Here are three facts about Lee Jeno: he hasn’t had a crush since he was 23, he is allergic to animal fur, and he lives with three other people.
All three of these things come together in one absurd way: Jeno’s latest crush, Sicheng, leaves his dog Bella with Renjun for three weeks in their shared apartment.
He isn’t really sure whether latest is an appropriate word, since it has been three years.
Still, when Sicheng visits his shared flat with Renjun, Jaemin and Jisung, Jeno actually pokes his head out of his room to say hi. Renjun looks surprised at his appearance, which is understandable. Once, Renjun didn’t see Jeno for two whole days despite living in the same flat as him.
At the sight of Sicheng, hair pushed back in casual wear, Jeno feels a flutter in his chest, one he’s accustomed to since meeting Sicheng.
Then he sees the squirming beagle in Sicheng’s arm, and his heart drops.
No, literally. Jeno might actually break out in hives, instinctively covering his nose despite the urge to go over and pet the dog. Mentally, he tries to account for the allergy medication he hasn’t used in a while.
Renjun looks alarmed too, but before he can speak, Sicheng shyly shoots The Look. Everyone who knows Sicheng knows what it looks like: the large doe eyes with a sheepish smile, tilting his chin down. It renders everyone fortunate enough to see it powerless.
“Could you guys look after Bella for three weeks?”
Everyone knows Jeno is allergic except Sicheng.
Jeno slowly starts to discreetly walk backwards, trying to book it back to his bedroom before Sicheng notices, leaving Renjun to explain his allergy. Too bad Sicheng looks at Jeno with the same Look, and Jeno is trapped in place.
Old habits die hard. Apparently Jeno is still a sucker.
Before Renjun can say anything again, it’s Jeno who interrupts him. “Yes, hyung, of course.” But his voice is strained, throat already a little more closed than before.
Sicheng looks relieved, and Renjun looks torn between revealing Jeno’s simp tendencies in front of his ex-crush and embracing the chance to take care of a small dog. Despite their apartment complex allowing small pets and Renjun’s increasing impulse to get a Bichon Frise, his flatmates had always been considerate towards Jeno’s allergy, never acting on that impulse.
Jeno loves his flatmates, but in an ironic way, he kind of hates himself.
Renjun hesitantly looks at Jeno, and he nods. He takes Bella into his arms, and Sicheng starts rattling off Bella’s schedule, precautions, and food. Jeno finally takes this opportunity to run back to his bedroom and shut the door behind him, wondering what the hell he had gotten himself into.
Jeno never really needed alcohol to make bad decisions.
After about an hour of muffled explanations, Sicheng knocks on his door and cracks it open slightly. “Thank you for saying yes, Jeno.”
Nodding, Jeno tries his best to smile despite his wariness of Bella coming into his room.
He hears the familiar bell sound, signalling the closing of the front door, and just like that, they let Sicheng go on his merry way out of the country with his fiancé, Yukhei. Once Sicheng is out of earshot, Renjun laments loudly through his closed door: “Lee Jeno, why are you the way you are?”
Jeno wonders that too.
Within the hour Sicheng stayed, Jeno could hear Renjun talking excitedly about his and Jaemin’s plan to move in with Donghyuck once Jaemin finishes medical school. This means only he and Jisung will be left in the flat, and Jeno’s heart sinks.
Whatever. He’s not bitter that all of his friends are basically getting married, thank you very much.
He plans to hole up in his room, but he’s not sure how he can do that for three whole weeks. Bella begins scratching at his door, and Jeno knows in his heart that he can’t hold out that long.
He’s probably right, but he sure as hell is going to try holding out. The next day, Jeno’s nose leaks non-stop even though he’s not in the same immediate physical space as Bella. Every time he has to step out of his room, he takes his allergy medication, making him feel drowsy. He’s been doing nothing but napping, schoolwork momentarily forgotten.
It really has been a while, and it seems the months of no exposure to animals has made his allergies worse. When he wakes up, his nose is stuffy and his eyes are watery.
It’s Donghyuck who shakes him awake and says the words Jeno has been dreading to hear: “You can’t stay here.” His voice is gentle but the message is a bummer, and Jeno just turns over, refusing to listen.
Petulantly, he says, “You don’t even live here.”
“Should we ask someone else to take Bella? You look sick, Jeno.” Jaemin hovers over him, pressing the back of his hand to Jeno’s forehead.
Jeno dodges the touch, wrapping his blanket tighter. “No, I promised Sicheng hyung Bella would be with us,” he insists. “We have to take responsibility for the words we said.”
“Then the solution would, once again, be for you to go if you want Bella to stay,” Donghyuck says bluntly.
Jeno knows he’s right, but he still frowns. “Are you guys kicking me out?” At this point, he’s just arguing for the argument’s sake, still woozy from his nap.
“Think of it as being sent on vacation,” Jaemin says, trying to comfort him. But Jeno knows better than to fall for Jaemin’s well-packaged words, because he kind of knows what they’re going to do next.
Naturally, their next course of action is to send him to Zhong Chenle’s house. Jeno officially just got evicted.
He’s heard of Chenle’s horrifying living habits, and while he’s not looking forward to living with Chenle, he doesn’t really have any other options.
So scratch whatever bullshit Jeno was thinking when he was high on allergies— he fucking hates his flatmates.
A bus ride, a trek up a ridiculous rich people hill and an elevator ride later, he ends up in front of Chenle’s door.
When the door opens, Chenle’s in a set of Kakao mascot Ryan pyjamas, and Jeno would point them out and make a comment about how cute Chenle is, but he’s so tired.
He cuts to the chase. “I’m here to take up your offer,” Jeno says. When he sees the confused look on Chenle’s face, he quickly adds, “If it still stands, I mean. About staying at your place.”
Chenle grins at him, and Jeno knows it’s a yes.
But he’s Chenle, so he teases, “I can’t put my finger on what type of look this is. Is this you being sexiled by Jaemin and Renjun? No, that’s not it… That would be less snot and more irritation.” He gives Jeno a once over, and Jeno wants to smack him. Chenle dramatically gasps. “Did you just break up with a boyfriend I didn’t know about?!”
This time, Jeno actually gathers the strength to smack him. Chenle just smiles wider and lets Jeno in.
