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Glass Bead

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Changbin p.o.v

 

”Tell me you’re joking,” Changbin said in disbelief. “You got out of detention again?”

 

”He hasn’t even told you how he did it,” Chan replied, shushing him. “Come on, Jisung!”

 

They were just getting to their fourth class of the day in JYP Academy, and Chan and Jisung already had a story to tell. Changbin knew it had to be good, considering it wasn’t even the end of the day yet.

 

Right now, they were pacing downstairs in the midst of a flock of other students racing to their next classes. Despite the noise of several other conversations, there was nothing to drown out the energetic blond boy to Changbin’s left.

 

”The sub left to take care of a phone call,” Jisung began. “So I did the natural thing.”

 

He proceeded to tell Changbin about the bet Bambam had made with him, that he simply couldn’t throw his pencil through the whirring ceiling fan.

 

”He argued about it with him for six minutes,” Chan added. “It was this whole big thing.”

 

”How many times do I have to tell you, hyung? I don’t argue, I explain. So I proved him wrong. I threw my pencil right through that ceiling fan - “ 

 

” - just as the teacher walked in,” Chan finished.

 

There’s the punch line, Changbin thought. “And? What happened next?”

 

“Well, as Chan said, she arrived just as I got it through. Fortunately, I came prepared.” Jisung grinned as he pulled a card out of his uniform blazer. “I whipped out this bad boy, and she let me off the hook.”

 

Changbin snatched the card out of his hand. “This is a Get Out Of Jail Free card from Monopoly.”

 

”And it really works. That, gentlemen, is how you play the game of life.”

 

Changbin rolled his eyes and handed the card back to Jisung. “I really need more classes with you guys. It seems like I’m always missing out on the good stuff.”

 

”Lesson of the day, our Han Jisung never fails to entertain,” Chan declared, and Jisung shoved his arm. “Seriously though, mate, you’re probably gonna get kicked out sooner or later.”

 

”Oh, I’ll settle down one day, be a good boy,” Jisung promised, tucking the card back into his blazer. “Just not right now.”

 

”I don’t think I’ll be able to recognize you the day you do.” Changbin told him.

 

The three boys shared a laugh as they reached the final steps. Everything was normal.

 

”Look out!”

 

Felix p.o.v

 

Felix quickly apologized to another student as he ran through the stampede of crimson-coated kids, Minho on his left and Hyunjin on his right.

 

Stupid lectures, Felix cursed internally. I’m going to get chewed out again for the third time this week. Of course, with his rotten luck, he was able to get stuck with a teacher who didn’t know the meaning of the word 'time.'

 

”Can you slow down?” Minho panted, shoving wearily past a junior. “I’m drowning back here!”

 

”And ruin our perfect attendance record?” Hyunjin interjected. “You know how Mr. Yeon gets!” With his long legs, it probably wasn’t hard for Hyunjin to keep up with Felix who had pushed himself into a full sprint. Still, he reached back and gave Minho a push ahead. “We’re going to make it!”

 

”It’s bad enough that we got held in last period,” Felix grumbled. “Now we won’t have enough time to work on our report for music!” He breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God it’s due next week.”

 

Minho looked at Felix like he’d grown a third eye. “That’s due today, you idiot.”

 

Felix whipped around to face his friend. “What?!”

 

He hadn’t realized it then, but he’d just reached the staircase. He had also been running at full speed. That was when the universe decided to take matters into her own hands.

 

If it had been purely physics, and things had been completely ordinary, Felix would have dive-bombed headfirst into the stairs, given himself a hearty concussion, and maybe a permanent dent in his skull.

 

The whole thing seemed to happen in slow motion. Somehow, Felix had twisted around in midair, where he could see his friends’ eyes saucering wide. Somehow, the students on the staircase had been mentally informed of this and parted like the Red Sea for this accidental backwards stage-dive. Somehow, time took over, and Felix was plummeting like a meteor towards the ground, where a concussion was waiting with its arms wide open. He squeezed his eyes shut, bracing himself for impact.

 

”Look out!”

 

Except he never did hit the cold marble floor. Something had stopped him. Someone had caught him. Felix's eyes flew open, and he was immediately face to face with his savior.

 

Chocolate brown eyes were staring into his. They were set into a handsome, triangle-shaped face with adorable full cheeks. Close cropped caramel blonde hair was fluttering into those eyes, but that didn’t interrupt his gaze. Just below Felix’s line of sight were a pair of perfect lips parted gently in shock. The universe had really outdone herself.

 

He suddenly felt the boy’s hand on the small of his back, and Felix’s entire body froze. This guy was holding him with one ridiculously muscular arm, while the other was clutching the steel banister to keep them both from falling. And somehow, Felix had ended up with his arms wrapped around Mystery Boy’s broad shoulders. 

Their faces were bare inches apart. If they were any closer, their lips would have touched...

 

Snap out of it, Lee Felix, Felix scolded himself. This kind of crap only happens in Hyunjin’s dramas.

 

And, just like in a drama, the rest of the world caught up with them in a single moment. Minho and Hyunjin had teleported to his right. Two guys, one with light blonde hair and the other with black, gaped at them on his left. Thousands of nameless, faceless students were in the audience, waiting for the next move.

 

Before there even was a next move, Felix felt himself being hauled away by his arms. The same was being done with Mystery Boy and the two guys on the right. The black haired one whispered something in his ear, and they began to walk away in the opposite direction. Mystery Boy was still staring at Felix as they left.

 

”Lix, let’s go,” Hyunjin ushered quietly. He glanced uneasily at the staring kids watching their every move. “Come on. Let’s get to class.”

 

But Felix didn’t want to move - not while that boy was still looking his way. Minho and Hyunjin dragged him farther down the hall. Suddenly, he found that music project was in the back of his mind.

 

******

As both boys were going their separate ways, they both knew that their lives had changed forever. They thought the exact same thing as a sea of students broke their gazes:

 

This was going to be quite a year.

Chapter Text

Felix p.o.v

 

Two days.

 

It had been exactly two days since that magical encounter with Mystery Boy. Neither of them had said a word to the other since. Occasionally, Felix would steal glance at him, but that was it.

 

Not that he was bitter. Even if Felix did work up the courage to walk up to him, what would he say? Oh, hey, thanks for saving my life the other day! Not to be dramatic or anything, but I can’t stop thinking about you and just the thought of your face makes my heart beat eight times faster? Not if he wanted to keep breathing.

 

Felix remembered how it felt, being in his arms. How could he forget? It was like time had frozen, the rest of the world had faded away, and it was just the two of them. The only thing he had felt was that stupid spark in the small of his back, where Mystery Boy has held him. It activated every nerve end in his body, sending goosebumps down to that cursed spot. It was all too much.

 

It was moments like these where Felix desperately missed Australia. Even if it didn’t have expensive prep schools based on the arts and frustratingly cute boys, it was more of a home to him than South Korea was at the moment. Sure, he had Hyunjin and Minho, but they weren’t family. At least not completely. He could talk to them about what he’d been going through.

 

He couldn’t do that at Australia.

 

His parents would flip if he brought up anything romantically related to a guy at all. He wasn’t sure how his friends would react - and his sisters, for that matter. Felix was, in fact, raised in a Catholic household where the only other men in your life were the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But he could worry about that some other time.

 

Right now, he had to find those two so - called friends of his in a sea of crimson blazers.

 

Before school started, Minho had wanted to go over their choreo as DanceRacha, the dance group they had formed. He’d given instructions for them to meet in the courtyard by the cherry blossom tree. Unfortunately, he hadn’t exactly elaborated that JYP had exactly six courtyards and countless cherry blossom trees.

 

So here Felix was, wandering like an idiot without a map and so much as a clue on where he was supposed to go. He kept getting one weird look after the next, but he still didn’t see either of those idiots anywhere.

 

Everywhere he looked, people were clustered in groups, singing, dancing, rapping, and sometimes all three. Felix had been informed by Minho and Hyunjin that basically everyone and their friend groups formed units of whatever musical topic they specialized in. The loners were often solo artists. Most students could be found on Spotify. Felix’s personal favorites involved the alumni girl group Twice and rapping trio 3Racha, but that, like all other things at the moment, could be saved for another time.

 

As he passed what could have been the fiftieth cherry blossom tree he had seen that day, he heard the music. Not just any random beat, but something he recognized. Along with it came the voices, one in particular:

 

” - shedding down, but it’s useless. I’m not pretending, I’m for real. Even if you cut me to pieces and break me down, I’ll come back stronger!”

 

There was no mistaking it. It was J.One himself. The song was Matroshyka. It would take a 3Racha trained ear to recognize it, but it was.

 

 Then came the next verse, but in a different voice. 

 

“If you want to know me, open up your eardrums. If you want to know me deeply, then listen more.”

 

CB97. This was getting crazier by the minute. First J.One, then Felix’s number one Aussie idol. And they were just behind this tree.

 

It wouldn’t be wrong to take a peek, would it? Almost simultaneously, Felix overruled himself. Taking a deep breath as silent as humanly possible, he stepped out from the tree just as the third, most iconic verse began, and stopped.

 

It was Mystery Boy. Rapping.

 

”Matroshyka, seems like you’re curious after all!”

 

He was facing away from him, but Felix could see the confident smile on his face. It suited him. Felix had never even heard the guy speak before. But now here he was, less than five feet away, spitting actual fire like no one’s business. His voice was rough in a way that complimented his flow perfectly and added to the volume of the music.

 

So not only was he breathtakingly handsome, he was an amazing rapper too? The universe deserved flowers.

 

He wasn’t alone, either. Two guys sat beside him, nodding along. The same ones at the staircase, Felix realized. The one with light blonde hair was quietly rapping along, and the black haired one was jamming to the beat with his eyes closed. Felix couldn’t blame him. He might not have been as close, but it was all he could do to stand and stare.

 

Mystery Boy - or rather, Spearb - was just getting to the third part of his verse when he spotted Felix. He stopped abruptly, his eyes flaring wide.

 

It was at that moment Felix remembered where he was: standing less than five feet away from this boy, completely exposed, probably looking like a total creep. Every part of his body tingled and he could feel his ears growing warm. Quickly, he spun on his heel and fled, but he could hear the aftermath of what he had done. Mystery Boy was sputtering, trying to get back on track but failing, and his friends were scolding him.

 

Felix cursed himself with every curse word he knew; there was a variety of those words. His poor dark rapper was in trouble because of him, and now they probably couldn’t even look at each other without bursting into flames. But that was just Felix.

 

Maybe. Probably.

 

He shook his head, banishing the thought. Next time Minho wanted to meet up, he was sending directions first. And Felix was setting an alarm on his phone.

 

Changbin p.o.v

 

You fucking idiot, Changbin berated himself as he brushed past another student. Stop thinking about Him. You can at least control your thoughts.

 

But ever since those two days ago, he wasn’t even able to do that. Every time he closed his eyes, He was there, with his candy purple hair and brown eyes and constellation of freckles across the bridge of his nose. Changbin couldn’t think about anything else.

 

When Chan had suggested they practice, Changbin had agreed, figuring it was the only thing that could take his mind off of Him. Rapping always did that for him - he would lose track of where he was, who was with him, and say whatever was on his mind. For a while, he was alright.

 

Then damn if Changbin didn’t look the other way, because there He was, looking right at him. All the lyrics left him at that moment, and it only got worse after He left. Chan and Jisung launched right into another lecture.

 

”He’s just some guy!” Jisung had said. “You don’t even know his name!”

 

Both Chan and Jisung knew he liked boys as well as girls. But he’d like to see what they did when a guy with the face of an angel dropped out of the heavens and sailed straight into their arms. Changbin hadn’t dared to let go. He'd been frozen in place, and from his shoulders, where His arms had found their way around, to the pit of his stomach, he had felt a spark. The stupid spark that only existed in Chan’s cheesy rom - coms, the spark he had never once felt before, the spark that now ruled over his life.

 

Right now, the sun was just beginning to set, and Changbin still couldn’t find the two losers he called his only friends.

 

Chan said they would meet at this exact spot to practice after school, but Changbin had a feeling he was just going to start off on another lecture on getting his feelings in check.

 

That’s not happening anytime soon, Changbin thought as he turned a corner. Still nothing. After starting as a freshman at this school, Changbin knew JYP like the back of his hand. Either Chan had forgotten or Jisung was playing a joke on him.

 

”This isn’t funny, assholes,” Changbin muttered. Not a lot of people were still on campus, but a few scattered groups still mulled around the courtyard. Most students usually went out to eat and shop, typical friend - type shit. When 3Racha was together outside of JYP it was to write new material, but they screwed around enough for it to be considered a friendship. Looking around, there wasn’t a head of familiar brown hair or striking blonde in sight. Surely they had to be hiding.

 

As he neared the seventeenth cherry blossom tree-shaded stone bench he had seen that evening, he heard the music.

 

It wasn’t anything he had ever heard before. It had no words, and the beat was like a dark alley at nighttime. Changbin came closer, and, only for a moment, glimpsed a flash of bright purple hair.

 

He stopped in his tracks. No way, Changbin thought. It couldn’t be Him. But no one else in this school had purple hair like His. And no one else was around but him.

 

It wouldn’t hurt to take a look, would it? While an internal battle waged in his mind, curiosity won over fast.

 

Changbin took a deep, silent breath and peered around the tree, just as the beat changed, and stopped.

 

It was Him. Dancing.

 

He was facing away from Changbin, but the concentration in his expression was visible. It was a good look for him, too. The beat had changed to a sunset lit up with streetlights, a rhythm that He followed perfectly with his movements. It was practically fluid, watching him move, but it was definitely beautiful, like a waterfall; swift and clear.

 

The guy already had the face of an angel; he was an amazing dancer too? Things definitely couldn’t get any better than this.

 

He wasn’t alone in his dance. There were two other guys with him. The ones that took Him away, Changbin realized. The one on the left was taller and had long black hair, and the one on the right had brown, but Changbin only had eyes for one.

 

He pivoted to the left, swiveling His hips in a way that made Changbin weak in the knees, when he turned his gaze right to where Changbin was standing and froze, zeroing in on him.

 

Right then and there, it occurred to Changbin where he was standing: just behind a cherry blossom tree, completely visible, no doubt looking like a total pervert. His face and body heated up to a million degrees on the spot. Quickly, he darted behind the tree, with his back pressed to the bark, but he could hear the aftermath of what he had done. Two voices had entered the scene, scolding Him for interrupting their flow.

 

With every self inflicted curse word, Changbin hit the back of his head against the tree. His poor angelic dancer was in trouble because of him, and now they probably couldn’t be in the same room as each other without positively melting from embarrassment. But that was just Changbin.

 

Maybe. Probably.

 

He slammed his head harder against the tree. Next time, Chan was confirming their meetings. And Changbin was definitely trailing Jisung on his last class of the day.

Chapter Text

Minho p.o.v

 

”Don’t look now,” Minho whispered in his friend’s ear. But, Felix being Felix, he looked.

 

The guy wasn’t even visible from across the hall yet; there were still dozens of kids in front of him. Yet, of course, Felix was able to draw him out of the crowd, and Minho could already see his ears turning red the way they did when he got embarrassed.

 

”Are you serious?” Hyunjin complained. “You can’t even make it through the hall without seeing him halfway?”

 

”I’m sorry! I can’t help it!” Felix stressed, his eyes still glued to the boy. Sooner or later, he was going to feel Felix’s gaze. Just like he always did.

 

”Alright, gentlemen,” Minho muttered. “Eagle Two lands on one, two...”

 

And, before Minho could say three, the boy’s head turned and his eyes were drawn slowly, almost magnetically, past his bodyguards and to Felix.

 

Minho grumbled and slipped Hyunjin the five bucks he’d bet on time. It wasn’t his fault that one of his best friends was such a magnet for trouble, and Hyunjin always took advantage of that.

 

”Come on, Lix, just keep walking,” Hyunjin said, coaxing Felix forward. “We’re not gonna be late today because of your stupid crush.”

 

“It’s not a crush!” Felix hissed. "It’s nothing.” But his eyes said otherwise, as they never left the boy’s face. Minho also noticed that, interestingly enough, his friends seemed to be doing the same thing he and Hyunjin were doing with Felix.



The one with black hair was on his left and had a single hand planted on his shoulder, steering the boy ahead. The one with blond hair had a hand clamped around the boy’s other arm and was using the other to gesticulate dramatically as he spoke. When he found the boy was still looking at Felix, he used his free hand to grab his chin and force his head to face forward.

 

However, that seemed to be the last straw for the boy. He jerked the blond boy’s hand away and shrugged out of the black haired boy’s grip, yelling something at the both of them to make them back off. When the black haired one began to protest, the boy shot a surprisingly fierce glare at him that shut him up. He pulled away from his friends, slung his bag over his shoulder, and walked the rest of the distance on his own.

 

But before he could disappear completely, he stole one final glance at Felix. And Felix, despite his denial, looked sad to see him go.

 

Thankfully, Hyunjin was there to break the sappy spell. Tearing a page out of the blond boy’s notebook, he used his free hand to direct Felix’s face forward. “Alright, loser, he’s gone. Keep moving.”

 

But just as Minho was about to push him forward, Felix broke free. “Enough, both of you!” He whipped around, eyes blazing with shocking anger. “Will you two stop treating me like I don’t have a will of my own? I can make it to class without being dragged around. So for once, could you just back off?”

 

Not waiting for an answer, Felix stormed off, getting swallowed by the crowd of students.

 

Hyunjin stared. “He’s never acted like that before.”

 

It took him long enough to snap, Minho thought. Lucky for Felix, it was just as long as he could stand. “Come along, Hyunjin. We’re doing a little intervention.” 


“Intervention?”

 

”I’ve had enough of those gooey-eyed long-distance stares, and I think you have too. Fortunately,” Minho said, eyeing the two guys who had so enforcingly marched their friend down the hall. “I think I’ve found our solution.”

 

Jisung p.o.v

 

Chan sighed, watching as Changbin shouldered roughly past another student. “I just wish he could suck it up and talk to the guy already instead of just staring all the time.”

 

”Well, in his defense,” Jisung replied, “he did go about it the wrong way.”

 

”What do you mean?”

 

”Back on the staircase, the kid went flying into his arms, and he just stared at him with his mouth hanging open. Maybe if he said something, it would’ve gone differently, but no. He just stood there, holding him, looking like a doofus, not saying a word.”

 

”You and I both know that people aren’t exactly Changbin’s strong suit. Besides, if that’s what you thought, then why didn’t you step in?”

 

”Wasn’t my place. It looked like they were having a moment. It was like, I don’t know, Wow type shit.”

 

”Do not compare it to that.”

 

”What? You know it’s true! Like, I get it, it’s sickening, it’s pathetic, but we’re bored, and there’s nowhere else to look, so - “

 

”You! Blondie!” A new voice interrupted.

 

Jisung turned to see a shockingly attractive boy with brown hair and intense onyx - colored eyes storming towards him. Before he knew what was happening, he had ahold of his arm. “You’re coming with me.”

 

”What the fu - okay!” Normally, Jisung would be pretty okay with being dragged off somewhere by a cute guy, but this wasn’t just any cute guy. This was one of Staircase Kid’s friends. The other one, taller with black hair, was dragging Chan alongside him.

 

Finally, they stopped by the end of the hall. The boy that grabbed Jisung dusted off his uniform blazer and stepped in front of them. “I think you know what this is about. We all saw the stares down the hall, and I won’t bother mentioning the staircase.”

 

”Who are you guys?” Chan asked, looking from Tall Staircase Friend to Hot Staircase Friend.

 

”I’m Minho. My friend here is Hyunjin,” said Hot Staircase Friend. “What say we get right down to business?”

 

”I’m Jisung, and the fine gentlemen to my right is Chan,” Jisung replied, dropping a wink at Minho. “The pleasure’s all mine, gorgeous.”

 

Chan facepalmed, and Hyunjin released a snort of laughter. Minho, on the other hand, didn’t bat an eye. “I didn’t ask,” he replied coolly. “I’m here on account of my friend Felix. The one who had the run - in with yours.”

 

Felix, huh? Strange name. Definitely not from around here. “Our friend’s name is Changbin,” Chan said. “Is this about what happened at the staircase?”

 

”What else would I be here to talk about?” Minho said back. “Neither of you can pretend that you haven’t seen the way they look at each other. The way they seem drawn to each other. It can’t be stopped.”

 

Chan and Jisung exchanged a glance. “No matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to keep them apart,” Chan admitted. “What do you suggest?”

 

“What are we planning?” Hyunjin asked, turning to Minho. “You just ran off after these guys without telling me anything.”

 

”Shut up, I’m trying to think,” Minho murmured, looking off into the distance, with an expression that could only be described as a scheming face. Even that was hot.

 

”Well, while you’re thinking, how about we help?” Jisung offered. “Yesterday, your friend Felix stumbled in on our rap practice. Somehow, he’d found Binnie, and the minute we saw him, he ran.”

 

”Where were you?” Minho inquired.

 

”Dunno, like halfway across the campus.”

 

”That’s where he was?” Hyunjin said in disbelief. “We waited for him almost an hour!”

 

”And Felix found the three of you?” Minho asked, his expression serious. “The same thing happened with us and your friend.”

 

”Seriously?” Chan sputtered. “I gave him that pep talk!”

 

”Believe it. We were going through our dance routine when Felix froze, staring right at your Changbin. Apparently, he’d been hidden behind a tree.”

 

Binnie, Jisung thought bemusedly, you little perv. He was going to have a lot of fun teasing him about that. ”What a coincidence.”

 

”Looks like it,” Minho said thoughtfully. “And they’ve gotten worse ever since.”

 

”I wasn’t sure that was possible,” Hyunjin scoffed. “But somehow they’ve found a way to make it happen.”

 

”After a debacle like that, they’re not going to want to be in the same room as each other.” Minho noted.

 

”No more than they already do,” Jisung amended. “And yet they don’t seem to want to be away from each other, either.”

 

”Keeping them apart clearly isn’t helping,” Minho said. “So we’ve got to scrap everything we’ve been doing, try a different approach.”

 

”Instead of separating them, we have to push them together.” Jisung nodded in agreement. “They’ll have to meet.”

 

”But they won’t want to do it on their own,” Minho muttered. “So the only way to do it - “

 

” - is if we make them.” Jisung and Minho finished in unison, their eyes meeting as they came to the conclusion. Impulsively, Jisung grinned. Minho rolled his eyes and looked away, but Jisung could see the ghost of a smile on his face. That alone was a victory.

 

”So, it’s a plan?” Chan cut in, looking between them.

 

”Seems like it,” Minho replied, composing himself.

 

”But how do we do it?” Hyunjin asked. “We have to arrange the time and place before we make any decisions.”

 

”Well, I don’t think we want another day of this lovesick nonsense,” Minho said. “I say we do it today.”

 

”Me too,” Jisung agreed. “After school, once everyone’s gone.”

 

”For the place, how about the fourth courtyard with the fountain?” Minho suggested. “It has a nice setting.”

 

Jisung smiled. “So it’s a date?”

 

Chan huffed, pinching the bridge of his nose in annoyance. Hyunjin looked like he might be sick, but Jisung hardly cared.

 

Minho’s expression was cool as ice. “If this goes well, we’ll see,” he replied, looking Jisung up and down. When his eyes met Jisung’s again, they glimmered with a devilish kind of mischief that hadn’t been there before. “Bye, Jisung.”

 

Jisung felt his own lips part in surprise. No one had ever looked at him like that before.

 

He was a bit less than half - aware of Chan saying his name over and over, trying to get his attention. Next to Minho, Hyunjin’s mouth had dropped open. But Minho himself didn’t seem to mind. He smirked, slung his bag over his shoulder, and sauntered off.

 

”Jisung!” Chan shouted in his ear for the third time. He yanked his arm back, startling him. “Quit staring and come on. You’re acting like Changbin.”

 

Now that was a low blow. “I am not!” Jisung shot back. But still, he kept his eyes on Minho as he turned the corner. He’d only just met him today, and yet just remembering the way Minho said his name made chills run down his spine. 

 

Quickly, Jisung shook his head. He was acting like Changbin. At least I know the guy’s name, he thought as he took off after Chan.

 

That, and his day was going to get a lot more interesting.

Chapter Text

Felix p.o.v

 

”Will you guys quit shoving and tell me what’s going on?” Felix complained, tripping over his shoelace. “My shoe’s untied. Can we stop?”

 

”Can’t stop, Lix. It’s urgent.” Hyunjin replied giggling. He was acting weirder than usual, and that was saying something.

 

Minho smacked his arm. “If we stop and waste a second, we could be late. Just try to keep up.”

 

I’ve been trying all bloody week, Felix wanted to shout. After a week of being dragged from place to place, was it too much to ask for some freedom? It was the end of the day and no one was around, including Mystery Boy. If that was what they were so worried about, then what was the rush?

 

”Guys. Guys, we just passed the entrance. Where the fuck are we going?” Felix craned his neck to look back, but Hyunjin and Minho kept dragging him forward.

 

”We’re almost there,” Hyunjin trilled in a singsong voice. “Not much longer, Felix!”

 

Minho slapped him again, adding in a glare for good measure. “Could you be more obvious?” He hissed. “Just keep your mouth shut until we get him to the meetup spot.”

 

”Meetup spot?!” Felix yelped, looking from Hyunjin to Minho. “Where are you taking me?”

 

Just as Minho opened his mouth, a new voice sounded. “Let go of me, would you? No one’s even here!”

 

”Quiet down, Binnie, you’ll know once you get there,” another male voice crooned. It sounded rather amused, despite the roughness of the other voice. “Trust me, you won’t be complaining once you know.”

 

”The hell’s that supposed to mean?”

 

”Look at that, we’re here! Oh, get that frown off your face, Bin, you don’t want to scare him off.” This next voice sounded older than the other two, but no less mature. It was definitely accented. Wait, was that a fellow Aussie?

 

Before Felix could determine it, he caught sight of the boy in front of him and stopped. His heart skipped a beat.

 

It was Mystery Boy. His head was turned to make a retort to the blond boy on his right, but there was no mistaking it. The hair, the face shape, the short and muscular build. It was him.

 

As if he felt his stare, he turned his head and faced Felix, just like he had for the past week. His brown eyes widened, and his body seemed to tense.

 

The blonde boy grinned. “Right on time.”

 

Mystery Boy’s look of shock quickly changed into a glare at his friends. “I hate you both.” His voice was low and rough, with a little bit of a cute nasal.

 

Minho leaned in to Felix. “Thank me later.”

 

”What?”

 

Suddenly Felix felt himself being shoved forward by both of his friends. He quickly dug his heels into the dirt, kicking back, giving them several reasons why they should stop, but neither Hyunjin nor Minho were listening. In front of him, the same thing was being done to Mystery Boy, and he was reacting the same way as Felix, fighting back, protesting, but to no avail.

 

Without any warning whatsoever, they were thrown stumbling at each other. In a wild attempt to right his footing, Felix stepped on his shoelace, which he had entirely forgotten was untied.

 

Horribly, he slipped, and felt himself lurching backward. Heroically, Mystery Boy rushed to help him. Felix grabbed his hand, expecting to be pulled back on his feet. But either gravity wanted to play a funny little joke on him or Mystery Boy wasn’t pulling back strong enough, because instead of pulling him forward, he was falling too, right down on top of him.

 

Oh, God, Felix thought. Not again.

 

Felix grimaced as he landed on the dirt, elbows propping him up, but he forgot all about the pain once he looked at the boy on top of him. It was like they had gone back in time, but the setting had changed. Mystery Boy was staring down at him again, chocolate brown eyes wide and mesmerizing, caramel blonde hair slightly mussed, lips parted softly in shock. Felix wondered what it would be like if he grabbed his the lapels of his blazer, pulled him down, and - wait.

 

Time had frozen, just like it had on the staircase, and all that existed was the bubble of space that held him and the spellbinding boy in front of him. From the small of his back, where Mystery Boy had first held him, a spark bloomed, that wretched, wonderful spark that made everything inside of Felix come to life.

 

Suddenly, he was aware of a million things at once. He had been biting his lip earlier, and so they were probably chapped, maybe even bleeding. He was almost late for the bus that morning, so he’d left his hair looking like a mess. Then there was the unignorable fact that Felix was literally beneath a guythat guy being the cutest rapper that the gods had blessed the earth with. He was almost sure he could hear his own heart racing.

 

And, to top it all off, his friends were watching the whole thing.

 

Felix could hear snickering from both sides. If he turned his head just enough, he could see Hyunjin clapping his hands over his mouth and Minho’s eyebrows disappearing up into his hairline.

 

He turned to where Mystery Boy was looking. The black haired boy had a fist to his mouth to keep from laughing, but the blonde haired, squirrel - cheeked boy was beaming, his hands clasped in joy. “Perfect!”

 

Minho snickered again. “Have fun on your little date,” he teased. At that, all four of those traitors took off and ran.

 

Was this the universe’s punishment? Yet another humiliating collision with this boy? If so, it was working. Completely diabolical.

 

Simultaneously, Felix and Mystery Boy turned back to each other at the same time, startling back in surprise.

 

How was Felix going to get out of this?

 

Changbin p.o.v

 

How the fuck did I get here? Changbin asked himself.

 

He could have refused when Chan and Jisung said they were taking him somewhere. He could have put up more of a fight. Instead, he had his palms in the dirt, currently straddling the most beautiful boy he’d ever laid eyes on. And he wasn’t complaining.

 

It felt like his skin was wearing thin on his body, like his heart would burst out of his chest, hit Him in the face and ricochet, skyrocketing into oblivion. Changbin hadn’t brushed his teeth this morning. Underneath his blazer, his shirt was wrinkled. What else could possibly go wrong?

 

Come on, stupid, he urged himself. Say something. Do something.

 

”Sorry," they blurted at the same time. And just like that, the little bubble of space they seemed to be trapped in compressed even smaller.

 

Changbin felt his face growing impossibly warm. He was still nose to nose with Him. He was able to see the flecks of gold in his honey brown eyes, count the freckles smattered across the bridge of his nose. His lips were bitten and chapped; they would be rough to touch. Changbin imagined raising his hands to cup his face, drawing him closer, until - hold it.

 

Shakily, he began to climb off of Him, just as he started to push himself up. Once that little stretch of space was established, they wasted no time in spreading the distance, jumping to their feet, dusting off their uniforms. Even away from Him, Changbin could still feel the warmth that radiated from His body; it felt like something was missing now.

 

Changbin stole a glance at Him, something he had mastered doing in the past week. He was standing casually, hands in his pockets, rolling on the balls of his feet, gazing skyward. The sunlight hit his figure in a way that made his eyes seem so many shades of brown, every strand of his purple hair lighting up. He stopped shifting back and forth. Looking away from the clouds, he turned his gaze towards Changbin.

 

Belatedly, he realized he’d been staring and pretended to be very interested in the dirt ground. Pull yourself together, Changbin, he told himself. You’re SpearB of 3Racha, for fuck’s sake. You’ve got this.

 

He knew he was right. Chan and Jisung, the asswhipes they were, had brought him here for a reason. He was going to make the most of this, and now was the perfect time.

 

Slowly, Changbin looked up to see if He was still looking at him. He was. And he didn’t look away.

 

This was Changbin’s moment. This was the time to say something. Something memorable, cool, suave, romantic, something in that manner that would sweep Him off his feet. He had this boy all to himself now, and he wasn’t going to let this time go to waste.

 

Prepping his response, his ever-important response, Changbin looked Him in the eye and said:

 

”Your shoe’s untied.”

 

He wanted to fucking die. 

 

That was the first thing he said to this guy? Of all the things he could have possibly said, ‘your shoe’s untied?!’ It might’ve been too much to ask, but maybe the sun could be a bro, quit shining on His beautiful face, and summon enough solar energy to melt Changbin into a sad puddle of mortified disappointment.

 

However, the boy didn’t seem to see it as a failed courtship attempt. He glanced down at his shoe, cursed, and crouched down to tie it, muttering something about his horrible luck. Changbin could definitely relate to that.

 

He rose back up when he was done. ”Sorry about that,” he said, smiling sheepishly. “It was why I fell in the first place.”

 

Changbin was taken aback by his voice. It definitely did not match his looks. It was deep, rich and... accented? He sounded Australian, like Chan. For whatever reason, the accent sounded cuter with His voice.



Changbin recovered fast. “It’s fine,” he replied in what he hoped was a smooth manner. “I guess you could say that I fell for you.”



And fuck.




Why was he so bad at this? Sure, he didn’t talk to a lot of people besides Chan and Jisung, but he was never this bad as socializing. There had to be some explanation. Maybe this was payback. But for what? Getting a crush on some hopelessly fascinating guy who he knew nothing about? What had he done wrong?

 

He stared at Changbin, his eyebrows raised in question. “That - that came out wrong,” Changbin stuttered, trying to come up with an excuse. “I wasn’t saying that I fell for you. I mean, well, I did, but not in that way. You know what I mean, right?”

 

Silence. Crickets. A crow came flying past. Changbin had officially fucked up.

 

And just like that, He started laughing. Free, humorous laughter that was better than any music Changbin had ever produced in his life. “It’s okay, I get it,” he giggled. He giggled. “I guess I fell for you, too.”

 

A shot of warmth burst inside of him, something like sunlight but better. Changbin chuckled, hoping that his small smile didn’t give off the fact that on the inside he was jumping for joy.



“At least I caught you that time,” he joked, and He laughed again, a double victory.

 

”So, they dragged you out here too?” He asked.

 

”From what you saw, I was more than a little hesitant.”

 

He bent down and plucked a wayward cherry blossom off the ground. “They could have had us meet in the classrooms, or at the staircase again. Why here?”

 

On looking around, it was pretty easy to see what their friends had been planning. The fountain, the perfectly sporadic cherry blossom trees, the stone bench with room only for two. Have fun on your little date, one of His friends had teased. If that didn’t explain it, the setting definitely did.

 

“The fourth courtyard’s a favorite place on campus for the couples,” Changbin explained. “I guess they thought it might serve as a nice joke to send us somewhere... romantic.” Stupidly, he felt himself blushing as he got out the word.

 

The flower drifted out of His hand. “Oh,” he murmured, his gaze drifting towards the ground. If Changbin looked close enough, he could see his ears turning red.

 

That got awkward fast, Changbin thought as silence swept in. Why did you have to bring couples into this? He’d literally been on top of Him just moments ago. They were actually having a decent conversation! And that went right down the drain.

 

Don’t let it, some little voice in his head urged him. You’ve been waiting for a chance like this all week. It’s just you and him. You have to make the most of this.

 

If this was his courage (what little of it there was) talking, then clearly it had the right idea. Even though Changbin had a feeling Chan and Jisung were hiding somewhere behind the cherry blossom trees, he was still going to try and do something with his current situation. Maybe if it went well, they could get on speaking terms, become friends. And if that went well, then - well, Changbin wasn’t going to get ahead of himself just yet.

 

Here goes. “Well, even with the setting, I’m glad to finally have you alone.”

 

A high flush ran up His neck as Changbin hastened to explain. “Not like that. What I mean is, well,” he stammered, trying to piece together a working sentence. “I’ve met you more than once now, not in the best ways, but... I don’t even know your name.”

 

He met Changbin’s eyes hesitantly. “I’m Felix."

 

”Felix?” That was definitely a unique name. Well, unique for South Korea. He definitely wasn’t from around here.

 

”It’s weird, I know - “

 

”No, not weird. It's different. I... I like it.”

 

It was a weak compliment, but for once it seemed like he’d said the right thing. Felix smiled. “What’s your name?”

 

”Changbin,” he answered, though it felt like he’d blurted it. “Uh, nice finally meeting you.”

 

Felix smiled wider, brighter if it was possible, gracing the world with his laugh once more. “Nice to meet you too.”

 

They laughed together, chipping at the tension. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

 

”Changbin?” Felix said, like he was testing it out.

 

”Yeah?”

 

”Wanna get out of here?”

 

Startled, Changbin glanced up at him. There was a glittering playfulness in his eyes that had been absent before, an almost feline quality to his smile. Well, if that’s not an invitation...

 

Changbin smiled back. “Sure.”



Suddenly, the cherry blossom trees rustled. Changbin and Felix jumped at the sound. A whispering flutter of voices seemed to drift out from within the stirring branches. Maybe it was just the wind. Hopefully.

 

Looking back at each other, they shrugged. Felix stepped ahead and nodded towards the walkway that lead around the campus. Changbin followed, hoping he looked nonchalant.

 

While he did, he could have sworn he heard a voice suspiciously like Chan’s whisper, “Go get him, champ.”

 

As they walked, they were able to find out a bit more about each other. Felix had enrolled in JYP only about a month ago, which explained why he hadn’t been seen around much. He’d transferred from Australia, which explained the accent (but nothing could ever explain that baritone. Maybe puberty decided to give out a blessing rather than a curse). He had two sisters, one older and one younger, and apparently did taekwondo. While he exchanged what information he could, Changbin hung on to every word, filing them into a little folder in his mind labeled: Lee Felix; Freckled Australian Dancer Extraordinaire.

 

Okay, not really, but he was going to try his best to remember everything he was told.

 

After a remarkable amount of pestering, Felix reluctantly told him his Korean name. Immediately, Changbin burst out laughing. “Your Korean name is Yongbok?”

 

Felix huffed, frowning. “This is why I didn’t want to tell you. I knew you would laugh.”

 

”I’m not making fun of you,” Changbin promised, still chuckling. “It’s just the sound of it. Lee Yongbok - “ He barely got through the sentence before he cracked up again.

 

”What the hell were my parents thinking?” Felix muttered.

 

”If it makes you feel any better, the word yongbok means dragon. Maybe they thought of it as a good omen.”

 

”I doubt it. They probably just wanted to name me something I would hate as a joke.”

 

”Yongbok,” Changbin said again, cackling.

 

Felix scowled. “You sound like an evil witch when you laugh.”

 

Changbin stopped laughing and gaped at him. “I do not.”

 

”It’s what you get for making fun of my name.”

 

”I wasn’t - “

 

”You were laughing. Don’t pretend.”

 

”Fine, fine, I’m sorry,” Changbin apologized. As innocently as possible, he inquired, “Did your friends tease you for your name too?”

 

Felix smiled, though not nearly as bright as the other ones he’d gifted him with. “Back in Australia, yeah, they did. So do Hyunjin and Minho, whenever it comes up. Do your friends tease you for your laugh?”

 

Changbin scoffed. “All the time. I’ve known both Chan and Jisung for a little over a year, but they still find a way.”

 

”Chan and Jisung? Are those the ones who dragged you out here?”

 

Changbin nodded. “Were Hyunjin and Minho the ones who brought you over here?”

 

”Yep. My only friends here.”

 

Changbin remembered them; one with black hair and the other with brown. When he’d fallen on Felix, the black haired one had his hands over his mouth, and the other’s eyebrows had raised up, looking like he’d somewhat expected it to happen. Have fun on your little date, he’d said, smirking. How could someone like Felix have ended up friends with someone like him?

 

”How’d you become friends with them?”

 

”They’d seen me dance before, thought I’d be a nice addition to their crew. Why do you ask?”

 

”How could you hang around them?”

 

”What do you mean?” Felix asked, sounding genuinely confused.

 

”I - I mean, they literally schemed behind our backs to bring us together, while you, you’re just... you’re so...” Changbin stammered. He already felt himself tripping up on his words. “Not like them.”

 

They stopped walking. Now he’d done it. He’d basically called his friends jerks right to his face, unable to say what he really meant. Why couldn’t he just talk normally in front of this guy? Chan and Jisung wouldn’t have had the same problem. If it had been either of them who caught Felix on the staircase, the whole thing would have gone so much differently.

 

If it had been Jisung, sure, he’d be stunned for a moment, but then he’d probably smile and laugh and say something to ease up the situation, get the crowd moving along. He’d apologize to Felix and move on his way. If it had been Chan, God knew he would’ve blushed all over, the romantic he was, and apologized a probably million times. But being the standup guy he was, it would have looked noble. Hell, he’d have probably offered to walk Felix to his next class. They would’ve talked to him sooner, not a week later after staring like a stalker.

 

Instead, it had been Changbin. Once he had that angel in his arms, all the words left him, all ability to move and speak. Even with the talent to string together a kickass rap number, he couldn’t face a boy without getting tongue - tied beyond redemption.

 

But somehow, Felix wasn’t quite done with him. “They’re not total jerks, even though they seem like it sometimes,” he said quietly. “They’re good to me, weird sometimes, but I guess that’s what all friends are like.”

 

Had Changbin been forgiven? How? He’d insulted his friend group, accidentally hit on him twice, and been caught in two mortifying encounters with him. This boy really was something else. “Yeah,” he said quietly, not daring to force out anything else.

 

Another awkward silence, and maybe even a frog ribbiting in the distance, Felix spoke again. “So, my friend group’s a dance crew, and yours is 3Racha?”

 

Changbin perked up; he couldn’t help it. “You’ve heard of us?”

 

”Of course! You guys are one of the reasons I applied here in the first place,” Felix confessed. “I always thought your music was so cool and inspirational and different." Shyly, he glanced at Changbin. “SpearB was my favorite member.”

 

Well, Changbin decided. I can die happy now. Felix was a fan of 3Racha. Of him. Hearing him talk about their music; he was an actual fanboy. Was this what a miracle was like?

 

”So,” Changbin said slowly, a smile creeping up on his face. “Does that mean I’m your bias?”

 

“Oh, God, are you serious?” Felix laughed, that bright, joyful laughter that gave the sun some heavy competition. “I mean, I guess so.”

 

”Then I suppose you’d like an autograph?” Changbin asked, pretending to straighten his tie.

 

Felix laughed again and shoved him. “Shut up,” he giggled. “You’re pretty funny, you know.”

 

At that point, Changbin would have stepped into his casket smiling. “It’s one of my many talents.”

 

”Okay, now you’re just getting full of yourself.”

 

”I’ll try not to let it go to my head.”

 

Felix rolled his eyes, but he was still smiling. “What’s the name of your dance group?” Changbin asked.

 

”DanceRacha.”

 

Changbin guffawed. “Are you kidding?”

 

”I suggested it, and they thought it was a good idea,” Felix blushed. “Have you ever heard of us?”

 

”No,” Changbin admitted. “Sorry.”

 

”No hard feelings. Like I said, I’ve only been here a for a month.”

 

”Well, uh, from what I saw yesterday,” Changbin said, remembering how he’d hidden and watched him. “You were pretty good.”

 

Pretty good? That was a definite understatement. He was incredible, unreal, something out of a fairy tale, so graceful and precise. Changbin had barely been able to take his eyes away.

 

Felix half - smiled. “Just pretty good?”

 

Changbin chuckled. “No, not just good. You were... amazing, all concentration and control.”

 

”That’s how it looks like when I dance?” Felix asked. There was hurt in his voice. “Concentrated? Controlled?”

 

Couldn’t he just say one thing right? “No! What I mean is, well, that’s the point. You’re in control, but it’s like you’re not. Natural, that’s what I meant. I’ve never seen anyone move like you.”



Hopefully, his face didn’t show what he was really thinking of: the moment just before Felix spotted him, when he’d swiveled his hips in one smooth, enticing movement. His eyes had gone half - shut, but they glittered under the evening sun. Maybe if Changbin hadn’t been so busy ogling, he wouldn’t have been caught. But how could he tear his eyes away when Felix was dancing like that?

 

Right now, with the way Felix was looking at him, it seemed like he really could tell what Changbin was thinking of. But he didn’t seem weirded out. He seemed intrigued. Interested. Was it something he said? I’ve never seen anyone move like you. Maybe that was a little much. But maybe, just maybe, it was right.

 

As much as it pained him, Changbin was the one who looked away. They had walked all the way to the third courtyard, where beyond the sight of the empty building, trees and benches were scattered, and in the center was a wishing well that a few students went to for good luck before a test. Changbin remembered a guy asking out a girl in front of the well, and she’d grinned and kissed him on the cheek.

 

Back then, he’d scoffed, finding it ridiculous that one would focus so intently on a high school romance, but now he felt like he could relate. Though Felix was way more attractive than both the guy and the girl by leaps and bounds.

 

”Would you look at this?” Changbin said, gazing out at the scenery. “I swear, this entire school’s built for the setting of a drama.”

 

“That was exactly what I thought when I walked in on my first day.” Felix chuckled. “What do you think the plot would be?”

 

”Obviously a high school romance,” Changbin replied, surveying the courtyard with new interest. “The joker guy and the hardworking girl who doesn’t need him somehow fall in love, but they don’t fess up until their friends push them together and then flash forward ten years later - “

 

”Sounds kinda familiar, doesn’t it?” Felix said nonchalantly. “I mean, the two people being pushed together, until something finally happens.”

 

Was he really hinting at the two of them? Was he flirting? No, not with Changbin. That was just wishful thinking. Or was it?

 

”I guess,” Changbin acknowledged. “But as I was saying, flash forward ten years later, and the guy ends up being a total jerk, and the series ends with the girl throwing him out of the house.”

 

Felix snorted with laughter, which Changbin found weirdly endearing. “Well, you can’t blame the friends for trying.”

 

”What do you mean?”

 

”Well, they were the ones who pushed them together in the first place,” Felix said. “Even though they didn’t know how it would end, they knew it was their friends wanted, even if they didn’t say it out loud.”

 

A gust of wind blew gently past, ruffling their hair and blazers. Changbin stared up at the boy in front of him. “You’re right,” he said. “They didn’t even have to say it; their actions did. They knew how badly they wanted to know each other, but how they couldn’t get the words out, and so they took two people from different worlds and gave them the push they needed - “

 

” - instead of keeping them apart,” Felix finished. In the sunlight, his honey colored eyes flashed like twin suns. “In the end, it was the best thing they could’ve done.”

 

Maybe, if Changbin had been just a little braver, if he had been just a little closer, and maybe a little taller, he would’ve kissed Felix right then and there. Not even caring how he’d react, not even caring that he still didn’t know so much about him. But just making a move without thinking.

 

”Can you guys kiss already?” A voice yelled. “This is getting boring!”

 

Changbin and Felix sprang apart. Behind them, their friends were there, walking towards them. The black haired boy - Hyunjin - was looking at Jisung like a condescending teacher. “You have to be patient with this kind of thing. It takes a lot of buildup to get a couple together.”

 

”Hyunjin!” Felix hissed, his face burning crimson.

 

”How long have you been there?” Changbin asked.

 

”Long enough,” the brown haired one - Minho - replied. ”I didn’t throw you two into the fourth courtyard for more sexual tension.”

 

”Shut up!” Changbin and Felix yelled in unison.

 

”That’s one of the signs,” Hyunjin murmured to Jisung. “They’re meant to be.”

 

”Hope you enjoyed your moonlit stroll,” Chan called. “It’s time to cut this date short.”

 

”It’s not even night - “

 

”Say your farewells!”

 

Changbin rolled his eyes at Chan before turning back to Felix. “Well, I guess this is goodbye - “

 

”’I guess this is goodbye?’” Chan repeated. “Come on, Binnie! I know you can do better than that!”

 

Ready to snap, Changbin took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” Felix whispered.

 

”Don’t be,” Changbin whispered back. “They’ve done worse.”

 

”Hurry up!” Minho singsonged. “I’m not getting any younger over here.”

 

”That’s because you’re secretly a witch who feeds on the blood of your enemies,” Felix grumbled, and Changbin snorted to hold back his laughter. He held out a hand to him. “See you tomorrow?”

 

Changbin shook. “Sure.” And despite the fact that he had been close enough to feel his breath before, this felt more intimate than anything they had ever done.

 

As they parted and walked towards their respective friend groups, Changbin opened his hand and unrolled the bit of paper Felix had slipped into his palm. Jisung peered curiously at the slip. “What’s that?”

 

”I don’t know.” Changbin walked into the sunlight for better view. He froze. “Oh my God.”

 

“Let me see,” Chan looked over his shoulder. His eyes widened. “Holy shit, is that his number?”

 

Changbin slowly nodded. “I think so.”

 

”No way. You got digits on the first try?” Jisung said disbelievingly. “Either you’ve got mad game, or that guy is way into you.”

 

”Binnie, do you know what this means?” Chan whispered excitedly, shaking his shoulders. “You did it!”

 

”I did it,” Changbin barely felt the words leave his mouth. He did it. He actually got his shit together long enough to score a phone number from Lee Felix, Freckled Australian Dancer Extraordinaire. “I did it!”

 

Chan and Jisung whooped as Changbin tucked the paper in his pocket. Looking around, he saw a flash of purple hair disappear out of view. He felt like he was bubbling over the edge.

 

I can’t believe it, Changbin thought. I’m actually happy to go to class tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Felix p.o.v

 

”I can’t believe I did that,” Felix breathed, slouching back in his chair.

 

”Did what?” Hyunjin asked over the phone. “Gave him your number, or actually did more than stare at him from afar for once?”

 

”All of it! I mean, I always imagined it, but I never thought it would actually happen and go well.”

 

”And yet you still haven’t thanked us,” Minho chided.

 

Felix rolled his eyes. Classic Minho. “Fine. Thank you. Happy?”

 

”Yes,” Minho replied, and Felix could just hear the smug smile on his face.

 

”So, you said it went well with Changbin,” Hyunjin pressed. “What’s he like?”

 

Felix grinned. “Well, he’s really cute.” He snickered at the exaggerated gagging noises his friends made. “A little awkward at first, but funny and sweet and nice to talk to, once we knew a little more about each other.”

 

”I think I’ve officially thrown up in my own mouth,” Minho declared.

 

”Quiet, Minho,” Hyunjin shushed him. “Alright, so he’s not a complete douche. But why did you hand him your number on the first meet? It makes you look kinda desperate.”

 

”It does not!” Felix retorted. “It just says that I want to get to know him more.”

 

”Now that’s just adorable - “

 

”Shut up. It was you and Minho who told me to write it down before you took me to the courtyard.”

 

”And it was you who listened. Why else would we tell you to write down your phone number?”

 

Felix opened his mouth to reply, but found that he didn’t have an answer.

 

”Exactly.”

 

”I handed him my number while I shook his hand,” Felix recalled. A sinking feeling of dread washed over him. “So without any context it looked like I’d prewritten it just to give it to him.”

 

Oh. 

 

Fuck.

 

Felix put his phone down on his desk, running his fingers through his hair. “I’m such an idiot.”

 

”At least you’ve got one thing straight,” Minho muttered.

 

”Shut up,” Felix grumbled, his head in his hands.

 

”Hey, don’t worry about it, alright?” Minho’s tone switched from teasing to comforting. “You didn’t screw up completely. I mean, he obviously already likes you. He’ll think it’s endearing. He’ll probably call sometime soon.”

 

”With my luck, who knows,” Felix said back, but Minho’s words had succeeded in making him feel better. “Thanks, Minho.”

 

”Anytime. You’re the one who called, anyway. I just assumed you wanted someone to talk to about your romantic getaway with the guy of your dreams.”

 

”He’s not the guy of my dreams, Minho,” Felix chided him. “He’s just...” Adorable. Kind. Shy. Funny. Weird. Everything Felix dreamed he’d be. “I don’t know. I’ll talk about it later, alright? I still have to work on this dumb project.”

 

”Well, if you need us, we’ll be here. Don’t stay up too late.”

 

”Night, Felix!” Hyunjin called from somewhere far away.

 

Felix smiled. “Bye guys.” He was still smiling when he hung up. 

Currently, Felix was in the apartment his parents had been renting for him over the past month. All JYP students lived in dorms that were considerably close to the school - he suspicioned the more money you had, the better your dorm was. It was rather small, big enough for only a kitchen, a bathroom, and his bedroom, where his workspace consisted of a little desk and chair in the corner the room. Not that he was complaining. The place had a bit of a mildewy smell, and there was no AC, but rent was cheap, so here he was.

 

Right now though, he was sitting at that desk, uniform blazer draped over his chair, still unsure about the stupid report he’d gotten stuck with. Thankfully it was done on a laptop, but that was the only upside to the fact that he had no idea what to do. On transferring to the school in the middle of the semester, Felix had expected to get extra time on the assignment, but no. Even if he was new, he wasn’t going to get any 'special treatment.'

 

And it didn’t help that the day it was due, he’d had that fateful run - in with Changbin at the staircase, which left Felix virtually unable to form a logical thought for the rest of the day.

 

Sighing, he looked out the window. Living just three floors away from the rooftop, it gave Felix a good view of the city. Multicolored lights from buildings dotted the scenery like stars in the night sky, and he could see cars speeding around, and even people.

 

But even with all that life, all Felix could think about was that somewhere in this metropolis, beyond the lights and action, was Changbin.

 

He sounded like a besotted moron. God, he felt like it too, but he couldn’t help it. Felix still felt like melting every time his face came up in his mind, but now there was something different. Now, he knew who he was thinking of, not just some dream prince in a fairy tale. Now, this source of fascination and wonder had a name. And Felix still couldn’t think of anything else.

 

When he’d heard his name for the first time, he had sounded it out in his mind before saying it, matching it up with the heroic boy who had saved him from certain brain damage. Changbin. Little by little, he learned more about him; he had been going to JYP three years and three months longer than Felix. He came from a wealthy family. He had an older sister. He liked dark things. And there was still so much more to learn.

 

But just from that little meeting, Felix was able to find things that he hadn’t been told. Like how he flustered easily, or how he stammered when he got nervous. It was those little things that could tell you more about a person than what they were willing to tell you themselves.

 

And that was how Felix concluded that his life had been saved by a cute, shy, slightly eccentric dork of a boy by the name of Seo Changbin. And that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

In front of him, his laptop screen went black, jarring him from his daze. Felix cursed and turned the device back on, unable to focus on the assignment in front of him. What was even the point of begging the teacher for extra time? He shouldn’t even have to do this in the first place. All he got was another week, and a fat load of good that did, considering he hadn’t been able to think straight for more than half the time. 


I give up,
Felix lamented, shutting the computer and hitting his head on the desk. “Stupid. Worthless. Brain.” It would be a good long while before his mind worked properly again. If it ever had in the first place.

 

And then the phone rang on his desk, and Felix nearly fell out of his chair.

 

The caller was unidentified under a number. Who the hell could be calling at this time of night? It wasn’t his parents or sisters, nor any of his friends in Australia. And Hyunjin and Minho never dared to call this late.

 

Suddenly, Minho’s words came back to him: He’ll probably call sometime soon.

 

Could it really be Changbin? Had Felix actually succeeded in coming across as a decent person without making a fool out of himself? Had slipping him his number not been a huge mistake?

 

Think rationally for a second, dimwit, the logical part of him snapped. This could be anybody. Some random person, or maybe a serial killer who would use this phone call to find his location, or even a telemarketer who wanted to dole out some anti - depressants.

 

But it could be him, the soft, love - foolish part of him said, the part of him that seemed to be getting bigger every day. Minho could be right. He could be on the other line, holding the phone against his ear, just waiting for Felix to pick up.

 

Hesitantly, Felix picked up the phone. If I die tonight, he told both parts of his brain, I’m blaming you. Before he could overthink it, he answered the call and brought the device to his ear. "Hello?"

 

The silence felt like an eternity, settling over the room and suffocating him. Felix felt his hopes deflating. Maybe he’d been butt - dialed. Maybe it had been a mistake after all.

 

Then, quietly, softly, on the other end of the line:

 

”Felix?”

 

Changbin p.o.v

 

”Changbin?” Felix’s voice said, lilted up in question. “Why’d you call?”

 

There was a million things Changbin wanted to say. Why did you pick up? Do you actually like me? What are you doing right now? Why does your voice always sound like you just woke up?

 

Instead, he came out with: “Just wanted to see how you were doing.” Was picking the absolute worst conversation starter piece the one thing he was good at?

 

”Oh. Well, uh, thanks.”

 

Changbin suddenly felt his body heating up despite the cool air in the room. He fidgeted in his black tank top and grey sweats, thankful that Felix couldn’t see him now.

 

Come on, idiot, make sure he doesn’t hang up right now. “What’re you doing up so late?”

 

A scoff. “Working on the report from Mr. Yeon. What about you?”

 

What Changbin didn’t want to tell him was that from the moment he got home, he’d been pacing around in his room, wondering when he should call Felix, rehearsing what he could say, until Jisung had thrown open the door and yelled at him to stop.

 

”Chan and I can hear you from the living room,” Jisung had complained as he left. “Just call him already!”

 

Obviously, he couldn’t tell him that. 

 

“Nothing much. Homework, working on new music,” Changbin lied. “You’re still working on that report? Didn’t he assign that at the beginning of first trimester?”

 

”You’re forgetting I wasn’t here until a month ago.”

 

Stupid. “Right. Sorry.”

 

”It’s alright.”

 

Changbin settled precariously on the edge of his bed. “But you do know that it was due two days ago, right? Did you ask for extra time?”

 

”This is the extra time, dummy, for what good it’s been worth. I haven’t been able to come up with jack anything.”

 

”How come?”

 

”W - Well,” Felix stuttered uncharacteristically. “The day it was due, that was the day when we... y’know.”

 

Like he could forget. “Oh.”

 

”Yeah.”

 

”Okay.” 


Another silence. If Changbin listened, he could hear Felix breathing. And that wasn’t creepy at all.

 

Finally, a ragged sigh from the other line. “I hate him.”

 

”Hate who?”

 

”Mr. Yeon, who do you think? I mean, it’s so unfair! You guys got a whole semester to deal with it, and all I got were three bloody weeks! Because that’s balanced.”

 

Changbin shrugged. “Well, you’re not alone there. Everyone hates him.”

 

”Really?”

 

”Really. The only reason he’s still there is because he’s got four more years left until retirement and the headmaster doesn’t want to kick him out. But he’s pretty well known for being strict. One time he held back an entire class for twenty minutes.”

 

”Shouldn’t that be illegal?”

 

“He used to hit kids with a split bamboo branch. Nowadays he leaves that to Mrs. Kwon.”

 

Pause. “Huh.”

 

”Yeah. It’s not the worst Mr. Yeon’s done. Just an example.”

 

”Hasn’t anyone ever said anything? Done anything to go against him?”

 

”Oh, God, dozens of times. Some kids told their parents, but he always found a way to turn the argument on them and get out scot - free. Now kids are scared to tell.” Changbin stopped short, remembering the incident, snickering. “Well, there was that one time.”

 

”What one time? What happened? Tell me, tell me!”

 

“Okay, okay.” Changbin grinned at his eagerness. “About two years back, Yugyeom and Bambam tried to get back at him for flunking their exams.”

 

”No shit?”

 

”Yep. Bambam was going to dump a jar of red bean paste on him, and Yugyeom was going to film it.”

 

”Damn. And did it happen?”

 

”Not completely. Only a little less than half the stuff got on him, and Yugyeom got caught. With solid evidence, they were suspended for five weeks. But they’re legends in JYP history for standing up to him. They’re in a group called Got7.”

 

Felix laughed. “And here I thought it was above you prep kids to do stuff like that.”

 

Changbin scoffed. “Clearly, you haven’t met Jisung. You make all of us sound so holier - than - thou just because we wear uniforms and go to a place that costs a crap ton of money.”

 

”Well, then what about you? Or is SpearB the only good seed among his troublemaking friends?”

 

“I’ll have you know that I personally spray painted Matroshyka on Mrs. Kwon’s car and didn’t get caught.”

 

”So you’re such a bad boy now?”

 

He could just see Felix’s mischievous smile. Changbin bit his lip to keep his own from growing. “Shut up. For all I know, you’ve never even dine and dashed before.”

 

”And you have?”

 

”More than once.”

 

”Just what do you want me to tell you, Changbin?”

 

Changbin grinned. “Everything.”

 

And so he talked. Changbin discovered that Felix had in fact dine and dashed with his friends in Australia not once but twice, and Felix himself had egged a teacher’s car because she told him that his dance techniques were 'tacky.' Changbin had smiled at that; the motive was understandable, and Chan and Jisung would definitely approve. Right now, Felix was entertaining him with a story of one of his last days in Australia.

 

”So I’m in my living room, watching - are you still listening?”

 

”Yeah, I’m listening. You haven’t gotten to the good part yet.”

 

“Rude. Okay, anyways, I’m in my living room, watching the movie, and I’m getting really freaked out, but I’m just waiting for Sandra Bullock to show up and say sike so I can calm the hell down.”

 

”How the hell do you confuse 28 Days with 28 Days Later?”

 

”It’s an understandable mistake! Wait, you’ve seen both of them?”

 

”Of course I have. Chan forced me and Jisung to watch them. Said it was good for us to be culturally educated. Have to admit, I didn’t hate it.”

 

”I’m impressed. But 28 Days Later didn’t scare you at all?”

 

”My soul is as black as the shadows. Darkness is my home. I don’t know fear.”

 

Felix snorted. “Holy shitballs, Batman, that’s deep.”

 

”Fuck yeah, it’s deep, how do you think I wrote If?” Felix laughed, and Changbin couldn’t help the feeling of triumph that coursed through him. “Aren’t you supposed to be working on that report?”

 

”What? Oh, that! Right. Forgot about that for a minute.”

 

”Don’t you think you should get back to work?”

 

”I like talking to you.” The honesty in his words caught Changbin off guard. “And I don’t want to work. I can’t focus, anyway.”

 

”I don’t know. A good friend of mine by the name of CB97 would tell you to stop procrastinating.”

 

”I wouldn’t listen anyway,” Felix replied, and Changbin automatically laughed. “This is nice, Changbin. Us talking.”

 

”Yeah. I never thought I’d be able to do it,” Changbin admitted. “Look at you without blushing, talk to you without making a fool out of myself. And now I can. It’s ... a nice change.”

 

”Does that mean we’re friends now?” Felix asked excitedly.

 

Friends. It was a far stretch away from what they had been for the last four days. But friends. Friends could talk to each other in the halls. Friends could goof off during classes. Friends could meet after school.

 

Friends could grow into something  a little more.

 

Quiet, Changbin snapped at himself. He couldn’t ruin this now. “Sure. Friends it is.”

 

”That’s so cool! Now that we’re friends, we have to come up with stupid nicknames for each other.”

 

”Okay, I did not agree to that.”

 

But Felix was on a roll. “How about Bin? Or Binnie? I’ve heard your friends call you that sometimes. Oh, wait! I got it!”

 

”What?”

 

”Binnie-Bin-Bin!”

 

I love it. “I hate it.”

 

”Aw, that’s mean. What about mine? If my nicknames are so bad, then maybe you can come up with something better?”

 

”Well, I was just thinking I’d call you Lix, since that’s what I’ve heard your friends call you. Or maybe Yongbok, if I really wanted to be original.”

 

”I suppose our regular names are fine for now,” Felix grumbled reluctantly, and Changbin laughed. “Changbin?”

 

”Yeah?”

 

”I lied.”

 

”You really are gonna start calling me Binnie-Bin-Bin?”

 

”Not about that,” Felix promised. “About your laugh, back at the courtyard. When I said you sounded like an evil witch.”

 

”Oh, right.” With all that was happening, Changbin had completely forgotten.

 

”I lied. I think it’s cute.”

 

The butterflies in his stomach were rioting. The little voice in his head was screaming What Is Love earrape. Changbin was smiling so much it hurt. He thinks I’m cute, he thought. He thinks I’m cute, he thinks I’m cute, HE THINKS I’M CUTE.

 

Somehow, he managed to play it off. “I kinda figured,” he replied casually, thanking God that Felix couldn’t see his face. “You would probably say the same thing about my aegyo.”

 

”You do aegyo?!”

 

”You’ll find I’m full of surprises, Lee Felix.”

 

”Curiouser and curiouser, Seo Changbin.”

 

Suddenly, time seemed to reappear in his mind. “How long have we been talking?”

 

Felix paused. “It’s eleven thirty right now. I think we started around nine.”

 

Almost three hours. Changbin couldn’t remember the last time he’d been up that long talking with someone else. “And to think you were supposed to be working on a late report for Mr. Yeon.”

 

”I guess you were my distraction.”

 

”Then I hope I did my job well,” Changbin replied. “How many days do you have left to finish it?”

 

“Up until next Monday,” Felix’s voice had noticeably deflated. “But I’ll be fine. It was worth it.”

 

Talking to you. “Go get some sleep, Lix,” Changbin chuckled. “Goodnight.”

 

”Night, Binnie,” Felix replied. And the line went dead.

 

The silence seemed foreign. Changbin brought the phone away from his ear, seeing his own face in the black mirror of the screen. 

 

He called me Binnie, he realized. “Lix,” he murmured, testing the nickname on no one at all, then found he was smiling. Bubbling laughter escaped his lips as he flopped down on his bed, staring into the phone as if he could see the boy's face. 


Changbin thought of Felix calling him Binnie again. That alone was worth going out for.

 

He closed his eyes, already knowing what he would dream of; a montage of candy purple hair, honey brown eyes, and a constellation of freckles over a bright smile, with a cheerful Australian baritone calling his name.

 

Well, maybe not that exactly, but for once, Changbin felt like it wasn’t wrong to hope.

Chapter Text

Chan p.o.v

 

”I can’t believe this,” Chan said, shaking his head. “One meetup and exactly one phone call, and now you’re walking on sunshine?”

 

”Please never say that again,” Changbin replied, the smile not leaving his face. “I really thought I was going to kill you guys yesterday. But that...” he trailed, his mind going back to a memory. “Was so worth it.”

 

”And I thought the days before you met him were worse,” Jisung muttered.

 

Chan and Jisung had left Changbin’s apartment before he had called Felix, and hadn’t heard anything about it, but judging from the fact that Changbin had walked on campus practically glowing, it had gone well.

 

Right now, they were halfway through the day, and were pestering Changbin for details on Felix, a.k.a, the newest addition to Chan’s many sons, if he had any say in the matter.

 

”Come on, tell us!” Jisung was whining. “You haven’t said anything since yesterday.”

 

”You can’t expect us to be satisfied with such little information,” Chan added. “Details, details!”

 

”Alright, fine,” Changbin relented, but he didn’t seem unwilling. “Apart from being the most adorable guy on the planet," he paused as Chan and Jisung expressed their disgust. “He’s really funny, and kind, and honestly, maybe an angel.”

 

”I’ve never heard you gush over anyone like this,” Chan noted, grinning. “You really think he’s an angel?”

 

”Well, think he sounds like a drag,” Jisung declared. “You make him sound like some pure little saint who hasn’t even written on a wall with a Sharpie. I’m not gonna believe you fell for someone who’s that green.”

 

”He’s not that innocent,” Changbin replied defensively. “He’s dine and dashed before with his friends back at Australia, and, Jisung, you’ll love this, he egged a teacher’s car because she insulted his dancing skills.”

 

”That’s better."

 

”But he really likes video games, hates horror movies, and watches anime without subtitles,” Changbin stopped, looking down at his shoes with a bashful expression that Chan would have sooner seen in a movie. “I mean, he’s perfect.”

 

”And there it is." Chan threw an arm around Changbin’s shoulders. “I’m really happy for you, Changbin.”

 

Jisung rolled his eyes. “Chan, you sang along to “My Heart Will Go On” while watching Titanic. Of course you say that.”

 

”There was room on that raft. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again.”

 

”Wait, Changbin, you said he dances?” Jisung asked.

 

”Yeah. Him and those guys Minho and Hyunjin. They formed a group called DanceRacha. Why do you ask?”

 

”No reason,” Jisung replied, obviously trying to appear nonchalant. Chan was sure he was thinking about that Minho kid, but he would ask later. “Didn’t know you had a thing for dancers, Bin.”

 

“I don’t, not usually,” Changbin admitted. “But, God, he has the body for it.”

 

Jisung guffawed loudly. Chan took his arm away from around Changbin’s shoulders. “I did not raise you to think like that!”

 

”You didn’t even raise me!”

 

Jisung slapped Changbin’s shoulder, looking proud. “Just listen to you! A week’s worth of staring and less than twenty four hours of talking with the guy, and now you’re simping all over him!”

 

”I am not - “

 

”Simp.”

 

”I didn’t - “

 

”Simp.”

 

”Will you - “

 

”Simp ~”

 

”It’s not like that!" Changbin slugged his arm. “You’ve never even seen him dance. It’s amazing, it’s unreal.”

 

”Simp,” Jisung coughed.

 

But Changbin didn’t seem to hear him. “I mean, I've only ever seen it once, but still. It’s like he goes into his own world or something, the way I do when I rap." He paused to smile, for the millionth fucking time. “It’s weird. The more I find out about him, the more I want to know.”

 

Jisung edged away from him and leaned towards Chan. “When we said our 3Racha concept was dark, we didn’t think about what would happen when we actually met someone, did we? It’s the opposite of dark.”

 

Chan smiled, watching his lovestruck friend. “Love is in the air, Jisung. What better than to let it bloom?”

 

”Changbin!” A voice called. The boys turned, and Chan saw Changbin’s entire face light up as Felix jogged towards him, Hyunjin and Minho trailing behind. 


“Lix!” Changbin exclaimed as Felix stopped in front of him. “What are you doing here?”

 

”He has a nickname for him,” Jisung whispered.

 

”I wanted to see you,” Felix replied breathlessly. “Is that alright?”

 

”Yeah, of course - “

 

”Good Lord, you’re both sad little puppies,” Minho cut in, making Felix jump.

 

”Minho!” He hissed. “What’re you doing here?”

 

”We both thought you needed some backup, and we were right,” Hyunjin replied, and Felix blushed. “Besides, if this how things are going to be, then we might as well get to know each other.”

 

”I couldn’t agree more,” Jisung said, sauntering forward, a brilliant smile on his face. “Minho. Long time no see.”

 

Chan and Hyunjin shared a glance and rolled their eyes simultaneously. Not this shit again. It had only been a day.

 

Changbin glanced between them. “You two know each other?”

 

Jisung shrugged. “Not as well as you and Felix know each other, I’ll admit. But it was Minho and I who came up with the plan to toss you guys into the fourth courtyard,” he said, giving a meaningful glance to the said boy. “Since we’re all gonna get a little closer than before, no time like the present to get started.”

 

Minho made a show of looking away, rolling his eyes up to the ceiling, his lips playing at a smile. “I guess that’d be alright.”

 

Changbin and Felix glanced at each other with matching looks that seemed to say: what have we done? “Well,” Changbin began. “I guess this is a nice way to begin.”

 

”Then it’s settled,” Hyunjin declared. “We’ll see you guys at lunch. Felix, we’ll meet you at Mr. Yeon’s room when you’ve curried the favor of your boyfriend’s family. See you!”

 

”He’s not my boyfriend!” Felix shouted after them. But his friends already had their backs to him and were walking away. Upon facing Chan and Jisung again, he looked like a deer in headlights. “Um... hi.”

 

”Guys, you both know Felix,” Changbin started cautiously. “I’ve told you about him.”

 

”Of course we know him!” Jisung said, walking up to Felix. “I’m Jisung, or J.One, in case you didn’t know that. Changbin’s told us a lot about you. I feel like I know you already!”

 

Felix raised a wary brow. “What did he tell you?”

 

Changbin shot Jisung a warning glare. “Jisung - “

 

”Well, from what we know, you’re a fellow gamer and weeb, a sensational dancer,” Jisung passed a wink to Changbin, “and apparently you have freckles in the pattern of the Virgo constellation on your right cheekbone.”

 

Felix glanced at Changbin in surprise, and Chan noticed his ears turning red. “Really?”

 

”Really. It’s my star sign, which is lit, so - “

 

”Wait. You’re a Virgo too?”

 

Jisung grinned. “Same Zodiac, bro.” He held up his hand for a high five, and Felix obliged.

 

Changbin looked up at Chan for help. He could only shrug. At least they were getting along.

 

”Apart from that, he did say you were pretty cute,” Jisung continued, and Felix blushed pinker. “And I can admit that he wasn’t wrong on that part.“

 

Changbin shoved Jisung away. “You are not the judge of that!“

 

”And you are?” Felix asked, smirking down at him.

 

Chan and Jisung burst out laughing at their friend’s shocked expression. “I like this one!” Jisung snickered. “He’s got spine!”

 

”I’ve got plenty of spine,” Felix shot back. “But only when it’s necessary.”

 

”Binnie did tell us you weren’t a pushover.” Chan approached him. “I’m Chan, or CB97, 3Racha’s adolescent surrogate dad.”

 

”No, you’re not!” Changbin and Jisung yelled.



Chan ignored them. “As the only other known Australian at this school - wait, you are an Aussie, right?”

 

”Yes?”

 

”Say something in English.”

 

Felix thought for a moment. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”


My brethren have risen. Unable to contain his excitement, Chan tackled Felix into a hug. “Then congratulations! You are now officially my child!”

 

”Cool...”

 

”Alright, break it up,” Changbin cut in, pushing them apart. “So, Lix, what do you think?”

 

Felix looked a little winded from the last few moments with Chan and Jisung, but he managed to reply. “I think I’m going to like this arrangement.”

 

“Awesome!” Jisung cheered. He turned to Changbin. “Good job on your catch. Literally. Now all you have to do is get in with Felix’s friends.”

 

“They’ll seem a little intimidating at first,” Felix warned. “but if you answer honestly they might give you a chance.”

 

Changbin shrugged. “I've been dealing with Chan and Jisung since before I got here. I think I’ll be okay.”

 

”Was that an insult, Binnie?” Jisung challenged.

 

“Just stating the facts.”

 

”Behave yourselves, kids,” Chan broke in, before his sons could start arguing. “Where you headed, Felix? We can walk you down.”

 

Felix scoffed. “To Mr. Yeon’s class? Sure. I could use the backup.”

 

“For what?”

 

Felix explained his dilemma as they walked. ”I was on my way there with Hyunjin and Minho, but then I saw you guys, and thought it’d be a good quick distraction.”

 

Jisung furrowed his brows. “Wasn’t that assigned at the beginning of the first trimester?”

 

”He’s only been here for a month,” Changbin said defensively. “Cut him some slack.”

 

”I’ve barely got anything down, and I have until next Monday to turn it in,” Felix grumbled. “I was doomed from the start.”

 

A lightbulb switched on in Chan’s mind. “I think I know how to help with that.”

 

Felix glanced at him. “You would do that?”

 

”Of course! As my fellow Aussie bro and my future son-in-law,” Chan wiggled his eyebrows and nudged Changbin with his elbow, who slugged him in the arm. “You pretty much get an automatic offer for my guardianship.”

 

”Wow, Chan... thanks.”

 

”Ah, don’t mention it. Gotta warn you about Binnie, though - he’s a complainer, but he’s worth it!”

 

As expected, Changbin lunged for him, but Jisung and Felix pulled him back, laughing. Jisung pretended to berate him on his temper, how he couldn’t act like that with a 'special guy' in the picture. That of course lead to both Changbin and Felix turning sunset shades of pink and denying it, they’d only just really met, there was nothing romantic between them! How absurd to mention.

 

Keep ranting, Chan thought. We all know what’s going on.

 

It wasn’t going to take too long for things to escalate. With the way they met, they hadn’t really had the chance to become friends, but they’d already breezed through that process in a day. Now, there was just waiting - Chan was betting a few weeks at most. But it would definitely happen. Still, no one could be trusted based on looks alone, not even someone as cute as Felix. He was still new to Korea - maybe he was as green as he appeared to be.

 

But he was also from Australia, the place where the drinking age was eighteen and up.

 

Wait- Chan snapped back to reality just in time to hear Felix quote 21 Chump Street. Never mind. This kid could be trusted.


Still. Better safe than sorry.

 

Besides. Changbin hadn’t looked at a person like that since last year when Jisung surprised him with a deep dish pizza on his birthday. It was time to make the in Chan, Christopher, and CB97 stand for Cupid.

 

They had stopped in front of a locker, where two male students were talking. One was foxfaced and cheerful, constantly sweeping strands of black hair out of his eyes. The other had his back to them, his hair was a fluffy light brown, with a bookbag peppered with Day6 memorabilia slung over his shoulder.

 

Predictably, Jeongin noticed them first. He beamed brightly and waved. “Hi, guys!”

 

Chan smiled at him. “Hey, Jeongin. And good day to you, too, Seungmin.”

 

Seungmin had turned around, his mouth formed into a hard line. It would’ve been more threatening if his face weren't the human copy of a puppy's. “Hello, Chan. Tweedle - Dee, Tweedle - Dumbass. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

 

”Who’s Tweedle - Dumbass?” Felix whispered to Changbin.

 

”Jisung. Sometimes it’s Chad or squirrel. Or sometimes it’s me, depending on his mood," Changbin answered.

 

”Seungmin, I’d like you to meet our new friend, Felix,” Chan said, pulling Felix over. “Lix, I’d like you to meet Kim Seungmin, JYP’s resident big - brained MyDay.”

 

Felix gave a little wave. “Hi.”

 

Seungmin responded with a nod and a curt smile. “So this is why you’re here? Another call for help because your braincells can’t do it themselves?”

 

”Exactly right!” Chan grinned. “See, our friend Felix here needs help with that pesky project Mr. Yeon assigned - “

 

”Wasn’t that assigned at the beginning of the first trimester?”

 

”Beyond the point. Look, he needs help, Min. And I know that you give it to him.”

 

Seungmin crossed his arms. “And you came here naturally assuming that I would?”

 

Chan hadn't expected that. “Um... yeah?”

 

”And that is my point exactly,” Seungmin sighed. “You say we’re friends, but you only go to me whenever you need something. What have you ever given me in return?”

 

“My affection and friendship?”

 

”Friendship isn’t a one - way street where one takes advantage of the younger, smarter latter in his time of need. You’ve never given me anything for my services!”

 

”You’ve never even asked! Come on, Jeongin, back me up!”

 

Jeongin shrugged. “He kind of has a point, hyung.”

 

”Dude! You’re supposed to be on my side for this!”

 

”But so does Chan. Sure, we might not know who this guy is,” Jeongin gestured to Felix. “But we’ve known Chan, Binnie, and Jisung for years! You can’t just decide not to help them.”

 

”Yes I can.”

 

”Since when do you act like such a baby? You’ve never cared about getting anything in return before.”

 

”Well, now I do.”

 

”They’re our friends, Seungmin. I know that means something to you! Won’t you do it? Please?”



Seungmin held his stare coldly, but Chan could see that it wouldn’t last long. Nobody could say no to Jeongin, not when he begged. Finally, Seungmin sighed. “After school, Yeon’s classroom. I’ll expect payment.”

 

”You won’t regret it, Seungmin!” Chan lunged forward and hugged the younger boy before he could escape. Seungmin shoved him away after a second, pouting. “See you, Minnie!”

 

Seungmin rolled his eyes and headed off down the hall. Jeongin gleefully waved goodbye before following suit.

 

Felix watched them leave, looking anxious. “You really think he’ll come?”

 

”Don’t worry, he always does,” Jisung assured him. “Seungmin never holds a grudge for long.”

 

”That’s good to know.” Felix turned to Chan. “Thanks for helping me out. You really didn’t have to.”

 

”I know that,” Chan replied. "I just figured, if we’re going to be spending more time together, then we should try to get off to a good start.”

 

Felix grinned. What a little ray of sunshine. “I agree.”

 

Changbin cleared his throat, sidestepping towards Felix. “So, about that offer to walk you to class...”

 

”Oh, right! Sure thing.” And off they went, to a classroom that was hardly twenty feet away.

 

”’Sure thing?’” Jisung repeated hysterically. “I don’t think my mom’s even said that.”

 

”And the walk to class was my offer!” Chan added.

 

“I know. So does he.”

 

They watched from afar as their friends walked away from them, farther into their own little worlds. Changbin must’ve said something to make Felix laugh, because the Aussie boy actually giggled and shoved him playfully. Even after he disappeared inside the classroom, Changbin lingered, and it wouldn’t take a genius to know he was smiling.

 

Chan and Jisung glanced at each other, then back to their infatuated friend. “Simp.”

 

Hyunjin p.o.v

 

When Felix told Hyunjin and Minho about his deal with this Seungmin kid, they both decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to find out if Changbin really was the perfect dorky dreamboat Felix thought he was.

 

And for Felix to finally get that blasted project done and over with. Hyunjin was, in fact, a friend with values. 

 

The very minute Changbin entered the classroom, Hyunjin and Minho had him cornered. Which was how he was currently grilling the shit out of a surprisingly muscular blonde haired boy who had to look up at him.

 

”Where was your hand when you caught Felix on the staircase?” Minho demanded.

 

”On his back,” Changbin answered. “You guys were literally there.”

 

”How did you find our practice?” Hyunjin challenged. “Did you stalk him?”

 

”Of course not! I’d lost my way, and I saw him, and I... I went to see what he was doing.”

 

Minho crossed his arms. “So you’re not going to confess to the fact that you think our friend is a slice of heaven on earth?”

 

”What?”

 

”You’re not fooling anyone, Changbin. I’ve seen the way you look at him, and judging from your expression to watching him dance, I can give a pretty educated guess on what you were thinking.”

 

”It’s not like that! Why are you guys making such a big deal out of this? I just bumped into him - “

 

”You’re calling that a bump?” Hyunjin cut him off. “That was a holy collision, little man. I’ve watched enough dramas to see that. If you’ve got any future with our Felix, then you’ve gotta prove you’re worthy.”

 

”Then I’ll try.” Changbin glanced behind Hyunjin to where Felix and Chan sat next to each other in desks, laughing. “For him, I’ll try.”

 

Hyunjin and Minho exchanged the same thoughtful look. Over the course of their friendship, they had learned to read each other’s thoughts, and, like always, they agreed. “Good answer,” Minho said. “Now go, lover boy.”

 

They stepped aside, and Changbin eagerly walked out from where he’d been literally cornered in a corner. He nudged Chan, who left the seat next to Felix with his hands up in surrender. Once the elder was out of their ring of space, Felix immediately asked a question that involved both Hyunjin and Minho’s names. It wasn’t clear what Changbin said in response, but whatever Felix whispered in his ear made the boy burst into a fit of nasally laughter.

 

Hyunjin shook his head. “I still don’t see how he can find that laugh cute.”

 

”Love makes you blind,” Minho replied. “And deaf, in their case.”

 

Hyunjin looked at the pair again and very nearly vomited. “God, do you see those mushy eyes? Why can’t they just set a date and get it over with?”

 

”I thought you said this stuff takes time.”

 

”It’s easier to watch this stuff happen on a screen than in real life. It’s very rare to find a school drama these days. Now that it’s right in front of my face, and I actually can push them close enough to kiss, I’m going to take my chances.”

 

”You’re a very impatient creature.“

 

”I’m also a very practical one. Just look at those sparks!”

 

They were conversing with one another, Changbin facing Felix, who gazed back at him with his chin propped up on his hand. Their free hands laid innocently on the desks, literally this close to touching. Hyunjin’s impatience had a goddamn right to exist.

 

Minho sideways glanced at him. “I hope you’re thinking what I’m thinking.”

 

”Always,” Hyunjin grinned, holding up his phone. “I already have an idea.” He beckoned for Minho to follow.

 

They crouched behind the unsuspecting couple, and Hyunjin peeked up over a desk to see if they had noticed. They hadn’t. Of course. He continued ahead, pulling up the song on Spotify. Meeting Minho’s eyes from across the way, he counted. One, two, three -

 

”I’ll give you the nervous feelings that I’ve hidden...”

 

Both boys jumped apart; Changbin almost fell out of his seat. “What the hell, Hyunjin?”


On the other side of the classroom, Chan cracked up and sang along to She Is. “Yeah, yeah, yeah...”

 

”What did you expect us to do, just sit and watch?” Minho had appeared beside Felix. “If you two are going to act like a couple of sappy preschoolers, then you should at least be prepared for an interruption.”

 

Felix buried his head in his arms. “Can’t I just have one good moment?”

 

Before Hyunjin could reply, Jisung threw open the door. “Sorry we’re late. We ran into Ms. Kwon on the way.”

 

Hyunjin stood and turned around as Jisung walked in alongside a tall foxfaced kid, and the cutest boy he had ever seen in his life.

 

Hyunjin’s vision tunneled. The music faded into the background. Whatever he had been planning on saying to Felix vanished on his tongue. All he could see was rumpled chestnut hair fluttering gently into big brown eyes, set into a softly featured puppy - like face.



“Your beauty moved my coldness, I open my heart to you.”



It only took a moment. Just like that, Hyunjin was gone.

 

”Who are you?” He heard himself say, his voice laced with awe.

 

All three boys looked at him with expressions of surprise. Foxface looked to Puppyface, who pointed at Jisung. Cute and humble.

 

Unfortunately, Jisung didn’t seem to get it either. “We’ve met before, Hyunjin. While I get what you’re feeling, I thought you’d remember - “

 

”I wasn’t talking to you, squirrel,” Hyunjin cut him off. He looked back at Puppyface, stepping towards him. “I was talking to you. What’s your name?”

 

Foxface and Jisung’s mouths dropped open. Puppyface’s eyes widened, and his lips parted for a split second, but he recovered quickly. “Seungmin. Kim Seungmin.”

 

Back up. Hyunjin stopped the music on his phone and furrowed his brows. “You’re Seungmin?”

 

”Yes. Would I lie about my own name?”

 

“No, of course not. I was just expecting someone different.” Hyunjin counted on his fingers. “Short, thick-rimmed glasses, thin as a wire, maybe even a lisp.” He glanced sidelong at Seungmin and smiled. “Definitely not someone as cute as you.”

 

”Oh, come on, you too?” Chan complained. “Why is everybody falling in love around here?”

 

Predictably, Seungmin blushed, and was still fumbling for words when Foxface pushed him out of the way and intercepted Hyunjin with his hand held out. “Hi. Yang Jeongin. Nice to meet you.”

 

”Hwang Hyunjin." He shook his hand, eyes still on Seungmin. “Tell me, is there any interesting details I need to know about your fetching associate? Like, for example, is he single?”

 

”Well, he’s kind of 3Racha’s go - to guy for anything school related, and Chan got him here today to help your friend Felix with that Yeon project,” Jeongin answered as they followed Seungmin to the desk where Felix sat. “But,” his voice lowered to a whisper, “he is available.”

 

Hyunjin smiled at Jeongin. “Thanks for the info.”

 

”Don’t mention it.”

 

Seungmin took the seat to Felix’s right and grabbed his bag before he could protest, pulling out his laptop. “Alright, enough talk. Show me what you’ve got.”

 

”Okay, okay,” Felix yanked his laptop back and entered his password, gingerly setting it out in front of Seungmin, who examined the screen. “This is all I have so far. It’s not much, I know, but I was thinking - “

 

”This is awful.” Seungmin cut him off.

 

“Pardon?”

 

”You heard me. This looks like a kid dug it out of a cereal box.”

 

A few of the boys snickered, and even Changbin suppressed a snort of laughter. He speaks his mind, Hyunjin noted. A creative way of showing it, too.

 

”Come on, Minnie, be nice,” Jeongin chided. “You’re trying to help him, not bring him down.”

 

”It’s not his fault he transferred a month ago,” Minho added.

 

This seemed to flip a switch in Seungmin. “Wait,” he turned to Felix. “You’re a transfer?”

 

Felix nodded. “From Australia.”

 

”Why didn’t you say so?” Seungmin looked up at Chan. “If you told me this kid was a transfer stuck in Yeon’s class, I might’ve been more lenient in helping him.”

 

At this, Chan sputtered, opening his mouth to speak, but gave up mid - sentence and slumped back in his seat.

 

”What does Mr. Yeon have against transfer students?” Felix asked.

 

Seungmin shrugged. “No one really knows for sure. But whenever a student ends up in his class, they don’t do too well. He doesn’t give a ton of extra time, or a lot of resources. Back when Jae from Day6 still went here, they were especially notable rivals. No matter how hard he studied, he just barely passed.”

 

”That’s not fair!”

 

”Yeah. And I’m guessing you got until next Monday for your extra time?” When Felix nodded, Seungmin sighed. “I’m sorry you have to go through that. Why couldn’t you have asked sooner, Chan?”

 

The room went quiet, and all eyes drifted to Changbin and Felix.

 

”Oh,” Felix murmured.

 

“Um...” Changbin stuttered.

 

“Well - “ Chan started.

 

”The truth is we couldn’t really ask that of you,” Hyunjin intercepted, sliding into the empty seat to Seungmin’s right. “We weren’t even on speaking terms until yesterday.”

 

Seungmin furrowed his brows cutely. “What do you mean?”

 

Felix caught his eye, shaking his head furiously. Hyunjin ignored him. “Well, to put it simply, on the due date of the report, Felix took quite a tumble on the staircase. Luckily, Changbin was there to save him.“

 

Felix’s ears turned a fierce shade of red. Changbin looked away from him, rubbing his neck. Chan and Jisung grinned down at the two boys, while Minho hummed to the tune of She Is.

 

It took a bit of a while, but the news finally clicked. Jeongin gaped. “No way,” he said, looking in between Changbin and Felix. “That was you guys?!”

 

”You didn’t know?” Chan questioned.

 

”We were both in Kwon’s class at the time,” Seungmin answered. “I mean, of course I’ve heard whispers about two guys on the staircase, one with purple hair and the other with blonde, but I had no idea it was the two of you!”

 

“And now you know your latest clients are JYP’s newest sweethearts,” Minho announced, grinning.

 

”We’re not sweethearts!” Changbin blurted, his cheeks pink. “We’re not even together!”

 

”Well, that’s a surprise,” Seungmin smirked. “You know, I can’t remember the last time I saw you blush, Bin.” He glanced at Felix. “Looks like someone finally got the mighty SpearB on his knees.”

 

”Our little Binnie’s in love ~” Jeongin sang, and Chan and Jisung simultaneously broke out into a rather vibrant number of Almost Paradise while Changbin looked to be melting out of embarrassment.

 

”Who’re you calling little?” Changbin growled at Jeongin. “I’m older than you!”

 

”Yeah, but I’m taller than you!”

 

As the boys argued, Seungmin took to questioning Felix. “I’m sure it was scary, falling all the way from the top like that.”

 

”Yes, it was,” Felix replied cautiously.

 

”So it must’ve been a relief to have somebody there to catch you,” Felix blushed, and Seungmin leaned in. “It’s not like he would drop you anyway, not with arms like those.”

 

”Yeah, that’s true - wait, wait, no!” Felix protested as the boys howled with laughter, and Changbin looked at him with his eyebrows raised to the clouds. Felix buried his head in his arms. “I hate my life.”

 

Seungmin laughed at him, a smile bright on his face, a sound that was sweet and strangely musical. “Love works in the most random ways. You can almost never see it coming.”

 

”Almost.” Hyunjin murmured, and Seungmin whirled around to face him.

 

”Eeeeew!” Jisung jeered. “Are you guys flirting?” 

 

Immediately, Seungmin snapped back towards his audience. “Can it, Chad,” he spat at Jisung, and Changbin whispered something in Felix’s ear that sounded suspiciously like 'told you.'

 

Seungmin backhanded Felix’s head lightly to get him back up. He turned back to the laptop. “Well, there isn’t much that needs to get done.“

 

Felix poked up his head. “I thought you said it sucked.”

 

”Oh, believe me, it does,” Seungmin assured him, and Hyunjin snickered. “But it’s not much a little less repetition more and modern dialogue won’t fix. Here.” He rooted through his bag and brought out a whole thesaurus. “This might help.”

 

Hyunjin traced a sticker on the bookbag saying The Day6 Must Go On. “And just when I thought you couldn’t get any cuter.”

 

”Nerd,” Chan coughed, and Seungmin whacked him with the thesaurus so hard he fell off the desk he was sitting on, and this time in was Changbin’s turn to cackle.

 

Felix stared dumbfoundedly at the book. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

 

”Use it to find words, stupid.” Seungmin shoved it in his hands. “And, if you need any more help writing it, here.” He pulled a piece of scrap paper out of his pocket, scribbled on it, then handed it to Felix. “Call if you need anything.”

 

Felix took the scrap of paper, looking from it to the thesaurus. “And you really are gonna help me?”

 

”That’s kind of what I agreed to, yes.”

 

Without any warning, Felix dropped the book and the number, and, like the sunshine he was, hugged Seungmin. “Dude, you have no idea what this means right now.”

 

”Er, your welcome...?” Seungmin managed, giving Felix’s back exactly two awkward pats.

 

When Felix pulled away, Seungmin stood up and slung his bag over his shoulder. “If you want it in by Monday, you’ll have to work over the weekend.”

 

”What do you think we are?” Felix challenged. “This is a freaking prep school for the arts in Korea. You’re damn right I’m working over the weekend if it gets Yeon off my back for a while.”

 

”That’s the spirit,” Seungmin encouraged, beckoning to Jeongin. “Come on. Let’s go.”

 

”Wait, you’re going?” Hyunjin inquired.

 

Seungmin stopped. “You’re right.” He spun around on his heel Hyunjin half expected him to sit back down next to Felix, but instead he stopped in front of Chan with his hand outstretched. “Pay up, Channie.”

 

Chan sighed. “I was hoping you’d forget.” He dug a slightly crinkled twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and slapped it onto Seungmin’s palm. “Greedy.”

 

”Ignorant,” Seungmin replied, folding the dollar, and sticking it in his pocket. “Now we’re going.”

 

Hyunjin wasn’t sure what made him do it. Maybe he was that spontaneous, so that even he didn’t know what he would do next. Maybe it was because he just wanted to see what would happen. Or maybe it was because of the fact that he literally watched the world’s cutest, smartest, puppy - faced little MyDay walk into his life to She Is, and he didn’t want to watch him leave it so easily.

 

He shot to his feet and grabbed Seungmin’s hand in one spur of the moment action. “Leaving so soon?”

 

The room had gone silent, and all eyes were on them. Seungmin flinched his hand out of Hyunjin’s, and an unexpected feeling of hurt pierced his heart. “Why would I stay?”

 

Why should he stay? In his eyes, Hyunjin was probably just some shallow flirt who just wanted to mess around. So I can show him that’s not what I am.

 

Hyunjin opened his mouth to speak, completely unsure on what would come out, when Chan jumped in like the Korean - Australian Superman he was. “So we can ask you to join our table at the courtyard next Monday. In fact, how about we all do it?”


”All of us?” Minho repeated.

 

”It was going to happen anyway,” Chan said. “Due to... certain events bringing us all together, it’s only right for us to try and get to know each other better. It might just be thirty minutes, but why not take what we can get? We’re all gonna get a little closer, and some more time together might help that.”

 

Seungmin still looked on guard, but Jeongin was positively beaming. “I’m all for it. God knows it’s better than hanging around in the library all the time.”



Seungmin whipped around. “You’ve never complained about the library.”

 

”All those times you thought I was taking notes on my phone, I was playing Candy Crush. You fill out the rest, Min.”

 

”I think it’d be nice,” Felix chimed in. “We’d get to spend more time together, and I wouldn’t have to wait for the end of the period to see you guys.”

 

He turned and nudged Changbin with his elbow, and the boy relented. “Well, I guess it wouldn’t be that bad.”

 

Jisung glanced sidelong at Minho, who purposefully looked the other way. “What about you? You said you wouldn’t mind spending more time together.”

 

Minho rolled his eyes and shoved him. “Don’t twist my words around on me,” he berated. “But, I did mean what I said.”

