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hold me in your arms; keep me safe from harm

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“Thank you, President Lee. It’s been a pleasure.” The suit, name unimportant, bows deeply before hurrying out of the room, ushered out by security from one corner of the room.

The moment the door closes and the guy is gone, Donghyuck yawns exaggeratedly. He’s so bored. His father shoots him a look without turning his head, withering, yet carefully schooled so that anyone not attuned to him wouldn’t assume anything of it.

Donghyuck keeps eye contact with his father and yawns again. This time he does it without covering his mouth.

“Donghyuck—” his father says, curtly. “Please try to maintain some decorum. The day is far from over.”

Which is the exact reason why he’s so bored, Donghyuck wants to whine back. He keeps his mouth shut, though, not energized enough to make a scene in front of his father’s colleagues today. Maybe another day.

Today, the conference room only has 10 other people in it aside from Donghyuck and his father. It’s a Monday, which means that the majority of the day is dedicated to meetings with people Donghyuck would never remember outside of the conference room. It also means that the week is just beginning and that every day will be more boring than the next. They’ve all been sitting at the large circular meeting table for hours now, coffee gone cold and stomachs beginning to grumble. Glancing at everyone else, Donghyuck can tell that he’s not the only one bored out of their mind, but he’s the only one who’ll express it out loud.

It’s not like Donghyuck expects any different. Being the son of the president takes the life out of a lot of things.

The presidency itself is a new thing. Growing up with his father mixed in the middle of politics is something Donghyuck can remember for as long as he's been alive. It's just how life has always been. Whether he likes it or not is another story.

As the son of the president, he has no real reason to tag along to these meetings, but his father insists that he does because it’s character-building. Donghyuck has yet to discover what exactly builds character in these meetings that have nothing to do with him or any of his interests.

He manages to stay awake for the next few meetings, flurries of people wading in and out of the conference room. Everyone who greets his father and colleagues has the same smile plastered on, clearly straining to keep up a good face for the entirety of their meet but not weak enough to let it fall completely.

Donghyuck can't relate. He knows his distaste is showing on his face. The occasional side-eye he's been getting from his father has graduated to others shooting him concerned looks. There's nothing to worry about, he'd love to tell them, it's just that flipping the table over seems more appealing with every passing minute.

When the last meeting is finally over and the small cluster of people leave the conference room for good, Donghyuck tilts his chair back as far as it can go without tipping over and lets out a shrill cheer. He has half a mind to roll his chair across the room and then hop out of his seat and dance, but he figures that he's tried his father's nerves enough for one day.

"Donghyuck," his father starts off, face blank. "We do still need to discuss something."

"Sure we do," Donghyuck mutters, letting his chair legs fall back down to the ground.

His father ignores the comment, or maybe he didn't hear it at all.

"I've been worried."

About me? Donghyuck is tempted to ask, the words sitting on the tip of his tongue, tasting bitter. He swallows the retort, not looking for disappointment. With the extensive list of things to worry about as president, he doubts he’s at the top of his father’s list.

His father blinks, keeps his gaze level with Donghyuck's. "It's rather important to me that your safety is prioritized."

Donghyuck wants to laugh. This is really out of nowhere. But apparently that's as close as his he’ll get to saying that he cares about him.

"I see," Donghyuck lets his eyebrows raise, signaling to his father that he's the one who'll have to keep the conversation going.

"My public relations department has notified me that your behavior has been—" His father sighs, letting a rare stressed hand swipe across his brows. "Well, they've made me privy to some of your recent antics. Things that could be considered risky behavior."

It's rich, Donghyuck thinks, that his father finds it convenient to corner him after an absurdly long day where they barely even spoke to give him a beautifully detached scolding on "risky behavior."

"I see."

"So," his father starts up again, "I've talked it over with my security team and your mother, and we think it's best that you have someone from my team assigned to you."

"A babysitter?" Donghyuck balks, eyes nearly bugging out of his head. "You can't be serious. I'm 21."

His father's face doesn't change, and he continues on as if Donghyuck didn't say a word. "The security member assigned to you will be responsible for and ensure your safety." Air rushes from his father's nose, a little exasperation finally showing. "I know you may not realize this, but someone in your position isn't as safe as a member of the general public would be."

"Oh, so is this to protect me from assassination, or so you can track my every move?"

"These," his father says, pulling out some papers from a folder he's apparently had next to him for the entire slew of meetings and sliding them to Donghyuck, "are photos of you. All taken by strangers. Some taken by paid photographers, and some taken by those looking to post about you on social media."

Donghyuck doesn't have anything to say to that. He slides the pictures closer to himself to get a better look. Most of them are blurry and obviously taken from a distance, but a select few are extremely clear, showing all the details on his face, either taken up close or with an expensive camera. He remembers exactly where he was in all of them.

He knows that people see him and immediately recognize him. Most are kind enough to attempt to be discreet when they stare. Others are bold enough to get up close, armed with phones already recording, asking a barrage of questions that he knows better than to answer to. Donghyuck knew it would be like this when his father was elected. It's not like he's out all the time, contrary to his father's belief, it's just that when he is out, people always notice him. Usually, he brushes them off, ignoring them and expecting gossip tabloids and blogs to have headlines printed about the President's rude kid the next day. Sometimes he’ll go out with a mask and a hat, a jacket zipped up all the way to the top, and still be recognized.

His sister dealt with it too, one too many stalkers getting close, but once her international study application was approved, she booked it and never looked back. Maybe she was onto something there. His other siblings have it easy too, opting to stay with their grandparents in order to finish their education.

"So," his father says, getting his attention again. "I'm sure you can understand where our concern is coming from."

"Yes," Donghyuck replies, subdued. "I just don't think it warrants you placing me under a sitter." He huffs out a breath. "These weirdos are mostly harmless. I'm at school most of the time anyway."

"Yes, I hear you." His father blinks, unaffected. "However, this is beyond your wants. This has been a topic of discussion among your mother and me for a while now."

Well as long as he's been heard, Donghyuck wants to snark back.

"I see."

"My security team is extensive and reliable. I've been speaking to them personally to see who would be the best fit for you." His father looks proud of himself.

Donghyuck closes his eyes so not as to roll them. "Sounds like you've dedicated a lot of time toward this." And not said a word about it until now.

"There are a few things we need to move around and make final, but later this week we'll meet again with your assigned personal security detail," his father continues, unfaltering. "My team will regret losing someone, but it's for the best."

Donghyuck hates how business-like every encounter is with his father. Not a single smile or humor in any of it, ever. He could nod along like a bobblehead and it wouldn't make a difference to his father. President Lee has many things to attend to, with Donghyuck rarely meeting the criteria to be attended to.

He tunes out the rest of what's being said to him, humming in response and nodding when it feels appropriate. His father finally gets up when someone opens the door requesting his presence. He gives Donghyuck a cursory farewell acknowledgment and then he's gone.

Donghyuck rests his head on the table right on top of the creepshots of him that still scatter across the hardwood. Everything is fine. Business as usual.

As he does with most of the meetings he has with his father, Donghyuck puts it to the back of his mind and subsequently forgets about his future bodyguard.

So when his father requests his presence the next Monday when he asks him to stay back again after the meetings, it catches him by surprise.

During the meetings there's hardly a lot of security in the room, everyone approved to meet with his father already extensively vetted and scanned far before they can even make it face to face with President Lee. Usually, it's just the head of security, Jung Yunho, who accompanies his dad everywhere. Donghyuck only knows Yunho by name because he’s literally always around, like an extension of his father. He’s nice enough, but there’s never any reason for Donghyuck to speak to him so he can’t say much else. The thought of someone glued to him the way Yunho is to his father makes his stomach turn.

His father clasps his hands together, looking what could be described as excited, maybe. "I'd like to finally formally introduce your personal security detail. Yunho, please bring him in.” He sweeps an arm around towards the door like he's a magician about to bring out his final act at the circus. Donghyuck fears a clown will walk in.

Donghyuck has been dreading this all week.

Maybe it'd be much less worse if he wasn't 21 and finally feeling like he could live his life the way other people his age do. He knows that realistically, he can’t do that, but now it’s like his father is actively trying to stop him from doing so. His father's political affiliations and constant presence in the public eye always made him the target of snide comments in middle school and it took years of fine-tuned humor and a carefully curated shield of self-deprecation to gain the acceptance of his classmates. Going to university gave him newfound freedom to be himself without his father's titles looming over him. Until his father decided to run for President.

Yunho moves swiftly out of the room and leaves Donghyuck alone with his father for an awkward minute. Neither of them says anything to the other. Donghyuck attempts to send telepathic signals of extremely negative energy to his father. Nothing happens, except-

The door opens back up and in comes Yunho along with Donghyuck’s new nanny.

And he’s—

Lee Jeno?

Donghyuck knows him, vaguely. Earlier in the year, Jeno was named the youngest ever Vice Head of the Presidential Security Service. It was apparently a huge deal and was celebrated with all the appropriate bells and whistles. Donghyuck was there for the ceremony and everything, stood behind his father in a well-tailored suit while he tuned out every single minute of it. Good for Jeno, though.

Now, Donghyuck looks at him, assesses what he's got to work with for the foreseeable future. Jeno's not as tall as Yunho but he looks every bit as commanding as him. Posture rigid and gaze laser-focused. Intimidating; a silent dare to try it and see what happens. Very professional. His dark hair isn't very long but it's long enough to be parted to frame his face. His suit is simple but it fits him well. The sharp line of his jaw is tense but his eyes are softer, making it impossible to tell what he’s thinking. Maybe he's nervous.

Suddenly Donghyuck feels a little bit of anxiety creep its way into his chest. This is really going to be his life.

Yunho and Jeno stop next to Donghyuck's father to face him and Jeno immediately bows, exceedingly polite as he bends nearly in half in front of Donghyuck.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Donghyuck-ssi. My name is Lee Jeno. I will execute all of my duties successfully and with honor."

Donghyuck blanches. Jesus, relax, dude. "First of all, there’s no need to be so formal. We’re the same age." His father cuts him a sharp look at that. "Secondly, I'm Donghyuck, but you knew that. And, uh, nice to meet you too, I guess." He trails off, looking at both his father and Yunho for a little direction on how this is supposed to go.

At that, Jeno smiles and he's— kind of radiant. It's a brief moment but it shows in his whole face, eyes crinkling and cheeks rounded. A genuine smile. Donghyuck doesn't think he's ever seen him like this.

The look fades away quickly, his mask of professionalism kicking into gear before Donghyuck can even process what just happened.

“Yes,” His father starts up again. “Now that you two have met, I’ll be off. Jeno-ssi knows what to do and he’ll answer any questions you have.”

His father nods at Jeno, nods at Donghyuck, and then he’s on his way out the door with Yunho trailing close behind. Once again impressively impersonal yet unsurprising. Donghyuck doesn’t want to look any closer at the way he feels about it when he’s got Jeno standing in front of him looking like an eager puppy in training.

"So," Donghyuck starts, "now what?"

He could maybe get a running start and ditch him if he could get Jeno to look away for a quick second. He wonders if his father gave explicit rules like, don't let Donghyuck out of your sight, tackle him to the ground if he tries to escape, plant a tracker on him when he's not looking.

Donghyuck isn't sure he wants to test Jeno's reflexes. He's, like, programmed to stop chaos. Donghyuck can bring the chaos but most people aren’t equipped to handle it. Jeno probably can.

Jeno’s brows furrow and there’s another flash of normalcy in his face like he’s a regular person and not a very handsome and skilled weapon of mass...protection who gets paid a lot of money to protect very important people. “Did President Lee not inform you already?”

Donghyuck scoffs. “Uh, definitely not. That’s not unusual, though.” He gives Jeno another once over, moving closer to him. “So what are the rules here?”

“Rules?”

“Yes, rules. Like, am I ordered under a curfew? Are you in charge of my every move? How’s it gonna work.”

Jeno looks confused. “I’m just here to protect you.” He seems so earnest that it almost makes Donghyuck feel something other than contempt. “No matter the circumstances, I’m here to keep you safe.”

Donghyuck gets it, okay. It’s what his father has been emphasizing for the past week every time they’ve seen each other in passing. People are crazy, Donghyuck needs to be saved like a damsel in distress, whatever.

“So,” Donghyuck muses, holding a hand to his face in a mockery of deep thought, “when it comes down to it, would you protect me or my father?”

Jeno lets out a disbelieving laugh. “What?”

“Me or him. You pick.”

“It’s really not a competition.” Jeno fidgets, still standing in the same spot, clasped hands with antsy fingers moving aimlessly the more Donghyuck stares him down. “I work for the country. I work for your father, and by extension you. I do my duty, and I do it well. Always.”

Donghyuck hums. It’s a non-answer, but he didn’t expect any differently. If, and when, it comes down to it, Jeno’s loyalty won’t fall to him first. He’s not even sure why he’s asking such an absurd question. He doesn’t want Jeno to be doing this at all.

It’s the idea of taking something his father foisted on him, without choice or chance for debate, and making it his own. He gets that Jeno isn’t a possession even though he belongs to the country. That does nothing to stop the strange surge of possessiveness consuming him that makes him want to turn Jeno against his father so that he’s on his side instead. Donghyuck hasn't been able to control any of the things his father has burdened him with. He listens, he obeys, and he repeats that process. He deals with it.

"Okay," Donghyuck sighs. "Okay."

He’ll deal with it.

---

Living with Jeno in his back pocket turns out to be a problem, as predicted by Donghyuck himself.

After he stared him down in the meeting room for another 10 minutes, Donghyuck had gotten bored of his amateur interrogation and asked what they were supposed to do next. Jeno told Donghyuck that he could do whatever he wanted, as long as he understood that Jeno would be accompanying him for all of it.

"So, what does ‘all of it’ really mean? Like, you're going to send me to bed and everything? Tuck me and my plushies in under the covers? Sing a lil lullaby?" He knew that wasn't what Jeno meant but, still. Contrary to the belief of his parents and apparently his father's entire security team—and perhaps the entire nation, Donghyuck's life wasn't that interesting. He went to university, hung out with his few friends when they all weren't studying, and got stalked by strangers. The list of places that Jeno could tag along with him wasn't a very long one.

The look on Jeno's face when he asked him was almost comical, like the prospect of capping off his nights by tucking Donghyuck into bed was quite possibly the worst thing he'd ever heard of.

"I'm joking! Lighten up, Jeno." Donghyuck had chuckled, amused by how the tips of Jeno's ears turned pink when he realized Donghyuck was teasing. “You don’t have to sing. Maybe just read me a story or two.”

