"Wait," Taehyun says through the phone. "Start from the beginning."
"Okay." Beomgyu takes a deep breath. It is ass o'clock at night, and he is hiding in the dark in Yeonjun's tiny bathroom. He refuses to meet his own eyes in the mirror because if he does, he’ll have to see what shame looks like in its most concentrated form. That, or a hickey massive enough to make him blush.
Soobin's faint snoring is audible even through the closed door. Beomgyu is not panicking.
"Okay. So I came over to Yeonjun-hyung's with Soobin-hyung, right? And we all got really drunk. And then somehow we ended up making out until they fell asleep, and now I'm freaking out because it made me, like, realize a couple things about myself."
"Jesus," Taehyun says mildly.
And that's the story. Or a version of it, anyway.
The real story starts with Soobin, because all things in Beomgyu’s life start with Soobin. Beomgyu is fourteen and he and Soobin are invited to a boy-girl party at Lee Chaeryeong’s house, which is a big deal. Someone suggests a game of spin the bottle and all the other kids want to play, but Soobin doesn’t.
“I have a cold,” he claims. “I’d get everyone sick.”
Beomgyu knows that’s bullshit because he’s been hanging out with Soobin all day and he’s been fine, but he decides to beg off too. He’s one of the younger kids there so they let it slide.
“Why aren’t you really playing?” he whispers. They’re taking up the couch while everyone else is in a circle on the floor. Hyunjin is kissing some girl Beomgyu can’t remember the name of, and it looks pretty awkward, too much teeth.
Soobin watches the next girl spin the bottle and says, “Because I can’t kiss the boys and I won’t kiss the girls.”
In the moment, Beomgyu says, “Oh, okay,” but later he goes home and he thinks about it. He thinks about it for the next six years.
If things were different, fourteen-year-old Beomgyu imagines, he could spin the bottle and land on Soobin. He could lean right in and Soobin could be Beomgyu’s first kiss and maybe it wouldn’t be weird, maybe it would be amazing.
Of course it’s weird, though. Soobin’s his best friend. Beomgyu doesn’t act on it, and instead his first kiss is some girl on summer vacation, and it's fine but not great. Beomgyu gets over it but he never quite gets over the wistfulness in Soobin’s eyes as he thinks about finding a boy who will kiss him. That’s chapter one.
Chapter two is Yeonjun.
“You’d really like him,” Soobin says when he comes home from college for a weekend with news of a boyfriend. “He’s got blue hair, did I tell you?”
“He must look stupid,” Beomgyu says, shoveling more cereal into his mouth. He’s a little bitter because he and Soobin had plans to go to a concert together, Beomgyu’s been looking forward to it for weeks. But all Soobin wants to do is rub it in his face that he’s in a committed relationship.
“No.” Soobin smiles to himself, and he looks so gross in love, all dopey. “No, he’s really beautiful, actually.”
Tragically, Soobin is right. Yeonjun is unfairly beautiful, and not just in the physical ways, but in all the ways. For the rest of Beomgyu’s last year of high school he’s just a face on the screen of Soobin’s phone, but when he gets to college Soobin walks him to auditions for the dance team.
“That’s Yeonjun-hyung.” Soobin points him out in the center of the dance studio, stretching his arms. He’s changed the blue hair to highlighter-yellow, but even that color works for him. He doesn’t look stupid at all.
Yeonjun hugs him when they first say hi, because that’s the kind of person he is, and he tells Beomgyu earnestly, “If you need anything at all, just ask me.”
Yeonjun has pouty lips and a heavy-lidded stare and when he dances, he is a god.
Beomgyu goes home that day and says to himself in the bathroom mirror, “You are so fucked.”
Except he’s not, not really. He’s not even jealous; Yeonjun and Soobin are just that good together. The novelty of Yeonjun and Soobin’s obsession with each other has mostly worn off, and whenever Beomgyu isn’t third-wheeling the two of them (a rare occurrence, seeing as he shares an apartment with Soobin), he’s complaining about having to third-wheel them. Yeonjun and Soobin have become just another fundamental part of the college experience, and there’s nothing that exciting about it. It’s actually kind of disgusting how in love they are. It took about twenty minutes of seeing the two of them together for Beomgyu to decide that he wanted no part of love, not if it involves weird shit like public earlobe-nibbling or whatever it is Yeonjun’s into.
And sure, Beomgyu thinks they’re both hot, always has. But he wasn’t about to do anything about it. It‘s just the truth.
That was the end of the story. It was supposed to be the end of the story.
But Beomgyu guesses this is chapter three:
“What do I do?”
“Well, what do you want to do?” Taehyun asks.
“I have no idea.”
He can practically hear Taehyun frowning. “Okay. Well, what do you want? Like, in general?”
Beomgyu leans back against the bathroom counter and thinks about how Yeonjun, stars in his eyes and beer on his breath, placed one hand on Beomgyu’s knee and the other on his neck and said, “Gyu-yah, has anybody ever told you that you have a really pretty mouth?”
How Yeonjun kissed Beomgyu. How Beomgyu kissed him back.
How Soobin watched, until he wasn’t watching anymore, until he was nudging Yeonjun aside to meet Beomgyu halfway across a gap they’d never managed to close over ten years of friendship. How Beomgyu kissed him back, too.
Beomgyu chances a glance in the mirror and sure enough, he finds a hickey right at the base of his neck, just above his collarbone. Yeonjun’s doing, no doubt; he’s the only one bold enough to leave such a mark. Beomgyu places two fingers against it, and presses down to feel the tender pain flare up.
Yeah, he knows what he wants.
He says, “Something I’m definitely not allowed to have.”
There’s a long, long pause before Taehyun says, “Were they good kissers, at least?”
Beomgyu snorts despite himself, dragging a hand down his miserable face. “They were incredible.”
They were. Incredible kissers, that is. Beomgyu hadn’t lied about that part. As for the rest of it, well, maybe he’d fudged a few of the details.
Details like being really drunk, when he’d only had two beers. Details like this: After Yeonjun made the pretty mouth comment, he thumbed at Beomgyu’s bottom lip and asked, “Can I?”
Beomgyu had gasped with the force of his desperation and whispered, “Please.”
It’s too mortifying to even think about, let alone to voice aloud. He was nearly sober, in almost total control of himself, and still he had sat there and begged for it.
So, as he hangs up with Taehyun and sneaks out of Yeonjun’s apartment, he turns his attention to other things. More interesting things, like how Soobin has a sensitive spot right on the underside of his jaw, and how Yeonjun’s lips feel just as plush as they look.
How they both kiss just like they act.
Soobin is shyer, bumping noses, eyelashes fluttering, innocent but overwhelming. Yeonjun is a more confident kisser. His hand had gripped Beomgyu’s chin and pulled him in close, no room for argument. He set the pace and Beomgyu trusted him, even though under any other circumstance the two of them would devolve into their regular push-and-pull.
Yeonjun had guided him a little, fingers wound into his hair, and Beomgyu wondered if his inexperience was obvious. “Soobinnie likes it when it gets a little playful,” he told Beomgyu. Soobin pulled back from where he was pressing soft kisses along the curve of Beomgyu’s throat, eyes gleaming. Beomgyu’s heart knocked against his ribs like a warning that he ignored.
He and Soobin kissed wet and messy, how Beomgyu likes it, and Beomgyu made a point of nipping at his bottom lip and tugging. A little playful. Yeonjun was so pleased at how well Beomgyu fared under his tutelage that he rewarded him with the biggest hickey Beomgyu has ever received.
Last night Beomgyu felt more vulnerable than he has ever been in his life. There was almost an art to it, kissing one and then the other, leaning back to watch them kiss each other when it had always been his instinct to look away. They looked so good together, of course they did. They are the most beautiful people Beomgyu knows, and it was hard to catch his breath as he watched their mouths slide together, slick and hot.
It was hazy in the low light of Yeonjun’s one-room apartment, the edges of the world softened like they were living in a Polaroid photo. There was so much giggling and teeth against teeth and for a while Beomgyu forgot himself, forgot that every time he leaned in he was kissing someone’s boyfriend.
When Soobin yawned into Beomgyu’s mouth, Yeonjun chuckled and called him cute, said time for bed, both of you. It was too late to go home, it made sense to stay over. It made less sense for the three of them to share Yeonjun’s bed, but it didn’t stop them from doing it.
Curled up between them as Beomgyu listened to their breaths even out, it was almost… romantic.
But Beomgyu can’t shake it, the way every kiss tasted like beer. Yeonjun, ever the graceful one, had missed Soobin’s mouth the first time and found it so funny he cried with laughter. Soobin’s cheeks were glowing cheerfully pink. Beomgyu may not have been drunk, but they certainly were.
And Beomgyu knows how this goes.
All the love stories are the same. One person meets another. There is a spark that becomes a forest fire, which calms into a steady flame. Obsession yields, fondness remains. Two souls intertwine. Two, just two.
Beomgyu has heard a thousand versions of this story. His mother read one aloud to him from fairytale books that sat on the shelves of his childhood bedroom. The songs on the radio sang him another, you are the one, the one, the one. Soobin told him his own version over the phone last year from miles away: I met a boy. His name is Yeonjun, and I think he has a crush on me.
Yeonjun and Soobin’s love story is a chapter completed, a fable etched into stone. They lived happily ever after. They are living it still. What else is there to say? What’s left to add? Everyone knows the sequel is never as good as the original.
hey where did you go?
we woke up and you were just gone
oh sorry! i left a few hours ago
i had to help taehyun with something
you were both sleeping and i didn’t want to wake you
in the middle of the night?
ㅋㅋ yeah it was kind of an emergency
“Beomgyu-yah, are you home?” Soobin calls.
It was probably wishful thinking to hope he could avoid this for longer.
Beomgyu has been friends with Soobin since before he could remember, since afternoons of making mud pies in the backyard and chasing each other around. They grew up and out, out of their clothes and their regrettable haircuts, but never apart, so when Soobin left for college, Beomgyu followed. And when it was time for Beomgyu to figure out housing, Soobin convinced him to live in an off-campus apartment with him.
Soobin had laid out all the reasons living together off-campus would be better. For one, they would have more freedom without the RAs breathing down their necks. They could decorate it however they wanted. The apartment he found is closer to the subway than the dorms. For another, it’s cheaper. Beomgyu isn’t hurting for money, has never known what that feels like, but Soobin is a different story. So Beomgyu turned his back on the first-year “community experience” without another thought. For Soobin, he would give up anything.
And it’s good this way. They have a leaky shower and the place is too drafty, but they learned to lean on each other, to buy more blankets and figure out how to turn the shower knob just so to shut the water off properly. Beomgyu has his own room, but he can come out into the living room whenever he wants and see Soobin there, head bent over his notes as he works at the dining-slash-living-room table.
That’s where he finds Soobin when he leaves the sweet solitude of his bedroom. Soobin has his slippers off and he’s sighing as the ondol heating seeps dry warmth into the soles of his feet—it’s November now, it’s freezing as hell if you’re outside for more than five minutes. Soobin’s eyes are wide and guileless when he meets Beomgyu’s gaze, almost concerned. Beomgyu places his hands behind his back and tries not to look scared.
“Um, yeah, I’m home,” he says, unnecessarily.
“Hey.” Soobin’s tongue darts out to wet his lips, and Beomgyu absolutely does not stare at his mouth.
The window is open even though it’s really too cold outside for it. Soobin always did run hot. There are raindrops on the windowsill collecting in a small puddle. The place smells of the egg fried rice he made for breakfast, and beneath that, something cozier, homier—the laundry detergent Soobin uses on all his clothes and the blankets in the living room, the one he’s smelled like since Beomgyu has known him.
This is home, but Beomgyu’s pretty sure he’s never felt less relaxed.
“Is Taehyun okay?”
Beomgyu’s eyes widen at Soobin’s immediate worry, though he’s stupidly endeared by how much he cares. “Oh, yeah, he’s fine! He just… needed to talk through some stuff, you know how it is.”
Soobin frowns. “What kind of stuff?”
Nervous laughter has always been Beomgyu’s default response, but he feels a bit delirious right now, has to bite on his thumbnail to stop himself from shaking. “Um, it’s kind of private, hyung.” He scrambles for an excuse. “Stuff with Kai.”
Taehyun is going to kill him, but that’s a price Beomgyu is willing to pay.
“Oh, God, Kai told me they were good yesterday,” Soobin sighs. “What is it now?”
Beomgyu doesn’t fully know himself what’s going on between Taehyun and Kai—just that they went from friends to friends who kiss sometimes—and Taehyun will probably never give him all the details, but he can piece together that Taehyun likes Kai a lot. According to Soobin, Kai likes Taehyun too, but if Beomgyu’s learned anything in college so far, it’s that things can never be easy.
“He was just freaking out over nothing,” Beomgyu lies. “It was a bigger deal than he was making it out to be, I think.”
Soobin hums. “I hope they figure it out.”
Beomgyu thinks that’s the end of that, is about to retreat back to the safety of his bed when Soobin adds, “Hey, speaking of… figuring things out, about last night—”
“Oh,” Beomgyu says, really loudly. Soobin jolts. “Oh, don’t worry about that. Or about me. We, like, don’t even need to talk about it.”
“But—” Soobin stammers, doubtful. His mouth gets all small like it does when he’s disappointed, and God, this is a really bad time to be thinking about Soobin’s mouth and the things it’s capable of. Beomgyu hopes the neckline of his sweater is doing its job to conceal his hickey. “I really think we should still talk, Beomgyu-yah. Yeonjun-hyung and I just… we got worried, you know. That you were… that you were freaking out. I know you do that sometimes.”
The laugh that Beomgyu lets out is more of a wheeze and Soobin blinks at him. Damn him for knowing Beomgyu so well.
This is exactly why you shouldn’t kiss your best friends. This and all the other reasons Beomgyu couldn’t seem to remember last night.
“Oh, no, that’s okay, I wasn’t. Freaking out, I mean.” Beomgyu has all the necessary parts for a smile, but he can’t seem to assemble them correctly. “I was just so drunk. I wasn’t thinking straight. Seriously, I’m so embarrassed we did that. Let’s not even—we can just pretend it never happened.”
He looks away before he has to see Soobin’s expression—Regret? Discomfort? Oh God, pity?—but he hears him repeat, “Embarrassed? Oh, embarrassed, okay. I… well, never mind. If you’re sure.”
Beomgyu is still hovering in the middle of the room, not sure if he’s supposed to sit down and stay or if he can make an escape. An awkward silence settles over them, and Beomgyu isn’t used to silence. Not around Soobin.
Meekly, Beomgyu says, “We’re cool though, right? This won’t change anything?”
Beomgyu stares as Soobin unconsciously flexes his hands where they’re resting on the table. He’s got such nice hands. Clean, neat fingernails, slender fingers. He is always so gentle with them, but it was an entirely different feeling to have them cradling his neck, dragging through his hair. He can’t forget it now that he’s felt it (can’t stop craving it, has to stop craving it).
Beomgyu feels like his skin is singing with it, the ghost of Soobin’s touch. He wonders idly how many showers he would have to take to scrub it off, or if it’s the kind of ghost that doesn’t leave, the kind that burrows deep into the soul.
“Yeah,” Soobin says eventually. He doesn’t look at Beomgyu. “We’re cool.”
Life goes on.
The demands of being a college student stop for no one and nothing, and in some ways the constant ebb and flow of activity is a relief from the inside of Beomgyu’s mind, which is as tangled as it’s ever been. Beomgyu finishes and hands in a report on a book he didn’t even bother to finish reading for his required literature class. He finds time to grab lunch with Kai and hit the gym with Taehyun and catch a new movie with his newer friend Renjun.
He even spends a few free hours gaming with Soobin. After that first encounter, they settle back into something like normalcy, ice melting to make way for a fragile peace. If it’s so fragile that even the slightest mention of kissing is enough to knock it over, well, that’s fine. Beomgyu will take what he can get.
The one thing he has managed to put off with impressive dedication is running into Yeonjun.