Jeno mumbles his thanks, making his way to the couch. He looks around and sees how empty the place is, save for a full-length mirror and boxes of takeout stacked on the coffee table in front of him. It’s the first time Jeno’s been over unannounced, and he realizes Chenle only set up furniture when he had people over.
Chenle doesn’t ask about Jeno’s distressed state, taking a good look at Jeno’s face before disappearing into his room for a moment. When he returns, he drapes a warm blanket over Jeno and hands him a mug of water.
Jeno lets the steam reach his face, immediately feeling better as he sniffs back the mucus from his nose.
Before Chenle leaves to set up the guest bedroom for Jeno, he fiddles with his phone, docked on a speaker. He gives Jeno a pat on the head, humming along to the tune floating out of the speakers, then disappears from Jeno’s sight.
It’s only two songs in that Jeno realizes it’s his own playlist that Chenle had put on.
Despite the bare walls, the apartment feels cozy, and Jeno mutters, “Well. I could get used to this.”
Their friendship aside, Chenle kind of owes Jeno.
Sure, he is fairly certain that Chenle would have taken Jeno in regardless of the favour he owes Jeno. But with what Chenle had asked him to do a few months back, Chenle kind of doesn’t have a choice.
On a fateful Thursday, around two months before Bella takes Jeno’s place as the fourth flatmate, Chenle asks Jeno for help.
Jeno’s walking to his apartment from school while contemplating buying a new bicycle when a man pushes him against the wall. Jeno’s back hits the wall, not enough to hurt, only hard enough to shock him.
Of all the times Jeno fantasized about getting kabedon- ed, he never expected the person doing it to be freaking Zhong Chenle. Chenle’s in a loose black denim jacket over a striped black and white tee tucked into black jeans, looking like the handsome lead of every romance story ever.
Still, Jeno refuses to let Chenle spoil the kabedon experience, immediately pulling Chenle’s arm down. If no romantic or suggestive dialogue was said, it didn’t really count, right?
Instead of an explanation, Chenle announces, “Kun’s back in Korea.”
Jeno scoffs. Was this worth slamming him into the wall for?
“Okay? Why is this surprising to you? I thought you had been begging him to come back to buy you food for months.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Chenle replies with a completely straight face. Jeno’s lips press together in a line, eyes only half-open in a seriously? face, which Chenle ignores.
“He’s here to launch his business venture.” Chenle uses air quotes for the last two words, and Jeno isn’t convinced Chenle knows how to use them. He was pretty sure Kun really was going on a business venture, not becoming a scammer, so why the air quotes?
But that aside— “Because apparently having a pilot’s license and having a masters wasn’t enough for him.”
Jeno rolls his eyes. As if Chenle didn’t brag about Kun and his overachieving personality to anyone who would listen. “And you’re freaking out because?”
“I kinda told him I was dating someone and he told my mom.” Chenle spills in a single breath. “Now my mom wants a proof shot when Kun comes here.”
There’s the killer. Chenle’s face reddens, and he’s pushing back his hair in the way he does when he’s nervous.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jeno tries not to lose his mind. “I’m not going to let you hire an escort, Chenle.”
It still doesn’t explain why Chenle went to him, though. Unless he wanted a heavy dose of reality, which Jeno was more than ready to give, Jeno couldn’t really help him.
“That’s not what I had in mind,” Chenle says defensively, but his tone kinda made him sound like that was his only plan.
Apparently, Chenle still believed Jeno could help, albeit in a way Jeno doesn’t expect.
“I was thinking more that you could come with me.”
“But Kun hyung and I know each other.” Jeno’s eyebrows furrow, and he crosses his arms. If it wasn’t August, Jeno would’ve believed Chenle was pulling an April Fools’ prank on him. “We even met before you two did.”
“You aren’t the important part,” Chenle argues. He ignores Jeno’s okay wow ouch and puts his hands on Jeno’s shoulders. “I chose you because you are never going to voluntarily tell the others about this.”
To be fair to Chenle, he got Jeno there. Still, he is not ready to be Chenle’s fake boyfriend. “What’s wrong with going by yourself? Or admitting that you’re single?”
“Everyone around us is dating, hyung. Don’t you find that the least bit upsetting?” Chenle digs around his pocket, then pulls out his hand poised in a finger heart. “Or are you still in love with Sicheng?”
Jeno sighs. “You are making this so tropey.” As Chenle opens his mouth, Jeno quickly places his palm over Chenle’s mouth. “No, before you repeat it for the fiftieth time, I am not going to pull a Speak Now and object to his wedding.”
Chenle pulls his hand off, face grave. “Come on, hyung. I’ll do anything to pay you back.”
Jeno’s tone must come out too eager, because Chenle immediately whines, “Can you not say it with that scary glint in your eye?”
“What glint?” Jeno asks. “I’m just trying to take advantage of the fact that the Zhong Chenle is ready to go on his knees for this favour.”
“Kinky,” Chenle says, cackling. Jeno tries to protest, but Chenle holds up a hand. “Say no more, hyung. If that’s what you’re into, I’m down.”
Jeno’s eyes widen. He claps a firm hand on Chenle’s shoulder. “I promise to go with you if you would just stop talking.”
“I see that’s your type too, okay, I got you.” Chenle winks, and Jeno wants to die. “But seriously, thank you.”
The next time he meets Chenle is at Kun’s restaurant itself, standing in front of the bold KUN’S KITCHEN signage. He takes Jeno’s hand in his, half-smiling before pushing the glass door open.
Kun greets them, ushering them to a secluded table. He sits beside Chenle, across from Kun, who makes small talk about how much Jeno’s grown since he last saw him.
Other than the fact that they walk in while holding hands, there isn’t actually a difference from how he usually acts with Chenle. He still pushes Chenle’s butt to get to the bill first, and holds Chenle’s waist while they look at the online website together.
They don’t even have to lie, since Kun already knows how they met and how they became close— the answer to the first was university friends, and for the second how, see previous answer.
When Kun asks Jeno what he likes about Chenle, he’s honest. “Lele is cute, and surprisingly manly sometimes too. He has a soft tummy.”
This earns an indignant yell from Chenle, but Jeno even switches to the limited Mandarin he’s learnt to repeat his claim.