To Donghyuck’s delight, the pinks of his ears turned to red, color spreading to his face. Interesting.

Maybe one day he could get him to joke back.

Even though they had that one moment, it does nothing to quell the feeling of being on display in a glass box with a little traveling spotlight over his head with Jeno tagging along with him all the time.

The Blue House is huge, large enough for him to get through most of the week only seeing his parents for meals and mandatory meetings, especially when he takes the extra time to avoid seeing them when it’s not necessary. They’re very busy. It's large enough for Donghyuck to have a room on the total opposite side of the residence from where his parents are. So when he finds out that Jeno's new room is right next to his— it's a little more than irritating.

He's mad enough to text his mom about it. Is this necessary? he texts, furiously, making a spelling mistake in the short message. He hasn’t seen her since dinner two days ago.

What do you mean? his mother sends back.

Jeno's room

Honey, he has to be close to you. It’s just like how Yunho stays closer to me and your father.

Donghyuck presses the button to turn off his phone screen with an active fury before tossing it. He doesn't care about logistics. He wants Jeno to leave him alone. Or for Jeno to be freed. He’ll open his proverbial mama bird wings and let him fly free from the nest. Maybe he can just barricade himself in his room forever. He'll switch to online classes and see his friends in a few years after he’s deemed fit for public by his father’s standards.

It’s not that he hates Jeno or anything. So far, Jeno's been nice. He's very normal. Donghyuck almost wants him to do something so heinous he'll have no choice but to tell his dad that they have to call it off, but the odds of that happening are below zero. Jeno is— so nice. Granted, it's only been half a day, but that's enough time for Donghyuck to know that this entire situation is just as bad as he thought it would be.

Jeno's held every door open for him, kept silent unless spoken to, laughed at all of Donghyuck’s terrible jokes, and even picked up a wrapper Donghyuck left laying out and put it in the recycling. He does it all with a polite smile on his face. It's grating, having Jeno do different things for him when Donghyuck doesn't want it. Regardless of what he wants, Jeno will do it because he has to. Any rational human would see this as something convenient and helpful, but Donghyuck isn’t feeling very rational. Jeno has no choice but to do these things, and Donghyuck has no choice but to allow him. They’re both under contracts they can’t break.

Donghyuck is in the middle of fishing his phone out of wherever it landed in his sheets when he hears a knock on his door. Jeno is standing in the doorway, dressed down without the suit jacket he had on earlier but still not casual. Donghyuck wonders if he has to wear a suit every day. There’s no way he’s letting him step foot onto campus behind him with a suit on. More than once has Donghyuck woken up late and gone to class in a ratty pajama shirt and sweatpants. He’s not going to let Jeno embarrass him in a suit and tie.

“Did you need something?” Donghyuck asks, body twisting as he drops to the floor to grab at his phone that apparently managed to bounce off the bed entirely.

It sounds like Jeno is laughing at him but Donghyuck can’t see, so he abandons his phone search to flop down on the floor, turning his head towards the doorway. Jeno looks amused, but he isn’t laughing outright. “Yeah, I was just checking to see if you’re staying in for the night. I have to make sure, you know?”

How could Donghyuck forget that Jeno is one smartwatch away from tracking Donghyuck by GPS. “Yes, of course,” Donghyuck replies with false sweetness. “It’s a school night for me. I have to be up early tomorrow.” Donghyuck isn’t going to go out on a school night, regardless of what his father thinks, and it’s not like he even has a history of doing so.

“Ah, that’s right.” Jeno clicks his tongue. “I did get an email with your schedule in it. I just wanted to double check with you.” Donghyuck doesn’t know where to start. Who sent a copy of his schedule? Why didn’t Jeno just ask him about it? Is there any reason for Jeno to look so innocent as he stands in the entrance of his room threatening the extremely fragile existence of Donghyuck’s freedom?

Donghyuck feels like he needs to defend himself from whatever his father and co. have been saying about him. “Just so you’re aware, I’m really a homebody.” Jeno looks a little skeptical. “Honestly. You’ll see.”

“Got it. Goodnight, Donghyuck.” Jeno raises a hand to his forehead and gives a goofy little salute before turning around, heading out to his own room.

“You’ll see, Lee Jeno,” Donghyuck calls out from his spot on the floor where he’s currently starfishing. “I’m so boring you’ll be begging them to let you go back to your old gig.”

Jeno is gone but Donghyuck assumes he heard him. And it’s true. Donghyuck is as regular as any other 21 year old. He knows the reason why his father thinks he’s reckless all of a sudden and— it stings. But if he doesn’t think about it, then it doesn’t matter. He finally locates his phone from the floor and flops into bed, ready for another boring day.

---

Donghyuck takes back every mean thing he said in his head about Jeno.

He went to bed with his mind a mostly blank slate, refusing to go to sleep angry about the situation, but woke up and immediately remembered how full his school schedule actually is. He’s got an essay due later in the week, and not a single source to fluff up the paper, a test in two days that he hasn’t studied enough for, and Renjun sent him a text in the middle of the night saying he wouldn’t be making it to class with the notes he was going to let Donghyuck look at so—he’s a little preoccupied.

He’s so busy thinking that he doesn’t notice a hand reaching for his own as he’s going up the staircase to get to his afternoon class. Whoever it is, is out of Jeno’s reach and uses Donghyuck’s distracted mind to wrap a hand around Donghyuck’s wrist and tug, making Donghyuck stumble on the steps.

“What the hell–” Donghyuck almost shrieks as he snatches his wrist back, nearly losing his balance but gaining purchase with one hand on the railing and the other hand latching onto Jeno’s sleeve.

Jeno looks furious. The nice demeanor Donghyuck associates with Jeno is gone, now replaced with a glare that could probably kill. Jeno moves in front of Donghyuck, making himself a barrier between him and the stranger who almost pulled Donghyuck down. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I-I wanted to say–” The mousey looking guy stutters out, apparently too skittish to get a full sentence out but not too shy to grab someone he doesn’t know. He has a camera around his neck and a notepad in the hand that didn’t reach for Donghyuck.

“No,” Jeno cuts him off. “It doesn’t matter what you wanted to say. You think you can just go around grabbing people?”

The color drains from the guy’s face. Donghyuck can’t really see from behind Jeno, but it looks like his hands are shaking too. He imagines that Jeno looks murderous if his voice is any indication.

“I just wanted to speak with Donghyuck! Just for a second.” The guy still looks scared but also like he’s still convinced that he can have a conversation with Donghyuck.

“No,” Jeno says it with a finality that’s not to be argued with. “Get lost. If I see you come near him again, you’ll regret it. Go.”

Surprisingly, the guy skitters away and books it out of the stairwell, moving fast like he thinks Jeno is going to run behind him.

When he’s out of sight Donghyuck feels like he can breathe again and he sags against the stair railing, suddenly exhausted. He still has to go to class.

“Hey,” Jeno puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes, a little show of comfort. “You okay?”

Donghyuck is fine. Unharmed, but still frozen in place, a million thoughts running through his brain as he tries to process the moments that have just passed. The people obsessed with him don’t usually try to get close. He’s never had anyone do that before. “Yeah, it happens,” he mumbles. “I’m fine.”

“The nerve of that guy,” Jeno mutters under his breath. “I swear, if I see him again it’s going to be a real problem.”

Jeno still has a hand on Donghyuck's shoulder. When he peers up at him, Jeno’s face is stormy with a mixture of anger and...guilt? He shouldn't feel guilty, considering that he saved Donghyuck from not only falling down the stairs but also from getting dragged away by some weirdo. Donghyuck shrugs the shoulder he's touching to get his attention. "Thank you, by the way."

"It's my job."

"Yeah, but look how fast he ran away." Donghyuck laughs a little at that. "I'd say that's a pretty big accomplishment for our first day out of the Blue House."

"An even bigger accomplishment would be getting you to class on time," Jeno squeezes Donghyuck's shoulder one more time before dropping it back to his side. "Let's try to do that before we celebrate."

Donghyuck does make it to class with two minutes to spare and sweat forming on his brow. It's a little harder to focus without Renjun's presence and neat notebook next to him, but he manages. It's a completely different dynamic with Jeno sitting at his side, paying no attention to the lecture but glancing around suspiciously every few minutes. Donghyuck appreciates the vigilance but nobody's ever tried to bother him during class. They usually wait until they're outside the classroom.

When class finally ends and they can leave, Jeno lets out a long sigh, surprising Donghyuck.

“So I’m guessing you’re not gonna quit your job to enroll in university any time soon?”

“Not a chance in hell,” Jeno affirms. “No offense, but that was the most boring hour and a half of my life. And this is coming from someone who had to study and know the entire history of our country by heart.”

“Brag a little more, why don’t you,” Donghyuck teases.

“I mean, I also got a perfect score on the TOEIC, no big deal,” Jeno preens, says no big deal in English, obviously pleased with himself. Donghyuck knows he’s super smart. You don’t just become the youngest Vice Head of security for the president by luck. He’s probably worked harder than Donghyuck ever has in his life.

It’s not that he’s nosy, but yesterday he did sneak around to find Yunho away from his father to ask him for any secrets he could spill about Jeno. Yunho gave him a disappointed dad look, crossed his arms, and said, “no,” very firmly. He did, however, tell him that Jeno is as qualified as anyone else on the security team, if not more for his advanced rise to the top and his knowledge. Yunho spent a full five minutes talking about Jeno’s qualifications, the longest Donghyuck ever heard him speak. Donghyuck trusts Yunho’s judgment.

Donghyuck doesn’t know why, but his hand takes control of itself and pats Jeno on the head. “Good job, puppy.”

He’s instantly mortified but Jeno barks out a laugh, just as caught by surprise as Donghyuck is.

“Not really a puppy if I’m already trained,” he grins, amusement written on his face.

“Booo,” Donghyuck complains, thankful Jeno didn’t let it get painfully awkward just because Donghyuck can’t control his limbs. Or his mouth. “Terrible. I’m sending you back to the pound. Now can we please get some coffee?”

Jeno acts like it’s a hardship to follow Donghyuck to Starbucks, grumbling under his breath as he walks next to him, watching the people they pass and glaring at everyone inside the store while they wait in line, but once he has a grapefruit honey black tea in his hands he’s suspiciously quiet.

Donghyuck sips at his own drink and his spirits are instantly lifted, the earlier incident tucked away at the back of his mind. “We should sit,” he walks away from the counter to look for an empty table, not waiting for Jeno’s response.

Jeno follows him, either out of obligation or reluctance to look like a weirdo standing by himself, and sits adjacent to Donghyuck at an angle where he can see the rest of the patrons.

“Do you have to do that? It makes us look awkward.”

Jeno squawks. “Awkward? How? We’re just sitting. Besides, I need to see what everyone’s doing.

“I get it, but, it wouldn’t kill you to sit across from me.”

“Like we’re on a date?” Jeno asks, eyebrows raised.

“No!” Donghyuck sputters, “like we’re friends! Friends sit across from each other.”

Jeno smiles. “I’m joking, lighten up Donghyuck,” he sing-songs, repeating the same thing Donghyuck told him before.

Donghyuck throws his hands up with an exaggerated exasperation and rolls his eyes. “He jokes, imagine that.” Every hour he spends with Jeno he feels like he learns something interesting about him. It’s like peeling a layer off of him only to be surprised by what he finds next. He won’t tell Jeno that just in case he tries to make an onion joke. To be fair, at least he can give and take a joke. Unlike Yunho, who snitched when Donghyuck tried to prank him a few weeks ago.

Jeno doesn’t move his chair, saying that he has to sit in a spot that guarantees him an optimal surveillance spectrum, or whatever–Donghyuck just cuts him off to start pestering him with questions. If Jeno gets to know things about him, it’s only fair that he does the same.

He learns that Jeno’s friends call him a puppy because he reminds them of one, but he’s never had one of his own. He learns that Jeno is, in fact, as smart as Yunho says he is, how he passed all of the tests to qualify for the Presidential Security Service with flying colors and impressed everyone. Jeno doesn’t say it to be cocky, but in a way that’s matter of fact. He worked hard and was rewarded. He learns sillier things, like Jeno’s favorite season (winter), his favorite shoes (the same pair of vans he has on), and the price of his most prized possession: his bike (a few million won, he admitted sheepishly). Donghyuck also learns that Jeno works out six days a week, usually before everyone’s awake so that he can get the gym to himself.

“Do you ever sleep?” Donghyuck asks, amazed that Jeno can even pencil in time to follow Donghyuck around.

“I make it a habit to get at least 7 hours, honestly I’d rather get 8 but–” Jeno stops in the middle of his sentence, head perking up.

“But?” Donghyuck prompts, waiting to hear what he was saying. Jeno has his eyes trained on someone or something on the other side of the store but Donghyuck can’t really see what he’s looking at.

Jeno moves so he’s directly in Donghyuck’s line of sight. He’s squinting, looking past Donghyuck’s head and still watching whatever it is that got his attention. “Don’t move.”

He speaks in a low tone, not really moving his lips as he talks, “There’s this girl, maybe like 15 meters behind you. She’s taking pictures.”

Donghyuck blows out air from his nose. “Is that it? They’re always doing that, you can just ignore it.”

“Ignore it?” Jeno squints harder. “She’s clearly invading your privacy. I’m going to say something.” He starts to rise, presumably to go up to the girl taking pictures.

Donghyuck slaps a hand on his wrist to keep him in his seat. “Don’t bother, seriously. It’s almost better when they take pictures from far away. I don’t mind as long as they don’t get close, honestly.”

Jeno stays where he is, thankfully, but looks like he might just run up to the girl if Donghyuck lets go of him. He bites his bottom lip and sighs, acquiescing and sitting back down. “I still don’t like it.”

Donghyuck smiles sadly before releasing Jeno’s wrist. He really means it when he says that he’s used to it. He looks in the area where Jeno was sitting and sees the girl. It’s hardly a surprise when he realizes that he’s seen her before. Many times. She’s somehow always around when he goes to cafes or for food. He has no idea how she knows where he is but she seems to always show up randomly. He’s at the point where he doesn’t actually mind her anymore. It’s a little unnerving because he has no idea what she does with her pictures, but at least she hasn’t tried to run up on him or even speak to him. “You’ll probably see her a lot. Smile.”

“I’m not going to smile at her, she needs to be dealt with.” Jeno looks at him in disbelief, eyebrows bunched together, crossing his arms and scooting his chair so that he blocks the girl’s camera from getting any clear pictures of Donghyuck. “I’m going to frown instead.”