He says impressive because they’re both students in the university’s College of Music, which is small enough to be housed entirely in one building. Even though they have different majors (voice for Yeonjun, composition for Beomgyu), they’ve made a habit of bumping into each other in the stairwell on their way out of class. This, coupled with their joint participation in the university dance team, means the two of them would have been living almost on top of each other even without the Soobin connection. Beomgyu used to feel comforted by the thought of having an upperclassman around to look out for him as he bumbled his way through the woes of newly minted adulthood, but now he finds himself slipping out through the back door of the music building and arriving as late to rehearsal (and leaving as early) as he can reasonably get away with.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to see Yeonjun. Or at least, it’s not that he wants to see him any less than Soobin. It’s just that fundamentally, Yeonjun and Soobin are very different people. Soobin would never push, hasn’t even mentioned that night since Beomgyu asked him not to. But Yeonjun absolutely would, and Beomgyu can’t face him until he finds a way to apprehend that.
He forgot, however, that Choi Yeonjun is not the type of person that can be apprehended.
Fate catches up to Beomgyu as he’s on his way in to rehearsal on Wednesday evening. Warmup is scheduled to start in two minutes, and he’s taking his sweet time strolling through the hallway that leads to all the practice studios, very aware that Yeonjun, as one of the student choreographers, tends to show up early.
There is only one person in the world who calls Beomgyu BG.
Beomgyu whips around. Sure enough, Yeonjun is walking out of the boys’ bathroom and heading straight for him. He looks unfairly good, dressed down in track pants and a hoodie that Beomgyu is pretty sure belonged to Soobin at one point. Beomgyu panics for a moment, looking for a distraction that could possibly save him, but the only person walking by is Jungkook, one of the co-captains and Taehyun’s pipe-dream crush. Beomgyu has never quite worked up the courage to talk to him without an audible stammer.
Jungkook takes one glance at the tension visible in Beomgyu’s face and evidently decides to mind his own business, making a swift exit for the studio doors. Yeonjun doesn’t spare him a glance but Beomgyu dies a little inside at the thought of Jeon Jungkook knowing anything about how disastrous his life is right now.
Beomgyu can’t even get in a “Yo, YJ!” before Yeonjun says, “Where have you been lately? It’s like you dropped off the face of the earth.”
“Oh, sorry, I hadn’t realized.” The lie comes too easy. “I was just swamped, with work and stuff.”
“Mm,” Yeonjun hums. “That’s what they all say. Hey, let’s get boba after rehearsal.”
“Oh, but I… I have a thing after.”
Yeonjun smiles. “No, you don’t.” He leads Beomgyu to the studio door with a hand on his back, and it burns Beomgyu to his core. “We’re getting boba after rehearsal.”
They get boba after rehearsal, because that’s how Yeonjun makes plans: he tells you what you’re going to do and you do it, every time, like a fool. Yeonjun pays, and Beomgyu lets him.
“You never let Soobinnie pay for things,” Yeonjun says as they claim a table. It’s late, almost closing time, and the place is mostly empty. Beomgyu avoids the curious eyes of the cashier, who can so obviously overhear everything they’re saying. “He says he doesn’t get it. You’re such a brat to him about everything but you never let him do this one thing.”
Beomgyu shrugs. “It makes me feel better to pay for him," he mumbles. "Money was always weird for him.” Some days in middle school Soobin didn’t have lunch to bring with him and Beomgyu would always share his. He even started getting his mother to make two portions. It’s an old habit, hard to kick.
“Well, it makes him feel worse,” Yeonjun informs him.
“Oh.” He hadn’t known that. Of course he hadn’t, Soobin would never bring it up and Beomgyu is too selfish to look outside of himself. He sucks up a few tapioca pearls and they feel slimy in his mouth. “I just... it’s not really about, like, thinking he can’t pay, I guess? It’s just. He takes care of me in all the other ways. I like to take care of him this way. That’s all.”
Yeonjun peers at him closer like he’s seeing right through him, past all the skin and bone to his pathetic, bleeding heart. His fragile little soul.
“I get it,” Yeonjun says. “He’s never been very good at letting people look after him.”
“But you don’t have to do it every time, okay? He likes it when you’re a brat with him,” Yeonjun’s voice has gone all soft and fond in the best way, in the worst way. “It makes him laugh. I like you that way too.”
“Oh,” Beomgyu says again. There’s a moment where he forgets himself, where he looks at Yeonjun’s smile and recalls how lovely it tasted, before he remembers that it never belonged to him.
“You’re welcome to pay for me any time you want, though,” Yeonjun laughs. “My wallet’s suffered enough with all these dongsaengs I have, don’t you think?”
“Never,” Beomgyu says with a devious smile.
Yeonjun asks about his health, and his classes, and his plans for the weekend. Just like always. Beomgyu answers each question and starts to relax the rigid line of his shoulders, thinking this is it. Yeonjun’s going easy on him. He won’t pounce.
As usual, he’s wrong.
When Beomgyu’s done telling him about an upcoming exam he has, Yeonjun slurps the last of his drink and sets it on the table with an air of finality. “Are we gonna talk about it?” It’s a rhetorical question. They both know it.
Still, Beomgyu responds, “I’d rather not.”
“You can’t ignore it with me, I’m not like Soobin,” Yeonjun says, as if Beomgyu doesn’t already know this. As if he hasn’t memorized and admired all the things Yeonjun is, all the things he isn’t. “You’ve got a hickey the size of Korea on your neck and I’m the one who gave it to you, so let’s stop beating around the bush. I’m gonna make you talk at some point, so better now than later, don’t you think?”
Beomgyu tugs the collar of his shirt up, a nervous tic. He thought he had it covered.
“Look, I get it, okay?” he says, frustrated by Yeonjun’s nonchalance, how easy this is for him. Nothing about this is easy for Beomgyu. “You and Soobin-hyung are my best friends. And you guys are great together. I complain a lot but I know it’s true. So that’s the end of it.”
“Why is that the end of it?”
Beomgyu gives Yeonjun a look like he’s stupid, because he is, a little bit. Doesn’t he get it? “You guys have each other. You’re perfect for each other.”
Yeonjun remains unflappable. “I know. I’m asking why that’s the end of it.”
“Let’s just move on, okay?” Beomgyu stands, too suddenly. The chair lets out an awful screech against the tile, and a guy at the next table over turns his head. “I was drunk and so were you two. It didn’t mean anything then and it doesn’t mean anything now. Thank you for the boba, hyung. I’ll see you later.”
He leaves before Yeonjun can say anything else.
how long does it take for hickeys to go away
how to get rid of a hickey
best full-coverage concealer
His mother calls him on Monday. He always insists it’s better if she just texts; their windows of free time won’t always line up the same. He learned his stubbornness from her, though, so he answers the phone even though he’s on his way to office hours for his composition class.
“Hi Eomma, I’m kind of busy right now, can I call you later?”
“Always busy these days,” she sighs, but he can hear her grinning. “With classes or friends this time, Beomie-yah?”
“Class this time, I have a project due soon and I’m meeting with the TA to talk it over.”
“Oh good, it sounds like you’re on top of things.”
Beomgyu decides it’s best not to mention that the project was assigned a month ago and he hadn’t started it until his procrastination panic finally reared its head late last night. “Yep.”
“And how are you otherwise?” she asks. “Staying safe, having fun? I miss having you home like in the summer. I’m really an empty nester now.”
Beomgyu smiles as he pushes open the door to the music building. He’s always been close with his mother, and coming home for summer break after the first semester had meant a couple months of probably unnecessary doting on her part. He is her youngest son, after all. He accompanied her as she went grocery shopping and stood by with an awkward smile as she told all of the neighbors how well he was doing, how proud she was that he was off to college in Seoul.
It’s why Beomgyu keeps a few secrets from her. She doesn’t know about the panic attack he got before his first class presentation, or how he went to his first college party with Taehyun and Kai and got so drunk he slept through his morning class the next day. She definitely doesn’t know that he’s been going around kissing multiple boys.
“I’m good,” he tells her. “Nothing really interesting has been going on.”
“Well, you have to know I won’t believe that,” she teases.
“I’m being serious! Everything’s fine. Don’t worry about me, okay?”
“You can’t tell a mother not to worry, it doesn’t work like that. You can tell me anything, okay, Beomgyu-yah?” she reminds him. “I know that’s not a cool thing to do, but you can.”
“I know, Eomma,” he says, already beginning to pull the phone away from his ear. “I’ll talk to you later, okay? I gotta go.”
"Don't they look so good together?" a girl on the dance team says. Everyone’s packing up their things at the end of rehearsal, and Soobin has dropped by to pick Yeonjun up. They're wrapped up in each other by the door, laughing over something Beomgyu can't hear. Soobin ruffles Yeonjun’s hair, like he doesn’t even care that it’s sweaty. "I don't know who I'm more jealous of sometimes."
Before Beomgyu can reply, Soobin calls, "Beomgyu-yah! Come on, we're buying bingsu. Are you coming?"
Beomgyu can offer the girl nothing more than a pained smile before he's scurrying out the door after them, his bag still unzipped. It's just as well. He doesn't even know what he would have said.
The problem is, they keep hanging out.
They go to a pretty big school—it should be easier to avoid them than it is. But Beomgyu is realizing he made a grave mistake when he let four people close and kept the rest of them at arms’ length once he had settled into life on campus. Now all of his friends are friends with each other, and none of them are above bullying him for turning down plans to meet up. So they get bingsu and have study sessions in the library and they do this, too:
“Alright, are any of you looking for anything or are we just wandering?” Yeonjun asks. “Because I think I need food before we go any further.”
The five of them—Beomgyu, Yeonjun, Soobin, Taehyun, and Kai—have gone to the street market closest to campus, because Kai claimed it’s been too long since they last hung out and not a single one of them are good at denying Kai the things he wants. Yeonjun totally has cooler people he could be hanging out with (he collects friends without making any real conscious effort toward it), but he looks as excited as any of them, chattering away at Kai about the food stalls he saw here last time.
"Yes to food," Kai says. "Ooh, hyung, please tell me you'll try that hat on."
Kai points to a hat booth they pass by. Right on top of the overfull table sits a truly garish sunhat, neon pink with lace. "I just think it would bring out your, like, face shape, or something, don't you?"
"Aish, get over here, you monster!" Yeonjun tries to pull Kai into a chokehold and it turns quickly into playful roughhousing, Kai shrieking with laughter as he tries to get away. "I would do almost anything for you, but I will not commit crimes of fashion."
Kai makes a pensive face. "You're right. This style would suit Soobin-hyung much more." They exchange a look filled with such evil glee Beomgyu has to bite a smile back.
Soobin runs ahead to chase after the two of them with an affronted yell, but Beomgyu hangs behind with Taehyun, who is subdued even more than usual today, dark circles under his eyes.
“Alright?” he asks.
Taehyun hums. “Just tired. Kai convinced me to bring him food at the library at one a.m. last night.”
“Ah.” Beomgyu throws an arm over Taehyun’s shoulder. He imagines it didn’t take much convincing at all on Kai’s part, but like hell he’d ever say that to Taehyun’s face. “If it’s any consolation, I’m exhausted too. Yeonjun-hyung came over to pick us up this morning and literally dragged me out of bed. Like, literally.”
Taehyun snorts. “Better than him avoiding you?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Beomgyu looks down at his feet. “It’s… kind of weird. None of us are talking about it.”
“I thought that’s what you wanted,” Taehyun points out. “You told me you asked both of them to forget it.”
“I know I did,” he says defensively. “Doesn’t mean it’s not weird.”
Beomgyu kept waiting, the whole time they were getting ready to leave and the whole walk down to the subway station and the whole ride over, for one of them to bring it up. Kept his fists clenched, kept a few well-rehearsed deflections on his tongue. But he didn’t need them. Yeonjun just tossed clothes at him from out of Beomgyu’s closet and told him to get dressed, and Soobin brought up some show he liked as they waited for the subway. Beomgyu settled uneasily into his role for the day, this character who was absolutely fine and had never made out with his best friends.
“Anyway,” Beomgyu says, desperate to move on. “Kai asked me earlier what your favorite flowers are. He’s not very subtle, so you have to act surprised when he buys you a bouquet.”
“He did?” Taehyun turns pink, turning his face into his shoulder to hide a smile. “That’s nice of him. I like hydrangeas.”
“Oh shit, okay. Then you also have to act grateful when he gives you roses, because they were the only flower I could remember.”
This finally gets a laugh out of Taehyun that is so bright Kai looks back curiously at the pair of them. Beomgyu sends him a surreptitious thumbs up. He really does hope Taehyun and Kai figure their shit out. The two of them, at least, have a much better chance of working out than Beomgyu does with anyone.
The markets are crowded with tourists and locals alike, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the clothing on display for sale and the salty, spicy steam that wafts out of the food stalls. Beomgyu lets his nose guide him to do more than a few double-takes, and Soobin laughs at him when he notices. They’re moving too quick to stop, but he still pouts mournfully at a bindaetteok stall they have to leave behind.
Autumn is almost on its last legs, but Beomgyu feels warm enough to unzip his coat and pull it down over his shoulders as Yeonjun weaves their group through the crowd. Yeonjun’s more familiar with the bustling city lifestyle than the rest of them, having grown up just outside of Seoul, and doesn’t seem bothered shoving through the people with nonchalant authority. They part for him like the sea. Nobody is immune to Choi Yeonjun, it seems.
The echo of noise and chatter in the market is a welcome change from the quiet haven that campus provides. This is, Beomgyu reminds himself, part of the reason he and Soobin wanted to leave home for college in Seoul in the first place. Life happens faster and louder here. Beomgyu smiles at Taehyun, who’s laughing at something Soobin says, and at Kai, who helps a pair of American tourists that have stopped him to ask for directions in English. Maybe it’s the air, or the strangers that pay him no mind as they pass by, but he feels happier than he has in days.
Beomgyu loves Seoul. It is dirty and busy and loud, and Beomgyu loves it. This city has become his friend, his enemy, and above all else, his teacher. It has chewed him up but he hopes to God it never spits him out.
Yeonjun finally settles on buying dakkochi from one of the stalls, while the rest opt for tteokbokki. They find a picnic table that really doesn’t have enough room for all of them, but Yeonjun sits on Soobin’s lap to make them fit. Taehyun gives Beomgyu a knowing look, but he’s smart enough not to comment on it.
“How’d that project for your composition class go, by the way, Gyu-yah?” Yeonjun asks him, a bit muffled since he’s got his teeth around a skewer. “Soobinnie told me you were up til four to finish it on time.”
“Oh, uh, it was fine.” Beomgyu looks down at his food as everyone turns to look at him; his music has always been the one thing he’s shy about. “The TA is really nice, but he seems like kind of a strict grader, so I’m a little worried.”
“Which TA? Is it Yoongi-sunbaenim? I’ve only met him a couple times but Jungkook-hyung swears he’s a genius or something,” Yeonjun says. “Last semester he switched around his entire schedule just to get in one of his classes.”
Taehyun almost drops his chopsticks, and Beomgyu laughs. “No way.”
This gets them started on a tangent of gossip about their teammates, though Yeonjun keeps prodding him to talk about his music, and his professors, and how he should totally sign up for a voice class next semester. Taehyun and Kai start their own side conversation that Beomgyu can’t pay attention to, not as Soobin is gloating to Yeonjun about how he attended Beomgyu’s very first guitar recital at ten years old.
Yeonjun’s got a nice listening face. Big eyes, placid smile. He makes lots of little noises to show he’s being attentive as you talk. His attention is bright and blinding, white-hot, and to have it directed on Beomgyu so completely like this is making him overheat a little. Beomgyu tugs at his collar a bit, but not too much. He can’t risk showing his hickey—the concealer he bought does a shoddy job of hiding it.
“You guys have so many memories together,” Yeonjun comments. “I’ve been dating Soobin for over a year and I still don’t know all of them.”
Soobin wraps his arms tighter around Yeonjun’s waist, pulling him up where he’s beginning to slide off Soobin’s lap a bit. “Well, you’ve got ten years of friendship to catch up on, but don’t worry, we’ll get you there. Have I told you about the time Beomgyu had a huge crush on his math teacher?”
