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what is love?

hyukjae has been staring at the question on the word document for quite some time now. he doesn't know what love is. he's never had a boyfriend, a first date, a first kiss. sure, he’s had crushes, but he wouldn’t think any of them would ever count as love. well, maybe one, he thinks, but he can't really tell.

he doesn't know what it's like to love and be loved. it's not like he can fall in love in two days, just before the deadline for this paper. how was he going to answer this stupid essay question?

he racks his brain for absolutely anything at this point. just at least one word out to get him going.

it's been an hour since he sat down in front of his laptop and nothing comes. nothing at all. and before he pulls his hair out from frustration, he grabs his phone and sends out a quick message.

he stands from his chair, grabs his jacket, shouts out a quick "mom, i'll be back before midnight, i promise" before he opens the door and leaves.

he walks to calm himself down. he thinks that if his body gets going, maybe his brain will too. he isn't thinking about it. but his feet know exactly where to take him. he walks and walks and walks late in the night until he reaches the playground.

his safe place. their sanctuary.

he sits on the swings and swings and swings and swings. sits and relishes in the burst of wind that hits his face after each swing.

and then he stops. and he sits.

and he waits.

and then he hears it.

the wheels of a bike rubbing against the concrete as it comes to a halt. the crunching of the leaves as footsteps approach him by the swings.

"hyukkie?"

"jongwoonie." hyukjae smiles.

"is everything okay?"

and hyukjae thinks. and he looks at jongwoon. looks at how he's wearing his pajamas, obviously coming to the playground in a rush. looks at how his hair is a bit disheveled from the wind blowing on his face. looks at the concern in his best friend's eyes.

"everything's okay." hyukjae thinks. jongwoon is here. they are here. in their safe place. everything is already more than okay.

"why did you message me to rush here then?"

hyukjae can't think of an answer. he always runs to jongwoon when things go wrong. so naturally, as part of his attempt to keep himself from going absolutely insane, he messages jongwoon and asks him to meet up at their usual spot.

"i just wanted to see you."

hyukjae smiles to himself. he hears jongwoon scoff as he takes a seat on the other swing, still panting from trying to get to the playground as fast as he could.

jongwoon doesn't reply. the pair just sit in a comfortable silence, lightly swinging back and forth.

it was a few minutes of silence.

and then jongwoon starts talking about what he had for dinner. how his mom came home with donuts. how ryeowook had messaged him asking for help with the math homework he hasn't even looked at yet.

jongwoon talks and talks and talks.

and hyukjae just sits and listens.

he watches jongwoon go on and on about all these little stories. just like he always does when they're together at the playground. and as he listens, he feels all the pent up frustration from his earlier dilemma start to fade away.

jongwoon's voice tends to do that, he thinks. tends to have this calming effect no one else has on him. even just jongwoon's presence is already more than enough.

he zoned out for a while and now, jongwoon seems to be talking about how kyuhyun and heechul were paired up for a project, talks about it with little chuckles in between the story.

hyukjae watches him. watches the way jongwoon so animatedly tells the story, watches the way jongwoon's eyes crinkle with each giggle, watches the way jongwoon's face is so bright because of his smile, even though its quarter past eleven in the evening and they aren't really near any streetlights.

he sits and watches and thinks that "wow, jongwoon is beautiful".

jongwoon seems to have noticed the way that hyukjae had just been staring at him the whole time he was talking and he asks a small "hyukjae, are you really okay?" as he grabs his friend's hand which brings hyukjae out of a trance. hyukjae answers simply with an "i'm okay, thanks to you." and hyukjae definitely doesn't miss the way he sees a pink blush creep up on jongwoon's cheeks as he bows his head down, with a little chuckle of disbelief.

hyukjae feels the cold air hit his hands as jongwoon lets go of them to brush back his hair with his fingers. hyukjae didn't think jongwoon could get any more beautiful than he did earlier.

"if you're sure you're okay, then i'm gonna head back home now. i still need to give kkoming and melo their milk." jongwoon says as he stands up from the swing.

"okay." is all hyukjae answers.

he feels his heart sink a bit at the thought that he'd have to cut his time with jongwoon short, wishes he could just stay here and sit with him and listen to him go on and on about anything and everything. but hyukjae remembers he has a curfew and so does jongwoon, and he still has that stupid essay he needs to finish.