“Why don’t you move in with Chenle?” Kun asks when the food arrives, and that’s the only question that catches Jeno off-guard, leaving him at a loss for words.
Luckily, Chenle gets to it first, still giving a true answer. “I asked him, but he hasn’t given me an answer yet,” he says, playfully glaring at Jeno.
Kun talks about what a horrible flatmate Chenle is, from his tendency to randomly dress up just to drink wine and his reluctance to shower. Jeno already knows this, but doesn’t miss the chance to poke Chenle’s side and make fun of his hygiene.
After Chenle visits the restroom, he expects Kun to stare him down while Chenle’s gone and give him the typical If you break his heart talk, but it never comes. Instead, Kun pats Jeno on the shoulder and says, “I guess I should’ve expected this. I’m happy it’s you Chenle’s ended up with.”
Kun looks so earnest that Jeno feels bad momentarily for tricking him.
After the meal, Chenle sends Jeno to his doorstep. He hears Donghyuck and Jisung yelling about some game, and decides against going in. He tilts his head, finally taking a good look at Jeno.
“You dressed up for today,” Chenle observes. “I like it.”
Jeno shrugs. “You didn’t look too bad yourself.”
“Really? I think I was more than that— in fact, I was cute and manly.” Chenle dodges Jeno’s swipe, mimicking Jeno’s tone.
Jeno changes tactics, grabbing the back of Chenle’s neck and pulling Chenle closer to him. His hand doesn’t come fast enough to cover Chenle’s mouth, instead cupping Chenle’s cheek. He’s surprised by the turn of events he’s caused, eyes darting down to look at Chenle’s lips.
To shut him up, but this was going to take a different method of his lips on Chenle’s lips and—
He freezes, and it’s Chenle who snaps him out of it. He looks amused, looking at Jeno with a self-satisfied look. “What, hyung? Did you want a good night’s kiss?”
Immediately straightening, Jeno drops his hands and turns to unlock the door. The door opens with a beep, and Jeno doesn’t look back at Chenle, who hasn’t stopped giggling.
“Goodnight!” He yells. He stops against the door, heart beating erratically from the close proximity. He heads to bed, but his head doesn’t stop replaying the entire evening.
In the morning, Chenle has breakfast at their place. When Jeno sees him sitting in the living room, relaxed, there’s no slow motion or light bulb moment.
Chenle’s right. They never speak of it again.
Absolutely nothing changes, and Jeno pretends he doesn’t wonder what it would be like to really be with Chenle.
Jeno's fresh out of the shower when Chenle arrives home.
He's been at Chenle's for about a week and a half now, and although Chenle hates to admit it, Jeno knows he's starting to enjoy having Jeno around.
But not accustomed enough to not get shocked when he reaches home, though.
What this means is that when Chenle opens the door, Jeno's standing in the hallway, halfway to his room. When Chenle looks up while toeing his shoes off, he screams, finally seeing Jeno. "What the fuck," Chenle wheezes. "What are you doing here?"
Jeno doesn't bother responding verbally, instead giving him the usual are you kidding me? face that Chenle's on the receiving end of. His toothbrush hangs out of his mouth, and he pulls it out to say, "I moved my bicycle here and you still treat me like a stranger in your home?!"
Jeno doesn't know what he said, but a blush creeps onto Chenle's cheeks, easy to spot because of his pale skin.
He doesn’t ask, instead clearing his throat and points to the kitchen. "I brought dinner home, the fried chicken from the shop you like. Just reheat it if you want. I'll be in the living room.”
"You sound like you really live here," Chenle says. He should be teasing, but his voice is small.
I kind of do, now, Jeno thinks, but something in him refuses to say it. He doesn’t want to overstep his place in Chenle’s home, so he hums and moves to the bathroom to rinse his mouth.
When he gets out, Chenle is still standing in the same spot of the hallway.
While Chenle was at work, Jeno got home early after his professor cancelled class. After making a short (and very difficult) stop at the shared flat, he brought his guitar over. He tidied up the items scattered around Chenle's apartment: his yoga mat, the tall mirror, the love seat, and multiple game consoles. They're now stacked neatly, the boxes they were kept in stored away.
Jeno's guitar now leans against Chenle's grand piano, and Chenle is staring at it.
"Should I move your stuff back?" Jeno asks hesitantly.
Chenle shakes his head. "I... No, no. This is nice. Kun-ge has been trying to get me to clear my stuff." He's blinking a lot, and Jeno is starting to get worried.
"You're staring like there's a problem." Jeno’s voice is firm but he's nervous. He's never seen Chenle like this, and now he's scared that he’s ignored a boundary. This wasn’t his home, he was just a guest, he shouldn't have moved Chenle’s things.
It seems that Chenle is indecisive about expressing how he feels, because he just flashes Jeno a smile and a peace sign before making a beeline to the bathroom, leaving Jeno to scratch his head in confusion.
To make up for whatever balance he’s offset, Jeno sets Chenle's food up, scooping warm rice into a bowl and placing that and the chicken he bought on the living room table. Then he sets a mug of warm water alongside some cola, and sets up a show he's seen Chenle watching before.
"What's this?" Chenle asks when he pads out of his room. His hair is wet, in a loose set of shirt and sweats. Despite his build filling the simple outfit out, Jeno can't shake the thought that Chenle looks cute.
"You looked..." Jeno isn't one to jump to conclusions, or be confrontational about something so trivial, so he settles on saying, "Tired, so."
A smile spreads on Chenle's face, and a warm feeling in Jeno's stomach unfurls. Chenle sits in front of the television set, opening the chicken box, greeted with still-hot drumsticks. He looks unbelievably happy and at ease, a complete 180 from the tense body language he had when he arrived.
Chenle must be hungry because he eats with gusto, and Jeno takes the time to do some of his readings. He looks up every few minutes to see how Chenle's enjoying himself, unable to take his eyes off him for very long. Chenle's laughter is infectious, and despite not getting the full understanding of the Chinese variety show on the screen, Jeno can't help but smile too.
The ending credits and next episode preview of the show play, and Jeno decides to stand up to stretch. When he looks up, he's surprised to see Chenle staring at him with an ambivalent expression. Jeno pushes his glasses up his nose, and tilts his head.