“Hyung, don’t!” Beomgyu feels the tips of his ears go red.
“Oh, that’s nothing, everybody’s had a crush on a teacher before.”
Soobin’s smile is a sharp thing. “Not everyone writes them an anonymous love letter, though.”
“Oh, I have to hear this.”
It’s easy like this, not so bad. The three of them have a constant cycle of pairing up to gang up on the third, and the target eventually shifts from Beomgyu to Soobin, a topic Beomgyu is well-versed in. They trade stories and jokes as their food diminishes, Taehyun and Kai even splitting off at one point to find dessert without them. When Beomgyu is making them laugh as hard as he is, he can almost forget that they’re intertwined on one side of the table and he is alone on the other.
He can almost forget he wants more.
The only thing that’s different is the touching.
Soobin is waylaid by Yeonjun’s position on his lap, but Yeonjun is touchy enough for the both of them. He playfully shoves at Beomgyu’s shoulder, pats Beomgyu’s hand where it’s resting curled around his chopsticks on the table. He isn’t wearing gloves and the contact is freezing, impossible to ignore. Beomgyu should move his hands off the table.
He keeps them where they are.
It occurs to him that Yeonjun may be flirting with him. He risks a look at Soobin to see if he’s showing any kind of resentment, but Soobin is just munching on his food, cheeks full and eyes bright as he watches his best friend and boyfriend bicker. Beomgyu lets this confirm that it’s all in his head, but then Yeonjun leans forward to make Beomgyu take a bite right off of his skewer, just rip the meat with his teeth where Yeonjun’s had just been, and he has no idea again.
Beomgyu is about to have a small crisis over it, but before he can, Taehyun texts him that he and Kai are heading to the other end of the market if they want to meet back up.
“We should find them,” he tells the others and stands abruptly. He adjusts his coat with more fervor than necessary.
Yeonjun smiles like he knows a secret and says, “Okay.”
Away from the food, the market is slightly less crowded, though not by much. The three of them amble past the alleyways of vendors selling textiles and handmade clothing, keeping up a steady stream of chatter as they search for Taehyun and Kai.
Yeonjun is wearing this striped shirt with shoulder cutouts, and Beomgyu feels a bit hysterical at how affected he is by the sight of his bare skin. Unfortunately for Yeonjun, though, the hour has grown later and it’s really too cold these days not to have layers on outside. Yeonjun whines about being cold whenever a gust of wind blows too strong in their direction.
“You should’ve brought a coat,” Soobin says tiredly. They’ve had this discussion before.
“It’s fashion, Soobinnie,” Yeonjun scoffs. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Plenty of coats are fashionable,” Soobin huffs, but there’s a twinkle in his eye that says he already knows he’s lost. Yeonjun doesn’t bow to things as inconsequential as the weather.
“The bare shoulder is what makes the outfit, though,” Beomgyu pipes up. Yeonjun beams at him, and he coughs. “The whole effect is lost without it.”
“Exactly. Someone with taste, finally.” Yeonjun links an arm through Beomgyu’s and pulls him along, a step ahead as always. “Come on, Beomgyu, we don’t need this peasant.”
“Hey!” Soobin whines, but he’s laughing, and Beomgyu is, too, stumbling after Yeonjun as he navigates them through a cluster of shoppers. Beomgyu allows himself this one nice moment. Yeonjun looks over at him with an undeniable warmth tucked into the corner of his smile, and he commits it to memory.
If he’s blushing, it’s just the cold.
They find Taehyun and Kai in front of a stall overflowing with fresh flowers, potted houseplants cluttering the street in front of it. Taehyun is clinging to Kai’s arm. It’s a good sign, but he also does that to everyone, so Beomgyu will have to ask him later if any new “more-than-friends” developments had taken place. Kai is busy chatting with the vendor, who is in the middle of assembling a bouquet of hydrangeas, not roses, and Beomgyu has to hide his snicker when Taehyun sticks his tongue out at him.
“What?” Soobin demands, with a nudge in his side. He’s smiling even though he’s not in on the joke, like he’s just happy that Beomgyu’s laughing. “What’s so funny?” Beomgyu nudges him back and shakes his head.
By the time Kai has paid for his bouquet and gifted it to Taehyun with the appropriate fanfare, Soobin has given Yeonjun his coat, which may have honestly been Yeonjun’s aim all along. It brushes past his knees but he fills out the shoulders quite well, if you ask Beomgyu. Not that anyone would.
“My baby,” Yeonjun says in thanks, with that stupid-fond smile he always gets around Soobin. He makes a kissy face at Soobin, lips pouting out like a duck’s. Soobin catches Beomgyu watching and his smile melts into something unreadable.
Beomgyu coughs. “You guys are gross,” he whines, but his voice cracks in the middle. He’s reading a line from a script that was written before the world shifted on its axis. He doesn’t believe it even as it comes out of his mouth.
As Kai calls, "Yeonjun-hyung, aren't you gonna buy Soobin-hyung flowers?", Beomgyu turns away to peer closer at some of the houseplants. The living room could use one, he muses. They haven’t decorated much, and one of Beomgyu’s aunts is always going on about the enriching experience of caring for plants, or whatever.
“Are you going to buy one?”
Beomgyu looks up at the sound of Soobin’s voice. Soobin crouches to inspect the succulents and Beomgyu drinks in the rare view of the gentle slope of Soobin’s broad shoulders like this, so used to being shorter than him.
“I’m thinking about it,” he replies. “Would you take care of it with me?”
Soobin grins at him over his shoulder. “You just don’t want all the responsibility.”
“Not true! I’m very responsible.” After a pause, he adds, “Well, if both of us put equal effort in, we’d be, like, one whole very responsible adult.”
Soobin giggles. “Let’s try it, then. But if we kill it I’m blaming it on you.”
They settle on a jade plant for the windowsill in the living room, and Beomgyu pulls out his wallet even as Yeonjun’s voice rings in his head. You never let Soobinnie pay for things.
He may not be able to sit on laps or kiss cheeks like Yeonjun and Soobin can, but he can care for them in his own quiet way. There’s less damage, stoking the fire without sticking his hand into the flames.
Soobin asks the others for name suggestions as Beomgyu haggles with the vendor for a fairer price. The vendor is in the middle of ringing him up when Soobin returns and says, “I’ve got it. We’re calling her Bebe.”
“As in Rexha?” Beomgyu fixes him with an unimpressed look. “Really, hyung?”
“Like you have a better idea!”
Beomgyu groans with as much theater as he can muster, but he can’t stop his giggles for anything. He’s had to listen to Soobin wax poetic about Bebe Rexha’s artistry for years, so he really walked right into that one. (Beomgyu is a casual listener. Soobin has never been casual about a damn thing in his life.)
“I’m glad we got the whole group together,” Soobin admits after a moment, as Beomgyu gets his change and leans down to pick up the pot. It is cold and not that heavy in his arms, but definitely awkward to hold. It’ll be a bitch to carry home on the subway. “It feels like ages since all five of us had free time.”
“Yeah,” he agrees. “It’s been good today.”
“I’m especially happy,” Soobin fiddles with the rings on his left hand, one smooth silver and the other embossed bronze, “that the three of us could hang out. You and me and hyung, I mean. We haven’t… really done that in a while.”
Beomgyu has been counting the days, but he doesn’t say this. He sighs. “I know it’s my fault, hyung. I’ve just… I’ve been kind of overwhelmed. With, like. Life and stuff.”
Soobin nods, hair lifting as a breeze flows gently through the alley. In the dying afternoon light he is stunning, lit gold like something precious. Something holy. Beomgyu wants, from deep in his bones, from a tug in his chest. But then, that’s nothing new.
He looks away until the fire becomes just smoke. Enough to choke but not to kill.
"Do you remember being ten years old?" Soobin asks. "When we used to have sleepovers and share all our secrets in the dark?"
Beomgyu does remember. He remembers popcorn grease on sticky fingers, racecar bed sheets and a single nightlight. "We still basically have sleepovers every night. You're just in the next room over."
"It's not the same, though." Beomgyu can feel Soobin's eyes on him but he keeps his own on the plant. "Sometimes I miss it, when we told each other everything like that. It feels like we barely talk anymore."
Beomgyu glances over to where Yeonjun has wandered over to another booth, one selling jewelry and other trinkets from what Beomgyu can see. "We're talking now," he points out.
"I guess, yeah." Soobin laughs a little to himself. "Forget it, it's stupid. Just something I was thinking about lately." He shivers and hugs his arms to his torso.
Beomgyu frowns. “Cold?” he asks.
“I’m okay. Hyung has my coat, though.”
Beomgyu hesitates for a moment, and then makes a decision. “Take mine.” He shrugs off his own, unzipping it all the way, and Soobin only gets out half a protest before Beomgyu is draping it over him. Soobin has to catch it so it doesn’t slip to the ground, and Beomgyu takes his hands back so Soobin can’t foist it off on him. “Might be small, but it’s warm.”
“But you’ll get cold,” Soobin says, even as he’s shoving his arms through the sleeves.
“Worth it,” Beomgyu promises him.
Soobin smiles at him, so tender it hurts. “Thanks, Beomie-yah.”
Beomgyu just nods. He clears his throat around the secret that’s lodged in it.
I can look after you like this, and like this, and like this, too, he thinks. Plants and coats and unsaid words. Safely. From a distance. Where the flames won’t reach my fingertips.
Soobin laughs as he tries fruitlessly to tug the sleeves of Beomgyu’s coat down, because they're too short and expose the knobs of his wrists. All of the things that Beomgyu gives to Soobin are appreciated, but none of them will ever be quite what Soobin needs. Beomgyu will just have to keep giving, either until it’s enough or until he has nothing left.
Beomgyu gets home from the market, and reconsiders.
He’d always known, objectively, that Yeonjun and Soobin are beautiful. That he’d been attracted to them perhaps a little more than was normal for a friend. But as he plays his own story back, chapter one then two then three, a word he hadn’t yet let himself think dangles above his head.
This is how he fell in love: gradually. Little things built up over the years, taking shape until they formed a monster massive enough to swallow Beomgyu whole. Like boiling a pot on the stove. A few bubbles, then a few more, and by the time you check again the water is in uproar.
He fell in love to the play of blue light across Soobin’s face when they would watch movies in the dark. To a Troye Sivan song (or two or three). To green tea Kit Kats broken in half to share, to bare feet against rough bark as they climbed trees and got in trouble for it later. To the first realization, when he glanced over, that the slope of Soobin’s nose has the most delicate subtle curve. That his mouth is pink like a gemstone, and just as finely crafted.
Maybe the change happened at eighteen, when he kissed a boy for the first time, in a deserted boys’ bathroom at school. He was eighteen and gay and scared out of his mind but elated, too, and he called Soobin first thing to tell him hyung, I’m like you, I’m just like you, I wasn’t sure at first but now I know.
Maybe the change happened when Soobin left for college and Beomgyu spent a whole year looking to his left only to remember no one was there.
He’d learned to live with the longing without even knowing it was there. It became a constant in the background of his life. You wouldn’t notice it unless you listened for it, like a refrigerator hum. Sometimes Beomgyu got distracted by other things, could go days without fantasizing about Soobin’s soft hair or wild laughter, but like muscle memory the feeling would always eventually return. Loving Soobin was just part of who he was, like his name or the lines that ran across his palms. He just hadn’t known what to call it yet.
But this, too, is how he fell in love: instantly. A slap to the face, sharp and stinging. He is left reeling even now.
He fell in love on a Wednesday night, sweaty back against the mirror as he reverently watched the star of the dance team work his way through the toughest choreography Beomgyu had ever seen. There was a bead of sweat running down the side of Yeonjun’s neck, he remembers, and it gleamed under the harsh white light. Beomgyu wanted to be him. He wanted to reach out and touch him, to know if fire really could be captured between two cupped hands.
And what could Beomgyu do? When Yeonjun dances he is a god. He’s got wild eyes and a mouth like sin. What could Beomgyu do, except kneel at his feet?
They are so similar that sometimes Beomgyu thinks Yeonjun is the sound, and he is nothing but the echo. Hoseok on the dance team has taken to calling Beomgyu Yeonjun’s shadow, because Beomgyu follows him everywhere. Even he can’t deny the moniker fits. Hyung, I’m like you, I’m just like you.
This is how he fell in love: naturally, unconsciously. Beomgyu had no say in the matter, not when Soobin shares playlists with him and Yeonjun always asks how are you doing, Gyu-yah, no, really. Not when there are trips to the grocery store and Saturday nights at noraebang and a thousand full-teeth smiles, across days and weeks and months. Not when Beomgyu finally got a taste for it, beer-drenched and false as it was.
It lingers, beneath his fingernails and between his toes. In the space behind his teeth. In the marrow of his bones.
(I was made for loving you. You, plural.)
So yeah, Beomgyu admits to himself as he stares at his ceiling, it’s not just a tiny crush on his friend or a passing fascination for the cute guy on the dance team. It’s love. The revelation is not very exciting or relieving; it’s simply diagnosis of a wound. Ah, yes. So this is why I’ve been hurting.
Hindsight is a blessing, or so they say. But most blessings double as curses, too.
Beomgyu gets a disastrous grade on his composition project. The news is delivered gently by his TA (who, it transpires, is in fact Jungkook’s Yoongi). Yoongi must sense the invisible cloud of despair hovering around him, because he tells him not to panic.
“It’s not the final version. You still have time to rework it before the actual thing is due. Go home and rest a little first,” he orders Beomgyu, though his eyes are kind. “You’re never gonna produce your best work if you’re running on empty.”
Beomgyu goes home but he does not rest. He ignores a text from his mother asking how his day was and instead grabs his guitar. Soobin is in class, so he doesn’t have to keep the noise down—not that Soobin has ever complained before, but Beomgyu still worries about annoying him. He takes up residence on the living room couch and works until his eyes are throbbing.
He wakes up wrapped in Soobin.
It takes him a moment to realize: not Soobin, but Soobin’s scent. Laundry detergent, frankincense, the barest hint of rose. Where he had been sitting up before he is lying stretched across the couch, with the new additions of a pillow beneath his cheek and a warm fleece blanket across his legs. His guitar is leant against the side of the couch. It’s dark in the living room, just shapes and shadows, and he peers past Bebe on the windowsill to see it’s gone dark outside.
He swears to himself, sitting up and frowning at the crick in his neck. An afternoon wasted.
There’s a mug of tea on the end table, cool to the touch. Beomgyu takes a grateful sip anyway. It’s chrysanthemum—the kind he asked Soobin to buy when he was at the store the other day. He recalls telling him about how his mother used to give it to him when he was feeling sad.
Beomgyu feels like crying a little bit, at the kindness of the gesture. At the quiet of it.
Soobin would do this, even when Beomgyu has been shrugging him off. Beomgyu scrapes his tongue along the roof of his mouth and tastes it again, the longing. That cloying, poison ache.
Soobin’s door is closed, but light spills out into the hall from the crack underneath. Beomgyu turns to it like a flower toward the sun.
For a second, he lets himself think it. He lets himself ask: Could you love me too? Could you want me too?
Beomgyu cradles the mug between his hands and sips until the tea is just dregs, and then he creeps over to Soobin’s door.
The least he could do is thank him, after all.
He means to knock, but when he’s close enough to raise his hand to the door he hears Soobin speaking softly on the other side. He must be on the phone.
“Hyung,” he hears Soobin say. “No, you—Yeonjun-hyung. Listen.”
Beomgyu’s knuckles don’t make it to the wood. His breath catches in his throat. He shouldn’t listen.
(He’s always been terrible about doing things he shouldn’t.)
“I don’t know,” Soobin sighs. “I just feel like if he doesn’t want to talk to us about it, we can’t force it.”
Beomgyu realizes with a chill down his spine that Soobin is talking about him. God, he shouldn’t listen.
“I know. I know you liked what we did that night, I did too. I just think we should at least give him more time, then. He looked so exhausted when I came home. He doesn’t think I notice, but I always pay attention. I just don’t want to stress him out even more.”