 

Seungmin seemed to scan each and every one of them before his eyes rested on Hyunjin. “And what about you? Is that what you meant to ask me?”

 

This time, Hyunjin had some idea of what to say. Somehow, he managed to smile, to stay cool. “Of course. I'd love to see more of you.”

 

A flicker of a smile seemed to touch Seungmin’s lips before it vanished just as fast. “Then I’ll be seeing you guys on Monday. Good day losers,” he bid the others. His eyes switched Hyunjin’s and he nodded. “Hyunjin.”

 

Seungmin was already halfway down the hall when Hyunjin realized he remembered his name.

 

Jeongin, who had stayed behind to say goodbye to the others, grabbed Hyunjin’s arm. “I’ll be rooting for you, hyung,” he whispered as he walked out of the classroom. “Fighting!” And then he was gone.

 

As Chan, Jisung, and Changbin started to pack their things, Hyunjin took his opportunity to talk to Chan. “Hey. Chan. Thanks for the save.”

 

Chan shrugged, smiling. “Sure. That was what you wanted to tell him, right?”

 

”Yes. Why do you ask?”

 

Chan’s smile grew. “No reason.” He called for Jisung and Changbin to follow him out. Jisung left with one completely subtle wink at Minho, and Changbin managed a little wave at Felix before heading out.

 

And then it was just the three of them. Minho, Felix, and Hyunjin; the original trio. With them, he always felt complete, like there were no blanks to fill.

 

So why did it feel like something was missing?

 

Minho dropped onto the desk next to him. “Are you really going to go after that puppy - faced bookworm?”

 

”Why not? It’s not like there’s anything better to do.” Hyunjin answered. It didn’t feel right, not even to him. “With you two spending all your time with your 3Racha suitors, I was starting to feel left out.”

 

“Sure." It didn’t seem like Minho believed him either. “Lix, need any help with that book?”

 

”I’m fine,” Felix responded, his voice a little strained from the weight of the thesaurus. “Let’s get out of here.”

 

As they walked out of the classroom, through the eerily silent hallway with their footsteps echoing behind them, Hyunjin watched as Seungmin’s chestnut brown head bobbed out of the school entrance, the speck of it moving farther and farther away, until it was gone.

 

In the back of Hyunjin’s mind, he remembered what Chan said. We’re all gonna get a little closer. Very soon, things were going to change.

 

Maybe, Hyunjin thought, they already are.

Chapter Text

Minho p.o.v

 

”Guys, you will not believe what happened to me in Yeon’s class today,” Felix said the minute he placed his tray on the table.

 

”Oh, boy, here we go,” Minho muttered.

 

They were at their designated lunch table down in the second courtyard, where students were gathered about the premises in clusters. It was the farthest table from the school building, and it was underneath a cherry blossom tree, which meant petals would fall in your food at a gust of wind, but at least people left you alone.

 

”Okay. So.” Felix tapped his chopsticks at the air for quiet. “It’s been two months since I turned in the project, right?”

 

”Right.” The table answered.

 

”And you all know that he accepted it without complaint, right?”

 

”Does this story have a point?” Chan asked.

 

”I swear, it does. Just listen, okay?”

 

”We’re listening,” Changbin promised. “Go on, Lix.”

 

“Thank you.” Felix spread out his hands on the table like they were discussing a particularly unlawful topic. “Okay, so we all know how I got held back in class again - “

 

”By ten minutes.” Hyunjin held up his phone. “You posted about it on your Instagram.”

 

”Exactly. So I hauled ass to Yeon’s room - “

 

”You jumped over a freshman on your way down the hall,” Jisung marveled.

 

”Quit interrupting. And then I basically cheated death, because I got in my seat right as the bell rang. The rest of the class went well, and then when we were leaving, he legit pulled me back on how I had to show up on time and all that shit. I told him that I would, and then he looked at me like I’d stolen his firstborn child.”

 

”My food’s going to get cold,” Seungmin complained.

 

”Oh, shut up, Seungmin,” Jeongin scolded him. “Is that what this is about, Felix? Mr. Yeon glares at everyone.”

 

”Wait a minute,” Jisung held up his chopsticks for silence. His cheeks had magically been stuffed full of rice, Minho noted. “Felix, how did he look when you turned in the assignment?”

 

”What’re you talking about?” Hyunjin asked. “Minho and I were watching from outside the room. We already told you, it went fine.”

 

”Maybe on the surface,” Chan amended. “But I’ve done this kind of thing before. Last time I turned in a late project for Yeon, he glared at me for a full thirty seconds before taking it. There’s gotta be something that stuck out to you.”

 

Felix stopped and thought for a moment, his face scrunching up in concentration. “Well, now that I think about it,” he said, swallowing, “he did look at me weird.”

 

”Weird how?” Jisung quizzed.

 

”It wasn’t a glare, but it was something in that category. Like, a toned down, kind of challenging version of it.”

 

Chan and Jisung looked at each other like they were discussing Felix’s funeral. “Felix,” Chan started, “you are officially the recipient of a Look.”

 

The entire table began to murmur. “And then the wolves came,” Seungmin whispered, stabbing a fish cake on his tray.

 

”It’s been nice knowing your academic career,” Hyunjin said, patting Felix’s shoulder.

 

Of course, being greener than a summer in Iceland, Felix just looked baffled. “The hell’s a Look?”

 

”It’s not just any look, Lix,” Minho explained. “It’s a Class C, capital - L Look. Yeon’s famous for them all over the campus. No student in his class is safe from them, and the fact that you’re a transfer is extra damning.” 

 

“Class A is the worst,” Jeongin added. “From what I’ve heard, it’s like staring into the flaming pits of hell. Class C is usually reserved for students who turn in late work at the end of a period. He hates that.”

 

Felix had visibly deflated. “And it’s only going to go up from there, even if I miraculously redeem myself.”

 

Changbin nodded grimly. “Sorry, Lix. But, if it’s any consolation, you can usually avoid a Look if you study.”

 

At that, Felix smiled a little. “At least I have you guys to help me with that.”

 

From in between Chan and Jeongin, Jisung stretched his arms out around them. “You know, guys, just having all of us together makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”

 

Hyunjin wrinkled his nose. "Ew."

 

”I don’t mean it like that. All I’m saying is that, with everything going on, it’s nice that we’re all so... close.”

 

Minho rolled his eyes. “Jisung, just say that you want us to listen to your song.”

 

Chan and Jeongin separated from Jisung, but he only grinned. “Self - promo, no shame.”

 

Sunday, exactly eight thirty - five a.m., Jisung had released a solo song on 3Racha’s Spotify with the title Close. Considering 3Racha’s popularity in school, practically everyone in JYP had listened to it over the weekend. All day, Jisung had started making not - so - subtle hints for them to follow suit. But since when was Jisung ever subtle?

 

”Like you know the meaning of the word,” Changbin teased.

 

”I do too! At least tell me what you guys thought of the song.”

 

”I thought it was really cool,” Felix offered.

 

”Thank you!” Jisung said. “Someone at this table with taste!”

 

”I didn’t listen to it on purpose because I knew this was what I had to sit down to,” Seungmin muttered.

 

”Nerdy little douche.”

 

”I think we should all applaud your growth as an artist.” Felix raised his carton of banana milk. “I mean, honestly, going from ‘excuse me, noona, do you have a boyfriend?’ to ‘name, age, where do you live’ is a pretty big upgrade.”

 

The boys burst into a fit of giggles, which didn't please Jisung. “Don’t you dare mention that era,” he said, pointing an accusing finger at Felix. “It was a long time ago.”

 

Hyunjin snickered. ”Whatever. I’ll drink to that.” He raised his banana milk in a toast, and the rest of the boys clinked their cartons and drank.

 

Jisung looked like a petulant child, cheeks slightly puffed out in his frown. “You all suck.” He extended an arm at the cherry blossom tree above and thrust a handful of flower petals down on Felix’s food.

 

Chan sighed. “That’s very mature, Jisung.”

 

Felix, however, was unfazed. “Screw you. I’m still gonna eat it.”

 

Jisung folded his arms challengingly. “Really?”

 

Looking him dead in the eyes, Felix hit the tree, causing even more petals to fall in his food. He grabbed his bowl of miyeokguk and tipped it to his lips with his head tilted back.

 

”Chug,” Changbin murmured. “Chug, chug, chug...”

 

The other boys joined in, banging their fists on the table and repeating the incantation over and over, louder and faster every time the word was recited. Finally, Felix slammed the bowl back on the tray, smugly wiping his mouth with his sleeve, and they howled like a pack of wolves.

 

Minho couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled out of him as Chan reached over and gave Felix a high five, brandishing his hand in the air like a champion boxer. They were all so juvenile, but that was what made them so fun to be around. Here they were, laughing and joking with each other like they’d done it their whole lives, when they had only met weeks ago. Minho knew that the rest of the tables behind them were probably staring, but for some reason, he didn’t care. If this was what lunch was going to be like, then he could stick around.

 

They had just begun to settle down when the bell rang, snapping them out of their elation. Looking around, there was no one else in the courtyard.

 

”Guys,” Jeongin said slowly. “I think that was the second bell.”

 

The smiles dropped from their faces as his words sank in. They looked at one another with expressions of pure dread. Then, without another word, leaving behind their lunches, they bolted.

 

And that was how, for the first time in two years, Minho was late for class.

 

******

 

Hours later, Minho stood alone in an empty dance studio, with nothing inside but a desk pushed into the corner, his uniform blazer draped over one of two chairs. His eyes were closed, immersed in the silence.

 

After he burst into Mrs. Kwon’s class late alongside Seungmin and Chan, their punishment was to not only kneel outside the classroom, but endure biting lashes to their wrists with that blasted bamboo branch.

 

They were sitting on the ground, their backs against the walls, examining their wounds with disgust.

 

”Next time,” Seungmin hissed at them, rubbing his wrists, “someone is keeping an eye on the clock.”

 

”Hang with us, and you’ll get used to it,” Chan had shrugged. He pulled down his sleeve to reveal uneven an array of pink scars lining his forearm. “Once you do, it gets less threatening.”

 

”For you, maybe,” Minho retorted. His arms stung from the whip, and the lashes were ugly to look at. “I’m with Seungmin. This better not happen again.”

 

Chan only grinned. “There are worse things in life than a temperamental teacher with a tree branch.”

 

The door flew open, and the boys scrambled back into their positions. Mrs. Kwon looked down at them, scanning their forms with her eagle’s eyes, before going back into the classroom.

 

”You better be right about that,” Minho snapped at Chan.

 

”He isn’t,” Seungmin grumbled.

 

Now, at the end of an exhausting day, practically everyone had left the building, leaving Minho alone.

 

At long last.

 

The music began, a smooth saxophone beginning, a mellifluous pulsing beat in the background, with a brief snap that echoed, taking Minho into another world. A world where sound shaped his atmosphere, changing into serene twilight sky. A world where his thoughts melted away, and his dance became pure instinct, and his movements were fluid and sharp all at once. The rhythm carried him from place to place, directing his motions, and he let it.

 

His fleeting footsteps blended in with the music, harsh, and yet toned down by the soft, mellow tempo. He moved this way and that, forward and back, spinning around to meet the next change in song.

 

Faintly, in the back of his mind, Minho recalled a saying that swordfighting was like dancing. In that sense, he could agree. Though he had never actually fought with a sword before, he knew it involved the same kind of concentration and intuition. Quick, strong actions across the battlefield, meeting the attacks of your opponent, dancing to a song of savvy and risk. His pivot was a parry, his stride a lunge forward, his gyration a deadly arc. In the end, only one could win.

 

In this world, Minho was eternal, untouchable and free. He could leave his mind out the door and move however he wanted because there was no one around to judge. Here, he just was.

 

All too soon, the song was coming to an end, powering up for the last burst, fading fast. He raced after it, with one last grasp at the air, one last turn on his heel, one final moment of desperate grace, before the music stopped, and all that was left was the blissful aftermath.

 

Then, from behind him, slow clapping. Minho spun around to see Jisung leaning against the doorframe, smiling. “Quite the performance, Minho.”

 

Minho silently cursed himself for not only leaving his mind wide open, but the door as well. “Jisung,” he nodded. “How long have you been standing there?”

 

Jisung laughed easily. “I haven’t been stalking you, if that’s what you’re thinking.” He pushed himself off the doorframe and sauntered into the room. “I was on my way out from Ms. Baek’s after - class lecture for showing up late when I heard the music coming from this room. I looked in, and there you were. You can’t expect me to have ignored it so easily.”

 

Minho ignored the last part. “So that’s all you got as punishment? A lecture?”

 

“Surprisingly enough. It wasn’t much though, I’m used to it. Jeongin got off easy, that lucky shit. Felix was the only one who looked somewhat ashamed. Poor kid’s not getting a good start.”

 

”You’re right on that part. He should consider himself lucky that he didn’t have Kwon like Chan, Seungmin, and I.”

 

Jisung’s casual expression turned sympathetic. “Right. Sorry. Did she bring out the branch on you guys?”

 

”What else?” Minho pushed up his sleeve to his elbow, revealing the lash marks. He tried not to flinch as Jisung’s fingers locked around his wrist, pulling him closer as he peered down at the scars.

 

Jisung let go, sweeping blond strands of hair out of his eyes. “It’s not that bad. None of you were bleeding, right?”

 

”No. Has it happened before?”

 

”A couple times. It happened to Chan once, but he’s alright. It depends on her mood of the day. They hurt less once you get used to it.”

 

“Chan said something just like that. The guy has enough scars for a barcode,” Minho chuckled. “Can I see yours?”

 

Jisung cocked his head boyishly. He set his bag on the floor and shucked off his blazer, setting it on one of the chairs. Rolling up his sleeves up to his elbows, he revealed his own marks, some asperous, others crisscrossed over one another.

 

Like latticework, Minho thought. There were definitely more marks than he seen on Chan’s arm. Most of them looked old, rough and scabrous. As he raised a hand to touch the skin, he noticed, just below his line of sight, the fingers twitch, ever so slightly. Minho looked up.


Jisung was looking at him, smile gone and eyebrows raised, dark eyes questioning. Oh hell, Minho thought as his cheeks heated. Quickly(though as subtly as possible), he drew his hand away.

 

If Jisung noticed anything, he didn’t show it. All he said was, “Was it your first time getting the lash?”

 

Minho snapped up, eager for the conversation change. “Yeah. Yeah, it was.”

 

Jisung shrugged, folding his arms behind his head. “That explains why you didn’t have many marks.” Another thought seemed to strike him, and his smile returned. “At least we’ll have things to look back on from our JYP years. After all, everyone remembers their first time.”

 

And just like that, the previous mood had dissipated. “Okay - “

 

“Relax, it was a joke. I wanted to see how you’d react.”

 

Minho scoffed. “Is everything a joke to you, Jisung?”

 

”Not everything. I can take some things seriously,” Jisung replied, pulling out a chair. “You just don’t know me well enough yet.”

 

Minho sat down across from him. “You’re an open book. There's not much to learn.”

 

Jisung shrugged. “Not really. I only show people what I want them to see. But I’m just like everyone else - I have some strengths, and some weaknesses.”

 

Minho arched a brow. “What’s an example of a strength?”

 

“Let’s see.” Jisung counted on his fingers. “Rapping, singing, possibly everything else in general, and I fall in love easily.”

 

”And weaknesses?”

 

“Those beautiful brown eyes of yours,” Jisung grinned, leaning over the desk. “That, and cheesecake.”

 

Minho tried to maintain a straight face, but he couldn’t help laughing. “You’ve been waiting all day to say that, huh?”

 

”I’ve been waiting to say that since the moment I met you, but today can count.”

 

”Good God.”

 

”So, we’re done with me. How about we switch onto you?”

 

”Me? That wasn’t part of the deal.”

 

”Yeah, it was. Come to think of it, I know even less about you than you do about me. But, even so, I’ve managed to collect a decent summary of information.”

 

”And what is that?”

 

”Lee Minho, enigmatic dreamboat, dancer and sleuth.”

 

Minho guffawed. “Enigmatic dreamboat? That’s the worst description of me I’ve ever heard.”

 

Jisung lifted a shoulder in the barest shrug. “It could be better if you told me a little more about you.”

 

”I don’t remember you being this interested in me.”

 

Jisung sighed. “Do you remember what I said when Chan got all of us together for lunch? When I said I was willing to spend more time together?”

 

”Yeah. What about it?”

 

”I wasn’t talking to the group.”

 

Jisung’s smile was gone, his eyes fixed unblinkingly on Minho’s face. Minho refused to falter. “And you were hoping to get something more out of this?”

 

”That’s about it, yeah.”

 

Minho leaned across the table and matched Jisung’s smile. “My name is Lee Minho. I’m a Scorpio. I like dancing, long walks with my cats, and assertive guys. How’s that?”

 

Jisung took a moment to consider. “Not bad. But, word of advice, you should try including more detail.”

 

”I gave you a fair summary.”

 

”And I agree, but, for this to be a successful date, it could be better.” Jisung winked. “That assertive enough for you?”

 

Minho chuckled, then caught himself. “Abundant. Now tell me, is this the part in the date where the waiter brings us a milkshake with two straws and Bella Notte starts playing in the background?”

 

Jisung laughed. “I wouldn’t know. Not many of them have gone this well. But, more importantly, how do you know what Bella Notte is?”

 

”When you agree to spend a weekend with Felix, you learn a lot in one day.”

 

”I guess both our Aussies are willing to teach us their ways.”

 

”So we have something in common?”

 

”I guess we do.”

 

Was this really happening? Was Minho really enjoying what was supposed to be his moment of alone time with this guy?

 

”Hey, Jisung?”

 

The boy across from him perked up. “Yeah?”

 

”Earlier, you said that experiences with other people didn’t usually go well. How would you rate this one?”

 

Jisung leaned back in his seat, humming thoughtfully. “Well, so far, I think I’d go home satisfied and smiling, whistling to the tune of City of Stars. The day after I’d probably call once or twice or three times, then mope around in circles waiting for you to pick up.”

 

And then he looked at him, with puppylike eyes and a little half smile that was so gentle and so shockingly sincere that it something in Minho’s heart melted a little. Before he knew it, the corners of his lips were tugging upward, and he was smiling, shy and natural and not forced at all.

 

Jisung, on the other hand, seemed shocked by the reaction. His own smile spread loosely, almost bashfully. “Did the sun just come out, or are you smiling at me?”

 

Just a few moments before, the comment would have annoyed Minho, but now he laughed. “Do you have a line for everything?”

 

”Only when it fits the situation.”

 

Minho traded his smile for a smirk and leaned forward on his elbows. “Han Jisung, one day I’m going to take every word out of your mouth and leave you speechless.”

 

He expected the other boy to lean in as well, retort with some other flirtatious comeback, but he didn’t.

 

Jisung’s smile softened, and his eyes seemed to gaze miles into Minho’s soul. 

 

”Why start trying now when you had me at hello?”

 

Maybe it was the way he was looking at him. Maybe it was the pure simplicity of his words. Whatever it was, it dropped the smirk off Minho’s face and made his entire body heat up. Whatever clever response he had prepared was gone. An image flashed through his mind: Minho moving forward, catching hold of Jisung’s tie, drawing him in - stop.

 

Jisung rose from his seat, still smiling. “See you, Minho.” He picked up his bag, hooked his blazer over his shoulder, and strode out of the room.

 

Softly, like a caged hummingbird, Minho’s heart fluttered in his chest, a conundrum that had only happened once before. Once.

 

No, Minho thought, cursing himself. That can’t happen again.

 

Later in the night, when Minho got to his apartment, he pulled out his phone and went to 3Racha’s profile. There, in the latest release, was a single song. The cover was a plain sky blue, with white letters in the center showcasing the sentence:

 

You had me at hello.

 

Minho listened to the song three times in a row, staring up at the ceiling as the lyrics tackled his heart head on. He glanced at the album cover again, hearing the words in Jisung’s voice.

 

What did this even mean? Was the universe trying to fuck with his head? It had to mean something. Everything did, after all.

 

Why was he even feeling this way? It was just a simple sentence and a flash of a look, only a moment. He was supposed to be the sensible one in his group. Leave all the romance to Felix and Hyunjin; he had himself to look after. But just one soft - eyed crooked smile from a jokester boy with undeniably pokeable cheeks and Minho was losing his mind. Where was the logic?

 

Suddenly, he caught sight of the time. Nine forty - eight p.m. And he hadn’t even done his homework. He never forgot that kind of stuff.

 

Sighing, Minho sat down at his desk and pulled out his books. He could focus on this crap tomorrow. He wasn’t going to end up like Felix; with Cupid’s arrow so far up his ass he couldn’t think straight.

 

But, even so, he couldn’t help but think of the song, and Jisung’s final message to him. Why start trying now when you had me at hello? Minho had been the one trying to challenge him, but Jisung turned the tables on him in a matter of seconds. And now he was really starting to wonder if that song was written as a message to him. 


Which it wasn’t. Of course.

 

And then the beginning line hit fresh.

 

Just tell me about you.

 

Minho slammed his head down on his calculus hardcover. Motherfucker. He had to get his shit together fast.

 

Seungmin p.o.v

 

”Seungmin, come on,” Jeongin whined. “Slow down, will you?”

 

”You are evil, and you must be destroyed,” Seungmin replied. “That, or ignored.”

 

Jeongin had been trying to catch up to him all day, from class to class, even going so far as to try and pass him a note during Mrs. Kwon’s class, which would have undoubtedly earned them both lashings. And he just wouldn’t stop talking. But that was fine. Seungmin was prepared to power - walk all the way to Mr. Yeon's with Jeongin yammering in his ear.

 

”I know you can hear me,” Jeongin went on. “Will you stop being such a baby and turn around?”

 

”If I’m the baby, then why do you keep following me?”

 

”At least tell me why you’re ignoring me.”

 

”Then how about you go first?” Seungmin retorted, spinning around on his heel. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve been doing for the past few days.”

 

”What are you talking about - “

 

”You know what I’m talking about,” Seungmin cut him off. “Why do you keep trying to set me up with Hyunjin?”

 

Jeongin opened his mouth to retort, but shut it again in defeat. He didn’t deny it, which confirmed what Seungmin had been thinking. “Jeongin, we’ve talked about this - "

 

”Exactly! So you know why I’m doing it.”

 

Seungmin rolled his eyes and turned back around, heading for his next class. “I’m not some lonely, lovesick dowager waiting for a radiant prince to sweep me off my feet. I don’t need you to play matchmaker.”

 

”I’m not saying that you are. We’re high school kids, Seungmin. We should live our lives, meet people.”

 

”You don’t seem eager to meet anyone.”

 

”That’s because there’s no one that I like. This is different.”

 

”Because you’re trying to hitch me up with a guy instead of yourself.”

 

”I thought you’d be happy about this!” Jeongin caught up to Seungmin at last. “You told me you thought he was cute.”

 

”Anyone with half a brain can see that. But there’s more to a person than just their looks.”

 

Jeongin stared at him like he was an especially confusing specimen. “Haven’t you ever had a crush on anyone before?”

 

”Sure,” Seungmin replied. “When I was in elementary school and I didn’t know any better.”

 

”So you’ve never liked anyone here?”

 

”What would be the point?” 


Jeongin scoffed. ”No wonder I’m your only friend. You’re so depressing, you know that? Don’t you believe in any of the tropes? Soulmates? Love at first sight? Friends to lovers?”

 

”You, my friend, have watched one too many dramas. I think Hyunjin’s hoping for a more friends-with-benefits type of thing.”

 

”Jesus Christ, could you lighten up?”

 

”No.”

 

Jeongin sighed. After years of being around Seungmin, he was miraculously patient. “You can’t honestly think Hyunjin’s like that. Didn’t you see the way he looked when he first saw you?”

 

”He liked the way I looked, and that was all. Hate to disappoint you, but love at first sight doesn’t exist. He just wants something to pass the time.”

 

”That’s not the deal, and you know it. He had his chance to let it go the second you opened your mouth - “

 

”Careful, Yang.”

 

”Oh, please. I’ve known you for three years, Min, I can speak my mind,” Jeongin spat. With his cheerful personality, it was so easy to forget how stubborn he was. “The minute you started spouting off like some pretentious smartass, I thought it was over. But it wasn’t. It was just the start. You might actually have a chance at something real here! Can’t you see that?”

 

”The fact that you believe that is just sad.”

 

”I’m serious!” Jeongin rounded on him, blocking their entrance to the classroom. “I know how you’ve spent your life, Seungmin. Do you really want to go home to your one bedroom apartment every day, studying and reading, without anyone else to talk to?”

 

This was a line Seungmin preferred uncrossed. “Jeongin - “

 

”I know it sounds ridiculous to you, but just listen. I’ve been your friend since the beginning. And you won’t accept that things are starting to change. That Chan, Jisung, and Changbin are more than just homework clients. That we have other friends now. That there’s a nice, good-looking guy that’s actually attracted to you.” Jeongin’s voice lowered to a whisper. “Hyunjin obviously thinks you’re something special. Just give him a chance, alright?”

 

Seungmin could feel his will weakening, wanting to buy into Jeongin’s words, but he swatted it away. Come on, he scolded himself. You know better. And he did. Love had the highest highs and the lowest lows, and he wanted nothing to do with it. No matter how broken it left you, you would run back willingly for the next beating. If Seungmin had to keep his heart shut lock and chain to avoid it all, then he would do it.

 

“Fine,” Seungmin replied instead. “Maybe there is someone out there who can handle my excellence, but I can give you a ninety-nine-point-nine guarantee that they aren’t here. Until then, I’ll walk alone, sing alone, and most definitely die alone. Though maybe I can arrange my casket next to yours.”

 

“God, you’re dramatic. And what about that one percent that you left out?”

 

“Still believing in miracles, aren’t you?” Seungmin smiled and clapped his shoulder. “Don’t ever change, Jeongin. Now come on. I was late for the first time in my life yesterday. There’s no way in hell that I’m letting it happen again.”

 

******

 

Several arduous hours later, Seungmin was in the library after having talked the librarian, Mrs. Kang, into giving him the space until he left. No teacher, no students, no Jeongin. Just him.

 

Lunch that day had been especially interesting. While it did end with Seungmin being late for class in the first and last time in his academic career, along with the unsavory experience of being whipped by Mrs. Kwon’s mythical bamboo branch, but he couldn’t deny that it wasn’t fun to watch.

 

And so, a wonderful day of academic learning later, he sat alone in the library, phone in hand, roving through the songs on his playlist until one fit his mood. Immediately, his nerves settled, and he released a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding.

 

The soft plucking strings of an electric guitar, a resounding echo like a punch, and repeat. The guitar strum, the echo, a single reverberating snap, and the song began.

 

”What I’m saying now, doesn’t mean that I want us to be together again.”

 

”I’m just bringing back my memories of you.”

 

In times like these, with rambunctious friends and stressful classes and confusing (though admittedly dazzling) boys, it helped to let it out in song, where no one was around to judge, and the acoustics were spot on. And, to be completely frank, the entirety of Day6’s discography could be the soundtrack of his whole life.

 

I Need Somebody was a must - have because, God, it was hard to be surrounded by so many dimwits day after day. So Cool because while it was tough to be this superior, damn, it felt good. Whatever! because it basically summarized how he was feeling on a daily basis. Marathon because, even for him, life just got a little tiring. I Smile because, no matter how rough things got, you just had to smile through the pain. Shoot Me because... well, it was in the title.

 

So why, with all these exceptional choices, was he currently singing You Were Beautiful, a mournful breakup song that reminisced the memories of when two people were happy together?

 

Of course he had the song on his playlist. What kind of MyDay would Seungmin have been if he didn’t? But it was impossible to relate to the message of the lyrics themselves. He had never been through a breakup before - he had never even been in a relationship. To feel that deeply about someone he believed was a waste of time, especially when there were other things to focus on, other things to care about, like himself and his own future. Love could wait. Hell, it could never even come, and he would be happy.

 

So instead Seungmin resonated with the gentle, melodious depth of the rhythm, the sonorous simplicity of the bass line, carrying his voice like a boat across a river. He could hear it bouncing off the walls, but he didn’t care. There was no one to impress: he could be as loud or as quiet as he wanted. He could be himself.

 

”You were beautiful, I didn’t want anything more.”

 

”But the moments that you gave me, everything, everything, has passed.”

 

”Still, you were so beautiful.”

 

Three shattering knocks on wood. Seungmin spun around to see a smirking Hyunjin standing in the doorway. “I knew I’d find you here.”

 

”How so?” Seungmin asked, fumbling to turn off the music on his phone.

 

”Jeongin told me you go here to finish your homework and cram for tests,” Hyunjin answered, sauntering towards him. “It was an educated guess.” 


Guess Jeongin wasn’t giving up too easy. Seungmin cursed himself for being that predictable. “And you didn’t hear anything, did you?”

 

”You mean did I hear your heavenly vocals covering a Day6 ballad to perfection? Yes, yes I did.”

 

Seungmin rolled his eyes and turned his focus back on his math homework. Hyunjin didn’t seem to get the hint. He took a seat next to him, eyes gleaming. “You know, singers didn’t get anywhere by hiding their voices.”

 

”I know that,” Seungmin responded coolly, flipping the pages in his notebook. “But I also know that, once I get out of here, I’ll be able to use it in places other than school libraries.”

 

When he found the right page, he turned back to his paper, jotting down the notes. However, just as he was starting to get back on track, he heard Hyunjin shift next to him, grumbling. “Come on, pay attention to me, I’m bored!”

 

Seungmin turned around, prepared to tell him off. Hyunjin was gazing back at him like a sad puppy, his plush lips jutted out in a pout. “Don’t you have anything else to do?”

 

”No,” Hyunjin replied. He tapped the equation on his paper. “That part’s wrong, by the way.”

 

Seungmin scoffed. “No it’s not.” And suddenly, right in front of his face, the mistake was clear as day. Imagine if I’d shown up tomorrow with that on my paper, he thought as he furiously erased the error. How embarrassing.

 

He let Hyunjin take his paper and write the correct answer. “Your welcome.”

 

”I never said thank you.”

 

”You didn’t have to.” Hyunjin winked. “See? I’m more than just a pretty face.”

 

The corners of Seungmin’s mouth twitched threateningly. Come on, idiot, get back to work. He turned away.

 

Hyunjin sighed. “Jeez, you really are boring.”

 

”Go away, Hyunjin.”

 

”And to think I thought we were getting somewhere, these past few weeks. I mean, you don’t blush with every word I say to you anymore, and we communicate regularly, if you count thirty minute study groups through text with our six other associates.”

 

”Are you done?”

 

”I just don’t get it! I really thought we were going somewhere. Is it me? I bet it is. What’s the problem? Too bold? Coming on too strong? Honestly, I’ve gotten so many complaints, take your pick. Personally, I think I’m a joy to be around, but I guess - “

 

”You’re distracting, alright?” Seungmin blurted, so loud that it reverberated, and Hyunjin fell silent. “Too distracting. It’s the last thing I need.”

 

For once, Hyunjin was speechless, his lips parted and eyes wide and staring. And then he started laughing. Gales of free, jubilant laughter that tumbled out of him in oddly musical bouts.

 

”Distracting, huh?” Hyunjin giggled, wiping a tear from his eye. “I’ve never got that before. Oh, that’s a good one!”

 

Looks like he’s back to normal. Seungmin was about to shift back to his work when Hyunjin’s hand settled just centimeters away from his.

 

A devilish smile had replaced his exuberant grin, and his eyes were trained directly on Seungmin’s. “Tell me, Seungmin.” His voice was dripping honey, smooth as velvet, and his face had started looming closer. “Just what is it about me that’s so distracting?”

 

Their faces were maybe three inches apart. Everything inside Seungmin screamed at him to pull away, but he couldn’t move. It was as if he was trapped, trapped by those glittering eyes like dark crescent moons. Strands of black hair fell into them, gently brushing Seungmin’s forehead, and he had the most bizarre urge to brush them away, wrap his arms around Hyunjin’s neck, and - no.

 

His smile had softened, just a little bit, and his lips were parted gently. It was so easy to imagine how good they would feel on his own, and stop staring at his mouth. Seungmin had to get ahold of himself. He’d never been this close to anyone before, and it was bewitching him into thinking like this. This was all part of Hyunjin’s plan, provoking him, rendering him helpless. It couldn’t work. Not on him.

 

Slowly, Seungmin grabbed onto the edge of the table and the edge of his seat and pulled himself away. Now answer him, dummy. “W - Well...” Don’t fucking stutter. “You’re brash, and impulsive and audacious.”

 

”And?” Hyunjin asked. His voice was teasing, and his eyes tracked Seungmin’s every move. Like a hunter and their prey.

 

”And... what?”

 

Hyunjin chuckled. “Come on. You know what I’m talking about. When faced up with this," he said, gesturing to himself. “It’s the first thing you see.”

 

”Self - assured?”

 

”Don’t play dumb. You’re cuter when you’re smart." But Seungmin’s face must’ve been a pretty blank slate for Hyunjin to look at him the way he did. “Do you really need an example?” He didn’t say yes, but Hyunjin took his silence as his cue. “Handsome? Princely? Becoming?” He cocked his head and smiled, a Cheshire Cat’s coy simper. “Captivating?”

 

”Presumptuous?”

 

His smile dropped, and he gave a dramatic sigh. “You really are different, you little know-it-all.”

 

”What do you mean by that?”

 

”Nothing, nothing,” Hyunjin waved his hand dismissively. “You just... never fail to surprise me.”

 

”I’ve only known you for a couple months.”

 

”Still.”

 

How was he able to act so casual when he had literally been on top of Seungmin just a moment ago? What was the deal? “Hyunjin?”

 

”Hm?”

 

”When did you get to be so interested in me?” The words felt strange to say.

 

Hyunjin leaned back and considered that. “If you want the exact time, I’d say the first time I saw you smile. You laughed and I thought ‘maybe he isn’t such a smug little nerd.’”

 

Seungmin scoffed. “Love at first sight? No such thing.”

 

Hyunjin stared at him in disbelief. “How can someone who listens to Day6 not believe in love at first sight?”

 

“Because the prospect of it is ridiculous. How can you love someone who you know nothing about and knows nothing about you? It’s completely baseless.”

 

”It might be less baseless if we knew a little more about each other.”

 

This time, Hyunjin’s smile was playful, sort of hopeful and innocent. “Maybe then we’ll actually get somewhere.”

 

Seungmin glanced down at his worksheet. There was one problem left; nothing he couldn’t solve later on. He pushed the paper and his notes aside. “Very well, then. Where should we start?”

 

”Let’s start simple, something based, like fear?”

 

”That’s a fairly intimate topic.”

 

”I think it’s fitting, considering we’ve had such intimate moments in such little time,” Hyunjin said sweetly, a smirk on those annoying lips. “Come on, Seungmin. What’s your phobia?” 


“Athazaghoraphobia.”

 

”The fuck.”

 

”The fear of forgetting, or being forgotten. If you think about it, it’s one of the most terrifying things in the world. Our memories are what shape us as people, what give us our personality traits and our reasons for the way we are, the way we think and act because of experience. Imagine if you woke up one morning and forgot all of that. Then you would be born again as no one, walking the face of the earth without fear or enjoyment of anything because you don’t know what to feel or why you should feel it. To lose a lifetime would be the biggest loss imaginable, because you wouldn’t have figured out why any of it was worth living at all.”

 

A pause. Then: “I’m just scared of frogs.”

 

Seungmin looked at him incredulously. “Frogs?”

 

”They’re small and slimy and their legs are disproportionately strong.” Hyunjin shuddered. “It’s creepy.”

 

They stared at each other for a moment. Then, unable to hold it back, Seungmin burst out laughing, longer and harder than he had allowed himself to in years. When he stopped, Hyunjin was gazing at him, fond and admiring.

 

”There it is,” he murmured. “That’s the smile."

 

Seungmin stopped. It was like someone else had flipped a switch in his brain. Quickly, he wiped the smile off his face and looked away.


“Why do you do that?”

 

“Do what?”

 

”Shut yourself down the minute you start acting like something other than a pompous windbag?”



Seungmin refused to turn around, especially when he knew Hyunjin was looking right back at him. Why did he have to be so observant? Why couldn’t he just give up?



”I’ve got all day, Min. I won’t stop until I get an answer.”


Seungmin knew what he was going to say before he said it. It would probably repulse the crap out of Hyunjin, but at least it wasn’t the truth.

 

”I guess I don’t believe emotions are worth feeling. I want to feel as little as possible. If everyone were to stop wasting their breath on it, then the world would be so much more simple. Instead, we take on these unnecessary emotions like sugar pills, desperately trying to wring something out of nothing, and the aftereffects are like symptoms, the high we’re all chasing. If we all took ourselves off this stimulant, we could stop caring what other people think, stop worrying about all the superficial things. We could just exist as ourselves.”

 

Silence. A faint conversation coming from several rooms over. A bird hit the window and flew away. And then Hyunjin spoke:

 

“You really are an idiot, if you believe that.”

 

Seungmin had been called many things in the past; an idiot was not one of them. “What?”

 

For a brief second, something flashed in Hyunjin’s eyes, but it was gone just as fast. Seungmin expected him to yell at him, to argue and dispute. But he didn’t.

 

Suddenly Hyunjin leaned forward, and his finger was on Seungmin’s bicep, slowly, lightly tracing a trail down his arm, lighting up every nerve ending inside of him, sending a rush of heat to his face.

 

”Do you feel that?” His voice had changed yet again, low and silken, in a way that was clearly meant to be enticing.

 

Seungmin was frozen in place, heart pounding in his chest. “What’re you doing?” His own voice sounded like a whisper in his ears.

 

”If you really felt nothing, then you wouldn’t care to ask.” Hyunjin's hand rested over Seungmin’s as his eyes roved over his features. “Look at how you’re blushing, how your eyes have widened. And you’re telling me you feel nothing?” A chuckle. “God, you’re a horrible liar.”

 

Seungmin was just thankful he couldn’t feel his heartbeat. For all he knew, it might’ve stopped. “You’re saying that it’d be better if everyone just stopped feeling,” Hyunjin went on. “But have you ever thought of what a boring world that would be? No drama, no romance, no action, no unpredictability. Just a grey, muted universe with no life.”

 

“We can’t predict or control our emotions; by repressing them, we just deny that they exist. They surprise us, and sometimes they scare us. They make us care for other people, do things we wouldn’t imagine. Life isn’t supposed to be easy - it’s supposed to be meaningful. Everyone has a different meaning, but they find it out along the way.”

 

Hyunjin’s hand slipped away, and Seungmin was speechless. “I appreciate you telling me your theory, but next time, find some solid backup.” He slung his bag over his shoulder and stood up, stalking towards the door. But just as he was about to leave, he turned around at the last minute.

 

”You’re a genius, Seungmin. But you don’t know anything.” One last smile, and he was gone.

 

Hours later, Seungmin was pacing the floor of his dorm, so rapidly he could almost feel the soles of his feet smoking.

 

Hyunjin’s words repeated themselves over and over. You’re a genius, Seungmin. But you don’t know anything. What the hell did that even mean? Of course, Seungmin understood he was a genius, but what kind of genius knew nothing? And why was he even bothering to replay Hyunjin’s voice over and over again, watching him smile in his mind like a... like a....

 

Like a man in a movie.

 

This was an emergency. Seungmin was not fine. Then, of course, if he was mentally quoting Day6 in his alarm, something was very wrong.

 

Calm down, Seungmin told himself. He was just overreacting. He was not romanticizing anyone. And he was certainly not falling for anyone either. That would be an undoubtable disaster.

 

An undeniably sweet chaos.

Chapter Text

Jisung p.o.v

 

“Jisung!” Changbin yelled for the fourth time. “Earth to squirrel. You alive in there?”

 

Jisung snapped back to attention. “Last I checked, yeah. Not sure if that’s a good thing, though.”

 

Changbin rolled his eyes. “Knew you weren’t listening.”

 

”Yes, I was!”

 

”Then what did you hear?” Chan quizzed.

 

Crap. “Uh... something about Mrs. Kwon?”

 

”I told you!” Changbin said, gesturing pointedly to him. “Normally, he’d be all over this!”

 

Jisung scoffed. “Come on, it couldn’t have been that interesting.”

 

Chan gawked. “Mrs. Kwon’s husband threw a brick through the window of her classroom. During her homeroom class. I don’t think they’re doing too good these days.”

 

Jisung pursed his lips, considering that. So maybe I have been a little distant, he thought. But after what had happened yesterday with Minho, who could blame him?

 

Lee Minho. That guy was something else.

 

The minute he’d walked - or, more accurately, charged - into his life, Jisung knew he was done for. He liked confident guys, and one look in Minho's eyes let you know that this wasn’t someone you messed with without a consequence. Whatever Minho wanted, he made sure he got, and he didn’t take any excuses. He made it clear how he felt about you, and he never lied about it. He was like a force of nature - in a word, unstoppable. Under ordinary circumstances, Jisung would’ve been intimidated, hell, even afraid of Minho, if he hadn’t been so damn handsome. But the universe was strange in that way, and for all the problems she threw at him, he had to admit that this one made up for it all.

 

Naturally, by creating Jisung’s ideal type, the universe had added one tragic, fatal flaw: Minho hated him.

 

Well, he wasn’t sure if hate was the right word. Despised, maybe, or shunned. There had to be some word to explain all those mixed signals.

 

It wasn’t as if Jisung had intended it. But it wasn’t like he could have stopped it from happening, either. One twinkling, heavy - lidded glance from Minho inspired a bullet of adrenaline that coursed through his veins, lasting a flash of a moment before it vanished. If Jisung could have bottled that feeling up and gotten drunk on it every night, he would have; it amazed him. He wanted to feel that rush through his body maybe just one more time, see if the second time was the charm. He wanted to go past that short - lived thrill and turn it into something deep - rooted. Maybe this was some divine message, telling him to stop those ten - minute flirtations and dates that never called back, because this was who he had been looking for all along. And since Jisung wasn’t one to defy the all - powerful, he decided to go along with their plan.

 

Of course, it was easier said than done. With every step he took forward, there was always something that forced him to step back. It was like navigating a labyrinth with traffic lights - except this labyrinth was changing directions every which way. Green lights were smiles and light laughter and an obvious go - ahead. Red lights were eye rolls and scowls and jabs that meant stay away. There was no in between. Now, Jisung felt like a deer trapped in headlights that unbearably, blindingly yellow. With Minho, you weren’t sure if the light was green or red or kaleidoscope. When something bad happened, he’d act like it wasn’t a big deal, then turn on you when you asked about it. When something good happened, he drew you in with words of playful enticement, touch that left behind sparks, leaving you dancing on the razor’s edge. But the next day, he would act like nothing happened, and the process would repeat itself.

 

And Jisung still kept coming back. Why? Was he really that much of a sucker for this boy? Was he really going to keep chasing that feeling, hoping it would be reciprocated? Was this merry - go - round of dashed hopes ever going to come to an end?

 

Before, Jisung might have lost hope. But that was before yesterday.

 

He hadn’t meant to find him. Jisung had planned on going home early, no stops, no studio day with Chan and Changbin. He was going to drill down all his assigned homework in a day and have actual free time, not just procrastination. But he just happened to pass by the room where Minho was practicing, and the rest was out of his hands.

 

His feet solidified with the floor, and his eyes fixed themselves to the fluid movement of the figure inside the room. It was like watching some odd, beautiful creature come to life, completely unlike other dancers Jisung had ever seen, all even steps and rhythmic pace. The way Minho danced was like fire, quick and sharp and spectacular. And the last thing Jisung wanted to do was look away.


There was something so hypnotic about the music, almost malicious. It wasn’t the surroundings - there just had to be something dangerous about the way Minho was rolling his hips; Jisung had practically salivated. Fire turned to water, a current moving slowly, sinuously down his body, and he controlled it.

 

It felt wrong to be watching him this way; Jisung could just feel the devil on his shoulder shaking his head. Han Jisung, the devil snickered, you got it bad. But did he care? Hell no.

 

Now he couldn’t judge Changbin for spying. Maybe they shared a type.

 

Letting instinct and pure luck take the wheel, Jisung had revealed himself. Fortunately, Minho hadn’t been too mad - maybe he’d expected it, going to an arts school, someone was bound to walk in on you. Every sentence Jisung said that didn’t get a frown from the other boy he considered a land mine avoided, and soon they were sitting down, talking like any ordinary guy friends would. Save, of course, for the probably one - sided sexual tension radiating between them.


Their conversation started off like many of their other ones did - small talk, with the occasional meaningless flirt inserted into their sentences, and paragraphs with too many double meanings to count, nothing new. When Minho had asked about his past dating experiences, he had been a little shocked, but also uplifted. Maybe this would be a step in the right direction, wherever that was. So he swallowed his nervousness and answered honestly.

 

He’d expected an eye roll or a chuckle - nothing along the lines of a smile. It was the kind that illuminated the whole room, and suddenly Jisung didn’t have to look out the window for the most beautiful view imaginable. It was impossible not to smile back.

 

”Did the sun come out, or are you smiling at me?” Not his best pick - up line. Probably one of his worst. But somehow, it made Minho laugh.

 

”Han Jisung, one day I’m going to take every word out of your mouth and leave you speechless.”

 

Usually, words like those combined with a smirk like that would have left Jisung scrambling for a retort. But this time, he knew exactly what he wanted to say.

 

”Why start trying now when you had me at hello?”

 

And then it happened. Minho’s world - stopping smile changed into something else entirely. His expression melted so that his brown eyes were voluminous and staring, his lips parted softly. It was the look of wanting to be kissed, and wanting to kiss back just as much. He could see the thoughts mulling through his mind, and could only envision what they were.

 

It should have happened then. That was usually the moment where Jisung leaned in and sealed the deal. But he hadn’t. 


To clear things up, it wasn’t because he was afraid. Fear? Didn’t know her. But he did know that catching Minho off - guard was something that rarely anyone succeeded in doing - stealing a kiss from him right there and then probably would have ruined any chance Jisung had. The moment just wasn’t right.

 

Just a few months ago, Jisung would have laughed at the thought, at himself. Chan was the only one in the group who believed in moments - Jisung was the one who went for it. They never mattered before, why should they matter now?

 

With him, it matters, Jisung thought, and left it at that. When the time was right, and there was more than just a slim chance that Minho liked him back, then he would do it. For now, he was lying in wait.

 

”Look over there!” Changbin yelled, pointing down the hall.

 

Immediately, Jisung’s thoughts flashed to Minho. “Who? Where?”

 

”Your last fucking braincell floating away. Can you see it? No. Can you get it back? No. You’ve lost it forever.”

 

Jisung opened his mouth to retort, but the archive of his brain held nothing. He crossed his arms instead. “Never did me any good anyway.”

 

“What is with you today?” Changbin’s temper was always a short fuse, but it was never something to underestimate. “We pick you up from the bus stop, and you only say ‘hi’ and that’s it! You’re never quiet! And don’t say you’re deep in thought. As long as I’ve known you, you’re not deep about anything except your music. There has to be something you’re not telling us.”

 

”Cool your jets, Bin,” Chan placed a hand on his shoulder, tugging him back. “Look, he has a point, Jisung. It isn’t like you to space out for this long. Is something bothering you?”

 

Leave it to Chan to be more concerned about his mental health than Jisung was. “You don’t have to have me committed to an asylum, if that’s what you’re wondering. I was just thinking, like Changbin said.” For their benefit, he put on a winning smile. “Is it so wrong for a man to daydream?”

 

Predictably, this got Changbin even more riled up. “See? This is what I’m talking about!” And then he proceeded to rant again about how Jisung just had to turn everything into a joke because he couldn’t take anything seriously.


Right then and there, like a moth to a flame, Minho’s head of miraculously tame umber - brown hair appeared amidst a crowd of crimson red, and Jisung’s vision zeroed in on his silhouette.

 


“Every time we show a little concern, you just brush it off!” Changbin was complaining. “It’s like we can’t say anything! I just - “

 

”Hold that thought,” Jisung interrupted. Dusting off his blazer and running his fingers through his hair, he pushed forward.

 

He could hear Chan giggling as he walked. “Is he all you care about anymore?!” Changbin screeched after him.

 

”Yep!” Jisung shouted back, edging past the final roadblock and clearing his throat. “Minho. Fancy seeing you around these parts.”

 

Minho turned, and, to Jisung’s surprise, actually looked pleased to see him. “Well, I do go to school here. Surely you must’ve known.”

 

”Better than most,” Jisung admitted. “So, how’ve you been?”

 

”Could be better, could be worse. You?”

 

”Agreeable.”

 

This wasn’t normal for them - short exchanges, clipped small talk. Jisung glanced to the right at the masses of students that moved forward alongside them. Any one of them could be eavesdropping. He glanced to the right at Minho and saw that he had the same suspicions. Turning towards one another, they spoke in unison.“Do you - “

 

Immediately, they shut up. Minho eyed a freshman who strode a little too closely. He looked insecure, worried, unlike himself. “Er, you go first.”

 

Jisung matched pace with him and leaned closer in what he hoped was a discreet manner. “Do you wanna get out of here?”

 

Almost imperceptibly, he nodded, threading their hands together. Taking the lead, Jisung changed their course and wove through the crowd, towards the nearest classroom. No one had noticed. Opening the door, they slipped inside.

 

The place was blessedly empty, with enough breathing room for the both of them. Minho untangled their hands, spacing himself exactly three desks away. “Thanks for that. Honestly, I feel like humanity needs a new plague.”

 

Jisung tried not to feel too disappointed. “Be careful what you wish for. I might get infected and die.”

 

Minho considered that. “That would be a shame.”

 

”You don’t want me to die?”

 

”Of course not. It’d be a waste of life and possibilities.”

 

”What kind of possibilities?”

 

”Too many to count.”

 

At that, Jisung’s hopes soared. “Glad I’m not the only one who sees that.”

 

”Every day has something new to offer, no matter what it may be.” Minho absentmindedly dragged a finger across a desktop. “So what did you want to talk about?”

 

Here goes nothing. “Well, I actually wanted to talk to you about what happened yesterday.”

 

“Thank God.” Minho sighed in relief. “I thought you were never going to bring that up!”

 

”Really?”

 

”Yes, really,” Minho laughed, and then something else crept onto his face. Had Jisung made him... bashful? “It’s all I can think about.”

 

Lee Minho. Thinking about him. “Me too.”

 

”I mean, obviously it wasn’t like anything else that’s happened between us before.”

 

”You can say that again.”

 

”And the others are probably going to start suspecting something if we don’t acknowledge it first.”

 

”And we wouldn’t want things to be weird otherwise.”

 

”It wouldn’t have to be weird.”

 

And pause right there. ”What do you mean?”

 

”Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said, what it meant,” Minho explained, rubbing his neck. “And honestly, I think we feel the same way about it.”

 

“Are you sure we’re thinking the same thing here?”

 

At the flip of a coin, Minho went from Perfect Prince Charming to Your Son Calls Me Daddy Too, trading his timid smile for a smirk that never failed to make hearts flutter, particularly Jisung’s. “By dragging me off to an empty room, I'd say so.”

 

Stay vigilant, Jisung’s conscience urged. “I think you’d know by now I’m not the subtle type of guy.”

 

”As if I could forget,” Minho chuckled. “You make sure to remind me regularly. Though I can’t say it annoys me entirely.”

 

”Just a little bit.”

 

”Just a little.”

 

Jisung could feel his fortitude building up again. Good - he would need a strong front to get through this. Boldly, he stepped forward. “So, if we’re thinking the same thing, and you know what I’m thinking, because clearly I’m so see - through, what’re you thinking?”

 

Minho’s eyebrows raised, like he was genuinely surprised. “You don’t already know?”

 

”It might come as a surprise, but you’re not as easy to read. And believe me, I’ve been trying. I think the best answer I’ll get will be straight from you.”

 

That’s right, turn the tables, his conscience cheered.

 

”Well, I haven’t run out on you, have I?” Minho’s voice went soft as a cloud. “What might that say?”


So much for turntables. “That you have the ability to tolerate me longer than normal people?”

 

“Maybe,” Minho admitted. “But can’t that also mean that I actually want to be around you?”

 

Holy shit. Fuck fortitude. Burn the turntables to the ground. Was he really saying this? Was this really what Jisung thought it was? Was the moment he had been waiting for happening today? “So you weren’t bothered by yesterday?”

 

”I wouldn’t be here if I was.” And then he grinned, one of his light - up - the - world grins that couldn’t be faked. “I just think we need to, y’know, clear the air.”

 

Yup. This was happening. Jisung was positive his heart should not be beating this fast. “I couldn’t agree more.”

 

”So you do agree that we’re thinking about the same thing?”

 

”I had my doubts,” Jisung replied, forcing himself to step closer. “But I think it’s safe to assume that we’re on the same page for once.”

 

”Then what are we waiting for?”

 

Nothing. There was nothing in their way now. Everyone was too busy trying to get to their classes on time to peek through the window and see the two of them. The space between them required probably five more steps forward. Five more steps, and he would dish out his heart on a silver platter. Five more steps, and he would finally feel that blasted rush again, maybe even more. Five more steps, and all he would have to do was lean in and - “Wait.”

 

Minho’s brows furrowed. “Wait? For what?”

 

Jisung pushed his doubts aside. “If we’re really thinking the same thing, then we’ll say the same thing too.”

 

”And you’re suggesting?”

 

”Hear me out.” He paused for dramatic effect - Hyunjin would have been proud. “To save some pace and tension - which was never much of a problem for us, anyway - why not just say it at the same time?”

 

Minho’s brows lifted. “Really? And you’re sure you won’t get the words mixed up?”

 

”Trust me, I’m gonna hear you loud and clear. It won’t be that much of a problem, if we are, in fact, thinking the same thing.”

 

Minho considered that. “Fine. Let’s say it on three. You ready?”

 

Three. Three ticks to a time bomb about to detonate. “Ready.”

 

”One.”

 

”Two.”

 

”Three.”

 

”Do you want to go out with me?” Jisung blurted.

 

”Do you want to just forget this ever happened?” Minho said at the same time.

 

All the air leaked out of his lungs.

 

“I mean, I’m just saying,” Minho went on. “We were both probably tired and confused that day, saying stuff we didn’t mean. It’d save a lot of unnecessary awkwardness and no one would suspect anything. That is what you meant to say, right?”

 

Minho might as well have taken his heart and kicked it into a gutter. Still, just like any other day, he found it in him to open his mouth and speak. “Yeah. Yeah! Sorry, I - I don’t know what I was doing, saying all that stuff to you. I was just going to tell you that and...” The words, false and flimsy, crumbled on his tongue. “Actually no, that’s not what I meant to say.”

 

Minho froze. “What?”

 

The floodgates opened, filling Jisung with an emotion he had never felt towards Minho - anger. “God, Minho, how dense are you? Seriously? I spend all this time trying to get to know you, trying to make something out of all these moments, and it doesn’t cross your mind once that I might actually like you?”

 

”I didn’t - “

 

”Of course you didn’t. Because it doesn’t mean anything.” Everything was falling apart. Any front he walked in with had been decimated, but Jisung didn’t care. “Because you’re this beautiful, flawless dancer who doesn’t need anyone, and I’m just the guy who pops in and out of your life, cracking jokes and flirting with you. And you don’t even care enough to look any farther than that.”

 

”That’s not - “

 

”Don’t fucking deny it.” Jisung hated the quiver in his voice. He couldn’t be weak now. “Because if you did look past that, you’d see more. You’d care more, but you don’t. You never did.” 

 

”That’s not true! I - I...” Minho trailed off, stuttering for what had to be the first time since Jisung knew him. “I knew you liked me.”

 

“But you never knew how much, did you?” Something had reached into Jisung’s body and was squeezing his throat with a vice of steel. “You let me drag you in here, you tell me we’re thinking the same thing, when all I ever think about when I’m with you is having a chance at being someone special to you. Someone more than just a school friend. And I was the idiot who let myself believe that could happen. But I guess I was wrong about that too.”

 

Minho’s whole face looked like a crumpled paper ball, and for a moment Jisung hated himself, wanted to stuff all the word vomit back in his mouth. “I don’t know what to say.”

 

”You don’t have to say anything.” He fixed his eyes on the floor - anything was better than looking back at him. “Just - just don’t fuck with my head. Please.”

 

”How do I stop?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know, how about you give me a clear fucking signal for once? That way I can know when you actually like me and when you’re pissed.”

 

”How the hell do I do that?”

 

”Maybe by telling me honestly what you think of me.” I’m not even sure if I want to know. “Then this can stop.” I don’t want this to stop. “Just give me something.” No matter what it is, it’s not going to change how I feel.

 

Minho’s shadow shifted back, away from Jisung. Then: “I don’t know what to feel when I’m with you.”

 

All of his anger dissipated in seconds. Jisung looked up. Minho was leaning back against a desk, hands gripping the rim of the desktop, head hanging down. “Are you serious?”

 

”I’m telling you the truth. Isn’t that what you wanted to hear?”

 

Not this. A yes or a no - not I don’t know. He was still hiding something - he had to be. “I told you I wanted you to be honest.”

 

”What more do you want from me?” The desperation in his voice was unmistakable. “God, you’re so - I just don’t get you.”

 

”I thought I was easy to read.”

 

”So did I. But at least some people try to hide what they feel.”

 

”The hell’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“It’s something new with you every day.” This time he sounded helpless, a tone so foreign it might as well have belonged to someone else entirely. “Every time I think I have an idea of who you are, you spring something else at me that I’m completely unprepared for.” 

 

”So I surprise you. What’s so bad about that?”

 

”You surprise me all the time.” A weak scoff. “You say exactly what’s on your mind, you do whatever you want, and you still surprise me. You look like you have nothing to hide, and yet you’re more complicated than anyone. And you don’t even know.”

 

“I confuse you because I’m not as dumb as I look?”

 

”It’s not all about you. You’re not the only one who feels things.”

 

”Then tell me.” Jisung took two steps forward. “What do I make you feel?”

 

Minho looked down at the space between them - three more steps was all would take. He leveled his stare unflinchingly. “Things I don’t understand; things I don't want to stop feeling.”

 

"What kind of things?"

 

"I just told you I don't know. All I know is that as much as you drive me crazy, I..." Minho trailed, a light shade of pink coloring his cheeks. "I don't want it to stop."

 

”So you do like me?”

 

”Oh, be quiet.” Minho spat, shooting a quick glance at the door. “Look, yesterday was a mistake - “

 

”Don’t you get it? It wasn’t a mistake! We both know what we said, what we did. I know we wouldn’t take any of it back.”

 

”Why are you treating it like it’s such a big deal? Nothing even happened!”

 

”You’re wrong and you know it.” Jisung’s voice broke. “You want to forget about it because you’re scared. But you can’t.”

 

Minho’s expression was an icy mask. ”You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

In an instant, Jisung crossed the three steps in one, and Minho was right in front of him. Planting his hands on either side of the desktop, he trapped him where he stood.

 

”I know you feel what I feel,” he said, rash and pleading.

 

Everything narrowed down to just Minho- the freckle on his nose, the stray hair out of place on his forehead, the shocked part of his mouth. His liquid onyx eyes were wide and imploring as they glanced down at what could only be Jisung’s own lips. All it would take was nod of his head and they’d be kissing.

 

”I don’t have a clue what I feel.” Minho’s breath tingled on his skin. His gaze had hardened into stone. “So back off.”

 

Jisung obeyed, and Minho released his hold on the desk, making for the door. Say something, his conscience urged. He didn’t hesitate. “Minho?”

 

He stopped. It was enough of an invitation.

 

”I meant what I said. I just wanted you to know that.”

 

Eyes burning, Jisung turned around before he could see Minho leave and burst through the door, wanting to be anywhere but where he was.

 

Minho p.o.v

 

And of course, Minho’s entire brain melted into a hot mess that provided no use throughout the day.

 

He was so far gone, it wasn’t even funny. His head had dissolved into actual, worthless mush. It would be one thing if it happened in Jisung’s presence, but it was way beyond that. People tried to talk to him, and he couldn’t hear a word.

 

And naturally, just by thinking of his name, Minho’s entire thought process dumbed down to Jisung. Jisung, and the way his blonde hair fluttered into his eyes - those eyes, those bronze galaxies that could send you reeling with a glance. Then to say nothing of his lips, that could smile and frown and sever your heart in two in a moment. It was all just Jisung, Jisung, Jisung.

 

What was the deal with that boy? Why couldn’t he just be easy like everyone else? Why did he have to be so honest and sensitive? Why couldn’t Minho stop thinking about him? Why couldn’t he answer any of those questions?

 

Under normal circumstances, Minho would be able to push this stuff aside, save it for later or, better yet, forget about it completely. He never let anyone bother him this much - he never had the will to care, anyways. But these were not normal circumstances; in under a few minutes, Jisung had managed to strike every key nerve in his mind without ever even touching him, and now it was the only thing he could focus on. The working part of his head kept telling him to snap out of it, but his heart wasn’t listening half so well. In fact, it didn’t seem to be listening at all.


A few months ago, Minho had had no intention of falling for anyone. His only priorities were maintaining his straight As, making sure DanceRacha was active and successful, and getting Felix to stop mooning over that blond - haired scrap he found so engaging just because he caught him on a staircase. But no matter what Minho tried, it was just impossible to keep the two dipshits away from each other. He didn’t mind one bit that Felix had chosen a guy as for his romantic interest - it would have been highly hypocritical if he did. He just wished they’d stop catching fire at every glance and agree to grab a coffee sometime. That, and he was beginning to feel somewhat responsible for Felix - he and Hyunjin being his only friends and all. It would have been bad friendship if Minho were just to let him throw his academic career away.

 

He took an admittedly mild interest in the blond - haired scrap that had captured Felix’s attentions, but he hadn’t thought he would take interest in any of his friends. Not the brown - haired senior who he suspicioned half the school had a crush on, nor the blond squirrel - cheeked boy who had been rumored to have used a Monopoly card to get out of detention. In Minho’s defense, he had been fresh out of ideas when he spotted the two characters from across the hall. Immediately he rushed forward to what he had seen as the solution to all of his problems, when he couldn’t have been more wrong.

 

Minho’s crisis awakened in the form of Han Jisung. He didn’t see it then, but he had doomed himself just by walking up to him. He hadn’t looked threatening at first glance - just your average prankster and occasional flirt, nothing to be worried about. He also seemed very interested in Minho, but who wasn’t? They’d get along just fine.

 

What Minho hadn’t expected was for him to return Jisung’s interest. Without knowing it, he’d began to treasure his bright grins, his slapstick remarks, and the moments they shared together when no one else was around.

 

So why was he acting like this? Was it because he knew Jisung was right?

 

No, he couldn’t be. Minho was never afraid. He knew love’s arena - he had a number of exes that rivaled Ramona Flowers. And yet no one he’d gone out with had ever made him feel so offbeat. It was like questioning his sexuality all over again. And that had been a particularly bothersome process.

 

But what else could explain this feeling - like everything inside of him was liquified and effusive, ready to burst out of the prison of his body? It was too much for him to bear- too much anger and sadness and curiosity and longing all in one shitstorm. If this was what love felt like, then Minho wanted to stay clear of it.

 

Obviously, Minho wasn’t in love with Jisung. Even if he was currently wondering what it would feel like to kiss him.

 

The bell rang, signaling the end of their fourth class, a flash of white noise in the droning hum that had taken over all sound. Automatically, Minho slung his bag over his shoulder and rose from his seat, his legs carrying his body out the door. This meant it was lunch period, where he would meet up with the rest of his friends. With Jisung. For thirty minutes. Life just couldn’t get any worse at this point.

 

”Minho!” A voice broke through the hum. Minho bit his lip - he had thought too soon. Seungmin and Jeongin reached his side, Seungmin with a notebook in his hand. “Thought you might want these.”

 

He took the book from his hand. Inside were the notes from their previous class - the notes Minho had neglected to take. “I’m surprised you used your precious class time to take notes for me.”

 

”It wasn’t me. I asked Ryujin to do it.” He nodded towards a short haired platinum - blonde girl behind them.

 

“I’m surprised she accepted," Jeongin observed. "Guess not everyone in this school thinks he's so conceited.”

 

Minho turned. Ryujin walked next to a brown haired girl he recognized as Chaeryoung. She noticed him looking and whispered something to Ryujin involving Seungmin’s name. Immediately, Ryujin flushed bright pink, shoving the other girl away.

 

For the first time since his classes started, Minho felt himself smile. “I think she likes you.”

 

”She was nice enough to copy notes for me. We’re partners for chemistry - maybe that’s why.”

 

”The other kind of like, Sherlock.”

 

Jeongin snickered evilly, and Seungmin faltered slightly, making Minho think this was the first time he’d ever considered himself as a romantic interest of a girl. He spared a sliver of a glance at Ryujin before turning back around, shaking his head. “Psychologically impossible.”

 

"She has for a few months now," Jeongin whispered to Minho. "God only knows why."

 

"No, she doesn't," Seungmin argued. "I'm unlikable in every way, shape, and form."

 

”Hyunjin doesn’t think so.”

 

”But we’re not going to talk about him.” He faced Jeongin. "Leave us. I'll meet you at the courtyard."

 

"But this could be - "

 

"A good story, I know. And that's why you're not going to hear it."

 

Grumbling, Jeongin sulked off. The minute he was out of sight, Seungmin grabbed Minho's arm and dragged him out of the crowd’s pull, the way Jisung had that morning. He stationed them by row of lockers, which must’ve been some kind of invisibility pocket, since no one so much as blinked in their direction. “Something’s up with you - it’s been bothering me all day.”

 

”Gee, nothing beats those humanitarian senses of yours, Seungmin.”

 

”I’m being serious, you clod. You’ve been separate from the rest of the group, barely talking to any of us, barely even looking at Jisung. Is he part of the problem?”

 

Why did everyone in his life have to be so concerned with his wellbeing? “It’s not any business of yours.”

 

”Well, now that I know about it, it is.” Both he and Minho sighed. “Look, I’m starting to see you as a friend, despite not having known you that long. And while I might not have freckles or black hair, do you at least want to talk?”

 

Minho didn’t want to avoid everyone forever - he saw Seungmin as a friend as well, and there was no reason to keep dumping all his shit on him. “Are you sure you want to hear it?”

 

”Well, I’m here, aren’t I?”

 

”It’s about my love life. And you guessed right - Jisung’s a part of it.”

 

Seungmin bristled for an instant, but smoothed out fast. “I can take it.”

 

Spoken like a true friend and soldier. “Where do you want me to begin?”

 

”At the beginning.” Seungmin glanced up at the clock. “You got twenty - five minutes and fifty-six seconds. Think you can fit it in?”

 

Sure. Fitting his life’s singular paradox into twenty - five minutes and fifty - six seconds. How was Minho supposed to do that without launching into a rant that revealed just how much of a wreck he really was?

 

Think about it, a voice chimed. He said the beginning- when did you start to feel this way?

 

Just like that Minho knew exactly what to tell him. He knew the very moment when everything changed, when Jisung became more than just a school friend, when Minho’s entire world tipped off its axis.

 

And to think it all started two months ago, with a cake on the side of the road.

 

******

Sunday, 8:30 PM

 

annoying

minho

Minho

*sighs* you leave me no choice

Ryan

boss bitch

How did you get my number  

annoying

Felix gave it to me

boss bitch

Little asshole

annoying

nice to hear from you too

boss bitch

First of all, who the hell sighs THROUGH TEXT, second call me Ryan on purpose again and you will die, third it is 8:30 ass o clock what the fuck do you want

annoying

Well I could just save some time and say your hand in marriage

boss bitch

No

annoying

BUT since I know you’re a busy man I’ll cut to the chase

boss bitch

Make it quick I have to feed my cats

annoying

I found a cake on the side of the road

boss bitch

Okay what the fuck

annoying

I was feeling CottageCore and decided to walk home from the studio and take in the sights of the city and I was just thinking about a song that I wrote called Sunshine it’s really a Banger and I might drop it sometime when I looked down and there it was

boss bitch
You’re telling me you found a whole ass cake on the side of the road when you were walking home?

annoying

yes

You curse a lot more on text than you do in real life

boss bitch

That’s just how I live

annoying

that’s reasonable 

so anyways I was like hm this is a Mighty Fine cake here like it looked completely untouched like the plastic cover was still on and everything

boss bitch

What does it look like

annoying

like it’s clearly some store bought birthday cake it has white frosting with some cheap ass rainbow sprinkles you the gist

boss bitch

It’s a birthday cake?

annoying

yeah it had pink frosting on top and it said Happy Birthday Timmy!

boss bitch

Huh. Poor little Timmy

annoying

Oh well it’s mine now

boss bitch

Are you serious did you really take some kid’s birthday cake from off the street?

annoying

do you not like it?

boss bitch

No it just sounds like something I would’ve done

 

boss bitch

Why are you telling me about it?

annoying

well I took the cake to my apartment and I thought like this is a little much for me to have by myself and everyone else is probably asleep and Chan and Binnie are still at the studio so I was thinking 👉👈...

boss bitch

You wanted to share it with me?

annoying

yeah 

boss bitch

Didn’t you wonder if I was asleep?

annoying

I kinda figured you weren’t and before you say anything it was because you were complaining about your crap ass sleep schedule two days ago and how you never go to sleep until like midnight or smth 

boss bitch

Wow. No lie kind of surprised you remembered

annoying

Well I’m the kind of guy who pays attention to those details

boss bitch

Sure Jisung

annoying

so you wanna do it? Just two guys chilling out eating cake late at night

boss bitch

Why the hell not it’s not like I have anything better to do

annoying

wait shit really

boss bitch

Yeah that’s what I just said

annoying

holy fuck I’m malfunctioning you actually want to do this this is great

boss bitch

Don’t get too excited.

annoying

fuck right sorry

boss bitch

It’s fine

annoying

so... how are we going to do this

boss bitch

Hold on. Before we make anything official, what’s the flavor of the cake?

annoying

hold on let me check

it’s chocolate

boss bitch

All right I guess this is happening

annoying

so my place or yours?

boss bitch

Hmmm I don’t feel like going anywhere tonight. You can come to my place.

annoying

alright

boss bitch

Just be careful with Ms. Jang my landlady - she thinks she’s my mom away from home so she gets suspicious of any guy that comes to my apartment

annoying

note taken

boss bitch

And look out for my cats- Soonie likes to hunt at night, Doongie considers my window her watch tower so she’ll hiss at you, and Dori will probably be lying somewhere on the floor, so trip on her and I’ll snap your neck if it isn’t already broken.

annoying

got it

one more question

boss bitch

And let me stop you right there

No matter what you’re thinking right now, this is in no way a date.

annoying

that’s not what I was going to ask

I don’t know where you live

******


Twenty minutes later, the doorbell rang. Surprisingly punctual, Minho thought as he swung open the door. 

 

Jisung was crouched on the ground beside Soonie, examining the dead rat on the doormat. His head shot up, eyes meeting Minho’s immediately. He pointed to the rat. “This was already here when I arrived.” Then he glanced at Soonie. “So was she.”

 

”Oh, don’t worry about it. Soonie loves to bring me little treats.” Minho beckoned the cat forward and scooped her up. “This pretty girl’s the reason I’m the only tenant here without a rat problem. Then to say nothing of my other cats.”

 

As if summoned, Doongie hissed menacingly from her spot on the windowsill, and Dori entwined herself around Minho’s ankles, purring sweetly.

 

Most guys would be weirded out by such a display of feline power, but Jisung just smiled. Minho supposed he should have expected it - he seemed to have a smile for everything.

 

Minho looked Jisung up and down. From years of experience, he knew when a guy taken care in his appearance. Jisung had indeed put effort into his image - he wore a denim hoodie over a white t shirt and black jeans that fit him considerably better than his uniform slacks. That was always nice to see.

 

He nodded to the plastic bag in Jisung’s hand. “Is that the cake?”

 

”Oh. Uh, yeah.” Jisung hefted the bag, shifting from foot to foot. “Can I come in?”

 

Doongie hissed more insistently, and Dori’s tail coiled around Minho’s leg. Even Soonie meowed louder, a sure sign that she disapproved.

 

Hush, my darlings, Minho thought. They would somehow hear him. He won’t be here long. Wordlessly, he stepped aside, and Jisung stepped through the entrance and shut the door behind him.

 

He looked around in awe, absorbing the sights of his surroundings. Minho knew what he was seeing: the mishmash of slightly mothball - smelling vintage furniture, the cat towers decked with toys and tufts of fur, the bundles stacked in every nook and cranny. It was about as pretty as the outside - an old brick establishment a few blocks away from the city. The price had been a steal and the apartment came with a balcony view, so it wasn't all that bad. Minho hadn't let anyone inside his dorm in a while, so he’d let the cat fur collect on practically every surface. But Jisung’s expression was like that of a kid in a candy store, filled with fresh wonder, so innocent it made Minho crack a smile.

 

”Cool place you got,” he said finally.

 

”Thanks,” Minho replied, setting Soonie down on the floor. Dori scampered close after. “I just finished getting it furnished. Took a while for me to find something my cats wouldn’t claw the crap out of, but it seems like they share my refined style palette.” 

 

Jisung laughed, then his eyes rested on Minho. “You look nice.”

 

Minho had chosen a casual ensemble for tonight - a soft grey sweater and pale blue jeans, with silver cross earrings for an ornamental touch. Nothing too over the top. “Well, don’t let me distract you from the reason you came.”

 

Jisung startled, blinking a total of five times. “Right.” Being careful to tiptoe over a cat toy, he set the bag on the countertop. “Behold, the centerpiece of the night.” And he revealed the cake.

 

It was... disappointing. And slightly depressing, to be honest, but Minho had expected that. The faultless white frosting stood out against the marble countertop, dusted off with pastel sprinkles with Happy Birthday Timmy! in bright pink cursive piped by a careful hand. It would do for the night.

 

”Soonie, Doongie, Dori!” Minho called. “The food’s ready!”

 

”You’re calling over your cats?”

 

”Well, of course I am. This looks to be an edible source of nourishment - if I can eat it, so will my cats.” He turned to retrieve plates, then paused. “And you said you found this on the side of the road?”

 

”Yeah. A few feet away from the bakery I live over. I’ll take you and the guys there sometime. It’s got great hotteok. This one time - “

 

”Jisung. Focus.”

 

”Sorry. Anyway, it was like, this close to falling into the gutter.” Jisung spaced an inch between his thumb and index finger to show just how close the cake had come to being destroyed. “I was surprised a car hadn’t rolled over it. No one else was around to claim it, so I did.”

 

“Hopefully little Timmy got a better cake.”

 

”But that’s what I don’t get! Who the hell leaves a whole cake out on the street?”

 

”Either a person is that ungrateful, or they just hoped that there was some raccoon out there named Timmy who would appreciate it more than the original target.”

 

”Why am I thinking about this, anyway? We’re supposed to eat this cake, not discuss it.”

 

”I think it’s a nice topic of conversation, assuming an object’s past. I mean, really, this cake could have come from anywhere. Literally everything in my apartment came from somewhere else.”

 

”Is that why all your furniture looks like it came from an eighty - year - old woman’s living room?”

 

”Don’t insult my tastes!” Minho punched his arm. “You’re one to talk anyway - where’d you get that jacket, your bisexual cousin?”

 

”Chan’s closet, but he isn't my cousin,” Jisung replied, rubbing his shoulder. “So everything you own comes from a past?” He pointed to Minho’s favorite (and only) armchair. “Where did this come from?”

 

”My grandma’s funeral. She left it specifically to me in her will.”

 

“Okay,” Jisung trailed, pointing to the tallest cat tower. “And that?”

 

”A garage sale. I stole it myself.”

 

”How do you steal a cat tower?”

 

”A game plan, a car, and a lot of love for your furry children.”

 

Judging from Jisung’s bewildered expression - furrowed brows and slack jaw - he hadn’t expected Minho to be the type of guy to steal a cat tower. But it didn’t seem to bother him that much, given he straightened up immediately. His eyes were drawn to a jacket on the coat rack. “What about this?”

 

It was a black leather jacket, slightly worn, with red silk lining. Minho felt his a faint tug at the corners of his mouth. “A gift from an old ex of mine.”

 

Jisung raised his eyebrows. “Well, not a gift. He actually threw it at me after we broke up - far too dramatic, in my opinion. Probably hoped I would return it to him, but it looked better on me, so I kept it.”

 

”Sounds like there’s definitely a story there." Something in Jisung's demeanor softened - he was hesitant. “One you mind telling?”

 

“Not at all. It was before Felix was in the picture - just Hyunjin and me. Only lasted a couple months before it ended.” For reassurance, Minho threw in a smile. “It was a summer fling. Didn’t mean a thing - “

 

”But oh, those summer nights,” Jisung finished, smirking. “Tell me more, tell me more.”

 

The overture started to play in Minho’s mind: short notes on the piano to light flicks on the hi - hat. “You promise you won’t laugh?”

 

Jisung’s smirk spread into a grin as he leaned forward eagerly, hands cradling his chin. ”Oh, now I know this is gonna be good.” 

 

Minho guffawed. “And what makes you think that?”

 

“Well, obviously you wouldn’t tell me not to laugh unless you knew it was going to be a good story. And I won’t laugh.” He promised when Minho raised his eyebrows. “But I’ll be hanging on to every word.”

 

That much was clear. Guess I shouldn’t waste any more time, then. “Three weeks after the end of sophomore year. A theater troupe was doing their own production of Grease in the Yangjae Citizen’s Forest. The ex in question played Danny Zuko, hence the jacket.”

 

Jisung bit his lip - he was already holding back laughter, that little shit. “So you’re into bad boys, huh?”

 

It was taking every ounce of self - control Minho had not to punch Jisung’s arm out of its socket. “Hardly. He was drastically different from his character in that way. But I guess there was some allure to going out with a theater boy -  he was always romantic, and every day had a new little moment.”

 

”Shall I compare thee to a midsummer’s day?”

 

”Shall I continue my story uninterrupted?”

 

”Got it. Keep going.”

 

“It was sweet during the good times, but it was one of those things that you knew wouldn’t last forever.” Doongie leaped up onto the countertop, and Minho obediently rubbed her back with his knuckles. “Summer would end, as would all those little moments. Things would eventually become dull and predictable, he would stop making an effort, and we’d just be dragging it out. I thought it’d be good to end it while things were still happy - make it short and sweet, like a movie.”

 

”But he didn’t see it that way, did he?”

 

Doongie yowled up at him, and Minho chuckled, moving on to scratch her behind the ears. “Not at all. He seemed surprised that I mentioned the word 'breakup.' Then he proceeded to rant on how he thought we were soulmates, on how I’d never meet anyone who loved me as much as him, yadda yadda yadda - and then he revealed how he wanted me to run away with him to Busan.”

 

Jisung’s nose wrinkled. “Ew.”

 

”Right? Like, no thanks, buddy - I had an education and a life - he didn’t.”

 

”Did you tell him that?”

 

”Of course I did, what do you take me for? He goes on a rampage, taking all his crap, almost kicking poor Dori.”

 

”No.”

 

”Yes!”

 

Dori mrowled from atop the couch, lamenting her own unfortunate experience.

 

”And then he called me a loveless recluse and threw the jacket at my face, and that was that. Wasn’t too much of a loss. Soonie, Doongie and Dori couldn’t stand him.” Minho smiled ruefully down at Doongie. “Now I never date anyone my cats don’t like.”

 

Jisung glanced over his shoulder at Soonie and Dori, who were watching them skeptically. “Seems like your cats hate everyone.”

 

Minho shrugged. “Maybe it’s safer that way.”

 

For a moment, Jisung's mouth opened, then shut itself. He drummed his fingers noisily on the countertop, and Minho immersed himself in wordlessly rubbing Doongie's back. He knew he should have just kept his mouth shut about Doyoung. It wasn't like he was ashamed  - shame never factored into his daily emotions. Jisung had asked, and he had answered, but now he wished he hadn't. He already knew how the rest of the night was going to play out: Minho would stiffly suggest that he get their plates and forks, Jisung would agree, and they would choke down their food in silence until Jisung left.

 

But then Jisung stopped drumming his fingers. He turned his face up to Minho's. "Did your ex really call you a loveless recluse?"

 

"Seriously? Out of everything I've told you, that's what you focus on?"

 

"Well, the recluse part I get, but the loveless part seems a little far - fetched."

 

"And why is that?"

 

"You try not to show it all the time, but you care about people a lot."

 

"Wrong. Yesterday, when Hyunjin choked on his own breath, I laughed."

 

"You still asked him if he was okay afterwards."

 

"Get to the point."

 

"Hey, I'm not trying to be your psychiatrist here." Jisung held up his hands in mock surrender. "I'm just saying that maybe you should accept the bad shit in life, take some risks. I mean, so far it's worked out great for me."

 

"Not really the best example."

 

Jisung laughed, brushing off the comment easily. "Eh, still. At least consider it."

 

To Minho, this sounded suspiciously like a date ploy. He'd encountered them many times when approached by guys, though most were more straightforward than this - Minho was, after all, a rare find anywhere. If they wanted him, they had to catch him. But none of those guys had come bearing stolen cakes and life advice. And Jisung wasn't looking at him like he wanted to back him into the dark corner of a room just to see what might happen. He was flicking the drawstring of his hoodie at Doongie, who was batting her paw at it in return. Was this actually a platonic attempt in getting to know him?

 

Summer sun, something's begun, but, uh-oh, those summer nights.

 

Correction, it's nighttime and winter, Minho revised, perishing the lyric. "You two going to keep playing, or is this cake going to sit here all night?"

 

Both Jisung and Doongie looked up at him beseechingly. "And who do you think you are, trying to break apart a budding relationship?"

 

"Her owner, stupid. Now go to the bathroom and freshen up - I saw her scratch your hand."

 

"You do care about me."

 

"I care about eating my cake in peace without the fear of someone in my vicinity getting an infection. Now go."

 

Making a face, Jisung pushed off of his stool and headed down the hall, giggling with delight as Doongie followed.

 

Minho shook his head, chuckling as he grabbed the plates from out of the cupboard. A meow came from below - Soonie had appeared at his feet. She peeked off in the direction where Jisung and Doongie had gone and headbutted his ankle, a question.

 

"I know, I know, he's still here," Minho picked her up and placed her near the sink beside him. "But you haven't scratched him up at all. Why is that? Is this your way of telling me you approve?"

 

Another meow. "Well, I'm glad you like him. This is rare for you; usually you hate it when I bring home a new guy for the first time. Especially when I talk about him beforehand - the key words I used for him were obnoxious, careless, and cheesy. We normally hate those descriptions!"

 

Dori mrowled from across the room. "So he's not exactly what I described - I didn't know that either! But he's the first guy I've brought here who hasn't tried to get in my pants. And he brought cake, it's been way too long since anyone brought me food. And I think he likes me, but it's been two weeks, so that's a bit early to determine. Other than that, I don't really know if he's boyfriend material."

 

Soonie glared up at Minho in a way that made it feel like she was staring into his soul. And was unimpressed.

 

"Okay, so he's kind of a Baldwin. And he's nice. But I don't know. I think I want to stay friends for a while." Soonie just blinked. "Oh, don't look at me like that. I know what I'm doing. Now you better behave yourself tonight. Handsome men aren't going to come by every Sunday to bring me cakes." Though a guy could certainly dream. "Let's just see what happens tonight."

 

Then, from down the hall: a spurt of running water and a feline yowl of hysteria. Doongie. Minho's motherly senses hit him like a dodgeball to the gut as he broke into a sprint down the hall. Tearing open the door, he stopped dead. What he saw was somehow even more terrifying than what he had expected.



Jisung’s jacket lay abandoned on the tiled floor. On the floor by the toilet, the ruins of a tiny potted succulent were scattered like a dismembered corpse. Jisung himself knelt at the lip of the bathtub, a bottle of Dawn dish soap wielded in one hand and Doongie in the other. Doongie met Minho’s eyes from over his shoulder and yowled again.

 

Minho found his voice again. “What the hell are you doing to my cat?”

 

Jisung whipped around for a second, then turned his eyes back to Doongie. “Will you believe me if I tell you what happened?”

 

Minho folded his arms. “You better have a good explanation.”

 

Jisung squirted the Dawn onto Doongie's back and set it aside, proceeding to massage it into her wet fur. "I was in here, washing my hands like you asked me to, when this lovely little troublemaker decides to jump up on the sink! So I try to get her down gently, you know, using words not force, because my hands were still wet. And then as she jumped down, she knocked over the succulent and it fell on her - the plant, not the pot. I didn't want to disturb you, and I didn't want her to track dirt all over your place, so I panicked, I got out the first soap - thing I saw, and now here we are."

 

Doongie hissed softly as Jisung rubbed soap behind her ears, murmuring hushed apologies. Despite himself, Minho felt, underneath his irritation, surprisingly touched. "You didn't have to do that."

 

"I already brought you cake - didn't seem right that I'd scuff up one of your cats. Besides, we were just starting to get to know each other, weren't we, Doongie?"

 

Minho scoffed as Doongie hissed once more in response. "Well, you are washing her with dish soap, so I'm pretty sure your friendship just went down the drain."

 

"It's the shit that saves ducks, she'll be fine. Why do you keep dish soap in your bathroom, anyways?"

 

"It's good for emergencies, you'd be surprised. Now rinse her and get her out of the water - the only time her eyes look like that is when she spots a particularly clueless rat."

 

Jisung did as he was told, turning down the water temperature to lukewarm. Minho passed him a hand towel to dry Doongie's fur, grimacing as he picked her up out of the tub, rubbing her body with the towel, cooing as he held her close to his chest. "That's probably not the best idea. She turns a bit hostile after getting a bath."

 

"Oh, it's fine, see? She likes me! Look, do you see the hug? She's hugging me - wait, nope, those are claws. Ow, ow, ow." Minho cackled as Jisung pried Doongie off his chest, swiping tears out of his eyes that were either understandably real or hilariously fake. "Well, that wasn't a good idea."

 

"No kidding," Minho giggled, handing Jisung's jacket back to him. "I hope that encourages you to think twice before you bathe another man's cat."

 

"I was being chivalrous." Jisung wrapped his jacket around himself. "And I never think twice about anything."

 

"Anything?"

 

"Anything," Jisung repeated, popping his collar. "'Cause that's just how I roll."

 

"Stupid."

 

"Beautiful."

 

Minho started, then stopped, realizing what Jisung had said. The little devil had already started grinning. "What were you going to say?"

 

He bit his lip to keep from smiling back. "Nothing."

 

A few minutes later, they assembled in the living room - Minho in his armchair, Soonie and Doongie settled by his feet, Jisung on the couch with Dori to his left, all curved in a crescent around the cake that sat on the coffee table, as if it would grow legs and walk away.

 

Jisung lifted a fist in query. Minho rolled his eyes. "We are not doing Rock - Paper - Scissors for this."

 

"I dunno. Thought this moment would be more exciting."

 

"It's cake. We cut a slice, we eat it, end of story. There's not much more that goes into it."

 

"I guess so." Jisung hunched forward, bottom lip pushing out slightly, when a lightbulb switched on in his mind. "Unless we could add to the effect."

 

"And that could happen how?"

 

Jisung's grin shone almost eerily in the darkness. "I have an idea."

 

Oh boy.

 

******

 

"When you said you had an idea, I didn't think you meant this," Minho confessed as he ducked beneath a pipe.

 

"And you guys are always telling me to get my head out of the gutter." Jisung pulled him around another corner. "What else could I have meant?"

 

Whatever Jisung intended, Minho hadn't had a clue. All he knew was that he was currently being dragged around his apartment complex by a hyperactive squirrel boy holding a birthday cake in one hand and Minho's hand in the other, followed by his trio of very confused cats.

 

"Are we going to be doing something illegal?" Minho asked. "I just paid the rent - I can't risk anything now!"

 

"This is completely legal, I can promise you. Have you seriously never done this before?"

 

"Yeah, because I have mountains of homework every night, three cats, and a life. I don't have time to visit a rooftop level on my own apartment building."

 

"Then I hate to say it, but you've been wasting your time here."

 

"I am not!" Minho retorted, fumbling with the plates and utensils in his hands. "Could you slow down? I'm going to drop these!"

 

"No you're not. See, we're here!" Jisung skidded to a stop at the stairway that lead to the door that was supposedly the gateway to the top of the building.

 

Soonie, Doongie, and Dori went for the door, meowing and scratching at it. Minho kept his glare firm. "If I get in trouble with my landlady for this, I'm blaming all of it on you."

 

"Go ahead. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that some things are worth breaking the rules for." And he opened the door.

 

Sighing, Minho followed his cats up the stairs, preparing a dry response, but the words left his mind the moment he looked up.

 

Okay, obviously Minho had seen a night sky before. Glances at the pitch - black oblivion outside his window lit only by a sphere of white light, wondering where the daylight had gone. But nothing like this - this kind of view had to come from another dimension. Acres of lapis blue blended with obsidian black, dotted with diamond fragments of brilliance scattered all about the sky like paintbrush spatter. The moon was a goddess, luminous and unreachable, watching over the world as it slept. This was no sky; this was a floating ocean. This was another cosmos entirely.

 

"Unreal," Minho breathed, already losing his grip on the forks.

 

"Better take it in," Jisung replied, appearing behind him. "It's not going to last forever."

 

Of course it wouldn't last long; something this beautiful could only last a few moments. Minho had to force himself to look down, step forward onto the rooftop. "I can't believe I'm just now doing this."

 

"Me neither. I mean really, would it be that much of a pain to look out your window every once in a while?"

 

"I meant I can't believe someone had to force me to go up here." Minho crouched down next to Dori. "Usually, guys take me to all these showy places - Lotte World, Banpo Bridge Park, even Namsan Tower."

 

Jisung's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. "Seriously? Namsan Tower?"

 

"Mm - hm. And the restaurant, too."

 

"Damn." Jisung glanced at the cake in his hands, at the deserted rooftop, at his wardrobe selection. "Guess this isn't too exciting in comparison.”

 

"Are you kidding? This is great! We've got this whole spot to ourselves. And my cats are here, so that's a major plus."

 

Jisung seemed to cheer up a little at that. "And to think all I had to do was make you run three floors up."

 

"I'm still not going to forgive you for that."

 

"Come on, you're a dancer! You're used to physical movement."

 

"Exactly - I don't run, I dance. It's a different kind of movement."

 

"Whatever." Jisung set the cake on the ground and sat cross - legged beside it. "Now we can have our cake and eat it too."

 

Exactly five slices of cake were cut that night- one for Minho, one for Jisung, and three slivers for each of the cats. Minho took note of the way they ate- he himself savored every bite, Soonie, Doongie and Dori devoured their pieces like they would never see food again, but then there was Jisung. He seemed content with cramming each bite into one of his cheeks and swallowing them both. When Minho told him that, he replied with: "These babies are the only reason I survive winters around here. Streets be tough." The nonsensical comment left them both cackling.

 

After they had settled down, Jisung pulled out his phone and placed it in between them. "To set the mood," he said.

 

A quiet, gentle lo - fi beat sounded, resonating with the subdued background of city chatter. Then, a single voice, low and melodious.

 

"Despite being within a noisy city, yeah, yeah, yeah, I do whatever I want, the way I want it, yeah, yeah, yeah."

 

"Sitting under the shade with good sunlight, close your eyes, look at me for a moment."

 

Minho listened, and then it struck him. "Is this you?"

 

He nodded. For the first time since he'd met him, Jisung looked... shy. "It's the song I was telling you about earlier - Sunshine. Wrote it a few weeks ago when Mr. Yeon made me stay late after school."

 

Up until now, Minho hadn't really listened to any of his friends' music. To hear Jisung's voice in this way, it wasn't what he had expected at all. This confident, energetic rapper with a smile for anything was going behind his back and writing these soothing midnight ballads like it was nothing and it felt like the plot twist of the year. "You're not the type of guy I pictured writing stuff like this."

 

Jisung chuckled. "Figured you would say as much. I guess it'll come as a surprise to some people, but it's just what feels natural to me. Even though it might not look that way on the surface."

 

Sounds like something I can relate to, Minho thought as Doongie nudged her way into his arms. "Maybe everyone's like that."

 

"Maybe," Jisung agreed, then his eyes caught on to something in the distance. "Look! Lyra constellation."

 

Minho followed his gaze to a tilted diamond shape in the sky. "Didn't know you were an astronomer."

 

"Trust me, I'm not - Chan made it his mission to teach me and Changbin about all the constellations. Said they'd be good for future conversation topics."

 

"Do you know anything about that one?"

 

"A little. Apparently it's tied to Orpheus, some Greek musician who was considered the best in his time. His music could sooth anger and bring happiness like no one else. When his wife died, he became all depressed and wandered around until he was killed and his lyre was thrown into the river. Zeus' eagle swooped down to retrieve it and it was placed in the sky in Orpheus' memory."

 

"Sad times." Doongie nuzzled her head under Minho's chin, and he giggled. "Do you ever wonder if all those myths are real, and those spirits really are contained in the stars?"

 

"Don't know," Jisung replied, glancing down at Soonie, who was headbutting his hand, asking for pets. "But I'm sure there's someone up there, laughing at all the dumb shit we do." And, for the first time in a long time, he went silent.

 

Everything around them went into slow motion, the music just another part of this night. In spite of himself, Minho snuck a glance at the boy next to him.

 

Jisung was leaning back on his elbows, a figure painted with moonlight, his skin pale as paper, his hair the color of daffodils, his eyes glowing bronze. His features were etched in shadow, and a million details hit Minho all at once: the lazy arch of his back, the slant of his jaw, the shape of his Adam's apple, like a heart.

 

Then those illuminated eyes turned on his. A loopy smile began to unfurl. "What?"

 

Minho, exercising heroic self - control, smiled back. "Nothing." And because the rest of the night had been so ridiculous, they laughed.

 

"Stay there," Jisung said abruptly.

 

"What?" Minho giggled, still a little lightheaded.

 

"I like to have keepsakes of the places I've been. Pictures."

 

Minho waited for Jisung to pick up his phone and snap a photo. But instead, he made a square with his forefingers and thumbs, Minho's still - smiling face in the center.

 

"There," Jisung murmured. "Just like that." Signature grin never leaving his face, he dropped his hands and looked away, but Minho hadn’t.

 

Because suddenly, his heart felt like a swarm of butterflies had attacked. Suddenly he couldn't just laugh it off. Suddenly that giddy, lopsided smile like melted ice cream was a glittering constellation of its own, and Minho's world tipped off its very axis.

 

******

 

When Minho finished talking, he exhaled, leaning back against the lockers. The remnants of his words echoed throughout the empty hallway. Cutting his eyes to Seungmin, a dry chuckle broke free. "Told you it would be a tearjerker."

 

Seungmin was leaning back next to him, and it was hard to tell if he was deeply stunned or privately commending his soul to God. "I have no words."

 

"That's a first."

 

"Why do all of you do that?"

 

"Do what?"

 

"Use jokes to deflect something serious. What the hell are you so afraid of?"