"Yeah. I just... Haven't felt this way in a while." Chenle says, aberrantly nervous.
For a split second, Jeno has the feeling that Chenle is about to confess to him.
Then Chenle sighs. “This place hasn't felt like home in a while."
Pushing past the creeping awkwardness in him, Jeno's heart breaks a little inside. He can’t decide if it’s disappointment at Chenle’s answer— the fact that it wasn’t a confession like Jeno had expected, or the general loneliness that Chenle’s experienced that makes Jeno’s heart sink.
He pushes the thought away, and joins Chenle sitting on the floor.
"It's been a long time since Mom went back to Shanghai, and then Kun-ge left too." Chenle laughs, but it sounds hollow. "So it kinda felt like a dorm here. I was ready to move out at any minute."
Jeno knows that Chenle could've called them over, but it wouldn't have been the same. When they left, Chenle's home would've gone back to being bare and lonely, just empty too-big rooms for one person. And Chenle doesn't warm up to strangers as easily as they'd expect, leaving the other room uninhabited.
A part of him knows Chenle was always waiting for the people he loved to come back, too. Leaving a space for them to return to.
But Jeno is here now —
"That's why I was staring at your guitar. It's been a while since I've seen things that aren't my own here. It feels good to know that I'm not really alone, even if you're going to go back."
— and he can stay.
"Make it home again." Jeno's voice is faster than his head. He swallows, and continues, "I can make it a home. If you allow it. I can become a fixture here. I'll pay rent, or whatever. Fill this place with more stuff." He rubs the back of his neck, embarrassed.
Chenle should be teasing by now, talking about how eager Jeno is to stay, but he doesn't. He smiles brightly, pointy fangs coming out. "I'm not sure how much Jisung and the hyungs will like that."
"They'll survive." Jeno jokes, "They've been wanting Donghyuck to move in, so it was gonna be me or Jisung."
That earns a cringe from Chenle, who's probably imagining the chaos in that house once their most sane member (arguable, but the general consensus is that it's probably Jeno just by a small margin) leaves. At least they have Jaemin to cook for them.
"Okay. Move in with me." There’s a twinkle in Chenle’s eyes Jeno’s never seen before, pure giddiness that can’t be hidden, and Jeno feels brand new.
The plan to move becomes real when Jeno moves his double monitors and gaming console over.
Jisung takes it worse than they expected — although Jisung takes any sort of change to heart, so nothing much can be done there. Chenle’s sure it’s also to do with the fact that he has to live with the worst throuple to walk the Earth, so Jeno doesn’t blame him for complaining either.
On the other hand, Renjun is delighted that they can finally get a house pet once Bella goes back to her parents. Their group chat is filled with photos of the Bichon Frises at the shelter he frequents, and the flatmates chatter nonstop about how excited they are about adopting.
Jeno tries not to be hurt by that, and succeeds.
It's easy to ignore it, especially because there are a lot of benefits to living with Chenle. In addition to his endless supply of ramyun packets, it helps that Chenle is an actual chef-in-training.
After Chenle finished university with a bachelor's degree in Business Management, as per his parents' requirements, he decided to work in a restaurant full time. In between semesters he had worked at the local Chinese restaurants, desperate for a taste of home while his mother was away. The longing for a glimpse of Shanghai bloomed into a full-fledged plan for a chain of Chinese restaurants, the perfect blend of what he knows and what he loves.
In the meantime, before he achieves his dreams, he works. And in between that time, Jeno is there.
“You know what I like about living with you?” Chenle asks, half-distracted while he lands and abandons his parachute in-game.
They’re playing PUBG side by side in the living room, and Jeno doesn’t know where this conversation is coming from. He suspects Chenle likes hiding his feelings behind a full screen of virtual weapons, and lets it slide as he does a virtual sweep of the house he’s just entered.
“I’ve been here two weeks,” Jeno replies.
Chenle ignores his quip. “I actually get to say I’m home and have someone welcome me back.”
“That has nothing to do with me,” Jeno complains. “Anyone you live with—”
“Even my mom didn’t do that, though.” Chenle fires a round of bullets, not even looking up from his phone.
Jeno laughs, his character lying on his front as he aims his sniper. “Actually, we didn’t really do that at our side, too. But I’ll take note of that.”
The next day, when Jeno gets home, it’s later than usual. He spent the whole evening in school, getting trashed by professors for his research and then having to stand all the way on the bus ride home. His shoelace was untied, leaving him to drop his books as he focused on not face planting on the sidewalk concrete.
In short, Jeno’s having a really shitty day. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
He’s ready to drop dead once he gets home, imagining the warm ramyun he can cook up while waiting for his system to reboot so he can take a shower. If he’s lucky, Chenle might even have some new recipe for him to try.
Instead, he finds the apartment enveloped in a fishy smell, and Jeno has to double take. “Lele? Did we get a visit from the ocean?” He calls out, trying his best to be calm.
“Welcome back,” Chenle says, standing in the kitchen, a white styrofoam box at his feet. He’s wearing his good apron and a pair of gloves, mixing rice in a glass bowl with a plastic rice paddle. Jeno didn’t even know they had dinnerware that wasn’t a pot and chopsticks. “We’re having sashimi for dinner.”
Jeno doesn’t want to jump the gun, but he needs to know— “Is this because I said I was craving for salmon last week?”
“Yeah,” Chenle says sheepishly. He doesn’t take his eyes off the rice. Then he looks up, and uses what Jeno recognizes as his customer service voice. “So have a seat, okay? Dinner will be served shortly.”
Despite his rumbling stomach and the urge to lie down and knock out, Jeno takes a good look at the Korean cookbook on the table, Chenle’s phone opened to his Korean-Chinese translation application, and the general uncharacteristic culinary disarray in the kitchen.
He smiles. “Okay.”
The problem with the sashimi dinner is that it takes forever. It’s obvious Chenle’s out of his element, the raw fish vastly different from his fiery woks and tosses. Jeno can’t blame him, but he also can’t ignore how loudly his stomach rumbles, and Chenle is starting to notice.
It definitely doesn’t live up to Chenle’s expectations, because he keeps making excuses and looking at Jeno apologetically. Jeno takes it all in stride, stuffing the different fish and rice combinations into his mouth without a word.