Donghyuck looks at Jeno and can’t help but laugh when he sees that he’s actually scowling at the girl’s camera, like he’s posing for her but with genuine anger, shooting daggers at her. The girl lowers her camera and jolts in her seat when she makes direct eye contact with Jeno. She starts packing her camera stuff away quickly, swiping her cup off the table before scurrying out the shop, the same way the guy from earlier did.

“Two in one day, huh. You’re good at this, Lee Jeno.”

“No,” Jeno puffs out his chest. “I’m the best at this.”

It’s only been a little over a day, but Donghyuck’s changed his mind. He thinks having Jeno around will be okay.

---

Renjun texts Donghyuck the next day to tell him that he’s actually got a nasty cold and won’t be in class all week.

Donghyuck’s first course of action is to whine about it. His second is to text Renjun that he hopes he feels better with a bunch of hearts and crying emojis. After that he goes right back to whining.

“It’s not like I need Renjun there, but I do,” Donghyuck rolls onto his belly and burrows his head in his folded arms to complain into the bed, loudly. He's sprawled on his bed and Jeno is seated in the chair in front of Donghyuck’s work desk, proofreading the pathetic workings of his English essay that he so kindly volunteered to look over. Technically, Donghyuck gave him puppy eyes and begged him to, but, semantics. He basically volunteered when he bragged about his TOEIC score.

“I'll be there,” Jeno says, offhandedly. He’s pressing backspace on Donghyuck’s keyboard.

"I mean, yeah, but Renjun's my best friend. Also, no offense, but you have to be there or you'll get fired."

"True," Jeno agrees, typing carefully with his two pointer fingers, "but I could be like you and whine about it-"

"I don't whine," Donghyuck interjects, grumbling at the insinuation.

"But," Jeno continues, "I don't really mind it. I'll even wake you up when you fall asleep."

Donghyuck almost chucks one of his decorative pillows at Jeno's head for that. Knowing what he does about him, he'd probably catch it without even having to turn around. Okay, fine, he fell asleep in class. But it was only for like, 5 minutes. If he didn't spend time late into the night trying to work out this essay it would've never even happened. "Asshole."

He hears Jeno chuckle, and lifts his head up from his arms to see what he's doing. The slopes of his shoulders shake as he laughs, but he doesn't stop typing. Donghyuck doesn't think he could get away with calling Yunho an asshole, so that's another win for him.

"This asshole is the one editing your paper, I'd be nicer if I were you." Jeno says, still not breaking the fastidious rhythm of his typing.

Donghyuck makes an exaggerated snoring noise, not bothering to respond. He has a feeling that there's very little that would make Jeno stop editing the paper right now. He seems really into it. The amount of backspacing is concerning, but Donghyuck isn't the one fluent in English so he assumes it's fine. “What are you doing to my paper anyway? It can’t be that bad.”

"Come look and you'll see," Jeno replies. He's really into whatever he's changing in the essay, face close to the screen now.

Donghyuck groans but rolls off of his bed to walk over to the desk. As he gets closer he can see there are already less red squiggles underlining the words the way they were before he let Jeno at it. He can't really tell any other differences because he's still too far away, but it doesn't look like Jeno chopped out half of his words so it must've been relatively fine. "Keep in mind, what I gave you was a nearly perfect foundation. I only asked just to be sure."

"Yeah, your ideas, maybe," Jeno scoffs. "But how is your spelling this bad? You know there's built in spell check, right? Half the page was underlined in red."

"So what you're saying is that my ideas were really good?" Donghyuck bumps the chair with his hip, playful.

"Yes," Jeno says, pausing for the first time to shoot Donghyuck a look over his shoulder, "but you already knew that. I just don't understand the spelling mistakes."

"English is hard. Plus it's more about the content. If you can understand what I was trying to say then who cares about how it's spelled." Donghyuck shrugs. His professor has scribbled many a furious note in the essays he's handed back chastising his terrible spelling. It's not like he has plans to actually use English for anything serious, anyway.

Jeno stops typing altogether to pick up the printed rubric Donghyuck gave to him earlier. He spins the chair around to brandish it for Donghyuck to look at. "Your professor," he points at the paper, tapping it a few times. "Your professor cares a whole lot."

"He does, doesn't he? He needs to relax, in my opinion." Donghyuck smiles as he responds. Jeno seems genuinely exasperated, which is hilarious. Donghyuck could expend effort into learning how to spell in English or he could reach his word count and be done. The preferred choice is obvious.

Jeno shakes his head ruefully before turning back around to tinker around with the essay some more. "I'm just about done with this anyway. I didn't change much, just did spell check on every other word. All I have left is—“

Jeno's hands fly up from the keyboard, and the quick movement jostles Donghyuck from where he's leaning against the chair. After he regains his balance he peers at the laptop screen to see what made Jeno jump. "Oh, well that's not embarrassing at all."

On the screen is the game he was playing before he pulled up his essay. It's one of the many he plays when he's busy pretending that he doesn't have tons of work to do. He isn’t actually embarrassed by it, though Jeno seems horrified that he accidentally clicked into something he wasn't supposed to.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to click on anything," Jeno scratches at the back of his neck.

"It's fine." Donghyuck leans over Jeno's arm to click out of the Overwatch main menu and back into his work document. "Not like that has anything to do with why I waited last minute to do my essay."

"I main Sombra, so," Jeno shrugs. "No big deal."

Donghyuck thumps him on the shoulder. "What? You play? There's no way you have time in your schedule. I don't believe it."

"I do! We could play together sometime," Jeno says, nonchalant. "You know, when you're not with your friends or anything."

Well it must be Jeno's lucky day because if he’s not with Renjun, or Chenle, or both of them at the same time, then Donghyuck is probably in the house playing Overwatch. Too many of his "friends" found his father's occupation way more interesting than Donghyuck himself. He learned that the hard way when unauthorized pictures of inside the Blue House were found on the internet—always with the fucking pictures—and he had to cut people out of his life. It's really a shame. Sometimes he misses playing online with Johnny.

"We could play now," Donghyuck says, overeager, like the words just jump out of his mouth. "After the essay, I mean. Actually, we can just completely forget about the essay."

Jeno grins, nodding along. "Yeah, I think the essay is fine now." He points a thumb toward the door, in the general direction of his own room. "I play PC, so if you wanna come to my room we can play."

Donghyuck can't help the spike in his pulse at the invitation. It's a normal, completely innocent request, but it’s also a little thrilling. Jeno is technically his employee by extension of his father, but here they are breaking those conventional rules by hanging out when they don’t have to.

It feels like he's known Jeno longer than the few days he can count on his hand, and it's exhilarating, honestly. He expected the security he was going to be assigned was going to be a carbon copy of Yunho. And it's not that Yunho isn't good at his job or bad to be around or anything, he's just very much in his 30's and the age gap makes it painfully awkward.

Jeno insists that he finishes checking over the essay, which Donghyuck reluctantly agrees to, but he stays behind him to provide commentary while he finishes.

Once that's over with, Donghyuck lugs his gaming laptop over to Jeno's room so they can play.

"Jeno," Donghyuck says after an hour. "I think we're gaming soulmates."

They actually might be. Their chemistry is even better than how it was with Johnny. Donghyuck just keeps winning.

"You're absolutely right, Hyuck." And that's a first. Are they on a nickname basis now? They probably are considering Donghyuck stopped calling him Jeno-ssi after knowing him for two hours. Donghyuck won’t say anything about it so Jeno can’t make fun of how pleased he is about it.

Donghyuck could game for hours, but he tries to be considerate of Jeno's dedication to a sleeping schedule so he taps out early, taking himself and his laptop back to his room. It was a really good time. He has to sit on his bed and hug a pillow for a while when he gets back, just thinking about how they're actually on the path to becoming, like, friends. Real friends.

It’s nice.

---

On one hand, Donghyuck is happy to see Renjun again after a week without him.

On the other hand, he didn’t expect Renjun and Jeno to get along like a house on fire. It’s all very unfortunate for him.

They meet up in class, but Donghyuck chanced it and slept in as late as he could get away with, so he’s in his seat with mere seconds left before his professor begins. When class is dismissed and Jeno and Renjun can meet properly, they get along right away, chatting and cracking jokes like they’ve known each other forever.It's like watching a tennis match, putting his head on a swivel as he tries to keep up with them.

Donghyuck is used to shooting the shit with Renjun, both of them quick-witted with sharp tongues. They bicker as easily as they make up. They’re best friends for that very reason.

It’s weird to make friend groups intersect. Not to say that he and Jeno are actually friends yet, but. It’s strange, like he’s debuting them to each other and waiting with bated breath for something to go wrong.

In typical fashion, they go to a cafe and sit down to talk and get their daily caffeine intake.

Renjun has that look on his face, the one where he resembles a predator seconds away from marking its prey, a cat with its teeth bared. They’ve been friends long enough for Donghyuck to know he’s mostly harmless, but mischief is still his driving force. “You know, Jeno, I was so sure that our Donghyuckie here would’ve had you either fired or maimed days ago.”

Donghyuck kicks at Renjun under the table, misses, and hits one of the table legs. “Renjun, please,” he grumbles, big toe throbbing, “you know that would never happen.”

“No,” Renjun counters. “You’re a menace. I was 85% positive that I’d be reading an article online this week about the president’s son being wanted for murder.”

Jeno is grinning, eating it up. Renjun thinks he’s so funny, like he’s never bitched about anything in his life.

“Stop trying to scare Jeno! I’m an angel.” Donghyuck knows that he can get whiny, but he always has good reason to.

“The devil was an angel once, too.” This time when Donghyuck kicks at Renjun he connects, hitting his shin. Renjun yelps, “see what I mean! Be honest, tell me you don’t have killer tendencies. Oh wait, you can’t because that would be a lie.”

“Leave me alone, I’m nice to Jeno.” Donghyuck turns to Jeno. “Tell him how nice I am.”

Jeno, precious as he is, nods dutifully. “Donghyuck is very nice to me.”

Renjun narrows his eyes, once again predator. His eyes flit back and forth between Donghyuck and Jeno, assessing. “I’m sure he is.”

That’s a can of worms Donghyuck has no intentions of opening right now, and he panics a little, knocking into the table. The motion sends Renjun’s drink sliding and Renjun lunges to stop it before it slides off the table completely. When he secures it, he narrows his eyes at Donghyuck again but drops the subject.

It’s refreshing, having an afternoon just relaxing in a cafe with them. There are no cameras around and it almost feels normal for a second. He knows Renjun will try and continue his investigation later, but for now he just enjoys the moment.

---

Renjun comes over one day, because he'll invite himself anywhere if Donghyuck is there and the Blue House isn't an exception. Donghyuck lets him come over because he missed him terribly that entire week he was sick, but he won't boost his ego by telling him that. He might hug him a little longer, though.

The moment Donghyuck closes his room door so nobody can casually make their way past his door to eavesdrop, he can tell that Renjun is up to something.

Renjun's already helped himself to Donghyuck's bed, getting cozy in the middle of it like it's his own. He gathers all the pillows so that they form a little tower where he can prop his head up and stare at Donghyuck.

Donghyuck rolls his eyes, not bothering to lecture Renjun again about the effort he puts into his bed decor and how the throw pillows aren't meant to be laid on, especially if you just came from outside. Renjun does what he wants, which is a huge reason why they've been friends for so long. Two stubborn bulls allergic to compromise but with hearts too big to get upset about it. They get each other.

Renjun looks like he's going to take a nap from where he's buried in the little mountain of pillows, so Donghyuck takes that as his cue to boot up his laptop and start gaming. Renjun is welcome to nap for as long as he likes—Donghyuck knows his bed is top of the line—but that doesn't mean he'll be quiet while he games.

"Hey," Renjun calls out to the back of his head, before his laptop can even finish turning on. "I didn't come over to nap."

"Really? Could've fooled me." Donghyuck makes his chair spin around to face Renjun and holds his hands out palms up, gesturing to the bed where Renjun looks ready to sleep for 1000 years. "Why exactly are you here again?"

"Shut up, don't act like you didn't miss me. The crying emojis you spammed my phone with every day let me know how you really feel." Renjun rubs his hands together, confirming Donghyuck's suspicion that he's up to no good. "I came over to talk about your cute little bodyguard, duh."

"You literally just met him the other day, what more do you need to know?"

Now, Renjun rolls his eyes at him. "Hyuck, please, you can't expect me to learn you're getting a bodyguard out of nowhere, find out he's our age, hot as fuck, then meet him and find out that he’s a sweetheart, and not want to know everything about him." He pouts, "it's like you don't know me at all."

Well, he can't say he didn't expect this. He really should've gone with his original plan of becoming a forever hermit. Now that he's getting used to having Jeno around, he almost wants to keep him to himself. His own little emotional support hero, fighting stalkers by day and biking by afternoon.

"I don't even know him like that, I promise I don't have any juicy secrets to reveal about him." No secrets, no opinions, no anything other than simple facts. Jeno is his bodyguard. Jeno is nice. That's it.

"Okay, whatever, then tell me what you think about him. You can be brutally honest now." Renjun hugs one of the throw pillows next to him, squeezing it with excitement over the possibility of getting some hot gossip. "Where is he anyway? I thought you two were attached at the hip now."

"He's out biking." A fact. No opinions here.

"Biking?" Renjun's eyebrows fly up to his hairline, clearly interested.

"Yes, he bikes, on a bicycle, as one does."

"Does he wear those matchy outfits? The ones with the shorts? I bet he looks good in them." Renjun stares into the distance, a dreamy look on his face.

"I don't know," Donghyuck rolls his eyes again. "He wears whatever, I don't pay attention." No opinions there.

Renjun squints at Donghyuck, brought back to earth. "Why do you look like that?"

"Like what?" Donghyuck rolls his shoulders, then rolls his chair around so he's facing his laptop again.

"Don't roll away from me!"

Donghyuck can guess what he looks like. A little red in the face, maybe spooked, and definitely guilty. Renjun knows him better than anyone else, and he knows Renjun can see right through him. Okay, yes, so maybe he has been paying attention to what Jeno looks like, but it's only because they're always together. Jeno does, in fact, wear the matchy outfits with the shorts, but Renjun doesn't need to know that, nor does he need to know that Donghyuck already has the image of Jeno's quads seared into his brain. "What? Sorry, my game is loading."

"Hyuck!" Renjun throws one of the pillows at him, missing completely and hitting the wall instead. "Turn around right now."

Donghyuck turns around, slowly but surely.

"Oh no," Renjun croons. "You like him."

Caught. Donghyuck is out of his depth here, obviously in no position to lie to Renjun. His mouth is dry. His face is on fire. He’s got maybe 10 seconds to come up with a lie.