 

"This!" Minho shouted into the chasm. "Why do you think you're the first person I told about this fucking mess? Why do you think I hate the way I feel?"

 

The words bounced around them, ‘the way I feel’ repeating a thousand times over until it was gone.

 

Seungmin sunk down the floor, tucking his knees to his chest. “Why was I the first person you told?”

 

Minho couldn’t sit next to him - his body felt too stiff. “I knew you’d be the only one who would understand. If I told any one of the others, they’d make a joke out of it, tease me, say it was about time I felt something for someone.” He scoffed. “I knew you would be the only one to see the light.”

 

A long pause stretched out between them. Too long. “Then I suppose you’re going to hate me.”

 

All the blood leached from Minho’s limbs. “You're fucking kidding.”

 

"Minho, just listen - "

 

"Don't you dare say it." Minho pushed off of the lockers and rounded on Seungmin. "I mean, seriously, you of all people. You go around here, acting like you're better than everyone, saying 'romance is an illusion' until you're blue in the face! Then you have the nerve to tell me-"

 

"Will you listen to me? I don't think romance is an illusion."

 

"Of course you don't."

 

"I've only ever said that love at first sight was a sham, not love itself. You can become infatuated with a glance, of course, but not immediately in love. It's something you grow into over time, day after day until you look at the object of your affections and realize you see them in a different light than you did the night before. That's falling."

 

Somehow, Minho laughed, strained and manic, so unlike him. "My God, you're full of shit. Who put you up to this? Was it Chan? Come on, tell me you don't believe a word you just said."

 

"No one put me up to anything. I'm telling you this honestly. Now please, just lower your voice-"

 

"And why would I do that?" Minho yelled, raising his voice rather than lowering it. "It's you who's crazy, all of you, talking to me like I don't know how to think, how to feel. I know exactly how I feel."

 

"Then you know that I'm right. I'm not going to tell you what you want to hear because you already know the truth."

 

"I know you feel what I feel."

 

"I don't have a clue what I feel. So back off."

 

Minho had lied to him. Even when they were so close.

 

All the fight left him at that moment, all the anger and energy. He slumped bonelessly next to Seungmin. "Why does it feel so weird?"

 

"That's something I wouldn't know."

 

Blankly, Minho stared at him. "You talk a fair fucking game - "

 

" - for not having a lot of wordly experience, I know, I know. I've resigned myself to a study of the human behavior - high school is a great place to learn. We humans are such messy creatures, constantly getting tangled up in our own emotions. Love's just another part of that."

 

"But why does it have to happen like this?" Minho threw up his hands in exasperation. "I mean, I've been with other guys before - I know what it's like. Why does it feel so different?"

 

"Did you ever really care for them?"

 

That made Minho pause. Had he? He had enjoyed his time with each of them, now happy memories of connections that were fleeting and sugary as the relationships they used to be. But had he really cared for any of them? He'd told them so - 'I love you,' surprisingly easy words to say. Yet they had felt so empty every time, and it always disappointed him. For reasons unbeknownst to him, he had never brought any of them to meet his parents, or allowed them into his apartment for a second time, or let them stay in his life for more than a few months. Why? It wasn't like anything bad ever happened. Fights were rare - Doyoung was the only one who ever really threw a fit. But other than that, all of those relationships had been clean of the normal couple's spats, and it was Minho who ended them. Cut them off before they could leave behind their sweaters or suggest copies of each other’s house keys. In all those affairs, real intimacy was foreign, always waiting behind the curtains, but banished before it could make so much as an appearance. 

And one night with Han Jisung had changed that. One night of cake and cats and stargazing and Minho was tempted to show his hand, take a risk and be vulnerable. When Jisung left, Minho hadn’t been ready to turn on a drama and curl up on the couch with his cats. He’d shown him out to the door himself, and when Jisung had said “I guess I should get going,” a single plea flashed through Minho’s mind: Stay.

 

Fucking hell. He slammed his head back against the wall, not even feeling the pain. “Why did it have to be him?”

 

Seungmin sighed. "Now that is a question I will never have the answer to."

 

It just didn't make any sense. All the guys Minho had dated had been devastatingly good - looking, always theatrical, the kind of guys you met over summer break and remembered fondly once school started up again. Han Jisung broke the mold in every way: he was a walking sonic boom, he couldn't sit still to save his life, and he had the eternal belief that rules existed just to be broken. He was the intrusive thought that popped up when least expected, the sour aftertaste of something sweet, the embodiment of everything Minho avoided.

 

But he was emotional and lyrical and spontaneous, a heartbreaker who wore his heart on his sleeve. He was caring and reckless and wonderful without even trying. He was the wild card in the pack, the twenty-sided dice, the x in the equation. He was so much more than summer.

 

Seungmin nudged him with his elbow. "What're you thinking about?"

 

"That this is fucking crazy,” Minho replied. He tilted his head up, eyes to the ceiling. “All this time, I’ve been falling for him.”

 

Jisung p.o.v

 

There was no doubt about it.

 

Hands down, this was the worst, most backwards day of Jisung's life.


Not when he almost died an early death in Malaysia, or when he’d gotten a lashing from Ms. Kwon for the first time, or when he’d drunk dialed his mom on New Years and woken up to a lecture at seven in the morning. But today, when Lee Minho, enigmatic dancer dreamboat himself, broke his heart.

 

It didn’t even feel like an exaggeration. It was like his body was a separate attachment to his mind, and he was watching his body move and speak the way he always did, not controlling his own actions. He had been put on CPU, and he didn’t have a problem with it. Just so long as no one figured out what was going on in his head, which was a different kind of mess on its own. 

Jisung’s mind had become a desolate wasteland of misery and self - hatred, wandering the same spaces over and over again, because why did he have to open his mouth and spew out every Minho - related thought right in front of Minho himself and even consider that it would end well? Had Jisung learned nothing in the years he had walked this planet? Obviously not, considering he was still thinking like this. But what did he think was going to happen? He’d ask Minho out, sweep him off his feet with a heart - wrenching confession, and they’d make out in the classroom?

 

Honestly, yeah.

 

Jisung had been so convinced that they wanted the same thing that he lead himself right into a mirage, which vanished the minute Minho asked if he wanted to forget what had happened.

 

How could he say that? After all the things they’d done together, all the moments and time they had created through stolen bits of fate. Did they mean anything? Did they even happen? Had Jisung been leading himself on this whole time?

 

No, he hadn’t. In all those moments, mixed signals and all, there was always something real in the core, something that they both acknowledged, something they both felt. That much hadn’t been clear until today - Minho had basically confessed to it in the classroom.

 

”As much as you drive me crazy I... I don't want it to stop."

 

Obviously, they’d both had love lives before. Minho had told him about one - Doyoung aka, Danny Zuko - and it sounded like he hadn’t been Minho’s only ex. Jisung had begun to expect the feelings they caused: pleasure, a brief dopamine rush, the thrill of getting to know someone interesting. But confusion had never been part of them - surely if Minho really liked him, he would tell him flat out, right?

 

“I don’t know what to feel when I’m with you.”

 

What if he wasn’t lying? What if he really didn’t know how he felt for Jisung? Maybe he really hadn’t figured it out yet.

 

But that still didn’t explain the way Minho looked at him before - on the rooftop of his apartment, in the dance studio, in the classroom, where they had been closer than ever before. Eyes full of an open - faced kind of wonder, like Jisung wasn’t Jisung but a miracle in a human form. It was the way Felix and Changbin looked at each other, the way Hyunjin looked at Seungmin. 

 

The way I look at Minho, Jisung thought. Then why did everything have to be so weird? Why did it have to feel so different from everyone else?


Maybe this is different, he realized. Maybe he’s different, and this is something new entirely.

 

Could this be love?

 

Meanwhile, his body reacted instinctively to a comment his mind hadn’t even registered. “That’s what she said!” CPU Jisung shouted, and the entire hallway cracked up like a laughing track, a few of the teachers scowling in his direction. Chan and Changbin rolled their eyes and told him to keep it down.

 

”It’s our last class of the day,” Changbin chided. “You don’t want to stay late again.”

 

Don’t I know it. One more class, and Jisung would be away from this hellhole, away from the perpetually baffling dancing gem Minho who he might love. Until that final bell rang, Jisung was going to have to act the part of the carefree class clown until he could feel it. Or feel something, for that matter.


And so, his mental state caught up with his body and returned to the present.

 

”Jisung,” Chan said carefully. “Get off the desk and put the paper ball down.”

 

“Quit being such a wet blanket, Chan!” Bambam berated him. “You’re gonna do great!”

 

”He’s right, Chan,” Jisung heard himself say. “I had to earn my stones sometime.”

 

”It’s the end of the day,” Minho grumbled. “You seriously can’t go one day without some stunt?”

 

Not at how every word you say to me feels like getting stabbed. But he couldn’t say anything now. Not in his current position, anyway.

 

The first thing everyone saw when they entered Ms. Baek's classroom was their Lit & Comp teacher slumped over on her desk, unquestionably asleep. So they did what any reasonable group of high school teenagers would have done: they pulled out their phones and smuggled snacks and accepted their peace. But since Yugyeom and Bambam, both legendary seniors at JYP, were in their class, things naturally got a little more wild.

 

So that was how Jisung ended up standing on top of a desk in the far right corner with a paper ball in his fist. At least he assumed that was what happened.

 

"Don't listen to them, Sungie!" Felix called from the front, crunching on shrimp chips. "I believe in you."

 

Jisung silently thanked God for Felix. He placed a grateful hand over his heart. "Thanks, bro. Means a lot."

 

"Shut up, would you?" Yugyeom whisper - yelled. He was holding up a trash can behind Ms. Baek's snoring head: the goal for Jisung's ball. "We've got five minutes to make this."

 

"Why even bother?" Hyunjin asked. He lay back in his chair with his feet propped up on his desk. "You could just let us have a moment to relax before we get out of here."

 

"Life's all about making memories, Jinnie," Jisung winked, tossing the ball from one hand to another. "Sometimes it's necessary."

 

"It really isn't," Chan piped up.

 

"Sometimes."

 

”God, this is ridiculous,” Minho complained. “You know this can go wrong in so many ways, right?”

 

Jisung folded his arms and held his gaze. “Thrill me.”

 

If Minho was at all daunted, it didn’t show - typical. He pulled out his phone and read off the screen. “The bell rings and she wakes up, Yugyeom drops the trash can on her head, you miss your aim, you fall and break your neck, a late goody two-shoes spots us through the window and snitches, someone in this classroom rats us out.” He sent a glare around the classroom to ward off any ideas. “Chips are eaten too loudly, the fire alarm is pulled, or a nuclear bomb goes off.”

 

”What are the odds of all that even happening?” Felix reached into his bag for another chip - more quietly, Jisung noted. 

 

“Slim to none. But in this day and age, one can never tell.”

 

“You’ve always been so straight - laced,” Jisung laughed, hoping his words sounded light. “Can’t you just let things fall into place?”

 

A shadow flashed through Minho’s eyes - anger, maybe. His grip tightened on his phone, and for a moment Jisung thought he might throw it at him, but instead he rolled his eyes and turned away scowling.

 

The look stuck in him like a sharp barb, already embedded deep. You have an audience, his conscience reminded him. Stop looking - now’s not the time to be a simp.

 

A pencil bounced off his forehead. Yugyeom had noticed. “Jisung! Stop flirting and get this over with!”

 

Right. He didn’t bother objecting to the flirting part. “My attention’s all yours, senior. But, in all fairness, that trash can does seem a little close to our teacher’s head.”

 

”Is not!” Yugyeom shifted the can a little higher, glancing down at Ms. Baek’s head as he did. His nose wrinkled. “Guys, I think she dyes her hair.”

 

“Never a dull moment in this class, is there?” Hyunjin remarked absently.

 

”No way,” Felix looked up from his chip bag. “What’s the brand?”

 

Yugyeom inched the tiniest bit closer. “Looks like Colorsilk, Number Sixteen.”

 

Chan exchanged a look with Bambam, mouthing what the fuck, to which Bambam shook his own silver head and answered I don’t know.

 

Felix’s mouth creased into a nauseous frown. “I think that’s the kind my aunt uses.”

 

The students erupted into giggles, which were silenced with an abrupt snort from Ms. Baek.

 

“Well, we just wasted three minutes talking,” Bambam sighed. “Unless we can do this right in under two minutes, this stunt fails.”

 

”Wouldn’t that be a relief,” Minho muttered. “Then we might actually get some work done here.”

 

“Has anyone here actually held their shit together long enough to learn something?” Hyunjin pondered.

 

”I haven’t,” Felix chimed in.

 

“Shut the hell up, you guys are being loud as fuck,” Yugyeom whisper - yelled.

 

“One minute!” Bambam declared. “It’s now or never.”

 

Jisung actually captured the moment High School Musical PTSD hit Chan before he knew what was happening. “This is the last chance to get it right - “

 

”This is the moment to make it or not,” Felix finished.

 

Aussie duo mode activated. “We gotta show what we’re all about-“

 

”I give up,” Minho sighed, massaging his temples.

 

”Work together!”

 

”Do it now, Jisung!” Hyunjin called up to him.

 

The moment of truth had arrived. Jisung hefted the ball with one hand, sights set on the trash can. “One shot, one kill,” he murmured, and chucked the ball full force.

 

The entire classroom held their breath as the ball sailed over their heads, over Ms. Baek’s artificially colored scalp, and into the trash can. Instantaneously, everyone broke into a round of applause.

 

And then the bell rang.

 

From past experience, every student in Ms. Baek’s Lit & Comp class knew it took approximately twenty seconds for her to fully wake up. So that left twenty seconds for everyone to put their phones and snacks away, twenty seconds for Felix to shove his chips into his bookbag, for Yugyeom to drop the trash can back in the bottom left corner of the room, for Jisung to jump from desk to desk until he crash landed into his regular spot between Felix and Chan.

 

Chan’s mouth dropped open. “You just did that.”

 

Jisung nodded breathlessly. “I just did that.”

 

Felix leaned back to look at Bambam. “Tell me you got that on camera.”

 

Bambam smiled. “I’ll text the video to Chan. Remind him to send it to you.”

 

Felix grinned. “Binnie’s gonna love this!” He held his hand up to Jisung for a high - five, to which he obliged.

 

”Fifteen seconds,” Hyunjin announced, clicking the stopwatch in his desk. “Not bad, everyone.”

 

By the time Ms. Baek had regained full consciousness, she woke up to a classroom of fully composed students eager to learn.

 

“Ah, I’m sorry, class,” Ms. Baek stammered, smoothing out her bird’s nest of hair. “Did I fall asleep again?”

 

”We would have never been able to tell, had we not seen you,” Jisung chirped. “You look radiant as ever.”

 

Ms. Baek didn't seem to hear the stifled snickers popping up around the area. A pleased smile spread across her face. "Thank you, Jisung. I'm so glad I have such a mature, obedient class! Now, where were we..."

 

"Section 9, page 144," Chan offered.

 

"Thank you, Chan. You're graduating this year, aren't you?" When Chan nodded, she sighed. "I will miss a fine student like you. Now everyone, please turn to page 144 in your textbooks."

 

As they pulled the books out of their desks, Jisung noticed a candy wrapper at the foot of Felix's desk. He covered it with his foot before Ms. Baek could notice.

 

******

 

Even after the last bell, students were still buzzing about Jisung's latest achievement. Word was spreading throughout the halls, people were pointing and giggling. It wasn't as big as 3Racha's Halloween special last year, when Jisung had convinced Mr. Kang his classroom was haunted, but he would still accept the accolades.

 

"I don't know how you succeed every time," Changbin was saying. "I mean, really, a last minute throw like that didn't pressure you at all?"

 

"You've done it once, you've done it a million times," Jisung waved it off. "I was just lucky I didn't fall on the way back to my desk."

 

Chan laughed. "I am gonna miss this when I leave. You guys are going to have to keep me updated on what goes on."

 

"We're going to miss you too," Changbin told him. "Maybe extra long studio weekends will help save some lost time."

 

"But we're gonna work double time to make sure this place remembers 3Racha," Jisung promised.

 

Chan beamed and threw an arm around his shoulder, and Changbin whooped in agreement. For a moment, things were back to the normal Jisung had known a few months ago, and he felt like himself again.

 

Then a pair of girls passed by, revealing Minho exiting the classroom alongside Hyunjin and Felix. Anxiety flooded his system as he met Jisung's eyes from across the way. Felix said something relating to Jisung's prank, and Minho scoffed and shook his head. His gaze filled with disdain that burned as he turned his back and strode off.

 

His temper Jisung could bear, but his disappointment was unacceptable. Shrugging away from Chan's embrace, Jisung rushed after Minho, his lips just beginning to form his name when a strong hand seized his arm.

 

"Oh, no," Changbin yanked him back. "You're not going anywhere."

 

Jisung snatched his arm out of his grip. "What the hell, dude?" He searched the hall for Minho, but he had already disappeared. "I was just going to talk to him."

 

"Of course you were. Just like this morning when you came out of that classroom looking like he'd just murdered your whole family."

 

Despite himself, Jisung flinched. "You saw nothing."

 

"We both know what we saw," Chan came up beside Changbin. "Come on, Jisung, you were acting weird before the day even started, and now it's gotten worse. Won't you tell us what's going on?"

 

They couldn't find out. They would never understand, not in a million years. "Don't be stupid, you guys. I'm fine." Jisung spun on his heel and stalked off, edging past a spooked sophomore.

 

"No you're not, dummy." Chan's voice followed him. He didn't have to turn around to know Changbin was on his heels. "If you were fine, you wouldn't be running."

 

He's right, his conscience echoed, trying to turn him around, but Jisung brushed it away. “If I wasn’t fine, I wouldn't have pulled that stunt today.” He smiled at them over his shoulder. “Do I look like someone who’s having a breakdown?” Changbin opened his mouth, an insult prepped and ready. “You know what? Don’t answer that.”

 

”I wasn’t going to say you do!”

 

”Well, you weren’t going to say that I don’t, either.” Jisung retreated around the corner, hoping to lose them in the second courtyard. Maybe he’d even escape long enough to catch a bus ride home.

 

Naturally, no such luck. Before Jisung even got close to the entrance gate, the sound of pattering footsteps and heavy breathing reached his ears, and he turned to find both of them behind him. "Give it up, Jisung," Chan panted. "We've got you cornered."

 

Jisung pointed to the entrance. "I could literally just run like, five steps ahead and get away again."

 

"But you're not going to," Changbin said firmly. "You wanna know how we know you're not okay?"

 

Not really, Jisung thought, but before he could say so, his friend took off on his rant.

 

"The minute you walked out of that room and saw Chan and I, you smiled so we wouldn't think you were hurt. You spent the rest of the day goofing off without taking one note in any of our classes. And you didn't say anything when Minho did show up at our table for break. Hell, you haven't even said a word to him all day! Face it, Jisung- you can't hide from us. We know you better than anyone. You're an open book when it comes to how you feel. So spill."

 

Of course they saw through him. These assholes were his best friends, the two people who knew him best out of anyone in the world. A million retorts flashed through his mind, a million different ways to run, to get out of this. But without warning, his thought process changed direction, took a course down to memory lane.

 

A barren rooftop, hued by night's glow, music in the background. "You're not the type of guy I pictured writing stuff like this."

 

A vacated dance studio, sunset luster filtering in, whispers from faraway conversations. "You're an open book. There's not much to learn."

 

An unoccupied classroom, dim sunbeams like spotlights, not a sound to be heard. "You look like you have nothing to hide, and yet you're more complicated than anyone."

 

And then Jisung snapped.

 

"Is that so?" His voice was soft and dangerous. The smile on his face wasn't forced, but there was no joy in it. "Well, I think you've figured it out for both of us - yes, that has to be it! I guess it makes sense, because I'm that much of an idiot, I must be that obvious! Thank you so much, Changbin, for clearing that up!"

 

"Dude, calm down," Chan said, pushing Changbin back.

 

"No, no, Chan, he's right," Jisung started pacing as he rambled. "I mean, really, what else does anyone see when they meet me? The guy who pulls the pranks, tells the jokes, writes the occasional rap number. It must be like looking through a window, you can see everything! Well, not that there’s anything interesting to see, clearly, but is there ever? And to think I’m just learning this now! I really should have figured this out sooner.”

 

”All right, you’ve made your point!” Changbin glanced around anxiously. “You were right, okay? Now keep it down. People are going to start worrying - “

 

”How many times do I have to tell you?” Suddenly he felt so angry he was shaking. “You don’t have to worry about me. Don’t waste your time, your feelings, your breath. Because I’m fine. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine!” The words ended in a scream that resounded through the courtyard.

 

”Clearly, you’re not,” Chan came forward, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Please, just tell us what’s wrong - “

 

”But I thought you could see,” Jisung murmured, stepping back so that Chan’s hand fell away from his arm. “I thought you knew me - I thought knew me. Everything was so simple - you say something wrong or right, he likes you or he doesn't. And I thought I knew." The ground was rocking like a ship beneath his feet; a single gust of wind could have knocked him over. "I thought he saw what everyone else saw. I thought he hated me for it. But he doesn't. He thinks I'm amazing and unpredictable and the most confusing person ever! He wishes he never met me and he hates that he thinks of me the way he does and I don't have a fucking clue what to do about it! I want to stop feeling so empty; I wanna stop getting so mixed up with love and bullshit and calm the hell down. I wanna go back to the way things were, but I can't because all I really want is him."

 

The world was devoid of all sound - not even a bird or so much as a cricket. Both Chan and Changbin’s mouth were unhinged and hanging open. Guess they didn’t expect that answer.

 

”Why didn’t you say anything sooner?” Chan asked, ever the concerned father figure. “Come on, if you told us you were having guy problems, we would’ve understood.”

 

”But you don’t understand,” Jisung said, his anger rising up like a volcano, nearing the edge. “You still don’t understand, after everything I’ve told you. And you never will.”



“Of course we would!” They replied at the same time. Morons.

 

"No, you wouldn't! You act like you know everything about it, but when it comes to love, you two are so dense, light bends around you! I mean, look at you, Chan!" Jisung snarled, rounding on him. "You complain about being single, about not having anybody to care about when the sun goes down, that you're probably going to go your whole life like this. Open your goddamn eyes! You've got the whole school over the moon for you- even the teachers! And you have us - not just Changbin and I, but everyone - Felix, Jeongin, Hyunjin, even Seungmin, who only acts like he hates your guts! You want somebody to love you? Take your pick."

 

"Would you shut up already?" Changbin groused, shoving aside a dumbstruck Chan once more. "Come on, the sun's going down-"

 

"And you!" Jisung turned on him, so swiftly Changbin actually flinched. "Where do I even begin with you? Catching Felix on a fucking staircase, too shy to talk to him for a week, and the minute you're alone together, it's like none of the rest of the world exists! You light up when he says your name, you jump when he touches you, he walks into a room and he's all you see, and you can't even admit it to yourself. Hell, everybody knows it, except the two of you, because you're too stupid in love to see anything else except each other! God, if I knew you were going to be this far gone, I'd have never agreed to introduce you to him."

 

It was Changbin's turn to be dumbstruck, sputtering like a broken car engine. Chan seemed to accept his defeat. "Check and mate."

 

"Absolutely not," Changbin cut in, regaining his power of speech. "Come on, I am not in love with Felix, how ridiculous would that be? I've only really known him for a few weeks. I mean, of course I like him, who wouldn't? He's cute, and funny, and talented, and I really do like him a lot... more than I've ever liked anyone, really..."

 

"But we're not going to talk about that," Chan interrupted, looking like he smoked a pack a day.

 

"Right."

 

"Look, Jisung, I get where you're coming from," Chan came forward again, more cautiously, this time. "Really, I do, but why? Why say this now? What happened?"

 

”You didn’t get the hint? Really, I thought we were past this -“

 

”Jisung.”

 

”Fine,” Jisung huffed, already hating where this was going. “You remember yesterday? When I said I was going to go home early, get some work done and not procrastinate?”

 

”I remember that vividly, now that you bring it up,” Chan acknowledged, touching his fingers to his chin in a thoughtful expression.

 

”You sounded really proud of yourself,” Changbin recalled.

 

”Right. Well, that didn’t happen. On my way out, I ran into Minho, and - “

 

They groaned in annoyed unison. “Oh, God, was it another one of those moments that you’re always shitting your pants about?” Changbin complained.

 

”Yes and no, okay? It was different - it felt different, he was different. I thought... you know, maybe I hadn’t been so dumb to hope.”

 

He couldn’t remember the last time he had sounded so naive; obviously, neither could they. It was Chan who quietly asked:  “So what happened?”

 

Jisung scoffed. “I let myself believe it. I lead him into that classroom with the idea that everything would magically happen the way I wanted. I told him everything - how I felt, what I wanted, who he was to me, and it was all for nothing.”

 

”Well, it’s not completely over,” Changbin said, trying to look for the bright side that didn’t exist. “I mean, come on, you’re going to see each other again tomorrow - you can patch things up then.”

 

“Really? By doing what? What could I say that would make a difference? That I didn’t mean anything I said?” If he wasn’t already choking up, Jisung might have laughed at him. “I meant everything I said - I told him that myself. Whatever chance I had is gone. There’s nothing I can do to fix this.”

 

”Could you stop acting like it’s the end of the world?” Chan said exasperatedly. “Come on, you can still make this work!”

 

”No, I can’t.” To hear the words coming out of his own mouth felt like an ending. “I mean, really, who was I fooling? We would’ve never happened in a million years. The only reason he ever even noticed me was because of Felix - he would’ve passed me by without a second thought. Everything, all those moments I thought meant something, mean nothing.” He turned away then, tilting his face towards the sunset. “They were just summer dreams, ripped at the seams, but...”

 

”Stupid.”

 

”Beautiful.”

 

Even though it hurt to remember, Jisung couldn’t help but smile. “Oh, those summer nights.”

Chapter Text

Minho p.o.v

 

Ten minutes after he walked onto the campus of JYP, Minho was kidnapped.

 

It was simple how it happened. Honestly, he was surprised he hadn’t seen it coming.

 

Minho had been walking alone, thinking about his last interaction with a certain blonde nuisance and how he could pick up the remains of their relationship and stitch it back together when a hand grabbed his and dragged him the rest of the way.

 

He was thrown into a roughly into a chair and was just starting to wonder just what the hell was going on when Hyunjin pulled out a chair in front of him and said, “Talk.”

 

“What the f - “ Minho was promptly cut off by Felix’s hand covering his mouth. He jerked his fist back, connecting with Felix’s arm and removing his hand. “I thought you said talk.”

 

”You weren’t going to give us the right answer,” Hyunjin replied coolly as Felix hauled out a chair out next to him. “And we’re not going to leave you alone until you give us something.”

 

Minho folded his arms. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”

 

”Yes you do!” Felix slammed his fist down on the desk in a surprising display of fury. “Tell us why you barely said a word to anyone yesterday, and why you skipped out on practice, and why you didn’t so much as look at Jisung!”

 

Crap. “You noticed that?”

 

”We all did. We just didn’t say anything about it. You weren’t that good of an actor.”

 

”You know he has a point.” Hyunjin's tone was painstakingly tender. “We’re your friends. You can trust us with whatever you have to say.”

 

”Can I really?” Minho retorted. “How do I know you’re not going to laugh in my face?”

 

”Why do you care?” Felix fired back. “You never care what we think of you. You never care what anyone thinks of you! Why is now any different?”

 

”It isn’t.” His voice came out too quiet. “It isn’t!” Loud but weak. Damn it. “Okay, so maybe skipping practice yesterday was a dick move - “

 

”You didn’t even tell us why you did it!” Felix raved. “No text, no call, nothing! You always chew us out, no matter what reasons we have! It’s so unfair! I just - “

 

“Lix, calm down,” Hyunjin consoled, bringing him down with head - pats. “He’s right, Minho. You know it, I know it. So there better be a dead cat or family member that got in the way of you seeing us, because we’re not taking any lies.”

 

Minho knew this was coming - of course he had. The only reason he'd taken a rain check on dance practice was to avoid it a little longer. It didn't do any good - no matter what alibi he came up with, each was more pitiful than the last. How was he supposed to tell his friends that his brain had become scrambled beyond repair through a single interaction with Han Jisung and, unable to properly present himself to the world, resorted to moping in his room with his cats? It would tear his reputation to shreds.

 

Get over yourself, you useless slug, Minho reprimanded himself. You're Lee goddamn Minho. You don't let yourself fall apart because of something some guy said. Those guys fall apart before you. His reputation was worth nothing if he couldn't collect himself and defend it. 

 

Straightening up, Minho folded his hands and leaned forward. "All right, fucknuggets, listen close and listen good. I'm only going to tell you this once."

 

Felix held up his phone. "Is it okay if I record this? You know, just so I can remind us that it happened?"

 

"No, Felix," both Minho and Hyunjin answered.

 

"Enablers."

 

And so, straight faced and still as a statue, Minho told them the whole tale, no details left out, from the waylay in the dance studio to the regrettable confrontation in the classroom. He watched as his friends' expressions changed, their emotions ranging from shock to disbelief to downright stupefaction. By the end it seemed to be a mixture of all three. Hyunjin was gazing intently at Minho, like he was trying to find out which drama to relate this situation to, and Felix was staring out the window as if the sun could erase what he had just learned.

 

Finally, Hyunjin broke. “I’ll be damned,” he laughed. “You’ve gone soft.”

 

Minho narrowed his eyes at him. “I want you to say that one more time to my face.”

 

"Will it make you feel better? Fine." Hyunjin jutted out his chin, the smile never leaving his face. "You've gone soft."

 

Felix snorted, biting his lip to keep from laughing. One piercing glare from Minho silenced him. "Sorry."

 

He turned back to Hyunjin. "Now, Hyunjin, tell me just what it was that made you think have gone soft."

 

"Christmas has come early." Hyunjin rubbed his hands together excitedly, unknowingly signing his own death warrant. "For starters, usually when you meet someone, you've got a wall of ice built around you. A very cold, very impenetrable wall. And it is melting."

 

"You've been preparing this for a while, haven't you?"

 

"Oh, you have no idea. Which brings me to my second topic." I'm planning various ways to kill you as we speak. "I'm just gonna come out and say it - the guys you've gone out with in the past were stone - cold foxes. You know what I'm talking about: Seho, Doyoung at first, and Jihoon? I was tempted to take him for myself. I might've succeeded, if they weren't all so devoted to you."

 

Felix looked flabbergasted. "How many guys have you dated?"

 

"Step out of the closet, and the range gets much bigger," Minho replied, which shut the Aussie up quick. "Does this lecture have a point, or do you just want to shame me and all my sinister deeds?"

 

"Yes, this has a point, so let me get to it!" Hyunjin's voice rose in frustration, giving Felix the cause to look out the window and see if anyone had noticed. When the boy flashed him a thumbs - up, he exhaled raggedly. "Look, all those guys? Stepping stones. As smoking as they were, and as much as they cared about you, they never lasted more than a couple months. You've never looked at them the way they looked at you. You've never let them stay after dark, and you've certainly never gotten this frazzled over one."

 

"You know I hate that word."

 

"As your friend, I've been waiting literal years for you to find someone who actually makes you feel things," Hyunjin went on. “I know the drill - someone catches your eye, you keep him around for a little while, and then you hang him out to dry. You wait for someone new because, no matter who you meet, he just doesn’t satisfy you.”

 

Felix giggled, and Minho slapped him again. “Come on, Jin, you’re making me sound like an incubus!”

 

”But that’s where the story kicks off!” Hyunjin shot up out of his chair so quickly it keeled over. “When you met Jisung, it was like you finally woke up! You’re finally feeling real things for someone, and you don’t know how to react! I mean, obviously it’s partly denial, because it’s Jisung, but the other part is love!”

 

”Slow down there, cowboy.” Minho held up a hand for a time out. “No one said jack shit about love.”

 

"No one had to. It's already there. I mean, look at this dipshit!" Hyunjin gestured to Felix. "He's been denying it for weeks, but it's still obvious that he daydreams about kissing Changbin under the moonlight!"

 

"I do not! Where'd you get that idea? I'm not - " Felix paused mid-protest, sighing. "You know what? I give up. So maybe I do, alright? Can you blame me? He's everything I've been dreaming of since I was twelve. He's smart and handsome and funny, and I know my parents will never approve, but I don't care! I just... why're we talking about this anyway? Leave me alone!"

 

Ordinarily, Minho would have ridiculed his embarrassment, but today he wasn't feeling it. Hyunjin made up for it, grinning like the sick fuck he was. "This whole thing's just one big drama to you, isn't it?"

 

Hyunjin nodded without missing a beat. "I'm here for the show. And you're giving me plenty to appreciate."

 

The snake laughed that stupid high - pitched laugh of his. "Quiet, you fucking giraffe," Felix muttered, shoving him out of the way. He uplifted the fallen chair and took a seat on it. "Guess we haven't been helping much."

 

Minho huffed. "I don't need your help. I already know nothing's going to change this."

 

"You do?"

 

"You're not the only people I've talked to about this. So save me your speech."

 

Felix shrank back, pursing his lips together. To make it a total cliche, he even twiddled his thumbs as he thought. In the end, all he got out was: "So you admit that you like him?"

 

"You don't have to keep saying it," Minho grumbled, shooting a glance at Hyunjin, who was still blissfully prancing about his own delusions. "But yeah. I do."

 

"It's good that you admitted it. I thought you'd deny it a lot longer."

 

"Not like it would've done any good. You two would weasel it out of me anyways." They laughed, the first time Minho had laughed in a while. "It's not that big a deal. Hyunjin and I didn't make fun of you when you first started liking Changbin."

 

"Um, yeah, you did. A lot."

 

”Oh. Eh, you had it coming.”

 

”This is a big deal. Up until the last few weeks, I wasn’t even sure if you felt anything.”

 

"They don't call me Ice Queen around here for nothing."

 

"Well, there is that, but then there's also the fact that this is Jisung we're talking about. Like, why him?"

 

"If I knew, I'd tell you," Minho groaned. "I spent all day yesterday wondering the same thing, and still came up with nothing."

 

Felix nodded sympathetically. "That's rough, buddy."

 

"It's not like he's the most attractive guy I've ever met. I've known plenty of hotter guys. Guys who don't use their lunch breaks to hotwire a clock. Guys who understand the meaning of the word 'inconspicuous.' But it's like he just..."

 

"Draws you to him?"

 

"Exactly." Minho scoffed. "God, I hate being as sad as you."

 

"Come on, I'm not that bad."

 

"No, you're not." Minho distantly wondered if his cats kept a log of everyone he brought home. "What do you think it's like? To love someone?"

 

Felix looked shocked - clearly no one had ever asked him that before. "Well, love, it's... I don't really know. I guess it's seeing somebody differently? Like, in a way that no one else sees them. Or caring more than you should. But maybe that's just me."

 

This kid. So innocent and genuine it could break your heart. "You've never been with anyone, have you?"

 

Blushing, Felix shook his head. If anyone hurts you, I will personally dropkick them straight to hell. "Well, on a normal basis, it's never this agonizing."

 

Felix smiled sadly. "Maybe that's how you know it means something."

 

Why was everyone saying that? Why did Minho have to feel this hard pressed and disorganized for him to care about someone? Was love really this painful? Jisung, you fucking idiot, you better be worth this. "All I know is that I want to get to my homeroom class on time."

 

"Agreed." Felix dug a pencil out of his blazer pocket and chucked at Hyunjin. "Hey, asswhipe! We're leaving!"

 

The pencil hit Hyunjin's head, startling the boy ten times the necessary reaction. He muttered some unintelligible insult, something about how just because they were in love and happy it didn't make him their punching bag, and followed them outside.

 

They had only gotten maybe ten steps away from the classroom when Felix pulled them back. “Hold up. I just got a text from Binnie.”

 

Hyunjin rolled his eyes. “What happened, did he confess his love to you over text? Pretty weak, if you ask me.”

 

”It’s not that. It’s about Jisung.”

 

Now that got their attention. They moved behind him and peered over his shoulder. “What does it say?” Minho asked.

 

”I’m not sure, it seems like he’s warning us. All it says is to be careful around Jisung - he’s acting weirder than usual.”

 

”What does that mean? How could he possibly get any weirder?”

 

"I think I know what Changbin means," Hyunjin murmured. "Remember yesterday? Jisung couldn't focus on anything serious, and he pulled three pranks in one day."

 

"All of which were successful," Felix noted.

 

Minho thought of how Jisung was acting the day before - more flippant and immature, an empty - headed kind of behavior. A pang of dread and guilt smacked him in the chest. “So it's going to be like that but worse.”

 

Hyunjin nodded soberly. "Kinda thought you foresaw this, you being the guy who broke his heart and all."

 

"I didn't break his heart."

 

"Guys, don't fight." Felix came in between them. "I've watched enough movies to know how this works. This is Sad Empty Jisung. He's probably going to be smiling through the pain and doing all kinds of crazy shit today. If we say one thing out of line, it'll send him headfirst into a mental breakdown. We've all gotta act supportive - Minho, don't even look at him, he'll feel it. It's going to take some time to heal, but soon, we'll be back to normal."

 

Hyunjin glanced behind them and cursed. "He's coming."

 

"All right, men, stay calm. Minho, remember what I said. Anything out of you, and it's over. Just stay still and silent until he passes."

 

Because it'll take all my self - control not to stare wistfully at him as he passes by, Minho snarked mentally. And yet as Jisung's silhouette came into view, he couldn't force himself to look anywhere else.

 

Jisung didn't look miserable. He didn't look fake happy. Felix's description couldn't have been more wrong. Jisung just looked like... himself. Walking with his hands in his pockets, a natural, lazy smile on his face. It was as if nothing minorly upsetting had ever happened to him.

 

Chan was on his right, talking in a hushed tone. On his left, Changbin was listening in, keeping his head down. Felix darted forward and caught him by the arm, tugging him backwards. "What the hell was that about?" He hissed angrily. "You told me he was acting weird!"

 

"I thought you would get it!" Changbin hissed back. "What else was I supposed to say?"

 

"I don't know, maybe that he isn't depressed? You weren't too specific!"

 

"I didn't think I had to - look, he's planning something, okay? I just had to tell you ahead of time - "

 

"Changbin!" Jisung called over his shoulder. "You coming?"

 

Changbin shot Felix one last we'll talk later look and trailed after Jisung. Before walking off, Jisung's gaze drifted up to Minho's. And he smiled. One twinkly, dumbass smile that felt like getting stabbed.

 

"What the fuck was that?" Hyunjin demanded as Felix walked back to towards them. "Where was the sadness?"

 

"I don't know," Felix replied feebly. "Something must've happened last night that changed him."

 

"And so fast, too," Minho observed. "Changbin said he was planning something. Did he tell you what?"

 

Felix shook his head. "Now I'm slightly terrified," Hyunjin declared.

 

"Do you have any idea what he could be planning?" Felix questioned.

 

The day Jisung stopped surprising Minho was the day the world exploded from within. "Not in the least."

 

Jisung p.o.v

 

"Did they hear us?" Chan asked worriedly. "Oh, God, of course they did."

 

"So what if they did?" Jisung brushed it off. "It'll add to the tension."

 

"They didn't hear you, Chan," Changbin assured him. "I told them."

 

"What?" Chan hollered, so loud students in the hallway stopped to stare. Muttering an apology to no one in particular, he focused back on the group. "What were you thinking?"

 

"Oh, look, there's our homeroom!" Jisung chimed in, pointing to the door. "Let's talk in there, shall we?"

 

The three of them broke away from the onward pull of the crowd and entered Mr. Yeon's classroom at the halfway mark, taking their seats at the back left corner of the room in a triangular formation. Jisung made up the top, and Chan and Changbin were facing off on either side. "Look, I don't want you guys to fight about this - "

 

"What in seven goddamn hells was that?" Chan burst. "You ruined our whole plan!"

 

"So what?" Changbin parried. "This entire idea was stupid from the beginning!"

 

"Is not!"

 

"Is too!"

 

"Both of you, stop," Jisung interrupted. They looked at him with astonishment - he wasn't normally the peacemaker of the group. "Chan, nothing is ruined. The plan is still happening."

 

"Yes!" Chan pumped his fist in victory. He smirked at a sour - looking Changbin. "Told you he wouldn't back down."

 

Promptly, Changbin punched him. "Hey. Sungie. Remember last night when I said this was a bad idea?" His smile was false and pained. "I meant that. Are you really going to go through with this?"

 

"Of course I am!" Jisung replied. "It was my idea, anyway. Inspired by your genius."

 

"I didn't say anything!"

 

"You said enough," Chan told him. "Come on, Bin, you know it doesn't take much to get him going."

 

"After that he took off on his own," Changbin muttered.

 

"Quit talking about me like I'm not here." Jisung smacked his shoulder. "And stop whining, it's bringing down the mood. Besides, you said you were are going to help me."

 

"I did, but I thought it was going to be one of those things where it just dies out and you get discouraged the next day!"

 

"That's where you're wrong. This is the best idea I've ever had in my whole high school career," Jisung announced, grinning at the thought. "And it's gonna blow his mind.”

 

******

 

The very minute Changbin closed the door of his apartment on them, Jisung managed to breeze through the five stages of panic in the record - breaking time of ten minutes.

 

Stage 1: denial. This isn't happening, Jisung had thought as he strode back and forth in circles around the living room, saying the word 'no' over and over again. There was absolutely no way that any event in this whole sorry, ludicrous day had actually happened. It just wasn’t possible. He had fallen asleep in class - yes, that was what happened. He had dozed off and Changbin and Felix were sticking pencils in his hair while Seungmin was telling them to stop, and he hadn’t taken the god that was Lee Minho by the hand into an empty room and confessed his love to him in the saddest way imaginable and then proceeded to back him against a desk and destroy his entire life career in seconds.

 

Stage 2: anger. “You are the stupidest creature to ever walk the planet,” Jisung berated himself in Changbin’s bathroom, pointing at the mirror as he did. By exposing the most pathetic crush he’d ever had, he had officially fucked up. He had fucked up so bad, he reinvented the definition of fucking up. He’d practically shamed Minho into admitting he had feelings for him, and if that wasn’t enough, torpedoed through every personal space boundary that existed in any reasonable human being. He had been close enough to feel his breath on his lips. And Minho hadn’t pushed him away. Lucifer himself had been throwing popcorn at his big screen, yelling kiss, kiss, kiss! And he could have done it. Jisung could have taken Minho’s beautiful face in his hands and thrown away any crap he could have possibly given. But instead he stormed out like the deluded failure he was. Fucking idiot.

 

Stage 3: manic depression. “There’s still some good out of this,” Jisung tried to convince himself as he paced around the kitchen. Chan was right - this wasn’t the end of the world. There were still ways to pick up the pieces. They’d be meeting again tomorrow, after all. Sure, it would be like walking barefoot on broken glass, and at some point in the day he would have to actually work up the nerve to talk to Minho just to get the ball rolling, but it would happen! And soon enough, things would be running smoothly once again. Oh, who the hell was he kidding? The road had been rocky since the beginning; Jisung had reduced it to nothing but rubble with a grenade made out of a last-ditch almost-kiss and the most brazen proclamation of human emotion ever to be released into the open air. And both of his half-baked best friends told him it was possible. What did they know, those self - righteous fucktarded lamebrained twatwaffles? To hell with them.

 

(Jisung may or may not have screamed those very insults and more at his friends while waving a knife in his hand - he didn’t remember it too well. Though he was pretty sure they'd both had the good sense to hide in the living room.)

 

Stage 4: bargaining. “You are going to have to see him again,” Jisung amended, lying on the floor. There was no stopping that. It wasn't like he could just snap his fingers and stop time from inching forward with every passing second, though that would be a pretty sweet option as of now. But, with no game plan or morale, how could he possibly hope to do that? He could fake a sick day - that was always good fun. No, his mom would get worried about him, bless that woman, and the others, knowing he wasn't really sick, would want in on the Ferris Bueller day off. He could skip every class that he shared with Minho, maybe that would work. But then that would end up costing a little more than half of the As on his report card, and Felix and Hyunjin, those nosy fuckers, would surely notice and wonder why he was avoiding their best friend, especially when he had liked him so much in the past, making the plan a bust.

 

Stage 5: acceptance. "I get it, God. I'm a failure," Jisung grumbled to the moon, elbows balanced on the railing outside Changbin's apartment. This whole time, he had been playing a game of Truth or Dare with himself - the dare being to fall for an unknowable, fatally enchanting guy, when the truth was he would probably, maybe, definitely never love him back. So here he stood, the picture of defeat, penniless and played. Thanks a whole crap ton, universe.

 

The door opened behind him, followed by soft footsteps. "You gonna come back inside?" Changbin asked.

 

"Soon," Jisung sighed. "Just a few more minutes."

 

"Well, tell me when you've finished your little meltdown, alright? You threw a knife in my wall, and even I can't get it out."

 

"Do you ever wonder what it would be like if the moon shone as bright as the sun? Like, you would look at it and it would blind you? Maybe that'd be a good idea - "

 

"No, it isn't. Get that out of your mind." A long exhale. "Look, just come inside, okay? We're worried about you."

 

"Don't be. I told you before, I'm fine."

 

"Oh, I remember. You told us that four times, in rapid succession, just as you started your spiral into a good old-fashioned mental breakdown." Changbin stepped up next to him; he'd taken off his blazer and rolled his sleeves up to his elbows. "Dude, you're not fine. That's obvious. So don't say it isn't."

 

"I wasn't going to." Jisung murmured, then groaned, squishing his cheeks in his hands. "Ugh, this sucks. I'm never not fine! I hate this!"

 

"So come back! Let's pull some pranks on my neighbors, that always cheers you up."

 

"Mmmm, no. Pranks are only for when things are good."

 

"Well, then what about making music? That's why we're here, anyway."

 

"But I can only write when I have a clear head! There's nothing else for me to do." Jisung's mind had turned into a junkyard of restless nostalgia and helpless desires. "Not when I'm hopelessly devoted to you," he whispered.

 

"That's - " Changbin started, then Chan cut him off from inside the apartment. "Okay, apparently that was a Grease reference. There a story behind that you want to tell me?"

 

”It’s nothing. Just... Minho told me about his ex boyfriend, and apparently he was Danny Zuko or something..." Regret times a thousand. Fucking emotions. "Nevermind. It happened way back in the day."

 

Chan yelled something else. "No, I'm not going to let him wallow, Chan! You got that from Gilmore Girls!" Changbin turned back to Jisung. "Just get back inside, okay? It’s only the three of us, no confusing guy troubles. Come on. You're obsessed."

 

"No, I'm not.”

 

"Yes, you are!" Chan shouted from somewhere inside the kitchen.

 

"Shut the fuck up!" Changbin and Jisung screeched.

 

Jisung buried his face deeper in his hands. "At least talk to me, Sungie," Changbin pleaded. "Please?"

 

He moved his fingers apart so that one eye could peek through. "Is this going to be one of those father - son pep talks that Chan always has with us?"

 

"Whatever you want."

 

"Are you sure you want to deal with me? Soulful, heartbroken youth left to his own devices? I wouldn't be too useful for producing at the moment, because all I feel like writing at the moment are - "

 

"Bad love songs about starry nights and fever dreams. Believe me, I've been there."

 

"Lest we forget about Felix." Jisung thrust a hand out to the heavens. "The catastrophic sunshine prince who stole your heart from inside of you."

 

Changbin's smile was both strained and sheepish. "Please stop."

 

"Sorry." His friend said nothing, only leaned on the railing beside him. "So, Felix drives you crazy too?"

 

"Are you kidding? First few weeks, I felt like I was losing my mind."

 

"Right? And it's like you want to stop thinking about him - "

 

" - but you can't! Even a fucking color reminds you of him!"

 

Jisung slumped forward. "Sexy jerks."

 

Changbin sighed. "But you can't resist them."

 

"Dancers," they grumbled in unison.

 

"And you still haven't asked him out?" 

 

"A guy can dream, can't he? I'm waiting for the right moment."

 

"The right moment," Jisung chuckled. "And when was that?"

 

Changbin thought on that for a moment. "Sometimes it's not right in front of you; sometimes you gotta make it for yourself." A tiny smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "When I asked him his name in the courtyard, that was it. We'd met so many times already, but once we got past all the weirdness, everything turned out great."

 

"And for that, you have Chan and I to thank."

 

"I still think you could have made it less embarrassing. I mean, you literally pushed us together."

 

"But everything went well as you said! Though I gotta be honest, I pegged you for more of a bottom."

 

"I will push you off this balcony and watch you fall."

 

"I'm not putting it past you," Jisung reassured him. "But how did you make it happen so fast? You weren't even trying!"

 

"And that's what's weird about it! I was convinced I was doing everything wrong the whole time, and he still slipped me his number at the end of the day! Maybe if you come clean to Minho, it'll work out the same way."

 

"Because that went so well the last time. I asked him flat out if he wanted to go out with me, and he asked me if I wanted to forget what happened in the studio."

 

Changbin's brows furrowed as he frowned. "I thought you said he liked you back."

 

"He does! I mean, I think he does. He just - ugh." Jisung groaned again, dragging his hands down his face. "Minho isn't as easy as Felix, okay? He's made of harder stuff, he's difficult to understand. But the one thing he made clear to me is that he's not like this with everyone. I make him feel things that he doesn't know what do with - I make him." You're in it for the long haul, buddy. "It's gonna take a lot more than some cheesy stroll through the courtyard to make him see."

 

"See what?"

 

"That I'm different than all those other guys," Jisung spat, feeling his cheeks burn. "That he's not getting rid of me with a few shoves."

 

Changbin stared; it was hard to tell whether he was amused or perplexed. "You've never been this deep with anyone before."

 

"No shit, Sherlock. And I'm not getting out until I take him with me. If he wants me, that is." And then despair smacked him in the chest like a cannonball. "But how to do it?"

 

”Maybe you could try some flowers and a box of chocolates." He had decided to be amused.

 

”Shut up. And wipe that smile off your face, this is a serious discussion!”

 

”Maybe you could get him one of those talking teddy bears!” Chan added.

 

”Quiet!” Jisung shrieked, only to be met with roars of delight from both of them. “This isn’t a laughing matter.”

 

“We know,” Changbin giggled. “It’s just funny to watch you get this worked up over someone.”

 

”You almost never care what people think of you!” Chan joined in.

 

”Almost never,” Jisung emphasized. “Minho is the exception, okay? I care what he thinks, I care about him, I- I just afford to fuck this up.” He exhaled wearily. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think this goes beyond my vocabulary.”

 

”Meaning?” Changbin and Chan prompted.

 

”It means I'm going to need something more than just talk to fix this.”

 

Even from afar, Jisung saw the look exchanged between his two friends. Changbin shuffled a little closer. “So, what’s the next best thing? What’s something that you’re good at? Or, better - what’s something that you guys connected over?”

 

Jisung rested his chin on his fist. “Well, he did like the music I showed him. Sunshine, that was the one. We bonded a little over that.”

 

“That’s good. Music, something you’re good at.”

 

”I never showed him anything else,” Jisung realized. “Just that one song. He’s never really heard me in action before.”

 

”Okay, but what does that - “

 

”I’m going to show him.” A lightbulb flicked on in his mind. Gears started turning, and a new fire lit inside the summit of his being. “I’m gonna tell him how I feel through song!”

 

”That’s not what I was saying - “

 

”Are you joking? This is perfect! Binnie, you’re a genius!” Jisung grabbed Changbin by the face and planted a big kiss on his cheek that sent him reeling back. “I’ve gotta tell Chan!”

 

He raced inside the apartment and found the elder in the living room. Three mugs of hot chocolate had been set on the coffee table beside an opened bag of marshmallows. Chan stared cautiously up at Jisung from his post on the couch. "I take it you're feeling better?"

 

"Loads better." Jisung grabbed the bag of marshmallows and crammed a handful into his mouth. "Oh, finally! Food has taste again!" Claiming his mug, he took a long drink of the hot chocolate.

 

"Wait! I just made those!" Chan protested, and Changbin stumbled unceremoniously into the room. "What did you say to him?"

 

"I don't know, okay? I said something about music, and it set him off and - I just don't know!"

 

Chan pinched the bridge of his nose and released another one of his tired-dad sighs. "Fine. Jisung, put the marshmallows back and settle down, alright?"

 

"Settle down? No way am I gonna settle down!" Jisung tossed aside the bag of marshmallows, which Changbin caught. He spread his arms out wide. "I'm back in business, baby! And I'm going to win back my guy."

 

"Have you even established how you're going to do that?"

 

"What's there to establish? I'm going to find a song that says how I feel about him, how he's been making me feel, you know what I'm saying?" Jisung started pacing the room again as he ticked off the the requirements on his fingers. "Like, when he isn't around, I just feel like a missing part. Like there's this empty part of me that can't be filled up with music, or food, or anything at all except him. Without him I just feel like a half of a whole, like a... a... goddamn, what's the word? It's - "

 

He glanced out the window for a split second, and the answer shone clear in the night sky. "A half moon."

 

If only I had just half of you, then I wouldn't be feeling like this anymore.

 

A plan started piecing itself together in Jisung's mind. He set his sights on his producing team, who looked reasonably afraid. "You guys don't think I'm crazy, do you?"

 

"What? Of course not!" Changbin spluttered.

 

"What kind of friends do you think we are?" Chan said indignantly.

 

Right answer. "Good. I'm going to need suitable backup vocals. Changbin? You have a car we can use?”

 

Changbin seemed taken aback by the question, but he answered anyway. “I’m sure I can work something out.”

 

“Knew I could count on you. Make sure it’s spacious. And Chan? You have connections, don't you?"

 

Chan nodded hesitantly. "Why do you ask?"

 

Jisung took a thoughtful sip of hot chocolate before setting the mug down on the table. "Do you know where I can find a drummer and a keyboardist on short notice?"

 

******

 

For the first time in weeks, Jisung was able to focus on one thing, and it wasn't anything school related. He felt like a working operation, an emissary, an agent. A man on a mission, and I’m going to make sure it’s done right.

 

Sure, he looked normal enough on the outside, but on the inside he was plotting every detail on how he was going to profess his affections to the most irresistible guy in all of JYP through a love song. No one - except maybe the people who really knew him - would have thought him capable of it, but if there was one thing Jisung was all about, it was proving people wrong.

 

Occasionally, the thought would enter his mind that he had finally somersaulted off the diving board of Sanity and into the deep end of Insanity. The whole plan sounded like some kind of whimsical wet dream - those kinds of dreams rarely ever came true, or worked out the way it did in the movies, where the main character poured out their heart, and the love interest raced down the stairs and threw their arms around them. And Jisung was going to give it a go anyway. Why? Did he really think he had that little to lose?

 

That... was something he decided not to self - admit.

 

But then there was Minho to consider. Minho, whose moods seemed to fluctuate with the seasons and change with the tides. There was no way of knowing whether he would love it or hate it, because both roads could lead to entirely different endings. Either he hated it and decided to ghost Jisung for the rest of his life, or he loved it and told Jisung so, getting his hopes up, only to have them dashed the next day because Minho had decided to act like nothing happened, and they were back to where they started.

 

Or he loved it, really loved it, and didn’t take any of it back, and really wanted to give them a chance, and - 

 

Don’t think about that, he thought, halting himself. You can’t get lost in thought here - you’ll end up running into walls all over the place. He had already caught himself three times today. He wasn’t going to let himself get his hopes up. Not when the stakes were so high.

 

So maybe he was a little crazy.

 

Quickly, Jisung shook his head before he could even think the phrase “crazy in love.” He wasn’t going to let himself sink that low. He arrived at his locker and just started to formulate his combination when the irritated assortment of voices reached his ears.

 

”Okay, okay, you can stop pushing me now!” Changbin whined as Hyunjin and Jeongin shoved him forward. “Bunch of assholes, all of you.”

 

Jisung folded his arms and leaned back. "This is a lovely surprise."

 

"This isn't a surprise. It's an interrogation," Felix retaliated. "Changbin told us everything."

 

Jisung raised his eyebrows at his Changbin, who immediately began rattling off protests. "I'm sorry, Sungie. They grabbed me out of nowhere - "

 

"We didn't touch him," Seungmin clarified, nodding to Felix. "It was this one who pushed him against a wall with no hesitation."

 

"He actually chased him down and cornered him," Jeongin added. "It was kind of epic."

 

Jisung grinned. "Is that so?" Already, he could see both of their faces reddening.

 

"But we're not here to discuss that." Felix raised his voice, fixating on Jisung. "We know what you want to do with Minho. And we want to help."

 

Of all the possible outcomes Jisung's mind had brewed up, this answer had not been one of them. "You want to what?"

 

"We've all talked about it, and we want to make this happen," Hyunjin said. "This is one of your best ideas yet. Minho's not going to know what hit him."

 

"By far, it will be one of the most iconic events of this high school's very colorful history," Jeongin promised. "And I'll get to cross one of my OTPs off my list."

 

"One of them?" Jisung asked.

 

"ChangLix, duh. It's gonna happen soon, but for now we have to endure the tooth - rotting fluff. As for SeungJin over here, prepare for some very slow burn."

 

"You, my friend, are an incredibly skilled analyst." Jisung glanced at Seungmin. "And what about you? No staggering amounts of homework to keep you busy?"

 

Seungmin didn't seem to notice the taunt. "Nothing I can't finish in an hour and twenty minutes. Besides, I've been getting bored more easily these days - I want to see what this will do."

 

Hyunjin edged closer with a smirk on his face. “I think you're finally warming up to us."

 

"Maybe so."

 

This isn't the worst team to have on a heist, Jisung decided. "And where's Chan?"

 

"Distracting Minho," Felix replied. "He's the one who directed us to you."

 

And even when that same team works together behind your back, it's for all the right reasons. "I guess there's no talking anyone out of this."

 

Changbin shook his head. "We're all in. Took a while for me, of course, but long enough."

 

"What do you want us to do?" Jeongin questioned.

 

Jisung took his time looking each friend in the eye. "Keep this a secret until the time comes. Tell Minho a word of anything, and we're done. Just stay vigilant, and keep him wide awake."

 

Minho p.o.v

 

In his entire high school career, Minho couldn't remember being so hyperaware of anything. Not of math tests, or dance evaluations, or having two different guys duel over his love. (Yes, that actually happened. What would you expect?)

 

But now he was. It was the opposite of how he felt yesterday, all zombified and gloomy. It was like someone had dumped a bucket of ice water on his head. Someone else had hooked up his veins to twenty shots of espresso and left him to suffer. Someone else had slipped inside of his mind, making him look over his shoulder every few seconds, because who knew what was going to happen next?

 

And all because Changbin let it slip that Jisung was planning something.

 

Planning what?

 

From the sound of it, it didn’t seem like he was plotting any old prank - either he was setting the school on fire or launching them through a portal that lead to another dimension. Well, maybe not those options - something slightly more realistic. Whatever it was, it was going to memorable, and it was going to be big.

 

When was it going to even happen? Three completely normal classes had gone by, and nothing. Jisung just lounged back in his desk, chatting with the other students, getting on the good side of their blissfully ignorant teachers, acting as though it was an ordinary day. He had to know he was tantalizing them - he had to. He was going to keep this up all day and then release his grand idea out into the open like a wild animal and revel in the praise that was sure to follow. Who was Minho kidding? After one cringeworthy nosedive, he was back to his old self. What happened yesterday had nothing to do with what was going to happen today. Jisung was pulling another gag for kicks - that’s all there was to it.

 

But that was where things got weird.

 

Unlike all the other times, neither Chan nor Changbin had notified any member of their group about anything. Usually, there was some type of warning beforehand, about what to expect and when. But now they were shoving each other around the way boys did, shooting the breeze, giving absolutely nothing away, even though they knew something; Minho was sure of it. Now that he thought about it, he felt like everyone knew something, everyone except him. All of his friends, Felix and Hyunjin and Seungmin and Jeongin, who had never succeeded in hiding anything from him before. He felt it in the way whispers were exchanged between two groups of people, a number that was too small too be suspicious, and in the way conversations immediately changed topic when he came up from behind. There had to be a secret Minho hadn't been told.

 

Unless he was just being paranoid. Paranoia, such a fickle emotion that he never bothered with under normal circumstances. And yet for some reason these circumstances were anything but normal. Minho was simply letting his imagination get the better of him. There was nothing out of the ordinary at all.

 

Except for the strange, twinkly glances Jisung kept sneaking at him when he thought Minho wasn't looking, taking the form of a small, even more annoying variation of the smile from that morning.



Around the fourth period of the day, Minho finally snapped. He hunted down Changbin exchanging books from his locker. “Give it to me straight, Bin - “

 

”Gross.”

 

”You know what I mean!” Minho slammed his locker shut, and Changbin looked back at him, clearly bored. “Jisung's plan - does it have anything to do with me?”

 

”Why would you ask that?”

 

”Because he’s been acting weird like you said, okay? He keeps watching me and I - it just - just tell me, okay? I have to know.”

 

”What do you want me to tell you, Min?” Changbin stuffed his books into his bag. “That you're overreacting? That everything happening with Jisung is just one big coincidence? I know you’re not that dumb.”

 

A cold hand caressed the hairs on his neck. “So he is planning something for me?”

 

”I didn’t say that.”

 

”So he isn’t.”

 

”I didn’t say that, either.”

 

”Quit playing games with me, you little leprechaun. It’s a question that only has one answer: what is Jisung planning that involves me?”

 

Changbin only smirked. “Trust me, you’ll know it when it happens.”

 

That just left Minho even more horrified and bewildered than before. The bell rang, and he was forced to go right back to dealing with Jisung and his eerie little stares.

 

And boy, was it distracting.

 

Even as he was turned around, facing forward, he could feel Jisung’s intent stare on his back like a spider crawling down his neck. How was one supposed to focus on physics when you had that kind of bother?

 

Unfortunately, Minho hadn’t been the only one to notice. Midway through his lecture, Mr. Kang changed topic. “Speaking of the laws of refraction, Jisung, would you like to have a seat next to Minho so that you can see him better?”

 

Fucking great. The last thing they needed was their conservative teacher meddling in their drama. The entire class turned to look at Jisung, Minho included. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t appear the least bit ashamed. He looked up at Mr. Kang with wide, guileless eyes. “I can assure you that’s unnecessary, Mr. Kang. I was listening in on your entire lecture.”

 

The physics teacher sneered. “So would you like to explain to the class what the similarity is between the light of a refracted prism and the back of Minho’s head?”

 

The students giggled. Dumbasses - did they really have nothing better to do? Chan and Seungmin managed to quiet enough of them, but it changed nothing. Then, the whole room quieted as Jisung began his act.

 

”Well, for starters, if you look at him from this angle, as I was.” Jisung demonstrated. "Then you will notice that the light from that window over to the left forms a halo around his head, see?”

 

Minho noted a few kids actually shifting in their seats to get Jisung’s perspective. He kept going. “From that window to the right, it gives the impression that he’s in a box of light, though it’s a little faded. And if you look at his face, my personal favorite view, you can really recognize the darkness of iris, almost like an onyx. With the help of the directed sunlight conducted sunlight and trained focus, it’s all very striking.”

 

Now almost half the class was studying Minho’s face and laughing, not at him and Jisung, but the humor he had brought to the situation. Minho glanced at Chan and Seungmin, but they looked just as baffled as he felt. Either this was Jisung being Jisung, or they were very good actors.

 

Mr. Kang’s jaw had clenched. “Does your sermon have a point, Jisung?”

 

Jisung smiled. ”Of course it does. Now, I’m not comparing my friend to a glass pyramid, because obviously he’s much less see - through than that. But what I’m trying to say is, like a refraction, no matter where you're facing, you can always see the light. And in Minho’s case,” he trailed and met his eyes, having the gall to wink at him. “There’s really no wrong place to look.”

 

This was it. This had to be it. The moment Minho had been waiting for all day. Everyone was watching their gazes fight for first place in this restless staring contest. This was the moment when the anvil dropped from the ceiling, or Mr. Kang fell through the floor, or both in that order.

 

But Jisung simply broke the stare and motioned for their teacher to continue. “Please, go on with the lesson. I’d hate to have put a stop to our learning experience.” Just like that, the whole ordeal was done and over with. 


Oh, 
Minho thought blankly, stamping out his disappointment. Why was he disappointed? It wasn’t like he wanted Jisung to announce his feelings for him to their whole class. It was already embarrassing enough, what had just happened.

 

So why wasn’t he embarrassed? Why wasn’t he mad that Jisung had simped over him in the middle of a lesson? Why was he enjoying this attention?

 

Because you’re attracted to this idiot, that’s why, Minho remembered glumly. You came to that conclusion yesterday. Could God just simultaneously end him with the plague right now?

 

Alas, the heavenly powers weren’t feeling too generous. So Minho stuck it out for the rest of the day and waited for the ball to drop.

 

And waited. And waited. And waited some more. But the moment never came.

 

The final bell rang, people bolted out the door, and nothing happened. Not a single freshman even tripped. It was all utterly, painstakingly mediocre, down to the last detail.

 

Guess that means I made everything up, Minho decided, concluding his internal madness. He must’ve have misheard Changbin and Felix - they were probably talking about something else. Which means I spent all of physics, chemistry, and calculus stressing about nothing. He would have the time to make up for it tomorrow. For now, though, he was going to calm down and forget all about weird boys and their stupid pranks.



While his brain was on the topic of weird boys, Minho noticed Felix and Hyunjin depart from their last class of the day and exactly the same time, joining his side. “You’re looking chipper,” Hyunjin remarked. “What happened to your crippling state of neurosis?”

 

“Banished forever,” Minho declared. “Honestly, you guys were right - I was being borderline hysterical.”

 

”Borderline?” Hyunjin scoffed. “I’ve never seen you so anxious about anything.”

 

”And you never will ever again. I don’t even know why I was so worked up - nothing even happened besides that little episode in physics.”

 

”What episode in physics? You didn’t tell us about that!”

 

“It’s that one class I have with Chan, Seungmin, and Jisung. I’ll tell you all about it later.”

 

”Well, you shouldn’t give up just yet,” Felix piped up. “The day isn’t done - you never know what might take place.” 

 

“Please, Lixie, you can stop egging me on now,” Minho chuckled. “The bell has rung, the audience has left the premises. There’s no point. What is he going to do, stand on the roof and threaten to jump until I say that I love him? That would be foolish and tacky, and I know even he wouldn’t stoop that low. The big plan was probably some kind of intimidation ploy.”

 

Felix raised a single brow in doubt. “So you’re not scared at all?”

 

”That’s right. Completely calm.”

 

Felix and Hyunjin exchanged a knowing glance that was way too obvious to mean anything secret. “Whatever you say, Minho,” they droned in singsong voices.

 

Minho didn’t even bother to hide his grin. “You weirdos,” he teased, shoving them both as they exited the campus.

 

Once they were ahead, though, Minho glanced up at the rooftop, just to be safe. Thank the gods, it was deserted.

 

******

 

”Hold on, hold on,” Hyunjin cackled, gasping for air. “You mean to tell me that he actually compared gazing at you to the laws of refraction and got away with it?”

 

”I wouldn’t have been able to make it up, so yes,” Minho replied, tossing his blazer on the kitchen table.

 

As Hyunjin had requested, Minho was telling him about physics class, and he was sure getting a kick out of it too. Not only that, but he had invited Seungmin, Felix, and Jeongin to his apartment for a study group. Chan, Jisung, and Changbin were unable to come, due to some late - night producer things. But the overall result remained an abnormally noisy phone call.

 

”Am I the only one who wonders how he even comes up with this shit on the spot?” Seungmin questioned. “He must have a script or two memorized - there’s no way he’s that creative.”

 

”Can’t you have a little faith, Minnie?” Felix pouted - it was audible even in a phone call. “I thought you’d come to like us.”

 

“I do like you people, but I’m just having trouble figuring out how someone who can’t sit still during a lit and comp class managed to string together a film - worthy scene.” A beat of silence. Shuffling. “You can stop hugging me now, Felix.”

 

”Nope!”

 

”Come on, it’s not about the words that are said. It’s the show that goes with it,” Jeongin revised. Minho envisioned him standing on the coffee table, preaching to the choir. “If he just said flat - out that Minho was a statuesque being, then he probably would’ve been humiliated by Mr. Kang, who I think we can decree is a Karen.”

 

”Without a shadow of a doubt,” Felix proclaimed.

 

“But by relating it to the lesson, and further embellishing your good looks, he saved himself and earned the respect of his classmates for standing up to a conservative. In conclusion, not only is our Han Jisung a legend, but he is whipped bad for you, Minho.”

 

”Hear, hear!” Seungmin announced, and the boys repeated the cry. Though they couldn’t see it, Minho still found himself biting back his smile.

 

”Oh, my god, I can see it,” Hyunjin said suddenly. “Minho, you’re doing the thing.”

 

”The thing? What’re you talking about?”

 

”You know what I’m talk - the thing! The thing where you... you...” Hyunjin trailed, murmuring in speculation before giving in. “Guys, back me up here!”

 

Seungmin sighed. “What thing, what person?”

 

”It’s Minho. You know, the thing where he’s smiling and flustered, and - “

 

”Oh, I know!” Jeongin shouted. “The thing where he bites his lip and looks at the ground like he’s super embarrassed but it’s so obvious at the same time!”

 

A finger snap. “That’s the one!”

 

Minho erased his expression immediately. Even Dori was looking up at him like: you know they’re right, man. “You guys are way too observant.”

 

”We can’t help it if it’s right there!”

 

”You can’t even see me.”

 

”But we could hear you.”

 

That wasn’t even worth being dignified with a response. “Don’t you have a study group to get back to?”

 

“Indeed I do. Everyone, I’m going out back for a bathroom break!”

 

”And you’re taking Minho with you?” Felix said quizzically.

 

”But I still need help with math!” Jeongin whined.

 

”Seungmin’ll help you. You’re a treasure, Minnie!” Footsteps Minho assumed were Hyunjin’s padded away from Seungmin’s outcries. A door locked, and the voices were cut off. “Okay, mister, enough games. We’re going to talk.”

 

”So I take it we’re not bathroom buddies?” 

 

”Don’t you try to distract me! You know what I’m going to tell you.”

 

”Because it’s all you’ve been talking to me about all day. Really, it’s annoying.” Minho flopped on his bed, smiling as Soonie came to join him. “You’re more invested in my love life than me.”

 

”Well, someone ought to be! I’m surprised you’re not all over this, Mr. I’ve Never Felt These Feelings For Anyone Before. You’re either acting like they’re a big headache or they don't even exist.”

 

”Could it be a little bit of both?”

 

”No!” A pound on the other end - Hyunjin had probably punched the sink in frustration. “This is the opposite of acceptance. You’re acting like nothing’s there.”

 

”No, I’m not. Don’t be ridiculous.”

 

”It’s you who’s being ridiculous! Just a few hours ago, you were all excited at the idea of him doing something huge in your honor, and now it doesn’t even matter. Don’t you care about him at all?”

 

”Yes, I do! How many times do I have to admit it?”

 

”You shouldn’t have to admit it if you’ve accepted it.”

 

”Fuck,” Minho muttered under his breath. Soonie lifted her head in sleepy, halfhearted alarm. “So what do you want me to do? Go to 3Racha’s studio and raw his face off?”

 

”I want you to not joke about it,” Hyunjin snapped. “If he’s really making you feel all shook up and crap, then I want you to give a damn. So what if it’s Jisung? There’s a lot of shallow, pea - brained guys in this world, and he’s one of the good ones. Yeah, he’s weird and obnoxious and he never shuts the fuck up, but he cares about you a lot, and he’s made that damn clear. So get the hell off your high horse before I push you; you’re gonna give that idiot a chance.”

 

Minho glanced up briefly - Doongie and Dori had teleported to the foot of the bed. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you speak of him in such high regard.”

 

Hyunjin guffawed, shuffling around some more. “Only because you’re being so damn stubborn. He’s stuck around this long, at least give him that.”

 

“True,” Minho snorted. “Most guys I reject usually leave around the three week mark.”

 

“Well, you haven’t rejected him just yet.”

 

“No I haven’t.” Minho scratched Dori’s head. “Do you think he’s going to come back again?”

 

”I know he’s going to come back again.”

 

Minho’s paranoia spiked at the comment: was it supposed to have a double meaning? He dismissed it - banished and gone, he reminded himself. “I hope I’ll be ready for that.”

 

”Me too,” Hyunjin replied cheerfully. “So are you going to talk to him? Get things straightened out?”

 

”Not now, obviously.” Minho sat up as Doongie crept onto his lap. “He’s probably busy with Chan and Binnie. Maybe later.”

 

”Later as in later tonight? Are you going to call him?”

 

”Do you take me for a coward? No, I’m not going to call him about this. I’ll catch him before school, take him somewhere discreet. I’ll be completely honest.”

 

”You will?”

 

”Swear it on the graves of my parents that aren’t even dead yet.”

 

”All right,” Hyunjin dragged out the phrase. “I’ll hold you to that. I give you my word.”

 

”See you, loser.” Minho ended the call. He rested his head against the wall, watching his cats frolic about the room. “Dori, I’ve told you a million times, you do not scratch my comforter unless you want to sleep on the couch.”

 

(Yes, Minho had his cats sleep in his room with him, and when they misbehaved, they slept in the living room. He wasn’t a monster.)

 

“I’m honest with you guys, right?” Minho asked them. “I’m not completely heartless.”

 

Soonie looked up and her own answer, Doongie purred and stretched out on his thighs, and Dori stopped scratching up his comforter, which on its own was enough of a relief.

 

”Maybe it’s just a people thing,” he murmured. That would make more sense. Cats were fairly simple creatures - feed them right, scratch them right, but pet their stomachs and lose an eye. Humans were more disorganized, much less glacier - like.

 

Or maybe it was just Jisung.

 

”I mean, he can’t be that difficult predict.” He never was too difficult to predict before. He had an idea, he went for it. He had a thought in his mind, he set it out in open. He never gave anyone much of a reason to look any further than that. And yet Minho had gone ahead and made his own opening.

 

”It’s not my fault that this happened.” But wasn’t it? Wasn’t he the one who stayed for all those surprise after - school visits, and dug for the hidden meanings behind all those little phrases? Before he had much of an idea what was happening, he was stepping further and further back towards the edge of the cliff, and now he was barely a hair’s width away from losing himself. He had to keep some source of judgment about his senses.


”It shouldn’t be that big of a problem. I like him, and that’s that.” It was never that complicated before: Minho acknowledged it, the other guy in the picture acknowledged it, and that was all there was to it. There was no need for any extra drama - no heartfelt confession, no ugly tears, no tight embrace, and no smoochy kiss. Just neat and simple, as all things were supposed to be. Anything involving Jisung didn’t have to be any different.

 

”Do I want something different?” That was something both inner logic and his three cats couldn’t answer.

 

All this thinking made his brain tired. Sighing, Minho rolled up his sleeves and plucked up a book from his bedside table - Malice, by Keigo Higashino - cracking it open to the bookmarked page. He would deal with Jisung and his shenanigans tomorrow.

 

And then the rock hit his window.

 

It was a small ping, not enough to break anything, but it jolted all four beings in the room. The window wasn’t a window, but two glass doors that lead to a balcony fully capable of holding him up. But Minho didn’t feel like moving so far. Maybe it wasn’t a rock, he thought. Maybe it was a tiny gray bird who bumped into the window. He would let Soonie have it in the morning.

 

Ping! Minho flexed his fingers, inhaling deeply. Either these birds had not been around long enough to recognize glass, or someone really wanted to taste the wrath of a pissed off dancer and his three vicious cats.

 

A minute of silence. Exactly fifty seconds longer than the last two hits. Minho began to settle into his book -

 

Ping!

 

”Alright, that’s it.” Hurling his book across the room and placing Doongie on the floor, Minho stormed across the room and threw open the gates to his balcony. “It is eight thirty, ass o’ clock, what the fuck do you want?”

 

The next gust of wind took his breath away.

 

The parking spot to the left in front of Minho’s apartment complex hosted a black van. Changbin and Chan sat on the roof holding microphones. To the right were two other guys, one with fluffy brown hair seated before a keyboard, and the other with black hair centered in a drum set; any JYP student with alumni knowledge recognized the men as Kim Wonpil and Yoon Dowoon of Day6. 

 

Jisung stood in front of a mic stand with an acoustic guitar in his arms. He was still wearing his uniform and the tie looped around the collar of his dress shirt was loose. His eyes were for Minho and Minho alone.

 

”I don’t want anything from you,” Jisung’s voice thrummed. “Just for you to listen.” He nodded to the Day6 duo. “Hit it, boys.”

 

Dulcet piano notes glided into the open air, fluctuating like twinkling stars. Then Jisung began to sing along.

 

”Love, love the stars.”

 

”Love, love the moon.”

 

His voice was as soft as a lily floating across a river.

 

”Nothing’s really different, it’s the same air. It’s the same bed, looking at the same ceiling.”

 

Minho’s hands found the balcony railing and clutched on for dear life.

 

”Why do I feel so empty for no reason at all? It’s been a few hours since I started spacing out.”

 

Chan and Changbin lifted the mics to their lips. “At first - “

 

The harmonic strum of guitar and heartbeat thump of the drums made Minho jump. ”I thought I was just hungry, no way, no way.”

 

”These days, I listen to Kanye’s new album, but it’s just typical.”

 

”I leave the TV on - “ static “ - but I’m just flipping through channels.”

 

Jisung’s eyes hadn’t left Minho the whole time. 

 

“But bae, there’s not much meaning.”

 

”Oh, my God,” Minho breathed.

 

“Nothing even comes close to half of you, it can’t fill me up, it doesn’t fill me up, yeah.”

 

Sleepers were coming out of their own apartments and watching from their balconies, murmuring about this new spectacle.

 

”Just half, if only I had just half of you, then maybe I wouldn’t be feeling like this.”

 

And then he started to rap, the words flowing out of him like a flash flood, stinging like sparks of fire. A choked scoff escaped Minho’s own lips as the other tenants started to cheer. He found he couldn’t even blame them. It was a scene pulled right out of a teen movie. Listening to Jisung sing; he was a muse, an evangelist, a character pulled out of the myths.

 

The memory hit him like a cannonball in the heart.

 

”His music could sooth anger and bring happiness like no one else.” Orpheus, the most legendary musician in Greek mythology.

 

”Just like Don Quixote, I’m crazily dreaming of your love.”

 

Minho felt himself giving way and falling into the void, his face breaking a grin.

 

”If only I could see your eyes, I would be able to fill up my empty heart,”

 

The congregation roared, clapping their hands. Most were in their pajamas - one woman had curlers in her hair. But Minho felt too high to pay it any mind.

 

”It can’t fill me up, it doesn’t fill me up, yeah.”

 

”Just half, if only I had just half of you, then I wouldn’t feel like this.”

 

People had turned on their phone flashlights and were waving them gently to the music, making a city of stars. Jisung lifted a hand to the adoring audience.

 

”Love, love the stars.”

 

Then he turned back to Minho for the grand finale.

 

”Love, love the moon.”

 

”If only I had half, if only I had just half of you.”

 

”If only,”

 

The piano interlaced with the guitar for the close, and the song ended. The assembly went wild, their applause erupting in every direction.

 

Jisung extended a hand straight out to Minho, smiling breathlessly. “Lee Minho, will you go out with me?”

 

At that point, Minho was ready jump down four stories and kiss the living daylights out of Jisung. And the observers - total chaos. Any chance of them shutting up was well out of question. Soonie, Doongie, and Dori were gazing up at him, waiting to see what their owner was going to do.

 

Minho turned back to Jisung, who hadn’t wavered a bit. “Wait there,” he told him, and he darted back into his apartment.

 

He barely saw the door out of his apartment as he barreled straight through it, shooting down the stairs bullet - quick, the blood crashing in his ears like an orchestra. When he arrived at the ground, Jisung was still right there. Still waiting for him.

 

Minho smiled. He hadn’t stopped. “Was this the plan?”

 

Jisung nodded. “Pretty much. Don’t know why these guys decided to help.”

 

Changbin and Chan waved to him from on top of the van. “Hi, Minho!”

 

”Day6 in the building!” Wonpil yelled.

 

"Day6 in the street," Dowoon corrected, laughing.

 

Minho waved back, not even looking at them. “Guess you were lying about the late - night producer thing.”

 

Jisung chuckled, rubbing his neck. “So, is this the part where you call me an idiot?”

 

I haven’t called him an idiot all night, he realized. Even now, the word didn’t come to mind. “Actually, no. This is the part where I thank you. Because that was amazing.”

 

Jisung’s eyebrows shot straight the moon. His smile unwound in cracks, like he couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. “Seriously? You’re not mad?”

 

”No, I’m not.” I’m so damn happy I can’t comprehend it. “I mean... you did all of that for me?”

 

”It wasn’t all on my own. Everyone else was in on it - we just had to hide it from you. Changbin got the car, and Chan got DoPil, and I got them, but yeah. Wait, has no other guy performed for you in front of all your neighbors?”

 

Minho shook his head. “Not one.”

 

”Wow. So I surprised you.”

 

”You really did.” Minho shifted for a moment, for once struggling to say the right thing. “So, that whole asking me out part. Was that just for the song?”

 

”No. That was real.” Jisung nodded like a bobble head, still in shock. And then he absorbed the words. “Wait. Are - are you saying - “

 

”Yes,” Minho blurted. “I’ll go out with you.”

 

”Really?!” His voice had probably risen three octaves.

 

Minho barely had the chance to say yes again before Jisung dropped his guitar and pulled him into his arms, laughing so hard Minho could feel it. He started laughing with him, twining his arms around his neck as they spun, and everyone else took that as their cue to cry out an ovation.

 

This was the opposite of every beginning with every guy he had ever known. This was the opposite of silence and delicacy and order. This was boisterous and disheveled and fervent, and good God it was wonderful.

 

When the spinning came to an end, they were still dizzy with laughter, which slowly came to a halt when they realized how close they were. Their foreheads were touching, and their chests were mashed together. Jisung’s hands were trembling ever so slightly on Minho’s waist, and his bronze eyes were flickering all over his face, trying to take in every detail. Minho found his own hands gripping his shoulders, steadying Jisung’s gaze with his own.

 

The moment in the classroom flashed before his memory, all those other moments that paled in comparison to this. Every time he had imagined a kiss, it had been brief, a sparkler flare that was doused before it could be taken to heart. But this time wasn’t just a flash - he could see it happening. He could see them closing the distance and God he wanted to. He wanted it to happen. He wanted, and yet -

 

“Wait.” Minho held a finger between their noses. Jisung’s eyes narrowed on it in surprise. “Not in front of all of them. Not in front of anyone.”

 

For once, Jisung said nothing. His hand slipped from Minho’s waist and wrapped around his hand. He brought Minho’s finger to his lips and kissed it. “Deal.”

 

The hordes of people in their apartments screamed, and Minho felt himself freezing, blushing, beginning to hope.

 

Maybe this time really was different - maybe this love was different. It felt so different, surely it had to be. Maybe the year to come would be a good year for both of them. Maybe this time things would work out the way Minho wanted them to.

 

Maybe Han Jisung wouldn’t break his heart.

Chapter Text

Jeongin p.o.v

 

”Get the hell back here!” Chan yelled, shoving aside a spooked sophomore.

 

”Never!” Jisung shouted back, leapfrogging over a student who had bent down to pick up her books.

 

”Make way, ladies and gentlemen!” Hyunjin hollered. “Stray Kids coming at ya!”

 

”Isn’t that what the teachers call us?” Seungmin asked.

 

”It has a nice ring to it.”

 

That morning, the gang was trailing behind Jisung, grilling him eagerly for every detail of the night before. Jeongin still had to get to homeroom with Seungmin, but that could wait. Hyunjin had been especially curious. “That guy got the my best friend the Ice Queen to jump into his arms laughing, and I wanna know how he did it.”

 

However, Jisung wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic to giving away information. So as of now, Jeongin had joined Seungmin alongside Felix, Hyunjin, Chan, and Changbin in chasing him around the school like a good old - fashioned game of cops and robbers.

 

Wherever Jisung ran, people turned to look at him, muttering that he was the “Half Moon guy.” Clearly the fame had already gone to his head. “Come on, boys, if you really want a taste, you gotta put some effort into it!”

 

”We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you just slowed down and told us what you did!” Changbin yelled back.

 

”Chan, Binnie, I get you guys, but why the rest of you?”

 

”We saw the videos, dumbass!” Felix said. “The whole school’s flipping their shit!”

 

”You knew this was coming!” Jeongin called. “We want what we paid for!”

 

Jisung smirked. “You’re going to have to catch me first.”

 

The comment pissed off Seungmin. “Don’t get too cocky, squirrel.” Pulling his thesaurus out of his jacket, he hurled it at Jisung like a boomerang.

 

”Duck!” Chan shrieked, and everyone in the hallway obeyed, throwing themselves dramatically against the walls and ground. The thesaurus, rather than being made of paper, ricocheted off the walls like a bullet, sending the area into screaming pandemonium.

 

”How did he learn to throw like that?” Hyunjin remarked.

 

”He wanted to be a baseball player when he was a kid!” Jeongin replied. “Put a lot of strength into his throwing arm!”

 

However, it wasn’t enough to stop Jisung. Using the chaos to his advantage, he picked up speed and, almost heroically, caught the thesaurus as it was hurtling at his back. Shoving it in his blazer, he kept running.

 

Seungmin growled like some sort of dragon. “I’m getting back answers and my thesaurus!” Accepting a bro high - five from Felix, the group sprinted after their target.

 

”Why do I tell you guys anything?” Jisung wailed.

 

”He’s asking us like we know,” Felix whispered, to which Chan shrugged. “If I were you, I wouldn’t trust us either!”

 

”Just give it up already!” Chan called out. “One way or another, you’re going to face us!”

 

Jisung responded by rocketing around the corner, and the others had no choice but to follow.

 

It was like a high speed car chase through a busy street. The people in this part of the school hadn’t yet gotten the memo, so the foot traffic was like wading through a fast - flowing river. Damn you, Jisung, Jeongin cursed. Just had to pick rush hour for his escape.

 

”Guys!” Came Changbin’s shout from behind. Looking in his direction, he was getting hauled back by several students, with only his face and his arm sticking out. “Help me!”

 

Immediately, Chan jumped into action. “Leave no soldier behind, men, I’m going after him!”

 

The boys shifted into a craggy diamond - like formation, Chan holding up the end. With some kind of supernatural strength, he pulled Changbin free with one arm and drew him safely inside the formation. Guess those guns came in handy after all, Jeongin noted.

 

”He’s getting away!” Hyunjin shrieked, trying to look above the crowd.

 

“And the bell rings in fifteen minutes,” Seungmin murmured in despair. “We’re never going to catch him.”

 

Felix gave Seungmin’s hand a tight squeeze. “Dude, you gotta believe.”

 

And just like that, the gods decided to smile down upon them.

 

The gaggle of students in their way finally decided to clear the road, revealing Jisung just a few paces ahead.

 

”End of the line, fugitive!” Jeongin shouted. Jisung glanced around for barely a moment, but one look at his terrified expression was enough. The very minute Jisung turned back around, he slammed right into Minho, and the entire hallway went silent.

 

Minho surveyed the scene before him. Jeongin assumed it wasn’t pretty - disorganized students and staff scattered every which way, papers fluttering to the ground like flower petals; pretty much the epitome of a disaster scene.

 

And Minho accepted it all in a moment. He turned his focus back to Jisung. “Pretty far from your homeroom class, aren’t you?”

 

”I’ve been preoccupied.”

 

Minho glanced behind him at their group of friends poised and ready to attack like a military squad. “I can see that.” His lips curved into a smirk as he placed a hand on Jisung’s shoulder. “Good luck.” And he walked away.

 

“With what?” Jisung asked, though he didn’t get an answer. But one look at his spellbound, smiling face made it clear that he could care less. Jeongin grinned. Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.

 

All at once, they pounced, Chan and Changbin seizing hold of Jisung’s arms, and Hyunjin opening the door to the nearest classroom, all done completely unnoticed. Setting Jisung down in a desk, the boys gathered around him, blocking any chance of a getaway. “Talk,” they ordered.

 

“And give me back my thesaurus,” Seungmin added.

 

Sighing, Jisung produced the book from his blazer and handed it to him. “I still don’t get this - you’ve already seen the footage. Chan, Binnie, you guys were literally there! What more do you want?”

 

”What more do you want, he asks,” Hyunjin mocked. “We want the details underneath the action. You managed to make Minho fall for you in less than three minutes using nothing but a song and sheer luck. How did you do it?”

 

“You think I’ll tell you?”

 

”Well, tell us something! I mean, these two aren’t giving us much to go off of!” He gestured to Changbin and Felix.

 

”Hey!” The boys in question turned on Hyunjin, who held up his hands in surrender.

 

”And then all of you seem to think there’s something between Hyunjin and I,” Seungmin rolled his eyes flippantly.

 

”Because there is,” said everyone all at once.

 

“You already admitted you were warming up to us.” Hyunjin winked. “You know you love me.”

 

Chan and Jeongin exchanged a practiced look of exhaustion before Jeongin cleared his throat. “Can we please get back on track?”

 

”Right.” Hyunjin snapped back to the current matters, returning his attention to Jisung. “You parade around here, acting like you don’t have shit to care about, and then you moonlight to my best friend’s apartment and serenade him. What kind of fluid midlife crisis are you in?”

 

Jisung sniffed. “I’m not even in the middle of my life yet.”

 

”Yeah, well you’re going to be at the end of it if you don’t start talking soon. Homeroom’s getting closer, and I don’t even know which classroom we’re in.”

 

At that, Jisung beamed, propping his feet up on the desk. “You got questions? Fine. I got answers. Let it all out.”

 

The floodgates opened instantly, releasing an indiscernible clusterfuck of queries. Jeongin managed to make out a few.

 

Seungmin: ”How did you get Wonpil and Dowoon to help you?”

 

Felix: ”Couldn’t you have just yelled his name instead of throwing rocks?”

 

Chan: ”Did you know how it was going to end?”

 

Jisung splayed his fingers with flair he’d probably learned from Hyunjin. “For DoPil’s services, you have our lovely Chan to thank. Felix, that is a wonderful question and now that I think about it, you have a point. And for that last one... no, I didn’t know.”

 

This time, everyone had the same reaction. ”You didn’t know?!”

 

”Well, don’t sound so surprised, you knew the risks.”

 

”You’re damn right we knew!” Changbin shouted. “The whole way to his apartment, I thought I was taking you straight to your own crucifixion! I even made Chan write your eulogy!”

 

Jisung’s brows furrowed. ”Say that last bit again one more time?”

 

Chan pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. “I wrote it the night you told me you wanted to sing for Minho. I’m holding on to it just in case.”

 

”Dude, throw that away. I’m not gonna die anytime soon.”

 

”You never know-“

 

”Chan! I’m serious!” Jisung cut him off. “So I did all that on a wing and a prayer - so what? Everything worked out in the end.”

 

”And that’s what’s so astonishing about this achievement.” Hyunjin pulled out a chair from behind him and sat down in front of Jisung. The rest of the boys exchanged knowing looks - he was about to dig his heels in. “You’ve got quite a hold on him, you know.”

 

”I can assure you that it’s the other way around.”

 

”Oh, but it isn’t.” Hyunjin folded his arms on the desk and leaned forward. “I've known Minho nearly two years - his string of past boyfriends is longer than the line to the DMV. None of them have had your kind of effect.”

 

”What can I say?” Jisung popped the lapels of his blazer. “I’m just a one of a kind.”

 

Hyunjin blinked fast; either he was holding back tears or resisting an eye roll. “That might just be true. Other than that, I have no idea what Minho sees in you. You talk too much, you’re juvenile and abrasive. But you’ve left your mark - Minho couldn’t stop talking about you after you left.”

 

Jisung perked up. “Really?”

 

”I only wish I was kidding. He was all over the place, smiling and talking to his cats. It was like he’d switched personalities with his late grandmother.” Hyunjin shuddered. “I’ve never seen him like this before. Happy, unfiltered. You’ve unlocked something new in him - a new level of Minho. Do you realize how scary that is?”

 

Jisung’s Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat as he swallowed. “Yes, sir.”

 

”Look, Sungie, you’re my friend. So is Minho. I’m sure you know what you’re getting into right now.”

 

”Indeed, I do.”

 

”He’s not kidding, dude,” Felix butted in. “Prepare for some Seven - Evil - Exes kind of shit. I’ve seen it happen. It’s crazy.”

 

Jisung straightened in his seat, as if preparing for the weight of his burdens. “All right.”

 

”As I was saying,” Hyunjin emphasized, shooting a glare at Felix. “While both you and Minho are my friends, just know, that if one thing between you two goes wrong, I will not hesitate to take his side, you understand me? If you dare even think about doing anything that will break his heart - “

 

”Let me stop you right there.” Jisung raised a hand to silence him. “If I break Minho’s heart, then I will have no choice but to obliterate my own.”

 

Out of the corner of Jeongin’s eye, Chan and Changbin’s jaws dropped in unison. Even Seungmin looked mildly impressed.

 

Felix grinned, glancing down to Hyunjin for approval. After exactly twenty seconds of careful deliberation, Hyunjin nodded. “Good answer. Are you ready to date the hurricane that is the dancing gem, cat boy, Ice Queen himself, Lee Minho?” He held out his hand for the other boy to shake.

 

Silence. Not even crickets - they were probably too afraid to disturb the quiet. Jeongin didn’t blame them. The staring match between Hyunjin and Jisung, two equally chaotic good beings, generated enough energy to set off the Richter scale.

 

Finally, Jisung gave in and shook his hand. “It will be my honor.”

 

Hyunjin smiled curtly. “A pleasure doing business with you. Now, boys, I say we get going. Homeroom starts in six minutes.”

 

”Five minutes,” Chan corrected. “Jeongin, you have Kwon homeroom with Seungmin - take him with you. Hyunjin, you’re coming with Changbin and I to Mr. Kang’s class. Felix, you and Jisung will meet Minho at Ms. Baek’s. Understood, everyone?”

 

”Sir, yes sir!” They responded, saluting.

 

Chan nodded to Changbin and Hyunjin. “Come on, you two.” They filed out of the room, followed shortly by Jisung and Felix.

 

Jeongin faced Seungmin, turning up the wattage on his smile. “You first, my liege.”

 

Scoffing, Seungmin strode out of the classroom, Jeongin following close behind. “What kind of cultist meeting was that?”

 

”The kind of meeting we should get used to, I think. I thought it was rather fun to watch.”

 

”But I don’t want to get used to it! Just because they're my friends, doesn’t mean I understand their antics.”

 

”And just what is it about their ‘antics’ that doesn’t fit into your standards?”

 

”Almost everything. God only knows how they have good grades - they spend all their time fooling around together. And then they say everything’s platonic, but it’s the same thing with every pair. They meet, they breed, and they expect me to follow tradition?”

 

”Come on, if it gets them hitched faster, then it might all be worth it!”