Chenle takes a look at how Jeno’s been drinking a lot of water — his fourth sip for his third bite — and concludes, “The rice is too salty.”
He’s right, so Jeno nods, and Chenle laughs. It feels clumsy, but Jeno recognizes the amount of effort Chenle is putting into making a meal that Jeno’s wanted. Chenle passes him the glass bowl, and Jeno mixes more untouched rice into the soy sauce-soaked rice to offset the salty taste.
He watches Chenle at work, admiring Chenle’s tenacity. When Jeno doesn’t like it as much, Chenle takes note, immediately adjusting without hurt and complaint.
“Should we just mix the fish into the rice and eat it straight from the bowl?” Chenle asks, shaping a small palmful of rice. He keeps wringing his hands when he’s not holding anything, and Jeno’s worried. It’s not like Chenle didn’t come from a full day of work, either.
“I honestly wouldn't mind,” Jeno says.
Chenle shakes his head, carefully placing a piece of seaweed onto the eggroll he’s placed on Jeno’s plate. This time, Jeno offers it to Chenle, feeding him directly. Chenle chews loudly, then shows a thumbs up sign, and Jeno can’t help the fond smile that blooms on his face.
“Are you feeling better?” Chenle asks carefully as he cuts a piece of tuna into slices.
“Never better,” Jeno says, almost on auto-pilot.
But it’s a genuine answer. Jeno thinks that there must be no better feeling on Earth than this, coming home to good food after a long day and spending time with someone he cared about. He hadn’t realized, but all the tension in his shoulders was gone.
“I’m glad I could return the favour.” Chenle says, and Jeno tilts his head in confusion. “Make this feel like home to you, even if it's all a bit new. Thank you for staying with me, hyung.”
Jeno’s cheeks warm, and he ducks his head. “Is this a bit like our own housewarming party then?”
Chenle nods. “Sure.” He drops a piece of tuna into his mouth and says, “But you still haven’t told me why you moved.”
So Jeno tells the story of how Bella moved into their home, leaving Jeno a man of the streets. Chenle is infinitely amused by this revelation, not missing the chance to poke fun at how Jeno was replaced by a dog that couldn’t even control its shitting.
Jeno chides Chenle for making the joke while they’re eating, but they both don’t stop laughing.
It’s only at 4am when they’ve finished cleaning up, and Jeno makes the trip down to the recycling bins to throw the remains of the white styrofoam box, wondering how to get the fishy smell out of the house.
Even as he treks back up the ridiculous hill, he feels warm, and wonders whether it’s normal that this is his every day.
If you asked Jeno when he got over his crush on Sicheng, he’d say it was during his trip to Sapporo two years ago. To celebrate Chenle’s graduation, the four flatmates, Chenle and Donghyuck decide to fly three hours to Sapporo, Japan.
It’s winter, easily dipping below 0º even before nightfall, but Renjun and Jeno sit on the balcony of their hotel room, braving the harsh cold. Renjun says it’s something about enjoying the numbness, and honestly Jeno just wants to be numb for a while.
Unrequited crushes suck.
They’ve been travelling around the larger region of Hokkaido for the past day, and Jeno should be exhausted, but he isn’t. His mind keeps spinning of thoughts of Sicheng’s whereabouts, and a wish that he would’ve been here with them.
It’s a preposterous thought, this much even Jeno can recognize, but that knowledge doesn’t make the thoughts any easier to push away.
The clock hits midnight, and at this point Jeno and Renjun have been sipping beer in mostly silence for two whole hours. Jaemin, Jisung, and Chenle are inside avoiding the alcohol, claiming it doesn’t suit the pure snowy Sapporo landscape.
Donghyuck joins for a while, but he gets drunk fast and Renjun has to lug him away, recruiting Chenle to take his place as Jeno’s drinking buddy while he tucks Donghyuck into bed.
The glass sliding door opens and Chenle appears at the doorway, and Renjun immediately gets up.
"No fair," Jeno says. "Renjun, seriously, don't go to your boyfriends. Or I'm going to replace you with Chenle from now on."
Renjun rolls his eyes, unzipping his winter jacket as he makes his way inside. He slides the door, immediately taking his hand off and hissing from the cold metal. "You're just a bitter single, Jeno." He looks at Chenle sympathetically. "Good luck dealing with him."
"I don't mind," Chenle says. The breeze comes, but Chenle still smiles easily.
"I'm sick of you three!" Jeno calls to Renjun's retreating back.
"And that's exactly why we aren't a foursome!" Renjun yells back. He can see Renjun shake his head but he doesn't turn back around to look at Jeno, simply raising a hand to give Jeno the finger.
"Am I such bad company?" Chenle asks. He's pouting, already nursing Renjun's half-drunk Sapporo beer.
"You're definitely not better than Renjun," Jeno jokes back, and Chenle makes an offended sound.
But Jeno's smiling big, and he thinks that his stupid cheeks betray him. He should be able to resist, but Chenle is so cute, and even more in the winter. His cheeks are red, hands on his cheeks to keep them a little warm. He's thankful that Chenle's come out to keep him company, even if he wasn't keen on drinking at Jeno and Renjun's level for the night.
"But thanks for coming out here, Chenle." Jeno says, and it's sincere. He doesn't look at Chenle, but he can see from the corner of his eye how Chenle smirks a little. He regrets saying it already, but he needs to make sure Chenle knows he isn't being mean.
Chenle doesn't say anything back, and Jeno switches the subject. "That's too light a drink for you, isn't it?"
"Are you trying to get me drunk?" Chenle asks, and it sounds like a challenge. He downs the rest of Renjun's drink quickly, stretching his neck upward to ease the flow of beer down his throat. He licks his lips and looks at Jeno, as if daring him to do something.
Too bad Jeno isn't crazy enough to take him up on that while they sit on a balcony on a pitch-black winter night. "You wish. Celebrate responsibly," Jeno admonishes lightly. "Congratulations on graduating, Chenle."
"I can't believe I'm a working adult before you are, hyung." Chenle sighs, and his breath clouds white against the darkness around him. He teases, "You have a lot to catch up to me, huh?"
With the curtains obscuring the hotel room lights, the only things illuminating Chenle's face are the dim balcony lights, and it makes him look way closer in proximity to Jeno than he really is.
