It’s during one of his first classes of Introduction to Social Studies that Donghyuck discovers how lucky he’s been his entire life.
He’s absentmindedly looking outside one of the classroom’s windows. They’re still discussing superficial topics about university and growing up, the same words all their teachers have said before.
It goes on until a girl asks how she would find time for dating with a hectic schedule, earning a few giggles and a smile from Mrs. Kang.
And then she, who they’ll discover is a hopeless romantic, ditches whatever her plans for that class were and starts a discussion around love.
‘Love’ as one of the central pillars in people’s lives. ‘Love’ as a purpose, a passion or even a spiritual experience.
All their classmates share different stories and opinions, sad and happy ones. A boy says “Love is love, that’s it, let’s not complicate our lives and just kiss each other” making everyone laugh. And a girl claims he doesn’t believe in love because it’s a capitalist strategy to alienate the youth.
Perhaps she’s right.
When it’s Donghyuck’s turn to talk, he manifests love as confusion, as a complex experience he hasn’t cared enough to evaluate it, but he has felt it.
Donghyuck has been loved his whole life. He has loving parents, even if their beliefs and personalities clash often since he became a teenager with his own character. He has three younger siblings who show their love in the most cute and chaotic ways, like customizing his phone with red nail polish while he’s asleep. He has amazing friends like Jungwoo and Mark, who have always cared about him.
And he has Jeno.
For someone who talks a lot, it’s amusing how he can’t put into words what he feels about his boyfriend. At the beginning, Donghyuck used to think ‘love’ was a word too big to describe a teenage crush. He didn’t want to be like the main character of the cheesy movies he secretly enjoys. And sometimes it looks too narrow to describe all the feelings blooming in his chest when they’re together, when their lips meet and the entire universe disappears. But if it’s not love, then what could it be?
How you call it when everything flows between two minds? What if each hug and kiss feels like finding a harbor when you didn’t know you were sailing? How you can rationally explain the yearn and desire?
At first Donghyuck didn’t like it. It was terrifying.
He’s never had a problem with showing happiness or disgust, and he proudly claims owning a wide range of emotions. Donghyuck smiles with his whole face, his lighthearted laugh always flooding the air. He is not afraid of crying in front of his friends when he needs to get something out of his chest. It’s not even about love or affection itself; he proclaims to the world how much he loves his family and threatens his friends with kisses every other day, but romantic love…
He had something against it, with exposing that hidden part of himself. And it used to keep him awake at night and without hunger during the day (he didn’t want to feed the butterflies).
But when Donghyuck surpassed that barrier, when he took Jeno’s hand in Mark’s backyard and refused to let him go until they unpacked all the tension surrounding them, he discovered love wasn’t something to fear.
Love is something to embrace, to admit and express.
That’s why when he attempts to take notes under the title ‘Love?’ writing Jeno’s name comes to his mind, although he’s not sure if that could be an explanation.
It’s lamentable that college can’t be just to discuss about love and make friends.
After all the welcoming parties and spontaneous hangouts, midterms happen and finals are just around the corner. With the amount of deadlines and things to do, not even people who share the same major can spend a lot of time together.
Yukhei, Yerim and Donghyuck are leaving the cafeteria one afternoon, each with an iced coffee in one hand and a recently printed essay in the other. They stopped to buy their magic drink before handling it to their teacher, saying it will give them the emotional boost to overcome the terrifying glare of the earnest man they’ve ever met.
Their languid steps come to a halt when a group of students walk pass them, two of them portraying a recognizable face; Renjun and Jeno.
“Won’t you greet him?” Yerim inquires, rising one of her perfectly delineated brows.
Donghyuck shrugs. “Jeno has classes soon, he’d be late if I bother him”.
“But you’re good, right?” Yukhei questions, eyes bigger than ever out of curiosity. “If you guys break up, I think I’ll stop believing in love and join Shuhua in her capitalism discourse.”