 

”If they could quit dragging it out, maybe.” Seungmin gagged. “All this couple business is making me sick. It’s exasperating, it’s nauseating, and we’re up to our knees it it. I’ve no problem with the others - let them love who they want. But pairing me up with Hyunjin...”

 

His expression looked torn between wanting to rip the nearest person apart with his bare hands and wanting to hightail to Mr. Kang’s class and find that tall princely vision himself. “So you admit it? You do like him?”

 

Quickly, Seungmin shook his head - he hated being caught off guard. “Don’t be ridiculous. I could never fall for anyone, least of all Hyunjin.”

 

“No one else has ever gotten you so rattled before.” Guess I did right, setting them up, Jeongin decided. He deserved a medal.

 

“That doesn’t mean anything. Hyunjin, he’s just so... complicated.”

 

He’s got you so twisted up you can’t think straight. Jeongin wanted to laugh. The guy didn’t even know how bad he had it. “I don’t see what’s so complicated about him liking you. Although I might have a few questions as to why.”

 

”The hell if I know. He’s a Gordian knot of a person, a conundrum, a paradox! Who the hell tells you exactly how they feel about you? What kind of game is that?”

 

”I don’t know, but you’ve been ranting about it for a minute and a half, and we’re still not at our homeroom class.”

 

Seungmin opened his mouth to reply and closed it just as fast. “Come on.” He grabbed Jeongin’s wrist and dragged him onward. Jeongin giggled the rest of the way.

 

******

It was February. And although Valentine’s was six days away, it felt like it had already come.

 

For one thing, the couples seemed more obnoxious than usual, sitting in each other’s laps, sharing food, touching unnecessarily with every chance they got. It got so revolting that the other friends picked up their things and moved to another area - not that the couples seemed to notice. The lonely third wheels had gathered at at their own table to breed amongst one another in hopes of meeting a partner of their own.

 

And then there was Jeongin’s own friend group. Good God. 

While there may not have been any lap - sitting, food sharing, or any unnecessary touching, boy, did they make up for it. There was eye contact so mushy it was soft - serve, the kind that was only seen in dramas. Stolen glances so noticeable it made you nauseous. Laughter so cloyingly sweet it could make a passerby retch. But all of them were too enamored with each other to see anything else.

 

There was already enough rumors concerning their friend group on who was dating who, and it was always Jeongin who shut them down, saying they were just close friends. The questioners always raised their eyebrows, said “really?” and Jeongin would have to repeat himself. The interrogators would leave, muttering to themselves. They never believed him. Whenever he told the others about it, they would always get flustered, deny any reason why anyone would have possibly thought they were anything more than just good friends. But jeez - did they really not see how obvious it was?

 

The only person who seemed to have any substance left was Chan, no surprise there. But he was more upset about not having a partner - all those rom coms had gotten to his head. “My entire high school career, and I’ve only had three lasting relationships and a million meaningless crushes,” he had complained. “High School Musical lied to me.”

 

Jeongin himself didn’t mind that his friends were all connected in a love octagon that left him and Chan alone in the center. But he didn’t see why they couldn’t just take it down a notch - if not for his sake, then for theirs.

 

His thought process was interrupted by a chunk of galbi-jjim catapulting at his face, which Chan caught with a napkin guarded hand inches away from Jeongin’s forehead.

 

”Stop that, Jisung!” Chan scolded, which only made the younger snicker with glee. He turned to Jeongin with a look of parental concern. “That’s the second time he’s tried that. You’ve been picking at your food for fifteen minutes. Is something wrong?”

 

Jeongin blinked and looked around. Everyone at the table had stopped gazing adoringly at one another, and now their eyes were on him. Drama over, reality checked. “Nothing,” he mumbled, looking down at his tray.

 

Could he have chosen a worse display of emotion? Now they looked even more distressed. “You can tell us anything, Jeongin,” Chan encouraged gently. “What’s on your mind?”

 

He examined each of his friends. Did they seriously not remember? Did he really have to say it out loud? All these years, and they still didn’t know the date of his birth. He would let DanceRacha slide.

 

Playing it off as casually as he possibly could, Jeongin said: “It’s my birthday.”

 

And boom - mood switch. Everyone immediately started apologizing; how could they have forgotten their maknae’s birthday? Why couldn’t he have said anything sooner? Could they do anything to make up for it? 

Seungmin snapped his fingers. “I knew I was forgetting something.”

 

Three years hadn’t done anything to improve his memory. Little asshole. But Jeongin resigned himself to a shrug. “It’s okay. You guys don’t have to do anything.”

 

”Like hell we don’t,” Changbin argued. “Should we sing Happy Birthday?”

 

”Please don’t,” Jeongin cut in fast. “Please. That would actually be my worst nightmare.”

 

”Then what should we do?” Hyunjin asked. “You took it out on us right out of the blue. There’s gotta be something.”

 

”Out of the blue, my ass. I thought you all knew about this! I don’t want a celebration - I just expected some sort of reaction.”

 

”Why couldn’t you have said anything earlier?” Minho inquired.

 

”Because it’s like I’m not even here! You guys are all so focused on each other!”

 

That shut them up better than anything had in the last two months. “I mean, seriously, can’t you all just go on a triple date or something? I’ll stay behind and watch Friday Night Lights with Chan.”

 

Chan brightened. “You’d really do that?”

 

”Single Pringles forever.”

 

“Well, it’s not going to stop any time soon,” Hyunjin said while Seungmin pretended not to hear him. “So that’s a futile request.”

 

”Believe me, I know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining - it’s one of the best parts of my day, thinking “will they, won’t they?”

 

”Might they?” Felix whispered, and Changbin glanced at him with wide eyes.

 

”But I’ve been thinking. Maybe we could do something, y’know, after school - “

 

”After school?!” Came the unanimous shout.

 

”Can’t we just do something here?” Jisung suggested. “Raid the vending machines, find an empty classroom?”

 

”That’s boring!” Jeongin retorted. “Come on, we never do anything after school!”

 

”Because we’re swamped with work,” Minho fired back. “Look around - we’re down to one more trimester, and we’re preparing for the finals. We’re lucky to be alive right now.”

 

”We didn’t get much this time! Mrs. Kwon only gave us two calculus assignments!”

 

”Both of which are due tomorrow!” Felix stressed. “I already got here late. I don’t want to mess up anything else.”

 

”I don’t see why we have to meet after school, anyway.” Seungmin placed a chunk of meat in his mouth. “We see each other enough every day.”

 

”Digital study group doesn’t count,” Jeongin told him. “Normal friend groups actually do things together!”

 

”In case you haven’t noticed, we’re not your average friend group,” Changbin said. “Minho has a point - we all just have too much on our plate.”

 

”It can just be this one time! We hardly see each other outside of here! Please? For me?”

 

There were certain advantages that came with being the youngest in your crew. Nobody could say no to you, and if they did, they would feel bad about it. He could already see the thoughts shifting in their faces, their doubts fading away. A bullseye on the first try.

 

Finally, Chan turned to the boys for a final verdict. "Study group after?"

 

Jeongin beamed. "Study group after."

 

Seungmin sighed in defeat. "If our academic careers go down in flames after today, I'm blaming you."

 

"You're lucky we can't turn down your cute face," Minho reminded Jeongin. "Where do you want to go?"

 

Jeongin surveyed his audience one last time. Here goes nothing. "You guys know that norebang place nearby? All In?"

 

Changbin's brows furrowed. "You want to go to a norebang for your birthday?"

 

"Don't bash him," Chan chided. "That actually doesn't sound like a bad idea."

 

"I wasn't saying that it was!"

 

"Wait," Jeongin said. "You don't hate it?"

 

"Why would we hate it?" Minho asked. "It's not unreasonable, and it's one of the saner ideas someone in this group has had."

 

"Five months in Korea, and I haven't had any fun," Felix mused. "I can check that off my bucket list."

 

"Maybe it'll scrub the last bit of Australian out of you," Hyunjin taunted.

 

"Like hell it will!"

 

"It might just be the most normal thing we'll do as friends," Seungmin grumbled.

 

"Lighten up, gloomy Gus, it's his birthday!" Jisung berated, to which Seungmin responded with a look so sour it radiated off of him.

 

Jeongin could hardly believe what he was hearing. "Is it official?"

 

"Why not?" Chan said. "How does five thirty sound, boys?"

 

The boys exchanged quizzical glances, a final judgement from a jury of idiots, before giving a single nod of consent.

 

"Congratulations, Jeongin. Looks like you'll be getting the birthday you - Jisung, put that rubber band down!"

 

"Can't do that," Jisung replied. One eye was squeezed shut and the other was trained on his target like a marksman. "If I do, I'll lose him."

 

Jeongin turned to see where he was aiming and gaped. "Is that the headmaster?"

 

The gang twisted in their seats to face the building. A stocky, spiky - haired man in a suit was walking briskly into the building.

 

"That's him?" Felix whispered. "I thought he'd be taller."

 

"What the hell's he doing here?" Changbin muttered. "He never shows up."

 

"He's here, and that's what matters." Jisung followed his figure with his eyes. "Here goes the money shot."

 

"Can I do it?" Jeongin asked.

 

They looked at him like he'd just suggested they perform a flash mob (which he was sure they would have gladly done without permission). But Jisung grinned. "Why the hell not? Make it count, birthday boy."

 

He passed the rubber band to Jeongin and showed him how to scope after his target, correcting his posture, stopping when everything was just right. "Knock his lights out. I'm betting five that you hit him."

 

"Ten he doesn't," Seungmin called.

 

I'll show him. Focusing as much as his teenage self would let him, Jeongin released the band. He watched with a thrilling sense of triumph as it zipped through the courtyard and snapped on the headmaster's temple, making him startle as if he had been electrocuted.

 

Instantly, the boys burst into giggles, which quieted only slightly after Jisung hurriedly told them to shut the fuck up, look down, act normal for God's sake.

 

"Pay up, Minnie," Hyunjin chimed.

 

"Quiet," Seungmin growled, his scowl deepening as Changbin reached over the table and ruffled his already fluffed hair.

 

"It's only gonna get better from here," Chan warned jokingly.

 

That's what I told myself the first time we were all together, Jeongin thought. He smiled at him. "I hoped as much."

 

******

 

The rest of the day passed in a blur - whether or not Jeongin got homework, he didn't care; he would find out later. For the first time in his high school career, his seven dumbass friends were finally meeting outside of JYP, better known to the students as hell on Earth, and it was going to be an event to remember.

 

They met up in front of All In exactly on time. Jeongin almost didn't recognize the people in front of him - they all looked so different wearing something other than their uniforms. Maybe that was sad.

 

The others seemed to think so too as they marveled the look of each other in plainclothes, some in stolen glances, some in open admiration - it depended on how confident they felt at the moment.

 

Jeongin glanced down at his own clothes - a simple blue sweater and black jeans. I happen to think I look quite dashing, but where is my attention? The struggles of being a Single Pringle in your friend group.

 

"Do I really have to do this," he muttered to himself. Oh, why not? Pulling a note out of Chan's book, Jeongin cleared his throat loudly enough to break through the steadily forming conversations. "I understand the shock, but can we all remember the reason we're here?"

 

Walking in, it was pretty much what Jeongin had expected - walls cluttered with Kpop posters, vending machines stocked with a variety of snack foods, multicolored flashing lights. Nothing more, nothing less - just the way he liked it.

 

Chan gravitated towards their 'hall of fame' and guffawed. "Holy shit. I knew it was here!"

 

Jeongin peeked over his shoulder, which wasn't hard to do, given the senior's stature. It was a picture of seven guys clustered around the bar, flashing peace signs and glasses of drinks that could only be alcoholic. "Is that Bambam in the middle?"

 

Chan nodded, grinning. "Now I know where he got those huge-ass rainbow sunglasses. I have to show him this!"

 

Eagerly, he took the picture off the wall and stuffed it in the pocket of his leather jacket. "I don't think you're supposed to - " Jeongin started, but Chan was already showing the picture to the others.

 

"Is that Jinyoung - hyung?" Hyunjin asked excitedly.

 

"Yep. Jaebum always told me he was a lightweight, but I never thought it was like that!"

 

"We're here for Jeongin's birthday, not to laugh over our drunken seniors," Seungmin reminded them.

 

The host, a pimply faced boy around Jeongin's own age, confirmed Chan's reservation and lead the way through a tunnel of flashy hallways, where snippets of singing voices were heard - some decent, some like nails on a chalkboard. Moving on.

 

The room they stopped at was about the size of a bedroom - you could squeeze in a full size bed, a dresser, and a desk with a little room to walk around. In the corner across from the door was a raised platform and a mic stand with a teleprompter. A disco ball hung from the ceiling, and walls below were lined with benches. A remote control for the karaoke machines sat on top of binders full of song titles in several different languages.

 

The minute the host left the room, Jisung raced for the mic stand, which was already up and running for them. Grabbing the microphone, he pointed to Jeongin. "Gentlemen, give it up for the man who made all this happen, the birthday boy, Yang Jeongin!"

 

The boys cheered with way too much enthusiasm, which they emphasized with noises that sounded more coyote than human. I hope these walls are thick, Jeongin prayed. Things were about to get a lot louder.

 

"For our first song, how about a classic?"

 

"For the last time Jisung, no one is singing me happy birthday."

 

Jisung shrugged. "Worth a shot."

 

"So what are we going to do?" Felix asked.

 

"Treasure our final moments of silence," Seungmin replied dryly. "I'm not going to be able to hear myself think."

 

"And you're not going to complain about it, either!" Jeongin said pointedly, to which Seungmin - of course - rolled his eyes. "We're all going to have fun today, and that's a promise!"

 

"Anything for you, Jeongin dear ~ " They simpered in perfect synchrony.

 

Jeongin held back a sigh. He supposed he would have to make do with their sarcasm. "As the man of the hour, I deem that it's my right to choose our first song." When no one protested, he grinned. "And lucky for me, we have 3Racha in our presence."

 

Felix whooped enthusiastically as Chan, Changbin and Jisung parted from group towards Jeongin. "You take requests?" he asked.

 

"Of course," Jisung answered. "It's your special day, dude. No sweat."

 

"Really?"

 

"Why not?" Changbin said. "We'll do anything."

 

"Anything?"

 

"Just say the word," Chan promised.

 

However, when Jeongin revealed his request, their reactions changed. "Nope." Changbin shook his head furiously. "Absolutely not."

 

"Oh, come on! You just said you would do anything!"

 

"There is a fine line between reasonable and unreasonable, and you just crossed it," Chan said. "It simply can't be done."

 

"You're going back on your word!"

 

"For a good reason!" Jisung countered. "We're not going back on that past."

 

"It's a classic!"

 

"It's embarrassing!" Changbin hissed, glancing hurriedly at Felix. "I can't do it front of him!"

 

"Have you even seen the way he acts when someone says ‘3Racha?’ You're his bias, for crying out loud. He'll be ecstatic!"

 

"The song's about a freaking girl. I'd ruin every chance."

 

"Just because you were stuffed so far into the closet you convinced yourself you only liked girls doesn't mean you can't do it. I mean, hello? Just change the pronouns!"

 

"I left that shit behind in sophomore year," Chan stressed. "I can't destroy my dignity now!"

 

"Chan, if you had any dignity, you wouldn't be standing here."

 

"Minho's going to hate me all over again," Jisung murmured sadly.

 

"Zip it, sad sacks," Jeongin shut them up. "This isn't the 3Racha I know. When 3Racha is told to perform, they don't whine about their dignity, or what their boyfriends will think. They suck it up, grab their microphones, and blow the roof off the place. Those guys are gonna love it. More importantly, so will I. So quit complaining, get on that stage, and serenade those unwitting love interests with the most iconic song ever produced."

 

"But I'm sad, single, and swamped with parental duties," Chan whined.

 

"Did I stutter?"

 

The looks on their faces promised bloody murder, but he could feel their resolve fading. Bend to my will, Jeongin thought gleefully. They exchanged a look that said: if we go down, we go down together. Chan faced Jeongin, his features set in stone. "We'll do it."

 

Jeongin beamed. "A pleasure doing business with you." He turned back to their waiting audience. "Everyone, give it up for 3Racha!"

 

The boys cheered and whistled with vigor as the trio climbed onstage. Chan pulled his laptop out of some secret compartment in his jacket and pulled up the song. Jeongin could have sworn he saw Changbin praying. Microphones in their hands, Jisung did the sign of the cross over his chest and slipped behind his fellow producers, who formed a wall in front of him.

 

Jeongin sat next to Hyunjin and pulled out his phone, ready to record, as a familiar jazzy, flute accompanied beat dropped.

 

Jisung pushed out from behind Changbin and Chan, his demeanor changed to that of a lovestruck teen. "Hyung, hyung, hyung," he shook Changbin's shoulder. "Look over there. He's so handsome! I really want to go out with him!"

 

Changbin, the unbothered hyung in question, played his role well. "Where do I look?"

 

"There, there, there!" Jisung pointed right at Minho.

 

"Where?"

 

"Right there!"

 

"I'll go see him." But Changbin was looking at the purple - haired boy next to him, who was losing his shit.

 

"No," Minho muttered.

 

"Yes!" Felix whispered.

 

Jisung stepped offstage and stopped in front of Minho, whose wide eyes and parted lips were the embodiment of shock.

 

"Excuse me, hyung, do you have a boyfriend?"

 

******

 

Exactly five minutes later, Hyunjin's face was still buried in Seungmin's shoulder, dying of laughter, while Seungmin sat traumatized of what he had just witnessed.

 

"I can't believe they actually did it," he was saying. "And then Chan, he..."

 

"I don't even care what you're saying." Hyunjin wiped his eyes. "That was a moment for the history books."

 

"Jisung didn't hesitate, and it didn't look like Minho hated it all that much."

 

"Changbin looked actually confident for once, and I think Felix was close to passing out."

 

"They didn't even bother censoring any of it - they just went all out."

 

"Indeed they did." Hyunjin balanced his chin Seungmin's shoulder. "When are you going to flirt with me like that?"

 

Seungmin nearly turned to face him, but stopped. "Probably never."

 

"Why not? I can't be the one doing all the work."

 

"Well then maybe, alright?"

 

Seungmin only seemed to hear the words after they had left his mouth. Hyunjin's brows lifted in surprise, and he moved away from his shoulder. But he smiled, settling back in satisfaction. "I guess I can wait until then."

 

Seungmin glanced at him, too puzzled to figure him out and too shook to believe his own words. Meanwhile, Jisung had Minho against the wall with his arm slung around the other boy's shoulders. He didn't look to be complaining.

 

"So, the pronoun change," Minho mused. "Did that have anything to do with me?"

 

"Well, Binnie and I were freshmen when we wrote it with Chan," Jisung amended. "And considering the way things are now, yeah, I'd say so."

 

"I mean, I kinda got it from the beginning, when you asked if I had a boyfriend."

 

"Kinda the intent." Jisung hesitated. "Is there anyone else?"

 

"Yes," Minho answered, smiling at the look of incredulity on his face. "You."

 

That seemed to further deepen the rapper's confusion. "I'm the other one?"

 

"No, dummy." Minho tapped his nose. "You're the only one."

 

The meaning of the words set in, and Jisung grinned. He leaned in closer. "Are you admitting that you've finally taken to me?"

 

In response, Minho curled his fingers under his chin. "What do you think?"

 

Even the most unskilled rocket scientist could sense Jisung's gay panic rising off the charts. And last but never the least, Changbin and Felix had acquired a bench together, sparking up shy bits of conversation.

 

"So you didn't hate it?" Changbin asked.

 

"Are you kidding?" Felix exclaimed. "I got a front row seat to 3Racha performing Wow. It's a dream come true!"

 

Changbin laughed. "Glad to know I could check something off your bucket list."

 

Felix giggled, then his voice went low. "You were, um. Looking at me a lot. The whole time, actually."

 

Whatever leftover bravado Changbin had from the performance disappeared. Even in the darkness of the room, Jeongin could see his blush. "Well I... I needed somewhere to focus."

 

Felix's ears were like red Christmas lights. "Oh."

 

"Sorry - "

 

"I didn't mind."

 

Poof! Awkwardness out of nowhere. Thankfully, Felix was able to save himself for once. "I mean, it wasn't weird. Honestly, I'd be the Fiona to your Shrek any day."

 

Changbin stared at him for a moment, then burst out laughing. And, of course, Felix joined in.

 

To think I got all of this on camera, too, Jeongin thought as he tucked his phone back in his pocket. He would lord it over their heads later. "So how was that for a good first song?"

 

Whatever conversations they had been having earlier were thoroughly cut off by their raucous whoops and yells, so loud the people next door had to have heard.

 

"Let's kick it up a notch, boys!" Chan shouted, perhaps invigorated by his performance. The others cheered even louder in assent.

 

This place made a mistake letting them in here, Jeongin knew. But everyone was laughing, smiling as if there was no other world outside of this one. He decided to sit back and let himself enjoy it.

 

And only then did shit get real.

 

Seeing as it was their turn to take the stage, DanceRacha decided to perform Got7's Lullaby, which may or may not have sent Changbin, Jisung, and Seungmin into full gay panic mode. They were just about to leave after the end when, without warning, the song switched to Twice's What Is Love, and Felix Naruto ran back onstage, and... well, it was safe to assume Changbin was dead after that.

 

"Call it," Chan declared. "Time of death?"

 

Jeongin whipped out his phone. "Five fifty-three."

 

"So cute," Changbin murmured drunkenly.

 

"We have a pulse!" Jisung yelled.

 

Then Seungmin sang a cover of Gaho's Start, after which the others gave their own commentary.

 

"You're so annoying it's hard to remember you have a good voice," Felix snarked.

 

"Funny, I could say the same about you," Seungmin shot back.

 

"Didn't I say he was talented?" Hyunjin said, smiling at him with a strange-starry eyed expression.

 

"Yes, Hyunjin," Minho replied tiredly. "You have told us exactly what you think of Seungmin."

 

Jeongin was proud to say he had gotten as much on film as possible, making sure every single moment was captured, There were many of those moments, hilarious and downright awkward, and some were definitely being penned down in the history books. All of those moments would doubtlessly be resurfaced and talked about in the weeks to come - moments like Jisung's high note in Tears that was so immaculate it cracked the screen to Jeongin's phone, or Pentagon's Shine that everyone joined in on, resulting in the loudest ‘saranghae’ in the history of mankind, or Jeongin's epic cover of a trot song that moved the gods to tears, for he was, after all, a talented young man.

 

But, without question, Changbin's cover of Tomorrow would definitely be one of those moments.

 

He had shocked all of them with the song - not one of them had ever heard Changbin sing before. And goddamn, he was good. Chan had a fist to his mouth as he tried not to cry, and Jisung had his arms wrapped around him, staring open mouthed at their fellow producer. Everyone else, even Seungmin, got out their phones as flashlights, waving them and cheering him on, all except Felix. He was in a world of his own.

 

Felix didn't say a word the whole time, just was watched Changbin as he sang. He had leaned forward, propping his chin up with one hand, smiling like he didn't even know he was doing it, like he didn't even care. The shining look in his eyes regarded the boy onstage as an angel descended from the heavens, singing a song only he could hear. Felix gazed at him as if he were his entire universe wrapped up in a pastel blue hoodie, though Changbin's eyes were closed. Maybe that was why.

 

Jeongin had taken his focus off the camera then and stared instead at the two of them. Formerly two strangers that were thrown together by the magic of fate, now friends engaged in tension so nauseatingly sweet he wasn't even sure it was sexual. Their meeting had only been the beginning of a chain reaction - it was followed by Minho and Jisung, who hardly even bothered with the tension part anymore. And then there was Seungmin and Hyunjin, who were slowly becoming less and less one - sided.

 

Of course Jeongin was happy for them. Of course he wanted them all to have happy endings together, and of course he loved the hell out of filming every "obscure" moment like it was an all - you - can - watch high school romance drama. But there were times where he understood Chan's desperation, when he still wondered what it felt like to hold someone in your heart, look at them so lovingly it was obvious to everyone except the two of you, imagine what it would feel like if you crossed that line and laid yourself bare. How would it feel to stand on top of the world and be so fragile at the same time, because a single word from one person could bring you back down in seconds?

 

Would Jeongin ever know?

 

What the hell, he'd thought, shoving the thought to the back of his mind. It was his freaking birthday. He wasn't going to ruin it by crying over some love interest that didn't exist yet. So Jeongin turned his focus back on the camera and zoomed in on Felix's smitten face.

 

Other than being utterly whipped for Changbin, Felix was an exceptional sort of being. He was the catalyst that had crash landed into their lives, bringing them together for better or (more likely) for worse. He was, in all ways, a walking meme, dance moves and all, which should have made you hate him. But there was something about that constant positivity and bright smile that made you cherish him instead. There was no getting around it - Felix was like a tiny adorable animal; he wormed his way into your heart and stayed there rent-free, and you let him.

 

"What were our lives like before we met him?" Hyunjin ruminated. "I've honestly forgotten."

 

"I don't know about you," Changbin murmured, gazing off at the topic of discussion. "But I don't ever want to remember."

 

As of now, Felix and Jisung had taken the stage and were dropping it like it was hot to the Zack and Cody theme song. Even God didn't know how it started, but there was only time to live in the moment before it ended.

 

"Here I am in your life," Felix sang.

 

Jisung pointed finger guns back. "Here you are in mine."

 

"Yes, we have the sweet life - "

 

"Most of the time!"

 

Together, they ripped open the gates of hell. "You and me, we got the world to see, so come on down! It's me and you, we know what to do, so come on down! It's you and me!"

 

"And me and you!" The rest of them shouted.

 

As one maelstrom of anarchy, they screamed: "We got the whole place to ourselves!"

 

"You and me, we got it all for free, so come on down!"

 

Jeongin didn't even care about filming it anymore, didn't care about the snippets of annoyance from other norebang - goers that he heard through the music. This was everything, here and now - the suite life.

 

The guitar riff ended the song, and the boys unleashed a wild round of applause for Felix and Jisung as they came offstage. "Fellas," Felix started. "I think that takes the cake as the most iconic performance of the day."

 

"Amateurs," Chan scoffed, crossing his arms. "Did you forget about the power of three?"

 

"I'm sorry, did we all just ignore the fact that this guy just said 'fellas?'" Hyunjin pointed to Felix. "Because I didn't."

 

"He's an Aussie, it's in his blood."

 

"No one cares," Seungmin snapped.

 

"Can't we all just get along?" Jeongin asked.

 

"No," they answered at once.

 

Before he could reply, the door opened, revealing Changbin proudly carrying a birthday cake. The rest of the boys turned on their phone flashlights and held them like candles.

 

Jeongin felt unexpectedly touched. Had they planned this just for him?

 

Chan grinned at all of them. "One, two, three!"

 

"Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you..."

 

With every verse, Changbin stepped closer, and Jeongin's vision zeroed in on the cake in his hands. Glazed fruit daintily decorated the white frosting, with red icing showcasing his name in the center. It drew nearer, slightly lopsided, tilting to the left -

 

"Changbin, wait!" Minho yelled.

 

The cake fell with a moist splat on the ground, and Jeongin's whole body went numb.

 

The singing had snuffed out like a candle. Everyone shared the same expression - widened eyes, mouths shaped in perfect o's. Changbin stared in horror at what he had done, a hand rising to his mouth.

 

Changbin. Jeongin felt his insides freeze up, eyes lock on his target. He would pay for this.

 

"Jeongin," Seungmin said carefully, looking down at his hands. He already had his thesaurus his clutches. Jeongin hadn't even felt himself pick it up. But he was past caring. 

 

The entire room waited in silent anticipation for what was going to happen. Changbin himself had gone into a fighter stance, but his eyes shone with fear. Afraid as he should be, Jeongin's last thought commended.

 

Changbin's dread got the better of him, and he made a mad dash out the door, with Jeongin on his heels.

 

And then all hell broke loose.

 

Changbin vaulted over the reception desk and dove straight for the bathrooms, locking the door as Jeongin reached him.

 

He can't hide from me. Jeongin pounded on the door. "Open up!"

 

"No!"

 

Felix's face had gone pale. "Oh my God."

 

"God can't save your lover now. He killed my cake!"

 

"I'm with Jeongin on this one," Hyunjin confessed. "A dropped birthday cake is no laughing matter."

 

"Which is why he must atone for his sins," Jeongin growled.

 

"Awesome," Jisung whispered.

 

"Not awesome," Chan corrected, acting as the mediator. "Everyone, just calm down. We can fix this and - Seungmin, are you filming us?"

 

Seungmin grinned from behind his phone. "Out of all the things that's happened today, I think I've finally decided on a favorite. This one's going on the Christmas card."

 

"Jeongin's finally become unhinged," Minho declared gravely.

 

People had poked their heads out of their rooms to see what was going on, jumbled bits of music making their way out. But at this point, it didn't matter who saw what.

 

Jeongin pounded on the door with the thesaurus. "Open the door!"

 

"I'm sorry!" Changbin shrieked from inside.

 

And so, at the same time as when Jisung decided to start playing Spongebob's Twelfth Street Rag on a ukulele that he had "found," Jeongin unleashed his dolphin scream.

 

"AAAAAAAAHHHH - "

 

******

 

Ten minutes later, Chan walked out of the norebang building, turning to bow to the manager, who slammed the door in his face.

 

The rest of them were crammed onto one bench, which was somehow long enough to fit seven people. "How long are we banned?" Jisung asked.

 

"Until the manager forgets our faces or gets replaced, probably forever," Chan answered. "Thankfully, that's all it amounted to."

 

The boys hung their heads. "Well, screw them." Jisung pulled the ukulele out of his denim jacket. "I got my souvenir."

 

Chan half - smiled and pulled out his photograph. "Same here."

 

Felix huffed. "At least I don't have to tell my parents I got a criminal record at a norebang."

 

Hyunjin laughed at him. "You? A criminal record? Your parents would sooner believe you if you told them you found a wardrobe to Narnia."

 

"Rude."

 

“Hey, it's the truth."

 

"Is this our first and last time venturing out into the world?" Seungmin pondered.

 

"We could try to make the most out of it," Minho offered. "Get kicked out of every norebang in Seoul."

 

"Would it be worth it?"

 

"It'd be something we could tell our grandkids."

 

"Changbin?" Jeongin said hoarsely. They whipped around to look at him - it was the first word he had spoken since the dolphin scream.

 

"Yeah?" Changbin asked hesitantly.

 

"What was the flavor of the cake you dropped?"

 

Changbin shrunk back, avoiding everyone's eyes. "Chocolate."

 

They released a melancholic sigh as one misshapen lump of disappointment. And then it hit Jeongin like a brick. "I need a drink."

 

Seungmin pointed down the street. "There's a vending machine right there."

 

"No." Jeongin shook his head. "I mean an actual alcoholic drink."

 

"Well, you should have told us that before you got us kicked out of a bar," Minho countered. "Who knows, maybe someone could have slipped us something."

 

"Not that place," Hyunjin snarked. "Did you see our host? He looked like he'd been working the graveyard shift for weeks."

 

"It's not like we'll be able to find anywhere that'll take us," Seungmin added. "South Korea's got some ironclad rules on underage drinking. We'll be lucky if we can sneak a bottle of wine out of a liquor store."

 

"Actually, I don't think it'll be that hard," Chan brooded.

 

"Really?" They asked.

 

"Yeah, really. There's a place around here that takes in minors. It's actually not too far away. I can take us."

 

"You just became so much cooler," Felix breathed, and Jisung coughed "heart eyes."

 

"How come you never told Jisung and I about this?" Changbin asked quizzically.

 

"Because I knew there would be a day when this knowledge came in handy. Now come on, daylight's fading."

 

"Hell yeah!" Felix cheered. "Getting turnt with the boys!"

 

"Remind me why you like him?" Jeongin whispered to Changbin.

 

"I wonder that myself sometimes. But it's weird - all the stuff I thought was annoying now looks cute. I can't tell if it's a good thing or a bad thing."

 

"If it gets you guys to go on a date, it's a great thing."

 

"Are we really going to do this?" Hyunjin questioned, looking a little panicked. "I mean, this might actually get us in trouble. Real trouble."

 

"That, my friend, is why we're doing this," Jisung told him. "We don't know what's going to happen later, but we can at least enjoy what's happening now."

 

******

 

The place was a small brick establishment just a few blocks downtown. The name of it was lit up in red neon lights, emblazoned in cursive: God's Menu.

 

Chan pushed the door open for them - the air was blessedly warm. The interior was furnished with a pool table and a few dartboards on the walls, with about six tables. The bar sat in the top left corner, where the bartender was cleaning a shot glass with his head bowed down.

 

Jeongin slipped his arms into Chan's leather jacket - he had given it to him along the way. "I feel like this was one of my better ideas."

 

"Considering your last one was to bludgeon Changbin with a thesaurus, this is an upgrade." Chan picked a table in the center and pulled out a chair. "Come on, take a seat, don't be shy."

 

"Chan!" Two people shouted, a foxfaced guy with black hair and a petite girl with short blue hair. They sat by the pool table raising their beer bottles. "Long time no see!"

 

"Should we be concerned?" Minho started, but Chan was grinning, moving towards the two with open arms.

 

"Go easy on them, guys, they're with me," Chan hugged them both. "Everyone, I'd like you to meet two JYP veterans and friends of mine- Brian of Day6 and Jamie."

 

Seungmin choked on his own breath, and Jeongin noticed the bartender chuckle.

 

"How many times do I have to tell you, Chan?" Brian said tiredly. "It's Young K. God, you're still exhausting."

 

"We haven't seen you around these parts in a while," Jamie said, and Chan blushed, rubbing the nape of his neck. "How've you been?"

 

"3Racha's still going good. Oh! This is Changbin and Jisung, professionally known as SpearB and J.One, in that order. They're producers with me."

 

Jamie nodded at the two of them. "I gotta ask you two - is he still a chick - flick nut?"

 

Changbin nodded solemnly. "Unfortunately, yes."

 

"He grew out of Titanic, but his new favorite is Clueless," Jisung informed her.

 

"Shut up!" Chan fussed petulantly. "I won't take this slander - you can't change a man's tastes!"

 

"It's nice to meet new friends of Chan's," Brian addressed them warmly. "I'm sure I'll get to know all of you in time."

 

He shook their hands in turn, each of them saying their names. But when he got to Seungmin, the boy turned so red he barely managed to say "hello." Brian just smiled, which might have added to the effect.

 

"One more year until you join us," Jamie reminded Chan. "We're all waiting for you, Channie."

 

Brian's laugh was tainted with the kind of easy confidence that came out of his beer bottle. "She hasn't missed you that much. She finally signed on with Warner, and she's been even busier with Hayi, her girlfriend."

 

Jamie socked Brian in the arm, her cheeks bright pink. But Chan was already starting to light up. "You guys are finally going out? You only had a crush on her for three years. Guess all that time sneaking you to YG's campus was worth it."

 

"You don't have the right to say anything! Not with you mooning over Sana from freshman to sophomore year!"

 

"Oh, don't you even go there!"

 

Jeongin watched as Brian and Jamie informed Chan on everything he had missed that past year, Chan listening in eagerly. Their conversation went from humorous to argumentative, involving a whole slew of inside jokes that must have taken years to develop. When they were done, it was Brian who noticed the rest of the boys standing awkwardly to the side.

 

"You guys have a lot to learn from this one," Brian threw his arm around Chan. "I'm sure you've heard him sing, but he's got the liver of a god."

 

Chan flushed red. "Ah, come on - "

 

"I'm serious! This one time, him and this douchebag guy were throwing back shots, and he wouldn't let up! Only around twelve did he say, and I quote: 'I think I'm starting to feel something.'"

 

"And when he passed out, Chan still left the tip," Jamie reminisced.

 

"I had no idea you were so cool!" Felix said in awe.

 

"Or so irresponsible," Seungmin groused under his breath.

 

Hyunjin gazed at Chan in a new light. "Clearly, you have plenty to teach us."

 

Jisung was still trying to wrap his head around what he had just heard. "Twelve shots - "

 

"Ignore them," Chan cut him off, obviously embarrassed that they had discovered that part of his past. "Take a seat, would you?"

 

Brian and Jamie waved goodbye and pulled up chairs to a nearby table. As the boys sat down, Chan spread his hands on the table. "Alright, let's lay down some ground rules. I'm not planning on dragging any of you out of here, so no keg king and no multiple shots of anything. Jisung, stop making eyes at that Jägermeister and get your head screwed on straight.”

 

"Damn," Jisung muttered.

 

"Second, no starting anything. That means no bar fights, pool hustling, or anything in between. I'll call the cops on you myself."

 

"Fine," Changbin grumbled.

 

"One more thing?" Minho raised his hand mockingly.

 

Chan's eyes flashed dangerously, but he relented. "Shoot."

 

"Has anyone at this table ever drank before? Save for you, Chan, I think we've learned your capabilities."

 

Chan crossed his arms defiantly. "I've drank before. But I've never gotten drunk."

 

The entire table raised their eyebrows. "Never?"

 

"Never," Brian and Jamie confirmed.

 

"Well, that's boring," Minho huffed.

 

"How's this for exciting?" Chan pointed to Jisung. "This one downed a whole bottle of peach schnapps and Binnie and I got to carry him back to his apartment."

 

Jisung shrugged. "I ate a whole cheesecake for breakfast the next day, so it was worth it."

 

"After your horrific hangover," Changbin parried. "Even I don't let myself go that far."

 

"How far have you even gotten, rich boy?" Hyunjin smirked. "What do you get, a glass of wine on New Years?"

 

Naturally, Changbin shoved him, his face scrunched into a scowl. He usually got like that when his family's money was mentioned.

 

"There was this one night back in Australia," Felix lamented, already in the midst of a flashback. "My mates and I went down to the quarry with a twelve pack of beer. Drew got wasted and fell in."

 

"Was he okay?" Jeongin asked.

 

"Yeah, just a few stitches to the head. He was an idiot."

 

"I don't think I can have anything too strong," Hyunjin reflected.

 

Minho laughed. "Are you kidding? You're the embodiment of a lightweight. Two glasses of soju and it's lights out by the time I'm on my second bottle."

 

Seungmin sniffed haughtily. "I never liked the taste. It fogs your senses too much."

 

"Nobody drinks for the flavor," Chan replied. "What about you, Jeongin?"

 

Everyone turned towards him, just like they had at the courtyard. Jeongin could already feel his face heating up- he had known this moment would come. So why did it still feel this mortifying?

 

"I've never drank before."

 

Fortunately or unfortunately, they didn't look too judgy. "Thank God," Minho even said. "At least one of us is innocent."

 

Jeongin felt the heat subside. "Seriously?"

 

"Of course!" Changbin responded. "I kinda figured - why else would you suggest we go to a bar while the sun's still up?"

 

"That... is a good point."

 

"Virgin liver in the building," Jisung was already grinning. "Let's give it the first test drive!"

 

"We're not giving him a blackout on his birthday," Chan reprimanded. "We're all going home on our own two feet. Whenever Jeongin's ready, we'll support him."

 

Just then, a girl appeared beside their table with a notepad in her hand. She had long brown hair and a name tag that said Somi. "What can I get for you boys?"

 

The order went counterclockwise down the table - a Blue Moon for Chan, an Americano for Hyunjin, a gin martini for Minho, a bottle of soju for Jisung, a glass of Jack Daniel's for Changbin, Campari and soda for Seungmin, and a glass of Maker's Mark for Felix. Brian got another Heineken and Jamie decided on a Cosmopolitan, and then it finally got down to Jeongin.

 

”Jäger shots,” Jisung whispered, and Chan kicked him under the table.

 

Jeongin couldn't find anything to say. All the words on the spread looked like gibberish - how was he supposed to know what he liked when he had never tried any of it before?

 

Thankfully, Chan came to his rescue, flashing his dimples for good effect. "He'll have a Coke for now."

 

"That'll be right out." She collected the menus and shot a wink at Chan as she left. Immediately, Changbin and Jisung broke down giggling, Brian and Jamie following close behind.

 

"Here we go again," Jisung snickered.

 

"Again?" Felix asked. "How often does that happen?"

 

"All the time," Changbin assured him. "Every time we go out, there's always someone who falls for him."

 

"She's new around here, too," Brian said. "Only a month, and she's already done for."

 

"How much do you bet she's only going to bring his order?" Minho whispered to Seungmin.

 

"Every cent I have," Seungmin replied, smiling.

 

"Not a living soul who walks into this bar can resist those dimples," Jamie teased.

 

"Or those arms," Jeongin added. "You just had to choose today to wear that white polo shirt." Both tables stared at him. "What? I'm asexual, not blind."

 

Chan, of course, was completely oblivious. "Come on, that was nothing. She probably just had an eyelash in her eye."

 

"You're not gonna say that when she slips her number in your pocket," Hyunjin pestered. At that, Chan turned bright red.

 

It might have just been a sense, but some part of Jeongin knew he was going to have to stay sober for as long as possible if he wanted to catch all of this.

 

******

 

Of course, Jeongin's senses were right.

 

It didn't take long for the girl to return to the table with their order, which, shockingly enough, had all their drinks. Seungmin frowned as he slipped his money under the table to a smug Minho. When she set Chan's beer down in front of him, she left a slip of paper on the cocktail napkin beside it, so subtle that Jeongin hadn't even noticed her do it.

 

"I told you," Hyunjin hummed, sipping his Americano.

 

"Gotta give her points for discretion," Minho toasted his martini in the girl's direction.

 

Chan plucked the scrap off the table, looking alarmed. "What do I do with it?"

 

"What else are you supposed to do with a phone number?" Jisung jeered. "Call her!"

 

"Maybe then you'll stop complaining about being single all the time," Jeongin considered.

 

"Wouldn't that be a miracle," Seungmin muttered, lifting his bottle to his lips.

 

"I don't even know her name!" Chan protested.

 

"I think her name tag said Somi," Felix offered.

 

"She's right over there," Changbin pointed to the bar, where she had struck up a conversation with the bartender. "You should go talk to her."

 

Chan glanced at the paper in his hand and shrugged. "It would be better to know something about her before I call her out of the blue. Maybe I'd make a new friend."

 

Brian choked on his beer. "Hate to burst your bubble, Chan, but I don't the friendship's the thing on her mind."

 

Jamie raised her glass. "Cheers, boys. See you on the other side."

 

Then they digested their drinks, and the aftereffects started the show.

 

After having consulted Buzzfeed, Jeongin had come to find out there were exactly twelve kinds of drunks. With his wide, colorful group of friends, he could see the varieties displayed to the very last detail.

 

For the happy drunk, you had Hyunjin. He flitted between groups like a hyper butterfly, an electric grin plastered to his face at all times. He dropped by Seungmin every once in a while, trying to get him dance with him to whatever song was playing, not even realizing when he was rebuffed. He laughed way too hard at everything anyone said in decibels unreachable to normal, sober humans. Currently, he sat with Brian and Jamie, laughing hysterically as they told him another tale of Chan's past greatness.

 

Jeongin remembered something about Jinyoung being a famous lightweight. Like father, like son.

 

For the sentimental drunk, you had Changbin who, as it turned out, could hold his liquor just as well as he could hold his emotions. He spent most of his time sitting on the lip of the pool table with his Jack Daniel's in hand, spouting on about how much he loved his friends, how life didn't make sense anymore, about how even though he was a buff aegyo master, he couldn't seem to find a lasting partner. Currently he was sitting next to Felix, eyes fixed on his lips as he spoke, with an expression so soppy and passionate you had to look away.

 

This was a great photo opportunity. Nice blackmail material, too.

 

For the violent drunk you had, who else, Seungmin. He seemed aggravated by everything, either by the fact that Hyunjin was spending too much time with Brian and Jamie, two people they had just met that day, or by the fact that that guy in the corner of the room was eating too many pretzels, this was a bar, for shit's sake. He appeared to be utterly convinced that anyone he didn't recognize was a threat, and that maybe the funny glance that a newcomer had given him would be a good excuse to start a fight. Currently he stood by the the pool table near Hyunjin, Brian and Jamie, fingers curled around a pool cue, ready to throw hands.

 

Jeongin pitied whoever chose to play a game with him. They would end up losing more than just a few dollars - maybe a couple fingers too.

 

For the denier drunk, you had Minho. You wouldn't be able to see it at first, but the tell was every little thing between his actions: the occasional hiccup after finishing a sentence, the prolonged laughter- Minho never laughed unless it was at you - or the fact that he just kept denying that he was drunk. Why couldn't he have another drink? He wasn't drunk. Okay, maybe a little but not that much. Couldn't he at least have a sip of that? It wasn't like he was going to black out or anything. Currently, he was pestering Jisung against the bar, asking for another sip of his soju.

 

Jeongin was glad he could remember this. It would definitely be something to hold over Minho's head.

 

For the philosopher drunk, you had Felix. His accent was more pronounced when he drank, but he also tended to use more Aussie slang in his vocabulary. Jeongin had learned a bit from Chan, but for the life of him he couldn't figure out what ripper or gallah stood for. Felix seemed convinced that he was the twenty first century's Aristotle and he was put into that bar to preach his word. He rambled on about topics ranging from life and death to his favorite meal at Olive Garden. And he was into it too - only paused to take a sip of his drink and maybe a breath. Currently, he was ranting about if a you fell in a forest, and no one was around to hear you, did you really even fall?

 

Poor guy, Jeongin sympathized. He doesn't even know he's quoting Dear Evan Hansen.

 

For the professional drunk, you had Chan. He was a mystery to behold. He showed none of the regular symptoms - he didn't dance, didn't glare at anyone, didn't say anything so unbelievably out of character you wondered if it was someone else entirely. He behaved completely normally - so normal, you might wonder if he was even drunk. Currently, he was standing back and overseeing the scene of chaos, casually sipping his beer while Somi was telling him how she had recently become a junior.

 

Either Chan could hold his liquor better than any of them, or he had visited God's Menu way more often than he let on. Jeongin hoped the latter.

 

And Jisung? He was the manic drunk - the drunk that managed to be every kind of drunk at the same time. Strangely enough, he was now nowhere to be seen, and Jeongin wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

 

What kind of drunk would I be? Jeongin thought. Would he be laughing at the worst punch line ever beside Hyunjin, or passed out on the pool table protected by Seungmin? There was no time like the present. He was in a bar- he could go to the bartender, tell him to hit him with something special, and go join his friends in their dazed, sloppy world.

 

Instead, he had been sitting at the bar, watching it all go down from the sidelines. He wasn't even filming anything. He was just sitting on a stool, on the outside looking in. And if that wasn't the saddest thing ever, Jeongin didn't know what was.

 

Then, a snort of laughter.

 

Jeongin turned around. The bartender was looking at him from across the bar, a twinkling smile on his face. "What?"

 

"Nothing. Nothing at all." His voice sounded surprisingly young. He had chestnut brown hair that fluttered into almond shaped eyes, and high cheekbones that seemed to stretch a little higher with his smile. "You just... look out of place."

 

Jeongin looked down at himself. "In a bar?"

 

"No. With your friends."

 

Jeongin glanced over his shoulder at his group of said friends, still blissfully ignorant of the world around them. "I guess so."

 

"Sorry if that was rude." The bartender said quickly. "You've just been nursing your Coke for fifteen minutes, and that's the longest time I've ever seen anyone go in here without anything alcoholic."

 

Jeongin considered that. The drink had gone marginally lukewarm in his hand. "And you noticed?"

 

A flush bloomed on the bartender's face. Jeongin couldn't remember the last time he'd made anyone blush. "Uh, well, there's... there's really not much more to see around this place. I wasn't staring, if that's what you think."

 

Despite himself, Jeongin smiled. "It's okay. My name's Jeongin."

 

The bartender lifted a black and white flannel sweater paw to rub the back of his neck. "I'm Yedam."

 

Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. Jeongin turned toward the scene behind them. "I'm guessing you've been here a while. What does a normal day of the week usually look like here?"

 

Yedam thought about that for a moment. He leaned his elbows on the bar, yellow t shirt peeking out from underneath the flannel. "Well, my shift usually starts at six fifteen and ends at seven forty - five, so I get here just before the regulars start coming in. God's Menu is close to a lot of academies and apartment complexes, so it's favored by students or new graduates. Most come on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I’m here, sometimes to drink or study or blow off steam."

 

"Where are you a student?"

 

"YG Academy. Doesn't have the best rep for a reason, but it's done me well so far, and the commute from there to here's pretty short, so it works. What about you?"

 

"JYP. Me and my friends."

 

”Really?” Yedam’s voice had risen a note. “With Got7 and Twice and Day6? That’s so cool!”

 

"I've gotten used to it. But having BlackPink and BigBang on your alumni's no small thing either."

 

Yedam shrugged. "If they got better treatment and representation, maybe."

 

Jeongin raised his Coke. "I'll drink to that."

 

Smiling, Yedam took it from his hand. "It'll taste better cold."

 

Later, Jeongin came to find out that Yedam was part of a new unit called Treasure. "And you have twelve members? How did that happen?"

 

"If I knew I'd tell you. Are you in a unit with them?" Yedam gestured to the others.

 

Jeongin shook his head. "No. I'm not really in much of anything right now. But those three over there," he pointed to Chan, Changbin, and Jisung. "Are called 3Racha. And those three are DanceRacha," he pointed to Felix, Hyunjin, and Minho. "And that's my best friend Seungmin." Yedam's mouth had dropped open. "Soak it in. Take your time."

 

He closed his mouth. "So J.One is sticking his hand up the vending machine and SpearB is eyefucking that purple haired guy?"

 

"Bingo. Hyunjin's the one singing along to Miracle with Brian and Jamie, Felix is quoting Hamilton, and Minho's drinking Jisung's soju."

 

"And your best friend is skewering that dart board?"

 

"Mm-hm."

 

"And CB97's just watching it happen?"

 

"You sound surprisingly calm."

 

"I've seen a bunch of bar fights and what I'm pretty sure were cult meetings in my time here. There's not much that can surprise me anymore."

 

"That's understandable."

 

"Are you the only sane person in your group?"

 

"Everyone thinks they're sane. The word itself has become almost purposeless."

 

Yedam looked as though he were reevaluating his first impression of Jeongin. Most people would slowly start walking away, but he stayed put. "That's a thought."

 

"A treasure for the mind."

 

Yedam scoffed. "Tell me you didn't just use my unit's name in a pun."

 

"I'm not sorry. Tell you what - I'll listen to your music when I leave. Sponsorship in place of an apology."

 

"We don't really have much out, but... I do have this one solo song."

 

"You do?" Jeongin leaned forward eagerly. "Tell me what it is. Tell me!"

 

"Listen."

 

Listen to what? He tried to focus beyond the tipsy babbled nothings from his friends, when a singular, gentle guitar beat made its way to his ears, along with a soft, delicate voice singing:

 

Why, why, why? Why not me, what is it you're searching for?"

 

"Just why, why, why? Just tell me, if it's not you, I can't go on."

 

Jeongin glanced back at the boy behind the bar. Yedam was staring intently at the table, his hair hiding his eyes. "Is this you?"

Yedam nodded, blushing. "Yeah."

 

"Wow."

 

"Are you unimpressed?"

 

"No, not at all," Jeongin clarified. "I mean, I am impressed, just... wow."

 

"I hope that's a good wow."

 

"It is. The song, is it - " Jeongin hesitated for a moment, then forced himself to say it. "Is it about someone?"

 

"Not yet." Yedam exhaled a little. "But someday it will be." And then, for no reason at all, he looked at Jeongin.

 

It was like he couldn't look away. He didn't even want to. There was something enchanting about the way Yedam held his gaze, the sirenic rhythm of the voice that snaked around them asking why, why, why.

 

There was a feeling deep inside of Jeongin, a tug, a prod in a new direction. He didn't want it to go away. It pulled like a magnet, and he wanted to see where it took him. What's happening?

 

Yedam broke the stare, and the pull vanished. "So, I never asked you what you were doing here."

 

Jeongin blinked. "We never got around to that."

 

"You said this was your first time at a bar. Is it a special occasion?"

 

Yep. The sensation was definitely gone, now that he remembered that, after being kicked out of a norebang due to a particularly vociferous dolphin scream, he had decided today was the perfect day to have his first drink with his friends, not knowing that he would end up playing the casual observer and meet a cute bartender with the voice of a dream.

 

Jeongin miraculously managed to numb it down to: "Well, today's my birthday."

 

"Is it too late to say happy birthday?"

 

"Just tell me my Coke's on the house and leave it at that."

 

Yedam grinned, and it felt like someone had punched him. "Fine with me. Go on."

 

"I decided to that's be a good day to go out with my friends, because it's something we never do, and..." Spit it out, stupid. "I've never drank before."

 

Somehow, Yedam the bartender, who was probably around Jeongin's age, didn't look taunting, but understanding. "And you wanted to do it with people you cared about on a day you would remember?"

 

"Yeah - how did you know?"

 

"Just a hunch. How come you're not out there with them?"

 

Because they're each in their own worlds where they don't need me. "Because I wanted them to be around when it happened, laughing and teasing me." Jeongin sighed. "Sorry. I shouldn't go dumping all my problems on you."

 

"It's fine, really," Yedam assured him. Then a switch flipped in his mind. "Actually, I think I know a way to help."

 

"You do?"

 

"Sure. You're not the first person to come here looking for their first drink. Hell, I even had my first drink here. Come on, I'll take you behind the bar."

 

"What about my friends?"

 

"We'll come back once we pick something out. Besides, we shouldn't interrupt them while they're coming back to Earth." Yedam was right- the boys were sprawled out on tables and chairs, moaning like wounded soldiers in the war while Chan was ordering takeout. "Greasy food helps with a hangover. It'll be fine."

 

Jeongin rose from his seat, prepared to follow him, until he faltered. "Are you using this as a ploy to mug me?"

 

"What? No! Of course not! Why would you think that?"

 

Chan had installed enough fear into his brain to make him think every stranger had a machete under their belts just waiting for a chance to get him alone. "No reason. But I'm warning you - all I have to do is yell and they'll come running."

 

Yedam rolled his eyes, smiling. "I'm not going to try anything. CB97's arms look bigger than my head. Now are you going to trust me or what?"

 

Was that a line from a Disney movie? No time to focus on that now. A hangover couldn't possibly last forever, and Felix didn't teach him all those taekwondo moves for nothing. Jeongin crossed the bar. "Alright."

 

Yedam opened the door to what looked like a new dimension built on bottles of whiskeys and wines and vodkas that Jeongin couldn't begin to pronounce. "Welcome to the room where it happens."

 

Jeongin grazed a bottle of hard cider. "Okay, be honest with me: how many stragglers have broken in here?"

 

"Only three. I let them have a shot of whatever bottle they fell asleep holding before I kick them out. Nice guys, just depressed."

 

Bartender's wisdom, Jeongin thought laughingly. He picked up a green bottle labeled "martini" in white capital letters. "What's this?"

 

Yedam glanced at the bottle and removed it from his grasp. "Vermouth. One of the weakest there is. It would be like drinking seltzer."

 

He put the bottle back and kept going. Jeongin picked up another bottle, tall clear glass, with the words "Everclear" in white cursive. "What about this one?"

 

Yedam looked back again, and his eyes flared wide. "Not that one!" He hastily grabbed it from his hands. "I've seen my heaviest drinker keel over from one glass. You wouldn't last a moment."

 

Jeongin scoffed. "Is there a kind of skill set required to be a bartender?"

 

"Just the basic knowledge of how to throw stuff together and pour it into a glass. Also patience, since a lot of people complain about their lives."

 

"And do you drink often?"

 

"Hardly, actually. That cooler over there," Yedam pointed to a bin in the corner of the room labeled Non-Alcoholic. "That's mine. It's open to anyone else who wants to go to a bar but not drink."

 

"You're like Sam Malone," Jeongin marveled.

 

"Sorry, who?"

 

"Some guy from Cheers, and American TV show from the eighties. He's a retired baseball player turned bartender who doesn't drink."

 

"How do you know that?"

 

"When you have not one, but two friends from Australia, you tend to learn a lot about the world. I also have a theory that Chan's mentally eighty years old."

 

Yedam laughed. "You, Jeongin, are a different kind of remarkable."

 

And, of course, Jeongin's insides didn't know what to do with that. "I'll take that as a compliment."

 

"As you should. And here we are." Yedam plucked a bottle off the shelf. The liquid inside was a ruddy amber color with the words Disaronno written in gold. "Amaretto- not too bitter, not too sweet. Always good for a first timer."

 

Jeongin inspected the bottle. "Was it your first drink?"

 

Yedam grimaced. "If only. It was a shot of tequila my friend Asahi mixed with Sprite. I spat it up almost immediately."

 

They laughed at his expense, and only after Yedam had put the bottle in a beer cooler did they hear the voices coming closer. Instantly, Yedam ran for the doorknob, but Jeongin held him back, pulled them both to the floor.

 

"Listen."

 

Yedam stared at him for a just a moment longer before pressing his ear against the door.

 

"When's the food gonna get here?" Changbin was whining. "My head hurts."

 

"It'll be here soon, so stop complaining," Felix replied.

 

"How much did I tell you about my past?"

 

"Enough."

 

A brief pause. "You know that story I told you? Back in eighth grade?"

 

"When you wrote your first rap to impress a high school freshman girl, only to find out she had a girlfriend?"

 

Both Jeongin and Yedam had to fight to keep from cracking up.

 

"I'm going to need you to keep that under very tight wraps."

 

"Airtight. You got it." A scraping stool. Footsteps going behind the bar.

 

"What're they even - " Yedam started, but Jeongin hushed him with a quick finger to his lips. Instantly, his focus reverted questioningly back to Jeongin. 

 

Fast thinking, dummy. Jeongin removed his finger, looking instead at the mahogany wood door that was much less distracting. "Just shut up. You'll thank me later."

 

A quiet, husky groan. "How's your head feeling?" Changbin asked gently. His voice sounded closer- he was the one behind the bar.

 

"Like my brain was tossed into a blender and then smashed with a mallet," Felix grumbled - he had taken his place on the stool.

 

"That bad, huh?"

 

"Don't patronize me - I saw you crying your second glass in over your dead dog in fifth grade!"

 

"Dubu had my back when no one else did! I will not let you clutter her good name!"

 

"How are we this screwed up? I only remember having two glasses like you."

 

"I told my parents I was studying late with you guys." A scoff. "Might have to crash at Chan's at this rate."

 

"At least my parents are in a whole other country - both of them would bust my ass if they knew I was in a bar."

 

"To being the disappointing sons in our families."

 

They paused for a moment, probably realizing they didn't have glasses to toast with, so they settled for a high - five instead, laughing about it.

 

"I think anyone's parents would be suspicious if their kid came home rambling like a middle school social studies teacher."

 

"Yeah, yeah." Another pause. "Wait. What did say?"

 

"It was kinda hard to tell." Jeongin could hear the smirk in Changbin's voice. "You started off with Waving Through A Window and then went off the rails with Guns and Ships."

 

"Jeez, I couldn't even stay on one musical?"

 

"It was actually very educational. I forgot Hamilton wrote the other fifty - one Federalist Papers."

 

"You did?"

 

"Oh, come on, you can't tell me you remember everything your social studies teacher told you when you were twelve."

 

"Hamilton taught me more than any history teacher ever has and ever will."

 

"Whatever you say," Changbin singsonged.

 

"You are so not allowed to judge me, Mr. I Know All The Words To A Guy That I'd Kinda Be Into."

 

"You will not tell that to anyone."

 

"Deal," Felix replied cheerfully.

 

Yedam glanced at Jeongin. Are they flirting? he mouthed. Jeongin nodded soberly. Yep, he replied, and went right back to listening.

 

"Everything looks kinda different from over here, doesn't it?" Changbin was saying. "You get to see the whole layout."

 

"Not that it's anything interesting," Felix said, sounding less than keen. 

 

"Just look at them," Changbin sighed. "Pure bacchanalia, all of it." Jeongin could only assume he was talking about the others.

 

"Except not sexual." Felix sniffed distastefully. "It's like a Valentine's Day episode of Nat Geo Wild."

 

Changbin cackled. "God, I hate how accurate that is. Look, Hyunjin finally got Seungmin to dance with him."

 

"No, wait, he turned him down again - come on, Minnie! You know you want to!"

 

"Aw, now Hyunjin's hugging him. And he's not even pulling away this time!"

 

Felix laughed. "Excellent commentary. Now onto Minho and Jisung - where to begin with those two?"

 

"I mean, they are technically official right? Jisung did the song and the handshake, if that means anything."

 

"Why're you looking at me, I don't know! I mean, Minho looks pretty happy, so I guess that means something."

 

"Hold on, is that - did Jisung write down his latest song on a cocktail napkin for him?"

 

"Looks like it. You know what the song's called?"

 

"It's called 19 - he wrote it last night when he couldn't sleep. Lord, just look at them, smiling and shit."

 

"I think that can be classified as eyefucking, Binnie."

 

"Once again, accurate." Changbin sighed. "Can you believe it's only been a few months since we all met?"

 

"I know, right? It all feels like it was meant to happen." Felix chuckled, but not sadly. "Minho and Jisung are already hitting it off."

 

"I think it's gonna take a while longer for Seungmin and Hyunjin."

 

"And then there's waiting for Chan to find someone so he can stop moping."

 

"And Jeongin, too."

 

Jeongin snuck a glance at Yedam, who had his ear pressed to the door with his beer cooler still hugged to his chest. Maybe I won't have to wait so long, he mused.

 

"I guess that's all, isn't it?" Felix said lightly. "Wait for Seungmin and Hyunjin to tie the knot, wait for Chan and Jeongin to meet the right people, and it'll be smooth sailing from there."

 

A beat of silence - hesitance. "That's not everyone."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

Changbin's tone shifted, low and suggestive. "There's also us."

 

Suddenly, perfectly, the song changed to Put Your Head On My Shoulder. Jeongin felt his jaw drop; Yedam grinned and held up his phone - he had hooked it up to the sound system. Genius.

 

Felix's breath hitched sharply. "Us?"

 

"Yeah, us. You and me, me and you. It makes sense- at least I think so."

 

Oh, boy. Either Changbin was feeling particularly bold today, or the Jack Daniel's was doing him a damn good favor and giving him a much needed confidence boost. Jeongin pressed his ear to the door, eager to hear more.

 

Felix paused, but Jeongin could have sworn he saw his shadow inch just a little closer. "How does it make sense?"

 

"Everyone says it's the way we met; I never even saw you coming." A light chuckle. "It was pulled out of a freaking drama, the way you fell, the way I caught you, to everything else in between. I couldn't have imagined it in a million years." They laughed again, shyly. "But I don't think that's why."

 

"You don't?"

 

"No. I mean, I did at first, but not anymore. I could have caught anyone else on that staircase- it could've been completely different. I don't like the guy that fell into my arms - I like you."

 

Felix sounded positively elated. "Me?"

 

Changbin snickered. "Don't sound too excited. You're loud and annoying as hell, and you resurrect dead memes like it's your life's purpose."

 

"Uh, maybe because it is? Come on, that's not all there is to me."

 

"I know." Changbin's shadow leaned slightly forward. "You're funny and kind, smart, even though you don't show it too often." A few breaths of laughter, then he stepped even closer. "And you're incredible, and handsome, and..."

 

"And?"

 

"Like no one I've ever met before."

 

The melody of the music filled in the quiet, transforming the bar into a place of wonders and possibilities. Felix took a shaky breath. "Do you really think that we make sense?"

 

Silence. Then Changbin's reply. "I know we do."

 

Jeongin could just picture them - Felix perched on his stool, Changbin leaning across the bar, barely enough space to fit the words between them.

 

And so, before he could change his mind, Jeongin shot to his feet, pulled Yedam up with him, and threw open the door.

 

Jeongin's fanfiction brain had imagined the ChangLix scenario flawlessly: Felix and Changbin were curved towards each other, now looking right at him. They were already holding hands in the space between them.

 

Jeongin beamed. "Am I interrupting anything?"

 

"No, you're not," Changbin muttered, already drifting away, doing whatever it took to keep his eyes off of Felix.

 

"What were you doing in there, anyway?" Felix asked. While it was easy to get him blushing, his entire face looked unmistakably crimson.

 

"Yedam here was getting me a proper first drink, weren't you?" Jeongin looked to Yedam, who jumped onto the bandwagon fast, nodding. "It took a while, but I think I'm finally ready."

 

"Back up," Seungmin cut in. He was seated on the chair next to Minho. "You mean you've been here all this time, and you haven't had one drop to drink?"

 

"I had a Coke - plain, if you're wondering."

 

"Were you waiting for us all this time?" Hyunjin inquired. He was sitting on the table next to Jisung in his chair.

 

"Yes, in fact, I was. I'm surprised my patience could do it."

 

"Smack in the feels, dude," Jisung murmured.

 

"Are we leaving, then?" Changbin said. "The food hasn't arrived yet!"

 

"You're leaving?" Yedam asked, audibly stung.

 

Before Jeongin could say anything more, a knock on the door sounded. They turned to see a guy at the door carrying a mountain of takeout, obviously in need of assistance and a pay raise.

 

There went that idea. The boys were already getting up from their seats and Chan was helping the delivery guy with the armloads of food. Brian and Jamie raised their glasses. "So long, young ones! See you around, Chan!"

 

Chan waved to them, smiling good - naturedly, then pulled a slip out of his pocket- Somi's number. Jeongin quirked a brow at him. "So? Did it go well?"

 

He shook his head. "Brian was right- friendship wasn't what she had in mind. A nice girl, just not for me. Should I still call her?"

 

"I... don't think that's a good idea."

 

"It's alright," Yedam blurted, and Chan spun around to look at him. "Somi tends to come on pretty strong towards the guys she likes. She'll get over it soon." He stuck his hand out, nimble fingers poking out of his sweater paw. "I'm Yedam."

 

Is this what secondhand embarrassment feels like? Courteously, Chan shook his outstretched hand, and Jeongin was reminded strangely of a meet - the - parents scenario. "Thanks for having us here." On letting go, he faced Jeongin. "You coming?"

 

Just as he stepped forward, Yedam grabbed his hand and tugged him back. Jeongin turned around. "Is something wrong?"

 

"No. Just - you forgot this." Yedam thrust out the beer cooler towards him. "Hope it's to your liking."

 

Jeongin took the cooler. "Thanks, Yedam."

 

The boy shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm a bartender. It's my job."

 

"Well, you didn't have to talk to a lonely guy on his birthday and give him a free drink so, thanks."

 

"Sure," Yedam replied breathily. "Will... will I be seeing you again?"

 

"Here?"

 

"Well, yeah, that'd be nice, but... other places are good too."

 

Was he implying was Jeongin thought he was implying? Was this really happening to him?

 

"Jeongin!" Chan shouted. "Quit flirting with the bartender and come on!"

 

"I'm coming!" Jeongin screeched. Yedam looked even more bashful. "I, er, would like to see you again. Even if it is just here."

 

Yedam beamed crookedly. "I'll count the days." Cute.

 

Flashing him one last smile, Jeongin turned and ran to where Chan was waiting.

 

******

 

They found an empty bus stop to enjoy their food, miraculously cramming all eight of their worn-out selves onto the bench, each of them with a paper bag in their laps and a burger in their hands, cracking jokes and watching the sunset.

 

Changbin took another bite of his cheeseburger, groaning with delight. "This stuff's a godsend. Thanks a ton, Chan."

 

"You better be thankful. It's on your tab," Chan replied, biting into his burger.

 

The boys cackled as Changbin choked on his bite. "How the hell'd you do that?"

 

"Don't talk with your mouth full," Chan chided, somehow having gracefully swallowed his own bite. "You were distracted, your wallet was out in the open, and you're rich. By the way, I am never taking you guys to a bar again. You're lightweights, all of you."

 

"Yeah, yeah," Minho waved him off. He leaned towards Jeongin. "So, that bartender gave you a care package. Crack it open!"

 

Everyone craned their necks as Jeongin produced the bottle Yedam had chosen for him.

 

"Ooh, amaretto," Chan jeered. "What'd you do to get him to give you that?"

 

"Quit razzing him, Chan!" Jisung threw a fry at the elder. "Come on, Jeongin, take a drink!"

 

Jeongin unscrewed the cap and stared at the liquor inside. This was it. The moment that every teenager went through to truly achieve their top levels of destruction. Maybe it would be amazing. Maybe it would make him feel unstoppable. Or maybe it was just a drink. There was only one way to find out.

 

Lifting the bottle to his lips, Jeongin took a swig and swallowed.

 

Immediately, he wished he hadn't. His throat burned like fire and every inch of his mouth tasted like bitter almonds and cough syrup. Jeongin gagged. "Ugh, it's awful."

 

Seungmin reacted first, crowing in triumph. "Yes! I knew it! I knew he wouldn't like it! Hand it over, Minho!" Rolling his eyes, Minho pulled the money out of his wallet - presumably the money Seungmin had lost before - and into the other boy's waiting hand. "Thank you, Jeongin, for being so wonderfully predictable."

 

Jeongin was too frazzled to even be offended. His head was already feeling foggy - this sucked. He screwed the cap back on the bottle and put it back in the cooler. "So much for an epic first drink."

 

"Wait!" Hyunjin yelled. He had somehow teleported behind him. "There's something else in the cooler!"

 

Hyunjin was right. Rooting around, Jeongin pulled out a Coke can wrapped in a cocktail napkin, a final gift from Yedam. Unrolling the napkin, he found carefully penned chicken scratch on the cloth.

 

"What does it say?" Felix pressed.

 

Jeongin held it up to the peach colored sunlight and read the note aloud. "Figured you wouldn't like the drink. Here's another one to make up for it." How thoughtful. His eyes drifted to the bottom of the note and stopped there. "And..."

 

"And?" Seungmin prompted.

 

Jeongin's face burned as he read the rest of the letter. "And here's my number, if you want it."

 

Instantly, the guys exploded in a firework blitzkrieg of laughs and cheers. Jeongin barely heard them - all he could see was the number in the corner. Yedam's number.

 

"Jeongin charmed the bartender!" Seungmin barked, crying with laughter. "I never thought it would happen!"

 

"I didn't charm anyone!" Jeongin shoved him. "I didn't do anything!"

 

"Well, whatever you did, it was good." Felix smirked. "I saw you two getting cozy at the bar."

 

And the teasing only got louder after that.

 

"He wrote it down on a cocktail napkin!" Chan gushed. "That's so romantic!"

 

"Jeongin's getting a boy-friend! Jeongin's getting a boy-friend!" Changbin and Hyunjin crooned.

 

"Shut up! Shut up all of you!" But it was no use - Jeongin was now the blushing victim, and he couldn't come up with a proper retort to save his life.

 

"Hold on, hold on," Jisung held out his hands for silence. "You are going to call him, right?"

 

Jeongin thought about that. He thought about the moment they had shared at the bar, listening to Yedam's song, him making Yedam blush, Yedam calling him remarkable, Yedam smiling at him before he left. Yedam, the boy who asked if he could see Jeongin again.

 

"Yeah, I'll call him."

 

The taunts exploded like a volcano and an atomic bomb had been introduced to one another. The cheers were so loud people from across the street were telling them to shut up. But hell if any of them cared.

 

"Our youngest has landed a man!" Minho announced. "Let's celebrate!"

 

"Oh, no," Seungmin snatched the beer cooler out of Jeongin's lap. "No one is getting drunk again! We're getting rid of this vile thing!"

 

"No we will not!" Chan stole the cooler from Seungmin. "We are going to take that Coke and that amaretto to Jeongin's apartment, put it on his shelf, frame that napkin, and remember this day!"

 

And as if that wasn't enough, Felix began to sing. "I may not live to see our glory."

 

"Oh, God, Felix shut the fuck up about Hamilton!" Minho chucked his wrapper at the Aussie.

 

Changbin batted away the wrapper before it could touch him. "But I will gladly join the fight."

 

"Not you too!" Seungmin wailed.

 

"And when our children tell our story," Jisung joined in.

 

"Satan, I'm coming early," Hyunjin prayed to the pavement.

 

"They'll tell the story of tonight," Chan sang.

 

As the four boys raised an invisible glass to freedom, Jeongin glanced down at the Coke in his right and the letter in his left. The drink had gone slightly warmer in his grip.

 

It'll taste better cold, a voice said, light as a feather and bright as a ray of sunshine.

 

All in all, not a bad first outing with the boys.

Chapter Text

Changbin p.o.v

 

The plan was called Operation D-. Not because the mention of an F was too psychologically daunting, but because really, a D- was as bad as the outcome could get. It had two phases - not that it made either task any easier, considering they both involved Lee Felix.

 

If Felix accepted him, then there was celebration to be had, and a whole lot of planning for the future, ensuring an A+. But if he turned Changbin down, there would be plenty of time for him to wallow in his depression, and he would still get to see the other boy every day, ensuring a D-. 

 

To dumb it all down to one sentence, he was going to ask Felix on a date.

 

Some might have said finally. Some might have wished him luck. Some might have wondered what the hell he was thinking. To that question, Changbin had no idea. But he was ready to shoot his shot.

 

It had been a week since Jeongin's birthday, and Changbin couldn't stop thinking about the moment he and Felix had shared at the bar. Maybe he wasn't supposed to remember it, given his hangover, but every detail was clear as day. What Changbin couldn't ignore was how, while he was talking, Felix didn't move away - he moved closer.

 

With all the alcohol flushed out of his system, Changbin couldn't figure out how he had managed to say all those things to him. He meant everything he said, of course, but he didn't know how the words got from inside his mind to out of his mouth. He only had a glass and a half of whiskey, and he didn't think he was that much of a lightweight. He didn't even think he was drunk - Changbin had only begun to consider it when he had started telling Felix about his childhood. They had just been teasing each other, talking, nothing special, and then he went ahead and changed the subject completely.

 

It wasn't like he was in the Sunken Place, watching as this new and improved him took control of his love life. He was there, but something was different. All the anxiety, all the fear of saying the right thing or the wrong thing was gone. Bubbling inside Changbin with the Jack Daniel's wasn't courage, but sincerity. The barriers he had laid so carefully around himself were crumbling down, and his thoughts were released out into the open. He hadn't thought about what had happened in the past and what was going to happen next. All he saw was Felix there and then, leaning in, gazing at him with those honey brown eyes that were so worth drowning in, hanging on to every word.

 

Changbin could still feel his heart jackhammering against his ribs as he kept talking, stepping forward past friend territory. And yet he hadn't felt afraid. He felt alive, weightless, unstoppable. The only thing keeping him grounded was Felix's hand holding his, his rich baritone asking: "Do you really think we make sense?"

 

This is your chance, Changbin, a voice urged. Kiss him.

 

"I know we do."

 

He had been ready to do it. Cross that scrap of space between them and risk it all. But then Yang fucking Jeongin burst out the door with that shit - eating grin on his face, and ruined everything.

 

After that, he couldn't look at Felix without blushing, like the blasted staircase all over again. Thankfully no one seemed to notice - they were all a little buzzed. Karma tried to make it up to him by revealing the bartender kid's little crush on Jeongin, but there was no erasing the fact that Changbin had his chance to see if all his worries were for nothing, if he really had imagined all the moments they had, and he blew it.

 

On returning to his apartment - he couldn't risk Chan finding out anything - it was hours before Changbin's mind settled enough to perform functionally. He assumed he had spent an hour pacing his room, the way he had before he had called Felix for the first time, and two more lying down on his bed, going over just what the fuck he said.

 

"Okay, I said he was funny and kind. And smart, that's good. Then I said he was incredible... and handsome... and then I... oh, God."

 

Then the rest of the unbidden, unanswered questions flooded his mind: Was Felix freaking out the way he was? Did he even remember what they had done? If they hadn't been interrupted, would he have kissed Changbin back? All his mind could comprehend was Felix, Felix, Felix.

 

(Later he would wake up in the middle of the night and realize he forgot all about the after school study group, therefore giving him cause to drill down every bit of work that was due the next day in record time. But that was hardly relevant.)

 

It was only a day before the end of the week, when Changbin had settled back into his regular routine with Felix, that a thought popped in his mind.

 

Was this really how he wanted things to be? Have a panic attack for a few minutes every time something mildly romantic happened between them, sooth his nerves, and move on like nothing happened? How did he know that it wasn't an accident? How did he know that that moment wasn't meant to happen, but to shake him up, open his eyes to a new opportunity?

 

How did he know Felix didn't feel the same way?

 

There's only one way to find out, Changbin realized. He thought about Jisung then, how instead of forgetting about it, he had turned it into a mission, pressing on and chasing after the guy he liked. The night he got his idea, he hadn't been crazy - he had been determined. He made his own moment and didn't throw away his shot, because he knew it was the only one he might have. Jisung had been scared out of his wits, too, that much was clear. But he gave Minho his all and ended up having a smile on his face and a guy in his arms under a crescent moon. What was stopping Changbin from doing the same?

 

And so he spent the rest of the day planning out the ingeniously named Operation D- until everything was ready.

 

It was Friday, game day - the boys were in Ms. Kwon's class, their last clast of the day. Changbin sat at the end of an L formation formed by him and Hyunjin, who was seated horizontally next to him, leading up vertically to Jeongin and Jisung with Felix at the top. It was the only class where so many of his friends were in the same classroom, and he couldn't risk anyone else getting involved. Of course, the others didn't know about Changbin's plan either, but they didn't have to.

 

Phase one: pass the letter. He had prewritten it the day before, and the slip had gotten warm in his pocket. Changbin spared a glance up; Mrs. Kwon was facing away at a forty - five degree angle, droning on about the laws of calculus. Perfect.

 

He elbowed Hyunjin. Nothing. He elbowed him again. Hyunjin whipped his head around angrily. "What," he hissed.

 

Changbin slipped the note out of his pocket. "Pass this up to Felix," he whispered.

 

Hyunjin raised his eyebrows for a split second, peeked at the teacher, and took the note. Of course he did- they did this kind of stuff all the time. Only Jisung paused, but he didn't dare unfold the letter. That would have been a true anime betrayal. Tapping Felix's shoulder, he passed the note to him.

 

Changbin felt the tension in his shoulders release - at least this part was done. He had worded it simply: Meet me by my locker after school. No romantic connotations at all.

 

Felix unfolded the letter meticulously, glancing at Changbin with raised eyebrows. Go on, Changbin mouthed back, nodding at the note.

 

Turning back around, Felix scribbled on the paper, folded it into a legit triangle, and slid it onto Jisung's desk. Obediently, Jisung passed the note to Jeongin, who passed it to Hyunjin, who passed it to Changbin.

 

Our teacher needs to get better at her job, Changbin thought, flattening the triangle back into a square. As dumb as it was, his whole face melted into a smile.

 

Lol sure, dork, the message read.

 

The bamboo stick cracked on his desk, and Changbin clapped his hands over the note immediately.

 

"Is there something about the fundamental theorem of calculus that you find funny, Seo Changbin?" Mrs. Kwon had turned around now, and her withering glare was fixed directly on him.

 

"Er, no, Mrs. Kwon," Changbin stuttered out, hoping that his hands were folded on his desk in an inconspicuous manner.

 

A few other students had turned to ogle at his misfortune, Felix included. He had the nerve to smile at him, that little fucker. It did such a cute thing to his eyes, and his freckles too.

 

And now Changbin had to bite his lip to keep from smiling back. God damn it. 

 

Mrs. Kwon whirled around to look at Felix, the full force of her wrath now pinned on him. But he just looked at her with those sweet, blameless eyes and raised his eyebrows like who, me?

 

The teacher glanced from him to Changbin, and then back to Felix. She scoffed and strode back to the front of the class. "Kids, these days," she murmured, silencing any of those who had dared to laugh.

 

Mrs. Kwon turned back around, officially fooled. Impulsively, Changbin shot Felix a smile. In response, Felix winked at him, eyes glittering in the sunlight.

 

Both of them looked down at their papers before Mrs. Kwon could notice. Good thing too - Changbin was already grinning like an idiot. Play it cool, play it cool. He proceeded to zone out for the rest of the class.

 

The minute the bell rang, it was on to phase two. Weaving through the crowd of eager students, he searched avidly for a head of bright purple hair, which turned out to be pretty tough when you were considered an ant in stature and you didn't have guys like Chan and Jisung backing you up. That didn't matter, though. This was something he had to do alone.

 

A pair of freshmen moved out of the way, and there Felix was. He was waiting against Changbin's locker, impatiently checking his phone. Taking a deep breath, Changbin brushed the wrinkles out of his shirt, ran his fingers through his hair, and approached him.

 

Three steps in, Felix's eyes landed on him, and a smile turned his eyes into half moons. "There you are! I was starting to think you wouldn't show."

 

Had he been looking for me? Changbin softened at the thought, but snapped out of it. He had to keep himself together. "I wouldn't leave you hanging for long."

 

"So what'd you want to talk about? How the fundamental laws of calculus is a bunch of pointless bullshit used to make math harder?"

 

"Tempting, but no," Changbin laughed. "Do - do you..." Don't stutter. Do NOT fucking stutter. "Do you remember what happened at the bar?"

 

Something in Felix's eyes flickered for a second- a grasp at a memory. "You mean how we all got wasted on two glasses of liquor while Jeongin was hanging out in a cellar with the bartender?"

 

Using jokes to make light of the situation. He did remember. "I meant what happened between you and me."

 

"Oh."

 

You have one shot, dummy. Do not let this slip. "Do you remember what I said?"

 

One look at his face, and Changbin knew that he did. "Did you mean it?"

 

Every word and more. "I did, but it wasn't something I wanted to say."

 

"What?"

 

Fuck. "Uh... I mean, that wasn't how I wanted to tell you. I wasn't feeling right, and I probably wouldn't have told you any of that if I was."

 

"Really?" Now Felix looked confused and hurt. This was falling apart fast.

 

Make this right, make this work. "It just didn't mean as much because we were drunk, and..." Abort mission. Abort life. "Look, I just wanted to... can I start over?"

 

"Go for it." Felix's voice was a wire pulled taut.

 

This was it. The moment where he let everything out into the open, how he really felt. Why wasn't I prepared for this? Changbin's heart was pounding, his face feverishly warm. He just had to spit it out. He just had to say it.

 

"Willyougooutwithme?"

 

Now Felix's pained bewilderment had been blown apart and replaced with astonishment. The words had come out in one jumbled string of letters, but they had been understood perfectly.

 

"I mean not as a date, or anything, but I just meant, like, if you want. It's completely cool if you don't, I'll understand, I mean, it's probably weird that I said anything in the first place. You can just forget about it, honestly, I don't know what I was thinking - "

 

"Yes."

 

Now it was Changbin's turn to shut up and stare. "Really?"

 

"Yeah." Felix's eyes were still enlarged, but the corners of his mouth had tucked up in the barest hint of a smile. "I mean, you said it wouldn't be a date or anything."

 

His happiness deflated a little. "Oh, yeah. Because that'd be weird."

 

"Not completely unimaginable though."

 

Was that a heat wave coming on? Because the temperature was rising. Felix realized what he had said, and his cheeks pinkened, making his freckles stand out even more. "I just meant that it would be nice to see the city with someone I know."

 

"I'd be happy to take you anywhere," Changbin pulled out his phone. "What day are you free?"

 

"Well, after school's no good for obvious reasons," Felix chuckled. "I have practice with Minho and Hyunjin on Saturday. How about Sunday?"

 

"That's good. What time?"

 

"Twelve's good for me. How about you?"

 

"Fine. I'll, uh, meet you by God's Menu."

 

"Cool."

 

"Yeah." Awkwardly, Changbin rolled back and forth on his heels. "So, it's official?"

 

Felix's smile spread loosely across his face. "I guess so."

 

Had no one else noticed? Had everyone just passed by the greatest moment in South Korean history? Whatever. Their loss.

 

Changbin's phone buzzed - a text from Chan telling him to get his ass to the studio. Damn. "Well, I guess I should get going. Chan and Jisung are waiting for me."

 

"Oh. Sure, go ahead." Then Felix snapped his fingers. "Shit! I have to meet Minho and Hyunjin at the front gate for study group!"

 

"Guess today wouldn't have worked."

 

"Unfortunately," Felix agreed. Wait, what? "Sunday, then?"

 

"At twelve o'clock."

 

He giggled, and Changbin remembered a tale about angels who walked the earth posing as humans. "See you then."

 

Changbin watched him leave, standing as a roadblock to the other students for a few minutes before he remembered who was waiting on him.

 

Boys, Changbin thought, I've got news for you.

 

******

 

Chan went right ahead and spit out his chocolate milk while Jisung yelped, "You did what?!"

 

"I asked him out, are you proud of me?" Changbin repeated. He hadn't stopped smiling for an hour.

 

Luckily, he had hardly needed an explanation. Jisung had sat him down immediately, saying he'd been acting weird all week. Chan even famously quoted "the jig is up" while tearing open his carton of chocolate milk. Now they had their answer.

 

"Is that what the note was for?" Jisung asked.

 

"Note?" Chan squeaked, wiping his mouth. "What note? You know I hate to be left out of the loop."

 

"I sent him a note during Kwon's class," Changbin explained. "But it wasn't to ask him out - that's grade school crap. I faced him, and I threw it all out there."

 

Chan and Jisung considered that for a moment, exchanging thoughtful glances. "Doesn't sound like you," Jisung said finally.

 

"Come on, seriously? I wouldn't lie about doing that!"

 

"We believe that you asked him out," Chan clarified. "We just don't think you did it ask confidently as you said."

 

Changbin focused on the leg of the table. "Okay, so maybe I tripped over my words a little bit - "

 

"Knew it."

 

"But I got it out and that's what matters! We're going to meet on Sunday, and I'm not messing it up."

 

Jisung squealed like a pig with an unusually high voice range. "Just look at you! Following in my footsteps, shooting your shot and getting your guy! I'm so proud of you!"

 

Chan produced two cartons of banana milk from the mini fridge. "Men, this is a day of celebration. Our own SpearB has found a suitable match!"

 

Changbin eyed him. "Suitable match?"

 

"I've been watching him closely, and there haven't been any signs of foul play. My instincts are right about this." Chan toasted to him. "Congrats, Binnie. He's the one."

 

Jisung whooped, and Changbin rolled his eyes. "Relax, guys. It isn't even a date."

 

Cue the record scratch. Chan and Jisung slowly swiveled their heads around to stare at him. "What did you say?"

 

Changbin shrugged. "We didn't classify it as a date - we were in public. And I can't just say it now, that'd make things weird."

 

Mouth still hanging open, Jisung's eyebrows raised. "You mean to tell us that you asked out the guy you've liked for months, and it isn't a date?"

 

"That's what I said, yeah."

 

"And you're okay with that?"

 

"Like I said, can't change it now."

 

Jisung opened his mouth once more, but Chan raised his hand for silence. "You're telling me that on Sunday, you're going to spend a day with Lee Felix, alone." He enunciated his words with his milk carton. "And it's not a date?"

 

Changbin scoffed. "How many times do I have to say it? It isn't a date - it's just two guys, going out into the city, checking out the sights, probably getting something to eat, and..." It hit him like a ton of pounds. "Holy God, it's a date."

 

Chan and Jisung nodded sagely in unison. "Mm - hm."

 

And suddenly his whole body felt like a firework. Changbin shot out of his chair, hardly able to believe himself. "Oh my God, I did it! I asked him on a date! And I didn't fuck it up! I can't believe this is actually happening!"

 

"Did you ever think you were going to do it?" Chan smirked.

 

"Well of course I wanted to, but I never thought about how it'd feel once it actually happened. It feels great!" Changbin was practically dancing to every corner of the room. "And he said yes! I never thought he would!"

 

"God only knows why he did," Jisung intoned, smiling.

 

"I can't believe this! I asked him out, and he said yes, and - " Wait. All motion lurched to a stop. The actions of the day were slowly making their way back to Changbin's brain. "I asked him out."

 

"Yep," Chan confirmed.

 

"And he said yes."

 

"Yeah, so that means?" Jisung trailed purposely, clearly waiting for him to pick up on something.

 

Reality bitch - slapped him in the face, dumped a bucket of ice water over his head, and drop - kicked his soul back into its meat suit. "I'm so unprepared for this."

 

Jisung sighed. "You tell him, Chan. He always listens to you."

 

But Chan was studying Changbin like an animal on the verge of going feral. "I don't think he's going to listen to either of us."

 

Changbin knew he was right. A cold, icy dread was seeping into his body like a serum, and the brief excitement he had felt disappeared. "I asked Felix on a date and he said yes."

 

"And it's like, the millionth time you've established that," said Jisung. "Am I missing something?"

 

Changbin's heart had started beating again, too fast. "I'm not prepared for this," he heard himself say. Then he repeated it, louder. "I'm not prepared for this! A date? What the hell was I thinking? Was I even thinking?"

 

"Binnie, calm down," Chan started.

 

"I can't!" Changbin shouted, running his hands through his hair. "I'm an idiot. This is happening on Sunday? Two days from now - that's not nearly enough time! How am I going to decide what to do?"

 

Another slap in the face. His feet began pacing around the room. "Oh, what am I gonna do? What am I gonna say, where am I gonna take him, what am I gonna wear?!" Changbin dropped into his seat and buried his head in his arms. "My life is over."

 

He could feel Chan and Jisung judging him like an asylum patient, but he couldn't bring himself to care. A chair scraped clumsily. "So obviously, you're freaking out," said Jisung.

 

Changbin raised his head. "I asked the Korean Australian Adonis to go on a date with me and he said yes." Head plopped back down.

 

"Adonis?" Jisung whispered.

 

"I don't know," Chan whispered back. A few shuffling movements. "Changbin? Look up, would you?"

 

He did. Chan had switched seats with Jisung, and now he had the Parental Figure look in his eyes. "I understand that this is a big step, and you're overreacting-"

 

"No, I'm not."

 

"Yes, you are."

 

"No, I'm not."

 

"Yes, you are," Chan emphasized, and Changbin fell silent. "You're overthinking this entire thing. And I get it - I've been there before."

 

"You have?"

 

"Of course. Even Jisung has war stories."

 

Changbin glanced at his friend. Jisung, normally so confident and unbothered, was blushing, his cheeks tinted a light pink. "Even you?"

 

"Nobody's immune to it," Jisung smiled shyly. "I thought Minho would never want to be with me, y'know. We were so rocky and different, and I never thought it would happen. But when I put myself out there, and he accepted me... it felt like anything was possible."

 

Is that what it's like? Changbin remembered how Jisung had thrown aside his prized guitar and twirled Minho around in front of apartments full of people, not a hint of shame on either of their faces. "And you called me a simp."

 

"And now I'm a fucking hypocrite, I know. But what I'm saying is, you've got nothing to worry about. The hard part's over - you just have to get through this."

 

Easy for him to say. He didn't have to face the soul of sunshine infused into a person in two days. "How can I do that when I feel like I can hardly function?"

 

"What you're feeling is completely normal," Chan assured him. "While some uneducated locals call it lovesickness, or even the classic butterflies - in - the - stomach sham, we know the truth. Every same - sex loving individual has endured it. The scientific name is hysterical abdominal rhopalocera, or HAR, but we classify it rightfully as gay panic."

 

Changbin started to laugh, but the elder's face was dead serious. "You've gotta be joking. That stuff's a myth."

 

"And that," Chan whipped out his trusty finger guns, "is a lie the straights have told us for far too long. It's real, and you're a victim."

 

"That's impossible. I can't be feeling some Twitter-born illness."

 

"You're only saying that because you've never felt it before. Once you accept it, it gets easier to deal with."

 

"Well, then how? How do I deal with it?"

 

"Simple. You trace your panic back to the root source - Felix -and you straighten out your thoughts about him."

 

"Because that's easy," Changbin chuckled mirthlessly. "Literally no thought I have involving him is straight. So do I just stick it out until I see him again in, what, forty two hours and thirty minutes?"

 

Meanwhile, Jisung looked hopelessly confused. "How do you even- okay, what is going on? Even I wasn't this bad - "

 

"You were way worse than me."

 

"Was not. But come on - you've gone on dates before."

 

"Not like this," Changbin said, his voice strained. "Felix, he's different. He makes me feel different - I don't know. I don't know why I like him so much, but I just do." Somehow a laugh choked out of his throat. "And now, here I am blabbing about it with you guys, and I don't even know if he feels the same way."

 

Gay panic wasn't the right phrase for this feeling. Neither was lovesick. Changbin was stuck somewhere in between, being squeezed so tight he could barely breathe.

 

But Chan's Parental Figure gaze hadn't wavered. "First of all, you're shouldn't feel bad about being open with us," he said gently. "I know how long you've wanted this to happen, but I want you to think about this: you said "will you go out with me," no context added, and he accepted. What might that tell you?"

 

Wryly, Changbin smiled. "That he can stand my ass long enough to actually want to spend a day with me."

 

"I swear to - " Jisung erupted, but Chan stopped him again.

 

"Now, if you really want my advice," Chan continued, "just be yourself. It sounds like bullshit, I know, but hear me out. That guy doesn't like you because you caught him on a staircase a few months ago. He likes you for you, the wreck that you are, and there's no way you can be anything else anyway."

 

This sounded like the kind of advice fathers gave their sons the night they took their girlfriends to prom. Except it's no girlfriend for me, Changbin thought. "But what if I mess up?"

 

Chan grinned. "That's the beauty of it all. The whole thing's foolproof. Even if you trip or stutter, he'll just find it cute."

 

This was a bonus. "Really?" Chan nodded. "Wow. Guess I don't need to worry about that."

 

"And, if you do a good job," Chan nudged his elbow and winked. "You might just score a goodnight kiss."

 

A kiss. Another one of Changbin's non - straight thoughts surfaced in his mind - Felix's face before his, eyes like twin golden jewels, those inexplicably charming bitten lips just waiting for him. "Okay."

 

"But you really have to keep a decent image if you want to get that goodnight lay," Jisung wiggled his eyebrows.

 

"Fucking- Jisung!" Chan proceeded to lecture the sniggering culprit while Changbin filled the room with enough profanities for the both of them.

 

When the argument died down, Changbin laughed weakly. "I guess we should get back to working on our music, huh?"

 

"Are you kidding?" Jisung said. "Screw music - you got a hot date in two days, and we're helping you plan it to perfection."

 

And so, with Jisung giving Changbin the top pick - up lines to work into a conversation, and Chan teaching him the best ways to an Aussie's heart, every bit of homework and producing was put in the back burner for the rest of the night.

 

Felix p.o.v

 

Hyunjin surveyed the scene of chaos before him. "Hurricane Katrina? More like Hurricane - "

 

"Don't you dare finish that sentence," Minho covered his mouth. He stepped over an upturned coffee table. "Lix? You okay?"

 

"Can't talk," Felix replied. "Panicking."

 

When Felix had left Changbin standing by the lockers, he had parted ways with him saying he was meeting Minho and Hyunjin for study group, making it sound as if he were really going to go.

 

What really happened was this: the moment Felix was out of Changbin’s line of sight, he hauled ass out of the building and zipped right past where Minho and Hyunjin were waiting, running the rest of the way home. And then he proceeded to unleash his gay panic onto his unlucky cheap-ass apartment.

 

Try to calm down, his few senses peeped amidst the rampage. Is this really worth flipping a coffee table for?