Like this, Chenle looks older and wiser. Jeno hadn't really noticed this, but with Chenle holding an empty beer can, looking at him with a half-smug, half-expectant look on his face, he looks like a proper adult. For a moment, Jeno's tempted to lean forward to kiss his smirk off.
Jeno's almost persuaded to ask Chenle what exactly he wants to hear from him, but instead he bites his bottom lip.
Chenle beats him to it, anyway. "You should call me hyung."
Jeno rolls his eyes at that, lifting his arm to threaten smacking Chenle with his own beer can. Then he puts it down on the table, the bottom rim making a light clanging sound. He places his hands in his pockets, inexplicably warmer despite the chilling weather.
There's a lull in conversation that doesn't feel like it needs to be filled with meaningless words. Jeno likes these rare moments with Chenle, where they just sit with each other in silence, lost in their own thoughts.
But it seems like tonight, Chenle is restless.
"Hyung. Jeno hyung." Jeno looks up at Chenle, who's peering at him. "Can I ask you something?"
Jeno nods, and suddenly he's nervous. He should've answered the classic you already did, which is something he would say to Chenle to ease the tension, but he didn't. He's scared of the question, and it seems like Chenle can tell.
“You liked Sicheng, right? Why did you never confess?"
Jeno appreciates the fact that Chenle didn't say like. Because it's hard enough trying to move on from a crush, but it's even harder when it feels like you're still stuck.
And to tell the truth, Jeno feels stuck. Not just about his feelings towards Sicheng, but about his future. He thinks about the fact that he'll have to continue studying for the next three years to finish his masters, and he's been wondering for a while whether he can survive the monotony.
It doesn't help that Chenle himself, who Jeno's always regarded as a fixture to his studying sessions, is moving on. He's done with school, graduating earlier since he didn't have to go to the military, leaving Jeno, Donghyuck and Jaemin in school.
But just like that, with a single word, Chenle makes him feel like he's actually getting somewhere. Moving forward.
So Jeno mulls over his question for a moment, before settling on a simple but true answer.
"I never thought I stood a chance," Jeno admits. He must've said it in a way that sounds too real, because Chenle looks stunned for a moment. "Sicheng never really looked my way, and that's fine. I think he'll be great with Yukhei hyung. It wasn't a hard decision, even though I did like him a lot."
Jeno thinks back to the many barbecue sessions he had with his friends, with Sicheng as their retired head after graduating. When Jeno was a freshman, Sicheng had long graduated, but they met through Mark and Donghyuck's random gatherings.
There was just something magnetic about Sicheng. He recalls how everyone around Sicheng was always two seconds away from fawning over him.
Still, Sicheng never really looked at any of them long enough to give them any ideas. And then came Yukhei into his life, and Sicheng never looked away.
He cringes when he remembers how at the height of his crush, after Sicheng left to meet Yukhei, he drunk complained to Mark and Donghyuck about how he wanted a meal with just Sicheng.
This is similar but different too, because now, Jeno isn't here to complain.
Chenle's never asked him about this before, and it really does look like Chenle's navigating new territory, wondering how to approach talking about romantic feelings with him.
“I know what you mean. About not standing a chance." There's a wistful quality to Chenle's voice, a lot softer than his usual tone and lacking the biting edge. "But I can't help but feel like I should do something sometimes. You know?"
He looks at Jeno again, and Jeno can't pinpoint why, but the direct connection of their gazes is electric. He can't look away, only focusing on the sound of his breathing and Chenle's eyes.
It's Chenle who looks away first, and Jeno shuts his eyes. When he opens them, Chenle's chewing on his lip, and it's only the brewing of Sapporo snow in the air.
Jeno remains unsettled by whatever that was, the entire night, really, but tries his best to bury the memory.
"Then... Hyung, if you ever need to get away from them," Chenle beckons his thumb to the inside, and right on cue, he can hear Renjun yelling at Jaemin. "If it's hard for hyung to stay with the others, do you wanna live at my house?"
Jeno laughs, because he never did think the day would come that Chenle would offer himself as Jeno's escape. He contemplates it, and he can see Chenle pulling at the skin of his neck while waiting for Jeno's answer.
But Jeno doesn't know what to say. He doesn't have an answer.
"You know I would do anything for you," Chenle calls out.
He’s rushing for work, having taken too long on the toilet playing PUBG again. He's stuffing his toes into his sneakers, and Jeno passes him his phone from where Chenle's almost forgotten to pull it out of the charging plug.
"Fine," is Jeno's reply. "I will order ribs for you before you get home. But do you mean that?"
"Yes," Chenle says. He says it with enough confidence that Jeno is inclined to believe him, but he's distracted with pulling his laces that Jeno doesn't know whether he should.
He takes his chance anyway. "Then try not to yell at any commis chefs today. For me."
Chenle looks up from where he's looped his laces into a double knot, taking his phone from Jeno's grip. "I would do almost anything for you," he amends, smiling cheekily. He leans forward to Jeno, the smug look in his eyes that Jeno recognizes from that night on the Sapporo balcony.
For a moment, Jeno thinks he's going to kiss him goodbye.
He's wrong, though, because Chenle just grabs his airpods case from where it's on the table behind Jeno. Jeno's cheeks redden at his nonsensical assumption.
Chenle doesn't seem to notice. "I'm going. See you when I get back." He waves, taking off, leaving the door to close and beep on its own.
Jeno walks back to where he's set up his study materials on the living room table, but his eyes linger on the picture of him and Chenle hung above the TV.
Within the month he's been living with Chenle, the apartment is now littered with photos of the both of them. Neither are the sentimental type, but once Kun arrived back in Beijing, he decided to print out some of the selfies Chenle sent him and send them in frames to their apartment in Seoul.
Chenle was also under strict instructions by his mother to hang them up and send proof to her. So now their photos, many taken by Jaemin, sit next to photos of Chenle and Jisung, and various combinations of their group.
He's not sure whether to be thankful for Chenle's filial piety. While the apartment now does look like a proper home, with Chenle and Jeno's bicycles parked near the entrance, the guitar and piano now organized into a chill music space with a lamp for soft lighting, Jeno's surprised at how naturally the transition came.