Donghyuck can’t contain his laugh. He knows by heart none of that will happen.
It’s not surprising to find Donghyuck in Jeno’s room.
Sitting on the bed, back resting on the wall and shoulders almost touching each other; that’s how they spend most of their evenings during finals.
They’d love to go outside, take the train to a random place Donghyuck discovered on the internet or just walk around holding hands, but they can’t. At least not now.
Unread textbooks and untouched worksheets are scattered all over the place, two different majors mixing sloppily over the quilt. The nightstand has a cookie jar and two matching mugs on it, one filled with coffee while the other used to have green tea.
Jeno’s colorful highlighters and post-its grace the scene, painting the chaos in pastel colors.
Donghyuck only has a black pen on his side because, as he likes to joke, he’s smarter than everyone so he doesn’t need colors to understand the material.
What they have in common is they both don’t like libraries. They’re too crowded, distracting…
And they can’t have their cuddle break there.
Jeno whines after finishing a particularly dense page of a physics paper, only to find bigger paragraphs on the other side. Does this prestigious academic not know how to use punctuation marks?
He forces himself to read three ridiculous long sentences before giving up and collapse on Donghyuck’s lap, placing his head on top of the notebook the other is using to make a conceptual map.
“Lee Jeno! You’re crumpling it!” Donghyuck scolds, jiggling his legs to annoy him somehow.
Jeno lifts his head the bare minimum and pulls out the notebook, throwing it away and snuggling closer to him now there’s nothing in his way.
“I’m bored,” Jeno complaints, looking up with intentional puppy eyes.
“Go entertain yourself then,” Donghyuck spits, trying to sound angry even if he can’t suppress the smile that crawls on his face every time Jeno turns on his baby mode.
“Entertain me,” the boy mumbles with a pout, as if he isn't 20 years old and the oldest of the relationship.
In any other context that words would lead to a completely different reaction. Donghyuck would tease Jeno until the tips of his ears turn red and his stomach would hurt for laughing too much. However, now he sees the bags under his boyfriend’s sleepy eyes and knows about the full-packed week he has ahead, he understands what Jeno needs. It’s the same whenever he’s tired.
Donghyuck gently takes off Jeno’s glasses and puts them on himself, blinking a few times when his vision gets blurry.
“Your head will hurt,” Jeno warns and stops the baby act to glare at him.
“I look cute,” Donghyuck replies but sets the specs aside anyway, making the mental note to clean them before going back to study.
Without the glasses, Donghyuck can drag his fingertips lightly on Jeno’s face. He starts from the chin and moves them across the jawline to his right cheek. He leaves a playful tip on his nose and a caress on its bridge, going up until he removes the brown locks that cover his boy’s forehead. That’s when Donghyuck bends down and gifts a feather kiss on the newly exposed skin, followed by a peck on his favorite mole.
Jeno closes his eyes, relaxing to the touch and warmth expelling from his most beloved person in the world.
It’s exactly what he craved for: Donghyuck is like a magician who always takes his worries away to replace them with love and affection. With every fondle a deadline disappears from his mind, and when he leaves a kiss on his temple Jeno forgets what college is.
Donghyuck’s chest is getting warmer and warmer every second, his heart threatening to explode in fondness. Jeno looks so peaceful and endearing, a contrast with the frown he wears when he’s reading. Donghyuck could write poems about every single feature on his boyfriend’s face, from his cute long lashes to his hot defined jawline. He would do it even if teachers always tell him he sucks at writing, the outcome of everything regarding Jeno will be beautiful.
And without thinking, his other hand tiptoes its way to his Jeno’s lips, outlining them to remember their shape, as if he didn’t have it engraved on his body, mind and heart.
It’s inevitably to go down again and plant a chaste kiss on them.
They stay like that. Donghyuck stroking Jeno’s hair and the latter playing with his boyfriend’s free hand, too immerse in each other to care about studying now.
But when the quietness of the moment makes Donghyuck’s eyes fall too, he realizes this can’t last. “Get up. We’re busy.”