 

That coffee table had been a ten dollar thrift store steal. He had enjoyed many dinners there on his couch, not being able to afford a real dining table anyways.

 

Then his senses would be squashed down by the fact that Prince of Darkness, SpearB, Seo bloody Changbin had asked him on a date that was in two days. How else was he supposed to react? And thus the coffee table was flipped.

 

It was a miracle Felix had managed to keep a steady front. The very second the words "will you go out with me" tumbled out of Changbin's mouth, the alarm in his mind blared along with the harmonious sound of opera singing. He must have run through three green lights on the way home - maybe more. But all he could think was finally. Finally it was happening. After months of stressing and dreaming and praying, it was really happening. And it wasn't because of their annoying - ass friends. It was because of them.

 

Maybe he really did mean what he said at the bar, a hopeful voice chimed, and for once, Felix didn't dismiss it.

 

It was something he had wondered ever since that day. It was just the two of them- who knew what else could have happened? They had both been a slightly plastered- under no sober circumstances did Felix believe Changbin would have told him about his past friends and crushes, and definitely not his feelings about him. But he remembered a saying: drunk words are sober thoughts. Maybe they were true. And maybe, from what Felix remembered, it was a possibility.

 

The entire exchange came out of nowhere. One minute they were talking about shipping their friends, and the next they were talking about... well, them. And yet it didn't feel forced. It felt so right being with him. No one had ever talked to Felix the way Changbin did, and did he have a problem with it? Nope. The whole thing was like a scene from one of Chan's rom coms: cheesy lines, but wonderfully played out. There was no other way it could have gone.

 

Well, there was one other way.

 

There was no doubt about it - if Jeongin had stayed in that goddamn cellar and kept his little mouth shut, Changbin would have definitely kissed him, and Felix would have had no problem kissing him back.

 

It was mapped out and ready for him, Felix knew. He knew the moment the music started playing; Put Your Head On My Shoulder was an anthem. Changbin seemed to know it too- that was when he started moving closer. Past the borders that the world always set between two guys, past the stop signs labeled 'platonic' and 'bro zone.' Strands of caramel and purple hair were about an inch away from brushing each other. Felix's hand had slid into Changbin's open palm, and Changbin's fingers closed around it like it was the most natural thing in the world. Even months of preparation couldn't have stopped the blood from rushing to his face, the hammering heart in his chest like a boxer fighting to get out of the ring, a powder keg so close to exploding.

 

Changbin had glanced down at their hands then, like they were a question he wanted to answer. Look at me, Felix had thought. "Do you really think we make sense?"

 

"People say that love's a game, a game you just can't win."

 

Changbin looked back up, and his eyes shimmered. He had found the answer. "I know we do."

 

"If there's a way, I'll find it someday, and then this fool will rush in."

 

The guitar and drum beat accelerated in anticipation as the two boys leaned in, eyes fluttering shut, hands already intertwined.

 

But, as Paul Anka had foreboded, the door flew open behind them, and the fool in the form of Yang Jeongin rushed in.

 

That little fucker had cut off a whole world of potential, and Felix had spent the rest of his week wondering what could have been had the spell not been broken.

 

And now, there was a chance that he might find out once more.

 

But that could wait until Sunday. For now, Felix could pace throughout his apartment until the soles of his feet went raw and his neighbors complained about Twice being blasted at full volume.

 

"Felix!" Minho yelled, and he startled back into his being. "What the hell is going on?"

 

"I told you. Panic."

 

"Yeah, that's the point." Hyunjin grabbed the Bluetooth speaker on the couch and turned off the music. "You didn't tell us anything."

 

”I was going to!”

 

”After you finished turning your apartment into a tornado site?” Minho fired back. “You’re the one who got on my back when I skipped dance practice - you’re not going to get off any easier.”

 

"You had a good reason, so do I."

 

"Oh, bullshit," Minho spat. "I was holed up in my apartment, denying my feelings towards my own boyfriend."

 

Hyunjin's jaw dropped. "Did you just call Jisung your boyfriend?"

 

"For the first time? Yes I did. Felt kind of nice, to be honest."

 

Hyunjin pulled out his phone. "The group chat's going to flip their shit."

 

"You put that back, mister, the group chat's not flipping anything."

 

Felix couldn't help but smile. "It's nice to see you enjoying your relationship, Minho."

 

“Well, it’s not like I can languish in it, he’s always keeping me on my toes.” Despite his flippant tone, the affection in his voice was evident. “Wait, did something happen between you and Changbin?”

 

"About that, actually - "

 

"Oh, I knew there was something off about him!" Minho cut him off, already fuming. "What with him telling you about all that shit about his past - he was trying to get you to be vulnerable! Of course he succeeded, with your weak heart."

 

"He wasn't trying to - I do not have a weak heart!"

 

"Please, you were in love with him within a week, Lix. I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner."

 

"What did he do to you?" Hyunjin demanded. "What did he say? Did he hurt you? Oh my God, he will pay for what he did! I will scoop out his eyes and play table tennis with them! I will feed his intestines to the earthworms! I will - "

 

"Enough!" Felix roared. "Changbin didn't hurt me, okay? He asked me out!"

 

They stopped ranting. "What?"

 

"And I said yes."

 

The raving duo paused, taking it in. "Oh." Then the reality of the revelation seemed to strike. "Oh." Hyunjin and Minho turned to Felix for confirmation, to which Felix could only smile and nod.

 

With that, the three boys faced each other with wide eyes and emitted a noise that made all the sonic booms, airplanes, and banshees of the world give up.

 

When Felix's ears stopped ringing, the first thing he heard was his neighbor pounding her fist against the woefully thin walls. "For the last time kid, keep it the hell down!"

 

"Sorry, Gladys!" Felix yelled back, hardly meaning it. 

Hyunjin raced forward and swallowed him up in a hug that would have been nice if Felix were able to breathe. “This is so great! You’re finally taking the next step that will lead to a beautiful, blooming relationship!”

 

”Need air. For lungs. Must breathe."

 

”Suck it up, you drama queen- why didn’t you tell us any of this earlier?”

 

”Maybe he can tell us now if you let him go,” Minho said, saving the day.

 

"Oh. Right." Hyunjin released him, and Felix literally wheezed as he gulped in air. "Sorry, I got a little excited."

 

"I could tell," Felix gasped, collapsing onto his couch. "He asked me out, not you."

 

"Exactly! So you're going to tell us everything."

 

"Wha - "

 

"Everything," Minho enunciated. "We'll be able to tell if you're lying."

 

It was times like these where Felix really regretted telling his friends where he lived. But he obeyed, spilling out every little detail, and by the end he was red in the face, but not because of any lack of air.

 

Hyunjin was holding his hands over his heart and beaming like the drama fanatic he was, but Minho couldn't have looked more bored. "Eh. Doesn't sound like it was that exciting."

 

"Shut up, Minho!" Hyunjin scolded. "I thought it was really sweet. You could tell he meant it."

 

"Thank you, Hyunjin," Felix said agreeably.

 

"But it wasn't a big gesture! All he did was pass you a note and pop the question in front of a locker."

 

"Well, not everyone’s stubborn ass gets asked out through a surprise performance," Felix fired back. "Can you stop bragging about Jisung and be happy for me?"

 

"He got you there," Hyunjin muttered.

 

Minho flashed him a gesture that relied heavily on his middle finger. "Couldn't you have just told us that at my place?"

 

"And internally combusted midway through calculus? I had to let loose first."

 

Hyunjin glanced around at the ruins of his apartment. "Couldn't you have just screamed into a pillow, or something less destructive?"

 

"Last time I did that, I lost my voice for three days. There's simply some panic you can't force down."

 

Felix had made it clear from the beginning that he was a singularly chaotic specimen, so Minho and Hyunjin didn't dare object to this. "With that kind of attitude, Changbin might not come back in one piece after your date," Minho noted.

 

"Minho, don't say that!" Hyunjin chided. "Look how red his face is."

 

"Oh, come on, it's a good thing! Felix has to show that he can hold his own!"

 

"About that," Felix bit his lip. "I might have alienated any possibility of it being an actual date."

 

The banter ceased instantly. Both his friends’ eyebrows lifted in unison. "What did you do?”

 

"It was after I accepted. While he was rambling, he said something about it not having to be a date and - I panicked, okay? I got really excited and really nervous at the same time, and it slipped out. Oh, hell, nothing's even happened yet and I'm doomed!" Felix buried his face in his hands.

 

"No shit," Hyunjin said. "You said it wouldn't be a date right after he asked you out- that's a fail that doesn't even exist in any drama I've ever seen."

 

"Not exactly making me feel any better, Jin."

 

"He's right- you need to shut up," Minho berated. Then his voice changed into something softer, more reassuring. "Come on, Felix calm down. It's not the end of the world."

 

Felix cracked an opening between his fingers. "Just the end of my love life."

 

"Don't be stupid," Minho pried his hands from his face. "Try the opposite - you're going out with the guy you've liked for months, who doesn't give a crap if you trip over your words.”

 

”He’s called your voice sexy numerous times,” Hyunjin offered.

 

Felix flushed - the room suddenly felt like a million degrees. “He has?”

 

”We’re not lying to you,” Minho promised, smiling. “Look, whatever you two agreed to call this - scrap it. This is a date, Felix. And we’re going to help you.”

 

You lawless bastards, what would I do without you? Felix smiled back at him. "Thanks, guys."

 

"So that means no more whining. You have to get up. Now."

 

"Are you - "

 

"Now!"

 

"Welcome to bootcamp, Lix," Hyunjin intoned sweetly.

 

Felix pushed himself off the couch, vaguely wondering what he meant when Minho started pacing back and forth, slow and dramatized, like an army sergeant. “Alright, gentlemen, all funny business stops now- Hyunjin, put your phone away, Felix, stand up straight.”

 

Hyunjin cursed and tucked his phone back into his pocket, probably mourning his filming opportunity. Felix straightened up, just as not to risk a reprimanding.

 

“This is a big deal to all of us,” Minho went on. “One of DanceRacha’s own is going on a date in - when is this happening?”

 

”Sunday,” Felix confirmed.

 

”Two days, which gives us plenty of time for renovation.” Minho stopped in front of him, approving his posture. “This is going to be your first date with anyone, correct?”

 

Felix fought the urge to shrink down. “Yes.”

 

”As well as your first date with Changbin?”

 

”Hopefully not the last.”

 

Minho grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “That’s the spirit, soldier. However, there are still things you must worry about - can you tell me what they are?”

 

”Uh... the places we go?”

 

Hyunjin made a buzzer sound on his phone. “Wrong,” Minho answered. “Since Changbin is the one who proposed the date, he is the one with control over the locations. You wouldn’t know the first thing about navigating the city.”

 

”Ouch?”

 

“But that doesn’t mean you just get to let everything unfold on its own, no, no. You are going to be spending a whole day with this guy - under no circumstances can you come off as submissive.”

 

"Why is that important? Shouldn't it just be about having a good time together?"

 

"Oh, Felix. Sweet, naive Felix," Minho laughed. "I know how you feel about Binnie, the way he makes you feel, all soft and gooey inside, like you can let down your guard and be yourself."

 

"Exactly!"

 

Minho's hand came up on his shoulder again, firmer this time. "Take that feeling and incinerate it. Burn it to fucking ash, then take that ash and bake it into those brownies you like so much and feed it that raccoon that keeps shitting on your porch."

 

"I will not treat Reginald with such blatant disrespect."

 

"Forget the raccoon - this is about you. What you want and what you deserve. You are not to be dragged from place to place without a say. You must let him know that."

 

"Gotta say, Minho, you're hot when you're like this."

 

"That! That right there, keep that up!" Minho pointed his index directly into Felix's chest. "You are not easy, Felix. Remember that."

 

Not one word out of his mouth made any sense whatsoever. Just nod and say yes. Felix threw in a smile for good measure. "I will."

 

"Correct answer. Now on to the wardrobe. You want to dress to impress, right?"

 

"Well, yeah, of course."

 

"Good. Because we have to fix... all this," Minho waved an arm from Felix's head to toes.

 

Felix glanced down at his uniform. "Obviously I'm not dumb enough to wear my school uniform on a date, Minho."

 

"But it would be pure cruelty if I were to leave you to dress yourself - you would probably wait until the last minute to pick something out! This is the kind of thing simply must be premeditated."

 

"Whatever you say."

 

"Don't sass me, young man. Think if this date goes well - he will be daydreaming about you, wearing the outfit you chose."

 

"Or wearing nothing at all," Hyunjin snickered.

 

"Hyunjin," Felix and Minho warned, and the boy rolled his eyes.

 

"Enough dilly - dallying," Minho announced. "We are journeying to the closet!"

 

"I don't wanna go back there!" Felix wailed.

 

"It'll be fine," Hyunjin assured him. "You looked nice enough at the bar - we've got to be able to stitch together something to one up that."

 

It's for the best, Felix thought, and let himself be hauled into his room by Minho. The minute they were inside, Hyunjin darted for his closet and tore it open, gasping with delight. "This is perfect!"

 

"Is it gay?" Minho asked.

 

Hyunjin grinned. "Flaming." Undeterred by Felix's protests, he ripped hoodie after colorful oversized hoodie out of the closet, followed by loose and fitting t-shirts and jeans both black and blue. "How the hell did your family ever think you were straight?"

 

"You think I know? I never brought home one girl that wasn't a study buddy or a friend, and I knew the words to Helpless better than either of my sisters." Felix thought of his parents, always pestering him to "grow a pair" and ask a girl out, never thinking for a moment that their son might want something different. "We never talked about anything... Alphabet Gang related. I guess they just assumed."

 

Hyunjin sighed. "If only we could go back in time to Ancient Greece, where the default was pansexual." Abruptly, he shrieked in terror and leapt up. "Adidas!"

 

"I had to convince people I was straight, remember?" Felix reminded him.

 

Minho patted his shoulder with pity. "You poor thing."

 

Hyunjin pinched the pair of shoes between his thumb and forefinger and tossed them into the wastebasket at the foot of Felix’s desk. "Throw that out the first chance you get," he ordered him. "Suit up, men - we've got our work cut out for us."

 

******

 

”Let me get an image of this,” Minho said, holding up a hand for silence. “She wore baggy jeans, loose shirts, snapbacks-“

 

”And beanies,” Felix added. “I think she had a nose piercing, too.”

 

“What was her name again?”

 

”Sam. Short for Samantha.”

 

”And your parents thought you two were flirting?!”

 

Felix and Minho were chatting on his bed about all the girls he had brought home back in Australia, further disappointing his parents each time when not one was of romantic interest. Every once in a while, Hyunjin would hold up an outfit that either Felix or Minho would turn down, because he wasn’t going to ruin his date by wearing those unflattering jeans, and no way in hell did those shoes match that shirt.

 

”Do they really want you to date a member of the opposite sex so badly that they’ll look past something so glaringly obvious?” Hyunjin scoffed, placing a hoodie in the 'no' pile he had created. “I mean, honestly, would a straight girl make earrings out of tiny plastic babies?”

 

”They just worry about me, that’s all. I’m sure they’d be fine with me bringing home a guy,” Felix replied, more to himself than either of his friends. “But, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure Sam was hitting on Rachel.”

 

”Maybe you won’t be the only disappointment in your family,” Minho joked. “Okay seriously, Hyunjin, enough with the bandanna headband. We’re going for laid - back and vibrant, not a day in the life at Schrute Farms.”

 

Hyunjin grumbled and tossed aside the headband, proceeding to root through the mountain of clothes in front of him. Suddenly, someone’s phone started buzzing. Puzzled, Hyunjin dug through a mound of blue jeans and pulled out his cell. “Strap in, boys - we’re getting a FaceTime from Jisung.”

 

Accepting the call, he angled the phone so that the camera showed all three of them. A second later, Jisung's grinning face popped onscreen. "Coming to you live from the apartment of Seo Changbin, we have Hyunjin, always a friendly face, Felix, you sly devil, and Minho, my one and only."

 

Oh, fuck me, Felix thought, gagging along with Hyunjin. Minho himself smiled, biting his lip. "Stop it, Sungie, you know what I told you about the nicknames."

 

"Lord, just quit it, would you?" Hyunjin interrupted. "If I want to watch two people slobbering all over each other, I'll turn on a goddamn drama."

 

"No one asked you!" Jisung retorted, but he reverted his attention onto Felix. "So, Lix! How does it feel to be the lucky bastard who stole SpearB's heart?"

 

Now it was Felix's turn to smile shyly, looking down at his hands folded in his lap. "I didn't steal anything, Jisung. But I guess I'm lucky that it happened at all."

 

"That's the truth," came Seungmin's cynical murmur.

 

"Is that Seungminnie?" Hyunjin asked enthusiastically, angling the camera towards himself. "Pass us over!"

 

Jisung carried them to some other corner of the apartment, where Seungmin curled up in the corner of the couch, nose buried in a book. "Hey, hot stuff," Jisung purred.

 

Seungmin rolled his eyes and glanced up. "Jisung, how many times do I have to - " he stopped upon seeing Hyunjin. "Somehow, you've made it worse."

 

Hyunjin fell back, wounded, and handed the phone to Felix. "What're you doing at Binnie’s apartment?"

 

"I came with Jeongin under the impression that we were studying, but no one will stop talking about your date, and Chan won't let me leave. Says I should do something to contribute to this friend group."

 

"As you should!" The phone was yanked away, much to Jisung's annoyance, and the screen flickered briefly before showcasing Jeongin. "I'm so excited for both of you! I've always wanted to help plan a date!"

 

"And I'm happy that you're going to be involved, Innie!" Felix replied. "Hope you don't mind me asking, but how are things between you and Yedam? You seemed to really like each other."

 

Jeongin blushed, rubbing his neck. "We've been talking a little-"

 

"Bullshit!" Seungmin objected. "You've been calling each other every day after school since your birthday! Just yesterday, you made me come with you to God's Menu to visit him! It was revolting!"

 

The three dancers crooned at the younger's reddened face. "Maybe you should start doing some date planning for yourself," Hyunjin encouraged.

 

"I will," Jeongin promised. "But for now, we're just going to take things slow."

 

In the background, an angry shouting match had begun, something about clothes. "What's happening back there?" Minho asked.

 

Smiling, Jeongin turned the camera around just in time to catch Chan rushing into the kitchen with a large box of knitted black cloth in his arms, Changbin following close behind. "Give me back my beanies, you asshole!"

 

"That is one request I will not fulfill," Chan answered. "I'm not letting you ruin your image with a beanie on a first date."

 

"It will not ruin my image!" Felix realized that he hadn't denied that it was a date.

 

"Have you heard anyone call you Crispy? No. Are you rocking that caramel blonde hair color? Yes. Out of respect for both you and Felix, I will not have your date looking upon your dumb, sweaty head once it gets hot outside. So I am hiding this box where you will not find it."

 

"And where are you planning to stick something that big?"

 

"That's what she - " A book hit Chan in the face, making him drop his box of black knit caps.

 

"Not in this household!" Seungmin yelled.

 

"She's never gonna say that to you, anyway," Changbin muttered.

 

Felix exploded with laughter, rolling on the bed with Minho and Hyunjin, who followed suit.

 

At that moment, Changbin seemed to become aware that there were a few extra people in the room. He zeroed in on Jeongin immediately, rushing forward and yanking the phone out of his hands. “Who the hell’s laughing over - oh.” His face went from irate to nonplussed in seconds.

 

Felix smiled at him through the screen. “Hey, dummy.”

 

Softly, Changbin smiled back. “Hey, Lix.”

 

”Come back to bed,” Hyunjin murmured, and Minho fought to keep back his chuckling.

 

”Shut the fuck up!” Felix kicked them both off his bed, and the grinning pair of miscreants scurried back to the clothing pile.

 

"They giving you a hard time?" Changbin asked.

 

"What else would you expect? They've been hassling me for hours on how to act, what to wear - but I guess you already know how that feels. By the way, what's the big deal about the beanies?"

 

"My question exactly. Someone says they're not appropriate for this occasion-“

 

"Because they aren't!" Chan yelled from somewhere.

 

Changbin rolled his eyes. "You don't think I would look that bad in a beanie, do you?"

 

"I think you would look adorable," Felix assured him, catching a thumbs up from Minho.

 

"God, save the flirting for when we aren't around," Seungmin complained. "You'll have enough time on Sunday."

 

Before Changbin could object, the phone was pulled out of his hands and returned to Jisung once more. “I was in the middle of something.”

 

”Not anymore, hence the use of the word was. No more goofing off - we’re getting you prepped for your big day.”

 

”You’re acting like we’re getting married!”

 

”That’s also a possibility,” Jeongin appeared in the frame. “But in the meantime, we’re helping you choose an outfit that isn’t all doom and gloom.” Planting his hands on Changbin’s shoulders, he began to steer him down the hall. “Chan! Back to the wardrobe!”

 

Changbin looked so helpless it was almost laughable. ”But-“

 

”No buts,” Chan said, following him and Jeongin into his room. “You are going to shut up and let Jeongin and I work our magic.”

 

The trio disappeared, and the camera was reverted back to Jisung. “As you can see, we’ve all got our hands full prepping your beau to be.”

 

”Believe me, Sungie, Minho and I can feel your pain,” Hyunjin said, taking the phone from Felix. “It’s practically impossible to choose anything for him - either it’s too loose or too fitting or not in sync with the seasons.”

 

”You can’t judge me for having taste, Jin!” Felix shouted.

 

Hyunjin scrunched his face at him in an expression that Felix assumed was supposed to be mocking. “So, Jisung, can you spill any details on Changbin’s outfit? Maybe it’ll give us some ideas.”

 

”Well, I can’t spoil the ensemble, but I can give you the basic scheme we’re going for.” Footsteps on hardwood floors- Felix guessed Jisung was going to Changbin's room. "Is it fitting or casual?"

 

"Yes to both!" Chan's muffled response came.

 

Hyunjin nodded his head, thinking. "What else?"

 

Jisung was silent for a minute. "Does it show off his arms?"

 

"You know it!" Jeongin replied cheerfully.

 

So far, so good, Felix thought. Hyunjin seemed to agree. Then an idea struck his cursed, impish mind. "Changbin, are you shirtless?"

 

And then Felix choked on his own breath.

 

Both Minho and Jisung burst out laughing. "No, I am not!" Changbin shouted through the door.

 

"Unfortunately, he's telling the truth," Jeongin reported.

 

"Come on, I had to see what this idiot would do with a mental picture," Hyunjin said, pointing the camera to Felix.

 

Just the words 'shirtless' and 'Changbin' put in the same sentence were enough to give Felix a heart attack. Time to change the subject. "Hey Jisung, did you know that Minho called you his boyfriend?"

 

"What?!"

 

Minho cursed and shot to his feet, snatching the phone from Hyunjin's hands, rushing to the living room to explain. "You didn't have to ask if he was shirtless."

 

"You weren't going to ask, so I did. Speaking of outfits, Minho and I came together on this one." Hyunjin gestured to the number that was laid across the desk.

 

A white t shirt was tucked inside the red denim jacket Felix had stolen from Rachel's closet before he left. Beneath that were slightly worn gray jeans and black Chuck Taylors that were only a bit scuffed.

 

"What do you think?" Hyunjin asked, a little anxiously.

 

Felix consoled him with a hug. "I think it's perfect."

 

Minho came careening back into the room, looking haggard. "I assume you two have come to an agreement?" They nodded. "Good. Because not only do I have to go home and deal with three hungry cats, but a hyper significant other as well."

 

"Still as good as boyfriend," Jisung sang from the phone. "Everyone, say goodbye to DanceRacha!"

 

Minho held up the cell to show everyone gathered in the hallway, waving goodbye. Felix only managed to glimpse Changbin poking his head out of the bedroom door before the screen went black.

 

"I suppose this is the end of my date training?" Felix questioned.

 

Hyunjin smiled sadly. "Sorry, Lix. Kang decided to double the physics homework this week. But we'll be stopping by tomorrow in case you need anything."

 

Despite his grumbling, Minho stayed behind help Felix and Hyunjin refold his clothes and clean up his living room. These sweet, annoying jerks - the best friends he could ask for. 

 

"Remember what I told you about your shirt!" Hyunjin called as he stepped outside the door. "Tuck in the front, but not the back!"

 

"You are not easy, Lee Felix!" Minho yelled. "Treasure that fact!"

 

Felix laughed. "Bye, guys! Thanks again!" When he closed the door, he released a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding. Just as he was about to turn in for the night, his phone buzzed in his pocket. Pulling it out, he discovered the text had come from Changbin.

 

binniebinbin

ready for our date? lol

 

The words reverberated in the empty cave of Felix's mind, the reality of what they meant hitting him over the head, repeating itself until all that remained was 'date.'

 

Date. With Changbin.

 

And suddenly he was racing for the Bluetooth speaker on his couch, turning on Spotify and blasting Fancy as loud as the gods permitted.

 

"Only you, I fancy you, I don't want anyone else, hey I love you!"

 

His neighbors were howling in anger on both sides, pounding on his walls, but Felix was too happy, too busy dancing and singing at the top of his lungs to pay them any mind.

 

"Only you, I fancy you, we can be happy in our dream, 'cause I need you!"

 

"Fancy you~ Who cares who likes who first,"

 

Collapsing onto the couch, Felix picked up his phone and replied to the text, smiling along with the blaring music.

 

"I will come to you now, fancy, woo!"

 

aussie loverman 

Can't wait ✨

Chapter Text

Changbin p.o.v

 

It was finally happening.

 

Today was the day Changbin’s heart finally combusted inside of his chest.

 

Who the hell was he kidding - it had to happen. It would only be the logical thing, anyway. The summary would read clear on his tombstone: Here lies Seo Changbin. He died of a panic - induced heart detonation while on a date with Lee Felix.

 

Chan and Jisung had spent all day Saturday hyping him up, but it still couldn’t have prepared Changbin for the day Sunday came, and it felt like everything was moving straight at him like an oncoming train.

 

"You already know practically everything there is to know about him!" Jisung had said. "How could it possibly go wrong?"

 

Yesterday, he hadn't given an answer, but today, the options were endless. Either Felix saw him waiting by God's Menu and simultaneously decided that Changbin wasn't worth his time, or he got hit by an intensely wayward car, or Japanese scientists finally decided to place explosives at the bottom of Lake Loch Ness to blow Nessie out of the water, resulting in a universal flood that wiped out everyone on the planet's surface. At this point in life, anything was possible.

 

Changbin could faintly remember breathing into a paper bag at some point in the day while Chan rubbed his back, reminding him for the twenty - eighth time that he had this in the bag. “You just have to believe in yourself,” Chan soothed. “That’s all there is to it.”

 

All Changbin had to do was keep reminding himself that as to not fuck up. But I do that by simply existing, he thought glumly. How can I manage to do anything else?

 

He wouldn't be using any of Jisung's pick up lines, that was for sure. Unless it came to a circumstance where he wanted Felix to hail a cab straight back to his apartment, there was no way in hell Changbin was asking him if he was a parking ticket, because he had fine written all over him. Even if it was true.

 

On checking his phone, the time read still eleven fifty - six. It's just four more minutes, he reminded himself. He isn't going to stand you up. Right?

 

A knock on the glass window startled him. Changbin jumped and looked up. It was the bartender kid - Yedam, poking his head out the door, smiling at him. "What're you doing here? Jeongin told me your shifts are only on Tuesdays and Thursdays."

 

"Seungyoon had a thing today, so he asked me to fill in." Yedam nodded to his outfit. "You look sharp."

 

The outfit Chan and Jeongin had chosen for him wasn't anything too over the top, thank the heavens. A black leather jacket vest over a white t-shirt ("Make a point to subtly flex at least once." - Chan) with blue jeans and Doc Martens. "Thanks. I assume you know what it's for?"

 

Yedam grinned. "Jeongin told me yesterday. Need any liquid courage before Felix gets here?"

 

"No thanks. I'm going to stay sober for this," Changbin laughed. "You got any bartender's wisdom I could use instead?"

 

"What is it with you guys and that phrase? Am I going to hear that from all of you?"

 

"If you end up dating Jeongin, at least once from each of us."

 

Yedam opened his mouth to retort, but sighed instead. Guess he accepted his fate. "Try not to overthink anything, I guess. If he's having a good time, then you're doing something right."

 

Changbin meditated on that. "That was actually some good advise. Thanks, Yedam."

 

The boy saluted. "Glad I could be of assistance."

 

"By the way, what were you and Jeongin doing in that cellar? I've been meaning to ask that for a while."

 

Yedam's face lit up like a red Christmas light. "About that-"

 

"Changbin!"

 

Whatever Yedam was going to say no longer mattered. Changbin zeroed in on the source of the voice - he needn’t have bothered. Only one voice could light up a room and be deeper than the Grand Canyon.

 

Felix jogged towards him through the faceless crowd. Yedam said something about leaving the two of them alone. But Changbin couldn’t see or hear anything else anymore. Do not fuck this up, he commanded himself once more. Whatever you do, do not fuck this up.

 

Changbin pushed off the wall of God’s Menu, hoping to every deity imaginable that he looked indifferent doing so, and not bubbly and skittish as he felt. "Hey, Lix! You're three minutes early."

 

"Better to be early than late," Felix replied. He hadn't even noticed Yedam. "You look... wow."

 

And suddenly Changbin was hyperaware of every body part he had. How could a person do that just by looking at you? "Thanks. Er, you too."

 

Felix smiled sheepishly, his fingers curling around the lapels of his red denim jacket. Hyunjin and Minho had done their job well. "So, we gonna get going soon?"

 

"Only if you can keep up." Without thinking, Changbin reached out and took his hand. Smooth. "So you don't get lost."

 

"Sure, sure." Now he was definitely teasing him. "Just letting you know - if I pass out walking, you're carrying me."

 

"You are insufferable."

 

"And now there's no one around to save you." Felix grinned at their hands, then at him. "So you better get moving."

 

Don't I know it, Changbin thought, tugging him forward. "Come on. The day's not going to last forever."

 

As they walked off, Changbin saw Yedam giving him a double thumbs up through the window. He wasn't about to worry about anything now.

 

******

 

The parks in Seoul were one of the more popular tourist attractions, but they were among the places Felix had been the most excited to see, so they picked one and went. Thankfully, they were spacious enough to be considered whole new worlds outside of the city, so there was plenty of space to explore.

 

Felix appreciated every bit of it, bouncing around like a little kid, pointing excitedly at the colorful trees, talking in hushed whispers about the birds and squirrels, so as not to scare them off. Changbin himself had been to these spots multiple times with his family, as well as Chan and Jisung; they'd often be too busy messing around to notice the petals of that cherry blossom tree drifting from the branches, or that rabbit hiding just beneath that shrub, but Felix noticed it all.

 

And maybe it was just the fact that he had never seen any of this before, but he had Changbin take a picture of every. Little. Thing. It didn't matter if it was a crow in flight or a clump of orange poppies - if Felix thought it was pretty, into the camera roll it went.

 

"I want all of these sent to me by Monday," Felix had instructed him. "Oh, don't whine about it- what's the point of going somewhere beautiful if you don't take any pictures to remember it?"

 

Why even bother when nothing in this place is half so beautiful as your smile? Ugh. All these mushy thoughts were seeping into his brain like poison. At least he wasn't saying them out loud- Felix would never let him live it down.

 

Just look how happy it makes him, Changbin thought, watching as the boy danced around the park, flitting from place to place like a butterfly, that smile never leaving his face.

 

Maybe someone else would have regretted bringing a digital camera or going to the park altogether. But Changbin was happy to take as many pictures as Felix wanted, so long as he never realized almost all of them were of him.

 

Now they strolled along a cobblestone path under the cherry blossoms with a sweeping view of the park, talking about whatever random shit popped into their heads - whether it was about that crying child a few paces away or the possibility of the Matrix. Currently, though, they were talking about much more pressing matters.

 

"Lix, as much it pains me," Changbin was saying. "There is no way humanity can survive two moons."

 

"Just think about it!" Felix argued. "What if you had a storm cellar under your house or something, and you could hole up there?"

 

"That makes sense, except half the people in this city live in apartment buildings, including us. It's just not possible."

 

"Well, everywhere has some sort of prepared bunker in case of an apocalypse! Everyone could hide and wait until the sun outshone the evil moon."

 

"Are you seriously suggesting that if there were a second moon, and the ocean rose up and swept over us all, that the sun itself would realize that it had competition and develop enough solar energy to burn out one of the moons?"

 

A couple of passerbys shot them some befuddled glances. Felix nodded an apology to them before he went on. "What's so ridiculous about that?"

 

"You're obviously not taking in the rest of the facts here. Think about it - if the sun were able to generate enough energy to destroy a moon, which is a good couple kilometers away, what would that do to the planet? Yeah, it would dry up the ocean, and take our entire ecosystem with it. Either way, we'd still die."

 

Felix frowned. "That is a good point."

 

"Thank you."

 

"But there's still a chance we could survive!"

 

"Then I hope you like the taste of saltwater, because if that happens, we're all dead."

 

"No fair!" Felix whined. "Why did you have to put it like that?"

 

"You mean using logic to make my point? Don't know, just came to mind."

 

"And to think I thought Seungmin was the killjoy of our group," Felix mused, giggling. "Maybe it's you."

 

"I will not be insulted in this way!" Changbin placed a hand over his heart. "But, in all fairness, how much Percy Jackson knowledge did middle school you indulge?"

 

"Just middle school me?"

 

It was times like these where Changbin wondered just how deep of a grave he had dug himself. Yet he knew he would sooner dig to the Earth's core than get out of it, so he embraced the comment and moved on. "I'm going to go ahead and assume that your knowledge isn't limited to Greek mythology and pop culture."

 

"You assume right."

 

"Tell me something that I've never heard before."

 

Felix hummed in thought, rubbing his chin with his thumb and forefinger. Then he snapped his fingers. "Ah! Did you know that anteaters invented t - posing because of their defense stance when they feel threatened?"

 

"Well, now I do."

 

"There's a bird called a rose - breasted grosbeak that's genetically both male and female and is the first of its kind."

 

"Not even going to ask how you know that."

 

"The velvet worm spews slime on its victims that hardens and traps it, then injecting it with saliva that turns the insides into mush."

 

"... These are all animal facts, aren't they?"

 

"When you grow up in the place where the Devil keeps his pets, you have to learn how to survive."

 

Chan had said something about spotting a dingo eating the corpse of a shark at the beach. "How are you still alive?"

 

"The gods have deemed me worthy of life," Felix answered sagely. Suddenly, he gasped in delight, and his eyes actually shimmered. "Look! Look over there!"

 

He was pointing to a squirrel, of all things, peeking precariously over the branch of a magnolia tree. "It dropped the acorn, see?"

 

"What're you going to do, pick it up and give it back?"

 

"Well, I'm not a monster, am I?" So of course, being the little saint he was, Felix stooped down at the foot of the tree and plucked the nut off the ground.

 

There's no way you're missing this, Changbin thought, training his camera on Felix, who was standing on tiptoe and holding up the acorn to the squirrel. "You sure this is a good idea?"

 

"Why wouldn't it be? I'm just a helpful Honda dealer giving out a random act of kindness."

 

Changbin bit his lip to stop himself from laughing. "And you're not worried about rabies or breaking the law?"

 

"Dude, I was chilling with alligators in my backyard before I hit puberty. I don't fear rabies." But he turned around. "Is this against the law?"

 

"If it is, we're about to find out."

 

The squirrel inched closer, sniffing at the acorn, much to Felix's pleasure. "That's it, little guy, I won't hurt you," he cooed sweetly. "There it is, take the nut, take it, take it..."

 

Changbin couldn't keep back his smile as Felix emitted a happy squeak of joy when the squirrel picked the acorn out of his fingers and scurried back up the tree. “Did you see that? I didn’t get bitten! That’s something I’ve wanted to cross off my bucket list for years!”

 

“Then you’re lucky I took pictures of the occasion.”

 

Felix squealed once more, bouncing on his toes. “Lemme see!” Changbin barely started to hand it to him when he grabbed it out of his hands, tapping into the gallery. “Aw, you really did get my pictures!”

 

”You would’ve kept bugging me if I didn’t.” Felix had stopped laughing, and was staring at the camera. “Something wrong, Lix?”

 

He handed the camera back. “I didn’t see you take that,” he said quietly, still looking at the picture.

 

In the photo, Felix was crouched in front of an azalea bush, smiling at the pink flower he held in his hand. Changbin had taken his eyes off of the robin he meant to take a picture of and captured his image instead, hardly giving it a second thought.

 

Now he looked from the photo to the cobblestone path, already feeling his hands getting clammy. “You, uh, had a bee in your hair. I wanted to see if I could get it.” 


“Really?” Felix was already raising his eyebrows - of course he was.

 

Changbin forced himself to look up at him, to put all his courage into one spot. “Well, you told me to take a picture of anything I found pretty.”

 

Felix didn’t laugh at him, didn’t move or say anything. He looked like he knew he meant it, smiling that genuine little smile. With no camera, Changbin kept a picture of that smile in his mind - he would sooner fall to his death than let it leave.

 

Then Felix’s eyes landed on something else in the background, and his eyes popped as wide as quarters. “Holy shit!”

 

Changbin whipped around. “What? Did Chan and Jisung follow us? I swear I told them not to-“

 

”Shh!” Felix clapped a hand over his mouth, then took it away, taking his hand instead. “Sorry. Just - be quiet, okay? Follow me.”

 

Changbin fumbling with his camera, Felix dragged him down a dirt pathway he hadn’t noticed before, guarded mostly by branches and shrubbery. As they went farther down the path he saw the two girls seated together on the stone bench. “What’re we-“

 

“Quiet!” Felix hissed, pulling them down behind a clump of bushes just a few feet away. “Look!”

 

Changbin peered over the leaves. The girl on the left had long brown hair, and the girl on the right had black. Shuffling a little farther left, he was able to catch a glimpse of their faces. “Is that Chaeryoung and Jisu?”

 

“Yup.” Felix beamed - he couldn’t seem to stop. “They’re on a date.”

 

”The fu - “ Changbin started, then cut himself off, making his voice hushed. “How do you know?”

 

”Because I’m the one who set them up.”

 

This was news. Chan was the matchmaker of the crew (self-proclaimed, anyway). Changbin had known nothing about Felix doing the same. “What now?”

 

“Jisu’s my partner in chemistry - super nice, puts up with all my shit. She and Chaeryoung are in the same unit - Itzy - and I noticed the way she acted around her. You could just tell, you know?”

 

”How could you tell?”

 

”How could I not? It was obvious. Then again, I've always been able to spot a crush from a mile away.”

 

”No kidding.” Maybe Changbin was being subtle after all. “Go on.”

 

”So, through mountains of thermodynamics homework, I encouraged her, gave her advice and tips. I taught her everything I knew.”


The corners of Changbin’s mouth tugged upwards. “I’m surprised you had anything to teach her.”

 

”Chan’s not the only one who sees the beauty in rom coms,” Felix whispered bashfully. “I was able to scrounge up some useful pointers.”

 

“Did you tell her to come here so you could spy on her?”

 

”All I said was that park dates are romantic- I didn’t know we’d end up at the same place! But apparently she has good taste in locations, and so do you.”

 

”Well, thanks, I just... never pegged you for a Cupid.”

 

”The world is never what it seems, surely you must- oh, my God, she’s making a move!” Felix lurched forward, peeking eagerly over the bushes. His voice had reached the whisper - yell range of a tea kettle. Either Chaeryoung and Jisu were intentionally ignoring them, or they were too infatuated with each other to pay any mind to the kinetic purple haired boy just six feet behind. “Fucking hell, it’s happening! Look, Binnie, look!”

 

“I’m looking, I’m looking,” Changbin assured, fighting hard to keep the laughter out of his voice.

 

“Pay attention, this is important! Oh, holy nine circles, she’s counting shoulders. Come on, you can do it, finish the tally, rest the hand, yes! That’s how you do it, Jisu! A one way ticket to the Love Boat! Ugh, I feel like a proud mother, is that weird?”

 

Felix was looking at Changbin now, grin bright on his face. It didn’t mattered that he was crouching in place- anyone with a brain could see that he was hardly able to sit still. This dancing sunshine wonder, who always complained about his chemistry homework, took the time out of his day to make it so a girl had a date of her own, and was happy just to see a moment take place.

 

You really are an angel. “Not weird at all.”

 

Somehow, his smile stretched even wider, and he went right back into watching Chaeryoung tuck a lock of hair behind Jisu’s ear. A crow flew past. A single breeze made the leaves rustle.

 

Then Felix looked him dead in the eyes. “Did you know that there’s a fanged species of deer called water deer that eat baby birds live?”

 

”Why are you the way that you are?”

 

Felix p.o.v

 

After prancing around the park a little while longer, Felix discovered that Changbin had other things planned for their date. Thirty - something pictures later, their date took its course back in the city, ogling at street vendors and chatting. On their date.

 

It was like his brain was obsessed with this fact, with the word and what it meant. Yesterday had only fanned the flames - with Hyunjin’s encouragement and Minho’s coaching, there was no way he was letting this slip into the back of his mind.

 

So maybe it hadn’t exactly been confirmed as a date. Last night’s text had probably been meant as a joke, what with the torment from their friends - any excuse to jam out to Twice was a good excuse in Felix’s book. But would any heteronormative meeting between two guys involve them strolling through parks, taking pictures of flowers and holding hands? He thought not.

 

Well, it wouldn't be wise to jump to conclusions either. It still had to be taken into consideration whether or not Changbin actually liked guys, or if he was just one of those painfully sweet straight boys that were nice to everyone, or if he was - God forbid - just experimenting. If that was the case, Felix could go right back to pining over strangers and mourning the fact that he fell for yet another straight boy. (It had only happened once before- long story short: not worth the pain, but definitely worth eating twenty -seven different flavors of Ben & Jerry's).

 

In the meantime, he wasn't going to worry about any of that. He was going to enjoy the neon lights of the streets, the smells from stands and stores, the warmth of Changbin's hand in his, and nothing else.

 

"So, needless to say," Changbin concluded. "She peed on me."

 

Felix cracked up. "I thought you said your dog liked you!"

 

"Correction: Dubu loved me. I just forgot to mention that she was two years old at the time."

 

”And you just happened to scuff your shoes. You’re telling me she put two and two together in her little Pomeranian mind and decided it would be helping if she urinated on it?”

 

Changbin snapped a finger gun back at him, a reflex he had to have learned from Chan. “That is exactly what happened.”

 

"You have a strange mind, Changbin."

 

"And you've gone on how long thinking I was sane?"

 

"Believe me, I had my suspicions - around the first month, I think that's where it started, when you started displaying your wonderful aegyo to the group, but now you just confirmed it."

 

"The best part about the whole thing was that it happened at a wedding," Changbin said proudly. "My mom screamed so loud the priest dropped his Bible in a punch bowl."

 

"Why didn't you tell me sooner your family was this fucking crazy?"

 

Changbin glanced down at their hands, all tsundere - shy, the way he got when he was embarrassed. “‘Cause I didn’t wanna scare you off,” he mumbled.

 

It is taking every ounce of self - control not to squish your cheeks at this very moment. Felix laughed out loud, relishing the cute look of surprise on Changbin’s face. “Are you serious? I wouldn’t run off because of some family drama! If anything, it’s worth staying for.”

 

”Really? Most people are gone by the time I get around to the wedding story.”

 

”Well, by now I’m sure you know that I’m not most people,” Felix said, holding up their hands. "It's going to take a lot more than a couple stories to scare me off."

 

Thankfully, that got a smile out of him. "Lucky me," he murmured, swinging their hands back down. "Anyway, enough about me - what about you? Surely you've got some tales from the outback that're worth my time."

 

Oh. "Right." Of course he should have seen this request coming - of course Felix had stories, years of them. There was that time his aunt caught a coyote thinking it was a stray dog, or that time when he and Olivia threw a frozen fish through his then arch - nemesis Bryce's window.

 

But for some reason, all Felix could think about was the time his dad scoffed at Michael and Evan, the only openly gay couple they knew, and his mom refusing to see Love, Simon with him and Rachel.

 

Changbin squeezed his hand, bringing him back. "Felix?" His face had flooded with worry. "Is something wrong?"

 

Now look what you did, Felix scolded himself. Was it really going to be so hard just to let go and have a good time today? He quickly pasted on a smile for Changbin's benefit. "It's nothing. Just forget about it, okay?" Then maybe I can do the same.

 

But Changbin didn't look as willing to believe him. His eyes flickered around at their surroundings. They had stopped walking, and had become an obstruction to the pressing deluge of humanity that kept moving mindlessly forward. This was much too public of a place to talk about anything personal - whether or not they cared, someone would overhear.

 

He lead them away, furrowing through the gravitational course of the cattle - like crowd and stopping in an alleyway which was extraordinarily deserted. Changbin exhaled, though not out of frustration. “Look, you don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to. But if you do, I want you to know that I’ll listen.”

 

Felix was half sure he felt something melt beneath his ribcage. “Really, Bin, it’s nothing,” he tried again. “I mean, it probably is, but...”

 

”But?”

 

Out of habit, he bit his lip, glancing at the crumpled newspaper ad on the pavement. "You're gonna think this is crazy, but I've been noticing things. Rethinking things, more like. Memories involving my family, seeing things that I didn't see before."

 

"Well, that's normal. Everyone goes back on their past."

 

"That isn't what I'm doing," Felix stressed. "I'm not reliving my glory days, or any shit like that. It's like - has something ever happened, and you can't believe it happened to you, and it's really confusing and distressing but so mentally aggravating you can't think about it without getting paranoid, so you push it back into your memory files and try to forget about it?" Carefully, Changbin nodded. "Stuff like that."

 

Now he understood. Changbin cut a glance at the fast-flowing street to their left. "Stuff you want to talk about?"

 

A tiny pang in his chest made him wince. "Not really."

 

"Right, yeah, sorry, I just - "

 

"You don't have to be sorry." Felix breathed out heavily, knocking the back of his head on the wall. "It's just the little things, you know? Like when your dad points at the guy wearing a pink tie and calls him a fairy, or Mom saying that I'd better find a nice girl to settle down with one day, or..." He stopped. Changbin's eyes had pooled just a little wider than normal. "It's probably just nothing, like I said."

 

For a moment, they both said nothing, and Felix wanted the world to throw him a reverse card so that he could go back and erase everything he'd just said. But then Changbin stepped back, leaned on the wall space next to him. "I get the feeling."

 

Oops! My heart went - "You do?"

 

"Yeah." Changbin looked away just as Felix had, up at a shoe tied to the telephone wire above. "How long has this been happening to you?"

 

"The past few days. Almost two weeks, now that I think about it. It makes no sense, really - all the time I've been spending at school, with you and the others, there's no reason any of it should come to mind."

 

"When I was talking about my family, were you thinking about yours then?"

 

"Not at all, and that's the point!" Felix leaned back wearily. "I haven't thought about them all day. I was just happy being with you, talking, laughing, but somehow, my dumb fucking brain finds a way to screw it up." Nobody else had looked their way; it was as though they didn't even exist. "Sorry for killing the mood."

 

"Hey, don't apologize, okay? I'm glad you told me." Changbin quirked a smile at him. "Besides, I wouldn't run off because of some family drama."

 

Smooth fucker used my own line on me, Felix thought, smiling back. Screw leather - that vest was definitely made out of boyfriend material.

 

A droning hum shattered the moment. He dug his phone out of his pocket and cursed. "It's my dad."

 

Changbin pushed off the wall, already getting into some kind of fighter stance. "You want me to stay for this?"

 

"No, it’s fine. This happens every weekend - my family calls sometime in the afternoon to check up on me, just to hear how I'm doing. That's all."

 

"What are these calls usually like?"

 

"It's what you'd expect from any long distance relationship - we call, we say really long hellos because Rachel and Olivia have drifted off to another room and we have to wait for them. Then they fill me in on what's happening there, and I tell them how I'm doing here. My dad asks if I have a girlfriend yet, my mom asks if I've done anything illegal, and I say no to both. It's not something you really want to stick around for."

 

Changbin stood his ground, still skeptical. "I don't know..."

 

"If you want to listen to me go off at my little sister for going on my Nintendo Switch again, be my guest. Otherwise, there's nothing to be afraid of."

 

"After what you told me, I'm not so sure."

 

"Oh, come on, they're my family, dum - dum. Nothing bad's going to happen."

 

"They could still hurt you."

 

"And how would that happen? Dad reaches through the screen and catches me by the throat? Not even Rachel has mastered the abilities of Freddy Krueger."

 

"You know what I mean!"

 

Felix laughed. "Binnie, it's just a phone call! It's not even a FaceTime! They would never hurt me."

 

"How can you be sure?"

 

"I just am!" Changbin raised his eyebrows. "Oh my - I'm serious. Just go get us some food, okay? I won't be going anywhere, and these people are exhausting."

 

"Lix - "

 

"Changbin." Felix placed a hand on his shoulder, making the other boy falter. "I'm good. I'll be okay. I promise."

 

Changbin glanced at his hand, then at his shoes. Finally, he backed down, giving a little grumble in defeat. "Fine," he said, stretching the word out. "But I'll be close by."

 

Felix grinned. "I'm sure you will."

 

He shrugged away from his hand, moving back towards the street. At the last minute, Changbin turned. "Anything specific you want?"

 

A man after my own heart. "I'm in the mood for something savory. Now go."

 

The minute Changbin turned the corner, Felix slumped back against the wall and he hugged his phone to his chest, sighing. He could hear Minho's disapproving criticism in his head. What did I tell you about not being easy? Shape the hell up, you worm!

 

But what if I can't help it? Felix shot back mentally. He's buying me food and he's concerned about my wellbeing! Was there really a way not to swoon over that?

 

It took nearly half a minute for him to remember that he still hadn’t picked up. Now his parents probably thought he was dead, or worse, avoiding them. Taking a deep breath and letting it go, Felix accepted the call and brought the phone to his ear.

 

” - for the last time, Richard, our son is not off having sex!”

 

”He’s coming of age, Nicole, what else do you expect him to be doing?”

 

Yup. Definitely comforting that Changbin was out of earshot.

 

“Our son is a good boy - he’s probably busy studying right now!”

 

”Please, he’s been gone for almost six months - maybe he’s finally met some girl up in South Korea.”

 

Close enough, Felix decided. He cleared his throat. “I am not engaged in the acts of fornication with anyone.”

 

A high - pitched shriek that could have only come from his mom emitted from the device, followed by a metallic clatter on a solid surface. His dad cursed, picking up the phone that had been dropped. "Hey, kid, how's it going?"

 

Felix giggled at the overly casual tone in his voice. "I'm doing good, Dad. Is Mom okay?"

 

"I'm fine, just a little startled." She promised lightly. "You really aren't having sex?"

 

"Mom. God. No, okay? I wouldn't lie to you about that." Only about my sexuality, as I have for the past five years! 

 

"Just checking, sweetheart. Rachel, Olivia, come say hello to your brother!"

 

"Oh, that's not necessary - " 

 

"Ah, bullcrap, we all miss you here!" Richard said dismissively. "Which is why Olivia is going to get off your Switch and come over here now!"

 

"I'm coming!" Olivia groaned.

 

"Dammit, Olivia," Felix swore.

 

Footsteps on hardwood floors were heard through the slightly muffled audio. "Evening, pond scum," Rachel greeted.

 

Maybe it was weird to feel touched at being classified by your older sister as algae, but it was so normal with Rachel, and he missed her sarcasm. "Hi, Rach."

 

"Hey, Felix~" Olivia sang, that little gremlin.

 

"Don't you 'hey Felix' me! How many times have I told you not to touch my stuff?"

 

"Like you can stop me! You're not even around anymore!"

 

"Jerk."

 

"Bitch."

 

Felix couldn't stop cackling as Nicole berated his little sister for cursing again, while his dad and Rachel seemed to have a different opinion.

 

"That's my girl!" Richard howled, giving a little yelp upon being slapped by his wife.

 

"She's learned well from you, Lix," Rachel said. "Picking up after your filthy - ass mouth."

 

With all the curse words he had learned in his time, it was a running joke between them that he should feel obligated to write a dictionary. Felix only shrugged. "Guilty as charged."

 

"Felix, really! I should hope that you're making a better impression on your teachers!" His mom complained. "I don't want you to be passed off as some transfer delinquent."

 

"Him as a bad boy? Come on, Mom!" Rachel laughed. "Kid couldn't steal a toothbrush without feeling sorry the next minute!"

 

"That was one time! I was in the third grade - you still won't let me forget it?"

 

"You aren't around for us to come up with anything new, so we pass around our own memories," said Richard, a little sadly. "So how goes it in South Korea? Hope your finals are going okay."

 

"They aren't until two more weeks, but I already feel nauseous thinking about it," Felix admitted. "Thankfully, I've got my friends helping me out."

 

"All of them?" Rachel asked, sounding amused. "Or is it mostly Thesaurus Kid, or Hyunjin and Minho?" Out of everyone in his family, she was the one who remembered the most details.

 

"His name is Seungmin, and yes, Rach, everyone helps out. They're cool like that."

 

"Didn't you say there was another Australian there?" Nicole questioned. "The one in the rap group you like?"

 

"Yep - his name's Chan. Or Chris, he'll go by either. He's a senior, so he's got his own share of work to do, but he wants to make sure we all do well."

 

"What a nice boy," his mother murmured approvingly.

 

Richard had other things on his mind. "Rapping boys, dancing boys, singing boys, the whole place is a fuckin' fruitcake," he muttered detestably, so low it could have been gone unheard.

 

But Felix heard. Too well. His throat clenched up like he was about to cry. His stomach roiled, doing a tiny somersault inside of his body. If they ever knew...

 

"Felix!" Rachel's voice broke through. "You there, bud? I was talking to you."

 

Quickly, he stamped down his jitters. "Uh, yeah. Sorry, what did you say?"

 

Olivia giggled again, and Rachel shushed her. "Well, your father and I have been curious, and you have been gone for a long time," Nicole began. "We've just been dying to ask: have you met someone there?"

 

He peeked out from behind the building. Changbin was taking his time, scrutinizing every food stand there was, pausing to drool over some bindaetteok. "Why do you ask?"

 

"We don't want to pressure you," Rachel said hastily. "It's just - you've sounded a lot happier than usual. You're giving out more details about your life there, and you seem to be enjoying yourself a lot. Is it because of someone you met along the way?"

 

Changbin spotted him watching from afar and waved. Waving back, Felix turned back into the alley. They're my family, he thought. I can't lie to them. But he couldn't risk telling the truth, either.

 

Praying to whatever god existed in this world, he answered. "Actually, I have met someone."

 

And bam, Defcon 5 activated. Felix had to hold the phone away from his ear as Rachel whooped at the top of her lungs, his mother shouted 'hallelujah!' and his father yelled for Olivia to 'break out the good stuff.'

 

"I want to know everything right now!" Rachel demanded. "What's her favorite color, favorite book, favorite fucking Overwatch character, everything!"

 

"Oh, it's happening!" Nicole cried. "I knew you were just a late bloomer!"

 

Elsewhere in the Lee household, a bottle of what could only have been liquor popped open. "My boy's finally becoming a man!" Richard boomed joyfully.

 

"I don't believe it," Olivia announced. "After all this time, you finally like someone?”

 

Felix swallowed a scathing retort and forced his next words out. "I didn't believe it either until it happened."

 

"Come on, what's her name?" Rachel pressed. "Tell us everything!"

 

Why do they naturally assume that it’s a girl? He couldn't focus on that now. To his jubilant family (except probably Olivia), their only son finally had a romantic interest to let loose with, and she was going to be married into the family, if his father had any say in the matter. For now, he had to keep his shield up.

 

So Felix's dedicated - Once self said the first female ch South Korean name that came to mind. "Her name's Chaeyoung."

 

Thankfully, no one made the connection. "She exists!" Richard bellowed. "Come on, keep going!"

 

"What's she like?" Rachel offered. "Tell us who she is."

 

For an instant, Felix's mind went blank. How in the seven hells was he supposed to do that? How could he tell them who this phantom girl was if she didn't exist?

 

Don't think about her, his mind urged. Think about him. 



“She’s everything I could have ever wanted.”

 

He raved about the day they ran into each other on the staircase, both their friend groups teasing them constantly until they got fed up and literally threw them at each other, and the rest was still - fresh history. Felix was going full simp mode, exposing every incriminating straight - washed detail, but for once he didn’t care. Because dammit, he had an adoring audience who was eating this shit up, and the crush in question was scoping out street foods for the two of them, making damn sure they were savory. So, with Satan giving him the okay sign, he spouted off everything he knew and loved about his sweet, buff, adorkable... 'girl crush.'

 

“She sounds great,” Rachel said once he was done.

 

”He - she really is.” Insert Wii voice: nice save!

 

”We’re all so happy for you!” Nicole gushed, despite Olivia’s scoff.

 

“You going to ask her out anytime soon?” Richard asked. “She sounds like the type all the guys would snap up.”

 

“Well, now that you bring it up,” Felix mused, biting down on his smile. “We’re actually on our first date right now.”

 

This time, he was ready to hold the phone away as his family unleashed an unholy bout of screeching.

 

“You’re on a date right now?!” Rachel shrieked. “The hell are you doing on the phone?”

 

"It's not like you would have let me hang up! Then you all would have thought I was ghosting you and booked the next plane ticket to Seoul just to check if I was alive!"

 

"Is she with you while you're doing this?" Nicole questioned. "It's not polite to keep her waiting."

 

"No, she isn't here now, Mom. We're in the city - she's scouting the street vendors to buy us some food."

 

"Come on, kid, first rule of dates is that the man pays!" Richard griped. "Did you at least give her money?"

 

You should have given him something, Felix's guilt prodded. "It's not my fault I'm broke as hell!"

 

"You're the one who's been living alone in a big city for months," Rachel retaliated. "So say that to yourself again nice and slow."

 

"No."

 

"I rest my case. You wouldn't last a day if Mom and Dad cut you off."

 

"Will we be able to see Chaeyoung sometime in the near future?" Nicole asked hopefully.

 

Unless I find a girl willing enough to be my beard for photos, Felix thought glumly. Maybe Jisu? "Sure thing. I'll tell you how the date goes afterwards."

 

"You said you were in the city," Olivia noted. "What's it like?"

 

He glanced around at the colorful buildings, the stylishly dressed people, the cat eating the top of a chocolate chip muffin by the garbage can. "It's beautiful. I hope I can see you guys here sometime."

 

"We'll visit once your school year ends," Richard guaranteed. "Until then, you better give that girl of yours a good time."

 

Despite the twinge in his gut, Felix smiled. "You got it, Dad."

 

The subject switched onto his family, how they were doing back in Australia. Nicole had started a book club amongst her own friend group, Richard's cricket team was going to be playing against Maverick's in a week's time, Rachel had gotten into Haverford, even though she had retaken her SATS, and Olivia kicked Drew's douchebag little brother Hunter in the balls during a soccer match. Felix couldn't recall the last time he'd been so proud of her for anything.

 

After a two minute long goodbye (or at least it sounded like a goodbye), he finally hung up on them. Not only was he supposedly heterosexual, but he had also fooled his family into thinking their showtunes-loving son had a real flesh - and - blood girlfriend. Where was the Oscar for that?

 

There was no way Felix could keep this up forever. No matter how they would react, they had to know the truth sometime. But when to tell them and how?

 

Don't think about that crap now, his conscience eased. He had a food - bearing dreamboat waiting for him just up the street. Food, hopefully future boyfriend. Felix's mind honed in on those two factors. So long as he had that in mind, real life could wait.

 

Just as he was about to turn the corner, the slap of skin on brick interrupted his train of thought. Felix startled, turned, and found himself face to face with a man. His hair was bleached blond, and his beady eyes were trained directly on his face.

 

"Hey, gorgeous," the stranger purred in a deep, rich voice. "What's someone like you doing here all alone?"

 

Am I being hit on? Felix thought numbly. Belatedly, he realized he was backed up against the building, and this guy was holding him there. Felix opened his mouth to speak, but his mouth felt like it was made of cotton, and all he could do was stammer.

 

"U - Um, well, I, uh..."

 

"Hey!" A voice barked. Felix felt himself being pulled by the arm and out of the stranger's grip. He looked around to find Changbin moving in front of him, eyes fixed on the opponent in his way. "Leave him be."

 

The stranger sniggered. "Cool your jets - I was just talking to the angel."

 

"He's with me," Changbin snarled, and Felix felt his ears heating up again.

 

Unfortunately, the stranger noticed. His lips twisted up into a wolf's smile - all teeth, no lenience. "I don't think he wants to be."

 

Changbin's hand curled into a crushing fist. "You've got some nerve, trying to pick up on someone alone and younger than you."

 

A derisive laugh. "And what're you gonna do about it, short stuff?"

 

"Ooh, such an insult!" Changbin crowed, stepping closer to the stranger, who wavered at the movement. "Let me know when you've come up with something better to call me, you sack of poorly - packaged horse shit."

 

In the time it took Felix to blink Changbin had surged forward and slammed his forearm into the man's throat, pinning him like a fly against the wall.

 

"You listen here," Changbin growled to the man's ugly gasps. "Don't you ever go near me, or anyone I'm with, ever again."

 

He didn't wait for an answer. He shoved the man roughly away, pivoting so Felix could see his face. Changbin's mouth had pressed into a grim line, his eyes wishing a bloody fate on the already conquered adversary sulking away in defeat, his arms crossed over his chest in a way that worked wonders for his biceps.

 

This was a whole other side of the Changbin Felix knew. It was pissed off and ruthless, and really, really...

 

Hot.

 

"You alright?" Changbin asked gruffly. "Did he hurt you?"

 

I have a theory that your biceps could crush a child's head. "Yeah," Felix managed. "I - I mean no, he didn't hurt me, but yeah, I'm okay." Ah, screw it. "That was incredible."

 

Whatever Tough Guy act Changbin had left disappeared as he broke into a fit of flustered laughter, his scowl giving way for a grin. "You really thought so?"

 

"Of course I did!" For some reason, Felix didn't even try to hide his amazement. "You literally threatened and garroted that creep when all I did was stand around! Honestly, it was pretty hot."

 

"Wow. Um, okay," Changbin giggled breathily, rubbing his neck. His squishable cheeks had gone an even deeper shade of pink. "That's what it takes to impress you, huh?"

 

Felix shrugged and even smiled. "Pretty much." Who was this confident dumbass?

 

"Thanks." And as if he couldn't get any cuter, Changbin started laughing again, sweeping loose strands of hair behind his ear. This boy - this caring, muscular, fluffy little dolt with the duality of a battleaxe - was going to be the very death of Felix.

 

"Changbin?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Did you get our food?”

 

"That might have slipped my mind."

 

Changbin p.o.v

 

About three minutes of arguing later, they gave up and continued their journey up the streets. Since the encounter with Mystery Prick, Changbin had himself on high alert, glaring down anyone who so much as glanced their way and sticking close to Felix’s side.

 

“That has to be the sixth one so far,” he murmured as they passed by another onlooker.

 

”You’ve been counting?” Felix asked jokingly, to which Changbin nodded. “Binnie, you know you can stop, right? I’m okay now.”

 

“That guy is only one of the many sewer rats in this blasted city - they come in countless shapes and sizes, gender be damned. I’m not letting any of them touch you.”

 

”Dude. You do remember that I’m a black belt in taekwondo, right? I’m not helpless.”

 

”Nonetheless, you’ll need someone to back you up.”

 

”Your strength and my skills,” Felix grinned, holding up their intertwined hands. “We’d make the best superhero duo of all time!”

 

After delving into a passionate debate on what their superhero names would be (Edgelord and Sunshine Boy - they made Jessie and James look like wannabes), they found themselves at a kimchi - ppang stand that dealt in fresh pork buns.

 

At the first bite, Felix actually groaned out of bliss. “Fuck.”

 

Changbin laughed out loud. “Good Lord, you’re one of those people.”

 

“Whaddoyo-“

 

”Your mouth is still full.”

 

“Sowwy.” Felix covered his mouth as he swallowed. “What do you mean by ‘one of those people?’”

 

”The kind of people who eat like they’ll never see another morsel again and make exaggerated noises whenever they bite into something particularly good.”

 

"Do not criticize me for appreciating the food I have at this moment." He took another bite, smiling like a chipmunk with food in his cheeks.

 

In full honesty, Changbin would have bought out the entire stand of pork buns if it made Felix happy. But instead he rolled his eyes. "At least give yourself time to swallow. I swear, you're a bottomless pit."

 

"That's what happens to every child who grows up in the outback," Felix replied. "In Southern Australia, born and raised - "

 

"On the playground is where you spent most of your days?" Changbin teased.

 

"Chilling out, maxin', relaxing all cool and all, memorizing the words to Dead Girl Walking when your dad turns his back on you."

 

"Sounds legit." Then he did a double take. "You memorized the words to Dead Girl Walking?"

 

Felix blushed. "I had time on my flight here."

 

"Interesting." Changbin tucked that bit of information into a mental file. Very interesting indeed.

 

"By the way." Felix pointed to the pork bun in Changbin's hands. "Are you gonna finish that?"

 

"Wha - yes I will!" He had only taken three bites; of course he was going to finish it. "The real question is how are you already halfway done?"

 

”When you get tired of your mom telling you that all the starving kids in Africa would appreciate your food more than you, you tend to develop a fast eating habit.”

 

”Your mom told you that too? Does that just happen to everyone?”

 

"Maybe. The trick is to eat as much as possible in the smallest amount of time. It's a very good method. So are you going to eat it?"

 

"Yes, I am." To prove it, Changbin bit down at his pork bun, the meat flavor flooding his mouth instantly. He chewed almost angrily. "Habby?"

 

Sunshine Boy Felix giggled and poked him in the cheek. "Your mouth is still full." Henceforth, Edgelord, supreme ruler of darkness, was soundly defeated.

 

******

 

Continuing their walk, they embarked on their next activity: peoplewatching. In a city as big as Seoul, there was always something to see, and every time it was something different. Today, the most compelling choices were the elderly woman on a bench sharing her fried chicken with her service dog, the girl screeching into her phone at some slimeball - sounding guy named Danny, and the drunken man lying on his back in the alleyway, singing his own rather pitchy version of Into The Unknown.

 

"I don't know what's weirder, the fact that he's almost hitting the notes or the fact that he's shitfaced at two a.m on a Sunday," Felix commented.

 

"Both are intriguing details," Changbin agreed. "But I think all we can do now is wish him luck."

 

"And maybe get him a Bloody Mary." They laughed at their own cleverness - well, that and the drunk bum's voice crack in the high note.

 

Soon after, Changbin noticed that a couple of people had found them to be an entertaining subject. They were the worst kind of watchers: Homophobic Straight Dudes, too hopped up on their own masculinity to let him and Felix off the hook. The guys snickered and jeered, pointing at their entwined hands.

 

Unfortunately, Felix had seemed to notice too. His smile had thinned into a weak line, and his shoulders hunched in like he wanted to make himself smaller. It was one thing to make fun of them, but to wipe the smile off Felix’s face was a whole new level of crime.

 

All the times Changbin had gone out with a guy, he encountered the foul species of hetero indecency at least once. If they had been closer, he might have confronted them himself, but the guys were practically across the street from them. It would have been plain petty to make a scene from so far away.

 

“Ignore them,” Changbin told him. “They got nothing better to do. We don’t need a bunch of straight, single jackasses ruining our fun.”

 

”How can you tell all that?”

 

”The same way you could tell Jisu liked Chaeryoung - it’s too obvious to ignore. Just look at them - loose shirts, sweatpants in broad daylight. It spells out itself.”

 

”Not to mention the sports brand labels on everything,” Felix said, perking up a little.

 

“That’s the way.” Changbin squeezed his hand and tugged him along. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

 

They crossed the street and turned right, ditching the Jackasses. Changbin watched as the surroundings morphed slowly from a bustling capital scene to a dreamlike street backdrop that was only seen in movies, read in books. Here, there was no way they would be bothered.

 

Felix stared in awe at the colorful jumble of shops and cafes, at the sparse layout of people, tourists and locals. “What is this place?”

 

”Pretty great, isn’t it?” Changbin laughed. “Chan, Jisung and I discovered it a few years back. We call it The Village. It’s a different part of the city that’s like stepping into another dimension. A place where you stop giving a crap about too many people and just let loose.”

 

At that moment, Changbin stretched, arms up over his head, taking in the sunlight. Felix snuck a glance at his profile before quickly looking away again.

 

Just as I’d hoped. Changbin bit back his smirk. Guess Chan’s wisdom wasn’t so nonsensical after all. “How do you like it?”

 

Felix jolted. “The street?”

 

”Yeah, the street. Less crowded, neater places. What do you think?”

 

“Well, it’s nice, I guess. You don’t have to bump into people every few seconds, or worry about crowds in the places you want to go.”

 

He was clearly blanking on description. “Alright, go ahead, make the reference.”

 

Just like that, Felix lit up. “It’s like a little Stars Hollow! Like, without Luke’s and the Dragonfly Inn and the iconic gazebo! Look, there’s a bookstore, and a bakery, and - wait, how many times have you been here?”

 

”Only enough times to hear Chan make the exact same comparisons,” Changbin replied. “This street is our oyster. Where do you want to start?”

 

Felix looked about ready to burst with excitement. “Can we really go anywhere?”

 

“Anywhere you want.”

 

The first destination was the bookstore, a little indie place with tall arched windows called The Last Word. Felix discovered quickly that it hosted all nine books in the Outlander series, leaving Changbin to trail behind him as his personal book carrier as they bought every single one.

 

”It’s for my mom,” Felix explained, plucking out another book labeled Vanishing Acts. “And this one’s for Rachel.”

 

Later, they traveled down to the bakery, where Changbin bought them each manju. During that process, upon taking note of the befuddled expression of the girl behind the counter, he turned to find Felix with his arms stuffed full of snacks, reaching for a Choco pie on the top shelf.

 

“What? Olivia said she wanted to try some of the food here - she just didn’t specify what!” Felix stacked the pie on top of his pile, not noticing that he dropped his bag of honey butter chips. “Do either of you know if banana milk has a long shelf life?”

 

After sorting out Felix’s snack - food fiasco, they stopped at a tiny gift shop, where he dug up a flask with a cartoon man on the front saying ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere!’

 

”My dad was the one who gave me my first beer,” Felix revealed. “This would kind of be like returning the favor.”

 

Somehow, they managed to fit every bit of merchandise into just two bags, which Felix insisted on carrying. However, it wasn't until they stopped at a vending machine for drinks that Changbin realized he had forgotten to bring cash with him.

 

"Shit," he muttered. "Lix, you got anything on you?"

 

"I forgot my wallet at home," Felix confessed regrettably. "Is there really no vending machine that accepts credit cards?"

 

"Not that I know of."

 

"It's okay, Binnie, we can go somewhere else."

 

"Nope." Changbin shook his head. "That's exactly what this devil box wants us to do. We are staying right here. Felix, cover me."

 

Despite his puzzled expression, Felix complied. Once he was safe, Changbin knelt down at the mouth of the vending machine and stuck his arm into the slot, stopping at his elbow.

 

"What the fuck are you doing?" Felix hissed. "This could be illegal!"

 

"I want my Milkis. I'm getting my Milkis. What about you? Want anything?"

 

Felix paused to think. "Shikhye would be nice."

 

"Good choice," Changbin praised, reaching a little higher. "Chan and Jisung think the rice ruins it."

 

"Those uncultured swines. The rice bits take in the flavor - it's the best part!"

 

"On that, we can agree." Changbin got to his feet, taking both cans of drinks with him. "Take it. Good. Act like nothing happened. Go."

 

No one seemed to hear Felix's barely stifled giggling as Changbin pushed him along the street. "Jeez, when you told me you had street smarts, I didn't expect that!"

 

"Well, what did you expect?"

 

"I don't know, multiple random connections, an inner pocket for your wallet - not hijacking a vending machine."

 

"It's a useful skill to have. Jisung was the one who taught it to me. It was how we first met, actually."

 

"For real?"

 

"Hell yeah. It was still on campus, after school, and I was on my way down the hall headed for home. I decided I wanted a drink before I left, so I hit the vending machine. Unfortunately, even after I put the change in, the damn thing wouldn't work. So I started beating it, shaking it, yelling so loud a couple of teachers asked me if I was okay - "

 

"Pity on that vending machine."

 

"Quiet, Lee."

 

"Go on." Felix politely sipped his drink.

 

"Anyways, I was about to give up when he teleported next to me. Pushed me aside and shoved his arm in there, pulling out my drink. It was only the day after that I found out I had four different classes with him, and he was a producer too. Not long after we started hanging out, Chan took us under his wing." He chuckled a little. "Kind of like fate."

 

"The complete backstory of 3Racha," Felix declared, gesturing at the sky with his drink. "And it all started with a crappy vending machine."

 

"We were all so small back then," Changbin remembered. "And a little annoying."

 

"You think you could send me some pictures of freshman Jisung and sophomore Chan?"

 

"Let's see how the rest of this day goes, and I might." He wasn't going to sell his friends out that easily. Though, at this rate, it was an option.

 

From the cafe across the street, a woman's anguished groan sounded through the windows. The man sitting across from her reached out, trying to shush her.

 

"Looks like a match made in heaven," Changbin murmured, taking a swig of his drink. "What do you think, Lix?"

 

"Took the words out of my mouth," Felix replied. "The real question is, what are they saying?"

 

The man started talking inaudibly once more, pantomiming animatedly with his hands. "I'm tired of all these taxes," Changbin said for him. 

 

"So lower them!" Felix responded for the woman. 

 

"We can't just do that - it takes work, just like this relationship!" 

 

The woman lowered her head into her hands, massaging her temples tiredly. "But we need food for the children." 

 

"We only have two. We can afford it!" 

 

"Can we? All they eat is Ragu sauce and it's not enough!" 

 

Changbin snickered. "Listen - " 

 

"No, you listen!" The woman shouted suddenly, her voice booming through the glass. She shot out of her seat so fast it keeled over, throwing the cafe door wide open. "I'm fucking done with you!"

 

"Shit," Felix whispered.

 

The man pursued her, a panicked expression on his face as he glanced around. "Honey, please be quiet, you're making a scene - "

 

"I am not going to be quiet! I'm going to be as loud as I fucking want, so this whole city can know what a piece of shit you are!"

 

"I said I was sorry - "

 

"Save it. I know what your words mean - nothing!" The woman rounded on him mercilessly. "You had an affair your fucking assistant - go crawl back to her for all I care! You and I are over."

 

And for the grand finale, she pulled her wedding ring off her finger and chucked it on the ground, leaving the man stunned and speechless.

 

The two boys on the other side of the street stood there fully, completely gobsmacked. It wasn't until two minutes later, when the cheater hailed a cab out of sight, that Changbin recalled the existence of his voice box. "Should we have clapped? That was kind of awesome."

 

Felix cleared his throat, following suit. "No lie, it kind of reminded me of a conversation I overheard between my aunt and uncle."

 

"Okay, that is a story you have to tell me."

 

They laughed, swiping away at the fog of steadily forming tension, when a new voice from behind them erased it completely.

 

"Seo Changbin, you heartbreaker!"

 

Changbin froze, his insides turned to ice along with his body. "You have got to be kidding me."

 

Horribly, Felix spun around. "Who is that?"

 

"You haven't told him about me, Binnie?” A theatrical cackle. “Of course you haven't."

 

Changbin turned with him, already dreading who he would see. "Felix, allow me to introduce you to Jung Wooyoung."

 

Jung Wooyoung: barely qualifiable as an ex - boyfriend. Undeniably handsome, silver-haired and cheekbones for days, but quite possibly the loosest, most melodramatic cannon of them all.

 

"Escape while you can!" Wooyoung shrieked, this time addressing Felix. "He will enchant the years from your life and the love from your heart!"

 

"Oh, bullshit!" Changbin yelled back. "We went on three dates - you didn't even like me!"

 

"You wasted the best three dates of my life!"

 

Felix glanced between him and Wooyoung. "What happened between you guys?"

 

This wasn't how Changbin was supposed to tell him. This wasn't how Felix was supposed to find out, not from freaking Wooyoung, of all people.

 

"It was a couple months before I met you. Wooyoung and I... we used to go out."

 

"Oh."

 

Changbin decided 'oh' was the worst word ever. "The whole thing fizzled out on it's own, but as you can see, Wooyoung here recently decided he wants me back."

 

"Why don't you want him?"

 

"Well, I could go into a whole list of reasons why," Changbin admitted. "But I guess it's because I like someone else."

 

He met Felix's eyes. This time, neither of them said anything.

 

Unfortunately, this seemed to piss off Wooyoung even further. He gritted his teeth, narrowing his eyes at them. "You filthy rake!”

 

Two guys emerged from the shadows of the alleyway next to him; Changbin recognized them as Seonghwa and Hongjoong. "Anyway, we'd better get the hell out of here.”

 

Seizing Felix's hand, he took off in a sprint up the street, their drinks spilled and abandoned on the pavement.

 

Wooyoung howled bloody murder, the sound of his footfalls thundering after them alongside Seonghwa and Hoongjoong. Glancing behind him, Felix had started running too, eyes on their pursuers, still gripping both bags in one hand. With the warmth of his hand clutching onto Changbin’s, it was all the strength he needed to keep running.

 

Together, they tore through the street, zipping past cherry blossom trees and many a bewildered passerby, hopping over bicycles and benches, shouting out apologies they didn’t have time to mean. Changbin couldn’t hear much more than his throbbing heartbeat, the blood rushing in his ears, the vague sounds of violent shouts and rapid  steps like pounding horse hooves on dirt drawing closer. He could barely even comprehend the fact that he was running from a frenzied ex of only three dates and his friends, dragging his current crush behind him on their unconfirmed date. All he knew, beyond this overpowering wave of adrenaline, was that he had to get away.

 

They took a jagged turn down the alleyway, where stray cats and disgruntled rats darted out of the way. Seonghwa complained about stepping in gum, which lead to Wooyoung telling him to shut the fuck up and quit whining, for they had a pair of runaways to catch.

 

Three of them and they haven’t thought to split up, Changbin realized. Wooyoung and his team hadn’t yet turned the corner that lead to him and Felix. This was his chance to lose them.

 

“Lix, I got an idea,” Changbin said, pulling him a little farther, then slowing to a stop. Any moment now, they would come.

 

But Felix hadn’t completely caught his drift. He looked around, trying to spot their chasers. “Why are we stopping? Where’d Wooyoung go?”

 

As if conjured by the sound of his name, Wooyoung’s footsteps revived themselves, along with Hongjoong and a particularly crabby Seonghwa. “I’ve got you now, Changbin!”

 

Forgetting whatever game plan he had, Changbin grabbed the collar of Felix’s jacket and whirled behind the closet building, pulling them both against the wall as their trio of hunters sped past without so much as a second glance.

 

Not as efficient, but we still lost them, Changbin watched as they ran after nobody, disappearing behind another corner. And then he looked up.

 

The first thing he saw was his own hands gripping red denim. The second was Felix’s lips, how they met just barely, like the slightest touch could tease them open. The third was his eyes, so clear and wide Changbin could make out an outline of himself staring into them.

 

One would think, after so many situations just like this one, Changbin would know when to let go. But no. Because now he could see a star shaped freckle right on the base of his nose. And that little scar on his lower lip that came from his habit of chewing it too often. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of looking at you.

 

Remembering himself, Changbin released the fabric and pushed Felix away, slipping off of the wall. “That was close.”

 

Felix blinked, nodding. “Yeah.” His eyes bounced from place to place like a pinball machine, looking everywhere but at him.

 

Changbin disregarded the twist of in his chest, a bitter pill of disappointment and guilt. “Come on. I’ve got another place I want to show you.”

 

He moved out from behind the wall and out towards the mouth of the alleyway. It was nothing short of a miracle that, instead of running the other way, Felix trailed after him.

 

The exterior of Back Door looked like any other diner. White plaster storefront, wooden awning painted bright red, windows displaying the red cushioned booths and roundtables inside. The name was branded boldly above the door in straight, solid font lit up with yellow LED lights. Below it was the slogan made up in black cursive: you wanna come in?

 

Pushing open the door, the sound of a jingling bell echoed through the inside of the diner. Save for the Christmas lights aligning the walls, it looked like some 1960's restaurant, complete with a bar, checkered floors and plastic covered seating - there was even a jukebox in the corner playing Just the Two of Us. The only wrinkle in the archetype was that it was completely empty.

 

Exactly as I planned, Changbin thought. "Chaeyoung! We're here!"

 

"Chaeyoung?" Felix faltered. "As in - "

 

A petite girl with short blonde hair burst out of the kitchen door, wearing a short sleeve white button - up and red dress pants. "Oh, finally! I was starting to think you weren't going to show."

 

"Well, here I am," he said, accepting her quick hug. "Is Mina around?"

 

"She's too nice to leave me here alone," Chaeyoung answered, turning back towards the door from which she'd came. "Mina! Changbin's here!"

 

"M - Mina?" Felix yelped.

 

Sure enough, Mina entered through the door, wearing the same shirt as Chaeyoung, but with a red skirt instead of pants. Her long brown hair was tied up in a ponytail. "Hi, Changbin!" She called out. "You're late, you know."

 

"We had some problems on the way here." Changbin mouthed 'Wooyoung,' to which Chaeyoung sagely nodded. "Anyways, I wanted to introduce you to Felix."

 

The boy looked ready to drop dead on the ground. "S - Seniors," Felix stammered, eyes flicking between the two of them. "It's truly an honor to meet you both."

 

"Just call us Mina and Chaeyoung," said Mina warmly. She grinned at Chaeyoung, who blushed at her shoes. "Or MiChaeng, if you want."

 

Felix's eyes bugged open wide. "I knew it!"

 

"Please, everyone knows it," Chaeyoung replied flippantly, stepping closer to him. "So you're the guy Changbin won't shut up about."

 

"Oh, guys, come on - " Changbin started.

 

"He told us about the Once part," Mina cut him off. "Then the purple hair, the flawless dancing skills - "

 

"Flawless?" Felix chimed in.

 

"His words, not mine. He also talked about your deep voice, and something about a Virgo constellation of freckles - "

 

"I think that's enough information for now!" Changbin interrupted, tugging Felix away from Chaeyoung's inspective gaze. "Now, how about getting us to our table?"

 

Chaeyoung scoffed. "Rude little - "

 

"Chae," Mina touched her shoulder, temporarily defusing her girlfriend's irritation. She flashed the boys a smile. "Right this way."

 

Mina lead them to a booth in the top left corner, where the sunlight filtered in almost aesthetically. "Hope you don't mind my asking," Felix said as he took his seat. "But why do you guys work here? I mean, obviously your group's amazing and successful."

 

"We're not that amazing," Mina blushed.


"But everyone in the school listens to you!"

 

Chaeyoung shook her head, smiling. "Loyal bastards," she murmured. "Sure, we're big at JYP, but we're still working to get noticed by a larger audience."

 

"Oh." Felix's cheeks pinkened. "Well, I know you'll get there someday."

 

"Thank you," Mina said, smiling graciously. She passed a wink to Changbin. "I like this one."

 

"Me too," Changbin whispered back hastily as Felix talked to Chaeyoung.

 

"So, if it's not rude to ask, what keeps you two in a diner?" He was saying.

 

"We're not here often," Chaeyoung admitted. "Mostly on weekends or any other days we have free time - it gives Mina and I more of a chance to see the city. The pay's crap, and hardly anyone comes, but it's still sort of fun."

 

"So basically you come here to wait tables when you're bored and take a measly wage for the fun of it?"

 

"Pretty much."

 

"I can respect that."

 

Mina produced a notepad and pencil from her skirt, which had remarkably sewn in pockets. "Can I get you two anything?"

 

Changbin ordered a basket of garlic fries with two Cokes. "Can I, er, also have some time alone with Felix?"

 

"Don't do anything naughty while we're gone!" Chaeyoung sang as Mina dragged her off into the kitchen.

 

Politely as one could, Changbin told her to fuck off. Next to him, Felix was lightly tapping his finger on the table. "So, when were you going to tell me you knew Chaeyoung and Mina of Twice?"

 

Changbin chuckled. "This was actually going to be my way of surprising you."

 

"It was a good surprise," Felix acknowledged, falling silent. "And... when were you going to tell me about Wooyoung?"

 

The bitter pill taste in his mouth returned, sour as bile. "I didn't plan on telling you that at all."

 

"Because he's a guy?"

 

Because you're a guy too. "I didn't know how you would react."

 

"It's fine. I'm good with it. Really, I am, just..." Felix drummed his fingers on the table again. "What was it that happened in the span of three dates that made things end so badly?"

 

Just be honest - that's all he wants. "To tell you the truth, I don't know - it wasn't even that bad. It was like Romeo and Juliet, except Romeo liked two other guys and Juliet never had that great of a time." Now Felix just looked even more perplexed. "I'm Juliet."

 

"Right. Yeah, obviously. Is... is he the only one?"

 

Changbin looked down at his hands, which he'd already started wringing out. "No."

 

"Oh," Felix breathed, letting his hand rest on the table. "So, not just girls, then?"

 

"Yeah." Changbin could feel everything crumbling. "Look, I'm sorry, I really am. I was going to tell you, honest. It was going to be in another time and place, where people weren't going to bother us, and I was going to suck it up and..." Give it up already. Look at his face - he's waiting for you to shut up. Just let him go. "I'm sorry, Lix. Again. I... I get it if you want to go."

 

Who the hell was he kidding - it had to happen. It would only be the logical thing, anyway. Two whole days worth of planning, preparing himself, preparing this day, all gone to waste. Their perfect date was ruined, and it was all his fault.

 

Instead, Felix reached behind Changbin's ear and plucked out a cherry blossom petal like a coin trick; hell only knew how long it had been there. "I don't know about you," he said, lips playing at a feline smirk. "But I'm having a great time."

 

Just then, Chaeyoung appeared at their table, setting down the basket of garlic fries along with their Cokes. But Changbin didn't miss the secret smile that she shot him, like she knew what he was thinking, like she too knew that this was something he had never known with all the others. That this wasn’t an end, but a beginning.

 

Changbin faced the boy next to him and smiled back. "Me too."

Chapter Text

Felix p.o.v

 

”Okay,” Felix began, using his garlic fry to emphasize. “So I’m sitting there - “

 

”If you say ‘barbecue sauce on my titties’ I’m going to kill you,” Chaeyoung swore.

 

”Come on, he was not going to say that!” Changbin swept in to defend him. “Right, Lix?”

 

Felix shrugged. “It crossed my mind once or twice. But I decided against it - would’ve taken away from the story, you know?”

 

”Right you are,” Mina laced her arms around Chaeyoung from behind. “Keep going.”

 

In Felix's mental clock, it was approximately forty - five minutes since the euphoric moment Changbin had come out to him as a certified dual - wielding bisexual. To make up for the previous awkwardness regarding the whole Wooyoung situation, he had decided to recite every tale from the great Land Down Under, a.k.a Australia, that came to mind. It was also through this lengthy series of narratives that he discovered both Mina and Chaeyoung were quite the comedy fans as well.

 

And so, for the first time in a long time, there was a plate of food in front of Felix that had gone untouched for nearly an hour.

 

He was the center of attention - whether it was due to his storytelling talents or the story he was telling: the argument he’d overheard between his aunt Shirley and uncle Vernon. 

 

Changbin ate the garlic fries like popcorn, not even looking at the basket as he reached for another fry. Mina and Chaeyoung hung by the top cap of the booth, 'sneaking' drinks of the Cokes that were supposed to belong to Felix and Changbin. No matter - as of now, they had much more crucial concerns.

 

”You went up two stories, down the hall, where the bedrooms were,” Chaeyoung was saying. “And no one noticed?”

 

"I was twelve years old and the second youngest person in my mom and dad's side of the family - anyone under the age of twenty is virtually nonexistent to my family. Of course nobody noticed me."

 

"Not even your parents were keeping an eye out for you?" Changbin asked, holding out the fries to Mina, who reached into the basket.

 

"Rachel was put in charge of that, but she gave up around ten minutes. My dad was hustling pool with all the other guys and my mom was discussing Outlander with her sisters. I didn't think I was going to see either of them again."

 

"Oh, to be unnoticed in your own family," Changbin murmured sorrowfully. "Kinda wish I could do the same."

 

"No one gives a crap," Chaeyoung threw one of Mina's fries his way. "Go on, Felix!"

 

”I don’t know about that,” Felix drawled, leaning back. “I kind of like this budding chat about the differences between our familial lives.”

 

“Felix!” MiChaeng shouted in unison.

 

”Okay, okay! Just let me get back in the zone!” He paused, holding out his hands for silence. “So, I went up the stairs - the whole place was freaking packed like a... a... fuck, I’m blanking. Help me out?”

 

”A beach on the weekend?” Mina offered.

 

”A mall on Christmas Eve?” Chaeyoung proposed.

 

”A COVID - 19 hospital?” Changbin suggested.

 

All three of them craned their necks to look at him. “What?”

 

”Nothing. Continue.”

 

Felix went on. ”Anyways, it was packed. No one even turned around when I passed by. I was just looking for some quiet place to eat my cake when I heard it their voices speaking to each other.”

 

“What’d they sound like?” Mina pried.

 

“Kinda hushed at first, tense, a little heated, but I know it was Aunt Shirley who set things off. They start yelling at each other like two fucking hyenas, and no one was around to hear but me.”

 

”Did you hear what they were saying?” Changbin inquired.

 

”Through the solid wood door. It was impossible to miss.”

 

”Can you act out a bit of what you heard?” Chaeyoung buzzed excitedly.

 

Mina giggled at the prospect. Changbin nudged him lightly with his elbow, grinning. “Come on, Lix. Give the people what they want.”

 

Little did they know that Felix had been waiting thirty-two minutes for them to ask that very question.

 

And so, with all the vim and vigor in his theater kid heart, he commenced his one man show that would have brought Lin Manuel Miranda himself to tears.

 

Lights up. We open in on a drab guest room, silent save for the only two people inside of it. Downstage right center, SHIRLEY, 50, stands by the door with a cigarette. Centerstage left center, VERNON, 46, is positioned in the middle of the room by the bed. Both of them are fuming, and things are getting intense fast.

VERNON

(resigned) Look -

 

SHIRLEY

Don't talk to me.

 

VERNON

Come on, Shirley, don't -

 

SHIRLEY

(raises voice) I said don't fuckin' talk to me!

 

VERNON

(raises voice back) Well, what else am I supposed to do? You’re the one who dragged me in here!

 

SHIRLEY

I did that so that I could reason with you, not so that you could turn me down in private!

 

VERNON

How did you know I was going to do that?!

 

SHIRLEY

Please, Vernie, I've known ya for what, fifteen years? You always start yer sentences with 'look' whenever you’re about to tell me no.

 

VERNON

And I always give good reasons why I do that, don't I?

 

SHIRLEY

You always seem to think that, too.

 

VERNON

Shirley!

 

SHIRLEY

Aw, come on, Ver, you know I'm right! Just tell me you won't do the job!

 

VERNON
Just so you can hear what you wanna hear? I won't say it!

 

SHIRLEY

Why do you always have to be this damn stubborn?

 

VERNON

Because I don't see why you're mad! It'd be a good thing for this family!

 

SHIRLEY

Don't give me that crap! Just last week you were complaining about how all these companies are sending their salesmen into cities on wild goose chases to make sales they'll never land. And now the same thing's happening to you!

 

VERNON

This is different! It's in New York, and the guy who wants in is one of our biggest clients this year! It'd be huge if I landed this!

 

SHIRLEY

Exactly, he's a New Yorker - what would some urban big shot want from a paper company?

 

VERNON

A man who wants good, quality paper, that's who.

 

SHIRLEY

And what if you don't make it? You'll have gone all that way for nothing.

 

VERNON

At least I'll have tried! God, why can't you just agree with me sometimes?

 

SHIRLEY

Because you don't think things through! You never have! Think of the kids - Aria, Nathan, Robbie. I'll be all alone with those little buggers missing their daddy, and you'll be off at the Big Apple.

 

VERNON
I'll only be gone for two weeks - maybe a month. Just get to the point already!

 

SHIRLEY

Don't you get it? We're wearing thin, Vernie. We have been for years, you know it! I mean, it's been getting better, with the kids, but I don't want anything to do us in!

 

VERNON

Are ya fucking - that's why you don't want me to go? You think I'll forget about you and the kids if I go off on one business trip?

 

SHIRLEY

It'll start with one business trip. Then it'll be more of those 'guys nights out' and you'll be getting home later and later, and then you won't come back at all!

 

VERNON

You’re being hysterical.

 

SHIRLEY 

Well, I can't be the only one putting work into this marriage.

 

VERNON

Enough. Enough of this. I'm not gonna be guilted by you - not today. I'm going to New York for our family, and nothing you say is going to stop me.

 

Silence. The tiniest chirp from a cricket.

SHIRLEY

Know what I can't believe most about this?

 

VERNON

What?

 

SHIRLEY

That you decided to tell me this on our daughter's fucking birthday.

 

END SCENE.

 

When Felix came to once again, he found that the bit had had the desired effect on his audience. Changbin was sprawled back on the cushions of the booth, cackling and clutching his stomach. Chaeyoung sobbed into her girlfriend's shoulder, and Mina was holding onto the corner of the booth for dear life to keep them both upright.

 

Felix daintily wiped a fake tear from his eye. "And scene."

 

"Everyone give it up for the one, the only, Lee Felix!" Changbin cheered.

 

Instantly, they traded their laughter for enthusiastic applause, so loud it sounded as though there were more than just four people in the room. Felix bowed gratefully, soaking in the adoration. Chaeyoung even picked up the fry basket and tossed them at him in place of roses. He was a little more than proud to say he caught a few in his mouth.

 

An elderly couple walked in as they were laughing, and for a moment Felix wondered what they saw: a group of hooting kids with fries strewn about their cubicle. The elderly man dismissed it, grouching to his wife about 'kids these days' and claiming a booth for them far in the bottom left corner.

 

"Nice show, kid," Mina whispered, and she and Chaeyoung strode off to assist the elderly couple.

 

Felix and Changbin were still laughing by the time they were out of sight. He couldn't help giggling even more when Changbin brushed a fry off his shoulder. "I haven't performed like that in a while - what a rush!"

 

"I should find you some Open - Mic - Night places," Changbin joked. "You'd be a hit anywhere."

 

"Oh, stop," Felix slapped him teasingly. "Though, I'll admit, that was one of my better acts."

 

"Out of many other performances, I presume? You know the words to every song from at least four different musicals - you must have been the most dedicated theater kid in all of Sydney."

 

Felix chuckled. "I wish. No matter how much I begged, neither my mom or my dad would let me join. Said a growing boy should focus more on athletics than box - steps."

 

"Wait, really?"

 

"Not for one production - not even for stage crew. My dad wanted me doing football, but my mom signed me up for taekwondo."

 

"That's how it happened? You were forced?"

 

"It was good fun - I ended up learning how to roundhouse kick seven kinds of ass. But it still wasn't the same."

