterday? As Jae tries to assess the current situation, Sungjin’s words replay over and over again in his mind. Don’t think it’s just you who can’t express your feelings. Jae’s chest thrums with dread and exhilaration, with eagerness and grievance.

If he took his leap of faith right here, right now, would that be the best decision? Would he be able to turn the tables in his favour? Would it turn out the way he wants things to, or will everything end from here then on?

Jae stands to his feet, and shuffles over to Younghyun’s bed. 

Maybe the real reason he’s never wanted to confess wasn’t because of the fear of rejection. It was - and still is - the fear of all their years of friendships crumbling down into unmendable fragments from three simple yet life-changing words:

“I like you.”

It is the fear of all their years of memories and moments spent together dissipating into thin air the moment he opens his mouth and says this:

“No, actually. I love you.”

It is the fear of all their years of playdates and petty arguments and emotions cherished, their deep conversations and mischievous antics and tears shed, their shared hatred and care for each other, vanishing with the wisp of the spring-summer air the moment he says these words:

“I love you, too.”

Wordlessly, Younghyun stands to his feet, too. And when he takes Jae’s hand in his, it’s firm, strong, and most importantly, sure and certain. There’s no hesitance, no doubt, in the way Younghyun smiles warmly at a dumbfounded Jae as he repeats those words again, “I love you, too.”

Jae releases a shaky breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding in. “ Fuck. I mean, crap, i thought you didn’t… that you wouldn’t…”

“That I don’t love you back?” Younghyun blushes. “Even in a millennium from now, I’d still love you the way I do now. I thought the feeling wasn’t mutual.”

Jae’s eyes widen. “But you always snuck away after every Friday party and left me alone! I thought the feeling wasn’t mutual.”

“I did that to save myself from wanting more,” Younghyun shakes his head. “The first time you kissed me, I thought it was a joke. A plaything. Maybe experimentation. But I was selfish, and greedy, and I wanted more. I thought if I went along with it, I could perhaps finally get more of what I wanted, but I never let it get to my head.” He laughs heartily. “Well, it did get to my heart first, though.”

Jae still cannot believe his ears. “Since when?”

“Mm… When you stood up against the bully stealing my pocket money and you got punched in the face and got your crooked nose?”

“Yah!” Jae screeches, bewildered. “That was in fifth grade!”

“Exactly,” Younghyun giggles like a schoolboy. “I’ve loved you since.”

Jae feels his heart take to the skies and soar amidst the star-speckled skies. “I’ve loved you since that time we were studying for the college entrance exams-”

“-looks like I beat you to it, then-”

“-shut up,” Jae retorts, but it’s light and teasing. “You comforted me and made me feel sure of myself. It made me realise how much of an anchor you are to me. No matter what, I’ll always gravitate back towards you.”

His best friend in the world chuckles and ruffles Jae’s hair. “You’re soooo adorable.”

“Shut up,” Jae says again. “It’s technically your fault for always dragging me to those parties and getting dru-”

“-less talking!” Younghyun cries. “I love it when you’re ranting, but can we get to the part where we kiss now?”

“You sound exactly like one of those cheesy k-dramas y’know-” He’s cut off when this bastard of his lover swoops up and kisses him senseless. It’s different this time. It’s not the first time that they’re sober, but this time, their love is laid out on the table, real and raw and alive. This time, there’s no music in the distance, no alcohol running in their systems, no uncertainty at all - just the sureness of their kiss that will forever be sealed in both of their hearts.