"I– what? Absolutely not."

Convincing. Renjun stares at him, expression inscrutable.

Donghyuck can't even admit it to himself but—he does. He likes Jeno. Anyone who's spent more than two minutes with him probably feels the exact same way. Renjun sat at a table with him for no more than an hour and he's already daydreaming about his little bike shorts. Donghyuck sees him every day, for hours on end, always close to him. There’s Jeno's hands at the small of his back, his wrists, his shoulders. Moving with him wherever he goes. His wry little grins and full blown smiles, a gift every time. The never ending banter between them. Proximity is a curse. It really hasn’t even been long enough for him to feel like this, but he can’t make it go away.

It's almost funny. His father giving him the exact thing he wanted to stop. The little box where Donghyuck stores everything he doesn't want to deal with unlocks against his will and releases some of the panic that wants so badly to rise up. The gay club, the pictures of him being there spilling out of the folder his father handed him at that meeting, in all their HD glory. He went once. It doesn’t even matter because it’s tainted with his father's disdain now. His father's clear avoidance in addressing what the real problem is.

Then again, Jeno is probably straight. And even if he wasn't, he works for Donghyuck's father. He works for the fucking Presidential Security Service. He’s not just some guy, just like how Donghyuck isn’t just a regular college student. The way every touch between them sends a spark up Donghyuck's spine is his problem, and his problem alone. Jeno's just doing his job.

Donghyuck loses in every possible scenario. There's no way for Renjun to know all this because he never told him, but the pang in his chest that makes it feel like it's going to burst open the more he thinks about it all makes him want to tell him. He just doesn't know how to explain that the only reason Jeno is with him now is because his dad is on a sneaky little presidential campaign to stop his son from doing gay shit in te public eye. Or, sorry, to stop him from "engaging in risky behavior."

"Hyuckie, come cuddle with me." Renjun holds his arms open, flapping his hands to beckon him over. "There's nothing a cuddle can't fix."

It can't fix this, but it does always make him feel better so he abandons his laptop to burrow in the mountain of pillows next to Renjun. Renjun gives him the best hug he's ever given before he loosens his hold to pat the back of his head, soothing him like a mother hen. Donghyuck loves Renjun a lot, so he tells him that, and then he tells him the full story.

"Wait. So he just put those pictures with the other ones and didn't say anything about it?" Renjun pauses the petting. "No offense, but fuck your dad."

Donghyuck hums, a sad little sound. His father is the president, and as depressing as it is to think about it, his reputation does also depend on the rest of his family. The general public already has an odd fascination with Donghyuck. If they were to find out that he's gay? Yeah, his father won't let that happen. "It is what it is."

"What? No, fuck that." Renjun says, more upset than a second ago. "I know he's your dad and the walls might be tapped or something crazy so I shouldn’t say this, but this isn't okay. I can't believe he's doing this to you."

“It’s a little funny, though, isn’t it?”

Renjun leans away and looks down at him, disbelief in his arched brow. “Funny in what way.”

“Well,” Donghyuck giggles, “my dad was like ‘must stop the gay,’ and his first step in trying to achieve that was by sending me the literal man of my dreams to look good and save my life like, everyday.”

Renjun barks out a laugh. “Oh my God. What if he’s testing you?”

“He’s playing checkers, not chess.” Donghyuck snorts, laughing with him. “That’s way too much effort for him. I’m sure he’s already convinced that he’s scared me out of trying anything. Plus there’s no way Jeno would ever—Jeno’s a professional, anyway.”

“Are you sure?” Renjun asks.

“I’m 95% sure. God, that would make it worse. Lusting over someone who works for us? Might as well type up the President Lee obituary while we’re here.” Donghyuck doesn’t even want to imagine it. If there’s anything clear, it’s that his father has always held the belief that the entire family needs to move upward like him. The hints that Donghyuck needs to eventually marry another politician’s nice daughter have never been subtle. He knows that his father thrives on making connections and playing nice with people in the administrative sphere. He knows that his father has no qualms about using him to do so.

Renjun's body language is radiating pity, which Donghyuck detests even if he loves Renjun, and he goes back to petting his head like a cat. Donghyuck never wants anyone's pity but he gets it. At this point he's resigned to living a miserable, mundane, boring life until his father is out of office and the public stops taking interest in his life, and Donghyuck’s life by proxy. It's just rather unfortunate that he can't control his sad little romance deprived heart from getting attached to the closest thing he’s ever had to a real relationship. Ignore the part where Jeno gets paid to hang out with him and he’s basically his boyfriend.

"Ugh," Donghyuck sighs. "This is too depressing. Can we just watch a movie now?"

"Only if you're sure you're okay." Renjun squeezes him in another hug. "You know I hate seeing you sad."

"I pinky promise you I'm okay. Besides, it's just a stupid crush. I'll get over it and peace will be restored." Donghyuck can get over it. Soon.

He just hasn't started working on doing that yet.

---

Despite the emotional unloading Donghyuck subjected Renjun to, he manages to not make it weird with Jeno. He thinks.

It's different, for sure. It's like he's seeing him in a new light. Jeno's still very much off limits, but Donghyuck lets himself pretend a little bit more. Who does it hurt if he spends some time imagining a reality where Jeno is his boyfriend? It's harmless, really. It's his own right to hurt his own feelings.

Having Jeno as his bodyguard does actually continue to get easier the longer they spend together, personal feelings aside. Weeks turn into months of living in each other's pockets. It becomes second nature for him to pick up his phone and shoot Jeno a message if he wants to go somewhere. Jeno always replies in a flash, already dressed and ready to go. Donghyuck hasn't mentioned it, but he deliberately leaves Jeno alone in the mornings so he can do his own thing and go biking or like, hike at Gwanaksan. He figures it's only fair if Jeno has to trail behind him for every little thing.

Jeno humors all his jokes, even the objectively bad ones. He remembers things Donghyuck tells him in passing. He doesn’t have to physically fight anyone off, thankfully, but one time he gets this close to smashing the camera of some guy who follows them for 10 blocks straight. They travel around in a pair like it’s what they’ve been doing for years. It’s comfortable.

Sometimes there are strings of days where they don't go anywhere together. Like today. Donghyuck still has plans, though.

He swings his door open to yell, "Jeno!" before sitting back down and waiting for Jeno to pop his head into the door-frame. They're at a point where they can just walk into each others' rooms now. Jeno won't come to his room —ever the professional— unless Donghyuck calls for him specifically, but it's not like he'd mind it if he did.

Jeno doesn't answer but he does appear at Donghyuck's door as expected. He has a book in his hand and wire framed glasses slipping down his nose. Donghyuck almost regrets bothering him when he looks like he'd rather be in bed but, priorities. "I heard my name," Jeno says, still looking at his book.

"We've got something really important to do today, Jeno. Real serious business." Donghyuck crosses his arms and puts on his best serious face. He doesn't think about how he only uses 'we' whenever he tells Jeno anything lately. In no time at all it went from Donghyuck making personal requests out of spite, to cajoling Jeno into activities that they can do together.

"You wanted to go somewhere? I thought you'd be staying in?" Jeno closes his book and looks confused, his brows furrowed, glasses still perched perilously on the tip of his nose.

"Not quite," Donghyuck answers. He can't fake being serious anymore so he drops the act and smiles brightly. All he can do is shake his hands excitedly before hopping up and getting a bag from the corner of his room. "We've got a project to do."

In the bag, which Donghyuck dangles over his head, is bleach and hair dye. He had it delivered, so Jeno never saw when he bought it.

"We're dying my hair!"

"We're dying your hair?"

"Exactly." Donghyuck lowers the bag and pulls out everything he bought, lining it up on his bed. It's probably one of the worst ideas he's had, and it’s something that should definitely be done by a professional, but he can’t bring himself to care. "I can't do it by myself so I need your help. Please, please, please, don't leave me hanging." He pouts, knows Jeno won't say no.

"I've never dyed anyone's hair before," Jeno trails off, looking at the stuff on the bed like it's going to explode if he gets any closer. "I don't know if this is a good idea."

Donghyuck claps his hands together. "Of course it's not a good idea. But I want to do it anyway."

"Just so you know," Jeno says as he walks towards the bed, picking up one of the boxes and looking at it with a furrow in his brow. "If this turns out catastrophically bad or your hair starts falling out, let it be known that I didn't approve of this in the first place."

"That's the spirit," Donghyuck grins, clapping his hands together.

Jeno stops turning the box in his hand to look at Donghyuck, grin mirrored on his face. Donghyuck wonders for a moment if he’s missed something important, a detail he should’ve caught on to, when they’re just standing there staring at each other, goofy little smiles spread across their faces.

They finally make it into the en suite bathroom after Jeno forces Donghyuck to show him pictures and diagrams and step by step processes of what he wants done to his hair. Lucky for him, Donghyuck doesn't want anything too dramatic, just to get the ends of his hair a fun purple, something to brighten up the brown of his hair.

Jeno, for all his time spent posturing as someone ready to use his surprising strength in brute force at any moment, has incredibly gentle hands. Donghyuck almost falls asleep more than once with Jeno’s nimble fingers working through his hair. Jeno works in silence, the only sounds coming from the crinkle of his gloves as he cards his fingers through the ends of Donghyuck’s hair. In the quiet, Donghyuck closes his eyes, turns his brain off, feels himself teetering and swaying from where he’s perched on the edge of the tub. Every so often Jeno will bring him back to earth with a nudge from his elbow, reminding him that he can’t actually fall asleep sitting up. He doesn’t, but he keeps his eyes closed.

“I think that’s it.” Jeno’s voice echoes in the bathroom, wakes Donghyuck from his reverie as he blinks his eyes open to the harsh lights. “Give it like 30 minutes to develop,” Jeno says, examining his work, “and we can wash it out.”

“Does it look good?” Donghyuck asks, rolls his neck back and forth in an attempt to shake off the sleepiness.

Jeno makes a sound, neither confirming nor denying it. He’s looking at Donghyuck, assessing, and it kills Donghyuck to not know exactly what he’s thinking. “I can’t really tell yet, but I don’t think there’s any way it could turn out bad.”

“Even if you’ve never dyed hair before?”

“Yup.”

“Even if my hair starts falling out?”

Jeno laughs. “Yes, even then.” he’s still looking at Donghyuck, eyes travelling slowly over the same spots like he missed something the first time. “You’ve seen yourself, right? It’ll look good.”

Okay. So Jeno thinks he looks good. Or maybe he’s just saying that he has a face suitable for dyed hair. Maybe he’s just saying things to say things. Sometimes Donghyuck does that. Or— he’s genuinely complimenting him. Donghyuck’s face radiates warmth, and he ducks his head like it’ll make him disappear from Jeno’s line of sight.

“We’ll see,” he settles on. He pulls out his phone, clicks at absolutely nothing, and wills the redness tinting his ears to fade away. He doesn’t look up but he feels the phantom weight of Jeno’s gaze on him. His ears stay red.

After what feels like an eternity, especially while Donghyuck is channeling all his energy into appearing as unbothered as possible, Jeno speaks up again to ask, “why exactly are you dying your hair again?”

Donghyuck shrugs. “Just felt like it.”

“I don’t believe you,” Jeno quips. When Donghyuck peers over his phone to look at him, Jeno is already watching him, gaze steady. “I think you have a reason. It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me, but if you want to, I’ll listen.”

And, yeah, he could tell him. All it’d take is the flip of a switch for him to let it all come spilling out like a burst dam, everything he’s been holding back coming out at once. Donghyuck knows that Jeno would listen like he always does, attentive and earnest, nonjudgmental.

So, it’s not surprising the way Donghyuck’s mouth opens on its own accord. “You know when we came back from my evening class the other day, and my parents were actually together in the front hall?” Donghyuck rolls his eyes in the middle of his sentence. “I saw them and all I could think about was how they don’t ever really see me. Like, we’re obviously looking at each other and saying hello, or whatever. But. That’s it.” He shrugs, not sure if he’s even making any sense, feeling incredibly seen as he struggles to articulate the ways in which he feels invisible. “It’s just- Is it bad to want to be seen by my parents?”

Jeno shakes his head, but doesn’t offer anything else.

“It’s probably super elementary of me, but I don’t think I care. I figure they can’t look straight through me if I’ve got bright purple hair.” Donghyuck lets his shoulders slump, feeling very much like a child. Most people dye their hair for a fresh look, not to signal to mommy and daddy for some attention.

Jeno doesn’t break eye contact with him, though his expression is still one Donghyuck can’t read. Jeno’s usually pretty easy to read, positive and negative emotions always written clearly on his face, but this is a new one. Donghyuck waits for shame to clench a tight grip in the pit of his stomach, but it doesn’t. There’s nothing wrong with being a little vulnerable, he tells himself.

“It’s silly, I guess,” Donghyuck continues, seemingly unable to stop now that he’s started, “but I got the idea in my head and I was like, might as well just do it.”

“I don’t think it’s silly,” Jeno says. “If anything, I think it’s silly for them to not look at you. I don’t know how they couldn’t.”

There he goes again. Donghyuck’s instincts tell him that Jeno’s just being kind, spreading a salve over his open wounds, but his heart wants to read it differently. Jeno’s paid to care about him. Donghyuck tells himself this 100 times a week when he starts getting too imaginative. But he’s also sitting on the toilet in Donghyuck’s bathroom offering emotional support when he could’ve just told him to fuck off when he first saw the hair dye.

“They’re busy. Especially my father. And it’s not like we were ever close, but sometimes I’m just like— we could be. I don’t want to be the only one trying, you know? I’m their child.”

Jeno nods. “Can’t say I relate, but I hear you. It’s only natural for you to feel like that. You shouldn’t feel bad about it either.” Jeno hums to himself, like he’s considering what to say next. “My parents pretty much planned out my future for me. I never really felt like I had a choice in what I’d do. It strained our relationship, but- somehow we made it out.”

“You mean you didn’t dream of this very moment being the peak of your career as a child?”

“Hilarious.” Jeno answers. “But, no. My dad did presidential security too, before he retired. He’d always hinted that he wanted me to do the same thing, but it wasn’t until I got to high school that he started getting serious about it. One day he sat me down and basically said ‘this is your only option’.”

Donghyuck frowns. “That sounds awful. And you’re still okay with him after all that? I mean— obviously you’re doing the same thing but, not having a choice? That’s intense.” Donghyuck can’t decide if getting free reign but no attention is worse than having a parent so involved in your life that they choose the path for you.