 

"Put me on an ark and call me Noah, but that just sounds fucked up."

 

"Eh, it's fine now." But he could still remember how he had wanted it to happen so badly. Not just for the idea of launching into song at random times and being someone else for a few hours, but for idea of being a part of something. Being a theater kid was like being in a coven- you got up to some weird shit, but there was always people who had your back. He could even remember an incident at his old school when a pack of kids still in costume had made a race out of pushing each other in rolling chairs down the hall. "Going to JYP's made up for a lot of lost time."

 

Changbin sat in silence, like he could hear the words Felix hadn't said. Then, he snickered. "Damn. I thought I was the only one."

 

"Your parents cancelled your theater dreams too?!"

 

"Not theater." He said, smiling casually. "I was thinking more like math."

 

Felix assumed his raised eyebrows said what his voice didn't. "Math."

 

"Uh - huh."

 

"As in algebra, calculus, probabilities and stats?"

 

"Yup."

 

"That's why you never need help for precalc homework," Felix muttered. "I wouldn't have guessed that math was among your favorite classes."

 

Changbin winked. "You mean I'm too hot to be good at it?"

 

"What? No! No, I - I wasn't saying - " Facial temperature rising. Resort to diversion. "Just how good are you?"

 

"Well, I don't mean to brag, but around this time of year, I've got both Chan and Jisung going to me for homework help. And, me being the incredibly sexy and talented young man that I am - "

 

"Sure."

 

" - I was even in the Mathletes two years back."

 

"So sexy."

 

"Hey, you know you mean it."

 

Felix smirked. "Keep dreaming, Mathlete."

 

"My glory streak came to an end when my dad made me quit. Said he wanted his only son doing something more manly." Changbin slouched back, voice still cool and apathetic. "But joke's on him - I ended up getting into a performing arts school."

 

Sounded to Felix like he wasn't the only one with dad issues. Don't push him - just be civil. Friendly. "Is he still like that?"

 

"Nah, we're good now. My mom and my sister are around to talk some sense into him. He's a lot more considerate, especially after I came out."

 

"Really? That's - that's good." Maybe there was hope for Richard after all.

 

"The only condition my parents have is that I have to bring grandkids into the family. And they have to be mine." He threw his head back and laughed. "It's always so awkward whenever I take someone to meet them."

 

Would Changbin's family accept a Korean - Australian dancer with at least six different constellations on his face? Perhaps that was something to be determined in the future. "So, if you don't mind me asking, who have you brought home to meet your family?"

 

Changbin lifted a single amused eyebrow. "Are you asking me who I've dated?"

 

It was a bold question. But right now, Felix was feeling bold. "An example wouldn't hurt, would it?"

 

Changbin scoffed, biting his lip bashfully; probably one of his cutest expressions. "Hwang Yeji," he said at last. "Early last year."

 

"The leader of Itzy? The one who's always duking it out with Hyunjin?"

 

"That's her."

 

"... isn't she a lesbian?"

 

"And that's why we broke up. We're still bros, though."

 

This boy lived out a full Ross Geller story, Felix thought. Sort of, anyway. Just smile and nod, smile and nod. "Cool. Cool beans."

 

"You think I'm dumb now, don't you?"

 

"No, I don't! Come on, don't look at me like that. I'm just happy that at least one of us has experience."

 

"One of us?"

 

Great job, Felix, yeah, just expose yourself right this second, that'll do the trick. "I... I just meant that..." Silence, peasant. "Yeah." 

 

Changbin's tone was no longer aloof. "So... so you've never-"

 

"Mm - hm." His voice jumped a pitch. Look away. There - that fly on the green Christmas light looks alluring! "Now who thinks who's dumb?"


"No one thinks that - I mean, don't think that." Changbin straightened up, scooting a little closer. "So, no one waiting for you back at Australia?"

 

He was leaning across the table, eyes fixed attentively on Felix. The fly suddenly was of no interest.

 

Felix shook his head, giving a demure smile. "Nope," he shrugged. "I guess you could say I'm on my first date right now."

 

Changbin's eyes actually twinkled, his smile tugging a little wider. Yep - unquestionably the right thing to say.

 

Then the lights dimmed, making the elderly couple murmur in concern. And then the drums pounded, and the saxophone blared, and Careless Whisper blasted at top volume.

 

The twinkle in Changbin's eye disappeared as he banged his fist on the table. "Dammit, Chaeyoung!"

 

"Just setting the mood!" Mina shouted as Chaeyoung ran sniggering back into the kitchen.

 

Changbin groaned, burying his head in his hands. "Good fucking God, I hate it here."

 

"Why? This song is legendary."

 

"The song is about him cheating on his girlfriend and both girls finding out. But that's not even the worst part."

 

Storytime. "Oh?"

 

"A couple months ago, after I told Mina and Chaeyoung about - about you, Chan and Jisung were there."

 

"Let me guess - they singlehandedly initiated the Purge?"

 

"They might as well have. Chan took it upon himself to teach them all the words, and after that they discovered they had it on the jukebox."

 

A light switch flicked on in Felix's brain. "You don't say."

 

Changbin lifted his head in quick alarm. "Please don't do what you're about to do."

 

Too late. Felix stood up on his seat, hand grasping at his heart. "I'm never gonna dance again!"

 

The door to the kitchen burst open. "Guilty feet have got no rhythm!" Chaeyoung yelled.

 

"No," Changbin moaned.

 

Together, they belted it out. "And though it's easy to pretend, I know you're not a fool."

 

From the bar, Mina waved her phone flashlight in support. "Tear it up, Chae!"

 

"I should've known better than to cheat a friend, and waste the chance that I've been given."

 

"Shut the hell up!" The elderly man shouted from his booth while his wife attempted to shush him.

 

With their combined power, Chaeyoung in the center of the restaurant, Felix on his table, they drowned him out. "So I'm never gonna dance again."

 

"The way I danced with you - “

 

******

 

"Hope you enjoyed your meal! Have a good one!" Mina called after the elderly couple, who banged the door shut.

 

"I think he just shouted 'bah, humbug,'" Felix noted, staring after the man.

 

"We're gonna be following after them," Changbin told him. "I've got one more thing to show you before the sun goes down."

 

"Gotta say, kid," Chaeyoung grinned. "I didn't think I was gonna end up singing a breakup song with some guy I'd met today."

 

Felix's ears warmed up instantly. "Well, I hope I was a good partner in our platonically sung love - ballad."

 

"That you were," she promised, switching onto Changbin. "Binnie, he's officially earned my stamp of approval."

 

He rolled his eyes. "Please, Chaeyoung, I've never needed your stamp of approval."

 

"You should! It would have saved you so much heartbreak! Like the time with that guy, who was a full hour late and still showed up wearing sweatpants - "

 

"I was smart enough to dump him then and there."

 

"Or the time when you spit orange juice out of your nose when the girl you liked touched your knee," Mina joined in.

 

"But we don't talk about that," Changbin growled, getting redder by the second.

 

"And now we don't have to!" Chaeyoung sidled up to Felix, jabbing her thumb at Changbin like he was an especially hot topic of gossip. "You should've seen this guy yesterday - barging in here, demanding that we keep this place empty, making reservations at a place that doesn't even take reservations - "

 

"And now we're leaving.” Said the subject of discussion, pulling Felix away from her. He started to bring his credit card out of his wallet when Mina stopped him.

"It's on the house," she answered. 

 

"What? Come on, that's nonsense, let me give you something in return for what you did for me."

 

"Friends don't need to pay each other for favors," Mina offered up a smile. "Besides, seems like you have an expensive date already."

 

Felix glanced at the two bags full of souvenirs. He had made Changbin buy a lot of stuff. "Sorry about that."

 

"Don't feel guilty, he can afford it," Mina ensured him. "Now get out of here. It's almost four - fifty."

 

"Venmo a tip when you get the chance," Chaeyoung whispered to Changbin. "Don't screw up, dingus."

 

"I'll remember both of those," he promised. "Bye, guys! Thanks again!"

 

"Give Back Door a good review!" MiChaeng yelled back. "And treat that boyfriend of yours like a king!"

 

"Not my boyfriend!" Changbin called as they walked out the door. But, unless Felix's imagination was playing tricks on him, he could have sworn he heard the boy whisper: "yet."

 

The bell jingled as the door closed, announcing their departure. He followed Changbin down the alley, musing to himself. "Making reservations at a place that doesn't even take reservations - "

 

"Seriously? You too?" Changbin sighed, kicking aside a plastic cup. "I just wanted to make it special for us."

 

Take my heart - I didn't need it anyways. "And that you did. Where're we going? I don't see anything special in this alley. Are you going to kill me?"

 

"Yes, because the very thing I was wondering when I picked my outfit was if my vest could fit a machete," Changbin intoned sarcastically, stopping just behind the diner. "Stay right there." He tread farther down to the back of the restaurant, and that was when Felix noticed the lump. A massive, blue - tarp covered thing a few feet away from the back door.

 

Changbin tore off the tarp to reveal a full - fledged, gleaming ebony - black motorcycle. "Felix," he said, "meet Bartholomew."

 

Felix didn't know jack shit on any vehicle, and had never been too tempted to learn. Still, he couldn't help walking slowly forward, running a hand along the seat. "Holy shit," he whispered as if it would come to life. "This - this is yours?"

 

"Used to be my dad's, but he passed it on to me." Judging from his tone, Bartholomew was a source of pride. "Weekdays it stays in the parking lot at my apartment, and I ride it to JYP, but on the weekends I bring it here."

 

There was a dent on the rear fender despite its shiny coat. "Did you have this cleaned up specifically for today?"

 

"Maybe. What do you think?"

 

"I think it's awesome!" Felix gushed. "But why are you showing me?"

 

Changbin smirked. "Our final destination isn't a place we can get to on foot. We're riding out of here in style."

 

Suddenly the motorcycle seemed less exciting. "Hold on - we're riding this thing? You don't even have helmets!"

 

"We're too cool for helmets."

 

"More like too stupid. You're gonna get your head blown off!"

 

"Come on, I've made it this far!" Changbin swung his leg over the seat, one foot on the rider's peg and the other on the ground. "So long as I'm driving, you'll be okay."

 

One thing Felix couldn't help but notice was just how 1960's greaser he looked in that moment, with the motorcycle and outfit put together. Another thing he noticed was the space between the rider and passenger seats - there was hardly any. They would be riding together, and Felix would have to hold on, hold on tight to him, and wow, would you look at those clouds.

 

Get your ducks back in a row, Felix thought, pulling the phrase from his father's dictionary. Taking in a shaky breath, he straightened up. "I trust you."

 

Smiling, Changbin nodded to the bike. "Hop on."

 

Cautiously, Felix inched closer, swinging his leg over the bike and settling onto it. "Ready."

 

Lifting his foot off the ground, Changbin flipped a switch and squeezed the clutch lever, and the motorcycle roared to life. "You might wanna hold on."

 

No one had to tell Felix twice. He tried not to notice how solid Changbin felt, or how he smelled like soap and leather and even a bit of cologne. Don't be creepy, just stay calm. He wove his arms around the boy’s waist.

 

Beneath Felix's hands, Changbin's torso shuddered a little, releasing a short gasp. "You alright?"

 

Quickly, he stiffened. "Yeah."

 

Revving the throttle, Felix and his greaser sped out of the alley.

 

******

 

Unsurprisingly, Changbin was the kind of person who drove like he had never seen rain before. In translation: really fucking fast.

 

Maybe Felix should have expected it; they were on a motorcycle, after all. To go slow was a lot more dangerous than it was to go fast. But for the love of God, couldn’t Changbin have at least taken it into consideration that some people wanted to hold on to their livers?

 

He zipped past delivery trucks, swerved in front of cars, and even waved to fellow bikers all while managing to pass through the green light. A little boy watching from the backseat of a van dropped the lollipop out of his mouth. Felix couldn’t blame him. In fact, he would have much sooner switched places than anything else.

 

“You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to unwind a little,” Changbin told him. “Actually, it’d hurt a lot less.”

 

Amidst the high - speed thresh of the joyride, Felix realized he’d been squeezing the life out of Changbin’s waist. “Sorry!” He began to loosen his grip, but the moment a car zoomed by, he yelped, grabbing at the leather vest and burying his face into the boy’s back. “How the hell do you drive this to school?!”

 

“It’s a little scary at first, but it helps when you let go of your fear of death. You don’t have to shout, either. I can hear you just fine.”

 

”Well, voice pitch is kind of hard to control when you’re worried about becoming roadkill on the freeway!”

 

“Trust me when I say I won’t let that happen to you.” A hand grabbed Felix’s left, moving it from Changbin’s vest to his hip, holding it there. “I promise.”

 

Did this bike just make you ten times more confident? Felix sure wasn’t going to argue now. He let his other hand slip down to Changbin’s right hip, where he had a much nicer hold. “Then I hope you understand my life is in your hands.”

 

”My top priority.” Changbin’s hand left his, resting back on the handlebar. They drifted to the right in front of a delivery truck, which then encouraged the driver to proceed in cussing them out. “Other than, of course, making it to our destination in one piece.”

 

Felix glanced around at the assortment of cars around them, music varieties consisting of death metal to opera blaring from open windows. “So, the daily life of a biker - is it just like Premium Rush?”

 

“Would it please you to know that Chan has asked that exact same question?”

 

”A little, yes. Now answer it.”

 

In the rearview mirror, Changbin rolled his eyes, still looking straight ahead. "It's basically what you'd expect - dodging speeding cars and crazy cabdrivers, blowing by millions of cranky pedestrians is all in a day's work. Might end up a smear on the pavement one day, but I can still look cool while doing it."

 

"Got a bumper sticker idea - 'drive fast and leave a sexy corpse.' Better yet, make it a new motto."

 

"Your wish is my command."

 

"By the by, does your lovely Bartholomew happen to have brakes?"

 

"Just because I cut off redneck truck drivers on an almost daily basis doesn't mean I'm trying to die."

 

“Good to know.” Somehow, the active freeway didn't seem so frightening anymore. “Binnie?”

 

”Yeah?”

 

”If I were to tell you I wanted to take break from hauling ass to the bus every morning, would you mind, hypothetically, picking me up instead?”

 

Changbin’s torso shuddered as he chuckled. “Consider it done."

 

Minutes passed by as mere moments, and soon enough they veered to a halt. Changbin slid off the motorcycle easily enough, but Felix's legs felt so weak he didn't slide so much as fall into the nearest tree.

 

"Whoa there, cowboy." Changbin took his hands and hoisted him back up. "Can't have you passing out on me."

 

"Can I cash in that carrying favor right about now?" 

 

"Don't be a baby. See?" Changbin released him gently, and Felix felt the strength returning to his legs again. "You just needed to get your land - legs back."

 

Felix shook his head, attempting to regain his bearings. "Where are we?"

 

They faced a steep mountainside with a dirt path that lead uphill, lined with trees and other forms of greenery. "An old tourist attraction," Changbin explained. "And I say old because it's been abandoned for years. People deemed it as unsafe."

 

"Is it unsafe?"

 

"Nah. The humans of this day and age are just prudes who don't like to have any fun. Which leads me to my next matter: close your eyes."

 

"What kind of kinky shit are you into?"

 

"You really do have a foul thought process."

 

"I'm just a mere product of my upbringing - don't blame nature for nurture."

 

"Fine. But I'm serious. Do it."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because, as the last location of the day, I want this to be a good surprise, and I can't have you seeing anything."

 

"Is this surprise at the top of the mountain?"

 

"Are you telling me you're chickening out on me now? I just drove your noisy, yammering ass down a city freeway, and you're scared of walking up a hill? I can promise you, you're going to be perfectly fine."

 

Felix glanced up the hill, which had to be at least fifty feet high, then back to Changbin. "You won't let me hit anything?"

 

He held up his hand in oath. "I swear I won't let you hit a single tree or so much as trip over a pebble. Can we go now?"

 

Goodbye eyesight - I'm going blind. Felix closed his eyes. "If you yeet me off a cliff, I'm telling Lucifer."

 

Changbin took his hand. "Why didn't you say God?"

 

"Because I know where I'm going. Now mush, third eye."

 

With one last scoff, he tugged Felix along with tentative steps forward until they were hiking diagonally upwards, their feet crunching on dead leaves and miniscule clumps of dirt and what Changbin insisted weren't tiny bones.

 

Despite his eyelids being shut, the rest of Felix's senses were well intact. He could feel his seeing - eye Changbin prodding him this way and that to avoid stepping on any flowers or pebbles, hear the chirps and twitters of unseen wildlife coming from every imaginable direction. "Binnie~" he sang when he felt they were somewhere along the way.

 

"What is it?"

 

"Can you describe where we are? I want to see it in my mind."

 

"Uh..." Changbin trailed as they trudged higher up. "Well, we're on a dirt path right now, as you probably know, and there's a family of robins in the oak above your head."

 

Eyes still closed, Felix waved. "Hi, family!"

 

A round of joyful chirps. "The birds say hi. There's some yellow flowers at our feet- dandelions, I think, and a few magnolia trees like the ones we saw at the park."

 

The scene bloomed in his mind's eye. "I think I can see it. Thanks, Bin."

 

"No problem. Now please be quiet."

 

That was a rule Felix obeyed for about three minutes or so. "Are you leading me to my death?"

 

"Not after you threatened to sic Luci on my sinning ass."

 

"Are there any more birds around?"


"Not that I can see, no."

 

"Are we there yet?"

 

"Almost - about twenty steps or more."

 

"If I take bigger steps, will we get there faster?"

 

"Remember when I told you to shut up?"

 

"Too bad. I talk when I get nervous."

 

Changbin started to say something else, but cut off. "Alright, Lix, I'm going to need you to take a big step. Bigger. Nope, bigger than that. Just a little more - and that's good. Now do the same thing with your other leg. Oop - don't fall, there, I got you." He steadied Felix as he started to stumble. "There. Now we're okay."

 

"What did I just step over?" Felix interrogated. "Did I step in something? Is it poop? Did you make me step in poop, Changbin?"

 

"No feces around for miles, I can confirm that."

 

"Then what was I just stepping over?"

 

"It doesn't matter."

 

"Why is that?"

 

Changbin let go of his hand. "Because you can open your eyes again."

 

Felix rubbed his eyes, tentatively blinking them open. They were on the ledge of a grass - covered cliff, just a few feet away from the edge. Then he looked up again. "Whoa."

 

The city lay out before them, the buildings scattered toward the horizon. Skyscrapers reached for the heavens, built so high they looked as tall as the mountains beyond. Everything was hued with bubblegum and peach color by the light of the sunset.

 

“Ten minutes up here, and you could forget anything had ever bothered you.”



“How the hell did you find this place?"

 

Changbin had already taken a seat on the grass, staring out at the city with a nostalgic expression. "My parents used to take my sister and I up here on weekends when we were kids. They forgot about it, but I didn't. I come here whenever I want to be by myself."

 

The dark and brooding love interest sharing his emotional backstory, Felix thought as he sat down next to him. "And just how many times have you brought Chan and Jisung up here?"

 

"I haven't told them about here. Haven't told anyone, actually." Changbin chuckled, a little puff of air out of his nose. "Until now."

 

Felix laughed, and then it hit him: Changbin hadn't told his family he still went to this place. Hadn't even told his best friends.

 

But he told Felix. And only Felix.

 

And now he felt like shoving his hand through his stomach and screaming. "I... I don't - " Know what to say, he almost said, then scrapped it. "Thank you."

 

"Anytime," Changbin replied, king of casual. He nodded to the city. "Do you like it?"

 

"Like it? I love all of it!" Felix grinned, turning his face back to the skyscrapers. "I've never seen anything so beautiful."

 

"Neither have I."

 

"But you said - " And Felix stopped.

 

Because Changbin wasn't looking at the city. He was looking at him.

 

Changbin p.o.v

 

Fuckstravaganza.

 

Was he really that horrible at holding a decent interaction with this boy? Even after literal months of getting to know him? Was Changbin really this much of a living failure that he couldn’t even go a full day without fucking up?

 

Look on the bright side - you went almost two hours without a screwup! But how was he going to worm his way out of this?

 

By some miracle, he'd managed to hold his shit together and get them both in and out of Back Door safely. Why Felix had chosen to stay with him after barely evading the fire - breathing dragon that took the form of Wooyoung was still a mystery, it was a case that could be solved later or maybe even left cold.

 

Mina and Chaeyoung seemed content with the agreement too - they had already taken to him the minute he walked through the door. Not that Changbin could blame them, anyway. He hadn't even minded when they stayed behind for Felix's enrapturing string of stories. Halfway through his second tale, Changbin received a text from Chaeyoung reading the words: Marry this kid.

 

He has to say yes to a real date first, he typed back, looking up just in time for Felix to reveal how Drew had starfish - planted into the pool from a two-story jump. Interesting.

 

Then fast - forward to the fact that Felix wasn't involved with anyone back at Australia - that this was technically his first first date. Changbin had thought 'interesting' about that too. Not that it mattered. Hell, it wasn't until last year when he'd put himself out there, by the encouragement of Chan and Jisung. He had no idea if he had been anyone's first; he just hoped that he'd been good to them while they were together. If that was the case with Felix, then so be it.

 

And then there was Bartholomew - heavens bless that old glossy automobile, taking them on a ride that was, in Changbin's opinion, much more memorable than the ever - arduous bus ride. God only knew how he managed to start it up, though. When Felix slipped his arms around his waist, Changbin momentarily forgot how to breathe. But somehow, with one foot on the gear shift and a hand on the clutch, he'd made it happen. Despite his best efforts - which he had made - all he could focus on was their closeness. How Felix's chin rested against his shoulder, his fingertips sending shockwaves of energy through his core, the curve of his torso leaning into his back.

 

The motorcycle deities that watched from above were kind, granting him enough willpower to not only focus on the busy road ahead of him, but to move Felix's hand from the folds of his jacket to his hip, where it stayed throughout the rest of the ride.

 

(Changbin just hoped he didn't notice the van they almost crashed into when he gripped his other side.)

 

Guiding Felix up the mountain was the easy part; it was keeping that boy in a straight line that was tricky. He nearly hit about three trees, two anthills, and one petrified badger. By what could have only been a divine intervention, he managed to step over the yellow caution tape unharmed. But it was worth everything for the look on his face.

 

Changbin didn't know why he told him the truth about the mountainside. It was risky enough bringing him there - why tell him the story behind it? He could have lied, said he went there with Chan and Jisung for music inspiration, or brought all of his dates there for the cheesy hope that he might impress them. But instead he told him, revealed a chink in his armor, for no reason other than because it was Felix and that was what he did to him.

 

But maybe it went deeper than that. Maybe Changbin had been wanting to do something like this for a long time, longer than he knew. Maybe he wanted a place to share with someone, and he wanted that someone to be Felix. Maybe he was chasing some frail dream that Felix might remember this moment for the weeks to come, that he would remember this place, that if everything went the way Changbin wanted, they could go here and be alone, somewhere only they knew.

 

Of course, Felix loved the view. And of course that made him smile. And of course Changbin simultaneously lost his mind.

 

It made no sense. He had seen him smile a million times now, it was almost a constant expression. But every time it happened, it was like some demon stabbed him in the neck with a tranquilizer and left him powerless. With the sunset's glow striking his face like a spotlight, Felix had become downright seraphic in the blink of an eye, a pastel faerie with a blade - sharp jawline and paint - spatter pigment dotting his face, glittering eyes that only saw the good in the world in spite of all the bad it had done.

 

All it took was one smile from one boy, and Changbin was a goner.

 

"I've never seen anything so beautiful."

 

He ruined it all with one damning three word response.

 

"Neither have I."

 

Flash approximately thirty seconds back to now, and that smile was gone. Felix's mouth had rounded into a small, inquiring circle, and his eyes had widened with the raise of his brows. Dream sequence over, real world up and running.

 

Do something, cretin, say something, Changbin's consciousness begged him. Roll over off the side of the cliff - maybe it'll look like an accident!

 

But he hadn't had to do anything. Or say anything, for that matter. Because at that exact moment, Felix erupted with laughter. It wasn't even light giggles, either. It was keeled - over, stomach - clutching howls of merriment that had come out of nowhere. And all Changbin could do was watch and become more and more at a loss.

 

However, as Felix began regaining control of himself, he noticed two things: one, his smile had returned, loopy and abashed; two, the tips of his ears had turned red, the way they did when he got flustered. Just what the hell is happening this time?

 

"Oh, wow," Felix breathed, giving a little hiccup as he righted himself back up. "That was - whoo!" He lifted a hand to his heart as if to steady it. "Were you - were you serious just then?"

 

What's he playing at? "Yes," Changbin said, deliberately slow.

 

“Wow, that was smooth.” He ran his fingers through his hair again, pressing a hand to his reddened cheeks. “No one’s ever done that before.”

 

“Flirted with you?”

 

“Yeah. Unless you’re counting that guy who cornered me in the alley, which I don’t.” Felix laughed again, rubbing his neck. “Well, I mean, were you?”

 

I kind of have been for the last sixteen hours. No, he couldn’t point that out, then they’d both feel stupid. Not only that, but Changbin would have also revealed that he had been counting the hours they were together. And that was probably something he shouldn't have been doing in the first place.

 

Wait, something inside of him said. Stop for a minute, dumbass. Think about everything that's happened today.

 

In the last sixteen hours, Changbin had taken several pictures of Felix moving about the park, an act which he later confessed to Felix himself. Then he later throttled a creep in the other boy's honor and called him pretty twice now. They had journeyed here on a romantic motorcycle ride, and he had already made it known that he liked guys - Wooyoung had made sure of that. And Felix hadn't seemed the least bit put off. How could saying this be any different than that?

 

Changbin didn't have to shout how he felt from to the rooftops of Seoul. He just had to admit this one little detail.

 

So he shrugged and said: "Yeah, I was."

 

Immediately, Felix pitched over, laughing out loud. This time, Changbin laughed with him. "Now what the hell's so funny? Are you telling me that no one's ever honestly hit on you before?"

 

Through his fit of cackles, Felix shook his head yes. "That is impossible. Not a girl?" Headshake. "Not a guy?" Headshake. "Why, that's practically a crime against humanity."

 

"Why do you say that?"

 

"Well, look at you! You're - " Changbin faltered. The edge of the cliff looked inviting again. "You're... "

 

"I'm what?" Felix grinned, cocking his head like the flick of a cat's tail. "Come on. I want to hear this from you."

 

Little asshole. He shoved him lightly, careful so that he wouldn't fall over. "I'm not saying a word."

 

"Aw, you're mean!" Felix whined, but he was still smiling. "Does every date of yours get that kind of praise?"

 

Changbin chuckled anxiously, feeling like his own smile was stretched too thin. "Well, despite my undeniable lyrical genius, I'm, er, not too good with words."

 

"Do you just like me better, is that it?"

 

You have no idea. "A little bit."

 

Felix settled back, giggling to himself. Then he gave a little gasp. "Idea! I have a game for us!"

 

"What kind of game?"

 

"I call it Pick - Up Line! We both say pick-up lines to each other, and whichever one we deem is the best wins!"

 

"What do we win?"

 

"I dunno, bragging rights, a Zodiac gate key, and the Tardis?"

 

Changbin nodded wisely. "Sounds like high stakes. I'm in."

 

"Since you kicked us off, I'll go first."

 

"Hit me."

 

Felix hummed, drumming his fingers together, then snapping them into finger guns. "If you were a Transformer, you'd be Optimus Fine."

 

Changbin guffawed, not just because the other boy looked so proud of himself for such a cheesy remark, but because he was sure he had heard a girl use that exact same line on Chan. "Wow. You set the bar pretty high."

 

"Flattery won't work on me, Seo. Your move."

 

He racked his brain for some of Jisung's best quips. Changbin then looked Felix in the eye, who giggled as he popped his collar. "I'm no photographer, but I can see us together."

 

Felix's giggles escalated even higher. He covered his ears, which were already turning red again. "That delivery was just marvelous."

 

"I think I'd like my gate key now - Leo, for my Zodiac."

 

Felix raised a single eyebrow. "I don't think you realize I'm just getting warmed up."

 

"Then let's see what you got."

 

It was safe to say things escalated pretty quickly after that. Changbin didn't remember exactly what they said, but it sounded something like this:

 

"If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put 'U' and 'I' together!"

 

"You must have gotten your license from driving all the guys crazy!"

 

"It's a good thing I have my library card, because I am totally checking you out!"

 

"Something's wrong with my eyes- I can't take them off you!"

 

If anyone were to walk up the mountain and see two guys screaming pick - up lines at each other, they probably would have bolted right back down. But now they were rolling on the ground like puppies, red - faced and laughing.

 

"God damn, we are too good at this," Felix cackled, grabbing the knot of a tree to haul himself up.

 

"You would think we already had these in mind." For Changbin, that was only half true - Jisung had made sure he knew his fair share of pick - up lines to use today. Now he wouldn't be lying when he told him they had been put to good use.

 

"Didn't know it'd take so much brainpower," Felix admitted. "You must be tired."

 

"Kind of, yeah - "

 

"Because you've been running through my mind all day."

 

And then Changbin was laughing again, while Felix looked equal parts smug and modest. "Come on, I knocked that out of the park. My Tardis should be appearing any minute."

 

"Yeah, yeah." Changbin started to rise up again, but fell abruptly, clutching his chest. "Agh! Something's wrong!"

 

"What?" Felix clambered over to him instantly, open concern on his face. "What is it, Binnie?"

 

"It's my heart," Changbin murmured. "I think you've stolen it."

 

He started laughing again, even when Felix pushed him back to the ground, biting back a smile, saying 'meanie, meanie, meanie' with every hit. "I fucking hate you!”

 

"Is that your way of declaring me the winner?"

 

"Fine. But only under the condition that I get to be your companion on your first trip."

 

"I don't think I'll be going anywhere anytime soon. I like where I am right now." Though the line didn't have any romantic intent, he pretended not to notice the pink tint to Felix's cheeks that didn't come from the sunset. "I still can't believe that the Cupid of JYP never even had anyone flirt with him before today."

 

"Well, after everything that's been said up here, I think I can go the rest of my life without anyone trying to make a pass."

 

"What about down in Australia? You make any successful matches there?"

 

Felix shook his head. "Not really." Suddenly, an evil smile spread across his face. "That is, if you count my former principal."

 

Lord, beer me strength.

 

******

 

In minutes, they had gone from flirting to fighting to seated next to each other once again for another one of Felix's rowdy tales. 

 

"I don't believe it," Changbin declared. "There is no way you set your principal up on a date."

 

"Only fools have doubted me before, Binnie, and they all met the same end."

 

"Were you trying to get expelled?"

 

"I'd already heard the news back from JYP - I was good to go! It was the best last hurrah I could have come up with. The timing itself was impeccable."

 

Just how many faces do you wear, Lee Felix? "What do you mean by that, pray tell?"

 

"Well, his wife had just left him - "

 

"How the hell is that perfect timing?!"

 

" - but here's the kicker! A month later, my friend, Layla, her mom saw his name on this dating app she was on - Christian Mingle, if you're curious."

 

Changbin scoffed. "Guy sure took the phrase 'love thy neighbor' seriously."

 

"Right? Apparently he was on the hunt for younger women."

 

"And when do you come in?"

 

"After Layla called me up about it. Got Drew and Rachel to help with the planning, and soon we had the ingenious idea to set up my own principal with a fake date."

 

"Poor girl," Changbin cackled.

 

Felix beamed. "And I still got the phone number, too. Her name's Wendy - hot and juicy redhead." He plucked the paper slip out of his jeans pocket and handed it it Changbin. 

 

He looked at it for a total of ten seconds and blinked three times. "Tell me you didn't."

 

"Oh, yes I did."

 

"... you sent him a Wendy's phone number?"

 

"It wasn't me - Layla got a fake account and sent it to him on the app."

 

"No!"

 

"Yes!"

 

"No."

 

"Yes."

 

Who knew someone so beautiful could be so wicked? "I need the layout on this - how did it go down?"

 

"Drew had an older brother, Jack, who had a girlfriend who had a friend that worked at Wendy's. Rachel paid her forty bucks to answer his phone call and come to his house in uniform at seven - fifteen p.m. From what I heard, he was decked out in a three - piece suit with a rose in his lapel. And even after he saw her, he still asked if he could order a Frosty. To this day, the poor bastard doesn't even know it was us."

 

Changbin started laughing so hard it was hard to breathe. "Felix, you really are something else."

 

Felix gave a flamboyant toss to a lock of purple hair. "I live only to wrong my enemies and uplift my allies."

 

"Do you ever miss your friends?"

 

A single - shoulder shrug. "They were nice to have and be around, but I couldn't tell them everything. I certainly couldn't have performed any of my skits. I guess I like where I am right now." In one prolonged exhale, he slumped down on his elbows, his legs stretched out on the grass.

 

This is it, Changbin realized. This was the date perfect aesthetic that everyone dreamed about - that he dreamed about. Situated with your lover under a chimerical sky, with a view that was only found in someone else’s Polaroid or cassette tape. Complete privacy, complete silence. Was there really more anyone could want?

 

I could lie there next to him, he thought. I could hold his hand. It would be on his own whim, not like that time at the bar. There was no reason not to - there was no one else around to see them.

 

Changbin had just begun to reach out - that’s right, he was going to do it, make that first move - when the raindrop pricked his hand and he snatched it away. 

 

Felix had noticed. In unison, they both glanced up at the sky. Unbeknownst to them, the clouds above had gone from soft lilac to a harsh, bleak smoke grey. The sky had waned and faded from it’s light peach-pink haze to a muted slate blue. The sunset had reduced to a fading ember in the horizon, sinking lower and lower beneath the waves of the city.

 

And then the punch line: it started to pour.

 

At the first thunderclap they were on their feet, ripping through the caution tape Changbin had been so careful to make sure was avoided. They breezed past oak trees that were barely registered before they vanished as blurs, like smudges of emerald paint. He knew they had to be running too fast - under any logical circumstances they would have fallen on their faces, tumbled like stones the rest of the way down the mountain, and yet they still skidded to the bottom, where the motorcycle remained parked under a tree. They were tore out of the forest and into the street, leaving behind a cloud of dust.

 

In no time at all, the rain had amplified into icy sheets of water that crashed onto the streets below. Changbin sped down the freeway alongside cars and hulking trucks eager to get out of the rain, somehow managing to pick safe routes to swerve into. Meanwhile, Felix was holding his jacket over their heads as a makeshift umbrella against the downpour. The red denim rippled in the bellowing wind like a scarlet flag through the tumultuous storm.

 

Through Felix yelling directions at him from behind and the endless pattering of rain all around them, Changbin couldn't remember the last time he'd endured anything so loud. But the motorcycle deities recognized one of their devout soldiers foraging through a dangerous path, so it was only under their guidance that he managed to arrive at Felix's apartment complex with the both of them completely unscathed.

 

They stopped under the awning of the building, where their bike nearly collided into one shellshocked couple. After apologizing, they quite literally tumbled off the motorcycle, leaning against the wall next to each other, breathing heavily.

 

"So," Changbin breathed. "That was..."

 

"Crazy," Felix finished. "So much for a peaceful sunset."

 

"Damn right." The complex hadn't been modernized unlike many others, and the walls were a subdued shade of cerulean plaster. "Which floor do you live on?"

 

Felix bit his lip. "Not far up, just, y'know, the fifth floor out of ten."

 

“Guess we have a lot of walking to do."

 

While the prospect of climbing up five floors was never too enticing, it ended up not being half - bad. Because it was Felix, they never ran out of things to talk about: their annoying sisters, the assignments they hadn't studied for, even Avatar: The Last Airbender, when it was confessed that preteen Felix had quite the crush on the Fire Nation's own Prince Zuko. Changbin himself had been torn between Sokka and Azula, but he figured that was a topic best left for another time.

 

Not only that, but Felix knew practically everyone on his floor, even the security guard they passed by. It didn't matter what they were doing or where they were going - they had to look at him, a feeling Changbin knew well.

 

"That fine gentleman over there's Phil," Felix waved to a flummoxed businessman, who lifted a hand in greeting before returning to his phone call. "And there's Jisu! Wonder how her date with Chaeryoung went."

 

"You guys live in the same building, on the same floor?"

 

"Didn't tell you that, did I? Clumsy me. And that there is Halmeoni!"

 

He pointed to a stout, elderly woman cloaked in a grand burgundy shawl that reached down to her feet. With her came the heavy stench of garlic that nearly made Changbin retch. "What's her story?"

 

"Nobody knows, really. She's been here before everyone, we all just call her Grandmother. Word is she's got twenty cats and a deceased life partner who some people say was her sister, but us more evolved beings know that it was her wife."

 

Rock on. "How have you met so many people in just a few months?"

 

Felix shrugged. "I haven't really met them, per say. I just remember them, and they choose to remember me."

 

Small wonder. "You're not exactly the easiest person to forget."

 

They both giggled at the clever quip, until Felix stopped short. "Oh."

 

"What?"

 

"Nothing. Nothing, just..." he blanched, planting himself by a shabby white door. "This is my stop."

 

Oh. "Here?"

 

"Yeah. I - I know it's not much, but-"

 

"No, are you kidding? I don't care about that, it's just... here."

 

It was just now hitting Changbin. This was where it ended, this whole fantastic day. Done and over with. Now.

 

"Yeah," Felix said again. "I, um, guess this is where you drop me off."

 

"I guess so." Changbin shifted in place, finding himself unable to move. "Is it weird that I don't really want to?"

 

Felix laughed, brief tinkling bells in a moment of dreariness. "Not really, no."

 

This wasn't how things normally went. This was around the time Changbin said something really clever like 'I guess I better get going,' turned tail and left. Why couldn't he do that now? Why couldn't he make himself leave?

 

He rubbed his neck, letting his hand hang there. "Would you - "

 

"Would you - " Felix started at the same time.

 

They cut off. "You go first," Changbin said.

 

"No, you."

 

"No, you."

 

This could go on forever. Quickly they took out their fists - rock, paper, scissors, shoot. Changbin groaned when Felix's paper trumped his rock. "What'd you wanna say, Binnie?"

 

"Erm... uh," Spit it out, numbskull, you can't stand here for all eternity. "Would you, maybe... wanna do this again?"

 

"Definitely," Felix accepted, lifting the weight off his shoulders. "I was hoping you would say that."

 

"Is that what you wanted to say?"

 

Shyly, he nodded, and Changbin got a warm feeling in his chest that felt like a ray of sunlight exploding from inside. "Cool."

 

Felix stuck his key beneath the doorknob, unlocking it, opening the door. Almost sadly, he dropped his gaze to the floor. "Bye, Changbin."

 

The word sounded like the end of a chapter, the end of the whole goddamn book. "Bye."

 

Everything was happening too fast. There were still things he wanted to do, things he wanted to say, but Felix was already turning around, stepping inside, closing the door and - no. "Felix?"

 

Felix stopped. Spun on his heel and faced him.

 

"Yes?"

 

And boom, shoujo manga moment. His eyes locked on Changbin's, flecks of stars dancing in those honeyed gemstones. Somehow, he made rain - dampened hair look enchanting. A drop of water glided down the base of his nose, off his Cupid's bow, resting on his chewed lower lip. There were even those dreamy air bubbles surrounding his head - or maybe that was just the raindrop that fell into Changbin's eye.

 

This is it, he thought, steeling himself. The moment you've been waiting for. Don't you dare avoid this like you always have. For once, you're gonna stand your ground, say what's on your mind without freaking out, and face whatever consequences that follow.

 

"Was this a date?"

 

And dead air - literal noiselessness. Talk through the silence - don't let this slip. "I mean, it might seem like an out - of - the - blue question, and it might not, but honestly, it's been something that I've been wondering all day, and I just wanted to - "

 

Then Felix leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, and Changbin's entire vocabulary flatlined.

 

Felix stepped back, taking his hands off his shoulders, nearly expressionless. Then, his eyes widened, as if realizing what he had just done. "Bye!" The door slammed so hard a chip of paint flew off, leaving Changbin staring at white.

 

It felt like a full two minutes before he moved again, his hand rising to his right cheek, fingertips brushing the place where Felix's lips had been. A second later, he felt himself smiling. And then he detonated.

 

"Yeah! FUCK yeah! Who fucking did it? Who scored a kiss from Lee Felix? Who didn't fucking die? SpearB, baby! YES!"

 

Changbin rocketed down the five floors at record - breaking speed, taking two at a time, hopping onto his motorcycle and zooming off, narrowly missing the same couple he almost hit before, but he found he didn't have two shits to give. Who would even bother giving a shit when Lee Felix had just kissed you? To hell with those pedestrians - they were sure missing out. To hell with all those taxis and trucks - they didn't just experience the Big Bang. And traffic lights? Who even asked for those? Who even cared about those when LEE FELIX EXISTED?!

 

Somewhere close to a skyscraper, a bolt of silver lightning struck the earth. Who knew where it would strike next? Maybe at that street vendor. Maybe at JYP. Maybe even at Changbin. Strike me down, Zeus, he dared the god. You don't have the balls.

 

When he arrived at Jisung's apartment, he almost crashed his bike into a telephone pole. But nevermind that. Changbin shot up the stairs past the bakery and threw open the door, where he knew his two best friends were waiting.

 

Chan and Jisung were at the kitchen counter, engaged in a game of UNO. "Draw two," Jisung announced, placing down his card.

 

"Fuck you," Chan snapped, drawing from the deck. Only then did they realize Changbin was there. "Oh, hey! You look... soaked."

 

"I rode my motorcycle all the way here," Changbin panted.

 

"Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? In a storm? Are you okay?"

 

"Amazing."

 

"Your face is all red," Jisung noted, smirking. "I can only assume things went well with Felix."

 

"Better than I could have imagined," Changbin breathed. "I'm in love."

 

Jisung snickered. “Well, then congrats, buddy - you are officially the last person on the planet to know.” Then his words hit fresh. “Wait, what?”

 

I’m in love. In that moment, Changbin’s legs turned to jelly, and he slumped wordlessly back against the wall, allowing himself to slither to the floor.

 

”Whoa, there, Binnie, don’t go fainting on us!” Chan raced over, shutting the door, the card game forgotten. He grabbed him by the shoulders. “You’re in love with him?!”

 

Changbin couldn’t even speak properly - all he could do was giggle. “We kissed, and then - “

 

”You guys kissed?!” Jisung squealed from the kitchen.

 

Chan sprung to his feet, crowing like some kind of alpha rooster, fists in the air. He pointed to Jisung. “Blast Dancing Queen at top fucking volume! Apologize to your landlord later! We’re gonna celebrate!”

 

No sooner than that, the piano intro trilled, and the song kicked off. Chan and Jisung jumped atop the couch and coffee table, screaming out the lyrics.

 

”You can dance,”

 

“You can jive,”

 

”Having the time of your life,”

 

Chan pointed right at Changbin. “See that girl!”

 

Jisung copied his move. ”Watch that scene!” 

 

“Digging the dancing queen!”

 

You haven’t really kissed him yet, Changbin reminded himself. It was a cheek kiss - hell yeah, it meant a lot, but he hadn’t told Felix everything he wanted to tell him. How he really felt.

 

But Changbin wasn’t going to worry about that now. It was a Sunday night - he still had a lot of time to waste. Sure, it was a school night, and they’d probably end up passed out on the couch with the music still playing, but there would still be another day, another chance to get things right.

 

Tomorrow, he would see Felix again. He would take him somewhere no one else would find, and he would kiss him for real.

 

Pushing himself off the wall, Changbin joined his friends in the living room, and danced the night away.

 

Felix p.o.v

 

Holy shit.

 

Holy. Shit.

 

That just happened.

 

Those were the only two phrases Felix’s mind could comprehend as he stared at the door, fixed in place, hand still clamped over his mouth.

 

But it couldn’t have. There was no way that could have happened. Someone had to pinch him. Someone had to slap him. Someone had to cut open his head and take out his brain and review every precious memory he had made in the last sixteen hours because he had to be hallucinating.

 

Felix couldn’t have possibly gone out and done all the things he had done today. He couldn’t have gone out into the city. He couldn’t have survived the outrageous motorcycle freeway rides anyone could think of. And he certainly couldn’t have kissed Changbin.

 

Oh, fuck. Felix’s brain honed in on a new word: Changbin.

 

They had spent a whole freaking day together. They had gone all over the city, talking and eating and laughing at strangers, probably annoying the hell out of the entirety of Seoul while they did. They flirted atop a mountain and watched a sunset, and made it back alive through the most haphazard rainstorm Felix could remember, and had been prepared to leave it at that, but Changbin had stayed past the cutoff.

 

He asked if it had been a date. And instead of answering 'yes' like any other reasonable person would have done, Felix kissed him.

 

The world handed his mind a scroll that said: Congratulations - you're an idiot.

 

And if that wasn't bad, he had left him standing there! Slammed the door in his face without any further explanation! What if he still was there, mouth hanging open in shock?

 

Oh, God, Felix had to move fast. Had to explain himself, say he was sorry, that he wasn't thinking, that he didn't know why he did it. Even though that would be a lie.

 

"Shut up, brain," Felix scolded. "Just fucking do it. Put your hand on the doorknob, open it up, and - "

 

"Yeah! FUCK yeah! Who fucking did it? Who scored a kiss from Lee Felix? Who didn't fucking die? SpearB, baby! YES!"

 

The shout was muffled through the wood, but the voice was unmistakably Changbin's. His cheers trailed down the left corridor where they had came from, with the dissonant bass line of thumping footsteps down the stairs.

 

Felix's hand had paused halfway to the doorknob. Through the walls of his apartment, he heard the baffled murmurs of his neighbors. But he was only focusing on one thing.

 

Changbin hadn't been upset to receive his kiss. He had been happy.

 

Now the grin on his face was stretching wider, past human limits, so much it hurt. The laughter bubbling out of his lips was from the giddy sort of elation he hadn't felt in a long time, the kind that had to be savored and enjoyed before it dropped you from the clouds.

 

Felix dashed to his room, grabbing the Bluetooth speaker from his desk - this was a moment of jubilation, damn it. He was about this close to blasting Yes or Yes to the ears of Olympus when a series of knocks on his wall startled him. "Hey! Hey, kid, I'm talking to you!"

 

"Not now, Gladys, this is kind of important!"

 

"I know about the boy, alright? The whole goddamn floor knows about him, since he hollered so fucking loud."

 

Just humor her, the angel on his shoulder begged. It'll be over before you know it.

 

Felix sighed. "Coming!" He cast the speaker and his phone aside on the couch, mentally reminding himself to lock the door on his way back inside as he opened it up.

 

Outside, the tenants of the fifth floor were waiting for him, the ones he knew, anyway. Gladys leaning on her cane, still in a floral blue housecoat. Jisu in an oversized black denim jacket that Felix could have sworn he saw on Chaeryoung. Even Phil leaned outside of his apartment, bags under his eyes visible from three doors away.

 

"What's all this?"

 

"We heard about your date, dum - dum," Jisu explained. "Also, just checking, but was that you at the park behind Chaeryoung and I?"

 

"Maybe."

 

"You monkey's asshole, you told me you would be studying!"

 

"Why would you believe me?"

 

"Keep your teenybopper bickering out of this!" Gladys barked.

 

Felix and Jisu shut up. "Sorry, Gladys."

 

The old woman sighed. "Look, we've all heard you yapping about it for the last two days, and... well, we just wanted to tell you that we're happy that it went well."

 

It was almost shocking - this lady, who told the security to not touch her geraniums unless they wanted to lose a finger, who only ever talked to Felix through the walls and even then it was to tell him to shut up - wasn't just a grouchy next-door neighbor after all. "Aw, Gladys, you old softie!"

 

"It's the least we could do," Phil offered a tired smile. "You've always been nice to everybody around here, so we thought we'd acknowledge that a little."

 

Guess people really don't forget me that easily, Felix thought. It was kind of a strange thing to think about yourself, but it didn't feel that bad. "That's really sweet of you guys."

 

"Eh, whatever," Gladys grumbled. "On the other hand, how did a sprite like you manage to reel in a looker like that? Pretty easy on the eyes, if I do say so myself."

 

"And completely off limits to you."

 

"She knows that," Phil promised. "Now go ahead and do whatever post - date ritual you do on your own time."

 

"How do you know I have a ritual?"

 

"Lix, you're about as hard to predict as a Hallmark movie," Jisu replied, deadpan. "The actors are good, but the plot's not something you want to watch in action."

 

Hope you had a good date too. "Fine, so maybe I do. But I'm not gonna stick around for judgement!"

 

"Whatever floats your boat," Gladys rolled her eyes. "Go on, kids, I'm sure you both got homework from that fancy school you both go to. Phil, your phone's been ringing for the past two minutes, and it's about to make me insane. See you 'round, youngsters."

 

Phil rushed inside to answer his call, and Jisu gave Felix a last half - smile. "Thanks for setting me up on my date. You'll have to tell me about yours."

 

Felix flashed her a smile. "Maybe we can swap information."

 

They agreed to talk about it during chemistry. After Felix locked the door behind him, he let loose a puff of air, but not out of exhaustion. While there isn't a lot of charm to a cheap apartment, he decided, you can sure make up for it with the people.

 

A light bulb switched on in his mind. There were two other people he knew who would also love to hear about his now - confirmed date. Picking his phone up off the couch, he dialed Hyunjin's number and brought the device to his ear. "Jinnie, Minho! It's me!"

 

"Oh, fucking heavens, finally!" Minho exclaimed.

 

"We thought you were dead!" Hyunjin shouted.

 

Nice to know they had their concerns. "I'm very much alive, thank you both."

 

"We've been waiting on you for hours - I've lost count," said Minho. "Where have you been?"

 

"Um, on my date? I just got back."

 

"But it's almost been a whole day," Hyunjin speculated.

 

"So what might that say?"

 

Pause. "Did Changbin kidnap you? Hold on, are you chained to a chair? Are you blindfolded? Felix, this is not a Febreeze commercial - "

 

A smack cracked through the phone audio. "Hyunjin, he has not been kidnapped!" Minho berated. "He was just on one of those day - long dates people like to waste their time with."

 

"Exactly," Felix confirmed.

 

"Well, you don't sound like you've been crying. I'm guessing things went well between you two?"

 

Felix couldn't help it; he gushed. "Oh, it was magical! You wouldn't believe a word of it!"

 

"We actually might, if you tell us what happened," Hyunjin chimed in. "Confession time - tell us what you got."

 

Like you even had to ask. "Okay, so first we went to a park, where we talked about apocalyptic survival and the possibility of two moons. I fed a squirrel and he took a bunch of pictures of me, and then we found Jisu and Chaeryoung in some hidden grove - they were on a date!"

 

"They were?" Hyunjin asked, unable to keep the surprise from his voice. "Damn it!"

 

"You can pay me after this," Minho whispered to him, no doubt assuming Felix hadn't heard. "Carry on, Lix."

 

"Then we went into the city and he told me this really funny wedding story, and then my family called as he went to get us some food. He even asked me what I was in the mood for!"

 

"The mark of a good man," Minho muttered knowingly.

 

"But literally right as I got off the phone, this creep tries to back me against a wall. And then bam! Binnie storms in and practically throws me behind him! He literally hurled the guy to the ground and watched him leave us. It was unreal."

 

"Is Changbin hot when he's mad?" Hyunjin inquired.

 

"Hotter than fucking hellfire. Then after we had our food and some straight guys tried to bully us, he took us to this whole dreamscape side of town!"

 

"Down with the hets," Minho recited, probably toasting a glass of something.

 

"Let me guess - when asked what you thought of the place, you said it was like Stars Hollow?" Hyunjin predicted.

 

"You guys know me so well. Anyways, after I got a bunch of gifts for my family, he stole us some sodas from a vending machine."

 

This stunned both his friends. "Okay, what the f - "

 

"I'll explain later. We witnessed what I'm pretty sure was a divorce and then we turn around to see this silver - fox looking dude named Wooyoung who, get this, was actually Changbin's ex boyfriend."

 

"An ex - lover, now that's juicy," Hyunjin hummed, shuffling closer to the phone.

 

"He wasn't much of an ex, Binnie told me they only went on three - Minho, are you eating popcorn?”

 

"You've just been gushing about your dreamy new boyfriend this whole time." Minho crunched on another bite. "This story finally got interesting."

 

Felix held in an irritated sigh. "Well, he brought two other guys and they chased us down an alley, and I lost my drink. We hid behind this diner called Back Door, and when Binnie took us inside, I found out Mina and Chaeyoung worked there part - time!"

 

"You just now learned that?" Hyunjin asked.

 

"Tell Mina to tell Momo that she still owes me three dollars and forty - five cents!" Minho called.

 

"You guys already knew that? Why don't you tell me anything?!"

 

"Because we know that you're bound to learn it on your own, and most of the time you do! Now less off - topic, more date info."

 

"Only if you two stop interrupting me," Felix countered, to which they begrudgingly agreed.

 

He picked up again, pacing as he talked, reliving every moment in his own words. He spoke of both his performances at Back Door, which Hyunjin demanded he show them at some point in time. He told them about their close - quarters motorcycle expedition, which Minho actually applauded him in making a move. By the time he got to cliff top, all three of them were swooning and listening in on every detail. For a moment, Felix closed his eyes, and he was back there again, not a trouble in existence.

 

”So, he took you home,” Hyunjin pressed on. “What happened then?”

 

The moment of truth. Felix let them wallow in their anticipation exactly three seconds longer before he said: "I kissed him."

 

Their screams of delight were so loud that the sound cut off, leaving staticky blips of outcries as the result, along with the clatter of a bowl against a wall and maybe a couple popcorn kernels. When the audio returned to normal, We Are The Champions was playing in the background and Minho sounded to be sobbing. "That's my boy - I knew he could do it!"

 

"Guys, relax, it was only on the cheek, I didn't - "

 

"You shut up!" Hyunjin intercepted. "Do not invalidate your actions - this is an accomplishment! Plus, you'll have plenty of chances to do it tomorrow. I recommend trying after school, find some empty classroom, deserted hallway - oh! Or under a cherry tree!"

 

"Hyunjin - "

 

"Here's how you're going to do it, Lix," said a newly - recovered Minho. "You gotta take him by surprise. You're gonna steal him off somewhere nobody else is and tell him what you want. Then you grab him close and - "

 

"Stop! Both of you, stop!" The very last thing he needed was his friends telling him how to kiss the guy he liked - the guy he now knew liked him back. "The advice is appreciated, but I'm gonna figure this on my own, alright?"

 

"Just remember - if anything goes wrong, you refused the input of a professional."

 

"Boo, you whore," Hyunjin cut in. "He's happy for you, Felix. He's just got a weird way of showing it. We both are, really."

 

Felix leaned back against the wall (not the right, where Gladys was probably eavesdropping). "Thanks, guys."

 

"We knew you would miss study group, so Hyunjin and I made an answer key for Yeon and Kang with Seungmin and Jeongin," Minho informed him.

 

"You guys did that for me?"

 

"It was Minho's idea," Hyunjin acknowledged. "He said you'd be too busy coming off your first first date high to concentrate on anything else, so we decided to pitch in. Seungmin thought it was a load of bull, but with enough friendly pressure from Jeongin and I, he gave in."

 

I definitely chose the right friend group, Felix thought happily. "You guys are the best."

 

"Please, go on, we enjoy the praise," Minho joked. "But, in all seriousness, you should go get some rest. Got a full five days of mental labor next week."

 

"Sure thing, Mom." Felix beamed at the wall. "Good night."

 

"Fare thee well, young champion!" Hyunjin intoned, and Minho was just starting to tell him to shut the fuck up or else when the line went dead. And for a while, Felix just stood there, completely motionless for the first time in hours.

 

Except he wasn't. On the inside, his body was going haywire, nerves at peak sensitivity, every jitter in the world flooding his state of mind, replacing the giddiness he had felt a split - second before. It was like he was too big for this atmosphere and any step he took would leave an imprint. Like he was this close to busting out his window and running down the apartment floors Sound of Music style.

 

It was just pure recklessness; he didn't want to blast music or copy down notes or go to sleep. He wanted to do something. And Felix knew exactly what.

 

******

 

Leaning on the edge of the kitchen counter, it felt like an eternity of dial tones before the call was picked up. "Good day to you, boil on the ass of humanity," said Rachel cheerily.

 

"You've been waiting all day to say that, haven't you? It doesn't even have the same effect - you can't say 'good day' when it's six p.m."

 

"You're just mad because it's good. What can I do you for?"

 

Felix drummed his fingers on the countertop, digging deep inside for his courage. "Could you get Mom, Dad, and Olivia? I want to tell you guys how my date went."

 

"Oh. Sure - we just finished dinner." Footsteps on hardwood floors started, then stopped. "Wait, even Olivia?"

 

"Yeah. I, uh, want everyone to be here for this."

 

His big sister snickered. "A coming of age tale for all the family to hear. You got it, sport." The footsteps resumed. "Mom, Dad, dumbass! Felix is on the phone - he wants to talk about his big date!"

 

Something like that, Felix gulped. There was no turning back now.

 

Because, for the angels watching from heaven and the demons watching from hell, yes: he was going to turn an everyday family phone call into a Coming Out Thing.

 

After seventeen years of hiding away, he was finally going to do it. If he really was going to move on with his life here, have a boyfriend, be himself, they had to know it - no hiding behind a fake girlfriend. All those worries would finally be put to rest, all the 'should I, shan't I'. He was going to be fully honest with all of them.

 

Really, what was there to worry about? It was the twenty - first century, people had come to terms with it. Rachel would probably be chill with it, Olivia would... probably forget after the call ended, and both his mom and his dad would be a little shaken, but it would all smooth over. They were his loving family, after all. They had to accept who he was.

 

They had to.

 

Soon enough, the rest of the Lee Clan had gathered. "How's it hanging, little maestro?" Richard started off the conversation.

 

Felix made himself laugh. "It's, er, hanging good, Dad."

 

"Rachel said you wanted to talk about your date," Nicole said, obviously smiling. "How did it go?"

 

"It went really, really well, actually. I got you guys some gifts."

 

"Yeah, right." Olivia snorted. "She probably dumped you."

 

"Olivia!" Rachel chided.

 

"No, she didn't dump me. We actually have plans for another date sometime soon."

 

"Good job, boy!" Richard praised. "Now, what's the haul for those gifts?"

 

"Got some snacks for Olivia, Outlander for Mom, Jodi Picoult for Rachel, and a flask for you, Dad." Felix glanced at the two bags beside him. Enough small talk. "There's, um, something about Chaeyoung that I wanted you guys to know."

 

"Let me guess," his dad butted in. "She's a lesbian. She's knocked up. Wait - you knocked her up!"

 

"Dad, Jesus!" Rachel shouted. "Felix, tell him you didn't!"

 

"I didn't, Rach, I promise." He began chewing on his lip again. "But the thing about Chaeyoung is... she isn't a girl at all."

 

His family laughed, but only his mom stopped when she realized he wasn't laughing along. "What?"

 

"She's actually a guy. Named Changbin. He's the one I met on the staircase, not her."

 

Everybody stopped laughing. "So, you didn't go out with her?"

 

They still don't get it. "She isn't real, Mom. I went out with a guy."

 

Olivia piped up next. "You went on a date with a... boy?"

 

Just stay calm. You're good, they're good, everything's good. "Yeah, I did. And it was as great as I said it was. Maybe better."

 

Now it clicked. "Why did you do that?" Richard asked quietly.

 

"Because I wanted to. It's something I've been wanting to do for a while, before I came to Korea."

 

"What do you mean?" Nicole queried.

 

"I mean that it's nothing new - that's it's not just some one - time - thing, or a sudden revelation. It's what I've been feeling for years now, since I was little." He swallowed the knot in his throat. "I'm sorry that I couldn't tell you until now. It's just... the words would never come."

 

It was Rachel who popped the big question. "Felix, do you like boys?"

 

Relief flooded through him like a tidal wave. "Yes! Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. That's what I've been trying to say for so long." I get to say it. I finally get to say it. "Guys, I'm... I'm g-"

 

"Felix," Nicole interrupted.

 

"Yes?" Say something, Felix pleaded. Tell me it's okay.

 

"Are you joking?"

 

The relief froze up inside of him and shattered. "What? No. No, I - I'm not."

 

Richard scoffed. "I should've known. Hanging around with all those little dandies - you been fooling around with them?"

 

"What? No! No, of course I'm not!"

 

"What about here, then? Drew, Jack, all those others, what about them?"

 

"No! I've never been with any of them!" His voice cracked like glass. "Why are you being like this? I thought you'd want to know."

 

"We love you, Felix, we do, we just..." Nicole trailed, stammering. "We just don't find it natural."

 

This couldn't be real. Not for him. "What do you mean you don't find it 'natural?'"

 

"Baby, you have to understand - "

 

"I don't see what there is to understand! If you loved me, you would've accepted me for the way I am!"

 

"Don't shout at your mother!" Richard growled. "Come on, we both know this isn't right."

 

"It is right! It's my right!" Felix screamed into the phone, not caring whether anyone heard him. "Why can't you accept that?"

 

A voice that sounded like Rachel's tried to speak, but was quashed out by his father's anger. "Your head's filled with fantasies, kid - sick fucking fantasies. I'm not going to accept that from any son of mine."

 

"Then tough, you fuck." His tone wobbled, but he made his voice rough. "I'm not changing for anything."

 

The whole universe was silent for a minute. For a foolish instant, Felix hoped that they would miraculously change their minds, that they could go back to normal.

 

Then Richard exhaled. "You've been away from home for too long. Out in some big city, living all on your own. It's time that you come back to where you belong."

 

Fear pierced straight through his heart. "The hell do you mean by that?"

 

"You've gone wild. You're running around, screwing with boys, lying to your family." Another sigh. "It's our mistake that we ever let you leave. You're going back to Australia, Felix. For good."

 

His organs rearranged themselves. His bones turned to ice. "No," Felix whispered. "No, I - I'm not going, no way am I gonna go! Not back to you! I have a fucking life here, friends, maybe even a career, you can't - "

 

"Yes, I fucking can! Don't you tell me I can't, boy!"

 

Felix shrank back. It was as though his father was right in front of him, snarling down at him, savoring his terror.

 

"The apartment you live in? bought that for you. The fucking school tuition? Me. You would be nothing without me, and your poor mother. I gave you all you have in that place. I can take it back just as easy. And I fucking will."

 

The marble of his countertop dug into his fingers like a blade. He couldn't even make himself speak.

 

The audio shifted. "Don't be angry, Felix," Nicole said tenderly. "It's for the best. We'll get you the first plane ticket back to Sydney, and you'll be home with us. We'll fix you up, and we'll go back to normal again. Okay?"

 

Somebody that wasn't Felix replied: "Okay."

 

Down in the city, far, far away, a car zoomed down the busy road. "See you at home, baby," his mother promised. "We love you. Bye." The call ended there.

 

The phone dropped from his hand onto the floor. Felix didn't look down. His limbs went limp, and slowly, he let himself slide down until he hit the ground. It wasn't until his breathing got heavier and heavier and his hands started trembling that he felt the tears. Salty tears blurring his vision and dripping off his cheeks until they soaked in his jeans, visible for only a moment, gone in the next.

 

It's time you come back to where you belong.

 

And suddenly Felix was crying. Not even light tears - full body sobs that washed over him like a hurricane, making him double over and cover his face with his hands. I don't want to go, he thought. I'm not ready.

 

Next to him, his phone buzzed, and Felix grabbed it on impulse. The screen was cracked, but the message was clear enough.

 

binniebinbin

Attachment: 2 images

Here’s the predebut pics of Chan and Jisung you wanted earlier

Can’t stop thinking about you ✨

 

Oh, Changbin. Felix’s heart shattered. Chan, Minho, Hyunjin, Jisung, Seungmin, Jeongin, all of you, I'm sorry.

 

Barely a second after, the device buzzed again. Replacing Changbin's message was a text from his mother.

 

Mom

Website: Delta Air Lines.

DESTINATION: Sydney, Australia.

PLANE TICKET: 1.

 

The plane was prepared to leave tomorrow.

 

Everything inside of him turned numb. Placing the phone gently on the ground beside him, Felix tucked his knees into his chest, eyes fixed on the floor as he tried to disappear.

 

"I'm sorry," he said to no one, yet somehow hoping everyone could hear it.

 

I'm sorry.

Chapter Text

Felix p.o.v

Sixteen hours.

 

Sixteen pitiful hours of this life left to revel in before Felix abandoned it forever.

 

No, he wasn’t going to die. But, at the moment, it seemed a whole lot better than living. It was what he was facing, anyway: a death sentence, from which there was no escape.

 

The night before, he'd stayed up for hours bargaining with himself, searching for a flash of light in the dark that surrounded him. It was just a plane ticket - he had a right to refuse it. He didn’t have to pack up all his crap and go back to a family who wanted to ‘fix’ him. But then they'd probably just fly over here themselves and get me, he'd thought gloomily. But he wouldn't let that crush his optimism. Let them try - he would chain himself to his crappy apartment if it meant he'd stay.

 

That still didn't stop Felix from crying himself to sleep, the feeble hours he had managed to obtain, anyways. Go back to normal, his mother had said. There was no way that could happen. There was no way any of them could erase that conversation - no amount of time would never let them. Even if he played along, he would still be fuckup, the smudge on their family portrait, the one thing preventing them from being perfect.

 

How could I have not seen it coming? The question came up in his mind again and again, as it reappeared now. All those signs that they wouldn't approve of him, all stamped down by the bloated, foolish hope that they would. The crude jokes from Richard, the quiet dissonance from Nicole, even the ignorance of both his sisters should have been enough to stop him. But Felix had fooled himself willingly with his own daydreams and all the other stories he had heard of people like him, who had been embraced rather than turned away.

 

He guessed, what it came down to was, he hadn't wanted to imagine an unhappy ending.

 

At exactly six twenty - seven in the morning, Felix had been woken up by a series of noisy knocks on his door. Still in a t - shirt and sweats, he had answered the door to see the security guard holding an already filled out eviction notice.

 

"The guy on the phone said he was your dad. Told me to fill it out for you," informed the security guard. "Hope to see you around, kid."

 

Any hope he'd had of staying rooted to his life in Korea was demolished then and there. Accepting the letter, Felix closed the door and stared at his father's name on the paper. He did say he would take it all back. And that was what he was doing; clipping the wings of his own son before he'd even had a chance to fly.

 

He didn't bother going back to sleep - why bother doing anything? There was nothing here worth saving, not his work desk, which had an uneven front left peg, nor his bedside lamp, which didn't even work. It was the memories he'd made in this run - down Hobbit hole that mattered - yelling at Gladys and Jisu through the walls, study groups with Hyunjin and Minho, late night phone calls with Changbin - and all of those things would never leave him in a million years.

 

With some help from the security guard, he threw what little valuables he had into moving boxes and spread sheets over the furniture. After that, he shrugged into his JYP uniform for the last time, dusting off the three - letter insignia, and stepped outside with his bookbag, watching everything come to life. Phil slinging his jacket over his shoulder and chugging his coffee at the same time as he paced briskly down the catwalk. Gladys spraying the pigeons pecking on her geraniums with Windex. Even old Halmeoni opening the door to give her cats the gift of fresh air.

 

Jisu looked surprised to see him leaning over the railing. "You've never been an early riser before."

 

Casually as he could, Felix shrugged. "First time for everything."

 

Jisu chuckled, rolling her eyes. "See you at school, dum - dum." And she flounced off, thinking she would have a million chances to tease him again. He silently wished her luck with Chaeryoung. Whatever you do, he vowed, never give anyone the power to take her away from you.

 

It isn't the worst way to leave someone, Felix amended as he stared out the window of the bus, watching the city blur past. He hadn't told her she was leaving, so she hadn't felt obligated to wish him a proper sappy goodbye. Instead, she'd acted the way she always did around him, friendly and a little sardonic, therefore leaving Felix with a happy last memory of her. 

 

And so he came up with a resolution: he would not tell anyone that he was leaving. That way, no one would act as though they were walking him to his own funeral service. His friends would be their regular annoying selves, and he would have one good day to replay and remember as he hitched on to the plane ride back to Australia.

 

But what about Binnie? A voice asked, so small and weak he barely heard it. He deserves to know the most out of anyone.

 

The thought stopped him cold, vining around his throat like a snake. Changbin, who he had kissed the last time they met. Who would no doubt be looking for him when he entered JYP. It would be easier to swallow a cyanide pill than tell him goodbye.

 

Never him, Felix decided. He must never know.

 

So far, he had stuck with that rule, and had not been tempted to break it. Even now, as he approached the palatial campus of JYP, he held his head high. No matter how much it hurts, I won't let any of them see it, he vowed. The least Felix could do was make his friends' final moments with him happy ones.

 

He could remember his first day here - it seemed all the more clear to him now that today was his last. He'd felt as though he were being eaten alive, enveloped by this huge unknown place - that hadn't changed. Everyone around him seemed to know what they were doing, lumped into their own groups, practicing choreography, reciting songs, scribbling dutifully in notebooks and nodding for more. As of now, there was less performing and more note-taking because of finals, but it didn't stop the feeling of uncertainty from brewing inside of him.

 

It wasn't that Felix didn't know what to do today - fake it 'till you make it - but it was that he didn't know what he would do tomorrow, when South Korea and JYP was three different oceans away and he was back in the good old Down Under with the people who called themselves his family. Just what kind of future misery awaited him there?

 

Don't think on that now, he reprimanded himself. Head up, eyes forward. Think only about today. Here and now -

 

"Felix!"

 

And speak of the devil. Hyunjin and Minho came at him on both sides - Minho on his right, Hyunjin on his left. "About time you guys got here."

 

"I hope you're joking about that," said Minho. "We've called after you about three times."

 

It hadn't even been a full minute since he got on campus. Would I expect anything less? "I was a little lost in thought."

 

"Kinda weird for you," said Hyunjin, floundering when Felix and Minho gave him a look like: really, dude? "I just meant - ! Ugh, Jisu texted me this morning, okay? Said that she saw you up on the balcony when she left for school. No disrespect intended."

 

Good to see he was floopy as ever. "You're good, Jin. Really. Just felt like getting some air this morning, that's all."

 

"See, I don't get why people do that. Why not just open a window?" Minho asked no one. "It's not like you have to go outside to appreciate the 'cool morning chill', or some shit."

 

"Not everyone's as lazy as you, Minho," Felix teased. "It helps to clear your head."

 

"Why would your head need clearing so early?" Hyunjin questioned. "Did something happen yesterday that you didn't tell us about?"

 

I sort of made the irreversible mistake of coming out to my family. "Nothing that you didn't already know."

 

"You were explaining things in a hurry the other night," Minho pondered. "Was there a detail you left out?"

 

"Only that he rocked Binnie's world." Jisung twirled around them, automatically sidling next to Minho. "I'm still not believing that all you did was kiss him."

 

"We ought to put a bell on you so you can stop popping up out of nowhere," Minho mused, his attention now elsewhere.

 

"Bet you'd like to know when I'm coming for you," Jisung crooned, nuzzling his cheek.

 

Hyunjin gagged at the giggling couple, but Felix didn't even feign disgust. He hoped that they would always stay that happy once he was gone. "A kiss was all that happened, Sungie. No more, no less."

 

Jisung cackled. "You wouldn't know it from the way he looked when he came back to Chan and I."

 

"Please, spare us the gory details," Seungmin droned, teleporting next to Hyunjin alongside Jeongin. "Him and the llama over here wouldn't shut up about it last night."

 

"It was quite the salacious tale," Jeongin winked.

 

"As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted," Jisung flashed a glare at the two boys. "Changbin - boy, that guy was a wreck. Walked in soaking wet and red in the face."

 

"Maybe it was because he'd chosen to bike home in the rain," Felix suggested.

 

"But that's not even it! The minute you were mentioned, he just melted on the ground and giggled. One would think that you dragged him into your place and - "

 

"That didn't happen!" Felix insisted as his friends began sniggering amongst themselves.

 

"But it goes to show that it just might." The smile Jisung wore wasn't mocking, but so stupidly genuine. "So if you still think that idiot's not attracted to you, Lix, you're crazy."

 

All five of them broke into two indiscernible love songs, jeering at Felix when he hung his head to look at his shoes, thinking it was out of embarrassment, when really he was trying to keep from spilling his guts right there.

 

They think it's about him, Felix realized. They think we're going to fess up to each other and be a real couple by the end of the day. If only that was the fate that awaited him when the last bell rang.

 

"Speaking of Prince Charming, where is he?" Minho asked once they had stopped singing.

 

"Hanging back with Chan for one of his special pep talks," Jisung replied with a flippant wave of his hand. "They'll probably turn up any minute."

 

"Guys! Wait up!" Chan called out on cue.

 

Immediately, the mood in his friend group switched up. "Hyunjin, look! Isn't that Ms. Baek?" Minho pointed somewhere inside the building. "You told me earlier you needed her help in Language Arts."

 

"You just read my mind." Parting from Jisung and Seungmin, Hyunjin allowed Minho to lead him inside.

 

Jisung wasn't nearly as subtle. "Look, Seungmin! A... distraction!"

 

Seungmin whacked his shoulder with his trusty thesaurus. "Could you seriously not come up with anything better to say?"

 

"I told you, I don't work well under pressure! People were watching and I got embarrassed."

 

"You should wake up embarrassed." And the two of them walked off bickering.

 

Finally, Chan butted in next to Jeongin. "What did I miss?" he said, even though he knew exactly what he missed.

 

"Honestly? I have no idea, but we should probably follow them before they end up slaughtering each other." Jeongin took Chan by the arm and guided him after the each of the pairs.

 

And as if it wasn't already obvious enough what they were doing, Chan actually turned around and shot finger guns at the person behind Felix. Finger. Guns.

 

The person cleared his throat. "Do you think they orchestrated that entire moment just so we could be alone?"

 

For a split second, Felix's whole body seized up, fingers flinching into fists, releasing the tiniest puff of breath even though he knew who was there. "It wouldn't be too surprising, considering all the other things they've done in our honor."

 

Changbin chuckled, stepping up beside him. "And the circumstances aren't the worst thing ever."

 

Except they actually were. Because here you had Changbin, all shy smiles and fresh optimism, and then you had Felix, stiff as a rail and so full of jitters that it spilled over the brim of his being. To correct you politely, Binnie dearest, these actually are the worst circumstances ever because, while we should be riding off on your motorcycle into the sunset at the end of the day, I'm actually going to be shipped back to my family a.k.a The Newly Renovated Seventh Circle of Hell across the Philippine Sea where neither you nor any of our friends will ever see me again! How cool is that?

 

Seeing him now, it was clear that he hadn't had the same night as Felix. There were dark little crescents beneath his eyes, and his shoulders were just a little less broad. "I'm going to go ahead and guess your night didn't end with me."

 

Changbin's cheeks hued bright pink. "There wasn't anyone else, if that's what you're saying."

 

God. Fucking language skills. Felix's ears tingled. "That wasn't what I meant, no."

 

"I mean, I told Chan and Jisung about the... well, us, and they decided to have a little celebration in our honor. Needless to say, Jisung's landlord slash baker - neighbor yelled at us on account of the loud music."

 

"Sounds like you guys had fun." Lot more fun than me. Shut up, depression.

 

"Yeah." And now they were both looking and the ground and fidgeting. "Lix?"

 

I want you to say that one hundred times so that I can mentally replay it forever. "Hm?"

 

"Is there an ... 'us?'"

 

Oh, Lucifer, heavenly savior, why did it have to be him? Felix didn't know what he what to say - what else could he say, except:

 

"Yes."

 

Changbin smiled the most heartbreaking, sweetly dopey smile ever. "Great. Cool."

 

"Cool beans." Felix gestured to the path before them that lead inside their school. "Shall we?"

 

"We shall." Taking his hand, Changbin lead the way, giddy smile not leaving his face. Jisu was right - you, Lee Felix, are a monkey's asshole.

 

The interior of JYP was just as busy as the exterior, if not more. "Finals season's really catching up with this place, huh?"

 

"This place is packed with prodigious hopefuls and overachievers - you're only witnessing the beginning of Dante's Inferno." He peeked up at Felix, as if studying him. "What're you thinking about?"

 

Felix jolted. Can I tell you what I'm not thinking about? I'm not thinking about leaving this school - certainly not about being forced to! "Nothing. What about you?"

 

"Me?"

 

"You wouldn't have asked me that question if you didn't have an answer."

 

"Simple." Changbin shrugged. "You."

 

"You're thinking about me?"

 

"Since I texted you last night. Funny thing is, I can't seem to stop." He was obviously trying to be casual, them being in public and all, but anyone paying attention could see the flush creeping out from underneath his collar.

 

Screaming pits of bloody hellfire, I can't take this. How was Felix supposed to abandon this place when this was the boy he had to leave behind? But how could he stay when there was nowhere else for him to go?

 

Their entwined hands hadn't failed to attract the attention of the people around them, hushed whispers from students, scoffs from teachers. Changbin spared them a glance before shooting a cautious look to Felix. "Is this alright with you?" He gave a little shake of their hands.

 

"Why wouldn't it be? Minho and Jisung do it all the time." No matter what kind of attention it got them, he wasn't going to let anyone rob him of this little moment.

 

"We're not like them," Changbin murmured, throwing a death glare at a junior who passed them by. "I care about people giving you the wrong kind of attention."

 

"You don't have to deck everyone who looks at us funny, Bin."

 

"I can try." But his temper thawed. "You're really okay with this?"

 

"We're not hurting anyone, are we?" Felix squeezed his hand. "No one else has to like it so long as we do."

 

For a short, blissful moment, he could imagine it - the two of them walking to school together, holding hands, bickering, joking, laughing, just enjoying each other. But it can't happen. And it won't. He had made sure of that.

 

"So, our next date," Changbin deliberated. "When could that be?"

 

Shit. Actual ungodly shitballs. Felix had forgotten all about that. "I'm not too sure, now that I think about it."

 

"I mean, sure, with finals, we're going to be studying a shit ton, so this week is a no - go." Oh, thank fuck. "How about this weekend? Sunday again?"

 

And u - turn. "I'm unavailable then. Minho wants Jin and I for dance practice on both Saturday and Sunday."

 

"Really? And you can't talk him out of it?"

 

"Afraid not."

 

"That's a shame." The tone of his voice made it clear he meant it. But Changbin didn't stop there. "How about after school next Friday? We can take a break from all the work and head to Back Door."

 

Just the idea of it sounded perfect - perfectly impossible. Felix could already feel his breath quickening, his body going into fight or flight mode. I can't fall apart here. 

 

He tugged his hand free of Changbin's grip, both of them stopping in their tracks. "What's wrong? Kang's only a few rooms away."

 

Felix pushed down the knot in his throat. "Nothing. Just remembered that Minho sent me an answer sheet for Mrs. Kwon and I forgot to copy the work down. Hyunjin probably needs help with Language Arts, too."

 

Changbin only looked more puzzled. "But I heard Minho say - "

 

"Hyunjin usually needs a hand around these times." Felix was already circling around him, in front of him. "The stress is probably doing them both in right now."

 

"...Okay."

 

"See you later." Giving him the most fake, worthless smile ever, he spun on his heel and left Changbin standing alone for the second time. He retreated into the crammed horde of people, shifting behind cliques and couples until he couldn't see who he'd deserted.

 

Moving on down the hall, he found Minho and Hyunjin in Ms. Baek's empty classroom. They hadn't lied about the Language Arts homework - they were yelling at each other, Minho gesturing to a seated Hyunjin with a particularly thick textbook. Felix got the feeling he was threatening him. "He's not going to learn any better if you beat him, Min."

 

The disputing duo looked up at him at the same time. "You're back early," said Minho. "We made sure to give you and Changbin twenty minutes unsupervised."

 

"I remembered I had to copy down the notes you sent me. He let me go."

 

Hyunjin cocked his head, narrowing his eyes at him. "Your hair isn't messy," he noted. "Nor is your blazer wrinkled or your face flushed."

 

"And you're taking note of that why?"

 

"Because you were supposed to confess your love before he did and make your relationship official!"

 

"It was five minutes, what should I have done in that time?"

 

"It was supposed to be twenty," Minho corrected. "And you were supposed to do something while you were left alone."

 

Felix scoffed. "Like sneak off into the broom closet and have wild sex?"

 

"This is real life, not a Drarry fanfiction. You were supposed to go to a classroom and have wild -"

 

"Jesus, I get it, you're both involved in budding relationships!" Hyunjin groaned, thunking his head on the desk. "I need a boyfriend."

 

Minho rolled his eyes at the same time as Felix. "Tell me you don't need help too."

 

"Lucky for you, I don't." Felix pulled up a chair next to Hyunjin, and Minho took a seat to his left. "It's been a while since it was just the three of us."

 

Hyunjin shrugged. "So? What about it?"

 

I just hope you guys'll readjust quick to a two - member dance group. Who the hell was Felix kidding - this was Minho and Hyunjin, the two greatest dancers in JYP. It would be as though he'd never even joined in less than a week. "Nothing."

 

******

 

The rest of the day went on just like any other - flawlessly, grievously normal. Felix spent all of his classes goofing off with his friends, racing paper airplanes with Jisung and playing SmashBros on Chan's switch, which he'd coincidentally decided to sneak into school. Whatever moment he had to spare, he spent it with them - except for chemistry with Jisu, when he had nearly spilled a beaker of nitric acid and, in the state of her panic, Jisu threw it out the open window. The daily lunchtime rant was no exception.

 

"How did it take me this long to realize Chuck. E Cheese is basically a casino for kids?!" Hyunjin had shrieked. "This is Marxism!"

 

Seungmin cleared his throat. "Well, Marxism is actually-" anguished yelling from the whole table.

 

But, no matter how hard Felix tried to play along with it, every moment still felt like a goodbye. Even if the most ridiculously humorous of things was occurring in the present, there was always that clothes - tag reminder that once the final bell rang, it was off to the airport and out of this haven. His behavior hadn't gone unnoticed, either.

 

"It's weird," Jeongin had murmured, inspecting his face. "There's something off about you today."

 

Felix tried to ignore the feverish nervousness inside of him. "What do you mean?"

 

"It's probably nothing." The younger replied dismissively. "But it's in your eyes - everything you look at, like you're taking a picture of it."

 

On the outside, Felix laughed him off, but on the inside, he was shitting bricks. If he was really this bad at hiding his feelings, was it only a matter of time before all of his friends found out on their own? There was no way he could let that happen. For the sake of one more perfect day, he had to treat it like it was any other, not act in a way that would make them read between the lines. Because, if he took away the mournful aura to it, that's all today was - an ordinary day, filled with ordinary happenings.

 

Well, also excluding the strange, twinkly glances from Changbin.

 

They were like Easter eggs in the corner of a family photo, little flickers of light that caught Felix's eye every few moments. The looks were both hopeful and anxious, happening way too often to be imagined. Every time he caught Changbin in the act, and every time he looked right back down at his desk, muttering to himself. Felix could only guess, with the ominous feeling of dread, what he was whispering about.

 

God, you could have punished me with anything. He could have fallen over the railing of his apartment that morning, or been stabbed by a psychopath in the bus, or struck with a chance heart attack, but no. Instead, he was left alive to face a possibility that could possibly be a million times worse.

 

How the hell was Felix supposed to say no to something he'd been wanting since the beginning?

 

Don't distract yourself with theories, he scolded, shaking his head. It was the last class of the day - he was supposed to savor it, not panic. Remember, take in all the details, say your goodbyes, and then go. Soon, all of this would be a distant memory.

 

Everyone was seated, diligently taking notes, when Jisung tapped his shoulder. Peeking over his shoulder, Felix saw he was holding a folded slip of paper in his fingers. Behind him, Jeongin and Hyunjin were grinning like maniacs. Changbin nodded to the letter. Go on, he mouthed.

 

Turning back around, Felix unfolded the letter and his heart caught in his throat. Meet me outside class after school, he'd written, nearly identical to the note he'd used to ask him out.

 

Obviously, he couldn't turn him down. Use this to your advantage, his conscience encouraged. Get your goodbye done and over with. Changbin would definitely be the toughest to let go. Maybe it would be easier this way.

 

For old times sake, Felix wrote the same response: Lol sure, dork. He watched as Jisung passed it to Jeongin, who passed it to Hyunjin, who dropped it on Changbin's desk. He snatched up the note immediately, careful not to rip the paper. On reading the message, his whole face melted into a smile, one Felix had never seen on him before. Or maybe you just told yourself it didn't mean anything enough to believe it. 

 

Felix dubbed himself a monkey's asshole once again.

 

Before he knew it, the bell had rung, and the day was over. Every kid in the class slung their bags over their shoulders and hauled ass out of the room because they would get to see it again a million times over, but Felix took his time tucking his books in his bag, stepping out of the room. JYP Academy, my Hogwarts and Camp Half Blood. You have served me well.

 

Changbin was already waiting for him outside, leaning back against someone's locker. "Ready to go?"

 

Not even close. "Ready as you are."

 

A rustle of voices resonating quietly from around the corner. Changbin sighed. "You got an eraser with you?"

 

"Huh?"

 

"Eraser."

 

"Oh. Sure." Felix pulled the little pink wedge out of his pocket and dropped it into his waiting palm.

 

Changbin's hand closed around it, then he glanced at him. "Why did you have this in your pocket?"

 

"Easy access. I didn't want it getting lost in my pencil case. The shavings get stuck to the inside of your pants sometimes, but it washes off easily."

 

By now, Changbin didn't even bother to question it. He chucked the eraser around the corner, where it struck the target in his face. "Ack - Fine, you prude! We'll leave!" Jisung marched out rubbing his cheek alongside a defeated Chan, who turned and shot a final barrage of finger guns at them before vanishing down the hall.

 

"Creeps," Changbin muttered, watching them leave. "Let's go."

 

Felix followed him down multiple hallways, turning corners left and right, watching as the number of fleeting students trickled from clusters to trios to eventually no one at all. "There are fewer classrooms once you get closer to the exit. A few have been turned into storage rooms," Changbin explained. "The move was supposed to discourage kids from using it as a shortcut to skip class."

 

”I don’t think that worked too well,” Felix murmured, remembering the time Yugyeom and Bambam had successfully escaped school grounds for a day off with their group. His voice bounced around as if they were in a chasm rather than a school. “This hallway has great acoustics!”

 

Changbin laughed. "Well, that's not why I brought you here."

 

The echo faded off. Slowly, he took hold of Felix's hand like it would dissolve in his grasp. Felix offered him a smile. "I already told you you could do that."

 

"I know." Changbin glancing from side to side, checking if to see any stragglers had stuck around. Then he exhaled, laughing nervously. "This is probably weird for you."

 

"No less weird than every other day."

 

"Yeah. Right." He ran a hand through his caramel blonde hair, letting it slide behind his head and rest on his nape. "I, uh, already told you I'm not too good with words, but you manage to find something to say all the time, so... I'm gonna try."

 

Oh, no. The full cannonball - sized weight of Felix's dread crashed into him. God, please, no.

 

"Because I... care about you. A lot. Like, more than a friend. More I really thought I would, to be honest..."

 

This couldn't be happening. This, his favorite daydream and worst nightmare combined. But how could it not have happened? How could Felix have not seen this coming? He’d gone on a date with the guy just yesterday, for hell’s sakes - when he kissed him, Changbin had cheered like it was the greatest thing that had ever happened to him. The morning after, just hours ago, he asked Felix so tentatively if there was a them. He held his hand through the halls and dealt a dirty look at anyone who seemed to have a problem with it. He tried to set up their next date, and Felix had run away, wanting to avoid the whole thing. 

 

But now here it was, inches away from him: Changbin pouring out his soul to him, the romantic sweetheart that he was, but instead of accepting him and returning his words, Felix had to turn him down because he couldn't promise him a lie, leave the both of them brokenhearted, and vanish off the face of the earth. And he couldn't do it. 

 

"...but I'm not expecting you to do anything you don't wanna do! And - shit. Gimme a second - "

 

I can't do this. "Changbin."

 

"Yeah?" And all of a sudden they were so close. Changbin's hands were now holding both of his. Those sweet, dark chocolate eyes gazed fervently up at him, but underneath that worry, a spark of desire. Felix's own eyes traced every detail they could perceive, the tense hold of Changbin's shoulders, the little scar on his chin, the fullness of his lips. A cruel promise of what could never be his.

 

"I have to go," Felix choked out.

 

The spark in his eyes died. "What?"

 

Felix untangled their fingers, making himself back away. "I'm sorry. I..." But Changbin's face was already crumbling, his hand still reaching out. "I'm sorry."

 

He spun on his heel and ran before Changbin could stop him, before he could stop himself. Because he knew if he turned around, there would be nothing stopping him from taking that boy into his arms and bringing down the apocalypse with the most hopeless wish he'd ever had. So he kept moving, eyes fixed on the floor, putting enough distance between them until he couldn't stand being in such a long, empty place.

 

Felix stumbled into the first empty unlocked classroom he could find, gripping the edge of the teacher's desk to keep himself upright. Tears were already forming a phantom lump in his throat, only allowing trifled gasps of air to slip through. His whole body felt and cold and clammy like an ill - fitting skin. The only sound he could hear were the crowlike wheezes escaping his lips and nothing else.

 

Nothing. Just the echoes of some faraway discussion. Not Changbin's voice. Changbin's footsteps going after him. Changbin coming to see if he was okay.

 

I've lost him.

 

The rage erupted from the stem of his core and seared through the lump in his throat - rage at his friends, his family, himself for causing this whole mess and making it that much worse. He took his arm and swept everything off the desk, howling with fury as he threw the chair at the wall. Something in him had sprung loose, something hot and mad and unfamiliar, but a part of him all the same. Felix let himself sink into this rampage, knocking down desks and hurling chairs, making the most of his wrathful energy until there was only one desk left standing in the wreckage.

 

I've lost him, Felix thought again. I've lost all of them. His madness dissipated, flowing away with the approaching tide of silence. The tears returned to him, trickling down in tiny streams down his cheeks. God, he hated crying. It made him so vulnerable, so weak. He tried to bring back the anger he had felt just moments before, but the beast had slunk back into its cavern, leaving him to succumb to this cool blue - grey feeling that seeped into his bones and leached the fight out of his soul.

 

He turned onto the lip of the desk, curling his knees into his chest as he cried. Even if he’d come clean years from now, it still would have ended the same - breaking down and pushing away everyone who cared. It was better than watching them come to the epiphany that Felix just wasn’t worth the stress on their own.

 

How long had he even expected this to last? This drama come - to - life packed with wacky misadventures, a token chaotic friend group, and the most adorably imperfect Prince Charming in a thousand worlds. A life so Indie - flawless he hadn’t believed it was his until it was all out of his reach.

 

I never would have been ready for it, Felix realized amidst his sobbing. I just never wanted this life to end.

 

”Oi, Felix!” Chan shouted. “Where are you, mate?”

 

“Binnie told us he saw you coming down here!” Jisung added.

 

Felix’s pulse skipped as he snapped up. He hadn’t even heard them coming. But their footsteps were close - too close. They had to be just outside the classroom. Shit.

 

”Don’t get us wrong, we just wanna talk!” Jisung called. “Look, you kinda left Changbin in a jilted - at - the - altar kinda position, and judging from what I’ve seen out of you two before, there was probably just some misunderstanding. Chan and I just thought we’d go down here, clear things up, and holy fuckbuckets, what happened here?”

 

Felix wiped his eyes with his sleeve and dropped off the desk, facing the two boys at the door. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine, no need to worry.”

 

Chan and Jisung’s eyes had pooled into twin saucers, but they zeroed in on him at the same time. “I think your judgment might be a little cloudy, because this is not fine,” Chan waved to the ruins. “Wait - did you do this?”

 

Today just isn’t my day, is it? “No, I didn’t. It was like this when I came in, I swear.”

 

“Lix, you know as well as we do that the teachers in this school are crazy enough to use a weekend in a rubber room as a sabbatical, but I don’t think even Mrs. Kwon would seatbelt check her room and leave it,” Jisung said, stepping in over an overturned desk. “I want you to be honest; I promise we won’t judge you: did you do this?”

 

Felix nudged a chair with his toe, chewing on his lip. “So I might’ve gone a little overboard.”

 

"No shit you went overboard!" Chan yelled, moving to upright the same desk. "What if anybody saw you? Do you have any idea how much trouble you would have -"

 

"Chan, I just said we wouldn't judge him," Jisung hissed, sighing. "Honestly, Lix, whatever happened with Bin, you can tell us. You're our friend too - and believe me, we know when he's being an idiot."

 

"It wasn't that, really."

 

"Oh, my God, did he use the line?" Chan asked. "He did, didn't he? You know what I'm talking about. Of course you do, I don't even have to specify to make you know -"

 

"It wasn't Changbin's fault!" Felix blurted. "Really. He was... he didn't do anything wrong. It was me."

 

Naturally, this confounded them. "You?" Jisung enunciated disbelievingly. "But - but how? I mean, I thought you - we were sure you - "

 

"I do." A pointless, unwelcome flush arose on Felix's face.

 

"Then why? Why did you reject him?"

 

Reject. The word itself lanced through his heart. "I didn't... I didn't reject him."

 

"Well, you kinda did by walking out on him," Chan replied. "Did you forget something and stop here to blow off steam?"

 

"I..." That's right, you fool, just keep spinning your lies. "I didn't mean... I didn't want to."

 

Jisung exhaled languidly. "Frankly, that's not making much sense either. How about you just go back to Binnie, explain what happened -"

 

"No."

 

"If you don't want to go alone, that's fine," Chan promised. "We can take you."

 

"No!" Felix tripped shakily backwards. "I can't go back to him. I can't see him, I just can't."

 

"Then what the hell is going on here?!" Jisung yelled, throwing his arms in the air. "You run out on him, but you say you like him back. You didn't turn him down, but you say you can't see him. Am I missing something?"

 

"It's just..." I can't go back to fix something that I broke myself. "I can't tell you."

 

"Who do you think you're talking to?" Chan said, picking his way towards Felix through the schoolroom debris. "We're your bros, Lix. You can tell us anything!"

 

Felix shook his head. "I can't tell you this."

 

"Come on, it can't be that bad. Did you miss a test? Forget an assignment? Hell, fall down the staircase again? Go on and spit it out."

 

"It's not like that."

 

"We're not strangers here, Felix! In just the past few months we've learned everything there is to know about each other!" Jisung ticked the options off his fingers. "We know each others' strengths, weaknesses, even our birthdays! I mean, I think so. Maybe just Jeongin's. But that's not the point. There's nothing too big or small that you can't say."

 

"I'm leaving, alright?!" The words reverberated in a blast that tore through Jisung's voice. "I'm leaving JYP."

 

And there it was, the big, raging secret, out of the bullpen. The pair was windblown - speechless. Chan was the one who recovered first. "Wha - What? You're leaving? Were you gonna go without telling us?!"

 

Felix gritted his teeth. "Yes."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because I knew you guys would react like this! I didn't want our last memories in this place to be negative!"

 

"Calm down, dude," Jisung said, laughing. Wait - laughing? "Don't get all melodramatic - just tell us where you're switching off to!"