“i could walk you back home first. i have my bike with me anyway, i’ll make it back before it’s too late.”

hyukjae just nods in agreement.

they walk in silence. not a single word between them. all they hear is the turning of gears on jongwoon’s bike, the crickets in the trees. at least, until hyukjae speaks up.

“jongwoonie?”

“yeah?”

“do you know what it’s like being in love?” hyukjae asks so innocently. he doesn’t know what brings him to ask the question. also doesn’t know why his heart is racing so suddenly, nervous about jongwoon’s answer.

“i think i do.”

“you do?” hyukjae’s heart skips a beat.

"i guess? i'm not really sure either." jongwoon answers softly with a small chuckle. hyukjae lifts his head and turns to his friend and sees jongwoon looking back at him with hopeful eyes.

"what's it like?"

"it feels like home."

jongwoon stops walking and hyukjae realizes they're already at his front door. hyukjae sits on the sidewalk for a moment and pulls jongwoon down with him after he had set down his bike. he doesn't want to end the conversation just yet.

"how so?" hyukjae looks at jongwoon, who is staring at the sky, as if trying to count all the stars.

"it's warm and comforting and quiet." jongwoon pauses. then his eyes meet hyukjae's. "just like right now."

hyukjae feels his heart throbbing loudly in his chest and he swears that he can see the entire universe reflected in jongwoon's eyes.

one. two. three. four. it takes five seconds before hyukjae looks away first because wow, he didn't think jongwoon's eyes have ever been so beautiful and please, oh please, can his heart stop pounding so loudly?

he looks up at the stars, tries to calm himself down. he flinches ever so lightly when jongwoon gets up and taps him on the shoulder with a soft "i should go home soon."

hyukjae gets up then, brushes off the dirt on his joggers. his mind is pleading for time to please, just stop for a few more minutes so he can stay here with jongwoon, just for a little while longer. and maybe hyukjae zones out a bit from all the mental begging for more time because jongwoon's hands are moving in front of his face, shaking him out of the trance.

"hyukkie? are you okay?" hyukjae nods. "just message me later, alright?"

"of course, i will."

and before jongwoon gets on his bike, he opens his arms wide. and as if on cue, hyukjae enters jongwoon's embrace, wraps his arms around him, inhales, exhales. he makes a mental note of how jongwoon's pajamas smell like their fresh from the laundry, also notes how jongwoon's heartbeat is beating just as fast as his own.

and hyukjae thinks. and his mind is running at a hundred miles per hour. he thinks and thinks and thinks about how everything about jongwoon is warm, his embrace is comforting, and he makes hyukjae's mind quiet and at peace.

he thinks that maybe, jongwoon is love.

they hug for a little longer than they usually do. jongwoon lets go first, but it's evident on his face that he didn't want to.

jongwoon gets on his bike, mumbling something about how kkoming and melo are probably waiting for him already. before he leaves, he extends his hand to hyukjae, who instantly holds on. and all hyukjae can think of is how warm jongwoon's tiny hand is. jongwoon gives it a small squeeze, a squeeze that screams "everything's going to be alright", and then the cold air hits hyukjae's hand when jongwoon lets go.

"i'll see you tomorrow, hyukkie." and then hyukjae watches jongwoon as he bikes away until he turns on the next street and he's out of his line of sight.

hyukjae walks back up to his room, turns off his laptop, grabs his phone, and lies down on his bed. he sends jongwoon a message and gets a reply just a few minutes later, meaning jongwoon was already home. and they talk and talk and talk until it's time to say good night.

hyukjae lies down on his bed and thinks.

he still can't seem to find the right words to describe what love is, not enough to fill his essay. all he has is jongwoon's answer. that love is warm, comforting, and quiet.

and so hyukjae thinks and thinks and thinks.

hyukjae realizes he really still has no idea what to write down for his essay. doesn't know what he'll say.

all he knows and can even think of before he falls asleep is that when he is with jongwoon, everything is warm, comforting and quiet.

that maybe, perhaps, most likely, he is in love with jongwoon.

and that was alright with him. he can cram his essay tomorrow.

at least now he knows, jongwoon is his home.