“Honestly, I don’t know.” Jeno trails off, probably asking himself the same thing. “It’s still kind of weird. I never got a chance to want to do something else, so I don’t know what I’m missing, if that makes sense.” He shrugs. “It’s whatever, I guess. Clearly I don’t regret what I’m doing now.”

“What you’re doing is washing this out now.” Donghyuck is like, 50% sure Jeno’s dropping hints right now. He doesn’t know if he should do the same or abort the mission immediately. What they’re doing could definitely be considered a completely normal conversation filled with emotional vulnerability that friends exchange, but it’s definitely not that. Donghyuck and Renjun talk like this all the time, but it’s never charged with the same weird tension that’s flowing through the bathroom right now. “It’s been at least half an hour now and I don’t actually want my hair to fall out.”

“Alright, alright, let’s do it then.”

Jeno seems to pick up on Donghyuck’s fight or flight instincts kicking in, letting the conversation switch happen seamlessly like water off a duck’s back. It’s something to look at another day. Donghyuck will be thinking about it later, for sure. Just— not now.

---

Renjun and Jisung blow up their groupchat begging for him to come out and eat with them, and he ignores the messages for an hour only to spam them with tons of messages in return accepting their requests. Going out to eat means that he has to ask Jeno to tag along. It's like second nature now but it's still a changing process. When they barely knew each other it felt like every request Donghyuck made was a command. Now when he goes to bother Jeno with something it's like asking a friend to hang out. It's gone from ordering him around to something more playful, even as they both dance around the fact that Jeno can't refuse even if he doesn't feel like going anywhere.

Donghyuck untangles himself from his blanket nest to get up and stretch. He's not dressed or ready to go anywhere, but he still has to clear it with Jeno before he does that.

"Dinner?" Donghyuck asks, once he's made the short walk over to Jeno's room. The door was wide open so he took it upon himself to walk in. "Renjun and Chenle want sujebi tonight."

Jeno startles, shoulders jumping as he turns around in his chair. "God, you scared me. One of these days you're going to scare me so bad I'll end up chopping you in the neck, then I'll get fired, and national security will never be the same again."

Donghyuck scoffs, unmoved. "So, dinner? Now that I think about it I kinda want sujebi too."

"Sure, sounds good to me." Jeno answers. He nods to Donghyuck's rumpled state of dress. "Just let me know when you're ready."

Donghyuck pouts. He could technically be ready. He looks down at his outfit—his wrinkled pajamas with a mysterious stain by the collar of his shirt—and the retort dies in his throat. Yeah, whatever, he'll come back after his shower.

Once he finally showers and puts on clothes that don't make him look like he's just woken up from a year long slumber, he collects Jeno and they make their way to the restaurant to meet up with Chenle and Renjun. One of the perks of having Jeno around is that he has his license, a requirement for his job, and Donghyuck loves to take advantage of that. For one, he doesn't have to dodge strangers on public transit anymore, and more importantly, he gets to look. He can carry the conversation and steal sidelong glances at Jeno at the same time. It's hard to look away from his side profile, the concentration he keeps while looking at the road. It's really hard to look for so long and not imagine Jeno keeping one hand on the wheel but letting the other fall to Donghyuck's thigh, only to flip his palm up in a gesture to get them to thread their fingers together. It's really hard to be in an enclosed vehicle, tinted windows and everything, and not spare a thought to what would happen if Jeno were to say forget dinner, and park somewhere secluded, and— That’s not going to happen. So, it's just easier to let his mouth run while he steals skittish glances.

They arrive before Renjun and Chenle do, but still have to wait in line outside the restaurant. The weather isn’t that bad but Donghyuck stands close to Jeno anyway to steal his body heat. They talk about nothing at all while they wait and it’s comfortable, easy.

Donghyuck is in the middle of recounting the time he spilled his drink all over himself at this very restaurant when Jeno interrupts him with a short, "hold that thought," before literally shoving him out of the way and barreling into someone behind Donghyuck.

Donghyuck hears a distinct squawk, along with the sounds of feet scuffling on pavement before he turns around to see Jeno with Chenle in a headlock. It looks painful, and Chenle’s usually pale skin is bright red. Behind Chenle—and Jeno since he’s behind Chenle now that he’s got an arm around his neck—Renjun is there, bent in half and bowled over in laughter.

“Jeno!” Donghyuck panics, dutifully ignoring the looks people in line are sending them, “This is Chenle. Chenle, this is Jeno.”

Jeno lets go of Chenle so fast that Chenle almost drops to the ground, momentum sending his limbs flailing, but Jeno manages to hold onto him to prevent further catastrophe. Renjun’s still laughing, a single tear rolling down his cheek and one hand clutching his stomach, phone in his other hand capturing the moment.

"I'm so sorry. Please forgive me. I would have never done that if I knew what you looked like." Jeno ends his apology with a deep bow. People are still looking at the commotion. Donghyuck pulls his cap lower to cover his eyes.

"This is the best," Renjun chimes in, tapping at his phone, sniffling as he wipes the tears from his eyes.

Chenle's distinctly less red now, and upright, so that's a start. Donghyuck isn't sure if he should do more or just slink into the shadows until people stop looking.

Chenle rubs at his throat, eyes glazed over as he blinks out the shock. "Hyung, he's great. 10 stars. Do not return to sender."

"To be fair, I probably shouldn't have been running at you full speed," Chenle giggles, at himself and probably the situation as well. He knew beforehand that Jeno's supposed to protect Donghyuck from any and all danger, adorable but unidentifiable dongsaengs included.

"Now that we've discovered that Jeno can do his job and get everyone looking at us at once, can we please get back in line."

Somehow, Donghyuck manages to get them all back in line, even though Renjun has his nose buried in his phone most likely sending the video off to Mark, and Jeno is still apologizing to Chenle.

When they're finally seated and everything is all settled down, it's nice. Renjun and Jeno already met and hit it off, meanwhile, Chenle looks like he's just met an actual superhero as he listens to Jeno talk.

It's funny, Donghyuck thinks, that this feels like how it would if he were to introduce a boyfriend to these two looking for approval. In reality, it's just them meeting for dinner. Regardless of reality, the truth is that they all get along great and it's tugging at his pathetic, romantic heartstrings. At least the sujebi is good.

Halfway through dinner, Jeno gets that squinty look on his face that usually precedes an unfortunate event. He doesn't say anything yet, so Donghyuck doesn't ask, but waits for whatever's going to happen.

"Hey," Jeno nudges his foot under the table, looking at a point behind Donghyuck. "Don't look yet, but isn't that the same girl we saw at Starbucks that one time?"

Ignoring Jeno's direction, Donghyuck whips his head around and—Yeah, it's the same girl. She's even got a friend with her this time. She's shameless with the way she has her giant, professional camera hanging on a strap around her neck as she stares directly at the table they're sitting at. Donghyuck makes eye contact with her and she jumps a little, hanging her head while she scrabbles with the dishes on the table to make it look like she's busy eating.

"Yeah, we're like, besties now," Donghyuck says when he turns back around. How did she even know where he'd be? "Do you think I should invite her over to the table?"

"Who?" Renjun asks, both him and Chenle now invested in the conversation.

"No," Jeno answers Donghyuck's question first. "He's got this girl following him around with a camera. It's really weird, and I keep telling him this. I can go over to her and stop it once and for all, but he doesn't care."

"Who, who?" Chenle asks this time, leaning back on his chair to spot the girl and her camera. Renjun sees her too, but he's seen her before. Donghyuck has to really think about it, but the girl's been at it for nearly a year now. If not for the whole stalking aspect, he'd commend her dedication.

Renjun laughs, but it's a sarcastic one. "You've never seen Hyuck's number 1 fan, Chenle? She's got a twitter account for her best pictures now."

"She has a what?" Donghyuck never heard about this, and Renjun hasn't mentioned it before. "No way. I refuse to believe this. I don't even do anything when she sees me."

"You don't have to be doing anything," Renjun says flippantly. "It's about how you look. Everyone wants to see what the president's kid is up to. Don't let it get to your head or anything, but you're like, pretty. The general public seems to like you considering she has 8,000 followers."

Donghyuck's not sure how to proceed here. A girl sitting somewhere behind him in a restaurant where he's trying to enjoy dinner with his friends is waiting on the edge of her seat for him to turn at an angle where she can capture the perfect picture that she can then publish to her 8,000 followers. That's almost 10,000. The thought of that many people waiting on the edge of their seats for new pictures of him makes his stomach do something weird.

"See," Jeno points at Donghyuck, looking entirely displeased. "He hates it but wants to spare her feelings or whatever. It's not worth it, I say just get rid of her." He crosses his arms, and Donghyuck's fuddled brain still works enough for him to spare a glance at the bulge of his muscles. "You know I'm right about this, Donghyuck."

"Yeah, you are," Donghyuck agrees, because any normal person would be pressing charges or making a scene, but for some reason, he's reluctant to. The whole twitter thing—that's...certainly something he's going to look up later, once he's in the privacy of his own room—but it still doesn't bother him as much as it should. "It's actually kind of cool, when you think about it, right? I mean, I get professional pictures taken of me, and people like it? Plus, she never talks to me. It's like I'm her muse."

Jeno, Renjun, and even Chenle, who's usually on Donghyuck's side, all look at him with disbelief on their faces. Yeah, okay, maybe romanticizing a stalker is too much but—he's not kidding when he says that it doesn't bother him that much. There's also a little voice in his head telling him that he doesn't make the girl stop because he knows his parents know about it. He's not going to voice that here, at the dinner table, but, it's nothing he hasn't thought about before. That folder of pictures had to come from somewhere. He's being seen.

Renjun shakes his head. "You're losing it, Hyuck. I think the hair dye is seeping into your brain."

"It's funny, too!" Donghyuck has to defend himself. It's outlandish, yes, but it could be worse. "Look," he tells them before turning around. He faces the girl, who’s back to looking at him, and throws up a peace sign. She gasps, loud enough to be heard over the din of everyone else in the restaurant, and moves fast enough to get her camera up and snap pictures. When she lowers her camera and sees Donghyuck still looking, she squeals before taking more pictures. Donghyuck turns around, laughing, to find the table's disbelief now transformed into astonishment. "I hope those get lots of retweets."

"You're shameless, Donghyuck." Jeno comments, to the agreement of Renjun and Chenle.

Donghyuck lets the grin on his face stretch as wide as it can go, the absurdity of it all doing nothing to tamp down how saccharine he feels in this restaurant surrounded by people who make his days better.

He’s happy.

---

Jeno kisses him.

Or— he kisses Jeno. He definitely kisses him back. But Jeno kisses him first.

It doesn’t matter. They kiss. It’s one of those inevitabilities, like sunshine after rain or winter right after fall. It’s a build up, a steady incline up a mountain, a moment of freefall from the edge before a safe landing to solid ground. It’s everything at once.

It happens like this: Donghyuck has to spend an entire week convincing Jeno to come with him to a noarebang. Jeno spends the same week trying to convince Donghyuck to go on a hike with him, but, hell no. So once Donghyuck manages to wheedle Jeno into agreeing to go to the noraebang in exchange for a much tamer, more acceptable afternoon bike ride in the theoretical future that Donghyuck is going to conveniently forget about, it’s a date. Not a date but— they set a date. To go together, along, as friends would, to the noraebang.

They've been doing the whole going out together thing, like they're supposed to, except each trip they take outside feels increasingly less like an employer-employee venture. Donghyuck doesn't even know how to describe it. Obviously Jeno does his job, sending creeps with their DSLR cameras scurrying away in fear, but Donghyuck stops letting that be the forefront of his thoughts as Jeno sticks close to him when they're out walking in public. It's just like going somewhere with Renjun or Chenle, aside from the fact that he has no desire to hold hands with them.

Donghyuck's class schedule isn't very packed, even if the amount of homework he gets cancels out a lot of his free time, so whenever he gets the itch to go somewhere that has nothing to do with learning, it's encouraging to know that Jeno is a willing participant, not just begrudgingly following him.

Donghyuck doesn't like to brag unprompted, but if it's for the greater good he will. There’s nothing in the world he’s prouder of than his vocal abilities. He doesn’t let just anybody hear him sing. It’s something precious that he holds close to himself even if it’s something he could easily boast about at any given chance. He loves music, loves singing, loves putting sound to feelings that can’t be expressed any other way than in song. Get him, Renjun, and Chenle in a noraebang and it's like having a stadium concert series, encores included.

That being said, getting Jeno to agree to go with him is definitely a move made with ulterior motives. Yeah, he wants to show off. Sue him.

"Don't tell me you already know what you're going to sing." Jeno's flipping through the song book with his brows furrowed. "I swear they added 1000 more songs in here since I've last done this."

"Jeno, I was born ready." Donghyuck barely spares a glance back at Jeno as he stands with the cheap little microphone in one hand and the remote used for song selection in his other hand.

He hears Jeno chuckle at that but it's drowned out by the opening notes of the song, and he's off. For the duration of the song, it's just him and the microphone and the strobe lights of the room putting on a show. It's a song he's done at least 15 times before, a classic he could do in his sleep. He finishes it, flawlessly, of course, and ends with a deep theatrical bow to the screen in front of him before turning around to face Jeno and see what song he's going to do.

"I can't believe you've been hiding that voice from me all this time." Jeno shakes his head in disbelief, a wry smile on his face.

Donghyuck makes an indignant noise. "I wouldn't say I hid it, you've probably heard my shower singing before."

“No,” Jeno says. “You’re phenomenal. Like, you sound like an angel. Is that weird to say?” Jeno scratches at the back of his neck before continuing. “Actually, I don’t care if it’s weird. Your voice is perfect.”

"Ah, you're just saying that." Donghyuck isn't easily flustered. He's always quick to resort to false bashfulness and shyness, and he won't hesitate to offset any awkwardness with humor. Now he's feeling genuinely awkward in the face of how serious Jeno is about it. There's not a hint of insincerity in his words or in the look of awe shown on his face. Donghyuck wanted to show off, but he was never actually prepared to receive praise from Jeno. It's different when he finishes singing and has Chenle making fun of a mid-song voice crack, or Renjun trying to outsing him in the following song. Here and now, it's just him and Jeno in the small confines of the room, lights dancing around them the same way they've been moving around each other.

"No," Jeno repeats, sounding a little frustrated. "I'm not good with words but—I mean this. You're so talented."

Donghyuck's skin tingles with warmth, heating up as he takes in the sincerity Jeno's trying to implant in his head by sheer will. "I do alright, I guess. Thanks." He clears his throat, a little dry after singing so passionately, and even drier as he struggles to come up with the words to answer Jeno. "Your turn now."