 

An invisible hand reached in and squeezed the air out of Felix's lungs. "What?"

 

"If you're leaving JYP, then you're obviously going to some other academy. I can't say I'm too shocked - I mean, this school charges a fortune for just about everything. Just say the name of the place so Chan can simmer down."

 

They don't get it, he realized. They think I'm still going to be in Korea. "That isn't the case."

 

"I'm sorry for blowing up like that. I just get a little... antsy when the people I care about move out of arm's reach," Chan apologized. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. Where'll it be? SM? YG, with Yedam? Or one of the smaller academies? BigHit, Fantagio, Stone? Give us something to work with here!"

 

"I can't do that."

 

"Come on, we're not gonna dump you because you're headed someplace else," Jisung ensured him. "We have to know where we can reach you!"

 

Part of Felix was tempted to lie again, give them the name of some fake academy and leave it at that. But the soft, already defeated side of him answered instead, because what more could he possibly have to lose? "Where I'm going, you won't be able to reach me."

 

"That's nonsense! Whether it's academy or a public school, there's nowhere you can go where we won't -"

 

"I'm leaving Korea," Felix declared, hearing his sentence aloud for the first time. "I'm leaving, and I'm going back to Australia."

 

He watched as the revelation hit them again, this time with full force. "You're... what?"


"I'm going back to Sydney. It's already been decided."

 

"Already been decided?! By who, God?" Chan's anger wasn't misdirected now. "You're flying off to a whole other fucking country, and you didn't think to tell any of us?"

 

"I didn't think I would get to."

"Well, obviously, you've had the fucking time!" The elder stormed about the room. "Booking a flight out like you can't wait to leave. Were you just gonna pull a vanishing act and leave the lot of us scratching our heads?!"

 

"Why would you wait so long to say anything about that?" Jisung's voice wasn't as angry, but no less hurt.

 

Felix's face started feeling hot again, but not from any embarrassment. "I didn't have much of a choice in the matter."

 

"The hell do you mean by that?!" They both demanded.

 

"I didn't tell Hyunjin and Minho everything that happened yesterday!"

 

The three of them stared at each other before Felix lowered his gaze to the ground. "Do you want to know why I'm leaving?"

 

******

 

When he was done, it was as though every layer of every veil of protection Felix had cast over himself had been cast aside. He felt naked, laid bare before his friends. He was sitting on the desk again, head hung low, while they stood in front of him, the details of what they had just heard sinking in.

 

Jisung was the first to react, to do anything. He shook his head vigorously. "No," he said hollowly. "They can't do that to you."

 

"But they have," Felix responded, not looking up.

 

"No, they fucking can't!" Jisung kicked aside a desk in his anger. "They can't pull you out of school!"

 

"They made it clear that was happening when my dad said it was time for me to come home."

 

"Those twisted fucking shitholes - they can't tell you who to love!"

 

"All they can do is take away the option with everything else."

 

"No," Jisung repeated, thrusting his fingers through his blond hair, tears streaming down his squirrel - like cheeks. "No, they... they can't take your life away."

 

For what it was worth, Felix smiled at him. "There's a lot of conditions that go with unconditional love."

 

Jisung sank down, wrapping his arms around Felix, sobbing quietly into his shoulder as he hugged him back. "No..."

 

Chan's face was dry, not so much as a sniffle escaping his stone mask. He brushed off his trousers, and for a moment Felix thought he was going to leave, but he pulled his phone out of his blazer pocket instead. "You want me to call them over?"

 

Felix nodded. "Please."

 

Within minutes, Hyunjin, Minho, Seungmin, and Jeongin had arrived at the door. "You've strayed quite far this time, Lix," said Minho. "If it weren't for Changbin passing you that note, I would've wondered why..."

 

He trailed off at the sight of a tear - stricken Jisung with one hand around Felix's shoulder and the other covering his face, at Chan, who had an arm around both of them. "What happened?" Jeongin asked restlessly.

 

Chan gave Felix's shoulder a nudge. "You want to tell them?"

 

"Yeah." He turned to the assembly that had gathered outside the door. "Come in, please. I've got something important to tell you guys."

 

Warily, they did as they were told, placing themselves in front of him like an audience for a one - man show. With a nod to Chan, he strode to the door and closed it.

 

Hyunjin glanced at him and Jisung clumped together on the table. "What's with the gloomy faces? Did someone die?"

 

"Don't make jokes," Jisung snarled, shocking the other boy.

 

"It's okay, Sungie," Felix soothed, pushing him gently off the desk and towards Minho. Chan positioned himself by Jeongin and Seungmin, who looked all the more anxious. "You guys might've noticed I've been acting a little off today. I'm not gonna get a chance to say it later, so I’ve decided to tell you about it now."

 

"Did it, er, happen recently?" Seungmin inquired.

 

"Last night. But I chose not to tell any of you then." He was surprised at how calm he sounded, how calm he felt. Maybe it's because I've already given up. "It was after Changbin dropped me off, after I got off the phone with Minho and Hyunjin. I wasn't ready to end the night just yet, so I called up my family for a talk."

 

"But you said they already called you that day," Hyunjin noted, then the mood finally seemed to dawn on him. "What kind of talk was it?"

 

Felix glanced down at his knees, remembering how his tears had soaked into his jeans. "I'd tried to come out to them," he said. "I told them about Changbin, about you guys, about my life here." He shrugged as though he could care less. "They didn't like the idea of me being so far away from home, but it turns out they hated the idea of me dating a guy even more."

 

Jeongin's face fell, his eyes huge and sorry. "What did they do to you?"

 

"Well, they didn't take the normal homophobic - parent route. Quite the contrary." Damn it - now wasn't the time to be choking up. "They decided that I've been on my own for too long and booked me the next flight back to Sydney. To seal the deal, they even evicted me from my own apartment this morning."

 

He watched as the weight of the information cascaded upon the group like an avalanche, smashing any bit of hope they'd had for good news. "When are you leaving?" Minho managed. "The weekend?"

 

Felix opened his mouth to speak, but the words didn't come - they lodged razorlike in his throat. He shook his head in place of a verbal answer. Minho pressed on. "Friday?" Headshake. Dead silence. "Today?" More tears beading in his squeezed - shut eyes, he made himself nod.

 

Jisung breathed out a sob, burying his face in a crushed Minho's shoulder. Chan turned his face to the ceiling, trying to stop his own tears from coming. "When is your flight set to leave?" Seungmin whispered.

 

"Seven thirty. I've already got my stuff packed. I plan on heading to Gimpo International before then.” The whole room exhaled. "I just wanted a chance to say goodbye to you all."

 

The clock didn't even tick a full minute before Hyunjin pulled away from the group, pacing. "We can't let this happen," he muttered, then louder. "We can't let this happen! There has to be something you can do! Felix, you can buy the apartment back -"

 

"I've got a joint account with my dad - whatever I buy, he can take away."

 

"Then you can crash with us! We can take you to school, pay your way through -"

 

"And mooch off your money while I'm at it? I don't hate any of you enough to do that." They're really trying. They want you to stay as much as you do. "Do you think I haven't already thought of a million other ways I could avoid this? I was up all last night thinking about it - there's no way I can stay without hurting any of you guys. Don't you get it? I don't have a choice."

 

Hyunjin stopped pacing and staggered back onto Seungmin, who silently took his hand to keep them both steady. "That's why you ran away from Changbin," Jeongin murmured. "You won't get to be with him."

 

Regardless of how much I want to. "I took off before I could say anything to him."

 

"You've already told the rest of us," Minho said softly. "He deserves to know more than anyone."

 

Felix's hands clenched into cold fists. "I can't tell him."

 

"Bullcrap. You managed to spit it out to six people, how can one be any harder?"

 

"You know exactly why that is; all of you do. After what happened between us, he'll think it was his fault."

 

"So tell him that it isn't! You can't just leave him not knowing."

 

"Binnie's strong, I know he is. He'll move on." The sentence felt like pushing the razor in his throat even farther down. "We both will."

 

"Do you even want to?" Jisung asked.

 

Felix looked at him helplessly. "We have to."

 

"Lix, you know we're right," Chan joined in. "How could you not tell him? He's crazy for you - don't you see that?"

 

"This'll crush him," Jeongin said, rubbing salt in the wound.

 

"Nothing will ever be the same," Seungmin built on, adding in a lemon.

 

"I can't just stay for a guy, if that's what you're saying," Felix snapped at them.

 

"It's not all about him!" Seungmin's voice cracked like a whip through the squabble. "I mean, what're we supposed to do without you?"

 

Felix's mind emptied. He looked at the group of boys before him, really looked at them, for the first time. Hyunjin and Minho, who were his first friends, always encouraging him to do his best and put himself out there. Chan and Jisung, who made it clear from the start that they would be more than just the love interest's best friends, that they would be there for him too. Seungmin and Jeongin, who wedged themselves in on their own, sticking around any time he needed someone to study or laugh with. The only people in the whole world who loved him for who he was, all right in front of him.

 

Teach me how to say goodbye. "You'll..." Felix started, the unsaid endings piling up in his mind. Move on. Forget about me. Replace me with someone new. But each word he tried to say was another blade through his chest. "You'll..."

 

Before he could even speak, Seungmin surged forward and trapped him in a hug, and the waterworks commenced, the ugliest show of red eyes and fountains of tears the universe had ever produced. Felix coiled his arms around him, soaking his crimson - clothed shoulder.

 

"You got your damn hooks in me," Seungmin sobbed, the closest to a compliment anyone would ever get from him. "I'm gonna miss you, idiot."

 

Felix barked a damp, airy laugh. "Keep up those straight A's, Minnie."

 

"Fuck it - my turn!" Jeongin shoved him aside and barreled right into Felix, nearly knocking him over. "Whatever happens in Australia, you better remember me, okay?"

 

"As if I could ever forget you." Felix squished his dimpled cheeks.

 

The minute Jeongin stepped aside, Jisung was waiting to replace him. He took Felix's face his hands and brought them eye to eye. "You got me a boyfriend and the best Zach and Cody duet in the twenty - first century. I love you, Lix. No homo."

 

"A little homo. Don't lie." Felix accepted a wet, smacking kiss on the cheek.

 

Hyunjin bulldozed right past Jisung and yanked Felix off the desk with a suffocating boa - constrictor hug. "You keep doing your meme and theater shit, you got me? Make your family suffer."

 

"I'll speak to them only in Broadway lyrics." Felix ruffled his black locks.

 

He stepped courteously aside to let Minho stride forward and take Felix by the shoulders. "Don't ever let them change you. Fight back any way you can."

 

"I promise I'll try." He let Minho swipe the tears from his face and steer him to where Chan was waiting.

 

The elder exhaled - he was still holding back tears. "It's been nice having you around, little bro. Always come find me, yeah?" He reached his hand behind Felix's neck and brought their foreheads together. "I'm not gonna leave you behind."

 

Felix could only blush and hiccup in response. "O-Okay."

 

He stumbled backwards, drinking them in one last time. He didn't know what was going to happen to him once he left Korea, once he was back on the doorstep of the people who thought they could stitch their defective son back together. The only thing Felix did know was that those people weren't his family - these guys were. These stupid, wonderful, psychotic, batshit - extraordinary guys who let him be their friend.

 

Even though it hurt to try, Felix pasted a smile on his face. "Quit crying, all of you. I want to have one more good memory from us to take with me."

 

They laughed as one misshapen lump of snot - nosed, bittersweet sorrow, cracking smiles and laughing through the pain. "Any last requests?" Minho piped up.

 

Freeze time so that I don't ever have to leave you. "Keep me company while I tell Changbin the truth. Then I’ll try to forget about my problems for a bit.”

 

The crew of them nodded, surrounding him like a protection squad, Hyunjin squeezing his hand. Felix didn’t think they were going to walk him to the airport, now that they had already said their goodbyes. After bidding Changbin a hopefully tearless  farewell, he would be on his own. But even after taking the weight off his shoulders, his fate still felt like too much to bear. If only for a moment, he wanted to wipe the whiteboard of the last two days’ happenings and go somewhere he wouldn’t be found. To feel not numbness, but the underrated blessing of peace.

 

Together, they walked out the door, marching Felix closer to the end.

 

Changbin p.o.v

 

"I have to go. I'm sorry."

 

The words rang like a gong in Changbin's mind as he watched Felix pull away from him and retreat down the corridor, disappearing around the corner. One moment they had been close, so familiarly close, and the next they were dividing, separating from each other like a dream from reality, waking up in the gray present.

 

What did I do? His hand dropped to his side and he stared down the empty hall, waiting to see if the boy would come back. Thirty seconds went by, forty, then fifty. Nothing.

 

In the time it took for Felix's footsteps to fade in with the quiet, Changbin went from Slightly Angsty but Hopeful to what he, Chan, and Jisung had classified as a DPF: a Devolving Puddle of Flesh.

 

"You fucking piece of donkey shit idiot, you've done it this time! Yeah, go ahead and take him to some deserted part of the school and then tell him how you feel. Hold his hands and practically share his air space, that'll do the trick! Fuck!"

 

Those who were none the wiser may have glimpsed him pacing and screeching at thin air and wondered if he was deranged or reprimanding a particularly fiendish imaginary friend. By the time Chan and Jisung had come running down the hall, Changbin had gone from walking in circles to flopped against the row of lockers to his back, sinking lower every minute, still scolding himself.

 

"Whoa, there, bud, what happened?" Jisung looked around. "Where's Felix?"

 

"Probably on the other side of the planet, wishing he'd never met me," Changbin groused, sinking lower.

 

"Don't be like that, I'm sure he hasn't gone that far," Chan assured him. "While on that subject, did you happen to catch where he went?"

 

"Down the hall, to the left." He pointed in the direction.

 

"Well, what're you doing moping around? Get up and get him!"

 

"After he ran away from me? That would make everything worse!"

 

"Hold up - ran from you?" Jisung repeated. "What did you do this time?"

 

"That's just the thing, I don't know what I did! For once, I thought I had everything together, I thought I was okay! I mean, hell, I've spent all day perfecting how I would do it - Chan, you know I have! I rehearsed what I was going to say like, three times!"

 

"But then what happened?"

 

Changbin slammed his head back against the lockers. "What do you mean, what happened - he did. I was just leading us over, getting ready to spit it out, but then he just smiled at me, and my brain went numb!"

 

Chan and Jisung groaned in practiced unison. "You have got to get a thicker skin," said Jisung. 

 

"What would even be the point? After all I've done, all it amounted to, everything's gone to shit." Changbin allowed himself to slowly sink lower. "I said the first words that popped into my head, just so I could try to save something, but nope, guess that's out of the question."

 

Chan rolled his eyes. "Oh, for shit's sake -"

 

"On today's episode of 'How Fucked Up Is Fucked Up', that's fucked up, and that's fucked up, and I'm fucked up."

 

"Dude, get off the floor."

 

"Can't. Too floopy."

 

"No, you're not -"

 

"I'm melting! Melting! Oh, what a world, what a world!" Changbin's head bumped the ground with a thunk.

 

"For the love of all that's sane and holy, pull it together!" Jisung pulled a tiny pink wedge out of his pocket - Felix's eraser - and cast it at Changbin's face, striking his cheek. "There's no way you're landing that guy if you've already melted all over the floor."

 

"I had my mouth open, you know," Changbin told him matter - of - factly. "You could have thrown it in while I was talking and I could have swallowed it and choked."

 

"Bull - shit. That so would not have happened."

 

"One slip, and my blood would have been on your hands."

 

"Both of you, silence!" Chan boomed, shutting them up effectively. "Changbin, get up, who knows how many shoes have walked on that floor? Jisung, shut up and stop egging him on."

 

Jisung gaped at him. "What did I do wrong?"

 

"I could say you opened your mouth, but that wouldn't be specific. Binnie, up."

 

I'm not your fucking Harry Potter broomstick, Changbin thought, but he did as he was told. "What do I do now?"

 

"The fuck do you mean, 'what do I do now?' Go fetch your runaway groom!"

 

"Are you kidding? And have him run away from me again? What would I even say, that I'm sorry? I'm not! I'm just sorry that he didn't hear what I really wanted to tell him."

 

"So tell him that! Look, how do you know he was even that mad? Or if he wasn't just getting something?"

 

"Because he didn't come back." Changbin heard his voice waver feebly - why did he have to sound as pathetic as he felt? "Can you guys do it? Please?"

 

Jisung quirked a smile. "You want us to retrieve Felix for you?"

 

"Would it kill you?" He sighed irritably. "Just - tell him that I'm sorry if he misunderstood things, okay? That I really do care about him, and that's what I tried to say, but the words came out wrong. That I apologize if I overstepped any boundaries, but if he could hear me out, it'd mean a lot. Okay?"

 

Chan whispered something to Jisung and pulled him over. Grinning, he saluted. "One Korean Australian Adonis coming right up."

 

Changbin scoffed. "You're not ever going to let me forget that, are you?"

 

"Not in a million years!" The pair of fools ran off down the hall, skipping to the left.

 

Changbin was proud to say that his will withstood that commandment - his own commandment - for about three or four minutes. In his defense, he had been perfectly patient. He'd walked in the pattern of various crop circles, played three rounds of Tetris, even taught himself to whistle to 3Racha's newest song, We Go. But in the end, his mind had been too scattered to be reassembled for any real distraction. What if Chan and Jisung hadn't found Felix yet? What if all three of them had left the premises? Or what if they had found each other and Jisung was letting rip all of Changbin's most embarrassing moments?

 

With the information he had trusted with those to imbeciles, they had all the power in the world.

 

The more Changbin thought about it, the worse it sounded. Oh, everloving hell, what had he been thinking? Had he really been so afraid to face the object of his affections that he sent his very own Pain and Panic out to escort him back? Hold on to my sanity and keep it safe, o divine beings - I'm going in.

 

He shot down the hall and veered to the left - quietly, of course. If this was going to be a proper stealth mission, Changbin couldn't get caught. He padded further down, freezing up whenever he heard a voice. But each time, it was either a lost freshman or a burned out teacher. Jason Bourne doesn't have shit on me, he'd thought as the voices reached his ears. 

 

"- you're leaving? Were you gonna go without telling us?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because I knew you guys would react like this! I didn't want our last memories of this place to be negative!"

 

Changbin's breath caught. He could recognize those accents anywhere; to say nothing of that remarkable baritone. He pressed himself against the wall of the nearest classroom and shuffled closer to the wide open door, careful to keep his head below window level.

 

Jisung's laughter careened inside the room. "Calm down, dude. Don't get all melodramatic - just tell us where you're switching off to!"

 

That made him stop dead. Felix was leaving JYP? Was that why he had been acting so on edge? While that does put a damper on our relationship, you're going to need a lot more than a school change to keep me away. That was a good line - lighthearted and truthful. Changbin would have to put it to use once they were in front of each other again.

 

He considered revealing himself then and there. It wasn't one of his worst ideas; he would have to get a walking start first - back out from behind the classroom where he'd came - so as not to be obvious. He would also have to sound as though he'd just happened to be nearby and overhear a snippet of their conversation. Oh! Give him back his eraser, that's good thinking! Changbin was just about to steel himself and do it when - 

 

"I'm leaving Korea. I'm leaving, and I'm going back to Australia."

 

Just as it felt everything had finally clicked into place, the pieces were blown apart again, decimated to bits of rubble. Noiselessly, Changbin slumped back down. Maybe that might do the trick, some little devil inside of him whispered. 

 

No, this couldn't be it. There had to be some silver lining, some good that had to come out of this, a 'but' to finish the sentence. His thoughts swam rapidly in his mind, trying to settle and process what he had just heard. He wanted to burst in again, tell Chan and Jisung to shut up, ask Felix why he hadn't told him sooner. 

 

"Do you want to know why I'm leaving?" Felix's voice cracked on the word, holding the answer to Changbin's question, ready to answer it as if he had heard his thoughts. Tell me, he demanded. I can take it. 

 

And yet he was swept away all the same, overwhelmed by waves of anguish and shame. With every word of Felix's confession it dragged him deeper, the misery and stupefaction Felix had felt after the phone call with his family drowning all four of them. By the time it was over Changbin had sunk to the trenches, rooted to his little spot on the ground, and all he could do was take breath after breath. Briefly, he remembered his concern the day before, when Felix had intercepted a call from his parents. I was afraid that they would hurt you, but I never imagined they would do this.

 

At the end of his speech, Felix said: "The only reason I ran from Changbin was because I didn't want him to get any ideas for something that would have never happened in the first place."

 

Changbin was only half surprised when he found he had been crying. What surprised him even more was the anger he felt inside - anger at himself for not being there to protect Felix, anger at Felix's parents for stripping away their own son's hopes and dreams, anger at Felix himself for lying to him. Angry at him? How selfish are you? Just a wall away, the boy he'd been crushing on since day one was having his whole world torn down around him. But he could have told me himself that he didn't want me before he left.

 

He'd heard the rest of his friends' stampeding footsteps coming from the next hall over crept off around the left corner just in time for the lot of them to arrive at the open entrance. Though he had been too late to prevent the door from closing, Changbin found he didn't care what more he could have listened in on. It seemed like he had already heard everything he needed to hear. 

 

When the door opened once again, Changbin was already at his post against the wall, watching as those seven traitors flowed out as one. He zeroed in on the boy in the heart of the scene. His purple hair stood out among shades of brown and black and blonde, but it wouldn't have made much of a difference anyway. He never had been able to fade into the background too easily.

 

Upon meeting his eyes, Felix froze, their friends along with him. He knew how he must look to them - a small, pitiful beggar, brought low by desperation.Their murmurs hushed in an instant, and their own eyes drifted between Changbin and Felix, waiting to see who would break first.

 

It won't be me, he swore. His mind was brewing with too much resentment to be quieted, too many barbs poised and ready to be fired. But now, as Changbin gazed at the boy across from him, he felt something else filter in - hurt, a single measly drop of heartache that infected every impulse inside of him. He could never hate Felix, not really, not when his hair had clearly been run through by an agonized hand, and his cheeks were still lined with tears, and his eyes were rimmed with red. 

 

Changbin couldn't help it; he cracked. "Why did you lie to me?" The question came out childish and petty, but the meaning of it, and the feeling behind it, was anything but.

 

To Felix's left, Minho gave him a little jab. "Say it," he whispered.

 

Felix startled, stuttering with no sound. His lower lip quivered slightly. "I..." he wavered, stepping back, eyes brimming with tears once more. "I'm sorry."

 

Eyes squeezing shut, he turned, battering through the barricade of friends and taking off down the hall, running away from Changbin for the last time.

 

For the last time - 

 

"Felix," Changbin whispered, already moving forward. "Felix, wait! I'm sorry! Come back, please! Felix!"

 

He rushed after him, reaching out his hand, but a dozen others held him back, staging around him, caging him in. “Stop fighting, Binnie,” Seungmin muttered, his expression strained.

 

“What - no! No! Let go of me! Felix!” This couldn’t be it. This couldn’t be the last he saw of him. This couldn’t be the end. “Come back!”

 

Felix kept his head bowed, shrinking down with every outcry. He didn’t so much as turn around before he disappeared around the corner. Out of sight, as if he had never even been there.

 

“Lix!” Changbin yelled hoarsely, straining against Chan and Jisung’s grip on his arms. “Come back!” Everything on the inside ached. Everything on the outside was unraveling. This was all wrong. How could there be nothing for him to do? How could they all just give in? How can I ever let him go? “Come back to me.”

 

He stopped his struggle in time to hear Felix slam the exit door shut, leaving them all behind. “No,” Changbin breathed, so quietly his words didn’t even echo. 

 

Everyone else slipped back solemnly, Jisung releasing his hold, but Chan remained. "Let him go," he said, voice thick with remorse. "There's nothing any of us can do."

 

No. It was the only word his mind could process. No, it wasn't supposed to end like this. They were supposed to walk down the halls holding hands, pulling pranks with their friends during classes, calling each other Sunshine Boy and Edgelord half a million times. They weren't supposed to be pulled apart like this, not when they had been so close to being something. This wasn't even supposed to happen. It was never supposed to end.

 

But then Chan's words struck him again: "There's nothing any of us can do."

 

Not even twenty minutes of a conversation and they were all ready to give up.

 

What the hell was wrong with all of them? Month after month of calling that boy their friend, their bro, their one and only, and now they were allowing him to slip out of their lives and never return. They might as well have handed Felix his suitcase and sent him on the bus to the airport themselves. Didn't they know that they were broken without him? That he was the glue holding them together? That the world made no sense without him? Didn't they feel that? Feel anything at all?

 

Changbin's anger seeped back into him, fusing with his despair. It was hot and writhing, taking control of his body and thoughts, making each puff of breath he expelled more and more haggard, clenching his fists so hard they hurt, tears welling up in his eyes. He wanted to drop to the floor. He wanted set fire to something. He wanted to weep. He wanted to explode inside out and then reset.

 

Closing his eyes, he tried tried to console himself, but all Changbin could see was Felix - Felix grinning up at the cherry blossoms because he liked the way they looked in the sunlight. Felix trying not to fall asleep during Kang's class. Felix dancing with Hyunjin and Minho in a vacated studio. Felix laughing at some joke he didn't even remember. The very same Felix who was being forced to ditch the one place he'd been able to be himself.

 

Chan gave his arm a gentle squeeze. "Come on. Join the rest of us."

 

His vision flashed red. 

 

It was the only thing Changbin saw when he rasped: “Tell me where he’s going.”

 

“What?”

 

Changbin wrenched out of the elder's grip and whirled around, facing the entire group. “Tell me where he’s going.” He was met with silence and stunned stares. “Tell me!”

 

Jeongin sniffled. ”Back to Australia, obviously.”

 

”Obviously, I know that. I mean where is he going now? Where would I catch him?”

 

“Oh, please,” Hyunjin scoffed. “Are you asking that just so you can go on some valiant rescue mission to get him back?”

 

”You don’t sound too pleased about it.”

 

"That's because you wouldn't let us in on the action."

 

"For shit's sakes, that's -" Hold up. Pause and rewind. "What'd you say?"

 

Minho smirked. "Did you really think we were going to sit back and let that little nuisance slip out of our lives?"

 

The group's whole demeanor had changed. In place of somber frowns were growing smiles, as if they had just played one big joke on him. There was determination in their red eyes. Changbin blinked. "You sly fuckers actually had me for a minute. I should kill you all right now!"

 

"That would be quite the mess for our janitors, not to mention it would waste way too much daylight," Jisung replied. It was a struggle not to strangle him right then and there.

 

"When did your little act start up?"

 

"The moment we stopped saying our goodbyes," Seungmin said. "It was the strangest thing - one minute we were all bawling our eyes out and the next we just looked at each other in some unsaid cosmic agreement. We didn't have to say a word."

 

These crazy bastards. "Thank hell for our phenomenal psychic connection," Changbin laughed, stopping upon recalling the gravity of the situation. "You fooled Felix just as well as you fooled me."

 

"So we better get a plan together quick," Chan concluded.

 

"Changbin, how much did you hear?" Minho inquired.

 

"Only up to the point where you, Jin, Seungmin, and Jeongin came. Chan closed the door before I could stop it." Out of the corner of Changbin's eye, the elder mouthed 'sorry.' "Think you could fill me in on anything important I missed?"

 

"His flight's at seven thirty," Jeongin piped up. "He said he was going to head on to Gimpo International before then."

 

Changbin spared a glance at the clock that read six twenty - five. "Seven thirty, that's an hour and five minutes from now. We got time." Then he groaned. "Ugh. Too much time."

 

"How is that?" Jisung questioned.

 

"Come on, you know Felix! He gets sentimental about this stuff! Knowing him, he'll probably go back to someplace he's been before just to get closure!"

 

"Which means there's a million other places he could be," Hyunjin sighed.

 

"Don't give up, men," Chan encouraged them. "There's seven of us to go after him. Felix can't have gone far."

 

"Are you suggesting we split up into teams and run all over the city?" Seungmin asked, deadpan.

 

"That's way too 'white kids in a horror movie' - esque," Minho agreed.

 

"Well, it's not like anyone else has a better idea," Jisung said resignedly. "I certainly don't."

 

"Let's think, guys," Jeongin cut in. "There's his apartment, God's Menu, plus wherever Binnie took him for their date."

 

"The park by God's Menu, the bookstore, bakery and gift shop in The Village, and Back Door," Changbin clarified.

 

"So what're we waiting for?" Minho said.

 

"Hang on a minute," Changbin muttered, focusing on some speck in the window at the end of the hall. The beginnings of an idea scratched at the back of his skull, getting bigger by the second, taking form.

 

"Scheming face," Chan murmured.

 

"Definitely," Jeongin concurred.

 

"We're going to form teams," Changbin announced finally. "Seungmin, Jeongin, you guys head God's Menu. Ask Yedam and anybody there if they've seen Felix. Hyunjin, Minho, go to his apartment and ask his neighbors about him. Look for Jisu or an old woman who smells like garlic. Chan, Jisung you two are going to The Village. Make sure to get to Mina and Chaeyoung to see if they know anything."

 

"It's official, gentlemen," Jisung declared. "Operation Sunshine Boy is a go!"

 

The boys cheered like a pack of rowdy hyenas, the greatest team anyone could ask for on such a valuable heist. As they were getting ready to leave, Changbin tugged Minho back. "Hope you don't mind that I got one more question for you."

 

"So long as it doesn't take and hour and four minutes. What you got?"

 

"Back in that classroom... is there anywhere else Felix said he was going?"

 

Minho furrowed his brow in thought. "I'm not really sure, but..." he trailed, glancing this way and that before saying: "He said something about going to forget his problems for a bit. I'm not sure if it means anything, but it seemed like something you'd want to know."

 

Changbin rooted through the junkyard of his mind, trying to unearth any hidden meanings the words might have. Where would Felix go to forget about his problems?

 

Then the memory hit him like a ton of bricks.

 

"Ten minutes up here, and you'll forget anything ever bothered you."

 

Changbin nodded, rousing himself. "Thanks, Minho." They had to move fast. "Let's roll, everyone. For Felix."

 

They raised their fists and echoed it like a battle cry. "For Felix!"

 

******

 

Next thing Changbin knew, he was rocketing down the hectic city roads, zipping past cars, swerving in front of delivery trucks, ignoring anyone who acknowledged his presence. Not even a red light could stop him, and so far, none had. He was too busy staring straight ahead, gripping the throttle all the while. While other drivers only saw an irresponsible boy in a school uniform, on the inside Changbin was a warhorse, a vigilante riding on this fury road.

 

He was hyperaware of the crushing compress of vehicles around him, the ticking clock in his mind that reminded him with every passing minute that he was running out of time. For the first time in a long time, he really was worried about becoming a smear on the pavement - even more worried that his hunch would be wrong, and he would miss Felix.

 

You can't think like that, not now, he lectured himself. Felix knows I haven't told anyone about the cliff. It's the one other place he could be.

 

"I'm doing as you said, Chan," Changbin murmured. "Going to fetch my runaway groom." He spared a moment for the phonestand that he had stuck his device on and dialed Minho's number. "Minho! D'you find him?"

 

"No," Minho answered. "I asked Jisu and some floral dress - wearing woman named Gladys. They haven't seen him either. Hyunjin's looking through the windows."

 

"And?"

 

"Not a Felix in sight," came Hyunjin's response. "Everything's covered in sheets, and there's little boxes in the corners. You'd think he was trying to set up a suicide."

 

Changbin's stomach gave a sickening twist. "Let's hope that hasn't happened. How do you know he isn't in there?"

 

"Because Twice and Dear Evan Hansen isn't playing at top volume." A sound of Minho knocking on the plaster, followed by what sounded to be the thrash of a broom and some vintage cuss words. "The walls are thin as shit."

 

"We could always make sure," Hyunjin pondered, giving a little gasp. "Can we break in?"

 

"No, Hyunjin, we are not breaking in."

 

"What's the point of being gay if we don't get to do crimes?"

 

Behind Changbin, another delivery truck driver poked an enraged, bearded face out the window and proceeded to cuss him out. "Go fuck yourself!" he yelled back, wishing he had Felix's extensive knowledge of cuss words. Another reason to get him back.

 

"I'm guessing your freeway friends aren't too happy about your little solo quest," Hyunjin noted. "How many red lights have you run?"

 

"Lost count," Changbin replied. "Are you saying you wouldn't do the same?"

 

"You bet your stupid ass we would," Minho retorted, as he predicted. "Good luck, Binnie."

 

"Good luck, Min - you too, Hyunjin. Hang tight." Changbin hung up and swerved in front of another van. One down. He dialed Seungmin's number. "Just got off the phone with Minho and Hyunjin. How're you guys doing?"

 

"Let's see, we're looking for purple - haired boy in a red school uniform in a city full of people, and we've got a ticking deadline of a little less than an hour," Seungmin summarized, cynical as ever. "We're doing swell."

 

Their current race against time didn't stop Changbin from rolling his eyes. "You, good sir, are a ray of sunshine."

 

"I can't help it! We've been asking all around the bar, and nobody's seen him! We've asked every student, every regular, every stranger. We've asked Somi, Brian, Jamie, even Seungyoon, the bartender who fills in for Yedam when he's not here! Because he's not here!"

 

"Whoa, whoa, Min, come on. Chill. Breath in and out. Calm down."

 

Seungmin sighed. "Sorry, I'm just stressed. Jeongin's been absolutely no help at all. He's just been sitting at a table talking to Yedam!"

 

"I thought you said - "

 

"I hyperventilated for a brief moment. Yedam is here, just as a student, not a bartender. Jeongin! Changbin's on the phone!"

 

Changbin heard a faint apology to someone else coming from the other end before the phone switched hands. "Hey, Bin. Did the others find him? Did you?"

 

"I'd be calling with better news if I had. Has Yedam told you anything?"

 

"Only that he saw him take the bus close by. Didn't see where he was going, but it was headed uptown."

 

Better than a faked suicide. "That's good. Really good. Keep him talking."

 

"That won't be a problem, I assure you," Seungmin grumbled.

 

"Seungmin, keep talking, and so help me I will peel of your skin and use it as a face mask," Jeongin threatened.

 

"Shut up, both of you!" Changbin shouted. The blaring of a truck horn accentuated his words. "I shouldn't have to tell you guys to stop bickering at a time like this."

 

Both guilt and shame factored in, and they stopped fighting. "Fine, Mom," they muttered.

 

Changbin didn't even waste his time being offended. His top priority was getting his guy, not some sideline squabble. "I'm going to go call Chan and Jisung. Until I get back to you guys, stay sharp." Two down.

 

He hadn't begun to dial Jisung's number when Chan's call interrupted him. Quickly, he accepted the call at the exact moment the light turned green. "Chan! Just the man I wanted to see."

 

"I should hope so. What with you driving around on that motorcycle." Knowing Chan, he was probably pacing. "Are you alright? Are you hurt? Wait, is that why you're calling? Are you in a hospital?!"

 

A soccer mom in a Tesla honked her horn at Changbin. "Get off your fucking phone, kid!"

 

Gotta love the city. "Does that sound like a lifeline to you?"

 

Chan breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank God. I'm sorry, really, my nerves are just a mess - I mean, Felix is who knows where, the rest of you are in the city, anything could happen!"

 

"Chan, we can handle ourselves, don't worry! You have Jisung to lean on, remember?"

 

He scoffed. "I guess you could say that."

 

Before Changbin could ask what he meant, a shop bell tinkled in the distance. "Hey, Binnie!" Jisung called. His mouth was half - full of something. "How's things?"

 

"Jisung, we're on a manhunt, and you found the time to eat?"

 

"The bungeoppang was fresh! Plus, eating helps soothe the nerves for me."

 

"Can I try some?" asked Chan.

 

"Help yourself."

 

"Guys!" Changbin barked. "At least try to remember the importance of what we're doing right now."

 

"You think we forgot?" Jisung's voice hardened. "We just got back from the gift store. Nobody saw him there. Same thing with the Last Word. The girl behind the counter of the bakery claims she hasn't seen squat."

 

Changbin grimaced. "Sorry, Jisung. What about Back Door?"

 

"Mina said she saw him on a bus heading uptown. That was about fifteen minutes ago," Chan responded. "Do you think she was right?"

 

Hope sparked inside of him. "Jeongin said that Yedam spotted Felix getting on a bus in the same direction. It was definitely him she saw."

 

Both of them sighed with relief. "You heading up there now?" Jisung asked. Changbin told him yes. "You come back safe and sound with him, hear me, Bin? Let's hope your hunch is right."

 

Three down. "Let's hope that for all of us and him as well. Over and out."

 

The very second Changbin halted at the foot of the clifftop, he saw the suitcases just by his bike. He hit the ground running straight up. It was their only hope of finding Felix, keeping him in their lives. He was going to escape time's grim noose and bring that boy back because, no matter how many times he had tried to think otherwise, there was no way Changbin could live without him.

 

He dashed past the magnolia trees and shrubs, stomped over the pebbles, ducked beneath the disgruntled family of robins Felix had waved to just yesterday. His lungs were on fire, but he kept running. His legs were aching, but he kept running. His feet were throbbing, but Changbin kept running, chasing the slim, futile chance that Felix would be waiting for him at the top. He had to reach him. He had to tell him... tell him what?

 

Tell him all the things that he had been too shy to say when he had been given the chance. That Felix was beautiful and kind and better than anything Changbin deserved. That Changbin himself was clumsy, eternally flustered and not nearly good enough, but not so undone that he couldn't shape himself into some semblance of a man for him. That without meaning to, he'd begun to lean on Felix's presence, to look for him in the crowd, to need him near. He needed to give him back his eraser.

 

Changbin kept pushing himself, pushing forward, faster and faster until, like the clouds parting in a rainy sky, he saw him.

 

Felix stood with his back to him. The ebbing sunlight framed his outline in pale gold. There was something stiff and painful about the way he held himself; as though to keep himself together, as though he'd fall apart, limb by limb, if he released himself.

 

The sight of him alone was a shot of elixir that coursed through Changbin's soul. "Felix!"

 

Felix whipped around, eyes already wide. "Changbin?"

 

Using up his last bit of energy, Changbin ran for him, reaching for him and adding one last mad burst of speed -

 

He overshot. Missed his target.

 

Instead of Felix, he was facing the endless top of the city, tipping forward.

 

The whole thing seemed to be happening in slow motion. Absurdly, Changbin's mind flashed to the staircase - this was probably how Felix had felt. Except he could see the fate looming before him, see the pink eraser falling out of his pocket, see the hand he had reached out still open, see the tops of the skyscrapers he had found so breathtaking ready to stick him like a prisoner on a pike.

 

Changbin squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for time to take over, for the universe to execute him once and for all.

 

Suddenly a hand caught his waist. Another snagged his arm reaching for the city below and tucked it back into his torso. He was whirled around and away from the cliff’s edge, back onto solid ground. Something had stopped him. Someone had caught him. Changbin's eyes flew open and he was immediately face to face with his savior.

 

Honey gold eyes were staring into his. They were set into a lean, angular face chisled by a careful hand, cheeks dusted with freckles. Messy purple hair was fluttering into those eyes, but that didn't interrupt his gaze. Just below Changbin's line of sight were a pair of bitten lips parted gently in shock.

 

Felix's hand was now on the small of his back, the other on his arm, pressing their bodies together. Somehow, Changbin had ended up with his fists resting on the boy's chest. They were nose to nose, breathing hard as if they had just engaged in close combat. Their hearts pounded in unison at breakneck speed, hammering against one another.

 

Changbin's mind emptied. He couldn't say anything, couldn't think anything except for three words:

 

I've found you.

Chapter Text

Felix p.o.v

 

One last normal, peaceful moment alone was all Felix had wanted.

 

A moment he had expected to have, too. It was the least life could have granted him. His friends had given him their word, and judging from the look on Changbin’s face, it hadn’t looked like he was going to speak out either. After leaving behind the ashes of all his burned bridges, he didn’t want to see another human face for the rest of the day. And he knew exactly where to go to make that last wish come true.

 

He hightailed into the city and after the bus. He could have sworn he spotted Yedam in the window of God’s Menu, but he was a man on the clock - time was not on his side. So, praying that that kid got a better part - time job and treated Jeongin right, he hopped on at the last second. It was a good opportunity to bid farewell to the places he’d been up close - All In, The Last Word, Back Door, where he’d witnessed Mina scrubbing down a table in the window. He had been tempted to wave to her, but decided against it.

 

The bus driver had given him a funny look when Felix requested to stop at the side of the road. Still, she let him off all the same, bless that underpaid woman’s heart. A couple steps past an ascending row of trees, and he was facing the upscale path to the cliff top. Alone, it was a tranquil hike, if not a little chilly. The scenery was exactly as he had first pictured it: greenery everywhere one looked, dotted by magnolia flowers and dandelions. There was even that family of robins he had waved to - a mom, a dad, and two fledglings. He had started to smile, but the flood of memories stopped him. Changbin describing the setting as he lead him up the mountain, showing him a place he had never shown anyone else, calling him beautiful.

 

The ghost of Felix’s last smile itched the corners of his mouth, trying to make it return. He bit his lip hard, rubbing his hands over his shivering arms, trudging the rest of the way up. Below him, the rest of the city seemed to reflect his mood - everything seemed to be strictly colored in various shades of gray. Yet it was magnificent all the same. The kind of view a picture would never do justice.

 

That was all Felix had wanted. Just a few minutes alone up on that precipice - not even a full hour.

 

But, with the surprise twists his life had taken in the past few months, he felt as though some part of him should have expected Changbin to come hurtling behind him. Maybe he should have seen the cliff fall coming too.

 

Now Felix held him, chest to chest, staring into his eyes. “You came for me,” he whispered.

 

”Don’t jump,” Changbin blurted at the same time.

 

”Wha - what the - jump?! No, I’m not gonna fucking jump, are you crazy?”

 

”Well, no one getting extorted by their parents goes to the edge of a cliff for the aesthetic!”

 

Felix’s stomach gave a sickening twist. So much for romance. Slowly, the awkwardness of their rigid waltz position managed to filter in. He slipped his hand away from the small of Changbin’s back and released his arm. In response, Changbin stepped back - away from the cliff’s edge this time - with his arms at his sides, but the potential energy rolled off him in waves.

 

”You okay?” Felix asked quietly.

 

“Fine, having almost fallen to my death,” Changbin replied, eyes fixed on the ground. “You?”

 

”Same here. I mean - I’m good too.”

 

”Good.”

 

Felix rolled on the balls of his feet, gazing up at a cloud that looked like an elephant. "How did you know I was going to be here?"

 

"I didn't. I just hoped as much." The scraping sound of a shoe being scuffed in the dirt. "Why are you here?"

 

There were too many reasons. It was the first location that came to mind when he stepped outside of JYP. It was where some of his happiest memories had been made. It was the only place he thought he would be alone. He could have chosen any one of them. But Felix was too tired to lie. "I don't know."

 

"You don't know?" Changbin spun on his heel to look at him, face filled with incredulity. "Lix, you keep running away."

 

"And you keep finding me," Felix shot back. "So maybe you want to explain that?"

 

But he knew he couldn't. Changbin's mouth clamped shut and he went back to studying the earth. He took a seat on the left side of the cliff top without looking up. 

 

Felix's face burned, fists clenching and unclenching as he exhaled. On a whim, he crossed the distance in three steps and sat down to his right, careful to leave at least two feet of space between them. Still, he didn't look up.

 

Whatever enthrallment that had existed between them at the tip of the cliff was gone, replaced with a strain so concentrated it felt tangible, cold as steel. Their tension took the form of an oncoming storm, made up of the words they refused to say. It was the opposite of the aura that had existed the last time they had been here, so mellow and pastel - sweet. Felix pitied the fools they had been, but he envied them too - in the moments they were together, they hadn't had anything more to care about.

 

It felt like an eternity of stillness and silence before Changbin said: "They're looking for you too, you know." A rumble of thunder.

 

Felix glanced at him sidelong. "Who is?"

 

"The others. Split off into teams, went everywhere we've ever been with you." Changbin stared out at the sky. "It's not just me."

 

"They said their goodbyes. They were going to let me go."

 

"And you thought the same about me, too." His voice seared the air between them. "Clearly, you don't know us as well as you thought you did if you thought we were just going to walk you out of school."

 

Of course I knew that, Felix wanted to say, but opted for looking at the elephant cloud again. It appeared to be doing leisurely loop - de - loops in the air. The elephant in the room, he mused.

 

But Changbin wasn't done yet. "I mean, seriously, how could you think that? After everything we've done together? The study groups, the dumb jokes, getting kicked out of a bar before we could even drink legally. Do all those moments mean anything to you?"

 

"Those moments mean everything to me."

 

"Then why did it only take a day for you to give up? Why don't you think that there's even a possibility that -"

 

"Do you really think I was going to just let my family take me?" Felix's voice rose over his. "Do you think I hadn't stayed up that whole night, trying to get out of it? I came up with a million different plans, Changbin, and every one had the same flaw, a little thing called reality. I told the others the same thing. You should listen too."

 

"I don't want to listen," Changbin sulked.

 

You gold - hearted idiot. "I know. Trust me, I get it. I just..." I didn't want to get my hopes up and believe that someone would care enough. "I just know that there's no way to save me."

 

"But you don't wanna leave, do you?"

 

Felix watched the elephant cloud sever in half. "You know the answer to that as well as I do."

 

This felt too bleak for them. Normally Changbin's presence was a good thing, a light in the darkness, but today he was just another part of the gray atmosphere. "So? Are you going to call up everyone else? Tell them you've collected the bounty?"

 

Changbin shook his head. "No. I want to be alone with you for a bit." The flush that bloomed on both their faces was equal parts automatic and unwanted. "You know what I mean."

 

"Yeah." Felix tugged at his earlobe, as if that would make the color disappear. "What'd you want to talk about?"

 

"Well, now that you bring up the option," Oh shit. "Why didn't you tell me that you were leaving?"

 

Felix huffed through his nose. “I was going to tell you.”

 

”After Minho was going to make you, if I’m not mistaken. You told every single one of them, but not me.”

 

"It's not what it looks like - "

 

"I don't know what else it could be."

 

"You have to understand - "

 

"There isn't much to understand."

 

Felix growled, glaring at him through slitted eyes. "You're a cheeky little bastard, aren't you?"

 

"All I am is a man with a question," Changbin replied calmly, not even seeming to notice. "And I want it to be answered."

 

"It's not like it would have meant anything, anyway!" Felix folded his arms childishly, casting his gaze askance. "You could have gotten someone else to tell you - Jisung, maybe. I'd have been gone all the same."

 

He hadn't known what he expected - more shouting, another scathing remark, maybe - but laughter came last. Yet Changbin was laughing, the same kind of nasally belly laughter that came out when he was happy.

 

"God, do you even hear yourself? 'Not like it would have meant anything?'" The laughter ended with a sharp, abrading scoff.  "I went on a date with you. Spent days with you and got to know you because I wanted to. You have no idea what it would have meant."

 

"Changbin - "

 

"The worst part is I would have waited for you. I would've waited days, weeks, months, before ever even considering the fact that you had taken off without telling me. I would've called a million times, hoping that all you had was a cold. I would've counted the days until I saw you again, only to hear from fucking Jisung that you were never coming back. So yeah, I'd have been pissed."

 

"If it makes you feel any better, I wasn't going to tell the others either."

 

Changbin's jaw clenched. "Guess it just came out, didn't it?"

 

"Yeah - no! Let me talk, would you? I let it slip to Chan and Jisung when they found me, and I saw no reason to hide it from our other friends. That's all."

 

"So you were just going to let us think it was any ordinary day, when really you were dropping out from under our noses?"

 

"It wasn't supposed to be like that!" Felix roared. "I wanted to leave you all with one good memory to remember me by. I tried to do the same with you."

 

"But I was the dumbass who decided to try and tell you how I felt." Changbin focused more intently on the ground, face colored with indignation. "Sorry about that."

 

Is it possible to hate someone but also want to apologize to them? "There's another reason why I didn't want to tell you."

 

"Oh, there is? I'd love to hear it."

 

"I could really do without the sarcasm right about now."

 

"I'm not being sarcastic. I'm just a little insulted that it would cross your mind that I wouldn't listen to everything you'd say."

 

"Could you stop complaining for one damn second?" Felix yelled, sighing. "I didn't want to tell you because I knew you would think it was your fault."

 

"My - my fault?!" Changbin went from lofty to astounded in seconds. "Why would I think it was my fault?"

 

"I don't know! I just thought..." Felix stammered, trying to make his stupid excuse make sense. "You know, with everything that's happened between us, and - and what we did... oh, I don't know, it's stupid, I just - " He stopped. "Binnie, please don't think about it now."

 

"How can I stop when I've already started?" Changbin had thrown up his hands, palms open to his face, as if he had just concocted another theory. "Shit, you might be right!"

 

"For the love of - it is not your fault what happened to me!"

 

"Think about it! I mean, just yesterday, everything that happened, I was - well, now I know you were, too - we were both off our heads!"

 

"We were happy, not high. Please, just stop."

 

"After it was over, you kissed me - "

 

"I'm already beginning to wish that I hadn't."

 

"Did you... did you mention me at all?"

 

"Oh, don't flatter yourself." Changbin raised a single brow in query. "Fine! So maybe I did! But so what? Even if I hadn't, it wouldn't have changed the way they reacted. They still would have rejected me."

 

Somberly, Changbin dropped the topic. "I still would have gone after you."

 

"And bombarded me endlessly with your annoying questions," Felix grumbled. "I'm guessing our lovely, loyal friends told you when my flight leaves?"

 

"Seven thirty." 

 

Damn them to hell. "Are you going to stay until then?"

 

"I'll stay as long as you let me. If you want me to go, I'll go." Somehow, Felix knew he meant it. "Do you want me to go?"

 

Just a few minutes ago, all Felix had wanted to be was alone while he faced his doom head - on. Now, that was the last thing he wanted. "No."

 

Even from the side view, Changbin's relief was apparent. "Okay."

 

I’ll stay as long as you let me. Just for that sentence alone, Felix was tempted to reach out and take his hand, the same way Changbin had tried to seconds before the rainstorm had begun. But both their hands were tucked away within themselves, fists on the grass, in their pockets. Even now, he wasn’t brave enough to break through that barrier. Not when things are already fragile enough as it is.

 

Changbin exhaled thoughtfully. "Do you really think I'm annoying?"

 

"No, I'm just mad at everyone," Felix replied. He snuck a look at the boy to his left. "Or are you just asking that because you're gearing up for your next question?"

 

"Only if I have your permission."

 

He chuckled. "Go right ahead." Who knows how long it will be until I laugh again?

 

This time, Changbin hesitated before asking: "Why did you do it?"

 

For a moment, Felix was sure that he had heard wrong. "Are you asking me why I came out to my family? Is this because I said it wasn't about you?"

 

"Yeah. No! No, not because of that." Behind them, the trees whispered to each other. "Once again, I can still - "

 

"Don't." Don't leave me here. "I'm not mad, I just... that just wasn't a question I expected to answer."

 

"You don't have to answer it if you don't want to. I mean, can you?"

 

"I can, I just... I haven't really thought about it." He hadn't wanted to.

 

"Well, when you're ready, I'll be here." As in sitting awkwardly, two feet away, lying in wait as the minutes ticked away like flower petals.

 

Felix asked himself the question again. Why did I do it? It wasn't like the topic had come to mind every time he spoke with his family. He had hardly ever thought about it, in fact - the concept only came to mind when such key words like 'dating' or 'girlfriend' came up. Then the notion poked at his brain like a pesky little needle for the rest of the conversation: how to say it, what to say: Let's get one thing straight - I'm not! Knowing what he knew now, he was a bit grateful that he hadn't taken that route.

 

But why had he taken the time to plan a call just for that purpose and wait for everyone to hear what he had to say? To divide his brain into two equal halves of hope and fear? To plan eight different outcomes - four bad, four good - and still be caught completely off guard? Why, instead of leaving it to chance and letting himself enjoy his night, had Felix purposely orchestrated the very moment that lead to his demise?

 

Maybe it's time I try to answer all those questions now, Felix thought, giving a little shrug. "I guess it just felt as good a time as any."

 

Changbin angled himself a little closer. "Go on."

 

He was back in his apartment, pacing the hardwood floors. “Obviously, it wasn’t an ordinary day, what with... everything, but even after talking with my neighbors, and Minho and Hyunjin, it still didn’t feel like enough. I felt daring, tireless - “

 

”Unstoppable,” Changbin intoned quietly.

 

Felix scoffed, a tiny puff of air out of his nose. “Yeah. Stupid, but I called them up anyway.” There’s something about Chaeyoung I wanted you guys to know. “I didn’t bring it up right away. I broke in some small talk, about the stuff that I bought them, listened to them banter, before I stopped it.”

 

”How’d you say it?”

 

The thing about Chaeyoung is... she isn’t a girl at all. “I quizzed them on it, tried to see if they could guess. When they didn’t, I told them about you.” Out of the corner of his eye, Changbin perked up. “I told them how I felt when I was with you, how I’d been feeling for years, before I even knew JYP existed. I wanted them so badly to understand.”

 

“Are you joking?”

 

Felix blinked hard and fast. “Before I said anything, I tried to imagine what would happen if I came out. Never in a million years did I think it would end like that.”

 

Changbin didn't lean away. Didn't move at all, in fact. "What would've happened if it went differently?"

 

"Then we would -" He cut off before he could turn around. They both knew exactly what would have happened if it had went differently. Felix glanced off the side of the cliff, forcing his gaze to stay there. "Then we wouldn't be here, obviously."

 

"Yeah. Yeah, right." Changbin shifted clumsily. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."

 

"Fat load of good that does now."

 

He cursed under his breath. "Look, I - I know that - "

 

"Just say what you came to say." Felix didn't dare look back at him.

 

Changbin stopped his stammering in that instant. Twice he tried to start again but cut himself off. On his third attempt, he sighed. "I know that you never wanted any of this to happen. And I know that you want me to shut up about this, but please, just hear me out. It only sounds impossible, defying your parents and leaving them behind, but it could be real if you let it. We can help you get through it, help you fight back. I can't promise that everything will be perfect after this, but we'll work it out together. It'll be better than being somewhere you won't be able to be yourself. You won't have to be alone."

 

Felix cringed, swallowing the tiny lump in his throat. You know that he's right, his angel murmured.

 

"You don't have to go back to them. Everyone here, our friends, they want you to stay. I... want you to stay."

 

The raging abyss below lost his attention. Felix let himself peek over his barriers at the boy to his left. Changbin was turned completely towards him, knees tucked up, eyes hopeful and imploring, pleading with him. And on the grass between them, their fingers brushed a fraction apart.

 

His words made sense. They made too much sense. But maybe it wasn't so foolish to believe.

 

What if they could rewrite the stars? What if Felix took down his front and told him yes, that he would stay with their crew, with him? Nothing could keep them apart then. Sure, there was the issue of schooling and who would live with who and the wrath of his parents and a whole bunch of legal shit that was so not worth thinking about, but other than that. There was happiness, friendship, the romance he had not yet lost. Maybe it was up to them what they got to be. Maybe it could be possible. Maybe -

 

Stop, said a voice dark as a nightmare and cold as ice. What happened to your little spiel on reality? Are you that much of a fool? You lost him the minute you started that phone call - you lost them all.

 

The fleeting daydream perished in his mind because that was all it was: a dream. 

 

How could they rewrite the stars when no one else was given the chance? Felix had already told the rest of them no, he could never be with them, not without bringing even more trouble with him. Everything in existence kept them apart - money, prejudice, things they were too young to control. All of those hardships were not worth a few ephemeral moments of joy. It was never up to them. It had never been possible. It had simply been hopeless from the beginning.

 

He followed you to the very end, the voice whispered. He is the last ball and chain holding you back. Cut him off. Do it now.

 

You know I want you. Felix forced himself to look Changbin in the eyes. "And what if I do go with you? Jump into your arms like you want me to and let you carry me off into the sunset? What happens then?"

 

The optimistic expression on Changbin's face shattered. "W - What?"

 

It's not a secret I try to hide. "Obviously, you have no idea, so let me tell you." He wrangled his voice into a snarl, cold and hostile. "You'll tell the lot of our chums that you've found me, and they'll congratulate us, you on your victory, me on not throwing my life away. After that, they'll leave us to our honeymoon, where the real fun begins. You never planned on paying my school tuition, because, even though you're the Mr. Moneybags of the group, it's simply out of your power. And I've certainly got nowhere else to go, so you'll take me back with you."

 

"The hell are you talking about?"

 

But I can't have you. "I won't be able to go to school, or do much of anything, so you'll keep me confined like a pet in a cage." Something evil deep inside of Felix made him smile. "You would like that, wouldn't you? Having me all to yourself, whenever you want me, waiting for you when you get home? But we can't forget about the others, either. Maybe we can arrange visiting hours for each of them."

 

Changbin's eyes flashed dangerously. "You know that's not what I want."

 

We're bound to break and my hands are tied. "You can't lie to me, Binnie. You never could. So give me a reason."

 

"Stop it." 

 

"Come on, you heard me. Give me a reason why I should stay. Hell, give me a reason why I shouldn't jump off this cliff right now. Give me one good reason why I - "

 

Suddenly, Changbin's hands shot out, seizing his shirt collar and dragging him forward. Felix only saw a flash of anger and sadness in those chocolate brown eyes before everything in his vision blurred caramel brown.

 

Suddenly Changbin was kissing him, and Felix's whole world gridlocked.

 

The Earth stopped spinning. The wind stopped blowing, the trees ceased in their gossip. All Felix could feel was the grass in his fist that kept him grounded, the warm press of Changbin's lips crushed against his, his own heart like a stampede in his chest, the only thought in his mind a clear, startled, oh.

 

When Changbin pulled back, Felix released the last puff of air he had been clutching to. Their foreheads and noses were touching, they were so close, and the only air they breathed was theirs.

 

"That's my reason," Changbin whispered hoarsely, still grasping his collar, eyes alight with not anger or sadness but shame. Felix could only watch as he unlocked his grip, one finger at a time, and moved back into that two - foot distance spot that felt a million miles away, tucking his knees into his chest. His eyes latched vacantly on the skyscrapers in the distance.

 

"The truth is, Lix, I don't know what I would do if you left. When we first met, all I wanted was for you to get out of my head. Now, I wouldn't be able to take it if I knew that was the only place I'd see you. Half the time, I look at you, and I can't believe you're real." He began to turn towards him again, then halted, shaking his head. "I used to wonder if I was missing something, all those days writing love songs about no one. Now I know that I was - you."

 

"I've never been brave enough to say it, but you have no idea how special you are. The light that you take with you everywhere you go. The good that you bring to the people you care about. The miracles you've made me believe in just by being in my life. And you still sit here and wonder why I care so much. I don't even know why I feel the way I do about you. But I wouldn't give it up for anything. Because if you would have let me fall off that cliff, I would have gone out knowing that even if I was given the chance to start over, I would've done the same thing all over again just to see you smile one more time."

 

Changbin laughed, a hollow, broken sound. "Well, that's it. I've fucked up now. Who am I kidding - that's all I've ever been able to do around you. Go ahead and hate me, that's okay. I don't care anymore. I just... I'd rather have you here, hating me, then love me back a world away."

 

He glanced at Felix, eyes welling up above the most miserable expression he had ever seen. "You can do whatever you want now. I just had to say that."

 

Felix stared at him. Speechless wasn't the right word for how he felt - he was deprived of thought and movement and air altogether, not just words. This is what he wanted to say all along - his confession, his parting message. Deep within him, his last bit of willpower dissolved into nothing.

 

But then Changbin's words struck anew.

 

"Love me back a world away."

 

"Love me."

 

“Love.”

 

Oh, Binnie. He wanted to take him into his arms, apologize for everything, tell him that he wasn't the only one who felt those things. But in his paralyzed state, Felix could only watch as the same boy who poured his heart out to him rocked on his heels, hurriedly shoved the tears out of his eyes with the sleeve of his blazer, and prepared to rise to his feet once again.

 

"No," Felix heard himself whisper. "No, no, no..." And then he was moving again, hauling Changbin back down to the ground, taking his face in his hands and kissing him. It was desperate and unpracticed, but with everything he had. Changbin gasped beneath his lips, then his hand curled around the nape of his neck and pulled him in, his touch like sparks of fire. 

 

When Felix tugged away, his ears were tingling. He had backed the other boy nearly over the edge of the cliff once more, but neither of them were focusing on that. Changbin gazed up at him as though he were an angel. Out of the corner of his left eye, a tear had slipped free, like Felix had just broken his heart.

 

******

 

Once they had clambered off each other and moved away from the edge, the boys settled back on the heart of the cliff - Changbin to the left and Felix to the right, this time with a one - foot distance. A lot less bitter, but by no means any less awkward. Maybe even more so.

 

"So," Changbin said, twiddling his thumbs. "That happened."

 

"Yeah, guess it did," Felix replied, tugging at his still - warm earlobe.

God, you insufferable douchewad. How much more was he going to make them suffer? Give Felix something good to say. Hell, make Changbin kiss him again - that was an even better option. Just end this silence.

 

Fortunately, his prayers were answered for once. “Were you, um, planning on doing that any time soon?”

 

“Well, yeah, but you kind of beat me to it.”

 

”Right.” Changbin rubbed his neck, focusing intently on his knees. “For how long?”

 

“Since the moment I met you,” Felix murmured. What would be the point of hiding it anymore?

 

”Oh. Wow. I, uh...” Was it really that easy to get Changbin blushing? How had he not noticed this before? “I’m glad I’m not the only one.”

 

I’m pretty sure that’s worth another kiss. Which would have been possible, if Felix didn’t feel like bursting out of his skin at the word’s mention.

 

“Wait. Before, you - you said that you’d never been with anyone, right?”

 

Slowly, Felix nodded. “Yeah. What about it?”

 

”When I kissed you, was that...” Changbin’s eyes saucered wide as he connected the dots, hand rising to his mouth. “Was that your first - “

 

“Yup.” Now it was Felix’s turn to blush.

 

From there, Changbin started to unravel. “I’m - I am so sorry, shit what was I thinking? I’m such an idiot - I mean, I always was, but now I’ve made it worse! First I follow you here, then I piss you off, and then I kiss you? What kind of pattern even is that?! Oh hell, Felix - “

 

”Don't you dare say you're sorry. I'm not sorry. Even if it happened differently, I... I would’ve wanted it to be you.”

 

”I - “ Changbin broke off, absorbing the the sentence one word at a time. “You would?”

 

“Is it so hard to believe?”

 

“A little, yeah.” Changbin mumbled on, that dumbass. “I mean, a first kiss, that’s really special, you know? Why me? Literally how many times have I shown that I can’t hold one lasting interaction with you without screwing it up? I don’t even think I can count - “

 

“Let me stop you right there,” Felix interrupted him. “Do you think I’m really about to listen to the same guy who executed a whole ass speech for me list off his own flaws?” Perplexed, Changbin shook his head. “I’ll admit, I didn’t prepare some heart - wrenching confession, but I’m gonna do my best.”

 

”When I first arrived at JYP, I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I walked on campus and I wanted to walk right off. Then Minho and Hyunjin took me under their wings, and I thought that was going to be it. I thought I knew what the rest of my days were going to be like - DanceRacha training, study groups, trying not to crash in the middle of class.” Felix grinned into the folds of his blazer sleeves. “I never imagined the day I would be thankful to be held back after the bell, but then I ran into you.”

 

”Before you say anything, no, I wasn't disappointed when we properly met. Sure, you stuttered a little, but you kept going, and after that... I just wanted to know more. You went from a mystery guy who accidentally saved my life to someone I couldn't believe I'd gone so long without knowing. Someone who willingly sat in for all of my dumb theater skits, made me feel things I didn't know I could feel, and if that's not enough, then I don't know what else to tell you but this: if I didn't really want you, I would've hesitated before going after you off that cliff. I'd have wondered, 'What would my parents think if I died jumping after a boy?' But to be perfectly honest, I could give less of a shit what my family thinks of me. They don't have to understand the way I feel about you because nothing they could do would ever change it."

 

Felix shifted just a little closer, not daring to turn away. "You changed my life, and made it that much better. For that, I thank you."

 

Changbin closed his mouth that had dropped open in astonishment, swallowed hard. "Oh."

 

Felix cracked up. They were on a freaking cliff, his parents were waiting for him across the seven seas, their friends scouring the city for him, and he was doubling over and laughing. "'Oh?' That's all you got for me - 'oh?'" 

 

"Shut up! You're telling me you sprung that out of nowhere? I don't think I'll be able to form complete sentences for a week!"

 

"Those were complete sentences."

 

"Shut up!"

 

He cackled again, regaining his seating. "Come on, I gave your speech a much better reaction than that."

 

"You sat there goggling at me with your mouth open like a dead fish before you made your move. You've really never done that before?"

 

"I guess three months of pent - up desire made up for my inexperience," Felix said nonchalantly, relishing the other boy's spluttering bashfulness.

 

"So what you said before, about jumping off the cliff unless I gave you a reason to stay," Changbin recovered. "Did you mean that?"

 

The lighthearted mood left him. Felix ignored the sting in his heart. "No, I didn't mean it. I just had to see if there was a way to get you to leave me."

 

"While that does put a damper on our relationship, you're going to need a lot more than a couple nasty words to keep me away."

 

A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "Did you prepare that line before you got here?"

 

Changbin giggled. "You know me too well."

 

In the space between them, the little there was, Felix reached out and took his hand. "What do you think would have happened if we stayed here, through the rain?"

 

Changbin squeezed his hand affectionately. "We would've been soaked and probably gotten pneumonia, and Chan would've broken down and sent a search - and - rescue after us for fear that we were dead. And we'd be late for school."

 

"Well, you could think like that, downer," said Felix, rolling his eyes. "But you could also say that we slept under the stars and watched the sun come up to the sound of robins. Look at the sky now."

 

The clouds had turned a dreamy lavender purple, floating as wisps in the sky, and the horizon was a grand, golden sphere glowing in the peach hued heavens. "Like it went right back to as it was yesterday."

 

"Or like the universe isn't such an asshole, and it's keeping the weather nice just for us."

 

Changbin snorted. "That's kinda stupid."

 

"You call it stupid. I call it romantic."

 

Changbin’s phone buzzed, jarring them both. He stood and pulled the device out of his pocket. “Crap - it’s the group chat. Chan’s asking if I found you. Want me to tell them?”

 

”Sure.” Then a lightbulb clicked on in his mind, probably the best and brightest idea Felix had ever had. “Or we could not tell them.”

 

”I don’t think they’d appreciate that kind of joke right about now.”

 

"It's not a joke. Let them wander - I don't want to think about them right now." Changbin rolled his eyes. "Come on! We've got this place to ourselves, got each other to ourselves. It's the perfect chance to try again. To kiss me right."

 

The words left his mouth so easily. Felix was shocked at how shy he didn't feel, as was Changbin. "Since when did you get so bold?"

 

"Since I decided I wasn't happy with our last two kisses, which happened out of desperation." Felix pulled himself to his feet with the hand Changbin still held. "We might not get another chance as perfect as this."

 

Changbin glanced hastily at his phone. "They'll start to worry - "

 

"They don't have to know," Felix smirked at him. "Unless you want to tell them."

 

Changbin stared at him, his gaze filled with wonder. When he smiled, his chocolate brown eyes sparkled. In one smooth movement, he silenced his phone and dropped it back in his pocket. "Okay. Let's do this right."

 

There was no way of knowing how the distance between them had closed - maybe they had both stepped forward. But Felix could only watch as his hands, with a mind of their own, felt their way up Changbin's arms, stopping to rest on the marvelous swell of his biceps. This can't possibly be happening.

 

Changbin glanced at his hands, chuckling. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think you've been preparing for this."

 

"Maybe I have." His voice was embarrassingly hoarse now.

 

"You and me both." Changbin's own hands crept up his shoulders, past his neck to cup Felix's face, thumb gently skimming his freckles. "How many times have we been on the verge of this?"

 

"Too many to count." Felix's fingers curled around his arms. "Maybe it was just preparation for this. It makes sense - at least I think so."

 

The wind around them transformed into music. Changbin's fingertips slid into his hair. "Do you really think we make sense?"

 

"I know we do."

 

They both moved forward at the same time.

 

Felix's train of thought veered off the tracks. Really, how was he supposed to think when Seo Changbin was kissing him with the same intensity and passion he put into everything else he did, yet at the same framing his face so gently, as if he were something precious, something worth caring for. Every cell in his body was alive and rioting. There was hardly a scrap of space between them, their torsos, their mouths. They fit together perfectly like the pieces of a puzzle, every curve and angle, like this was what they were meant to be all along.

 

The kiss was soft and slow, a push and pull of mouths, a flicker of heat and breath. Felix wanted more - he wanted everything at once. Slipping a hand up Changbin's magnificent arm, he grazed the line of his jaw and pressed a thumb to his chin, coaxing the boy's mouth open. Changbin sighed into his mouth, weaving his arms around his neck, arching into him, and oh, God, Felix could taste him. He tasted like raindrops and salty - sweet caramel and every possibility in the world. Felix let his hands drift down, wanting to memorize the hard planes he touched before his hands reached waist and grasped tight, drawing out a gasp from Changbin's lips that tickled his throat, and before he knew it he was giggling. In reply, Changbin giggled too, and soon enough they were laughing and kissing and that was probably the stupidest combination there was, but he couldn't remember caring less about anything.

 

This was the kiss Felix had been dreaming of his whole life. This was the world - soft touch and velvet warmth and electricity. The spark he had felt the first time Changbin had held him was now everywhere, lightning that charged through his bloodstream and wreaked havoc through every nerve ending in his body. They were kissing in their school uniforms, on top of a cliff, in front of a fucking sunset, and it was the climax, but not the end. This was just the beginning, the start of something new, something fresh and radiant and slowly lighting up. With every move they made, every breath they took, the air and the space they existed in was not Felix's, nor Changbin's, but theirs.

 

Inevitably, they drew apart, half panting, loosening their grip on each other. Felix probably looked as feral as he felt. "Is it always like that?"

 

Changbin laughed as he exhaled. His face and neck were flushed and his lips were pink and swollen. "No, he whispered. There was amazement in his voice. "It's never like that."

 

Felix drummed his fingers on the boy's waist. Changbin giggled again, fingertips brushing the nape of his neck. "I guess I'm a guy that you'd kinda be into, huh?"

 

Felix chuckled. "A lot more than kinda."

 

Changbin's mouth tugged up, and his eyebrows raised. Really? he seemed to ask.

 

Felix nodded in response, knocking their foreheads together. They laughed through their noses, breath tickling their lips. He dipped his mouth towards Changbin's, who was already starting to draw him in once more.

 

A twig snapped behind them, and they froze, whipping around towards the mouth of the clifftop, fearing the worst.

 

But maybe the universe didn't hate them after all.

 

Changbin p.o.v

 

The very first word that came to Changbin's mind was, what else: fuck.

 

It was a word that he was eternally grateful for, due to the fact that it could be applied to practically any situation. In this case, however, it wasn't a good thing.

 

Maybe he should have expected it. His luck had been especially rotten that day, but he had been far too preoccupied with keeping Felix within an arm's reach to think about that.

 

Changbin had walked - or rather, fallen - in with no game plan whatsoever. Some half - baked, naive part of him had hoped that, after Felix whisked him to safety, he would simultaneously come to the conclusion that no, he wasn't supposed to leave, and they would run back down the mountain hand in hand and ride down to Back Door. But because that hadn't happened, he had been forced to rely on his own words and ever - unreliable good fortune to lay down one more last - ditch attempt.

 

Unfortunately, he hadn't counted on his own anger, which he'd suppressed in his search for Felix. Yet he'd felt it all the same, simmering in his blood, activated the minute Felix had released him, surprised when Changbin told him that the others were looking as well, daring to think for a moment that just because they'd exchanged goodbyes they would let him duck out. But even then, with what felt like the whole planet falling apart around them, Changbin could never hate him. There was that still - fresh betrayal, the fear that even if he tried his best, said the right things, Felix would still choose to leave. They slipped through the cracks of his lackluster front and tainted his every argument, but he held onto the hope that Felix really didn't want to leave, that maybe he would come to his senses and stay. And for a moment, it seemed like it was going to happen.

 

Suddenly it was as though someone flipped a switch in him. Whatever vulnerability had existed Felix just moments before hardened to stone, became cold and unforgiving. His words, which had always been such a comfort for Changbin to hear with that wonderful, endearing baritone, contorted into blades that rained down and struck like acid, burrowing into every weak point he had. His mind had devolved into a hurricane of hurt and confusion and rising vexation. Hit him, Changbin's inner voice demanded. Ask him what he means. Run before he can see you cry.

 

”Give me a reason why I should stay.”

 

 What more can I say? Changbin wanted to scream. How can you still not know how much I adore you?

 

It was through that fit of rashness and despair that Changbin promptly lost his mind, kissed Felix, and poured out his heart in the most sorry, stupid, downright pitiful proclamation of love ever spoken by a man. Sad and empty and feeling like the dumbest shit on Earth, Changbin prepared to leave. He did not expect Felix to pull him back down. He certainly did not expect to be kissed by him, but in that moment he didn’t care about anything else.

 

Even now, Changbin wasn’t exactly sure how they went from quarreling to kissing, but it felt like the storm had left, like all the wrongs were being set right. For someone whose kissing career just began that day, Felix had seriously magical lips. How did he know exactly where to put his hands? How had they moved forward at the same time - that never happened before. But those questions didn't matter, not when they were laughing and kissing at the same time and it was the greatest feeling in the world and Changbin wanted it to keep going forever and ever and ever.

 

They had only separated for breath. Every feature of Felix's face was ethereal and flushed, his ears redder than they had ever been. They were about to go at it again, oxygen be damned, but that fucking twig had to snap and break the illusion that there was no one else in the world but them.

 

Reality came crashing in on Changbin. What the fuck kind of day was this? What did the universe have to say for herself? He had found not even hours ago that the boy in his arms was meant to be going back to Australia, where his bottom tier unprogressive parents were probably waiting with a Jesus Saves banner in hand. He had almost died at least six times on the freeway. He was supposed to be on a manhunt, not making out with Lee Felix, the Freckled Korean Australian Adonis Dancer Extraordinaire on top of a mountain. Everything was all kinds of mess.

 

Literally anyone could have walked up and gotten a free show. A rebellious nature walker who wanted to see the full view of the city. An elderly couple who went to this place when they were high school sweethearts. Any number of South Korea casual homophobes that could have tossed the both of them right over the edge.

 

But as Changbin turned around to face their surprise spectators, he was only able to come up with one conclusion:

 

Best way to get turned all the way off? Have your six best friends show up.

 

It was Chan who had stepped on the twig, but that was hardly relevant. Minho, Seungmin, and Jeongin were fanned out to his left, and Jisung and Hyunjin were on his right. Each of them wore the same wide - eyed, open - mouthed holy shitballs Batman expression, though Seungmin was notably the most flustered. Every eye in the group was on the two of them.

 

There was no way neither Changbin nor Felix could deny what had happened - not when the others had probably seen it for themselves, anyway. Their hands had frozen on each others' bodies, their faces still flushed, lips kiss - swollen.

 

Felix smiled nervously down at them. "Surprise?"

 

Jisung broke first, face cracking into the biggest grin Changbin had ever seen. "What the fuck do you mean, 'surprise,' we've been waiting on this shit for three months!"

 

Then the walls came crashing down. The whole lot of those Peeping Toms surged forward, beaming and crying out like banshees. Changbin had no idea who was hugging him, and he was half sure he felt a thesaurus whack the back of his head, but glancing next to him, Hyunjin and Chan were squeezing the living daylights out of a shaken Felix, who met his eyes over their shoulders and managed a strained half - smile.

 

Hyunjin pulled away to assess them both. "Flushed faces, messy hair, and just look at those wrinkled blazers! You really did make it happen!"

 

"And you're both here! Alive!" Chan exclaimed, tears in his eyes. "I had a panic attack for nothing!"

 

"He isn't kidding," Jeongin whispered. He was hugging Changbin's left - Jisung was clinging to his right.

 

"Hey, Minho!" Seungmin called. "I sucked it up. You coming over here?"

 

Minho had been the only one to hang back from the frenzy. He smiled curtly, stepping slightly back. "I think I'm good here. On solid ground."

 

Belatedly, they all remembered Minho's fear of heights. Grouping together, they shuffled down to Minho and completed the group hug, laughing at each other.

 

By the time they separated, Changbin had fully collected his thoughts. "What the hell are you guys doing here?"

 

"Finding Felix, of course!" Jisung said, detaching from his side. "Well, and you, but we figured we might as well give it a try, since he wasn't at any of the places we looked."

 

"I think he means how are you here," Felix corrected, side - eying Changbin. "You told me they didn't know about this place."

 

"And they don't." One by one, everyone turned their gazes to Chan, who looked purposefully at the grass. Changbin narrowed his eyes at him. "What did you do?"

 

The elder met his eyes apprehensively. "I might've put a GPS on your motorcycle."

 

"What?! When did you do that?"

 

"This morning, while you and Jisung were asleep. You left it in front of the bakery."

 

Despite everything going on, Changbin couldn't believe what he was hearing. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. "Let me get this straight - "

 

"Oh, shit," Hyunjin muttered.

 

"You installed a GPS on my motorcycle, while I was asleep, without telling me? You tainted my Bartholomew?!"

 

"Who the hell names a motorcycle Bartholomew?" Seungmin mused.

 

"Shut your mouth, you little - "

 

"Binnie, leave them be," Felix chided, catching Changbin's arm before he could storm after him. "Chan was just concerned about you, that's all."

 

Changbin folded his arms, grumbling. "He could have told me beforehand."

 

Felix tugged his arm out, hand falling to catch Changbin's. Dammit - why did he have to look at him like that? "Come on - don't kill the mood now."

 

"Hmph." But Changbin remained where he was. Their friends zeroed in on their joined hands, looking ready to burst with glee. He rolled his eyes. "Oh Lord, just say what you want to say, all of you, before you pop a blood vessel or something."

 

None of them needed to be told twice. They started gushing immediately as if their love life were a popular fandom topic.

 

”It’s about fucking time you two tied the knot,” Jisung snarked.

 

”I’ve been granted a son - in - law and an Aussie brother!” Chan cheered.

 

“That was two whole drama seasons worth the wait!” Jeongin declared (whatever that meant).

 

”Both my best friends are hitched,” Hyunjin realized. “Time to get me some action.”

 

”Great, I suppose this means you’re both going to be even more obnoxious than usual,” Seungmin said offhandedly, that little fucker.

 

”You lunkheads have no idea how long we’ve been waiting for this to happen,” Minho told them.

 

“Certainly not as long as Binnie and I have,” Felix replied, and Changbin bit down on his lip to keep from smiling.

 

“Don’t be too sure about that. We’ve been counting every passing second.”

 

”And the tally amounted to?” Changbin quizzed.

 

”Three months, fifteen days, and an hour and eight minutes,” Jeongin announced.

 

The quick reply made Changbin laugh, but Felix stopped cold. “Wait. An hour and eight minutes?”

 

Hyunjin furrowed his brows and took out his phone, no doubt pulling up a calculator. “Yup - we got the numbers right. Is something wrong?”

 

“No, it’s not that, it’s just - “

 

The thundering drone of an aircraft from behind cut him off. Wind shook the leaves and rippled their blazers as the plane soared out from beyond the cover of the trees, ascending into the clouds, flying farther and farther away, until it disappeared as a little white speck in the sky.

 

Then the realization clicked in Changbin’s mind. “Was that - “

 

” - my flight back to Australia,” Felix finished, tearing his eyes away from the plane, looking instead at his stupefied audience. He shrugged nonchalantly. “I guess I’m stuck here.”

 

They stayed like that for a long moment, just staring at him. Felix, who they had all come to love in their own ways. Felix, who they had torn apart the city looking for. Felix, who was standing here in front of them, smiling wide and bright as the whole damn sky, not moving an inch. Oh, Changbin thought absently, the impact of his words hitting him one word at a time. I guess I'm stuck here.

 

Oh.

 

Changbin got to him first, burying his face into the crook of the boy's shoulder, followed by Minho, then Hyunjin, then Chan and Jisung and Seungmin and Jeongin until they were all teetering back and forth and finally falling to the diagonal ground, rolling around like puppies, laughing so hard they were crying, or maybe it was the other way around. Whatever the case, Changbin did know for certain that it was Chan who had started singing the chorus to We Belong. "We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder!"

 

"Shut the fuck up!" The wails of dissent came from Seungmin and Minho.

 

"We belong to the sounds of the words we've both fallen under," sang Jisung, accompanied by Hyunjin and Jeongin, who didn't really know the words, but you had to give them credit for trying.

 

"I call for a divorce," Minho griped, but Jisung either didn't hear or didn't care.

 

Still giddy, Felix joined in. "Whatever we deny or embrace - "

 

" - for worse or for better," Changbin completed the lyric.

 

Together, the singing six belted out the rest. "We belong, we belong, we belong together Felix ~" Chan ad libbed the last bit, booping the younger Aussie's nose.

 

When all eight of them were standing, Jeongin barreled straight into Felix's arms like a hyper dog. "You're staying! I thought you were going to leave! But you're staying!"

 

"Yes, I'm staying, Jeongin," Felix reassured him, returning the boy's hug. "And I'm never leaving."

 

"Were you ever even going to leave? Did you just wanna make us panic for kicks?" Jisung interrogated. "Or did you just become Binnie's face barnacle to pass the time?"

 

Open your mouth again, you little rat, I dare you. Changbin thought, too damn close to throwing hands. 

 

"I was planning on leaving." Immediately, Jeongin pulled away from him. Their expressions went from elated to blank. "But that was before any of you tried to stop me. Before Changbin and I did anything."

 

"Must've been something if it changed your mind in under an hour," Seungmin teased.

 

Both their faces burned bright red. "How much did you guys even see anyway?" Changbin inquired.

 

Minho smirked. "We didn't see where it started, but we saw it end."

 

"That was some intense tonsil hockey," Hyunjin winked.

 

“Come on, guys, don’t drive him out when he just told us he’d stay,” Chan reprimanded.

 

"Don't worry about it, Chan," Felix consoled him. "You're going to need a lot more than a couple of nasty words to drive me away." Changbin almost smiled. He stole my line.

 

"So, Felix," Seungmin started, pushing off the tree he'd been leaning against. "Now that you've officially decided to stick around, what're you going to do now?"

 

"I'm going to live my best life with the boys, of course."

 

"And Changbin," Hyunjin added.

 

"The boys and Changbin."

 

"Obviously, we're all thrilled about that," Seungmin said, joined by the additional cheers of the others. "But what are you going to do? You want to go to school, right?"

 

Felix's smile wavered a little. "Well, yeah."

 

"That's great, except your right - wing parents are the ones currently paying you through, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think they're going to continue paying for their runaway son to go to a school that they thought was poison anyway. To top that off, all your money's shared with your dad's account, and you can't live off that bastard forever. So I ask you again: what now?"

 

"Well, I'll..." His smile dropped, his expression unraveling. "I'll..."

 

"Oh boy, here we go," Hyunjin muttered.

 

"What have I done?" Right in front of all of them, Felix dove headfirst into a downward spiral of delayed hysteria. "What in the unholy, hellforsaken fuck have I done?! Staying here? Missing my goddamn flight? Did the remnants of my braincells take off without me?"

 

"Nice job, Minnie Moodkiller," Chan grumbled. "You broke him."

 

Seungmin sniffed. "Someone had to remember the gravity of this situation."

 

Meanwhile, poor Felix paced around in stops and starts like a caffeinated wind - up toy. "I don't have a place to live, much less any money, and where would I even get enough to send myself to school and put a roof over my head? I'd need a job, and a job requires a car, and I can't have either without cash. My parents - " he cut off, face draining of color. "My parents are going to kill me."

 

"Lix, get a grip," Minho started. "Your parents are not going to - "

 

"Yes they will! They're probably gonna fly over here themselves flay me alive and bring my skin back to my sisters! And you guys - oh, I told them all about you! What if they go after you lot too?" The cogs in Felix's brain rusted over and deteriorated. "I have to go to the airport. I have to see if I can still make it, I have to go."

 

Shakily, Felix staggered forward, deaf to their shouts of protest, not getting so much as three steps away until Chan, Minho, Hyunjin, and Jeongin formed a barricade to stop him. With the help of Jisung and Seungmin, Changbin hauled the boy back.

 

"Cool off, Lix," Jeongin soothed. "Did you forget what you told us about never leaving?"

 

"But what am I gonna do?" Felix whimpered. "I got nothing."

 

"Don't say that." Chan said, ruffling his hair. "You got us, little bro!"

 

Felix peered around at all of them with heart - shattering doe eyes. "You're going to help me? All of you?"

 

Minho groaned, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "I hate you. I hate you." He grabbed Felix's face and held their eyes to level. "Yes, we're going to help you, stupid. Even Seungmin's going to do his part, right Min?"

 

Seungmin rolled his eyes. "Of course I - oh, fuck you! Were you insinuating that I wasn't?"

 

"See? You got seven guys that aren't going to let your parents touch you backing you up," Jisung threw an arm around Felix's shoulder as Minho released his cheeks. "So don't say you got nothing."

 

Felix glanced at Jisung's arm. "I don't know what to say," he professed, seemingly taking his time looking everyone in the eye. "That's sweet, guys, honestly, but I don't know if there's anything we can really do. I mean, we're still in high school. We don't have a lot of real power."

 

Changbin felt their determination sway just a little. We have to try - no matter what the cost will be. "That doesn't mean we can't do our best."

 

"This'll be the one time I'm saying this, but Changbin's right," Hyunjin conceded. "Brainstorm session, boys - let's get cracking."

 

Changbin bit his lip. "Actually, I've already got an idea."

 

Every eye changed course to him. Felix blinked exactly twice. Changbin's mouth ran dry, but he made himself continue. "It isn't school related - it's, um, about his living situation. Like, Lix, you were kicked out, right?"

 

"Right."

 

"Well, I thought of something. Only if you're on board with it, though. It'll only be temporary until you're able to get a place of your own."

 

"Would it be possible for me to move back into my old apartment afterwards?"

 

Minho and Hyunjin gave Felix twin looks of shock. "You want to go back there? The walls were practically made out of styrofoam!"

 

"It's not about the quality of the building. It's about the memories there - I'd miss my neighbors if I went anywhere else. I doubt anyone would snap it up right away, anyhow."

 

He has a point there. "Of course. Maybe we could talk to some of the tenants you know, get them to try and save it for you."

 

"Cool. So, this place you're talking about - when can I move in?"

 

"Today, if you want."

 

"Today?"

 

"You've already got your stuff packed and everything. It won't even take a few hours. You, uh, won't have to pay for anything."

 

All around them, eyebrows were slowly raising and mouths were dropping open. Chan clapped a hand over his mouth as if he were the one receiving the proposal. Jisung slipped his arm out from around Felix's shoulders and stepped back, already grinning. Only then did the real meaning of Changbin's offer seemed to kick in for Felix. "Are you saying - "

 

"You don't have to," Changbin assured him quickly. "But, until things settle down, maybe you could stay with me?"

 

Seungmin whispered a prayer. Jeongin made a noise similar to that of a boiling tea kettle. Hyunjin and Minho were exchanging looks in hyper anticipation, awaiting the answer to his question.

 

Felix's reply was said in a breath barely louder than a breeze. "Okay."

 

The one word response set off a grenade that exploded into a rowdy, roaring ovation that rivaled every football stadium in existence. Changbin accepted claps on the back wordlessly, hardly able to believe what he had just done. One look at Felix's rattled, sheepish face and he knew the feeling was shared. However, any joy either of them might've felt fizzled out when Chan and Jisung commenced on their own version of Let's Get It On. "I've been really trying -"

 

Changbin slugged them both before they could finish the first lyric. "You filthy douchewads, you know it's a two - bedroom place!" To Felix's skeptical expression, he clarified. "It's a two - bedroom."

 

"Good," Felix said gratefully.

 

"That doesn't mean he'll take the second bed," Seungmin retorted. "Who knows what kind of freakish activities you two heathens will get up to on your own?"

 

"We'll leave it to your imagination, Minnie," Felix promised. "As we know it's very extensive."

 

"Why didn't you guys react this way when they tied the knot?" Changbin gestured to Jisung and Minho.

 

"Because we made the wise decision not to have our first kiss in a public place," Minho countered smoothly. "And, given as what we saw wasn't particularly chaste, we can take it as a preview of how the real show's going to play out."

 

"Tonsil hockey," Hyunjin coughed.

 

Changbin moaned, regretting the entire course of his existence. Felix spared him an apologetic glance. Sorry, he mouthed. Well, not all of my existence. "At least it'll keep us away from you guys."

 

"Bold of you to assume we'll ever leave you guys alone," Jeongin said. It sounded more threat than joke. "Better sleep with one eye open, Seo."

 

It struck Changbin that Jeongin may have not fully forgiven him for dropping his birthday cake. "With you guys, I'll need to keep a shotgun under my pillow." He peered up at Felix, just to make sure. "Any second thoughts?"

 

Felix shook his head. "Not one." 

 

The flush of warmth that arose in Changbin's face was invigorating. "Then it's settled."

 

“Okay, we’re all glad you two got your honeymoon suite booked, but let’s get back to planning out how we’re going to figure out the bottom line of this whole dilemma,” Hyunjin said. “Obviously, Felix, you’re getting that education.”

 

”Damn right,” Felix said, the others nodding assent. 


“Now we have to just find a way to make it happen,” Minho murmured, eyes already hazy in thought. “Something we can do that won’t screw any of us over.”

 

The boys started listing off possible suggestions, but Changbin had hardly been listening. No matter how he thought of it, there was no way they as a group could pay the rest of Felix’s way through school - not without it being illegal, anyways. Nothing that some fake IDs, bank accounts and some dark web ties wouldn’t be able to accomplish. But even if they tried, the scheme probably wouldn’t last a month before it either bled them dry or landed them all behind bars.

 

Jisung mentioned something about bringing in someone else, an older friend of theirs, to help them out. That could work. But could they really trust any old friend with Felix’s scholarship? Most of the people they knew lived in brownstone apartment complexes and survived on a strict diet of takeout; it was safe to say they were short of rich - associate connections. Plus, what if no one wanted to help them? Even if they knew Felix’s story right down to the last woeful detail and saw his radiant, sunshiny face for themselves, what if they felt no real sympathy? It was a solution they couldn’t risk putting all their faith in, not when there was so much on the line.

 

Think, Changbin, his inner voice commanded. The two main ideas: trustworthy and financially secure. This can’t be just anyone. Felix needs someone that he knows he can trust, that you and the boys can trust too, to give him what you can’t.

 

Then the idea struck him, an epiphany, a bolt of lightning, a gunshot that pierced straight through. All the gods and your uncle Reginald, I think I’ve got it.

 

”Chan, see if you’ve got someone in reserves,” Jisung was saying. “It’s a long shot, but - “

 

”I don’t think we have to go that far,” Changbin interrupted quietly.

 

”Another idea, I assume?” Seungmin drawled wryly. “You’re on a roll today.”

 

“And you’re not the only one who can come up with them, brainiac. But you have to shut up if you wanna hear it.”

 

Grudgingly, Seungmin pursed his lips. The rest of the boys looked at him expectantly, Felix at his right. He’s depending on you, Changbin’s consciousness prompted him. Don’t let him down now.

 

”Well, I’m sure it’s no secret that my family is, uh, well off.”

 

“South Korea’s resident Young family,” Chan offered.

 

Changbin ignored the Crazy Rich Asians reference. “Thank you, Chan. But as I was saying, yes, we’re rich. They’ve come through for favors like this before, Chan, Jisung, and I have known them for a while, so... maybe they could help with this.”

 

Surprisingly, no one seemed to be disagreeing. They were actually looking around at one another, nodding their heads that yes, this was a good game plan. Six in favor - but what about him?

 

Felix looked decidedly less excited than when Changbin suggested he move in with him. In fact, he looked more terrified than anything else. “Bin, that’s crazy.”

 

"Come on, Lix, it's not a bad idea," Hyunjin urged.

 

"I can't do that to him!"

 

Minho scoffed. "God, you stink of decency. If you're going to have a rich boyfriend, you might as well accept the perks."


"That isn't a perk! It shouldn't have to be a fucking perk!"

 

"It's your safest bet," Seungmin joined. "They're flush with funds, accessible, and legally able to lend a helping hand. It's more than any of us would be able to do."

 

"But that's just it! It's a bet - we don't know if it'll work!"

 

"If you give it a try, it might," Jeongin pitched in.

 

"And what makes you guys think they'll say yes? To them, I'm just their son's..." Felix hesitated - had he almost said boyfriend? "I'm just some kid Changbin met a couple of months ago."

 

"Binnie's parents know all about you," Chan promised. "They know everything up to yesterday's date, and they've been dying to meet you since the staircase."

 

Felix snorted. "I bet they'll love knowing that not only did I run away from my parents, but their son wants them to help put me through the rest of my schooling."

 

"Dude, you could at least try to let us help you," Jisung sighed. "I mean, no offense, but you're not exactly in the position to refuse."

 

"I knew it," Felix muttered, laughing cheerlessly. "I fucking knew that if I stayed, we would end up here, throwing out stupid ideas on how to make this crappy situation better when it'll only get worse and worse - "

 

"Why won't you do it?" Changbin asked.

 

Felix whipped around, zeroing in on him, the rest of their friends forgotten. "I've already told you that I can't."

 

"Can't or won't?"

Felix's eyes flashed; Changbin glimpsed the cruel, stonehearted boy he had been an hour before - the person he became when he pushed people away rather than let them hurt for him. "Just give it up. You know it won't work."

 

"We haven't even tried yet. You don't know that it won't."

 

"What the hell are you even going to do? Call them up, tell them of your crisis, and profess your undying love for me?"

 

"That," Changbin said coolly, "is exactly what I'm going to do."

 

"Why?" The false anger left Felix's gaze, replaced itself with disbelief - no, anguish. "You chase me up a cliff, ask me to move in with you, offer a full ride from your own damn parents - why do you do it? Why do I mean that much to you?"

 

"You know why. So why won't you let - "

 

"Because I don't want you to get hurt because of me!"

 

The words were hurled like a knife to the throat. Felix slumped, shrank into himself, looked away from everyone. "I mean, we're already fighting here," he mumbled. "I don't want everything else to fall apart just because you tried to help."

 

It's because you mean so much to me that I'm willing to take this risk, he wanted to tell him. But Changbin was all too aware of their friends around them, watching this unfold like a show on a stage. And yet none of them were coming forward to comfort Felix, convince him to take the deal. They wanted Changbin to reassure him. His theory was confirmed when Chan nodded to the boy in the center. Go get him, he mouthed rather aggressively.

 

Don't reply - forget about them. Focus on him Good advice, inner consciousness. Changbin dared a step closer to Felix. "Hey. Look at me." When the boy didn't move, he lifted a hand and cupped his cheek, meeting his mournful gaze. "There is nothing you could do that would ever hurt me."