“What if I sleep until exams are over?” Jeno asks without moving a single part of his body.
“And miss all the kisses I plan on give you these days?”
It’s surprising to find Lee Donghyuck in his current state.
The boy who is always beaming and lighting up the world with his high energy and jokes, who shines wherever he goes, has now a veil of restlessness dampening his glow. And even if Jeno understands the reason (an oral exam with the most awful professor of the universe) he still doesn’t know how to act and help.
“What if I fail?” Donghyuck asks, fidgeting and moving his leg constantly, making the table quiver.
Jeno looks at the boy in front of him in concern, then at a sulking girl behind him. The campus cafeteria is full of nervous students drowning their nervousness in coffee and sweets.
Donghyuck is not the exception. He finishes the last piece of the chocolate Jeno gifted him and gets up in a second. “I need another one.”
Jeno is fast to grab his hand and prevent him from going further. “Your stomach will hurt.”
“It’s already doing it,” Donghyuck argues but goes back to his seat.
Jeno checks the hour in his phone, there’s still half an hour until Donghyuck’s turn. And he’s running out of ideas to improve his mood.
“Can’t you go instead of me? I’m sure it won’t make a difference; I remember nothing I read last night,” Donghyuck mumbles.
And when Jeno turns to look at him he finds the boy with his head against the wood.
He immediately moves his hand towards Donghyuck’s dark strands, hoping to calm him down with that.
When a sigh reaches Jeno’s ears, he sets off for the next step: distraction.
“Oh, but won’t your teacher wonder why you became even more handsome during the weekend?” Jeno jokes, leaning over the table to look if he’s made Donghyuck’s smile or not.
The slight rise in the corners of his boyfriend’s mouth is more than what Jeno needs.
It’s hard to perceive Donghyuck this vulnerable. He has always been confident about his skills. Alongside his astounding beauty and witty personality, he’s incredibly smart. He doesn’t need to study that much to understand complex theories and get decent grades. He went through university effortlessly until that hell of a class.
In all the time they’ve spent together, Jeno has never seen him this stressed and filled with negative thoughts about his abilities. And it’s only that teacher’s fault. Jeno has listened every time Donghyuck has complained about the old man sparing minutes of class to tell them how ignorant and mediocre they are, how they are uncultured and will never pass his oral exam.
Donghyuck sits straight again, being him the one who checks the hour this time.
Twenty minutes left.
While in public, Jeno’s form of affection is more on the subtle side, discreet as a palm over his tight and their pinkies interlocking as they walk. Hence Donghyuck’s breath halts when Jeno moves forward and reaches out for his face, cradling it between both hands and caressing his cheeks with his thumbs.
“Hyuck, listen. You’ve studied hard for this, you’ll do great.” Jeno stops his little motivational speech when the younger nods, their eyes meet and he’s mesmerized for a second, because even in those moments Donghyuck is magical to him. “Trust in you as much as I do.”
“Alright, I’ll stop being dramatic. Let’s go,” he announces, building up the wall he puts whenever the situation calls for a serious persona.
But even if the mask is on, when Donghyuck gives the first step he squeezes Jeno’s hand so much it hurts.
Jeno’s willing to bear that tiny amount of pain if it can make his beloved person feel better.
They reach the classroom in perfect time, Donghyuck’s name being pronounced by the assistant a few minutes later. Jeno fixes the collar of his boyfriend’s light blue shirt and pats him on the shoulder before he disappears through the wooden door.
And now Jeno is the nervous one.
He is leaning against a window when Donghyuck surpasses the door twenty minutes later, no traits of emotion showing in his face. Jeno furrows his brows, mumbling an inaudible “u ok?” that doesn’t receive an answer.
It doesn’t because the moment Donghyuck is in front of him, he wraps his arms around his waist and hides his face on Jeno’s body, exhaling so much it shakes them both.
Jeno returns the hug tightly, running a hand over the younger’s back.