He sits down and lets Jeno take control of the remote. Donghyuck buries his nose in the song book while Jeno picks his song, not looking for another song but trying to get his thoughts together. It seems like it's taking forever for Jeno to pick a song, so he peers over the song book, trying to see what the hold up is.

Jeno is already looking at him. Jeno looks at him all the time, but right now he's really looking at him, seeing him. Since he's standing, and Donghyuck's sitting, it feels like he's looming. He's actually moving closer. Donghyuck feels the pages of the song book slipping haphazardly through the spaces of his fingers. Time is at a standstill even though the disco lights keep bouncing off the walls, the menu music keeps playing. Jeno gets even closer.

Jeno stops right in front of him. The room is tiny, so it's not like he had to walk very far, but every step he took might as well have been across the city. "I said I'm not very good with words."

"You did," Donghyuck replies, because, well, he did say that.

Jeno sighs. "What I really mean is—“

Jeno cuts himself off, a mixture of emotions cycling on his face in just a few seconds. “Just— you can tell me no, and I’ll back off, but I don’t know how else to tell you.” With that, he puts a tentative hand on the back of Donghyuck’s head, fingers cradling his skull, threaded through the purple strands he helped bring to life not too long ago. It’s a fairly innocuous move, something he’s done in jest before, but it doesn’t feel like that now. Donghyuck’s used to Jeno’s touches being casual. This is purposeful, done with intent.

Donghyuck knows exactly what Jeno is planning to do, has imagined a million scenarios already, but the only thing registering in his brain is static. There’s nothing for him to think about other than the pressure points of Jeno’s fingers on his scalp, the flutter of his long eyelashes as he looks at him, the rise and fall of his chest as his breathing picks up. Distantly, he remembers that he’s supposed to wait for Jeno to make his move, but he can’t wait anymore. If this is it, he’s not waiting any longer than he has to.

Donghyuck latches a hand onto the arm Jeno has anchored on his head to pull him closer as he rises up from his seat, surging up to kiss him. The angle is funky, and the room is too small, and the menu music is still tinkling in the background, but none of that matters when Jeno gives back just as good as Donghyuck’s giving.

Jeno gets a knee up onto the empty part of the sofa next to Donghyuck so that he’s kneeling over him, closer than before. He threads his other hand into Donghyuck’s hair, cradling his face and keeping him still as he kisses him deeper, firmer. The static in Donghyuck’s head is now all over his body, lighting him up from the inside and out. It’s everything and not enough. He pulls Jeno even closer, tugging and tugging until he’s perched on Donghyuck’s lap, knees on either side of him, straddling him on the cheap noraebang sofa.

Donghyuck doesn’t even remember what it was that Jeno was trying to say. Jeno could tell him anything right now and he’d agree. Jeno’s hands are all over him, and he’s got his own hands creeping up Jeno’s shirt, trying to touch every bit of him that he can reach. Jeno’s mouth is insistent on his, his tongue moves with his, his body moulds to his. It’s frantic, so much at once.

He doesn’t want to, but they break apart eventually, both breathing hard.

Jeno extricates his hands from Donghyuck’s hair and lets his hands fall into his lap. Now that they’re not attached at the mouth, it’s almost funny to see Jeno still in Donghyuck’s lap. He must think the same thing because he moves himself off gingerly, to sit next to Donghyuck.

Donghyuck clears his throat. His hands feel useless now that they’re not on Jeno. “So, I think I understand what you mean. I think.”

Jeno laughs. It’s a little dry, like he’s still catching his breath. Donghyuck restrains himself from pulling him back onto his lap. “I like you a lot. I don’t think I should, but I do.” He sighs. “No, I’m definitely not supposed to. But I do. I learn new things about you all the time and I like you even more.”

Donghyuck stares at his hands, taking it in. So, he wasn’t reading things wrong. And Jeno’s right. It’s less complicated when it’s just Donghyuck, enjoying his own fantasies from afar, but Jeno still holds one of the most prestigious roles in the country. It’s hardly worth it to risk losing that for a romance that has no guarantees. Donghyuck thinks of his father finding out and the butterflies in his stomach are instantly quelled, silenced by an all encompassing dread.

“Well, Lee Jeno, I guess it’s too bad that I like you too, huh?” Donghyuck turns to him, sees Jeno looking at his own hands. “What a mess we’ve created.”

He laces a hand with one of Jeno’s. “We can figure it out later, though. Not right now.”

It’s too soon to kill off the butterflies. Only minutes ago he had the warm press of Jeno’s lips on his. The heat from Jeno’s palm against his is still so new. The soaring of his heart deserves to live on a little longer.

Not right now, he repeats.

---

They’re spending a lot of time together. Like, even more time together.

Out of necessity, of course. Donghyuck has places to be, and Jeno has to be there with him. But they also keep hanging out at the Blue House. They keep going out to eat, and to sightsee. And if they’re not out then they’re gaming together, quite the dream team. They keep finding new shows to binge watch even though Jeno hates giving up his beauty sleep and Donghyuck has homework.

It should be awkward. Maybe it is. Donghyuck feels like he makes it awkward 15 times a day.

He’ll be listening to Jeno talk, then he’ll glance at him, and his eyes are immediately trained to his lips before he catches himself and forces himself to look into his eyes instead. Every single time Jeno’s already caught him in the act. He knows exactly what Donghyuck is thinking about. Embarrassment floods through Donghyuck and he cracks a stupid joke, laughs hard enough at himself for the both of them. It’s torture.

After the noraebang kiss, they agreed that it would be best for them to remain professional with each other. It’s up there as one of the most painful conversations Donghyuck’s ever had. He wants to be selfish, wants Jeno to just be his, wants him in every way. He can’t do that though. Jeno’s worked so hard to be where he is, and he deserves it so much. Who is Donghyuck to ask him to ruin that for his own selfish desires?

Donghyuck is trying, but it’s so hard. He can’t help it when Jeno is as nice as ever, still staring down stalkers and reading over Donghyuck’s essays. It’s hard when It’s so hard when he looks over at Jeno with a book, curled up in an armchair and engrossed with whatever he’s reading, a stray hair falling over his brow. Donghyuck can’t help but want to tuck the loose strands behind his ear, cup his cheek and kiss him, but they agreed. They should stay professional.

It’s not like he can’t tell that it’s eating Jeno alive too. Jeno had apologized for “putting Donghyuck in that situation,” as if Donghyuck wasn’t thinking of 55 different ways to jump his bones on a daily basis. Sometimes he catches him looking at him. It’s easier for Jeno to get away with it because he brushes it off like he’s just “observing” for “potential danger,” but Donghyuck knows better. There’s no reason for Jeno’s touches to linger, for him to hold Donghyuck by the waist and move him around. There’s no rational reason for him to pull Donghyuck closer to his side as they boot up Netflix to start a new drama. But he does, and it’s driving Donghyuck out of his mind. His words are professional, but his actions. His actions do nothing to hide the fact that he still wants him.

They’re in Donghyuck’s room, a dangerous territory. He almost feels like he’s taking advantage of Jeno by asking him to watch something on his laptop in his room. They’ll need to be close to see the screen. As hard as he tries to put up a front, Jeno wouldn’t say no to this, so he asks him anyway.

That’s how they end up on Donghyuck’s bed with Netflix streaming, their usual thing, previously the most innocent activity but now it’s tinged with more weird tension. It’s worse than the tension from before they kissed. Back then, Donghyuck could’ve convinced himself that it was just him. But now, now that he knows, it’s like a cloud hanging over them, a blinking red sign saying “stop!” They’re not as close as they would’ve been in the past, but Donghyuck is aware of all the points they’re touching, the hem of his shorts grazing against Jeno’s, their hair fanning out on the pillows and brushing against each other. The room is dark, the lamp on the nightstand the only source of light. The door is closed, and they’re curled facing each other. Jeno’s socked foot keeps brushing his ankle. It feels like a perfect recipe for a mistake.

Donghyuck can’t even focus on what they’re watching when he’s still trying to figure out how they let themselves get here. Gravitating closer when neither of them are moving. His heartbeat thumps louder than the tinny audio coming from his laptop. He swears he can hear Jeno’s breath getting shallower. They’re never usually this quiet when they’re together.

He chances it and glances at Jeno. Jeno’s already looking at him.

“Hyuck-”

“Jeno-”

“You go.” Donghyuck nudges Jeno’s foot by his ankle. The moment feels fragile, like one wrong move and it’ll be broken. He won’t be the one to break it by speaking first.

“I have no idea what’s happening in this movie,” Jeno whispers. Their ankles are touching.

“Me either,” Donghyuck whispers back. They’re still looking at each other, and the air is charged. The movie’s audio continues playing in the background, unheard. Déjà vu.

“How come?” Jeno asks, like he didn’t just admit he hasn’t been able to focus, like he’s not staring into Donghyuck’s soul, like he’s not feeling the same way Donghyuck is.

Donghyuck really looks at him, feels like he’s looking in a mirror when he sees the fear in Jeno’s eyes. They know how this is going to go. “You know why.”

“Yeah.” Jeno’s eyes flicker to his lips.

Donghyuck’s not stupid. But he’s not perfect either.

Which is why when Jeno leans in to kiss him, he kisses him right back with just as much fervor. It’s just as satisfying as their noraebang kiss, but even better now that he’s had a chance to learn the way Jeno kisses. He lets himself get lost in it, allows the sweep of Jeno’s tongue to send his thoughts away.

Jeno’s mouth is warm and wet, slotting against his like they’ve done this a hundred times before. It’s not enough to kiss him, he has to touch. Has to slide his hands over his shoulders, down his chest, his biceps. Every new inch of skin he discovers is sending him into more of a frenzy. He wants to scoot in closer, nudge a leg in between Jeno’s, wants to rut against him mindlessly even if it means coming in his shorts because he can’t stop.

“Your mouth…” Jeno’s breathless as Donghyuck moves from his mouth to his jaw, kissing his neck, biting playfully at his earlobe to get him to shiver.

And, yeah. His mouth could probably be put to better use. So he climbs off the bed and gets on his knees. Jeno’ll catch on quick.

“I wasn’t saying that–” Jeno looks like he’s about to lean over and haul Donghyuck back up but he stops him.

“Uh-uh. I want to. So get over here.” He pats the edge of the bed.

Jeno scrambles over quickly, sitting on the edge with Donghyuck kneeling in front of him. He bends over to kiss him quickly. “Your mouth is really—it’s fine if we just keep kissing.” He brushes a thumb over Donghyuck’s bottom lip.

“We could.” Donghyuck shrugs. “But I really wanna suck your dick.”

“You’re going to kill me.”

“Don’t die yet, you don’t wanna miss this.” He winks before creeping his hands up Jeno’s shirt. He’ll never get tired of touching him, feeling his body move as his breathing picks up, knowing that he’s the cause of it. Jeno gets rid of the shirt entirely, tossing it somewhere off to the side of the bed. Donghyuck’s more concerned with his shorts, and he toys with the strings at the front.

“It’s cool if I get rid of these, right?” Jeno nods eagerly before his sentence is complete.

Donghyuck’s trying so hard to be sexy, but he’s giddy. He has to press a kiss to the flat plane of Jeno’s stomach under his belly button, where the wisps of a happy trail tickle his lips. Jeno’s tenting his shorts and Donghyuck doesn’t want to wait any longer, just wants to get his mouth on him.

When he taps Jeno’s hip to get him to budge up so he can get his bottoms off, he can’t even get them off all the way before he’s practically drooling with the need to have Jeno in his mouth. Maybe he’s really losing his mind wiith the way he can’t get enough of Jeno.

He doesn’t hold off any longer, impossible to when Jeno’s cock is right in front of his mouth, flushed and jutting up to his stomach. He wanted to tease a bit, make Jeno wait for it, but instant gratification wins. Donghyuck loves giving head, knows he’s good at it. The sounds coming from Jeno once he finally took him down only add to his ego about it. It’s easy to get lost in it, using Jeno’s reactions as a guide on how to bring him closer to the edge.

Donghyuck pulls off with a pop to breathe, mouth sloppy with a line of spit connected to his lips and Jeno’s cock. He knows that he looks messy, eyes rimmed red and hair in disarray from the grip Jeno has all over him, but when he looks up at Jeno it’s like he’s mystified, his mouth open and chest heaving.

“You take care of me, and now I get to take care of you.” Donghyuck feels bolder, punctuates his sentence by licking another stripe up Jeno’s cock, keeping eye contact.

“Yeah, baby,” Jeno breathes out. He trails a hand over Donghyuck’s face, runs his thumb over the swollen pout of his bottom lip. “We take care of each other.”

Donghyuck knows this isn’t necessarily the most romantic way they could’ve done this, him on his knees with sweat making his shirt stick unflatteringly to his body. Jeno’s still half clothed with his shorts and boxers half pulled off because of their haste but his heart flutters anyway. Jeno is looking at him like he’s the only person in the world. For all Donghyuck knows they’re the only people to ever exist, creating their own bubble where they only know each other.

He closes his eyes again, unable to look any longer at how open Jeno’s face is, his heart stupidly full and racing, more than it was when Jeno first pressed their mouths together. He lowers his head down and tongues around the tip before sliding his mouth back down to meet where he’s holding the base of Jeno’s cock. He sucks harder, hollows his cheeks, feels Jeno’s fingers thread through the hair at the nape of his neck, and feels invincible for a moment. He gets so lost in it that he almost gags when he goes too deep, but Jeno pulls him back, petting his hair. It’s sloppy, spit everywhere, but he keeps going.

Jeno groans, mumbles something incoherent as his hips twitch. His thighs are tense under Donghyuck’s fingers, the muscles flexing as he tries to stop himself from jerking up as Donghyuck goes down. He taps a hand on Donghyuck’s neck to get him to ease up. “I’m close, Hyuck.”

Donghyuck can tell, which is exactly why he’s not going to ease up. He makes eye contact with Jeno again, slides off his length just to say, “you can come in my mouth,” and gets right back to it, suctioning harder and jacking him faster, encouraging him to spill in his mouth.

Jeno releases the hold he has on Donghyuck’s hair to scramble and pull at the sheets under him as his body gives a final twitch and he goes taut, body gone useless as he comes in Donghyuck’s mouth, dick slipping out and making a mess on Donghyuck’s lips, cheeks stained with white too.