A pause, as Yeonjun says something on the other line. Beomgyu has never felt further away from either of them. The chill hasn’t left his system; goosebumps cover his arms.
“Can I…” Soobin’s voice goes small, so faint Beomgyu has to lean his temple against the door to make it out. “Can I sleep at your place tomorrow? I think I’d be more comfortable that way. It’s hard, being here when things are like this.”
Beomgyu stops breathing. Is Soobin really so repulsed by what they did that he can’t even stand to be in the same apartment as Beomgyu anymore? He recalls Soobin at the kitchen table, standing in the market alleyway looking larger than life in Beomgyu’s coat, all the times he’d said he wanted to talk. Talk, to tell Beomgyu… what? That he doesn’t want things to be like this? Like this, where Beomgyu is good fun for a few kisses, but he’s still a little too in love and a little too obvious, and neither Yeonjun nor Soobin should have to get their hands dirty with him?
“We can watch a movie or something,” Soobin is saying, on the other side of the door. “Hmm? Oh, Avengers! Yeah, let’s watch that. You just want to drool over Loki, don’t you?” Soobin laughs, and laughs, and laughs. “Sounds perfect. Swear we’re soulmates or something, hyung.”
“Did you know the ancient Greeks believed that humans originally had four arms and four legs and two faces?”
Taehyun turns his face to look at Beomgyu’s side profile. They’re hanging upside down off of Taehyun’s bed, feet flat against the wall. It’s not meant to be a comfortable position but somehow it is, or it will be until the blood rushes to their heads.
They’d gone out for boba as a study break, and somewhere between picking up their orders and getting back to Taehyun’s dorm they lost the will to study entirely. Beomgyu doesn’t mind, though his future self will undoubtedly hate him for it. It’s nice, to sit here with Taehyun and just talk.
Beomgyu hasn’t been doing a very good job of talking lately.
“Uh, what?” Taehyun says.
“It’s true. The gods were afraid of how powerful humans were like that, so they split them in two, and that’s why people spend their lives searching for someone to love. Their soulmate is literally their other half.”
“Sounds heteronormative, but okay.”
“That’s where the concept of twin flames comes from too,” Beomgyu says. “That, like, one soul became two and lives in two people’s bodies. And other cultures have theories about soulmates too, like the red string of fate, which—”
“I know what the red string of fate is, hyung,” Taehyun cuts him off. “Why are you thinking about all this?”
Beomgyu thinks about all of the open tabs in his browser, and flushes. “It’s just interesting.”
“Sure it is,” Taehyun says dryly.
“Maybe you’re my soulmate,” Beomgyu says.
Taehyun makes a contemplative face. “Probably I am,” he agrees. “But I think we have lots of soulmates, different kinds. My sister’s definitely one of mine, and you have a bunch of soulmates besides just me.”
“Do you think Kai is one of yours?”
Taehyun splutters. “Shut up.”
Beomgyu snorts. From his position he can see the bouquet of hydrangeas Kai bought for Taehyun sitting in a plastic cup on his desk, since no college student owns a vase. They look pretty fresh still. Taehyun probably waters them meticulously. “I don’t know. Most of the theories say you just get one.”
“Your string of fate can get tangled up in so many others, trust me, it’s not as simple as you’re making it out to be,” Taehyun says, like he has any idea what he’s talking about. Not that Beomgyu does, either. “Also, are you really going to listen to what some dead white guys thought about love? These are the people that thought that sneezing was an effective method of birth control.”
Beomgyu rolls his eyes. “Okay, we can have multiple soulmates. But like, how many romantic soulmates do you get?”
“Does it matter?”
“It does to me.”
Taehyun rolls onto his side so he’s facing Beomgyu. His hair is a mess and it makes him look like a little kid. “I just don’t think you should put that much stock into this.”
“I’m not saying that I really think my soul was fused with someone else’s at the beginning of the universe, or whatever. I’m not that sappy.” Beomgyu pouts, frustrated. “But like, thousands of years ago, people thought that every person has one other that’s meant for them and them only. People still think that.”
“You mean you think that.”
Beomgyu forgot that Taehyun can be just as stubborn as him. He regrets bringing it up.
“I think Soobin-hyung and Yeonjun-hyung are each other’s only soulmates,” he says, so softly he might as well have whispered it. “Nobody gets them the way they get each other.”
Taehyun is quiet. Being upside down gets to be too much, and Beomgyu sits up abruptly. His back is still to Taehyun when Taehyun says, “Yeah, but nobody gets them the way you get them, either.”
Beomgyu sits with that for a moment. How does he get them, in a way that’s different, that’s special? He knew them as friends and now he knows them by their breath and their body heat. But the two of them are fluent in a language that is ancient and intrinsic to them, one whose words are too heavy on Beomgyu’s tongue.
The way he sees it, you will love a lot of people in your lifetime. For some of those people, your love will be grand and all-consuming, poetry and passion, the kind where their heartbeats sync up with yours. You are granted only a few of those, maybe two, maybe three. But not at once. Never at once.
As far as he can work it out, a soulmates’ string of fate can only stretch in two directions.
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he says.
Taehyun has an extra blanket on top of his duvet, and it’s old and fraying, Beomgyu notices from where he’s sitting on top of it. He picks at one loose thread and wraps it around his pinky almost absentmindedly. Another string leading nowhere.
Sometimes Beomgyu thinks about it, about kissing them again.
It’s not like he doesn’t have opportunities—he sees Soobin at home and Yeonjun at rehearsal, and Yeonjun is over all the time, too, anyway. The three of them squish together like sardines on the couch and bicker about what movie to watch, Yeonjun always in the middle. They knock knees under the kitchen table. Soobin never touches Beomgyu with purpose anymore but he’s always just within reach, Yeonjun not far behind.
So Beomgyu thinks about it. But he knows how this would play out: he would lean into one of them and get pulled back by the other, or pushed off before he could go any further. They would look at him with their sad, wide eyes and say, oh, Beomgyu-yah. And they would be so delicate with him, even in rejection. Their gentleness would hurt worst of all.
So he keeps his hands in his lap and his mouth firmly shut, watching them from the other side of the table, the other end of the couch. And the invisible hand around his throat tightens, and tightens, and tightens.
This time when his mother calls, he’s two pages deep into an essay on twentieth-century Korean poetry, tucked into a cushy armchair along the wall of the library’s first-floor café.
“Hi Eomma, can I call you back? I’ve got an assignment due really soon,” he says, cradling his phone between his cheek and his shoulder. He eyes the clock on his laptop; the deadline is just over two hours away, and he’s still got half the paper to write. He really should’ve said no to boba with Taehyun the other day. If college is making him realize anything, it’s that his time management skills are for shit.
“Oh,” she says, audibly surprised. “That’s alright. I just feel like I haven’t caught up with you in so long.”
“We talked on Sunday, didn’t we?”
“Well, I talked on Sunday,” she laughs. “You’re so busy lately. Always running off somewhere.”
He can hear the pride in her voice, so he doesn’t let the seed of guilt in his stomach fester into something larger. She is right, though; he hasn’t had a full conversation with her since coming back to campus for the semester. Summer break spoiled him a bit, being around her all the time. Nights helping her cook dinner, weekends letting her take him shopping. The family even spent a week in Jeju together.
Soobin tagged along with them, like he has for nearly every family vacation since Beomgyu met him. He fits right into the fold of their family—he always had an extra bottle of sunscreen when the rest of them forgot, and a joke to lift the mood when they would trudge back to the hotel in exhaustion. Beomgyu’s mother wouldn’t let him pay for a single souvenir or meal with his own money. Sometimes Beomgyu thinks she dotes on Soobin more than her own children.
“Things are different than they were this summer,” Beomgyu says, and it’s as close to honesty as he’ll get. “I really have to finish this, okay, Eomma? We can talk later. I’m sorry.”
Right before he submits his paper two hours later, he reads over the assignment sheet again and realizes he got the deadline wrong—he had an extra two days to work on it. He mentally face-palms and considers calling his mother back to apologize for hanging up so abruptly, maybe joke about how foolish he’d been.
He doesn’t. Better not to let her know that her model-student son has no fucking clue what he’s doing.
As tempting as it is, Beomgyu can’t skip rehearsal—the dance team only lets you miss two meetings before you have to come in for a disciplinary hearing, a rule their captain Hoseok takes very seriously. They’ve just split up the team among the most recent round of choreographers for the winter showcase, and of course Beomgyu is placed in Yeonjun’s dance. He had put Yeonjun down as his first choice weeks ago.
Yeonjun’s gone for something different than his usual hip-hop style this time. It’s a jazzier, slower number that requires seductive flair, something Yeonjun has in spades (and something Beomgyu has to work at when he practices alone in the living room, feeling inadequate and stupid for it). Yeonjun teaches them the first bit of choreo and then walks around the room to help them as they practice. Beomgyu is doing the first eight-count when Yeonjun stops him with a hand on his wrist.
“Make sure you’re extending your arms all the way,” Yeonjun says, tugging gently to stretch Beomgyu’s arm out until his elbow straightens. Beomgyu lets Yeonjun pull him, pliant like a doll. His wrist burns with the heat of Yeonjun’s hands, his slender, nimble fingers, his thumb against the heel of Beomgyu’s palm.
Yeonjun is looking Beomgyu dead in the eye. He doesn’t smile but his gaze doesn’t waver, and Beomgyu is both afraid to look at him and to look away. Yeonjun purses his lips.
“Keep your back straight, too.” He places one hand on Beomgyu’s torso, and one on his back. Beomgyu stops breathing. He stiffens his spine immediately into perfect posture, body going taut like he’d been shocked. He feels hot all over.
Yeonjun removes his hands and Beomgyu gapes at him a little bit. This shouldn’t be as overwhelming as it is.
“I like your hair like this.” Yeonjun smooths a hand down Beomgyu’s bangs and Beomgyu jerks back, confused.
“It always looks like this.”
Yeonjun says, “Yeah, I know,” and doesn’t elaborate. “You’re doing good, Beomgyu,” he adds, voice low, and Beomgyu wants to die because it sounds like the voice he used that night, good, Gyu-yah, come here, come closer, does this feel good?
With Yeonjun’s eyes on his body like this, the words are right there in Beomgyu’s mouth. He wonders if Yeonjun can see it, the way his touch turns Beomgyu inside out. Look, here are the bones that hold me together. Here is my gut, which tells me to run away when you get too close. Here is my bloodied, beating heart. It belongs to you. It wants you to reach out and take it into your hands.
Yeonjun walks away. Beomgyu has to remind himself how to move his limbs when the music starts again.
On Friday, Kai asks Taehyun on a date. Like, a real date. A get dressed up and hold hands over the restaurant table kind of date.
“I’m still not sure if I’m going to go,” Taehyun says.
“What? Why the hell would you not go?” Beomgyu frowns. Taehyun dragged him to the campus gym because he likes to sweat out his frustrations with exercise, and they’re running on adjacent treadmills. The entire place smells like damp, old socks and Taehyun is running so fast Beomgyu is a little worried he’ll slip. “You like him.”
“I know that, but—” Taehyun exhales harshly, speeding up. Beomgyu keeps his pace at a moderate jog to encourage him to slow down. “What if he’s not sure?”
“Not sure about what? He asked you, didn’t he?”
“Not sure that he really means it. Like, that he really wants this. Me.” He finally slows his jogging speed and flicks sweat-soaked bangs out of his eyes. “I need him to be sure,” Taehyun whispers. “It will hurt too much later if he isn’t.”
“Huh.” Beomgyu keeps silent for a moment as two guys pass behind them to get to the bench press. “You know he is, though. Right?”
“What? How do you know?”
“Kai literally bought you a bouquet without the excuse of a special occasion,” Beomgyu points out. “Every time he comes over to visit Soobin-hyung, he spends, like, the entire time telling us what you’ve been up to, even though I literally know because I see you just as much as he does. He asked me what your favorite snacks are so he could bring them to you when you were doing that group project from hell. All that and you’re sitting here like gee, I wonder if he likes me?”
“He does that?” Taehyun asks, and Beomgyu’s pretty sure it’s not the running that makes him sound breathless.
Beomgyu hadn’t known what to make of Huening Kai the first time he met him—or Kai Kamal Huening, as he had introduced himself. He was wary—both Soobin, Beomgyu’s old best friend, and Taehyun, Beomgyu’s new best friend, took an instant liking to Kai, and for all his talk of being basically Soobin-hyung’s age, three months is not that much, you guys, Beomgyu felt a little threatened by how babied Kai was by all of the people Beomgyu loved. Plus, Kai is a prodigy. He’s a year younger than Beomgyu but had skipped a grade while in grade school in Hawaii, and if he wanted to he could probably try out for the dance team and blow Beomgyu right out of the water. It would be very easy to make Kai into a villain.
But aside from all that, he’s a good kid. Whenever Beomgyu is in one of his emo moods Kai will cheer him up by showing him one of the stupid TikToks he’s made. He’s got this niche interest in collecting plushies that should be kind of weird for a teenage boy but instead is just really adorable, and last semester when Beomgyu was really stressed about his history exam, Kai lent him his favorite plushie, Tobin the rabbit. Kai didn’t even care that Beomgyu cried on it a little.
He also really does spend, like, eighty percent of his time talking about Taehyun. Beomgyu hadn’t lied about that.
“Of course he does,” Beomgyu replies. “You just don’t pay attention.”
Taehyun laughs. “Okay, because I’m nice I won’t point out the irony of you calling anyone else oblivious.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Nope. I am minding my own business.”
Beomgyu pouts. “Well, good. We’re not talking about me anyway. We’re talking about you and Kai and how you’re gonna go on that date.”
“I think I would have gone anyway,” Taehyun admits. “I run into him everywhere, it would have been even more uncomfortable to say no.”
Beomgyu wants to say that Taehyun will because he wants to, not because of potential awkwardness, but he knows Taehyun would reject his words. And if Taehyun is staying out of Beomgyu’s business, Beomgyu will return the favor.
“Trust me, I know all about being uncomfortable these days,” Beomgyu says darkly, thinking back to Soobin’s phone call to Yeonjun. “At least you don’t live with him.” Soobin had stayed over at Yeonjun’s like he planned, and Beomgyu has been trying not to think about the two of them snuggled up on Yeonjun’s bed watching Avengers.
“Oh, yeah, has that gotten any better?” Taehyun asks.
“Yikes,” Taehyun says grimly. “We’ve both had a fun week, haven’t we?”
Surprising absolutely no one, it was not a fun week. Beomgyu still has to dab concealer on his neck every morning, except he forgot on Monday and his professor totally saw his marked-up neck and judged him for it. On top of all of that, he woke up on Wednesday to discover that Bebe the potted plant had toppled over from the wind when Soobin forgot to shut the window, and they have to repot her but they don’t have any other pots in the apartment and there’s no fucking time to go out and buy one.
Beomgyu just wants one thing to be easy. Just one.
He returns home from the gym to find Soobin kneeling on the bathroom floor, scrubbing at the bathtub with a wet sponge. Soobin glances up at the aborted noise that comes out of Beomgyu’s throat, but Beomgyu only says, “Oh, shit, it was totally my turn this week, wasn’t it?”
They had set up a chore chart when they first moved in together. Beomgyu handles vacuuming while Soobin takes the trash out, and they switch off every week to face the behemoth task that is cleaning the bathroom (it may be so tiny that they can’t both fit in there at the same time, but somehow it is always dirty). Neither of them are very tidy—they’re young boys, after all, and Soobin has a habit of leaving his clothes all over the floor of his room—but there’s a difference between neatness and cleanliness, and they make sure not to cross the line into outright disgusting. Beomgyu has been diligent about doing his part, always determined to keep Soobin from viewing him as a spoiled little rich kid who can’t put on rubber gloves and take a rag to the mirror, but with everything else going on he’d completely forgotten.