A thought comes to him quickly: But nothing of value has changed.
Jeno has to agree with that. He and Chenle have always bickered and done silly things. Chenle laughs when he rage quits from rounds of Mario Kart with Donghyuck, and Jeno listens to Chenle's frustrations throughout the day.
But he just doesn't know when he started sending Chenle off for his evening shift at the restaurant. Usually Jeno wouldn't even be at home, preferring to cram through the night at his school library, then come home and crash through the morning until his first online lecture at noon.
Then he realizes: he shifted one of his study sessions to the early afternoon instead of the late night so that he could have dinner with Chenle when he got home. It was a subconscious choice, one that he didn't think too much about and simply adjusted.
On the other hand, Chenle would wake up a little earlier for his shift, now preferring to eat lunch with Jeno before he washed up and left. Previously, he would usually just cram some snacks at the restaurant itself right before they opened with the other chefs and staff.
It hadn't occurred to him before. While his entire life didn't suddenly revolve around Chenle, he made the effort to spend more time with him. He had never really done that with the others, some days even purposely avoiding them during mealtimes to avoid washing dishes.
It wasn't just him, though. Jeno realizes how Chenle also made subtle changes to accommodate and take care of Jeno, his heart flutters and—
So that's why he was thinking about Chenle's lips and the missed chance to kiss him on that Sapporo balcony.
The realization — which, in case you haven't caught on yet, was of his romantic affections towards Chenle — sends Jeno into a panic.
So he calls his emotional support that came with 2 heads of emotional baggage.
"Hey, Jaemin’s studying." It’s Donghyuck’s voice that percolates through the speakers of Jeno’s phone.
Jeno sighs, a little disappointed at emotional baggage #1 being the receiver. "Okay. What time does my emotional support boy come out from his cave?”
“Ha ha,” Donghyuck fake laughs. “He’s my emotional support, but he should be done in about an hour.”
Jeno ponders the time for a moment, wondering if he can hold it together and not move out before the hour ends. Donghyuck must sense his hesitation, because he asks, “Why, is something wrong?”
“I think I have a crush on Zhong Chenle.”
Of all people, Jeno can’t believe Lee Donghyuck is the person he first admits this to.
Surprisingly, Donghyuck just makes a teasing sound that honestly sounded more like a cowboy yell than anything. “Nice. I fucking knew it. Renjun said you didn’t, some shit about Chenle sounding like he got rejected on some balcony, but I fucking knew it. I should call him to brag.”
It’s all so fast, in the way Donghyuck speaks when he gets excited, and Jeno almost doesn’t catch the balcony bit.
“Wait. What do you mean Chenle got rejected?”
“I don’t know? Renjun said you left Chenle outside on our first night in Sapporo or something? And his face looked like he had gotten rejected.”
“I didn’t leave Chenle on the balcony that night,” Jeno says slowly. “I went to get him a blanket because he was shivering from the cold.”
“Double score.” Donghyuck says, and Jeno starts to wonder how far back he’s been naturally taking care of Chenle, just never chalking it up to romantic affections for him. “But Renjun said his face was all wistful or whatever. You know Renjun likes to use those sentimental phrases.”
“...Okay,” Jeno finally replies. “What does that mean? No, more importantly, what should I do? We fucking live together now and I caught feelings. I’m gonna make everything awkward.”
“Nah. Here’s what you should do: ask him to be your date to the Yukhei-Sicheng wedding.”
“Why? We’re both invited, we don’t need plus-ones.”
“Chenle loves watching people fall in love. But he also complains all the time about how lame it is that he’s not dating. Kind of why you two are a god-sent match.”
“This is just your way of minimizing the complaints against you guys,” Jeno deflects.
“Not like you wouldn’t be good without Chenle.” Donghyuck’s voice is muffled, and Jeno hears the beginning of a drama intro playing in the background. “I’m hanging up now. Do you still wanna talk to Jaemin later?”
“I think I’ll be fine.” Jeno hesitates, before he says, “Just. Don’t tell the others yet, okay?”
Jeno knows better than Donghyuck’s empty threats, and he crosses his fingers as he contemplates how exactly to tell Chenle how he feels.
He sighs. Having a crush never gets easier.
Jeno doesn’t know how to do confessions.
The fact that Chenle would be his first crush in three years aside, he has never really been the one who goes up to people and declares their love. Jeno loves quietly, showing how much he cares through actions. He’s never been a risk taker.
But even just looking at Chenle gives him the strength to be brave, to take the risk, to move forward.
In the middle of supper, after they sit across from each other with a pot of ramyun between them, Jeno decides there’s no better time than this.
"Do me a favour,” Jeno says, nervously spinning his chopsticks in the bowl of noodles.
"I already have!" Chenle protests. “I fed you and gave you a home. Was that not favour enough?”
"To be clear, you offered me a place to stay," Jeno points out. “Blame yourself. I pay you rent, so it doesn’t count. Now I’m cashing in what you owe me.”
Chenle sighs. "Okay, let's hear it." He lifts his chopsticks to his lips, sucking in a huge mouthful of noodles.
"Be my date to Sicheng’s wedding."
To Chenle’s credit, he doesn’t even choke on the noodles, and only stares at Jeno. Through his mouthful, he manages, “That’s it? What’s this? A petty plan to make Sicheng jealous?”
“No,” Jeno is quick to counter. “I told you I’m not going to do that! I don’t care about that, I really am happy for Sicheng.”
“So? Why are you cashing in your big favour for this? I’d do it even if you just asked, you know.” Chenle’s looking at him with that same expectant look from that day on the balcony, and Jeno's determined to find out exactly what it means.
“Why?” Jeno asks, putting his chopsticks down.
“What’s this, an uno reverse card?” Chenle asks, and he’s obviously trying to weasel past the question, but Jeno isn’t going to let this go. Jeno fixes his stare on Chenle, hellbent on getting a proper answer. “You’re really gonna make me spell this out for you?
“I like you a lot, Jeno hyung.”
Turns out Jeno didn’t have to worry about doing confessions.
Chenle’s not looking at Jeno for the first time, suddenly finding his chopsticks very interesting. It’s at times like these that Jeno finds Chenle especially cute, since Chenle’s rarely embarrassed, always loud and sure.