“I passed,” Donghyuck whispers and a giggle escapes in his voice.
Jeno looks down at him, wanting to check his face. He finds a pair of glossy eyes, but the smile growing under them makes it up for everything words can't express.
“I knew you’d do it,” Jeno says before gifting a chaste kiss on Donghyuck’s forehead, the same he does whenever there are so much feelings blooming in his insides and threatening to overflow if he stays still. “I’m proud of you.”
Donghyuck mumbles something Jeno can’t catch but goes on the line of an ‘I love you’ and closes his eyes for the first time in hours, allowing himself to dive in Jeno’s embrace and scent; it turned out okay, now he can rest.
They break apart when someone taps Donghyuck’s back.
It’s Yerim, looking genuinely concerned by the lack of expression she saw on her friend earlier. “Did you pass? I can talk to the teacher and ask if…” the girl stops when he reads the boys faces better. “You scared me! I thought you were crying!”
They both laugh, and that’s the moment the switch changes in Donghyuck’s head. The boy who’s animatedly talking shit about their teacher looks nothing alike as the one who was about to cry two minutes ago. And Jeno is glad to see the change, because even if he loves every side of him, a happy Donghyuck is the best one.
When Yerim waves them goodbye, Jeno takes his boyfriend’s hand and drags him outside the Social Sciences building.
“So… would you like fried chicken? Samgyupsal? Rapokki? We could even drink a little.”
“Jeno, it’s 11 AM.”
“And that didn’t stop you when you wanted to drink last week and dragged me after my Dynamics’ exam.”
Donghyuck laughs, blessing Jeno’s ears with every cadence of his voice. “I’m a new person.”
Jeno chuckles. “Yeah, you’re someone who passed Social Theory.”
“And I’m also someone who’s tired and just wants to cuddle with his boyfriend, can my wish be granted? I can’t even think about going somewhere.”
“Let’s go to my place then,” Jeno decides, and walks in front of Donghyuck to bend his knees in a silent offer for a piggyback ride.
Donghyuck is not a person to refuse that proposal, thus he jumps onto Jeno’s back with his last ounce of energy.
And if he pretends to fall asleep so Jeno carries him for longer than two minutes, that’s something no one needs to know.
It’s already autumn and, for Donghyuck’s disgrace, that means going back to study. He previously enjoyed summer basking in the sun with his friends and Chuseok eating with his family, but now is time to get serious again and focus on his studies.
The thing is, he doesn’t want to.
There’s nothing wrong, he just doesn’t feel like putting tons of effort like before. It might be because his brain is still living in the holidays, making him wake up late for classes and not able to concentrate on the ones he attends. Or because he wasn’t that lucky into picking courses and ended up with the lamest professors.
Whatever the reason, Donghyuck is aware he can’t continue like that.
Therefore, he’s currently on Jeno’s bed, the most comfortable place after his owner’s chest. A laptop lies on top of his legs, showing an almost empty Word page.
Donghyuck lets out a yawn and stretches his arms, closing his tired eyes for a minute. He turns his head to the side, seeing Jeno’s back working on something about Thermodynamics.
He remains quiet for a moment, appreciating the way some idle sunrays left shine over Jeno’s hair, trying to find a rhythm in how he types. It’s pleasant, and he’s so comfy he could even fall asleep in that precise moment.
But he can’t.
“You’re slouching,” Donghyuck remarks minutes later, eyes still fixated on the hard-working figure.
If he can’t study nor sleep, the only thing left is to annoy his partner (it's not that he's worried about Jeno overburdening himself).
The rattle comes to a halt as Jeno straightens up his posture and turns around in the swivel chair to face his boyfriend. “You’re procrastinating.”
“Yeah, thanks for spotting the obvious,” Donghyuck replies and stands up, walking the scant distance to be right in front of him.
Jeno raises a brow, expecting him to do something. And he does.