“I’m so sorry, it just—slipped my mind,” he apologizes, wringing his hands. “I had that exam, and I was dealing with Taehyun and Kai’s drama, and—” And I was avoiding you, but you’re always at home. “It won’t happen again, I swear.”
Soobin tosses the sponge down into the tub and sits cross-legged on the floor, eyes already narrowing in a warm smile. “Beomgyu, it’s fine. I figured you’d just forgotten, and it’s not a big deal, I mostly wanted to make sure we just didn’t put it off until after the weekend. You seem stressed lately anyway, so I didn’t mind.”
Beomgyu feels sick at that, at how transparent he’s been. He doesn’t think I notice, but I always pay attention. “No, I just—here, give me the gloves, I’ll finish up in here. You should go study or something, you have a project to work on, right?” Soobin’s tried to explain what being a broadcasting and entertainment major entails, but Beomgyu just knows there’s a lot of group projects involved.
“What, are you saying I won’t do well on it?” Soobin jokes.
“I think you need all the help you can get,” Beomgyu teases back. It comes out meaner than he would normally be, but he’s still sour from overhearing that phone call and knowing Soobin prefers not to be around him when he’s stressed out. He can’t control his mouth.
Soobin takes it in stride with a laugh, though he sobers quickly. “Hey,” he says softly. “You know you can talk to me if something’s on your mind, right? I mean, you probably know that already, but still. I just wanted to check in.”
Soobin never makes offers like that, because he’s never needed to. Beomgyu is a chatterbox, and dramatic at the best of times. He has no qualms about telling the friendly ahjummas that work at the ramen place down the street all of his worries about college, much less his best friend. Hell, he and Soobin only became friends in the first place because Beomgyu approached him on the playground to complain for five minutes about how squeaky the swingset was, before convincing him to take turns pushing each other. He doesn’t keep any secrets from Soobin. But he has to keep this one.
I think I’ve loved you for a long, long time. I think I love your boyfriend, too. I know you liked kissing me, but it didn’t mean to you what it means to me.
Damn Soobin for being so unflinchingly sweet, even now. Staring up at Beomgyu from the floor, the look on Soobin’s face is concerned, and curious, but not at all expectant. He’s already resigned himself to Beomgyu’s rejection. Because he’s right. That’s exactly what Beomgyu will do.
“I’m okay, hyung, it really was just this exam kicking my ass,” Beomgyu laughs. “Don’t worry about me.” I don’t deserve your worry.
Soobin sighs but he’s already nodding, knees popping as he stands up. He drapes his yellow rubber gloves over the side of the tub. “Okay, whatever you say, Gyu-yah. Would you actually mind finishing up in here? I did the sink and the toilet already, so it’s just the tub left. You were right, I really should study before Yeonjun-hyung comes to pick me up.”
“Pick you up?”
Soobin nods, fixing his hair in the mirror. “He’s taking me for hot pot.”
“Ah. Have fun, then. I’ll take care of the bathroom.” Beomgyu shoots him a smile, or something close enough.
Soobin searches his face for a moment. He must not find what he’s looking for, because he just slinks past Beomgyu to get to the living room.
Beomgyu loves hot pot. He forces this thought aside and pulls the gloves on to get to work.
You haven’t answered the past few times I’ve called so I figured I would try things your way and text! I’ve been wanting to put together a care package of snacks and things for you since you’re working so hard lately. You may not be able to call me for long, but surely you can let your mother know what flavor Pepero you’d like? 😘
I haven’t heard back from you yet but I’m already at the store, so I’ll just pick what I can remember you liked when you were younger!
hi eomma i’m really sorry i keep meaning to call! the dance showcase is coming up soon, so things have been busy
that’s really nice of you but you don’t have to send me snacks! i don’t want you to go out of your way for me
“Man, that’s rough,” Renjun says when Beomgyu gives him an abridged, surface-level account of all the recent drama over lunch. Beomgyu isn’t really that close with Renjun—they’re “hey, can you send me the notes from last class?” friends, not “I would literally take a bullet for you” friends—but he makes for a good substitute hyung while Beomgyu’s in limbo with his usual go-tos.
“Tell me about it,” Beomgyu says, spooning some more soup into his mouth. “Sometimes I wish I could just catch a break.”
“I mean, you can, though.” Renjun’s eyes light up. “Hey, would you want to come to a DNYL meeting? I think it could help you a lot.”
Beomgyu swallows. “DNYL?”
DNYL turns out to be the Don’t Need Your Love Club. From what Beomgyu can gather from the bright red flyer Renjun gives to him, it appears to be a club where single people gather to pretend they aren’t upset about how single they are. Beomgyu puts the meeting details in his calendar and brings it up to Taehyun later that day.
“Absolutely not,” Taehyun says. “I will not let you do that to yourself.”
“It doesn’t look that bad?” Beomgyu tries, though now he’s second-guessing it too. “That kid Jisung who lives on your floor is in it too.”
“That entire club is a gay disaster, hyung. Even by your standards. I’ve seen them around campus. It’s so obvious they’ve all got crushes on each other, I’m pretty sure the club is just a front so they have an excuse to flirt without actually confessing. Have you seen the way Na Jaemin acts around your Renjun-hyung?” Taehyun shakes his head somberly. “You don’t want to get mixed up in that, trust me.”
“It’s not a disaster! They do bonding trips to Lotte World! And it’s celebratory. Empowering. I don’t think they’re flirting with each other. They don’t need anyone’s love, that’s the whole point.”
“But you do,” Taehyun reminds him. “You thrive on people’s love.”
Beomgyu huffs and changes tack. “Renjun-hyung asked me to join, and he’s my friend. It’d be rude not to go.”
It’s for naught, because Taehyun changes tack too, and Beomgyu may be good at arguing, but Taehyun has always been better. “Do you want to explain to Soobin-hyung and Yeonjun-hyung why you’re suddenly renouncing romance? Because we both know they’re the reason, and you’re a terrible fucking liar.”
Beomgyu scowls and tells him to shut up.
“I saw you talking to Renjun the other day,” Yeonjun comments casually as they stretch on the floor before rehearsal on Wednesday. Yeonjun’s sitting with both legs extended in front of him, eating from a plastic container of strawberries at the same time. It’s technically sacrilege to bring food into the studio, but Hoseok has a soft spot for Yeonjun just like the rest of the world so he let him off scot-free with nothing more than a joking finger-wag and resigned smile.
Beomgyu blinks, pulling his left arm across his chest. “Uh, yeah, we had a class together last semester. He’s chill.”
Yeonjun chews on this bit of information. “You guys seem close.”
“Um, I guess? Why?”
“No, no reason.” He pops another strawberry in his mouth, which is stained red with the juice of it and very distracting. “I was just… I don’t know. Wondering if that was, like, a thing. You and him.”
“What?” Beomgyu giggles nervously and then tries to tamp the laughter down, clearing his throat. “No. No. We’re just friends. He’s, like, in a club for people who have sworn off romance, anyway. DNYL? I don’t know if you know it, but yeah. He was trying to, like, get me to join. That’s why we were talking.”
“Oh.” Yeonjun is still bent forward in his stretch, but the tense set of his shoulders has relaxed. Beomgyu firmly tells himself that this does not mean anything. “Are you going to?”
“Going to what?”
“Join. Swear off romance.”
Beomgyu silently curses Taheyun for always being right. “No, I decided not to,” he says, and makes a mental note to delete the meeting reminder off his phone. Sorry, Renjun. “That’s not really my thing.”
“Hmm.” Yeonjun looks quietly pleased. “Good. It’d be sad if you deprived people the chance of loving you.”
Beomgyu lets his arm go so fast the back of his hand knocks painfully against his knee with a slapping noise. “I—” He chokes. “You can’t just say things like that.”
Yeonjun furrows his eyebrows. “Why not?”
“Because! It’s—why do you keep flirting with me?” Beomgyu asks suddenly, and it’s not so much a moment of bravery as it is a panic response.
Yeonjun’s smile is a sloppy black-and-white sketch. No color, no life. “I don’t know. Why do people generally flirt with other people, Beomgyu?” he says, pulling his feet toward him so he’s sitting in butterfly pose.
Beomgyu frowns. “I don’t understand.”
“‘Course you don’t,” Yeonjun sighs.
“But you should really stop that, hyung. Soobin-hyung’s my best friend, you know, and it’s not fair to him. If he knew, he’d—“
“I practically text Soobin every time I take a shit, you think he doesn’t know? He’s doing it too.”
“What?” Beomgyu says, brain short-circuiting. “Doing what?”
“He tucked you in when you fell asleep. And left your special tea out for you, right? What did you think that was?”
Beomgyu ignores the question. “How do you know that?”
“Because,” Yeonjun sighs, exasperated. “Soobin practically texts me every time he takes a shit too.”
“That’s so gross, hyung.”
“The point is,” Yeonjun talks over him, “we tell each other everything. And by the way, reminding you that you deserve to be loved is, like, the furthest thing from flirting, Beomgyu-yah. It’s just the truth. Soobinnie and I both know it, so you don’t have to freak out. I would never do something he was uncomfortable with. I’d never do anything you’re uncomfortable with, either. If you want me to stop petting your hair and calling you pretty, just say the word.”
There’s a pause. Beomgyu knows that’s his cue to say the word, and tries, but finds that he can’t remember any words at all, not even his own name.
Yeonjun is smirking. “Glad I’ve given you some food for thought. Here, now that’s settled, do you want the last strawberry?”
“I can’t really figure out what emotion you’re trying to tackle here,” Yoongi says about his latest composition. “The whole piece sounds a bit muddled. The ending, too. It’s so—abrupt. It’s like you’ve walked us into the maze but you haven’t shown us how to get out.”
“Maybe that’s what I’m trying to say,” Beomgyu says, staring at the coffee ring stain on Yoongi’s old wooden desk. His office is really more of a closet, shoved into a corner of the music building’s basement. There’s only artificial light down here, and stale air. Beomgyu doesn’t know how Yoongi stands it. “Maybe you never get out of the maze.”
“And that would be a very compelling argument,” Yoongi concedes, with one of his unreadable smiles. “But you said maybe, so I don’t believe you. You’ve set up the question, which is good. It’s a start. But you have to answer it. First for yourself, and then the music will follow.”
Beomgyu leans all the way back in his chair and thunks his head against the cinderblock wall. Yoongi always has so many cryptic platitudes and words of wisdom, and some of the time his office hours feel more like a therapy session than a class requirement. Usually Beomgyu enjoys soaking up as much knowledge as Yoongi will give him. Right now, as he’s staring down a mediocre grade and a migraine, it just borders on infuriating. “Does this mean I fail again?”
“Failing isn’t the point,” Yoongi says, which is easy for him to say when he’s not the one being graded. “So until you get that into your thick skull, yes, you do.”
Beomgyu stops by the student café after leaving Yoongi’s office for a hot chocolate, mostly to get out of the cold, but he doesn’t expect to see Yeonjun and Soobin there. The two of them are seated at a table toward the back, sharing a few cute little pastries. They don’t see him. He doesn’t call out for their attention, just moves to stand in line and watches them out of the corner of his eye.
He could go over and say hi. He should. They’re his best friends and it’s so uncomfortable that he’s avoiding them like this, will be even more so if they catch him in the act. But their table only has two chairs and he’d have to pull up a third one, and the café is too crowded, there are no more empty seats. It would be too much of a hassle, and he doesn’t want to just stand there and hover awkwardly above them like an intruder, that’d be worse. Beomgyu feels himself getting anxious about it and has to remind himself what he came here for when he gets to the front of the line and it’s his turn to order.
He steps to the side to wait for his drink and keeps his head down, checking to make sure neither of them have seen him yet. They haven’t. Beomgyu means to just glance and look away but he can’t help staring, noticing how Yeonjun’s nose is a little pink and Soobin is enveloped in Yeonjun’s coat (faux-fur, bright red, something only he could pull off) to keep warm. A sick, monstrous churning starts up in his stomach, a similar misery to the one Beomgyu felt calling Taehyun from Yeonjun’s bathroom. It’s different seeing them like this, wrapped up in a private moment he’s clearly not meant to be a part of.
Watching the two of them together is like tracing a finger down a well-worn groove in the wooden coffee table in his parents’ house. Familiar, thoughtless. Once upon a time it was not there, but Beomgyu can’t remember that, he only knows what he finds staring back at him now.
Yeonjun bites into his croissant and some pastry flakes stick, hanging off the corners of his lips. Soobin reaches out—no napkin, just his hand—to brush them away and Yeonjun puckers his lips to meet his fingers in a playful kiss.
They are an old song. You can’t just change the words. It has always been this way.
Beomgyu takes his hot chocolate from the barista right as she sets it on the counter, before she can call out his name, and leaves.
November bows to December, and the temperature plummets to freezing. Beomgyu’s hickey has faded completely, and with it disappears the last sign that that night happened at all. It’s like he imagined the whole sordid affair. Maybe it really was all in his mind. Maybe his desire is just a trick his heart is playing on him.
Every day, he waits for something other than the weather to change.
He gets his wish faster than expected.
hyung are you busy can you come to my room
just got out of class
why what’s up?
i need you
Beomgyu drops everything and runs. It’s a Thursday afternoon, he was en route to his back-to-back classes but it doesn’t matter. He turns heel right in front of the music building doors and doesn’t look back.
I need you. Taehyun’s never just outright said it like that. Beomgyu has, a hundred times. But usually when he’s panicking, and that fact doesn’t make him feel better as he jogs the path toward the first-year dorms.
By the time he gets up to Taehyun’s room he’s panting. Sweat is collecting uncomfortably under his arms, but at least he made it in under ten minutes. The door is unlocked when he tries the handle so Beomgyu slips inside, already calling out, “Taehyun-ah?”
Sometimes Beomgyu forgets how small Taehyun can be.
Yeonjun, Soobin, and Kai like to joke about how short Beomgyu and Taehyun are. Usually they brush it off, since it’s not their fault their friends are veritable giants. But standing in the doorway like this, Beomgyu feels something in him splinter at how tiny his friend looks, curled up in bed like a child.
A dolphin plushie is lying stranded in the middle of the floor. Beomgyu doesn’t have to ask to know who it belongs to.
There are hydrangeas in the trash can.
Beomgyu leans down to pick the dolphin up gingerly. Volume skating the edge of a whisper, he asks, “What—”
“I threw it at him.” Taehyun’s voice, usually so sweet, is hoarse and flat like he’d been yelling. Like it had scraped his throat raw to pull out all the emotion inside of him and there was nothing left.
“He gave it to me at the beginning of the school year. He won it at some arcade and told me to keep it as a symbol of our friendship. And then today,” Taehyun smiles, something awful, something rueful, “he told me he couldn’t be friends with me anymore.”
“Oh, Taehyunnie.” Beomgyu stands, placing the dolphin on Taehyun’s desk. He doesn’t think, even now, that Taehyun really wants to get rid of it. “I thought things were good, I thought the date went well.”
“It did.” He sniffles. “We went on a couple dates since then, actually. They were all so good, hyung, they were wonderful.”
“Then… what changed?”
“He said—because—because I—” Taehyun screws his eyes shut and shakes his head, and Beomgyu stops hesitating.
He met Taehyun at first-year orientation, right before the start of last semester. They did this dumb icebreaker with their group (“If you were a scent, what scent would you be?”) and circled shyly around each other before making the mutually unspoken decision to be friends. The first time they met up was for a study session at a table in the dustiest corner of the library, where even the light didn’t reach. After twenty minutes, Taehyun had asked Beomgyu to leave because he couldn’t focus with him talking so much.
Taehyun found him sitting against a bookshelf in the dark maze of the stacks later, drying his tears over a failed first attempt at college friendship, and slid down next to him on the floor. He said sorry for being an ass, said this year is hard for me too so far, and by the time Soobin texted him asking when he was coming home, they had called a truce. They had promised to be kinder, both to each other and themselves.
Beomgyu makes good on that promise now. He toes his boots off and hangs his coat over the back of Taehyun’s desk chair. He pulls the travel pack of tissues he carries everywhere out of his backpack. He climbs onto the bed behind Taehyun so they’re not quite touching but close enough that Beomgyu could pull him into a hug if he needed to. They do cuddle sometimes, but only when they’re both too drunk or sleepy to pretend they aren’t starved for affection.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” he mumbles, staring at Taehyun’s back and shoulders. “What he said?”