They were always more similar than they expected.
“Hey,” Jeno reaches across the table to tilt Chenle’s chin up, making Chenle look at him. “I asked you for the same reason. You’re not the only one bad at reading the signs.”
“Is this your version of a confession?” Chenle huffs, crossing his arms. “You basically didn’t do anything to make me think you liked me, so why am I the bad one?”
It’s kind of romantic, in a strange type of way, Jeno thinks. Even though he’s in a pair of pyjama pants he wore the night before, and Chenle’s in his Kakao Ryan set again, and they’re doing nothing but laughing over a pot of ramyun, Jeno thinks there’s nothing in the world he’d trade for this.
This is my favourite type of romance, Jeno thinks.
Jeno feels at home.
It’s to be expected, but Sicheng and Yukhei look gorgeous on their wedding day.
They’re in matching sleek white suits, with Sicheng’s favourite colour, blue, for Yukhei’s bowtie. Sicheng wears a simple black bowtie, which Mark mentions is Yukhei’s favourite colour.
Aside from the handsome grooms, the venue itself was perfect for falling in love. Held in a grassy garden in Ulsan, the trees were decorated with fairy lights, all leading to a church-like building with stained glass windows.
To match the theme, the chairs were all white, arranged neatly in rows with each guest’s name written on a card placed on the seat. Complementing motifs of light blue was also used for the couple's photos hung around the venue.
Jeno spies the reception and food hall inside the church-like building, and hears the soft rumble of Chenle’s stomach. He has the decency to look embarrassed, and Jeno just shakes his head fondly.
The four flatmates — referring to the most updated roster of Jisung, Jaemin, Renjun and Donghyuck — are seated in the same row as Mark, Jeno and Chenle. They’re all seated a little far from the front, though, where Bella is situated with Sicheng’s parents.
Donghyuck smirks at Jeno when he arrives with Chenle in tow. “Look who decided to bring a date.”
Jeno wants to roll his eyes and shove Donghyuck, but he deserves to have a wrinkle-free outfit. And to Donghyuck’s credit, he was half the reason why he and Chenle were out on a date on the beautiful day.
He’s also right about how Chenle complains. “Look at them with their model proportions,” Chenle says, faux-sniffling. “Damn. Wish my man was like that man.”
“Which one?” Renjun asks. “No, wait, I get it. It doesn’t matter which one.”
“Hey, excuse me? I’m right here,” Jeno has to remind him. Unlike Jeno, Jaemin and Donghyuck are unbothered, joining the gushing about which of the grooms they’d like to date.
The ceremony goes on without a hitch, Sicheng shyly reciting his vows while Yukhei goes on about how lucky he was to be with Sicheng. Chenle makes a joke about the lack of a Taylor Swift Speak Now move, but claps the loudest when Yukhei dips Sicheng for a movie-like kiss.
If there’s anything Jeno’s envious about, it’s how light Sicheng looks around Yukhei. He isn’t jealous of Sicheng or Yukhei exactly, only wanting to emulate that kind of feeling in Chenle, making him feel as loved as Sicheng looks around Yukhei.
Then he looks at Chenle, who he finds is staring at him with barely concealed awe, and realizes all he ever wanted was already there.
Later, after Sicheng and Yukhei do their first dance as a couple, Sicheng stops by their table, fortunately without Bella in his arms. He gives his greetings to each of their friends, then asks, “Can I borrow Jeno for a while? I didn’t get to say thank you for taking care of Bella.”
“Only if I get to borrow Yukhei,” Chenle replies, grinning.
Sicheng rolls his eyes, and ushers Jeno into the makeshift dance floor. In the peripheral of Jeno’s eye, he can see Chenle being invited by Sicheng’s grandmother to dance too. He stifles a laugh. So much for dancing with Yukhei.
“Thank you for taking care of Bella, Jeno.” Sicheng says, slowly swaying to the soft music filtering through the speakers. “I didn’t see you that time I went over, so I wanted to thank you properly.”
“Ah, I didn’t do anything,” Jeno clarifies. Sicheng’s probably thinking that Jeno’s being modest, but Jeno finally wants to tell Sicheng the truth. “No, seriously, hyung. It was all the others’ work. I’m allergic to animal fur, so I couldn’t stay there. I’m actually on medication right now.”
Sicheng looks horrified, realizing how he basically got Jeno evicted.
Jeno interrupts him gently, “No, hyung, please don’t apologize— I actually want to thank you. Without you I wouldn’t have been able to have the chance to properly fall in love with Chenle.”
At that, Sicheng breathes a sigh of relief, the furrow in his eyebrow gone.
“Do you have any advice for me, hyung?”
“I don’t think I’m qualified to give advice,” Sicheng says bashfully. He steals a glance at Yukhei, who’s standing next to the Sicheng’s father and trying to convince him to dance. Sicheng ducks his head, pressing his lips together to suppress a laugh.
It doesn’t escape Jeno’s eyes, and he smiles. “You’ve been with Yukhei hyung for three years now, you must be able to tell me something.”
“If you feel like you can go anywhere with him and still feel at ease, then protect that.” Sicheng looks serious for the first time in Jeno’s eyes, then smiles softly. “But I trust that you’re going to be great with Chenle.”
He follows Sicheng’s gaze to where Chenle’s twirling Sicheng’s grandmother, bending his knees a little so that Sicheng’s grandmother can reach his shoulders easier.
The slow song comes to a stop, and Sicheng and Jeno step away from each other, bowing. Sicheng pushes him lightly towards Chenle, quickly striding over and rescuing him from where his grandmother is starting to interrogate Chenle on his private life.
Chenle only laughs, bowing at Sicheng’s grandmother before he meets Jeno’s eyes and opens his arms, an invitation to dance.
It’s a remix of Kung Fu Fighting, obviously Yukhei’s choice from where he’s singing along loudly next to the DJ.
Matching the mood, Chenle does the lasso and pulls Jeno bit by bit using his imaginary rope. Jeno follows, inching closer to Chenle before wrapping his arms around Chenle’s torso, hooking his chin on Chenle’s shoulder.
They both laugh, and pressed so close, Jeno can feel the rumble of Chenle’s chest.
Just like that, Jeno’s home.