Jeno flops down on the bed, out of breath and pink all over, looking the most beautiful Donghyuck’s ever seen him. Donghyuck is still hard, tenting his shorts and feeling a little awkward as his knees ache after being on the floor for so long. There’s a voice in his head that wants to surface and make him feel guilty, but he tamps it down, makes himself be present and focus on what’s right in front of him. Those feelings aren’t welcome now, not when Jeno’s on his bed like this, letting Donghyuck get closer to him than anyone else is allowed to be. Not now.

It’s like Jeno can tell Donghyuck is getting in his own head because he picks his own head up and gestures for Donghyuck to join him on the bed. “C’mere,” he slurs, clearly in a post-orgasm daze.

Donghyuck gets up slowly, joints protesting, and kneewalks up the bed so he’s next to Jeno. He’s still feeling a little weird, not sure of what he’s supposed to do now, but Jeno obviously wants him up on the bed, so he swings a leg over Jeno so that he can straddle his torso, careful not to touch Jeno where he’s still sensitive.

“God, look at you.” Jeno’s hands immediately come up to hold his hips, rubbing his thumbs back and forth over his hip bones. It’s more tender than Donghyuck’s stupid horny brain can handle and he shivers, anticipatory.

He leans forward a little, so he can grind on the plane of Jeno’s abs. It’s not enough,but the little bit of relief he gets shoots like a rocket down his spine, pleasure making his head fall back as his hands find purchase on Jeno’s pecs. Jeno’s so fit, his top half nothing but corded muscle. Donghyuck feels like just touching him like this could be enough to get him there. He can’t stop jackrabbiting forward, little desperate motions, using the ridges of muscle on Jeno’s stomach to reach his own desires.

“Hey, hey, lemme get this off.” Jeno tugs at the hem of Donghyuck’s shorts, getting him to maneuver his body so that the shorts can get pulled off and thrown into a corner of the room, quickly forgotten once the cool air in the room hits Donghyuck’s skin, making him curl closer to Jeno’s body for both warmth and friction.

“Yeah, that’s it, c’mon.” Jeno gets a hand on Donghyuck, finally, pressing Donghyuck’s length to his body, keeping his hand still as Donghyuck pushes up and into the hold, grinding messily on the plane of his abs. His other hand finds its way to Donghyuck’s ass, fingers splayed wide and grip tight.

Donghyuck is already close, worked up from having Jeno’s dick down his throat. He knows he isn’t going to last very long so he just keeps moving, doesn’t stop even when he gets uncoordinated and offbeat as he nears his climax. One of Jeno’s fingers slip, grazing over Donghyuck’s hole just for a moment and that’s it for him. He jerks forward one last time, shooting all over Jeno’s stomach and his chest, breathless and bewildered, shuddering as Jeno squeezes his hand to get the last drops out of him.

He slumps over, bracketing Jeno’s body, ignoring the mess smeared between their bodies, completely spent and satisfied. Jeno idly rubs a hand up and down his back, the touch reverent and feather light as it trails over the bumps of his spine.

“Not to ruin the mood,” Jeno whispers, voice as soft as his touch, “but I’m not okay with this being the last time we do this.”

Donghyuck isn’t either. Yet there are a million reasons why they shouldn’t. Donghyuck doesn’t see a future where they could be together openly. Happily. But he wants it. For every reason why they shouldn’t be together, he wants it 10 times more. It’s not fair.

“It doesn’t have to be.”

What Donghyuck doesn’t say is that it should be. It needs to be.

But he’s sick of holding back.

---

Donghyuck thinks highly of himself, unfortunately, he's still not perfect.

That's why he makes himself a burner twitter account to finally go look up his #1 stalker's page. Once he signs up he realizes he doesn't have her account name so he has to call Renjun and weasel it out of him.

Renjun picks up on the 5th ring. "You better have a good reason for waking me up."

"You picked up so you obviously want to talk to me," Donghyuck sing-songs. "I need a favor. Send me stalker-girl's twitter account, thanks in advance."

"You know you could've just asked me on kakao?" Renjun grumbles, his voice scratchy with sleep.

"But I knew you'd just ignore me until the morning."

"Exactly."

Donghyuck groans. "Just send it to me, please. I'm on a mission."

"Fine." Renjun settles. "I'm too tired now, but you better tell me what this is all about later" Before Donghyuck can thank him, Renjun's already hung up on him.

Donghyuck is about to rant in his messages, but before he can, a new notification pops up from Renjun. @Honey_LeeDonghyuck06? Well, that's—quite an interesting name. He clicks the link and it redirects him to the twitter app.

The first thing he notices is that there's way more than 8,000 followers now. "11.5 thousand followers," he whispers to himself in the dark of his room. Okay. The icon is a headshot of him but it's his side profile. He looks good but has no idea when that was taken. Alright.

Now to scroll down. He can do this.

The very first pictures he sees are of him right after he left campus the other day. He had forgotten his favorite pen in class and dumped everything out of his backpack on the sidewalk to search for it only to find it sitting in the smallest pocket of his bag. The pictures show him in succession going through various stages of distress until the last one where he's triumphantly pulling the pen out of the front pouch. As he expected, Jeno is next to him in the pictures, suspiciously not cropped out. Interesting.

He keeps scrolling, scrolling, pausing to zoom into the pictures and see what people are commenting underneath them. There's a lot of "ㅠㅠㅠ" and rainbow heart emojis. One set of pictures has almost 2,000 retweets. It's devastating. Not because it looks bad, but because it's from that time he and Jeno went to that rabbit cafe. The pictures were obviously taken from outside the store because the glass of the shop's window is blurred to block out the other patrons.

Jeno's holding one of the rabbits, rubbing the top of its fuzzy little head. Donghyuck, on the other hand, looks like he's staring at the sun. It's bad. There are literal stars in his eyes. God, anyone looking at this could probably only come to one conclusion. That's probably why there are so many retweets.

He has to put his phone down for a second because. It's a lot. Is that what he looks like all the time? He probably does. Oh, man. He progresses to rubbing his temples. Everyone who's seen these pictures can pinpoint exactly how he feels because it's written on his face.

When he finally gets the energy to keep looking at the page, he scrolls down far enough to see when Honey_LeeDonghyuck06-nim only took pictures of him by himself. It's been so long that it's almost shocking to see him out by himself.

He can't help but wonder what all the followers think when they see this. Do they all know he's the president's son? Do they wait for new updates? Can they see how he's head over heels for Jeno?

Ugh.

----

Donghyuck's so paranoid about it that it feels like everyone he comes into contact with is another person who's seen all those pictures. He's beginning to understand exactly why his friends were telling him to shut the camera shit down. But he didn't, and now he's here.

Here at another dreaded Monday meeting with his father. His paranoia about it kicks into high gear when his father asks him to stay behind for after.

"I've noticed," his father starts off, probably to say something only he thinks is profound. "That you and Jeno-ssi seem to be getting along very well."

An understatement. "Yes. That's true." Don't say anything else. Don't. Resist the urge to speak. "You couldn't have picked anyone better." Shit.

His father raises a brow. "That's good to hear."

Is the room hot? That has to be why Donghyuck is sweating. He and his father are just standing there and the clock on the wall is tick, tick, ticking slower than it was before the meeting ended.

His father doesn't seem inclined to say anything else so he asks, "Was that all you wanted me to stay back for?"

"Ah, yes." His father clears his throat. "Just checking in. I feel like I don't see you around anymore. Your mother and I miss you at dinners."

"It's been a while, hasn't it?" Donghyuck's been shirking family dinners to drag Jeno to different restaurants around Seoul but his father doesn't really need to know that. "I'll have to join you this week."

"I look forward to it." And then he claps Donghyuck on the shoulder before exiting, twitching for a moment like he's going to shake on it before remembering that he's talking to his son and not some random diplomat.

Strange. But, crisis averted.

---

There’s that saying… Something about ‘things being too good to be true.’ And, yeah, it’s pretty accurate.

It’s the only way to describe the whiplash Donghyuck gets when one day his father is noticing how well he and Jeno get along, and then the next they’re at dinner, and he’s pulling out more candid pictures.

Donghyuck’s stomach immediately drops. It feels like all the air has been sucked out of the room, silence save for the sounds of moving paper. His life is definitely a joke. They’ve been sitting at the table for half an hour.

His father, President Lee, alternates looking between Donghyuck and the photo stack he’s holding, silence speaking for him.

Donghyuck’s face feels a little strange, but that’s most likely because he’s been frozen in place since his father brandished the folder.

Who even has the time to show up to dinner with an ominous manila envelope? Donghyuck only brought his appetite, but that’s gone now.

“Oh. That’s.” Donghyuck sputters, mind inconveniently blank as a new sheet of paper. “Wow. Uh, well.”

“Well,” his father parrots back at him, eyes still oscillating like the pictures might give an answer if Donghyuck doesn’t.

Donghyuck looks at the photo on top and feels his heart tug. It’s actually an adorable picture. Kudos to Honey_LeeDonghyuck06. Jeno’s grinning at Donghyuck, leaning over the table and pinching his cheek. Donghyuck is mid-sentence, but it’s hard to mistake the look in his eyes as anything other than fondness for Jeno. He remembers that day in vivid detail. He and Jeno had travelled outside of Seoul to some hole-in-the-wall cafe. The pastries were sweet, but not as sweet as the way Jeno held his hand and kissed his temple as they watched the sunset on a park bench, later.

His mom, who’s been quiet during this exchange, breaks the silence to ask, “Son, are you and Jeno-ssi,” she pauses to tilt her head back and forth, “you know?”

Donghyuck has no idea where he is right now. Certainly, he’s been implanted into a K-drama, and this isn’t actually his life. Are he and Jeno, “y’know?”

“For a while, yes.” Might as well bite the bullet.

His father makes a very audible noise of displeasure, and his mom’s eyes widen, shock on her face as if the pictures weren’t incriminating enough.

He braces for what they’ve got to say and knows that whatever it is will sting.

“As a member of the Presidential Security Service, I would have thought he might have better decision-making skills.” His father’s mouth is twisted into something ugly, eyes sharp. The edges of the photos crinkle where his fingers are. “Clearly, I was wrong.”

“That’s not fair,” Donghyuck says, ruder than he’d ever be to either of his parents on a different occasion. He might have a lot of grievances with them, but he’s never rude. But it’s not fair to Jeno when he’s not here to defend himself. “We’re both adults. There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing.”

“Nothing wrong?” His father asks. “Explain to me how this isn’t a complete disregard for the honor of the position very few people get to obtain. He’s with you to do a job, not to be distracted and make moon eyes in cafes like it’s a leisurely position. Think about the danger you could be in.”

“This was never about any danger, or position, or whatever else you’re claiming it to be, and you know it,” Donghyuck grits out. “It’s because you’re ashamed of me. Just say it.”

Off to the side, his mom gasps, and his father’s face is set in stone, ears getting red.

“This isn’t a conversation for dinner.” His father grunts out. He shoves the pictures back into the manila envelope and scoots his chair out from the table. “I’m going to be in my study,” He addresses Donghyuck’s mom, pointedly ignoring Donghyuck. “We’ll talk later.”

He’s the one who brought the pictures to the table but–okay. It’s fine. Actually, it’s not, but.

His mom gets up from her seat, abandoning her food, to sit next to Donghyuck. She puts a hand on his back, and the other comes up to pat his head. The urge to cry is making his nose tickle. He sniffles and his mom brings him to her chest.

“Son,” she murmurs, the vibrations of her voice reverberating in his skull. She hasn’t done this in a long time, Donghyuck claiming to be too old for stuff like this anymore. He feels so young, naive and foolish for ever thinking that he and Jeno could be happy without any external problems. “You know I love you. I’m not ashamed of you.”

“That’s how it feels, though.” Donghyuck sniffles some more, blinks rapidly to stop any tears from falling.

“I can’t speak for your father, but I’m very proud of you, son. I understand that it’s not easy for you. But you’re a good child. You’ve never let me down.”

Donghyuck rubs at his eyes. He takes a deep breath in and lets it out slowly. His mom’s always been the more affectionate one of his parents, but it’s still a lot to take in. It’s difficult for him to not latch onto the thoughts that make him want to see himself as a failure in his parents’ eyes.

“Your father is under a lot of stress.” Donghyuck snorts at that, because, clearly. “It’s not an excuse, no, but I think it can help you understand him. He’ll come around.”

“That doesn’t actually make me feel better,” he mutters into his mom’s shirt. At least his bottom lip isn’t wobbling any more. “I don’t think it has to be this complicated.”

“I wish it wasn’t, honey.”

His mom doesn’t say anything else. There aren’t many other placating words she can say to try and fix the situation with. Donghyuck doesn’t really want to hear it either. He lets her continue petting at his hair and tries to match his breathing with hers.

 

He doesn’t get his appetite back, but he does feel a little better knowing that his mom is in his corner. It’s not enough, but it’s something.

He finds Jeno reading a book in his room after dinner, and crawls into bed with him. Jeno lets him rest his head on his chest and moves his book around in silence to accommodate Donghyuck. When he wraps an arm around him to hold him closer, Donghyuck’s reminded exactly why he’s willing to argue with his father over this. He’s at home in Jeno’s arms, snuggled in tightly under his sheets that smell like fresh laundry and his body wash. There’s no other place he’d rather be.

“You ok?” Jeno squeezes him briefly before relaxing his hold and rubbing his arm.

“You like me, right?” A question for a question.

“You know I like you, Hyuck.”

Donghyuck hums. “How much?”

“A lot.” Jeno peers over his book at Donghyuck. “What’s with you tonight?”

Donghyuck maneuvers his head so his chin is digging into Jeno’s sternum, making him give out a little oof before they settle.

“I was just thinking, like, maybe we should just stop,” he waves a hand around, “all this. Not to say that I don’t like you, because obviously I do. I like you maybe more than you like me. Actually, that’s not fair for me to say, sorry. It’s just—”

Jeno cuts him off. “Did something happen? You weren’t doubting us earlier when you had a hand down my pants.”

The morning feels like it was an eon ago.

“My father knows about us.”

Jeno’s face drops as he processes what Donghyuck says. “What? How do you know?”

“We had a big blowout at dinner. I cried. Happy Thursday.” He drops his head back down on Jeno’s chest. “It was a shitshow, for sure. He had more pictures, in an envelope of course. Because it’s not dramatic enough to just show a screenshot or whatever.”

“Shit. What’d he say?”

“Eh,” Donghyuck doesn’t want to let Jeno know how much of his father’s anger was directed at him. If Jeno can protect him when they’re out, the least he could do is return the favor. “A lot of stuff. I wish he’d just be open with the real reason why he’s mad. Since we’ve started this whole thing nothing’s happened to me, and I trust you. I know nothing will happen to me.” Donghyuck groans. “I hate this. If he says anything to you, I’m gonna lose it.”