So Taehyun tells the story to Beomgyu, or a version of it, anyway. Funny how that works.
“We were hanging out again,” Taehyun says, “and he just suddenly stopped talking and like, stared at me. In the soft way, you know what I mean? And he told me that he didn’t want to do this half-assed anymore. He said he wanted to be all in.”
“Yeah. He said he loved me. And I… I couldn’t say it back. He got really upset when I couldn’t say it back.”
Beomgyu doesn’t press. If this was last semester he would’ve come up with a five-step plan for Taehyun to fix everything, but he gets it now. Not everyone is looking for advice. Some people just need a hand to hold as they work through their own shit. Beomgyu can do that, he thinks. “Here, wipe your nose.”
“Thanks.” Taehyun flops onto his back and takes a tissue from the pack Beomgyu offers him but doesn’t lift it to his nose. He says, “I hate this. It makes me fucking angry. I don’t—I don’t do this, hyung, I don’t obsess over boys and I don’t cry over them. I hate who he made me become.”
“Crying doesn’t make you weak.”
“No, but it shows you care. I wish I didn’t care.”
“It would be easier not to care,” Beomgyu allows, because that’s a thought he knows well. “But you’re not nearly as stone-cold as you want people to think you are, Hyunnie.”
“I’m just scared,” Taehyun says.
Neither of them say anything for a long moment, and Beomgyu cards a gentle hand through Taehyun’s hair. His mother used to do it for him, when he would wake in the middle of the night from a bad dream. Beomgyu guesses the thing about getting older is that the scary things happen more often when you’re awake than when you’re not.
“Everyone’s scared of something,” Beomgyu says. “You’re allowed to be scared.”
“Yeah? What are you scared of?”
Beomgyu smiles wanly. What is he scared of?
A string that leads nowhere. An invisible hand that threatens to choke the air out of his lungs. A fire that he has learned not to touch, but that will burn him anyway.
Beomgyu says, “I’m afraid that I’ll always want more than I can have. That I’ll want so much I’ll become a burden to the people I love.”
Taehyun rolls over to knock Beomgyu’s forehead against his own. “Hyung, you’re not. You know you’re not. You know it, right?”
Beomgyu pats his shoulder placatingly. As nice as the words are, Taehyun is not one of the people Beomgyu needs to hear them from. “’Sokay. It’s your turn, though. I’ve bared my soul. What are you scared of, Taehyun?”
It takes him a minute to form the words. Beomgyu makes himself be patient, for once.
“I’m scared of being hurt,” Taehyun finally whispers. “Of letting myself be vulnerable with him, and him making me the fool because of it. I’m scared that loving him will make me lose control.” He curls up smaller, tucks his hands beneath his cheek. “Maybe that’s what I’m most scared of. Losing control.”
Beomgyu hums. Loving is so hard, he thinks. People always tell you that, but really it’s one of those things meant to be learned through experience. Because the truth of the matter is that loving takes all of you, whether you want it to or not. And when it’s taken everything, what does it leave behind?
“I don’t know how to not lose control,” Beomgyu admits. “I haven’t figured that out yet.”
Taehyun gives him a smile with all his teeth, the kind that looks vaguely shark-like. Tear stains and all, it’s a great smile, an infectious one. “We both haven’t figured a lot of things out, huh.”
“True.” Beomgyu nudges his foot against Taehyun’s shin.
“I was so afraid of him hating me that I drove him to do it anyway,” Taehyun whispers. “Does that make me a shitty person?”
Beomgyu reaches out to clasp Taehyun’s hand in his own. Their palms are warm against each other, if a little clammy, and the touch is grounding. Whatever else is going on outside this room, they are here and they have each other.
“No,” he says. “It just means you’re capable of fucking things up. It makes you human.”
Beomgyu can’t give Taehyun a remedy. But he can give him a moment of comfort. This, if nothing else.
As they lay there in the dark of Taehyun’s room, past the point of speaking, Beomgyu counts his blessings. First, a heart that beats well enough to produce a world of hurt, for himself and for everyone else. Second, a brother’s hand, snug enough in his own to soothe it.
Of course Beomgyu runs into Kai, in his apartment lobby.
“Oh,” he says, stopping short.
“Oh,” Kai parrots. “Hi, Beomgyu-hyung.”
Beomgyu had slipped out from behind Taehyun after he was sure the other had fallen asleep. The rest of his classes had come and gone, so he’d stolen a cup of instant ramen from Taehyun’s stash to eat in the communal kitchens and then headed for home.
Kai darts his eyes away, like he’s not sure whether or not he should make direct eye contact with Beomgyu. It’s more awkward than it’s ever been between them. Kai doesn’t do awkward, he’s usually a master of conversation.
Beomgyu scuffs his toe against the tile of the lobby floor. “What are you doing here?”
“I called Soobin-hyung after… well, I’m guessing Taehyun told you. And he and Yeonjun-hyung told me to come over.”
“Oh, really?” Beomgyu hadn’t known Yeonjun would be over. Suddenly he dreads the thought of going upstairs and seeing both of them together again, like in the coffee shop a few days earlier.
“Yeah,” Kai is saying. “Soobin-hyung makes a mean cup of chrysanthemum tea. He said someone told him it was a good cure for sadness.”
Beomgyu is left speechless for a second. “Oh, I—that’s good, Kai-yah. I’m glad you have him.”
Kai nods and something in his gaze shifts, calculating. “Yeah. I’m glad he has you.”
“Of course,” Beomgyu says automatically, but he thinks that maybe he’s the one who has Soobin, who needs him, not the other way around.
Beomgyu should take his leave, should go upstairs and take a nap. He’s about to do just that, but he gets another look at Kai’s face, and something stops him in his tracks. It could be Kai’s quiet resignation, or the way he’s keeping himself guarded in front of Beomgyu, who was always more Taehyun’s friend than his. Probably it’s just that he sees a little bit of himself in Kai, a boy whose worst crime was loving someone a little too much.
Kai looks a bit torn-up, to be honest. His eyes are red and puffy, and despite himself and the feeling that he should be taking Taehyun’s “side,” whatever that is, Beomgyu’s heart breaks a little for him.
Because looking at his face now, he clearly loves Taehyun. All Kai had done was reach out and ask the question, a thousand times braver than Beomgyu has ever been. Beomgyu wants to be protective because Taehyun is hurting, but Kai is hurting too, and try as he might, Beomgyu can’t fault him for that.
“Hey,” he says. “I know it’s probably not my place, but be patient with him, okay? I know you want… an answer from him, but just give him a little more time, yeah? He hasn’t told me everything, but you terrify the shit out of him. That’s a big deal for Taehyun, since he acts like he’s not scared of anything.”
Kai looks conflicted. “Does he hate me?”
“No, of course not.”
“Are you sure?” Kai tugs down the hem of his coat for something to do, doubtful. “He kind of seemed like it.”
Beomgyu winces as he remembers the dolphin plushie, the wastebasket full of hydrangeas. He can see where Kai got the impression. “I’m serious. He’s working through some stuff, but I don’t think he’s even capable of hating you. And I know him best.”
Kai sighs in defeat. “Okay. If waiting is what it takes… I’ll do it. I’ll do anything. Thanks, hyung.”
Beomgyu ruffles Kai’s hair, and God, Kai’s so tall Beomgyu almost has to strain to reach the top of his head. “Good. But just know if you hurt him, I know where you sleep and I’ll find you and kill you.”
Kai cracks up, full-bodied and sincere. “Hyung, you can’t even arm wrestle, how are you going to kill me?”
“Rude!” Beomgyu shoves at him playfully and Kai snickers some more. He still looks worse for wear but there’s some light back in his eyes now and it makes Beomgyu feel better, even if it’s coming at his expense.
“Okay, okay, but really,” Kai turns serious, “I don’t ever want to hurt him. I hope I never will.”
Beomgyu gives into the urge and hugs him. “I know you don’t. You’re the only person I know who deserves him.”
They stay like that, hugging in the too-bright, too-cold lobby until one of Beomgyu’s neighbors enters and needs them to move so they can get to the stairs.
Things fall apart very quickly after that.
Yeonjun and Soobin are standing together at the stove when Beomgyu gets upstairs, looking cozy in matching couple sweaters and reaching around each other to assemble ingredients on the counter. Beomgyu removes his shoes and coat with all the energy of a zombie, feeling a bit like he’s been through the emotional ringer today, and Soobin notices when he looks up and sees him in the doorway.
“Hey, Gyu-yah. Alright?”
Soobin looks tired too, Beomgyu notices. “Yeah. I just ran into Kai down in the lobby.”
“Mm.” Soobin’s eyes go round and sad, like they do sometimes when they watch sad nature documentaries together. “Yeah, he was so upset. I felt terrible.”
“Taehyun was cut up about it too,” Beomgyu says. “I mean, I know that probably doesn’t make him feel better, but I think they’ll be alright. They just have to get over this hump, you know?”
“Oh, you were with Taehyunnie?” Yeonjun asks. He’s chopping up vegetables on the cutting board with slow, measured strokes of the knife and Beomgyu watches his hands, entranced.
“Yeah, he texted me and I ditched class to be with him. He was a little messed up about how things went down.”
Soobin shakes his head mournfully as he turns on the stove. Beomgyu can’t tell what they’re making, some bastardized version of bibimbap, maybe. They’ve got a pan out to fry an egg to put on top. “God, that’s awful. I hate that they’re dealing with this. I don’t know why Taehyun’s doing this to them. It’s an easy fix, isn’t it?”
Beomgyu frowns and scratches at his arm. “He’s not doing anything to them, like, on purpose or anything. I don’t think it’s that easy. Like, Kai could try to meet him where he is, you know?”
“But they would both just avoid so much sadness if they talked things through.”
“They could, but neither of us are in Taehyun’s shoes,” Beomgyu counters. “He’s dealing with things that I don’t think Kai is even aware of. You only heard Kai’s side of the story. Taehyun will get there someday. It’s about having patience.”
“I don’t know.” Yeonjun uses the knife to push the vegetables to one side of the board with narrowed focus, mouth pursed. “I don’t think running away is the smartest option. You can’t expect someone to wait forever.”
“No one said it was smart,” Beomgyu says hotly. He doesn’t understand where this conversation is going. “He won’t have to wait forever. It’s just a coping mechanism, and it’s temporary.”
“Well, it’s not a healthy one,” Soobin says, taking Yeonjun’s side, because that’s how it works: Soobin-and-Yeonjun... and Beomgyu. Even now, two stand in the kitchen and one in the doorway. He’s not invited in, he wouldn’t fit in the room.
“I never said it was healthy either! You don’t have to judge Taehyun like that, hyung.”
“I’m not judging him!” Soobin says. “I want him to be happy just as much as you do, he’s my friend too! You know that. But so is Kai, and Kai is the one who gets dragged around in the meantime. We’re just saying that maybe Taehyun should tell Kai what he wants, without making him try to guess and then punishing him when he gets the answer wrong. That’s it.”
Beomgyu exhales sharply. “Maybe Taehyun is scared. Have you thought about that?”
“Yeah, well, maybe we’re not talking about Taehyun anymore,” Soobin says.
Crack. Egg sizzles in the pan, and Beomgyu flinches at the sudden noise.
“What… what are we talking about, then?” he asks. It’s the wrong thing to say. Soobin whirls around to give him an incredulous look. His eyes are glassy and Beomgyu doesn’t understand why, but it hurts all the same.
Yeonjun gives him a long, flat look. “Think about it, Beomgyu. You know the answer.”
“I—” Beomgyu scrambles for words, for control. He comes up empty and swallows down his panic. “When did this become a fight?” he asks weakly.
“It’s not a fight,” Soobin denies. He turns from the stove and moves toward Beomgyu slowly, like he’s afraid he’ll spook him. His gaze is beseeching; there’s not a hint of anger there.
They would be so gentle with him, even in rejection.
Beomgyu wants to throw up.
“We kissed,” Yeonjun says, because he’s the only one daring enough to be able to. “We can’t—we can’t sweep that under the rug. It changed things, which means we have to talk about it.”
“It didn’t,” Beomgyu says. He feels his blood rushing, feels his body heating up. "You were drunk. You—I mean, we were drunk, you weren't thinking straight and yeah, you thought I was pretty. You wanted to use me so you could have some fun, and you had it. That's it. That was it."
Soobin and Yeonjun are staring at him like they’ve never seen him before, like they don’t know him at all. Beomgyu thinks there’s not a single person that really knows him. He stands alone, on his own island. He can wave to the people that swim by but they will never stop on his shore.
“How could you even say that?” Yeonjun asks in disbelief. “How could you even think that we—”
"Because Soobin-hyung did!" Beomgyu bursts, and this is it, he’s gone and stuck his hand in the fire now. Everything’s aflame; his heart is blackening around the edges. Maybe that’s why it feels like his chest is caving in. "You said it. I heard you both, on the phone that night. Talking about—about how you guys are soulmates, how you liked what we did but you couldn't stand to be around me. I fucking heard you. Message received.” He spits the words out like doing so can rid him of the guilt, of the longing. It doesn’t. “I’m sorry I did that. I regret it. I know it was wrong. I know you—I know. I just, I know, so—so you don’t have to… be like this. You guys don’t have to call me pretty and do my chores and whatever fucking else because you feel bad for me. I’m sorry, okay? Is that what you want to hear?”
Soobin's face is a study in anguish. Beomgyu hates his pity, he fucking despises it. "Beomgyu, that wasn't—"
"No, don't tell me what it was or wasn't. I don't want to hear it. I said we don't need to talk about it, so we don't."
Yeonjun says, “Beomgyu, I think you should take a deep breath, okay? You’re scaring me a bit, you’re breathing too fast.”
Beomgyu’s chest continues to heave, fists clenched for a fight. “Yeah, well, I think you should shut the fuck up.”
“Beomgyu!” Soobin says, shocked. Beomgyu stares at a cabinet behind his head with his lips pressed together and doesn’t say anything. “Can you—you're not listening to us. Can you listen? We respected your silence because I could tell you didn’t want to talk about it. I knew it made you anxious in some way and I didn’t want to hurt you by bringing it up, but it… you’re not the only person in this conversation, okay? I’ve been confused too, I’ve been dealing with my own shit. Yeonjun-hyung has too. And I can’t not talk about it anymore. It’s hurting me now.” He inhales like there’s not enough air in the room, wipes furiously at his cheek with one hand. “You’re hurting me, Beomgyu.”
And God, if that wasn’t the worst thing Soobin ever could have said.
Beomgyu feels himself shake apart—pull one loose thread and the knot unravels. He’s just a shapeless tangle of yarn on the floor at Soobin’s feet.
What do you want? he hears Taehyun ask in his head. What are you scared of?
Yeonjun says, “Beomgyu, please.”
The invisible hand is squeezing so hard his vision goes spotty. It leaves bruises in the place of hickeys. He needs to breathe. He needs to.
He looks up at Soobin, with his dark eyelashes and his pink-gemstone mouth. How cruel the universe is, for making Soobin so beautiful when Beomgyu can’t have him. He thinks that for all these years, a part of him has still been sitting on the couch in Lee Chaeryeong’s basement, watching Soobin out of the corner of his eye and wondering, wondering. How would it feel, to be kissed by him? To be loved by him?
Beomgyu learned half the answers, which is more than he’s earned.
“I’m sorry,” Beomgyu gasps, can’t suck in a full breath. His mouth tastes like ash. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll go. I’ll go, I’m sorry, I won’t hurt you anymore.”
“What do you mean go? Did you hear anything I just said?”
Yeonjun advances toward Beomgyu and Beomgyu backs up so fast he runs into the doorjamb. “Go where, where are you going? Beomgyu-yah, we can talk about it. I’m sorry I snapped at you, just stay. Please.”