With an agility you can only gain by repeating an action many times, Donghyuck sits astride on Jeno’s lap. It jogs the chair back, causing it to hit the desk and them to chuckle. Jeno doesn’t say a word, and Donghyuck is thankful for that. Jeno always understands. He is also fast to engulf him in a hug, holding him by the waist, and Donghyuck hides his face in the crook of Jeno’s neck.
He stays there for a while, inhaling the mild remains of Jeno’s fading perfume. It’s almost imperceptible for anyone but him, who spent two hours looking for it the first time he bought it as a birthday gift. He can also sense his smooth breathing, the way his chest goes a tad up and down against his own.
Jeno decides it’s time to caress his back, gentle hands fondling his spine. Donghyuck sighs, closing his eyes and letting the exhaled air brush against his boyfriend’s neck. Then he moves forward, nuzzling the same area with his parted lips, defining a path as he ascends to Jeno’s jaw. He breaks the contact to push himself backwards, just the necessary to stare at someone’s face.
They smile when their eyes meet, and the flowers who bloom in their insides whenever it happens do their so-called action again. They spread warmth all over their cores, wrapping their racing hearts with its branches.
“Can I kiss you?” Jeno asks, right hand ascending until it’s tickling at Donghyuck’s nape.
“Wouldn’t that be… procrastinating?” Donghyuck jokes, although he is already leaning for a kiss.
It doesn’t happen right away. Donghyuck waits for it with his mouth partly open, letting their breaths intertwine. Jeno moves to the side, breaking the contact of their noses, and then stroking his lips against his boyfriend’s, making them tingle.
Donghyuck closes his eyes as he tugs on Jeno’s hair, drawing him closer. There are slight traces of the coffee they drank earlier and titters leaving their mouths when they part only to meet again.
Jeno’s head turns lighter every second, diving in the wave of kissing Donghyuck, in how easy is for his body to react and give up, to be pleased and still ask for more. He’s the reason of the whimper leaving the younger when he sucks his bottom-lip and the squirm once his always cold fingertips touch inside his shirt, wandering in the forever warm torso.
Orange is dancing beside Donghyuck’s eyelids; it could be because of the sunset or the smoldering fire taking over himself. He desires to set back and drag Jeno to the bed, to kiss him more comfortably and spend more time between his arms. But he stops, minds still giddy when he pushes himself apart.
“You are busy,” he sentences, trying hard to put a stern look on his face.
Jeno nods, beaming to the point his eyes threaten with disappearing. “I have a paper due tonight”.
Donghyuck is fast to set back and put his feet on the ground with the same lithe he straddled Jeno before.
A hand around his wrist prevents him to give another step back.
“But I was already proofreading it,” Jeno pronounces as he stands up, wasting no time in removing his glasses and pulling Donghyuck against his body again.
Then he makes them fall into bed with a giggle. There’s a mumble, a warning and a laptop quickly moved to the night table. Their lips touch again, a second time, a third time, so they finally relax and fall into loving each other the way only they know.
Because how they love depends on the context. It can be slow, like best friends falling more for each other every day. It can be chaotic, as all the times they sneak around the city to spend time together. It can be slick, like Jeno’s hands wandering around Donghyuck’s waist. Or in a rush, with mouths all over the place and moans absorbed by the vastness of their rooms.
It’s expressed in all the late-night calls, all the hand squeezes underneath tables and genuine smiles when the other succeeds at a class. It’s written in their faces, in their eyes that light up when they spot each other in a crowd and their lips curving after a kiss. It’s painted all over Donghyuck’s skin, in every spot Jeno has stroked and kissed before. It’s engraved in Jeno’s heart that still skips a beat whenever Donghyuck gets too close.
Their love is something so private, yet powerful and pure.
And maybe it’s time for Donghyuck to put it into words.
That’s why when they make out season ends and Donghyuck is facing his laptop again, Jeno soundly sleeping next to him, he opens a new Word document and types: ‘Love?’
Because he’s now sure of the answer.