Jeno’s quiet for a moment. “He probably will. He might get Yunho involved.” Donghyuck can hear Jeno’s heart beating, faster now. “What if he fires me?”

“Not if I have anything to say about it.” Donghyuck pushes himself up on an arm to lean over Jeno so he can look him directly in his eyes. “I won’t let him do that to you. I promise you.”

He can't promise Jeno anything, not when they're not even supposed to be together.

It doesn't mean that he won't try his hardest to keep his word.

---

After a while, Donghyuck is sure that he's hallucinated the entire picture fiasco and that his father is never going to bring it up again. The paranoia of it stays on the back of his mind until he's convinced that the next mention of it will be his father passive-aggressively showing up in an empty hallway, brandishing a manila folder, before disappearing into the shadows.

It's putting a strain on both him and Jeno. If they were attached at the hip before, now it's like they can't exist unless they're sharing the same breath. Only in private, though. Since discovering the—fansite? can he even call it that?—twitter account littered with pictures of them looking at each other like they're the only people in the world, they've started to distance themselves in public. Better to not draw any attention to it.

But it's not easy.

Donghyuck hates it. Hates the distance from Jeno when he can see the twitch of Jeno's fingers as they refrain from finding his lower back. Hates how he has to talk to Jeno at a respectable distance instead of leaning up a little bit to whisper in his ear. He especially hates how it makes it feel like they don't have enough hours in the day, how they have to make up for it in the privacy of their rooms.

It's not easy at all.

Which is how Donghyuck ends up on his back in Jeno's bed with Jeno kneeling in between the V of his hips. Jeno's got 3 fingers in him, stretching him out, taking his time. Donghyuck loves his hands, his fingers. He's positive that Jeno's hands were crafted for the specific purpose of touching him. Jeno's free hand is braced on his leg, right at the point where hip and thigh meet, pressing down hard, probably going to leave finger-shaped bruises on him. Thinking about it makes him moan, the idea of the bruise blooming, spreading out, a reminder that this moment lasts longer than just the present.

"Fuck, fuck," Donghyuck pants. "Fuck."

"Think 3's enough for you?" Jeno asks, not really looking for a response because he doesn't stop his ministrations. He curls his fingers, finds Donghyuck's prostate, grins because he knows exactly how to get Donghyuck right.

Donghyuck's still moaning, sounds getting forced out as Jeno keeps fingering him. He's trying to reach down to where Jeno is but can't keep his eyes open long enough to find where he is. He gives up, gives in, resorts to touching himself. Pinches his own nipples, fists his own cock with no rhythm, too overwhelmed to do anything useful.

"Tell me," Jeno rasps out, doesn't even give him a chance to answer coherently before he moves to suck the tip of Donghyuck's cock in his mouth.

Donghyuck's back arches up off the bed, pleasure shooting down his spine. "Oh, God." He blinks his eyes open, tries to stop them from rolling to the back of his head. He needs to be kissing Jeno. He makes grabby hands, reaching down, pulls at one of Jeno's ears. After Jeno releases him from his mouth he hears him chuckle. Jeno knows what he wants and he's careful when he removes his fingers and moves up Donghyuck's body to kiss him.

He wraps his arms around Jeno's shoulders and lets the weight of his body ground him. "You're not close enough," he mumbles against his mouth.

Jeno laughs. "Can't get much closer than this."

"Don't care," Donghyuck tightens his arms. "Want you closer."

"Well," Jeno says. "I have an idea, but you have to let me go."

Because Donghyuck knows that Jeno means he's going to fuck him, he immediately lets go of him, spreading his arms out to the side. "Yes. You're a genius. Best ideas ever."

Jeno kisses him quickly before hopping up to grab a condom. Donghyuck's heart is jackrabbiting in his chest. He's got the perfect view of Jeno's broad shoulders, the slope down to his tiny waist, slim hips, the muscles in his back making his every move look like an art.

Before long Jeno is back in between Donghyuck's legs, sliding a hand up and down one of his calves. Donghyuck's so sensitive that even a simple touch like that is enough to get his pulse racing again.

He closes his eyes once more, lets his senses fill in the blanks. The creak of the bed's frame as they move on top of it, the sound of Jeno putting the condom on, his breathing in time with Jeno's. The feel of Jeno's hands all over him give him goosebumps.

"You're so...pliant today," Jeno marvels, moving Donghyuck's leg how he wants it to prove his point.

"Mm," Donghyuck agrees. "'Cause I know you'll take care of me."

"Yeah," Jeno hums. "I got you."

From there, it's like muscle memory. Familiar, comforting, like coming home. Jeno presses closer, presses in, moves with confidence. Donghyuck presses back, moves with him. He can't believe it gets better every time they do this. It's like they can read each other's minds.

They're already a stupid romantic cliche doing this in quiet missionary like a married couple of 15 years, but he finds himself getting emotional. This feels different. Like turning the last page in an unfinished book. Even if he's too scared to say it, he loves Jeno, knows that ending this would hurt him more than he can even fathom. It feels like breakup sex. Makes him wish that he could actually read Jeno's mind.

"Stay with me," Jeno's whispering into his mouth.

"Always," Donghyuck finds himself replying.

When he comes, hands linked with Jeno’s and his head thrown back, Jeno grunting with his own release, nearly undetectable murmurs of the L word slipping out, it does feel like the end of a chapter.

What comes next, he doesn't know.

---

His father's got a real knack for timing.

By word of mouth from Yunho, who heard it directly from his father, Jeno tells Donghyuck that his father wants to meet him in his study. Alone.

"Wait. Meet you? Why?

"Probably the inevitable." Jeno shrugs but he looks distraught. A pang of sadness hits Donghyuck's heart.

"I promised you, Jeno. Nothing's going to happen to you." Even if they have to stop for real, Donghyuck'll do it. He's not letting Jeno's hard work and dedication go to waste for--for him.

Love is supposed to be selfless, he thinks. He wants to be selfish.

When Donghyuck gets back from class, Jeno has to go meet with his father, and he sends him off reluctantly.

His stomach turns with the possibilities of what could happen. He's in the middle of talking himself out of busting into his father's study when Yunho comes into his sight.

"Yunho-ssi!" Donghyuck accidentally says his name too loudly, startling himself.

"Donghyuck-ssi," Yunho bows, always polite to his boss's son. "I haven't seen you in a while."

"You're not usually on this side of the estate." Donghyuck's stomach is doing cartwheels. Backflips and kickflips and every other nausea-inducing movement he can think of. Yunho's face gives nothing away.

"President Lee is still meeting with Jeno-ssi, but he wanted me to retrieve you."

"Me?" Donghyuck exclaims, forgetting formality in his surprise. "Sorry. I mean, me?"

"Yes."

"For any particular reason or...?" He trails off, hoping Yunho will provide context.

"No, he didn't disclose a reason. Sorry, kid."

Yunho won't be any help, and it's not like he just can't go, so he follows Yunho to his father's study, head hanging to not make eye contact with anyone they run into on the way there. All it does is make him look like a child on his way to the principal's office.

When they get there, Jeno's just leaving out the door. Donghyuck wants to do something stupid like run into his arms and spin around like they're in a fucking movie, but all he does is make woeful puppy eyes at him and try to send signals to him via telepathy. He wonders what his father said to Jeno.

Jeno, the angel that he is, waves at him and mouths later as he's walking away, which doesn't tell him much but it also doesn't seem like his father is kicking him off the premises with the biggest boot manufactured in South Korea, so it seems like a promising sign.

His father appears in the doorway silently, startling Donghyuck.

"Come in," he says. He nods at Yunho to let him know that he's free to go. Donghyuck almost asks Yunho to take him with him but decides not to let that slip out.

"Sit, please."

Donghyuck sits down on the chair in front of his father's desk. The uncomfortable material gives

him flashbacks of being 12 and in the waiting room for the principal's office, back when his legs were too short to touch the floor and he didn't mind authority figures.

It's quiet. Donghyuck scans his father's desk and breathes out when he doesn't see any kind of folder sitting on it. He can't stop fidgeting.

"Donghyuck," his father starts. Pauses. "Son." He opens and closes his mouth a few times, deliberates. "I want–no, I need to begin this by saying that I'm sorry."

Wait. What?

His father sees the look on his face and nods sagely. He stays silent for a moment, like he’s expecting Donghyuck to chime in, but for once Donghyuck finds himself speechless.

“Yes. I, uh, I’ve spent some time thinking about it.” He’s stammering, looking and sounding entirely unlike a man who gives speeches to an entire nation. “I’ve been unfair to you.”

Donghyuck blinks. This is new. “I can’t say I was expecting to hear this from you.”

“I wasn’t expecting to say it.” His father thrums his fingers on his desk. He can’t tell who’s moving around more. “It really hit me when your mother came to me the other day. She said I could end up losing you. I told her that’s impossible because Jeno’s there specifically to make sure nothing happens to you.” He folds his fingers together, stilling. “She said, no, that I’ll end up losing you over this. Over my own hang ups.”

Donghyuck swallows. His throat is awfully dry. It’s strange, seeing his father like this. Almost like how he used to be, before his presidential mask became a permanent one.

“I want you to understand that my issues aren’t with you being–gay. Or even about you pursuing a relationship with Jeno-ssi. It’s–it’s never been about that.”

This is news to Donghyuck, but he lets him continue. He’ll hear him out.

“This job, this career...it’s not just stressful but also extremely dangerous. Your siblings are all out of Seoul. I worry for them, but they’re not in the spotlight. I put so much emphasis on your safety because the scale of danger is a lot larger than you know of. If I told you every threat that rises, you wouldn’t want to go out at all.” He sighs. “But you’re an adult and I recognize that. I can’t keep you hidden away.”

Donghyuck lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. His father’s face shows his age. Maybe the weariness that runs through Donghyuck’s bones when he thinks about losing Jeno is the same kind that ages his father when he thinks of him.

“Dad,” he tests out. He hasn’t addressed him like that in a while. “I’ve always respected you. I mean, look at where we are. Who we are. But...I am an adult now. It’s okay to speak to me like one. Communicate. Without mom as the messenger.”

His father nods and doesn’t interrupt him.

“I’m never going to want to schmooze with politicians or their daughters or continue in your path. I just want to be. Be with Jeno, and be a college student, and be normal. Well, as normal as I can be with several thousand people interested in my life.”

“About that,” his father’s hands twitch, like he’s about to procure another folder. “Your, uh, popularity online is also a concern to me. Not everyone is following just for nice pictures. There’s always an ulterior motive.”

Donghyuck waves a hand. “Don’t, like, press charges against that girl.” His father’s eyebrows skyrocket up, but before he can counter what Donghyuck says he keeps speaking. “It’s complicated but she's harmless. I get it, though. Real threats should be dealt with.”

It makes him nervous to continue, to really push for what he wants. He’s an adult. He’s ready to be seen as one. It’s not wrong to address these things. Still, his voice catches. “And I want to be clear when I say this.” He clears his throat once more, steels himself. “As much as I respect you, I need you to do the same for me. Jeno and I are together. If you’re angry, I understand. But please be rational about this. Jeno’s still the best at what he does.”

“Hm,” his father makes and indescernible sound. “Yes, I’ve spoken to Jeno-ssi about proceedings. I’m sure he’ll tell you about it once you leave here.” Which is ominous. But it doesn’t sound like something bad happened.

“Speaking of him, I should let you go find him.” His father stands, a signal for Donghyuck to do the same. “This...this was a good chat, son. I will make sure to do this more often.”

He claps him on the shoulder, but makes eye contact this time. His eyes are soft. He really is getting older, Donghyuck notices. His heart aches for time lost, where they could’ve had a better relationship, but it surges at the thought of repairing it. All isn’t fixed, but there’s hope.

For the first time, he moves out of the way and motions for Donghyuck to leave the room before him.

---

“This would make a pretty picture,” Jeno comments. They’re at a park, enjoying the newly pleasant spring weather. They brought a blanket and the world’s worst picnic basket full of candy, an entire bowl of cantaloupe, and one single chopstick. He’s leaning back on his hands, legs supporting the weight of Donghyuck’s head. Jeno’s doing his favorite thing, playing with his hair. As he bends his body over Donghyuck to smile his brightest smile, he’s doing Donghyuck’s favorite thing.

“We make a pretty picture,” Donghyuck says, reaching out blindly with the chopstick to stab into a piece of fruit.

“Only because of you,” Jeno chirps. He looks so pleased with himself.

“I’m going to let that slide only because you’re so cute.” Donghyuck laughs despite himself, feeding Jeno the melon. “Also because Leeteuk hyung looks like he’s suffering over there and it’s delightful.”

Over on a bench not too far away from them, Leeteuk is sitting there, distaste poorly hidden on his face because he can hear how sappy they’re being.

Leeteuk is Donghyuck’s new bodyguard. He’s a lot like Yunho in the way that he looks ethereal from far away—probably so unassuming citizens don’t catch on to his real purpose—but he’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. Donghyuck is working on wearing him down, though.

Donghyuck’s dad replaced Jeno with Leeteuk so that he could have a ‘distraction free, and 100% focused’ security detail, and so that Jeno could have normal working hours with a different sect of security. It’s different now, having Leeteuk be an actual human shadow behind him, but it’s better because it means that he gets to hold hands with Jeno without worrying about him needing to shove off strangers mid stride.

“Remember when we knew each other for, like, 15 minutes, and you asked me if I’d protect you or your dad?”

Donghyuck snorts, remembering that moment very clearly. Way back when Jeno used to bow to him with a 90 degree angle. He’d been so set on scaring him off. “Bet you thought I was a maniac.”

“Well, yeah. But it made me want to know you more.”

“I’m so happy you decided to be the worst bodyguard ever.”

“Hey!” Jeno protests. “I did my job. Very well, if I say so myself.”

“Yeah,” Donghyuck agrees. “Now instead of protecting me you get to watch over my heart instead.”

A scoff comes from the park bench. When they turn toward the sound, Leeteuk’s schooled his face into neutrality but he looks guilty.

“Leeteuk hyung, don’t pretend we’re not the cutest pair you’ve ever seen.” They flash him matching peace signs. Donghyuck gets his phone out and opens the camera app. “We’ll accept your sincere apology in the form of taking pictures of us, please and thank you.”

Leeteuk grumbles to himself but comes over to do it.

Sitting on a lumpy blanket, watching the sunset with his former bodyguard, now boyfriend, Donghyuck’s glad he doesn’t have to choose between being happy or hiding away.

He can just be.