Beomgyu feels like he’s sitting at the bottom of the ocean, where it’s so dark it’s just black, pressure pushing in from all sides. Can’t see, can’t breathe. If he opens his mouth to speak, water will fill his lungs. He shakes his head and stumbles his way to the front door.
Soobin tells him to wait, but he doesn’t listen. Yeonjun grabs for his arm, and his palm is still wet from the vegetables he was handling, but his touch is electric. He is so handsome too, hair in his face and jaw set with determination. Any other time, Beomgyu would fold under his suggestion. Yeonjun is a god—not just when he dances, but when he does anything at all.
Beomgyu will have to learn to become a nonbeliever.
“Don’t leave!” Yeonjun says, and it sounds like he’s begging. Beomgyu knows if he looks at him again he will break, so he doesn’t. He just ties his shoes with shaking hands. “You keep leaving, why do you keep leaving?”
“Because.” He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. “If I stay, I know one day you’d leave me, and I think that would break me. Not just my heart, but the rest of me, too. So I have to leave first.” He opens his eyes to the boys he loves, whose faces are tear-stained and slack with horror. This is what I do to you. This is the pain I am capable of.
Soobin inhales to makes one last plea, but the smoke alarm goes off and they all jump.
Beomgyu laughs mirthlessly to himself. This is all so ridiculous. “Your egg is burning,” he informs them. Just one more thing on fire.
He closes the front door behind him and leans against it in the hallway, breathing hard, alone.
This is how the story goes, right? It starts with Soobin, chapter one. In the middle is Yeonjun, chapter two. And Beomgyu thought he was chapter three, but he isn't. He isn't a part of the story at all.
He forgot to put his coat back on before he left and it’s so fucking cold out, the air has teeth. He wraps his arms tight around himself in a futile attempt to keep warm, but he has to close his eyes against the wind more than once.
I am not panicking, he tells himself in his head, and then aloud: “I am not panicking.”
A businessman passing by gives him a confused look and Beomgyu turns his face to the ground.
Beomgyu isn’t often alone with his own thoughts like this. He always feels full to bursting with his own feelings, and has to spill them all out to somebody. Normally he would go to Taehyun, but Taehyun’s been through enough of his own shit today. He doesn’t need Beomgyu’s on top of that.
Beomgyu doesn’t like being left to sort through his mind like this. It’s like a broken record player, skipping and rewinding over every little thing he said to Soobin and Yeonjun. Every twist of the knife he got stuck in his own heart.
It changed things. You’re hurting me, Beomgyu.
Beomgyu doesn’t know where to go, in any sense of the word. He walks a few blocks north and makes some random turns until he’s in a part of the neighborhood he’s not as familiar with, passing a laundromat and a few little restaurants. He’s mostly killing time until it gets dark out and he has to go back.
The thought makes him shudder.
This is what’s going to happen: he’s going to go home and have to apologize. He’ll say I’m sorry I stormed out and I’m sorry I love you. I didn’t mean to. They’ll go back to being civil but the resentment will linger. It will eat Beomgyu alive.
In the meantime, Beomgyu does what he’s best at and runs away.
Half an hour later he decides to enter a convenience store on the street he’s ended up on. He takes his time walking down the aisles, avoiding eye contact with the other customers. When he’s loitered for longer than is polite, he selects a roll of triangle kimbap at random and buys it.
His hands shake as he hands over the cash. The girl behind the counter asks, “Are you okay?”
Beomgyu can’t help it. He snorts and it’s like a dam breaks, he’s laughing so fucking hard he’s wheezing. Is he okay? Jesus Christ, what a question. It may be the first time someone’s asked him that all semester. He has to gasp to catch his breath so he can say, “Sorry, I’m fine, I’m okay, sorry. Thank you for asking.”
The girl bites her lip, clearly uncomfortable, and Beomgyu leaves, still giggling.
He eats the kimbap right there on the street outside, in only three bites. He was hungrier than he thought. He wonders now if Soobin managed to salvage that burnt egg. A very petty part of him hopes not.
The sky is beginning to darken and Beomgyu is a little shocked at how quiet this neighborhood is, though of course he’s in a residential area. People must be getting home from work at this time, back to their families and their happy little lives. Two older women cross the street in front of him, dressed up for a fancy dinner somewhere. A family of six crowds around their dining table in front of the street-level window Beomgyu walks by. And Beomgyu remains alone.
He’s just about to make another left turn when he spots a Pepero ad plastered to the side of the bus stop in front of him.
Pepero. Why had he been thinking of Pepero recently?
Oh, right. His mother. Her care package hadn’t arrived at his doorstep yet, but she’d emailed him a tracking notification a few days ago. He’d forgotten to write her back.
Beomgyu shoves his hands in his pockets and his fingers knock against the screen of his phone, unusually cool from going relatively unused all day. Just how many other messages from her has Beomgyu ignored lately?
Just how bad a son has he been?
He used to tell her everything. Fights with friends, scary dreams, bad grades. Everything. When did that stop? Since when did growing up mean faking it, pretending you’re fine? He’s been trying so hard to make her proud, to protect this image of her beloved youngest son, but in the meantime he’d forgotten that her favorite thing about him had always been his openness.
Beomgyu lets his stance weaken a little bit, leaning heavily against the plexiglass of the bus stop wall. He fishes his phone out and after a second more of hesitation, presses her name.
She picks up on the first ring.
He says, “Eomma,” and immediately she knows, in that way that mothers do.
“Beomie-yah,” she says. “What’s happened? Are you alright?”
Beomgyu doesn’t laugh like he did when that girl asked him. Nothing’s funny anymore. He feels the life drain out of him, slow like blood.
“Beomgyu?” she coaxes when he doesn’t reply.
“I’m failing my composition class,” he blurts out, and it’s not what he meant to say but it’s a start. It’s honest.
“Oh,” she says after a pause, clearly surprised. “Is this the one you had the project due for?”
Beomgyu swallows, but he can’t curb the words. They all come rushing out like vomit. “Yes. That one. I—I failed the project, first of all. I’m actually having a pretty terrible time in my classes. The TA said I failed because I lacked a clear vision, except I can’t find a vision because I can’t focus on any part of school except my friends and, um. How I’m—how I’m in love with them. Both of them. Two of them. So there’s that, too.”
“Oh,” she says again, but it’s heavier with meaning this time. “Oh, Beomgyu.”
Beomgyu’s nose starts running again because of fucking course he’s going to start crying in the middle of the city. God, it’s so gross, he doesn’t have a tissue or anything with him. He left all his stuff at home.
“It’s Soobin-hyung, by the way,” he says.
“I see,” she says. “I… I always did wonder about you two.”
“And his boyfriend,” Beomgyu adds, because now that he’s chosen honesty he might as well drag the whole ugly truth into the light. “Choi Yeonjun. That’s his name. I love them, Eomma. But I—I really messed up and I think they might hate me now. I think I ruined it.”
“No, you don’t know what happened, I—”
“I don’t need to, Beomgyu,” she interrupts gently. “I know Soobin, not as well as you do, but I know him all the same. There is nothing on earth that could make that boy hate you. I don’t know this… Choi Yeonjun, but I trust Soobin to have good taste, don’t you?”
Beomgyu exhales, choked and watery. “The best. He’s the best.”
“Then surely if that’s true, he wouldn’t be capable of hating you either. I know how you get, Beomgyu-yah. You’re so unkind to yourself sometimes. It worries me, when you don’t share these thoughts because it means I can’t refute them. No one could hate you. Even at your very worst, you are so, so good.”
“No. I won’t hear otherwise. And I’m your mother, so that’s that.”
Beomgyu finds himself smiling, a little incredulously. Of course. He learned his stubbornness from her.
“Do you want to tell me about them?” she asks.
Beomgyu sighs. His face has gone entirely numb from the cold, and it feels like the rest of him is on its way there, too. The last fading remnants of sunlight are fast disappearing overhead, and the streetlights have come on to bathe the streets in yellow. It is such a strange place for an epiphany, this deserted bus stop surrounded by piles of trash.
“What do you want to know?”
“Anything you want to share. I want to know what makes them worth my baby’s love.”
It’s as Beomgyu is thinking of how to answer that he realizes he’s never really done this, tell someone why he loves them. It was always a thing to be cradled close to the chest, in secret. A wound to be addressed. Never something to show off.
But maybe love isn’t a wound, he thinks. Maybe it’s not supposed to hurt.
“Soobin-hyung…” Beomgyu fiddles with his necklace and thinks about a cup of chrysanthemum tea. He thinks about how you could buy Soobin a plant and be secure in the knowledge that it would be cared for like a child. “He always pays attention.”
If it’s too vague a statement, his mother doesn’t tell him so. “And Yeonjun-ssi?”
Yeonjun is harder to sum up in words. He is lightning, he is rain. He makes plans and then sees them through. He asks for what he wants, and works until it’s his. “He’s a type of brave I could never be.”
“They both sound lovely.”
“I think the both of them are the kind of person I want to be,” he tells her. Hyung, I’m like you, I’m just like you.
“Those are the best kinds of people, aren’t they?” He hears her shift and pictures her in the living room, blanket on her lap, dinner in the oven. His father always worked late. He wonders if maybe she’s lonely, too.
Before he can ask, she says, “What happened, baby? You said something happened. What made you call?”
Beomgyu shivers. He can see his breath in front of him, smoke in the air. “We fought,” he says, and his voice cracks. He clears his throat. “They wanted to talk about—about something we did together, and I just couldn’t. It all went bad so quickly. I was so scared. They’re really happy with each other, you know. I felt like… I don’t know. Like I was dead weight, I guess. So I left.”
“Hmm,” she says, not agreeing, just acknowledging.
“I’ve been doing that a lot, I think,” he confesses. “Being scared, and leaving. I’ve been doing it with you too. I’m sorry for that.”
“I forgive you,” she says. “Of course I do.” She makes everything so easy. Beomgyu feels himself settle just the slightest bit, one worry quelled.
“But darling,” she says, “half of life is learning how to knock on people’s doors when you need help. It’s okay to admit that you’re scared. You can’t grow unless you agree to try.”
“Then what’s the other half?”
“The other half is learning how to open up when people knock on yours.”
Beomgyu slides down the wall so he’s sitting right on the sidewalk, cold seeping into his jeans. The city is quiet, too quiet, but his thoughts fill the noise. He hears Yeonjun’s why is that the end of it, and Soobin’s I feel like we don’t talk anymore. He thinks about all the closed doors he could’ve knocked on. All his own doors he could’ve opened.
And she’s right, isn’t she? Soobin and Yeonjun aren’t the resentful type. When he’d left they’d been moved to tears by his pain. We can talk about it. Just stay. Don’t leave. He’s been so afraid of being selfish that he became the thing he feared most. This box he’s trapped in is of his own design. God, how could he have been so blind?
It wasn’t wanting too much that made him selfish. It was his denial that anyone else might want the same thing.
“I think I made a mistake,” he whispers down the line. “But it’s not the one I thought I made before.”
“That happens sometimes,” his mother assures him. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. All mistakes can either be resolved or learned from. It’s not so scary when you think about it that way.”
“I really love them,” he blurts out, because it’s too late to keep it inside, so why bother? “I think I have to tell them, for real, and not as an apology.” He takes a deep breath. “I think I want to.”
“Then you should,” she says, and suddenly it’s as simple as that. “You hold so much love inside of you, Beomie-yah. That amount of love isn’t meant to be trapped and locked away. There are so many people who will try to put chains on your love and tell you to hide it away. I don’t want you to feel like you need to add your own chains to the pile.”
He chokes on a sob, and his face crumples. “I miss you so much.”
“Oh, my baby,” she says, and her voice is so warm. Like a pot of samgyetang on the stove. Like hand-knit sweaters in winter. Like two hands stroking the tangles out of his hair and wiping the snot from his nose after one of the neighborhood kids pushed him into the sandbox at the park. “I miss you too. You’ll be home by the end of the month, though. And,” she adds, voice teasing but stern, “you can always call more often.”
“Okay.” He swallows, attempts to rid the thickness from his voice. “I’ll do that.”
“I think you’re my soulmate, Eomma,” he tells her, struck by a ridiculous burst of affection. “Or, one of them, anyway.”
“My little tiger,” she says, voice colored with a smile. “You’re so sweet.”
“Eomma,” Beomgyu whines, except he’s not really whining. He is just saying her name. Just missing her. There is a wobble in his voice and they both hear it and they both know what it means. They both know the reply she will give to steady it.
And like always, like breathing, she gives it: “I love you too, baby. Now go, be brave. I know you can.”
Beomgyu gets home late, way later than he would normally be out. He takes the bus back, turning his phone over and over in his hands. He’d pulled it away from his ear after hanging up with his mother to see an alarming number of missed calls and texts—mostly from Soobin and Yeonjun, but there are a few from Taehyun and even one from Kai that make guilt curdle in his belly. He knows he has to get better about letting people worry about him, but it’s not an overnight thing.
He texts Kai that he’s okay, and Taehyun that he’ll explain everything over breakfast tomorrow. It’s strange to think that he was rushing to Taehyun’s room only hours and not days ago. He opens his group chat with Yeonjun and Soobin and eyes the most recent messages with more than a little trepidation, but sends a reply before he can think too hard about it.
where are you
you don’t have to talk to us if you don’t want to
just let us know you’re safe
i’m coming home
can we talk when i get back?
i’m really sorry for storming out but i’m ready now
Beomgyu doesn’t check his phone for the rest of the ride. He just stares out the window and marvels at how Seoul is a different animal in the nighttime lights, a little more beautiful but a little more lonely, too.
His steps are silent as he slows to a stop in front of his and Soobin’s front door. He wants to take a moment to psych himself up, but he also feels like he’s already used one too many moments to hesitate. He has no more half-truths to hide behind. He turns the doorknob.
Yeonjun is sitting on their couch, alone.
“Hyung,” Beomgyu breathes.
Yeonjun sits up very suddenly. “You’re back.” He looks a bit like he can’t believe it. His face is blotchy and red. “I—Soobinnie went out to look for you, he started to head back here after you texted.”
“He did?” The thought of Soobin running around in the cold night to find Beomgyu after Beomgyu basically lost his shit on him has Beomgyu blinking back tears. He hopes Soobin at least remembered to bring his coat. “He didn’t have to do that.”
“Try telling him that.” Yeonjun smiles, a little fond, a little exasperated. “I think he’d turn over every stone in the city just to make sure you’re okay.” He straightens in his seat as Beomgyu approaches the couch. “We thought one of us should hang back in case you came home, so I stayed here.”
Beomgyu sinks down into the couch cushions, sighing at taking weight off his feet after all the walking he’s done today. He’s left a bit of space between himself and Yeonjun, not really sure how to proceed. He can hear his heartbeat in his ears. “Well, here I am,” he says quietly.
“Yeah.” Yeonjun blinks at Beomgyu. “You look freezing. Your ears are all red. Want my sweatshirt?”
“I kind of got desensitized to the cold after a while,” he says sheepishly.
“Take my sweatshirt.”
Beomgyu takes his sweatshirt. It’s warm and oversized on his small frame, and it smells like Yeonjun. Beomgyu pulls the hems of the sleeves over his hands in an attempt to regain feeling in them.
The two of them sit there in awkward silence for about a minute before Beomgyu can’t stand it. “Should we… should we wait for Soobin-hyung to start talking?”
“I… I don’t know, it’s whatever you want,” Yeonjun says uncertainly. Yeonjun, uncertain. Beomgyu must be dreaming. “You said you wanted to talk. What were you planning to talk about?”
“I was going to… tell you both something,” Beomgyu says. “But it’s the kind of thing that really both of you should be there together for.”
“Okay.” Yeonjun, for once, doesn’t prod. Instead, he turns on the couch so he’s sitting sideways to face Beomgyu head-on. “Can I tell you something, then? Soobin doesn’t need to be here for it. He already knows.”
“Um.” Beomgyu hadn’t anticipated this. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands and settles for shoving them under his thighs. “I guess? Yeah, yeah, go ahead.”