 

"But I have," Felix whispered, voice breaking. "And you keep coming back."

 

"Because I know you don't mean it. At least, I think you don't. But I'm not the only one who would hurt for you. Look at these dipshits," he gestured to their spectators, and Felix's eyes followed. "They got here on their own - not for me, or even us, but for you. You're the not only blight in this group - we're all a mess. We'll hurt for each other whenever we have to because that's what friends do. And not one of us is going to let you turn down your best shot at a regular school life because of a little shame over something that was never even your fault."

 

Felix faced him again, wanting to believe, but a trace of doubt still remained. "And how are you sure that they'll say yes? What if even your parents turn me down?"

 

"I won't let them. I'll do whatever it takes."

 

"You're an idiot."

 

"Maybe. But that's what I'm willing to do for you."

 

Felix stared at him. He took the hand that was cupping his cheek and held it between the two of his own. "I'll pay you back. I swear it - I'm gonna find some fucking way to do it. I'll do anything, just say the word, and I'll - "

 

"Lix," Changbin interrupted, smiling up at him. "You don't owe me anything."

 

He emitted a noise that sounded like a cross between a sob and a laugh. And then Felix's entire face split into one of his brilliant melt - the - world - to - its - core smiles, the kind that could wage war on a whole galaxy of stars and win, the kind that Changbin felt he might die to earn again.

 

It was only when a smirking Seungmin cleared his throat did they remember that they weren't alone. Jisung was grinning his annoying ass off, fists clenched and shaking like do it, do it! Chan and Jeongin were clasping each other's hands in fanboy glee, and Hyunjin was weeping rivers, sniffling like a toddler. 

 

Minho sighed, starting forward. "For the love of God, this is taking too long."

 

Fuck it. Before he could take another step, Changbin took a surprised Felix into his arms and twirled him around, dipping him low. He tilted his chin up with a free hand until they were kissing again, and their devoted audience screamed out of pure delight when Felix twined his arms around his neck and kissed him wholeheartedly back, and Changbin almost couldn't return the favor because he was too busy smiling. 

 

When they resurfaced, the boys were still cheering louder than any midnight New Years Eve festivity. Felix - back on his own two feet - exhaled airily in that out - of - breath way, tucking a couple stray hairs behind his ear. "I didn't know you had that in you."

 

"Neither did I," Changbin admitted. I can't believe I have the ability to take your breath away.

 

Soon enough, they were heading back down the hill, arm in arm with their friends, a goal in their minds and exhilaration in their hearts. It had taken conflict, tears, and a whole heavenly lot of kissing get the job done, but there they were, all eight of them, as it was always meant to be.

 

"I never got to ask, but how did you guys get together to find Binnie and I?" Felix questioned once they were halfway down.

 

Hyunjin rolled his eyes. "Don't even get me started. I thought I had a nice lead on you when Chan screeched into the parking lot and said that we needed to rescue not one, but two men. Didn't even close the door all the way when he took off."

 

"Chan, what kind of car do you drive again?" Changbin knew full well what the answer was, but he just had to ask for the hell of it.

 

"A Traverse, like the soccer mom he is," Minho replied in his stead.

 

Chan sniffed. "It was half off - and the only one I could find that would fit multiple people."

 

Everyone save for him cracked up. "At least we know we can always count on you to take us to softball practice," Jeongin joked.

 

"Just so long as Jisung never gets the aux cord again." Seungmin shuddered. "I was forced to listen to the soundtracks to all three High School Musical movies."

 

"Don't judge me for my unparalleled musical genius." Jisung popped the lapels of his blazer. "After all, it's like catching lightning - "

 

"No."

 

" - the chances of finding someone like me."

 

Felix giggled. "Indeed they are, Sungie."

 

Chan released a dramatic sigh of content, stretching his arms around Jeongin and Hyunjin. "Gentlemen, I think this calls for a celebration."

 

He was answered by an enthusiastic round of whoops and cheers. "Where to?" Changbin inquired.

 

"Down to the village, that'd be good - Back Door should be open. Mina and Chaeyoung might give us a discount due to the occasion."

 

"Cool. Sounds great." Except he wasn't sure. There was too many people around, and the thought of cramming into Chan's soccer mom mobile with the rest of their friends made him more than a little queasy. It didn't feel like the right ending to such a wonderful, turbulent day. Changbin was thinking something a little more private, with a little more fresh air, open breeze, and getting to know this new relationship that had only just begun. Felix was still right next to him.

 

Gripping the boy's hand like a lifeline, Changbin took off in a sprint down the mountain, feeling his blazer shuck off his back as Chan tried to haul him back, listening with a bubbling sensation of joy to the chaos he left in his wake.

 

Behind him, Felix was laughing. "What're you doing? Do you know a shortcut to Back Door?"

 

"We're not going to Back Door. We're celebrating our honeymoon on our own." He glanced over his shoulder and tried for a smirk. "I want you to myself for a little bit longer."

 

They stopped at the foot of the tree where Changbin had left his bike. Felix's eyes were golden fire. "Never knew you to be the possessive type."

 

"Maybe only when it comes to you."

 

The others hadn't come running to stop them. As a matter of fact, in the time it took for Changbin and Felix to mount the bike, the entire crew - not just Chan or Jisung, but the whole rowdy lot of them - had burst out into their own lively rendition of Can't Take My Eyes Off You.

 

"I love you, baby!"

 

"And if it's quite alright, I need you baby, to warm the lonely night,"

 

"I love you, baby, trust in me when I say."

 

"I don't think this motorcycle's going to fit all my stuff," Felix said, peeking warily at his suitcases.

 

"The boys'll bring it to my apartment - they're not assholes."

 

"Why is Jeongin waving your blazer?" 

 

"Dunno." Changbin flipped a switch and squeezed the clutch lever, reviving the motorcycle. "I think he's waving goodbye."

 

"Oh, like Titanic!"

 

"Yep. Just like Titanic." Except this ship's not gonna sink. "Hold on tight."

 

Felix's arms drifted around his waist, hands splayed on his abdomen - no shyness in the movement this time. In the rearview mirror, he was smiling right at Changbin. "Ready when you are, Edgelord."

 

Revving the throttle, Changbin and his sunshine sped out of the forest.

 

******

 

Without a shadow of a doubt, it was the best motorcycle ride of his life.

 

Above them hovered a perfect sunset - the sky was a blended palette of lilac and cerulean, and the clouds were silky cotton - candy tufts of strawberry pink and marigold. Despite the accelerated speed of the ride, the wind was moderate at best. Somewhere, Dreams was playing out of a nearby radio. Even the vehicles around them seemed to give them a little extra space, as though they were welcoming them back.

 

Unlike the last time they had ridden together, Felix wasn't rigid at all. He leaned against Changbin's back no problem, arms around his torso like a child with their teddy bear. His breath pulsed like a kitten's rumbling purr, tickling his neck. It was like the cold had never existed. Every so often, he would take his focus off the road to spare a glance at Felix. His eyes were closed, and his smile was serene and undisturbed. He's just happy to be here, Changbin realized. They both were.

 

The music followed them all the way down the freeway, soft as a flowing tide.

 

"Thunder only happens when it's raining."

 

"Players only love you when they're playing."

 

"They say women, they will come and they will go."

 

"When the rain washes you clean, you'll know."

 

Once they got off the freeway, Changbin pulled to the left, watching the streets become wider, the buildings taller and more modern. Felix's eyes opened, taking in the established wealth of their surroundings. "You live around here?"

 

"JYP's a riding distance. And it's only two blocks from my parents." He felt Felix stiffen. "Don't worry, we're not going there now."

 

The buildings became less and less colorful as they neared the apartment complex, where everything was seemingly restricted to the monotone primary colors of black, white, and gray. Every edge was knife - straight and pristine, the only splash of color the leafy green hedges that framed the entryway. "Welcome to my - well, our - humble home."

 

Felix scoffed as they dismounted the bike, staring up at the dizzying height of the structure. "I've only ever seen this place on the outside."

 

"Really?"

 

"I took the bus late one night from school and drove past. I distinctly remember thinking 'hm, I wonder what kind of pretentious assholes live there.'"

 

"Hopefully that was before I told you about my family."

 

"Yes, it was," Felix took a deep breath, let it out. "It doesn't feel like I'll be living here yet."

 

Changbin grinned, taking his hand. "Well, I'm sure your roommate's going to do his best to make sure you feel at home."

 

"Yeah." Felix smiled down at their hands. "Him."

 

Compared to the time they had walked five floors up to Felix's old apartment, the trip was quiet. Changbin hadn't really made an effort to meet a lot his neighbors - he figured they wouldn't be too stoked to meet him, either, if they found out he was among the unknown pack of hooligans that was sporadically dropping water balloons on their heads. He'd heard some rumors that Jinyoung and Jaebum of Got7 lived on the eighth floor, but he would believe it when he saw it.

 

"Hey, Bin," Felix said suddenly. "Remember that old couple that was in Back Door with us yesterday?"

 

"You mean the one that walked out while you and Chaeyoung were singing Careless Whisper?"

 

"Yup." His eyes were bright and twinkly. "Look two floors down."

 

Changbin peered over the railing. They were on the fifth floor, and on the third, he could see twin gray heads balanced on hunched figures. "How do you know that's - "

 

"Bah, humbug!" Came the grizzled, elderly shout, followed quickly by a nervous hush.

 

Felix snickered as Changbin stifled his own laughter. "That's them all right."

 

"Maybe we should invite them over for a housewarming party sometime."

 

"Because I'm sure they would love to see us again." They arrived at door 0325, just as nondescript as the others - save for the doormat that read Who The F*ck Said You Were Welcome in pink flowery lettering. "Well, this is our stop."

 

Felix focused on the door as if it were a black hole. He didn't so much as blink when Changbin opened it to reveal the inside of the apartment. "You can go in if you want."

 

This appeared to jar him. Steeling himself, Felix took two steps forward, one foot on the doormat and one on the hardwood floors. Even to Changbin, the interior looked too adult to belong to him - the marble countertops, the chrome appliances, the stainless furniture. Well, not completely stainless - enough fooling around with Chan and Jisung had made sure of that.

 

He reached tentatively inside, poking the kitchen knife lodged in the snowy white walls. "How did this happen?"

 

"Oh. That - Jisung threw it my wall a couple weeks ago when he was having a little fit of rage when he thought Minho didn't love him back. I've tried, but I can't get it out."

 

"Fun times." Felix took his finger away, hands swaying listlessly at his sides. He seemed too petrified to move any further.

 

Gently, Changbin tugged his arm back. "We can stay outside if you want."

 

Felix exhaled - Changbin hadn't even realized he was holding his breath. "I'd like that."

 

They stepped away from the door and locked it again, turning instead towards the railing. Changbin leaned forward, gazing out at the view. He could see JYP from afar, circled by cherry trees, tucked in the corner by an assortment of other vibrant structures big and small, with cars zipping through the streets like a labyrinth. A scene like this should have calmed him easily. But all his senses were consumed by Felix, who was so restless and still at the same time that he looked as though he might burst.

 

Changbin let himself turn to face him. "Are you - "

 

"If you ask me if I'm okay, I'll flip you over this railing."

 

"Lix, come on, you can talk to me."

 

"Can't I just kiss you instead? It seems to shut you up nicely."

 

The offer was tempting, but Changbin held strong. "I know you're holding back. I know when you get anxious - you start biting your lip."

 

"Maybe I should bite your lip instead."

 

He couldn't help the flush that bloomed in his cheeks. "Felix, now isn't the time."

 

"Well, I kind of have to catch you off guard. Otherwise you're too busy trying to protect me." Felix huffed, curling over the edge of the railing. "I'm not going to break at any moment."

 

Should I not worry about you? Changbin shoved the reply back - that would only start another argument. He shifted closer. "I know you're stronger than that," he said, laying a careful hand on his arm. "But I also know that you've dealt with a lot of shit today, and it's not the best thing to keep inside. There's no one around but us."

 

Felix narrowed his eyes at him - either he wanted to flip him or bite his lip like he'd promised. "Is this how you're going to convince your parents to take me in? Annoying the hell out of them?"

 

Changbin shrugged. "It's worked well for me so far. I have very strong powers of persuasion."

 

Felix's mouth twitched. He bit down on his lip, but eventually gave in to laughter. "I can't believe this. With your defense, I'm doomed!"

 

"No, you're not! Come on, have a little faith in me!"

 

"You know I believe in you. But what about me?" Now, with his facade gone, Changbin could see how nervous Felix really was. "I've never done this crap before - I don't know if I'm good with parents! What if they don't like me? Oh, God, what if it's like Crazy Rich Asians but without the happy ending? What if they think I'm too poor for you and forbid you from ever seeing me again?"


"You have got to stop watching rom - coms with Chan. I already my told parents about you - they love you, and they've never even met you! You're going to be fine."

 

But Felix didn't stop there. "What if they do agree, but it's under the condition that I have to marry into your family? Seo Felix, that actually doesn't sound too bad."

 

"I can guarantee that will not happen. I'll do the talking - all you have to do is be your charming, dumbass self."

 

"Aw, you think I'm charming!"

 

"I also said dumbass."

 

"Fair point." Felix chewed his lip some more, fingers tapping at the pulse on his neck. "What about my parents? What if they actually do fly down here to come and get me?"

 

"Then we'll kick their asses together. Unison Raid style."

 

Felix giggled at the prospect. His smile dimmed only a little when he said: "I don't think they're going to come for me."

 

Changbin didn't lie to him. "Me neither."

 

Felix shrugged. "Guess it's for the best, since I'm staying here." There was still pain behind the indifference, but they would deal with that later. "What'll we do next if things go well with your parents?"

 

"It'll probably be like when Rachel came to live with Monica in New York - cut up the credit cards, work to make a life away from your past, that sort of thing. You won't be going through it alone." Felix nodded heavily, as though he could see it all happening. Changbin's hand slipped farther down to hold his. "Sorry this isn't the fairy tale ending you wanted."

 

"It's okay." Felix squeezed his hand, glancing at him through strands of purple hair. "In a way, it's better than a fairy tale because it's real."

 

I can't believe you're real. This dazzling storybook prince that wasn't a figment of his imagination, this nerdy angel with the world's cutest accent and hottest baritone crafted out of the purest things in the universe, this miracle of a boy that was standing here, letting Changbin love him. It was almost too much.

 

Almost. Because Felix was gazing at him and only him, as though he were seeing Changbin for the first time, and what he saw was something beautiful, something worth loving. "What?"

 

Changbin couldn't answer. Couldn't think or speak. He could only wonder how, with his feet firmly planted on the ground, had he managed to fall so irreversibly hard so fast. But then they were both beaming, and silly, meaningless breaths of laughter were escaping their smiles. And suddenly Changbin grabbed hold of his waist and spun him clear off his feet, and Felix was laughing without a care in the world, holding on, cupping his cheeks and peppering his face with kisses, one on his forehead, his eyebrow, his nose.

 

As they teetered drunkenly to a stop, Felix kissed his mouth, hard and fierce and so passionate it made Changbin lose his breath. He pulled back, only for a moment, regaining his footing and staring at the boy in his arms for one full second before he crashed into him again, hands gripping Felix's strong, lithe body, feeling it strain against his own. Felix tasted like sugarplums and sunshine and everything good in the world. He wanted to memorize it all right this second. 

 

This is it, Changbin thought. After all the stumbling and searching around, this one fits.

 

The first thing he saw when they separated was Felix's heart - shattering smile. His eyes were brilliant, his lips were bitten and just a little puffy, and he looked like an actual sunbeam. "I think I'm going to like having a rapper boyfriend."

 

Changbin's heart flipped. "Boyfriend."

 

Felix flinched. "Or not."

 

"No it's not that, it's just... boyfriend." He squeezed his waist. "Your boyfriend."

 

"And my roommate."

 

Changbin laughed. "That's the worst idea ever."

 

"Like I care."

 

"You are trouble, Lee."

 

"You have no idea."

 

There wasn't a soul around to interrupt them. This was the perfect moment, but it wasn't an ending. Because there were still his parents that he needed to tell about everything that had happened. And his boyfriend's family who were probably flipping their shit at the idea of their lost son. And even their friends, who were a different kind of trouble on their own.

 

But damn it, that could wait. Because this moment, right here and now, was enough. It was more than enough.

 

It was everything.

Chapter Text

Minho p.o.v

 

The sun was fully gone, the streetlights were turning on, with a golden shine that lined all the way down to the city. The stars were coming back to life in that obsidian - lapis sea called the night sky, and the moon was watching over them from her throne in the atmosphere. Minho supposed he should be appreciative of such a view.

 

But now, all he could think was: I hope my cats don't think I'm dead.

 

To be reasonable, it had happened once before. He had driven home late one night and found his apartment in shambles. Soonie and Doongie had successfully knocked over the cat tower, and Minho had found Dori scratching at the cupboard in search of treats. It wasn't even the place where he kept the cat food - it was the plates cupboard of all things. Anyway, it wasn't a scene he wanted to see repeated.

 

Because, all in all, there was really nothing better to do than go home, turn on a drama, and curl up with your three lovely murder cats at the end of the day.

 

And boy, what a day it had been.

 

It had started out perfectly normal- keeping Hyunjin and Felix in check, reassuring Chan that no, he wouldn't die alone, playing Scrabble with Jeongin, teasing Changbin yet again for being short, ignoring another one of Seungmin's pretentious rants, and, of course, flirting with Jisung. When Hyunjin informed him of the note Changbin had sent Felix during their last class of the day, he had figured that would be the end of it. That they would hear about it an hour later, and life would go on.

 

He had been halfway to the school entrance, ready to leave, when Jisung's text message buzzed on his phone.

 

annoying🌸

Get to Mr. Jung’s classroom - down the hall to the left by the exit. Felix has something to say.

 

Right away, Minho knew it was important. Jisung had texted the group chat, which meant that he hadn't had a lot of time to text them individually. That, and he used proper punctuation - something serious had to have happened. Minho thought it was odd then, that everyone except Changbin had showed up, but he figured there would be a good explanation. They walked in unprepared to find Chan, Felix and Jisung huddled together on one desk, each leaning on the other for support. Minho had found himself zeroing in on Jisung immediately. It was the first time he had seen him cry.

 

And then the ground itself was snatched from beneath Minho's feet, letting him fall.

 

It helped that he was in the room with the others - otherwise, he might have broken down right there. But Minho pushed down that weak part of himself, held strong against the threatening floodgates. What right would he have had to tears, anyway? It wasn't his unjust fate, his burden, his filth of a family that deserved to burn in hell. It was Felix's - Felix, who it felt like he had known for a lifetime. Felix, who had the ability to make you smile just by walking into a room. Sweet, genuine Felix, who no one, not even Minho, could help but love. And it had taken the prospect of never seeing him again to realize that.

 

Only when they had all stood together, facing Felix for the last time, did something in Minho rebel. What the fuck was wrong with him? Was he really going to let Felix wink out of existence just like that? Was that seriously what Felix expecting him to do? Fuck that. Minho had taken that boy under his wing and done his best to protect him since day one. Hell if now was going to be any different. One look exchanged with the boys around him, and he knew they felt the same. Kind of incredible, really. As hard as it had been to not only let Felix run out on them, but to help hold back a clearly distraught Changbin, it was what had to be done.

 

The whole planning part of it had gone faster than Minho had expected. One minute they were discussing routes, then, with a target and a war cry, they set off on their missions. Hell only knew what kind of vigilante solo task Changbin had set himself out on, but if he thought he had an idea where Felix had gone, then it wasn't a problem. Meanwhile, Minho had been stuck with Hyunjin, whose mind had been scattered so many places it was hard to figure out whether he was searching for clues on their lost friend or trying to break the law.

 

"Minho, please just let me do this!" Hyunjin had begged.

 

"We are not breaking open a window," Minho replied firmly.

 

“Come on, I saw a crowbar on the second floor on someone’s windowsill! I'll go get it -“

 

”No,” Minho said, holding him back. “I have a list of people who I would never trust with a crowbar, and you are number two. For your safety and mine, you are staying put.”

 

“Who’s number one on your list?”

 

”Myself. First chance I get, I would sooner hit a person than any window.”

 

Hyunjin flooped, groaning childishly. “You never let me do anything.”

 

Before Minho could reply, Chan’s Traverse peeled into the parking lot, leaving behind tire tracks and smoke. The car full on Tokyo - drifted, swerving to the right in a perfect circle.

 

A haggard - looking Chan kicked open the door. “Get in, losers, we’re going on a manhunt!”

 

In the passenger’s seat, Jisung rolled down the window. He was smiling, of course. “Hey, guys!”

 

Minho and Hyunjin had exchanged one bewildered look before simultaneously deciding to hightail down there before any of the tenants started complaining, crowbar debate forgotten.

 

They piled into the backseat. Chan was already revving up the car again. “I got sick of staying on that fool's errand. Lix is AWOL and Binnie’s off the radar, but I've got a GPS on his motorcycle, and it hasn't moved in nearly an hour, which can either mean they’re both together or both in danger. We’ve gotta find them before we run out of time.”

 

”Buckle your seatbelts, gentlemen.” Jisung’s eye twinkled from the rearview mirror. “We’re taking a wild ride.”

 

Thus, Minho was introduced to the true definition of hell. Because here was the thing about Chan - normally, he was the most cautious driver ever, obeying every red light and giving no reason for anyone to honk their horns at him. But this was Panicked Man - On - A - Mission Chan - he drove like the angriest Karen you ever saw, running red lights and driving too fast for anyone to even lay a hand on their horns. The entire time, Minho had been clinging to the handle of the car door, Jeongin was singing along to Get'cha Head In The Game with Jisung, and Seungmin lurched onto Hyunjin's lap with every swerve. It was the one time any of them ever prayed.

 

What they came across at the top of the hill wasn't surprising in the least, but still a sight to behold. The sunset had cast a spotlight over Changbin and Felix, wrapped around each other, their lips locked. That's one way to pass the time, Minho had thought as his mouth dropped open. Jeongin had done the sign of the cross, Seungmin turned a near impossible shade of red, and Chan, Hyunjin, and Jisung just stared. Somehow, they all managed to be completely silent when the two lovebirds pulled apart, still ensorcelled by the haze of romance. And then the twig snapped. Fucking Chan.

 

All the hugging, crying and joking aside, there was only one thing that mattered - Felix was staying. For once, time had been on their side. Planning to keep him there hadn't even been that difficult - not when Changbin, the OG Monopoly Man knight - in - shining - armor rushed in and swept Felix off his feet; literally. Moving in with him was one thing, but asking his parents to pay for the rest of his schooling? Minho was surprised he didn't pull out a ring right in front of them. He doubted they were going to do anything particularly X - rated, at least not while they were still navigating their newborn relationship. But if they were equally bold enough to ride off into the sunset together, then there was going to be a lot of teasing potential in the near future.

 

One blessedly calm car ride later, they found themselves at Back Door in "The Village," as Jisung and Chan called it. Chaeyoung and Mina cornered them into a booth immediately, demanding every detail in exchange for food. Minho wasn't too sure what kind of story they put together - Chan was describing the whole ordeal as though it were some epic quest, Seungmin was complaining about the car ride, and Hyunjin was too busy focusing on the "ChangLix moments" - but he was sure they got the gist. 

 

"Tell that bitch Changbin that he still has to Venmo us!" Chaeyoung had screeched. Mina was nice enough to lend them some garlic fries for "the happy couple."

 

The happy couple in question had been watching Friends on the couch when they arrived. After successfully completing the task of helping Felix get situated in his room (which wasn't hard, considering the kid only had two suitcases of belongings) they turned on When Harry Met Sally just to shut their Aussies up. It was at the part when both Harry and Sally were watching Casablanca whilst on the phone with each other, and Minho was deciding that it wasn't such a bad movie that Felix's own phone buzzed, long and droning. Felix's face drained of color when he looked at the screen, and he whispered inaudibly in Changbin's ear and left to his room once the boy had nodded back at him. Everyone watched him lock the door behind him. Chan even paused the film on what Minho suspected was a maternal instinct.

 

"It's his dad," Changbin quietly replied to their stares.

 

The walls in Changbin's apartment were much thicker than Felix's old one, so the lot of them waited in near absolute silence. They stood and sat in their places in the living room, hunkered down as if they were waiting out a storm. Changbin was the only one who moved, pacing from the couch to the kitchen counter and back again, running his fingers through his hair, too troubled for any of them to comfort. Ten minutes later, Felix emerged from the bedroom, and he was the first one at his side, walking them both back to the couch. Changbin nodded for Jisung to pass him the fries, which were relayed across the room before reaching a somber Felix.

 

"Well," Felix started hoarsely. "I guess I won't have to worry about being dragged out of here against my will."

 

Minho wanted to fly down to Sydney himself and commit murder - the energy radiating from the others made it clear that they would have aided him gladly. But they settled for unpausing the movie and enjoying their snacks, and by the end, Felix had curled up into Changbin's side with his head on his shoulder, and Changbin had an arm hooked around him. Watching them, Minho had felt, to his surprise, a pang of jealousy. It had only been a few hours, and yet intimacy had come to the two so easily, that it was impossible not to envy. They didn't look ready to spring apart at any moment, not like Minho had been in his past relationships, waiting for the end of the film. Even the way they looked at each other, like all of their favorite things had come in one big package. Have I ever known that with anyone? Jisung sat across the room from him, stealing popcorn from Seungmin's bowl, not even glancing Minho's way. But maybe it isn't him - maybe it's me.

 

Now that was a rather unpleasant notion to think of.

 

”We’re heading out to my parents,” Changbin announced. He and Felix had thrown on coats over their uniforms to combat the night’s chill. “So that means get the hell out.”

 

”What he means is thank you for coming over and helping me unpack,” Felix translated, much more chipper than he had been hours before. “Wish us luck!”

 

So they split. Everyone else, not wanting to face Changbin's wrath nor do anything that would put a damper on Felix's night, filed out of the apartment one by one.

 

That brought Minho to where he was now: strolling down a dark sidewalk lit up only by streetlights.

 

He had been surprised to find the range between his and Changbin's apartment complexes to be of a walking distance - from the looks of them, the two buildings could have come from alternate planets, one clean and sharp and practically monochrome, the other hardened and vintage and living in remembrance of better days. One thing's for sure, Minho thought as he neared his building. Felix is going to be living like a king. Changbin wouldn't treat him like anything less.

 

Felix was happy, Felix was here to stay. That was the only thing that mattered, not Minho's shit relationship skills. It was nothing that time and some troublesome emotional delving wouldn't fix. Besides, with a ball - of - fire boyfriend like Jisung, he doubted he would be deprived of the affection he had been missing out on for a good couple of years. Maybe he would invite him over again soon. Or maybe Jisung would bring him to that bakery, like he'd promised so long ago. Maybe then we could have a real first kiss.

 

Just then, his phone buzzed in his pocket. Minho pulled it out, grinning at the name he saw. He answered the call. "I was just thinking about you."

 

"Thinking about me?" He could hear the smile in Jisung's voice. "Late at night? What I'm wearing?"

 

"You know what I mean. Have to say, I'm surprised you're still up."

 

"Couldn't sleep. What're you up to?"

 

Minho shrugged. "Nothing. Hot girl shit."

 

"Such as?"

 

"Walking home alone in the pitch black of night."

 

"It isn't completely dark." There was a pause. "Actually, it's kind of like the night - "

 

" - you came over with a cake, bathed and won over my cats, and showed me the view I'd been missing from my own apartment."

 

"Yeah, that. Except your cats weren't the only ones I won over, were they?"

 

"Nope." This is what I've been missing. Their normal back and forth, talking about everything and nothing. Maybe Minho had been imagining things.

 

"So. Quite a day, huh?"

 

"Seriously? 'Quite a day?'" Minho reached the brownstone's entryway. "That's quite possibly the worst conversation starter I've ever heard you use."

 

"Pointing out the obvious, you mean? Come on, we can't just chalk it up to experience."

 

"I know, you're right." Minho closed the door behind him, starting down the hall. "Really, it isn't every day that your best friend tells you he's leaving on account of his asshole parents, making us go on some wild goose chase to stop him, then further finding him sucking the face off your other friend, who he stays with as a double plus to your favorite ship becoming canon."

 

"Becoming canon." Jisung scoffed. "Listen to you. And I thought we were your favorite ship."

 

"And we are! I just - " Minho cut off, shoving his phone in his pocket. "Ms. Jang! What a lovely surprise."

 

"Minho. You're back late." Ms. Jang hefted the baseball in her hand. She liked to go on patrols around the building to see if anything interesting was happening beyond her watch. "Did those little friends of yours get you into trouble again?"

 

"Nothing I didn't bring onto myself. I'm not as innocent as you constantly believe me to be." But maybe you would like to hear about today's fantastic adventure! "Found anything worth my time?"

 

Ms. Jang sighed. "Just the usual with Bruce and Vickie. They're off again - I think Bruce cheated and Vickie put him out of the apartment, but he's leaving all sorts of goodies by her door."

 

"Like?"

 

"Chocolates, notes, photos of them together, even a bunch'a calla lilies arranged to spell out 'I'm Sorry.'"

 

"Ugh. Talk about sickening. Can't you just evict them?"

 

The landlady laughed. "With great power, comes great responsibility, kid. Unfortunately, they've paid everything on time for the last five years. Besides, even if I did, where would we find our entertainment?"

 

"What would this world do without your wisdom?" Minho untwisted the strap on his bookbag. "I'd best be off, now - Soonie, Doongie, and Dori don't like to be kept waiting."

 

"And it's a school night. Go feed those cats before they scratch the door off." With a wave goodbye, she ambled along, the thump of her baseball on the ground like a cane.

 

As soon as she was out of sight, Minho pulled his phone back out of his pocket. "You still there?"

 

"Who's Bruce and Vickie?" Jisung asked.

 

"Some sappy - ass straight couple that lives two floors below me. They're like the Chandler and Janice of my life, except much more melodramatic."

 

"Intriguing. And the woman you were talking to - was that Ms. Jang?"

 

"The one and only."

 

"When can I meet her?"

 

"When you stop visiting me at eight p.m." Minho walked up the stairs, passing by Vickie’s apartment. There really was an arrangement of apologetic calla lilies. "Ms. Jang says that men only want one thing after dark. Is she right?"

 

"Not in my case," Jisung replied, a little bashfully. "But things do tend to be more interesting in the dark."

 

"I'm sure." Minho kicked at a rat scurrying by his feet. He'd sic Soonie on the miserable creature later. "What do you figure Changbin and Felix are doing right now?"

 

Jisung laughed. "Knowing Binnie's parents? Probably telling Felix some embarrassing stories of him as a kid."

 

"Do you know any?"

 

"He keeps his childhood under pretty tight wraps, but I've managed to unearth a few. Maybe the time he threw up on his sister at a carnival. Or maybe the time he shot his uncle in the head - "

 

"What - "

 

" - with a Nerf gun. Oh! Or the time Dubu peed on his shoes at a wedding. I think he told Felix that one himself."

 

"Felix did say something about a funny wedding story," Minho recalled.

 

"Then that's the one."

 

He crossed up the next flight of stairs - one more to go until he was home. "Do you think they're gonna take Felix?"

 

"Honestly, I do. Binnie's parents aren't the worst folks to have around in this kind of situation. They're probably going to ask for some kind of deal in return, but nothing bad. Lix is gonna be just fine."

 

"Getting put out by your parents doesn't sound like 'fine' to me."

 

"Of course he's going to go through some rough patches, but we'll guide him through it. In a few weeks or more, maybe less, things will all be back to normal."

 

"Let's hope you're right." Minho opened his apartment door - the sound of yowling cats greeted him instantly. "Hush now, darlings, I'm back!"

 

"I'm guessing that wasn't for me."

 

"Wipe the smirk off your face, I can hear it. I just got home."

 

"Tell Doongie I haven't forgotten the meaningful moments we shared together!"

 

Minho rolled his eyes as he stepped over a cat toy. "I'll tell her you said hi after I feed them."

 

"You haven't fed them? You monster."

 

"Am not!" He usually kept the cat flap on his door unlocked so that they could go out and hunt on their own time, but he had been in too much of a rush to leave. To make up for lost time, he put a little extra food in each of their bowls. "Didn't know you even remembered them."

 

"How could I not? I met Soonie over a dead mouse, and Dori made a wonderful playmate."

 

"Most guys I go out with don't even remember their names. Sometimes they forget there's even three of them."

 

"What bastards. Wonder where they are now."

 

"Hopefully, far away from me." Minho padded into his room. Moonlight filtered in from the window to his balcony. "Jisung?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Where do you see us going?"

 

"Places."

 

Minho wasn't sure he'd heard right. "Places?"

 

"Sure. Lotte World, Banpo Bridge Park, Namsan Tower - anywhere you want."

 

Faintly, he laughed. "Sungie, that's really sweet, but... not what I meant."

 

"Then what did you mean?"

 

"I mean, like, where do you see us? Days, weeks, months from now. What would our future look like? Would it be any different? Would we have grown or changed? Would we even still be together?"

 

"Are you - " Jisung cut off. When he spoke again, there was fear in his voice. "Are you breaking up with me?"

 

"No! No, that's - I'm not - " Minho leaned against his window. "I see a future with us - more than I've seen with anybody. And I want it."

 

"I should hope so."

 

"I'm happy with you, Jisung, I really am."

 

"I'm happy with you too."

 

"But are you? I - " He sighed. "I get I'm not the easiest person to be around, I say the wrong things, and I do the wrong things, and I just don't want there to be anything keeping us apart or together. I don't want you to feel like you have to be with me if I'm not what you wanted." If I'm not enough for you.

 

There was a pause. Jisung exhaled. "Look, I don't know where that came from, but as your caring, lucky, dutiful boyfriend, let me reassure you that one: yes, you can be a colossal headache - you're the Ice Queen, dancing gem of JYP and possibly the world. But you're also human. Of course you'll fuck up at times. Two: I'm with you because you let me be with you. Don't even say that you're not what I want - you're all I want. I've seen my future, and you're it. Three: the only thing keeping me away from you are the walls to your apartment and nothing else. So don't think that there's anything forcing me to stay with you, because there isn't."

 

Oh, if one could kiss through the phone. "Nice speech."

 

”I was only telling the truth. I know I’d be a wreck without you.”

 

”Tell me you didn’t just quote Line Without a Hook.”

 

”I’m serious - I need you here to stay.”

 

”Because you broke all your bones the day you found me?”

 

”Crying at the lake." It was like Jisung was actually there, saying this to his face. "You felt like this for long?"

 

The memory of Changbin and Felix snuggling on the couch resurfaced. Minho swatted it away. "Don't worry about it. Just some pesky little doubt."

 

"If you say so." Judging from his tone, Jisung didn't believe him. "Well, if you get any other insecurities, I'll always be around to listen."

 

Minho smiled. Even with the nagging feeling still inside of him, Jisung always had that kind of effect. "Thank you."

 

"Anytime, doll." Soonie, Doongie and Dori entered the room, sluggish after their meal. "What're you up to right now?"

 

"Nothing much," Minho shrugged. "Just in my room, in front of the window with the cats."

 

"Hot girl shit?"

 

He laughed. "Exactly. What about you?"

 

"Not anything to write home about. Just standing outside in the breeze, enjoying the most beautiful view."

 

Something in his lighthearted attitude made Minho skeptical. "Where are you?"

 

"Look out your window."

 

Minho turned around, and despite knowing what he would see, his heart still skipped a beat.

 

Leaning against his mint - green car, Jisung smiled up at him, phone still held to his ear. He wore a red and black flannel rolled up at the elbows, opened up over a white t - shirt. Below that were blue jeans and black Chucks. "Hey."

 

Enjoying the most beautiful view. That little shit. "Hey."

 

They stared at each other for a moment. Jisung shifted back, crossing his legs. “So, was it something I said that made you feel like you’re a burden?”

 

Minho bit his lip to keep from laughing. “No, but if you could take it all back - “

 

” - I swear that I would pull you from the tide.”

 

It was a song lyric and a promise. “Are you going to sing for me again?”

 

Jisung shrugged. “Nah. Don’t think it’d have the same effect. People would probably be more annoyed, and I doubt you’d come running into my arms a second time.”

 

“I hope you know that’s my car you’re leaning on.”

 

”Yup. I mean, I know it’s your favorite color, but jeez, it's tacky as shit.”

 

”Well, excuse me for having not only taste, but enough self - confidence to not give a damn what people think.” From below, Jisung rolled his eyes, smiling at the same time. “How long have you been there?”

 

“Not long. Got home, but I decided I wanted to see you, so I took the bus here. That, and I got an idea on how to spend the time.”

 

He’s obviously dressed for the occasion. ”You going to come back up here? Or are we going to your apartment to stargaze?”

 

Jisung shook his head. “Not this time. I was thinking something more... classical. Grand.”

 

“Enticing.” Minho smirked. “Is it going to be a surprise?”

 

”Only if you’re up for it.”

 

Minho glanced back at his cats. Their heads were cocked up at him like, what are you waiting for? “I’ve got a few hours left in me. Let me change.”

 

Jisung grinned. “See you down in a few.”

 

At that, Minho hung up and tossed the phone on his desk. He pulled the curtains shut too - it was unlikely, but still he didn’t want Jisung getting any ideas.

 

Immediately, his brain went into war mode, analyzing every object in the room, marching straight for his closet. This wasn't making a good impression outside of school, like the last time Jisung had visited him. This was the real thing: a date - late as hell, but by no means did it indicate that Minho wasn't going to put in some effort.

 

He emptied out half his entire wardrobe as Soonie, Doongie and Dori scampered away in vain, trying not to get trapped underneath. He tried on his favorite black pants, which were no longer his favorite since they had shrunk at least three sizes in the washing machine. "Black makes you look thinner, right?" Minho muttered to no one, holding up a black polo shirt. He discarded it. "Have some class, he's not going to care about that." But it wasn't such a bad idea.

 

Red, he thought. I'll be bold and make a statement. He tried on a crimson velvet button up shirt, but the only statement he seemed to be making was the Devil's side chick, no matter how many buttons were done. He sifted through sweaters and t - shirts, cardigans and blazers - hoodies were well out of the question. He tried on every pair of jeans and trousers in his possession before deciding that his ass was, and always would be, tragically flat.

 

Finally, he decided to do like Amy Winehouse: go back to black. Minho rifled through the clothing pile on his bed until he dug out an o - ring turtleneck that always fit him nicely. Over that - since layering was always effective if you knew how to do it right - an unbuttoned violet silk dress shirt tucked into gray jeans that somehow never looked worn out. When he was finished lacing up his Doc Martens, he took one last look at himself in the mirror. The outfit clearly said stylish, put together, not trying too hard - just what he was going for.

 

Minho turned to his cats. They had been careful to avoid resting on any article of clothing, bless those creatures. "I'll be back before you know it. And don't worry - I'll leave the hatch unlocked this time."

 

Soonie rolled on her back and yawned. Dori slunk out the open bedroom door, puff toy already in her mouth. Doongie meowed loudly, pawing at the balcony window, where she probably saw Jisung waiting for him.

 

Minho couldn't help but grin. "You three are the only ladies I will ever need in my life."

 

Tucking his car keys in his pocket, he spun on his heel and walked out the door of his apartment, sticking close to the shadows. Despite the aged quality of the place, Ms. Jang had security in every hall, and watching the footage every night was among her hobbies. Minho didn’t need her waiting for him outside his apartment when he came back asking where he had gone.

 

Jisung was pacing in front of the car, chuckling to himself. “‘See you in a few,’ I said. Thought five would be enough. Didn’t realize fifteen was more like...” he trailed off the minute he laid eyes on him.

 

Minho fought the urge to shudder at the night’s chill. He smiled. “Nice to see you up close.”

 

Jisung just nodded. There’s the look. His eyes slowly traveled from his face to his toes and back up again, devouring every detail. “You look nice.” 

 

The same thing he’d said the first time around. “I feel like you would say that no matter what I was wearing.”

 

“You can’t really blame me. Ready to go?”

 

Minho plucked the keys out of his pocket and slapped them into his hand. “Indeed I am,” he replied, sliding into the passenger seat. “And you’re driving.”

 

”But it’s your car.”

 

”And you’re the one who’s taking me out, so you’re obligated to be the driver. I don’t make the rules.”

 

Jisung rolled his eyes. “Lazy ass.” But he slid into the driver’s seat all the same. “I’ll let you control the music.”

 

Minho grinned. “You know, I think I really am going to like the places we’ll see if this is how it’s going to happen.”

 

”Then you better strap in,” Jisung said, revving the ignition. “Because we’ve got a long way to go.”

 

They peeled away from the curbside and out onto the open road, Levitating playing through the open windows.

 

******

 

Through the black bars, the museum looked more like an ancient Greek temple than anything else. It stood royally on the well - kept bed of green grass,  guarded by cherry blossom trees. In the center front was a marble water fountain spurting from the mouths of three flying fish.

 

Minho stared out the window. “I get it’s a nice view, but unless you’ve got some other grand scheme, I really don’t see the excitement.”

 

“I wouldn’t leave you here just to sit around.” Jisung turned off the music. ”Sure, it’s nice from out here, but the view’s even prettier from the inside.”

 

”Hate to break it to you, but the place looks pretty closed.”

 

”I didn’t say anyone was going to let us in.”

 

He whipped around to look at him. Already, a smile was growing on Jisung's face. "No."

 

"Yes."

 

"No, no, no, no, no!" Minho yelled over and over. "We are not breaking into a museum!"

 

"It'll be fun!"


"You sure have a twisted idea of the definition."

 

"We won't be breaking and entering, per say - "

 

"We'll just be hopping the fence and going inside unauthorized."

 

"Exactly!"

 

Minho groaned, slumping back against the car seat. "Jisung, we are months away from graduating - months! And we're juniors! We can't mess it up by getting arrested!"

 

"No one's getting arrested."

 

"That's what you'll be saying when the security guards come up behind us and cart us off to the nearest police station." He huffed petulantly. "I look too cute to be in a jail cell."

 

"While that is true - "

 

"Flattery stopped working on me years ago."

 

"Come on!" Jisung whined, pulling out the puppy eyes. "When are you ever going to tell anyone that you broke into a museum?"

 

"Never."

 

"Not unless we do this together! Who knows what'll happen? You could actually end up enjoying yourself for once."

 

Minho couldn't fight his gaze. "Why do you feel the need to find entertainment in the most ridiculous things?"

 

"Because it's exciting, not ridiculous. Remember what I said in Ms. Baek's class when I threw that paper ball over her head? Life's all about making memories."

 

"I was mad at you that day."

 

"But you're not mad at me now, are you?"

 

Minho's mouth twitched dangerously. He shoved Jisung's grinning face away. "Shut up."

 

"Don't lie - I saw that laugh."

 

"That was not a laugh."

 

"Was too."

 

"You are truly juvenile."

 

"But you love me anyway."

 

I can't deny that. "Well, no other guy has ever offered to recreate Night at the Museum with me."

 

"And no other guy ever will," Jisung declared proudly, that quirky little bastard. "Is this your way of saying yes?"

 

To quote Jaime Lannister: the things we do for love. "Only if you promise not to tell anyone it happened."

 

Jisung placed a hand over his heart and held up the other in oath. "Swear it on the River Styx. And don’t think of it as breaking and entering - think of it as a field trip.”

 

He produced a picture from the breast pocket of his flannel and held it out like a cigarette. Minho took the picture; it was actually a worn ID card, looking to have been ripped off a lanyard. A boy with shaggy dark hair and iconic squirrel cheeks stared back up at him. “This is an adorable photo.”

 

”Even then, I was a dapper young man. Can we go now?”

 

Minho laughed. "God, you're impatient."

 

"Maybe so," Jisung admitted. "But I say any night with you is worth waiting for."

 

Jisung p.o.v

 

There was one thing Jisung had lied to him about.

 

They were, in fact, breaking into the museum, even though he had said otherwise. But hey - if no one was around to see them breach the area in the first place, then getting arrested was an outcome they didn’t have to worry about.

 

First step was hopping the fence. Minho scaled the bars like a pro, climbing up and vaulting over as though he were some kind of trained spy. Jisung, on the other hand, was more of a wing it and see what happens kind of guy. He clambered up the fence just fine - it was once he’d gotten to the top that he chickened out and ended up falling on his back. Thankfully, the grass had cushioned his fall, and he regained his footing just in time to see Minho roll his eyes and start towards the museum entrance.

 

The best part was that the door wasn’t even locked - the lazy bastards inside had probably figured the fence was enough to keep people out, so they hadn’t even bothered. Jisung had simply been able to hold open the door for Minho, say “after you”, and close it behind them.

 

Everything was exactly how Jisung remembered. The floors were mahogany hardwood - every step you took was way too loud. They were greeted by two enormous dinosaur skeletons frozen mid lunge, mouths wide open. On the walls that surrounded them were oil and abstract paintings made up of pastels and muted colors that were illuminated by the moonlight. Beyond that were Greek statues and antique pottery that people were convinced were important. Jisung used to imagine that this was how a hoarder's house would look if they had just a little more scrub. Still relevant, little me.

 

Minho walked up to the tyrannosaurus rex, running a hand along the leg bone. "I've always wanted to do this," he whispered.

 

"How much do you bet they're not even real?" Jisung whispered back.

 

"Not even going to waste my money on that - way too many skeletons in museums are made up of other material. Sometimes it's stone or artificial bone, or plastic if you're feeling lazy." Minho reached up and knocked on the femur. The sound that came out of it was hollow. "Like these guys."

 

"Got it. Childhood officially ruined."

 

"Oh, boo hoo - how do you think I felt when my parents told me cavemen didn't ride dinosaurs?"

 

"Prehistoric horse girls."

 

Minho snickered. Under ordinary circumstances it wouldn't have been that loud, but the museum's space and silence amplified the noise, carrying it through the halls. The two of them stilled immediately, waiting to be discovered. No one came.

 

Jisung released a quiet breath of relief. "We should try to be more quiet from now on."

 

"That's like asking you not to breathe."

 

"It's a good thing that you're with me." He reached out and squeezed Minho's hand. "I think you know of more than a few ways to shut me up."

 

"You think right." Minho tugged him along. "Let's go - you're going to be a pretty shitty guide if you don't show me anything."

 

"Just you wait, doll. I'm going to take your breath away." Jisung lead him away from the dinosaurs, and their adventure began.

 

Their first stop was the relic section, where statues and ancient everyday objects from every artisan's collection were refurbished and put on display atop white pillars.

 

"Okay, just from what we've learned from Felix," Minho pointed to a random statue. "How much do we know about Greek mythology?"

 

"Enough to know that's a statue of Aphrodite, goddess of love," Jisung replied.

 

Minho checked the information tab on the pillar and nodded, pointing to another statue. "And that?"

 

"Orpheus, legendary musician. We're familiar enough with him, aren't we?"

 

He scoffed faintly. "And I think we both know that one's Medusa." Minho furrowed his brows at the statue. "Didn't she have an affair with Poseidon in Athena's temple, and she was cursed to turn everyone who looked at her into stone?"

 

"That was the version written by a bunch of whiny, wrinkly old guys. In the original one, she was a Libyan goddess and Perseus was a king who invaded her home and raided her temples."

 

"Little prick. Seriously?"

 

"Yeah. While most of the time it's seen as a punishment from Athena, sometimes it's also told as a gift, so that no one could ever bother her again."

 

Neither of them questioned why he knew that. "Think that's where the phrase 'if looks could kill' came from?"

 

Jisung shrugged. "It'd only make sense."

 

Minho nodded in agreement. "Rock on, Medusa."

 

In response, the statue and her head of snakes glared them both down. For a moment, Jisung felt as if he actually were turned to stone. He laughed off the feeling. "Hey, Min, where'd you - Minho! Get away from that!"

 

Minho had wandered close to piece of pottery - too close. He already held up a hand to touch it. "Relax, dingus, I'm just going to see if it's as stable as it looks."

 

"The thing's a thousand fucking years old - it's not stable at all!"

 

"I still don't see what damage I could do from a flick."

 

"You're not going to flick it. You're going to come back with me before you break something."

 

"Just because you say that doesn't mean I'm actually going to listen."

 

"Minho - "

 

He flicked the urn. A sharp snap, and a crack lined down the piece of pottery. Jisung didn't even have time to laugh at Minho's dumbfounded face when the beam of a flashlight crept towards the room.

 

"Get down!" Jisung hissed, yanking him to the floor behind the pillar. Light cut through the room, switching this way and that, trying to spot a culprit. Jisung couldn't see who was on the other end of the flashlight, but he knew it wouldn't make a difference if they were caught. He pulled Minho closer to him, hoping their shadows weren't visible.

 

The flashlight faded out of the area, and the moment of terror passed. Somehow, they both managed to quietly exhale. Minho stared at his hand in awe, and Jisung whispered, "You broke it."

 

With that same hand, he punched him. "No, I didn't."

 

"Yeah, you broke it," Jisung repeated, giggling now.

 

"Shut up!" But he didn't shut up, just kept laughing. Minho kept punching him until they both rolled onto the ground.

 

"I fucking broke it," Minho murmured in disbelief.

 

"Eh, the thing's a thousand years old. No one's going to notice."

 

Minho's facial expressions tended to send pretty clear messages, and this one said I hate you. Jisung responded the way he always did - with a smile. He pushed up onto his feet and held out a hand, which Minho took. "Come on, clumsy. Let's get out of here before you break something else."

 

Minho said something about breaking his neck next, but one could never be too sure. They roamed off through the oil painting section, where vivid pictures of frolicking people and lush forests were portrayed. Jisung dragged his companion over to a still life portrait of a colorful fruit bowl. "Look at it."

 

"I respect your love of vegetation, but - "

 

"No, dum - dum. Under it." 

 

Minho squinted, then, catching sight of the scrawl, shook his head. "Unbelievable."

 

Beneath the ornate wood frame of the painting, inscribed by a persistent mechanical pencil, read the everlasting reminder that Han Jisung Wuz Here.

 

"What's unbelievable is that no one ever painted over it after so many years," Jisung sighed nostalgically. "Time sure does fly fast."

 

"How is it possible that you were that much more obnoxious than you are now? I mean, really, 'was' with a uz?"

 

"It was middle school - everyone was obnoxious! I was just misunderstood."

 

"Because that's the word I was going to use." Minho said, rolling his eyes. "Although, I am surprised that you even remembered you did this."

 

"I'm not. I've always remembered this place. So much happened when I was here - Changwan breaking a porcelain cat, Subin and Hana making out in front of the waterfall, Taeil going to the hospital because of a peanut allergy - of course I remembered writing my name here."

 

Minho chuckled. "Seems like something's always abuzz wherever you go."

 

Jisung shrugged. “Chan said it’s probably part of some curse I have - the Quokka Effect, he called it. If I’m not causing the trouble, then trouble’s causing itself because of me. Even if it’s true, it’s not the worst curse to have because there’s always something for me to look back on and smile about.”

 

Minho registered the words. “Is that why you do all the things you do?” His voice had softened, and his dark eyes with it. “Every prank, every stunt - is it all just so you can remember the days gone by?”

 

Had anyone else said something so fitting to his emotions, Jisung would have laughed and told them to shut up before they thought on it too hard. He would have been afraid that he wouldn’t have a front to hide behind when he needed it. He would have focused all his attention on that fear and what he could do to eradicate it by the end of the night and ruined any chances of having another good day.

 

But this was Minho. Minho, who also had fears of his own, who, despite having lied to and hurt him more than once, never gave Jisung anything to be afraid of.

 

“Congratulations, Minho,” Jisung murmured, shooting him a tiny half smile. “You have officially figured me out.”

 

The next flashlight beam struck the oil painting in front of them, but this time Jisung was ready. He grabbed Minho and pulled them both against the wall to their right. When the flashlight circle swept away, he released him. Minho rubbed his arm. "You could give a guy a warning first before shoving him against a wall."

 

"Silence. Look to your right at the end of the hall, but not too much."

 

Though still annoyed, Minho did as he was told, barely even casting a shadow where his head poked out from out of the hall. Slowly, Jisung did the same. The security guard had moved on to a room full of abstracts, but his silhouette was visible from far away - everything from the gut to the unkempt stubble was still there. This place hasn't changed a bit, Jisung thought with a grin.

 

Minho noticed. "Familiar face?"

 

"Thankfully. If I remember right, which I always do, his name's Gu Wonchul. Was a guard nearby the Renaissance section, last I saw of him. Now I know he's been bumped to the graveyard shift. And after all these years, too."

 

"Is he a threat to our good time?"

 

"So long as we keep quiet and make him think he's doing a decent job." He laced their fingers together. "Our night's far from over."

 

The next two hours felt like a hazy, blissful dream. It felt like he was acting out someone else's life in a movie, saying each next line and moving on and on until the scene concluded - only in this case, he never wanted it to end. Guessing the names of statues, nearly breaking endless artifacts, skating down the hall with their socks on, stealing into the planetarium and watching the fake constellations shine in Minho's eyes. Though he tried to hide it, Jisung knew how much he loved every bit of art just by the way he looked at them. His eyes would widen just a little bit, and the corners of his lips would tug back, and it would make you wonder how he saw the rest of the world. How does he see me?

 

If it was low self esteem talking, Jisung probably would have thought: even more of an idiot than you really are - maybe less if you're lucky. But, surprisingly enough, that pesky emotion hadn't made an appearance all day. It hadn't really had time to filter in with his fear of losing one of his best friends to his filth of a family that didn't deserve to house such a kind boy, nor with the euphoria that had come with finding out Felix was with them to stay.

 

But how could he bear to think about any of that now when Minho was twirling about a synthetic garden of kaleidoscopic glass flowers, the only real being in the snow white enclosure, not even realizing that he was the most beautiful piece of artwork in the room?

 

I sound like a goddamn One Direction song, Jisung thought gloomily. It was bad enough that he felt like one too - maybe Chan was rubbing off on him. Or maybe it's because you're not worrying whether or not you're doing something wrong for once - somehow, you make him happy just by being you.

 

Jisung had no idea what made him so different from all the other guys Minho had dated. But if asking about it would ruin this lovely night, he was going to keep his damn mouth shut.

 

Cut to approximately twenty minutes later, and they were traipsing down to Jisung's favorite section - the Renaissance area. Everything was beautifully detailed and real, but at the same time not. Every wall he looked at was adorned with elaborate depictions of war and prosperity and overall transcendance, to say nothing of the gold filigreed ceilings and piano soundtrack accentuating their footsteps. Tonight it was Clair de Lune, the same as it had been the last time Jisung had snuck off here. But this time I'm not alone.

 

Once it was confirmed that Security Guard Wonchul had not followed them, Jisung lead Minho into the Table Room (as lazy as the name was). Inside was, as the title suggested, a long black marble dining table strewn with platters of fake fruits and candelabras, circled by a total of eight high backed thrones.

 

"Did you lead me to the Last Supper?" Minho asked, eying the huge golden cross painted in the center of the table.

 

"I wouldn't do that to either of us," Jisung promised. "This was a place I found on my own. Ran off here when the teacher wasn't looking."

 

"How rebellious."

 

"Hey, she was ranting on about Michelangelo's 'misplaced hatred' of the Catholic church - I wasn't about to sit through that." Jisung ran a hand along the backs of the chairs as he passed them. "At least in this place I got to listen to myself think."

 

Minho glanced out the windows, where swathes of night sky shone through. "Sure is quiet."

 

"Maybe. But that's what I liked about it. I could be alone without being lonely." Jisung perched on the corner of the table, just by the throne at the end of the table. "Well, I guess it was a little lonely, but it was better than moving mindlessly with the crowd. For a few minutes, I could just exist."

 

Even now, Jisung remembered the feeling. He always knew he was different, but not in the "quirky" kind of way. He just knew that boys his age didn't carry around notebooks of doodles and songs that he wrote himself, or purposely stay after school to get some alone time. As soon as he entered the Table Room, he felt instantly at peace. All the voices of his classmates faded away, and all he could hear was the symphony of the piano. He had settled at the edge of the table and listened, taking time to simply catch his breath, not giving a damn about anyone else.

 

Minho settled next to Jisung, jarring him back. There was plenty of room for him to sit somewhere else, but he stayed right where he was. And of course that caused Jisung to be hyperaware of the closeness of their bodies - his right to Minho's left, pressed together. The piano music was too loud and too soft. Everything was warm, his cheeks, his arms, his legs. You're fine, stupidass. Boyfriends do this all the time. Just be cool.

 

But suddenly Minho's hand drifted to his knee, and Jisung's mouth ran dry.

 

"You don't feel lonely now, do you?" His voice had gone low and silvery. His words were a dare, a question Minho already knew the answer to.

 

Jisung answered anyway. "No," he managed, his own voice wavering. Yet he didn't move away when Minho's face angled towards his, eyes alight not teasingly but affectionately, with a kind of tenderness he had never seen in the boy before. All at once, he knew what was going to happen, what he had wanted to happen since day one, what he had been waiting for since the night of Half Moon. His heart was jackrabbiting madly in his chest, and yet his eyes were beginning to flutter shut when -

 

There. Out of the corner of his eye - the beam of a flashlight.

 

Faster than anyone could blink, Jisung bolted to his feet and crossed to the exit in a matter of seconds. Poking his head out, the hallway was completely empty. Satisfied, he strode back to the table. Minho looked noticeably baffled. "The hell was that about?"

 

"Just a precaution. Thought I saw a flashlight out the window, but nope. We're good." He waited for his reprimanding, but all Minho did was watch him, his face thoughtful. He pushed off the table and stepped towards him. "Min, the guard - "

 

"Forget about him," Minho said. "Why haven't you kissed me, Jisung?"

 

The words hit him like a grenade. "What?"

 

"Is it because of what I've done? The other guys I've been with?"

 

"No!"

 

He paused, and Jisung could see him struggling with what he wanted to say. "Is it because of what I said? About not seeing where this would be going?"

 

"How can you think that?"

 

"Because I wish I never said it! You guys are always calling me Ice Queen and unfeeling. For once, I feel ashamed." Minho shuddered. "It's like wearing a coat that doesn't fit."

 

"Minho, I already told you - I'm with you because I want to be, because you let me. There's no better honor I can imagine than being by your side."

 

"Honor, duty, I get it."

 

"We're just different, okay? We're not Changbin and Felix - "

 

"You're damn right we're not!" Minho's eyes blazed, and the slightest quaver entered his voice. "Not even a full day, and they're already draped all over each other, whereas we haven't even kissed out of fear that someone might stumble in."

 

Jisung used his words to sing and write, to joke and flirt. He didn't know how to use them for this. "I thought I was doing what you wanted. The night I performed for you, you told me you didn't want anyone else around to see it, and I listened. I've been counting the days since then, but we're never alone."

 

"Do you see anyone here now?"

 

"That guard was outside not even a minute ago! Any wrong move, and he would've busted in and ruined everything!"

 

"Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe I wasn't afraid anymore?"

 

The piano acted as a soundstripe in the background. Minho sidled closer. Jisung glanced uneasily at the exit. "What are you so afraid of?" Minho challenged. "Don't look out there, Jisung. Look at me."

 

He looked. It was a constant struggle not to look. There had to be hundreds of mental pictures in his mind just from tonight out of doing so. Only Minho could make a simple dress shirt, turtleneck, and jeans look glamorous. Now, his onyx eyes were bright, his brows raised, his lips stopped in the middle ground of a smirk and a frown. It was too easy to imagine himself taking his waist in his hands, tracing the line of his jaw, pulling him closer until Zeno's paradoxes no longer applied. "We're like nothing else I've ever done."

 

"Would you rather that we be the same?"

 

Jisung stumbled on, trying to make him understand. "If we'd met normally - "

 

"We met after two of our friends nearly got a concussion."

 

"If we had met normally," he persisted. "I would have noticed you long before you noticed me. I'd have done all sorts of stupid shit to get your attention."

 

"What kind of stupid shit?"

 

"Remember the Monopoly card that got me out of detention? Child's play. I would've considered a single glance from you a victory. I would have asked you after school if you wanted to go out sometime."

 

"I'd consider that sweet if I weren't mad at you right now."

 

"I would have brought you gifts on our first date. Yakgwa or ggul teok from the bakery, flowers if I knew what you liked. Our first kiss would be in a sunlit park or under a starry sky after I dropped you off, not by some probably homophobic table with a guard patrolling the outside."

 

"Let me see if I understand you correctly." Minho circled him slowly, stopping halfway. Pinned by his gaze, Jisung felt like a bug under a microscope. "You haven't kissed me because the setting isn't suitably romantic?"

 

"This isn't about romance.Jisung tread carefully backwards. "There's a way these things should be done. It's about a proper kiss, a proper courtship." He only managed to get three steps back when his palms and the small of his back touched the cool ebony of the table. Fuck. 

 

"For proper delinquents?" The corners of his beautiful mouth curled, and for a moment Jisung thought he would laugh at him. But Minho simply took three steps forward - the same three steps Jisung had taken back. "Aren't you a romantic."

 

"Maybe so." Footsteps from outside - not in the hall, but close enough. Again, Jisung's eyes strayed to the open exit, and Minho's fingers gripped his chin, forcing him to stare into his eyes. Minho's irises were dark - too dark, like they'd swallow him whole.

 

"No one's coming to save you now, squirrel." The thrum of his voice vibrated straight through him.

 

"You really are evil."

 

"I know I'm not proper, Jisung."

 

"I'm aware of that, too." Miserably, keenly, hungrily aware.

 

"Nothing about us will ever be proper." His hand left his chin to cup his cheek, as did the other. Jisung's heart leapt into his throat. Minho's body was the barest breath from his now. "Not the way we met, not the lives we lead, and definitely not the way we kiss."

 

And thus, to the final crescendo of the piano, under the light of the full moon, Minho kissed him.

 

Obviously, Jisung had kissed people before - guys and girls - so he knew the feeling, that brief exuberance that it caused. Yet, when Minho's mouth met his, euphoric and fervent and gentle at the same time, it disarmed him completely. His hands released their grip on the too - cold black marble, and he inhaled sharply, for all the air from his lungs had been drawn out in a moment. Minho tugged back, his eyes big and anxious, as if asking if this is what he wanted. As if I've ever wanted anyone else this much. Grinning, Jisung cupped the back of his head with both hands and crashed into him like the waves of a storm.

 

All at once, the world around them dissolved. Everything was lush and beautiful and burning up but it didn't matter because Minho was here in his arms, backing him against a table, holding him close with a controlled urgency that couldn't be faked. Jisung's hands skimmed to Minho's shoulders, his back, his hips. His body felt like a statue that had been given life, hard and sinewy and so lovely it hurt. Their lips parted at the same time, and Minho tasted sweet as melted chocolate and midnight breeze and adventures yet to come. Jisung tilted his head to deepen the angle, curled his fingers in the belt loops of the other boy's jeans; in response, Minho grasped the collar of his flannel and pulled tight, releasing that cut off hum in the back of his throat - a vibration that traveled down his spine and stirred up every cell in his body until it felt as though his entire being had been made and remade.

 

If Jisung thought that their many almost kisses had been unforgettable, then the words for the real thing had not been invented yet. It was was a gunshot, a sparkler flare, a firework show that no one else got to see. It was also, if one were thinking logically, the most random fucking thing ever. They had broken into a whole ass museum and ended up making out on piece of furniture that most likely did not support their lifestyle choices. Maybe that guard had discovered them and was calling the cops on account of not only breaking and entering, but some good old - fashioned gender treachery. But whatever - damn if they cared. Jisung wanted to lock in this love and throw away the key for good. He wanted time to stop moving so goddamn fast and freeze just for them. He wanted Minho to become undone with him, to dance with him in this eternal midsummer night's dream, to take his hand and go all the places they wanted and leave everything else behind.

 

This time it was Jisung who pulled away first, only because he needed air. God knew he would kiss Minho every second of the day without stopping if he could. The small of his back was aching and his lips felt cold and puffy, but the adrenaline coursing through his veins made up for it all. "Now that was worth the wait."

 

Minho's forehead was leaning against his. His eyes were shining and so was his mouth. "We just kissed on a homophobic table," he whispered.

 

Jisung threw his head back and guffawed, cackling. He knew he probably sounded like a demented hyena, but fucking hell if that mattered. "Yup," he giggled. "That we did."

 

Minho grinned at him. Jisung beamed back. This had to be the definition of a perfect moment.

 

"Hey!" Security Guard Wonchul yelled. "Get the fuck out of there!"

 

"Oh, shit," Minho breathed.

 

Slipping out from beneath him, Jisung grabbed Minho's hand and bolted, right past the gobsmacked guard and down the hall towards the entrance like twin rockets. They plunged past oil paintings and statues and that pristine artificial garden from two hours ago; it felt like a lifetime had already passed since then. To his left, he heard Minho laugh as they ran. He'd never heard him laugh like that before, giddy and childlike and wild.

 

Somewhere far, far behind, Security Guard Wonchul cursed, his footsteps slowing to an unenthusiastic halt. The dinosaurs of the entrance loomed ominously over them, as if to snatch them up in their great lifeless jaws. "Back, villains!" Minho shouted heroically, giggling as Jisung pulled him away. He threw open the doors single - handedly with a deep, thunderous boom that scared away the pigeons on the steps. Everything was just as they had left it - Minho's car was waiting behind the gate, and there wasn't a police car in sight. At the last minute, Jisung veered off to the right, following his impulses for one last stunt.

 

"Uh, Sungie?" Minho called, pointing at the gate. "My car is that way."

 

"I know." His heart raced to some imperceptible drumbeat. He wove around to the front of the waterfall until the tip of Cupid's stone arrow was pointed directly at them. Now. Jisung jerked Minho to him, catching the curve of his waist in his hands, stopping his protestant lips with a kiss. Minho made a sound of muffled surprise, then gave in, weaving his arms around his neck, arcing up into him, kissing him back with shattering enthusiasm. Jisung absorbed the taste of him over and over again, already addicted to this, to Minho and everything about him, the scent and warmth of his skin beneath his clothes.

 

They pulled back gracefully, Jisung imagined. There was applause from a ghostly audience. Minho smirked devilishly. "You're a greedy little thing."

 

"Only for you." He glanced at the amorous water fountain and all it implied, suddenly shy. "Always wondered what it would be like to kiss somebody in front of this."

 

"And so you decided to test it out on me?"

 

"Yeah. I know, stupid - "

 

"Beautiful." Minho's eyes were onyx pools that could overwhelm him with a glance. "I hope you know that."

 

Jisung shrugged. He would welcome the flood. "You could help me learn."

 

They stood there, locked in each other, a relic of a completely new kind. No mental picture, nor memory could ever capture this wonderful feeling. The sound of rushing water and city whispers filtered into the background like the most beautiful song.

 

Jisung's heart had been emptied tonight, and he wanted to fill it again with Minho, the Ice Queen himself.

Chapter Text

Six Months Later...

 

Felix p.o.v

 

Ever since he could remember, Felix had always been an early riser. For reasons unknown to him, his subconscious always thought it wise to wake him up at six forty - five. And since school started at eight thirty, there were always efficient ways to spend that time.

 

First, he would text a cheerful good morning to the group chat, even though no one replied until at least an hour later. Then there would be starting up a fresh batch of coffee before breakfast. And finally there was getting dressed for the day, which never took more than twelve minutes. Every morning, Felix did a once over of his reflection in the six - foot mirror in the hallway just to check if anything was wrong. Today, he was the picture of flawlessness: unscuffed shoes, clean pressed uniform (as he had remembered to take both his and Changbin's to the dry cleaner's yesterday), and strawberry pink hair that showed no signs of previous bedhead.

 

But by the time the clock struck seven, his boyfriend still wasn't out of bed.

 

He left him no choice.

 

Felix grabbed his phone out off his desk and strode loudly to the kitchen counter, where the Bluetooth speaker was already waiting for him.

 

From inside his room, Changbin groaned. "Please don't do it."

 

"This is your last warning, Binnie," Felix singsonged. "Get ready to seize the day!"

 

Another groan. "No."

 

Then you leave me no choice. Felix tapped into Spotify and opened up ☀️morning playlist☕️, hitting the shuffle button. In an instant, Dynamite was blaring through the household.

 

"Cause oh, oh, I'm in the stars tonight."

 

"So watch me bring the fire, set the night alight."

 

Changbin's anguished moaning echoed down the hall, discordantly harmonizing with Jungkook's vocals. Felix danced his way back down the hall, throwing open the door to his room. "Rise and shine, sleepyhead!"

 

Despite the light from the outside, the room was dark. The shadows painted every corner in a gray hue; even the curtains were closed. Changbin lay spread eagled under the covers, one arm cast over his face, the other at his side clutching Gyu, his favorite plushie. "Away, demon. The power of Christ compels you."

 

"You cannot curse me with what I am immune to," Felix replied, marching inside and drawing open the curtains. "Come on, do you have to do this every morning? It's like trying to raise the dead."

 

"The dead request five more minutes."

 

"Then you'll just have to settle for nothing!" Felix flopped on the bed beside him, propping himself up on his elbow. "What were you dreaming about?"

 

"I was dreaming about my parents being murdered. I think I'd like to go back to that now."

 

Felix rolled his eyes. What a vampire. “Please, if there’s anyone who wants their parents dead, it’s me. Surely sleep isn't so desirable that you'd want to go back to that?" When Changbin said nothing, he flung his arm off his face. He had decided to wear a tank top - that was always nice to see. "The land of the living is much less depressing."

 

Changbin gazed up at him, brown eyes deadpan. Naturally, he made a jet - black undercut in the throes of bedhead look handsome. "If I were in the mood, I would argue with that." Tentatively, he brushed a stray hair from Felix's face. The drowsy beginnings of a smile was forming on his lips. "But this isn't the worst thing to wake up to."

 

The wattage to Felix's smile turned up to one hundred. "Morning, Edgelord."

 

“Morning, Sunshine Boy.”

 

“I hope this is your way of telling me that you’ll get up now.”

 

He groaned petulantly. “Do I have to right now?”

 

”Yes, you do! We’ve been prepping for today for two weeks! Besides, we all promised Chan - “

 

” - that we would continue on the tradition of shaking shit up down at JYP in his stead. I know, I know. You didn’t have to remind me.”

 

“Considering the fact that I still have to wake you up in the morning, I make it my solemn duty.”

 

“I hate you.”

 

Felix grinned. “Then why am I in your bed?” He traced a line down his boyfriend’s bare biceps.

 

Disappointingly, Changbin didn’t even blush. “Get out of my room.”

 

”I’ll get us breakfast.” Pressing a kiss to his forehead, Felix pranced back to the kitchen, hanging his jacket over a chair at the dining room table. It hadn’t taken him long to memorize where everything was. He peeled open the fridge, then the pantry. “Okay, so we’ve got a couple choices.”

 

”Hit me.”

 

”Frozen hotteok, yogurt, your mom’s yaksik, chapssal donuts, and that leftover cheesecake from last night.”

 

A rustling of movement from the other room. “Scratch the cheesecake - Jisung’s gonna get pissed at us if we eat the rest without him.”

 

"He only tried to break in to steal it from us two weeks ago." Long story short, Changbin had bought child locks for every window in the apartment. ”I can also cook for us - eggs, toast, the works.”

 

A snort. “You can’t cook for shit.”

 

“I’m just stating the options!”

 

Changbin went silent for a moment. “Did you put the donuts in the fridge?”

 

”They’re in the pantry, Bin, I’m not a monster.”

 

“I can turn on the coffee pot when I’m out.”

 

”Already done.”

 

A sigh. “Why are you so good to me?”

 

Felix glanced towards the open door of Changbin’s room. He couldn’t see him, but he sounded close to the entrance. “I guess I feel like I should be nice to the guy who saved my life.”

 

“I’ve told you a million times, Lix, you don’t owe me anything.”

 

“Between being a shitty boyfriend and a shitty roommate, I don’t want to be either. Besides, I think there’s something to be appreciated about morning scenes of domestic bliss, don’t you?”

 

Changbin said nothing, just sighed again. “Baby, what the hell are you doing to me,” he murmured under his breath.

 

“What was that?”

 

“Nothing! Nothing, just...” I bet he’s blushing now. “You’re so perfect it’s annoying.”

 

Felix grinned to himself. “Hurry it up in there. I don’t want to be late because of you.” Incoherent grumbling in response. Three minutes later, as he set their coffee mugs on the counter, Changbin filed out of his room, uniform on, blazer hooked over his shoulder. "And the dragon emerges from his cave."

 

"Yeah, yeah." Changbin smirked, holding up a notebook with one hand. "You left this in my room last night."

 

Felix gasped. "I knew I was forgetting something!" He snatched the book from his hand, leafing through it, muttering the scribbles on the pages. "I hope that study group was enough."

 

"Believe me, it was - as was the one we did the night before, and the night before that one, and the night before." Changbin draped his blazer over Felix's. "I don't get why you're so worried about that math quiz."

 

"Because it's the first assignment that really counts for our grade! What if I do bad on it? That stuff's really hard to make up!"

 

"We've been cramming for this review all week." He poured coffee into their mugs. "Even after the groups are over, you've been making me help you study. And, even with all that, you're an academic legend." He handed Felix his cup. "You're gonna be fine."

 

"I know, I know." Felix sighed, taking a sip. "It's only been three weeks - I shouldn't worry this much. Should we even have tests at the beginning of the fourth?"

 

"It's mandatory for every student - we were just unlucky enough to end up in Kwon's class again," Changbin replied, snatching up the bag of chapssal donuts. 

 

"Which is why, on this fine diurnal course, we shall rebel in the only way we know how - through farce!"

 

"What're you and Minho even planning?"

 

"Like I'll tell you." Felix stole a few donuts from the bag. "If you won't tell me what you and Hyunjin are doing, then you're not getting a word out of me."

 

So maybe it was a little immature of them to form teams out of their friend group to pull pranks on their teachers just because. But hey - if you had one year left to leave your mark on a place, might as well make the most of it. Maybe Felix was only thinking that way because of Bambam and Yugyeom's tutelage. No matter what, Mr. Yeon was going to get some serious musical payback.

 

"Sounds fair." Changbin plunked down in a chair behind the dining table, absentmindedly loosening his tie. "I still can't believe we're seniors."

 

"Remember what Chan said about enjoying the bliss. Jamie said he had an existential crisis that lasted three hours when it hit him."

 

"Poor guy. Wonder how he's doing now."

 

"Don't worry about him, he's probably fine. If he isn't busy producing the next best song of the year, he'll be hanging out with Jamie, Bambam, and Brian - they all live in the same complex, after all. And he got that new dog!"

 

Changbin sighed. "I still miss him, though. Every once in a while, I'll look over my shoulder and expect him to be there."

 

"And you're not the only one. We all miss Chan, but he's not dead, Binnie - we're still seeing him regularly. And, after today, we'll make him proud."

 

"I hope so." He took another sip of coffee, drumming his fingers on the cup. "So, I never got to ask - what was my mom talking to you about last Friday night?"

 

"Nothing much." Felix smiled into his drink. "Just how you ditched your eighth grade girlfriend at a school dance."

 

"Oh God, no," Changbin moaned, hitting the back of his head against the wall. "I knew I shouldn't have left you guys alone together."

 

"What can I say? I'm a lovable little cherub. And it was a pretty sexy story."

 

Getting abandoned and cut off by your biological parents? Not fun. Getting accepted and doted by your boyfriend's eccentrically wholesome family? Much more enjoyable. Changbin's parents had taken to him almost instantly, and were understanding after hearing his story. He even liked his sister, even though she did remind him painfully of Rachel and Olivia. It hadn't taken much talking for them to take Felix in for the rest of his schooling - in exchange for dinner at their place every Friday night. 

 

"I can assure you that there was nothing sexy about hiding in a bathroom stall and playing Temple Run for the rest of the night because I realized I had a crush on her brother - my first crush on a guy, by the way."

 

"Maybe, but it is always sexy to receive desserts from one's significant other's kindhearted mom."

 

Another thing about Changbin's family? His mother never let them leave without food. Felix was tempted to marry into his family just for that - well, and their charming, dashing son.

 

"I'll try remember to bring them to your place next time we go." Something in Changbin's expression dimmed at the words your place.

 

Felix tried for a smile. "Binnie, you knew it was coming."

 

"Of course I know - I've been helping you pack." He glanced at their living room, where boxes already sat in neat stacks. "Just feels too soon."

 

After months of haggling, stressing, and too much legal shit for one to really stand, Felix was moving back into his apartment. While he was looking forward to it, he couldn't deny that the move would come with its drawbacks.

 

"Jeez, you call me dramatic. I'll only be twenty - five minutes away! It's not like you're never gonna see me again."

 

"But it's still far!" Changbin slumped in his seat, pouting. "You'll be leaving me for your neighbors."

 

"My neighbors, who have so kindly fought to save my place on the fifth floor so I could return to them. I won't be leaving you for anyone."

 

"If you say so." Changbin took his time stretching out in his chair, sipping his coffee, preparing his words. "Even so, I have to ask."

 

"Ask away."

 

"Now that we've successfully gone six months without some Riverdale - style couple's spat, moved in together, and been out and proud the whole time - is the magic gone?"

 

The song had changed to Talk Too Much. Felix muddled over the question. "You know, it's really funny you say that because..." he set his mug on the counter. "Yeah. It is."

 

Changbin feigned surprise. "Wow. Really?"

 

"Yep. Has been for a while."

 

"And I missed it completely?"

 

"To be honest, it started slowly." Felix traipsed lazily towards him as he spoke. "But it was the little things that made me notice."

 

Changbin's eyes slyly tracked his movements. "How unfortunate. What am I to you now?"

 

"It's difficult to sum up in just a few words." He spun around and dropped diagonally into his boyfriend's lap, automatically looping his arms around his neck. "But I now find you repulsive."

 

"Oh?" Changbin's eyes flashed, one hand curling around Felix's thigh, the other around his waist. "I guess all of this has been in my head the whole time."

 

"Pretty much."

 

"Well, I had fun."

 

"Me too."

 

"You know I talk too much,"

 

"So honey come put your lips on mine and shut me up."

 

"We can blame it on our human nature."

 

And they beamed at each other, because no matter what they said, they knew this love was far from over, that the magic would never be gone. Not when that cataclysmic spark still bloomed from their fingertips, warming the other to the bone whenever they touched. No, as long as they were together, there would never be a dull moment in their relationship. And right now, Felix didn't see an end in sight.

 

"Just wait until moving day comes," Changbin whispered, spoiling the mood.

 

"Ugh, don't even mention that!" Felix groaned. "It's gonna be chaos."

 

"What else were you expecting when we asked our chaotic friend group to help you move back into your apartment?"

 

"Don't get me wrong, I'm all for not hiring a U-Haul - but was there really no other option?"

 

"Come on, it's not going to be that bad."

 

"Say that all you want now, but you know Jisung's going to suggest building a catapult, and everyone else will go along with it, and all my stuff will get wrecked!"

 

Changbin held him just a little bit closer. "For what good it'll do, I'll try my best to stop them."

 

Felix leaned his head on his shoulder. "I'm gonna lose my mind without you, Seo."

 

Two cups of coffee and a decadent breakfast of chapssal donuts later, they were getting ready to hit the road. Changbin had his bag in one hand and Bartholomew's keys in the other, and Felix was just slipping on his blazer when his phone buzzed.

 

Rachel

I’m sorry about Mom and Dad.

Please just talk to me.

 

It had been nearly two weeks since she'd last sent a message. He was beginning to think his big sister had finally forgotten about him.

 

"Lix!" Changbin called. "You coming?"

 

This would be the sixtieth text I've ignored. Maybe if he texted back just this once, they would both feel some kind of closure.

 

When Felix was finished typing - and it had been quite the paragraph - he slipped his phone back into his pocket and joined Changbin at his side. "Let's go."

 

******

 

Ten months ago, Felix would have never guessed that he would be riding to school on a motorcycle with his dorky, lyrical biker boyfriend, but that was where life had taken him.

 

And to be completely honest, he loved every bit of it.

 

Not just because it saved him from the ever - unpleasant bus ride, or because it got him to JYP so much faster. Six months, and he still didn't know what it was. Felix just knew that he loved the rippling wind in his hair, the solid heat of Changbin's torso in his arms, the feeling of speeding through the world and still not going too fast to pass it all by, all with a soundtrack of your choice, which right now was Rocketeer. There was still time to enjoy the scenery, watch it fade away like film tape, and make it through the next green light.

 

It hadn't taken too long for Felix to get used to Bartholomew. The honking horns and vrooming tire skids of vehicles passing them by became background noise in no time - it was easy if you listened to the radio playing in the car next to you. Turned out Changbin had been right on their first date - the ride was much less scarier when he let go of his fear of death. What did Felix even have to be afraid of? Changbin drove too fast for anyone to make a wrong turn and strike them, and the redneck truck drivers were easy to quiet when you turned around and cussed them out in return. So, with confidence and just a bit of dumb luck, there was no reason to worry about becoming roadkill on the city road.

 

Trust me when I say I won't let that happen to you, Changbin had promised him. From then on, Felix had decided to never doubt him again.

 

Out of the shadows of his mind, he recalled his message to Rachel. She hadn't responded yet - probably busy with college - but she would get around to it eventually. He knew she would.

 

Hey Rach, the message had read. It's me - no one else, just me. I hope you're doing well and I mean that. You can tell Mom and Dad about this - I don't mind. I'm a senior in high school now. I've got a great life where I am and I honestly want you to be a part of it. But if you don't want to that's okay. Because I don't need you anymore.

 

I've got a new family now.

 

Felix pressed a kiss to the nape of Changbin's neck, just above his uniform collar. Changbin jolted as though struck by lightning, as he knew he would. "What was that for?"

 

"Just because," Felix replied softly.

 

His boyfriend said nothing in response, but his shy smile in the rearview mirror said what he didn't.

 

Hyunjin p.o.v

 

"Kkami, you whore!" Hyunjin yelled, rocketing down the hall. "Get back here!"

 

The dog only ran faster, if that was possible, ducking beneath chairs and twisting round corners faster than the speed of light.

 

"Why do we have to do this every goddamn morning?!" Hyunjin attempted to block him, feinting left and right, yet to no avail; he ran right in between his legs and bolted into the kitchen. "I'm just trying to brush you!"

 

Kkami spun about to face him, claws clacking on the hardwood floors. He barked defiantly with his hackles raised in indignation.

 

Hyunjin moaned, sinking to his knees with the dog brush still in his hand. "Just let me love you!"

 

"If you were really angry, you'd suck it up and call him a bitch," a girl called out.

 

"Shut the fuck up, Yeji!"

 

A day in the life of Hyunjin's weekly routine included informing Felix on the group chat that he was still alive, dressing to his best ability even though he was limited to the same school uniform every day, attempting to care for his ungrateful hellhound of a pup, and screeching at his sister through four inch thick walls. No need to listen to my prayers, God - I'm just living the dream!

 

"I'm just saying," Yeji drawled. "Also, it's statistically proven that men get angrier than women when they're called bitches."

 

"I am not angry, I'm frustrated." Hyunjin lunged for Kkami again. "What would name calling do, anyway? I don't think dogs even understand the human language."

 

"There is a theory that dogs know Spanish and cats know German, but I don't think that would help in your case. Besides, if that's what you think, then why do you bother yelling at him?"

 

"Because what else am I supposed to do, let him get matted? I have a duty to this child, and I will fulfill it."

 

Even through the wall, Hyunjin could hear her scoff. "Loser."

 

"Faithless."

 

Meanwhile, Kkami had run into the living room and leapt on top of the coffee table, growling as though he were king of the hill protecting his keep. Hyunjin groaned, running a hand through his long blond hair. Three knocks on the door sounded to his left. "I'm kinda busy busy right now," he called. 

 

"Did I say that I cared?" The doorknob rattled for a few seconds before it twisted, the door opening to reveal his sister. Yeji was in uniform like him, save for the gray pleated skirt she wore instead of slacks, raven black hair in a high ponytail. She was what Hyunjin assumed the female version of him looked like - except a lot shorter.

 

"Knock much?" Hyunjin said, irritated.

 

Yeji rolled her eyes. "Why would I bother knocking when I already have the key?" Taking his chance, Kkami scurried behind her. She snickered at the dog. "If you hadn't raised this poor sucker yourself, I'd think he was afraid of you."

 

"Kkami is not afraid of me. We just have our disagreements, that's all."

 

"And I'm the lucky one who gets to hear them every morning."

 

"No one asked you to live right next door to me - I certainly didn't. Go bunk with one of your friends or something."

 

"Just because my whiny brother told me to? Hell no."

 

"Shut the hell up!" A man yelled below them.

 

"You shut the hell up!" Hyunjin and Yeji yelled back, getting a whimper and a hastily shut door in response. Even with their quarrels, the combined wrath of the Hwang twins was nothing to be trifled with.

 

“If I had to wake up to your stupid face every morning, I’d try to run away too.” She dumped the dog in his arms and sauntered into his apartment. "Your welcome - you wouldn't have gotten him on your own."

 

Hyunjin didn't even deny it. He just ran his brush across Kkami's back, watching his sister walk straight for the honeydew Melona pops in the refrigerator. "With that kind of attitude, you would make a great thief. Just take the food and run."

 

"And yours would be the first place I hit." Yeji hopped up on the counter with the package next to her, ice pop in hand. "Have you eaten anything yet?"

 

”Been a little occupied with tending to my fur demon, so no.”

 

Yeji scoffed. “Dumbass.” She checked inside the package and beckoned him forward. “Come on. There’s three more left.”

 

My sister, Hyunjin thought. One minute she was insulting him and the next she was offering him food. Food from his own house, but still. Since he was never one to turn down available sustenance, he set the wriggling dog in his arms on the ground and ambled into the kitchen, taking a pop from the box. Yeji watched as he settled back against the fridge. "What'd I do this time?"

 

"Nothing." She sighed, shaking her head. "Five days in a row, and you've still got those dark circles under your eyes."

 

Hyunjin didn't know she had noticed. "What can I say? I'm a studious lad."

 

"Bullshit. You've gotten into a new drama again, haven't you? Should've known - I can hear you shouting through the walls for Hyejin to tell Sungjoon that she's his long lost childhood friend and not Hari."

 

That's what you get for watching dramas in the deadest hours of night, Hyunjin chided himself. But could she blame him? She Was Pretty was a cinematic masterpiece. "I wasn't doing that - at least not tonight. I was studying with the boys and got sidetracked mid - rant."

 

"Jisu told me Felix was still stressed about that damn test. He going to be alright?"

 

"You kidding? He's Felix - he'll be fine. But Binnie told me he's still making him help him after the groups are over." Not that Hyunjin blamed him - there was a reason that JYP's math teachers were infamous for their review tests.

 

She chuckled. "Poor sucker. Got a tryhard for a boyfriend."

 

"Indeed. Which brings me to my next topic." He pointed his melon pop at her. "Why didn't you tell me you used to date Changbin?"

 

"You guys weren't friends at the time, so I didn't think it mattered."

 

"Well, you didn't think to tell me when we did become friends, and I only found out when he told me himself. Did he even know we were related?"

 

Yeji tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "I mean, I told him I wasn't an only child..."

 

Hyunjin scoffed. "Unbelievable."

 

"Are you seriously mad about something that happened nearly two years ago? How did he even tell you?"

 

"Two weeks ago, while we were planning how to get back at Ms. Kwon this year."

 

"She's going to be my fifth class today - you gonna tell me what you have planned so I can have a fair warning?"

 

Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down - "It's going to be on the last class of the day, so you'll be safe. And no, it won't be any trouble for the janitor, unlike last year - "

 

" - when Tzuyu and Yugyeom put Mr. Yeon's desk materials in the vending machine, and he couldn't get them all out so he ended up throwing a chair through the glass. Still awesome, though."

 

Hyunjin leaned back. "So did you not tell me you guys were together because you were embarrassed that you thought you were bi?"

 

"I'm not ashamed of anything, nimrod," Yeji hurled back. "We had a good time, and that was it. I don't see why it matters - he has a boyfriend, and I'm looking. Just get your stupid needle nose out of my business."

 

"Pity on any girl who decides you're worth her time," he snickered.

 

Yeji flipped him off with her popsicle. Hyunjin ignored her, biting down on his own. She shuddered, gagging. "My God, you're despicable."

 

"Oh, come on! Normal people bite their popsicles!"

 

"That's like pouring in milk before cereal - it's sinful. And don't you dare bring your 'be gay do crimes' shit on me. That won't work when you get arrested for arson."

 

"Please, I'll have to be caught first. And the hell do you mean 'you're looking?' Don't you already have a girlfriend?"

 

For a fleeting second, Yeji stilled. "No, I don't."

 

Hyunjin grinned, pressing the advantage. "Then who the hell are you on call with at ass o' clock every night? You're not the only one with a nightlife. I can hear you laughing through the walls all happy and shit."

 

"It's no one."

 

"I object! Come on, who's that one girl you're always hanging around in school? Rye, Ryung - Ryujin! She's in your group, right? Is it her?"

 

Yeji's cheeks flushed a deep pink. "Just shut up about it, would you?"

 

Hyunjin squealed with delight. "I knew it! I knew there was something going on between you guys! You like her ~"

 

"I told you to shut up!" She chucked her popsicle stick at his head. "Nothing's happening between us - nothing is going on!"

 

"Do you wish that there was?"

 

"I swear I'm cutting out your tongue if you don't shut your mouth right now."

 

"All talk and no action - that's what you are, sister. We're seniors - now is the time to take control of your love life!"

 

"Oh, says you! Sobbing over your dramas, setting up relationships that aren't yours - what about Seungmin? I know you've liked him since last year."

 

Just the mention of his name stirred something inside of Hyunjin. "We weren't talking about that."

 

"But now we are." Yeji folded her arms stubbornly; no way was she moving now. "You always talk about how you're going to rock his world one of these days - cool, you've had nine months. It never takes you that long to get with a guy. Did something happen?"

 

"No - and that's why I'm lying in wait. When the moment comes - and it will - I'll be ready. I'll make my move, and all will be well."

 

"But how do you know if there will be a moment? Like, why him? I mean, I guess he's cute - "

 

"Sorry, are we talking about boys now? Because I can change back into pajamas and dig out the rest of the ice cream and only then will I tell you that yes, I find Kim Seungmin extremely dreamy."

 

"Could you dial back on the sarcasm for one second?" Yeji huffed, pinching the bridge of her nose. She looked like their mom when she did that, but Hyunjin didn't feel like getting his ass whooped this early in the morning by pointing it out. "You know what I mean, alright? He's arrogant, callous, stuck - up. Why do you like him?"

 

He knew what she was talking about - of course he did. For months, Hyunjin used to ask himself the same question, to save some confusion or possible heartsickness. Maybe it was that combination of fluffy hair and puppylike eyes that had always been his favorite. Or maybe it was the allure of chipping away at that pristine marble mask little by little to unearth the fragility that lay beneath. But when he got down to essence of his attraction to Seungmin, after answering all of his own questions, he knew that all of the usual tropes were wrong.

 

"Because I know that's not who he is," Hyunjin replied quietly. "He only uses that stuff as a front - underneath it all, he's clever and sweet and shy, and he just doesn't want to get hurt by anybody he opens up to. You might not notice it at first glance, but if you spend enough time getting to know him, you'll see. Sure, maybe it's dumb that I've hung around this long, playing it safe, but he hasn't pushed me away yet. Don't you think there's a chance?"

 

As expected, Yeji rolled her eyes. "Good unholy Lord, you're whipped. What if he doesn't like you? What if he doesn't like guys? What if he doesn't like anyone?"

 

That was also a viable option. But Hyunjin wasn't going to give up now. "I've lasted this long. Maybe there is a reason to hope."

 

Just then, Kkami scampered into the kitchen, sniffing at Yeji's sneakers. Hyunjin had his very own lightbulb moment as he remembered what he and Kkami had been practicing the other day. "Ah, that's right!" He exclaimed, clapping his hands. "Yeji, are you ready to have your mind blown?"

 

"What did you two cretins get up to this time?"

 

"Just hear me out." Hyunjin picked up the dog and positioned him so that his back faced Yeji. "Kkami, speak!"

 

"Arf!"

 

"No, I mean speak, like human words!"

 

"You have officially reached a new level of low - and for you, that's saying something." His sister pushed off the counter and stood behind Hyunjin, arms comically folded. "Are you actually trying to teach that poor creature to talk?"

 

"Not talk - just name the seven deadly sins. We're starting off small, and it's still a work in progress, but we're going to get somewhere!" Hyunjin faced his dog again. "Kkami, speak!"

 

"Ruff!"

 

"Good boy!" Hyunjin cheered, scratching the dog's head. "He said Wrath!"

 

"No, he didn't!" Yeji pointed to his pup. "He said 'ruff' like any normal dog, because that's what he is! You can't teach an animal to - "

 

"Gluttony," said Kkami.

 

"Holy shit - "

 

******

 

After dismissing a flabbergasted Yeji and praising Kkami with two extra treats, Hyunjin finally left his apartment.

 

With walking alone, however, came the stares.

 

They weren't mean stares, the kind that wished murder on the recipient. If anything, they were appreciative of his existence, as though Hyunjin were a piece of artwork on display, shiny and alluring and always worth the second glance. It wasn't like they were anything new, either. Ever since he hit sophomore year, they were everywhere he went, from anyone and everyone - guys, girls, you name it. He used to consider them annoying, creepy even, getting looked up and down by complete strangers, but now they were just tiresome.

 

It was hard work, being the world's wet dream. I get it, I'm a looker, Hyunjin would think, rolling his eyes. Can't we just get past that? He liked to think there was more to him than just his face - he was an accomplished and talented dancer, a single parent of a rather demonic puppy, and, whether or not anyone believed it, the carrier of a more than adequately working brain. But not like it mattered - no one ever looked past what they saw on the surface. Well, save for the company he kept, bless those annoying barnacles. If people knew the mess behind this face of mine, they wouldn't think I was so pretty after all. Bit depressing, but a penny for one's thoughts.

 

Maybe that's part of the reason I like Seungmin so much, Hyunjin realized. The first time he had looked his way, there was no open admiration on Seungmin's face - just confusion as to why someone was paying attention to him (he deserved to get it from someone). Even the adjectives he used to describe Hyunjin were new; brash, impulsive, audacious, self - assured, presumptuous, distracting. Hopefully, those last four had changed by now, but, for the opportunities the gods would give him, he hoped he would never fail to be distracting.

 

Hyunjin pulled his phone out of his pocket as he was walking. He had mastered doing so as to not be foot - traffic roadblock. Pulling up Minho's number, he typed angrily:

 

certified llama 

i'm on my way to your place As I Type bitch 

You better be at your car when I reach you and not canoodling with your dumbass boyfriend 

 

Dots. Then Minho’s reply:

 

boss bitch

Quit whining for once. I already agreed to drive you to school

 

certified llama

help me Obi Wan Kenomin 

You’re my only hope

 

boss bitch

Shut up and I might

 

Sighing, Hyunjin prepared to tuck his phone back into his pocket when it buzzed