Yeonjun takes a deep breath. He looks almost nervous, which is a first. “Did you know I was jealous of you?”
How could someone as effervescent and alluring as Choi Yeonjun ever be jealous of him?
“Seriously.” Yeonjun smiles at his lap like he’s looking back on a treasured memory. “When I first started dating Soobin, he told me once, I used to have a crush on my best friend. And then you got to campus for the first time in March, and I realized there was no used to about it.”
“I—” Beomgyu’s brain short-circuits. It can only spit back four words at him in rapid succession: Soobin. Crush. Yeonjun. Jealous. Soobin. Crush. Yeonjun— “Wait, what?”
“Like, here was this boy who’d known my boyfriend for most of his life, who was moving in with him, who was apparently hilarious and kind and pretty to boot. When I first met you in person I was so determined to prove to you that I was the best thing for Soobin, the only thing, but…” Yeonjun shakes his head. His eyes have taken on a glassy sheen, but it must just be the light. It must be. “God, Beomgyu, you were so beautiful. Still are. And we got along so well, and I kept waiting to hate you, to not want you around when I was with Soobin, but the moment never came. And I just went, oh. I get it now. I understand how someone could fall in love with him.”
Yeonjun fixes him with that intense, shining gaze of his and Beomgyu braces for impact, he can sense it, he can— “Because I did, too.”
Beomgyu's mouth shapes itself around silent words for a moment, but what words can encapsulate the pounding of his heart right now? He feels a little dizzy with it, the reality of Yeonjun’s words pressing in.
“So,” Yeonjun huffs, “I told Soobin as soon as I realized. Neither of us really knew what to do about it. And that night, the night you both came over to my place, we were just—we were drunk, yeah, but we were crushing so hard, Beomgyu. We took the chance that was in front of us.” He bites his lip, and that trace of nerves returns in his eyes. “I’m sorry, if you think we shouldn’t have. Really, I am. But… I’ve had this hunch that you liked it too. I guess ever since then, I’ve just been waiting for you to confirm it.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Beomgyu tries to ask. He has to clear his throat because it’s so dry. “If you knew that I—why did you wait for me, this whole last month?” Yeonjun has never been a coward. He’s not afraid to say anything, not like Beomgyu is. A type of brave he could never be.
“I leaned in first that night, but I can’t do that always,” Yeonjun says. “It was your turn. That’s how these things work, it’s give and take. I can’t take what you aren’t willing to give.”
Beomgyu still isn’t sure he deserves this confession, but all the same it’s in front of him: it’s all he could have ever wanted.
Or, well. Half of it, at least.
He says, “I’m willing to give now. I am, I’m ready. But…”
“But?” Yeonjun breathes.
“This feels wrong, without Soobin-hyung here.”
“Okay,” Yeonjun says. “Of course. Then we’ll wait for him together.”
By the time Soobin gets back ten minutes later, Beomgyu has changed into his pajamas (but kept Yeonjun’s sweater on) and Yeonjun has wrapped himself in the blanket on the couch. It’s nearing midnight. He’s got class tomorrow and has done none of his reading. But where he would normally get anxious about this, he’s surprisingly calm.
Soobin opens the door so wide it almost slams into the opposite wall. His hair is tousled by the wind and he’s panting, but the very first thing out of his mouth is, “Yah, Choi Beomgyu, don’t you ever give me a heart attack like that again.”
“I’m sorry,” Beomgyu says immediately, because he is. “I didn’t think you would actually go out looking for me. I was just really confused about a lot of things. But I’m not anymore.”
“Really?” Soobin joins them on the couch, in the space left between Beomgyu and Yeonjun.
“Well, okay, I’m still kind of confused about some things,” Beomgyu admits with a rueful laugh. “But I talked to Yeonjun-hyung a bit—” He looks over to Yeonjun, who gives him an encouraging smile. “—and I… there are some things I should tell you both. I know you asked me to listen, and I will. I will. But can I say my thing first?”
“Do whatever you need,” Soobin says, sincere as ever. “No matter what it is.”
Beomgyu lets the words of Yeonjun’s confession fuel his courage. He thinks of his mother again, of learning how to open up when someone knocks on your door. It’s half of life, and the good half, he thinks.
So, looking Soobin and then Yeonjun in the eye as he forces his hands to stop shaking, Beomgyu turns the key in the little lock on his heart and swings the door wide open. Come in, make yourselves at home. This is all for you.
“I kissed you,” he says. He doesn’t flinch at the truth anymore. “I kissed both of you and I liked it, I really, really liked it. And it could be because I just really like kissing, but I don’t think that’s why. I think I liked it because it was with you. Because kissing feels best when it’s with someone you love.”
Soobin’s lips part. Yeonjun reaches out for Beomgyu’s hand and squeezes, tight.
“But,” Beomgyu says, “I wasn’t sure that loving you was enough.”
Sometimes telling the truth is as simple as this: you just let it wash over you, like a wave. It will plug your ears and fill your mouth, your nose, the spaces between your fingers. Maybe you’ll drown with the force of it, but more likely you won’t. It’s human instinct, after all, to start swimming once you hit the water.
Beomgyu says, “Yeonjun-hyung, I don’t know if Soobin ever told you, but when we were younger our families would drive our cars up this hill in our town to watch the sunset some nights.”
“Okay,” Yeonjun says slowly.
“So like, you go, and you sit there, and the colors change and it’s beautiful and you feel wide and open and… and free, right? Like the whole sky was handcrafted just for you.”
“And then the sun finishes setting, and it just—ends. And it’s dark, and you can’t even really see the stars so it’s just kind of sad. So then you get in your car. And you drive home. And that’s it.” Beomgyu tilts his head back to rest it against the couch. “Kissing you both felt like that.”
There’s silence for a moment.
“But, Beomgyu… sunsets happen every day.”
Beomgyu opens his eyes. Yeonjun is shaking his head, and it wasn’t the light, his eyes really are a little wet. Beomgyu looks to Soobin, who watches at him with such gentleness, the softness Beomgyu’s always known him for.
“Hyung’s right,” Soobin says.
“Yes, you go one day, and it ends,” Yeonjun says. “But then you go again the next day. You keep choosing to go back, and to feel wide and open and free, like you said. Even if it’s only for a few minutes. You do it enough that you start measuring time by sunsets, by the beautiful moments. And you’ll see so many sunsets that you won’t even remember the darkness. When you close your eyes you’ll only see pink sky. Do you get it, Gyu-yah? Of course you won’t get the sunset back, not if you don’t drive back up the hill again.”
Beomgyu’s heart speeds up. “I… I don’t know what to say.”
Soobin adds, “You have to keep choosing to stay. That’s how you love. You stay.”
Beomgyu feels warm in the cheeks. He always was an easy crier. Yeonjun is too. He tries to blink the tears away. “I… I didn’t think you wanted me to. I thought it was just for one night, I thought I was just always your third-wheel. I thought I was a burden.”
“You are not a burden,” Soobin says, so fiercely it must hurt his throat. Hearing Soobin, who never raises his voice, speak with so much passion and desperation like this is shocking. “Even if I wasn’t in love with you, you would never be a burden.”
Beomgyu’s mouth dries up. “Even if—?”
“I tried to say it in so many silent ways, but that didn’t really work, did it?” Soobin’s fingers flutter for a moment before he makes a decision, leaning forward to brush Beomgyu’s bangs out of his eyes. “But let me say it now. You’re right, I was drunk that night. But you know what? I love you drunk, and I love you sober. I love you in early mornings and late afternoons. I love you even when you’re leaving me. I am telling you that I love you right now, do you hear me? Are you listening?”
“Yes,” Beomgyu gasps, and his last bit of restraint disintegrates. His cheeks are wet. “I hear you, I’m listening, yes. I love you. I love you.”
“I spent ten years waiting for you,” Soobin says gently, so gently. “I don’t want to wait any more.”
“I don’t either,” Yeonjun chimes in, and he’s looking between them both. They’re his boys. “Beomgyu-yah, we want to try with you. We want to be together, all three of us. Is that what you want?”
Beomgyu has forgotten how to inhale. He feels dizzy, lightheaded. “But… but you two,” Beomgyu points out, at a loss.
“Us two what?”
“You don’t need me. Not really.”
“What, you don’t believe me?”
“No, I just—you’re—” A word forms on the tip of his tongue. It tastes silly in his mouth now, but he has to say it, has to make sure. “You’re soulmates. You don’t need me.”
“Soulmates,” Soobin repeats. “It’s such a stupid thing, the universe picking people for you. I don’t think of it like you do, so I know what you heard, but it’s not—I select my soulmates. I chose Yeonjun-hyung. I’m choosing you. You can’t fight the universe, but you can’t fight me either.”
Beomgyu’s lips curl up into a smile. It is a weak, watery thing, but it’s real and it’s not going away. His heart is singing. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
"I don't think this is actually about soulmates, anyway,” Yeonjun interjects. He sniffles and wipes at the tear tracking down his cheek so harshly that it rubs his skin a little pink. “I think this is about you and how you don't see yourself as worthy of love. But you are, and if I have to remind you of it every damn day, don’t even dare me, you know I will. You are so, so easy to love. Okay?"
Water wells in his tear ducts. "Okay."
"Don't even know what the hell a soulmate is, anyway."
"God, this whole fight was so dumb. You're so dumb."
Beomgyu laughs. "Okay. I love you too, hyung."
Yeonjun’s attempt to dry his tears is for naught; he reaches around Soobin to pull Beomgyu into a hug, and sobs into his shoulder.
Beomgyu holds on. Yeonjun is taller than him, and broader, but he feels so small in Beomgyu’s arms. Like this, he is not the big man on campus who fields party invites left and right, who has hundreds of numbers in his phone. Right now he is knowable, in the shake of his shoulders, in the shudder of his breath. He is just another person who loves, who wants to be loved in return. At the end of the day, aren’t they all?
“You are both so dramatic,” Soobin says behind them, and he sounds like he’s laughing.
“Soobinnie,” Yeonjun whines. “Stop making fun of us.”
“Yeah,” Beomgyu adds, but he’s laughing a little, too.
Soobin grins. “Never.”
“This is really happening,” Beomgyu whispers. “This is real.”
“Of course it is,” Soobin assures him. He cards a hand through Beomgyu’s hair where he’s still leaning on Yeonjun’s shoulder. Yeonjun pulls back but not that far, and their faces are so close like this. Beomgyu can count each one of Yeonjun’s damp eyelashes.
Yeonjun comes closer. One hand on his knee, one on his neck. Another still in his hair. Beomgyu has been here before, but it wasn’t like this.
He can practically hear trumpets swelling in his chest, a euphoric chorus that sings to the tune of Soobin’s laugh as Yeonjun leans in.
“This pretty mouth,” Yeonjun sighs happily, with his own right up against it. “Missed it, missed you.”
“So pretty,” Soobin agrees from where he’s moved to lean against Yeonjun’s side. Beomgyu flicks his eyes over to Soobin for the briefest of seconds, has to look away because his dopey smile makes his heart flip over.
You get to have this, he tells himself, and for the first time it rings true. This is yours.
Yeonjun kisses him, sweet and slow, like the first time. Beomgyu feels the kind of overexertion where his heart isn’t just pounding, it’s rattling his ribcage with the force of it.
It serves as a reminder: he is blood and bones and feeling. He is love, love, love.
how to negotiate a polyamorous relationship
what is informed consent
Every day, Beomgyu chooses to drive up the hill.
And every day, the sunset is glorious.
It greets him in the curve of Soobin’s smile, in the warmth of Yeonjun’s hands against his face. They have to learn living in threes, slowly, patiently. But it’s good work, the most rewarding kind.
Soobin and Yeonjun still make a great pair, because they are a great pair. They’re soulmates. But Beomgyu is learning to relinquish the worries this gives him, to loosen that invisible hand at his throat (because all along, it was his own). The two of them loving each other doesn’t mean they love him any less.
Beomgyu gets insecure about not having been in the relationship as long as Yeonjun and Soobin have, but they remind him that they are all new to this relationship, together—it wasn’t that Beomgyu was added in later, as a third, but that the three of them took this step together.
Beomgyu learns he’s not the only one with insecurities: Soobin feels self-conscious because Yeonjun and Beomgyu have so many things in common, like peas in a pod, and Yeonjun feels left out sometimes because Soobin and Beomgyu have a decade’s worth of memories together that he can’t possibly catch up to. They talk through it, every worry and fear. They untangle each thread bit by bit.
Beomgyu loves learning his boyfriends (boyfriends!) like this. He is the most eager student. It is the simplest and most powerful delight to spend time with Yeonjun and Soobin, both together and apart. He loves to figure out the ways they are similar and different. The ways they love each other, the ways they love him.
The ways he loves them.
There are so many of those that he has lost count. Beomgyu has heard a lot of stories about love, but there are so many more he is still learning. So many more that he is still writing himself, every day when he reaches out with both hands and finds Yeonjun and Soobin reaching back. He thinks he’ll turn them all into songs, into a path out of the maze. Yoongi would like that.
Soobin tells him once that he had thought he and Yeonjun were pretty communicative when it was just the two of them, but this is a whole different ball game.
“Like, do you realize how much time we just spend talking?” he asks Beomgyu. “Just about the things we need. I always thought those kinds of conversations were only for when you’re having problems.”
“I think it’s good that we do it this way,” Beomgyu replies, linking his arm through Soobin’s. “I like knowing things about you, and about hyung. And it’s not so scary, when we spell it out in words.”
“Mm,” Soobin agrees. “Not scary at all.”
"But you guys aren't really gonna text me every time you take a shit, right?" Beomgyu checks. "Yeonjun-hyung was kidding about that, right? Because I love you and all, but no."
Soobin laughs so hard he doubles over.
“You seem really happy,” Taehyun tells him a few weeks later, as they’re studying for finals.
“I am,” Beomgyu promises. “God, I really am.”
“It was worth it, then?”
He doesn’t specify what it is, but Beomgyu knows.
“It’s so good,” Beomgyu tells him, earnest as anything. “I won’t lie, it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It’s new still, and I’m not sure where it’s going to go. But I’d do it again.”
Taehyun hums. “I’m happy for you, hyung.”
Beomgyu loops an arm around his shoulders and pulls him in for a half-hug. “You’ll get there one day. I know you will.”
He doesn’t specify where there is, but Taehyun knows.
Taehyun makes plans with Kai for that night, and Beomgyu thinks, yeah, they really will be okay.
Beomgyu wakes with the sun.
It’s too hot, squished in the middle of Yeonjun and Soobin like this, but he doesn’t want to move. It hadn’t really been anyone’s idea to sleep here. Beomgyu’s mother had set up the guest room in their house, but they’d stayed up late watching movies in Beomgyu’s room and ended up falling asleep in his bed that’s not big enough for three. He shoves the blanket down to his waist and rolls up the sleeves of his sleep shirt, hoping it can bring some cool air in.
Yeonjun and Soobin are both still asleep. Beomgyu drinks in the sight of their sleeping faces. Soobin sleeps with his mouth open, and Beomgyu smiles at how he’s snoring, just a little, though he’ll surely deny it if Beomgyu accuses him of it later. Beomgyu thumbs at the soft skin beneath his eyes, but lets him be.
If there’s anything Beomgyu’s learned this semester, it’s that living and loving are both so difficult, so terrifying. But they’re a package deal. Doing the latter makes the former something new entirely, a miracle instead of a hardship.
So love. Do it loudly, do it both outwardly and inwardly. Let it fill the spaces and the silences, the yawning chasms between yourself and the things you do not know. Not everyone will love you back. But some will. The best ones will.
“Good morning,” Yeonjun mumbles from behind him, and Beomgyu rolls over to face him.
Yeonjun has a pillow crease in his cheek and unkempt, messy hair. He is a god made human. As Yeonjun stretches a little, Beomgyu hears his mother moving around downstairs, no doubt starting to cook breakfast.
Winter break stretches out before them. So many days of lazing around, and falling in love. So many open doors.
Beomgyu smiles. “Good morning, hyungs.”
This time, and every time after, Beomgyu stays.